Archive for the ‘customer service’ Category

What Chance Does DeAndre Jordan Have of Getting a Max Contract with the Clippers?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Yesterday I read a sports item that claimed the first true test of Steve Ballmer’s ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers was coming up when this season ended. It had to do with DeAndre Jordan who plays the position of, uh, rim protector for the Clippers. Center is too old fashioned. Post player too all-encompassing since some of the skills that are attached to a post player, Jordan doesn’t possess, e.g. back-to-the-basket moves. Yet, it can be argued that DJ is  as valuable to the Ballmer’s franchise as teammates Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. After all, the Clippers can’t bring home the “Larry” (the Lawrence F. O’Brien, Jr. trophy presented to the team that wins the NBA championship) that Ballmer so passionately spoke of during his inaugural address at the Staples Center without all of their top three guys.

DeAndre Jordan has range that extends no more than five feet. Since the free throw line is 15 feet from the hoop, it stands to reason Jordan isn’t going to excel at “one-pointers” either. However, since there are two elements that make up the game of basketball – having the ability to score and having the ability to prevent scoring – his deficiencies are more than overcome by his talent at the latter category. In a league where 95% of the players (give or take 3%) have the ability to dunk, having someone who can prevent that shot from happening is worth quite a bit of the team’s salary cap.

Also, in the NBA (and, now, most every other level), the offensive part of the game has evolved into 80% (again an arbitrary number, so give or take 10%) pick & roll (or pick & pop, fade, re-screen, etc.), it’s mandatory that, defensively, the team’s big man be strong, quick, agile (and willing) to guard on the perimeter – in whatever manner the coaching staff wants during whatever time in the game (help & recover, hard trap, push up on the screener, help to whichever side the on-ball defender is influencing, or any other wrinkle a coach dreams up). Jordan is just that versatile. Plus, and this is mandatory on a championship team, he’s a great “locker room guy.”

So, if he’s that good, why would Ballmer’s hesitate? Well, it turns out that the big fella’s contract is up this year and, naturally, he (and, even more naturally, his agent) will be looking for not only a lucrative deal, but a max one. Those type of contracts run as high as nine figures! Not counting the two that follow the decimal point.

By now, all Clippers’ fans are aware that Steve Ballmer’s net worth is in the eleven figure range, a range so far in the distance, it might as well be in another galaxy. But, since it’s easy to spend other people’s money, Clippers’ fans can see no earthly (or other planetary, for that matter) reason why Ballmer would ever balk at shelling out what would translate to pennies on the dollar (of his dough) to keep together the team that’s destined to bring a Larry, or two, or . . . (nah, it’s been proven going that route is a mistake).

Enter the luxury tax (a concept that Einstein would have to read twice before he understood it). Before you can say, “Larry,” those pennies can really add up. When Ballmer was introduced as the new owner and asked about his philosophy on running the franchise, he said, “We are going to be bold. Bold means we are going to be willing to take risks. If you are not being bold, you are going to be timid. We are going to be hard core. Hard core. Hard core. Hard core.” The luxury tax might just cut back a couple “hard cores.”

Without getting too technical (which is nearly impossible on this subject), when a team exceeds the salary cap (actually a little more than the cap), there is a penalty levied. For this season the penalty was $1.50 for every dollar (up to $5 million) over the cap, meaning if a team was over by $5 million, it would have to pay an additional $7.5 million. For the next $5 mil over the cap, the penalty would escalate to $1.75; the next $5 mil (i.e. between $10-15 million over), the penalty goes up to $2.50; the next $5 mil, $3.25; next $5 mil, $3.75, and after that, the team would be penalized an additional $.50 per every $5 million. Certainly not for the faint of wallet. Actually, it could get worse. If a team had been a repeat offender, i.e. if they’d been over the cap for three of the previous four years, the penalties increase $1 for every $5 mil, e.g. instead of, say, at the $3.25 level, the cost would be $4.25. Forget a second look, Einstein might have passed out!

And yet, for someone as driven as Steve Ballmer and his $22 billion net worth (which, if past performance is any indicator, will continue to grow), if he feels a player can help him deliver his “Larry” to Clipper Nation, his motto parallels Yo Gotti’s:

“Spend It Cuz U Got It.” 

