Quite a Timeline in Baton Rouge

November 29th, 2015

Was LSU sandbagging Texas A&M? And was its administration playing us? The story out of the city named after a “red stick” earlier in the week, which seemed to take on a life of its own, was that head coach Les Miles was about to be fired. Meetings had supposedly taken place and a decision was imminent. Les was a goner. There was even a report he told the booster club that the A&M game would be his last and that he would not be coaching whichever bowl extended an invitation to the Tigers.

Boy, did the media ever run with this story. And why not? Miles has the highest winning percentage of any man who has coached at LSU, averaging 10 wins/year. After week 10 this season the Bayou Bengals were 7-0 (they would have been 8-0 had their season opener against in-state McNeese State not been canceled due to lightning and rain) and occupied the #3 spot in the national rankings.

Then, something apparently unforgivable happened which greatly upset the faithful at Louisiana State University. They lost. First to Alabama – which shouldn’t be all that shocking since the Crimson Tide beats most everybody on its schedule on an annual basis. Except it was the fifth time in a row the Tide had taken down the Tigers. What next infuriated the boosters was an upset defeat to an unranked Arkansas ball club – at home! The game marked the tenth time a Miles-led LSU team lost at Tiger Stadium – in 11 years. “Do you realize that’s almost one home loss a year? Does Miles think we gave our hard-earned dollars to build that stadium so he could continually lose games in it?” Actually, those last couple lines shouldn’t have quotes around them since nobody (at least nobody I’ve heard) said those words. But talk to any hard core LSU football fan and it doesn’t take you long to understand that is exactly what they’re thinking.

As if a home loss to an unranked team wasn’t enough of an embarrassment, wouldn’t you know that Les Miles had the gall to lose again? OK, losing two in a row can happen – after all, prior to this season’s Alabama/Arkansas fiasco, it had twice before in his tenure. Exactly how much patience does a guy think he can expect from “the best fans in the world?” Well, Les Miles pushed his luck by not just losing at Ole Miss but being thrashed, 38-17.

That was all it took. The rumors spread immediately. The top dogs at the university wanted Les Miles gone. The coach with an overall 111-32 overall record, 61-27 in the SEC had to be replaced. There was a problem, however. If the school were to fire Miles, it would owe him in the neighborhood of $15 million. That’s quite a neighborhood. Yet, not one mention in any media story – including all those with anonymous sources – that coming up with that amount of dough was given a second thought. Wouldn’t you like to stare a $15 million bill in the face and not blink when you thought about paying it?

What happened next was nothing short of remarkable. The decision-makers at LSU almost certainly listened. To the media (print, electronic and, even, social), each echoing the identical belief – are you serious? Who the hell do you think you’re going to get who will be better than Les Miles? Jimbo Fisher? Chip Kelly? Or everybody’s pipe dream for a coach – Jon Gruden? As if writers, sportscasters and talking heads weren’t enough to bring the “masterminds” in Cajun country to their senses, they sat in amazement when 101,803 fans gave their coach a prolonged standing ovation when he entered the stadium. What must have been going through their minds was, “We thought y’all wanted him fired!

Following the Tigers 19-7 victory over the Aggies, LSU Director of Athletics Joe Alleva said that the department policy is to wait until the end of the season – and that the season had just ended. In reality, the AD claimed, the decision was reached during the third quarter (aren’t they a proactive bunch?)  He commented on the community support before producing one of the great understatements by an administrator:

“We would have looked mean-spirited if we had fired Les Miles.”

Ya think?


Hate to Say I Told You So

November 28th, 2015

Not sure who, if anyone, read my blog from about two and a half weeks ago (November 9 to be exact) in which I remarked how absurd it is to get all stressed out after the College Football Playoff Committee announces its rankings – beginning with the first Tuesday in November through the end of the season. That is, until the final one. Then, let the leather fly! At that moment, if your favorite team was snubbed (and for which you have a compelling reason why they were unjustly excluded), call in every talk show and vent. In most cases the callers’ arguments won’t be as much why his or her (in this case females have an equal right to make fools of themselves) boys should be in as opposed to why (probably) #4 shouldn’t (although some will go as far claiming #3 wasn’t a viable candidate either). There will be occasional fanatics who will knock #2 as well but distance yourself from them or else no one will ever take you seriously again. About anything.

