Greg Eno

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Harbaugh’s time at U-M will be fleeting because that’s who he is

In college football, Uncategorized on August 20, 2016 at 9:35 pm

Published August 20, 2016

Timing is everything.

Jimmy Harbaugh, when he was hired in December 2014 by the University of Michigan to run its football program, was exactly what U-M needed at that moment.

There had been some winning seasons in Ann Arbor post-Lloyd Carr, who retired after the 2007 season, but nothing that was eye-grabbing. The Rich Rodriguez Era was brief (three years) and forgettable. The Brady Hoke Era (four years) was angst-filled.

Michigan wasn’t Michigan.

Teams weren’t scared to play in the “Big House” any longer. When Toledo walks in there and comes out victorious, something’s not right.

There were some bowl games after Carr but there were also too many oddball losses—of both football games and of mystique about the program that roiled the alumni.

Harbaugh, meanwhile, was flaming out in San Francisco with the 49ers. Both he and management were rubbing each other raw.

It all conspired to create the perfect storm for Harbaugh to bolt the NFL and return to his alma mater, where his hiring was hailed by the victors valiant.

Harbaugh was what Michigan football needed.

He proved it in his first season, when only a fluke loss to Michigan State marred what would have been an unquestionably outstanding first campaign.

He proved it on the recruiting trail, where his sometimes unorthodox methods have helped him reel in one big blue chip fish after the other.

And he’s proved it in the 24-hour news cycle, where you almost can’t open up the Internet without seeing Harbaugh splashed all over it.

But if you have ideas that this is Jimmy’s last coaching stop before he hangs up his khakis for good, you’re delusional.

Harbaugh is what Michigan needs—now.

And when he leaves—and I give him five years, tops (and probably less)—that will be what Michigan needs, as well.

Now, this isn’t to say that while he’s at Michigan, the Harbaugh-led Wolverines won’t have any big time success. In fact, they might even win a national championship.

But make no mistake—sooner or later, Harbaugh will rub folks the wrong way in Ann Arbor and/or the NFL will come calling again with some big bucks and another perfect storm will have been created that sends Harbaugh into the sunset.

Have chalk, will travel.

Or in Harbaugh’s case, have a hot motor, will travel.

This isn’t Harbaugh’s fault. It’s who he is. He can’t help that.

Coaches like he don’t plant roots, they plant stakes.

Harbaugh is 52 and he’s already been the head football coach at four different stops, the first three of which lasted an average of 3.7 years.

Even if you want to toss out the University of San Diego (2004-06) as a stepping stone program, Harbaugh still hasn’t shown the proclivity to stay anywhere for any significant amount of time.

But this is Michigan! It’s where he went to school and played quarterback for Bo Schembechler! This is what he’s always wanted to do!

Maybe it’s Harbaugh’s dream job—for now—but the thing about dreams is that you wake up from them, often rudely.

In full disclosure, I didn’t think Harbaugh would leave the NFL for Michigan. I wrote as much and I wasn’t wishy-washy about my views.

I thought the allure of chasing the Vince Lombardi Trophy was too intoxicating. I didn’t think Harbaugh wanted to dive back into the recruiting wars—at least not just yet. Not even for Michigan.

I muffed that one.

So I might not appear to be the best soothsayer out there when it comes to portending Jim Harbaugh’s future.

But I do know that just because he surprised me and left the NFL for Michigan, that doesn’t mean that he won’t take another head coaching job somewhere else, and sooner than Go Blue fans would like to think.

Harbaugh runs hot. He doesn’t idle. His internal governor isn’t wired to idle.

This was on display last week when Harbaugh got miffed at reporters’ questions about suspended players and their length of punishment. Legitimate questions that required answers, even if the answers were destined to be pat.

But Harbaugh’s hot engine without the ability to idle kicked in and he came off looking petulant and in mid-season, evasive form—in August.

I give Harbaugh three more years at Michigan, four max. His contract signed on December 30, 2014 was for seven years. He’ll never fulfill it.

Harbaugh will determine that his work at Michigan is done—or others will determine it for him. There’ll be a buyout, an amicable split. Maybe it will be contentious behind the scenes. Whatever.

Then it will be back to the pros, most likely. I don’t see another college job luring him away.

By then Harbaugh will be in his mid-50s, still young enough to make his mark elsewhere. But maybe at that point the engine will start to run a little cooler.

Jim Harbaugh is the kind of coach whose last job won’t be known until he stops coaching. Until then, it will be anyone’s guess how many more stops he has left in him.

Again, that’s not his fault. I’m not criticizing him for it. That’s just who he is.

But he’s what Michigan needed on December 30, 2014. And vice versa.

Timing is everything.

