On the outside looking in

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In the first game of a double header against the Blue Jays, the Cardinals played the field the way I want them to play it the rest of the year. The results were mixed.

The positions were as follows: Molina behind the plate, Carpenter at first, Wong at second, Gyorko at third, Diaz at short, Jose Martinez in left, Fowler in center and Piscotty in right.

Through two innings Diaz made a competent play in the hole and Gyorko made a barehanded play up the line. Wong also committed an error on a ball hit up the middle.

Thus far, the Cardinals have committed nearly an error per game. The Cardinals committed 107 errors in 2016, the sixth worst mark in the majors. Atlanta, Cincinnati and Oakland all played better defense.

I believe the reason the Cardinals were so bad last year, and have been even worse on defense this season, is that the team is not playing a regular defensive lineup. As an example, Diaz made a diving stop on two-foot hop about 7 feet from the second base bag in the game on Tuesday. He gets up, hesitates and then throws the ball past the outstretched glove of Martinez. The error goes to Diaz, but Rick Horton commented that Martinez should have gotten off the bag and played the ball, sacrificing an out for security.

Carpenter may have made that play. Matt Adams probably would have made that play. Martinez has never played first in his pro career and he is under the added pressure of trying to prove himself in the big leagues. Diaz is still a young player and he should be throwing to the same guy in nearly every game.

With a set lineup, certain position players will be on the outside looking in. Well, I have an opinion about who those players should be.

Jhonny Peralta

 Jhonny is on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb. I think he should be the next victim of the curse of Wally Pipp. Jedd Gyorko is a better player than Peralta in every way.

Last year in 289 at bats, Peralta hit .260 with 8 homers, 29 RBI and 37 runs. His on base was .307 and his slugging was .408.

Gyorko in 400 at bats hit .243 with 30 homers, 59 RBI and 58 runs. His on base was .306 and his slugging was .495. Jedd is off to a hot start this season, hitting .340 with 3 home runs.

You would think that Peralta being a converted short stop he would be a better fielder, but Gyorko has just as much range and more consistent hands.

Randal Grichuk

 There’s a scene in “The Natural” where Pop Fisher is talking to Bump Bailey, trying to convince Bailey that he better shape up because Roy Hobbs is going to take his job. I hope Mike Matheny has already had this conversation with Randal Grichuk.

There is no indication that Jose Martinez is going to stop hitting. He’s currently batting .375, more than 100 points better than Grichuk. Martinez deserves Grichuk’s job in left field.

Unlike Gyorko and Peralta, Grichuk is a much better defensive player than Martinez. While a good athlete at 6-foot-5, Martinez has looked very stiff in the outfield. Grichuk could play major league center field.

But, Martinez is much better in left than at first. The Cardinals were willing to put up with an occasional brain fart from Matt Holliday. I am willing to bet that Martinez defensive play will smooth out with regular playing time.

Matt Adams

 I feel bad for Matt Adams because the guy has worked really hard. He lost a ton of weight in the offseason and he looked sharp in spring training. However, Matt Carpenter has to play somewhere and the best option is at first base.

Adams, 28, has had plenty of opportunities over the past three seasons to win the first base job and he has failed to hit consistently. Teams need their first baseman to hit and hit both lefties and righties.

On the other hand …

 In the first game of the double header on Thursday, Kolten Wong committed an error and made a bonehead, base-running mistake by the sixth inning. Wong hit a double and then got picked off by Russell Martin at second.

Kolten Wong is the guy I want to step up. It was my feeling that the constant platooning over the past couple of seasons hurt him more than any other player. His talent at the plate and in the field is undeniable.

Of any of the Cardinals that can play second base, he has the most range. The team can’t wait forever and there may be a point where playing Greg Garcia every day may be the better options. Garcia’s ceiling is much, much lower, but he does not make these types of mistakes.

The people vs Russell Westbrook

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The claws are out after the Houston Rockets have compiled a 3-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook’s critics now have the requisite ammunition to lower the phenom point guard down a peg.

