Was the Contract for Stanton a Good Move?

November 21st, 2014

The Cal State Monterey Bay Otters won last night, improving to 2-1 on the season. Their next game is tomorrow and my next blog will be Tuesday, Nov. 25.

When Giancarlo Stanton signed his new contract for 13 years and $325 million, naturally it caused quite a buzz throughout the nation. One thing it did was created a forum for come one, come all as far as comments about the contract. One thing that needs to be understood is that the contract is back-loaded. Stanton receives $107M in the first six years, averaging $18M/year, then will average $31M/year for the last seven.

As far as I’m concerned, the contract made more people happy than any other I can recall. The city of Miami is ecstatic because the Marlins kept their best guy in town, which translates into . . . the reason they open their stores. It certainly doesn’t seem like his teammates begrudge the new contract – but the returns from TMZ aren’t in yet. Opponents’ superstars are no doubt delighted with the new standard that has been set. The Marlins fans love it because their favorite – and best – player will be playing there for the foreseeable future. Fans get upset when their team loses a great player to free agency. Their chant is, “We shoulda locked him up with a max deal when we had the chance.” (Of course, when the player is in his later years, the same fans are saying,”They – note the pronoun change – gotta dump that contract; it’s hamstringing the franchise.”)

In a piece Ken Rosenthal did for FOX Sports, he compared what the Marlins did to be along the same lines as the plan the Rangers, Angels and Tigers did before signing new local TV contracts (the position Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria finds himself in), i.e. make your product more attractive by spending big. Rosenthal pointed out that the Marlins’ win total improved by 15 (62 in 2013 to 77 in 2014) – and that’s “with Jose Fernandez making only eight starts and Stanton missing the final 18 games of this past season. Their young players, including Stanton, are only getting better and if they sign a No. 2 starter, upgrade at first base and find a better solution at second,” the club might be looking pretty good around playoff time.

His summary was compelling, “Why shouldn’t a team succeed in Miami, which in many ways is the capital of Latin America (Stanton is of Puerto Rican, African-American and Irish descent)? Why can’t Stanton become an institution in the city, one of the faces of baseball? The Marlins could have traded Stanton for the sun, moon and the stars. But no, Loria wants to win. He often has an odd way of showing it. But no one who knows him questions his competitiveness.”

Now, for the opposing side to all of this. Keith Olbermann, the man whose job is his hobby, i.e. making fun of people and showing how smart – and smug – he can be on national television (all while making considerable money himself), perfectly nailed the Stanton deal (according to no greater authority than himself – and his Kool-Aid drinking minions). He mocked Stanton for taking  only $107M the first six years (“Russell Martin money” he compared it to). He said Loria was pulling another scam, as he had done it before. Olbermann continued to denigrate Stanton (although not face-to-face, alone in a room – apparently not his style) by declaring that, although the slugger would be making $31M/year for the next seven years, if he, or anyone else, thought the top salary in seven years would be $31M, they weren’t paying attention to the trend in baseball.

Did Mr. “I-May-Not-Know-It-All-But-What-I-Don’t-Know-Is-Irrelevant” ever consider that, perhaps, Stanton likes living in Miami (although he originally hails from Southern California). With the advantage of the tax break residents of Florida get (one reason James/Wade/Bosh could afford to take less money in exchange for a couple championships), Stanton and his family ought to be able to live a comfortable life there on only $17M/year (not including endorsement money). His agent, while back-loading the deal (allegedly to give the club more money to sign other players), did include an opt-out clause in 2020 (if, in fact, this whole thing is a scam) and he didn’t want to look foolish by working for a meager $31M/year for the next 7 years.

While ridiculing the deal and excoriating Loria, Olbermann never once mentions that in the last 20 years, of the 30 major league baseball teams, just 10 have won the World Series and only half of those have won at least two (the Marlins being one of that special group of five, Jeffrey Loria being the owner during the second championship). The berating of Loria, Stanton and the Marlins organization by KO (which definitely would have been the result of a private one-on-one session between Stanton and Olbermann had the latter summed up the courage to insult him) would only have been worse had the Marlins not locked him in and lost him to free agency.

The classiest (or most gullible, depending on your outlook) guy in this whole scenario has been none other than Giancarlo Stanton himself who answered the question of whether he should feel embarrassed making this kind of money, by saying, “This is the start of new work and a new job, for this city. It’s a huge responsibility, and one I’m willing to take. . . I know I have a lot of expectations to live up to, which I need to do and am willing to do.”

