Has Davante Adams Died and Gone to Heaven?

January 9th, 2017

Anyone who watched yesterday’s wild card game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants saw how vital a part Davante Adams is to the Pack’s offense. Adams accounted for nearly 1000 receiving yards during the regular season (997) and had a huge effort in yesterday’s playoff game – 8 receptions for 125 yards (15.6 average) and a touchdown, his longest reception going for 31 yards. Since he was drafted by Green Bay three years ago, Adams has gained the trust of Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay’s masterful quarterback who, along with New England’s Tom Brady, is a favorite for this season’s MVP award.

Adams played his college football at Fresno State. His last season was 2013. The Bulldogs’ quarterback was Derek Carr who was in the middle of exhibiting all the skills that would translate into him being exactly the type of NFL signal caller he’s become with the Oakland Raiders. During a prospect’s recruitment, in nearly all cases, what resonates best is something that strikes a personal chord with him. The assistant coach responsible for Adams’ area made one of those outrageous statements that recruits often hear. Hyperbole works in recruiting, especially if the prospect believes the message.

The line Adams heard while being recruited by Fresno State was not only hyperbole; some people considered it blasphemous. He was told, “If you come to Fresno State, you’ll have Jesus throwing you the ball.”

“Wonder how Davante feels now?”

Darrelle Revis Has Moved to Fantasy Island

January 7th, 2017

At one time “one of the best cornerbacks to ever play this game” was Darrelle Revis. Although that quote was from Revis, many people, even football experts, would concur. In fact, there was a plot of land named after him. Before Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson were the most feared CBs, there was Revis Island. Receivers dreaded seeing him across from them but most of them needn’t have worried since wise QBs weren’t going to target them anyway.

Well, one opponent that no corner (or player of any sport) could beat in a one-on-one match up came along and exposed Darrelle. Father Time. The cocky Jets’ cover corner found he was getting torched by receivers who weren’t even in the same class as those he used to shut down. In addition video from this season went viral of him giving an embarrassing – no, make that no – effort on a tackle. For fans who have yet to see it and wonder exactly how bad it could actually have been, let me refer to a line used by an old football coaching colleague of mine. “If you strapped an egg to the front of his helmet, it wouldn’t break” when a ball carrier came his way.

So be it. No one can say Darrelle Revis wasn’t a superstar in his day. In professional sports, when “your day” is over, someone else takes your place or “picks up the flag” or, as the saying goes, it’s “next man up.” Revis doesn’t exactly agree. He admits he’s not the player he once was. However, he feels as though he still should be paid like it. As he told the New York Post, “Do the New York Jets want to treat my situation with class or no class? With me being one of the best players in the history of this franchise, do they want me to retire here or not retire here? That’s the biggest question. It’s black and white. It’s not very complicated.” On that last thought, he’s exactly right. It’s not very complicated.

Revis claims he understands that football is a business. The concept Revis doesn’t seem to understand is when a player’s skills deteriorate, so does his leverage. And that’s where the “business” part comes in. If the Jets release him in the offseason, they save a lot of money – to the tune of freeing up $9 million in cap space. According to the Post, “as it stands now, he is set to count $15.33 million against the cap in 2017.” Yet, when speaking of how his contract should be handled, Revis becomes nostalgic, professing contract negotiations should be about loyalty.

There’s talk of him being moved to safety but at a reduced salary. The negotiations will probably come down to one difference. The contract he’ll be offered will be agreeable to both him and the Jets – in the eight figure range. The one difference?

“The Jets will want two of the figures to come after the decimal point.”

It’s the Fans’ Favorite Time of the Year

January 5th, 2017

College football is down to its championship game, the NFL’s playoff season is beginning and college basketball and the NBA are deep enough into their respective seasons that drama is front and center (Grayson Allen, Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins). Fans are beside themselves. The activity they all agree on is in full swing: criticizing, and ultimately, firing coaches. One invention that has made talking about firing coaches so much more enjoyable – as well as make the fan sound like an expert – is analytics.

Black Monday has come and gone and with it, several NFL coaches. Others are treading on thin ice. Or on they on the hot seat? Coaches get it from both ends of the thermometer. This year, as with every other, many, many college coaches received pink slips (although not nearly enough to satisfy the fans). Close games that were lost were proof that the coach choked, while close victories were either due to luck or should have been blowouts.

