Sunday, April 26, 2009

Defending the (In?)defensible: The 2009 Detroit Lions Draft

Long time no blog (mainly because I've been using Twitter so much) but sometimes you need more than 140 characters, and if I'm going to defend the 2009 Detroit Lions draft, I may need 10 times that amount.

If newspaper articles, calls to talk radio, reaction at the Lions' own draft party, and comments from friends and family members are any indication, Matt Millen would have had an easier time pleasing the Lions faithful than what new GM Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz put together. The newspaper columns are brutal, fans booed nearly every pick at Ford Field, I had to talk one friend off the ledge on the phone this afternoon, and another described the draft tonight as "TERRIBLE" (capitals included). Welcome to Detroit Matt Stafford and Jim Schwartz, where Lions fans have been bred to lose the "benefit of the doubt gene."

And there's every reason not to give the Lions the benefit of the doubt. After all, Matt Millen for eight years, produced eight years of wasted drafts. Two of the Lions first round picks of the Millen era (Charles Rogers and Mike Williams) are out of football. Another (Joey Harrington) is hanging on by a thread. Others aren't even with the Lions anymore (Roy Williams and Kevin Jones), and the ones that are (Jeff Backus, Ernie Sims, and Gosder Cherilus) have not lived up to expectations. And those late round gems every other team seems to find? Well, not so much with the Lions. Brian Calhoun has spent the better part of three years on IR though, and we've wasted more second round picks than most teams have had in eight years, so that's something.

All that is said to lay the foundation for this: Lions fans, I understand your frustration, and I understand your pessimism. But, let's also be honest, the Lions draft was far from "terrible" and it was certainly not the epic disaster most are portraying it as. We can disagree about the pick of QB Matt Stafford #1 overall, and had I been running the Lions, I probably would have taken Baylor left tackle Jason Smith (despite my love of Wake Forrest linebacker Aaron Curry, and I think he's going to be a leader in Seattle for the next decade, you can't take a linebacker #1 overall, give him $60 million, and then move him to middle linebacker, a position he's never played before -- you just can't do it), but if the Lions truly believe he can be an elite quarterback, they couldn't pass on him. You can't say "well, it didn't work out with Andre Ware or Joey Harrington or Chuck Long" so Stafford's destined to fail too. And I don't even mind the big contract, because, the Lions had no choice. Once they decided to take a QB #1 overall, the money was going to be outrageous. There was nothing they could do; they were slaves to the out-of-whack NFL rookie salary system.

The big problem Lions fans seem to have is that with both the team's second first round pick #20, and the first pick in the second round, #33, the Lions did not address a glaring need at middle linebacker. And there's no question, the Detroit Lions need a middle linebacker. With last year's starter Paris Lenon unsigned, there isn't one on the roster at the moment. That's a problem. But the Lions have a lot of problems. While we haven't had a Pro Bowl QB since the 1970's, that was also the last time the team had an elite tight end (and please, David Sloan doesn't count -- he was good, but certainly not great). And there's certainly no question the current Lions team also lacks a quality tight end. The team also lacks a play making free safety, in the mold of an Ed Reed or Bob Sanders.

So, with multiple holes, and only a limited number of picks with which to fill them, Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz did what they could. They went with the highest rated player on their board, pretty much regardless of position. And that meant taking tight end Brandon Pettigrew #20 overall, despite the needs on defense. This just infuriated most Lions fans, especially with MLB's Rey Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis on the board. But, Pettigrew was ranked as Mel Kiper's #7 overall prospect, was by far the #1 tight end in the draft, and is one of the most complete tight-end prospects in years. Not only does he have soft hands and NFL quality speed (though he's not going to blow by people) but he's a monster blocker thanks to his 6'5", 260-pound frame. So, not only does he give the Lions another weapon to take pressure off of Calvin Johnson, but he instantly makes the running game and the offensive line better because of his elite blocking skills. He can step in and start immediately, and he'll make a huge impact as a rookie.

Of course the Lions needed help on defense, but the fact that no NFL team thought it wise to take Maualuga or Laurinatis in the first round (or even into the second) ought to tell you something. It's easy to fall in love with big name players from big name college programs who we watch every week for years and are on the cover of Sports Illustrated (like Maualuga was the week before the draft) and see them make great plays and big hits, and say "we need that guy." And that's especially true when you are a team like the Lions who lack a defensive identity. But, this is a multi-year rebuilding process for the Lions. We're not going from 0-16 to the playoffs, we're not the next Miami Dolphins or Atlanta Falcons. We can't afford to pass up talent for need. We need players, at every position. We can't afford to be choosy.

