Over a weekend dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Calderone Club Downtown, I had an interesting conversation/debate over the firing of Ron Roenicke as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers.
My opponent in this debate was my son-in-law, Brian Bodendein, as smart and perceptive a young man as I know.
I was on the side of Roenicke deserved to be fired. Brian was on the other side. Since he is in the business of business consulting, I tried to equate the firing to a company where the CEO has presided over decreased production that has failed to meet goals.
Brian went to great lengths to patiently explain to me the fundamental differences between the two situations.
"The CEO has the power to hire people and put them in place where the CEO thinks they will be able to be productive," he said. "Roenicke didn’t have that."
He pointed out that Roenicke had been successful and the fact that the team now wasn’t, was not necessarily his fault.
There are parts of that argument that I agree with, but I still come from the school that managers or coaches bear the ultimate responsibility for the performance of their team.
In baseball and basketball especially, and football to a slightly lesser degree, there are very few secrets regarding the technical aspects of the game. The Xs and Os, the tendency to run on the basepaths or to swing for the fences or to run a trick play on kickoff returns are easily discovered and determined.
I am convinced that there is one primary responsibility that managers and coaches have way above all the other stuff.
They have to create a climate that makes it easiest for athletes to perform at their very best.
If you want to use the word "motivation" it kind of captures what I’m talking about. But I have a very broad view of what motivation in sports means.
It is an individual thing, of course. A player needs to be supported, coached, coddled appropriately and convinced of his or her ability to perform.
But more than the individual kind of motivation, and perhaps even more important, is the creation of a climate that allows for and stimulates the best performance.
That climate means that a manager or coach has to have the confidence of his team. The team has to believe in what the coach is preaching. They have to trust their manager.
The real test of this ability comes when things are going bad. Anybody can be a coach or manager when things are humming along perfectly.
A manager has to keep control of his team, make everyone believe he is not helpless in the face of the tsunami of bad things. With Roenicke there was the feeling that he had lost his team.
And when the losing streaks grab hold, or the slumps come calling, that’s when the manager has to protect his team, protect his general manager and protect the owner.
I think one of the things that happened to Roenicke is that he wasn’t able to protect Doug Melvin or Mark Attanasio. The criticism of both men, especially Melvin, was growing and you also heard rumblings about Attanasio. Roenicke needed to set up a shield for his two bosses. And he didn’t do it.
So he paid the ultimate price, losing his job.
Was he totally responsible for the collapse of his team? Of course not. But somebody’s head needed to roll.
You don’t fire 25 players. You don’t fire the owner. You rarely fire the general manager. That leaves one guy and that guy was Ron Roenicke.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.