Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Did Firing Chip Kelly Made Snoop Dogg Happy?

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

In an era of political correctness and taking what people say literally, it seems recording artist Snoop Dogg got an unheard of pass after his rant several weeks ago. I’m from New Jersey and, while nothing Snoop blurted was new to my ears, I can honestly say I hadn’t heard such profanity in . . . decades. The tirade contained 9 F-bombs (or combinations thereof), a couple “sorry-asses,” a “dumb-ass,” a fellatio reference, informed people he was P-O’d and capped it all off with a suggestion that (then-)head coach Chip Kelly kill himself. And he performed all this in a mere five sentences!

“Performed” is the operative word because, naturally, these pearls of wisdom were done in Snoop’s unique way – via Instagram videos. I’m not sure if his diatribe was supposed to be considered music, poetry or something other than simply spewing hatred (as other, less talented people would be forced to do) but he clearly expressed his frustration with Philly and Kelly.

Maybe it was because he’s Snoop and his “threats” are not to be taken seriously, maybe it’s because it really did look like the Eagles tanked the game or maybe it’s because no one gave a damn since the reason for his disdain was that it dashed the Snooper’s championship fantasy football hopes. Yup, that was what was behind all that venom – that the Eagles “can’t even get me one or two points so I can win my fantasy league and go to the Super Bowl.” How thoughtless of them.

It’s been said fans are a fickle bunch. After hearing Snoop’s harangue, what’s been going through my head is:

“Wonder how he would have felt toward Kelly and the Eagles if they had played well enough to get him those couple points he needed?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton Portis Saga Simply the Next in a Series of Bad Decisions

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

It’s become a broken record, but one that no one seems to have any desire to fix. This time the tragedy is named Clinton Portis, a terrific football player – college and pro – who is filing for bankruptcy. I have written previously, and have preached to more people than care to listen, that if players are allowed to leave school early (which I believe is their legal right), then their college academic courses should prepare them for life after sports.

After signing with Duke out of high school, Jahlil Okafor told the Blue Devil fans his goal was to help his team win a national championship before heading to the NBA the following year. He came out and said he planned on attending college for only one year before turning pro. And this was Duke he was talking about!

Portis did not go to Duke. His college choice was South Carolina but a fight in high school resulted in his scholarship being rescinded. He wound up at the “U” – the University of Miami, a football program known for many things, discipline not being high on the list. His collegiate career can be summarized as: freshman year, great; sophomore year, dropped to second string; junior year, return to great. So much so, the Hurricanes won the national championship.

And, similar to Okafor, after copping that big trophy, Portis, too, declared for the (NFL) draft. His professional career had to be considered successful by even the harshest of critics. Financially, his nine seasons as a pro amassed quite a fortune – in excess of $43 million.

My aforementioned suggestion to the NCAA, or to the schools themselves, is since they know these guys aren’t going to be around to graduate (or even two years in some cases), why not put them in classes that will prepare them for life after they depart? That’s what the purpose of college is supposed to be anyway. Courses like how to select people who will shape your life, e.g. someone they can trust, investment strategies, how to deal with the media (including social media), how to live by yourself, even a course in proper decision-making. Use real world examples, maybe bring some people in as guest lecturers to explain the trappings of an affluent life.

These classes wouldn’t have to be exclusively for athletes. The typical freshman year course load is outdated. I mean, if a kids didn’t like, or do well, in world history in high school, why make them take it again in college? Same with the physical and social sciences. I admit to having a bias toward math because I majored in it and taught it, but I’m not so sure freshman algebra isn’t more of a torturous experience than one of value. So, other than English (although seeing what’s on twitter could make someone wonder the value of that as well), most of the freshman curriculum can be overhauled. Note: From a personal standpoint, I hated physics and world history in high school, yet had to take both in college. Guess what? I hated them in college too.

Sure, my idea is radical. But is there any way someone with the career earnings of Clinton Portis should be filing for bankruptcy – in debt to the tune of nearly $5 million? It breaks down to a half a mil to his mom, another half to an Entertainment Tonight correspondent and CNN contributor (what was she doing lending that kind of dough?), nearly another half to a couple casinos, $412K in back child support (to four different women – maybe there ought to be a college course that teaches that making a baby and being a father are not one in the same – and it’s an epidemic in this country), almost a million-and-a-quarter in mortgage deficiencies, $390K in back taxes (somebody, somewhere, somehow, needs to teach people who will be coming into big money about paying taxes) and various and other sundry items. Total tab: $4,857,659.50.

