Welcome to Thursday at OOB, and another webisode of “The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al,” my weekly whine with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.
Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean we’re in a charitable mood. Several targets are in our sights this week, including the Lions (what’s new?); the quick-to-fire NBA execs and owners; our struggling Detroit newspapers and their sports writing employees; the Tigers’ lack of a closer; and, of course, we play some WordAss and name our Jerks of the Week.
Eno: ‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the Web, not a blogger was stirring – except the Knee Jerks!! Welcome to this inane, weekly gabfest. I’m Eno, aka The Journalist, and he’s Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Happy Holidays, Almeister!
Big Al: Happy Festivus, Eno! Ready to partake in the feats of strength and the airing of the grievances?
Eno: I love the word “partake” – reminds me of food and beverage, which I partake in lustily, especially around this time of year. The Crown Royal awaits. Anyhow, I suppose we would be remiss if we didn’t talk – AGAIN – about the Lions’ journey toward 0-16. Or is there anything else to say about it, really?
Big Al: A little, actually. In Wednesday’s MLive, Lions beat guy Tom “Killer” Kowalski said that anyone rooting for the Lions to go 0-16 is a not a “true” fan. Personally, I don’t take being lectured to by a journalist very well. I honestly believe fans want the Lions to go zero for the season because it’s the only way William Clay Ford Sr. will wake from his Scotch-induced slumber, and make sweeping changes in his organization. The Lions NEED to go 0-16.
Eno: Like I said the other day at OOB, Rod Marinelli won’t be fired by Ford – he’ll be fired by the circumstances. Never before has Senior had his hand forced like this to fire a coach. But come on, 0-16 gets you fired … right?
Big Al: That’s my biggest fear – that Ford decides to keep the status quo. Any other franchise would have changed direction three-to-four years into what became a historic mess. But with Ford? You just don’t know, which is why 0-16 is necessary. No one can stay employed after having a winless season. Even Ford has to realize it.
Eno: I agree. 0-16 equals the ziggy, plain and simple. Any thoughts about Carl Peterson, who just resigned from the KC Chiefs as their GM? Could he be a candidate for the Lions?
Big Al: Ten years ago, maybe. But now? I wouldn’t be thrilled with Peterson. He hasn’t had a very good decade. They were almost as happy in KC to see Peterson go as we were to see [Matt] Millen get the boot. I would honestly prefer someone much younger, who could stay for 15-20 years. The likes of Peterson or (former Titans GM and current ESPN talking head) Floyd Reese are short-timers, in my mind. But if….GAK…Mayhew stays, an older, established GM might be the way to go. It’s not how I would do it, but Ford just might.
Eno: Well, here’s what MUST happen: if Mayhew stays (I agree with your GAK), then an established head coach has to be paired with him. If you go with a new exec, then I would tolerate a first-time head coach, as long as the new exec has credibility. But you CANNOT keep Mayhew and go the cheap route, i.e. a position coach or a coordinator. It’s GOT to be someone with head coaching chops.
Big Al: From your blog to Ford’s desk, Eno. What’s even scarier in my mind is the fact there looks to be several front office openings available, so the Lions need to move fast, but not make a mistake in doing so. It’s the old manufacturing paradigm: You want it done faster, better and cheaper. But you can only have two [of those three]. This is the most critical time in Lions history, and they absolutely cannot afford to make another hiring mistake.
Eno: I agree about it being the most critical, if for no other reason than they will now have to respond to the most inglorious of all records: a winless 16-game season. How they respond may dictate their legacy as a franchise. This SHOULD be a turning point in franchise history. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tell our grandkids, “Son, I remember when the Lions bottomed out at 0-16, and yet they rose, like a Phoenix….”? What about you? Do you think the historical implications of 0-16 will hit you right away, or will it take a while to sink in, that we really did live through this?
Big Al: It’ll make a HUGE splash initially, just because of the 24/7 news cycle world in which we live. But in the long run, I honestly think it’s overblown. If the Lions, as you say, miraculously rise from the ashes, it will be remembered like the Tigers’ 119-loss season [of 2003]. It was necessary, even inevitable. I know the 1976, 0-14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team is often thought of as the worst ever, but no one thinks the Bucs are a bad franchise anymore. The next few seasons will ultimately determine how we think of this season.
