Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Xtra Large Headache

Pure Chaos...

For those who have never attended or covered a Super Bowl, those are the only fitting words that come to mind for those of us who have been there.

Having covered SuperBowl XXXIV in 2000 here in Atlanta (Brother Nelson has been to XXVIII, XXXIII and XXXIV), it is the most bizarre, crazy, rollercoaster ride of a week that you could ever imagine.

Welcome All and None...

The first thing that you have to understand about the “Super Bowl,” the Championship Game of Championship games, is that is not for the general public to attend.

Sure, the NFL would love your money if you can find a way to get a ticket, but those tickets are not available to very many people. The only shot you’ve got, a ticket broker, and if you do that, you are going to be paying a lot of money.

You see the game is mostly for Corporate Sponsors and for VIP’s. Why else do you think that you see shots of various assorted celebrities from the network covering the game. Unless you are a volunteer, an Event Staff person or a vendor, good luck getting in.

Media Circus...

ImageYeah, it is a Circus, so to speak. But it is mostly due to the fact that every so-called TV Network, alleged Newspaper, magazine and/or radio station feels compelled to say they covered the game.

Most of them, they don’t even see the field on Game Day. Sure, they are right there with MTV and the Weather Channel and Entertainment Tonight on Media Day, but when it comes down to game time, they are in a room somewhere away from it all, watching on TV.

Speaking of “Media Day,” it is the only thing that it could accurately be described as a gigantic “ClusterF*ck”. You may, if you are lucky, get to talk to the player that you are there for, but more than likely, you’ll get the guy least crowded. Why you ask? Because like I said before, every “National” media outlet will be there…they will be there with what will seem like a small army of people, armed with Fishpole mics, long, extended camera lenses and probably a ladder, for the camera people to get any kind of shot.

What is truly sad is that most of the media there…do stories on the other media there. Why is this? I really don’t know. Do any of you care that we have a camera and reporter at a game? Or for that matter, do you really want to see what the slovenly, poorly dressed writer/radio host looks like when he’s covering the “Big Story?”

Me, when I covered SuperBowl XXXIV, the best I could do was a “Concourse Pass.” That meant I could roam the concourse level of the Georgia Dome with my reporter, but couldn’t go into the stands or stand somewhere and actually watch the game. Believe it or not, there were curtains at the top of each stairway leading into the stands that effectively blocked any clear view of the field.

But Everyone Watches...

Every year, this is the most watched Event on Television. To be totally honest with you, that is the best place to see it - on Television. On TV, you at least get to see the ads, which most of the time are better than the game. But here is a suggestion, watch the game without the volume on. Do you really want to listen to the announcers anyway? Or for that matter, do you really want to subject yourself to possibly the most annoying thing about pro football today - THE PRE-GAME SHOW? After all, coverage starts right at noon and continues - and continues - throughout the day.

For you and me, to come down to a “Super Bowl” means that you’ll be standing in ungodly long lines, watching the rich and famous go into parties, events and the game that you want to see. If that is for you, then great - have fun, and enjoy yourself. Make sure you bring your checkbook.

--Phil Cantor

“The time has come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time (Pink Floyd)

Monday, January 22, 2007

What's the Opposite of Good?

Just do Something!

Okay, quick…name the worst team in the NBA. You do follow the NBA don’t you? Come on, it’s not difficult. Think about it…just a little bit.

The L.A. Clippers, no, they were bad in the 80’s and early 90’s. How about the New York Knicks? They were coached by the idiot Isaiah Thomas…surely they suck. We’ll yes, they do, but they haven’t always sucked.

ImageOkay then, who are we talking about? We are talking about what may very well be the worst run franchise in not only the history of the NBA, but in fact all of Professional Sports. We are talking about the Atlanta Hawks.

You’re Kidding...

No, actually you can make a pretty convincing case for the ineptitude of everything Hawks. I say this as someone who has had to periodically cover them over the past few seasons. They don’t get a lot of coverage, though we generally like the players and coach and the PR staff is a good group of people.

ImageBelieve it or not, they weren’t too bad in the 80’s and early 90’s. They featured the “Human Highlight Film” Dominique Wilkins and a nice cast of roleplayers back then. They made the playoffs fairly frequently; in fact, the Hawks/Celtics Conference Championship series of 1988 may be one of the best playoff series in the history of the NBA.

What Happened?

