Sunday, January 29, 2012

Being first isn't that important

Warning: This is a more about journalism than it is about college football. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

The formative years of my adult life were spent working at a newspaper. I have a certain anal-ness that both contributed to and was exacerbated by being employed by a paper. Before stumbling into a job on the copy desk at a time when I really needed a job, I had never put much thought into the way news gets collected and distributed. It wasn't so much that I didn't know -- it's not very complicated -- it was just that I didn't even consider it, kind of like how you sit on your couch every day but never consider exactly how it was built.

Most of what I learned is now irrelevant for the same reason that I no longer work at a newspaper: They're dying a not-that-slow-but-very-painful death. I could literally write 10,000 words about why that's the case, but I have other plans today and instead will go with the simplest and most succinct explanation I've seen yet:
For some time now, newspaper people have been insisting, sometimes angrily, that we readers will soon have to pay for content (an assertion that had already appeared, in just that form, by 1996.) During that same period, freely available content grew ten-thousand-fold, while buyers didn’t. In fact, as Paul Graham has pointed out, “Consumers never really were paying for content, and publishers weren’t really selling it either. ... Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant.”

... The curious thing about the various plans hatched in the ’90s is that they were, at base, all the same plan: “Here’s how we’re going to preserve the old forms of organization in a world of cheap perfect copies!” The details differed, but the core assumption behind all imagined outcomes (save the unthinkable one) was that the organizational form of the newspaper, as a general-purpose vehicle for publishing a variety of news and opinion, was basically sound, and only needed a digital facelift. As a result, the conversation has degenerated into the enthusiastic grasping at straws, pursued by skeptical responses.
Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.
It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.
That's from Clay Shirky. If you don't know who Clay Shirky is, I highly recommend reading some of this stuff. He's one of the few people out there with enough of an understanding of web development and the accompanying societal changes to grasp exactly what's happening in news distribution.

Long story short, major news organizations have not done particularly well at figuring out how to create and distribute news (I use that term loosely) that's appealing enough to draw in sufficient regular readers to make money. That's mostly because there are very few people who really care about news (in the literal sense). Here's another insightful paragraph:
There has never been a mass market for good journalism in this country. What there used to be was a mass market for print ads, coupled with a mass market for a physical bundle of entertainment, opinion, and information; these were tied to an institutional agreement to subsidize a modicum of real journalism.
For obvious reasons, a lot of old-school writers are having a hard time with this. Rather than coming up with more analytical material that would actually be of value to a hardcore readership, their solution has been to make everything instant on the assumption that instant = interesting. I know a few people like this.

There was a story a while back -- I think it was by Joe Posnaski but unfortunately can't find it now -- about how baseball beat writers have become laughably competitive with trying to be the first to tweet the lineup card. This is of some value to huge (insert team here) fans, but here's the thing: Does anybody care who's first? If I'm a Tigers fan and follow the beat writers for MLive and the Free Press and maybe the Tigers' official site, I'm gonna get three tweets/Facebook posts with the updated lineup within a span of a couple minutes. Which was first makes no difference to me as long as I get the information. And if I'm a casual fan who only follows one of those entities, I have no way of knowing who was first since I don't get to see the others for reference.

An exclusive story (not just raw information) is valuable and worth breaking since it'll have a little staying power and can't be instantly replicated. Breaking information is ephemeral; as soon as one person reports it, everybody has it, and at that point it doesn't really matter who was first because everybody's moving on to the "what it means" analysis part. Digging to find information is still a good thing if it's the only way it's gonna be made public, but digging to get a scoop on something that's going to become publicly available five minutes after you report it isn't worth the effort.

You might be wondering where I'm going with this. Here it is:

Adam Jacobi was fired Friday by CBS Sports. Jacobi was the founder of awesome Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants and did well enough that he got hired for a full-time gig at CBS a couple months ago (he had been a regular contributor for a while). He is no longer employed because of this nine-word post that went up at 8:57 p.m. on January 21:
Joe Paterno has died at the age of 85.
Joe Paterno was not actually dead; he departed early the next morning. Given that there were all kinds of reports flying around about the Paterno family being summoned to the hospital and the family talking about taking him off life support, distributing some mistaken/incorrect information would have been somewhat understandable even if extremely awkward given the content matter.

The problem was the explanation and what it said about CBS Sports' methods:

Penn State student website Onward State has reported that Penn State players were notified of longtime head coach Joe Paterno's passing via email, and went on this report.
The official apology was more of the same:
Earlier Saturday night, published an unsubstantiated report that former Penn State coach Joe Paterno had died. That mistake was the result of a failure to verify the original report. holds itself to high journalistic standards, and in this circumstance tonight, we fell well short of those expectations. extends its profound and sincere apology to the Paterno family and the Penn State community during their difficult time.
Onward State was widely regarded as the originator of the death-confirmation email, which turned out to be a hoax (the editor resigned like an hour later), so the explanation and apology were probably accurate in that regard. Jacobi actually went back and updated the story to match the explanation just to cover his ass (the evidence is in the picture at the top of this post).

The problem: If CBS was explicitly taking a breaking story from Onward State, why was there no citation in the first post? You can't just take an unsubstantiated report and report it as fact with no independent verification and no citation. That's just stealing. As far as I'm concerned, that's a far worse transgression than being wrong based on inaccurate-but-believable information.

Had the first post been cited as "based on an email received by Onward State," or something along those lines, pretty much the whole thing would have fallen on the original entity. CBS Sports' only liability would be the decision to republish that information without verification, but since Onward State truly believed it had received an administrative email with information regarding Paterno's death, that's a decent source. It'd have been a borderline editorial decision on a touchy subject, but those happen thousands of times a day and rarely result in people being fired or major news organizations being told "you're wrong" about somebody's death.

Jacobi wanted to have the official story (by which I mean the CBS/ESPN/FOX Sports/Yahoo/Associated Press story) first for the benefit of himself and/or his employer. This is why:
CBS's apology rings hollow because it would never have linked that original report if multiple outlets had verified the death rapidly.
Because CBS Sports was engaged in a clear and blatant Internet sport -- search whoring.
Search whoring has taken over an awful lot of sports media -- and the Internet at large -- in the modern era. If you climb to the top of Google's search results for "Joe Paterno death" millions of people will click on your article both immediately and for years to come. Plus, you slingshot to the top of the Google News results which brings millions more hits and also serves to supplement, you guessed it, your Google search standing.
People ask, why rush to be first with a death report?
And the answer is easy. Because being first -- even if your reporting isn't original in the least, which CBS's wasn't here -- makes it rain pageviews.
Boom. Google rules all. Get the info out there "first" among the major entities, start collecting the hits (and accompanying ad revenue) and then adjust for accuracy later. It's the Twitter-fication of news.

Jacobi understands this. Like I mentioned, he made a name for himself by building up BHGP; he wasn't a 30-year beat writer who got thrown into the online world and told to write some stuff. I'm pretty sure he grasps the basic workings of search engines and the power of an online brand like CBS Sports. Stealing the Onward State report was not a mistake in that regard; it was a mistake in judgment only.

I love stuff Jacobi produces and therefore hope he finds a place to get back into the interwebs world in some meaningful capacity. That said, he deserved to be fired. He deserved to be fired not because he didn't verify a plausible report from a borderline source but because he stole information from that source and passed it off as an independent statement of fact.

The worst part is that he didn't even need to do it. Had the original report been accurate, it'd have been confirmed within an hour and every major news source would've had a real obit up immediately. The monopoly on "Joe Paterno death" searches wouldn't have even lasted long enough to have a worthwhile effect on a high-traffic site like CBS Sports. How do I know this? I just did a Google search for "Joe Paterno death" and got the following results:

1. Huffington Post
2. Huffington Post (guh)
4. CBS Sports

Considering the typical traffic levels for CBS Sports and the fact that ABC News, the L.A. Times and the New York Times were all in the top 10 without jumping the proverbial gun by 12 hours, I doubt doing so was worth more than three or four spots on the list. The irony is that the oops-related controversy has probably resulted in way more eyeballs on that page than the original report did before the Paternos came out and said "false."