Eno: OK, enough of that. What in Sam Hill is going on in the NBA? Reggie Theus gets the ziggy in Sacramento, bringing to six the number of coaches who’ve been canned since the beginning of the season. And the NHL isn’t far behind. What gives, Mr. Big Shot?
Big Al: No one has patience anymore. Everyone wants instant gratification. I’m already hearing the rumblings of unhappiness regarding the performance of the Pistons rookie head coach, Michael Curry. Most any coach or GM deserves two-to-three years to implement their system. But there is so much money at stake in today’s sports, that no one is willing, save for the polar opposite William Clay Ford, to wait for results. They want it NOW, if not sooner. It’s not right, but that’s the current landscape.
Eno: And some of these rosters are awful, that these guys have to coach. Speaking of Curry, I know it’s early, but what’s your gut tell you about this guy? Is he the Pistons’ coach in 2010-11, when all these spiffy free agents are available, or will [Joe] Dumars show his fetish for firing coaches by that time?
Big Al: His lack of coaching experience is being exposed early on in this season. His rotation changes often seem to be (pun intended) knee jerk reactions. I think Dumars knows what he has, and will ride it out for at least the next couple of years. But Curry does have to grow into the job, as I wouldn’t want the current version of Curry running this team if Dumars does go after the one or two superstars in either ’09 or ’10. Do you think Curry is on a shorter leash than we may have been led to believe?
Big Al: This is the first coach Dumars hired who didn’t have a track record of some sort. I’m thinking Curry may be only a one or two season guy; that Dumars will bring in a more experienced coach when he finally purges what’s becoming a somewhat old roster.
Eno: You know what, I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe like how he canned Rick Carlisle in favor of Larry Brown? Could be. But that may not be the INTENTION – just what ends up happening. Some coaches are just good enough to get you to a certain level, then you hire someone else to get you over the hump. The Red Wings did that when they replaced Bryan Murray with Scotty Bowman. I can see that happening with Curry, although I think Dumars would love for MC to be “the guy” for a long time.
Big Al: Which may be what saves Curry, at least for the time being. He’s always been Dumars’ “guy,” even back in his playing days. I like Curry, and he was the sort of player you’d think would turn into a good coach. Curry maximized his limited athletic ability to its absolute fullest. Curry had to work harder and play smarter than those with far greater natural ability. I hope the same proves true as a head coach, but the jury will be out for quite some time to come.
Eno: How come the benchwarmers are always the guys who would “make a good coach or manager”? It’s funny. No one ever says, “That Nicklas Lidstrom – he’d make a good coach someday.” But they WILL say, “That Michael Curry – he’s a coach in the making!” That always cracks me up, but it’s not without precedent: great players rarely make great coaches – I get that.
Big Al: It is weird, as you’d think the uber-talented would be excellent coaches. But they rarely pan out. Ted Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Frank Robinson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, the list of failed head coaches/managers who were great players is long. One of the few I can think of who was actually an excellent head coach who was also a Hall of Fame caliber player was the Lions’ Joe Schmidt. But he’s the exception to the rule.
Eno: Well, don’t forget that Bird led the Pacers to the NBA Finals, no? And Williams was Manager of the Year in 1969, but his disdain for pitchers quickly wore thin in Washington. See? Aren’t you glad I’m here to point out your bad examples? What WOULD you do without me? OK, I’m volleying the ball into your court: what’s on that frazzled mind of yours, Al?
Big Al: But the examples you mentioned never won it all, and quickly wore out their welcome. Anyway… I think something we should bring up is the current situation the Detroit newspapers find themselves in. Bloggers and journalists often find themselves at odds (Jerry Green HATES me, for example), but bloggers do heavily depend upon beat writers for information. As you are a working journalist, what’s your take on what’s happening at the Freep and News?
Eno: Well first of all, your description of me is appreciated but is also an oxymoron: working journalist? Anyhow, I think newspapers are, sadly, in dire straits and this is only the beginning. What’s interesting to me is that it’s a double-edged sword. There are more outlets for writers, of course, but who’s really good anymore? Gone are the likes of Jim Murray, whose stuff was biting, hilarious, and just plain awesome. The pie is sliced so thin anymore. I know about you and Green, and I’ve kept out of it, as I count Jerry among my pals. But I can see where the frustration comes in. It’s the same with TV. EVERYONE is a TV producer nowadays. That was my original vocation, so I have some sensitivity there, too. But what are you gonna do? I do think, though, that print journalists would do themselves a favor if they embraced bloggers and their input rather than scorned them.
