Tag Archives: Jim Harbaugh

The Most Disliked Coaches in America

By Kevin York

While writing my post last week giving my thoughts on Forbes’ list of the ten most disliked athletes in America, I began wondering who would appear on a broadened list of the most disliked sports figures in America. How would coaches be included? What about owners? At the end of that post I decided I would do a follow up assessing the most disliked coaches in America. Since then I decided to do a larger series where I would look at coaches, owners and finally teams. Today I’ll focus on coaches. Watch for posts examining owners and teams in following weeks.

As I thought about disliked coaches, I started thinking about what makes a coach disliked. Two things immediately jumped out at me – success and arrogance. Everyone tends to hate a winner. It’s just a fact in sports. Call it jealousy, call it envy, hatred and dislike builds for people that see success, even moreso for those that consistently attain success. People also hate arrogance. It’s cool for a while if it’s your coach (everyone else hates it), but the minute your team begins to struggle, that bravado you used to love quickly becomes irritating. Rex Ryan is the prime example. Jim Harbaugh is a more recent one. Jimbo’s fiery personality played well to fans in the San Francisco area and really all across the NFL, especially after the quiet, conservative approach of Mike Singletary. However, his schtick began to irritate many non-Niner fans in his second year. The minute he encounters difficulties I can foresee San Francisco fans following suit.

I have my own thoughts on the most disliked coaches in America, but I wanted to get broader perspective for this post so I asked my fellow Couchletes for their thoughts, as well as my friends on Facebook. The coaches listed below, were chosen based on the feedback I received from those two sources (I got a lot of responses and couldn’t use them all). I listed them in alphabetical order as opposed to ranking them 1-10.

Bill Belichik
Although “the hoodie” has won over the hearts of fans throughout the New England area, much of the rest of the country despises him. Why? Success. Well, that and a little thing called spygate. Personally, I don’t dislike Belichik; I actually respect him, but can see why others wouldn’t like him. He carries a certain arrogance, but it’s not a boisterous, loud-mouthed type of arrogance, it’s more of a quiet “I know I’m smarter than you” arrogance. That’s the type of ego I can respect, he knows he doesn’t have to back it up with a lot of bluster.

John Calipari
Calipari is cocky and knows it, embraces it even, to the extent that he passes the cockiness onto his teams. That’s not the reason he’s on this list though; no, his status on this list is cemented because of his role in bastardizing college basketball by not just cherishing, but wholly and fully adopting, the one and done system the NBA now pushes on promising young players. Throughout his career he’s toed the gray boundary line of the NCAA, falling on the wrong side just as much as he’s ended up on the right side. Sure, he puts together good teams, but there are always questions about the legality of how he formed these teams. Quiz – how many Final Four trips has Calipari made throughout his career at UMass, Memphis and Kentucky? If you said four, you’re wrong. It’s only two, his two most recent while at Kentucky. The NCAA vacated Calipari’s Final Four appearances while at UMass and Memphis due to rules violations. Based on his past behavior, we’re probably just looking at a matter of time until his Kentucky trips are vacated.

Pete Carroll
Many people have built up a dislike for Carroll based on his tenure at USC, one that was filled with greatness, conference titles and national titles, but also egotism, vanity, swagger, and toward the end, scandal. Carroll’s Trojan teams didn’t win any favors through their frequent tendency to run up the score on inferior teams or their habit of running others noses in their supreme ability. That made it all the more ironic when Carroll bitched and whined about Jim Harbaugh and his Stanford Cardinal running up the score on Pete’s Trojans. When Carroll got to the NFL, his antics continued, most notably on two occasions that continued to build an anti-Pete following:
1.) After the Seahawks beat the Packers due to a horrendous, blatant missed call by the officials, Pete ran around the field, giddy as a school girl who just learned the popular boy asked her best friend if she likes him. After the game, he then talked about what a superb game his team played to ‘earn’ the win (both teams actually played really sloppy, Pete; what game were you watching?)
2.) In the Seahawk’s playoff game against the Falcons, Carroll tried to ice Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant prior to his field goal attempt at the end of regulation to win the game. Bryant missed the kick, but Carroll had been granted the timeout, leading ‘ol Pete to whine to the referees that he didn’t call a timeout. We all saw it, Pete. Fox was even so gracious as to pull it up on video to show all of America you clearly told an official you wanted a time out.

