Comparing Bruce Arena to other "Dynasty" Coaches

Discussion in 'USA Men: News & Analysis' started by Nutmeg, Aug 28, 2002.

  1. Nutmeg

    Nutmeg Member+

    Aug 24, 1999
    In an earlier thread entitled "Bruce Arena's 'Three phases of preperation,'" I started to wonder what Bruce Arena has done at each program he has run to get his team ready for the "big game." Like Arena or not, support Arena or not, nobody can dispute that no matter where Bruce Arena has coached, he has been a big-time winner in big-time games. At UVA, he established a soccer dynasty that saw the Cavaliers win 5 national championships, including 4 in a row from 1991 to 1994. At DCU, he built the first MLS powerhouse by winning the first two MLS cups. Additionally, Thomas Rongen won another cup at DCU with the team that Arena had assembled the year after Arena left. Also during his DCU tenure, Bruce Arena's DCU squads won the CONCACAF Champion's Cup, the US Open Cup Championship, and perhaps most impressively, DCU won the InterAmerican Cup against perennial Brazil Club power Vasco de Gama in 1998. He followed these accomplishments by winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup with the US Team for the first time in over 10 years, and then led the US to their best showing ever by a US Men's Team in the World Cup by reaching the Quarterfinals and losing to Germany.

    Bruce Arena's success in the major competitions in which he has coached led me to question the parallels between his success and that of other coaches who have shown the ability to consistently win the big games they coach. In other words, the "Dynasty" club. Here I will draw parallels between Bruce Arena and three of his contemporaries, Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers, Joe Torre of the NY Yankees, and Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) of the Duke University Men's Basketball team. I start this thread not to submit any sort of conclusive findings on what the "formula" is for building a dynasty, but instead to attempt to voice some similarities I see in these great coaches. Here we go:

    Perhaps the most difficult aspect of these coach's programs to verbalize, I see a consistent environment in each of their respective teams. It is an environment of confidence. It is a confidence that borders on arrogance, but never seems to cross that line. It is an environment of clear goals and expectations. It is an environment that works every day towards achieving those goals, and consists of a group of individuals who don't lose track of those goals regardless of failures or even successes along the way. There is one expectation - win.

    Michael Jordan has said that perhaps Jackson's best attribute as a coach is that he instills the confidence in every player that they can and will win. They expect to win. It is not a far-fetched fairy tail that players and coaches hope might happen. They believe it will happen. They believe they will make it happen. They expect it to happen. It starts with the coach, and although Arena, Jackson, Torre, and Coach K have vastly different personalities, one consistent trait between them is a deep-seeded confidence in their own abilities. Arena often comes across as arrogant. He might be. But his confidence bleeds into his players who inherit that confidence and turn it into success on the field. Phil Jackson is beyond arrogant. He is a cocky SonuvaBitch. But again, that confidence helped Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, who had never gotten past the Eastern Conference Finals before, win their first of 6 championships at Chicago. Jackson's confidence then helped Shaq and Kobe go from Western Conference Playoff flameouts into 3-time NBA champions in LA. Coach K, while displaying a more humble public persona, is known to be somewhat different when practice and gametime come around. He is a fierce competitor, and the mild-mannered TV personality quickly transforms into a general who expects greatness, even perfection, from his players every time they step on the court. Joe Torre and Coach K are not dissimilar in public and private personality.

    Personality Management
    Another gift of these coaches is knowing WHEN to encourage their players, when to admonish their players, and when to leave their players alone. They also know HOW to encourage and admonish their players. Each of these coaches is known as a player's coach. They take time to get to know their players individually. They know what buttons motivate them, and what buttons tear them down. None of these coaches spend much time publicly deriding their team, and if they do, they use the press as a means of motivating their players, and they only use the press at select moments. Phil Jackson may be the master at this technique, picking his spots to criticize a guy like Scottie Pippen or Shaquille Oneal knowing that they have the fortitude to withstand the criticism and perform better because of it. Whatever technique these coaches use to manage their players, the coaches' goals are the same - motivate their players to perform better, and over time, help their players gain the confidence to do exactly that.

