Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday's Musings on Sports - Jason, Mark and the Spies

Two weeks ago, the NY Rangers fired Head Coach John Tortorella. Since this is New York, the firing of a coach (in any sport) immediately sets off wild speculation as to who the replacement will be. Although the Ranger were able to escape the feeding frenzy the last time they fired a coach (since the Ranger already had the former Jack Adams winner in their stable when they replaced the passive Tom Renney) the circus has begun in earnest this time around.

Generally, when a coach gets fired, the media will offer possible replacements coaches, including retreads, up & coming assistant coaches from other organizations, and recently retired marquee coaches. However, unique to New York is the possibility of naming a player who had a golden history with the team, but who has no coaching experience whatsoever. In the case of the Rangers, the possible ex-player is Mark Messier.

[Before moving on to discuss why Messier may or not be the proper replacement coach, I would note that this NY phenomenon is not unique to hockey. Although the Nets fired their coach almost a month ago, rumors have begun to circulate that Jason Kidd (perhaps one of the greatest Nets leaders of all time) is interested in their head coaching vacancy, even though he too has no head coaching experience.]

When Mark Messier first came to the Rangers in 1992, he was hailed as the messiah. He had a sterling resume with five Stanley Cups in Edmonton and a reputation as a hard nosed leader. Less than two years after he arrived, the Rangers had their first Stanley Cup in fifty four years.

Since Messier's retirement, he has been in and out of hockey, but most recently he has served as an assistant to Rangers GM Glen Sather. But he has zero coaching experience on any level.

So what would make Messier a good candidate for Head Coach of the New York Rangers? When looking at the situation objectively, the answer is very little. Messier has a natural ability to lead and a great history as a hockey player. He may be able to inspire his players based on his career and history in the NHL. But he has not demonstrated any ability to coach. There is simply no indication that Messier's innate "hockey smarts" can be transmitted to his players, or that he will be able to match X's and O's with other head coaches.

I sometimes wonder why former players who have zero experience feel that they can be great coaches? Maybe its because the game came so easy to them that they feel that they can teach it to others without the need to work under someone else as an assistant. 

But there is another possibility. Maybe its the spies. In Parshas Shelach we read about how the spies were sent to look at the land of Israel and report back. When they returned, ten of the twelve spies had negative reports and the Jews cried. Hashem punished the Jews for crying for nothing and we remember the event every year on Tisha B'Av.

The motivation for the spies is a hotly contested issue by the meforshim. But one of the main theories is that the spies were the nesi'im (loosely translated as presidents or princes) of their respective tribes. The spies were concerned that once the Jews entered Israel they would lose their roles and the Jews would be led by a King. In order to prolong their role, they made their report a negative one.

Of course, I am not saying that Mark Messier or Jason Kidd have a nefarious plot to wreck the future of their teams. But maybe the reason that they feel that they can become Head Coaches without ever spending time as an assistant is because they can't let go of the feeling left over from their playing days that they can lead a team anywhere.

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