Is there anything more frustrating than coaches who overthink?
By all accounts, Tim Walton and Carol Hutchins are great coaches.
Their names may not be widely known in the sports world, but Walton is the head coach of the Florida softball team and Hutchins is the head coach of the Michigan softball team. Both have won national championships. Both are going for another this week as the two teams playing in the best-of-three series at the Women’s College World Series. And both have built powerhouse programs at places that had little softball tradition before them.
Those are some pretty stout resumes.
But Monday night during the opening game of the championship series, it was all I could do not to run out on the field and strangle them both.
Hutchins decided to start Megan Besta in the circle, even though she had been replaced early in each of Michigan’s last three games. The Wolverines managed to overcome her rocky starts with some powerful offense, but still, it was pretty clear to everyone who was paying attention that she is struggling.
And she struggled again Monday, giving up three runs in the first three innings and being replaced again by Haylie Wagner.
Wagner has been solid every time she’s replaced Besta in the WCWC, and she was again Monday, shutting out Florida the rest of the way. But those three runs Besta gave up would be all that Florida would need.
Why not go with your hot arm?
Why not start the pitcher everyone in the place knew was pitching best?
Hutchins overthought it.
Thing is, Walton almost made up for Hutchins’ mistake with his own. He decided to start freshman Aleshia Ocasio in the circle instead of national player of the year Lauren Haeger, who had made every pitch for the Gators thus far in the WCWS. He was walking towards Overthinking Way, but he got a bit of a pass. Ocasio had beaten Michigan not once, but twice in the regular season. Starting her didn’t seem like a horrible idea.
But after Ocasio gave up two runs in the sixth inning, Walton replaced her. Not with Haeger. But with sophomore Delanie Gourley.
And it nearly cost him.
Gourley issued a walk, then had a passed ball. A single put runners on the corners with no outs. Then it took a great play by Florida shortstop Kathlyn Medina to keep the ball in the infield and get a force out at second. Miraculously, the runner at third didn’t head home.
A strikeout and a groundout ended the Michigan threat and wrapped up the Florida victory, but geez, a game that Florida had dominated was about this close to being a total disaster.
All with the player of the year standing in the dugout.
Nothing galls me more than coaches who overthinking. Yes, getting Haeger some rest was a good notion, but when you are three outs from taking the early lead in a championship series, why futz around?
Walton and Hutchins aren’t alone in this, of course. We see it all the time. Pete Carroll throwing instead of running Marshawn Lynch at the goal line in the Super Bowl. Josh Heupel deciding to abandon the run and Samaje Perine entirely in the second half against Baylor.
But my favorite example is from my favorite sports movie, “Hoosiers.” The boys basketball team from tiny Milan, Ind., is playing for a state title, and in the movie, they call timeout with one last chance to win the game. Gene Hackman’s character, coach Norman Dale, huddles the boys and tells them that they’re going to use their best player, Jimmy Chitwood, as a decoy on the final play. The boys all look around like “Oh, man, what is Coach thinking?” Hackman asks what’s wrong with them, and Chitwood calmly says, “I’ll make it, Coach.”
The boys save him from overthinking.
Not sure the gals from Florida or Michigan could do the same for their coaches — this ain’t Hollywood, after all — but sometimes, the truth is simple. The most obvious answer is the best answer.