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Epstein may use plan that worked in 2003

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 4, 2011

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When the Red Sox last hired a manager, in 2003, general manager Theo Epstein went with a 44-year-old bench coach who had a background in player development and a brief, unsuccessful run as a major league manager.

Terry Francona did not seem like a particularly inspired choice at the time. But he proved to be the most successful manager the Red Sox ever have had.

Assuming Epstein remains with the Red Sox, he’s going to stick with the plan that worked so well the first time.

“In respect to the qualities that we’re looking for, this is a tough job,’’ Epstein said. “I think I’ll use the same process that we used eight years ago when we identified and hired Tito. Looking back at that process eight years ago, I think we found the right guy and hired the right guy.’’

One potential candidate who fits largely the same profile that Francona did is Dodgers bench coach Trey Hillman.

Hillman, 48, spent this season with the Dodgers after being fired as manager of the Royals 35 games into the 2010 season. He was 152-207 with Kansas City over parts of three seasons.

Hillman spent five seasons managing the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan, winning a championship in 2006. Before that, he spent a year with the Rangers as their director of player development and 12 years managing in the Yankees’ minor league system. He is a close friend of Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman regards Hillman highly, so much so that he was a candidate in New York when Joe Girardi was hired before the 2008 season.

Other bench coaches with managerial experience include Don Wakamatsu (Blue Jays), Tony Pena (Yankees), and Pete Mackanin (Phillies).

Pena, who played for the Red Sox from 1990-93, brings the added cachet of having been a five-time All-Star. He managed the Royals from 2002-05 and was the American League manager of the year in 2003 after Kansas City finished 83-79. Tony Pena Jr., his son, pitched for Pawtucket this season.

But a lack of managerial experience isn’t a deal-breaker.

“It’s preferred, but I don’t think we’re in a position to put any formal prerequisites on the job,’’ Epstein said. “Experience is important. But if we found the perfect candidate who hadn’t happened to have had a manager’s job before in the big leagues I think we’d be able to look past that.’’

That could aid the candidacy of someone such as Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, Giants bench coach Ron Wotus (a native of Colchester, Conn.), or well-regarded Indians coach Sandy Alomar Jr.

Alomar is reportedly under consideration to replace Ozzie Guillen with the White Sox, along with Rays bench coach Dave Martinez.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers was affected by the departure of Francona.

“Obviously losing him for me and this whole city, it’s like losing a brother in sports in a lot of ways,’’ Rivers said. “You have such a great relationship. It’s just one of those guys who’s in the same situation that you can share with. So that obviously, I did understand what he was going through, but you just hope from afar that it was going to work out for everybody.’’

Rivers said he has exchanged text messages with Francona since his decision not to return.

“We’ve definitely been communicating,’’ he said. “I don’t want to say [how he feels], let’s put it like that, he’s going to be all right. Terry wants to win. Just like I would. I would beat myself up, so would Bill [Belichick], so would all of us. That’s what we do. That’s why we’re in this.’’

With Belichick, Francona, and Bruins coach Claude Julien, Rivers was in a title-winning quartet that has bonded over the years.

“It’s only about winning,’’ Rivers said. “We don’t need anything else.’’

Rivers said he didn’t think Francona would have to worry about getting another job. “The best thing for him, and I am not speaking for him, is he’ll have the choice to work or not work, and that’s a good thing,’’ Rivers said.

Kevin Youkilis said during a radio interview that he would undergo surgery to repair his hernia today. “The best thing is the doctor said in four weeks you should be 100 percent and ready to do stuff and then hold off on lifting a little bit longer but he told me I could be riding a stationary bike in a week, so I’m pretty pumped about that,’’ Youkilis told WAAF. Youkilis played in only 10 of the final 52 games because of injury, hitting .162 with two RBIs before shutting it down. Youkilis has missed 102 games the last two seasons because of injuries.

Gary Washburn of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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