Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Cal Football Program--Dead

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.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why USC Won't Hire Ed Orgeron As Head Coach

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.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Can a White Person Use The N-Word and Not be Racist? Yes

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.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NFL Bully Incognito the Bad Guy? Maybe Not

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.