How much should be expected from a coach?

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Most regulars of this site know that a wide gulf exists between the moderator, that would be me, and many readers regarding the role of a coach or manager in determining victory and defeat.

My belief is that a coach is pretty much as good as his players. Most certainly, a coach can make a difference, but not nearly as much as a player. Put it this way: The team with the best players will invariably beat the team with the best coaches. The coach is important; just not as important as the players.

For example: Chuck Noll is one of the greatest football coaches ever. His teams won four Super Bowls in the 1970s but struggled for most of the 1980s. The difference: The great players of the 70s were not replaced. Noll contributed to that ‘70s success with his coaching tactics, but the players, not the coach, were mainly responsible for the Steelers dynasty.

Many believe otherwise. They feel a coach should be able to overcome almost all obstacles put in his path, including superior talent. This belief was driven home Wednesday in this comment from a reader whose viewpoint I normally find reasonable. Not so, the other day.

Concerning the loss of the U.S. Olympics team, coached by the Penguins Dan Bylsma, to Finland and goalie Tuukka Rask in the bronze medal game, he wrote, ''This was the 5th meaningful game Bylsma was coaching against Rask, and he still couldn’t solve him.’’

Say what? Since when has it fallen to coaches to ''solve’’ opposing superstars?

Rask, who was in goal when the Boston Bruins swept the Penguins in the Eastern Conference final of the Stanley Cup playoffs last year, is one of the best goaltenders in the world. If he couldn’t be solved by some of the greatest scorers in the game, how was he supposed to be solved by a coach?

Does this mean it is the fault of MLB batting coaches that Clayton Kershaw borders on unhittable? Or on pitching coaches that they can’t consistently silence Miguel Cabrera? How many coaches were at fault in the 1990s when Michael Jordan rampaged through the NBA?

The problem is this, and I’m talking about comments in general, not just the one above: Some fans will not acknowledge that the other team is better or has better players. They think their team should almost always be able to triumph and when it doesn’t they invariably point to the coach.

If only, they complain, the coach had made adjustments. Their idea of an adjustment is something that halts the other team's success. As though it was that easy.

Incredibly, others agreed that it was the responsibility of Bylsma to ‘solve’ Rask. And what of the responsibility of the Penguins players?

In the first two rounds of the playoffs, against the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators, the Penguins averaged 4.3 goal and won eight of 11 games. I don’t recall hearing anyone commend Bylsma for doing a good job of helping his players ‘solve’ the goaltenders of New York and Ottawa.

This was the scoring of some of the Penguins best players in those first two series: Sidney Crosby seven goals and eight assists; Evgeni Malkin four goals and 12 assists; Kris Letang three goals and 13 assists; Jarome Iginla four goals and eight assists; Chris Kunitz five goals and five assists; Pascal Dupuis seven goals and four assists.

In the Boston series, those players accounted for one point, a goal by Kunitz. And that falls on the coach?

Imagine if Marc-Andre Fleury or Tomas Vokoun had held the Bruins to two goals in four games and someone suggested the reason for that was poor coaching by Claude Julien, as opposed to goaltending brilliance

Coaches and managers are part of the team and share in success and failure. When a team consistently fails, that falls on the coach. When the Penguins are consistently beaten in the playoffs, that falls on Bylsma. But to suggest it is the coach's responsibility to neutralize the best players on the other team makes no sense.

Players -- on both teams -- are the difference-makers.


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