Regarding coaches and managers, the preferred axiom is “hired to be fired.”
Rarely does a coach in professional sports last more than several seasons. Whether the team is draped in weakness, exhibits lack talent or requires emotion and drive from its leader, failure seems almost certain.
Of the four major professional sports in North America, the longest tenured coach with the same team is Greg Popovich of the NBA San Antonio Spurs, 1996 to the present.
In the case of Diamondbacks’ manager Kirk Gibson, the future appears as precarious as the dismal failures of the past two years. For a team which reached only .500 (at 81-81 each of the last two seasons), Gibson finds himself in a position to produce now.
It’s similar to the directive college professors receive, “publish or perish.”
In clear terms, Gibson enters the final year of his contract with Arizona and the Diamondbacks have declined options for 2015 and 2016. Simple and to the point, win or find another job.
In 2014, winning may not be quite that simple.
Gibson is a cold calculator and consumed by detail. Meeting with the media before and after games, Gibson tends to revere metrics and often cites figures and situations to support reasoning. A voluminous note-taker, he refers often to jottings made during a game and offers numbers in defense of individual players.
That’s all well and good.
While Gibson may have command of facts and figures, he is not, according to reliable sources within the Arizona organization, held in high esteem by his players. Perceived as distant, Gibson is not regarded as “a player’s coach.”
Though he turned in a storied career and his iconic home run the 1988 World Series remains a venerable part of baseball history, Gibson’s management style is questioned.
In early August and after a walk-off single defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in Chase Field, Eric Chavez told reporters he wanted Gibson to commit to an everyday lineup. With the pennant race heating up at that time, the veteran Chavez said championship teams tend to solidify at an important point of the season. Creating and keeping a set line-up, he pointed out at that time, remains a key factor in determining an eventual winner.
Essentially, Chavez said, run the same eight guys out every night and let the team build a sense of structure, unity and purpose.
Instead, Gibson continued to move players up-and-down on his score-card and in-and-out of the line-up. In the end, juggling his daily line-up proved disastrous and compromised the Diamondbacks‘ ability to consistently win.
Supporting the notion he wanted to keep players “fresh,” Gibson forfeited the essential tenet of creating a bond among players.
What is equally curious is players who will be back in 2014.
In the twilight of their careers, players like Cliff Pennington, J. J. Putz, Heath Bell as well as David Hernandez, Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill are scheduled to return. Each experienced dreadful parts of the 2013 season and the prospect for improvement is more hope than retaining marginal results.
A shopping list for the off-season is equally imposing.
The essential quest is find an adequate complement for Paul Goldschmidt, add some power in the outfield and determine whether players like shortstop Chris Owings, left-hander Tyler Skaggs, catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, right-hander Charles Brewer, lefty David Holmberg, and relievers Matt Stites and Jake Barrett are ready to make significant contributions at the major league level.
All the while, Gibson labors in laboratory like Merlin the Magician or perhaps the mad Dr. Frankenstein. The beakers continue to bubble and Gibson remains on task to discover the proper and correct combination.
For Gibson to be successful in 2014 and gain the attention of his bosses, team president Derrick Hall and managing partner Ken Kendrick, there needs to be some dramatic changes.
First, Gibson should be flexible. He tends to approach his craft as “my way or the highway.”
Firmly entrenched in a mind-set regarded as intransigent, Gibson needs to heed Chavez’s direction. Despite his penchant for trying to play all 25 players in the same game, Gibson must create a line-up with the best eight players and run those players out every night.
Granted, injuries and the need to take an occasional day-off is in order but Gibson must stick to a criteria of playing his eight position players around 150 games. Save catcher Miguel Montero, who needs to recover from a dreadful 2013 season and should start, if healthy, between 130 and 140 games, the requirement to forge cohesion among his best eight players is imperative.
Psychologists say change is difficult and if change comes about, it’s slow and gradual. For Gibson, change needs to be immediate.
If not, he faces not only another year of mediocrity but possible unemployment.