Bochy Beats the Second Guessers – Again

October 31st, 2014

Heading into the sixth inning of game 2 of the World Series, Jake Peavy’s pitch count was just 57 and he had set down 10 straight batters. Giants’ manager, Bruce Bochy, saw no reason to take him out. Yet, when he didn’t, and the Kansas City Royals turned a 2-2 ballgame into a 7-2 victory, Bochy was second guessed.

After the Royals won not only game 2 but also game 3 to take a 2-1 lead over the San Francisco, all the momentum was with KC. The question posed to Bochy was about whether he’d start ace Madison Bumgarner in game 4. Even though the general consensus of the ESPN studio guys (Curt Schilling, John Kruk and Aaron Boone), and most everybody else, was to go with Bumgarner, Bochy said, “Nah, we have confidence in Vogie” (Ryan Vogelsong). Hey, buddy, now is not the time to be worried about your players feelings and pumping up their confidence. This is for all the marbles.

One of the comments made was that if Bochy didn’t start Bumgarner in game 4, then he could forget about being able to start him in three games, something that looked mandatory for them if they wanted to win their third World Series in five years. You’d think simply saying “their third in five years” would give Bochy enough credibility for those who write about him to just write about him and cut out the game-by-game criticism. But we all know that’s not happening. See, if a sportswriter predicts something, and it turns out to be prophetic, you can bet that it will be mentioned – more than once. But, if he’s wrong, the next story (and those that follow – unless a situation calls for a show of humility) will have nothing in it about the botched prognosis. Call it kind of a perk of the job. Like eating in the press room and still turning in that meal on the expense account.

When asked what his game 7 pitch count would be, directly after the Giants’ game 6 defeat, MadBum was quoted as saying, “200.” Everybody thought he was kidding. Some scribes and talking heads (never mind, fans) said Bochy might as well start him and see what he could get out of him. Their reasoning was if he was going to be used (as everybody knew he would be), why not let him warm up, see how he felt, and let him rip. One problem with that theory is “rip” might have wound up the operative term, but as an acronym, not a verb.

Other self-described experts claimed Bochy could use him for no more than two innings, three at the outset, because of the danger of risking permanent injury to the guy who could be the cornerstone of a terrific pitching staff for several years. After all, he’s only 25 years old.

So what was Bochy going to do? As any manager in the major leagues, he was going to do what he thought would give his team the best chance of winning what everyone plays for – without risking the franchise’s (using that term to describe the individual under consideration, as well as the team’s) future. Some guys like as many stats, or analytics, as they can get their hands on, while other skippers go with their gut. Undoubtedly, there are a few who do a combination of both. All of them realize, they only get one shot at each decision, so they make it and watch what unfolds.

Well, in the case of game 7, MadBum didn’t need to throw anywhere near 200. We’ll never know how many he would have been allowed if, for example, the Royals tied the game. In the post game presser, Bochy did say that, at he end of every home half of an inning, he tried to avoid looking at Bumgarner, so  MadBum couldn’t tell him he was done for the night. We all knew that wasn’t going to happen. There was no way the new “Mr. October” was going to throw anywhere near 200 pitches. His answer to the pitch count question should have been, “Enough.”

As far as questioning Bruce Bochy, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wrote the most telling line in his column second guessing him, or any other manager, after game 2:

“The managers know their players better than we do.”

This Tennessee Fan Isn’t Quite Sure What He Wants

October 30th, 2014

247Sports came out with a story about which coaches Michigan would be interested in/coaches who’d be interested in Michigan (although the job is not yet open), as organizations like that are wont to do. One of the names that surfaced was Tennessee’s Butch Jones who is midway through only his second year in Big Orange Country.

This “news” naturally upset Vols fans who are as loyal to their institution as any school in the nation. I can say that with conviction because I was an assistant basketball coach at UT from 1980-87. Knoxville was one of nine Division I staffs I toiled for during a 30-year career in college hoops and the fans there love their Vols. I married one of their grads so if I ever mention something like, say, how close the Trojan family is (SC was another of my stops), she immediately reminds me which school has the greater fan base.

