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Are teams now putting more weight on broadcast experience when hiring coaches and managers?

Time behind the microphone is considered good preparation to strengthen candidates' strategic knowledge and interpersonal skills

 

How valuable is broadcast experience as a preparatory platform to coach or manage?

If ballplayers have no on-field or on-court leadership experience, is their work in the booth sufficient training to coach or manage?

Aaron Boone stepped into the Yankees’ dugout with no managing experience and hardly looked foolish. Steve Kerr and Doc Rivers absolutely prove that ‘No coaching experience is required.’ Both ex NBA players are model examples of the broadcast road.

David Ross, the new Cubs manager, hopes that he can continue the wave of recent success engineered by Boone, Kerr and Rivers. Ross worked for ESPN and hadn’t managed at all when he was hired last fall as the skipper of the Cubs. Trends suggest that clubs consider the microphone good training for a couple reasons.

First, work in the broadcast booth affords budding candidates opportunities to dissect a multitude of decision making challenges, be it tactical or strategic. Future field or court bosses can also use the time on-air to observe how other coaches and managers communicate with their players. Through it, they fashion their own potential style. The role in the booth as such produces tangible managerial development.

So rather than appraising candidates strictly on past records, be it the field or the court, employers give broadcast experience more weight today.

Second, unlike years ago, teams are covered by more than just a few local writers. In today’s ubiquitous world of media, public relations challenges can erupt in a heartbeat. It’s more than just a few writers covering a local team. Team bosses have to respond smartly and amicably.

Media row and auxiliary press boxes are filled with bloggers, podcast hosts and contributors to social media. So more so than ever, teams can ill afford irascible behavior by field bosses who can’t keep a lid on their fuses. From that perspective, the experience behind the microphone reinforces the need to interact harmoniously with other media members.

How important is a good rapport with the media for a manager? Look no further than the Houston Astros. There was the Roberto Usuna domestic violence incident and an ensuing confrontation between ex-Assistant General Manager, Brandon Taubman and female reporters. The Astros are also currently involved in allegations of electronic sign-stealing that has triggered a thorough investigation by the commissioner’s office.

In each of these incidents, manager A.J. Hinch faced intense questioning from the media and frequently handled the encounters better than his own team’s public relations department. Although Hinch hasn’t spent time in the broadcast booth, his handling of these situations demonstrates the importance of having a field leader who can maintain cordial relationships with the media.

Still, it’s a bottom line business and assessing coaching success of ex-broadcasters is often cold and numeric, the team’s record on the field. That’s it.

From broadcaster to coach and manager:

  • Jerry Coleman is an early example of a television broadcaster who became a manager with no on-field experience. The 1950 American League Rookie of the Year began broadcasting in the early 1960s. He was named manager of the San Diego Padres in 1980 but produced a record of 73-89 in his only season before returning to the Padres booth.
  • Larry Dierker is an ex broadcaster who enjoyed limited success. He began his broadcasting career with the Astros in 1979. In 1997, he was hired to manage the team, a post he held for five seasons, winning four National League Central titles and winning the Manager of the Year Award in 1998. But Dierker was forced to resign after the 2001 season due to his inability to advance past the National League Division Series in any of his five seasons. He returned to broadcasting for two seasons, 2004 and 2005.
  • Doc Rivers wrapped up his playing career in 1996, worked NBA games for Turner for three seasons and in 1999, with no coaching experience, became the head man on the bench for the Orlando Magic. Rivers later led the Celtics to a world championship and has had more success as any coach in Clippers history.
  • Aaron Boone followed his retirement as a player, becoming an analyst for ESPN in 2010. He held the position until 2018, when he was named manager of the Yankees. Boone’s sample size as a manager is limited, but he has succeeded in his first two seasons by leading the team to back-to-back postseason appearances and posting a .627 regular-season winning percentage. He become the first manager in Major League Baseball to begin his managerial career with two 100-win seasons.
  • Buck Martinez played 18 Big League seasons, immediately after which he began broadcasting. He left the booth to manage the Blue Jays in 2001 but was fired a third through the second season. He too had never run a team.
  • Steve Kerr has had one of the most successful stretches in an NBA coach’s first five seasons, leading the Warriors to appearances in the NBA Finals in each of his five seasons, three championship titles, a .785 regular-season winning percentage and NBA Coach of the Year honors in 2016. To be clear, Kerr, known for his fine commentary with Turner, did serve as the General Manager of the Phoenix Suns before coaching the Warriors. He had never worked a bench before being hired by Golden State.
  • Mark Jackson worked for ESPN, ABC and the YES Network following his retirement as a player in 2004. Never having led a team on the floor, Jackson became the coach of the Warriors in 2011. His team made two trips to the playoffs. But Jackson was fired following the 2014 season, when Golden State hired Steve Kerr, who too worked as a broadcaster from 2003-2008 and 2010-2014.