After reading this article, I feel the need to defend Westbrook; I think the defense is simple — a player cannot average a triple double and be selfish. Wracking up 10 assists a night is easier than it used to be, but it’s still a difficult accomplishment. How many of Russ’ passes would have led to a dunk but the driving player was fouled in the act of shooting? How many times did a Thunder player miss an open look?

Westbrook averaged 10.4 assists per game over the course of 82 games and has averaged 11 assists a night in four playoff games. I implore you to watch the highlights of the 51-point performance in game 2 on the road. How many times did Russ make the wrong play, passing up an open teammate? Twice, maybe it was three times. His fourth quarter was awful, but the Thunder’s fourth quarter was also awful.

Comparing Westbrook to Allen Iverson, as Sean Fennessey coyly does, is not fair to Westbrook or Iverson. Iverson was a more willing passer than I remembered, averaging 7 assists or more in six of his seasons. However, Iverson had one career triple double. Westbrook had 42 this year.

The most assists Iverson ever had in a season was 596 in ’04-’05. Westbrook had 840 assists in ’16-’17. In comparison to one of the greatest point guards of all time, Isaiah Thomas, had four seasons of 800 or more assists. This included the sublime ’84-’85 campaign where Isaiah led the league in assists with 1,123, 13.9 per game. The great Oscar Robertson, to whom Westbrook is endlessly compared, topped 800 assists four times. In fairness to the Big O, the rules were different in the ‘60s. Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all time, topped 800 assists twice. Westbrook is just entering his prime, age 28, and he has had back-to-back 800-assist seasons.

Westbrook is as gifted and as skilled a player to have ever played the point guard position, but he doesn’t play the position like Kidd or Steve Nash. One of the characteristics that binds Westbrook, Kidd and Nash was that in their primes they played at a frenetic pace. Kidd and Nash had running mates. Kidd had Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson, who loved running the floor with Kidd leading the break. Nash had Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Russ is not the problem in OKC; the rest of that roster is the problem. I would be willing to shed every player except Steven Adams. It’s not that Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Singler and even Enes Kanter are bad players. I think most of those guys will by snapped up by contending teams looking for role players. None of those guys are athletic finishers.

The ’16-’17 season was the first year Westbrook was truly unleashed. Before he had been tied to Durant and Durant’s needs. I think Sam Presti needs to consider remaking this roster in Westbrook’s image. Kidd did not truly thrive until he had the right pieces around him. Nash was a great player in Dallas, but became an MVP in Phoenix. Well, Westbrook is already the MVP, but you can build a championship team if you build to Russ’ strengths: a relentless need to run the floor at full speed and a desire to toss dimes to teammates on artful cuts to the basket.

Potential basketball playing tight ends

The Saints traded Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks earlier this past week. The storyline for Seattle is that Graham makes them the odds on favorite in the NFC. For the Saints, it’s time to rebuild now that they’ve gotten rid of Drew Brees’ most effective pass-catching threat.

With much less fanfare, Julius Thomas signed as a free agent in Jacksonville. My question: are these guys that difficult to replace? Both were undervalued — if people knew Graham was going to be this exceptional, he probably would not have lasted until the third round; Julius Thomas was a fourth round pick.

What they have in common, along with Antonio Gates, is that they all played college basketball. Going back to Tony Gonzalez, the history of basketball tight ends is really strong. I can’t remember it ever not working out.

I did a quick perusal of college basketball rosters. I was looking for guys between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-9 who were solidly built, athletic and probably not on the NBA radar. Honestly, I don’t know if 6-foot-9 would be too tall for some reason but I have some of those guys.

Branden Dawson — Michigan State — 6-6, 225 pounds — SR

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I think 225 pounds might be a little light; I would check that scale. Regardless this guy is a monster and he can jump. I bet he’s fast enough too.

