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Sunday Rockpile: Coaching switches, why they work, why they don't.

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In the wake of Perry Fewell taking over as Buffalo Bills head coach, George Bretherton's post in the New York Times football blog echoes an article I read earlier this year in questioning why it's easier for baseball teams (like the Rockies did with Jim Tracy) to find success switching coaches midseason than it is for NFL teams. The earlier article (actually, now I think I might be brain-melding two different articles from the Wall Street Journal) talked more about players switching teams at the trade deadline, but the big hypothesis of it being much easier to transfer positive value, be it from a player or a coach, into a baseball team midseason still applies.

To me the answer of why this would be is pretty simple and straightforward, baseball doesn't have a playbook. There are no schemes to memorize, a double play with one team is executed just like it is with any other, or at least should be, how well that or any play in baseball comes off is primarily a matter of the skill of the players executing it.

Brandon Marshall will be lost at first switching to Josh McDaniel, while Troy Tulowitizki doesn't drop a step switching to Jim Tracy, that doesn't necessarily make Tulo a smarter player or Tracy a better coach, it's just a function of the games they play. Football has eleven moving parts that have to be in sync lined up against eleven other coordinated, moving parts, whereas baseball starts off one on one and at the most (let's say a bases loaded line drive to the gap) will have seven or eight players scrambling into their positions to prevent two or three from scoring, but again, it would be a universal play that they've known and practiced since Little League.

I imagine the new football coaches that have the most success are the ones that don't try and have an immediate impact on the playbook, but instead are able to find ways to draw more out of their players that their predecessor missed. Tracy switched Ian Stewart in for Garrett Atkins and used platoon advantages to play Carlos Gonzalez and Seth Smith more, Ryan Spilborghs less. He didn't have the counterproductive ego war with his star shortstop that Clint Hurdle had. He stabilized the bullpen. An interim football coach that's able to identify and solve similar personnel riddles on his team will go a lot further than one that tries and implementing a new system midseason.

As for Fewell and the Bills, well, I don't think you can make lemonade if life gives you asparagus. A majority of teams that switch coaches during the season, be they in baseball, football or wherever, simply don't have the talent in the first place, and the coaches firing is just an attempt to buy time for the GM or whoever else is feeling the heat further up the ranks. Bretherton fails to point out that the real reason the Rockies were able to turn around under Tracy is that they weren't in this category. The talent was there, it just needed a better conduit to work through.

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This Danish article includes a picture that shows a fairly accurate depiction of the workspace of a Rockies blogger, at least as far as the stacks of books and papers and stuff are concerned, although I don't have the red leather jacket. That woman also has a much better view out her window. What does she have to do with the Rockies themselves? Uhm, I don't know. Here's the money quote: 

Skilsmässor är vanligare i USA än i de flesta andra länder - ett ämne som sysselsätter forskningen. En studie från Denver University, citerad i Business Week, hävdade i våras att antalet skilsmässor är mer sällsynta i städer med ett basebollag i Major League. Efter att Denverlaget Colorado Rockies börjat spela i högsta serien gick antalet skilsmässor ner med 20 procent på tio år.

My Danish is rusty, but I'm pretty sure it says that a study by Denver University shows that 20 percent of Colorado Rockies fans won the Euro Lottery and that everybody just needs to e-mail their SSN and bank account information to me (the Euro Lottery only gives the list of winners to a few select people) so I can see if they match up.