Friday, April 24, 2009

Has Joe Dumars lost his mojo? defines “in the zone” as an expression used to describe a state of consciousness where actual skills match the perceived performance requirements perfectly. Being in the zone implies increased focus and attention which allow for higher levels of performance. Athletes, musicians, and anybody that totally owns a challenge of physical and mental performance can be in the zone.

Professional athletes love to be in the zone. During his playing career, Joe Dumars was in the zone quite often. Even when Dumars retired and joined the Pistons front office, he was in the zone. Every deal that he completed made the Pistons a better team.
Some of Dumars best moves were trading Grant Hill to the Orlando Magic for Chucky Atkins and Ben Wallace. Wallace emerged as one of the leagues best defensive players while in Detroit. He drafted Tayshaun Prince late in the first round of 2003. He acquired Rasheed Wallace for the 2004 playoff stretch drive. He also knew when he had gotten all that he could from Ben Wallace and allowed him to leave via free agency to Chicago. Wallace’s career has never been the same since.

These are just some of the moves that helped the Pistons reach the Eastern Conference Finals 6 years in a row. During that time, they made 2 trips to the NBA finals and won 1 championship.

Is he one of the greatest Pistons executives of all time? That remains to be seen.

Even though Dumars has accomplished a lot of great things during his tenure in the front office of Detroit, he has also done a lot of questionable things.

During that time he has fired 3 successful head coaches in 6 years, drafted perhaps the biggest “bust” of all time in Darko Milicic, and hired a guy that has no head coaching experience at any level in Michael Curry. He also traded their team leader Chauncey Billups for a team killer in Allen Iverson.

When Dumars first started in the front office of Detroit, he was most certainly “in the zone”. He scored with every move that he made.

The past few years though, he has been out of the zone. Many people have questioned his moves and the thought process behind them. It seems that he’s just making moves with the hope of catching lightening in a bottle again.

In the next couple of days, the Pistons will most likely put an end to one of their most disappointing seasons in many years. This years team played with no heart, no passion, and no will to win.

Many personnel moves need to be made this summer. Each and every player (and coach) on this year's team is expendable. The Pistons are not the same team that they were in years past. Dumars needs to find the zone that he was in when he first took his job with the Pistons front office and make the necessary moves to return the Pistons to NBA supremacy.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tate looking to take UM bowling again...

I love spring. The snow has finally disappeared, and the buds on the trees are starting to bloom. We can all finally put away our snow clothes and get out our spring wardrobes. Everybody feels refreshed and ready to take on the world. We are all full of hope and positive energy.

This is especially true for college football fans. Around this time of year, college football programs will hold their annual spring scrimmage. This is a time when they get to show off what they have been working on these past few weeks during spring practices. Boosters, fans, and alumni alike will all travel from far and wide to watch these games.

Even though it is just a scrimmage, fans will get very excited by what they see.

This holds true especially for Michigan Wolverine fans. Last year saw a lot of changes for the program. A new coach was hired from outside the Michigan family, and they also saw the team post an unimpressive 3-9 record which caused them to miss going to a bowl game for the first time in 33 years.

Needless to say, Michigan fans needed this spring game. They needed to see their Wolverines come out and display the high powered spread offense that head coach Rich Rodriguez is known for. They needed to see that glimpse of hope; a hope that was nowhere to be seen last season.

For Michigan fans that were looking to see the vaunted spread offense; an offense that caused them more problems than their opponents, they got more than what they were hoping for.

Michigan fans got to see the spread offense run like a finely tuned machine. The quarterback was finding the open man downfield. The receivers knew what routes to take, and the quarterback knew when to take the play into his own hands and run for it.

In addition to finally seeing the spread offense working, Michigan fans were able to see their heralded quarterback recruit, Tate Forcier, in action. Forcier, taking snaps with the first team offense, seemed like an experienced veteran out on the field. He went 10-13 on the day for 133 yards and 0 interceptions. He was also able to spread the ball around, connecting with 3 different receivers for touchdowns while rushing for another.

While all of these statistics are deemed “unofficial” because it was just a scrimmage, and that Forcier was running the first team offense against the second team defense, he was able to put some excitement into Michigan football for this upcoming fall.

Forcier seems to be ready to handle to pressure of being the starting quarterback at Michigan. Before the scrimmage, fans were chanting his name. Senior wide receiver Greg Matthews made his way over to Forcier to tell him not to be nervous. "I don't get nervous," Forcier replied.

"I don't let it bother me at all," the quarterback said afterward of the attention. "I know what I can do. I know what I'm capable of doing. Really, I just have to get the guys the ball. That's what the athletes are for. They made some big plays. I'm not trying to put it all on my back, I'm going to let the older guys carry me along."

The good news is that Michigan looked really good on offense. The bad news is that they were playing against the Michigan defense, a Michigan defense that was outscored 347-243 last season.

Scott Shafer, the defensive coordinator in 2008, has been replaced by former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson. Robinson was fired last season after leading the Orangemen to a very uninspiring 3-9 record.

I am still puzzled by this hire. They fired the defensive coordinator from last season and replaced him with a guy who led a team that got outscored by an even bigger margin; 392-217.

During a post scrimmage interview, Rich Rodriguez stated that they hadn’t shown all of their defensive schemes yet. They planned to be a bit generic. He stated that they (the coaching staff) didn’t feel the need to show everything that they are going to do this year.

Michigan’s defense was highly criticized last season. I really hope that Rodriguez has some big plans in store for them. Michigan can have the best, highest scoring offense in the country, but without a good defense, they’ll be a below average team for the second year in a row.

If that happens again, Rodriguez had better start polishing up his resume.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Did anybody really win?

