Bill Belichick the GM is making life hard on Bill Belichick the coach

belichickBill Belichick is probably the best head coach in the NFL. But he also has almost complete control over his roster, and that authority — which worked for a long time, though also used to have a better system of checks and balances before Scott Pioli went to the Chiefs in 2009 — is compromising his ability to effectively coach on the field.

This is becoming more evident this season, as the Patriots’ roster gets worse and worse. Mike Sando from ESPN.com (Insider) broke down what most people can already see:

Four of the 21 offensive draft choices since 2010 are regular starters. That list includes Nate SolderMarcus Cannon, Rob Gronkowski and Stevan Ridley, but only Gronkowski is a building-block player, and only if he can regain top form following yet another injury.

Solder, Gronkowski, Shane Vereen, Dobson, Ridley, Price, Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Garoppolo were the offensive players Belichick has selected in the first three rounds since 2010.

Hernandez should be headlining the offensive players New England has drafted in the middle rounds over those same five drafts, but he’s in jail. That leaves Boyce, Bryan StorkJames White, Cannon, Cameron Fleming and Lee Smith as the offensive players New England has drafted in the fourth and fifth rounds. The late-round guys — Jon Halapio, Ted Larsen, Thomas Welch, Ebert, Gallon and Zac Robinson — aren’t doing the Patriots any good right now.

A lack of talent catches up to you at a certain point, no matter how good your schemes and QB are. With Tom Brady aging and the players around him getting worse, it shouldn’t be surprising to see New England lose in the fashion it did Monday.

Tuesday (Mike Leach, football and Tinder) edition: Wha’ Happened?

leachStrange but true: we’ve been looking for an entry point to write about Tinder, which we describe as the casual dating app that connects people with the mere swipe of a screen.

Tinder has no use in our life, having been married for 7 years, but we’ve still been trying to sort through our feelings on the concept of it. Does it merely speed up the process of traditional matchmaking — noncommittal as it might be — or is it a hopelessly shallow means to an end that is about as romantic as calling (or texting) a “good time” phone number scrawled on the stall of a bathroom?

This is a sports blog (usually), so there wasn’t really a good way for us to express those sentiments without seeming terribly off topic … until, of course, Washington State football coach Mike Leach had his weekly news conference. Leach never met a topic he couldn’t veer toward, and this week he delved into the notion of modern romance — not specifically Tinder, but close enough. Said Leach (and yes, we swear this was at a news conference about football):

I’m not really good with technology. All this button pushing and whatnot. I mean, you can just imagine based on what’s happened in the last 15 years. Conversations won’t happen 10 years from now. There aren’t going to be people to talk to, it’s going to be this (mimics pushing buttons). ‘Do you want to go out on a date with me?’ ‘I don’t know, what do you look like?’ ‘Well I look kind of like this.’ ‘OK, what are your interests?’ ‘Well, what do you think my interests are? Looking into this thing and typing into this just like yours are.’ ‘Yeah, no kidding, that’s what everybody’s doing.’ ‘Well, where do you want to go?’ ‘Well, what  difference does it make? Because all we’re going to be doing is looking into machines anyways.’ Well, that’s true and in the end it’s going to be tough to perpetuate the species. There’s no question about that. So we’re all going to look in this box and eventually be extinct. That’s how it ends.”

Leach got pretty dark pretty quick there, diving headlong from the problems of dating in 2014 to the extinction of the species. But we can’t say we entirely disagree (not really about the extinction part), even if we’re not sure it’s fair to judge a process in which we are not an active participant.

The broader connection to football here, aside from a colorful coach going off on a tangent, is that in some ways we feel Leach’s sentiments mirror how some sports are played these days — and part of the reason some are in danger of extinction, too.

For all football’s inherent beauty, savagery, problems and triumphs, it has regardless felt wonderfully unscripted. The best athletes on a given day were going to triumph based on their prowess on the field — within a set of scripted plays, of course, but typically the plays were predicated upon players following general assignments and physically bettering their opponents.

Baseball, too, was a very intense battle of skill — pitcher vs. batter — with a “here it is, if you can hit it” mentality.

