Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

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.

 

Should Cardale Jones Go Pro If Ohio State Wins It All?

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Weekend hoops in Monterey. This blog will return on Tuesday, Jan. 13.

There was actually an article on this exact question on the site The Front Office News, but there was no byline and I couldn’t find a name anywhere – possibly because whoever wrote it didn’t want his (it had to be a man, women sportswriters are too intelligent) name getting out. His initial analysis is that “(Jones) has prototypical size standing at 6’5 250lbs, he has a cannon for an arm, and he is more mobile than what he is given credit for.”

Later on in this post, the writer states, “Talent has never been an issue with Jones. Attitude and immaturity has been, but in his case all he needed was an opportunity and he is flourishing as the starting QB.” Using this hypothesis, the conclusion would be that Jones should not only be drafted but, in order for the team to get the maximum value out of its pick, Jones should immediately be named the franchise’s starting QB. His thinking is that, while NFL QB might be the most difficult position, in all of sports, to master, Jones has proven – in what would be three starts (albeit three big ones) – that due to his immense talent (a cannon for an arm and having more mobility than what he is given credit for), opportunity is the main ingredient for him to achieve stardom.

The “attitude and immaturity” issues needn’t worry a franchise, especially its head coach who would be the first casualty in case this theory might, for some reason, be flawed. How did he get a bad attitude rap anyway? Begin with his now infamous October, 2012 tweet, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.” Following that dumb remark, Urban Meyer called Jones a “changed man” and one who is “making progress in the classroom.” Which means, what, that he found the classroom? That a guy like that would be kept around and remain in good graces just shows how coaches can be blinded by talent. I’m certainly not naive to this type of action (I mean, I did work for Tark). An example of his immaturity could be the time Jones visited a kid in the hospital and they played an NCAA Football video game. The last picture posted of the visit showed Jones beating him 91-25 (although the kid was smiling).

Anyway, how much do a good attitude and maturity have to do with being an NFL quarterback? If Ryan Leaf and Johnny Manziel come to mind, dismiss those negative thoughts.

The author’s true premise was disclosed in the line, “It would honestly suck to be a backup to a team that you led to a championship.” So, following this writer’s logic, Jones – a young kid who had displayed a horrible work ethic as well as massive signs of immaturity – should take all of his skills and baggage to a professional team because he would have to compete for the starting spot and might not be good enough to win it.

This writer, and any and every other person who as much mentions the idea of Cardale Jones making himself eligible for the NFL draft, ought to be escorted into a roomful of NFL QBs – starters, back ups, practice squad guys – doesn’t matter – and look them in the eye and present those men with that thought. Throw OCs into that group as well. Then, they must submit the name of their sports editor, producer or boss and have as many of the QBs or OCs who would like, call and ask exactly how someone with such a limited understanding of what being an NFL QB is all about, could be employed to write about football. That is, that a football writer would go so far as to put in print that an NFL team should draft – and pay – a quarterback who had an entire career (in terms of meaningful competition) of being the winning QB in a Big 10 championship, a Sugar Bowl and a National Championship game, yet doesn’t feel confident enough or understand the need to compete the following season to earn the starting QB job.

Their picture and name should be displayed on every team’s Jumbotron, so they can be held accountable for posing what has to be the most asinine question since that jackass asked Marshall Faulk, “Marshall, if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

For his part, Cardale Jones has stated that he is returning to Ohio State for next season. Based on the writer’s suppositions, a  better question for him to have asked would be:

“Why not have Jones fake an injury and have the Buckeyes’ training staff apply for a medical redshirt?”

 

 

 

 

The Biggest Key to Success in Football and Basketball

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

My contention has always been that there has never been a football or basketball coach who has a losing philosophy. By that I mean there’s no football coach who thinks it’s unnecessary to block for a good running back, just stay out of his way and let him avoid tacklers. Similarly, no basketball coach feels a successful strategy would be to allow all opponents’ shots to be uncontested because the lack of pressure would freak out shooters and, consequently, make them miss.

