Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Should Fans Stop Rushing the Court?

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

After witnessing the irresponsible scene in Manhattan following Kansas State’s upset of intrastate rival Kansas – yet before the wild (but) civil display the Maryland fans exhibited when they knocked off Wisconsin – talk radio was absolutely buzzing on the issue of storming the court. Mark “Chicken Little” Packer led the charge, condemning the actions of the Wildcats’ students (assuming they were students). He claimed rushing the court should be outlawed in arenas and that there is no place for that in college basketball. For the record, surprisingly, his partner, former Vermont coach and, for my money, the best basketball talk show guy there is, Tom Brennen, concurred with him. With all the years in college hoops Tom put in, I can’t believe he’d be anti fans storming the court. All I can say is he was caught up with the picture of K-State fans not allowing KU’s team and coaches off the floor peacefully. Their anger at the situation certainly was justified. The problem was they painted what happened with too broad a brush.

What precipitated the outrage was the fact that several of the Jayhawk players were bumped (intentionally or not) by Wildcat fans as they rushed onto the court. True, there always is that jackass factor, i.e. the loudmouth who’s been razzing an opponent (who may or may not be showboating) and, in the aftermath of the game (in all likelihood due to either the “strength in numbers” or “liquid courage” theories), the fan comes face-to-face-back with the opponent who’s been torching his beloved team, so, hey . . . why not take a (cheap) shot? Things like that (or getting a beer poured on a player’s head as he goes into the locker room) have been known to happen. I’ve witnessed the latter up close.

KU coach Bill Self, who is an expert on court stormings since his teams have always been Top 10 (or better) caliber and, as such, are targets for lesser programs who, on infrequent occasions, manage to beat them. As an aside: I was at one of those when I was on the staff at Fresno State and we beat Bill’s Tulsa team in the finals of the WAC Tournament (which just so happened to be hosted by Fresno that year), giving us the automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. At that time, Tulsa had lost four games, three of them to us – the first one by a single point at Tulsa, the next by two on a buzzer-beater in Fresno and the third in the conference tourney final by three (a late three-pointer accounting for the game’s final points). After the last nail-biter (in which their team and staff got off the floor completely unscathed), our coach, Jerry Tarkanian, went into their locker room and told Bill’s team how much he admired them and wished he could get his guys to play as hard as they did. Bill Self has retold that story on several occasions.

As far as the Kansas State game, Self had this to say, “It’s fine if you want to celebrate when you beat us, that’s your business. That’s fine. But at least it shouldn’t put anybody at risk from a safety standpoint. Somebody is going to hit a player, the player is going to retaliate, you’re going to have lawsuits—it’s not right.” Storm the court, he’s saying, just do it responsibly and, for goodness sakes, the school needs to have protective measures in place!

There is little doubt that what happened two nights ago was a complete bungling by the security people at Bramlage Coliseum. It’s not like the game ended on a miracle half court shot, with the home team behind at the time (the final score was 70-63). Why there weren’t more security – and why they weren’t in better position for the possibility of an upset – boggles the mind. K-State is having a less than their typical success from a wins and losses standpoint. Kansas came into Manhattan firmly planted in the Top 10. And it was Kansas vs. Kansas State for cryin’ out loud! How many warning signs did they need? The bottom line is that things got a little too rambunctious at K-State and it never should have escalated to those heights.

K-State AD John Currie, for whom Packer has tremendous respect, having interviewed him “a gazillion times,” apologized to Kansas for what occurred. He covered for his security people but you can rest assured, they got more than an earful from him behind closed doors. By the way, Packer admitted that, as a student at Clemson, he was part of a court storming. He stated when they got out there, it was like “what do we do now?” He referred to him and his friends as idiots and his advice to college kids was not to do as he did. Easy to say now. Packer’s actions at Clemson were what college kids do. His advice now is what adults do. Why don’t kids listen to their elders when they are so much older and wiser? Because they’re kids – and college students do stupid things. Then, we hope, they mature – as we did (at least most of us).

Dan Graca, also of Sirius XM, cleverly played the ESPN card. He blamed them – and every television station that played and re-played the incident, for continually showing such raucous behavior – as if the kids who storm the floor are doing it to get on TV – as opposed to displaying unbridled emotion at their school having done what no one but their own gave they a chance to do. Somehow, if Graca were offered a job doing TV, I imagine he’d be able to justify moving over to the evil side – of more money, visibility and fame.

Look, of course there needs to better security than the travesty that took place at Kansas State. The safety of the visiting players, coaches and traveling party on the floor must be first and foremost in the minds of the security team. It’s not that difficult. First of all, is there a possibility of a court storming? Examples: Is the home team a big underdog or the visiting team a massive favorite? Is the visiting team #1 or (as in the case two nights ago, a big rival)? Is there something special at stake – a milestone victory, a spot in the NCAA Tournament? Finally, and the one that’s the hardest to predict, is there a possibility of a game-winning shot that will evoke that much emotion by the crowd?