    Player Selection
    Each of these coaches are in different situations in their ability to choose what players get to play for their team. Coach K has the task of college recruitment. Phil Jackson and Joe Torre have to work their selection through drafts, trades, or free agent pickups. Bruce Arena, on the MNT, has a pool of eligible US players to draw from. But one consistency stands out between them. Each of these coaches builds a relatively small core group of stars, and builds the team around them.

    Each of these coaches place a tremendous amount of responsibility on their star players. Their star players become the in-game coaches. They provide the leadership in practice, getting the rest of the team to work a little bit harder by example. During key situations, each coach may even defer critical decisions to the team leaders, but only after those leaders demonstrate they are up to the challenge.

    What these coaches don't do is build a team of all-stars. The chemistry of the team is placed in higher priority than even overall talent, and each coach is careful not to bring in players who will adversely affect that chemistry. In Chicago, Phil Jackson built the Bulls around Jordan and Pippen. He then went out and found role players that balanced the weaknesses of his stars. Steve Kerr, John Paxon, Horace Grant, and even Tony Kukoc were not among the best players in the league. But they played their roles to perfection while they played on the Bulls. When they left the Bulls, none of these players excelled on their new teams. Jackson then followed the same formula at LA, and even brought Ron Harper along to show the Laker role players how to work in Jackson's system by working off the strengths of Kobe Bryant and Shaq. Guys like Glenn Rice who weren't willing to fill those role positions were happily departed with. Coach K does the same thing at Duke year after year. He goes out and finds two or three stars to lead his team. He then gets good players, but not great ones, to fill in the spaces. These role players know not to overstep their bounds, or they'll be sent packing, either to another team or to the end of the bench. Joe Torre does the same thing with the Yankees. The Yankees can pretty much buy any player they want, but Torre is careful to select only those players who will work with established stars like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera. Torre will go out and get other stars like Roger Clemens and Giambi, but even these stars know that once they get to NY, they are just a piece of the puzzle, and have to earn their respect and leadership roles from day one.

    Arena did the same thing in the last WC cycle. He built his team around a couple of players who knew every last detail of Arena's system, guys like Claudio Reyna, Jeff Agoos, and Tony Sanneh. He even used Richie Williams to show the rest of the team how to fill a certain role without placing themselves above the good of the team, much like Jackson used Ron Harper in LA. As players new to Arena's system proved themselves over time, Arena gave them more and more freedom to work within his system. Earnie Stewart is a perfect example of this. He showed over time that he was willing to place the goals of the team above his personal goals, and as the games went on, Bruce gave him almost complete freedom to roam the field knowing that Earnie would use that freedom to better Arena's team. I'm sure this will be the point of much debate, but I think this point also had to do with why a guy like Jason Kreis was never included in Arena's plans. Kreis either couldn't or wouldn't fill one of the roles Arena had envisioned, so he stopped getting called in all together. While Kreis might have been the star for Dallas, he was never going to be a star for the MNT, and in the games he played, he never looked comfortable in his Nats role under Arena.

    Each of these coaches have the ability to tune their team in when the big game approaches. Although the Bulls and Lakers might have struggled occasionally in the regular season under Jackson, by the time the playoffs came around, Phil has his teams working like a finely-tuned machine. Coach K has a very good record in ACC basketball, but it is nothing compared to his record as a coach in post-season tournaments, both the ACC and NCAA tourneys. Joe Torre's Yankees teams demonstrate the same ability to come together when it matters. Last year, the Yankees had no where close the regular season the Seattle Mariners did, and yet when the teams met in the American League Championship Series, it was the Yankees who were flying and the Mariners who were struggling.

    I'm sure there are other points I am missing. I hope other posters help fill in the gaps I have left open, as I'd love to hear other posters' insights into the similarities between Arena and other "Dynasty" coaches. While I may have been an ardent Arena detractor, his performance leading up to and in the World Cup were splendid, and I hope he leads us to the 2006 WC, too. I reserve the right to criticize mistakes Arena makes, as no coach is perfect. But overall, he has at least this poster's support.
    Roblar repped this.
  2. Freestyle2000

    Freestyle2000 Moderator

    Feb 6, 2000
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    I think this both points out why Arena is successful and why it can be tough on fans to watch his teams at times.

