Over the last few days, my friend Stephen Heisler and Bliss Littler at Junior Hockey wrote a few articles concerning Coaches contracts. While I certainly appreciate their positions, several key components worth considering were left out of the arguments presented.
The most important thing to consider when writing a Coaching contract is that the team Owner is paying the bill. A Coach, even at the NHL level is never, and should not be bigger than the organization or the team Owner.
That said, Coaches should be paid for their experience and expertise. Like the players they evaluate, they are only as good as the last game and the last season. If you are using that criteria for players the same must be used for the coaches that recruit and coach those players.
Unless you are continually winning Championships and moving players on to the NCAA and NHL, no Coach should ever have a fully guaranteed contract.
While I agree with Littler’s points on how having a Coach long term can be good for an organization, and how a contract for that coach may also help the organization reach the stability he mentioned. Littler is one of a very distinctly small group of coaches that would fit the criteria of one that is deserving of a longer than two year contract.
From an Owners standpoint, in any business, employees should be paid on performance.
If you own a restaurant and you are paying a General Manager to increase profits, and the person does not do their job, the Owner has every right to fire that person. They are free to file for unemployment at that time and look for a new job.
What every Coach should have is a clearly defined contract describing his duties and expectations along with his agreed upon remuneration. Any Owner or coach who goes into a working environment without having such an agreement is not someone who should be working in this business.
When a person knows that they can continue to be paid even if fired, many times they do not perform up to the value of the contract.
While every Coach would love to have a guaranteed contract, few Coaches would ever be willing to give one to any player. Why would a Coach expect to be treated any different from the player.
If a coaching contract is clearly defined and well written, both the Owner and the Coach will know exactly what is expected. If the Coach does his job he should be paid according to the contract. If the Coach does not do his job then he should be let go, the same as a Coach who would let an under performing player go.
The problem within the industry is that many Coaches do not have clearly defined expectations, and benchmarks are not clearly written into those contracts that would clarify expectations. This problem is two-sided. Most Owners are not “hockey people” and most Coaches are not “business people”, the failure of those two types of people to come to a common understanding in many cases is a mutual failure.
There are only a few dozen coaches in the industry that are deserving of a fully guaranteed contract. There are a few dozen more that are worthy of a partially guaranteed contract. They are the minority.
The majority of Coaches should have one year contracts that are not guaranteed. Most have not gained the experience or the expertise of warranting a guaranteed or partial guarantee in a contract.
At the Tier III level in particular, Coaching contracts should only be guaranteed to the extent that they are able to recruit the required amount of players needed to make the team budget viable. At the Tier III level, the coach is being paid based upon a tuition driven business model. If the Coach can not recruit and make the team financially viable, how can any person think any guarantee is warranted?
In the end, why would anyone try to re-invent the wheel?
Performance contracts are written every day in many types of business operations. Hockey is, and should be treated no differently. Done correctly, every Coach should have a clearly defined contract, every team should have a Coach who has clearly defined duties and expectations. If an Owner or a Coach can not reach an agreement that is strong enough to put it in writing with those clear definitions, when things go badly they have only themselves to blame.
Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher