Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Federer Defense

In response to some complaints from friends of the blog, this is a brief Roger Federer defense.

From our inbox:
[Federer] always seemed a bit cocky to me, but check this one out, after his recent French open win: "Now the question is: Am I the greatest of all time?" Federer said. "We don't know, but I definitely have many things going for me because I've finally won all four Grand Slams, and I'm particularly happy reaching Pete's 14."

And another:

I checked out the article and found this gem: "It's different for me to come through this way, instead of just dominating everybody."

There was also some other quote about how though he didn't face Nadal, he beat him in some ther recent tournament, so he "really felt like [he] deserved [the French Open win]" or something.

I had no idea he was such a complete ass.

It's unclear if the quotes are from one article, but they can be found within these two: 1, 2.

We don't share the same sentiment.

We were moved (and impressed) when Federer cried after losing to Nadal at last year's Wimbledon. Since then we've thought of him as sincere, and obviously, emotional (incidentally he cried after this French Open win too).

To us, the way he asks that first question is not about braggadocio; it's earnest and contemplative. Federer became only the sixth player with a career Grand Slam. Other than Agassi the other four all did it before 1970. He's tied with Sampras for the most singles titles ever. It's a valid question for him to ask.

Our feelings are the same about the "dominating" line. Again, it feels contemplative. On it's own it looks especially harsh, but not so much within the context of its preamble: “I didn’t think I played the greatest tennis of my life throughout this tournament. But I definitely played the right way: I was smart. I was strong. I had to show fighting spirit and all those things. It’s different for me to come through this way, instead of just dominating everybody.”

Of course this is all very difficult without visual evidence. We're interpreting these solely based on our previously established views on Federer. (Which, we'll note here, are no doubt positively affected by this DFW article from 2006, Federer as Religious Experience).

The quote we do take some issue with is the last one, where he convinces himself of the dubious validity of his victory. Though again here, our complaint is not the same as the emails. It doesn't make us angry. If anything it evokes sympathy. It comes off as a pretty transparent lie to himself, and thus the false bravado is pitiable, as opposed to genuine bragging being deplorable. Let's take it back to last year's Wimbledon again. He didn't cry just because he lost:

He's getting older, Nadal is just coming into his own, he can't beat him on clay, can't win that last Grand Slam, and then it all crests with Nadal beating him on his home court. Five Wimbledon's in a row up until that point. It's like it confirmed all of Federer's worst fears. He cried because he understood that that was the end of his prime, if not his career (in the sense that he was the dominant player).

We're sure beating Nadal on clay a few weeks ago was somewhat satisfying, but it's preposterous to suggest that that gave Federer any closure. Maybe satisfaction, but not closure: He knows that only the Grand Slams count, in the eyes of the public, and the eyes of history; nobody will remember that he beat Nadal in some third rate tournament this year. Continuing the speculation here, reading that last line, we would bet he was happy Nadal got bounced and he didn't have to face him. While his dream scenario is probably beating Nadal in the final, he knows - again, this is why he cried - that he probably can't. And so if he can win the career Grand Slam - in any way - he'll take it. Meanwhile the thought festers in the back of his head, that the win, without a vanquished Nadal, is somehow cheapened, that everyone knows just what he knew last year at Wimbledon, and that can't be erased. And so he says something contrived, not so much for our benefit, but for his own.

-Agent Easy

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Catching up with...

- Melo never "felt slighted" by George Karl as we suggested he might and the Nuggets didn't fire their coach as we predicted. Our logic was borne out to be reasonable, however. ESPN's E-Ticket, which rarely dissapoints, most recently featured Chauncey Billups, or rather the journey of Chauncey Billups. Within Chauncey's story and specifically his impact on the Nuggets, are telling details of where Denver's season might've ended up without him. Karl, for one, openly acknowldges his fragile position,
"I just don't think I would've survived. I would've quit or they would've fired me... There was a posse of people in Denver that were tired of George Karl."
Before Chauncey, the Nuggets' play was erratic, "dysfunctional" Billups says. Billups came in to Denver and took the reins. J.R. Smith and Melo both praise him as a mentor, and the team's brass echos the same: "The Nuggets are grateful to have him, and team camaraderie skies through the roof."

- Michael Phelps' superficial PR-driven suspension ended last week. His response? "I had no idea."

- Last month the NYT profiled Roy Halladay, our pick for last year's AL Cy Young. it was good to see him get some much deserved attention - in the words of Raul Ibanez, "If he was in New York or Boston, fans would know more about him." The Times focused mostly on the same things as us - Roy Halladay, the throwback workhorse. This was their best:
"The movement on Halladay’s pitches can be seen in numbers compiled by the Inside Edge scouting service. Batters swung and missed at only 15 percent of his strikes, about the major league average. But they made solid contact only 7 percent of the time, one of the better rates in the league — the pitches looked good, but they flitted from the bat barrel at the last second."
- And on a sad note, Nick Adenhart, one of the Angels from the failed Cabrera trade that we followed all season, passed away. After just barely missing out on a spot in the roatation and struggling through a season in the minors last year, Adenhart won himself a starting spot this spring. He started the third game of the season and left after six innings and a 3-0 lead. He died that night at the hands of a drunken driver.

-Agent Easy

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Manny Manny Manny Drugs Drugs Drugs

Is it stating the obvious to say that the Manny PED bust is the most significant to date? Aside from his being the biggest name to be busted for present-day doping (as opposed to A-Rod’s retroactive bust) it is his personality and the way he was perceived that are more significant. Manny was beloved. Certainly not by all, but by the Dodger Blue and by just as many in Red Sox nation to whom Bill Simmons gave voice to in his August ’08 column.

There was a feeling that Manny was too silly or goofy or ignorant or naïve to know or try PEDs. Manny was a pudgy idiot savant who, with his eccentricities, charmed just as many as he put off. (Hmm, maybe not so pudgy.)