And Jacobi put his job on the line for it anyway. I'm guessing he learned his lessons here, and by "lessons" I mean (a) if you're gonna report the death of a celebrity, you better either verify the hell out of it or wait for confirmation and (b) if you're gonna steal information, don't steal information that could turn out to be so humiliatingly wrong that it results in your firing/journalistic blackballing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The impending end of crappy bowl games

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the pathetic state of attendance/ratings for the BCS games and how that (and that alone) has led to the seemingly implausible situation in which basically everybody of importance has agreed that there'll be some sort of playoff starting in 2014. In summary: The few people in power who were benefiting financially are no longer doing so and thus have no reason to stop the thing everybody else wants, which is a playoff.

The attendance/ratings thing apparently goes for more than just the BCS games:
There is "growing support" among conference commissioners, athletic directors and bowl officials to increase the difficulty of becoming bowl eligible by requiring teams to have seven victories, or a winning record, when the new BCS cycle begins in 2014, multiple sources have told The seven-win requirement would also mean a handful of bowls likely would be discontinued because there would not be enough eligible teams to fill all of the current 70 berths.
This is not surprising in the slightest except inasmuch as the conferences are not totally against it, which is shocking. I still don't understand why seven bowls were approved for licenses between 2005 and 2010. An aerial shot of any pre-Christmas bowl game looks like it could easily be an aerial shot of a Marlins game in August. Nobody cares about those games because ... I mean ... what's the point of watching one crappy 6-6 team play another crappy 6-6 team in a game that doesn't mean anything?

This guy says it all in one perfect paragraph:
"The 7-5 proposal is getting serious support," a non-BCS bowl official said. "They're telling a coach 6-6 doesn't cut it, but then the coach gets a $50,000 or $100,000 bonus for a bowl game that none of the fan base wants to see. Athletic directors feel like they're pouring money down a hole, and they're getting frustrated with it. The only people making out on 6-6 bowl games are the coaches."
He's only wrong about that last part; the coaches who get a bonus for one 6-6 bowl season are liable to get fired for the next one, so it's a little bit of a stretch to say they're "making out." The people who really benefit are the old guys who make $700,000 a year to hold golf tournaments and shake hands and whatnot while the schools each lose $80,000 to send the football team and the band to Nashville or St. Petersburg (not the one in Russia).

Like I said in my earlier post, bowl games have reached a saturation point in terms of both volume and time. There's only so much interest that can be retained throughout a month of nothing and then refocused on a meaningless game against Disappointing School B. Another good quote:
"You're asking people to come across the country to watch mediocre teams," a BCS bowl official said. "They're not going to do it."
I'm not sure why it took so long to figure this out. I guess people were going across the country to watch mediocre teams (enough that those mediocre bowls were making money, anyway).

There are currently 35 bowl games. In the past two years, 27 teams that finished 6-6 or worse were yoinked up into one of them to fill an open spot because there weren't enough teams (at least not in the right conferences) with winning records. Average it out and you get about 14 teams a year, which means the seven worst games would cease to exist if those teams were postseason-ineligible. Despite my must-be-quenched thirst for MOAR FOOTBALL, this would not be a bad thing.

But it's not quite that simple since the 6-6 teams don't all get filtered into the seven crappiest games against each other and the Independence Bowl probably doesn't wanna lose a 6-6 Tennessee/Mississippi State/whoever in favor of a 7-5 Wyoming. There are obviously more than seven games that would be affected. The apparent solution: KILL THEM ALL.
If the winning record requirement did pass, bowl sources estimated up to 12 of the current 35 bowls could be "lopped off."
Wow. That's kind of a lot of lopping. The key phrase there, though, is "could be" since this isn't an entirely unilateral decision. ESPN operates seven bowl games, including the New Mexico Bowl, which had at least one 6-6 team every year until the last one. ESPN has a lot of pull; I'm skeptical that 12 games are just gonna go away quietly to the detriment of the people who are still trying to squeeze money out of them. In reality, it's more likely that seven-ish get eliminated and the others are left to either wiggle out of their conference contracts or GTFO on their own.

In case you're wondering which games are really irrelevant, SB Nation put together a handy-dandy chart:
If we went by 2011 attendance, we'd be out the following:

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: 29,878
BBVA Compass Bowl: 29,726
Idaho Potato Bowl: 28,076
New Mexico Bowl: 25,762
Military Bowl: 25,042
Poinsettia Bowl: 24,607
Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl: 20,072

TV ratings, which can't be fudged by the games themselves:

Independence: 1.53
Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl: 1.52
Military Bowl: 1.5
BBVA Compass Bowl: 1.49
Hawaii Bowl: 1.44
Armed Forces Bowl: 1.43
GoDaddy Bowl: 1.24
So there ya go. The BBVA Compass Bowl is clearly taking advantage of that exclusive January 7 timeslot.

Exactly how much all of this would improve the bowl system as a whole is debatable. The real problem with the bowls (as pointed out by Brian at MGoBlog earlier this week) is that ticket/hotel guarantees remove all financial risk from the games themselves and instead require the schools to lose money unless they sell a bajillion tickets. Hacking out the crappy bowl games wouldn't change that; it would, however, remove of a bunch of disinterested fan bases from the equation and represent a reversion to the days when getting to a bowl was something of an accomplishment, which in turn would generate more excitement for the games that do exist (thus more ticket sales and hypothetically better ratings).

It's definitely a step in the right direction, by which I mean a step away from Kraft Fight Hunger Bowls that feature UCLA and Illinois and 60 minutes of unwatchable football.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Buccaneers are persuasive and irritating

This came out of nowhere:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have finalized a five-year deal to hire Rutgers coach Greg Schiano as their new head coach, according to a league source.

The two sides had been busy putting the finishing touches on an agreement Thursday morning that gives Tampa Bay a new direction and Schiano, 45, his first NFL head coaching job, according to sources.
Greg Schiano? It was almost five years ago that Greg Schiano was the guy everybody wanted after he took Rutgers from the worst BCS-conference program in the country (seriously) to one of the best in the Big East. The Big East thing means you gotta take it with a grain of salt, but still ... he took the Michigan job for a night before changing his mind and deciding to stay at Rutgers, at which point everybody in the world figured he was just holding out for Penn State. Not so much; that job didn't turn out to be quite as desirable as it appeared in 2007.

His name hasn't really come up for anything else in the interim, possibly because of the assumed Penn State connections and possibly because he just sort of plateaued at Rutgers. In the five years since Rutgers inexplicably went 11-2, Schiano has done this:

2007: 8-5, International Bowl
2008: 8-5, Papa John's Bowl
2009: 9-4, St. Petersburg Bowl
2010: 4-8
2011: 9-4, Pinstripe Bowl

The fact that Rutgers hasn't continued on a linear path of improvement has been considered a negative even though he's actually done something very few coaches are able to do: build a program from "nothing" to "good" to "very good" and then sustain something in the "good" range for several years. Most guys bail before they get that chance; Schiano stuck around and proved he wasn't a fluke. He's got a 64-63 record to show for it, which isn't that great on the surface but is amazing when you considering what Rutgers was when he got there (basically the equivalent of Temple). He's 49-28 since his first recruits became seniors, and posting six winning seasons in seven years while averaging eight wins a year at that place in a (debatably) major conference is amazing.

And now he's gone. In case you were wondering, Schiano does have an iota of NFL experience: He actually left Penn State in 1996 to work with the Bears defensive backs for three years before getting the D-coordinator job at Miami in 1999, which worked out pretty well for both him and Miami. How much three years of position-coach experience (from a decade ago) relates to a head coaching job is pretty tough to say. I'm gonna go with "not a lot." It's not nothing. It also doesn't matter much to me since I have zero rooting interest in the Buccaneers.

