Assistants can speak volumes about a coach

A coaching staff says a lot about the leader. Do you hire big names? Do you take a risk on an unknown assistant? Do you favor the right personality over a distinguished resume? The people a coach surrounds himself with speaks volumes about the direction his program is headed. That’s why Auburn fans anxiously look for clues about the Gene Chizik administration through the persons tabbed for his staff.

But Chizik isn’t the only coach forming a staff these days. New Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has hired a bevy of former Alabama coaches. According to Ray Melick’s column in Sunday’s Birmingham News, Swinney has hired Woody McCorvey, Danny Pearman and Charlie Harbison.

“There is only going to be one boss,” Swinney was quoted as saying. “But we all have great respect for each other. They’ll work with me. They are people I trust and know they’ll have my back, no matter what.” (Be sure to read the Melick column. It is a fascinating look at Swinney.)

You can’t exaggerate the importance of having people you trust on your staff. Just like working in an office, if you don’t trust your coworkers, your guard is always up because you can’t depend on them. Is the guy in the next cubicle pushing his agenda for a promotion? Is he trying to undermine you? Is he trying to sabotage your project?

If you have to ask those questions, there’s a problem. If you have to worry about those issues, morale takes a hit.

Morale in the office or on a coaching staff is a big component of success. If people are miserable their work product suffers.

It doesn’t mean a staff can’t be successful when personalities clash. Alabama’s Gene Stallings oversaw a staff with gigantic egos and plenty of backstabbing. All Alabama did was win. Alabama’s Mike Dubose was another story. His staff was beset by friction. You never knew who was running the offense. Was it Charlie Stubbs? Was it Neil Callaway?

This season Auburn’s staff was the subject of chaos; much of that chaos was caused by personality conflict. It was foolish to hire renegade offensive mastermind Tony Franklin. Franklin’s ego is almost as large as former Hoover High School coach Rush Propst.

Just how big is Franklin’s head? He thinks he should have been allowed to bring his assistants into Auburn.

When did an assistant get the privilege of hiring other assistants? The head coach is called head for a reason. He’s in command. The offensive coordinator isn’t the leader.

It was a clash of styles on the Auburn staff, and the entire team suffered. Tuberville made a gigantic error hiring Franklin. It upset the balance of a very successful program. You can make a case Tuberville needed to be fired due to the Franklin fiasco, slipping recruiting and general malaise. You can’t make a case Tuberville was a bad leader. His leadership style worked. He won 85 games in 10 years.

Tuberville’s CEO style was much different from Alabama’s Nick Saban. Saban loves details and obsesses about everything. Tuberville is a steward overseeing the organization. Tuberville’s style resembles Dwight D. Eisenhower. Saban’s style seems more like Julius Caesar through his insistence on celerity of command resting in himself. (A case could be made that Saban’s famous harshness on subordinates resembles Confederate general Stonewall Jackson; Jackson quarreled with subordinates and was possessed of a dour disposition. It would be easy to see Jackson demanding Little Debbie’s and telling people not to speak to him. )

Saban’s staff at Alabama has exceeded expectations. Kevin Steele and Kirby Smart are hot names on defense. Jim McElwain is now a hot name on offense thanks to the improved quarterback play and play calling. We don’t know much about these assistants because of Saban. He keeps them out of the press. There is no doubt. Saban is in charge of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Who will be in charge of Auburn? With the naming of former Pat Dye players and assistants, the ceremonial head of the Auburn family would exert considerable private influence over the direction of the team. Will that happen? Or will Chizik go his own way?

It can be no doubt that Dye was gleeful in the end of the Tuberville era. He triumphantly gloated during the Gene Chizik press conference.

In Britain when a new prime minister is appointed to form a government, he is summoned by the monarch and as a symbolic gesture of fealty, kisses the monarch’s hands; if Chizik hires a Dye staff, it will be the equivalent of kissing hands. We’ll know who is in charge on the Plains. If Chizik is beholden to outsiders the staff will be dysfunctional; it will be meandering in search of a clear leader. It is just one more reason for fans to care about the assistant coaches.

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