READING, Pa -- A long off-season started with a closed-door meeting between Phillies General Manager Pat Gillick and field manager Charlie Manuel. Afterward came the surprise dismissal of three coaches who were thought to be in good standing.
First base coach Marc Bombard, third base coach Bill Dancy and bench coach Gary Varsho were replaced by Davy Lopes, Art Howe and Jimy Williams. Howe later accepted a job as bench coach for the Texas Rangers and was replaced by former Seattle coach Steve Smith. Dancy, who’d been with the organization for 32 years, was offered a position within the organization.
The sweeping changes signaled an effort to improve in-game strategy and fundamentals, but some speculated whether Manuel was the one on the hot seat, and that the decision was orchestrated by Gillick. Both Williams and Howe have managed hundreds more games than Manuel, and would be qualified to take over should Gillick make a switch.
Either way, the fundamentals argument is a valid point. Lopes, for example, was brought in specifically for his base-running expertise. Williams and Howe, and also Smith, would help in other areas, like fielding and bunting. During the season, the club drew public criticism from Phillies special adviser Dallas Green following a sloppy start, setting off a firestorm that culminated with a pregame blowup between Manuel and the former Phillies boss. Green received a slap on the wrist from the organization and was no longer allowed on the field.
Months later, when the coaching changes were announced Oct. 3, they were accompanied by an official statement from the club, with Manuel's name attached to the release.
"I really appreciate what Marc, Bill and Gary did for the organization, but at this time, we felt it was necessary to make some changes," Manuel said in the statement.
Four months later, when asked whether he had additional input on the decision, the Phillies skipper would not commit to an answer.
"We wanted to sharpen up areas we thought our weaknesses was," Manuel said. "No one likes to change coaches really ... but at the same time, Jimy Williams is a tremendous baseball guy. I’ve known him a long time, as a manager and a coach; he’s got all the experience in the world. He's a tremendous teacher. He’ll be working with our pitchers as far as fielding and bunting. A pitching coach's job is not to teach a pitcher how to field a ball ... In Atlanta, when he was a coach, he had great success with Smoltz and Glavine. All those guys give him credit for bunting and hitting ... The guy we got at third base, Steve Smith, he’s supposed to be a tremendous third base coach. He’s got a little temper to him. He’ll get kicked out of a game every now and then. He's a tremendous teacher. He’s been around A-Rod his whole career, and the Seattle infielders and the Texas guys. I don’t know him real well, but I’ve seen him work.
"I think these guys bring a big addition to our staff," Manuel added.