Monthly Archive: August 2017
I see “innovation campaigns” and change management initiatives all of the time in corporations. Most of them never achieve any positive results. In the worst case, failed change management initiatives increase cynicism and depress morale further.
Innovation and change, like morale, are things that all leaders in all corporations will agree they always need more of. However, innovation and change are very slippery items. Like the wind, you know they are there, but they can head in all directions, and are difficult to steer, and even more difficult to capture and grow.
Having watched the trends in IT solution delivery and service provisioning in corporations in the USA and Europe for over 30 years, I have come to some conclusions about why so many corporations are currently struggling with innovation and change initiatives.
Leaving aside the approaches to fostering innovation, which are often bizarre and superficial, there are several underlying current pervasive dynamics that have the power to totally derail all attempts at fostering innovation and implementing organizational and/or cultural change.
1. Psychological Safety
One of the best ways in which a corporation can ensure that innovation is suppressed is to make it clear that the reward for taking risks or attempting new approaches is to be penalized by Exile or by being made redundant. The organization shows little or no tolerance for failure.
This article explains the concept of psychological safety extremely well.
It is up to leaders to create a climate where taking risks is not immediately shut down, and failures of innovation are not immediately punished. Whenever I hear leaders commenting to the effect that “our culture is risk-averse”, I immediately begin to worry that they are stewards of a climate where nobody with any sense of self-preservation is likely to propose any sort of innovation or change.
2. The offshore delivery work fiction
Most IT delivery organizations have been relentlessly reducing staffing levels for decades, often sending work offshore, where it is often performed poorly, at which point the remaining onshore team members have to “paper over the cracks” in order to elevate quality levels to an acceptable level for the client or end-users. (By the way, this “acceptable” level is often way below the previous quality level that was provided to the client). The result is a corporate fiction that the work is being performed offshore. In reality it is being bodged offshore, and fixed up onshore by a small number of over-worked resources. Those resources are usually too busy to even think about visiting the restroom, never mind engaging in innovation.
3. Reduction in SME coverage and predominance of tacit knowledge
Over the last 15 years I have seen groups progressively slimmed down to the point where only one person is a SME for key areas of the solution. If that person is (say) killed in a road accident this upcoming weekend, the organization will be in a dangerous place starting on Monday.
However, a one-person SME, in the current climate, will not willingly train another person to be a SME, since that introduces a risk (as the SME sees it) that the organization can WFR them in favor of the newly-trained SME.
If the request is to train an offshore person to become a SME, well, if you are the corporate leadership expecting willing participation from the onshore resources, you are below naive.
Ditto documentation of processes. When a person perceives that their employer is looking for an excuse to WFR them, they are going to make damn sure that their business and technical knowledge remains implicit and tacit, not explicit and documented. The default in that sort of climate is that Knowledge is Indispensability. It is probably not true, but that is how employees will see it, and, like just about any employee, they will behave in a “circle the wagons” way to protect their position.
A culture of innovation, like credibility, requires constant renewal and attention to detail. Just as credibility can be severely or degraded by one perceived failure to deliver on promises or committments, innovation interest and engagement can be severely impacted and driven down to zero by one incident where innovators were seen to be punished for failures.
1. Matt Corbett @CorbettMatt 13h13 hours ago
A Houston floodsplainer: (caveat, I’m not a pro, just someone interested in how my city works. If a real pro finds an error, please LMK)
There will inevitably be extreme hott-akes regarding flood planning and Monday-morning QB-ing of officials. This is for context
(some good links): https://www.harriscountyfws.org/ https://spacecityweather.com/ https://www.texastribune.org/boomtown-floodtown/ … http://traffic.houstontranstar.org/cctv/transtar/
Houston is on a flat, mostly featureless plain, which is naturally drained by a number of Bayous (“The Bayou City” refers to HTX, not NOLA) which all run (and drain) from west to east, converging on either the ship channel or San Jacinto Bay
Note the scale: HTX is also geographically enormous It also has varying development density. Here’s a sat pic which will roughly show that:
(Note: I’ve highlighted 2 areas- Addicks & Barker reservoirs and the medical center, because I’ll mention them later)
HTX has sandy soil and a high water table, and so has some, but limited, ability to rely on absorption
(related: No houses have basements and it would be nearly impossible to construct a subway)
Most of HTX is ~35-45′ above sea level. Flooding risk is almost entirely from rain, not storm surges
Being Gulf Coast, HTX gets ~50″ of rain a year. Gulf T-Storms can get intense. 4-6″-in-8-hours storms happen about once a year
flooding is essentially a rate problem- can you drain the water as fast as it comes?
