Monday, February 28, 2011

Now Only If Iran Was Any Good at Most Sports. . .

The Iranians are threatening to boycott the London Olympics in 2012 because they view the logo as racist.

Apparently, those in control of Iran's official view believe that the jagged way the logo says "2012" actually says "Zion," the biblical term for Jerusalem and, of course, represents Israel, for whose destruction Iran has called.

Now, if Iran wanted to come up with a reason why an oppressive regime that's out of touch with its population of about 60 million hardly can field a team that matters in most sports, there could have been a better way. But, while this is not a political blog, it seems apparent that the Iranians also want to disrupt the 2012 Olympics in a big way.

But is this all they've got? Is this the best that they can do? This is the best thinking from a nation that large?


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Whither (Wither) the Mets?

This, today, from the New York Times.

The ownership's finances seemingly are in a mess.

Ticket sales are way down. The team reduced the price of the average ticket by 14% and let go a bunch of employees in the ticket office.

The team lost a few relievers in the off-season and didn't sign any new star attractions.

Johan Santana, their ace, is out until mid-summer.

The team's debt ratings have been downgrade.

This is all very sad to see. Just three, four years ago, the Mets were the team to beat in the National League.

All signs point to the Wilpon's having to sell the team or have a friend give them a lifeline until their negotiations with the Madoff trustee conclude with a settlement. Neither seems to be a great option at the moment.

It's all very hard to fathom in Gotham.

Coming Full Circle -- A Tale of Basketball Arrival

When I was a kid in Philadelphia, I rooted very hard for all Big 5 teams, but particularly my parents' alma maters, Penn and Temple. Temple had good teams (although their best had arrived a decade or so earlier), and Penn had great teams, top-10 teams, with players named Bilsky, Wohl, Calhoun, Morse, Littlepage, Hankinson. I didn't know much about Princeton, except occasionally hearing my father say that they had this crafty coach who was very good. That's all I knew, and, in the early-to-mid-1970's, that was about enough, because the Quakers dominated the Ivies at the time.

I also thought that Penn was where I'd end up, because it seemed like a good place, my parents both had degrees from there, it was close to home, it had the magical Palestra, it had a good business school, and what more could anyone ask?

Except that for some reason I ended up at Princeton, with, believe it or not, the blessing of my Penn alum parents. Naturally, my Penn friends thought that my parents' support was heresy, but parents being who they are they love their kids for their decisions. And, quite frankly, it was they who encouraged me to leave the reservation, so to speak, and migrate about 45 miles to the north. To this day, it's not along the lines of Nixon's recognition of China, but for me it was a pretty long journey, an entry into a new world.

Part of it, of course, involved switching basketball allegiances at an interesting time -- Penn's ascendancy to the Final Four and then Princeton's resurgence. The antichrist, Pete Carril, became the major apostle, and I learned a lot about the game from watching his teams, listening to him and reading what he said. I also learned the magic of the back door play.

Carril would later write that his father used to say "the strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong." It's a great quote, and it provided the foundation for his coaching philosophy (Sun Tzu also might have offered similar wisdom). Carril wouldn't go at a higher rated opponents' strengths -- that was folly. But he would figure out a way to have his clubs play tough defense, take the opponents out of their game, and, to quote baseball Hall of Fame outfielder Wee Willie Keeler, he'd "hit 'em where they ain't." And no more where they "ain't", so to speak, was in defending the back door play.

Carril put a cherry atop a sterling career after he decided to retire in 1996. The Tigers played Penn in a playoff game at Lehigh, an unlikely event given that the Quakers had beaten the Tigers twice during the regular season. The Tigers didn't look particular good in either game, but as friends and I were leaving the Palestra, we thought that Carril might have had to go against Penn's strong 3-guard offense by playing freshman forward Gabe Lewullis on Penn's senior guard Donald Moxley, who scored something like 17 points in the season finale against the Tigers. Well, Carril did just that (showing that we had learned from him), and Moxley went 0-12 in the playoff, Lewullis scored in double digits, and the Tigers upended the Quakers to win the Ivy title. After the game, an elated Carril wrote on the locker room's blackboard, "I'm so happy. I'm retiring."

