Monthly Archives: November 2012

Are We Seeing the Real Jim Harbaugh Emerge?

For every first time head coach, there comes a moment when he shows his true colors. The first season, or even two, don’t always really show who the guy is or what he’s consistently capable of.

When a coach takes a new job, there is often either a honeymoon phase or a period of time where he faces some struggles. Rarely does a coach step into a situation, see immediate success (and I’m talking about ‘real’ widely acknowledged, traditional success, not relative success like if the Browns or Raiders won 7 games), and consistently continue delivering that level of success. The only recent examples I can think of are Mike Tomlin of the Steelers and John Harbaugh of the Ravens.

Some head coaches never figure out a way to get past the initial struggles and never see success in that first job. They typically last 3 years or so. Steve Spagnuolo (Rams) and Rod Marinelli (Lions) are recent examples of this.

A handful of coaches struggled in year one, had a good year two, but then fell back into year one status and can’t get out of it. Todd Haley (Chiefs), Brad Childress (Vikings) and Raheem Morris (Bucs) fall into this category.

Then there are a number of coaches that saw success initially and then fell into a place of mediocrity or in some cases, bottomed out. Tony Sparano (Dolphins; 11 wins in his first season), Eric Mangini (Jets; 10 wins) and Jim Caldwell (Colts; 14 wins) all got off to great starts as head coaches and appeared to be solid choices. Of course, after the honeymoon period wore off, we saw what each of them really were. Then there are coaches like Todd Ha

I think the ultimate case study of this type of honeymoon period coach is Rex Ryan of the Jets. He began his head coaching career with a 9-7 season followed by an even better 11-5 season. In both of these first two years he took the Jets to the AFC Championship game. But then he followed those seasons up with an 8-8 season, missing the playoffs. The Jets are currently 4-6 under Ryan and he’s on the hot seat. Keep in mind, the team hasn’t changed all that much from his first two seasons to where they are now.

This all leads me to the current case of San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. As we all know, his first year as head coach was a giant success. The Niners only lost three regular season games and he took them to the NFC Championship, losing a close game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Harbaugh brought a big change in mentality to the Niners. However, something always struck me as a little different about him. He wore his emotions a little too much on his sleeve, was almost a little too fiery for a head coach. As of late, we haven’t seen many head coaches in this mold have prolonged success. It’s certainly not the style we see from Bill Belichik, Mike Tomlin, Mike McCarthy, Tom Coughlin or even Harbaugh’s own brother John – all head coaches that have seen consistent success (and no, you can’t convince me that Coughlin or John Harbaugh come near Jim’s level of emotion and fire; the guy’s all over the field, running and yelling). They’re much more in control of their emotions, some to the degree that they’re downright stoic. You can argue that a fiery head coach can be successful too, but when’s the last time we saw one win a Super Bowl? It was Bill Cowher in 2006 and prior to that it was Jon Gruden in 2003. To find one before them we have to go all the way back to Mike Ditka. Analytical coaches seem to be more the style and successful model over the past 20 years. Jim Harbaugh’s style always had a certain Rex Ryan feel to it. It seemed to work though. He had a good first season and the second has been off to a great start.

But last week, something changed. Rahul discussed it a bit previously. Harbaugh created his own quarterback controversy by starting Colin Kaepernick at quarterback against the Saints after regular starter Alex Smith was medically cleared to take the field following his recovery from a concussion. Kaepernick had a good game against the Saints and it seemed to indicate that the Niners found their quarterback of the future.

But not so fast…

Harbaugh came out this week saying Alex Smith is still his starter and that he would decide on a starter for Sunday’s game at St. Louis by midweek.

“Alex Smith is our starting quarterback. He has not done anything to lose that job,” Harbaugh said. “In fact, he’s playing at a very high level. Also, Colin Kaepernick, you can’t categorize him as a backup quarterback, because he’s started games and played very well in those games.”

Uh, what?

Jimmy…if Alex Smith is still your starter, then why are you saying you’ll name a starter by midweek? Didn’t you just do that by saying Alex is your starting quarterback? Of course you also tacitly implied that Kaepernick is also your starter in the very same statement.

