Saturday, March 28, 2009

The truth about the firing of Billy Gillespie

Kentucky isn't the first major college power to be full of themselves and unfortunately they won't be the last. Ironically two years into the Billy Gillespie era, both sides are parting ways. Tubby Smith could never measure up to Rick Pitino in the eyes of the big blue faithful. Gillespie is also failing to fill those big shoes as well, going just 40-27 with an N.I.T appearance coupled with a first round exit in the NCAA tournament last season. Smith led Minnesota to an NCAA tournament bid in only his second season which is typical of Tubby's miracle worker like exploits at Tulsa and Georgia.

After all, Smith did win the 98 championship with "Pitino's players", that's according to the gospel of Tubby hating, chapter one verse three. Typically people who swear by this kind of garbage are people who haven't adjusted very well to the climate of major college sports. Just about every program plays on television. Traditional powers can no longer use the "exposure card" with John Q recruit. The Patrick Ewing's of the world are now pre-historic. Most of the top tier talent will stay two years or less for the lure of pay for play.

When Dean Smith gave you a call as a recruit back in the day, it was almost equivalent to a religious experience. Now when a recruit fields a call from a coach its about how long they will stay or if they will get the opportunity to play right away. How many Dean Smith's are left in the coaching profession? How many coaches will stay at one place for a significant amount of time? Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams are the last of a dying breed. (note if UNC would never opened up Williams would still be the Kansas coach) Coaches are under more pressure to win like never before.

The handwriting on the wall was there even before Gillespie took the job. Would you like for me to translate the language on this wall? Here's several factors to consider.

1. Kentucky has lost a bit of its luster as a basketball program.

Some delusional fans and even media types will attribute this to the tenure of Tubby Smith. This is a complete farce. The resurrection of the Big East took care of most of that. The South Eastern conference this season was the worst its ever been. Kentucky in the 90's and for half of the 2000's were a proverbial shoe in for the NCAA tournament. The emergence of Florida helped to wrestle some of the noterity from Kentucky. Florida has 3 final four appearances which led to two back to back national championships in 2006 and 2007. Kentucky still had productive seasons under Tubby Smith. In 2004 they were an overtime away from appearing in the final four.

2. The tradition of Kentucky Basketball doesn't mean anything outside of the state of Kentucky unless you live there or attended the school.

Sure Pitino and Tubby recruited great players like Jamal Mashburn and Tayshaun Prince the school but it wasn't entirely because of the tradition. Quite frankly if the school's tradition was viewed in "all of its glory" then most of your top tier talent wouldn't consider Kentucky for a visit let alone suit up there. Both coaches presented a style of play that was attractive to young recruits. They both won titles. The the influx of high players jumping to the NBA contributed mightily to the decline of the program. Secondly Tubby could never live down the legend of Rick Pitino causing a false sense of entitlement to the final four every year.

3. Any coach would be tickled to death to coach at Kentucky

That was probably true about ten years ago. Obviously Gillespie and UK weren't that into each other. All of the big guns like Tom Izzo, Rick Barnes, Billy Donovan and John Calipari have very little incentive besides money to leave their current jobs for Kentucky. Honestly they have spent their tenures at their respective schools building great programs. Their collective success has created a relevant track record for today's players to emulate and flock to. This makes the tradition of Kentucky a distant memory.

Most recruits don't care about the 78 final four or all of the NCAA titles that Rupp won. The titles won in the 90's by Smith and Pitino are note worthy but the hip hop generation rarely pays attention to anything not attached to their ipods or blackberries. Besides, Donovan apparently loves the weather in Florida more than the climate in the bluegrass state. The weather and UK fan base can be just as cold when you're not meeting their lofty expectations. Two national championships and a 3.5 million dollar salary is a good reason to stay put. He has less pressure at his current job. All he has to do is make the tourney every year for the rest of his coaching career at Florida and they'll name the new arena for him in twenty years. Calipari on the other hand can be bought. Time will tell on this one.

4. Young proven coaches can sometimes be better suited to take over programs that have taken a step back

Travis Ford is a young gun who may fit the mold of what the UK faithful think is their type of Coach. Ford played there and knows the passion that the fan base brings to the table. He has left programs like Eastern Kentucky and Umass better than he found it. If I were Mitch Barnhart I'd call Travis Ford. Pitino was a young gun fresh off taking Billy Donovan and Providence to a final four. Could lightning strike twice with Ford? Mike Anderson of Missouri took a program that was left in pieces. They are coming off a stunning victory over my Memphis Tigers. He apparently gets the most out of his players.

Anderson's players weren't the darlings of all of the major recruiting websites nor were they McDonald's All Americans. In fact according to a recent ESPN article they refer to themselves as "Burger King All Americans". This direction is less likely to happen considering his ties to Nolan Richardson and the arrogance of the administration. Plus he looks to much like Tubby Smith. Sorry but its the truth. You can slice that in multiple ways and call me crazy but you know I ain't lying.

