LOS ANGELES – Longtime football coach Wade Phillips made headlines recently after being hired to run the Denver Broncos' defense. “I was a lousy head coach,” he told the Denver Post, “but I am a pretty good defensive coordinator.”
That self-realization was newsworthy because it served as an unabashed admission that in three separate stints as the man in charge of a team, he wasn’t the right one for the position. But the reaction underscores a bigger theme here: Being proficient at any job doesn't translate to being equally proficient on the next step of the corporate ladder.
This phenomenon is hardly unique to football. The leading go-getter in your company might struggle when graduating to a manager position in the corner office; conversely, the pencil-pusher stuck in a mundane cubicle could flourish in the more authoritative role.
When it was reported by Golf Channel that Davis Love III will be named the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain, much of the public response came in the form of one quizzical question: But what about Fred Couples?
The three-time Presidents Cup-winning captain was instantly labeled a snub, a logical choice bypassed for a man who already had his turn in the role and famously came up woefully short of victory.
That would be an inaccurate reaction to the news.
Couples has always appeared aloof in his leadership role. When choosing a lineup for each Presidents Cup session, he often deferred to an assistant -- usually Jay Haas -- for the final say. During daily interview sessions with the media, he was certainly cordial enough, but always seemed like he was daydreaming of being back in the team room instead, slapping backs with Michael Jordan after a doubles ping-pong match. And from his own words, he cared less about the team's much-talked-about attire than most couch potatoes watching from home.
There's no mistaking the Ryder Cup for the Presidents Cup. Each session's lineups are finely picked apart for years, not minutes. The media obligations are doubled - or maybe tripled or quadrupled. The outfits are subject to national scrutiny.
The Ryder Cup is a different animal. Not only does every player insist there's greater pressure, that feeling has been compounded through years of frustrating losses. It's easy to connect some dots here: The team plays loose under Couples; it needs to play looser in the Ryder Cup; therefore, Couples should be the captain. But such simplistic theories fail to account for the multiple variables between the biennial cousins.
The reality is, for most of Couples' tenure as Presidents Cup captain, he simply had to ensure every player was present and accounted for before collecting another triumph over the inferior International squad.
And therein lies the hidden secret as to why Love is getting the nod this time instead.
In football terminology, Couples is better suited to be a defensive coordinator than head coach.
Or at least that's what the PGA of America's 11-man task force believes.
All of which means that Couples will likely own an important role on next year’s team without the headaches and hassles of being the man in charge.
Buddies with Love for decades now, each has served as an assistant when the other was in the role of captain. And while Love was mum on the impending appointment Tuesday, there’s no reason to believe that will change anytime soon. The selection of one man doesn’t ensure the omission of the other. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
Just as in 2012, Love won't rule with an iron fist; he won't employ Tom Watson's my-way-or-the-highway approach. Meanwhile, Couples will own a considerable role as his consigliere; he'll be able to help set the team's mood without all of the organizational rigors of the captaincy.
The head coach and the coordinator. Each in the role which suits him best.
While Love would neither confirm nor deny the report of his impending captaincy, he sounded Tuesday like a man already strategizing for a second chance.
“The best thing I’ve taken out of this task force process is I learned a lot,” he told Golf Channel at Riviera Country Club, site of this week’s Northern Trust Open. “I learned that I made some mistakes. There are some things that I could have done better. I could have shared more information with former captains and former players. So we’ve learned a lot from the whole thing and I think going forward, we can help future captains, because we’ve had a lot of great discussions about it.”
It’s this kind of forward thinking that won Love the gig, but it shouldn’t be said that Couples lost it. He’ll hold a pre-tournament news conference on Wednesday at Riviera, where he’ll undoubtedly be asked about this turn of events.
There’s a good chance the three-time Presidents Cup-winning captain won’t echo Wade Phillips during his answers, but there’s an even better chance that he’ll be satisfied with his upcoming role.