When is enough enough?

Ryan Stieg

I’ve wondered that for awhile when it comes to firing coaches.

At what point does a general manager or an athletic director look at what is happening on TV or what they’re reading in newspapers and say I can’t take it anymore with this man or woman?

At the college level, there’s quite a few factors like graduation rate, team grade-point average, disciplinary issues with players, recruiting violations and overall work ethic.

That’s less of an issue at the professional level where it ultimately comes down to wins and playoff performances.

As much as they might not want to admit it, that’s ultimately the deciding factor with colleges, too, especially in the revenue sports like football, men’s basketball, and at certain schools, men’s hockey.

Here in Michigan, a lot of teams and schools are wondering about their relationships with their coaches.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, and it should be clear to even the most casual Michigander, pro and college sports aren’t doing well here. The Tigers are atrocious, bottoming out with a 47-114 record this year. That’s was the worst record in the majors and second worst in franchise history.

Manager Ron Gardenhire signed a three-year deal with next year the final year of his contract. The Tigers have decided to stick with him and will probably give him an extension at some point.

To be fair, Detroit’s struggles aren’t entirely on Gardenhire’s shoulders. The team is in an obvious long rebuild and he’s stuck with being the point man during it.

If you just look at the Tigers’ record last year, you’d think he would’ve been out the door the day after the season ended, but firing Gardy wouldn’t fix anything. To their credit, team owner and CEO Chris Illitch and GM Al Avila are looking at the big picture.

If the Tigers somehow get worse next year, though it’s hard to see that happening, I could see Gardy getting fired, but for now, Detroit may as well stick with what it has.

The Michigan Wolverines football team decided a few years ago to go all-in with Jim Harbaugh. Even though U of M hasn’t won the Big Ten during his five years and won’t make the College Football Playoff this year despite being predicted by many to do so, the school has stuck with him — one of the major reasons being the expense of getting rid of him.

The university was entranced by a famous and popular alumnus and did everything it could to get into a committed relationship. Now officials are five years into their marriage with Harbaugh and are thinking about leaving, but hoping that counseling and extra effort will turn things around. There’s still hope in Ann Arbor, but it’s difficult when expectations began so high.

The three other major teams are also debating breakups. One is the Red Wings, who have been in a relationship with one-time Sault Ste. Marie resident and Western Michigan head coach Jeff Blashill for five years. Blashill had a tough bar to live up to as his predecessor, Mike Babcock, won a Stanley Cup in 2008 and has the most wins in franchise history.

But Blashill hasn’t even come close. It hasn’t been necessarily easy for Blashill as he took over when the Wings were in a downward trend and inching toward a rebuild that should’ve started much sooner.

Still, Detroit has missed the playoffs for three years and will most likely again this season. Support for Blashill isn’t exactly widespread, especially among fans, and even though he signed a two-year extension earlier this year, that was under then-general manager Ken Holland. Steve Yzerman is in charge now, though, and GMs love to bring in their coaches. Detroit is dead last in the Atlantic Division right now, so Blashill might be gone before the end of the season.

Two others are football squads. Michigan State, which has a 13-year marriage with Mark Dantonio, has been mostly happy as the Spartans have won the Big Ten three times, the Rose Bowl in 2013 and made the CFP in 2015. However, things haven’t gone well lately. 2016 was tough at 3-9, and last year the Spartans battled offensive problems to stumble to a 7-6 record and a Redbox Bowl victory.

This year, Dantonio achieved the most career wins in MSU history, but were blown out by three rivals — the Wolverines, Ohio State and Wisconsin — and blew a 28-3 lead to lose to Illinois.

After all Dantonio has accomplished, it may seem bizarre that calls for his dismissal are growing, but in today’s sports world, the idea is “What have you done for me lately?” MSU AD Bill Beekman said that firing Dantonio after this season, at best a 7-6 campaign, is “not even a discussion,” but after 13 years, it probably will be soon.

And then there’s the Lions, the most woeful of all. Their misfortunes have been written about plenty as they have to wonder if they chose the wrong coach. Detroit fired Jim Caldwell two years ago after getting to the playoffs twice. At the time, it seemed like the correct decision. I even wrote a column encouraging it, but things have gotten worse.

Now the Lions have Matt Patricia and they’ve gone 9-15-1 with him, finishing last in the NFC North last year with a good chance it’ll happen again. Looking at their scores, the Lions could very well be 9-1 or 8-2, but 3-6-1 is the reality.

They probably made the wrong choice, but it’s too late to get an annulment and it looks like a costly divorce is coming.

Every year, GMs and ADs have to look at the state of their teams or programs and decide when enough is enough. Three teams in this state have to make that decision in the next few months to years.

Ending relationships isn’t easy, but it’s time for all of them to at least consider it.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.


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