Greg Eno

Archive for December, 2007|Monthly archive page

The Lions Can’t Compete, And That’s The Biggest Indictment Of Them All

In Lions, NFL on December 31, 2007 at 3:52 pm

In all of professional sports, there are plenty of reasons why a franchise cannot get over the hump and have an opportunity to play for the whole enchilada. Bad luck. Injuries. Poor decisions. Free agent busts. A negative culture.

But there is an even greater indictment of an organization, and it can be said of the Detroit Lions today — as it could be said of them in too many of the past 50 years.

They cannot compete. And I can’t think of a worse, more damning statement to levy upon a professional sports team, but there you have it.

The Lions are woefully shy in talent, coaching, and above all, direction from the top.

None of what I’ve rapped onto this keyboard is news to you, I’m sure, but I just want to make sure folks don’t think that simply changing some parts here and there is going to get it done.

I’ve written it before, but it bears repeating. The Lions will not — repeat, NOT — make any headway until this infrastructure is torn apart, from top to bottom, and all of its key parts replaced.

The Lions need their Kenny Holland, their Dave Dambrowski, their Joe Dumars, in the worst way. I’ve mentioned Mike Holmgren, but that was before I knew that Bill Parcells was making himself available. That the Lions didn’t at least place a phone call to Parcells’s people is unconscionable. But that ship has sailed, and there are plenty of other good, solid football people that would die for a chance to right the Lions’ ship.

Coach Rod Marinelli, I’m afraid, must be sacrificed along with all the others. Talk right now is that offensive coordinator Mike Martz will be jettisoned. Fine. But not nearly enough. And what of the porous defense of coordinator Joe Barry, the coach’s son-in-law? That was far more damaging than the shenanigans Martz pulled — and he pulled plenty.

Marinelli, in my mind, is writing his own termination papers with the statements he makes. Every time the Lions lose — and when they lose, they lose BIG — he confesses to an abject failure in all areas of football: offense, defense, special teams, and worst of all, effort.

“It’s on me,” is his new favorite comment. It’s admirable that he wants to fall on the sword, but sooner or later the person admitting to all this derelict in duty must be shown the door.

Again, not enough. President Matt Millen, clearly, isn’t cutting it. If Bill Ford allows Millen to hire a fourth head coach in the face of such a hideous won/loss record, then that surely must be off the charts in terms of continued faith in a front office individual. Only the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA, who have somehow kept Elgin Baylor employed for so long, could rival that.

I almost hate to write about the dismissal of Millen, because a) it doesn’t appear to be imminent; and b) how many more “Fire Millen” rants can you read or hear, anyway? But this opinion isn’t just about releasing Millen — it’s about what to do afterward.

I’ll say it again. Millen’s greatest failure happened in the wake of taking the Lions’ job to begin with. He didn’t surround himself with competent, experienced football people. He should NEVER have hired a rookie head coach — the “blind leading the blind” syndrome. A search committee should have been put together, and someone with NFL head coaching experience should have been brought in. OK, fine. That’s in the past. But here’s what to do going forward.

As I said, Bill Parcells isn’t the only human being who knows a thing or two about finding talent in the NFL. So stop crying over his hiring by the Miami Dolphins. That’s water under the bridge. Look instead in Indianapolis, or New England, or Seattle (Holmgren), or even Dallas. Maybe a few other places, where they’ve either enjoyed sustained success, or have demonstrated an ability to drag a franchise out of the muck. Look at what’s happening in Cleveland, for example.

Raid those front offices. Find someone who will lead the Lions in terms of drafting, acquiring pro personnel, and selecting a new head coach. That person should, in turn, delegate those responsibilities to proven NFL people, and oversee them.

Marinelli propped DT Cory Redding up as his pet project. Got him a boat load of money in the process. Marinelli’s pedigree is the defensive line. He supposedly had a huge hand in making the Tampa Bay defense so fearsome.

Yet here’s what he got from Redding this year: one sack. One.

Again, the coach is doing a great job — of writing his own epitaph. Another thing that’s “on him.”

It’s not enough to replace Rod Marinelli. Only a fool would think that that is the panacea.

A fool like …. Bill Ford Sr., perhaps?

