We find ourselves at an odd juncture in Chicago sports history. And by "odd," I mean "bad" -- well, for the most part. A month ago, it appeared as those all five of our head coaches/managers could find himself in great standing amongst sports fans here in town and around the globe. As it turns out, only two (maybe three) of them are ... at least in my humble estimation.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. How you doin', Chicago sports fans? Hangin' in there? It hasn't been easy. A January that was looking pretty good going in and most of the way through has turned out to be difficult, perhaps even traumatic. Although I'm not going to address the Jay Cutler issue in this feature (we've done that quite handily here ... and here ... and here), I do believe that all of us have been changed, challenged or in some way seriously affected by the events of this past Sunday and the days following.
So where does that leave our Top Five head coach/manager power rankings? That's what we're here to find out. (This is the seventh installment of our rankings. To read the previous one, click here).
1. Tom Thibodeau
Previous position in power rankings: 2
Why he's here: Because we need Tom Thibodeau right now. The Chicago Bulls head coach shows enough emotion (at least courtside) to be an effective antidote to Lovie Smith's 1,000-mile stare, yet remains low-key enough before and after games not to be an over-the-top caricature. And though few fans really expect to the Bulls to deliver a championship to the city this season, the team's success -- even if it's confined to their division, where they're utterly dominant (10-0, baby!) -- offers a beacon of hope and relief at a difficult time.
That's not to say Thibodeau has been perfect. He's had his in-game missteps, mainly involving substitutions. Many of us still spend a certain amount of time each week wondering why Keith Bogans remains in the starting lineup. (Then again, honestly, I've come to enjoy the comic relief of seeing Bogans' obligatory three points in the box score of every freakin' game.) And it remains somewhat uncertain as to whether Thibodeau's X's and O's approach to the game will truly pay off for an entire season. Personally, I'd guess that it will. Putting together one of the -- if not the -- best defensive team in the NBA is pretty impressive.
Where he's headed: Nowhere fast. With Lovie in offseason mode, our hockey team continuing to struggle and baseball still a ways off, Coach T stands poised to be the head coach of Chicago for the next month or two. Just wait until Joakim Noah gets back: Things should only get better.
2. Lovie Smith
Previous position in power rankings: 1
Why he's here: I've got to give Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith credit. I've just got to. He helped deliver to us an 11-5 season, a division win, a playoff win and one of the most historic games in our city's history. He and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli assembled a fine defense and, well, Lovie seemed to work things out with offensive coordinator Mike Martz ... at least for a while. (Props to a fantastic special teams corps as well.) Based on these accomplishments, and the fact that we're all still talking about Smith, I'm going to leave him toward the top of the power rankings. But I had to demote him -- and I was tempted to drop him further than this.
To wit, Lovie did not acquit himself well in the NFC championship game. Few, if any of us, will ever, ever understand the logic behind making Todd Collins a No. 2 quarterback. A player with his lack of mobility and God-awful passing skills, which were in full evidence earlier in the season against the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, had no business being in a playoff game. Smith's dogged defense of Collins after the game didn't ring true. And let's not even get into his failure to take a time out on that critical fourth down late in the game. But, a .688 winning percentage is what it is -- and playoff football in Chicago was awesome, if tragic.
Where he's headed: Toward mad discussion of his prospective contract extension, of course. That may keep Lovie in the news in coming months. But he's ticketed for the lower reaches of our rankings rather soon.
3. Ozzie Guillen
Previous position in power rankings: 4
Why he's here: What can I say? I felt like doing something bold that didn't involve hot sauce. And speaking of hot: How 'bout White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen? His very own roast. (Boom!) A brand new website. (Bam!) High-larious appearances at Soxfest (Bang!) And, last but not least, a full-on contract extension. (Bling!)
Although his handling of Oneygate left me less than impressed (Okay, Daver, enough with the hyperlinks), he's still had one of the best offseasons of a Chicago baseball manager in recent memory. (Admittedly, my memory isn't very good.) And, at least in part thanks to the bold moves of Sox GM Kenny Williams and the wide-open wallet of owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Ozzie heads into spring training riding a high wave of fan love and team confidence. Whether it will come crashing to shore once the season begins remains to be seen but, for the time being, surf's up!
Where he's headed: Upwardly mobile is his Ozzieness. After all, we haven't even hit spring training yet.
4. Joel Quenneville
Previous position in power rankings: 3
Why he's here: Because Chicago Blackhawks fans are tired of the team's inconsistency. And the thing about an inconsistent team -- it's hard to really blame the players. Because they're inconsistent. Sometimes they look like the Stanley Cup champions of not-so-yore (or guys deserving to join said team). Sometimes they look awful (when they're not injured, of course). So what's the common denominator? The coach; in this case, head coach Joel Quenneville.
Not sure about you, but I take no joy in criticizing Coach Q. I still think he's worked really hard to get the 2010-11 team to gel. Quenneville is nothing if not persistent and attentive. But, at some point, he and GM Stan Bowman have to shoulder the responsibility for being at the helm during the team's precipitous drop from the top of the Western Conference. The good news is that there's still time. Not much, but enough to make a difference.
Where he's headed: Your guess is as good as mine. No one knows what to make of a team this up and down. But if Coach Q can come through, he will skyrocket up our charts.
5. Mike Quade
Previous position in power rankings: 5
Why he's here: The manager of the Chicago Cubs, Mike Quade, is so low-key that even an appearance at Cubs Convention earlier this month didn't get him all that much notice citywide. Oh, sure, Cubs fans were all ears. And, as usual, Quade said many, many good things.
He knows the team doesn't have a perfect lead-off man, so he'll mix and match that spot in the lineup. He knows that Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza are all solid pitchers but none really profiles as a No. 1, sure-thing Opening Day starter. And he's not going to stop riding the El to games anytime soon -- Mike is truly a man of the people.
Where he's headed: Nowhere's just yet. As usual, Quade's low place on our power rankings totem pole really isn't a criticism. It's how he rolls. He'll leave the websites and Twitter wars to Ozzie (which, y'know, are fun, too) and wait until the
boots cleats hit the ground in Mesa to start making some noise.