Saturday, February 28, 2009

Another Perspective on the Haynesworth Deal

So obviously my attention has been affixed to the Skins wheelings and dealings the past couple of days. Has acquiring Albert Haynesworth, re-signing D'Angelo Hall, and re-acquiring Derrick Dockery made the Redskins a worse team than they were at the end of the season? Absolutely not. Has it made them the favorite in the NFC East? I say absolutely not given the fact they did not address their No. 1 weakness, which is at the wide receiver position.

But my attention now turns to how this signing and the economy work together. And I guess I should preface this with a personal story on my end. Don't mind the details I give, i swear it comes back around to the Skins.

In the past few weeks, the paper I work for in Northern Virginia has been struggling ... mightily. Like the past month and a half have been the worst in the paper's history of doing business bad. My office is beginning to look like a desert, there's so many empty cubicles.

It's funny, actually, how different the atmosphere around this paper is compared with the NY Sun this past summer. I was at the Sun during the last days it shined (haha get it) and other than the occasional bemoaning by one of the top editors about being a bit cash-strapped, you didn't hear much about it other than the company was hemorrhaging money, but they had been doing that since they started.

Here at this paper, the atmosphere has been gloomy at best. People are kind of panicking, thinking this bad boy could go under any day now. Me, I've tried to take everything in stride. I've got faith this paper, the local paper, will survive in some form and I'm pretty sure my skills are still in demand. That being said, I've been polishing the old resume and cover letter, in search of some alternatives in case I'm in need of another job in the next month or so.

But here's what really gets me about this paper. The reason I'm so confident about my standing has everything to do with my low salary. Literally, almost everyone they've fired has been with the company for more than 10 years. A good amount of the young writers like myself, we're all still hanging on. But it really sucks the big one for these older folk. And then I hear things like I heard yesterday. This editor, a gruff one I must admit, but ultimately a nice guy when not on deadline, was fired and now must deal with the reality of a wife with cancer and two kids who are mentally retarded — all with his health insurance gone. Maybe I'm being emo, but I guess it's the first time this whole economy thing has really hit home.

Enough with the heart break, though, what I really wanted to get out of this is a coffee machine. See, we had this pretty nifty Starbucks coffee machine and even a water cooler in my office. But now, with cost-cutting in full effect, they are both gone. Antiques of a better economy. It seemed weird to me to eliminate things as trivial as that (even though I don't really drink coffee) but I guess it had to be done. With all the recent firings, it makes sense I guess. Gotta penny pinch wherever you can if you're a newspaper.

Which brings me to the Redskins. A few weeks ago the team let loose 45 employees of the non-football playing kind, presumably because of the terrible economy. But in light of Snyder spending a whopping $180 million on new contracts yesterday, it really makes me wonder what kind of scumbag Dan Snyder is. How can you fire that many people and then go out and flaunt just how much money you have to spend? Obviously, with his history of spending frivolously on free agents, Snyder has shown that the word restraint doesn't resonate with him. But I figured that with the dignity in which he handles the whole Sean Taylor tragedy that he had some class. I guess I was wrong.

Since I'm not in a Skins-loving mood, I figure I'll give the Skins beat writer for the Washington Post, Jason LaCanfora, the stage. LaCanfora and the Skins have been at each other's throats for awhile now because LaCanfora is often hyper-critical of the team and well, Snyder and his gang don't appreciate it. Here's what he had to say about the Haynesworth signing and what not:
This is a guy who has never played a full season, and who has never played more than 65 percent of the snaps. He is someone who has had off-the-field issues and someone who has been an underachiever for much of his career. Keeping fit and motivated has been an issue, and it isn't clear how he'll respond with this kind of guaranteed money in his pocket. The pressure on him is enormous as well; he must elevate the entire defense, be an MVP type of performer and play with consistency -- at a time when the team has eliminated 45 employees who were paid far, far less.

Given the history of these kinds of deals here, it's hard to suspend your disbelief. It may well be another case of paying to a degree others would not and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. How will Greg Blache alter his defensive approach? The Jason Taylor experiment didn't work, ditto LaVar Arrington before that. Now, they're hoping that Haynesworth can make Taylor and Andre Carter into game changers on the outside. Perhaps he can, but the supporting cast around him won't be what it was in Tennessee.

This guy needs to be special and this defense needs to be all about the big play, especially given the limitations of the offense and the holes on the offensive line (this defense, after all, did finish in the top five a year ago, as Blache repeatedly pointed out). This must be a scoring defense. It must produce two turnovers a game. It must give the offense a short field because this is a team that could not run the ball or protect the passer over the last eight weeks of the season as it finished 2-6.

During personnel meetings, Vinny Cerrato, the vice president of football of operations, made it a point to push the coaches for explanations for the horrible second half. The response to a large degree was that they needed three younger, starting-caliber offensive linemen. Perhaps the Skins will work more salary-cap magic and be able to add several offensive linemen who fit that description. The offseason is far from over, for sure.

But the expectations for Haynesworth, and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, for that matter, are -- and should be -- as high as possible. They must forge the identity of this defense, and the result must be playoff wins. Otherwise, in two or three years, the Redskins will find themselves handcuffed by another contract, making decisions that have more to do with navigating the salary cap than prudent football considerations.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Albert Haynesworth Meet Dana Stubblefield

Cue the band. The champions of the offseason are back and spending more money than ever. What? No love for the Skins? At least we're winning something. I want a ticker tape parade. Maybe that will make me feel better about this whole situation.

The Washington Redskins became the first team in NFL history to spend $100 million on a non-quarterback by inking former Titan Albert Haynesworth to a ginormous seven-year deal that included an absurd $42 million up front. And they earned that honor by using all that money on a player who has played 16 games once — when he was a rookie — during his seven-year career.

