Managers Should Learn From Thomas Tuchel, Tom Crean, and Malia Obama

From the Touchline

In the U.S. this week, former college basketball coach Tom Crean wrote an article about his unemployment. That article contained some excellent insight for many football managers.

Crean, the former coach at the University of Indiana, was sacked (or fired, in U.S. hoops parlance) after nine years on the job. He was in demand for a number of positions, but none felt right, so he remained unsigned. In the article he discusses how he used his new free time to improve his craft. He asked friends and contacts if he could attend their practice, where he would sit and watch how they ran them. He discussed strategy with other coaches and retired legends, to learn more about the game itself and the newest trends. He even spoke to coaches in other sports to learn how they confronted their challenges, and quickly found that many of the challenges they faced, and solutions they found, were applicable to basketball.

What allowed Crean to gain this insight? Two things were different about him now versus a year ago. First, for his peers he was not a competitor. The managerial fraternity is close, and many time managers will allow unemployed peers to participate in their sessions to help them find a position and keep their skills sharp. Crean (or any manager in any sport) does not have this access as a competitor, but as someone not currently a threat, he is another set of eyes to offer advice. Second, Crean has time. He is not spending time preparing for training, planning for matches, haggling with Boards, or going to sponsor events. He can choose his own schedule and take the time necessary to learn what he needs to know when he needs to know it.

The idea of a gap year is not new. Depending on where you live, it is either common (Europe), required (Yemen for example), or gaining popularity (U.S.). The hope from a gap year is you gain a year of maturity and perspective before you enter university, with that year allowing you to essentially become an adult more quickly while enjoying yourself in the process. In the U.S., Malia Obama made news when she turned down Harvard at 18 to take a gap year, and return after a year of travelling. Harvard now encourages gap years for its students, to begin that maturing process.

This is a football blog, not a travel or basketball one, so what does this mean for football fans? The idea of a year off to study and mature is an intriguing one and one that works well for football managers. With the scarcity of jobs and damning statistics on the uphill club for a sacked first-time manager to find a second job, it would be ludicrous to encourage a manager to just take time away from the game if they lose their position. For some managers, however, learning more while purposefully avoiding being hired is a luxury they can afford, especially the glut of young managers in Germany.

With the seeming success of the German coaching academies turning out promising managers in the 30s and 40s, there is a generation of exceptionally bright managers in the sport. When these managers inevitably hit a rough patch and leave their current positions, many of them are young enough and accomplished enough that they can wait on a position and spend their time learning more about the sport. Take Thomas Tuchel, who unlike a manager he was compared to in England in Andres Villas Boas, has not jumped at one of the many openings he is linked to this season. The reason is unclear – rumour has it he is awaiting a top job like Chelsea or Bayern to come available. In the interim, he is (conceivably) using his time to make connections and hone his craft. For Tuchel, this would be especially necessary after his falling out with the Dortmund board.

The temptation is there for managers to immediately jump after being sacked to another position, to remain relevant and fresh. But in many circumstances, these managers could use some of the fame or reputation they’ve gained to improve themselves and find a better landing spot than before.