Tigers’ Avila playing the “if” card far too late into the season

In Baseball, Uncategorized on July 25, 2016 at 12:09 am

Published July 24, 2016

For a tiny word, “if” packs a lot of punch—especially in baseball.

It all starts in spring training, when the 30 MLB teams gather in Florida and Arizona.

The dawn of a new baseball season makes fans, players, managers and front office people drunk with optimism. Even if the previous year’s record was heinous looking.

And all the sugarplums dancing in their heads are centered around the power of “if.”

You know how it goes in the sun of Florida and the dry heat of Arizona.

“If our pitching comes around…”

“If we can get our guys healthy again…”

“If so-and-so can bounce back from last year…”

“If we hit like we’re capable…”

“If we can get our bullpen settled…”

“If all the moon and the stars align. If this is the same year as Halley’s Comet…”

OK, maybe not the last one—but it may as well be.

It’s OK, and expected, for the tiny I-word to be tossed around in March, when every team is tied for first place with 0-0 records.

But to be using “if” with such luster in late-July, is a tad disconcerting.

Tigers GM Al Avila certainly has a calendar at his avail. He knows that the July 31, interleague non-waiver trade deadline is nigh.

Certainly Avila must know that the season’s hour glass is draining of sand.

The time for playing the “if-game” is winding down rapidly.

But “if” seems to be the best that Avila can do at the moment.

He spoke to the media in Chicago on Saturday, and naturally the topic du jour was whether the Tigers would be players on or around the trade deadline.

Avila filled his remarks with the kind of tenuous optimism that has “if” as its root.

“If our team gets rolling to their capabilities, it’s one of the better lineups in baseball,” Avila said.

Oh boy.

Avila is looking at the Tigers’ glass as being half full because he’s excited about the upcoming return from injury of slugging outfielder J.D. Martinez and starting pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris.

It’s another gambit, because who knows: a) when those guys will come back, exactly; and b) whether they can get into the groove right away. Oh, and c) Norris is a baby yet.

Avila is having none of that kind of rational talk.

“Those are going to be our major acquisitions,” he said in Chicago. “There’s nobody out there better than Jordan Zimmermann if he comes back healthy. Obviously, J.D. Martinez and Daniel Norris, those are three guys we are focusing on getting back healthy and they will be big acquisitions shortly.”

The notion of injured players returning to the lineup being your trade deadline “acquisitions” is a flawed one.

First, they’re not new. They were on the roster on Opening Day.

Second, see a, b and c above.

The kind of blather that Avila served up is not to be trusted. It is, frankly, snake oil salesman stuff.

Avila is trying to have his cake and eat it too.

On the one hand, he wants the Tigers fan to be prepared for some July 31 disappointment.

“I’m not going to be real sexy at the trade deadline,” Avila told the press on Saturday. “Obviously you guys want to write something sexy and something really exciting. You’re looking for a big trade. But I’m not anticipating that this year.”

OK, so we’ve all been warned to temper our expectations. Fine.

But Avila, instead of stopping there, wants us to buy into the notion of players returning from sick bay as being equal to shiny new acquisitions.

Where does it end?

If Justin Upton goes on a tear, does that count as an acquisition of the real Upton?

If Victor Martinez wakes from his July slumber, did Avila just acquire a new bat?

But the real disconcerting part of Avila’s approach is that he’s delusional.

Granted, the comments were made prior to the Tigers losing Saturday’s suspended game and Sunday’s scheduled game to the White Sox in walk-off fashion, but no doubt Avila would have uttered similar words on Monday morning.

Words such as these, when asked whether he felt the Tigers had a championship-caliber team, sans any tweaks: “I do. I do. And if you talk to most baseball people, they’ll tell you: We have a real good lineup. Now I know we haven’t clicked on all gears throughout the whole season.”

The Tigers have played 99 games in 2016. They’ve never been more than a handful of games above .500. They’re 1-11 versus the first-place Cleveland Indians. They can beat the Minnesota Twins, though.

And beside, in the one area where the Tigers are in the most dire need—starting pitching—Avila himself admitted that it’s not exactly a buyer’s market.

“The asking price is too high, even for a fifth starter,” Avila said. “I looked at some teams where we could maybe upgrade and in talking to our scouts and our staff, the quality of pitchers available doesn’t really put us over the top, over the edge that much to say it warranted a big payback in a trade. Nothing has come up where we feel good that we can get the guy and he’d be the difference.”

Yet despite all this, Al Avila wants us to believe that the Tigers are thisclose to being a contending team.

The contributions of J.D. Martinez and Zimmermann in the season’s final two months are questionable in their significance, at best. By the time they get their sea legs under them, it will likely be too late.