To say storming the court should be outlawed is like saying no fan of a visiting team should wear that team’s gear to the game (hasn’t that caused problems in the past – in professional stadiums). But we can’t – and shouldn’t – live our lives in fear. Then, in the words of Mark Packer, “the idiots” win. Implement stronger security measures, install more cameras, but don’t think fans are going to cheer and scream and go crazy – especially when they hear from their head coach (as so, so many of them do after big wins and championships), “Thanks to the greatest fans in the world!” – and then, after a major upset or huge win, expect them to orderly file out of the building.

The people we’re discussing are passionate, emotional kids. A caller to one of the shows made the statement that we never see storming the court at professional games. This is not the pros. The players are their friends, guys they see in class, maybe fellow athletes or fraternity brothers. Possibly, some recent grads are in the stands cheering for their alma mater, hoping to see something they were deprived of during their undergrad years.

It’s simple. As Bear Bryant said:

“Win with dignity; lose with class.”

Sam Hinkie Is Asking the Sixers’ Fans to Be Something They’re Not

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

The Philadelphia 76ers GM and President of Basketball Ops Sam Hinkie is all about potential. His decision to embrace losing in order to build not only a winning team but a contender, is a novel approach but one, given the 76ers recent history, that had merit. Yet, his intense secrecy means everybody has to have blind faith in his plan, something tough to do when he won’t tell anyone what, exactly, that plan is. Especially in Philadelphia. As David Aldridge wrote after Hinkie was hired, “Philly sports fans are knowledgeable and passionate, if occasionally obdurate and often loud.”

Hinkie’s background couldn’t be much more impressive. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Oklahoma and was named one of the top 60 undergraduates in the country by USA Today. He then earned an MBA from Stanford, during which time he worked part-time with the Houston Rockets. With those credentials he’s obviously smart but, when it comes to building a team in the NBA, is he smarter than everybody else? A better question might be, does he think he’s smarter than everybody else? For someone whose hoops career ended after high school, he’s going head-to-head with other executives who have MBAs from the NBA – guys who might not understand advanced basketball analytics but, at season’s end, get sized for rings.

USA Today‘s Jason Wolf wrote, “(Hinkie)’s more concerned with the future than with the present, with what ought to have happened rather than what does, an approach that doesn’t always sit well with the masses.” When the Sixers bought the former Utah Flash NBA D-League franchise and moved it to Delaware, Hinkie was quoted as saying, “You can better manage the development of your own players that you have down there. You can better scout the D-League overall – more coaches, more training staffs, more scouts. And because, honestly, you can experiment down there. You can try things that are good for your coaches, good for your players – (things) you would never do at the Wells Fargo Center, because the stakes are too high.” Aren’t the stakes pretty high with what they’re doing – at the Wells Fargo Center – over a year and a half later?

When Hinkie began his experiment, the NBA’s former deputy commissioner, Russ Granik, testified to The New York Times, “I don’t understand this strategy at all.” Fans, sportswriters, talking heads, even players spoke of tanking. Michael Carter-Williams, Philly’s starting point guard (and soon to become Rookie-of-the-Year, albeit of an extremely weak rookie crop), addressed the question of players tanking. He put the issue to rest – or at least should have – when he sensibly said, “Grown men are going to purposely mail it in for a 1-in-4 shot at drafting somebody who might someday take their job? Nope.

A succinct point of view was pointed out by writer Pablo Torre who stated, “NBA title contention, for all its elusiveness, is depressingly simple. You need stars.” With all the cap space the Sixers will have, chasing that superstar, or superstars, is what this stage of the Sixers rebuild is about. “When we have a set of players that can carry us deep (we will focus on winning), Hinkie exclaimed. “That’s the only way. That’s the only way to get to where we’re going,”

When further asked about that strategy, the GM/Pres said, “I think our fans do the same thing that we do here. They look at our set of players and they think about ‘How good is he? How much better will he get? How about the next guy? How good could he be?’ Then they turn on their television and they look at college basketball and they think about that guy, and how good will he be?”

“I don’t think there’s any other way to look at it other than that,” Hinkie concluded.

For all his bravado regarding analytics, what’s frightening is that Hinkie might not be as confident as he comes off. With the results they’ve thus far posted since he took over, what’s more frightening is that he is.

Neil Armstrong, someone who was wise to avoid overconfidence, said:

“Well, I think we tried very hard not to be overconfident, because when you get overconfident, that’s when something snaps up and bites you.”

NFL Careers Begin – and End – Here

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Hoops in Monterey this weekend. This blog will return on Tuesday, Feb. 24.

It’s that time of the year when college football players head to the “meat market,” aka the NFL Scouting Combine. Most of the players put in work to present themselves in as positive a light as possible. As always, there are a few kids who think shortcuts are the way to go or that their agent will take care of their future. This line of thought usually comes from prior discussions between the athlete and the agent.

