Steve Kerr allowed his players to coach the Golden State Warriors on Monday night. The experiment led to a 46-point win over Phoenix and some on-the-job training. It also led to strong backlash — both from the Suns, who found it disrespectful, and the media. This very website offered a strong rebuke of Kerr’s actions, a piece I could not possibly disagree with more.
Why? Because those criticizing Kerr’s methods are missing a somewhat obvious point. He was coaching. Just not in the traditional sense.
Examine his explanation for turning the reins over to his players.
“It had everything to do with me trying to reach my team,” Kerr said after the win vs. Phoenix. “I haven’t been able to reach them the last month. They are tired of my voice and I”m tired of my voice. … I wasn’t reaching them and we just figured it was probably a good night to pull a trick out of the hat and do something different.”
Any coach worth their salt understands the importance of being dynamic and pliable. What works on Saturday may not work on Wednesday. What was resonating in November may not resonate in February. A thoughtful coach unburdened by pride is willing to try new things, to tinker.
Sometimes it’s the carrot that yields the best results. Other times it’s the stick. Sometimes it is prudent to micromanage. Other times a hands-off approach is required.
Getting hung up on the idea that Kerr deviated from the traditional and oversimplified idea of what a coach does obscures the fuller picture. Making in-game adjustments and diagramming plays is but a small part of Kerr’s responsibilities. He must also manage egos, maintain morale, build confidence, and constantly challenge his championship roster.
It’s not as though is in singular possession of some magical knowledge dictating he alone can make in-game decisions. And relying on input from players actually on the court isn’t a revolutionary thing. Players are routinely involved in the exchange of ideas during timeouts. They bring a unique and useful prospective.
There have been player-coaches and de facto player-coaches in every sport. Sweat equity does not preclude one from making executive decisions — at least it shouldn’t.
To his credit, Kerr seems undeterred by the negative responses.
“I don’t think it’s something we would do often, but I think it’s a good exercise,” the coach said. “It’s a nine-month season. … This is every single day for seven, eight, nine months depending on how your team does. And so everything gets pretty monotonous. I think you’ve got to do your best in the NBA to keep things light and loose and occasionally throw the team a curveball. So I can see doing it again one time, a couple times. We’ll see.”
Thinking of coaching an NBA team as a binary situation decided by the presence of a clipboard is overly simplistic. Kerr knew exactly what he was doing and the results speak for themselves. What he did is an example of great coaching, just not in the traditional sense.