This NBA season might set the record as far as disappointing its followers, as there are some pundits currently claiming that this year will see no – as in zero – NBA head coaches dismissed. Seems as though the new coaches will be given at least another year to try to turn around the mess they inherited. Chip Kelly must be wishing he’d gone into hoops.

Wait, won’t there still be 14 teams not make the playoffs? So shouldn’t at least two-thirds of those teams change head men? Plus at least a quarter of those who made the playoffs? Every true fan can name 3-4 teams that would have done better with different guys leading those teams (even if those 3-4 teams change depending upon which fans you ask).

College is a little different. People aren’t nearly as close to pro coaches, so it’s easier to criticize someone who’s making a ton of money and not winning (or getting his team to cover for those of you who watch games for more than just the purity of the sport). College coaches are different. Fans may actually know the coach, or at least have met him at a function (alumni, service organization) where the school forced requested him to speak. Having shaken a person’s hand, looked him in the eye and either told him you thought he was doing a good job or wished him luck, makes the coach human – and (nearly) everybody has some empathy. I mean, one-and-dones have drastically changed coaching strategies – and expectations. This makes speaking about firing him all the more difficult – until you get to a place where the majority of the people are calling for his head. Then, joining in becomes much easier – and, even, fun.

Jim Murray, the greatest sportswriter of all-time, once wrote, Nothing is ever so bad it can’t be made worse by firing the coach.”

How about we update Jim’s quote (since some might dismiss by saying it’s become outdated)? Here’s one I heard while listening to a podcast with Doc Rivers. Doc is a guy with a ton of security because he has so much credibility – a coach with an NBA championship on his resume and one of the most highly respected guys in the business (plus he’s got such a gimormous contract). When the question was posed to him about winning a championship. His answer was simplistic, but telling:

“People don’t appreciate how hard it is to win.”

Well, Back Then It Was Funny

January 3rd, 2017

In the late 1970s, NCAA basketball rules were different. Coaches were allowed to scout opponents in person. As coaches, we liked it because, being at the game, we could see actions and behaviors we couldn’t see on video, giving us valuable insight (“intel” as it’s referred to today) into players. Plus, we could actually hear calls from the bench which, naturally, helped once we played. In a cost cutting move, though, the NCAA did away with “live” scouting. Truthfully, with all the money that’s wasted in college basketball (and, even more, in football), it seems absurd. Then again, as many televised games as there are and as easy as it is to obtain video, scouting in person really is excessive, especially when the non-revenue sports (both men and women) have to cut so many corners. Don’t believe how much money these schools reportedly make; there are maybe a dozen athletics departments in the country that actually turn a profit.

But I digress. In 1979, as an assistant coach at Western Carolina University, I took a trip to Columbia to scout a game between the University of South Carolina (at that time an independent), and their in-state rivals, Furman University, (a perennial power in our league – the Southern Conference). Furman had a 6’8″ forward named Jonathan Moore, better known to everyone as “Stitch.” There was a reason he was the player of the year in the SoCon. He could score inside and out (although this was prior to the three-point line), run like a deer, block shots, played with passion and was an absolute rebounding demon.

Which team won escapes me now (although I’m fairly certain the Gamecocks prevailed on their home court) but I clearly do remember two things about that night. One was that it was a close game throughout and the other was Stitch absolutely went off. He had a fabulous game and it was clear to everyone in the building that he was the best player on the floor.

As I was waiting for a post game stat sheet, one of the sportswriters recognized me. He came over, we chatted about the game and then, he asked me a question. I’m unaware of the exact number of newspapers that carried my response (they got it off the AP wire – this was waaaaay before the Internet) but, had it happened today, suffice to say, it would have gone viral. I had coaching colleagues from all parts of the country send copies from their local papers with blurbs about it. Oh yeah, one other item. I’m fairly sure, had it happened today, I would have been, at the very least, reprimanded. Maybe arrested.

Here was our exchange (as closely as I can recall):

Sportswriter: “Wow, that was some game!”

Me: “Sure was.”

Sportswriter: “How are you guys going to stop Stitch?”

