It's spring and so the annual coaching carousel makes its inevitable rounds throughout all the levels, professional, college and high school. The ones that had long tenures, usually are predictable (retirement, leave for a better job, etc... But I've always wondered about the interim head coach. Why would anyone take an interim head coaching position only to get dumped at the end of the season? There are a few rare exceptions where the interim position leads to a permanent one but by and large, interim head coaches most likely end up dumped at the end of the year. So why would anyone even entertain that possibility?
I was reading the press release yesterday of Jim Boylan's firing from the Bulls and while it seems that he was the fall guy, the lame duck for a disasterous season, he seemed reserved to his fate almost from the moment he took the job,
“I was brought in here in the middle of the season,” Boylan said a day before the Bulls ended his tenure. “It’s kind of a tough situation. A lot of things happened.”
With so much turmoil already at the time, things got notably worse. There was the Joakim Noah verbal blowup at assistant coach Ron Adams in practice one day in January. Then Andres Nocioni blew a gasket at Boylan after being taken out of a game in the second quarter against Indiana in March sending Andres to the locker room. Or Chris Duhon skipping practices to watch Duke games. After all of that, Jim Boylan was reflective in describing his time as head coach,
Boylan described his experience as “Fun. It was full of all kinds of experiences—some good, some not so good,” he said. “Sitting in the head coach’s seat was comfortable and enjoyable. I loved the challenge.”
I think as coaches, ultimately, we yearn for the chance to be the head coach, no matter how bad the situation is. I don't think anyone goes into coaching hoping to be an assistant forever. We all want to remember what it feels like to call all the shots again. Once you become a head coach, it's all you ever think about getting back to. It's why coaches take the risk, to put themselves out there. You think that for Boylan, the safe thing to do was to probably stay the assistant, bide his time and maybe in the summer he could land a good NBA head coaching job. Instead, he opted for the interim route full of potential pitfalls. Boylan won't likely be a head coach in the NBA anytime soon after this season, but I think he wouldn't change a thing even if he had the chance.
I think back to earlier this season when Eddie Sutton took over as interim coach at San Francisco and Dan Dakich in Indiana. Both were potentially bad situations and turned out to be bad situations. Now, people say Sutton took the job just to get his 800th win. That's possible, but I think what's more probable is that Sutton and Dakich just wanted to be the head coach again. To call the shots, run practices, be the man. Both men knew that there was probably nothing beyond March, yet they took the plunge anyways.
Coaching is a funny thing. It's like once you're in it, you're in for life. I don't know how many times I've talked to coaches in March and April and they say, "This is it, I've had it, I'm never coaching again." Only to see them back on the bench in October, doing what they always do, coaching basketball.