Saturday, March 31, 2007

Latest on the Detroit Tigers and Michigan's Basketball Coaching Search

As March turns to April, the Detroit sports scene is heating up. Opening Day is just two days away, the University of Michigan finally looks like they may be focusing in on a potential new head coach, and both the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons get closer to the playoffs. With so much going on in the world of Detroit sports, it's almost hard to keep track of everything. So let's take a look at the latest goings on, see if we can't make some sense things.

Kenny Rogers OUT with Blood Clot: This was the first big story of the end of the week, first with the veteran left-hander being placed on the Disabled List with what was called a "tired arm", then having surgery less than 24-hours later to remove a blood clot from his shoulder and repair some arteries in the same area. Certainly the injury is not good news for the Tigers. Rogers, who many thought was washed up when the Tigers signed him to a two-year deal before last season, was a large part of the Tigers renaissance last year. Not only did he win 17 games, but his experience and his willingness to teach some of the younger Tiger pitchers (especially Mike Maroth and Nate Robertson, two fellow lefties) was invaluable. Now, with Rogers out until July at the earliest, the Tigers have to reform what was one of the strongest pitching rotations in all of baseball.

This is not to say the Tigers are completely lost without Rogers. Far from it actually. The Tigers have some of the best pitching depth in baseball, and Chad Durbin, who is currently handling Rogers' spot in the rotation, pitched very well this spring and had a great season at AAA last year. And if Durbin falters, the Tigers have a number of potential options to replace him, including rookie Andrew Miller.'s Danny Knobler was on WDFN's Stoney and Wojo Show yesterday and stressed that the Tigers would not hesitate to call up Miller if Durbin fails despite Miller's lack of experience. And as Danny rightly pointed out, if Miller comes up (or Durbin is successful) Rogers injury may actually help the Tigers by giving them more depth. Plus, assuming Rogers comes back healthy, he'll be fresh come August and September. It will be as if the Tigers acquired one of the best left-handed pitchers at the trade deadline. That will make the Tigers look scary to every team in the playoff hunt. The idea of bringing Miller up and having him gain a half-a-season's worth of experience sounds almost too good to be true. Even if he struggles, which would be understandable given he's never started a game at the minor league level, much less in the majors, the experience he'll receive will make him an even better pitcher and allow him to be more successful when he joins the rotation full time, likely next season.

Tigers and Carlos Guillen agree to 4 year/$48 million deal: In a move which team president Dave Dombrowski had to get done, the Tigers locked Carlos Guillen up long-term with a 4-year-deal. Guillen, who could have become a free agent at the end of the season, had said he did not want to negotiate during the season (because it would be a distraction) and losing him would have been a big blow for a team that is really building a team which can contend for a long, long time. Yes, Guillen has had a history of injuries, but he's also been, in many ways, the heart and soul of the Tigers infield, and a leader both on the field and in the clubhouse. With Guillen being locked up, and the previous extensions signed by second baseman Placido Polanco and third baseman Brandon Inge, the Tigers infield is set for years to come. And with Curtis Granderson maturing in center, outfielders Cameron Maybin and Brent Clevlen waiting in the wings in the outfield, and Pudge Rodriguez recently declaring he wants to catch until he's 40, the Tigers could be set for a long, long time, and they could be World Series contenders well into the next decade. Kudos to both Dombrowski and Guillen for getting this deal done, not having it be a distraction during the season, and ensuring the Tigers future is successful.

Michigan locks in on West Virginia's John (don't call him "Jim") Beilein: Last week, I knocked University of Michigan AD Bill Martin for not moving fast enough in picking a new head coach for the Michigan Men's Basketball Team. Late this week, news broke that Michigan was focusing in West Virginia's John Beilein (mistakenly I called him "Jim" in this post originally, which while got me the top Google result under "Jim Beilein" is something I should fix) while also looking at Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery and Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings. While I've often said I want Marquette's Tom Crean, Beilein would be a good choice to replace Tommy Amaker. He has turned West Virginia of all places into a perennial tournament team, making it to back-to-back Sweet Sixteens before graduating most of his top talent. This season, he led the Mountaineers to an NIT Title despite most predications that his team would be in the bottom half, or even bottom quarter, of the Big East because of the talent he lost.

He would also be expensive. He has a $2.5 million buyout from his current contract, and Michigan would have to open up the checkbook Beilein's yearly salary. And, again, if Michigan is willing to pay so much for Beilein, why weren't they willing to pay the same for Kentucky's Tubby Smith, now at Minnesota? No matter who the Wolverines hire, letting Smith get away was a huge mistake. And there have been questions about how great of a recruiter Beilein is, though, some of that is likely because he was coaching at West Virginia (no offense to those reading from WVU). With the Big Ten full of powerful coaches recruiting against you (Tom Izzo, Tubby Smith, the list goes on) maybe somebody with a better track record of recuriting would be best. But, at the same time, Tommy Amaker had a great history of recruiting at Seton Hall, and yet, that did him little good at Michigan, so maybe that isn't the best way to pick a head coach.

Chris Lowery, of Southern Illinois, is a heckuva candidate too. I almost like him more than Beilein. NCAA Tournament success. Success recruiting in the Midwest. Almost 20-years younger than Beilein. Could be someone who will turn Michigan around and be the face of the program for a decade or more. It's not an easy choice, because I understand the attractiveness of Beilein as a candidate. Smart, tough, gets a lot of production out of not a lot of talent (like he did this season) and he's had just as much success in the NCAA Tournament. I'd be happy with either Beilein or Lowery. Let's just hire one already so I don't have to worry about it anymore, okay?

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

WWE's WrestleMania is This Weekend -- And That Makes Me Sad

It is WrestleMania weekend. And it's here, in Detroit, at Ford Field. World Wrestling Entertainment's (WWE)'s Vince McMahon, 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, Donald Trump even. 20 years ago, almost to the day, Hulk Hogan bodyslammed Andre the Giant in front of 93,000 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome at WrestleMania III. And, despite waiting for years of my childhood for WrestleMania to come to Detroit, I won't be at Ford Field on Sunday. Nor will I be watching on Pay Per View. And that makes me sad. Not because I want to watch WrestleMania, but because I don't.

I am not ashamed to admit I was a long-time fan of professional wrestling. And fan may be an understatement. I had the wrestling figures (but never the WWF ring which they also sold), the T-shirts, the books (I still contend Mick Foley's first autobiography, Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocksis a great read even if you don't like professional wrestling), the videotapes, the DVDs (both long sold off on Ebay), the video games. I watched the Pay Per View events, visited the various wrestling websites, spent much of my early days on the internet (or what counted for the internet back before the World Wide Web existed) posting on wrestling message boards. And I dragged my family to a number of live events.

My first live wrestling event was a run of the mill "house show" as they are called. Essentially a non-televised set of matches which are the same every night in different cities across the country. My grandparents took my sister and I to the Palace of Auburn Hills and I don't remember much from that night (it was in 1992 and I was all of 9 years old) but I'm pretty sure the main event was Ric Flair versus Bret Hart (According to a quick Google search, it was actually January 1, 1993 and I was right, Bret Hart did take on Ric Flair. Also saw a great Curt Hennig v. Razor Ramon matchup). In the next few years I'd see SummerSlam 1993 (Lex Luger v. Yokozuna in that Main Event), Halloween Havoc (a WCW event to which I won ringside tickets by doing a Hulk Hogan impersonation on the WDFN radio show hosted by The Mega Mega Sports Man Ike Griffen), a Survivor Series, and numerous Monday Night Raw and WWF Smackdown televised events. But never a WrestleMania.

WrestleMania was always the big event. The Super Bowl of wrestling. Even though when I was a kid I was more of a fan of WWF's competitor, World Championship Wrestling (while most kids loved Hulk Hogan, I was always a Ric Flair and Four Horseman fan first) WrestleMania was always the event of the year. And I always wanted it to come to Detroit, because it seemed the whole wrestling universe revolved around WrestleMania.

Well, now it's finally here. And I couldn't bring myself to buy tickets and go. Truth is, I'm just not a wrestling fan anymore (something my parents surely thought I'd never say). There's not really one particular reason why, but there are a lot of factors. One is maybe I "grew out" of being a wrestling fan, but I don't know how true that really is. If an old-school Ric Flair match came on TV I still think I'd watch. But maybe that's just nostalgia. Part of it was just being tired of the McMahon family (owners of the WWE) becoming too much part of show. Part of it was the storylines being too immature, and having them overshadow the in-ring product. The storylines got to be so outrageous and so incredulous I could no longer justify watching professional wrestling on a regular basis. And part if it was I was sick and tired of watching people I watched on television die.

Professional wrestling, for a variety of reasons, has a serious drug problem and the mortality rate for wrestling is enormous. When CNNSI broke news earlier this month about 11 professional wrestlers being linked to a nationwide steroid and performance-enhancing drug ring, it was no real surprise. Steroids have been a part of wrestling for decades, from Hulk Hogan to Vince McMahon being indicted and tried (and eventually acquitted) of distributing steroids in the mid 1990s. But, the bigger problem is not the use of the drugs, it is the damage the drugs are doing to the bodies of professional wrestlers.

