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Theo Epstein explains himself in a long goodbye to Boston

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Theo Epstein is trying hard to make sure there are no hard feelings over his leaving the Boston Red Sox.

First, Epstein took out a full-page ad in Sunday's Boston Globe to thank his bosses, colleagues and Red Sox fans.

But for anyone who felt he still had some 'splainin' to do on his way out the door, Epstein accommodated those looking for answers with an editorial in the Globe on the day he's set to be named the new general manager of the Chicago Cubs.

If Epstein is to be taken at his word, one thing becomes clear in his 1,600-word goodbye to Boston: He's always been concerned about overstaying his welcome and was ready to move on.

Football legend Bill Walsh used to say that coaches and executives should seek change after 10 years with the same team. The theory is that both the individual and the organization benefit from a change after so much time together. The executive gets rebirth and the energy that comes with a new challenge; the organization gets a fresh perspective, and the chance for true change that comes with new leadership. This idea resonated with me.

What we don't know is when exactly Walsh's tenet began to ring true with Epstein. Has he always been a restless soul, with a wandering eye toward the next challenge? Was the seed planted when he first resigned from the Red Sox, after the 2005 season? Or was the team's September collapse — and all the scapegoating that came with it — the final dose of affirmation Epstein needed? {YSP:MORE}

Epstein also indicates that the Cubs are the only job he could imagine leaving the Red Sox to take. So maybe this was some convenient timing, if not exactly perfect because he had one year remaining on his contract with Boston.

But once that contract expired, Epstein sounds like he was ready to leave. In the editorial, he mentions preparing assistant GM Ben Cherington to take over in 2012. Planning the transition was discussed with ownership, as well. This wasn't someone angling for a contract extension. This was drawing up an exit strategy.

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Personally, I've always believed that once you think about leaving a job, it's time to go. I've dealt with that myself, I've seen friends and colleagues go through it. I'm sure most everyone reading this can relate.

To bring it back to sports, I'm reminded of Lloyd Carr's last year as Michigan's football coach. When it was revealed that Carr wanted to resign after the 2006 season, the struggles of 2007 (the loss to Appalachian State, a 9-4 record) made that much more sense. Carr's heart couldn't have been fully in the job if he wanted to leave.

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So with a new manager to be chosen — and the working relationship that needs to be developed — Epstein apparently didn't think it was right to lead the search when he had an eye on leaving. And if Cherington was already lined up as the GM successor, then why not let him take the wheel on perhaps the team's most important decision leading into the 2012 season?

Is that explanation good enough for Red Sox fans and media? We'll surely find out over the days, weeks and months to come. But it comes off as honest to me. And given the lack of tension and resentment surrounding his exit, there's no reason not to believe him.

Epstein went over plenty more in his op-ed piece, though probably glossed over the September collapse more than many will prefer. But who can blame him? Cleaning up that mess isn't his problem anymore. It's a mindset that Epstein may have carried through next season, had he stuck around.

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