Has it been a month already since our last head coach/manager power rankings? Indeed it has, Chicago sports fans. Not only that, but we've officially hit year end. That means we're in a particularly reflective mood regarding just how we feel about each of the five snappily dressed gentlemen referred to in our title.
So how do we feel? Pretty good, overall. Thankfully enough, there are a few things to be pretty excited about in Chicago sports right now. There are also, naturally, a number of worries on our mind and a smattering of riddles wrapped in mysteries plaguing the SB Nation Chicago collective cerebral cortex. But, hey, it's the holidays. So let's accentuate the positive and get down to business. (This is the sixth installment of our rankings. To read the previous one, click here.)
1. Lovie Smith
Previous position in power rankings: 1
Why he’s here: What, you missed the game on Monday night? Y'know, the one in which the Chicago Bears defeated the Minnesota Vikings to clinch the NFC North? (I know you saw it; I just wanted to work those team hyperlinks in there.) Lovie may not smile all that often but, when he does, there's now a glint of "I told you so," in his eye. At this point, he's got every hater in the Chicago metro area crying "Uncle!" and those who aren't dare not speak up over the celebratory din. I mean, come on, this team didn't win a single preseason game! There's no way they're making the playoffs, right? Oh, Lovie's got an answer for that -- only you might fall asleep while he's explaining it. (He's not a particularly charismatic guy.)
The question now is whether the Bears' postseason appearance -- ahem, the Bears' lengthy and dominating postseason appearance -- will secure Lovie a contract extension. Smith is under contract for the 2011-12 season, but the team is unlikely to head into next year (after the parade and stuff) with Lovie the Lame Duck. So an extension could and should come sooner rather than later. Given how spectacular this season has turned out to be, expect it to happen.
Where he's headed: The final two games of the season could be more influential on fan opinion than you might think. The Bears are heading into odd, unsettling waters. No one wants to lose these games; there are, after all, seed issues at stake. But everyone wants to be at full strength for the playoffs. So Lovie will have to step carefully to remain competitive, maintain momentum and morale, and do everything he can to keep key players on the field. All that said, he'll still probably be atop our chart next month. We hope. No, no ... we know.
2. Tom Thibodeau
Previous position in power rankings: 2
Why he's here: There's no stopping the gravelly voiced, tank-like Thibodeau who has stood his ground court-side and guided the Chicago Bulls to (as of this writing) a 17-9 record. And it's not like he's had an easy time of it. The hand injury to Carlos Boozer could've easily tripped the team out of the gate. Didn't. Sky-high playing time for bruised-and-battered rock star point guard Derrick Rose could have turned out to be asking too much, too soon. Hasn't been ... so far. And now the serious bummer of an injury to center Joakim Noah could have sent the team into a loss spiral. Hasn't ... yet ... as far as we can tell. Uh, get back to us in a few games.
Granted, the loss to the Los Angeles Clippers hurt. But the bounce-back blowout against the Philadelphia 76ers was a strong effort to right the ship. And the Bulls' schedule is still looking pretty soft in the near future. Plus, if that 76ers game was any indication, maybe the team can get more out of aged center Kurt Thomas than many initially suspected. Much will depend on Coach T's ability to mix and match and not get too dependent on any one player to fill Joakim's shoes.
Where he's headed: Nowhere as fast as a DRose move to the hoop. Almost 30 games into the season, Thibodeau is just settling in and his defense is paying huge dividends for a team that could still really use another shooter.
3. Joel Quenneville
Previous position in power rankings: 3
Why he's here: Not much has changed for the man with the moustache that won the Stanley Cup. (OK, OK ... the moustache didn't really win it.) Injuries. A couple bad games. A couple good games. Jeremy Morin drives in from Rockford, then drives back. Jonathan Toews looks handsome and concerned. Patrick Kane hobbles on the ice and then hobbles back off. John Scott punches someone in the face.
The 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks have been a work-in-progress from the get-go, and it's been a waiting game for Coach Q thus far. That's not to suggest he hasn't done anything, but all he really can do is tinker with the 'Hawks lines and see what sticks. He's probably made a number of fans happy by appearing to give the nod to Corey Crawford in the net. And the team's big win over the Detroit Red Wings followed by another victory over the Los Angeles Kings could be the turning point we've been waiting for.
Where he's headed: How about Coach Q moves into a tie with Coach T? Because we'd all like to be able to cheer for Lovie for a good while longer.
4. Ozzie Guillen
Previous position in power rankings: 4
Why he's here:No one does the off-season like Ozzie Guillen. No one! Whether it's doing a wacky commercial for Chicago White Sox tickets, weighing in on his blog or just tweeting random stuff, the Oz-Man Bringeth the holiday cheer and goodwill toward all. His general manager has built him quite a lineup -- at least in terms of slugging potential. So Guillen probably has plenty to look forward to in the new year. I'm sure he'll let us know about it.
Where he's headed: Let's hope the day doesn't come when a Chicago head coach/manager who's in an off-season supersedes a guy whose team is currently playing real games. But if anyone could do so, it's Ozzie.
5. Mike Quade
Previous position in power rankings: 5
Why he's here: The manager of the Chicago Cubs may be the perfect polar opposite to Ozzie Guillen. (Did you catch the winter reference there?) Quade is Mr. Low Profile, who only resurfaced recently on the sad occasion of Ron Santo's funeral. If you're looking for him, you'll probably find Manager Q fishing and, more than likely, pondering who will lead off next season.
Where he's headed: It'll be a while before Quade has a shot at the upper reaches of our rankings. A hot start by a Cubs team that's shaping up to be decided underdogs in the NL Central now that the Milwaukee Brewers have bolstered their starting rotation with Zack Greinke could have the Quadster making quite a roar in the late spring. (Ah, spring.) But he's got a rough road ahead of him to be sure. Catch 'em while you can, Mike.