Because I have lived in so many places (nine states, not counting the state of confusion which is where my mail is delivered), Facebook has been wonderful for me. I have quite a number of “friends” from Tennessee. Actually, that’s how I found out about the 247Sports story rumor. The UT fan who posted it was beyond livid and expressed himself. Last time I looked, there were somewhere in the vicinity of 30 comments, many by him, responding to others’ comments to the gossip and his subsequent posts.

Regarding it only being a rumor, he said like, “Coaches lie all the time. Any coach lets his agent negotiate while he can plausibly deny. The report may be all wrong, but usually where there’s smoke, there’s fire. That’s not a cliche. It’s proven more often than not to be the truth. There would be no reason for the report to surface if Jones’ agent wasn’t looking into the possibility of whether Michigan was interested in him. Anyone who believes someone who grew up in Michigan thinks that Tennessee is their dream job is crazy.”

The majority of the people posting comments were backing Butch Jones, some probably because UT has gone through hell with recent coaches, starting with Lane Kiffin who, although I don’t know him (he was a Fresno State back up QB during my stay there but he and I never met), I believe he had no idea Pete Carroll was going to leave as soon as he did. Didn’t matter. Tennessee fans think there’s no better football job in the nation than UT (and back it up with money and attendance – both at home and on the road). Then, Kiffin and a couple assistants (maybe just one) tried to recruit players who had committed to the Vols to change their minds and go cross country to SC. That’s when the fit hit the shan. While Kiffin choosing to go “home” wasn’t looked upon too kindly, trying to steal players they’d used UT athletics department money to recruit and whom they got to commit because of all Tennessee has to offer a football player, well, that falls into the sleaze category. Kiffin’s replacement was Derek Dooley (son of legendary University of Georgia coach, Vince Dooley), and his brief stay hurt the program worse because the UT job (he came from Louisiana Tech) was simply beyond his capabilities. Jones was next and, although they haven’t won, he has greatly upgraded the talent of the personnel.

There’s your short primer on the current state of Tennessee football and why the fans are just itching to win and quite sensitive with whomever happens to be the coach. So you won’t be shocked if the guy who started this “conversation” off had other choice comments to make. “I agree that Jones has made Tennessee better since he succeeded Dooley, but that wasn’t hard to improve on what Dooley did,” continued the fan. “Jones has done that on recruiting alone. He has also proven that he has totally mismanaged the QB position since he’s been here & hasn’t yet proven he can coach up the talent to SEC championship level or even to a winning record overall, much less in the SEC. He is the most popular losing coach in UT history. All he’s proven is that he can recruit good talent to come here. ” Did I mention that occasionally UT fans feel they can actually coach the team better than the guy who’s being paid to do it? How about this continued assessment of the QB situation?

“If Jones had played Dobbs all season long, UT would’ve beaten Georgia on the road, Florida at home, & maybe even Alabama at home & Ole Miss on the road, too. . . We might’ve even beaten Oklahoma with him at QB, too.” Some of it I left out because I didn’t want to make you sane readers (even more) nauseous. Or double you over with laughter. For those of you who don’t have the Vols’ schedule committed to memory, had they won those games, Tennessee would be undefeated. Bet you didn’t realize Mississippi State and Florida State (and Marshall) are a mere five games away from having company. For the record, they lost to the Sooners by 24, the Rebels by 31 and the Tide by 14 (in a game that started 27-0 ‘Bama).

More of his tirade: “I agree that Jones will remain as long as he is moving us forward. The question is how much farther forward will he take us. Is he our Biblical Joshua who will take us to the Promised Land of more SEC Championships, which we’re now nearly 20 years from the last one, or is he just our Moses who will get us back to an 8-4 or 9-3 annual record at best with his recruiting, as Fulmer did for the most part, & never get us over the top.” The Fulmer fellow he’s talking about is Phillip Fulmer who, in 1998, led the Volunteers to a perfect 13-0 record and a national championship. As the saying used to go, “I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut” (nowadays, that’s just “even money”) that guy has a personalized, autographed picture from Coach Fulmer in his home or at his office. Or both. Wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he has one with him and ol’ Butch, signed by the “mismanager of quarterbacks.” 

