Roenicke to return but two coaches dismissed
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke will be back for the final year of his contract in 2015, but will oversee an altered coaching staff.
The team on Friday dismissed hitting coach Johnny Narron after three seasons in the role, and first-base coach Garth Iorg after four seasons. The rest of the staff, including Roenicke, will return.
The decisions were delivered after a week of conversations between Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio, general manager Doug Melvin and Roenicke, who met for eight hours at a Los Angeles restaurant on Wednesday and followed-up with telephone talks Thursday and Friday, all aimed at identifying areas of improvement for a club coming off an historic collapse. The 2014 Brewers became only the fifth team in the divisional era (since 1969) to spend 150 days in first place but miss the postseason.
“The plan was to take a week and let those emotions get out of the way,” Melvin said. “And to take the week to analyze the ballclub offensively, defensively, baserunning, leadership — all the things that go into our decision-making. It came down to two areas we talked about a lot: We had to have better at-bats, and we talked about some mistakes we make on the infield. We have two young infielders [shortstop Jean Segura and second baseman Scooter Gennett] we want to see continue to develop.
“That said, it’s not all the responsibility of the two coaches. They’re both good people, and they work hard at it. It’s unfortunate that sometimes when these things happen, it affects coaches as much as anybody else.”
Said Roenicke: “I like the guys we let go, and I’m never going to say it’s their fault. It’s all of our fault. It’s the players, it’s myself, and it’s the coaches. When you don’t perform in different areas, sometimes that falls on a coach or the manager. Johnny worked hard at what he did and the guys liked him, and we didn’t get it done the way we wanted to. Garth worked hard at his job, and I liked what he did also.”
Melvin declined to say when he and Attanasio reached this conclusion, but at some point they decided Roenicke remains the right man to lead the coaching staff. The Brewers reached the National League Championship Series in Roenicke’s first season (2011), but have fallen short of the postseason each year since.
In three of Roenicke’s four years, Melvin noted, the Brewers have produced a winning record. The one losing season, Melvin noted, was 2013, when Ryan Braun was suspended for the team’s final 65 games.
“[Roenicke] is only in his fourth year of managing, and he does have a reputation for winning,” Melvin said. “If you look at managers’ winning percentages, there’s 13 managers that have managed less than five years and [Roenicke] has the fourth-best winning percentage. Then look at managers [overall] — Buck Showalter has a .520 winning percentage. Roenicke, .517. Joe Maddon, .517. Bob Melvin, .516. Bruce Bochy, .502. Those are pretty good managers that he’s in company with when it comes to winning percentage, and that’s early in his career.
“He knows our organization, he’s won with our organization. The one thing that comes out of this year is winning is no longer acceptable anymore. It’s playoffs. We have to get to the playoffs.”
A vanishing offense was largely to blame for the Brewers missing that mark in 2014. After running second among National League clubs to the high-altitude Rockies in every major offensive category during the first three months of the season, the Brewers struggled to score from July onward. They fell from 4.56 runs per game in the first three months to 3.42 runs per game in the final three. Among the 30 Major League teams, only the Reds struggled more to score down the stretch.
But rather than make snap decisions in the midst of the slide — the Brewers lost 22 of their final 31 games — Attanasio and Melvin opted to spend the first two weeks of the offseason analyzing what happened.
“We talked about what we can do as a leadership team,” Melvin said. “We talked about meeting a little bit more during the season, whether we’re winning or losing. And then we talked about changes. I addressed some areas I think I can get better at to help us. I think we can be more accountable to the players if guys aren’t performing. Maybe we give them a little too much rope. Some of that is my responsibility. We talked about things we all can do — Ron, specifically, addressed a number of issues, some things he feels he can do better as a manager.”
“Anything that we discuss as a team, obviously it relates to me and what I can do better,” Roenicke said. “They had some points they wanted to run by me, and wanted my thoughts on, and to see how we can get better in those areas.”
Did it feel like he was fighting for his job?
“No, I didn’t feel like I was fighting for my job,” Roenicke said. “They wanted me back, and if they didn’t want me back, I wouldn’t have been in that meeting.”
One of Melvin’s top lieutenants, Craig Counsell, will play a prominent role in the Brewers’ search for a new hitting coach but is not a candidate for the job himself at this time. Roenicke already submitted a list of names to Counsell for review. The Brewers could actually discuss hiring two new hitting coaches if they opt to move Mike Guerrero, who joined the staff for 2014 as an extra coach, to the first base role.
Asked to identify the qualities he will seek in a new hitting coach, Melvin said, “I think you have to have someone that can adapt to the personnel that you have. You’d like to get someone who can get hitters to work the count a little bit, but sometimes that’s up to the hitter.”
“We’re dealing with a very strong-minded athlete who gets to this level,” Roenicke said, “and you have to have a personality that can get to these guys and they’ll trust and listen to you. A lot of them have made it on their own by raw ability, and they need to make changes.”
Returning staff will be bench coach Jerry Narron, pitching coach Rick Kranitz, third-base coach Ed Sedar, outfield coach John Shelby, bullpen coach Lee Tunnell and Guerrero.
Roenicke’s contractual status did not change. His deal runs through 2015 with a club option for 2016.
“We’re comfortable with his, and I talked to Ron about that, too,” Melvin said.
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