So often when something bad happens to our sports team, we look for someone to blame. The passivity of watching a sporting event as fans drives us to seek out a vessel in which to pour our pent up frustration and anger. It's a release so cathartic that even when there is no legitimate party worthy of blame, we manufacture a scapegoat. It's the reason Steve Bartman still pays an attorney to keep him hidden from public view.
It's also the reason the FIRE BIANCO crowd is riled up after Ole Miss was swept winless out of its own regional on Saturday.
Look, I'm no Mike Bianco loyalist. Before the 2014 season, I wrote that he should be fired if he failed to reach the postseason that year (he instead took the Rebels to College World Series for the first time in four decades). Given the facilities and program support in Oxford, Rebel fans are perfectly justified for expecting more than an 0-4 showing in the last two regionals or just one Omaha trip during the current regime's decade and a half tenure.
There are legitimate reasons to be frustrated with Bianco. Losing two games on the back end of a 43-win season is not one of them.
To rail against Bianco for the losses to Utah and Tulane last weekend is to greatly exaggerate the game-to-game influence of coaching in baseball. It's not Bianco's fault that his young bullpen, which last week hadn't blown a lead after the sixth inning in 38 straight opportunities, came apart in the most critical two games of the season. Second-guess the decision to send Brady Feigl to the mound in the sixth inning on Friday all you want, but there was no reason to suspect that a reliable reliever would melt down and blow a three-run lead. It's not Bianco's fault that stud closer Wyatt Short allowed Utah to score the go-ahead run four innings later, or that dependable righty Will Stokes gave up a two-run jack just two outs from the finish line against Tulane.
It's also not Bianco's fault that his offense, which had had been on fire the last month of the season, abruptly cooled off once the tourney rolled around. He had little to no control over J.B. Woodman, Henri Lartigue and Tate Blackman, who each came in hitting at least .320, combining to go 4-for-25 in the middle of the order.
Instead of narrowing in on that two-game sample size, let's take a step back and look at the 2016 season as a whole—a season that might just be the best coaching job Bianco has ever done in Oxford.
The paradox of Mike Bianco has always been that he's too quick to adjust in some ways and maddeningly unchanging in others. He obsessively tweaks his lineups, sways to lefty-righty matchups and seems to arbitrarily fluctuate between small ball and big ball... all while stubbornly refusing to adjust his larger coaching strategy.
But he found a near-perfect balance between decisiveness and elasticity in 2016. When his rotation scuffled early in conference play, he shook things up and installed sophomore transfer David Parkinson on Saturdays—Ole Miss won five of its seven SEC series after that. (For as much shit as Bianco's taken for his pitcher management, he and pitching coach Carl Lafferty did a superb job shaping up a staff that lost two thirds of its weekend rotation from last year and relied heavily on underclassmen.)
And when Henri Lartigue and Errol Robinson struggled at the plate early on, Bianco stayed patient. Lartigue ended the season with the best batting average of any catcher in the SEC and Errol caught fire in the second half, bumping his average from sub-.200 to a healthy .270 in the span of a month.
This was a team that came into the season replacing a ton of talent and picked to finish towards the bottom of the West. Instead, they won 40 games for just the fourth time in school history, won 18 conference games, advanced to within five outs of the SEC title game and came damn close to being selected as a national seed.
I get the frustration over another 0-2 showing in the regional, and I very much agree that postseason mediocrity shouldn't be tolerated just because of Bianco's historical contributions to the program (we'll have a post up later this week exploring his NCAA Tournament struggles). But calling for the dude's head after one of the best coaching jobs of his career isn't a reasonable thing to do.
If Bianco fails to make it out of a regional over the next couple of years, let's talk. Until then, chill.