Is Bobby Bowden Too Old To Coach?

November 11, 2009

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Over the past few months, I’ve become intermittently aware of the unrest surrounding Florida State’s football team. Apparently, prominent alumni and program boosters are upset at the state of the program, going so far as to call for 80-year-old head coach Bobby Bowden’s resignation. College football isn’t really my thing (unless I’m watching Vanderbilt lose by 20 every week), so I’ve remained mostly agnostic about this controversy. I like I think that I see both sides of the issue. Bowden is an iconic figure in college football, and even more so in the annals of Florida State athletics. But he’s old – let’s call it what it is – and it’s not ridiculous to suggest that his age may adversely affect the football program. I could see either side of the argument, but that was before Bowden went and did this.

If this is true (and no reason to doubt its veracity), then it’s a pretty big blow to Bowden’s credibility. Whether it’s fair or not, the head coach of any team, much less a storied one like Florida State, must be able to remember basic information about the flow of the game. We all have bouts of forgetfulness, and that this bout occurred to Bowden at the age of 80 when questions about his professional legitimacy are being asked is more than a little sad. But two things remain unquestionable: this is an embarrassing development, and it lends at least a small amount of credibility to the idea that Bowden needs to retire.

My opinion on this matter is not clear-cut, primarily because it would be based on the collision of two tightly-held personal tenets. Above all else, I believe in randomness and sample size. It’s possible that Bowden’s brainlock was an example of the sort of forgetfulness that occurs to us in our daily lives. It’s quite likely that a 30-year-old head coach could make the same mistake. We forget things sometimes. Maybe Bowden just had the 1996 Brady Anderson season of post-game comments. I believe that stuff happens, and that you can’t draw a sound conclusion until you have enough of that stuff to sort through. But I also believe that our faculties decline as we get older. Actually, it’s not so much a belief as it is a fact. We decline as we get older. Our eyesight gets worse, our knees and back hurt, our hearing goes, we repeat ourselves, and we forget bits of information with greater frequency. It’s just what happens.

As understanding as I am of this process, it doesn’t exempt the aging from a certain amount of scrutiny or criticism. This is especially true if the individual is holding a prominent, influential, or lucrative position – much like the one Bobby Bowden currently holds. There should be no special treatment of the elderly in the workforce. If they can perform the duties of the job to their fullest extent, then fine, the position is filled based on merit. But if age or factors stemming from aging make this task difficult, then criticism is warranted. Of course, the tough part is figuring out which professional deficiencies are effects of age and which would be there no matter what.

I have no idea whether Bobby Bowden is actually fit to run a football team or not. But I do know that most of the 80-year-olds out there aren’t working; they’re retired. And their overwhelming retirement isn’t some sprawling coincidence. They’re retired because they’ve worked a long time, they’re too tired and/or underqualified to keep doing so, and they deserve to relax. With that being the case, it’s nothing like prepostrous to suggest that Bowden is no longer the optimal choice for his job. Especially if he keeps on forgetting what just happened.


Mark Schlabach Would Be Bad At Marketing

May 17, 2009

This past weekend, one of my good friends from college sent me this link to Mark Schlabach’s very early college football rankings. He prefaced its consumption with the demand that I pay special attention to the blurb accompanying Schlabach’s #6-ranked team, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Being a dutiful person, I complied. Here’s the blurb:

It’s hard to imagine the Buckeyes’ being as good as last season without star players such as Chris “Beanie” Wells, James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins. But quarterback Terrelle Pryor will probably be better in his second season as a starter, and the offensive line might be much better after underperforming the past few seasons. The Buckeyes feel good about tailbacks Dan “Boom” Herron and Brandon Saine, and receivers DeVier Posey and Taurian Washington showed glimpses of productive play during spring practice. Michigan transfer Justin Boren looks like a star at left guard, and Andy Miller and Mike Adams were still battling at left tackle at the end of spring drills. Sophomore Michael Brewster is one of the better centers in the country. Ohio State’s defensive line is as deep and talented as any unit in the country. But there are two new starters at linebacker, and cornerbacks Jenkins and Donald Washington won’t be easily replaced. The Buckeyes open the season with difficult non-Big Ten games against Navy and USC, and play league road games at Penn State on Nov. 7 and at Michigan on Nov. 21.

So, to recap, Ohio State will be good because:

  • Terrelle Pryor will probably be better
  • The offensive line might be much better
  • Two receivers “showed glimpses” during practice
  • Two guys are still fighting for the starting left tackle spot
  • There are two new starters at linebacker
  • It will be hard to replace two starting cornerbacks
  • Their non-conference schedule is difficult

Well I’m sold.


