Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

Sometimes You Just Need to Admit When Someone’s More Popular than You

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Longer than usual basketball weekend in Monterey. This blog will return Tuesday, Dec. 23.

As stated in this space on numerous occasions, “technologically challenged” is a term that could be used to describe me, except other technologically challenged people might take offense if they ever caught a glimpse of me on an everyday basis. “Hey, no way I’m as bad as him!” I can almost hear them now.

So, many years ago, when a friend of mine was assuring me that entering into the “modern” method of communication, i.e. email, was going to be easy, I mentioned nothing involving tech was easy for me. First, we had to decide what our new “address” was going to be. Since our older son, Andy, was pretty clever – and possessed computer skills – Jane and I thought it would be a good idea to have him decide what the new “family” email address would be.

Andy thought about it and said, “How about ‘aajjbball@aol.com’? It would stand for andy, alex, jane, jack, basketball.” Are you kidding me? Who’s kid is that brilliant? Did I fail to mention that, at the time Andy came up with this sensational idea, he was eight years old. It didn’t take long before we realized that, while allowing an eight-year-old to come up with an email address is a wonderful example of “today’s parents” empowering their child, it would cause major grief when people asked what our email was and it took 3-4 minutes to explain it to them so they’d get it right.

Shortly thereafter, it didn’t take long to realize I needed my own personal email and told my friend I just wanted something simple. We decided on jackfertig@aol.com. Perfect! Only then, he told me there was a glitch. Someone was using that email address.

I knew immediately. When I was an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee in the mid-’80s, there was a period of about two weeks in which I received in the mail (the kind the post office delivered) around 20 copies of the National Enquirer, the original tabloid rag, from coaching colleagues all across the nation.

Apparently, there was a guy in San Francisco who was a cross dresser – at that time, he dressed as a nun, and called himself Sister Boom-Boom. The guy’s real name was, you guessed it, Jack Fertig. I always wondered what all those basketball coaches were doing reading the Enquirer.

Well, my old nemesis once again appeared (invisibly) to cause me grief, only this time it was because he had used the email address jackfertig@aol.com. Would such a minor setback like that stop me? Absolutely not. I told my friend I’d use fertigjack@aol.com.

And that is what my email address remains today. Nope, no zoho or yandex for me (I just looked those up and have absolutely no idea what in the world they are. I’ve heard of hotmail, yahoo and gmail but that’s too radical for me. Besides, I don’t want to jump into anything too quickly. For many years I held firm to the belief that:

“Computers were just a fad and people would get over them.”

P.S. If you Google “Jack Fertig,” the first two links are for the “other” Jack Fertig. And he died over two-and-a-half years ago.

Opinions on Lady Vols

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Kids Will Always Give Honest Answers

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

For those of you who have a close friend, relative, neighbor or co-worker who is having, or recently had, a baby – and are looking for the perfect gift, one that is unique, personalized, colorful and educational –  it just so happens I have a company that produces such items. The website is CuteBabyNameGifts.com. The gifts are done by exceptional artists (not me, I can’t draw stick figures) on poster board with colored pencils and are suitable for framing.

When you go to the website’s Home Page, there is a story about why I began this venture. Although I don’t mention names in that anecdote, I’ll reveal now the coach whose wife had the baby was Ron Zook, at the time my neighbor, as well as the defensive backfield coach at the University of Tennessee who later went on to become an assistant with the Steelers and Saints, before taking over the head coaching job at Florida and Illinois. It will be well worth your while to log on just to read the account of what happened 30 years ago.

This little promo wasn’t intended to sell gifts (however, if you place an order, we’ll be delighted to promptly fill your request). The reason for the stroll down memory lane is because several of the orders we’ve received recently have been names with unconventional spellings. The major advantage of our company is that, since each gift is individually done, we can handle any spelling – even punctuation for that matter – which has become popular among this generation’s parents.

Today’s blog, though, is about some older parents. Actually, it’s about my wife and myself (it also happens to be a story from my book, Life’s A Joke). When we found out we were going to have another boy, my wife and I, after considerable reflection, felt we had come up with a name we both liked.

Since we had a son, Andy, who was a little older than four at that time, we thought it would only be right to run his soon-to-be brother’s name by him to see if we could obtain a unanimous vote. “Andy, you know Mom’s having a little brother soon. We’re thinking of naming him Alexander. Do you like that name?”

Andy, even back then, was somewhat of a deep thinker. He scrunched up his face, giving serious consideration to what he was going to be calling his new little bro. Four-year-olds are so innocent we knew we were going to get exactly what he felt. Finally, he looked at us and said,

“I like Alex but I don’t like Xander.”

