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Only A Matter Of Time

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blog_az_fall_league_time_clock

For many years, baseball’s only clock was the sun, and that worked pretty well. But with average game times in the major leagues creeping ever upward, there’s a move afoot to try and rein in how much time passes in the National Pastime. But the major culprit contributing to the length of baseball games doesn’t appear to have anything to do with anything the players do.

The Arizona Fall League has instituted a number of game pace initiatives, including installing clocks like the one you see above at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (the spring home of the Rockies and Diamondbacks and fall home of the Salt River Rafters). Pitchers have 20 seconds to deliver the ball to the batter, who is supposed to keep one foot in the box most of the time. The changeover between half-innings has been limited to 2:05 (and often takes even less time than that) and pitching changes are limited to 2:30. (As Keith Olbermann rightly pointed out when this plan was announced, baseball has tried this before – in the AFL, even – and nothing has really changed.)

While there are many factors contributing to the increased length of games, I decided, just for comparison’s sake, to look at one set of data points from two World Series twenty-two years apart. The results are after the jump.
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November 9th, 2014 at 9:21 am

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If Lovie Smith Got Fired, It Wouldn’t Be Unprecedented, But Nearly So

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Lovie Smith courtesy Buccaneers.com

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 1-5 under new head coach Lovie Smith, and two of the five losses have been humiliating blowouts. Smith is in the first year of a four-year deal, and as the Bucs’ third head coach in the six years post-Jon Gruden, was supposed to bring stability to the position, so it’s unlikely he’ll get fired so quickly into his tenure. A handful of others haven’t been so lucky, though.

I wanted to see if any other NFL teams had fired a head coach during the coach’s first season with the team. (There have been several one-and-done guys who have been fired after their first – usually woeful – season, with Rob Chudzinski and Cam Cameron recent examples.)

Turns out you have to go back 36 years – to 1978 – to find instances where an NFL team cut bait with a new coach during his first season. And it happened twice that season.

George Allen Fired in 1978

The first is the all-time record, one that can only be topped in a Wally Backman-like circumstance. Los Angeles Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom fired George Allen after just two preseason games, saying he had made “a serious error in judgement (sic) in believing George Allen could work within our framework.” Allen’s training camp had been criticized by players for its long workouts and as many as five players had walked out for one reason or another during the preseason.

On November 1, 1978, the San Francisco 49ers fired first-year head coach Pete McCulley  – nine games into a three-year contract – after a 38-20 loss at Washington that dropped the Niners’ record to 1-8. Offensive coordinator Fred O’Connor finished out the 2-14 season, and San Francisco hired a guy named Bill Walsh for 1979. That worked out pretty well. McCulley – who kept coaching for another decade – died in 1992 at the age of 61.

I could only find two other instances of a current team firing its coach during his first season. Before McCulley, there was John Whelchel, a former Navy Vice Admiral hired by George Preston Marshall to coach the Washington Redskins in 1949. After a 3-3-1 start, Marshall set Whelchel adrift, despite him actually winning his final game, 27-13 at Pittsburgh on November 6. (Marshall was in a stretch where he went through six head coaches in seven years. In 1954, Marshall got into a hotel lobby argument with Curly Lambeau after the team’s third preseason game and fired Lambeau on the spot, replacing him with Joe Kuharich, who somehow lasted five seasons.)

And in November 1941, the Pittsburgh Steelers fired Aldo “Buff” Donelli, who had only been their coach for just over a month. Donelli had not started the season as the Steelers’ head man (Bert Bell had, but the future NFL commissioner had “resigned” under pressure after an 0-2 start), but had gone 0-5 to run the team’s record to 0-7. As Donelli was concurrently coaching the football team at his alma mater, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh (his Dukes would finish undefeated at 8-0), a weary then-NFL commissioner Elmer Layden forced Donelli to choose between assignments and the Steelers lost. As they would for most of the next three decades.

Besides Bell’s two-game stint at the helm of the Steelers in 1941, a handful of other coaches have resigned during their first seasons in charge of NFL teams:

  • LeRoy Andrews quit the Chicago Cardinals’ job after a season-opening 13-3 loss at Portsmouth on September 23, 1931.
  • Alvin (Bo) McMillan retired despite a 2-0 record as coach of the Eagles in 1951.
  • Sid Gillman, who had led the San Diego Chargers during the 1960s and then retired, lasted 10 games in a 1971 comeback before retiring again.
  • Lou Holtz decided 13 games in the pro ranks were enough when he bailed on the New York Jets in 1976 with a 3-10 record. He would surface at Arkansas in 1977…
  • …which is where Bobby Petrino high-tailed it to after quitting 13 games into his first season with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. That’s probably one Petrino wishes he had back, but not the only one.