Usually the bickering will be completely illogical, but that is what makes for good radio. On television we will hear “the experts” tell us why the four were right, although there will be one, two or, even several talking heads who disagree with the final selection – because that is what makes for good television. The difference between the radio callers, and the hosts and pundits, is that the former will be biased with their “facts” while the latter will be without prejudice (unless Ohio State manages to get back into the picture and Kirk Herbstreit is asked his opinion).

In my blog earlier this month I mentioned that talk about the College Football Playoff is addictive. College basketball has just gotten underway and, although the schedule-makers, i.e. TV have done a marvelous job of televising intriguing games matching power teams, fans realize they’re going to get their Final Four which captures their hearts (and brackets) for an exhilarating three-week period. The NFL is winding down but it will get its stage shortly after its intercollegiate counterpart. The NBA has begun but no one other than those whose paychecks are dependent on it cares until May at the earliest. So, as we learned in kindergarten, everybody gets a turn – and now is college football’s. Major League Baseball? Quiet, you’re barely clinging to a turn now.

The reason I was so confident that one of my quotes from that earlier blog, “I’ll bet all of Steve Ballmer’s money . . . that rankings 2.0 will change,” was that the Saturday following the initial 2015 rankings, #2 LSU played #4 Alabama. Because ties are no longer allowed in college football, either the Tigers were going to beat the Tide or, . . . duh. Naturally, the rankings would be different if ‘Bama beat LSU and the possibility of LSU winning and the two schools remaining at #2 & 4, respectively, were so remote I felt safe gambling Ballmer’s nest egg, if for no other reason than I know I’d never find anyone dumb enough to take the other side.

Yet, there people were, vehemently dismissing the first rankings – just as a mostly different set of callers and viewers are pooh-poohing the latest announcement. Let’s discuss this example. Iowa currently sits in the #4 spot. They will be playing in the Big 10 Championship game against . . . somebody. Is there anyone who thinks if Iowa wins that game (meaning they’d have capped off an undefeated season), that they would not be among the final four teams which would be playing for a national championship? Conversely, is there a soul out there – black and gold faithful included – who really believe the Hawkeyes would still be in the mix if they lose the Big 10 Championship contest?

Wait! I can hear a Notre Dame supporter yelling, “What if Iowa wins the Big 10 Championship on a controversial call, later to be admitted as erroneous by the Big 10 officials, or in some lackluster manner, like the the East division champion turns the ball over – unforced – seven times and Iowa wins 7-6 . . . and the Irish absolutely destroy Stanford in Palo Alto and all other games play out true to form?” Hmmm. Let the debating begin.

Until then, let’s keep in mind two lines delivered in print, the first after the initial rankings came out. Paul Myerberg of USA Today sports wrote an article and concluded with “Why worry about the debut rankings when chaos is on the horizon?”  The second was by Pete Fiutak of College Insiders who accurately summed up the CFP rankings – on October 5:

“It doesn’t matter a lick right now.”

No Matter Our Situation, We Should All Be Thankful

November 27th, 2015

While it’s unfortunate that in this country there’s only one day a year that’s designated to acknowledge how thankful we ought to be for whatever we have, it does afford us at least some time to reflect. Whether we have a lot or a little, we could have less. Sure, we could have more but the holiday is called Thanksgiving, not Greedy Thursday. Phrase it however you like – “half-empty vs. half-full,” “grateful for what we have vs. upset over what we don’t,” whatever your station in life – Thanksgiving is a day (and night) to ruminate on how we got to where we are and to show appreciation to those who helped get us there.

As someone who worked in college basketball, I had the “pleasure” of moving quite often. Like 17 times since I graduated college. The first 12 of those relocations were before I got married and, honestly, being fully aware of how much of a transient lifestyle it can be, was the main reason I waited to get married until I was almost 39 years old. Once I became an adult, I had three goals: I wanted to be a husband, a father and a Division I head basketball coach. As the saying goes, “two out of three ain’t bad.” Plus, if I was told I could only have two of three, those are the two I’d have picked. Got married in 1987, became a dad in ’89, and again in ’93. As far as health goes, the one of us with the most issues is me – which, if I was told one of the four of us was going to have multiple surgeries and experience chronic pain, is the one I’d have selected.