when the answer is ‘no’, water backs up along the drainage routes
As a result, any person’s flooding risk is mainly about proximity and elevation vs the nearest bayou
The primary backup for the bayous for handling too much water are the roads
In the 90s. Houston was getting large enough that relying on groundwater was starting to cause subsidence problems
The powers that be decided (wisely, mostly) to slowly convert all the roads into a giant rain collection network
so every time an asphalt road needed to be repaved, it got replaced with curb & gutter concrete w/ big storm sewer underneath
this has been highly obnoxious to anyone living nearby when such a project was underway but ultimately quite effective
usually means that in flooding situations, roads briefly become rivers and then drain, saving houses from flood damage
but it’s also a work in progress that has proceeded at the rate roads needed replacing, and varies greatly by location
the next backup for water are sections of freeways. Here, e.g. is a section of I-69/US-59 (as indicated on map)
Ggiven the flood risk indication of the neighborhood immediately south, that sunken section serves a flood-relief purpose.
Thus, flood control in HTX is and has been in a continual state of upgrade for 20 years
However HTX has also been growing rapidly in that time, adding about 100-125k people/year for 15 years, with the result that at any given time the flood control has been adequate, but for the city T-5 years ago, not now, with the currently least-adequate parts usually around the geographic periphery and immediately downstream
The key incidents forming city officials’ decision making have been the experiences of Allison (2001), Rita (2005), Ike (2008), and the flooding events of the past 2 years (Memorial Day 2015 and Tax Day 2016)
Conceptually, Harvey is closest to Allison, which was a TS that parked itself over HTX for 3 days and dumped 20″ rain
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Storm_Allison … . The key point:
Rita (2005) was a huge storm, occurring ~1 month after Katrina. For a few days it was forecast to hit Houston directly, but it ultimately drifted eastwards and hit Port Arthur
The debate of whether Houston should have issued a mandatory evacuation is more complicated than many probably realize
Hurricane Ike (2008) is least directly relevant- in Houston it caused immense damage but comparatively little flooding and death
..except in the medical center, which lost power, and sustained lots of flood damage http://doctorflood.rice.edu/SSPEED_2008/downloads/Day2/7B_Ellison.pdf …
The med center is an utterly critical component of Houston, and understandably a high priority for flood control
It employs ~150k people, conducts enormous amounts of cutting-edge research, and most importantly, at any given time has a large number of very sick, very immobile patients
it has therefore received (again, understandably) disproportionate flood-control attention in the past decade… but often at the expense of other areas in the city
The other section I highlighted was the Addicks & Barker reservoirs.
They are flood control reserviors that date from the 30s. They remain highly useful and functional
but given Houston’s growth are now inadequate to the nearby area, which is where the worst flooding in Allison occurred
They are the focus of the Texas Tribune article linked above, and I’d guess that’s where the worst flooding will happen this time
Note the last sentence in this page:
With all that background, now for the city’s Harvey choices:
As of mid-last week, it was forecast that Harvey would produce “up to Allison” levels of rainfall. That was when any evac order would have had to be made
It’s not possible to evac all of Houston inside of 48 hours. Too many people, not enough roads or time, and Houston would inherently be a lower priority than people closer to the coast
City & state leaders knew the rainfall would be very, very bad. But the experiences of Allison & Rita would lead to the belief that evacuation, especially on short notice, would lead to more death than hunkering down.
Also, given that roads & freeways flood BY DESIGN, “stuck on the road” is the absolute worst, most dangerous place to be.
thus an evac that stranded people mid-storm would be worst-case scenario.
Embedded in that is a gamble that emergency services will be able to rescue people at the rate they become endangered
That’s a hard choice to make. and it will be examined for a long, long time given 20/20 hindsight
But decisions have to be judged by the best information available at the time. And at the time, it was justifiable.
Perhaps on closer examination it will have been the wrong choice, but it is an entirely defensible one.