While Major League Baseball and the National Football League think they have a problem with steroid use, and that the use of these performance enhancing drugs is hurting their popularity, they won't truly know what damage is until athletes start dying from complications and side effects of steroid use. Years ago, when I used to watch wrestling, far too often, one of the wrestlers I watched as a kid would die from a drug overdose or an "enlarged heart" damaged by years of steroid abuse. It got to be too much. I moved on to other things.

This is not to say wrestling isn't entertaining, because it may be. I don't know. After watching years of RAW and Smackdown and Nitro without fail, its been at least four years (probably closer to 5) since I've watched an episode of wrestling on TV. Maybe it has gotten better since I stopped watching. I looked at the matches for this year's WrestleMania and some of the names of the wrestlers were familiar, but most weren't (The Great Khali? Montel Vontavious Porter? CM Punk? Where's Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka when you need him?). And I'm sure it's going to be a fun show on Sunday. No matter what else can be said about Vince McMahon, he knows how to put on a good show, and WrestleMania is his baby. But I won't be watching on TV or at Ford Field. Maybe I'll pick it up again in the future. Or maybe I'll remember the good old days and watch a classic Ric Flair versus Ricky Steamboat match. But likely I won't, having put my years of watching wrestling behind me. But I'll be thinking about those days on Sunday night, when 70,000+ fans pack Ford Field for the "granddaddy of them all" (as its called), WrestleMania.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What is the University of Michigan's Men's Basketball Team Waiting For?

I really am a fan of the University of Michigan athletic program. I know it doesn't seem like it reading the posts in this blog, but I do want Michigan, especially its basketball team, to get better, and get better fast. But the way they are handling their search for Tommy Amaker's replacement is just so, well, non-existent. While teams like Minnesota are hiring Tubby Smith (who, as previously mentioned, would have been perfect for Michigan and it was a huge mistake to miss out on him) and Iowa is at least trying to woo Bruce Pearl away from Tennessee (albeit unsuccessfully), Michigan has done absolutely nothing. And I'm getting very impatient.

There's a very interesting subplot to the Pearl rumors too. According to the Detroit Free Press, even though Michigan has not contacted Pearl about their head coach opening, Pearl, unsolicited, brought his own name into the mix.

"There are some jobs that are open," Pearl told the AP last Friday. "Iowa and Michigan are both jobs that in a different time and a different place -- like I said, I worked my whole life to be at a place like Tennessee. I was a Hawkeye for a long time. I've recruited Michigan well for years as an assistant at Iowa and a head coach at Southern Indiana, and here and (Wisconsin-) Milwaukee. I've always recruited Michigan. Those are opportunities that you certainly try to get to, but I'm here. I'm in the SEC. I'm at Tennessee. I go to work every day trying to reward Tennessee for bringing me here."

As the author of the Pearl story, Mark Snyder, points out, this isn't the first coach to mention Michigan, despite Michigan not mentioning anyone. Ernie Kent of Oregon did the same thing last week. So is Michigan talking to anyone? Not according to the Detroit News.

Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery , Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings and Butler's Todd Lickliter -- rumored to be candidates for the Michigan job -- all saw their seasons end in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. However, none have been contacted by U-M.

What is Michigan waiting for? For Iowa to hire the coach Michigan may have their eye on? For Kentucky to hire their first choice and leave us with the leftovers? Now, I am all for a deliberative process that looks at all the top candidates, conducting interviews, numerous interviews of the same candidate if need be, and makes an ultimate determination on who the best man for the job is. But, that isn't what Michigan is doing here. They are wasting weeks and not interviewing anybody. In the meantime, they've lost Tubby Smith, and if they wait much longer, they will lose other top candidates too.

And in the meantime, some great recruits who have committed to Michigan, including Alex Legion and Michigan's Mr. Basketball Corperryale Harris, have to be getting restless wondering their head coach is going to be. And everyday, their phones have to be ringing off the hook with opposing coaches trying to recruit them away from Michigan, telling them that Michigan obviously doesn't care much for the future of their basketball team. True or not, Michigan's inaction certainly will feed into that perception.

So what should Michigan do? Well, not to repeat myself again, and again, and again, but Michigan should hire Tom Crean (another guy they apparently have not even considered talking to, which is mind-boggling). At the very least, they need to, you know, talk to potential candidates. Because at some point, and that point will be here soon, it will be too late, and the top coaching candidates will be gone or no longer interested, and even worse, our top recruits may be gone with them.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Detroit Tigers Opening Day Roster Analysis

Major League Baseball's Opening Day is week away and Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland has a tough decision to make as April 2nd approaches. While most of the Tigers roster is set (and stacked, which is why the Tigers are likely to have another very successful season) there is one bench position which, as of this writing, is still very much up for grabs. First baseman Chris Shelton is batting utility infielders Neifi Perez and Ramon Santiago for the 25th and final spot on the Tigers major league roster, and despite his struggles last season, and despite the hot spring at the plate for Shelton, the best move for the Tigers is to keep Perez and send both Santiago and Shelton to AAA Toledo.

Since Shelton makes a much more compelling case for making the Opening Day roster, eliminating Santiago from the equation is easy by comparison. Santiago and Perez are similar in a lot of ways and play the same positions, but there are a few key reasons why keeping Perez makes more sense. For one thing, Perez is a bit more versatile, playing third base as well as second and shortstop (playing Santiago at third would be a real stretch). Secondly, while his offensive struggles with the Tigers last season were obvious, Perez did not perform that much worse than Santiago. Santiago hit .225 in 80 at bats, while Perez batted an admittedly woeful .200 in 65 at bats. But, when you look at their career numbers, Santiago remains at .225 while Perez, over his 11 year career, has hit close to .270. Great? No. But solid for a backup infielder. Plus, Santiago can and will be sent to Toledo, where he can play regularly and be ready to be called up to the big league club in case of an injury, and Perez, no matter what the Tigers do, is guaranteed $2.5 million. May as well hold on to him if you are playing him anyway and there's no risk in losing Santiago.

Chris Shelton, on the other hand, has made a very strong argument that he deserves to make the Tigers Opening Day roster. After an incredible start to last season when he hit 10 home runs in April, Shelton hit only 6 more the rest of the season, and found himself back in AAA Toledo by August. Yet, this Spring Training, Shelton has showed signs he has recovered and matured as a batter, and has hit .391. If Shelton is back to being the player he was in April, 2006, the Tigers seemingly can't afford to send him to AAA. That, though, is exactly what they need to do.

What most people forgot last season, when Shelton raced out to such a hot start before crashing back to earth, was how young of a player Shelton is. He seemingly has been a Tiger forever, but that isn't really the case. Shelton, a former Rule V Draft Selection, lost an entire year of development in 2004. That's because instead of learning how to become a better hitter through playing everyday in the minor leagues, Shelton sat on the Detroit Tigers major league bench. That's how teams get to keep their Rule V selections. Had the Tigers opted to send Shelton to AAA Toledo before he spent the entire season on the Tigers roster, his original team (the Pittsburgh Pirates) would have had the chance to reclaim him, which they almost assuredly would have done. So to retain Shelton for the future, the Tigers essentially held his development back a season, playing him in only 27 games, where Shelton had less than 50 at bats.

In 2005, Shelton was finally able to get that everyday playing time he needed, starting the season in AAA Toledo. But by mid season, starting first baseman Carlos Pena had failed to live up to expectations, and Shelton made the most of his big league opportunity, batting .300 and socking 18 home runs in just over half a season. Not bad, but Shelton still had less than 400 career major league at bats when he was anointed the Tigers starting first baseman headed into last year.

Shelton is still a young kid, and he is still learning, and more importantly, still needs to learn. Tigers fans, spoiled by his hot April last season and his impressive rookie half-season in 2005, may not realize that sitting on the bench, playing once a week or less, is not going to do Shelton's career any favors. He needs to see as much live pitching as possible, and the only place to do that is AAA Toledo. Keeping Shelton at AAA also has another advantage. While Shelton's almost .400 spring may have increased his trade value, sitting on the bench for the Tigers won't. If Shelton goes to AAA, though, and performs as most expect, other teams will get interested in a hurry, and the Tigers may be able to make a deal quicker than they would if Shelton was inactive but on the major league roster.

Sending Shelton to AAA also makes the Tigers major league team better. If there is one thing almost everyone can agree on, it is outfielder Marcus Thames needs to see the field more often. Thames is a constant producer at the plate, so much so the Tigers have worked hard this spring to help Thames learn the first base position so he can crack the lineup somewhere. Keeping Shelton means less playing time for Thames, and despite Shelton's impressive spring, there's no question Thames, at least today, is a bigger offensive asset than Shelton. Comparing Shelton to Perez yields yet another point in Perez' favor. While Shelton is strictly a right handed hitter, Perez is a switch hitter who performs better a left handed batter, a position of need for the Tigers. Perez can create matchup problems for relievers and allow manager Jim Leyland some flexibility when calling a pinch-hitter to the plate. Shelton can't.

