John Arne Riise mentioned the other day how, after that horrible defeat at Derby, Magath called a late night meeting and announced practice first thing in the morning. Usually days after matches are for recovery. Que the horror.
The practice allegedly consisted of “tactics training” and lots of running.
When I played varsity sports in high school, heavy defeats were often followed by impromptu practices that contained lots of running. Same for those I helped managed in both high school and college. It didn’t matter if the coach horribly prepared us for the game, or if it was just a ‘bad day at the office’. Our actions on the game field had repercussions on the practice field.
I have no record (and done little research) that Khan played sports in his teen years. I can say that he has a lot of business acumen, and probably learned a bit about coaching methodologies I mentioned above while pursuing an NFL team before eventually owning the Jacksonville Jaguars.
And the fact he owns an NFL team, and not say an MLB team (more on that later), in relation to Magath is key.
American Football coaches, by and large, are insane (http://deadspin.com/5958802/coaches-are-freaks). Outside of baseball, no sport has sees much over coaching by managers. They routinely pull 100-hour work weeks. Everything is planned out. Game film is pored over again and again. It’s so intense that last season, one NFL coach had a heart attack while leisurely playing golf. Another had a stroke in the middle of a game.
The response from his colleagues were a shrug.
(Just read this from the now-fired Jim Schwartz: “That’s probably the same way you would talk in the locker room about a player that saw another player get an ACL or have another injury — if you let that affect the way you work, you’re in the wrong boat … Coaches don’t work 100 hours a week because they’re doing it because that’s healthy. They do it because the job requires it. It just is what it is.” Let that seep in.)
Compare that to the methods allegedly reported when Jol was in charge. If the rumors were true, the man rarely showed up to practice. The team was clearly out of shape and horribly ill prepared to do, well, anything. The defense, the bedrock of coaching, was on track to set historic lows.
Khan arrives and sees the mess. No, he’s not a football man; but he knows (or, thinks he does) enough about how teams are supposed to function that the current setup is a recipe for disaster.
But, he’s new. He doesn’t want to pull a Tony Fernandes and make an ass of himself in the first few months on the job. Nor does have the ego (or naiveté) to throw money at the problems like Abromovich or Sheikh Mansour did when they first arrived.
So he waits. Things don’t improve. He has Ali Mac hire esteemed assistant Rene Muelensteen to whip the team into some semblance of shape. Things continue to go sour. Jol gets fired, Rene takes over.
Things change slightly, but not enough. Rene’s reign was too short to make any sort of inferences, but I sense he found him to be too “salesman-y” (anyone who watched his videos on the team’s website will know what I mean; i.e., only speaking in cliches and platitudes) but mostly the results continue to remain poor.
Eventually Khan has enough. He played the modern English/European game to no avail, so now it’s the Puritanical American game. Cajoling is replaced by commanding. Obliging replaced with ordering.
He hires Felix Magath, a man hated in the game for his “methods”. He’s cold. He yells. He demands peak physical fitness. He’s ruthless. In Felix, Khan must have seen a familiar face. And what Felix has been implementing isn’t new to any American athlete or anyone involved heavily in sports. Khan sees him as someone who can whip this horrible, and horribly prepared, team into cohesion before it’s too late.
Well, it was too late. Although we may think otherwise, and have hindsight to prove (somewhat), Khan was a bit off in his belief. But, he still believes in Felix. The work is not done, the time to relax the control has not arrived. So he currently remains manager.
Sure, there’s been ultimatums given but that is to be expected in this hyper-competitive environment.
I mentioned baseball earlier as a comparison to the NFL. Although I can’t speak to say NHL or NBA coaches, baseball managers are a different breed. They have to be considering the long, daily season. Yes, some are “players mangers” and others are “disciplinarians” but it’s all quite relative.
Except for Buck Showalter, current manager of the Baltimore Orioles. And it’s with Buck that I think Felix Magath can learn from, and hopefully follow.
Buck is described as a control freak by many fans. Others would call him an asshole. According to Pat Jordan in a Sports on Earth (RIP) article, “Showalter hates to be called a control freak. He hates it because he doesn’t consider himself a control freak, but mostly, he hates it because he can’t control people calling him a control freak. To assuage his hurt feelings, I offered to call him one of the many other names people associate with him: passive-aggressive, taciturn, sarcastic, caustic, suspicious, paranoid, Machiavellian. He did not laugh.”
(Before I proceed, we could probably apply any of those adjectives to Magath. I highly recommend reading this piece and think about Magath.)
But Buck wins.
The rap on Buck is (or was) his an uncanny ability of taking underperforming or new teams (New York Yankees in early 90s, when they sucked; Arizona Diamonbacks in late 90s; Texas Rangers in early aughts) and turning them into a contender. But before they could clear that hurdle and become great teams, Buck got fired (each would go on to win a World Series, or many in the Yankees case, or at least appear in them shortly thereafter).
Usually it was a mutual departure.
Essentially, teams got tired of his attention to detail (the man reportedly picked out the Diamondbacks color palette upon his hiring) and players grew weary of his methods and tuned him out.
So it was no surprise to see him hired by the Baltimore Orioles in late 2010, a team that was suffering their 15th (was it more?) straight losing season.
It took a little while to turn the teams fortunes around, but the O’s magically made the playoffs in 2012. They’re currently on par (KNOCK ON WOOD) to win their first division title (not a pennant, just a freaking division title!) in nearly 20 years.
Four years into his current job, Buck has already lasted longer than he did at any of his prior MLB managerial positions. Part of it is probably the team has sucked for so long that everyone will take the warts with the wins. But a bigger part of that is he (reportedly) mellowed out a bit before his Orioles gig. He (again, reportedly as it’s late and I don’t feel like searching for articles to back this up; just going on what I hear) pays close attention to the appropriate things instead of all the things.
Which is what I think plays into the ‘Felix as manager story’ I’m attempting to spin here. As Rich said Felix is still experimenting, the team is still evolving.
I don’t know if it’ll work and whether Felix can survive. I hope he himself can evolve himself and lighten up; and this team and season provides that perfect opportunity. Like Buck who after third time of of being fired only for his team make the World Series just a few years later; perhaps finally being relegated and managing a bunch of 18 year olds in AAA will be that humbling experience.
Results to date haven’t been helpful, but it’s really up to him. I don’t see Khan changing just yet; we need to see Felix do so.