Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Leyland, Babcock, Saunders On Hot Seat? Chances Are, Yes -- Eventually

Mike Babcock is going to get fired, odds are. So will Flip Saunders. I'd even say that Jim Leyland's seat will get hot one of these days.

Put Bill Belichick on that list, too. And Mike Holmgren. Don't be surprised if Terry Francona gets canned by the Red Sox. Or if the Celtics fire Doc Rivers.

Looney? Not at all. A wise old man, also known as former NFL coach Bum Phillips, once astutely observed, "There's two kinds of coaches: them's that have been fired, and them's that are gonna get fired. And I've been both."

Or as a long ago Pistons coach, Earl Lloyd, said upon getting the ziggy, "It's funny. When you sign on as a head coach in this business, you're basically signing your termination papers."

So it's not all that wacky to suggest, as I have, that each of the above named gentlemen will lose their jobs, soooner or later. A look at the roster of men who've been fired in sports history will also look like a Who's Who of coaching.

Of course, there are exceptions.

One of them is Tony Dungy, and he's the rarest of rares. Not only will he not be fired by the Indianapolis Colts, he will get the opportunity to choose his successor.

Dungy announced the other day that he will, indeed, return to lead the Colts in 2008, and when he decides to step down, there won't be any need for applicant interviews, because assistant Jim Caldwell will take over.

And you want even more rarity? Both men are African-American.

This is not to say that we've now reached the apex of race relations in professional sports, and that we can place a "check" mark next to that on the to-do list. Far from it. Especially in the NFL, which hasn't exactly been a haven for blacks in coaching or management positions over the years. But it's still remarkable, to me, what's happening in Indy. And fitting that the announcements came on MLK Day.

But the reality is also that Caldwell himself will probably be fired, some day in the distant future. It goes with the territory. The Florida Marlins fired Joe Girardi as he was being voted Manager of the Year in the NL. And the Cincinnati Reds fired Sparky Anderson, in 1978. Sparky said in his book that he remembers the room number of the hotel in which his ziggy was rendered.

Scotty Bowman was fired, by the Buffalo Sabres. Joe Torre was, in essence, fired by the Yankees last fall. They just went about it in a very broken arrow sort of way.

So there really are two kinds of coaches, as Bum Phillips said. Those that have been fired, and those that will be.

Tony Dungy is amazingly neither, but Jim Caldwell is probably the latter. Odds are.

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