The Blueprint 9.20.12: The Ultimate Coaching Staff
Posted by Patrick Mullin on 09.20.2012
The newest season of The Ultimate Fighter has kicked off and much has been made of the respective coaching staffs chosen by Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson. Does either man have an edge? Have they made crucial mistakes that could derail their potential for success? We discuss all that and more right here in The Blueprint.
Hello everyone and welcome to yet another groundbreaking edition of The Blueprint here at 411Mania. Two weeks ago on the 411 Ground and Pound Radio show which airs every Sunday at 11am EST on Blogtalk Radio, Mark Radulich and I joked about the Survivor Series team-esque coaching staff chosen by Roy Nelson for this season of The Ultimate Fighter. For those of you who are unaware Nelson's coaching staff is made up of himself as the head coach, the Diaz Brothers, and Gilbert Melendez. His opponent Shane Carwin has chosen a staff of Trevor Wittman(boxing), Nate Marquardt(jiu jitsu), Pat Barry(striking), Duane Ludwig(striking), Leister Bowling(wrestling), and Loren Landlow(sports conditioning). You probably couldn't wind up with more different approaches to this if you tried.
Coaching is a very tough job. Anyone who works in a mentoring situation like a teacher or drill instructor will attest to this. There is a tremendous amount of pressure because whatever your pupil achieves or fails to achieve will be put on you. So if you're not committed to helping to mold this lump of clay into a finely sculpted product then you'll be considered a failure. Guys like Greg Jackson, Cesar Gracie, and Bob Cook have earned reputations for being great coaches due to the high number of successful UFC fighters they've produced. They've been able to do this because of their own commitment to excellence and by recruiting staffs who share that belief to assist them.
Its very difficult for successful fighters to become successful coaches. That seems odd to say but it generally holds true that when successful athletes in any sport try to transition to coaching it doesn't usually work out well. Ted Williams and Eddie Murray are two of baseball's all time great hitters but were really ineffective as batting coaches. Buddy McGirt was a very good boxer who held two world titles yet he's notable for having the careers of his fighters nosedive when he assumes the reigns as head trainer. How does this happen you ask?
The problem more often than not is that former great athletes don't understand why things may not come as easily to others as it did for them. On the 411 Ground and Pound Radio Show our own Jeffrey Harris scoffed at Pat Curran's likelihood of beating Joe Warren, citing that Curran was trained by cousin Jeff Curran who had failed to achieve notable success as a fighter at present. However Pat Curran easily dispatched of Warren and was given good advice from Jeff. Jeff isn't a guy blessed with incredible athletic gifts like a Jon Jones, so Jeff understands how some people just have to work harder and it takes longer for them to develop certain skills and techniques to use come fight time. Its resulted in him leading his cousin to a Bellator world championship.
This is my main issue with the coaching staffs chosen by both fighters. None of the fighters who were selected to work as assistant coaches have real coaching experience with the exception of Nate Marquardt who serves as Carwin's jiu jitsu coach for his fights. You have to question the selections of the men who will assistant coach, particularly on Nelson's side. The Diaz brothers are known wildcards with a penchant for doing as they please and serving their own interests. Gilbert Melendez is a training partner of the Diaz's outside of the show and may be lured into following their behavior patterns. Nelson himself is known as someone who takes training lightly and has even been called out on it during his stint as a participant on The Ultimate Fighter.
Trevor Wittman is probably the most logical of all the coaching choices made by either fighter. He has long established himself as a dedicated trainer to some of the bigger names in MMA such as Carwin, Rashad Evans, Marquardt, and even professional boxers like JC Candelo and Verno Phillips. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Wittman tends to assume control of the coaching duties from Carwin much the way he did at times with Rashad Evans. The other coaches on the team would do well to follow Wittman's lead.
I think the one advantage that Team Nelson possesses over Team Carwin is that Shane's team may have too many chefs in the kitchen. There are 7 separate coaches on that team each molding the fighters, not to mention that you have Pat Barry and Duane Ludwig essentially training these guys on kickboxing but with very different beliefs and styles, and Wittman's boxing clashing with them. While Nelson's coaches may be tough to reign in they also are all training partners with the same fundamentals and beliefs put into place by
their head trainer Cesar Gracie. They won't clash and confuse their fighters the way we are likely to see Team Carwin's coaches do at some point.
A coaching scenario like The Ultimate Fighter is also very different from regular training. You aren't dealing with blank slates in the fighters, they've already been trained and developed to some extent by other coaches. Not only will first time coaches have to learn on the job, but they also have to be able to adapt to the styles and approaches of each of the fighters. Bristol Marunde for example has had over 20 professional fights and has been active in mixed martial arts for nearly a decade. He's not going to all of a sudden break his usual routine without growing pains. Training 8 fighters at a time is very different than training one man whom you can focus on and intently notice the good and the bad. This is also an issue when you've got so many coaches with different styles on one end because the disagreements on what's happening are likely to be frequent.
While it doesn't necessarily work on everything in the fight game, when it comes to coaching a unilateral mindset about the core beliefs is necessary for a successful team. Seventy five percent of Nelson's staff already possesses this attribute and I imagine Roy in his free spirited nature won't have any objections. Carwin is likely on the same page with Wittman and Marquardt but the other 84 members of his staff and his relationship with them remains to be seen.
Despite their lack of coaching experience and acumen I do believe that ultimately we'll see more success in helping the fighters grow and develop from Nelson's team than we will from Carwin's team. The Scrap Packers are much more fundamentally sound in their techniques and can likely incorporate those basic fundamentals into the toolboxes of their fighters. Team Carwin's trainers range from a more tactical approach(Wittman, Marquardt) to the more wild and unorthodox(Barry, Ludwig). There's on paper too much going on to give these guys a pure direction and allow them to get any consistency in their training. While they seem to have drafted the more skilled team(Bristol Marunde, Sam Alvey, James Chaney) without proper coaching and preparation they will not win. If the guys were that much better than Team Nelson they'd already be in the UFC.
Carwin's approach to recruiting his coaching staff was to seemingly round up specialists whom he's worked with in his own training camps or that have a reputation which has impressed him. Nelson's approach was to recruit a tight knit group of guys who work together regularly who have an established synergy that has resulted in success for each of them and the members of their team. Carwin has experienced coaches while Nelson has novices. It's a complete clash on seemingly every level possible and I think we'll all be waiting anxiously for the results.
I know that some people will define the superior coach or coaching staff as the one who produces the tournament winner. However to me the superior coach and staff is the one that has their fighters progress the most and really develop newfound skills while refining the ones they already had. Coaching is really about helping people realize their potential and bringing out the best in them. Maybe someone will win the Ultimate Fighter, but how many TUF winners have we seen fall short of significant success? Some have even been cut by the UFC. My prediction is while Carwin may have recruited the outright winner, we'll probably see Team Nelson's fighters show more progress and ultimately be more successful.