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Williams fired by Nats, entire staff let go

Oct 5, 2015, 11:21 AM EDT

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UPDATED: 11:57 a.m.

Matt Williams, whose steady, never-wavering demeanor helped the injury-plagued Nationals stick together through difficult times to win a division title in his first season as a big-league manager, was fired Monday because he wasn’t able to do the same in his second season in Washington.

The Nationals’ front office, headlined by general manager Mike Rizzo and managing principal owner Ted Lerner, made the decision at the end of a surprising and disappointing season that saw Williams’ ballclub fritter away the division title to the Mets during a second-half collapse capped by in-fighting, accusations and poor performances. Williams was informed of his dismissal Monday morning, the team announced in a press release.

The Nationals also announced Williams’ entire coaching staff had been relieved of their duties. Bench coach Randy Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty, hitting coach Rick Schu, first base coach Tony Tarasco, third base coach Bob Henley, defensive coordinator Mark Weidemaier and bullpen coach Matt LeCroy were all let go.

Williams was hardly the lone reason for the Nationals’ 83-79 record during a season in which they were consensus World Series favorites, but the second-year skipper squandered plenty of opportunities over the last few months to prove to his superiors he deserved to return.

The Nationals had already picked up Williams’ 2016 contract option in February, rewarding him for the job he did in guiding the team to a 96-66 record in his rookie season, a performance that earned him NL Manager of the Year honors. But as the club’s struggles compounded this season, the organization’s commitment to its manager waned.

Though the final decision wasn’t made until after Sunday’s season finale in New York, club officials’ opinion of Williams progressively deteriorated over the last couple of months, hitting its low point during a tumultuous late-September stretch that sealed his fate.

Williams’ in-game strategies had been coming under fire for some time, dating back to the Nationals’ 4-game postseason loss to the Giants in the 2014 NLDS and continuing through a frustrating 2015 that frequently saw whichever member of a beleaguered bullpen Williams summoned cough away yet another late lead.

But Williams’ final undoing might well have been his handling of matters off the field during the latter stages of this season, with a variety of key players questioning his decisions and complaining about the 49-year-old’s communication skills. Last week’s dugout tussle between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper exposed the disconnect between Williams (who didn’t see how Papelbon instigated the fight and choked his teammate) and his coaches and players (none of whom immediately told the manager what happened, leading to Papelbon’s return to the mound the following inning).

The firing of Williams is a major blow to the previously dent-free armor worn by Rizzo since he became GM in 2009. With an opportunity to hire just about anyone he wanted after Davey Johnson departed following the 2013 season, Rizzo hand-picked Williams off the Diamondbacks’ coaching staff. Williams had virtually no previous managerial experience — aside from one stint in the Arizona Fall League and an interim stint at Class AA — but Rizzo had long since pegged him as a future big-league skipper based on the time they spent together in Arizona more than a decade ago.

Rizzo’s job status was never seriously in doubt, but he has received plenty of blame himself not only for hiring Williams but for assembling a roster that severely underachieved this season. He’ll face increased pressure in 2016, with club ownership expecting a significant turnaround.

Rizzo’s immediate task: Hiring a new manager, one who will become the Nationals’ sixth different skipper in only 12 seasons in town. Not one of the previous five lasted more than 2 1/2 years (though Frank Robinson did hold the position for a total of five years spread between Montreal and Washington).

There’s no clear frontrunner for the position, with Rizzo holding options to go in a host of different directions.

If the Nationals want to replace the inexperienced Williams with a seasoned, big-league manager, Bud Black and Ron Gardenhire are available.

If they want to try another up-and-comer seeking his first managerial opportunity, they can look to a list of candidates that includes current big-league coaches or minor-league managers Wally Backman, Dave Martinez and DeMarlo Hale. Or if they want to go for the biggest possible name out there, albeit one with zero managerial or coaching experience, they could once again consider Cal Ripken Jr. as they did two years ago.

Williams finished with a 179-145 record, a .552 winning percentage that ranks 34th among all major-league managers with at least two seasons at the helm. Nobody higher than him on that list managed fewer than three big-league seasons, and among those with lower winning percentages are Hall of Famers Sparky Anderson, Leo Durocher, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Whitey Herzog and Tommy Lasorda.

  1. philipd763 - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    Bud Black, please!

  2. jd - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    Mark,

    Do you know if the entire coaching staff is dismissed or just MW?

    • trfwans - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:45 AM

      They won’t dismiss the whole coaching staff. That would be stupid. There are no managers-in-waiting out there with entire coaching staffs assembled ready to come on board with them. This is not like a change in administration at the White House.

      Weidemeir, being MW’s guy, is surely gone. The rest of them, most of them at least, are solid organization men who have been with the team for many years through multiple managers. They will undoubtedly be assured that they still have jobs in the organization, with the specifics TBD once the new manager is hired.