Did Clinton Portis fail himself? No doubt. Could his current financial mess have been avoided? I’d sure like to think so. Until somebody steps up to help these young people before they err, it would be a shame that their lives will be governed by Tiger Woods’ statement:

“I once heard – and I believe it is true – that it’s not what you achieve in life that matters, it is what you overcome.”

Steve Jobs Couldn’t Have Been Serious

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

If Steve Jobs wasn’t the most influential individual in the world of business, he certainly wasn’t too far below whoever was. What he did is beyond the thought process of most of the population – at least that section of the population I’m familiar with. People say of their heroes, “If I could only be in the mind of  …” Although I was in awe of “everything Jobs,” he was never one of my idols. Probably because of how little I understood … everything he did.

The previous statement is nothing I’m proud of; in fact, it’s one of my great regrets. And, while I have taken classes to improve my wisdom (giving me the benefit of the doubt), for whatever reason, technology just doesn’t seem to be my thing. I’d much rather spend my time in pursuit of other areas of life. Still, I have read quite a bit about Jobs’ life (have not seen the movie which I’ve heard isn’t particularly fair to him) because I have always been a student of great leaders.

I have, literally, hundreds of quotes – many of which I use to sum up these blogs, several others I’ve used during speeches I’ve given to various companies, organizations and schools (high schools and colleges). It’s difficult to argue with any of them, considering the amount of success the authors have had. Yet, after reading the following Steve Jobs’ line, I had to admit I was stunned, and had to read it again. And, then, again. Sorry, Steve Jobs, what you contributed to humankind compared to what what I’ve supplied is akin to a Tyrannosaurus rex and a flea but, although I do understand the gist of your point, i.e. have passion for what you do, I have a hard time believing anybody would buy into it:

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?”

Baker Mayfield Is Wise Beyond His Years

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

There are certain topics that are said to be off limits in social settings as they tend to be party killers. For years, the main two were politics and religion. Bringing up either subject could easily turn a friendly get together into a raging debate where tempers more likely than not would flare, causing the function to be remembered for something other than what the host had planned. Other subjects have joined the list recently.

One, in particular, has to do with race. To me, this is kind of surprising since there is so much more diversity in the country (pretty much everywhere in the country) than there was during my (baby boomer) generation. The fewer groups there are, the greater chance for one to try to claim dominance. So it stands to reason, with so many different races, religions and cultures in the United States today, we’d show more tolerance toward each other. One reason for tolerance would be curiosity. Another grounds for patience would be empathy for others, mainly because there are more “others” than there are “us” today – whichever “us” you happen to belong to.

With so many conversations going on – some constructive, others with folks who have an agenda of some kind – I’ve often wondered how this all came about. A few days ago, while I was reading the current issue of Sports Illustrated (Sportsperson of the Year edition), I experienced an epiphany. It was in the article on the University of Oklahoma’s quarterback Baker Mayfield. The eye opener occurred when he was quoted near the end of the piece. Years ago, I’d heard similar comments on the subject. His views regarding racial violence were quite profound. I defy anyone to refute his observations. While we can definitely build on his feelings, there’s no denying his assessment of the situation is spot on:

“You aren’t born hating anybody. You have no opinions when you’re born. Somewhere along the line, racism is taught. That is where the problem lies. . . I have now been in 2 different locker rooms with over 210 teammates combined, not one person from either of them have come from the same background. But they work perfectly fine, you know why? Because we have common goals. That’s why people need to have the larger picture/common goal of ending Racial Violence.”

 

Turns Out Dwight Howard Is Not Super, Man

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

A friend of mine who works in the NBA refers to Dwight Howard as King Kong because he says he’s the most physically imposing, most dominant player he’s ever encountered and can destroy anyone in his path. Howard is somewhat of a contradiction, however, displaying a jovial, almost playful personality off the court but (when he wants) an immovable force when he’s on it. Thus far in his career, however, Howard is known less for his play than he would like. Probably.

