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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

What They Don't Teach You at Management School

Is there any way to link management styles and personnel decisions throughout the world of sports? Clearly there have been some curious management decisions lately -- about stocking teams with players, cutting teams, keeping managers, so I figured I would explore some of them looking for answers.

1. USA Basketball. Former Knick and Vancouver coach Stu Jackson was instrumental in putting this team together. It's a team of excellent athletes, mostly slashers, no shooters, almost as if USA Hoops is trying to prove a point, that you can take hockey players to Brazil and win a soccer match or you can take PeopleSoft operators and make them Oracle people overnight. Lest anyone forget, the international game emphasizes shooting and the zone defense. Without any real zonebusters, it will be interesting to see how even the best of the slashers will be able to beat a collapsing 2-3 zone. What's the management theory here? What's the personnel theory here? Formerly, it was if we just show up, we'll win. Now it's, like, wow, these kids (and, yes, Larry, they are good kids) have to get a clue in a hurry and turn themselves into international players fast. Good luck. This team is probably an example of management by "let's get the biggest names available" and hope it works out. It may be that Larry Brown wishes for a few thirty-three year old jump shooters when all this is over. Those guys, though, don't get the shoe contracts any more.

2. Bill Parcells. He just cut the QB who led his team to the playoffs last year, the QB who said just a couple of days ago that he is the starter -- Quincy Carter. Yes, the off-doubted Quincy Carter, the QB whom we all thought Bill Parcells would jettison if he had a suitable replacement. Now he is gone. Which Parcells thinks he has in Vinny Testaverde, who is perhaps older than the average American house (and you know the creaks and leaks that the average American house has). This, clearly, is authoritarian management, ergo, the decision is absolutely right because Parcells is one of the all-time greats. So, it's hard to question the Big Tuna, except for one thing: even the all-time greats don't stay great forever (see, for example, Joe Paterno at Penn State). If you thought that Doug Pederson as a fill-in before Donovan McNabb was ready in Phila. five years ago was painful to watch, watching Vinnie until Drew Henson is ready in Dallas might be equally bad. This is management according to the school of "I'm the biggest name in my type of management, so therefore my decisions not only are not always right, but they also should be accepted as brilliant without any questions" school.

3. John Henry and Larry Lucchino. This dynamic duo runs the Boston Red Sox. They offered a good deal to their star SS, Nomar Garciaparra last year (a $60 million contract), and he turned them down. It's hard to believe that Nomar is any more of a prima donna than any other star MLB player, and it's very hard to believe than he could have been higher maintenance than his notorious teammate, Manny Ramirez. So instead of trying to let the season play out, Henry and Lucchino did to Nomar what Ed Wade and Larry Bowa did to Scott Rolen in Philadelphia after Rolen turned down big bucks to remain in the Cradle of Liberty. Basically, because they got rejected, they started to publicly question the person who jilted them. Rolen is as solid a citizen and as tough a competitor as they come, and he has gone on to great things in St. Louis. Meanwhile, Wade and Bowa are on the ropes in Philadelphia. The only difference with these two situations is that Henry owns the Red Sox, so presumably he will never be on the ropes career-wise. If they were to have learned anything from the Rolen situation, it's that it's bad kharma to diss superstars publicly. They will only come back to haunt you (and if anyone in Philadelphia would rather have Jim Thome with his .190 or so average with runners in scoring position than Rolen, they are kidding themselves). This is management by the "if we can't have him, he's no good" school and no doubt will leave the players on your roster wondering what type of treatment is reserved for them if they step out of line.

4. Dave Montgomery. Who is Dave Montgomery, you ask? He is the president of the Philadelphia Phillies, and he is presiding over this monumentally disappointing season. And now he has a real doozie of a problem. Here's the pathology. After the Phillies fired nice guy Terry Francona, they hired Bowa, which was a good thing because they needed good marketing and Bowa was their best marketing tool. Philadelphia fans remember fondly the 1980 World Champions, and Bowa was one of the pistons that fired the engine. Okay, so Bowa's combustible, but his combustibility provided great theater -- for the fans. Everywhere you read -- Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Street & Smith's -- you always saw quotes from scouts saying that the Phillies could make a big move once they fired Bowa. Why? Because it's one thing to be outwardly combustible, but when you treat your own players poorly it's hard to get good results. So, many Philadelphia fans though it would only be a matter of time before Larry Bowa was given the axe. Especially with Charlie Manual, former Cleveland manager and still friend of Jim Thome, hanging around as a special assistant to GM Ed Wade.

Easy solution -- the team performs poorly, so fire the manager. The age-old remedy, right? Right, except that the tide has turned in Philadelphia. Somehow, some way, the fans are now focusing their wrath on Ed Wade. Why? Because he didn't find the right combination of players. Why? Because some of the players -- Mike Lieberthal, Roberto Hernandez, Billy Wagner -- are allegedly crybabies and shouldn't let an abrasive manager affect their play. (They conveniently let Jim Thome off the hook, even though during last year's post-home run handshaking fiasco that led to the release of Tyler Houston, Thome took a powder when given the opportunity to back his manager). So now, the airwaves are full of "poor Larry Bowa, he hasn't been given the right team" talk. Bowa looks like a beaten man and deserves a peaceful resolution to his tenure in Philadelphia. He doesn't necessarily deserve a pass, however, and neither does Ed Wade.

So what is Dave Montgomery to do? If you fire Bowa, you fire a guy who still excites the fans, and you could lose the ever-so-important fan base because they'll collectively view the team as a bunch of crybabies. If you fire Wade, you'll probably find a decent GM (there is a public cry to anoint Dallas Green again), but then you still have Bowa, and the scouts think he's the problem.

Phil Sheridan had a great column in the Phila. Inquirer today where he offered a different solution -- fire the franchise. But that would mean that the fans could fire the Phillies ownership, which, of course, is at the root of the problem and should have sold the team long ago.

The guess here is that Montgomery will do nothing until the season's over. This is management by passivity, which has been at the core of the Phillies' family crest since they joined the National League.

What is the meaning of all of this? Obviously, we're not in the front office or in the clubhouse, so we don't really know, do we? Of course, because we're not there, we'll get lectured by those who are that we don't know what we're talking about. That's called "management by putting other people on the defensive", whereby they'll want us to spend so much time defending our own credentials that we'll find no time to argue the true points. That style only works for so long, however. The truth -- the record of the home team -- transcends all conversation.

And, at the end of the day, the fan base will be around longer than any of the above decision makers. And they'll remember who was up front, who was arrogant, and who was fair.

Unless, of course, their team won the title. And then that's all they'll remember.

Whatever the management style.


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