Given the Bucs gave Greg Schiano two years (11-21) and Raheem Morris three (17-31), and neither of those two had NFL head coaching pedigrees even approaching Smith’s, it’s not likely Smith will be cleaning out his office anytime soon. But if it does happen, it won’t be the first time.

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October 14th, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Ladies And Gentlemen, Your Boston Brawlers (UPDATED)

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football_xThe Fall Experimental Football League, the latest in the long line of alphabet soup alternative football leagues, kicks off its first season on Wednesday night when the Omaha Mammoths face the Boston Brawlers at a baseball park in the “major city” of Omaha.

The FXFL, the brainchild of someone named Brian Woods, claims it’s a pure developmental league, with no intent of competing with the established NFL. Woods has also claimed the majority of FXFL players will have come from NFL training camps into his league, with the intent of getting them back to the big league as quickly as possible.

Well, if you look at the roster the Brawlers just released, you will see that just over a third of those players were in NFL camps this summer, but some of them do have rap sheets and checkered pasts that would make the NFL proud.

Of the 40 men on the Brawlers’ roster, only 15 were in NFL training camps this summer (all were released, obviously, and none were then signed to any team or its practice squad): C Matt Armstrong (New Orleans), QB Tahj Boyd (NY Jets), WR Jasper Collins (Cincinnati), DB Avery Cunningham and LB Phillip Steward (St. Louis), OL Jon Halapio and WR Wilson Van Hooser (New England), WR Julian Horton, DB Hakeem Smith and LB Jonathan Willard (Tennessee), OL RJ Mattes (New England and Tampa Bay), DL Chris McAllister (Houston), OL David Mims (Baltimore), TE/FB Cam White (Indianapolis) and DB Ryan White (Green Bay).

Only two (Boyd and Jon Halapio) were even drafted by NFL teams this spring, while two others (LB Ronnell Lewis and LB Greg Romeus) were prior draftees, having been selected in 2012 and 2011, respectively.

Four others (LB Quandon Christian, DL Johnnie Farms, OL Will Latu and LB Garrett Waggoner) had post-draft undrafted free agent mini-camp looks in the spring, but were not brought back for summer camp.

There are some fringe guys who have been in NFL camps before (DL Junior Aumavae, TE Brandon Ford, WR Vidal Hazelton, P/K Morgan Lineberry, OL Tori Mobley, RB Emmanuel Moody, OL Randy Richards and WR Isaiah Voegeli, which the FXFL will try to tell you is “NFL experience,” but it’s really not), some guys who have been in and out of Arena Football (DL Darryl Cato-Bishop, QB Carson Coffman, WR Corbin Louks), a veteran of the UFL (RB Wynel Seldon), a guy who played in Sweden this summer (QB Joe Clancy), a guy who played with the San Angelo Bandits of something called the Lone Star Football League (LS Avery Rigg), one who spent two months in the CFL this summer (the aforementioned Greg Romeus) and a guy who doesn’t appear to have ever been in anyone’s camp (RB Hyppollite Martin).

And then we have the players with….a few issues, shall we say. There’s DB Ashton Cobb, who hasn’t played at a high level since leaving Kentucky in 2009 (where he was charged with stalking his girlfriend), DL John Drew (who was kicked out of Duke for firing a gun on campus in 2010), the aforementioned Ronnell Lewis (who was arrested and tased – twice – in April of 2013 after a bar brawl in Norman, Oklahoma), CB (and former quarterback and FedEx scion) Cannon Smith, who was arrested and charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct after an incident early one morning in 2010) and DB Trey Wolfe, whose life story has been a mess, with stops at three different schools, at least two kids by two different women, an arrest record and academic woes.

It’s not really a surprise that not all is as it seems with the FXFL. This was supposed to be a league with “at least six teams” (with a team in Austin, Texas to be owned by a pair of former NFL players), playing eight games, then a six team league playing six games, then a four team league playing six games. It’s now a three-and-a-half team league after its Florida Blacktips franchise became a traveling circus “floating franchise” utilizing “an all-star format,” which has yet to be explained. Omaha, Boston and Brooklyn will play five games, while the Blacktips will play three. There are apparently no playoffs planned. There was supposed to be a draft (there wasn’t, players were just assigned to teams) and it was supposed to be for players no more than two years removed from college (you can see that didn’t happen).

They will be on television, though. Regional sports networks like NESN and SNY will carry games, as will ESPN3. You’ll be watching glorified scrimmages with guys who have been together for two weeks, some of whom haven’t played competitively in a couple of years, whose goal isn’t to help their team win but to succeed individually. How can it miss?

