Green Circles of Ba$ketball

Basketballs are simply a circular orb made of leather and filled with air.  The goal of the game of basketball is to put the circular orb through a slightly larger circular destination called a hoop.

To win a game of basketball, you must put the circular orb through the circular hoop more times than your opponent during the time allotted for the game. 

A brilliant analysis, eh?  Stay with me, though.

I have come up with this analogy after several days of pondering about the current corruption trial in New York involving payoffs of college basketball players by an assortment of shady characters (head coaches, assistant coaches, middlemen, family members, AAU coaches, Santa Claus, etc.). 

Though not a surprise to anyone, it was revealed on Wednesday that a University of Arizona basketball player named Deandre Ayton may have received payments of $10,000 per month from “someone” to play his one and only year of basketball in 2017/2018 for the Wildcats prior to bolting for the NBA.  As the #1 draft pick of the Phoenix Suns last year, Ayton is paid $733,000 per month (or $8.8 million per year) by the pro league for his services.

From a purely economic perspective, Ayton’s alleged pay while at the University of Arizona was a relative bargain!   However, in college athletics, it wouldn’t have been legal.

Just why would such a highly-recruited high school athlete come play at this particular university?

Money, of course.

It’s not that the University of Arizona basketball program lacks for fans.  U of A has the longest streak of leading its conference in basketball attendance in Pac-12 Conference history (34 seasons) and is second in the country behind the University of Kentucky (40 seasons leading the SEC in attendance). 

With over 14,000 seats filled for about 20 home games per season, the Wildcats men’s basketball team generates about $10 million in profits annually for the university’s athletic programs.  The revenue from the men’s basketball team is used to help defray the costs of other athletics programs (such as golf, swimming, etc.) whose expenses are higher than revenues generated.

Money, again.

The other college program receiving a very negative spotlight during this college basketball scandal is LSU.   About a month ago, it was revealed that “someone” may have offered to pay Baton Rouge freshman, Javonte Smart, an amount equal to the “NBA rookie minimum” (over $800,000/year) to play for his hometown Tigers. 

During this week’s ongoing college basketball scandal hearing, it was revealed that yet another LSU freshman (Naz Reid from New Jersey) may have been offered up to $300,000 to play his one and only season in Baton Rouge. Both LSU players have now entered the NBA draft after only one season in college. 

LSU’s young basketball coach, Will Wade, has turned around the moribund hoops program in just two seasons.   After the team went 10-21 the year before the new coach arrived, Will Wade’s first year record at LSU improved to 18-15.  This year’s second season had the Tigers winning the SEC (for the first time in ten years) with a 28-7 regular season record. 

In the case of LSU, the suspicions are sky high as to how Coach Will Wade has been able to recruit so many high-level basketball players to the program.

I would guess that following the money would be a good possibility.

What will happen?

Most of us would like to think that the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, would bring the hammer down on the universities involved in this growing basketball scandal.  In order to make sure that these travesties never happen again, the NCAA must step-in and do something for the integrity of college athletics, right?

Think again. 

The NCAA makes millions of dollars every season by showcasing these same college athletes in the NCAA’s annual “March Madness” championships, too.  If the NCAA were to seriously police the programs and enforce the rules across the board, the current men’s college basketball tournament would be less financially attractive.

There’s that money issue again.

Since everyone in this scandal (and we haven’t even mentioned the AAU, the shoe companies, and the other shady middlemen) has a monetary interest in keeping the status quo, I suspect that we will (eventually) have more coaches and assistants relieved of their duties by their respective universities very soon (under some indirect pressure from the NCAA to “do something”). 

I also expect that the NCAA rule book (which is already far too voluminous and confusing to anyone other than attorneys) will be gaining another few hundred pages of new rules and then expect all college athletics programs will live by these amended guidelines in the future.  Until it happens again. 

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Every year, there are hundreds of millions of dollars (primarily originating from a number of athletics apparel companies which are subsidizing teams in the AAU, high schools, and college sports in order to advertise their overpriced gear to young potential buyers) being doled out through an incredibly sophisticated web of monetary distribution with each party taking their cuts.

This current college basketball scandal’s complexity reminds some people of the way alcohol continued to be produced and distributed during the so-called “Prohibition” period of the 1920’s and early 1930’s.   Despite alcohol being declared illegal during that period, a sophisticated and secretive market evolved and existed to take their cut of the money being doled out by a nation of willing buyers.