The best line in his reply might just have been:

“This isn’t like a lottery ticket and ‘peace out,’ all right now?”

Comments on Various Topics

November 19th, 2014

Brief reminder: no blog tomorrow, next one will be Friday, Nov. 21.

Random thoughts:

*Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen was criticized last weekend during the game by many for seemingly trying not to win, but simply to score and walk away with a “close” 25-20 loss at Tuscaloosa. He was chastised by everyone, from the top all the way to the bottom, i.e. from color analyst Gary Danielson to . . . me. And when I spoke with others later on and the MSU-AL game was brought up, sure enough, the feeling was unanimous.

I’ve seen coaches (worked for one, too) who held onto their times out like they could use them when their time came. “Oh,” they must have thought the Grim Reaper would say. “You have many TOs that you didn’t use. OK, you can stay another couple hours.” While the last minutes were ticking off, I kept wondering why Mullen wouldn’t stop the clock during the Bulldogs (what proved to be their) last drive?

Danielson, whose praises have been listed in this space on numerous occasions as one of the G.O.A.T. college football color analysts, was classy enough not to second guess – until it became evident Mullen’s goal was to see MSU score at least once more, and not “lose by too much” – and drop too far, i.e. out of the top four. When the coach’s actions were that obvious, Danielson made the comment that most of those closely watching were thinking, i.e. that a five-point loss was better than one by double digits – or worse – had the Tide scored again and expanded their lead even further.

But “style points” aren’t supposed to matter. Coaches always, with a very few exceptions, have deplored “running up the score” to impress poll voters. But that was prior to the College Football Playoff. There’s no politicking your team’s way to a national championship now.

*Florida State has been dropped from #1 to #2, and #2 to #3 – and haven’t lost this year. Or last for that matter. If they get behind yet again, but are on the winning side when time runs out, could they be dropped to #4? And if it happened in the ACC title game, could the ‘Noles actually be left out of the playoffs - and not be able to defend their national championship – even though they’d finish undefeated? For a second consecutive season? Apparently “style points” do matter.

*At the beginning of the Lakers season, Kobe Bryant, as competitive as he is, might have thought, deep down, he and his boys could “fool the world.” Even after Steve Nash was forced into retirement (you are retiring, Steve, right?), Kobe probably felt they could still be a factor because 1) most likely, he hadn’t planned on that many games from Nash at a high level because those close to the team understood how badly Nash was hurting and 2) he felt he could mold the young guys into, if not like the cold-blooded assassin he is, a formidable club who’d get after it like he did game after game.

Even when Nick Young went out for a while, Kobe felt he and the others could hold down the fort until their “Swaggy P” returned. What I saw when Julius Randle, a Bryant favorite, went down and out – for the season – was what most everybody else in the sporting world noticed, mainly because so many cameras are focused on the Black Mamba. His shoulders slumped. There was no replacing what they had in Randle, even if he was an untested rookie.

How an intense guy like Kobe Bryant is going to make it through an 82-game season, losing game after game (even when playing to about as high a level as they can perform), is a mystery. The Lakers got one yesterday but it’s almost as if there ought to be a parade every time they come out on the winning side.

*Kentucky, a nice mix of freshmen and veterans (all of them uber-talented), has drawn the question, “Can they go 45-0?” (I’m assuming they can play that many – nobody, independent of how talented, can win more than they play – although if there’s a fan base that would expect it, Lexington would be their home).

John Calipari has done even more than he thought possible. He, and his staff, recruit the best group in the country every year. What’s so attractive to the recruits is how he prepares them for the NBA and has no issue if their goals are to be one-and-dones). Yet, this year he outdid himself. Some of the one-and-dones stayed! This left him with a problem no other coach – not John Wooden, Guy Lewis, Dean Smith, no one – ever had. The sheer number of talented players.

Some coaches would say that team chemistry might be a problem. That’s true – except this year Cal’s sheer number of talented guys exceeds any kind of chemistry problem. Or biology, physics, zoology, even epigenetics. And don’t think for a minute Cal just rolls it out. The guy is an excellent coach. The biggest obstacle UK will have to overcome is the media. They will have so many requests, their guys will be hounded - maybe into submission. And let’s not forget – although we’d like to – those on social media who want nothing more than to be the one who takes down Goliath.

*There was a sports story about the Niagra women’s basketball team being stranded on their team bus in of those famous Buffalo snowstorms. Luckily, the story had a happy ending and everybody is safe.