Jane is the poster girl for good health. Her diet is borderline perfect (not counting those extreme folks, e.g. vegetarians and the off-shoots of that type). She loves her classes (Pilates, kick boxing, sculpting and possibly others that escape me at the moment) and attends them faithfully. In addition, she always manages to get in her daily walk (her FitBit reminds her if she doesn’t). She retired when I did (2012) and we’ve enjoyed a great deal of travel ever since, e.g. a couple of places she’d never been (Oregon and New England), our second trip to Europe and vacation resort destinations like the Cabo, the Big Island and beach cities on both coasts. We even managed a Caribbean cruise – a first for her.

In terms of the “parent dictionary definition” of a child, #1 son, Andy, has been textbook, i.e. graduated from college in four years (UC-Irvine) and got a J-O-B immediately thereafter. He has no student loans (working while he matriculated helped) and he’s employed at his third different company (as an account executive), each move having been of his own volition, as well as each one being an upward move in the software sales industry. Although he can’t claim membership in the top 1% of wealthy Americans yet, he is off of the “family scholarship,” is living the life of a bachelor in Orange County, CA and getting by quite nicely, thank you.

Our younger son, Alex, is a senior at Cal State Monterey Bay and is one of the captains of the Otters basketball squad. He’s been a positive contributor to the program and is in the top 10 in career leaders in ten statistical categories, including currently being the second leading scorer in school history. He had better will graduate in May with a degree in Business with a concentration in Marketing. Possibly, he’ll have a chance to continue playing basketball professionally overseas. If that doesn’t pan out (or when it finally does), a job in the business world (there are a couple opportunities he’s been angling for) should be waiting.

As I’m sure other every person with a mailing address experiences, I get 2-3 requests for donations daily. When I receive one that hits close to home, maybe a relative or close friend who has or has passed away from a dreaded disease, I’ll enclose a small gift. What’s annoying is that, in no less than two weeks, there will be another letter, from the same organization, asking for more money – and it seems that group has passed along my information to various other charities. If only the associations would give me some buffer time between overtures. And please don’t treat me as a target for their partners, mostly because I don’t know which organization is legit or which is a scam. There have been so many reports of “organizational or hidden costs” that are attached to some charities, well, I’d like to think that 100% of my donation goes to the charitable organization.

On Tuesday evening’s local news, I saw a story about an owner of a company who had one of his drivers deliver a truckload of turkeys to a homeless shelter. Great idea. First thing Wednesday, I went “shopping” for the biggest turkey I could find (you can’t believe how many people wait until the last minute to grocery shop for Thanksgiving dinner), paid for it and went directly to the Poverello House, a homeless center serving the hungry and homeless of Fresno and handed it to a very gracious worker there. When he asked me if I wanted a receipt, I declined. The reason, as flawed as any accountant will tell you it is, is that it seemed that getting a receipt would benefit me (albeit in a very small way) and I wanted the act to be completely for others less fortunate. If you think you have it rough, drive by one of those neighborhoods someday.

As far as our family Thanksgiving, only Andy could join us yesterday for a wonderful dinner prepared completely by Jane (hey, that right there was another thing for me to be thankful for). Alex was in Monterey practicing and enjoying Thanksgiving with the team. I give thanks for the three of them and, all things considered, how fortunate our lives have been. I certainly don’t mean to preach, but you should be grateful for your circumstance, too. No complaining. Why not? Well, here’s some advice I learned long ago (when I was a member of the National Speakers Association):

“Don’t tell people your problems. 80% don’t care and the other 20% are actually glad!”

Today’s Athlete Has Greater Perks But a Whole Lot More Scrutiny

November 26th, 2015

A couple years ago a Michigan football player was accused of sucker punching SRG (Some Random Guy). The player’s explanation was that everybody at the scene was talking trash, the cat got up in his face, scared him . . . so he punched the guy. Unfortunately, there was crystal clear surveillance in the form of a video taken by a bystander with his cell phone.

Earlier this year, a number of Rutgers footballers were charged with assault when an RU student had his jaw broken. In this case there were several camera phones that captured the crime. Not to lessen that crime but it paled in comparison to the rape case against four members of Vanderbilt’s football team. What brought them down was, initially, video surveillance; then cell phone evidence (from their own phones). Let’s not forget to add to those two items another couple reasons they are in the dire predicament they are: alcohol and the non-existence of a moral compass (made worse when they tried to cover up their crimes).

