Monday, November 30, 2015

Top Four Stories Following College Football Regular Season Final Weekend

After the final weekend of the 2015 College Football regular season, there are some immediate topics that stand out to me.  While some storylines still need to be settled during Conference Championship weekend we know for sure a few things:

1. Les Miles gets redemption while LSU shows their true colors

For a couple of weeks, rumors swirled that Louisiana State University would buy out Head Coach Les Miles contract and get a new Football coach.  Despite the fact Miles has won a National Championship, two SEC Conference Titles, and is one of the top recruiters in the nation, boosters and administration wanted a new head of the football program.  They wanted to use a three game losing streak and three consecutive years of diminishing record versus in conference opponents to bring in a new guy. 

The saying “Where there is smoke, there is fire” applies to this disgraceful situation.  From LSU Boosters putting up money to pay for the contract buyout to LSU Administrators putting out “secret feelers” to three different potential coaches speaks volumes about Louisiana power brokers.  It is disgraceful to throw a great coach who has been loyal to the school and his players for years.  While Miles had opportunities to leave LSU, he stayed.  Just because Miles and LSU Football are not the top program in the SEC is negligible.  In fact, of all active SEC Football Head Coaches Miles is the second most successful man to Nick Saban of Alabama.  The truth is that it is intellectually dishonest to believe that Jimbo Fisher, Chip Kelly or any other rumored names to replace Miles would do a better job at LSU.

Moving forward LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva should be the man on the hot seat now.  He was silent for weeks, waited until after the win versus Texas A&M to declare his “support” for Les Miles. This whole dilemma has been disgraceful in the way it was handled and at some point we have to hold people accountable.  Also don’t forget Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal called out LSU Administration over how they have handled this situation and Jindal supports Miles as Football Coach at Louisiana’s top state university.

2. The College Football Playoff committee got it right on Notre Dame

When the College Football Playoff committee dropped Notre Dame out of their Top Four rankings in favor of University of Iowa I was one of the people decrying the flip flop move by the committee.  Now in hindsight of Notre Dame’s loss to Stanford it looks like the Committee got this one right.

In their last couple game Notre Dame has not played up to expectations and their litany of injuries are catching up to them.  The team is starting their 2nd string Quarterback along with their 4th string Running Back; not exactly a recipe for success.  Furthermore, unexpected close wins against teams such as Boston College does not help their overall resume in the eyes of the Committee.  Now the loss to Stanford not only seals their fate as not Playoff Bound but they get the consolation prize of going to a good Bowl game.  Kudos to the College Football Committee for seeing Notre Dame for who they are…like Dennis Green said “They are who we thought they were!!”

3. Virginia Tech’s next Head Coach will be Justin Fuente

Despite the “rise” of University of Memphis’ Football program over the last couple years, many college football fans do not know of Justin Fuente.  Fuente is a former collegiate Quarterback who was the TCU Football Offensive Coordinator before being hired as Head Coach at Memphis.  Over the last four years Fuente has showed he is a good recruiter and developer of talent.  But he is also the “hot coach” in college football, which does not always equal success when they move on to the next job.

In the past College Coaches such as Randy Edsall, Derek Dooley, Will Muschamp, and Tyrone Willingham all were at one time the “hot name” and got the next job but then couldn’t live up to the expectations placed on them.  Fuente is a good recruiter and offensive minded coach.  But there is a reason why Fuente is retaining Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, and that reason has to do with Fuente knowing his limitations.  Foster has been one of the top ten defensive coordinators in college football over the last two decades.  Fuente knows from his experience coaching at TCU that his offensive prowess and recruiting talents will be fruitless without a defense to compliment them.  Also, keeping Foster is a good faith gesture to Virginia Tech boosters to show he is not coming in to “change everything” like other “Hot Name” Coaches have done in other stops.  Fuente is already off to a good start and he hasn’t even coached a game yet at Virginia Tech.

4. Mark Richt and Kyle Flood firings expose a dark side of collegiate athletics

On Sunday University of Georgia and Rutgers University fired their Head Football Coaches, opening up more positions to be filled among the major college football programs.  But these firings indirectly expose the dark underbelly of collegiate athletics in today’s world.

Mark Richt was the Head Coach at Georgia for fourteen years, compiling a win-loss record of 145-51 and lead his team to finish the season ranked in the top ten in the country six times.  But in a “what have you done for me lately” culture, Richt had not won an SEC Conference title since 2005.  After three seasons in which Georgia did not meet pre-season expectations, Richt’s standing with the athletic department and boosters led to what the University is calling a “mutual” parting of ways.

The truth is, multiple reports tell us that Georgia Boosters and Administration had grown tired of Richt and wanted a new man in charge of the Football program.  With the resources and desire to “keep up with the Joneses” of other SEC schools, Georgia will be throwing all they have to get the biggest fish in the college football coaching availability pond.  There will be rumors that range from Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly to Alabama Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart to University of Houston coach Tom Herman; but none of these or other potential candidates bring any guarantees of success.  Richt was a symbol of stability at Georgia and hopefully the administration learns from the errors of their fellow SEC schools.

When Tennessee parted ways with their long-time head coach Phil Fullmer, the administration thought they knew how to move the football program forward.  Over the last seven seasons Tennessee has employed three different Head Coaches.  Meanwhile South Carolina went “big name hunting” after Lou Holtz retired in 2004.  In ten plus seasons with Steve Spurrier South Carolina won 86 games but never won an SEC Conference Title.  So history tells us that moving on from a Football Coach who has been in place for years does not always equal success or a real upgrade.