In the mid-80s I received a lesson in hometown pride. I was recruiting in Buffalo and had to walk through the biting cold, on sidewalks that were filled with snow, except for the parts that were “cleared,” leaving slush and ice. By the time I got to the school to watch the game, my shoes were ruined. Since I didn’t know the area, I called a friend who lived there and, thankfully, he agreed to drive me to the tilt. As we left the gym, I said to him, “Irv, I don’t mean to be condescending, in fact part of me admires that you can live here – and in your case – actually enjoy it, but I gotta ask you, “how do you do it?”

He looked at me and said, as if the answer was obvious, “Jack, you just learn to deal with it.”

I gave him the only response that I could think of at the time (in my best Jerry Seinfeld whiny voice):

“But I don’t want to learn how to deal with it.”

The Parents’ Guide to Proper Behavior at Athletics Contests

November 18th, 2014

First of all, I owe you readers an apology. When I go out of town (and suspend posting on this site), I always alert you. When we decided to leave a day early for Alex’s two games in Riverside, CA, I went to my computer and . . . couldn’t log on. There were issues with GoDaddy that didn’t get resolved until yesterday. For everyone’s information, after today there will be blogs only tomorrow (Wed) and Friday this week. Next week’s posts will begin on Monday.

Sitting in my portable rocking chair (after nine back surgeries, it’s about the only thing that makes watching games tolerable), the subject of yelling at referees was came up. Especially when it’s the parents of the participants doing the complaining. In today’s world it seems as though a large majority of moms and dads believe the proper way to display parental love is to claim their children never do anything wrong (anyone who’s taught within the past 15 years or is teaching now will understand this theory). Whether parents are loud or silent, the general consensus (among our little group, anyway) is that, independent of how incredibly horrendous any referee’s call is (or calls are), kids do not want their parents to be heard directing comments toward the officials. The players’ motto could be, “Love me all you want at home, but leave me alone in the gym.”

The ultimate humiliation for players is when a parent screams so much he (or, “you’ve come a long way, baby,” she) is asked to leave the gym in which they and their friends and teammates are playing. One of the other parents told a story of getting thrown out of a summer league game that she (no misprint) was coaching, and having to hear about it, not only from her son, but from her other children as well.

This reminded me of a game I witnessed eight years ago, an 8th grade AAU contest in Sacramento. The summer is a time that teams, coaches and the individuals are all attempting to improve their craft. It’s the same for the officials – usually, there’s an evaluator on sight to determine which officials get assigned to the different levels, e.g. junior high, frosh . . . all the way up to the professional ranks.

Suffice to say that at this particular event, there were no NBA candidates. It just so happened that one of the referees was a female. And, on this day, she was struggling – not only with the 50-50 calls but with some relatively easier ones. Maybe she had other things on her mind, maybe she felt pressured with someone observing her and taking notes, maybe it was just a bad day, or maybe officiating basketball wasn’t the right profession for her. Whatever the case, she had missed about three calls in a row.

I always try to sit as far away from my son’s bench as possible. At this game I was sitting diagonally opposite his team, beyond the baseline (in another portable rocker – I’ve broken about a dozen throughout the years) with a coaching friend of mine (who also had a son on the team). Actually, he was standing directly behind me. Following that third blown call (on the baseline directly in front of us), he said, “Hey, honey, maybe you oughta just put that whistle in your pocket.” Time has been known to fool with a memory, so I’m not sure that’s what he said verbatim.

Upon hearing his remark, she whirled around, pointed and said, “You, you’re outta here.” I thought it odd that she her finger wasn’t higher. When no one moved, she repeated – only this time, more specifically – “You, in the chair, you’re outta!” I know my face reddened and I could faintly hear my friend chuckling behind me. No way was he coming to my rescue.

Very calmly I got up and walked toward her. In a voice only she could hear, I said, “First of all, I wasn’t the one who made that comment, it was the guy behind me and, secondly . . .

that’s another call you missed.”

Texas Ups the Ante in College Athletics

October 24th, 2014

It started out as a threat to the NCAA: You’re not omnipotent any longer. We can’t stand by and let a couple hundred plus schools determine how we should run our athletics programs (meaning football). So said the power five conferences (and, of course, Notre Dame). Anytime rule changes were brought up that involved increased spending, the “low-to-mid major” schools would prevail due to their sheer numbers. Finally, the big boys had enough and said they were going to “go their own way.”