Treveon Graham — VCU — 6-6, 225 — SR

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The Saints draft Treveon they can probably keep all those Jimmy Graham jerseys they have lying around. This is the type of guy that is perfect. He’s playing high level college on a team that requires him to do a lot athletically — they press constantly. But, he might not be quite good enough to play in the NBA. Definitely a hard-nosed guy too.

Darius Carter — Wichita State — 6-7, 245 — SR

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Classic case where a smaller school guy is a little undersized at his position but for an NFL tight end he would be huge. He’s a good leaper, which is becoming more and more important for a tight end.

Coreontae DeBerry — Cincinatti — 6-9, 275 — JR

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I think this guy used to play football. To show how athletic he is, he’s a big shot blocker at 6-9. I don’t know if him being that tall is a problem, but good luck pushing him around at 275 pounds. Now, you might want to wait a year because he’s a junior. Side note, he has an awesome name.

Nnamdi Amilo — UCONN — 6-3, 225 — JR

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Look at how built this guy is. Athleticism might be questionable because he walked onto the team after playing intramurals; actually I change my mind, that’s a plus because this isn’t a mid major — UCONN won the title last year. He has to be an incredible athlete to be able to do that. And you know with that back story that he won’t get a big head.

Thomas Gipson — Kansas State — 6-7, 265 — SR

Thomas Gipson

This is the one guy who I question whether he’s fast enough. If he is, he’s basically the exact same size as Jimmy Graham. Now, Gipson’s weight has fluctuated. You might want to just convince him to bulk up to 300 and play him at tackle; he has quick feet, but he’s not the explosive leaper as some of the other guys on this list.

Joe Thomas — Miami — 6-7, 245 — already graduated

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You already went to the well once with Jimmy Graham and this guy is a tank. Plus it would make for confusing NFL conversations because of all-pro Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas.

JayVaughn Pinkston — Villanova — 6-7, 235 — SR

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Justin Anderson — Virginia — 6-6, 228 — JR

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Both of these guys are athletic enough and, I think, swol enough to work. The problem is that it would make sense for both guys to get drafted in the second round of the NBA draft. Anderson is slotted for late first round in this mock draft.

Rico Gathers — Baylor — 6-8, 275 — JR

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People are already speculating that he might be bound for the NFL. He apparently doesn’t like this talk; he’s leading the nation in rebounding, so I understand. But, I’ll put it this way — the ceiling for his NBA future would be Kenneth Faried, who is a bit of a specialist anyway. He’s probably projecting more like Reggie Evans, who can’t stay on the court because of flaws in his game. His ceiling as an NFL tight end is the best in the league.

Cliff Alexander — Kansas — 6-8, 240 — FR

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That same mock draft still has Alexander as a late round pick in the first round. I’m not buying that though. He might be a steal in the second round but I would really want him to go back to school, mainly because he’s a power forward, he’s a little undersized and he doesn’t seem to understand how to play. I don’t know how the NFL’s age thing works with a guy who has NCAA trouble in basketball but this would be a chance to steal an otherworldly athlete.

Fixes for College basketball

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I watched a bunch of college basketball on Saturday and I saw quite a few games with final scores in the 50s. It’s hard for me to believe but teams in the ’90s used to score 100 regularly. Once teams started playing quality opponents regularly this season I can’t think of anybody outside of Kentucky that has scored 100 points much less both teams in the same game.

This is an offense problem and a pace of play problem. A lot of people blame this on the belief that players are less skilled because they don’t stay in school as long. I don’t think that is accurate; if it was, would Kentucky be rampaging through their regular season schedule right now?

I believe a couple of rule changes would rectify these problems:

1. 28 Second Shot Clock

Thirty-five seconds is too damn long. San Diego State yesterday waited till the end of the clock to get a shot up all game against Boise State. It would be one thing if every team was like Wisconsin and got a good shot up, but most of the time it was “Crap there are 5 seconds left on the clock, I’m going to hoist up a wild three that will carom off the back board.” Shave off 7 seconds and I think it will encourage players to shoot faster.

