Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Defending Dirty Ndamukong Suh

Mammoth Detroit Lions' defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, notorious for his dirty play, is usually the one who is stepping on people. This time he got stepped on, by the mighty NFL. Incensed, he cried foul.

Suh is usually in the wrong, but not this time. He'd gotten a raw deal. But justice eventually prevailed.
Here's what happened:

On Sunday, in the Lions' 30-20 loss to the Packers in Green Bay, Suh twice stepped on the leg of prone Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers after a fourth-quarter play. He was on the ground behind Suh, who stepped back twice to move out of the way of a crowd. Suh's movements could have been interpreted as accidental but, because it was Suh, they were deemed intentional. Rodgers, who took an angry swipe at him, definitely thought Suh had evil intentions. NFL official Merton Hanks, who judges such matters, agreed. So Suh was suspended for the next game, a playoff contest against Dallas.

A horrible decision. Suh is a crucial cog in the Lions' battering-ram defense. There's not a better defensive tackle in the NFL. Without him, the Detroit D slips a notch, maybe even two.

The Hanks' punishment far outweighed the crime. Watching the tape of the offense over and over, it's not totally clear that it was intentional. Even if it was, it's not the kind of violation that warrants forcing a player to miss something as important as a playoff game. Suh's behavior was borderline dirty but definitely not vicious enough to merit a one-game suspension.

Fortunately, hearings officer Ted Cotrell, after examining the appeal, overturned Hanks' decision, revoking the one-game suspension and replacing it with a $70,000 fine.

What's blatantly unfair is that, clearly, if another player had stepped on Rodgers, it would not have resulted in such a severe punishment. But because of Suh's reputation as a dirty player, the penalty was magnified. Over the years Suh has paid over $420,000 in dirty-play penalties. The NFL's policy is simple--if it's a Suh violation, it has to be dripping with malicious intent. No question, the league loves penalizing Suh.

Another element of the punishment is that it happened against Rodgers, one of the league's golden boys. If Suh had done the exact same thing to a third-string nobody QB, there's no way it would have resulted in a one-game suspension. The whole incident, in fact, would hardly have been noticed.

I'm not an advocate of dirty play. Suh is often in the wrong, crossing the line from tough play to dirty play. But nobody should be punished unfairly--even a perennial violator like Suh.

Glad the NFL got it right this time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lakers' Upset of Warriors Means Nothing

Whoa Laker fans, Whoa!

You're reading a lot into their 115-105 upset of the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. Yes it was the shocker of the NBA season. How often do you see one of the worst teams clobbering the best? But the Lakers didn't suddenly morph into the San Antonio Spurs. They're still a crummy team boasting a lone star--Kobe Bryant.

Few are looking at what really happened. This, for the Warriors, was the ultimate trap game. For them, the big game is the Christmas night national TV game, the NBA's showcase event, against their hated rivals, the rugged Clippers, in LA's Staples Center. The Tuesday Lakers game? A mere afterthought. Normally, the Lakers couldn't even seriously challenge the Warriors' second unit. As a road team, Golden State was a whopping 11-point favorite.

The big story of the game was that Lakers' coach Byron Scott had finally decided to rest Kobe who, lately, seemed to be suffering from fatigue. So the Warriors didn't even have to contend with the Lakers' best player. Minus Kobe, the consensus was that the Lakers were dead meat in that game. The Warriors shared that attitude despite, according to several sources, Warrior coach Steve Kerr's relentless efforts to convince his players that they couldn't relax, that they were walking into a buzz saw.

Kerr was on the money.

Treating it like an exhibition game, the Warriors' players had their heads in the clouds, bringing only their C game. They weren't mentally ready to play. They thought a casual effort was enough. It wasn't. Any coach will tell you that shifting gears during a game, from lackadaisical to intense, is nearly impossible. Once you go in mentally unprepared you're stuck with that attitude.

What the Warriors didn't count on was that the Lakers were sky high, determined to make a statement that they could be very competitive without Bryant. Usually he hogs the ball, forcing his teammates to stand around and watch him work for shots, which he usually doesn't make. So the first time this season he sits out a game they were anxious to show how they could play without him. The Lakers turned into a textbook team-game unit, passing constantly and sharply and waiting for the best open shot. Playing Spurs-style ball, they were able to bury a lazy Warrior team that was looking ahead to the Clippers.

But that's something that works just once. When Kobe returns, his teammates will, no doubt, retreat into their shell and passively defer to him. Once again, they will stand around and watch him work, watch him be his old selfish self. Also, opposing coaches, from scouring film of this game, will know what to expect when Kobe sits out games and how to combat the Kobe-less Lakers. They won't surprise any team again.

In other words, Laker fans, Expect your team to slink, rather quickly, back into mediocrity.
Tough, new, winning Lakers? No way.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why 49er QB Colin Kaepernick Has Spiraled Down the Drain

In one of the most shocking events of the NFL season, 49ers' QB Colin Kaepernick has spiraled down the drain, taking his team with him.

A super scrambler and supposedly an elite QB, he was recently overwhelmed by the awful Raiders and bested by their so-so QB David Carr. One of the preseason Super Bowl favorites, the Niners won't even make the playoffs. While they have a top-notch defense, thanks to Kaepernick, they have a putrid offense, which stunk, once again, in their loss in Seattle. Their offense is so bad, lately, they can't even score more than one TD per game. That's largely on Kaepernick.

The golden boy is severely tarnished. What happened? It can be narrowed down to five problems.

First of all, his confidence is shot. Second, he has two killer performance flaws--holding the ball too long and reading defenses too slowly. Third, he's playing behind a deteriorating offense line. Fourth, he's getting lousy coaching and is the victim of rotten play calling. Fifth, there may be substance abuse issues.

First of all, based on insiders reports, Kaepernick is clearly a mess of self-doubt. This is the same guy who used to ooze confidence. But he's lost his swagger. He's traded that I'm-the-greatest, can-do-anything attitude for a deer-in-the-headlights look. He used to be able to dance and dodge and skillfully elude blitzers. But now defenders know he's rattled and uncertain and have turned him into a tackling dummy, the most sacked QB in the league. No longer a skilled scrambler, he's just running scared.

Once a wizard behind the line, he has become maddeningly indecisive. These days, when he drops back to pass, he looks lost and confused. It's taking him a second or two too long to figure out how to attack a defense--even a mediocre unit like the Raiders.'  Instead of throwing the ball away, too often he'll take a sack. Sometimes he has time to find a receiver but he'll squander much of that time and.wind up throwing an errant pass.

Kaepernick's descent to the NFL QB basement isn't all his fault. Some of the blame belongs to his offensive line. Once one of the NFL's best, one that gave him all kinds of time to dissect defenses, it's declined drastically, partly due to injuries that have caused extensive reshuffling.  The middle, now manned by inexperienced centers, is particularly vulnerable. It doesn't help Kaepernick that the formerly fearsome running game, which used to be a staple, is now wildly inconsistent and more of a liability.

Given all the Niners' offensive talent, the coaches should be able to come up with creative adjustments, in formations and play-calling. But that hasn't happened. That's partly why head coach Jim Harbaugh and much of the offensive staff will be job-hunting in a few weeks.

Finally, the substance abuse rumors, which began as whispers early this year, have become a loud buzz. According to several sources, Kaepernick has been dabbling in assorted drugs, resulting in a slacker's mentality, which has clouded his game preparation. His work ethic, report the sources, isn't what it used to be. So part of his decline may be due to lack of hard work and focus.

One of the big questions in the NFL is who, next season, will be coaching the Niners, one of the league's premier franchises. Whoever it is, his No.1 project will be halting Kaepernick's skid and heading him back down a positive path.

 Is it too late to resurrect Kaepernick? That's another big question.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

49ers Dead, Coach Harbaugh Out

Thanksgiving Day, 2014. A day that will live in infamy for San Francisco 49er fans.

The Niners were stomped 19-3 by their nemesis, the Seattle Seahawks, an embarrassing whipping on national TV. But that wasn't the worst of it. This loss is a genuine monster, a game-changer, triggering big-time changes that will effect the team for the next few years.

Here are the wretched, far-reaching consequences: no playoffs, head coach out the door, offensive coordinator gone. And that's just for starters. No doubt, as a result of these key personnel changes, more heads will roll.

Most significantly, this loss will almost certainly keep the Niners out of the playoffs. They were tied with Seattle at 7-4. But now Seattle is 8-4 and the Niners slip to 7-5, trailing Seattle by one game and Arizona by two, with only four games left. For the Niners to make the playoffs, Seattle and Arizona would have to totally collapse, and so would the other teams chasing wild-card spots. That's just not going to happen.

For the last three years, the Niners have been a staple in the NFC championship game. For them to sink from that elite status to not making the playoffs is a bitter pill for Niner fans.

Even if the Niners win all their four remaining games, getting into the playoffs would be a long shot. There are no gimmes on their schedule. The Raiders, smelling blood from across the bay, will be tough. So will the San Diego Chargers, needing a win themselves to stay in playoff contention. So will division rivals Seattle and Arizona, who have already beaten the Niners. The next Seahawks game is in Seattle, where the Niners simply can't win. This time, they can't afford to lose. But the way Seattle manhandled the Niners on Thanksgiving Day, you can put a check in the Seattle win column right now.

Coach Jim Harbaugh's head has been on the chopping block all season, but not because he's a bad coach. In fact, he's taken the Niners to the NFC championship game for each of his first three years as coach, and to the Super Bowl in his second year. But he's been on rotten terms with management--general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York--all season. Another NFC championship game berth may have saved Harbaugh. Anything less and it's bye, bye Harbaugh.

So it's bye, bye Harbaugh.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is almost certainly gone too. Good riddance. Under his guidance, the offense was never great but it was at least passable. Now it's a joke. Scoring one TD per game is a struggle. The offensive line, once one of the best, has issues with injuries and integrating new members, but it's still a decent unit. The Niners do have the tools to generate more TDs but the offense is circling the drain. That's on Roman.

