Joe Torre came to New York to manage the Yankees labeled "Clueless Joe" and left it as "Joe Cool."
I was listening to Woodson's press conference last night and something hit me. As the angry Boston and Knicks media searched for something, anything, controversial to bait Woodson with, the Knicks coach sat there with this calm cool demeanor as he's done all season long.
My first thought was, "man, you have to respect this guy's confidence considering his overall coaching and playoff record..." which I immediately counteracted with "reminds me of Torre in 96."
No, I'm not inferring that Woodson is going to lead the Knicks dynasty that will bring Torre-like success, but there are some obvious parallels.
The pre-dynasty Yankees were are great combination of veteran players, young homegrown talent and players acquired by shrewd trades from the front office. They were led by Buck Showalter, who left following the 1995 season and a heartbreaking series loss to the Seattle Mariners. Showalter thirsted for roster control, which he would find in Arizona with the Diamondbacks. And when the Yankees hired Joe Torre, the media had a field day. They absolutely trashed Torre about his record and the fact that he had absolutely no clue what he was getting himself into working for the most rotten owner in sports, George Steinbrenner.Not his baseball acumen. Not his playing days and not that he was the definition of professionalism. Simple on the surface "what on earth would you work for this owner" mumbo jumbo. Here's Ian O'Connor then of the Daily News:
It's always a sad occasion when man becomes muppet." A last choice, a placeholder for Showalter, a man without a clue, a muppet ...What the media didn't know at the time was that Steinbrenner was preparing to become severely less meddlesome. He had built a level of trust with his front office and understood and believed in the path Gene Michael and Bob Watson laid down. He was on the verge of stepping down as the sport's most hated tyrant, and was on a path that would have him eternally loved by the fans who once wanted him banished to Siberia.
To be fair, I thought Phil Jackson was the only choice to coach this team and when they didn't even interview him I thought that was a mistake by James Dolan, the most hated owner in this town since The Boss. That was wrong. Woodson has done nothing but manage veterans and egos all year long. He's had to manage injuries to key players and make sure players will be on full steam right now. This isn't a team that backed its way into the playoffs, this is a team that showed the league early that it had the muscles to flex and finished the year in the same pose. This team is primed and it's Woodson who has captained the ship. Woodson, who entering the season had a 198-292 career record and 12-22 in the playoffs, has shown the necessary adjustments in this series that many, including myself, questioned tremendously.
He's proven the perfect hire.
Torre's pre-Yankees record was also less than stellar. His first gig as Mets manager was what it was supposed to be... a struggle post Seaver era. His run with the Braves resulted in just one playoff appearance, which ended in a loss to the Cardinals in 1982. Torre wouldn't see the playoffs for another 14 years.
As a Mets fan, I couldn't stand the constant attention the Yankees received. I wanted them to meet in 2000 so badly so that, if the Mets won, I could say to my Yankee fan friends "keep all the others... you're 0-1 against the Mets." I felt like the Yankees had the luxury of a payroll an the luxury of Rivera. They had the horses.
The Knicks have Melo and company now.
Simply put, Woodson is proving that coaches can improve and adjust and that you can't judge a coaching hire by record alone. His demeanor is perfect for this group. He follows his leaders and his veterans but he can get them to pipe down when he walks in the room. He's garnered that respect and that's a great sign.
It's early obviously, but Woodson certainly has many qualities of another skipper in New York in Torre, who came into this town a clown jester left it as absolute royalty. Knicks fans can only hope that Woodson can lead the Knicks to a shred of the success the Yankees had during the Torre era. Based on the performance this series, they may very well be on their way.