I know suggesting that Perez make the team over Shelton and Santiago may sound like sacrilege to some. Perez, rightly so in a lot of ways, has been heavily criticized, and his performances last season were dreadful. But, he has hit .333 this Spring, better than most of the Tigers regulars, and his experience, position flexibility and ability to hit left-handed are assets. Chris Shelton bats right handed, only increases his potential trade value if he plays everyday in AAA Toledo (of course, this assumes he would be successful in AAA, but, if he's not, then this argument is moot anyway) and he needs the at bats, because Shelton continues to be a young player who has still yet to play a full season in the major leagues.

Shelton did just about everything he could to make the team this spring, but despite that, for the good of the team (both its present and its future), the final roster spot should go to Neifi Perez, even if that will drive the most ardent of Tigers fans out of their collective minds.

Monday Morning Update: Jim Leyland agrees with me. (or, more likely, I agree with him). The Detroit Tigers sent Chris Shelton and Ramon Santiago to AAA Toledo this morning, holding on to Neifi Perez as the last player on the major league roster. While understanding why Shelton was the more popular choice, keeping Perez, at least for now, makes the most sense.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Detroit Lions Off-Season Scorecard -- So Far

Ah, NFL Free Agency. With my colleague over @, Tom Kowalski reporting tonight that the Detroit Lions have signed not one, but two new offensive guards tonight (Edwin Mulitalo and Zach Piller) it seems like a good a time as any to do an accounting for where the Lions stand with their moves so far this off-season. And the verdict? Despite missing out on some of their top targets, General Manager Matt Millen may actually deserve some credit. Maybe. Let's look at what the Lions have gained and lost so far.

Running Backs: Tatum Bell (formerly of Denver), TJ Duckett (formerly of Washington)
Wide Receiver: Shaun McDonald (St. Louis)
Offensive Guards: Edwin Mulitalo (Baltimore), Zach Piller (Tennessee)
Offensive Tackle: George Foster (Denver)
Defensive End: DeWayne White (Tampa Bay)
Cornerbck: Travis Fisher (St. Louis)
2007 Draft Picks: Denver's 5th Round selection, St. Louis's 5th Round Selection

Fullback: Cory Schlesinger (signed with Miami)
Tight End: Marcus Pollard (signed with Seattle)
Offensive Lineman: Ross Verba (released)
Defensive End: James Hall (traded to St. Louis)
Cornerback: Dre Bly (traded to Denver)
Safety: Terrence Holt (signed with Arizona)
2007 Draft Pick: 6th Round selection (traded to Denver)

So...Where does that leave the Lions? I think better off than they were in 2006, that's for sure. Most importantly, the team has not lost anybody really important (I'll get to Bly in a moment). While Cory Schlesinger is a fan favorite, and will be missed, he had no role in Mike Martz' offense. He's a sentimental loss, but nothing more. Pollard was a vast disappointment since signing from the Colts a few years back, and like Schlesinger, he really saw his role reduced last season in Mike Martz' offense. Losing Verba was likewise nothing. While the Lions had hoped he was going to be their answer at left guard last season, he was never healthy. And losing Dre Bly and James Hall may actually help the team. Addition by subtraction. Neither bought into the new system or coaching staff the Lions have in place, and the last thing this team needs are malcontents in the locker room. It's hard enough fighting back from years of being the laughing stock of the NFL without your own players practically working against you. Only the loss of Holt may sting a bit, and even he was only going to be a backup this year, supplanted in the starting lineup by 2nd year starter Daniel Bullocks. I always thought Holt was going to make it with the Lions. In limited playing time early in his career, he seemed to have a nose for the ball. But, he never quite was able to push his game to the next level.

And as for what the Lions have added, its quite a bit. The addition of Bell and Duckett the backfield of Kevin Jones and Shawn Bryson gives the Lions one of the deepest running back groups in the league, and each brings something different to the table. Bell is your speed guy, your home run hitter. Jones is a tough runner, is good out of the backfield, and can be an every-down-back. Bryson is a perfect third down runner and is a great pass protector. And Duckett is your goaline-short yardage specialist. And with both Jones and Bryson coming off of serious leg injuries, increasing the depth at this position was key. And when all four backs are healthy, it will make for quite the rotation (and quite the headache for Fantasy Football addicts like myself).

The Shaun McDonald acquisition, we'll see on that. The Lions top aim for the role was another quick St. Louis receiver, Kevin Curtis, but for many reasons (money and Curtis' reported desire not to live in Michigan) so settling for McDonald hurt a bit. But, he's still better than Corey Bradford and backup QB Josh McCown who played wide receiver (no joke) at times last season. And the last no name WR from St. Louis (Mike Furey) turned out to be a stud. So, I'll trust Mike Martz on this.

The additions to the offensive line are interesting. It seems (as always) these moves will be boom or bust, and not much chance for anything in between. Foster is a former first round draft pick and is a monster of a man. But, he has work ethic issues and was benched for part of last season. The two new guys signed tonight (Edwin Mulitalo and Zach Piller) both have extensive starting experience. But both also have extensive injury histories. Piller missed most of last season due to an ankle injury and Mulitalo missed the majority of the season after he tore his triceps . Despite the risks, both are seen as solid starters when healthy, especially Mulitalo.

The loss of Mulitalo is a tough one for the Ravens, since he and perennial Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden form one of the NFL's best left sides. Although he has suffered through some inconsistencies in his career, Mulitalo is a powerful in-line drive-blocker who has approached Pro Bowl-level run-blocking at various stretches of his career.

The former Arizona standout was a fourth-round choice of the Ravens in the 1999 draft and has appeared in 106 games, starting 102 of them. Since 2000, his second season in the league, Mulitalo has averaged 15.0 starts and never started fewer than 14 games.

The offensive line has forever been a problem for the Detroit Lions under the Matt Millen era (ever since Millen foolishly let Jeff Hartings leave during Millen's first season on the job) but these additions, and the potential drafting of Wisconsin Offensive Tackle Joe Thomas could solidify the position for years to come.

On the defensive side of the ball, both White and Fisher are solid signings. I've written about White before (needless to say, I think it was a good signing and that White could be very very productive as a starter in Detroit), and Fisher, while no Dre Bly, is a solid defender who at worst is better than our former nickel cornerback (the woeful Jamar Fletcher) and at best, can be a solid #2 cornerback for a team which desperately needs depth at this position.

So, where does this put the Lions for a bottom line? I sound pretty bullish on their off-season moves, and in many ways, I am. Yes, we didn't sign the wide receiver we targeted (Kelvin Curtis). And yes, we haven't signed a middle linebacker (losing out on London Fletcher early in free agency), leaving us with the unproven and oft-injured Teddy Lehman at that spot for right now. But, we got rid of some malcontents, signed some young players with high upsides (Bell, White, McDonald, and Fisher) and some veterans with starting experience (Foster, Piller, and Mulitalo), albeit who have some serious question marks surrounding them. And we still have the draft and some time left in free agency to go.

Maybe I'm an eternal optimist when it comes to the Lions. Or maybe I'm just blinded by loyalty (or, stupidity). But, I honestly believe the Lions are a better team today than they were three months ago, and with a deep draft to come, and a plethora of picks and potential trade options, the Lions can continue to better their team (so long as they don't take Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, but that's another story for another post) Matt Millen may turn this team around yet. Or maybe, like happens every year, the exciting free agent moves I think will work out so well, will fall flat, and the "Fire Millen" chants will return to Ford Field. Such is life as a Lions fan.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Michigan Drops the Ball -- Tubby Smith to Minnesota

The University of Michigan Men's Basketball Program has done it again. And just when I thought they were on the right track when they let Tommy Amaker go. The University of Kentucky's Tubby Smith, one of the best coaches in college basketball, is leaving UK to take the job at, drum roll . . . . . . Minnesota. Great. This, of course, is not good for Michigan on a variety of levels.

First, it means Tubby Smith was available and we failed to get him. Michigan should be one of the premier jobs in college basketball. But, it's not. Which, is understandable given the scandals, dilapidating stadium, lack of practice facilities, and the losing. But, it's not like Minnesota is, well, Kentucky. Yes, Minnesota has been a decent program, but they are no stranger to scandal and certainly the school does not have the history and legacy of the University of Michigan (yes, this is me being an arrogant Michigan fan for a moment -- But, c'mon, this is Minnesota, not Duke or North Carolina or UCLA). I'm not even saying Michigan is above Minnesota in terms of attractiveness of the job, but we certainly can't be much worse.

If Tubby Smith was available, and obviously he was (he took the Minnesota job) then there's no reason why Michigan should not have paid whatever it would have taken to sign him. He would have instantly given the basketball program the credibility it lacks and would have been exactly the kind of big-name, energizing new coach which would instantly get the student body back into the basketball team. Sure, there were some at Kentucky today who are now happy that Smith is gone, and were never satisifed with his performance following Rick Patino, but let's not downplay what he did. He won a national championship. He made the NCAA Tournament every year he was at Kentucky, and won almost 200 more games than he lost in the past 10 years. He's about as close to a sure thing as far as a coaching candidate goes as you can get. Which is why Minnesota agreed to pay him $1.8 million a year according to ESPN.

