Smart Notes 3/30/2010

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart singing is, well, a, um, sight to behold (h/t EDSBS):

- Nick Saban to use Julio Jones some at safety. Seriously. But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. As high school coaches have long recognized: your best players have to play.

- How cold are Big Ten football games? The Daily Gopher concludes that “[t]he words “freezing” and “frozen” were completely inappropriate for describing Big Ten football in 2009.”

cold

But — what about a comparison with other conferences? And, as a Big Ten alumnus myself, I can say I’ve been to some very cold football games. Finally, I think one thing that skews the analysis it that in the midwest it simply gets colder sooner than, say, the southeast or west coast. As the chart shows, on October 10th, hardly the dead of winter, there were two games in the low 30s and three more in the 40s. If it’s 65-70 degrees in Georgia or Miami, it’s still fair to say that it’s cold in Big Ten country.

- Speaking of Big Ten country, will Paul Petrino be able to turn around the Illini offense? Last year I speculated about whether former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Schulz, newly hired from TCU, would be able to improve upon or expand on Mike Locksley’s success (I use that term generously) with Juice Williams. It turns out the answer was a resounding no (while TCU seemed to hardly miss Schulz, who was banished to Middle Tennessee State). The Zooker has kept his job, and managed to score what I thought was a pretty good pick as offensive coordinator: Bobby Petrino’s brother, Paul Petrino. This move made more sense to me for Zook than it did Petrino, as another dismal season and Paul’s hopes of joining his brother as a head coach of a BCS school might be seriously derailed. (Though I’d wager there’s always a position open on Bobby’s staff, just as there was for former mentor and Michigan State cast off John L. Smith.)

Petrino brings to Illinois a pro-style offense, and one that actually deserves the name because of the heavy resemblance to the pros and multiple nature. And if outgoing coordinator Schulz’s modus operandi was to “spread the wealth,” the brothers Petrino have summed up their offense as “FTS — Feed the Studs,” something that probably would have worked better with Arrelious Benn around. I have to think Illinois will improve on offense simply because Paul will bring more coherence, but with so many stalwart players gone and the state of the Zooker’s program being so perilous, it’s hard to say.

But who knows, maybe in the Janus-like Big Ten, where teams are either spread-happy or old school grinders, a pro-style, multiple attack can work wonders.

- Socialized football? Not that football. From The Guardian: The British “is to unveil radical proposals that would give football fans first option to buy their clubs when they were put up for sale and require clubs to hand over a stake of up to 25% to supporters’ groups. The ideas, due to be included in the Labour manifesto with a promise of action in the first year of a new government, are designed to give fans a far greater say in how their football clubs are run and overhaul the way the game is governed.”

Brian Cook takes neither side in the Tebow-Fowler dust-up, and thus comes out ahead.

Josh Cribbs is very romantic. And by that I mean, well, not really very romantic.

- David Warsh gets meta about bloggers and journalists. It’s a good piece, though I fear it’s that time of the year when the offseason really hits and everyone wants to write about writing and blog about blogging.

- Go Kentucky: The entire U.S. population in 1790, a bit under 4 million, is less than the 2008 population of Kentucky.

Smart Notes 3/26/2010

More influential books lists:
Kyle King
Tom Gower
Carlin (The Marlin)
Walter
Zach

- The NFL’s new overtime rule. So far, opinion is split. The coaches appear the most unhappy. Brian Burke offers some thoughts. For my part, I am mostly confused as to why they went with this complicated system; I’ve yet to wrap my brain around the decisional nuances that will be present with giving teams the chance to “match” and so on. The old sudden death system already skewed the touchdown and field goal numbers, since (a) teams in field goal range usually settled for a field goal, but (b) sometimes a demoralized defense gave up a cheap touchdown when the offense had the ball in obvious field goal range. Now, the team with the ball will face a big decision whether to go for the touchdown, particularly by increasing their odds of scoring a touchdown by going for it on fourth down, or playing conservatively. And the team that gets the ball second will have plenty of incentive to go for the touchdown and be aggressive — but I anticipate most will settle for the field goal.

So I think there are only two things we can, right now, say with certainty about the new plan: (1) almost any statistics you hear on TV about how often the team who gets the ball first or second wins will be misleading because there are so many factors at play, and (2) it will likely succeed in making overtime last a little longer on average, which I take to be the overall goal anyway. Whether the system is any fairer in practice is probably besides the point: if the team that won the toss gets a field goal, you can say the other team “got a shot,” and if they get a touchdown, everyone will use truisms about “stopping them.” The measure ameliorates debate, but it doesn’t solve issues.