The next sin, according to the local media and local fans, was passing up Mauluga nad Laurinatis again at #33 to take Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas. Delmas, though, was the #1 safety in the draft, and safety is becoming an elite, and vital position in the league (maybe even more so than middle linebacker). If Delmas lives up to his potential, Lions fans will be very happy, even if he's not a middle linebacker.

Jim Schwartz said today the Lions were not going to "fit square pegs into round holes" with the linebackers in this draft. Who am I, who didn't watch film on these guys, didn't interview them or see them work out at their pro day or the Combine, to say Schwartz is wrong? I know as Lions fans we have been conditioned to believe our coaches are bafoons, but I liked the hiring of Jim Schwartz. I have to at least give him one draft to get the types of players he thinks will fit best in his scheme.

Now, was I thrilled with all of the Lions picks? No. Day 2, while it obtained some depth at both defensive and offensive tackle, and brought us two potential kick returners (another desperate need), also included two outside linebackers. Maybe they can move inside, but the last thing we needed were more athletic outside linebackrs. And nary a defensive end or cornerback was taken. So, I was a bit less happy with Sunday than I was with Saturday.

So, maybe I'm just a Lions apologist, but I'm not expecting the Lions to rebuild overnight. We need players, everywhere and when you can leave a draft with the top player at three different positions of need (quarterback, tight end, and safety), even if you didn't address your most pressing need (middle linebacker) I can live with that. As Martin Mayhew said before the draft, as much as the draft is about next year, it's really about three, four years down the road. Of course we didn't fill all of our needs this weekend. But, this is a process, and one the Lions have just begun.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lions Struggle in Free Agency, But Its Not Mayhew's Fault

Despite having almost $40 million to spend in cap room, and more starting positions to fill than almost any team in football, the Detroit Lions have had a quiet start to free agency. Sure, they've signed a backup running back (Maurice Morris, a solid pickup, sure), a second or third option at wide receiver (the talented, but always seemingly disappointing Bryant Johnson), and picked up a couple of cornerbacks (aging veteran Anthony Henry from Dallas in a trade for Jon Kitna, and former Tennessee Titan backup Eric King) but certainly, for a team that went 0-16, these signings aren't going to instantly make the Lions a contender for much of anything.

Yet, I'm not upset, nor do I even remotely blame new Lions general manger Martin Mayhew. In fact, I give Mayhew high marks for how he's handled this off-season so far. Why? Because had things gone according to plan, the Lions would be in a much different position right now, and for once, the plan was not foiled by the Lions ineptitude, but by that of other teams.

First, the Lions had finally filled the left guard spot vacated when Matt Millen, in his first season as general manager, balked at paying Pro Bowl guard Jeff Hartings a few hundred thousand dollars more to stay in the Detroit. Instead, Hartings continued to visit Pro Bowls as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Millen regime was off and running in the wrong direction (little did we know at the time just how much the Hartings decision was a foreshadowing of things to come). This time, though, the Lions had lined up a trade with Buffalo for guard Derrick Dockery. Dockery is in the prime of his career and would have been the first real replacement for Hartings in almost a decade. He would have solidified the offensive line and would have instantly improved the Lions team. So what happened? The Bills screwed up the paperwork and failed to get it to the league office in time before Dockery was due a roster bonus. They chose to cut him instead, and the Lions were left with nothing. And despite offering Dockery more money than he later received from the Washington Redskins, Dockery chose D.C., his previous home before he went to Buffalo two seasons ago. Mayhew tried, but forces beyond his control kept the Lions without a starting offensive lineman.

An even larger disappointment perhaps was when Denver backed out of a potential trade for Jay Cutler. The Lions were trying to use their second round pick to trade for New England QB Matt Cassel, who the Lions would have then shipped to Denver in exchange for Cutler, who would instantly become the best quarterback the Lions have had in at least four decades. Denver, though, ultimately decided against moving Cutler, and the Patriots sent Cassel to Kansas City.

So, had Mayhew had his way, the Lions, along with the signings of Johnson, Morris, and King, would have added a top LG and one of the league's best quarterbacks to the Lions. And both were very close to happening, and both failed due to no fault of the Lions. And yet, Mayhew didn't get discouraged, and instead, went back to work. He somehow was able to get something for Jon Kitna, the quarterback the Lions would have cut in the next 48-hours before a roster bonus came due, sending him to Dallas for Henry, who, while aging, was a starter on one of the league's best defenses last season.

Would I have liked to see the Lions acquire more talent so far in free agency? Absolutely. But, it hasn't been for a lack of effort. And I like how Mayhew's mind seems to be working, as he is trying everything possible, and considering every option, to improve the Lions. Let's just hope in the next few days, if the Lions have another blockbuster move lined up, he's actually able to pull it off.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Blogging about Twittering and Facebook Statusing

I have joined the phenomenon which is Twitter. As Sam Seaborn once said on West Wing, let's forget the fact that I'm coming a
little late to the party and embrace the fact that I showed up at all.