Video surveillance in an elevator changed Ray Rice’s professional career, although he seems to have learned a hard lesson and is using his poor judgment to effect positive change. No excuse for his behavior in the elevator (and other sites?) and we’ll never know what would have become of him and his victim (now wife) had the videos not been uncovered but, at the very least, all indications are he fully understands the severity of his actions, the resultant consequences and has his life headed in the right direction.

Most recently, Johnny Manziel, who had just been told by his head coach that he was to be the team’s quarterback (leader) for the remainder of the (disappointing) season, was caught partying in Austin during the Cleveland Browns bye week, holding a bottle of champagne at a nightclub and singing/spewing vulgarities to a camera he certainly seems to realize was pointing in his direction. Apparently, Johnny Manziel’s judgment is in inverse proportion to his football skills. It’s documented that he spent some time in a rehab treatment facility over the summer for persistent misbehavior (mostly linked to alcohol). Making matters worse for the franchise, on draft day there was a disagreement among the owner, front office and coaching staff as to whether the Browns should select Manziel. Unless there’s an absolute trust in the general manager, player personnel director or coaching staff, usually the man who has the most skin in the game, i.e. the owner, will have the final say – and that’s exactly what occurred in Cleveland. While there were no crimes committed in this recent Manziel “incident,” it’s generally believed that Johnny Football’s days in Cleveland (although some other team – most likely one located in Texas – will provide him another opportunity).

If athletes’ favorite three letters are W-I-N, there’s little doubt their least favorite have got to be T-M-Z. Progress comes in many forms. Football players have to be thankful somebody thought players would enjoy the game more if face masks were added to the helmets. Full-time doctors, trainers and improved equipment, such as ice baths (I know many athletes who have told me that, while they are quite uncomfortable – especially at first – they exponentially aid in recovery time) have made playing such a violent game safer.

Yet, progress is a sword that cuts both ways, e.g. in today’s world, it seems everybody has a camera. To put it in Biblical terms, the proliferation of camera phones can be summarized as:

“The Lord giveth (knowledge to invent camera phones) and the Lord taketh away (blatant lies to get out of trouble).”

Why Coaches Desire Dual Roles

November 25th, 2015

Carrying the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality to the extreme, the Houston Rockets, specifically general manager Daryl Morey, fired its coach, Kevin McHale, only 11 games into the new season. Although the team started poorly (4-7 at the time of the firing), it was still somewhat shocking since McHale just recently received a three-year extension after Houston surprisingly got to last season’s Western Conference Finals. NBA insiders all expressed shock, using some version of the line, “How did Kevin get so stupid since last year’s Western Conference Finals?

It’s no surprise that there has been no one more outspoken about the firing than Charles Barkley who has always maintained McHale was the toughest player he ever went up against. Regarding his friend’s dismissal Chuck didn’t mince words, saying “Daryl Morey screwed Kevin McHale.” He added to his message what he thought of Morey (there is no love lost between the two), calling the GM an “analytics geek.” Morey fired back a line about Sir Charles “spewing misinformed biased vitriol disguised as entertainment.” And the pissing match was in full force.

What can’t be denied are a couple of other items which put McHale in an incredibly difficult position. One was Morey’s signing of Ty Lawson (allegedly over his coach’s objection) since both Lawson and “Players’ MVP” James Harden need to have the ball, combined with their antithetical eagerness to defend. Dwight Howard can erase mistakes but even Superman struggles when neither guard has displayed much interest in that end of the floor. The other mitigating factor was 11 games wasn’t nearly enough time to expect a coaching staff to mesh a new unit. Also intriguing is, while Morey claimed the move had to be made so soon because the Western Conference is so challenging, he turned the team over to J.B. Bickerstaff and said the job was his to earn. Touch assignment for a guy who 1) has no head coaching experience and 2) hasn’t had the opportunity to instill his philosophies during a preseason training camp .