The double whammy part of the Smith move is that now, the Kentucky job is available, and it instantly becomes the most sought after job in college basketball. ESPN's list of candidates is jaw-dropping.

According to sources, Marquette coach Tom Crean, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Memphis coach John Calipari, Gonzaga's Mark Few, Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Texas' Rick Barnes, Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie and Villanova's Jay Wright are expected to be candidates for what is one of the few premier jobs in men's college basketball.

Let's take Izzo's name out of contention right now (I can't imagine he would leave Michigan State for Kentucky...I just can't see that happening) but even so, Michigan is now going to have to compete and outspend Kentucky if they want a top candidate, and they won't. If they weren't willing to pay for Tubby Smith, I can't see them doing the same for Tom Crean or Mike Brey or anybody else Kentucky might also want. If you were a coach, where would you rather go? To Kentucky, where basketball is king, or Michigan, where even the Fab Five had a tough time displacing Michigan Football as king of the university? Basketball will always lag behind football here, and Michigan may not be willing to pay a basketball coach more than what they are paying Lloyd Carr. And that is going to mean they might not be able to attract the quality of candidate they really want. Plus, another Big Ten team just became a lot better, which will make recruiting harder and Big Ten play tougher.

The ante has been raised for the University of Michigan. With Smith off the board, and Kentucky sure to spend the money and attract the top talent to their university, Athletic Director Bill Martin has to step up, open the purse strings, and hire the right guy. Unfortunately, for Michigan, the "rightest" guy (to butcher the English language) is now a Golden Gopher.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NFL Draft: Patrick Willis or Joe Thomas -- What Should the Lions Do?

I'm so conflicted. Two weeks ago, when I started this blog, one of my first posts was about how after the Detroit Lions traded for right tackle George Foster from the Denver Broncos (in the Dre Bly trade which also netted the Lions Tatum Bell) they still shouldn't give up on drafting Wisconsin Right Tackle Joe Thomas. Today, though, I'm not so sure that's the right move anymore.

The good folks over at Pro Football Talk had a lot of interesting tidbits tonight involving the Detroit Lions #2 overall pick. First off, they talk about the potential the Lions could trade down twice in the first round, a possibility first brought up by's Tom Kowalski last week.

First, there's a belief that the Lions eventually will trade the pick to the Browns, flip-flopping with Cleveland the No. 2 and No. 3 selections. The Browns would use the No. 2 pick to snare Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn.

Second, the Lions would hold an auction at No. 3 for the rights to receiver Calvin Johnson. Potential candidates include the Bucs at No. 4, the Redskins at No. 6, the Vikings at No. 7, and the Falcons at No. 8.

In theory, the Lions could use interest from a team like the Falcons to leverage an even better deal out of the Bucs, and then the Lions could draft left tackle Joe Thomas from the No. 4 spot.

If Matt Millen could pull this off, trade down once or even twice in the first round, pick up some extra picks, and still get a shot at Thomas, he may prove himself worthy of that five-year extension he received last year. With the amount of holes the Lions have on their team, they need all the picks they can get.

No matter where they end up selecting, should they trade down from the #2 spot, the question of whom to draft is not going away. And while I still believe Wisconsin's Joe Thomas is the safest pick, another name, shooting up the draft boards, is looking awfully attractive right now. Patrick Willis is a Middle Linebacker from Mississippi and he is a monster. Not only is he strong as an ox but according to Pro Football Talk (I cite this site a lot for a reason -- they know their stuff) his feet must have been on fire.
According to, Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.37 and 4.38 seconds during a Tuesday Pro Day workout.

Willis was the 2006 Butkus Award winner, and he would be a great fit in a Cover 2-style scheme, which requires the middle linebacker to chase receivers down the middle of the field.

The Cover 2, also known as the "Tampa 2" is the type of defense the Lions run. Pairing Willis with last year's knockout linebacker Ernie Sims, and a crop of other young linebackers (Boss Bailey, Alex Smith, and Teddy Lehman) who can compete for the third starting linebacker slot (and since none of the three can ever seem to stay healthy, them sharing the spot for a season should work out great) would go a long way to rebuilding the Lions porous defense.

So what is the bigger need? It's so hard say. On one hand, the offensive line is critical to ensuring success on that side of the ball, but perhaps with a slimmed down Damien Woody and the addition of Foster, you can get by with what you have. And with the injury history of our linebackers, adding Willis would be a big help. And with his speed, he could really be a special player, especially paired with the equally quick Ernie Sims.

With a little over a month to go until the draft, the debate is only going to grow, especially when/if the Lions make a trade (or two, or three) to move down the draft board a bit. Matt Millen certainly does not have the confidence of Lions fans or the city of Detroit, but a few right moves in the draft could go a long way to slowly working himself back into the good graces of Lions fans.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

What I'm Watching -- Prison Break & 24

That was quite the episode of Prison Break and now, as I type this, 24 has started and based on the episode previews, Jack Bauer is about to get some shocking news about Audrey Raines, played by Kim Raver. But, before 24 gets going, reviewing the great episode of Prison Break seems appropriate.

Prison Break has been a great show since it came on the air last season. The first season was, well, the show's title. Breaking out of prison. This season has been more Fugitive-esque and has been much better. For those that don't know the specifics, Prison Break follows two brothers, Lincoln Burrows and Michael Scofield. Burrows, a tough street thug with a heart of gold (or something like that), was framed for the shooting death of the Vice President's brother, who needed to fake his death in order to subvert tax evasion and other similar charges. Scoffield, a highly educated structural engineer, is a genius, and just so happened to work at the architectural firm which designed the prison his brother was being held at. With weeks to go before his brothers execution, Scofield commits an armed robbery of a bank in order to get himself thrown into the same jail his brother is being held at. But, before he does, he has the blueprints of the prison (and a bunch of other encoded messages) tattooed on his body in an elaborate design. Overhanging the show is a vast government conspiracy whose aim is now to kill Lincoln, Michael, and the other convicts which escaped with them from Fox River Penitentiary.

While season one was really good, this season has been even better. Last year, Michael was one step ahead of everyone, which was fine, he needed to break out of the prison after all. But this season, Michael met his match with FBI agent Alexander Mahone, played brilliantly by the great William Fichtner. Playing Sam Gerard to Scofield's Richard Kimble, Mahone has kept step-for-step with Scofield, which has added an added element of anticipation and equality to the show. While we understand Michael is the "good guy", him no longer being the smartest guy in the room has been a pleasant change. Even better is that Mahone, like Gerard in the Fugitive, is multi-dimensional, and is not just a bad guy. In many ways, he's a good guy put in an awful position.

Another great thing we saw tonight, which we've seen a little bit this season, is a sense of regret from Michael's character. Yes, he saved his brother's life, but in the last two years, a lot of people have died, and in breaking out of prison, some good guys (like Sucre and C-Note -- by the way, nice job tonight giving somebody a happy ending (at least seemingly) with C-Note being released to be with his wife and daughter. Hopefully they let him escape freely and actually send someone away instead of killing them) escaped, but so did some bad guys (like T-Bag). In the end, Michael wanted to save his brother, and while he does think everything through and has a plan for everything, showing that he has regret for all the people that have died in the wake of the brothers' escape, is important to redeem his overall character. And, with the previews for next week showing Mahone using this sense of regret by Michael against him, we have a heckuva setup for the last two weeks of the season.

As for 24, we are most of the way through this episode now, and it's just, well, eh. Without repeating my complaints from a previous post, I'm just not into this whole storyline with the Vice President threatening to use a nuclear weapon to respond to the terrorist attacks. And last week, President Logan was stabbed by his wife, and flat lined in the ambulance heading to the hospital, and this week, neither he, nor his wife, are even mentioned. And the "shocking twist" involving Audrey? I won't reveal it for those that haven't seen the episode yet, but its in many ways disappointing. And a mole in CTU who may not really be a mole? We've seen this before. Almost every season as a matter of fact. Oh well, maybe 24 will break out of its slump next week. Despite struggling a bit this season, I'll still be watching.

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A Look Ahead to Television Pilot Season

While my first love is sports, there's no doubt that a lot of my "free" time is spent watching television and reading about the television industry. I watch a lot of shows regularly (too many some would say) but despite that, I'm always looking for new shows to watch. Which is why I love this time of year, when word starts leaking out about next fall's potential new shows. It's pilot season, where plotlines and casting decisions of these potential shows are announced and buzz begins to build.

It's so hard to predict which shows are going to make it on the air (much less be successful when they get there) just based on a cast and basically the general theme or idea for the show. If predicting success were that easy, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip would be the highest rated new show of the year and Rules of Engagement wouldn't have lasted more than one or two weeks on the air. Instead, despite a brilliant writer and cast, Studio 60 is unlikely to survive the season (a topic for a future post, because Studio 60's failure is one of my most disappointing TV moments of the year) and Rules of Engagement despite the incredibly overrated and unfunny David Spade, is one of the highest rated new comedies of the season.