There is no profile. The Manny bust more than any previous suspension or allegation, cements the feeling that everyone is under suspicion.

This is different than A-Rod, who Bill James and Joe Posnanski half-defended, thusly:
1) Baseball allowed a situation to develop in which it was in the self-interest of players to use steroids.

2) Now we are very angry with people because they did what the system rewarded them for doing.
Of course, that defense can’t apply to Manny.

In that same piece Posnanski’s anger at A-Rod comes not from his steroid use, but his non-apology and his PR spin. Back then we too fantasized that a ballplayer would come out and out and say, "Yeah I did it. I am embarrassed for myself and for the game. The players of that era that never took drugs? They are better men than me. I admire them; they were stronger than me. I’m sorry.” And maybe he’d throw in a line implicitly fingering Selig, Fehr, and Orza.

It still baffles us how little ire is directed at Selig and the rest. In his Manny column, Lupica, praised Selig for having a policy that doesn’t spare the stars. Ugh. Lupica discredits himself by making such claims absent context. Every time another player gets busted, every time there is a new big to-do about steroids and baseball, it must be noted that Selig only acted once the government intervened, once his hand was forced. The 2003 anonymous testing was instituted only after the Balco case began to dominate the news cycle and the 2005 Mitchell report was commissioned only after Congress had hearings with the fab five.

What's worse is that he's delusional, and not only refuses blame, but had the temerity to tacitly threaten A-Rod with punishment for his 2003 misdeeds. Retroactively. Ahem. In 2003. When PEDs still weren't illegal. Ahem. On Selig's watch!

Of course now, and this is the significance of the Manny bust, the to-dos will be smaller. It had already felt that way last year, if only because we had reached a saturation point after years of steroid talk, but now, on top of that, perspectives have been rearranged and it's not a matter of being numb to steroid talk but no longer even being surprised by new information.

And that's great for Selig because, of the players who will now be caught, most will be caught by the testing program and less by allegations or investigations of past use, and the praise will only be louder and the past will only recede faster. Or, maybe what the Manny bust portends is that most players don't care about a fifty game suspension or the impact on their legacy - certainly not a utility infielder or a middle reliever with no HOF plaque at stake - and the possibility of an extra million is worth it. Either way, Bud still gets to throw his hands up, play the victim, and plead, "I've done all I could!"

But for truth's sake, let’s ever so briefly revisit that past and examine Selig's fingerprints.

Take a look at the active home run leaders and how many of them have been linked to PEDs. Goodness.

Add to that list Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, and Palmiero, and now the only players from the modern era to have hit 500 HRs cleanly (so far) are Griffey, Thome, and Frank Thomas, with Delgado ready to join.

Let’s also consider the recent guilty award winners. Three MVPs: Tejada, Giambi, Pudge. Five Cy Youngs: Gagne, Clemens (4 post-sox).

When A-Rod was outed, the Dallas Morning News published this handy lineup from the 2003 Rangers squad. At first look it only drew attention to the Rangers – a funny anomaly, but now, seeing it a second time, it’s startling how telling it is. The entire starting lineup! Consider the extrapolation. Is that what every team’s lineup looked like?

That’s what the Manny bust keeps making us think of. Everyone is under suspicion. Unfortunately, that'll continue to be the norm; new drugs are right around the corner.

-Agent Easy

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Facebook and College Recruiting

We're late on this, but...

Back in April the Memphis head coaching hire story was broken by John Calipari's daughter on her Facebook page. She didn't mean to break the news. According to her distressed dad, "she was just saying yay for Josh."

Three days later, in perhaps a not completely unrelated move (it's reasonable that the Calipari story inspired greater Facebook vigilance), the NCAA started attempting to shutter Facebook groups that urged recruits to choose a certain school, arguing that they violated its recruiting policies. At the suggestion that their guidelines, or at least their wording, are behind the times, the notoriously obstinate and arrogant NCAA said, its rules are "technology neutral." [h/t TBL]

-Agent Easy

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Kyle Orton for President

Bears fans should be happy with the Cutler deal if only because it puts an end to their perennial off-season QB anxiety. At least now they know who their starter is before August.

Starting QB debates had become somewhat of a Bears off-season ritual. When Kyle Orton was named the starter for the '08 season the announcement didn't elicit much excitement and most supporters comforted themselves with some "lesser of two evils" logic. The popular argument was that Orton was just as unreliable as Grossman; both had taken the Bears to the playoffs while putting up less than impressive stats. Orton's '05 numbers were unsightly and few cared to probe deeper than that. For two traight off-seasons when Orton competed with Griese and Grossman for the job rarely was it noted that Orton was a rookie in '05. In a rush to pessimism that fact was regularly overlooked.

Orton never got the benefit of the doubt in Chicago. At the end of last season as he hobbled around on one ankle the popular logic was that since he had returned to the field he therefore was fully healthy and once again Bears fans were content to neglect context when making up their minds about Orton. In seven games before the ankle injury Orton threw for 10 TDs and 4 Ints. In eight games after the injury those numbers went to 8 and 8 respectively.

Now Bears fans are psyched for Cutler, as they should be; he's one of the best young QBs in the league. It's just that Orton - only one year older - may be too. Orton has the edge in wins, Cutler the edge in stats, and it seems that in this case stats have won out. The Sun-Times' Mike Mulligan's reasoning is typical of the Cutler enthusiasm emanating from Chicago:
"Much has been made of Cutler's 17-20 record as a starter, but that also reflects some of the Broncos' terrible defensive performances. He's 13-1 in games in which the Broncos held their opponents to 21 points or fewer."
Using this same dubious metric Orton's record as a starter goes from 21-12 to 17-5.

Now Cutler will be playing where it's a bit colder for a bit longer and while Orton throws to Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, Cutler will be throwing to two converted Cornerbacks, each of which stands at 5'9". Orton will be playing for a noted QB specialist in Josh McDaniels while Cutler will be playing for Ron Turner, noted leader of the offense where "recievers go to die."

