Sport

Disciplinary processes in professional sports

Ensuring that professional sportsmen play within the defined and accepted rules of the sport is always a challenge.
Top-flight sports athletes, no matter what their sport, are at the top of their sport for reasons that have a lot to do with talent, but also to do with a burning desire to not only compete, but also to win.
As a result, competitive athletes often end up believing that the means do justify the ends, if the end is an individual or team victory. They would certainly regard any argument that their actions were against “the spirit of the sport” or “the spirit of the rules” as naive talk coming from uncompetitive wimps.
The teams for which the athletes compete usually have the same level of competitive desire, so they are unlikely to ever tell the athlete to “tone it down” or do anything that they think would put the athlete or the team at a competitive disadvantage. So it is no use anybody looking in that direction as a way of ensuring that competitors always obey the rules. (The team may choose to intervene in situations where the athlete has become a pain in the ass to deal with for any number of reasons, but plenty of assholes stayed in teams and competed. Winning gets you a lot of indulgence for bad behavior).
As a result, managing compliance with the rules has to be down to the governing bodies of a sport. They are the only interested party that can and should take on that role.
Unfortunately, many sports governing bodies consistently and persistently fail to discharge that role. They do so for a number of reasons:

1 Pressure from teams and broadcast partners to not penalize bad behavior with suspensions, in order to allow offenders (who are often the high-priced stars) to continue to play
2 A conviction that any publicity is good publicity. If an athlete does or says something outrageous, that generates column inches and web hits a.k.a. controversy
3 Fear that penalizing over-aggressive behavior will cause conservative fans and traditionalists to moan about the sport being “dumbed down” or “pussified”

The result of all of those conflicting pressures is that many sporting bodies, instead of suspending performers for bad behavior, instead subject them to fines, penalty points, probationary periods and other penalties that stop short of outright suspension.
For driven competitors, none of those punishments really matter. As long they can still compete, they won’t care about being fined or told off by email. For a top star earning millions of dollars in a year, even a fine of $500,000 is merely a cost of doing business.
For some lesser-paid players, fines do hurt their pocket-book. However, many players, particularly in team sports, are not going to change their approach, since they risk being written off as insufficiently competitive.

The conclusion that I reached years ago is that in some sports, the disciplinary process is merely window-dressing, a fig-leaf to enable the sport’s owners to say things like “we care about player conduct”, while doing next to nothing to effectively regulate it.
Sometimes that laissez-faire approach backfires badly on a sport, especially contact and collision sports. Professional hockey and rugby have both found themselves squarely in the cross-hairs of bad publicity after player in both sports engaged in unprovoked assaults during games. What many practitioners of contact sports often fail to notice is that the laws governing assault are still in force during a sports event. Sports often use tools that are potentially lethal if misused. A hockey stick is every bit as dangerous a weapon when wielded by an NH player in a red mist as a baseball bat is when wielded by a street thug. Ditto a racing car when being used as a weapon in a race.
So, when somebody says “well, Graham, how would YOU regulate competitor behavior?”, here is my short summary.

1. Make the rules of the sport governing competitor behavior on and off the field of play during the time of an event simple, clear, and not subject to on-the-spot interpretation by officials.
Complex and subjective rules end up placing the burden of ruling into the event officials, which creates all sorts of potential for inconsistency

2. Fines should be levied as a percentage of the competitor’s earnings for an event or for a series of events, not a fixed monetary amount.
The stars and the middle-tier competitors should all feel the pain equally for financial punishment

3. Suspensions should be used for any competitor that engages in reckless, dangerous play or who commmits assault.
Forget fines, letters of contrition, probation etc. They are competitors. The right way to punish them is to deny them the opportunity to compete.

4. The appeal process should follow these principles:
– Appeals should be timely, heard by a small number of independent arbiters, and competitors should not be permitted to bring lawyers and other professional advocates.
Competitors need to be directly accountable for their behavior in front of the disciplinary body. Having professional advocates gives them the ability to hide behind those advocates.
– If the appeal fails, any punishment is applied immediately, and cannot be deferred
– If the appeal is deemed to be frivolous or evasive, the governing body reserves the right to increase the punishment, up to three times the original punishment, and to refuse to allow any further appeal on the matter at any level
Every sports body has competitors to try to game the system, by appealing every punishment, sometimes not even to get the punishment modified, but simply to avoid serving the punishment until after some important event. The only effective way to deter frivolous appeals is to punish competitors for attempting them.

If all governing bodies implemented those principles, a lot of sports would start to have a lot less of a problem with competitor misbehavior.

