Cutting football was the best move this college ever made
Six years ago, Michael Sorrell made a decision that threatened his reputation and maybe his job.
His tenure as president of Paul Quinn College started in 2007 and, shortly thereafter, he opted to cut football in an effort to save money.
The response on campus was not pleasant.
“Predictably, we had folks who were, I guess, the reaction was loud,” Sorrell says.
This was in football-nuts Dallas, only seven miles from the heart of the city. Sorrell was not anti-sports, either. He played basketball and loved football. He just felt the sport was “something economically we could not justify.”
Sorrell made an offer to the angry defenders of the sport: Raise $2 million to save football, and he would match it.
“To date,” Sorrell says, “no one has raised a dollar.”
College football is dealing with an emerging financial crisis. It’s plaguing programs as large as the University of Tennessee, which was a reported $200 million in debt over the summer, and as small as Grambling, which is begging alums for donations after poor facilities led to a player mutiny earlier this month. Escalating coaches’ salaries and declining attendance have led to real concern that the entire college football complex will become insolvent, leaving only a few schools with thriving programs.
“We are standing on the precipice of an economic day of reckoning in higher education,” Sorrell says. “I think there will be more schools to do this. I think we’re just early.”
Football was eating $600,000 of Sorrell’s budget, and Paul Quinn is a tiny school of only 250 students. How could he continue to educate when so much funding was going to something that wasn’t building an academic reputation?
He simply couldn’t. So the field sat vacant.
Sorrell moved on to a much bigger issue: his school is located in a food desert with neither a restaurant nor a grocery store nearby, and many of the students at the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi are poor. Eighty percent of the students at Paul Quinn are Pell Grant-eligible. (There’s a “clothes closet” on campus where students can get business casualwear for free, and money had to be raised so students could afford eyeglasses to read.)
A year after the end of football, Sorrell was meeting with a real estate investor named Trammell Crow. They bandied about the idea of devoting a tract of land to producing food for the community. But where?
Sorrell joked that they should just build a farm on the football field.
The jest quickly turned into a reality, and the school’s future was changed for the better.
Some of the produce grown in full view of the scoreboard would go to local food banks and the surrounding community. Some of it, eventually, could be sold.
Last year was a busy one for public giveaways to the National Football League. In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts.
Taxpayers in Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati, were hit with a bill for $26 million in debt service for the stadiums where the NFL’s Bengals and Major League Baseball’s Reds play, plus another $7 million to cover the direct operating costs for the Bengals’ field. Pro-sports subsidies exceeded the $23.6 million that the county cut from health-and-human-services spending in the current two-year budget (and represent a sizable chunk of the $119 million cut from Hamilton County schools). Press materials distributed by the Bengals declare that the team gives back about $1 million annually to Ohio community groups. Sound generous? That’s about 4 percent of the public subsidy the Bengals receive annually from Ohio taxpayers.
In Minnesota, the Vikings wanted a new stadium, and were vaguely threatening to decamp to another state if they didn’t get it. The Minnesota legislature, facing a $1.1 billion budget deficit, extracted $506 million from taxpayers as a gift to the team, covering roughly half the cost of the new facility. Some legislators argued that the Vikings should reveal their finances: privately held, the team is not required to disclose operating data, despite the public subsidies it receives. In the end, the Minnesota legislature folded, giving away public money without the Vikings’ disclosing information in return. The team’s principal owner, Zygmunt Wilf, had a 2011 net worth estimated at $322 million; with the new stadium deal, the Vikings’ value rose about $200 million, by Forbes’s estimate, further enriching Wilf and his family. They will make a token annual payment of $13 million to use the stadium, keeping the lion’s share of all NFL ticket, concession, parking, and, most important, television revenues.
After approving the $506 million handout, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said, “I’m not one to defend the economics of professional sports … Any deal you make in that world doesn’t make sense from the way the rest of us look at it.” Even by the standards of political pandering, Dayton’s irresponsibility was breathtaking.
In California, the City of Santa Clara broke ground on a $1.3 billion stadium for the 49ers. Officially, the deal includes $116 million in public funding, with private capital making up the rest. At least, that’s the way the deal was announced. A new government entity, the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, is borrowing $950 million, largely from a consortium led by Goldman Sachs, to provide the majority of the “private” financing. Who are the board members of the Santa Clara Stadium Authority? The members of the Santa Clara City Council. In effect, the city of Santa Clara is providing most of the “private” funding. Should something go wrong, taxpayers will likely take the hit.
