Iconic sports heroes coming home has a checkered history in Michigan

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Steve Yzerman

There's no place like home, sure.

But there's certainly going to be pressure on The Captain, Steve Yzerman, who was introduced Friday as the Red Wings' new general manager following years of speculation that this day would eventually come.

He was an icon in this city during his playing days.

There's a funny (or not-so-funny) thing about coming home in a different capacity, though. The reputation is immaculate now, and the hoopla is off the charts.

But start losing, and you run the risk of losing much of the shine off your reputation.

Just ask these gents:

Joe Dumars

Playing career: The No. 18 overall draft pick in 1985 went on to become a Hall-of-Fame shooting guard/point guard who helped lead the "Bad Boys" to the franchise's first two NBA championships, in 1989 and 1990. He was the NBA Finals MVP in 1989, a six-time All-Star, and a four-time pick for the NBA's all-defensive te. In 2000, the year after his playing career ended, the Pistons retired his No. 4. In 2006, he made the Hall of Fame.

Joe Dumars, left, and Isiah Thomas were both first-round picks before leading the Pistons to back-to-back NBA titles in 1989-90.

The return: It wasn't much of an absence for Dumars, who became the Pistons' president of basketball operations in 2000, and quickly put together an impressive roster of Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton. That group led the Pistons to the 2004 NBA championship and got them back to the 2005 NBA Finals. The Pistons made six straight Eastern Conference finals, from 2003-08, before things went south. Critics say he held on to the aging players too long (and there was drafting Darko Milicic, too), and in April 2014, he was out. The relationship with the team has been fractured since.

Alan Trammell

Playing career: Not many folks around here were too enthused at first about the skinny kid from California who was a second-round pick in 1976. That sentiment didn't last long. The shortstop burst onto the scene in 1977, alongside second baseman Lou Whitaker, and the rest is history — including a 1984 World Series championship and, finally, a Hall-of-Fame induction in 2018. The Tigers then, finally, retired his No. 3.

Alan Trammell played his entire career with the Tigers.

The return: After the 2002 season, the Tigers made him manager in a move that was celebrated by Tigers fans — not necessarily because they thought he would turn around the franchise, but because it at least gave them a reason to care again. Welp. In 2003, the Tigers lost an AL-record 119 games; things were markedly better the next two years, but still well under .500. He was canned after 2005, the Tigers made the World Series the first year after his departure, and he's never expressed an interest to manage again. His current role in the Tigers' front office, held since 2014, has proven a much better fit.

Jim Harbaugh

Playing career: The brash quarterback emerged from a three-way competition (Chris Zurbrugg and Russ Rein) in 1984, his third year on campus, and stunned Miami (Fla.), 22-14, in his first collegiate start. A broken arm eventually derailed that season, but he was back on the job in 1985 and led UM to a 10-1-1 record and a No. 2 ranking, before finishing his career with an 11-2 1986, including the "guarantee" win over Ohio State.

Jim Harbaugh is entering his fifth season as head coach at Michigan.

The return: After a 14-year NFL playing career and some assistant-coaching gigs, he landed head-coaching jobs at San Diego (2004-06), Stanford (2007-10) and the San Francisco 49ers (2011-14), mounting success along the way — an Orange Bowl game at Stanford, and a Super Bowl in San Francisco. But he always was on Michigan's radar, and on Dec. 30, 2014, the university made it official. And, boy, was he a hot commodity, the ultimate savior, every Harbaugh headline got a gazillion clicks. The results, though: 38-14, good many places, but not at Michigan. And, oh, no wins over Ohio State.

Danton Cole

Playing career: The Pontiac native took his hockey skills to Michigan State, where the right wing played four years — even after being selected in the draft in 1985 — and had an epic senior season, scoring 62 goals in 47 games.  In his four seasons, the Spartans went 131-44-8, including an NCAA championship in 1986, and two more Frozen Four appearances in 1987 and 1989. He played 180 games, tied for the program record.

Danton Cole had a great playing career at Michigan State, and now is back as head coach.

The return: After nine years in the pros, including six years in the NHL, he worked his way up the coaching ranks, starting as an assistant with the Grand Rapids Griffins, and eventually head coach of the Griffins. In 2007, he landed his first college head-coaching job at Alabama-Huntsville, before taking over the USA Hockey National Team Development Program for eight years. Then, Michigan State, which was on a run of down years, came calling in 2017. He's had two seasons on the job, and they've been quite a struggle, with just 12 wins and a seventh-place Big Ten finish each season.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984