That’s not to say that all coaches’ systems have an equal opportunity to produce victories. Various principles, as well as effective methods of delivering them, work better than others. A thorough knowledge of the game, plus a powerful ability to motivate, is usually what separates good coaches from lesser ones. Players need to see those two qualities in their coach. In return, the coach desperately needs to obtain a couple of essentials from the players. One is maximum effort. The other, in this day and age, becoming more and more difficult for the coach to gain is buy in, i.e. complete belief in the system.

Occasionally, I will blog on the same subject more than once. Advanced age tends to mess with a person’s memory. So will the type of drugs that come with the multiple surgeries I’ve experienced and what doctors have prescribed for me to deal with the resultant pain. That said, I’m pretty sure I’ve posted on the importance of buy in since I began blogging in 2007 (covering a couple thousand blogs). The determining factor in my writing on this subject at this time, however, is due to an article in the Dec. 29, 2014-Jan. 5, 2015 issue of Sports Illustrated on the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers.

For younger readers who might not be football historians, in the mid-to-late 70s the Steelers were an NFL dynasty, winning four Super Bowls in six years. I happened to live in the ‘Burgh for a year, right in the middle of those championships. Pittsburgh was the center of the sports universe with Pitt having won a national championship in between the second and third Super Bowl victories by the Steelers and the Pirates claiming two World Series championships in the 70s.

To be in that great city at that time was quite fortuitous for me. It was also a time in my life in which I was devouring leadership and motivational books, whether by reading or listening to them. I learned quite a bit about those categories simply by reading the Pittsburgh Press and Post-Gazette. While the SI article brought back wonderful memories, it was a quote by Rocky Bleier that illustrated why they won and is, far and away, the #1 reason I believe most teams do:

“There’s a time – whether it’s as a team or as an individual – where you decide whether you’re buying into what Chuck (Noll) is preaching. You either say O.K., I believe in where he’s taking us, or you start to lose faith in his leadership. We bought in.”

And they won the Super Bowl.

Could Phil Jackson Really Be THAT Loyal to His Former Team?

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

For the past week or so, I’ve been talking to coaching friends of mine. Some of them, like me, were in the business for decades but are now retired; others are still active coaches. The topic is the New York Knicks. When I was a young kid living in New Jersey, the Knicks were my favorite team. My interest in them waned once I started working in the college game, mainly because 1) my job depended on how well the team I was with played and 2) without exaggeration, I didn’t have time to do anything but work (and, maybe, a little social life).

The Knicks are a very proud organization even though they have won only two championships – and those were over 40 years ago (1970, 73). Their games are held in Madison Square Garden, widely known as “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” What few people are aware of, outside of those who’ve actually been there, is that games are played on the sixth floor.

A quick side story: The year I was a grad assistant at the University of Oregon (1975-76) we played in the NIT. We had no players from either New York or New Jersey. On our way from the bus to the Garden for practice the day before the game, I told our guys that the actual playing surface was on the sixth floor. They all thought I was putting them on until we got into the elevator, which resembled a cattle car, and they looked at the buttons. There it was: #6 – MSG. It was comical seeing their faces as reality hit them – and they mouthed the words, “Madison Square Garden.”

If you’re just remotely a fan of the NBA, you know how bad New York is this season. One of the NBA coaches I spoke to told me that, while the 76ers (whose front office intentionally set up the team to be awful – in hopes they would get the #1 pick in the 2015 draft) are the worst team in the league, “at least they play hard. The Knicks don’t even try.

Although New York has Carmelo Anthony, certainly one of the three most prolific scorers in the NBA (with LeBron and KD as the others – Kobe left out because of age and injuries), they have little else, no desire to play defense and are looking forward to what free agency brings (they freed up more cap space with the three team trade they were part of last night). There was hope, however, entering the season as the winningest NBA coach ever, Phil Jackson, accepted “Mama’s call” to revive the franchise he once played for (along with Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Jackson was on the 1968 NBA All-Rookie team). He was also a member of each of NY’s championship teams. Not only did Jackson become a coach but he won a record 11 championships. Although the franchise couldn’t persuade him to coach this year’s squad (his health, combined with the NBA’s grueling travel schedule, is what forced him out of coaching), Jackson did agree to join the Knicks as president of the organization.