What all this meshugaas brought to mind was a story that’s about three decades old. Shortly after Larry Shyatt and I began a self-improvement clinic for a select group of assistant coaches in the mid-80s (an idea we stole from my former boss and recent Hall of Fame inductee, George Raveling), we received a request from a graduate assistant at Providence to attend our two-day session. The young guy’s name was Jeff Van Gundy. He spoke on the subject of PC’s full court press and, in spite of his age, wowed every one of us with his thorough knowledge of, not only the subject matter of his topic, but with his overall basketball intelligence. After his grad assistant year, he was promoted to full-time status, only to lose his job a year later when Rick Pitino’s replacement (Gordy Chiesa, who was elevated to head coach following Pitino’s departure to the Knicks) was let go. Jeff made a lateral move to Rutgers but, once again, this lasted only one year because former Providence full-time assistant (during Jeff’s GA season), Stu Jackson, became the Knicks head coach (Pitino taking over at Kentucky) and added Jeff to his staff with the New York Knicks. This began a 14-year career as an assistant and head coach in the NBA. Yet, even after Jeff became an NBA head coach, he’d continue to attend our annual get-togethers.

It was at our 1997 clinic (with Pat Riley, one of Jeff’s four former bosses in New York, in his third year as head coach and president of the Miami Heat) that I posed the question to him as to whether he had any inclination to attempt such a dual role. His answer was an emphatic “No!”

My “college mentality” kicked in and I remarked I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t want to coach guys he knew and had seen play. His retort was oh-so-logical. “I don’t have the time to keep up with all the college and foreign prospects who will be in the draft, as well as those guys who will become free agents. It’s so time-consuming to coach an NBA team, I’d rather leave it to the front office people.”

Fast forward to today and, not only are others in dual roles, his own brother, Stan, has the title of coach and president of basketball operations with the Detroit Pistons meaning, for all intents and purposes, he makes the franchise’s decisions both on and off the floor, before, during and after the season. “One of the big problems at least in our league right now in a lot of places is there is not a great connection necessarily between front office and coaching,” Stan said after signing on with the Pistons. “This setup – nothing to do with power – it allows us to really create a tremendous synergy and a very unified organization.”

Maybe the best reason to have that power is:

“It means there’s one less guy to fire you.”

Media Members Could Have a Little More Empathy

November 24th, 2015

This past Saturday night, driving back to our Oregon hotel, I was listening to a college football talk show. One of the first things I heard was a sound bite of Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott.  After experiencing the first loss of the season and, thus ending any hope the Buckeyes had of repeating as national champions, the talented running back got “a microphone stuck in his face,” as head coach Urban Meyer explained it. Imagine the feelings, at that moment, of the college junior (albeit someone who had no intentions of becoming a senior). Some may say Elliott was upset for an additional reason – that, due to his less than stellar performance, his chances to win the Heisman Trophy went down the same drain the national championship hopes did. Whatever the factor was, he proceeded to do what (nearly) every media member lives for – make inflammatory comments – in this case, criticize his own program, especially the play calling during the game his team just lost.

“I deserve more than 11 carries. I really do. I can’t speak for the play caller. I don’t know what was going on . . . We weren’t put in the right situation to win this game,” were among the quotes Elliott made at a post game press conference. He also made mention of the fact he was lobbying Meyer to run the ball more. Media members were drooling when he also stated he will not be returning to Columbus for his senior season. Players like that almost write the story for the media member.

People who have never been a member of a football team – a group that physically punishes their bodies, depends on each other more than any other sport (because it’s the ultimate team game – see my 8/31/15 blog for a more thorough explanation) and either wins or loses as a unit (as opposed to individual sports teams – tennis, golf, swimming, track & field – in which one competitor can achieve victory while the team loses), cannot fully realize the emptiness that comes with defeat. Not that many people get to work at their craft and “put it on the line” each week. If only sportswriters had to file a story each week and have it scored, the result being a win or a loss for that individual. Consider how the person who “lost” week after week would feel when it was written and discussed on television (and the Internet) that the next week’s story was critical – that the writer was on the “hot seat” and that another L could lead to a job demotion or a move to a paper with a smaller circulation or, perhaps, even end a career.

What I heard on that talk show was the co-host applaud a colleague for one of his follow ups, giving kudos for a “probing” question. To her it was a guy doing a sensational job, while I looked at it as “piling on.” The guy had lost four games during his three-year career (while winning 36). His team had just had a 24-game winning streak snapped. And they weren’t going to get the chance to defend their title. Throw in the Heisman loss if you know Elliott well enough to believe that was his motivating element.

