Many ideas for articles come from you, the readers of this blog.  I have had quite a spate of conversations in recent days about people meddling in athletic programs.  I have always found it curious how one particular topic seems to come to the fore during a specific time frame. I have no sound idea for why meddling is the prominent topic these last couple of weeks. Nevertheless, it is and so I will share a few general thoughts on the subject.

Just this morning, I read a rather lengthy article about the Cleveland Browns of the NFL.  Yes, I am a Brown's fan.  Sigh.  Lack of continuity has plagued the Browns for years now. Constant turnover in the front office, the personnel department, coaching staff and on the roster has sabotaged any effort to put a respectable product on the field since the franchise returned to the NFL.  It starts at the top with owners meddling, or micro-managing every aspect of the franchise.  In Cleveland's case, owner Jimmy Haslam is responsible for keeping Josh Gordon in Cleveland and bringing Johnny Manziel to Cleveland over the objections of the people he hired to run the personnel department. Front office meddles in personnel and personnel meddles in coaching in what can be described as a trickle down deluge of disastrous proportions. 

Click here for the article on the Browns mess

High school soccer is plagued by teacher unions demanding their members receive preference for coaching positions regardless of merit.  As it was explained to me years ago by a sympathetic athletic director, "there is no so such thing as more qualified" when weighing potential coaching candidates. Greater weight is attached to a teacher seeking coaching employment than to a non-teacher seeking the same position.  "If Bill Belichick applied for the head football coach position I would still have to give the job to a teacher, if the teacher had any qualifications at all."  I myself recently ran afoul of such a scenario. I was told I was the best candidate for the job, but the position went to someone who just graduated from college and is a permanent substitute for the district and would probably be hired into a full time position for next fall when the season would begin.   I understand. I knew going in to the interview process that I would not be getting that coaching position. As soon as the athletic director mentioned "union" I knew it was over. Such is the meddling nature of teacher unions in athletics. I went through the process anyway for the experience and practice. I have my eye on another position I "think" may come open.

A coaching colleague had to withstand an attempt to overthrow him in mid-season last fall.  I kid you not, the school posted the head coach soccer position after the season started. He withstood that challenge and went on to complete the season, but one of the persons seeking his job turned out to be an assistant coach. Talk about awkward.  I have recently learned the position will be re-posted as a teacher employed by the school district has expressed interest in being the head coach,

I listened to another person vent about the "team mom" who flirted with and all but seduced a male coach to ensure her son would be captain of the team and win the desired post season awards so he could include mention of these on his college applications.  A scene right out of a Hollywood movie, you say?  I might have agreed had I not witnessed similar situations from both a coaching and a parental perspective. 

Referees are not immune to meddling either.  I saw a high school basketball referee years ago whose attitude was that the game was all about him and everyone was there to see him. He announced before the game that he was one his way to officiating college basketball and then it was on to the NBA. Each and every call he made (and there were many) was done with attitude and flair! Demonstrative doesn't begin to describe his approach.  He was going for charismatic, but as anyone who has officiated will tell you the two don't mix at all.

One of the my more memorable predicaments occurred when I was hired by an athletic director to clean up a program beset by meddlesome parents. Everything went well, until the athletic director himself was run off by meddlesome parents and the new athletic director turned out to be one of those meddlesome parents.  It got to the point where I was instructed who to play by the new athletic director despite the athletic director admittedly having next to no knowledge about soccer. 

There was also the time for no apparent reason a superintendent fought tooth and nail against fielding a junior varsity squad. Every objection presented by the superintendent was successfully dealt with. In the end, all that was left was the cost of providing numerals to the athletes depicting graduating year that could be applied to their letterman jackets.  About $15.00 total. I offered to pay for the numerals. Now, finances were not the actual reason for the reluctance to field a JV team. The superintendent backed herself into a corner by meddling in a growing and successful program. In the end there was a need to save face and no way to do so gracefully.