SF's recent three-game win streak is based on the skill of the defense, which hasn't been as strong this season due to the prolonged absence of greats Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. But offensive failures have pushed the defensive unit to the breaking point, with turnovers and a stream of three-and-out possessions..

Also, someone has to shoulder the blame for the startling regression of QB Colin Kaepernick, who has been mostly awful this season, looking lost, like he's getting zero coaching. Who else but Harbaugh and Roman? Reading defenses has become a real chore for Kaepernick, so he invariably holds the ball too long, leading to sack after drive-killing sack. It's no surprise that he leads the league in sacks. Against Seattle, on Thanksgiving Day, he looked totally overwhelmed.

Maybe one of the new coaches can salvage Kaepernick, who once seemed destined for greatness, and point him in the right direction.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Laker's Coach Byron Scott Is a Chicken

LA Lakers' head coach Byron Scott is a chicken. His cowardly behavior is killing the Lakers.

He's to blame for the Lakers' epic, crappy, 1-9 start, the worst in franchise history. What's wrong with the Lakers is their limited, pitifully ineffective offense. It's been commandeered by Kobe Bryant, with his relentless, reckless, selfish, low-percentage shooting. Bryant hogs the ball, ignoring his teammates, often choosing to take difficult shots instead of passing the ball. No other Laker comes close to his total shot attempts. The other Lakers mostly stand around and watch him shoot the team out of games.

Where's Scott while this ball-hogging nonsense is going on? Is he yelling at Bryant, ordering him to play within offensive sets that require passing, sharing the ball and waiting for whoever is open to take the best shot? That's what he should be doing. That's sensible basketball, the kind other teams play, the kind that leads to wins. But that's not the Lakers' way these days. That's why they're on a course to only win 10-20 games.

The other Lakers clearly hate what Kobe is doing. Sources close to several players report the mood in the locker room is tense and gloomy, often just plain ugly. The players resent Kobe. They're frustrated with him. But they have no clout. Almost all are new to the team. They feel they're lucky to have a job. They don't want to make waves. They know that, in any battle with Bryant, they'd surely lose. So they keep quiet. They complain to outsiders and to each other. They sit in that toxic locker room and just stew.

But that may be changing. They are finally doing something. They're showing their anger and disgust by flagrantly not playing defense. In the loss on Sunday to Golden State, 136-115, the Lakers, at the defensive end, were just going through the motions. It looked like they were playing in an exhibition game or the All-Star game, where defense is an afterthought. It was embarrassing.

That game looked like a revolt, like the players were saying to Scott, "We're not going to be part of this crap any more." It looked like Scott has lost this team, even though the season has barely started. This has happened to Scott before. His teams usually bail out on him. It happened in New Jersey and Charlotte and Cleveland. That may be happening here.

It's his job to do what's best for the team, to install offensive and defensive sets that are geared to getting wins, sets that involve the entire team. If there's a ball-hog who's destroying team chemistry it's the coach's job to rein him in. But Scott isn't doing his job. He has chickened out. He knows what the other players want, what should be done, but he's not doing it. He's scared to approach Kobe and make him play team basketball. Do you think any of the top coaches in the NBA, like the Bulls' Thibodeau or the Spurs' Popovich or the Clippers' Rivers, would sit by and let one player selfishly force his will on a team, when the team is consistently losing? Of course not.

This is a bad team, a really bad team, with one star, Bryant, one third-tier star, Jeremy Lin, and a bunch of subpar hangers-on. But it could be better. If they played team basketball, put their energy into playing hard-nosed defense and smart, unselfish offense, they'd win some games. They'd also earn some respect, something they don't get now.

What Scott is doing, letting Kobe run wild and pad his offensive stats, is reprehensible. The coach is taking the coward's way out. When Scott was hired he must have made management think he could control Bryant. What a bunch of crap. It's Kobe who's doing the controlling. If the Lakers are going to do anything but be doormats this season Scott has to pave the way by first standing up to Kobe.

But I seriously doubt Scott has the courage to do that. I thought it was a big mistake to hire him. Looks like I was right.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

49er Fans, Don't Give Up Yet

San Francisco 49er fans, drop those crying towels. And those of you who programmed "Taps" as your ringtone, cut it out. Yes, it looks bleak but it's not over just yet.

You're still reeling from that shocking play in the Rams game Sunday, where butter-fingered QB Colin Kaepernick fumbled the ball at the goal line, turning an apparent victory into a crushing 13-10 defeat. What really lost the game, however, was the horrible play of the offensive line throughout.

It all started two weeks ago, when center Daniel Kilgore broke his leg in the Denver massacre. That meant untested rookie Marcus Martin inherited the position, which is a critical one because the center is the QB of the offense line, the one who calls the blocking schemes. He's also a force on inside run plays and the guardian against pass rushes through his area. In the Rams game, with inexperienced Martin at center, that became a disaster area. The Rams controlled it, constantly steamrolling the befuddled rookie. That had a domino effect on the line, which played miserably. Consequently, so did QB Kaepernick, who had no time to throw and no where to run. Coming into the game, the Rams had a season total of six sacks. At half-time they had five. In the second half they picked up three more. It was the Niner O-line's worst game of the year.

The most idiotic call of the game was sending Kaepernick on that QB sneak, with just seconds left, over center, the weak spot in the line. With the ball just a few yards from the goal line, coaches would normally call on RB Frank Gore. But they ignored him on those plays this time, showing little confidence in the run-blocking. Yet, on the most critical play, they gambled, trying to sneak Kaepernick into the end zone through the line's soft spot--and lost. The coaches' options were limited but putting the game on the shoulders of a struggling rookie center wasn't smart.

Now what?

Sunday's game is crucial. If they lose to the Saints, they're 4-5, and in a deep hole, riding a three-game losing streak. That won't be an easy game. It's in New Orleans, where the Saints, on that fast indoor track, are tough to beat. The odds-makers think so too, establishing the Niners as a 4.5 point underdog. At 4-4, the Saints have been having an up-and-down year. They're certainly beatable. The Niners, though, will have to solve their offensive line problems and get a stellar effort from center Martin..

If you Niner fans want to look on the bright side, focus on the defense. It's still one of the best in the league. Against Denver it collapsed because the linebacking unit was wounded and couldn't cope with those talented Bronco receivers. In the Rams game, the offense may have been wobbly, but the defense was solid, holding St. Louis to 196 yards. But the Saints, who have a much better offense, will be a stiffer challenge.

The remaining Niner schedule is a bit scary. The only game you could chalk up in the win column is the one against the Raiders. Any of the others, including those against the Giants, Redskins, Chargers, Cardinals and two against the Seahawks, could easily be losses. Realistically, the Niners have to be shooting for wild card spots, with the division lead, currently held by Arizona, out of reach. It would help the Niners if some of their competitors stumbled, which is possible.

The Niners are missing three star defenders--Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Narvorro Bowman. They will all trickle back in the next few weeks, making a good defense even better. If this unit is completely healthy, that should take some of the pressure off the offense, which can get by scoring fewer points.

If the Niners lose Sunday they will be in big trouble. But, if they top the Giants the following week, which is quite likely since New York isn't playing well, the Niners will be 5-5. Then a 11-5 or 10-6 season is still possible. With either record, the Niners could sneak into the playoffs.

So Niner fans, don't panic just yet. Wait and see how these next two weeks play out. And remember, when you have a strong defense, there's always  hope.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why the PAC 12 May Be Shut Out of The Playoff

Brace yourself, PAC 12 followers, for an unpleasant reality. There may not be a team from your conference in the post-season playoff. The big problem is the PAC 12's national image. It's covered with mud.

These days, experts predicting which teams will make the playoffs mention the PAC 12 only in passing. Oregon, the big PAC 12 hope, is lumped in with tarnished candidates like Oklahoma and Texas A&M. One-loss Michigan State, whipped soundly by Oregon early in the season, its getting more love as a potential final-four team.

What a bummer.

And this following all the preseason hype about this being the best PAC 12 season in years and that the conference is, top-to-bottom, one of the nation's best and, most significantly, that the PAC 12 is as good or better than the SEC. Turns out none of this is true.

Those PAC 12 teams that were supposed to be final-four challengers, like UCLA and Stanford, were exposed as fatally flawed. Stanford has a marvelous defense but is saddled with a lame offense. UCLA's defense is burdened with a lame leader, Jeff Ulbrich. After an impressive opening win over Fresno State, USC has been wildly inconsistent. Three one-loss teams--Arizona State, Arizona and Utah--aren't mentioned in playoff conversations. For good reason. All will lose at least one more game. Even if one magically slips by with just one loss, neither of these teams has a strong enough national reputation to get into the playoff. A two-loss SEC team has a better shot at making the final four.

Once again, Oregon, at 6-1, has the weight of the PAC 12 on its shoulders. It's the lone conference team with a shot at making the playoff and the only one that can hang with a top SEC team. The Ducks, however, are tarnished. Not too long ago, this team was reeling. A few weeks ago, if Oregon was in the SEC, they would have been eaten alive by the top half of that conference. A three-TD favorite to trash Arizona in Eugene on Oct.2, the Ducks, shockingly, lost 31-24. The Ducks weren't all that collapsed. The PAC 12's positive national image crashed too. It still hasn't recovered.

The Ducks are back, but their image needs a makeover. Oregon is the only PAC 12 team in the AP Top 10 but, at No.6, it's still shut out of the Top 5. All that Oregon needed to snap out of that slump was the return of left tackle Jake Fisher, the team's MVP. He was out for a few games and the offensive line became a disaster area. QB Marcus Mariota didn't look like a Heisman candidate because he was constantly running for his life. The offense sputtered dramatically. When Fisher came back, so did the offense, which looked like its old powerhouse self against UCLA and Washington.

But that brief Oregon slump left an impression, mainly outside the conference, that Oregon is weak and, by default, so is the conference. Oregon can't lose again. Even if it runs the table and beats California, Stanford, Utah, Colorado and Oregon State, that may not be enough to impress the final-four committee. Other one-loss teams, no doubt some from the SEC, may be more attractive.

Oregon isn't out of the woods yet. Even with its offensive line back in shape, Oregon could still lose a game, particularly to Stanford or to hated rival, Oregon State. A two-loss PAC 12 team simply wouldn't get into the playoff.

