Remembering Panthers and rats as another team in our state plays for the Stanley Cup

When will I be glued to every second of the Stanley Cup Finals? When rats fly, more or less, for that is the enduring memory from the last NHL championship series that required my full attention.

Still got one of those toy rats on display at my work cubicle. In 37 years of covering sports, there never has been a stranger sight than thousands of plastic vermin raining down on the ice from Florida Panthers fans who couldn’t believe that hockey heaven had come to Miami.

[Top 10 reasons Nick Saban probably never watched the Letterman show]

[Making GM the manager is akin to Loria managing the Marlins himself]

[When was last time Gators had new coaches in football and basketball?]

It was 1996 when the Panthers plowed their way into the Stanley Cup Finals in what was the franchise’s third year of existence. The Colorado Avalanche ruined the party by sweeping the series, but even then it took three overtimes to finish it off in Game 4 at Miami Arena.

All the while, great mounds of supplemental air-conditioning equipment wheezed away in the summer heat outside the building. It took an extra shot of winter delivered by massive air ducts to keep the ice inside in the mood for playoff action.

Panthers' Scott Mellanby in 1996 (Allen Eyestone/Palm Beach Post photo)
Panthers’ Scott Mellanby in 1996 (Allen Eyestone/Palm Beach Post photo)

The rats? Oh, that was in silly tribute to Scott Mellanby killing a rat with his hockey stick in the Panthers’ locker room and then going out to score two goals that same day. They called it a “Rat Trick.” They called it good luck, too, and in the earlier playoff rounds against Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, there was plenty of that.

Tonight the Tampa Bay Lightning open the Stanley Cup Finals at home against the Chicago Blackhawks. In some ways, it always will be a bit strange to think of hockey settling its ultimate score in Florida, where sheets of ice are as artificial as spray tans.

It was even stranger on the night of Oct. 7, 1992, when I found myself perched on a catwalk high above the ice at the old Expo Hall at Tampa’s Florida State Fairgrounds. That’s where they put the media for the first regular-season NHL game ever played in our state – Tampa Bay vs. Chicago.

Yes, it was the Blackhawks again, surlier than ever after being made to wait through an hour-long pregame ceremony featuring the Lightning’s Japanese ownership group. In my column from that night, Phil Esposito, the Lightning GM for that expansion season, explained how he got Japanese businessmen interested in hockey. “They thought I said saki,” he said.

Anyway, Tampa Bay won 7-3 and everybody was happy except for the guy sitting on the stool next to me. He fumed the entire game, shouting horrible things at the Blackhawks, at the officials, at the world. I asked the Lightning’s media representative who this guy was and why he didn’t understand how to act more professionally in what passed for a press box in that old barn.

Mike Keenan reacts behind bench during his time as Florida Panthers coach in 2003 (Richard Graulich/Palm Beach Post photo)
Mike Keenan reacts behind bench during his time as Florida Panthers coach in 2003 (Richard Graulich/Palm Beach Post photo)

I was advised to stay quiet, stay calm and do everything possible to avoid further antagonizing the man, who turned out to be Mike Keenan, who was working in the Blackhawks’ front office that year.

Hockey fans already know about Iron Mike, but to the unitiated, and that’s what I was at the time, here is a description of Keenan by the great Jeremy Roenick.

“Playing for coach Mike Keenan in Chicago was like camping on the side of an active volcano,” Roenick wrote in an article for Deadspin. “You had to accept the reality that he erupted regularly and that there was always a danger of being caught in his lava flow.”

Keenan was a beast all right, but even he couldn’t light a fire under the Panthers. While serving as Florida’s coach from 2002-04, he never finished higher than fourth place and failed to make the playoffs.

Tampa fans get Lightning-quick lesson in winning

This column from sports columnist Dave George originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post on Oct. 8, 1992:

Bring a glacial game to a tropical setting and there’s bound to be some fog. So it was Wednesday night in the final minutes before the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning broke the ice for the NHL in Florida with a shocking 7-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

“Hey, Tony, good luck,” shouted a neophyte puckhead with a silly grin on his face and his right hand extended toward the tuxedo-clad president and general manager of the Lightning.

“I’m Phil, but thanks anyway,” said Phil Esposito, Tony’s older brother and one of the game’s most recognizable faces. Esposito is the name that gave this franchise instant credibility but Kokusai pays the freight.

Now before you get all upset about Japanese ownership of a North American pro franchise, remember that everything about hockey in Florida is foreign, right down to the tans on the fans.

This is the team that wasn’t supposed to get off the ground, so tardy and troubled was the effort to raise the $50 million franchise fee. Esposito was asked at a crucial moment in the process how in the world he got a bunch of Japanese money men interested in hockey.
“They thought I said saki,” replied the only man who could sell pucks in paradise.

It won’t always be this easy but this is a day Tampa won’t soon forget.

George Steinbrenner got a Defense Department contract to save his shipbuilding company from bankruptcy, Buccaneers coach Sam Wyche got a standing ovation at the Lightning game and for one shining moment a greatly overlooked sports market got to enjoy that major league feeling.

Wednesday the Lightning played their first regular-season game in what can only be described as the world’s largest warehouse at the center of the Florida State Fairgrounds. The promise of a new arena can wait. 

Tampa Bay fans, banking on baseball since Joe Garagiola had hair, are a patient, and appreciative, lot. They sat through opening ceremonies Wednesday that delayed the scheduled start of the game by nearly an hour, suffering gladly the corny jokes of master of ceremonies Alan Thicke.

THE ONLY ROAD HOME

Thicke may have been out there because he is Canadian and thus entitled by hockey law to stay on the ice until someone with bigger muscles and fewer teeth pushes him out of the crease. More likely it’s because the sitcom that made him famous is called Growing Pains.

What expansion team could resist that theme?

The NHL seemed intent on getting the Lightning off to a good start, right down to bringing a big-name team in for opening night.

“At first, they had us scheduled to play our first five games on the road,” Esposito said. “I told them we weren’t going to go. They let Ottawa (the other 1992 expansion team) open up at home. I told the kid who makes up the schedules we were opening at home, too. We paid $50 million, didn’t we?”

Esposito digs hard for his goals, punching up interest in the team last month with a one-game exhibition performance by a woman goalie, Manon Rheaume. She’s with a minor league team in Atlanta now, but the Lightning were intent on making a similar dent in tradition in Wednesday’s regular-season opener.

And what a spectacle it was. Tampa Bay went wild with five goals in the first period against last year’s Stanley Cup finalists. But those are merely statistics. Here are the ballistics.

CHILLING OUT

Before the game was a minute old, there was a helmet spinning behind the Tampa Bay goal. Fortunately, it was empty, but in this game it always pays to check.

The first mass shoving match came with two minutes gone and before long there were three Blackhawks pressing the walls of the penalty box outward, three beefy tuna stuffed in a sardine tin.

Chris Kontos had two Lightning goals, both of them short-handed before some red-sweatered Chicago boosters had popped their third beers, and that’s fast working, friends.

He got two more in the second period, giving concessionaires a suggested name and a number to put on those Lightning sweaters they were selling blank to fired-up fans on their way out the door.

Since my first experience on ice skates came just two months ago and resulted in a broken elbow, there’s no point in feigning any particular expertise in this game.

This much, however, I do know. The Lightning’s first-round draft pick, Roman Hamrlik, has just been cleared to play by his team, ZPS Zlin (Czechoslovakia). That’s not to be confused with the smaller program with the same name, ZPS Zlin (Ohio).

Buy a bag of Berlitz tapes if you’re really interested in finding out more about the only game that can give you chills without leaving the state. But be prepared to learn fast.

The Lightning, 6-2-1 in preseason play and 1-0 in real life, certainly are.

Dwyane Wade’s 21.5-point average last season is a lot better than you thought

 

Did a little more digging to supplement a column I wrote on Dwayne Wade’s continued worth to the Miami Heat in the context of ongoing contract negotiations. Turns out his average of 21.5 points per game last season is even better than it looks.

Dwyane Wade (Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post photo)
Dwyane Wade
(Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post photo)

In the history of the franchise, only four other players have averaged 21.5 or more during a season.