Even when pilots are released online, its so hard to guess what the general public is going to attach themselves to on a weekly basis. I was able to watch many of this fall's pilots during the summer and despite being a pretty plugged-in TV observer (to use a bad pun) what I thought would be successful wasn't. I thought, for example, that ABC's The Nine was one of the best pilots I've ever seen. It was edgy, had great actors (like Wings' Tim Daly, 24's Kim Raver, and Boston Public's Chi McBride), a great overarching and compelling story, and great characters. It was a colossal failure, despite having Lost as a lead-in. That was disappointing. I also thought ABC's Traveler, about two college students framed for the bombing of a popular art museum by their college roommate, was well done. The mystery about who this roommate (who they thought was named Will Traveler) really was and why he would commit such an act and frame his roommates was really interesting. ABC, though, has seemingly forgotten about the show, and according to TV website Zap2It, won't premier the show until the end of May, which certainly does not bode well for its chances of being a success.

So, with all of that said, let's take a look at some of the more promising pilots based on their plot descriptions and cast. By the way, the best website to examine all of the pilot information is The Futon Critic, one of the best all around television sites out there.

Bedroom and Boardrooms, ABC, Drama: The show follows four CEO's (or about to be CEO's) and has one of the best casts of the fall season. Three of the four CEO characters are actors from some of my favorite past shows (Dylan McDermott from The Practice, Michael Vartan from Alias and Josh Malina from The West Wing and, of course, Sports Night). Malinia one of televisions most underrated actors and the show also stars Nia Long, who is a great actress. She just had a guest stint on Boston Legal and I was hoping she was going to join the cast of that great show, but should this show make it to air, that works too.

Grey's Anatomy Spinoff, ABC, Drama: I'm not ashamed to say that I watch Grey's Anatomy from time to time (it's not my favorite show, and there's a lot I don't like about it, but it's better than a lot of other TV shows out there) but the reason I like this potential spin-off is the cast. Aside from Kate Walsh's Addison Montgomery, Alias alum Merrin Dungy, Prison Break's Paul Adelstein (he plays Agent Kellerman on Prison Break), Daybreak's Taye Diggs (another show which should have made it, but didn't), and Amy Brenneman (I never watched Judging Amy but I remember her from guest staring on Frasier and always thought she was really attractive) will all be in the show. I don't know if I'll like the plot and tone of the show, but the cast is really strong.

Interesting Legal Pilots: There are also a number of legal shows in the pipeline, which is very encouraging. Over at ABC, Victor Garber (of Alias fame and the short-lived but well-produced Justice) takes another turn as a lawyer in Eli Stone and Donald Sutherland the Peter Krause (from Sports Night fame) star in Dirty Sexy Money about an idealistic lawyer who represents a rich New York family. The great Julianna Margulies is in a pilot at FOX where she plays the title character in Cantebury's Law where she plays a tough defense attorney.

It should only get more interesting as the weeks go on and pilots are produced, and word begins to trickle down about which pilots will make it to air. It does seem though that there are some very promising shows in the pipeline, which is good news for TV fans.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Michigan Makes Right Move -- Fires Tommy Amaker

The Detroit Free Press is reporting that the University of Michigan has fired their Men's Basketball coach, Tommy Amaker, after six seasons as head coach.

I'm honestly stunned. Despite writing last week that I wanted Amaker gone, I had no expectation that Michigan would actually fire him. Athletic Director Bill Martin is always hesitant to get rid of coaches, and Amaker's wife Stephanie is powerful within the University and is very close to University President Mary Sue Coleman.

Yet, Amaker is gone. And it's the right move. I've said before (and I'll say it again) that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Amaker. He is as good of a representative for a program as you can have. Great in the community. Great recruiter (though he never lived up to his lofty recruiting reputation here). Great ambassador for the basketball team and if the University was serious about raising money to rebuild or renovate the ailing Chrysler Arena (which they desperately need to do) he would have been the perfect pitch-man and leader of that effort.

Unfortunately for Amaker, on the court, he just couldn't get the job done. I won't rehash all of the same points I made from my post last week, but needless to say, players did not improve under Amaker's watch and the team languished in the world of the NIT, never making it to the true March Madness.

What likely made the decision easier was that Amaker lost his team, which seemed unthinkable a few weeks ago. Players, obviously frustrated with going to the NIT, again, sounded off publicly.

"You're always happy to keep playing, but nobody wants to play in the NIT,'' senior Lester Abram said. "It's just something you have to do.''

It also probably didn't help Amaker that only 3,100 people showed up to Crisler Arena to watch their first round NIT game against Utah State. And perhaps, more than anything else, that indictment sealed Amaker's fate. Because, besides the lackluster on the court performance, there is no doubt that the Michigan basketball program, where the Fab Five once seemingly ruled the basketball world and not just Ann Arbor, is dead. Interest is basically non-existent in the student body. While Lloyd Carr garners anger and wrath from football fans when the Michigan football team struggles, the basketball program is saddled with something even worse than fan anger. Complete apathy. Sure, there was an underground movement to oust Amaker, but most Michigan basketball fans simply didn't care whether Amaker would return. And there aren't that many Michigan basketball fans left to begin with, as evidenced by the sad NIT turnout.

Michigan Basketball needs a coach to come in and not just turn the program around, but turn the student body around and get students excited about basketball again. Sure, winning games will help, and will get fans back and interest heightened, but a coach can do more than that. A coach can bring an energy and enthusiasm all of his own making. As I've believed for years, that man should be Tom Crean, currently of Marquette, formerly Tom Izzo's top assistant at Michigan State. I honestly don't believe there is a better man for the job. Now that Michigan made the right move by firing Amaker, they must make the right move in hiring the next head coach.

Otherwise, the program will never turn around.

Late Afternoon Update: ESPN has a list of potential replacements, and sadly, Tom Crean does not appear on their initial list.

According to's Andy Katz, some of the names up for consideration to replace Amaker include Washington State's Tony Bennett, Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery, former Golden State Warriors coach Mike Montgomery, UNLV's Lon Kruger, West Virginia's John Beilein, Xavier's Sean Miller, Cal's Ben Braun as well as ESPN analysts Rick Majerus and Steve Lavin.

Katz also reported that Kentucky coach Tubby Smith could be a candidate, if he's available.

It's not that I mind the list of coaches ESPN has. Montgomery and Lowery are especially good candidates. And if Tubby Smith becomes available, he would be a natural choice. Ben Braun is another great candidate. He coached for 11 seasons at Eastern Michigan and made the NCAA Tournament with them three times. That's pretty impressive. On the other hand, Majerus and especially Lavin scare me. Majerus is a great coach, don't get me wrong, but I don't know if he's got it anymore. And Lavin is not the face of the program I'm looking for. Too Hollywood.

And another name Michigan fans bring up a lot is alumnus and very successful NBA coach Rudy Tomjanovich. I love Rudy T. I wanted the Pistons to hire him numerous times. But, with all due respect, he's done. His last stint with the Lakers was a disaster, and he lasted less than half the first season. If we needed a guy to take us over the top, and turn is from a Sweet 16-type team to a championship team, he's the guy. But, to build a program? He's not that guy. At least not anymore.

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Reviewing the First Round of the NCAA Tournament

So March Madness is here and the first round of the NCAA Tournament is complete. And, currently, in the pool I'm in with my fellow Summer Starters in law school I sit in 25th place out of 30 participants. Ouch. Yes, not a good weekend. Especially when you are considered the "sports expert" of your group of friends. Pretty embarrassing anyway.

Thankfully, though, I didn't get everything wrong. Just most things. Thursday's Day One was my worst day, as none of my upsets (George Washington, Oral Roberts, Texas Tech, Penn, and Old Dominion) all lost. The fact that none of those teams won defies logic. Or, maybe, since they were all lower seeds, the fact that they all lost was quite predictable. Probably the latter. Which is why after the first day I found myself in 29th place.

Yesterday was a bit better. My Winthrop Eagles defeated Notre Dame in one of the days only upsets (one of the only upsets of the whole tournament in fact) but Arkansas and Gonzaga failed to come through, and I find myself needing some help going into the second round.

I'm not completely out of it, yet. I've only lost one Sweet 16 team coming in to today (George Washington) so, things go as planned today and tomorrow, and I'll be right back in the mix. Maybe I just should have listened to my own original blogpost on the subject.

After looking over the brackets briefly (they were just released a few minutes ago) a few other teams I'd look out for in terms of long tournament runs include Oregon (#3 seed in the Midwest), #2 seed UCLA in the West, #2 Georgetown in the East, #6 Louisville in the South. Oregon, playing near home in Washington, may have the chance to do the most damage (especially if Winthrop upsets Notre Dame as I think they probably will) and Wisconsin struggles (which, after their blowout loss to Ohio State this afternoon could happen).