5. Kentucky has become the high school beauty that comes to the reunion 4o pounds overweight.

The AAU circuit, the pressure to win and the increased academic requirements for freshmen has diluted the talent pool that would normally be recruited by traditional powers. Every major college power is susceptible to experiencing challenging times. Billy Gillespie was never in the long term plans at Kentucky despite what they may have the public to believe. In Gillespie's defense, two years isn't enough time to evaluate whether or not he had an impact. Gillespie should've stayed at Texas A&M, where he was adored for resurrecting that program and leading them to within a blown Acie Law layup that would have eliminated Memphis and propelled them to an elite eight.

The contract situation is proof positive that neither side was that in love with each other to begin with. Billy Donovan didn't answer the beckoning call of the UK faithful before Gillespie's hiring. The rumblings of Donovan being the lead candidate resurfaced yet again but was shot down quickly in a statement released by the Florida atheletic department. Even if Donovan wanted to it would be financially difficult for him to walk away. He has some mean buyout clauses attached to his current contract after his brief affair with the Orlando Magic two years ago. Gillespie will eventually land another gig that doesn't fit "the job description" of part time Governor of the state.

His run at Kentucky isn't an indictment on whether he can coach. It is more of a tale tell sign of where the loyalties of athletic directors, fans, boosters and college presidents really are. There's not much loyalty from either side but coaches ultimately are hired to win basketball games. Both sides of the defacto sports league of college sports are skilled at pretending to be overly concerned about the young people that are responsible for racking up the millions in checks that flow into these major programs. Gillespie was right when he said that his job was about winning recruiting and losing. His sub par attitude was more of an excuse for the Kentucky powerbrokers to pull out of the deal and get someone they really wanted.

Obviously the UK administration believes that they can do better but what's different than the last time when the settled for Billy G? Media analyst are throwing out big names which is typical fodder created by the media that cover top tier programs. This helps to fuel some of the hysteria of name dropping which makes fans more delusional than they already are. The incident with Janine Edwards was ugly but not any worse than Roy Williams cussing on national T.V. after the loss to Syracuse in the 2003 national title game. Any chance Kansas fires Williams after that tirade? Can we cut to the chase and discuss what this really is about.

This is about a sub par N.I.T. season. This is about Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks possibly bolting for the NBA after this season. This also about a bad decision that makes both Gillespie and Kentucky look bad. This is about how they ran off a coach that had an average of 26 wins a year in favor of a guy that was very inexperienced and poorly prepared for the lofty expectations of the Administration and fan base. (Cue up Lane Kiffin at Tennessee. Did I just say that out loud)

Talented players have so many places around the country to choose from. You don't think they noticed how Tubby was treated? Billy Gillespie's sudden departure doesn't set the program up for immediate success either. Has anyone seen Indiana lately? Tom Crean is a wonderful coach but it will take him a few more years to rebuild that program. Tradition isn't a big seller anymore. The panic button has been pushed. The soap opera will play out and UK will eventually get their man. The question is will the fan base be realistic about the landscape of college basketball in the 21st century. It's a safe bet that they will not. I've decided to take a page from T.O. and get my popcorn ready because this is going to be good... On to better things. The final four is in a week and Kentucky isn't playing in it...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The emancipation of the college athlete

College sports as a whole has evolved from a lowly test subject to an unbridled beast that only knows how to exploit those that they claim to serve. Does that mean that every college program is dirty? The answer to that question is not necessarily. Former Ohio State coach Jim Obrien's firing several years ago comes to mind. Who can forget the story of Albert Means being sold to the highest bidder which turned out to be Alabama. What about Stripper University I mean Colorado and its disgraceful sex scandal involving recruits.

It's sad how it is an NCAA violation to help assist poor kids with some of the basic necessities that everyone needs in life. When they sell cocaine on campus (sorry Jimmy Johns) or steal lap tops (sorry Marcus Williams and A.J. Price) then we get all self righteous spewing out the moral code of how college athletics provides a stable environment that is capable of assisting "student athletes. Yeah right.

Recently Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel did a follow up profile on former high school All American Brandon Jennings. Sonny Vaccaro who's known worldwide for his basketball camps with Adidas helped to "broker" the deal that netted Jennings with a multi-million dollar contract. He claims that he didn't get anything out of it. That is about as believeable as David Duke and Al Sharpton being spotted having dinner at Silvia's in Harlem. Jennings appears to be a PSA for why kids should go to college in the states considering his very different life overseas.

I get that he was homesick but he seemed ill prepared for such an experience. He has probably put a dent in college bound kids strongly considering their options to play professionally overseas. He wasn't the right kid to set the tone. Metaphorically speaking Jennings would be the Claudette Colvin of this movement rather than Rosa Parks. Parks came 30 years earlier in the form of Spencer Haywood, Darryl Dawkins, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant. The NBA shut its doors to the young men who were actually prepared to play professionally after the 2003 draft inserting a rule that kids must be 19 and a year removed from college.

Why do you think Jackie Robinson was chosen over Negro league stars such as Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige? Certainly not because he was the best player. In order to revolutionlize anything in America, there must be a pristine plan packaged in the form of an exceptional talent that can break barriers changing the traditional and conservative psyche of the American public. (Cue up Tiger Woods)

College football isn't that simple due to the overall physicality of the league but it doesn't mean that college administrators at the division one level shouldn't look into compensating these kids with some form of a stipend. Let's be honest, its already going on indirectly. For years the big stars have lived in off campus apartments and been driving shiny new "whips" to prance around town. Nothing like seeing your star running back in an Escalade sitting on twenties right?

