Friday, December 6, 2013
You're probably familiar with those reports about things being rosy and hunky-dory in the USC football locker room now that Steve Sarkisian has been hired away from Washington to be the new head coach. Well, don't believe them.
SC football is a mess. There are some really unhappy Trojan players.That's the word from sources close to several members of the team. A bunch of them are really angry. Regardless of what you hear, some don't like Sarkisian, considering him mediocre and not as good as either Lane Kiffin, who was fired in September, or interim coach Ed Orgeron, who chose to leave when he didn't get the head coaching position..Some players, report the sources, think it's a flat-out bad hire and aren't looking forward to playing for Sark. AD Pat Haden doesn't really know how dissatisfied many players are with the new coach and some of the assistants he's bringing with him.
On the one hand, the players would like to present a united front, one brimming with positives. Some of that is out there for the media. But, quietly, behind the scenes. they're really miffed at what's happened--that interim coach Ed Orgeron is gone and has been replaced with a coach many in college football circles consider to be difficult, hard to like and just plain second -rate.
Some still think USC rates a coach in the Urban Meyer-Nick Saban class. Sark, however, isn't in that ball park--or anywhere close to it.
Were any other teams knocking at Sark's door? Not really. He wasn't considered a hot, in-demand coach. In fact, inside word from Washington is that some of the boosters were disgruntled with him. The feeling was that he'd elevated the Huskies to a mid-level Pac12 team but wouldn't take them any farther. Up in Seattle there was the beginning of a movement to find a better coach, someone who would raise Washington to that next level, where Oregon and Stanford reside. Many UW followers are happy he's gone.
So, from the point of view of SC players, this coach, one that wasn't even on solid ground at UW, is what we wind up with? This is the guy that forced beloved Coach O out the door? You can see why Sark isn't the darling of the SC locker room.
Most SC players think Orgeron got a raw deal, that losing to major rivals Notre Dame and UCLA should not have cost him his job. They respected him, played hard for him and looked up to him as a friendly father-figure. They knew he'd leave if he didn't get the permanent head coaching job. Staying on under those circumstances would have been humiliating, so they don't blame him for leaving. They're just bummed out that he's gone.
So the Trojans, who finished 9-4, will be led by offensive coordinator Clay Helton, in whatever bowl game they wind up in--the third head coach of this season. You expect the players to be focused and motivated? Forget it. You can bet gamblers will be be putting their money on whoever is playing against the Trojans in that bowl game.
And, next season, with the Trojans still short-handed because of those long-term penalties from the Bush scandal and many players not that crazy about the new leader, don't expect much from this team. The other eleven teams in the conference are already rejoicing.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 2:02 AM
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
You know what's missing in the refurbished Cal football stadium in Berkeley's Strawberry Canyon? There should be, over the speaker system, a soundtrack continuously playing the solemn "Taps." And how about a bench in the end zone draped in black cloth and flags flying at half mast. These are things you do to honor the death of something fine and memorable.
Who or what died? The Cal football program, of course. It's DOA, six feet under. It's Cal football, R.I.P.
Who should be hung in effigy under the goal posts? The pair of lunkheads who killed the program--coach Sonny Dykes and the incompetent who hired him, AD Sandy Barbour.
Looking back on this season is painful for Bear loyalists. The 1-11 record, the Big Game slaughter, the horrific defense, the worst in the history of a program dating back to 1886. The lone, narrow victory over a bad lower-division team, Portland State, is all that stood in the way of the embarrassment of a win-less season
Cal was the laughing stock of the Pac12. Conference teams, naturally, loved playing the Bears, since it was really like a glorified scrimmage. It was not only a guaranteed win, but a chance to fatten their stats, play the scrubs, polish play execution and experiment with new schemes.. Meanwhile, Dykes was on the sidelines looking forlorn and helpless, while fans, the few who hadn't bailed, were looking thoroughly disgusted.
When will the aura of death be removed from Memorial Stadium? Not while Dykes is head coach, that's for sure. He and his staff belong in some obscure school in some Godforsaken place like Montana or Wyoming, not at a major university. Giving Dykes the Cal job is like giving a third-grader the keys to a sports car.
