McDonough never lost faith in Coach Q, proud of Hawks

717654.png

McDonough never lost faith in Coach Q, proud of Hawks

When the Chicago Blackhawks went through their awful nine-game winless streak through late January and early February, the sky was falling through the world of fandom and knee-jerk reactionary sports blogs.

Fire this guy, fire that guy, trade somebody, do something now. And as unpleasant as it all was, the team president said he had faith that the guys in charge, and the guys playing for them, would get through it.

Blackhawks president John McDonough said there was never a thought of getting rid of coach Joel Quenneville or trading anyone during the losing streak. And hes proud of how the Blackhawks came out of that mess to be back in the playoff race.

Absolutely not, McDonough said. We have great confidence in Joel. Hes been through these things before and won two Stanley Cups (one as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche). Ive been in sports for 32 years; weve seen these losing streaks. Theyre not a lot of fun to go through but good teams figure a way to come out of them, which we did. Im proud of the organization. Theres no panic button here.

McDonough credited Joel with his work, as well as Stan Bowman. The general managers move to acquire defenseman Johnny Oduya at the trade deadline has paid big dividends, balancing a defense corps and giving it another needed veteran presence.

And McDonoughs also impressed with how the Blackhawks have fared without Jonathan Toews; the team is now 11-5-2 without their captain.

Im really proud of how they responded. Its a challenge to be without your captain for close to 20 games, but it speaks to the depth of the organization, the job Joel and the staff has done, the pickup that Stan made with Johnny Oduya. We still have a little ways to go, want to get that playoff berth nailed down ad hopefully that happens soon.

The playoffs are close to the Blackhawks grasp. McDonough said there was no doubt the team was going to stay the course, losing streak or not. And even if the Blackhawks go on a short playoff run, he doesnt foresee changes.

The knee-jerk reactions remain well outside the front-office walls.

Weve all been through this before. We have a very good team from top to bottom and we have one of the premiere coaches, McDonough said. Joel Quenneville has more wins than any active NHL coach. Were proud of what hes done here in Chicago, but we all had conversations on how to get out of it. The time and effort everyone put into that is really laudable.

Sense of stability evident among Bears hierarchy going into pivotal year of major unknowns

Sense of stability evident among Bears hierarchy going into pivotal year of major unknowns

Specifics such as whom the Bears will draft at No. 3, or 36, or somewhere in between weren't going to be gleaned from this week's conversations with Bears Chairman George McCaskey, GM Ryan Pace or head coach John Fox. But more interesting, and important, too, are some the the more strategic takeaways from visits with the hierarchy most involved with Bears football fortunes.
 
More significant than anything regarding a player or position is the stability of the core, meaning Pace's and Fox's position under McCaskey. Because that ultimately affects draft choices, signings and myriad elements extending beyond the 2017 season. And some of all that involves understanding McCaskey's vision and history.
 
Realize: Pace was McCaskey's second GM hire in barely three NFL years. The first one of Phil Emery was an abject failure, as was the accompanying coaching hire. The absolute last thing McCaskey wants to be forced by circumstances into doing is replacing another general manager. Brother Michael lost his berth as president due to making the NFL's charter franchise into a laughingstock because of a botched coaching hire; Brother George has no wish to continue the kind of high-level turnover that both reflect, cause and perpetuate dysfunction, and losing.
 
Against that backdrop, one trail of breadcrumbs leads to a strong sense that Pace is secure in his job, barring something going epically wrong. McCaskey was clear that he approved of and likes the direction the Bears are moving under Pace, to the point of having Pace in a video directed to the fanbase. If Pace were on some sort of hot seat, McCaskey and the organization do not make him a short-term face of the franchise while they hope for a player to emerge as that "face."
 
McCaskey could not put a whole lot more pressure on Pace than the latter gets as part of his job and wanting to stay in Chicago for more than football reasons.
 
"Keep building through the draft," McCaskey said during the recently concluded owners meetings. "I told Ryan he should get ripped every time around this year, this time of year ever year for not being more active in free agency. And that's because we're developing our own guys and rewarding our own guys."

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]
 
The breadcrumbs from there lead to Fox's situation. Start with the thought that coaches operate for the present and GMs for the future. Not exactly true; GMs balance present and future.
 
