Wilcox and Kapler: Grading the blame

Clay Kallam

First, let’s just say “10” means someone is completely responsible for success or failure, and “0” means completely absolved.

Given that arbitrary scale and applying it to two of our Bay Area sporting endeavors, how would we rate recently fired Giants’ manager Gabe Kapler and the oh-do-the-alums-wish-he-could-be-fired Justin Wilcox of Cal?

To simplify the process, let’s just focus on two aspects: Acquiring talent and deploying talent. Though not completely inclusive, how well teams and managers do at those two parts of their job go a long way towards determining wins and losses.

Let’s start with the handsome Kapler, whose firing caused my daughter to lament “Don’t looks count for anything anymore?” Those more focused on the games, though, watched the Giants sleepwalk through the homestretch and fade below .500 – at which point Kapler got the axe.

But should he have? After all, he had to play the hand he was dealt, and when Wilmer Flores is your highest card on offense, it’s pretty clear runs will be hard to come by. And after Logan Webb on the mound, Kapler could call on … well, really, nobody.

Now it could be argued that Kapler contributed mightily to the dull and lifeless baseball that the Giants played, but really, what was he going to do? Have Patrick Bailey steal bases? Let Brandon Crawford try to score from first on doubles to left?

No, the blame scale for Kapler lands on a 4, or maybe even a 3, because simply put, Farhan Zaidi gave him mediocrity to work with, and that’s exactly what Kapler delivered. For some reason, however, ownership has more faith in Zaidi so Kapler (and those cheekbones) was the sacrificial lamb.

When we go across the Bay to Cal, however, it’s a different story. College football coaches both recruit and utilize talent, and what Wilcox has managed, in six-plus years, is to be below average in both. (He’s way above average in contract negotiations, though, having somehow gotten incompetent athletic director Jim Knowlton to give him a $20 million guaranteed buyout – which, given Cal’s precarious finances, means he simply cannot be fired.)

But it’s not entirely fair to Wilcox to paint him as the sole reason Cal has recruited poorly. The facilities aren’t great, Berkeley’s admission policies are stiff, athletes have to work in the classroom, and the city itself is hardly an attraction – unless you like the beggars on Telegraph and the incessant beating of politically correct drums.

Still, Wilcox has a lot more control than Kapler did, and so the slow, plodding nature of the Cal football team is clearly a product of Wilcox’s recruiting efforts. (Jadyn Ott is an exception – that young man is a star.) And as a result of having a lot of slow, plodding players, and a quarterback with minimal experience and a bad case of happy feet, Cal’s utilization of the talent it possesses is also less than optimal.

Wilcox, then, gets an 8 in the blame game, with a slight bump due to Cal, well, being Cal.

And yet Wilcox is gainfully employed, and will be cashing those annual seven-figure checks for some time while Kapler considers another line of work. Which leads us to another conclusion: If you have a mediocre and boring team, the best way to survive is not to manage well, but negotiate well. For if athletic justice was truly served, Wilcox and Zaidi would both be gone, and Kapler would still be on the top step of the dugout.

And my daughter would be much happier.

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Photo byTowfiqu Barbhuiya for Unsplash


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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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