As for Rutgers ... umm ... yeah. This hurts a lot. Signing Day is in five days, which isn't a realistic timeline for hiring a coach when there's no obvious successor in place. There's one big selling point, though, which is that Schiano stuck around long enough that the program itself has some cachet; kids in New Jersey and the Northeastern-ish region actually have some interest in going to Rutgers, and there's a base of talent there that's about three standard deviations away from what it was when Schiano took over. The program isn't a bad one now; it's an OK one that can regularly go to bowls and occasionally compete for Big East titles.

People are already talking up Tom Bradley ...
Bob Lichtenfels
If I am doing the search at one of my first calls is to veteran Tom Bradley.
... which would be a freakin' brilliant hire since he's basically been Penn State's coach for the last decade and is one of the best D-coordinators in the country. Do it. I'm not sure who else is out there who'd be comparable in quality to Greg Schiano and acquirable for Rutgers. I'm assuming we'll hear about Mario Cristobal (FIU) and K.C. Keeler (Delaware) and maybe Tim Murphy (Harvard).

In the meantime, O-line coach Kyle Flood has been named interim coach in an effort to salvage some semblance of a recruiting class. Seeing as how Flood has never been anything other than an offensive line coach and the AD has come out and said that a "new" coach will be hired "as soon as possible" I think it's safe to assume that Flood isn't a viable long-term option. O-coordinator Frank Cignetti apparently isn't either since he wasn't deemed worthy of being named interim coach. Maybe Flood keeps the job for the 2012 season if nobody else worthwhile is available; hard to say at this point.

Starting a coaching search on January 26: always fun.

Side note: Is it just me or is it kinda weird that the guy always assumed to Joe Paterno's successor is leaving his job -- but not for Penn State -- the day of Joe Paterno's funeral? #crazycoincidences

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

There are so many stories

The Paterno stories are everywhere. I've really had little interest in rehashing all the same arguments about how much he should have done and how much his legacy has changed and yadda yadda yadda, but seeing as how the coaching icon of my/your lifetime is gone and has left behind this trail of disagreement about exactly who/what he was and how he should be remembered, I don't feel bad about lingering a little too long on this particular subject.

I've already said my bit, although I didn't say as much as I thought at I did at the time. In a paragraph: You can't separate Joe Paterno, the man who spent a decade harboring and doing essentially nothing to stop a known child rapist on his coaching staff (this lasted 10 years and was not a "mistake," as people like to call it), from JoePa, the "educator, coach, humanitarian" who was by all accounts a truly great human being. Those things can't be separated but also can't be reconciled, which has created this tornado of ... ummm ... something. His legacy isn't one or the other; it's both, and trying to define a weight to each is a subjective process that really doesn't mean much other than to say that you're considering* both parts, which is the important thing.

This is the part where I point you to the many (so many) other takes that are worth reading. I do this sometimes when I remember that there are people who are way smarter than me. So here we go.

Bury a man, keep the statue: Start with EDSBS, as usual. He says a lot of what I was trying to say far more eloquently than I ever could. I was planning to blockquote a paragraph here but can't pick one that's more telling than the others. Just read it.

The most important thing was Sandusky: Brian at MGoBlog goes with the inverted "put it all in perspective" angle. Trying to weigh various parts of Paterno's legacy might be a subjective exercise but is still something everybody's doing, and it's hard to disagree with this:
I just can't get over how it all came crashing down. Not only did Paterno and the culture he created shelter Sandusky, Paterno did not seem to feel remorse for half a second. Maybe this is just an addled old man speaking but it is appalling that this came out of his mouth at the impromptu pep rally at his home in the immediate aftermath of the grand jury's testimony:

"The kids that were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them. Tough life, when people do certain things to you. Anyway, you’ve been great. Everything’s great, all right."

Virtually the entire media edited Paterno's statement into a less awful version because their sense of propriety could not grasp the words that had actually come out of his mouth. This was Joe Paterno.
The man wasn't the image. Interpret that as you will.

Now is not the time for silence: Fire Jerry Kill finds the big picture, and I mean that in a global sense rather than a college football one. Interestingly, he literally separates his takes on Paterno the coach and Paterno the man, which I say can't be done but maybe is the best way to do it. I dunno. Takeaway:

... it’s not all bad. Penn State students did after all set up a candlelight vigil in honor of the victims of sexual assault on their campus.

Just kidding. It was in honor of the man who helped allow that sexual abuse to continue for decades.

If you need an example of why now is the right time to remind people just how unacceptable Paterno’s silence was, there you go.

There's also a haunting quote in there from 2005 that offers some insight as to Paterno's priorities (not in a good way). The headline of this could have been the same as the MGoBlog one, I think.

Joe Paterno's true legacy: I liked the '90s version of Rick Reilly. I stopped reading him a while ago since he's not particularly funny or original or insightful anymore and there are a lot of people who are all those things who can now publish their material in an equally visible place. Anyway, Reilly takes the devil's advocate angle with a "Paterno should still be remembered as a good man because of Adam Taliaferro" piece. I don't have any problem with reminding people of the good things but do take issue with his intro and what it means:
Maybe you will never be convinced Joe Paterno was a good man who made one catastrophic mistake, but do you have time for just one story?
First of all, there are 52 kids out there with far more disturbing stories that haven't been told. Secondly, allowing one of your closest friends to avoid prosecution for over a decade is not "one catastrophic mistake." That's giving the guy waaaay too much credit for something that has to be a huge part of his legacy and not just a footnote.

The tragedy of Joe Paterno: Gene Wojciechowski deserves some serious credit for doing what almost nobody else in the mainstream media was willing to do and finding the "dark side" of Joe Paterno. I highly recommend reading this purely for the information and quotes. Teaser: Paterno picked Tim Curley as athletic director, which is backwards and totally indicative of his authoritarian rule over the department. Great paragraph:
JoePa is three-dimensional, capable of extraordinary acts of kindness and charity as well as extraordinary acts of backroom politics. But he isn't who we thought he was.

Remembering Joe Paterno: The Penn State-centric view at Black Shoe Diaries reads like something that was written a year ago and never appropriately updated. There is one sentence that briefly addresses The Stuff ...
The scandal associated with Jerry Sandusky will remain a murky, dark chapter in an expansive 61-year career and life spent doing so much good for so many people in Happy Valley and beyond. However, this is a day to celebrate ...
... and no other references at all. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose, especially when that ignorance allows a continued deification that no Penn State fan seems ready to give up. His "murky, dark chapter" isn't something that can just be glossed over in lieu of the good stuff; it doesn't work that way.

Joe Paterno and human actions: A far, far more insightful take from one of the other writers at BSD. It's relatively short and therefore not suitable for blockquoting since I'd be taking like a quarter of the narrative; just read it and tell me the rhetorical questions and last sentence don't strike a chord.

*One last thought from me: Anybody who calls Paterno a "scapegoat" or "sacrificial lamb" or anything like that in defiance of his own comments and testimony immediately loses all credibility. It's time to come to grips with reality and use more than idolizing part of your brain. That is all.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thank you, Chip Kelly

Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said Monday he has "unfinished business" at the school and turned down an offer to become coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Kelly had a last-minute change of heart after reports stated Sunday night that he and the Bucs had begun negotiating a contract.
I don't root for Oregon as a fan but also have no desire to watch the most entertaining offense in the universe get yanked out from under Phil Knight's wallet and NFL-ized to the detriment of everybody who enjoys watching really fast guys do amusing things and score touchdowns on 52-second drives. The Broncos offer some hope but aren't exactly persuasive evidence of zone-read awesomeness in the NFL.

For now, Oregon is still Oregon. Whether that's still the case a year or two from now is impossible to know. I don't doubt that Kelly will get another call at some point for a job more attractive than that one; he's only 48 and isn't getting any worse at producing ridonkulous offenses, although finding an owner willing to totally commit to his system won't happen a lot. Hopefully it won't happen at all (yeah, I'm selfish).

Side note: The site exists, is run by an Oregon fan and is apparently totally serious. Actual quote:
I have no personal vendetta against Chip. I've met him at school events and found him to be a nice enough guy, but I hold us to a higher standard than most and I think we can do better.
Hahahahahaha. The rest of the crappily formatted single-page site is equally hilarious and worth checking out purely for the laughs. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Catching up summons the Oregon money god

Chip Kelly OMG WHAT?!? Great googly moogly:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have identified Oregon head coach Chip Kelly as the main target of their search for a new head coach and the two sides are involved in active contract discussions, multiple sources close to Kelly told ESPN.

