Kevin Stefanski To the Browns…

The Cleveland Browns reportedly are about to hire Kevin Stefanski – previously the offensive coordinator for the Vikes – to be their next head coach.  According to reports, the Browns interviewed 8 candidates for the job and Stefanski came out on top.  On the assumption that he is indeed ready to be a head coach, it would appear that Stefanski has a good gig waiting for him.  There is plenty of physical talent on that roster.  His challenge will be to convince the players to get their heads right and get their minds focused on football.

  • Baker Mayfield needs to say, “No,” to at least one endorsement/commercial.
  • Odell Beckham, Jr. needs to stop telling opponents to “come and get” him.
  • Myles Garrett needs to get off his suspension.

On the other hand, I heard one report on sports radio that I have not seen in any printed report, so let me say that IF THE FOLLOWING IS CORRECT, Kevin Stefanski may be looking at a short tenure in Cleveland.

  • Most observers agree that owner Jimmy Haslam is meddlesome and that his heavy involvement with the “football side of things” has not been a big plus for the team.
  • Supposedly, Stefanski agreed in the interview processes that he would meet weekly with Haslam and analytics guru Paul DePodesta to talks about game plans and the analytics that support that game plan.

That surely sounds to me as if Jimmy Haslam is going to double down on his meddling and cross over into micromanagement territory.

Regarding another recent head coach hiring in the NFL, Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel had this to say:

“Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he hired Mike McCarthy as his new coach because ‘I heard bells’ while interviewing McCarthy. Um, Jerry, you might want to check the battery in your office smoke detector.”

We are only a month away from the launch of XFL 2.0.  The XFL will have some different rules from NFL games; you can go over all of them here.  The XFL rules pertaining to kickoffs and overtimes are sufficiently complicated that I won’t even try to describe them or analyze them here.  Suffice it to say that kickoffs and overtimes in the XFL will bear no resemblance to those same events in NFL or college football games.

Several of the rule differences seem like positive ones to me.  For example, after a touchdown, the scoring team has the option to run a single play from the 2 yardline or the 5 yardline or the 10 yardline.  If that play gets into the end zone, the try would be worth 1 point or 2 points or 3 points respectively.  I like that innovation; those single plays will be more interesting than a place kick.

The XFL will have a 25 second play clock that will start as soon as the officials have placed the ball to determine the line of scrimmage.  The objective is to speed up the game and provide more action.  Sounds good to me.  Moreover, until the final 2 minutes of each half, the clock will not stop between plays for things like going out of bounds or an incomplete pass.  The officials will spot the ball for the next play and the clock will count down…  This sounds interesting and is worth a try.

Another interesting rule difference involves punts.  Any punt that goes out of bounds inside the receiving team’s 35 yardline comes out to the 35 yardline.  Same goes for punts that go into the end zone or out of the end zone.  That could result in fewer punts and more teams attempting to get a first down on 4th and short.

There will be no “coaches’ challenges” regarding replays.  There will be a Replay Official “in a booth above the field” and that official will have the authority to review plays where there are objective criteria for infractions – – such as too many men on the field or a timing error on the game clock.  Pass interference calls will not be reviewed.

Here is a rule innovation that does not seem to answer any real need.  Offensive teams may throw 2 forward passes on a play so long as the ball never crosses the line of scrimmage.  Currently, any forward pass no matter where it is caught means that no other forward pass is permitted.  I don’t think this rule will hurt anything, but I cannot figure out why anyone thought it was necessary to improve the product.

I am skeptical about the wisdom of an innovation the XFL plans to try out.  Multiple players will have receivers in the helmets so that various coaches can talk to the players.  Those communications will be available to the “broadcast partners” and may be put on the air.  Just as players who are “mic’ed up” in current games provide meaningless interruptions, this one has the potential to be really useless.

I do not like the XFL adoption of the college rule for a completed pass where only one foot need be inbounds.  Look, there are already enough rules to favor the offense; I don’t need yet one more…

Here is the new rule I like the best:

  • Halftime will be 10 minutes long.
  • That means no halftime extravaganzas in the stadium and a truncated “studio halftime show”.  How great is that?

Finally, given this observation by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times, I suspect that he may appreciate some of the XFL rules to shorten game times:

“According to a study conducted by four universities in Ireland, the average doctor visit there lasts 14.1 minutes.

“Or roughly the same as an NFL video replay-review.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Football Friday 1/10/20

It’s playoff time; it’s Friday.  Can it be anything other than Football Friday?  No, it cannot…

Last week’s Six-Pack – diminished as it was having only three entries – was as bland as possible.  Last week’s record was 1-1-1.  Back when Gene Mauch managed the Phillies, someone asked him how he felt after the team rallied in the second game of a double header to get a split in those two games.  Mauch offered this metaphor:

  • “Splitting a double header is like kissing your sister through a screen door.”

That pretty much sums up how I feel about last week’s Six-Pack.  Here are how those predictions have turned out for the season:

  • Overall:  43-28-4
  • College:  20-7-1
  • NFL:  23-21-3

 

College Football Commentary:

 

I know that these things run in cycles; but for the past 15 years or so the SEC has been the best college football conference top-to-bottom.  The best teams in the conference have always been part of the discussion when the topic is “best team in the country”; the teams there who were “in the money but not on top” have been very good; the mediocre teams have had ways to surprise the football world a couple of times a year.  Of course, there were always bottom feeders that could beat up on the worst teams from other conferences but who were non-competitive in the SEC.  Overall, the only time SEC football was uninteresting – or even boring – was when teams there scheduled out of conference doormat opponents – and all of them have done that.

Over the last month, SEC football has gotten even more interesting than it was.  First, Ole Miss hired Lane Kiffin as its head coach.  Lane Kiffin attracts attention and controversy like a picnic blanket attracts ants.  This week Mississippi State – less than 100 miles as the crow flies from Ole Miss – hired Mike Leach as its head coach.  To say that Mike Leach is “different” from your average football coach would be like saying mustard is “different” from your typical milk shake flavors.

Lane Kiffin’s teams have been good offensively – save for that brief interlude with the Oakland Raiders.  That seems to have been the general heading for Ole Miss teams in recent years; Kiffin would seem to be an attempt by the Rebels to hit the gas pedal even harder.

Mike Leach clearly embraces the idea of winning by outscoring the opponent.  He was at Texas Tech before Klif Kingsbury was there and the Red Raiders were often north of 40 points – win or lose.  Consider these stats from his team at Washington State last season:

  • Six times the Cougars scored more than 40 points in a single game.  Their record in those games was 5-1.  The loss came against UCLA by a score of 67-63.

[Aside:  For the sake of symmetry, the Cougars won a game where they gave up 53 points; that was against Oregon State and the score was 54-53.]

  • Cumulative scores for the Cougars’ schedule last year were Wash State 470 and Opponents 377.  The typical Washington State game saw 65.2 points on the scoreboard by both teams; that is more than a point a minute.

I have no idea if Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense will translate to SEC competition, but it should be fun to watch.  Moreover, it will be interesting to see how some of Mike Leach’s idiosyncrasies play out.  He seems to be obsessed with pirates and has some views about aliens that – politely put – are not akin to mainstream science.

The SEC just got even more interesting…

 

College Game This Week:

 

(Mon Nite) Clemson vs LSU – 6 (69):  Back in August, plenty of college football fans and pundits had Clemson as a participant in this Championship Game.  If anyone outside Baton Rouge thought that LSU would be here, I must have missed that pronouncement.  Both teams arrive here undefeated.  LSU has had only two games where the margin of victory was less than 10 points; Clemson’s schedule duplicates those outcomes.  LSU QB, Joe Burrow deservedly won the Heisman Trophy with a spectacular performance over the entire 2019-20 season; Clemson QB, Trevor Lawrence might be the first “generational talent at a QB” since Andrew Luck.  If you are a college football fan, you will make time to watch this game – or record it and watch it later.  I’ll put two selections on this game in this week’s Six-Pack:

  • I like Clemson plus the 6 points
  • I like the game to go OVER 69 points

 

NFL Commentary:

 

People have spent a lot of time over the last month or so complaining about the NFC East as the worst division in the NFL and why it was unfair for that division champion to host a playoff game.  That sort of whining is well beyond annoying because it is irrelevant; the NFL is thriving with the playoff system that is in place; they are not going to change it based on a year or two of unbalanced performance.  Recall that it was not all that long ago when the NFC South was the weakest division and the Panthers won that division with a record of 7-8-1.  Notwithstanding the impotence of all that wailing about the NFC East, the fact is that this year’s performance by that division was pathetic.  Consider:

  • Each NFC East team played 10 games outside the division.  In those 40 games the NFC East record was 12-28.  That is a winning percentage of .300.

