Vince Grippi has an opinion about everything local, especially sports. Every Sunday we provide samples of his daily riffs. Read him daily at spokesman.com/sportslink..
Tuesday: It’s been a long and successful tradition at Gonzaga to hire assistants, to move people up through the ranks to the head coaching chair.
Like a lot of GU athletic traditions, it traces its roots to former basketball coach and athletic director Dan Fitzgerald, who actually did it twice. The first time, in the early 1980s, Fitz picked assistant Jay Hillock to replace him as head coach. The second time, when Fitz left coaching permanently, Fitz tabbed Dan Monson.
Mike Roth continued the trend, turning to Mark Few when Monson left for Minnesota and, in an example in another sport, elevating Mark Machtolf to baseball coach when Steve Hertz stepped down a few years ago.
Kelly Graves, hired away from rival Saint Mary’s 14 years ago, was an outlier. An outlier who was assimilated quickly into the Gonzaga culture. (New Gonzaga women’s coach) Lisa Fortier won’t have a problem with that. She’s been around Gonzaga, off and on, for a decade and a half. She knows the Bulldogs’ players intimately. She’s been the architect of the defense – the strength of last year’s team – for the past few seasons and has always been a force in the huddles.
She is, truth be known, ready. But no one ever knows how a person will make the transition from assistant coach to head coach. The knee-jerk reaction is to wonder how someone will react to making all the final decisions. It’s different, sure, no longer just being a person making suggestions but being the one taking them.
But it isn’t the biggest change through which a former assistant has to work. I’ve always equated assistant coaches to big sisters or brothers, while the head coach has to be the gruff old father figure. If a college player wants to talk, in most cases they don’t go to the head coach. They vent to their favorite assistant. And that assistant listens and guides the player through the rough times.
It is a system that works. And then one day that relationship changes. No longer can that shoulder be available. The head coach has to take a step back. Some players have trouble dealing with that. So do some assistants-turned-head coaches. Some step back too far when they change chairs, some not far enough.
It’s hard to figure out the right distance, because it’s different for everyone. There is no hard-and-fast rule. But there are guidelines. There must be. Because it seems at Gonzaga they’ve been able to make it work.
My feeling is Fortier will be just another in a long line of Zags who have made the change, if not seamlessly, then successfully.
Thursday: It’s only one game. OK, maybe it is more than that.
When your star pitcher, Felix Hernandez pitches like he did – seven superlative innings – and you had a chance to pin a defeat on a division rival’s star pitcher – Yu Darvish, who hadn’t given up a run entering the game – then you’d better do it.
The M’s didn’t despite getting two quick outs in the ninth with a 2-1 lead. But Fernando Rodney isn’t one of those guys who always seems to get the job done quickly. As a closer, he’s more akin to former Oriole star Don Stanhouse, whom Earl Weaver famously called “Full Pack.” Why? Because, Weaver said, I smoke a full pack of cigarettes every time he’s in there.
But this one can’t be pinned completely on Rodney. After he gave up a two-out hit and a walk, he induced Donnie Murphy to hit a routine ground ball to Brad Miller at shortstop. But Miller bobbled it, then his throw to second, still in time to get Mitch Moreland to end the game, was high, pulling Robinson Cano off the bag. A wild pitch and a bloop single later, the M’s had lost 3-2.
We should be used to this type of crud by now. They’ve been doing it for years. And that’s what makes it more than just one loss.
If you’ve watched “The Natural,” you know losing is contagious. According to the psychiatrist or hypnotist or whatever was in the movie, it’s as bad as an old-fashioned social disease. But Mariners fans know better. They know losing is worse. Especially when it happens like that.