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Yes, I feel like I have a lot in common with Tubby, besides the fact that my physique matches his name. Of course, I’m talking about Tubby Smith, beleagured coach of my beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team (second only to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, of course). There is a lot of talk in the air about UK buying out Tubby’s contract, which is sports parlance for kicking him to the curb, canning him, giving him the pink slip, firing him.

I heard some talk on the local radio here in Huntington that the Lexington (KY) Herald has an article that discusses the very real possiblity that Tubby will be fired if the Cats don’t do well in the post-season (and in a cool related note, Patrick Patterson, the 6’8” power forward from Huntington High has made it clear that he will not come to Kentucky if Tubby is not there).

So, why is there talk of Tubby being fired? Simply put, UK is not doing so well this year. They are not ranked as of today, and have not been for quite a while this season. They’ve lost every game that they’ve played against ranked teams, including twice to Vanderbilt. Their record this year is 19-9, which is just not up to the level that UK fans expect. UK fans like to win and they have been so good for so long that they just can’t handle not being among the best in the nation (same thing with Duke, by the way).

In other words, UK is losing, so there is talk about Tubby losing his job. Now, this is what gets me: Tubby is basically being blamed for UK losing. Could there be other factors?

  • Perhaps the players, you know, the ones actually given the task of getting the orange ball through the hoop, might not be playing well enough?
  • Could it be that the other teams are just better this year?
  • Why not blame the fans for not cheering loud enough? I was at Rupp Arena to see the UK/EKU game and there was one EKU fan who was louder than all of the UK fans… it was quieter than a funeral for most of the game.
  • Maybe this is just a momentary burp in UK’s greatness: not every season is going to be a top 10 winning season.

But, no, all those other factors are ignored: just blame the coach. Is Tubby a bad coach? Not hardly. This is from the Lex. Herald article:

Smith has been one of the most successful coaches in the history of the
Southeastern Conference and college basketball. His 384 career victories rank
fifth all-time for coaches in their first 16 seasons. His .700 winning
percentage in the NCAA Tournament ranks sixth among active coaches.
In his 10
seasons for UK, Smith’s teams have won or shared five regular-season league
championships, seven divisional titles and five SEC Tournaments. The
regular-season titles rank third all-time behind two former UK coaches, Adolph
Rupp (27) and Joe B. Hall (eight). No SEC coach has won more divisional titles.
Rick Pitino (UK) and Billy Donovan (Florida) are second with four
each.
Smith’s five SEC Tournament titles tie for second most with Pitino and
Wimp Sanderson of Alabama. Rupp won 13 such championships.

In the end, though, it will be the coach blamed for the losing season, and he will most likely be fired if there is not an immediate turnaround. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that the coach is partly to blame: he is the leader, and in Bush’s words, the “decider”. But, you can’t blame the coach for EVERYTHING.

Now, what does this have to do with me? In a lot of ways, I see the minister of a church in the same predicament as a coach when it comes to blame for the poor performance of a church. I know that the leaders and the people in our church keep a close eye on the two most important stats (in their minds) in the life of the church. All together now: attendance and offering. If the numbers of either go down, the fingers of blame are going to be pointed towards the senior minister. If the church is not “winning games” by keeping up numbers and offerings there will be talk of “letting the minister go” (though we won’t get the million dollar a year contract buyout that Tubby will get).

I don’t deny that the minister is sometimes to blame for the decline of a church. Poor leadership, poor preaching, poor visiting and the like can contribute to a church losing members and offering. But, like a coach, there are others who could be blamed:

  • The leaders of the church, who are the ones charged with directing the affairs of the church (in most cases, the elders, deacons, and/or board).
  • The congregation, who are the ones who are actually charged with doing the work of the church: evangelizing, volunteering, praying, contributing to the offering.
  • The community. This is like factoring in the fact that the other teams just might be good. If you are in an area with a 6% decline each year in population, you might not be growing. If you are a 50s era church in style, you might have trouble “competing” with the contemporary, exciting church up the street.

In the end, though, the minister is like the coach: no matter what the other mitigating factors, the minister and the coach are the only ones who can be fired, so when the church/team doesn’t do well, they are the ones blamed and fired. There are a lot of GREAT ministers who are in churches that simply will never be able to rise above the leadership of the church, the apathy of their members, or the circumstances of their community to be the next megachurch. So, the church goes through ministers like they were paper towels, always blaming the minister, never looking at the real reasons for their lack of growth.

Tubby, I feel your pain. If you need help moving, give me a call, and I’ll call you when I need the help.

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