On the other side of the coin is the Kyle Flood firing at Rutgers.  Rutgers Football program was a prominent program during the late 1950’s through early 1960’s winning three conference titles over a period of four years.  Greg Schiano came to Rutgers after coaching at the University of Miami and brought a winning attitude on the field and on the road as a recruiter.  Schiano built up a Rutgers program from the ground up and leading Rutgers out of obscurity to their first national rankings and Bowl Games in three decades.  But after ten plus seasons Schiano wanted to take on the challenge of coaching in the NFL (an endeavor that went sour); his replacement was Kyle Flood.

Flood would get off to a hot start as a Head Coach in which he led his team to co-Conference champions and close Bowl game loss.  But after that initial success, Flood’s Rutgers team would stumble, compiling a mediocre over win-loss record of 18-20.  Many of the issues with Flood came to a head earlier in 2015 when several players on the football team were arrested and charged with felonies.  Meanwhile, Flood reportedly had a physical confrontation with a university professor over the “mistreatment” of one of his players.  What was revealed in 2015 was that Flood’s success in 2012 was with Schiano’s recruits and in Flood’s efforts to keep up the talent level of the program was more willing to take chances on recruits with troubled histories.  Flood, not being the caliber of coach or recruiter Schiano was, made the mistake of sacrificing scruples to win ball games.  Those choices led to the university’s football program to receive a black eye in the aftermath of past issues with the Athletic Department and Admiration over recent issues.

Now Rutgers must move forward and bring in a Football coach who doesn’t just change the culture of the program but has the moral high ground to pull the program back to a level of respectability while also being able to recruit at a level on par with their membership in the Big Ten Conference.  Rutgers will also be looking for a new Athletic Director; with the firing of Julie Hermann Rutgers will replace her with Pat Hobbs who will be the university’s third Athletic Director in four years.

Universities have become multi-million dollar operations who utilize their Football programs as revenue generators.  Memberships in major athletic conferences such as the SEC and Big Ten help garner the University’s Athletic Department money and exposure that they would not receive with membership.  Also part of the deal is the expectations placed on these programs by Administration and Boosters; whether a coach is fired for bringing shame to the university or the coach has outstayed his welcome, the dark truth of College Football is that winning more games than you lose each season is not enough to keep a coach his job.  There are numerous layers that are both public and private that go into the hiring and firing of Football Coaches.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Future of University of Miami Hurricanes Football

With the firing of former University of Miami Hurricanes Football Coach Al Golden, Miami will be in search of their fifth Head Coach since 2000.  “The U”, as it is famously and infamously known as, has been in search of reclaiming their “glory years” for over a decade.  Back in the 1980’s Miami’s Football was one of the dominant forces in college football, winning three national titles with three different Head Coaches.  From 1983-2001 Miami has won five National Championships while sending hundreds of players to the ranks of the NFL. 

But since their loss to Ohio State in 2002 National Title game the Football program at Miami has been on a downward spiral.  From poor recruiting classes to teams not meeting expectations to coaching mis-hires by Athletic Directors, the tumult of the Miami Hurricanes program has been well documented.  In fact, if it wasn’t for Billy Corben’s documentaries about “The U” many people would not understand the depth of the impact of Miami Hurricanes’ Football Program.  The 1980’s Miami Hurricanes changed how other college football programs looked at players and football success. 

Before the 1980’s many football programs success was gauged by winning Bowl games and beating their rivals year to year, and if you had players who won a Heisman Trophy or other major awards that was credited to coaching legacy.  The emphasis was on the school and coaches. The players were treated as an accessory to success.  But Miami Hurricanes Head Coaches Harold Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, and Dennis Erickson were not demonstrative leaders of their football programs.  They focused on the student-athletes and let players express themselves on the field.  After Miami’s dominance the standards for college football excellence shifted.  No longer was the emphasis on just winning versus rivals and winning bowl games to make the university money.  Instead the goal was great recruiting classes, sending as many players as possible to the NFL, winning as many games as possible, and playing a schedule that gets you on TV.  Yes, winning championships are the ultimate goal, but the 1980’s Miami Hurricanes showed that a successful football program could no longer be gauged by just the old standards.

The standards set by “The U” in the 1980’s have evolved over the last 25 years.  In 2015 The University of Miami is behind the times in terms of facilities, quality coaches, and winning big games.  Miami’s football facilities are not up to par compared to many other schools who play Division 1 Football at the highest level of competition.  Their stadium is a 45-60 minutes’ drive away from campus (depending on the time of day), and they have an obsession with hiring coaches who are lacking certain necessary skills to be successful head coaches at a University such as Miami.  After Butch Davis left in 2000, look at the coaches who were brought in to be Head Coaches:

-Larry Coker was considered a “Players’ Coach”.
With a background as an offensive position coach and offensive coordinator, Coker won a National Title in 2001 and led the Hurricanes to another championship game in 2002 with a roster full of players recruited by former coach Butch Davis.  Once those players left for the NFL, Coker never won more than 9 games in a season and he had trouble recruiting the same level of talent.  Also as an offensive minded coach and his lack of recruit acumen the defenses his last couple years dropped off.

-Randy Shannon was hired to be a throwback Head Coach.
Because of his background as a defensive coach and as a former player at “The U” he was a very good recruiter.  Despite Shannon raising the level of play of the team’s defense, cultivating top 25 recruiting classes for four straight years, and also raising the overall graduation rates and GPA of the football program, his win-loss record before he was fired was 16-16.  Shannon was not a great football game manager nor was he good at hiring the right offensive coaches to develop the team’s offensive skill players.