The 49ers will pay Santa Clara $24.5 million annually in rent for four decades, which makes the deal, from the team’s standpoint, a 40-year loan amortized at less than 1 percent interest. At the time of the agreement, 30-year Treasury bonds were selling for 3 percent, meaning the Santa Clara contract values the NFL as a better risk than the United States government.
Although most of the capital for the new stadium is being underwritten by the public, most football revenue generated within the facility will be pocketed by Denise DeBartolo York, whose net worth is estimated at $1.1 billion, and members of her family. York took control of the team in 2000 from her brother, Edward DeBartolo Jr., after he pleaded guilty to concealing an extortion plot by a former governor of Louisiana. Brother and sister inherited their money from their father, Edward DeBartolo Sr., a shopping-mall developer who became one of the nation’s richest men before his death in 1994. A generation ago, the DeBartolos made their money the old-fashioned way, by hard work in the free market. Today, the family’s wealth rests on political influence and California tax subsidies. Nearly all NFL franchises are family-owned, converting public subsidies and tax favors into high living for a modern-day feudal elite.
Pro-football coaches talk about accountability and self-reliance, yet pro-football owners routinely binge on giveaways and handouts. A year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Saints resumed hosting NFL games: justifiably, a national feel-good story. The finances were another matter. Taxpayers have, in stages, provided about $1 billion to build and later renovate what is now known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (All monetary figures in this article have been converted to 2013 dollars.) The Saints’ owner, Tom Benson, whose net worth Forbes estimates at $1.2 billion, keeps nearly all revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and broadcast rights. Taxpayers even footed the bill for the addition of leather stadium seats with cup holders to cradle the drinks they are charged for at concession stands. And corporate welfare for the Saints doesn’t stop at stadium construction and renovation costs. Though Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal claims to be an anti-spending conservative, each year the state of Louisiana forcibly extracts up to $6 million from its residents’ pockets and gives the cash to Benson as an “inducement payment”—the actual term used—to keep Benson from developing a wandering eye.
In NFL city after NFL city, this pattern is repeated. CenturyLink Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play, opened in 2002, with Washington State taxpayers providing $390 million of the $560 million construction cost. The Seahawks, owned by Paul Allen, one of the richest people in the world, pay the state about $1 million annually in rent in return for most of the revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and broadcasting (all told, perhaps $200 million a year). Average people are taxed to fund Allen’s private-jet lifestyle.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of six Super Bowls, the most of any franchise, play at Heinz Field, a glorious stadium that opens to a view of the serenely flowing Ohio and Allegheny Rivers. Pennsylvania taxpayers contributed about $260 million to help build Heinz Field—and to retire debt from the Steelers’ previous stadium. Most game-day revenues (including television fees) go to the Rooney family, the majority owner of the team. The team’s owners also kept the $75 million that Heinz paid to name the facility.
Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor of urban planning, calculates that league-wide, 70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, not NFL owners. Many cities, counties, and states also pay the stadiums’ ongoing costs, by providing power, sewer services, other infrastructure, and stadium improvements. When ongoing costs are added, Long’s research finds, the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tennessee Titans have turned a profit on stadium subsidies alone—receiving more money from the public than they needed to build their facilities. Long’s estimates show that just three NFL franchises—the New England Patriots, New York Giants, and New York Jets—have paid three-quarters or more of their stadium capital costs.
Many NFL teams have also cut sweetheart deals to avoid taxes. The futuristic new field where the Dallas Cowboys play, with its 80,000 seats, go-go dancers on upper decks, and built-in nightclubs, has been appraised at nearly $1 billion. At the basic property-tax rate of Arlington, Texas, where the stadium is located, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would owe at least $6 million a year in property taxes. Instead he receives no property-tax bill, so Tarrant County taxes the property of average people more than it otherwise would.
In his office at 345 Park Avenue in Manhattan, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must smile when Texas exempts the Cowboys’ stadium from taxes, or the governor of Minnesota bows low to kiss the feet of the NFL. The National Football League is about two things: producing high-quality sports entertainment, which it does very well, and exploiting taxpayers, which it also does very well. Goodell should know—his pay, about $30 million in 2011, flows from an organization that does not pay corporate taxes.