Thursday’s Things

In Thursday's Things on December 27, 2007 at 6:59 pm

(every Thursday at OOB I rant in list fashion. Last week it was Things Rich Rodriguez Should Know About U-M Football)

Other Things The Chicago Bulls Need To Do To Regain Respectability (Besides Firing Scott Skiles)

1. Activate Scott Skiles

2. See if Scottie Pippen is still interested in that comeback attempt, after all

3. Order mandatory ‘fros on every player — even the white guys

4. Feature Ben Wallace more in the offense

5. Move to the Eastern Confer — oh … never mind

6. Every Ben Wallace free throw made is now worth three points

7. Hire Devin Hester to lead the fast break

8. Eddie Sutton isn’t available, but how about Dick Motta?

9. Treat all visiting clubs to a free night of drinking on Rush Street the night before games

10. See if Roger Clemens can score them some ‘roids

11. Change the new PR strategy to “What happens to the Bulls in Chicago, STAYS in Chicago”

While Their Competition Crumbles Around Them, The Pistons Stand Tall And Rock Solid

In NBA, Pistons on December 26, 2007 at 6:02 pm

Taking a walk through the NBA’s Eastern Conference graveyard…

There lies the Miami Heat, former NBA champions. Once the only serious challengers to the Pistons for conference supremacy. See their grave marker — the one that says “We flamed out too soon.” Don’t walk too close, lest you disturb the fresh soil.

Over here lies the Chicago Bulls — once up-and-coming heirs. A signing of free agent Ben Wallace was to make them elite and conference dynamos. Now their burial plot includes that of their ex-coach, who was just lowered into the ground on Monday.

Here we have the Cleveland Cavaliers, who deteriorated quickly. No LeBron James for a few weeks, and so they proved to be about as deep as a children’s wading pool. Better get out the stethoscope, though — for there may be a heartbeat inside that casket after all.

A little further along and you’ll see the headstone belonging to the Indiana Pacers, who at one time gave the Pistons fits when Detroit was on its way to the NBA Finals. Then Reggie Miller retired, Ron Artest went sideways and was traded, and then they dismantled the team, pretty much. Beneath these daisies lie a mostly-decomposed corpse of a conference threat.

And here, on our way out of the cemetery, lies the New Jersey Nets. They, once upon a time, represented the conference two years in a row in the NBA Finals. Somewhere around here floats the ghost of one Brian Scalabrine, who torched the Pistons one night in the playoffs, back in 2004. But the Nets are as stiff as a board now, and you won’t have to worry about them poking their head up thru the ground.

Only two are left standing now, for all intents and purposes: the resilient, Freddy Krueger-like Pistons, and the re-animated Boston Celtics. The Orlando Magic may now take a step backwards, thank you — for they are not to be included in this select group.

It’s amazing how far the Eastern Conference powers have fallen, and how quickly. They keep toppling, and the Pistons just look down at them all, both bemused and appreciative at what is going on around them.

Next up for the Detroiters are the Nets, who have a decent trio in Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Vince Carter, but who yet cannot even touch the .500 mark. Once, a Pistons-Nets regular season game was worth checking out. Now, it only proves interesting if the Nets can manage to make a game of it — or possibly get lucky enough to win.

Clearly it’s the Celtics who now are the Pistons’ biggest challengers, and that’s a nice, retro way to ring in 2008. The Celts invade The Palace a week from Saturday, a couple weeks after the Pistons drew first blood in Boston. It’ll be one of those rare NBA regular season tilts in January that you’ll want to sit through.

If the Pistons’ continued success — when all their challengers have fallen like dominoes — isn’t enough to convince you that they’re one of the best organizations in pro basketball, then you’ll just never get it. It takes more than just talent to remain the cream. You need direction, smart decisions, commitment, and, admittedly, some luck. The Pistons have had all of those things, and today they sit at 20-7 — a 60-win pace, when many of their contemporaries can’t see .500 without a telescope.

So remember all this the next time you yelp that the Pistons haven’t “done anything lately.”

They’ve done plenty.

Wish List Almost Fulfilled — Except For Catcher Of The Future

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2007 at 7:55 pm

There have been plenty of early Christmas gifts for the Tigers and their fans since the 2007 season ended. Edgar Renteria, Jacque Jones, Miguel Cabrera, and Dontrelle Willis have been added in trades. Kenny Rogers was re-signed, and Willis was inked to an extension.

But at the risk of sounding greedy and unappreciative, I’ll make another plea to Santa Claus, er, GM Dave Dombrowski.

Where, oh where, is the Tigers’ catcher of the future?


Rodriguez keeps himself in marvelous shape, but the calendar stops for no man

This isn’t the first time I’ve asked such a question. But the answer hasn’t presented itself, and I think it’s something — here I am, sounding like a broken record — that needs to be addressed.

Pudge Rodriguez has turned 36. That’s 66 in catcher years. Remember, the so-called experts warned of Rodriguez’s age when the Tigers signed him in early 2004 — when Pudge was 32. Signs have creeped in that the calendar is catching up with him, though Rodriguez keeps himself in excellent condition. Never have I been in the Tigers clubhouse and NOT seen Pudge giving himself a strenuous workout before a game in the team’s weight room.

But sooner or later, even the most well-conditioned athlete has to bow to Father Time. And at 36, that time surely must be on the horizon for Pudge.