Predictably, Elliott apologized later, as athletes who speak out of emotion in frustrating times (right after a devastating loss) usually do. He said he was sorry for OUR (caps his) loss, didn’t mean to point fingers, was caught up in his emotions, loves his team, gave nothing but blood, sweat and tears, always put the team before himself and, to illustrate his love for Buckeye Nation, ended with “GO BUCKS!” He did, however, stand by his statement regarding not coming back for his senior year. The remarks he made were, as opposed to the post game rant, well thought out and explained, although admitting it was the wrong time and place to make that “announcement.” He realized a month ago he was going to enter the NFL draft. Anyone who has done any research on the longevity of an NFL running back, i.e. earning years, would completely understand such a decision.

Would sportswriters’ attitudes be any different if others had the capability to turn the tables and ask questions of their own? Queries such as, “With those in the know claiming newspapers will go the way of the dinosaur, how long do you feel your paper has before shutting down?” “With so many of your colleagues being laid off, do you think you’re also on the hot seat?” “There are rumors that there is in-fighting at your newspaper. Care to comment on that?”

Naturally, that will never happen (much to many readers dismay). Still, it would be nice if the media kept in mind:

“A little empathy goes a long way – and it never really hurt anyone.”

If It Hasn’t Already, the Apocalypse Is About to Appear in Sacramento

November 18th, 2015

Quick post between now and next Tuesday which I thought was going to be my next one.

Hearing about the “good old days” can wear on a person. When I was young, we’d roll our eyes when our “elders” (for the record, people who were younger than I am now) would reminisce. Now I’m on the other side of that conversation and I try to go to great lengths to avoid “living in the rear view mirror.” Yet, a recent story absolutely floored me. Its title was, “Report: Cousins cursed out Karl after loss, coach’s job in danger.”

So I’m trying to understand. A player, granted one with remarkable skills, barged into the locker room after a loss and spewed a “torrent of obscenities” at his coach – in front of his teammates and assistant coaches – and the coach’s job is in danger? It was reported that, after his tirade, Cousins approached teammates and asked them if he had gone too far, i.e. if his behavior was out of line. Their answer, allegedly, was, “Duh!” The fact that the following day Cousins apologized (the modern way – by releasing a statement) shouldn’t give him a pass either. In it, the ultra-talented, ultra-immature center claimed he was frustrated with the loss and let those frustrations “get the best of me – and that is my bad.” Oh, really? Then he went on to explain that his rude comments weren’t about any one person and that no one individual was to blame (although everyone in the room clearly saw his comments were aimed directly at Coach George Karl).

Making the situation even more absurd was that general manager Vlade Divac went to the players and told them that the front office didn’t know what to do with Karl and actually asked the players if they should fire him. Divac decided against his coach’s request that Cousins be suspended, meaning the word “insubordination” is nowhere to be found in the Kings’ employee handbook.

What’s defies credulity in this entire mess is that the Kings’ front office really believes they can lure Cousins’ college coach, John Calipari, to move to California’s capitol city. As if Cal wants to pay the outrageous (other) Cal taxes and have to deal with the guy he already “coached” – for a whole year. I was present at the Hall of Fame enshrinement show this past September when Calipari asked several of his former (and current) players to come up on stage and stand behind him. Looking at the crowd, he asked the players to raise their hand if they thought Cal had held them back, i.e. not allow them to “play their game.”

Cousins was laughing and waving his hand enthusiastically when his college coach said, “I’ll bet anybody that Demarcus Cousins has both hands up.” It was a telling moment – telling everybody how difficult it must have been “coaching” the prodigy. And dropping a hint he doesn’t miss the experience. It’s not like Cousins was the only great player Calipari coached – or even the best. Probably top five but none of the others match the mental exhaustion Cal had to overcome trying to placate a diva, all the while getting him to maximize his considerable talents – for the good of the team and to satisfy his star’s mega ego.

While Mark Twain never had the pleasure of making Demarcus Cousins’ acquaintance, he obviously knew someone just like him when he made the statement:

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”


What If All Professions Had Hot Seats?