LeBron James, of course, is one of them. He never averaged fewer than 26.7 points in his four years with Miami.

The others are Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Glen Rice.

So for anyone who thinks it would be easy to draft or acquire or develop a player capable of scoring the way Wade still does at the age of 33, here is the complete list of Miami players who have matched or exceeded 21.5 points per game in a season.

 

Player                                         Season                         Avg.

Glen Rice                                    1991-92                       22.3

Glen Rice                                    1994-95                       22.3

Alonzo Mourning                     1995-96                       23.2

Alonzo Mourning                     1999-00                       21.7

Shaquille O’Neal                      2004-05                       22.9

Dwyane Wade                          2004-05                       24.1

Dwyane Wade                          2005-06                       27.2

Dwyane Wade                          2006-07                       27.4

Dwayne Wade                          2007-08                      24.6

Dwyane Wade                          2008-09                      30.2

Dwyane Wade                          2009-10                       26.6

LeBron James                          2010-11                        26.7

Dwyane Wade                          2010-11                        25.5

LeBron James                          2011-12                        27.1

LeBron James                         2012-13                         26.8

LeBron James                         2013-14                         27.1

Dwyane Wade                         2014-15                         21.5

Sooner or later a college coach is going to work out in the NBA

If the Chicago Bulls close the deal on Fred Hoiberg as their new head coach, it won’t be the first time the franchise has turned to Iowa State for leadership.

Fred Hoiberg will leave Iowa State University to become head coach of the NBA Chicago Bulls, according to published reports June 1, 2015. This would be Hoiberg's first head-coaching job in the pros. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Fred Hoiberg will leave Iowa State University to become head coach of the NBA Chicago Bulls, according to published reports June 1, 2015. This would be Hoiberg’s first head-coaching job in the pros. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tim Floyd jumped right from coaching the Cyclones to running the Bulls in 1998 and it was a disaster. In four seasons of trying to win with a stripped-down roster minus Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and other championship pieces, Floyd was cut loose with a record of 49-140.

Among the other busts in making the leap from college coaching to the NBA are John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, Lon Kruger and Leonard Hamilton. Tark the Shark only lasted 20 games as coach of the San Antonio Spurs because he got sick of ownership trying to set his lineup.

So why the trend among NBA franchises to dip back into the college ranks with increasing frequency?

Billy Donovan to Oklahoma City makes some sense because he won a couple of national titles at Florida and was a Final Four regular but still it’s a gamble.

Brad Stevens, meanwhile, is gaining some traction with the Boston Celtics. He made the playoffs in his second season after making the jump from Butler. That’s encouraging, and follows with his pattern of efficiency in twice reaching the NCAA championship game with a mid-major team.

Hoiberg never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 in his five seasons as Iowa State coach but he did play 10 seasons in the NBA and later served as a vice president with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Put it all together and it looks as if NBA owners increasingly want coaches who are still willing to learn, who have sharp technological skills and who are willing to bend.

That means giving in to management in ways that Tom Thibodeau didn’t believe he should have to do after earning a .647 winning percentage in five seasons as the Bulls’ coach. It means giving in to veteran players on occasion, too.

The players, remember, are the real celebrities here. That’s how two rookie NBA head coaches – David Blatt and Steve Kerr – could wind up in the 2015 NBA Finals this week. That’s how Erik Spoelstra won two NBA titles in Miami.

__________________________________________________

Dan Jennings’ step from the front office to the dugout in Miami can still go in any direction. It was the same with Jim Fanning, who late in the 1981 season became the manager of the Montreal Expos after previously serving as the team’s general manager and director of scouting.

Fanning, whose easy manner and courtesy made lots of friends back when the Expos trained in West Palm Beach, didn’t bother giving a pep talk when he first stood before the team as manager.

“I gave them a fact talk instead,” said Fanning, who shockingly replaced Hall of Famer and

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library
Generated by IJG JPEG Library

two-time World Series champion Dick Williams. “I told them they had 27 days to win it.”

That’s how many games remained in the regular season and Montreal won 16 of them. How much or how little Fanning had to do with that is difficult to tell. He was, however, the only manager in Expos history to reach the playoffs, losing in the 1981 National League Championship Series when Rick Monday of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit a home run in the ninth inning of the fifth and deciding game.