Big Al: Personally, I have the utmost respect for the beat writers, as they truly are on the front lines. I’m sure traveling with a team for an entire season takes the romanticism out of sports. But the journalists that should be worried are the columnists. They seem to be the ones most threatened by the blogosphere, and tend to be the ones to take potshots at guys like me. What we saw happen in Detroit Tuesday, their cutting back on home delivery and taking the first step into going online only, is going to be happening all over the nation, sooner than later. Personally, I think the Detroit News is dying, and will be gone within a couple of years. Not many cities can support two [daily] newspapers. I don’t think Detroit can, not anymore. I do agree that journalists should be more like bloggers. I want opinion and analysis, not a glorified version of the AP game story. I do feel bad for many journalists who are very good at what they do, but there are as many who have been on auto-pilot for years and needed the wake up call they are currently getting. The next few years are going to be fascinating.
Eno: Absolutely. You gotta understand that a lot of the older guys, especially, spent most of their working lives building an audience, and it seems to have been eradicated so quickly – or at least significantly reduced. And these are guys who started with typewriters, don’t forget! I think the younger journalists are able to suffer us easier. But there’s something to be said about getting better if you get nudged a little. I think that the columnists who choose to “raise their game” in light of what’s happening, rather than grouse about it, are going to be better off. OK, anything else you want to talk about?
Big Al: Since we last spoke, the Tigers traded young corner outfielder Matt Joyce to the Tampa Bay Rays for 14-game winning starting pitcher Edwin Jackson. Thoughts on the trade have been mixed, at best. Jackson is your typical Dave Dombrowski pitcher: big, strong, tall, plus fastball. He also thinks the strike zone runs from the bill of the cap down to the ankles. Joyce, on the other hand, showed tons of potential in his half season in the bigs, and is something the Tigers have lacked for years: a left-handed bat with power. What’s your take on the trade?
Eno: Well, I love those left-handed sticks, but I like arms more. The Tigers don’t need offense; they need pitching and defense – which, I believe, are about to enter their 115th straight season of being the Most Important Things A Baseball Team Can Have. There’s still Jeff Larish, after all. If you can hit, you can hit. I don’t know where it says you have to have “X” number of lefty bats in your lineup. I’m all for it. I’d always rather trade for a pitcher than sign one. Those free agent pitchers tend to go sideways before the ink even dries on the contract. Your thoughts?
Big Al: I can see what the Tigers were thinking in this deal. You can’t have enough arms. But Jackson’s peripherals have been awful. His career WHIP [walks plus hits per innings pitched] is over 1.50, which is God awful. There are a few other red flags as well. Jackson was removed from the Rays’ rotation during the playoff run, meaning he was considered their worst starter. There’s also the fact that they traded a 14-game winner for a still unproven corner outfielder, which are damn near a dime a dozen. My worry is Jackson will, like the rest of the Tigers’ staff last season, be unable to throw strikes….ever. The bullpen is still untouched as well. There’s no closer, the set up men are wild and injury prone. The Tigers have other holes to fill.
Eno: My, that glass isn’t half-empty in your mind – it’s damn near dry! But I hear you. One team’s trash is another’s treasure, I understand. But you almost HAVE to take some fliers on some arms right now. The pitching has to come from SOMEWHERE. I liked Joyce, but….you gotta give up something, as they say. I didn’t expect the Tigers to fill all their holes at the Winter Meetings; sometimes the best times for the best trades are about 2/3 through spring training. You can make some gems then. OK, how about we play something I like to call WordAss?
Big Al: Such language! Well…I never…Oh, you mean Word Association? That’s different. You want to start it off?
Eno: Sure! OK….Scott Shafer, former U-M defensive coordinator
Big Al: A bad fit.
Eno: The NEXT U-M D-coordinator…..
Big Al: That’s a tough one. A Michigan Man!
Eno: Ahhh….OK. Spencer Haywood, who by the time folks read this will have been honored with a night at UDM
Big Al: Under appreciated.