Vance Wilson’s absence in 2007 due to injury was greater than many would admit, or care to notice. But Wilson is among the game’s top backup catchers, and no disrespect to Mike Rabelo, but the Tigers could have used Wilson — even for half the season — on many, many occasions.

Yet Wilson is not the long-term answer. He’ll be 35 in March. No bright catching prospects exist in the Tigers system; it’s the one area where the team is deficient in young talent.

My guess is that the Tigers will utilize another package of prospects and young major league talent to secure a catcher in his late-20s — probably in 2009. Unless a free agent becomes available. Rodriguez could at that point become a DH or a part-time first baseman.

I know it’s too late for this Christmas, Santa Dave, but don’t forget the part of the wish list that hasn’t been crossed off yet.

Woody Demonstrates Lions’ Skewed View Of NFL Life

In Lions, NFL on December 24, 2007 at 6:23 pm

Lions guard-tackle Damien Woody summed up, perfectly, the misguided mindset of his team after yesterday’s 25-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

“We haven’t won in a month and a half,” Woody said. “So it (win) came at a good time. Right around the holidays, so I feel good for everybody.”

NOW? NOW is a good time for this win?

What about in Arizona? Or at home against the Giants? Or in Minnesota? Or even when Dallas was in town?

All of those, I submit, would have been a better time for the Lions’ seventh win of 2007. Not yesterday, the Lions already mathematically and systematically eliminated from playoff contention.

But hey — it’s the holidays so it’s great to win.

And that, dear readers, is why the Lions won’t ever be successful — unless there’s a complete and total personality transplant.

You wouldn’t hear Rasheed Wallace — or any of his teammates — utter such a thing, about feeling good to win after a six-game losing streak crippled the team’s playoff chances. You couldn’t get such a quote from Nick Lidstrom, or Curtis Granderson. Nor from any other player who plays for any other sports franchise that has any sort of culture of winning in its blood.

I’m not dogging Damien Woody for feeling relief after winning for the first time since November 4. But to say that it comes “at a great time” is asking us to suspend disbelief yet again when it comes to the Lions.

Fitting, too, was the play of Shaun Rogers — who I definitely dogged yesterday. Fitting that he should burst out and leap from the side of a milk carton and into the fray, when the games are now meaningless. Did his solid play come at a “great time”, too?

No, there was nothing great, good, or even tolerable about the timing of win no. 7 this season. It should have come weeks ago, and if just one measly win had been forged since the 44-7 romp over the Denver Broncos, the Lions would probably have something to play for in Green Bay next Sunday other than a .500 record.

Actually, since the Lions never win in Green Bay, probably two victories since the Denver game would have been needed to maybe give the Honolulu Blue a cushion, allowing them to lose to the Packers and still be in the playoffs. But Lucky Seven didn’t come until the record was 6-8, and so there you have it.

I even wonder if we wouldn’t be talking about a Cal-like win by the Chiefs had their ball carrier not dove into the turf, inexplicably, at the Lions’ 30-yard line during the game’s final play. A couple more laterals and … who knows?

The Lions finished 5-3 at home. Whoop-de-do. They started 4-0 at Ford Field, so even their home record is a microcosm of the season at large.

I also know this: there are a whole bunch of chortling fans out there today — the ones who told us this would happen, even when the Lions sat pretty at 6-2. Sports talk radio was crawling with them.

“7-9! They need to prove more to me!”, was a typical call.

Those folks were right.

How about this gem from earlier this season, courtesy of receiver Mike Furrey.

“The Lions are 4-2! Y’all can kiss my ass!”

It was meant for the reporters, yelled in the locker room after the win over Tampa Bay.

OK, Mike. Ready?

The Lions are 7-8! You can plant one between my back pockets, too.

Give Big Baby His Rattle And Send Him Home (And Not Just Him)

In Lions, NFL, Shaun Rogers on December 23, 2007 at 5:46 pm

The desperate pass landed square into the mammoth torso of Shaun Rogers, and the football stuck to him like Velcro. Off he went, rambling some 60 yards or so toward the Denver Broncos goal line, falling into the end zone, his 360 pounds (or more) crashing onto the turf. He was gassed, but he had scored. The crowd roared, and Ford Field was rocking with Rogers’ score putting an exclamation mark on an improbable 44-7 win.

That was November 4. And Rogers is still gassed, seven weeks later.

They call Rogers, the Lions’ defensive tackle, Big Baby. I’m not sure how he got that moniker, but there is something frightfully ironic about it. Somewhere in the barrel of goo that is him, there’s a joke to be made about that nickname. But the joke, I’m afraid, is on all of us. Has been for quite a while now.

Shaun Rogers was one of President Matt Millen’s rare competent draft picks, back in 2001. Ever since he entered the league, Rogers has, when he has cared to, been a dominant force along the line of scrimmage. He just hasn’t cared to all that much, or all that often. Now it seems evident that he simply can’t anymore, this season.

