BOSTON -- Terry Francona's memorable run as manager of the Red Sox, during which he guided the club to its first two World Series championships since 1918, has come to an end.
The most stunning part about the departure was the abrupt nature of it, and the fact that Francona said multiple times it was his decision not to return.
The Red Sox held option years for Francona for the next two seasons, and had until Oct. 8 to decide whether to pick up the 2012 pact, which would have paid him $4.25 million.
Francona met with general manager Theo Epstein on Thursday, a day after the Red Sox completed their epic collapse and became the first team in history to have a nine-game lead in the standings in September and not make the postseason. He met again with Epstein, assistant general manager Ben Cherington and the ownership trio of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino on Friday.
Thinking he was no longer the voice the Red Sox needed, Francona took the decision of whether to pick up his option years -- a decision, which by the way hadn't been made yet -- out of the hands of ownership and Epstein.
"That's something that Tito and I talked about [Thursday] when we met," Epstein said on Friday. "I think we were pretty open about it in our press conference yesterday as well, that Tito and I had. It was a topic of conversation again today when John, Tom, Larry, Ben, Tito and I met. We talked about the need for a little bit of an improvement in the clubhouse culture.
"A little bit more leadership, maybe a little bit more engagement. Holding the organization and players to higher standards in some areas. I asked Tito and then in the group we did as well, whether he could be that guy. Whether he could take a couple of weeks off and go think about the things that didn't go right this year, what we weren't able to get out of this team and to look himself in the mirror.
"As I talked about yesterday, it wasn't my best year, it wasn't his best year. As an organization, it wasn't our best year. [I asked him], 'Look yourself in the mirror and think if there's things you could do differently, if you could come back next Spring Training with a new voice and provide some of the leadership that's needed to improve the culture in our clubhouse and to meet those high standards that we have. He thought about it and he said that he thought it was time to move on."
Did the Red Sox directly ask Francona to return as manager, something they could have done verbally or by exercising his option either during the season or before the deadline?
"No," Francona said. "We talked about a lot of different things. I think they wanted to know about how I felt about coming back. I think that's a fair way to put it. And I told them a lot of things that were on my mind -- obviously a lot of things about the organization, then the team, what went right, what didn't go right and then I told them I thought it was time for a new voice. And it's not an easy thing to say. But I thought it was the right thing to do."
The parting of ways with the man many consider to be the best manager in Red Sox history was announced by the club shortly after 5 p.m. ET on Friday. Francona had a press conference two hours later, and Epstein held a separate one flanked by Werner and Lucchino a little later.
"I've been talking to Theo probably more than people realize," Francona said. "Theo and I had talked a bunch. We had agreed to talk this morning with ownership. And, I just felt like, like what it said in the press release, I think it's time for a new voice here. I was frustrated with some of my inabilities to get some things done here. After talking to ownership and Theo at length, multiple times, I think it's the right thing to do for the organization and myself."
While the Red Sox were quick to point out that Francona was not a scapegoat for the team's nose-dive out of the postseason, the manager showed plenty of accountability and remorse for the way the last month panned out.
"I actually feel like I let a lot of people down," Francona said. "Walking out of the clubhouse in Baltimore the other night, that's the one thing I told Theo, was I felt like I let them down. It's my responsibility to get this done and it didn't happen, and I take responsibility for that."
The one thing all the decision-makers and Francona all seemed to agree on is that the clubhouse culture had needed an upgrade. This team didn't have the same unity as in the years that ended with the Red Sox either going all the way or advancing deep into the postseason.
Epstein wanted Francona to take some time to decide whether he could be the voice to help improve the team's culture. Ownership similarly told Francona to take some time to decide for sure he didn't want to return.
"We went into this meeting today really wanting to hear Terry's point of view about what went right this year, what went wrong this year," said Werner, the team's chairman. "And he expressed the feeling when we asked him, he felt that we did need a new voice. After that, we tried to slow the train down a little bit and ask Terry to think about it over the weekend. As he said in his press conference, I think he made up his mind and, so, that's how this was resolved."
Perhaps the Red Sox would have ultimately decided not to bring Francona back after doing an exhaustive evaluation. But the manager didn't feel that waiting would have served a purpose.
"Theo actually asked me about that," Francona said. "No. Once I make up my mind, I think I'm ready. We could have waited through the weekend, but it would have just prolonged getting done what's needed to be done."
Francona was asked if he considered improving or changing some of his techniques, rather than stepping down. He indicated that one reason he didn't do that is because he didn't know if ownership was as much behind him as in years past.
"Well, some of it may be personal, but I just thought it was time [to go]," Francona said. "Again, to be honest with you, I didn't know or I'm not sure how much support there was from ownership, and I don't know that I felt real comfortable. You've got to be all-in in this job, and I voiced that today. There were some things that maybe, going through things here to make it work, it's got to be everybody together, and I was questioning some of that a little bit."