    Since we don't get called into practice ourselves to watch what's going on, we see people like Ritchie Williams or even Jovan Kirovski and say, "What the hell are they doing there? [Insert favorite player here] could do a much better job. Damn Bruce and his favorites."

    But these guys aren't the ones to carry a team. It's the players like Reyna, like Agoos and Pope, and even like McBride that Arena puts his fortunes behind. Whoever fits in best around them gets the playing time.

    Now, this format does have one major drawback. If the major players that Bruce entrusts as his superstars are off their game, there is no one to step in, and when there is, that same level of trust isn't there. I think we saw that in Korea - with most coaches, Agoos doesn't get the start against Poland, but in Bruce's mind, he had to go with what got him there.

    I'm also excited to see what this means for 2006. With Agoos gone, who will be the next central back that Bruce sees as fitting in his system? Can Bruce adapt to a line-up that, unless Casey develops in time, doesn't have the mythical "target forward" (assuming McBride isn't in the national team picture in four years)? Will Reyna's legs still be up to international play in 2006?

    So many questions, so long to wait to answer them...

  3. soccerfan220

    soccerfan220 New Member

    Jun 24, 2002
    I'm sure that was Reyna's last.... but I don't want casey in the team..... I'd prefer having Mathis, Twellman, or Wolff. Donovan should be an attacking middy. mastroeni the dm with beasely and job the two others in midfield. The defense is hard...... does anyone know how old Berhalter is. I'm pretty sure Sanneh is 29, and if so he should be in the center. Pope should definetily be there. Churundolo is a possibility for one of the flanks.
  4. MarioKempes

    MarioKempes Member+

    Real Madrid, DC United, anywhere Pulisic plays
    Aug 3, 2000
    Proxima Centauri
    Real Madrid
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Living in North Carolina and being a lifelong Duke fan, I am quite familiar with Coach K. One quality that Coach K has he shares with DaBruce [TM]. That quality is not being afraid to fail.

    If you are afraid to fail, you will find it tough to win, IMHO. Coach K and DaBruce challenge their players to experiment, to try new things, to be aggressive, and to take risks. This is key to their development. If they are always afraid of failure, they will stay inside their box and never develop to their true potential.

    I must also say that Coach K and DaBruce share another trait. That is they are sometimes outcoached on the floor. I have seen Coach K get outcoached by both Herb Sendek (NC State) and Dean Smith (Carolina). I think Bruce was badly outcoached at Costa Rica and at Mexico. His style was too defensive. He tried to bunker and it failed miserably. But he learned from it and I bet you he will never repeat those mistakes. He wasn't afraid to try something, he failed at it, and he learned from it. That's the mark of a champion.
  5. bert patenaude

    Apr 16, 2001
    White Plains, NY
    I think that another trait is the ability to handle adversity. In hindsight, Bruce handled the three straight WCQ defeats quite well. Napoleon referred to three o'clock in the morning courage as being the true test of a leader. Bruce Arena instilled the confidence in a shaky team and led them through a dangerous time.
  6. Karl K

    Karl K Member

    Oct 25, 1999
    Suburban Chicago
    This is a VERY astute observation to add to Nutmeg's excellent list. These coaches learn from their mistakes and, generally, don't make the same mistakes twice.

    I would add a number of other qualities to the ones that Nutmeg listed so well.

    All of these coaches are relentlessly rational in their approach to preparation. They excel at detailed analysis, and look to exploit matchup opportunities that opponents present, and work to minimize matchup problems opponents present them.

    They are outstanding TEACHERS. They explain to their players what they want accomplished in ways that their players can understand and execute.

    They can get angry with their players, but their anger is ALWAYS based upon the failure of a player to meet well-understood expectations.

    They understand that the games they coach will always contain physical errors and physical mistakes, which are noted but not vilified, whereas mental mistakes, especially mistakes borne of inadequate preparation, are are akin to sins.

    They have supreme confidence in their abilities, but at the same time they know they don't know everything and rely on advisors to help them. Arena has had Bradley and Sarachan, Jackson has had Winter and Bach.