And if there isn’t a new starting pitcher coming down the pike via trade, all bets on the Tigers are officially off.

99 games does not a small sample size make. Without strong starting pitching, the Tigers simply cannot have any sustained success over the final 63 games.

And any snake oil talk about considering players returning from injury as being your trade deadline acquisitions, should be dismissed forthwith.

If Al Avila can’t or won’t find the Tigers another starting pitcher so the rotation is extended beyond Justin Verlander, the rookie Michael Fulmer and the returning Zimmermann, that’s one thing.

There’s no crime in that.

But the GM is playing the “if” card and is spouting spring training-like, hypothetical scenarios in late-July. He still sees a much better Tigers team, somewhere over the horizon, than what we’ve seen for almost 100 games.

To see a glass as being half full is admirable. To mentally fill it halfway then try to sell it to the populace as genuine, isn’t.

No ifs about it.

Long Overdue, Lions’ Enema Finally Begins

In football, Uncategorized on November 6, 2015 at 3:23 am

You know what they say. If you want something done, leave it to a woman.

Martha Ford, today, officially launched her campaign to be Michigan’s next governor.

At approximately 11:30 this morning, according to sources, Mrs. Ford, owner of the Detroit Lions, made a giant leap toward clearing her family’s name.

Mrs. Ford summarily dismissed team President Tom Lewand and General Manager Martin Mayhew in a move that at once was shocking and filled with common sense—because, well, these are the Lions and what is common sense in 31 other NFL cities is mind-blowing in Detroit.

Lewand and Mayhew, Lions employees during the Matt Millen Era, are gone.

Mrs. Ford put an end to the in-breeding.

As sweeping as these changes are, and as welcome as they are by a fan base that has suffered through decades of football ignominy, it’s still not totally safe to be a Lions fan.

The canning of Lewand and Mayhew is justified and overdue but this is only the first step toward cleansing.

The next move—the hiring of a new football czar in Detroit—is the real biggie.

But make no mistake. Mrs. Ford’s lowering the boom today—four days after she was embarrassed in front of friends and family by her team’s performance in London—is monumental.

This is not her husband’s football team anymore.

This afternoon, Lions fans feel like the folks who slowly and cautiously emerge from their cellars after a big tornado swept through town.

The sky is sunny, the air is calm and the birds are chirping. But all around, there are remnants of the storm’s destruction.

The feeling is, OK, the damage has been done, but where do we start the clean up?

Mrs. Ford finally put an end to the tornado that was Matt Millen, because Lewand and Mayhew were Millen lieutenants. They always had that stench on them, and in seven years of running the Lions, neither man could shake the stench.

After seven years, it was still impossible to look at Lewand or Mayhew and not see the ghost of Matt Millen.

That’s because the Lions are, today, not that much closer to winning a Super Bowl as they were when Millen got the ziggy early in the 2008 season.

Since that day—which was almost as glorious as this one—the Lions have made dozens of draft picks, signed a million free agents and made countless trades. They have fired two coaches and hired two more. They have had a quarterback throw for 5,000 yards and a receiver break the NFL single season record for yards.

And today the Lions are 1-7, non-competitive and the coach and the no. 2 receiver seem to be taking the media and the fans to task more than themselves.

If Jim Caldwell, who may be next to go, thinks the Detroit media is negative, then he must have the skin of an onion.

If Golden Tate thinks that the fans quit on his team, then there is a disconnect and a lack of accountability that was never going to be rectified under the current regime.

Like the Joker said in the 1989 version of “Batman,” this town needs an enema.

A football enema, right up the tight end.

The firings today are a great step forward. They were moves that probably would have not been made by Old Man Ford, were he alive today.

There were two L-words that Bill Ford will always be known for. Loyalty, and losing.

Today, Mrs. Ford shook the team’s history, its foundation and its self-afflicting ways to their core.

Still, that was the easy part. Pro sports is a produce-or-else business. It just hasn’t always been like that with the Lions. They’ve been notoriously slow on the uptake when it comes to this postulate.

The hard part—and the part that the Lions under Ford ownership haven’t gotten right in 41 years—is the next step.

Martha Ford has taken the keys to her football team away from Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew.

It was overdue, but that was the no-brainer.

Anyone can fire. Pro sports teams fire all the time.

But only those who have grasped the art of hiring are the winners.

Mrs. Ford, Detroit’s football nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Andre the Giant

In Basketball, Uncategorized on November 3, 2015 at 9:26 pm

The painted area of a basketball floor under the goal is not very biblical.

The meek shall not inherit it.

The paint is the belly of the sport’s beast. You go in, and you might not come back out in one piece—if you come out at all.