But every indication, verbal and otherwise, has been that Fox was very much on board with the major makeover at one spot in particular — quarterback — and a coach with down to possibly a final season pounds the table for win-now material, particularly at that position. And when the Bears didn't re-sign Brian Hoyer this offseason, which may not have appeared to be benchmark non-move but was, at least one Bears coach was apoplectic at not staying a course with a quarterback who delivered 300 passing yards and zero turnovers in his brief Bears "career."
 
Fox, however, was clearly comfortable with giving the quarterback wheel a spin with Mike Glennon, and ultimately so is his staff. Because it is part of program plan.
 
Consider this scenario: The Bears rebound to a respectable seven or eight wins; not spectacular but the NFC North is the only division in either conference to send two teams to the postseason , meaning that Fox's Bears likely put up a couple wins over good teams, which can be construed as the "progress" that McCaskey referenced this week.
 
Meanwhile, Pace has a third draft with impact players, the Kevin Whites, Eddie Goldmans and others come back from injuries, the Bears go into the 2018 offseason and land Kirk Cousins or have Glennon be what they'd hoped, and the Bears are what McCaskey envisions: a challenger with an arrow pointing up.
 
All theoretical or hypothetical, but Pace has a plan that McCaskey knows and endorses, and best guess is that he gives his GM, and coach, time to have it play out.
 
"We have confidence in Ryan and John," McCaskey said, imposing only "progress" and "results" as his conditions. "We want to build through the draft. Ryan said that in his interview when he said he was interested in coming to the Bears. And we like how he has stuck to that plan."
 
Maybe that was the most significant tell; McCaskey has seen progress apart from the record: "Yeah," he confirmed. "Yes sir."

The molding of a manager: How Rick Renteria evolved into the man he is today

The molding of a manager: How Rick Renteria evolved into the man he is today

Rick Renteria made such a lasting impression on John Boles 33 years ago that the former major league manager has kept Renteria in mind for job openings ever since.

Boles first noticed Renteria when their teams faced each other in the minors. Renteria was playing second base for Double-A Nashua, while Boles was coaching third base for the Glen Falls White Sox.

From Renteria's maturity to his leadership and attention to detail, Boles knew almost immediately that Renteria would one day make a good coach. 

Boles believed in Renteria so much that nearly a decade later, he signed him to two minor-league playing contracts. And when Renteria retired, Boles reached out again, vowing to offer a coaching position every year until Renteria accepted — even as he repeatedly declined the offers. 

With Renteria now the White Sox manager, Boles has the satisfaction of knowing that the organization he grew up rooting for and and the one where he began a 33-year career is in great hands.

"I had it in my calendar," Boles recently said by phone. "I circled the date. This is ‘Call Rick Renteria Day.' I would have offered him any minor league position we had open, I was so sure that he was qualified to develop people. 

"I watched this guy. He stood out. I watched his workouts. I watched his batting practice and his infield work. And I saw how he carried himself, how he wore his uniform, how hard he played and I always remembered him." 

Renteria's high-energy morning meetings this spring have similarly distinguished themselves. 

Bursts of laughter and rounds of applause have emanated from the big league clubhouse every day since mid-February. The sessions last anywhere from 15-60 minutes and feature a blend of entertainment and education. 

About half of the gatherings have featured team-building exercises where unfamiliar teammates might be asked to act out a skit together, offer a fishing lesson or do a wild impersonation of their favorite WWE wrestler. An even bigger portion of each session is dedicated to reviewing the previous day's game — what went right and what went wrong — and what the staff expects players to accomplish in their workouts or games.

Veteran Todd Frazier said the meetings have provided the levity necessary to break up a lengthy spring schedule while also including an invaluable education.

"Fun, serious, indifferent," veteran third baseman Todd Frazier said of the meetings. "If guys get sent down, they're going to say ‘This is fun. This is where I want to be.'"

This is exactly what general manager Rick Hahn had in mind when he, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and executive vice president Kenny Williams determined the White Sox would embark on their first rebuild since 1997. 

With the team headed for a youth movement, Hahn wants an emphasis placed on player development. If the White Sox intended to load up on talented prospects, they need a staff centered on teaching to properly hone those players' skills.

One of Renteria's strengths is player development. He has eight seasons experience as a minor league manager and another with the Cubs in 2014. 

Hahn knew of Renteria's reputation as a "baseball rat" and hoped to hire him right after the Cubs hired Joe Maddon. The White Sox reached out to Renteria during the 2014 winter meetings but he declined. 

