Saturday, December 26, 2009

Next Head Coach at Florida: Dan Mullen?

I have no inside information on this. I'm just throwing out my leading theory.

Given that Urban Meyer is going to have a say in the coaching search to name his successor and he is going to have a role in the program, he is going to want a guy he trusts and who understands his system -- but someone who will never challenge Meyer (nor make Meyer feel marginalized). He will also want a guy with previous head-coaching experience, preferably at a high level.

That's Dan Mullen.

Florida's Urban Meyer Removing Himself As Head Coach

Urban Meyer is leaving Florida. Couple topics to cover:

(1) Here's to his health, if nothing else.
(2) Can he have a key role in the program?
(3) Who is the next Florida head coach?
(4) This is really really really shocking.

(1) This is unprecedented, certainly in college football -- the nation's best coach, walking away from a dynastic program and a huge contract. Not for another job. But for no job.

I'll take it at face value that it's a "non-life-threatening heart muscle defect" (probably combined with things like the cyst in his brain and his overall stress levels) -- and more power to Meyer for making this decision.

None of us can imagine how difficult it must have been -- how he was feeling to cause him to make the decision...or the tough process to have actually made the decision.

His focus is on his family -- his priority is his family. How can you not respect him making his decisions -- his biggest decisions -- with that as the guiding principle?

I wish Meyer nothing but a long healthy life in good health. I respect him now more than ever.

(2) I really do hope that he stays with Florida in some capacity. (I know they can't name him head of "football operations," like Parcells in Miami -- or could they? -- but maybe something like Schembechler had in Michigan when Carr was coach, where Bo was more than an empty figurehead but not head coach. I don't know enough about that set-up to say.)

That doesn't mean that the Florida football program is... well, I don't even have the word for it.

(3) The main thing is for AD Jeremy Foley to get a new coach in place as quickly as possible. I don't think having that done by the end of the weekend (yes, tomorrow) is unrealistic. It's the best college football coaching job in America, with a cupboard as stocked as any program anywhere. Oh, and recruits are going to be freaked -- very freaked.

(That's why I think that if Foley makes his first call to Bob Stoops, Stoops HAS to say yes. Florida is a better job than Oklahoma. UPDATE: I'm not saying Stoops is my favorite choice, or even the right choice. There's a big contingent of Florida football intelligentsia who don't want Stoops.)

But what if Foley doesn't want Stoops? Or if Stoops says no? Who's next on the list?

*Charlie Strong, the longtime coordinator with no head-coaching experience?

*Kyle Whittingham, who stepped in to replace Urban Meyer at Utah.

*Meyer's protege Dan Mullen, with a solid rookie year under him at Mississippi State?

(NOT Mike Shanahan: No experience coaching college football -- certainly not the current uber-competitive version, which is a 12 months a year, 24/7 job, not some "cushy" NFL gig.)

I guess it depends, in part, on how much influence Meyer has on the choice. (It sounds like he will be part of the search committee -- which is actually kind of comforting.) The way things unfold over the next 24-48 hours will be fascinating and, for Florida fans, kind of insane.

(4) Needless to say, this is the most shocking news involving a coach in the history of college football. This isn't Knute Rockne tragically dying in a plane crash; this is the best coach in the game (the AP college football coach of the decade) having to walk away -- with 20 years left in his career.

-- D.S.

Meyer's Statement:

"I have given my heart and soul to coaching college football and mentoring young men for the last 24-plus years and I have dedicated most of my waking moments the last five years to the Gator football program. I have ignored my health for years, but recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family. After consulting with my family, [university president] Dr. [Bernie] Machen, Jeremy Foley and my doctors, I believe it is in my best interest to step aside and focus on my health and family.

"I’m proud to be a part of the Gainesville community and the Gator Nation and I plan to remain in Gainesville and involved with the University of Florida. I’m very appreciative for the opportunity I’ve had to be a part of a tremendous institution – from Dr. Machen to Jeremy Foley and the entire administrative staff at UF. I’m also very thankful for the chance to work with some of the best assistants in college football and coach some of the best college football players and watch them grow both on and off the field as people. I will cherish the relationships with them the most."

Saturday (Chrismas Hangover) Quickie

Lakers fans offered about as good of a present as you could ask for: Throwing foam tchotschkes onto the Staples Center floor.