That’s right—extremely profitable and one of the most subsidized organizations in American history, the NFL also enjoys tax-exempt status. On paper, it is the Nonprofit Football League.
This situation came into being in the 1960s, when Congress granted antitrust waivers to what were then the National Football League and the American Football League, allowing them to merge, conduct a common draft, and jointly auction television rights. The merger was good for the sport, stabilizing pro football while ensuring quality of competition. But Congress gave away the store to the NFL while getting almost nothing for the public in return.
The 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act was the first piece of gift-wrapped legislation, granting the leagues legal permission to conduct television-broadcast negotiations in a way that otherwise would have been price collusion. Then, in 1966, Congress enacted Public Law 89‑800, which broadened the limited antitrust exemptions of the 1961 law. Essentially, the 1966 statute said that if the two pro-football leagues of that era merged—they would complete such a merger four years later, forming the current NFL—the new entity could act as a monopoly regarding television rights. Apple or ExxonMobil can only dream of legal permission to function as a monopoly: the 1966 law was effectively a license for NFL owners to print money. Yet this sweetheart deal was offered to the NFL in exchange only for its promise not to schedule games on Friday nights or Saturdays in autumn, when many high schools and colleges play football.
Public Law 89-800 had no name—unlike, say, the catchy USA Patriot Act or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Congress presumably wanted the bill to be low-profile, given that its effect was to increase NFL owners’ wealth at the expense of average people.
While Public Law 89-800 was being negotiated with congressional leaders, NFL lobbyists tossed in the sort of obscure provision that is the essence of the lobbyist’s art. The phrase or professional football leagues was added to Section 501(c)6 of 26 U.S.C., the Internal Revenue Code. Previously, a sentence in Section 501(c)6 had granted not-for-profit status to “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, or boards of trade.” Since 1966, the code has read: “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, boards of trade, or professional football leagues.”
The insertion of professional football leagues into the definition of not-for-profit organizations was a transparent sellout of public interest. This decision has saved the NFL uncounted millions in tax obligations, which means that ordinary people must pay higher taxes, public spending must decline, or the national debt must increase to make up for the shortfall. Nonprofit status applies to the NFL’s headquarters, which administers the league and its all-important television contracts. Individual teams are for-profit and presumably pay income taxes—though because all except the Green Bay Packers are privately held and do not disclose their finances, it’s impossible to be sure.
Gordie Howe Bowl is a terrible stadium and it will be even after the renovations. I know its home to the Saskatoon Hilltops, the 834 time Canadian Junior Football champions but that doesn’t mean it’s a decent stadium.
The stands are a long ways away from the playing field and the seats are sloped well back. It’s more a saucer than it is a bowl which means that the stadium is quiet, even with a crowd full of cow bells and air horns.
The concessions are terrible which makes a bad game day experience worse., even if watching the Saskatoon Hilltops is always worth your time and money. For high school football, the size is too large even for frosh week or rivalry games. Even when attendance is goodl, half of the stadium is empty.
Proponents of Howe Bowl point out that the improvements (larger dressing rooms that no one uses), concessions, and field turf will make the game better. Field turf has shredded (63%) more knees (players hate it) and caused more concussions than decent grass ever has. The medical evidence for keeping players on natural grass is significant, especially since most high school seasons are done before the extreme cold hits (I know there are exceptions, I have played in them). By upgrading Howe Bowl and making it cheaper to maintain (our city’s m.o.) we are making it less safe for high school athletes.
The solution is to stop the fundraising for the stadium and move the Hilltops to Griffiths Stadium. As for high school football, construct metal stands on each high school field like they do in almost every other city in North America and have them play there. Most high school fields are in good shape and the addition of some bleachers means that home field would really mean something.
As for the Hilltops, it isn’t as if this is a big move as the Hilltops play late season games at Griffiths each season after the high school teams have destroyed the turf at the Bowl. Canadian championships have been won at Griffiths Stadium. It has history for both the Huskies and Hilltops not to mention city high school games and even the Charity Bowl.
Gordie Howe Bowl has a lot of tradition but there is no need to have a separate field for both the Huskies and Hilltops. The field is out of date and the upgrades will make it dangerous for players. It was a poorly conceived idea from the start.
