- The Washington Times - Monday, October 5, 2015

One season after he was named National League Manager of the Year, Matt Williams was fired by the Washington Nationals.

The end came for Matt Williams on Monday morning in his office. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo had what he termed as a “professional” and “serious” discussion with Williams that concluded with wishes for future success.

Expectations for the 2015 season were high. The mechanical Williams did not follow his more verbose predecessor, Davey Johnson, and declare “World Series or bust,” but that, in essence, was the situation he was presented. Instead, the Nationals finished 83-79, seven games out of first place, and became a national punchline by the end of the season following a final-weekend dugout fight.

“It was not our best year,” Rizzo said Monday afternoon. “It wasn’t Matt’s best year. It wasn’t my best year. As an organization, it wasn’t our best year. All of us, together, feel the disappointment throughout the 2015 season.”

A hunt for a replacement started Monday afternoon. Rizzo dropped multiple hints that the next manager would have more experience. Williams, a former all-star third baseman who Rizzo knew from their time with the Arizona Diamondbacks, had not managed at any level before being hired by the Nationals in October 2013. His background provided a stark contrast to that of the vastly experienced Johnson.

Since baseball returned to Washington in 2005, the view of success has been altered. The Nationals had a .500 record or worse for seven consecutive seasons. Rizzo was hired in 2009, the Nationals won a major league-leading 98 games in 2012 and an adjustment was made. They lost in the first round of the playoffs that season under Johnson, and when a mediocre season followed, Johnson was not retained. Williams was hired, made the playoffs, had a mediocre season and was also not retained despite the team picking up an option in his contract in February.

Rizzo would not pinpoint a “tipping point” in his decision to fire the 49-year-old Williams, who won 96 games his first season, then 83 in his second, with a first-round playoff exit in between. The general manager explained Williams‘ dismissal was based on his full body of work, which included the success of his first season.

Though, Rizzo did point out this past season, which ended on Sunday, presented Williams with several more obstacles. From outfielders Jayson Werth and Denard Span to pitchers such as Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals were constantly beset by injuries. Rizzo also intimated communication was an issue among the coaching staff, most of which was retained from Johnson’s time with the team. Only defensive coordinator/advance coach Mark Weidemaier was selected by Williams.

The dugout fight between star Bryce Harper and closer Jonathan Papelbon soiled the concluding homestand. A roster which will have significant offseason turnover spent 64 days in first place. The last was Aug. 2. The Nationals led by as many as 4.5 games during the season.

“There’s nobody more disappointed about the 2015 season than I am,” Rizzo said. “We thought we put together a roster that should compete for not only a division title, but move along throughout the playoffs. It didn’t happen for a litany of reasons.”

Bench coach Randy Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty, hitting coach Rick Schu, third base coach Bobby Henley, first base coach Tony Tarasco, bullpen coach Matt LeCroy, and Weidemaier were also let go. Rizzo said “several” of them had been offered other jobs within the organization but did not elaborate.

Knorr, who many thought finished second to Williams in the last managerial search, will again be considered for the position, Rizzo said. Knorr first joined the organization as a catcher for the Montreal Expos in 2001, his final season. Since then, he worked his way through the minor leagues as a manager before spending the last four seasons as bench coach in the majors.

“He’s got a great rapport not only with the front office but with a lot of the players in the clubhouse, and would be a great candidate for anybody’s managerial job moving on,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo’s emphasis on experience for the next manager was telling. His decision to terminate Williams looms as an admission he made a mistake by presenting a team many thought would compete for a World Series title to a first-time manager.

“We’re going to bring in a group of people with diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences and diverse skill sets,” Rizzo said. “I think that’s something we did not do last time. Last time, we brought in managing candidates with little or no managerial experience. I think that we’ll have a greater pool of manager candidates this year, stemming from very experienced to limited experience.”

As president of baseball operations, Rizzo, who has had that role for parts of seven seasons, is on the team’s board of directors, along with its principal owners, the Lerner family. Rizzo said there is always input from ownership on major decisions.

“Ultimately, [they’re] my decisions on baseball operations; they’re my decisions to carry out,” Rizzo said.

On Monday, that decision was firing his manager.

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