November 13th, 2015

Long time off – between basketball season, doctors’ visits, seeing and entertaining friends, there will be a break in this blogosphere – until Tuesday, November 24! Haven’t taken this much time off since the year I stopped blogging when politicians made teachers’ jobs so time consuming, I had to take an entire year off. Please check from time to time as I might be able to sneak in a blog on occasion. Check past posts – all the way back to 2007. Otherwise, I’ll be back in about two weeks.

Newspapers used to educate and entertain the people who read them. The occasional columnist might pen a critical piece on someone but, more often than not, that someone deserved it. More and more competition for the public’s money, in addition to new media outlets, e.g. the Internet and satellite radio, seem to have skewed the moral compass of the fourth estate, forcing both print and electronic media to engage in nasty, deceptive and, even, unethical practices. I’m from a generation in which writers were compelled to have multiple (meaning at least two) sources before going to press with a story. Today’s journalistic rules are governed by a new philosophy, one that says the most important factor in reporting a story isn’t accuracy but whoever gets it first. It’s called scooping.

In 2006 three members of the Duke lacrosse team were falsely accused of rape. I’m not sure which was the worst rush to judgment case ever but this one, if not numero uno, has got to be thisclose the top. Can you imagine if you, or your son, were one of those student-athletes? Unjustly vilified, yet the more you protested, the more the public, as well as the administration – your administration – not only refused to “have your back,” but dismissed your objections out of hand as fallacious? The poor girl was the victim, not you. You (or your son, the boy you raised to know right from wrong) were the guilty party. Sure, years later everyone was exonerated when the female accuser was proven to be a blatant liar (later to be a murderer), but the promising season – along with the lives of the accused players – were already ruined, including the coach who was forced to resign by his athletics director. This was as botched a case as there ever was – by the press as well as all the others involved. Question: were any reporters disciplined? Answer: We’ll probably never know.

Today, a more subtle means of tormenting someone’s life has surfaced. A favorite topic of both print and electronic media is the “Coach on a Hot Seat.” The fact coaches are making obscene money (obviously on the professional level, but for college coaches, too, when compared to what the players get) undoubtedly influences the attitude of those who write and talk about them. I mean, it’s like, “if they’re making that kind of dough (translation, a helluva lot more than we do), then they’re fair game.”

OK, so the coach hasn’t had the success the administration and fans expected, although he and is staff might be working their butts off. A article or piece about him being “on the hot seat” actually decreases his chance of improving. Negative recruiting gains momentum as rival coaches use the “fact” against him when talking to prospects, putting thoughts into kids’ heads like, “his school might not be his school much longer and I need to know who my coach will be.” While the players currently on the team could use such an article to pull together, talk of a coach’s demise gives a team an additional reason to fracture. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Isn’t there enough pressure on the guy to succeed? I mean, if the team doesn’t do well, chances are he’ll lose his job. Is it necessary to alert people a year in advance that he could be terminated, to subject the guy’s family to the gossip and rumors? And – what if the reporter has it wrong – and his seat isn’t hot? Just another impediment to what’s already a tough job, i.e. in every game, one team wins while the other loses. Unlike sportswriters. Imagine if the stories were judged – and writers’ works were given a W or an L?

Consider this idea for any job. How you would feel if someone who has little, to no, knowledge of what your job truly entails decided to rank you for all the world to see. Indeed, do you think you rank in the top 5% of everyone on your industry? Keep in mind that only one out of 20 do. Let’s say you’re a salesperson and you’ve done alright but have been outperformed by others in your company. What’s going through your head when you wake up to an article in your local, or even a national, newspaper detailing your results, how they’re substandard to others in your company or industry and there’s a headline with your name in it, with the question, “Is ____ on the hot seat?”

Better yet, how do you think the media would enjoy being scrutinized in the same manner? How comfortable would a beat writer be, if he were asked the question, “With all the layoffs in your industry, are you feeling the pressure to be next?” or “It’s been reported that newspapers will be extinct in 10 years – does that put undue pressure on you?” or to a veteran sportscaster, “It’s common knowledge that the older guys in your business are being let go so they can hire a youngster to save money. What are your thoughts on that philosophy?” or “Is it true that “getting it first” trumps “getting it right?” And then give an example of a botched story, e.g. Duke lacrosse, that his station or paper ran.