I was an early adopter to Facebook, joining back in the days when it was limited to .edu e-mail addresses (almost seems quaint now), but I've been slow to the other platforms which have defined this technological age. I started this blog back almost two years ago now (well after blogs became commonplace -- although, in my defense, I did write for the nascent back in 1997, and created and edited other websites in the late 1990s, which had a lot of blog-like qualities before the term blog was coined). But I never got into "Twittering," figuring instead that anytime I had anything to say, I'd just post it here. And since I like to drone on and use five words when two would do (a habit I'm trying to break when it comes to drafting legal briefs), limiting myself to the 140 words of a Twitter update seemed too constraining. Plus, I always had Facebook status updates to use whenever I did want to say something, succinctly, about what I was up to.

I've had a change of heart though, and now, You can follow me on Twitter. And I have Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill to thank. I never really followed people's "Tweets" on Twitter before I think Ben Smith at Politco (or maybe it was Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic, I forget which) referenced the Senator's Twittering of the negotiations over President Obama's stimulus bill. McCaskill's Twitters were candid (refreshing for a Washington politician) and I became hooked reading them (so much so that I put my following of the Senator's messages on my list of "25 Interesting Things About Me" on Facebook -- Another internet fad I gave into, but in a much quicker fashion). It was about then I realized the value of Twitter, and how entertaining and informative the content people post on Twitter can be. And along with now following Twitter feeds of friends of mine, there's David Gregory of Meet the Press, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and others. Some of the posts are interesting, others just allow you to see the real person behind the column or television show that you read or see. And, I think it can only be good for business. If I feel like I know David Gregory or Chris Cillizza a little bit better as people because I read their Twitter feed, I'm going to be more likely to watch Meet the Press as opposed to This Week or read The Fix as opposed to something else. It's another great example of the internet making our vast world smaller, and actually bringing people together (especially when people like Gregory use their Twitter feed to actively engage with and communicate with viewers or readers).

So by joining the ranks of Twitter, does that mean I am abandoning the Facebook status update? Not at all. While the two appear to serve the same function (Facebook asks 'What Are You Doing Right Now?' while Twitter asks 'What Are You Doing?') I see them as two very different and distinct mediums. Twitter is almost a mini-blog, a stream-of-consciousness collection of thoughts as they hit me. Thoughts that don't merit an entire blog post, but yet, seem worth sharing. I'll continue to use Facebook status updates, on the other hand, for just that, status updates. I like that distinction because I'm friends with hundreds of more people on Facebook than I am on Twitter, so actually using the status update to update my status makes more sense. Plus, I can see updating Twitter multiple times a day -- If I did that on Facebook, it would quickly overwhelm my wall and my friends' Newsfeeds, and that wouldn't be good for anyone. What we need is a Twitter application for Facebook which posts your Twitter feed without clogging your Newsfeed or Wall, and without hijacking your Facebook status updates. I'm sure that's coming (if it doesn't already exist).

So, now I feel my life is almost too integrated with the internet, though I'm sure I'll get over their feeling soon enough. But with a blog column for an internet newspaper, this blog, my Facebook account, and now, Twitter (most of which I can view and update from my Blackberry -- No wonder President Obama refused to give his up) odds are something else will soon come along that will further strengthen this bond. Yet, I don't think that's a bad thing. As I said, there's something about Twittering that connects people, and I'm sure in the future, we'll see the value and utility of those connections expand exponentially.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Welcome to Monday, the New Thursday

Remember was Thursday was "Must See TV"? Didn't seem that long ago. Friends, Seinfeld, ER, Mad About You, a bunch of other random sitcoms that never made it, like Fred Savage's Working and that Christina Applegate sitcom (Jesse maybe?). Thursday's aren't so much good for that anymore. Now all we have (that I watch anyway -- and that's the only thing that's important right?) is Survivor. Sure, other people watch CSI and The Office and 30 Rock (and Grey's Anatomy I guess, but I think most folks, like me, have just become annoyed with that show), but Thursday is certainly a far cry from the appointment television it used to be.

And then, there's Monday. So many shows my DVR is on the verge of over-exhaustion. Here's my schedule for tonight (or say a normal Monday, considering I've got a few other things on my plate tonight -- And I can fit all this in thanks to the magic of my DVR which turns a 60 minute show into 42 commercial free minutes of television:

8:00-8:50 -- Countdown with Keith Olbermann
8:50-9:30 -- House
9:30-10:10 -- 24
10:10-10:30 -- How I Met Your Mother
10:30-11:10 -- Trust Me
11:10-11:50 -- Heroes
11:50-sleep: -- The Tonight Show

Now, of course, I don't have to watch everything in one night, but if I'm home, I might as well gorge on television. But just look at that lineup. A news show, a late night show, three dramas, a dramedy, a comedy, five networks (NBC, MSNBC, CBS, FOX, and TNT).

