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June 01, 2022

Eytan Shander: Phillies' and Sixers' woes go beyond coaching

At this point of the season, it’s fair to ask if Joe Girardi truly wants to keep managing the Phillies. The same question should be asked of Doc Rivers and the Philadelphia 76ers.

“Like, why?”

Why the hell would either of these guys want to continue to lead their respective teams only to be the prime source of blame and frustration for fans?

Do they deserve it? Yep. To a point. There are limitations that prevent Rivers from reaching and growing players – we covered that in a prior column – much like he can’t seem to bring his teams past the second round. The game has passed him by and he refuses to adapt.

It’s painful to watch Rivers coach then defend his coaching. It’s downright awkward at times.

With Girardi it’s a little different, and maybe even more damning to Rivers in the process. Take a look at what the Philadelphia Eagles did with Nick Sirianni before we go any further here.

This isn’t an Eagles column. It’s a “look at what the Eagles are doing” column. Sirianni is a strong preseason bet for NFL Coach of the Year – assuming they go out and win 10-plus games and make the playoffs again. I’m not concerned with anything on the field as I am with how they got there.

The Phillies have talent. They are bat-heavy and their starting pitching has picked up after a slow start to the season. The Sixers have a perennial MVP candidate and other All-Star talent around Joel Embiid. Both teams have holes and issues with their roster construction, but they have talent. Much like the Eagles.

The difference in coaching or managing seems to be the reach and connection with players. I still stand by my comments making light of Sirianni’s platitudes, t-shirts and draft games of HORSE, but damn it if they don’t work in some regard. This man was given one thing the other guys either don’t have or seem to exercise – freedom.

What the hell is Girardi doing on the bench this year? How is Rivers unable to grasp the flow of the game? It’s not just a lack of decision-making for Girardi, but also the actual decisions – when made – are all wrong. Sound familiar? Anyone? Rivers?

The one thing the Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Union – and hopefully the Philadelphia Flyers – got right is the fit. Be it a new guy on the block in Sirianni or a veteran coach now in Jim Curtin, the Eagles and Union allowed these guys to be themselves first and foremost, and shockingly players responded.

This isn’t about just replacing an old coach with a young name. Those cost-cutting moves just don’t work out when you are skimping on talent. Instead, finding someone with a proper list of qualifications who can connect with players because the coach is allowed to do just that while coaching.

I’m not sure how much would change if there was more accountability from Girardi, he can’t play defense nor did he poorly construct this team, but it certainly feels like he’s content with just chilling until he’s relieved of his duties.

I got the same exact feeling from Rivers.

Do you honestly think that there is any part of Sirianni or Curtin who is just showing up to get paid? It’s the optics of how bad things are around Girardi that continue to push for his firing. Fans aren’t to blame for this, as something in this organization needs to change. Unfortunately, it might be the only real thing that does change.

But here comes the warning, one that the Phillies clearly didn’t follow or care about in the first place, it won’t matter if the new guy can’t do his thing. Bringing in a name with past accolades means nothing if that guy isn’t allowed to manage.

Again, I’m not sure how drastic of a difference it would make if Girardi wasn’t constantly beholden to the front office ways of managing games, but the guy in San Francisco seems to be doing okay.

Gabe Kapler is succeeding with the Giants because he’s allowed to manage. He’s allowed to be his wacky quirky self, spitting out ice cream like a psychopath as his team responds on the field. Girardi can’t even spit out a cherry Rita’s to fire up his team. The Phillies had him here. They couldn’t handle his originality.

The same thing happened with the Sixers and Jimmy Butler. The All-Star was too much to handle for the organization, be it coach, player or front office. He was the perfect fit for Embiid and the city of Philadelphia, but not for the soft-at-heart decision-makers. He was replaced by a chilled-out Tobias Harris and a dulled James Harden. Second-round material.

Fire Joe Girardi. It’s more likely the right move than not at this point. But hire someone who you can allow to manage, to grow as a coach and leader of players. If the team is going to waste Bryce Harper’s early years in the contract, at least do it while growing a new manager. The hiring process is moot unless the person getting the job has the ability to flex, with the backing of the front office.

Granted, that’s a little harder in the NBA, but the easiest way around that is to appease the star player on the team. If Embiid is okay with the coach, he’s okay with being held accountable. Use star players in the NBA, from LeBron James and new Lakers hire Darvin Ham, to Dwyane Wade continuing to back Erik Spoelstra. Maybe there’s a lack of respect for Rivers or simply the players have tuned out his message, but that’s the way around having that happen again.

The Phillies are going to fire Girardi and make it seem like all of their issues will start to change for the better. The scapegoating will take larger form than if the Sixers fired Rivers, because even in baseball the manager has a little more control. But we know the team is far from fixed with a new voice in the clubhouse, especially if that voice is muted.

Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

You can listen to Eytan on @foxphlgambler (Mon.-Weds., 6-8 p.m.)

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