This time a year ago, a healthy percentage of the Twin Cities sporting public rooted for two outcomes: Richard Pitino to be fired and Chuck Fletcher to overhaul the Wild roster.
Pitino’s squad had suffered through 14 consecutive losses in what became the worst season in Gophers men’s basketball history. The Wild bottomed out and got coach Mike Yeo fired with a roster that looked incapable of accomplishing much beyond sneaking into the playoffs.
We now know differently. Robust turnarounds by both teams this season provide valuable lessons.
The Gophers have shown that talent matters. The Wild has shown that coaching matters. And both demonstrate that patience isn’t necessarily a cop-out to avoid tough decisions. Sometimes, it’s just the right choice.
Pitino knows what he’s doing as coach, and Fletcher’s roster looks good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup with Bruce Boudreau as coach.
And no, that shouldn’t be dismissed as fake news.
Patience often runs counter to our emotional involvement with sports teams. In times of crisis — heck, even prosperity — we demand changes to happen yesterday. That’s just the nature of sports.
The explosion of social media has stripped away seven layers of our collective patience. The ability to communicate with others in real time — like, say, the third quarter of a Timberwolves meltdown — creates a groundswell of anger and mockery.
Day after day, loss after loss, until the flurry becomes a vitriolic blizzard.
As someone tasked with offering opinions, I often wrestle with finding balance between patience and accountability in our 140-character reality. Where is that line between understanding that teams deserve time to build vs. recognizing incompetence or showing blind faith that success eventually will come?
Nobody wants to be taken for a sucker.
In response to Fletcher firing Yeo last season, this paragraph appeared in the Star Tribune:
Fletcher also constructed a roster littered with bad contracts, underperforming veterans, underachieving youngsters, no natural goal scorers and an alarming lack of leadership.
The author’s first name rhymes with dip.
Was that summation accurate in the heat of the moment? Possibly. But calls for Fletcher to overhaul his roster seem foolish in hindsight when watching basically the same roster thrive with Boudreau in charge.
Fletcher stuck to his belief that younger players had not yet reached their full potential and that staying the course with a proven coach was prudent.
Granted, making trades can be difficult, especially with veterans holding no-trade clauses. But the belief here is that other teams were interested in a few of the Wild’s young defenseman but that Fletcher opted to give Hall of Famer Scott Stevens a chance to work with them first before making any moves. His patience is being rewarded.
Same thing with the Gophers and Pitino, who walked on thin ice after an eight-win season and embarrassing off-the-court incidents involving his players.
University President Eric Kaler sternly put Pitino on notice during athletic director Mark Coyle’s introductory news conference. Board of Regents Chairman Dean Johnson also basically acknowledged that Pitino’s massive buyout saved his job.
“Seven million is a good chunk of change, no doubt about it,” Johnson said last March. “Does it weigh into the equation? I would guess it does.”
Calls for Pitino’s firing were shortsighted. Sure, he made mistakes, but he deserved a chance to coach his recruits. He deserved more than three seasons to prove himself.
The Gophers didn’t have legitimate Big Ten talent last season. Now they do, and they’ve won 20 games and appear destined to make the NCAA tournament. Pitino’s team could take another sizable step next season.
Patience matters. Doesn’t always guarantee positive outcomes, but sometimes a long view provides perspective when the current situation looks bleak.
Speaking of having patience tested, the Twins claim first prize. Their slogan should be, “Twins baseball. Stick with us, folks.” The organization has pretty much exhausted its allotment of blind faith.
Now they want more patience. A new regime has taken over. The main nucleus of talent still is fairly young. Another losing season seems inevitable.
Does showing continued patience make us suckers? Maybe. Or maybe the new regime has the right plan to pull the organization out of this abyss.
We probably won’t know the answer for some time. Patience required.
Chip Scoggins email@example.com