Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sometimes They're Poisoned

  • Or maybe they just don't grow as expected:

Josh McDaniels was fired as head coach of the Denver Broncos yesterday----ESPN Story----and while I don't pay the attention to football I once did, I still have a fascination with that which I can apply to baseball and life in general. From an outsider's, disinterested observer's perspective, it's great theater.

The way in which coaches and managers are hired today has more to do with perception than reality and what works. It's an occasionally cannibalistic circle that's been referenced repeatedly as if having worked under a successful field boss will automatically transfer the success elsewhere when the assistant is elevated. Such was asserted in this article by Jerry Crasnick on ESPN about Ron Roenicke getting the job as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Crasnick writes the following about the developing of a Roenicke:

Roenicke is the latest member of the Mike Scioscia development "tree'' to graduate to a big league managerial position. Former Angels bench coach Joe Maddon has led the Tampa Bay Rays to two playoff berths in the past three seasons, and fellow Scioscia disciple Bud Black guided the San Diego Padres to 90 wins and a surprising second-place finish in the National League West in 2010. Maddon and Black have both already won manager of the year awards.

Now that Ron Roenicke's dues-paying days are over, he's ready to make his mark in Milwaukee. The Mike Scioscia development corporation is opening its first branch in the Midwest.

I'm not picking on Crasnick----he's one of the few writers at ESPN who I think does quality work----but this is taken grossly out of context.

That's the point of the transitory nature of perception; of thinking that Roenicke, having come out from under Scioscia's tutelage, will have similar success as the Angels have under Scioscia.

An link can be made to McDaniels; to Eric Mangini; to Nick Saban; to Bill Belichick; to Bill Parcells. Any "coaching tree" appellation should be under scrutiny not because they haven't worked----sometimes they have----but because it's only a part of what makes one into a winner.

Would the Joe Torre of 1977 have been able to calmly steer the 1996 Yankees to the World Series amid the New York firestorm and placating a raving lunatic owner while dealing with the death of his brother Rocco and heart transplant of brother Frank? At the age of 37 as opposed to 56? I doubt it.

It's about evolution and learning on the job. Those that adjust survive; those that don't....

No one knows what they're doing the first time they do something. Whether it's sex, public speaking, writing or whatever, they may think they know; they may have a coherent and executable plan and all the preparation in the world, but experience is the only thing that truly teaches; adjustment, flexibility and having the self-confidence to admit what one doesn't know help a neophyte survive.


Torre endured three firings before landing with the Yankees in a perfect situation for both himself and the team and it didn't happen overnight.

So how does this relate to McDaniels? To Roenicke?


If Ron Roenicke arrives in Milwaukee and tries to completely emulate Scioscia, it's not going to work. Plain and simple.

McDaniels's poor results aren't what forced Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to pull the plug mid-season after a year-and-a-half on the job; it was a combination of the poor results and that McDaniels behaved like an obnoxious brat.

It's fine if a new coach comes in and wants to change the quarterback, the philosophy, the personnel, the strategy----that's expected----but when he comes in and does such things as immediately alienate the quarterback, Jay Cutler, and pull such idiocies as holding up the Cutler jersey in a press conference with the smug look of a mischievous 8-year-old who needs a session in time out is when he's crossing the line from leader to jerk.

McDaniels and Mangini tried to copy Belichick to the last facial tick; to the sideline attire; to their cold treatment of the players.

It failed.

You can't be someone you're not.

People forget that the former "HC of the NYJ" Bill Belichick wasn't all that well-liked or thought of as a human being around football before becoming a "genius" with the Patriots; he'd failed miserably----literally and figuratively----in his first head coaching opportunity with the Browns; and people don't want to hear this simple truth----much of his success has been due to being lucky in finding a Hall of Fame quarterback in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. Does anyone believe that a sixth round pick like Tom Brady is going to evolve into "Tom Brady"?

Of course not.

It's easier and more convenient in a storytelling sense to connect the dots and attribute everything to a master plan that didn't exist. Like the stories one hears in a biblical tome, they fit and give a detailed description of how to achieve one's end----and it doesn't matter whether it's accurate or not.

Trey Hillman was the worst manager I've seen in ten years. That said, when he was hired, it appeared to be an inspired choice for the Royals. He had an impeccable and far-reaching resume, but it didn't work.

With Parcells, he had a nightmarish first year as Giants coach (3-12-1) and was nearly fired. It was lucky for Parcells that his GM, George Young, believed in giving his coaches at least two years before pulling the trigger. Parcells had the presence of mind and desperation to say, "if I'm going down, I'm going down my way"; he altered his approach and turned the team around.

Not all coaches/managers are that gutsy; nor do they have the competence to right the ship.

