What’s Better Than Being Right?

As coaches, we are expected to be knowledgeable and are even compensated for our expertise. Being right is important, and it certainly feels good when players or parents ask

Martin O;Neill for Ireland

Martin O’Neill for Ireland

my advice and it works out. But, as we tell our players, mastery comes through trial and error. Therefore there’s nothing better for a coach’s development than being wrong about something, and so it may be about Sunderland.

Here’s the deal: Sunderland sat perched just above the relegation zone of the English BPL. Going down this year would mean not only the usual ignominy and gnashing of teeth but due to a one-time financial adjustment, also the irreparable loss of millions of pounds in television revenue. But they had their dream coach, one they had wooed for years — Martin O’Neill, an established pro and someone with over twenty years coaching Football League. O’Neill was awarded an OBE for services to sport in 2004. In 2002, Norwich supporters voted him into the club’s Hall of Fame.

But they had gone eight games without a win.

Millions of pounds on the line.

Their dream coach.

Eight games.

Millions of pounds.

O’Neill got the sack. Hired in his place was Paolo DiCanio, a former pro with a very short

O'Neill now, venerated coach.

O’Neill now, venerated coach.

coaching resume. A temperamental, emotional whack job who could give a fascist salute to the stands one day and win a FIFA Fair Play award another.

He had come from a tumultuous tenure at Swindon Town, where he ended up  falling “out with previous chairman Jeremy Wray over the budget and quit when winger Matt Ritchie was sold without his agreement. Former owner Andrew Black called DiCanio’s tenure an ‘accident waiting to happen’, while ex-chief executive Nick Watkins referred to the Italian’s style as ‘management by hand grenade’.

“Many saw his decision to resign on the eve of a crucial match away to Tranmere as a sign he would look after only No 1. ” Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2302135/Paolo-Di-Canio-joins-Sunderland-If-reign-Swindon-Stadium-Light-prepare-shockwaves.html#ixzz2RLvcKtz5

The easy thing was to decide that DiCanio was the poison pill, the move from frying pan to di-canio salutefire. He would doubtless go the route of Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Diego Maradona, and Paul Gascoigne: all star players and a fracaso when it came to coaching. A poll in the English press showed this sentiment:

Are Sunderland more or less likely to be relegated after sacking Martin O’Neill? (Poll Closed)
More 83% (4,282 votes)

Less 17% (877 votes)

Total Votes: 5,159

But something interesting happened. Sunderland lost its first game against Chelsea. No one blinked at that. Then they won. Big. 3-0 v Newcastle in the famous Tyne-Wear Derby, named for the two rivers that delineate the region. And then they won again, 1-0 v. Everton, a club that was knocking on the door to Europe. Could it be that the maniacal hand grenade knows what he’s doing?

Let’s look at the mayhem. First, he is asking the players to train more and show up all seven days: “One of the new introductions is a seven-day-a-week regime, which DiCanio, who will be in the dugout for his first home game on Saturday against Everton, believes will give the relegation-threatened Sunderland players a winning mentality.

He said: “When we lose, I see many sad faces so why not work harder to have more days smiling? I go mad if I hear anyone complaining about working on a Wednesday.”

I have used the same line, and logic, with my kids teams: “I see how sad you guys are after a loss, but the way to win is to train hard and right now you aren’t. So what’s it to be?”

Next: he started putting in longer hours himself, saying, “Maybe people think I am crazy, but this is my life, my mission and I want to become the best. When I go mad (about his critics)  it is because we are talking about one-and-a-half hours on the Wednesday on the pitch, playing football.  We are not talking about miners. It is not spending eight hours digging 300 metres underground.”

I know from experience that you can always work a little harder when it’s crunch time and skip a day off or two. I also know that you can’t succeed long-term without allowing for rest. I doubt whether DiCanio’s boost can last long-term. But surprisingly, like popping some Sudafed and pulling an all-nighter during finals week, he’s on the verge of goosing Sunderland to BPL survival and that was the job he was brought in for.

Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

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