First off, let’s be clear: I have no particular insights into the fate of Twins manager Paul Molitor beyond what has been reported. Everything I’ve gathered is that the decision by CBO Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine on whether to retain or get rid of Molitor — whose contract was up at the end of this season, one in which he guided the Twins to a surprising postseason berth — is a coin flip. There are those who think he will stay and others who think he will be gone.
That said: If you think the decision to bring Molitor back is a no-brainer that Falvey and Levine will make automatically after the success of 2017, you haven’t been paying attention this year. And you certainly weren’t paying attention to a similar situation in 2013, when Tubby Smith was the Gophers men’s basketball coach.
Now, I said “similar” and not identical. Smith still had time remaining on his contract, a $2.5 buyout and he had built up a longer history coaching the Gophers — with mixed results going into 2012-13 — than Molitor has with the Twins.
But here’s what you had: Norwood Teague was hired as the new Gophers AD in April 2012, right after the end of a Gophers men’s basketball season. Minnesota finished as the NIT runner-up in 2012 after being relegated to the second-tier tournament by a six-game Big Ten losing streak near the end of the season. It was a much better year than the 59-103 Twins of 2016, but it was flawed.
In any event, Teague came in with what seems in retrospect to have been a predetermined notion: Smith was not the coach he wanted leading his men’s basketball program. But he kept him in place and repeated quotes like this one throughout the 2012-13 season: “I evaluate coaches at the end of the year. I don’t during the year publicly.”
Smith’s Gophers had another up-and-down season but sneaked into the NCAA tourney as a No. 11 seed. From there, they defeated UCLA — the first on-court NCAA tourney win since the Final Four year of 1997 — before losing to Florida.
Plenty of people thought Smith had done enough to keep his job. Teague, if he went into the season determined to get rid of Smith, now faced a decision.
Teague must not have agonized about it for long. The morning after the loss to Florida, Smith was fired.
Again, some differences between Smith and Molitor: The Gophers were likely heading into a rebuilding year regardless of their coach, meaning Smith had likely plateaued. Molitor’s Twins are on the rise. And one has to imagine the local sporting public would react more harshly to the Twins ditching Molitor than the masses did when Tubby was fired.
In the end, though, there’s this to say about the Gophers and Smith: A new regime came in, evaluated a coach for a year who to that point had experienced mixed success, watched him have his best year in Minnesota … and then quickly moved on.
If Falvey and Levine decided the same fate for Molitor, the exact same sentence could be written.