If the Ducks get shot down again, the PAC 12's hopes of making the playoff go down too.  


Friday, October 17, 2014

UCLA Defensive Coordinator Ulbrich On Hot Seat

UCLA's defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich is on the hot seat. His job is on the line because he got way out of line in the second quarter of the Oregon game last Saturday. He embarrassed himself and made his boss, head coach Jim Mora, look bad, like he wasn't in control of his staff.

Ulbrich got into an ugly sideline quarrel with Mora that played out on national TV and has received extensive media coverage. Oregon cruised down the field for an easy 21-yard screen-pass TD that put the Ducks up 15-3. They scored after a timeout when the Bruins were blitzing--the wrong call in that situation. Mora then complained to Ulbrich, who exploded. Then Oregon exploded for several TDs and ran away with the game.

Ulbrich's meltdown was totally unprofessional. It killed the Bruins. Unsettled by the coaches' public fight, the players' heads were taken out of the game. The Ducks went on a TD tear that put the game out of reach. This loss is largely on Ulbrich. His outburst murdered morale. Keeping up with a high-octane team like Oregon is impossible when your players aren't focusing on the game.

Mora was right. Ulbrich's call on that particular play was wrong. So were his calls on many other plays in the Oregon loss. Go back to the previous game, the loss to Utah, and you'll see Bruin defenders constantly in the wrong place. They blew the game in the fourth quarter partly because of Ulbrich's goofs. Those Utah blunders were probably fresh in Mora's mind when he watched the defense flounder in the second quarter of the Oregon game.

The problem is that Ulbrich, who was a 49ers' linebacker when Mora was running the San Francisco defense, is a lousy coordinator. He has little coaching experience, having been in charge of the Bruin linebackers for two years before taking over as defensive coordinator this season, his first time ever doing that job. It shows. His adjustments during games are usually inept. The Bruins are giving up nearly 29 points a game, about five more than last year. Their pass rush total in this pass-happy conference, just seven in six games, is pathetic. So is the run defense, which has been pounded for an average of 250 yards a game in the last two--against high-level PAC 12 competition. The talent is there, but the leadership isn't.
According to sources close to several Bruin players, that sideline fight at the Rose Bowl is still reverberating in the Bruin locker room. There's tension between the coaches, which is felt by the players. The coaches, say the sources, have been sugar-coating it, trying to show the media that all is well and that there's no hangover from that verbal battle, but the players know different.

That public blow-up was brewing for a while, report the sources, since Mora and Ulbrich have been having disagreements over Ulbrich's coaching for a while. Mora, who's been defensive coordinator for the 49ers, knows good coaching calls when he sees them. He doesn't see them very often in Bruin games these days.

This Mora-Ulbrich problem has been a hot topic in the PAC 12 gossip-network, which is extensive. Come recruiting time, opposing teams are going to use the Mora-Ulbrich fight against UCLA, arguing to high-school stars that Westwood is a bad place for quality defensive players, that they won't get good coaching. It'll be hard for UCLA recruiters to counter that argument.

It's possible that the UCLA defense can improve and put up some solid stats, though that's unlikely with the tough part of the schedule---Stanford, Arizona, USC and Washington--is still ahead. The Cal game this Saturday won't be easy since the Bears have a potent pass offense that will be a chore to corral. Even if the Bruin defense does get better, the consensus will be that Mora took charge of it, so he'll get the credit. If the defense continues down the drain, Ulbrich will get the blame..

Ulbrich has become a liability. He has one foot out the door. When the season is over, most likely his tenure as Bruin assistant will be over too.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The PAC 12 Mess

What's the best football team in the PAC 12?

Most years, answering this question would be a cinch. You'd just pick a team from a small group that generally includes USC, UCLA, Oregon and Stanford. But this year the answer to that question is just as simple. It's--who the hell knows? Right now the PAC 12 is a mess, virtually unrecognizable, with the heavyweights turning into lightweights and vice versa. Ask ten people to pick the best PAC 12 team and you'd might get ten different answers.

Some would single out Arizona. At 5-0, it's the lone undefeated team in the conference, having leapfrogged from nowhere to No.10 in the AP poll, a record-shattering jump. That lofty ranking is mainly based on the Wildcats beating Oregon, then No. 2 in the polls, in Eugene. In addition, there was a bloodbath in the Top Ten, with many high-ranking teams tumbling, triggering a wholesale reshuffling, opening the door for a hot newcomer like Arizona. But, these days, beating Oregon is no big deal. Their offensive line, normally a strength, is a shambles and QB Marcus Mariota is banged up, more than he's letting on  Still, some would call Oregon the PAC 12's best. This, however, is a wobbly team that barely escaped a Washington State upset.

The other significant Wildcat victory is beating Cal, 49-45, via Hail Mary. That's Cal's lone loss. If Cal didn't lose that game on that fluke play, the Bears might be the PAC 12's undefeated darling and somewhere in the Top 25. But the fact that Cal is among the league leaders is further proof that the PAC 12 is one giant mess. Cal is a one-dimensional team, sporting an offense that's a scoring machine but saddled with a defense that, as usual, is among the worst in college football. In nipping WSU in Pullman Saturday night, the Cal defense was pounded for over 800 yards. Cal is a good team? Don't think so.

Is pre-season favorite Stanford, which has the best defense in the PAC 12, the league's top team? Not really. With close losses to SC and Notre Dame, Stanford has plummeted down the polls. Its problem is an offense that's allergic to the end zone. Stanford was wildly overrated. So was USC. After a blistering start, trashing Fresno State, the Trojans have faltered, first getting throttled by Boston College, a so-so ACC team. Then, last Saturday, the Trojans were blindsided by an Arizona State Hail Mary, pushing them out of the Top 25.

Speaking of overrated, what about UCLA, another pre-season favorite? Many were ready to crown them PAC 12 champs. That was before the roof fell in Saturday night, with a shocking home loss to heavy underdog Utah. Horrible coaching--both in calling plays and defensive sets--and miserable pass protection, buried the Bruins, whose nimble QB Brett Hundley was brutalized via ten sacks. Is this the best team in the PAC 12? No way.

Actually, the PAC 12 has no best team. Parity reigns. With the exception of awful Colorado, any PAC 12 team can beat any other team on any given Saturday. Suddenly second-tier teams are dangerous and perennial powerhouses are powder puffs. Nobody has a clue who's going to beat who.

This Saturday, visiting, unranked, shaky USC is favored to beat No.10 Arizona. That makes no sense. And check this out. Cal, projected to win no more than two games, has already won four and is favored to win a fifth, this Saturday, over Washington in Berkeley. Not only that, Cal tops the PAC 12 North division. Remember this is the Cal team with the unbelievably bad defense.

None of this makes any sense. But, these days, that's the PAC 12.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cal Fans Ripped By Arizona Dagger

Know the feeling of a dagger piercing your heart? You don't? Then, fortunately, you're not a die-hard Cal fan. We're used to that agony. Unfortunately, we re-acquainted ourselves with it Saturday night when Arizona, in Tuscon, shocked Cal, 49-45, on a 47-yard Hail Mary on the last play of the  game.

This wasn't just a plain old one-jab dagger. This was one of those twisting, thrusting jobs, meant to leave lingering pain. And man, does it hurt.

This wasn't just a loss. Cal fans are used to that. This one was a bonafide calamity.  This one ran the gamut, from extreme high to the depths of despair--all in one game. At the end of  the first half, Cal was leading 28-6, on the road yet, after piling up nearly 400 yards of total offense. Cal fans were humming "Happy Days Are Here Again." Maybe those two wins over crappy teams, Northwestern and Sacramento State,  meant something. Maybe the 2-0 record indicated this was actually a decent team. Maybe Sonny Dykes, who began his Cal head-coaching career last season with one measly win over a bad team, wasn't a bum after all. Maybe he'd turned the corner.

But in the second half, things went sour. Not right away though. In the third quarter, Cal scored only a field goal while Arizona countered with just one touchdown. That 31-13 Cal lead seemed safe. Panic wasn't in the picture.

But then, in the fourth quarter, the sky fell on Cal.  The Cal defense, which had smothered Arizona's AK-47-like passing game sprang leaks--big ones. The linebackers slowed down. The defensive line seemed mired in mud. The secondary players, who always seemed to be in the right place earlier, were constantly out of position. The Cal defense was locked into one scheme--chaos.

That crumbling defense gave up 36 points in the final quarter--five touchdowns and a field goal. How is that possible, you say? The answer, of course, is that it's Cal, and bungling, historically,  is what the Bears do best. Every time Arizona got the ball you knew they'd score. Cal couldn't keep up, scoring only two TDs in that last quarter. After that first half explosion, Arizona coaches figured out how to slow down the Cal offense, which totaled 573 yards, most in the first half. In the last quarter, the Cal defense, which gave up a total of 627 yards, was helpless.

But, when that final play began, as bad as the quarter had been, you figured the 45-43 Cal margin was safe. Even Cal couldn't blow that. Arizona was on the Cal 47 and only a successful Hail Mary could bring down the Bears. Defensing a Hail Mary is actually easy. The defense knows where the ball is going, so defenders just crowd around the goal line, avoid bumping any receivers and bat down the ball.

Want a crash course on how not to defend a Hail Mary? Just watch how Cal defenders botched that 47-yard pass from QB Anu Solomon to Austin Hill. I watched it again and again and still don't believe it.

So we're back to square one with the Bears. Dykes is a limited, offense-minded coach whose defenses are abysmal. Apparently that will be Cal's identity--score a lot but ultimately be outscored. The team fattened up on two out-of-conference patsies, but when the PAC 12 schedule started--with Arizona--Cal showed that, once again, it can't hang with the big boys.

Last season ended with the chant from angry Cal fans--fire Sonny Dykes. Let's hear it again. DOWN WITH DYKES. As long as he's in charge, the defense will sputter and Cal with stagger through the PAC 12.

