By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published May 18, 2010 at 4:15 PM

The last couple of weeks for Ken Macha have been the latest chapter of a debate that has gone on through the history of team sports. I'm not sure there has ever been a definitive answer to the questions raised.

The latest spark to flame the debate came from Drew Olson, my colleague, and a writer who I put in the pantheon of elite sportswriters who have come through this town. It's a small group, maybe only a handful, and he makes the list.

Last week, while discussing the fortunes or misfortunes of Macha and the Milwaukee Brewers, Olson wrote the following: "... for all the talk about lineups, matchups, double-switches and motivational speeches, the manager's role in a team's success or failure is grossly exaggerated."

Grossly exaggerated? Come on Drew. I'm not sure you really mean that.

Over the years I've had a discussion on this issue with a wide variety of coaches, managers, executives and players. A partial list of people I've talked to about this includes: George Bamberger, Del Harris, Don Nelson, Zeke Bratkowski, Herb Kohl, Gorman Thomas, Jim Fitzgerald, Bud Selig, Bill Vukovich, Bob Harlan, Judge Robert Parins, Paul Molitor, Buck Rodgers, George Karl, Willie Buchanon, Frank Hamblin, Dave Hanner, John Steinmiller, Dave (Always Keep Aces) Wohl, Bob Lanier, Greg Koch, James Lofton, Dick Corrick and, yes, Bart Starr.

When I say I've had discussions with them, it wasn't a news conference kind of thing. It was a sitting-in-an-airport-waiting-for-a-plane or sitting-stuck-next-to-them-on-a-long-bus-ride kind of thing. I don't remember all the exact quotes from these people, but I remember enough to create a quote or position for each of them on this issue. Remember, except for Koch, these quotes are a summation of many discussions I've had with these people.

And what I've learned from all of these people is that the manager or coach is very important to the success of a team and it's hard to exaggerate that importance. All of the people I've talked to think the coach or manager is critical to the success of a team. Some more than others, but nobody thought the importance of the coach was over exaggerated. So, contrary to what Drew said, most of these people disagree, some of them significantly.

I was standing by his side the night Don Nelson got his first job as an NBA coach and he is now the winningest coach in NBA history. Over the years we've talked about this a lot. Nelson has always been a guy who thinks the coach is crucial to the success or failure of a team.

"The technical side of the game is important, but there is only so much that's new on this earth," Nelson said. "It's the other stuff, how you handle players and the media that makes the difference between success and failure."

I'm asked every now and then about the smartest athletes I've ever known. I have a top three. Bob Lanier, Greg Koch and James Lofton. All were good humored, smart, thoughtful and, in Koch's case especially, able to see multiple sides of an issue. In their own way, they all agree that the position of coach or manager is incredibly important.

I recently asked Koch about it.

"I think the coach is who makes it all happen, but if he doesn't welcome the athletes input, he won't be a very good coach," he said. "That doesn't mean he has to agree, but at least he has to listen to the person who actually has to accomplish the ultimate goal."

One I asked Lofton why Bart Starr, by all accounts a great player and a wonderful human being, turned out to be such a lousy coach. I'll never forget what he said.

"The biggest problem was that he didn't treat everyone the same way," Lofton said. "He had favorites and he could be manipulated. Nobody could have any respect for him as a coach because of that."

Lofton hit on a critical point. Players are manipulative. They work the angles for playing time, starting positions and just about everything else. If a player thinks he can work the coach, then the team is headed for failure.

Lanier said it was important for a coach to remove confusion from the minds of his players.

"A coach has got to have a clear set of expectations and he's got to let the players know what they are," Lanier said. "And then he has to live up to them. A coach who constantly changes his expectations is in danger of losing his team."

One of the most interesting takes on this issue came from Jim Fitzgerald, who, when he was the owner of the Bucks, fired Larry Costello and hired Nelson.

"Some of this is always political," he said. "It's about the politics inside the team and the politics with the public. As an owner, you've got the understand the politics of it. A change in coaching can have incredible, long-lasting effects. It's not something to be taken lightly."

Judge Robert Parins was president of the Green Bay Packers during a turbulent time and he and I sat in his office on a cold afternoon to discuss his role as president of the team. During that discussion he said something about his coach that I'll always remember.

"The coach has to mean what he says," Parins said. "Players can see through a load of crap real easily. If a coach says he's going to do something, he better do it. Because if he doesn't, then nobody's going to listen to him next time. And that can prove fatal."

It's easy to fall back on the old saw about a manager not throwing the pitch or the coach missing a three-pointer. But more important than all those things, is the climate that is created for an athlete to perform in. And creation of that climate, despite what Drew Olson says, is more important than all of those X's and O's put together.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.