Oregon just barely survived a scare from Miami of Ohio (maybe picking them to go to the Final Four wasn't such a brilliant idea after all -- But I'm not giving up on the Ducks yet) but otherwise, UCLA, Georgetown, and Louisville all looked good, and Wisconsin was lucky to beat 15th seed Texas A&M Corpus Cristi (Yes, that's a real school) who lead for most of the game.

If you've read down this far, you've probably noticed I've talked a lot about my brackets and not so much about the games themselves. Other than pure ego, that's because the games themselves weren't that great (though, I'll admit, I missed most of yesterday's games due to a midterm (who schedules a midterm in the middle of March Madness anyway) so maybe my opinion is a bit skewed). In a tournament famous for "Cinderella" stories, the tournament is void of them, mainly because most of the higher seeds one. Sure, Virginia Commonwealth beat Duke (an #11 over a #6 -- But, c'mon, Duke wasn't that good this year anyway) and the aforementioned Winthrop beat Notre Dame (another #11 over a #6, it's becoming the new #12 seed over a #5 seed) but that's pretty much it. A lot of the games were blowouts (though, again, the close games, like Illinois-Virginia Tech, I missed) and even games I was really looking forward to, like Michigan State v. Marquette, were practically over before they began.

Hopefully the second round, starting today, is better. Some great games on tap, including Michigan State trying to take down North Carolina (they won't), Louisville playing Texas A&M (score one for the Cardinals), and two old Big East rivals get together when Georgetown takes on Boston College (pick the Hoyas). Sunday has Kansas/Kentucky (I picked Kansas in my pool, but Ashley Judd is a big Kentucky supporter, so it's hard to root against them), Southern Illinois/Virginia Tech (go Salukis, whatever a Saluki is -- Wikipedia claims its a "hunting hound", amazing what you can easily find on that site) and we'll see if Oregon can get by the upstart Winthrop Eagles.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have games to prepare for, and schoolwork to ignore (at least for a few hours anyway).

Update, 3:17 p.m.: Okay, you know what I said about the NCAA Tournament being sort of underwhelming this year? Well, I take that back. At least after this great, Xavier-Ohio State game, which, for those that aren't watching, was going to be the biggest upset of the tournament until OSU staged a huge comeback within the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and hit a long three-pointer with two seconds left to send the game to overtime after Xavier lost a chance to ice the game by splitting a pair of free throws with nine seconds to go (wow -- that may be the longest sentence ever. I guess that happens after watching such an exciting finish to a game). OSU leads 67-64 with 3:00 left in overtime, so we'll see what happens (it looks like OSU has retaken control) but in any case, great, great game.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

What I've Learned About Blogging aka Where Did Everyone Go?

I thought I knew it all when it came to starting a Blog. How hard could it be? I've written a blog for for over three years now and before that, while in high school, ran my own website which was essentially a blog before blogs existed (and I edited all that HTML by hand -- Blogger is completely automated). If I've learned anything in the past week about blogging, it's that I didn't know anything.

Having a background in HTML, I thought would make things pretty easy on me. And with Blogger's automated templates, I figured it wouldn't take much time to set up. And while Blogger's blog-maker is user-friendly, I kept running into problems. The Digg buttons you see at the front of each post (like this one) wouldn't show up at first, then wouldn't keep track of my Diggs correctly (I finally figured it out thanks to Kurt over @ Clever WoT and a random website I found which explained the differences between the old Blogger system and these new templates Blogger has). Digg is a cool website. Users determine, by "digging" quality stories, the stories placement in the Digg world, and it allows people to focus on stories others (sometimes thousands of others) found useful and/or entertaining. So if you read a story on here you like, Digg it. Technorati is a very similar site. It essentially is a searchable database of Blog postings and keeps track of how popular your blog is based on how many people link to it (so far two do for me -- The previously mentioned Clever WoT and, of course, my Tigers blog). It took a while for that site to start indexing my posts.

And why is it important that my Digg and Technorati links work correctly? Well, it doesn't. But, they do bring traffic into the blog, which allows people to read my posts. Did I start the Blog just to check my traffic logs all the time? Not really. But, it is fun, and I won't deny wanting to get more people to read the blog if I can. Plus, analyzing traffic logs, to me, is fascinating because it really gives you an idea of how the internet works in many ways. Take the traffic for this blog since it started last Sunday for example, going through today, around 3:00.

As the post title indicates, the main question is, where did everybody go? Today, at the time of this post, I had 4 visitors today. That was after averaging somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 or 40 a day previously. That's quite the dropoff. The spikes in unique visitors and page views is interesting too. Tuesday, March 8, was a huge day. That reason was two-fold. First, I had plugged my blog in a story on my MLive blog, and 113 folks followed. I also posted a story that night about the Mega Millions Lottery Drawing and posed it on Digg. The response (despite not receiving any Diggs from people) was instantaneous (people were interested in that lottery jackpot) and 41 people in the few hours after the post came over from Digg. That was a good night.

But, then, sometimes the traffic doesn't follow your expectations. For example, on Friday, March 9, I posted an entry going over the Las Vegas season finale and posed it on Digg. Despite the finale happening that night, all was quiet, and nobody appeared interested in my take on the goings on at the Montacito Casino. Saturday was the same. But, then Sunday, people apparently were ready to read about the finale. By Monday, the Las Vegas entry had 28 unique visitors, even more than my homepage, thanks in large part to the Digg page and searches on Google (apparently my Las Vegas entry hit the jackpot (sorry, bad pun) when it came to a great Google placement) and other search engines. 26 people found me from Google on Tuesday, most with search terms like "las vegas season finale" and "Las Vegas Season 4 finale" and the Las Vegas page had 34 unique visitors, twice what my front page received. Obviously the numbers are small, but interesting nevertheless that it took a few days, both on Google and Digg, for my Las Vegas post to at least garner some attention. And, now, if the 4 visitors today aren't an indicator, nobody seems to be searching for Las Vegas season finale information anymore.

Maybe my visits are down because I'm trying out Google ads, otherwise known as "Google AdSense" and it scared people away. I didn't start this blog to make money (hard to make money with 4 visitors or even 40 a day anyway) but I've never tried out Google's ad system before, and I had read a lot about it in the Google biography (can a company have a biography?), The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media, and Technology Success of Our Time

I'm not sure I like it, or any advertising, but it's interesting from a technological standpoint anyway. Sometimes it gets the ads right (like displaying CNBC business ads on the permanent link page to my Erin Burnett story or Las Vegas links on that page) and sometimes its way off. I may not keep it around. Just testing things, like I am with the links you see around. But, those I like because I love and order from them all the time, and would recommend their service to anyone. They ship fast (even their free "Super Saver" shipping), their prices are cheaper than any bookstore, and I've never had a problem in years of ordering from them. So why not link to relevant DVDs or books I talk about? Plus, I have a unique perspective on advertising on websites because when I ran a site back in high school, I killed it (in some ways) by going over-board on advertising. I've learned better than to do that again.

What really gets interesting is the geographic location of visitors. In just my little, random Blog, which hasn't had more than 700 visitors total in 10 days, I've had 54 visits from Canada (they love me in London, Ontario for some reason), 9 from the UK, 3 from China and even a guy from Turkey. And two separate people from Finland. To me, that's just incredible because my blog isn't anything right now, but yet, somehow, people from all over the world (literally) find it.

So, what was the point of this post? I'm not sure I had one other than to say, blogging is interesting, and I'm learning a lot about how Blogs work and attract visitors and use HTML. The internet has come a long way since 1998 when I was coding HTML by hand using Notepad (actually, a freeware program called NotePad Plus). I can say, though, that starting the blog has been just as fun and entertaining as I thought it was going to be when I started, so I'm not going anywhere for a while. Even if 4 visitors a day is all I have. Because, it's the loyalty of those four visitors (well, I think I was one of the 4, so, loyalty of those three visitors) that matters.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

CNBC Overrated/Underrated: Maria Bartiromo v. Erin Burnett

When I was home over Spring Break a few weeks back, I found myself watching a lot of MSNBC. That wasn't surprising. I've watched quite a bit of MSNBC in the past six months, starting just before the 2006 elections and watching Hardball, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and Scarborough Country regularly ever since. I'd been a fan of Keith Olbermann's since his SportsCenter days and remember being in high school watching his then-MSNBC show The Big Show to catch up on the days headlines.

What was surprising though was that I started watching more CNBC than I ever had before. I've always been a casual (at the very least) observer of the stock market. My grandfather got me started with stocks before I was 10, somehow convincing his stock broker to allow me to purchase five shares of Electronics Arts (should have held on to that one) or ten shares of Topps Trading Card Company (held on to that one too long even when I knew Upper Deck was the true premium trading card of my generation). I always found the market interesting, and while my interest has ebbed and flowed over the past decade and a half, I've always had the market in the back of my head.

