Ballantini: Coop hits the hot seat - for good?

Ballantini: Coop hits the hot seat - for good?
September 28, 2011, 1:44 am
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Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011
Posted: 8:36 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com White Sox InsiderFollow @CSNChi_Beatnik
READ: Cooper, Baines ink extensions
VIDEO: One-on-one with GM Williams, Part 1
VIDEO: One-on-one with GM Williams, Part 2

As Don Cooper ascended to the spot where former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen sat and held court for nearly eight seasons, it sure didnt seem like the shoes were all that big to fill.

I could manage. If I had the right people around me, I think I could do it, Cooper said. I dont think its necessarily Xs and Os. Its more managing people, creating an atmosphere, things like that. I do believe I could do it.

Cooper has been coaching in the White Sox organization since 1988 and for the major league team since 2002, predating Guillen. The former major league pitchergenerally considered the finest pitching coach in baseballhas yet to try his hand at managing, but has long spoken of his managerial aspirations and believes he has the mettle to succeed. The two of us have spoken over time and at length, dating to last year, about that possibilityand in Chicago if Guillen was ever to depart.

While Ken Williams has made no mention of Cooper as a managerial candidate and has indicated he has a definite external favorite candidate, the GM definitely values his mentoring. That was evidenced on Tuesday, when Cooper and Harold Baines were both re-signed to coaching extensions.

Of Cooper, Williams said, Well, the pitching has been as consistent over the last decade, and thats a testament to our scouting department, to our player development department, to Don Cooper, directly in his direction. Its something thats well deserved and Im happy, thrilled to know that hes going to be on board here for the next four years.

Coopers charges believe he has the mettle to apply his success as a pitching coach to an opportunity in the big chair.

Yeah, why not, closer Sergio Santos said. He sees game situations well and deals so well with the mental side of the game.

Fellow reliever Will Ohman predictably was more contemplative, citing Coopers malleability as a particular strength.

Most players will rise to the challenge for a guy who you played your best for, and the guy you usually play your best for is the one who puts you in a position to play your best, said Ohman, pointing out that pitching coaches are often overlooked when it comes to managing. He asked me in spring training: How to I get you to be the best you can be? Hes not the kind of guy who will tell you, This is how we do it here, period He has a different method for each guy, some are thinkers, some are doers. Thats the job of a very good coach.

Cooper made specific reference to his communication style before the game, citing it as one of his key strengths.

Ozzie and I have had unbelievably good communication on the pitchers, on a daily basis Id like to think that same communication is going to happen with anybody else, he said. Im just a believer in communication as the key to any relationship, whether youre a bossemployee, coachplayer, boyfriendgirlfriend, manwife communications the key, man. That goes for any coaching job.

With Ozzie gone and Cooper no longer obligated to keep his big chair aspirations more on the down low, hes not looking at his late-season audition as a lark, but a tryout.

Cooper believes that his ability to motivate pitchers physically, mentally and emotionally can translate to an entire team and builds a bold and positive rsum for his candidacy. Counting Matt Thornton, Esteban Loaiza and Gavin Floyd among Cooper's dozen high-profile success stories, GM Ken Williams is well aware of his pitching coach's strengths and owes much of his executive success to Coop's coaching. That knowledge may result in Cooper being granted fuller responsibility with the teama responsibility that began Tuesday night.

Whether the GM recognizes it or not, if his pitchers have anything to say about it, Cooper should be considered for the top job.

He deserves consideration, lefty John Danks said. Hes helped me through different parts of my career in so many different ways. Hes got a great feel for what we need, mentally, physically, motivationally. I cant believe managing hasnt happened for him yet.

He gave me the opportunity to succeed or fail here with the White Sox and equipped me for the success Ive had here, said Phil Humber, Coopers latest revitalization, arguably the Soxs top starter in 2011. Thats a real key to who he ishe finds out what you need from him, then he equips you with it. Theres nothing more Id ask for in a manager, actually.

Hey, were the replacements

While Williams still is not speculating as to who would replace Guillen, he has said that the yearlong drama regarding the ex-managers contract prepared him well for the day that Williams would have to replace his former teammate.

And theres nothing that says we cant speculate on the man who trots the lineup card out for the White Sox's first game of 2012 at the Texas Rangers on April 6.

In order of likelihood, heres a glimpse at the candidates outside of current interim manager Don Cooper.

Dave Martinez: Martinez has the toughness and pedigree to appeal to Williams. Likewise his mentorship under universally-admired mentor Joe Maddon and Tampa Bays success with maximizing roster potential. But reading the tea leaves of Williams pregame comments on Tuesday, where, unsolicited, he mentioned that his clear choice might not be hired by the World Series because his choice might be involved.

We have to wait and see who the players are in the World Series and if theres someone on a playoff team that I ultimately might want to talk to, it might have to drag a little bit.

For those who feel Williams is leaning toward Sandy Alomar Jr., the Cleveland Indians are not in the playoffs; unless the GM is initiating heavy subterfuge and misdirection, hes already told us that his top candidate is in playoff contention.

Terry Francona: Long a favorite of Williams, its unlikely he is released from the Red Sox. But if Boston falters and falls from the playoffs in the seasons final two games, a change could be in the air. When talking about having to wait until after the World Series, Williams could be referring to an infatuation with Francona as wellalthough it is much less realistic or likely.

Sandy Alomar Jr.: The Cleveland Indians coach and former three-time White Sox interviewed very well for the Toronto Blue Jays opening in 2011, finishing a close second to John Farrell.

Joe McEwing: Ozzie himself seemed to transition from a mocking use of Super in front of McEwings name in passing to genuine appreciation for the Charlotte Triple-A manager. Yet the ascendance of a minor-league manager would seem more in line with a team going young, as the White Sox are too deep All-In for 2012 to make such a move.

Omar Vizquel: Vizquel said on Tuesday that he still wants to play in Chicago, not coach or manage hereyet. Vizquels artistic, mellow bent might be just the recipe for Williams after the eight-year diet of brashness and controversy Guillen provided.

Tony LaRussa: Unless Jerry Reinsdorf just extended Cooper for four years in order to fire him with four years left on the deal, LaRussa wont come to Chicago if only because he is forever married to pitching coach Dave Duncan. Still, LaRussa remains a favorite of certain dead-horse beating writers, despite the fact that the ex-White Sox mentor is unsure he even will commit to his current St. Louis Cardinals for more than a year a time.

Buddy Bell: For whatever reason, the former manager and current White Sox farm director was immediately bandied as a possible replacement despite the fact that he told South Side Sox this May he absolutely would not return to managing.

Joey Cora: Cora would have been a fair enough candidate if not so closely associated with Guillen. As the team didnt even allow Cora to serve as the interim manager to finish 2011, theres close to zero chance Cora will interview with Williams. Besides, the team malaise under Ozzie this season must also fall on Coras shoulders, as the bench coach handles a lot of the clubs heavy lifting.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information. CSNChicago staff contributed to this report.