Good ol’ supply and demand. 

Today’s green circles of cash which have been corrupting so-called “amateur” basketball are now so deep that they boggle your mind when thinking about all the participants. 

If no one in these green circles of cash is willing to slit their own financial throats to end the madness, why should anyone be surprised when the next “Aha!” cheating moment in college basketball occurs?

Sweep-the-SwampCast! April 26, 2019

Welcome back to SwampSwami.com and our weekly “Sweep-the-SwampCast” podcast-only presentation!

On today’s show, we’ll cover the “Ups and Downs” of Thursday night’s first round of the annual NFL draft in Nashville. We’ll also discuss the gamesmanship between two NFC East rivals during Round 1, the paranoia surrounding the Oakland Raiders‘ NFL player draft, the NHL hockey playoff television ratings (Up!) and the NBA playoffs (down).

Finally, we salute one of my favorite basketball players of all time. John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics passed away on Thursday at the age of 79. Hondo will forever be a part of my generation’s basketball memories!

To listen, please click above or subscribe to all of SwampSwami’s audio posts via Apple Podcasts! The price is right…it’s FREE!

Sweep-the-SwampCast! April 19, 2019

In today’s edition of “Sweep-the-SwampCast“, our theme this week is about beating the gambling odds (or not). Some people have come up as big winners this week, while others, not so much.

This is an audio-only podcast version of the show. Click on the bar above to listen or, better yet, subscribe via Apple Podcasts to hear an audio version of each of our shows! Go ahead…try it. It’s FREE!

Have a HAPPY EASTER!

Just in Time! Cardiac Cavs Champs!

Late Monday night, the University of Virginia Cavaliers delivered one more late game rally and finally tossed away the bad memories of how its 2018 season ended.

With yet another clutch come-from-behind rally in the final seconds of regulation, Cavs fans can proudly yell a passionate  “Wa-Hoo!” as the team won its first NCAA men’s basketball championship with a 85-77 overtime thriller over a valiant bunch of Red Raiders from Texas Tech.

UVa’s fans are just fine with either the nickname “Cavaliers” or “Wahoos”.  According to one source, rival Washington and Lee baseball fans (circa 1890’s) called University of Virginia players “a bunch of rowdy Wahoos,” and used the “Wahoowa” yell as a form of derision. 

With the win, Virginia erased the horrible taste of becoming the first and only #1 seeded team to lose to a 16th seed in last year’s first round of the NCAA tournament.  The loss to a Baltimore commuter school (UMBC) was a shock to the team and its always steady coach, Tony Bennett.

After last year’s early loss, he said, “I got a poster of Rocky on the steps and I told them: I just want a chance at the title fight one day.”

Last year’s embarrassing first round loss served as motivation for the entire 2018-2019 season and was a game-by-game reminder for the team to prepare hard and never underestimate any opponent this year.   

Mission accomplished! 

Virginia’s overtime win over Texas Tech in Monday night’s finale was the Cavaliers’ third consecutive game in which the team trailed with 15 seconds or less remaining in regulation.   

On Saturday against Auburn, it was guard Kyle Guy (the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player) who scored the team’s final six points during the final ten seconds of play.

On Monday night, forward De’Andre Hunter nailed a clutch three pointer from the corner to tie the game at 68 points apiece and send it to overtime.  He scored a career high 27 points (with 22 of them coming in the second half and overtime) in leading Virginia’s rally to victory. 

Harry Houdini would have been proud of the way this bunch escaped with victories!

After living with the humiliation of becoming the first and only #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed last season, this year’s team worked hard and received more than a fair share of fortunate bounces, officials’ calls, and clutch baskets. 

After last year’s loss, it seemed like much of the college basketball universe was saying that Coach Bennett’s style of basketball wouldn’t be able to win a national championship in this generation of high-flying “one-and-done-to-the-NBA” athletes. 

Who said defense can’t win basketball championships?  Virginia finished as the #1 team in the country in scoring defense (by the way, runner-up Texas Tech was #3).   

Offensively, Virginia’s game plan is (putting it nicely) quite deliberate.  To win with a slower pace of play, UVa’s ability to take care of the basketball was proven by their #5 national ranking in the vital assists-to-turnover ratio statistic. 

At halftime of the championship game Monday night, Virginia’s coach, Tony Bennett (no relation to the singer), stressed to the CBS sideline reporter that the game would be decided by who wins the most second half possessions. 