Well, Cal fans, take my advice. Prepare yourselves for more of those damned daggers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why Roger Goodell Won't Be Fired

Making money vs. stamping out domestic abuse.

Which do you think is more important to the NFL? That's easy. The NFL is a money-making machine. It's all about the dollar. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a master at money-making. He's helped turn the NFL into the nation's most successful sport. He's a hero to the 32 owners of league franchises. So all this talk about Goodell being canned on the heels of the domestic abuse scandal is just talk. Chances of Goodell being ousted are very slim. That, of course, doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to be fired.

When it comes to domestic abuse, the NFL has its head in the sand--and it's partly Goodell's fault.. The Ray Rice scandal wouldn't be a scandal if the NFL had been on top of things and recognized many months ago that domestic abuse is a hot-button issue. When Rice, a Baltimore Ravens RB, punched out his fiance, Janay Palmer (who's now his wife), in that elevator in an Atlantic City hotel last February, he should have immediately been suspended for at least six games. In addition, Goodell should have been all over the media right away, preaching against the horrors of domestic abuse and assuring us all that, in the NFL, there was zero tolerance for it.

Instead, the matter was handled with the kind of vision, delicacy, insight and dignity you'd expect from Curly of the Three Stooges. After the NFL dragged its feet for months, Goodell gave Rice a slap on the wrist, a mere two-game suspension. That sent a disturbing message. Based on a much more severe penalty handed out for minor drug abuse to Cleveland's Josh Gordon, it was clear that, to the NFL, smoking pot was worse than punching out a woman.

Then, early this week, TMZ released an ugly, graphic video--one few had seen--showing Rice knocking his fiance unconscious in that Atlantic City elevator. Outrage, once a rumble, mushroomed into a deafening roar this week. Goodell claimed he nor any NFL employees had ever seen the crucial video, but police officials say otherwise. Had he seen that video, Goodell protests, Rice would have been punished much more harshly. Rice, however, now swears he personally told Goodell he punched out his wife, meaning that the commissioner didn't really need to see the video to hand out a tougher penalty.

You can bet, in NFL management circles, there's a massive cover-up underway, designed to protect Goodell. That's just how big business does business when under fire. The league just launched an investigation, headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to sort out this mess. But, according to insiders, he has ties to the league and certain owners, and is unlikely to report anything too damning. Heads, of course, will roll, but heads belonging to lesser people than the commissioner. Again, that's just how big business operates.

Frankly, Goodell is just too well-connected and too good at the NFL's number one priority--making money--to get the boot. Before this scandal dies down there's likely to be more revelations, some pretty nasty, that might make Goodell squirm.

He's walking a tightrope now, inching nervously along. Most likely though, he'll eventually tip-toe to safety

Thursday, September 4, 2014

PAC 12: Oregon and Stanford Will Win

Is USC really that good? Not really. Is Oregon really that good? Oh, yes. We'll find out more about both this weekend.

Prediction: SC should lose and Oregon should win.

No.14 USC will be tested Saturday in Palo Alto by No.13 Stanford. The Trojans aren't going to treat Stanford like they did Fresno State last week, winning easily, piling up over 700 yards of offense, buoyed by the flashy stats of QB Cody Kessler. You expect a high level of competition from FS. Well, not last Saturday. They were wretched. This was not the tough, relentless Fresno State we're used to. Their quarterback play was awful. Their big QB last season, Derek Carr, is now in the NFL, starting for the Raiders. Their defensive line was trampled by an SC offensive line anchored by freshmen. SC, under new coach Steve Sarkisian, has installed a warp-speed offense that you have to keep off the field, which FS couldn't do. They kept handing the ball back to SC and got overwhelmed.

Suddenly, in the LA area anyway, SC is the new Oregon, a team that's going to blow away any opposition. Wait a minute. They just won one game, beating a team that's relatively weak. Like SC, Stanford whipped a cream puff, UC Davis, 45-0 last week. So what? That means as much as the SC rout. The Trojans beat Fresno State because they have better players. Matched against Stanford, SC has no such advantage.

Favored by three at home, the Cardinal has the defense, bolstered by its usual strong core of linebackers, the experience, the team speed, the savvy QB play--from Kevin Hogan--to hang with SC. Stanford is used to high-speed offenses, having whipped those race-horse Oregon teams a few times with a grind-it-out style. Stanford QB Hogan isn't spectacular but he can efficiently manage a clock-eating offense that can slowly pile up first downs and keep that SC offense on the bench. Also, something else is working against SC. Both QB Kessler and super defensive lineman Leonard Williams are banged up. They'll play but won't be 100%.

SC has a lot to prove. But so does Michigan State, which has the weight of an entire conference, the Big Ten, on its shoulders. The Big Ten is regarded by some as soft and not worthy of a slot in the four-team championship playoff. Its best team, Ohio State, is much less formidable since losing its best player, QB Braxton Miller, for the season. Another of its elite, Wisconsin, was shot down by LSU last week. If Michigan State, the league's other top team, is wiped out by a powerhouse from another conference, like Oregon, the Big Ten might not recover.

So Michigan State, ranked No.7, has to go into Eugene and beat the No.3 team. Not likely. State has some first-rate players but it's not overflowing with them, like Oregon is. The odds makers don't think MS has much of a chance, making them 11.5-point underdogs. Both teams rolled to easy victories over patsies last week, so those games are no indication of anything. However Michigan State's junior QB Connor Cook is a bit shaky after a leg injury last week. But even when totally healthy he's no match for Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the best QB in the country. When Oregon's spread offense, executed by a horde of quality athletes, is working, it's unstoppable. What can slow it down is strong linebacker play. But the Spartans LBs are inexperienced and not especially high-caliber. Weak LB play could doom State. Looking at that unit on film, you can bet Mariota was licking his chops.

Look for the game to be closer than the odds-makers expect. But Oregon, feeling frisky at home, is likely to jump on the Spartans early and take control of the game by halftime.

After this game, fans throughout the Big Ten will be humming mournful versions of  the wait-til-next-year blues.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Why Johnny Manziel Is An NFL Bust So Far

Cleveland Browns' rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, the team's heralded No. 1 pick, is a self-absorbed jerk. At least that's what some of his teammates are quietly saying.

None of them are going to publicly trash him. Teammates don't do that. But in the locker room some of them are griping to each other and, at times, to him about his silly, frat-boy behavior. Early this week, he gave the finger to the Redskins' bench--on national TV yet. Could  you see Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees doing something that idiotic?

Sources close to three Browns' players report that many guys on the team are livid with Manziel, don't support him, regard him as a lame leader, are embarrassed by his immature antics and hate that he's the face of the franchise. Can you blame them?

The Browns, among the NFL's have-nots forever, are dying to upgrade their image. They're eager to be known as a tough, dedicated, hard-working team. But now, thanks to Manziel, they're known as the playmates of an out-of-control playboy who'd rather be hanging out in Las Vegas than working on improving his game.

It's not his incessant partying that his teammates hate. Some players can romp in the club scene until early morning and still do their job efficiently on the field. In the old days, for example, quarterbacks like Joe Namath, Dan Pastorini and, in the real old days, Bobby Layne, managed to be playboys and good players at the same time.

Manziel, however, can't do both--not on the pro level anyway. At Texas A& M, as a party animal, he had no peer. In those days, put Manziel up against the most degenerate, slacking frat boys, and he'd win, hands down. Nicknamed Johnny Football, he was legendary. Some of his favorite bars in College Station, home of the A&M campus, boast plaques in his honor.
But he could get away with that nonsense in college, even in the rugged SEC. At A&M he had a mountain of an offensive line, was familiar with his receivers and was working in a system he knew in his sleep. Also, he played against a lot of  linebackers and secondaries that couldn't keep up with him. He could get through a practice or even a game with a hangover. He could get by with a lazy effort. In college, he was that good. Remember, he won the Heisman as a freshman. But the NFL is a different ballgame. The game and the players are faster and he's learning a new system, so he's going to be, at times, indecisive. If Manziel were a mature guy, he'd put partying on hold and dedicate himself to fitting into this new system. But that's not what he's doing.

The Browns really need him. The players are desperate for a leader, for a QB to lead them out of the NFL darkness. Manziel has the skill set to do that. He could be the Browns' savior--if he put his mind to it. That's why his teammates are so angry at him. Right now, he's too much of a slacker and a lazy leader to be awarded the reins of the Cleveland offense.

First-year coach Mike Pettine is furious with Manziel too. These sources report the coach has been putting on a good front, appearing calm and level-headed when talking about Manziel's competition with Brian Hoyer for the first-string job. That's his media face. In the locker room, though, he's genuinely angry and extremely disappointed at Manziel. Pettine knows that if the rookie would dedicate himself to being a good pro QB, he'd be starting.

But Coach just named Hoyer, who's coming off a serious knee injury, to start in the opening game on Sept.7 against Pittsburgh. Face it--Hoyer is terrible. His mechanics suck, he's a mediocre passer, he's lousy at reading defenses, etc. He's looked horrible in the games so far. But he knows the system and the players have confidence in him.

As bad as Hoyer is, he's still, at this point anyway, a notch above Manziel, who's looked lost at times in practice and games because he's still learning. Manziel's pre-season numbers haven't been great. He was spotty (7 of 11 for 63 yards) in the Detroit loss and unimpressive ( 7 of 16 for 65 yards) when Cleveland dropped a close one to Washington. Still, he has shown flashes of brilliance as a runner and a passer. Occasionally he'll make a play that Hoyer could never make, that makes you see why he was nicknamed Johnny Football. Clearly, when Manziel figures out what he's supposed to do and gets comfortable in that system, he could be an effective starter.

Prediction: Manziel will take over as the starter after a few games because Hoyer will be so awful that even an unsure, unfocused, often ragged rookie like Manziel will look good.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Michael Sam's Rocky Road With The Rams

What's really going on in the St. Louis Rams' locker room re: rookie Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end and 7th round draftee, who's the first openly gay player in the NFL?

The league would like you to believe that everything is warm and fuzzy and friendly in that locker room and that the players are getting along well with Sam.


