As far as promising professional sports teams go, nothing derails championship hopes quite like infighting.
We have seen it over and over again in the news: star player “A” yells at or disagrees with his coach, or a teammate, and the team tragically goes on a losing streak. It is usually accompanied by a scandal, loss of jobs, and fans pulling their hair out, screaming “WHY?”
The most recent example occurred in this year’s World Cup, where France spectacularly imploded after Nicholas Anelka (pictured below) cursed at his coach after a disagreement. The fallout? France is currently conducting legislative hearings regarding the World Cup incident. Yes, the government is getting involved in a spat between a coach and a player.
But this infighting isn’t just linked to prima-donna soccer players in European countries. Cleveland sports teams have also been plagued by this phenomenon (e.g., see Kosar, Bernie and Belicheck, Bill), especially recently.
Case #1: The Cavs v. Mike Brown
The rumors flying around after the Cavs’ epic collapse against the Celtics were that the Cavs players were upset with Mike Brown. But the trouble was brewing all year. Remember LeBron’s criticism of Brown after Brown’s mishandling of Illgauskas’ soon-to-be-record of games played for the Cavs? And then the playoffs, when Brown calls out players in a press conference, but apparently failed to do so in-house. And then there’s Brown’s comments after he was fired, per Brian Windhorst:
“Brown apparently decided to stop short of directly thanking any players, including LeBron James. Repeatedly during his tenure Brown said he was thankful that James “allows me to coach him,” a reference to the professional relationship the two enjoyed for many years.
However, that relationship seemed to erode during the playoffs, when James publicly disagreed with his coach’s motivation methods and in-game decisions. Behind the scenes, sources said James and Brown differed on game plan choices against both the Bulls and Celtics.”
Coach-player in-fighting seems like it killed Cleveland’s only true championship hopes since the late 1980′s.
Case #2: Mangini’s Browns
It’s no wonder that after Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards, and Jamal Lewis left the team, great things happened (I don’t care what you say, but beating the Steelers is a great thing). We all know what a distraction K2 was during his time with the Browns, but an argument can be made that Braylon was the true “cancer” of the Browns organization. And when Jamal Lewis went down for the year? Four-year winning streak in which the running game is the jewel of the football team.
I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
So why is this relevant? Haven’t we all heard this before?
First, the Cleveland infighting may have contributed to the decision to hire Byron Scott in the LeBron James sweepstakes.
As noted above, there was speculation that the Cavs’ bomb of a playoffs was due to fighting between Mike Brown and one or more players. After the playoffs, Mike Brown is removed as coach, and LeBron states he wanted to be coached by a former player. Why? The players and Mike Brown didn’t get along for a reason. If LeBron or other players thought that Brown didn’t “understand” them, through the Illgausakas debacle, motivation methods, or Shaq’s playing time, perhaps a coach that actually played in the NBA would. Assumingly, this coach would not do things that drive NBA players crazy because he was one of them.
So, the Cavs go out and hire an experienced coach that used to be an NBA player. And one that has won championships. Surely, he understands the players. And who was the other possible coaching candidate? Another former NBA player, Brian Shaw. This also may answer a question posed by some regarding the exclusion of Bill Laimbeer from the Cavs’ coaching search. Sure, Laimbeer was a former player, but notoriously hard to get along with as well. Why risk another implosion because LeBron wasn’t motivated the right way? Right or wrong, correct or not, it easy to understand.
And LeBron just wanted someone to “understand.” And the Cavs obliged.
Second, we need to watch out for the legal problems of the Browns defensive line.
Not only does is Shaun Rodgers facing suspension because he was arrested for possession of a gun at the airport, but teammate and defensive line buddy Robaire Smith was just arrested for the same thing. Not to mention that Smith was with Rodgers when the latter got pinched. Will this become a distraction that causes in-fighting with the Browns’ defense? Or between the players and the coaching staff/front office if they are disciplined?
Not that the Browns were Super Bowl bound this year anyway; this team needs all the help they can get to pull a .500 season. But distractions and in-fighting will not help the team’s goal of improving and becoming a championship caliber team.
** Have a safe and enjoyable Fourth!