Well, that’s one way to approach it

From Harper’s Magazine:

[Editor’s Note:] From a March email by Michael Kinahan, coach of a soccer team for girls aged seven and under in Scituate, Massachusetts, to the children’s parents. After parents complained to league officials, Kinahan resigned, saying in his resignation letter that the email was meant to be “a satire of those who take youth sports too seriously for the wrong reasons.” The email was obtained by the Patriot Ledger.

Congratulations on being selected for Team 7 (forest-green shirts) of the Scituate Soccer Club! My name is Michael, and I have been fortunate enough to be selected to coach what I know will be a wonderful group of young ladies.

Okay, here’s the real deal: Team 7 will be called Green Death. We will only acknowledge “Team 7” for scheduling and disciplinary purposes. Green Death is not a team but a family (some say cult) that you belong to forever. We play fair at all times, but we play tough and physical soccer. We have some returning players who know the deal; for the others, I only expect 110 percent at every game and practice. We do not cater to superstars but prefer the gritty determination of journeymen who bring their lunch pail to work every week, chase every ball, and dig in corners like a Michael Vick pit bull.

Some say soccer at this age is about fun, and I completely agree. I believe, however, that winning is fun and losing is for losers. Ergo, we will strive for the W in each game. Although we may not win every game (excuse me, I just got a little nauseous), I expect us to fight for every loose ball and play every shift as if it were the finals of the World Cup. As I spent a good Saturday morning listening to the legal-liability BS, which included a thirty-minute dissertation on how we need to baby the kids and especially the refs, I was disgusted. The kids will run, they will fall, get bumps and bruises, even bleed a little. Big deal; it’s good for them (but I do hope the other team is the one bleeding). If the refs can’t handle a little criticism, then they should turn in their whistles. My heckling of the refs actually helps them develop as people. The political-correctness police are not welcome on my sidelines. America’s youth are becoming fat, lazy, and noncompetitive because competition is viewed as “bad.” I argue that competition is crucial to the evolution of our species and our survival in what has become an increasingly competitive global economy and dangerous world. Second-place trophies are nothing to be proud of. They serve only as a reminder that you missed your goal; their only purpose is as an inspiration to do that next set of reps. Don’t animals eat what they kill? (And yes, someone actually kills the meat we eat—it isn’t grown in plastic wrap.) And speaking of meat, I expect that the ladies be put on a diet of fish, undercooked red meat, and lots of veggies. No junk food. Protein shakes are encouraged, and while blood doping and HGH use is frowned upon, there is no testing policy. And at the risk of stating the obvious, blue slushies are for winners.

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Smart Notes 9/2/09

This video is amazing on a number of levels. An interview between blogger Mike Rasor and Akron head coach J.D. Brookhart:

  1. What is Brookhart wearing? Some theories: Brookhart “was apparently thrown out of a local Bass Pro Shop for shoplifting five minutes before the interview.” – Black Shoe Diaries (also h/t BSD). “[I]t wouldn’t surprise me to find out Akron’s new head coach has tracked a raptor.” – Dr Saturday. Add your own.
  2.  

  3. So let me get this straight. The offense will be installed and implemented in the following way: One guy will handle the pass install, another will handle the run install, each will be assisted by another guy, and then a separate, fifth coach, Shane Montgomery (tight-ends coach), will actually call the plays. That sounds like it will work beautifully.

– From mortally wounded police officer to football coach. Very good story.

– Boom. Roasted. Deadspin’s Dashiell Bennett went after Michigan Alum Jon Chait for going after the editors of the Detroit Free Press. Bennett wrote that “Jonathan Chait stepped down from his high horse at The New Republic to lambaste the Freep’s Michael Rosenberg for his anti-Rich Rod bias, stating that no place he worked would ever let an opinion writer do hard news about a subject he was so “passionate” about. Interesting, if true. I wonder if any of those fine, upstanding newspapers Chait’s talking about would let an alumnus (UM, Class of ’94) attack another writer because they published dirt about an organization he used to be associated with?”

Chait responded, via mgoblog: “Was I writing an investigative news article in a newspaper about a topic which I have strong opinions on? No, I was not. Nor should I. Having lambasted the Freep’s journalistic ethics, if I were to go to the Detroit News and propose they hire me to write an expose about how Freep sports editors are laundering money for the Cali drug cartel to fund their kitten-strangling hobby, the News should definitely not hire me.”