Dykes is one of those coaches who focuses on warp-speed, pass-filled offense and pays little attention to defense.The problem was that the defense, under coordinator Andy Buh, was so bad--among the nation's worst--that Cal was out of most games by halftime. Clearly the players weren't properly taught basic fundamentals by this woefully inferior coaching staff.. .
The Cal program needs a whole new crop of quality players, which it's not going to get during the Dykes regime. Sources say the word has been out among high-school recruits--don't go to Cal while Dykes and his staff are in charge. Also, opposing recruiters are, appropriately, bad-mouthing the Bears. If you were a high-school hotshot with options, why would you sign up with losers like Sad Sonny Dykes and his crew? They'll get players but not the top-notch class needed to come back from the dead.
It's not like his players love Dykes. According to sources close to several Bear players, the team tuned him out long ago Their effort in games was mostly halfhearted. Clearly, in the second-half of the Big Game, players were going through the motions. You don't do that when you respect your coaches.
Dykes, predictably, is blaming injuries for Cal's woes. Don't believe it. You can be under-manned and still be a tough, gritty team that honors its coaches and plays hard. That wasn't the Bears this season.
No question, money and contracts are a problem in dumping Dykes. Cal had to pay Jeff Tedford millions last year when they kicked him out. To get rid of Dykes would be costly. Cal would wind up paying three coaches--two old ones and a new one. Boosters would have to come up with big bucks to make this happen.
It would be great if the administration fired Barbour, who's been an all-around lousy AD. The new AD probably wouldn't tolerate a bungler like Dykes. But Barbour probably isn't going anywhere. And neither is Dykes while she's in charge.
If you're in Berkeley and you happen to be in the vicinity of Memorial Stadium, listen for "Taps." You just might hear that somber melody, off in the distance, honoring the dead Cal football program.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 2:53 PM
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Will USC hire interim football coach Ed Orgeron as permanent head coach?
That probably will ever happen. Athletic director Pat Haden is too smart to yield to fan pressure and make such a short-sighted move.
You've got to give Orgeron credit. In a short time, he has done an impressive job, winning five out of six games, including two shockers--one at Oregon State and the other over elite Stanford, pushing SC to 8-3.. He has revitalized SC football, which had become lackluster. Crowds were down. Players were going through the motions under coach Lane Kiffin. Boldly, after the Arizona State blow-out loss on Sept. 29, Haden blew out Kiffin and installed Orgeron as temporary leader. Five wins later, SC football is hot again. Part of Pete Carroll's staff early last decade before leaving in 2005, Orgeron has brought back the hearty vibe of the Carroll era. Now fans want Coach O as permanent leader..
Not so fast. There's a downside to Coach O--and it's pretty steep. Orgeron, who returned to SC as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator in 2010, can't escape the mess he made of his 2005-2007 run as Ole Miss head coach. Sources report that he's infamous in Oxford, Miss. Some call him the worse coach in SEC history.. In conference games, he was a miserable 3-21..Apparently Orgeron made enemies and burned bridges when he was kicked out of Oxford. Detractors who recall the Ole Miss mess are warning SC that hiring him would be a big mistake.
Sources tuned into Oxford are saying Orgeron has horrible organizational skills. A football coach is like a business-world CEO. According to these sources, Orgeron made one bad decision after another--hiring the wrong coaches and constantly appearing overwhelmed and in way over his head. He recruited first-rate talent but, charge the sources, mismanaged it badly. Also, he ignored the advice of those who were trying to help him out of that hole. A good football coach has to have some bad-guy and dictator in his make-up.. According to sources, that's not Orgeron, who's like a nice-guy cheerleader with no stomach for tough decisions.
Orgeron is obviously a good short-term fix. But skeptics contend that he hasn't done anything any decent coach would have done in the same situation. Following someone like Kiffin really isn't that difficult.. Kiffin was oppressive and out of touch with his players--more of a warden than a coach.. Coach O is just the opposite, emphasizing fun and freedom, getting out of the way and allowing these exceptionally talented athletes room to reach their potential. How hard is that?
