Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
05 Jan 2011
by Mike Tanier
Do you have your resume in order? Tony Softli does.
Softli was one of the early candidates for the 49ers general manager position. When he interviewed with the York family last week, writer David Fucillo of Niners Nation tracked down Softli's online resume using LinkedIn. Softli's former employers include the Rams, Panthers, and University of Washington. Nothing unusual there. Then, things get strange, as Softli clearly didn't prune away his early career listings:
The profile is still up. LinkedIn has a "see more, see less" toggle, and this is a case when the job candidate hopes the employer clicked "see less." You can picture Jed York calling the personnel department and Nordstrom now, can't you?
York: "Yes, Hello. My mom owns a football team and I am calling about one of your former employees, Tony Softli."
Human Resources Worker Bee: "OK, well, Softli in our Juniors department in 1996 and 1997."
York: "I see. Did Softli ever demonstrate any general managerial skills during that time? Did he supervise a draft or select quarterbacks? Did he give you the impression that he could motivate Vernon Davis? Did he sell anything to Jim Harbaugh?"
Worker Bee: "To the best of my knowledge, he folded shirts."
Softli's over-detailed resume raises many other questions. For example, who buys formal wear outdoors? The last thing I want to worry about when trying on tuxedos for a cousin's wedding is a flash thunderstorm while I am wrestling with a cummerbund. If Mike Nolan were still around, Softli's formalwear experience might come in handy. Maybe he can attract Harbaugh to the Niners with the promise of a well-fitted ascot.
It's resume season in the NFL. Every day brings a new round of firings and interviews. Tom Cable just got fired, making the streets less safe, and Perry Fewell is jetting around the country in Rooney Rule Force One, a converted stealth bomber the league refitted to make life more bearable for each season's highest-profile minority coordinator. I use a redesigned Santa Tracker to follow Fewell, but for everyone else, writers must comb through LinkedIn, Wikipedia, and team sites, examine each obscure assistant's coaching history, and try to form intelligent observations about the candidates. This is half as easy and twice as boring as it sounds. For example: Do you recognize the following coach?
Why, that's Todd Grantham, whose name has come up for several anticipated defensive coordinator vacancies. A solid resume, but what separates him from, say, Todd Bowles, the Dolphins assistant who is also up for the same jobs? You cannot tell from a list of previous employers, and the gushing propaganda the team-sanctioned profile pages are worse. "In his first season with the Browns in 2005," wrote the Cowboys media department on Grantham's old profile page, "Grantham led a defensive unit that converted to a new 3-4 defensive scheme and finished first in the AFC in red zone defense (44.0 touchdown percentage), fourth in the NFL in pass defense (179.2 yards-per-game), 11th in points allowed (17.7 points-per-game) and tied for 16th in total defense (316.8 yards-per-game)." And 12th in cherry-picked statistics! Granted, team-sponsored sites are not going to trash their own coaches (and I have little interest in reading slam-jobs of lowly assistants), but litanies of "his unit finished ninth in third quarter defense!" and "he overcame numerous injuries and helped develop a mediocre strong safety!" amount to disinformation. At least I know what a sales rep at Nordstrom does.
If you are like me and unlike Softli, you purged the early jobs from your resume long ago. For football coaches and players, just like for parents, those first few jobs are only relevant when they can be romanticized into some character-building anecdote. Force me to write a profile on an otherwise boring rookie linebacker, and I will cross my fingers and hope he spent his high school summers working on grandpa's farm: "Every morning, he woke at 4:30 a.m. and drove a Ford F-250 far onto the prairie, a blind old bloodhound at his side. For six hours, he baled hay, stacking bales until his muscles ached and sweat soaked through his shirt. Compared to those hay-baling summers, training camp was a breeze."
Unfortunately, Nordstrom doesn't inspire that kind of myth making: "Each day, Softli parked in the employee lot and trudged through the fragrance department. If he was lucky, he had 10 minutes to fuel up at Cinnabon before a grueling shift in the men's casual department."
I read Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" recently, and Bourdain has a funny riff on waiters' resumes. I can't lay hands on the book right now, but to paraphrase: Don't tell the chef that you played "Biff" on some soap opera or once portrayed the narrator in a production of "Our Town," because the last thing any chef wants to deal with is another frustrated actor who thinks he's too talented to serve appetizers. Tellingly, Softli's Linkedin list doesn't mention his current ESPN Radio gig. It may be an oversight, or he may not want to appear too Millen-like. Jim Harbaugh, the coach the Niners covet most, might not want to remind anyone in San Francisco that he was Mike Singletary's teammate for six years. Baby Belichick Brothers Josh McDaniels and Eric Mangini may want to wait tables or perform little theatre for a while until their personality flaws are forgotten. Those two would kill in Glengarry Glen Ross.