And then he and the Tigers became a big story. Even bigger, because the Tigers' first-round opponent was defending national champion UCLA, starring Toby Bailey and captained by Ed O'Bannon. The Tigers were in Indianapolis, and they kept the Bruins close. With under a minute to play, center Steve Goodrich threaded a perfect pass to Lewullis, who lost O'Bannon on a great v-cut, ran through the back door and scored on a layup. The Tigers upset UCLA, and they were the talk of the college basketball world (two days later, an Eric Dampier-led Mississippi State squad thumped the Tigers and sent them packing, with Carril quoted afterwards as saying, "we didn't honor our victory over UCLA."). Truth be told, the strong played smart against the smaller, less athletic Tigers, and Carril retired, his legend very much intact as the wizard of doing more with less.

Fast forward to this past weekend, where my 5th and 6th grade basketball team had its first-round playoff game against a team we beat earlier in the season by 41-20 (we could have scored more if our guards hadn't thrown the ball away a bunch attempting fast breaks). Our opponents had won a play-in game on Thursday night, and they were primed for us. My fellow coach and I were a bit nervous, given that we didn't have a practice the week before and because our team tends to come out of the gate like a house on fire, missing makeable shots because they're so eager. We went into the post-season as the #4 seed (out of 20 teams).

Before the game, I talked with the players, and I said this. "Hey, we had a great season. We finished the regular season 8-2, and we lost to the #1 seed by 6 and the #3 seed by 1, so we're up there with everyone. Let's remember to honor our season by playing a great game today. So, let's defend, call out picks and switch, let's rebound hard, and let's take makeable shots and not try to do things by ourselves. If we play together and have fun, we can win this thing."

And we did play well together, leading 18-8 at the half, 28-14 after 3 and winning 33-24 in a game that wasn't as close as the score would have indicated. It was a good solid game, but one play brought it all home for me.

It took place in the third quarter, where our lightning quick if sometimes out of control point guard threw a bounce pass to a post player at the right elbow. My son made a great cut on the player guarding him (one of his best friends) and was wide open at a 45-degree angle to the basket. The post player turned and threaded a beautiful bounce pass, which my son caught mid-stride. He then put the ball up off the glass, which it kissed softly before going through the hoop. It was a great play, just as we had practiced it for the past several weeks, and my son brought it home for me what a beautiful game the game of basketball is.

Now, we weren't playing against a bigger team or a stronger team, but we were playing against a feisty team that tended to overplay on defense. And, there we were, taking advantage of where they were not, and we executed on the famous Princeton "back door" play. I smiled with no small measure of satisfaction that we've been able to finish this play, and, of course, I took some extra enjoyment that my son was part of the play's great execution.

It's great to see the kids pay rapt attention, especially when they sense that our plays can help us score more points than if a guard were to try to do it all himself. And, no, we're by no means perfect. Some kids try to do too much, a few forget the plays, and a few throw chest passes when the play demands a bounce pass. We try to fast break (Red Auerbach would appreciate us on occasion), out of a theory that if we get there first with more boys we'll have a better chance to score than when the other team has set its defense. But in the end, it's this play that has the referees nodding their heads and parents at both ends wondering how kids this age can perfect two straight passes for a basket.

Coach Carril said many things in his day, from "play to win" to "basketball reveals character" to "there's a great correlation between high SAT's and slow feet." But what he stressed -- time and time again -- was unselfishness and precision. More often than not, his teams did what he taught, with terrific results. I don't know how far this team will go in our playoffs -- there are a couple of teams with more size, strength and speed, but I do know this -- with the back door play and kids willing to play hard, anything is possible.

Because at the end of the day, the smart do take from the strong.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

And Now It's Time for Cal Tech's Baseball Team. . .

Cal Tech beat Occidental by a point last night in men's basketball, marking the first time the school has won a conference basketball same since 1985. It's now their baseball team's time -- as the Cal Tech baseball team has lost 412 straight conference games dating back to 1988.

That's a lot of games during a long time span.

That said, I'd surmise that the SAT scores and GPAs of the average Cal Tech player would be enough to bring up -- significantly -- the averages at the DI schools that are perennial contenders for the NCAA championship (including Duke). Those kids at Cal Tech can't expect to have everything -- some of their brains are bigger than basketballs -- but at least they could get a win in their conference.

And I'm sure at least two of the players could figure out that -- all things being equal -- the odds of losing conference games indefinitely were smaller than the odds of winning a single game.

And then they went out and did it.