            Lots of folks are heaping praise on the Seahawks because they win their close games.  Ten of their wins this year have been by one score – – if you count one game with an 8-point margin of victory as a one-score game.  Only one loss was by a single score.  There is good reason to praise the Seahawks for that performance.

However, the obverse should be considered too.  The LA Chargers record in one-score games this year was 2-9.  Just as the Seahawks should be praised for winning ten close games this year, the Chargers should be criticized for their record in close games.

Last week was an unusual week in NFL football.  Jameis Winston did not throw a single INT …

The Dolphins fired their offensive coordinator, Chad O’Shea.  [Confession: I could not pick him out of a line-up with the WNBA All-Star Team.]  His replacement will be Chan Gailey who has been retired from NFL coaching activities since 2016.  When I read this announcement, my immediate reactions were:

  • So what?
  • Why?

I have not come up with a response to the first question above but perhaps this is why the Dolphins made their move:

  • The Dolphins’ team was constructed to lose games and to get well with the top pick in the Draft along with other first round picks garnered in trading away what few quality players the Dolphins began the season with.
  • The Dolphins won 5 games; they overachieved.
  • That performance cost the Dolphins the top pick and “control” of this year’s Draft.

Maybe Chad O’Shea was fired for thwarting the strategic objectives of the team…

There were some Highlights from last weekend’s games:

  • Derrick Henry ran over, under, around and through the Pats’ defense for 204 yards from scrimmage.  The Titans won the game despite only gaining 72 yards passing.
  • Deshaun Watson led the Texans to a win despite being sacked 7 times in the game.
  • Kirk Cousins played like a $28M per year QB.

There were also a few Lowlights from last weekend’s games:

  • The Patriots’ lack of top-shelf talent at WR and TE was prominently on display over the weekend.
  • Drew Brees’ first fumble of 2019 – he dropped the ball; it was not knocked from his grasp – was a kill shot for the Saints.  The Saints had the ball at the Vikes’ 20 yardline late in the 4th quarter leading 20-17.   Also, Brees only averaged 6.8 yards per catch (5.4 yards per attempt) against the Vikes.  Those are Blake Bortles numbers…

 

NFL Games This Week:

 

One overall observation here…  Usually in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, most of the games have tight spreads; having one game of the four with a full TD spread is not out of the ordinary.  This year, three of the four games have wide spreads; two of them are 10 points or more.

(Sat 4:30 PM EST) Minnesota at SF – 7 (44):  I think this is the key to the game:

  • The Vikes’ OL is not all that good at protecting Kirk Cousins – – unless Dalvin Cook is running well thereby keeping the defensive front honest.
  • The Niners’ DL is going to pressure Cousins severely all day if Dalvin Cook is not running well to keep them honest.
  • See the essence of the issue emerging here?

Teams have been able to run on the Niners’ defense this year.  That unit ranks 23rd in the league against the run in yards per carry allowed.  That is why I think Dalvin Cook is the key to this game.  If the Vikes can bring the same defensive energy/precision that they had last week against the Saints, they might just steal the game on the final drive.  I think it should be a close game.  I’ll put the Vikes plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

(Sat 8:15 PM EST) Tennessee at Baltimore – 10.5 (47):  The spread on this game started the week at 9.5 points; this morning it is at either 10 or 10.5 points just about everywhere with one Internet sportsbook offering an 11-point spread.  The trend is clearly “up”.  The Ravens come to the field with 12 consecutive wins on the books.  They have only lost two games this season and those came in back-to-back weeks in September:

  • 9/22/19: The Ravens lost to the Chiefs in KC; understandable…
  • 9/29/19: The Ravens then lost to the Browns at home; say what?

Ravens’ RB, Mark Ingram, did not practice Wednesday due to a “calf injury”.  Is that a precaution or is this a serious injury that might limit Ingram’s participation on Saturday?

Derrick Henry is the key to this game for a slightly different reason than Dalvin Cook is the key to the Vikes/Niners game  The Titans need to get the lead and then control the tempo – – and the offensive options left to the Ravens as they play from behind.  If this game starts out as a shoot-out, the Titans will not keep up.

Last week, I put the Titans in the Six-Pack as a Money Line pick and the Titans won outright.  I don’t think the Titans can win this one, but their defense is solid, and they should be able to run the ball.  I think the line is fat, so I’ll put the Titans plus the points in this week’s six-Pack.

(Sun 3:00 PM EST) Houston at KC – 10 (51):  Historically, Andy Reid’s teams do very well after a BYE Week; his teams are 17-3 straight up in their last 20 games after a BYE Week.  The Chiefs’ defense has come to life late in the season.  Back in Week 6, the Texans beat the Chiefs 31-24; I do not see that happening again  That is a big spread but I think that if there is a possible blowout game on the card for this weekend, this is it.  I’ll put the Chiefs in this week’s Six-Pack to win and cover.

(Sun 6:40 PM EST) Seattle at Green Bay – 4.5 (47):  If the game is in January and the venue is Green Bay, one must always consider the “weather factor”.  The forecast is for light snow on Saturday followed by cold temps on Sunday.  At game time, the temperature should be around 20 degrees with a light wind.  Compared to what is possible in Green Bay in January, that is “ideal weather”.

I think the key to this game is the Packers’ pass rush.  I do not think that the Seahawks’ OL will provide Russell Wilson with lots of leisure time to throw the ball; it has not done so all year long.  The question will be if the Packer’s rushers can keep Wilson from making plays out of the pocket.  Given that these guys practice against Aaron Rodgers all year long, you would think they would have seen that sort of thing before.

I really don’t have a good selection for this game – but since I have put 5 selections in the Six-Pack above, it behooves me to fill in that blank.  Purely a hunch, I’ll put the Seahawks plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack putting my confidence in Russell Wilson who deservedly got a few votes as the league MVP this season.

So, let me review this week’s Six-Pack:

  • Clemson +6 against LSU
  • Clemson/LSU to go OVER 69 points
  • Vikes +7 against Niners
  • Titans +10.5 against Ravens
  • Chiefs – 10 over Texans
  • Seahawks +4.5 against Packers.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

A Genuinely Bad Idea …

As you know, I am not a big proponent of using gobs of tax dollars to build gaudy stadiums for sports franchise owners.  When Stan Kroenke opts to spend his own money to put up his new stadium and real estate development project in LA, I think that is a fine thing to have happen.  And, he should be allowed to reap whatever rewards/profits accrue to him as a result of his choice of investments.  I am not opposed in any way to the idea that rich people can get even richer as a result of their own investments of time, and money.

Normally, when a government entity involves itself – or is lured into involvement with – a stadium building discussion, things get very murky very quickly.  Let me say that I am not generally confident that government involvement in matters such as this is positive for communities and I am very leery of the efficacy of many regulatory environments.

I mention this because of an article at Bloomberg.com sent to me by a former colleague late last week.  According to this report, there is the possibility of a change in the Federal regulations under the Community Reinvestment Act that would allow banks to put money into “a qualified opportunity fund” that would be used to “finance improvements to an athletic stadium”  so long as that stadium is in a low/middle income area as delineated by the census.

There is room for debate about the rectitude of the Community Reinvestment Act and about its impact on cities and areas of cites in the country.  I don’t think there is a lot of room to develop alternative interpretations of the purpose behind the Community Reinvestment Act; the intent of this law is to require banks to use a portion their funds to finance projects that will improve low/middle income neighborhoods.

According to the article at Bloomberg.com, there are plenty of professional athletic venues that are in designated “opportunity zones”; and if the new regulations were to be adopted here are some ways that banks could discharge their responsibilities to use money in low/middle income neighborhoods:

  • Finance the upgrading of a sound system at a stadium
  • Finance a new “Jumbotron” in a stadium.
  • You get the idea…

This is not a step in a positive direction – – unless you are of the opinion that the Community Reinvestment Act itself is something that should be stricken from the books.  The idea that banks can comply with this law and “improve poor neighborhoods” with investments such as the ones listed above – and also reap the tax benefits that accrue to the banks from making such investments – is a corruption of the intent of that legislation.

President Reagan once said:

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

While I do not believe that is universally correct, I think it is an applicable statement to the proposed changes here.  If you want to read the Bloomberg.com article in its entirety, here is a link:

Switching gears … I mentioned recently that Mississippi Valley State is the only winless Division 1 men’s basketball team in the country at 0-13.  I don’t know why I went to see the details of that record, but a quick glance told me that this team has been hugely over-matched in multiple games this year.  Consider these data:

  • Cumulative score:  Opponents 1251 Miss Valley St.  558
  • Average margin of defeat:  53.3 points per game
  • Smallest margin of defeat:  10 points
  • Largest margin of defeat:  94 points    Yowza!