He was quite prophetic.  Each trip down the court between Virginia and Texas Tech was an epic 25-to-30 second battle of offense versus defense.    

If you had tuned-in to the game hoping to see a few fast breaks and thunderous slam dunks, you were sadly disappointed.

Though both Virginia and Texas Tech have quite talented college basketball players, you probably won’t see too many of these young men in the NBA.

Even though the CBS commentators said that Virginia’s 6’ 7” sophomore De’Andre Hunter and Texas Tech’s 6’ 6” sophomore Jarrett Culver might be heading into the NBA draft after this season ended, none of this year’s Final Four teams (which also included Auburn and Michigan State) were teams which had been built to feature so-called “one-and-done” freshmen star players (such as Duke and Kentucky, for example). 

After the game, Coach Bennett made a comment which I felt was quite appropriate in today’s “Win NOW!” college sports environment. 

He said, “The players did this!  The coaches get too much of the credit when we win and far too much of the blame when we lose!”

Tony Bennett’s players stayed in step with their coach all season on their way to hoisting the championship trophy after the overtime slugfest with Texas Tech ended Monday night.

Making one clutch play after another, this resilient bunch of Virginia Cavaliers kept their poise no matter how bleak it may have looked on the scoreboard and will now take home the school’s first men’s basketball championship. 

As singer Tony Bennett might have crooned while Coach Tony Bennett watched along the sidelines, they did it “Just in Time”!    

Here’s to the Winners!

This weekend found the sports world with a myriad of “feel good” stories.  Though your intrepid SwampSwami normally saves some stories for his end-of-week “Sweep-the-SwampCast” podcast, it’s time to break-out some good ol’ hot chocolate this Monday morning to salute some terrific sports stories from this weekend.

College basketball had three very compelling games played over the weekend.  On Saturday, the men’s semi-final #1 in the NCAA Final Four’s early game featured a nail-biter between the Auburn Tigers and the Virginia Cavaliers.

After Virginia led most of the game, Auburn’s outside shooters found their stroke in the massive domed stadium in Minneapolis and took the lead over Virginia with a minute to go.  The Cavaliers, who lost to the #16 seeded team UMBC in the first round last year, were looking like they were heading home again late Saturday afternoon.

Then, “That Guy!” saved the day.  As in UVa‘s Kyle Guy.  As a result, Virginia is playing for the school’s first national championship in tonight’s finale with Texas Tech.    

The junior guard for the Cavaliers literally saved his team from going home on Saturday with a clutch three-point shot from the corner with less than ten seconds left.  Then, with the game on the line, Kyle Guy drained three straight free throws with less than one second remaining to help Virginia edge Auburn 63-62 in a classic Final Four thriller. 

Here’s what you didn’t know about “That Guy!”  Kyle Guy, the young man with ice water running through his veins on Saturday, has been very public about suffering from anxiety and panic attacks while attending the University of Virginia. 

Guy moderated a panel on mental health for UVa athletes earlier this year and accepted an invitation to participate in a similar panel at this year’s Final Four in Minneapolis.  

He said, “That’s why I was transparent about it and came out about it. Being able to use that to help other people is what I always wanted to do here. Using basketball as a vehicle to do that has been tremendous.”

Weekend Good Story #2 – The Texas Tech Red Raiders shocked everyone except themselves in defeating #2 seed, Michigan State, by a score of 61-51 in the nightcap game on Saturday. 

Texas Tech’s coach, Chris Beard, was an assistant for a man named Bobby Knight when the legendary coach came to Lubbock.  Beard honed his coaching skills under Coach Knight and hit the road in search of head coaching success. 

Beard coached a semi-professional basketball team in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  He also coached a few small college teams at McMurry University, Angelo State, and then at the University of Arkansas – Little Rock. 

While spending just one season at UALR, Beard’s Trojans went 30-5 to get into the NCAA tournament, beat #5 seed Purdue, and, all of a sudden, Beard himself became one of the nation’s hottest coaching prospects. 

He landed at Texas Tech in 2016 and the Red Raiders are playing Virginia tonight with a chance to win their first national championship in men’s basketball. 

Weekend Good Story #3 – In the NCAA Women’s national championship game on Sunday afternoon, the Baylor Lady Bears prevailed (pardon the pun, “Bearly”) by one point over Notre Dame to win their third national championship under Coach Kim Mulkey. 