Kelly interviewed with the Buccaneers last week and the two sides are aiming to work out a deal within the next 48 hours, according to one source.
Somebody with credibility (I think it was Bruce Feldman) wrote back in November that Chip Kelly could get an NFL job if he wanted one. I was skeptical not just for the obvious offense-related reasons but also for philosophical reasons; Kelly does everything his way, from practice times to signals to in-game tempo to system-specific recruiting to things I'm sure I don't know about. I just couldn't envision any owner buying into that so totally and completely to the point that (a) he'd think Kelly could succeed and (b) Kelly would wanna work for the guy. I might have been wrong.

I'll save the conclusions for when something actually happens, but ... I mean ... wow. I don't even know what else to say right now. Somebody get Phil Knight on the phone, stat.

Oklahoma no longer has two overqualified D-coordinators: The Brent Venables/Mike Stoops thing lasted all of a week before Venables bailed Thursday for Clemson, which reportedly was in need of a new defensive coordinator after some issues of some sort in the Orange Bowl. I'm a little sketchy on the details.

Anyway, Venables: He's been Oklahoma's defensive coordinator since taking over for Stoops in 2004 and has been consistently good to very good, with the relative mediocrity the last two years (51st/55th in yardage and 33rd/31st in scoring) being the primary reason people have (temporarily) stopped talking about him for head coaching jobs. That mediocrity isn't as bad as the numbers indicate, though: FEI (adjusted for schedule and tempo) had Oklahoma's defense 12th this year, although that ranking is probably a little too high given FEI's obvious Big 12 scheduling bias this year. The point is that tempo and the Big 12's offensive ASPLOSION of late skew the numbers a bit.

Also of note: The people in the know at Oklahoma said Venables definitely wasn't forced out, which I actually believe seeing as how Stoops probably isn't long for the world of coordinator-ing. My guess is that he'll have a head job next year, at which point Oklahoma will be back in the market for a DC. In the meantime, Stoops will probably be sufficient. I might downgrade Oklahoma from top-five team to top-10 team just because of his lack of familiarity with the personnel and the position-coach turnover.

As for Clemson ... umm ... can I have some money? Venables is gonna be making $800,000, which is a lot but is barely half of what O-coordinator Chad Morris is (deservingly) making. Dabo Swinney is throwing some huge bucks around and has put together maybe the best staff in the country outside the SEC. This is an impressive accomplishment but will be met with similarly impressive expectations, by which I mean 9-3 and an occasional ACC title game appearance won't be sufficient anymore. Clemson is ballin'.

Gunner Kiel is the new Bryce Brown and/or Ron Powlus: So ... uber recruit Gunner Kiel enrolled at Notre Dame last week, which would have been totally unsurprising six months ago but definitely induced a "WTF" from me considering that he was committed to LSU just two days earlier. In case you lost track, Kiel was originally an Indiana commit but then noticed the flaming crater that is Indiana football and decommitted around midseason. He then dropped off the grid until he committed to LSU about a month ago, and he was supposed to enroll there for the spring semester only to change his mind at pretty much the last possible instant.

Upshot: Notre Dame just got the top-ranked quarterback in the country (depending on your scouting service's opinion of Jameis Winston), which is swell given the end-of-season passing-game disaster. Tommy Rees somehow got progressively worse over the course of the season and started losing playing time to Andrew Hendrix, who represents an obvious upgrade in athleticism but looks (IMO) even less coherent in the passing game than the worst version of Rees. We're talking about Brian Kelly's offense here; a good quarterback is a necessity.

I'm pretty skeptical that Kiel's gonna beat out a returning junior starter as a true freshman, but getting an entire spring's worth of snaps isn't meaningless; he'll have only slightly less meaningful playing time than Hendrix (a little) and Everett Golson (none). In other words, I like his chances as much as anybody other than Rees, who's gotta be the odds-on favorite to start as of right now but has a whole offseason to continue blowing it.

Insert Beano Cook joke here.

Michigan dismisses Darryl Stonum: Argh. Stonum missed the entire season while on suspension because of a drunken-driving arrest (his second) but was expected back next year, when he would have nominally filled Junior Hemingway's spot as the bombs-away receiver. He was also a very good kick returner who was never adequately replaced. Sadly, he won't be back at all because he's apparently incapable of following simple directions like "show up to probation meetings" and "don't drive after losing your license."

This isn't an insignificant loss. With Hemingway gone, Michigan will be severely lacking a downfield threat in the passing game, which is kind of a crucial part of the Al Borges offense. The Hemingway deep ball became a regularly deployed (and awesome) weapon when the running game got bottled up this year; the Sugar Bowl win was pure Hemingway seeing as how the offense produced about 90 yards and zero points outside of his two ridiculous touchdown catches.

Roy Roundtree is a pretty good receiver but definitely not a burner, and there's nobody waiting in the wings who fits the Stonum mold of 6-foot-3 guy who can run the 100 meters in under 11 seconds. The probable replacements: redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson, a track guy in high school who's done literally nothing to date other than earn practice hype, and junior Jeremy Jackson, a taller-but-slow guy who would be a fine complement to a dominant No. 1 wideout but won't scare anybody. Stonum and his 76 catches for 1,008 yards would obviously be preferable.

Auburn finds an O-coordinator: His name is Scott Loeffler. He was the offensive coordinator at Temple last year, which means nothing to anybody and needs to be complemented with the following information: He was Michigan's quarterback-coaching GA in the Tom Brady/Drew Henson days, Michigan's actual quarterbacks coach in the John Navarre/Chad Henne days, the Detroit Lions' quarterbacks coach in 2008 and Tim Tebow's learn-to-throw coach at Florida in 2009 and '10. His specialty: quarterbacks. Shocking tidbit: He used to be one.

Loeffler did produce a pretty good offense at Temple last year, but I'm not sure the numbers are useful in a spin-it-forward sense: Temple was seventh nationally in rushing and 116th (!) in passing. I find it unlikely that his numbers at Auburn will ever resemble those, although I've seen Auburn's quarterbacks and therefore can't put the chances at zero.

What's interesting is that Gene Chizik is replacing Gus Malzahn with essentially a pro-caliber quarterbacks coach, which would seem to indicate a change in philosophy. Maybe that's an Alabama-induced change or maybe it's just a desire to never see quarterback play as bad as what Auburn got last year; I dunno. Either way, expect less read option and trick-play hilarity and expect more of a pass-based offense that should (hypothetically) be more of a draw for pro-aspiring quarterbacks than the Malzahn craziness. Whether that produces a better offense remains to be seen. Auburn fans are laughably overdramatic in general but have some valid reasons for concern given Loeffler's lack of playcalling experience at anywhere relevant.

The Colts want Jim Tressel: Mmmkay. You wanna hire a 59-year-old coach with zero NFL experience (time as a replay assistant doesn't count) who's the namesake for let-the-other-team-screw-up football to rebuild your 2-14 team that's about to draft a franchise quarterback? Good luck with that.

I'm eagerly awaiting the commencement of this train wreck.

These numbers need to be fact-checked: This is from the ESPN story on Alabama's championship celebration thingy:
The Crimson Tide celebrated the title in the same fashion it did Saban's first with the Tide two years ago, nearly two weeks after that 21-0 victory over LSU. The coaches and players crowded onto a stage set up at midfield while highlights played on the videoboards and left tackle Barrett Jones and departing stars like Trent Richardson, Dont'a Hightower and Mark Barron spoke after winning what the school counts as the program's 14th national title.
The qualifying "what the school counts as" comment seems weird but is totally necessary for the following reason: That number is absurd. Alabama has not won 14 national titles by any measure other than the one that says "if somebody somewhere lists us as No. 1, we're national champions!"

Here ya go:
1926: Alabama tied Stanford 7-7 in the Rose and was selected national champions by Billingley and Helms Athletic Foundation. Season record 9-0-1.