Most of you probably agree with me that L.A. sports fans -- particularly Lakers fans -- are insufferable, right up there with Boston fans or New York fans. (Not quite, but up there.)

And yet it actually made me respect them more that they would take those Nike giveaways and chuck them onto the floor to protest -- in no particular order -- their team getting blown out, their team getting blown out by LeBron, their team getting blown out by Shaq, their team getting blown out in the marquee Christmas Day game, the officiating.

Was it a temper-tantrum? A minor revolt against holiday commercialism? A laughably short fuse for a meaningless regular-season game? Probably a little bit of all three.

I raise a day-after-Christmas toast to you, Lakers fans: For making me not just like you, but applaud you, for your display of petulance on Christmas Day that was amusing enough and high-profile enough to rival Philly fans booing Santa Claus lo those many years ago.

I can only hope for a similar display of protest from dejected USC fans in San Francisco tonight.

Hope everyone got everything they wanted yesterday.

-- D.S.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Xmas Eve Quickie: Ho Ho Ho

With all the end-of-decade nostalgia going on, the sports storyline that struck me most this morning was that Oral Roberts win over New Mexico in college hoops.

I feel a bond with Oral Roberts from one of the more memorable moments of my decade (at least writing about sports): The campaign I had in the Quickie in March 2006 where I was CONVINCED that Oral Roberts would beat Memphis to become the first 16-seed ever to beat a 1-seed in the men's NCAA Tournament.

Given the traditional lack of any drama in the 1/16 game, my prediction was arguably the most interesting thing about the game itself.

Of course, I was wrong. Not as notably wrong as when I said on the front page of "Two words: It's. Over." when the Yankees went up 3-0 on the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS.

(That was my worst prediction of the decade -- a Quickie jinx to end all Quickie jinxes -- and, even though I'd like to think that the Quickie was memorable for its day-to-day consistency, with nothing really standing out because it was all pretty good, that was a memorable day for me.)

I can't imagine not piling on the nostalgia next week -- there's a lot to cover. Yesterday, I was having a conversation and the "What were you doing in December 1999" thing came up. I'll dig into that more next week, but -- wow -- it's kind of insane how much things have changed, both personally and professionally. I'm sure that's the case for all of you -- look: 10 years is a long time. It's a pretty good debate whether you go through more changes in the decade between age 16-26 or between age 26-36. Actually, that's a pretty good column idea for next week.

As for today? There may not be a slower day of the year, in sports or otherwise. People are off work, or if they are at work, not really working -- certainly taking off early. Traveling. Last-minute holiday gift-buying. For Jewish folks, picking out the Chinese restaurant and movie.

A handful of storylines:
*Utah gives the MWC more bowl cred.
*Favre-Childress: This will haunt the Vikes in the playoffs.
*No. 1 UConn beats back No. 2 Stanford in women's hoops.
*Wade: 29 in Heat cruise past Utah.

In 2010, I actually hope to see Wade and LeBron pair up on the same team.

(What did I tell you? Sssssloooowwww.)

I'll be back tomorrow morning. For those not checking back and celebrating the holiday, Merry Christmas to you and your family.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Festivus!

Happy Festivus! Now, for the airing of grievances...

Quickie: Holidays Almost Here

Longtime readers will remember that in the days leading up to Christmas, I always used to do a parody of "Twas the Night Before Christmas." I did it for at Page 2 for years:

Here's 2005.
And 2004.
And 2003.
And 2002.
And 2001.

God, I was so young and had so much creative energy back then.

In 2006, I published the poem on Deadspin -- had a lot of fun with that one.

I'm not going to have one this year, but it's fun to look back at the old versions. (It's not a bad way to survey the big stories of the decade.)

This year, at least in today's SN column -- the last one before Christmas -- I am more concerned with the "nice" topics that are offsetting the "naughty" storyline that has dominated the last month.

I love the NBA on Xmas. I love that Suh was the first defensive player ever to win the AP's college football player of the year award. I love that Tyreke Evans is already an NBA stud. I love that Little Caesars isn't just a bowl sponsor, but they named the bowl after themselves. I love that USC could not care less about the Emerald Bowl. I love that the Broncos are imploding just in time to give fans of the six 7-7 teams in the AFC a little extra hope. I love that Northwestern basketball is in the process of its best season ever. (More on that later.)