The Lions have not gone on this six-game losing skid because of Rogers, that’s for sure. But he hasn’t done them any favors, either. He reached the zenith of his season in that Broncos game, when he was that player that he could sometimes be – a beast inside, making tackles, disrupting plays.

In a fit of excitement, having been duped by Rogers in the Denver game, I served up some sugar about Big Baby the next day on the Internet, for all who cared to visit to lap up:

Shaun “Big Baby” Rogers is beginning to play the kind of defensive football that gets people into Pro Bowls unanimously and makes quarterbacks and offensive coordinators curl into the fetal position…
Watching the 350+ pound Rogers racing toward pay dirt, the football looking like an M&M in his hands, while the crowd swelled and a roar grew with each of his pounding strides, was a watershed moment, at least in the Matt Millen Era. Rogers was among the first players Millen drafted, in 2001, and here he was, a behemoth running like a DB toward the end zone. The Lions already had the game well in hand, but Rogers’ touchdown will be one talked about for years.

And as if all that blather wasn’t embarrassing enough, there was this line:

Big Baby could own Detroit.

What a fool I was!

Eight games is half a season. The Lions moved to 6-2 with their lopsided win over the Broncos, who were in disarray at the time. Another decent half, and the Lions would make the playoffs.
How could they not, with Big Baby shaking his rattle so?

Six losses later, the Lions’ season is over. The fact that the end has come in December as opposed to October, as in previous campaigns, is not cause for celebration.

Neither is the deterioration of Rogers’ overweight, woefully out of shape body.


Rogers, winded as usual; this may have been taken after the second play of the game for all we know

Every week, Rogers gets shuttled in and out of the lineup more and more often. It’s impossible not to figure out what’s going on. Big Baby needs another nap.

Coach Rod Marinelli tried like the dickens to ensure that this wouldn’t happen. He knew that, last season, Rogers was carrying too much girth. So in training camp, he allowed Rogers to work at his own pace, in his own way. Perhaps, the coach reasoned, this wide berth would keep Rogers fresher as the season wore on. Marinelli made the mistake of treating Big Baby like a grown man.

Oh, Rogers is grown, alright – fully grown, and then some. He’s a shameful excuse for a football player right now – stealing his paycheck while he can barely keep upright for more than three or four plays in a row. He peaked in his team’s eighth game, and has been as invisible as a 360-pound fraud can be, ever since.

“I’m in a slump,” was how Rogers recently and casually tried to explain away his disappearing act since the Denver game.

It’s more plausible that the fact that you can barely fit him into a piano box is what’s causing Rogers’s hideous play of late.

Yet the Lions, and even some of their fans, seem reluctant to bid farewell to Rogers. They chew on their fingernails, afraid that as soon as he’s out of Detroit, Shaun Rogers will become a consistent, useful force for another NFL team.

I’ll take my chances.

Truth? I don’t care if Rogers turns into the second coming of Deacon Jones, Reggie White, and Bruce Smith wrapped into one. I don’t care if he makes the Pro Bowl every year until he retires. He needs to go. Goodness gracious, accountability needs to start somewhere.

If that’s all that’s keeping him here – the fear that he could fulfill his potential elsewhere – then that’s not enough justification. What keeps a football player on your roster should be what he’s done – not what he could do for someone else.

The Lions are paying Rogers a lot of dough to gasp and wheeze on every other play. They may as well pay him some more to leave town entirely.

It’s not just Rogers, so you know. He’s only a symptom. It’s clear that the Lions need to start all over again – blowing this thing up. Nobody should be untouchable, save perhaps the rookie receiver Calvin Johnson. Millen, Marinelli, and everyone in between should be shown the door. It pains me to say that about the coach, because I truly believed that the Lions had found the right man when they hired Marinelli from Tampa Bay two years ago.

But every week, Marinelli falls on the sword, taking the blame for his team’s lack of readiness to play that Sunday’s game. “It’s on me,” is his new favorite line in describing the latest massacre played out on the football field.

Then if it’s always on you, coach, I suppose you should be replaced.

Get rid of them all, I say.

Bill Parcells was just hired by the Miami Dolphins as an executive. It was reported that the Atlanta Falcons had tried to hire him, too, but the Dolphins got the nod. The Dolphins are 1-13. Yet Parcells saw something in Miami.

The Lions didn’t place a telephone call, despite presumably knowing that the well-regarded Parcells was shopping his services. There are those who say that Parcells could have been had, if the Lions had cared to get involved. They are 30-80 in the Matt Millen Era.

They deserve Shaun Rogers, come to think of it.