Certainly Cutler has more cachet, but this is largely insignificant. After all, nothing gets an NFL GM hard like a strong armed QB - how many spots, or rounds, did Kyle Boller's famous from-the-knees-through-the-uprights throw bump the 45% career college passer? And if we can offer some conjecture: how likely is it that Angelo made the trade largely because it is safer to make a splash and bring in a famous quarterback than to stay the course with a guy who the city had collectively decided was no better than Rex Grossman.

Ultimately this isn't about comparing the two QBs, but noting that it wont be surprising if Orton plays well for the Broncos. Those extra picks won't hurt either.

-Agent Easy

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Beyond the Stats

The AJ Smith-LaDainian Tomlinson beef is ostensibly over, public apologies having been issued from both camps. There is no longer an official grievance, but as this was just the latest in a series of flare-ups between the two we wonder how LT will be affected in the upcoming season.

We are limited in the tools we have to evaluate a player’s performance. If a player isn’t playing well the deepest analysis usually ends at injury speculation. Rarely is the bigger picture considered. Sure there’s Tomlinson’s age (30 in June) and the evanescence of Runningback careers to consider, but what part do stress, uncertainty, and anxiety play?

After his second year in Oakland Moss was already a has-been. As many people that acknowledged that he was playing poorly because he was unhappy or insufficiently motivated they were a minority, their voices deafened by the popular certainty that at 30 he had slowed considerably. It’s perfectly defensible - it’s the logical conclusion. We see Moss playing poorly; we know he’s thirty and we know that athletes get worse with age. We don’t know what’s going on inside the Raider organization nor the huddle, so even if we get reports about them its too tempting to rely on what we know and what’s familiar – he’s old. And thus New England gets him for a fourth round pick.

Remember, in 2005 Smith traded LT’s best friend (Drew Brees) after LT had publicly hoped for Brees to stay, and then considered firing Marty Schottenheimer, with whom LT was “as close as a coach and a player can be.” LT was so concerned for his coach’s future that he went on a mission to secure his job, telling him “I'm going to do everything I can for you.”

LT put together the greatest statistical season in history to make sure that his beloved coach wouldn’t be fired, and like Brees, publicly supported him after the season. Like Brees, Smith fired him.

Now act three. After a subpar season, LT began hearing the requisite trade and cut rumors. Anxiously, he made his side of it clear. He wanted to stay in San Diego. It was unsettling the way Smith responded, openly mocking LT, parroting his statement.

Generally a GM will be evaluated for his draft picks and his contracts, and as far as Smith goes Michael Silver does a good job picking him apart on those grounds alone, but here again, just like with players, we are often limited in seeing the bigger picture.

In their 2006 year-end report on the Redskins the Washington Post unearthed some deeper reasons to explain the Skins’ problems. The hypocrisy of the team policy engendered anxiety and mistrust among the players.
Over and over Gibbs has stressed the importance of having players who are "core Redskins" or "real Redskins." Yet many of the people interviewed for this article, who requested anonymity because they did not want to be publicly associated with criticism of Gibbs or the Redskins, questioned whether Gibbs has ignored his own principles, being blinded by the temptations made available by Snyder's open wallet. Players said the organization has not prized the interpersonal relationships between teammates and the significance of those bonds in a game that is intrinsically team-oriented and brutally demanding.

" 'Real Redskins,' what does that mean?" one veteran player asked. "Everybody sees through that. When it comes to guys who have been here three or four years, who played hard and played in pain for them, they use that money to go out and buy the next toy. They make promises about using the money to keep everybody together, then guys like A.P. [Antonio Pierce] and Ryan [Clark] and Robert Royal -- our real glue guys -- leave and they go outside again.

"It's the same thing year after year. You look at a lot of the guys who left here, and they're mostly playing well and their teams are doing well, and we pick up more guys than any team, and we struggle. What does that say about us? It's like they're trying to build a team of superstars, or guys who are paid like superstars, and it's not working."
No doubt they struggled to a 5-11 record that year in part because Mark Brunell could no longer throw the ball deeper than 20 yards, Jason Campbell was thrown into the fire and Portis only managed to play half of the season, but it was also because of a disconnect between players and management and likely the task of learning a new offense in the form of Al Saunders’ notoriously large playbook. There’s almost always more to it than what we see on the field and almost always we fail to acknowledge that.

When Parcells came to Dallas he ordered the trainer’s room temperature lowered to just about freezing to discourage those that would linger there. Now Jerry Jones wont let Wade Phillips fine anyone more than $100 and Jason Garret is slow to corral Tony Romo.

San Fransisco is getting their 7th OC in 7 seasons, Denver their 4th DC in 4 seasons. Glen Dorsey is languishing because the Chiefs are using him incorrectly, Baron Davis is sulking because Dunleavy reneged on his promise to run, Mo Cheeks just about ruined Matt Barnes’ career, and Leo Mazzone explained the Orioles’ perennial woes in one swoop: “Once I got there and saw how they operated compared to the Braves, I knew I made a mistake the first week of spring training…The lack of organization. The lack of discipline. The lack of overall professionalism. I was shocked, and I couldn’t believe it.”

In the NBA Daryl Morey is leading the way in new statistical analysis, but inasmuch as the Rockets can measure Shane Battier’s effectiveness with newfangled techniques, a lot of his value is still unquantifiable – "basketball intelligence" for example. We're often forgetful and think we’re evaluating players in a vacuum. Why are his numbers down? Ah, he's probably hurt. Maybe not.

-Agent Easy

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NFL Coaching Carousel Round-up Part II

Seattle and Indianapolis had the two smoothest transitions, both Jim Mora Jr. and Jim Caldwell having coach-in-waiting clauses in their contracts.

