Saturday, June 25, 2005

For Mooch And Tram, Time To Win Is Now, Not Later

(the following column can also be viewed at, where a new column from yours truly appears each Sunday or Monday. They will also appear here for your reading pleasure. For archives of my columns there, go to and click on "Columnists")

"Fire Alan Trammell!"

"Sack Steve Mariucci!"

It won’t be long before those two declarations will be heard more and more around this town. You know it’s true.

Both Trammell, the Tigers manager, and Mariucci, the Lions coach, started leading their teams in Detroit in 2003. Both had lousy first seasons -- Trammell had his with big league impostors. Both made some strides in their second tries. And both must win -- if not now, then very soon -- to save their jobs, already, if the fans have anything to say about it.

Trammell (left) and Mariucci already are on the hot seat, in Season 3

It’s probably accurate to make such a statement, though it hasn’t been mentioned too often, beyond the impulsive callers to the sports radio talk shows around town. It’s accurate because both men are in charge of teams that are beyond trying the patience of their respective fans. It’s accurate because honeymoons with the Tigers and Lions, if they were real honeymoons, would be over with when the couple checks into their hotel suite.

But mainly it’s accurate because each man’s ownership is providing him, slowly but surely, with the tools needed to be successful. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has been breaking out the checkbook lately, the scouting department is finally beginning to produce big league-caliber players, and certain Tigers are maturing and coming into their own, all at the same time. The core is developing at Comerica Park, and it’s up to Trammell to take it to the next level. Same thing with Mariucci. President Matt Millen has been orchestrating some nice drafts as of late, and his free agent signees have been mostly smart and capable.

So it’s getting to be that time -- when expectations are higher and more realistic instead of being just lip service. And when that stage of development occurs, only one person is accountable: the manager, or coach. Trammell has this year, and that’s about all, to show people he can manage a bit and manage real big leaguers to boot. Mariucci better win some games in 2005, because his shine has mostly worn off since that day when he was introduced as Lions coach in a ceremony befitting the crowning of a new king. There are whispers that Mooch may not have been the hotshot that was advertised, and that his success in San Francisco may not have been all that much to begin with. Did he win a Super Bowl? An NFC Championship? No and no. In fact, he led the 49’ers no further than Wayne Fontes led the Lions, postseason-wise, when it comes right down to it. I forgive you if you just winced when you read that. But it’s true.

Mariucci’s hiring was exciting because for the first time since....probably ever, the Lions had snagged someone that other NFL teams -- real, honest-to-goodness NFL teams -- also had considered seriously to run their programs. Trammell’s introduction as Tigers manager was neat because he was a local hero coming home to save the team. But that kind of anticipation and titillation only goes so far. Sooner or later you have to win. Later is gone; Sooner is here now, at the door with his bags because he plans on staying a while. And chances are, he’ll still be here after Trammell and/or Mariucci are gone, if history is any indicator.

Trammell’s case is a bit more touchy, because it’s practically like Al Kaline managing the team for as beloved as Trammell was as a player, and how do you call for the firing of someone like Kaline, for crying out loud? But Bart Starr, who could have been elected the mayor of Green Bay and never been unseated, was fired as Packers head coach eventually. Tommy Heinsohn was as Boston as baked beans, and he got the boot as Celtics coach. And let’s not forget that Sparky Anderson, Trammell’s mentor, was fired as Reds manager in 1978 despite four World Series appearances and two championships in nine seasons. So it can happen; legends can be fired.

Tram might get a longer leash because Ilitch is so respectful of the team’s tradition, but the owner fired Jacques Demers as coach of the Red Wings even though he practically considered Jacques a son. It’s about winning, and Trammell’s playing career and his nice guy status won’t mean a hill of beans if the Tigers don’t start edging themselves over .500 on a consistent basis.

Mariucci is probably more expendable, because even though he is a Northern Michigan boy and best buddies with MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo, Mooch will be, frankly, just another NFL coach who passed through town if he doesn’t get a hold of this situation and start getting the Lions into the playoffs and make some noise when they get there. I doubt very much Lions fans will be concerned about Izzo shedding tears with his friend Mariucci if the latter gets the axe.

Having said all this, it is still unlikely that either man will be canned without a proper amount of time to prove himself, despite the fans’ consternation. But this column isn’t about what Ilitch or Bill Ford Sr. will do; it’s about what the fans will demand. And before long, you’re very likely to hear more and more chatter about getting rid of Trammell and/or Mariucci around every water cooler in Metro Detroit. And on every call-in show on the radio. And in every sports chat room. And on every sports blog. And, eventually, in every column in the News and Free Press.

To be fair, both Tram and Mooch relish the pressure that the need to win produces, and both are eager to meet the challenge. Both are well-versed enough about Detroit sports to know that their popularity and resumes won’t carry them further than their records. Both like and respect their owners, and feel they owe it to them, if nobody else, to win. Both know that their reputations are on the line, and that their success or failure here will impact future jobs in their respective games.

Still, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown -- especially crowns that have been as tarnished as those associated with the Tigers and Lions of late. And when I say "of late", I mean the last 48 years. Three world championships in almost half a century between them will create such tarnishing.

To make it all go away, all Tram and Mooch have to do is follow the advice of Raiders managing partner Al Davis: Just Win, Baby. Or we’ll just find someone who will -- local hero or not.

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