In an instant, a power shift took place among the on-field head honchos of the five major sports teams in the Windy City. Just days after Cubs fans were forced to bid adieu to long-time first baseman Derrek Lee, they now had to see another key figure in North Side baseball — and Chicago sports — disappear.
There are many different tacks one could take to Sweet Lou’s sadly sudden sidestep into retirement. Historic. Comic. Tragic. Even cynical. (Our own George Castle has a great take here.) But, for now, let’s assess just how Piniella's departure from the Cubs and the game of baseball affects his place on the SB Nation Chicago Head Coach/Manager Power Rankings. (This is the second installment of our rankings. To read the first one, posted July 26, 2010, click here.)
1. Lou Piniella
Position in previous power rankings: 5
Why he’s here: Come on, have a heart. So his (former) team is, as of this writing, an ungodly 23 games under .500 and 21.5 games behind the NL Central leading Cincinnati Reds. So he’s appeared to be somewhere between distracted and indifferent for most of this season and much of last one. He’s Sweet Lou and we’re giving him the top spot this one last and only time.
Why? Because Lou Piniella gave Cubs fans their first three consecutive seasons of winning baseball since the late 60s/early 70s. (The North Siders actually finished above .500 for five consecutive seasons between 1967 and 1972.) And Lou gave the Wrigley faithful its first back-to-back playoff appearances since, gulp, the 1906, ’07 and ’08 teams went to the postseason. The latter two teams won it all and, well, that’s one thing Lou could not do for Chicago.
Indeed, Piniella didn’t go out on top. And we’re not sure he ever really made Chicago his own. Sweet Lou was, from his initial introduction to the media in 2007, rather embarrassingly unfamiliar with Cubs culture and history. Even in his final postgame interview as manager, he admitted to looking around and seeing things at Wrigley Field he’d never noticed before.
But Lou made his mark here and, perhaps most important, he maintained and perhaps even advanced the expectation that the Cubs should win. Period. Look, with this payroll and this fan base in this division, there should be no excuses. And, for most of Piniella’s tenure, they did win — at least during the regular season.
Where’s he’s headed: Retirement in Tampa, Florida. Good luck and best wishes to you and your family, Lou.
2. Joel Quenneville
Position in previous power rankings: 2
Why he’s here: Coach Q hasn’t gone anywhere nor is or should he. In fact, one might say that the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks has displayed a remarkable ability to stay above the media fray.
After all, for most of the offseason, hockey scribes pro and amateur alike have been pounding their keyboards in concern over, if not outright criticism of, the team’s aggressive rebuilding efforts. Meanwhile, there’s been nary a mention of the Mustache That Hoisted the Cup. Aside from a few appearances with that aforementioned and well-traveled trophy, Quenneville has kept his mug out of the papers and blogosphere. And you know what? We give him mad props for that. His presence will soon be felt where it matters most: on the ice.
Where’s he’s headed: To the ice, of course. Or the side thereof, as the case may be. But, more the point, we predict Coach Q is on his way up our power rankings. Practices start soon, with the Blackhawks’ first preseason game is Sept. 22 versus the Tampa Bay Lightning in Winnipeg. And, as mentioned here, the regular season begins on Oct. 7 versus the Colorado Avalanche. He will defend the cup until the end. He will never surrender.
3. Tom Thibodeau
Position in previous power rankings: 3
Why he’s here: Much like Joel Quenneville, Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has kept a pretty low profile since the team announced his hiring in June. Most of the news regarding the team has focused on the contributions of Derrick Rose to Team USA and the recent Hall of Fame induction of Scottie Pippen.
Again, there’s a certain wisdom and dignity to staying out of the public eye until doing so is truly relevant. And Thibodeau has done that. Let’s hope he’s refining his plans to shore up the team’s defense and laying the groundwork for good working relationships with his coaching staff and players.
Where’s he’s headed: Probably upward as well. Don’t quote on this — OK, go ahead, quote us — but we have a good feeling about this upcoming Bulls season. Practices start soon, with the Bulls’ preseason opens north of the border versus the Milwaukee Bucks on Oct. 5. As mentioned here, the regular season begins Oct. 27 versus the Oklahoma City Thunder.
4. Ozzie Guillen
Position in previous power rankings: 1
Why he’s here: After staging one of the most remarkably early season comebacks in recent baseball history, the Chicago White Sox have struggled as of late. They lost their hold on first place on or around Aug. 11, when those pesky piranhas — the Minnesota Twins — finally got the better of them and took over the top spot. Since then, the South Siders have dropped series to the Detroit Tigers, Twins (again) and Kansas City Royals (ouch).
As you might expect, Ozzie is none too pleased. After a Sunday loss to the Royals, Guillen told reporters:
A very horse-s*** road trip. Disappointing, my f***ing ass. Disappointing for f***ing managers that have patience. Very bad road trip. The way it ended was the way we started, very bad. No excuse ... we didn't get it done. This road trip was very important for us, and we played like s***.
By Ozzie’s own admission, his team looks bad and, in turn, so does he. This isn’t the first time he’s spoken harshly and out of turn this season and, though doing so is certainly true to his character, Guillen’s act is starting to wear thin. Sox fans don’t want to see another season go by the boards while the Twins head to yet another postseason.
Where’s he’s headed: Hard to say. Unless the South Siders right the ship, Ozzie could stay here at the bottom for some time. Then again, all is certainly not lost for the Sox. They’re still 10 games over .500 and only five games out of the AL Central race. Better still, it’s really only a two-team race at this point, as the Tigers, Royals and Cleveland Indians are all well off the pace. Don’t count the South Side out and, more important, don’t count Ozzie Guillen out.
5. Lovie Smith
Position in previous power rankings: 4
Why he’s here: Fear and loathing in Bearsville. Fear of two uninspiring preseason losses (the Chicago Bears have been outscored 57-27), and loathing of Lovie’s continued and now almost-legendary flat, emotionless responses.
Many of us fans have been savoring HBO’s "Hard Knocks" series about the New York Jets training camp and, well, the Bears aren’t delivering the goods thus far. We want fire. We want f-bombs. We want Rex Ryan! But we’ve still got Lovie’s robotic platitudes, and they aren’t easing fears of an as-of-yet ineffective Mike Martz offense or a slowly developing defensive line that allowed five sacks of quarterback Jay Cutler during Saturday’s game versus the Oakland Raiders.
Where’s he’s headed: Well, Lovie’s got nowhere to go but up. Maybe setting expectations low in the preseason will give him and his team a huge boost once regular play starts on Sept. 12 against the Detroit Lions. But, for now, we’re seeing the same ol’, same ol’ Smith — and we demand better.