The Hidden Microphone: Stram Wore It Well In Super Bowl IV

In Hank Stram, Kansas City Chiefs on December 21, 2007 at 4:59 pm

If ever an NFL head coach was made for NFL Films microphones, it was Hank Stram.

Stram, the late coach and TV and radio analyst, was the Kansas City Chiefs’ first-ever coach, back when the team played in Dallas in the AFL under the name Texans. He was a close friend of owner Lamar Hunt (himself recently deceased), and was the franchise’s only coach until he was dismissed following the 1974 season — after 15 years of service.

Stram’s on-field trademarks were the rolled up program he kept clutched in his hand, and the staid coat and tie he wore — often with a red vest underneath. Sometimes he donned a hat, too.

But another of Stram’s traits was that he was one of the most affable coaches in league history. It also served him well in the broadcast booth.

All this is why the marriage of Stram and NFL Films was a rock solid one.

The most famous sound bites occurred in Super Bowl IV — when Stram’s Chiefs took on the Minnesota Vikings in January, 1970.

Perhaps you’ve seen the clips. One of the most famous was when a crucial first down measurement was performed directly in front of the Chiefs sidelines.

“No, he’s alright!,” Stram shouts when Vikings players protest the placement of the ball for the measurement. Then, after the referee signals “first down,” Stram launches into his most famous sound bite ever.

“Thatta boy! You marked it good! You marked it good! Helluva job! You marked it good! That’s a great job! You marked it good!”

But the most precious bite happens when a side judge zings Stram wonderfully.

“How can all of you miss a play like that?,” Stram asks the zebra.

“What play, coach?”

“The ball arrived before we made contact, and — “

“Oh,” the official interrupts. “I thought you meant the play where you’re standing on the field illegally.”

“No!,” Stram says, then adds, “WHAT?”

Good stuff.


Doesn’t get much more enduring than this: Stram being carted off the field after Super Bowl IV

Stram’s Chiefs won that day, evening the AFL’s record against the NFL at 2-2 in Super Bowls. The leagues would merge the following season. Another famous image is that of Stram, still clutching his rolled up program, grinning broadly on the shoulders of his players as he’s carried off the field.

Stram went on to coach the New Orleans Saints in 1976, and he seemed to have some tools. The QB was Archie Manning, the running backs were “Thunder and Lightning” — Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath — and the situation looked promising in the bayou. But Manning missed the season with a shoulder injury, the receiving corps was weak, and the defense was very suspect. After just two seasons in New Orleans, Stram was canned. TV and radio beckoned.

But unbeknownst to him, Hank Stram’s communications career got a start when he donned a microphone in Super Bowl IV.

Thursday’s Things

In Thursday's Things on December 20, 2007 at 3:43 pm

(every Thursday at OOB I rant in list fashion. Last week it was Things That Have to Happen for the Lions to Make the Playoffs)

Things That Rich Rodriguez Should Know About U-M Football

1. The Big House isn’t a state penitentiary — unless the University of Florida cames to visit.

2. That’s the word “hail” in the fight song lyrics — not “hell” with a West Virginia twang.

3. The excuses for losing will always include a confused defense, an erratic offense, and officiating — not necessarily in that order.

4. No, even the natives don’t know what the heck that is on the football helmets.

5. Please win the opener, because Bo Schembechler’s grave is only now starting to come to a rest after the Appalachian State loss last September.

6. Les WHO?

7. Greg WHO? (insert either Schiano or Eno here)

8. There ARE similarities between Michigan and West Virginia. In WV, you have dark, cold, deep, spooky mines. In Michigan, you have the walk from Joe Louis Arena to your car.

9. Please have patience inserting your new offense. At U-M, the only “spread” they know is the pre-game tailgate.

10. Don’t worry so much about beating Ohio State, so long as you run a clean, ethical program. And while you’re at it, don’t be signing any mortgage in Ann Arbor longer than five years.

11. I’d rethink that whole “Coach Rod” nickname if I were you; at least wait until the Lions coach gets the ziggy.

12. Double-check to see whether Tom Brady has any weeks of eligibility left. You never know.

Institutions Of Higher Earning

In college football, NCAA, University of Michigan football on December 19, 2007 at 3:18 pm

(note: this column was written Saturday, before U-M hired Rich Rodriguez. It was supposed to run on Sunday)

Wanna know when a college football coach is thinking of leaving the school he’s coaching at currently? When he says things like, “I’m very happy where I’m at. I have no desire to leave.” Then you know you got him dead to rights.

This is the time of the year when you can cue the phonograph and begin the game of musical chairs in campus football – between the regular season and the bowl games. Those fired have been canned weeks ago. Those mulling a change of venue are in the peak time of mulling. Some coaches drop their current employer like a bad habit and flee to greener pastures – pun intended. And those schools without a coach can find themselves engaged in very public, very awkward searches. But more about Michigan later.