Scratch the surface and, according to two sources close to two Rams, many players are uncomfortable around Sam, are sniping about him privately, liberally using the f-word, and hoping he doesn't make the team. First of all, there are the homophobes, the hard-core anti-gays who flat out don't like being in the same locker room with gays. Guys like this will always be around and will make life miserable for guys like Sam. As you can imagine, the homophobes really hated seeing Sam kiss his boyfriend on TV and are appalled at his affinity for public affection. This anti-gay bunch, report the sources, is generating an undercurrent of tension in the locker room. They're not going to broadcast it, for fear of angering league officials, but many Rams wish Sam would go away..

Some of Sam's competitors--the other late-round draftees and marginal players--also aren't crazy about him. These are the guys desperate to make the team, desperate for a job. But all they have going for them is their skills. Sam, however, has more than that. A player drafted near the end of the final round should be hanging by a thread. But Sam isn't the typical seventh-rounder. And he's not hanging by a thread. He's a media darling, the face of the NFL gays. He's in a preferred position, but not because of his playing skills. When it's time for roster cuts, Sam will definitely have an edge. There's no denying that. If he was up against a player of equal skills for one roster spot, who do you think would get the spot?  To his competitors, he's playing the "gay" card and winning the pot. They think he has an unfair edge and resent him for that. That situation is creating a lot of locker-room tension.

Let's face it. The NFL doesn't want Sam to fail. It's bad public relations. If the league is perceived as a place that's not gay-friendly, that will be, among the general population, a black mark. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL bigwigs don't want that to happen--and they'll make sure it doesn't. Sam will make the Rams or some other team. Goodell will make sure of that.

Of course, the commissioner says he stays out of such decisions. Don't believe that for a second. Remember that Sam, the SEC defensive player of  the year, wasn't even drafted. One problem is that this award is tainted. If you look closely, it was based on him running wild against bad teams. For the most part, the good SEC teams held him in check. He wasn't even the best DE on his own team--Kony Ealy was. Sam's big drawback is that he's a "tweener," too slow to be a demon pass-rusher and not fast enough for linebacker. He's not really a potential starter and teams didn't want to put up with all the media distractions for a so-so talent. That's why he fell to the bottom of the draft.

But do you really think Goodell was going to let Sam, perceived by most as a courageous good guy, go undrafted? That wouldn't have looked good for the NFL's image. The word around the league is that the commissioner's reps were working the phones in the seventh and final round to make sure Sam was drafted. Once again, Goodell's people will deny they had any part in that. But these are the same people who'll make sure that Sam is on some team when the season starts.

By the way, according to several league sources, there's another NFL group--the league's closeted gays-- that is uneasy and unhappy about all the media attention Sam is getting. These guys--some estimates say there are twenty or thirty of them--like being under the radar and prefer keeping their private lives private. Because of Sam, though, there's a spotlight on the NFL's gays now and the glare just might spread to these closeted gays. More tension.

Of course, there's a way Sam can make the tension go away and wipe out notions he's getting special assistance to stay in the league. The solution is for him to morph into a good, solid, dependable, humble NFL player. Hell, that way he might even win over a boneheaded homophobe or two.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why The Lakers Shouldn't Hire Byron Scott

Already in deep decline due to some stupid moves, the LA Lakers are about to make another monumental blunder--hiring Byron Scott as head coach.

After several interviews, Scott is the leading candidate, boasting  the support of two iconic, influential Lakers--Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. Johnson played with Scott during the Showtime era, while Bryant has fond memories of Scott as a mentor during his rookie season.

But there are plenty of reasons the Lakers should look elsewhere for a head coach.

First of all, check Scott's record. After nearly 1000 games as head coach, he has a crappy 44% win percentage. In eleven seasons, he guided teams to the playoffs only four times. And what about the fact that he was unemployed all last season and no one hired him? If he's such a good coach, why didn't other teams come after him? Could it be that he's not such a great coach?

Scott has had three head coaching jobs--New Jersey Nets (2000-2004), the Charlotte Hornets (2004-2009) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (2010-2013). All ended badly. The Nets and Hornets didn't even wait until the end of the season to dump him. Charlotte, where he had been named Coach of the Year in 2008, kicked him out just nine games into the 2009 season. The Nets and Hornets players were fed up with Scott, leaving management no choice but to get rid of him.

Things were even worse in Cleveland. All three of his seasons were disasters. Stumbling along with awful defenses, with teams that were barely NBA caliber, he never won more than 24 games. Though he didn't have top-notch talent to work with, he could have gotten more production out of those players.

NBA players aren't crazy about Scott. According to several sources, when you talk to players around the league, off the record, they'll give you the lowdown on Scott. And it's not pretty. Most brand him as an egomaniac who lets his ego get in the way of decisions. Some players also damn him as notoriously stubborn, which has hurt his teams and turned players against him. Also, they don't like his coaching style. He's an abrasive, surly type whose harsh handling of players wears thin after a few years. As a result of those mental beat-downs, players stop listening and tune him out. In New Jersey, a player uprising, led by Jason Kidd, ran Scott out of town.

As a tactician, Scott is questionable. Though his New Jersey teams were strong defensively his status as a defensive strategist was severely tarnished by his miserable years in Cleveland. As an offensive coach he's always been considered sub par. Ask around the league about Scott in this capacity and you hear the same criticisms over and over--his schemes are ridiculously predictable and are totally lacking in imagination and creativity. His deficiencies in this area got him booted out of Charlotte. The Hornet players hated his offense and deplored his abilities to map game-plans and make in-game adjustments. Sources report that those players griped that Scott made the wrong decisions about who to play and when to play them. In short, they had little confidence in his coaching skills.

And another thing. The shining star on his resume--coaching the Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003--is tainted. The Eastern Conference was truly awful then, as bad as it is now, so topping that division wasn't a big deal. In both Finals, the Nets, clearly inferior, were trashed by the Western team.

After that fiasco in Cleveland, many wondered if Scott would ever get another coaching job. There's surprise in NBA circles that he's being considered for a plum job like the Lakers' head-coaching gig since he's not considered a top coach. The Lakers need a smart leader to guide their rebuilding years. That ain't Scott. Laker management may be looking at the turnarounds in New Jersey and Charlotte, for which Scott gets credit. But in both cases, great point guards--Kidd in New Jersey and Chris Paul in Charlotte--were as important as Scott.

At best Scott is a passable coach. The Lakers, one of the top franchises in all of sports, deserve better. They took a few steps down in hiring Mike D'Antoni. They finally came to their senses and sent him packing. And now they're going to hire Scott? Can't they see that is nothing but another step down?

One question. If Phil Jackson were, as he should be, guiding Laker management decisions or at least having a say in them, do you think Scott would be anywhere near the head coaching job? Of course not.

Don't you get the uncomfortable feeling that the inmates are running the asylum?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How LeBron Sank The Lakers

Wake up, Lakers fans. Stop dreaming of a rosy future. Time to get real. Here's how you should be looking at it. Your team is the Titanic and it just collided with an iceberg. You're going down.

What happened?

Well, defying consensus, tradition and logic, LeBron James, mostly because of  home loyalty, made a decision that rocked the NBA. He abandoned Miami and signed with Cleveland. Free agency, in a holding pattern until he made his decision, was suddenly up and running. Carmelo Anthony went back to New York. Kevin Love may follow LeBron to Cleveland but he's not coming to LA. Finally it's clear. The Lakers, after the worst season in franchise history, have been desperate for a free-agent savior. But they aren't going to get one. No one is coming. What's worse, another key Laker abandoned ship. Pau Gasol, the team's best big man, went to Chicago. Not too long ago, the team had already lost point guard Jordan Farmar to the Clippers. No question, the ship is sinking..

Remember how crappy and laughable the Clippers used to be? That's the mess the Lakers have become. They don't even have a coach, and haven't had one since they dumped Mike D'Antoni on May 1. They'll probably hire Byron Scott. If he does get the job, condolences rather than congratulations are in order. Why? Because the Lakers' roster is bad, really bad.

The big star will be a broken-down Kobe Bryant, an aging superstar who only played in a handful of games last season due to Achilles-tendon issues and a bum knee. The weight of the team rests on his shoulders. Unfortunately he's not good enough any more to carry a team. What's worse, he's such a maniacal competitor that he'll press and press and most likely push himself  into another injury that will keep him out, once again, for part of the season.

They did draft a promising rookie, Julius Randle. But you can't count on a rookie. He could be the next Zach Randolph or he could be a bust. They just signed point guard Jeremy Lin, a skilled ball-distributor who's a wizard at creating his own shot. But he's a weak defender who'll be eaten alive by the legion of quality point guards in the Western Conference. Their big returnees are Nick Young and Jordan Hill. But Young is a selfish gunner and Hill, a defensive specialist, is wildly inconsistent. Both are nice pieces for a good team but sore thumbs on a bad team like the Lakers. No doubt management will sign more players but, for sure, no one who's going to make an impact.

What's funny is that, as awful as the Lakers are, if they were in the Eastern Conference, which is cluttered with bad teams, they would probably make the playoffs. But the West is loaded with first-rate teams. The top ten in this division are all superior to the Lakers, who won't be barging into that elite circle any time in the next few years.

What has screwed the Lakers? Mainly a lot of bad decisions. First of all, they should never have hired D'Antoni as head coach. He was an abysmal failure because the personnel was wrong for his run-and-gun offense. In addition, Jeanie Buss should never have paid Bryant over $20 million a year when he's now not even worth half that. Money that could have been used to improve the roster was wasted on him. Squandering a ton of money on over-the hill Steve Nash was another idiotic move.

Another major blunder was not hiring Jeanie's beau, Phil Jackson, as coach or GM or consultant or something. Instead, boneheaded Jim Buss let his bad feelings toward Jackson cloud his thinking, forcing Jackson into the waiting arms of the Knicks. In the Lakers' glory days, Jerry Buss was around to steer the franchise. His kids lack his savvy and smarts. The team sorely misses its late owner.

