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COHN: Ranking Bay Area's pro coaches/managers

Published: Monday, November 5, 2012 at 6:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 5, 2012 at 10:49 p.m.

It all comes down to Jim Harbaugh vs. Bob Melvin, a strange comparison if there ever was one. But, OK, you need to know what I’m talking about, and that involves an explanation of context. Here goes.

I spent October on the grand tour of the Midwest with the Giants, and as I killed time in press boxes before playoff games, I asked myself a simple question: How would I rank the five professional managers/head coaches I cover?

It’s a fun mind game and, to me, it has meaning. So, let’s name the top and the bottom guys right away because they are so obvious, and then let’s get to the heart of the matter, the Harbaugh-Melvin super showdown.

The best manager-head coach in the Bay Area is Bruce Bochy. He is the best without question, without the least murmur of disagreement. If you are preparing to argue this point, stop right now because you are wrong.

Bochy has won the World Series two of the past three seasons. He is brilliant at running a pitching staff. And he knows how to shuffle a batting order — Angel Pagan leads off and then he doesn’t lead off and then he does and — wow.

And when things go bad — they always go bad for everyone sometime in a baseball season — well, when things go bad, Bochy projects calm. He even projected calm when the Giants played all those elimination games in the postseason.

Bruce Bochy is No. 1 on the list.

Let’s skip to No. 4 and 5, the Bay Area head-coach basement. This is a tie between the Warriors’ Mark Jackson and the Raiders’ Dennis Allen. Nothing against either guy, but the idea of comparing them to Bochy is kind of a joke.

If I were assigning a grade to them, I’d give an Incomplete because their rosters are in flux, and these men are remaking their teams. Although they haven’t done anything good to speak of, neither have they done anything bad. So, they live in the basement, but they have access to an elevator that goes all the way to the top. They need to press the button for Up. Can they press Up?

Which brings me to the real issue. I have two spots remaining, No. 2 and No. 3. And I have two manager-coaches remaining, Harbaugh and Melvin. Who gets which slot?

Harbaugh and Melvin are very good at what they do. In no way am I trying to put down either one. But if I have to rank them — and in this game I do, I put Bob Melvin over Jim Harbaugh.

I can hear the screams of outrage waft over the Bay Area. You are outraged, if you are outraged, because the 49ers matter more than the A’s. The Niners once were the premier franchise in the NFL and hope to be again, and while the A’s have a distinguished history dating from a long time ago, they play in Oakland and they don’t play in San Francisco, and they are run by a bunch of cheapskates and they are always bellyaching about one thing or another.

Please put all that aside and look at the facts. Harbaugh had every advantage when he took over the 49ers before last season. He inherited a team populated with stars, with Pro Bowl players all over the place: Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Dashon Goldson, NaVorro Bowman, Frank Gore, Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Vernon Davis.

The roster was loaded. And the Niners play in one of the worst divisions in the league. The NFC West really stinks. It was well known the 49ers had underachieved before Harbaugh arrived. Poor Mike Singletary simply was not head-coach material. Before his offense ran a play, the opposing defense would yell run or pass.

Harbaugh gets credit for turning everything around, but everything was there to get turned around.

Not so with the A’s. Melvin came into the 2012 season with a Triple-A team. Many experts — me included — figured they would lose 90 to 100 games. They didn’t lose that many games but they sure lost players: Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Scott Sizemore, Jemile Weeks (who got sent down), Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon (suspended for drug cheating). I could go on, but you get the point.

Harbaugh, by the way, has lost few players. His team has been remarkably injury free, another advantage he had over Melvin.

Melvin had to remake his roster again and again this season, and he remade it with people you never heard of. It was like, “Who are these guys?” And the A’s kept winning. They won the American League West, the toughest division in baseball. This was no NFC West. This was the real thing.

The A’s finished ahead of the Texas Rangers, who had been to the World Series the two previous seasons, who have an enormous payroll and have Josh Hamilton, maybe the best hitter in baseball. The A’s blew them away.

And they finished ahead of the big-payroll Albert Pujols Angels. Do the A’s have an Albert Pujols? I don’t think so.

The A’s had to overcome just about everything, and the Harbaugh Niners have had to overcome very little. Harbaugh gets credit for getting the most from his talent-rich team. Melvin gets credit for discovering the talent in the first place.

I give both men high marks. I rank Melvin higher.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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