A Tale of Two Franchises

The Minnesota Vikings brought the curtain down on their 2013 season over the last couple of days in a manner that was all too familiar to Minnesota Twins fans. And for those of us who are fans of both, the similarity was something we could certainly have lived without.

Still, there were some rather striking differences in how things played as those seasons drew to a close; differences that say something about how the two franchises are being run.

Back in September, the Twins wrapped up another disappointing season in which they accumulated just a .407 winning percentage. In the final days of the season, many players, including Joe Mauer, the Twins’ superstar face-of-the-franchise, publicly voiced their support for manager Ron Gardenhire.

Immediately after the season ended, Gardenhire was given a two-year contract extension to continue managing the Twins.

In early October, Twins owner Jim Pohlad said the following to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer-Press concerning the decision to retain Gardenhire:  “But in the end, it is his (GM Terry Ryan) decision. That’s his job. We could have the ultimate call if we wanted to, but Terry — we told him — he has the ultimate call. That’s the call we made: ‘Terry, it’s your decision.’”

Not long after, in an interview with TwinsDaily.com’s Parker Hageman, Ryan had the following to say about the decision to retain the Twins manager: “If Ron wasn’t coming back, I probably shouldn’t be back. Now, Jim Pohlad and Dave St. Peter invited me back, so I brought Ron back with me. A lot of times you should evaluate a manager on the personnel he has. And unfortunately, we’ve fallen a tad short here as far as productivity. And I take total responsibility on that, so I shouldn’t pass the buck on the manager and the coaching staff.”

The Vikings finished their season with a win over their least rival-like Divisional rival, the Detroit Lions, on Sunday, leaving them with a sub-Twins-like .344 winning percentage. The final game was a battle between two underperforming teams with head coaches on the hot seat. After the game, many Vikings players, including their superstar face-of-the-franchise Adrian Peterson, seemed united in their support for retaining head coach Leslie Frazier.

Monday morning, Frazier was fired by the Vikings with another year left on his existing contract.

According to media accounts of the press conference announcing Frazier’s firing, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf awkwardly read a prepared statement and left without hearing, much less answering, questions from the media, leaving GM Rick Spielman to deal with the fallout.

Vikings GM Rick Spielman

Vikings GM Rick Spielman

Spielman said the decision to fire Frazier was primarily made by the man who had just walked away without taking questions (wasn’t that convenient?).

Spielman also made statements that appeared to conflict with comments made by Frazier as recently as Sunday concerning who was deciding what with regard to the Vikings’ quarterback situation. Frazier had indicated that decisions concerning who would be getting playing time at QB were made jointly between himself, ownership and the GM. Spielman seemed to lay all responsibility in that area on Frazier.

Spielman did take responsibility for forming the Vikings’ roster but, unlike Ryan with the Twins, he seemed to wash his hands of any responsibility for those player’s performance on the field, which he blamed on Frazier.

So, according to Spielman, he isn’t responsible for anything that went on with the Vikings this year. Kind of makes me wonder exactly what he does to earn a paycheck.

There are a couple different ways you can look at the situations the Twins and Vikings found themselves in after their respective disappointing seasons.

You could argue that, unlike Pohlad, Wilf insists on someone being held accountable for failure. That argument seems to come down to an insistence that someone must be responsible for a losing season, so someone must be fired, period.

Those of that mind probably prefer Wilf’s more active and visible involvement in day to day decision making with the team he owns over Pohlad’s more laissez-faire approach to owning a major sports franchise.

Twins GM Terry Ryan

Twins GM Terry Ryan

Personally, I’m not sure what it is about billionaires who made their billions doing something other than running sports teams that we should assume makes them better judges of what it takes to win professional football or baseball games than people who have been making their livings their entire lives in such endeavors. Still, if you think being rich makes you smarter than everyone else at everything, I’m not going to bother trying to change your mind.

I guess if all you care about is that someone gets fired when you lose 60% of your team’s games, then you’re pretty happy with Wilf and Spielman this week. I’m sure if you polled Vikings fans, the decision to change head coaches is a popular one.

It may even turn out to be the right one.

If the only measure of success is whether you’ve won the Super Bowl or the World Series championship, then perhaps anything less than winning more games than you did the previous year is grounds for someone to get fired.

Personally, that’s just not how I think.

I think the smartest business owners are those who hire the most knowledgeable  people they can at running their specific type of business. They understand that all businesses have peaks and valleys and, while they expect to see well thought-out plans to extend peaks and pull out of valleys, they resist the urge to meddle or make dramatic changes out of emotional reaction, because doing so might just be good public relations or, worst of all, just out of a need to show people who’s in charge.

I don’t really know Ron Gardenhire, Terry Ryan, Jim Pohlad, Leslie Frazier, Rick Spielman or Zygi Wilf. I’m in absolutely no position judge their character.

I have heard or read comments from people who play/work for Gardenhire, Ryan, Pohlad and Frazier that indicate, to me anyway, considerable loyalty and some degree of respect for their integrity.

Gardenhire clearly has the respect of his players and coaches. Ryan acknowledged that he failed to assemble a competitive roster for the manager to compete with and had Gardenhire’s back in discussions with the Twins ownership. Pohlad is, for now anyway, trusting Ryan to do his job with the people he believes in, but he has made clear that he expects the Twins fortunes on the field to improve.

Frazier, similarly, had the respect of his players and coaches. Spielman, however, faced with an owner who appears to have been insistent on someone’s head rolling after a disappointing year, seems to have done what he had to do to save his own job. In doing so, he somehow managed to avoid being complicit in the team’s greatest failing (the QB situation) while also abdicating any responsibility for his coach’s dismissal.

I’m not smart enough to know whether Frazier was a good NFL head coach or if he was the right coach for the future of the Vikings, just as I’m not smart enough to know if Ron Gardenhire is a good MLB manager or the right manager to lead the Twins in the future.

In fact, I don’t claim to know anything.

But here’s what I think:

I think people with integrity eventually bring more success to their organizations than people without it. I also think people with integrity prefer to work for someone that they believe also has integrity.

Actually, there is one thing I do know.

I know that, if I were a gifted athlete, a coach, a manager, a trainer, a front office employee or worked in any field where I might find myself with a choice between working for the Pohlad/Ryan led Twins or the Wilf/Spielman led Vikings, I’d chose the Twins right now… and it wouldn’t even be close.

- JC

2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Franchises

  1. Towards the end of September (really, throughout the year), casual friends asked me if Gardenhire should be fired. They were surprised when I said no. I explained that the main reason managers are fired is to appease fans. Very rarely is it their performance.

  2. Pingback: Weekend Web Gems: Resolutions, Laundry & Niceness - Puckett's Pond - A Minnesota Twins Fan Site - News, Blogs, Opinion and More