The worst calls by a coach in sports history

By  | February 11, 2015 | 0 Comments | Filed under: Sports
Pete Carroll

Pete Carroll

Poor Pete Carroll, he seems like such a nice guy, the sort of man you’d be honoured to play for. What can’t you say about the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks coach? Well, for starters despite his success and the reputation as being a players’ coach he’ll forever be remembered as making a horrible play call in the dying seconds of Super Bowl XLIV. Without beating a dead horse, Carroll will have to live with the fact that his Seahawks were a yard away from a Super Bowl winning touchdown with one timeout and about 25 seconds left on the clock and he elected to not go with star running back Marhsawn Lynch. There is no way in this lifetime a defense could stop Lynch on two tries to get one measley yard. New England quarterback Tom Brady was sitting on the sidelines looking like his dog had just died knowing full well a simple push forward would have meant he loses his 3rd straight Super Bowl until – much to the surprise of everyone watching the game – the Seahawks did a pass play in which New England hero Malcolm Butler intercepted. Carroll to his credit has taken the blame for this play call on his shoulders but it makes you ask yourself why? Rarely do you see a coach make a risky play call that goes so poorly at such an important time that he literally is taking the future championship rings off of his players’ fingers and placing them on his opponents’ fingers. Yet that is what happened with Carroll.

There is a silver lining, Carroll may arguably have made the worst play call at such a critical time in sports history, but he does have some company. Here are some coaches or managers who got a little too cute at the wrong time. I’ve narrowed down five big ones in no particular order and they are either all with championships on the line or a poor snap decision that altered a franchise.

Casey Stengel mismanaging the 1960 World Series

The New York Yankees were almost always in the World Series in the 1950s. It was almost like an annual tradition and they won it most of the time as well. 1960 should have been no different either. I don’t think you’ll ever find a series where a team dominated another team so badly and yet still lost quite like how the Yankees did to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fall classic of 1960. The Yankees won 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0 in their three wins. The Pirates won 6-4, 3-2, 5-2 and 10-9 in their wins. The Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27 and still somehow lost the series in 7 games culminating with Bill Mazeroski’s home run in Game 7.

Here’s the thing, you’ve got future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford on your pitching staff and in the two outings in the series he had complete game shutouts. Stengel could have set up the pitching rotation any way he wanted to since there was no American League Championship Series back then and the Yankees won the Pennant with a few games left in the season. Ford could have started Game 1, 4, and 7 while the other three pitchers – Art Ditmar, Ralph Terry and Bob Turley could have squeezed in the rest. This means you have Ford – one of the best postseason pitchers ever – pitching three games with three likely wins instead of two. If this happens then all the Yankees need to do is find a way to win one more game in that series in 4 other tries which I think a roster of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, Tony Kubek and Bob Skowron could have done. Either way Stengel didn’t do this and instead the Yankees lost Game 7 10-9 in a game with several pitching changes on either side. It was an ugly loss and Stengel was fired after this series.

John McNamara in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series

If there was a moment where you had to believe there was a “Curse of the Bambino” against the Red Sox then it was the 1986 World Series. The Red Sox are up 3-2 in the series and up 3-2 in the game against the New York Mets with six outs away from their first World Series championship in 68 years. Roger Clemens was pitching for the Red Sox and he was probably the best pitcher in baseball at that time having gone 24-4 that year. Conventional wisdom says you leave him in the game. Yet Red Sox manager John McNamara didn’t agree with this. He pulled Clemens after 7 innings of work and put in reliever Calvin Schiraldi. That didn’t work. Schiraldi gave up the tying run in the 8th inning and even after the Red Sox pulled ahead 5-3 in extra innings he still went with Schiraldi in the bottom of the 10th. He gets the first two outs then gives up three straight singles to Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight. The Mets had closed the gap to 5-4. McNamara pulls Schiraldi who was at one time a strike away from winning the World Series and brings in Bob Stanley. We all know the story to this one, Stanley for the life of him can’t get Mookie Wilson out as the final batter for the World Series and ends up throwing a wild pitch in which Mitchell scores the tying run. Then Wilson hits a slow roller down the first base line in which Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner lets go in between his legs and the winning run – Knight – scores. The following Game 7 the Mets win, claiming the World Series.

So how can one of the most oft replayed plays in baseball history be on the hands of manager and not Bill Buckner who couldn’t field a simple ground ball? Well, because it is far easier to focus on one play than a culmination of plays throughout the game. First off was pulling Clemens. You let him stay in the game regardless, he’s your best pitcher. Second was keeping Schiraldi in there for too long. Third was earlier in the game having Mike Greenwell pinch hit for Don Baylor. It was Baylor’s home run against the Angels in the American League Championship series just days before that helped get them to the World Series in the first place. Lastly, keeping Buckner in at first base in the final inning. The Red Sox had won 7 games that postseason and in every one of their games they put Dave Stapleton in place of Buckner in the final inning to help preserve the win. Stapleton was always used like that for his defensive presence. The thinking is that McNamara wanted to keep Buckner in there so that he could be on the field for the World Series celebration, or even make the play to end the game. You know that saying “Dance with who brought you?” McNamara broke that rule of something that wasn’t broken in the first place. Buckner was getting on in years and had the better defensive player been there, then this game would have at least gone to another extra inning. However, it says here that McNamara shouldn’t have let it get that far in the first place.

