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.