What?” cried the sports nation. “That means we’ll never again see a 33-point underdog Appalachian State team beat a Michigan squad 34-32, in the Big House, using only 27 players? We’ll never again see a Utah (back when Utah was with the “little” guys) throttle an Alabama in the 2008 Sugar Bowl 31-17 in a game that wasn’t nearly that close (the Utes were ahead 21-0 in the first quarter)? We’ll never again see a Boise State and their trick plays beat an Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, after a pick-6 put them behind 35-28, with 1:02 to go in the game? Noooooo!!!” Uh, we actually did get to see an Appy State-Michigan rematch, naturally in the Big House again. This time the roles were reversed with the Wolverines squeaking out the victory, 52-14.

So, it looks as though money has spoken (doesn’t it always)? How you feel about the new breakup of the “Power 5″ conferences (and, of course, Notre Dame) and the others which used to all be part of the same “division” – even though the chasm between the two groups was Grand Canyon-like – depends on where you reside. For instance, my family lives in Fresno where the football team has had some highly successful teams in the last 15 or so years. Many of the folks here are up in arms that the Bulldogs will be left out of the big prizes (and the money that comes from them). Prior to Fresno, I worked at USC. The people there are on . . . guess which side? Before SC I worked at the University of Toledo (Fresno State-like thinkers). My previous employer had been the University of Tennessee. Yeah, no joke. Needless to say, I’ve heard both sides – and everybody is so passionate it’s a shame there have to be losers. Yet, that what athletics is: you win or you lose.

Initially, an agreement was made (more like mandated – and for a change, it wasn’t the NCAA calling the shots), in which colleges were allowed to give a “basic cost of living stipend” to their athletes. The number kicked around was between $2-3K. Based on what the bowl payouts were, this stipend would be a line item the power schools could easily handle but the other guys would have a tough time fitting into their budgets. However, it seemed the power group was appeased and a cessation from the NCAA would be averted.

The saying is that they do things BIG in Texas. Well, it looks like those engaging in the big vs. little battle were short-sighted. The University of Texas fired the first salvo in what could be compared to WWII, except the combatants fighting wouldn’t be the Power 5 (and, of course, Notre Dame) vs. the other (used to be D-I) schools but the institutions with big money vs. the institutions with obscene amounts of money.

Texas let it be known that, for each of its 600 or so athletes, the money each would receive for “college expenses that aren’t covered by a traditional full scholarship,” coupled with “compensation for the university’s use of his image” (the second part emanating from the NCAA losing the case against Ed O’Bannon – a story about using an athlete’s likeness) would be $10,000! Yep, a one with four zeroes – all of which are to the left of the decimal point.

All of a sudden, many of the so-called “big boys” began sweating – profusely. They couldn’t afford $6 million any more than . . . the smaller schools could afford the $2-3 thousand. “What is Texas talking about?” many of their (they had thought up until the five figure number was mentioned) contemporaries. It turns out that Texas’ director of athletics, Steve Patterson, said that figure would be only if the NCAA lost the O’Bannon decision (that they appealed). But, if the verdict is the same, $10K is what UT is prepared to pay.

More on this tomorrow, or as they say on some of my favorite shows, To Be Continued . . .

Long ago  I read a quote that for the life of me I can’t exactly recall. Nor can I remember who said it, but it was something to the effect of:

“The world is composed of two groups: those who have more food than appetite and those who have more appetite than food.”

SI’s Story on Homeless Athletes Brings Back a Memory

October 23rd, 2014

Last week’s Sports Illustrated cover story was about homeless athletes. That subject reminded me of a story I retold in a blog from August, 2013. Due to the timing and impact of the SI story, I felt it might be a good time to re-post it.

 

Many of Jerry Tarkanian’s critics claimed he gave his players too much leeway, i.e. his disciplinary beliefs were entirely too soft, even non-existent. I’ve always maintained that one thing I particularly liked about working for Jerry was that he let you be yourself. Of the ten head coaches I worked for, he was definitely the best in that regard. (I worked for him at Fresno State). He felt that he hired us to do a job so why not let us do it. That’s not to say he wouldn’t take us to task if our job performance wasn’t up to par.