How can you top Monday? You can't. House, I've already written about. 24, obviously, has had its ups and downs. The shows' fifth season (the Evil President Logan year) was one of the best season's of television I've ever seen. The next season (the Evil Jack's family year) was one of the worst. When I heard the show was bringing Tony Almeida back from the dead, this season, I thought the show was getting desperate. Yet, the explanation for his return is very logical and has been well-handled, and this season has been very good so far. Back to the 24 of old. I am getting a bit tired though of moles in the upper echelon of the White House. 24's done that to death already, and it was a focal point of Prison Break and numerous other shows. It's time to come up with some new obstacle.

Heroes, similarly, has had its ups and downs, but I'm not giving up on it yet, as the new chapter which begins tonight ("Fugitives") looks to recapture the magic of the first season (though every new chapter supposedly was supposed to do that). Bringing in the brilliant Zeljko Ivanek is a great start, as from Damages to John Adams to 24 to The West Wing, Zeljko is great in everything he's in.

The recent success of How I Met Your Mother is gratifying as a longtime fan of the show. It didn't have a lot of critical or rating success in its first years, but CBS stuck with it, and it's the only comedy I watch, and it's both very funny, and yet, a show with a soul at the same time, which isn't just mindless slapstick (though there's some of that too). It continues to grow its audience, and it's hitting its stride (especially when Scrubs' Sarah Chalke guest starred last season into this start of this season).

And Trust/Me, while new, seems to be a show worth watching. I was always a big fan of NBC's Ed, and Tom Cavanaugh brings a lot of Ed Stevens to his role as an ad writer in this buddy dramedy about the modern world of advertising. Plus -- Monday means Headlines on Jay Leno. Can't beat that.

So, I guess my message to the TV executives (who, I'm sure, read my blog on a daily basis): Spread the wealth. Why have all your good shows on Monday? There's tons of bad television on the other six days of the week, save my DVR some work. Or, maybe it's better to have all these shows on the same day. You can watch them all and have the rest of the week TV free (except for NCIS, LOST, Damages, Survivor, The Amazing Race and 60 Minutes of course, plus nightly editions of Hardball, Countdown, Rachel Maddow, and The Tonight Show).

And with that, I need to get back to my television.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zero Republicans Support Saving The Economy From Ruin

Well, okay, maybe the headline overstates things. But, perhaps not by that much. In a vote tonight on the $800-billion-plus stimulus package which, in part, is designed to save us from the second Great Depression, not a SINGLE Republican voted for it.

The Republicans need a public relations lesson. Now, I understand there are things in the stimulus plan the Republicans don't like (or, a lot they don't like). And I understand they weren't happy that the bill was entirely written by House Democrats and they weren't given any input on the bill from Nancy Pelosi and company. And there's something to be said for sticking together and showing the Democrats and the President that they won't be pushed around.

Except, this was entirely the wrong moment and the wrong bill to do something like this. Not that we should be surprised. Earlier this week, before the President ventured to Capitol Hill to meet with Republicans in both the House and Senate to discuss the Stimulus Bill, Republicans already decided they were going to vote against it. This was despite the President being more than willing to listen to and even incorporate some Republican demands -- Such as removing money for family planning and adding an almost $70 million patch to shield middle-income Americans from the Alternative Minimum Tax.

The President, in fact, has gone out of his way to be bi-partisan. He's had Republicans to the White House. He's gone to Republicans on Capitol Hill. And he's having them over again tonight. And even if one disagrees over the Stimulus Bill as written, there's no question everyone agrees (or, at least, every reasonable person agrees) that something has to be done. The American people are overwhelmingly in favor of some sort of stimulus/recovery bill, and now the Republicans look completely obstructionist. Not only did they decide to oppose the bill even before Obama had the chance to talk to them about it, they ALL voted against it. It's just not believable that every single Republican was against the Stimulus Bill. 95%, sure. But 100%? No. This vote was nothing more than a cheap shot at the President because the Republicans are upset with Nancy Pelosi.

Well, the Republicans need to get over it. America is hemorrhaging jobs. Small businesses are closing by the hour and behemoths like Microsoft are laying off thousands of people. We don't have the luxury of our past pettiness. Republicans are in the minority. That means they don't get to write big legislation like the Stimulus Bill anymore. It also means the White House and Democrats don't have to compromise with them at all, at least in the House, where the filibuster doesn't exist. Yet, the White House was more than willing to comprise. And the Republicans responded by poking a stick in his eye. Metaphorically of course (otherwise, I'm sure the Secret Service would have gotten involved).