For the record, my first job was as a busboy in a now-forgotten steakhouse just outside Camden. It was owned by a former bantamweight boxer, it played host to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Ray in the 1950s, but it clung to the edge of a ghetto by the time I worked there in the 1980s. I witnessed a lot of Bourdain-worthy debauchery, so it was an easy job to repurpose as a picaresque teenage adventure if I ever need to make myself sound more colorful. But it is not on my resume.
Then again, maybe Softli outfitted mob bosses at Black Tie Formal Wear. They had to work outdoors, so the FBI could not bug their conversations. It is all a moot point, as York passed over Softli and promoted Trent Baalke from within. Either way, it's better to rule at Nordstrom than serve as defensive line coach at Michigan State, especially when applying for a job with the Yorks, who know quite a bit more about retail than about football.
Thanks to everyone who read the All-Rookie Team last week and debated some of the choices. I wanted to talk about one of my more controversial selections: Jacoby Ford over Dez Bryant. Here is a broad outline of the thought process that led to Ford's selection:
1. Ford was really fun to watch. I spend most Sundays in a sports bar, and whenever Ford would make a big play, guys would point at the screen and say things like "Wow, that guy again?"
2. Ford has a rushing DVOA of 237.0%, though it wasn't quite that high when I selected the team. It's such a crazy figure that I wanted to reward it.
3. Ford was a "big story" player for a team that out-performed expectations. Bryant was part of a committee of receivers on a team that underperformed (most people's) expectations.
4. Bryant was hurt late in the year. That didn't eliminate him from contention, but it gave Ford a chance to make a more memorable impression while I was selecting the team.
5. I wrote a lot about Bryant during the draft and in my Rotoworld columns, so I felt like writing about someone else.
Of my five reasons, four are completely unscientific and arbitrary, and the fifth is pretty flimsy. I don't think rushing DVOA is predictive of anything, but I don't think an All-Rookie selection is supposed to be predictive, either. I am not ranking players by potential, but what they did in 2010. Both Ford and Bryant had great years, and after factoring in supporting cast, rushing ability, the injury, and impact on the standings, I figured they were pretty close. I picked the player I liked the best. I did the same thing with the Gronkowskis, to some extent.
|Figure 1: Ford's touchdown|
Ford celebrated his selection with a touchdown run against the Chiefs. Figure 1 shows the play, but Zach Miller's pre-snap motion is not diagrammed for the sake of clarity. Ford (12) takes two hard strides down the field at the snap, which helps to sell this play as a shotgun sweep by Michael Bush (29). Ford turns and takes a reverse pitch from Bush. Ford is not a stereotypical Raiders burner. The quickness with which he reverses field to take the pitch is stunning, and he throttles down and directs his blockers as he crosses the formation and turns upfield.
Note that Jason Campbell (8) blocks Tamba Hali (91) on this play. I oversimplified a bit on the diagram. Hali followed the flow of the play, tangled briefly with the left tackle, then came off the block to find Campbell waiting for him. The quarterback delivers a no-nonsense block. Also, note Louis Murphy (18), who roamed through the secondary looking for someone to hit. Darrius Heyward-Bey (85), couldn't contain his cornerback, so Murphy eventually ran completely across the field to finish the block.
Fun stuff. Fun player.
Those of you looking for play diagrams for playoff teams will find them elsewhere on the site. I am writing a "signature play" series for NBC Sports, and I will provide links on the front page of FO as the articles go online.
This week marked the end of my Rotoworld column for 2010. Thanks to Gregg Rosenthal and his team for giving me a chance to talk fantasy. I may not be the best fantasy strategist in the world, but thanks to the Football Outsiders database, I was able to share many unique statistical facts with readers.
On Sunday morning, I found my 8-year-old in the family room pausing, rewinding, and rewatching an NBA game in slow motion.
Some things just run in the family.
C.J. didn't tape some late night basketball game for later diagramming and analysis. He was watching Run it Back, an NBA-produced show that airs on Sunday mornings on the Cartoon Network.