Congratulations to the Cal Tech men's basketball team, and may your good fortune spread to the baseball team.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mets Have Reassuring Words for Luis Castillo

This from the New York Times today.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie Donnie Brasco. Sonny Black's crew is sitting around their social club talking about opportunities to earn. It might even be the scene where Lefty (played by Al Pacino) is sitting at a table trying to smash open a parking meter with a hammer. In any event, the guys are talking about what they have going, and the best opportunity was one associate who said that he had boosted two dozen tickets to a Rufus & Chaka Khan concert to scalp.

No Lufthansa heist. No big con. Just those tickets.

Reassuring words for Luis Castillo?

To quote the producer (played by Dustin Hoffman) in Wag the Dog, what this calls for is a diversion, a "pageant." In that movie, it was a military action. In this movie, after all the bad news about the Wilpons and Bernie Madoff, plus the injury to Johan Santana and the seemingly neverending saga of Carlos Beltran's knee, the Mets need a big splash. Running a story about reassuring Luis Castillo somehow doesn't qualify, and I have nothing against either the Mets or Castillo. In fact, as a Phillies fan, I think that the Philllies and the entire league will play better baseball when they know that the Mets are hot on their trail -- the rivalry brings out the best in everyone. So, I take no joy in the Mets' problems, even though sometimes I've had to listen to grief from ungracious and overzealous Mets' fans (and, sure, there are the ungracious, overzealous and uncouth among Phillies' fans too). And I don't for a moment think that the Red Sox' and Phillies' off-season signings all would have happened had the Mets been financially healthier than they are. Somehow, I could have seen Carl Crawford running around Citi Field making life miserable for the entire National League.

So, the next move is up to the Mets and their front office. The Yankees have Jeter, Sabathia, Posada, Rivera and A-Rod to grab headlines and draw attention. Sadly, the Mets have very little.

For now.

But that will change.

It always does in baseball.

The Yankees Have Partial Season Ticket Plans Available

I saw an ad in yesterday's New York Times (which I don't always read). I live almost halfway between Philadelphia and New York (okay, so closer to Philadelphia), and once told a college classmate that I didn't read that paper normally (I do read three other dailies). She asked me, somewhat disdainfully, "What are you, a Republican?" I chuckled (as opposed to full-out laughed) in response (never being one to reveal my political thinking to anyone outside a group of friends in the neighborhood), and said, "No, I'm a Pennsylvanian." (As it didn't seem to occur to someone in Connecticut or Westchester County that someone might read something other than the Times). Again, I have digressed. . .

So, I saw the ad that indicated that partial-season ticket plans are available. And that made me wonder why? Is it because the #4 and #5 starters will be drawn from among Ivan Novoa, Sergio Mitre, Bartolo Colon and a similar aging wonder? Is it because the Red Sox have done a better job both growing from within and in signing free agents this past off-season? Is it because a) the team didn't get Cliff Lee and b) Andy Pettitte retired? Or is it because, well, some of the tickets are just too plain expensive?

Now, in fairness, there are some great 15-game plan alternatives -- 15 Friday night games, 15 Saturday night games and 15 Sunday night games. And, I'd admit that I was tempted, although I am a diehard Phillies fan and both the financial and travel commitments would seem to be too much. There were tickets available somewhere up in the heavens for $2100 for a pair of tickets to 15 games (doing the math, it's about $70 a ticket for upstairs, which is a possibility that doesn't exist in Philadelphia). That's steep, but what intrigued me more were downstairs tickets at $8250 for a pair for 15 games (do that math, and you get over $250 per ticket). And it made me wonder who could come up with that kind of dough. After all, the hypothetical "average" investment banker doesn't think he's average and probably would up for nothing less than a full-season ticket plan, because even if those tickets would cost $40,000 or more per season, well, that's about as much as one of those people make in two days, which means, "Who'd miss that money, even if the Yankees don't make the playoffs?" And, yet, there are tickets available.

New York is great at spotting bull and bear markets, even if sometimes woefully late (such as the crash of 2008, which got everyone mad at each other, many people broke). Does the fact that there are partial season ticket plans available mean that Wall Street is predicting a banner year in Boston at the expense of the Bronx?

That could well be the case. But now, if you do have an extra $8250 around and don't want to spend it on a vacation, mortgage payments, food, clothing or medicine, the Yankees do have a deal for you.

