Before we get to the merits of the David Bell hire, let’s pause a minute to talk process.
Of course, with most billion-dollar businesses, this aspect would be a foregone conclusion. But as we learned with the last manager search, not so much for the Reds.
Dick Williams’ recent pursuit of a new manager began in April when they fired Bryan Price. Williams said they formulated a list of 20 criteria for the new manager, but the “single most important trait” was whether the manager “could use all available tools at our collective disposal to maximize the performance and value of each player as an individual, while also maximizing the performance of the team as a unit.”
That sentence alone should bring smiles to Reds fans.
Williams said his staff began with a list of over 90 candidates and spent months conducting a thorough, time-consuming background vetting process. They worked diligently to construct and structure the interview questions. You wouldn’t go through all this if you were going to hire David Bell all along.
The Reds talked to 12 candidates we know of, but Williams said today they “sat down with more than a dozen” so there might have been a couple we don’t know about. That’s to be expected with certain candidates who might not want their current employers or the public to know they were interested in another job. While the Reds interviewed four people who could be classified as internal, and John Farrell who was sort of internal but not really, more than half of the contenders were external candidates.
They talked to prospective skippers with a wide range of experiences, from established guys who had won World Series, to several who were younger, coming out of coaching staffs. David Bell was VP of Player Development for the Giants. The names in the Reds search seemed to track those questioned by other organizations.
The current process stands in stark contrast to the hiring of Bryan Price. Walt Jocketty interviewed just one person and announced that he’d heard enough. A little more than a year ago, I wrote this about the value of conducting a broad interview process and the opportunity missed in the fall of 2013:
“At a minimum, the front office could have used a broad search to hear the strengths and weaknesses of their own organization from the perspective of others, as well as learn new best practices of winning clubs. Listening to a half-dozen smart outsiders offer detailed analyses of the Reds roster could have helped break down their bias toward the familiar and reveal blind spots. For an organization with a recent history of insularity, there would have been gigantic value in hearing how other successful organizations operated. But the Castellini-Jocketty team, looking ever inward, didn’t care. They cut the process short, hired Bryan Price, and seemed proud of the brevity.”
Dick Williams put it this way today:
“We learned a lot about our selves and our team. And I think that’s an important part of the process. You have to go into these interviews willing to ask tough questions and willing to look in the mirror. It was a very enlightening process to go through.”
Bryan Price might have been the right guy for 2014. Point is, the Reds had no real way to know that at the time.
If the Reds hadn’t hired Price as manager, reporting indicated another club would have. There was a case to be made for continuity in the 2014 clubhouse, coming off 93 wins in 2013. Price knew the team and the front office knew it was largely going to go with the same roster the following season.
Bryan Price’s teams fell victim to injuries, roster shedding and mismanagement. But the Reds missed an enormous opportunity to listen to a wide range of other people, to make sure that Price was the best they could do. If nothing else, they could have listened to a bunch of smart people break down the Reds organization. The 2013 process was a lazy, embarrassing, clueless disaster.
Dick Williams said early on that he wanted to name a manager by the end of October. He stuck the landing.
Yesterday and today were chosen for the announcement and press conference because of the two-day lull in postseason games. The Reds were ready to go. Not all the other organizations searching for managers were. The Reds probably had Bell locked up earlier in the weekend, right before reports started circulating about candidates “withdrawing” and being told they weren’t going to get the job. You don’t start doing that until you know you have your guy in place. Today is Oct. 22, comfortably ahead of the self-imposed timeline.
The 2018 process Dick Williams ran was a welcome breath of maximum professionalism, the product of long hours and much thought, befitting a billion-dollar business. Again, this should go without needing to mention, but not here.
Whether the Reds landed on the right guy as their manager is another issue. Meanwhile, they should be congratulated for running a first-rate process.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.