A Part-time Head Coach?

June 24, 2009 | Luke Jones

When we typically hear the term “part-time coach”, a junior high football coach taking night classes three days a week or a little league assistant often going out of town on business during the season comes to mind.

We think of an individual who loves teaching and being around the game but doesn’t have the availability to make a full commitment.

But the head coach of a major professional sports team?

That’s exactly what future Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson is considering as he enters the final year of a two-year deal with the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.  Jackson is reportedly scheduled to make close to $12 million next season.

Citing health reasons, Jackson is contemplating the idea of coaching the Lakers’ home games while allowing assistant Kurt Rambis to coach most of the team’s road games.  While coaches have unexpectedly missed time due to health reasons, the idea of being a “part-time” head coach at the professional level is interesting, to say the least.

If anyone has earned the right to explore such a unique—and risky—opportunity, it’s Jackson.  The winner of 10 NBA championships, six with the Chicago Bulls and four with the Lakers, Jackson’s calm coaching style might make the part-time gig possible, but only with the full trust of his players and assistants.

While critics will point to the Lakers as really being Kobe Bryant’s team, it’s difficult envisioning a scenario in which Jackson would really have the ears of his players when he’s only committed to a certain number of games.

To provide a more local perspective, what would you think if John Harbaugh suddenly handed the Ravens over to Cam Cameron or Jerry Rosburg when going on the road to San Diego or Cleveland?

And I’m sure this will open a can of worms—and spark a few jokes—but what if Dave Trembley suddenly told bench coach Dave Jauss to manage the Orioles in Florida or Seattle while he stays home?

Given Jackson’s incomparable resume, perhaps the only comparison to make with a Baltimore context would be Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver.  If Weaver had agreed to stay on as manager following the 1982 season but only wanted to manage the home games, what would you have thought?

With the intense pressure and accountability of a professional head coach or manager, it’s hard to imagine a part-time situation working out in Los Angeles.  If Jackson wants to continue coaching, he certainly has every right to do so; if he wants to retire, he will go down as arguably the greatest coach in NBA history.

The problem is he cannot do both.