"Ricky was probably on a list somewhere in every front office throughout baseball," Hahn said. "He was known as a great teacher, great communicator, high-energy guy."

It was only after he took over as the White Sox bench coach last season that Hahn learned about Renteria's attention to detail and preparation.

The team's familiarity combined with Renteria's sterling reputation had Hahn convinced he wouldn't find a better candidate to take over as the team's 40th manager. Hahn quickly hired Renteria the day after last season ended. 

Several months later, the White Sox are extremely pleased with the atmosphere Renteria has created within the clubhouse.

"It's one of the best teaching environments I've ever been in," Williams said. "The way this coaching staff, the way Ricky has brought them together and used it as an opportunity to get back to basics of how we want to play fundamentally, but have fun with it as well … this is one of the best environments I've been in the sport."
 
*     *     *
 
The work ethic and attention to detail that Boles immediately noticed in 1984 dates back to Renteria's childhood. 

As a 9-year-old, Renteria spent weekends selling shoes to help his family, who had moved to Compton, Calif. from Guadalajara, Mexico in the late 1950s. Two of Renteria's older brothers worked at Thomas McAn shoes and were able to purchase several hundred pairs in bulk. 

Renteria's father, Salvador, then received permission to have his son sell the shoes in front of the store where he worked as a cashier. 

Nearly every weekend, Rick Renteria sat near the entrance of Duran's Market in the back of his parents' green late 1960s Dodge Monaco selling shoes for $1 per pair.

Renteria said he never saw a reason to complain because he figured it wouldn't have changed anything. Each of his four older brothers (Renteria is the fifth of nine children and the first born in the United States) always held down jobs. And every summer, Renteria's father found time for him to play baseball, including a trip to the Mickey Mantle World Series in Sherman, Texas when Renteria was 13.

"You were always working," Renteria said. "My dad was always working. My brothers have always worked. It's just a natural progression."

The work ethic and determination naturally carried over to Renteria's playing career. 

The Pirates used the 20th overall pick of the 1984 amateur draft to select Renteria out of South Gate High School in South Gate, Calif. Even though Renteria wasn't a physical specimen, he was a notable player in a system that also included Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla. Williams said Renteria likes to downplay how talented a player he was.

"He could hit, run, field and was a fierce competitor," Williams said. "Always hustling."

Renteria made his major league debut in 1986 and appeared in 10 games for the Pirates. That December, he was traded to Seattle and Renteria played 43 games over 1987-88 for the Mariners. 

Two years later, a practice mishap threatened to end the 28-year-old's career early. Playing for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Philadelphia), Renteria was struck in the face by a line drive during batting practice. He suffered a broken left jaw and underwent two surgeries. He had plates and screws inserted in his jaw and chin during those procedures and was forced to sleep sitting up in a recliner for the next year. 

Renteria tried to return later in that 1990 season but, "every time I took a swing, it just rung my face," he said.

Renteria played for Jalisco in the Mexican League in 1991 and was named the player of the year after hitting .442. He also won the award in 1985, 1992 and 1996. In August 1991, Boles signed Renteria to play for Montreal's Double-A Indianapolis club. But after 20 games, Renteria didn't think he had much of a shot to reach the majors and asked for his release. Though Boles didn't want to, he granted Renteria his release.

"Even then he says, ‘We're going to be in touch in the future,' " Renteria said. "I didn't think too much about it."

Renteria played for Jalisco again in 1992 and was two days away from heading down for a third straight season in 1993 when Boles called and asked if he wanted to sign a minor league deal with the expansion Florida Marlins. 

Though it didn't include an invite to big league camp, Boles thought he could get Renteria into a few major league exhibitions and that he'd eventually win a job. 

Renteria signed the deal. A few weeks into camp, Boles called and asked Renteria if wanted to play in the major league game only to be rebuffed.

"I was so excited," Boles said. "I called him into the big league office and said, ‘Hey, you're going to go play in a big league game today' and he said, ‘No thanks, I'm not ready.' That was the first time and the only time in my career than anybody ever said that to me. 

"I went home that night and I told my wife, ‘I've got a first for you.'"

Boles made the same offer a few days later. After they shared a laugh, Renteria accepted. Renteria performed well enough that spring to earn a big league spot and accrued 342 plate appearances with the Marlins as a super utility man/pinch hitter between 1993-94.

