Sunday, January 28, 2007

Yo, Meathead!

Here's a new column from my friend Meathead who is a great sports fan and an excellent columnist. His pieces are edgy, insightful and I'm sure after you've seen a few you'll agree with me that they're a pleasure to read. His moniker is Yo, Meathead!

If You Can't Stand the Meat...

It was big news last week when Bill Parcells announced his retirement. He left his job as coach of the Dallas Cowboys with a year left on his contract, saying he was done with coaching for good.

In the week after Parcells made this announcement, it was pretty amusing to see how many sports columnists around the country wondered if the Tuna’s retirement was for real, or if he was just blowing smoke in order to get away from Jerry Jones and T.O. This leads me to ask why it’s so commonplace for coaches in college and pro sports to lie to the media. At this point in time, I think sports fans are as likely to trust what coaches say as the general public is to believe today’s politicians. Does anyone out there still think that Saddam actually had weapons of mass destruction, or that he was somehow in cahoots with Al-Qaeda?

This is not to say that the lies told by coaches are anywhere near as important or far-reaching as those that the government throws at us. People are not going to die if Parcells takes another coaching job. But it seems as if both coaches and politicians have developed a pathological tendency to distort the truth to suit their own agendas.

Let’s look at a few examples of coaches who have not exactly been forthright about their intentions. Parcells is the prime target. This is the third time he’s retired, and since he came back both times before, who’s to say that he’s really done? In fact, when Parcells retired from his job as coach of the New York Jets, he also said that his assistant and defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick, would be the Jets’ next coach. While this may not have been an outright lie, Belichick resigned the following day, proving that Parcells didn’t know what he was talking about and should’ve kept his mouth shut. Since then, Belichick has surpassed Parcells’s coaching success, leading the New England Patriots to three championships—more than the Tuna had with all four of the teams he coached.

Nick Saban is my next example. Toward the end of this past NFL season, Saban insisted that he was staying with the Miami Dolphins, whom he had coached for the last two years. Any rumors that he was headed to the University of Alabama to take over the coaching job there were total hogwash. Saban totally underachieved with the Dolphins this year—many predicted that the Fish would contend for a trip to the Big Dance—and he was arrogant and condescending to the media, especially after his defection back to the college ranks became a story before it was ever confirmed. Saban spent weeks denying that he was leaving Miami and made sure the media knew that anyone telling this story was off his or her rocker. Then what did he do? He left Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga high and dry and became Alabama’s head coach.

The list goes on and on, and it’s not specific to the NFL. When Larry Brown was still coach of the Detroit Pistons, he insisted that he was not going to be coach of the New York Knicks. The next year, he was coach of the Knicks. Before Brown was even hired, the Knicks’ president of basketball operations, Isiah Thomas, once said that he would never coach the Knicks. Now Isiah is their coach. True, he was forced into it by owner James Dolan after Brown’s hiring turned out to be a total fiasco, but did anyone really believe that Thomas would not eventually end up as the Knicks’ coach? What about when Stan Van Gundy left his coaching job with the Miami Heat last year “to spend more time with his family”? A fan would have to be a total sap to believe this tripe. Although it was never officially brought to light, word on the street is that Van Gundy was forced out by his boss, Pat Riley, because the Heat were a championship-caliber team. Pat the Rat was just itching to prove wrong everyone who had said that he could never coach another team to a ring since his days coaching the Showtime Lakers were long gone. And following six rings with Michael Jordan, didn’t Phil Jackson say he was done with coaching when he left the Chicago Bulls in 1998? Then, after leading Kobe and Shaq to three rings with the Lakers starting in 2000, he left the Lakers—but then became the Lakers’ coach again a year later. Sheesh!

What’s really sad is that these coaches believe they’re so important that they can’t tell the truth to the media. They think that the fans won’t be able to handle the truth—but the truth is that for all their bluster and belligerence, they’re still just coaches of sports teams.

As much of a sports fan as I am, I don’t give a darn if coaches choose to leave their teams for their own reasons. With all the money and time that fans put into their teams, I think they deserve to know the truth, but these guys don’t care one whit if they hand the fans a crock on their way to their next multimillion-dollar contract. But it IS really scary when we hear the lies of politicians and expect them to be lies. When our country is being run as if it’s just a sports franchise, and the general public is treated as if the people only have as much at stake as the average sports fan, it’s time to get out of the kitchen.

SEASONINGS: I’m proud to make this my inaugural column for Sports on the Street. Many thanks to Ed for his encouraging words on my writing. Here’s to hoping that this is the beginning of a successful new enterprise.

The New York Times performed an analysis of this NFL season and discovered that penalties were down 20 percent from 2005. In fact, this was the first time that penalties were down in a season since 2001. To quote, “Penalties for offensive holding (down 34 percent) and defensive holding (down 32 percent) were among those showing the sharpest decline from 2005. Penalties for delay of game, defensive offside, false starts, pass interference and roughing the passer decreased at least 15 percent.” The league says that this is not because officials are calling the games more loosely, but rather that teams have become used to the way that the refs have been throwing flags and have adjusted accordingly. Whatever the reason, I’m glad. Not only does fewer flags mean fewer chances for calls to be blown, but it means less time spent watching officials make calls and less time waiting for coaches’ challenges to be reviewed. It also means that teams are gaining their yardage and points on their own merits, rather than being handed rewards for the other teams’ errors, creating a game that’s more palatable to watch overall.

I had to laugh at the New Jersey Nets this past week. They were feeling mighty smug after they beat the Orlando Magic last Saturday for their fourth straight win, bringing their record to .500 before heading on a West Coast road trip. Once on the road, the Nets became only the fourth team in NBA history to lose three straight games by a point, losing to Sacramento, Golden State, and the Clippers. Mike Bibby hit the winning bucket for the Kings with 10.3 seconds left, Monta Ellis nailed a jumper to win it for the Warriors as time expired, and Cuttino Mobley hit a three-pointer with sixth-tenths of a second left to win the game for L.A. Even though the Nets finally won again last night, against Denver, they still are no shoo-in to win the weak Atlantic after all!