      • Section 222 - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:56 AM

        Actually, the whole staff was dismissed, which makes sense, contrary to your arguments. The new manager should have the opportunity to pick his staff. We have no idea how good, or bad, any of the other guys are. Some may be back after all — perhaps in different roles, perhaps back in the minors. We’ll see.

        It’s a good day for DC baseball though. Time to turn the page. I’m shedding no tears for MW.

      • trfwans - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:10 PM

        Actually none of the coaches probably had to be “dismissed” because typically coaches are on one year deals. But as I said, guys like Cat and Knorr and Schu have undoubtedly been guaranteed jobs somewhere in the organization. They are of course free to look for something elsewhere, as they would have been even if MW wasn’t fired. The new guy will theoretically get a clean slate, but don’t be surprised if for instance Cat is back as the pitching coach because the new manager isn’t tight with some guy he wants to bring in with him. You don’t want a new manager and an entire coaching staff who have no relationship with the players heading into spring training.

    • texnat1 - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:50 AM

      My guess is that they haven’t dismissed the whole staff. If they are smart, they will let the new guy pick who he decides to keep, if any.

  3. texnat1 - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:33 AM

    I’m not sure what the point of hiring Knorr would be. Just more of the same. Need to go outside Rizzo’s comfort zone to get someone with his own perspective.

    Could Francona be pried loose from Cleveland?

    • natsfan1a - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:39 AM

      Agreed on the thought of going outside the organization.

    • jd - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:41 AM

      I think if they were gonna go Knorr they would have fired MW earlier and try to save the season. I personally think Knorr would be fine but I don’t think it’s happening.

      • Ellie - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:51 AM

        Apparently the entire coaching staff is gone, too, so looks like it won’t be Knorr.

    • NatsNut - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:14 PM

      I’ve heard Francona a couple of times, Chase Hughes even said it. I would love that.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 5, 2015 at 1:45 PM

        Are you sure that wasn’t a cut-and-paste, and he meant to say Ron Washington?

  4. janebeard - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:34 AM

    They cannot hire another baby skipper. Cal is a lovely man, but we need someone with real managerial experience. Unless we take Randy Knorr, who knows the team. Of course. 25% of the team or more will be completely different next year, so there’s that.

    I wish only the best for Matt. I don’t see how he cold have gone from Manager of the year to goat in such a short time frame. But he did. I hope that he is picked up by another team. I’m grateful for the way he got our guys to be more aggressive.

    They wasted no time. How long do we need to wait to offload Papelbon?

    • natsfan1a - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:39 AM

      Agreed on not hiring an inexperienced skipper.

    • philipd763 - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:40 AM

      In 2014, Nats won despite Williams and his lousy managing of his pitching staff. His deficiencies really surfaced in the playoffs against the Giants but that was too late to impact the Manager of the Year vote.

    • jd - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:42 AM

      On Paplebon – Today sounds as good as any. And I hope the door hits his rear end on the way out.

      • ArVAFan - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:17 PM

        Actually, I hope it DOES hit him on the way out.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:46 PM

        They might take a bath on the Papelbon deal, but they won’t DFA & release him. Got to at least take a shot on getting another Roark, or Joe Ross — a hidden gem/lottery ticket.

  5. natsfan1a - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:38 AM

    Not surprised, given recent events. I don’t pretend to know who they should hire, but hope that they reach consensus on exactly what they want/need (not only want they don’t want) and take their time in making a reasoned and researched decision. Maybe then they’ll end up with a pick who can endure and lend some consistency to that position.

    Oh, and get rid of Papelbon, please. It’s so not going to blow over.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:48 PM

      It’s so not going to blow over.

      No, it’s not, unless … Papelbon becomes a model citizen and teammate, something he’s shown no inclination toward that I know of, to date.

      • ccallahan15 - Oct 5, 2015 at 1:08 PM

        I think the fight and aftermath rattled Bryce and his performance over the remaining games. When you’re attacked out of the blue like that, it doesn’t just go away the next day.

      • janebeard - Oct 5, 2015 at 8:57 PM

        I think Pap has tried to be a model citizen before. Here, it lasted about 55 days. Not gonna happen.

  6. Ellie - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:42 AM

    Yeah, I think this was basically inevitable after the last couple of months of this season, but I don’t agree with all the naysayers who are heaping criticism on Rizzo for hiring him in the first place.

    It wasn’t a mistake when he led the team to 96 wins last season. It wasn’t a mistake when they were three games up at the trade deadline. And I don’t agree that hiring him in the first place was a mistake, even in hindsight.

    The fact of the matter is, Matt Williams DID work out for a while. He was a decent manager – not perfect – when things were going well, and I think the adversity of this season, much of which WAS beyond his control, exposed his weaknesses. But that can happen to anyone, really. Look at Bobby Valentine with the 2012 Red Sox. A good, experienced manager who was clearly the wrong manager for THAT team.