The soap opera that is Jay Cutler and the Denver Broncos finally came to an end last week. The Broncos shipped Cutler and a 2009 5th round draft pick to the Chicago Bears, ending a tumultuous relationship between Cutler and the Broncos new head coach, Josh McDaniels.
In return, the Broncos received Bears quarterback Kyle Orton, a 2009 & 2010 1st round draft pick, and a 2009 3rd round draft pick.
When two parties enter into any sort of business transaction, they both hope to get what they want for a fair price. For example, if I need a new pair of sunglasses, I will put a value on what I am willing to pay for them. I do not want to pay too much for the sunglasses, no matter how badly I need them.
The same is true in sports. If one team has a need for a player at a certain position, they will offer said team something that they may be in need of. Each team hopes to get what they need in return for something that they may not need at this time. Both teams hope to come out as “winners”.
In regards to the Broncos/Bears trade last week, I believe that they both came out winners…and losers.
“How can that be?” you may ask. “How can two teams come together to make a blockbuster deal for a Pro Bowl quarterback and not have a clear cut winner?”
Let’s start with the winning aspects of the deal.
For the Broncos, they were able to get rid of Jay Cutler. Normally that would have been a really bad thing, but given the circumstances surrounding his relationship with head coach Josh McDaniels, he had to go.
They were also able to stockpile draft picks, including the Bears 2009 & 2010 1st rounder and a 2009 3rd round pick. The Bears also shipped their starter last year, Kyle Orton, to the Broncos.
On the Bears side of the deal, they were able to land a franchise quarterback for the next 10 years. Cutler is young, has a cannon for an arm, and will finally put a stop to the revolving door that is Chicago Bears starting quarterbacks. With this deal, the Bears immediately have the best quarterback in their division.
Those are the positives, now here are some negatives.

The Denver Broncos lost their biggest, most marketable star player. Jay Cutler was supposed to be the second coming of John Elway. He was going to be the guy to lead the Broncos back into the Super Bowl. Now he is gone.

With Cutler in the Windy City, the quarterback cupboards are slim picking. Kyle Orton looks to be the starter, while Chris Simms and Darrell Hackney will back him up.

No offense to Orton, but that is a giant step back for Denver.

The Bears gave up way, WAY too much in this deal. Did they need a quarterback? Yes. But they also needed a wide receiver and offensive line help as well. They could have used their first and third round draft picks this year on one of those positions. Now, they do not have a first round pick in the 2009 or 2010 NFL draft.

Unless Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels believes that he can turn Kyle Orton into last years Matt Cassell, Denver will be looking for a quarterback in this year’s draft (or next year).

The Bears must also believe that they can find their stud wide receiver later on in the draft. They will need to because their leading receiver in 2008 only tallied 665 yards. The Broncos leading receiver finished with 1265.

So the question is, was Cutler the reason for the success of the Broncos passing game? Or was it due to the fact that he had really good receivers?

The Bears are hoping for Cutler and Denver is banking on the receivers. Only time will tell.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Are his feet big enough?

John Calipari is the new head men's basketball coach at Kentucky. He is coming to a school that some would say has the richest tradition in college basketball history.
It's one of those "dream" jobs that college basketball coaches would love to have. It pays well (8 years for $31.65 million dollars). But with the big money comes even bigger pressure. A lot of pressure. He's going to attempt to do what Rick Pitino did at Kentucky, and what Calipari's successors (Tubby Smith and Billie Gillespie) couldn't do, which is bring a national championship to Lexington.
He's got some big shoes to fill.
The question is, are his feet big enough for the shoes?
A lot of college coaches have come into situations similar to Calipari's. Take Notre Dame football. Lou Holtz was a legend there. They even erected a statue of him at the stadium. While he was coach, Notre Dame was a national championship contender each year.
Once he left, his successors were unable to continue on with the tradition. The pressure to win was too much. One by one, they all were let go. Bob Davie, George O'Leary, and Ty Willingham all were fired. It seems that each week the current head coach Charlie Weiss is always in danger of losing his job unless he turns the team around.
How about North Carolina basketball? Dean Smith was so loved there that they named the home arena after him (The Deandome). When he left, he was replaced by longtime assistant Bill Guthridge. He only lasted a couple of years before the pressure got too much for him and he retired. Matt Doherty was brought in, and then resigned after only three years at the helm.
There are other places that are viewed as elite jobs. These jobs all carry a lot of pressure with them. Places like Alabama, Auburn, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska are all great football coaching jobs that carry an enormous amount of pressure with them. Great basketball coaching jobs are found in places like UCLA, Indiana, and Arizona. These are all pressure filled jobs.
Some might ask if anyone can coach in these places? Is the pressure just too great?
My answer is no. It can be done.
Some of the current coaches in college sports that fit the bill as "larger than life" are Rick Pitino (Louisville basketball), Roy Williams (UNC basketball), Pete Carroll (USC football), and Mack Brown (Texas football). All of these coaches understand what it takes to win at these big schools. They also understand how to deal with the pressure of their high profile jobs. They all have the big feet that it takes to fill the big shoes at their schools.
However, not anybody can do these jobs. It takes a special kind of person. This type of person needs to be "larger than life". They need to have a lot of character, and a lot of charisma. This type of person needs to want to be "that guy".
One thing that coaches need to understand when taking jobs at these schools is that people are very passionate about their sports. If their team isn't winning at the caliber that the fans are accustomed to, then the pressure gets turned up many more notches.
Will John Calipari be able to withstand the pressure? Are his feet going to be big enough to fill the shoes of a successful Kentucky basketball coach? Only time (and the Kentucky faithful) will tell.