-Al Golden was a rebuilding coach from Temple
Golden spent five years rebuilding a University of Temple Football program that had a win-loss record of 3-31 before he arrived on campus.  After bringing Temple back to Football relevance and their first winning seasons in 30 years, he was hired to do the same in Miami.  But when the school fell under NCAA sanctions, Golden’s uphill battle to rebuild the program took a major hit.  His style of recruiting and coaching was not the best fit for a program whose tradition was based around great athletes being led to win big games.  Golden had trouble beating rivals, consistently finishing the season below expectations despite the talent on the roster.  According to many reports, Golden had trouble relating to players and his game plans were lacking in creativity.

Whoever becomes the next University of Miami Football Head Coach has an uphill battle in their efforts to try to raise the level of play of a program that has not won more than 9 games since 2003.  Overcoming a lack of support from school administrators, underwhelming football facilities, poor stadium location, and recruiting to players who were in kindergarten the last time Miami was playing in a National Championship game; the challenge is real and daunting for anyone becoming the next Head Coach.  Their next Head Coach needs the following attributes:

-High Football IQ and good coaching staff:
Miami needs to bring in someone who is more well-rounded than previous coaches.  The great head coaches in college football in 2015 are great game day strategists, work well with their coaching staff, and know how to hire great coaches that compliment and fulfill the needs of the football program.

-Recruiting plus development:
Miami’s next Head Coach needs to be more than just a great recruiter.  The coach needs to have experience at developing players to be great on game day.  Having talent is a good start for any football team, but a coach who can maximize that talent on the football field is just as important.  One of the major traditions at Miami is the hundreds of players who have gone on to be starting players in the NFL.  Continuing this tradition is an important part of the school’s history and future success.

-Bridge the gap between the athletic department and the rest of the University: The next Head Coach of the University of Miami needs to build the relationship behind the scenes of advancing the football program.  Whether people in South Florida want to admit it or not, Miami’s Football program has made that university millions of dollars, most of that money that has not been invested back into the football program.  Most of that money was used to invest in academia, other athletic programs, and giving people with fat pockets more money to put in those pockets among the university’s administration.  What made Charlie Strong a great coach at University of Louisville, Chris Pederson at Boise State, Mark Richt at University of Georgia, Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State, as well as Mark Bellotti and Chip Kelly at University of Oregon was their ability to not just win football games, not just recruit high level talent, but also get their university to invest resources into the football program and its players.  These skills at relationship building with administration, academia, players and future recruits open doors for Strong, Pederson, and Kelly to get next level job opportunities while coaches such as Richt, Gundy and Bellotti became mainstays at their Universities.

Can the University of Miami reclaim their tradition of excellence?  Yes, but they need the right head coach who can do what Larry Coker, Randy Shannon, and Al Golden were unable to do.  Like I said earlier, you are recruiting kids who were in kindergarten the last time Miami was a great football program.  The football program needs a fresh approach, a different strategy on and off the field, things that Coker, Shannon, and Golden were unable to offer.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Dodgers and Failures of bloated Payroll Teams

With the New York Mets win in Game Five of the NLDS, the Los Angeles Dodgers are again eliminated from the playoffs in the early rounds.  The reality is the Dodgers payroll is 60 million dollars more than the combined payrolls of both the NLCS teams in 2015: Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.

We return to the old conundrum in Baseball, something that hasn’t changed for decades on end: you can’t buy a World Series Title.  Whether its George Steinbrenner’s New York Yankees high payrolls, or post-2008 World Series Philadelphia Phillies overpaying half their roster, or the Rupert Murdoch’s FOX failed ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Baseball history has shown us that throwing money at the problem doesn’t “fix” losing.

Despite all the hundreds of millions of dollars blown on players over the last 25 years, still the lessons of history are never learned.  The 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers arguably have more talent on their roster than both the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets combined, but talent alone does not win championships. Remember the 2003 Florida Marlins and 1990 Cincinnati Reds beat teams that were arguably “more talented”.


The 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers insisted that this year would be different by acquiring numerous players such as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Alex Wood to add to a team headlined by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Adrian Gonzalez.  Throw in young talent such as Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig, this team is on paper one of the best in baseball.  So again, we delve into the question that has been asked of so many talented rosters that did not win World Series titles in years past: What Happened?!?

The answer is both simple and complicated.  The Simple explanation is the answer to the question: “Will big dollar free agency signings and exotic trades create buzz and build a roster full of talent ball players?”  Neither of these actions will create chemistry nor solve every problem. 

Most of these moves are made to cover up roster weaknesses and place overemphasis on certain elements of the game.  Having a roster full of great pitchers or hitters doesn’t equal postseason success.  Having a roster full of players who feed off each other wins championships.  Every player on a roster is meant to complement other players, putting the team in the best position to be successful. 

Now for the complicated answer. The 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers do not complement each other.  This may sound crazy but lets break it down:

-Not enough pitching depth behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. 

Sorry but Brett Anderson, Mike Bolsinger, and Carlos Friars do not exactly strike fear in opponents.  Even when the 1990’s Atlanta Braves were led by Cy Young Award winners Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, they still had John Smoltz, Steve Avery and Denny Neagle to add depth to the rotation.


-Too many similar players in the batting order.

Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins are offensively very similar players.  The same can be said of Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson offensive skills.  Also, why so many left-handed hitters? There are eight players on the Dodgers roster who all would bat left versus right handed pitching.  Furthermore, there are only TWO players on the roster with over 100 at bats on the season with a batting average higher than .300: Corey Seager and Enrique Hernandez.


Team sports like Baseball and Football need complementary players on the roster in order get to be successful in the postseason.  You cannot always depend on the superstars to come through every time.  Let’s be brutally honest about this oddity:  offensive greatness in baseball is signified by being successful at least 30 percent of the time as hitters.  There is NO other sport in which such a low percentage number of success can equal “greatness”; so, in Baseball, it is very important to have several players with different skill sets.