    So yeah, criticise Williams for a sub-par 2015, acknowledge that he left Rizzo with no choice but to let him go, but don’t pretend 2014 didn’t happen. Don’t pretend he didn’t win a much deserved Manager of the Year award. Don’t pretend the 2014 Nats weren’t a great team who were outpitched in the NLDS by the eventual World Series winners who got hot at the best possible time.

    Matt Williams made mistakes this season that he couldn’t recover his job from, but don’t claim Rizzo made a poor choice when he hired Williams two years ago.

  7. tcostant - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:44 AM

    Ding Dong the witch is dead.

    Ron Gardenhire or Dusty Baker perferred.

    Wally Backman is also okay, because at least he managed a bunch in the minors and was a major league manager for one day.

    • warrenspahn - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:49 AM

      Don’t need old retreads.

      Hope they go after Bo Porter

      • nattyboh1 - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:39 PM

        Bo Porter was awful in Houston. He didn’t know that a hitter had to hit once you brought him in, he thought you could switch again if the other team switched pitchers. I’ve known that rule from playing video games since I was 10.

      • moozystar - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:42 PM

        Concur, Then we would not need to fire Pap, Porter would knock sense into him or know his block off! All kidding aside, he was well respected in the organization and in this town. I would welcome his return.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:50 PM

        Geez, one mistake and you pay for it the rest of your life?

    • jd - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:49 AM

      Dusty Baker ??

      God help the young pitchers if that happens. You don’t believe me? ask Mark Prior and Kerri Wood.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:45 PM

        +1

    • chrisrw109nats - Oct 5, 2015 at 1:47 PM

      Please god not Dusty Baker. I would like Joe Ross to have a fruitful MLB career where he lives up to his potential, and there is no chance that happens with Dusty ‘Pitch them till their arm falls off’ Baker.

  8. janebeard - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:50 AM

    I was just told the whole coaching staff is gone. Don’t see it anywhere official though. Cat? Knorr? WHAT?

    • bc4314 - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:52 AM

      I heard the same on ESPN 980. Sounds like the entire staff is gone.

  9. rgsie - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:51 AM

    MW….”IT’S NOT MY FAULT”.

    • natsguy - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:32 PM

      That’s just baseball. We wont be getting ready for another game tomorrow. Oh well.

  10. Joe Seamhead - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:53 AM

    My vote is for Ron Washington! He did a pretty good job with the Rangers and is a great baseball guy! He’d be a ton of fun after deadpan Matt, too.

    • texnat1 - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:02 PM

      Would be fun. Not exactly known as a strategist in his own right, though.

      • natsfan1a - Oct 5, 2015 at 1:07 PM

        Plus, he’s had some off-the-field issues.

    • natslive - Oct 5, 2015 at 6:54 PM

      I’d rather get Francona from the Indians

  11. Ellie - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    My only hope for the new manager is that they know how to pronounce ‘Stammen’ and know the difference between ‘good’ and ‘well’. 🙂

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:35 PM

      Not to mention “less” and “fewer,” and “of” and “have.”

      It’s a doggy-dog world!

      • senators5 - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:55 PM

        Okay, how about swing at strikes and take balls.

    • Section 222 - Oct 5, 2015 at 5:30 PM

      That’s a lot to ask for from these guys.

  12. janebeard - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    Whole staff is gone. All of them. Wow.

    • Joe Seamhead - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:59 AM

      I didn’t like keeping all of those guys 2 years ago. McCatty, Knorr, all of them. New guy should have a big say on who will be on his staff.

  13. edbrinkman - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:57 AM

    I think part of MW’s problem was the fact that he didn’t get to hand pick his own coaching staff. Randy Knorr interviewed for the job. So there was never any legitimate loyalty to MW by most of his staff. Whoever they bring in, they should let him pick his staff.

    • texnat1 - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:58 AM

      Absolutely.

  14. philipd763 - Oct 5, 2015 at 11:58 AM

    Entire coaching staff fired too so no Randy Knorr as a managerial candidate.

    • Section 222 - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:07 PM

      I’m sure they will interview Knorr for the job, and whoever is chosen will be able to hire back Lucroy or any of the other coaches. But it’s a good move to let them all go.

      • jd - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:35 PM

        Deuces,

        I really like Knorr but I’m not sure Rizzo does. I think Rizzo thinks he’s too close to the players. If they really liked Knorr he would have been the logical successor to Davie Johnson and they would have also canned MW earlier this year when there was a chance to rescue the season. I think Randy gets a shot somewhere (I hope so) but I don’t think it will be here.

      • Section 222 - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:42 PM

        I tend to agree jd. I think he’ll get an interview though. And I think some of the current coaches will be rehired. But the new guy should get to make that call. I have no problem with that.

