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Brewers manage dynamic balance

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February 4, 2009
— In discussing the value of coaching in this space a couple of days ago, the new Mike McCarthy/Dom Capers alliance was mentioned.

Otherwise, little was devoted to the relationship between the head coach/manager and their assistants. The fact that Ken Macha and his staff got so much face time with the public at the recent Milwaukee Brewers’ fan festival was a reminder of how those dynamics could work for or against a team.


The Brewers have a staff unlike any in baseball, in that three of the candidates interviewed to replace Ned Yost were hired: Macha as the manager, former New York Mets manager Willie Randolph as his bench coach and former Brewers interim manager Dale Sveum as the hitting coach.


As Macha said from the Riverside Theater stage a couple of weeks ago, he wanted a bench coach who understands the enormous pressure that goes with managing a big-league club. As someone who worked in the belly of the beast that is New York, Randolph was an excellent choice. And as a former second baseman, anything he could do to get Rickie Weeks going would be a bonus.


Likewise, Sveum, as the guy who withstood the intense heat of those last 12 games of ’08 to get the Brewers into the playoffs, was a smart re-hire.


Meanwhile, Macha has a two-year contract, a condition he asked for without an agent. So, in effect, he has a one-year deal because general manager Doug Melvin must extend or relieve Macha after this season, as no one can effectively lead as a lame duck. And the players know it.


So what happens if the players who were close to Sveum aren’t getting what they want from Macha? Do they go crying to Sveum? Do some gravitate toward Randolph if they don’t like Macha?


Well, of course it could happen. It happens everywhere. That’s the nature of clubhouse/locker-room politics. But if you’re wondering if it could be a divisive force with the Brewers, the chance is so slight that it should go into the non-issue file.


Melvin’s policy is if anyone speaks to assistant GM Gord Ash, Ash tells Melvin. It’s one of the reasons why the Brewers’ front office is so stable. Accordingly, Randolph and Sveum will be required to report everything to Macha. There should be no hidden agendas, including the up-front reality that successors are on-board should things not go well on the field. That’s baseball.


Macha, Randolph and Sveum project success more than failure. They’re smart baseball people who should make this work without resorting to the good cop/bad cop routine that define some coaching relationships.


It could have happened last season at Marquette, with Buzz Williams as the good cop when things got tense between Tom Crean and the star players. If that were the case, Williams deserves even more credit for how he has handled things this season. That’s because sometimes the good cop gets walked on when he assumes a position of authority.


We saw it when George Karl’s good cop, Terry Stotts, eventually returned to take over. We saw it years ago, when Stu Jackson left Stan Van Gundy to clean up his Rashard Griffith/Michael Finley rift at Wisconsin. Fired after one season, Van Gundy has become a success in the NBA.


The right people usually figure it out. Apparently, Williams has. “I’ve been incredibly hard on this group of guys,” he said recently.


And while there are no guarantees, Macha and the former managers who now work for him project well together.


Michael Hunt is a sports columnist for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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