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Life Lessons

Great Players, Bad Coaches

Argentina soccer legend Diego Maradona has joined a long tradition of star athletes who never made it in a coaching or managing role.

Maradona’s troubles, featured in Time magazine, resemble those of hockey star Wayne Gretzky, who resigned this year after an unsuccessful run as Phoenix Coyotes coach. To be fair to Gretzky, the team wasn’t very good.

But after the playing careers that they enjoyed, neither Maradona nor Gretzky could have dreamt of matching their success as coaches.

At least they got a chance to manage. That never happened for Babe Ruth, who wanted to lead the Yankees but was deemed too undisciplined for that kind of responsibility.

As for Maradona, “He may be the greatest player of all time, but he obviously is a bad coach and people know it,” the Time article quotes Jorge Lanata, an Argentine journalist.

It is very hard to think of many superstar players who succeeded as coaches or managers. Hall of Fame baseball player Rogers Hornsby lead the 1926 St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title as player-manager.

But for the most part, successful coaches never came close to stardom during their playing days. Bobby Cox of the Braves, Tony LaRussa of the Cardinals, Scotty Bowman of the Montreal Canadiens and Phil Jackson of the Bulls and Lakers far exceeded their exploits as players.


It may come down to observation. Superstar players spend little time on the bench watching the game. They are in the middle of it. Reserve players, on the other hand, have a choice when they are on the bench. They can either sit back and collect a paycheck, or they can use the time well and learn.

Charlie Manuel, who is leading the Philadelphia Phillies into this year’s World Series, spent six years in the majors but was never more than a reserve. For an insight into his attitude toward learning, consider that while playing in Japan, he studied the language there.

He is just another in a line of reserve players who speak the language of success.


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