Many have noticed something of a gap a gap between Mayor Turner and Gov Abbott on this choice
and hinted some sort of R/D partisan issue. More relevant is likely the Gov’s handicap
(famously, within TX) Gov Abbott is in a wheelchair, and is thus highly sensitive to the risks for people with limited mobility, who of course are/would be in the most danger if hunkering down proves the wrong choice. And so the Gov likely has a different sense of risk than does the Mayor. Doesn’t make it right or wrong. just a different value judgement. Judgement calls are as much about being able to live with a choice being wrong as they are about picking the outcome one thinks will be best. It’s easy to see both sides of this one
Allan Holdsworth passed away suddenly on April 16th 2017 from heart failure at the age of 70 at his home in Southern California.
He died in relative obscurity, and, by all accounts, in poverty.
The fact that Allan Holdsworth, at the end of his life, was an obscure small cult tells us a lot about the current state of the music business and also the popularity of instrumental music containing improvisational forms. Bluntly, the music form known as jazz is in a bad way in the USA. The problem is not confined to Allan Holdsworth. I have read interviews with other jazz players in the past few years where they explained that they were unable to play live in the USA because they could not get paid any reasonable amount of money for their craft. Europe and Japan are just about the only regions of the world where jazz artists can actually make a living playing live.
The statement that Allan Holdsworth was a guitarist’s guitarist is undoubtedly true, but it is an over-simplification and sells Holdsworth short in many respects. However, it is true that just about every person who has tried to play electric guitar has heard of Allan Holdsworth. In the same way that Jaco Pastorius greatly expanded the vocabulary of the bass guitar in the late 1970s, Allan Holdsworth did the same for the electric guitar in the 1980s. By the end of that decade, he had almost single-handedly expanded the entire notion of what a six string fretted electric instrument cold sound like, both as an accompanying instrument and as a solo instrument.
Holdsworth’s accompaniment and chordal work on guitar was the antithesis of the old phrase “rhythm guitar”. Holdsworth did not sweep the strings, he plucked them, and his chord voicings were often colored, inverted and contained controlled dissonance and open ringing notes. He used large spreads across the fretboard. I have his music instruction book “Searching for the Uncommon Chord”, and I can verify that some of the voicings and fingerings are beyond my ability to play.
Essentially, Holdsworth played accompanying guitar like a keyboards player. Processed through intricate and complex equipment, this resulted in a unique soundscape that has been imitated to a greater or lesser degree by dozens of guitar players.
It was no real surprise that when the SynthAxe appeared in the 1980s, Holdsworth was immediately drawn to it, and he became the musician most indelibly associated with the instrument. The conception of feeding the string information from guitar into keyboard controllers perfectly meshed with his approach to playing guitar. Unfortunately the SynthAxe, like many great innovations, lacked a large enough market to support proper development, and reliability and cost issues blighted greater acceptance. Holdsworth’s own SynthAxes were eventually retired from road use, to be used occasionally in the studio.
Like many skilled practitioners on musical instruments, Allan Holdsworth did not start out playing guitar. He was initially a horn player, and this was immediately obvious when you listened to his solos, which contained pauses and gaps reminiscent of what you hear in blowing instrument solos, where the instrumentalist has to stop playing to take a breath. The attack, the tone, the note selection and his use of a diverse range of scales made him recognizable in no more than two or three notes. Like all great individualists on any instrument, Holdsworth’s solos were instantly recognizable as Holdsworth.
Holdsworth, in his solo playing, also seemed to be totally non-anchored to the blues form and scale patterns that most guitarists start out playing, and often become trapped within. His choice of notes and scales seemed to be derived partly from bebop, but mostly from Somewhere Else.
Holdsworth, as befits a determined individualist, also wrote quirky, often non-standard compositions. He seemed ill at ease with or uninterested in conventional song forms. In the 1980s he experimented briefly with vocal-led music, but soon abandoned having a singer in his band, and for the last 25 years of his life, he toured and recorded with a base trio format, adding a keyboards player occasionally. However, he always used the best musicians available, and there was no shortage of musicians who wanted to play with him. Like Frank Zappa, alumni of Holdsworth bands are to be found embedded in positions of veneration in the music industry all over the place. Holdsowrth’s best composi
tions are, like his solo playing, instantly recognizable, if only because almost nobody else could write tunes like that. Unfortunately, the characteristics of his playing and compositional ability that made Allan Holdsworth unique also made him uniquely difficult to sell as a musical artist. That difficulty was exascerbated by his demanding and uncompromising personality. Unlike many other gifted instrumentalists, Holdsworth never became a fluent sight-reader, so the parallel career of a session player to pay the bills was not really an option for him. (He would have hated that line of work anyway). He also seemed to have a low boredom threshold, and tended to walk away quickly from any musical project that could not hold his attention. Stints with UK and Bill Bruford in the late 1970s ended quickly, as did an attempt to form a more conventionally-structured rock band (recording sessions for “Road Games” followed by the band I.O.U.).