Why, you might be asking yourself, would someone in poor health and nothing to prove have any interest whatsoever in attaching himself to a team that most knew was going to be a huge loser – even if it was his former beloved team? Well, in addition to counting on his devotion to his NBA alma mater, the Knicks offered him a five-year contract for $12 million. Per year. Ya, sixty million dollars.

Many of my coaching friends question my sanity when I say I think Jackson, at least on some level, has to regret his decision. While he wasn’t going to coach, he did have the final say on who would but his first choice, Steve Kerr, a player on his Bulls’ championship teams (in fact, someone who had been on five championship clubs), turned him down to, instead, coach the Golden State Warriors (exactly how many prayers do you think Kerr says on a nightly basis that the Warriors wanted him, too)? My buddies keep reminding me that $60 million is an awful lot of money, as if because I don’t have it, I don’t realize how much it is. My point is why would someone at Phil Jackson’s age (69) subject himself to such misery on a night after night basis? One of my friends simply said, “Because he doesn’t give a (damn).” But he’s gotta care some, doesn’t he? After all, he is the guy in charge.

I keep asking all of them one question – and I have yet to hear a satisfying answer (other than set up a foundation of some sort) – hinges on the fact that he was raking in more money than he could spend, through previous salaries, endorsements, book(s) sales and speaking engagements, before he signed on as prez of the Knicks. In other words, why subject himself to misery? My question is:

“What is it that $60 million is doing for him – that he couldn’t have done without it?”

Ohio State Will Be Facing a Major Dilemma for 2015 Season

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Weekend hoops with the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters. This blog will return on Tuesday, Jan. 6.

Not to throw a wet blanket on the Buckeyes upset win over the team that the experts felt was the best in college football, but next year Ohio State will have three big-time college quarterbacks on its roster. Each one of them have been starters on the college gridiron’s big stage. All were successful starters, one seeming to top the other when he got his chance. Do they fully understand that this year was an aberration – that, usually, one guy gets to take all the snaps. So, what should they do?

Let’s start with QB #1: Here’s the description from the Ohio State Buckeyes Official Athletic Site Braxton Miller enters his senior season as a true contender and possibly even a leading contender for all of the major national awards, be it most outstanding performer, most valuable player and/or outstanding quarterback … he already has won more Big Ten Conference Awards – seven – than any player in Big Ten history . . .

That seems like an awful long time ago. The Buckeyes will go into next season either as the defending national championship or as the season’s runner up. He’s a senior, with one more year of eligibility. As cruel as it sounds, in sports lingo, he’s yesterday’s news. If he is honest with himself (and others are honest with him), Columbus might not be the best address for him. To start him next year means, independent of how the season turns out, the following year would find a different QB at the helm. With the way coaches feel about seamless transition, this would mean that there would be another quarterback leading the Bucks in 2016. Miller has spoken about transferring (Florida State and Duke have been mentioned as possible destinations), yet as late as a couple days ago, coach Urban Meyer has said he expects Braxton to return to OSU.

For the good of all concerned, he probably should transfer. Some school would be getting a polished, healthy (if all reports are true) QB and Ohio State would only have to have one disappointed signal caller on its hands.

QB #2 (these guys are listed in order of appearance this past season, not any other factor) J.T. Barrett’s play through the first six games of the season has been nothing short of outstanding, as he has earned conference or national “player of the week” accolades after five of his six starts and he has climbed near the top of the NCAA statistics in several key categories, including passing efficiency (3rd at 182.1), points responsible for per game (1st at 24.0), overall points responsible for (3rd with 144) and he is 10th in total offense (333.0 yards per game), quoting from the Ohio State Buckeyes Official Athletic Site.

According to several sources, Barrett was having a Heisman-like season when he was injured. He and QB #3 (Cardale Jones) were battling for reps behind Miller. After #1’s season-ending injury, the coaches felt Barrett was the guy with whom they most trusted to handle what anyone who understands athletics calls the most important position of any sport. Whether it was because of ability, intelligence (as in decision-making, on and off he field), knowledge of the playbook, maturity or a combination of any or all of those factors, Barrett was the guy they selected. Then, he went down.

