- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

Tony Dungy has yet to publicly express his thoughts on his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winning the Super Bowl. But someone who was in a similar position twice ventured a guess as to what Dungy might say.

"If you look at things for what they are," former New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter said, "I'm sure he has a great feeling of pride."

Although other feelings tempered the mood, that's what ultimately emerged for Showalter after the Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001, beating the Yankees, his previous team. Showalter was fired before the season, just as Dungy was by Tampa Bay before this past season.

Winning a championship under a new coach or manager is rare because the team invariably is a mess or in some form of disarray. But not always. The Bucs and Diamondbacks were in pretty good shape. Kentucky won the 1998 men's basketball championship under Tubby Smith two years after Rick Pitino led the Wildcats to the title and one year after they came close. Larry Coker guided Miami (Fla.) to college football's 2001 national championship after Butch Davis went to the Cleveland Browns, leaving the shelves fully stocked.

In 1989, Michigan had a great basketball team. But on the eve of the NCAA tournament, athletic director Bo Schembechler fired basketball coach Bill Frieder for accepting a job at Arizona State. Assistant Steve Fisher replaced Frieder, and the Wolverines won it all.

The emotions experienced by those who leave (and even those who replaced them) are complex and sometimes unsettling, especially when the decision is made by someone else. Countering a sense of accomplishment and contribution are nagging thoughts of a job unfinished, and/or of being fired unjustly. Going into the 2001 World Series, Showalter was asked repeatedly what was going through his head. He told one reporter, in so many words, "I feel so many things right now. It's hard to say what I feel. Maybe the best way to describe it is awkward."

Now, cushioned by time and with a new job as manager of the Texas Rangers occupying his mind and energy, Showalter is more clear.

"You've got to be proud," he said. "There's no way a person can come in and in one year make enough moves without things already being in place.

"It was something I was allowed to be part of, first of all. And to see the organization come to the top of the mountain and realize how tough it was. … You can dwell on the negative or look at it as a positive. I tend to lean on the good memories. I don't have many bad memories."

The result might be obvious, but measuring exactly the effect of a coaching or managerial change is impossible. Showalter was replaced by Bob Brenly, a manager for the first time at any level, and Brenly naturally got a lot of credit. But many of the Diamondbacks made a point of acknowledging Showalter's contribution.

Several Bucs players accordingly cited Dungy, now the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, for laying the foundation. He took a league laughingstock turned it into a contender during his six seasons. But it was Jon Gruden, purchased from the Oakland Raiders for $8 million and a bunch of draft picks, who put the team over the top.

Showalter had been through this before. He quit as Yankees manager after the 1995 season because he wouldn't fire some of his coaches, at owner George Steinbrenner's request. The Yankees went 78-66 but lost to Seattle in the American League Championship Series. Joe Torre replaced Showalter and led the Yankees to a World Series victory over Atlanta in '96 (and several more after that).

Showalter was immediately hired by the embryonic Diamondbacks more than two years before the club's first game and given almost unprecedented authority for a manager. He had a hand in everything from the expansion draft to the colors of the hats, and in just their third season (2000) the Diamondbacks made the playoffs. Then, under Brenly, Arizona became the fastest expansion team to win a World Series.

Showalter's intensity, more like that of a football coach, was seen as a liability on a team loaded with veterans. Brenly, while no wallflower, is more laid back. No one will ever know for sure how much that fueled the Diamondbacks' success (remember, they were three outs from losing the Series), but the fact is, they did win it all.

"A lot of it goes back to Buck Showalter," Brenly said. "The way he built the organization, the way he built the ballclub. It was a yacht sitting at the dock, and I was just behind the wheel. … I learned like every manager that it doesn't matter how smart we are, what great tacticians we are if the players don't perform. It ultimately comes back to the players. It's their game."

Several Diamondbacks players acknowledged that Brenly created an atmosphere conducive to winning, which basically is what managing and coaching are all about. Dungy, a defense-oriented coach, was perceived as being a bit too mellow, too controlled, probably too nice of a guy. No one will ever make that claim about the in-your-face Gruden, whose specialty is offense and whose time spent in preparation might be unmatched. Again, you can't argue with the result.

"The thing that's impressive about Gruden is that so many things were lined up for him to fail," Showalter said. "The expectations. He was paid a lot of money, he came into a pretty good situation. A lot of people were waiting to say, 'I told you so.' "

Brenly, a former major league catcher and coach who moved from the broadcast booth to the dugout, was aware of the skeptics. He said he clearly recalls the first team meeting during his first spring training. The team was coming off a successful season, and he knew there were some questions about his lack of experience.

"A lot of guys knew me from my playing days or broadcasting days or coaching days," he said. "But this was a whole new ballgame. I was the guy all the eyes were on. I wanted to be sure right from the very beginning to come across the way I wanted. I was extremely positive. I wanted the guys to be relaxed, wanted the guys to know how good they were, and I wanted them to know we were the team to beat."

The eyes of an entire basketball-crazed state were on Tubby Smith when he replaced the popular Pitino, who left to become coach and president of the Boston Celtics. Pitino's last two years produced an NCAA championship and a near-miss in the Final Four.

Smith wasn't hired to be the final piece of a puzzle; merely to continue the tradition of excellence. But Smith's team was not nearly as talented as Pitino's two previous squads. In the end, the methods Smith applied seem no less significant than, say, Gruden's.

"The first thing I remember about Coach when he came on campus was the relationship he tried to build with each of us," said Jeff Sheppard, the Outstanding Player of the 1998 Final Four. "We were used to coach Pitino and his ways, and his ways obviously succeeded. But whenever we were called into his office, we were in trouble or a major conversation was about to take place.

"When Coach Smith came, he started having meetings with us. There was a big buzz. Everybody was wondering what they did wrong. But he just wanted to get to know us. What we were interested in outside of basketball, how school was going. He was just trying to develop a relationship with us and he did a wonderful job. … He built that team around relationships, and that was one of the big factors that helped us win a national championship. For a coach to do that his first year at Kentucky was something special."

Perhaps no coach has experienced the roller-coaster of emotions like Bill Frieder. He knew his team was capable of going all the way, and suddenly the chance to take it there was snatched away. When word leaked that Frieder took the Arizona State job, he said he had no choice but to come clean and admit it. But he didn't expect Schembechler's declaration that he wanted a "Michigan man" to coach the team in the tournament, and he didn't expect to be fired.

"I was at fault for making the decision at that time," said Frieder, who was introduced at a news conference at ASU and then flew to Atlanta for the first two tournament games before he learned he was let go. "I could have lied. I could have lied to the team, to the fans and the community and the press, but I felt I had to be upfront about it. I was kind of penalized because I was honest and upfront."

Frieder said he considered defying Schembechler and coaching the team anyway, but thought better of it and watched the first game from the seats. After being besieged by fans and media members, he retreated to a hotel. When the Wolverines advanced to the Final Four in Seattle, Frieder said he spoke with the players individually. "I had close ties with all those kids," he said. "Steve [Fisher] was my best friend and we're still best friends. And I loved those players. So obviously I rooted for them."

Frieder said he was as happy as if he were still on the bench when Michigan beat Seton Hall for the championship. He even got a ring, but only after Schembechler vetoed the idea and Fisher took it upon himself to do it.

"It was a culmination of a decade of hard work," Frieder said. "But I try not to live in the past. I remember saying at the time, if this was the worst thing that happened to me, I'd have had a great life. And I truly believe that. I was happy for Michigan, happy for the players, happy for Steve. You never know what would have happened if I'd been the coach. But I do know we wouldn't have done any better."

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