A Squash Dynasty

When I was in college, they called them "the preppy sports." The "they" were my friends who came from middle-class backgrounds and played the "traditional" sports of football, basketball and baseball. They came from towns and public schools that didn't offer squash, lacrosse or golf, and, as for golf, tennis and swimming, well, they appeared to be vestiges for those who had the money to spend on private lessons and on private clubs. The implication was that it was much easier to excel at those sports because the masses didn't play them (okay, there are public-school bastions for lacrosse on Long Island, near Syracuse, and in some parts of the Baltimore area, but the "they" would have insisted that lacrosse, among and amidst the others, was still a "preppy" sport).

I don't follow all of these developments all that closely today, except to say that there are certain sports that are hyper-competitive in suburbia because of the parents' inclination to spend time and money on them and perhaps because of a Darwinism that says, "play soccer, because while the mass of people playing it might be growing, the best athletes still are playing football and basketball, and, if you don't believe it, compare the U.S. World Cup teams with those in the NFL and NBA, and in terms of excellence, well, the former don't compare with the latter." I suppose that's a long-winded way of saying that there are sports where the money and efforts of those with homes with ample backyards spend their time because, well, junior and juniorette might be able to draw the attention of some college whereas if they hooped they wouldn't measure up. That's harsh, I suppose, but when you write about things you shouldn't pull your punches too much.

And as for squash. . .

On the one hand, it's a fast-paced, great game that's fun to play and not for those who aren't in shape. On the other hand, traditionally in the U.S. it's been only for the well-heeled, as you needed to go to a school that has courts (read: expensive private and boarding schools) or have parents who belong to a club that has them (read: parents who either inherited money or earned it and are willing to pay for the private schools and clubs and lessons). In stark contrast, in other parts of the world (read: the former British empire), squash is more accessible to the masses.

Which led to this bit of Darwinism at the collegiate level. You'd naturally think that Harvard, Yale and Princeton would dominate because, well, they are elite schools who attract kids from the elite boarding and private schools who can pay the freight and a few of whom actually can play squash with authority. That logic makes sense because, well, you just wouldn't figure to see squash in the SEC. Could you imagine Auburn alums taking glee over beating Georgia 9-0 in a squash match? Remember the paradigm -- SEC and squash in the northeastern part of the U.S. mean Securities and Exchange Commission and a racquet sport; SEC and squash in the southeastern part of the U.S. mean Southeastern Conference and something you eat with your evening meal. (For Google afficionados, SEC comes up with the Northeast's interpretation about 6 times before you get to the athletic conference; Google squash, and you get the sport #1 and the vegetable #2).

Back from the digression, if you thought Harvard, Yale and Princeton, you'd be wrong. They are all good at squash, but none are the best. In fact, the best collegiate squash program -- by far -- is at Division III Trinity in Hartford, Connecticut. Trinity has won over 230 straight matches because its head coach prevailed upon the school's president to realize that in order to dominate, the school needed to recruit internationally. Translated, it means, as the linked article suggests, that either U.S. squash isn't very good or that it pales in comparison to squash around the world. And the reason is quite simple -- the competition. Kids around the world play against a bigger pool of other kids, and some of the most athletic kids in those countries focus on squash. In contrast, the average combination guard in a big city probably hasn't heard of the game, let alone considered it. But, imagine, if Chris Paul or Allen Iverson were to play squash -- given their athleticism and competitive nature, it would be easy to envision that they'd beat even the most skilled international players.

So, what Trinity did was quite simple -- go to the places with the best players and diversity your student body to boot. And they dominate, so much so that they're deemed the evil empire in collegiate squash, not that you'd ever really figure on attaching the word "evil" to a sport like squash, which creates visions of the men singing four-part harmony at the Heritage Club in "Trading Places." (Famous dialogue: "Looking good, Louis." "Feeling good. . . Todd.").

When you think of a dynasty in sports, you think of the Yankees from the '20's through the early 60's, you think Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and, obviously, the Boston Celtics. You think about various collegiate football programs, John Wooden's UCLA basketball teams, Geno Auriemma's recent run at UConn for women's basketball, and I'm sure many others that are too obscure for even me. What you probably don't think about is squash.

Read the linked article and see if you identify with an elite academic institution that gets dissed when compared to its Ivy and Little 3 peers -- and uses that dissing as a motivator, especially in the world of intercollegiate squash.

For what it's worth.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is Andy Reid the Worst Head Coach in Philadelphia Professional Sports?