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Vettel vs. Hamilton incident at Baku – what it tells us about rule enforcement in Formula 1 and sports

A lot of light heat and sound is being created over the incident during a Safety Car period in the European Grand Prix at Baku where Sebastian Vettel, angry at what he thought was an incident of Lewis Hamilton brake-testing him at the exit to a corner, drove alongside Hamilton and then deliberately bumped him.
Vettel was penalized for the incident by being given a stop-go penalty. Predictably, opinion is split between people who believe that Vettel was not punished severely enough, and should have been disqualified, run out of town on a rail etc. etc. and people who believe that the incident was a storm in a teacup between two competitors, and that the media is against Vettel (in the case of the UK media, it must be because Vettel is German and “Don’t Forget Ze Var!”).
Lost in a lot of the discussion is that Vettel has a track record of behaving petulantly on-track. There was the infamous “Multi 21” incident in a race in 2013, where Vettel essentially refused to obey team orders to let Mark Webber pass him on-track, and then lawyered up to weasel out of punishment from the team. More recently, last season Vettel unleashed a string of expletives at Charlie Whiting in a race after another incident. So his behavior in Baku was not exactly new, nor was it totally unpredictable.
There is a simple reality at work here. Competitors in any sport will do what they think they can get away with. They will read the rules, watch how other successful past and current competitors and their role models in the sport behave, and then go out and push the rules to their limits. Talk about “the spirit of the rules” would be regarded by hard-core sports competitors as so much naive fluff. In the case of Sebastian Vettel, he has made no secret of the fact that Michael Schumacher was his hero growing up, and Lewis Hamilton has made no secret of his reverence for the late Ayrton Senna. Both men, as drivers, were bristlingly and uncompromisingly competitive, and both pushed the rules and norms of the sport up to (and in some cases, beyond) previously accepted limits.
It is up to the rule enforcement bodies in a sport to determine what the competitive limits are, and what to do about incidents where competitors go over those limits.
Unfortunately, most competitive sports governing bodies merely fine competitors or put them on probation. Partly this is because many sports leagues are essentially run by team owners, and team owners, as a general rule, do not like to see their highly-paid star performers sitting disconsolately off to one side while the game or event takes place without them. The same applies to Formula 1, where teams like Ferrari would be publicly indignant if one of their drivers was suspended. However, as Joe Saward explains in this commentary, the FIA may be about to come down hard on Vettel for several reasons, and Ferrari, who have been behaving like a bunch of horse’s asses towards the media for months, are likely to find that there is no reservoir of sympathy for them.
However, trying to regulate competitor behavior with fines and probationary warnings never works. Most fines are chump change to athletes earning millions (and some cases, tens of millions) or dollars annually. They will regard a fine as merely part of the cost of doing business.
Competitors will only change their behavior if their actions cause them to be denied the opportunity to compete. Competing is what they live for.
So…any discussion around consequences for Sebastian Vettel’s actions in Baku involving monetary fines, penalty points or minor losses of grid position is total fluff. If he is guilty of dangerous driving, the FIA should have suspended him for 1 race, or disqualified him from the race in Baku and then made him start the next race from the pit lane with a 10 second penalty on the rest of the field.
It is my belief that if the FIA had suspended Ayrton Senna for 5 races and docked him 25 championship points for running into Alain Prost back in 1990 at Suzuka, we wouldn’t have to had to watch this incident, or the Schumacher-Hill and Schumacher-Villeneuve incidents in 1994 and 1997. The message would have been sent along time ago to formula 1 competitors “if you collide with another driver deliberately, it WILL cost you a championship”. The current behavior patterns by drivers are the direct consequence of 20+ years of pussyfooting and inaction by the FIA.
UPDATE – Whenever I read articles talking about “making an example” of a competitor to “send a message”, I know I am dealing with a scenario where a sport has failed to correctly regulate competitor behavior in the past. If Sebastian Vettel, for example, knew in advance that running into Lewis Hamilton would have resulted in an immediate black flag, preferably supported by past incidents where drivers were black-flagged, he would most probably not have run into Hamilton.

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The relocation of the Chargers to Los Angeles

