By: Jamie Samuelsen
For the past three years, I’ve put together an annual list of the eight local coaches in terms of job security.
Some things stay the same (like Tom Izzo sitting on top). Some things change (like the Pistons coach, almost every year.) There are a lot of new names on the list this year (three of the four professional teams changed coaches – the Pistons did it TWICE). And there’s one major fall.
Listed in order are the coaches and next to their name is where they (or their predecessor) ranked a year ago. Let the debate begin!
1) Tom Izzo (Last Years Ranking – 1) – There’s nothing this man could do to fall in the rankings. And if he could somehow eke out that second National Championship, he’d cement his legacy as the greatest collegiate coach in the history of the state. This year, the Spartans missed out on a golden opportunity with the likes of Adreian Payne and Gary Harris. But if we’ve learned one thing from Izzo, it’s that MSU reloads as quickly as any team in America.
2) (TIE) John Beilein (Last Year – 2) – The only reason he’s in second is because he doesn’t have the legacy at Michigan that Izzo does at MSU. But one year after a run to the National Title game, Beilein somehow lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary and got within a miracle three of returning to the Final Four. Just like Izzo, he’ll be at his current job as long as he wants to. Michigan will never be a basketball school. But they’ll also never have a better coach.
2) (TIE) Mark Dantonio (Last Year – 4) – Take what I wrote about Izzo and Beilein and apply it to Dantonio. I don’t know if two more perfect coaches work at the same school the way Izzo and Dantonio do for Michigan State. He dominates the in-state rivalry. He led the Spartans back to the Rose Bowl for the first time in more than a quarter century. And as he stood on the field in Pasadena with the trophy in his hands, he looked completely fulfilled – or as he said it, “contented”. Seriously, is this guy reading from a Hollywood script?
4) Mike Babcock (Last Year – 6) – We’re going to spend the summer scrutinizing every Babcock move in much the same way we’re going to continue to scrutinize Ndamukong Suh and Max Scherzer. He’s the most powerful coach in the game, but we’re not 100% convinced that he wants to be in Detroit. Both the Maple Leafs and the Penguins are expected to make strong overtures towards Babcock. And he’s yet to commit to Detroit beyond next season. Gut feeling? He wants to be here. He loves living and coaching here. He’s just not into these public displays of negotiations and security that some other coaches are. That said I’d sure love to see his signature on the dotted line.
5) Stan Van Gundy (Last Year – 8 (L. Frank)) – The man has had the job for two weeks and he’s already moved up to fifth on this list. But it’s quite simple – he’s his own boss. Everyone else on this list is (technically) beholden to someone else. Other than owner Tom Gores, nobody else calls the shots at the Palace other than Van Gundy. He knows this process will take time so I fully expect the president and the coach to be here for quite some time. If the coach starts to lose patience as Van Gundy often has in his career, then there might be some issues.
6) Brad Ausmus (Last Year – 5 (J. Leyland)) – After the past week and a half, Ausmus has been downgraded from “Greatest Manager of ALL Time” to “Young Manager Taking His Lumps”. But make no mistake; Ausmus was hired to win a World Series. If the Tigers fail in their efforts to win it all in the next season or two, GM Dave Dombrowski (assuming he’s not the Commissioner) will be forced to go in a different direction. But so far, all the signs have been very positive for Ausmus. He’s quiet. He’s calm. And he’s winning.
7) Jim Caldwell (Last Year – 7 (J. Schwartz)) – Another man who is hard to judge given the fact that he hasn’t even held his first training camp yet. He seems quiet but strong and it’s already clear that he commands the respect of his players. How that translates onto the field remains to be seen. The only reason Caldwell isn’t higher is that this is, after all, the Lions. Also, he’s clearly Martin Mayhew’s pick. And if the Lions flounder and Mayhew is fired after this season, will the next GM want to pick his own coach to run the show? There is a lot riding on this season.
8) Brady Hoke (Last Year – 3) – Speaking of a lot riding on this season, Hoke may very well be coaching for his job. Hoke easily had the biggest fall of anyone on this list. But he’s also the only coach in town who is truly on the hot seat. Athletic Director Dave Brandon may say otherwise, but it’s rather clear that another season with losses to Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State will be awfully hard to justify. Three years in and I still don’t full know what Hoke stands for when it comes to the team on the field. The off-field stuff can’t help either.
So there’s the 2014 list. I’m sure there will be disagreements. And I’m sure you’ll tell me I’m an idiot. Lord knows that Wojo does every single day. But I do know this – there’s no arguing about the top three coaches. And there’s no arguing about number eight. If Michigan stumbles to another four or five loss season, there will be at least one new name on this list next year.