It’s where noses get broken, eyes get popped halfway out of their sockets and bells get rung.

Every night in the NBA, there’s more whacking in the paint than in a mobster movie.

Black Friday at the mall has nothing on the paint when it comes to jostling.

The three-second rule is there to save lives—kind of like the seat belt law.

The Pistons are 3-0 in this young season and one reason for that fast start is because of a monster-child who feeds off the meek in the paint.

Andre Drummond is nearly seven feet tall, 22 years old and he thrives in the paint like a vampire inside a blood bank.

Drummond swats away shots with disdain, like it annoys him that someone is trying to score inside. He grabs rebounds as if he’s Refrigerator Perry and every basketball is a pie.

With Drummond, the Pistons don’t have to worry about any nonsense in the paint. If an opponent is foolhardy enough to scoot away for a layup, Drummond is there to slap the basketball in one of two places—the third row of the seats or down the shooter’s gullet.

Basketball common sense says that in a rebounding situation, the defending team is at the advantage because they’re usually the closest ones to the glass, and thus have prime positioning to grab the carom.

Drummond disagrees.

Drummond figures that if it’s a rebound, then he’s entitled to it—no matter if he’s the defender or on offense. His appetite for rebounding is insatiable.

Through three games this season, Drummond has 19 offensive boards out of his 49 overall. He’s better on glass than pheasant is under it.

The Pistons aren’t unbeaten solely because of Drummond, but every successful basketball team has a heart and soul and for the first time in decades, the Pistons have one who isn’t a guard.

Chauncey Billups, Mr. Big Shot, was the money man for the Pistons’ championship team of 2004 and when Chauncey was traded in 2008 for Allen Iverson, the Pistons started to crumble like a cookie.

Isiah Thomas, he of the cherubic grin and the heart of an assassin, was all of 6’1″ but he was the unquestioned leader of The Bad Boys championship teams of 1989-90.

You have to go all the way back to Bob Lanier (1970-80) to find a time when the face of the Pistons franchise was a big man.

Correction—you have to go back to Lanier to find the last time the face of the franchise was a big man.

Right now it’s Andre Drummond. I dare you to tell him otherwise.

Reggie Jackson, toDrummondday’s Pistons point guard, is a fine player who wants to be a leader. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the shooting guard, is this group’s version of Rip Hamilton—the Energizer Bunny who you wind up and he plays 40 minutes relentlessly.

But Andre Drummond is The Man.

Actually, he’s still A Kid, and that’s where this story should get terrifying for other NBA teams.

Drummond is 22 and—get this—despite all his prowess, he’s still trying to figure it all out. The dude is averaging 18.7 points, 16.3 rebounds and two blocks per game and he’s not even refined yet.

OK, so he doesn’t have an established low post offensive arsenal yet. But that’s like saying that you shouldn’t worry about the fire-breathing dragon because he can’t run fast.

Besides, Drummond will figure out what to do with the basketball when they dump it into him on the block. Coach Stan Van Gundy will make sure of that. Van Gundy’s offensive recipe calls for one big man surrounded by a bunch of shooters and slashers—and that big man isn’t the second coming of Tom Boerwinkle, either. SVG had Dwight Howard in Orlando and the coach seems hellbent on molding Drummond in the same manner.

So if you’re an NBA opponent and you’re putting all of your eggs in the “Well, Drummond doesn’t have an offensive game yet” basket, you’d better be ready to start making some omelets.

So far, in wins over Atlanta, Utah and Chicago, I’ve seen Drummond toss opposing big men around like rag dolls—whether to snare a rebound, dunk or otherwise impose his will. It’s ironic that he looks like a man among boys, because he’s practically a child in his own right.

Which gets me back to the terrifying part—for the rest of the league. Andre Drummond is just scratching the surface of his dominance. Even he’s not sure how good he can be. Just wait until Van Gundy, who’s starting his second season as Pistons boss, gets some more time with his prized big man.

Drummond has a great relationship with owner Tom Gores and it goes beyond basketball. The two men are said to have a special bond, and that includes Drummond being totally down with what Gores and Van Gundy are trying to build in Detroit—on and off the basketball court.

The Pistons finally have a player over 6’2″ that the city can get excited about. In a game of height, the Pistons have too long been a team of little people.

Now they have someone who makes the other guys look like Lilliputians.

The Steel Curtain Closes on a Wonderful Football Life

In football, Uncategorized on June 15, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Rocky Bleier recalled how Chuck Noll once tried to tell a joke.

“It went on and on and he told it so poorly,” formerPittsburgh Steelers running back Bleier said on an episode of NFL Network’s “America’s Game,” chronicling one of the Steelers’ four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s.

The joke landed with a thud.

