Success is gauged on a scale of relativity, perspective and a healthy dose of elevated expectations. Winning 13 games and losing in the NFC Championship Game only mean linear improvements are expected, until a championship banner is raised, and we subsequently tend to forget past triumphs in the midst of another season.
The San Francisco Giants have won two of the past three championships but that hasn't stopped fans from freaking out over the struggles of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and the bullpen. The San Francisco 49ers are on an extraordinary two-year run but people are more focused on whether A.J. Jenkins can eclipse his paltry zero reception total—starting to think Jenkins and zero catches are synonymous with the times I've read that phrase in an article—and whether their championship window is closing. The Golden State Warriors just finished off their most incredible postseason runs and we're over here fretting over losing Mike Malone's ability to draw up elevator plays—or something about motivational speeches.
And yet, there's something gratifying about that; as fans of the Giants, 49ers and Warriors for the past decade, there hasn't been much success, relative or not. I wasn't alive for the years before that but Wikipedia and Youtube insists that there's been no period of time when all these teams combined for this much media attention and popularity. Buster Posey, Colin Kaepernick and Stephen Curry will surely become legends but it's the coaches that's been the nuggets in the new "Golden Age".
I really wanted to give these guys a nickname, or throw out some pop culture reference to make this aesthetically pleasing. What could go wrong with a Tywin Lannister/ Bochy comparison? Hint: everything. Instead, I'm stuck with zero comparisons and blindly assuming Boch is a great clubhouse presence, owns an innate ability to handle his players and timely managerial moves in the postseason. Ya know, the usual jargon but it's never been more true in the past three years.
Baseball isn't like football or basketball where the coaches have a direct impact on almost every second of the game. They scratch out a lineup card, usually static, throw out a starting pitcher and watch them go. In the case of the American League, there's even less managing with the DH.
But in the past three seasons, GM Brian Sabean has given Bochy a cacophony of personalities and I'm hesitant to say this because the word has a bad connotation: but he's manipulated the pieces wonderfully into two world titles. One can say it's been flukey but it's not easy managing the ups and downs of Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Pablo Sandoval, Sergio Romo, Tim Lincecum, and of course, Brian Wilson. For that, he's the steady veteran of the group, unlike the next guy.
I've no clue what Bill Walsh was like in his heyday but here's thinking Harbaugh rivals his
near-insane insane thirst for perfection, as written here. A quick recap: in two years, Harbaugh has managed to give Alex Smith a career, piss off multiple coaches including Jim Schwartz and Pete Carroll, spit a lot, beat Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs, win 27 games (including 3 postseasons wins), appear on Judge Judy, and single-handedly popularizing the Pistol offense to fans that don't pay attention to college football. All this after resuscitating a Stanford team that was 16-40 in the previous five seasons before his arrival.
A fiery coach, Harbaugh's act might get old—I'm sure this is what Seattle Seahawks fans tell themselves to sleep, the irony—but with the great drafting and Kaepernick, they aren't going anywhere. Like the Giants and Bochy, there's no real doubt as to whether Harbaugh is the next Bill Belichick, he's as close as there is in the NFL.
I might be a homer here but Jackson's case as the head coach might be the most interesting in the foreseeable future. Harbaugh will be great, Bochy is probably already there, but the jury is still out for a coach coming off a postseason in which he out-strategized Coach of the Year George Karl—someone please hire this guy—and put together a gameplan that had Tony Parker spinning his head on defense and had Gregg Popovich taking out one of the best players of all time, Tim Duncan, in crunch time.
Jackson does lose his top assistant and if in twenty years they call it Mike Malone's coaching tree, I'll then lament his loss; but for now, it's entirely possible that Jackson really understands how to take advantage of Curry and Thompson's shooting and funneling shooters towards Bogut.
Although we want a third Giants championship or the first 49ers Super Bowl since Steve Young held the Lombardi Trophy, it's the Warriors and Mark Jackson that hold the intrigue. Jackson might not innately own the same in-game adjustments that Harbaugh does but what he lacks he makes up for with Bochy's composure in handling players. Bochy is known for remaining patient with his veterans and pitchers—almost to a fault—and we see the same traits in Jackson. So many times we saw Jackson place the ball in Jarrett Jack's hands despite four or five possessions of ball-clogging play. Three fouls on Klay Thompson in the first half? Jackson trusts him enough to play him the rest of the second quarter. The result might not always go according to plan but the process and trust given to his players are a better long-term bet.
It's hard to make direct corollary comparisons but there are many things each coaches do well. Jackson plays to the media the way Harbaugh does and holds his players to the highest esteem the way the other two coaches do.
In the first round against the Denver Nuggets, Jackson accused Kenneth Faried of playing dirty and I'm not sure it's a coincidence that Faried sat most of the second half due to foul trouble. He also calls his two guards the best shooting backcourt in NBA history. Harbaugh did the same by naming Alex Smith his startin quarterback in the first week. Madness? But there's a method to it. Irrational confidence can be detrimental to a team but all three coaches mix just enough execution, psychological reinforcements and roster talent to remain at the top for a long time.
We know and expect what we're going to get from Jim Harbaugh and Bruce Bochy. We know their act and what they're capable of. Mark Jackson holds all that potential and the wild card that comes with coaching a team that's never experienced sustained success.
The storyline going into the 2013 season, besides injuries, will be Jackson's next step as head coach of the Golden State Warriors, and solidifying his place alongside the other two coaches.