Then I started watching Jim Cramer's Mad Money. What a great show. Cramer, the former Goldman analyst, wildly successful hedge-fund manager, and all around, self-described, crazy-man, hosts a show where he goes over the market in detail. Which stocks he likes, which he doesn't, and when he isn't screaming, throwing things at the cameras, and pressing one of a few dozen sound effect buttons (no -- I'm not kidding) he actually makes a lot of sense. So much so I bought and read his autobiography, Confessions of a Street Addict and became an ever bigger Cramer fan.

But, Cramer's Mad Money is not the only CNBC show I've been watching. Lately, the 2:00-3:00 show (which, coincidentally features Cramer's "Stop Trading" segment @ 2:40) has been really good, covering the market downturn and upturn and downturn again with good interviews and analysis. It's hosted by Erin Burnett, and if anything has struck me since I've increased my CNBC viewership it is how underrated Burnett is and how overrated supposed CNBC star Maria Bartiromo is.


Maria's fine, don't get me wrong. She's a fine journalist, and she does a good job. But, she's also kind of annoying. And, maybe it's because I don't watch CNBC all day (Lately I've been watching from 2:00-3:00 and catching Cramer's Mad Money at 11:00, and I'll watch The Big Idea if I'm around and nothing else is going on) and I haven't watched CNBC a whole lot during the past few years (so I've missed Maria's rise to the top) but I just don't see what the big deal is.

But, I do think, especially given the recent controversy surrounding Bartiromo involving some improper dealings with Citigroup, it wouldn't be the worst idea for CNBC to start thinking about a successor to their "superstar" anchor. Burnett would be great choice. On her afternoon show, Street Signs, she comes off as very personable, very intelligent, and has a great rapport with both the people she interviews and with Jim Cramer during their daily segment.

While NBC may consider Maria the true 'star' of the network, keep your eye on Burnett. She's a natural at the anchor desk and I think she'll continue to rise up the CNBC heirachy. Now, if you'll excuse me, it's almost 6:00 and I've got Mad Money and Jim Cramer to watch.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Poison Pills and NFL Free Agency: The Issue Hardly Anybody is Talking About

One of the biggest stories of the National Football League off-season is unfolding before our eyes and hardly anybody in the "mainstream" media is covering it. Not ESPN, not CNNSI, not Fox Sports. Until just today, only the good folks over at Pro Football Talk have even discussed the connection between "poison pills" and "collusion." Scary words, especially for NFL owners and teams, but until now, the controversy has not garnered little attention.

That ended today when the Orlando Sentinel reported that the NFLPA (the National Football League Players Association for those unfamiliar) is requesting the NFL Management Council look into dealings between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins as it regards a trade made earlier this month for wide reciever Wes Welker. Or, maybe it didn't, if the Boston Herald is to be believed.

In any case, we'll get back to Welker and his specific complaint in a moment. But, first, some helpful background. Last season, the Seattle Seahawks named All-Pro offensive guard Steve Hutchinson their "Transition Player." This meant that while Hutchinson was a free agent, any offer he signed could be matched by Seattle. The Minnesota Vikings signed Hutchinson to an offer-sheet which cleverly included a clause which said that if Hutchinson was not the highest paid lineman on his team (he wouldn't have been in Seattle because of a previous contract with tackle Walter Jones) his entire contract became instantly guaranteed. Seattle, unwilling to make such a radical promise, let Hutchinson go.

Not to be out-foxed, however, Seattle responded by returning the favor. They signed Minnesota restricted free agent Nate Burleson soon after and included an even more radical poison pill. That clause said that if Burleson played more than 5 games in the state of Minnesota during any one year of the contract (which he would do if the Vikings matched the offer) the contract (worth $49 million in total) would also become instantly guaranteed, just like with Hutchinson.

Needless to say, the NFL front office was not happy with the use of such clauses, but during this off-season, despite renegotiating and extending the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement, nothing was done to end the use of the poison pill.

Except, the poison pill has not been used at all this off-season. Restricted free agents have been signed to offer sheets, but not one contract includes use of a poison pill. The folks over at Pro Football Talk's NFL Rumor Mill are rightfully suspicious of the sudden absence of the pill. After all, if a team wanted to sign a free agent, why wouldn't they use such a pill to ensure success and prevent the player's former team from matching the offer-sheet. It doesn't make sense, not to Pro Football Talk, not to me, and now, not to the NFLPA.

The controversy regarding Welker is a perfect example. Earlier in the off-season, it appeared the Patriots were set to sign Walker to an offer-sheet worth $38.5 million over seven seasons. They would lose a second-round draft choice by doing so, but if they wanted Welker (which they clearly did) all they needed to do was include a Burleson-like "poison pill" into the contract, and he'd be theirs.

That isn't, though, what the Patriots did. Instead of signing Welker to an offer-sheet, which would have cost them a 2nd round draft pick if they had included a poison pill and Miami declined to match, they chose to trade for him instead, giving Miami both a second and a seventh round draft pick. On its face, this seemingly made no sense. They could have had Welker for just a second-round pick, so why give up the extra draft choice?

The deal became even more suspicious when the Patriots announced their new contract with Welker was only for $18.1 million over 5 seasons, not the $38.5 million earlier reported. If the Patriots and Dolphins got together, on their own, and agreed to avoid the headache and cost of using the poison pill by simply arranging a trade for Welker, which would allow the Patriots to sign him at a lower price (since the larger contract was in part inflated as a way to prevent the Dolphins from matching it), that would be collusion and against the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Which is why Pro Football Talk has been talking about the deal for more than a week now, and why the Orlando Sentinel reported today that the NFLPA similarly wanted more information.

"They may have violated the CBA rule that says one club can't offer the player's former team anything that would [sway] that team from matching their offer," the source said. "Anti-collusion [rule], that's another thing that may come into play."

The source added that the NFLPA's interest in the matter stemmed from complaints made by Welker's agent, Vann McElroy, regarding the devaluation of his client because of possible violations.

The Boston Globe reports tonight that there is more smoke then fire regarding the Sentinel's report, and that no action is likely to be taken. Which wouldn't be a surprise if the NFL truly wanted to eliminate use of the poison pill. As free agency continues and the off-season progresses, this story will hopefully gain traction, and more mainstream outlets will report on it. I'm going to do my own research for a term paper in my Sports Law course here at the Law School and I'll keep updates coming in the blog as they develop. (And yes, for those keeping track at home, that's two papers this semester on sports -- The NFL Poison Pill and the previously discussed Major League Baseball/DirecTV Extra Innings move. Now If I can just find a similarly themed sports topic for my Presidential Power seminar, I'll be all set. I'm open to suggestions.)

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Monday, March 12, 2007

This Week's DVD Release: The Pretender Movies

Before there was Lost (a character drama clouded in the aura of mystery) there was a show on NBC broadcast on Saturday nights titled The Pretender starring Michael T. Weiss, Andrea Parker, and Patrick Bauchau. Like Lost there was lots of intrigue and mystery with The Pretender (and like Lost most of those mysteries went unanswered by the time the show went off the air following its fourth season). Even so, the show had a compelling and satisfying overarching storyline throughout its run and yet was also able to re-invent itself from week-to-week, keeping things interesting, and allowing those casual fans the opportunity to watch the show without getting caught up in the often confusing back story.

For those that have never seen the show, The Pretender was essentially this generation's Quantum Leap, as the shows share a lot of similarities. For those that haven't seen Quantum Leap either, here's the basic rundown. Jared, played by Michael T. Weiss, was a child genius who is a "Pretender", which means he can basically become anybody he wants to be without much trouble. Think Catch Me If You Can. Lawyer, doctor, race-car driver, you name it, Jared can study and do it. When he was a child, Jared was stolen from his parents by a Delaware organization known only as "The Centre", which exploited his genius for their research. They had him run simulations and used the findings to fund terrorist attacks, murders, kidnappings, the whole nine yards. Eventually Jared (because, of course, he's a super-genius) found out The Centre was using his genius to harm people (it had been explained to him that his simulations were saving people) and he escaped, with the hopes of finding the family he never knew.

So the show basically went on for four seasons with Jared searching for his family while each week stopping to help those in need. He would use his "Pretender" skills to right wrongs (sound familiar Quantum Leap fans?) by assimilating himself as a doctor, forest ranger, business man (whatever was needed), uncover the truth behind a recent death, and force the perpetrator to confess to his or her crimes. The first few seasons also saw Jared assimilate into society by trying ice cream for the first time, and experience things the Centre shielded him from when he was a child. Jared, though, was always looking over his shoulder because Patrick Bauchau's Sydney (Jared's de facto father and genuinely good guy caught in an evil organization) and Andrea Parker's Ms. Parker, Centre employees, were chasing after Jared, always a step behind, trying to bring him back to the Centre. What made the show great was that while The Centre was evil, both Sydney and Ms. Parker were fully developed, complex characters, who you often felt sympathy for, despite their role chasing after the "good guy" in the show, Jared.

So why am I reminiscing tody about a show that has been off the air since 2000? Because tomorrow, on DVD, the two Pretender Movies are being released on DVD, The Pretender 2001 and Island of the Haunted.