But then, the coup de grace: “It’s perfectly ethical for Rosenberg to wage his anti-Rodriguez jihad in his sports column. Dumb, unpersuasive, misleading, sometimes factually inaccurate, yes, but not unethical. It’s likewise perfectly ethical for me to opine about the University of Michigan, despite having graduated from it. But if Dashiell Bennett learned he was the subject of an investigative news story in the New York Times, authored by me, reporting on the scandal of people who are allowed to write sports blogs despite having IQs under 90, he would probably feel that something unethical had transpired.”

Wherever you are on this debate, I wouldn’t want to be Dashiell Bennett.
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Kragthorpe on bringing coherence to Louisville’s offense

ncf_g_kragthorpe_200You know, the more I hear from Steve Kragthorpe, the more I like him. I have no idea if he is a good head coach (and the evidence seems to say no), but he was a good offensive coordinator at one time and is looking to do that again. As I wrote about for Yahoo, it might be coming too late, but some of his ideas for improving the Cardinals’ offense seem quite sound. This year, Kragthorpe has taken on the full range of offensive coordinator duties, including gamplanning and playcalling. In a recent interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, Kragthorpe explained:

What should fans expect now that the head man is taking over what was once one of the top offenses in the country? Some changes may be far less apparent from the stands than they are to the players.

For one thing, Kragthorpe, a former college quarterback himself, has designed a more QB-friendly” system, beginning with allowing them more input in play-calling. He said junior Justin Burke, who was named the starter on Tuesday, will select up to 10 plays that he likes best to add to the game plan.

“Coach Kragthorpe, as we practice, knows what our strengths are and calls plays accordingly,” Burke said. “But to really hone in on that, he lets us bring in five of our favorite plays before a game … that we’re extremely comfortable with, and (it’s) kind of a go-to in a big situation. He gives us that little option.”

Burke also will have more options at the line of scrimmage. When he breaks the huddle, he will have three different plays he can use, depending on how the defense lines up. Kragthorpe has simplified the reads Burke has to make before selecting the play. Instead of reading the entire defense, he might be able to key on where one player is aligned.

“It’s very simple, especially in the run game,” Burke said. “It’s very black and white. Some of the run checks last year weren’t as simple.”

Kragthorpe also plans to give his quarterback more alternatives on passing plays beyond a primary or secondary receiver. Burke said he will have more “full-field” reads. If his primary receiver isn’t open, he’ll swivel and progress to his second, third and fourth options.

“Time will tell how dramatic those changes are in the fans’ eyes,” Kragthorpe said. “But in our eyes we’ve made some pretty big changes in terms of the way we call plays, the way we determine what play we’re going to select at the line of scrimmage and the way we read certain passing plays.”

I’ve always been a huge fan of letting the quarterbacks suggest plays. In fact, when scripting or gameplanning, I think the head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterback should all create a list of five to ten plays based on what had been installed and practice. Stuff that all three suggest immediately go into the gameplan, preferably to be run early in the game. Non-essentials plays that none of the three suggest are thrown out.

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This post is about game planning and play-selection

Suppose first that you wish to cross a river that is spanned by three bridges. (Assume that swimming, wading or boating across are impossible.) The first bridge is known to be safe and free of obstacles; if you try to cross there, you will succeed. The second bridge lies beneath a cliff from which large rocks sometimes fall. The third is inhabited by deadly cobras. Now suppose you wish to rank-order the three bridges with respect to their preferability as crossing-points. Your task here is quite straightforward. The first bridge is obviously best, since it is safest. To rank-order the other two bridges, you require information about their relative levels of danger. If you can study the frequency of rock-falls and the movements of the cobras for awhile, you might be able to calculate that the probability of your being crushed by a rock at the second bridge is 10% and of being struck by a cobra at the third bridge is 20%. Your reasoning here is strictly parametric because neither the rocks nor the cobras are trying to influence your actions, by, for example, concealing their typical patterns of behaviour because they know you are studying them. It is quite obvious what you should do here: cross at the safe bridge. . . .

[Now s]uppose that you are a fugitive of some sort, and waiting on the other side of the river with a gun is your pursuer. She will catch and shoot you, let us suppose, only if she waits at the bridge you try to cross; otherwise, you will escape. As you reason through your choice of bridge, it occurs to you that she is over there trying to anticipate your reasoning. It will seem that, surely, choosing the safe bridge straight away would be a mistake, since that is just where she will expect you, and your chances of death rise to certainty. So perhaps you should risk the rocks, since these odds are much better. But wait … if you can reach this conclusion, your pursuer, who is just as rational and well-informed as you are, can anticipate that you will reach it, and will be waiting for you if you evade the rocks. So perhaps you must take your chances with the cobras; that is what she must least expect. But, then, no … if she expects that you will expect that she will least expect this, then she will most expect it. This dilemma, you realize with dread, is general: you must do what your pursuer least expects; but whatever you most expect her to least expect is automatically what she will most expect. You appear to be trapped in indecision. All that might console you a bit here is that, on the other side of the river, your pursuer is trapped in exactly the same quandary, unable to decide which bridge to wait at because as soon as she imagines committing to one, she will notice that if she can find a best reason to pick a bridge, you can anticipate that same reason and then avoid her.