Okay, the headline is a bit harsh, because you'd still want the fourth of the Phillies "four aces" in your rotation, and pretty high up there, too.

But if you peel back the onion, think about this:

1. Charlie Manuel has had the Phillies in two straight World Series and won one.

2. Peter Laviollette took the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals last year and has them with the best record in hockey the last time I checked (and, if not, pretty darned close).

3. Doug Collins is the NBA's version of the Miracle Worker, coaching his team with patience and determination and has them in the playoffs were they to be held today and close to .500 where no one expected anything close and the future now looks suprisingly bright.

4. Andy Reid is the winningest coach in Eagles' history, but his teams seemingly have one type of Achilles' heel or another that they just cannot solve. They are like Sisyphus, pushing the big rock up the hill only never to get to the top. Reid is, no doubt, one of the ten best coaches in the NFL and arguably even in the top 3. But the big question is whether the combination of Reid's being the GM and head coach works, as it seldom has in the NFL. Heck, most people didn't like the DVD/VCR combination or th "spork"that certain restaurants put out because they don't want to give you a fork and a spoon. Put differently, Reid is good, but could it be that the others are just doing a better job (and none of them makes the decisions in the front office).

Food for thought for Philadelphia sports fans.

Let the comments rain in.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Could this Be the Year for Princeton Men's B-Ball Team to Return to the NCAA Tournament?

Tiger fans are rubbing their good-luck charms on this one. The Tigers trounded Columbia on the road on Saturday night, only to edge out Cornell on Saturday night on Kareem Maddox's jumper with ten seconds to go. They are 7-0 in the Ivies, but they have 5 of their last 7 on the road, including potentially tough contests at Harvard, Yale and archrival Pennsylvania.

It has been a long drought for Princeton, and the road won't be an easy one. Penn has some talent and always gets up for Princeton. Yale has some good athletes on the perimeter and played a great game in Jadwin Gym a few weeks ago (I thought that Yale's James Jones outcoached Sydney Johnson). Harvard has 11 freshmen and sophomores and a ton of talent, both inside (Keith Wright, among others) and outside (deadeye shooter Laurent Rivard, among others). They have had some trouble closing out opponents (and "some" means relatively minor, in that they have one league loss -- at Princeton), but they are very good.

That's the thing about the Ivies -- there is no conference tournament, so every night is like a playoff game. While last night's Villanova-Pitt contest had great intensity, both teams will make the NCAA Tournament based upon their records -- regardless of how they fare in their conference tournament (and assuming that neither falls flat on its face in the next 2-3 weeks). But that's not the luck of the Ivies -- come in second and you're done for the season in all likelihood. Think there's not pressure on a weekend game after a long bus ride in Hanover, New Hampshire against a second-division Dartmouth squad? Think again. The Big Green will be lying in the weeds waiting to ambush your top-of-the-league squad and send you reeling. They've done it before and they'll do it again, because for them games against the league's front runners are their version of the Big Dance. And the last time I checked, they do sell glass slippers in northern New England.

There is a lot of basketball left to be played. Sure, you'd rather be Princeton at 7-0 to Harvard's 7-1, but a lot can happen over the course of the next three weekends. Put on your seat belts and helmets, Tiger fans, there's a lot of good basketball left to be played.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

I'll Bet That You Can't Put Your Princeton Degree to Work For You Like This

Ross Ohlendorf pitches for the worst team in baseball.

Ross Ohlendorf is a starting pitcher for that team.

Ross Ohlendorf went 1-11 for that team in 2010.

Ross Ohlendorf went to Princeton (and by all accounts is a very bright guy).

Ross Ohlendorf is a member of the most successful union in the history of organized labor.

Ross Ohlendorf got roughly a 461% raise for his efforts. He made $439,000 in 2010 and will make $2.025 million in 2011.

This bit of baseball news could prompt a lot of comments, such as:

1. Gee, what if he won 2 games?

2. Gee, what if he had a winning record above .500?

3. Gee, what if he won 15 games?

4. Omigod.

5. Well, the players' union must have put the leftover steroids to good use -- they injected them into salaries of pitchers who will be more remembered for their academics than their records.