See, after NBC canceled The Pretender in 2000, there were still a lot of loose ends to tie up (as there often are on canceled television shows) so TNT stepped up to the plate and financed two television movies to "wrap up" the series. These are those two telefilms and while they don't answer all the key questions (the producers have said they had a third film to truly wrap up the series planned, but they never receiving funding to make it) for any Pretender fan, they were certainly welcome in 2001 when they aired, and they now complement the rest of the seasons of the show already released on DVD.

It was an exciting show, and you always kept watching because you wanted to see if Jared would eventually be able to reunite with his family. The goings-on at The Centre were also prominently featured and were more than strange. There was always something more there than met the eye, but you never knew quite what it was. Like the mysteries behind Lost's island and numbers and Dharma Initiative, you kept watching because you wanted to know why the Centre truly was after Jared, what the true purpose of The Centre was, and of course, you wanted to know if Jared would find his family.

As much television as I watch now, and as much as I love a lot of the shows on TV now, I often miss some of these old, great shows, like The Pretender. Watching the DVDs as they came out made me appreciate the show even more the second time through, even more so than I did when I watched them back in high school when they first aired. I look forward to re-wacthing the movies as I continue to hold out hope that one day, that third movie will get made, and the story of Jared, Miss Parker, and the Centre will be fully told.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Quick NCAA March Madness Thoughts -- Izzo v. Crean

One of the more exciting days of college basketball year is today, when most of the conference tournaments wrap up and March Madness truly begins, as the NCAA Men's College Basketball Brackets are unveiled. And while I'm admittedly not the biggest college basketball fan in the country (I follow the sport, like I do all sports, and watch the tournament pretty intently, but usually tune out during the regular season for the most part) the tournament is always fun.

This year should be no different. So I waited to see where the two teams I was most interested in (Michigan State and Marquette) would land. And, as fate would have it, they play each other in the East Bracket. This is such an interesting matchup on a variety of levels. Aside from from being what should be a very good game between two pretty evenly matched teams, the game has a unique twist to it. As I have written before, if and when Michigan fires Tommy Amaker, the man I want to replace him is Marquette's head coach Tom Crean. Part of the reason I like Crean is his connection to the state of Michigan, chiefly, his apprenticeship as Tom Izzo's top assistant at Michigan State. Now, the student will get a chance to school the professor on the grandest stage of them all at the NCAA tournament. And with the way Michigan State has struggled this season, and with the ability Crean will have to get into Tom Izzo's head and come up with a perfect gameplan to limit the Spartans, it won't be easy for Michigan State. And, either way, no matter who wins, having to face North Carolina in the second round, in North Carolina no less, is an almost certain death sentence.

After looking over the brackets briefly (they were just released a few minutes ago) a few other teams I'd look out for in terms of long tournament runs include Oregon (#3 seed in the Midwest), #2 seed UCLA in the West, #2 Georgetown in the East, #6 Louisville in the South. Oregon, playing near home in Washington, may have the chance to do the most damage (especially if Winthrop upsets Notre Dame as I think they probably will) and Wisconsin struggles (which, after their blowout loss to Ohio State this afternoon could happen).

Last of my quick thoughts is amazement that the Big Ten was able to get six teams in the tournament, when it was pretty well agreed that the Big Ten had a down year, and just a few weeks ago, the conference getting just four bids was a realistic possibility. Indiana getting a #7 seed is incredible. I don't know what to say about that. And while Wisconsin did have a great season, and their RPI was #4 overall, after getting beat by almost 20 today by Ohio State makes it hard for me to give them a #2 seed. It also just goes to prove that had Michigan won just one or two more games, beaten Ohio State, or Purdue on the road, or Indiana or Michigan State on the road, they would have been in the tournament, because the Big Ten got much more respect and consideration then most thought they would going in.

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Friday, March 9, 2007

What I'm Watching -- Las Vegas Season Finale

Now that's how you write a season finale that really puts pressure on the bosses at NBC to give you a fifth season to tie up some loose ends. This post contains discussions of tonight's season finale of Las Vegas, and also discusses news regarding the cast of Season Five, so if you haven't seen the finale yet, or don't want to know who may not be returning to show next year, let me refer you to my Detroit Tigers Blog which contains no discussion of Las Vegas or television (cheap plug -- I know).

Now, as for that season finale, I'm not sure you could have fit more loose ends in one hour of television, and leave more threads dangling for next season. Mary's abusive stepfather shot dead without it being clear who (Ed, Mary, or Danny) pulled the trigger. Sam being kidnapped and Mike being unable to find her in time before she was flown out Vegas (next time try a phone call to the airport or FAA, that may work). Delinda being pregnant and then possibly injured in an explosion inside the hotel. Ed potentially buying the hotel or retiring and leaving the casino world behind. And the Montecito Hotel being robbed. I think that covers everything. Oh, and Danny may be headed back to Iraq, forgot about that one for a minute.

I'm a big fan of Las Vegas, and not just because it stars Nikki Cox, Molly Sims, and Vanessa Marcil. It's a fun show (immature at times, sure, but mostly in a harmless way) and is usually pretty entertaining. It has that right mix of humor and action/adventure, and while it isn't a procedural show like Law & Order, it isn't nearly as involving as shows like Lost or 24 or Prison Break. I watch enough of those shows, so it's nice to have one I can just sit back and watch mindlessly for an hour. And the acting and storylines are usually pretty good.

How the writers are going to get themselves out of the mess they find themselves in after tonight's season finale is going to be interesting. Especially with news coming out last week that both James Caan and Nikki Cox won't be returning for Season Five. According to the reports, Caan chose to leave to peruse feature film roles, which is where he became famous. And while I can't blame Caan for choosing to leave, I don't think the show will be the same, or as successful without him. A lot of shows have an older, mentor-type character for a group of more immature 20 or 30-somethings, but Caan was more than that on Las Vegas. He was in many ways the heart and soul of the show, and grounded it in a lot of ways. And he played the character so well. You could completely buy him as this old-school, no-nonsense casino manger. I would imagine the show would focus much more on Josh Duhamel's Danny, without Ed there to guide him, I don't know how well that would work. And if they try to bring a replacement in, to fill Ed's shoes and at the same time cause tension with Danny, that likely didn't work. That was a similar role Lara Flynn Boyle tried last season, and it was a dramatic failure.

As for losing Nikki Cox, it comes at an odd time because her character was just starting to get really interesting. After playing this sweet, down-to-earth, girl-next-door who just happens to look like, well, Nikki Cox, for three seasons, Nikki's character really grew this year. She became more assertive, got a bit of an edge to her, and the storyline with her testifying against her stepfather, and the resulting aftermath, showed some dramatic range which was impressive. There was also a certain balance between the Cox, Sims, and Marcil characters which will be missing now.

I don't know if Las Vegas will be the same next season. Las Vegas without Ed Deline is just going to be strange. And without Nikki Cox's Mary, the show may be imbalanced. Or, maybe, like a lot of shows which lose central characters (like ER) it will bounce back without much of a hit. Either way, the exciting and cliffhanging season finale ensured it will be a long spring and summer as we await to find out the fate of all our favorite Las Vegas characters, and learn how the Las Vegas writers work themselves out of the corner they wrote themselves into. And that's all one can ask for from a great season finale.

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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Fun at the University of Michigan Student Funded Fellowship Auction

Tonight was a fun night. Always one of the best events of the year at the University of Michigan Law School, tonight's Student Funded Fellowship Auction was a great time. For those outside of the law school, each year SFF puts on both a live and silent auction to raise money for fellowships given to students who take non-profit jobs during the summer. Since these non-profit organizations don't have the funds to pay their summer interns and law clerks, the auction is a great opportunity for students working at big law firms (making much more than no salary) to give back to their fellow students.

Aside from the breadth of silent auction items (ranging from sporting event and theater tickets to dinners to haircuts to autographed books, including a personalized autographed copy of Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope, which at $180, was a bit higher than I was willing to pay for it, but was still a great deal) the real fun comes in the live auction. 30 items, 5 professors acting as auctioneers, and lots of peer pressure to increase one's bid. The professors are great and are really good at encouraging people to keep bidding, and with live auction items like skydiving with a professor, Whirlyball against a team of professors, and tours of the Googleplex or NBC studios in New York or the CSI New York set in Los Angeles, it was easy to get up for the bidding.

Four friends and I even got in on the action, outbidding other students and winning (for $900) the right to challenge the Dean of the Law School and our Criminal Procedure professor in a game of poker. It was fun to get involved in the bidding (it's easy to get caught up in a live auction) and the game should be a great time. I had the winning bid on a silent auction item too, taking home gift certificates to both the local driving range and Buffalo Wild Wings. I almost also won a Detroit Lions autographed football, but not knowing who the ball was autographed by, and already having one autographed Dre Bly photo which became worthless this week (which, I guess assumes it was worth something to begin with) so I decided to pass.

All in all a great night, fun, and now I've got poker, golf, and chicken tenders to look forward to. And by my count, the live auction itself raised almost $25,000 for SFF with thousands more raised during the silent auction, so everyone has good reason to feel good about themselves after this night.

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