Fall is here, football season is well underway and baseball season is winding down with sadness on both sides of town. And that can mean only one thing: It's time for another edition of Chicago Head Coach/Manager Power rankings here on the Top Five! (This is the third installment of our rankings. To read the previous one, click here.)
There are changes afoot among the five gentlemen in question, gentle readers. As we all know, success is fleeting in Chicago sports. Winning trumps all and failure can turn a once beloved leader against the very organization for which he has fought lo these many years. So, without further to do or adieu, let’s get to the rankings:
1. Lovie Smith
Previous position in power rankings: 4
Why he’s here: Did you not read our intro? Winning is everything, and the Chicago Bears are 2-0 to open a season for the first time since 2006! (Y’know, the one that ended with a Super Bowl appearance.) We doubted Lovie. We questioned his decisions. We frowned upon his curt, dispassionate responses to media questions. But there he was: Looking trim, fit and deadly serious on the sidelines of bombastic Cowboys Stadium while his players gave us one of the best football Sundays in a long time.
Will Lovie loosen up and start talking some trash (relatively speaking) as the season goes on? Doubtful. He’ll probably never bring the braggadocio of a Mike Singletary (not that big talk has done much for his 0-2 team), but Lovie’s getting wound up in his own way and making some weighty statements. He told the Chicago Tribune:
Can we be a good defense and all of that? Yes, we can. But we have a lot of improvements to make. We feel real good about what we've been able to accomplish as far as getting to 2-0. But we are going to be so much better a football team later on.
We’re a tempestuous bunch, Lovie, but we're with you. Maybe Game One was a fluky win, though the still-winless Detroit Lions are showing themselves to be a better team than many anticipated. But Game Two was, as you said, "a signature game," and you’ve earned the top spot in this month’s rankings.
Where’s he’s headed: Beat the Packers this Monday and we’ll leave you here for the rest of the season. OK, that’s a joke. But even a competitive loss to the favored Green Bay will likely keep Lovie and his coaching staff in relatively good favor with Bears fans. We just don’t want to be embarrassed — especially at home.
2. Joel Quenneville
Previous position in power rankings: 2
Why he’s here: Why? Coach Q got paid, of course! Earlier this month, it was announced that the Chicago Blackhawks had given Quenneville a three-year contract extension. Although the team’s upper management was fairly ruthless this off-season about shedding players to stay under the NHL’s salary cap, ‘Hawks brass wasted relatively little time in sticking with the man and the moustache that won the team its first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years.
When camp opened with a flourish on Sept. 18, Coach Q was already making it clear that he would mix in exciting youngsters such as Igor Makarov and Kyle Beach alongside returning favorites such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. And we don’t have too much trouble believing he’ll do just — the right way. As it should be with a championship team, confidence is high and fans are excited for the regular season to begin on Oct. 7 versus the Colorado Avalanche.
Where’s he’s headed: Coach Q’s exact positioning may fluctuate as the regular season gets under way. Like baseball teams, hockey squads face a long and arduous slog toward the postseason. Quenneville has all the political capital (in a sporting sense) that comes with winning it all, and we’ll likely be plenty patient as he goes about leading the Blackhawks in their defense of the Cup.
3. Mike Quade
Previous position in power rankings: N/A
Why he’s here: Quade has done what few managers can — make a losing team interesting again. Under his guidance, the Chicago Cubs are 17-8, and between Sept. 10 and Sept. 19, the team set a franchise record with an 8-1 road trip. That’s right, in the Cubs’ 134-year history, they’d never had such a winning stand away from Wrigley Field.
In many respects, Quade is the perfect tonic for a fanbase that was both thrilled and scarred by the Lou Piniella Era. Whereas Lou was a General Patton-esque figurehead, standing sternly on the dugout steps daring anyone on his team (or in the stands or in the press box or in …) to question his motives, Mike is more like one of the grunts on the front lines — perhaps the battle-savvy sergeant leading his squad on another suicide mission. He’s a coach’s coach, who applauds starting pitchers as he pulls them from the game and knows how to banter with reporters rather than evade their questions.
Where’s he’s headed: If you believe the hype, into oblivion or obscurity. Few seem to believe that Quade can snag the Cubs’ open managerial position away from the favorite, Ryne Sandberg, or any of the other names being bandied about. We’re not so sure. Mike is proving it on the field and with a solid rapport with his players and the local media. Isn’t that what the Cubs are looking for? Well, yeah, but …
4. Tom Thibodeau
Previous position in power rankings: 3
Why he’s here: Don’t take the rankings drop personally, Tom. It’s just that, well, you haven’t done anything yet. And that’s not your fault — the season doesn’t start for the Chicago Bulls until Oct. 27, when his team will face off against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the meantime, we’d advise all Bulls fans who haven’t yet done so to familiarize themselves with Tom’s background. This NBA.com article is a good place to start.
Where’s he’s headed: Like the Bulls themselves, the road is wide open for Coach Thibodeau. With Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah shaping up to be a potentially dominant core in the Central division, and a ton of solid supporting players behind them (Luol Deng, Taj Gibson), Tom could have a hot shot debut in 2010. We can’t wait to find out.
5. Ozzie Guillen
Previous position in power rankings: 4
Why he’s here: Eliminated. It’s a word that applies to bad teams early and good teams late. For the Chicago White Sox, that word came to bear on the evening of Sept. 21. And that word, along with the South Siders soul-crushing (and ongoing) eight-game losing streak, has sent the Oz-Man going-eth to the bottom of our power rankings.
Is that fair? Not exactly. To Ozzie’s credit, he was behind his 2010 squad from the beginning of the season, a time when many fans and pundits had already given up on it. And Guillen wasn’t necessarily wrong — this team did have something, at least for a while. It overcame an injury to its ace, Jake Peavy; feasted on weaker NL opponents (interleague record: 15-3); and made a couple at-least-on-paper savvy trades.
Although Edwin Jackson has struggled in his last couple starts, he has still, overall, pitched very well for his latest team. The former member of the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks as a 3.25 ERA over his eight Sox starts, with 59 strike outs over 55.1 innings.
The team’s other big pick-up? A crushing disappointment, to be sure. In fact, when the season ends, Manny Ramirez might want to duck out of Chicago ASAP. (Not that he wouldn’t anyway.) He has a grand total of one home run in 72 plate appearances. And he may wind up the very personification of the team’s stunning fall from grace this year.
Nonetheless, when the Sox had the bags packed against the Twins in their most recent series, who would you want at the plate? Manny was the perfect choice. His results, however, have been the polar opposite. (Brrrrrrr ...)
Where’s he’s headed: Manny? Outta here! But let’s get back to Ozzie. That’s the million-dollar question in Chicago right now. We reported on one of the first murmurings that Guillen may be heading to the Florida Marlins season after this season. And now the rumor is picking up steam in the mainstream media.
For all we know, this could be Ozzie’s last appearance on our power rankings. We hope not. For all his rantings and ravings and tweets and ill-advised behavior, he’s still the guy who led the Sox to its 2005 championship and he deserves better.