A lot happened around this state's sports scene in 2014, from incredible tournament runs, disappointing season finishes, shocking coaching changes and more.
Ownership changes don’t happen often in sports, let alone in Milwaukee. The baseball team has had two principal owners, essentially, and the Milwaukee Bucks had been owned by Herb Kohl for just shy of three decades. So without a doubt, the top sports story in the state was the transfer of ownership from Kohl to Wes Edens and Marc Lasry – along with the important mandate that the two New York billionaires keep the team in the Cream City.
2. Brewers collapse
The 2014 version of the Brewers got off to a hot start – 20-8 after April – and occupied first place in the National League Central for a franchise record 122 consecutive days. Following a 7-4 win over Colorado on June 28, they were 19 games over .500 with a 6 1/2 game lead. And from then on, the Brewers just fell apart. The team had to fight to finish with 82 wins, going 31-48 down the stretch, including nine-win months in July and September. Not only did the Brewers miss the playoffs, they finished third in the division.
3. Gary Andersen’s sudden departure
This move is high on the list not just because the state’s lone Division I football coach up and left, it’s because Andersen replicated his predecessor’s move of calling up athletic director Barry Alvarez and saying "peace out" as he jetted to another program many would deem inferior to that in Madison. There was little thought Andersen would bail after just two seasons, but he did, leaving the Badgers truly scrambling after a 59-0 drubbing at the hands of Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.
4. The Bucks trade for Jason Kidd
Four days after Larry Drew talked about number one draft pick Jabari Parker, both on draft night at the Cousins Center and at the Milwaukee Public Market, the new Bucks owners went over general manager John Hammond’s head to work a trade for Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd, in exchange for second round draft picks in 2015 and 2019. The news shook up the NBA, and led the new owners to admit that they made a mistake in handling the situation. But, it vaulted the Bucks into the national basketball consciousness.
5. Marquette coaching change – the whole thing
Man, things just happened quickly when it came to coaching changes in the state of Wisconsin didn’t they? Many Marquette University staffers learned about Buzz Williams’ stunning departure for Virginia Tech as they helped host the NCAA Tournament regional round at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on March 22, just nine days after the Golden Eagles were eliminated in the Big East Tournament.
… Then, there was the #DONEDEAL maelstrom on social media about Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smith that sent local media rushing to campus for news that was not happening. …
... Only to lead to the introduction of longtime Duke University assistant Steve Wojciechowski as the Golden Eagles’ new coach on April 1, less than two weeks after Williams’ departure.
It takes a certain type of personality – and a lot of winning – for a professional head coach to become synonymous with the organization that he leads.
Such was the case with Keith Tozer and the Milwaukee Wave. Tozer and the Wave parted ways this summer after 21 years and six indoor soccer championships spanning two leagues. He also won over 500 games with the franchise.
Tozer is currently the U.S. Futsal Men’s National Team coach.
7. UWM’s improbable run to NCAA Tourney ... then getting banned from it
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee ended the 2013-14 regular season with a 17-13 record and losers of four of their last five, and began the Horizon League Tournament at the UW-Green Bay as the No. 5 seed. The Panthers got hot behind Matt Tiby and Jordan Aaron and not only knocked off the top seeded Phoenix and No. 3 Wright State to secure the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the program’s first appearance in the Big Dance since 2006. They then pushed Villanova for a bit before falling 73-53 on March 20. ...
... Then, less than three weeks later, the program learned it would not be allowed to defend its league tournament title or compete in the NCAA Tournament due to a ban handed down for poor academic scores.
Wow. It’s quite a year when a Final Four run by a program that isn’t named Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State or North Carolina would get buried down here, but let’s be honest – as the year developed it became clear that Bo Ryan’s squad was pretty special. They tore through the Big Ten and won in myriad ways to reach the Final Four where they eventually fell to Kentucky.
9. The reconciliation with Brett Favre
It took long enough, didn’t it? The Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre finally made up in August when it was announced that the No. 4 would be retired at Lambeau Field in 2015. Seven years to the date after the team traded the quarterback to the New York Jets, the two "hugged it out" and made nice, ending one of the longest and most heated back-and-forth’s in recent sports memory.
10. The Hank the Dog phenomenon
On Feb. 17, the world changed – a stray dog was found at Maryvale Baseball Park, the Brewers’ spring training home, in Phoenix, Ariz. He became a quasi-mascot throughout camp, was named named after Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, and became a national sensation. And, just before the season started he was adopted by a member of the Brewers organization. He then became the poster dog for the Wisconsin Humane Society and Hank memorabilia (shirts, books, plush toys, jerseys, etc.) became some of the biggest sellers of the year, including a bobblehead.
The best of the rest
In any other year, these stories may have made the top 10 – it just goes to show you how crazy 2014 really was in Wisconsin sports.
- Melvin Gordon’s push for the Heisman Trophy
- The drafting of Jabari Parker, and his subsequent season-ending injury
- Mike Zimmerman buys the Wave
- Jonathan Lucroy elevates his game to All-Star status, finishes in the top five of NL MVP voting.
- The Packers lose to San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs, again.
- Madison residents Steve Stricker and Andy North named as U.S. Ryder Cup vice-captains
- Mequon's Jordan Niebrugge played in The Masters.
- Matt Kenseth wins the Budweiser Duel at Daytona.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.