Me: “Easy. We’re going to double team him.”

Sportswriter (with a stunned look on his face because he knew our roster): “What two guys you gonna put on him?”

Me: “Smith & Wesson”

The NBA’s Solution to Problems Between Players and Referees

December 30th, 2016

Ever since the first ball was tossed up at center court, players and referees have been antagonists. While the NBA has, by far, the best officials in the basketball, its players complain more than any other. The reactions by the pros are on the upswing. We’re currently at the point in professional basketball that when a player takes the ball to the basket and a foul is called, the player who got committed the transgression looks at the referee in disbelief, arms straight up in the air, signaling he was in completely legal position – while the opposing team’s trainer is on the floor putting the guy who’s about to shoot free throws through concussion protocol. If the situation is reversed and an offensive foul is the call, the player who fouled stares at the referee as if he insulted the player’s mother, even if roots came out of the floor where the defender’s feet were planted.

What about when the player scores and there’s no whistle, you ask? It’s a sure bet the offensive player will be complaining to the ref, hitting his hand, wrist, elbow or head, that it should have been an “and 1″ situation. The job of officiating is a thankless one – and it doesn’t pay nearly as much as you think – considering the amount of abuse they have to take from players, coaches, fans and, even, the announcers. And I’m not just talking about the homers but the network guys who don’t have a stake in the outcome.

Players have always had the ability to bitch about the officials but only one time a year and no names were allowed. How can the NBA correct such a grievous circumstance? Well, with the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), as of next season, there’s a clause in it that says, “… players for the first time will have a hotline to call in to critique the work of refs in their games. They’ll be able to report not just on where they think the official botched a call, but also if they found a ref to be out of line, verbally, with how they handled blow-ups. Basically, they can complain like never before. The hotline is a response to the league allowing the new monthly reviews so that players can report something they thought was handled incorrectly while it’s still fresh in their minds.”

Other than one instance (granted, that we know of), officials make every attempt to be impartial, i.e. they look at their job as enforcers of the rules. Of course they’re human (c’mon, give them the benefit of the doubt) and they’re prone to make mistakes but, they work their butts off. Contrary to what some fans say, there are no hidden agendas. At least, other Tim Donaghy’s gambling issues, none have been proven. Since there are always two sides to every story, maybe the league should allow officials to have their own hotline to call in – while it’s still fresh in their minds – and give their two cents (about the ratio to what they make to what they players pull down) regarding players who might have been out of line, along with those back stories.

The way technology is exponentially improving, soon players will have phones sewed into their uniforms or implanted in their bodies. When that time comes, players will be calling the NBA office before the official is done informing the scorer’s table of the infraction. And imagine what the cost of advertising among the phone companies would be then. Just think, the players could rewrite the CBA and get even more money.

“Is this a great country or what?”

 

Terry Bradshaw Suffering from Terminal Hard On

December 29th, 2016

If you haven’t heard the latest gossip from the world of professional football, pull up a chair and get a load of this. Terry Bradshaw, an icon in Pittsburgh – a city in which they take their icons very seriously – criticized the Steelers’ head coach, Mike Tomlin, calling him “a great cheerleader guy.” Why would Bradshaw go public on the leader of his “alma mater” so soon after they clinched a playoff spot? Keep in mind that Tomlin has a Super Bowl championship on his Steelers resume.

That doesn’t seem to matter to Bradshaw. Turn back the clock a decade or so ago and you’ll recall the same guy throwing less than kind words about another Steelers championship coach – the one and only Chuck Noll. The two of them were the greatest coach-quarterback combination of the Super Bowl era – the mere fact that they won four Super Bowls seems to both begin and end that argument. In fact, I spent one of those glory years (1976-77) living in Pittsburgh where people must be really confused because of the nine states I’ve lived inhabited, nowhere are folks more proud of “their own” than in the ‘Burgh.

Bradshaw’s complaint was Noll was too tough on his young quarterback from Louisiana, that young Terry was the type of guy who needed a hug every now and then. Recently, Bradshaw was a no-show at his former boss’ funeral. One would have thought Bradshaw would make have made an appearance if, for no other reason, than to have made sure.