This whole weird situation now has me questioning Harbaugh’s intelligence. Last week he already alienated Alex Smith by starting Kaepernick. Smith lost his job not due to poor performance, but to injury. And this came after an off season where Harbaugh did everything short of picking up a microphone and singing “Stand By Your Man” to show his commitment to Smith as his QB now and into the future after reports surfaced that San Francisco showed interest in Peyton Manning. Seems like Kaepernick now has to also be wondering about Harbaugh’s ongoing commitment to him with Harbaugh proactively offering up that he hasn’t decided on a QB for this Sunday yet. Kaepernick had two above average very good performances against the likes of the Bears and Saints and could now lose his job as the starter? Due to what?… He has to be asking “what gives?” much like Smith was wondering prior to the Saints game.

In discussing the situation, Harbaugh offered up comments admitting that the situation is difficult for both Smith and Kaepernick:

“The guys will be hammered,” Harbaugh said. “You go to Colin, you go to Alex, ‘Should you be the starter?’ He’s got no good answer for you. He says, ‘Yes, I should be the starter’ — we’re talking either one — and you look like you’re just building up yourself. If you say no, then they hammer you because you don’t think you should be the starter. Then the people, so-called subject matter experts, who talk about, ‘You should be making a fuss about it or a stink about it, you shouldn’t be that accommodating,’ it sends a completely wrong message, to me, for young athletes out there, or high school quarterbacks, where their coach is trying to tell them it’s about the team and all of us working together. So that one gets me upset. That’s not what our two guys are about.”

That was a rambling, borderline incoherent semblance of a thought. But after reading it three times and finally digesting what I think he was trying to say, my response is: that’s a very nice, idealistic thought, Jim. These aren’t young athletes though. These are two professional athletes who make money to play this game. You say your guys aren’t about stating that they’re the best. They should be. That’s what I want from my quarterback. Top quarterbacks in this league wouldn’t stand by so nonchalantly as their job is dangled in front of them. They’d fight for it, in play and in words. While I respect both men for not talking publicly about this, it’s ridiculous to have the expectation that they’ll continue to fall in line behind Harbaugh (who has now betrayed them both to a certain degree) and tow the company line.

That statement from Harbaugh also made me start thinking about the San Francisco locker room beyond just Smith and Kaepernick. These guys make money based on the passes they catch, touchdowns they score, games they win. Eventually it will come to a point where sides are taken. Harbaugh doesn’t want that to happen. He doesn’t want a locker room divided. Now that Harbaugh turned his back on Smith and has also done so to Kaepernick by not standing by him as the starter after posting two solid wins, when will other guys in the locker room start to wonder if he’ll take the same position with them? If I get an injury, will my job be there when I come back or will Coach turn his back on me? Will free agents want to come into that environment?

Harbaugh has always been a rah-rah type of guy. After all, this is the guy that used that ridiculous “who’s got it better than us?!” cheer last year (for Smith and Kaepernick, I can say their answer to that right now is: the quarterbacks of the other 31 teams in the league that know where their place on their team is). But where is the mental side of coaching and instilling confidence in your team that should recognize he’s treading on thin water by creating his own quarterback controversy? Especially for a guy that played quarterback in the NFL and went through this same type of thing (with Mike Tomczak when both were battle for the starting spot with the Bears in the early 90s)? He knows the mindset, the ups and downs, from his own experience.

I think many have assumed that Harbaugh is a good X’s and O’s guy. Look at that coaching staff though. He has two stellar coordinators supporting him in Vic Fangio and Greg Roman. Two guys that should, and likely will, receive consideration for head coaching jobs this off-season. Is it possible that Harbaugh is a lot of bravado and charisma and those guys carry a significant part of the credit for the on-field turnaround?

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but Jim Harbaugh is on dangerous, slippery territory. Is this a momentary lapse in judgement (albeit a big one) by a good coach or is the Real Jim Harbaugh now emerging in a fashion similar to how the Real Rex Ryan eventually emerged? Only time will tell.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york

Random Saturday Morning Thoughts

Detroit Lions fans, I don’t want to hear about the bad call against you during the Thanksgiving day game. You had numerous chances to win. If you want to see a real screw job, go back to Green Bay vs. Seattle… ///


What’s going on in the state of Indiana? It’s like it’s the late 70s there. Indiana ranked number one in the nation in basketball. Notre Dame sits alone at the top of college football’s rankings and remains the only undefeated tem left in the nation ///


