April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Aw, c'mon, T.S. It ain't so bad. In fact, it's Opening Day! The Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs are back in action. Plus, the Chicago Bulls are playoff bound. The Chicago Blackhawks are playoff ... boundish. (Stop doubting them, Daver. They will make it!) The Chicago Bears are, um, managing their money wisely I hope. (The players, anyway.) In fact, April may be the most plentiful month when it comes to local pro sports. Say what you want about any of these four teams -- they'll all be in contention for the next few weeks at least.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Looking back at March, all five Chicago head coaches/managers faced some pretty steep challenges and, y'know, all five responded fairly well. So what say we do what we came here to do and get down to business with our rankings, of which this is the eighth installment. To read the previous one, click here.
1. Tom Thibodeau
Previous position in power rankings: 1
Why he's here: "Because I’ve got nowhere else to go!" (Seriously, imagine Thibs screaming that.) A week or so ago, I started collecting links about Coach T to read about what the sports media — mainstream or otherwise — has been saying about him. I wound up with so many that I don’t know what to do with all of them. (Case in point: Here’s an interesting bit of effusive praise from the Boston Herald.)
In short, everyone is talking about Tom Thibodeau. His "power" as an NBA head coach has never been higher. With good reason, of course. As of this writing, the Bulls are two games up on the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference. He’s seen the team through, at this point, multiple injuries to two key players — Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. And his defensive plan has worked incredibly well, mitigating the missing shooting guard that the lineup has been screaming for since Game One.
Where he's headed: With eight games left in the regular season schedule and the team sitting at 54-20, look for Coach T to kick back, enjoy a beverage and let Brian Scalabrine do the heavy lifting for a while. Kidding, of course. In fact, the only concern fans may want to have about Thibodeau is that his intensity could be putting the team at risk.
To wit, putting a team with several banged-up players through a full workout after Monday’s 97-85 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers raised some red flags. And that’s in addition to concerns about the mounting minutes of the team’s regulars throughout this glorious season thus far. But there’s no stopping Coach T. Not now. Hey, hey, my my ... It’s better to burn out than fade away …
2. Mike Quade
Previous position in power rankings: 3
Why he's here: What can I say? Manager Q gets extra points in my book because he’s been faced with the toughest off-the-field challenges of any of the five. Or should I say "challenge."
Right-handed pitcher Carlos Silva was a one-man wrecking crew contracted by the Baseball Gods to demolish any hopes of a peaceful, humdrum spring training for the Cubs this year. First, a dugout donnybrook with third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Then three mostly awful starts (followed by a fourth decent one). Then a verbal lashing of team pitching coach Mark Riggins.
And Quade rolled through it all, emphasizing team defense, answering media questions thoughtfully and humorously, and getting just upset enough to show that he’s not going to take any crap from anyone. He rewarded guys who played well — young infielder Darwin Barney, for instance, who was just awarded an Opening Day start at second base — and he sent others (Silva, the disappointing Fernando Perez) elsewhere.
Yeah, sure, the Koyie Hill thing still looms. But Q is well aware of Welington Castillo’s potential prowess, and Max Ramirez made it through waivers. So the team can still make moves if Hill’s negative value at the plate and questionable value in the field proves as harmful as so many fans understandably believe.
Where he's headed: Maybe nowhere, maybe somewhere. An entire month of ballgames lies ahead until our next power rankings, and Quade will surely face many challenges. This Cubs team is hard to read on paper. It doesn’t look all that different from the unsuccessful squads of the last two seasons and yet there are just enough new and/or young faces to make you wonder whether they could turn out to be a pleasant surprise.
3. Joel Quenneville
Previous position in power rankings: 2
Why he's here: Because he just hasn’t been able to figure out this 2010-11 team. Then again, who can? The injuries have been incessant, with Patrick Kane the latest and very notable victim. And I’m not sure even the guys on the team itself understand why they can’t seem to find any consistency in their play. "We have a tendency to let our guard down a little bit,’’ defenseman Chris Campoli told the Sun-Times yesterday.
Let your guard down? You’re the eight seed, dude — living literally on the edge. Focus! So I still can’t blame Quenneville entirely; he’s tweaked the team’s lines constantly, setting up check-heavy lines one day and offensive lines the next. Yet if there was ever a season that shows how a coach can control only so much, this is it.
Where he's headed: A disastrous finish could send Coach Q plummeting — maybe even beneath the off-seasoned Lovie Smith. But if he can get the ‘Hawks into the playoffs, and the team finds some success there, he’ll have accomplished a lot.
4. Ozzie Guillen
Previous position in power rankings: 4
Why he's here: Ozzie hasn’t really done anything wrong either. Well, he arguably could’ve handled the Peavy Shoulder Setback a little better. But said setback had really been anticipated all along, and he wouldn’t be the first manager to loosen the leash on a headstrong starting pitcher who really just wants to get on the mound and gun down some opposing hitters. Ozzie got the situation under control and now Jake Peavy appears on track for a late April return.
Otherwise, by his own admission, Ozzie had a pretty uneventful spring. So it’s not so much that he lost any power as kept it on idle. His team got its work in. There were some hopeful signs (Brent Morel, Lastings Milledge) and some reasons for worry (just how often will Adam Dunn strike out with runners in scoring position?). And, through it all, Guillen took a more wary veteran than wily wildcard approach to dealing with the media.
Where he's headed: If he’s No. 4 next month, something may have gone at least a little wrong for the Sox. The team really needs to get off to a hot start — its very owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, has said that. And Ozzie will play a role in that. If he is able to get the White Sox, who are loaded with pitching talent and have a pretty spectacular middle of the order, rolling from the get-go, look out above.
5. Lovie Smith
Previous position in power rankings: 5
Why he's here: Not much going on, really. Just the little ol’ lockout. Wait, no, that’s not completely true. Lovie is staying busy. Why the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that Smith will attend this Thursday’s Pro Day at the University of North Carolina to observe some of the young talent working out there. This trip down Tobacco Road (♪♫ ohhhhhhhhhh ♪♫) could "uncover another gem on the defensive line," as the Trib’s Vaughn McClure writes. Or it could be a convenient excuse to enjoy a warmer climate. But at least Lovie’s keeping busy.
Where he's headed: Unless he comes in off the bench for the Bulls and dunks on Kevin Garnett when the Celtics are in town next week, Lovie probably won’t be moving up our power rankings for a while. But he’s been playing it cool so far during this difficult off-season. His open opposition to the NFL’s new kickoff rule changes earned him points with fans.