Plus, this commercial makes a lot more sense when a high school actually has a “home field”.
The one-time savior of the Oakland Raiders and the first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft floundered for three painful seasons, but nobody knew why he was struggling. They didn’t know because Russell didn’t tell them. For the first time, JaMarcus Russell speaks about his life as an Oakland Raider and his life away from football. Tom Rinaldi tells us about the awakening of JaMarcus Russell and his second chance to come back and play in the NFL.
“We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.” —George Preston Marshall; founder of the Washington Redskins, 1961
“We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.” —Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, 2013
No one has ever heard you speak about the well-known connective DNA between the team name and the man who coined it, original owner George Preston Marshall, who was called the NFL’s “leading bigot” by legendary Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich. You surely know that Marshall was an arch-segregationist and your team was the last in the NFL to integrate. You probably see it as irrelevant to the name that Marshall had a deep affection for the slave South and minstrel shows or that for years he had “Dixie” played before home games.2 You’ve made clear that you want to someday bring the team back to D.C. from the suburban hinterlands of Landover, Maryland. You’ve also made clear your contempt for the D.C. mayor and the D.C. City Council, who have said if you ever want to see public subsidies for this venture, the name must change.
You, however, have not commented on the devastating letter from 10 members of Congress this month, including Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole of the Chickasaw Nation, who said that the name was similar to having a team called “the Washington N-words” and that it “diminishes feelings of community and worth among the Native American tribes.” Roger Goodell sure has. Goodell answered Congress in a letter released June 11, in which he defended the name “Redskins,” calling it “a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” I’m sure all concerned are very relieved to hear that “redskin” is a term of unity and respect, because if there was one thing George Preston Marshall believed in, it was unity and respect. Oh, also white supremacy. Unity, respect, and white supremacy. (In other news from NFL Bizarro World, there is still no conclusive proof that traumatic brain injury is linked to football.)
But back to you, Dan. You say that you stand with “the fans,” but you’ve never commented on leading local fan blogs like Hogs Haven and Mr. Irrelevant — both of which have said the time is now to change the name. You say the name represents the team’s history of great players, but I’ve never heard you respond to former Skins Pro Bowler Tre’ Johnson, who said, “It’s an ethnically insensitive moniker that offends an entire race of displaced people. That should be reason enough to change it.” I know you don’t think the name is racist and wrong, and therefore I have to assume that you disagree with Suzan Shown Harjo, a woman of Cheyenne and Muscogee descent who is president of the Morning Star Institute, a national indigenous-rights organization in D.C. Harjo said to me, “For most Native Americans, there’s no more offensive name in English. That non-Native folks think they get to measure or decide what offends us is adding insult to injury.”
People like Suzan Harjo, Tre’ Johnson, and Tom Cole talk and you just hear — pardon the expression — white noise. I know you’re dug in. What I don’t know is whether you realize that this change is going to happen, and soon. I don’t know whether you realize that, after 14 years of a disastrous tenure as owner that has seen your local popularity rank just below that of the summer mosquito population, you are about to be a victim of your own success.
Since I moved to D.C. in 1996, the team’s fortunes, depending on your rooting interests, were either high comedy or low tragedy (this guy was most assuredly both). But now, for the first time since you became boss, the burgundy-and-gold matters. Now the top-selling jersey in the NFL is our own Robert Griffin III, a second-year quarterback who — and it thrills just to type these words — somehow led the NFL in yards per attempt and yards per carry in his first season. Now this is a team that, if RG3 stays upright, will contend for Super Bowls over the next decade. He’s that good.
Imagine if your team makes the Super Bowl. Instead of glory, I can guarantee two solid weeks of coverage, debate, and questions about why our shared national holiday will be marred by a racial slur. Instead of celebrating the league, your buddy Roger Goodell would be under the hot lights and pressed at every turn about why several media outlets in the D.C.-Metro area refer to your franchise only as “the Washington football team.” There would be “Occupy Redskins” protests in the Super Bowl host city. With RG3 comes relevance, and with relevance comes the one thing Roger Goodell loathes more than direct sunlight: political attention. The attention RG3 demands, the heightened profile of the team, and your desire to get a new D.C. stadium all speak to the reason why there is more sunlight than ever on the shame of this name and why the end is assuredly near.