1941: After going 8-2 in the regular season, Alabama finished #20 and was selected to play Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Bama won 29-21 and was selected by Houlgate as national champions.
BTW, both the AP poll and coaches' poll -- in different years -- moved their end-of-season vote to after the bowl games following a championship for Alabama that looked ridiculous after Bama got killed in a bowl game.

The official count, according to ESPN and everybody who doesn't have a son named "Bear" or "Bryant," is nine. So Alabama has nine national titles, which is impressive enough in its own right that it doesn't need ridiculous embellishments based on Joe's Confederate Poll of 1917.

Joe Paterno lasted 74 days

The headline says it all: Joe Paterno made it 74 days from the termination of his job to the termination of his life after seemingly not aging even the slightest bit in my entire lifetime. Even after The Stuff, it's hard to grasp that. Maybe he really did need football that much.

The general feeling of sadness is (at least for me) combined with something else; I guess I'd call it disappointment. I'm not sure if that's disappointment at the actions/inactions of a seemingly good human being or disappointment that what should have been a celebration of arguably the best college football coach in the history of history is instead this unsettling sadness/disappointment combo. It's a strange combination. Death is something that's either expected, which allows for some preparation and therefore negates the possibility of post-death disappointment since everybody knows it's coming, or unexpected, which definitely amplifies the sadness but usually combines it with anger or an answer-seeking sort of depression rather than disappointment. This is different because of the events of the last 74 days and the idea that Joe Paterno is no longer JoePa. He can't be JoePa.

Just to be clear, I'm not on board with the definitely-out-there idea that this is some sort of twisted karmic justice. Even if that sort of thing existed, wouldn't it have happened, like, way back when it would have mattered? Besides, I like to think that the kind of God with the power and desire to strike someone dead for a malum in se would have done so to Jerry Sandusky a looong time ago. Joe Paterno dying is just an 85-year-old man dying after losing the thing he lived for. Bear Bryant lasted 37 days after retiring; Joe Paterno lasted twice as long, which is a ridiculous way to think about that amount of time.

There's a sidebar on ESPN right now with the headline, "Legacy outweighs scandal." I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. First of all, how do you define a weight to what just happened when it's both so morally horrifying and so recent? And secondly, I don't think the two can be separated like that. The scandal is a ginormous part of his legacy now. Whether it's the most ginormous is a matter of debate, but it's definitely up there. The way I see it, the only way in which that headline is accurate is this one: Joe Paterno will always be the legendary Penn State coach (first and foremost) whose career ended because of his role in some unspeakable awfulness. The "Penn State coach" part has to come first because it's what Joe Paterno was, is and always will be. I literally cannot envision Joe Paterno doing something other than coaching Penn State or wearing something other than his typical sideline attire. He'll forever be attached to Penn State, which is obviously uncomfortable right now for some people at Penn State but isn't a choice.

While his death in and of itself isn't a bad thing for Penn State in the CLEAN ALL OF THE THINGS mission, it's unfortunate that there's now zero possibility that the school can recognize/honor the guy in an appropriate (based on his net contributions) and timely manner. How do you do that and reconcile it with The Stuff? You don't. You do something at the first home game and/or put a patch on the jerseys or whatever and then move on as Bill O'Brien's Penn State, which doesn't really exist but is something ephemeral to hold onto in an otherwise chaotic and divisive mess. I don't feel sorry for Paterno in that regard -- he brought his firing on himself through morally inexplicable inaction -- but I do feel sorry for the Disney-fied part of me that requires happy endings, which this definitely isn't. It's sad that it's come to this, really.

I wrote this right after finding out Paterno had been fired:
I always assumed I'd wake up one day and he'd just be gone -- not retired or fired but gone. There's nobody I can think of who's more directly associated with a school/team, and after he made it through the meh mid-2000s with his job security intact, I figured he'd be at Penn State until the day he died. Nothing else would be right (for a given definition of "right").
Joe Paterno is gone, and whether the way it all went down was "right" (a loaded word in this context) doesn't matter now. His legacy is what it is, ending included.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

There are 24.2 million TV sets in SEC country

I was planning to expand on this much more eloquently but got beaten to the punch by somebody smarter than me who's definitely worth reading since he said a lot of the things I intended to say.

Anyway ... the ratings were awful for the BCS championship game: 24.2 million people watched, which seems decent in a vacuum but represents by far the worst number ever for a title game. Some people are blaming the switch to ESPN/cable, but that actually happened last year, when about 27 million people (about 11 percent more) watched the Auburn-Oregon game. The actual ratings, which are calculated kinda weirdly, were down 14 percent from last year and 24 percent from 2009. That's bad.

And on a directly related note:
The Rose, Orange, Sugar and BCS Championship all sank in the ratings this season, with West Virginia's 70-33 rout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl drawing just a 4.5 rating, making it the lowest-rated game in BCS history.
That's a trend with little to no relation to the switch to cable, especially when you consider that bowl attendance (which is ridiculously exaggerated anyway) is at a 33-year low. Interesting quote:
It's why Tina Kunzer-Murphy, executive director of Las Vegas' Maaco Bowl and chair of the Football Bowl Association, says BCS and other bowl administrators "have to look at what's going on" in the postseason. "Can you tweak it? Can you make some changes?"
IMO, there are two big-picture problems. The first (and the bigger of the two) is that bowls have reached a saturation point, both in terms of volume and time. There are so many bowls spread out over so much time that general fan interest has waned by mid-January and shifted to the NFL/NBA/whatever, especially when the title-game matchup isn't something with a ton of national appeal (anything other than a Texas-USC hypefest, basically). The second problem, which is systemic, is that none of the games other than the last one mean anything and therefore aren't going to attract the casual football fan unless there's some other compelling storyline. There's really only one way around that.

The combination has led to the aforementioned plummeting ticket sales and ad rates (via viewership), which in turn has created a tipping point: The BCS as we know it is about to end.

This is from the New York Times:
Interviews with conference commissioners, athletic directors and television industry officials revealed that change to the current structure of college football’s postseason was imminent.
And this is from The Sporting News:

Years from now, this BCS National Championship Game won’t be remembered so much for Alabama’s utter domination of LSU as it will the beginning of radical change in college football. A national playoff is coming, everyone.

It’s only a matter of what it looks like.

“It gets done,” a high-ranking BCS official told Sporting News Monday evening.

It'll get done because the bowl execs who were plundering the system at the expense of everybody (including the schools) can no longer plunder to any significant benefit, which means nobody's benefiting financially when there really should be a Scrooge McDuck-esque pile of cash for everyone to swim in courtesy of a playoff. This is to say nothing of the general frustration that's been building for years among the non-BCS schools and has now spread to everybody outside of the SEC because of its self-fulfilling prophecy of dominance. Whether that frustration would have been sufficient for major change without the ratings/attendance stuff is hard to say but is now irrelevant.

Upshot: There will be some sort of four-team playoff starting in 2014. Even Jim Delany (!!!) is ready to accept this, which is basically a sign of the college football apocalypse. Everybody who matters is on board. A plus-one is by far the most likely scenario, but there are apparently a bunch of other ideas (although none have been explained publicly) that are gonna get kicked around by the conference commissioners this summer, at which point a consensus will be reached and the internet will explode with exhilarating satisfaction.

It's happening. Commence speculation about the logistics.

Catching up hires all of the coordinators

I bet they used the Tigerettes in this recruitment: Auburn recovered nicely from the Mark Stoops thing this week by hiring spectacularly mustachioed Falcons defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder, who was not in danger of getting fired after his D finished 12th in yardage and 18th in scoring this season. Getting a quality NFL defensive coordinator to be a college coordinator = win.

