Trying to shake a losing culture can take years or even decades for a franchise. With every new front office or coaching hire, a new era dawns with nothing but positive ideals and a vision of the team's trophy case filled with, well, trophies. A bright future is assured by the new hire, with promises of getting things done a different way. A winning way. A new sheriff is in town, and he's not going to be like that old, losing, pathetic sheriff, who kept fumbling his gun and tripping over his spurs.
It took a number of Buckys and Stumps along with the suspension of George Steinbrenner for the New York Yankees to recover their mojo, and put their stamp on a winning culture that's been going on almost two decades now (not to mention all the other decades in which they were successful).
The New Yorkhave had continuity in the Maras, and with general-manager tenures that have lasted more than the blink of an eye, with George Young, Ernie Accorsi and now Jerry Reese being the only three they've had the past 31 years. They've won three Super Bowls and are perennial playoff contenders in that time.
The New York Jets have not only changed their culture but Rex Ryan has given the old losing ways the middle finger and kicked them out the door. Swagger and confidence have replaced any woe-is-me mentality. Shaun Ellis recently told the New York Post, "The last two years has not been the Same Old Jets. I think Rex came in and really changed the culture of this team, putting winners together in back-to-back seasons. It's not the Same Old Jets." Monday's game aside, they're the "new F'in' Jets and if you don't like it, we don't give a crap" Jets.
Probably in spite of, as opposed to because of, Glen Sather being in charge, the New Yorkhave turned themselves around since the lockout with four consecutive playoff appearances, only missing out last year by a point, and they're again on track for another winning season with playoff aspirations, with a core of young players intact.
The New Jersey Devils are going the wrong way on the change-of-culture highway. What was once one of the model organizations in all of sports has mysteriously gone bad. Bad player personnel choices? A bad coach? Has Lou Lamoriello lost his magic touch? Whatever the reasons, no one could have foreseen the sudden and dramatic downturn the Devils have taken this season.
And that leaves the other four local franchises, all of whom are in the process of trying to go from their losing ways to putting together a winning environment.
When Omar Minaya was hired, it was supposed to be a new golden era for the Amazin's. They were the "New Mets." The only thing new about them, though, was the unique, fresh ways they found to lose games: Runners missing bases, infielders dropping pop-ups, pitchers throwing wild pitches. And they also discovered new ways to embarrass themselves off the field, with relief pitchers pummeling older family members and employees ripping off their shirts while challenging and screaming at their minor league players. So now it's Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins' turn. They've said all the right things about accountability along with respecting and playing the game the proper way. But can they make a long-term difference in how the Mets do business and how they conduct themselves on the field of play? The early signs say yes, but we won't know until we see it happen.
In New York Knicks Land, Donnie Walsh has had to be a miracle worker in washing the stench-filled, sad, pathetic Isiah Thomas era off the franchise. It's a stain that is hard to get off. But he may have finally done it. LeBron James or no LeBron James, and maybe there was some luck involved, but the 2010-'11 Knicks have actual promise. Amar'e Stoudemire has been all he was cracked up to be, and more. Who knew he would become such a good leader? And who knew Raymond Felton would be this good? But they have a long way to go before one could say with complete conviction that the Knicks have truly changed. But the upswing may have begun.
Avery Johnson, Billy King and Mikhail Prokhorov are doing all they can to turn the New Jersey Nets into a winning organization. After last season, they have nowhere to go but up, of course. But Johnson is attempting a new way of doing business, by not coddling his best players but instead is using a tough love approach and constantly challenging them. He's also shaken things up with an early morning shoot-around in between back-to-back games, among other techniques. They've already won half as many games as last season, and they're starting to find moral victories unacceptable, which is a first step toward a winning foundation. After the triple-overtime loss to Oklahoma City, Kris Humphries stated: "I guess it's a test right now. We're in a hole, and we're all we get to get out. We've got to stick together. We've got to start getting wins. Positive effort? At the end of the day it doesn't say ‘They played hard this game, it was close here.' There's an L and a W. We put ourselves in a position to win. It's time to win these games."
And that leaves the Islanders. They have the GM in place, in Garth Snow. They thought they had the coach for the long-term turnaround in Scott Gordon, but that didn't work out. They do have numerous young talented players. Unfortunately, a batch of them are on injured reserve, which has sabotaged their season. But it all starts with the owner, and the Islanders haven't had a good one in ages. Snow can only do so much with the purse strings so tight, and with the franchise on such shaky ground.
Will the Mets, Knicks, Nets and Islanders be able to build a sustained winning atmosphere? Can they do it without the hurricane-like presence of a Rex Ryan? They're all taking the patient, long-term approach. Will this time be different for each franchise? Will this be the plan that finally works? We'll have to keep our fingers crossed and hope the answer is "yes."
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