MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN|
Dec 22, 2016, 12:57 PM
Mark Wilson announces his resignation as Team USA Captain, today, Dec. 22, 2016.
I had a lot of time to think on the flight home from London, where Team Europe pasted Team USA in the Mosconi Cup. The final score was 11-3, which is bad enough. But it was the way Team Europe rolled to victory that really gave me pause. The Europeans were machinelike in their execution. They simply didn’t miss. They didn’t make mistakes. It was actually a beautiful thing to watch.
For the stats-driven fan, Europe posted a collective .899 Total Performance Average over the four days. A .900 TPA is considered “world class.”
Professional level is .850. Team USA’s cumulative TPA during the event was .838. The difference is glaring.
The beat down was so thorough, talk spread through the event that, after 23 years, the Mosconi Cup’s future could be in peril.Matchroom’s Barry Hearn even went so far as to announce his intention to start a Europe v. Asia event, to “test the Europeans.”
Personally, I don’t buy the notion that the Mosconi Cup as we know it is in peril. At least, not yet. Defenders point out that the U.S. dominated the early years in the same way. During those years, however, Europe was continually closing the gap. Anyone who has watched the last five Mosconi Cups can see that the gap between the sides is widening.
What I see, though, are ticket sales and television deals that have grown exponentially over the past fouryears. Europe against the U.S. in tiddlywinks would draw a passionate crowd.
Still, it is painfully obvious that Team USA needs to do something dramatic to make this a horserace again.
Which brings us to Mark Wilson. Three years ago, Wilson, one of the game’s top instructors and most ardent supporters, presented Matchroom with a three-year plan to get Team USA back on track. He stripped down the squad and rebuilt it based on character and commitment. In his spare time, he generated more interest and enthusiasm in the U.S. for the Team USA “program” than anyone before.
The results? The first year of the experiment resulted in a one-sided match, which was somewhat predictable. The second year showed promise, with Team USA gamely battling well into the final day. The third year, however, was a disappointing step backwards.
As it is wont to do, social media exploded with posts slamming Wilson and the team. A handful of self-proclaimed experts shamelessly threw their hats into the ring as replacements for Wilson. Here’s a tip: Posting your intentions on Facebook pretty much eliminates you from serious consideration.
So, what’s the answer?
I don’t think anyone in the U.S. is more qualified than Mark Wilson, and I have far too much respect for him to suggest that he be replaced as captain of Team USA, but even he acknowledged that is a possibility. After all, the Mosconi Cup is Matchroom’s product, and they certainly don’t need to explain or apologize to anyone for taking the steps necessary to ensure continued growth and success.
So, in the event Matchroom does find it necessary to make a change at the helm of Team USA, here is my suggestion:
For those not familiar, the Dutch-born Ruijsink captained Team Europe seven times between 2006 and 2014 and posted a 6-0-1 record.
I know. I know. He’s not American. I realize Willie Mosconi just spun in his grave.
Just hear me out.
Johan Ruijsink is one of the world’s top instructors and coaches. The 50-year-old Dutchman took over Team Europe during those years of American domination and turned the squad into the fierce competitors that they are today. His first year at the helm was 2006, when his team tied the Americans, 12-12. After that, Team Europe won six times against zero defeatswith Ruijsink in charge.
Think he was simply fortunate enough to take over Team Europe as they were peaking? The last time Team USA won (2009), was one of only two times between 2006 and 2014 that Ruijsink was not Europe’s captain.
Now, about that “he’s not an American” argument.
Who says the coach must be American. Sports history is littered with instances of foreigners running national teams. Were Americans offended when Romanian gymnastics coaching legend BelaKarolyi took over Team USA and turned it into a gold medal machine? Were American soccer fans up in arms when Sweden’s PiaSundhage took over USA Soccer’s women’s program and produced a pair of Olympic gold medals?
The bottom line is to maximize Team USA’s chances of not just competing in the Mosocni Cup. The bottom line is to drive Team USA to win the Mosconi Cup.
Of course, Ruijsink is much more than simply a once-a-year-captain. He is a coaching legend in Europe. A former top Dutch player, Ruijsink turned to coaching in the ’90s. His small, six-table room in The Hague was open only to players committed to training. Ruijsink’s training methods turned Holland into a European power, with the likes of Rico Diks, Alex Lely, Nick Van den Berg and NielsFeijen turning their games over to him.
A voracious student of training and coaching techniques, Ruijsink earned a Master Coach degree from the Dutch Olympic Committee in 2000. It is the highest coaching education in Holland, allowing him to coach any sport.
Over the past two years, Ruijsink has been coaching in Russia, where the Russian federation hired him to develop its crop of talented young shooters, like Konstantin Stepanov, RuslanChinakhov and rising star Maxim Dudanets. Ruijsink will be bringing his Russian brigade to the Derby City Classic in January.
Trust me on this one. If change is necessary, this is the right man for the job.
Of course, there are questions I can’t answer. Would Matchroom go for such an idea? Hearn is a pretty shrewd operator, so I’d have to guess this idea has already crossed his mind. And given the fact that he desperately wants to see the U.S. competitive again, and the fact that he loves a good storyline, I can’t see why he wouldn’t entertain contacting Ruijsink.
Would Ruijsink consider coaching Team USA? Can’t say for sure, but two years ago he told me he was stepping down as coach of Team Europe because he “didn’t see the challenge in coaching Team Europe any longer.”
The $60,000 question, though, is this: Would American players put aside their egos to be coached by a foreigner? Unless they are more pigheaded and self-absorbed than I imagine, they should.
I guarantee one thing: Announcing Ruijsink as Team USA captain would scare the living bejeezus out of Team Europe.