He also gets bonus points for being a former SEC guy: Van Gorder was the D-coordinator at Georgia from 2001-04 and won the Broyles Award in 2003, the middle year of a three-year stretch in which Georgia had a top-15 defense ever year. He then took an assistant job with the Jaguars, left to be be head coach at Georgia Southern for a year and then we back to the NFL with the Falcons, where he's been DC for four seasons. Fun fact: Van Gorder actually started his coaching career as defensive coordinator at Grand Valley State alongside Brian Kelly. #themoreyouknow

Anyway, Auburn's defenses were not particularly good the last couple years under Ted Roof (this year's version was downright bad at 79th in scoring and 81st in yardage), and Van Gorder would seem to represent significant improvement. Here's an odd tidbit from the AJC story:
In college at Georgia, he had a penchant for blitzing. But during his Falcons tenure, his unit played mostly zone coverage.
Those things aren't mutually exclusive, Guy Who Thinks He Knows About Football. The book is that his run defenses are swell and his pass defenses sometimes have issues, but that shouldn't be much of an issue in the SEC (zing!).

I've seen nothing about salary so far, but given that he just left a decently paying and decently successful NFL job for a college one in Pressureville, Alabama, I'm willing to bet he'll be raking in over a million bucks a year. Must be nice to have Bobby Lowder subsidizing an unlimited payroll.

Ted Roof's lengthy tenure at UCF is over: Speaking of the guy who wasn't very good at Auburn, Ted Roof's long and distinguished one-month career at Central Florida came to an end Tuesday when Penn State came calling.
Multiple sources confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel Ted Roof is leaving UCF after 33 days to take over as Penn State's defensive coordinator. UCF is holding off on officially confirming the news until Penn State formally introduces all its new assistant coaches, including Roof, later this week.

New Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and Roof worked together on (George) O'Leary's staff at Georgia Tech and at Duke. O'Brien and Roof remain very close friends.
LinkSo there ya go. That pretty much answers the question of whether he was forced out at Auburn or just had some fascination with working for O'Leary in Orlando.

I was still a big Roof fan a couple years ago but can't really get past the mediocrity at Auburn the last two years in an SEC full of crappy offenses. For a comparative point, consider that this year's D was 11th in the SEC (?!?) in both yardage and scoring (only the tire fire at Ole Miss was worse). That's bad. Roof does have one Big Ten data point: He was DC at Minnesota in 2008 and had a defense that finished 80th in yardage and 61st in scoring, numbers that are pretty good by Minnesota-in-the-2000s standards (that team went 7-6, BTW). That team also ended the year on a five-game losing streak in which the defense gave up 37 points per game against a murderer's row of bad offenses that included Northwestern, Michigan and Iowa.

Penn State has been very good for years almost solely because Tom Bradley is one of the best D-coordinators in the country; Roof probably was in that group seven or eight years ago but isn't anymore. Penn State will probably regress significantly on defense over the next couple years, even if it's by default, and only a major offensive epiphany is going to be enough to counter that.

Mike Stoops has a job: He's headed back to Oklahoma, according to everybody:
As first reported by Norman's Dean Blevins, former Arizona Wildcats coach Mike Stoops will be reunited with his brother Bob Stoops on the Oklahoma Sooners coaching staff, Joe Schad confirmed Wednesday. He'll reportedly take over as co-defensive coordinator, with Willie Martinez' exit making room on the staff.
No surprise there. BTW, Martinez (Oklahoma's secondary coach) is reportedly leaving to pick between the D-coordinator jobs at Kansas and Illinois.

Stoops was DC at Oklahoma back in the golden days of 1999-2003 before taking the head job at Arizona, and those defenses were good ... almost exactly as good as they've been under Brent Venables. Venables isn't super popular right now after the Baylor and Oklahoma State debacles but is still pretty highly regarded around the country and will probably be running his own program within the next two years. Here's some mandatory reading from Sooner Nation (gotta have ESPN Insider, though) about the oversimplification of the criticism by the torch-and-pitchfork crowd that wants Venables' head. Keep in mind that Oklahoma's pace of play (which has gradually increased to "ludicrous speed") and the general offensive explosion in the Big 12 skew the numbers a bit toward the negative for Venables.

In other words, Oklahoma will have two hilariously overqualified defensive coordinators. Whether that results in notable improvement remains to be seen, but I'd definitely take my chances if I could Mike Stoops on my staff as an assistant (to the) defensive coordinator.

Jeff Casteel is headed to Arizona (it's officially official): Best coordinator hire of the offseason? Maybe. Casteel is that good and that important to Arizona's big-picture success since having a good defense (the 3-3-5 being RichRod's preference) is kinda important. This is taken directly from the section of my Rodriguez-to-Arizona novel about the disaster that was Michigan's defense under Rodriguez:
Jeff Casteel could have changed that. A large part of West Virginia's awesomeness under RichRod was a kinda-unique 3-3-5 stack D that didn't get much recognition but was actually pretty good; they've now finished in the top 15 in total defense three times in the past six years and have been in the top 40 every year but one since Casteel became the full-time D-coordinator in '05. The guy knows what he's doing. He also had a deal in place with Michigan (just like every other member of that West Virginia staff other than totally illogical replacement Bill Stewart) before bailing at the last minute when Stewart offered him a significant raise and a three-year guarantee, something Michigan wouldn't match because Michigan is just so awesome that everybody should coach there for free (duh). If Jeff Casteel ends up at Arizona next year, there's a good chance I'll throw something at the wall and start questioning my existence. There's also a good chance Arizona will be really good in the near future.
My head would be asploding right now if Michigan hadn't just won a BCS game.

As for Arizona, Greg Byrne deserves some credit for being willing to pony up (insert Jeff Casteel's salary here) to get the guy RichRod spent the last three years wishing he'd have demanded, and I guess RichRod deserves some credit for demanding him and getting him. UA now has one of the top three coaching staffs in the conference. The "really good in the near future" thing might be overly optimistic but doesn't seem unreasonable with the guys Alabama wanted before hiring Nick Saban.

Marcus Coker is definitely gone: As you may or may not recall, Iowa suspended Marcus Coker indefinitely before the Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma. He was dismissed this week, which ... I mean ... obviously. Starting at running back for Iowa guarantees doom (there's a reason BHGP has an "Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God" tag).

This also guarantees doom:
Iowa running back Marcus Coker played the final five games of the regular season while police were investigating an allegation that he sexually assaulted a woman, authorities acknowledged Wednesday.

Weeks after authorities decided not to pursue the case, the 19-year-old sophomore was suspended. And this week, he abruptly left the program.

Authorities said they decided to drop their investigation into Coker sometime in late November or early December. While they can bring charges even if victims do not cooperate, Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said it is her office's policy to defer to alleged victims and the woman "did not wish to pursue charges."

Hoo boy. That's not so good. It's a little unclear if he was actually dismissed or left somewhat voluntarily; the only person commenting publicly is Coker's attorney, who's assuredly unbiased and has no reason to spin anything.

Asked whether Coker's decision to leave was linked to the public release of the incident report, Coker's attorney paused.

"Any decision like this is bound to be complicated and thoughtfully considered," Spies said.

No doubt. Regardless, Coker's done at Iowa and there is no viable replacement because there are simply no running backs left. This rundown from BHGP is absurd and ends with a horrifyingly ridiculous summary:
That's fourteen defections by twelve players in seven classes of recruits, and that list doesn't even include Class of 2011 defector Mika'il McCall or Rodney Coe, who failed to qualify. Coker's class still includes DeAndre Johnson; should he leave, that would make it seventeen consecutive defections from fifteen consecutive players.

This is no longer funny. This is a plague, and it has no rhyme or reason beyond its indiscriminate effect on running backs.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Canzeri, who has 31 career carries (22 of them in the Insight Bowl for a whopping for 58 yards), is the nominal backup. As noted by BHGP, DeAndre Johnson also allegedly exists. That's the extent of the depth chart. Yikes.

Michael Dyer is headed to Arkansas State: As expected. I wrote about the Auburn impact last week, but as for Dyer, he'll have to sit out the 2012 season (unless he gets a hardship waiver) and then should dominate the Sun Belt for a year or two given. The guy was starting for Auburn as a freshman and will have more experience with Gus Malzhan's offense than anybody else on the team, even after sitting out for a year.

