Grantland’s One-Year Anniversary – Quickish’s Top 25 List

This list, from Dan Shanoff’s inimitable and essential Quickish (other than my little bits of course) is full of awesome stuff. All of them are great pieces, but I particularly recommend all the ones on here from Brian Phillips and Tom Bissell. I’m just honored to be a small piece of such a great group:

Grantland 1-Year Anniversary Greatest Hits Top 25

Today is the one-year anniversary of Grantland’s launch. After looking through the handy Quickish archive of Grantland tips, here is an assuredly incomplete list of the 25 best sports things the site has published, with designations appropriate for the occasion:

“Rushmore” — Four Things People Think About When They Think of Grantland:

“Growing Up Penn State” (Michael Weinreb)
“B.S. Report: Barack Obama” (Bill Simmons)
“The Importance of Ichiro” (Jay Caspian Kang)
“The Malice at the Palace: An Oral History” (Jonathan Abrams)

“Pantheon” — 10 More Things People SHOULD Think About When They Think of Grantland:

“The Garden of Good and Evil” (Katie Baker)
“The Future is Now” (Chris Brown)
“The Fiberglass Backboard” (Bryan Curtis)
“The Greatest Paper That Ever Died” (Alex French And Howie Kahn)
“Wilt vs. Elgin” (Dave McKenna)
“The Rise of the NBA Nerd” (Wesley Morris)
“The Long Autumn of Roger Federer” (Brian Phillips)
“Tim Tebow: Converter of the Passes” (Brian Phillips)
“James Brown’s Augusta” (Wright Thompson)
“Occasional Dispatches From the Republic of Anhedonia” (Colson Whitehead)

“Also Receiving Votes” — 11 Other Things That Represented the Grantland Ideal:

“The Murder of Tayshana Murphy” (Jonathan Abrams)
“A Requiem for the Dream Team in Philly” (Bill Barnwell)
“Madden and the Future of Video Game Sports” (Tom Bissell)
“Ode to the War Daddies” (Chris Brown)
“What Would the End of Football Look Like?” (Tyler Cowen)
“An Evening With Jose Canseco” (Bryan Curtis)
“Three Man Weave” (Chuck Klosterman)
“A Fighter Abroad” (Brian Phillips)
“Soccer’s Heavy Boredom” (Brian Phillips)
“Novak Djokovic: The Shot and the Confrontation” (Brian Phillips)
“Oden on Oden” (Mark Titus)

 

Grantland: Charlie Strong, Joe Lee Dunn, and the Birth of the 3-3-5 Defense — An excerpt from The Essential Smart Football

An excerpt from my new book, The Essential Smart Football, is now up over at Grantland:

Even with his success, Dunn’s career can also be a warning about the 3-3-5. He’s held down jobs with good schools, but he never was able to break out beyond schools like Memphis, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss. While at their best, his defenses were suffocating and hard to plan for; when the talent dropped off, the aggressiveness once viewed as a virtue seemed to bleed over into a lack of discipline and a penchant for giving up big plays. Since then, he has coached at Ridgeway High School, New Mexico State, and now Division III McMurry. In football, pragmatism rules, and inflexibility — even if it’s with a great idea — leads to the rest of the landscape passing you by.

His legacy is nevertheless secure. Dunn is essentially the father of the 3-3-5, and the coaches that now use it, even if only in certain situations, are his descendants. The original “30 stack” 3-3-5 is no longer the defense of the future. As with most schemes, age has exposed many of its weaknesses, and many of its leading practitioners, like Charlie Strong, have moved on to other fronts and use it as only a subpackage. But in the age of pass-first and spread offenses, the principles underlying it — movement, disguise, aggressiveness, and an extreme focus on speed — are more important than ever.

Read the whole thing, and the book can be purchased here.

Ray Bradbury has passed away

Sad news. I was never a big science fiction fan but I always loved Bradbury’s work, and even more than that I love his raw gusto for the act of writing. He described this in his short book, Zen in the Art of Writing, which is a must read for any person who has ever tried to put words on a page, and has both struggled with it and loved it at the same time. Bradbury was a firm believer in just a few things, but among them were doing what you loved and writing every single day. He wrote Fahrenheit 451 at the UCLA library on typewriters he rented for ten cents every half hour.

My favorite Bradbury story involved his writing of the screenplay for a film adaptation of Moby Dick, to be directed by John Huston and star Gregory Peck. Bradbury struggled with the writing; indeed, he struggled with just getting through Moby Dick. Until finally the dam broke:

It was seven o’clock in the morning.’

“I awoke and stared at the ceiling as if it were about to plunge down on me, an immense whiteness of flesh, a madness of unblinking eye, a flounder of tail. I was in a terrible state of excitement. I imagine it was like those moments we hear about before an earthquake, when the dogs and cats fight to leave the house, or the unseen and unheard tremors shake the floor and beams, and you find yourself held ready for something to arrive but you’re damned if you know what.’