- Jump on the Coach Kill bandwagon. Northern Illinois’s football coach loves football, corn cobs, his own face, and THUNDERSTIX, and hates Toledo, Wisconsin, and your kids.

- Nick Saban doesn’t want to hear about “repeats.” Via Doc Sat: “Saban would disagree with that “defending” part. He’d say that last year’s team is no more because so many important elements of that team are gone, and to say this next group of football players is defending anything is incorrect because this particular group hasn’t won anything to defend.”

This is basically an argument of necessity: How do you get 18-21 year olds to handle success, particularly when several if not many of the major contributors are no longer around? Saban is well-known for championing the “process” over the results or even end-goals, and we’ll see if his approach succeeds better than another coach’s recent attempt to deal with the same “entitlement” phenomena.

- St. Mary’s football pedigree. From The Quad:

[T]he most significant victory in St. Mary’s history came in a sport the college no longer plays — football.

In the 1920s and ’30s, the Gaels had one of the best teams in the nation under Edward Madigan, known as Slip, a Knute Rockne protégé….

St. Mary’s, then an all-male college, beat the Rose Bowl champion of the 1927 season, Stanford, and the 1931 season, Southern California, which won the national championship that season. In 1933, the Gaels had the third-largest attendance in the nation.

Their biggest win, though, came in New York in 1930 when they traveled east and ended the 16-game winning streak of Fordham with a 20-12 victory after trailing by 12-0 at halftime.

On the eve of that game, Madigan threw a party in New York that included Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones and the politician Al Smith. After the game, the team traveled to Washington, as it had planned, and received an invitation from President Herbert Hoover, a Stanford graduate, to visit the White House — perhaps the first sports team to be celebrated there.

- Rex in the City: The HBO series “Hard Knocks” will follow the New York Jets this fall. But isn’t there a risk of giving away information by having cameras and a film crew troll your practices, while having no editorial control? Not to Jets Coach Rex Ryan:

Would the Jets leak information about players and schemes that opponents might latch onto for future use? Ryan shrugged it off. Giving away a play or a coverage, Ryan said, would not be included in the final version of the show.

“I think, you know — I trust, you know, let’s just throw a guy out there — anybody,” Ryan said, pausing, a gleam in his eye. “Bill Belichick. Let’s just throw him out there.”

The room erupted in laughter at the mention of the New England Patriots’ intelligence-gleaning coach, before Ryan said: “He’s going to do his due diligence. He’s going to do his work, anyway. He’s going to have a huge opinion on our players, one way or the other.”

Indeed, having the brash Ryan as coach had nothing to do with HBO selecting the Jets…

“We have our Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg in Rex Ryan,” Ross Greenburg, the president of HBO Sports, said. “Absolutely,” Ryan said.

- The effect of shooting angle in basketball. (more…)

More “influential” book lists

A quick rundown of more book lists, either in response to my list or to others’. The following are lists by:

Aaron Nagler

Matt Hinton

Tyler of The Lions in Winter

OldSouth

Dave of Pigskin Punditry

Trent of Howling with Mirth

Nathan Matthew

Kieran Healy

Ivar Hagendoorn

Matt Yglesias

And, though it’s not a most influential list, this is Brophy’s recent reading list. And I am still waiting on some other prominent sports bloggers to chime in. Don’t be afraid of being judged, in our little sarcastic, self-referential, self-deprecating world.

Books that have influenced me most

The idea for this came from Marginal Revolution. This list is based on gut, rather than deep thinking, and I will admit that I had to keep in mind that I am writing for a football audience here as I composed it.  These are in no particular order, and, because the idea is “influence,” there is a tilt towards books I read when I was younger. Here is a list of 10 book, with only slight fudging:

1. The Bunch Attack: Using Compressed Formations in the Passing Game by Andrew Coverdale and Dan Robinson, and Coaching Team Defense, by Fritz Shurmur. The book by Coverdale and Robinson showed me what was possible in terms of analyzing football and building a coherent system off a set of concepts and expanding them to whatever the defense throws at you. The Shurmur book, obviously focused on the other side of the ball, showed me how to take a set of very understandable principles and to think about how they can be taught and applied over and over again.

2. The Collected Short Stories of F.Scott Fitzgerald. This one for personal reasons, but, even when the stories occasionally sag or retread old material, the sentences remain among the best you’ll ever read. Fitzgerald is best read when you’re young.

3. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis. I would expect most sports bloggers to include this one. The only sports book I truly love, and, to be honest, it’s only sort of about sports. Undoubtedly Smart Football, like Football Outsiders, Advanced NFL Stats, and many others, owe a lot to Lewis’s book, as my reaction to reading it was probably the same as many others’ (and mine was not cynical): (a) this guy can write brilliantly (I’d already read Liar’s Poker); (b) the lack of a rational, data-driven approach to sports is exactly what is wrong with it, so the book is a breath of fresh air; and (c) I want to expand on these ideas, including by applying them to footbal.? The other thing I appreciated was the intellectual history of ideas from Bill James to being used in clubhouses. This strongly influenced me, as I am generally uninterested in stats for their own sake — thus excluding most discussion — and am primarily interested in decisions and decisionmaking of all sorts, and how that can be improved.

4. The Essential Holmes: Selections from the Letters, Speeches, Judicial Opinions, and Other Writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., edited by Richard Posner. I think the man influenced me more than the book itself — the sheer largeness and breadth of his thoughts and interests is overwhelming, and his incessant skepticism leaves its impression — but the best evidence we have of the man is in these scattered writings. This also showed me that even the best thinkers can have badly flawed ideas, but also that, by implication, a reticence to share one’s ideas leads nowhere.

5. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, by Peter Bernstein. There are other books about the importance of probability (Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets is another) but this one, by showing how innovations in thinking about probability has improved society throughout history, also shows how the ability to think probabilistically can improve your own decisions.

6. The Essential Dialogues of Plato and Plato’s Republic. I read these when I was fairly young, and, while Plato had some bizarre ideas, I still know of no other works more bound to inspire deeper thinking on the part of the reader than these.

7. Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino. Although not easy to describe or explain, I think of this novel more than any other I’ve read, especially as I age.

8. Finding the Winning Edge, by Bill Walsh. It reminds me of Richard Posner’s Economic Analysis of Law, in that in both works the author has one very large, very important idea and he applies it to everything in sight. This is intended as a compliment.

9. A Collection of Essays, by George Orwell. Several of these essays remain among the greatest I’ve ever read, and I continue to refer to them. Like Holmes, Orwell was quite pragmatic and skeptical (though Holmes believed in a Darwinian-esque version of laissez-faire while Orwell was a socialist), but Orwell’s ability to write, mock, amuse, and argue — often all at once — remain, for me, unparalleled.

10. Thus Spake Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche. Like many of the other books on this list I read this when I was young and, also like many of the other books on this list, it got me very excited about ideas and how to think about them. More than the other thinkers, however, Nietzsche appealed to my (somewhat) adolescent desire to proclaim others else wrong about a great number of things. If I did a careful analysis of my current views they would differ markedly from Nietzsche’s, but I don’t think you read his works simply so you can agree with him. For analysis of Nietzsche, I also remember reading Joan Stambaugh’s The Other Nietzsche and thinking it a excellent, but that was a number of years ago and I don’t currently have a copy of the book. (And of course there is Brian Leiter’s Nietzsche blog.)

I’m sure there are other books I have left out, but this will have to do for now. The list is also light on fiction, which is more a function of having defined the list as “influence” than it is the fact that fiction hasn’t influenced me; it’s likely that the fiction has influenced me more than non-fiction (Invisible Man comes to mind), even if that influence is tougher to pin down. You can read lists by a few others here, here, and here.

I would really like to see the lists of other bloggers, sports bloggers in particular. So I encourage others to offer similar lists. Feel free to post links to them in the comments.

Sentences to ponder

From the Pro-Football Reference Blog:

[Imagine w]e have two teams that both average a whopping 14 yards per attempt. One team completes 100% of its passes; the other 50% (for 28 yards per completion). If I were to model those two, it seems pretty clear that the team that completes 100% would score more. They would score on virtually every possession, only failing to score in limited cases where their 3 consecutive completions net 9 or fewer yards. The 50% team would also score a lot, but string together a few more droughts. I suspect my 100% completion team with 14 yards per attempt would average about 60 points a game, while the 50% completion team would average closer to 50.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have two teams that average 3 yards per [pass] attempt. If one of those teams completed 100% of their passes, they would struggle to maintain drives or even get them started [or would routinely end on 4th and 1…], while a 25% completion team would occasionally string together first downs and get into scoring range. Neither would score much at all, but if I were forced to watch both teams for 24 hours straight as punishment for all my transgressions, I’d take the team with the yards per completion to win in a non-shootout.

slots

And later in the piece:

[I]t is pretty clear that the QB’s in a Don Coryell-based offense (Fouts, all of the Redskins QBs of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and the Rams and Chiefs recently) are undersold by passer rating relative to adjusted net yards per attempt in terms of the value they provided, and the West Coast passers are oversold, and its because of the different philosophies as they affect completion percentage.