Look, I’m all over alternative leagues in most sports, if they’re done well, or at least interestingly. Most have been done poorly in the last 30 years. The USFL spent itself into oblivion, but was a ton of fun. The XFL was a train wreck, but their in-stadium presentation was actually quite good. The UFL was a joke. Other nascent efforts like the new USFL and NAFL are less than 50/50 shots. (The NAFL does get bonus points for hubris, though.)

The FXFL seems to be like a tech startup whose entire business plan is predicated on creating an app and getting bought by Google. The constant hints about wanting a “relationship” with the NFL (they’ve either been asked or not been asked by the NFL to try out some rules changes, depending on who tells the story) smack of desperation.

It all seems based on this idea that a developmental league is mission critical for the NFL. To read what the blogosphere and certain ESPN Radio hosts who have a son playing in the FXFL have to say, it’s absolutely necessary for there to be an entire league dedicated to making sure guys who weren’t deemed good enough to keep around by executives whose livelihoods depend on finding the best 53 players they can can play three to five more games on Wednesday nights in baseball stadiums in front of family and friends. Because that’s going to turn them into the next Kurt Warner. (Note: the Kurt Warner thing was 15 years ago, boys and girls.)

I just can’t see how this works (unless “working” means getting yourself in a position where the NFL buys you out or brings you under their umbrella). You’re not going to get fans to come to football games played by guys who aren’t good enough on school nights in the fall in baseball stadiums and even though there’s no other football on Wednesday nights (yet), there’s an abundance of much better football available on TV almost every other night of the week.

My guess is Wednesday night in Omaha will be a pretty good tell. The UFL’s Nighthawks were drawing more than 20,000 in their inaugural season, but those numbers dwindled by 80% by the time the UFL finally gave it up in 2012. If the numbers for the opener are closer to the former than the latter (though apparently Woods would be happy with 4,000-5,000, a nice trick if you can do it without much time or marketing or ticket sales people), they might have a tiny chance.

But my gut tells me it can’t work. That New Yorkers aren’t going to schlep out to Coney Island to see the Brooklyn Bolts, that they’re not so starved for more football in Boston that they’ll head to Harvard to watch the Brawlers and that after a sample tune-in, that not many people will watch on TV. And if no one is showing up or tuning in, they’ll be hard pressed to make their $80,000 a week player wage budget.

Even though the NFL has taken a lot of hits lately, people aren’t tuning the league out. I can’t see them tuning in to see this new league.

UPDATE: Looking at the other two teams’ rosters, we see about the same, but with more players who had training camp shots this summer. Of the 40 players on Brooklyn’s roster, 15 were in NFL camps this summer, another eight had looks after the draft but wasn’t signed, one was released on the day rookies reported, six had previous tryouts or brief stints with NFL teams in camp or on the practice squad, a couple have been in Arena Football, and five others have apparently not had NFL shots to this point. The Bolts also have three players with actual NFL game experience: WR Kevin Elliott, who had 10 catches in 13 games with Jacksonville in 2012, RB Dennis Johnson, who played eight games for Houston in 2013 and DL Kiante Tripp, who played three games for Cleveland in 2011.

Nearly half of Omaha’s 41 rostered players (must be a mistake there somewhere), 19, were in NFL camps this summer. Eight others had looks after the draft but were not brought to camp in the summer. There are three with NFL game experience. (LB Mister Alexander, 14 games with Houston over 2011 and 2012, LB Adrian Hamilton, 2 games with Baltimore in 2012 and DB Tysyn Hartman, who has apparently been out of football since playing 11 games with Kansas City in 2012.) A few have had looks here and there but not stuck, some have had no looks at all and a couple of guys have been in Arenaball.

And, just like Boston, both Omaha and Brooklyn have their share of guys with checkered pasts. The most celebrated is probably QB Jordan Jefferson, who was starring for LSU but wound up with assault and (later) drug charges and has been out of the game since playing Arena Football in Pittsburgh in 2013. AC Leonard left Florida after a domestic violence incident in 2012. The aforementioned Kiante Tripp was arrested on burglary charges in 2012. DB Tevrin Brandon was charged with assault after an off-campus fight and left Syracuse despite the charges being dropped. A couple others had lesser issues that cost them time in college.

So apparently about 40% of the players on FXFL rosters actually spent time in NFL camps this summer, far short of the 90% Brian Woods was promising. There’s a collection of fringe guys, small college guys, arena guys, guys who were injured and guys who never got a shot. Still seems like a far cry from what we’ve been told will be an “exceptional on-field football product.”