Well, the bottom fell out for a few reasons. Sometime in the late 90’s, the then General Manager and owners of the team decided they needed to blow up the roster and start over. Why they made that decision nobody knows, but that began a series of almost laughable and certainly pathetic moves.

In or around the year 2000, the Hawks acquired the notorious J.R. (Isaiah/Pothead) Rider. Rider had a, well, let’s just say a not so “clean” reputation…but he could score. Also in there, they picked up the “Big Dog”…Glen Robinson. A great college scorer, who well, he shot a lot in the NBA.

From there, the bottom pretty much fell out. The Hawks fired the GM, Pete Babcock and hired a “Basketball Genius” Billy Knight (just ask him). From there, believe it or not…things got worse.

All Forwards...

The Hawks Ownership group (Atlanta Spirit) put all of their faith in the ability of the Basketball “Genius” to rebuild a once proud franchise. His idea to make things better – start drafting forwards. Not just any forwards but a group of 6-7 to 6-9 guys who can “play” multiple positions.

Well, so far, 3 years into that plan…well, it ain’t working. 2004 saw the Hawks register one of the worst records in NBA history…a robust 13-69. 2005 wasn’t much better 26-56…though Knight was quick to point out “We doubled our win total from the year before”. This year has brought a wonderful 13-25 record through Monday January 22.

The “All Forward” experiment…so far, the evidence isn’t too positive. You’ve got a team now with no point guard and no real center but a lot of forwards on it. The Hawks believe it or not, had a chance to draft Chris Paul, the all-everything point guard for the Hornets…but they passed and took 6-9 Marvin Williams. Boy that’s worked out well.

Can It Be Fixed?

ImageThe first step to fixing something is admitting that there is a problem. The Hawks ownership, for a variety of reasons has not admitted that there is a problem of any kind. Granted they are restricted in what they can do because of their own internal ownership legal battle, but that hasn’t stopped their other team…the NHL Thrashers from being pretty successful.

They can fix the problem, but the first step is going to be to get rid of the GM/Genius who has brought them to the running punch line that they now have become. I actually feel bad for the coach, Mike Woodson…Woody is a career NBA guy who has gotten his first chance to run his own team. He’s a really good guy, a good teacher who can show people what to do and where to be, but who is playing every night basically with one hand tied behind his back.

(l to r) Johnson, Smith and Childress
The only seriously good players on the roster right now are Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Josh Childress. Out of those 3 only Johnson is a serious threat to do damage on a given night. On any other team, he’d be a “HUGE” star, in Atlanta he’s a guy forced to play 40 minutes a night with 3 guys draped all over him.

I really feel bad for these guys because they really are good people. But, because they have been so bad for so long…they get absolutely no love in the Atlanta area and won’t for a long time. Heck a couple weeks ago, they were out-drawn by a Georgia Tech/Duke game that was being played at the same time the Hawks were playing.

Will these guys ever get it together? I don’t think so. Not until the people that run this team realize they’ve got to do something. If they don’t they’ll be playing in front of a lot of empty chairs.

--Phil Cantor

“The time has come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time (Pink Floyd)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mystify Me...


Okay, can someone please explain to me how of all people…Chan Gailey became a hot “NFL” coaching commodity? Yes, I know that he’s now been ruled out in Pittsburgh (1/16). But what I want to know is how does he get to that level to begin with?

It’s who you know...

I guess in a way, this proves without any question that the NFL is very much a closed fraternity.

This past week on our Count/Pointercount “7 in 7” segment, Gil Tyree explained the coaching tree that helped carry Bobby Petrino to the Atlanta Falcons. He explained the connections and evolution that brought Petrino through to the place that he is now. (Or as Jon says “At least until the next job”)

It really is Carousel...

Yeah, it really is. Coaches go in to be “Re-Born” and come out with new or better jobs. Heck if you are Jim L. Mora...you get fired one week and are interviewing by the end of the same week for a job.

Believe it or not, there is sort of precedence for all of this. I don’t know how many of you followed the NBA in the late 70’s and through the 80’s, but look at what they did with coaches as a prime example.

Take for instance - Kevin Loughery. Loughery somehow managed to coach in the NBA for 22 years. In that time, he coached 6 NBA teams and had a career winning percentage of 41. Yet he kept getting jobs! Guys like him, Stan Albeck, Gene Shue and Bill Fitch…made careers of bouncing around the league as coaches.

Weren’t we talking about Gailey?