Speaking of which, Arkansas State went 10-2 last year to win the Sun Belt and now has Auburn's offensive coordinator, Pitt's defensive coordinator and the 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year at running back. That doesn't seem fair.

Brian Kelly is probably safe: Notre Dame gave Brian Kelly a two-year contract extension Tuesday. Contracts mean almost nothing in the world of coaching but do serve as a PR indicator of satisfaction, and the consensus among ND fans since the end of the regular season had been that Kelly would need a pretty good (like 9-3 or better) 2012 season to save his job. The extension means that's probably not the case, nor should it be given the schedule:

Sept. 1 Navy (Dublin, Ireland)
Sept. 8 PURDUE
Sept. 15 at Michigan State
Oct. 6 MIAMI (Soldier Field, Chicago)
Oct. 20 BYU
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma
Nov. 10 at Boston College
Nov. 2 at USC

Great googly moogly. ND will be favored in about half of those games and doesn't have a MAC-caliber team on the schedule. That's impressive from a scheduling standpoint but has to be horrifying from Kelly's standpoint since finishing somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-5 is likely.

Whether the extension means he's definitely safe is unknowable as of right now. I can't see him surviving a total disaster (like 4-8), which isn't out of the question given the schedule and the quarterback situation, but I think there's enough administrative support that even a crappy bowl game would be sufficient to keep him around for 2013, when the schedule eases up and anything short of a BCS bowl game will be UNACCEPTABLE RABBLE RABBLE. It'd probably be better for him to just win nine or 10 games this year and not have to find out.

The guys are leaving: ARGH SO MANY GUYS (and this list doesn't include the ones I've already mentioned) : Robert Griffin III (officially), LaMichael James, Luke Kuechly, David Wilson, Alshon Jeffery, Jerel Worthy, Donte Paige-Moss, Jayron Hosley, Ronnie Hillman, Brock Osweiler, Chris Polk, Bernard Pierce, Edwin Baker, Peter Konz, Ronnell Lewis, Orson Charles, Dwayne Allen and some others.

The list is currently at 41, which means we need about a dozen more to get to the typical low-50s quota. The deadline is January 15.

Bobby Hebert really liked LSU's gameplan: Mandatory video:

I will never understand how Les Miles didn't either (a) get up and leave or (b) let loose with a string of horrifying profanities. I award him 1,000 meaningless points for not exploding. BTW, standard media rules do not apply to Bobby Hebert. He's just that ... umm ... special.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Football Season Is Over

It's been fun. No more of the good stuff for 235 days (a headline reference/explanation seems appropriate here).

To the best offseason piece ever written:
... you will face the winter again, holding the note and understanding the urge to write those words on a sheet of paper: "Football season is over."

The experience, though, is now more than enough. The wind may cut through me now. It's an indicator that I'm alive, completely and fully alive in the indefinite span between arrivals and departures. This all matters so much more now, all of it, football and every other absurd fixation, the time, the space, the diversion, and most of all who you share it with, because it is finite, borrowed, and ultimately reclaimed. Its scarcity is its value; its pleasure is in its ultimate end. Its consolation is its rebirth and continuation.

In the depth of winter I finally learned there was in me an eternal September.
I think I can make it.

Monday, January 09, 2012

OK, that was convincing

Wow. Let the record show that my previous post should be stricken from the interwebs and forgotten by everybody. That was a convincing win; it ended at 21-0 but could have been much worse. Alabama is a deserving national champion.

I'm not sure exactly how many games LSU would have to play against Alabama to score more than 21 offensive points, but it's a lot. Seriously: 92 total yards, five first downs and one possession across midfield (only briefly before a strip sack ended it) tonight and six regulation points in two games. That's complete and utter defensive domination. Nick Saban just pwned Steve Kragthorpe and Greg Studwara.

On a related note, Alabama's defense should and will go down as one of the best in history. The numbers say so: 183 yards and 8.15 points per game. Ridiculous.

That said, the shutout doesn't mean as much to me (given LSU's off-and-on bouts of total offensive crapitude this year) as the ability to consistently move the ball and produce points of any type. Alabama had 10 field-goal attempts (!), one touchdown and one almost touchdown against LSU in two games, which is waaaay more than LSU did against Alabama. That's why I'm now willing to believe I now believe that Alabama is a better team than LSU and the resume stuff is totally irrelevant. I can't really argue after that.

BTW, Saban might be the dirtiest dirtbag in the land of dirtbags but is also the best coach in the country. The guy now has three national championships in 11 years in the SEC; Urban Meyer is the only other active coach with more than one anywhere. Lou Holtz's senility is sometimes beautifully accurate:
"Saban ... is a greedy sucker, and I say that very complimentary."
That's perfect, although I'm not sure greediness is possible for an emotionless robot coach with no heart and only a bunch of .exe files that must be executed perfectly at the risk of SABAN ERROR YELL!

Anyway ... Alabama. Like I said earlier, I (and everybody else) would've loved to have seen Bama-Oklahoma State for that one definitive data point, but since it's not gonna happen, I gotta go with the two things I know: (a) Alabama is better than LSU and (b) a convincing win over the unanimous No. 1 team in the country >>> a miraculous overtime win over the No. 4-ish team in the country.

Alabama it is.

A season's worth of data means something

At some point on some website (I can't remember which one) some number of years ago in a galaxy far, far away, somebody wrote a piece about the pointlessness of trying to determine the relative quality of two teams based on one game. The premise was that every team has a season's worth of data that demonstrates a range of possible performances. Here's an uber-simplistic visual interpretation:

Obviously a good team can play well and beat a great team that plays poorly; that doesn't necessarily mean the good team is better than the great team. This seems stupidly simple but has an important takeaway: A single game is not nearly as important in the big picture as the cumulative data, which is obviously modified by each game but is based on the season as a whole.

LSU is the national champion of this season. LSU has beaten Alabama (in Tuscaloosa), Oregon (on a neutral field), Arkansas, West Virginia (in Morgantown), Auburn and Georgia (on a neutral field). Only one of those games was within two touchdowns. Even if there were a playoff, there'd still be no way for any team to put together a more impressive resume. As it stands now, the best Alabama can do is finish 12-1 with a a split against LSU and a remaining group of wins that don't compare. Based on an entire season's worth of data, there's basically nothing Alabama can do tonight to earn a true national championship.

The "basically" qualifier is necessary because there's about a 0.1 percent chance that Alabama wins by several touchdowns, which would pretty convincingly swing Alabama ahead of LSU from a head-to-head standpoint and, by proxy, an overall standpoint. Assuming it's a competitive game and nothing forces me to believe that Bama is definitely better, LSU wins by virtue of ... like ... everything.

This is not a totally novel opinion. The AP published a pretty interesting survey of its voters last week on the chances of a split national championship, and among the interesting quotes was this from Erik Gee of KNML-Am in Albuquerque:
"I will vote for LSU no matter what happens in the National Championship game. How in the world can they be the SEC west champ, the outright SEC champ, and lose to Alabama in a neutral-site game (I guess you can debate the Superdome being a neutral site) after they have already beaten them in Tuscaloosa, have the series split 1-1 and not at least have a share of the National Title?"
There's also this from Joe Giglio of The News & Observer in Raleigh:
"Unless Alabama absolutely dominates LSU and leaves no doubt that it is a superior football team, I will be voting for LSU. I am voting for the No. 1 team in the country for the 2011 season, not the result of one game. In the case of this rematch presented by the BCS, you have to consider the scope of the entire season, not the timing of one loss."
BOOM LOGIC'D. Joe Giglio's ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to his newsletter.

There's apparently a third option that I hadn't really considered (I'll explain why momentarily). This is from Kyle Ringo of the Daily Camera in Boulder:
"If Alabama and Oklahoma State both win, I'll have a hard time deciding between the two. Guess margin of victory might be the deciding factor. I'd probably lean toward OSU in that case because of its superior overall body of work."
Ehhh ... I dunno. The "superior overall body of work" thing makes sense except for the part about ignoring LSU, which will have the most superior overall body of work no matter what. You could easily make an argument that Oklahoma State had a better season than a hypothetically 12-1 Alabama; you couldn't make that argument intelligently without realizing that LSU was better than both. The only way LSU won't be better than both is with a convincing loss that would, by definition, be a convincing win for Alabama, at which point No. 2a's convincing win over No. 1 would be far more meaningful than No. 2b's miraculous win over No. 4. I'd love to see Oklahoma State play LSU or Alabama but will never get that chance and can't manifest it by voting illogically.

