When the San Francisco 49ers were looking for a new head coach prior to the 2011 season, just about everyone wanted Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.
Well, they got their wish, and so far, it’s working out better than anyone could have expected.
But it was a risky move to bring in a coach with no head coaching experience at the highest level.
Little did the 49ers know that their hiring would lead another team — in another sport — to take a chance with a coaching hire.
But that’s exactly what the Chicago White Sox did this past winter when they hired managerial virgin Robin Ventura to replace the certifiably insane Ozzie Guillen.
White Sox general manager Kenny Williams — father of 49ers wide receiver/punt returner Kyle Williams — told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that he was inspired by the 49ers’ hiring of Harbaugh:
“I haven’t told anybody this, but in talking to Trent Baalke and coach Harbaugh, and watching the dynamics of how their organization works… Talking to them, and listening to some of the things my son’s told me about the way they operate — that helped give me the courage to make what some people thought was an unorthodox move.”
The hiring of Ventura was a strange move. While Guillen was a ticking time bomb, he did win a World Series in 2005. Like San Francisco, expectations are always high on Chicago’s south side. Fans don’t have too much patience for a rebuilding project.
That’s where the similarities between Harbaugh and Ventura end. Harbaugh can be counted on for at least one noteworthy interaction with the media per week. Ventura talks to the media only when he has to.
But by all accounts, the calm Ventura has made a huge difference with the White Sox. Players that had terrible seasons last year are able to relax and are having rebound seasons this season.
Alex Rios has added almost 100 points to his batting average. Adam Dunn has 20 more home runs through August 5 than he had all of last season. And the White Sox have a 1.5-game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the Al Central.
White Sox veteran Paul Konerko feels like Ventura hasn’t suffered from his inexperience:
“Everyone knew he hadn’t managed or coached before. I guess if there’s a natural at doing it, he’s got to right up there.”
Just like how Alex Smith needed a new voice whispering in his ear, some members of the White Sox just needed the screaming Guillen replaced.