On Steve Spurrier’s schematic decline

Over at Dr Saturday, check it out here. Thanks again to the Doc, and be sure to read his excellent take on South Carolina here.

What I’ve been reading

1. Coaching Team Defense, by Fritz Shurmur. This simple, elegant book is probably the best “must-read” for coaching defense and understanding how it is played. Shurmur was of course a defensive coordinator, notably for the Green Bay Packers during their most recent Super Bowl run.

2. The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler. Highly readable, and highly rewarding. You forget how much crime fiction became a cliche after Chandler, and yet it is surprising how fresh he is despite the emulators.

3. Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, by H.G. Bissinger. I probably shouldn’t admit that I had never read this until now. I am only about fifty pages in so far, but it appears quite good so far. My expectations, based on the reviews, are high. I do think football is the greatest game not only for reasons internal to it, but for cultural reasons as well.

4. The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. I thought the first 60 or so pages were too cute, as the narrative was told (or hinted at) by excerpts from newspaper articles, flashes of dialogue by unnamed people, and a few recounted memories. But since then the book’s narrative has picked up considerably, and of course Atwood is an incredible stylist. We’ll see.

5. In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke’s War on the Great Panic, by David Wessel. Wessel is the Wall Street Journal’s economics editor, he does a wonderful job in this book of lucidly explaining the hows and whys of the Federal Reserve’s actions over the last year. The book is a great window into rather cataclysmic times just a few short months ago. Wessel comes down firmly on the side that the Fed and Treasury were right to act boldly. I’ll leave it at that, and say that this book does give you plenty of good reporting on the behind the scenes regardless of how you come out on these questions, and although something just shy of 300 pages, the book was brisk enough for my to finish it on a recent plane ride.

As a final note, I am curious what the reviews are on the Kindle. I’m an iPhone addict, and had been set to go out and buy a Kindle, but have mellowed on my desire to get one. Nicholson Baker’s recent essay on the Kindle is worth the read. Per Baker’s recommendation, I downloaded some of the free reading applications for the iPhone, and have been surprised how much I like reading on it. I’ve been using Stanza and sticking so far to public domain works, but I’m halfway through A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (a re-read), and it’s actually quite pleasurable with the large text on the small screen. Cycling through pages is no trouble at all, just a tap on the right side of the screen. Anyone have any advice or commentary on the future of reading? Or just what I should be using to do it? I’m still kind of a book guy, but I don’t have any particular sentimental value for them.

Football trivia: Paul Johnson vs. Jim Tressel

Paul Johnson once faced Jim Tressel in a national championship game. What were the teams and what was the result? Find out after the jump.


Quarterback’s checklist on pass plays

QB Thought process for analyzing a pass play

The QB must understand both the offense and defense

The QB must understand both the offense and defense

I. What is the defensive personnel in the game?

– A. What are the protection capabilities?

– B. What does it take to “go hot” — i.e. a sight adjust or automatic route (if applicable to the protection call); in other words, who must blitz to trigger this?

– C. What does it take for a route adjustment from the receivers?

II. What is my pre-snap read?

– A. Is the theory of the play acceptable when compared to the anticipated defense? (Is the defense still shifting?)

  1. If not acceptable, what is the best available audible?
  2. If acceptable (pre-snap, at least), are there route adjustments based on the pre-snap alignment of the secondary? Does the drop need to change?

III. Post-snap

– A. What is my read (be alert for secondary rotation)?

– B. What is my progression?

  1. If man?
  2. If zone?
  3. Who do I “see” (if zone)?

– C. What is my drop?

IV. Game situation in decision making process

– A. Down and distance (time)

– B. Match-ups by personnel (where are our studs?)

– C. Best route runner for specific situations

Hat tip to Bill Mountjoy for the above.

Update: A few extra notes on the above.


Bill Walsh on USC, Pete Carroll, Oklahoma and Stoops

After USC pasted Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl to win the National Title, Bill Walsh had a little column in the Los Angeles Times. I only remembered this because I happened to be in L.A. that week, and happened to buy a copy (I know, no one buys newspapers anymore). If you want to refresh your memory about what happened in the game, see the video below, but many of Walsh’s comments still resonate years later — and further, all of us are fans on some level.

So much for all the rhetoric that Oklahoma and that part of the country has the best football. . . . The Sooners looked good on their opening drive. But after that, it became obvious that USC was clearly a better football team in every facet of the game — from the coaching to the play-calling to the talent on the field and the confidence that they had.

The Southern Cal players just played smarter, more mature football. Oklahoma came unraveled after about 20 minutes, to the point where it wasn’t really the Oklahoma team we were looking at. The Sooners were a shadow of the team we saw this season.

I give a lot of credit to USC’s coaching staff for that. Pete Carroll is the most dynamic coach in all of football right now. He’s able to motivate men and bring them together, assemble a top coaching staff, and he has so much enthusiasm and energy. He also has incredible knowledge of the game. He’s been one of the top defensive coordinators in the NFL, and he’s got a great football mind.