2. Defensive 3 seconds

Teams just pack the paint all day long in college. I would do the defensive 3 seconds just like the NBA: it’s a free throw and the ball. You don’t call it all the time but often enough to keep people honest. The offense of most teams at this point is drives and threes. Making driving a little easier would help the other.

3. Three timeouts per half total

The last 2 minutes of a college basketball game are agonizing with timeouts and clock reviews. At this point Pandora is out of the box with reviews, but we can limit all these timeouts. I would add that coaches who don’t use a timeout in the first half get an extra one in the second half.

4. Fewer games

Teams are playing 12 and 13 non-conference games. Cut that number in half. The first game of the college basketball season doesn’t start until football conference championship games are over; that was the second week in December this past year. Trust me, no casual fans are paying attention before then. I think conference tournaments are kind cool, but in the monster conferences is there a reason to have everybody play each other if there an end of season tournament? I think fewer games helps keep people fresh and would maybe increase offense.

5. Realign conferences

At this point, everyone understands that college football rules the roost for money and prestige in college sports, but why let football screw up all of these rivalries in basketball? First, put the band back together in the Big East. No Big East fan I ever met wanted that conference to disband when it was time for basketball (Boston College goes back to the Big East). Mizzou and Texas A&M go back to the Big 12 and Maryland goes back to the ACC (although Louisville makes sense in the ACC).

For college basketball, have the conferences make sense geographically — again I think this difference in travel will make players less tired and hopefully more offensively fruitful. SMU was meeting UCONN today for the fifth time in the history of both schools and UCONN had never won. The appropriate response to that factoid is “Who gives a crap?” or “Why the Hell are SMU and UCONN?” playing each other again?”

Death to the big 3 model

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I irrationally hate the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s weird because I was definitely part of the club last summer that wanted LeBron to go back home, in part because the good people of Cleveland deserve a championship. Logically I still feel that way, but I hated watching them in the early part of the year — the way Blatt and coach LeBron have used Kevin Love is still frustrating and I think that is carrying over to the Mosgov era.

I found myself rooting hard for Golden State in the game on Thursday and then LeBron went apes**** in the third quarter to allow the Cavs to pull away. Even though the Cavs are entertaining now, I’m going to root against them all playoffs. What I dislike is the way the Cavs were assembled — they were atrocious every season after LeBron left, lucked their way into three number one picks and only got two right but still convinced LeBron to come back and form a new big three.

Nothing would put the nail in the coffin of the big three era like a Golden State and Atlanta finals this year. Actually, any team in the west besides the Thunder would drive that point home.

Kevin Durant is my boy; I’ve loved his game since college. Westbrook, because I can’t ignore his amazing play, is growing on me. Sam Presti also put the Thunder together the right way — he got all of his top picks right, let the team grow and has assembled a pretty good supporting cast now: Steven Adams, Enes Canter, DJ Augustin and Kyle Singler (although I still dislike Singler and Josh McRoberts from their days at Duke; Oddly enough, I let that go for Kansas guys but it lingers for Duke white guys).

But if the Thunder are able to vault themselves out of the 8th or 7th seed, it tells the whole league — “You know what, everybody was right, you need at least one superstar.”

Atlanta, Golden State, Memphis, Washington, Toronto, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Portland and The Clippers are all assembled as teams not a big three and scrubs. Yes obviously Dirk and Duncan are lasting superstars, Curry and Thompson are amazing, and CP3 and Blake are just at the tail end of their prime together, but the narrative has never been — with any of those guys — this guy or tandem will carry you to a title without any help.

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This all relates to the tankapalooza going on in Philadelphia — the league’s most egregious but not only case of front-office designed tanking. Philly GM Sam Hinkie just traded his best player, Michael Carter Williams, for the Laker’s draft pick he is hoping will fall just outside of the top five. The fly in the ointment is that the Lakeshow are also aggressively tanking. So are the Knicks and kind of Boston. Hinkie also gave away KJ McDaniels, who people tend to like.