It’s been going on for decades, this blarney from the college football coach.

Why, in our backyard practically – in Ann Arbor and East Lansing – one man rose above the whispers and rumors, while the other issued denials until the jig was up.

In the early 1980s, Texas A&M was very sweet on Bo Schembechler, who was in the prime of adding to his legend at Michigan. The courtship started the usual way – thru hush-hush conversations and rampant speculation.

But Bo would have none of the media circus that can surround such wooing. Before we knew what hit us, Schembechler went public, spilling the beans: Texas A&M had come calling, and was waving some serious bucks in his face. And this: Yes, I considered it, Bo said. Seriously. But in the end, he couldn’t bear to leave Ann Arbor and his kids. Not even for more dough.

The story had ended not long after it began.

A couple years earlier, Darryl Rogers was coaching at Michigan State. He was a popular flavor, having lifted the once-moribund Spartans to a co-Big Ten title in 1978. He had beaten Michigan that year, not long after calling the folks in Ann Arbor “arrogant asses.” Other schools looked at Rogers and got some ideas.


Rogers, presumably NOT cleaning out his office in East Lansing (but we know better)

One of those institutions was Arizona State.

But unlike what Schembechler would do later, Rogers went into denial mode – once the story broke that the college in the desert was showing some interest, that is.

The denials were rather stringent in their tone – almost defiant. No way, Rogers told us, would he ever leave MSU for Arizona State University.

No way.

The story picked up some steam, and the cat seemed to be out of the bag: Rogers would be, indeed, the new coach at ASU.

But the coach still declared the reports fiction.

He did so, in fact, until just hours before he stepped onto a podium on the Sun Devil campus, introduced as ASU’s new coach.

It was wondered how much longer Rogers felt he could get away with his denials, which were considerably less truthful than the stories he was refuting.

Several years later, in 1985, the Lions, it was reported, were seriously considering plucking a college coach to lead their team. Monte Clark had been given the ziggy after seven years. Maybe the new coach, he of the college pedigree, could bring the team out of its morass.

But the college coach pooh-poohed the rumors. He was perfectly happy where he was, thank you. No way would he be leaving for the NFL, to coach the Detroit Lions.

No way.

One day after feeding us some more denials, Darryl Rogers stood before the lights and cameras at the Pontiac Silverdome, grinning that crooked grin of his, accepting the offer of a clearly misguided Bill Ford Sr.

One afternoon at practice, three years and some change later, Rogers would stare at the ceiling in the Dome and wonder aloud, “What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?”

I thought of Rogers as I watched the Bobby Petrino ordeal play out.

Petrino, happily ensconced as the football coach at Louisville University this time last year, issued the typical denials as rumors bobbed to the surface that the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons were knocking on his door. The usual “I’m happy here” blather.

Then he went and signed with the Falcons – a five-year commitment.

I’m not sure what he told Falcons owner Arthur Blank, but it must have been quite a bill of goods, because there were many more, better qualified candidates than Petrino for that job.
Last Monday night, Petrino coached the Falcons to a very uninspiring loss on national television. His record sat at 3-10.

The next morning, he was on a plane to Arkansas, being introduced as the Razorbacks’ new coach. Just like that.

He left a brief letter in the stalls of his players. It had all the warmth of an employer’s rejection note.

Bobby Petrino had quit on his team, and had fed a bunch of blarney to his owner.

The comments from the Falcons players included words like “classless” and “not what a man does” and “I have no respect for someone like that.” Some of them were uttered even as the locker room TV beamed images of a smiling Petrino at an Arkansas pep rally.

Now I also think of Nick Saban, who assured the Miami Dolphins last winter that he was going to be their coach for a good long while. Less than 24 hours after the most recent “assurance”, Saban took the job at Alabama. Among those blasting him for his blarney was longtime Dolphins coach Don Shula – whose son David was the one being replaced by Saban at ‘Bama.

Michigan, twice rejected – that we know of – is now wining and dining Rich Rodriguez of West Virginia. Unfortunately for the Maize and Blue, the two men they’ve pursued the most – Les Miles from LSU and Greg Schiano from Rutgers – have made good on their denials, and are staying put. Bo Schembechler all over again – in reverse.

Former Pistons coach Butch van Breda Kolff said it best, and the most succinctly. Having just signed a contract extension with the Pistons in 1971, VBK was unimpressed when reporters asked for his comment.

“Hell, they can always fire you. And you can quit if you want to.”

Care to argue with that?

Lions Need To Start All Over (Maybe With Holmgren?)

In Lions, NFL, Pistons, Red Wings, Tigers on December 17, 2007 at 7:17 pm

First, let me thank DirecTV. They tried to spare me.