The angle we look at a story depends on which side of it we’re on – especially for the media who would be wise to realize how shielded they are. The quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald would be an appropriate one for them:

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

Donny Deutsch Is Expanding His Horizons

November 12th, 2015

Years ago, I watched The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch. I thought it was a great television show for someone who wanted advice on how to start and run a business. In addition to a degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (one of the finest business schools in the country, along with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School), he also possessed a great deal of (not-so) common sense when it came to areas such as advertising and attracting customers to a start-up business. His counsel was always sound, based on years of experience in heading up his own company (actually, his father’s company until he handed Donny full control). The younger Deutsch renamed the company Deutsch, Inc. and took it to new heights before selling it to the Interpublic Group of Companies in 2000 for a cool $265 million.

He’d have guests and, occasionally, they’d get off topic – like the time he interviewed Ann Coulter – the polarizing conservative of whom everyone has a strong opinion – pro or con. During their conversation, she made the statement to the effect Jews were OK as a people, they just needed to be saved. Deutsch, who is Jewish, asked her if she was serious (since she was, basically, insulting the guy on his own show), reminded her of his heritage and gave her a chance to “amend” her remarks. She wouldn’t, they went to break and when they returned she more or less reiterated her statements. Well before I heard that exchange, my feeling toward Coulter was that when God gave her teeth, He ruined a perfect a–hole.

The shows without controversy (I never did understand why Coulter was a guest on his show, anyway) were terrific, both informative and entertaining. Deutsch was a wonderful business mentor. Since The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, he’s made other television appearances but each was related to some aspect of business. His most embarrassing moment came during an ill-fated show, called “(Get to) The Point” which was cancelled – and ridiculed – after only one week. When I saw a couple promos regarding a new show, starring him and called, appropriately, Donny!, my interest was piqued.

Talk about going outside someone’s comfort zone. The new show is a sitcom in which Deutsch plays a fictional version of himself. We all knew Donny Deutsch as an advertising executive and television personality but, never did I view him as an actor or a comedian. Not a real one. Apparently he was inspired by Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a self-deprecating show with a “loose” script that affords the actors the freedom to ad lib. After reading a review of the new show (and the fact that I think Larry David might be the funniest writer, or person, on television), I decided to watch the first episode.

My conclusion? The jury’s still out. There were some “laugh out loud” moments but the show lacks something, possibly substance. Maybe it’s not supposed to have any, like many of of Larry David’s creations. It’s just hard to come up with another slapstick presentation because, let’s face it, all of those shows will pale in comparison to Seinfeld. So you can see my ambivalence.

Donny Deutsch’s advice to first-time business owners was that you need to know you’re taking a risk. Will this new comedy be a success? Or will he experience the same criticism he received from (Get to) The Point? As William Faulkner said:

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Bon voyage, Donny.


The Referees Finally Outdid Themselves

November 11th, 2015

Under the heading, “Now, I done seen it all,” an incident took place in Mount Pleasant, MI last night that moves right to the head of the list. During a big Mid-American Conference football game between the #24-ranked Toledo Rockets and the Central Michigan Chippewas, the home team trailed late in the game. In an effort to disrupt the visitors, the cheerleaders were, duh, cheering. A Chippewa linebacker was raising his arms, exhorting the fans. The home crowd was screaming. The band was playing. That last part is probably what caused the commotion because I do know that in college basketball, the band is not allowed to play during actual game action.

Everybody has seen games in which the crowd plays a major factor in the visiting team executing – or not executing – their offense. The crowd becomes the X factor. Seattle Seahawks crowds break sound barriers every time they play a home game. On the college level, the tradition at Texas A&M is that its student body stands and cheers – the entire game. From a personal standpoint, I’ve watched games in Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium and the Los Angeles Coliseum (when I worked at UT and SC, respectively) and have seen players be visibly shaken by a boisterous crowd. One contest in particular I can recall was the second game I’d ever seen in Knoxville between, coincidentally, those same two schools in 1980. The Trojans’ offensive line (although SC wound up winning the fray) jumped several times, incurring penalties. The placekicker did look “all shook up” when he missed a very make-able field goal late in the game.

What does that have to do with TU-CMU? Well, last night, with both teams at the line of scrimmage, the whistle blew, stopping play that had yet to begin. The referee made a statement, at least part of which he couldn’t have meant. Or a cheerleader once left him at the alter. The official warned the crowd:

“There is no noise from the band or cheerleaders to interrupt the snap.”