The San Diego Chargers have announced that they will relocate to Los Angeles, after failing to come to an agreement with the city of San Diego on either a new stadium or upgrades to their existing stadium, which is one of the oldest in the NFL.
It is assumed that the Chargers will be tenants with the LA Rams at their new stadium in Inglewood CA which is scheduled to open in time for the 2019 season.
In the meantime, it seems that the Chargers intend to play at Stubhub Stadium in 2017 and 2018. This is a very small stadium by NFL standards, with a capacity of only about 30,000.
The move to a smaller stadium in the short term is, however, likely to have only a limited imoact on the overall team revenues. This is because almost 50% of an NFL team’s revenues is from their pro-rated share of the overall NFL television rights revenues. That is a lot of money each year, and it keeps going up. For 2015, the Green Bay Packers, who are the only NFL team to publish annual accounts, because they are owned by the public, reported TV revenues of $222.6m – 54% of their total revenues in what is a small local market compared to many other teams. The national TV revenue number is rumoured to be rising to over $240m in 2017.
The Chargers are in the middle of the pack on total spending on players, as reported here. They are going to have reduced home game revenues, but they will still share away game revenues from full-sized stadium. To put it in math terms, if their seat and other spending revenues from Stubhub are 50% of the revenues from San Diego, that will still equate to only a 25% drop in game-day revenues, since half of their games are road games. Since about 50% of their revenues come from TV income, the overall impact on revnues will be (at most) 12.5% for the next 2 seasons, and if TV revenues keep on rising, that number may be a lot less.
The Chargers are thus accepting a modest short-term reduction in revenues for the chance to earn more money from premium seating and access to the LA market from 2019. They do have the option of selling PSLs and season tickets, so they could extract a lot of one-time revenues starting in 2018. (This article, interestingly, explains that the PSL opportunities in San Diego were judged to be very limited, and PSL sales in other sports markets have not exactly been big sources of revenue recently, so the 49ers may be an anomaly.), However, the 49ers revenue from PSLs has apparently failed to meet forecasts, in part because the recent performance of the team in Levis Stadium has been poor which has led to a slump in the sales of both PSLs and season tickets. The deal between the 49ers and the Stadium Authority is structured such that failure of the PSL sales to meet forecasts could convert Levis Stadium into a financial loser for the city of Santa Clara.
It is not clear to me what the Chargers will be able to do for other sources of revenue once they arrive in Inglewood as tenants instead of stadium owners or sole occupiers. Many other NFL teams have naming rights deals for their stadiums, which bring in a lot of extra money annually. Since Rams owner Stan Kroenke will own the Inglewood stadium, with the Chargers as tenants, if he does have a naming rights deal for the stadium, it seems unlikely that the Chargers will benefit from it. However, given that the existing naming rights deal with Qualcomm in San Diego was only worth just over $1m per year, you can make the argument that the Chargers have little to lose financially by not having a naming rights deal in future.
I hope that the tenancy deal that the Chargers have with the Rams does not vary the costs dependent on the final cost of the new stadium. Stadium projects are notorious for blowing past initial cost and timeframe estimates.
As to whether the LA area can support 2 NFL teams; only time and on-field performance will determine that. However, the relocations of the Rams and Chargers (and the probable move of the Oakland Raiders) are occurring because cities are increasingly unwilling to provide large sums of public money to build new stadiums for professional sports franchises. If the NFL growth stops or reverses, these moves may be seen as the high water mark for NFL ambitions.
UPDATE 1This article does a good job of summarizing the teeth-grinding self-serving duplicity that NFL owners engage in as they seek to corral ever more public money for their stadiums and related amenities.
UPDATE 2This article explains some of the twisted dynamics behind the final decision by the Chargers to move to LA.. This article explains how the long-standing absence of an NFL team in the LA basin, plus old animosities, has been a major contributor to the current mess. The maximum spin-cycle letter from Roger Goodell looks even more like a zero-credibility pile of BS after you read the article.
UPDATE 3This comment from FieldOfSchemes reminds us of why and how the Chargers ended up in San Diego in the first place

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The dynamics of GM and Head Coach and personnel control in hiring

Ever since Bill Parcells’ famous quote about his desire to control the roster of any NFL team for which he was the head coach, it has been customary for many NFL head coaching candidates to seek control over the player roster of their teams.
The track record of coaches at controlling and managing rosters is at best a mixed one. For some coaches, it is yet another distraction from the high-intensity business of coaching.
Ownership in NFL franchises has become very adept at window-dressing when it comes to who controls roster decisions. This is partly because, ultimately, the person with the check book controls the roster, and that is the owner or the ownership group. No matter how much many franchises attempt to portray their GM and coach as being in total control of the roster, it is an inescapable reality that sometimes owners fall in love with players who are in the NFL draft or free agent pool, and sometimes insist that they be selected or recruited, or even played when they are not ready or a good fit for the team. That seldom gives good results, since the owner is basically disenfranchising their own in-house leadership. However, it happens.
There are also numerous franchises where the head coach is really in control of the roster, and the GM effectively works for the head coach. However, you could not guess this if you looked at the org chart. A good example is the New England Patriots, who do not have a GM, and where Nick Caserio, the Director of Player Personnel, works for Bill Belichick. Belichick has control of the roster, and he may be one of the few coaches in the NFL who does enjoy total control.
The historical rule of thumb has been that the coach works for the GM, so if a franchise fires its head coach and GM (which often happens, as the owners clean house), the normal expectation that the GM is hired before the head coach. If it happens the other way round, the risk is that the GM finds himself with a head coach that he did not select, and ultimately cannot form a constructive working relationship with.
The 49ers are now looking for both a GM and head coach, having fired their previous GM and head coach at the end of the season. They have apparently struck out once already on the GM front, with Nick Caserio declining to interview for the GM position. I am expecting that the 49ers will struggle to fill both open positions, given the bizarre public comments of Jed York, which, frankly, made him look like a petulant child. They appear to have interviewed GM candidates already, and somebody will ultimately take the job. However, whether that person has the skills and freedom to succeed is an open question.