You are a man with gossamer-thin skin and no shortage of pride.3 For your own good, you need to switch your thinking on this. There’s a reason why history is kinder to Bear Bryant than to Adolph Rupp.4
You are not a subtle man, so let’s not beat around the bush. You say the name isn’t offensive. I think it’s time to prove it. Let’s let the tailgate drop and the bullshit stop. Instead of proclaiming how “respectful” the name “redskin” is in a region with an indigenous population of just 0.6 percent, I am inviting you to take a road trip with me. I am asking you to step out of your gated community and roll with me Midnight Run–style on the Pine Ridge reservation among the Black Hills in the great state of South Dakota. Once there, you will stand tall in a beautiful burgundy-and-gold Starter jacket and your famous Redskins belt buckle, and sing our shared fight song, “Hail to the Redskins.” Explain the rich history of the team to all present. Tell them about how it’s really a tribute, as your former vice-president Karl Swanson said, “derived from the Native American tradition for warriors to daub their bodies with red clay before battle.” Make it plain that you mean no disrespect, and then let’s roll the cameras and make YouTube magic.
So again, can tell me again why Saskatoon is so comfortable with the name Redman that Bedford Road uses.
“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.
There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that’s first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay, and I don’t ever want to finish second again. There is a second place bowl game, but it is a game for losers played by losers. It is and always has been an American zeal to be first in anything we do, and to win, and to win, and to win.
Every time a football player goes to ply his trade he’s got to play from the ground up – from the soles of his feet right up to his head. Every inch of him has to play. Some guys play with their heads. That’s O.K. You’ve got to be smart to be number one in any business. But more importantly, you’ve got to play with your heart, with ever fiber of your body. If you’re lucky enough to find a guy with a lot of head and a lot of heart, he’s never going to come off the field second.
Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization – an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win – to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don’t think it is.
It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That’s why they are there – to compete. To know the rules and objectives when they get in the game. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.
And in truth, I’ve never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn’t appreciate the grind, the discipline. There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat.
I don’t say these things because I believe in the ‘brute’ nature of men or that men must be brutalized to be combative. I believe in God, and I believe in human decency. But I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”
- Coach Vincent T. Lombardi
“What’s this I hear about you getting another house?” says the voice on the other end of the line. It comes across as more of a challenge than a question.
“It’s a cheap house,” Polamalu insists. “Like, really cheap.”
The Steelers safety can certainly afford it. He has no debt, made $367,000 per week last season and has plenty of money in savings. ”I made millions of dollars — what’s wrong with spending a small percentage of that?” he says.
The two volley back and forth for a couple of minutes about Polamalu’s wanting to invest in a third home, but the idea quickly gets shot down. “It’s not about whether you can afford it, Troy. It’s what that money can instead do for you over the course of your lifetime.”
And that was the end of it.
“As soon as the conversation was over, it was done, settled,” says Polamalu.
Here is how it works.
THE MAN ON the phone was Dusan Miletich, one of the managing principals of Arenda Capital. He’s not Polamalu’s agent or financial adviser but actually his partner.
Arenda is what’s called a multifamily office — there are around 4,000 in the U.S. — and is made up primarily of the pooled funds of four families, Miletich’s being one. Polamalu, who has netted more than $25 million after taxes since being drafted by the Steelers as the 16th pick overall a decade ago, is the office’s most recent partner.
Family office companies such as Arenda manage the net worth of wealthy families like a business. That means everything from cutting checks for car payments and mortgages to handling personal finances. It also means investing any income generated to make more money and managing wealth from generation to generation by resolving estate-planning issues. Because Arenda includes more than one family, investment decisions are made by the group for the group — everyone having something to gain, or lose.
The roots of Arenda go back to the 1960s with Miletich’s father, Vel, who partnered with Parnelli Jones, one of the most prominent race car drivers at the time. The two founded a family office with the goal of living off their real estate investments while accumulating enough to take care of future generations.
When the housing bubble burst in 2008, the company shifted its focus from retail, office and industrial properties to apartment buildings, which could be had cheaply. That year it also added the Meyer family, one of the oldest commercial landowners in Beverly Hills and Pasadena and started real estate investment funds so outsiders could take part in its growth; Arenda now has about $500 million in assets under management.