The teams are losing two future Hall of Famers in Holmgren and Dungy. If you blink at that consider that Holmgren will join Parcells and Dan Reeves as the only coaches with 3+ Super Bowl trips not yet in the HOF. Dungy retires with the 11th best winning percentage, surpassed exclusively by Hall of Famers. He’ll also deservedly get points for breaking the color barrier as well as transforming the Bucs.

Caldwell has been quick to put his stamp on the team. He replaced the Special Teams coach and DC, both his peers only months ago.

Rex Ryan replaced Eric Mangini in New York. Mangini’s firing was a bit perplexing. Only two years removed from weekly “Mangenius” stories he rebounded after an atrocious 2007 and had a winning record with a quarterback who led the league in interceptions.

Woody Johnson was intent on wooing Favre to stay for one more season. (No doubt his name would sell more tickets in the new stadium – it couldn’t have been a matter of preserving team chemistry). As Favre and Mangini didn’t get along it became an either-or proposition and Mangini was out.

Unsurprisingly he quickly landed on his feet with the Browns, forming the fabled ManKok duo.

Earlier it had been rumored he might wind up in KC with his old pal Scott Pioli, but Pioli – who went to KC ostensibly solely to make his name separate of Belichick – wasn’t interested in maintaining New England ties. He hired Haley, who, if his experience is wanting (one impressive playoff run) at least has a notable pedigree.

As for the Pats, they replaced Pioli with Tennesse personnel chief Floyd Reese. This attrition is typical of a Pats offseason. Since their 2001 Super Bowl season they’ve now lost 2 OCs, 1 DC and their Director of Player Personnel. This year alone they lost four position coaches.

In other front office news, after much speculation the Dolphins retained Bill Parcells. The balance of his $12 million (over three years) will be guaranteed regardless of his continued employment with the team. Parcells says he plans to stay on until the GM (Jeff Ireland) and coach (Sparano) “have enough experience.” Akin Ayodele thinks Parcells still wants to coach.

Finally there are the Raiders. Al Davis was uncertain of keeping Tom Cable because he was a Kiffin hire and let him flounder for six weeks. When he couldn’t find anyone better he offered Cable the job. No doubt many prospects were scared off by Kiffin’s midseason accusations.

Derrick Brooks speculated that the immediate success of John Harbaugh, Tony Sparano, and Mike Smith encouraged the Glazers to try things with a fresh face. That’s not a bad theory to explain the bump in seasonal firings. As Shanahan’s, Mangini’s, and Gruden’s teams were faltering down the stretch it was the Ravens, Dolphins, and Falcons that took their playoff spots.

With so much turnover – specifically the absence of Shanahan, Holmgren, and Dungy - the tenure list now looks like this: Jeff Fisher (15), Bill Belichick (14), Tom Coughlin (13), Norv Turner (11), Andy Reid (10), Wade Phillips (9), Dick Jauron (9), John Fox (7), Marvin Lewis (6), Jack Del Rio (6).

- Agent Easy

Sunday, February 8, 2009

USA Swimming Spineless

Whatever report you'll read about Michael Phelps' 3 month suspension wont mention any similar type of punishment he received four years ago for his DUI. There was no such punishment. When Phelps not only broke the law but was arrested and even convicted (he got probation), USA Swimming judged it unworthy of intervention. Not only is this suspension transparent - Phelps wont miss any significant races - but so are their motives; it's a knee-jerk reaction and only for show. It's unjust that their decisions lack integrity and are made only with public image in mind. It would have been perfectly reasonable for USAS to announce "We don't meddle in our athletes private affairs."

NFL Coaching Carousel Round-up Part 1

Now that Todd Haley has been hired to coach the Chiefs all NFL head coaching vacancies have been filled. In total ten new coaches were hired, eleven if you count Tom Cable and Mike Singletary who had their interim titles removed. That’s the most coaching changes in one season since at least 1996. There were also notable OC and DC hires as well as front office shifts.

Along with Singletary and Cable, Jim Haslett was the other interim coach this season. After Haslett won his first two games he Rams offered him an automatic extension pending another four victories. The league negated the contract, citing the Rooney rule. It became a moot point as the Rams lost their next ten games, coming within a touchdown only twice. The Rams’ new GM Bil Devaney hired his close friend Steve Spagnuolo on Januray 17 at four years/ $12 million. Spags was set for a HC job after last year’s Super Bowl showcase, but outdid himself guiding this year’s defense from 7th overall to 5th after losing arguably its two best players in Strahan and Osi.

Haslett interviewed for the Green Bay DC job that eventually went to Dom Capers and is now being floated as the Panthers’ DC. Scott Linehan, the Rams’ midseason fire, spurned the 49ers and instead took the Lions’ OC job. Whomever San Fran does hire (Dan Reeves!?) will be their 7th OC in 7 seasons.

The Giants quickly replaced Spags with their Linebackers coach Bill Sheridan. He shares Spagnuolo’s philosophy and Coughlin valued his commitment to an attacking style.

Spagnuolo beat out, among others, Jason Garret for the job. Garret, who last year was such a hot commodity that Jerry Jones had to give him the richest coordinator contract in history, whiffed on all three of his HC interviews this year (Denver, Detroit).

The postseason news that came out of Dallas likely didn’t help:
According to five sources, several offensive players lost respect for Garrett for his failure to corral quarterback Tony Romo in practice. Romo, sources said, often forced throws in practice and often did not treat practice work consistently.
The Cowboys are still trying to hire a DC, after Jerry Jones fired Brian Stewart.
It's further proof that head coach Wade Phillips has very little say at Valley Ranch. Stewart was Phillips' hand-picked defensive coordinator and the two have been close friends since working together in San Diego.

Phillips was ordered by Jones to take over defensive play-calling duties before the Tampa Bay game midway through the 2008 season. Phillips didn't acknowledge that the change had been made until the defense was playing well later in the season.

In his end-of-the-season news conference, Phillips said that Stewart would be back as defensive coordinator. Of course, that's not what happened. Phillips once lost a job in Buffalo because he refused to fire one of his assistants. He wasn't going to let that happen again.
They too brought in Dan Reeves - to inertview for an advising job - but the deal fell apart.

