Who is the best coach/manager in Boston pro sports?
We’re fortunate to be alive during a wondrous time when the Boston sports scene has been blessed with an embarrassment of riches and championship banners. Everywhere you look there is a team in title contention. The bar is high in the Hub for sports teams. The same goes for the men who lead them.
Our slice of America is known for attracting the brightest minds and the most brilliant problem-solvers. That carries over to coaching as well.
Right now, Boston is home to a coaching clinic with a brain trust you can trust. There’s no shortage of superior supervisors, but who is first right now among our fearless leaders? Forget résumé and reputation, let’s determine the best coach/manager in Boston sports at this moment.
1. Alex Cora, Red Sox
You have to reach the corona of the sun to encounter something hotter than Cora. He can’t lose, unless it’s the curious Manager of the Year vote. Cora was runner-up in the American League for Manager of the Year, but he’s our coach of the moment. Anyone who can transform David Price into a beloved postseason hero deserves top honors.
The rookie Red Sox manager won 108 games and a World Series title and masterfully made all the right moves. The Sox were the wire-to-wire best team in baseball, and it wasn’t close. They didn’t just win the World Series. They romped.
The man his players call AC adeptly melded esoteric analytics and innate baseball IQ with old-school charm to get the most out of a team that had careened out of the playoffs the previous two years under John Farrell. He changed the culture and the postseason fortunes of an underachieving group.
He exhibited a managerial Midas touch, whether it was inserting Brock Holt into the lineup in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Yankees, using his starters in the rover role to plug the eighth-inning hole in his bullpen, or calling on Mitch Moreland to deliver a pinch-hit three-run homer in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the World Series, sparking an epic comeback.
The Sox know they have a keeper in Cora, which is why they rewarded him with a reworked contract that puts him under their control through 2022.
2. Bill Belichick, Patriots
If this were based on career accomplishments, it would be a walk-away for Belichick, who is the only NFL head coach to win five Super Bowls and has a higher winning percentage (.683) than both George Halas and Don Shula. He is the apotheosis of the genius coach.
But Belichick also is the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-coach, so we’ll follow his lead.
It has been a bit of a peculiar year at Patriot Place. Belichick’s team reached its bye week at 7-3 and is coasting to another preordained division title, despite not having Julian Edelman for the first four games of the season (suspension) and Rob Gronkowski (injuries) missing three of the last four.
However, His Hoodiness has been beaten soundly by two of his protégés, Matt Patricia and Mike Vrabel. Uncharacteristically, all three of the Patriots’ losses have been double-digit defeats and have looked even worse than the final scores.
The Patriots’ id just seems a bit out of alignment. Add in that Belichick alienated his two star players, Tom Brady and Gronk, during the offseason; that fans still demand accountability for the Malcolm Butler Super Bowl benching; and that former Patriot Dion Lewis called out his team for folding, and Belichick’s decision-making is being called into question more than usual.
Still, it’s never wise to bet against the best. Belichick is the best.
3. Bruce Cassidy, Bruins
He’s not Scotty Bowman or Toe Blake, but Cassidy has done a remarkable job as the Bruins bench boss since succeeding Claude Julien. Cassidy, who boasts a .679 points percentage as Bruins coach, is pretty much just doing triage at this point with his pucksters, addressing the most urgent issue and moving on to the next one.
The latest malady for the Black and Gold was the loss of defenseman doyen Zdeno Chara to a dreaded “lower-body injury” Wednesday night when his knee buckled in Denver. Chara is the latest dinged-up blue liner, joining Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo, and Urho Vaakanainen.
At this point, it’s easier to count the defensemen who haven’t been injured. That would not include pint-sized puck-mover Torey Krug, who missed the first 11 games after he injured the same ankle he fractured in last season’s playoffs.
Cassidy has overcome his top goaltender, Tuukka Rask, taking a leave of absence and playing at a level that leaves a lot to be desired; a defense corps decimated by injury; and a top-heavy collection of forwards that constitutes 1⅔ reliable lines.
It’s a miracle on ice that the Bruins are 10-6-2 and in playoff position as the all-important Thanksgiving marker approaches.
4. Brad Stevens, Celtics
Yeah, this is surprisingly low for our resident basketball beautiful mind. Stevens remains one of the most respected coaches in the NBA, but he hasn’t been able to coax chemistry or continuity out of the league’s best collection of talent east of the East Bay. By his own admission, his team isn’t responding.
“We’re not there yet, and so that, to me, is well-coached teams get there. We’re not a well-coached team right now, that’s pretty obvious,” said Stevens following a frustrating loss to Portland Sunday.
The Celtics are stumbling to find cohesion with the reintegration of Gordon Hayward. The starting lineup of Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford plays like a bunch of strangers thrown together for a pickup game (92.7 points per 100 possessions), not the East Coast answer to the Golden State Warriors.
A team anointed the seigneurs of the Eastern Conference has underwhelmed with an 8-6 start, including a recent 1-4 road trip.
This is the first time that Stevens has been entrusted with a team that is a high-end title contender, replete with the lofty expectations and egos that come along with that level of talent.
Last year, the Celtics reverted to overachiever mode after Hayward snapped his ankle less than six minutes into the season opener, and no one expected them to reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals without Irving or Hayward.
Stevens is finding that even with an uber-talented team, there is some assembly required. Success requires balancing talents and suppressing agendas. The Celtics aren’t there yet.
5. Brad Friedel, Revolution coach
We can’t leave out the Revolution, even if MLS left them out of the playoffs for the third consecutive year. The Other Brad is much more of an unknown than his Boston counterparts. The former US national team goalie couldn’t save the Revolution in his first season as coach. They finished with 41 points, their lowest total since 2012, and won just two of their final seven matches.
Venerable Globe soccer scribe Frank Dell’Apa believes that Friedel overestimated the talent he inherited. The Revolution still have containment issues in central defense, and despite talented performers like Cristian Penilla and Diego Fagundez, they tend to chase the game.
New England was second-to-last in MLS in successful pass percentage (74 percent) and ranked in the bottom third in possession percentage (48.4). Friedel has work to do to remake the Revolution and move up the coaching ranks.