It's easy to cover it up when people keep their mouths shut and of course when the "program" is a winner, you won't hear a rat piss on cotton. The term program sounds like a shady operation if you think about it. Players and fans a like have been bamboozled into believing the image of college programs following the rules and keeping the "best interest" of players intact. I get the sense that some are reading this blog for the first time and is in need of more evidence. Ladies and Gentleman of the Jury let me present to you Rhett Bomar.

This kid got kicked out of school at Oklahoma for getting something he really deserved. Head coach Bob Stoopes was willing to protect the program at all cost despite Bomar's stellar performance as a freshman. He cut ties with Bomar faster than a televangelist would if he got caught with a hooker he was trying to "counsel" at his hotel room. Was it his fault that an employer told him to show up for a few hours to be paid like he worked for a full two weeks? Tell me you wouldn't take that deal as broke college kid chilling for the summer in college town USA.

How many CEO's are robbing their shareholders with excessive time spent on the golf course rather than in their board (bored) meetings? Are you now on while on company time? How about facebook or myspace? Are you reading this blog from your desk at work? Honestly you're just as guilty as Bomar and the booster that hooked him up. I know, I know this is a different scenario, right?.

College players are unpaid professionals in waiting. The players should be compensated for the billion dollar industry that the NCAA has become. Isn't the whole idea of going to college about preparing yourself to earn a living? If you were the sole reason why an business enterprise was profitable wouldn't you want a piece of the pie? Sure you would. Most of our employers cheat us with their "profit sharing" bonuses that they give us. Most of us deserve more than what we get but employers are rarely fair with their frontline employees who are essentially the lifeblood of their company's success. Could our careers as common people be the culprit of our skewed view on this issue?

Prostitution is known as "the oldest profession" but I'd like to introduce to you her first cousin. Ladies and gentleman I present the second star witness of my case - "Exploitation". Please spare me with that notion of college players being compensated with "scholarships". First, one has to be a scholar before the ship can sail. For every Myron Rolle you have 10 players who have their homework done by an "academic" counselor. (Cue up Tennessee and Florida State) Have you seen some of the majors of these players? What about their graduation rates? The Defense rest...

How in the world did Dexter Manley set foot on a college campus? How did he fall through the cracks in elementary, high school and college? We all know the answer but we're to busy surfing the web looking at the various sites that tell us about our favorite program's recruiting exploits. Most of us aren't really aware of the underworld of how college athletes are coddled, paid and falsely worshipped by the runners, boosters, media, coaches and groupies.

The recent scandal at Uconn makes Kelvin Sampson blush considering the amount of phone conversations that the Huskies coaching staff had with the recruit in question. This latest scandal speaks to how much the recruiting world has changed in major college sports. Uconn will be the sacrifical lamb discussed, chastised and dissected in the media but will anything change? Of course not.

The AAU basketball circuits are already heating up as we speak. 7 on 7 high school football clinics are being set up all over the country for top recruits to be" evaluated" by major programs. Recruiting websites will keep us informed on the next "can't miss" prospect. Like crackheads we will compromise our better judgement and accept the garbage that matrix tells us.

The root of the word ignorance is ignore. WE have ignored this problem for to long. That's why I support kids making their own decision to forgo college or leave college early when the opportunity presents itself. Sure there will be casualties but the same can be said for any industry or human endeavor in life. Ask Gary Coleman or any child star of the 70's 80's and 90's what their lives were really like. Those who advocate college are the same ones who turn a blind eye to the social and human needs of the kids they make money on.

Morally can we really impose on the liberties of those who choose the unconventional path? The answer is no. Do most who advocate college really have the best interest of these kids in mind? Very few of them do. College should still be an option and not a mandate which imposes on the right of people to make their own choice. This debate is similar to the equation that remained unbalanced in the movie blockbuster The Matrix. The anamoly isn't your favorite team's next 5 star recruit. The culprit is our society's love affair with hypocrisy. Ignorance is truly bliss......

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is Jay Cutler and Vince Young one in the same?

Titans fans have done it again. Jay Cutler demands a trade out of Denver and automatically most in the city of Nashville are begging for the Titans to trade for Cutler. The 2006 draft saw a Quarterback class that had a reasonable amount of hype. Cutler has risen out of the ashes of this hype considering the productive season that he had in Denver last year.

4500 yards, 25 touchdown passes, and 18 interceptions is tops in his draft class. Leinart didn't even get off the bench while Young refused to go back into a game which led to him losing his job. Statistically it would appear that Cutler was the safer bet. Kellen Clemmens looked terrible in the few starts he's gotten. Tavarius Jackson has looked lost in most of his starts.

It appeared that the pendulum of the term bust was swinging in the direction of Nashville until Mike Shanahan got fired. What does Shanahan have to do with Young being a bust? Everything. Systems can make players and players ultimately make systems. Cutler benefited from playing in a system that would feature his strengths.