Those Denver and Detroit jobs that Garrett missed out on eventually went to Pats OC Josh McDaniels and Titans DC Jim Schwartz respectively. It’s notable that Martin Mayhew, the man now making the management decisions in Detroit, the man who hired Schwartz, was Matt Millen’s second in command. Steve Mariucci defended the connection, saying “Martin is his own man,” but the endless string of coaching failures during the Fords' ownership is remarkable – it is stunning how often the phrase “never coached again at any level” comes up in that list.

The Shanahan firing was surprising though not unreasonable. No matter the case for or against it, it’s agreed that Shanahan was a bad GM. To wit: hiring three DCs in the past three years, his inability to adequately evaluate defensive talent, and bad contracts (e.g. Daniel Graham for $30 million). On the one hand Shanahan had winning records with three different quarterbacks (he was just under .500 with Cutler) and his system could make a 1,000 yard rusher out of anyone. On the other hand he’d won one playoff game without Elway and closed this season with three straight losses, handing the division to the Chargers. The defense gave up 30, 30, and 52, in those games; it was in the bottom five in points allowed each of the past two years. McDaniels hired the Niner’s mid-season fire Mike Nolan as the Bronco’s fourth DC in four years.

Jon Gruden’s firing was similarly unexpected. Gruden himself was said to be "blindsided." The Glazers explained Gruden’s relatively late removal by emphasizing the prudence of deliberateness. Much like the Broncos the Bucs had a late season collapse that knocked them out of the playoffs, and much like Shanahan Gruden’s post-Super Bowl resume is unimpressive. Unlike Shanahan Gruden has had a consistently good defense and has had even less offensive success. Beyond the numbers, Gruden also was unpopular with his players – Michael Clayton said players felt like they were playing for themselves. Mike Lombardi, his former Raiders GM put it like this:
I once referred to Gruden as the Larry Brown of the NFL. I meant that as a compliment because I love Brown, but when Brown, the well-traveled NBA coach, has control of the personnel on a team, he makes horrible decisions and hates the players he coaches. He wants new, but after new is over, he wants more new. Does that sound familiar?

From Brad Johnson to Chris Simms to Brian Griese to Luke McCown to Jeff Garcia, there was never stability at quarterback, the one position that is vital to a franchise. In addition, this is the one position that Gruden can coach as well as anyone in the league. Yet his refusal to fall in love (I called him the Warren Beatty of quarterbacks coaches a while back in a column) with a quarterback was his downfall in Tampa Bay.

We have all read the reaction of the players on the record — some positive, some negative — but the one consistent theme when you’re talking about Gruden is that he loves football, but loves NO players. The negativity and the inconsistent message to the players never seemed to go over well. Gruden is the type of coach that needs to have consistent turnover in his roster. He needs new players every year and might be best suited for college football since graduation and the NFL draft promote the change he craves.
At 32 Raheem Morris becomes the youngest active NFL head coach and the second youngest all time (Lane Kiffin). He was promoted from DB coach. He hired Jeff Jagodzinski as his OC. Jagodzinski should be revlieved after himself being unexpectedly fired as a penalty for interviewing for the Jets job. The Bucs also promoted the similarly young Mark Dominik to GM, replacing Bruce Allen who had been fired in tandem with Gruden.

-Agent Easy

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Steeler sacks

The Steelers allowed 49 sacks this year, good for 4th worst in the league.

The '08 Steelers have given up more sacks than any other Super Bowl team in the past 10 years. They've given up the second most in the past 20 years, with only the '98 Falcons surpassing them. That Falcons squad ranked 6th worst in their year, thus leaving the Steelers the worst ranked sacks-allowed team in a Super Bowl.

Twenty years is a good cutoff. It's a round number, and closely approximates the league-wide shift to shorter drop-backs and timing routes (informally, the West Coast Offense).

Much has been made of the Steelers' O-line problems. (Their 3.7 ypc is also 4th worst in the league). We don't seek to assign blame. A sack isn't a definitive indictment of the line; in this case everyone knows Roethlisberger has a penchant for holding on to the ball. We simply mean to provide a historical context to show how unusual it is for a team that gives up so many sacks to make the Super Bowl.

-Agent Easy

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Have some laughs with your sports!

- The Onion on Barkley

- PFT reports: "The move will reunite coach Eric Mangini with Kokinis, in a pairing that some league insiders are calling “Mankok.”

[PFT via MLJ]

-Agent Easy

Monday, January 19, 2009

Just a coincidence?

Rex Ryan is the new Jets coach. Monte Kiffin is the new University of Tennessee DC. The two have more than an address change in common.

After the first talk of a head coaching interview for Ryan, his defense surrendered a season high 391 yards to the Titans. The next week, after Ryan's interview, they did much better against the Steelers, but still gave up more yards and forced les turnovers than their season's average.

When it came out, 12 games into the season, that Kiffin was going to UT, the Bucs defense was giving up 279.5 yards per game, 95 of them on the ground. In their last four games the Bucs D gave up 386 ypg, including 189 rushing ypg. They went 0-4.

There are other explanations. In Ryan's case the Steelers and Titans were two of the best teams in the league, and naturally, with each successive playoff round, the competition is intensified. The Bucs' the losses can be pinned on Jeff Garcia's injury: Griese started the Atlanta game and Garcia struggled when he came back, throwing half of his season's interceptions in the final two losses.

The relationships here certainly aren't causal, but two very good defenses didn't play their best immediately after their respective coordinators were distracted by job offers. The correlation is worth noting.

-Agent Easy

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quick Hit: Why the Cardinals won't win it all

They still have to exorcise the curse of the Pottsville Maroons


Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Word on the JC Romero Debacle

The question most are debating is whether or not Romero is guilty.

