Four hard-hitting (?) notes on sports.

January 10th, 2010


1. Carroll to the Seahawks: The Pete Principle? — I was prepared to write something snarky about Pete Carroll’s probable move from USC to the Seattle Seahawks, what with the contrast between his stellar record at SC and his mediocre previous run as a pro head coach. But, here’s the thing: I’m too ambivalent. My ambivalence gets bullet points of its own:

  • Yeah, Carroll got fired by the Patriots . . . but Pats owner Robert Kraft admits it was the toughest decision of his ownership, and Carroll suffers unduly because he followed one coaching legend (Bill Parcells) and was followed by a man who became a legend in his tenure with the Patriots (Bill Belichick).
  • Yeah, Carroll has been a great college coach, rebuilding USC to the pinnacle of glory . . . but there’s talk of NCAA sanctions against that program, which calls into question his tenure there.
  • Yeah, Carroll seems like he could be a primadonna . . . but a recent Esquire profile helped me to understand him better for what he is: not just a jock’s jock, but really an Archjock among coaches. I don’t say that in a bad way. I just think it’s important to understand that he’s not primarily a coach-as-teacher (like John Wooden), a coach-as-strategist (Bill Walsh), a coach-as-tough-guy (Parcells), or a coach-as-leader-of-men (Bear Bryant). He’s always been a jock, and he’s still a jock.

One thing that does stink about his impending career move: the Seahaws apparently made a mockery of the Rooney Rule — which requires NFL teams to interview African-American candidates for head-coaching jobs — in rushing ahead with Carroll’s hiring.

On the one hand, I’m not surprised: there are plenty of non-glamorous jobs that require interviews with multiple qualified candidates, even when the folks doing the hiring know all along which person they want to hire. People game those requirements routinely, so it’s not surprising that the Seahawks would pull the same thing.

But maybe, as Johnette Howard suggests in her ESPN column, the Seahawks’ behavior here will move the League (specifically, Commissioner Roger Goodell) to enforce the Rooney Rule much more strictly going forward.

2. So far, I’m batting .000 on my NFL playoff predictions. I thought the Bengals would handle the Jets in Cincinatti; I thought the Cowboys might continue their streak of playoff futility; I assumed the Patriots would show up for their game against the Ravens; and I thought that the Packers would beat Arizona in the desert. But no.

3. Worth its own item: the last play of the Packers-Cardinals epic carnival of scoring came when Cardinals defender Michael Adams forced a fumble by Packer QB Aaron Rodgers. The Cardinals recovered the fumble and ran it the short distance to their end zone, finishing the game and reminding us all that we need a better system for deciding football games than a sudden-death overtime.

Here’s the thing, though: Adams had his hand firmly in Rodgers’ facemask for a few seconds. I don’t think he meant to do it, but it wasn’t just incidental contact.

I’m all for having refs swallow their whistles in the playoffs. Don’t decide contests like this with a flag for a hit that comes a millisecond late, or if the left tackle commits holding on his man by a margin of two inches. But, again, this didn’t look like a borderline call to me.

4. Hall of Fame bloviating. — I said what I meant to say about the current Hall of Fame ballot the other day, but the commentary and the meta-commentary just keeps on flowing.

Tom Gage of the Detroit News opines that Lou Whitaker deserved better than a one-and-done on the Hall of Fame ballot — in 2001. Gage is feeling guilty now because he didn’t vote for Whitaker; since Whitaker didn’t garner at least 5 percent of the 2001 vote, he dropped off the ballot after his first appearance.

He has a point about giving retired players more shots on the ballot. Among those he lists, Ted Simmons and Will Clark would certainly merit more than summary dismissal. But for all our sabermetrics, Simmons, Clark, and Whitaker probably all belong in that big pool of players with Paul O’Neill, Joe Carter, and Joe Torre: hell of a player, played a good long while, . . . but not a Hall of Famer.

