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Jeff Riger: Detroit’s Top Turn Around Guys!

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KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 05: After attempting a steal, Melky Cabrera #53 of the Kansas City Royals reacts after being tagged out by second baseman Carlos Guillen #9 of the Detroit Tigers in the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium on August 5, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, MO – AUGUST 05: After attempting a steal, Melky Cabrera #53 of the Kansas City Royals reacts after being tagged out by second baseman Carlos Guillen #9 of the Detroit Tigers in the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium on August 5, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

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I think the majority of Tiger fans were happy to see Carlos Guillen go.  Guillen made 13 million dollars a season the last two years, rarely saw the field and even though he took Jared Weaver deep in that memorable Sunday afternoon game against the Angels, it wasn’t nearly enough for the fans to fully embrace the Venezuela native.  And, I share the feelings!

However those emotions changed drastically for me on Tuesday afternoon when I got wind of news that Guillen, after 14 years in the league, 8 of them with Detroit had called it quits.  Now, I don’t immediately think “waste of money” when I hear Guillen’s name, instead I think “very valuable Tiger”, I think “turnaround guy!”

Now you might be wondering what a “turnaround guy” is?  So let me explain!  It’s a player that comes to town when a team is struggling and becomes an integral part of the “turnaround” of that franchise or program.  It’s a guy, that initially, you might have thought would bring little to nothing to table, but when it was all said and done, he’s a person that you give credit to for changing the fortunes of a bottom feeder.  Carlos Guillen was that guy!

A lot of people might not remember, but Guillen being traded to the Tigers started the “turnaround!”  Guillen was acquired by Detroit for Juan Gonzalez (not that Juan Gonzalez) and Ramon Santiago (yes that Ramon Santiago, the guy that plays 2nd base for the team these days) on January 8th, 2004.  That was a full month before the team went out and signed Pudge Rodriguez, and an entire season before they inked Magglio Ordonez to a deal.  It is Maggs and Pudge that seem to get the majority of credit for the “turnaround” and that is fine, however Guillen needs to be in that conversation as well.

In his time as a Tiger, Guillen made three All Star teams and hit well over .300 in three seasons as well.  People also forget that Guillen became a dependable shortstop for 3 to 4 years, a place that was a true position of need at the time.  Guillen also turned it on in the postseason in 2006 for Detroit where he hit a blistering .571 in the ALDS against the Yankees and an impressive .353 in the World Series vs. the Cardinals.  I fully understand that it wasn’t Guillen alone that changed the direction of the Tigers from perennial losers to contenders; however he was a HUGE part of it.

So in honor of the retirement of Carlos Guillen I have decided to list the top all time “turnaround guys” in Detroit sports history.  Before I get started I must warn you that when I say “all time” I really mean in my lifetime.  So if you are older than me, your favorite might not have made the cut.  You understand, right?

5. Zack Novak and Stu Douglass

These two might not have made the list if Michigan did not win a share of the Big Ten title over the weekend, but they did, so they did!  A lot of people might credit John Beilein with the “turnaround” of Michigan basketball and he deserves it.  But Novak and Douglass brought Michigan their first Big Ten title since 1986 and that achievement speaks volumes, at least to me.  The Wolverines have had many integral players that have helped revive the sport, but Novak and Douglass have to be the focal point.  When freshman, the two helped take Michigan to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 seasons which was the first sign of the programs resurrection.  Since then, both players have provided great leadership, defense and many huge three pointers when games were hanging in the balance.  People forget that no other program wanted these two guys.  Beilein took a chance and now both have given Michigan the stability that the program has so desperately needed.

I refuse to stroll down memory lane when it comes to Michigan hoops because; honestly it’s just too painful.  However you almost need to remember how bad things were to truly respect the contributions of Novak and Douglass.  The Wolverines have won their last four road games, a feat that the team struggled mightily to do earlier in the season.  Novak and Douglass deserve credit for that.

Novak and Douglass will both not play in the NBA, however they can rest assured that when they watch their Big Ten championship banner and maybe more being raised to the rafters in the fall at Crisler Center that nobody will ever forget that they were the guys that put Michigan hoops back on the map!

4. Antonio Smith

Many people will say that Mateen Cleaves was the ultimate “turnaround guy” for Michigan State and it’s hard to argue.  But I go with Antonio Smith!  Smith was the first of the “Flintstones” that Tom Izzo was able to recruit, and he was definitely Izzo’s biggest at the time.  Before Smith, MSU hoops was in a holding pattern.  Izzo had just taken over for Jud Heathcoate in 1995 and the Spartans failed to get to the NCAA tournament in the Northern Michigan native’s first two seasons.  Then everything changed!  After Smith, Izzo was able to bring in the likes of Cleaves, Andre Hudson, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell and MSU hoops was almost immediately successful.  In Smith’s junior’s year, MSU won a share of the Big Ten and made it to the Sweet Sixteen, then in his senior year the Spartans won the conference outright and made it to the Final Four before losing to Duke.  The year after Smith graduated, MSU won a share of the conference again and went back to the Final Four, where they won a National Title by knocking off Florida.