That question is, however, secondary (obviously not to Romero, who, for what it's worth, seemed earnest in trying to play by the rules). In the big picture the main point is that a player on the championship team tested positive for a banned substance, regardless of the circumstances or explanations. The point is that yet again MLB has screwed up. The point is that this is just another example that MLB, despite popular and even legal pressure to execute a legitimate anti-drug program, is still incapable of doing so. That they bungled this (read bungled one of two ways 1. inadvertently misled/misinformed players* or 2. let a “cheater” participate and subsequently contribute to championship)** is just another indictment, the latest in a long line, that their leadership is either incompetent, negligent, or both.

*Gammons: "Somehow, after MLB was warned in early July, those concerns about three supplements available at every GNC store did not reach the players' association."
** He actually tested clean before the post-season, but if you're calling him a cheater, why is he playing in the postseason in the first place?

-Agent Easy

White Receivers Love the Number 83

Really. It's true.

We were watching early season highlights on In the week 6 Miami-Houston game, around the 1:40 mark, Rich Eisen compared Greg Camarillo to Wes Welker, then added, "He's got the 83 number also."

We dwelled on this, lamenting that Eisen had fallen into the typical announcer trap of comparing white guys to white guys* and black guys to black guys, regardless of specific styles or talents.

Just like Welker is a playmaker and Camarillo is simply a posession reciever, Steve Nash is a playmaker and Travis Diener is a slow point guard with a decent outside shot. The latter comparison was made during a forgettable Marquette game in winter of '05. Prior to Nash, the announcer (if only we could remember who) had also compared Diener to Mark Price and Scott Skiles.**

We don't think Eisen's comment was especially egregious, but we were still thinking about all of this when Houston's Kevin Walter, another white WR wearing #83, caught a ball at the 2:20 mark.

We wondered if this could be more a trend than a coincidence. Sure enough, it is.

Wes Welker, Kevin Walter, Drew Bennett, Greg Camarillo, Greg Estandia, Heath Miller, Billy Miller, Mike Leach, Jeff Dugan

That's right. All of these guys proudly wear number 83.

Everyone's familiar with the "Black Quarterback" trope.
- The famous, though seemingly apocryphal, Doug Williams question
- Our own surprise at the prominence of the topic within an SI McNair cover story
- More recently, the McNabb - Limbaugh mess

Now, sure enough, we have the White Receiver.

With the heavy emphasis on the passing game the WR has become the most “pure” athlete on the field - and thus fits with the stereotype of the athletically superior black player (as contrasted with the stereotype of hard-working scrappy white player - David Eckstein, Tyler Hansbrough). At the same time WR has become a glamour position (Moss, TO, Ocho Cinco, etc), and more specifically it’s become a black player’s glamour position, especially as it's still the case that most of the marquee players at QB (the game's traditional glamour position) are white.

These factors make white WRs stick out (white CBs stick out too, but not as much because “cornerback” doesn’t have the cache of “wide receiver” - but don't forget the wildly out-of-proportion fame of Jason Sehorn a few years ago).

Suddenly the #83 trend seems reasonable - that like black quarterbacks have a sense of fraternity so do, apparently, white receivers. And they’re showing it off on their jerseys.

It’s fair to point out that the above list is actually 50-50 WRs and TEs, but we’ll also include Kevin Curtis, who rocked the 83 until this year (wonder if he tried to buy it off Greg Lewis), and Brandon Stokley who we assume wouldn’t dare try to buy the 83 off a fellow white guy: But you’re a long snapper! Jeff Dugan's number choice is illustrative; the TE label matters not: Coach, I know I’m a fullback, but I gotta support my guys!

Then there are the #83 godfathers: Tim Dwight and Patrick Jeffers, he of the flukiest season ever.

Camaraderie aside, it's easy to see how this could have started. White kids playing receiver in HS looked up to white guys playing receiver in the NFL. And don’t think that Jeffers’ '99 season winning more than few fantasy leagues doesn’t factor in here.

Now the trend is firmly set for the future. If any of the teams without an 83 (Arizona, Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Green Bay, Oakland, Tampa Bay) draft Jordan Shipley, you can be sure which number he’ll take.

- Agent Easy

*Yes Camarillo is Latino, but we're not discussing ethnicity, but rather appearance. Bottom line: If Camarillo was black Eisen wouldn't have made the comparison.

**Another instance we recall, during 2005 East-West Shrine Game the announcer compared Chad Owens to Tim Dwight, Brandon Stokley, and Wayne Chrebet.

The Slash is Back

The Dolphins are apparently taking a serious look as WVU's Pat White for the specific role of running the Wildcat offense. With the Wildcat gaining some traction around the NFL (and not only in the NFL) could this be a new route to the pros for "slash"-type college quarterbacks who don't have the passing skills to be a full-time QB at an NFL level, but could be a weapon out of this formation? And could this also be the reason for Miami's audition of Jayson Foster last offseason? And, most importantly, is Kordell Stewart thinking he was 10 years too early?


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Delhomme quick hit

Delhomme's 5 interceptions tonight offer a great opportunity to remind everyone that that's still one shy of the modern day record, held by none other than the fabulous Favre.

Think for a moment just how atrocious Delhomme looked tonight, how loud the collective groan was that you heard after the fifth one. Then consider, that on January 20, 2001 Favre threw six interceptions against the Rams. (Technically he shares this record for most INTs in a playoff game with three guys who played without facemasks).

And yes coincidentally Kurt Warner was the QB on both occasions.

Cold Hard Football Facts has a handy chart showing just how devastating playoff INTs are.

-Agent Easy

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Quick Hit: BAL-TEN Play Clock Controversy

There's already been plenty of talk about the Ravens' getting a play off with zero on the game clock during their game-winning drive. What a lot of the complaining has missed is that the play clock's being at zero doesn't automatically mean the offense is out of time to run a play; rather they get a tick of the clock while while the zero is showing. So Baltimore didn't necessarily get a gift non-call here (unless the officials really did allow 1.35 seconds to expire with the "00" on the play clock).