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The astonishingly narrow view in the NFL on coach hiring

We are now into the mad annual scramble where all of the NFL teams that fired their head coach and/or General Manager are trying to hire replacements.
It’s a short compressed hiring cycle, because the NFL Draft takes place in April, and teams want their entire coaching and scouting staffs to be in place ASAP so that they can go evaluate all draft candidates and try to decide who to pick in that annual lottery. There is also free agency which begins in the second week of March at the start of the new league year.
6 teams fired one or both of their head coach or GM. There are weird rumours that the Houston Texans may end up looking for a head coach soon due to friction between Bill O’Brien and team leadership, but those are definitely stretch rumours, given that the Texans are still in the playoffs.
There is a long-standing rumor that the LA Rams want to trade for a head coach from another team (names like Sean Payton or Sean Payton keep being mentioned). Needless to say, in true military and political fashion, all of the parties potentially involved are denying this is a possibility (which leads many cynics to conclude that it will indeed happen).
The list of known candidates for the teams is generally agreed, and it is a depressing list, not because of the candidates themselves, all worthy people, but because it shows (a) the lack of imagination in NFL hiring practices, and (b) the sameness of NFL franchises when it comes to hiring.
The list of candidates for NFL teams always consists of most or all of the following:

1. The interim head coach (if the previous head coach was fired during the season. This may or may not be a serious interview)
2. One or two non-serious minority guys (to allow the team to comply with the Rooney Rule)
3. Hot Co-ordinators
4. Any Hot College Coach presumed to be interested or possibly persuabable to come to the NFL
4. Former NFL head coaches who have re-established themselves as co-ordinators
5. Former NFL head coaches out of the game (if they can interest them)
6. Other position group coaches who may be Hot (usually temporarily based on this year’s results)

Recently fired head coaches will either sit on their buyout money for a season or join a new head coach on his staff. They rarely get a shot at another head coaching interview (Chip Kelly last year was an exception, but see what just happened to him?)

The result of this reasoning loop is that, leaving aside the interim coaches (who mostly do not get the job), the list is a fairly short one. It currently seems to consist of the following:

Hot Co-Ordinators: Kyle Shanahan (very hot), Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia (I wonder which team they work for?), Harold Goodwin, Frank Reich, Anthony Lynn
Minority Guys: Teryl Austin, Teryl Austin, some guy named Austin
Hot College Coaches: NONE (some guy named Nick Saban continues to insist he is not interested)
Former Head Coaches: Mike Smith
Ex Head Coaches: NONE (they are on TV for a reason – it’s a lot more fun than running an NFL team)
Other Position coaches: Tom Cable (also former head coach)