It's easy to get cynical, when you are bombarded with stories like Tiger. But as I tried to point out yesterday in that post about TMZSports (and I'm not shocked at the superficial knee-jerk conclusions that it will be a "game-changer," but disappointed they didn't read my argument why it isn't), it's not that fans mind the "naughty" stories -- they just want them to be about the games, themselves. That's why the Redskins "Worst. Trick Play. Ever." story was so good. Or why schadenfreude in sports is so awesome -- it's almost always sports-related.

There are a lot of things to think or feel about Tiger, but I'm not sure anyone has argued that schadenfreude is one of them.

Mostly, we want to focus on the NBA on Christmas... or bowl games (no matter who's playing in them or what the bowl name is)... or turning our attention to college hoops (and what could be the best Cinderella storyline since George Mason)... or just lamenting that our fantasy football season is over, but recognizing that it means that there's more energy and attention to spend on family and friends.

Here's today's column in full, but mostly for all of you celebrating the holiday on Friday, I wish you and your family the very merriest Christmas.

For the rest of us: It's the traditional "Chinese food and a movie," plus as much "A Christmas Story" as possible.

I'll be posting lightly here the rest of the week and weekend, if you want to drop by.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 Hot Story or Non-Story?

Kudos to Brooks for breaking the story that may be launching in 2010.

Now, the bigger question: Is it a big deal? (Or, in TMZ terms, is there any fire behind the smoke?)

The answer is: It's interesting, but not nearly as big of a deal as the morning's breathless tweeting makes it out to be.

First, some context: It's not like "reporting what ESPN can't or won't" is a new strategy. It was a core foundation of Deadspin's success. What has changed since Deadspin launched is the number of outlets willing to run Deadspin-broken stories. It changed the competitive landscape. The old standard was: "Does this meet our standards" (whatever those standards might be -- journalistic... or more pragmatically business-oriented).

The new standard is "Are fans talking about it?" If that's the case, then you have to cover it, or you're not serving fans as comprehensively as they want to be served. Someone else will cover it. Someone else will get that audience. And while your core underlying popularity will not erode, you aren't helping yourself when it comes to mitigating the fragmentation of the consumer audience. (But I'm not naive: No number of page views is worth alienating Tiger if Tiger is core to your business. See the remarkable silence from the, um, journalists at Golf Digest.)

Next: Let's be very very clear. The Tiger Woods scandal is not a template for a business. It is the sports industry's "black swan" event -- there has never been anything like it, and -- given its unique conditions -- nothing like it will ever happen again. It was a traffic cash cow for TMZ. It was a traffic cash cow for lots of places. Again: It is neither a template for nor a harbinger of future coverage, let alone should be the basis for a full-time news site.

And if you don't have a new Tiger Woods-level scandal every week or every month, what kind of coverage are you offering? already dabbles in sports -- most of their coverage seems to revolve around one or the other of the Kardashians, and their significant others, Reggie Bush and Lamar Odom. That is a tough nexus: For most sports fans, that level of celebrity is uninteresting. And for the non-sports fan (who drove the volume of Tiger coverage), Khloe Kardashian might be mildly interesting, but Lamar Odom is most definitely uninteresting.

So who is the target market? Avid fans don't really care about celebrity scandal; casual (or non-) fans don't really care about the athletes whose names would be involved. So where's the natural market? Sports-media sites and bloggers who are going to turn around with your "exclusive" and go trolling for a quick hit of page views?

I suppose there's always some interest in athletes dating (or simply schtupping) celebrities. But not THAT much interest. And certainly not among sports fans. (For more on this, check out Leitch's post at NY Mag about how the Tiger scandal won't change sports journalism.)

Here's a relevant recent example: The biggest mainstream celebrity name in the NBA was recently allegedly cuckolding another NBA superstar. Again: Allegedly, Shaq was having freaky relations with Gilbert Arenas's wife. On its face, this seems like a juicy piece of news. But this didn't hit the radar, not because outlets like Deadspin were unafraid to discuss it, but because avid NBA fans really didn't care and casual (or non-) fans don't really care about Shaq's sex life, and certainly don't care at all about Gilbert Arenas.

Meanwhile, what other "scandals" can they cover: PED cheating? Not only totally out of TMZ's comfort zone, but a topic fans have proven again and again not to care about. Think they'll be digging into Reggie Bush's financials to see if he got paid at USC? They're more likely to be hustling for pictures of Reggie out with Kim at the club last weekend. (Athlete sex tapes? OK: Maybe. But only for a brief flurry of attention. I suspect fans have no interest in seeing the starting QB on your fantasy team having sex. And those tapes are few and far between, not something you sustain a full-time site with.)

