Back in the early 1980s, Ray Perkins was a pretty good football coach. He built the New York Giants into winners, but then Perkins did something that would define him for the rest of his life.
He replaced Bear Bryant at Alabama.
Perkins wasnt bad, but he had a losing season during his four years on the job. It was Alabamas first losing season since 1957, which was the year before Bryant became Alabamas head coach. Perkins record was 32-15-1, but his biggest crime was that he simply wasnt Bryant.
The late Gene Bartow probably couldve told you how tough it was to replace a legend. He stepped in when John Wooden retired at UCLA. After two years, two pretty decent seasons, Bartow left to start the program at UAB. It was just too difficult for Bartow to follow in the footsteps of someone who left that type of mark on a program.
Ray Goff didnt have it easy when he followed Vince Dooley at Georgia. Whether Goff was the right choice or not, following Dooley was going to be tough for anyone.
The saying goes that you dont want to follow a legend, but to follow the man who follows the legend. Replacing someone that is considered an icon is never easy. Just ask Fredi Gonzalez.
The bad start the Braves have had is by no means all Gonzalezs fault. Theres enough blame to spread around. Blame Liberty Media for being a joke of an ownership group. Blame Frank Wren for not being active to erase the horrors of last September when the team choked. Blame the players for being in a malaise in spring training and at the beginning of the regular season.
Gonzalez is to blame, as well. His decisions are well-scrutinized, and we all know he has made his share of mistakes. He ruined the bullpen last year with a heavy workload, some of which was caused by the bad offense, which resulted in too many close games. But Gonzalez could have avoided having Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters pretty much done by September.
Hes open to criticism, just like any other manager. On Monday, Gonzalez decided to start Matt Diaz in right field and sit Jason Heyward. A left-hander was pitching for Houston, and Gonzalez wanted Diazs bat in the lineup. Diaz made a horrible play in right and did nothing at the plate, and sitting Heyward the day after he had a good game in New York was bizarre.
Of course, if Diaz had done well, Gonzalez would have looked like a genius. Thats the nature of being a manager, where every single decision can go either way and will be analyzed by fans.
But when a team struggles, as the Braves have so far, the manager will get most of the blame. The genuine concern fans should have for the ownership or the front office is secondary compared to what they see happen on the field.
Until the Braves start winning, they are going to be asked repeatedly if this is a hangover from September. And so far, it looks like it is just that. When you watch this team, it looks exactly the same as it did last year when it lost the big wild-card lead. Its just tough to watch.
And that is going to fall on the manager. Gonzalez has to get this team going. Its his clubhouse. Its his team. He has to do something to get the Braves past last season and turn that page.
If not, fans are going to wonder. Theyll wonder if Gonzalez is just not good enough of a manager to replace a legend like Cox. Its not fair, but it is what it is. Everything Gonzalez does will be compared to what Cox might have done, and nothing amplifies that more than when a team struggles.
The situation the Braves are in can be blamed on a number of things, but its mainly Gonzalezs job to fix it. If not, he might become known as the next Perkins.
Listen to The Bill Shanks Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.