Holdsworth’s many musical admirers included Steve Vai, Frank Zappa (who would probably have hired Holdsworth to play for him if he had been a sight-reader) and Eddie Van Halen, who assiduously lobbied for Warner Brothers to sign Holdsworth as a solo artist in the early 1980s. Hoever, after recording most of an album, Holdsworth and Warners fell out, and only a single truncated LP, “Road Games”, was released.
After that flirtation with the conventional end of the record industry, Holdsworth’s fate was to shuffle from independent record company to record company, releasing an LP here, a CD there. He moved to Southern California in the 1980s, worked and toured infrequently, and, like most jazz artists, suffered from the general downturn in the music industry, which has seen royalties, once a source of steady income for recording artists, shrink to almost nothing in the last 15 years. In occasional interviews, he came across as frustrated, but unrepentant. At the end of his life, he was scratching a living, and after his death, friends had to set up a GoFundMe for his anticipated funeral expenses. The fact that the appeal was shut down after 72 hours, having raised over $114,000 dollars against a $20,000 target, confirms that Allan Holdsworth still had a lot of friends and admirers.
A more conventional Allan Holdsworth would probably have worn tight trousers in a stadium rock band, played bombastic solos, been a hero to air guitar players…and would have been boring beyond belief. Instead we ended up with 40 years of a unique approach to guitar playing that re-wrote a lot of the vocabulary and expanded, sonically, harmonically and melodically, the entire landscape of what we know as Playing Guitar.
Rest In Peace Allan. We hardly knew ye.
Amongst self-identfied conservative and fans of what they term “small government”, it is almost an article of faith that the private sector is more efficient than the government.
(ASIDE – there is a good reason why I used air quotes in the above sentence, since I long ago noticed that many self-confessed fans of “small government” are only fans of that idea when they come across the government spending money on Stuff They Do Not Approve Of, otherwise they are perfectly OK with governments spending money. Lots of money).
One of the classic ways in which people instinctively opposed to government try to bolster their arguments is by pointing to the ineffiencies and waste that occur in IT projects within government. If they are better-informed, they usually throw in one or two notorious examples of pas failures that made it into the public domain.
There is only one problem with the argument.
The private sector is just as inefficient at IT solution delivery. In fact, based on my being involved with both the government and public corporations over the last 38 years, I can state anecdotally that waste, inefficiency, duplication, bungling, cost overruns and out of control projects are just as common in corporate IT. Some of the worst and most expensive failures that sort of made it into the public domain (such as the Confirm travel industry program), consumed hundreds of millions of dollars for next to no result or value.
There is, however, one big difference. Failures in corporations are more often and easily swept under the carpet or into a box marked “amnesia”. I have seen multiple instances of failed delivery programs being carefully spun as successes, “re-scoped”, or subjected to any one of a number of soothing outbreaks of corporate Doublespeak, in order to pretend that the whole damn thing never really happened.
In the case of government, especially at the state and federal level here in the USA, that tends to be less easy to manage, since elected representatives like nothing more than to rake government officials and leaders over the coals in public about a waste of taxpayer’s money. It is a form of ritualistic blood sport, allowing said elected representatives to preen, strut and intimidate in front of the media, as they engage in virtue signaling to their electorates that they are Relentless Stewards of The Public Purse.
Whether those public ritualistic floggings actually yield any positive results is doubtful. Excoriating in public is never a positive motivational strategy; it is about one half step removed from the old saying “the beatings will continue until morale improves”.
The underlying point here, however, is that when people complain about “waste” in government IT, they are conveniently overlooking that the levels of waste are just as bad in the private sector. The truth is that the issues with large-scale IT delivery are many and difficult to solve, no matter where the projects are being executed. Software development and delivery as an activity stream just does not scale well.