This is Albert Haynesworth stepping on the Cowboys' Andre Gurode's face.

Well lemme tell you a little story here that I was randomly reminded of when I was in New York around Christmas time. Staying at Greg's place, his roommate that I randomly went to middle school with, started talking Redskins with me and brought up his memory of me as a Skins fan revolved around the free agent signing of Dana Stubblefield.

Basically, it was seventh grade and I was entering the first years of my extremist Skins fandom. And the team had been bad, comically bad at times during the first years of the Norv regime and were coming off the most tragically of bad seasons in 1997 where they started 7-1 and ended up 8-7-1. Most remember it as the "Gus Frerotte running into a concrete wall" season. On a side note, these collection of years tragically will live for eternity as when I jumped on the Skins bandwagon.

So after this heartbreaking year, I was belated to find out the Skins had decided to sign Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson, two beefy defensive linemen to shore up a weak run defense. Seriously, these signings were all I talked about for days, which then only intensified when I found out Wilkinson's daughter was going to move to Potomac. Let's hear what Michael Wilbon has to say about all

But it could fail spectacularly, too. Once upon a time the Redskins acquired a defensive lineman who plays the middle just like Haynesworth, a player who was coming off an MVP of the NFL season and entering his prime, a lineman who had already been in the Super Bowl. His name was Dana Stubblefield, and at the time it seemed like the Redskins were getting a player on his way to the Hall of Fame. His name was Dana Stubblefield and there was nothing but joy when the Redskins got him. A few years later, there was nothing but relief when the Redskins showed him the door after utter disappointment. The Redskins were the only ones, in retrospect, who didn't know that it was Bryant Young who made that 49ers' line great, and not Stubblefield.

Now I don't want to be too down on this. Frankly, the prospect of having Haynesworth taking up blockers so that Jason Taylor and Andre Carter can have free rein on opposing quarterbacks is an appetizing thought. And to be fair to Haynesworth, he has been far more consistent during his career than Stubblefield was at the point he came to the Skins. But like Wilbon said, Stubblefield also had a Super Ring already and a 15-sack, MVP season in the books.

This is Albert Haynesworth holding a small child, presumably his own. BTW, I want to start a pool: Will Haynesworth step on someone else's face during his time as a Skin, and will it be a teammate or an opponent. I'm going with year two of his tenure during training camp. The victim ... Fred Smoot.

Here's what gets me, though. The two-headed management monster of Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato promised us last year that they were eschewing this whole break out the big bucks approach and instead trying to build through the draft. Now I realize they failed miserably at that goal last year (drafting three wide receivers that caught a combined 21 passes during the season, a punter who they ended up releasing midway through October, oh yeah and a promising safety in the 7th round). While I never trusted Vinny or Danny Boy to have full throttle success building up through the draft, I kind of expected them to at least give it another whirl.

But then the salary cap Gods gave Snyder exactly what he wishes for every night before he goes to sleep in the offseason: More Cap space. Yes, the salary cap projection came in $4 million higher than anyone expected, $127 instead of $123 million. At that point we all should have seen the writing on the wall when the Skins released guys like Shawn Springs and Marcus Washington, while restructuring the deals for Antwaan Randle-El, Chris Samuels, and several others. Throw in the additional signings of CB D'Angelo Hall and O lineman Derrick Dockery to big time deals and you've got the annual Snyder splurge at its finest. What do you think, does the Skins bringing in the first non-Qb $100 million man rank ahead of the off season of 2000 (you know when Deion, Team Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier, and Jeff George came on board)? I'll let Mike Wise of the Washington Post get the last word on this one:

And if there was ever any doubt who is in charge of deal-making for this franchise, who is still very much the architect of who comes and who goes, Snyder answered it by ponying up for the NFL's most sought-after free agent. ...

Outbidding a half-dozen other NFL teams for Haynesworth would make real sense if it didn't fly in the face of everything the Redskins have been preaching lately about building and not just buying another Super Bowl. They could well collect their fifth Steinbrenner trophy this decade -- an award that, if it existed, would be named for another impetuous free spender and given out annually to the team that wins the mythical offseason title.

Props for Peedi and Fresh

I'm assuming many of you caught the Michigan basketball game against Purdue last night, where the Wolverines put themselves squarely back inside the bubble with a rousing victory. Manny Harris responded from his controversial — and weirdly unexplained — benching in a devastating loss to Iowa last weekend to score 27 points. Meanwhile his partner in crime, DeShawn Sims, poured in a career-high 29 points. The team shot an un-Godly 63 percent for the game, which included 81 percent shooting in the second half. That's just an absurd statistic when you think about how many bricks this team laid last season and parts of this year.

Michigan (18-8 overall, 8-8 Big Ten) has two games left, at Minnesota and at Wisconsin. Even with impressive wins over Duke, UCLA, Illinois, and now Purdue, Big Blue probably needs a victory in one of those remaining contests. Oh yeah, and not flop in the first-round of the Big Ten Tournament like those depressing Amaker teams used to do.

For your information, Wisconsin is currently 17-10 overall, 8-7 in Big Ten play. Minnesota is 20-8 overall, 8-8 in the Big Ten. Basically, they along with Penn State are the teams Michigan is fighting for one of those coveted at-large spots with. Before that Purdue win, Joe Lunardi of ESPN had MIchigan as one of his "first four out" as part of his Bracketology. And just to update my previous post, Lunardi had Maryland as a 12 seed before that Duke loss.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Issues With the Gary Williams Saga

So there was a Maryland-Duke game last night. I caught the second half, you know the part where the Terps wilted under Duke's pressure. Well, I don't have all that much to say about the actual game other than if I were a Maryland fan I would be supremely frustrated that my team decided to play really well against the two best teams in the ACC, eschewing common wisdom that would say to play hard against the crappier teams as well. Why, you ask? Umm ... well ... don't they want to make the NCAA Tournament? This is isn't Michigan here, where it's somehow kind of acceptable to miss the dance every year for a decade.

