Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Transitional Coaches And Managers Needn't Be Ashamed

When you have to traverse a moat, or a river, or anything that, if fallen into, would get you very wet and possibly dead, what would you like to see?

A bridge, correct?

It's the same thing in the world of sports. To get from the muck of losing to the dry land of winning, you need a plan, a mode of transport, and a stable path -- a bridge, as it were.

In coaching, that's called being a "transitional guy." These are men who are able to bring a team from the dregs of the league to somewhere around the middle class -- but no further. Their inability to be more than just a bridge can be due to many different factors. But regardless, they can only help a team ascend so far before screeching to a halt.

We've had transitional types in Detroit.

Doug Collins, the king of all transitional types, plied his trade with the Pistons -- elevating them to moderate contention before flaming out after three seasons -- right on schedule. Others would have to take the next step.

Perhaps Wayne Fontes was the Lions' all-time transitional man. He inherited chicken feathers from Darryl Rogers and turned it into chicken salad within a couple of seasons, but he couldn't make the next transformation into filet mignon. Perhaps nobody can.

Jacques Demers took the Red Wings from a 40-point season to the playoffs in one year, and even though the team made two straight appearances in the conference finals, that was as far as Jacques could take them. Scotty Bowman would have to finish the job.

Alan Trammell is getting more love now, as the Tigers ex-manager, than he got as the actual manager. Some are arguing that Jim Leyland's current Midas touch should be owed, in some part, to Trammell.

These are mostly the same players that Trammell managed, apologists for the former shortstop say, and he laid the groundwork for what's happening now. And Tram didn't have Kenny Rogers. Or a healthy Magglio Ordonez. Or Justin Verlander. Or Joel Zumaya.

True, all of it.

But that's merely another argument for the point that Tram himself was another of those transitional guys. He survived the mugging of a 43-119 season, and emerged with some shred of respectability. But he could not whip the team into shape when it mattered most to his job's future -- in September, when the Tigers sunk like a boat anchor. So the next step would once again have to be taken by someone else.

Leyland is taking that next step, and a few dramatic leaps while he's at it. And even the Trammell apologists can't possibly suggest that what's happening at Comerica Park right now -- a 30-14 record and a team ERA that both lead all of baseball -- would have, COULD have, occurred under his watch.

But that's no dissing of Trammell. Where would we be, after all, without bridges?

Back in the muck.


Ozz said...

Would Ralph Houk have been considered a transitional manager since he was there to guide the mid '70s rebuilding effort and groom the numerous youngsters who came (and went)? He was the first one to manage Lou/Tram/Parrish/Morris.

Would Les Moss have been considered a transitional manager? I wonder how long he was expected to stick around when he was hired (since Jim Campbell probably hadn't counted on the possibility that he'd get Sparky at the time)?

Greg Eno said...

Houk, I wouldn't call transitional, because he retired. He could have stayed if he wanted to. Of course, he came out of retirement to lead the Red Sox.

I wouldn't call Moss transitional either, because the Tigers specifically hired him due to his experience managing a lot of their young stars in AAA ball. I think they expected him to lead them to the promised land, had Sparky not become available.