In our last installment of these Power Rankings, I quoted "The Wasteland" by T.S. Eliot — including its famous line, "April is the cruelest month" — and optimistically stated that it ain’t so bad. Well, in most (not all) regards, it was pretty bad. The Chicago Blackhawks made an early, if honorable, exeunt from the NHL playoffs. And the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs have battered their respective fanbases with sub-.500 records.
The Chicago Bulls, however, are — as they’ve been for months now — a blinding bright spot. And the Chicago Bears, well, they’ve somehow got people more excited about their offensive line at the moment than anyone is about Adam Dunn’s home run swing or Ryan Dempster’s slider. So, without further adieu, let’s rank the head coaches and managers of our big five teams. (This is the tenth [really?] installment of our rankings; to read the previous one, click here.)
Previous position in power rankings: 1
Why he’s here: Steady of purpose, focused in intensity. That’s Coach T to a 't'. The first round of the NBA playoffs against the Indiana Pacers could’ve gotten ugly. In fact, it sort of did during the very end of Game Five, but the blame for that can almost entirely be placed on the Pacers. And while their coach Frank Vogel came off as kinda weird in his postgame press conferences — was he reading from a script? why did he keep looking down? and why did he give us the best Derrick Rose soundbite EVER? — Tom Thibodeau was all business and no bite. He didn’t give in to what must’ve been a temptation to call out the young Pacers on their strong-arming, hard-foul tactics. Rather, he praised them and then turned his critical eye on his own team.
And though he probably wouldn’t admit it, Thibodeau probably loosened the reins a bit in that last game — as Joakim Noah and the Bulls came out pushing back harder than in any of the previous four. Benching the disappointing Carlos Boozer and putting Noah and Taj Gibson on the floor together for a good length of time was also a brilliant move.
Where he’s headed: Coach T is THE reigning power rankings champ. His next challenge is beating the Atlanta Hawks, a team the Bulls match up with pretty well. I don’t expect anything different from Thibodeau in the next series. High-volume intensity on the court and a simmering post-game persona. He’ll almost certainly continue his winning streak here.
2. Joel Quenneville
Previous position in power rankings: 3
Why he’s here: For a couple of reasons. First, and I’ll get into this more below, because the other two active candidates on our power rankings are really struggling right now. Second, yes, as a thank you for a, er, competitive season. Can we say the Blackhawks had a good season? It doesn’t really feel that way. Then again, I can’t quite bring myself to say they had a bad season either. It was certainly an unlucky campaign in terms of injuries. It was definitely an inconsistent one in terms of quality of play. But it also had some incredible high points, culminating in an amazing three-games-down postseason comeback against the Vancouver Canucks. It also gave us some emerging players to keep an eye on — most notably of all, young goalie Corey Crawford.
And through it all, there was Coach Q. Sure, we quibbled with his lines and substitutions from time to time. But I never got the impression that Blackhawks fans ever gave up on Quenneville or that too many of them ever REALLY wanted to throw him under the bus. In fact, his steadying influence on the team may have been the only consistent thing all season. Indeed, backing into the postseason and losing in the playoffs were both disappointments. But somehow Quenneville remains one of the most beloved head coaches in Chicago. That’s what a championship — a generous amount of quiet fortitude — will do for you.
Where he’s headed: To a presumably quiet off-season (much quieter than the last one, sadly). Thanks again, Coach Q. See you in the preseason.
3. Lovie Smith
Previous position in power rankings: 5
Why he’s here: Because, again, our baseball managers are both floundering to a certain extent at the moment. Also, Lovie played a role in grabbing what many are calling straight-up thievery in the first round of the NFL draft. The Bears pick of Gabe Carimi instantly bolsters an offensive line that struggled early and often last season, putting quarterback Jay Cutler down hard on the turf much more often than he should have been (and maybe leading to an, ahem, injury or two).
Smith is having a pretty quiet off-season otherwise. He made an appearance at Game Two of the Bulls-Pacers series, garnering some applause. And he seems unflappable in light of the ongoing NFL lockout mess.
Where he’s headed: Back to slumbering at the bottom of our rankings if the baseball situation improves whatsoever. The draft talk will die down in a few days and there’s a long, long way to go to football — and that’s if the lockout is resolved before the season or preseason starts.
4. Ozzie Guillen
Previous position in power rankings: 4
Why he’s here: Last time around I wrote, "If he’s No. 4 next month, something may have gone at least a little wrong for the Sox." Ya think? As of this writing, the team is 10-16 and has scored only 103 runs (eighth in the AL, tied with the Boston Red Sox). Their pitching staff, which still looks good on paper, has been giving up the goods far too often. The Sox have lost by five or more runs six times in the first month.
And Ozzie? He’s been Ozzie. Relatively calm at first. But, following a press room explosion over the failings of the team’s closer(s), he’s gone back to talking about losing his job and, well, tweeting (for which he has just been fined and suspended). In all fairness, there’s not much a manager can do when his team’s bats go dead and a couple of his key starters start to falter (Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson) start to falter. But Guillen’s threatening to become a distraction that only worsens matters rather than make them better.
Where he’s headed: Ozzie does have one thing in his favor over power-rankings competitor Mike Quade: The Chicago White Sox. The South Siders still look, on paper, like a capable team that could string together some wins and put itself back in contention when the offense comes back and pitching settles down. If Ozzie can push the right buttons and help that recovery process along, he should rocket up our chart.
5. Mike Quade
Previous position in power rankings: 2
Why he’s here: Manager Q, where did it all go wrong? Maybe with your stubborn insistence on trying to sell the idea that James Russell is a starting pitcher, when nearly everyone else can clearly see that the 25-year-old southpaw has the makings of a solid lefty specialist but nothing more? Perhaps when you called out the Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers for breaking an unwritten rule about stealing bases in a blowout? (Psst, Mike, that’s the danger of thinking out loud to the press — they record everything.) Or maybe when your team’s remarkable ability to get back to the .500 vanished with the arrival of the Colorado Rockies?
In Quade’s defense, all of the veteran starting pitching that the team had squirreled away for the unfortunate situation it finds itself in (two starters, Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, are on the DL) turned out to be either retirement-bound (Braden Looper), injured (Todd Wellemeyer), or in various states of pitch-count-building (Ramon Ortiz and Doug Davis). And the team’s minor league replacements (Thomas Diamond, Austin Bibens-Dirkx) didn’t offer much, if any, more upside than Russell himself. But they still seemed a better first shot at the problem than the lefty reliever, who’s actually shown considerable guts in taking on the role. Sadly, he’s also shown a considerable home run rate.
Where he’s headed: Honestly, if Quade can just stay out of the whine barrel (that’s what openly complaining about unwritten rule violations comes off as) and right the ship on this fifth starter situation, there may be hope for him. I wasn’t expecting this year’s Cubs to be good-good. But I was hoping they could be, y’know, good enough to string us along for most of the season. They now appear to be in danger of sinking into a deep hole, and their total talent level doesn’t appear to have the strength to haul them out of it. What can their manager do about that? Not a whole lot — but, just as Coach Q was for his struggling club, Manager Q needs to get back to being a steadying influence, not a rocker of the leaky boat.