A week or so ago, the great Joe Posnanski penned an article about Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg. His point was that, in this age of coverage and information, what fans are really looking for is the excitement of the next thing - that same feeling from childhood Christmas mornings. In Posnanski's own words:
It seems that what we crave in our saturated sports world is more Christmas morning. Is it any wonder that more and more college sports fans concentrate their attention on recruiting, the wooing of talented 16- and 17-year old kids who might someday be the next big thing? Is it any wonder that more and more fans scout news of baseball’s minor leagues to know the names of the biggest prospects, to imagine the promise of that slugger hitting home runs for the Beloit Snappers or that pitcher striking out two an inning for the Modesto Nuts?
Posnanski goes on to talk about the NFL Draft, while making the same point - more and more fans seem to be excited about what's next, because it gives you that same Christmas morning feeling.
I bring this up because I think there's one aspect to this that Posnanski didn't mention - it's the crazy, insistent desire by many fans for new coaches and managers.
Just about every manager and coach in Minnesota has heard fans call for his head in the past few years. Fans began murmuring about Brad Childress before his first season was half over. Ron Gardenhire has won five division titles but still has many Twins fans convinced that he's somehow holding back the team. University of Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi heard so many rumors about Gopher men's hockey coach Don Lucia's job security that Maturi felt he needed to publicly deny that Lucia was on the hot seat.
It's that same desire for Christmas mornings that drives this. At best, fans who call for the coach's head have the name of some up-and-coming assistant coach in mind; at worst, they seem to believe that anyone would be better, that the change itself will magically fix things. Yet we know, just from looking at the local scene, that this isn't true.
Many people, including me, wanted the administrations of both the Timberwolves and Wild fired following the 2008-09 season. Kevin McHale at the Target Center and Doug Risebrough and Jacques Lemaire at the Xcel Center had taken their respective teams about as far as they could go (and four or five years beyond, in McHale's case); I was sick of the mediocrity, and couldn't see a way out for either team.
New coaches, then, seemed like just what the doctor ordered. Kurt Rambis was the top assistant to one of the best coaches in the game, Phil Jackson. Todd Richards was so highly regarded as an assistant coach that he was a shoo-in to get one of the open NHL jobs - and he was from Minnesota, to boot, an antidote to the perceived anti-Minnesota bias that had long frustrated Wild fans.
It's one year later - do you feel any happier? The promise of Christmas morning has yet to be fulfilled. Rambis is trying to teach the triangle offense to a team that is missing every piece needed to successfully run it, while team exec David Kahn appears to be betting the farm on a teenage Spanish point guard. Meanwhile in St. Paul, Richards and new GM Chuck Fletcher have a team that can't win on the road, is mediocre overall, and is stuck at least partway in salary cap jail thanks to a few over-priced and over-long contracts.
To those who call for Gardy's firing - what, exactly, do you believe that will solve? It might lead to fewer scrappy, no-hit middle infielders in the lineup, true, but given the success that he's had as manager, calling for his ouster is simply foolish. The same goes for "Chilly" down at Winter Park. Yes, he's done some seriously frustrating things, but he got the Vikings to within a whisker of the Super Bowl, and is working to get much the same personnel back for another run. What would be served by firing him now?
I'm not saying that coaches should never be fired, of course. Incompetent coaches do exist, and when the results aren't there, there's no reason to cling to a coach just because he's a known commodity. But when the results are there, fans are too easily seduced by the prospect of something new and different.
The experiences of Rambis and Richards tell the true story: you can change coaches all you like, but that won't necessarily make things better, at least not right away. It's easy to fall into that Christmas morning trap, of wanting to discard the known for the hope of that mystery under the tree.
It's easy to fall into the trap of pining for coaching changes. It's easy to get frustrated with our local teams, and when you get frustrated, it's easy to start thinking that a coaching change is the only hope left. But fans would do well to remember that we all felt the same way before - and all we ended up with are the coaches that are frustrating us now.