"I just wanted to show everybody I could still do it," Renteria said. "I know there was concerns. It was a long journey. There was a lot of things in between. So getting back  and I ended up staying a couple more years — I don't know if it was an affirmation or a validation. But just to be able to come back at the major league level was significant for me."

The players' strike of 1994 effectively ended Renteria's career. But he wasn't ready to retire and in 1996, he played for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos.

Though he wouldn't ever again reach the big leagues as a player, Boles thought the Renteria had the potential to do so as a coach and began to call him with offers.

"He was extremely intelligent, hard working, great personality, compassionate, organized, detailed," Boles said. "He checked every box you're looking for in a young manager."
 
*     *     *
 
When it was clear that his playing career had ended, Renteria decided it was time to go home. Boles hoped to lure him into coaching, but Renteria intended to help his wife, Ilene, raise their four children in Temecula, Calif. 

So when Boles called in October 1995 to ask if he had any interest in coaching, Renteria declined. 

"We've just continued to stay in touch through the years," Renteria said. "I always would reach out when something significant would happen. I'd make sure I gave him a call and just said hello."

Boles recalls that he wasn't taking no for an answer. He informed Renteria he would call every October to ask again. Meanwhile, Renteria looked to find a steady work. He started with a Life Agent license in 1995 and then learned how to be an electrical worker before he settled on construction in 1997. 

"I was looking for a job," Renteria said. "I was trying to stay home. It was simply so I could stay home and be with my family."

Construction looked like it would be a viable option until Renteria needed surgery in 1997 to have the top of his left thumb sewn back on by doctors after an accident. It wasn't long after that Boles called again.

"The phone rang and I remember looking at Ilene and going, ‘It's time,'" Renteria said.

He first managed in the Florida Gulf Coast league in 1998 and after he led Single-A Kane County to a 78-59 mark in 1999, Renteria was named the Midwest League manager of the year. 

Renteria spent two more seasons in the Marlins system. After a year off in 2002, he returned to coaching in 2003 at Single-A Lake Elsinore in the San Diego Padres system. He managed Lake Elsinore from 2004-06, which allowed him to coach at home (Lake Elsinore and Temecula are 17 miles apart).

Renteria took over at the Padres' Triple-A Portland club in 2007 before he was named the big league first-base coach in 2008. During six seasons in the majors, Renteria furthered his reputation as a hands-on, upbeat, hard-working coach centered in player development. He was credited with helping develop Rule 5 draftee Everth Cabrera from an inexperienced rookie to an All-Star in 2013.

"When (Renteria) attaches his name to something, it's the most important thing," said Cubs scout Terry Kennedy, who managed in the Padres' system from 2008-12. "When he gives his commitment to it, it's going to be 100 percent — all of his being, all of his effort. 

"It's in his DNA, his being, his marrow and it's not that fake hustle to prove 'I have value.' It's who he is. He wants to put in quality and leave quality." 

Promoted to Padres bench coach in 2011, Renteria's stock rose so much that the Cubs made him their manager in 2014. GM Jed Hoyer and assistant GM Jason McLeod wanted Renteria to develop their young core of prospects. Though dismissed in favor of Maddon after the 2014 season, Renteria was credited with aiding the development of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, among others.

Renteria said he quickly moved on from the Cubs and didn't sulk or wonder if he'd ever receive another chance to manager in the majors. 

"It wasn't something I was consumed with," Renteria said. "I believed that at some point if it was going to happen, it was going to happen. But you can't force it. You can't force any of these positions. 

"But I don't think I've ever lived my life too consumed with, 'Man, I hope this happens again.' It's kind of difficult to live your life that way."

A year later, Renteria took over as Robin Ventura's bench coach with the White Sox. He impressed Hahn so much in 2016 that Renteria was the easy choice to replace Ventura. 

Now retired, Boles is pleased to see Renteria running the White Sox rebuild. 

Born in Chicago, Boles grew up a huge White Sox fan. He went with his father to Midway Airport to greet the 1959 American League pennant winning club home after it clinched in Cleveland. Boles — who managed the Marlins in 1996 and from 1999-2001 — spent his first five seasons as a manager in the White Sox farm system.

Though he lives in Florida, Boles still feels very close to the White Sox. And he wouldn't have any one but Renteria in charge.

"I said, 'I'm going to keep calling until you say yes,'" Boles said. "Really I felt so strongly that we needed him in our organization, and that baseball as an industry needed people like Rick, that I wouldn't have retired until he said yes."