The Delta Devils have 17 regular season games remaining; all of them are Southwestern Athletic Conference games – – and then maybe a conference tournament in early March?  It certainly looks as if there will be some bleak times on campus in Itta Bena, MS over the next couple of months…

Tua Tagovailoa ended all the mystery and speculation and declared himself for the NFL Draft this year.  I think he made the right decision.  Lots of folks painted this decision considering Tagovailoa’s injury history at Alabama – – two ankle injuries and a broken hip.  I know that injuries are an important factor in NFL football, and I know that he comes to the league “pre-injured”; nonetheless, I prefer not to focus on that, and I wish him a long and productive NFL career.

I think Tagovailoa should be remembered for more than his leading a second half comeback for Alabama to win a national title game.  I think he is responsible for dragging Alabama’s offensive philosophy into the mainstream of college football.  Prior to his stewardship of the offense, Alabama was as close as one got to the famous Woody Hayes/Darrell Royal offensive philosophy:

  • Three yards and a cloud of dust.

Bonne chance, Tua Tagovailoa…

Finally, Bob Molinaro pondered this issue recently in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Local ties: Now that school officials have named Bethel High’s gym after Allen Iverson, a clever reader wonders if they will allow the gym to be used for ‘practice.’”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Filling NFL Coaching Vacancies…

The NFL coaching vacancies are disappearing like passenger pigeons.  Only the Cleveland Browns have an opening left and the last thing I want to do is to speculate on who will get stuck with that job.  Rather, I would like to spend some time today commenting on the 3 most recent hiring decisions made by the Cowboys, Panthers and Giants and then point out the possibility that a streak more than 50 years in the making might – I said MIGHT – be broken when the Browns do make their hiring decision.

Let me start with the Cowboys’ decision to hire Mike McCarthy.  Obviously, we will need to exercise patience to see if this works out for all parties; however, I think this was an excellent decision by Jerry Jones.  From his perspective – and that is the only perspective that really matters in this situation – Jerry Jones believes that he and his son have assembled a roster than can make the playoffs next year and then win at least a game or two once they are there.  I tend to agree with him on the offensive side of the ball; I do think the Cowboys can use some more heft on the defense if they are going to be taken seriously in next year’s playoffs.  Nevertheless, the Jones Boys should not have considered putting that team in the hands of someone who had little or no experience/credentials at the NFL level.

I think the Jones Boys had McCarthy on their short list for a while and I think they used the “meetings with Jason Garrett” over 3 or 4 days as a smokescreen for them to have preliminary discussions with McCarthy’s representatives.  I never bought into the narrative that Jerry Jones could not bring himself to fire Jason Garrett; Jerry Jones can be ruthless when he needs to be; there had to be a purpose to all that procrastinating.  While everyone was focused on his supposed angst over Jason Garrett’s “situation”, I believe that Jerry and Stephen Jones were making sure that McCarthy did not sign on with anyone else who interviewed him without giving the Cowboys a chance to meet/beat whatever the deal on the table was.

Given the circumstances and ownership’s perception of the roster quality, I think this hiring gets an “A” on the report card.  Now let’s see how it plays out…

Matt Rhule broke the bank with his deal with the Panthers.  Reports say he will get 7 years and $60M – – with incentives that could push the value of the deal as high as $70M.  When owner, Dave Tepper, fired Ron Rivera earlier this year, Tepper said that he wanted to put his stamp on the team.  Well, all I can say is that his stamp cost a whole lot of money. But that is not the issue here because Forbes pegs Tepper’s net worth at $12B.

[Aside:  As I understand NFL coaching contracts, the base amount – $60M in this case – is guaranteed at signing.  If the coach is terminated prior to the term, the coach gets paid as if he were still on the payroll for the entirety of the term.  However, there are offset clauses there; if the fired coach goes and gets another coaching job, then whatever he makes in that new job is subtracted from whatever the team that fired him owes him.  I assume Matt Rhule got that sort of a deal.]

Matt Rhule has no head coaching experience in the NFL.  The entirety of his NFL experience is a single season with the NY Giants as an assistant offensive line coach in 2012.  However, here are some of his accomplishments/credentials:

  • He was a linebacker at Penn State in the ‘90s.  Yesterday, his teammate there, LaVar Arrington, said on FS1 that Rhule was the “smartest football player” he ever met.
  • Rhule took over the head coaching job at Temple in 2013.  Temple was thrown out of the Big East because interest in its football program was so low that no one went to the games.  Temple football was less than an afterthought.  In 2015 and 2016, Rhule’s teams at Temple won 10 games and went to bowl games.
  • Rhule left Temple to take over the charred remains of the Baylor football program in 2017.  In the aftermath of the Art Briles disaster, the program almost got the “death penalty” and in fact was on life support.  In the first year, Rhule’s team at Baylor went 1-11; two years later in 2019, Baylor was 11-2.

Back when Tepper fired Ron Rivera and announced that it was time for him to put his stamp on the team, I pointed out that he might have set himself on a vector heading that was parallel to the one traveled by Danny Boy Snyder.  Matt Rhule may or may not be a “reach” for an NFL head coaching job in 2020; time will tell us about that.  Nonetheless, the length of this contract and its base value is startling.  Dave Tepper may not have endeared himself to his fellow owners by setting the price for head coaches where he did.  Because of Rhule’s success in rebuilding two moribund college programs quickly, I’ll give this hiring decision a tentative “B”.

The Giants decided to hire Joe Judge as their new coach.  Let’s get some cheap one-liners out of the way:

  • Here come da judge…
  • Is Joe Judge married to Judge Judy?
  • When cutdown day comes next summer, can we say that he was the Judge, Jury and Executioner?
  • BaDaBing!   BaDaBoom!!!

Judge was the Pats’ special teams’ coordinator and WR coach this year.  The Pats’ special teams were excellent; the Pats’ WRs were awful.  Here is why I like the hiring decision:

  • Joe Judge played football at Mississippi State and was a Dean’s List graduate there.  One report I read said that he is pursuing a Doctor of Education degree.  Those two things indicate to me that Joe Judge exists under the right end of the bell curve.
  • Judge spent three years as an assistant at Alabama under Nick Saban.  He has spent the last five years as an assistant with the Pats under Bill Belichick.
  • Since I think he is “smarter than the average bear” [Hat tip to Yogi Bear here…] I have to think he learned a lot about running a football program from those two “supervisors” in the last 8 seasons.

I admit that this hiring decision has the potential to flame out spectacularly in the event that the NY tabloids decide to make him a whipping boy and/or if he becomes collateral damage if the tabloids decide to put GM, Dave Gettleman, in the crosshairs.  There are too many moving parts here to give this one even a preliminary grade so let just call it “Incomplete”.

I promised above that a longstanding streak could be broken by the Cleveland Browns very soon.  What puts the Browns in position to do this is their request to interview Jim Schwartz – Eagles’ defensive coordinator – for their head coaching position.  Jim Schwartz was the head coach of the Detroit Lions from 2009 to 2013.  The last head coach of the Detroit Lions to leave that position and then go on to be the head coach for another team for even one game in the NFL was George Wilson who left the Lions in 1964.

  • Since 1964, the Lions have had 17 head coaches.
  • All of them faded into oblivion once the Lions were done with them.
  • Jim Schwartz could break that streak.

Finally, since the hiring of a new coach for a football team is generally a time of unbridled optimism, let me provide some views of optimism itself by some noted observers of the human condition:

“Optimist, n.  A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.”  Ambrose Bierce

And …

“Optimism, n.  The doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly.”  Ambrose Bierce

And …

“Optimism: the noble temptation to see too much in everything.”  G. K. Chesterton

And …

“An optimist is a man who has never had much experience.”  Don Marquis

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

I’m Confused …

I have never had the responsibility of running an NFL franchise.  In addition, my economic situation provides 100% certainty that I will never own an NFL franchise.  Notwithstanding those two facts, there have been two recent announcements of personnel decisions in the NFL world that have me scratching my head.

The Rams fired defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips.  I understand that the Rams had a serious fall from grace in 2019 – – as happens frequently to teams that lost the Super Bowl a year before such a fall.  I also understand that someone – – or some ones – – involved with the team must “take the fall” for the fall from grace.  However, it was not the Rams’ defense that was responsible for the 2019 record of 9-7.  If you insist on pinpointing the Rams’ deficiencies last season, consider these two areas of shortcoming:

  1. Jared Goff did not perform to the same level of proficiency in the passing game in 2019 as compared to 2018.  His stats were not bad, but they were not as good as in the prior season.
  2. The Rams running game was underutilized for at least the first half of the season – – possibly to effect “load management” on RB, Todd Gurley.

The problem with examining and looking for remedies in those areas is simple.  Those relate to the offense and that is where wunderkind head coach, Sean McVey, holds forth.

The other discordant announcement was buried at the bottom of a list of “NFL Notes” in today’s Washington Post.  Here is that item:

“Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who got his first offensive coordinator position in the NFL with Cleveland under Eric Mangini, interviewed for the Browns’ head coaching job.”