6. Wow, this makes Andy Reid's hiring of his offensive line coach as his defensive coordinator sound rational.

7. If it were the Philadelphia Daily News, they'd repeat the headline they used for #6 and say, "WTF?"

8. No wonder why the Pirates are doomed.

9. The baseball stat people might figure out a way to contend that this is a bargain because, well, had you put this guy on the Phillies, he might be the righthanded version of Cole Hamels. (Somehow, I think that's a reach, but perhaps that's what his agent tried to argue).

10. Civilization as we know it is doomed.

11. That's why parents will do almost anything to have their kids go to a place like Princeton -- "it's all about the bucks, kid."

12. He probably has some Princeton classmates who make more money at Google or on Wall Street than he does.

And perhaps many more.

But that's baseball for you. It's great work if you can get it.

Monday, February 07, 2011

More on the Mets

Will the Mets have to be sold? Here's an update on the situation from

Here's the sitch: basically, you have a trustee who has some bucks who's pursuing with great vigor those who were at the front end of the Ponzi scheme to beat all Ponzi schemes. This is a guy with nothing to lose, willing to invest say a cool million to fund the litigation to bring in a million. Okay, so perhaps the litigation will cost two million, but the guy will fight tooth and nail, ask for a jury trial in a city known for wacky jury verdicts (what city isn't?), and he'll try to recover funds for the poor widows of Palm Beach whose husbands trusted Bernie because, well, how could they not have invested with Bernie when every one else was doing it? Get the latest Benz, the latest wife, the latest Gucci and, invest with the guy who guaranteed the returns.

But when everything goes bad, you get a receiver, a trustee, and sometimes these guys are bottom fishers, the guys who don't get the corporate bankruptcies but get the individual ones, where they get a flat fee, do routine and good work, but get no glamor and make their money on volume. That, though, is not this, where you've attracted the big-time lawyers who shop at the best stores wearing the suits with the sleeves with the functioning buttons, the shirts made of Sea Island Cotton (or the cotton of choice at the moment), the Hermes ties, the Lobb custom-made shoes, or, alternatively, the guys who buy off-the-rack from Jos. A. Bank who's dads were fighters for the good and dissed by the guys like Madoff, who always seemed to know better and have the angle. No matter how you slice it, they're sharp guys, they have good theories, they can hire good lawyers, and, most importantly, they have nothing to lose. Which makes them the Chaminade to the Wilpons' Virginia, the Princeton to the Wilpons' whomever, draw your analogy. They'll go the distance, they'll draw blood, and, well, they could win a split decision.

Today's article in The Wall Street Journal was somewhat instructive. The lawyer for the trustee was quoted as saying that they'd settle for nothing short of a billion (the last time I checked, most people don't have that type of coin lying around). Then the article went on to say that the trustee is hoping to settle for about $300 million (the last time I checked, most people don't have that type of coin lying around, either). Which seems to suggest that the Wilpons probably have liquidity problems, which means, then, that their beloved Mets could be on the block. That's bad news for the Wilpons, but perhaps great news for Met fans if the Wilpons a) decide to sell and b) sell to the right type of rich guy who will try to nuke the Phillies, at least baseball-wise and take the Mets out of their current version of baseball hell.

Except, of course, for a few details. First, a claim is a claim is a claim. The trustee has to prove what he alleges, and the Wilpons can afford high-priced legal talent of their own. Also, the last time I checked, people who have their entire empire to defend make a formidable opponent, perhaps even more so than their attackers, who, in this case, are transient and will move on to another cause when they find the right client, the right bucks and the right publicity. The Wilpons won't go down without a fight. Second, the Wilpons, determined to hold on, will be the last to part with their trophy. Which means, of course, that this could be a prolonged and nasty fight. Needless to say, unless the Wilpons see their situation as dire and want the Mets to move on more quickly than they otherwise might were they to fight until they and not the trustee were to emerge from the steel cage, the Mets' situation could be in limbo for a few years.

Good news if you live 90 miles to the south, bad news if you want to see a winner in Citi Field soon.

So, look for this drama to be compelling if not as spectacular as the Elliot Spitzer chronicles or Andrew Cuomo's one-man attempt to be the Democrat to humble the traditional constituencies of his party. And it won't eclipse, at least not yet, the public mourning over the Yankees' lack of pitching or the Jets' inability to stop the Steelers' running game. Still, it's another chapter in a tragedy, and this Phillies' fan will be the first to admit that the N.L. East (and N.L.) is at its best when the Phillies and Mets have each other to chase (and the Mets' owners would have been better off had they put their money in Chase).