No, rather than the game and of course supposed prank phone calls to one Greg Paulus:

"Hello, this is ****** with the Washington Times, sorry to bother you at this hour Mr. Paulus, but we are running a small piece tomorrow and I was hoping to take 2 minutes and ask you a question?"
Him: "Uhhh, sure"
"If you had to choose between Deron Washington, Danny Green, and Dwayne Collins, who's nuts would you say tasted the best?

Instead, though, I wanted to talk about something else. It may have died down amongst the national media, but around here people are still sort of focused on the whole Gary Williams "will he or won't he get fired/step down" story. The heat was tapered down quite a bit after the Terps somehow found a way to upset North Carolina last weekend and then took some of the luster off that 41-point spanking courtesy of Duke earlier in the season by looking pretty respectable last night.

Let me preface this by giving the history of my feelings towards Gary Williams. Growing up as a Duke fan with no legitimate ties to the university right in the heart of Maryland country smack dab in the middle of when the Terps and Blue Devils' rivalry was at its peak — I disliked Gary Williams. Not because I thought he was a bad coach, but because whether he beat or lost to Duke, I knew I was going to be made fun of. That's how passionate this thing became for a couple seasons — you know, the Jay Williams, Shane Battier, Elton Brand days at Duke and the Steve Blake, Juan Dixon, and Lonn Baxter era at Maryland. Both teams won National titles and in the process, Williams was crowned one of the elite coaches in all of college basketball.

Now he's got this hanging over his head
The Terrapins have reached the round of 16 only once since winning the title and are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament altogether for the fourth time in five seasons. A review of NCAA tournament records shows that no national champion in the past 18 seasons has regressed so quickly.

So where do my issues fall in all this? Well, first off I just don't think Williams is getting a fair shake. Yes, his school is in the epicenter of one of the most fertile basketball recruiting areas in the country (take this year for instance, 14 players in the ESPNU top 100 come from DC, Maryland, or Virginia). And yes, he has botched the recruitment of many of the top players in the area over the past several years (Kevin Durant from Maryland, Rudy Gay from Maryland, and Scottie Reynolds of Virginia just to name a few).

But how can you legitimately pile on someone who has done so well in a conference not known for rewarding teams from outside North Carolina? During Gary's 19-year reign in College Park, there has been just three times where a school from outside NC won the ACC regular-season title, and Williams was responsible for one of them. If you focus just on UNC and Duke, only four other teams (Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Maryland) have won ACC crowns since 1990.

Now I've heard the complaints from various Maryland fans. I'm not sure if he still thinks this way, but my friend Matt (a Terps grad who I think was a bigger MD basketball fan before he attended the school) used to bemoan Williams' in-game coaching style, how he consistently got outcoached in games by guys like Coach K. Well, judging from the huge outcry against Williams' recruiting, or lack thereof, I think it's safe to assume the guy can still coach 'em up. How else do you explain him taking a couple undersized, not-so-quick guards (Blake and Dixon) and a chubby, smallish big man (Baxter) to an NCAA title?

And frankly, I just don't see who Maryland would get if it actually did replace Gary (which I don't see happening). Chances are the Terps will want a young coach, someone in the vein of VCU's Anthony Grant or Southern Illinois's Kevin Lowery. Maybe Maryland fans dream of someone like Villanova's Jay Wright coming to the ACC, but he's already got a pretty good stranglehold on this area having gotten Montrose Christian's (Kevin Durant's school) two best players for next year. Why would he leave? Aren't 'Nova and MD kind of at the same level anyways? They're both one-time NCAA Champions right outside major east coast hoops recruiting grounds.

Now, the popular perception around the media is that Gary is in more hot water than other NCAA champion coaches because of his less-than-stellar relationship with AD Debbie Yow. And here's where my big qualm with all this lies. Just take a look at what two Washington Post columnists got away with writing about this whole fiasco. The first statement is by Mike Wise, the second from John Feinstein:

The divide between him and Athletic Director Debbie Yow was always out there, but it never took the path it is taking currently -- the day after Williams said it wasn't his fault two of last season's recruits ended up playing at other universities, that "it was somebody else's call."

"It has been an open secret for years that the athletic director and the basketball coach don't get along. Debbie Yow didn't hire Gary Williams. She can't take any credit for the program he built nor should she take any of the blame for its recent struggles. Now, the long-simmering animosity is out in the open, and it isn't a very pretty sight."

Really, the divide "was always out there" and "an open secret for years." Well, why the hell wasn't your newspaper reporting it then? Why, because Gary Williams is suddenly losing games, does this stuff that both these writers apparently knew for awhile now, why is it now kosher to put in print? Then they just rub it in our faces by not explaining how this rift happened, what it entails. At least Feinstein (who I've mentioned on this blog before as one of my favorite writers) gives us a little insight into how the problem has evolved, but he's abstract about it at best.

Maybe I'm not a journalism ethics expert, but I just don't think it's right to just bring up some rift that may or may not have legs (I say this because publicly Yow has said there is no issues with Gary), especially when trying to explain his relevance to the program. I have no doubt Wise, Feinstein, and the rest of the media jumping all over this story are probably right that Gary and Yow have had their fair share of problems. But explain to us what exactly they are before you use it as an argument for why Williams may not be around much longer.

Let's be serious, though. In the end, Maryland and Gary Williams will be together until Gary decides to step down. Or he does something ridiculous and pulls a Larry Eustachy.