Speaking of the current coach, here’s another taste of fandom: “Jones hasn’t proven he can coach up all of the talent he’s recruiting & hasn’t proven he can outcoach many of his peers in the SEC yet on game day.” With friends like those, . . .

All over a rumor. It amazed me so, I felt compelled to leave a lengthy comment (which , somehow, disappeared from his page – I still don’t understand how all this works). I simply said, “You don’t seem to think bUTch Jones” (that’s how another true Vols fan I know refers to the coach) is a very good coach.” Yet:

“You’ll be really pissed if he left.”

Why Byron Scott Has a Tough Job

October 29th, 2014

As if his job of coaching the Los Angeles Lakers wasn’t difficult enough, last night Byron Scott saw his team’s first round pick (#7 overall), Julius Randle, break his right tibia late in the first game of the season. The Lakers 1) are coming off one of their worst seasons in history, 2) Nick Young, Ryan Kelly and Wayne Ellington were already not dressed due to injuries, 3) are in the tough Western Conference and 4) have one of the greatest players ever, Kobe Bryant, coming back off of a season in which he only played six games. No one should have that run of bad luck – no matter how many millions he’s being paid – in Scott’s case, 17 of them over four years (kinda takes the sting out a little).

While all of those issues are of concern, one, in particular, looms the largest. Kobe Bryant is famous for his work ethics, referring to his workouts as blackouts. Many players in the NBA work hard, really hard, but it’s pretty much a forgone conclusion that nobody outworks Bryant. It should be a foregone conclusion that his game has suffered. Take last season’s  injuries, add to them the fact that, not only is he 36 years old but he has played 18 grinding years in the NBA, averaging nearly 37 minutes/game. Although nobody takes care of his body like Bryant does, even Kobe himself admitted last August, “I’m 70 in basketball years.” He may or may not have been kidding but, to Kobe Bryant, that doesn’t matter. He no doubt feels he can will continue to play the game at a high level.

I can’t believe that there’s anyone who doesn’t think that Bryant can still play quality basketball, maybe even at an all-star level, but to take the Lakers – even to the playoffs – is a feat that probably is beyond his abilities. Especially after watching his reaction to his protege, Randle, going down. Maybe he was somewhat optimistic prior to the start of the season, but following Randle’s injury, the look on his face seemed to be one of resignation.

However, he’s making $23,500,000 in salary this year, with another $25M due next year and he will do everything in his power to make sure nobody can ever say he didn’t earn it. What this means is he will do whatever he can do try to keep the Lakers in games. And that means putting up stats, That  will just be too painful to watch. The Lakers are so bad right now that Charles Barkley made the comment on TNT’s Inside the NBA, that they don’t have enough weapons to win a war against Guam.

Byron Scott’s biggest problem might be what the late, brilliant Bill Walsh once said:

“The toughest thing is coaching the aging superstar in decline.”

 

When People Who Don’t Like to Be Criticized, Criticize Others

October 28th, 2014

First, allow me to apologize for not posting in the past few days and, more importantly, not explaining why. As loyal readers know, when I’m out of town or unable to blog, I will begin the blog with a reason why there won’t be posts and when to expect the return.

What happened last week was out of my control (due to my lack of technological knowledge). I was changing hosting companies because, quite frankly, this website had outgrown my previous provider. This might not make sense to anyone but me. My need for communication is vital, mainly because of my ineptness when it comes to “techie” aspects. This change should help everyone concerned – including the reader – starting now.

On every basketball staff (and I imagine the same goes for football), one of the assistant coaches has the duty of communicating with the conference’s supervisor of officials. There are several reasons to do so throughout the year but, as you may have already figured out, one real big one is to communicate the staff’s (meaning the head coach’s) concerns regarding the officiating during the recent games. Usually the process calls for video clips to be made of the plays that were “questionable” throughout the game in question, i.e. it might be the first game of the recent two-game conference swing (many conferences pair up the member schools and play Thur-Sat or Sat-Mon, some even play Fri-Sat).

