Friday, May 12, 2017

Case for Brad

My first thoughts on this subject were developed about half way through the college basketball season. While a lot has happened since then my overall view has remained the same. The Brad I am talking about is Brad Brownell, head coach of the Clemson men’s basketball team. He has come under fire this year for the lack of victories on the court. At about the mid-point of the season the shouts for his removal began to increase in volume. My position then and is still now, that any decision on his future should be made at the conclusion of the season and not during. At that time I believed that he should be retained in spite of the number of losses that were beginning to mount. Almost every loss this season was a close loss and in many of them the Tigers had an opportunity to win on the last possession, either by making a shot or defending one. Since the season has ended the athletic director has already decided to keep Brownell as the head coach. I still agree with that decision. Let me try to explain why.

First, I find it very unfair when coaches are hired into unfavorable situations and then let go just as things begin to improve or just before they have had a chance to turn the tide. For instance, there are countless examples of coaches being hired on the heels of the dismissal of a coach for violations that led to program sanctions. I don’t think people realize the effects that loss of postseason appearances and loss of scholarships have on programs. It is difficult enough to recruit and compete at a high level when everyone is on a level playing field. To win with sanctions against your program is difficult. It takes time to recover from those years. Too many coaches are fired after 3 or 4 years when their success on the field hasn’t produced the number of wins deemed acceptable. When that happens you get one of two results. Either the new guy comes in and has success, which points to a firm foundation laid by the guy you just fired, or the new guy has to start the process all over. If case number two is true then that guy better watch out because he will be let go in 3 or 4 years also if he hasn’t reached the number of wins required.

Brad’s case is one in which he inherited a program that was on a firm foundation, but one that couldn’t advance deep into the tournament even when they would make it. He took them to the tournament his first year but since then it has been NIT bids or nothing at all. Littlejohn was just renovated and the new facilities should help with recruiting which is where we need to improve if we are going to improve on the number of wins on the court. Clemson has always had a few exceptional players. The problem has been the lack of them all playing on the same team. I find little value in the recruiting services ratings of high school players. What catches my attention is who else wants them. In football, for instance, I don’t really care about the number of stars after the kid’s name but rather are they receiving offers from the Alabama’s, FSU’s, USC’s, Ohio State’s of the college football world. There are always players that aren’t highly thought of that Dabo and his staff get and develop into NFL type players. Clemson basketball does that as well. The difference is our guys are rarely listed with offers from Duke, UNC, Kentucky, etc. New facilities and consistency in coaching staffs help when trying to recruit top notch players. That is why I think Brad deserves more time to show what Clemson has to offer and that these great players can achieve their goals by coming to Clemson. Patience is a virtue. Always going after the hottest young coach doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. Dabo is once again a perfect example. While he was young he certainly didn’t have the “experience” as a head coach or even a coordinator that one would think was a requirement for a position as Clemson’s head coach. There are no Clemson people (especially those who witnessed the ‘80s) who think Clemson is anything less than a top football program. That sentiment was true even before last year’s national championship. There is a history of sustained winning to back that up. Basketball does not have that sustained history. There have clearly been flashes of success but no one in their right mind would say we are the same type of program as the Duke’s and UNC’s of the world. An acceptance of who we are as a basketball program is not an acceptance of losing. It does require, however, patience along the way to that greatness we all want. Having a guy that runs a clean program, has players that are invested in the community, and wants to be here is enough for me to extend his contract with the expectation that just finishing in the middle of the pack in the ACC, while is still a good accomplishment, is not the standard we want for our program. I think Brad understands that and will continue to move us in the right direction. Just remember this year’s Final Four. The school to the south would have had overwhelming support to fire their coach after this season. Now they want to extend his contract. Patience. If they can do it there is no doubt we can too.

(This post was written over a period of about 7 weeks so it is a little choppy but I think I get my point across.)

Friday, February 10, 2017

goat or GOAT

So, it’s been a while since I decided to post my thoughts on a topic. In fact, it has been almost three years since I posted a copy of a sermon I preached when our minister was away one Sunday. I guess it is time for another mini-sermon. Quite honestly, it may be another three years before I post again. I don’t know and I really don’t care if it is.