Let me be clear; if Brian Daboll walked into Curmudgeon Central and bit me on the ankle, I would have to ask him who he is and wonder why he was biting me on the ankle.  However, neither of the two résumé items cited above would make me interested in him as a “hot prospect”.  The Browns under Eric Mangini went 10-22 over two seasons in 2009/2010; the Bills’ offense over the last two seasons has been better than pathetic – – but not a lot better than pathetic.

Between his time with the Browns and his current job with the Bills, Daboll spent 3 years with the Pats and one year at Alabama with Nick Saban.  I have to say that those “credentials” are interesting but less than compelling in terms of what I might look for in a new head coach for the Browns.  But remember, I don’t have any experience in doing such a hiring search…

Or …  maybe … this is an indicator that serious coaching aspirants are not taking calls from the Browns regarding this opening.  Is it possible that the Browns have quietly moved on to “Plan B” already?

Moving on…  I have sampled FS1’s morning sports show, First Things First a few times since Cris Carter and FOX decided to go in different directions.  While it is true that I had tired of Carter to some extent, his departure from the program was not an “addition by subtraction”; I did not particularly like the program when he was there and I don’t like it very much now that he is not there.  I just cannot maintain interest and focus on Nick Wright; I do not watch very often; and still I find his commentary to be repetitious and that is hardly an inducement to watch more frequently.

I do not watch early morning sports on TV more than once a week.  Probably, that is because I do not like any of the ESPN offerings at that time of the day much better than I like First Things First.  I continue to try to enjoy watching Get Up! – and I admit that it is better that it was when it launched – but it too is repetitious.  The reason that I prefer to watch Get Up! is Jalen Rose.  The more involved in the program that he is, the better it is.

Basically, my morning routine is simple:

  • Say good morning to my long-suffering wife.
  • Make coffee
  • Tune in The Weather Channel long enough to see the local forecast and the radar picture.
  • Turn the TV off and pour coffee.
  • Chat with my long-suffering wife and read the morning paper.

The Weather Channel gives me information I can use.  FS1 and ESPN are not likely to meet that standard with regard to enticing me to tune into their morning offerings, so the only thing left for them is to be entertaining.  Here is the status as of January 2020:

  • Neither First Things First nor Get Up! come close to meeting that “entertaining standard”.

The college basketball season is about to get much more interesting as conference play begins in the 32 conferences that make up Division 1 NCAA basketball.  As of this morning there are only two undefeated teams left in the country:

  • Auburn  13-0  Southeastern Conference
  • San Diego State  15-0  Mountain West Conference

And, of course, here in Curmudgeon Central it is de rigueur to mention the only winless team in the country as of this morning:

  • Mississippi Valley State  0-13  Southwestern Athletic Conference

[Aside:  Twelve of those thirteen losses were road games for the Delta Devils.  The NCAA loves to refer to its “student-athletes”.  Surely those 12 road games enhanced significantly the “student” portion of college life for those “student-athletes”.]

Finally, here is a Tweet from Brad Dickson:

“Tom Brady may’ve played his last game ever. Husker fans refer to Brady as ‘The second best quarterback ever, behind Luke McCaffery.’”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Christopher Columbus

I feel like Christopher Columbus this morning; twice last evening, I went looking for one thing and found something completely different.  That leads me to present the following data regarding three NFL head coaches who are in the running for Hall of Fame induction this year:

  • Tom Flores:  Record is 97-87-0  Winning percentage = .527
  • Dan Reeves:  Record is 190-165-2  Winning percentage = .535
  • Dick Vermeil:  Record is 120-109-0  Winning percentage = .524

For the record, I would not be even mildly offended by the induction any of those candidates above.  However, please compare those stats with the “Mystery Coach of the Day” here:

  • Mystery Coach:  Record is 85-67-0  Winning percentage = .559

No, I am not going to make you read to the bottom to find out who the Mystery Coach is.  He is Jason Garrett.  And if anyone has suggested recently that Jason Garrett is on his way to becoming a finalist for Hall of Fame induction, I must have missed that suggestion.

I found this because when Jerry Jones finally pulled the trigger and let Jason Garrett go from his coaching duties with the Cowboys, I went looking for Garrett’s overall coaching stats.  When I saw that winning percentage, I immediately thought it was in the range of more than a couple of coaches already in the Hall of Fame – – and so I went to look at the finalists for this year’s voting for a comparison.  I looked for one thing and found something else…  And it happened a second time too.

After watching the Saints/Vikes game on TV, I wondered if Drew Brees was injured or showing his age or just had a bad day.  Everyone has bad days and that may be the explanation, but I went looking for his 2019 stats knowing that he had missed 5 games with a thumb injury.  Brees started 11 games; he had the highest completion percentage in the NFL at 74.3% and his yards per attempt were above his career average.  He threw 27 TDs and only 4 INTs.  Those stats do not suggest that he was “showing his age”.  However, I noticed something else while checking Brees’ stats for 2019:

  • Six of the top 10 QBs ranked by Yards Passing in 2019 did not make the playoffs.
  • None of the top 5 QBs ranked by Yards Passing in 2019 made the playoffs.  [Those five were Jameis Winston, Dak Prescott, Jared Goff, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan.]
  • Brees – because he only played 11 games – ranked 26th in the NFL in Yards Passing.

I guess that Drew Brees just had a sub-par day yesterday …

And speaking of the Saints/Vikes game, one might also conclude that the football gods really enjoy torturing the Saints and their fans in playoff situations.  There is an adage on Wall Street that says:

  • If something out of the ordinary happens once, it is an occurrence; if it happens twice, it is a coincidence; when it happens a third time, it is a trend.

The Saints and the playoffs have just become a trend.

  • First, they lost to the Vikes in the playoffs due to the Minnesota Miracle two years ago
  • Then, they lost to the Rams on the infamous Roby-Coleman uncalled defensive pass interference last year.
  • Yesterday, they lost on an uncalled offensive pass interference on the winning TD catch.

I completely understand why that offensive pass interference was not called; that “no call” is totally consistent with the way that NFL games have been officiated for the last 10 years (at least) and it is totally consistent with the officials’ reluctance to use replay to change most of the pass interference calls that they are called upon to review.  Nothing in that last sentence, however, changes the fact that there was offensive pass interference on the play, and it was not flagged.  I can imagine the Saints’ Front Office looking around to see if they can find someone who specializes in exorcisms for organizations…

There was one other aspect of that play review that bothered me because it stretches credibility.  The league said that it had reviewed the play from every angle and that it had great camera angles on the play from the game coverage.  I believe the second part of that because the folks at FOX showed me a couple of angles on replay that were highly germane to the call.  Surely, the folks in NY doing the reviews had those camera shots and others at their disposal.

The first part of that statement, however, makes me stop and wonder.  The folks in NY who review such calls in OT, made their decision in about a minute or less.  Normally, replay reviews take at least 2 minutes and – seemingly – some take as much as 5 minutes to adjudicate.  I would think that a replay review for a call that is so decisive regarding a playoff game would take more time than passed here – – unless of course the folks in NY had no intention of overturning the call on the field from the get-go.

Finally, here is an observation by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times that proves you need to be careful what you wish for:

“Hear about the New York fan who found a magic lamp last summer and got his greatest wish for the Knicks granted?  Well sort of …

“Guess he should’ve told the genie something besides, ‘We want to be neck-and-neck with the Warriors next season.’”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Football Friday 1/3/20

The inaugural Friday of the new decade needs to be celebrated with a Football Friday.  In this season of introducing new coaches at the collegiate and pro levels, that would be akin to “setting the tone” for things to come.

Also, I need to begin on a sad note.  Sam Wyche died yesterday.  He was a former QB in the AFL in the ‘60s and in the NFL in the ‘70s; then he became a successful coach with the Cincinnati Bengals in the ‘80s.  He led the Bengals to the Super Bowl but lost to Bill Walsh and the Niners in Super Bowl XXIII.  He was the innovator if the no-huddle offense in the late ‘80s; that has become what we call today the up-tempo offense.  Another of his “innovations” led to a rule change; Wyche would often put 12 or even 14 people into the offensive huddle and then run the appropriate number off the field before the snap of the ball putting the defense at a disadvantage.  Today, that gets the offensive team a 5-yard penalty.

Rest in peace, Sam Wyche…

Last week’s Six-Pack had only 4 entries – – but it was El Perfecto.  The record was 4-0-0 bringing the season results to:

  • Overall:  42-27-3
  • College:  20-7-1
  •  NFL:  22-20-2

 

College Football Commentary:

 

Wherever Lane Kiffin goes, controversy follows.  I don’t mean to imply that Kiffin is a “bad guy” because I don’t think he is one.  However, when he is on the scene, something that is “open to discussion” always seems to happen.  If you want to get a summary of past controversies, Google and Wikipedia are your friends.  The latest controversy is Kiffin’s hiring of DJ Durkin to an unspecified assistant coach position at Ole Miss.  If that name rings a bell for you – but you just cannot place it – Durkin was the head coach at Maryland when Jordan McNair collapsed from heat exhaustion at a practice and then died from that situation.  Investigations at Maryland concluded that the football program was “abusive”, and the entire situation resulted in Durkin’s dismissal along with other folks in the Athletic Department and in the university administration.