In the case of players, the standard line Tark would use when one of the guys would get in trouble was, “He’s a good kid.” Where his philosophy might have backfired was several of the players we had shouldn’t have been themselves. Being themselves is what got them where they were. True, many of his players took advantage of his ultra-loyal nature. Many people wondered, “How could an intelligent guy” – which when it came to understanding people, Jerry was as good as anyone – “be duped so often?” A story from his early coaching years sheds evidence on his behavior better than any psychological explanation can.

It was at the beginning of his junior college career and Tark was no different than most budding, young coaches of the time – a fiery leader who wanted to show he was in charge and was going to demand full intensity at every practice. One of his best players had a really bad practice, playing well below his potential. Making matters worse was that it was the young guy’s second subpar practice in a row. If anyone knows Jerry, practice is absolutely sacred time. It’s when teams are made into winners. Or losers. Any great coach feels exactly the same. He told the kid to see him in his office after practice.

Once the player walked in, Jerry immediately lit into him – yelling about how he was letting the team down, that the only chance they had of being a great squad was for this kid to be a leader – that his effort would dictate how practices, and then games, would turn out. He got hit with the full wrath of a young Coach Tark.

Jerry said the player had tears in his eyes and began to apologize. What he said would have as much of an impact on Jerry Tarkanian as any other incident in his long and storied career.  “Coach,” the youngster began, “I know I’ve let you and the team down the past few days. It’s just that I haven’t had anything to eat for the past three days but ketchup and water. We don’t put the water in to make it taste better, just to make it last longer.”

Tark has said he felt about an inch tall. He got a lump in his throat, as he does to this day when he recounts that story. “I never, ever, considered that was the reason the kid was having bad practices. I couldn’t believe anybody had to live like that.” The coach made sure the young man got something to eat from there on out and, sure enough, he became the player Jerry thought he would be.

There are many versions of the following quote but the most pertinent in this case – and the most telling when it comes to explaining Jerry Tarkanian’s feelings toward his players – might be:

“Try walking a mile in my shoes and see how far you get.”

If Only “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core” Were Really the Answer

October 22nd, 2014

Every teacher has his or her own method of getting across the information, of teaching the kids in class. I recent years administrators, who get their orders from above (administrators and politicians think the chain of command ought to be vertical), have attempted to come up with various strategies to improve how teachers teach (rather than asking teachers what they thought – and then listen to what they have to say).

No Child Left Behind was a political edict that those who forced it on schools finally had to admit didn’t work (except for a number of hard-headed fools who still maintain it would have worked if it had been implemented correctly). Since I was knee deep in NCLB, I can tell you there was no way what the higher ups wanted done was going to get done. They were so far removed from the reality of the classroom they didn’t realize, as a colleague of mine said, “We don’t leave any child behind; some of them just choose to stay.”

After NCLB was discarded for the latest panacea, Common Core, the leaders of education explained that teachers were now going to teach the young people how to reason, actually how to process information and come up with an answer – as opposed to memorizing formulas by rote. When I heard it, I was intrigued (most likely because I was retiring). However, it was what I thought should have been done, what I tried to do (in my own way which, naturally, differed greatly from what “they” expected). I was skeptical of what they wanted to do because I’d seen so many times these people using their “seagull” form of leadership. For those who haven’t heard of this management style, it’s modeled after a seagull, i.e. swoop down, make a lot of squawking noises, dump a load of shit and fly away. What I’ve heard from my teaching friends, as well as what I’ve read, Common Core isn’t the answer, either.

What none of these people who, either 1) have never been in the classroom or 2) were in it, couldn’t handle it, so they decided to move “up” into administration understand is, in order to teach a child, that child must 1) want to learn, 2) have support from home and 3) work at it. Sure, the administrators paraded out there in front of TV cameras people like the late Jaime Escalante, a math teacher from Oakland, CA best known for the movie, Stand and Deliver, which documents his career or Ron Clark, a North Carolinian who moved into Harlem and accomplished absolutely wondrous things there and is currently teaching in Atlanta. The 1988 movie made Jaime Escalante “famous” in the world of teaching (since I taught 12 years of high school math, I was a big fan ) and Ron Clark spoke to our school district – and wowed each and every one of us) in the early 2000s. But thinking that studying Escalante or listening to Clark could make me (or any other teacher) as good as them is like thinking that a baseball player could study Sandy Koufax or listen to Derek Jeter and become as good as either of those guys. It takes more and, just like baseball, there’s no one solution for education.

In my class one year was a sophomore cheerleader who had taken algebra 1 her freshman year and failed it. She passed the first semester with a D. Obviously, the material during the second semester was more difficult and, although she had after school remedial help and re-tests following each exam, with four weeks to go in the semester, she was failing.