When you look at the "trees" of managers in baseball, it's not all it's cracked up to be. The Scioscia tree? Black is not a good game manager and nor is Maddon. Both have attributes, but I wouldn't hire them to run my team. Black handles the pitching well, but is terrible with his lineup calls and has had two separate teams blow playoff spots late in seasons. Maddon is like the absent-minded professor who deserves credit for developing the Rays youngsters, but it was his strategic gaffe that cost his team terribly in the 2008 World Series and he always appears to be on the verge of doing something stupid.

For his part, Scioscia has his strengths and weaknesses----the weaknesses are rigidity in strategy; but it's his steadiness that has carried him through. That and he has a very good team. The quality of the team cannot be dismissed. If a new manager or coach goes in with a scheme that would leave Kim Jong-il drooling with envy, it can't work unless he has talent to execute the plan. The Padres, Rays and Angels all had it. Do the Brewers under Roenicke? Maybe they will, but if the roster is essentially unchanged (and they made a good acquisition in getting Shaun Marcum), they're not going to be much better under Roenicke than they were under Ken Macha.

Coaching trees?

How have Joe Torre's disciples fared? Willie Randolph did an admirable job with the Mets under trying circumstances; Lee Mazzilli didn't do so well with the Orioles; Joe Girardi has done well with the Yankees and Marlins; Don Mattingly is getting his change to manage the Dodgers next year.

Jim Leyland's disciples? Terry Collins is a good game manager whose intensity cost him two jobs and he's getting his third and probably last chance with the Mets; Gene Lamont was okay in his two chances, but won't be getting a third anytime soon; Lloyd McClendon was a poor manager.

Leyland himself got his chance because of his work with Tony La Russa, but Leyland would've been the same manager with or without La Russa.

You can go down the list in any sport. Sometimes the "tree" works; sometimes not. But to think that it's automatically going to end positively is looking at bulletpoints and trying to bluff through with verbosity and no substance. It's transparent and inevitably fails.

The correlation between the so-called tree and winning is rickety at best.

It is convenient. I guess that's what matters.

  • Viewer Mail 12.7.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jayson Werth:

I'm looking forward to that press conference. Maybe instead of Werth trying to keep a straight face and saying, "This is where I always wanted to be," he'll say, "It's so exciting to be on the ground floor of a team that is building for the future." I mean, surely Boras will write him a script.

He's already said something to the tune of, "I'm impressed with the way they've acquired young talent like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper".

The first pick in the draft tends to beget that.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE me and the Nationals:

Kudos for the Jerky Boys reference. Been a long, long time.

Man, think about how Zimmerman must feel with that measly $9 million a year. Wow.

Are the Jerky Boys still around?

And Ryan Zimmerman is going to get paid; he'd better get paid; but he's a star no one knows and the Nationals haven't been smart enough to appreciate Josh Willingham. Zimmerman has a long-term deal, but in comparison to what they just gave Werth, if I were Zimmerman, I'd be annoyed.

Joe writes RE Jayson Werth:

The contract was simply stupid. But Werth should experience a few competitive teams during that contract. The problem is, he will get worse as they get better. They should be overpaying later for a player that can help them in contention now. But they are not in contention now, and they are overpaying for four years at the end, instead of maybe 1 or 2.

He's going to be there until 2017, Joe. I would hope that through little more than blind luck, the Nats are able to cobble together a couple of teams that will win 90 games at some point.

The strange part is that they let Adam Dunn go; are entertaining offers for Willingham; and are trying to "improve" their pitching by pursuing question marks like Brandon Webb and Carl Pavano. They've got it backwards.

  • The Prince on the Podcast:

I'll be on with SportsFan Buzz tomorrow talking about all this stuff that's currently going on.

And there's a lot of stuff.


She-Fan said...

You mentioned Mattingly and I really hope he has a good debut year as manager. I felt sorry for him when the organization seemed to fall apart with the divorce, but they've made some nice moves so far this off-season, so maybe he'll actually have players to manage.

Jeff said...

I think the "coaching tree" factor has more play in the NFL -- a game where "systems" are more relevant -- than in baseball.

If you have a Buddy Ryan system, you know what you're getting: Defense first. Same thing if I say this a "cover two team" or a "Steelers style offense" team... you know exactly what you're getting with those coaching philosophies/systems.

Baseball isn't like that. You gotta hit, catch and throw the ball. And the best only win 6 out of 10. It's a different animal and I agree that it's a bit surface to say so-and-so will do well because of his "coaching tree".

NapLajoieonSteroids said...

I agree with Jeff: "coaching tree" is a syncretic attempt to explain baseball through a football prism. It reflects the current popular culture where football rules and many in the media do not have the appreciation for our pastoral pastime.

Managers aren't made by strategy as in football; they rely much more heavily on competence and adaptability. This is hard to market and discuss in a 24/7 media cycle. 99% of the time, the most important tasks managers are confronted with happen happen away from the actual game- whether that be something like player preparation or simply handling egos. These things are too hard to quantify or discuss.