The Year of the Fine

Wes Welker makes snow angels, Shaun Ellis throws a snowball into the stands. Winter fun? Nope, punishable offenses. Those are just the two latest memorable fines of the NFL season.

In Ellis’ case there is an argument to make as far as fan safety, though they had incited it, and ultimately it was a friggin snowball, and the fan even raised it in triumph afterward. But ok, the technicality remains. We’ll move on to the more egregious fines this year and there have been plenty of them.

It’s not your imagination. According to Jay Glazer, it’s official: “The NFL has placed an emphasis this year on player conduct both on and off the field. They have come down hard this year on players — harder than in any year past — when it comes to setting a harsh tone through the fine system.”

Yep, 2008 is the year of the fine.

- Ryan Clark fined for honoring Sean Taylor.
- Ronnie Brown fined for dancing.
- Chris Johnson fined for playing the bongos.
- Lamar Woodley fined for sacking Jason Campbell “in an intimidating manner.”
- DeSean Jackson fined for posing.
- Joey Porter fined for “verbal abuse.”
- Mascots fined for being mascots
- Randy Moss fined for saying there were "iffy calls."
- Justin Tuck fined for "tackling the quarterback with full body weight."

There are three categories of fine here:
1. Celebration
2. Speaking out
3. Protecting players

All three causes for fine have been enforced more and more over the past decade, but the recent increase in both frequency of fines and amount per fine (Moss $20,000 for his seemingly inoffensive remark) has Roger Goodell’s fingerprints all over it. From the moment he came into the league player policing has been his top priority.

He is “Fidel Goodell” as Dan LeBatard called him in a TBL chat.
“Goodell is a communist dictator. Fidel Goodell. He makes up the rules as he goes along. I can’t believe the way he has skated just circumventing our entire justice system by banning guys before they, you know, are convicted, and everyone just sort of applauds because it is the easy thing for him to do from a public-relations standpoint and it does nothing more than make him look good. It isn’t like guys aren’t getting in trouble anymore. Now they just drunk drive and flee their wrecked car. He hasn’t changed behavior. He has just done the easy thing and filed it under leadership. How would you feel if, for whatever reason, you were arrested three times because, as an example, the police just felt like bothering the rich black guy. But you weren’t guilty. And you went into work, and they told you that you’d have to miss three months without pay. And then, as seems to be the case with Tank Johnson and Chris Henry, it is later proven that you didn’t really do anything wrong on your last incident. That would kind of suck. I know these guys make very poor martyrs. Getting arrested a bunch of times seems like something most of us can avoid doing. But unfair is unfair and it would be nice if the commissioner of the league at least let the legalities play out before he starts swinging his dick. What he’s doing isn’t tough. It is easy.”
LeBatard specifically addresses the off-field stuff, but it is part of the big picture that is Goodell’s police state policies.

The Tuck fine, for example, was later rescinded upon appeal. Specifically, as noted in the above FanHouse link, Goodell himself cancelled the fine after seeing the clip for the first time and acknowledging how absurd the fine was. The bigger point here is not that justice was done in absolving Tuck, but that Goodell has successfully instilled a reactionary culture in which Tuck was unjustly penalized in the first place.

Celebration penalties were ratcheted up starting in 2004 after TO pulled out the sharpie in ‘02 and Joe Horn the cell phone in ‘03, but Goodell has been more than happy to not only continue this policy, but to continue raising celebration fines. After three years of overseeing this policy there is no sign that Goodell will reevaluate its effectiveness (after all the players are still celebrating) or make an investigation into the fan’s sentiment and preference. Choreographed and planned celebrations (two qualifiers on the NFL’s no-no list) are a fixture of NFL history: Billy White Shoes Johnson, The Ickey Shuffle, The Fun Bunch, The Dirty Bird, the Rams’ shadowboxing, and – oh yeah – the still legal Lambeau Leap.

We can understand the NFL’s reasoning for the restrictive celebration rules, but their unintuitive enforcement suggests that their policy is borne of a vague desire not to be embarrassed by the likes of TO. They are either incapable of understanding the nuances of the situation (really, what is the harm of a snow angel?) or unwilling to deal with them carefully. After all, the players are STILL celebrating.

As mentioned, the Lambeau Leap, though obviously premeditated is still legal. Why? Seemingly no other reason other than the NFL judging the anger and annoyance its prohibition would incite would not be worth the trouble. That’s backwards. Their decisions should be guided by what the fans would appreciate most not dislike least. Now the NFL has the awkward policy of allowing one leap into the crowd but not two. Devard Darling found out his leap constituted a “team celebration.” It’s incongruent with their promotion of football as a team game to then enforce regulations that don’t permit non-ball-carriers to join in the celebration.

A more thoughtful policy would acknowledge that a touchdown is worthy of celebration, and one that includes the fans, other non-players one the field (ie bongos), or is a choreographed dance, isn’t inherently in bad taste, bad sportsmanship, or bad for the game.

A reasonable policy would prohibit foreign objects (sharpie, cell phone) and leaving the end zone (TO on the Dallas star), but allow most everything else, with a stipulation that the NFL could still levy fines anytime it judged a celebration to “run counter to the spirit of fun” – or some other purposely vaguely-worded phrase to leave the NFL with the trump card.

Speaking Out
The NFL is silencing their players on and off the field.

Take a moment to consider what Moss actually said. “There were some “iffy calls.” That’ll be 20 grand Randy. Once again, the NFL’s refusal to deal with nuance. While their intent is admirable, the indignation with which the NFL approaches the “referee complaint” issue is laughable. How dare anyone say anything about one of our refs?

On the field, Jerry Porter was fined for trash talking. After Channing Crowder and Matt Light were fined for fighting, Logan Mankins fingered Porter, saying “Any time you have a team with the guy 55 (Joey Porter), he just won't shut up the entire game. Then I think some of the other guys are starting to play the way he does." That halfway intelligible comment lead to a $7,500 fine for Porter.