Coach O , 52, was an assistant for the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee after the Ole Miss debacle. He's basically a solid No. 2 man--a good position coach (defensive line) and an exemplary recruiting coordinator. But as a head coach, in normal circumstances, he's questionable. Will he be effective over a three-to-five-year span? Has he learned from his Ole Miss mistakes? These are the questions Haden is pondering..
So far, Haden has interviewed USC alum Jack Del Rio, a former All-America LB and currently Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator, who's running that team while head coach John Fox in healing from heart surgery. Let's face it. An experienced head coach who might be in the upcoming Super Bowl is a great choice. If you can get a polished gem like Del Rio, why bother with a diamond-in-the rough like Orgeron?
Whoever is hired will have to deal with Orgeron, who would remain as a top assistant and recruiting coordinator. But that could be an obstacle. The new coach might not want Orgeron around. Who wants to step into a job where the No. 2 man is an insanely popular fan-favorite that many think should be head coach? Possibly this might cause some worthy candidate to think twice about taking the job.
Haden is still quietly nosing around, looking for candidates, particularly in the SEC, which is loaded with quality coaches. The big SEC names, Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles, though, are out of reach. Apparently Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin is a serious target, no matter what Haden says. But USC isn't Sumlin's only suitor. Apparently if Gary Kubiak gets the boot from the Houston Texans, Sumlin is the top candidate. That job is probably more appealing to him than the USC position. Sources say there's a coach from the ACC and one from the Big Ten on Haden's list too. But so far, no names have been leaked.
Sources close to SC management say Orgeron, with that Ole Miss experience clouding his resume, is a long shot, even if USC beats UCLA and gets a major bowl victory. They say Haden isn't likely to gamble that Orgeron has what it takes to be a high-quality, long-term head coach.
If I had to put money on whether or not Orgeron gets the job, I'd bet he doesn't get it.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 4:34 PM
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
When can a white person use the n-word and not be considered a racist?
Some would say never. But that's wrong. There are exceptions.
The use of the n-word by whites in team-sports locker-rooms is a hot-button issue right now with that Miami Dolphins' scandal raging in the media. Miami lineman Richie Incognito has been demonized for bullying teammate Jonathan Martin. One of the charges is that Incognito, who is white, called Martin, who is black, the n-word. Incognito, though, vehemently denies he's a racist, claiming he has a pass from black players to use that word..
According to sources close to some Dolphins' black players, Incognito is right..In his dealings with Martin he may be treading in bully territory, but him using the n-word in dialogues with Martin shouldn't, insist the sources, brand him racist. Sources report that Incognito is like an "honorary brother" who can say things other white players can't.
In the outside world, Incognito, for using the n-word in that context, is bound to be dubbed racist. But in the specialized pro-football locker room, which has its own rules, he does rate a pass, considering his relationship with black players, allowing him to escape the racist tag..
I've witnessed this kind of special situation. I remember a time, back in the day, in the Cal football locker room after a practice when a white player towel-snapped a black player, saying "Hey, nigger." The black replied, "Go to hell, white boy." Both were laughing at the time. It was locker-room horseplay, sprinkled with racial terms, that wasn't racist. Those guys had a special relationship. But there were other whites in that locker room who couldn't have had that same exchange with that black player without ugly consequences. On the other hand that white player couldn't have fooled around like that with other blacks. There's a tightrope in those situations.Walking on it isn't easy..
But how about outside the locker room? When can whites use the n-word and not be branded racist? If you have a relationship with a black that allows casual use of the n-word, you're OK. Of course, it's fair game to use the n-word in conversations about racial slurs. After all, it's hard to talk about saying "nigger" without saying it. But some whites are so uncomfortable with the word they wouldn't even use it in serious discussions.
But there's another side to whites using the n-word. It's generational. Whites in their teens and twenties use the n-word in a special way.. They've been influenced by years of listening to hip-hop music where rappers use the n-word in non-racist ways. To them, the n-word is merely part of pop-culture slang, like dawg and dude. I've heard white kids great each other with; "What's up, nigga." That's a white-washed version of the n-word, innocent and totally without venom.