“I am Herman Melville.”

(more…)

Smart Links – Approval Matrix, Phil Steele, Illiteracy, Food Trucks – 6/4/2012

My radio hit with Doug Farrar and Rob Rang.

- Iceberg lettuce remains in its rightful place while something else is surely mislabeled.

- The greatest 7-on-7 team ever.

- A great — and depressing — article.

- Phil Steele ranks the SEC’s coaches.

- What an article on bankruptcy looks like when the author has clearly never read through an actual bankruptcy docket.

- The globalization of food trucks. A good thing, in my view.

- George Soros’s buzzworthy speech on the euro and the Cliff’s Notes version.

- MLB and boy shorts.

Part II of Q&A with Eleven Warriors on the Spread and Urban Meyer

You can find it here:

RRF:  In your study of Meyer’s time at Florida, what were the issues when Meyer’s offense failed?  In other words, what are the necessary predicate conditions for his approach to succeed?

CB: … The other issues they had on offense at Florida — and look, he won two National titles there, which isn’t too shabby — largely were focused on a couple of areas. One was, somewhat inexplicably, Florida’s red zone touchdown percentage cratered after Dan Mullen left. In 2008, when Tim Tebow was a junior and Meyer won the BCS championship game, against conference-only opponents Florida scored touchdowns over 70% of the 43 times they were in the red zone. The next year, in 2009, again only against conference opponents, they scored a touchdown only 29% of the 41 times they went into the red zone — and this was still with Tebow as their quarterback! That drop in touchdown percentage explains almost all of Florida’s drop from 43 points per game to 26 points against conference opponents from Tim Tebow’s junior to senior seasons. (I’m excluding non-conference opponents since we all know that a few games versus directional U can really skew the stats. And all stats are via the invaluable cfbstats.com.)

Read the whole thing.

Beating the Blitz with the One-Back Offense (Bob Bratkowski)

The original one-back offense, the one that can trace its roots back to Jack Neumeier at Granada Hills high school and was popularized by Dennis Erickson, is both one of history’s best offenses and was a forerunner to today’s dynamic spread attacks. Bob Bratkowski, currently the offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars, has been one of its oldest practitioners. He coached under Erickson at Washington State, Miami, and the Seattle Seahawks, before striking out on his own in the NFL. He’s most famous — or infamous — for the decade or so he spent as the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, where he coached some dynamic offenses but also was the target of a great deal of fan scorn.

In any event, below is an old coaching clinic he did about beating the blitz with the one-back back when he was with Seattle. The first twenty minutes or so or so is about wide receiver technique and releases. It’s useful stuff, but the meat of the scheme stuff comes after that. Regardless of your opinion of Bratkowski, I always found this a very useful tape.

The Essential Smart Football is Now Available on Kindle

My new book, The Essential Smart Football, is now available on Kindle. You can click on the image below to go to the Amazon store:

The Essential Smart Football

You can read more about the book here, and it of course remains available in paperback.

Smart Links – Holgorsen’s Dual-Threat QB, William Gholston, P.G. Wodehouse, Incompetents – 5/29/2012

My Q&A with Bruce Feldman on The Essential Smart Football, trends in college football, and what coaches I (and you, the reader) would most like to get drinks with.

- Spencer Hall reviews TESF (in his own inimicable way).

- Blutarsky reviews TESF.

- So does Gregg Rosenthal at NFL.com.

- Dana Holgorsen recruits a dual-threat quarterback.

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Q&A with Ross Fulton of Eleven Warriors about The Essential Smart Football

Talking about the book:

The further benefit to these is when they are used in the no-huddle: The offense can run to the line, line up, call a single, simple concept, and the quarterback chooses where to go with the ball, making the defense wrong, every time. This is in contrast to requiring the quarterback to make lots of complicated checks or audibles at the line of scrimmage or to do that whole everybody-line-up-no-wait-look-to-the-sideline-for-the-new-signal thing. It’s run it and go, and the quarterback is the field general.

On defense the big trend is to take existing defenses, like the 3-4 or 4-3, but to begin using more “hybrid” defenders in the base defense, guys who were maybe considered “tweeners” a few years ago without a true position. These are the linebacker/safety hybrids and the defensive end/linebacker hybrids, who, when facing all these no-huddle or multiple-formation attacks, must be able to both take on a fullback or tight-end at the line, rush the passer, or drop into pass coverage. If you’re going to have any hope of defending a dynamic offense like the one Urban Meyer runs — which is spread but can use power, and can use power but still throw the ball around — then you need to meet that dynamism with more dynamism.

Read the whole thing.

Gus Malzahn Discusses How to Attack Nick Saban’s Alabama Defense

This is from a few months back, but is one of the best one of these such segments I’ve ever seen. Malzahn does a really good job explaining exactly what his thought process was and would be in attacking Saban (and Kirby Smart)’s great Alabama defense:

(H/t RBR.)