Think about it. A coach can live with a team that overachieves, but comes up short because of talent limitations. And a coach knows his team won’t always bring its “A” game to the court or field every night. But dare we suggest that he or she was outcoached? Those are fighting words.
On the surface it seems innocent enough. If players are outplayed, can’t coaches be outcoached? Coaches know when they’ve been outcoached, but it’s not an accusation that coaches like to admit publicly.
After this year’s Super Bowl, a number of so-called experts said coaching genius Bill Belichek was outcoached by Tom Coughlin, a coach who has been under fire more times than Smoky the Bear during the height of the forest fire season.
Turn the clock back 18 months when New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey was critical of Coughlin. The Giants fell behind by 35 points early before losing to Seattle 42-30.
Shockey said, “We got outplayed and outcoached. Write that down.” Asked what he meant by outcoached, Shockey said, “You saw the game.
“They were in different defenses than we thought they were going to be in. They did different things that we haven’t seen,” he said. “You can make adjustments all you want, but when they do new things and they switch things up, you really can’t do anything.”
Players think they are outcoached when they perceive their coaches didn’t prepare them for what they faced from the opposing team during a game, whether it was an inadequate scouting report or a lack of in-game adjustments.
The trouble with being outcoached is that it can mean so many different things. The obvious and most damaging implication is that a team lost because the other coach prepared his or her team better.
What makes the issue so complex is that players either make the plays or they don’t. When players make plays, the coach looks like a genius. When they don’t, the coach looks pretty average.
If Eli Manning doesn’t escape a heavy pass rush late in the Super Bowl, and if his pass isn’t miraculously caught or trapped on the helmet by David Tyree, chances are Belichek walks off the field wearing the genius label. Alas, one of the greatest catches in the history of the Super Bowl translates into charges that Belichek was outcoached.
In all honesty, win or lose, maybe Belichek was outcoached. Even if his team had won, the Giants throttled the high-flying Patriots offense while moving the ball offensively against the Patriots defense. It appears the Giants had better tactics on both sides of the ball. If the Patriots had won, would it be fair to say the Patriots won in spite of being outcoached?
Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss said, “The Giants had a better game plan than we did. They came ready to play four quarters.”
You could argue that New England wasn’t outcoached, just out-executed. But that still has a hollow ring. Isn’t the coach responsible for how the team executes?
Coaches often attempt to defuse criticism after a loss by saying “we got outcoached.” But I’ve never heard one offer a detailed admission of just how, or in what areas, that happened.
The topic is important mostly in online fan discussion forums or in coffee shops and sports bars. Again, fans rarely know exactly what the coaches have done wrong, just that they were outcoached.
Of course, everyone aims for the same prize, a championship. Only one team can win it all. And that translates into a lot of people allegedly getting outcoached or outplayed.
That’s what makes sports so enjoyable and frustrating at the same time, and why coaching is such a challenge.