 

Wrapping Up the College Football Playoff Committee’s Decision

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Random thoughts on the first year of the new and improved method of selecting a football national champion:

* Would it have been as easy a decision for the committee to select Ohio State over the Big 12 had the teams in consideration been Texas & Oklahoma as opposed to TCU & Baylor?

* To the Sirius talk radio host (I can’t remember which show it was or which guy said it) who claimed what a shrewd move Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby made a few weeks ago by declaring co-champions instead of awarding it to Baylor for their head-to-head win against TCU (because he felt the committee liked TCU more than the Bears and he didn’t want to pick one of his schools over the other, thinking both could possibly get in), would you like to issue a retraction? Hint: the answer should be “No” because had Georgia Tech and Wisconsin won, Bowlsby would be hailed a genius for, in all likelihood, filling half of the field with a couple of his league’s teams. Just another example of leaders getting the big money to make the big decisions. Sometimes you’re a genius; sometimes a jackass – and often the factors are beyond your control.

* According to the talking heads on Sirius XM 91 (College Sports radio), the Big 12 has been petitioning the NCAA to allow them to have a conference championship game (which is said to be the reason their league was excluded). With their membership down to 10 teams (the NCAA has a rule that states a conference must have at least 12 teams in order to split into six team subdivisions and have a championship game), they would need a waiver. Sirius’ sources say the NCAA has yet to render a decision on the Big 12’s appeal. Naturally, the other alternative for the league would be expansion. Expect, in all likelihood, the new members to be BYU (currently an independent) & Boise State (Mountain West, but who already had jumped to the Big East, only to return to the MWC when the Big East’s football and non-football schools split up – and the people in Boise came to their senses, realizing that, geographically, there’s nothing east about them, i.e. they’re not even in east Idaho). Possibly Houston, an old Southwest Conference rival, or Central Florida, if the Big 12 wants to trade travel costs for market coverage (keeping in mind, the increased travel costs would be for all sports, men and women). My friends and neighbors out here in Fresno would love to have their ‘Dogs join the other Big Dogs but that’s probably the longest shot.

* Former coach Dan Hawkins, currently on Sirius radio, railed over and over to “fix the system.” The obvious and most logical answer is to expand the playoff to eight teams. Inherently, the “system” Hawkins is talking about sabotages itself because it’s called the Power Five Conferences and there are only four playoff spots. This means that every year one conference must be left out. At least one. How about if Tech had beaten FSU and Ohio State had lost, or barely escaped with a win, in the Big 10 championship game? The committee seemed intent on showing no mercy for a Florida State team with a loss and, with the quality win Baylor produced against a solid K-State squad, both the Big 10 and ACC would have been griping about missing out. Hey, at the beginning of the year, folks were claiming there might be three SEC teams in the top four. With that scenario, three conferences would be up in arms (as in “the arms war,” i.e. all the loot, as well as prestige, that goes along with the semis and national championship). Now that a playoff has been OK’d, all those reasons against one we’d heard about for years (time away from class, too long a season, too many games) no longer exist. It’s simple: expand to eight!

* Another former coach-turned radio personality, Rick Neuheisel, did a marvelous job of explaining today’s trend in offensive football to a caller who made the statement that teams that give up 61 and 58 points in a game, i.e. TCU & Baylor, don’t play any defense and, therefore, have no business in a national championship playoff. Neuheisel educated the caller – and the listening audience – that “new offensive-minded teams” spread the field and have two plays called (a run and a pass, with the quarterback making the decision once he sees the defense). Then, they get the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly, forcing defenses to make their players “tackle in space” (which, for the most part, kids do poorly). When the defense spreads to cover the receivers, the QB hands the ball off and the running back is gone! Executed well, this type of offense is virtually impossible to guard, mainly because, in football, as in all team sports (except baseball – the only one in which the defense controls the ball), the old adage holds true: “Good offense will beat good defense.” His summary was succinct: “The talent is too good, and the field is too wide, to defend these teams.

* All in all, college football could be in a much worse state of affairs. Consider this: most of the nation thinks Alabama is the best team. Except for those who believe Oregon is. And Florida State is undefeated and the defending national champs:

“Imagine if we still had the BCS?”