Bill Parcells’ four rules for drafting a quarterback

As announced on Monday Night Football, via Blatant Homerism:

  1. He must be a senior, because you need time and maturity to develop into a good professional quarterback.
  2. He must be a graduate, because you want someone who takes his responsibilities seriously.
  3. He must be a three-year starter, because you need to make sure his success wasn’t ephemeral and that he has lived as “the guy” for some period of time.
  4. He must have at least 23 wins, because the big passing numbers must come in the context of winning games.

Blatant Homerism also notes that, of the seven quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in the 2000s, five — Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Trent Dilfer — met all four requirements when drafted.

So readers, discuss: When drafting a quarterback are these non-negotiables, helpful guideposts, or completely irrelevant?

Updated Featured Articles/Top past articles

I have updated the “Featured Articles” section of the site (located in the upper right hand corner), for two reasons: (1) it’s the offseason, and (2) I’d like to think many of my articles, although often written about specific teams and times, have an evergreen quality about them that makes them useful after their dates of publication.

Hopefully others agree, so do check it out. I’ve also rearranged some of the presentation, so let me know if there’s a better way I could do it, as the list of articles is beginning to grow long.

Smart Notes 3/9/2010

The Tao of Christian Okoye:

(H/t Clay Travis).

2. Talking 3-4. It seems the big trend this year is for teams to move to a 3-4 style defense, and Texas A&M is no different. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, most recently of Air Force, talked some shop:

Q: What’s going to be difficult about the transition from A&M’s defensive scheme last year to your 3-4?

TD: They did some of that stuff last year, they ran little bit of a 3-3 package, so the transition that way helps a little bit. Our [run] fits are going to be a little bit different, but the fact that they ran some four-man and some three-man fronts helps in the big picture. Our terminology is going to be different, so they’ve got to learn a new language. But the fact that they played some quarters last year is also going to help us. Those things, when you talk about the transition, we’re not starting from ground zero. It’s a chance to kind of build on what they did before, and it doesn’t have to be a wholesale change.

DU: Back to Von for a bit. What were your early impressions of him once you saw him up close?

Q: So how does [Von Miller] fit into your system?

TD: We’re going to use him in a couple of different ways. He’s going to play what we call a Joker position, which is an outside linebacker who does a couple different things. He’s going to be a guy who’s in the rush at times, and then drop [into coverage] at times. We’re going to put a lot on his plate and see if he can handle it, which I’m sure he’ll be able to. He’s a very sharp young man, and again, I think, hopefully he’ll give us a chance to play multiple fronts with some of the personnel that could give people problems.

If I had to pick one trend right now, it would be teams trying to find a player they can use in ways similar to the “Joker” position DeRuyter described above, as a guy who is a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. The reason this is so useful is that you can basically play entirely different defenses — or at least give very different looks — using the same personnel. And when he discusses “fits” or “run fits,” he is referring to the gaps and responsibilities defensive players have on run plays.

3. Jim Tressel does interview with LGBT magazine. This is last week’s news, but is still worth mentioning. (H/t EDSBS.) People have emphasized several quotes (available here), but I thought this one in particularly was wise, as it obliquely hinted at the pressures on an athletes to understand themselves in a world where everyone defines them early based on their talents:

“What we have, quite often, with our athletes, and with a number of young people in any sport, is that from the time they were 6 or 7 years old, their identity has been through sports. You’re the tallest, you’re the fastest, you’re the best player. All their feedback has come in terms of their role as a player, and they are often hesitant to go beyond that narrow role. … The greatest achievement we can have as coaches is that a young man leaves us with a concept of who he is, what he wants from life, and what he can share with others — someone who is ‘comfortable in his own skin,’ and that identity can go in a number of directions.”

In typical Tressel style, he is speaking in somewhat fuzzy abstractions, but here that’s okay. Indeed, it reminds me of the Myron Rolle issue, where in many cases it is simply not okay to be both a football player and anything else.

