Sharp: Jim Caldwell should go; Brad Ausmus? It’s a bit trickier

HEAD COACHES: Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (left) and Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell. (Detroit Free Press photos)

HEAD COACHES: Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (left) and Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell. (Detroit Free Press photos)

Two seasons ended within hours of each other Sunday.

The bad news was that the Tigers saved one last, feeble offensive whimper for their final game of the season. The worst news was that the Lions still have 12 more opportunities to play as heartlessly as they did in Chicago.

The respective failures of both teams reflect upon their disappointing leadership. Brad Ausmus and Jim Caldwell entered their third seasons as Tigers manager and Lions coach this year with much to prove and little public support. Both made the playoffs in their first seasons. Neither won a playoff game. Both were thought to have absolutely no chance at returning following equally disastrous second seasons and working with new bosses.

But both survived.

Caldwell shouldn’t see a fourth year with the Lions. The fourth game of the season provided all the evidence first-year general manager Bob Quinn needs that Caldwell isn’t the right voice for the significant rebuilding job facing the Lions. The breakdowns in player communication and concentration suggest they aren’t listening any longer to the coach.

Ausmus’ fate is a little trickier.

If Mike Scioscia suddenly and shockingly becomes available in the next couple of days, by all means it’s “Bye, Bye, Brad.” While 14 years removed from his only World Series managerial championship, Scioscia would be a significant upgrade from Ausmus. There are rumblings that Scioscia and the Los Angeles Angels might part company after 17 years. But those odds are slim, at best.

But if it’s agreed the Tigers erred three years ago by giving the keys to a Ferrari to a driver with little experience beyond a Fiat, then wouldn’t replacing Ausmus with another first-time manager classically define insanity, repeating history with the futile hope it’ll change?

The Tigers didn’t miss the playoffs for the second straight year because they lacked passion or fire. They didn’t lose because they were too casual. They failed because of the often-documented offensive flaws in a roster incapable of advancing runners and manufacturing runs when they’re not bombing three-run homers — the end poetically coming in a 1-0 loss.

Firing Ausmus would appease the howling jackals looking for somebody — anybody — to pay the price for a top-five payroll falling short of reasonable expectations. He must assume his fair share of responsibility for the “consistent inconsistency” that ultimately doomed the season. But he also deserves some credit for holding together a rotation that included three rookies and an everyday lineup that was only fully intact for maybe a dozen games.

Quite frankly, the Tigers have more serious off-season questions than whether they pick up the fourth-year option on Ausmus’ contract. Do they cut payroll? And, if so, can they honestly find serious trade partners for some of their more burdensome contracts?

The Tigers’ failures inspire more public outrage than the Lions’ because they’ve demanded success over the past 10 years while the Lions merely hope for improvement knowing that they’ll be more easily forgiven for their missteps because this city simply can’t walk away from football. There was a time not long ago when it did abandon baseball.

When the Tigers lose, it’s: “How could that happen?”

When the Lions lose, it’s: “Of course, we know how that could happen.”

Caldwell told reporters Monday he’s not worried about job security. He said he speaks with Quinn and ownership practically on a daily basis. But he wouldn’t elaborate on whether any discussions in the aftermath of Sunday’s embarrassing loss in Chicago focused on his job status.

“If I was,” he said. “I wouldn’t tell you.”

But Caldwell is in a worse position than Ausmus. It doesn’t matter who’s coaching the Lions now because of the overall poor personnel. But the Tigers still believe they can contend in 2017 with their current roster. If the right manager is suddenly available, they should not retain Ausmus. But the strongest argument for bringing him back for a fourth season is the lack of logical, viable replacements.

Not exactly the most compelling sales pitch.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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