Bigger Coaching Gaff: Viktor Tikhonov or Pete Carroll?

(RIA Novosti/Dmitri Donskoy)
(RIA Novosti/Dmitri Donskoy)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of days, you no doubt heard about the controversial decision by Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to pass from the 1-yard line with less than a minute to go in Super Bowl XLIX rather than run it with Marshawn Lynch.

With less than 30 seconds remaining and one timeout on second down, Carroll could have ran the ball with Lynch at least once and called a timeout had he been stuffed on the goal line. Instead, he opted to pass the ball, which was picked off by Malcolm Butler and gave New England the win.

In case you have been living under a rock, here’s the play.

While this will go down as one of the biggest coaching mistakes in sports history, is it a bigger mistake than when Soviet Union coach Viktor Tikhonov decided to pull the best goalie in the world in Vladislav Tretiak after the first period in their matchup against the United States during the 1980 Olympics? The Hockey News ranked it as one of the biggest coaching gaffes in hockey, but let’s take a deeper look into the decision to bench Tretiak.

Viktor Tikhonov Pulls Vladislav Tretiak

Tretiak was considered to be the best goalie in the world during the 1980 Olympics. He backstopped the Soviet Union to gold medals in the 1972, ’76 and ‘84 Olympic Games, in addition to gold medals in the 1970, ’71, ’73, ’74, ’75, ’78 and 70 World Championships and the 1979 NHL Challenge Cup.

Tretiak was as solid as they came. According to Wayne Coffey’s book The Boys of Winter, the Soviet Union was 27-1-1 and outscored opposing teams 175-44 in the four Olympics following the 1960 Games in which the United States won gold.

The Soviet Union was a force to be reckoned with, and Tretiak was an integral part of the team’s success.

However, he did make some uncharacteristic mistakes during the game against the United States.

Starting at 1:15 in the video above, the United States’ first goal was a simple slap shot by Buzz Schneider from the top of the left circle that went over the glove of Tretiak. Al Michaels even said during the broadcast:

“That’s the type of goal you don’t expect somebody like Tretiak to give up.”

But he did, and the United States tied the game at 1-1. At the end of the first period, Dave Christian took a shot from his side of center ice knowing there was not much time remaining in the period. Mark Johnson never quit on the play, collected the rebound and scored with one second remaining to tie the game at 2-2 heading into the second period.

Not only was it a bad rebound by Tretiak, who probably thought there was no way Johnson could get the puck before the period was over, but the Soviet Union defense relaxed a bit too long, which allowed Johnson to break through and score the tying goal.

Tikhonov had seen enough and pulled Tretiak for the second and third periods in favor of backup goalie Vladimir Myshkin. The United States faced a 3-2 deficit heading into the third period, but Johnson and Mike Eruzione each scored a goal in the third to complete the comeback.

Tretiak told The Associated Press sitting on the bench for the last two periods wasn’t easy and hinted the outcome might have been different had he been in net:

“It was difficult for me to sit on the bench with the score 2-2. If I played the second and third period, the game might have turned a different way.

“Tikhonov wrote in his autobiography that it was the biggest mistake of his life.”

Did Tretiak Deserved to Be Pulled?

Tretiak, obviously, did not have his best game against the United States. Whether it was being too confident or simply an off game, the Soviet Union goaltender looked human after being nearly perfect for many years.

Tikhonov even admitted pulling Tretiak was the worst mistake he ever made, and no one knew Tretiak as an athlete better than Tikhonov.

Unless he allowed five goals in the first period, I can’t see a situation in which pulling the best goalie in the world is a good idea. Tretiak allowed two goals — albeit two very soft goals — and his night was over. Myshkin was unable to hold a lead for the Soviet Union, a lead Tretiak might have been able to hold had he played the rest of the game.

Coaches these days will pull goalies to send a message to the rest of the team. Whether pulling Tretiak had a negative or positive impact on the rest of the Soviet Union is hard to decipher. They certainly peppered United States goalie Jim Craig with numerous shots and had their opportunities but were unable to get more than one past Craig in the second and third periods.

Is it Worse Than Carroll’s Decision to Pass?

The ESPN Stats and Info Twitter account shared some interesting statistics involving the Patriots defense and Lynch.

The Patriots goal-line defense was not the greatest, but Lynch also struggled to score from the 1-yard line. Something had to give had Carroll decided to run the ball.

Carroll explained his reasoning to’s Michael Silver for passing instead of running the ball with the best running back in the league. Silver writes: Carroll saw a front stacked against a power run and a matchup he felt he could exploit with a short route against a rookie corner who had zero career interceptions. And he didn’t want to run, get stopped short, burn his final timeout and be boxed into calling a pass on third down.”

Carroll’s reasoning makes sense, but I’d still rather give Lynch one opportunity to run the ball into the end zone, and if he is stopped short, call the timeout and reassess the situation.

Carroll’s decision was a bad one, but benching the world’s best goalie on the world’s biggest stage in a sport the Soviet Union had dominated for the past 20 years can’t be overlooked as the world’s biggest coaching gaff.

Tikhonov gave the Americans a chance to steal the game away and stole it they did.

What do you think? Was Tikhonov’s decision worse than Carroll’s? Or is there a bigger coaching gaff in the world of hockey? Let me know in the comments.

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Tom Mitsos is a Detroit Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter @tom_mitsos.