Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

The Worst Trait a Coach Can Possess

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

While coaches are leaders, one part of their job differs from that of a traditional executive. The people they’re leading are under their supervision for a limited number of years. Other than the rare Belichick-Brady combo or Popovich and his band of merry Spurs, the maximum amount of time a coach spends with his (using the male pronoun but all of this also applies to the distaff side) team is five years – and that’s only when a college player redshirts and uses all his eligibility. Safe to say, though, the length of time will be less, usually between 1-4 years. And that’s for elementary school coaches all the way to those on the professional level.

Still and all, the coach can have a powerful effect on his charges, as long as he understands the relationship is a two-way street. Each side must be loyal to and trusting of each other. Once guys become professionals, the old saying is, “You can tell pros, but you can’t tell them much.” Those guys have so many other “advisers” in their heads, getting them to play hard and together is about the most a coach can hope for. Getting only one of those could cost him his job.

For the overwhelming number of coaching situations, on any level, there is one negative characteristic a coach must avoid at all costs. In truth, it’s difficult for some coaches, possibly because of their competitive nature. That characteristic is stubbornness.

Having been in the field of coaching for 35 years, I’ve seen some stubborn coaches. One of an assistant coach’s primary responsibilities is scouting opponents. Stubborn coaches are the easiest to scout. They have a style and, come hell or high water, that’s the way their teams are going to play. The open minded coaches always have a wrinkle or two you haven’t seen but worry about because you know, if the situation demands it, they’re prepared to use something you’ve never seen.

During my career, I worked for a stubborn coach or two. And I worked for coaches who not only invited outside thoughts but demanded you contribute your ideas. I recall a day at Fresno State when I walked into Jerry Tarkanian’s office, not realizing he had a visitor. The guy was at the white board, showing Tark (who, at the time, was the winningest, by percentage, active college basketball coach in the nation) his zone offense. The previous year he had been a seventh grade coach. We didn’t use the offense but the fact Tark thought he might learn something spoke volumes.

In a brief number of bullet points, here’s why being stubborn leads to a coach’s downfall (which usually translates into losing games and, possibly, his job):

Nobody knows it all.

Everybody can use some help.

There’s a great deal of knowledge out there.

Coaches love to talk X’s and O’s (as well as all things related to the profession).

Tark used to tell stories of how he and Lefty Driesell would sit on the beach, putting sun tan lotion on their bald heads during the annual Nike trip and talk basketball (Nike would take the head coaches of the teams they sponsored on a luxurious cruise or to a lavish resort during the off season – all expenses paid, naturally). I blogged several years ago about how George Raveling, as a young head coach, contacted a handful of coaches he respected and began a self-improvement clinic that lasted 40 years – and how Larry Shyatt and Scott Duncan, currently head and assistant coaches at the University of Wyoming, and I – stole the idea and started one of our own in the 1980s (and that still exists today).

One of today’s most repeated coachspeak words is “share.” Coaches absolutely love it when their teams “share” the ball. It’s the same with knowledge. Over and over you hear that coaching is a copycat profession. One reason is coaches see something one of their colleagues has success with and they incorporate it. Another is more simple. One coach sees something another has done and, unless they’re in the same league (or play each other), he calls the “innovator” and asks about what it is that caught his eye. In nearly every case, sharing is what follows.

Stubborn coaches often have another trait. They’re smug. I mean, why listen to others, including their assistants or players, when they have all the answers. What need is there to be humble. Unfortunately, for those coaches, another characteristic they wind up sharing is getting fired.

Most, if not all, people (coaches included) believe the best coach ever is the late John Wooden. He came up with many prophetic lines during his years leading men. One that he used quite often was:

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”


Opinions on Lady Vols

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Since 2012 when the University of Tennessee combined their men’s and women’s athletics departments, the subject of rebranding has been discussed, i.e. calling both men’s and women’s athletics teams the Tennessee Volunteers, as opposed to the women having their own Lady Vols logo. The university is making the transition from Adidas apparel to Nike and based on the results of a branding audit run by Nike, the move will be implemented starting on July 1, 2015. Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said in a statement, “Brand consistency across the university is critical as we strive to become a top 25 public research university.”