The combine consists of a number of drills, performed under the watchful eyes of executives, coaches, scouts and doctors from all 32 NFL teams. The essence of the combine is that it’s basically an intense, four-day job interview in advance of the NFL Draft. The drills used to test the athletes’ skills are the 40 yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, three cone drill and the shuttle run. The most absurd part of the combine is that while nearly everything in football has to do with contact, because of fear of injury (winning large law suits are also a means of setting up someone for life financially), in none of the drills is contact allowed.

Really, how often does a football player run 40 yards, unimpeded? Has there ever been a definitive study done which correlates sack leaders with how many times the player can bench press 225 pounds? I’m so old that I remember teams putting a player with the best vertical underneath the goalpost to attempt to leap and block long field goals but kickers have become so good, seldom does a kick barely make it over the crossbar. Roster spots are too valuable to give out for a guy who can jump 11 1/2 feet to block a 70 yard field goal attempt but can do little else. What the other drills show is often of minor use when it comes to actually being able to play the game effectively.

First and foremost, did someone in the organization see the kid play – live – which, if the right person is at the game, still remains the best way to evaluate a prospect? With all the sophisticated video available – and with future success, not to mention continued employment, on the line – fans can rest assured their favorite club knows about all there is to know about a player when they select him – except for how his skills translate to the professional game. And what kind of heart he has, e.g. how does he react to adversity (and, for that matter, prosperity), can he be counted on in pressure situations, how competitive is he?

Why such scrutiny? From where I sit, i.e. firmly planted in any of my rocking chairs or, better yet, in my glider (my back, and mind, feel much better when I’m moving), the purpose the combine serves is more of a vetting process than it is a means of deciding whom to select. Since teams can’t see their future picks do really anything that resembles a football game, what can be learned? Examples: 1) How seriously did the player take the workout (which will impact his life as much as anything since birth)? Was he in “beast mode” form or had he let himself get out of shape? 2) If a well-known player has some negative baggage, how did he respond to questions about his previous indiscretions? If he was from a lesser known school, did he do everything he possibly could have to overcome what he couldn’t control so as to impress potential future employers? 3) Was he coached regarding the interviews he had to go through? When I was an assistant at Tennessee, we did mock interviews to make our (basketball) guys aware of how many times they said, “Uh” and “ya know” because they were constantly in front of television cameras and microphones. That was in the 80s – imagine what’s available to kids today? There should be nothing to cause a player grief (other than maybe nerves for some).

This could very well be the most stressful situation a kid could be put in. Teams need to be at their best when it comes to evaluating what they see a player do, as well as what they don’t see what he ought to be doing. I would love to see the Packers’ notes on Brandon Bostick’s combine results, including the interview to see if there was anything that would lead someone to think that, maybe, in a pressure situation, . . . nah. Too much to expect.

With so much information available today, a player would be foolish not to take advantage of everything and anything (legal) that will increase his chances to play a game he loves – and get paid to do it. The reason for doing just that is in the line spoken by someone who would know – businessman, investor, philanthropist, author, columnist, and motivational speaker - Farrah Gray:

“Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.”

A Final Tribute for Tark that Places Him in Some Exclusive Company

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Jerry Tarkanian’s final coaching job was at Fresno State and, while he had a majority of supporters in the Central Valley, he also had some vocal critics. One, in particular, was a professor who wrote a letter and had it published by the local newspaper. It’s believed to be the only time that professor had any of his work published. Or at least the first time any of it was read. To my knowledge – and I was with him in Fresno from the beginning until the end – none of Jerry’s critics ever took the time to actually meet him.

Pat Hill took over a football program that had struggled for a while, both on the field and in the classroom. He brought in a new philosophy, scheduling any team in the country – even if it meant playing them on the road with no return game. His assistant (and right hand man), John Baxter, implemented his brainchild, The Academic Game Plan, a rigorous program that taught kids how to have academic success, including but not limited to: how act in class (show up on time, sit in the front two rows, sit up, stay awake and pay attention) and how to study (first and foremost how to take notes). The team’s record, GPA and graduation rates all improved.

Pat also had his critics, especially after league rival, Boise State, attained greater national success, using a system different than Fresno State did. Many Fresno State fans were unaware that their football program had a much better reputation nationally than it did locally. Pat’s biggest mistake was a problem few coaches ever face – he stayed too long. After 15 years, he was shown the door.

On the question of having a better image outside the area than in it, Pat’s successor, Tim DeRuyter, agrees. Be it in the paper or the barber shop, on the radio or social media, several local fans have criticized the new head coach regarding, among other complaints, not recruiting almost exclusively in California, specifically the San Joaquin Valley (ironically, like Pat Hill used to do). DeRuyter coached at Texas A&M prior to making the move to Fresno. Quite logically, he has leaned on the numerous contacts he made with high school coaches in that fertile recruiting state. Because of those relationships, next year’s Bulldogs’ roster will include some players from Texas. Not nearly as many players as hail from California, but a more diversified make up than his predecessor. When questioned about bringing in out-of-area prospects, DeRuyter remarked that one reason was the national perception of the program is so much more positive than it is in and around Fresno.