Explains a white, 17-year-old from Beverly Hills: "I use nigga all the time. I call my white buddies my niggas. It means you're my special friend. Only certain guys can be niggas. Only cool guys, only guys who have a lot going for them. To be a nigga, you've got to be cool. But I can't use the word around my parents or other older people. They don't get it. It's racist to them, but not to me. It's just a word. There's nothing mean about it."
Some white kids start young using the n-word. Last year, in a gym locker room in Marina del Rey, two boys, about nine years old and white, were romping around and playing, waiting for their Dad, who was in the shower. At one point one little kid said to the other: "Let's go, nigger." Then both ran off to another room. Other guys who heard it, all at least middle-aged by the way, looked at each other, startled. Clearly, these kids were close buddies To them the n-word had no negativity or racial charge.
With older people, though, those who lived through the black revolution, the n-word will probably always carry racism with it.
When whites use the n-word, they're tiptoeing through a mine-field, opening themselves up to accusations of racism. In many cases, probably most of the time, the accusation is on the money. At times, though, it isn't..
Things are changing. The world isn't what it used to be. It's in a rapid state of flux. It wouldn't surprise me if, in ten years, the racially-charged n-word, caught up in all the change, was mostly neutralized.
That would be a good thing.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 1:51 PM
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
In the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, guard Richie Incognito is the villain and tackle Jonathan Martin is the innocent victim. Right? Case closed.
Not so fast. It depends on who you talk to.
Incognito, a white, 30-year-old guard who's played for several teams over the past decade, has been suspended by the Dolphins for bullying black, second-year, 24-year-old tackle Jonathan Martin so viciously that Martin left the team. However, three sources close to the Dolphins report that teammates and coaches knew about the situation but did nothing about it.
Sources talked to two Dolphins who, for obvious reasons, prefer to remain anonymous. The sources say that Incognito always has been a bully, antagonizing certain vulnerable players. The Dolphin players, though the sources, say Incognito was abusive and used racial slurs on Martin and other players but coaches and teammates laughed it off, saying "That's just Richie being Richie."
But the Dolphins, surprisingly, say good things about Incognito, saying that he has been a team leader and a dedicated "enforcer," on and off the field. According to the sources the players said, while you couldn't call what Incognito did good, you can't label him a bad guy either, that he was operating for the good of the team. Management, they insisted, was throwing him under the bus. Could he, the sources say, have lasted all these years in the league if the management of teams he played for, like the Bills and the Rams, didn't have some idea what he was up to?
According to the sources, what Incognito did was out in the open, and to some extent, was considered, in the words of one player, "no big deal." Coaches, say the sources, knew about it but looked the other way. Apparently, since Incognito picked on rookies and low-tier players, coaches thought Incognito's abuse was a way of toughening up these inexperienced, "soft" players.
Martin, say the sources, is a bright, sensitive man who's very talented (a second-round draft choice in 2012 out of Stanford) but needed to be rougher and more hard-nosed. The coaches, the players speculated, figured the pounding he got from Incognito would make him "man up" and become a better player.
Apparently Incognito got away with bullying on various teams all these years because he knew, like all bullies, who to target.. He's not going after a big star, like the starting QB or some All Pro linebacker, or respected veterans, who wouldn't stand for such behavior. Nor would he try to abuse some black player who grew up battling his way through the hood.
According to the sources, the Dolphin players say what Incognito did was considered an extension of the traditional hazing veterans inflict on rookies and younger players. Incognito crossed the line often but no one thought it was noteworthy.
There's a code, the sources say, the players aren't supposed to violate--take what's dished out in these situations like a man and don't go running to management. Martin ignored the code.
Consequently, while Incognito is getting trashed in the media, Martin, quietly, in NFL player circles, is taking a worse beating. Report the players, Martin is being called a "pussy" and a "rat" for blowing the whistle on Incognito. One of the Dolphins said, according to the source, that nothing is worse that ratting out a teammate. Martin, claims the Dolphin, is a "cry baby."..