The Rooney Rule is, sadly, being used as a fig-leaf by many teams to obscure the reality that, mostly owned by crusty old white guys, they tend to want a white guy in charge of the players. Teryl Austin has publicly declined at least one interview with a team in the past once he determined that he was not a serious candidate, and the team was possibly simply trying to comply with the Rooney Rule.
Teams always try to hire a Hot Co-ordinator first. They are drawn to them like moths to a flame. When the Dallas Cowboys began winning Superbowls in the early 1990’s, his offensive and defensive co-ordinators (Norv Turner and Dave Wannstedt) were snapped up in short order to become head coaches. Neither man has proved to be a consistently good head coach. Turner remains a respected offensive co-ordinator; Wannstedt is essentially out of football after bouncing all over the NFL and college.
Many other co-ordinators were promoted to head coach, and discovered quickly that it was a job that they either could not do well or did not want to do. Most of them were fired and went back to being good (and in some cases great) co-ordinators. The Dallas Cowboys currently have Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli as their offensive and defensive co-ordinators respectively. Both men were head coaches without much success, but are clearly back in the right job. Jim Schwartz was a failure as a head coach first time round, but remains an excellent defensive co-ordinator.
The role of head coach is a multi-faceted one, and coaching is only part of it. Co-ordinators promoted to head coach tend by nature to focus on the side of the ball that they came from, which leads to a number of head coaches who were offensive co-ordinators continuing to call plays during games. This tends to disenfranchise the team’s offensive co-ordinator, and de-focusses the coach. Ditto defensive minded coaches who try to run the defense in games. That usually results in issues with the offense not being addressed (Todd Bowles). There are too many game-day distractions and this often shows up in other detail areas such as clock management, where teams routinely screw up basics because nobody is paying attention on a continual basis during games.
HIring teams and GMs tend to place way too much emphasis on co-ordinators from successfully (especially Superbowl-winning) teams.
The “hire the Hot Co-Ordinator” approach has therefore resulted in significant disappointments over the years, particularly as teams hired co-ordinators away from the New England Patriots, only to discover that they did not function at all well outside of the unique environment of excellence that Bill Belichick created and maintains in that franchise. The two enduring co-ordinators of the 2000s Patriots dynasty (Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis) were hired away to become NFL and college head coaches respectively. Neither man succeeded in their new jobs, they both looked over-matched and out of their depth. Crennel is back doing what he does best as a co-ordinator in the NFL, Weis is living on his golden parachutes from 2 college teams. Eric Mangini had two spells as a head coach without success, was caught up in the Spygate scandal, and is now in limbo. Josh McDaniel, hired by the Denver Broncos in 2010, began with an unbeaten run in the 2010 season and looked like a genius coaching hire for a season, before the team lapsed into mediocrity and he was fired, going back to New England. The jury is out on Bill O’Brien in Houston.
College head coaches are a hit-or-miss proposition, mostly miss. Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban and Chip Kelly were all college head coaches who spent time in the NFL and found that some of the natural advantages that they enjoyed in college such as superior recruiting, stacked schedules, and total roster and team control either did not exist in the NFL, or were completely different in nature.
Occasionally teams succeed by going outside the box. The Baltimore Ravens raised eyebrows when they hired John Harbaugh, who was a special teams coach, not a co-ordinator, but they have won a Superbowl under his tenure. However, that remains an isolated exception. Most teams think that the Hot Co-Ordinator is the safe and/or exciting and sexy option.
In the meantime, Jeff Garcia has still not been interviewed by the 49ers. They might just need to interview him eventually, since their GM and head coach positions are regarded as the least attractive in the league right now. The 49ers are likely to be short of suitors when the recruitment cycle music stops.

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The 49ers trainwreck – and a volunteer

So it comes to this. The son of the titular owner of the 49ers, asked the obvious question at a press conference, responds by essentially sticking out his tongue at the media and the fan base.
The more I read about Jed York, the more I become convinced that he is the second coming of Tony George.
Yes, that Tony George. The man who, suffused with resentment and hubris after (as he saw it) being frozen out of decision-making in American open-wheel racing, took his ball and stick away, starting the Indy Racing League in 1995, a move that ultimately crippled top-flight US open-wheel racing for over 20 years. The sport has still not recovered to this day. Many years ago, somebody nicknamed Tony George “the idiot grandson”. The nickname stuck. Eventually in 2010, George’s own family tired of his spending family money on his crusades, and took away his stick and ball, but not after immense damage had been done.
The arc of the decision-making of the 49ers is looking more and more like the days of the CART_IRL battle. After hiring Jim Harbaugh and watching him coach the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance and (almost) a second one, the ownership decided that they could not tolerate Harbaugh’s behavior, and parted company with him. Having decided that they could not tolerate a strong-willed coach, they then promoted Jim Tomsula from within to be the head coach. Tomsula had a long and distinguished coaching record with the 49ers, but he had no previous team leadership experience, and the feeling was that the 49ers ownership had hired him because he would be compliant and non-confrontational. They were essentially following a classic model where a respected but confrontational and demanding leader is replaced by a more collegial leader.
What is interesting is that this is not even the first time that the 49ers parted company with a successful head coach. Back in 2003, the 49ers, with John York leading the ownership, fired Steve Mariucci after a season where the team had made it to the second round of the playoffs, losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won the SuperBowl. The reasons for the firing were never revealed publicly.
Jim Tomsula proceeded to prove that he was in over his head in the 2015 season, including rambling press conferences where he sometimes seemed confused. The 49ers finished 5-11 and the ownership fired Tomsula, paying him $14m to sit at home and tend to his garden, while they then hired Chip Kelly, who had been fired by the Eagles before the end of the season, his grand experiment of bringing college tactics to an NFL team seemingly at an end.
At the same time, players voted with their feet, leaving in free agency or retiring. That should have been an indication that things were about to get much worse. In the NFL, poorly managed teams always have trouble attracting and keeping free agents, who have been around the game long enough to sniff out dysfunction, and, with limited playing lives, they want no part of it.
Kelly, beset by the lack of good players, proved unable to coax any better performance out of the team, who finished 2-14. Now he has been fired, along with General Manager Trent Baalke.
The 49ers have, in the usual way, cleaned house.
That was the easy part. The much more difficult part is beginning. How do you attract a high quality General Manager and coach to a franchise where the ownership leader (Jed York) behaves like he is out of his depth? York appears to have no established leader in the organization with a solid football background at present. Unless he is able to tap into advice from elsewhere, it is difficult to see how he is going to be able to make insightful and informed decisions about who to interview and who to hire.
The 49ers situation has been described in multiple media outlets as the least desirable coaching/GM vacancy in the NFL, so it is not likely that any of the top-line names are going to be interested.
One man has already volunteered his services. Former player Jeff Garcia.
This might superficially be a daft idea, but the 49ers could do a lot worse than to hire a former player who, rejected by the NFL because he was perceived to be under-sized, went to the CFL and built a career there before returning to become the starting quarterback of the 49ers for a number of seasons. Garcia was a fiery personality on and off the field in his playing days, but one thing he could not be accused of was lack of effort and intensity.
The 49ers may have to get creative and hire a non-obvious candidate. Maybe they should interview Jeff Garcia…