Last night, following the UNLV-Boise State basketball game, a tribute was paid to the guy many knew as Tark. For only the eighth time in history, casinos along the Las Vegas Strip turned off their non-essential lights in appreciation of the life of, and contributions made by, an individual. A darkened Strip has honored the legacies of Las Vegas entertainers Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, George Burns and Frank Sinatra after their deaths, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. This tribute was also held after the deaths of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan (in addition, lights were dimmed following the 9/11 attacks).

A valuable lesson several people from Fresno can learn is a line, quite similar to that from Joni Mitchell’s song, Big Yellow Taxi:

“You don’t know what you got ’til (he’s) gone.”

The Case for Tark As the Best Coach Ever

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Extended road trip with the sisters-in-law to LA to watch Monterey Bay play a couple of games and, as an added bonus, to see older son (and nephew), Andy, in Orange County. This blog will return Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Everyone has a favorite coach. Because I worked for Jerry Tarkanian (who passed away yesterday), I admit to being somewhat biased. The following anecdote illustrates why I feel Jerry was the best ever.

His last year at UNLV the program was on probation and couldn’t play in the postseason – NCAA, NIT or even the Big West Conference tourney. So, basically, his guys had nothing to play for but pride. For a group of guys who were NCAA tourney regulars, this had to sting. A lot.

When Jerry told me the story, either he didn’t remember correctly or I misheard him because I am certain he said they lost at Rutgers, putting their record at 2-2 when, checking the UNLV archives, the Rutgers’ loss made them 2-1 and it was the following game – at Missouri – which they also lost that gave them the 2-2 record. In any case, it was on the plane trip back to Las Vegas that Tark turned to one of his assistants and said, “We can’t play man-to-man defense anymore.” Such talk bordered on blasphemy in the Rebel program.

He went on to explain that their big center was too slow for the guys he had to match up with and that his lack of foot quickness precluded the Rebs from playing the amoeba defense they’d made famous – because he wasn’t quick enough to cover the corner on the pass there from the wing (for you coaches out there). “I’m going to put in the 1-2-2 zone defense I used 20 years ago at Long Beach State.”

This defense violated the one rule Jerry had been adamant about for two decades – place maximum pressure on the ball. What the team would get by changing to this defense would be what the legendary coach wanted even more than ball pressure. It was the number one reason he coached – and why score is kept. It gave his team a chance to win.

The following practice the 1-2-2 defense was dusted off. And taught. In coaching, it’s not about what a coach knows as it is what the players understand and can properly execute. In order to accomplish this, the staff must get the players to believe in what they’re teaching – and believe in it as strongly as the coaches do. Any coach who can accomplish that has a sure winner. The task Jerry Tarkanian faced was monumental – abandon what he’d been preaching was “the Rebel way to play defense” (all-out, man-to-man pressure) – and play zone. And to do it to a group of guys who had no postseason to look forward to.

The result? UNLV ripped off 23 straight wins to finish the season at 25-2.

“That, my friends, is coaching.”

The Alpha and the Omega of Championship Coaches

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

This past Saturday Dean Smith passed away. During his final years, poor health denied both he and his adoring public of the relationship each desired. He’s been fondly remembered by nearly everyone, inside and out, of college basketball, including this site (see yesterday’s blog).

Now the news is another basketball coaching icon, Jerry Tarkanian, is near the end. Jerry, also, has been in failing health for some time. Last April he was hospitalized for, what at the time was believed to be a stroke. Whether it was a stroke, heart attack or pneumonia, the setback took its toll on the 84-year old championship coach, husband, father of four and grandfather of 10. As with others who experience such a shock to their system, his life was never the same. Gone was the outgoing, fun-loving guy who constantly needed to be around people.

Seldom, if ever, has anyone possessed the number one people skill as well as Jerry Tarkanian: the ability to make people feel important. I recall the day I saw him sitting in his office, listening to someone who was standing, out of my sight, diagramming plays at the white board on his office wall. When the guy left, I asked Jerry who he was. He told me that he had simply walked in (our secretary was on her break), knocked on his door (which was open) and introduced himself.

In classic Tark fashion, he couldn’t remember the guy’s name. They began talking and when Tark’s new best friend mentioned he, too, was a basketball coach, Jerry asked him what he did against a 1-2-2 zone. That’s what led to the scene I had witnessed.

Later on, I found out from the person this guy was actually there to see that, when he saw the basketball office door open, he walked in. Then, he noticed Jerry’s door was open and felt he’d take a chance on meeting his coaching idol. Who then, naturally, requested the mini-clinic, because he thought he might learn something. In no way was he putting this guy on.

