On Saturday night, the Twin Cities sports scene lost one of its longest-serving coaches. Wild coach Jacques Lemaire announced that he was moving on after eight seasons in Minnesota, having won one division title and reached the conference finals once in his tenure.
Your new longest-tenured professional coach in the area, then: Ron Gardenhire - who has reached the MLB equivalent of the conference finals once, while winning four division titles in his seven years as Twins manager.
These are two similar coaches - with key differences that may help explain why the Twins have been consistently successful under Gardenhire, while the Wild have struggled to get over the hump with Lemaire.
+ Both men have the same style
Separate coaches and managers into the two classic schools, and Gardenhire and Lemaire would be solidly on the old-school side of the ledger. Both men seem interested in making young players prove their bona fides; meanwhile, both seem to trust veteran players innately. And both guys are hell-bent on molding players to play a certain way, or simply tossing them aside. Ask Brendan Harris what happens if Gardy feels like you're not focusing on your fielding. Over on the Wild side, ask Mark Parrish what happens if you get on Jacques's bad side.
They're traditionalists, not numbers guys. They believe that there is one way to win, and all other ways involve smoke and mirrors. If you play for Jacques Lemaire, you will backcheck. You will guard against odd-man rushes. You will learn to be defensively responsible - or you will not play very much.
If you play for Ron Gardenhire, you will play defense. You will throw strikes. You will move the runner over, and you will learn to manufacture runs - or you will not play very much.
+ Differences are subtle, but may be why Gardy wins
Here's the thing, though - each man's team seemed to have a very different attitude.
Lemaire was constantly conflicting with his players; the Star Tribune even printed rumors of run-ins over the past couple of months that included much very real anger on the players' side. Meanwhile, there seem to be few guys in the Twins' dugout that don't get along with Gardenhire. The Twins manager seems to be focused on supporting his players; Lemaire seemed more interested in ripping his, which entertains the media but doesn't make guys excited to get to the rink.
More importantly, Gardenhire seems to let players know what is expected of them. The players that have grown frustrated with the manager over the past few years - Jason Bartlett, Kyle Lohse, et al - didn't like what they were hearing from team management, but never seemed confused about what the skipper wanted.
That communication was never evident with the Wild under Lemaire. Marian Gaborik constantly chafed at what he seemed to feel was an ever-evolving standard. Mark Parrish felt that Lemaire hated him for no good reason, and never did figure out what it was that the coaching staff wanted.
Under Gardenhire, right or wrong, the Twins clubhouse always seemed to at least be pulling in the same direction. The Wild locker room seemed to feel like they couldn't even find the correct harness.
+ Lemaire was right to move on; the Twins need Gardy to stay
It was time for Lemaire to go on to his next challenge. The Wild had reached the peak of what they could do under his tutelage; the franchise quite obviously needs to go in a different direction.
It'd be hard to say the same things about the Twins, and about Gardenhire. The manager may have a job for just about as long as he wants one in Minnesota, and when he finally hangs up his windbreaker, the Twins will probably hire the guy that is most like Gardy that they can find. He has done what Lemaire could never do; he's built a team to be the team that he wants.
You can criticize Gardenhire for many things, but that accomplishment is certainly admirable - and for the best for the future of the Twins.