New York has long been home to some of the biggest names in managing and coaching. However, if you look across the sports landscape here these days, you don’t see any of those larger than life personalities. No Bill Parcells, or Red Holzman, or Al Arbour, or Joe Torre. What does exist, though, is a mixed breed of coaches, bringing with it a mixed level of success.
So, without further ado, I want to present the first Mirl On Sports ranking – the head coaches in New York Sports…
1. JOE GIRARDI
Hired: October 30, 2007
Biggest Plus: Ability to manage big personalities
Biggest Minus: Lame duck status
Girardi comes in first in this ranking by a landslide. Other coaches on this list have won championships, but none have had to do it under the microscope that the Yankee skipper has to operate under. Whether it is ownership, the media or the fans, everyone analyzes every facet of every move Girardi makes, both good and bad. And with the roster Girardi is tasked with managing, the expectations will always be sky high. The fact that he immediately followed one of the most beloved managers in Yankee history, Joe Torre, also could have held Girardi back. Instead, he went out and won a title, and has the Yankees on track to make the postseason yet again. Unfortunately, his contract is also up at the end of the season, and, as per Yankee policy, there will be no talk of an extension until after the season, putting Girardi’s future with the club in limbo. His name has already been attached to the opening with the Chicago Cubs, and it remains to be seen whether this issue starts to rear its head as the season hits the homestretch. Either way, nothing less than another World Series is expected in the Bronx. And with the makeup of this team, Girardi remains the perfect man for the job.
2. REX RYAN
Hired: January 21, 2009
Biggest Plus: Defensive pedigree
Biggest Minus: His mouth
When the Jets hired Rex Ryan, the bravado started immediately, and has not stopped since. That has its positives and negatives, of course, but to this point, Ryan has done made almost all of them positives. His outspoken demeanor instantly made him a media darling and fan favorite, and keeps a team that normally plays second fiddle on the football landscape to the Giants square in the mix for the tabloid back page all year. The only real time his mouth has gotten him in any trouble is with the Darrelle Revis situation, but only from the point of Revis’ agents, who are using Ryan’s open love of Revis against the team in negotiations. His mouth is also the only thing that could really get him in trouble, since his defensive system and ability to relate to his players immediately turned the Jets into the top defense in the NFL, and, if Revis gets to camp, will most likely keep them in that position, not to mention a serious Super Bowl contender. He has brought Mark Sanchez along at a great pace, and rolled with the inevitable rookie mistakes that the QB made last season, putting Sanchez in an ideal position to grow in his second year. The sky is the limit for Ryan as a coach, if he doesn’t do anything to get himself in the way. This is the guy, of all everyone on this list, that has that chance to become that larger than life presence.
3. SCOTT GORDON
Hired: August 12, 2008
Biggest Plus: Mentorship of young players
Biggest Minus: Lack of overt personality
Stop laughing and hear me out. Gordon has earned this ranking. Look at his roster over the time that he has been running the Islanders. All you will see are young players with lots of potential, fringe NHLers, past their prime role playing vets and a tenuous goaltender situation that was not created by him. But Gordon has taken that mishmash, installed a system that he believes in and has gotten his players to believe in, and actually overachieved (if that is possible given where the team has finished in the standings the last two seasons). To get to the next level, though, Gordon needs to continue to grow with young stars like John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and the rest. He needs to start loosening up a little and let his personality come out. No one questions his intensity, but sometimes a smile during the press conference carries just as much weight as a terse answer. He also is entering the final year of his contract, an issue which appears to be one the Islanders are in no rush to address. Gordon has tons of potential as a head coach, which is a perfect fit for a team that has a lot of potential in a year or two. If Charles Wang and Garth Snow are serious about the long term rebuild, they need to keep their coach as part of it. No one wants to see him turn into another Peter Laviolette, who the Islanders introduced to the league, then let go, only to see him win a Stanley Cup elsewhere.
4. MIKE D’ANTONI
Hired: May 13, 2008
Biggest Plus: Style of play
Biggest Minus: The roster…which is not his fault
D’Antoni has been hamstrung during his tenure as Knick coach, in which he has brought the fun back into the on court play of the team with his run and gun style. First, he was trapped under players that Isiah Thomas brought into the organization. Then, while that weight was lifted, he became trapped under the deadweight of players that were just there to fill out the roster while the organization waited for the big free agent haul of Summer 2010. Now, he is caught somewhere in the middle, since we all know how greatly the Knicks failed in their pursuit of LeBron James. Amar’e Stoudamire is a great player, but not the guy you build a championship team around, and the team’s best player over the last couple of seasons, David Lee, has been jettisoned in the roster overhaul. If D’Antonio can coax a playoff spot out of the current roster, he easily moves up this list. But as has been the case since he started with the Knicks, he still isn’t being given a roster that fits his style of play.
5. TOM COUGHLIN
Hired: January 6, 2004
Biggest Plus: Intensity
Biggest Minus: Intensity
The calls for Coughlin’s head were loud and strong after the Giants collapsed in 2009 following a 5-0 start. The team resisted making a change, however, and is now presenting Coughlin with his biggest test as a head coach. Can he reinvigorate the roster, much of which remains the same from last season, and get winning back into their minds? He has butted head with a few of his big names and his intensity can sometimes be interpreted as stubbornness. He has won a title in New York, though, so he knows just how the media and fans can get when things are up, as well as down. It remains to be seen if the team can finally rebound from the departure of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, which they failed to do last season. More of that responsibility falls on Coughlin now, because his job most likely is resting on exactly the results.
6. JOHN TORTORELLA
Hired: February 23, 2009
Biggest Plus: Intensity
Biggest Minus: Tendency to overwork players
Tortorella is a polarizing figure. You either love him or hate him. That goes for his players, as well, as it is no secret that some players have tired of playing for him and his outspoken style both with the Rangers and in Tampa Bay. He is as intense a coach as there is in sports and, given the right mix of players, that intensity can result in a championship, as it did when he was in Tampa Bay. However, the Rangers roster has proven to be thin at forward and unimposing on defense, and Tortorella has used that as a reason to shorten his bench in games early and often. That only works to a point, though, and might be one of the reasons the Rangers fell just shy of a playoff berth last season. The top end of the team’s roster has not changed dramatically from a year ago, so it will be interesting to see if that same issue raises itself in 2010-11. If it does, and if the Rangers do not respond to their coach’s yelling and screaming, Tortorella might find himself out of work before 2011 hits.
7. JERRY MANUEL
Hired: June 17, 2008
Biggest Plus: He’s a nice guy
Biggest Minus: His managing ability
The clock is about to run out on Manuel’s time as Mets manager, as it seems to be a foregone conclusion that he will be let go following the season, if not before. Once again, the team has fallen apart in the second half, despite the return of Carlos Beltran from his serious knee injury. As New Yorkers know, though, his departure should be only one piece of a team overhaul that should start with GM Omar Minaya. It is time for huge changes in Queens, and Manuel really does not deserve to shoulder all of the blame. While his moves are often questioned, and rightfully so, given the team’s starting rotation, it actually could have been worse this year. One thing Manuel does deserve some credit for how he has handled the situation, though. Many managers in New York have not carried themselves with the class that he has under these circumstances.
These rankings are obviously subjective, and are only one man’s opinion. New Yorkers routinely witness a wide variety of coaching styles and results, and as we all know, it is the results that carry the most weight in this town. It is quite conceivable that almost everyone on this list could be replaced by this time next year (Ryan is clearly the safest bet), but that is New York sports for you.
Feel free to let me know how you rank the coaches. Maybe we’ll make this into an unscientific poll if I get enough replies.