This offseason, the Dodgers need to take an objective look at their roster to assess the short and long term future.  This team as constructed is not setup to win a World Series title, and the way the franchise has been going about building this team has not yielded any success beyond merely reaching the postseason.  A team with high expectations like the Los Angeles Dodgers owe their fans more than being “above average”. Spending tens of millions on numerous players has to add up to wins, not just jersey sales.  I’m not saying the Dodgers need to “blow it up” and start from scratch with their team.  Instead, the time is now to find a new mold and throw out the old formula.  The time has come to take a look at other teams around Major League Baseball and learn from their success, learn from their own failures, then apply it to their own team. 


“Obstacles don't have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” – Michael Jordan

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dolphins Firing Philbin another example of the Failed "Offensive Guru"

On Monday the Miami Dolphins fired their Head Coach Joe Philbin and installed former NFL Tight End Dan Campbell as the Interim Head Coach.  This will be Miami’s fourth Head Coach since 2008, a period of years with only one playoff appearance. Philbin represents another failure of the so called “Offensive Gurus” in the NFL as Head Coaches.  While the term “failure” is a subjective and overused term in the sports world, history speaks for itself.

The NFL has overvalued men who are offensive coaches and coordinators for decades, turning these men into Head Coaches all over the league.  Whether it’s Mike Martz, Jim Zorn, Marty Mornhiweg, Mike Sherman, Steve Spurrier, or Mark Trestman, there is a long list of “geniuses” or “gurus” who were supposed to turn teams around and revolutionize franchises.  In fact only four teams over the last 15 years have won a Super Bowl with a Head Coach with an offensive coaching background.  Even then, we should question whether those coaches won because of their offensive prowess:

Super Bowl XXXV (2001): Baltimore Ravens
Head Coach Brian Billick has a background as an Offensive Coordinator, Receivers Coach and Assistant Coach in College and NFL.  But the 2000 Baltimore Ravens are known as one of the top five defensive units in NFL history as they won 34-7 with a Quarterback who never played in Baltimore after that season (Trent Dilfer).  In fact, during his tenure as Ravens Head Coach, Billick would never be able to cultivate an offense half as high powered as the one he presided over while coaching with the Minnesota Vikings in the 1990’s.

Super Bowl XXXVII (2003): Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Head Coach Jon Gruden was considered one of the top offensive coaches in the NFL before he became the Oakland Raiders then later Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach.  While Gruden revived the careers of veterans such as Rich Gannon and Jeff Garcia, it was the dominant Bucs defense that earn him that Super Bowl title.  In fact, Tampa won 48-21 over Gruden’s former team, the Raiders, in a game in which the Bucs defense forced multiple turnovers and never allowed the Raiders offense to gain any real traction.  Gruden coached the Bucs for seven seasons, with only one trip to the Super Bowl, the rest of the seasons ending in failure to meet expectations.

Super Bowl XLIV (2010): New Orleans Saints
Head Coach Sean Payton spent nine years as a Quarterbacks Coach and Offensive Coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Dallas Cowboys before being hired to his first job as Head Coach with the Saints.  Despite having one of the top Quarterbacks in NFL history in Drew Brees, the Saints won their Super Bowl thanks to their defense.  The Saints went into the playoffs with a defense top five in the league in Interceptions and least points scored against.  In the Super Bowl they won 31-17 limiting another future Hall of Fame Quarterback, Peyton Manning, to only one passing touchdown all game.

Super Bowl XLV (2011): Green Bay Packers
Head Coach Mike McCarthy was a long time Quarterbacks Coach and Offensive Coordinator with the Chiefs, Packers, Saints, and 49ers before returning to Green Bay to be their new Head Coach.  What is forgotten about that 2010 Green Bay Packers team was how good their defense was. The unit was top ten in the NFL that season in Least Points Per Game Against, Total Yards Against, and Turnovers Forced.  The Packers 31-25 victory was the icing on the cake of a great season for a talented all-around team.

The last high powered offense to win  Super Bowl without a good defense was the 1999 St. Louis Rams and even they needed a last second clutch defensive play to win the game.  Yet the NFL is still obsessed with the “hot coordinator” who gets labelled an offensive “genius” or “guru”.   The long list of “failed” Head Coaches in the NFL over the last 20 years is predominantly men with offensive coaching backgrounds.  Part of the issue is some people are not cut out to be Head Coaches, such coaches are specialists not executive game managers.  Others do not succeed because they are all about a “system” or “scheme” then find out that not being flexible with their game plans leads to limited results in the NFL.  This is a major reason why so many college coaches do not succeed in the NFL, In professional team sports a coach must structure a game plan around his talent, not force pieces into their system.

Being an NFL Head Coach is more than having a high Football IQ and being great talent evaluator, they must almost manage personalities of players and the coaching staff.  There is some psychology involved in coaching that gets overlooked.  In order to bring out the best in a player the coach must understand what motivates that individual, see through the obvious skills and help unlock what that player is truly capable of on game day.  It is not enough to know a player has great potential; the coach must also bring that talent out of the player in order to help them succeed.

This a major reason why so many of the successful NFL Head Coaches come from a defensive coaching background.  As a defensive position coach or defensive coordinator, success is more dependent on bringing out the skills of players they coach than it is about scheme.  Head Coaches such as Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll have success because they see the potential of their players then turn that potential into usable talent by putting players in a position to be successful.  Both coaches understand that without the players, all the hours of structure, game plans, research, etc is useless if the players cannot execute on game day.  Also what makes both of these coaches successful is the fact they have learn from past failures.