Lucchino, the president/CEO of the Red Sox, said he was puzzled by Francona's statement.
"We have done nothing differently this year than we have done in previous years and I think it's a question you probably have to ask him," Lucchino said. "I thought he did an exceptional job in conveying the strength of his feelings and his frustrations, and his fatigue with the situation here in Boston. I must confess to being a little puzzled as to what was different this year than previous years."
Known for his even keel and keeping the team loose during the toughest of times, Francona had a 744-552 record with the Red Sox.
"We're going to miss him," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "Tito is a good dude. He might have had his problems with [ownership and front office], but I really don't know anything about that. Tito was someone that I played eight years for. We're going to miss him. In my situation, I never got in Tito's way and he never got in mine. He would remind me about some things sometimes when I really needed it. But life has to continue. I know he'll be somewhere else at some point."
Francona went 8-0 in the World Series, becoming the first manager in history to win his first six World Series games.
Francona came to Boston in December 2003, at which point the franchise was stung by coming within five outs of advancing to the World Series, losing to the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
"Tito and I didn't know each other when he was hired eight years ago, but over time we developed not only a great working relationship but also a personal friendship that will always be important to both of us," Epstein said. "He proved to be an unflappable leader for our Major League club, displaying consistency, calmness, hard work, thoughtfulness, a sense of humor, and faith in the players even at the most difficult of times. Without Tito's commitment over eight years, we would not be the organization we are today.
"Nobody at the Red Sox blames Tito for what happened at the end of this season; we own that as an organization. This year was certainly a difficult and draining one for him and for us. Ultimately, he decided that there were certain things that needed to be done that he couldn't do after eight years here, and that this team would benefit from hearing a new voice. While this may be true, his next team will benefit more than it knows from hearing Tito's voice. I will miss seeing Tito every day in the manager's office, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best in their next chapter."
In Francona's first season with Boston, the Sox won it all, breaking the so-called "Curse of the Bambino" after 86 years. Down 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS, the Red Sox became the first team in Major League history to come all the way back and win a postseason series after facing such a deficit.
"I would like to make one preliminary comment and that is simply to express our thanks, our gratitude, our respect and appreciation to Tito Francona for the job he has done for this franchise over this last eight years," Lucchino said. "There's plenty of documentation of his accomplishments in these statements but we owe him a debt of gratitude for the work he has done here with this franchise. He was a central component in the historic success the franchise achieved over these last eight years and he leaves with our respect and our deep appreciation for his accomplishments."
Boston faced similar adversity in 2007 as in '04, trailing the Indians, 3-1, before the Red Sox rallied to win that ALCS and then sweep the Rockies in the World Series.
The championships are something Francona will never forget.
"I haven't had a lot of time to reflect yet because as you can imagine it's been kind of an up and down couple of days, an emotional couple of days for me," Francona said. "I think the biggest thing I'll always remember is watching guys jump on the pile. That's my favorite memories, because you have guys from all over different parts of the world that have fought through frustration and you can see the pure joy on their face, that means we accomplished what we set out to do."
The Sox nearly got to another World Series under Francona in 2008, coming back again from 3-1 against the Rays in the ALCS to force Game 7, only to lose a tight game.
The Red Sox didn't make it to the postseason the past two years. Injuries were a major reason in 2010, as Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis were all lost for the stretch run with season-ending ailments. This time, the Red Sox simply collapsed, and nobody could seem to fix it.
Players didn't seem to have any sense that Francona was on the way out until rumors started surfacing once the season came to a crashing halt.
"I never even took it into consideration to even think about it," said pitcher Clay Buchholz. "Whenever all the stuff started swirling around on the Internet and everything and on the TV, that's when everything clicked and I was like, I might not have the same manager next year if this keeps going the way it's going."
Before coming to Boston, Francona managed the Phillies during a rebuilding period from 1997-2000, going 285-363.
What exactly happened in the clubhouse in 2011 that made Francona -- and perhaps his bosses -- come to the conclusion that he wasn't as effective a leader as in the past?
"This team, and don't everyone forget, a month ago, we were on pace to win about 100 games," Francona said. "When things start to go, I wanted desperately for our guys to care about each other on the field. I think I referenced that a few times. I wasn't seeing that as much as I wanted to. When I thought I tried to help make that better, and the coaches also, I just wasn't ever comfortable. You've heard me say all the time about going in one direction, and getting through challenges and meeting them together. I just didn't think we were doing that. That's my responsibility to get them to do that. It just wasn't happening to my satisfaction."
The Red Sox will go on an exhaustive search to find Francona's replacement.
"Obviously, we'll do a thorough job," Epstein said. "We want to get the right guy. That's more important than doing it quickly. With respect to what qualities we're looking for, this is a tough job. I'll use the same process we used eight years ago when we identified and hired Tito. Looking back at that process eight years ago, we found the right guy and hired the right guy. He did a remarkable job, and this organization is forever changed because of the job he did here."