Most of all, what has hurt the Lakers is that times have changed. In the old days, when the team had a major hole to fill, they had the clout to attract a Kareem Abdul Jabbar or a Shaquille O'Neal to help pile up championships. Used to be that LA was the prime destination, the shimmering franchise everyone wanted to be part of. But, with the radical media evolution,  it's different now. You don't have to play for LA to make big money in commercials or to become a big star. Places like Dallas, Chicago, Golden State, Miami and San Antonio are much more attractive than LA.

Players want to sign with a well-run organization, with a good team that makes the playoffs. That certainly ain't the Lakers.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why LeBron is Crazy To Return To The Heat

LeBron James is making a big mistake. He may be the best player on the planet but he definitely isn't the smartest.

He recently opted out of his fat contract with the Miami Heat but, almost certainly, after fielding some offers, he'll re-sign with Miami. Stupid move. His goal is to win more NBA championships, to pile up rings at a record rate, to surpass the lofty totals of Michael Jordan (6) and Kobe Bryant (5), the other two players in his elite class. James picked up two rings, in 2012 and 2013, in Miami. But if he wants more, he'd better pack his bags and get the hell out of South Beach.

Miami is desperately in need of a major overhaul. That was obvious a few weeks ago when they lost the NBA championship to the San Antonio Spurs in five games. Actually, they didn't lose, they were bulldozed and buried. After the second game it was clear the Heat was doomed, totally outclassed by a superior team.. Miami was flagrantly and rudely exposed. The other two players in the Heat's Big Three--Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh--have slipped, badly. James was out there all by himself, anchored by two lame stars, an inept point guard (Mario Chalmers) and some subpar role players.

The biggest problem, though, was Wade, not too long ago one of the best players in the league. Saying he's lost a step is being kind. Injuries have mercilessly slowed him down. A friend of mine--a Wade fan by the way--has tapes of games in the recent Finals that focus only on Wade. They were shocking.

Wade's defense was pitiful. He did a lot of standing around. He was usually slow on his rotations, paving the way for many easy San Antonio layups. The Spurs, by far the best passing team in the league, were constantly whipping balls past Wade, who simply couldn't keep up. Young Spurs were blowing by him like he was standing still. Offensively, he's a shadow of his former All-Star form. He can't jump as high as he used to, so his shot is way off. He doesn't drive to the basket any more, he lumbers. Defending him is a cinch. Wade doesn't require double teams now, so defenders can leave him and help out on controlling LeBron, which really cripples the Heat offense.

Bosh isn't much any more either. Once a gritty inside player, he's fallen in love with the three-pointer. He spends way too much time outside, lurking around the perimeter, instead of doing the dirty work inside, the way he used to. With Wade ineffective in the Finals, the Heat needed Bosh to step up his game and be a solid No. 2 man behind James. But Bosh blew it. LeBron sorely needed help, but he didn't get any from Bosh. With Wade and Bosh bungling, the Miami role players, like Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, needed to shine. They didn't.

This is the team--stumbling and crumbling--that James wants to come back to? The only reason they reached the Finals, as the Eastern champ, is because the East stinks. Beating up on those lousy teams didn't take much. The Heat's biggest competition, the Indiana Pacers, is a mess. If either of these two teams played in the powerhouse Western Conference, they'd have trouble making the top five. Even in the soft East, the Heat is going to have trouble passing the Pacers and making it to the Finals next season. Another NBA championship? Out of the question.

Why? Because Wade is nearing 33 but is playing like he's 38. He's only going to get worse. Bosh, who's verging on 31, has a lot of miles, eleven seasons' worth, on him and is past his prime. LeBron can't do it by himself.

The Heat needs to get better but can't. Not enough money. Like LeBron, Wade and Bosh opted out of their contracts recently. Both will re-sign with the Heat for less money, so general manager Pat Riley will have more cash to lure new players. But they need at least one big-time star to make up for Wade's decline, but can't afford one. LeBron now says he wants a max deal, calling for about $20-$22 million a year. Re-signing Wade and Bosh won't be cheap either. But even at reduced salaries, these two will be dramatically overpaid. With the big three hogging most of the money, the Heat won't be able to sign the kind of quality players necessary to win championships.

LeBron should consider signing with some Western Conference team, like Phoenix or the Clippers, that could afford to pay him while not gutting its roster. Add LeBron to any Western team, without subtracting any of its stars, and it becomes an instant championship favorite.

What's likely to happen to LeBron? Putting his personal hunger for more rings aside, he'll probably re-sign with the Heat but, in an effort to help the team, will likely back down from his max-salary demand and settle for less money. But look for him to sign a limited contract--for just a year or two-rather than one for five years..

Right now LeBron's problem is that his loyalty to the Heat and its fan base is overpowering his desire for rings. But as he gets older--he turns 30 in December--and hasn't picked up any more rings, while also feeling his prime years slipping away and that Wade and Bosh are just dead weight, he'll finally see its time to make a move.

Then it's goodbye, Miami.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Surprise! Pete Carroll is Lying

Pete Carroll is a liar. Plain and simple. Absolutely. No question.

The Seattle Seahawks coach, who just won the Super Bowl, wants us to believe he would have never left his USC head coaching gig to take the Seattle job had he known SC was going to suffer NCAA sanctions that would cripple the program for years. He bailed out in January, 2010, five months before the NCAA lowered the boom on USC with years worth of penalties, including a loss of 30 scholarships over three years and two years without bowls. In an LA Times interview, Carroll claimed he would have stayed at SC to help rebuild had he known the sanctions would be that severe.


Does Carroll think we're stupid? Does he really think we believe he would have hung around SC for the dog days? Does he think we believe he would have passed up the cushy Seattle job to wade through the penalty-laden muck at SC, where winning, with those restrictions, would be extremely difficult? Carroll had unprecedented success at SC. With a gaudy 97-19 record and six BCS wins in seven games, USC was one of the top five college teams of the last decade. But hampered by sanctions, SC wouldn't be able to effectively compete with the cream of the Pac12--Stanford and Oregon--thus staining Carroll's record. And he swears he would have hung around to help dig SC out of that hole.


SC was busted primarily because the family of RB Reggie Bush was taking all sorts of goodies from sports marketers. Carroll claims he and his coaches knew nothing about the violations. He also contends that he never thought the sanctions for those violations would be that severe.


First of all, talking to sources close to the program in those glory days, apparently lots of people knew the Bush family was on the take. According to one source, it was "an open secret." If players and their buddies knew, how could the coaches be that blind to what was going on? Not only that, it was clear--very clear--that the NCAA was going to crucify SC. A slap on the wrist just wasn't going to happen. According to one source, many in the football program knew that the NCAA hated SC and that smug, arrogant athletic director Mike Garrett, instead of being diplomatic, was being difficult with investigators and ruining any chance of light penalties. So the NCAA, which took years to build its case, was sure to crush SC. Many close to the program, said the source, knew what was coming. So Carroll, a hands-on leader with his nose in everything, certainly knew what was coming.

Carroll was just biding his time at SC until the right pro head-coaching job came along. He insisted that wasn't true but, said the source, those close to the program knew that denial was pure nonsense, that he would bolt for the NFL the moment he got the right pro offer. But, he'd be more attractive to a pro team if he were armed with a flashy collegiate record. If the SC program took a dive, as it surely would if handcuffed by penalties, that would take some of the gloss off Carroll's record. So it would be a smart move, given his agenda, for him to escape SC as soon as possible.

According to one source, the NCAA knew in 2009, long before the sanctions were announced, that SC was going to be murdered. The NCAA, said the source, which dislikes SC as much as the rest of the college football world, delayed the official announcement just to make SC sweat. But word leaked out in 2009 about the unmerciful sanctions. According to the source, even people at other schools knew what was coming--and were delighted.

So, many knew the NCAA hammer was about to cut the SC program off at the knees. And Carroll, when he skipped out to Seattle, didn't know crushing penalties were just around the corner.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Heat-Pacers Game Five--Rigged? You Bet

What in the hell is the NBA doing?

The league is constantly trying to skirt charges that games are rigged. But last night's game, which was a travesty of officiating, is just fodder for conspiracy theorists. The Pacers, at home, nipped the Heat, 93-90, to extend the Eastern Conference Finals to six games. Had the Heat, with a 3-1 lead, won last night, the series would have been over, robbing the NBA of revenue from a sixth or possibly seventh game. But the Pacers couldn't do it alone. Their offense is so pathetic it managed a mere 11 points in the second quarter. To win that game, they needed help from the officials. And, man, did they ever get it.

The recipe for beating the Heat is simple--just take Miami's superman LeBron James out of the game by putting him in foul trouble. With him playing limited minutes--and playing cautiously--the Heat is just an ordinary, very beatable team. In just over 24 foul-plagued minutes, James had only seven points. If he had his usual 25 points and was able to play his normal all-out, bruising defensive game, the Heat would have cruised to victory and the Pacers would be on vacation now instead of preparing for a sixth game in Miami.

The refs got rid of James early. He picked up his fourth foul a few seconds into the second half. With about eight minutes left in the third quarter he was awarded his fifth, diving for a loose ball. Right then, he was finished for the night, mostly riding the bench or operating tentatively, afraid to drive or play tough defense.What's worse, that fifth foul was flagrantly bogus.. Even the TV announcers questioned it. The NBA's unwritten rule is to make calls in favor of its biggest stars, to keep them from fouling out and to allow them to play with abandon. So it looks ridiculously fishy when the best basketball player on the planet, who is rarely in foul trouble in playoff games, is handcuffed by a series of rinky-dink fouls.

That wasn't all. In the fourth quarter, with the Heat still in contention, the refs did it again. The Heat's Shane Battier was mugged by some Pacers, yet, somehow, a foul was called on Battier. On another play, a replay clearly showed a Pacer last touched a ball that went out of bounds. Yet the refs, in keeping with their policy of Pacer-boosting, awarded the ball to the Pacers. Even with the refs' help and James severely limited, the Pacers, at home yet, barely won. That's how weak they are.

Some gamblers were laughing about the game, charging that the refs didn't do a very good job of camouflaging their intentions. Observed bookie Donnie F, who works out of New Jersey: "The NBA is saying they're always on the look out for gamblers trying to fix games and then the refs do what they did last night. It was lame. It was sloppy. It was obvious. Guys in my business can't believe it. If you're going to do it, do it right--not like that crap last night. Now everybody's talking about how the game was rigged. It gives rigging games a bad name."