The decade of the 1980’s was a great time in sports history. My thoughts in this post are not necessarily about that decade as it compares to other decades but that decade as the time in my life where it is arguable that we are most impressionable. That decade saw me through middle school and high school and the first couple of years of college, so it was a time where a lot of my values and opinions were first established. Over time, life experiences may have strengthened those values or changed them into something different. Nevertheless, those years give me a frame of reference for how I view things, sports in particular. For instance, when growing up if someone asked me to come up with a list of goats, I would immediately think of players like Bill Buckner, Scott Norwood, and Chris Webber. If you don’t remember those names, Buckner was the first baseman for the Boston Red Sox in 1986 who let a ground ball go through his legs in the World Series leading to a game seven which the Mets won to take the crown. At the time, the Red Sox were the team that hadn’t won a title since 1918 so the pain and suffering of losing was compounded by how long it had been. Scott Norwood was the kicker for the Buffalo Bills who missed a field goal that would have given the Bills their first Super Bowl title. That happened to be the first of 4 Super Bowls in a row for the Bills, none of which they won and the others were not even close games. Chris Webber of the “Fab Five” Michigan basketball team infamously called a timeout in the National Championship game against UNC. Unfortunately, Michigan did not have any timeouts left so the ensuing technical foul essentially gave UNC the title.

Fast forward to just a few years ago when I heard the term goat and Michael Jordan uttered in the same breath. Based on my 1980’s education I almost had a stroke at the thought that there was someone out there who thought MJ could have ever done something negative for his team, especially at the magnitude of the aforementioned athletes. It was then that my teenage son (or pre-teen depending on how long ago this was) educated me on the definition of goat. It is actually an acronym GOAT – Greatest Of All Time. Who knew? Apparently, every social media junkie since the first Facebook post, Twitter tweet, and Instagram upload. Since I don’t participate in those playgrounds of the devil, I missed the transition from goat to GOAT. Now every day in the sports world of talk radio, Sports Center, and social media posts, that term is attached to some retired or active player based on whatever whim the poster or talk radio host wants to use. That is what led to me expressing myself in this post. Let me explain…

Tom Brady’s Super Bowl performance, Serena Williams and Roger Federer’s recent Grand Slam victories, Lebron James and his current success in the NBA all put these athletes in the discussion of GOAT. My intention is not to support one of these over the others deserving consideration, but to discuss the qualifications for the title of GOAT. I am less concerned about what metric you want to label as the most important as I am about the consistent use of whatever you deem important. Let me explain…

In the upcoming NFL draft there are several QB’s who are being rated to determine who should be drafted first,  Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, and DeShone Kizer to name a few. It is the raking of these quarterbacks, or at least the discussion of them that “gets my goat.*” (hehe) They talk about the “measurables” which usually means height, weight, and a list of other physical measurements. There is mention of statistical accomplishments and that is certainly considered as important. However, what seems to get just a passing mention is the ability to WIN. Don’t tell me that the most important thing in a quarterback when you are deciding whether or not to draft him is how tall he is, arm strength, TD/INT ratio, total yards passing, etc. and then when the discussion turns to the GOAT it becomes about “the rings.” Tom Brady has incredible QB stats but what gets him in the discussion, and quite frankly now at the top of that discussion, it the number of Super Bowl wins. He was drafted in the 6th round while a guy like Dan Marino was a first round draft pick. I submit that Marino is in the discussion as the GOAT but if you ever talk about him and his outstanding, HOF career, it always comes down to, “But he didn’t win any Super Bowls!”

To all you draft room warlords out there, you better not forget the 1998 NFL draft. That year a second place Heisman finalist who happened to be a cerebral quarterback who could make all the throws and had a history of winning was chosen over a highly touted “measurable” quarterback. Looking back, can you believe there was actually discussion as to who was the better quarterback, Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf? This year there is a second place Heisman finalist (a whole other discussion on the ridiculousness of that result) who is not only a cerebral quarterback who can make all the throws, but also one who can use his legs…and WINS the big games. Those qualities coupled with the character of the man make Watson the best choice for QB. I don’t care if he is the first pick in the draft (I actually hope he isn’t unless the Browns trade that pick) but he should certainly be the first QB taken. For all you social media fanatics out there who can’t understand the written word…

#DW4 – Heisman, 1st QB pick, GOAT. Disagree? KMA

*Some would argue the term is goad but there is at worst disagreement on which it is and at best acceptance of either term. Goat is funnier in this context obviously.