This is what really differentiates great coaches from subpar ones: the ability to see what they did wrong in the past, learn from it, and take those learning experiences into the next opportunity.  Too many of these offensive “gurus” and “geniuses” are overconfident in their systems and buy into their own hype so deeply they become arrogant.  The old saying “Pride comes before a fall” plays out in the NFL from week to week during games and press conferences, as these coaches show their insecurities while being questioned about what is going on with their teams. 

Look back on all the “successful” NFL Head Coaches with offensive coaching backgrounds.  Andy Reid was at his best in Philadelphia with Jim Johnson’s defenses wreaking havoc on opponents keep games within reach.  Sean Payton’s Saints and Mike McCarthy’s Packers have high scoring offenses led by top talent Quarterbacks yet haven’t been back to the Super Bowl without a good defense to slow down opponents.  Jason Garrett’s Cowboys couldn’t get over that habitual 8-8 record until they had a defense to compliment the offense.  Even Head Coaches such as Gary Kubiak and Bruce Arians know that without a solid defense to make up the difference when their offenses falter then they cannot win games.

The firing of Joe Philbin only amplifies the importance of the old saying “Defense wins championships” in the NFL.  Football is the ultimate team game and in order for a team to be successful, they need the players, all of them, to execute on game day.  For all of Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, and Tom Brady record breaking seasons as Quarterbacks, none of them won a Super Bowl in those years.  I certainly do not think that is a coincidence.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Top 4 Takeaway Thoughts after NFL Week 4 Games

With the first quarter of the 2015 NFL season in the books, here are some of my takeaway thoughts after Week 4:

1. Too many Mediocre Kickers in the NFL.

The bizarre trend started on Thursday night when Josh Scobee of the Pittsburgh Steelers missed two Field Goals at the end of the game, allowing the Baltimore Ravens chances to tie and win the game.  Twenty-four hours later, the Steelers released Scobee and signed Chris Boswell to be their new Kicker.

 On Sunday the Philadelphia Eagles had Caleb Sturgis as their Kicker with Cody Parkey out for the season with a groin injury; Sturgis went on to miss a field goal attempt and an extra point attempt. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kicker Kyle Brindza went 1 for 3 on Field Goal attempts this past Sunday AND missed an extra point; he is only hitting on 50 percent of his field goals in 2015.

The Jacksonville Jaguars had two opportunities to win their game versus the Colts on Sunday, but their Kicker Jason Myers missed both Field Goal attempts.

On the flip side veterans of over ten plus years in the league Adam Vinateri, Robbie Gould and Sebastian Janikowski are consistent every year, averaging over 80 percent accuracy for their careers.  Also Atlanta Falcons have Matt Bryant and the Baltimore Ravens have Justin Tucker, both reliable kickers their teams know they can depend on.  Furthermore the Denver Broncos Brandon McManus is the team’s third full time place Kicker in the last ten years, all three of those kickers have a career average of over 70 percent accuracy.

The truth is that with the way the game is played in the NFL in 2015 Kickers are under-valued and teams are not doing a good enough job at evaluating talent or preparing their Kickers for Game Day.  The Steelers, Eagles, and Jaguars all lost on Sunday no thanks to their Kickers but none of these teams learned from the history of these players.  I always find it ironic when teams assume a guy will play different for their team because of the player’s “talent”.  With so many kickers in the NFL missing extra points and field goals, it is becoming ugly and teams need to do a better job at scouting along with development of their Kickers.

2. Devonta Freeman has “Wally Pip’ed” Tevin Coleman in Atlanta.

Coming into the 2015 season there was a battle in training camp for the Atlanta Falcons starting Running Back position.  Devonta Freeman coming into his 2nd season after being drafted out of Florida State put up lackluster performances during the Pre-season leading to Rookie RB Tevin Coleman being named the starter.  But Coleman got injured opening the door for Freeman to get an opportunity to start the last two weeks.  Freeman has scored three rushing touchdowns in each game and compiled 342 Total Yards from scrimmage in two games.

Hall of Fame Yankees First Baseman Lou Gehrig was a “nobody” until starting First Baseman Wally Pipp took a day off due to a “migraine headache”. Gehrig would then go on to start 2,130 games in a row for the Yankees.   While I am not saying Devonta Freeman will be a Hall of Fame Running Back, I think it is fair to assume that Freeman has a strangle hold on the starting Running back position in Atlanta.  Coleman is a rookie, he is going to have to wait his turn when he returns from injury as that starting position is no longer exclusively his anymore.

3. The Eagles and Dolphins are a mess for a good reason.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins are 1-3 after Week Four of the 2015 NFL season for a good reason.  Neither team has learned from the past.  Both teams have been down this path before, having an offseason of big talent acquisitions then start the season playing underwhelming football.  The reality is, that building a team through free agency and trades rarely equals success.  You cannot buy wins and championships in the NFL.  If you could then the Washington Redskins would be a dynasty by now.

The Eagles have tried to build a team by unloading most of the players from the previous head coach and bringing in players Chip Kelly believes are good fit for his program.  But instead of building a team, he is trying to “plug and play” players as parts in a machine.  The Eagles have made the mistake, like many before, of overlooking the fundamentals of the game in order to be on the “cutting edge”.  The Eagles have seemingly regressed the last couple years as their Head Coach has unloaded talent and not replaced them with comparable skill players.  Spending a lot of money does not equal wins; it just means Byron Maxwell and Demarco Murray got paid for past performances.

The Dolphins have had roster turnover every year since Head Coach Joe Philbin arrived in Miami.  Instead of building a team around Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins have been swapping in and out players like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle looking for the “right combination”.  They dish out big money for Defensive Lineman Ndamukong Suh but they let reliable players such as Wide receiver Brian Hartline and Defensive Lineman Jared Odrick leave.  The team has played underwhelming on offense and defense in 2015.

