You’ve probably heard that annoying old saying, "This isn’t the end. This isn’t even the end of the beginning." Well, this is the end of the beginning in Chicago sports. As of this writing, the Chicago Bears have played 10 games. The Chicago Blackhawks have played 23. And the Chicago Bulls have played 12. Meanwhile, the respective off-seasons of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox are well underway — or so we’re told.
What I’m trying to say is we have a decent sample size of games from all five Chicago head coach/managers at this point, and there have been some changes to our monthly power rankings. So let’s dig in and see whereabouts everyone stands. (This is the fifth installment of our rankings. To read the previous one, click here.)
1. Lovie Smith
Previous position in power rankings: 2
Why he’s here: You got us, Lovie. You got us. We wanted fire. We wanted emotion. We even pondered whether Samurai Mike would be a better fit as head coach than you. And what did you give us? Well, more of the same on the sidelines and during press conferences. (In mellow voice: "Well, it's good for them to get sacks so they can validate what they have been doing." OK, I added the "Well".) But he’s also given us seven wins. Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers have the same number of losses.
We’ll probably never really know whether Lovie laid down the law with offensive coach Mike Martz or whether things just worked out on their own. But the Bears approach to scoring has been more balanced over the last several games while the defense remains one of the best in the NFL. And something Smith doesn’t get enough credit for is keeping emotions and behavior in the locker room at a fairly even keel.
Where he’s headed: Let the clichés fly: Football is king! Winning cures everything! Lovie ain’t going anywhere in our rankings as long as the Bears stay in contention. They face a huge defensive challenge in the Philadelphia Eagles and quarterback Michael Vick this Sunday. And, from there, after getting a chance to double-up on the Detroit Lions, they’ll look to rise to the considerable challenge of the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings in back-to-back weeks. So we’re a long way from home.
Previous position in power rankings: 3
Why he’s here: Bear with me a second here. If you’ve listened to Cubs game on the radio in recent years, you’ve probably heard broadcaster and should-be Hall of Famer Ron Santo refer to pitcher Ted Lilly as a "bulldog." Lilly is no longer a member of the Cubs, so you won’t hear him say this much anymore, but ol’ Ronnie never failed to invoke Ted’s nickname whenever the left-handed hurler took the field.
You know who else is a bulldog? Tom Thibodeau. He never looks happy; he doesn’t talk much; and, when he does speak, he does so in short, gruff barks. But it works for him. In fact, maybe he’s just what a largely young team like the Bulls needs. A tough, no-nonsense coach who keeps the emphasis squarely on the game of basketball — not on himself or anything else. So far, Thibodeau’s defense-intensive approach is keeping the team on track — even as it works out kinks such as their maddening inconsistency at the free throw line.
The only major danger sign in Coach T’s approach is the amount of playing time he’s giving the team’s core players. Minutes per game for Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and the hobbled Taj Gibson are all up. Is he riding these four too hard as we all await the
return arrival of Carlos Boozer? Maybe. (For a more detailed look at this potential problem, see this post on Blog-A-Bull.)
Where he’s headed: Nowhere but up (uh, let’s hope). As my keyboard clatters away, the Bulls are tops in the Eastern Conference Central. They have a 7-4 record and, so far, aren’t letting the circus trip get in their heads. Thibodeau looks like he could be winner here in Chicago, where we tend to like our coaches terse, hard-nosed and excuse-free.
3. Joel Quenneville
Previous position in power rankings: 1
Why he’s here: "Embattled." That’s the word that would seem to best sum up the head coach of the Blackhawks. Nothing has come easy for the team this season. Stat-happy fans may tell you they’re not scoring enough (OK, everyone will tell you that) and that the defense isn’t holding up when they score first nor when they’re leading after two periods. More traditional fans will probably tell you that our worst fears over the summer have come true: All that roster turnover has killed the team’s chemistry.
Enter Coach Q. He’s got to get everyone in the right role and push them to succeed. And, in all fairness, he’s been trying — so we can’t drop him too far in our rankings. Quenneville has reconfigured the lines, sat fan favorites like Patrick Kane (which seems to have helped) and shut down practices early. Lately, he’s been giving a vote of confidence to backup goalie Corey Crawford.
Where’s he’s headed: Hard to say. Coach Q is in a tough spot. The Blackhawks have plenty of depth, but putting it to best use isn’t easy. And the team’s woes can no longer be described as those of the "early season" variety. Quenneville may be doomed to lurk in the middle of our rankings — or lower — for months to come unless he can turn this thing around.
4. Ozzie Guillen
Previous position in power rankings: 5
Why he’s here: Give Ozzie some credit — he stays in the news. And, though he’s never lacked grass roots support amongst White Sox fans, he may have gained the sympathy vote with chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's recent admission that he would, in fact, have traded Guillen to the Marlins for "a particular player."
That’s not exactly the morale booster a manager heading into the last year of his contract is looking for. But the Oz-Man took it in stride, writing on his blog:
I am still proud to continue to work for the White Sox, and I will continue to do so with the same work ethic, attitude and passion I always have.
Fair enough. He’s also been spotted at Blackhawks and Bulls games, which keeps the PR game going in his favor.
Where’s he’s headed: Ozzie lives in Florida during the cold winter months. Similarly, he’ll be dwelling down here toward the bottom of our power rankings until he’s traded in that blockbuster deal for Hanley Ramirez next month. We kid!
5. Mike Quade
Previous position in power rankings: 4
Why he’s here: Where else would he be? Many, if not most, Cubs fans love the Quadster. Some, more begrudgingly than others, now that Ryne Sandberg has been hired as the manager of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Triple A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. But Coach Q No. 2 is in like Flynn and, well, keeping a low profile as one would expect a nose-to-the-grindstone self-proclaimed "organizational guy" like him to be.
Where’s he’s headed: To a large body of nonfrozen water, methinks. Word is, the man likes to fish.