His career began in Orlando when he was hailed (by himself) as Superman. This rankled another center who had played for the Magic, one Shaquille O’Neal. Howard can do a spot on impression of “The Big fill in the blank”, i.e. how he sounds, not necessarily how he plays. Definitely more than how O’Neal competed. While he has been a major force, the closest comparison of he and O’Neal occurs at the free throw line.

In Orlando the bloom came off the rose when head coach Stan Van Gundy, in a press conference, “outed” Howard as the guy who went to management requesting the coach be fired. I recall watching the presser live and it was uncomfortable for me. I can only imagine how the two main characters felt, first Stan who made the media members aware of his star player’s desire to have him replaced, then, even worse, Howard who became that guy who is the last to find out what’s going on. The big phony fella joked until it became apparent to him the truth had already been divulged, then squirmed as he made feeble attempts to address the questions, the answers to which everybody there already had already learned.

Van Gundy did get pink-slipped but, at season’s end, Dwight requested to management that he be traded. When asked about his role in Van Gundy’s dismissal, Howard’s statement regarding the coaching situation was, “I love him as a coach, but I think we need a new voice.” Translation: “A kinder, more coddling voice.” The Magic brass acquiesced to his desire to be traded after the 2011-12 season and he moved to Los Angeles to join the Lakers.

Teaming up with Kobe Bryant could get Howard the “ring” every NBA player dreams of – or so they say (Melo). Bryant who at that time was, arguably, the best player in the world became a mentor to Howard but, for reasons only known to Howard (and the millions of fans in Southern California), he bolted again. Rumor had it that he didn’t share Bryant’s vision (or passion). Off to Houston he went, joining scoring machine, James Harden.

Now, the word on the streets on Houston is that big Dwight isn’t fond of playing “second banana” to The Beard. What many of today’s players don’t seem to understand is that:

“Bananas come in bunches.”

It’s Higher Education Where Logic Doesn’t Apply

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Here’s an overview of college football bowl games:

1) There are 128 FBS teams and – for now – 40 bowl games. Even a poor math student knows that means 80 schools get to participate in a post season bowl game. It takes a little bit more knowledgeable pupil to calculate that 62.5% of college football teams are “awarded” a bowl game. Actually, there are 41 bowl games, including the National Championship, but let’s not confuse matters. Nearly two-thirds of the college football teams play in the post season.

2) Originally, in order to be bowl eligible, a team needed to have at least six wins (which could include one win against a Division I FCS scholarship-awarding opponent) and a winning record – or win their conference. Naturally, the team could not be on probation. However, in 2006 the rules were relaxed so that a winning record was no longer mandatory, the team just had to not have a losing record, i.e. a 6-6 record would suffice.

3) This season there weren’t enough great, good or, even, average teams (what else can a 6-6 record be called?) to fill the 80 slots. The number of bowl eligible teams came up short by three. What’s an organization to do? Well, pick three teams with 5-7 marks and honor them with a bowl game. But how could the NCAA decide which three losing teams were “deserving?” Easy. Make the decision based on, what else? Academics. The justification was that, of all the “least losing-est” programs, three of them had the highest Academic Progress Rate (APR).

How downright foolish is that? If, in fact, that was the deciding factor, maybe in lieu of the coin toss, the captains can answer questions. When asked how he felt about 5-7 teams being allowed to play in a bowl game, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said, “Can you throw in the word ‘pathetic’?” Granted, Herbstreit went to THE Ohio State University, so he is an elitist but on this topic, no one should be hoodwinked.

4) First and foremost, bowl games should be rewards for a good season. Let’s leave the “participation” trophies that have been in vogue with the PC generation debate for another time. Bowl games come under a totally different umbrella. Coaches in Pop Warner (and similar) leagues don’t have six- and seven-figure salaries and don’t get fired for losing (sometimes for winning, but not winning enough).

5) Next, look at this issue from a financial standpoint alone. For the “lesser” bowls, i.e. the great majority of them, the participating schools are forced to buy blocks of tickets. Many of the schools (in reality, more than likely, most of them) can’t sell near enough tickets to avoid a major financial hit to their budgets. In addition, it’s my belief (based on 30 years in intercollegiate athletics, 25 of them at schools with FBS football programs) that coaches receive bonuses if the team participates in a bowl game. So the school is not only paying the coach a (generous) salary (athletics directors claim coaches must be paid what the market demands) but also giving him and his staff bonuses – for leading it to a losing record. Even if this was supposed to be the breakthrough season the fans were led to believe it was. Of course, the coach can be fired – meaning the school has to pay him not to coach, as well as pay a replacement. Be prepared, though, that the new coach will be making more than the previous one.