WAIT! Is the chancellor actually saying that the “Lady Vols” logo/nickname is keeping UT from being a top 25 public research university? C’mon, man! If you really think that by changing a name you can become a top 25 public research university, then just change your name to “the University of Michigan.” Actually, in a move that has alienated the women’s teams, much of UT’s fan base and Christine Brennan (more on her later), the chancellor went on to say the name change at UT is for all women’s teams except for the women’s basketball team “because of the accomplishments and legacy of the championship program built by coach Pat Summitt and her former players. The Lady Volunteers nickname and brand is truly reflective of coach Summitt and her legacy and will continue to be associated with the Tennessee women’s basketball team.”

For those of you who are unaware, Pat Summitt’s teams won eight (8) national championships in women’s basketball and made it to the Final Four 22 times, while winning 1,098 games, more than any other Division I coach, man or woman. But she accomplished much more than that. Pat Summitt is an icon on the Tennessee campus. She instilled a pride on the distaff side. Female athletes in other sports feel as Jennifer Bailey, a member of the UT rowing team, does. “It’s not just basketball or any individual sports team. It’s all of us together who are the Lady Vols,” said Bailey. By allowing the women’s basketball team to retain the name, basically, Cheek was saying that if any of the other women’s teams have a gripe . . . well, they should have done better.

One female who is (almost) on board with the name change is USA Today columnist Christine Brennan. Brennan wrote an article saying Tennessee was finally catching up with the rest of the country, yet excoriated the university for allowing the women’s hoops squad to continue to be called Lady Vols, a moniker she feels is antiquated, discriminatory and demeaning. The university is “mistaking sexism for tradition,” according to Brennan. Are the numbers listed above (championships, Final Four appearances and total wins) not about tradition – which she belittles, going so far as comparing UT’s decision to keep Lady Vols to that of the Washington Redskins.

Brennan seems shocked when quoting Natalie Brock, a former Tennessee softball player and now an assistant coach at Missouri-Kansas City. “It was something different than anybody else had,” Brock said of the Lady Vols nickname and logo. “We had our own identity.” Brennan is incredulous of Brock’s passion, that she “would look back so fondly on a name that mandated her team be seen as something less than the whole.” I’d love to be in the audience when Brennan tells the more than 100 female athletes who signed the petition started by the (until 2015) Lady Vol swimmers how wrong their beliefs are.

I worked for seven years at UT as a men’s basketball assistant coach, often hand-in-hand with women’s basketball in such areas as practice scheduling and coordinating recruiting visits. It wasn’t uncommon for Pat to call and say, “Jack, this is a big recruiting weekend for us and you told me it is for you, too. Why don’t we tailgate together.” In the early ’80s I was asked to give a recruiting presentation to the entire women’s athletics department at their annual retreat in Crossville. I can’t recall how I referred to their respective teams but I do remember it was well-received and at least I wasn’t informed that I offended anyone.

There’s something special on that campus that can’t be torn apart by calling men’s and women’s teams different names or by calling selected women’s teams different names. Jimmy Cheek is the chancellor and making tough decisions is his job. Is he right? I’m not sure (and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t sure, either). Christine Brennan is a columnist and educating readers by sharing her opinion is her job. Is she right? I’m not sure (but you can bet she knows she is).

Although I’ve been gone from UT since the 1987, I still have many friends there and, most important of all, live with a lady human (who is also my wife and the mother of our two sons) who graduated from UT. Amidst all of this name changing controversy, we would like to know:

“Is it still OK to call it Big Orange Country – or has that been rebranded too?” 

When the Heart Is So Invested, It Overwhelms the Brain

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Not surprising, we have always had problems in this country. If not every one of them, it seems the greater majority have found a way to divide us. While I don’t believe that has to be the case, it probably always will be. Be they environmental, educational, fiscal or human rights, people speak from their hearts more often than they do from than their minds. It’s so much easier to passionately discuss feelings than it is facts. It’s natural for people to have strong feelings, especially for the issues that hit closest to home. Race provides the most tension.

