WASHINGTON - AUGUST 14: Head coach Ben Olsen of D.C. United sits on the bench prior to game against FC Dallas at RFK Stadium on August 14 2010 in Washington DC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Getty Images)
Have you noticed how our sports teams are always starting over? Maybe it's because there is no coaching stability.
I promise that the holiday rankings will increase in positivity as we inch closer to my favorite holiday of the year -- Wild Card Weekend. In the meantime, I have been really scratching my head watching all that is transpiring with my favorite local squads. While today's list is not meant to provide an exhaustive explanation of why the nation's capital continues to struggle to find championship teams, this was something that did not occur to me until I saw that D.C. United hired Ben Olsen.
First the obvious: coaching changes are a part of professional sports. They are necessary and inevitable. What shocked me was not just the regularity of them in our town, but the stark realization that we have a pretty full house of young (in terms of tenure) coaches. Only Bruce Boudreau of the Capitals has been around longer than two full seasons -- and just barely, since he came on during the 2007-08 season as the interim coach. Am I crazy, or does that just seem odd? I guess I mean to suggest that we find ourselves in some pretty murky water. I have not checked to see how we stack up against other towns, but I would be shocked if there were that many cities out there that have as much inexperience at the head coaching position as we do.
It is not ground-breaking to suggest that we are saddled with a few franchsies that are still years away from competing in their respective leagues. But this would be the first time I stood back far enough to see that ALMOST EVERY SINGLE ONE of my favorite teams are sitting precariously close to the edge of starting over YET AGAIN. Please tell me if I am over-thinking this one in the comments section below. I feel like we have always had at least ONE guy in town who had been here for a while (more than 2-3 years).
Let's take a look at the coaches of our five major pro teams in town (I apologize to the Mystics and Divas). I have tried to list them in order of tenure, counting only regular-season games. OK, so that was a low blow to every team that isn't the Caps. It also skews things towards the leagues that play more games, but I think you will see that the list actually shakes out the right way regardless of season length. Which of these guys will be the last man standing from this list?
No. 1 Bruce Boudreau (Washington Capitals)
Boudreau has coached 250 regular season games for the Capitals, with only two full regular seasons under his belt (so far). He is the most tenured of the group listed today and is arguably the best coach in town. When he came on board during the 2007-08 season, he took a team that was struggling mightily at the time all the way to the playoffs. He has not looked back since then, unleashing an attacking style of play on the NHL led by The Great 8, as well as a host of other talented players drafted and developed by the organization. It didn't hurt that Bruce had coached a number of them in Hershey prior to his promotion to the big league bench. Boudreau took some heat for his coaching decisions in the playoffs last season, but as long as the Caps are dominating the way they have, owner Ted Leonsis will be hesitant to make any coaching changes anytime soon.
No. 2 Jim Riggleman (Washington Nationals)
Riggleman also rose to his position under an interim title. Upon Manny Acta's midseason dismissal in July of 2009, Riggleman took the reins. He has managed 237 games in D.C. I won't pretend to be a true baseball expert, but as a fan of the hometown Nationals, I was happy to see Jim get the chance to come back and try to right this ship after the 2009 season, and it appears his 2011 option has been picked up as well. With a number of young, superstar prospects in waiting, Riggleman is poised to be in command of a team that could soon make some noise in the NL East. But that could still be a couple of years away, and if history has taught us nothing else, we will most likely have another manager by then.
No. 3 Flip Saunders (Washington Wizards)
Flip is now in his second season as coach of the Washington Wizards. Counting the games this season, he has coached 98 regular season games. When he came on board last season, he was charged with getting the Big Three (Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas) back to the playoffs. What ensued instead was absurdity the likes of which has not been seen since Leslie Nielson was portraying Frank Drebin on the big screen (R.I.P. Leslie). How this guy avoided a handful of heart attacks I will never know. But he made it, and now he gets to work with John Wall and a new owner in Ted Leonsis. The combination of those two should make it palatable for Saunders to stick around for a while, but it should be noted that despite Ted's patience as an owner, he did not hire Flip Saunders. That is always a big deal.
No. 4 Mike Shanahan (Washington Redskins)
Oh Lord ... where to begin? Well, this man is not inexperienced, but he is new to us. He has made it through 11 regular season games so far (I think that is the correct way to phrase it). His five-year, $35 million contract appears to point to stability on the sidelines for the Redskins, but can anyone recall the last coach to stay for their entire contract? Certainly nobody hired by Daniel Snyder. (That's right, right? Schotty, Spurrier, Gibbs Part Deux and Zorn all left before their contracts were up if I am not mistaken.) As this town is Redskins-centric, the instability on the field for this franchise is well documented. We have more fresh starts in the last decade than Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan combined. I suppose you could argue we are doing better than Lohan, but no way we are sitting prettier than Sheen. Again, I think this is the appropriate company for this organization.
No. 5 Ben Olsen (D.C. United)
This guy has zero regular season games coached. I love that. My hope is that Ben Olsen becomes one of the greatest coaches to ever walk the sidelines in D.C., right up there with Joe Gibbs. I simply love this guy. He embodies everything that D.C. United has ever been truly about. A tenacious and feisty player, he earned the moniker "Heart of a Lion" from the United faithful. He believes in an attacking offensive style that runs a bit contrary to the defend-and-counterattack style that has become prevalent in the league. I was extremely concerned that Olsen would be tossed aside in favor of a European coach. When he was named head coach this week, it just felt right, didn't it? It doesn't hurt than Olsen can grow one hell of a beard. How do you not want this guy coaching your team?