Though Baylor led most of the way, Notre Dame refused to go away and hit shot after shot to whittle a 17-point second half deficit and take the lead coming down the stretch.   Baylor lost one of its key players to an injury in the second half as Notre Dame closed the gap.

Then, Baylor’s Chloe Jackson, a transfer player from LSU, had the game of her life and scored a driving lay-up with 3.9 seconds left to give “da Bears” the national championship trophy to take back to Waco.   She scored a season high 26 points when her team needed her the most.

Weekend Good Story #4 – On Saturday, the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur golf tournament was held.  In resurrecting golfing memories of a charging Arnold Palmer back in the 1960’s, Jennifer Kupcho drilled a clutch fairway wood onto the green on the par-5 13th hole to claim an eagle 3 and pull away from challenger Maria Fassi and win the trophy.

Kupcho and Palmer have something in common.  She attends Wake Forest University, where Arnold Palmer played collegiate golf and has a statue on campus.  Kupcho also drained a final birdie putt on the 18th green to seal the win – just like Arnie did back in 1960!  Great job, Jennifer!

Weekend Feel-Good Story #5 – Then there’s the story of PGA golfer, Corey Conners.  Last week, he wasn’t invited to be in the starting field for the Valero-Texas Open in San Antonio.  Conners is 27 years of age and had yet to win on the PGA tour.

So, like many others, Corey Conners teed-it up with the other PGA Monday qualifiers hoping to grab a spot in Thursday’s starting field.  He finished in a tie with six other golfers for the final place in the field and then had to win the six-man playoff to claim the final place in the PGA event.

Conners’ great golf continued during the first three rounds last week, and he found himself in the final group for Sunday’s fourth round.  After taking the outright lead on Sunday with four birdies on the first five holes, Corey Conners’ chances took a serious dive when he bogeyed holes #6, 7, 8, and 9 to fall back out of the lead with nine holes to play. Ouch!

Instead of giving-up, Conners made the turn, corrected course, made three consecutive birdies to start the final nine holes, and won his first PGA tournament by two strokes on Sunday.

The last PGA player to qualify on Monday and win a PGA Tour event the same week was Arjun Atwal in 2010 at the Wyndham Championship. Conners is just the fifth player in PGA tour history to accomplish such a rare feat. 

Plus, he and his wife can now celebrate the victory with a visit to Augusta National in Georgia this week.  In addition to winning over $1.3 million on Sunday, Corey Conners also earned a trip to play in The Masters’ elite field this Thursday!

The moral of these stories?  If you’re having a tough day on Monday, just remember to keep your head-up and keep on keeping-on!  Your chance for personal victory could be coming very soon!

LSU W-Hoops!

The LSU Tigers men’s basketball team will enter the Southeastern Conference tournament today without their head coach, Will Wade

Wade has been suspended by the school after a recent revelation that the coach may have been involved (directly or indirectly) in funneling big money (think “NBA rookie salary type of money”) to the family of LSU freshman guard, Javonte Smart.  Smart is from nearby Scotlandville and was Louisiana’s Player-of-the-Year for three years in a row. 

Since legendary hoops coach, Dale Brown, left coaching at LSU in 1997 after 25 years at the helm, LSU basketball has been the third stooge of the LSU sports family.  LSU football reigns supreme (especially financially) followed by the emergence of LSU’s annual powerhouse baseball team.   

Coach Brown was a beloved coach and spokesman for LSU basketball.  He brought LSU to the NCAA Final Four twice (1981 and 1986) and was named SEC “Coach of the Year” four times.

Dale Brown also snagged a young center named Shaquille O’Neal to LSU in 1989 for three seasons (O’Neal later returned to graduate from LSU in 2000).  Shaq’s Tigers had success but failed to advance beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Brown was the Dick Vitale of the SEC.  His quick wit and personality made him a fan favorite in Baton Rouge as his teams packed the P-Mac (Pete Maravich Assembly Center) on a regular basis.

When Brown retired, LSU’s next basketball coach, John Brady, changed to a more deliberate style of basketball (slower paced and lower scoring).  In addition to losing fan interest, Brady’s teams started losing prized recruits who wanted to play in more up-tempo schemes.

Though Brady had some success at LSU during his 10 ½ years as head coach, LSU fired him midway through his final season in 2008. 