The New York Jets may not have the worst record in the NFL, but they just might be the worst team. Mark Sanchez, how do you run directly into your own player and fumble the ball? He was right in front of you. Big offensive lineman, can’t miss him. The Patriots are a good team, yes, but the Jets had some pretty embarrassing turnovers in the game ///


I’m over Oregon. Good recruits, TONS of money coming into the school (they probably should call themselves the University of Oregon, paid for by Nike), yet they can’t get over the hump. I think we’re looking at a school that plays in a slightly sub-par conference (we’re seeing over the year that it’s not as good as a number of the other big conferences) and beats up on those opponents (most, anyway…), yet when they run into good, well coached teams, fall flat. It goes to show that substance still matters more than flash ///


Too bad Ohio State isn’t eligible this year (and as a Penn State fan, I never thought I’d say that). I’d much rather see Notre Dame play Ohio State in the national championship this year than see a one loss SEC team sneak in. I’m tired of seeing the SEC and I’m not even sure they’re the best conference in the nation. Rankings released every pre-season have about five SEC teams ranked, so each season starts with the notion that the SEC reigns supreme. Then they spend the season playing each other and small directional colleges, some of whom aren’t even division one ///


Seems that every year in the NFL, teams that start out hot tend to lose steam by the end of the year. Look at the Falcons and Texans as proof. Each only has one loss, but they’re struggling to beat sub-par teams now. In contrast, look at teams like the Broncos, Packers and Patriots. They struggled some at the beginning of the year, but now they’re on hot streaks. Did those three get hot too early though? Or will we see others end the year on hot streaks to enter the playoffs? ///


By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york

Random Saturday Morning Thoughts

Since the San Francisco Giants rode Sergio Romo to the World Series title, do they need Brian Wilson anymore? Should they think of trading the pirate-bearded former closer coming off his second Tommy John surgery? ///


If we look at history for a hint at the future, I think Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, likely starting for the first time this Sunday for an injured Michael Vick, is in for a big payday eventually, either in Philadelphia or elsewhere. Want proof? The other quarterbacks that have followed Michael Vick – Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan and Kevin Kolb ///


If both Alex Smith and Jay Cutler don’t play in Sunday’s Bears-Niners game due to the concussions they suffered last week, could the game be decided by which defense scores the most points? ///


Where would “The” Ohio State University fall in the BCS standings right now if they were bowl eligible? ///


Was Mitt Romney never asked about his favorite sports teams during election campaigning? I never heard anything about it and usually that comes out at some point in campaigning. My guess? When campaigning in Ohio, his team is the Browns; in Florida, the Dolphins; in Colorado, the Broncos ///


Hopefully Johnny Manziel gets the proper consideration from Heisman voters this winter and the word ‘freshman’ following redshirt in his eligibility status doesn’t cloud judgement. Remember, Johnny Football is the same age Tim Tebow was when he won the Heisman ///


John Farrell leaves Toronto to become manager of the Red Sox. Toronto then brings in a serious haul of players (Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, , Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera) that should put them in real contention next year for the AL East. Think Farrell is still happy with his decision to leave the Blue Jays? The first time Boston heads to Toronto next year will be interesting ///

Defending the Triangle: A Theory on Why the Lakers Passed on Phil Jackson

I haven’t published a post since November 1st. That’s the longest I’ve gone without writing something in quite some time, and truth be told, over the last couple weeks I’ve been pretty out of touch with what’s happened in the sports world. I had good reason though. I got married on October 27th and was on my honeymoon until until November 13. I promised my wife that during the honeymoon I wouldn’t do any writing for the Couchletes. I also didn’t check email during the trip. So I came back refreshed, rejuvenated and tan still pale… (I burn instead of tan so SPF 50 was my best friend) to find that my fellow Couchletes published a grand total of zero posts during my absence. Apparently it was a break from writing for all of us… The wedding did give us a chance to all hang out together, in person, as a group for the first time ever though.

While during the honeymoon I didn’t follow sports as much as I usually do, there was one story that really caught my eye – the firing of Mike Brown by the Lakers and the subsequent hiring of Mike D’Antoni. A story this big has already been covered by, well, everyone (except Rahul, who I was expecting would have something to say about it), so I don’t need to recant it for you. I do however, want to give my perspective on an aspect of it that hasn’t been covered yet. It’s my theory on why the Lakers management chose D’Antoni over previous Lakers coach and 11-time world champion coach, Phil Jackson.