Bleier and other Steelers teammates recounted on “America’s Game” how Noll, the legendary coach who died the other day at age 82, was right to never quit his day job when it came to comedy.

That day job, of course, was helming the Steelers to the tune of those four rings and spearheading the resurrection of a franchise that was 1-13 in Noll’s first year in 1969.

The Steelers, with Noll’s great influence, drafted with a precision never seen before or after in the NFL. The Hall of Famers kept getting plucked off the board, and not just in the first round.

In 1969, Noll drafted defensive lineman Joe Greene first. In 1970, the Steelers added QB Terry Bradshaw. Those were first-rounders, but throughout most of the ’70s, Noll and the Steelers found diamonds in the rough.

By 1972, just three years after the 1-13 debacle (the Steelers’ only win that year was against the Lions, of course), Noll had the Steelers in the playoffs, as they beat the Oakland Raiders with the famous Immaculate Reception by Franco Harris.

Two years later, the Steelers started their assault on the league by winning their first of four Super Bowls between 1974 and 1979.

Noll’s stoicism and lack of humor was likely forged by playing for Cleveland’s staid Paul Brown, for whom Noll was an offensive lineman from 1953-59, spending his last three years blocking for Jim Brown.

The NFL from the 1950s through the 1990s was nicely segmented into decades that belonged to select franchises.

The ’50s belonged to the Browns and the Detroit Lions. Those two teams accounted for six of the ten champions in the decade, and they usually did so by beating the other for the title.

The 1960s was the Green Bay Packers’ decade. The 1980s and ’90s belonged to the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys, respectively.

And the 1970s were, unquestioningly, the years of the Steelers.

Noll was Don Shula’s defensive coordinator for the 13-1 Baltimore Colts of 1968—the team that was upset by Joe Namath and the New York Jets in Super Bowl III.

As an assistant, you could do much worse than Noll, who not only worked for Shula, but also for offensive wizard Sid Gillman in San Diego (AFL).

So it was with that pedigree that Noll was hired by Art Rooney Sr. to coach a Steelers team that had long been the sad sacks of the NFL.

The Steelers, for much of the 1960s, were the anti-Packers. A typical year was 5-9. Actually, that was a good year in the Steel City. In those days, Pittsburgh was as associated with winning football as ice cream is with sardines.  Noll took over a team that finished 2-11-1 in 1968.

Despite the drafting of Greene, the Steelers went 1-13 in 1969 but the groundwork was being laid.

But it was the drafting of Bradshaw from Louisiana Tech that began one of the most contentiously successful relationships in pro sports history.

Noll and Bradshaw were the Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer of the NFL.

“My relationship wasn’t good, as you well know, but he made me understand my job responsibilities, because I had to grow up,” Bradshaw said in a statement. “He was a tough coach to me, and I spent more time with him than anybody, so I know. I learned how to be mentally tough with him, and for that I can never say thank you enough, because that got me through divorces, Super Bowls, and those times when I had bad moments in big games.”

The Bradshaw Era ended on a sour note in 1983, when the quarterback felt that Noll rushed Bradshaw back from an elbow injury too soon. Bradshaw re-injured the elbow throwing a pass—his last, which went for a touchdown—and retired.

The bad taste stuck in both parties’ mouths.

But like Weaver and Palmer with the Baltimore Orioles, Noll and Bradshaw managed to win despite their chilly personal relationship.

Noll’s drafting and coaching up of late round picks combined to form a tornado that swept through the NFL in the 1970s. And after those Steelers players retired, Noll was able to re-tool and bring the Steelers back to the AFC Championship game in 1984 with Mark Malone and David Woodley—two guys who, combined, couldn’t hold Bradshaw’s jock—at quarterback.

The great coaches in the NFL have one common thread, and that is the impact they have on their players that extends beyond the playing days. Lombardi’s Packers players will talk all day about how their coach made them better people.

“Vince was proud of two things. Making great football players out of men, and making men out of football players,” Lombardi’s wife Marie once said. “But I think he was more proud of making men out of football players.”

Noll had that same aura with his players in Pittsburgh.

“Chuck was just the ultimate leader,” said Greene, who played his entire career for Noll. “He had truth and belief in what he was saying, and over time all of those things he said were validated, the things about winning football games and being a solid citizen.”

They don’t make them like Chuck Noll anymore. Today’s football coaches in the NFL, I believe, subconsciously are too aware of trying to be one of the guys. It’s a so-called “player’s league” now and that means you can’t be too tough—or else you’ll find yourself getting the ziggy in favor of someone who is more lenient.

But Noll was much more than a football coach. He was a mentor, a supreme detector of pro football talent and, as corny as it may sound, a father figure to many of his players.