Possibly, Bradshaw is “anti” Super Bowl-winners because he also has taken aim at Ben Roethlisberger who, like Terry, is a multiple Steelers Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Bradshaw most definitely is an equal opportunity critic as he made the statement below, taking to task another Pittsburgh Super Bowl-winning QB who has won several.

No one can say Bradshaw plays favorites. His tenure with the Steelers and his head coach, Noll, certainly had to have been a rocky one. When asked for a statement following the funeral of the revered coach, he took a swipe at still another championship signal caller - himself. Here’s what he had to say about the winningest coach-QB combination (certainly as far as winning the most brass rings is concerned):

“I’m proud to have played for (Noll). It was a great honor. My relationship wasn’t good, as you well know, but he made me understand my job responsibilities, because I had to grow up.”

Why Does the NBA Feel a Need to Undermine Its Officials?

December 28th, 2016

As if it’s not bad enough that referees make bad calls, the NBA, for some unknown reason (transparency, perhaps?), lets the viewing public – and even those who didn’t see them – in on the mistakes its officials made in games already played. Other than the league office patting itself on the back for being “transparent,” there is absolutely no reason for such a magnanimous gesture.

Doing so relives a bad time from a game that’s already been decided, so admitting to errors only compounds the problem. The team that “got screwed” – and who felt they were cheated out of a victory (even though the correct calls might not have assured them one) – is even more upset. The winning team feels as though their efforts are being diminished. And, worst of all, the refs – who have a thankless and, in the case of officiating in the NBA, an impossible job to perform – feel like the people who ought to be backing them are throwing them under the proverbial bus.

The prime example was the recent contest between Cleveland and Golden State. If ever there was a regular season game which had all the earmarks of an NBA Finals rematch, it was the Xmas Day match up between the past two years’ finalists. The Warriors were in control of the game, up 14 in the fourth quarter when some sloppy play by them, combined with some clutch buckets by the Cavs turned the contest into a tight ballgame.

LeBron James dunked with 1:43 left and the score tied at 103. He proceeded to hang on the rim, swinging back and forth in a move that would have made another King – Tarzan – proud. Possibly because the play was so eye-opening, and the crowd noise erupted to such a dangerous decibel level, the referees ignored Bron’s over-exuberant gesture. Then, on the Warriors’ final possession, Richard Jefferson switched onto Kevin Durant who had come off of a screen. KD slipped (according to his postgame remarks, “not on my own”), and fell to the floor as the game clock expired. No call by any of the three officials.

In the report from the NBA office the day after the game, the league admitted James actually should have been assessed a technical foul for deliberately hanging on the rim and that Jefferson should have, in fact, been called for a foul on Durant. If the NBA office’s intention was to create more “sports bar” arguments, they certainly have accomplished their goals. What, in reality, they did was to lessen a classic NBA regular season game – and, perhaps, set a precedent for future games – both of which could have been avoided. To admit mistakes is admirable but as long as nothing can be done to affect the outcome, it’s unnecessary.

This NBA admitting officiating errors reminded me of a humorous incident from several years ago. During the 1986 Sweet Sixteen game between #4 ranked Michigan State and top-seeded Kansas, a clock malfunction occurred with 2:20 to go in the game and the Spartans ahead by four. Following a made free throw by MSU, the Jayhawks inbounded the ball. For at least 15 seconds, the clock didn’t move. Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote argued, to no avail, as the game was going on. A couple weeks later, at the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Convention (which coincides with the Final Four), the spokesman from the NCAA Rules Committee referenced that game. He told the hundreds of coaches in attendance that one of the changes being made was that such an error would be correctable in the future.

Heathcote was one of the best coaches in the nation. He was also one of the funniest. He raised his hand and, even before he was recognized by the speaker, bellowed:

“Is that rule retroactive?”

The Tragic Passing of a True Legend

December 25th, 2016

It is with a heavy heart that I have to announce the closing of my (mini-)business, CuteBabyNameGifts.com. Our incredibly talented artist, Kevin FauntLeRoy, tragically lost his life yesterday (Xmas Eve Day) due to a carbon monoxide leak his Montana home. Thankfully, all other family members in the house were spared.