Young hasn't. I don't believe that the Titans coaching staff is totally responsible for the underachievement of Vince Young but they share a huge piece of the blame. Why draft a guy that is a dual threat but never allow him to return to the form of his rookie year and use his intangibles that made him a star in college? 104.5 the zone co-host Frank Wycheck along with many of Young's critics believe that Vince should play the style that landed him on the cover of Madden. (I believe that Madden curse is true)

The style of play that prematurely allowed Vince to look like the right draft decision over Leinart and Cutler was abandoned in year two. He also had to adjust to another offensive coordinator after Norm Chow became the scapegoat for the titans long time offensive philosophy. ( This was Young's first full season as a starter) He did struggle with where to throw the ball but he didn't totally setback the team in the win column. 18 interceptions isn't becoming of a starter in the NFL but it is a correctable flaw if the player and coaching staff are willing to put in the work. That includes developing and bringing in an above average receiving corp.

Kerry Collins is a steady veteran but his completion percentage was just 58% in 2008. Ironically most of Young's critics have lamented over how inaccurate Young was his first year though he completed 61 percent of his passes. Never mind that some of the balls that he threw to his receivers were dropped. Sure he threw some bad balls but that's to be expected. Even Kurt Warner is susceptible to throw picks or to miss time a route. Bad throws are inevitable at the highest level of football considering the talent of defenses and the speed of the game.

What's more shocking is that if you ask John Q analyst in the media or John Q titans fan who's the most accurate Quarterback they probably will say Collins. Young's second year saw him complete 62 percent of his passes. This is an incremental improvement for a young Quarterback with suspect talent in his receiving corp. Collins for his career has a completion percentage of 55.7 percent. In the words of Arsenio Hall, these are "things that make you go hmm...."

So what makes Cutler and Young the same guy? Certainly not their production on the field. Cutler has shown an affinity for spouting off some dumb comments. So has Vince. Confiding in a reporter about contemplating retirement only made guys like Merrill Hodge and Jason Whitlock look like prophets. Cutler's proclamation of having a stronger arm than Elway made his degree from Vandy look suspect.

The calling card for both of these guys is there maturity. The question that fans should ask themselves is whether or not Cutler would play nice here in Nashville. Would he demand that Heimerdinger and Fisher feature his arm more? How would he react when Fisher didn't honor his request? Would the titans abandon the running game and upgrade their receiving corp?. The answer is no.. So its probably a safe bet that Cutler would whine here in Nashville to.

Fisher is a crafty veteran coach. He hasn't survived the coaching rat race of the NFL by succumbing to the pressure from an irrational fan base. He had the guts to challenge Vince Young to become a student of the game. He also let it be known that Kerry would start until they started to lose or needed a spark. In a statement released by his agent Major Adams, Young expressed a positive "smoke signal" that seemed as though he would welcome the challenge.

Apparently he's taken a page from his classmate. Cutler met with his bosses with his agent present. Why can't both of them handle team business like grown men? Agents should only be involved when money is being discussed. Young should've made that proclamation via an interview by someone from the mother ship(ESPN or national media) or in the Nashville local media. Cutler is basically threatening to sit out of mini camps if he isn't traded. Young is at least communicated through a third party that he's rededicated himself to the game and poised to win his job back but I'll believe it when I see it.

Third party communication is only one of his sins. Neither guy is particularly fond of the media. Young has shown some emotional instability which is common in a sports league as high pressure as the NFL. (Why do you think some players are drug users, Cue up Matt Jones) I don't think we give enough credence to the mental health of athletes given the pressure that the sports public puts on them.

So why would our fan base and color analyst for Titans radio flirt with the idea of bringing Cutler in?. There are certain obvious reasons but this situation does reak of the same junk that Mcnair went through. Neil O"Donnell was believed by some in the media to the better option at starter for the Titans. In fairness to Frank he profusely expressed that the titans should take Cutler originally but the criticism of Mcnair and Young has a more sinister feel to it.

That's not to say neither are above criticism. However Mcnabb told James Brown in his interview with real sports that the "black quarterback" gets a premium of scrutiny in the case of their evaluation in the media. Hindsight is 20/20 but he was right. If Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and Doug Williams fail then the Mcnabb's, Mcnair's and Jeff Blake's get no shot in the NFL. When a Ryan Leaf fails in the NFL a bad team will still take a Tim Couch. White Quarterbacks are poked a prodded as well. They are compared to their white peers only in regards to whether or not they can play.

"Black Quarterbacks" are poked and prodded as well but I bet you that John Elway was never asked the question " how long have you been a white quarterback". I bet
Phil Simms was never told by a white supremacist to play like a "white quarterback". ( Doug Williams was asked this question before the 1988 Superbowl and a member of the NAACP once called out Mcnabb to play like a black quarterback)

Pat White's success and evaluation will be tied to Mike Vick instead of the universal class of dual threats that have been both black and white. In other words media and fans alike show a huge disparity in comparing players across racial lines because of age old prejudice that exist. This prejudice isn't exclusive to white analyst for the record.

This isn't being discussed. I will contend that "race" isn't why Vince isn't starting. That's not the point of the last few paragraphs. However it is my mission to point out the complex bias of our fan base both nationally and here in Nashville. When Chad Johnson demanded a trade people gave him a lot of stink. Cutler has gotten hammered but not to the way Johnson was. Young does have the same right to demand a trade. So does Leinart but they haven't. At least not yet..