A Few Observations From Southern Mississippi-Troy

December 21, 2008

Tonight, I caught the back end of the Southern Mississippi-Troy bowl game. I was delighted I saw it for three reasons. The first reason is my discovery that Southern Mississippi’s kicker’s last name is “Barefoot.” I enjoyed that.

The second reason is the near-discovery of the play-by-play announcer. To my knowledge, ESPN did not reveal his name during my viewing window, but I found him delightful for the same reasons I find CBS’ Gus Johnson delightful. Like Johnson, this man was clearly living and dying with each play, or doing an awfully good imitation of it. He greeted pathetic offensive (OFF-en-sive, not off-EN-sive) plays with guttural grunts of dismay. Wonderful athletic feats earned enthusiastic crescendos. Once, the color-commentator offered a particularly long-winded and incomprehensible explanation. Our hero replied with an “all right” that fit comfortably between appropriate respectfulness and apologetic incredulity. I enjoyed this man’s work very much, and I hope he emerges later in the bowl season.

The third reason is the utterance of one of the more endearing announcing gaffes I have heard in some time. The game was in overtime. Southern Mississippi led 30-27. Troy had the ball inside the 15-yard line, needing a field goal to force a second overtime and a touchdown to win. It was 3rd and 6. The color-commentator said:

“If I’m Southern Miss, I play conservative defense here. You have to know that a field goal doesn’t end it. You can afford to give up some yards and play a second overtime.”

Troy calls a timeout to discuss strategy. The offense then returns to the field. The color-commentator:

“If I’m Southern Miss on defense here, I bring everyone but the kitchen sink. You can’t afford to let [the quarterback] sit back in the pocket and make a sideline-to-sideline read.”

I am not exactly sure what changed during the timeout. Regardless, I found this endearing. 

Cheers.


Mel Kiper, Jr. Still Thinks Everyone Is Just Okay

April 28, 2008

As I wrote almost exactly one year ago today, NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. has high standards. After last year’s draft, Kiper (henceforth I omit the “junior”) gave each team’s draft a grade. Of particular note was the fact that every team received a grade between a C- and a B+. One year later, I still find this funny.

Kiper just barely avoided a repeat performance in 2008. His lowest grade given was again a C-, and his typical high was again a B+. Unfortunately, the Kansas City Chiefs ruined all the fun by earning a presumably impossible A. Boo Kansas City.

Just for fun, let’s compare Kiper’s grade distribution in 2006, 2007 and 2008:

2006:

  • C- : 0
  • C : 11
  • C+ : 7
  • B- : 2
  • B : 9
  • B+ : 3

2007:

  • C- : 4
  • C : 7
  • C+ : 4
  • B- : 4
  • B : 9
  • B+ : 3

2008:

  • C- : 1
  • C : 3
  • C+ : 11
  • B- : 5
  • B : 9
  • B+ : 3
  • A : 1

For the fellow nerds interested, 2006 yielded an average grade right between a C+ and a B-. 2007 was about the same, although slightly closer to a B-. 2008 was almost exactly a B-. Removing the A – a clear outlier – has negligible effect in 2008; the average grade remains a B-.

2008’s grades are a bit funny because they indicate a shift even further to general mediocrity. While the average grade gets marginally higher as the years go on, the distribution changes a little. At least in 2007, Kiper handed out a bunch of C-‘s and C’s, which are essentially the worst grades possible under his ridiculous system. But in 2008, the range narrowed almost exclusively to C+ to B. In 2006, 56.2% of grades fell within that range; in 2007, 46.8%; 2008, 78.1%. In other words, Kiper’s already less-than-revealing grading system has become even more ambiguous with 78% of teams doing essentially “pretty well.”

It is also interesting to note that in each year, he gave out exactly 9 B’s and 3 B+’s. This probably means nothing.

I will now write a math-free paragraph. The point of all this is that, well, Kiper should maybe take a stand on something for once. I understand that it’s hard for a team to be an abject failure, which would necessitate an F. I also understand that it’s hard for a team to be perfect, necessitating an A. And forgive my informality for a moment, but dude, lighten up. You spend all year dissecting players and forming strong opinions about each one. Shouldn’t the aggregate of 252 strong opinions at least yield some D’s and A’s? It’s okay to grade teams relative to their competition instead of on some perfect, absolute scale. I do not like being yelled and screamed every year for two days in April about these players, and then checking your grades later and seeing nothing but C’s and B’s. Show me that all your sound and fury signifies something.

Your system is already as unscientific as all hell, so take a stand. The world will not end. You can do this. Until next year.