I am NOT suggesting that DJ Durkin should be prevented from working as a collegiate football coach; the investigations into the death of Jordan McNair did not result in any sort of criminal charges.  I am saying that any “Power 5” school that hired Durkin after the “Maryland situation” would be the focal point of controversy.  And once again, that controversy focuses on the program involving Lane Kiffin.

The only thing that bothers me about this matter is the seeming smugness of the Ole Miss Athletic Department folks.  Knowing that some folks would look askance at this hiring decision, they issued an ever so carefully worded statement patting themselves on the back for doing extraordinary due diligence for this hiring decision.  They said they reached out to “several highly respected coaches, administrators and school officials about their experiences working with [Durkin]”.  From those contacts, the vetting process yielded “consistently strong feedback about Coach Durkin’s strong character and work ethic and his positive impact on the communities and institutions where he was previously employed.”

If that PR nonsense were even close to true, the only conclusions I can draw are these:

  • Ole Miss did not talk to anyone who was at Maryland at the time of Jordan McNair’s death.  There was no “positive impact” on that institution or community.
  • Ole Miss certainly did not check with the McNair family.
  • Ole Miss did not read the report of an independent commission set up by Maryland in the wake of that fatal incident which concluded that the football program at Maryland fostered “a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.”

I don’t have a problem with Ole Miss hiring Durkin and giving him a chance to demonstrate that he learned from that horrible situation at Maryland.  I do have a problem with the “suits” in the Athletic Department pretending that they did an investigation that led them to conclude that whatever happened at Maryland was just an accident and that they had hired a choir boy.

 

College Football Games This Weekend:

 

There are 3 bowl games between today and Monday evening.  Exactly none of them are important.  Unless you are an alum of one of the six schools involved or know a player involved, none even rise to the level of “interesting”.

 

NFL Commentary:

 

Back in August when we were all anticipating the 2019 NFL regular season, we thought about possible outcomes under a set of conditions we thought might be “stable”:

  • Ben Roethlisberger was the Steelers’ QB.  He might have an injury that would make him miss a game or two, but he would be the guy leading the team on the field for at least 75% of the games.  Didn’t happen…
  • Cam Newton had a shoulder problem last year that required surgery and was limited in the Exhibition Games, but Newton was “indestructible” and would be under center for the Panthers for most if not all of the 2019 season.  Didn’t happen…
  • Matthew Stafford was the Lions’ QB and an iron-man.  He had not missed a start since the season opener in 2011.  He would be the Lions QB for all of 2019.  Didn’t happen…
  • Drew Brees was not quite the iron-man that Stafford was, but Brees was surely going to be the starting QB for the Saints – – until they wrapped up their division and he sat out a game or two for a rest.  Didn’t happen…
  • Andrew Luck was the Colts’ QB.  He had come back from his major shoulder problems and was ready to reclaim his stature as an elite QB in the league.  Didn’t happen…

Those five teams lost top-shelf QBs for significant parts of the season.  The Steelers managed to stay “playoff relevant” despite truly mediocre QB play based on a strong defense.  The Panthers had some good times with Kyle Allen – but that did not last.  The Lions were the Lions but with Stafford in the game, the Lions had the potential to make some of their games interesting.  The Colts tried to make the playoffs with Jacoby Brisset at the helm – – but it did not work out for them.

Only the Saints shrugged off the month or so that Drew Brees was on the shelf.  Terry Bridgewater demonstrated the importance of having a quality backup at the QB position.  In fact, he played so well that some folks mused that maybe – just maybe – the Saints should leave him in the starting role even when Brees was ready to come back because he had the “hot hand”.  Obviously, that was a bad idea; but it does speak to the level at which Bridgewater had played.

The Panthers fired Ron Rivera with 4 games left in the season.  [Aside:  Rivera’s last game in Carolina was a loss to the Skins at home; that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the new owner of the Panthers.  Today, Rivera is the head coach of the Skins.  Wheels within wheels …]  The Panthers lost all 4 of those remaining games after Rivera’s departure in such ignominy that you have to wonder how much of the “losing” was due to coaching and how much was due to playing:

  • Panthers gave up 30 or more points in all 4 losses
  • Panthers gave up a total of 150 points in those 4 losses.
  • Panthers were outscored 150 – 60 in those 4 losses.

The Cleveland Browns used the 2019 regular season to re-establish themselves as a bottom-feeding franchise in the NFL.  The team had finished the 2018 season with a bang and there was some optimism – – too much optimism – – about the team’s potential for 2019.  When that optimism – – whether appropriate or overstated – – did not materialize, the Browns cleaned house once again.

You can make a case for the housecleaning if you wish.  With the playoffs still a dim possibility, the Browns finished the season:

  • Losing to the Cards (5-10-1) by 2 TDs
  • Losing to the Ravens by 16 points.  [No shame there]
  • Losing to the Bengals (2-14) by 10 points.

The whole situation in Cleveland is a mess to the point that I find it difficult to pinpoint one aspect of the situation that is messier than the rest of the mess.  What happened in 2019?

  • Maybe it was the coaching.  Maybe Freddie Kitchens was way over his head in that job.  If that was “the problem” then you must fire him AND the Gm that put him in that position where he was over his head.
  • Maybe it was the roster construction.  There are an awful lot of “personalities” in that locker room.  Perhaps there was too much baggage for the physical talent to carry…
  • Maybe it was the management structure.  After all, the strategic planner for the franchise who has the ear of the owner is – – a baseball guy and not a football guy.

There are lots of questions and “maybes” there, but I think there are three certainties regarding the Browns:

  1. Baker Mayfield needs to focus more of his time and attention on developing as a QB and developing “chemistry” with the rest of his teammates as opposed to doing another set of TV ads.
  2. Odell Beckham, Jr. needs to stop being a passive-aggressive diva and start using his talents to focus attention on himself.  Beckham craves attention but he is seeking it in a less than constructive fashion.
  3. Owner Jimmy Haslam needs to examine who his role model(s) among NFL owners is.  At the moment he is part of the “hands-on” clique of owners – which is fine if he has the knowledge to be “hands on”.  Evidence to date says he should be modeling himself after a different group of owners – – the ones who hire people to run the football show and the ones who sit back and count the profits.

The Cowboys finished the 2019 season with an 8-8 record and yet they outscored their opponents by 113 points.  Just for comparison, here are the teams that finished between 9-7 and 7-9 this year with their point differentials:

  • Eagles  9-7  +31
  • Rams  9-7  +30
  • Titans  9-7  +71
  • Bears  8-8  minus-18
  • Cowboys  8-8  +113
  • Bucs  7-9  +9
  • Colts  7-9  minus-12
  • Broncos  7-9  minus-34
  • Falcons  7-9  minus-18
  • Jets  7-9  minus-83
  • Raiders  7-9  minus 106

There were a couple of Highlights from last week’s action:

  • The Niners got the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs as a result of last week’s win over the Seahawks.  In 2019, the Niners have beaten the Seahawks, Packers and Saints.  Fair to say, they earned that top billing in the NFC.
  • Derrick Henry carried 32 times for 211 yards in Titans win over Texans to put the Titans in the playoffs.

There were some Lowlights from last week’s action:

  • The Patriots were listless for most of the first 20 minutes of their game against the Dolphins and the eventual loss in that game cost the Pats a BYE Week.
  • The Raiders gained 477 yards of offense and lost a game last week by the score of 16-15.  That much offense simply must generate more than 15 points in a game.
  • The Chargers lost to the Chiefs last week finishing at 5-11 for 2019; that is a huge drop from their 12-4 record in 2018.  [Aside:  Philip Rivers will be a free agent so the Chargers’ QB situation is not settled.]

 

NFL Games:

 

(Sat. 4:30 PM EST) Buffalo at Houston – 3 (43.5):  These lines have been steady all week.  The Bills’ defense is for real.  They rank second in the NFL (to the Patriots) in points allowed this season.  Opponents only score 14 points per game on average.  The old saying is that defense travels well; the Bills must hope that is the case this week.  The issue with the Bills is that their offense is sporadic and not overly productive.  The Bills’ defense is stingy, but the Bills’ offense is not very productive scoring fewer than 20 points per game; in fact, over the last month, the Bills have failed to score more than 17 points in any single game.  The Texans’ defense has not been fearsome in 2019 allowing opponents to score 24 points per game.  Reports this morning say that JJ Watt will play tomorrow.  Even if he is not at 100% or in “top football shape), his play has to help the Texans’ defense.  I am not big on some of the “advanced stats” that are floating around these days but two of them seems to make sense to me.  Those are:

  • Points per drive produced
  • Points per drive allowed

Interestingly, these teams mirror one another:

  • Points per drive produced:  Bills are 24th in the league and the Texans are 7th
  • Points per drive allowed:  Bills are 2nd in the league and the Texans are 24th

If the Texans are to win and cover here, I think Deshaun Watson will have to have a big game.  The Bills’ pass defense is stout; he will need to overcome that.  I agree with the oddsmakers here that the game will be low scoring.  I think the Bills have a real shot to win the game outright, so I’ll put the Bills plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.

