Firing coaches mid-season hurts team dynamics

Mark Gottfried, coach of North Carolina State men’s basketball team, was informed mid-February, that he would not be returning as head coach for the next season. The Wolfpack’s current record is 15-17 and 4-14 in the ACC play, largely in part to a seven-game losing streak they had earlier this season. Gottfried’s dismissal was seen as a response to the lack of success of his team. Many people and coaches have come to Gottfried’s defense saying it was wrong for NC State to fire their coach midseason.

Kentucky men’s basketball coach, John Calipari, was one colleague of Gottfried to come to his defense, denouncing NC State for firing Gottfried midseason. Firing coaches mid-season can disrupt the natural flow of the team and hinder coaches ability to do their jobs. Originally, NC State wanted to fire Gottfried right on the spot but he asked to finish out the season. Being a coach is about more than winning. Coaches should be as dedicated to their players as the game.

“I don’t want to quit on my players,” Gottfried stated. “I care about our players a lot. I care about them as individuals and I want them to have success more than anything else.”

When a coach is fired midseason it severs the bond between the players and the coach. Coaches and players need to cultivate strong relationships in order to have a successful team. When you fire a coach it creates an uncertainty between the coaches and players and it’s more difficult to establish those relationships.

If a university basketball team’s main goal is developing a teaching environment for their players then they should not be firing coaches mid-season. A university would not fire a professor mid semester because their students were performing poorly. They would wait until the end of the year and evaluate the professor’s performance.

Gottfried’s termination reflects a larger problem prevalent in college basketball. The environment created by fans and the media has more influence in the actions of universities than the actual performance of the team. The incessant need for winning felt by the fans of NC State basketball and importance placed on a victory by the media put pressure on the athletic supervisors at NC State.

After two years of abysmal records, the pressure put on NC State athletic supervisors was too intense for them to take no action. Without thinking through the effects on Gottfried or the players, they fired him midseason to show the media and their fans that they were doing something to ensure that State would start winning again. In the end, State bowed to media and public pressure and in the process Gottfried was a fatality of the performance oriented world of college basketball.

Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

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