Beyond whether avid, casual or non- fans care about what TMZ Sports is going to offer, there is a serious question about the flow of scoops that would be necessary to sustain a site built on them. Deadspin does a better job than anyone at wrangling tips -- of really good stuff -- and it's still just a small part of the site's day-to-day coverage. (Their best original reporting has not been gossipy, by the way, but illuminating original in-depth research and explanation by Daulerio and Tommy Craggs.)

So does TMZ Sports make ESPN's job harder? Not really. If ESPN could largely sit out the Tiger Woods frenzy -- for whatever reason -- and not see even a minimum of erosion from its online audience or its brand, any OTHER athlete news or gossip -- at least negative news or gossip -- is a non-factor.

Does TMZ make other sports sites' jobs harder? Actually, it makes it easier. As quickly as TMZ can break an exclusive, the other sites can have them posted on their own sites -- happy to credit TMZ, but understanding that their own fans are served just fine by the commoditized scoop. (For examples, see every step of the Tiger scandal.)

Does TMZ make Deadspin's job harder? Yes (nominally) and no. To the extent that Gawker Media is putting an emphasis on original reporting, that's a strong new competitor for what -- in the larger scheme of things -- are limited offerings. On the other hand, as quickly as TMZ breaks something, Deadspin can be all over the second-step angle. Let TMZ make the market, then Deadspin can hustle for those critical new details that the audience is looking for. You saw this throughout the Tiger Woods scandal. I zipped by TMZ to see if anything new was broken, but I went to Deadspin more frequently for comprehensive coverage and new angles I knew TMZ wouldn't have, because TMZ doesn't understand the sports fan audience like Deadspin understands the sports fan audience. (Now, if TMZ Sports wanted to pony up the quarter-million dollars -- plus bonuses -- it should to bring over an editor like Daulerio? Might be a different story.)

So I guess to sum up, archetypally, TMZ Sports' "extreme" gossip is the latest on Khloe and Lamar or cornering the market on athlete divorce lawyers spinning their clients' stories; Deadspin's "extreme" gossip is coverage of sexual affairs in the sports media industry and Daulerio going on a date with a divorced Linda Cohn.

Last point: What about the money? Because if Tiger coverage showed us anything, it's all about the business imperatives.

Is there even a business to TMZ-style sports gossip? Sports isn't your typical Hollywood entertainment. To one of Brooks' points, there is a monopoly at the top. There are a limited number of extremely powerful players. And, mostly, fans don't really care in the same way that entertainment fans care about their celebrities.

So who is the audience? If it's avid sports fans, they're disinterested and not coming (and traditional sports advertisers trying to reach those avid fans won't give you their dollars anyway). If it's casual fans, the names involved aren't appealing enough to visit the site (and non-sports advertisers that might want to reach casual or non-sports fans don't care about spending on sports-related sites... not when they can spend on TMZ or US Weekly or People, all of whom can very easily cherry-pick relatively the rare juicy crossover sports-related coverage.)

In short: Is solving a problem no one needs or wants or cares to be solved?

There's no question: Deadspin has proven that there is a market for provocative sports reporting. But Deadspin has a very finely honed sense of what works -- and, for all the clout, it's not a huge audience or a particularly big business. By driving what other sports media folks -- sports radio, bloggers, even ESPN from time to time -- talk about, it has massive influence. But it's sports fans talking to sports fans. I'm not sure how fits into that.

Finally, let's all stipulate to something: No wailing, navel-gazing discussion of "But is it good/bad for sports journalism?!" The market conditions are the market conditions, and judgments about whether a new entrant is "good" or "bad" for the industry is pretty useless. (See all the hand-wringing about the Tiger coverage.)

The more important questions are, internally at sports-media companies, "How does this affect my business?" and, externally for fans, "How does this coverage resonate with me?"

I suspect that when TMZ finally digs into the business, they will realize that they are better off trying to make sports a compelling sliver of their core product, rather than trying to build an entire business around it.

Otherwise, they might as well go the route of the New York Post and simply create a spin-off site dedicated to covering all things Tiger scandal.

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Daulerio has a very good post about all this stuff.

Quickie: Athlete of Year Is... Tiger?