There’s an interesting article on Cardale Jones in last week’s SI. It discusses all his shortcomings, starting with being dealt a miserable hand from the beginning of his life – the kind that doesn’t tend to lead to a successful outcome. Jones wasn’t a model student or citizen but had some people who wanted to help him (whose kindness and caring he didn’t reciprocate early on). Summarizing it, his actions wouldn’t exactly qualify him as the poster boy for college football. Basically, Ohio State was in the position of being forced to go with whomever they had left. To say he came through would be like saying Madison Baumgarner came through for the Giants this year – although it’s a little too early to make that comparison.

One thing that this season illustrates loud and clear is that, beyond the quarterback position Ohio State has some other really good players. A team doesn’t get to the national championship game without them. Cameras at OSU’s games show Barrett and Jones as “boys,” i.e. close, supportive friends. It’s not facetious to say that’s made easier when one of them is wheeling around on a scooter with one foot in a boot. It will be something else to see come spring practice – in spite of how the Buckeyes do against Oregon.

It’s true that competition brings out the best in people pursuing the same goal. Every football coach wants two really talented quarterbacks, even though only a handful play more than one. It can be extremely cruel for the kid who doesn’t start. Although this season proved injuries can happen, history tells us that’s just not the way it is. The guy who has plans beyond helping good old State U to a championship is crushed. It’s not so easy to say, “Hey, that’s life” when you’re discussing your life.

The best advice might be:

“Things usually turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”

 

A Minor Change that Desperately Needs to Be Made in 2015

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

There are many truly serious issues that deserve greater attention, increased research and a whole lot more money in order for people to live better, healthier and longer lives. Yet, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other items, albeit of a lesser importance, that bug the heck out of us.

If I could have one wish (not the outrageous kind) it would be this: Whoever implemented “instant replay” especially in football and basketball, please admit the system needs tweaking. And tweak it as soon as possible, e.g. when the call in question is, in fact correct, correct it and continue play (whether a shot should be worth two or three points – are the guy’s feet behind the line, three; on or over, two – done). Conversely, when the call is sooooo obviously wrong, why does the ruling take sooooo long to reverse the decision? I know my man Jeff Van Gundy is with me on that one.

It’s the humanitarian in me that is mostly bothered. In truth, I never really enjoyed watching games live (except when I was a member of the staffs of the participants and that was considered working). The only times I’d go to view a game, live, as a spectator, was if I was a guest of someone who had a sky box – and I can count the number of times that happened on one hand (and still have enough fingers to make a decent fist).

My concern over the length of time it takes to decide the replay call, has to do with those poor souls who are attending the game. You know, those people who brave the December elements at football games. Other than when I was a spotter at a preseason game between the Steelers and the Patriots during the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville (and was in the booth), the only other professional football game I attended was when I was 12 or 13. My father and I and a group from my hometown went to a New York Giants-Philadelphia Eagles game at Franklin Field. I remember nothing about the game except how unbelievably cold and windy it was in Philly that night.

When the camera pans the crowd during an instant replay review and I see people all wrapped up – yet still shivering – to this day I get chills. All I think about when the referee awaits the decision from . . . whoever about a call that the television viewer can easily make, is that schmuck who’s freezing his or her butt off. If that was me, I’d rather them make the wrong call – even if it was against my team – just so the action would return and I could try to forget that my hands and feet were numb.

What’s worse are calls that are wrong but can’t be changed because there happens to be no camera that has the necessary angle. One example was the fake field goal in the Music City Bowl between LSU and Notre Dame. The runner for the Tigers dove, extended his arms before bringing them back and landing with the ball short of the goal line. In the broadcast booth, color analyst Rod Gilmore said, “From the angle that we initially saw from up here, it didn’t look like he got in,” then after watching the replay from the goal line angle said, “Oooooh, that’s breaking the plane there, look at that, he extended that, well, from that angle it looked to me like he broke the plane before he was down,” and finally added, after some wishy-washy explanation that would make any politician proud, that the original call should stand because no angle showed his knee touching. Even though the shot from behind the end zone showed his back feet in the air while he was stretching, making it anatomically impossible for either knee to touch the ground. But thanks for clearing that up, Rod.