CuteBabyNameGifts.com can do Xander. We’ve already done a Sarai, Leomar, Ragan, Aren, Finnian, Kyaneh, Ronan, Berlynn, Chezney and Jenasis. For about 30 others, visit our Home Page.

 

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

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Spend It Cuz U Got It.” 

 

Wrapping Up the College Football Playoff Committee’s Decision

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Imagine if we still had the BCS?”

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

Friday, December 5th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!!!”

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

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pretend inferiority and encourage arrogance.”

 

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

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How Small Talk Led to an Enlightening Experience

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Thanksgiving for the Fertig family is going to be in Monterey this year since younger son, Alex, and his Cal State Monterey Bay Otters have a game on Friday. Older son, Andy, will be making the not-so-fun drive (especially the day before Thanksgiving) from Orange County to the Central Coast – a five hour jaunt with no traffic. This blog will return on Tuesday, December 2.

Last Saturday my wife, Jane, and I attended Alex’s game against Notre Dame (not that one) – as we do for each one of the Otters’ contests. The site of the game was Belmont, CA, a suburb of San Francisco. Since game time was 3:00pm, we had a chance, not only for some fine dining (as opposed to settling for whatever is open after 10, about the time we make it to a restaurant after a 7:30 start) but an opportunity to do so in San Fran.

Whenever I’m asked to pick a place to eat, 100% of the time my choice is an Italian joint. Luckily, Jane also likes Italian food (maybe not as much as I do as my taste buds rival Tony Sopranos’) but, truth be told, independent of the restaurant, nearly every time we go out, she orders salmon. So, following the Otters’ win, we headed to North Beach, the Little Italy of San Francisco. After asking for suggestions from people in the area, we decided to go to, where else, the North Beach Restaurant. Usually I like going to an Italian restaurant whose name ends in a vowel but, if you ask for advice from the locals, you might as well listen.

Normally, I’m like “time,” i.e. I wait for no man. Or restaurant. But since the valet had taken our car and it was long gone when we heard the news of a 15-20 minute wait, I concluded sitting at the bar would pose no problem. I didn’t see any open tables so when the maitre d’ came and told us to follow him, I was a little surprised – until he took us downstairs, to their “wine cellar,” and another 30 or so tables. Our maitre d’ told us the place seated 344 people. Considering the place was packed – in the middle of “Little Italy” – it looked like we made the right choice after all. When Jane mentioned to him that this was our first time in his restaurant, he coolly said, “We just opened – 44 years ago.” That quip told me this guy was all right.

At the table next to us was a couple of guys wearing Washington Redskins jerseys (the 49ers’ opponent the next day). I asked them if they were locals who rooted for the ‘Skins (doubtful, with the history of the 49ers, nearly every football fan in San Francisco pledges allegiance to them) or if they’d flown in for the game. As I suspected, their plane landed the previous day. “In addition to my season tickets, I go to a few road games every year,” said the “spokesman” of the two. “I was out here for business last year but didn’t have time to see the city.” We chatted about a number of items – former players from their championship years to comparing DC and SF as cities. Then I asked him the hot topic question – what did he think of the logo controversy?

This led to quite an interesting conversation. It was an exchange of information, the kind in which the participants are wiser at the end of it than they were before having spoken. Too many times people engage in a discussion in which one or both of them feels there has to be a winner and a loser, then does whatever they can to “defeat” the other. Issues creep in, many of which add nothing to the dialogue and often, the parties’ comments take on a spiteful, personal nature that destroys the conversation and usually winds up with neither being wiser, but both believing (although skeptically) they won. In fact, this type of verbal abuse yields only losers.

I asked him if the protests in Washington were the work of actual Native Americans or simply groups looking to advance a cause – because I didn’t know and figured he might. I’ve always felt that the decision regarding the team being called “Redskins” should be voiced by those who were offended, i.e. Native Americans, not by those who felt like Native Americans should be offended. He remarked that the nickname was given as a measure of respect, not ridicule. I responded by with the comment that while that might have initially been the case, times change and today’s generation of Native Americans could see the nickname as derogatory toward their people.

He said, and I had the feeling that he was speaking for an entire group of loyal backers, “I’ve never felt as though I was cheering for actual “Redskins,” as in Native Americans. I was only supporting my favorite team, just like Eagles fans don’t think they’re cheering for birds or Cowboys fans believe they’re rooting for guys with six-shooters.”

Naturally, because he was a long, long time fan of the team, he was emotional about the issue. “One thing I know is that Dan Snyder will never change it.” Then he added:

“No matter what is finally decided, they’ll always be the ‘Redskins’ to me.”