The NFL stands for Not for Long. Anything is possible on a given day. Both Cutler and Young can stand to take a page from the late round picks who aren't heralded. We all know the types. Those who are just happy to get invited to camp but ultimately get cut. Then you have the Ahmad Hall's and Kurt Warner's of the world. These guys relish the opportunity to play in this league. They make their rosters and help teams while they ultimately over achieve.

Both players must learn to adjust to the total challenge of playing in the NFL. No one owes them anything. Teams only value players until they think they can do better. Arizona, Tennessee and Denver did what everyone else is doing in the league. The immediate splash of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco will further shorten the time that young quarterbacks will get to develop in the NFL.

So by that estimation Cutler and Young are the same guy. Sadly the sports world will continue to show bias in a profession that touts its objectivity. We should expect fans to be loony. The word fan is short for fanatical. Fanatics are more prone to make irrational statements which leads to ridiculous conversations. Objectivity in our fan bases would be nice but it doesn't make for good sports radio or our water cooler conversations that are entertaining. So much for that pipe dream.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What is an "NFL Quarterback"

The draft experts that are responsible for coining this phrase probably should be sentenced to death by firing squad. The modern era of the NFL draft has turned all of us into "mad scientist". Some sports fans have been duped into believing that the traditional model of the pocket passer is the only means of winning games in the NFL. He has to be at least 6'3 with an arm like Farve, the brains of Manning(Peyton that is) the mobility of Vick, the quick release of Marino and the accuracy of Warner.

The position of quarterback is one of the great debates which leads to rhetorical analysis rather than meaningful discussion on how to win games. According to most analyst Ryan Leaf was a can't miss talent with the "big arm". The San Diego Chargers were convinced that Leaf was far and away better than the four year starter and honor student Peyton Manning. Pocket Passers are equivalent to a really pretty woman that wears an outfit that shows to much cleavage. She along with her big arm quarterback attracts attention for all the wrong reasons.

Drop back Quarterbacks have been the flavor of the month in the NFL for so many years. The term scrambling Quarterback was applied to guys like Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach and Archie Manning. (In the case of Manning he had no choice) Tarkenton led his Vikings to multiple Superbowl appearances and who can forget the Superbowl victories engineered by the legendary Staubach.

Many fans and even some analyst aren't informed about how much the Quarterback position has really evolved. The early quarterbacks of the college game weren't great passers. In fact very few college or semipro leagues in the early twentieth century rarely had anyone that could throw a football more than twenty yards. The football in that era was much larger. Oh, did anybody ever tell you that the forward pass was once illegal!!!.

The invention of the forward pass left a mark on the psyche of how the position should be played. Amos Alonzo Stagg, Walter Camp and Glenn "Pop" Warner contributed very much to the invention of the forward pass. Camp invented the concept of four downs and the line of scrimmage which ultimately made the protection of the quarterback paramount. Early Stars of the forward pass like Sammy Baugh dazzled NFL crowds with his ability to throw it down the field.

If I were a GM I'd do my best to look at more of the intangible qualities of a player than his physical skills. The teams that equally evaluate the tangible and intangible attributes of a player are more likely to have success. Bill Walsh had the insight to pluck Steve Young from Tampa Bay because he knew that he could mold him into a dual threat at Quarterback. Walsh's gamble paid off when Young led the 49ers to a championship. What about the trade that brought Farve to Green Bay after being buried on the Atlanta Falcons bench.

What did coach Harvey Hide see in Randall Cunningham that the coaches of the SEC, ACC, Big East, and Big 12 (in those days the Big 8) didn't? According to an Sports illustrated article written by Roger Jackson in 1984, a pro scout from the Minnesota Vikings marvelled at all the throws that Cunningham could make. The comparison to Doug Williams who had been taken in the first round six years earlier was inevitable. However the scout thought that Cunningham had more touch on his passes than Williams. He also knew that Cunningham was more than a "running quarterback".

Mobile Quarterbacks have succeeded at the pro level for decades. So should "an NFL Quarterback" be reduced to the rants of sports analyst or should they be judged by the content of their unique abilities. Tim Tebow has been scrutinized unmercifully for being a dual threat in college. He has shown time and time again that he can throw the football but of course we still will have those doubters that want to further dissect his game to the bone reducing him to only a "running quarterback".

Winning teams are hard to construct in the NFL. The age old adage of the quarterback getting to much credit for wins and losses rings true in every facet of this argument but how many of us will reduce mobile quarterbacks to the same dumb categories. Quarterbacks that play in run oriented offenses are usually sold very short because they may never throw for 4000 yards in a season.

I bet Dan Marino would trade at least a few passing records and 15,000 of his yards for a superbowl ring. Ben Rothlisberger has never thrown for 4,000 yards in a season but he's won two superbowls before the age of thirty. Ultimately its about winning football games. Sadly most sports fans and "experts" lose focus on why the game is played.

In a recent ESPN poll, fans were asked to judge which quarterback from the 2006 class was better. Jay Cutler won in a landslide against the likes of Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Tavarius Jackson and Kellen Clemmens. Judging only by statistical numbers in the poll it seems pretty accurate to anoint Cutler but Vince Young and Tavarius Jackson are the only two guys in this draft class to lead their teams to the playoffs.

