The last 24 hours have been rather complicated if you’ve been trying to follow the on-going “Will the Knicks remove Mike Woodson’s interim coach label” saga. Earlier today, the New York Daily News reported that the Knicks have engaged Coach Woodson about a potential contract beyond the end of this season that will keep him on the Knicks bench. However, just hours later, Woodson himself said that story was completely fabricated, and no contract talk has been initiated by either side.
Woodson then clarified his statements to say, again, he would love to be the Knicks coach after this season, but nothing is set in stone. Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire both reiterated their desire for the Knicks to keep Woodson as the coach, which is the strongest support any future coach will ever need in New York.
There is growing support throughout New York and amongst Knicks fans that the team should move quickly to re-sign Woodson and keep him as the coach on a permanent basis moving forward. The numbers speak for themselves when you consider what Woodson inherited after Mike D’Antoni resigned. The Knicks went 18-6 under the former Atlanta Hawks coach, and locked up the 7th-seed in the Eastern Conference after living on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Furthermore, the defense played a much stronger defense once Woodson took the reigns, and Carmelo Anthony thrived once out of the Seven Seconds of Less offense. Top to bottom, the Knicks were a tremendously better team under Woodson than D’Antoni, and nobody is going to argue that.
Keeping all of that in mind, allow me to introduce to readers of Buckets Over Broadway what I like to call “The Jerry Manuel Theory”.
If you read this site regularly, by now I’m sure you have discovered my first true love in the sporting world resides in Queens with the New York Mets. My love for them runs about as deep as the love I have for my own family, because a lot of my memories growing up as a kid and with my dad come from the times we spent at Shea Stadium. Back in 2008, the Mets fired then-manager Willie Randolph, who was about eight months removed from the devastating 2007 collapse that saw the Mets lose out on a playoff spot and a second consecutive National League East crown on the final day of the season (ugh). To this day, its still one of the strangest firings in sports history. The Mets finished a twi-night double header against the Texas Rangers at Shea (my buddy Dan and I sat through both games, nearly falling asleep in the second from baseball overload), and the team immediately boarded a flight to Los Angeles for an inter-league series with the Angels. When the team landed at 3am eastern time, Omar Minaya landed in LA and announced that Randolph, who traveled with the team, would no longer manage the Mets.
At the time of the manager move, the Mets were 33-34, Carlos Delgado was playing terrible baseball, nobody was pitching and it seemed that the team was headed nowhere and fast. Minaya promoted bench coach Jerry Manuel. Manuel was a former American League Manager of the Year with the Chicago White Sox, and was a well respected baseball mind who many said kept a loose clubhouse, in stark contrast from Wille Randolph’s business-like mentality. From that time, I remember turning to my dad and saying that the Mets needed to play .600 baseball in order to win 90 games and get to the playoffs.
Once Willie left, something just happened to the Mets. Delgado exploded, with many pointing towards the apparent rift he had with Randolph that was holding him back. The Mets played incredible baseball in the second half of the season, which featured a 10-game winning streak and coming, again, within one game of a playoff appearence. After the season, the team removed the interim tag from his title and signed him to a two-year contract.
The similarities between Woodson/D’Antoni and Manuel/Randolph to me don’t just stop there. Both coaches had polar opposite mind-sets, and both Woodson and Manuel were generally liked among the fanbases, so much so that fans put aside their inherent desire for proven, championship-caliber managers/coaches like Bobby Valentine or Phil Jackson. Each fan base would talk about the names, say its nice to imagine, but acknowledged that the way the interim’s did, they deserved another chance.
Needless to say, the next two years for Manuel were nothing like his first 2/3 of a season. 2009 wasn’t completely Manuel’s fault, considering how many injuries the Mets suffered. But, 2010 was such a brutal mismanagement by both Manuel and Omar Minaya that it can’t be understated how poorly they planned the Mets for the future.
To me, the reason why Mets fans rallied behind Jerry Manuel in 2008 was because he wasn’t Willie Randolph. He was our rebound manager. Anybody could’ve been better than Willie because Willie was awful. We needed to break up with him, and we, as a fan base, were ready to shack up with anyone and everyone. In fact, the Mets probably could’ve put any manager in Manuel’s 2008 shoes and they would’ve done better. Once the honeymoon ended in 2009, Mets fans looked at each other and now didn’t know how to get out of a mistake relationship. Like any rebound after a series girlfriend that you had remarkable highs and devastating lows with (Randolph), the first girlfriend after should never be your next long-term option.
That’s the reason I’m skeptical about Mike Woodson staying with the Knicks beyond this season. Personally, I thought the Knicks missed their real opportunity last off-season when Rick Adelman was available. Now, Adelman is entrenched in Minnesota and not going anywhere with that young nucleus. If at the end of the season and Knicks management sits back, evaluates all of their options and comes to terms that Woodson is the best coach moving forward, then no Knicks fan will complain. He’s earned our respect.
But, Knicks fans need to be cautious. The last thing I would want as a fan is to see the Manuel Theory in play once again. I’m not emotionally prepared for that.