(Sat. 8:15 PM EST) Tennessee at New England – 5 (44.5):  With six games in the books, the Titans were 2-4 and were struggling – to be polite about it.  From that point, the Titans have gone 7-3.  Ryan Tannehill has gotten most of the attention regarding that turnaround and he deserves all that praise for his part in “saving the season” in Tennessee.  Personally, I think Derrick Henry is the unsung hero here.  In the last 7 games – where the titans have gone 5-2 – Henry is averaging 5.9 yards per carry.  [For the season, he is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.]  The Titans defense is solid if not spectacular.  Normally, the Pats enter the playoffs with a strong showing in December.  Not so in 2019.  The Pats played 5 times in December and their record was a very un-Patriot-like 2-3.  That deviation from the norm was on display last week when the pats needed a win to secure a BYE Week this week against the Dolphins.  They led late in the game and proceeded to surrender – at home no less – and 85-yard TD drive in the final minutes that cost them the game and the week’s rest.  On a positive note, the pats’ running game seems to have come to life over the past several weeks; that would be a big plus for them in this game.

Traditionally, Bill Belichick tries to set a defense to take away from the opponent one of its strengths forcing the opponent to rely on whatever else it has in its bag of tricks.  I think he will try to take Darrick Henry away this week and dare Ryan Tannehill to beat the Pats in Foxboro.  If history is any guide, that would be a great strategy because Tannehill has started 6 times in Foxboro against the Pats and his record is 0-6.

This is purely a hunch.  The Titans are +198 on the Money Line.  I think those odds are good enough to put that wager in this week’s Six-Pack.

(Sun. 1:00 PM EST) Minnesota at New Orleans – 7.5 (50): You can find this spread at 8 points in a couple of places this morning.  Let’s be clear about one thing from the start here:

  • Kirk Cousins has had a very good year in 2019.  His QB Rating is 107.5 and the NFL average for QBs this year is 91.

I am on record saying that QB Rating is an imperfect statistical measure; nonetheless, Cousins’ performance this year is sufficiently above average that you must acknowledge that it was a very good performance this season.  If Vikes’ RB, Dalvin Cook cannot play up to his standard level of performance, the Vikes will need to rely on Cousins to carry that offense.

That may be a tall order against the Saints’ defense in the Superdome.  The Saints’ offense has been hitting on all cylinders.  Since Drew Brees returned to action on Nov 10:

  • Saints record is 6-2
  • Saints have scored an average of 32.9 points per game
  • In one of the 2 losses, the Saints offense produced 46 points.  Hang that loss around the necks of the defense…

There will be no “Minnesota Miracle” this time – – simply because the game is being played in New Orleans.  I don’t think the Vikes – despite a good defense – can keep up with the Saints here.  I wish the line here was 7 points as opposed to 7.5 points, but I can talk myself into the Saints winning by double digitsI’ll put the Saints in this week’s Six-Pack to win and cover.

(Sun 4:40 PM EST) Seattle – 1.5 at Philly (45):  The spread opened the week with the Eagles as a 1.5-point favorite.  This morning you can find the spread at 2.5 points in one Internet sportsbook – – but nowhere at 2 points.  Very strange…  Both teams have injury problems galore.  The Seahawks had to sign Marshawn Lynch off the playgrounds to finish the regular season; they have multiple starters out of action on defense.  The metaphor of the Eagles as a M*A*S*H unit is totally appropriate; they had to sign Evander Holyfield’s son to play RB – possibly – this week.  Somehow these Eagles made the playoffs without having a 1000-yard rusher OR a 1000-yard receiver on the roster AND they had a negative turnover differential for the season.  Who is their Fairy Godmother?  The question here is simple:

  • Can the Eagles pull another rabbit out of the hat?

As you ponder the answer to that question, let me point out something that may not be totally obvious:

  • One cannot pull a rabbit out of a hat unless one has previously put a rabbit in that hat to be retrieved at a later time.

I have no idea what will happen here.  I can envision the Seahawks winning by 2 TDs; I can see the Eagles prevailing in a close game.  I doubt that the spread will make any difference to the bettors here.  So, I will not put this game in this week’s Six-Pack but instead leave you with an observation by Bob Molinaro in today’s Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

The line: I wonder how many times an NFL team that’s lost three of its last four games has gone on the road as even a slight playoff favorite. But, then, the 11-5 Seahawks emerge from the tough NFC West to play a 9-7 Eagles team being held together by paper clips and chewing gum.”

Finally, here is an observation by Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Dolphins cut RB Mark Walton after he allegedly punched a pregnant girlfriend. Not a good sign when your run-ins with the law begin to outnumber your career touchdowns.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

RIP David Stern RIP Don Larsen

The new decade begins on two sad notes:

  1. David Stern died yesterday of complications arising from a brain hemorrhage he suffered several weeks ago.  He was 77 years old.  While I did not always agree with his actions as NBA Commissioner, he did guide the league from the fringes of the US sports world directly into the center of that space.
  2. Don Larsen died yesterday.  He is most famous for pitching a perfect game in the World Series in 1956 against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Two other interesting facts about his MLB career are that he had an overall losing record for his career and that he was traded from the Yankees to the royals in exchange for Roger Maris.

Rest in peace David Stern.  Rest in peace, Don Larsen.

There will be major management shake-ups with two of the most volatile NFL franchises taking place in the next several weeks.  The Cleveland Browns have fired coach, Freddie Kitchens, and GM, John Dorsey.  Owner Jimmy Haslam purchased the team in October 2012; he has owned the team for 7 years and 3 months.

  • Counting the head coach he inherited with the team in October 2012, the coach who will be hired imminently will be the seventh head coach – – including an interim head coach for 8 games in 2018 – – that he has hired.
  • Counting the GM he inherited with the team in October 2012, the GM who will be hired imminently will be the sixth GM that he has hired.
  • If Jimmy Haslam planted a vegetable garden, I would not be surprised to learn that his harvest was meager because every other day he would pull the plants out of the ground to see how the roots were developing.

Since 2012, the Cleveland Browns have gone 33-94-1; they have won just under 26% of their games over that 7-year stretch.  Is that because of the lack of continuity in team management?  Or is that because the person who is making the hiring decisions for team management positions has no clue?  Personally, I think the answer is “Yes!”

The other team that will get a front office makeover is here in Washington; the Skins cleaned house firing President of Football Operations, Bruce Allen, who had been in that job since 2010.  That would give the appearance of stability when juxtaposed with the situation in Cleveland, but the apparent stability there could be misleading because:

  • The new coach just hired in Washington, Ron Rivera, is the fourth head coach.
  • The Skins’ record since 2010 is 62-98-1; they have won 38.5% of their games over that 10-year stretch.

The results for the two teams over comparable time periods demonstrates to me that stability is  not “the answer” nor is upheaval “the answer”.  I believe THE answer is not Allen Iverson; I believe THE answer is competence and neither owner had demonstrated that he has the competence to hire the right people and then to let them do the job(s) they were hired to do.

There is another interesting parallel between these two less-than-fully-successful franchises.  According to reports, both Jimmy Haslam and Danny Boy Snyder have injected themselves into the team drafting process to take QBs that their incumbent coaches did not want.  Haslam supposedly ordered the drafting of Johnny Manziel; that was not a good decision.  Snyder supposedly ordered the drafting of Patrick Ramsey (not a good decision), RG3 (not a good decision but not nearly as bad as the previous decision), and Dwayne Haskins (much too soon to know how that will work out).

The new coach in Washington has been hired – before the new GM or whatever title the person will receive has been selected.  Ron Rivera will take over and I think he will be a significant upgrade if he is given the latitude to do whatever he and his coaches believe is necessary to produce a better on-field product.  To put it bluntly, Ron Rivera has been to the Super Bowl and Ron Rivera has been named Coach of the Year twice; there is NO ONE in the Skins’ management structure that has a similar curriculum vitae – including, most importantly, Danny Boy Snyder.