Can Agents Work for Their Clients Without Working Against the Team?

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Here’s an idea: subscribe to “Jack’s Blogs” and you will receive an email notification when a new post is made. Absolutely no cost involved; it’s simply a convenience that will notify you when I’ve posted.

Weekend hoops in Monterey. This blog will return on Tuesday, Dec. 9.

Did you know: Cleveland Browns’ QB Brian Hoyer gets a $2.05 million bonus if he plays in 70% of the offensive snaps. Think he thought that up or, does it sound more like the work of an agent? So when the headline read, “Hoyer shocked he was benched: ‘I still feel like it’s my team’ ” was his outrage directed at a potential lack of playing time, or a potential hit to his income?

Ever since Mark McCormack decided he would help his friend, Arnold Palmer, focus solely on golf, while he took care of Arnie’s outside interests, i.e. income that didn’t come from the tournament purse, others have found it a way to make a living as well as be involved in the world of sports. As with all great creations, however, some took the business (with a handful who earn their living in the sleazy manner they do, it’s difficult to call it a “profession”) of sports agent beyond the bounds of integrity. What agents have done since the 1960 partnership between Mark McCormack and Arnold Palmer undoubtedly exceeded McCormack’s initial idea – in ways both positive and negative.

In far too many cases, agents have made coaches’ and GMs’ lives infinitely more difficult. Unfortunately for them, they’ve created chaos in their own lives as well. I’ve had agents tell me that they would get calls in the middle of the night from their “clients” (players) demanding they, the agents, get the player traded, get him more playing time, more shots, whatever. Most of the time this occurred, the players seem to be under the influence of something stronger than Starbuck’s. Yet, only one agent I know quit the business. Why? Because there is an unheard amount of money in the world of professional sports – and an innovative thinker can make quite a comfortable living – even if they don’t possess a shred of athletic ability. In fact, many agents have never “been in the arena,” so to speak.

Not all agents are unscrupulous. Many are incredibly brilliant sales people, for lack of a better term. (I once sat in on a presentation given by David Falk – before he signed Michael Jordan - and it was one of the most eye-opening events of my life). But, agents only make money if players do – and the more money the player makes, the more the agent makes. Therefore, the agent will be as ingenious as is necessary, e.g. %-age of snaps, # of minutes, starts, All-Star appearances, top # in league in (pick a category – including %-age of sacks not given up for O linemen, successful sacrifices by a second baseman, free throws by a post player, WAR – not the card game). Anything to gain extra income, even if it discourages team play or creates dissension among players on a ball club.

Then there is the matter of endorsements. It’s become a status symbol to get a commercial (I know of two superstars who each had plenty of endorsements but one boasted of, get this, how many more speaking lines he had in his commercials). After all, with the obscene amounts of money professional athletes get from salary alone, how much more money is really necessary? Much of it simply has to do with, “I’m more of a star than you – and you and you and you.” An agent often can be the difference in the type of relationship an athlete has with his teammates, coaches and upper management.

What some athletes don’t realize is that filming a 30-second commercial is quite a bit longer than 30 seconds – in many cases, those filming want quite a few takes. Since athletes only get one take, they have a hard time doing “another” when, in their minds, the one they just shot was nearly perfect. When companies pay the, once again, obscene money they do for “famous” people, they want perfect, not nearly.

This can cause a strain on the superstar because the great ones want their family time (or “play” time for the single ones). In addition, they need to remember exactly why they got these endorsements, i.e. because they’re great at what they do, which they only get to do for a limited number of years. Working at his craft needs to be a priority. However, it’s not so much of a priority to his agent – especially if the agent has a number of clients.

Back to Brian Hoyer. A writer in Cleveland actually figured out that Hoyer had taken 99.5% of the snaps for the Browns this season (759 of 763 offensive snaps) up to last week’s Buffalo game. With Johnny Manziel taking the last 13 offensive snaps of the Bills game, Hoyer’s percentage dropped to 97.9%. No problem. But he then extrapolated that, if Manziel (or anyone else) started in Hoyer’s place, and there were an average of 67 snaps/game over the remainder of the schedule, Hoyer’s number would still be 74%. However, this guy conjectured, what if the Browns ran an up-tempo, fast paced offenses – the kind more suited for Manziel? He played with numbers and found that if Cleveland ran 83 snaps/game – and Hoyer didn’t take a one – that his percentage would dip to 69.9%.