Also, since this is higher education, there are people in positions of greater importance at the university. Most, if not all of them, feel entitled to travel to the bowl – gratis. With their significant other. And cash in on all goodies.

Proponents of the (inflated) bowl system claim there are many positives with so may teams being included, e.g. rewarding the players for their effort (each participant, including the administrative free loaders, gets some nice swag from the bowl – obviously, the more prestigious the bowl, the sweeter the haul), giving them a trip (up to a week) in a nice location – although sometimes teams don’t leave home, e.g. Navy’s game in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Arizona State playing in the Cactus Bowl in Phoenix and New Mexico playing in Albuquerque in the Gilden New Mexico Bowl (I’ll bet Arizona, their opponent, doesn’t feel leaving Tucson for the Big Al is qualifies as a treat).

Another plus is that the influx of people to watch the game helps the local economy. Check the attendance at some of these events. It’s a matter of greed. Some company wants to attach its name to a bowl. Then hit up other companies to buy seats and suites to entertain clients. All in the name of college football – the Golden Goose. While we’re talking about all that’s good, lets not forget the coaches’ refrain, “It’s good for recruiting.” What, your program is in the top 62.5% of the country? Wow, where do I sign?

Two years ago, Fresno State finished its season at 6-6 with one of its wins coming against Southern Utah, an FCS school. Because they tied for first place with San Diego State in the West division of the Mountain West and beat the Aztecs, the Bulldogs were considered champions. That meant they played Boise State in the MWC championship game – which they lost. Prior to that contest, however, the conference made the decision that, regardless of the outcome, Fresno State would be considered bowl eligible. They lost to Rice in the Honolulu, ending their season at 6-8. True, they did get to experience a trip to Hawai’i but they go there every other year since UH is a member of the MWC West division. Wonder if the school had to spring for “championship rings?”

Sure, coaches will say the greatest benefit of a bowl game (not including the big-time bowls) is the extra practice sessions they can get and how much of an advantage they are toward the following year’s success. To use Fresno State as an example (no other reason than I live in Fresno – I’m certain similar scenarios exist elsewhere), this past year the team’s record was 3-9.

There was an article written entitled, “NCAA study finds all but 20 FBS schools lose money on athletics.” To be fair, the reason these schools are in the red isn’t solely (or even mostly) due to football. But just because football is the biggest (potential) money maker, doesn’t mean money should be wasted. And going to a bowl game without a winning record just doesn’t make sense. From the federal budget on down, the question is:

“Can’t anybody show restraint when it comes to spending?”

A True Role Model Retires

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Last night, while I was watching the Republican Presidential Debate, my phone alerted me that I had a text. It was from our younger son, Alex, who was watching a college basketball game (for those of you who haven’t experienced parenthood, or whose kids are over 35, texting is how today’s children communicate with their parents – unless they want money, then calling is the preferred means of communication). His text was brief (as they usually are) – “Did you see your boy Bo Ryan retired today?”

Like the rest of us who follow college hoops, I knew Bo was planning to retire after this season. The reason for the “your boy” part of the text was because Alex was aware of the history between Bo and me. In fact, Alex was all set to go to Bo’s summer camp at the University of Wisconsin prior to his senior year. Why my son was going to fly a couple thousand miles for a basketball camp, when there are so many others closer to home, was because of the respect I have for Bo’s skill at evaluating prospects. I gave him a call, explained that Alex was being recruited and wanted him to see him up close to give me some feedback on his skills.

For the first-time reader (I’ve made mention of my career many, many times in past blogs), I worked for 30 years as a college basketball assistant, in nine different programs. Recruiting was one of several responsibilities I had over those three decades (1972-2002). That fact gave me insight other parents are not privy to – mainly that the worst people to ask for a true assessment of a prospect are his parents.