The clips would be put together by the video coordinator and sent to the conference office. I’m certain this process has been updated since I was working with all the improvements in technology that have been made this century. Even “back then,” though, the call to the conference office was immediate. If we were on the road, the call was made right as the conference office opened. Independent of any change in technology, I can’t believe a conference supervisor of officials would deal with a coach, especially if the opposing school wasn’t involved.

Another thing that I’m absolutely sure that hasn’t changed is what every supervisor of officials told me when I would have to make the call (I had this  job at four of my stops). Every supervisor would relay to me, virtually, the same message: “Jack, I realize how much winning and losing means to you guys and I’ll listen to everybody and work with all of you. Just make sure no member your staff, head coach or assistant, ever – ever - criticizes specific calls or referees in general to any member of the media.” The directive was crystal clear. Under no circumstances did the supervisor of officials want to hear or see in print any criticism of his boys. They would deal with mistakes – and throughout the years – there were some apologies (which basically did nothing other than confirm we got the short end) and referees assigned or not assigned, even changed in one case (pretty much unheard of).

I was bright enough to take this notice to heart. On a couple of occasions, however, two of my associates (one at one school, one at another) couldn’t help themselves and made derogatory comments (one regarding bad calls – at the post game press conference; the other, believe it or not, questioning the integrity of one of the officials). Bad moves and, not beyond belief, both supervisors reacted the same way – with understandable anger. My ears were still ringing from the first instance when the second one occurred. And they were separated by more than ten years.

The reason for this walk down officiating memory lane is due to what I saw, and read, a few nights ago on FOX Sports and in the paper the next day. Mike Pereira, former Vice President of NFL Officials – a man I do not know, nor have I ever met – is now employed by FOX Sports to explain/comment on officials’ calls. From what I’m led to believe, most fans love this guy and I have to admit, it was a brilliant move to put on TV someone who actually knows the rules and can explain why calls are made and why they’re not.

Indications are, however, that Pereira has fallen in love with his on air persona. He comes to the aid of the referees as much of the time as he reasonably can – no surprise there, some of those guys he used to supervise (and if you think the Teamsters’ union is tight, the NFL officials are every bit their match). Still and all, to not only correct Jon Gruden but attack him in a recent column, (calling him a “blowhard”) is being a tad overzealous. Whether Gruden was right or wrong, is the name-calling necessary? Could it be Pereira and Gruden have some history in past lives?

Back to what it was that shocked me. Pereira wrote a scathing column which, after the obligatory compliments about the league, its officials and commissioner, rips the SEC officials – and claims he’s “really pissed” about it. In two games, Auburn-Mississippi State and Alabama-Tennessee, Pereira alleges a “mystery man,” someone on the field who was not a member of the officiating crew, providing the officials with information, which is not allowable by rule. He called out Rogers Redding, the national coordinator of officials, who also happens to be the former coordinator of officials for the SEC, essentially calling him a liar. I mean if, after asking Redding a question and, upon hearing his answer, responding with “Bull” isn’t calling a guy a liar, then my version of Merriam-Webster’s is out of date.

If that wasn’t enough, he further states, “If the SEC denies it, they’re not telling the truth” and “In my eyes, their officiating staff is losing their credibility.” As you might expect, this drew the ire of SEC commissioner Mike Slive. The SEC’s response, no doubt at his mandate was “Mike Pereira’s comments were erroneous and without merit . . . any accusations . . . are unfounded and irresponsible.”

Make no mistake about it, games are more interesting with Pereira’s explanations, but it does seem to hold true that he has more empathy toward his NFL officiating cohorts than he does towards the college officials. Whatever the case, the thought that crossed my mind was, “I wonder what Pereira’s reaction would have been if someone had publicly criticized any of his officiating crews while he was VP of NFL officials?

Everyone concerned would be wise to follow the advice of William Arthur Ward, who said:

“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems – not people; to focus your energies on answers.”

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.