For almost an hour after kickoff of yesterday’s Lions-Chargers game, DirecTV lost their over-the-air channels, probably due to the bad weather. These included Fox 2, which was showing the Lions. Even my fancy-shmancy NFL Sunday Ticket couldn’t help me, because it blacks out games scheduled to air on local channels.

So when the game finally appeared after the technical glitch, the Fox Bar scoreboard along the top of the screen told me that I hadn’t missed much — unless you count 17 Charger points as something worth seeing. So I watched a few minutes, and called it a day.

But today’s post isn’t about yesterday’s game. What is there, really, to say? The Lions are tanking, freefalling like a lead balloon. So best to talk about the future, and to do that it’s necessary to analyze the pasts of the other three, more successful teams in town.

I was thinking about this last evening. Why have the Tigers, Red Wings, and Pistons been able to find success? How have they done it?

Red Wings. They may not live up to the hype every spring, but for about 15 years now, you’ve been able to look at the Red Wings as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders as every playoff has begun — sometimes they’ve been the odds-on favorite. Think about that for a moment. Fifteen straight seasons of being considered a possible champion every April. No team in any other sport can say such a thing — not for 15 straight years, anyway.

How have they done it?

Drafting, scouting, free agency, trades. These are the elements of any personnel department. And the Red Wings have excelled in every area at various times in the ’90s and ’00s. Have they made some mistakes? Sure. But few of them. Their work in Europe and Sweden has been exemplary. It sounds simple, but one of the reasons the Red Wings have been so good is because they’ve had some pretty damn good players come through Detroit. And those players were an amalgam of drafts, trades (especially those deadline deals), and free agency — almost in equal distribution. Amazing.

Coaching. This happened in stages. Jacques Demers took the team to a certain level. Bryan Murray nudged them forward a bit more — at least in terms of regular season success. Then, finally, Scotty Bowman was brought in to finish things off. Then, after two disappointing playoffs, Dave Lewis was let go and enter Mike Babcock. Today, the Red Wings are again the elite of the league.

Pistons. A bold, sometimes brazen mindset in Auburn Hills, led by President Joe Dumars, has spelled the rise of the Pistons to elite status.

Personnel moves. The Rasheed Wallace trade was one many GMs would have been afraid to make. Not being afraid to admit mistakes and trade bad draft picks like Mateen Cleaves and Rodney White. Letting Ben Wallace flee (wisely). Constantly tweaking the supporting cast. Taking a flyer on Chris Webber. Finding gems like Tayshaun Prince and, it appears, Jason Maxiell. Blending youth in with experience (Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo, Amir Johnson). Basically, being just restless enough in this area — and never truly being satisfied.

Coaching. Firing Rick Carlisle (after two 50-win seasons) and bringing in Larry Brown was bold. So was letting Brown go, despite two straight trips to the Finals. Hiring playoff-challenged Flip Saunders wasn’t without its risks. Yet the Pistons have managed to make five straight trips to the Conference Finals. Not too shabby.

Tigers. As with the Red Wings and Pistons, boldness and a commitment of money by ownership has turned the Tigers into a powerhouse ballclub.

Personnel. Getting Pudge Rodriguez, Rondell White, and Fernando Vina to sign here after a 119-loss season was off the charts. Though White and Vina were hardly All-Stars in Detroit, their signings nonetheless made the Tigers relevant again. If nothing else, those guys, plus the acquisition of Carlos Guillen later on, put some bona fide big leaguers on the roster once again.

Since then, the team has fleeced others for Placido Polanco, Gary Sheffield, and Edgar Renteria, and of course the blockbuster trade with the Marlins a couple weeks ago was another feather in the Tigers’ baseball caps. Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson were throw-ins from other trades, believe it or not. Marcus Thames was stolen. For every Neifi Perez trade, there’ve been many more good ones.

Scouting has brought Curtis Granderson, Justin Verlander, Brandon Inge, and new potential ace Rick Porcello. And it has helped the Tigers stockpile bargaining chips to use in the aforementioned trades.

Free agency has been used mostly wisely. Vina was a bust (due to injuries), and so was Troy Percival (for the same reason). But other signings have yielded Kenny Rogers, Magglio Ordonez,
and Rodriguez.

Coaching/managing. Do the Tigers go to the World Series in 2006 with any other manager than Jim Leyland? I wouldn’t wager on it.

How far the Tigers have come in four years is unreal. Basically, since 2003 they’ve gone from national embarrassment to possibly the best team in baseball. They reached the Series three years after the 119-loss campaign.

OK, so what is the common denominator here?

The One.

Meaning?