In 2009, Brady was replaced by Trent Johnson, who became the first black head of a men’s sport at LSU.   Like Brady, Johnson had some early success but left Baton Rouge for a job at TCU after just three seasons.

Former Dale Brown assistant coach, Johnny Jones, was hired beginning in 2012.  In five seasons, his biggest accomplishment was the recruitment of “one-and-done” freshman, Ben Simmons (who left for the NBA and plays in Philadelphia).  Jones was fired in 2017.

Enter Will Wade. 

The 34-year old coach already had success with programs at Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth prior to coming to Baton Rouge.  He promised to give fans an exciting team to watch and make LSU basketball a winner again. 

In two seasons, he has delivered on that promise.

After the team went 10-21 the season before Wade’s arrival, LSU finished last season 18-15.  This season, the Tigers have just won the SEC regular season with a sterling 25-5 (16-2 SEC) record during Will Wade’s second season as head coach.   

Then the wheels have fallen off. 

In a nutshell, Will Wade may have been caught (wire-tap, that is) discussing possible financial payments for the family of freshman guard, Javonte Smart, with a young middleman “fixer” named Christian Dawkins.   

The calls were secretly recorded by the FBI as part of a federal investigation into college basketball that has resulted in the arrests of several assistant coaches, shoe company executives and others, including Dawkins. 

Dawkins was eventually brought to justice and has been convicted on two counts of corruption in October. 

Uh-oh.

As of today, Coach Wade has refused to talk about the allegation to anyone other than his New York City-based attorney.   Since Coach Wade has refused to talk with his employer (LSU), the university suspended the coach at least until he discusses the matter with the school’s officials.

In a bizarre twist on Thursday, Coach Wade asked to be reinstated for the SEC and NCAA tournaments as he released a statement:

“My legal counsel advised the University that it would be wholly inappropriate for me, or anyone, to submit to an interview under these circumstances.”

Wade said later in the statement: “I love LSU and everything it stands for. What I’m asking for is the right to do my job while exercising my constitutional rights. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Curiously, the coach’s statement did not claim his innocence, either. 

LSU will appear this afternoon in its first game of the SEC Tournament against the University of Florida without Coach Will Wade.  Also uncertain for tip-off will be the primary subject of the alleged payoff, freshman guard Javonte Smart.

LSU’s head coach appears to be in a heap of trouble if this turns out to be true.  It also brings questions about other highly prized LSU recruits like Naz Reid (from New Jersey). 

The coach has delivered on his promises make the LSU basketball team successful again and fans returned to the PMAC again, too. 

Coach Will Wade may truly be a young Pied Piper type of a college basketball coach who can lure gifted players to play at LSU. 

Was the Piper’s pockets lined with plenty of recruiting cash for illegal payoffs? 

If so, LSU basketball will foul-out of college basketball relevance soon, and several heads may roll.  

This may just be the tip of the iceberg.   

The “Business” of Successful Football Coaches

After bringing home his sixth National Football League championship trophy to the New England Patriots, head coach Bill Belichick further cemented his lock as professional football’s #1 “Evil Genius” of his profession. 

The 66-year old football coach has been running the show in New England for 18 seasons and has only missed the playoffs three times (the last time was ten years ago in 2008).

Though I didn’t watch last weekend’s Super Bowl game due to my commitment to participating in the Saints’ Boycott Bowl, the Patriots defense forced that other team (who shall remain nameless) to punt the ball eight consecutive times to begin Sunday’s game.

The Patriots’ long-time defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, left the team after the 2017 season to take the reins in Detroit.  The 2018 New England team defense ranked a pitiful 24th place out of the NFL’s 32 teams.

How did they shut down the NFC’s (fake) Champs on a fast track dome stadium on Sunday?

Simple!  The Patriots trotted out a completely new defense which they had not used all year!   The team from the NFC simply never adjusted well enough to recover in the Patriots’ boring 13-3 win.

Leave it to the “Darth Vader” of NFL head coaches to roll-out a brand new scheme in just two weeks, right?

What makes Bill Belichick such a special head coach?

His undergraduate degree is in Economics from tiny Wesleyan University in Connecticut. 

Maybe Coach Belichick is able to harness the secret powers of supply and demand and graph the other team into football submission! 

Just for fun, I checked the pedigrees some of the most successful NFL coaches (excluding the coach of that certain team on the West Coast representing the NFC last weekend). 