Three weeks ago I visited the last of my bosses from a 30-year college coaching career. Jerry couldn’t walk, talk, had a feeding tube in his stomach and he was on oxygen. Yet, when his son, Danny, his daughter, Jodi, and I stated telling stories from our Fresno State days, a glimmer in his eye appeared and a smile began to curl up the corners of his mouth. It was sad that his health had deteriorated so badly but rewarding (although not surprising) to see that he was still battling – because one of his defining traits is he hated losing.

Dean Smith won 879 Division I games, with a .776 winning percentage. Jerry Tarkanian won 784, with a .795 percentage. Each respected the other’s ability to get his players to compete to their maximum potential. Dean’s University of North Carolina guys, for the most part, were clean cut, McDonald’s All-Americans. Jerry’s, for the most part (independent of which school he was coaching), were kids who needed a second (and, occasionally, an additional) chance and the only McDonald’s they knew had arches. Yet, these two giants of college coaching put up such gaudy numbers because they were innovators who cared deeply about the young guys they coached. In addition, there was a shared loyalty that existed between coach and player.

Since Coach Smith’s passing, people who didn’t realize all he’d accomplished regarding civil rights have been educated of his courageous actions – while doing it in the South at a time it wasn’t very popular. What just as many people aren’t aware of is Tark’s stand during the 1968 Olympic Trials. The story shows there is a connection between Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian and their views against racial prejudice.

It was 1968 and the Olympic Trials consisted of three NCAA all-star teams, one NCAA college all-star team, and separate all-star squads representing the AAU, NJCAA, NAIA, and U.S. Armed Forces. Jerry coached the junior college (NJCAA) all-stars, selected in large part because he had previously won four straight California junior college championships. It was a round robin event, won by Tark’s JC guys.

At the press conference which followed the championship game, a reporter asked Jerry if he was making a statement by starting five black players, a first for any team competing in the Trials. Jerry gave a response that people who know truly him only can laugh and shake their heads:

“I did?”

Dean Smith Remembered – in a Humorous Story

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

With the passing of Dean Smith, the world is being inundated with wonderful stories from many of his former players (the famous and not-so-famous) as well as coaches (past and present). If not the best coach ever, Smith was, by far, the most innovative.

The “four corners” offense, the “run & jump” defense (while maybe not its actual inventor, definitely the coach who used it most effectively – and, thus, the coach that most coaches from the 1970s generation on believe invented it), a player acknowledging the passer after he scored, understanding special situations, e.g. the use of fouls and times out at the end of a game in order to lengthen it when UNC was behind, were among the ideas he either introduced or became famous for as a coach. And lest we forget, if it wasn’t for his sterling coaching accomplishments, his work in civil rights in the South – before he was a head coach – might be his legacy.

What usually occurs when someone dies is an abundance of positive stories about the deceased abound. Former Tarheel great, Jerry Stackhouse, said the best advice he ever received from his coach/mentor was, “Always treat people like you’re going to meet them again.” Possibly the greatest tribute to Dean Smith was given by former UNC All-American, Larry Brown. In response to author John Feinstein’s question regarding why the loyalty of those who played for him and then coached under him was so incredibly intense, Brown replied, “He’s the single most decent man I have ever met.” Could there possibly be a nicer way to be remembered?

Yet, with all the success in coaching Smith realized, inevitably came jealousy – from other coaches (usually those with significantly inferior records). “Sure, Dean wins but with those players who couldn’t win?” Also heard were complaints about favorable – and timely – calls by referees. No surprise there. And, of course there’s the most famous dig at Coach Smith – that he was the only person who could hold Michael Jordan under 20 points in a game. (Let the record show, as 1984 USA Olympic head coach, Bob Knight, has stated numerous times in defense of Smith – a defense Knight fully realized the Tarheels’ coach never needed – that Michael Jordan led that Gold-winning team, averaging 17.1 ppg).

Because I coached on the intercollegiate level during that time period, I got to know Dean Smith (a little) – mainly due to my friendship with his assistants, Eddie Fogler and Roy Williams. One thing that was apparent to those who knew him was that, although it wasn’t on public display that often, Smith possessed a very good sense of humor. Because of that, I’ll close with a funny story.

Bill Foster, the one who coached at Duke, not the one at Clemson who shared the same name (a coincidence that caused a great deal of confusion back then, especially in the ACC) was a highly successful head coach for 32 years on the college level (at six institutions). In fact, Foster led the Blue Devils to the National Championship game in the 1977-78 season (losing 94-88 to Kentucky). His clubs battled Smith’s UNC squads on numerous occasions during his six-year tenure there, winning several of those match-ups. While Foster had a tremendous amount of respect for Smith, he was, after all, a New Jersey guy with a sarcastic wit (I know, that’s redundant). During one post-game press conference he became so frustrated with the reverence all the sportswriters gave Smith in their stories, at ACC Media Day, at the conference tournament and during pressers, that he once said:

“I thought the guy who invented basketball was named Naismith, not Deansmith.”

