The hiring this week of Steve Lavin to coach basketball at St. John's University was interesting for several reasons, including the fact that Lavin has not coached since 2003. For the past seven seasons he has worked as a game and studio analyst at ESPN.
A lot of coaches take a hiatus as broadcasters before they go back behind the bench. Dick Vermeil spent 13 years as a broadcaster between coaching gigs. When he returned to the NFL he became the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl, so the time off certainly didn't hurt (or hurt his pocketbook; Vermeil now commands up to $50K as a motivational speaker
In many ways, broadcasting has become a valuable safety net for coaches between jobs. Sometimes this works out really well, as it did with former baseball manager Bob Brenly, who went from the broadcast booth to Diamondbacks manager, and helped the team win a World Series in 2001. (Brenly went back to broadcasting with the Cubs). But a lot of times it doesn't work at all, such as with Barry Melrose. In 2008, Melrose left a 12-year career with ESPN to coach the Tampa Bay Lightning, an experiment that ended badly
after only 16 games. Melrose has since returned to the network.
This kind of musical chairs between the booth and the bench has become extremely popular in the past 10-15 years, especially as sports networks have grown in size and number. In a way, it's also a confirmation of the importance of the sports media. In the old days, sports broadcasting was viewed as more of an oddity, and sometimes not taken very seriously. Today, spending a few years as an analyst is a great way for a coach to stay in the spotlight and work on his Xs and Os. Name recognition may now be more important than coaching pedigree. (Consider that despite a ton of talent in his last job at UCLA, Lavin was considered by many
to have underperformed as a coach).
Before we leave this discussion, we can't forget the case of Jerry Coleman
. Coleman is in his 38th year as a broadcaster for the San Diego Padres, with whom he has become a legend and fan favorite. But in 1980, mainly as a way to save some money, the Padres elevated Coleman from the booth to the bench. Coleman had played 8 years in the majors, but had never coached or managed at any level in professional baseball. The Padres finished at 73-89, and Coleman quietly returned to the booth the following season. Even considering baseball oddities like Emil Fuchs
and Ted Turner
, it was one of the more bizarre managerial moves in baseball history.