Jackson and Young have shown bright spots but they've also shown room for improvement. Cutler definitely passes the eyeball test. Cutler finished the 2008 season third in passing yards but his team still missed the playoffs. His play down the stretch wasn't horrible but he did make a few costly turnovers down the stretch that put his already weak defense in a bad position. In fairness much of Young and Jackson's limited success have been backed by a great running game and great defenses.

It takes a total team effort to develop a young quarterback. Does that mean every QB can play in the NFL? Of course not but Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan have a higher probability of making it because of the support they have. Micheal Turner is a stud at running back and the Falcons have a great defense. Roddy White as emerged as a number one reciever which ultimately helps a young guy with Ryan's talent. Flacco has one of the top defenses to support him as well. This is a huge benefit for him when he turns over the ball as young quarterbacks often do.

How many guys washed out because they didn't have the proper team support? This could be a chicken and egg argument but this is a very relevant question. The answer is really that the evaluation of talent isn't an exact science. Scouts can see all of the physical tools on film in a player only to have those tools handed back to him along with his head(his job) should that player not pan out to what the film showed.

Imagine Archie Manning's career with a team constructed with the proper support on both sides of the ball. Visualize the playoff success of the 90's if the Eagles would've invested in an offensive line to protect Randall Cunningham. Mobile Quarterbacks with great arms are here to stay. The jury is still out on how the Pat White's and Tim Tebow's will fair in the NFL. The concept of a microwaveable prototype at the quarterback postion is becoming more ridiculous by the minute.

Let's judge players on the combination of results on the field, their individual unique talents and their willingness to compete. Let's hope that our favorite teams will dump the mad scientist kits in the trash along with all of the proverbial terminology that doesn't win football games. The teams that are methodical in the total development of their players on both sides of the ball ultimately experience success.

What would the cowboys championship lineage look like had they drafted poorly in 1989, 1990 and 1991? Jerry Jones and his scouts were beyond brilliant with these draft classes. They didn't stop at the quarterback postion after going 1-15 in Aikman's first season. The exact science of trash talk and hype is what it is- HYPE. Winning football coupled with proper construction of a team piece by piece is the real culprit to the success of a quarterback. Not the buzz words of our analysis(paralysis in most cases)

The analysis of how well a college quarterback will adjust to the NFL is usually contingent on what offense he ran in college. Most analyst swear by this as a bench mark for success. In fact many of them try to make the position more "cerebral" than it really is. Let most of them tell it you almost have to be a rhodes scholar to play in the NFL.

Guys like David Klingler, Danny Wuerful, Gino Torretta, Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf, Andre Ware, Heath Shuler and Shane Matthews all played in pro style offenses and failed miserably at the next level. Examples of guys that didn't meet the eyeball test of certain prototypical skills are as follows. Warren Moon, Steve Mcnair, Chad Pennington, Drew Brees, Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, John Elway, and Brett Farve.

The Quarterback position has been reduced to him being able to control every aspect of a team game. It's becoming more ridiculous by the day. Young Quarterbacks are given less time to develop and to much credit when they make a splash. Cue up Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. A young quarterback can only be successful if he has the proper tools on both sides of the ball to aid him in his transition.

Sure people will wash out of this league. Everyone can't play at this level but let's learn to evaluate this position based on who can play this game. The spread offense has recently gotten unfairly categorized as not preparing players for the next level. I think that's more opinion than fact.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Did the 1979 NCAA championship game hurt pro and college Basketball?

It would be easy for me to answer this question with a resounding yes but that would be to much like right. The 1979 NCAA championship game captured the imagination of an entire country. Many sports historians credit this game as the catalyst of what we have all come to know as "March Madness".

If this game doesn't happen then maybe Christian Laettner's shot doesn't matter that much thirteen years later. Maybe Rick Neuheisal never gets fired at Washington for participating in an office pool. College football was the darling of the television networks. The wide world of sports on ABC drew bigger ratings than the NBA and college basketball combined.

The integration of college basketball also spread to the NBA. Earl Lloyd was the first black player to play in the NBA. Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlin were stars in college before going on to have hall of fame careers in the NBA. So what does that have to do with '79? Everything.

By the 70's the upstart ABA and the spike in black players in college and pro basketball started to cause a stir in some "traditional" settings. There were still some great white ball players in this era. Guys like Jerry West, (the logo) Bob Pettit, Pete Maravich, Dan Issel John Stockton Jack Sickma, and Rick Barry were stars in there own right spanning the era of the late 50's to late 80's.

The consensus thought amongst some fans was that college and pro basketball was becoming to "black". The Celtic's of the 1960's dominated the NBA with a mixture of black and white stars. John Havlicek was just as important as Russell considering Hondo played well into the mid 70's leading the Celtics to 1974 NBA title.

When Magic and Bird went at each other for the title in 79, the nation was split right down the middle. Historically race has always done that to this country. We could posthumously call guys like Jack Johnson, Jim Jefferies, Jim Thorpe, Joe Louis and Max Schmelling to the witness stand to get their take on this ugly truth. Nothing gets sports fans more emotionally involved than an us versus them contested vicariously through American sports figures.

Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores went on to lose that game to Magic and his more talented Michigan State team but a seed was planted in the minds of the casual basketball fan both black and white.