    The public persona is always one of directness and fortitude. You are eager to hear what they have to say because it is usually interesting -- though not always revealing -- and they never fall back on vacuous cliche or empty rhetoric.

    You never get the sense from any of these coaches that they select their personnel, or parcel out playing time, for political or personal reasons. (Yes, fans, even Bruce). Those decisions seem to be ruthlessly rational, but never cold-hearted; players know where they stand and why.

    They communicate early and often with their players, though they will use psychological ploys to extract maximum performance.

    They know the difference between THEIR job and the players' jobs. Their job is to put the players in a position to win; it's the players' job to do the winning.

    And, finally, players always seem to say they love playing for these coaches, and they generally mean it.
  7. eagleterp

    eagleterp New Member

    Jun 6, 2002
    washington, dc
    i'm definitely biased here, but you don't think coack k gets the best players in the country year in year out? count how many mcdonald's all americans and top 40 prospects are on his teams.

    the fact that they all want to play for him is indeed impressive, but dont tell me he recruits role players. he convinces high school stars to be role players (also a good coaching trick).
  8. Turk from Pigs Eye

    Turk from Pigs Eye New Member

    Jun 14, 2002
    Pigs Eye (St. Paul),
    A good comparison from another era is Vince Lombardi from the Green Bay Packers.

    A key to Arena's career is how he transformed DC United into a winner after they started out badly in their first few games in '96. I know he benched and got rid of some players and brought in others, but does anyone remember the details?

    I heard that Arena learned how to motivate players while coaching at Cornell by listening through the walls to the basketball coach screaming at his players before the games and at halftime.
  9. appoo

    appoo Member+

    Jul 30, 2001
    Actually, a better way to determine that would be to look at the NBA. The only NBA star from Duke is Elton Brand, eventhough Battier and JWill are probably on their way. I think Coach K creates all-americans
  10. Bajoro

    Bajoro Member+

    Sep 10, 2000
    The Inland Empire
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    - appooOnU, Coach K also had Grant Hill. He was a huge star a few years ago, a one-time "next Jordan."

    - Turk, BA did the listening through the wall at Virginia. I don't think he ever coached at Cornell, he went to school there. While at Virginia, he listened through the wall to basketball coaches like... Coach K!

    - Nutmeg, thanks for a good thread. It's good once in a while to discuss things we can all agree on and try to analyze, instead of what's going on in some of the other threads. When's the next game, dammit?
  11. eagleterp

    eagleterp New Member

    Jun 6, 2002
    washington, dc
    or that a drawback to his winning at the college level (team basketball), is that his players are not well-trained to be stars in the NBA (individual basketball)
  12. Bill Russell

    Bill Russell New Member

    Apr 16, 2002
    Can someone please pass me the insulin.
  13. Sachin

    Sachin New Member

    Jan 14, 2000
    La Norte
    DC United
    But every coaches job is to win at the level he or she coaches. It's not about training for the next level. The great high school, college and pro coaches recognize that.

  14. nobody

    nobody Member+

    Jun 20, 2000
    One very interesting point about this thread is that not once has tactical acumen been mentioned. I'm not making a judgement as to Bruce's abilities in this area one way or another, just pointing out how there are so many other factors that affect a team's success. I think we often see a whole lot of posts getting very particular about fine tactical points as if the tactics behind the game are all-important and the players are virtually robotic in disposition, hopping out to do whatever is drawn up without question. Well, I think this thread points out how foolish that concept is. All of the coaches discussed hear certainly have some level of tactical acumen, but truly top notch coaches have to have a lot more.
  15. Cweedchop

    Cweedchop Member+

    Mar 6, 2000
    Ellicott City, Md
    Truth hurts don't it Ghosty?

    You must feel like crap reading a thread like this, especially considering your rather poignant views concerning St. Bruce..

    It's OK Bill, there is plenty of room on the bandwagon.... :p
  16. Bajoro

    Bajoro Member+

    Sep 10, 2000
    The Inland Empire
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Great point. Many of the great coaches don't hesitate to bring in great teachers to teach fundamentals. E.g., Phil Jackson's assistant who taught Jordan the triangle offense. And there have been countless NFL coaches who are wizards with the Xs and Os as offensive and defensive coordinators. This hasn't necessarily made them effective head coaches.

