The year 2020 was one to forget for many people for obvious reasons. The last 12 months saw a lot of challenges, including in the sports world.
From the death of Kobe Bryant to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 didn’t provide as many great sports moments as we are accustomed to.
That doesn’t mean that 2020 wasn’t eventful. Far from it. Remember when the Masters was postponed to November? Or when the MLB spent weeks haggling over a shortened season?
In the state of Michigan, a number of big changes occurred that set the table for the story of sports in the mitten. Here’s a look at five key dates in the Michigan sports world for 2020.
Feb. 4 – Mark Dantonio retires at MSU
An era came to an end early in 2020 when Mark Dantonio decided to retire as head coach of the Michigan State football program.
The timing was odd, as Dantonio elected to step down the day before National Signing Day.
Dantonio was coming off a 7-6 record in the 2019 season, where MSU went just 4-5 in the Big Ten Conference.
There were cries for sweeping changes of Dantonio’s staff in the offseason, but he opted to step away instead. He went 114-57 over 13 seasons with the Spartans, the most wins of any coach in MSU history.
Due to the timing, the Spartans had to scramble to find a new coach, but ultimately landed on Mel Tucker. Tucker spent 2019 as head coach at Colorado and turned Michigan State down on their first offer. But MSU came back stronger and convinced Tucker to leave the Buffaloes after one season.
Tucker went 2-5 in his first season with MSU this fall, but that included a 27-24 win over Michigan on Oct. 31.
March 11 – The day it all changed
The story of 2020 for all is certainly COVID-19. The virus has taken over every part of life in the US. In the sports world, the novel virus would change everything on March 11.
As the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder warmed up for their regular-season NBA game that night, things came to a drastic halt during warmups.
Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus, forcing the NBA to end the game and put a pause to the season.
Dominos began to fall quickly.
On March 12, the Big Ten canceled the remainder of the Big Ten Tournament, while the NHL also stopped its season.
Just hours later the NCAA shocked many by canceling the 2020 NCAA Tournament and canceling all winter and spring championships for the year.
The icing on the cake for Michigan, though, might be the ill-timed launch of retail sports betting at Detroit casinos — which happened on March 11. Casinos closed five days later.
Ultimately the NBA and NHL would wrap up their season in the fall of 2020, but the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Red Wings weren’t part of the finish. And yes, the casinos eventually reopened (five months later).
All in all, March 11 is a pretty tough pill to swallow.
June 18 – Detroit Pistons hire Troy Weaver as GM
The Pistons didn’t have much to be excited about in the 2019-20 season, but Troy Weaver made sure Detroit made some noise in the 2020-21 season.
Hired in as the new general manager on June 18, Weaver made his biggest splash on the week of the 2020 NBA Draft.
The former assistant general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder was wheeling and dealing, creating a number of trades to completely overhaul the Detroit roster.
From Nov. 19-27, Weaver made seven trades and ultimately found himself with four picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. Leading the way was point guard Killian Hayes at No. 7.
While the Pistons aren’t likely to be a contender this season, Weaver’s moves have set the Pistons up for a much faster rebuild. Hopefully.
Sept. 19 – Ron Gardenhire retires for the Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers continued their rebuild in 2020, but things started to turn in the later stages of the season.
That began when Ron Gardenhire retired on Sept. 19 in a bit of a surprising move prior to the end of the season. Gardenhire cited the need to take care of his health as the reason for stepping away.
With the managerial position open for a Tigers team that went 23-35 in the COVID-shortened season, they made a splash. Detroit hired former Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch on Oct. 30.
Hinch was coming off a one-year suspension for a sign-stealing scandal with the Astros during their World Series season in 2017.
Hinch has a talented young roster to work with, including 2020 MLB Draft No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson at third base.
Nov. 28 – Detroit Lions fire Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia
It felt almost inevitable that Matt Patricia was going to lose his job as head coach of the Detroit Lions.
We just didn’t know when and if general manager Bob Quinn would be included.
Those questions were answered when both were fired on Nov. 28, coming off a 41-25 loss to the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving to fall to 4-7 on the season.
The Quinntricia era will go down as one of the worst in Lions’ history. Quinn fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 record in the 2017 season and hired Patricia. Patricia then went on to go 13-29-1 over his three seasons.
Despite being a “defensive guru,” the Lions were consistently among the worst defenses in the league under Patricia.
Not helping matters was that No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jeff Okudah, had a very forgettable rookie season while surrounding picks have flourished.
The Lions enter Week 17 of the NFL Season at 5-10. And the odds about who might replace Patricia seem to be taunting Michigan a bit.
Do we want to remember 2020? Eh, no. But some of the memorable dates listed above will have long-lasting effects on Michigan sports and sports betting. And they do raise another question: When will Detroit and Michigan sports teams find their stride?
Oh, 2021… you cannot come fast enough.