Matthew R. Perry

When Expectations Run Amok

In Church Life, Sports on March 17, 2007 at 8:39 am

Yesterday, I wrote some reflections about an article written by Peggy Noonan dealing with whether we should put personalities above their philosophies.

As I was pondering this a bit further, I found myself at’s website and ran across an article by Gene Wojciechowski entitled “UK’s Smith Should Leave Before He is Eventually Fired.” UK stands for the University of Kentucky (for all you non-American, non-NCAA basketball fans.” “Smith” is Orlando “Tubby” Smith, their 10-year-coach who is on the hot seat not because of performance, mind you, but because of expectations run amok.

Here’s how his article begins:

Fire Tubby Smith?

How do you deep-six a guy who won you a national championship, who wins nearly eight of out 10 games he coaches, who gets rave reviews from his peers? How do you stick a buyout fork in a distinguished 10-year Kentucky career that has lasted longer than beloved (pre-Louisville, of course) Rick Pitino’s tenure in Lexington and includes exactly zero NCAA penalties?

You don’t. You can’t … except at Kentucky, where, said Wildcats junior guard, “people expect us to be in the Final Four every year.”

Those expectations, no longer realistic in an age of Winthrops and George Masons, is why Smith should think long and hard about a change in hoops venue. That’s right: He should think about walking away from Kentucky before Kentucky walks away from him.

This article is a study in expectations run amok from a bar set exceedingly high. The writer compares UK in basketball to Notre Dame in football — a place where there is “no margin for error.” Notice what else he writes:

It’s past is always handcuffed to its present. This is no escape from its history or its expectations.

The result is the fan base’s expectations seldom seem to be placated, even when they are winning. History has handcuffed the program!  Another excerpt:

As usual, the win didn’t satisfy everyone in blue. As Kentucky held a five-point lead with 96 seconds remaining, a fan sitting a few behind Barnhart yelled to Smith, “You are blowing this game!”

This is why Smith should bolt. Not because of some knucklehead fan, but because Barnhart might be listening to the knucklehead fan. In some cases — and you can ask former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher about this — it’s just time to move on. It’s nothing personal, it’s just time.

What’s the point of this article? I know many in my congregation who are a vocal part of Big Blue Nation may see me as a card-carrying Louisville Cardinal fan (no pun intended) may see me as bashing UK. Not at all. But I do see many similarities between the fan base of UK and many in our older, established churches.

  1. History handcuffs them in the present. Sadly, instead of looking at the present and the future, too many Christians live in the past and in days gone by. It’s a different age and a different way of doing business, yet the successes that we rejoiced in in the past tend to be millstones around the neck in the present.
  2. Having a great character and having that fire as a leader is not enough when the vision is off-course. Whether that is the case with Tubby or not, I do not know. But all leaders must evaluate their philosophies constantly to make sure they are heading in the right direction. For ministers, we must make sure the Word is central in all areas of life and that the Spirit of God is the one leading.
  3. Sometimes, even victories are met with a defeatist attitude. Even when people have reason to be excited, they look for reasons to worry or expect things to go wrong. The UK fan whose team was ahead by 5 told his coach that the game was being blown. In churches, even when God is moving, you have those folks who are the wet blankets who cannot rejoice in present successes because they expect problems to occur.

Can you think of any other similarities?

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