Obviously, this could affect team chemistry, especially if the numbers start coming close. With a spot in the NFL playoffs on the line, what would this mean to the team? This entire scenario can be summed up in the words of the indefatigable Dick Vitale:

“ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!!!”

Why Are None of the Right People on the Playoff Committee?

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Television talking heads, talk radio hosts and especially their callers, letters-to-the-editor writers, people who frequent sports bars, colleagues at the water cooler/coffee maker, people on social media or pretty much anybody you run into, if asked the question, “What do you think of the committee’s list for the top four teams for the college football playoff?” will gladly offer their opinon chew your ear off delivering their answer. And, as remarkable as it sounds, it’s the one item everybody agrees on. Everybody except the committee of 12 (Archie Manning gets a pass this year). What is it that unites everyone? It’s that the committee has it all wrong. How can these people, who weren’t exactly selected at random, have completely screwed up which teams ought to be in the four team playoff?

When I worked for George Raveling (both times – at Washington State and a decade-and-a-half later, at USC), he always told his assistants that we were never to go to him with a problem unless we also could offer a potential solution. So (with George’s advice in mind), rather than simply criticize the people on the committee, what follows is my proposed solution.

As soon as someone says, “How could the committee . . . !” they are immediately – right at that moment – wherever they are, e.g. on the radio, in a public place, on their PC, charged with naming their top six. They don’t get to explain why they put which team where; they just get to sit back (or stand if they’d like) for, say, 15 minutes and allow everybody else to unload on their list – with no opportunity for rebuttal. Just that person, alone, on an island, while everybody lambasts the list that was provided. Only then can they will they be able to hear what the members are subjected to every minute (from Tuesday night on) after a new ranking is released to the public.

The committee was selected for their knowledge, passion and/or whatever criteria whoever it was decided to have them be on it. I would venture to guess that, with the possible exception of a small group of meganerds, that the committee members have spent more time researching and debating which teams ought to make up the first ever four teams to actually compete for a Division I national championship in football. There should be no doubt every last member of that committee has taken his or her (Condi) position on the committee ultra seriously AND there also is no doubt that all of the members don’t agree with the final grouping that’s finally presented for public consumption. As, indeed, there won’t be a consensus with the final one next Sunday.

So go ahead and bitch away about why your team that isn’t in, oughta be, or why it’s not ranked higher, or why the team you hate is where they are . . . you get the idea. How about this idea? Wouldn’t it make for great TV? Put it live in stadiums and sell tickets. Give the proceeds to charity. If you don’t think it would be easy to sell out the Coliseum – to see people get publicly humiliated for 15 minutes – then you haven’t been paying attention.

Reality TV has almost become our national past time. Just give the pseudo-committee members a microphone to announce their final six, then cut it off and have mics situated around the stadium for people to tell the person why that list is soooooooo wrong. It would be like verbally stoning them. It was a hit when actual stones were used, you know, before civilized society frowned on that sort of thing. This could be the 21st century version. Somebody certainly would pay for TV rights. There are so many venues, in every time zone. Throw in parking, concessions and souvenirs, heck, we might be able to erase the national deficit! Getting contestants would be a cinch. In the words of Sun Tzu:

“Pretend inferiority and encourage arrogance.”

 

Was the Contract for Stanton a Good Move?

Friday, November 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best line in his reply might just have been:

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

Comments on Various Topics

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

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

Random thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 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.”

Why Is It Older People Think They Can Help Others?

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

This isn’t exactly breaking news but Google is a pretty awesome invention. Or discovery. Or creation. Whatever, it’s way above my intelligence level. If ever there was something that can give you answers – quickly – it’s Google. For someone with a relatively decent level of intelligence, when it comes to technology, I’m, let’s just describe it as, well below the curve. Suffice to say, whoever (or whatever) invented Google is quite a bit above that curve. Yet, on occasion, answers can be found elsewhere.

