The New York/New Jersey sports scene possesses a passel of coaches that can be described with many diverse adjectives: mean, funny, fun, tough, fair, no-nonsense, profane, successful, middling, wacky, loud, smart, dumb and unpredictable. I'm not here to rank all nine coaches, though if I had to, Tom Coughlin and Joe Girardi would have to top the list because they've won championships in New York (sorry, John Tortorella), which is the true measuring stick for success around here. There are only two places in the standings in this here part of the country: First place and everyplace else. Instead, the coaches will be put into categories, so we can see the range of leadership that the 2010 New York area can claim as its own.
The Charismatic Leader -- Rex Ryan, Avery Johnson, Mike D'Antoni: Ryan has rode into town like a fearless, brash gun-slinger. He's got enough personality for two people (actually there are two of him since he's a twin). According to him, players all over the league want to come and play for the Jets now (and many more probably hate the Jets who've never given them much thought in the past). He's given the team a confidence and swagger that they've never had before - at least not since the days of Broadway Joe Namath. He's loud, and he's fun. Predictions, boasts and bragging have become Ryan's trademark, and his players are following suit. He's the classic I'd-run-through-a-brick-wall-for-this-guy coach. But if he doesn't win a Super Bowl, and do it soon, he's setting himself up for one big fall - and one big backlash. Johnson will try to do the same as Ryan and put the Nets on the map once again. He was a big success in Dallas (though he never could win a championship), and his squeaky-voiced Little General style could be just what the Nets need. He may be diminutive in stature but his magnetism and Coach of the Year award may be the road map to success for the Nets. As for D'Antoni, he has his followers all over the league. One reason he was hired by the Knicks in the first place was his supposed ability to draw free agents in the summers of 2010 and 2011. He's a player's coach, with a laid-back style, but he's anything but bland and colorless. In his two seasons as coach of the Knicks he's been given absolutely no talent to work with, and so the results have not been surprising. But starting this year he's on the clock, charm notwithstanding.
The All-Business Leader -- Tom Coughlin, Joe Girardi, Scott Gordon: Coach Coughlin is the prototypical drill sergeant (I'm even referring to him as Coach Coughlin so he doesn't ream me out). He has the same fierce determination, drive and single-minded, laser-like focus that Yogi Bear possesses while looking to steal a picnic basket. Of course, he had the legendary if-you're-on-time-for-a-meeting-you're-really-late policy, but he's since turned cuddly and lovable - well, not really. But he's won a Super Bowl, so he can do anything he wants. When my-way-or-the-highway leads to a championship then just do it his way, for Pete's sake. He's overcome criticism by his own players, a few disappointing seasons and sloppy play, but he's the one who's still standing, as he enters his seventh year as the leader of the Yankees (there was a whole generation of kids who didn't even now that was actually possible, thinking that a Yankees-less postseason is somehow against the rules of baseball), Girardi recovered nicely by winning the World Series in his second year at the helm of the Bombers. He may be lacking any controversy, outlandishness or humorous bon mots, but he's all-business and gets results. And he has a Manager of the Year (2006 with Florida) and championship under his belt in only three-plus seasons as a manager. As for Gordon, he's the most under-the-radar leader in the area. If you stopped people on the street and asked them who the coach of the Islanders is, you'd most likely get responses such as "Al Arbour," "Mike Milbury," "Kurt Russell," "Who are the Islanders?" and "What is hockey?" But after only registering 61 points in his debut season, Gordon had the team in playoff contention - or at least in the conversation - for a chunk of his second season, and the team improved by 18 points. Hopefully the Islanders won't be going to Kansas City or anyplace else, as they're building a strong, young nucleus with the likes of John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. And as a former goalie for the Quebec Nordiques, Gordon knows what it's like to be a part of a team that doesn't exist anymore.. Girardi physically looks like a drill sergeant but he isn't as churlish and intimidating as Coughlin. After missing the playoffs in his first year as manager of the
The Surly Leader -- John Tortorella: The coach of thehas a Stanley Cup in his past, but what have you done for us lately? And that was in Tampa Bay anyway. Friendly, classy, calm and cool are not words you'd associate with Tortorella. Nor are lovable, laid-back or gracious. He's filled with controversy and bluster. After making the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, the Rangers just missed out by a hair (or a shootout goal) in Tortorella's first full season as coach of the Blueshirts. He's known for his harsh treatment of goalies as well as reporters, and never met a line combination that he didn't like (or one that he liked, however way you want to look at it). The Rangers aren't exactly loaded with talent and he's only been around for one full season, so it may be too early to judge Tortorella's tenure so far. But he is surly; we know that much.
The Goofy Leader -- Jerry Manuel: It looks like Manuel's time has come and gone. Last year, players were looking for ways to leave the team - tunneling their way out Great Escape-style, rafting their way to Cuba - but earlier this year the Mets briefly fought and scrapped together and talked up the concept of team chemistry and a never-say-die attitude. But that didn't last long, as everything from an assault in the team's family room to injuries to an underperforming big-splash free agent acquisition to a pop-gun offense has resulted in another subpar season in Queens. Manuel's quirky decision-making, head-scratching lineups and seeming lack of communication with the front office and his own players will have no one looking back fondly at the Jerry Manuel era (though we may miss his wacky, laugh-track-filled postgame press conferences). Of course, if he somehow makes it back next year, well . . . these are the Mets after all. They don't often make sound, rational decisions.
The Who Knows? Leader -- John MacLean: The coach of the Devils was a franchise legend as a player and he's been a longtime assistant coach with the team. But he's brand-new as a head coach so we have no idea how he'll fare. He was always classy, smart and friendly so that may give us a clue. I doubt he'll make any Stanley Cup guarantees Rex Ryan-style nor will he chortle and guffaw as much as Jerry Manuel. But he's a homegrown product so he'll no doubt be popular. We'll just have to wait and see on Mr. Devil.
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