Polamalu was introduced to the business in 2010 by his brother-in-law, Alex Holmes, whose sister, Theodora, married Troy in 2005. Holmes had recently taken a job as director of business development with Arenda and had some concerns about the Polamalus’ finances and how they were being managed. This was family, after all. “He was being managed like every other athlete, and to me, that wasn’t good enough,” Holmes says.
He suggested Arenda.
Reggie McKenzie knew he faced a significant challenge when he was announced as general manager of the Raiders on Jan. 6, 2012. Over the previous nine years the team had gone through six head coaches, and it had lost at least 11 games in an NFL-record seven straight seasons. Oakland’s last winning campaign, in ’02, was a millennium ago by NFL calendars.
Still, the depths of the struggle might not have truly hit McKenzie until several months after his hiring, when he changed into his workout gear and headed to the back of the team’s Alameda training facility, where his long jog around the practice fields was spoiled by wildly uneven footing and goose droppings.
If the choppy grass fields were hazardous to a 49-year-old such as himself, he thought, imagine the dangers for players. In the previous two seasons alone, running backs Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece, wideouts Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore, defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly and linebacker Rolando McClain had been hobbled by or missed significant time because of lower-body injuries.
When McKenzie asked who was responsible for the upkeep of the fields, which were riddled with dirt patches, the answer stunned him. The Raiders did not employ a full-time, on-site groundskeeper. Instead, the work was outsourced to a local company—astounding considering that the difference between the playoffs and a pink slip could easily come down to a turned ankle, a jammed toe, a tweaked knee or a pulled hamstring.
The field conditions were just the first of many reminders that restoring greatness to a franchise whose mottos had included “Pride and Poise” and “A Commitment to Excellence” would be about much more than just hiring a new coach and ridding the roster of its bloated contracts and underachieving players. It would be about transforming an entire culture and overhauling an organizational model that had become stale and outdated after nearly five decades under Al Davis, the iconic and imperious owner who died of heart failure at age 82 in October 2011.
It wasn’t just the grass that needed fixing
McKenzie knows he must be spot-on in this year’s draft. Oakland has the No. 3 pick and the fourth pick of the third round, but its second-round selection belongs to Cincinnati as part of a 2011 swap for Carson Palmer. He’d love to trade down for more choices, because the Raiders are far more than one player from being relevant again. But if he’s unable to find a trade partner, then he has to find impact players with his high picks. Imagine the best draft ever. If McKenzie replicates that, his team is mediocre at best.
And so, much of the G.M.’s energy the last 15 months has been spent on upgrading Oakland’s scouting and personnel departments. When he went to view the club’s draft room last year, he discovered that none existed, so he had one built from scratch. When he requested the team’s scouting questionnaires for evaluating college prospects, he learned there weren’t any, so he created them.
Such resources are givens in most NFL organizations—but not with the Raiders and Davis, who had his own way of doing business. He was the only owner who didn’t use one of the national scouting services for college prospects, and the only one who didn’t subscribe to the psychological-testing program available to each team before the draft.
Davis was so behind the times that even toward the end he didn’t allow employees to use direct deposit, and he kept the budget for coaching and support staffs in his head rather than on paper. In his video department, the software was tragically outdated.
Sadly the Oakland Raiders (as in Mark Davis) fired Oakland’s PR person, Zak Gilbert after the story came out.
We read the Trotter story this morning, and there are certainly aspects of it that would make any organization cringe. The Raiders fell behind the competition in many ways in the last 10 years of Al Davis’ life.
General manager Reggie McKenzie was portrayed as a man who inherited a pigsty, forced to tend to matters both minor (hiring a head groundskeeper, constructing a draft room, upgrading video equipment) and major (completely rebooting the team’s scouting and personnel departments, treating burns incurred in salary-cap hell).
The Raiders reportedly dumped Gilbert because the SI piece — which surely now will attract more eyeballs — delved into not just the team’s struggles in recent years but why and how the downturn occurred. The guts of the story focused on positive strides made by McKenzie over the last year, but that apparently wasn’t enough to save Gilbert.
The Raiders shouldn’t run from the last decade. It’s a dark period that the organization can learn from. Firing the PR guy over a story anchored in facts makes it look like the team is trying to will the bad old days into the ether. That’s not happening.