Another Analysis of the Super Bowl

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Ever since the Super Bowl ended, it’s been a constant harangue directed toward Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll, and his decision to throw the ball on second down as opposed to give it to the Beast Mode, Marshawn Lynch. Will we ever know (unlike those who say they know when, really, they’re just guessing like everyone else) whether Carroll wanted to win with an unconventional call – to show he could – and it would be more fun that way?

Ya, it’s understandable that people would be upset Lynch never even got a chance to run it in. I mean, if you want to throw, at least use Lynch as a decoy and run play-action, faking the ball to the guy their goal line defense was in there to stop, like Carroll surmised. And, as has been hashed and rehashed, why not throw to the outside of the field so, if there’s indecision, the ball can wind up a souvenir for a fan sitting a minimum of three rows deep?

Hey, did it cross anybody’s mind that maybe the media gods didn’t want to upset their universe because they knew if that guy scored the winning TD in the Super Bowl, that he wasn’t going to talk to anybody about it. Probably not because then he would have won the MVP award and everybody wanted to see him get the trophy – and a hug? – from Roger Goodell.

Whatever the case, there are other items of discussion that also should be taken into consideration when ruminating over Super Bowl XLIX. Some already have been bantered about, because how long can the diatribe aimed at Carroll go on without a break of some sorts? Let’s stay with that last play bu look at it from a different angle.

Why is there so little talk of Russell Wilson’s pass? Had Wilson not led Ricardo Lockette but, rather, thrown the ball lower and at his back hip (or even back number, i.e. the “3” on his 83 jersey), the receiver would have had an easy catch. Nothing’s certain but it’s a pass an NFL QB ought to be able to read, especially one of Wilson’s intelligence and ability. If he does and the pass is complete, then everybody is talking about . . .

why didn’t Patriots coach Bill Belichick call time out after Lynch ran to the one-yard line? He wold have had about a minute left, one time out and, best of all, Tom Brady. Didn’t he have faith his future Hall of Fame QB could lead a drive for a touchdown – or at least a field goal – because they would have been down only three? After all, Wilson led a drive for a TD with only 31 seconds to go before the half. Is Belichick really that smart that he knew Carroll was going to call a pass play and Wilson would throw a pick – Seattle’s only turnover of the game? Nah. He lucked out. But that’s OK because after David Tyree’s catch to steal a Super Bowl from New England, to have another one snatched by Jermaine Kearse’s even more incredible catch, . . . well, maybe luck evens out. As it should.

When all is said and done (as in now), the game was decided by an outstanding play made by Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie, who just as easily could have been the goat (because fans need to be able to blame somebody when outcomes don’t go their way), even though his coverage on that miracle catch was as close to textbook as possible. Then again, it was also Butler who got away with pass interference because grabbing the foot of the receiver you’re supposed to be covering isn’t legal. Years from now, when instant replay will be immediately decided by computers in New York (or maybe the Philippines), that DB will be penalized. And maybe there will be a different winner.

Speaking of calls that had a major impact (or would have had they been called), how about the “running into the kicker” that, supposedly, by rule, should have been roughing – and an automatic first down? Another botched call, at least in the eyes of this viewer (and everyone in the room with me), was the catch by Kearse at, if I’m not mistaken, 5:36 in the second quarter on a third and six, that went for, maybe, six yards. Was that not a generous spot? It looked as though that Kearse caught the ball short of the line, yet the ball was placed on the opposite side of the line, resulting in an automatic first down. Certainly, they could have made it on fourth down (rendering the point moot) but that first down allowed the Hawks’ drive to continue, eventually resulting in Seattle’s first TD.

Why is there no outrage at the Legion of Boom, a group that wanted to be in the discussion as  one of the NFL’s greatest defensive teams ever? Allowing their club to lose after being staked to a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter? Letting their opponent score four touchdowns, all of which were the results of sustained drives (9 for 65 yards, 8 for 80, 9 for 68 and 10 for 64)?

As for the crucial play? “I knew they were going to throw it,” Butler said. “Why,” he was asked? His answer was something every kid playing a team sport of any kind should remember. Butler, a household name (in his own house), an undrafted rookie from West Alabama, explained that he had paid attention in their position meetings and simply read the play he recognized the Seahawks would make in that situation. And that is why coaches put so much time into game plans.

For those players who claim meetings are monotonous and tiresome, think of what Jon Kabat-Zinn, another unknown (at least to me), said:

“When you pay attention to boredom, it gets unbelievably interesting.”

Allegiant Airlines and Deception

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

A colleague of a friend of mine recently started a company (based in Las Vegas) and he asked me to sit down and kick around some ideas with them (my friend, recently retired, was going to be involved in the company as well). He’d mentioned those two coming to Fresno but I knew all this could be expedited if I’d be willing to meet them in Vegas.

