Frank Workman on Sports: What makes a great manager, coach, or teacher?

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Frank Workman
By Frank Workman

I went to a ballgame last week with a new (albeit 90 years old) friend, a historian of Baseball who has forgotten more about our National Pastime than I can ever hope to know.

At one point during the game, Norman inquired as to who was the best manager the Mariners have had. Given Norman’s professorial mien, I knew I needed to get the answer exactly right, so I paused for half a second before I responded with the obvious, Lou Piniella.

As that question had been of the simplest fill-in-the-blank variety, his follow-up was more an essay question.

“What makes for a great manager?” (This from a man who wrote a three-volume / 1600+ page biography on Connie Mack.)

Again I paused.

For once in my life, I chose not to be a smart-aleck by responding with “Great players.”

This time I took a breath. I didn’t exactly answer his question directly. Instead, I recited all the duties a manager today needs and the skills required to carry out those duties. There was a litany of them.

As the face of the franchise, he has to deal with the press on a daily basis, a time-consuming (and patience-testing) endeavor.

He has to work with his bosses upstairs, whose long-term and short-term goals may not always align with his, and with whom he may occasionally have profound philosophical differences.

He has to know his players’ abilities, personalities, moods, and temperaments. He has to know which buttons to push on each player to get their best effort as close to 100% of the time as possible. Some old southern football coach used to say “It’s not all about the x’s and o’s. You still need to know about the Jimmies and Joes.”

The ability to communicate clearly with all the entities listed above is paramount.

It could be expected that by the time a player makes it to the Big Leagues, he’s pretty solid in his physical abilities. Yet even the greatest of players needs to be coached-up along the way.

Likability isn’t essential, but it would seem to come in handy most of the time, although the annals of Baseball are filled with championship teams who didn’t much care for their manager. By the same token, there would seem to be enough examples of well-liked failures to prove Leo Durocher’s point that ‘nice guys finish last’.

Our conversation was interrupted by some action in the game (or maybe by the incessantly loud music played between innings that renders simple conversations impossible), and we didn’t speak on the matter any further.

A couple days later, while I was waiting for the light to turn green, it occurred to me the same question could be asked about our school teachers, as I recognize many similarities between teachers and managers/coaches.

In one sense, managers have it easy. They’ve only got 25 guys on their roster to contend with, while some teachers are apt to have 125-150 students each semester.

Teachers aren’t likely to have any students earning millions more per year than they are, with equally inflated egos to match, but then managers don’t deal with teenagers and their raging hormones.

While managers spend a portion of each day talking to the media, teachers get to correspond with parents, some of whom are capable of criticism every bit as much as the local sportswriter can be.

There are some players/students who just seem to perform better for one manager / teacher over the other.

The Houston Oilers old head coach, Bum Phillips, admired Miami’s Don Shula, paying him the highest compliment. In his best Texas drawl, Phillips said of Shula, “He can take his’n, and beat your’n…. and he can take your’n, and beat his’n.”

What makes a great manager, coach, or teacher?

Having seen many coaches and teachers from up-close-and-personal over the years, the best ones don’t make their players / students do the extra work that’s necessary to be successful. They get them to want to do the work.

And figuring out just how to do that…… that’s what makes for a great manager.


thelastdj September 21, 2019 at 12:41 PM  

Frank..The've hit the nail on its head again. A very nice read..and yes, we Elementary teachers longed to be our best for those 25-30 new ones each year and just how to make a mark on them. Not literally...but a nice influence and impression. Thanks.

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