Every few weeks, regular as clockwork, speculation fires up again on the Internets that the reason that Donald Trump is apparently behaving and talking obsequiously about Vladinir Putin and Russia is because he is being blackmailed.
Specifically, there is supposed to be a “pee tape” or some other audio and/or video record of Donald Trump engaging in sexual activities, that is in the possession of the Russian government. The hypothesis is that Donald Trump is being obsequious to Russia because he fears that if he is not nice, the tape will be leaked into the public domain.
Let me spell it out.
This is an irrelevant sideshow.
None. Of. This. Matters.
For multiple reasons. It’s a long list.
1. Everything we can see and hear about Donald Trump suggests that he is immune to being shamed in any public forum. He routinely lies, bullshits, utters malformed and inflammatory statements, and behaves oddly in public with other world leaders. The behavior is characteristic of a person with acute Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Narcissists simply do not care how they are perceived by most people, they only care that enough people close to them tell them how wonderful they are. That is why narcissists are almost always surrounded by an inner circle of sycophants who will praise and venerate them, usually without prompting. (For a narcissist, validation from his sycophants is enough, and if those sycophants do not provide enough validation, why, he will damn well fire their asses and get somebody in who will tell him how wonderful he is).
2. Donald Trump might be behaving obsequiously to Vladimir Putin because he thinks he is a great guy who is doing a bang-up job of running Russia. Almost all demagogues and dictators in recorded history have been narcissists, and narcissists love to strut with other narcissists. Think of it as a public dick-swinging contest. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin may simply be birds of a feather. There is also the matter of the Trump family business ties with Russia to consider. If, as rumors suggest, Trump was once bailed out of debt by Russian businessmen, he may have powerful reasons for being nice to Russia that have nothing whatsoever to do with pee tapes, threesome tapes, whatever.
3. What people do in consensual private activities is none of our damn business.
If a politician wants to have fun by being nailed to a wall and whipped by professional working women dressed as police officers, I don’t care. It’s the politician’s own private business. What people get up to in private is nothing to do with the rest of us, as long as it does not break other laws, both parties are able to give informed consent and they affirmatively consented. This should not be difficult.
4. A leader’s consensual, equitable private activities tell us nothing about his or her public behavior.
Nelson Rockefeller, who was the VP from 1974 to 1977, died suddenly in a hotel in New York in 1979, seemingly in the middle of a discussion with a woman who was not his wife. The family hastily shut down all inquiry, had his body cremated, and life went on. However, there was no suggestion that Rockefeller was a duplicitous asshole in politics. He was a well-respected Republican politician and leader. This, remember, was just over 15 years after the office of President was occupied for several years by an Ivy League graduate and war hero who could only just about keep his pants up in the presence of a pretty girl (at least, until he could discuss matters of state with them later in private). Politics always attracts the power-hungry, and power-hungry people will use that power in all sorts of ways. Sexual shenanigans is one manifestation, but probably the least damaging to the political process and the country, as long as it is not a pattern of abusive behavior.
5. Persecution of politicians for sexual shenanigans is hypocritical and encourages secrecy, duplicity and other bad behaviors in the political process
In private life, people have affairs, split up, divorce and get re-married all the time. Yet we persist in claiming to hold political leaders to standards that many of us have not been able to live up to. This is hypocrisy writ large. I have three divorces. I am no position to demand marital consistency from a political candidate.
I would be more impressed if electors would un-elect politicians who really were guilty of malfeasance.
So…my conclusion about the pee tape? Even if it exists, I don’t care. I am far more interested in Donald Trump’s actions in his capacity as POTUS than anything he may have done consensually behind closed doors in the past. The POTUS engaging in a threesome is not something that impacts me. Starting an unnecessary global conflict will impact all of us. Let’s not get distracted by fluff.
From time to time, people who i have never actually met or conversed with on any subject will send me friend or follow requests on social media platforms.
While on one level this is flattering, on another level I worry slightly.You see, you’re not going to be friending a happy-go-lucky, sunshine, buttercups and rainbows guy who is unfailingly nice to all and sundry regardless of what day of the week it is, or what has been happening in the great wide world.
I am a thoughtful, slightly intense person who is highly engaged with the world around me. I have an inquiring and challenging mind. People who know me discovered this a long time ago.