From some of the things I've heard, it has always been out there as an open secret that Gary Williams likes to get stupid drunk. Oh wait, writing that is just as bad as what the real reporters do. Actually it was a little worse, but you get the point.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mason Nation

Alright I've got a confession to make. I've become attached to the George Mason basketball team this season, not because I admire the way they play, but solely because of a radio ad. See, my sports space is pretty much filled these days having to add Northern Virginia and Montgomery County high schools to my breadth of knowledge relating to athletics.

But I drive around a lot and often talk radio keeps me sane. But inevitably talk radio means commercials and there is the George Mason ad that has an irresistably addictive jingle. "We're the Mason Nation, We're a Hoops Sensation" it goes. So I've been paying attention to Mason box scores, monitoring the situation from afar. They're fighting for first place in the CAA, one game behind VCU. To be honest the team isn't particularly impressive, with no star. No one averages more than 11.8 points per game.

But this jingle, it's awesome. So corny, you just want to hear it over and over again. And now, in the department of all that's funny, weird, cool, and awkward at the same time, I bring you another chapter in the now burgeoning history books of George Mason:
Spend time with George Mason University senior Ryan Allen and it's clear why he's a Big Man on Campus. He wears size 12 pumps.

Allen is now -- as of halftime at Saturday's sold-out basketball game against Northeastern at the Patriot Center -- the school's homecoming queen. He received more votes than the two women who vied for the crown.

Allen, who is gay and performs as a popular drag queen at local clubs, assumed the title of Ms. Mason. He was wearing a green-and-gold bow, sewn for him by the theater department costume's shop, that was visible even from the cheap seats, a sequined top, a black skirt and heels. Ricky Malebranche, a junior from Woodbridge, was named Mr. Mason. ...

Many see it as an expression of inclusiveness at a place where about one-third of the 30,000 students are minority. But others say it is an embarrassment at an inopportune time when Mason is trying to revamp its image from commuter school to distinguished institution of higher learning.

Officially, the university is "very comfortable with it. We're fine," spokesman Daniel Walsch said.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The 2008-09 Washington Wizards: Really Confusing

Remember just a short time ago when I refused to miss a Wizards, to the point that when they were on a West Coast swing on a weekend, it meant getting to the bar late solely to watch the entire game. Remember how I used to yell at the TV as if it were the playoffs even though it was game 20 of the regular season. Remember how I bought NBA League Pass for my entire 12-person just so I could watch my beloved Wiz kids.

Well, now that I'm back in DC and get all the games for free I've been tuning out of late. I guess that's what happens when your team is 12-42, nine games back of even the second-worst team in the Eastern Conference. Am I a fake fan? No, just busy and unamused by terrible basketball, especially now that I watch my fair share of terrible high school basketball for a living.

Of late, the wheels amongst the Washington media have begun turning the blame towards Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld, who put together this motley crew of bricklayers. This week, the Washington Post ran a large story about just what happened with this team and it provided this interesting caveat that may just doom Grunfeld in the long run:
This is Grunfeld's team. Every player on the 15-man roster has been drafted, traded for, signed as a free agent or signed to a contract extension by Grunfeld.

He also said that he does not regret awarding Arenas such a huge contract last summer even though the three-time all-star had been limited to 13 games last season after undergoing a second knee surgery. At the time of the signing, Grunfeld thought Arenas would be ready to play the majority of this season. Arenas originally expected to return by December, but has continued to experience discomfort in the knee and has been limited to games of one-on-one and other non-contact work. No official timetable has been established for Arenas's return, but, according to a team source, the Wizards expect to have Arenas and Haywood back before the end of the season.

Well because I'm an opinionated blogger right now, I don't have to be as tame as the Post's beat writer. Concerning the Arenas knee injury, someone has been lied to here. Whether Arenas lied to Grunfeld about his recovery timetable last summer or Grunfeld lied to the media and therefore the fans about that timetable, I don't know. But there's no way a team should invest $111 million dollars over six years when at best they're going to get five years out of that player.

Gilbert hasn't even been cleared for practice yet ... I remember when they said he'd be back a month into the season, then it got moved back to January, then February, and now it's a maybe he will, maybe he won't play this season type of scenario.

Now I was as angry as the next person when I heard Grunfeld say he "would absolutely sign" Gilbert again knowing what he knows now. What else can he say? He's locked into Gilbert and if Gilbert doesn't return to full strength, this franchise is essentially crippled for years to come. For the good of the team (and Gil's confidence) Grunfeld must be quoted like that.

And in general, I just don't know how to view these Wizards. From those years of devotion the past couple seasons, I saw what this group is capable of. I'm convinced with a healthy Gilbert and Haywood, this is an Eastern Conference playoff team. But let's get real here, this group has peaked — which is exactly why I had a problem with signing both Gilbert and Antawn to big time deals this offseason. Even with everyone back, I think it's plain foolish to mention the Wizards in the same breath as the Celtics, Cavs, or the Magic. Why would you commit so much money to a group that hasn't gotten past the second round of the playoffs (and that was four years ago)?

At the same time, Gilbert was right early in the year when he mentioned David Robinson's Spurs that lucked into Tim Duncan. This whole disaster of a season could be fruitful if, say, the Wiz end up Blake Griffin when all of this is said and done. People around here also forget that just four or five years ago, being disappointed in the Wizards wasn't really possible since they almost always sucked. There was no letdown from being at the bottom consistently.

I'm just really confused about this whole situation. Should they fire Grunfeld, who helped bring this franchise from the scrap heap? Will they bring in a big name coach (I'm hearing rumors of a Flip Saunders appearance in the Capital)? Will they actually end up with a high enough pick to select Blake Griffin (and slowly trnasition him into taking Jamison's spot — i.e. the perfect scenario)? And will Gilbert actually play more NBA games than me this season? I just don't know. The only thing for certain is this year's team stinks like Fresh Kills, the infamous and really smelly Staten Island dump.

