Left: Cubs manager Joe Maddon. Right: Former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.

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Bernstein: Maddon Might Empathize With Quenneville

The situations of Joe Maddon and the fired Joel Quenneville have parallels.

Dan Bernstein
November 06, 2018 - 2:54 pm

(670 The Score) Here we thought the news of Tuesday would be Theo Epstein's announcement that the Cubs wouldn't talk to Joe Maddon about a contract extension until at or near the end of the 2019 season, confirming speculation that the manager would be coaching with the new urgency desired.

And then the Blackhawks fired Joel Quenneville.

While not perfectly analogous, the two situations share a remarkable number of parallels that are notable, if not predictive. We see some classic sports dynamics at work in these cases, with actions playing out that tell us about the relationships between powerful and successful people amid periods of sustained success.

The Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups in a hard-cap league, enduring significant roster churn while committing to a core of energetic skaters and working around the edges. The Cubs have won a World Series and played in three National League Championship Series, largely on the strength of their own core of young position players to which they have added by constantly searching for viable bullpen arms. The former's championship window appears to be nearing its close, while that of the latter remains open.

Both teams have employed at the helm a sexagenarian lifer known for trusting his instincts and methods well-honed from decades of experience, given plenty of room to operate freely by a mostly deferential front office that was willing to overlook some quirks and foibles for a big-picture return on investment. It's when the important winning stops that that such differences in philosophy become more acute.

For Quenneville, it was the playoff embarrassment at the hands of the Predators in 2017 that most glaringly exposed the team's lack of speed, leading to grim pronouncements from president John McDonough and general manager Stan Bowman that significantly better outcomes were expected. The Blackhawks missing the playoffs last season then focused more attention on the lack of development of young players -- particularly those chosen with high picks by Bowman -- even as players like Nick Leddy, Teuvo Teravainen, Vinnie Hinostroza and Ryan Hartman were dealt away. 

For Maddon, the scrutiny that began with curious tactical moves during the title run in 2016 only increased after falling to the Dodgers in the subsequent NLCS and then watching their offense wither in a miserable end to 2018 that saw them lose the play-in game. After that ouster, Epstein made a point of saying "launch angle isn't a fad" and fired the hitting coach again. He also seemed upset with Maddon's decision-making contributing to the injuries that sidelined relievers Pedro Strop and Brandon Morrow, and Epstein was clearly upset with Maddon's ham-handed public response to domestic abuse allegations against shortstop Addison Russell that ultimately resulted in a 40-game suspension by MLB.

And with Maddon too, the lack of development from important young players is weighing on him. Willson Contreras, Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ all took steps backward instead of forward at the same time, setting off alarm bells. The group under team control before free agency had to be the engine for success, not a drag on performance to be counterbalanced by the star turn from Javier Baez.​

The difference between the two situations is the transparency from the top. Quenneville is being replaced by 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton while longtime Scotty Bowman buddy Barry Smith is installed on the bench, raising concerns that he's there as a Svengali to wield power over the throne. If and when Epstein moves on from Maddon, it's unlikely the chain of command would be as cloudy, as his pointed and consistent comments have already indicated the seriousness and directness with which they're handling things currently.

Maddon himself has said that the right timing for a managerial run is seven to 10 years in one spot before the course is run, but one could understand if he's feeling that timetable accelerate a bit when getting the news about his fellow Binny's spokesperson.

Just like the wines they sell, not all jobs age the same way.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.