4. Okay, Coach. Mike Leach is set to be deposed Friday. I haven’t said much on this, because (a) I don’t know anything non-public, and (b) I’m a little worried about the direction it will go. Leach is clearly upset, and I think it’s also clear that Texas Tech used the situation and the James family to give him the heave-ho. I don’t know whether that constitutes a violation of his contract or anything else, though the most likely result will be a settlement. But this kind of thing has to make you wonder (h/t Blutarsky):

Meanwhile, Leach’s attorneys have subpoenaed documents from Frenship Independent School District. They are seeking any correspondence between F.I.S.D. and Texas Tech University and/or Tech’s new head football coach, Tommy Tuberville. Court documents imply that Leach’s legal team is especially interested in any conversations about enrolling members of the Tuberville family in the school district.

Obviously they want to know if Tuberville’s family moved in before he was officially fired, as that could show all manner of bad faith on behalf of Texas Tech. But I’d be surprised if they did find anything. I think it was pretty clear that Texas Tech took the approach to Leach that Leach so often used on opposing defenses: shoot first (i.e. “fire” away), and ask questions later.

5. Goodbye, Donald; Hello, Oregon. Disney has relinquished its hold over Oregon’s mascot after sixty-years: (more…)

Smart Links 3/8/2010

Is home court advantage really about the ball? This article is about basketball, but I think it is an underrated element in football games, though many times the team on offense gets to use their own ball.

2. Brian Burke is not impressed by Bill Polian.

3. What components of a QB’s passer rating are most important for winning? Interceptions play an interesting role here, with there being evidence of it being possible to throw too many interceptions (obviously) and too few (by being too passive, and thus costing your team expected points and the game).

4. Bill Connelly on recruiting success breeding recruiting success.

5. The trouble with web traffic numbers. Also see the print WSJ, Slate, and Yahoo.

6.  What are NFL teams worth?

7.  Dynamic ticket pricing and sabermetrician salaries.

8. Should the Senate abolish the filibuster? Key quote: “There is no pressure in the Senate itself to abolish the filibuster. The reason is that it benefits all Senators, not just those who expect to be in a minority, because it arms every Senator to demand concessions in exchange for voting for cloture.”

9. Five tips for writing non-fiction. I tend to agree with — and simultaneously to be bad at — generally all of these.

10. Georgia’s new DC talks defense. (H/t Blutarsky.)

This irritates me

Most of you know of Myron Rolle, the former FSU safety turned Rhodes Scholar who is now waiting to see where he will be drafted. As I’ve discussed previously, I’m a big fan of Rolle’s and I think he’s an incredible model for younger players, and, while it’s difficult to judge someone’s athletic ability to play in the pros, I have no doubts that his character and background are assets. People in the NFL, however, seem to disagree:

Welcome to proof of the NFL adage: You want players to be smart, just not too smart. Rolle is an example of a gifted, driven, accomplished young man. He’s a guy who could survive and thrive without playing mankind’s version of demolition derby.

Rolle is a man with options and that makes NFL types, some of whom would be teaching P.E. in high school if not for the pro game, very uneasy.

“We’ll have to find out how committed he is,” an NFC assistant coach said, echoing the sentiment of five other NFL types leading up to this weekend’s scouting combine. “Committed” is a euphemism for desire, care, passion and whatever other combination of emotions goes into wanting to play football enough to make it a career.

Trainer Tom Shaw, who has worked with Rolle for the past year, understands the process very well. Having trained the likes of Peyton Manning, Chris Johnson and Deion Sanders, a total of 118 former first-round picks and nine straight Super Bowl Most Valuable Players before this year, Shaw hears the criticism and shakes his head.

“I hear all the negative things that he has too many things going on in his life,” Shaw said. “But if [the NFL] is saying that Myron Rolle is a bad example, that’s a joke. … Myron is what you want all these kids to be. Every one of these kids should want to be Myron Rolle. . . .

. . . During a 45-minute interview before the Senior Bowl in January with seven members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff, including head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik, one member of the staff asked Rolle what it felt like to desert his team this season.

“I hadn’t heard that one before,” said Rolle, who pauses ever so slightly before answering to consider his thoughts. “My initial reaction was a bit of confusion. It never was anger, but I was more bothered by the question because if anyone knew my involvement with my teammates, how much they care about me and how much I care about them.”

My initial reaction to this — which might be unfair — is that asking Rolle about “deserting” his teammates is something only someone who could not comprehend the significance of a Rhodes Scholarship would do. Small minded, in other words. But maybe it’s a fair question: the NFL is not looking for men of character and robust interests to staff a consulting firm or business or whatever else, but is instead looking for man-machines who will obey orders and sacrifice their bodies for the paycheck and the glory; someone with other options might not think it was such a great bargain.

So what’s the answer? Is the NFL insular and closed minded, or are they just coldly looking out for their interests, or both?