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The sad decline of RG III continues

Back in 2015, I wrote this article about the decline of Robert Griffin III as an NFL quarterback.
His decline, and the impact on the Redskins, was documented in this article, featuring a film breakdown by former Redskins player Chris Cooley. The article shows that Griffin’s skills at reading NFL defenses were so deficient that even operating with a simplified playbook, Griffin was unable to move the Redskins offense down the field.However, the article also makes the point that, even more than 2 years removed from his injury, Griffin had not only lost his speed, he had also lost the ability to rapidly move left in the pocket. Cooley explains how this has had a profound negative impact on his whole game:

“He can’t move left, he can’t slide [his feet], he always turns to run. When he’s moving in the pocket, it’s always a running gesture, it’s always a tuck-ball-and-run gesture. It’s not keep poised, keep shoulder back, keep ball pressed back ready to throw, shuffle and slide. It’s a tuck-ball-run, then look to throw. This takes all vision off the field for Robert. When he takes all vision off the field at this point, he loses where he wants to go with the football. Which means unless someone’s coming across the field, directly into his vision, he is not able to find them or throw to them.”

Griffin signed with the Cleveland Browns in the offseason, and seemingly won the starting QB job, but his injury bad luck returned again in his first game, when he suffered a broken bone in his shoulder which landed him on injured reserve. Prior to suffering the injury, some of his old issues were clearly still present, although other Browns players did not help the offense.
Returning to the starting line-up last week, Griffin posted another poor performance, with a completion percentage of just over 40% and a QB rating in the 20s.
Increasingly the career arc of RG III resembles that of Jason Sehorn, who for a couple of seasons was a genuine shutdown cornerback for the Giants, with blazing speed that allowed him to beat any wide receiver in the league to the ball. However, Sehorn ruptured his ACL and suffered other knee damage while returning a punt in the 1997 pre-season. When he returned the following year, it soon became clear that the injury had robbed him of his speed. He went from being a top-tier cornerback to an average, then mediocre cornerback, and ended his career as a mediocre safety, beset by other injuries.
RG III is now at the point in his career where he has to either show that he can operate usefully as a pocket passer, or be rejected by NFL teams. The era of offenses built mostly around the read option is temporarily over in the NFL. Teams now know how to shut down that type of offense, and RG III lacks the running speed to even stretch a defense if he keeps the ball.
So far, the evidence is that RG III lacks the ability and/or willpower to make the change. To be fair, other running quarterbacks also failed to adapt.
If RG III wants to make the leap before he lands on the scrap-heap, he might want to arrange to spend some time with Steve Young picking his brains. Young arrived to the 49ers as the heir-apparent to Joe Montana, but with a completely different playing style. Montana was the classical pocket passer, with incredible poise under pressure, great accuracy and the ability to bring the team from behind in games – his fourth quarter comebacks are the stuff of legend. Young, at that stage of his career, would take off running at the first sign of trouble and try to make things happen on the run. As he explains:

…when Bill got hold of me I remember him pulling me aside and saying ‘Steve, nobody knows where you are.’ And I’d go run for 10 yards, or I’d scramble around and throw the ball for a nice completion or something and he’d say, ‘That’s great. But nobody knows where you are. And the truth is, if you really want to make the most of it — get everything out of the play that I call. You left early. You didn’t explore every avenue or option. And people need to know where you are.’ And I remember thinking ‘Oh, crap. I better be where everyone expects me to be. And do everything that everyone expects me to do with this play. I’ve got to exhaust it.’