Not to throw cold water here, but Danny Boy’s record at hiring “GMs” is neither extensive nor laudatory.  His first selection was Vinny Cerrato whose most obvious skill was enabling Danny Boy’s interventions into the “football side of things”.  His next selection for that position was Bruce Allen who would not have been in that job if he had not been the son of former Skins’ head coach, George Allen.  If Bruce Allen had been Bruce Flabeetz – – son of the legendary Joe Flabeetz – – he would have been lucky to be hired by the Skins as the elevator operator that got Danny Boy from ground level to his owner’s suite.

On a positive note, Ron Rivera’s first move was to hire Jack Del Rio as his defensive coordinator.  Del Rio brings tangible positive coaching credentials to that job.  Understand that the Skins have 4 first-round picks among their front 7 on defense.  That crew produced a defense that ranked 27th in the NFL this year.  There is a lot of potential for improvement there given the ostensible talent level.

Finally, since we are beginning a new decade, I thought it would be appropriate to close today with Brad Dickson’s resolutions for the upcoming year.  Good luck with all of that:

“My resolutions: stop exercising, take up vaping, spend less time with family, look into the feasibility of growing pot, pig out regularly, and, get a neck tattoo.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Bad Ads 2019

One of the traditions here in Curmudgeon Central is to wind up the year with a review of Bad Ads that have polluted the radio and/or TV airwaves during sports broadcasting.  It would be impossible to try to memorize this compendium; the only way I can see to do it is to make a note of the Bad Ad as soon as I see it and then come back and collate them into something approaching a logical order during the Holiday Season.  That practice puts a balance into this time of year; in addition to thinking about the joys of family and friends and the positive outlook one must have to ponder the idea of “New Year’s Resolutions”, recalling these Bad Ads from the past year reminds me that lots of things in this world are just plain stupid.

There were so many Bad Ads promulgated by cellular phone companies this year that I would not mind fining them significant amounts of money for the horse-bleep they have showered upon the public.

  • Sprint must believe that its audience has the memory retention of a nematode.  A year ago, they wanted us to switch to the Sprint network because the Sprint network was just as good as the Verizon network but at a lower price.  Such a deal…  Now this year, they continue to use the former Verizon pitchman, “Paul”, and this year he is telling us that the Sprint network is now twice as fast as it was, and it covers 30% more of the country.  Either the 2018 ad campaign was faulty, or the 2019 ad campaign is exaggerated – – or both.  I suspect it’s both.
  • Verizon had an ad where two teenage girls were singing its praises because Verizon got them front row access to some goof’s concert.  One of them effervesced that it was the most exciting thing of her life.  Since you could not get me to a rock concert with a fishhook in my mouth, I am not sure how or why that is supposed to convince me to sign on with Verizon as my wireless carrier.  Obviously, someone in their ad agency sees a connection I do not.
  • Sprint added a blonde goof to the ads with “Paul” for reasons that I am sure make perfect sense in the world of advertising.  “Paul” was the guy who made his mark by walking three steps and asking the person on the other end of his phone call, “Can you hear me now?”.  He was walking around to test network coverage; yeah, right!  Verizon must have ditched him, and he jumped ship to Sprint where he was merely smarmy.  Now paired with this blonde goof of the female persuasion the two of them are stupid plus annoying.

Memo for the Sprint Ad Agency:  Stupid and annoying is not the sort of Exacta you should be seeking in your advertising.  No charge for that advice…

  • Cricket Wireless has ads with fuzzy alien lifeforms that make loud and squeaky sounds as “communication”.  The noises are most unpleasant; I would like to take the folks who thought up this ad campaign and the folks at Cricket who “green-lighted it” and lock them in a dark room for 72 hours with that sound track playing on a circular tape.  And for the record, were I checking to see which wireless network I would prefer to use, I would be looking carefully to find one that does not have loud squeaky noises as part of the transmissions.

Exxon/Mobil has a new premium gas that supposedly makes your engine run two times cleaner than any other gasoline.  If that were demonstrably evident to every Joe Sixpack who drives a gasoline engine vehicle, they could simply tell everyone that and be done with it.  However, they feel that they need to convince people of the rectitude of their new product with a spokesthing who calls himself Mr. Supremium.  Everything he does or has is supremium because it is twice as good as anyone else’s comparable item.  Even his ascot wears an ascot.  Every time I see that ad, the thought that runs through my mind is that must mean that his smelly armpit must have its own smelly armpit meaning his B. O. is also “supremium”.

Hanes underwear offered me the opportunity to acquire and collect Michael Jordan Trading Cards that were contained in “specially marked packages” of the undergarments.  Trading cards for adults?  Who in their right mind would run out and buy that stuff if they did not need underwear in the first place?  C’est stupide?  Wie dumm ist das den?

My notes do not reveal the brand involved here so I’ll just have to describe the ad generically.  It is for Bladder Control Underwear.  A woman trying to be very serious and very sincere reports that she has found bladder control underwear that “looks pretty”.  She makes this declaration wearing her bra and these undies and the tone of her voice certainly conveys that she believes she has a real find here.  This ad is nonsense on two levels:

  • First, no one needs to see a woman who represents someone of an age that needs bladder control underwear in those underwear.
  • Second, the product is not pretty; it is an adult diaper and it looks like an adult diaper.  For the record, adult diapers have plenty of utilitarian value, but they are not pretty and this spokesthing is not about to change anyone’s mind on that score.

In December as folks were ramping up their Christmas shopping, Home Depot ran a radio ad.  If there was a TV version of the same ad, I did not see it.  The deal was simple and pretty interesting.  If you bought a battery powered tool from some brand of tools you would get another battery powered tool from the same manufacturer of equal or lesser value free.  No problem there; if you are shopping for a “Do-it-yourselfer”, this could be an important message.  Here is the problem, the closing line for the ad was “Even Santa can’t beat that.”  Folks, that is pure nonsense.  Santa can certainly beat that because Santa would bring the first tool for free AND the second tool for free too.  Santa does not leave invoices for presents left under the tree…

Smirnoff Vodka took the time and energy to have Ted Danson as their celebrity spokesthing inform me that the vodka was made from non-GMO grains.  That is of exactly zero importance to me.

Reese’s peanut butter cup ads and ads for Reese’s Pieces always end with the voice over saying “Not sorry!”  Glad to know that – – except I have no idea what they are “not sorry” about.  If they are “not sorry” for providing a confusing advertisement, then they ought to be sorry.

Charmin toilet paper will simply not retire the “Charmin Bears”.  I continue to wonder why Procter & Gamble continues to advertise toilet paper (everyone I know buys the stuff already) and why they do not dump those silly bears.  Get it?  Dump the bears that rhapsodize about toilet paper?  Dump … toilet paper?  Puh…leeez…

I need to do a diversion here because I never saw this ad personally.  I got this as an email communication from a former colleague.  It is an ad for Spam used to create a taco filling.  The visual is a can of Spam with a short recipe for the taco filling and the caption is “Pork Favor”.  So that there is no misunderstanding here, let me say this as clearly as I can:

  • The idea of a Spam Taco is a culinary abomination in the sight of the Lord.

I need to channel the game of Monopoly to express what the person(s) that came up with the concept of a Spam taco should have to deal with.  They should not pass Go; they should not collect $200 and they should immediately proceed to the Ninth Ring of Hell.  [Hat tip to Dante Alighieri here…]

Rocket Loans has an ad where some goofy spokesthing gives pep talks about Rocket Loans to college football/basketball mascots.  Seriously, if I were figuring out where to go to get a loan to buy a house and make that sort of humongous financial commitment, what would make anyone think that this stupid ad would influence my decision?  That ad seems pitched to people whose IQ is in the range of the uniform number for a typical offensive lineman on a football team…

Four vehicle ads went high on the silliness scale this year:

  1. An ad for the Chevy Silverado tried to convince me that it was “a little bit of country and a little bit of rock and roll.”  Even my long-suffering wife who is not exposed to lots of sports advertising asked what that has to do with a truck.
  2. An ad for one of the Mazda models tells me to “Feel alive!” when I drive this car.  That should not be very difficult because I have no idea how to “Feel dead!”
  3. An ad for the Ford Explorer ends with the statement that it is “the greatest exploration vehicle ever.”  Come on now; give me credit for having neurons close enough to play tennis with one another here.
  4. GMC trucks now have a new super-duper multi-functional tailgate on some of the models.  My first reaction to seeing all that new functionality can be summed up in the phrase – – Whoop-di-damned-do!  Then I noticed that the ad went even further along the axis of stupidity.  The ad shows hundreds of people who have seemingly removed the tailgates from their trucks and are marching in unison to a hilltop where a GMC Truck with the advanced tailgate is parked.  This ad begs a couple of questions.  Would you really buy a truck based on the tailgate?  Why are all those idiots carrying their tailgates to a hilltop?