The official story from Laker GM Mitch Kupchak is that D’Antoni was the unanimous choice by owner Jerry Buss, senior team official (and Jerry’s son) Jim Buss and Kupchak. The story also goes that the three decided on D’Antoni solely for basketball reasons and that issues like salary (Jackson is expensive) and travel (Jackson has voiced a preference for not going on long road trips) did not play any part in the decision.

I’m not buying it. Let’s take them at their word though, at least on part of the rationale. Let’s say that the cost of Jackson and side issues like a special travel schedule for him played no part in the decision. What basketball issues would make them lean toward D’Antoni, a fine coach, but one who has won nothing? Apparently, much of the decision revolved around Jackson’s famed Triangle offense. So why would Kupchak and the Buss family not want the triangle?

The Intelligence Factor
It’s come out that it was difficult for the current Lakers team to pick up former coach Mike Brown’s Princeton-style offense. Lakers management thought that given that, it would be just as difficult for the team to now learn Jackson’s similar triangle offense. Who exactly are the players that they think would have trouble learning the triangle? Ron Artest Metta World Peace learned it… Who do they think would struggle? If Peace learned it, I’m pretty sure the rest of them could.

The Big Man
Some would say the triangle isn’t designed to be run by a team with a talented big man like Dwight Howard, pointing at Jackson’s days of running the offense in Chicago with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and such world renowned centers such as Bill Wennington, Stacey King and Luc Longley. My counter to that? Shaq ran it. He did pretty well, no?

The Point Guard
Some would also say the triangle isn’t designed for a team with a talented point guard like Steve Nash, pointing at the likes of BJ Armstrong, Derek Fisher and Ron Harper, who all ran the offense under Jackson. They think the offense holds back a talented point guard by moving the ball around too much (doing the job of a traditional point guard to some degree). Steve Nash is a smart guy though, a smart guy that wants to win a title. He doesn’t care about his personal stats anymore, he wants to win. And for those not knowledgeable of the triangle offense – it’s designed to open up opportunities for everyone. Why do you think Jackson ran it while having such stars as Jordan and Kobe? Because it forced a defense to stay honest and not overcommit to the star on the team. Second point – do you really think a smart coach like Jackson wouldn’t make some adjustments to it to take advantage of Nash’s talents?

Any other reasons the Triangle wouldn’t work for the Lakers? I can’t think of any…

Here’s my theory:
The Buss family and Kupchak knew that if they brought in Jackson, everyone would expect the team to win now. If they didn’t win, the blame wouldn’t go to 11-time champ Jackson. He’s won everywhere he’s been with every personality type. Senior management spent considerable money to bring in Howard and Nash. It’s more likely that the blame would shift to Kupchak, Jim and Jerry for spending money on high priced assets that didn’t integrate well enough and left the team without a bench. They knew if they brought in D’Antoni, they’d see a faster paced offense that LA fans would love and they’d have one more scapegoat if things didn’t pan out.

So I don’t think the decision came down to the Triangle offense or any other basketball reasons. I think it was ego and a case of CYA, quite simply.

NFL Week 11: The Couchletes Pick ‘Em

So, while Kevin decided to take the last three weeks off to get married – as if that’s important – the rest of us also took that same time off. They say the captain sets the tone on the field and, well, Kevin stepping out to battle a hurricane in Boston and ultimately landing on the soft, sandy beaches of Maui for 10 days really didn’t motivate any of us to pick him up while he was out. Sorry, Kev.

Now that he’s returned from paradise he’s cracking the whip and here we are.

The last few weeks in the NFL have been intriguing to say the very least. The recent rash of midseason injuries to some of the league’s elite coupled with the uprising of young talent has really put a spin on this season I think we were all waiting for. The word “parity” is overused these days, but we recently saw a graphic that showed how close these teams really can be on Sundays.