Mel Kiper, Jr. Has Tons Of Potential

January 30, 2008

If you’re ever looking for indiscriminate, blanket, shameless abuse of the English language, I would highly recommend reading Mel Kiper, Jr.’s chats on ESPN.com. I occasionally find myself reading them, and it is abundantly clear that this guy has no idea how to express himself clearly or concisely. Someone needs to sit him down and say “look Mel, all you need is a subject, verb and a direct object. That’s really it.” If that happened, we would be spared answers like this one:

He’s one of those guys. He’s a late first, early second rounder. Maybe to San Francisco.

The masochist in me wishes he had just stopped at “he’s one of those guys.” Oh well. The rest of the answer isn’t terrible, I guess. But really, the first sentence is “he’s one of those guys.” Come on. Anyway, there’s also this:

He’s coming out in a year that’s not strong on LBs. I don’t think there will be a LB off the board in the first round. The problem is that in the ILB position, there is Jerod Mayo that came out early.

I have no idea what that last sentence means. Next, someone asks if the Cowboys have a chance to get Darren McFadden in the first round. Mel’s first sentence says:

To have that happen there is they pick in the late first – 22 and 28. 

Total gibberish. Epic failure. Mel, just try “they pick too late in the first round to have any chance.” Another question is about Erik Ainge. Mel says:

When you watch him play, he makes all the throws. He rarely gets sacked. He doesn’t have great mobility so to not get sacked much is good. He’s not the kind of guy that doesn’t have a great arm, but you put him in the game and he moves the ball.

Sentence-by-sentence: (1) But when you don’t watch him play, he can barely throw the ball two yards? Just say he makes the throws he should. (2) This is fine. (3) Ehh, okay. (4) Catastrophe. Next, someone asks how Dan Connor fared at the Senior Bowl and if he shed the “overrated” label:

People always talk about who is overrated and underrated prematurely. It’s hard to say going in, but we have to do that. Your ratings determine who is over/under rated. Those O/U lists are overrated. They change from analyst to analyst. I have some lists and it also depends on where a guy goes in the draft. If a guy goes in the first round, he might be overrated, but if he goes in the third, it’s a solid pick. 

So Dan Connor did…well? Poorly?

In closing, I look forward to more chats with Mel. I think there could be something special brewing here.


Two Very Small Beefs

November 3, 2007

Two beefs with yesterday’s “Pardon The Interruption”:

(1) One of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon’s topics (I think it was duing The Big Finish) was today’s Navy-Notre Dame. The question was “can Navy upset Notre Dame?” Navy is 4-4 and Notre Dame is 1-7. I know they’re Notre Dame, but how many games does it take to realize that they stink? It would be an upset if Notre Dame won.

(2) I know the show is designed as a conversation you’d have with a friend at a bar, and thus is prone to some fairly wild predictions and unsubstantiated analysis. But it still bothered me a little when Kornheiser asked Wilbon “what are the chances that the big four undefeated teams (BC, Ohio State, Kansas, and Arizona State) remain undefeated through the weekend?”, and Wilbon emphatically said 0%.

The chances would be 0% if two of the four played each other, but this is not the case. BC plays Florida state, Ohio State won, Kansas won, and Arizona State plays Oregon. It is a distinct possibility that all four will remain undefeated. 0% is a dumb, dumb answer. At least say 1%.

Back to football.


Is He Joking? I Can’t Tell. Help Me Out.

October 15, 2007

So today, I found myself putting off work and reading a chat with ESPN’s Mark Schlabach. Yes, this is college football. It turns out that I like college football. If Bobby Johnson would stop calling QB draws for our immobile white quarterback on every first down against fast (read: every other) SEC team, I would like college football even more. But whatever. This caught my eye in today’s chat:

J.T. (Harrisonburg, VA): I’m a fan of your commentary, but i’ve noticed you dodge some questions, and fail to give a clear answer. Care to give your BCS Title game predictions?

Mark Schlabach: I don’t dodge questions. I had LSU-USC since the preseason. I’ll go with Oklahoma-Ohio State now….. 

Immediate, next question:

J. Davis (Clemson): Who is better, that coach in Blackburg, Va., or the one at Wake Forest? 

Mark Schlabach: I like the guy in Blackburg and the guy in Winton-Salem. 

He dodged that question, right? Presented with Choice A and Choice B, Mark took both, right? Or is he trying to be funny? And also, it’s Blacksburg and Winston-Salem. Is his “s” key broken? It can’t be though, because he got the “s” in “Salem.” WHAT IS GOING ON???

Oh, right, I’m putting off that paper.