FURTHER UPDATE: Now Woods is saying “95% of the league’s players are coming directly from NFL training camps, fresh from being cut before the season started,” which isn’t true at all. And don’t look for a big crowd in Omaha Wednesday night.

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October 6th, 2014 at 9:15 pm

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Congratulations To Jay….Gurden?

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Nicely done by Washington’s NFL team on their own website:

blog_redskins_jay_gurden

So when who I can only presume is Jay Gruden is announced this afternoon as the new head coach of the team, it’ll shift the list of the 100 NFL Head Coaching Hires I talked about the other day.

So with Gruden’s hiring (he was Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator), 65 of the last 100 NFL head coaching hires have been NFL assistant coaches (17 promoted from within). The average age of the last 100 has been 48.76, and the median age has been right on 48. (They’re getting slightly younger – the last 50 averaged 48.04 as of their date of hire, the previous 50 were about a year and a half older.)

60 of the last 100 have been fired, and in an average of 3.49 years. The trigger is getting quicker, too. The most recent 30 firings happened in an average of just 2.8 years, while the previous 30 lasted 4.1 years.

These numbers will shift a bit again when the last few remaining openings are filled, but the takeaways are these: Being an NFL assistant coach is far and away the number one way to become an NFL head coach and you’d better win pretty quickly because owners have little patience.

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January 9th, 2014 at 11:22 am

1982 World Series Replay Game 2

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blog_1982_world_series_replay I’m replaying the 1982 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers using the APBA Baseball game. After St. Louis’ 9-3 win in Game One, the pressure was on the American League champions to gain a split before the series shifts to Milwaukee. What happened? Find out after the jump.
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January 5th, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Fun Facts About The Last 100 NFL Coaching Hires

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With Tampa Bay’s official announcement of their hiring of Lovie Smith as their new head coach, I thought I’d publish something I worked on a while back but never got around to making public: data on where NFL teams look (and to whom) when hiring a new head coach.

Just because round numbers are fun, I keep a rolling list of the last 100 full-time NFL coaching hires (not interim guys) to see what attributes teams look for, how long they keep coaches around and stuff like that. I found the results interesting and hope you will, too. They’re after the jump.
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January 2nd, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Kemo Sadly

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There’s a moment about an hour into Gore Verbinski‘s The Lone Ranger where Johnny Depp‘s Tonto turns to the titular masked man and says, “Don’t be stupid.”

If only someone had thought to tell Verbinski that.

The latest update of the story of the Masked Rider of the Plains is, quite literally, the single dumbest big-budget film I’ve ever seen. Poorly written (it makes the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise – by the same screenwriters – look like literature), poorly cast, poorly acted and poorly directed, it’s a train wreck of a film in which the train wrecks are actually the best parts.

You could not have found a worse Lone Ranger than Armie Hammer if you’d opened the phone lines and taken the ninth caller. There’s a reason he’s hardly been in anything you’ve ever seen, because he’s terrible. A federal prosecutor from back east who returns to his Texas hometown (which looks suspiciously like Monument Valley, Utah), Hammer’s John Reid survives an ambush by a gang led by the evil Butch Cavendish (the normally excellent William Fichtner, who is hampered by a hackneyed script) and seeks revenge. There’s a train baron and and an unnecessary plot device bookending the whole two and a half hours of this dreck, but little redeeming in it until the familiar William Tell Overture kicks in with about 30 minutes left.

It’s at that point that the Masked Man goes from effete lawyer to swashbuckling superhero faster than a silver bullet. It’s like the last half-hour belonged in the actual film and the first two hours were just a massive prank – complete with contemporary references out of place in 1869 and a Depp performance straight out of 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2011.

“Never take off the mask,” indeed. Someone might recognize that you had something to do with this.

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July 5th, 2013 at 5:45 pm

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Star Trek Cash In To Darkness

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Star Trek Courtesy StarTrekMovie.com
The alternate timeline device in 2009’s reboot of the Star Trek franchise gave director J.J. Abrams license to take the series anywhere he wanted.

Unfortunately, he apparently wanted to take it to 1982.

(Spoiler alert – you might not want to go past the jump if you haven’t seen this one yet.)

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May 18th, 2013 at 6:58 pm

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Here’s Why Attractive Women Should Think Twice About Instagram

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A particularly lecherous comment left on a model's instagram photo

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March 22nd, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Somebody Please Help Chris Dingman

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Tampa Bay Lightning TV analyst Chris Dingman probably wishes he could get a mulligan after this line coming out of a feel-good community heroes segment on last night’s Sun Sports telecast of the game against the Flyers.

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January 28th, 2013 at 9:49 am