Nothing distinguishes us from each other as much as race (although I’ll have more to say on that later in this post). No matter how I feel on any racial issue, it’s nonsense for me to say, “I understand how black people feel about that” because I can’t. Independent of whatever level of empathy I yearn to give, the fact remains, I’m not black.

People have always been taught that there are two sides to any topic of discussion, when that is not at all the situation. If it were, why is it people (other than extremists) are always saying that there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in between? When emotion subsides – even a little – that’s usually the case. Reading the reports on the tragedy in Ferguson, Mo (no matter how anyone feels about what happened, it’s always a tragedy when a life is lost), eyewitnesses have polar opposite accounts: Michael Brown was surrendering to the police, or he was attacking the officer. There are people, I count myself as one, who want to know as much about it before rendering an opinion. Yet, others want to believe whichever story fits their agenda.

Feeling escalated when five of the St. Louis Rams football players got involved by coming out for introductions with their arms raised, symbolically saying, “Don’t shoot.” Athletes’ actions (any recognizable entertainer for that matter) tend to have greater social impact because fame influences a large part of society. The “mini protest” staged by the five players were followed by commentary from “competing” positions. John Carlos who, along with USA Olympian teammate Tommie Smith, is known for one of the most significant and viewed demonstrations ever during the 1968 Olympics, weighed in, saying, “They realize that there is a need for a voice and they had the right opportunity – like we did – to be that voice, to be heard.”

Former professional player and coach, Mike Ditka, had a different take.The shame of it is, I’m not sure they care about Michael Brown or anything else. This was a reason to protest and to go out and loot. Is this the way to celebrate the memory of Michael Brown?” His declaration didn’t shock too many, as Ditka admitted he’s “old fashioned” and sided with police officer Darren Wilson. Because he currently works in the studio of a popular NFL TV show, Ditka also has a platform. 

While I wasn’t surprised by Ditka’s reaction, I thought it was quite presumptuous to say “they didn’t care about Michael Brown.” Even though he tempered it with, “I’m not so sure,” to trivialize the players’ gesture (sure, they might not have personally known the victim, what they did was an expression of what had happened – which they might not have the details of, but neither did Ditka). His comment that followed – “This was a reason to protest and to go out and loot” – reminded me of something that occurred when I was at USC.

On April 29, 1992 the jury acquitted the police officers in the Rodney King trial. Our basketball staff met at our offices in Heritage Hall the next day (we were the only coaches in the building – hey, nothing stopped George Raveling’s staff from working), until we were told the National Guard was coming in and we had to evacuate campus by noon. George said he’d buy everybody lunch (another Raveling trait) before we dispersed to our homes.

So we drove to Jerry’s Deli in the Marina – with Los Angeles was still burning – and spoke about the history we were living through. I can’t recall the exact line George (a black man for those who don’t know) used to sum up his opinion of the riots but it was something to the effect, “At first it was a protest. After an hour or so, it just became Christmas.” Basically, he said what Ditka said, only with a more balanced point of view. To me this illustrates that an individual doesn’t have to take an “all in” stance.

Charles Barkley, who’s always had something to say, only as he’s grown older and wiser, more people are actually listening to him, also was critical of the rioters (as opposed to the protesters) saying, “They were set on destruction, no matter the grand jury’s decision.” He stunned some people when he said that black people ought to be grateful for the police. “(Cops) are the only thing in the ghetto between this place being the wild, wild west,” claimed Barkley.

Where I have to agree with the former Auburn star (who played there while I was an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee), is his view on racial issues (or for that matter, any controversial subject today). His statement, “Everybody wants to protect their own tribe, whether they are right or wrong,” is dead on target.

What I find extremely interesting is what I’ve seen over the six-and-a-half decades I’ve been on this planet. Early in my life, it was rare to see a couple who didn’t share a race. In comparison to the first two years of my high school teaching career (1970-72) when I basically taught two types of students: white and black, to the final 10 years I taught in high school (2002-2012) prior to my retirement, where the kids were – you name it – white, black, Hispanic, Asian (including Japanese, Chinese and others distinguishable by each other if not by the teachers), Indian and Native American. Probably omitted some, too.

