In any sport, the title of a head coach is highly coveted, especially at the professional level. But, any coach can find themselves on the hot seat after a few bad seasons and feel pressure from both within the organization and the fanbase. The pressure is only magnified with the advent of social media, where fans can directly target their favorite teams on social media and add even more pressure. This is especially prevalent NBA Twitter, which is a force on the application.
When things are bad for teams, NBA fans across the board can weaponize Twitter to put the squeeze on an organization. Wisconsin Herd reporter, host of The Gyro Step podcast and fellow colleague Ti Windisch has even coined the term “Things Are Bad? Fire The Coach.” or TABFTC for short for his columns and statistically, it shows that when things are bad for a team, it ultimately leads to a coach’s downfall.
Fractl, a marketing research group based out of Florida, compiled twenty years worth of data that has shown that in the NBA, there is an obvious direct correlation when it comes to a team’s winning percentage compared to the likelihood the same team retains their coach. Teams like the New York Knicks (.414), Brooklyn Nets (.423), the Cleveland Cavaliers (.481) and the Detroit Pistons (.490) are the best examples of this as all four franchises are tied with twelve coaching changes in the last two decades. The San Antonio Spurs, meanwhile, have been the model of consistency with Gregg Popovich being their only coach over the last twenty seasons with a winning percentage of .686. The Los Angeles Lakers are just behind the Spurs in winning percentage at .581 but have also gone through seven different coaches. But, the Lakers are their own kind of a mess right now and may go through five coaches alone in their search. When breaking down the numbers, it paints a clearer picture of the coaching carousel that is the NBA.
That NBA coaching carousel is a pretty wild ride too. Currently, the NBA has the highest coaching turnover among the four major leagues at 1 new coach every 2.4 seasons. TABFTC rings true with teams like the Nets, Pistons, Cavaliers and Knicks, who have had brief tastes of glory over the past two decades but have been mostly mired in mediocrity. When all of these beforementioned teams have also gone through a record twelve coaches each, maybe the coach is not just the problem. Using the Spurs as an example, they have stability in their front office under R.C. Bufford and his staff then assembled the right talent through the draft, trades and free agency to allow Popovich to have long-term success. Teams need to be able to provide coaches with as much support as possible in order to allow the organization as a whole to succeed.
But at the same time, sustainable success like San Antonio’s just is not that simple. Granted, the synergy between the Spurs’ front office, coaching staff and roster are what every NBA team should strive for but when one piece does not fit, it all falls apart. That is also why teams should not make rash decisions when hiring coaches. Just look at the Sacramento Kings and Luke Walton. The Kings hired Walton immediately after he was terminated by the Lakers, only to find out afterward that he had been accussed of sexual assault. If the Kings had been patient instead of hiring Walton right away, they could have avoided this mess and found the right coach for them. The Kings are another bottom feeder team that has a winning percentage of .423 and have gone through ten coaches in twenty years. If Walton is found guilty, it will increase to eleven and the Kings will continue to sputter out of control.
The Cavaliers, another bottom feeding team, meanwhile, has been incredibly thorough in their search for their latest head coach. After mutually agreeing to part ways with Larry Drew, who replaced Tyronn Lue early into the season, Cleveland general manager Koby Altman has left no stone unturned in his search. So far, the Cavaliers have been linked to: Zalgiris Kaunas head coach Saurunas Jasikevicius, former head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, Utah assistant Alex Jensen, Dallas assistant Jamahl Mosley, Miami assistant Juwan Howard, Portland assistants David Vanterpool and Nate Tibbetts, San Antonio assistants Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina and Denver assistants Wes Unseld and Jordi Fernandez for their next head coach. The number of candidates involved is almost equal to how many coaches fired by Cleveland over the last two decades! Jokes aside, this is exactly how a team should handle a coaching search so that they can no longer a negative statistic.
In the end, the NBA coaching turnover rate is at an all-time high and there are simple solutions out there to fix it. Finding a proper balance between the front office, the coaching staff and roster construction can cause the turnover rate to go down significantly. Not every situation can be like San Antonio’s, but it should be what all teams strive for. If not, the head coach will continue to be the fall guy and TABFTC will never go away.