The above passage is from here. Can you explain in what way this informs play-calling and gameplanning? Here’s an (incomplete) hint.

Smart Notes 9/1/09

I just started a guest-bit at EDSBS, where I’ll be answering fan submitted questions (tweet them to Orson here). This week’s question was about blitzing, both man and zone. Read the full thing here, but here’s a preview:

Zone-blitzing is awash in contradictions: vanilla and endlessly complex; aggressive but conservative. It is vanilla and conservative because it takes a minimum number of guys to competently defend a football field in zone coverage — no one tries to play zone with one safety deep and two guys in underneath zones. Instead, 90-95% of the zone-blitzes you’ll see involve three elements: (1) three guys in “deep” zone coverage; (2) three guys in “underneath” or intermediate to short coverage; and (3) five pass rushers. The complexity comes in how these guys are arranged. . . .

– Brett Favre’s illegal block. I say illegal because whether it was “dirty” is being debated, though either way I think even Favre fans can admit that it was incredibly idiotic and dangerous. “Dirty” implies that he wanted to injure Eugene Wilson; I don’t think anyone can know that.

– Rich Rodriguez, being sued? The hits keep coming. As reported, via the WizOfOdds:

According to the lawsuit, Rodriguez and his partners owe Nexity Bank $3.9 million, including interest and penalties. Rodriguez was served a summons and complaint in his office on Aug. 24, shortly after a Wolverine practice.

Mike Wilcox, who is Rich Rod’s financial advisor, issued a statement Monday night saying the coach is a victim of a real estate Ponzi scheme.

“This is a personal issue, and as coach Rodriguez’s financial advisor, I and his legal counsel will be handling this matter moving forward,” Wilcox said. “We are evaluating legal actions and solutions since the promoter of the scheme is currently awaiting trial on criminal charges.”

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Smart Football Podcast 8/31/09

I did a post-cast with the brilliant Bill Connelly of Rock M Nation (and Football Outsiders). Wherein we discuss (me incoherently, Bill with great precision) the following:

1. Missouri vs Illinois
2. The future of Missouri’s spread offense moving from Chase Daniel to Blaine Gabbert
3. The role (and limits) of college football analysis and statistics
4. Rich Rodriguez and NCAA practice rules
5. A PTI-style, Big 12-themed rapid fire round

Thanks again to Bill for running the show. The technical kinks are still to be worked out (including my sounding like I’m telecommuting from the Ozarks), but enjoy the foolishness.

[audio:http://smartfootball.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/RMN_Podcast_08-31-09.mp3]

Smart Football/RockMNation podcast 8/31/09

(Note that I was having issues with the embedded audio. If it’s not working I’ll work on it, but the download link should work.)

Reverse quarterback pass from the wildcat

During this year’s preseason, the Miami Dolphins have continued to show wrinkles off their wildcat offense. Against the Dolphins they resuscitated a play they used last season: the quarterback pass off the wildcat look.

Speed sweep from the wildcat

Speed sweep from the wildcat

The base wildcat begins with (1) an “unbalanced line,” meaning that both tackles line up to one side of the field, (2) the runningback aligned as quarterback, with another runner split wide who goes in motion to either take a “jet sweep” handoff or to fake doing so, and (3) the quarterback splits wide. Now, the quarterback could just leave the game, but leaving him in fakes out the defense and its personnel substitution. If you always took the QB out, the D would put in extra run stuffers. This helps keep them honest.

The defense, unsurprisingly, will often adjust by attacking the line to stop the run plays. Now, the Wildcat’s first counters involve being able to hit either the jet sweep, a run off the tackle and up the gut, or a cutback/counter play to the weakside. Yet sometimes this alone isn’t enough. Enter the QB reverse pass:

For an excellent breakdown of this play, check out the NFL’s website here, complete with video. (Sorry, the video cannot be embedded.)