I have said this numerous times: teams cannot buy championships or fabricate chemistry.  No team in NFL history has ever had great success with this formula yet the Dolphins and Eagles insist that it can work.  I remember someone asked about the arrogance of Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly and ineptitude of Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin in recent weeks; it appears both adjectives might be true looking at how 2015 has played out.

4. The Broncos, Panthers and Packers are undefeated in 2015 thanks to defense.

We have been inundated by the media for years about how a team needs a “franchise Quarterback” in order to win in the NFL.  Quarterback is one of the most important position in all of sports, I do not disagree, but Football is still a team sport and the unit must work together in order to win.  While Peyton Manning is a future Hall of Famer, Cam Newton is one of the most talented players in the NFL, and Aaron Rodgers is arguably the top Quarterback in the NFL, all of these teams are winning games thanks to the efforts of their defenses.

The Packers and Panthers defenses have only allowed a total of 71 points against in 4 games this season, an average of 17.8 points per game against.  Meanwhile the Broncos have allowed only 69 points against, an average of 17.3 points per game against.  These three teams are among the top defenses in the NFL in 2015 and after the first quarter of the season they deserve recognition.  Peyton Manning has looked subpar based on his own standards, Cam Newton has a below average group of receivers, and Aaron Rodgers has injuries to his Wide Receivers.  These Pro Bowl Quarterbacks can thank their defenses for coming to their aid to help their teams win games.

By the way, do you know the team that has allowed the least number of points against so far in 2015? The New York Jets with a 3-1 win-loss record have allowed a total of 55 points against, an average in 4 games of 13.8 points per game against.  In the era of high powered offenses and Quarterbacks getting paid multi-million dollar contracts, the old adage of “Defense wins championships” still carries weight.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

SMU, NCAA, & the Double Standards of College Athleticism

Southern Methodist University has received punishment for breaking rules from the governing body of Collegiate Sports, the NCAA.  Among the“charges” against SMU include Academic Misconduct and Unethical Conduct in the Men’s Basketball Program along with lack of control of the program by Head Coach Larry Brown.  SMU has been banned from the 2016 postseason and Brown has been suspended for the first 9 games of the season.  While this is not the first time a college team coached by Larry Brown has received NCAA punishment (he coached at Kansas and UCLA previously), the real issue here is the double standards in collegiate athletics in terms of players, coaches, universities and the NCAA.

Let’s first focus on the coaches and what their role is as Head Coaches in collegiate athletics.  What is their job description exactly?  Because if you ask the NCAA, an Athletic Director, a University President, Players, and NBA Scouts you may get 5 different answers.  The reality is that the system makes it difficult to do any of the duties asked of these coaches.  First and foremost, these coaches are expected to win ball games, but they have to do so with limited practice hours every week.  These coaches are expected to recruit talented players, but they are expected to do so with numerous limitations in place on how much they speak to recruits and when/where they interact with them.   These coaches are expected to oversee the sport’s program they coach while also monitoring their players.  Yet these men and women at the collegiate level are expected to also be life teachers, mentors, and university representatives.

While many of these “duties” I state above conflict with each other, I ask what is most important: Academics, Winning Games, Mentorship, or Program Management?  The truth is that every time you hear about sanctions against a school’s Athletic Program or its players, there are three other incidents that never get reported.  There are guidelines published by the NCAA but no consistency in punishment.  Why is the University of Southern California Football program more “evil” in their lack of institutional control than SMU Basketball program?  Why was what Dez Bryant did years ago worse than what Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston did?  Why is Jim Boeheim better or worse than any other coaches who didn’t have institutional control?

I know as the reader you may be saying “I don’t remember half those incidents you are talking about” or “Why are you comparing ‘Apples to Oranges’?” but the whole point is that you don’t remember all the details of every NCAA punishment and that these situations are not all that different.  The reality is that the NCAA is the overseer of a multi-faceted, multi-billion dollar business that hundreds of Universities cash in on every year.   Lots of green is made from televised sporting events and game tickets are sold just like the professional ranks.  But we are told these are “Student-Athletes”, that this is “Amateur athletics at its highest level”, that “Academics come first, Sports come second”; so then why do we hire and fire coaches in college for the same reasons as the professional ranks?

The double standards come down to the simple conflict between what is important.  SMU didn’t hire Larry Brown to be their Men’s Basketball because he graduated so many student athletes or he has a great relationship with Academia.  He was hired to win basketball games, to recruit the best players, because when you bring in the best players and win ball games then the University makes big money.  The truth is that these Universities treat their Head Coaches and Student-Athletes like business investments.  But as soon as the NCAA comes in the University distances themselves from their Head Coaches and Student-Athletes, blaming them for everything.  Everything is alright for the NCAA and Universities to make money off Collegiate Athletics, but when these players and coaches do “whatever it takes to win” then we start the blame game.

I do not blame Larry Brown for what happened at SMU with the Basketball program, just like I do not blame Pete Carroll for what happened at USC with star Football player Reggie Bush.  I blame the system that is in place for putting these coaches and players in a position where they feel the need to “bend the rules” in order to meet expectations.  The NCAA wants their big time TV contracts but want to maintain the “integrity” of Student-Athletics and Academic environment.  The NCAA and their member Universities want the best of both worlds and the Public Relations that go along with it.  They do not care about the Students’ futures or their Academics.  The Universities point to statistics and say “Look at our graduation rate” but do not mention these Student-Athletes majored in Liberal Arts, Communications, Sports Management and other degree fields that have limited real world application for employment.