Yes, we were talking about Chan Gailey. Gailey is another example of what I just spoke about. He got his interview with Pittsburgh because rather than recommend a former assistant coach for the job…former Steeler Head Coach Bill Cowher recommended Gailey. Same thing in Miami, he got the interview because after his stint as Offensive Coordinator in 2000, he stayed friendly with the owner Wayne Huizenga. In fact, his chief competition for the Miami job is none other than Jim L. Mora.

Don’t get me wrong. Chan Gailey is a good man and a solid football coach. He’s been at Georgia Tech for 5 years and had modest success there. Tech is not a national powerhouse any more in Football (though the fans think they are), but rather a good team that on a given day might surprise someone.

The problem with Gailey is this. He’s a solid coach…not a great coach. It’s not a positive thing for him that neither the Yellow Jackets administration nor the fan base is concerned with his name cropping up for other jobs. In fact – his boss, Dan Radakovich was quoted as saying “If something happens, we’re prepared to deal with it.” What does that mean? Who knows?

Ad Nauseam…

I know that we’ve gone over and over and over these stories the past couple of weeks. But you know what? It, in a way, has become a sport of its own. “Spin the Wheel…and find out where your favorite coach has landed.” All that would be missing is Wink Martindale to be holding the long skinny microphone and then you too, can find out where your coach will be today.

NOTE: The latest name to surface for the Miami Dolphins job…Mike Shula. How ironic would that be? In the span of a month Shula could be hired to replace the guy (lying Nick Saban) who replaced Shula after he got fired. Get it? No…I don’t get it either.

--Phil Cantor

“The time has come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time- (Pink Floyd)

Monday, January 8, 2007

Liars, Quitters, Losers

OK, something going around college football has really started bugging me.

Why the F*CK would you sign a contract, telling your owner or AD you planned on sticking around and honoring it, if you didn’t MEAN a damn word of it?

Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino – you’re in my sights.

Nick – you denied and denied and denied and denied...
Bobby – you just signed, and the ink is barely dry, a contract in July to stay in the ‘Ville for TEN more years (dude, you could have won a national championship next season. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.)

I guess I can fault the University of Alabama and the Atlanta Falcons just about much as the two Liar, Quitter, Losers. It takes two to tango.

What kind of example are you setting for today’s athlete? I mean, when I played at Wake Forest (yes, now you know I’m bitter against Petrino ANYWAY), Bill Dooley didn’t jump ship or chase the almighty dollar. He helped recruit me, and I helped win the ’92 Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl for his last collegiate victory. He left as the 10th winningest coach in college football history.

ImageWhat about Brian Brohm? What about Lou Groza award winner Arthur Carmody?

Carmody said this about Petrino’s mutiny. "I'm in shock right now. We're coming off a great Orange Bowl win and we were all thinking national championship. I didn't think this would happen. He said he enjoyed college football. He's a great coach and we're going to miss him."

Petrino said in July he wanted to prove to his new recruits he’d be there through their entire Cardinal career. All he did was prove he cared more about the Benjamins than he did the Brohms, the Carmodys or the Harry Douglases.

Saban followed the same path. He kept saying he was committed to Miami, committed to owner Wayne Huizenga, and did NOT want to accept Mal Moore and Alabama’s offer.

ImageDid he think if he denied it over and over again, we (the media) would go away and leave him alone to take it?

I’m an old school kind of guy, as the true OSG/Sports Smack followers can attest. You have nothing but your word. You have nothing but the respect you earn. Saban no longer has a word I can trust, and no longer has the respect of a truly winning coach in the NCAA or NFL.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. The only games you should be playing are between the hedges, not between our ears.

I’m not usually this deep, just deep in it...trust me.

--John V. Wood

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Ring Around the NFL Rosies...

Welcome to Carousel...

Well, it certainly didn’t take long. The NFL Coaching Death March has already begun. If you are reading this, you already know about the first two to be fired. Dennis Green and Jim Mora Jr. Add that to the Bill Cowher retirement watch and the ongoing "I haven’t spoken to them," "I’m not talking about it any more" saga of the mealy-mouthed Nick Saban…and well, all that's missing is the circus music.

The 2 Sides of Mora...

The Jim Mora firing (reported on OSG moments after it happened) is one that I can personally speak on. I’ve covered the Falcons for all 3 of Mora’s seasons and let’s just say…well…they were interesting.