A little background on how I’d run class. After explaining how to do problems, I would give the class time to work in groups of three (I placed the best math student in the middle of three desks and have the kids on the sides ask the one in the center for help – if there were no questions, I’d make sure the student in the center ask questions to those on either side, in cases of shyness or lack of interest). I’d check the groups to make sure they all were engaged. Then, I would ask someone to explain how to do one of the problems, on the board or from his or her seat.

I would give kids problems I thought they could handle. If, say, #22 was easier, I’d call on kids who struggled and, usually, we could work our way through the problem, with me asking pointed questions if they got stuck. For harder problems, I would choose students whom I felt either knew it, or should have known it. For this girl, though, in order to avoid embarrassment, I wouldn’t ask her to do a problem. Rather, I would say, “OK, who knows the first step to do this problem?” This pattern would continue until we got to a point in which the problem was simple enough that she’d at least know how to do the next step. After a few steps a problem was down to “x + 3x = 200.” I looked at her and said (not her name), “Emily, what is the next step?”

I saw confusion wash across her face until she resignedly said, “Subtract x from both sides.” (For those of you whose algebra is shaky, the answer was to combine x + 3x and get 4x = 200. I’ll let you figure out the answer).

At our school, the semesters were 18 weeks long. Every six weeks each student would receive a progress report which told the parents what their child’s grades were in each class. In May (with about four weeks to go in the school year), I got an email from her mother, stating she was concerned about her daughter’s failing grade. This was the first time the mother had corresponded with me, although she had received two progress reports, one after six weeks, and another after 12 weeks, which said her daughter’s algebra 1 grade was an F. The counselor had told me when she had spoken to the mom that she blamed her poor grade on cheerleading practice, claiming it lasted four hours and her daughter was too tired to finish (or was it, start?) her homework.

At a meeting the following week that the cheerleading coach and I had attended, she asked me how “Emily” was doing. I looked at her and said (also not her name), “Sarah, if I asked Emily what comes next in the sequence, “2, 4, 6, 8, . . . ” she would say:

“Who do we appreciate?”

Just When We Thought Jon Gruden Couldn’t Get Any More Excited

October 21st, 2014

What a color commentator on television is supposed to do is educate – and entertain – the viewer. The job is easier than its radio counterpart because the audience is actually seeing the game, meaning the play-by-play voice on TV doesn’t have to do as much talking. While the radio color guy needs to “get in and get out,” the TV color commentator gets to speak more. I was fortunate enough to do both when I was director of basketball operations (Tark was great about allowing me to make outside income) and, for anyone who knows me, it comes as no surprise I liked the TV gig better. More talking. In either position, the one point the producer stresses for both play-by-play and color commentary is energy.

Last night’s game in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and the Houston Texans saw the visitors jump out to an early 13-0 lead. The game had all the makings of what play-by-play and color commentators dread – a blowout. In those contests, you have to rely on your “filler,” i.e. interesting stories about the players or coaches, their families, fun facts about the organization – anything – to keep the viewer (worse, the listener, if radio) from turning you off.

During the first three possessions the men from the ‘Burgh had little going for them as they started the game with a punt, a sack and subsequent fumble by QB Ben Roethlisberger and another punt, while the Texans answered each possession with a score (a TD and two FGs). On the Steelers’ next offensive sequence they faced a third and 10 on their own 14 when Gruden said something to the effect that it was time they go to Le’Veon Bell because of the mismatch he had with a linebacker. They did, the play went for 43 yards to the Houston 43. Jon Gruden will never be accused of being anything less than enthusiastic but this play – which he nailed – gave even the passionate Gruden a boost.

From that point on, it was pure role reversal. It was three and out for Houston, the Steelers taking over with 1:46 to go in the first half. Pittsburgh’s offense put together a two-play drive, culminating with a 35 yard TD pass from Big Ben to Martavis Bryant. Gruden was excited, as we’d expect, but it was nothing like what was to come.

Houston’s Danieal Manning (not to be confused with, nah, Ed would never spell his kid’s first name like that) didn’t field the kickoff cleanly, then came out and fumbled. With Murphy’s Law in effect, the ball rolled back between his legs, just far enough for him not to be able to locate it easily. He recovered it only in time to be smothered by the kickoff team. At that time Arian Foster had only fumbled once in his last 300 carries, but . . . Murphy’s Law. Initially, it was not ruled a fumble. The replay guys – in New York? – stopped play and reviewed it. Sure enough, conclusive video evidence. The Steelers took over on the Houston 3.