A coaching mentor once related to me a similar situation he found himself in many years ago. The then athletic director instructed him not to play a black athlete at quarterback. He had to play a white athlete at quarterback. The black athlete was clearly superior in every regard, but that did not matter. As in my case, if the coach wished to continue coaching he had to abide by his bosses (the athletic director) orders. The white kid played quarterback. The coach left after the season

I have seen club teams quite literally torn apart by such meddling.  A power hungry assistant coach attempts to overthrow the current coach. When that fails the assistant recruits everyone who will go with him to a new team.  Or a parent unhappy with the team her son is assigned to within a club attempts to overthrow the decision makers and start a new club / team that will accommodate her son.

I once had an administrator refuse to pay me over a dispute he had with a players family.  I had absolutely no leverage with either party in the situation. It finally brewed over the next season when in mid-season the administrator stated the player could no longer play. The administrator went so far as stating to me that he would be coming to the next match and confiscating the players card to prevent him from taking the field. And this was the goalkeeper he was going to ban from playing! 

I am also reminded of certain players through the years who were disruptive when they did not get to play the position they wanted to or did not receive the playing time they wanted. One player, frustrated with what he perceived as a lack of playing time stripped his uniform off behind the bench and put his street clothes on with over 20 minutes remaining on the clock of a high school match. A second example saw a player badger the coaching staff non-stop in pursuit of his own agenda.  Or in the case of Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon of the aforementioned Cleveland Browns players will drink or do drugs, be late to practices and games and in other ways be generally irresponsible and indifferent to their responsibility to themselves, their teammates and coaches

Another common occurrence involves the parent on the sidelines who thinks (s)he knows more than the coach and isn't afraid to share his knowledge with anyone within earshot.  I have first hand experience with this as a parent / assistant coach and as a head coach.  Mary was an absolute nightmare in berating any player she viewed as a threat to her sons position on the team.  Ed was worse as he struggled to deal with his daughters injury ruining her senior season and whatever dreams he had of her going on to play in college.

I find it extremely difficult to sit in the stands at a soccer match as a parent / fan with people who know me. I get asked questions about interpreting the Laws of the Game, coaching decisions, tactics and strategies, how an athlete can improve his chances for playing time and any number of other game related topics.  Some people (Mary and Ed as examples) gleefully embrace the attention and are oblivious to finding themselves sitting alone as everyone moves away from them.  As for me, I prefer not to sit in the stands.  My wife enjoys my company and seeks my commentary not realizing the awkward position she sometimes puts me in.  I much prefer to sit or stand by myself as many have witnessed for I want no part of being seen as meddlesome.  Even so, I was accused of being meddlesome this past season. My transgression was cheering positive reinforcement to players.  I am quite serious. The coach took offense to my voice being heard cheering on the efforts of players other than my son. So, I modified my behavior to cheer only for my son... which did not go unnoticed by other parents. I acquiesced to the coach's wishes in an effort to protect my son from the coach seeking retribution or revenge. It didn't work. I knew it would not. My cheering positive plays the team made or directing those cheers to my son solely could not address the coach's insecurity and frustrations in the first place. The coach felt threatened by my presence although I had recommended him for the position, vouched for him as a coach and campaigned to the athletic director on his behalf. In the end there was a coach meddling with a parent cheering positively for the team? 

Where's the motivation in that?

And that's where all this is leading.

I grew up on "The team. The Team. THE TEAM!"

My actions whether as a player, a coach, an assistant coach or parent have always been guided by the philosophy shared by Bo Schembechler in the above video. It's all about what is best for THE TEAM.  In all the instances of real or perceived meddling related above, the team became of secondary importance. Selfishness and individuality were the motivation of owners, front office, personnel departments, teacher unions, athletic directors, administrators, coaches, assistant coaches, referees, parents and yes, players too. And in every case when the focus shifted from the team to the individual the quality of the experience went down for not only the meddler and his or her target, but everyone around them.

It's all about the team, bout the team.

No meddlers.

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