When you combine Pete with what Norm Chow does as USC’s offensive coordinator, it forms the heart of the best coaching staff in college football — and probably the best in all of football.

The best coaches take care of the smallest details. For instance, the slipping and sliding of some of the Oklahoma players was probably due to the wrong cleats on that surface. That’s how the details can kill you. Oklahoma gave away points because their receivers slipped. . . .


Colt McCoy’s Texas passing game

Colt McCoy, University of Texas’s record-setting triggerman (and Heisman hopeful), is known for one thing above all else: his astounding accuracy. Indeed, he set the FBS single-season record for completion percentage last season, having completed 76.7 percent of his passing. For his career, McCoy has thrown for 9,732 yards and 85 touchdowns to only 33 interceptions, and has led the Longhorns to a 32-7 record as a starter.

11coltLast season, of course, was his best yet, as he averaged an impressive 8.9 yards per pass attempt and UT went 12-1. Yet the stats don’t necessarily sum up his accuracy: his coaches freely profess that he is the most accurate passer they have ever seen; it’s not just a matter of throwing a lot of checkdowns. He makes decisions quickly, sizes up the defense, and puts the ball right on his receivers’ numbers. So what concepts do Texas’s coaches, head coach Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis, use with McCoy?

In exploring that question, this is one of those great examples where understanding the Xs and Os doesn’t supplant appreciating the skills and talent of the player, but instead enhance it. McCoy is a triggerman in every sense of the word: he calls the checks, he is given a plethora of options on most plays, and Texas’s gameplan week-to-week is to basically hand him the ball and tell him to make it work. That’s not to say they don’t give him the tools — I like Texas’s schemes quite a bit — but it’s a system that takes advantage of McCoy’s special skills.

Texas’s favorite route concept, by far, is something known as the “two-man” game, known in some coaching circles as the “stick concept.” Texas runs their a little difference, but they also use it a great deal; it’s their number one concept by far. After that I’ll briefly overview Texas’s quick game or three-step drop passes, followed by some highlights of what Texas’s coaches dial-up when they want to get a little more vertical.


Smart Notes 8/24/2009

How does fatigue affect memory? Based on tests of people who have just completed marathons:

The end result? The group that had just finished the marathon showed a significant decline in explicit memory. They were less able to consciously recall a series of words that they had been shown only a few minutes earlier. However, after running 26.2 miles the marathoners actually showed a large improvement in implicit memory. In other words, the extreme stress and utter physical exhaustion sharpened their ability to act on information stored in their unconscious.

Bonus: The Netflix prize and the brain.

– Ron Zook is not happy with Urban Meyer, even if Urban Meyer is (was?) not happy with the program Zook left him. For those who haven’t followed the surprisingly uncounseled repartee, Meyer complained about the state of the locker room (literally and figuratively) when he got to Gainesville:


Tackling a cyclone: Grantland Rice, the internet, and the death (and rebirth) of sports writing

From the poem “Alumnus Football,” by Grantland Rice:

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks — not that you won or lost —
But how you played the Game.

This most famous line of famed writer Grantland Rice’s career — “how you played the game” — is frequently invoked but, more often than not, not attributed to him, or anyone else for that matter. It has achieved a status limited to those phrases, aphorisms, or observations, that are so inevitable that, rather than imagine them having been concocted by a writer and made real by pen and paper, typewriter, or computer, instead simply exist somewhere within ourselves. No one can create something so true. The aphorism itself of course refers not just to sports but to life as well, and thus applies to writers who write about athletes as well as the athletes themselves. Anyone with the audacity (or egoism, as Orwell put it) to publish their words in any form will not be judged only by their readership numbers, their entitlement to column space, or any of the old metrics. It’s how they played the game.

And, as Spencer Hall cogently explains for the Sporting Blog, the internet is finally breaking down some of the old barriers.

[Regarding the death of the 800-word columnist at newspapers.] The internet exploded this framework in a few critical ways. First off, it turns out people think in bits both shorter and longer than 800 words. Shocking, but sometimes people could read thousands and thousands of words at a time without passing out due to dehydration. Astounding, I know, but somehow the long distance runners of the reading world made Bill Simmons a very wealthy man, and the sprinters turned Deadspin in the face-eating, thousand-tentacled beast it is today. Like it or not, readers don’t just think in 800-word snippets.

Also, it so happens that sports fans were both far more eclectic and choosy than anticipated. . . . The model for many young bloggers, for instance, is not someone like a Vecsey, a Bill Plaschke, or anyone else you might see aping away on Around The Horn. It is a devoted specialist like Paul Zimmerman, or even a tangent-hopping single-topic writer like Gregg Easterbrook, or heaven forbid, writers who didn’t write about sports at all.