According to the sources, one Dolphin insists bullying is part of the way of life in the NFL and that there are many like Incognito in the league. There's one guy, reports the Dolphin, on an AFC team, who puts Incognito to shame.
Will bullying in the NFL ever stop?
According to the sources, the Dolphin players predict that after the media attention the Incognito story is getting dies down, things will get back to normal.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:55 PM
Monday, October 28, 2013
Something ugly, sinister and vicious is afoot in the NBA, which opens its season this week.
It's about gays in the league. You think the NBA is gay-friendly, with all the players having a live-and-let-live policy?
There's a toxic layer of fear, hatred and homophobia that's slithering through the underbelly of the league. Yes most of the players have a positive attitude toward gays but, unfortunately, there's more gay haters in the league than you'd think. And they have been quite busy since April, the end of the last regular season, when Jason Collins came out of the closet, a first for an active player in a major American pro sport..The haters been waging a quiet, sneaky and effective campaign to keep other gay NBA players either out of the league or in the closet.
This is the word from Dr. K, a Brown university alum who operates mostly on the East coast. He's in touch with many NBA players and very active in the underground that handles some of the players' dirty business.. Says Dr. K: "Since Collins came out there's a bunch of players who don't want more NBA guys to come out of the closet. They're sneaky and very effective. They don't want this to become a league that's overrun with gays. They've leaked their feelings to NBA management, which is aware that openly gay players may cause some problems."
So far, Collins hasn't been hired.by any team. A 34-year-old, seven-foot veteran, his stats aren't impressive and he's no more than an aging, marginal, end-of-the-bench player.. But, with his experience and savvy, he could help some playoff-bound team. Explaining why Collins is still unemployed, the GMs are saying they not only can sign a younger, equally talented player for much less money but they don't want the media distraction Collins would create.. .
Notes Dr. K: "That's only part of the story. The GMs don't want to make waves. They know there's part of the NBA that doesn't want gays in the league. Why antagonize these players to sign a guy who's not an impact player?"
This means the NBA's gay haters have power.
"Oh yes they do," Dr. K says emphatically.
Why are the gay haters hating?
Replies Dr. K: "It's religion in some cases. It's culture in some cases, where guys grew up in anti-gay hoods.. Or it's just that some guys just want to be able to walk around undressed in the locker room and not think they're being sized up by some gay guy..Sure there are gay guys in the league now but they're very quiet and nearly all in the closet."
Which teams are most likely to sign gay players?
Says Dr. K: "The ones in big cities, like L.A. or New York, or maybe Golden State,, which is near San Francisco. I wouldn't expect to find openly gay players going to a small, mid-western city--or to Utah. Even blacks and Latin players aren't crazy about going to Utah. If you're not white and straight and religious, you don't want to be in Utah."
What's going to change this situation?
Says Dr.K: "If somebody would hire Collins that would get the ball rolling. If teams could see that having an openly gay player isn't so bad or so disruptive, that would help. But what would really make a difference is if some openly gay player was really good, among the league's best, a player who's a major factor on a playoff team. If some guy like that was openly gay, many teams would want him. If some gay player could put their team in the championship hunt , the GMs wouldn't give a damn what the gay haters thought."
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 4:02 PM
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
A moment of silence for die-hard Cal fans.
They're deep in mourning for their football team. After the latest beat-down, by UCLA 37-10 last Saturday, the Bears are dead, six-feet under. They have just one win, over a mediocre small-college team, and no prospects for any more.
A one-win season for Cal? Looks like it. How pitiful. Shades of Tom Holmoe, the bungler who coached Cal to a one-win season in 2001---and then was replaced by Jeff Tedford.
It's a shame no one can indict coach Sonny Dykes for murder. He's killed the program, in just a half season, with his idiotic, all-offense format. He had an accomplice who should be strung up with him. That's AD Sandy Barbour, who hired this boob in the first place. What the hell was she thinking? It was smart to finally fire Tedford, who'd lost it and was making blunder after blunder and had the program pointed in the wrong direction for years.. But to hire somebody worse, some offensive whiz from minor-league Louisiana Tech who clearly has a disdain for defense..His approach may have worked in the WAC, where defense is a dirty word, but it's wrong for the big leagues.
