Before long the new member of the Oakland As realized: Billy Beane ran the whole show. He was like a Holywood producer who insisted on meddling not only with the script but also with the lights and cameras and sets and wardrobes. He wasn’t just making the trades and supervising scouts and getting his name in the papers and whatever else a GM did. He was deciding whether to bunt or steal; who played and who sat; who hit in which spot in the lineup, how the bullpen was used; even the manager’s subtle psychological tactics…Billy had told Art how and where to stand during games so that the players would be forced to look up at him, and take strength from his countenance, because when Art sat on the bench, as he preferred to do he looked like a prisoner of war…
-Michael Lewis, Moneyball
Lewis makes it sound like there was something unusual happening in Oakland, with the extent to which the front office exercised control over what Howe did. I’m not sure that that’s entirely the case. I suspect that what was unusual was a baseball team being managed and general managed by two men with such a disconnect in their basic philosophies of the game. In most cases, I’d assume that general managers hire coaches who see things the same way that they do. If you’re a coach, you’re probably wise to either coach in a manner consistent with the views of your general manager or bring him around to why your way of doing things makes more sense.
Which brings me to Tom Renney. Bob Stauffer tweeted the following tonight:
Be very surprised if the Oilers pulled off an NFL-type end of the season coaching move tomorrow. There will be meetings and evaluation.
“NFL-type”? The NHL season ended on April 10 last year. Cory Clouston was fired on April 9. Peter DeBoer was fired on April 10. Todd Richards was fired on April 11. Marc Crawford was fired April 12. The only other coach replaced during the summer was Craig Ramsay and the circumstances of that situation were somewhat unique, with Atlanta re-locating to Winnipeg and switching owners. This is, as far as I can recall, the norm every year. I asked for examples on Twitter – everything that came up was a case in which there was big time transition in the front office, which resulted in a late decision. As a rule, coaches who are going to be replaced are gone almost instantly and, in any case, within a day or two of the end of the season. It’s not “NFL-type” – it’s “NHL-type.”
The reason for this, of course, is that teams which are finishing way up the track are usually the ones that replace their coaches. Those teams can usually see it coming – the Oilers, for example, have been effectively out of it since December. Steve Tambellini has known Renney for at least fifteen years, since Renney was with the Canucks. The Oilers have had literally months to make up their minds in terms of what to do wtih Renney. It is bizarre that they now need to meet and evaluate what to do. Who will be making this evaluation? Tambo? Tambo, Lowe and Katz? There can’t be a lot of people in on the decision. What’s to evaluate that hasn’t been done already. discussed ad nauseum as the season wore down?
Which leads to my point. I don’t comment as much on Oiler sites as I once did but I read the comments. As best I can tell, the case against Renney is awfully slight. People are upset that Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins didn’t get more ice time. There was an obvious reason for that. Some people think that MPS, Linus Omark and Anton Lander were kind of screwed around, with Omark basically rotting in OKC, Lander contributing to the rot in Edmonton and MPS travelling back and forth between the two.
I wonder though, the extent to which the decisions that Renney made were his and his alone. I’d expect that very few of them are. You can see in Moneyball what happens when a front office has a different philosophy than the coaching staff. The front office tends to get its way. (Regrettably, nobody seems to have told Renney that he looks terrible on the bench when he does that thing with his arms crossed and ordered him to do something else. You know who looked great on the bench? Ron Low. He always had his arm up on something, chewing gum and screaming. I digress.) I can’t imagine that there was anything significant that Tom Renney did in which the front office had no involvement.
Which brings me to my point: if the Oilers elect not to bring Tom Renney back, I’m awfully curious as to how they’d justify it. Team didn’t meet expectations? Seems like an expectations problem to me. Most sensible people figured they’d be terrible. Doesn’t develop kids? We only see a piece of that but he seems to me to have done a great job of putting Eberle, Hall and RNH into positions to be successful. Sure there are issues with Omark et al. but does anyone think that the front office wasn’t complicit in those decisions?
Unless Renney’s stupidly ignoring signs from the front office as to how they want certain things done, I’m not at all sure why you’d fire him unless a) you need a scapegoat, b) you’re just generally indecisive and don’t know what you’re doing or c) a better option comes available. As far as c) goes, Robin Brownlee mentions Craig MacTavish, which a lot of us have suggested but there are other potentially interesting options too, depending on how the playoffs unfold – Todd McLellan in San Jose seems schooled in the ways of Red Wings, for example, and seems constantly associated with power plays that get bushels of shots. So there might be options out there.
If Renney hangs though, the story they tell will be interesting. You really should have a reason when you scapegoat someone and I’m not sure that they’ve got a plausible story to tell. Which, while it’s more fun for those of us watching in the short term, probably isn’t good in the long term.