Note the key repeated message in the paragraph – “nobody knows where you are”. If the offensive line does not know where their quarterback is, they cannot protect him effectively. As the 2014 film breakdown from Chris Cooley showed, RG III was not only failing to pass the ball to the planned receivers for a play, he was also moving all over the place behind the O-line, but not in a useful-slide-around-the-pocket way. He was either running all over the place, or standing like a statue a long way behind the O-line. The first approach takes you out from behind offensive line protection. The second approach allows defensive players to run around the corner straight at the quarterback. As a result he was sacked a lot.
RG III operated like Harry Houdini for a season, but was injured doing so. Now he has a limited time to re-tool his approach, before the Exit door snaps shut on his NFL career.

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Sunday evening quick thoughts

1. Skeerdykats who sign on to hyperbole
Earlier today I found an article (linked from a Tweet) that alleged that if Hillary Clinton becomes President, she is going to stack the Supreme Court and arrange for the abolition of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th and 10th Amendments.
When I read this kind of “pure terror and fear” commentary being passed around, I can fairly safely conclude that the people signed on to this idea are, to use an old English expression, barking mad. My guess is that they spent way too much time in online echo chambers and watching legendarily objective sources of information such as Fox News. This sort of language, dripping with fear and trepidation, is exactly what I find on talk radio and in online echo chambers. Humans are horribly vulnerable to being impacted by what they just heard or saw.
Frankly, with this level of fear and anxiety, I am surprised that some of these people can even leave home in the mornings.


2. Affirmation and reflection of opinions

A good indication that a website or discussion thread is operating as an echo chamber is the presence of massive cursory agreement of commenters (usually responses like “right on!”, “agreed” etc. etc. ) and the almost complete absence of contrary opinions. On the rare occasions on which people do express contrary views, they are invariably dismissed as “idiots”, “sheeple”, “dupes”, or one of a pantheon of general purpose strawman insults (of which the most popular, among the authoritarian community, is “libtard”).
Here’s the uncomfortable fact about echo chambers that many people need to understand. If you inhabit that sort of environment, then you may feel comfortable and vindicated in your opinions and beliefs. However, it is likely that you will learn nothing while you are in that environment. The most you might get is a greater ability with juvenile put-downs.
Reading simply to have your opinions reflected back at you teaches you nothing. People don’t learn much while in a comfort zone.

3. The Deplorables on Twitter
A while ago I noted in a blog posting that most of the people whose Twitter handle includes some variant of the word “deplorable” were demonstrating, every time they said something on Twitter, that they were unattractive Donald Trump supporters. Specifically they were angry, incoherent, mean-spirited asshats.
I would like to withdraw that comment.
They are deluded angry, incoherent, mean-spirited asshats. They live in a weird parallel universe where black is white, up is down, and Donald Trump wins everything just by turning up.

4. Mike McCoy, we hardly knew ye
I am going out on a limb here to make a prediction that has nothing to do with election season.
If the San Diego Chargers lose next weekend, Mike McCoy will be fired during the team’s bye week. The Chargers are a mess, they lost again today, and ownership has to be seen to be doing something as they struggle to either get a better deal from the city of San Diego, or as they ready for a flight up the coast to Los Angeles.

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Hot Seat Assessment – NFL at quarter season

HOT
Mike McCoy
The Chargers finished 4-12 last year and McCoy had to fire a bunch of assistants in order to survive. An interim option exists on the staff in the form of former Titans and Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, so if things do not improve McCoy might not even survive the bye week.

Gus Bradley
In year 4 of his head coaching tenure, the Jaguars are still mediocre, and Blake Bortles is still throwing interceptions. Unless the team improves rapidly, I can see Bradley being the first head coach to be canned after the season. Ownership cannot be accused of lacking patience.

Warm
John Fox
The Bears look mediocre again this year, and apparent mis-steps such as the replacement of Robbie Gould with Connor Barth are starting to piss off the fans. Jay Cutler looked good in Adam Gase’s offense last year, but once again he has a new offensive co-ordinator, which is never good for a quarterback.

Dirk Koetter
The Bucs have no ground game, which is forcing Jameis Winston to throw more than he should, and as a result the interceptions are piling up. Koetter does not seem to know when to keep quiet in public about his players’ performance. So far he has thrown his kicker and his quarterback under the bus in press conferences. That sort of blame game tends to get noticed in the locker room.

