September 25, 2009 in Sports

John Blanchette: Just win baby? Not anymore

By Correspondent
 

Is there anything more deserving of our disdain than a head coach with his resumé perpetually holstered quick-draw style?

You know – the kind of guy who whispers sweet nothings to recruits/bosses/fans out of one side of his mouth and hammers out contract details for his next job out of the other?

We’ve had a few around here. Dennis Erickson. Nick Holt. Kermit Davis. Tony Bennett had some latent giddyap in him, too.

Oh, and Chris Siegfried.

Even as he was leading the Spokane Shock to that magical af2 championship in their first year of operation back in 2006, Siegfried was purportedly playing footsy with alternate employers, a bit of business that sent the Shock shop into a spasm of tsk-tsking and tut-tutting that lingers to this day. How could such a lapse in character be considered anything but despicable?

Now we’re reminded again why it’s every man for himself out there.

Barely a month after winning a second af2 title, the Shock this week cut loose the coach who steered them there, Adam Shackleford, and leap-frogged into his chair Rob Keefe, a franchise icon as a player who just this past season got his feet wet as an assistant. This on the virtual eve of an announcement that the Shock will throw in with some of af2’s more stable franchises and refugees from the defunct Arena Football League to form the next strain of major league indoor football, if there can be such a thing.

In announcing the coaching change, Shock CEO Brady Nelson declared the engaging Keefe to be nothing less than an arena football savant.

As for Shackleford, well, a 49-8 record in three seasons – including three division titles, two trips to the ArenaCup and the recent championship – apparently is chopped liver.

At least, to Nelson’s way of thinking, in the context of this new creation the Shock is joining.

“I didn’t think what we did in af2,” he said, “was going to translate into success at the next level.”

There’s no way to actually know that, of course, but the investment Nelson and his fellow owners have made give them the right to play that hunch. Having hit pretty much nothing but home runs so far, they may be convinced they’re incapable of hitting anything else.

This swing was based on their reaction to a plan of attack Shackleford was asked to draw up by way of re-applying for his job, his old af2 contract having expired. Shackleford apparently neglected to reinvent the wheel in his presentation. When pressed on what was lacking, Nelson took a detour on highway vague.

“For the next level, there’s another level of commitment,” he said. “I have no problems with Shack at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night. There’s just so many more things. It’s the same game, but a different game as far as recruiting and other things.

“I don’t want to talk a lot about the details. I don’t want to say anything that might disqualify Shack for jobs in the future.”

As opposed, you know, to the endorsement of being canned while getting fitted for a ring.

The best that can be surmised is that Shock ownership wasn’t confident in Shackleford being the closer in selling players now that Spokane will be trying to outmaneuver major market franchises instead of Bossier City and Huntsville.

“I don’t understand why they felt like I couldn’t recruit at the next level,” Shackleford said. “And I’m not sure why a guy who only played at the next level has an advantage over someone who’s won a championship and compiled this kind of record.”

Which brings us to the palace intrigue, such as it is.

Shock ownership has been infatuated with Keefe ever since his playing days – to the point that they even toyed with him succeeding Siegfried, a notion derailed because Keefe was still feeding his playing Jones. Nelson denied Keefe’s ascension was ordained once he returned this season as an assistant; Shackleford said only, “This didn’t happen overnight.”

What did happen overnight was a shiver that went through the coaching community – and not just af2’s clubby group.

“Firing someone in this situation – and they can spin it any way they want, but that’s what happened – is chilling,” Shackleford said. “Where are we as coaches when you have success, win with integrity and keep an impeccable standard – and you still have no hope?”

In the end, Shock ownership is guilty of some dime-store hypocrisy and the callous treatment of a good soldier. Alas, they have lots of company; this is a virus that’s spread throughout American life, helped along by the recession panic but just as often merely the slag of robo-management. We have seen it in countless other arenas hereabouts, people who have not only been long and faithful employees with sterling reputations, but top producers – in some cases, brands – being sacked or jacked around.

Nelson’s reaction: “The easiest thing to do was to keep things as they are.”

Translated for all you coaches out there: Keep those resumés updated.


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