Yet NFL films regularly mics players, and until just a couple of days ago Porter himself could be found on a youtube clip of an NFL films segment in which he was cursing up a storm, trash-talking the Bengals endlessly.

Both these first two categories fall under the umbrella of self-expression, and here we’ll also include the case of Ryan Clark being fined for writing Sean Taylor’s #21 on his eye black on the anniversary of his death.

Here’s Goodell’s political explanation for the Clark fine:
“We don't allow personal messages…everybody has an interest, everybody has something that's a good cause. But we're a team game, and we represent the NFL. So when we do something, as we did last year with Sean Taylor, we do it collectively."

Player Protection
The rigid enforcement of the first two areas- self expression, simply changes the culture of the NFL, and while it is troubling, compared to this last area, it is more forgivable.

With these sanctions Goodell isn’t just changing the culture, but the game itself.

Back in October Troy Polamalu became one of the few players to address this problem.
“I think regarding the evolution of football, it's becoming more and more flag football, two-hand touch. We've really lost the essence of what real American football is about.”

Take a look at this miraculous Vince Young escape from two years ago (40 second mark):

Now look at the aforementioned Woodley fine (sack #5, 1:15 mark).

The continued prevalence of the Tuck and Woodley fines will make Kiwanuka’s kind of costly cautiousness typical for all defensive players.

Thankfully Kenny Phillips wasn’t fined for this hit, but here’s another example of Mike Pereira’s official 2008 edict, “When in doubt, throw the flag.”

It affects the way fans view the game. I remember watching the Monday night Packers- Saints game at a bar, and when Greg Jennings went across the middle and was cleanly separated from the ball, our instinctual excitement was tempered almost instantly with the now just as instinctual anxiety in anticipation of an unjust penalty.

The fines and penalties have become such a regular feature of the game that the AP felt compelled to report that Hines Ward was not fined for his clean hit on Keith Rivers.

Its a double edged sword. What NFL is realizing is the violence of the game is simultaneously compelling – the oohs and aahs that come from a big hit, and discomfiting – the ex-players complaints about the NFL’s and NFLPA’s negligence in providing sufficient medical treatment and financial compensation for debilitating injuries.

It’s instructive to note that ESPN’s jacked up segment debuted with lots of fanfare, was revised the following year with flashy editing techniques which effectively minimized the perception of impact, and now has been eliminated altogether.

Within his “pansy” comment Polamalu speculated that “it's probably all about money. They’re not really concerned about safety.” This theory might not be so dubious. It’s logical to believe that the NFL would ramp up their superficial player protection in the face of lawsuits from the aforementioned veterans. We say superficial, because, as Mark Schlereth deftly pointed out, the NFL still makes a profit off videos which glamorize hard hitting.

Part of the explanation is the culture of the times. The NHL suspended Sean Avery for talking about his girlfriends. The NFL is more involved in players’ lives on all levels, hiring out private security firms to tail players. It’s best summed up by Clinton Portis. “I don't think the NFL is ever going to be the same. It's less fun now. Everything's a worry, on and off the field.”

But another, equally large part of the explanation is Goodell himself. It makes us wonder how much of this agenda is self serving. How much of it is an attempt by a relatively unknown and young commissioner to try to instantly craft his own legacy, to quickly distinguish himself from Tagliabue by instituting new policies and simultaneously making those policies draconian to make himself appear powerful.

A question of coverage
Notice that most of the above links came from Ryan Wilson, and a few of his colleagues at Fanhouse. They’re the only ones who’ve covered this issue regularly and with any outrage, or at the very least skepticism.

Why is Wilson alone on this? The only thing more shocking than the extent of these policies is that it has yet to become a national story, or that a nationally known columnist hasn’t hammered it (save the on-sabbattical LeBatard's one blip). Is it because so many of the guys that could be expected to do so are tied to the NFL through their parent companies (ESPN/ABC, CBS, Fox)?

Instead, everyone latches onto the “Terrible Towel” story from a couple weeks back. A story, only allowed to breath because of the oxygen Goodell has been pumping. The idea that there should have been some kind of repercussions for that towel stomp is ludicrous. Unfortunately so are many of the above instances that were fined.

The more these fines become an accepted part of the game, the easier it is to equate them with real transgressions. Within the AP report on the Ellis snowball incident, the penultimate paragraph reads: “It's the latest troublesome incident involving Ellis, who was arrested for speeding and marijuana possession last month and could face a suspension next season under the league's substance-abuse policy.”

It’s legitimate on the AP’s part to group them together, because now they’ve both been defined the same way, that is, “wrong.” It’s unfair to Ellis that Goodell has re-written the dictionary.

Unfortunately this slow negative build-up – change of game, change of culture, change of reputations – will likely go unchecked. It’ll only be noticed once something happens on the national stage – a playoff game for example, or imagine the Super Bowl! We'll giddily laugh when the Super Bowl is tainted by a game changing penalty for "tackling with full body weight."

-Agent Easy

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Let's put it in perspective

Here is the short list of school that have won National Championships in both football and basketball

Cal Football: '20-'22
Cal Basketball: '59

Maryland Football: '53
Maryland Basketball: '02

Michigan Football: '01-'04, '18, '23, '33, '48, '97
Michigan Basketball: '89

Michigan State Football: '52, '65, '66
Michigan State Basketball: '79, '00

Ohio State Football: '42, '54, '57, '61, '68, '70, '02
Ohio State Basketball: '60

Florida Football: '96, '06
Florida Basketball: '06, '07

Aside from UF, MSU is the only other school to win multiple championships in each sport. OSU is the only other school to win their cross-sport titles within a year of each other - the next closest is Michigan with an eight year span. If the Gators win tonight a UF frosh c/o '09 will have seen two basketball and two football champions in their brief college career. "Unprecedented" doesn't even begin to describe it.

-Agent Easy