Whether it is SMU, USC, Syracuse, Miami, Dez Bryant, AJ Green, or anyone else this is all a charade of punishments by the NCAA.  There is no consistency, no bona fide legal process, no use of precedent, just a bunch of subjective interpretations of situations and circumstance b people who care little for the people they place judgments on and only care for maintaining their strangle hold on their power and money.  If it wasn’t for all these double standards, most of these coaches and players would never get in trouble.  Furthermore, these sanctions from the all-mighty NCAA hurt more innocent people than transgressors.  Remember how Penn State lost scholarships and was banned from postseason because of a few men’s negligence and another man’s evil?  Yeah those NCAA punishments only hurt the players and coaches who had to deal with the sanctions in aftermath of all that mess of lies.

Monday, September 28, 2015

New York Mets & the long history of Baseball in NYC

Over the weekend the New York Mets clinched their first playoff appearance since 2006.  Of course Mets players and coaches were excited, but so too are their long suffering fans.  While on the road this past weekend I heard numerous Mets fans calling local New York radio stations talking about how much their team making the playoffs means to them.  For fans of teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, and San Francisco Giants this reaction may seem ridiculous, but context is important when discussing baseball fans in the New York Metro area.

The first half of the 20th century New York City was a hot bed of baseball with three Major League Baseball franchises in the city boroughs.   The New York Yankees (who at the beginning of the century were named the New York Highlanders because they use to play games at Hilltop Park in Manhattan) have resided in the Bronx since 1923.  Until the 1950’s two other teams played ball in New York City: the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.  For three decades the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Upper side of Manhattan Burroughs were the home to 20 World Series Champions (most of those winners played in Yankee Stadium).  In fact, for the first half of century New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and Boston all were home to two or more baseball franchises.

But the 1950’s ushered in changed across the baseball landscape as teams began moving to new cities, among them being the Giants and Dodgers who both prospected the potential of moving to California.  The two long standing New York borough staples were losing attendance battles with the younger franchise located in the Bronx, the Yankees.  So the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the Giants moved to San Francisco after the 1957 season.  Their moves left many New York Metro region baseball fans heart broken and the National League with two less teams in the Northeast.

Before the 1950’s the National League had four teams in the Northeast; after 1957 they were down to only the Philadelphia Phillies as the Dodgers and Giants moved to California while the Braves left Boston to their new home in Milwaukee. 
New York baseball fans certainly were not going to cheer for rival cities Philadelphia or Boston and most National League baseball fans were not going to jump on the Yankees bandwagon.  With the help of powerful lawyer William Shea the New York Metropolitans became the new National League team in New York City.  The team that became known as the Mets paid homage to the teams that proceeded them by adopting Orange and Blue as part of their team colors.  The Mets began play in 1962, making their home in the old New York Giants ballpark, Upper Manhattan’s Polo Grounds.  Beginning in 1964 the Mets began play in another New York City Borough, Queens, where Shea Stadium was built for them.

While New York Metro region baseball fans were happy to have another baseball team in NYC to root for, they had to suffer through the growing pains of an upstart franchise.  From 1962-1968 the Mets were one of the worst baseball teams statistically for any stretch in MLB history.  These years would not be the last time the Mets were bottom dwellers of the National League.  Despite winning the World Series in 1969 and reaching another in 1973, the rest of the 1970’s was a difficult stretch for the team playing in Queens.  This trend would continue for the Mets franchise the next few decades as the Mets’ fans would see teams play great for short stretches, then fall back down the standings.  Meanwhile the Mets would continually be overshadowed by their cross-town counterparts in the Bronx.  The Yankees have won eight World Series championships since 1962.  Yes the New York Mets have won two World Series titles (1969, 1986) and reached the October Classic on two other occasions (1973, 2000) and they are still considered by many that “other team” in NYC.  Adding more insult to injury, since the Giants and Dodgers left town, those two franchises have combined to win eight championships in October. 

The reality of being a New York Mets fan is that your team is not a perennial playoff contender, despite all the talented players to wear the Mets uniform.  From Tom Seaver to Keith Hernandez to Dwight Gooden to Mike Piazza to David Wright, the Mets franchise is one that has tormented their fan base more often than most teams.  Looking back on the history of the Mets, the only consistent part of the franchise has been their tormented, but loyal, fan base.  I know the ballpark doesn’t always sell out, but the reality is that baseball game tickets in New York City are among the most expensive in all of Major League Baseball.  You can’t blame their fans for not wanting the dish out between 55-200 dollars per ticket for good seats to watch a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2006.  In fact, baseball television ratings in New York Metro region is among the highest in the country.

I am not among the New York Mets cheering section, but I am happy for their fans that their team is making is back to postseason play.  I can also appreciate how any sports franchise with as much losing history as the Mets when their fans get so excited about making the playoffs.  But seriously, “Joey from Queens”, relax with the World Series championship’s prognostications, you still have to get to the October Classic before we discuss winning it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Rubik's Cube that is the UFC Rankings

When I was ten years old I asked my parents to let me take martial arts classes after I saw a Bruce Lee film and an amazing journey began for me.  My love for Martial Arts has grown over the years and led me to start watching Professional Mixed Martial Arts almost two decades ago.  I remember watching online replays of Bas Rutten Pancrase matches and Royce Grace vs Sakuraba PRIDE Superfight. I also watched the nights Vitor Belfort’s speed blitzkrieg of Wanderlei Silva and Tank Abbott, when Rich Franklin defeated Evan Tanner to become the UFC Middleweight champion, and the amazing technical war between Cung Le and Frank Shamrock in Strikeforce. 

