Once in a while in the life of a columnist you read someone else's work and wish you'd written it yourself. I had that experience this week when I found a column in The Toronto Sun by Steve Simmons.
Simmons incorporated some things I'd already discovered about this subject, tied them all together in a meaningful manner and backed it up with the perfect quote from the perfect source.
The headline was 'Time to blow whistle on pro coaches.' I'm a big fan of coaches. Used to be one. Coaches are paid to win and do so by whatever means possible, in many cases. But I agree with Simmons' premise: 'The entire profession of coaching is sucking the very life out of professional sports.'
This isn't a new theory. I recall a legendary Oregonian columnist, the late L.H. Gregory, roasting college basketball coaches for holding the ball, calling it 'public-be-damned basketball.' And it's happening today, heavier than ever, in all four major pro sports.
Simmons quotes one of hockey's all-time best coaches, Scotty Bowman:
'To be honest,' Bowman says, 'the better the coaching has become, the worse the game has become.'
Exactly. It's paralysis by overanalysis.
In hockey, coaches have realized that undertalented teams can slow games down, clutch and grab, kill the clock, ice the puck and hope for a break Ñ and if they work hard enough they can defeat much more talented teams. The result is the dulling down of a sport that used to feature wide-open skating and plenty of goals, yet still enough physical play to appease the fans.
It's even filtered down to the Western Hockey League. My goodness, the league that the Winter Hawks play in has become a defensive swamp. A league that used to feature 8-6 games is close to the record for shutouts in a season Ñ halfway through the year.
In basketball, it's the same thing. Detroit won a couple of titles by grabbing, holding, bumping every screen and fouling at every opportunity. Pat Riley's Knicks followed suit. Pretty soon, everyone was doing it, and these days the NBA is stuck with scores in the 70s and 80s. Fast breaks are as extinct as the hook shot. People are supposed to pay to see this mess?
Supporters of both leagues blame officials for not calling penalties or fouls. But come on Ñ the fate of your league shouldn't be in the hands of officials.
We just witnessed NFL conference championship games dominated by defenses, too. Yeah, I know, defense wins championships. Too bad. A lot more people would watch if offense won championships.
Even baseball has been slowed by micromanagement. This whole new approach of hitters working the count and taking more walks is effective Ñ but you can't say it's making games more attractive to fans.
How can sports stop the momentum of this coaching menace? It'll have to legislate its way out of the problem. Open the games up so much that coaches have less incentive to slow things down. Provide more incentive to turn their players loose to play on instinct, instead of like preprogrammed robots.
Scotty Bowman is right, and pro sports better act before it's too late.