One of Noll’s former players who turned into a heck of a coach himself, Tony Dungy, had a favorite Noll-ism.

“Everyone’s job is important, but no one is indispensable.”

It was that kind of drive that kept a group of Hall of Famers focused and on their toes enough to win the brass ring four times in six seasons. Complacency was a dirty word in Steeler Town.

Noll once explained the key to the Steelers’ success.

“The single most important thing we had in the Steelers of the ’70s was the ability to work together … If someone else was having a tough time on a particular day, they reached down and got it (going) a little more. … Whatever they had to do, they did it to win.”

Nyquist’s Penchant for Scoring Just May Lead the Red Wings into the Playoffs

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2014 at 1:37 am

They say defense wins championships, but last I checked, nobody won the Stanley Cup by tossing shutouts every game. You still have to have pucksters who can bury a goal now and again.

Or in Gustav Nyquist’s case, again and again and again.

Nyquist is a typical Red Wings forward: skilled, Swedish and unearthed. Somehow 120 players were selected ahead of Nyquist, who went to the Red Wings as the 121st choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

The 24-year-old Nyquist is yet another find of Red Wings’ European Scouting Director Hakan Andersson, a former fishing tour guide who clearly still knows how to catch them.

The Red Wings’ roster is filled with guys whose NHL success belies where they were selected in their respective drafts.

Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, to name just three, are stars who you would think were first round picks. After all, what scout worth his travelogue could have missed on these guys, eh?

But Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ Swedish captain, was a seventh round selection in 1999. The Russian Datsyuk was taken in the sixth round in 1998. And Franzen, another Swede, was a third round pick in 2004.

Now here comes Nyquist, who’s popping in goals like the opposing goalies are pylons, drafted by the Red Wings only after 120 players—six teams’ worth of nightly skaters—ahead of him were snatched up.

The Red Wings don’t draft players, they pan for them.

The name of the game is to score more than the opposition, and by that standard, Nyquist is the quintessential NHL player, because pretty much every puck he shoots these days finds the back of the net.

Nyquist didn’t join the Red Wings until November 21, from Grand Rapids of the AHL. In his first game this season, he scored twice. It seemed like a harbinger, because of Nyquist’s heroics in the 2013 playoffs, which included a game-winner in overtime in Anaheim in the first round.

But after that two-goal debut in November, Nyquist’s scoring stick fell asleep, and on January 18, he had just five goals.

In 29 games since January 18, Nyquist has 23 goals.

That’s Crosby and Ovechkin-ish.

With Zetterberg and Datsyuk felled by injuries for much of the 2014 portion of the season schedule, it’s been Nyquist to the rescue. When he scores a goal, the Red Wings are 16-6.

It seems as if every Nyquist goal has some sort of importance attached to it. He’s either giving the Red Wings the lead, tying the game, or winning the game.

Nyquist is a Bruce Martyn kind of player: He shoots, he scoooooores!

The brilliance of Nyquist is that he scores from everywhere on the ice, and from any position—skating, falling, sliding, what have you. All that’s left is for him to beat a goalie from the thirds row of the stands—and that might be coming.

If you miss a Red Wings game on any given night, you might want to just flip on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” because one of Nyquist’s goals is likely going to end up there as an evening highlight of the most pretty.

So much have Nyquist’s exploits in 2014 been talked about around the league, that some NHL observers have suggested that Nyquist should garner some Hart Trophy (MVP) consideration. Now, that’s likely Sidney Crosby’s award to lose, but to even be mentioned is something else, given Nyquist’s paltry five goals in mid-January.

Part of Nyquist’s hockey genius lies in his speed. Even Franzen, Mr. Streaky himself, marvels at his fellow Swede.

“He’s faster with the puck than without it, and that’s pretty uncommon,” Franzen told the Detroit Free Press after Friday night’s 3-2 win over Buffalo—a game in which Nyquist, strangely enough, didn’t score.

But this goal scoring stuff isn’t unique to Nyquist’s NHL career. Everywhere he’s played, he’s been a goalie’s nightmare.

Nyquist has been beating goaltenders like mules since he was 16 years old and scoring nine goals in just 14 games playing for the Malmo Redhawks in a Swedish under-18 league.

After being drafted by the Red Wings, Nyquist went to the University of Maine and in three seasons he scored 50 goals in 113 games.

Then it was time to turn pro, and in two seasons in Grand Rapids, Nyquist deposited 45 goals past AHL goalies.

Nyquist first endeared himself to Red Wings fans when he won Game 2 of the Anaheim series last spring in overtime, a huge tally that tied that series, 1-1. The Red Wings went on to win the series in seven games.