If you look closely enough, you can see DeShawn Stevenson's rotting corpse slowly waving his hand in front of his skull. I think he shot an old Pepsi can into the window of that trash compactor. I'll (hopefully) have more on the Wiz and whether Ernie should be fired later tonight or tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Yayy Ann Arbor

I showed this to a couple people already today, but I figured I'd share (and rub it in) to the rest of the bunch here on the blog. Forbes has declared Ann Arbor, Michigan as the best college sports town in America. Here's a bit of what they had to say about the city I spent four years of my life in:

The small city of 114,000 boasts top-flight restaurants and bars, a symphony and ballet, as well as museums and concert halls hosting national-level entertainment. And what full-time residents also know: Ann Arbor has great public schools, low crime and affordable housing. Not surprisingly, it all adds up to the highest rank on our list of best college towns.

At a time when most quality of life news out of Michigan is focused on Detroit's woes, there are a lot of things to like about Ann Arbor--even if the hometown Wolverines missed a bowl this season. A four-bedroom home runs just $303,750, while median salaries are $51,232, making this the 14th most affordable market on our list. Schools ranked eighth overall, and Ann Arbor has the fourth lowest crime rate of any college on our list.

Here's the complete top 10 if you wanted to know. I suggest reading the whole article i linked if you're still curious why the town you went to school in is far less cooler than the town my school happens to be in.

10 Bloomington, Indiana (Indiana)
9 Charlottesville, Virginia (UVA)
8 Columbia, Missouri (Missouri)
7 Chapel Hill, North Carolina (UNC)
6 Fayetteville, Arkansas (Arkansas)
5 Lexington, Kentucky
4 State College, Pennsylvania (Kentucky)
3 Madison, Wisconsin (Wisconsin
2 Palo Alto (Stanford)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Something Else To Keep You Busy

One more and I'm calling it quits for the day. Here's some stuff on the interweb that I've been reading and you will probably find interesting as well:

1) The Washington Post is in the midst of a three-part series detailing the specifics behind the stunningly fast fall of Maryland basketball since that 2002 National Championship. Part I sort of explains what has happened on the court. "Some say (Gary Williams's disdain for under-the-table recruiting tactics has left him out of touch with the influential summer league circuit; others say he has grown complacent, delegating most recruiting duties to an ever-changing group of assistants. Clearly, Maryland has been hurt by landing highly touted recruits whose potential was never fulfilled and by failing to identify less-heralded future stars, many of whom attended high schools within short drives of College Park."

But Part 2 is probably what will win some journalism awards, it's that good. In it the Eric Prisbell and Steve Yanda of the Washington Post go into great length about Maryland's failure to land local and faraway products like Rudy Gay (UCONN, Memphis Grizzlies), Scottie Reynolds (Villanova), Deron Williams (Illinois, Utah Jazz), Joe Alexander (West Virginia, Milwaukee Bucks), and a couple others. It also talks extensively about the AAU circuit and exactly what the shady side of it all actually entails.

"(Rudy Gay) was merely one player, one recruiting battle lost by Williams amid hundreds that coaches routinely lose throughout their careers. But those closely familiar with the veteran coach's recruiting say Gay's decision was a turning point. Gay's recruitment, so scrutinized that it appeared to be the impetus for an NCAA rule change in its aftermath, cemented Williams's belief that signing the most sought-after recruits in the current climate often depends on practices he is unwilling to undertake. As a result of that experience, they say Williams has steadfastly avoided pursuing relationships with many of the most influential power brokers in the recruiting world."

2) I'm just glad it wasn't Graham's house. "Federal investigators arrived in the hamlet of Clarence Center, N.Y., on Friday morning to begin investigating the crash of a Continental Airlines flight from Newark to Buffalo late Thursday that killed 50 people."

3) Red Hots will no longer be a stone's throw away from my old stomping grounds, 814 East University. "(The owner) Slade closed Red Hot Lovers during winter break, expecting to resolve the conflict with Johnston by the time students came back to campus. When break ended, the restaurant needed some renovations, so without a decision from Johnston, Slade decided to keep it closed rather than invest more money in a location he might have had to leave soon." Have no fear, though, the article goes onto say the dude is planning on opening up a new Red Hot Lovers on either State Street or South University.

4) Apparently, Kansas center Cole Aldrich's cell number got posted on a Kansas State message board and prank calling ensued. Instead of changing his number or just ignoring the calls, Aldrich decided to call someone back and leave a message of his own.
Yo what's up, this is Cole Aldrich talking back. Yeah, I got your message. I can't wait to come to Manhattan and dunk the ball all over you motherfuckers. It will be the greatest day in Kansas basketball history. I can't wait to go in there and fucking drop 20-10 on you goddamned motherfuckers. See you there, bitch."

5) In a truly shocking development, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick got a high paying job now that he's out of jail. He's now working for Compuware. "(CEO Peter Karmanos), a longtime Kilkpatrick advocate, said "we hired a very talented person with a very checkered background ... to do a job that he is uniquely qualified for." "Our organization is hiring Kwame Kilpatrick because it is a good business decision, and that's it."

Oh yeah and I like this caveat, even if Karmanos says they are totally unrelated. "The hiring comes just as Compuware announced the layoffs of 250 employees." It's good to know as mayor of Detroit, you can rip off an entire city with government-funded party boats, not do any work while in office thanks to a litany of sexy text messages, be put in jail for 99 days, then get five years probation, and still come out of it all with the ability to butt everyone else in the unemployment line. And people wonder why Detroit is so fucked up. You can't mess with people's heads like this.

Kwame Kilpatrick, the mayor of second, third, fourth, fifth, and maybe even sixth chances. Or I guess we can just start calling him our generation's Marion Barry. I can totally see him as a Detroit city council member in 40 years blocking the construction of the stadium that will replace Comerica.