Because I’ve lived through six-and-a-half decades, in nine different states all across the country and have had jobs of influence over the youth of America, passing on information is something that comes naturally to me. More than having the job of teacher or coach, I have always considered myself a student of life and an observer of people.

Maybe due to an early lack of confidence – which some people who know me would scoff at – I was always worried about being good enough. For those who don’t believe that, here’s an example. When I was a senior in high school, I never considered myself exceptionally bright, e.g. my overall GPA was around 2.7 or 2.8 which gave me a class ranking in the upper 25%. Not bad, but not exceptional by any means. I was smarter and a better athlete than some of the guys I hung around with – in math and a couple selected sports. But they were better than I was in other subjects or sports. 

During my sophomore year, I doubled up taking geometry and algebra 2 so I could take calculus my senior year. There were 12 of us in the class (another kid in our graduating class was so smart he’d taken calculus his junior year so he was taking his math class at Rutgers, located a couple miles across the Raritan River). At that time many colleges were requiring single subject SATs as well as the regular morning tests everyone took to gain college admission. Naturally, the kids in our calculus class (and the brainiac at Rutgers) took the single subject Level 1 math test.

When the scores came in, I got a 756 (out of 800). The only people I knew who’d taken that test were the 13 of us. When I got to class and everybody reported their scores, I found out that mine – outstanding by anyone else’s measurement (but which I had no idea) – was the 11th highest, meaning it was the next to the lowest in the entire group. Eight of the others got perfect 800s. Two of them received a perfect 800 on the Level 2 test. That test was on material we hadn’t even covered in class!

There are other stories which contributed to my inferiority complex in areas academic, athletic and social so I was always looking for ways to improve. So it wasn’t at all strange that when I returned to my alma mater, Highland Park (NJ) HS, as a math teacher, football and basketball coach (after I graduated from college in 1970) that I read one of the most influential books of my life, Psychocybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. It wasn’t until I read Dr. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that a book had as much influence over me as that one I read in 1970.

For a guy who didn’t particularly enjoy reading in high school and college, once I graduated, I began to read quite a bit (probably because it wasn’t required). When I went to Washington State in 1973 and began working for George Raveling (one of the most voracious readers of all time), I was positively influenced to become a lifelong learner. George would always be giving me books – print and audio. In addition, I’d always enjoyed simply studying people. All of those traits have broadened my life.

Quick story (for real). Once, when I was Director of Basketball Operations at Fresno State, we were returning to the mainland on a red-eye after our conference game with the University of Hawaii. I happened to be sitting near the front of the plane. At that time, i.e. prior to the pain pump that’s now implanted in my abdomen, I just couldn’t sleep (sitting up) on planes. So I would read. Around 4:00 am one of our players came up and tapped me on my shoulder. When I looked up, he said, “Jack, turn around.” When I did, I saw that the only light in the entire plane that was on the one above my seat. I knew I was a good deal smarter when I got off that plane than I was prior to boarding it.

Since I was in a role of teaching young guys how to play and, I can’t stress this enough, also how to succeed in life, dispensing knowledge became an obsession. Those who know me well will tell people I’ve never had an aversion to speaking. One person, two people, 1500 people at the Fresno Convention Center (although I got paid for that one) – doesn’t matter. If you’re around me, you’re going to hear something that will make you think or smile. I can’t help it. I enjoy sharing information, stories and powerful quotes.

People I’ve taught, coached, mentored and assisted in one way or another have asked me why it is I seem so comfortable sharing my philosophies, a few of which seem a little off the wall. Believe me, I’m in no way so presumptuous to think I have all the answers. One day, however, I found the answer. It was on a card I saw at a local Hallmark store. It said:

“Just because I give you advice doesn’t mean I know more than you. It just means I’ve done more stupid shit.”

Was the Oregon-Arizona Game Decided by the Referees?

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

During the Oregon-Arizona football game last night, people could be heard in watering holes – and homes – everywhere complaining about, what else, the officials. In addition to quite a few flags during the contest (16 altogether – seven against Arizona, nine against Oregon for a total of 134 yards), there were a couple of unsportsmanlike penalties, one on each team – both at crucial times.