As a fan, I agree with what Hinkie is doing. There is a model throughout sports that shows that one of the best ways to build a title contender is to suffer a few years of awful. The Tigers in the early 2000s and recently the Royals have shown that this works. However, in baseball, you can easily recognize that teams are waiting for their young players to come around. The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs are on the precipice of those young pedigreed guys making an impact.

That has not been the case for the Sixers. Everybody thought MCW was a piece of the future and then they dumped him. Embiid and Noel are building blocks but Embiid has not played yet. I think what happens in this years playoffs could inspire Philly to speed things up.

They have their pick, and they have a pick from the Heat if it falls out of the top 10 (a safe bet). If the lottery works out the way it should based on record, Philly would have the No. 2 pick and pick No. 16. Let’s say they pick Emmanuel Mudiay from SMU at 2 (if they like him, it might be part of the reason to get rid of MCW) and Jerian Grant from Notre Dame (his brother is already on the team) at 16. With the two big guys and a veteran wing, that’s a good enough starting five (in an on paper, potential sort of way; I see Grant as a 2 in this scenario) to at least see how they play with each other. If they get the Lakers’ pick this year — in the 6 to 10 range — Kelly Oubre from Kansas makes sense and now you have a potential future starting five. That is unless the two bigs can’t play at the same time and then I would suggest drafting Frank Kaminsky with Miami’s pick.

But if a Thunder and Cavs finals happens, then its oh my God, we need at least two superstars, I could see Hinkie trading Noel for picks.

Decisions coming for quarterbacks and coaches in Denver

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I’ll come out and say it … Peyton Manning should retire.

A lot of people seem to be tiptoeing around this while talking about his disastrous first-round performance against the Colts. I think the torn quadriceps injury is indicative of the fact that he can’t physically handle the rigors of playing quarterback in the league. He’s 38 years old and he’s played a lot of games.

Here’s some things he can do when his playing days are over:

  • Be a full-time pitchman. Imagine how many more commercials Papa John’s, Buick and Nationwide could squeeze if they had all fall and winter too.
  • Make a billion dollars as a quarterback guru. You see these quarterback whisperers pop up all over the place — none of them are Peyton Manning.

A scenario to consider: the Patriots win the Super Bowl and Tom Brady and Peyton Brady retire in the same off-season. After another disappointing year, Drew Brees retires the next off-season.

The NFL front office might poop a brick if this actually happens.

I did a ranking of the league’s dependable quarterbacks. Here’s how that list would look (in order of dependability) with those three guys off of it:

  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Andrew Luck
  • Ben Roethlisberger
  • Matt Ryan
  • Russell Wilson
  • Joe Flacco (I put him up here on the strength of another good playoff showing)
  • Eli Manning (I’ll move up Manning too, although the last two years have been a disaster)

And for good measure the 50 percent of the time dependable quarterbacks:

  • Cam Newton (he’s the closest)
  • Matthew Stafford
  • Andy Dalton
  • Alex Smith
  • Jay Cutler
  • Ryan Tannehill
  • Colin Kaepernick (but I think he might be bad)
  • Teddy Bridgewater (somewhat shaky)
  • Carson Palmer (if he ever plays again)

With both lists, and there are big question marks on that second list, that’s 16 quarterbacks. If you’re keeping track, the NFL has 32 teams. Anyway, the reason I think it’s good if Brady, Peyton and Brees all retire, all in tier one by the way, is because it will lower the bar of NFL quarterbacking.

Right now, every young guy gets judged against Brady and Manning and I don’t know why that’s fair. Think about it, what does everybody say about quarterbacks — you’ve got to study film until your eyes bleed, you’ve got to stay after practice and work the receivers and you’ve got to be the first one in the building and the last to leave. Brady and Manning are exceptionally good at reading defenses and making adjustments — like on a supernatural level. People think that if you’re smart and you work hard you can just do that and that’s not really true as Kurt Warner pointed out yesterday on Mike&Mike.