  1. Bill Belichick – New England – Bachelors in Economics from Wesleyan University (CT)
  2. Sean Payton – New Orleans – Degree in Communications from Eastern Illinois
  3. Pete Carroll – Seattle – Degree in Business Administration from the University of the Pacific
  4. Andy Reid – Kansas City – Bachelors in Health/PE plus Masters in Athletics Leadership at Brigham Young.
  5. John Harbaugh – Baltimore – Bachelors in Political Science from Miami (Ohio) University

How about the college coaches?

  1. Nick Saban – Alabama – Bachelors-Business Admin. And Masters in Sports Admin. – Kent State
  2. Dabo Swinney – Clemson – Bachelors – Business Admin. And MBA – Univ. of Alabama
  3. Brian Kelly – Notre Dame  – Bachelors – Political Science – Assumption College (MA)
  4. Lincoln Riley – Oklahoma Univ. – Bachelors – Exercise and Sports Sciences – Texas Tech

So, let’s take a quick tally:

Business majors comprise nearly half of these successful coaches’ academic pedigrees with Political Science and Health/PE majors scoring two each, along with one Communications major. 

Another interesting thing to note is that about half of these coaches attended college at small or mid-sized universities.   

There have been eight new head coaches (25%) hired by NFL teams during the past month for the upcoming football season.  Let’s take an academic check of these new selections:

  1. Zac Taylor – Cincinnati Bengals – Bachelors – Communications – Nebraska
  2. Brian Flores – Miami Dolphins – Bachelors (English) and Masters (Administration) – Boston College
  3. Kliff Kingsbury – Arizona Cardinals – Bachelors – Management – Texas Tech
  4. Matt LeFleur – Green Bay Packers – Bachelors (Health & PE) – Saginaw Valley State and Masters (Administration) at Central Michigan Univ.
  5. Vic Fangio – Denver Broncos – Health & PE –  East Stroudsburg University (PA)
  6. Adam Gase – New York Jets – Bachelors in ??? – Michigan State University*
  7. Bruce Arians – Tampa Bay Bucs – Bachelors in ??? – Virginia Tech*
  8. Freddie Kitchens – Cleveland Browns – Bachelors in ??? – Univ. of Alabama*

For coaches 6, 7, and 8 above, I was unable to determine their college majors after a lengthy search of the internet.  For purposes of this report, I will refer to them as “Health and PE” majors for now.

In this group of eight new NFL head coaches, five are Health and PE majors with one each for Communications and English.  Only one of these eight coaches has a business degree (Management). 

Though this exercise is certainly unscientific and probably has no bearing on the new coaches’ likelihood of future success in the NFL, it will be interesting to see which of these coaches hit the market seeking another job in the next few years.

To what “degree” will business majors continue to remain atop the football coaching fraternity?

Clemson wins! Yabba-“Dabo”-Doo!

The Clemson Tigers and their talented and enthusiastic head football coach, Dabo Swinney, have earned the right to celebrate.  After dominating the Alabama Crimson Tide for the final three quarters and winning their second BCS (large school) national championship in the past three years, Clemson surprised everyone but themselves with their 44-16 victory on Monday night.

Here are my ten takeaways from the championship game:

  1. Happiest for?   Clemson senior DT Christian Wilkins.  Wilkins, a Bednarik Award finalist this year, became the first football player at Clemson to graduate in 2½ years, earning a degree in communications. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in athletic leadership.  On December. 4, Wilkins was named recipient of the 2018 William V. Campbell Trophy, which is presented annually to the top football scholar-athlete in the nation.
  2. Alabama’s kryptonite?  A team with a great passing game.  The majority of teams in the Southeastern Conference are known for their “Rock’em, Sock’em” style of play which rarely feature quarterbacks and wide receivers as talented as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Justyn Ross. 
  3. Clemson’s defensive strategy.  Clemson kept moving players toward the line of scrimmage as if to blitz Alabama’s talented quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, on nearly every down.  Sometimes they blitzed and other times they didn’t.  Tua’s “two-a” interceptions (one went for a Clemson touchdown) gave Clemson’s defense a spark and more confidence.
  4. Fourth down SEC trickery should be left to Les Miles. Earlier this season, Georgia lost all momentum with a failed fourth down fake field goal in a loss to LSU and, a month ago, with a fake fourth down punt against Alabama.  On Monday, Alabama surprisingly attempted a fake field goal in the third quarter against Clemson when only down by 16 points.  It failed miserably, and you could feel Bama’s momentum die along with it.  Former LSU coach Les Miles was the master of fourth down deception, but he was ultimately fired by the Tigers, too. 
  5. An enduring halftime entertainment image
  6. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is the nation’s hottest recruiter.  Clemson’s key offensive stars all came from states with the SEC’s most dominant teams.  Quarterback Trevor Lawrence (Georgia), wide receiver Justyn Ross (Alabama) and running back Travis Etienne (Louisiana) would have made a big difference for the Bulldogs, Tide, and LSU’s Tigers this year, wouldn’t they?
  7. Ironic Moment – Alabama QB Jalen Hurts.   After starting and winning every game for Alabama last year, Hurts was benched at halftime in favor of Tua Tagovailoa, who led Bama to a late victory over Georgia in last year’s national championship game.  During Monday’s game, I thought that Alabama abandoned its bread and butter running game too early against Clemson in favor of Tua’s passing threat.  Would Coach Saban have been better off running the ball more with Jalen Hurts during the second half of this game and keeping Clemson’s offense off the field?  Just sayin’…
  8. The BCS playoffs won’t be expanded anytime soon.  With Clemson and Alabama reloading every year with talented players, I almost wish that the NFL would simply expand to take these two teams out of the college football mix.  Though I have nothing but respect for both programs, many college football fans would say that the current BCS format (four team playoff) should return back to the best two teams selected after the traditional bowl games end.  There’s no use to expand to an eight or 16 team playoff system anytime soon.
  9. Alabama coach Nick Saban needs to ditch his all-white coaching jacket.  My lovely wife made the observation that the television shots of coach Saban pacing on the Alabama sideline with his arms-folded made it look like he was wearing a strait jacket!   On the other hand, there wasn’t much he COULD do on Monday night to prevent Clemson’s offensive onslaught.
  10. The better team won. Nick Saban offered no excuses after the game last night.  He said that Clemson deserved to win the game.  You can count on Alabama learning a few important lessons from this loss as college football’s most successful coach of this era gets back to work – soon!

25% Unemployment rate for NFL Head Coaches

According to information released this week, the National Football League has eight head football coaching job openings for the league’s 32 franchises.  That is a 25% turnover rate in one season.

Think about that number as it applies to your office.

If a quarter of your company’s staff was replaced every year, most of us might believe your company would seem to be a rather unstable and risky place to work.

So, with eight NFL franchises tossing their current head coaches overboard, why would anyone want to jump in to replace them?

Three primary reasons come to mind.  Money, control, and ego (plus a new job title on your resume).

Let’s start with money.  According to some reports, NFL head coaching annual pay in 2018 ranged from about $10 million (Bill Belichick, New England and Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders) down to about $3.5 million at the lower end.

From the NFL owner’s perspective, paying the team’s strategic leader this kind of money is pocket change in comparison to the team’s player payroll of about $200 million per season.   If things don’t work out well, a slump in ticket sales alone can justify making a coaching change.

Now, let’s look at the control aspect.  Some coaches like being in control of the entirety of the team instead of just one side of the ball on offense or defense. 

The most consistently winning franchises will have a good balance on both offense and defense.  A successful head coach will try to get both sides of the ball playing to their maximum potential.  The selection and supervision of assistant coaches by the head coach are tantamount to success.

From the owner’s perspective, NFL coaches usually have some input to player selection.  However, the ultimate decision on players rests with the team’s general manager.  A great coaching staff with only mediocre NFL players will usually result in mediocre team records, too.

Finally, let’s examine the ego side of becoming an NFL head coach.  For all football players and most coaches, the National Football League marks the pinnacle of success in the sport of football. 

Though many coaches are content to make very good money (and have lower stress) by remaining a successful assistant coach, the internal drive (ego) will lead certain coaches to try their hand at driving the ultimate thrill machine – an NFL franchise.

Even legendary college football coaches like Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier felt the need to try their hand at the professional level.  Though these two coaches ultimately returned to college coaching, the need to achieve can become a never-ending quest. 

A good question was posed to me this week by my daughter-in-law.  “What happens to all of these eight coaches after they have been fired?  Do they just recycle them and get picked by another team?”

Generally, most NFL coaches will be paid the remainder of their contract after being fired. 