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Defending the zone-read: athleticism and the “scrape-exchange”

Much of what is new in defending the spread involves giving different looks on the backside of all those “zone-read” and other read plays that spread teams are so fond of. For example, on the typical zone-read play, the line is responsible for blocking everyone but the backside defensive end; the quarterback “reads” him. If he crashes to take the runningback (or at least to eliminate the runningback’s cutback lane), the quarterback keeps it; if the defensive end is not in position to tackle the runner (either because he stays put or takes the quarterback, the QB simply hands the ball off to the runner.

zoneread

Defenses began reacting by using a technique called a “scrape exchange” to mess up the read. With this defensive adjustment, the defensive end always crashes for the runningback, while the linebacker “scrapes” over to take the quarterback. If the quarterback doesn’t see this, he will pull the ball, thinking he will have an easy lane on the backside, and instead runs straight into the linebacker.

scrapeexchange

If the offense knows that the defense is shifting to this (a big if), what is the adjustment? Tell the tackle to block the defensive end, and the quarterback to read the linebacker. Often the linebacker will take himself out of the play, and with good blocking, the offense should be able to get a good run play, or a big play if the runner can cut back.

But let’s step back from scheme: what else can a defense do? One answer, is just to get more athletic. As TCU’s excellent coach Garry Patterson recently told the NY Times’s Pete Thamel:

Patterson’s base defense consists of four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. Many teams have gone away from four-man defensive lines and have added a linebacker for a 3-4 alignment, but Patterson chooses to keep the front stout and the back end of the defense flexible.

It is a simple concept for a complicated challenge.

“You’ve got to spread out with them,” he said. “We try to coach defense like coaches coach offense.”

Patterson’s theories on slowing down the spread quickly come back to speed.

“If the defensive end is fast enough to be able to play the running back or the quarterback instead of some other person on your defense, that frees up a guy,” he said. “If nine guys out of your 11 can run somebody down, it always helps.”

This last quote is the most important. Reconsider the diagrams above. Now, let’s say (a) that the defensive end (or linebacker in a “scrape-exchange” scheme) is a real stud, and (b) that the quarterback is nothing special — not a Pat White or Vince Young. In that case, when the defense sees the zone read the defender being “read” can pretty much just wait until he knows whether the QB or RB is keeping it, and then attack accordingly. Unless the quarterback is a real athletic threat (think of Michigan’s motley quarterbacking crew from last season), that defender can play both the zone-read and not fear having the quarterback run by him; if the QB runs, he’ll get ’em.

The obvious answer for the offense is to get more athletic at quarterback (like Michigan is trying to do), but there are other things, like amping up the options on the backside reads for the QB if he doesn’t give it to the back. But, as always, the chess match goes on and on . . . .

Smart Notes 8/30/09

In his discussion of the Michigan fracas, Dr Saturday steps back:

But the broader implication isn’t about the changing culture at Michigan as much as it is the longstanding culture at all big football schools, where the notion of “voluntary” workouts and hourly limits have been met with winks for years. A survey of Division I athletes last year revealed the reality: Time limits or not, big-time football everywhere is a full-time job that consumes vastly more hours than the NCAA officially sanctions — and has to be, if the competition is putting in the same work. That players will “voluntarily” go above and beyond the proscribed limits is taken for granted. (It hardly seems like a coincidence that at least 20 college players have collapsed and died following offseason workouts in the last decade, which was practically unheard of even under old school sadists like Bear Bryant.) Coaches follow the letter of the law at the peril of their records and their jobs.

In that sense, assuming that Carr’s staff really were the sticklers they’re widely reputed to be (an assumption backed up by the Free Press’ reports), the exuberance of their successors is just another case of Rodriguez and Barwis bringing the program into the 21st Century. The fact that they’re being singled out may only be because they’re doing it at one of the very few places that knows the difference.

In other words, there is a degree of hypocrisy in singling out Rodriguez, but it is only in the fact that this has become normal, and even expected. It is, in modern big-time football, the cost of winning. Maybe Rodriguez went too far (or maybe not), but it makes little sense to single out Rodriguez and Michigan, at least for most of the allegations. (The Sunday stuff, if true, does seem excessive.)