After all, if this is what Barack Obama gets for trying to be conciliatory towards Republicans, what motivation does he have to continue to compromise? Democrats should have passed a trillion dollar stimulus -- They would have gotten the same exact number of Republican votes.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Eulogy for WDFN, AM 1130, The Fan

While it was a great day for the United States, with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, it is sad day in Detroit. That's because WDFN, Detroit's first all-sports radio station was, for all intents and purposes, eliminated in a nation-wide cost cutting sweep by its parent company, Clear Channel Communication. Former host and program director Gregg Henson warned that this was coming earlier this week, but I didn't want to believe it. Yet, the reality is here, and all of WDFN's local programming, including the Stoney and Wojo show, are history. And all without even the courtesy of a last show for any of WDFN's personalities, like Mike Stone, who has been with the station from day one in July of 1994.

While it seems almost silly to say outloud, WDFN has played an incredibly important role in my life, and I am especially sad to see the station as we know it end. I have listened to the station since its inception, where as an eleven-year-old, I couldn't believe my luck that a radio station which talked sports 24-hours-a-day had started. And so I started listening, to Mike Stone and Rob Parker, and Butch Stearns and Larry Sorensen, and Van Earl Wright, and, of course, the Mega Mega Sports Man Ike Griffen. And I started writing, just for myself, sports "columns" about what was going on in the sports world.

And one Friday afternoon, while at my grandparents for a family dinner, I faxed in one of these "columns" to the afternoon show hosted by Rob Parker and Mike Stone. The column was about the Detroit Lions and how insane it was that despite a blowout loss in the playoffs to Philadelphia, coach Wayne Fontes somehow got a contract extension. As you can see, nothing changes with the Lions. I still remember the thrill I had when Rob Parker read the last line of that column on the air ("Mr. Ford, you could have lost your coach, but you lost your mind instead.") and commented on how clever it was.

I was hooked. After that point, you couldn't get me off the air at WDFN. From calling into Stoney and Parker's show, to impersonating Hulk Hogan on Ike Griffen's show and winning ringside tickets to WCW's Halloween Havoc pay-per-view event at Joe Louis to proposing absurd Detroit Pistons' trades with Art Regner and Gregg Henson on the "Sunday Afternoon Sit-In," I was a regular caller at WDFN. The morning show, then hosted by Butch Stearns and Keith Gave, became my favorite show, and the one I called into the most. And Butch and Keith were great, allowing a twelve-year-old kid to ramble on and on. They kept me on the air sometimes for a half hour or more, taking phone calls, and acting as a de-facto co-host.

And then, one day, it was over. WDFN went through a massive reorganization, and Butch and Keith were unceremoniously let go from the station. Unlike today's bloodletting, though, Butch and Keith were at least allowed to have a final show to say goodbye to their listeners. I was in seventh-grade at the time, and my math teacher, Nicole Champe (who, later, went on to marry WDFN Program Director Gregg Henson) allowed me to go down to the teacher's lounge and call in to Butch and Keith so I could appear on their last show. Later that day, at lunch, I called Keith, who had become somewhat of a mentor to me, and I'll always remember him telling me that while sports journalism was the greatest job in the world, that job security was not something the industry provided. It was something I always kept in mind when deciding whether or not to pursue a sports journalism career full-time.

And the fact that I had that option to consider at all, and the fact that I was able to write for The Detroit Sports Confidential, The Oakland Press, The Detroit Jewish News, Michigan Live (twice), and The Detroit News, would have never happened without WDFN. Without the encouragement of people like Mike Stone, Butch Stearns, Keith Gave, Art Regner, Gregg Henson, Jamie Samulson, Damon Perry, Rob Parker and Bob Wojnowski, who humored a teenager who thought he knew it all about sports by letting him on the air and reading his faxes and columns he sent in, I never would have had that start in sports writing. In fact, my first real "gig," at the Detroit Sports Confidential came about because the editor of the monthly sports magazine heard me co-hosting The Great American Sports Trivia Show, a weekend show WDFN aired back in the mid 1990s. Without the Confidential, there would have been no future columns anywhere else. And there wouldn't have been a job at the Confidential without WDFN.

