Ihara's first manager job was with the Lions (a team he had played for in the 70's and coached for in the 80's and 90's) in 2002 when he was hired to replace Osamu Higashio. Under Ihara, the Lions took the Pacific League easily, finishing with a 90-49-1 record (a .647 winning percentage) and a 16 1/2 game lead over the Hawks and Buffaloes. They were swept, however, in the Nippon Series by the Giants.
|2002 BBM Nippon Series #S25|
The Lions failed to repeat in 2003 but they did finish in second with a 77-61-2 record, 5 1/2 games behind the first place Hawks (remember that playoffs in the Pacific League didn't start until 2004). Despite doing this well, Ihara stepped down after the season. Apparently the Lions' plan the whole time was that Ihara was given the job so that he would mentor Tsutomu Itoh to become the new manager in 2004 and regardless of how well the Ihara did as manager, they were sticking to the plan. The plan worked well for the Lions as Itoh lead them to a Nippon Series title (over the Dragons) in 2004.
|2004 BBM 1st Version #156|
And that was it as far as managerial jobs went for him for nine years. He coached for the Giants for a couple of years and did some broadcasting work but he did not have a managerial job until he took over the Lions last October.
|2014 BBM 1st Version #028|