There is also little point in the NCAA having rules no one can be expected to comply with. The NCAA practice limits are quite stringent, and there are obvious reasons why a school would want their players to practice more than the NCAA limits would allow. Besides improving their overall conditioning and fitness, or their football skills, the large amounts of downtime for student-athletes who only practice about four hours a day and are, in many cases at least, barely even students can lead to a lot of time to get in trouble off-the-field. I’m not singling out football players as miscreants, but instead just pointing out that many 19 year-old males do stupid things, and scholarship football players are given a lot of freedom and privilege — a lot of rope to hang themselves with. Call it the Cesar Millan/Dog whisperer strategy: if you make kids work harder they are less likely to have the time (or energy) to get into trouble. (In high school, many teams schedule an early morning Saturday morning practice where the focus is on the younger guys; for the varsity players, the point is to make them get up early and thus deter them from staying out late after football games on Friday night.)

In any event, the point of the rule seems to be, among other things, to protect the image of players as “student athletes” — they don’t treat their sport as a full-time job. This is of course a classic case of image versus reality, and a conflict that will not go away. For every scholarship football player who spends extra time pursuing their degree, there are countless others for whom it is just a full-time job. And it is not like fans, if they are honest, would have it another way. I have never heard a player come off the field and say, “You know, I’m sorry I didn’t play well this week. I’m taking a lot of really interesting classes and I stayed up late to work on them and I skipped some extra film study so I could go to my professor’s office hours — man it was fascinating. I promise to refocus next week.” The NFL has no such identity crisis, but it’s just another symptom of college football’s dual role as a business that puts out a sports product where the employees are “student athletes” paid (primarily) with a free education. This tension won’t go away.

– Thanatos and football. As the Doc also noted, practicing football has become increasingly deadly. He says,  “It hardly seems like a coincidence that at least 20 college players have collapsed and died following offseason workouts in the last decade, which was practically unheard of even under old school sadists like Bear Bryant.”

Why football players are dying is a tricky question, and theories abound. Are they the same and they were just underreported previously? Are workouts tougher? Are kids less able to handle these workouts because they spend the rest of their time inside, playing video games, etc? Is it the supplement industry, with creatine-influenced cramping, reduced water retention, and sports/redbull/caffeine drink induced increased heart rates causing the injuries? It’s very hard to say.

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If Michigan violated limits on practice time, what might the NCAA do?

The Detroit Free Press reported that Rich Rodriguez’s Michigan football program blatantly violated the NCAA’s limits on when and how long players may practice:

rodri

Bad news.

The University of Michigan football team consistently has violated NCAA rules governing off-season workouts, in-season demands on players and mandatory summer activities under coach Rich Rodriguez, numerous players told the Free Press.

Players on the 2008 and 2009 teams described training and practice sessions that far exceeded limits set by the NCAA, which governs college athletics. The restrictions are designed to protect players’ well-being, ensure adequate study time and prevent schools from gaining an unfair competitive advantage.

The players, who did not want to be identified because they feared repercussions from coaches, said the violations occurred routinely at the direction of Rodriguez’s staff.

“It’s one of those things where you can’t say something,” one current Wolverine said. “If you say something, they’re going to say you’re a lazy person and don’t want to work hard.”

That player was one of six current or former players who gave lengthy, detailed and nearly identical descriptions of the program to the Free Press.

“We know the practice and off-season rules, and we stay within the guidelines,” Rodriguez said in a statement issued Friday to the Free Press. “We follow the rules and have always been completely committed to being compliant with all NCAA rules.”

. . .

The players say they routinely are required to work out or practice many more hours throughout the year than the NCAA allows. They also say members of Rodriguez’s staff have broken rules by monitoring off-season scrimmages.

Rodriguez denies the Free Press’s report, but others are quickly corroborating it. Via twitter, ESPN’s Joe Schad added, “Former Michigan starter tells me he would put in 11-hour days on Sundays (4 hour required is max),” and further that “[a]nother UM player told me he was usually the facility on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. The maximum allotment per day is 4 hours.”

Briefly, a word on practice limits. People do not realize it, but major college football teams are allotted less practice time than many high school squads, to say nothing of the 24/7 world of the NFL. In high school, teams have seven-on-seven passing leagues all summer, spring practice, time for two-a-days in the fall, and so on. In college, the NCAA strictly limits when players can work out, when and how long they can use the football facilities, and, most stringently, when coaches can be around. (This partially explains the rise of strength and conditioning coaches, who spend their summers with players and, because they do not focus on football, are allowed greater contact with players in the off-season. Note that I do not claim any great expertise in these matters.)

In any event, the Free Press ominously mentions that “[i]f the NCAA investigates and concludes that U-M willfully and repeatedly broke the rules, the NCAA could find major violations. That could trigger probation, loss of scholarships and loss of practice time.” What penalties, realistically, could Michigan be subject to if the Free Press’s report is ultimately borne out by an investigation (either by the NCAA or done internally)?

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