Gene Chizik
Chizik might not have the national presence of some of the other coaches on this list, but those that do know of him, don’t like him much. Chizik gained some national notoriety for his one season tenure as co-defensive coordinator at the University of Texas under Mack Brown, though he only held the position for one year before leaving to become head coach at Iowa State. Chizik signed a six year deal with the Cyclones, but only served two of those years, leaving after compiling a 5-19 record to become the head coach at Auburn. He was one of the earliest examples of college coaches showing no loyalty to the school paying them. Chizik became best known for winning a national championship at Auburn behind the play of one year wonder, quarterback Cam Newton. So far you’re probably reading this thinking, he doesn’t sound that dislikable. Unfortunately that national title season was stained with controversy surrounding Newton. The quarterback originally started his college career at Florida, before being suspended from the team for stealing a laptop from another student (which was found to be in his possession). He transferred from Florida to a junior college for a year, before coming to Auburn. However, suspicions were raised that Newton’s father had run a play for payment scheme before choosing Alabama, attempting to get interested schools to pay substantial sums of money to get Newton. It was found that Newton’s father made this type of arrangement with Mississippi State, but oddly enough, Newton chose Auburn, leading many to speculate that Chizik and Auburn had come to a similar arrangement. While the NCAA was unable to find proof of payments after launching one of its laughable ‘investigations,’ the damage to Chizik was done. He now carries the reputation of a dirty coach.

Jim Harbaugh
My fellow Couchletes will disagree with me on this one and blame his inclusion in the list to my personal distaste for Harbaugh; however, I wasn’t considering including him until his name was mentioned by others after asking about the most disliked coaches. I mentioned him in my opening and will now expand on it a bit. The 49ers were a lowly team when Harbaugh took the reigns as head coach. So in his first season, when he started winning, people thought it was a good story. They looked past his sideline ranting and raving antics. Harbaugh gained more national attention in his second season after leading San Francisco to the NFC Championship game. More eyes were on him now and those eyes became tired of brash and blustery personality. Jimbo, you’re not a player anymore. It’s time to learn to keep your emotions in check. You don’t need to run up and down the sidelines screaming like a lunatic. And I know this will astonish you, but your team does commit penalties. So please, stop bitching and whining like a spoiled child every time a penalty is called on your team. The league and the officials aren’t out to get you.

Lane Kiffin
Lane Kiffin has always come across as a snot-nosed little brat. His father is the great defensive coach Monte Kiffin, and I question if Lane used his family roots to skirt by. As a head coach, Kiffin certainly hasn’t been impressive. He seemed like a good assistant at USC under Pete Carroll, convincing Raiders owner Al Davis of this so much that Davis made him the youngest head coach in NFL history. He lasted less than two years with the Raiders, being fired four games into his second season. He compiled a 5-15 record with Oakland. He then left to coach the University of Tennessee, lasting one 7-6 season before being poached by USC to become their head coach. In his one season in Knoxville he raised a lot of chaos though, being investigated for NCAA violations and also publicly accusing then-Florida head coach of violations. Lane Kiffin’s an immature hot head.

Bobby Petrino
Petrino is currently the head coach of Western Kentucky, not really a hot college football job, huh? The reason he’s there is due to his past mistakes. While serving as head coach at Arkansas, Petrino crashed his motorcycle. After initially saying he was alone on the motorcycle, it came out that a former Arkansas volleyball player, whom Petrino had just hired for the football staff, was on the back of the bike with him. He later revealed that the woman was not just a passenger during the crash, but was someone he’d been having an affair with, prior to even hiring her to his football staff. Petrino was fired for the incident. But that’s not all that gets Bobby on this list. Petrino was hired as football coach of the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, with the intent of building the team into a winner around star quarterback Michael Vick. Of course, Vick would not play that season after facing federal dog fighting charges. After 13 games, Petrino put together a 3-10 record and decided to take the head coaching job at Louisville. He essentially left the team in the middle of the night, informing his team through four sentences typed on a piece of paper placed on each locker. Classy.