Jim Caldwell squandering the Colts’ perfect record

After the Indianapolis Colts lost the legendary Tony Dungy as their head coach they brought in Jim Caldwell to replace him starting in the 2009 season. As long as a team has Peyton Manning as their quarterback they will always be in Super Bowl contention but no one expected them to jump out to a 14-0 start. So when a team does this they are all of the sudden in the territory reserved only for the 1972 Miami Dolphins who are the only team who go undefeated – including the Super Bowl – all season. The Colts had two games left on the regular season schedule, a home date against the New York Jets and the final game in Buffalo. Barring a collapse they would win the final two games.

That being said, a team also has to have an ear to the ground when it comes to making sure their team in healthy going into the postseason so you could bet Manning wouldn’t have been throwing bombs in the 4th quarter of a 35-10 game. I understand that, but what I didn’t understand was what happened in their game against the Jets. The game is rolling along rather smoothly, the Colts have a 15-10 lead late in the 3rd quarter and Caldwell thinks it might be a safe time to take Manning out of the game in place of back up quarterback Curtis Painter. No problem, I’m with him there. However late in the 3rd Painter fumbles near the end zone and the Jets pick it up and score a touchdown and then a 2-point conversion, the score is 18-15. So I’m thinking as I am watching this game that the logical thing to do is bring Manning back into the game. After all to be this close to possibly having a perfect record isn’t something that happens every year and you could argue that this just might be the most precious record in North American sports history. Which coach doesn’t want to try and have a perfect season? Apparently Caldwell didn’t. For whatever reason he left Painter in the game. I couldn’t comprehend it and you could tell Manning couldn’t either. He still had his helmet on the sidelines assuming he was going back in, why wouldn’t he? His old pal Tom Brady blew the chance two years earlier at a perfect record but he didn’t want to. Manning didn’t looked pleased because he never got back into the game. The Colts went on to lose the game 29-15 and then lost to Buffalo the next week too. They also lost the Super Bowl to the New Orleans Saints. How on earth do you have a perfect season on the line to tie a record that has been done once in about a hundred years and not have your star quarterback on the field? I can never look at Caldwell without asking myself that question every time.

Mario Tremblay letting Patrick Roy rot in the net

Sometimes a goalie has a bad night, even Patrick Roy. On December 2nd, 1995 it was one of those nights. Roy knew it, he knew this wasn’t his game, and it was happening against the best team in the NHL the Detroit Red Wings. Roy let in 9 goals in an eventual 11-1 drubbing. Montreal Canadiens head coach Mario Tremblay and his goalie Roy didn’t appear to be seeing eye to eye even prior to this game. A good coach knows how tempermental his star goalie can be and knows enough to pull him out of the game instead of having a “let him sit in there and rot” mentality. Bad move for Tremblay because you just simply don’t anger a goalie like Roy. After Roy was finally pulled he walked past Tremblay on the bench and spoke directly to Canadiens owner Ronald Corey and told him he would never play for the Canadiens again. Just like that, a silly coach that you hired to replace the popular – and Stanley Cup winning Jacques Demers – just ran arguably the eventual best goaltender of all-time out of town over a clash of egos.

As it was, Montreal traded Roy to Colorado who won the Cup 6 months later thanks in part to the brilliant play of Roy in net. Not to mention they won another one in 2001. Tremblay himself, he lasted until the end of the 1997 season in Montreal before he got the boot and under the circumstances you could argue that a coach who did what he did of that magnitude that never got another head coaching job in the NHL is the worst coach to ever stand behind a bench. As for Montreal, this sort of thing didn’t happen to them. As a Maple Leaf fan I always thought this sort of circus was reserved for our franchise but Montreal that day in my mind lost the aura that they always had around them. You could never, ever count the Canadiens out of Stanley Cup contention as long as they had Roy backstopping them since he had won twice with them in 1986 and 1993. It just left a bad taste in your mouth, even worse when you consider that his career record against Montreal was 8-1-2 after he left. Talk about putting the screws to your former team.

Viktor Tikhonov pulling Vladislav Tretiak in the 1980 Olympics

Not like you could ever put a damper on the “Miracle On Ice” story of the American college kids who beat the might Soviets en route to a gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics but Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov may have cast a dark shadow during that game – against his own team. I’ll set the story up for you. The Soviet Union is leading the Americans 2-1 with seconds left in the 1st period. There is a long shot that Soviet goalie great Tretiak easily stops with his pads yet he let out a large rebound in which American forward Mark Johnson wisely jumped on and scored right as time expired in the 1st period. The score was 2-2 at the end of the first. Tikhonov didn’t like what he saw and at the start of the 2nd period Tretiak – arguably the best goalie in the world at this time – is sitting on the bench while Vladimir Myshkin takes his place in net. Perhaps it was punishment against Tretiak for allowing such a juicy rebound but the Soviet defense should have been more alert and supportive of their goalie too. Either way Tikhonov isn’t someone you want to enrage so off Tretiak sat.

Here’s the thing, Myshkin was a good goalie. I have little doubt that had the Soviets let their players come over to the National Hockey League that Myshkin would have been a legitimate NHL goalie. He was good in his own right since he had shut out the NHL All-Stars just a year earlier. He was no slouch himself. The only problem is when something like that happens it deflates the team a little bit and even if you are mad at your star goalie letting in a bad goal, you still stick with him because the final score was 4-3 in favour of the Americans and while the winning goal against Myshkin was on a bit of a screen, the truth is he didn’t look very strong on the tying goal to make it 3-3 or even the winner. Maybe Tretiak allows 4 goals in the game to a bunch of college kids but I’d have wanted to find that out for myself. Plus maybe the rest of the team would have played more inspired hockey and won the expected gold medal. Either way a poor coaching call from a tyrant like Tikhonov.

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