Like most people there were 2 sides to the guy. One was the coach and the other the human being. As a person, I got to spend time with Mora and his family when we did a long sit-down interview with them at their home this past summer. Despite what most of the Atlanta media thought, he was genuinely a good family man and I can respect that. He’s got a wife and 3 kids all who adore him and you can tell by seeing them interact that he feels the same way about them. On that level, losing his job was unfortunate.

On a separate level, there was Mora the Head Coach of the Falcons. Folks, as a Head Coach…he just didn’t get it. There is no other way to put it. He was in over his head and didn’t know how to get back above the water line.

Watch Out for that Bus!

For anyone who has played in, watched or covered Sports…particularly on a Professional level, there is a basic rule - your coach is not your friend. This is something that I don’t think Jim Mora Jr. understood.

With his players, he really...I mean really...tried to come across as one of them. He would listen to their music, try everything he could to get them pumped up. Heck, he would snort ammonia capsules with them before games (Not recommended for Kids or Normal Adults).

He was all about loyalty. No matter what they did, how they performed, win or lose - Jim always backed them up, stood behind them and deflected the blame.

In a lot of ways, that was admirable, but in the end…he would lose control of his team. In the end, the team tanked…they lost 5 of their last 7 games including the last 2 where they essentially mailed it in. This happened in 2005 as well - not a good sign for long term success.

There were other problems. The well-documented, stupid interview with the Seattle radio station, for example (also on OSG). There were incidents like throwing a radio headset after a game when the radio interviewer asked a question he didn’t like. There were some that weren’t publicized - he destroyed the cell phone of a Falcons PR staffer after he didn’t warn him about a going-off-the-field interview at halftime (I was going in the tunnel behind the team and heard him cursing him out as they went to the locker room). There was an alleged incident where he cursed out two ball boys (aged 12 and 13) when they came into the halftime lockerroom laughing after the Falcons were losing at the half (they were kids of a Blank family friend). There was also an incident - which he didn’t deny when asked about - where he got into a shouting match with a couple of Philadelphia Eagles fans in the team hotel the day before the 2004/05 NFC Championship game (which the Falcons lost).

Be Nice on the Way Up...

My point is this. When the heat started coming on Mora…nobody…I mean nobody jumped to his defense. Not his team Owner, not the team's Fans, not the team's Quarterback and certainly no one in the Media. During the season he treated the media as a nuisance. What he failed to understand was that he was not in Philadelphia or Green Bay or someplace where they cover every nuance of the team and where they are the number 1 story whenever they did something. All we were looking for was a team that would win and the ability to do stories on them doing that.

The atmosphere surrounding the team here in Atlanta is not good and has gotten worse over the course of the season. The owner, Arthur Blank, isn’t a help either. Though he spends a lot of money on players and facilities (well, at least the facilities stay healthy and don’t drop passes), he likes to be an active part of the team, befriending the players and coaches. Privately he's OK, but publicly on the sideline during a game…not so much!

There is more. The team GM/Personnel guy Rich McKay (son of former Tampa Bay and USC Coach John) believes he is the smartest guy in football. He makes all, I mean all, the personnel decisions and we are seeing firsthand how that is working.

That being said, they said all the right things Monday at the firing Press Conference, but at no time did they defend their now former coach.

Can the Falcons Find Someone?

The Falcons will be fine. They will find someone to coach their team. They will be moderately successful for a couple of years and then the bottom will fall out and that person will be fired.

The way that the team does business right now is a set-up for failure. They will never get a “High-Profile” coach to take the job. Those guys want full control and Blank and McKay will never give it to them.

But someone will take it, and hey, who knows? If it’s the right guy….maybe they will get the most out of Michael Vick and the team will be a success.

The Falcons are not the worst franchise in the NFL. They aren’t the best either and they probably never will be. They will have times of success and times of failure, but at least in my opinion, will never be the consistent contender that they claim to be until they change the way that they do business.

What About Mora?

Jim Mora Jr. will be fine. Heck, he could lay on the beach for 2 years and still get paid a couple of million dollars for those years. Not bad work if you can get it.

He will find work again. The NFL is a very closed business. The teams tend to hire and fire the same people over and over again. Much the same way that the Coaching Carousel begins at the end of each regular season…it always ends at the start of a new one…and the passengers get off, they always seem to have someplace to go.

--Phil Cantor

“The time has come, my song is over, thought I’d something more to say” Time-Pink Floyd