Going clockwise, each team has beaten the one to its right

We’re seeing more and more upsets in recent weeks, but we’re also seeing the cream starting to rise to the top. Shockingly this cream includes teams like the Colts, Seahawks, and the Broncos. The Broncos have really turned it on recently as Peyton Manning has gotten more and more comfortable calling the shots in a new offense with new personnel. It’s hard to say anyone doubted he would get there but last summer it was hard to tell. The rest of the cream is made of the usual suspects – Patriots, Texans, Ravens, Steelers, etc., etc. We get it. You’re good. While it’s nice to still have some consistency among the league’s best I think we’re all ready for parity to takeover some and deliver us some intriguing storylines in this second half of the season.

With that, here are The Couchlete’s Week 11 picks that contain very few chosen upsets but, I’d say, a lot of hope for some. We’re playing for pride here. Let’s be real. I’m not picking the Lions to upset Green Bay, but you can bet I’ll be pulling for them.

Match-up Kevin Ryan Rahul Hoa Mark

The NBA in 2012: The Good, the Bad and the Hopeless

This post continues our 2012-2013 NBA Preview. You can view all our NBA preview posts here.

Many people talk about parity in the NFL and how great it is for the sport. Every year, each team (for the most part) has a shot (some being long shots) at the playoffs. For the most part, I see the truth in that, but Cleveland Browns fans might disagree with me. I don’t buy into this parity talk as much as some people. There are certain teams we know will just be bad. However, I do think the NFL has evolved into a league where a team can turn things around relatively quickly. You don’t see teams laboring at the bottom of the cellar with no hope for years and years (sorry, Cleveland, I’m overlooking you for this post).

Baseball isn’t talked about as much as being a parity driven league because it doesn’t have a salary cap. So teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs and all the other wealthy, big market teams can spend at will to build contenders year after year. Yet, we don’t see that happening. The Red Sox were horrible this year and the Cubs are more often horrible than not. And we’ve seen a number of low spending, small market teams contend over the past couple years. Tampa, Oakland, Cincinnati. The Nationals were a team that had been dreadful since re-establishing as a franchise, but had the best record in the bigs this year while not spending exorbitant amounts of money. Teams like Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Cleveland were teams that were in contention at various points of the year.

In the NBA, we don’t see this type of parity. There are a few really good teams, a few really bad teams and a mess of teams in the middle in a category many would call hopeless. They’re not good enough to contend as built, but aren’t bad enough to get a lottery pick and start to build younger, better pieces. The general thinking is you want to be really good or you want to be really bad (so you can get good in a couple years).

There’s a problem with this thinking though. It’s not that simple to rebuild through the draft anymore. Players coming out of college are less developed than in past years because they’re younger. It takes a little longer for them to adjust to the NBA and reach their true potential than it did rookies ten years ago. Many teams won’t wait around for a player to reach that potential. They give them three years and then move on, so another team ends up getting the benefits from that player’s talent and potential (see: Michael Beasley, Hasheem Thabeet, Adam Morrison, Devin Harris, etc.). Along these same lines of thinking, the job of the NBA general manager is getting more difficult. They need to find players that will contribute in the near term, but they also don’t want to miss out on that guy that develops and emerges as a viable star in his fourth year in the league.

Evidence? Look at the teams that finished near the bottom of the league last year. Charlotte’s been bad for a while. Cleveland’s been bad ever since LeBron left town. Sacramento and Golden State have been consistently poor over the past five years. Detroit, New Jersey and Toronto have been in the bottom third of the league for years as well. Each of these teams have young players they can build around, but how long will it take them to get to the point where those players can contend with the Kevin Durants, Dwight Howards and Dwyane Wades of the league? Or will they ever even get to that point?

It’s a difficult situation to fix because while the NBA has a salary cap, many of the game’s top players are now deciding that they’ll accept less salary in order to play with other great players for a chance at NBA Championships. Who would look at Sacramento or Detroit and decide they want to go play there? How does a team put itself in position to be one of the franchises that people want to go to?

They could go in a different direction than the draft and build the pieces first and then go after the star. However, teams like Houston have tried to do that and failed. Stars want to join stars. So it seems teams will be forced to continue to build through the draft. No easy solution exists to bring the kind of parity we see in football and baseball to basketball.

With that, I’ll move on to making my predictions for the good, the bad and the hopeless this year.

The Good
Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs

The Bad
Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings, Charlotte Bobcats, New Orleans Hornets

The Hopeless
New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, Portland Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets

Not surprisingly, the Hopeless category has the most teams in it…

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york