Monday, January 21, 2008

Evaluating coaches fairly

By Rick Morris

The contract extension given to Mike Brown and the proposed extension on the table for Romeo Crennel have caused a great deal of heartburn among Cleveland sports fans. My amusement at the reaction of the general public led me to reexamine how fans tend to evaluate coaches purely on the surface.

To me, Cleveland is unique on the sports landscape right now in that it has three coach/manager figures who are so much alike. Brown, Crennel and Eric Wedge all have very low-key public personas. All are in their first go-round in leadership positions at the highest level and all are very interesting in having one common element: their weaknesses are much more evident than their strengths.

Spend five minutes listening to any Cleveland terrestrial radio show (often a painful experience on the ears) and you'll hear a multitude of complaints: "Wedge's teams don't bunt enough -- and don't grasp the fundamentals!" "What poor excuse for a rotation is Brown using these days -- and why doesn't he have a semblance of an offensive system?" "Crennel can't manage a replay situation or clock management to save his life!"

All are valid points.

But all have had a nice measure of success in town, much more than any of their immediate predecessors. All are clearly doing a great amount right.

But, as much as I watch all of their teams, even I can't point to much that is evident.

None are flashy X's and O's tacticians like Tony LaRussa or Mike Martz. None are wild disciplinarians like Tom Coughlin or Larry Bowa. When things are going well with each of the Cleveland franchises, you rarely if ever hear about what the manager or coach is doing.

Does that mean that we should discount the positive side of the ledger for these men? Hardly.

All have the respect of their teams and have demonstrated the ability to manage conflicts and keep the difficulties that all franchises face in-house. All of them must manage rosters that are not as talented top-to-bottom as the rosy-glass fanbase wants to believe. They excel in the quiet areas of their jobs, which do not come close in the public mind (which values only the obvious and surface-level traits) to balancing out their deficiencies.

I do not mind criticism of these men and have been known on programs to make specific points to that effect. But I am always mindful of the big picture and the respect that these men deserve on balance for leading these teams out of the muck and the mire that they were bogged down in just a few years ago. There is absolutely nothing wrong with informed criticism of sports figures, but let's try to keep it a bit more fair and balanced as Rupert Murdoch might say.

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