Saturday, January 16, 2010

Quickie: On "Destination" Jobs

So here's a dilemma for any college football program looking for a new head coach: You want a coach who considers your program a "destination," but none of the really good coaches think that way -- either you overestimate your own program's value or the coach's current situation is "good enough" (meaning, at a minimum, not worth the switching costs).

That was on display at Tennessee over the last 72 hours: Coach after coach turned them down, until finally they found Derek Dooley, the Saban disciple from Louisiana Tech, who may not have a particularly good record as a head coach, but damn if he doesn't think this is the opportunity of a lifetime.

And, you know what? I'd rather have a guy like Dooley who will work like crazy on behalf of Tennessee, thinking it's a dream job, than a coach who will constantly be looking around for a job he REALLY wants.

Tennessee doesn't have to be a top-tier coaching job, in an absolute sense. All it has to be is a top-tier coaching job for someone who thinks it is.

-- D.S.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Quickie: NFL's Elite Eight, Vols, Gaines

Leading today's SN column, does the NFL have its ideal Elite Eight? On the NFC side, most certainly:

*Favre, the most-watched player.
*Cowboys, the most-watched team.
*Saints, the best long-term team story.
*Warner, the best long-term individual story.

On the AFC side? Well, there is certainly a healthy contingent that wants to see the Colts fail. The Chargers are probably the best shot at that. The Ravens aren't as compelling as the Patriots would have been, but the Wild Card schadenfreude was probably worth it. And the Jets are a good story -- that one team that should have every non-playoff team's fans going "Next year, why not us?"

Let's try some picks:
Vikings over Cowboys
Saints over Cards
Colts over Ravens
Chargers over Jets

All you can hope for is some close games. The second half of last weekend's final game eclipsed what would have gone down as one of the least memorable and lamest Wild Card weekends ever.

More from today's column:

*It's not that Tennessee is a bad job, per se. It's that coaches realize that they have a better shot at making the BCS -- let alone being happy -- at a program they are comfortable in.

*Sundiata Gaines instantly became one of the Top 5 stories of the NBA season: One week, D-League; the next week, hitting buzzer-beating game-winning 3s to beat LeBron.

*When was the last time the best college hoops game of the weekend was a women's game? Actually, the women's schedule has always been studded with the top powers playing each other. It's the smartest thing the machers of the sport ever decided to do. Will I watch women's hoops consistently? No. Will I watch Notre Dame vs. UConn? At the very least, I'll drop by during NFL commercial breaks.

*Arne Duncan was right about the NBA's age-limit being "intellectually dishonest." But I care less about the farce it makes college than the way it keeps NBA-worthy talent out of the league.

*Orrin Hatch was wrong that President Obama should invite Boise State to the White House. Even though I voted Boise No. 2, it's not like the consensus was that they were the 2nd-best team in the country, like Utah was last year. Why not invite Texas or Florida, ranked ahead of Boise? If "going unbeaten" is the only thing keeping me from calling myself a national champ, I'm scheduling the 12 worst teams in Division 1-A and going 12-0. Boise's schedule was closer to that than having to deal with something like the SEC's grind.

*Josh Johnson was the ace of my fantasy team last year, so I'm happy for him getting paid by the Marlins. That said, if the Marlins could flip Johnson to a contender for top prospects that have more long-term upside and fit with the team's financial plan, why shouldn't they be able to do that? You can't look at their record and claim that they don't make savvy moves, even when cost-cutting. Would you rather have them spend Met-money, only to finish 17 games worse?

*SN's latest Mock Draft has the Jaguars taking a QB with the No. 10 pick -- Jimmy Clausen. (Over Tebow? No way. Won't happen.)

Complete column here. More later, and the usual light posting from here through the weekend.

-- D.S.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How Kurt Warner Saved My NFL Fandom

I will always have a soft spot for Kurt Warner, because he basically resurrected my NFL fandom.