Interestingly, since that conversation, I was privy to an article written by my favorite sportswriter (as well as most everyone else’s – Jim Murray- certainly if they’re older than 35). It was written on November 22, 1973 for his employer, the LA Times. The topic was what he was thankful for. It began,I’m thankful the Old South finally got blacks in university backfields and lines – but I’d be more thankful if the rooting sections would put away those Confederate flags. To a black, that must have all the warmth and charm of a swastika.”

Some perspective from a wise man.

 

The Poor Kid Was Just Trying to Fit In

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Last night Jennifer Aniston was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Whenever stars are on talk shows, you can pretty much bet they either are in a new movie, have a new TV show or have written a book. As most people are aware, Aniston is one of the headliners in the movie, Horrible Bosses II. When I heard there was going to be a sequel to . . . (if you don’t know what the original movie was called, I’ll let you try to figure it out on your own – basically, what Common Core is all about), it brought a smile to my face. Actually, I laughed out loud, thinking about the story I’m about to tell.

During my final year of teaching (three years ago), I had a class for juniors and seniors called Algebra Topics. The students in this class were kids who couldn’t handle Algebra 2. The purpose of it was to get the juniors ready for Algebra 2 and get the seniors ready for the community college placement test. Without three years of college prep math (Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2), students had to go the community college (also referred to as, junior college) route. JCs had three math courses: “bonehead” math (my term, but at least you understand what it is), basic algebra and actual college math (the only one of the three that would transfer to a four-year college). The course content was designed to get the seniors to a point where they, at least, could enter at the second level. Bottom line: These kids were beyond bad in math. Nice enough kids, but when it came to math knowledge, 90% were bone dry.

Around the second week of school, I’d let the class know that, in nearly every problem they’d face, the ultimate goal was to “get the x by itself.” We started with a very simple problem, x + 2 = 5. “In this problem,” I’d ask, “what’s keeping the x from being by itself?” No sweat. They’d all answer, “the 2.”

“Absolutely right. Now, does everybody know what the word ‘stalking’ means?” In today’s classroom atmosphere (especially the school district in which I taught), teachers had to be extremely careful with the words and examples they chose. However, I was somewhat of a maverick, plus this example had been so successful in getting my point across, it was worth any potential risk.

A brief discussion of stalking’s definition ensued until we agreed on its meaning. The class came to the conclusion that stalking meant one person was constantly harassing another and that the person being stalked wanted the stalker gone. “In this problem, the +2 is stalking the x. If we can eliminate the +2, the x will be by itself and we’ll have solved the problem.” I continued, “What’s the best way to eliminate the stalker?” This led to a multitude of answers, some more radical than others, but invariably, somebody (usually the rebel, sometimes the clown) would blurt out, “Kill him!”

Just to let those of you who wondered why I used this, here was my reasoning: I would erase the +2 and tell them “I just ‘killed’ the +2″ and point out that wasn’t the right answer. Then I would ask them why killing a stalker is not a good idea. In every case, someone would say because it’s against the law. I would tell them they were right, that they would have to find another – legal – way to get the x by itself. Enough of the math lesson, let’s get to the reason for this blog.

In this, my final year of teaching, in addition to the “Kill him” people, one of them said, “Hire a hit man.” One of the students in the class was a kid from a group home. He was new to our school district. I noticed from his transcript that he’d lived in several places. While his behavior wasn’t exemplary, he didn’t seem like a trouble maker. So, when, after the comment, “Hire a hit man,” was made, I was shocked to hear his voice from the back of the room.

“Yeah, like Motherfucker Jones.”

Dead silence. I thought I’d heard him correctly but because I had never heard anything so blatantly profane, I said,” Excuse me?”

He looked at me, smiled, and said, “You know, like Motherfucker Jones.”

I couldn’t help but smile at how brazen his remark was and how casually he said it when I asked him to repeat it. “Sorry, buddy, I’m going to have to write you up on that one. I can’t have it going around school that a student said that and I let it slide. Explain yourself to the person in the SRC.” He gave me a confused look but took the referral and went a couple doors down to the Student Responsibility Center.

It wasn’t until a month or so later, when I went to watch the movie Horrible Bosses in which three guys have horrible bosses and one of them says how much better their lives would be if their bosses were dead. They, then, hired a hit man. I’ll give you one guess what that character’s name was.

All this new kid in our school was trying to do was join a conversation. He didn’t know math but when the subject of “hit men” came up, he chimed in. And got thrown out of class. When I returned to school the day after I saw the movie, I pulled him aside and said:

“My bad.”