But so prolific is Nyquist this season, that his shooting percentage (goals divided by shots on goal), is 19.9%, which is more than twice the league average. The Red Wings as a team have a shooting percentage of 8.8%.

That means, basically, that Nyquist scores a goal for every five shots he takes. That’s some deadly stuff.

Apparently not content with scoring goals in every way imaginable, Nyquist himself is thinking of different ways to score.

“You look at Pav (Datsyuk) and Z (Zetterberg), they have two guys hanging on their backs and they’re still so strong on the puck,” Nyquist told the Free Press. “That’s something I can learn from.”

I’m sure opposing goalies are just thrilled to hear that. The guy who has 23 goals in his past 28 games wants to start scoring with guys hanging on his back.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the only way you can stop Nyquist from scoring in 2014—so far.

So the next time you see two defenders draped over a player, and all you can see of that player is the puck leaving his stick and eluding the goalie, you’ll know who that player is.

No. 14 in red and white.

 

Breaking: Red Wings acquire David Legwand from Nashville

In Uncategorized on March 5, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Minutes ahead of today’s 3pm trade deadline, the Red Wings acquired center David Legwand from the Nashville Predators.

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According to TSN’s Gord Miller via TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Red Wings are sending forward Patrick Eaves, a third-round draft pick and a prospect to be named to Nashville for Legwand, a Livonia native who’s played his entire 15-year career as a Predator. In fact, Legwand is technically an original Pred, having joined the team as an 18-year-old in Nashville’s maiden NHL season of 1998-99.

DAVID LEGWAND STATS

The Red Wings were in desperate need of depth at center due to season-ending back surgery for captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk’s trick left knee.

Legwand, 33, is in the last year of his contract and can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. In 62 games this season with Nashville, Legwand had 10 goals and 30 assists. He shoots left.

Schwartz Took Lions As Far As He Could

In football, Uncategorized on December 30, 2013 at 11:17 pm

Joe Schmidt introduced two things to the NFL: the middle linebacker position, and the ziggy.

The former put Schmidt into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the latter became an iconic term for a coach getting fired. The ziggy is as Detroit as Vernor’s, Stroh’s, Uniroyal and Better Made potato chips.

Ironically, even though he coined the term, Schmidt himself rendered a self-ziggy, when he quit as coach of the Lions in January, 1973—the loser in a power struggle with GM Russ Thomas.

“Coaching is not fun anymore,” Schmidt declared on the day he gave himself the ziggy.

To this day, almost 41 years later, Joe Schmidt remains the only head coach of the Lions to leave the job with a winning record in Detroit (43-34-7, plus a playoff loss).

Since Schmidt, the Lions have tried 13 men as coach—a baker’s dozen—and none have been able to get the team over the “hump.” The word is Tom Lewand’s.

Lions President Lewand mentioned the insurmountable (so far) hump several times as he spoke to the media today. explaining away the firing of Jim Schwartz after five rough and tumble seasons.

The hump, according to Lewand, is what needs to be gotten over, and the Lions under Schwartz just couldn’t quite do it.

I won’t speculate as to who the next coach will be. I’ll leave that to Twitter, Facebook and the area around the water cooler.

I do know this. The Lions job is as attractive as it’s ever been under the Ford ownership, which just completed its 50th year.

Never before on the Ford family’s watch—including when Schmidt resigned after leading some pretty good Lions teams of the early-1970s—has the Lions roster been as rich with talent for a new coach as it is right now.

So no wonder that Lewand and GM Marty Mayhew’s phones were ringing constantly (Lewand said) with interested agents and coaches after the news broke that Schwartz had been given the ziggy, around noon today.

Oh, to have access to those men’s caller IDs, eh?

Schwartz is gone because after five years, the Lions were still shooting themselves in the foot with dumb penalties, ill-timed turnovers and bad decisions—some of them the coach’s. More disturbing is that, in the last two second halves of seasons, the Lions are 2-14 under Schwartz. That is maybe the most damning indictment.

Pay no heed to Schwartz’s players. They spouted the usual tripe after the coach gets the ziggy.

It was the usual stuff.

He’s a great guy. He’s a good coach. It wasn’t his fault. We loved playing for him.

NFL players are the last people to know what’s good for them when it comes to coaching. The so-called “player’s coaches” are beloved, sure. You’d like a guy, too, if he rarely held you accountable for your actions.

Listen carefully next time you hear of former players talk about Lombardi, Noll, Walsh, Belichik and Parcells.

You won’t hear a lot of warm and fuzzies. Respect? You bet. Actual “like”? Not so much.

I once asked former Lion Ron Rice what it was like playing for Wayne Fontes.

“Loved it” he gushed. “Wayne was a great guy.”

Well, yeah—nobody is denying that.