    "Tactics" are relatively simple in soccer, the fundamentals of teamwork. "Strategy" is a somewhat different matter -- a game plan using your strengths to attack your opponent's weakness. Bruce has proven again and again that he's pretty decent when it comes to big-game strategy -- his record in championship matches is hard to beat.

    Ideally it's not the job of the USMNT coach to teach "tactics", if players don't know what to do in a 2-v-1 or 3-v-2 situation, they shouldn't be called up.

    (Does it irritate or amuse anyone else when the words "tactics" and "strategy" get used interchangably? Or am I just an old stick-in-the-mud? Wait, don't answer that.)
  17. RickDavis

    RickDavis Member

    Apr 18, 2002
    Poland was a big time game. We got our ass handed to us, as Arena made a very poor personel decision on defense. As a result, we were one Portugal shot off the post from not advancing and Arena being a massive goat.
  18. Sachin

    Sachin New Member

    Jan 14, 2000
    La Norte
    DC United
    Re: Re: Comparing Bruce Arena to other "Dynasty" Coaches

    Great coaches are often lucky as well. Is Chuck Noll any less of a great coach because of the Immaculate Reception?

  19. Various Styles

    Various Styles Member+

    Mar 1, 2000
    Los Angeles
    CD Chivas de Guadalajara

    most impressively, DCU won the InterAmerican Cup against perennial Brazil Club power Vasco de Gama in 1998

    This wasnt Impressive. Dont want to be negative but South American Clubs have never taken this Cup seriously. Why do you think it hasnt been played since 98. Lets also remeber that Both games were played in the U.S.. Interestingly before and after Vascos plane ride from Tokyo were they played for the Toyota Intercontinental Cup.

    BA is a good coach theres no denying this but Outside the U.S he has yet to win any Silverware..
  20. Rodan

    Rodan New Member

    Feb 16, 1999
    Thanks VA, a momentary respite from the unabashed hero-worship is kind of nice...
  21. Karl K

    Karl K Member

    Oct 25, 1999
    Suburban Chicago
    He's no hero, he's just a very good soccer coach.

    Question of the last, say, six Mexican national team coaches, how many have won "silverware" outside of Mexico??
  22. ursula

    ursula Member

    Feb 21, 1999
    Republic of Cascadia
    Another point about dynasty coaches is that they are much better than their opposition. This point seems obvious but isn't. Guys like Joe Torre, Phil Jackson, coach K, and Bruce Arena are after all directly competing against some very good coaches and their task was (is) to outcompete them: to recognize their opponents for what they are and assess how to beat them regularly. Since VS has now trolled on by, we can see that Arena has done that versus Mexico. Now if Mexico has hopes to compete with Arena they better not hire a coach who has VS's attitude since great coaches don't rationalize victories or defeats. (Well they may rationalize to the press like Jackson does, but that's a different story.)
  23. kayasoleil

    kayasoleil New Member

    Aug 14, 2002
    In response to Sachin's comments that great coaches focus on winning at their respective levels (high school, college) I HIGHLY disagree. Great coaches at those levels develop their players and winning is a natural by-product (or not, it does not matter). If young players, especially at the high school level (and college) are concerned about winning, and their coaches coach them to win first and development is seen as a by-product, they may remain mediocre players with poor fundamentals that are necessary for being world class.

    I predict that in the very near future, especially for soccer coaches in college, you will see programs market themselves as development institutions- not championship ring collectors.

    That is best way to grow the sport soccer in this country. Focus on development.
  24. Sachin

    Sachin New Member

    Jan 14, 2000
    La Norte
    DC United
    I don't see how you can have one without the other. But ask any coach in any competitive sports league what their priority is and almost all of them (good, bad, mediocre) will answer "winning" not "develop them for the next level."

    A college basketball coach who turns out NBA first round draft picks but doesn't win anything is going to be out of a job soon, while a coach who wins a national title every third year but doesn't turn out NBA studs all the time has job security for life.

  25. lasoccervegas2002

    Jul 7, 2002
    this planet
    I of the most important things for a coach ( in any sport for that matter ) is well liked by the players and I'd heard that the players like him a lot.

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