Hue Jackson (Cleveland), Mike McCarthy (Green Bay), Dirk Koetter (Tampa Bay), Todd Bowles (New York Jets), Vance Joseph (Denver), Adam Gase (Miami), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), and Steve Wilks (Arizona) were initially hired to bring more wins than losses to the field this season.

Some of these names will resurface again in 2019 as head coaching candidates with other teams (McCarthy and Gase are mentioned early in the annual coaching carousel).  Others may regroup and sit out for a year or become assistant coaches again.  A few may try their hand at something else (like becoming a television analyst).

Statistically speaking, only 15 of the NFL’s 32 teams had a winning season in 2018.  That left 17 teams with a losing season this season.  From within the losing group of teams, eight head coaches were fired.

According to a report, the new head coach selected to take the helm at one of these franchises will have a career span of about three seasons. 

Who has the longest NFL head coaching tenure?  New England’s Bill Belechick started in the year 2000 and just completed his 18th season.  Next in line are Sean Payton with the New Orleans Saints (2006), Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh (2007) and John Harbaugh with Baltimore (2008). 

These four coaches (with career winning records of roughly 60% or more) represent the only NFL head coaches who have remained employed for ten years or more in the same location.  That represents only 12.5% of the total number of NFL franchises.

Which current NFL coach has the longest tenure with a losing record?  As of this writing, that would be Jay Gruden of the Washington Redskins.  He has posted a measly .444 winning percentage after taking the reins in 2014. 

The moral of this story?  If you want to become the next head coach of an NFL franchise, make sure that you sign a solid long-term contract which will provide you and your family with some financial security. 

The odds of succeeding as an NFL head coach for ten years or more are definitely against you.

Steelers’ Tomlin needs “Clarence of Cleveland” now

Though the head football coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers may look a little different than George Bailey from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, Mike Tomlin is in need of his own “Clarence the Angel” (Cleveland version) to get into the NFL Playoffs next weekend.

Pittsburgh’s coach gambled and lost late in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon in a pivotal game against the New Orleans Saints in the Crescent City.

With the Steelers clinging to a 28-24 lead with four minutes to go and facing a fourth down and five yards to go at the Pittsburgh’s own 37 yard line, Coach Tomlin opted for a fake punt(?!!!). 

The play didn’t work, and the Steelers handed the ball to Saints future Hall-of-Famer quarterback Drew Brees.  A Saints touchdown in the last few minutes was as certain as Jack Nicklaus sinking a five foot putt to win a major golf tournament. 

Money in the bank.  The Saints scored a touchdown with ninety seconds left to take a 31-28 lead over Pittsburgh.

Ben Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers into potential game-tying field goal position with thirty seconds to go.  Unfortunately, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled at the Saints 35-yard-line after catching a Roethlisberger pass.  The Saints recovered the football.

Game over. 

The New Orleans Saints clinched the home field advantage in the NFC, while Pittsburgh heads back home needing a Christmas week miracle to get into the AFC playoffs.

To get into the playoffs, Pittsburgh now needs a little favor from their bitter AFC Central rivals along the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland.  The Browns must travel to Baltimore AND defeat the Ravens next Sunday afternoon for the Steelers to have a playoff chance.

Meanwhile, the Steelers will still need to take care of business at Heinz Field and defeat the hapless Cincinnati Bengals. 

Both games will kick-off next Sunday simultaneously at 3:25PM Central as CBS adds some late afternoon drama by covering both games to pique the interest of fans across the nation.

Baltimore controls its own destiny.  If the Ravens win, they dethrone the Steelers as AFC Central champions.  There is nothing sweeter for Ravens fans than keeping the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the playoffs.

What is Cleveland’s motivation?  With a record of 7-7-1, the Browns can finish 2018 with their first winning season since their 10-6 campaign in 2007.   After going 0-16 in 2017 and 1-15 in 2016, the Browns are definitely trending in the right direction again.

Pittsburgh can blame no one but themselves for being in this position. 

More specifically, Coach Mike Tomlin should take the blame for the loss by calling a fake punt on his own side of the fifty yard line – on the road – late in the fourth quarter.

Gutsy?  Perhaps, but Steelers fans were already looking for a good reason to send Tomlin packing after several years of underachieving teams.  

Coach Tomlin will need a visit from “Clarence of Cleveland”, a most unlikely of AFC Central guardian angels, to get his Steelers into the playoffs and, perhaps, to retain his job.