Gruden had just commented on the Steelers’ struggles all year in the red zone. So maybe it shouldn’t have come as a shock they’d go deep into their offensive bag to ensure a touchdown. Yet, it did. Because nobody, and I mean nobody, expected what play call they decided to go with – as Gruden described it, “a toss sweep, reverse pass with a left-handed flanker.” Considering how much football “Chuckie” has seen, the viewer had to pause to fully appreciate his next remark. He said he never had seen that play run inside the five yard line. I guess even guys like Gruden can be surprised.

For the improbability of the next amazing play, we need to go to John Brenkus, ESPN’s science guy. The Texans tried a short pass which Steelers LB Brett Keisel tipped in the direction of teammate Lawrence Timmons. The ball ricocheted off of Timmons’ right shoulder pad back to Keisel which set up their third touchdown in 87 seconds. Brenkus, master of such weird plays made it a 500:1 shot. Gruden was beside himself – which is a frightening thought: two Jon Grudens, side by side.

Bill Gates once said of himself – and it is also true of Jon Gruden (wow, I wonder what could possibly come next):

“What I do best is share my enthusiasm.”

Everybody Should Hear What Drew Brees Said After the Saints’ Loss

October 20th, 2014

The Percy Harvin trade, which came at such an interesting time in the season, has occupied a good deal of the sports news. Jameis Winston continues to polarize the sports world while Florida fans are calling for Will Muschamp’s head. Or, at the very least, his job.

As with any football weekend, there are an equal number of wins and losses (no, I haven’t forgotten the tie between . . . who was it again)? The fans of the winners feel good (other than the ones who never feel good), while the losers’ followers blame the coach/quarterback/kicker/whoever fumbled/offensive or defensive coordinator/referees or somebody damnit!

Well, was there any positive news this weekend (other than Peyton Manning breaking a record that, while it might be broken someday, that someday won’t be for a long, long time – unless Roger Goodell manages to expand the season to 25 games and the “competition” committee passes a rule stating DBs aren’t allowed to touch a receiver until after he catches the ball)? Note: Is that what your high school English teacher used to call a run-on sentence?

Seldom do we find a player who made a mistake (that probably cost his team the game) own up to it. For the third straight week, New Orleans QB Drew Brees threw for over 340 yards. His final stats were 28 of 45 for 342 yards and two touchdowns, but with four min to go on a third and nine play, Brees threw his only pick of the game and the Saints lost 24-23. Being the stand-up guy that he is – and always has been – Brees made the following statement that is a perfect life lesson for all, but especially young athletes who aspire, someday, to be big-time like . . . Drew Brees:

“The worst feeling in professional sports is when you feel like you let your team down.”

One Way to Hire an Athletics Director

October 19th, 2014

During my 30-year career in intercollegiate athletics at nine Division I institutions, I worked for fifteen directors of athletics. Whether or not that makes me an expert in ADs or not is unknown but I certainly have seen my share of them.

Can a director of athletics make a significant difference? From my experiences, absolutely. Which means that the university must take the hiring of the leader of its athletics department very seriously. But what does seriously mean?

Ask any AD in what used to be referred to as Division I (now, the Power 5 conferences and the “Other 5″ conferences, for lack of a better term) and I will guarantee you close to 100% of them have a “short list” of football and basketball coaches they would contact (directly or subtly) if their coach “needed to be replaced” (left, retired, fired or died). This might even apply to other sports, especially if it’s a revenue producer. Why is that not also the case for the president of the school when a change is made in the leadership of the department of athletics?

After all, in addition to a multimillion dollar budget, this person is in charge of multiple sports and facilities, including the coaches, players, cheerleaders (possibly song girls, dance teams, etc.) and support staff (managers, equipment personnel, secretaries, custodians and student assistants). And I imagine I’ve missed some.

As the Director of Basketball Operations at Fresno State from 1995-2002 we had four different directors of athletics, although one of them was a vice president who also had the interim tag until the a full time replacement was found. Since then, there have been four additional ADs, one interim, one full time and, currently, a couple co-interims. Meaning, once again, they’re in search of a director.

