Leading pro-sport turnarounds
All game jerseys are now back from the dry cleaners, rinsed of last season's face-paint and mustard stains, pressed for a new year. With the NFL season kicked off, the MLB playoffs soon to get underway and the NBA season looming, let's look at the organizations that have given fans good reason to swell with expectation. The following franchises are going through storied turnarounds, pumping new energy into their teams, their fan bases and their cities. And behind them are leaders whose commitment to excellence is proving infectious.
1. The Washington Redskins
In the past ten years, the Redskins have made the playoffs twice. In this year's opener the Redskins upended the mighty Cowboys in an upset that no one saw coming. While one game doesn't make a turnaround, owner Dan Snyder has altered his "buy a championship" approach and acknowledged that "a real leader recognizes mistakes and moves on." Snyder has given Mike Shanahan the reins, and Shanahan's grabbed on tight. No longer are individual players allowed to be bigger than the team, as Albert Hayneworth's preseason antics earned him sixteen meager plays in the opener. Through these types of actions, Shanahan has demonstrated that accountability is not simply a word, but a value that anyone who is a part of the organization must abide by--even massively overpaid superstars.
2. Cincinnati Reds
For the first time since 2001, the Cincinnati Reds are looking to finish above .500. The squad is out in front in the National League Central, and should they make a playoff spot it will be the first time the franchise has appeared in the postseason since 1995. Behind the turnaround stands proven general manager, Walt Jocketty, who was the architect behind the St. Louis Cardinal's rise to prominence throughout the last decade. Jocketty has spent 35 years in the league honing his team development skills, and building an honest and patient reputation. While Jocketty may have already cemented his legacy as a gifted culture changer, a Reds run in the playoffs would only strengthen his case.
3. New York Jets
Between 1999 and 2008, the New York Jets made the playoffs four times and never made it to a conference championship game, let alone a Super Bowl. In 2009, rookie head coach, Rex Ryan, reinvigorated the franchise--leading the Jets to the AFC Championship game. In 2010, they're looking to continue the turnaround, having assembled one of the strongest defenses in recent history, and becoming a target destination for free agents. While Ryan may be a tad outspoken, the Jets' coach has made the game of football fun for his players and revamped the Jets into a Super Bowl contender.
4. Minnesota Twins
With the Twins standing atop the American League Central for much of the decade, few may recall the beleaguered franchise that couldn't break .500 throughout the '90s. During the past decade, Jim Pohlad, owner and orchestrator of the franchise's more recent fortunes, has been celebrated for his business brilliance. Having negotiated poor earnings, poor records, and the dicey drama of building and opening a new ballpark, Target Field, earlier this spring, Pohlad has brought the franchise to a renewed status. With the Twins poised to make the playoffs once more, could this be the year they complete the turnaround by capturing the pennant and taking the World Series?
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
The US National Men's basketball team recently destroyed its competition in the 2010 FIBA World Championships, and brought home the gold medal for the first time in 16 years. Kevin Durant, the unassuming 21-year old from the Oklahoma City Thunder, quietly put his stamp on the US team by winning MVP and leading America's "B Team" to unprecedented success. Oklahoma Thunder GM, Sam Presti, struck gold in Durant, but he is just one of the pieces that Presti has put in place. Head coach, Scott Brooks, was promoted by Presti and promptly earned the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year, and Durant's supporting cast is widely considered both youthful and dynamic. Last season the green and energetic Thunder took on the top-seeded Lakers as the 8th seed and pushed the playoff series to six games, frustrating the eventual champs. Not bad after finishing 2008-2009 with only 23 wins.
It will be exciting to watch as each of these leaders commands his team into a new year, new challenges and new expectations. As with all turnarounds, progress can be slow; but perhaps one of these franchises will push to the next level this season. Whether you're a fan of these franchises and their leaders or not, let us know what you think--and who else should be added to the conversation.
September 13, 2010; 4:58 PM ET
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