What's really eating away at the mourning Bears' fans is that there's no real hope for things to get better. According to sources close to several Cal players, the team is totally demoralized and down on Dykes. All that buddy-buddy stuff that you see occasionally between Dykes and the players? A public-relations sham, reports one of the sources. A bewildered defensive player told a source that the team has no confidence in the defensive schemes and has little respect for the skills of coordinator Andy Buh, who's clearly in way over his head. Let's not even talk about defensive fundamentals..The way these players tackle is laughable.
One clear signal about the quality of a new coach is the progress of stars.Well, Cal's most promising star, RB Brendan Bigelow, has rapidly regressed under Dykes. Predicted to be one of the prime players in the Pac12 this season, Bigelow has turned into a fumbler who runs cautiously and has been demoted to the third team. That explosive power runner with the gaudy yards-per-carry stats? A thing of the past, a victim of the new coaching staff and the dumb Dykes system.
Cal has two big-time players, QB Jared Goff and WR Chris Harper--and not much else. While Tedford did leave the cupboard somewhat bare,. there is some leftover talent. With the right coaching and a system suited to that talent, the team should win at least three or four games and be somewhat respectable-and not, as it is, the laughing stock of the Pac12..
Dykes' excuse for this miserable season, that so many players are injured, doesn't cut it. When the team was healthy, it was terrible.
Cal fans, don't look for help in the next recruiting class. Word travels among high-school players headed to big-time colleges. In California circles, sources report, they're saying don't bother with Cal as long as Dykes is in charge..If you want to be a winner, these players are telling each other, stay out of Berkeley. With this negative feeling out there among recruits, how is Cal going to attract high-quality players?
Right now, Cal has to be among the top 10 worst teams in the major conferences. Who's to blame?
Why is this program-killer still in charge?.
Cal AD Barbour, do Berkeley and the Pac12 a favor, correct your horrible mistake and rid Cal of this incompetent.
Who says you can't can a coach mid-season? USC did it, dumping Lane Kiffin, and is much better for it. And Kiffin, by the way, is twice the coach Dykes is.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 2:41 PM
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
The angry texts among big USC boosters, report Trojan inner-circle sources, started during the nightmarish third quarter of the team's` 62-41 collapse in Tempe Saturday night, when coach Lane Kiffin suddenly turned into Curly of the Three Stooges,.
Watching that slapstick-comedy-style loss to Arizona State, SC boosters had a fit: Their texts said it all. Predicted one: "Lane won't last the week." Said another: "Lane won't last the weekend." Moaned another: "I'm ashamed to be a Trojan. I'm not giving another cent til that clown is fired." Screamed another: "Get rid of that bum. No more checks."
AD Pat Haden was cringing on the sidelines in Tempe with SC president Max Nikias, You know they got wind of the boosters' outrage, via a flurry of texts, tweets and emails. During the game, Kiffin made some shockingly stupid play calls, making you seriously wonder; "Has he lost his mind?" The capper was the laugher late in the third quarter, on a fourth-and-one on SC's 41 yard line. Kiffin resorted to trickery, calling for a pass, from RB Tre Madden, of all people, who tossed it right to an Arizona State CB. You just know that when Haden was firing Kiffin in the middle of the night at LAX, he mentioned that ridiculous play. Would Nick Sabin or Urban Meyer have called that play? How about Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, rumored to be a candidate for the SC job? No way.
It wasn't just the boosters' rebellion that pushed Haden over the edge. There were flagrant signs that Kiffin had lost the team. The players weren't just whipped in the second half. They clearly quit. Sources on the sidelines said their disdain and disrespect for Kiffin was obvious. Clearly Haden and Nikias saw it too.
And what about the recruits? Word has been spreading for a while in those elite high-school circles that SC is a place to avoid. Why? Because Kiffin is a micro-managing, cold-fish of a coach who doesn't connect with players. In those circles, the SC atmosphere is perceived as drab and low-energy. One local recruit, a lineman, when asked by a source to describe SC, he replied: "Dead." So, for sure, no more Top 25 recruiting classes with Kiffin in charge.