Fanning, who died April 25 at the age of 87, had managed 20 years earlier in the minor league system of the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves.

Jennings’ story is still being written, but if he can match Fanning’s 116-103 record as Expos manager, that would be far more than anyone expects.

 

 

Top Ten list of reasons Nick Saban probably never watched David Letterman Show

In tribute to David Letterman and his farewell season on CBS:

David Letterman ends his final broadcast of the "Late Show With David Letterman" on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. (Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS/TNS)
David Letterman ends his final broadcast of the “Late Show With David Letterman” on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. (Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS/TNS)

Here is my Top Ten list of “Reasons why ultra-disciplined football coach Nick Saban has probably never wasted a moment of his ultra-programmed time watching a single episode of Dave’s show.”

10. Dave can’t run 40 yards at any speed

9. Dave interrupted and made goofy faces when entertaining guests. Not the Bama way.

8. Dave was smart-alecky while interviewing Bill Belichick after the Super Bowl, accusing the coach of “horseplay.” Not the Patriot way.

7. Dave did not begin his show with a coin flip.

6. Dave’s show came on after bed check and light’s out.

5. People didn’t drive RV’s into Manhattan and park them around Dave’s theater when they came to see the show. Where’s the passion?

4. When you draw up a bunch of X’s and O’s for Dave, he automatically thinks hugs and kisses.

3. Dave’s musical director and sidekick Paul Shaffer looks and acts more like a sideline mascot than an actual person.

2. When you fly a blimp over Dave’s theater, all it sees are a bunch of dirty buildings.

1. Dave consistently was No. 2 in the late-night ratings but he seems happy anyway.

____________________________________________________________

Marshall fans cheer during first half action during the Boca Raton Bowl between Northern Illinois University Huskies and The Herd of Marshall in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec 23, 2014.  (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Marshall fans cheer during first half action during the Boca Raton Bowl between Northern Illinois University Huskies and The Herd of Marshall in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec 23, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

The Boca Raton Bowl has announced a Dec. 22 date for this year’s game at FAU Stadium.

The American Athletic Conference is expected to be represented this year against a MAC team. UCF and USF are in the American, which could increase local interest in the game.

UCF played in the St. Petersburg Bowl last year, losing 34-27 to North Carolina State. USF missed out on the bowls at 4-8 but with a little improvement could be in the running for the Boca Bowl, which is on the lower rungs of AAC tie-ins.

Here’s hoping Boca Raton Bowl officials play a little straighter with us in the run-up to the game. Last year’s inaugural event, a 52-23 Marshall win over Northern Illinois, was announced as a sellout but there were huge gaps of empty seats.

________________________________________________________________________

I’m taking a break for about a week. Hoping you’ll come back in June to see my vacation photos.

Only kidding. Just more dopey blogs.

Ryan Tannehill will earn that franchise-quarterback extension if Dolphins ever learn to protect him

Dan Marino was sacked six times during the 1988 season. Ryan Tannehill was sacked seven times in a single game at Buffalo a couple of years ago.

That’s a stark reminder of how little help Tannehill has gotten from his constantly-changing offensive line these last three seasons, and how deserving he actually is of the $45 million in guaranteed contract-extension money that the Miami Dolphins gave him the other day.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) scrambles away from Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Corey Wootton (99) and Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (93) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 21, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) scrambles away from Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Corey Wootton (99) and Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (93) on December 21, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

As many times as he’s been sacked, it’s fairly amazing that Tannehill hasn’t missed a start, and even more so that his passing numbers have risen at such a rapid pace. He’ll never come close to Dan Marino in production, but if a guy can earn franchise-quarterback money for toughness alone, Tannehill has done it.

Here is a chart that shows the most passing yards ever thrown in the first three seasons of an NFL quarterback’s career. Match that with the number of times those quarterbacks were sacked over the same period.