Clearly the Pacers, with that cartoon offense, can't win the Miami series. But extending the Eastern Finals a game or two is good for the league. Let's face it, though--the last thing the NBA wants is for the Pacers to make the league championship Finals. Of the final four, Miami is the only big-time city left. Can you imagine what a TV ratings disaster the championship series would be with Indiana playing San Antonio or Oklahoma City?

Don't worry. Miami--and, of course, superstar attraction LeBron James--will be in the Finals. The refs will see to that.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Inside the Clippers' Failed Playoff Run

Who beat the Clippers? Who kept them from turning a franchise-best season into at least a trip to the Western Conference Finals? Was it the Oklahoma City Thunder? Not really.

It was that selfish, racist owner Donald Sterling who torpedoed his team. When that anti-African-American rant, the one secretly recorded by his bitter ex-girlfriend, went public on TMZ, Sterling could have taken the high road and backed away and refused to play along with the media.. But he clearly loved the attention. So did his wife Shelly. They happily plunged into the media sewer, dragging the Clippers with them.

The team was never the same after that. The Clippers wanted to play basketball, to just focus on beating Golden State and Oklahoma City. But they couldn't. They wanted no part of the Sterling scandal. But they couldn't escape it. They had no choice. And they got buried.

Sources close to two team members report that Clippers officials were trying to downplay the effects of the the scandal, insisting that the players were fine, that things, after a brief, early.slip, were back to normal. But, according to these sources, it was clear in practices and in relationships between players and their relationships with family and friends, that things weren't the same. Far from it, in fact.

What happened was that people wouldn't leave the players alone about the scandal. It was everywhere they went. Dealing with that ugliness constantly turned them into different people.

 Said one source: "If you're around those guys a lot, you could see that the Sterling mess really changed them. This negative thing was hanging over them. It really drained their energy. They were snapping at each other, off the court and even on the court.. There was this negative vibe that wasn't there before. They used to laugh and joke around. They used to be hang loose and confident. But then they became anxious and tight. It was gloom and doom. Some of the guys couldn't sleep. Their heads were all wrong. Playing basketball should have been the main thing on their minds. But it never was, not after that Sterling mess hit the fan."

Continued the source: "It really effected Chris Paul. The whole thing depressed him. You could see him fighting it, but it was a losing battle. The Chris Paul in the OKC series, that wasn't the real Chris, not him failing in the clutch. And DeAndre Jordan? He was really down, not his usual self in the locker room. And on the court, his mind was somewhere else. He had a few good moments in that OKC series but he mostly disappeared. That really hurt the team."

The Clippers barely won the Warriors' series, which should have been a cinch for them since Golden State center Andrew Bogut, a huge defensive difference-maker, was out and there was no one else to effectively guard the interior. The real Clippers, the pre-scandal Clippers, would have rolled over that Bogut-less bunch. But they struggled and were lucky to win in seven.

According to the sources, there was no way the Clippers, in their fractured state of mind, were going to beat Oklahoma City, a much better team than the Warriors. The Clippers' blowout in that series opener in OKC was misleading, insisted the source: "The Clippers didn't win that game, the Thunder just didn't show up. They hadn't recovered from that brutal seven-game series with Memphis. They were too worn out to put up a fight. But they recovered next game. The real OKC showed up."

After that, the Clippers couldn't cope. Their heads were elsewhere. They couldn't muster up enough energy to play their usual brand of high-powered defense. They were usually a step slow, particularly on the perimeter, where they generally excel. OKC killed them with open shots. OKC is good, really good. You've got to be at the top of your game to beat them. The Clippers weren't even close.

After that opening game win in Oklahoma City, the Clippers had just two strong spurts in the next five games. One was at the end of the fourth game, which carried them to victory. The other was at the beginning of the sixth game, which translated into an early sixteen-point lead. But from then on, they didn't put up much of a fight, ultimately losing that game and the series..

Let's face it. The Clippers could have handled the scandal better. A stronger-willed bunch might have. But this was virgin territory. No NBA team has ever had to go through something like this while competing in the playoffs. Yes, the Clippers failed. But they only get part of the blame.

They were pushed into a cesspool and they drowned. But who pushed them in? That selfish, racist, idiot owner Donald Sterling. A lot of the Clippers' playoff failure is on him.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Dirt Behind the Warriors' Firing Mark Jackson

Everybody figured Mark Jackson would be the Golden State Warriors' coach for the next ten years. Yet he was just fired, right after the team's playoff's run ended.

What happened? In a situation like this there can only be one answer--behind-the-scenes dirt. Before we get to that and what Jackson did wrong, here's what he did right.

A former NBA star and television analyst, Jackson had no previous coaching experience when he was hired by Golden State three seasons ago, in June 2011. Yet he quickly transformed a perennially average team into one of the most feared powers in the NBA, powered by a pair of crowd-pleasing sharpshooters, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. For decades, the Warriors hardly ever made the playoffs. But under Jackson's guidance, they surged into the playoffs two consecutive years, even getting into the second round last season. Consistently packed with frenzied followers, their arena is one the toughest for visiting teams. This season the Warriors won 51 games and battled a favored team, the LA Clippers, down to the last few minutes before losing a brutal seven-game playoff series. All the while though, Jackson was a dead man walking.

According to sources close to the team, to keep his job he had to make it to the West Finals. However, ace defender, center Andrew Bogut, was injured just before the playoffs and was done for the season. The Warriors' playoffs hopes went with him. So did Jackson's job.

What most people didn't know is that, all season, there was an ugly soap opera raging behind the scenes. Jackson was at war with his bosses. He didn't like them and they didn't like him. Said one of the sources, Jackson's superiors considered him "arrogant, stubborn, inflexible, defiant, hypocritical and unable to take criticism." One of his enemies was Kirk Lacob, assistant GM and son of co-owner Joe Lacob--probably his biggest enemy.

Jackson was consistently doing things to anger management. For instance, when center Jason Collins came out of the closet and everybody in the league was being supportive,  Jackson was lukewarm. It turns out that Jackson, pastor of a church in Van Nuys, is a fundamentalist who's not favorable to gays. That's not a popular stance in the Bay Area, which includes San Francisco, a gay mecca. Team vice president Rick Welts, who's openly gay, was also offended. This was definitely a strike against Jackson. In a gay-friendly league, with more players likely to come out in the next few years, a coach not supportive of gays is a liability.

What galled the team front office is that Jackson, despite his sanctimonious, holier-than-thou attitude, doesn't practice what he preaches. When Jackson, who's been married for more than 20 years, was working back east about eight years ago, he had an affair with a stripper, who tried to blackmail him in 2012. The scandal, foiled by the FBI, went public, embarrassing him and the team.

Another problem Jackson had with management--he prefers to live in Southern California, to be closer to his church. The bosses wanted him to reside in the Bay Area so he could have easier access to team operations. But, as he did in other matters, Jackson ignored them.

It didn't help that some of his bosses didn't care for his coaching, particularly his penchant for one-on-one basketball and his tendency to make poor half-time adjustments. Someone who questioned his coaching moves was Warrior executive Jerry West, the former Laker great. Jackson, however, tuned him out, adding him to his enemies list.

Another black mark against Jackson--his handling of coaches. He had epic battles with Brian Scalabrine and defensive specialist Darren Erman, often in front of the players. Both were removed. Because of these conflicts with assistants, Jackson's management skills were always in question. Much of his staff, according to the sources, was unhappy and not too supportive.

Jackson has a reputation for being a player's coach. However, report the sources, some of the Warriors weren't in his corner. They felt he favored Curry and Thompson and treated others unfairly.

In spite of all the behind-the-scenes soap opera, Jackson still managed to produce a winner, even though handicapped by the loss, for the playoffs, of a key player--Bogut. That's a testament to his coaching skills.

But, in this case, coaching skills and wins and losses didn't matter. The off-court issues may seem relatively minor and not important enough to get Jackson fired but his bosses, fed up with all the transgressions, saw it differently. Only a trip to the Western Conference could have saved him--because you can't really fire a coach that takes his team that far.

Setting the bar impossibly high was the Warriors' less-than-subtle way of getting rid of someone who had alienated the key powers of the organization.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Plea To Clipper fans. Support Your Team!

Enough of this, Clipper fans. Halt this distraction. Put this Donald Sterling scandal to rest. Put it where it belongs, in your rear view mirror. It's time to get back to the business at hand--winning games.


The NBA has spoken. It has done all it can do. Sterling has been ordered him away from the team--forever. The process is in motion to strip him and, hopefully, his family, of Clippers' ownership. That's all that can be done at the moment. The NBA doesn't have the power to force him to sell the team. The other owners can do that. They can vote him out some time in the next few weeks. Being a stubborn, litigious old coot, he may fight to keep the team and drag this mess out in the courts. Who knows?

Meanwhile Sterling still owns the team. Revenues from its operation still go in his pockets. Yes, supporting the team still means supporting the repulsive racist. But, Clipper fans, get beyond that. Don't desert the team when it needs you most.

Here's a reality you don't want to face. The Clippers have the best team in franchise history, a team capable of winning the NBA title. How did that happen? Who's responsible? You may hate to admit it, but Sterling is, to a large degree, responsible. Known for most of his years as an owner to be cheap and indifferent to the team's success, he cleaned up his act in the last few years, hired some smart people, loosened the purse strings and set the wheels in motion to field a winning team.

He may be a racist moron but, under his watch, the Clippers have morphed into a top-notch team. As much as you hate to, give him credit. This is a winner, to a large degree, because of him. Fortunately, he didn't let his racist views interfere with building this team. He could have done something stupid like hiring all white management and player personnel, but he didn't. Being a racist doesn't make him dumb.

So, Clipper fans, just because it finally became public that he's a racist, you want to abandon the team. The fact that he's a racist really has nothing to do with the team. That's in his head. He didn't impose his views on others. The woman he was talking to when the racist rants were recorded is part black and part Mexican. Not only is he a racist, but he's a confused racist. He doesn't even know how to be a good racist. He can't even stay away from the people he hates.