In addition to white and black kids, the children of “mixed couples,” e.g. those whose children were Hispanic and Asian, Indian and white, Hispanic and black, . . . and all the permutations and combinations – each of whom has been, or who are in the process of becoming, “Americanized.” Soon, no one is going to know “what side” they’re supposed to be on because people won’t be wearing completely different uniforms as they did 50 years ago.

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve been the victim of prejudice (a couple of stories for other blogs) and I admit they stung. Deeply. Through the years, I’ve realized there is one attitude we all need to adopt and, when we do, we’ll all get along infinitely better:

“We’re all of the same race – human.”

Competiton in the NBA Is Out of Balance – and Getting More So Every Year

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Another basketball weekend following the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters. This blog will return Tuesday, Dec. 16.

The Big 12 felt they got the shaft in the inaugural College Football Playoff. That was subjective. When the topic of the NBA playoffs arises, the teams in the West Division of the NBA might share the Big 12’s feelings – especially TCU and Baylor – but there’s no PR firm any of them can hire (a lot of good that did Baylor anyway).

In the NBA the schedule is set by the league office, yet for the past few years, the strongest teams have overwhelmingly resided in the West. A better college football comparison would be the SEC. Just reverse East and West.

Let’s look at the NBA standings, keeping in mind the season is only a little more than a quarter complete. The Toronto Raptors are in first place in the East at 16-6, with a glossy 9-2 record against the West, having beaten Oklahoma City (in the 4th game of the year), Utah (twice), Memphis, Phoenix, Sacramento and Denver, while losing to Dallas and the Lakers.

Second place Atlanta is 3-2 against the West, having beaten Utah, New Orleans and Denver, while losing to San Antonio and the Lakers, meaning that thus far in the (admittedly) young season, although the top two teams in the East have a combined 12-4 against their Western Conference foes, only the Raptors’ victory against Memphis can be considered significant.

Phoenix is currently the 8th place team in the West. However, they are 4 1/2 games behind 7th place Dallas and just 2 1/2 games ahead of Oklahoma City who, as NBA fans know, have both of their two-headed monster back from prolonged injuries. The prediction here is that, barring major injuries to the teams (a foolish assumption but this particular blog can’t wait that long), Oklahoma City will surpass Phoenix for one of the top eight spots and make the playoffs.

It’s difficult for fans in the U.S. to believe that a professional basketball team from Canada is really good (much less in first place) but allowing the Raptors’ success is no fluke, it’s hard to see a solid team from the East beyond them, the Cavs and the Bulls. While that might be enough to bring the championship trophy to a team in the East, it doesn’t do much for parity – unless those three are removed and then that’s all there would be – barring the 76ers. And Detroit. And the Knicks.

Out west there are an awful lot of competitive clubs but there are also some who, if they played ten times against the upper echelon, would be fortunate to eke out a couple of wins. Minnesota, Utah and the Lakers not only would would be hard pressed to beat the top 3-4 teams but the next five as well (assuming OKC is in that group of eight or nine).

As far as the overall state of the NBA, with all the player movement there has been – which probably will increase with the new collective bargaining agreement – it seems as though the gap between the have’s and have not’s will widen. If the the hierarchy of the league were honest, how would they rank the franchises in terms of desirability for players? Even, and especially, if the teams all had the same money to spend, how many players would choose (pick one) Milwaukee, Detroit, Utah, Minnesota, Sacramento over Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles (either) or Miami. Notice the second group has some losing (for now) franchises but they also have history on their side, as in championship pedigree or being known as extremely well-run organizations. The Clippers jumped from one category into the other simply by making one (long time coming) personnel move.

“What appeals to players” is the question that must be answered. As we’ve seen, winning might just trump money – as long as there’s a lot of both. However, as long as agents work on a percentage basis, 4% (or whatever they’re getting/settling for) of a lot is more than the same percentage of less. Young, virile guys, though, tend to look more for cities that have beaches and babes than excellent school districts for the kids. Franchises with great reputations like Chicago, Boston, Portland and San Antonio can overcome negatives (or myths) like nasty weather, a history of racial prejudice, incessant rain or “fat women.”