Football now feels more and more like a set of sophisticated simulations playing out on a field after coaches spend grueling 18-hour days devising the best ways to defeat an opponent — not by outplaying them, but by outthinking or confusing them.

Baseball is killing itself with information. We know exact splits and tendencies, so why wouldn’t a manager use 7 different pitchers, often more than one in an inning, if he sees a way to get an edge? It fundamentally changes the way games are played, and more so it creates absurdly long games that will eventually drive fans away in droves if it can’t be fixed. But would you stop using information and technology available if you found it to be useful? Probably not.

That brings us back to Leach and modern romance. He’s decrying something he doesn’t understand, but fundamentally he has a point. Someone who uses Tinder, though, is merely using a tool that provides a quicker means to an end … often though (we would imagine) without thinking about thinking about the consequences or even the rationale for using it other than “it exists and therefore it is progress.”

All of this probably raises some larger points about the blindingly fast pace of technological advancement in society beyond just sports and sex, but that’s a story for another time.

For now, we’re left to wonder how it will impact the sports we love, while Leach is left to wonder if there will even be people around to play them.

TFD: Firing Gardenhire is a move that will please a lot of fans but won’t sell many tickets

gardyryanTwins manager Ron Gardenhire got fired today, then showed up to his own news conference and basically agreed with the man who fired him, Terry Ryan, that a new voice and direction could be just what the Twins need.

Ryan, for his part, seemed to make the move somewhat reluctantly — in part because he thinks of Gardenhire “like he’s my brother and not my manager” and in part, we think, because he isn’t 100 percent convinced this is the right baseball move.

If he did, Ryan wouldn’t have said the next manager he seeks will have many of the same qualities as the man he just fired.

What it came down to, Ryan said, was too much losing. It’s a simple reason, a good reason, and a true reason. How much of it is Gardenhire’s fault almost becomes irrelevant at a point, particularly when trying to sell the same product to a justifiably frustrated fan base.

The paradox, of course, is that as much as this could be considered a crowd-sourced move (the Twins took the temperature and figured out they just couldn’t keep giving the public the same story), firing a manager and hiring a new one, in and of itself, does not figure to move the needle much when it comes to attendance or enthusiasm.

If the Twins continue to flounder — there are indications they could be better, but there were also indications of that this year and they still lost 92 games — the person writing the lineup card will matter very little while attendance at Target Field will continue to plummet.

If the Twins play better, fans will return and be happier. That’s not to say a new manager will have no influence over which of those scenarios play out; it’s only to say that a new manager by himself will not cure the organization’s woes.

Thad Young talks about replacing Kevin Love, says he’s not going to ‘be a stat stuffer’

rickymartinTarget is getting a lot of bang for its naming rights buck today. We spent most of the mid-afternoon at Target Center for Wolves media day, and we’re headed shortly to Target Field for the 3 p.m. news conference to hear about sweeping changes with the Twins (Ron Gardenhire and the entire coaching staff let go).

We’ll have more Gardy thoughts after the presser; for now, here are some Wolves takeaways, starting with Thaddeus Young.

The new Wolves power forward has been adamant that he isn’t replacing Kevin Love in terms of production or trying to replicate what the traded superstar brings to the table. Instead, Young plans on being his own player.

Within the context of that, though, Young did have an an interesting comment during his allotted media time. Talking about Love’s propensity to average big numbers scoring and rebounding, Young said, “26 (points) and 12 (rebounds) hasn’t got us to the playoffs. … I’m not coming out here to try to be a stat stuffer.”

Again, Young could have just been talking about the differences in their games, but it felt like he was at least taking a mild shot at how Love’s stats figured into the overall picture with the Wolves, even if Young wasn’t here to personally witness it.

*Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin were paired together in their media session (pictured, not to be confused with Ricky Martin), and we were struck by Martin’s declaration that he’s willing to be a team leader this season and that Flip Saunders will hold him a lot more accountable than former coach Rick Adelman did. Martin said he “got away with things” playing under Adelman.

*Corey Brewer was asked how much he followed the Love saga over the summer. He said he didn’t track it much, but he did say, “I knew he was going to get out of here. Let’s all be honest.” It was interesting, in our mind, that players had figured out (whether by Love telling them outright or just sensing from the environment a year ago) that Love wouldn’t be here this year.