Colonel Sanders and Mrs Butterworth pay a return visit to Bad Ads this year.  The two “characters” are shown making out in an attempt to generate my interest in KFC Chicken and Waffles.  Actually, the scene is frightening and disgusting to the point that I would rather choke down anything on the Taco Bell menu than eat those chicken and waffles.  In fact, I will choose never to use either product again.  <shudder>

Time out for a moment…  The horror of the Col. Sanders/Mrs. Butterworth ad made me stop and think about a fundamental question created by the modern advertising culture.

  • Given the characters created by ad companies and they way those characters are portrayed in a variety of situations, who is the grandest pervert of the group?  The Burger King?  Colonel Sanders?  Ronald McDonald?
  • That could be a three-way dead heat…

I have no idea which product these ads were promoting; that is how outrageous and annoying the ads were.  But I can bring them to your attention by reminding you of the three words that a bunch of mouth breathers kept yelling throughout the ad:

  • “Free … Phone … Football !”

A Bud Light ad is the only beer entry on the list this year.  The medieval king who presides over the domain that toasts everything with “Dilly.  Dilly!” decrees that everyone needs to know the ingredients in their beer.  Ergo, Bud Light cases will have an ingredients list.  Here’s the list:  Water, Barley, Rice, Hops.  Let’s see, water, grains, hops.  No real surprises there.  What the Hell else would anyone expect to be in his/her beer?  Or is there some secret movement in the craft beer industry to include mule snot in some microbrews?

The following ad only showed up briefly late in the Christmas shopping season – thankfully.  It begins with Johnny Depp driving out into the desert and burying his necklace in the sand and marking the place with some rocks.  Then he looks agonizingly to the heavens and the blazing sun.  This is an ad for a cologne called Sauvage by Christian Dior.  If anyone ever asks you to give an example of disjointed logic, suggest that they watch this 30-second ad a couple of times.

I only saw this ad one time and failed to make a note about the brand it was hawking.  It was so out of this world that I needed to jot down the ad concept and figured I would see it again and then make a note of the brand.  Too bad.  Anyway, the company that makes this mystery product actually paid money to produce an ad and then paid more money to put it on TV.  The product provides “probiotics for dogs”.  Since I saw it and noted it, that means they put the ad on a sportscast.

  • Memo for The Record:  Next time, try Animal Planet or maybe The Pet Channel?

There are an army of companies out there that claim to help people with debt problems.  One of the things they say they can help with is if you “have been the victim of a predatory loan.”  That sounds so sad – – but “victims” of a predatory loan are really “victims” of their own inability to understand the terms of the loan they just signed up for.  I can’t get past the idea that these companies have identified an “unsophisticated segment of the population” that has already been “victimized” financially and are using ads like this to hook them again.  It’s like fishing in a stocked pond.

Wells Fargo had a campaign to convince folks that the company offered a wide range of banking services.  The overarching slogan for this campaign was “This is Wells Fargo.”  The dumbest of the ads in the campaign goes like this:

  • The beneficiaries of Wells Fargo’s services are a young couple who eat out at restaurants every night – – checking all the new hot culinary scenes.  At some point, they “wonder” if their dining expenses are hindering their ability to save money to buy their first house (DUH!)
  • So, they call Wells Fargo to have a guy in a call center tell them to eat at home more than once in a while.  And the couple is ever so happy to get that insight from a financial professional.

The slogan for this campaign ought to be “This is Wells Fargo.  We try to alleviate financial idiocy.”

In any compilation of this sort, there are always a few entries that soar to the top stratus of the universe.  Three ads this year were outrageously stupid to the point that they vied for the stigma of Dumbest/Most Annoying Ad of the Year.

  • Second Runner-Up:  The plea made for car donations to Kars-4-Kids with that hugely annoying jingle which has been around so long I think it was composed by one of the Cro-Magnon people.  Look, if you are going to put the ad on TV and have a bunch of kids lip sync the damned jingle, do enough takes so that at least one of them comes close to getting it right.
  • First Runner-Up:  The ads for My Pillow are stupid to the fourth power.  I am sure the pillow inventor who hawks them in these ads is a nice man and has never engaged in anything but an altruistic search for a perfect pillow so all of us can get a good night’s sleep.  Nevertheless, after I see one of those ads, I think to myself that maybe we ought to rethink our aversion to waterboarding.

And the winner of the Dumbest/Most Annoying Ad for 2019 is:

  • LIMU the Emu – – and Doug.  If you run across any of these ads, just sit back and try to come up with ten synonyms for “stupidity” as the ad is playing.  I have never gotten beyond 8 – – and hope never to have to try to beat that record.

As 2019 fades into history, the appropriate way to end a rant of this sort is to look optimistically to the arrival of 2020 with the wish that things will necessarily get better next year.  Here in Curmudgeon Central, that kind of feelgood thinking lasts about a minute because that kind of feelgood thinking has never worked in the past.  I just know that I’ll be back here doing this again next year.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Rest In Peace, Don Imus…

Dom Imus died last weekend.  His was a complicated existence.  He was a shock-jock; he was a humanitarian; some say he was a racist and a misogynist; some say his charity work proves he was no such thing.  Here is something that should not be in question.  For more than a decade in the nineties and the aughts, Imus in the Morning was the most influential program on the radio.  Don Imus was a great interviewer and he got great guests from then-candidate Bill Clinton to David Brinkley to Snoop Dogg to about a dozen US Senators.

Rest in peace, Don Imus…

Dan Daly – formerly with the Washington Times – had this Tweet over the weekend regarding the Skins and their search for a new head coach:

“Dan Snyder’s pitch to prospective coaches has always been the same: ‘Come to the #Redskins. Make a lot of money. Wish you were never born.’”

That sums up the life cycle of Skins’ coaches since Danny Boy Snyder bought the team 20 years ago.  The atmospherics of the job are so bad that one of the coaches left a lot of money on the table and called in his resignation from the golf course – – or so the story goes.

Kevin Blackistone argued in the Washington Post last week that Curt Flood should be in the baseball Hall of Fame.  Just as I have believed for about 30 years that Marvin Miller belonged in the Hall of Fame – and will be inducted posthumously – Curt Flood also belongs there as a contributor to the game.  He belongs in the same category as team owners and former Commissioners and the like; he does not belong there as a player.  However, he deserves a place in juxtaposition with Marvin Miller; those two men changed MLB significantly – and for the better.

With 2019 seeing its days dwindling down to a precious few [Hat Tip to Frank Sinatra] I tried to come up with the sports figure who did the most honorable thing in 2019 and the sports figure who did the most dishonorable thing in 2019.  I got it down to two people in each category and could not “break the tie” in either case.  So, let me hand out some “dual awards” here.

For the two men on the most honorable list, let me give them a White Hat Award recalling the old western movies where the good guys always wore a white hat:

  • Tony Bennett:  No, not the crooner.  I mean Tony Bennett the head basketball coach at UVa.  After the Cavaliers won the NCAA basketball tournament last April, UVa offered Bennett a “significant raise” which would seem to be appropriate to the circumstances.  Bennett turned down that raise and said he preferred that the money that would have been added to his exchequer instead go to giving raises to his assistant coaches and to university projects seeking to upgrade facilities for the student body at large.  I think he should be fitted for a White Hat.
  • LeBron James:  This award has nothing to do with any on-court achievements.  LeBron James founded the I Promise Charter School in Akron, OH.  Kids enrolled in the school receive free tuition, free meals, free transportation to and from school and free school uniforms.  In addition, James has guaranteed every graduate of the school free tuition at the University of Akron.  The school opened in 2018 and James expanded the number of students enrolled in 2019.  I think he should be fitted for a White Hat.

For the two men on the least honorable list, let me give them a Black Hat Award as a parallel because in the old-time western movies, the bad guys always wore a black hat.  [Aside:  I sometimes wear a black cowboy hat; the reason for that is simple.  If I were to wear a white hat, it would be false advertising…]

  • Antonio Brown:  Forget about all the diva behavior; lots of very talented WRs have exhibited similar behaviors but stopped short of two things that Brown was involved in during 2019.  First of all, he was charged with sexual assault of a woman who was a trainer he worked with; and second, he got himself released by the Oakland Raiders after threatening to punch out GM, Mike Mayock.  Arriving to training camp in a hot air balloon or showboating on the field after a TD is harmless silliness; charges of sexual assault and threatening to punch out a team official are in a different dimension.  I think he should be fitted for a Black Hat.
  • Myles Garrett:  Many people who cover the NFL have reported that he is a mild-mannered and intelligent person who is thoughtful and self-aware.  I have no reason to dispute those reports.  However, he is also someone who – amid a scuffle on the field – ripped the helmet off Mason Rudolph and used it as a bludgeon to hit Rudolph on the head.  That single act goes way over the line of civility.  I think he should be fitted for a Black Hat.

Finally, here is an interesting observation from Bob Molinaro if the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Idle thought: The increasing popularity of the college transfer portal — three of this year’s four Heisman Trophy finalists were transfers — takes a little of the air out of National Signing Day.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………