Mike Mularkey
The Titans were bad last season, and look like being mediocre this season also. Mularkey already fired special teams coach Bobby April, which is never a good sign. Marcus Mariota looks frustrated by the poor offense, and the history of franchise quarterbacks suggests that if they fall out with the head coach, the coach is usually the one who leaves.

Chuck Pagano
The Colts still have no durable O-line to protect Andrew Luck. Until this is fixed, the team will be mediocre, and owners generally do not like to see the cornerstone of the franchise being carted to the locker room.

Jim Caldwell
The Lions are in danger of lapsing into mediocrity. They have no deep replacement for Calvin Johnson.

Lukewarm
Ron Rivera
The Panthers have started poorly this year, and Cam Newton is trying too hard to make things happen and suffering big hits as a result. The team needs to steady the ship and get back to winning.

Bruce Arians
The Cardinals have started poorly, and with several core team members on offense nearing the end of their careers (Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer), the Cardinals may struggle to get above .500 for the rest of the season. Arians has a short fuse, and if he picks on the wrong players, he could lose the team.

Rex Ryan
A recent pasting of the Patriots has probably taken some of the pressure off, but Rex Ryan is like a wild card collection all to himself. You never know what he is going to do or say next. That makes for great media copy, but not a sound basis for a winning team in the long term.

Todd Bowles
Bowles’ seat may be in danger if the Jets cannot fix their spluttering offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick can look good one week and horrible the next.

Sean Payton
The Saints are putting up big numbers on offense, but the defense is a leaky bucket.

Bill O’Brien
The Texans look to be almost there in terms of winning games.

Chip Kelly
It would be a shock if ownership dispensed with Kelly after one season, but then they also managed to run off Jim Harbaugh 2 years ago, and they are paying Jim Tomsula $14m to not coach anywhere, so logic and consistency are not their strong suits.

Adam Gase
Dolphins ownership will probably give Gase at least 2 years, but right now the Dolphins are just not a very good team.

Jay Gruden
The Redskins are inconsistent, and part of that is due to inconsistent quarterback play. Right now, the decision to not give Kirk Cousins a long term contract looks like a good one. What happens at the end of the season probably comes down to how much the owner wants to interfere again.

Cold
Jason Garrett
The Cowboys looked dead in the water before Week 1 when Tony Romo went on IR with a back injury, but Dak Prescott is looking like the quarterback steal of the draft, and the Cowboys being at 3-1 says a lot about the coaching staff.

Doug Pederson
The Eagles are riding high thanks partly to the decision to play Carson Wentz in his first year as a replacement for Sam Bradford. The trade to Minnesota looks like one of the rare win:win trades.

Bill Belichick
Belichick is coach at New England for as long as he wants the job.

Ben McAdoo

Year 1 for McAdoo and no change can or should be expected.

Pete Carroll
With two recent Superbowl trips, Carroll is in no danger whatsoever.

Mike Zimmer
At 4-0, Zimmer is already assured of hero status in Minnesota after the Vikings solved their QB problem in style by trading for Sam Bradford. Adrian Peterson may or may not be back and the running game is still weak, but the Vikings have a sound defense and defense wins Superbowls.

John Harbaugh
Ravens ownership does not pull the cord on coaches at all readily. The Ravens are struggling in the run game, and Joe Flacco may not be at 100% yet, but I do not see a change.

Jeff Fisher
after week 1 there was speculation that Fisher would not make it to week 2, so bad were the Rams in the opening game. Now at 3-1, things have changed completely.

Dan Quinn
The Falcons are now putting up big numbers on offense in the second year of Kyle Shanahan’s tenure as offensive co-ordinator. As long as the big numbers continue everybody will be quite happy.

Andy Reid
Ownership is patient, but the team may be in rebuild mode soon, with many of its best players nearer the end of their careers than the beginning.

Hue Jackson
The Browns are in the basement at 0-4, but everything Hue Jackson says and does shows that is in the job for the long haul. The Browns have a massive pile of draft picks already for next year, and intend to rebuild via the draft while letting disenchanted free agents move on. They may be secretly hoping for the #1 pick in the draft so they can find their franchise quarterback.

Mike Tomlin
Pittburgh ownership is interested in stability.

Mike McCarthy
See Pittsburgh. The Packers have a massive and loyal fan base and McCarthy is in no danger.

Marvin Lewis
Ownership likes Lewis because he is relatively affordable, keeps a low profile and keeps getting the Bengals into the playoffs.

Jack Del Rio
With a maturing franchise quarterback and something approaching the old smashmouth Raiders identity in the team thanks to Del Rio’s coaching, and with a possible move to Las Vegas on the cards, ownership needs stability.

Gary Kubiak
Kubiak and John Elway are joined at the hip.

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