Magic and Bird went on to battle each other 3 times in the NBA finals in the eighties. Both won multiple MVP awards and NBA championships leaving an indelible mark on each other and the game. However a perception lingers around the game of basketball that few will dare discuss. Bird once conceded that basketball is a "black man's" game.

There's a grain of truth to that depending on which angle you look at it from but does that mean that white guys can no longer play the game of basketball? The answer is NO. The nineties era saw this belief further perpetuated after Danny Ferry wasn't the big hit that many expected. Many sports fans and analyst were anointing a new white guy as the next Larry Bird every week it seemed.

Who can forget the infamous prophecy that Rick Pitno laid on Mark Pope? Isiah Thomas once complained that Larry Legend was overrated because he was a white guy. The last American born white guy to be taken number one overall was Kent Benson (Indiana) in the 1977 NBA draft. Slowly during the decade of the eighties and nineties "foriegn" born players have compensated for the perceived lack of talent for American born white players.

This has also sparked a belief that fundamental basketball in regards to American black players have taken a backseat to the "playground" game. Some of that may be true as it pertains to a small percentage coaches and players but true students of the game will argue that the game of basketball has been influenced by multiple philosophies.

For instance the NBA went through a very physical period which made for low scoring which focused to much on the "star" player instead of the team. College basketball saw a press and free flow style flourish allowing players to shoot the three like a layup. Teams coached by Paul Westhead, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian and Nolan Richardson became household names with their similar styles.

Once Jordan retired there seemed to be a scramble to find an heir apparent. Guys like Grant Hill were dogged with this comparison after entering the league during Jordan's first retirement. The 2000's saw a mass exodus of unprepared high school seniors get drafted into the NBA. Of course Lebron James is the rare exception but can we say the same for Tyson Chandler, Eddie Curry, Disanga Diop, Sean Livingston and Gerald Green?

We shouldn't even mention Kwame Brown, it may draw the ire of Stephen A. Smith. It should be noted that guys like C.J. Miles, Martell Webster, Deshawn Stevenson and Sebastian Telafair have shown flashes of brilliance but they haven't quite lived up to the foundation that Kobe Bryant, Tracey Mcgrady, Kevin Garnett and Rashard Lewis have laid. In fairness to them they have had decent NBA careers and in some circles are considered above average players.(I'm sure they would still get love in any gym in America during a pick up game)

I'd make the argument that they've gotten the better of their critics in comparison to spurning college in favor of turning pro. No they aren't all stars but they earn an honest living unlike some of their peers who may never reveal the recruiting scandals that may have happened during the arms race amongst colleges to earn their "scholarshipped" services. Don't act as though I'm the only skeptic about what really goes on behind the scenes during the recruitment of blue chip athletes.

The NBA is still pretty popular in most areas of the country. David Stern was smart enough to take the product of American pro basketball to the global frontier. John Q citizen may never regain interest in the NBA like the days of Bird but he may still follow college basketball for a few weeks in March. Only the real fans of hoops will watch the NBA playoffs...

The 1979 game was really the last time we saw an American white guy live up to the hype both in pro and college. The NBA does need another "bad white boy" to tear up the league. Christian Laettner was good but not great. Adam Morrison and J.J. Reddick were/are teases. Kevin Love right now appears as if he'll be a great pro for ten to twelve years but not at the level the league needs to regain the casual fan.

Sure Lebron James, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, and Paul Pierce are fun to watch but you can't convince me that if these guys were white that the league wouldn't have a little bit more of an "appeal" to it. I'm aware that some people will not watch the NBA just like some will never watch Nascar or the Tour de France but pro hoops was such a phenomena after that 79 championship game. I can still see the tape of a young Bryant Gumble doing the pre game.

The early entry of players isn't the only piece of the puzzle if you're one that believes that American basketball is on the decline for some of the reasons I stated earlier. Kids have been jumping ship early for nearly 35 years. We've had black Jesus in pro basketball (Earl the Pearl Monroe) Now we need a white one. Will someone please raise Pete Maravich from the dead!!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Karl's In Charge