You think the Red Wings felt close and friendly with Scotty Bowman? Did any of his players, wherever Scotty coached?

“With Scotty, you hated his guts for 364 days and on the 365th, you held up the Stanley Cup,” one of his players once said.

Now, the Lions don’t have to hire a jerk. And nice guys can win. Tony Dungy comes to mind.

But the Lions of today don’t need someone they’d have a beer with after the game. They need a leader—and not someone who can turn a post-game handshake into must-see TV or one who will hold the fans more accountable than his players. They don’t need someone who constantly thinks that he’s the smartest guy in the room.

Jim Schwartz, in the end, was the Lions’ transitional guy. Lots of championship teams have had them.

Let’s take Detroit. Might as well.

Alan Trammell. Rick Carlisle. Jacques Demers.

Those are just three examples of coaches who took over the dregs of their respective leagues, with the Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings respectively, and who brought their teams to relevancy and a level of competitiveness that was respectable.

Each of them was succeeded by someone who took it to the next level, that ancient term.

There’s no shame in being the Lions’ transitional guy. The trouble is, the Lions haven’t transitioned to anything in 56 years and counting.

Schwartz took over a team that went 0-16 in 2008. He was, in many ways, the Lions’ Scotty Robertson.

Remember Scotty?

Robertson was the Pistons coach from 1980-83. The roster he inherited from the destruction of predecessor Dick Vitale was expansion-like in quality. Along with new GM Jack McCloskey, Robertson lifted the Pistons to respectability, taking a team that won 16 games in 1979-80 to win totals of 21, 39 and 37 before being given the ziggy in 1983.

Chuck Daly took over and carved a Hall of Fame coaching career in Detroit.

It should be noted that when Daly took the coaching reins with the Pistons, the franchise had won nothing of note since moving to Detroit from Fort Wayne in 1957.

The Lions haven’t won anything since 1957, either.

Schwartz took a winless team and improved it (with GM Mayhew’s help, of course), but he plateaued. Four of the five years were losing ones. The 10-6 playoff year of 2011 turned out to be the exception, not the rule.

“Our unwavering commitment is to bring a consistently winning football team to Detroit, immediately,” Lewand said at today’s presser.

The word “immediately” ought to make Lions fans’ hearts warm. Ownership isn’t interested in a rebuilding project, and neither are the paying customers—the ones who Schwartz immaturely and foolishly (and brazenly) called out after the loss to the Giants on December 22.

Schwartz had never been a head coach in the NFL before taking the Lions’ gig, which isn’t new for a franchise that’s hired guys like Rick Forzano, Tommy Hudspeth, Darryl Rogers, Marty Mornhinweg and Rod Marinelli.

But this time, the Lions coaching job isn’t a dog. This time, the organization ought not to settle for a coordinator looking for his big break.

Hearing Lewand and Mayhew speak to the media today, it sounded a lot like they were interested in a man with a head coaching resume. We’ll see.

The Green Bay Packers, despite losing QB Aaron Rodgers for extended time and going 0-4-1 in November, are the NFC North champs—with a hardly impressive record of 8-7-1.

The fact that the Pack was able to pull that off, when the Lions were 6-3 at one point and in firm control of the division after throttling Green Bay, 40-10 on Thanksgiving Day, gave the Ford family great consternation. Opportunities like the one the Lions had this year don’t grow on trees. They fall from the sky and if you fumble it, you can pay for years.

The Lions let the Packers off the hook, and it disgusted the Fords.

“The fact that we’re not hosting a playoff game this weekend, if not having a bye, is why we’re having this discussion today,” Lewand said at today’s presser.

The next coach will walk into this history: 56 years with one playoff victory and no appearances in the Super Bowl, which is XLVIII years old.

But he’ll also inherit a crazy loyal fan base, talent at key positions and stable, albeit unsuccessful thus far, ownership.

It’s a plum of a job, frankly.

It was clear after this season’s disaster that Jim Schwartz had taken the Lions as far as he could, which was far from good enough.

It’s the epitaph of every Lions coach that Bill Ford has hired.

The owner is 88 years old. His time is running out, and he knows it.

The next coach the Ford family hires might be the last one before the patriarch passes.

No wonder Lewand invoked the word “immediately.”

 

Game 26: Red Wings-NY Islanders

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Game 26: Red Wings-NY Islanders

The Red Wings and the Islanders get it on, circa 1972

Game 26: Red Wings-Boston

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2013 at 3:06 pm

The Bruins and the Red Wings “muck it up” at Olympia in October, 1970. Jim Shires tangles with former Red Wing John “Pie” McKenzie. Watch how McKenzie sits among the fans. No real penalty boxes back then.