Because I knew Bo – and because I knew he would give me an honest appraisal of Alex’s skills – in terms of strengths, weaknesses and what level of ball would be best for him. Alex was all set to attend as a camper and Bo was actually going to use him as a demonstrator during his lecture. Then, as fate would have it, a trip to the doctor’s office uncovered that the pain Alex had recently been experiencing was a sports hernia. He never made the trip and we never got to hear Bo’s opinion.

That was four years ago (how Alex has done will be a topic for a future post). In the meantime, what follows is a portion of the blog I did after Bo, who is one of the most genuine college coaches I’ve ever known, i.e. a man of his word, someone whose interview comments are real (meaning not subliminally intended for recruits) and someone who’s devoid of “coach speak,” led the Badgers to the first of two consecutive trips to the Final Four.

I met Bo Ryan in the summer of 1976 at the prestigious Five-Star Basketball Camp, held on the campus of Robert Morris College. He was a self-described regular guy (although even then, he was a highly successful high school coach) from Chester, PA who’d just been hired as an assistant coach at Wisconsin-Madison. After four years as a graduate assistant at three schools (Vermont, Washington State and Oregon), I was beginning as a full-time assistant at RMC. When the camp broke for lunch, the “other” college coaches headed off with friends in the profession they’d known. I remember Bo and I looking at each other, each with the feeling, “I guess you’re stuck with me.” We hit it off, just a couple of young guys, busting our butts, trying to get ahead in the business – along with nearly everybody else in the profession.

Over that lunch, and subsequent times we’d get together, he told me his dad had been a highly successful coach and was not only the one who had gotten him into coaching but his mentor. It was evident his role model in coaching – and life – was his dad whom I had the chance to meet at a coaches’ convention in a later year. He was exactly as his son had described him.

We got to know each other pretty well and would hang out together at other recruiting events in which we both attended. What always impressed, and kind of amazed, me about Bo was how humble he was. Here he was a Big Ten assistant and never did he flaunt his position. He’d always refer to himself – proudly – as a coach from Chester, PA. I remember when the Wisconsin job subsequently opened (by now, he’d moved from UW-Platteville to UW-Milwaukee where, in his only two seasons, he had produced back-to-back winning seasons from a moribund program). The Badgers wanted Wisconsin native Rick Majerus who was the head coach at the University of Utah – and had taken that program to, not only the Final Four, but to the championship game). Badger Nation was distraught when Rick turned the job down. It was then that the Badgers turned to their (distant) second choice.

I recall seeing former director of athletics at Miami (OH) and Minnesota, Joel Maturi, at the coaches’ convention shortly after Wisconsin hired Bo. Joel was a Wisconsin native (had been associate AD at the Madison campus prior to running the show at Miami) and he and I had become good friends. He remarked to me how happy he was for Bo. I looked at him and said, “Joel, you and I are two of a really small group who know how great a coach Wisconsin just got.” He smiled and concurred, both of us understanding that, soon enough, the rest of the world would soon find out what we knew at that moment.

I guess the old saying is true:

“Good things happen to good people.”

Pete Rose HOF Induction More Confusing Now than Ever

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

If you’re unaware of who the all-time hits leader in the history of major league baseball is (a sport that loves its history more than any other sport), click outta here and find something else to do with the next eight or so minutes of your life.

During his playing career Pete Rose was the ultimate role model to many young baseball players (Baby Boomers to Gen Xers). His nickname was Charlie Hustle. What he did had little to do with his head and much to do with his heart (as well as a couple of body parts to the south). As the new Chevron commercial goes, he was a DOER. Not reader of books, debater or someone using an extensive amount of gray matter, just “strap it on and get it done.” Baseball was what he lived for and he knew only one way to play it, whether the World Series title was on the line or a meaningless All-Star contest (before the winning league’s rep got home field advantage in the World Series – not that that is a tremendous motivator).

Rose switch hit his way into the record books – the all-time Major League leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053), singles (3,215), and, even, outs (10,328). He won three World Series Championships, the same number of battling titles, an MVP, two Gold Glove Awards, was the Rookie of the Year and a 17-time All-Star (at five different positions: first, second and third baseman, as well as a left and right fielder). In addition he was a lifetime .303 hitter. Whew! When people spoke of individuals who were born to play baseball, Pete Rose was example #1. He was, in short, not only the face of baseball but an example of how all bosses wanted their employees to approach their jobs.