What this city will also miss, in addition to the radio station itself, the news it broke, and the analysis that it provided, is the yearly Stoney and Wojo radiothon. Each year, the station came together, spearheaded by Mike Stone and Bob Wojnowski, to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Over a million dollars have been raised through Stoney and Wojo's dedication to defeat the disease and I'm proud to have attended and donated to many of the radiothons. I'll always remember the 2000 radiothon, hosted at the Star Southfield. Stoney and Wojo had scheduled a live interview with actress Elizabeth Berkley (of Saved by the Bell fame and Showgirls infamy). I was working on yearbook at the time at North Farmington High School, where Berkley attended for her freshman and sophomore years before she moved to California to become Jessie Spano. So, learning that she was going to be interviewed in the afternoon, I grabbed an old 1988 yearbook from the back office, and headed to the radiothon. Knowing me from my history with the station and sports writing, Stoney and Wojo put a headset on me during Elizabeth's live interview, and we all had a good laugh about her pre-fame days at North Farmington. Afterward, she signed that yearbook for me, and it's one of my favorite stories to tell (as most of my friends know -- most have heard it more than once). If nothing else, the legacy of WDFN should be the money raised to fight cancer, and hopefully, that tradition does not die with the station where it began.

I never worked at WDFN, but today's decision to pull the plug on the station ends a significant chapter in my life. From my twelfth birthday celebrated at WDFN's anniversary party at the Main Event at the Pontiac Silverdome, to the WDFN hockey jersey I still, and will continue, to proudly wear, to all of the columns I have ever written which I owe, at least in part, to WDFN, and to the hosts who have provided me friendship and advice over the years, it is truly an end of an era. And one I will not soon forget.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

I like Jim Schwartz Already

I'll have more thoughts on the hiring of Jim Schwartz later today after I have a chance to listen to his introductory press conference, but I saw this story at Pro Football Talk this morning and it already makes me feel good about the man the Lions have hired to turn the team around.

Now that Jim Schwartz is the new coach of the Detroit Lions, he’ll have to lure assistant coaches to a franchise that has won one playoff game since Dwight D. Eisenhower was running the country.

At the top of his list on the offensive side of the ball, per Chris Mortensen of ESPN, are Broncos quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates and Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Schottenheimer and Bates are two of the most respected, brightest young offensive minds in football. Schottenheimer is a head-coach in the making and Bates is credited by Jay Cutler as helping him become a Pro Bowl quarterback. Now, there's no guarantee the Lions will be able to hire either (Schottenheimer may become the head coach for the New York Jets, and even if he doesn't, the Jets may hold on to him; And Bates not only signed a three-year extension with Denver just a few weeks ago, but he's already being courted by Oakland to run their offense) but the fact that those two are the leaders in the clubhouse for the Lions tells me a lot. It tells me that Schwartz understands that he needs to bring a new perspective to the Lions offense, and it shows me that he isn't afraid to bring in an offensive coordinator who can pretty much run the offense on his own, allowing Schwartz to concentrate on fixing the Lions porous defense.

There are not two better names to hire as offensive coordinator, and the mere fact that Schwartz is focusing on them means he's looking exactaly in the right places to fix the Lions.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Thoughts on the Detroit Lions Coaching Search

As the Detroit Lions coaching search continues, a few quick hits:

* First, I'm happy to see that new General Manager Martin Mayhew, and team President Tom Lewand, are taking their time and talking to everyone. The team has already interviewed at least half a dozen candidates (including defensive coordinators Jim Schwartz (Tennessee Titans), Steve Spagnuolo (New York Giants) and Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings) as well as Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett) and, could expand to include San Diego Charges defensive coordinator Ron Rivera according to NFL Network's Adam Schefter. Talking to as many candidates as possible and not rushing into a decision or falling in love with one candidate to the exclusion of all others (like Matt Millen did with all of his coaches) shows a thoughtfulness and consideration which is a welcome change for this franchise.

* My top candidate, at least for the moment, is Titans' defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who is known for his "Moneyball"-esque analysis of defensive statistics (interceptions, much more than fumbles, are the key to winning and losing, and running on third and short is more successful than putting the ball in the air according to this fascinating profile on Schwartz from the New York Times.) Schwartz has done wonders with the Titans defense, has learned from one of the best coaches in the game, Jeff Fisher, and is ready to become a head coach. And the Lions like him, bringing him in for a second interview Monday, which will include owner William Clay Ford, Sr.