Haden knew this was a bye week, so a new coach, SC assistant Ed Orgeron as it turned out, would have extra time to get acclimated. SC's next game is Thursday night, next week, on national TV, against conference foe Arizona. Already loud at home games, the ugly "Fire Kiffin" chants would have been deafening by then. After the Arizona State fiasco, the Coliseum would probably be half empty. Disaster loomed.
Haden no doubt considered Pac12 factors. SC has already lost two games--to two so-so conference teams, Washington State and Arizona State. What's going to happen when they face Stanford? Another UCLA rout is a given. The boosters, in particular, dread that. Also, how does SC measure up to Pac12 powers Oregon and Washington, which they fortunately don't have to play this season? On the plane back from Tempe, Haden probably imagined what Oregon would do to SC and chills ran up and down his spine.
With Kiffin in the driver's seat, SC was headed down hill--in high gear. Haden knew the boosters were furious and would withdraw support from the program. The players clearly had soured on Kifffin. With the program in shambles how could SC recruit? No time to waste. So when the team plane landed, after the game, in the middle of the night in LA, Haden summoned Kiffin to an airport room and canned him.
Word got out right away. A giddy booster recalled that he got a 5 am text from an insider that simply said: "Mission accomplished."
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:47 PM
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Let's ask again. Are the 49ers in trouble?
Last week I said maybe. This week, the answer is yes. There is, Niner fans, cause for concern.
First of all, the offense is mired in mud. It showed flashes of greatness in the opening week Green Bay win, with QB Colin Kaepernick passing for over 400 yards. But it's been downhill ever since, with maulings by Seattle and Indianapolis by an embarrassing total of 56-10. The Niners have scored just one TD in two weeks. Kaepernick's passing totals during this skid--277 yards, one TD, three picks and a 23rd place team-passing ranking.
This is not the same team that rampaged through the last post season, nearly winning the Super Bowl--seemingly ready to dominate the NFC for the next few years. Those steam-rolling offensive and defensive lines were second to none. Nobody pushed them around. But this season, they're not playing with the same focus and fire. The D-line got manhandled Sunday by a patch-work, no-name Colts O-line. The Niners' run defense, shockingly, is one of the worst in the league--ranked 29th.
The main problem, though, is the offense, specifically the woeful wide-receiving corps. Against the Colts, this hapless trio had a grand total of two catches for 12 yards. When Kaepernick, a battering-ram runner, is at his best, defenses have to worry about him connecting with wide receivers. Lately, though, the deep threat has been MIA, allowing defenses to play close to the line, clogging the lanes, hampering.both the run and the short passing game. Too often recently, Kaepernick has had time to throw but had no open receivers. With no deep threats to worry about, secondaries can target mid-range-receiving expert Anquan Boldin.
One real problem. In the last two weeks, the offense has badly lost the time-of-possession battle, with an endless parade of three-and-outs. Both games were lost by fourth-quarter offensive collapses, which made the defense look worse than it is. When the offense is dragging, this puts pressure on the defense, which has been breaking down late in games.
Last Sunday the Niners sorely missed pass-rusher Aldon Smith. He was there but he really wasn't. His head, clouded by that recent DUI scandal and its looming consequences, was clearly elsewhere..Normally, facing that inferior Colt bunch, he would have been in King-Kong mode and had QB Andrew Luck running for his life. But Luck, all cozy and comfy in the pocket, generally did as he pleased.
The Niners play a division rival, the St. Louis Rams, on Thursday. You can bet the Ram coaches are pouring over films of the last two games, getting tips on how to foil the Niners.
But all is not lost. SF coach Jim Harbaugh is no dummy. He can see what the Niners need. The obvious answer is to return to smash-mouth football, the non-nonsense style he imported from Stanford a few years ago He installed the flashy, tricky zone-read offensive schemes, suited to Kaepernick's assorted skills, but defenses don't seem to be fooled by them any more.
But this is no time for such trickery. What makes sense is a return to fundamentals. Without deep threats, the Niners have to play for short gains, hope to pile up first downs, maintain ball-control and not put the defense in jeopardy. One bright spot: the running-game did show signs of life against the Colts. The Niners have to go back to being a low-scoring, run-first, murderous-defense unit.
