The San Francisco 49ers fired head coach Jim Tomsula yesterday, a couple of hours after wrapping up a 5-11 season. His players found out about the firing in a text from owner Jed York.
Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie did one worse. After firing head coach Chip Kelly last week, he didn’t even bother to text the players.
At least Tomsula and Kelly found out about their firings in person. USC head coach Steve Sarkisian found out about his firing via email, while traveling to a rehab facility.
These are all objectively bad ways to fire people and/or inform their colleagues about their firing. But most of the times a coach is fired these days, we hear something similar. Which raises the question: how are you supposed to fire a coach?
Sports fans’ still-unsatiated desire for more information about everything—especially hirings and firings—means news gets out incredibly fast. There are armies of national and local reporters sniffing around everywhere you look. Perhaps more importantly, everybody involved with an NFL team communicates with reporters and attempts to shape stories. As soon as a coach is fired, he and his agent have an incentive to leak it to the press to both frame the story of his firing, and to build up good will with a reporter. The general manager and owner firing him have the same incentives.
Even in situations where nobody is overtly leaking to the press—I remember when news of the Golden State Warriors firing Mark Jackson was reported while Jackson was still in his meeting being fired by owner Joe Lacob—it’s going to get out fast. There are at least 100 people employed by an NFL team that deserve to find out about the firing of a head coach in person. Members of the front office; scouts and analytics guys; assistant coaches; strength coaches; every single player. How can you possibly tell all those people in an appropriate and expeditious manner?
Is it possible to gather everybody that needs to know under one roof even if the firing is done immediately after a game? Is the GM supposed to call everybody together in a conference room, meet with the coach, and then tell everybody? Do players even really need to be told? Should we redefine what constitutes appropriate notice to include phone calls and text messages?
I don’t have the answer. (Luckily I’m not in charge of an NFL team and don’t have to have one.) But given the reporting after every firing, it seems like the people that should have an answer also don’t. There’s just no good way to fire a head coach.
If it’s any consolation, almost everybody involved here is making stacks and stacks of money, making the indignation go down a bit easier.
Photo via AP