The One is the person who’s presided over all these successful machinations. The Red Wings’ resurgence started with owner Mike Ilitch’s very first hire: former Islanders super scout Jimmy Devellano. Jimmy D. had a rough first few years as he found his footing, but then he hired Demers, and the franchise was reborn. Devellano was also the driving force behind the team hiring Bowman in 1993. A steady, efficient front office was started with Devellano’s hiring, and has led to unheard-of stability. The trio of Ilitch, Devellano, and current GM Ken Holland have been together forever, it seems. Bowman’s stint as coach/GM was wildly successful, and the passing of the torch to Holland, promoted after the 1997 Cup, was seamless.

So right now Holland is The One for the Red Wings, but he was set up for success by the work of Jimmy D. and Bowman, who were each The One in their own time.

The Pistons have Joe Dumars as The One. The team was treading water when Dumars stepped out of his basketball sneakers and into the wing-tipped shoes of an executive, back in 2000. Dumars then began acting as if he was born to be a GM. It was spooky, how good he was right out of the gate. Reminded me of Jerry West, but even West served as coach for a few years before rising to GM status. Dumars is almost making more noise as a GM than he did as a player — and this is a Hall of Famer and FInals MVP we’re talking about here.

The Tigers were going absolutely nowhere until they hired Dave Dombrowski in November 2001. After a rough start (mainly because of what he inherited) that included the 43-119 bottoming out, DD has been King Midas.

Dombrowski is clearly The One for the Tigers. I shudder to think where the franchise would be if Ilitch followed up the Randy Smith Era with another bad GM hire.

The Lions. I’m not trying to be funny or a smart ass here, but the Lions have possessed NONE of the stuff I’ve talked about here that breeds success in professional sports. No boldness, no guts. Wanna know the difference between boldness and foolishness?

Hiring Scotty Bowman was bold. Making Joe Dumars a GM so soon after his playing days was bold. Luring Dombrowski from Florida and giving him complete control was bold. Hiring Leyland to manage after seven years away from it was bold.

But being bold means taking calculated risks. It doesn’t mean just doing something out of the box for kicks.

Hiring Matt Millen from the broadcast booth wasn’t bold. It was foolish. There was nothing calculated or researched about it. The only thing that would have made it bold was if Millen was brought in with the mandate to immediately surround himself with sound, solid football people. If he was ordered to form a coaching search committee consisting of such minds. Then maybe it’s a bold move. Instead it was just plain misguided. It created excitement for a while, but that doesn’t have long shelf life if the clothes have no emperor.

Personnel? HA! Poor drafts, questionable (at best) free agent signings, and curious trades have made the Lions the antithesis of their three sports neighbors in Detroit.

Coaching? Bad hires here, of course. But the Tigers (Luis Pujols, Phil Garner), Red Wings (Harry Neale, Brad Park), and Pistons (Alvin Gentry, George Irvine) have all had their warts in this department, too. But they were able to learn from those mistakes. The Lions have been making strange coaching hires since 1974. And as much as I want to like Rod Marinelli, this current six-game slide/surrender has made me wonder about him, too.

Lack of The One. The Lions have never, EVER, come close to employing The One. I hate to say it, but you really have to go all the way back to Nick Kerbaway, GM of the 1950s, to find The One. Russ Thomas lasted way longer than Matt Millen has, but his decades of tenure produced nothing. Since Thomas, the Lions have been managed by Chuck Schmidt (please), Jerry Vainisi (he was never given a real chance), and now Millen. Ugh.

You win in any sport with good players, I understand that. But someone has to procure these players, no?

So here’s the deal: the Lions will never mimic the rise of the Pistons, Red Wings, and Tigers (all of whom were in the depths of their sports at one time or another) unless they do one of two things — have a change in ownership, or a change in paradigm. Since the former is unlikely, then let’s look at the latter.

The Lions need to find The One. Somewhere out there in the NFL, such a person exists. I believe that. Is he a former player? Unlikely, especially if we’re talking recent former player. It’s asking a lot to expect a recently-retired player to become a successful NFL GM. Dumars did it, but the NBA is different than the NFL. Far fewer players, for one.

Is he a former GM? Well, maybe, but hopefully not one who’s been out of the league too long.

Most likely, The One is employed by another NFL team currently, possibly as an assistant GM or in a similar position in the personnel department. What I would do is look at perennially successful teams like the Patriots, Seahawks, Colts, and maybe even the Cowboys and raid their front office for their bright, young executives.

I don’t know as many front office types in the NFL as I do in other sports, so I don’t have a lot of actual names to throw around here. So in lieu of that, I mention traits and backgrounds.

But if you want a name, here’s one: Mike Holmgren.

If you can get him out of his contract in Seattle, maybe Holmgren would come here as a GM-only guy. If he feels he has the coaching bug out of his system, that is. He’s still young enough, he clearly has been around winning organizations, and he’s made sound personnel moves in his career. Just a thought.

Matt Millen obviously isn’t The One. And the Lions will continue to wallow until they find that person. Because it all begins there — as the other teams in town have illustrated.