Yahoo!’s Mike Silver saw this coming a year ago.
When the Broncos defense was on the field, offensive coaches would often tell Tebow the first series of plays they wanted to run when the team got the ball back. Tebow would nod, and they’d separate. And then, invariably, a short while later he’d ask for the information again. Sometimes this ritual would repeat right up until Tebow had to duck into the huddle and call the play. As a result, despite starting only 11 games in 2011, Tebow was flagged for delay of game an NFL-high seven times. Worse still was the fact that, according to scouts, Tebow almost never audibled because he struggled to quickly and properly read defenses. And of all the deadly sins Tebow committed against quarterbacking, this was the worst: lacking the self-awareness to recognize and fix these shortcomings. Maybe the most shocking part of Tebowmania isn’t that he has been cast out of the NFL after just three years but that he lasted as long as he did.
The weird part about reading this is that when Josh McDaniels drafted Tebow, all he talked about was Tebow’s football IQ.
In a meeting room at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels and Tim Tebow sat several feet apart, engaged in animated, rapid-fire conversation about football. They clicked almost immediately.
McDaniels was convinced Tebow was genuine. He came away even more intrigued with Tebow as a player.
Tebow, an All-America quarterback at Florida and the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, felt he had found a kindred football spirit.
“I was jacked leaving that room. I didn’t even want to visit another room. It was not enough time,” Tebow said. “We were excited, we were enthusiastic. There was passion. It was just intense, and it was ball, and it was juice. The juice level in that room was high, and it was awesome.”
The Dave Fleming has this.
But he scored a below-average (for QBs) 22 on his Wonderlic test. As a kinesthetic learner, Tebow absorbs information better through using flash cards and hands-on repetitive experience than the traditional method of memorizing diagrams, notes and Polaroids from a playbook.
I have taken the Wonderlic (and done quite well on it). it’s not that hard and if someone does poor on it, I would have some serious questions about their comprehension abilities. That may not be that important if you are cornerback or a defensive tackle but if you are a QB and you have comprehension problems, it is big deal.
The disturbing question in all of this is why then did Josh McDaniels draft him? It seems like they bonded personally and that made all of the other issues (like completing passes and reading offences) go away.
For all the drama that went with Mathieu crying on television after being selected and then giving an emotional interview to ESPN afterward, execs weren’t buying it.
To most, the question came down to this: Why does he keep drawing so much attention to himself? Why was he on television at all? Why was he tipping off the network to the possibility that San Francisco might take him with the No. 31 overall pick? Why was he on the cover of ESPN the Magazine? Why was he lending his name to some party promoters, even if it was some misunderstanding?
“Every time you turn around, it’s something else,” another NFC exec said. “There’s a certain point where you just tune it all out.”
Before the draft it was reported that Mathieu was a no-show for visits to Houston and Seattle for interviews. He unnerved other teams by talking about how he is still chewing tobacco to “take the edge off.” While he has left behind some of the bad influences in his life, he still is hanging out with something of an entourage of people from a troubled past that includes him getting kicked off of LSU’s football team last year.
Sure, Mathieu has been seeking guidance from a pastor in Baton Rouge and from his high school coach. Sure, he’s not a malevolent kid. He’s just smoking marijuana, not assaulting people. But he’s also the kid who worked out, admitted he had a problem and seemed to think everything was fixed. It’s as if Mathieu put a Band-Aid on an open gash and thought, “All better.”
It’s almost as if getting kicked off the team wasn’t quite enough for Mathieu to get the concept of rejection. Hard lessons fade like a bad dye job when you have people like ESPN’s Jon Gruden calling you the best cornerback in the draft (even though Arizona and most teams saw him as a safety if he’s going to start) and when you’re fully armed with the notion that rules don’t apply (Mathieu admitted to failing at least 10 drug tests at LSU).
You have a kid that doesn’t listen to anyone, has a drug addiction, surrounded by bad influences and is now being paid about a million dollars a year. He’ll be cut by this time next year, signed by the Raiders or Bengals, cut, and in the CFL by 2014 where he will play about 6 games.
