If the Timberwolves hire Dave Joerger as their next head coach, they will be perpetuating a theme in Minnesota sports.
Many decisionmakers hire in their own image.
Wolves President Flip Saunders, who is running the coaching search, looks at Joerger and sees the younger version of himself: an enthusiastic basketball junkie who did the exhausting work of running minor league basketball teams in the Midwest while desperately trying to make it to the big time.
This weekend, Joerger is set to meet with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. Taylor, too, will be meeting a younger version of himself: a small-town Minnesota boy who loves basketball.
Joerger is an intriguing candidate, but many of Taylor’s mistakes have resulted from this process. He saw himself in Kevin McHale, another famous small-town Minnesotan with an Everyman ethos. So he kept McHale around long after most owners would have tolerated McHale’s series of mistakes.
Taylor was far less tolerant of an employee with whom he shared fewer connections: Dwane Casey, whom he fired with a record of 20-20, which has turned out to be a high-water mark for the Timberwolves over the past 10 years.
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan has hired one manager since he took the job in 1994: Ron Gardenhire. Ryan and Gardenhire both were intriguing prospects whose careers were waylaid by injury. Both were employed by the Mets. Both were hired by the Twins, where they focused on evaluation and developing young players, Gardenhire as a minor league manager and Ryan as a scouting director and vice president of personnel.
Ryan has remained loyal to Gardenhire even through three 90-loss seasons. Would he, if they didn’t have a history spanning three decades?
If there is a common theme on Gardenhire’s teams, it is that he seems to love utility infielders. Gardenhire was a top shortstop prospect out of the University of Texas who was forced to try to salvage his career as a utility player. The Twins’ big-league roster currently features five current or former shortstops — Eduardo Escobar, Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier, Danny Santana and Eduardo Nunez, with Pedro Florimon trying to play his way back to the big leagues.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has hired two coaches, Todd Richards and Mike Yeo. Twice, Fletcher had a chance to hire an accomplished veteran NHL coach and chose someone whose first game with the Wild would mark his first NHL game coached. The Wild hired Fletcher as a young, promising candidate instead of hiring an NHL retread. Fletcher must have seen himself in Richards and Yeo.
Vikings owner Zygi Wilf grew up watching the great Giants teams featuring coach Bill Parcells and star defensive coordinator Bill Belichick. Wilf’s first coaching hire targeted Brad Childress, who admired and tried to model himself after Belichick, as a gruff disciplinarian.
Wilf’s second coaching hire was Leslie Frazier, a defensive coordinator featuring old-school roots with the great ’85 Chicago Bears. Wilf’s third hire was Mike Zimmer, a defensive coordinator known as a taskmaster who once worked with, and came highly recommended by, Parcells.
When I first came to town, I covered the Vikings, and always wondered whether crusty old Mike Lynn, with his weathered face and raspy voice, was somehow related to the coach he hired, Jerry Burns, whose face was even more weathered and whose voice was somehow even raspier.
When former Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi had trouble landing a football coach, the small-town guy steeped in coaching fundamentals finally threw up his hands and hired a small-town guy steeped in coaching fundamentals, in Jerry Kill.
Hiring someone in your own image isn’t inherently good or bad, but it can lead to an illogical level of loyalty.
It can be hard to fire someone who reminds you of yourself.