In the space of little more than a week, the faces on the sidelines have changed dramatically. Multiple coaching shifts raise questions of fairness - and mean some of the principals are facing very unusual tasks.
It's been a wild ride for coaches this season
The confirmation on Monday that Freiburg coach Robin Dutt will succeed Leverkusen's Jupp Heynckes capped an eight-day period that saw six Bundesliga clubs, including five of the league's biggest, announce coaching changes.
The move frees Heynckes to take over Bayern Munich next season, as almost all football experts in Germany expect. In the middle of last week, Schalke fired Felix Magath, who promptly signed on with Wolfsburg. Former Hoffenheim coach Ralf Rangnick has been hired as Magath's replacement.
In addition, Hamburg fired Armin Veh and promoted assistant Michael Oenning on March 13.
Heynckes, one focal point of the personnel flurry, himself put the situation very aptly.
"At the moment, the Bundesliga is a madhouse," the veteran coach told reporters ahead of last weekend's action. "The average football fan has trouble understanding it."
The league has been in hire-and-fire mode for quite some time now. But never before have so many coaches been shuffled in such a short space of time.
The realignments have created a number of unusual situations, including two scenarios in which coaches are trying to buck the adage: "You can't go home again."
Felix the fireman
The man in perhaps the strangest situation is Felix Magath. With Schalke still alive in both the German Cup and the Champions League, he was given the ax for personal reasons - to wit, his inability to get along with anyone else on Schalke's board.
Yet in barely the time necessary to pack one's car and drive from Gelsenkirchen to Wolfsburg, Magath was under contract with the team he led to a surprising league title in 2009.
Desperate Wolfsburg fans rejoiced in the news of Magath's return
The Wolves, currently second-to-last in the table, were clearly desperate. And Magath, more recently known as the "maker of champions," has reverted to a role he played often in the early stages of his career, that of the "fireman" - a coach called in at short notice to save a club from relegation.
So instead of facing AC Milan, Felix will have to get a disharmonious squad rent by poor personnel decisions to rack-up workmanlike wins against the likes of St. Pauli, Kaiserslautern and Frankfurt.
Wolfsburg's current squad often seems like a collection of five Hatfields, five McCoys and a keeper who has dipped his fingers in a tub of smooth, creamery butter. And Magath was none too impressed at how they conceded a last-second equalizer in Sunday's 1-all draw against fellow strugglers Stuttgart on Sunday.
"The players have to realize that they are the only ones who can change the situation," Magath fumed to reporters. "The team is in a bad state, pure and simple. There are no reserves left physically."
With the Bundesliga taking a one-week break for international matches, expect the Wolves to spend a lot of it sprinting up the special exercise hill Magath had built when he coached Wolfsburg from 2007 to 2009.
But Magath himself admits he doesn't know whether sweat alone will be enough to save Wolfsburg.
Ralf Rangnick redux
On the surface, the man who replaced Magath at Schalke has an easier task. Rangnick's job is to see that the Royal Blues win the German Cup in a final against second-division Duisburg and try to get players, coaches and management working from the same playbook again.
But Rangnick's situation, too, is fraught with peril. Although Schalke are not one of the main relegation candidates at the moment, they hover only six points ahead of Wolfsburg and could easily drop down into the dogfight, especially if the Champions League distracts them from their main task of survival.
Rangnick hopes the second time's the charm at Schalke
Moreover, the "Professor," as the eloquent Rangnick is nicknamed, is hardly the perfect fit for a club with a working-class image and fan culture. Rangnick's previous tenure in Gelsenkirchen from 2004 to 2005 led to him being fired, despite good results, in mid-season.
The sticking point, as it was with Magath, was irreconcilable differences with management. That, too, was the reason Rangnick abruptly resigned his previous job with Hoffenheim this winter.
At a press conference on Monday, the day on which he officially took charge, Rangnick restricted his remarks to a non-controversial "Glückauf" - a traditional greeting among German miners that literally means "best of luck."
Calls for reform
The Bundesliga's coaching carrousel is not just a somewhat amusing topic for fans and journalists. Questions are being raised about whether it threatens fair competition.
Ahead of last weekend's action, Bayern's lame-duck coach Louis van Gaal said he thought the changes could give some teams an undeserved advantage.
"It's not normal that Magath was first at Schalke and then at Wolfsburg, or Rangnick was first at Hoffenheim and now at Schalke," the Dutchman opined to reporters. "That distorts the competition."
Van Gaal and others are crying foul
Van Gaal suggested Germany follow the lead of Spain and Italy, where coaches are prohibited from working for more than one club in any one season. His words were seconded by Matthias Sammer, sporting director of the German football association, the DFB.
"I think that we may have to impose rules on the system in the interests of content," Sammer said on a popular sports TV talk show over the weekend. "If that offers protection, then we should at least consider it."
A glance at upcoming fixtures reveals no shortage of strange constellations and conflicts of interest.
For instance, in April Wolfsburg take on Schalke - a match in which Magath's insider knowledge of the opponent might very well give the Wolves an advantage. That opens up charges of unfairness vis-à-vis other clubs trying to avoid the drop.
Meanwhile, Leverkusen still has to face Bayern, the club where lame-duck Leverkusen coach Heynckes is believed to be headed next season. That match could be pivotal for Bayern's - and Heynckes' - prospects of Champions League football in 2011-12.
Likewise, Leverkusen will also play Freiburg, whose current coach Dutt will replace Heynckes this summer.
The league's international break will give fans a bit of time to digest all the news about who has gone where. But once play resumes, there will be plenty of intrigue caused by this season's unprecedented coaching reshuffle.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Nancy Isenson