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McClendon's first task is building coaching staff

New Mariners manager also will travel to meet with players this offseason

SEATTLE -- Now that the TV lights are off and the introductory news conference is over, it's time for Lloyd McClendon to begin his real work. For the new Mariners skipper, the first order of business is hiring a coaching staff, and then he will begin meeting with his players.

Having worked as a coach on Jim Leyland's Tigers staff the past eight years, McClendon doesn't have his own group of assistants ready to come aboard with him. He'll likely talk with most of the holdover coaches in Seattle, all of whom still have a year remaining on their contract.

Pitching coach Carl Willis, third-base coach Daren Brown, first-base coach Mike Brumley and bullpen coach Jaime Navarro all were in the Mariners' system before former manager Eric Wedge came aboard.

But McClendon isn't bound to retain those assistants -- general manager Jack Zduriencik has already informed bench coach Robby Thompson that he won't be back and former third-base coach Jeff Datz has been offered a position in scouting -- and presumably will bring in some of his own people in certain spots.

New Tigers manager Brad Ausmus moved quickly to retain Jeff Jones, who was Leyland's pitching coach in Detroit, but it's possible one or two of McClendon's former co-workers could join him in Seattle as Ausmus brings in new associates of his own.

Tigers first-base coach and infield instructor Rafael Belliard might be a possibility, if he's not retained in Detroit. Two-time All-Star Leon Durham, who has been the hitting coach of the Tigers' Triple-A team in Toledo for the past 14 years, could also be an interesting connection.

Durham interviewed to be the Mariners' hitting coach in 2011 when Wedge instead opted for Chris Chambliss, and he has long been viewed as McClendon's likely successor in Detroit when McClendon left to go elsewhere.

Another potential connection is former Tigers hitting instructor Don Slaught, who preceded McClendon in that role in 2006. The former Major League catcher has been working in California in recent years as the developer of a high-level instructional-video system for hitting called RightView Pro. Slaught, 55, goes way back with McClendon, having played with him in Pittsburgh from 1990-94.

McClendon isn't ready to name names, but he knows the impact of those decisions.

"It's very important. I don't take it lightly," McClendon said. "The next few days, Jack and I will have a lot of discussions in that area. When you talk about coaches, you want them to be an extension of you and what you're trying to accomplish. They need to be good communicators, have the ability to teach, have a lot of energy and you can't be afraid to work.

"We have ideas in mind," he said. "It's going to take some time to hash it out. But listen, I'm a realist. I understand this opportunity for me is a very important opportunity, and I've got to get it right. And coaches are a part of that, and it's got to be right."

With five new managers in the Majors all hiring staffs right now, the Mariners don't have the luxury of time, however.

"It can be competitive," Zduriencik said. "One of the big reasons is you're running into time frames here. Some general manager isn't going to want you to be calling them on Dec. 1 and taking somebody off their big league staff. So we do have to move fairly quick."

Once the coaches are in place, McClendon doesn't plan to sit still. He is the first manager in Zduriencik's tenure who wants to meet his new players where they live in the offseason, rather than the other way around.

"That is my next quest," McClendon said. "I'm ready to get out on road and talk to players. I'm going to need a frequent flyer number."

Why that approach, instead of bringing players to meet him?

"It's players first," McClendon said. "I don't want the players to get out of their element and their comfort zone and what they're doing to work and prepare for a championship season. I think it's my responsibility to go to them. If you want to call yourself a leader and a guy who is capable of leading young men, you better learn how to serve them. It takes some humility and understanding and patience. I want to go to my players and I want to be there for them. I want them to continue their routine."

Ace pitcher Felix Hernandez is one of the few Mariners who lives in Seattle in the offseason, and McClendon will meet soon with the right-hander. Relievers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor are also spending time in Seattle while working out at the team facility this winter.

But McClendon will fly to Orlando, Fla., for introductions with youngsters Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino, then head to Phoenix to talk with several players competing in the Arizona Fall League as well as others in that area.

Zduriencik said McClendon likely would meet Dustin Ackley, since he lives about 50 miles north of Detroit, then line up other destinations that make sense as well.

"If he doesn't meet with everybody, he'll certainly have a chance to talk to all of them on the phone," Zduriencik said.

As for what message McClendon plans to deliver?

"I have a saying that you're probably going to hear quite a bit," he said. "It's real simple. 'If I wanted you to know it, I would have invited you into the meeting.' What I say to my players in private will stay private."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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