Let’s take Cam Newton for example. I think the perception of Cam changes if the bar gets lowered a little. People will see the things he can do — throw deep, pick up first downs with his legs and be durable — more than the things he can’t — run a 4-wide offense like Peyton Manning.

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I think part of the reason people might convince Manning to stick around is his 2013 performance: 68 percent completions, 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns, only 10 interceptions and 8.3 yards per pass. But I think we should take into account: Peyton was playing with by far the best set of skill position players he’s ever had and the scheme, with lots of short throws, helped compensate for a loss of arm strength.

It’s a good thing one of the purveyors of that scheme, head coach John Fox, is still around … Hold on … Wait, you’re telling me the Broncos fired John Fox?

What the Hell is going on out here?

Seriously, the Broncos are out of their collective horse minds if they think they can find a better coach than John Fox.

Here’s the active coaches who have coached in a Super Bowl:

  • Bill Bilechick (3-2)
  • Tom Coughlin (win, win)
  • Mike Tomlin (win, loss)
  • John Harbaugh (win)
  • Pete Carroll (win)
  • Mike McCarthy (win)
  • Sean Payton (win)
  • Jeff Fisher (loss)
  • Jim Caldwell (loss)
  • Andy Reid (loss)
  • Lovie Smith (loss)

So John Fox is one of four active coaches, because he’s already got a job with the Bears, who’s coached two Super Bowls. All the rest of those guys are happily married with their current teams. Jim Harbaugh (loss) would have been an interesting candidate but he’s stuck with the Michigan job for now.

Now there are some other guys floating around. I think I’ll break them down one-by-one.

Mike Shanahan

I like to think this is what he looked like when he watched RG3's knee explode.

I like to think this is what he looked like when he watched RG3’s knee explode.

  • Won two Super Bowls
  • Best team: 1998 Broncos, 14-2 and Super Bowl champs
  • Improbable playoff run: 2000 Broncos at the helm of Brian Griese
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 1996 Broncos that lost to the expansion Jaguars
  • Playoff record with John Elway: 7-1
  • Playoff record with anyone else: 1-5
  • Ruined RG3’s career

This would be beyond crazy, so let’s move on.

Bill Cowher

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  • Won a Super Bowl with 2005 Steelers
  • Lost Super Bowl to great Cowboys team with 1994 Steelers
  • 149-90 regular season record in 15 seasons all with Steelers
  • 12-9 postseason record
  • Won division eight times
  • Best team: 2005 Steelers, 11-5, won super bowl
  • Improbable playoff run: 2002 Steelers with Tommy Maddox at the helm
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2001 Steelers, lost to Patriots in AFC title game (if there was a year to beat the Patriots it would have been that one)

If Cowher is seriously considered, people need to realize that he has not coached for nine years. That’s a long time.

Jon Gruden

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  • Won a Super Bowl
  • Best Team: 2002 Buccaneers, 12-4 and won the Super Bowl
  • Took over that team after it was built by Tony Dungy
  • Record since then is 45-51
  • Made the playoffs five times
  • Had a sub .500 record three times
  • Improbable playoff run: 2005 Buccaneers who somehow went 11-5 with Brian Griese and Chris Sims
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2001 Raiders, tuck-rule game that Ray Lewis was yelling about earlier this week
  • Has gradually been becoming a real life cartoon on ESPN since 2009

Do we think players could take him seriously now? This would be like John Madden trying to coach in the 80s.