*We asked several shooting guards/small forwards about the crowd at the wing position. The general answer is that it’s a good thing and will create competition, but that will be one of the most interesting camp battles.

*Wiggins has “Hall of Fame potential,” Martin said.

*Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad went through an intense summer workout program and look noticeably leaner. We took a picture of them when they had their shirts off because that’s totally a normal thing to do.

Monday (Breaking down Bridgewater’s debut) edition: Wha’ Happened?

teddyfridgewaterOur natural temptation after watching Teddy Bridgewater throw for 317 yards and rush for a TD in his first start Sunday — helping the Vikings to a 41-28 victory in which they amassed the fourth-most yards in team history — was to compare him to Daunte Culpepper.

Daunte was the last young Vikings QB to make that kind of a splash in his debut; Tarvaris Jackson certainly didn’t do it, and even though Christian Ponder did have flashes in his first start against Green Bay, you never looked at him and said, “This is the future, no doubt.”

We were at that first Culpepper game — in the Dome, circa 2000, against the Bears — when he ran for three touchdowns and led a 30-27 comeback victory.

What we didn’t remember is that Culpepper’s passing numbers for the day were pretty ordinary: 13 of 23, 190 yards, no TD passes and one INT. His 13 carries for 73 yards and three TDs were huge, of course, but in our memory for some reason his passing day was better.

We dare say Bridgewater was even better than that against the Falcons, which is saying a lot: 19 for 30, 317 yards, no turnovers, and some key scrambles. More than just the raw numbers, he was composed in the face of adversity. While he benefited from tremendous line play and a fantastic running game, Bridgewater also had to overcome a massive momentum swing when the Falcons took a 28-27 lead.

Bridgewater missed a key deep ball to Jarius Wright, but on what proved to be his final drive he calmly marched the Vikings down the field for a score that gave them the lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

A lot of Bridgewater’s early work came on short passes — the kind of throws that inflated Ponder’s numbers in 2012, when he had Percy Harvin to turn 2-yard gains into more. But he finished the day 8 for 12 for 163 yards on passes that traveled at least 10 yards.

We lobbied hard for the Vikings to draft Johnny Manziel (not that it mattered what we thought, but our Johnny Football love was well-documented). One start will not define the inevitable comparisons between Manziel and Bridgewater, but at least for now the Vikings (and their fans) have to feel very good about the decision.

TFD: MLB Network’s John Smoltz weighs in on Twins, Gardenhire’s future

We had a chance to catch up with John Smoltz — former Braves great, 1991 Game 7 hero and current MLB Network analyst — for a Sunday Q&A that will run in print in a couple of days. We thought we’d offer a taste here of the parts where we talked Twins:

RB: Shifting to the Twins and what I imagine is a decision looming on manager Ron Gardenhire. You played so much of your career for one manager, Bobby Cox. Where do you come down on continuity vs. change and what that stability meant?

JS: (The Twins) had a philosophy and model that worked back in the day, and they’re having to adjust on the fly based on the power arms that exist today. … They always wanted the least amount of walks and (pitching to) contact, and it worked for a while. But it doesn’t play as much, as other organizations have proven. That’s part of the issue. … But stability is huge. That doesn’t mean every manager should manage for 23 years, but with the Twins, I think they do a good job with character and developing talent.

RB: Is it possible in an instant gratification era for a manager to survive four seasons in a row of 90 losses?

JS: I think it is possible if everyone is on the same page with what they’re trying to do. Everyone thinks managers can push a lot of buttons to win. If the players don’t produce, and aren’t in the position to be evaluated correctly, then a manager’s job of winning or losing baseball games gets falsely reported. A manager’s job in baseball, more than any other sport, is managing people. … They’ve scored a lot of runs this year. It comes down to pitching. Phil Hughes has had a great bounceback year, and when you start getting some more of that you start feeling good about your chances.

Mid-day talker: Twins, Hughes manage to turn delicate situation into a positive

hughespicSince we wrote about the initial quandary and made a shouty video with Reusse yesterday about it, we felt compelled to follow up (for the final time) about the Phil Hughes $500K bonus situation.