I can also appear to be a pain in the ass from time to time. I have moods. I don’t suddenly become an unhinged psycho, but I can get slightly waspish from time to time, usually as a result of being confronted by one or more people who are talking or acting nonsensically. Usually, if I sense that I am tired, or not in a good place, I take a timeout.
Here’s what that means for your interactions with me.
1. I challenge anything that looks like an assertion with no evidence
2. I have a very sensitive bullshit detector
3. I have limited tolerance for sarcasm, and no tolerance whatsoever for any communication that looks like an attempt at bullying or threatening.
4. I do not engage in tone trolling, I don’t have much respect for it as a basis for argument or discussion.
5. If you want me to respect your arguments, have good ones
6. Don’t argue in memes or slogans. Use your own voice, not somebody else’s.
7. Don’t use juvenile ad hominems or insults if you want me to take you at all seriously. If you keep doing it, I will call you on it. As my Dad used to say, good manners cost nothing, and it’s actually not difficult to be pleasant.
8. Humor and cat pictures are good things. We can never have enough of either.
9. You cannot a la carte me. I cannot and will not engage in self-censorship to fit other people’s ideas or preconceptions about what I should be talking or writing about online. You don’t get the cat pictures without the pithy commentary.
10. I do fact-check both myself and others, and i do admit to error. Not very often, but it happens.
I have come to believe over time that if you want to fully test the decency of humans, you should watch how they handle divorce.
The world of divorce is an example of the idea that if you think that you have heard the ultimate story of bad behavior, just wait until the next divorce case that involves a lot of money.
This tale of the divorce of Blatherwick vs. Blatherwick truly has it all. If you wrote this all down as a story, it would probably be rejected for a TV drama series for being too outlandish.
The recent release of Roberto Aguayo by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has shone the spotlight firmly on the lives and challenges of NFL kickers.
Aguayo’s release was long expected. He had been drafted in the second round by the Buccaneers in 2016. That was unusual, since teams seldom use high draft picks on kickers or punters. The last time a team used a first round pick on a kicker was the Oakland Raiders’ selection of Sebastian Janikowski. That pick definitely worked well – Janikowski is still playing 15 years later and still booting the ball a great distance.
Needless to say, when Aguayo began performing poorly, the excoriation was loud, with all manner of comments about how the Buccaneers could have used the pick on a much better player.
Aguayo had kicked poorly all of last year, missing numerous kick attempts during the season, which had put him on thin ice. The Buccaneers brought Nick Folk in to compete with him this offseason. Both men have not exactly set the world alight, but Aguayo’s continued misses in pre-season led to the Buccaneers terminating his contract last week. (the Chicago Bears claimed him on waivers. It will be interesting to see how he performs in a different place).
However, kickers are more likely to have a shorter shelf life in the NFL. The role is as much a mental one as a physical one. The “yips” can affect kickers just like golfers. Suddenly a kicker will begin to mis-hit kicks and send them in other directions than the correct one. The NFL being what it is, this is usually obvious in a game situation, where the team asks the kicker to hit a field goal to tie the game or win it. If the kicker then misses, and the team loses, the kicker is Goat of the day. A couple of those kinds of misses, and the kicker is either fired, or on thin ice.
There are plenty of kickers in reserve.So teams with a kicking problem can fire the kicker. However, that does not guarantee that their kicking situation will improve. The Buccaneers are discovering this. Having fired Aguayo, they only have Nick Folk on the roster, and he is not kicking well either. The Buccaneers week 1 kicker might still be a player who is not currently on the roster.
Churning the kicker and punter positions usually never works well. A few seasons ago, when Tom Coughlin was still their coach, the Jacksonville Jaguars went through about 4 kickers in a season. They had a revolving door at the position, picking up kickers, and then firing them rapidly after they missed in games. The approach led to appalling kicking and punting play, and Coughlin was fired at the end of the season.
Kickers who are “money”, who consistently boot the ball between the uprights in any kind of game situation, are thin on the ground. Adam Vinatieri is still kicking well at age 42, but for every Adam Vinatieri there a couple of dozen kickers who hang around for a couple of seasons before washing out, or hitting consistency issues.