Tony Dungy

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  • Won Super Bowl
  • First black coach in NFL history
  • Built Bucs into a Super Bowl caliber team, although the Bucs’ record did get worse the final three years he coached them
  • Regular season record: 139-69
  • Made playoffs 11 times
  • Playoff record: 9-10
  • Improbably playoff run: 1999 Bucs lead by Shaun King, lost to the Rams in part because of a controversial call
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2008 Colts, Brady was hurt this year and the Patriots missed the playoffs

Dungy is who my Broncos fan coworker wants. He should know that Dungy has a lot of examples of playoff runs that should haunt him: the Bucs were championship caliber for three seasons and lost to the Eagles in the divisional round two years in a row. The 2005 Colts were 14-2 and were the more talented team than the Steelers that year who in fairness did win a crazy game.

Let’s compare that to Fox

John Fox

  • Lost two Super Bowls
  • Took over 1-15 Panthers team and they went to the Super Bowl just two years later
  • Regular season record: 119-89
  • Playoff record: 8-7
  • Record with the Broncos: 46-18
  • Made the playoffs seven times
  • Has four sub .500 seasons including a 2-14 year that got him fired in Carolina
  • Best team: 2013 Broncos, 13-3 and lost Super Bowl
  • Improbable playoff run: 2011 Broncos, the Tim Tebow team
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2008 Panthers who lost to the Cardinals at home but Jake Delhomme did have six turnovers in that game
  • That same Jake Delhomme was the Panthers quarterback when they made the Super Bowl in 2003

I think the Tim Tebow year gives Fox the edge over Dungy in my opinion. Fox was willing to completely change his offense and philosophy to fit Tim Tebow’s skills.

Even if Peyton comes back and Broncos get Dungy, I think letting Fox go will come back to haunt them.

David Blatt and other coaching abominations

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Press Conference

Everybody, David Blatt is submitting a historically awful coaching season.

I’ll break it down:

  1. He was gifted the best player in the league who is either in his prime or very close. That player is also A. very unselfish, B. an extremely gifted defender and C. extremely coachable.
  2. Included under the Cavs preseason Christmas tree was the ultimate stretch four, who is a rebounding machine and a talented passer. Kevin Love is not that bad of a defender either.
  3. A talented point guard who can get into the lane whenever he wants.

Now the Cavs are certainly flawed:

  • Their bench is terrible.
  • Anderson Varajao is already (predictably) out for the season.
  • Dion Waiters was (predictably) a head-case, chemistry killer.

All of that said, the Thunder are 18-19. As you remember, they started the season without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and they play in the West, which is a million times better than the East. Their bench and overall depth are also terrible. The Cavs are 19-18 and their top three guys have been (mostly) healthy all year. What? How?

David Blatt is getting destroyed by Scott Brooks!

I admit that I fell into the same trap as everybody else. “I like that Blatt won all those games in Europe. I like that he’s bringing a different pedigree to the NBA.” Now that resume from Russia and Israel looks a lot less impressive. Like a gunfighter from Sweden.

I think I would have fired Blatt already. The whole, “well the 2011 Heat got off to a slow start” argument has worn off right? Everyone expected this team to be an offensive juggernaut. Maybe that was an unfair but this team should not be the fifth best team in the East.

This got me thinking of other historically awful coaching performances:

Sean Payton, 2014 Saints

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All they had to do was go 8-8 and they win the worst division in modern NFL history. And they couldn’t do it, with Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Jimmy Graham and three talented receivers. Sure, their defense was not good, but solid was all they needed. At the end of the season, they lost got crushed by the Panthers and beat handily by the Falcons at home. In the words of Will Ferrell, what the Hell happened! Is the Super Dome haunted?

Mark Richt, 2008 Georgia Bulldogs

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This team had Matthew Stafford, AJ Green, Knowshon Moreno, Mohamed Massaquoi (I know but on a college team with AJ Green?), Justin Houston (admittedly a freshman) and Geno Atkins. That team lost three games. Three.

