Kris Shannon: Coach's impact impossible to quantify

By Kris Shannon

The nature of rugby league means there are too many variables for the man in charge to make his mark.
Once the Warriors again failed to make the NRL playoffs, it was always likely head coach Andrew McFadden would be demoted. Picture / Brett Phibbs
Once the Warriors again failed to make the NRL playoffs, it was always likely head coach Andrew McFadden would be demoted. Picture / Brett Phibbs

As another Warriors season ended without a playoff place and another new coach was introduced, the general reaction was predictably split.

Was the demotion of Andrew McFadden premature or the decision to recruit Stephen Kearney the sensible option?

Well, no answer to that question will be found in the off-season. But even when the new campaign kicks off and even if positive results are attained, the process of changing coaches may remain ambiguous.

Because there's a reason the Warriors' move proved divisive, why such switches so often are when teams opt to tinker. Aside from a select few geniuses and a couple of other codes, judging the impact of a coach, positive or negative, is as problematic as it is nebulous

This is meant as no defence for McFadden. Once his talented but perennially underachieving team had missed the finals, an alteration was inevitable and, simply, it's easier to replace one man than retool a squad.

But as Warriors fans await Kearney's tenure with fingers firmly crossed, imagine for a moment if every supporter's wildest dream comes true. Imagine if Kieran Foran is recruited and forms with Shaun Johnson one of the best halves combinations in the competition, if Roger Tuivasa-Sheck shakes off injury and return to his blockbusting best, if young players such as Solomone Kata and Tui Lolohea convert promise into consistent performances.

The Warriors could romp into the playoffs. And will that be Kearney's doing? Who knows? Could McFadden, with more time in the top job, have achieved the same hypothetical outcome? Beats me.

It's a fool's errand to assign significance for improved results to only the man in charge; there are simply too many variables.

A marked improvement in performances, though, can be a more reliable indicator, especially if those performances are a complete departure on what came before.

Consider what Pep Guardiola has already managed in four league games at Manchester City. Yes, the four victories stand out, but what's more eye-opening is the speed with which the former Barcelona boss has enacted his style.

In last weekend's Manchester derby, Guardiola's charges toyed with United in the first half, racking up 65 per cent possession in what appeared little more than a training exercise.

That's nothing new for Guardiola - his Barca and Bayern Munich teams regularly recorded similar figures. But it is new for the Premier League. Last season, for example, Arsenal led the league with 56 per cent possession. The year before, it was United with 58 per cent.

Guardiola instantly surpassing those numbers shows how one man in a suit can be more influential than 11 wearing the kit. A reality that is also true for Bill Belichick in the NFL.

The New England Patriots coach is probably the best in American football history. He's certainly one of the most successful, having won four Super Bowls and reached the playoffs 10 of the past 11 seasons.

The exception to Belichick's post-season rule came in 2008, when quarterback Tom Brady was injured in the opening game. But that year only further illustrated that the Patriots' prosperity was courtesy of their coach, as Belichick guided back-up QB Matt Cassel to an 11-5 record, a player who has since bounced around five different franchises without replicating that result.

Even excluding savants such as Belichick, it's far easier to assess the quality of a coach in the NFL, when the man stalking the sideline essentially acts as a dictator, having the final say in his team's each and every move.

But in a more fluid sport such as league, and especially with a side as capricious as the Warriors, unravelling the coaching riddle is about as difficult as predicting their weekly form.

- NZ Herald

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