Forget for a second that the Cartoon Channel broadcasts many non-cartoons. By law, the more explicitly stated a network's programming philosophy, the more quickly and forcibly that network veers from that philosophy. (In five years, OWN will be the only place on earth where you will not see Oprah Winfrey's face.) I like a few of Cartoon Network's live-action shows, including Destroy, Build, Destroy, and after a few hours of garishly animated cookie-cutter cartoons about smart-alecky suburban preteens with superpowers, I welcome any attempt to create some unique children's programming. And Run it Back may be the best idea the NBA or Cartoon Network has had in years.
Think of Run it Back as Game Rewind meets VH1's old Pop-Up Video, with a touch of Johnny Bench's Baseball Bunch thrown in. Each one-hour show features an edited playback of a recent NBA game. On Sunday, it was a Celtics-Sixers game from earlier in the week. Comic book-style captions appear on the screen, revealing each player's nickname or some other kid-friendly fact, highlighting players in advance who are about to do something cool, or just adding some wham-bam comments like "Rejected!" or "Drills the jumper!" During timeouts, there are player profiles and tutorials on the fundamentals of the game: jump shooting, offensive rebounding, etc. My son plays biddy basketball now, and he was rerunning one of the tutorial segments to get a better look at how to square up for a jumper.
The pace is quick, and the tutorials pitched are just right for younger fans (there's no "how to dunk" nonsense for 8-to-10-year-olds). While the Dick Vitale cliché captions are a little silly, it's a kid's program, and a little gentle trash-talk helps them understand what they are watching. The NBA produced a similar program a few years ago, but it was mostly filler. This is a real basketball game, just with some Xbox-ready enhancements.
So why doesn't the NFL do something like this?
The NFL teamed up with Nickelodeon in the summer to produce a children's cartoon. I remember reading the news, then quickly forgot about it. I watch a lot of Nickelodeon. If you think I know football, ask me about Fairly Oddparents. If you watch Nick, you know that they cross-promote like crazy. Watch the commercials during Spongebob Squarepants, and you will know that the Penguins of Madagascar Arbor Day special will air on Friday night and the iGet a Pimple movie is coming soon. I just assumed that if the NFL and Nickelodeon co-produced a show, I would be assaulted with ads and previews in both my professional and personal life.
So I was shocked to discover that NFL Rush Zone: Guardians of the Core has been a regular part of the Nickelodeon lineup since September. Both parties must be working hard to hide this program in plain sight. I can actually sing Big Time Rush songs and know what Planet Sheen is, but I survived an entire autumn without knowing that the same network that tortures me for hours on end produces a football-themed cartoon. C.J. also had no knowledge of the show, and he is so cartoon-savvy that he can classify Pokemon by their smell.
I have only been able to watch a few minutes of Rush Zone. It's bad. So bad that it deserves its own Walkthrough (February, probably). I will tease my future demolition of the program and its creators with two observations. First, it takes place in a world where everyone, from 10-year-old boys to their moms, speaks and thinks like the Football Outsiders staff. Characters say things like, "Hey, there's Antonio Gates, who caught 79 passes for 1,157 yards in 2009." Second, it's essentially the story of a suburban kid with superpowers, making it just like every other cartoon produced for boys in the last decade.
I keep waiting for C.J. to have an epiphany and realize that Timmy Turner, Jimmy Neutron, Johnny Test, and Phineas and Ferb are the same character -- middle-class kids with dorky friends, idiotic parents (mom business-oriented, dad housebound, both criminally inattentive), a neighborhood full of stereotypical bullies and puppy love interests, and some contrivance that allows them to have supernatural adventures -- realize he is being pandered to, and decide to watch Masterpiece Theatre. But that is not how wish fulfillment works, which is why every fat sitcom slob has a wife two orders of magnitude too hot for him in real life.
So the NFL missed an opportunity to create a Run It Back-type show, full of game action and Pop Warner tips, opting instead to produce a genre cartoon with force-fed football content. You would expect it to be the other way around: The NBA is the league of crass marketing, the NFL the league of substance, or so football fans like us like to think. I want the NFL to scrap this goofy Rush Zone and create a Run it Back copycat. I want to see my son rewinding football games and showing me the blocking techniques he learned on Nickelodeon. A replay of a good game, with a few nods to kids' tastes, can do more to attract young fans than some corny cartoon with robots.
85 comments, Last at 21 Jun 2011, 3:53am by winona