Backstory: I grew up in the 1980s in suburban D.C. as a die-hard Bears fan. When I got to Chicago for college, I developed a contact allergy to my Bears fandom -- and lost interest in the NFL, more generally.

Fast-forward to 1997: Back East after my first tour at (then in Seattle), I leveraged's relationship producing to get a job at the NFL.

Without getting into any details, working at the NFL eroded any nominal lingering interest I had in the NFL.

I left the NFL in the spring of 1998 for -- and, yes, I was an editor of Peter King's MMQB *and* of Dr. Z, who once bawled me out something fierce. I still had no interest in the NFL.

Then, in the fall of 1999, something happened to rekindle my interest in the league -- if not a specific team: Kurt Warner.

The grocery bagger from Arena League who, by virtue of a freak accident to starter Trent Green, became the Rams' QB. And this QB from Nowhere absolutely lit up the league.

Warner led the Rams to one of the great turnarounds in NFL history: 4-12 in '98 to Super Bowl champs in '99. What a story.

And I was captivated. Not by the team, per se, but more viscerally by the unpredictability. The NFL was interesting for me again.

If this no-name QB could step in and start destroying the league, turning around a franchise in the process, anything could happen. I wanted to start following the league again.

I'm not sure my NFL fandom has ever been that piqued, but I remember it so vividly, always hoping that I might be that surprised and entertained again someday.

(As it turns out, I was unable to regain my die-hard Bears fan-ness -- to my regret -- and I ultimately tried to be a Jaguars fan, which has not really worked. Now, I'm reduced to something I've been foreshadowing for four years: That I'll probably root for whatever team drafts Tim Tebow. I should say that in recent years, I have become a die-hard fantasy football GM, and my fantasy team gives me enough satisfaction I don't feel the need to have a "real" team.)

So anyway: I have a soft spot for Warner.

I don't just think that he is a Hall of Famer. Between his backstory and his subsequent performance, I think he is the single most interesting player story in the history of the league.

And it all started 10 years ago, when this QB none of us had ever heard of destroyed the league and restored my NFL fandom.

-- D.S.

BTW: This post was in part inspired by this great post about Warner by Leitch over at Deadspin. Leitch, to his credit, is a die-hard Cardinals fan, going back to the St. Louis days, following the franchise to Arizona, rather than re-orienting around the Rams.

Quickie: Tiger, Kiffin, Wall, Griffin, Idol

You know the Lane Kiffin storyline is wearying when the news that Tiger Woods is allegedly in rehab for sex addiction is the preferred leading storyline of the morning. But there it is.

My point: Woods should have gone out with "sex addict" immediately; it would have defused (and diffused) the entire scandal.

Lane Kiffin is right about one thing: USC is a better job than Tennessee. That doesn't make him a more likable (or qualified) coach, but it's something.

Would Tennessee really re-hire Phil Fulmer? I still think they should throw crazy money at Muschamp -- even if he uses Tennessee as a training ground for an eventual return to Texas.

College Hoops Player of the Mid-Season? Obviously, John Wall.

Want a stark comparison? Try No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Blake Griffin -- out for the season, now, with that knee injury -- compared to 2nd-round steal DeJuan Blair, who had 27 and 21 last night... and has no ACLs in either knee.

Where inevitability happens: I need flare-ups like Blair's line last night (or off-court stuff like Arenas) to keep me engaged with the NBA, because otherwise, the macro view is depressing: The Lakers are clearly going to win the West and beat whoever comes out of the East.

So let me get this straight: Chris Johnson is NFL Offensive Player of the Year, but Peyton Manning was the overwhelming MVP.

Love the Charlie Brown career stats thing.

The NFL may have gotten pummeled yesterday by the Supreme Court, but don't expect the ruling to change much.

Idol: Sorry, it's my guilty pleasure. While everyone else is talking about "Skiboski" or "Pants on the Ground," I think that kid from Illinois with the sick mom is going to be a Top 10 finalist.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Quickie: Kiffin, Kiffin, Who Wants a Kiffin?

