Ranking Tampa Bay's coaches
Rays manager Joe Maddon, the American League’s reigning manager of the year, just signed a contract extension through 2015. Lightning coach Guy Boucher is considered one of the sharp young minds in the game. The Bucs just turned a new page by hiring coach Greg Schiano. So this seems like a good time to look at the history of Tampa Bay coaches and rank them from best to worst. In all, the Bucs, Rays and Lightning have had 19 coaches/managers, not counting one-time Lightning interim coach Rick Paterson, who coached only six games. So here is one opinion of how the coaches in Tampa Bay sports history stack up against one another.
1. Joe Maddon, Rays (2006-present)
Two coaches have won championships with Tampa Bay teams, but Maddon is not one of them. So why does he top the list? What Maddon has done with the Rays is nothing short of remarkable and, truly, one of the most incredible stories in modern sports history. That's not hyperbole. Let's not forget just how pathetic the Rays were before Maddon. In the eight seasons before he arrived, the Rays were 167 games below .500. Since Maddon, the Rays are 18 games above .500. Despite being handcuffed by a meager payroll in, arguably, the toughest division in all of sports against two of baseball's biggest spenders, Maddon has made the postseason three of the past four seasons and went to a World Series. In those four seasons, the Rays are 88 games above .500. Frankly, this pick was easy.
2. John Tortorella, Lightning (2001-08)
Coaches are successful if they do one of two things: turn around a sad-sack franchise; or win a championship. Tortorella did both. When he took over for a fired Steve Ludzik midway through the 2000-01 season, the Lightning was a mess. Two years later, Tortorella had changed the culture and had the Lightning in the playoffs. A year after that, it won a Stanley Cup. Had it not been for the NHL lockout, the Lightning might have won back-to-back Cups. In six full seasons, Torts led the Bolts to four postseason appearances.
3. Jon Gruden, Bucs (2002-08)
Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy? That always will be the burning sports question in Tampa Bay. Do you prefer the guy who turned around a lost franchise, but couldn't win it all? Or would you rather have the "closer,'' the coach who inherited a great team, took it all the way then left it in shambles? Everyone says that Gruden won a Super Bowl with Dungy's players. Well, Dungy couldn't win it all with Dungy's players. Gruden didn't do much other than win a Super Bowl, but in this case, the Super Bowl is the trump card.
4. Tony Dungy, Bucs (1996-2001)
Dungy took over a team that had 14 consecutive losing seasons and by his second year had it in the playoffs -- the first of four playoff appearances in his six seasons. Yes, his stint was more consistent than Gruden's. And, if we’re talking about having dinner or holding our wallets for an hour, Dungy is our choice. He's a heck of a coach, no doubt about it. But his 2-4 postseason record with the Bucs keeps him out of the top three.
5. John McKay, Bucs (1976-1984)
If this list were based on personality, McKay would be at the top. Somehow he maintained his sanity through 26 losses in a row and ended up taking the expansion Bucs to three postseason appearances in a four-year stretch from 1979 to 1982. In 1979 the Bucs were a victory away from the Super Bowl in only their fourth season.
6. Guy Boucher, Lightning (2010-present)
Boucher is just finishing up a disappointing second season, so you might wonder why he is so high on this list. Well, Boucher's high ranking is more a testament to just how little other Tampa Bay coaches accomplished. That's not to take anything away from Boucher. After all, he did have the Lightning within a game of the Stanley Cup final a year ago, and he has a winning record, something very few Tampa Bay coaches have.
7. Terry Crisp, Lightning (1992-97)
Helped sell hockey in Tampa Bay and did lead the Bolts to their first-ever playoff appearance back in 1996 -- a thrilling six-game series against the Flyers.
8. Lou Piniella, Rays (2003-05)
Here's where the list starts to get hard because no one left had an overall winning record or a postseason appearance in Tampa Bay. You're better off working backward from worst to next-worst because it's hard to make positive arguments for who is left. Piniella gets this spot for giving the Rays some credibility, as well as developing young stars such as Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli.
9. Sam Wyche, Bucs (1992-95)
His best year was his last when he was only 7-9, and that was after a start of 5-dash-2. He doesn't necessarily get credit for this, but the Bucs did draft Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and John Lynch on his watch. Put it this way: The Bucs were just bad during Wyche's tenure. They weren't a total embarrassment.
10. Larry Rothschild, Rays (1998-2001)
An expansion manager with a goofball owner, Rothschild never had a chance, really. In his three full seasons, the Rays won 62, 69 and 69 games.
11. Raheem Morris, Bucs (2009-11)
Hey, he did have that out-of-nowhere 10-6 season. Too bad he was a combined 7-25 the other two seasons.
12. Rick Tocchet, Lightning (2008-10)
It's unfair to be too hard on Tocchet seeing as how he had a couple of nut-job owners and a clueless GM (Brian Lawton). Tocchet does get credit for helping guide Steven Stamkos through his first two NHL seasons.
13. Ray Perkins, Bucs (1987-90)
Here’s the line on Perkins: 4-11, 5-11, 5-11, 5-8 (fired). Quite frankly, you wonder how he survived as long as he did.
14. Jacques Demers, Lightning (1997-99)
He had little to work with, and he did very little with it. Demers is one of the all-time nice guys, but his .291 winning percentage is the worst in Lightning history.
15. Hal McRae, Rays (2001-02)
Two awful campaigns, including 106 losses in 2002 -- the worst season in franchise history. Gone was the passionate telephone-throwing McRae from the Royals. Here, he seemed beaten down and simply amused by just how bad the Rays were.
16. Steve Ludzik, Lightning (1999-2001)
Won 31 of 121 games and was fired midway through his second season. One of the oddest ducks to ever work his way through Tampa Bay.
17. Leeman Bennett, Bucs (1985-86)
Back-to-back 2-14 seasons. And there's this nugget, kids: Jimmy Raye, just hired to be the Bucs senior adviser on offense, was Bennett's offensive coordinator.
18. Richard Williamson, Bucs (1990-91)
Once asked if he spelled MRI correctly. No wonder the Bucs went 4-15 in his 19 games as a head coach.
19. Barry Melrose, Lightning (2008)
No doubt about it, the worst coach in Tampa Bay history. His Lightning career lasted all of 16 games. His parting shot out the door was questioning Stamkos. Even if our list had included one-time Lightning interim coach Rick Paterson, who never won a game, Melrose would have come in last.