CHICAGO -- For nearly one decade -- through five managers and interims, three division championships and four losing records -- Chicago Cubs fans developed a love-hate relationship with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
Of course, it tended to tilt more to the "hate" side, given the sore shoulders of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior and their shortened comebacks using the much-despised "towel drill."
So the first question for new Cubs pitching coach Mark Riggins was whether he used the towel drill, in which pitchers simulate their motions by snapping the white cloth (which Rothschild actually abandoned the last couple of years after criticism).
"I saw that some of our minor leaguers like to do it, so I don't stop it, but I don't promote it," said Riggins, the minor league pitching co-coordinator the last three summers.
"Some guys use (rubber stretch) bands and some guys have towels, some guys have balance beams to stand on. I'm not really a gimmick guy. They've pitched long enough and should know their bodies well enough that gimmicks aren't really needed at this level."
Riggins instead believes in a no-nonsense, honesty-first, tough-love approach after working for 29 years in the Cardinals organization.
If nothing else, he supplies a fresh face and new voice in the wake of Rothschild's departure for the Yankees.
He already knows most of the young faces on the Cubs roster and has studied film of the veterans.
"Every pitching coach is pretty similar," he said. "Mechanics, every pitching coach has his own little ideas of deliveries. There'll be a few tweaks here and there with guys. I just need to see them in spring training. I want to get a foundation with them before I do a whole lot."
If there is a difference in Riggins' philosophy, it's that he will work with catchers as much as pitchers.
"The catchers are more important, to me, than the pitchers in getting done what I need done," said Riggins, 54. "I need a good relationship with the catchers.
"The catchers are the ones calling the signs and setting up (for location) and hopefully they're on the same page with the pitcher. The catcher has to know what he's doing. You have to have the right catcher out there or he will really mess up the pitcher."
Riggins' first duty in Mesa this month is to cull a starting staff from a large slate of candidates.
His second duty will be to determine exactly how to handle each pitcher psychologically -- think Carlos Zambrano and Jeff Samardzija -- which might be more important than how to handle their mechanics.
"The mental approach is always different with each guy and the catcher," he said.
So does Riggins play bad cop or good cop?
"Depends on the guy," he said.
Then he laughed and added, "I always start off soft and work the other way."
And that's most likely the way Cubs fans will approach their new pitching coach as he replaces the longtime mentor who rarely got the benefit of the doubt.