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Chicago coaches, managers far less interesting than they used to be

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Updated: May 26, 2013 9:17PM



If you found yourself feeling a little wistful last week, it might have had something to do with Mike Ditka and Phil Jackson
being in the news. And if you found yourself feeling sleepy not long after pondering them, I’d guess it’s because you had turned and
beheld the flat, featureless
coaching landscape in Chicago.

It’s not only the Bears’ Marc Trestman and the Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau who have little to say that would rate as — oh, what’s that forgotten word — ‘‘interesting.’’ Look around. We have the Cubs’ perfectly even Dale Sveum and the White Sox’ modest Robin Ventura getting ready to trade sweet nothings (hold the sugar) in the upcoming Crosstown Showdown. We have Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who never has been called ‘‘Coach Quoteville.’’

Quick, somebody get the defibrillation paddles for these guys.

The other day, I realized how programmed I had become to people whose goal in life is not to say anything. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock might look like he just got his milk money stolen, what with the eternal frown and indignant chin, but he offers much in the way of context and substance. His comments often can be used in newspapers
without fear of a narcolepsy breakout. Stunning.

I used to wonder how Thibodeau could give the same daily update about Derrick Rose’s injury situation without losing his mind. Then it finally registered that deathly repetition didn’t bother him in the least. For Thibodeau, saying ‘‘Derrick is making progress’’ over and over again is no different than him saying ‘‘we have more than enough to win’’ when asked daily about the team’s injuries. Better to be in a position to give stock answers than to have to reveal inner feelings, thoughts or — gasp! — strategies.

Last week, the Bears announced they would retire Ditka’s No. 89, a move that comes many years late and is a make-up call for not putting him on a sculpture that sits inside Soldier Field. He was a great player and turned out to be an even better quote. There never has been a more razor-sharp use of the English language than Ditka’s summation of Bears owner George Halas’ cheapness: ‘‘Halas throws nickels around like manhole covers.’’

Whether you love Ditka or think his coaching was the reason the Bears didn’t win more Super Bowls, you have to admit the city was much more alive when he was roaming the sidelines or roller skating through Halas Hall.

Jackson was in town last week promoting his new book, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success. In one section, he details why Michael Jordan was better than Kobe Bryant. The directness of it has caused a stir. But that’s amateur hour for the former Bulls and Lakers coach. In 2005, he said of downtown Memphis, ‘‘It’s like Dresden after the war.’’ The next year, he vented about one of his own players, Vladimir Radmanovic: ‘‘He’s a space cadet. He could be on Mars. He’s one of those guys that you go, like, ‘Do you understand really what we’re trying to get accomplished here?’ ’’

The best Thibodeau can do is a communal guilt that stabs no one: ‘‘Do your job.’’

A bit of the dulling down has to do with the corporate takeover of sports. I haven’t been able to put my finger on precisely when it happened, but somewhere along the way, public-relations people started limiting questions to coaches and athletes, as though the longer they were allowed to talk, the more chance there was of embarrassment. So four or five questions into a Lovie Smith postgame media gathering, a
Bears PR person would yell out, ‘‘Two more questions, guys.’’ Given that this was one of the most boring coaches in the history of sports, reporters wept tears of joys upon hearing the news. But you get my point.

As noted, Quenneville doesn’t have a whole lot to say, but you wouldn’t hear it in a one-on-one interview if he did. After each gathering with the media, he’s escorted away as though there might be an assassination attempt or, worse, a stray question by a lone reporter.

If any of our city’s pro coaches or managers had an itch to let out his inner Ozzie Guillen, the corporate structure increasingly makes it difficult to do. It’s wishful thinking anyway. If you put the five of them in one room, they’d come up with a dazzling mission statement about ‘‘taking it one game at a time.’’

Then again, it could be worse. Lovie still could be around.



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