Regarding that play, Peter Burns of ESPN tweeted, “We can land a satellite on a comet, but refs can’t figure out that ball crossed the goal line without his knees touching the ground?” #LSU There was one person, however, who absolutely knew the ball did not break the plane and that was Lou Holtz. Lou knew, without a doubt, Notre Dame had stopped LSU short of the goal line – and that was without even having seen the play! What’s interesting is if you google that play, there is a picture in which the ball is breaking the plane and the runner’s knee is NOT down.

Another such situation may just have altered which teams are participating in the first ever College Football Playoff. When Ohio State played at Penn State on Oct. 25 referees ruled that a Buckeye defender intercepted a Nittany Lion pass when replays show the ball was actually trapped. Only a technical problem made it impossible for the officials to see it from a definitive angle. OSU subsequently scored a crucial touchdown and the Bucks eventually won it in OT. Whatever you do, don’t tell TCU.

Then, of course, there are the calls that can’t be overturned because there is really no conclusive evidence that the call on the field or court was wrong, so whatever was called needs to stand. Like it used to be before instant replay. “Hey, you’ve gotta feel for the refs because officiating is such a thankless job.” Maybe so, but it wasn’t like these folks were selected at random. Don’t make it sound like it’s jury duty. These people wanted the job and are getting paid to do it. Maybe they needed the extra  income, maybe they wanted to “stay in the game,” maybe they like getting out of town – for whatever reason, seeing other places (or people), cheating on filling out expense reports, who knows? But it was their choice. I’ll bet instant replay isn’t their choice, either. I mean, it was easy enough to dislike them before.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

What, David Blatt, Worry?

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Reports out of Cleveland have it that the Cavaliers’ 18-12 record is disappointing to Cavs’ fans, team members, the coaching staff and their fans. Duh. Also, the blame is said to lay at the feet of head coach David Blatt. Ditto duh. The fact that when Anderson Varejao went down for the season, the Cavs no longer have anyone who can “protect the rim” (a trait necessary to keep players from fearlessly attacking the basket), has escaped any reasonable strategical thought.

Let’s take a chronological walk down memory lane. When David Blatt was hired, he had been a highly successful professional coach in Europe. The hiring raised eyebrows in many communities (I’d imagine Cleveland being one of them), yet every one of my coaching friends who knew, or knew of, Blatt told me the guy was a phenomenal coach. None other than my former boss and friend of over 40 years, George Raveling, assured me that Blatt was the real deal.

After it was announced Blatt was hired, George told me he had previously witnessed the semi-final and final games of the European Championships. His summary of Blatt’s coaching prowess was something to the effect that, at those games, it was readily apparent his (Blatt’s) team was – by far – the least talented of the four. That they won the tournament was nothing short of miraculous. George Raveling has been around basketball 60 years so that put an end to any question I might have regarding whether David Blatt could coach.

It came as no surprise when Cavs’ General Manager David Griffin made the following remarks at the time of the hiring. “I have watched David’s work for many years. He has an uncanny ability to adapt his system to maximize the talents of his teams year after year. That is why I am very confident he will make a smooth transition to the NBA. There is a great opportunity to accelerate the progress of moving our team and franchise to the higher level of play we all believe we are capable of achieving. I am excited that the experience, knowledge, skills and leadership David will bring to the Cavaliers is the right fit at the right time.”

Another interesting development had taken place in the search for the Cavs’ next head coach. During the interview process, owner Dan Gilbert and GM Griffin (and possibly others in the organization) were smitten with one of the other candidates, Tyronn Lue, an assistant to Doc Rivers for both the Clippers and Celtics. Lue was a highly regarded assistant and it was apparent to “those in the know” that he would someday, soon, land a head coaching gig of his own. In fact, in Cleveland, it was common knowledge Lue had been the runner-up for the job Blatt landed.