There are a group successful teams whose futures could be tenuous. If KD moves out of OKC (as is a strong rumor), that franchise’s glory years (in which, to date, they haven’t experienced a championship) might come to a screeching halt. Cleveland was dead had LeBron not returned. As neat as it is, the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame wasn’t the reason Kevin Love decided to play for the Cavs. Media, fans and even players have bee saying that when Timmy and Pop (and Tony and Manu) finally leave San Antonio, the Spurs will be a power no more and, someday, that might be true.

Here’s my grouping (for what it’s worth) as far as player desirability to be there would be. It’s based on perception of how the franchise is run (including stability), current players and head coaches under contract, winning culture, tradition (different from winning culture), fan and community support, attractive place to live. Of course, everything could change in an instant, i.e. player movement, coaching change, change in ownership, etc.

Highest priority (in no particular order) – Chicago, the Clippers (DS was that bad; Doc, CP3, Blake and DJ that good)

High priority – Cleveland, Miami, Boston, Knicks, Golden State, Portland, Dallas, San Antonio (assuming the gang’s still there), Lakers, OKC (if KD re-signs)

Mid priority – Toronto (tax situation hurts them), Washington, Brooklyn, Orlando (tax situation helps them), Memphis, Phoenix, New Orleans (if AD remains)

Lower priority – Atlanta, Indiana, Charlotte, Houston, Denver

Lowest priority – Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Utah, Minnesota

Anytime an opinion of this type is voiced, a huge risk is taken but I’m far enough along with my life, i.e. retired, I’ll take the gamble although I might just be violating my late mentor, John Savage’s, advice:

“Before you open your mouth to speak, make sure what you have to say is an improvement on the silence.”

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:


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.”


Does Urban Meyer’s Comment Hold Water?

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Starting Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is out for the season after fracturing his ankle against Michigan last Saturday. Yet, it was hardly surprising that Urban Meyer disagreed with the idea that Ohio State should drop in the ratings even after they lost their “Heisman candidate” (his words). When the question of whether the injury could affect the Buckeyes’ chances to land one of the top four spots was posed to Meyer, the coach actually chafed at the notion it could happen. “That’s wrong,” said OSU’s head man.

However, the committee is perfectly entitled to not only reevaluate the Buckeyes in the rankings but could drop them to whatever spot they feel is appropriate. On the College Football Playoff website, under “How to Select the Four Best Teams to Compete for the College Football National Championship (Adopted unanimously by the BCS Group – June 20,2012),” one line cannot be discounted: “For purposes of any four team playoff, the process will inevitably need to select the four best teams from among several with legitimate claims to participate.” (italics mine)

There are five principles listed for consideration. Most people know four of them: conference championship, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and comparative outcomes of common opponents. It’s the fifth principle that’s could come into play. It reads: “Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.” (italics mine).

Example 1 – Was the team struggling, but winning, say, all but one game (against a good opponent) while a key player was injured, he came back and the team rallied . . . or

Example 2 – Did someone of significance, e.g. a “Heisman candidate,” go down at the end of the season, no doubt weakening the team – to what extent would be up to the committee?

The whole purpose for using a committee to decide a “final four” instead of leaning on computers to do it is to get the best four teams in the country to play for a national championship. Urban Meyer feels it’s wrong for the committee to discount losing J.T.Barrett and, I imagine, if the Buckeyes whip a good Wisconsin team in the Big 10 championship, he would have a case. With that thought in mind, would that belief hold up for this question:

“If Florida State beats Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game – and Jameis Winston (also a “Heisman candidate”) is injured and unable to play any more this season – are the Seminoles still one of the top four teams in the country?” 

“Us Against the World” Philosophy Is Sound As Long As the “Us” Contains the Right People

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

First, an apology. In my last blog, I referenced my favorite sportswriter and, somehow, failed to mention who that was. Frequent readers know the answer is Jim Murray. The oversight has been corrected on that post.