Since our company began, we’ve employed many artists. Kevin has not only been our main artist (having done nearly 60% of all orders) but has been the ONLY artist for approximately the past two years. The reason is he truly captured the essence of what we wanted – babyish, fun, meaningful gifts. Producing them came natural to him. Maybe it was because Kevin had a little Peter Pan in him. Sometimes adults are less than authentic. Kevin didn’t judge, he was just more comfortable with kids than adults – most likely because of the innocence of children – so at gatherings you usually could find him with the youngsters.

He had a several jobs during his brief time on earth, one as a graphic artist which coincided with his college major, a B.A. degree in art at Fresno Pacific University.  When he quit that job, those close to him were shocked but Kevin simply marched to the beat of his own drummer. When I asked him about giving up that job he looked at me and said, “Jack, I’m not very good at being an adult.”

I said to him, “Well, you do a great job at being Kevin.” He looked down, smiled and I could tell he appreciated my assessment.

On multiple occasions I would send checks to Kevin in payment for his phenomenal work. Months would go by without the checks clearing. Every so often he would visit relatives in Fresno and when I asked him if he’d gotten the checks, the scenario was always the same. He’d take out his wallet and, sure enough, there were the checks. I’d shake my head, go to the ATM and get him cash. When I would ask him if he forgot they were in his wallet (it wasn’t like he didn’t need the money – he was the prototypical starving artist), he would say, “I really don’t do them for the money. I just like that my work makes people happy” (the prototypical artist).

What always would make his day, however, was when I’d copy him on the texts and emails I’d get from people who ordered or received gifts, expressing how much they loved his creations. That he would immediately “take to the bank.”

If anyone else wants to continue with this type of business, there definitely is a market for it. If you do, I hope you’ll find an artist who is as passionate toward the work and grasps the concept as easily as Kevin did. To sum up Kevin FauntLeRoy’s life, it would be:

“Everybody is unique but Kevin did unique better than most. He was truly an original.”

RIP Kevin.

Coach As Father Figure

December 23rd, 2016

Coaching in today’s world is more difficult than in any other era. It’s mostly because of social media and how “public” the coach’s job is. Then again, that could be true about any employment position. Coaching is just more visible and people care more about it, i.e. its results.

Mike Krzyzewski is catching heat for the actions of Grayson Allen, one of his players. Last season, Allen had a couple incidents in which he tripped opponents. Video replay, another invention which makes jobs harder than they used to be, makes any excuse indefensible. Up until  a couple days ago, most fans forgot about Allen’s, ahem, missteps, possibly because it’s a new year, possibly because Duke has been without some key freshmen and Allen has been carrying the Blue Devils, possibly because of some other reason.

Fast forward to their last game and an all too familiar scene of Allen tripping an opposing player. Only this time his reactions following the transgression magnified his problem. He was seen yelling on the court and exhibiting disturbing behavior on the bench. Something, obviously, needed to be done. Duke’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who’s dealt with nearly every situation a head coach could during his illustrious career, had no lack of assistance in this case. Commentators, writers, studio hosts – both radio and television – even fans, had no reservations about “helping” Coach K deal with such a volatile situation.

As he has done so many times before when facing criticism, Krzyzewski listened and then, basically, said he was perfectly capable of dealing with it, without help from anyone else. He claimed to know Allen better than anyone, certainly better than anyone who was chiming in with an opinion about what needed to be done. He is as protective of his players as any coach in college.

As this story was making front page news, another well-respected coach got in the news for acting in a different manner toward a few of the players he coached. George Karl, whose last coaching gig was with the Sacramento Kings, is coming out with a book and must have gotten advice from his publisher that revealing some juicy tidbits would pump up sales.

He made some inflammatory remarks about players, most notably Carmelo Anthony, a superstar he coached when both were part of the Denver Nuggets organization. Why, other than to help sales, he felt the need to make such remarks about guys he coached so long ago is unknown at this time. While there were critical remarks about Anthony’s game, the most hurtful comment was about Anthony and fellow teammate Kenyon Martin. “Kenyon and Carmelo carried two big burdens: all that money and no father to show them how to act like a man.”