It's hard to blame Lane Kiffin for bolting Tennessee for USC. USC is a better program. It is easier to win. It is easier to recruit. His coaching staff will be sick. It is his dream job.

That doesn't mean Kiffin isn't a douche for leaving Knoxville after only a year (although it's worth noting that coaches -- notably Urban Meyer -- leave programs after 2 years regularly).

I can understand why Tennessee fans feel jilted -- after all, they think their program is at least as compelling as USC's. With time (and Kiffin's recruiting), they might have been right.

On the other hand, they knew exactly what they were getting when UT hired Kiffin. They cheered at his taunting of Urban Meyer. They lapped up the recruiting news. They loved the 7-win start.

All the while, Kiffin was still Kiffin. Still the guy who was involved in USC's mid-decade iffiness. Still the guy who failed in the NFL. Still the guy who committed violation after violation at UT.

And as soon as Pete Carroll left USC, the Vols should have been prepared for Kiffin to bolt -- not just because it's a better job or his dream job, but because that's just the kind of guy he is.

Now USC is an NCAA penalty waiting to happen (although as Wetzel points out, it's not like NCAA probation stops the juggernauts... just look at Alabama this year).

And Tennessee is left with a huge problem: They have no coach, and coach-poaching season is all but over. Their recruiting situation is in serious trouble -- which could set back the new coach years, no matter who they get. (Did you see Urban Meyer on TV smiling at a text message last night? Don't think that wasn't related to recruiting -- or perhaps schadenfreude.)

Things will work out fine for Kiffin -- they always seem to. They will work out fine for USC -- Kiffin might be one of the only coaches in the country who could salvage a Top 5 recruiting class.

Things might not work out so great for Tennessee. Maybe they brought it on themselves, but you can still feel sympathy for them.

More in today's SN column:

*Evan Turner!
*Goose Gossage!

See the whole thing here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Quickie: Grading McGwire's Confession

Former White House spinmeister Ari Fleischer did a good -- but hardly great -- job in scripting Mark McGwire's so-called confession/apology.

It was very smart to take a buck-shot approach to the media: No exclusives, plenty of availability for all the "big" outlets, a credibility-creating sit-down with Bob Costas.

It was smart to apologize. It was smart to bring up apologizing to the Marises, in particular. It was smart to offer a bit of "hard" news about the reason he said "don't want to talk about the past."

It was undermining to let McGwire insist on the "I only did it to get healthy." That may very well be true -- in fact, I totally believe him.

But when he leans back on the "god-given hand-eye coordination" as the source of his success -- implying that the PEDs only got him to a level playing field -- he loses me and a lot of others.

He ignores what I'll call the "But For" implication: "BUT FOR the drugs..." there would be no Hall of Fame career, no 1998, no records, no superstardom.

That is the very definition of "performance-enhancing."

To suggest otherwise is ludicrous on its face. As I say in today's SN column, he should have been much more explicit that he simply could not have done anything without the help of the drugs.

Check out the rest of the column for more, including what he should do next; whether I "accept" his apology (everyone needs to make their own choice); and more.

This Fleischer detail was new to me this morning -- but consider whether you want to trust the apology of a player whose talking points come from a guy whose other client is the BCS.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have to be kind of annoyed -- their franchise is relevant for the first time since they made the Super Bowl (maybe even more so) and it's eclipsed by McGwire.

I think Carroll is going to do a very good job, by the way. I am less certain about USC maintaining its elite status...particularly if they hire Jack Del Rio.

As a Florida hoops fan, I am very very nervous about what's going to happen tonight in Gainesville when Kentucky comes to town -- the Gators could lose by 30.

Anyway: Complete column here. What's YOUR take on the McGwire apology?

-- D.S.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quickie: Cards, Carroll, Kansas, Jeter

This was one of those mornings where you could pick from 3-4 top stories, any one of which would have made for an incredibly strong discussion:

*Pete Carroll leaving USC for the Seahawks, which both signals the erosion of Troy as well as the ascension of Seattle as an intriguing NFL franchise.