Clippers fans, don't let what goes on in Sterling's mashed-potato brain keep you from backing this team. What has changed in the last few days? You found out that the owner of your team is a racist. You think that comes as a surprise to coach Doc Rivers or stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin? Of course not. It's been an open secret for years. He's a racist bully. Stories about his rude, crude, mean behavior have been circulating for decades. Just about everyone who goes into business with Sterling on a  high level knew what they were in for.

What's bothering you, Clipper fans,  is that supporting the team means supporting racism. You feel tricked and betrayed. But look at it this way. Why should what goes on in Sterling's head keep you from supporting his team. These people are not racists. They're victims, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Right now, these "victims" need your support. If you have tickets, go to the playoff games. If you don't have tickets, watch on TV. But support the Clippers. If they are focused they have a good shot at winning the Western Conference championship, maybe even the NBA title.

It would be a shame, Clipper fans, if this team didn't reach its potential because it was sidetracked by this scandal. Don't let that happen.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Are Some NBA Games Fixed?

Are some NBA games fixed?

According to several veteran bookies tuned into the underworld, a few games definitely are. One estimated that about a dozen games a season are rigged.

The issue arose as a result of Saturday's Clippers-Warriors playoff game, which Golden State, an eight-point, road underdog, surprisingly won, 109-105. Clearly the Warriors got a big boost from the refs, who handcuffed Clippers' star Blake Griffin early with questionable fouls--the kind rarely called on a superstar in a critical game. Griffin played only 19 minutes and was walking on eggshells during most of them, before fouling out with 48.3 seconds left. During that final minute, when he could have made a difference, he was on the bench. Through most of the game, without Griffin to worry about, the Warriors could focus more on the Clippers shooters, rendering them ineffective.

The refs, in the name of  keeping the game from turning into a brawl, were constantly calling "invisible" fouls. To make it look like they were treating both teams equally, they hampered the Warriors' best defensive player Andre Iguoadala with fouls, eventually fouling him out. But the loss of Griffin hurt the Clippers much, much more that losing Iguoadala bothered the Warriors. If Griffin plays most of the game, the Clippers almost certainly win.

Was it a case of rigging or just horrible officiating?  In the opinion of several bookies, the game could easily have been rigged, though none knew for sure. One, though, disagreed, arguing that fixed games are handled much more smoothly, with the refs playing a less obvious role.

What usually happens in fixed NBA games, said one bookie, is subtle point-shaving, with the refs making calls that keep a big favorite from covering the spread. Point shaving, he added, generally happens in games nobody cares about, between one good team and a bad team. Fixing, he said, is tougher in a big national TV game with so many people watching.

NBA officials are constantly fretting about rigging, a stance many claim is hypocritical, considering some observers swear three major playoff games were fixed by the league: the first is game 7 of the 2000 Lakers-Trail Blazers Western Conference Finals; the second is game 6 of the 2002  Lakers-Kings Western Conference Finals; the third is the game 5 of the 2006 Miami-Dallas Finals. The NBA, naturally, claims innocence in all three cases.

Can point-shaving--instances involving the underworld--be stopped? It's doubtful. One bookie argued the problem is the crooked refs are way ahead of the investigators, much like, he added, juiced-up athletes are one step ahead of investigators, with the latest juice-masking drugs.

All the bookies consulted, though, said there will be no more questionable games in this season's playoffs. The Warriors-Clippers game, they said, heightened awareness of rigging. It's tougher to pull it off cleanly when everyone is watching out for it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fire Sandy Barbour, Cal Athletic Director

Wanna know how bad things are in the Cal athletic program? Look at it this way. The program is the Titanic and the captain is incompetent athletic director Sandy Barbour.

There's only one way out of this mess and it's this--fire Sandy Barbour, fire Sandy Barbour, fire Sandy Barbour. Just in case it didn't sink in, let me say it again: fire Sandy Barbour!

She's totally lacking vision and creativity. She's so out of touch she can't see the obvious. She's famous for her budget bungles and her mismanagement of Memorial Stadium renovation.  She makes bad decision after bad decision. Her most notorious, bone-headed move is, early last year, replacing burned-out head football coach Jeff Tedford with a second-rate, offense-first coach, Sonny Dykes, who won just one game and made Cal the laughing-stock of college football.

So we're stuck with a football coach who's guaranteed to keep the Bears in the Pac12 basement for years to come. Since men's basketball coach Mike Montgomery just retired and Barbour is hunting for a replacement, it looks like downtrodden Cal fans are about to get another lemon. Since she's been scouring the depths of the college coaching world, most likely Barbour is about to inflict another nobody on us.

Look at the candidates list: UC Irvine's Russell Turner, a titan of the Big West conference,  Notre Dame's Mike Brey, who's coming off a 15-17 season, Bryce Drew, who led Valparasio to a 18-16 season, Murray State's Steve Prohm. Is anybody else clamoring for these coaches? Are other schools waiting in line to sign any of them? Has any knowledgeable college hoops fan heard of any these guys?  Hell no. Because they're bottom-rung coaches.

The John Calaparis and Coach Ks obviously won't want to come to Berkeley, which doesn't have super facilities or a recent history of NCAA success or a fat budget for coaches. But Cal should be able to get a better coach than the guys on the above list. Think about it. Why should small-conference VCU have a better coach, Shaka Smart, than a major Pac12 school like Cal? But if Barbour tried to recruit Smart, he'd laugh in her face.

The average Cal men's team is talent-starved. You can't win without very good players. But the typical Bear team has just one or two top-notch players. Cal will never be a basketball power unless the AD hires a coach who can attract lots of talent, like some players on the top 100 list of high school stars. The Bears rarely get any of these gems. They have one now in Jabari Bird, but he's surrounded by a bunch of ordinary players. A quality coach could bring in some studs to support Bird.

Over the years, the Bay Area has produced some outstanding high school players. But they almost never go to Cal. A coach with superior recruiting skills would steer some of this talent to Berkeley. Hiring such a coach, however, won't be easy with Barbour in charge.

Who would want to work under her?. According to several sources, she has a horrible reputation in college sports circles. Apparently the buzz out there is that the administration doesn't trust her. So why would a first-rate coach, with other options, step into a rocky program with a bumbling leader? A respected, high-profile athletic director might lure a top-tier coach to Berkeley. Most likely though, Cal will get some second or third tier guy who will guarantee a stream of two-star players who will guarantee a string of subpar seasons.

Loyal, long-suffering Cal fans deserve a high-quality program. That means getting a better leader, which, of course, means one thing--fire Sandy Barbour. Once more for emphasis:


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why the Eagles Really Released DeSean Jackson

DeSean Jackson, the speedy, game-breaking wide receiver, a gangster?


The Philadelphia Eagles gave no official reason for dumping their best player after six years, after his finest season--82 catches, 1332 yards, 9 TDs. Unofficially though, the team was reportedly upset with Jackson's alleged gang affiliations, claiming that he's linked to the notorious, LA-based gang, the Crips, that he flashes gang signs and hangs with gang members. The Eagles, supposedly, feared his thuggish allegiances might have ugly consequences. Recalling how Patriots' tight end Aaron Hernandez, in jail for murder, sullied the image of New England, Philadelphia reportedly wanted to get rid of Jackson before he committed some felony or was linked to some criminal activity that would drag the Eagles' name into the gutter.

 Forget all that. The gang affiliation excuse is just a cover. Here's why the Eagles really released him.

On the one hand, the team was looking to save money by dumping Jackson, who makes $10.5 million a year and has three years left on a fat but non-guaranteed contract. But that's just a small part of it. The main reason for the Eagles' move is head coach Chip Kelly's ego. According to two sources close to the team, Kelly, a bigger control freak than most head coaches, simply tired of Jackson chipping away at his authority and scoffing at his rigid, unorthodox fitness program. Sources report that Kelly and Jackson were in constant conflict. It didn't help that Jackson hated and wouldn't listen to receivers coach Bob Bicknell. Kelly felt he and his coaches were constantly disrespected by Jackson. Some coaches will put up with that kind of hostile attitude from their star players. But not Kelly.

Jackson and his head coaches always butt heads. When he was a Cal last decade he gave coach Jeff Tedford fits. Reportedly Jackson was the leader of a pack that created havoc in that locker room. His first coach with the Eagles, Andy Reid, now heads the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that could really use Jackson. But the Chiefs don't want him, partly because they don't have the money but mainly because Reid has had his fill of the Jackson distraction.

Unquestionably, Jackson is a handful for any coach. Smug and defiant, he's strongly anti-authoritarian, the kind of player who's late for meetings and doesn't listen to coaches. Like Randy Moss, Jackson, on the field, doesn't always go all out. But like Moss in his prime, Jackson, who has blazing speed, scares the hell out of defenses and is a constant threat to score, either as a wide receiver or as a punt/ kick returner. More negatives. He doesn't have a great work ethic and is a distraction in the locker room, often setting a bad example for younger players. Off the field he hangs out at night clubs and, yes, pals around with hoodlums. Jackson grew up in Compton, a tough Los Angeles suburb, and chooses not to distance himself from the dark side of the hood.

OK, so Jackson is a bad actor. But he's not a gang member. Just because he still has Compton buddies, that doesn't make him a gang-banger. If Eagles' head coach Kelly has problems with Jackson's behavior he should say so, and not hint that he's releasing him because he has gang ties.

By the way, most teams, according to several sources, have young players who pal around with gang members. These players are just more quiet about it than Jackson. According to these sources, a few players on NFC teams are actual gang members. They grew up in gangs and secretly maintain gang ties. It's all part of the seamy NFL underground. Jackson, though, sources confirm, really isn't part of that underground.

Rumors of his gang affiliations haven't scared away other teams. Jackson is in talks with the Washington Redskins. If that doesn't work out, the Raiders and the Browns are waiting in line. In addition, insiders claim the San Francisco 49ers are interested.

Clearly, this fall Jackson will once again be be terrorizing NFL defenses.