Mike Shanahan was fired today, an expected move by the Red Skins in the aftermath of a 3-13 season. Once not that long ago considered a “guru” and “genius” by NFL experts and fans, today Shanahan is viewed as a loser who failed miserably during his time in Washington. Funny, I know — but this is the way it goes when it comes to football coaches in America — in one moment you are the most sought after brilliant mind in the game, and the next moment a goat incapable of doing anything right.
The more interesting angle to Shanahan’s firing today is perhaps the bigger picture about the value (or devalue) of football coaches today — the annual batch of has-been coaches (I thought Rex Ryan might have been a part of this list up until yesterday), and the future “Einstein’s” of the game waiting in the wings (this was Chip Kelly last year, and possibly Bill O’Brien of Penn State any day now). Football, perhaps more than any other sport, displays the fastest swing in public opinion and desirability (or lack thereof) when it comes to the value of coaches — Andy Reid was a bum just a year ago while in Philadelphia, but today he is a genius again with his Chiefs heading into the playoffs.
The Nick Saban effect
Alabama coach Nick Saban is pretty much a God these days after receiving his last contract extension and raise, making him the highest paid coach in college football. Honestly, there are not enough superlatives to list when it comes to how people describe Saban, and if I didn’t know any better I would swear he could walk on water if he wanted. Saban has certainly had a lot of success while at Alabama, and for that he has morphed into a larger-than-life deity in the eyes of many, but did you know his success has actually created more disillusion when it comes to perception of other coaches? What I mean by this is the heightened and bloated value that other coaches now receive with the hopes that they, too, might be the next Saban.
In addition to the hopes that other colleges have in landing a future Saban, the value of future coaches has also been driven up with Saban’s latest salary increase. In fact, many current “guru” coaches will soon see their own massive raises in order to meet market expectations. Soon enough, we’ll have an entire crew of $10 million dollar coaches, all of whom can walk on water, shoot fire from their fingertips, and even compute quantum physics in their brains faster than anything Apple or NASA ever created.
The psychology behind all of this madness
So how do we explain all of this craziness? Perhaps a few simple psychology theories applied to sport can help:
- Confirmation bias. Think Bill O’Brien is invincible and the next guru coach in waiting? Well all you have to do is click around the internet and there will be ample evidence to guide you into this way of thinking – that’s the confirmation bias!
- Scarcity principle. Some college AD’s and pro sport owners really believe that there are only a few select souls on this planet that can lead a winning football program, and when you find one you must get him immediately before he is scooped up by someone else – hello, scarcity!
- Bandwagon effect. As other pro and college teams sell the farm and do everything they can to attract those rare God-like coaches, you must do the same in order to keep up. Yep, that’s the bandwagon effect.
- Availability cascade. Hear about something long enough and eventually you come to believe it — Chip Kelly went from good college coach to eventually being the best mastermind in the world when it came to developing a prolific offense as bloggers everywhere continued to build him up. Availability cascade, anyone?
Industrial/Organizational psychology, or “business” psychology, has shown for years that there is a tremendous amount of bias and lapses in objectivity when it comes to making good business hires. Similarly, football perhaps more than any other sport has shown us that when it comes to hiring and firing, things change incredibly fast and often with very little reason or evidence for the change (just ask former Browns coach Rob Chudzinski). With that said, one thing is certain — you can absolutely expect only more of this lunacy in the future!
chudzinski, coaches, fired, kelly, NFL, O'Brien, psychology, rex, ryan, shanahan, sport