*The Patriots getting clobbered, which either signals some sort of painful interregnum of The Dynasty -- or simply its end.

*Kansas losing to Tennessee, not just on its face but for its conditions -- UT playing six scholarship players, on the heels of a terrible team scandal.

*Derek Jeter is getting married to Minka Kelly on November 5! (Ugh...)

But, no: "51-45" -- my favorite of the shorthands for the game -- trumps all of those, both for the insanity of the scoring and the individual performances and the moment it happened -- not just the playoffs, but 7/8 of the way through a remarkably lame Wild Card weekend.

The rest of the NFL playoffs will be hard-pressed to match Cards-Packers, but now that we've excised the unworthy, the prospect of any of the 4 "Top 2" seeds in either conference losing should be more than enough to provide drama.

Complete SN column here, putting it all into perspective. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday (Very) Quickie

I like novelty as much as anyone, so I guess the Cowboys winning a playoff game qualifies.

But here's the question: Is it enough? Or do they need to beat the Vikings next weekend in Minnesota -- or go even further? I think that, for now (and given the recent futility), it should be enough. Enjoy it, Cowboys fans.

(Given that the Cowboys always get tons of people to watch their nationally televised games -- as does Brett Favre -- next week's NFC Divisional could be the most-watched ever.)

Meanwhile, for the Jets, it IS enough. Go back to August: Did any Jets fans expect to get to the NFL quarterfinals? (Hell, to even make the playoffs?) Everything after this is gravy.

Today doesn't lack intrigue: How will the Patriots play without Welker? Can the Packers double-up on beating the Cards?

Wild day in college hoops: Started with that big G'town win over UConn, then continued with some really intriguing results -- Wisconsin over Purdue? GA Tech over Duke? Notre Dame over West Virginia? Mississippi State beating Mississippi? Georgia hanging tough with Kentucky? Mizzou beating Kansas State? UNLV beating New Mexico?

I'm a big believer that the college hoops regular season is pretty meaningless -- as far as top teams losing impacting their chances of doing well in (let alone making) the NCAA Tournament. But this should remind you that any of those top teams -- Purdue, Duke, WVU, Kentucky -- aren't impervious when trying to win four straight in March to make the Final Four. (Even Kansas struggling with Cornell to start the week indicates that no team is a lock.) The best thing that can happen for college hoops is results like this -- it makes March feel that much more wide open.

CFB Recruiting: Think the uncertainty over Urban Meyer has impacted Florida recruiting? Not quite. Yesterday, they got commitments from one of the nation's top DTs (Sharrif Floyd), one of the top DEs (Ronald Powell) and one of the top safeties (Matt Elam). I'm going to have more to say about the future of Florida next week, but despite the success of the 2006 recruiting class, Meyer has never had more talent in the program than he has as of Signing Day 2010.

NFL Draft: Speaking of Florida, Tim Tebow signed with an agent -- Jimmy Sexton, who will have the most intriguing client in the draft. Despite draft grades that put him in the 2nd round (or worse), Tebow will be a 1st-round pick; Sexton's biggest job is to get him the best fit. (Oh, and Tebow will play in the Senior Bowl -- you can't say he is ducking the NFL scrutiny.)

Vlad Guerrero signs with the Rangers: It's weird to think of Vlad not in an Angels uniform, but they didn't want him and he didn't want to be there. He has hit really well in Arlington and will play DH -- I think he has a terrific year ahead (although the lineup around him isn't nearly as nasty as what he had with the Angels... that will matter).

Texas Tech hires Tommy Tuberville: Probably the best available option, given the circumstances. He'll do fine, but won't be as successful as Leach.

No word yet on Carroll to the Seahawks. Remarkably little rumor swirling right now, after that flurry on Friday. You'd think both Seattle and USC would want this finalized ASAP.

Last two words: Tyreke Evans.

-- D.S.