Hiring former broadcasters as coaches has historically produced mixed results in sports, even those who had previous managing or coaching experience.

  • Jon Gruden served as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he won a Super Bowl. He was then the analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. In 2018, Gruden agreed to the biggest coaching contract in NFL history, 10 years and $100 million to return to the Raiders. Gruden’s grade as a returning coach is incomplete at this point.
  • On the college football side, Urban Meyer has been one of the most successful coaches of all-time, recording an .853 winning percentage and winning three national titles. Meyer, 55, resigned from a handful of schools including Florida and Ohio State. At one point, he worked for ESPN and then returned to coaching. He is now with Fox. And he is now exploring another return to the sideline including the NFL.
  • There are others who’ve shuffled back and forth. In the NBA for instance, all-star analysts Hubie Brown, Doug Collins and Mike Fratello have gone from the microphone to the coaching chair and back with mixed success.
  • In hockey, Barry Melrose served as the coach of the Los Angeles Kings for three seasons prior to transitioning to ESPN in 1996. Melrose then left ESPN in 2008 to become the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he only coached for 16 games prior to being fired due to poor immediate results. He’s now a popular personality again with ESPN.

There’s also been talk through the past few years that Kenny Smith of Turner’s Inside the NBA fame is open to coaching. Watching the way Smith interacts with Shaq and Chuck and his comfort level when he telestrates plays might be a good indication that he can coach.

So, is the broadcast booth a stepping stone for an inexperienced coach or manager?  Broadcasting has never been considered a starting point. But the Ross, Kerr, Rivers and Boone hirings suggest it might be.

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Jason Shebilske
Jason Shebilske

Jason Shebilske is an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying journalism, including an emphasis in sports communication. In addition to Sports Broadcast Journal, he currently writes for RotoWire, a fantasy sports database in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Darrell Birkey
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Darrell Birkey

This is looking at the evidence wrongly to reach the wrong conclusion.
Broadcasters are looking to hire color commentators that have great insight into the game & are able to communicate those insights. Teams want the same thing in a manager or coach.
It isn’t former broadcasters teams are looking for… it’s just that both the media and baseball teams are looking for a similar skill set.
They don’t have those skills because they were broadcasters… they were broadcasters because they already had those skills.

Michael Green
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An interesting piece, and a bow to the writer for coming up with it. A couple of observations. One, a lot of people wondered how Jerry Coleman could go from the booth to the field. It may be worth remembering that he was the Yankees farm director before going into broadcasting. He wasn’t a total neophyte. Also, Bob Brenly comes to mind. And Leo Durocher broadcast for NBC and ABC in between managing gigs. The idea that coaches and managers bide their time at ESPN isn’t entirely new. Jack Brickhouse told the story of Phil Wrigley calling him in and… Read more »

Jake Baskin
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Eddie Olczyk was hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins out of their broadcast booth in 2003 despite having never coached before. He lasted a season and change and is notable for being Sidney Crosby’s first NHL coach. Obviously now he’s NBC’s #1 NHL analyst.