On the other end of the vote-getting spectrum, Howard Bryant thinks we need some historical perspective on first-ballot election to the Hall. His basic points are that first-ballot election is historically rare, we shouldn’t expect it for many players, and the past decade has been anomalous in the high number of players elected on their first ballot.

Now as the proud bearer of a graduate education in history, I’m all for historical perspective in anything. But I think the “outrage” that Bryant describes is understandable. Thanks to a variety of advances including careers played entirely on television and a raft of advanced analytical statistics, we are more capable than ever of comparing one player to another.

Using these modern advances — or, hey, just a casual look at the back of his baseball card — it’s excessively, aggressively obvious that Roberto Alomar was a better player than many of those already enshrined in the Hall. How low could you rank him among all second basemen? Fifth, maybe? That’s a clear Hall of Famer. It was clear when he was playing. His numbers have held up. He should be in.

And that’s the point. Yeah, okay, it is interesting to know that Joe DiMaggio and Jimmie Foxx and a bunch of others didn’t get in on the first ballot. But those examples aren’t necessarily telling us that Alomar (or Barry Larkin, or whoever) should wait. They could just as easily be telling us, “Hey, those old Hall voters really screwed up on DiMaggio and Foxx, didn’t they?”

(An aside: I don’t usually read Bryant’s work — not out of any agenda to avoid it, but just because I haven’t made a habit of it — so I can’t comment on his writing as a whole. But the piece I’m citing here had a number of logical howlers in it. When I first read it, I considered a point-by-point enumeration of them, but then figured it wouldn’t be worth my time. Picturing me shrugging here.)

Sure, sometimes a deserving player, for example Bert Blyleven, needs many ballots for voters to come around. But when his case for inclusion or exclusion is obvious, let the outcome be just as obvious. And why beat around the bush about that?


Addendum, Monday morning — A Twitter friend pointed me to Peter King’s explanation via Twitter of the facemask non-call in the Cards-Packers game, viz.:

Facemask 1: Why there was no facemask called on the final play, when Adams had his hand on Rodgers’ mask and drove him to the ground:

Facemask 2: The referee, Scott Green, stands behind the pocket and has to watch first for the loose ball. Once the ball is out, Green’s …

Facemask 3: job is to watch ball for possession. He can’t watch the QB then. If he saw the facemask, it’d mean he wasn’t watching ball.

Facemask 4: It’s a quirky rule, but it’s the referee’s call — and the ref is charged with possession once the ball is loose.

Makes sense to me . . . but it still stinks that the game ended that way.

7 Responses to “Four hard-hitting (?) notes on sports.”

  1. Glenda Spain Says:

    I agree about the facemask. But I understand how it can happen.

    Pete Carroll is leaving USC (story on today’s internet about the former assistant coach who’s being sued along with SC – what did Carroll know and when). This is another example of a coach being rewarded with a snazzy job but leaving his last employer in tatters. Going back to Reggie Bush days. Eventually the NCAA will move on SC and all their violations, but Carroll will be gone and richer. I don’t feel sorry for SC, but I do feel sorry for the innocent players who suffer with restrictions, loss of scholarships, etc. because the big guy didn’t keep a lid on things. Not right. Not right. Not right. Sigh!

  2. Glenda Spain Says:

    I forgot to add, Great post, by the way!

  3. Tim Walker Says:

    Thanks for the comments and the kind words, Mom.

    I agree that it stinks when a coach gets off easy but the players suffer. I would take issue with “innocent players” if you mean for it to cover everybody. A player who accepts, for example, a car is in on the gig and knows what he’s doing.

  4. Glenda Spain Says:

    I really meant the ones who are truly innocent and abiding by the rules. Bush had a house for him and his family. I don’t know what ever happened about that. I once read a commentary that college players should just be paid. It might make things a lot less messy!

  5. Tim Walker Says:

    You’re right, Mom — there are plenty of student-athletes who do things the right way, but then get dragged through all kinds of nonsense because of the misdeeds of coaches, boosters, et al.

    As for paying players: I’m with you. But it’s a huge psychological/cultural hurdle that we’re not likely to clear anytime soon.

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