None of this matters at all to the BCS, of course. The coaches' poll will reflect that whoever wins the championship game is the Undisputed Champion of the World (with T-shirts!), which means the supposedly ginormous value of the regular season is reduced to zero. That might be fine in most instances, but a rematch is not most instances.

LSU has already earned it. Whatever happens tonight is postscript and not conclusion unless LSU wins, which would render this moot and therefore is exactly what I'm rooting for.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

An ideal job in a not-at-all-ideal situation

Bill O'Brien is the guy in the picture right above these words, which is probably useful information since you had no idea what Bill O'Brien looked like before Penn State hired him Friday. He's currently the Patriots' offensive coordinator and is all of 42, which means he wasn't even born yet when Joe Paterno became head coach and the pyramids were under construction and Columbus was sailing the ocean blue and whatnot.

He also has no connection whatsoever to Penn State or Joe Paterno and isn't Tom Bradley, which has resulted in some ... umm ... questionable reactions. Here's Lavar Arrington:
"I'm done all my PSU stuff will be down before obriens introduction! We are! No more for me!"
Here's Brandon Short:
“There is a tangible standard at Penn State that this poor (O’Brien) guy knows nothing about,” Short said in the USA Today piece. “I feel badly for him (because) he is clueless and will not have the support of the majority of the Lettermen. This is a hornet’s nest (for him).”
A bunch of other Penn State people said similar things, which (sadly) made Short correct. These are apparently the only people in the world who aren't grasping that not having a connection to Penn State is a positive right now for reasons that don't need much explanation.

I cede the floor to Bill Reiter, who wrote a pretty good piece for

Note that Arrington and those like him didn’t decide to be done with Penn State when the Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal first broke. Notice he and those like him — as detailed allegations of evil and horror spread, made possible in part because of football and Penn State — did not suddenly decide it was time to take their loyalties elsewhere.

But now — now that a longtime Paterno assistant, Penn State insider and one-time Sandusky friend gets passed over — now’s the time for moral self-righteousness, threats of separation and “change-or-I’m-going” hand wringing?


I was mentally debating the other day whether it should matter that a hypothetically great coach with Penn State connections who didn't know about the bad stuff (this hypothetical guy could be called Bom Tradley) was never gonna be a serious candidate, but I realized at some point that whether it should matter is irrelevant because it does matter. Doing things that logically make no sense is sometimes necessary in a world where perception matters a lot.

This was not a coaching hire. This was a PR hire with a secondary emphasis on being a good football coach. It's kinda hard to write about the guy in any normal coaching-hire terms when he was given the job at least partially to serve as a move-on-and-forget-about-the-stuff patsy and the program itself is a smoking, still-radioactive crater.

A lot of observant Michigan fans watched Penn State implode after the O'Brien hire and thought, "Hey, this reject-the-organ-transplant thing seems kinda familiar." Brian at MGoBlog put together a super-useful letter of advice to Penn State fans with this tidbit that pretty much tells the story:
Do not regard Bill O'Brien as a person who can succeed or fail. He is doomed. You will put him in your mouth and gnaw on him and once you swallow him and dissolve him in your stomach acids you can get on with things. Bill O'Brien is football pickled Jesus ginger. He will die for your sins … (or) someone's, anyway.

... Certain players you loved are going to firebomb the program until Football Pickled Jesus Ginger is gone and someone with a tangential relationship to Paterno is found, whereupon they will say they knew it all along. They will not acknowledge their contributions to the situation.
Insert awkward sound that accompanies loosening of necktie. Things will be uncomfortable for everybody. There's a reason nobody wanted a job that's still one of the 10-ish best in the country from a purely football-oriented standpoint.

As much as Penn State doesn't want to be Joe Paterno right now, Penn State will be Joe Paterno until enough time (and death) has intervened; I'm not sure what amount of time that will encompass, but it's substantial. Penn State will not be Bill O'Brien unless Bill O'Brien wins so much in the short-term future that he just becomes the guy who ushered Penn State out of the thing and into a New Era of Awesomeness.

The chances of that happening are somewhere close to zero. It's far more likely that he fields a few substandard teams, gets the Bill Callahan treatment from everybody and gives way to the aforementioned "tangential connection to Paterno guy" once a few powerful people on the Board of Trustees determine that X number of years is sufficient and a return to glory is in order. Fortunately for them, replacing Bill O'Brien will be far more appealing than replacing Joe Paterno amid ... umm ... you know. The radioactive thing and the dying legend and all that.

But since there does exist in the spectrum of possibilities a sliver in which O'Brien wins a lot and everybody (eventually) loves him, I will briefly consider his coaching abilities/resume/other stuff. Other stuff like this:

Russ Rose, women's volleyball coach and another member of the search committee, said he liked O'Brien's confidence during the interview.

"I liked the fact that he said, 'I'm a hell of a football coach.' I think it's important we hire a hell of a football coach," Rose said. "I took it as a real positive that he had confidence he was a good football coach."

Errr yes. So he's an egotistical offensive coordinator from the Bill Belichick tree. VICTORY IS INEVITABLE.

The thing that makes him not Charlie Weis (other than about 200 pounds) is the college experience: O'Brien has been in New England for the last five years but spent the entirety of his pre-Patriots career in college, first as a position coach at various schools and then as an O-coordinator at Georgia Tech (2001 and '02) and Duke (2005 and '06). So his college resume isn't built on telling Tom Brady to be really good. It also isn't built on a lot of dominance; it's basically filled with a bunch of fairly generic East Coast assistant jobs.

In case you were wondering, O'Brien had slightly above-average offenses at Georgia Tech but terrible ones at Duke (to be fair, it was Duke). The Patriots are the Patriots and therefore not a college program. Trying to extrapolate strategical/numerical information from that is pretty much useless. The only valuable data points are the ones on his resume that show him coaching college kids and being productive and respected enough to keep moving up to slightly better jobs.

Whether he can recruit or not doesn't really matter. Recruiting to Penn State is going to be basically impossible for the next two-plus years (although he probably elevated his next few classes from nonexistent to mediocre by retaining Larry Johnson Sr., who's been at Penn State forever and regularly lands a whole bunch of talented East Coast guys who end up either wasting their talent in Penn State's caveman-designed offense or destroying people on defense and getting picked in the first round). By the time his recruits matter, he'll have established himself as the doomed guy or the maybe-we'll-give-this-guy-a-chance guy. That won't be fair, but nobody other than O'Brien will care about the fairness of his job assessment by then.

Maybe he'll have a chance. He'll also have a bunch of moronic people treating him like crap because of who he isn't, which is lame but is apparently an inherent flaw in major programs that can't let go of the family thing. Some version of Bill O'Brien had to be hired and will probably have to be fired a few years from now so Penn State can be Penn State again and everybody can wash their hands of The Thing and pretend it's 1986 and the bad stuff never happened. They will say "We Are Penn State" without any negative connotation. Bill O'Brien will not be thanked except for the unspoken gratitude of the few sane people in Happy Valley who understand the extent of the nuclear wasteland he's walking into.

O'Brien knows and doesn't care. Maybe it's the ego. Maybe it's the recognition of what Penn State can/should be. I dunno. I also don't know whether I should feel sorry for the guy or laugh at him for taking his coaching career and basically offering it to the gods as a sacrifice in honor of Penn State. I think I'll go with the latter for now; there'll probably be time for the former a few years down the road.

Being perfect off the field and the rough equivalent of the winningest coach ever on the field is an impossible standard. It's also what Bill O'Brien will have to do to turn the uncomfortable disaster that is Penn State into Bill O'Brien's Penn State. Good luck with that.

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