Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo held a conference call to address his decision to fire Matt Williams as manager of the Nationals and not renew the contracts of any of his coaches. Below is a transcript of the key points Rizzo made over the course of about 15 minutes of questions in which he outlines when he made the decision, what went wrong for Williams this year, and what he’ll look for in the next manager of the Nationals.
“Really a tough day here at Nationals Park. Tough day for me personally. Tough day for our entire organization. But these are the first of the decisions we have to make as we meticulously evaluate why the 2015 season didn’t go the way we hoped. As I’ve said, the entire 2015 season was a disappointment to myself, the ownership and to the fan base of Washington D.C. It wasn’t our best year. It wasn’t Matt’s best year. It wasn’t my best year. As an organization it wasn’t our best year, all of us.
“We felt that it was right for us to look at every aspect of the organization to figure out ways it can work better, to get us back on track to reach our ultimate goal of bringing a World Series championship back to D.C. and its fan base. This is not an easy thing. This is a business, and as such requires some very very tough, difficult choices, and this certainly was one of them.”
“On a personal note, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Matt Williams for the work he has done here. He worked extremely hard to try to bring a championship here to Washington, D.C. I share in his disappointment that his tenure here did not end the way we wanted it to.”
What qualities will you be looking for in the next manager? Will you emphasize previous experience?
“As we go through the laundry list of things we look for in our manager, in the perfect leader of the ballclub on the field, leadership qualities, knowledge of the game, X’s and O’s are all important. Communication in the clubhouse, communication within the coaching staff is vital. Experience is always helpful. It always adds a layer of expertise to anybody’s resume. We feel that where we’re at in our timetable, our time frame of winning a championship, we would lean toward someone who has some type of managerial experience at the major league level. But again, we’re gonna be open minded and look for the best candidate that we can that allows us to win a championship here in the very near future.”
How difficult was it to let the coaching staff go?
“It’s very tough to let anybody go that you’re close to and you work with as much as I have with these people. We have not offered a renewal of the contract for any of our coaching staff. That’s not to say some of the coaches will not be back if the new manager decides that they are people he would like on his staff. It also doesn’t restrict us from hiring them elsewhere in and around our minor league system. We’ve offered several jobs to several of our former major league coaches in our system. We love all these guys. They’ve been with us for years and years. They’ve done a great job with this organization throughout their time here, and we certainly hope that a handful of these guys take us up on the opportunity to work with us in the future.”
Randy Knorr was a popular candidate last time — will he be considered?
“We’re going to really dive into the manager pool and the candidates for manager immediately. We’re going to let those details come. We don’t see any reason right now to (go through) the litany of major league candidates. Randy’s been a source for this organization for many, many years. He managed in the minor leagues and has a great rapport not only with the front office, but with the young players. He would be a great candidate for anybody’s managerial job.”
Did the Papelbon incident contribute to this decision?
“There’s not one single incident that was the tipping point of making a decision with Matt Williams. Like I said during the season, we’re gonna take his whole body of work into consideration and make a decision based on that, based on what was best for the organization moving forward.”
How was the conversation with Matt Williams?
“We delivered the message to Matt like we deliver everything. It was face to face, man to man, in his office early this morning. Matt took it as a professional. He was very thankful of the opportunity to manage this baseball team. He also was thankful of me to show enough faith in him to give him his first managerial job. He’s obviously very, very disappointed in the result and the outcome this year. But it was a very serious discussion but I think a very professional result happened. We parted wishing him good luck and success moving forward.”
Do you have an ideal timetable to start interviewing candidates?
“We’re gonna immediately begin the process of the search of the manager. It will start this afternoon here in the front office and continue painstakingly until we have a manager under contract that we think is going to bring us a World Series championship in 2016 and beyond.”
When did you make the decision to fire Matt Williams?
“Again, I wanted to give the manager the benefit of the doubt for his full body of work. With all the struggles that [occurred] this year with injuries and so on and so forth, we had to balance that with the success that he had last year. I don’t think there was any one tipping point that said this was the reason. It was looking at the full body of work and making the judgment that going forward, what’s going to give us the best chance of having the championship-caliber franchise the fan base deserves.”