Bob Stoops, 2008 Oklahoma Sooners

Bob Stoops

This team had Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, DeMarco Murray, Trent Williams and Gerald McCoy. They made it to the National Title Game, I’ll give them credit for that, but they got beat pretty bad by Florida, 24-14 (a more lopsided game than the score would indicate). But this spot is more of a life-time underachievement award for Stoops. I believe people ripped on the Big 12 in part because loaded Oklahoma teams kept coughing up big bowl games. The 2006 team, with Adrian Peterson as a junior, had a lot of those same players (notably as freshmen) and lost three games — notably the famous Fiesta Bowl to Boise State.

Dusty Baker, 2001 San Francisco Giants

Dusty Baker

Another life-time underachievement position because Baker also disappointed with very good Cubs and Reds teams. In 2002, people praised Baker for getting the Giants to the World Series. In retrospect, they should not have lost to the Angels. Oh my God, Barry Bonds hit .370 that season with 46 home runs, 100 runs and RBI each, had a staggering 198 walks for a .582 on base percentage and 1.381 ops. But that team wasn’t all Bonds all the time. They had Jeff Kent who hit .313, Benito Santiago (who had a decent offensive season), and Reggie Sanders (who wasn’t great but was a very solid player). They’re pitching staff had a top three of Russ Ortiz, Jason Schmidt and Livian Hernandez. Go back and look at the Angels roster.

But they lost to the Angels in seven games. What is inexplicable is the year before when they did not make the playoffs (2001 when Bonds hit 73 home runs).

Bobby Cox, any year in the ’90s that wasn’t 1995

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Now that It’s official a certain fact needs to be shouted from the rooftops. THE BRAVES TOP THREE PITCHERS WERE ALL HALL OF FAMERS. Um, that hasn’t really happened before. If this the rest of the Braves team was a bunch of castoffs and journeymen or if they could only keep Maddux, Smoltz and Glavin together for a couple years, I would give Bobby Cox a break. People give Cox a break because they won one World Championship, but give any other strong manager of the era that team and he would win at least two. In particular, the losses to the 1993 Phillies and 1997 Marlins seem particularly egregious in retrospect.

Bill Self, 2014 Kansas Jayhawks

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Bill Self had the best two players in college basketball — Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid — and they lost in the second round of the tournament to Stanford. In case you’re checking, Stanford had zero NBA players that year. The game was also in St. Louis, which I’m sorry to say is a partisan Kansas crowd. I don’t care that Embiid was hurt. Self still had the best five players in the game. Every year that goes by the 2008 National title win looks flukier and flukier. (Also, screw Kansas.)

John Calipari, 2010, 2011 and 2013 Kentucky Wildcats

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There’s been a significant amount of revisionist history foisted on the public these days about John Calipari. Pundits have been praising Calipari for his X’s and O’s work, in game coaching and that his teams play hard. They even give him credit for convincing players to sacrifice minutes. I believe this talk is inspired by the fact that the 2014 Wildcats might go undefeated and thus become the greatest college basketball team of all time. The coach of that team has to be an all-time great right? All of those people need to chill out because Kentucky should have won five titles in a row. Were Coach K, Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino or Brad Stevens had been given this much talent, he would have won at least twice by now. I believe Calipari is the best recruiter of all time but he also has a prodigious history of leaving flaming bags of poop at two different programs in the form of NCAA sanctions as he walked out the door to a better job.

Mike Brown/Mike D’Antoni, 2012 Lakers

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If you think I’m being unfair to one coach or the other, Brown could easily make this list for his job manning the Cavs during the first LeBron era and D’Antoni did a horrible job with the Knicks. However, this season went so poorly that the emotional stress convinced Dwight Howard to flee the sinking Lake Show ship like it was on fire. The raging dumpster fire that is the 2014 Lakers owes its inception to these two guys.

Scott Brooks, Thunder 2011 to Present

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It’s not Scott Brooks fault that the Thunder traded James Harden. It’s a move that looks more perplexing every day, especially when Harden should win the MVP for the Rockets. Still, he’s had three of the top 25 players in the league, including two in the top 10 the past five years and has no hardware to show for it. The Spurs have made the finals twice in this span and the Thunder happen to be the worst match up for the Duncanettes.