How Good Is Good Enough?

If you are a sports fan and reading this, or the people responsible for hiring and firing coaches, how good would a coach have to be for him (or her) to remain secure in the position on an indefinite basis? How good would a team have to be on an ongoing basis for the coach’s seat to never be warm, much less hot, and for the threat of being fired or having to fire one’s assistant coaches never be in play? I suspect that this answer would vary widely based on how downtrodden or how successful a given team was, but I also suspect that with increased performance there might be the expectation for still greater rewards, with those upwards expectations threatening the security of many coaches who did a fine job if not as good a job as the fanbase came to expect.

In 2015, the University of North Texas football team had a record of 1-11. After this terrible season, predictably, the head coach lost his job and was replaced by someone who had been a career assistant couch named Seth Littrell. Over the course of seven years at his position, he led the Mean Green to a 44-44 record, with an 0-5 bowl record, one conference championship, and another conference championship appearance this year that he also lost. While he got an extension after leading the team to its first 9-win season in almost forty years, his recent seasons, where his record hovered around .500, led him to receive the boot. Is this reasonable? What level of success would a school like North Texas be happy with and content with?

Let us consider a second example. The previous coach fired before Seth Littrell was fired today (as I write this) was Jeff Scott, who had been the coach of one of my alma maters, the University of South Florida, after a record of 4-26 in three seasons, with three of those victories coming against FCS competition, and only one of them coming against a conference opponent. During Scott’s tenure, the coach tried to sell the team and increasingly and violently angry fans (myself included) on “winning the right way” when the coach could not even manage to win at all, rightly or wrongly. This coach’s terrible performance as a coach led to the University of South Florida missing out on a chance to be promoted during the latest round of conference realignments, unlike its rival the University of Central Florida, which received its promotion to the Big 12 Conference, leaving USF to have to look forward to a new rivalry with the decidedly inferior (but still superior to USF at present) Florida Atlantic University, which was promoted in its place. It is clear that such a performance is not good enough.

Let us ponder the original question. How good is good enough? Is it more important to have a high floor or a high ceiling, or does one need both? Would it be enough to win half or more of one’s games every year, with many years winning close to 75% of one’s games and some years winning nearly all of them, with the occasional deep playoff run or bowl win? Or would a fanbase be tired of such seasons and demand championships nearly every year? If one is a fan of a downtrodden team, like, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates or the University of South Florida Bulls, the knowledge that a coach was good enough to be in contention for a bowl game or a playoff spot every year might be enough to warrant extensions. But for how long? How long would it be until one took that kind of performance for granted and started demanding more and more and more? Where would the demands pass from the reasonable to the unreasonable?

It is natural to expect that a talented coach would be able to raise a team from the depths of despair to a high level of performance. All too often, though, the ceiling of a coach’s performance may become the floor of fans’ demands and expectations. We can miss better than we are getting because we are too complacent with where we are, but all too often we can fail to appreciate how good we have it because we expect and demand more than others can give us. It is hard to be reasonable and driven and ambitious, to desire the best, but to realize that everyone else is trying to compete for the same glittering prizes and success that we are aiming for. What is the proper and reasonable level to be content with, and when must we demand better from ourselves and from others? This applies to far more than to sports, to be sure.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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