Managerial indecision in the age of Bill Belichick

By Sterling Pingree

John Farrell got fired this week. That news in and of itself wasn’t shocking to anybody inside of Red Sox Nation, but a more impartial judge outside of New England might think so. Farrell spent 5 years at the helm and in that time won 3 American League East titles and a World Series Championship, but Sox fans pay more attention to the two last place finishes nestled in the middle of his resume. Truly seeing the dark cloud in every silver lining.

Why is this? Why do Boston sports fans and most particularly Red Sox fans have such a critical reverence for the skipper of the Olde Towne Teame? The easy answer is that fans here are more passionate and more knowledgeable but there has to be something more to it than that. We’re talking a lot of history here.

Dating back to the start of the Red Sox as we know it in 1901, the Red Sox have had 46 managers. What that means is that the Red Sox change managers roughly every 2.5 years. By that way of thinking, Farrell actually doubled the average tenure with his seemingly short 5 year tenure. Fun fact, John Farrell is actually third in Red Sox history in games managed, behind only Joe Cronin and Terry Francona.

This phenomenon isn’t only unique to the Red Sox though, in the 93 year history of the Boston Bruins they’ve had 29 head coaches, which averages out to a new coach every 3.2 years. The Boston Celtics, arguably the most storied franchise in basketball history, who Red Auerbach coached for 16 seasons, has had 17 head coaches in their 81 years. Meaning that a team which had won 17 championships in 81 years and changed coaches 17 times as well, has won a title and named a new head coach with the same frequency, every 4.76 years.

What about the Patriots? The Patriots are perhaps the most interesting study. They have the shortest history of the four major teams and have had 14 head coaches, which is pretty respectable that they’ve changed coaches as often as the United States holds a presidential election. But Bill Belichick skews the data, what with his 18 years in Foxboro. Belichick’s Patriots’ stint, brings the Pats’ average up by a full year.

Since you mentioned Bill Belichick and he is the longest tenured head coach or manager in Boston sports history, let’s look at what’s transpired during the age of Belichick. Since “BB” decided not to become the “HC of the NYJ” and instead came to New England to win Lombardi Trophies, the other major teams in Boston have seen an abnormally high rate of turnover in the same area. Since Belichick was hired in 2000, the Bruins have had seven head coaches. (Not counting Pat Burns, who was fired in 2000, but before Belichick ever coached a game.) The stunning part is that in that 18 year span, Claude Julien coached 10 of them, meaning that in the Bruins other 8 seasons, they had six head coaches. The Celtics have had 5 since 2000, when Rick Pitino was head coach, while the next Sox manager will be the team’s 7th of the Belichick era.

These numbers would be understandable if the teams were bad and they have been at times, but all three of these franchises have won championships in the last 18 years and in the case of the Red Sox, three championships. This begs the question: how this is possible?

My theory is that any coach in the age of Bill Belichick is going to be viewed unfavorably because everything is held up as a comparison. Terry Francona was good, maybe the best in team history, but is he one of the sports’ all-time greats? There is a competition for attention among all of the Boston teams (except the Revolution, they stay pretty neutral) and I think for the Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins are constantly looking for that next great head coach, their own Belichick, that can lead the team for a couple of decades. If you’re the Celtics, maybe you found that in Brad Stevens, but if you’re the Red Sox, the search is on, again.


Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.