Drugs and Obama

Holy shit two posts in one day ... and all by noon eastern time no less. Something miraculous must have happened. Yep, it's called boredom, and the fact that I couldn't resist posting this next topic — no matter how ridiculous it may make me look.

So I'm on the email list for this pro-pot advocacy group Students For Sensible Drug Policy. Oftentimes I just skim through the emails they send and usually it just includes all this pro-drugs babble that I know isn't going to happen any time soon — at least not while there's still a conservative southern America.

But the email i got from Micah Daigle, the associate director of SSDP, yesterday piqued my interest. I'll just include the full letter and you make your judgment:

Dear Mark,

President Obama has finally selected a Drug Czar, and thanks to your advocacy, he may be the most reasonable person to ever fill that post. This is his story in a nutshell:

During a summer day in Seattle eight years ago, a feeling of uncertainty hung in the air over Myrtle Edwards Park. So did a lot of marijuana smoke.

More than 100,000 people had gathered for the city's 10th annual Hempfest. There was a new police chief in town, and nobody was sure what to expect. Nonetheless, the clock hit 4:20pm and the park filled with a haze.

How many marijuana arrests were made at Hempfest that year? Only one.

Thus began Gil Kerlikowske's career as Seattle's police chief. Under his watch, the city embraced more sensible drug policies: establishing needle exchange programs, openly discussing alternatives to prohibition, protecting the rights of medical marijuana patients, and making marijuana possession the lowest priority for law enforcement. While the chief didn't create these forward-thinking policies, he stood by them.

And now, if he is confirmed by the Senate, he'll be standing by President Obama.

While we would have preferred a public health specialist to someone in law enforcement, this new "Drug Czar" could very well pave the way to more sensible and humane drug policies. But to ensure that he does, we must "brief the chief"!

After signing the petition, you'll be directed to a page where you can purchase him a welcome gift from a wide selection of books and DVDs that question the wisdom of the Drug War.

Could this be the first Drug Czar to have a copy of How to Legalize Drugs on his book shelf? It may be a long shot, but as Louis Brandeis once said: "Most of the things worth doing... had been declared impossible before they were done."

Cautiously optimistic,

Micah Daigle, Associate Director
Students for Sensible Drug Policy

P.S. Fun Fact: The police chief of Seattle who preceded Kerlikowske became an outspoken member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Maybe there's just something sensible in that Pacific Northwestern air...

Not sure whether you want to "Brief the Chief" but I did for fun this morning. It's just another thing to think about — albeit much less important than our ongoing economic hurricane — as we embark on what many hope is a new era of politics in America.

Jim Bowden Likes Sloppy Second Reds

I've been noticeably quiet about the Nationals for awhile now because, well, if you looked at last year's standings so too have the Nationals. But yesterday the team finally made some news in the area and maybe even in the rest of the baseball world, signing slugger Adam Dunn to a two-year, $20 million dollar contract. Many hailed the signing as a win for the Nationals since Dunn was rumored to be commanding something absurd like $100 million when free agency began back in November.

The Nats had been getting hammered by local media lately since up until Dunn signed they had basically shown no propensity to go out and sign free agents that didn't have the name Mark Teixeira. Tom Boswell of the Washington Post, this area's No.1 baseball guy, hailed the move as a great one on the road back to respectability:

The Lerners aren't off the hook. One excellent signing, at a bargain price in a collapsing free agent market, doesn't suddenly transform a franchise. But grabbing Dunn, who's underrated after playing on eight losing Reds teams, it's far more than a start. It's a statement. And, unless you don't enjoy tape-measure home runs, 100 walks, runs and RBI a season, an excellent .381 on-base percentage and a gentle-giant personality, Dunn is also cause for excitement.

Yayyy Nationals, you actually did something semi-coherent by locking up a dude who can hit a lot of home runs at a bargain price.

But judging from the title of this blog, you knew I'd have something wrong with this ... and I do. So at first glance, it appears the Nats pulled off a coup signing a player of Dunn's ability for $20 mil in this terrible economy. Now best-case scenario Dunn is able to stay in left field as Nick Johnson makes a healthy return to the lineup to play first base. But what if Johnson can't come back healthy — kind of a given considering he has played more than 120 games just three times during his eight-year MLB career. Well, the Nats have that covered with Dunn moving over to first base if that happens. It weakens the lineup, but at least there's a contingency plan.

But say Dunn produces at the level everyone expects him to. Plus he has added another dimension to his game by becoming an adequate first baseman. Do you really see him re-signing with the Nationals unless he has significantly improved? To me, this essentially looks like nothing more than a two-year rental. Even Dunn has admitted, this wasn't how he imagined free agency going. Seriously, that's exactly what he said:

"This definitely wasn't how I expected free agency to work. I guess I had some misconceptions about how this would work.''

Basically what that tells me is he's still waiting for his big payday. That's why he did the two-year deal. Although I will say this. Remember Pudge Rodriguez.

He signed a 4-year $40 million contract with a 119-loss Detroit Tigers team in 2004. At the time he was the same type of player Dunn is today. A player who was probably a bit past his prime, but someone you knew exactly what to expect statistics-wise each and every year. Pudge brought some credibility to a then-moribund franchise. The Tigs win total jumped by 29 games in 2004, and two years later the franchise was in the World Series thanks to some savvy additions and strong pitching.

Can the Nationals replicate this? Probably not — especially under the leadership of Gm Jim Bowden. The guy is an incompetent. Seriously.

Since the Nats moved to DC, Dunn is now the 49th player, coach or broadcaster to come from the Cincinnati Reds — the team Jim Bowden used to be the GM of — to the Washington Nationals — the team he is unfortunately the GM of now. Does this make any sense whatsoever? Umm, only to explain the true incompetency of the czar of creating losing baseball teams.