Although Blatt had a resume chock full of success, none of it was accomplished in the NBA. The top brass highly recommended to their new head man that he hire Lue. The release from GM Griffin read, in part, “Over the past several weeks, it became clear that Ty could play a key role in our team’s future success. Ty fits our culture and vision for the franchise. His successful experience as both a player and coach is going to help us tremendously.” The Cavaliers then made Tyronn Lue the highest paid assistant coach in any sport – with a contract for 4 years, worth $6.5 million.

It certainly seemed like a sound move at the time. Lue could aid Blatt with the nuances of the NBA, as well as player-coach relations which most in the league feel takes on a different dynamic than anywhere else – or, for that matter, any other sport. Let the David Blatt/Tyronn Lue era begin.

But then, something rather unexpected happened. LeBron James decided to return to his roots, leave South Beach and resurrect the Cavs’ organization. When that dream became reality, the playoff tickets that were being printed when Blatt was hired, morphed into NBA Finals ducats. To say expectations escalated is akin to saying your kids’ excitement over visiting Six Flags heightened when you told them you decided on Disneyland instead.

On the college level (which I am in no way attempting to equate to this situation since there is so very little in common on the two levels), I experienced on one hand – and was an observer of another – somewhat similar events. Anyone who’s ever coached is keenly aware of the fact that when players (or parents) disagree with the head coach (playing time is one favorite topic), the upset party invariably takes up the problem with an assistant. Maybe it’s because they don’t like confrontation, maybe it’s because they fear repercussions, definitely because it’s easier, in any case, the go-between is the road more traveled. If nothing else, it places the assistant in an awkward position as the number one trait of a good assistant is loyalty. In four of my nine collegiate coaching positions, I was in that exact setting. Some more often than others, some in more difficult circumstances than others. I’m not saying the reported problems of the Cavs are that of Lue’s doing – just that he is stuck in the middle of an incredibly difficult scene.

The one instance I observed occurred when George was in a near fatal car accident which forced him to retire from coaching. As I had mentioned to the players during that interim year without George, USC is a fabulous institution but I went there for George, not SC, so at the end of the season, I’d be moving on. USC Athletics Director, Mike Garrett, took off the interim tag from Charlie Parker and named him permanent coach. When he did, he told Charlie he should give strong consideration to Henry Bibby to move into my spot. Sure enough, Charlie hired Bibby – and less than nine months later, Garrett fired Parker, in February, i.e. mid-season – and replaced him with Bibby.

In a June 26, 2014 article by Jim Cavan, a featured columnist for social media’s Bleacher Report, the writer said, “Paying Lue this kind of money isn’t just about rewarding a top-notch assistant; it’s about owner Dan Gilbert cleverly hedging against a very real short-term outcome: that Blatt, for all his basketball gifts, might not pan out.” LeBron didn’t make his decision to “go back home” until July.

Did Gilbert have a strong inkling his star would come back when he hired Lue? That’s a stretch considering how he treated LBJ when he left. Most people feel LeBron’s return had nothing to do with Gilbert – that he truly loves his roots and wanted his kids to grow up where he did, that his wife wanted to go to Cleveland, even that he felt Cleveland’s roster was more conducive to winning a championship than Miami’s. Maybe Gilbert’s a shrewd gambler or just a lucky man.

In any case, lost in the shuffle is a good coach whose reputation is about to get obliterated. Should he be let go, the old saying would be more true than ever:

“NBA coaches are hired to be fired.”

 

Someone Needs to Explain to Manziel What “Walk the Talk” Means

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Just when we thought Johnny Manziel’s rookie season couldn’t possibly get any worse, he got fined yesterday for being late to a treatment for his injured hamstring.

During his college days he was as flamboyant a player as guys named Namath, Sanders and Bosworth. What Manziel didn’t seem to understand (and apparently, those close to him failed to point out) is that, while flamboyance can be a phenomenal trait on the field, as far as other aspects of a young player’s career, invisibility would be a wiser alternative. Then again, maybe his “peeps” influenced him into being the anti-Tebow because Tim’s squeaky clean image didn’t work out so great. The Browns were hoping he’d be the face of the franchise. Team Manziel seemed  to be more interested in creating a “brand” for the young QB – and the plan appeared to be going smoothly as his Q rating was higher than players who had actually accomplished something.