        I like Bud Black, but Rizzo may want a successful bench coach like Martinez from the Cubs (next best thing to getting Joe Madden?) or the guy from the Giants. The choice will say a lot about what Rizzo though MW’s shortcomings were.

    • janebeard - Oct 5, 2015 at 8:59 PM

      Not necessarily. I bet they interview him. They are just clearing the decks for the Next Guy.

  15. Section 222 - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:00 PM

    Yes, he won 96 games last year, but let us not forget he insisted on batting Harp 6th for most of the year. He was stubborn that year, as we saw in his Game 4 bullpen choices.

  16. NatsNut - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:02 PM

    Holy Crap! ALL of them!?!

    • NatsNut - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:04 PM

      Rizzo seriously has ice-water running through his veins!!!

      • Nats Fan Zee - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:10 PM

        MANY STH’s threatened to walk … Mike is not out of the woods yet.

      • Ellie - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:18 PM

        If fans ‘threatened’ not to renew their plans based on the GM’s decisions, let them. Rizzo should be making decisions based on what he thinks will be best for the team on the field, not what a few extremely hard to please fans want.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:41 PM

        MANY STH’s threatened to walk … Mike is not out of the woods yet.

        I do not believe that’s a credible threat. If you win, they will buy tickets; if not them, specifically, then someone else.

  17. joemktg - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:04 PM

    Holy crap: no screwing around.

    Even LeCroy: what the hell did he do wrong?

    • Ellie - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:07 PM

      Likely nothing, but as others have said, they probably want to bring in a manager first and let the new manager have a say in who joins the coaching staff.

      It’s entirely possible that some of those guys will still be back in some capacity next year anyway.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:08 PM

      He was the guy that told Matt when the pitcher were ready …. need I say more? I’ll miss him. He always gave out a few balls to the kids pre-game. Seemed to always have a happy face on. Guess he thought all was right with the world.

  18. Doc - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:04 PM

    So much for being a ‘Manager of the Year’ in 2014.

  19. Nats Fan Zee - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    How about Bo?

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:44 PM

      I didn’t follow Houston closely, but from what I hear and read, his time in Houston didn’t burnish his resume.

  20. TimDz - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:07 PM

    This isn’t a firing….it’s a full on purging….

  21. robertrobert104 - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:09 PM

    Papelton as manager! It will be so much fun……..Seriously, that team need a spark plug, yes they have talent, but no desire. Just remember Rendon saying that fans should not worry, there’s enough time to beat the Mets….So, who? Ron Washington ? Cal Ripken? Somebody who can teach younger players, not a manager like MW, won’t work with that team. So, yes a very painful season. Lots of players who won’t be back next year, now time to try to start again….

  22. Sec 3, My Sofa - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:39 PM

    I wonder (speculation, pulling this out of my hat, thinking out loud) if the coaches had the same issues with Matt as some of the players apparently did. They *did* fail to communicate to him about Papelbon/Harper, for instance.

    As far as we know, they never left the bullpen phone off the hook during a game. I wonder if THAT guy got fired?

  23. fpa4356 - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:47 PM

    Letting McCatty go is a mistake. His staff pitched 3 no-hitters in just over a year. As for a new manager, they need to get someone who has managing experience but is young, to better engage with the core of the 2016 team and beyond.

  24. JamesFan - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:55 PM

    Here’s the deal: Hire Cal as manager, Bobby Valintine as bench coach, Papelbon as hitting coach and Henry Rodriguez as pitching coach.

    • Ellie - Oct 5, 2015 at 12:59 PM

      Why, is there another superstar 1/1 pick coming up in the 2017 draft?

  25. donniebenth - Oct 5, 2015 at 1:25 PM

    I’m sad about this, but not in disagreement with it.

    There was a lot to like about MW. He was a stand up guy, never threw his players under the bus and (when it works), I liked the “we’ve got another game to prepare for” stance. It’s generally the best way to navigate any long season that invariably has highs and lows.

    I also think that some of his player development work was underrated. Bryce certainly took a quantum leap forward.

    Having said all that, managers all know that they are hired to be fired. And it is rare that a first job works out all that well. There is a lot to learn. Think about Joe Torre, for instance.

    My bet is that MW gets an assistant gig then in a few years reemerges as a manager and does very well. He’ll learn to communicate a little better and he’ll learn to handle his staff a little better.

    I wish him luck.

    • NatsNut - Oct 5, 2015 at 2:45 PM

      I was ok with MW’s stoic demeanor and “tomorrow is another day” stance, as long as he was an, open, warm and learning guy behind the scenes. In my mind, that’s what he was anyway and I really wanted it to be true. Sigh, I guess that’s the only place it was true.

  26. paulfortier - Oct 5, 2015 at 3:52 PM

    Williams is gone. Christmas in october.

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