Recently, there was an article in the local paper explaining how the selection process will be made. The president has done what presidents – or really any administrator, love to do: named a committee. Jim Murray, the greatest sportswriter of all-time, once remarked, “A camel is a horse made by a committee.”

This committee is composed of 15, yeah, fifteen members. Naturally, a high ranking administrator, in this case, the Provost and VP for Academic Affairs, will chair it. Of course, both co’s will be members, as well as three representatives of the community (it’s a good bet none have money problems), three faculty members, a head men’s coach and a head women’s coach, someone from the media relations department, a student and a couple non-voting members (how important must they feel)? Really, now, when was the last time 15 people agreed on anything?

As if that breakdown isn’t enough, the article went on to describe how the people actually got on the committee. The president named the chair, the co-interims and the three big-hitters. Two of the professors were selected by the school’s Academic Senate, the other one is the head of the kinesiology department with whom the athletics department shares two practice gymnasiums. The two coaches and the media relations person were chosen by their peers, while the student was picked by the Associated Students, Inc. The article didn’t mention how the non-voting members made it, possibly by a random drawing.

Some readers familiar with such hiring processes might be asking, “why didn’t Fresno State just hire a search firm?” Oh yeah, they did that, too. At a cost of $70,000 (of non-state funds). The administration’s plan is for the hire to be made by the December holidays and for the new director of athletics to come on board early in 2015. Smooth transition.

As a caveat, let it be known that, so far this century, Fresno State has paid out tens of millions of dollars in four separate Title IX related deals so, if ever, a school would try to cover all bases, it’s FSU. In fact, I’m surprised a veteran isn’t on the committee but maybe one of the 15 meets that requirement.

When it comes to hiring a director of athletics – or pretty much trying to accomplish anything - always remember the phrase:

“Nothing is so bad it can’t be made worse by a committee.”

And a search firm.

Finally! A Method for Dealing with the Prima Donna

October 18th, 2014

In case you haven’t heard – because, maybe, you had a son playing high school football or a daughter cheering (or, good luck to you, both) last night – and you were so into the game that you didn’t check your phone for up-to-the-minute sports news, then you went to bed, woke up and the first thing you did was check my blog, the Seattle Seahawks traded one of the most talented and exciting players in the NFL, Percy Harvin, to the New York Jets for no one. At least for no one who can help them this year.

Either the Seahawks’ front office has huge, huge cojones or Percy Harvin was/is such a “malignant cancer,” he had to be dealt with as any malignant cancer would be. Cut it out. When things are said such as was reported by ESPN’s NFL insider, John Clayton (who, like him or not, has proved to be a reliable, on-the-money source for NFL news), “They had to make him happy” and “Personalities on the team clashed,” and from ESPN.com’s Seahawks’ insider, Terry Blount, “He was too much of a disruptive force. He became more trouble than he was worth,” what happens is the team takes a back seat to the egomaniac and, independent of how talented he is, he simply cannot remain a member of the franchise.

Usually, a prima donna plays for a losing team. The reason is because, in team sports, there’s no place for a me-first guy. Individual sports are completely different, i.e. the only way someone can help the team is to win his or her event or match (track & field, golf, wrestling, tennis). In that setting, someone whom everybody on the team loves, who runs around and cheers like crazy for all the others, but who doesn’t win, is, unfortunately, of little or no value. In order to win consistently in a team sport, it’s not only necessary, but vital, to have everyone on the same page. From the same book. Teamwork makes the dream work, as the saying goes.

If only other head coaches, GMs, presidents, owners, administrators, i.e. decision makers, acted the same way, there would be infinitely fewer divas in sports, much to the relief of every other team member and nearly all coaches – at least assistant coaches. On teams in which the head coach is weak, often he (I can only speak from personal experience, so only the male gender) will bow to the “superstar,” feeling to rid the team of such a talent would leave the club too shorthanded. So, . . . the team continues losing – and the head coach loses the rest of the squad. And, usually, his job.

It puts the assistants in such a difficult position because 1) the rest of the players are going to the assistants because they fear repercussion from the head man if they approach him, putting the assistants in the awkward situation of being truthful or disloyal 2) the head coach knows how the assistants feel because they’ve told him and 3) the star knows he holds the power over the head coach and, subtly – or not so subtly – flaunts his position over everyone else involved.

What Percy Harvin needs to understand is a positive attitude in a team setting is mandatory or else, as Danny Cox, famous speaker from Orange County used to say:

“If you’re not fired with enthusiasm, you’ll be fired – with enthusiasm.”