Rex Ryan
Rexy’s spot on this list is due to his boisterous and often obnoxious personality. While there are weird, yet funny, stories about him such as his foot fetish with his wife and his tattoo of his wife wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey, Ryan hasn’t really done anything like Petrino, Calipari or Chizik. His personality just rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

Nick Saban
Success breeds jealousy, envy and dislike. Saban is the Bill Belichik of college football. For all intents and purposes, he’s a respectable guy, making sure his team plays the right way. But, damn he’s seen a lot of success, which brings out haters.

Roy Williams
Williams may seem like an odd fit for this list. He’s largely on it just because he pissed off so many people for leaving Kansas for North Carolina. He denied the Tar Heels once and then succumbed to them three years later.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at kevin@thecouchletes.com

Are We Seeing the Real Jim Harbaugh Emerge?

For every first time head coach, there comes a moment when he shows his true colors. The first season, or even two, don’t always really show who the guy is or what he’s consistently capable of.

When a coach takes a new job, there is often either a honeymoon phase or a period of time where he faces some struggles. Rarely does a coach step into a situation, see immediate success (and I’m talking about ‘real’ widely acknowledged, traditional success, not relative success like if the Browns or Raiders won 7 games), and consistently continue delivering that level of success. The only recent examples I can think of are Mike Tomlin of the Steelers and John Harbaugh of the Ravens.

Some head coaches never figure out a way to get past the initial struggles and never see success in that first job. They typically last 3 years or so. Steve Spagnuolo (Rams) and Rod Marinelli (Lions) are recent examples of this.

A handful of coaches struggled in year one, had a good year two, but then fell back into year one status and can’t get out of it. Todd Haley (Chiefs), Brad Childress (Vikings) and Raheem Morris (Bucs) fall into this category.

Then there are a number of coaches that saw success initially and then fell into a place of mediocrity or in some cases, bottomed out. Tony Sparano (Dolphins; 11 wins in his first season), Eric Mangini (Jets; 10 wins) and Jim Caldwell (Colts; 14 wins) all got off to great starts as head coaches and appeared to be solid choices. Of course, after the honeymoon period wore off, we saw what each of them really were. Then there are coaches like Todd Ha

I think the ultimate case study of this type of honeymoon period coach is Rex Ryan of the Jets. He began his head coaching career with a 9-7 season followed by an even better 11-5 season. In both of these first two years he took the Jets to the AFC Championship game. But then he followed those seasons up with an 8-8 season, missing the playoffs. The Jets are currently 4-6 under Ryan and he’s on the hot seat. Keep in mind, the team hasn’t changed all that much from his first two seasons to where they are now.

This all leads me to the current case of San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. As we all know, his first year as head coach was a giant success. The Niners only lost three regular season games and he took them to the NFC Championship, losing a close game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Harbaugh brought a big change in mentality to the Niners. However, something always struck me as a little different about him. He wore his emotions a little too much on his sleeve, was almost a little too fiery for a head coach. As of late, we haven’t seen many head coaches in this mold have prolonged success. It’s certainly not the style we see from Bill Belichik, Mike Tomlin, Mike McCarthy, Tom Coughlin or even Harbaugh’s own brother John – all head coaches that have seen consistent success (and no, you can’t convince me that Coughlin or John Harbaugh come near Jim’s level of emotion and fire; the guy’s all over the field, running and yelling). They’re much more in control of their emotions, some to the degree that they’re downright stoic. You can argue that a fiery head coach can be successful too, but when’s the last time we saw one win a Super Bowl? It was Bill Cowher in 2006 and prior to that it was Jon Gruden in 2003. To find one before them we have to go all the way back to Mike Ditka. Analytical coaches seem to be more the style and successful model over the past 20 years. Jim Harbaugh’s style always had a certain Rex Ryan feel to it. It seemed to work though. He had a good first season and the second has been off to a great start.

But last week, something changed. Rahul discussed it a bit previously. Harbaugh created his own quarterback controversy by starting Colin Kaepernick at quarterback against the Saints after regular starter Alex Smith was medically cleared to take the field following his recovery from a concussion. Kaepernick had a good game against the Saints and it seemed to indicate that the Niners found their quarterback of the future.

But not so fast…

Harbaugh came out this week saying Alex Smith is still his starter and that he would decide on a starter for Sunday’s game at St. Louis by midweek.

“Alex Smith is our starting quarterback. He has not done anything to lose that job,” Harbaugh said. “In fact, he’s playing at a very high level. Also, Colin Kaepernick, you can’t categorize him as a backup quarterback, because he’s started games and played very well in those games.”