On Thursday, the Niners have to play like their season is on the line--and it really is. The Rams aren't very good but they always play the 49ers tough. This game won't be easy for the Niners because they'll be without at least one key player--pass-rusher Smith--and likely three more--LB Patrick Willis, CB Nnamdi Asomugha and TE/deep threat Vernon Davis.
A loss Thursday to a so-so team, a three-game losing streak and a 1-3 record trailing red-hot Seattle--this cluster of negatives adds up to a detour down that dreaded lane labeled OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 1:01 AM
Thursday, September 19, 2013
What the hell happened?
That's what San Francisco 49er fans are still muttering in the wake of Sunday night's battering, on national TV, by the Seattle Seahawks, 29-3. After all, the Niners are the favorites to be the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl. They looked like a shoo-in after whipping another NFC power, the Green Bay Packers, the previous week. But after Sunday night? Losing a close game when you play well is one thing, but.losing by nearly four touchdowns, while scorning none yourself, is something else entirely.
Should Niner fans be in panic mode? Maybe, but wait a week or two before pushing that button.
Consider this. The odds were against the Niners winning that game anyway. They were 3-4-point underdogs for good reason. First of all, opponents just don't win in Seattle, which has the loudest fan base in the league, aided by a stadium structured to amplify sound. It's the grandaddy of all hostile environments. No matter how teams prepare for it, they get rattled by the noise, which really has an effect, after the constant assault, later in games. That's partly why the Seahawks didn't lose a home game last year and why the Niners were in a hole before they even started. If the Seahawks ever got home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, they'd stroll to the Super Bowl.
Despite the score, Sunday night's game was close for nearly three quarters. Then the Seahawks pulled away, thanks to the Niners turning into knuckleheads and gift-wrapping TDs. Stupid, untimely penalties and silly turnovers undid the 49ers. Make no mistake, Seattle is a very good team, but that score is misleading. The Seahawks piled up points on short-field TDs following turnovers. Whenever the 49er offense looked like it was set to shift into third gear, it would grind to a halt due to a dumb penalty.
The stats tell the story. Seattle gained only 290 yards of total offense. That hardly spells rout. QB Russell Wilson was an unimpressive 8 for19 for 118 yards. Seattle smartly fed off Niner errors and cruised to victory.
The Niners, however, do have a potential problem--the running game. It's slowed to a crawl, at just 95 yards a game, this season.The foremost ball-carrier, Frank Gore, has gained a measly 60 yards in 30 attempts in two games--a pitiful two yards per carry. In Seattle he was buried, netting just 16 yards in 9 tries. Embarrassing results for a team boasting an offensive line that's among the top five in the NFL.
Normally the Niners, No.4 last season, are among the league's best rushing teams. The ground game is really the heart of the offense. Opponents' fear of the run propels the Niner passing game. Green Bay focused on stopping the 49er' running and did slow it down. But Niner QB Colin Kaepernick had a career day, helped by 13 catches by Anquan Boldin.
But it was different in Seattle. The Seahawks but a safety on the line to help bottle up the running game. But they have such excellent cornerbacks, they're OK with a short-handed secondary. Boldin, with one catch for seven yards, was a non-factor. So was Kaepernick, with a 20.1 passer rating for the game, the worst of his career.
If the 49er run game returns to normal, the Seattle loss is no cause for alarm. But it's up to the O-line and, most of all, Gore. Is he just off to a slow start because he didn't get much work in the pre-season or is he on a sudden downhill slide due to wear-and-tear?
Sunday's home game against the Indianapolis Colts is important. A playoff team, featuring QB Andrew Luck and brand-new addition, tough RB Trent Richardson, the Colts are no pushovers. But they do have one of the worst run defenses in the league. If the Niners, 101/2-point favorites, win, most likely the run game finally awakened, and 49er fans can relax.
But if they lose, against a bad rushing defense, and the run game is still stuck in the mud?
Then, Niner fans, feel free to panic.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 3:23 PM