When word came down that Carmelo Anthony had been suspended for a game for a “transgression” against the team, it didn’t surprise me. After all George Karl is the coach. Reportedly, Anthony refused to come out of the game when Karl said to. Really? Nobody seems to be asking the real question. What kind of relationship do you have with a player when he can look you in the face and refuse to come out of a game? Even worse, if you have to stoop to suspending your best player to try to prove some kind of point, how much control do you really have? How much do your players really respect you? Obviously very little.
Somehow this man always seems to escape media scrutiny when his teams underachieve and fall flat on their faces. It’s always the players fault huh? I’ve seen this before. I was still living in my home state of Wisconsin during part of Karl’s tenure with the Milwaukee Bucks. Remember the Big Three? No, not the Celtics Big Three. I mean Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, Sam Cassell, and Ray Allen. It was a beautiful combination. Robinson and Allen both average above 20 points and Cassell was just under 20. They fell a missed Robinson mid-range jumper (he never ever used to miss those) from playing the Lakers in the 2001 finals instead of Allen Iverson and the 76ers. They figured this team couldn’t win a championship together so what did they do? Traded Big Dog, followed by Ray Allen and finally Cassell, before they finally fired George Karl. If only they would have realized that maybe he was the problem in the first place.
Fast forward to the Denver Nuggets of 2007-2008. The team won 50 games—and I mean 50 games on the dot. They were swept out of the playoffs and the best reason people could come up with was Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony don’t play well together. Word? They were they third and fourth leading scorers in the league averaging 26.4 and 25.7 respectively. Who in the hell ever has two scorers in the top four in the same year? That’s bananas. Oh, and there was the other reason—they just don’t play any defense. Word? You have Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin as your center and power forward but your team just mysteriously doesn’t play any defense? Oh, ok. It couldn’t have anything to do with the coach could it? I believe that if Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, and Marcus Camby are four of your starting five and you get swept in the first round of the playoffs, then Coach, something is wrong with you.
I admit, I drank the kool-aid early on, too. The man had a very nice run with the Gary Payton and Sean Kemp-led Seattle Supersonics of the nineties. In retrospect though, maybe Gary Payton did a lot more coaching on the floor than we can imagine. Consider: since he was ousted from Seattle in 1998, he has only led two teams to at least 50 wins. That’s two out of ten!
Now, the Denver Nuggets are in transition again. Chauncey Billups is still “Mr. Big Shot” and they seem to have potential. The problem is, nobody seems to notice that their coach can’t get along with his players. None of them. Ever. At some point, you’d think someone would realize that maybe it’s him. Eventually Denver will fire him, and they’ll probably win after that. The funny thing is, someone else will probably hire him and immediately see their team make zero progress and ultimately regress. I’ll sit back and shake my head and laugh because I know… no NBA team will ever win when Karl’s in Charge.

Bohannon Deshannon

How much does seeding really matter in the NCAA tournament

March Madness is right around the corner. Division one programs are jockeying for the best seeds that they can get. Every year we hear our favorite analyst breakdown the chances of the top teams of getting the coveted number one seed. Bubble teams are doing everything to prop up their "resumes", especially the ones who has weak RPI's.

This time of year always produces some of the most frivolous conversations known to man. Most of it can be quite entertaining but does it really matter? For most sports fans and analyst it does. We have to have some to scratch our itch for this time of year. We can always depend on guys like Joe Lunardi to give valuable insight on what moves the selection committee will make.

When seeding for the tournament rears its ugly head in the discussion, my interest starts to fade. The respect factor is a huge. Players use it for motivation and coaches capitalize on this universal emotion by selling this garbage to us in their press conferences. Does that mean we fall in love with Cinderella solely on the word of our snake oil salesmen posing as coaches? Yes and no.

Our favorite coaches ignites a passionate debate among sports fans and media people. The seeding portion of the tournament has become a beauty pageant with the contestants wearing bagging shorts instead of swim suits. There's going to be a team that gets seeded at number 12 and will complain that they got a raw deal. Never mind that their RPI his higher than some people's blood pressure.

What really matters is the play that will transpire on the court. Of course Connecticut, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Louisville and North Carolina will compete for number one seeds. The history of this tournament speaks to the very fabric of why college basketball captures the attention of the majority of Americans for the few weeks they are on television.

Sure higher seeds have won the title at a higher rate but who can forget the 1983 North Carolina State championship team beating the mighty Houston Cougars that featured Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Would you care to know what seed N.C. State was that year? They were a sixth seed. Houston was a sure thing at the number one seed. Who could stop Drexler and Olajuwon right?. Lorenzo Charles and Coach Never Give up Valvano sure did.

In 1985, the eighth seed Villanova Wildcats defeated two number one seeds to win the National championship. LSU which was seeded 11th in 1986 made the final four. Twenty years later George Mason also made an appearance in the final four seeded at number eleven. Davidson was only a last second shot away from advancing to the 2008 final four losing to eventual champion Kansas. Oh did I mention that Stephen Curry and Davidson were a tenth seed.

Last year was the first time since the tournament's inception in 1939, that all four number one seeds made the final four. One of the reasons that the NCAA tournament has been so successful is the fact that the top teams have been knocked off by "lesser" opponents. So much for those silly bracket predictions right?

Who can forget the Richmond Spiders beating Billy Owens and the Syracuse Orangemen (I know their the orange now but they were "men" back in the day) in the 1991 tournament. What about Webber State busting North Carolina's chops in 1999 led by Harold "the show" Arceneaux. Carolina had an impressive streak of winning every first round game since 1980.

UNC was a third seed and Webber State was a 14th seed. "The Show put on one on one while handing UNC 36 points en route to one of the most surprising tournament upsets. I'm willing to concede that the top teams gives us something to discuss and breakdown but we must all admit that seeding is thrown out of the window when the refs throw the ball up for tip off.

The AAU circuit and year round basketball against the best competition in the world prepares young players like never before. These kids are familiar with each other. Twenty years ago players from different regions would only hear about each other through third parties. Now they can meet each other head to head every summer.

Selection Sunday is still a week away. Some teams are still trying to play themselves off of the bubble. Most of these teams will have to win their conference tournaments to get in. The Not Invited Tournament is definitely in the future of most of these teams.

The conference tournaments and its analyst will still fuel more frivolous predictions that boils my blood but the one consolation prize I can always cling to is that the games must still be played. That's what makes March Madness worth it. So without further ado let the debate began. I'll chime in win it really counts- After the games are played...