Coach v. Caddy: Is Steve Williams the Belichick of the PGA?
When I say to you that the caddy has little to do with how well a golfer performs, I don’t suppose that what would then arise from your head is a fiery smoke, produced by the raging inferno churning deep within your brain as you try to process how on earth I could possibly insult the righteousness of the caddy profession like that.
Glad we can agree on that.
However, if I were to suggest that the manager of a major league baseball team had just about as much to do with his team winning as a caddy does, you probably would be a little bit upset.
If I took it a step farther and said that an NBA coach is no more to his team than Steve Williams was to Tiger Woods, that too might inspire you to confront me.
And if I even dared suggest that a purveyor of America’s pastime, a head coach of NFL football, was nothing more than the football equivalent of a guy who carries around a bag all day, you might be enraged enough to hurt me.
Before you go too crazy with that 2×4, let me assure that is not “exactly” what I think of the “coaching” profession. But I will assert that there is little more to coaching than there is to what the caddy does. And no matter what your retort is, I can almost assuredly connect something a head coach of a professional sports team does to that of what a caddy does in golf.
A caddy gives advice to his golfer. A head coach advises his players.
A caddy helps pick the tools the golfer will use in the act. A coach chooses the overall equipment requirements of his team—within the overall regulations of the league, of course.
A caddy tells the golfer where to hit the ball. A coach tells a player where to hit, throw or shoot the ball.
A coach chooses the play, but sometimes the player audibles out of it. A caddy defines the best route for a putt, and a golfer sometimes overturns the caddy.
The only real differences between a caddy and a head coach are the fact that a head coach is given institutional control and the head coach is responsible for more than one player.
Those are the only two things that separate the caddy profession from the head coaching profession. Well, that and the whole “carry my bags” thing.
Yet, with those mere two differences, we as a public are immediately ready to castigate the very person who suggest that the a coach is nothing more than an overpowering caddy with at least two players dumb enough to listen to him. And it’s those two differences that allowed us to go to town on Steve Williams, Woods’ former caddy, when dare suggested that he was the impetus behind Tiger’s and Adam Scott’s success. However, when a head coach is given all the glory in the world, we say nothing. In the wake of three Super Bowls in four years, we gave Bill Belichick lifetime immunity from football criticism, skepticism and maybe even a rule or two (i.e., “Spygate”).
Despite the only difference between Williams and Belichick is that Belichick has to manage a group of players and he actually calls the plays. But in every other way, they are the same. When Belichick was designing the game plan, Williams is out reading the greens. When Belichick was working one-on-one with Tom Brady, Williams was out measuring Tiger’s distance with the 3 iron. When Belichick was calling plays, Williams was calling shots. When Steve Williams won tournaments, it was coincidentally with one of the best golfers in the history of the world. When Belichick win Super Bowls, it was coincidentally with one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the world. We don’t get off this merry go-round of similarities until we get to the point where Tiger Woods fires Steve Williams in a situation where Belichick makes Tom Brady take a pay cut.
So I guess the question is, if we as a society, myself included, are going to have such disdain for the caddy vs. coach comparison, what are we putting value in? Is it the managerial role that coaches are granted by the organization? Is that the value? That really isn’t a skill so much as an earned privilege. Sure, you have to be a good manager in order to maintain such control over multiple people, but how much do we think that lends to the winning of football, basketball and baseball games? Sure, you can’t have the inmates running the asylum and win a Super Bowl, but you can be darn to close to it. Just ask the 90’s Cowboys, the 80’s Bears or the 70’s Steelers. With a history of anarchy succeeding like that in the sanctity that is the National Football League, I’m not sure I can grand the coach so much respect for being given control of something as a means to win football games.
I will say that being in charge of designing an offense, shuffling players around and implementing strategy is a skill set becoming of winning coaches, and it may fall into line with being the manager, but doesn’t a caddy strategize for a course in the same way?
I’m not sure I can buy the “manager” argument that puts the coach ahead of the caddy, so maybe it’s the institutional control. Coaches aren’t in charge of just players, but the strategy, implementation of strategy and the execution of it. We blame coaches when a play doesn’t work. We don’t blame a caddy when a swing doesn’t go through. We blame Belichick when he goes for it on 4th down and loses the game, but we don’t blame Steve Williams when Tiger tries to get to the green ahead of regulation and the ball lands in the water. For some reason, when the athletes fail in team sports, we feel as if the coach’s organization of multiple players caused the poor result, not the players themselves. And that my friend is the difference.
That’s the difference we see between coaches and caddies that we can’t let go of. The caddy has no blame, and with that he gets no reward. We can’t celebrate Steve Williams when he is on the winning team with Adam Scott, because we wouldn’t massacre him, or even know if we should, had he cost Scott the win with one of his “suggestions.” It’s a matter of risk-reward. The head coach puts his neck out there, and if he fails, fans chop it off. If he wins, he’s hoisted as the all-knowing leader of athletes.
Fact is though; coaches neutralize each other, whereas caddies can’t. A bad coach on one team increases the odds of success for a good coach on the other. The good coach comes out looking as if he has more of an impact than he did, because his suggestions are directly pitted against the suggestions of the opposing, but worse off, head coach on the side of the field. A caddy’s suggestions are not weighed directly against another’s, only against an index score that can’t fight back. So when a caddy has a better suggestion than the other caddy, we can extricate the suggestion from one point to another and say he out-suggested the other golfer’s caddy. But with a coach, it’s right there on film. Belichick calls a screen against your blitz, and I can tell you why Belichick is the better coach.
But inherently, institutional control and direct competition aside, the jobs of a coach and a caddy are the same—or at least they have a similar effect on the outcome of their respective sports. Personally, and perhaps to fault and in spite of my own argument, I will continue to prop up the NFL coach for the “nuance” involved in designing plays that work and putting 11 people in a position to win against schemes that can beat a superiorly athletic team.
However, when you start going down the line to basketball, soccer, hockey coaches and baseball coaches, it’s hard not see the delineation from caddy to coach. Very hard indeed.
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