Uh, what?

Jimmy…if Alex Smith is still your starter, then why are you saying you’ll name a starter by midweek? Didn’t you just do that by saying Alex is your starting quarterback? Of course you also tacitly implied that Kaepernick is also your starter in the very same statement.

This whole weird situation now has me questioning Harbaugh’s intelligence. Last week he already alienated Alex Smith by starting Kaepernick. Smith lost his job not due to poor performance, but to injury. And this came after an off season where Harbaugh did everything short of picking up a microphone and singing “Stand By Your Man” to show his commitment to Smith as his QB now and into the future after reports surfaced that San Francisco showed interest in Peyton Manning. Seems like Kaepernick now has to also be wondering about Harbaugh’s ongoing commitment to him with Harbaugh proactively offering up that he hasn’t decided on a QB for this Sunday yet. Kaepernick had two above average very good performances against the likes of the Bears and Saints and could now lose his job as the starter? Due to what?… He has to be asking “what gives?” much like Smith was wondering prior to the Saints game.

In discussing the situation, Harbaugh offered up comments admitting that the situation is difficult for both Smith and Kaepernick:

“The guys will be hammered,” Harbaugh said. “You go to Colin, you go to Alex, ‘Should you be the starter?’ He’s got no good answer for you. He says, ‘Yes, I should be the starter’ — we’re talking either one — and you look like you’re just building up yourself. If you say no, then they hammer you because you don’t think you should be the starter. Then the people, so-called subject matter experts, who talk about, ‘You should be making a fuss about it or a stink about it, you shouldn’t be that accommodating,’ it sends a completely wrong message, to me, for young athletes out there, or high school quarterbacks, where their coach is trying to tell them it’s about the team and all of us working together. So that one gets me upset. That’s not what our two guys are about.”

That was a rambling, borderline incoherent semblance of a thought. But after reading it three times and finally digesting what I think he was trying to say, my response is: that’s a very nice, idealistic thought, Jim. These aren’t young athletes though. These are two professional athletes who make money to play this game. You say your guys aren’t about stating that they’re the best. They should be. That’s what I want from my quarterback. Top quarterbacks in this league wouldn’t stand by so nonchalantly as their job is dangled in front of them. They’d fight for it, in play and in words. While I respect both men for not talking publicly about this, it’s ridiculous to have the expectation that they’ll continue to fall in line behind Harbaugh (who has now betrayed them both to a certain degree) and tow the company line.

That statement from Harbaugh also made me start thinking about the San Francisco locker room beyond just Smith and Kaepernick. These guys make money based on the passes they catch, touchdowns they score, games they win. Eventually it will come to a point where sides are taken. Harbaugh doesn’t want that to happen. He doesn’t want a locker room divided. Now that Harbaugh turned his back on Smith and has also done so to Kaepernick by not standing by him as the starter after posting two solid wins, when will other guys in the locker room start to wonder if he’ll take the same position with them? If I get an injury, will my job be there when I come back or will Coach turn his back on me? Will free agents want to come into that environment?

Harbaugh has always been a rah-rah type of guy. After all, this is the guy that used that ridiculous “who’s got it better than us?!” cheer last year (for Smith and Kaepernick, I can say their answer to that right now is: the quarterbacks of the other 31 teams in the league that know where their place on their team is). But where is the mental side of coaching and instilling confidence in your team that should recognize he’s treading on thin water by creating his own quarterback controversy? Especially for a guy that played quarterback in the NFL and went through this same type of thing (with Mike Tomczak when both were battle for the starting spot with the Bears in the early 90s)? He knows the mindset, the ups and downs, from his own experience.

I think many have assumed that Harbaugh is a good X’s and O’s guy. Look at that coaching staff though. He has two stellar coordinators supporting him in Vic Fangio and Greg Roman. Two guys that should, and likely will, receive consideration for head coaching jobs this off-season. Is it possible that Harbaugh is a lot of bravado and charisma and those guys carry a significant part of the credit for the on-field turnaround?

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but Jim Harbaugh is on dangerous, slippery territory. Is this a momentary lapse in judgement (albeit a big one) by a good coach or is the Real Jim Harbaugh now emerging in a fashion similar to how the Real Rex Ryan eventually emerged? Only time will tell.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york