One thing I remembered from my high school freshman English class is that all tragic characters have a tragic flaw. Not surprisingly, Charlie Hustle’s tragic flaw was action. At the end of his playing career, he added managing to his resume. Also a major part of his life was gambling, the literal “putting your money where your mouth is.” At issue was the fact that, in every major league locker room is a sign letting players know that the #1 unforgivable sin in baseball was gambling.

But Pete had to gamble. His skills were declining, he couldn’t influence the game like he did during the majority of his, how else to put it but Hall of Fame career. What replaced the thrill of winning ball games with his talents was daring to beat the wise guys. Heck, who knew more about the game than he did? Sure, it was illegal but Pete’s method of fulfilling his competitive jones didn’t deal with good judgment. If ever there was a guy whose motto was, “Ready, fire, aim!” it was Peter Edward Rose.

What certainly evaded Rose’s thought process was, “What do I do if I get caught?” Those who feel major league baseball is not just a game but a religious experience, e.g. veteran players (the ones who played when they had to have actual jobs in the off season to support their families – a large number of whom are Hall of Fame members and, hence, voters) and long-time writers who covered the game during that era – and also happen to be HOF voters), took umbrage at the disdain anyone would have in desecrating the national past time (note: these are folks who still think baseball is the national past time).

Pete Rose got caught and, if he hadn’t understand it before, soon realized how “purists” felt toward gambling, so he did what most “Ready, fire, aim!” chaps do. He lied – and when confronted with the allegations, he indignantly lied again. And again. Then, with his story collapsing and the evidence shown to be overwhelmingly against him, he did what he had to do. He broke down and threw himself on the mercy of his adoring public. He admitted to betting on games but not on games in which his team played. Unfortunately, that also turned out to be untrue, so what followed was all too predictable – those who adored him, forgave him; while those who couldn’t get past someone violating the game’s #1 edict, refused to do so. The reasoning went from, “Hey, there are worse people in the HOF than Pete, e.g. bigots, cheaters and (other) liars,” to “He committed an unpardonable sin, was continually dishonest – so, sorry, he is undeserving of such an honor.”

Rose was given a lifetime ban from baseball. In order to “make a living” (the race track, a fun hangout for Rose, was a cash business), he began capitalizing on the thousands of Pete Rose loyalists. There were autograph shows with Pete hawking his signature on pictures, bats, balls and any kind of memorabilia his handlers could locate. While it was quite profitable, it rankled those who couldn’t get past his previous behavior. It seemed as though Pete was contrite – but on his own terms. Final verdict: no Hall of Fame for Pete Rose.

To some, myself included, it is unfathomable that the all-time hits leader in MLB isn’t a member of the HOF (even if he gets in with an asterisk). He got each and every one of those hits legitimately. Yet, I do see where those whom baseball means as much as it did/does can’t get past doing something everybody in the sport has been instructed – from the moment they step into a locker room – is wrong.

With a new commissioner, Rose had another shot. Rob Manfred, MLB’s new chief, gave Rose an audience. The outcome of that meeting confused matters. “In short,” Manfred concluded, “Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing, so clearly established by the Dowd Report, or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the circumstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989.”

Where the confusion comes is in another of Manfred’s statements. “In fact, in my view, the considerations that should drive a decision on whether an individual should be allowed to work in baseball are not the same as those that should drive a decision on Hall of Fame eligibility,” Manfred wrote. “Any debate over Mr. Rose’s eligibility for the Hall of Fame is one that must take place in a different forum.” The interpretation of that comment is that Pete could be in the HOF but still be banned from working with the MLB. As far as the “buck” goes, Rob Manfred is no Harry Truman. The moral of Pete Rose story can best be described as:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive.”

 

 

Random Thoughts for a Thursday

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Calendar is booked through the beginning of next week. This blog will return Tuesday, Dec. 15.

Remember when all the pundits were awarding Leonard Fournette the Heisman Trophy?

How about the #1 football team in the nation being an underdog to #4 – on a neutral field? Somebody is making a mistake. Not certain who, but seldom is it a good idea to bet against the wise guys.

Dodger fans who thought their closer problems were over after signing Aroldis Chapman found out they still need relief.

