Some have all the luck/Michael Bleach
Coaches, no matter the sport, are an easy group to poke fun at.
The double-speak, the histrionics, the secrecy, the lies, the rants, the hypocrisy, the sliminess, Roy Williams – it is a most delicious low-hanging fruit for anyone with a keyboard and wireless connection.
They are politicians with a win-loss record; everyone thinks they know better.
They are one-misused timeout from a 12-year-old-playing-Madden joke (better known as “The Andy Reid”). One stumble, one eccentric quote, one bad mustache away from an eternal .gif and triple-digit retweets.
I do not envy them.
Perhaps no part of the job is more frustrating, however, than trying to deal with the vagaries and whims of plain old luck.
When your salary, your security, your prospects, heck, your very self-worth, is tied up in a concrete number (X wins and X losses), the idea that luck plays a role in the outcomes of games is a difficult one to swallow.
But it does.
And probably a much bigger role than most sports fans are willing to admit.
Athletics or otherwise, humans, as a group are not comfortable with the concept of luck.
We want to believe that hard work, devotion, skill and focus make all the difference. We want to believe that our actions, and our actions alone, control our fate.
Just ask Michigan Tech hockey coach Mel Pearson, or Husky hoops coaches Kevin Luke and Kim Cameron. All three have had recent experiences with razor-thin margins. In all three cases, luck was not on their side.
The Tech hockey program missed hosting a WCHA first-round playoff series for the first time since 1993 by one goal Saturday. If one of 25 shots goes differently, the Huskies stay home this weekend. One tip, one screen, one inch and the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena gets postseason play for the first time in over two decades.
You can take it back even farther if you’d like. In eight different conference games this season, the Huskies tied or lost by one goal. A tip, screen, inch (you get it) in ANY of those contests, and the Huskies get the one extra point needed for a home-cooked meal.
That’s one play over the course of five months. That’s the type of margin that drives coaches to stay up until 3 a.m. in the film room and put in 80-hour weeks. That’s the type of randomness that drives coaches to crack up in a nationally televised press conference.
The Tech men’s basketball team experienced the wrong side of the coin this weekend as well.
Playing in the cauldron of Findlay – the Oilers have lost just five home games over the last decade and NEVER lost a postseason game at home – the Huskies had cut the lead down to three with under two minutes to play in the GLIAC Championship game.
With 30 seconds of strong defense, they looked poised for another big stop and a possession to tie or trim the lead to one.
Instead, GLIAC Player of the Year Greg Kahlig drained an 18-foot pull-up with Troy Hecht draped all over him, giving Findlay a five-point lead and forcing Tech out of its offense to hoot a three. A couple of quick misses from the Huskies, and Findlay walked off the court champs.
It is the type of shot a defense wants to give up. Low percentage, out of rhythm and fading away. Kahlig just happened to hit it.
Kim Cameron may be off hunting for a rabbit’s foot right now, after the last month her women’s squad experienced.
First, Kylie Moxley goes down for the season with a back injury, removing the vital centerpiece of Tech’s offense with 10 games to play. Then, the Great Lakes Valley Conference spits out a surprise tourney champ with No. 7 seed Truman State (Mo.) making its Cinderella run, taking the No. 8 space in the Regional Rankings.
The same space the Huskies had occupied the week before.
Sports analytics is just diving in to the effect of luck in athletics. Baseball has Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) to better measure hitters’ and pitchers’ actual worth. Clutch hitting has been repeatedly demonstrated as a myth – with over 100 years of data to support this conclusion – even if the talking heads ESPN rolls out continue to tout it as a skill.
Football statisticians have noted that fumble recoveries are completely luck-dependent. Basketball sabermetricians have tracked the variances of three-point shooting. Hockey nerds have noted that shooting percentage fluctuates regardless of skill or experience.
Name the sport, and some analyst has discovered a key component that seesaws on its own accord.
Luck is constantly present in sports.
And it can be brutal.
So the next time you see Pearson, Luke or Cameron about town, you know what to say.
Wish them good luck.