“Great,” my buddy said, “you get here and we’ll put you up and take care of your meals.” (If you read my blog from last week (1/23/15), you’ll see they provided me with another sweet perk). For those of you who have any such plans, here’s a hint that works out great. Rather than saying to your wife, “Guess what? I have to go to Las Vegas for a business meeting,” tell her instead, “Guess where we’re going on Sunday? Las Vegas!” When each of you are retired, it’s by far the best way to broach the subject.

Other than chartering a plane (out of the question and my budget – the former only due to the latter), there are three ways to get from Fresno to Sin City: drive (while within my budget, also out of the question – I’ve done it a couple of times but will never, ever, make the six, as much as ten, hour trip again), fly on major airlines or fly on Allegiant Airlines.

I was director of basketball operations at Fresno State when the fledgling Allegiant entered the ‘No. Other small commercial airlines had tried, only to fly away – or be hauled away – because each went bankrupt. Our men’s basketball team used Allegiant for our travel party and boosters (selling tickets to them was the only way we could afford chartering Allegiant’s planes). The experience worked out well for all concerned but when Jerry Tarkanian retired there wasn’t the same interest and chartering by Fresno State stopped. The airline, however, had done well (or, at least, had carved out its niche) and Allegiant became a fixture at Fresno Yosemite International airport.

So . . . I called my travel agent who informed me that when United stopped their non-stops to Vegas this past December, the only airline with a direct flight there was Allegiant. And they didn’t deal with travel agencies. Strike the second way of getting from here to there. I did what everyone else (who has any technological skills) would have already done. Got on the Internet.

Talking directly to people in business seems to have gone the way of the buffalo, so I googled “allegiant air fresno to las vegas”. One thing that caught my eye (as it was intended to) was “Fresno-Las Vegas from $59.” Naturally, this was only one way but, still, at $118 round trip for each of us, certainly a do-able deal. My plan was to fly out on Sunday and return Monday night, giving us all day to discuss the company (and all day for Jane to shop, her favorite sport).

Although the $58 deal wasn’t offered, I found one for $72 one way which was also a bargain – except our Monday night return wasn’t possible. In fact, we couldn’t fly back until Wednesday. My friend came through, saying that we’d meet all day Monday as planned, but that they would pay for the room (suite – sweet) for Monday and Tuesday. Things were looking up.

Unfortunately, so was the price of the airline tickets. The matter of checking bags came along. I usually check mine, while Jane just got one that is small enough to place overhead. I noticed I could pay, in advance, $35 for mine and $25 for hers. Another $120 tacked on. Then came the matter of selecting seats so I checked the diagram of which seats were available and noticed when I put the cursor over a seat, a number would appear, naturally preceded by a dollar sign. I selected a window for her and an aisle for me ($7 a piece, each way) adding an additional $28 to our bargain fares.

Loyal readers of this blog know I have chronic back problems. Standing, just standing – as in “in line” is excruciating to me, so when I saw an option to purchase express check-in, I didn’t hesitate. Although Jane is an unbelievable team player, I’m not going to use express and have her serpentine with the rest of, what reminds me every time I see it, the cattle call. That $10 (per passenger) was well worth it.

We got to the airport in plenty of time for our 3:30pm flight. I dropped her off and went to long term parking. When I returned, I noticed there was no need for express check in at the counter as only four other people were there – and there was only one agent checking people in. No worries, it will be put to good use at the metal detector. We got to the front of the line and were greeted by a cheerful gate agent – who told us it would be a $5 dollar charge, per passenger, to print our boarding passes. I handed over a $20 but she told me they didn’t accept cash. When I gave my American Express card, she told me they didn’t take American Express – but I did have another option. I could add it on to the online charges I paid for the tickets (and the bags, express check in, seat selection). With my American Express card.

When we got to the metal detector, I didn’t see where the express check in was. Jane told me that since there were so few people in line, we might just as well get in line with the rest (of the cattle). When I got to the front, I produced my photo ID and boarding pass and asked the guy (the only one there) about express check in. He told me Fresno was a low budget airport and seldom used it, but that Allegiant didn’t participate in it anyway.

At this time of the year, most of our travel consists of each of us packing a bag, throwing them in the car and driving somewhere in California to watch our younger son, Alex, play basketball. Although Jane is no stranger to airplane travel, in this case she forgot the 2 ounce rule and when her bag went through the x-ray machine, sure enough, it was pulled for a few of her lotions (or whatever women pack). She was told she needed to check her bag. Since we had plenty of time and Fresno is a rather small airport, she went back to the gate to check her bag. Only to return, her suitcase rolling along beside her. She did the serpentine with everyone else and got through the machine.

Naturally, I questioned her about the situation. “They told me at the gate that, day of the flight check in of a bag was an additional $100! She just advised me to go through again but throw out what was too big and buy what I needed in Vegas. That sounded good to me so here I am.” At that point we realized she had put her luggage on the conveyer belt – and this time, it made it through, no problem. I had ambivalent feelings about this bit of news, wondering how it got through unquestioned when, just 20 minutes prior, it had been pulled. You can believe I said nothing to anyone.