* But, I have my concerns too. While I understand the need to rebuild a Lions defense which is in desperate need of an overhaul, I can't help but marvel at what the Denver Broncos have been able to do. After stunning the football world by firing Mike Shanahan, the Broncos engaged in a whirlwind coaching search just like the Lions. And given the team's history of success, and the fact that the Broncos were interviewing many of the same candidates the Lions are looking at (like Frazier, Garrett, and Dolphins assistant Todd Bowles), it would be hard not to look at who Denver hired, and say, odds are, they are more likely to make the right hire. And they by-passed all of the Lions candidates (not even speaking to Schwartz, which honestly, does frighten me a little -- if he's such a sure-fire candidate, why didn't Denver even talk to him?) and hired New England Patriots young wiz-kid Josh McDaniels. Now, I'm not sold on McDaniels for a few reasons. The first being his age (32). While I don't think that'll be a handicap in Denver, which is much closer to turning back into a winner than the Lions, when you have a mess like you have in Detroit, I'd want someone with a bit more experience building a franchise. And the second being the very shaky history Bill Belichick's assistants have had as head coaches (two, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel, have been fired, though Mangini was recently hired to replace Crennel in Cleveland, and the third, Charlie Weiss, has been a failure at Notre Dame). But, I have to say, the fact that Denver interviewed Leslie Fazier and Jason Garrett, and chose McDaniels tells me something. And McDaniels' first move as head coach does too. According to Adam Schfter again, he's hiring former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan to run his defense. A brilliant move. Nolan is a master defensive coordinator who has the experience to run Denver's defense on his own, allowing McDaniels to concentrate on Jay Cutler and Denver's offense. It's practically getting two head coaches for the price of one. Now, these kinds of arrangements don't always work out (see Detroit's ill-fated attempt to turn its offense over to Mike Martz so Rod Marinelli could run Detroit's defense as a perfect example of that) but something tells me, it will in Denver.

And with no knowledge of who would run the Lions offense if the team were to hire any of the defensive coaches the team is currently focused on, I can't help but look at Denver and ask, what do they know that the Lions don't? And I'm reminded of the answer Tim Matheson's character of John Hoynes gave on West Wing when he was asked that question by an inquiring Toby Ziegler: "The total tonnage of what I know that you don't could stun a team of oxen in its tracks. Goodnight."

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

What I'm Reading - The Know It All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

I've always wanted to write a book. Back, years ago, when I was a teenage sports columnist for The Oakland Press and the Detroit News I had a vision of writing some kind of a sports book. Not sure on what exactaly, but something interesting. I never got very far though. I convinced my parents one summer that instead of getting one of those summer jobs most kids get (like the one I had at Staples or Sam Goody the year before -- As an aside, working at Sam Goody, the mall CD store which may not even exist anymore, when you know next to nothing about music, really doesn't work) I'd write a book instead. I'm still working on that.

In 2002 (or 2003, my computer isn't quite sure, and neither am I) I started on "Sterling Sharpe, Wide Open in the Endzone -- One Superfans Journal of the Lovable Losers Known As The Detroit Football Lions." Who knew that six (or seven) years later, they'd really become losers. I got through an introduction (which, ironically, as I look back at it now, started with "I’ve always wanted to write a book", which shows how little has changed with me, or the Lions, in six years) which explained my passion for the Lions, and why I felt qualified at such a young age to write a book about the failings of a franchise which had been a laughingstock for more years than I had been alive. I also got about a page into a prologue, which I titled "The Draft." Maybe one day I'll pick it back up again.

But this blog entry isn't about my writing as much as it is about A.J. Jacobs bestseller The Know It All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. As those long-time blog readers know, I don't read a lot (or, any, really) fiction, so this kind of book is what qualifies for me as "light reading." Over the summer and early fall of 2008 I was on an American History kick, mainly focused around the Revolutionary period. And after two John Adams biographies, a Jefferson biography, and two Joseph Ellis bestsellers on stories from the American founding, I moved on to the 1800s, and 1812: The War That Forged a Nation (good, but too battle intensive and full of military strategy for my tastes) and Lincoln. I was going to start Team of Rivals, but following the 2008 general election ate up a lot of my time, and then I watched the entire first season of Mad Men on Blu-Ray, then got obsessed with House repeats (as I wrote about last week) so I haven't read much in a while. And getting back into the swing of things with something entertaining and fun seemed like a good start.

The book is about magazine columnist and editor A.J. Jacobs' quest to become the smartest person in the world by reading the entire contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica from start to finish. And what may sound dry in description is anything but in print. Jacobs has a very conversational writing style (very similar to what I hope the writing style of this blog is, and very similar to what I would imagine a book I would write would read like). Aside from learning some of the more humorous tidbits Jacobs picked up through his quest (so the book is educational, and like a shorter, punchier, wittier version of Cliff Notes) you can also read about the puzzled and mystified reactions of Jacobs' friends, family, and co-workers to his new found knowledge. So far it's been a very entertaining book, and I should make a decent amount of progress on it before the NFL games start in about an hour and a half.