The first was following an Oregon third and five from the Wildcats’ 23 yard line with 10:33 to go in the third quarter. It came after an incomplete pass which probably would have resulted in the Ducks attempting a 40 yard field goal. However, a flag was thrown well after the play had ended and, after seeing the replay, the only possible explanation for it was taunting. That resulted in an automatic first down – at the 12 yard line. Two plays later, Oregon scored.

The next unsportsmanlike call came when Arizona was inside the Oregon 10 with a third and goal. The Ducks’ Tony Washington pulled off a huge sack which would have held Arizona to a field goal (attempt). Except, following his stellar defensive play, Washington ran from around the 10 yard line to midfield, with a teammate alongside (telling him not to hotdog it?) and decided to take a bow in front of the capacity crowd. He made the crucial stop, everybody knew he made it and yet, he felt compelled to run 40 or so yards to showcase himself to the home crowd.

ESPN anchor Neil Everett, an Oregon grad, called it “quite a questionable celebration penalty.” Was Everett teasing the audience, 90% of whom understand his bias? Or did he think, “Aw, c’mon, let the kid have some fun!” Unless you, or someone you know, were sitting next to him when the call was made (Stan Verrett, guys in the studio?), that answer is unknown.

Both of the calls (assuming the taunting was for “unacceptable words”) were justified. And they were enforced because of the new rule which tries to take unnecessary gloating, or individualism, out of the ultimate team game. Today’s players need to understand that there are boundaries that can’t be crossed and when they are, you – and in this case, your team – will pay. Maybe with an L in place of a W. That hurts, especially when your team is #2 in the nation (or attempting to beat #2 in the nation).

It’s been known for a long, long time that young, talented football players (let’s keep it to football players for this blog) are pampered – from the recruiting period (and the accompanying campus visits) to the uniforms they wear (including all the ancillary items that make up the player the fans see) and the food they eat – in order to play one of the most violent games imaginable. On campus, win or lose, many are revered. If they’re fortunate enough to, as the saying goes, “play on Sundays” (and Mondays and Thursdays and any other day – or location – that will make the NFL money), they are furthered enabled.

If a young man doesn’t have it together (the one thing that’s not given to him is a moral compass), this could lead to narcissistic behavior. And we’ve seen what that can lead to. More than once. A lot more. And the stories keep on piling up.

Long ago I remember the late Stephen Covey explaining a person’s existence on this earth. What he said was no doubt behind the thinking of the new unsportsmanlike penalties. Covey’s statement was:

“It’s not about you. You’re part of something bigger.”

Is Michael Phelps Really Sorry?

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Michael Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence in Baltimore, Maryland. TMZ, today’s celebrities’ BFF, reported he was doing 84 in a 45 mile zone around 1:40 am. Phelps failed his field sobriety test and his blood-alcohol limit was almost twice the legal limit.

My old boss, Jerry Tarkanian, used to tell his players that nothing good happens after midnight. I’m not sure how he figured that out but the guys seemed to do whatever they could to prove him right. In Phelps’ case it’s understandable that the time was after midnight.

After all, how early in the morning would he have had to start drinking to have his blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit by 1:40 pm? In addition to the speeding ticket and DUI, Phelps was cited for crossing double lane lines.

This is a repeat offense for Phelps. In 2004 when he was 19 years old Phelps had a DUI arrest, also in Maryland. In that case he struck a plea deal with prosecutors and pled guilty in exchange for 18 months probation.

Following this latest discretion, the Phelps’ camp released the standard celebrity response: “Earlier this morning, I was arrested and charged with DUI, excessive speeding and crossing double lane lines. I understand the severity of my actions and take full responsibility. I know these words may not mean much right now but I am deeply sorry to everyone I have let down.

 

There must be a school that agents and PR people attend for just these situations because all the releases sound the same. The person who broke the law always “understands the severity, takes full responsibility and is deeply sorry for letting fans down.”

 

Harvey MacKay is one of the world’s best speakers and authors, as well as an extremely successful businessman. He’s also a syndicated columnist and in yesterday’s column he included several of his favorite quotes. The one that sums up Michael Phelps’ most recent transgression, as well as many of the other negative issues that have occurred all too often lately, is:

 

“Saying you’re sorry and showing you’re sorry are not the same thing.”