I think I hate him even more on a segway.

This would all make sense if, you know, Bowden was successful in Cincinnati and he wanted to bring his guys here. Well, that's not actually the case. In fact, mere adequacy was the line of the month during those days. During his 11-year reign of mediocrity in Cincy (1993-2003), the Reds had three winning seasons (not including the strike-shortened 1994 season and an overall winning percentage of .491 — not terrible, not great.

Ah, but look more closely and this trend of signing former Reds becomes more disturbing. Cincinnati hasn't had a winning season since 2000 — so basically most of these "young, up-and-coming" fools have never played winning baseball in their lives. How does this make sense as a strategy for building a baseball team? Add on the fact that all of these players Bowden has brought over have had jacked-up stats thanks to the hitter's paradise that is the Great American Ballpark, and you've got the ultimate recipe for continued mediocrity with some 100-loss seasons thrown in their for good measure.

Maybe I'm being too pessimistic about this whole Dunn thing. But I've got a weird feeling — and by weird I mean scarily accurate feeling — that until Jim Bowden's fingerprints are off this franchise, this bad boy is not turning around any time soon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Major League Problem

From the title, I'm sure you think I'm finally going to comment on the continuing steroid saga going on in Major League Baseball right now. Well, I've decided that A-Rod's stunningly candy ass apology on ESPN the other day doesn't deserve much credence on this here blog. Seriously, who doesn't know what's going in their body? What kind of lame excuse is that? What world-class athlete isn't aware that what they're taking may or may not cause long term health issues?

I just don't understand why these baseball stars don't go with the simple, "Listen I was competing in an era where steroid use was rampant. At the time, I felt it was in the best interests of my career and team to take performance-enhancing drugs. Obviously, this was a misguided view. I made a mistake and for that I apologize."

Other than proving just how dumb some of these guys are — cough cough Roger Clemens, Raffy Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada, A-Rod, Big Mac McGwire — the above statement shows that I may have a promising future in bullshit PR when/if the whole journalism world comes crashing down on me.

Ok, so I guess this was about all the steroid issues. But c'mon, how do these guys have all this money and yet still have massive PR problems. There are so many simple solutions, it hurts my head even thinking about it.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Bad News Preakness Fans

This news came courtesy of Brad Wallace, but I figured I'd share it with everyone:

Preakness officials announced Thursday that fans will not be allowed to bring in beverages of any kind to the public infield at Pimlico Race Course on race day, May 16.

In the past, spectators were permitted to carry an unlimited number of coolers filled with cans of beer. The new policy forbids this practice, although the track will sell 16-ounce beers for $3.50. ...

"It's time for our public infield customers to enjoy a new way to party," Maryland Jockey Club president and CEO Tom Chuckas said. At the same old price: Tickets for the infield will remain at $50 in advance and $60 on May 16. One goal of track officials is to make the infield a more wholesome environment than in the past, when the free flow of beer often led to arguments, fights and long lines at the portable toilets.

Instead, the Preakness Stakes will feature a concert with ZZ Top, Buckcherry, and another band to be named.

Say goodbye to glorious aquatic bars like this one, they won't be around at the 2009 Preakness Stakes ... fucking bastards!

Now if you know anything about me, this comes as horrible, and I mean horrible news. This was the one day of the year where Baltimore truly shined, the one day where no care in the world seemed to matter. And as much as I like both ZZ Top and Buckcherry, I doubt they would pay $50 to go see them, a bunch of horses, and $3.50 bottles of beer.

Here's an excerpt from what I wrote a few years back about the greatest event known to horses and man:

See, the Kentucky Derby is like that Chop House dinner with the parents. The Preakness is that slice of Backroom you know is not good for you, but you just need to have. ...

I asked my friend Zac, a nine-year infield veteran and recent Michigan alum, why he poured an entire cup of beer on a random girl who was passed out on the ground at 2 p.m. His response, "A lot worse could've happened to her," pretty much summed up the day's events.

A lot worse could have happened to me at the Preakness. But it didn't. And that's why I'll be back again next year.

The sad part about all of this is that the last line may no longer be true. Part of me says boycotting this year might wise them up to just how foolish a mistake the whole non-BYOB thing is. Now that I think about it, maybe I'll just spend the next couple months in search of an open field that I won't need to pay $50 just to get into and drink.

The search has officially begun ... my new goal is to have a field party, combining my favorite elements of Preakness and the Dazed and Confused bash that made that movie so awesome.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Dazed and Confused Goes Down in History

I've got one movie that no matter when it's on, what part it's in, or how busy I am I will always stop to watch. Judging from the title of this post, I'm assuming you've figured out the movie I speak of is Dazed and Confused — the 1993 classic about 1976 that has basically allowed Matthew McConaughey to make pointless chick flick after pointless chick the past 15 years (with that awful dragon movie and We Are Marshall thrown in there for good fun).

See, I like this movie so much that back when I had my "What Grinds My Gears" column sophomore year of college, I had to bring it up in my regrettable (only because when you look up my name on google it still shows up) "Ode to Hash Bash." If you forget, here's the passage I'm referencing:

I just so happened to be watching "Dazed and Confused" the other night and came upon the perfect Hash Bash slogan. It involves the character of Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey), and his first encounter with Mitch (Wiley Wiggins), the eighth grader who hangs out with all the high schoolers.

They enter a car and Wooderson asks Mitch, "Say man, you got a joint on you?" Mitch answers, "No, not on me, man". And Wooderson responds, "Well it'd be a lot cooler if you did."

There's your slogan: "You got a joint on you? Well it'd be a lot cooler if you did." That was easy.