Donald Trump told Barbara Walters he was the least racist person she’d ever met. Considering Miss Barbara interviewed Mother Teresa, his statement might be a tad overstated. (Believe it or not, I came up with this before Jimmy Kimmel – damn, I wish I’d posted this a few minutes ago).

You have be up there in years to remember, i.e. at least a Baby Boomer, but did you ever think watching Kobe Bryant play would evoke memories of Willie Mays – for the Mets?

Are the Warriors happier they’re undefeated or worried more with the fact that while they have yet to lose, they’re only five games ahead of the Spurs?

Leading entry for greatest backhanded compliment ever was the fool who criticized John Calipari for being “the first coach with four losses as #1 in the nation.” Isn’t that a compliment? How many coaches are good enough to be the coach of the #1 team in the country? Recall that once your team loses, you’re no longer #1, so to get to #1 four times is quite a feat. Let’s not forget Cal won a national championship, meaning he coached a team to #1 – and finished there. Maybe it’s because he’s a much better strategist than he’s given credit for. Maybe it’s because he’s as a fabulous recruiter as he’s given credit for. But whether it’s one, the other or, more likely, closer to both, I’ll bet every coach in the country would love to have that “criticism” attributed to them.

Do Dusty Baker’s quotes, “… you’ve got a better chance of getting some speed with Latin and African-Americans. I’m not being racist. That’s just how it is…” sound racist – to people who know him?  Is it necessary to make such a big deal about it? What Jimmy the Greek said about “breeding” was a bookie making making a medical argument that had no basis. At least there has been no empirical evidence to back up his claim. Baker is “old school” and feels the way he does based on his experiences – similar to those people who believe in evaluating with sabermetrics is the best way to judge talent. OK, Baker isn’t PC but does anybody think he wouldn’t drool over the possibility of having Mike Trout or Bryce Harper on his team? Or that he wouldn’t play them? He’s a baseball guy who shouldn’t have had to apologize for comments that weren’t intended to be hateful.

Why don’t we take advice from Weight Watchers and:

“Lighten up.”

 

One Way the Warriors Can Be Derailed

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Not only are the Golden State Warriors acting like the Harlem Globetrotters but they’re making the rest of the NBA look like the Washington Generals. There was even a tweet from the Globbies, congratulating the Dubs on their current streak, saying it now puts them only 3,562 behind every fan’s favorite basketball entertainment team. The difference is the Gens, while a talented bunch of players, were acting out a script.

It appears the Warriors are actually abiding by the cliche that sportswriters despise, i.e. “play one game at a time.” Their latest road kill was the team many folks predicted was going to be the one to finally halt Golden State’s streak. Instead, the Indiana Pacers became the 23rd victim (in 23 games), losing 131-123. Is there no stopping the Boys from the Bay?

There is one way the Warriors’ streak, and even their season, could be stopped dead in their tracks – and every team knows exactly what it is. Injuries. It’s not luck the Warriors have been so good. Their offense, especially, is predicated on timing. They work so well as a team, with every guy on the floor knowing where he’s supposed to be, as well as where his teammates are supposed to be, that the ball moves in such a way that they’re always one step ahead of the defense. That doesn’t happen by accident and a team so precise cannot stand disruption of their rhythm. Last year they dealt with a couple of inconveniences to their lineup due to guys not being 100% healthy but, for the most part, they glided through the season unscathed.

So far this season they also have been, according to the new catch word of athletes, “blessed.” The only injury bug they couldn’t avoid was back surgery to their head coach, Steve Kerr. Which, believe me because I know from firsthand experience, can (and in Kerr’s case, as in mine, did) lead to another surgery. Taking over the head coaching reins (mostly because last year’s lead assistant, Alvin Gentry, took the head coaching job with the New Orleans Pelicans and the other returning veteran coach, Ron Adams, is not nearly as suited for a head coaching role as he is a defensive guru – possibly the best one in the NBA) is 35-year old Luke Walton. Following a 10-year NBA career, Walton was, for a brief period of time, i.e. the NBA lockout, an assistant at the University of Memphis. Other than an assistant position on the Warriors’ staff during last season’s championship run, his only coaching experience was as a development coach in the D-League.