Eno: Antonio McDyess
Big Al: Roster glue. A few for you, sir. Let’s start with the Tigers’ closer in 2009.
Eno: Hopefully not in the organization currently.
Big Al: Funny! How about the Lions’ placekicker who just missed making the Pro Bowl, Jason Hanson?
Eno: I’ve always said: replace Bubbles the Rampant Lion with a silhouette of Hanson kicking on the Lions’ helmets!
Big Al: Works for me. Bubbles is overrated. Someone who’s off to a slower start than usual, the Wings’ Nick Lidstrom.
Eno: He IS? I hadn’t noticed. I thought it was Nik Kronwall who was struggling. Lidstrom: Today’s Mechanical Man, with apologies to Charlie Gehringer.
Big Al: Well, a slow starting Lidstrom is still better than most NHL D-men. Then again, the entire Wings’ blue line, if you go by goals against, is off to a slow start.
Eno: OK, two more for you: first, the Manning Brothers, Peyton and Eli, both Pro Bowlers.
Big Al: Mannings? Hmmm… Over exposed, but not overrated
Eno: Nice. I love Peyton’s commercials. I think he’s funny as Hell. OK, finally, Sean Avery
Big Al: Good riddance to that self-aggrandizing trash!
Eno: Wow, Mr. Bettman, I mean Mr. Beaton!
Big Al: Indeed. [Red Wings coach] Mike Babcock was recently asked about Avery, and he told a story where he basically said 4th line players need to be very low maintenance. That’s the last thing you can say about Avery.
Eno: No doubt. One more topic before we switch to Jerk of the Week: your thoughts on the upcoming outdoor NHL game at Wrigley Field?
Big Al: It’s going to be fun to watch, and it’s quite a spectacle. But why do it on a day where you’re competing with college football for attention? The NHL having its showcase game on New Year’s Day never made sense to me. Though I will admit I’d love to see the Winter Classic be held in the Detroit Metro area one day.
Eno: Good point; it would seem the LAST thing they need is competition. I’m dying to see it, frankly. I thought it was cool as all get out last year when the Sabres and Pens played amidst the snowflakes. Keep it among the Original Six, btw. That probably won’t fly, will it? Could they ever have it in Detroit? Comerica Park? Michigan Stadium?
Big Al: Seems to me either place would work well. In my mind, the Wings not being considered to host the game is just another way the Wings are always dissed by the NHL. They’d rather bring the Wings into a town, as they are such a great draw. The NHL takes the Red Wings too much for granted.
JERK OF THE WEEK
Eno: Well, they’ve been great for 14 years now; some in the NHL probably don’t even know what it’s like to NOT have a strong franchise in Detroit. OK, who’s your Jerk of the Week, sir?
Big Al: I’m going with Auburn University for their outright strange hiring of Gene Chizik as their head coach. You’d think the War Eagles could get someone with more than two years experience as a head coach and a 5-19 record at Iowa State. If Michigan had made that sort of hire, AD Bill Martin would have been forced to go into the Witness Protection Program. It’s as strange of a big time college football hire as I’ve ever seen. Who’s on your bad side, Eno? Your Jerk of the Week is…?
Eno: Yeah, that Auburn thing was weird. Sir Charles Barkley had a fit. OK, I’m going with Tiger Woods’s caddie, Steve Williams, for his disparaging remarks about Phil Mickelsen, then trying to laugh it off as just being funny. If you’re No. 1 in the world, you don’t need to be dissing those below you, do you? And kudos to Tiger for calling Williams out the next day.
Big Al: You’d think even semi-public figures like Williams would know by now that anything they say in today’s world is going to get out. I’m sure he never thought what he said would reach the states. Yeah, right.
Eno: Exactly. OK, Mr. Big Shot. I guess we should tell folks that next week, since TKJ falls on Christmas Day, we will dispense with Jerk of the Week and give our list of those whose stockings should be filled with coal, and whose deserves candy!
Big Al: I’m already mining for coal, so I’ll be ready!
Eno: Alright! See ya next week!
Big Al: Take care, and Happy Festivus! Get out your aluminum pole!
Eno: Wow, that sounds dirty!
Big Al: It sorta does. My mind is in the gutter!
Eno: Or mine is, one of the two.