WHAT IN THE WILD WORLD OF SPORTS IS GOING ON IN ARIZONA?

27Jan13

Is it just me, or has the sports world in the great state of Arizona been turned on its head over the past couple of weeks?  I’m not just talking about the house cleaning that was done by the Cardinals.  The craziness has infiltrated nearly all of the major sports venues.

Cardinals

We’ll take a look at the Arizona Cardinals first, since they seem to be at the top of sports fans lists lately.  Now, the firing of head coach Ken Whisenhunt came as a surprise to no one in Arizona.  I know, there were arguments made that injuries did him in.  Besides, he just took them to the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, so they should have cut him some slack.

Those arguments allowed him to keep his job after a disappointing 2011 season.  They were not going to work again this year, after an abysmal 2012 season that began so strong.  After winning their first four games, they lost eleven of their next twelve games to finish as one of the worst teams in the league.  How a team that has a top five defense can achieve that is a real head-scratcher.  The decision to dump ‘Wiz’ was no longer a tough one to make.

The fact that nearly the entire offensive coaching staff was cut loose with him was also a no-brainer.  Only tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens survived.  The Cardinals offense was quite possibly the worst in recent history.  Not just for the organization, but for the entire NFL.  While everyone focused on the quarterback merry-go-round, the fact that their horrible offensive line had been ignored for several years was the real reason for the ineptness.

Most valley fans believed that the new head coach was already here.  Defensive coordinator Roy Horton had come to town a couple of years ago and turned an average defense into one of the most feared in the league.  It was the only shining star on a rather bland team.  By promoting him to head coach, they could be assured of improving.  He even guaranteed he could bring in Norv Turner to be offensive coordinator.

We’ll never know for sure if that was true, as the Cardinals went the opposite direction in hiring offensive guru Bruce Arians, whose first action was to cut Horton loose.

Only time will tell how well this major shakeup will pan out, but with the recent success Arians had in Indianapolis, valley fans can be optimistic.

Suns

The next big move came in the firing of Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry.  This was a big surprise to most fans, not just the firing but the way it was handled.

After trading away the remaining talented pieces of the starting lineup last summer, it became obvious to everyone that the Suns organization had finally decided to do what was needed.  In other words, they decided to blow the team up and start from scratch.  The best way to do that was to cut loose the stars, lower their team salary and position themselves for a lottery draft pick.

So why, after half a season of doing exactly that, did they decide to throw the head coach under the bus?  Great question.  Wish I knew the answer.  I also wish the Suns management would be more forthcoming in the answer.  The fans deserve that.

After all, Gentry was handed a very bad team with no stars and no hope of a winning record.  He did exactly what he was supposed to do.  He got the kids and the underachievers on the team to play the best they could, while keeping the record down in the bottom five in the league.

The Suns management repaid him by making him the scapegoat and firing him.  Nice move.  Real classy!

Staying in stride, they not only did not promote one of the two obvious choices, assistant coaches Elston Turner or fan favorite Dan Majerle, they publicly insulted them in the process, driving them both away, while promoting player development director Lindsay Hunter.

If you wanted to write a procedure on how to drive your best fans away from the organization, you couldn’t have done any better than this.

D-Backs

Not to be outshined, the Arizona Diamondbacks jumped into the headlines by making a blockbuster move of their own, trading valley favorite Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves for Martin Prado.  There were five other players involved in the trade, but four were prospects, meaning their true value is yet to be determined.  The other was third baseman Chris Johnson, who was going to be seeing limited time at best in Arizona.

With the D-Backs overloaded with outfielders (they had five potential starters on their MLB roster), a trade was inevitable.  Most people believed it would either be Upton or Jason Kubel.  Lots of people were shocked it was Upton.  I wasn’t surprised at all.

In fact, I’m kind of glad it finally happened.  I know, I know, there is so much potential with Upton.  After all, he’s supposed to be the next Ken Griffey Jr. (insert whatever star outfielder’s name you’d like here).

Here’s the thing with potential.  Eventually it needs to be proven.  Granted, he’s had some decent numbers during a couple of his seasons in AZ, but nothing like he was supposed to deliver.  And nothing with any consistency.

On top of that, he could not seem to handle the pressure of being the go-to guy, on the field or with the media.  Odds are, if he stayed in Arizona, he would never blossom into the player everyone believed him to be.

I think he will become a better player in the Braves organization.  There’s no denying he has the talent.  The Braves organization is a top notch one that will allow him to improve.  And he won’t have to be the star of the team, as he was expected to be in Arizona.

There is one point that seems to be escaping scrutiny.  Braves fans were very unhappy that they lost one of their most consistent players in Prado.  He is one of the most difficult batters to strike out in the league and can play several positions in the field.  For a team that in recent years has struck out too many times, the D-Backs have found exactly what they needed in Prado.

Only time will tell, but I think the D-Backs got the best of this trade.  Unless, of course, they don’t sign Prado to a long term contract right away, as he would be a free agent after this season.  I’m confident that will be taken care of before they hit spring training.

Coyotes

The drama in the Phoenix Coyotes camp is not the fact that they have begun their lockout shortened season on a bad note, losing four of their first five games.  It’s the fact that their potential new owner only has a few days left to ink the deal.  Otherwise, it’s another season under the management of the NHL.

Although the ‘Yotes have overcome that predicament during the past couple of seasons, winning the Pacific division last year and making it to the western conference finals, the financial restrictions of the situation has to be preventing them from taking the next step in becoming a serious threat to win the Stanley Cup.

This deal needs to be made and the new ownership needs to hit the ground running in leading the Coyotes to the frozen promise land.  Not to sound cliché, but the faithful valley hockey fans deserve it.  They have stayed true to the team over the past few seasons when it would have been easy to have turned their backs on them.

U of A

One final item that needs to be discussed is the early season success of both major university basketball programs.  It’s no surprise that the University of Arizona Wildcats are doing well.  They are a highly ranked team that was supposed to dominate the Pac 12 this season.

ASU

However, the Arizona State Sun Devils are keeping pace with their in-state counterpart, and have made believers of many doubters that they are to be taken seriously.  After sweeping the SoCal schools this weekend and beating UCLA by 18 points, they may actually find themselves in the top 25.  Not bad for a team that was supposed to be fighting for last place this season.

Yes, it’s been quite a ride over the past two to three weeks.  The Arizona sports scene has rarely seen anything like it.  Let’s hope the good (ASU/U of A basketball, D-Backs progress) remains and the not-so good (coaching shuffle and ownership woes) takes a leave of absence for a while.

The fans deserve it!

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