Based on the results thus far, you’d never know it. However, a chink in Walton’s armor, in the form of inexperience, might have shown last night. Ask any NBA coach (with the possible exception of Gregg Popovich) and they will tell you one of the most draining ordeals a head coach has to go through is dealing with the media. The Warriors’ success has been a two-edged sword for writers and talking heads in that winning every game has become a broken record. How many times can “winning another one” be told? Getting the scoop or causing a meltdown have become career-makers in that business so finding a mole, aka “anonymous source” who will give up dirt or a question that’s a little more pointed or nasty.

While there has been no mention of Walton being frustrated with such tactics – or, in fact, whether someone has attempted maneuvers of that kind – the pressure of a winning streak that’s somewhat unprecedented (including the possibility of being the first NBA team ever to sweep a 7-game road trip – last night was the fifth game away from Oracle) maybe influenced his decision to re-insert his main three guys (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) into a game that the Warriors comfortably led ever since they ran off a 22-0 run in the first quarter, turning a 15-21 deficit into a 37-21 rout.

The new NBA has so many more analytics and statistics than when Steph’s, Klay’s and Luke’s dads were playing, often it influences moves made more than, possibly, it should. Kind of an “information overload,” also known as TMI. Without getting into such hard-to-understand formulas that make up stats such as USG% (keep in mind that I was a math major and teacher, yet haven’t been able to grasp how it’s calculated or why it’s needed), let’s take a look at +/-. This is a statistic that shows how the team did when you were in the game, e.g. how many points your team scored vs. how many the opponent scored. So, if your +/- for the game is a +, it means that if the winner was decided only by the times you were on the floor, your team would have won. Conversely, a – stat for you would mean an L. Notice, though, that this statistic is based almost as much as which four teammates you’re in with, as well as which five players are in the game for the opponent. Let’s not forget Mark Twain’s famous line, “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

During last night’s contest, starters Curry (+18), Green (+18), Thompson (+19) and Bogut (+31) were exceptional. The fifth starter, Brandon Rush, however, was a -12. Every substitute, except for Andre Iguodala (+18), was on the negative side, with backup point guard Shaun Livingston checking in at an unforgivable -27. For the record, I know of no coach who substitutes during a game based on +/- stats. Some may determine future playing time based on the statistic but, usually, in-game subs are done using the eye test – and the gut, if another body part is involved.

Heading into the fourth quarter, Golden State was up 28 points (111-83) and it looked like the starters were done for the evening. A 12-2 run to begin the final frame cut the lead to 18 (113-95) with 9:13 to play and, about three-and-a-half minutes later, it was cut to 16. In any case, when Walton made the late game substitutions, there was 5:48 left in the fourth quarter. Did he make the move out of fear the game might be lost (with his stars on the bench), was his decision based on the suggestion of an assistant or did he want to send a message to his second unit? It surely wasn’t to get Thompson back in to get 40 (he had 39 when he checked back in).

As is often the case, when guys think their work is done because the outcome is inevitable, they mentally as well as physically check out. After the “Big Three” re-entered the game, the Pacers cut the lead to six (somewhat deceptive because there were only 24 seconds), meaning they were outscored 18-8 in that stretch.

Outside of terrorism and terminal illnesses (along with, certainly a few others that escape my mind at 2:45 am as I conclude this post), I admit to loathing people who second guess coaches. No doubt it’s because I was one and, having been a career assistant, fans felt more comfortable bitching about moves made to me than they did to the head coach. One factor for Golden State, however, which may or may not affect the ball club (although it looks like not since the X-rays were negative) is Thompson spraining his ankle with just under a minute remaining. There seems to be little debate that, for the long haul of an 82-game season, Popovich manages players’ minutes better than any other coach. While Walton’s late game substitution might have saved the streak, does anyone think an NBA team is going to go 82-0?

The interim coach (and Western Conference Coach of the Month for October/November) explained his move. “We all know we’re gonna lose a game and when that is, we don’t know but when it happens, we’ll be fine with it.” Yet the way he approached the Pacers cutting the lead to 16 was reminiscent of Kentucky last year when, prior to the season, John Calipari made the statement, It would be neat one year to go 41-0.” But the college game is one-and-done. Even if an NBA club did finish 82-0, they would have to win a 7-game series. And another, and another, and another. So the pressure of “winning them all” in the NBA is foolish, or put another way:

“You don’t want to win the battle and lose the war,”