That isn't my favorite scene from the movie, though. My favorite happens to be a scene with the character Ron Slater aka the long-haired stoner kid Slate. In it, he opines about the qualities of Martha Washington and how she was essentially a drug dealer. Let me give you the full transcript:

"Behind every good man there is a woman, and that woman was Martha Washington, man, and everyday George would come home, she would have a big fat bowl waiting for him, man, when he come in the door, man, she was a hip, hip, hip lady, man."

He goes on to explain how Martha used to take care of the crops and put in all this work in the fields to keep her pot harvest going. All along, I obviously took this with a grain of salt considering it came in the middle of a huge field party, from the mouth of a guy I watched smoke continuously, and the simple fact that it was in a movie.

Plus it sounded nothing like the old lady who sat at George Washington's bedside as a nice old lady who helped usher this country during its infancy. Well, seems as if good ol' Slate was a lot more right about Martha Washington than we thought. I read this fascinating study in The Washington Post the other day:

Contrary to popular opinion, even among some historians who should know better, Martha was not fat when she married George. Yes, she liked to read the Bible, but she devoured gothic romance novels, too. She capably ran the five plantations left to her when her first husband died, bargaining with London merchants for the best tobacco prices. And unknown to most, while George was courting her she had another suitor, a Virginia planter with much greater wealth and stature. In a little-known letter, Charles Carter wrote to his brother about what a beauty she was and how he hoped to "arouse a flame in her breast."

Basically you substitute pot with tobacco and Slate has proven himself quite the capable historian. I really think we should take this into consideration next time we're trying to list great movies of all time. Below I've included a picture that appeared in the Post, depicting what Martha probably looked like during her prime years as a foxy lady. I gotta say, not too shabby.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Fine, I'll Post ABout Phelps

I've gotten a couple complaints along the lines of "Why the fuck are your blogs so sporadic?" And usually my answer is a ton of other writing that I actually get paid to do, which will always be my number one priority. the gap between posts this week has very little to do with an excessive amount of work. Actually there are three entries since last Wednesday that I just plain decided not to put on the web. They just didn't live up to my standards of originality.

I know what your first thought is. Wait Mark, you have standards? My response back is sometimes. This somehow brings me to Michael Phelps and the recent revelation that he indeed knows how to handle a bong. If you haven't seen the picture yet, umm well, have you been living in a cave? And if you have been, doesn't that mean George W. Bush can prosecute you for being a terrorist? That's right, the whole new era of change thing.

But here it is anyways because it's going to live in infamy, so it might as well be posted on this blog.

Back to my point about standards. I got a ton of responses from people asking me to weigh in on this whole thing even though I think we're all well aware that I don't really care about getting busted for pot. I've been around Phelps in parties, bars, etc during my four years at Michigan and I would say the descriptions and pictures of him during this ordeal have been fairly accurate. They've portrayed him as basically your standard college frat boy (which is confirmed if you look down the list of sorority girls he was mentioned with in the past four years).

Well, I didn't want to just jump on the whole 'Michael Phelps got busted for pot hehe' train that has been running wild all over the television and internet the past couple days. No I need something original ... which the Huffington Post blogs have thankfully provided. So without further to do, I give you made up stories about Michael Phelps that would be hilarious if true:

Writer Andy Borowitz with a story about Phelps' Super Bowl reactions
Olympic champion Michael Phelps weighed in today on last night's Super Bowl, congratulating the Arizona Cardinals on their "awesome victory."

"The Cardinals really tore it up last night," said Mr. Phelps, who said he saw almost the entire game until he got "a wicked attack of the munchies" late in the fourth quarter. "Maybe it was the Doritos commercial, I don't know, but suddenly I got unbelievably hungry," said Mr. Phelps, giggling uncontrollably. "I was like, man, I have got to get me some chips, stat!"

Mr. Phelps said that once he got to his kitchen, he became distracted when he noticed that his hand appeared to be growing. "I must have been staring at my hand for half an hour," he said. "It was kind of fascinating."

The Olympian said that by the time he returned from the kitchen, the game was already over, "so I didn't get to see the awesome moment when the Cardinals actually won, but I'm sure that was bodacious." Mr. Phelps said he celebrated the Cardinals' victory by eating four bags of Doritos and swimming a victory lap on his living room rug.

Courtesy of Rip Empson, some statements Phelps has subsequently made about the incident that haven't been reported in the mainstream media

"I want to apologize to friends, family, and my sponsors for my inappropriate conduct. I truly regret my poor judgment, and I hope that my supporters will give me another chance. I promise to be more aware of my strength, and I promise to exercise restraint in the future. But, most of all, I want to apologize to that bong. I'm an Olympic athlete, and I put my 'all' into everything, even bong hits. I swim hard, and I puff hard, that's just how I am."

"We should really be congratulating the bong. I really hit that thing hard, and it responded," Mr. Phelps said in subsequent statements. "This has been great publicity for [bongs]. For so long, they've taken a backseat to doobies, pipes, and the many other devices used to smoke weed; unfairly, they've never gotten the recognition they deserve."

"Every once in a while, a bong dares to dream bigger, hoping to make it onto an international stage. Today, this dream has come true, and we're all so glad that Michael could help to make a difference," his agent said.

Though the bong could not be reached for comment, according to inside sources, the student who owned the bong has already sold it secretly on eBay for a hefty sum and has since dropped out of college. Phelps and his agents are currently in the process of trying to recover the bong from the anonymous buyer.

When asked to comment, Phelps smiled and said that it was just another example of the potentially positive consequences of his actions. "Some lucky kid has already entered early retirement," he said. He then added that he has already received countless text messages from college students congratulating him and informing him that they had renamed their bongs after him. "My favorite was sent by this guy from the University of Mexico. He named his bong 'Miguel Phelps.' That's my name in Spanish..." he said, wiping away a tear.

Hope that was entertaining. I certainly don't like hearing about all this nonsense in a serious context.