Firing the Coach

June 20th, 2011

For a few days back in January, most of the people in my hometown of Nashville weren't terribly interested in the unrest in Egypt or the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion. They weren’t talking about Oscar nominations or the State of the Union Address. All these stories were put on hold because the Tennessee Titans had just let go of head coach Jeff Fisher.

NFL coaching changes are as much a part of January as snow, Martin Luther King Day, and Epiphany. Each year several franchises fire, or opt not to re-sign, their head coaches. There’s nothing unusual about a team that went 6–10, losing eight of its last nine games, getting rid of its coach. But the Titans cutting ties with Fisher came as a surprise. Fisher had coached the Titans since before they were the Titans, taking over as coach of the Houston Oilers during the 1994 season. Before Fisher's firing, Nashville was the only major professional sports city never to have experienced a coaching change. (Barry Trotz has coached the NHL’s Predators since the team’s inaugural 1998–99 season.) Nashvillians aren’t used to this sort of thing. Analysts had guessed that the Titans would either part ways with Fisher or quarterback Vince Young. When the team announced earlier that it would trade or release Young, most assumed Fisher was safe.

Reflecting on Fisher’s dismissal, I realized that many of the questions that arise during discussions of whether a coach should be retained or let go also could apply to church leaders:

  1. Has this person had the time and/or the resources to do what he or she was brought here to do?
  2. Is this person a good fit for this job? Does the job suit his or her gifts and strengths?
  3. Has this person been here too long? Is he or she burning out? Might his or her gifts be put to better use elsewhere?
  4. What do we expect from this person? Are these expectations fair? Have we articulated these expectations?


These questions might be useful in two ways. They are written in the third person, as though a staff-parish committee or NFL front office is asking them about a church leader or coach, determining if that person should still be in their position of leadership.

But each of the questions can (and should) be rephrased in the first person, with the coach or church leader reflecting on his or her gifts and vocation. Do you have the time and resources to do what you were hired to do? Are you a good fit for the job? Are you burning out? Are the expectations clear? In many cases, these questions don’t have easy answers. And in a church setting, prayerful discernment should be the first response to any vocational questions.

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