At the University of Nebraska, where they take their football seriously (even though they haven’t won a conference championship – whichever conference their administration had them in – in 15 years), Bo Pelini was pink slipped after going 9-3. Sure there were disappointing losses (isn’t every loss disappointing?) – by 5 to Michigan State, by 4 to Minnesota. Then, of course the one that probably gave the administration the fuel they wanted needed to fire him, the blowout loss to Wisconsin.

Nebraska is a proud program whose tradition runs deep. They’ve won five national championships – two in the early 1970s, three in the mid-1990s – and when the cameras pan the crowd at a game in Lincoln, it looks like 90% of the fans were present for every one of them. Cornhuskers’ football squads have won 46 conference championships, all but two coming prior to the formation of the Big 12 which occurred in 1996. In 2011 the decision-makers felt the prudent move was for NU to depart the Big 12 (which contained most of the teams they had been playing since ’07 – 1907) for the Big 10. If that sounds confusing, try this: when they made the move, the Big 10 had 12 teams, while the Big 12 had 10 teams. While the Big 12 has remained at 10 teams, the Big 10 has gone to 14, adding Rutgers (the ‘Huskers have played them once – in 1920) and Maryland (a club NU has never played). It’s something only administrators can explain.

Bo Pelini’s players expressed their emotions after finding out about their coach being let go. What exacerbated the situation was athletics director, Shawn Eichorst, alerted the players by email since, he claimed, most of the players had gone home and he couldn’t get them all together. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. on the news his coach was fired: “Biggest mistake you ever made…. Bo was the best coach I’ve ever had and I’ll always appreciate the things you taught me.” Defensive back Nathan Gerry tweeted “(Bo’s) the reason we came here,” while offensive lineman Matthew Finnin let his feelings be known about Eichorst: “Stupidest goddamn decision I’ve ever seen, heard, or been a part of.” As only today’s youth can express itself, cornerback Josh Mitchell sent out the following tweet, “Bro u sent us an email to tell us u fired our coach…………WHAT!!?!??”

Even fans chimed in, one in particular who contains an emotion most fans left far behind when they decided on which was going to be their BTF – Best Team Forever “Programs like Nebraska don’t understand what they are now. This isn’t the f*#^ing 80’s anymore where like, 5 teams were on TV every Saturday. Pelini has Nebraska fairly competitive year in year out. Do they really think blue chip, 5 star recruits are lining up to play in the middle of nowhere? No way. Enjoy continued mediocrity.”

Pelini ran his team with that “Us Against the World” attitude, except he allowed only players, coaches, trainers, managers and select people into the inner circle. It was abundantly clear the disdain the coach had for those outside that group and nearly as transparent how the outsiders felt toward him. After a loss to Iowa last season on November 29, Bo brazenly said, “If they want to fire me, go ahead . . . You know what? People are gonna say what they want to say. I really don’t care. If they want someone — if somebody wants someone else — so be it. I’ll move on.” A little over a year later, his self-fulfilling prophecy came to be. How bad was his relationship with the administration? Chew on this fact: No coach in the history of a Power 5 program had been fired for on-field performance after winning as many games in his first seven years.

Using a basketball parallel, it was much the same philosophy Mark Jackson used when he coached the Golden State Warriors, in which his “Us Against the World” unit placed the front office and ownership in the “World” category. Maybe Pelini’s not a hoops fan but, whatever the case, he missed a great lesson when Jackson was let go last season after leading the Warriors to a 51-31 (.622) record, 2nd place in the Pacific division, a 6th seed in the West and a loss to the Clippers in Game 7. Jackson’s “Us” was close knit, players giving undying support to their leader. In such a situation, only a championship will ensure job security – and, even then, for only a year. Falter just a little the following season and that’s all the boss(es) need.

As my memory recalls, the first person I saw use (effectively) the “Us Against the World” attitude was John Thompson at Georgetown. While I wasn’t privy to the inner workings of the program, it always seemed as though the “Us” included everyone on the GU campus. At least everyone who mattered, e.g. the school’s administration, the athletics department administration, the academic support staff and the students (those who attended the games anyway).

Once, in a press conference, Big John was asked about the popularity of Georgetown apparel among gang bangers. His reply is just what you come to expect from your leader:

“I also see an abundance of crosses being worn by those same people but nobody is criticizing the Church.”