And because I'm enjoying it, it likely means the purchase of Jacobs follow-up book, "The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible." Because just what I need are more books. Hey. Maybe that's an idea for my book. "One Man's Humble Quest to Read All of the Books He Bought Foolishly Believing He'd Ever Have Time to Read Them All." Nah.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

The "National Title" Game? Yeah, Not So Much

I continue to be very annoyed as the hype-machine churns towards tonight's Florida-Oklahoma matchup. Mainly because people keep referring to the game as the "National Title" game. It's not. It's the "BCS Championship Game." No more, no less. It certainly is not the "National Championship" game, as it doesn't include the team that I would vote #1 in the country: Utah.

All Utah did was be the only team in the entire country to win every single game it played. Starting with a romp in the Big House over Michigan, to it's domination of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, there is no question Utah should end the season as National Champion. It won't, of course, but it won't be because of a deficient resume. It beat 4 Top 25 teams, including a 48-24 drubbing of BYU, and a clubbing of Alabama in what was practically a road game. You know, Alabama, the team that was #1 in the country for a significant part of the season? Completely over matched from the start, in a game lost 31-17, and it wasn't even that close. Oregon State, the only team in the country to beat vaunted USC, also lost to Utah. The only real question is, how can this team not be #1 overall at the end of the season?

But, they won't be. Florida or Oklahoma undoubtedly will. Laughable that Oklahoma could win the National Title, despite losing to Texas, on a neutral field no less, but that's been beaten to death, so I won't go on about it here. Not to mention USC, who also has a claim to a #1 overall ranking. But that's what the BCS is designed for: many teams, each with an equally legitimate argument for why they should win the national title, and with no resolution at all.

Oh wait, that's not what the BCS was designed to do? My mistake.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What I'm Watching -- USA Network (More specifically, House and NCIS repeats)

Ed Note: Yes, I'm back. I missed blogging. Too much to talk about I guess.

Little did I appreciate syndication until, oh, about two months ago. Most of the time, when a television show had gone into syndication, it didn't really affect my life any. Sure, I'd catch a Seinfeld episode when nothing else was on, but most shows in syndication that I'd flip to I'd already seen every episode of.

That's until I started watching House. Yes, I know I'm late to the party. I don't know why I didn't watch the show from the start, but I have a very vague recollection of seeing previews for the show when it first started, and for some reason, I thought it was a science-fiction show. Probably because it was sold as a doctor solving impossible-to-solve (read, or at least I believed,: other-wordly) cases. Ironically, basically, I thought House was Fringe. I don't think it helped that the one episode I later did see, probably a year later or so, was when Omar Epps' Dr. Foreman was going insane due to contracting a rare disease from a patient (which somehow confirmed in my mind that the show was not anything I'd be interested in watching). And besides, I had a dozen other shows I watched, no problem.

Well, with most of those shows (West Wing, The Practice, Las Vegas, Jack & Boddy, Ed, and Alias, among others) going off the air, I gave House a shot last year (the addition of Olivia Wilde to the cast probably didn't hurt either). And, like most others, I was hooked almost immediately. And, luckily, this fall is exactaly when the USA Network started airing House episodes in syndication, every day. With House marathons practically every weekend. At one point, I had over 25 episodes of House on my DVR. And then, thanks to a week of DirecTV outages (don't ask), I caught up faster than I thought. Having now seen almost every House episode (or, at least, every old episode USA Network has aired, which is most all of them), I'm a true believer. I don't know what I've been missing for all these years. And with House now on Monday's before 24, I never need to leave my couch. House, 24, the 10:00 Countdown with Keith Olbermann repeat, How I Met Your Mother on my DVR from 11 to 11:30, watch the Leno monologue and Headlines, and then fall asleep. That's a great night of television right there.

So, given how the USA Network came through with House, I decided to give another show a chance that I've never seen but everyone else seems to love. Over the Christmas holiday, in between two days of House marathons, the cable network aired a full day of NCIS episodes. I didn't know much about NCIS other than it was a spin-off of another show I never watched (JAG), it was sort-of-like CSI, and it starred Mark Harmon, who not only had a great four-episode run as a secret service agent on The West Wing, but who is married to Pam Dauber, who was Mindy on Mork and Mindy, and more importantly, went to North Farmington High School, of which I am also a proud alum (Ed Note: Wow, that was a long sentence, even for me. I'm a bit rusty at blogging obviously.) And I'm hooked. Now that I've watched all of House that USA has to offer, DVRing multiple episodes of NCIS a day should give me plenty to watch in case my satellite ever goes out again.

Of course, it would probably be better if instead of watching House and NCIS I got back to reading the numerous books I have on my list to read (I started Team of Rivals after finishing my first Lincoln biography, Lincoln, and need to get back to it) but I'm enjoying what USA Network has to offer for the time being. And with 24, LOST, and Damages set to make returns in the next three weeks, something tells me my TV will continue to get a workout. Thank God for HD.

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