Thursday, December 29, 2005

Football Thursday, near-end-of-season notes.

Ha! I won my one pre-season bet, the "under" on the Falcons winning 10 games this year. That was based on them not being as good as their record last year, and on Michael Vick remaining popularly described as a "great athlete for a QB", which is polite footballese for "can't pass".

Two weeks ago against the Bears -- a critical game to reach 10 wins -- as matters held in the balance midway in the third quarter, Vick was all of 4 of 17 for 16 yards, less than one yard per attempt, when he threw the game-sealing interception.

I should've mortgaged the house.

Meanwhile, my own Jetsies, who at one point this season were down to playing their fifth-string QB (now back up to fourth) are watched over by God. In 1970 they played the first Monday Night Football game losing 31-21, and now in 2005 they've played the last one, losing 31-21. Is this not proof of Intelligent Design? Of perhaps a malicious sort? God does not like them.

And does anybody have worse sports coverage than the New York Times for the amount of money they spend on it? Worse than bad, it's pretentious, pretentious sports coverage. Yuck.

Latest example: the the Times Sunday Magazine cover story, no less, by Michael Lewis, on coach Mike Leach of Texas Tech -- apparently an Einsteinian genius, as he is pictured on the cover thinking about "expanding SPACE and stretching TIME".

Theme of the story: This innovative genius, in spite of his huge success, is doomed never to get a better job by a conspiracy of the mediocre minds who are threatened by him...
"The chances of that happening can't be great ... Leach remains on the outside. Like all innovators in sports, he finds himself in an uncertain social position.

"He has committed a faux pas: he has suggested by his methods that there is more going on out there on the (unlevel) field of play than his competitors realize, which reflects badly on them."
See, organizations that make huge $$$$ by winning football games would never hire a coach who wins more than anybody else, beating everybody in sight, if he does so while committing the social "faux pas" of innovating. That kind of bad taste spoils the money. ;-)

Hey, is it even possible to commit a "faux pas" in football? In Texas football? Has anybody but the Times ever written of such a thing?

And what are this coach's Einstein-like innovations, exactly? Well...

He stretches time by passing frequently to stop the clock. And he stretches space by throwing to a lot of different points all over the field.

He uses five receivers on a regular basis -- as nobody has ever seen, well, since they ran the run-and-shoot all the way across state at Houston.

He runs plays to see how the defense responds, then adjusts ... He lets his quarterback call audibles ... He emphasizes physical conditioning, and tells his players to hit, quote: "Be the hammer, not the nail".

Yes, he's a master of motivational slogans too!

"Do your job. DO - YOUR - JOB!"

"You go out and knock the living dog snot out of people."

"You get after him - get after him like he stole something from you."
Plus, he's astute at reading the body language of the opposition -- he knows when they're tired and attacks them!

"The minute you see the defensive line bent over and their hands on their hips, that's when you know you have them."
(Now there's a unique coaching insight worth a cover story of the New York Times Magazine! )

Want more? He has an uncannily innovative play-calling technique:

When a play doesn't work, he puts an X next to it. When a play works well, he draws a circle beside it - "to remind myself to run it again."
I mean, c'mon ... I read the whole story and tried to find one new coaching innovation I didn't know about when I was a 12-year-old fan rooting for Joe Namath. Couldn't find one (except for how the coach deems it outright virtuous, when winning, to call time out with 15 seconds left to try to run up the score -- a technique, it is reported, the Luddite coaches on the losing sidelines sadly aren't innovative enough to appreciate).

And as for Coach Leach being socially ostracized by the football community out of any chances of advancement, the story starts by setting this background...

In this part of the country, the University of Texas and Oklahoma University are the old-money football schools ... Leach moved to Oklahoma [as offensive coordinator] for a single season, 1999. That year Oklahoma went from 101st to 8th in the country in offensive scoring ... The next year, running Leach's offense, Oklahoma won the national championship - but by then Texas Tech had picked up the pattern and hired Leach to run its team.
Leach is so ostracized that at the age of 38 he was running the offense at one of the premier football programs in the country -- and after just one year of that, in recognition of his success, was recruited away to be head coach, still only age 39, of a nationally ranked program.

May we all be saved from such professional ostracism!

Hey, to be fair to Coach Leach he's been really successful and maybe he is the best football coach in the country -- but hardly due to anything reported here. And ostracized? Looks not.

(Much as Billy Beane, the subject of Lewis's best-selling book, Moneyball, is one of the most successful general managers in baseball -- though according to many astute baseball observers, not due to anything reported in that book. And Lewis's similar claim that Beane's new ideas have been blocked by the self-preserving old guard of baseball hardly seems backed by the way Beane's top assistants have been rapidly hired away from him by teams in Toronto, Boston, Los Angeles ... or the way the Red Sox made a big-money play to hire Beane himself.)

So ... was the Times printing a parody issue? (Could one tell?) Nah, no sense of humor.

Was author Lewis puckishly pulling a fast one on them? (Like Alan Sokal getting Social Text to publish that article saying gravity is a social construct?) Nah, he wants to keep getting their money.

I conclude Lewis was mailing it in, mining the Billy Beane-Moneyball meme well into diminishing returns for the easy bucks. In doing so, taking advantage of Times editors who know even less about sports than they do about economics and tax policy. And who'd of thought that was possible?

Why I don't get my economics or sports from the Times. ;-)