Even though Smith missed out on winning a National Championship, he still received plenty of hardware in his days in East Lansing and should take a tremendous amount of pride as a true “turnaround guy” for the Spartans.  Like any coach, Izzo likes certain players more than others but I would bet that he loves Smith, or at least he should!  There is no chance MSU has the same amount of success as they have had without Antonio Smith attending school in East Lansing.

3. Rip Hamilton

Like any “turnaround guy” people will argue that it was somebody else that was most responsible for a team’s change from bad to good and I’m sure Rip Hamilton is no different.  Rip was traded to the Pistons for Jerry Stackhouse, Brian Cardinal and Ratko Varda back on September 11th, 2002.  At the time, a lot of Piston fans hated to see “Stack” go, but it was for the best.  When Stackhouse was a Piston, Detroit was the worst kind of NBA team.  Every year they would get to the postseason only to lose in the first round to either Miami or Atlanta, at least it seemed that way.  There was no lottery pick, there was no future, there was just this team that was mediocre at best.  But then Rip came to town and the future was bright.  Hamilton joined the likes of Chauncy Billups who had signed with the Pistons months before and Ben Wallace who had been there for a year but was nowhere as effective as he was a couple seasons later.  Corliss Williamson, Tayshaun Prince, Jon Barry, Pepe Sanchez and Cliff Robinson were also on Rip’s first squad and together Detroit made it to the Eastern Conference Finals where they got swept by the Nets.

After Rip’s first season, head coach Rick Carlisle was fired, Larry Brown was brought in along with Rasheed Wallace, at the trade deadline and the team won a title!  Again, you can argue that Wallace, Billups even Brown or Sheed was the “turnaround guy” but I’m going with Rip!  Of course there is one more reason that I decided on Rip rather than some of the other qualified players!  I really don’t want to tell you, but I will anyway…

Rip came up with the saying “if it ain’t rough it ain’t right” and “yes sir” and to be honest that put him over the top for me.

Like Guillen, Rip, also was almost hated before leaving town, but like Guillen, the bad doesn’t take away from the good that he provided “DETROIT BASKETBALL” when he was here.

2. Mark Dantonio

I promised myself I would not select a coach for my top five list of Detroit’s all time “turnaround guys” but Mark Dantonio, after thinking about candidates truly deserves to be here.  When Dantonio was brought to East Lansing from Cincinnati I was sure he would be at MSU for 3 or 4 years before he got fired for the next “flavor of the month.”  Oh how wrong I was!  I know this selection might upset Michigan fans, but how can you argue?  While at Michigan State, Dantonio has gone to five consecutive bowl games, won the Big Ten, went to the first ever Big Ten championship game and he beat Michigan four times in a row.  It’s still hard to believe, but it’s all true!  Dantonio was also named coach of the year in 2010.  Of course coming up with catchy names of plays that have beat the opposition might have helped the El Paso, Texas native make this list as well.  Who can forget the “mouse trap” or little giants?”

The ultimate uphill battle was finding a way to get MSU football to succeed, especially in the shadows of Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State.  After just 5 seasons, Dantonio not only made MSU equal to those schools, but in many people’s minds he has surpassed them.  Dantonio has taken chances on recruits that nobody wanted and they have paid off, heck some of them are playing in the NFL or are heading there.  The former MSU coordinator has also found a way to endure a heart attack and many players off the field indiscretions as well.  Dantonio has done what nobody else could, make MSU football respectable and a Big Ten power.  Nobody else can make that claim!

1.Steve Yzerman

C’mon, you knew Stevie Y would top this list!  This one is a no brainer!  I’m not going to even bore you with the greatness that Yzerman provided to Hockeytown.  Ok, maybe a couple of facts…

On second thought, here you go

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Yzerman

That’s the link to Yzerman’s Wikipedia page!  There is not enough space to share with you everything that Yzerman did for Detroit to bring them from the “Dead Wings” to Stanley Cup Champions over and over and over again.  To this day, the effects of Yzerman are still felt at Joe Louis Arena.  From memories of that blue line shot against St. Louis to stories of how #19 changed his game in order to win; this man is the ultimate “turnaround guy!”  I’m confident nobody disagrees!

Before you tell me who I missed, here is a list of honorable mentions…

Chauncy Billups, Mateen Cleaves, Ben Wallace, Magglio Ordonez, Pudge Rodriguez, Jon Barry, Kirk Cousins, David Merritt, Fernando Vina, Jim Schwartz and Matt Stafford.

OK, so who did I miss?

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