I have been allowed the privilege, thanks to my many years in the radio industry and background in MMA, to cover several Bellator and UFC events.  I have seen the sport grow from a misunderstood “combat sport” to one of the top five highest grossing professional sports in the world.  But along the way a lot has changed, for better and for worse.  The “better” is what gets frequently publicized such as major sponsorship dollars MMA athletes have in today’s world and the mainstream acceptance of MMA.  That acceptance, thanks to fighters like Ronda Rousey, Randy Couture, and Ken Shamrock, paved the way for MMA fighters to crossover into the Television and movie industries.  The major television contracts that the UFC has with FOX, Bellator has with Viacom (Spike, CBS Sports), and World Series of Fighting with NBC Sports has put MMA on television on a weekly basis.

One common thread is that the UFC is the king of professional MMA world, where the most of the best fighters on the planet compete.  The UFC led the way in the 1990’s and helped bridge the gap to bring MMA into mainstream sports conversation.  But the UFC also has made promises to the casual and hardcore MMA fan bases that have loosely been kept.  When the UFC took over MMA organizations PRIDE, WEC, and Strikeforce, the plan was for those organizations to keep going forward and there to be crossover fights.  In each case the UFC slowly absorbed fighters into their own ranks and then dissolve the organizational structure, ending their existence. 

In 2015 the UFC is again giving something that frustrates fans and media alike, whether most of them are willing to admit it or not.  On the UFC’s website there are weight class rankings, allowing fans and media alike to have a gauge of where different fighters stand in relation to potential to championship matchups according to them.  Yet we have seen numerous times the UFC neglect their own rankings and put together fight cards headlined by title fights most people did not expect.

UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler is set to face Carlos Condit in November even though Condit has a record of 2-2 since his title fight loss to George St. Pierre in 2012.  Condit, the former WEC Welterweight Champion, is currently ranked 4th in the UFC rankings, so he leap frogged three men for his title shot.  Meanwhile Johnny Hendricks (number one contender ranking) and Tyron Woodley (number 3 ranked Welterweight) are facing off in October at UFC 192.  Both men have previously defeated Condit while also having better overall records over the last few years.  Woodley has a 5-2 record since arriving in the UFC in 2013, with his only losses coming via judges’ decision.  Hendricks has 3-2 record over the same time period, his only losses coming via controversial split judges’ decisions.  Yet the UFC chose Carlos Condit for the title shot despite him being ranked behind Hendricks and Woodley.

Another example of mixed messages from the UFC is with the evolving conundrum of the UFC Women’s Strawweight division.  Current Women’s 115 lb. champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk is set to face Valérie Létourneau at UFC 193 in November, yet Letourneau is the number 10 ranked fighter in the division according to UFC rankings.  Letourneau is leap frogging Claudia Gadelha (number one contender in the division), Carla Esparza (former champion and number two ranked in division) and Tecia Torres (number 5 ranked fighter and undefeated in her pro career).  Both Gadehla and Esparza are out of action due to injuries so many people expected Torres would be next in line to fight for the belt.  Instead Torres is scheduled to fight Michelle Waterson next; Waterson is the former Invicta FC Atomweight Champion.  Meanwhile on her way to a title shot Letourneau has a 3-0 record in the UFC, all victories over women who are currently not ranked in the UFC’s top fifteen for the weight class.

The reality is the UFC is an organization that signed multiple big money media contracts at a time when they MMA landscape was very different.  A few years ago the UFC’s biggest stars were Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, and George St. Pierre.  Whether people were fans or haters, they tuned in every fight to watch these men either win or lose.  The UFC was also building the brand of Cain Velasquez, Frankie Edgar and Anthony Pettis after their famous championship winning fights.  In recent years since UFC signed media and sponsorship deals grossing the organization billions of dollars here’s what has happened to their stars:

-Jon Jones is currently suspended indefinitely due to his legal problems after a Hit and Run accident; he has been stripped of his title.

-Anderson Silva lost his title for Chris Weidman and since then tested positive for steroids after his fight with Nick Diaz.

-George St. Pierre retired after his controversial win over Johnny Hendricks in 2012; St. Pierre has stated he is not coming back anytime soon.

-Cain Velasquez has won, lost, won again, and lost again his Heavyweight title all while dealing with injuries.

-Frankie Edgar lost his UFC Lightweight Title in 2012 and has moved down to the Featherweight division where is working towards another title shot.

-Anthony Pettis lost his title in 2015 to Rafael Dos Anjos months after being a featured athlete on Wheaties boxes.

In 2015 the UFC is attempting to bank their marketing power around three current champions:

-Ronda Rousey, A woman who has said she will retire by 2017 and wants to spend more time pursuing an acting career.

-Chris Weidman, A talented fighter from New York whose coach is former UFC champion Matt Serra.

-Connor McGregor, A brash Irishman coming from a boxing background who just recently won the Interim UFC Featherweight title.

So with this shortened list of marque marketable fighters, why is the UFC insisting on putting together title fights that conflict with their own rankings?  The whole point of having these rankings published and updated almost weekly is to attract more fans interest in upcoming fight cards. 

One of the UFC’s biggest media deals is with Brazil’s Globo and is potentially in jeopardy due to poor TV ratings.  It does not help that three years ago there were several Brazilian UFC champions and title contenders.  In 2015 only two Brazilians hold UFC titles, one being Jose Aldo who has been dealing with injuries.  The other is Fabricio Werdum who is not even in the top five list of most popular MMA fighters in Brazil.

Certainly it is perplexing the UFC’s reasoning for many of their recent fighter matchups.  The truth is that the UFC needs the MMA fans to continue their support for the king of MMA in order to maintain financial strength and media visibility.  Their current deal with Reebok is still unpopular in many MMA circles since it cut off many sponsors from the UFC arena and some fighter’s lifelines.  There is nothing wrong with calculated risks, but only time will tell if this Rubik’s cube the UFC has placed in front of the media and fans will continue to produce results or if it will be tossed away due to the inability to be understood.