Sportswriting in that sense is dead, and perhaps has been dead for a long time. For that, raise a huzzah: trapped in the column, mobbed by the dueling schools of maudlin sentimentality (call it the “Albom school”) and knee-jerk antipathy generators like Jay Mariotti (creatively referred to here as “the Mariotti school,”) sportswriting on the whole has been uninteresting for a long, long, long time. There’s little point of treating the columnist like he’s something to be missed: good writing is good writing, and good writers will survive any transition between technologies.

. . . .Good ingredients work no matter the treatment, something that may not be true of generalist columnists who learned that single sentence paragraphs and easy moralizing about athletics and their place in society were a great way to stuff column space for paychecks.

The problem for them is that the audience is no longer captive. They can roam the internet looking for whatever they like, and if they’re under 40, they’re not waiting for it to come to them on their doorstep. They are still prisoner to one constant, however: the hunger for quality. If the general columnist dies out, it’s not because the audience lost the taste for something necessary. It is because they were making do all along with what they had, and left the instant they got a better offer.

In sum: Without the structural impediments and bottlenecks that propped up a certain brand of sports writing, it will be, as is true in most endeavors, the combination of ability and industry that will win the prize.

To illustrate how strange this sports writing bottleneck has been, it is helpful to look back to guys like Grantland Rice. He wrote at a different time: Typically, the only people who might read his recap of a game who had actually seen it were people who were in attendance. Maybe they had also listened on the radio, but that’s not certain. The form too was more free-flowing. It was known as the golden age of myth-making in sports, something derided later, but are we not moving back in that direction in the Tebow-era?

But this freedom allowed him to flout convention — or at least he wasn’t constrained by the conventions concocted by the later oligarchy that came to rule the sports writing world. Take his famous “The Four Horsemen,” article, written about a game between Notre Dame and Army in 1924, ostensibly a recap of that game. (This should go without saying, but this article — and this blog post — have little to do with Notre Dame. This is about a game that took place seventy-five years ago, and thus has little to do with whatever Notre Dame, or Army for that matter, has going on now. Were this article written about Syracuse or Michigan it would be just as good.) The article begins:


Smart Notes 8/21/2009

Joe Paterno, on the recruiting trail:joep

In 2007, Penn State coach Joe Paterno watched on TV as Drew Astorino hit the game-winner for Edinboro (Pa.) General McLane High in the Class AAA state hoop final. A few months before, Astorino scored the winning touchdown in the AAA football final. Astorino, who doesn’t run a 4.3, had one offer (Kent State) before Paterno called. Astorino “made plays in the clutch, so we took him,” Paterno told the Philadelphia Daily News. The 5-foot-10, 193-pound redshirt sophomore is starting at free safety. That’s recruiting, old-school.

The fact that this was the grizzled Paterno makes this story even better. (Hat tip: Blutarsky.)

– Residual Prolixity reviews Clay Travis’s Dixieland Delight: A Football Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference. The review ends:

The enjoyable romp both hurts and helps Travis here — helping, because an enjoyable romp is never really out of style, and hurts because there’s really nothing to learn from reading Dixieland. I suppose the best thing I can say is I enjoyed reading Dixieland Delight, never thought about not finishing it, and don’t regret the money I spent acquiring it.

– The Pro-Football Reference Blog Revisits Aaron Rodgers and the Curse of Jeff Tedford. Bit here:

As for the whole Tedford hysteria, it was overblown, even at the time. (And since I’m pointing out old articles discussing a Tedford curse and other such voodoo, I should also point out that Jeffrey Chadiha wrote a more reasoned piece at the time.) I mean, Tedford got credit/blame for BOTH Carr and Harrington in 2002? What, was he dating one while seeing the other on the side? It seems to me like there was a lot of “Norv Turner produces great running backs” hype going on here, where there are some truths, some half-truths, and some circumstantial stuff. So I cross-referenced Tedford’s actual coaching career with the “Tedford Five”.


A premature look at the NE Patriots’ changes on D

Is Bill Belichick moving the Patriots away from the 3-4 defense? The buzz in Boston is that they are. Here’s a video clip of Richard Seymour talking about it and excerpts of a Q&A Seymour did with the Boston Globe’s Reiss’s Pieces blog:

To 4-3, or not to 4-3?

To 4-3, or not to 4-3?

4-3 vs. 3-4 defense

“. . . .We have the versatility to play in a lot of different fronts, a lot of different packages, whatever is going to give our team the edge. You know, the offense always knows where the play is going and the snap count, so if we can do some different things on defense to help us out in that process, whether it’s the 3-4 or the 4-3, whatever can give us the best chance to win.” . . . .

Does the 4-3 allow him to stand out as a pass rusher?

“It depends on what we’re executing. It isn’t always about sacks, [that)] can be overrated. It’s about getting pressure on the passer, taking care of your responsibilities first. There’s a time and a place for everything. If it calls for us to penetrate, get in the backfield, then that’s what we’ll do. But sometimes we’ll 2-gap, when playing 4-3 front as well. Some teams have different philosophies, where it’s a 1-gap defense, but we still 2-gap and everybody is responsible for two gaps.”