It is absurd to argue that any athlete besides Tiger is "Athlete of the Year."

Jimmie Johnson is a nice choice by the AP. Mariano Rivera is a nice choice by Sporting News. But both turn a blind eye to the story of the year in sports.

Sorry: Sometimes, they're just not the happy ones. Sometimes, it's the scandalous ones -- actually, it takes an extreme scandal to eclipse some of the truly amazing accomplishments of a sports year (say, Usain Bolt redefining speed).

And the Tiger scandal qualifies. By almost any measure, it is the sports scandal of the year -- perhaps more epically (but for once, I'll refrain from that). It is the sports STORY of the year. It makes him the sports FIGURE of the year.

The other guys represent nice stories. Tiger represents THE story.

That's the lead of today's SN column, which includes a lot more:

*Still sucks to be the Giants.
*Really sucks to be Eric Mangini.
*Tyreke Evans > Brandon Jennings
*For Dec. 22, we've got a pretty good bowl game.
*Kentucky may have 2000 wins, but their most memorable game remains a loss.

See the entire thing here. More later -- you cannot think that I won't have an opinion about ""

-- D.S.

Monday, December 21, 2009

10 Best Sports Books of 2009

10 Best Sports Books I Read In 2009:
(alphabetical by author)

Our Boys (Joe Drape) link

The Big One (David Kinney) link

Where Men Win Glory (Jon Krakauer) link

Born To Run (Christopher McDougall) link

Heart of the Game (SL Price) link

Faith and Fear in Flushing (Greg Prince) link

On Rocky Top (Clay Travis) link

Football Fan's Manifesto (Michael Tunison) link

The Beckham Experiment (Grant Wahl) link

Pro and College Basketball Prospectus 2010 (Pelton, Gasaway et al) link

More important: What books made YOUR list?

Didn't read myself. Heard they were good:
*The Art of a Beautiful Game (Chris Ballard)
*Open (JR Moehringer)
*The Rocket That Fell to Earth (Jeff Pearlman)
*The Machine (Joe Posnanski)
*The Book of Basketball (Bill Simmons) link
*Outcasts United (Warren St. John)
*The Yankee Years (Tom Verducci)
*Blood in the Cage (Jon Wertheim)
Any others you would recommend?

Looking ahead to highly anticipated releases in 2010:
*As-Yet-Untitled Pro Basketball History (Free Darko)
*The Game From Where I Stand (Doug Glanville)
*Mint Condition (Dave Jamieson)
*Blood, Sweat and Chalk (Tim Layden)
*Are We Winning? (Will Leitch)
*Death to the BCS (Dan Wetzel)
*Cardboard Gods (Josh Wilker)

Any others?

And then there is the open question: Is 2010 the year that MY book comes out? I mean: 600 posts' worth of thinking and writing (in four months) HAVE to be good for something, right?

-- D.S.

Quickie: Wild Cards, Favre, Texas Hoops

Leave it to Brett Favre to insist that Week 15 in the NFL be all about him.

To the extent that the Vikings' game against the Panthers could be irrelevant to the team's larger playoff aspirations, it was -- and that Favre doesn't see the bigger picture is as obvious as it is typical as it is predictable. (And so naturally, a logical lead for today's SN column!)

There were enough other interesting things that happened, right? The Steelers' last-play insanity, the 7-7 logjam, even the second-day storyline of the Cowboys toppling the Saints.

That said, am I the only one who thinks that the playoff scenarios are a little overblown? It feels like at least 5 -- possibly all 6 -- of the slots in each conference are all-but-spoken-for.

Look: It would be a shame if the Broncos simply won out and made the six-team 7-7 freak-out a non-issue. Or if the Cowboys denied their recent legacy by winning in December, making whatever the Giants do tonight and the next two weeks moot.

The good news is that, if last season's collapse is any indication, the Broncos are no lock -- and we all know how the Cowboys do in December (Saints win notwithstanding).

So there's hope yet, if your interest is in having at least a 6th playoff spot up in the air in Weeks 16 and 17. Not sure why Favre is bugging out over a game that really doesn't matter.

More you'll find in today's column:

*Jerome Harrison: Fantasy Game of the Year?
*Texas hoops: OK, I'm buying.
*Seth Davis has a point about Bobby Knight.
*Who needs Dirk?
*You should have watched the New Orleans Bowl, apparently.

Lots more in the column, with more coming here later.