The 2015–16 off-season should be a tumultuous one for the Colorado Rockies, but not for their coaching staff. Earlier this week, the Rockies announced they will be keeping their entire coaching staff for the 2016 season, the same staff that went 66-96 last year under Walt Weiss. The question is, “Why?”
A coach’s life span at each spot is almost as volatile as a bullpen. Coaches and managers usually feel the brunt of criticism after a bad season. They’re the public face of the team, the decision-makers, and the shot-callers. It’s up to them to create a winning team with the players they’ve been given. Sometimes that’s not even enough. Mark Jackson was fired after transforming the Golden State Warriors from a 23-43 team (in a lockout shortened season) into a 51-win team in 2013–14 only to watch his replacement, Steve Kerr, lead the team to an NBA Championship last year.
“I feel like there’s a foundation of respect and trust in the clubhouse with this coaching staff. Guys on this team feel the need to show up and compete every day. … I don’t expect people to give that a whole lot of credence. But, for me, when I look in the mirror after every game, that’s what me and the staff hang our hat on.” – Walt Weiss via Denver Post
So here we are, year three of the Walt Weiss era. It’s been three losing seasons, and he’s still here. There are some similarities between the two teams; both teams have young superstars (Steph Curry, Nolan Arenado), some veteran stars who can carry the team when they need to (David Lee and Andre Igoudala, Tulo and CarGo), and some young talent budding into stars in their own right (Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, Corey Dickerson, DJ LeMahieu and Jon Gray). Granted, baseball and basketball aren’t a perfect comparison – nothing compares to the dreadful thing we call a pitching staff – but for the sake of argument, stick with me.
Since 1993, the inaugural Rockies season, the Warriors and Rockies have posted the same amount of winning seasons (six). Both teams have struggled. So why have the Warriors had such a drastic turnaround while the Rockies seem to be going backwards at the Major League Level?
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Three things; Player development, organizational fortitude, and a savvy coaching staff.
The Warriors have developed their young talent well; Curry and Thompson – the Splash Brothers – are the best back-court duo in the NBA and Green is one of the most versatile. Their organization showed their commitment to winning when they let Jackson go – a perfectly good coach that should get another shot soon at leading an NBA team – and to building a winner when they acquired key role players in Igoudala and Andrew Bogut. Really, the only difference between the 13-14 Warriors and the 14-15 Warriors was the coaching staff. Steve Kerr made the difference.
The Rockies, however, have had a history of troubling player development. Tyler Matzek, Eddie Butler, Greg Reynolds, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White – all recent names that bring disappointing seasons to mind. I’m still on the Matzek and Butler trains – they’ll come around, just watch – but their MLB careers haven’t panned out as well as we’ve hoped. The organization has struggled time and time again to commit to winning and make the tough call; sticking with a coaching staff that has failed to improve a pretty talented team over three years is just a repeat of what we’ve come to know and hate.
The Rockies have gone 208-278 under Weiss; a .428 percentage. The organization has seen fit to give Weiss a fourth chance at leading this team, but keeping an entire staff that produced the worst pitching staff in the majors, the worst away batting average in the majors, and a 25th place finish is a surprising move at best. I can think of three reasons why the team would make this decision; continuity, trust, and further evaluation.
Rockies Hitting Coach Blake Doyle will enter his third year with the team. I’m all for giving a coach three years to see what difference he can make, so this is Doyle’s chance to improve a team that should be leading the majors in most offensive categories. Pitching and bullpen coaches Steve Foster and Darren Holmes started with the team last year and were unable to produce an improvement. Maybe a second year under the same system and tutelage will change that. As mentioned earlier, continuity is a rare thing in professional sports; entire coaching staffs rarely stay together for long. The idea of keeping one together for once might give the players a chance to excel.
Walt Weiss told the Denver Post in an interview last month, “I feel like there’s a foundation of respect and trust in the clubhouse with this coaching staff. Guys on this team feel the need to show up and compete every day. … I don’t expect people to give that a whole lot of credence. But, for me, when I look in the mirror after every game, that’s what me and the staff hang our hat on.” There is something to be said for trust between the coaching staff and the team. In 2014, there was no trust. The Rockies were in a unique situation; the organization General Manager position was split in two, with one GM’s office, Bill Geivett’s, in the clubhouse. It made the entire team feel like management was looking over everyone’s shoulder.
Walt Weiss and his staff are on their last legs. The organization is primed for a big offseason and has a chance to get really young, really fast. Keeping this coaching staff around is just delaying the inevitability of moving in a different direction. Sometimes, the right coach is all it takes. Just ask the Warriors.