Since Manziel got drafted, he was constantly in the news – for all the wrong reasons. He had a penchant for the nightlife scene – was seen chugging champagne on an inflatable swan, hanging out with Floyd Mayweather, Tyrese and Justin Bieber, a picture of him making believe he was using a phone made up of a large stack of bills surfaced, as well as a picture of him in a Las Vegas restroom rolling what appeared to be a large-denomination bill. Social media couldn’t get enough of Johnny Football. His defense? He knew what work had to be done but that he had a life outside of football, too.

Johnny Football’s immature decisions were such a distraction, owner Jimmy Haslam had asked Manziel to “tone it down.” Boy, when the guy signing the checks tells you to cut back, that’s a hint and a half! As talented as Manziel is, no one ever compared him to a Manning, Rodgers, Luck, Brees or Brady. Since each of those men are known for having legendary work ethics, why wouldn’t anyone in the Manziel camp advise him they should be his role models?

A person doesn’t have to possess the football knowledge that Bill Belichick has (or that talk show hosts think they have) to know that off the playing surface rookie QBs need to spend as much time in the team’s facility as possible. They need to be working to strengthen their bodies (so when they finally get a chance to play, they don’t injure their hamstrings), wearing out the film room (because professional defenses are so much more intricate than what a quarterback sees in college), getting in extra reps with potential receivers to work on timing and doing other activities to improve his game. That’s why owners pay players and how players become All-Pros.

Manziel was recently quoted as saying, “I have to take this a lot more seriously. It’s a job for me now. I still had the college mindset a little bit.” The master of the understatement also stated, “I want to be the guy. That’s what I want to be for this organization. If anything, this has motivated me more heading into this offseason.” Are these better late than never claims or just more Johnny Football BS?

Since perception is reality, the bottom line for rookies – really for all professionals – is their focus needs to be to study, work and develop good habits. Independent of all that, Johnny Manziel needs to realize that, unfortunately for him, the old saying still applies:

“The greatest indicator of future behavior is past performance.”

Imagination Leads Us Where We Never Thought We Could Be

Friday, December 26th, 2014

As with many families this time of year, ours is together (albeit briefly) during this holiday season. Younger son Alex, a junior combo guard for Cal State Monterey Bay’s basketball team, has a little time off before they continue conference play, while older son, Andy, who is an account executive for Kareo (a company in the health care IT industry) had three days in which he could make the (four-hour with no traffic, occasionally nine-hour with traffic) trip north from Newport Beach to Fresno. Putting his University of California-Irvine degree to good use, he and one of his roommates (who also is from Fresno) made the decision to depart Orange County at 4:00 am and got home a record 3 1/2 hours.

Throughout their lives, I’ve often asked our boys questions to stimulate thought. Since Andy, who turns 26 next month, is in the technology business – and I, by choice, possess nearly zero tech knowledge – I asked him if he could imagine his life without a computer. Without hesitation, he said, “Absolutely not.”

I reminded him that his mother and I had to do just that – and not by choice. We never had anything close to a computer when we were growing up (she in the South, me in the North). The fact that we would use a slide rule in upper level math classes is an item I felt would be better left unsaid. No need to make him think I was more of a Neanderthal than he already did.

The lesson was that the reason computers are now such an integral part of our lives is because somebody “thought there had to be a better way.” I then asked him what he envisioned life to be like in 40 years (our age difference). He said, as I did, he couldn’t even imagine. I related the time an inspirational speaker told me how he discovered what he considered to be the the best definition of the word imagination. His revelation happened when he asked a young girl what she thought it was and the little girl said, “It’s what comes after, ‘What if?’ ”

Combining that thought – and returning to this blog’s usual sports-related theme – here’s something that could send shock waves throughout baseball. Judging from the attitude of newly appointed Cubs manager, Joe Maddon (as well as the player acquisitions they’ve made), one thing that might change is . . . the Chicago Cubs winning a World Series. My reasoning for this optimism (the Cubs haven’t won one in over 100 years) is a quote of Maddon’s I read when he was manager of the Tampa Bay Rays.