Kickers fall into the same category as quarterbacks in that there is only one player at that position on the field, so if the extra point attempt sails wide right, it is usually the kicker who gets the entire blame. It is like the quarterback who throws the ball to The Other Guys when his receiver is in the right place on the field. In other areas of the game, accountability is more diffuse. Blown assignments in a defensive scheme might result in the opponents scoring a touchdown, but you don’t often hear fans or coaches intimating that an individual player is on thin ice.
Yet kickers are usually paid minimum salary or close to it. They seldom make more than $2m in a season, which is low compared to many other position or skill players who work as part of a unit. They are also treated as expendable in a way that other players are not. The attitude appears to be “Easy come, easy go”. If the kicker misses in a big game, he is often booted himself and replaced by yet another enthusiastic replacement, who may turn out to be no better over the medium term.
I suspect that the fungibility and lack of longevity of kickers is partly due to that attitude.
Once again, after a stuttering performance in a pre-season game, people are asking “why is Kellen Moore the #2 quarterback in Dallas?”
It is a good question, which speaks to some tendencies in the NFL, but also shows up the appallingly persistent tendency for the Cowboys to rely on the #1 quarterback being healthy all of the time. One would have thought they had learned the hard way in the Tony Romo era about the downside of that approach, but it seems not.
First off, the persistence in using Kellen Moore is not surprising. The NFL is a fundamentally conservative league, with many coaching and personnel decisions made from a viewpoint of Better Be Safe Than Sorry.
Kellen Moore, as most people can see, does not have a strong arm. His arm strength may not even be at the same level as Chad Pennington. However, lack of arm strength did not stop Pennington from being a multi-year starter in the NFL. That was because Pennington, despite his physical limitations, was smart, accurate, almost never turned the ball over, and was a great on-field leader.
You have to contrast that with the sheer numbers of quarterbacks who entered the NFL able to chuck the ball a mile or more, but who quickly proved that while they might be able to throw the ball out of the opponent’s end zone, they had a lot missing in the smarts department. Jeff George and Ryan Mallett could throw the ball a mile, but nobody would ever be able to accuse them of being flush with football IQ. Ditto JaMarcus Russell. Big-armed busts abound in the NFL quarterback department. They tend to think that all they have to do is tell the wide receivers to get open, and they are bound to be able to throw TD passes. The arm will bail them out.
Since Moore did not have a strong arm in college, he learned to be smart with his play, and where he threw the ball. He did well at Boise State by becoming a smart player, knowing when and where to throw the ball and when to play safe. Coaches like that. They don’t have much patience for quarterbacks who consistently throw the ball to The Other Guys.
This is the “system adherence” scenario. Many averagely-talented players stay with NFL teams because they are “system guys”. They know the coaches’ system, which makes them valuable in terms of execution consistency and reliability. What most coaches dislike more than anything else is players freelancing and getting teams into “wild card” positions. That is one reason why Tim Tebow is no longer in the NFL.
The Cowboys therefore like Moore because he does not take unnecessary risks with the ball, and he knows the offensive system well, having been with the team for multiple seasons.
However, it is probably fair to say that Moore has reached his ceiling. What you see is what you are going to get going forward.
Moore’s presence as the #2 also creates playbook issues, because of his lack of a strong arm. Teams playing the Cowboys with Moore under center know that he is not going to be throwing the ball deep, so they can bring up the secondary, pack the box and try to shut down the running game and the short slants that Moore most often likes to throw. Dak Prescott is able to throw the ball deep, so they cannot do that with him in the game.
The problem for the Cowboys is that right now, the NFL has a quarterback problem everywhere. Many teams do not even have a viable #1 quarterback, let alone a quality backup. (ahem! Jacksonville!).
The big question is unanswered: if the Cowboys send Moore packing, who do they sign instead? Bear in mind that every short-term quarterback who the Cowboys signed for backup purposes in the last 5 years has been at best mediocre and at worst awful in game situations. Whether that is the quarterback or the system and the coaches is an interesting question. When a team is unable to bring a backup quarterback up to speed so that he is at least competent in a game situation, I tend to look at the coaches and the system as much as the quarterback. Matt Cassel was not exactly a useless quarterback, but he looked terrible playing for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys may huff and puff about Kellen Moore, but they have no experienced alternative, and the pickings are slim in the free agent quarterback market. There is, of course, a quarterback who remains unsigned, with the initials CK, but whether Jerry Jones can bring himself to sign off on that idea is a good question…