One writer came out and said the line was taken out of context but let’s put aside that part of the story. Karl speaks often about his college coach, Dean Smith, as being a (second) father figure to him. It’s been said a college coach is a father figure to is players, especially for the many players who grew up without one. Mike Krzyzewski is praised by his players as, if not a father figure, a guiding light in their lives. Of course the major difference between a college coach (high school coach too) and a professional coach is just that. Pros shouldn’t need father figures; they’re getting paid and are on their own, earning boatloads of money.

Yet, in this one instance, let’s put some pieces together. George Karl was an adult, coaching Carmelo Anthony who, when he began his professional career with the Denver Nuggets, was 19 years old. Karl had not only a father but, when he was the same age as his superstar, Dean Smith in his life. Didn’t Karl have any sympathy for a 19-year-old who grew up without a father? Didn’t he feel any responsibility in helping this young kid with issues beyond offense and defense? Was he, with his background so diametrically opposed from his rookie’s, so callous to feel he was only supposed to provide Xs and Os help to him? Did it never occur to him that if he were to show even a smidgen of the concern and subsequent advice he received from his mentor, it might make the team better, i.e. if not to improve the kid’s life, make the team more formidable? Whatever else, Karl missed a chance to make an impact on the life of a youngster (independent of whether he was a “professional” athlete or not).

With all the opinions on what Mike Krzyzewski should do and what George Karl didn’t, there is one item I have yet to hear from all these people who have answers after the fact. It’s a topic I brought up with a few coaching friends of mine a couple weeks ago, regarding a subject – a teaching point – that had taken place earlier this football season – the actions of Colin Kaepernick. My opinion was well-received by my colleagues, yet something I haven’t heard discussed to date. How do you feel about it?

“Any coach who hasn’t had a discussion with his (or her) players about the Kaepernick situation should be fired.”

 

A New Show that Would Be Must See TV

December 19th, 2016

A week or so ago Brandon Marshall released a “fan” letter sent to him by an obviously deranged person. Its existence makes people aware of what all too many of us already knew. Racism exists. If you haven’t seen it, the letter was printed anonymously (duh) by some coward who has serious issues – the fact he’s a racist being only one of them. Note: If this is news to you, google “brandon marshall’s racist fan letter” to see what a professional athlete in 2016 has to deal with.

I’ve always been a TV watcher and one type of show that appeals to me is the whodunnit – like the NCISs, the CSIs and Hawaii 5-0. While the plots of these shows are very similar to the old ones I watched (Columbo, Perry Mason and The Rockford Files), the main difference is the way in which the cases are solved. In today’s version technology is the “good guys” best weapon.

The racist letter sent to Marshall was just like the ones sent to Henry Aaron, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali so long ago. The guy who wrote it didn’t have much ingenuity as it was 1) printed 2) on a single sheet of paper 3) with a message that seems almost plagiarized. The letter itself is “old school”- as is its message. Someone who has learned so little throughout the years is begging to be educated.

I completely understand that television shows are scripted but, in this case, wouldn’t it be possible, a la TV, to use all the knowledge that’s been discovered over the past half-century to uncover the author of the one sent to Marshall? Get a handwriting expert, check to see if there is any DNA evidence (whether the envelope was licked or if fingerprints could be lifted or whatever else modern technology could tell us). It’s nearly certain that someone who would write a letter like this – and mail it - would be in the system for a past transgression. Or several.

If the author of this letter could be found, using advanced techniques that are available today, wouldn’t it be great if a scenario could be arranged in which he’d be invited to, say, a certain restaurant at a certain time. At the restaurant would be Brandon Marshall and a couple of his teammates. Video how this guy would act if he were seated at a table next to the players. After a while, have Brandon Marshall walk up to the guy and say, “Do I know you? You seem so familiar.” Independent of whatever happens next (my guess would be the guy would meekly attempt to change pleasantries), have Marshall leave the establishment. Then, have law enforcement escort the letter’s author away for whatever past violations he committed. If, miraculously, there were none, confront him about the letter and arrest him for whatever law he broke by writing and mailing it.

After reading the letter he wrote to Marshall, there is a great possibility that this individual is a threat to society. Racism is an illness that needs to be conquered. Maybe the entire situation could serve as a teaching lesson to others committing similar acts of hatred. Obviously, there is something patently wrong in people who possess such vile beliefs. Maybe this idea is too farfetched but, in the fight to eliminate racism:

“We’ve got to start somewhere.”