In an earlier blog, I mentioned that coaching is a copycat profession. Maddon’s philosophy is the complete antithesis:

“I get so annoyed when you get around a lot of baseball people and basically all they can do is regurgitate previous thoughts. They don’t think of anything original. Tell me a better way.”

Don Quixote Loses – Again

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

After my boss, Jerry Tarkanian, retired in 2002, I was faced with a decision. Where was I going to work? I had been in college basketball nearly my entire adult life – 4 as a graduate assistant at three different schools, 11 as an assistant at three other institutions, 8 as an associate head coach at two others and 7 as Tark’s director of basketball operations – for a grand total of 30 years at nine Division I universities. Working in the field that long, I had made friends and gained the respect of some, if not many, of my peers. I had two or three options to continue doing so.

Picking up and leaving wouldn’t be a challenge. After all, I had moved 16 times and lived in nine states since graduating from college. What was another one. It was only when Andy, our older son (who had just completed seventh grade – he was the president of his class), said, “Dad, do we have to move?” did I realize that nearly all of my moves came when I was single and childless. Now it would mean selling a house, buying another – in our price range and in a good school district for our rising 3rd and 8th grade boys, plus getting a job for my wife who had more than two decades of working for the federal government. All to chase the dream of, one day, becoming a head coach – with no guarantee that will happen. It’s not like, “OK, you’ve coached 40 years. Congratulations, here’s a college team where you can be the head coach.”

One of the coaches at Fresno State mentioned to me that, if I wanted to coach on the high school level, he had a great deal of pull at a local school that had recently dismissed its coach. More and more, the NCAA had been limiting practice time for college coaches with their players. What made coaching high school in California attractive was you could coach your team nearly every day of the year. I got that high school job and conducted practices in May and June – before I even started teaching. In late June while I was at my computer, filling out a form to take the team to Los Angeles for a summer tournament, I felt a sharp pain in my mid-back. It turned out to be a herniated disk (my fourth) that required emergency surgery – that kept me from living the rest of my life in a wheelchair.

The remainder of the summer was dedicated to physical therapy. I showed up for orientation walking with a cane. While that was excruciating, it wasn’t nearly as painful as hearing, as I did in each of the three meetings, that “teachers should document everything, as our parents are a very litigious group.” At the time I was also a member of the National Speakers Association and my main topic was “Team Building” – how the number one characteristic of any great team is trust. My new employers were telling me I should document everything while I was getting paid to speak to groups, often quoting Stephen Covey’s line, “In a no-trust culture, you live in memo haven.”

Unwisely, I thought that my diverse experiences throughout the nation, in addition to my membership in NSA, would allow me to enlighten my new colleagues that maybe the trust thing, combined with hiring better lawyers, was a better strategy. Vegas would have given Don Quixote shorter odds against the windmills.

When No Child Left Behind became the new (mainly political) rallying cry, our school district, consisting mostly of upper middle class families, decided that a necessary addendum would be, “Every student should go to college.” Only not every student in our school wanted, needed nor should have gone to college. It was almost as if the district powers were saying that other schools, the ones that didn’t measure up to us in standardized test scores and such, ought to be supplying the cashiers, bank tellers, plumbers, painters, roofers, auto repairmen and all those other vital professions that many of our kids would have been superstars at, if we’d only helped encourage and train them.

That motto was expanded by a new superintendent (who was as egomaniacal as any “leader” I’ve encountered – and, not shockingly, lasted a year). He pompously made the statement that every student was to take at least one Advanced Placement class during his or her four years in high school. Heck, we had some kids who couldn’t even spell “AP.”

What brought on this blog was an article on Albert Einstein I read last night. One of his life lessons was entitled, “We are all born geniuses but life de-geniuses us.” Beneath it read something I wish all the administrators at that school district would highlight and place on their desks, mirrors and refrigerators. In fact, I forwarded it to several of the teachers from the district, with the hope they’ll pass it along. It said:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”