I know how it works because I did it. I lived it, although only for a season. I am a former Football Operations Coordinator for an NFL team. I began as an intern for one team and then was an intern for the team that eventually hired me. My job was to manage the day-to-day operations of the team. Essentially, my job was to take all of the non-football related duties and handle them so the coaches and personnel department could focus on the football related duties. It’s a lot of work. I was removed with the football staff when our team had a poor season. It’s simply part of the business.
Here is comments on “balance in football”
The cause is running the football. The effect is winning football games. This logically leads us to the conclusion that maintaining balance and keeping with a solid run game will lead to more wins. This is why you hear analysts and talking heads discuss it all week long leading up to games — “Team A must stick with the run game. They have to stay balanced to win this game.” The stats support the theory — “They’re 3-0 when running the ball 20 times and 1-4 when they run it less than 20. So they need to keep pounding the rock.” If there’s logic involved and the stats support the statement, then it has to be true, right?
Nope. It’s all a lie. Balance is the biggest fallacy in football. It’s an illusion that people logically arrive at because we’re confusing the cause for the effect. Putting the carriage before the horse, if you will. Or more aptly, putting your ass in front of your face.
The cause is winning. The effect is running the football.
Put another way: Winning (or being ahead) is what causes teams to run the football more.
This is why balance is an illusion. Go look at the box scores at the end of games and you’ll typically see that the team who won probably had more “balance” to their playcalling. That’s because when they were leading in the 4th quarter they were trying to drain the clock and ran it 2 out of every 3 downs. After a couple first downs on a couple different series in the 4th quarter, the team that is leading has padded its rushing numbers by somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-15 rushes to 3-5 passes. Before those 2 series, that team could have had twice as many passes as it had runs, but now because of trying to melt the clock, they’re “balanced.”
So what is balance in the football?
To really determine a team’s balance I look at first half rushing and passing attempts. That tells me what a team wanted to try to do. I can take into account the number of called runs and passes along with the effectiveness of each playcall and discern what their intent was for the gameplan. A team who isn’t having a lot of success in yards per carry but is still calling an even amount of runs and passes is a team that is making a concerted effort to stay balanced. If they’re gashing our defense for 6 yards per carry, well then we can just attribute that to their playcaller following the production.
The other team could disregard balance entirely by throwing it 20 times and rushing it 10 in the first half. Coaches try to avoid this because a gap in balance like that allows the other team to adjust their personnel and packages accordingly. Under pass heavy circumstances, a defense can almost assume a pass out of one-back sets. They can switch to nickel, play more coverage, and focus more on pass rush. All of this is why I favor the idea that teams should stick with what is productive until the other team proves is can stop it. Once the opposing team adjusts to a personnel package filled with DBs to stop the pass, then start handing the ball off and gashing them for runs.
Makes sense to me, even if it confuses Phil Simms.
No one likes to renovate a stadium, unless you are an American university.
In which case you are comfortable renovating one of the oldest stadiums in the United States. I find it funny that in Canada, the consultants reports always say, “tear it down” while American (nd many British) consultants almost always say, “renovate” and expand. There are different opinions about which is the right approach but personally I love the history behind American university stadiums vs. the sterile feel of pro stadiums. I also love the idea of building to expand later, which is something that a lot of pro teams can learn from. It’s a lot cheaper than tearing down and building again. Of course with a university as a tenant, they aren’t likely to pick up and move to the Alamodome or Los Angeles but the end result are almost sacred sports places full of history and memories.
You might have missed this in the pre-holiday news dump, which it was specifically timed for—it’s a good idea to downplay the implications of a story like this. An agreement was announced in a “hastily called news conference” to keep the Bills in Buffalo (actually Orchard Park) through at least 2020. But the real story is in the details: the Bills have been allowed to pick up just 16 percent of the costs to keep them in town. If you’ve ever had the slightest curiosity as to how sweetheart a deal an NFL team can possibly get, the full agreement can be read below.
It’s going to cost $271 million for upgrades to Ralph Wilson Stadium and 10 years of running the place on gameday. The Bills will pay just $44 million of that. Erie County will cover $103 million, while the state of New York is on the hook for $123 million. If that turns out to be not cushy enough, the Bills can buy their way out of the lease after year seven. We and others have railed against the outrage of public financing for stadiums for years, but it’s still shocking to see in 2012 a textbook case of a community held for ransom, forced to give in to every last demand of a franchise threatening to move.