How much did ownership play a role in this decision?
“Ownership has a role in every major decision that we make. It’s the process that we have here with the Washington Nationals. There’s the board of directors that consists of the owners and I are in daily discussions about all sorts of business regarding the Washington Nationals. Ultimately, it’s my decision on baseball operations. Those are my decisions to carry out.”
What have you learned over the last two years that you can apply moving forward?
“I think you have to take a step back and look at the grand picture. 2015, there’s nobody more disappointed about the 2015 season than I am. I thought we put together a roster that should compete not only for the division title, but to move along throughout the playoffs. It didn’t happen for a litany of reasons. But when you look back at the organization since 2012, we’ve won the third-most games in all of baseball behind only the Cardinals and the Dodgers .. .we’ve got ourselves a good, young core of players at the major league level. We’ve got ourselves a fertile farm system that we can reach for for major league talent on a daily basis. So we feel proud of the franchise that we’ve put together. We take pride in the organization that we have and the process that we use to make the decisions here in Washington.”
What questions will you ask to make sure the next manager is the right man for the job?
“We’re gonna (interview) a group of people with diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences, and diverse skill sets. I think that’s something that we did not do last time. Last time, we brought in managing candidates with little or no managerial experience. I think we’ll have a greater pool of manager candidates this year, stemming from very experienced to limited experience and really go through a process that gets to know the manager personally first, and then professionally and what he does on the field.”
Are any of the candidates you interviewed last time going to be considered again?
“I think that we’re going to expand the pool and like I said, we will readjust several candidates that we had that we interviewed last time. We’re gonna keep an open mind on ’em. Like I said before, I don’t know if I made it clear, but we haven’t ruled out Randy Knorr as a guy we would talk about for the guys this year.”
Beyond the manager and the coaching staff, are any other changes coming?
“Like I said up to today, we’re looking from the top of the organization to the bottom of the organization. We feel that we’re positioned well with our franchise at this time, but we’re certainly going to look at every aspect of this organization, from our major league roster down to our minor leagues to our medical strength and conditioning through the entire organization to find what’s best for us and what gives us the advantage to go forward to 2016 and beyond.”
What changed for Williams from the time you picked up his option in spring training to now?
“I think it was a lot more trials and tribulations this year. You look at the roster that we had in the winter here, going into spring training was a roster that many, many people felt was a championship-caliber roster. That said, you go into spring training and leave spring training with five of your every day players that did not have much of a spring training. A lot of injuries that came into play, a lot of lineups that we had to adapt and make up as the season went along, so Matt had to navigate a lot of rough waters and a lot of trials and tribulations maybe he didn’t have to in the previous season.”
What did you see as Williams’s strengths as a manager and what could he have handled differently?
“I think Matt had a steadiness to him, a calmness to him that I thought was one of his strengths. He led by example. He was an extremely hard worker. Nobody outworked him. He got to the ballpark earlier and stayed later and cared more. Those are his strengths, and that certainly will aid him in his future endeavors as a baseball man, coach or manager.”
What have you heard from the owners about the status of your job?
“I think that they recognize the big picture like I explained before. We feel like we’re one of the really stable organizations and franchises in baseball. We’ve won a lot of games over the last four, five years. We’ve got a process in place that makes decisions well. We’ve put together scouting and player development staff that we believe is second to none.”
“We have a good, working relationship with the president of baseball operations — myself — and the ownership group. We have a trust for each other, and a family, an ownership group that’s family orientated and work very well together.”
Did you talk to the players this morning?
“We have input from several of the players. I did not talk to them this morning, but had ample time to talk to them over the last couple of days. Always important to get input from a variety of different people within the organization, and certainly the players’ opinions and talking to the players is an important part of it.”
Did any of them try to persuade you to bring Williams back?
“Of course, a discussion I have with the player is going to stay between the player and myself.”
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