I have no idea where the receipt for these flights are although I know Jane does. She is fast asleep as I am composing this, however, and as much as I want to locate it (so I can provide you with all of the ancillary charges), I don’t think she would see this as a legit reason to wake her. Suffice to say, there were a slew of city, county, state, FAA, FCC, IRS, CIA, PTA charges that were all of the piddly variety – but added up to a non-piddly sum. One charge I recall, I believe it was for $65 per person, was a “carrier fee.” I mean, carrier fee? How did they think we planned on getting there? Really? A fee to use the plane? (Maybe I have the word wrong, but whatever the right one is, if not carrier, it meant the vessel itself.

To add insult to injury (of the pocketbook), when the flight attendants came through the cabin, they asked if anyone wanted to purchase food. Or drinks – as in water. Taking away the food wasn’t much of a concession as most travelers would just as soon not eat what they used to “give away” but no soft drinks, coffee or water? It’s almost like they’re bullying us. I would love to have been in those meetings when “how to increase profits” was the topic of discussion. Someone must have said the new company motto would be:

“Let’s see how much we can gouge them.”

 

Different Coaches Have Different Styles

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Not only do all coaches want to win, they all believe they’re going to win. Maybe not every game, but I’ve never met nor worked for a coach who didn’t truly think his team wouldn’t be a winner. (Is that a quadruple negative? You know what I mean).

In the recent College Football Playoff, each of the four coaches were fairly well scrutinized in terms of their leadership methods and organizational abilities. This past season, all four schools bore the bulls eye on their backs. Florida State was the defending national champions and were undefeated; Alabama has long been the best team in (allegedly) the best conference; Oregon, mainly because of their affiliation with Nike and all the swag and uniform designs were a team others want to beat (in addition to the fact they’ve been a power in the Pac-12), and Ohio State, unquestionably the long-time flag bearer for the Big 10, as well as one of those schools, along with Alabama, synonymous with the college football tradition.

At Florida State Jimbo Fisher not only had to deal with off the field distractions but nearly all of them were about to their best player – the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. And so many of them were incredibly juvenile. Fisher stood tall throughout, never backed down and, whether he enjoyed it or not, seemed to embrace the role of villain. And finished the season as the only undefeated team.

Nick Saban has long been known for (micro-?) managing the Crimson Tide program, thoroughly overseeing each and every aspect of it – from, naturally, practice and game plans, to what their athletes eat and how much sleep they get. With three national championships and a statue, no one questions him.

Mark Helfrich is new to all this, completing only his second season as the Ducks head coach. While he could have tried to simply emulate what his highly successful boss and mentor, Chip Kelly, had accomplished at UO, Helfrich realized he needed to be his own man. No fool he, however, six of his fellow assistants under Kelly remained on staff, making for a much smoother transition for the Ducks.

Urban Meyer won two national titles at Florida – and nearly killed himself doing it. After a year at ESPN (it seems as though an awful lot of coaches, both fired and retired, wind up at the world-wide leader and nearly all of them flourish). That has to say something about the relative difficulty of the jobs. Maybe the studio gig isn’t as lucrative, but a simple means of “staying in the game” while still pulling down a pretty penny. Meyer returned to coaching, signed a contract with his family – more or less promising he would get to know them – and still managed to win it all. Somewhere (naturally in a TV studio), Tony Dungy is nodding his head and smiling.

How is it, then, that each year so many coaches get fired? One reason is the leaders who pull the plug aren’t well-versed in the world of sports. At least that’s the track record of the current version of athletics directors who, as opposed to having toiled in the field of coaching, cut their teeth in the business world (in which everybody can win – of course everybody can lose, too, but then the blame is placed elsewhere, .g. the market or the economy). Another possibility is that the coaches themselves don’t find the job as simple as they originally believed it was.

Case in point: long ago I worked for a head coach (one of the 11 I called boss) who, quite simply, was no more prepared than a goat to perform the duties of the position. A story from my book, Life’s A Joke, will enlighten the reader. Our team was returning from a brief Xmas break and the head man and I were shuttling back and forth between the campus and the airport, picking up the guys as they’d arrive.

As I returned from driving one of our guys to campus, I saw the head coach as he was heading out to the airport. We were having our first practice following the break in a few hours and, with all the hustle and bustle, hadn’t yet had a staff meeting. I asked him if he’d made up a practice plan yet. He said he thought it would be good to warm up first and then, spend the remainder of the time on our defense. As he left, he mentioned he had put together something and a copy of it was on his desk. He said I could run one off for myself and our other assistant.

I walked into our offices, went over to his desk and there on top was the practice plan he’d written. On the sheet it said:

“Warm up. Defense.”

In case you’re wondering, we had a losing season.