It is a common myth in sports: being a great player automatically translates to being a great coach. Time and time again former superstars are hired as coaches when the only thing on their resume is a stellar playing career. The notion that great natural ability correlates with the capacity to teach the game is wildly unproven.
The evidence of this fact reigns true through countless examples:
Wayne Gretzky: Greatest hockey player of all time could not lead the Phoenix Coyotes out of the bottom two of their division in four seasons.
Mike Singletary: Hall of fame linebacker was below .500 in three seasons coaching the San Francisco 49ers.
Isiah Thomas: Hall of fame point guard was a huge disappointment at the helm of the Indiana Pacers. He only followed this up by leading the New York Knicks off a cliff, an act that they are still trying to recover from.
Paul Molitor: 7 time all-star Molitor is 142-182 through his first two seasons as the manager of the Twins.
It is a condition that transcends all four major sports. Major universities as well as professional teams make the mistake. Truly, it’s an understandable error. The prospect that a superstar player can successfully transition into a coaching role is exciting. GM’s and university presidents love the idea for the simple fact that it generates cash.
So when the announcement came today that Patrick Ewing would be taking over at Georgetown, there was no surprise, no criticism, just general excitement.
Ewing may very well be an excellent college basketball coach. He knows the game and has spent a lot of time as an assistant in the NBA. That’s not why he got the job though. He got the job because he is Patrick Ewing. Therein lies the problem.
Giving former superstar players the keys to the kingdom before they have proven anything is a gamble. Yes, there have been cases where it has worked. Steve Kerr has done an awesome job for the Golden State Warriors. But for every Steve Kerr, there are two Derek Fishers. I could walk into a casino and win thousands of dollars but I also should not be dumbfounded when I walk out empty handed.
Ewing has been a longtime assistant in the NBA. He has never been a head coach at any level. He has never dealt with the nuances of coaching college kids. Yet here we are giving him full control of one of the most renown college basketball programs in the country. I wish him all the best but at the same time, don’t be shocked if it doesn’t work out. Make no mistake it is a gamble.