Looking at it 24 hours ago, it felt impossible that everyone would come out of this looking good. Either the Twins would be branded as cheap, or Hughes would be branded as greedy (with the former more likely than the latter, considering indications were the Twins couldn’t/weren’t inclined to just give him the money when he fell 1/3 of an inning short of his incentive).

Against the odds, that is what has happened. The Twins’ field staff and management conferred and decided to give Hughes a chance to earn his bonus with an inning of relief in Detroit. That was a more than fair offer, since Hughes would normally have a throwing day sometime during this final series anyway.

Hughes mulled the offer but ultimately declined, telling reporters that he didn’t want to risk injury and adding on the FSN broadcast last night that he didn’t think it was fair to take an inning away from fringe bullpen guys who make in a season about the same as his bonus would have been and who are fighting for roster spots.

The Twins came off looking smart and generous. Hughes came off looking like a noble teammate who has a smart grasp of the big-picture. Both sides can be happy with the result, which could be important if and when they start talking about a contract extension.

If you think that kind of talk is premature given Hughes’ up-and-down history, we present this counter argument: he was underpaid this season at $8.5 million (after incentives he did hit) and his base over the next two seasons totals $16 million. If the Twins added two more years at $12 million per, it would essentially be a four-year, $40 million deal. If Hughes was a free agent right now coming off the kind of season he had, that would still be a bargain.

Regardless, the two sides are in a good place going into the offseason. Who would have thought that a situation that looked like an unwanted PR disaster could actually turn into a positive?

Friday (National advertisers avoiding Vikings?) edition: Wha’ Happened?

petersonThe list of sponsors and other entities distancing themselves from Adrian Peterson while he is embroiled in controversy and a legal battle has been been well-chronicled.

But there is new reporting suggesting the fallout could be even more far-reaching for the Vikings — and also the Ravens, who are going through their own massive controversy, of course, with Ray Rice.

Awful Announcing alerted us to a Hollywood Reporter story that indicates the number of brands that don’t want to be associated with the Vikings or Ravens is larger than we might think. Per the story:

Multiple media buyers tell THR that clients have requested their ads not appear during games featuring the Ravens or Minnesota Vikings, the team of suspended running back Adrian Peterson (due in a Texas court Oct. 8 on a child abuse charge for whipping his 4-year-old son). CBS, which kicked off its $275 million Thursday Night Football package Sept. 11 with strong ratings for a Ravens game, had one sponsor ask to be removed from the broadcast and another request its ads shift, likely away from a discussion of the violence issue during CBS Sports’ pregame report. CBS declined to identify the sponsors.

As Awful Announcing notes, this is problematic in short-term thinking, since these are only the “scandals of the moment.” Will advertisers bounce from team to team, week to week?

But it’s certainly also a problem for the Vikings and Ravens if their brands are considered so poisonous that an entity would still be comfortable with the NFL as a whole, but not those two organizations.

TFD: The smartest take on Adrian Peterson, NFL naturally comes from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — yes, that’s right — has written what we consider one of the most cogent pieces on the NFL and Adrian Peterson we have read. It appears on Time’s web site, and here is a snip:

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson hit his four-year-old son with a thin part of a branch and was indicted for reckless or negligent injury. This has sparked a national debate on the effectiveness and ethics of spanking. Worse, thanks to commentators like Charles Barkley, the debate has degenerated into a race issue. “I’m from the South,” Barkley explained on TV. “Whipping—we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

The five most destructive words to our village are “That’s how I was raised.”

These words are the triumph of routine over reason, of self-delusion over self-interest, of excuses over evidence. In short, the phrase embodies the kind of muddled thinking that our culture “officially” stands against because doing something just because “that’s how I was raised” is the definition of hive mentality. It’s celebrating the joys of brainwashing over rational decision-making.

Most people embrace these words with great pride when it reflects their core values of being hard working, compassionate, patriotic, religious, or family-oriented. But they condemn anyone else who uses them when it goes against accepted American tradition.

Kareem just dunked on all of us. Great stuff.