Stay tuned for the next chapter. If you're a Mets' fan, you should hope that you'll switch from a Dickensian theme to one of sorcerers, magicians and, well, just plain hope.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise: Eagles Name Offensive Line Coach as Defensive Coordinator


Juan Castillo by all accounts is a good guy, a hard-working coach dating back to the Ray Rhodes days, a guy who drove through a snowstorm to get to Green Bay after Andy Reid was named Eagles' head coach to lobby to keep his job as offensive line coach. His work ethic is supposed to be terrific. All of that, of course, is good stuff.

That he has spent almost his entire career on the offensive side of the ball, however, doesn't begin to suggest, let alone create confidence in the players, season-ticket holders and fans, that he knows the first thing about building a great defense or that he's had any experience doing so. Sure, he and Andy Reid can be flip about his facing good defenses as an offensive line coach, and Reid can also be flip about the fact that he couldn't move Castillo to another job unless he had a replacement for him who would be as good as he as an offensive line coach (which he succeeding in doing in hiring an outstanding line coach in former Colts' assistant Howard Mudd).

But let's face a few basic principles: 1) just because you're one of the top 5 to 7 head coaches in the NFL doesn't mean that everything you touch turns to gold; 2) when you're going to replace a coach, you'd better have someone who's better (and why is Castillo deemed to be a superior alternative to deposed coordinator Sean McDermott, who landed very quickly in Carolina?) and 3) typically, when you hire for a senior position, you look for a track record of achievement in the area for which you are hiring, which, in this case, would be defense. Reid and the front office seem to have flubbed it on all three points. As someone on sports talk radio in Philadelphia pointed out last night, if you ultimately wanted to make Castillo the defensive coordinator, wouldn't it have been wiser first to groom him by making him a position coach on defense instead of giving him the whole defense? And, what will be be able to teach the veteran d-line coach the team just hired from Tennessee or the two position coaches he'll have to hire to complete his roster? Why would a young defensive coach see a position coaching position with the Eagles' defense as a way to learn from a master when the defensive coordinator has precious little experience on defense and the head coach's background is on offense?

Achilles had his heel, and the Philadelphia Eagles have theirs when it comes to personnel matters. If Andy Reid wins a Super Bowl, it will be because he held steadfast to a system of beliefs and a vision for his team against all the naysayers and doubters. But if he fails to win a Super Bowl, it will be because he's always seemed to know better on personnel matters, such as going into a season a few years ago without a punt returner or going into a season without a fullback or frequently not having enough good linebackers. Those decisions, right now, pale in comparison with putting your defense into the trust of a well-intentioned, well-respected guy who is a neophyte when it comes to running an NFL defense (or any defense, for that matter). The move just doesn't make any sense, and it reminds me of a guy who struck it rich in one field and then bets his savings in real estate development because, well, he's been successful, he's smart, and he figures that he can strike it rich doing anything, only to lose his shirt because he picked the wrong location and didn't know the nuances the way veteran developers do. With this decision, Andy Reid is making that type of bold gamble.

All that said, for the past 3-4 years the Phillies have been able to steal the headlines away from the Eagles consistently in the off-season because they have fared better and have made better roster moves. The one thing you can say about the Castillo hiring is that for about a week, the Birds will push all talk of pitchers and catchers reporting and the Phour Aces off the front of the sports pages, drawing attention to themselves because of this decision. Someone once said that "no publicity is bad publicity, just make sure they spell your name right." Perhaps that's what the Eagles are hoping for. Then again, of course it's not.

It's hard for the Eagles to sell this one, and their fan base will not buy it, the same way they didn't buy that Jeremiah Trotter could have a resurgence at middle linebacker two seasons ago or that Winston Justice can protect Michael Vick's blind side or that there was wisdom in letting Jason Babin and Chris Clemons go in favor of Juqua Parker, Darryl Tapp, Ricky Sapp and Daniel Teo-Neisheim, or that guys named McCoy, Garner and Mays could play middle linebacker for the team. Sure, we realize that football is complicated and that the experts know a lot more than we'll ever know. We get all that.

We just don't get this (hence, for the over 45 set, the "Gomer Pyle" reference).

And, because we don't, we'll start to question other decisions more closely.

Because while the fans love the Eagles and desperately want to believe, after a while, even the thirsty trying to survive the desert realize that it's not a good idea to drink the sand.