Lamont full circle as Ausmus' bench coach
Former skipper sought Tigers' new manager for role when interviewing with Red Sox
DETROIT -- Truth be told, Gene Lamont wanted Brad Ausmus as his bench coach -- in Boston.
That was two years ago, when Lamont finished second to Bobby Valentine for the Red Sox's managerial job. Lamont wanted a young managerial candidate to groom, like former Dodgers skipper Joe Torre did with Don Mattingly, and he felt Ausmus had the traits to be a great one.
"It was something I saw when he was a player in Houston," said Lamont, a third-base coach with the Astros under Jimy Williams a decade ago. "I thought he was an intelligent guy and a knowledgeable guy if he wanted to do that. But he had to be committed to it, because he hadn't been out of playing [for] that long."
Two years later, Ausmus is not only hungry to manage, but ready, in the Tigers' eyes. It'll be Lamont in the bench coach role to help Ausmus make the transition.
Even if Ausmus had gotten a managerial job elsewhere, he wouldn't want it any other way.
"He's the guy I would've had as my bench coach, regardless," Ausmus said of Lamont. "It just so happens he was already here."
It's the one coaching spot on his staff that Ausmus knew right away, not just because of a friendship struck up in Houston but because of Lamont's experience as a game manager. He spent eight years managing the White Sox and Pirates in the 1990s, and he spent the last eight years as former skipper Jim Leyland's top confidant in Detroit.
It'll be a transition for Lamont, too.
"I just think you have to just see what Brad wants to know, what he's comfortable with," Lamont said. "And Jim and I are so close that I could say anything. And I think Brad wants me to be the same way, I think. Will he take it all? I don't know. But Brad's a smart guy."
It's going to take some time for Ausmus to choose the remainder of his staff. He has some other coaches from Leyland's staff looking for work if he wants them, but team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski emphasized he won't force any coaches on his new 44-year-old manager.
That includes the pitching coach that helped Detroit's rotation become the formidable group it is today.
"We are in the process of looking at possible pitching coach candidates," Ausmus said. "I know [2013 pitching coach Jeff Jones] from when I was here [as a catcher], and certainly he's a prominent name on that list. Right now, we haven't made any final decisions, but that will be [forthcoming]."
All of the coaches from Leyland's old staff became free agents when their contracts expired on Thursday. Beyond Lamont, Jones is by far the most likely to come back. His tenure in the Tigers organization not only predates Leyland's managerial tenure, it goes back to Ausmus' days as a Tigers catcher.
That was one of five stints Jones had as bullpen coach. It took an opportunity and a leap of faith from Leyland to give him a shot at pitching coach in 2011, and the results since have been outstanding.
Jones is in high enough regard that he shouldn't have much trouble finding another job as a pitching coach somewhere along the line if the Tigers don't retain him. The remarkable health of Detroit's pitchers, including starters who have avoided surgery through three consecutive years of extended innings through postseason runs, is a credit to Jones. So is his working relationship with co-aces Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, both of whom have benefited from his work over the past couple of years.
For Jones, though, Michigan is home year-round. When he hasn't been coaching in Detroit, he was the pitching coach in nearby Triple-A Toledo.
"As I told [Ausmus], I like Jeff Jones; I recommend him in the highest," Dombrowski said. "I have no reason not to. But I just think it's his decision. He has to make that decision."
Dombrowski's power over coaching hires has usually amounted to veto power rather than appointment power. He has let his managers appoint their staff coming in but reserved the right to say no if he has concerns about the fit.
The one coach Dombrowski did hire in recent years was the pitching coach before Jones. Rick Knapp came highly recommended out of the Twins organization when Dombrowski and his staff undertook a search for a replacement to Chuck Hernandez. Knapp spent 2 1/2 seasons on the job before he was dismissed, and Jones moved in from his role as bullpen coach.
Leyland's other coaches -- hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, infield coach Rafael Belliard, third-base coach Tom Brookens and bullpen coach Mike Rojas -- could be in different situations. Belliard had been with Leyland since 2006, the former manager's first season in Detroit. Brookens, on the staff since 2010, faced a much-critiqued first season at third base. Rojas, a longtime organizational man, filled the bullpen coach opening when Jones moved over.
McClendon is in a particularly unique position, having interviewed for the managerial job that Ausmus won. McClendon has a second interview for the Mariners' managerial vacancy, according to a source, so the question could be moot.
Even with well-qualified coaches, sometimes the desire for a fresh voice overrules the qualifications. Leyland, for example, had great respect for former Tigers third-base coach Juan Samuel, but he wanted his own guy.
With Ausmus managing for the first time, it's hard to tell whom he might pick for different posts. If he has a contemporary confidant, it could be Mark Loretta, a teammate of his in Houston and Los Angeles who was a fellow special assistant in the Padres organization the past few years. Loretta was Ausmus' right-hand man on his coaching staff for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.
Another name to keep in mind is former Tigers reliever Doug Brocail, Ausmus' teammate in San Diego, Houston and Detroit. Brocail spent 2 1/2 seasons as the Astros' pitching coach before Houston named him as a special assistant at this past season's end.