 

Player                                       Passing Yds                   Times sacked

Andrew Luck                           12,957                             100

Peyton Manning                     12,287                               56

Dan Marino                             11,431                                41

Andy Dalton                             11,360                               99

Cam Newton                           11,299                               114

Ryan Tannehill                         11,252                             139

 

Will Tannehill be around to collect all his contract-extension treasure if this kind of punishment continues? Is it realistic to expect him to lead the Dolphins anywhere important if his blockers can’t keep him from being crushed?

It’s an interesting debate, but I’m optimistic he has more to show us. For a guy who only started 19 games at the position in college, Tannehill’s first 48 starts as a pro have probably gone better than they should.

NFL not shy about changing rules on PATs or anything else

I’m fine with the longer conversion kick, the latest evolution in the NFL’s mission to make us watch every single play in every single game rather than wandering off to the fridge or the can. Anything that adds drama, in this case putting coaches on instinct mode from the first quarter until the last, is a good thing.

Let me say just one thing, though, before moving on to a list of some of the potential consequences here. Never again do I want to hear that college football’s overtime rules are too quirky or contrived to be believed. Why, there’s even a copy of college rules in the new package, with NFL players allowed to score two points by returning a fumble or an interception for a score on an unsuccessful conversion try.

The NFL makes arbitrary changes to its basic rules without worrying about what the ancient legends of the leather-helmet era would have said or thought about it. Why, I’ll bet some of you out there never even knew the goalposts used to be planted right in the middle of the end zone rather than on the back line.

Sometimes the league calls some new rule an experiment to be reviewed after the season, though that’s not how this one is being sold. Doesn’t matter. When you alter the fundamentals of something as vital to the game as scoring, like this new extra-point snap from the 15-yard line does, all the old stats and records are thrown out of whack.

Baseball does a significant makeover in the order of business, seemingly, once in a lifetime. The NFL could do it every 15 minutes and the addiction of fans to the entire entertainment package would not be lessened in the slightest.

They really do seem to know what they’re doing, even when they’re just taking shots in the dark with potential improvements. So we’ll try the new PAT rules for a season. Then we’ll tweak them. Or we’ll discard them. No problem. The only rule you really need to know about the NFL is that the NFL rules.

Miami Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis (9) has his first quarter field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown by the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on December 14, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis (9) has his first quarter field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown by the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on December 14, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Now, here are a few instant reactions to moving the one-point PAT kick to the 15-yard line and thus making coaches think harder about trying for two points from the 2-yard line.

  1. The new kick comes from around the 33-yard line, which is anything but automatic. Miami’s Caleb Sturgis, for instance, is 17-for-20 from the range of 30-39 yards in his NFL career. Meanwhile, he’s perfect on 74 PAT kicks. Could be that mid-range accuracy begins to have greater impact on which kickers make the roster rather than the emphasis on long-range punch.
  2. Teams in bad-weather cities may worry more about developing a two-point unit than those in domes or sunnier climates. All teams will spend more time on this facet than they previously did, just in case the one-point kick gets scary for some reason.
  3. Tim Tebow may finally have gotten his foot in the door in Philadelphia. He’s a bull of a short-yardage runner and, before anyone snorts or laughs, remember how he completed a crazy Denver fourth-quarter comeback in 2011 by plowing across for a two-point conversion. If ever there was a reason for carrying a third quarterback on the game-day roster, this is it.

4. Two-point conversions are rare enough as it is but they sure played a big part in a Dolphins game just last year. Miami led Denver 28-17 after three quarters until Peyton Manning completed a touchdown pass plus a two-point conversion pass to make it a three-point game. Later, after the Dolphins had fallen into a desperate hole, Daniel Thomas ran it in for two-point conversion to pull Miami within 39-36. The onside kick didn’t work out for Miami but heart rates never dropped below 120 all afternoon.

5. Feeling queasier about Joe Philbin’s decision-making, though. With the potential for more gambles by rival coaches, he may feel the need to stockpile timeouts just in case he needs to “Kodak” a two-point formation.

Hiring Jennings is the closest possible thing to Loria managing the Marlins himself

Dan Jennings is a great guy, so personable, so knowledgable, that I just couldn’t make myself come right out and say that any plan featuring him was poorly conceived. Now, though, a few days have passed since the Miami Marlins turned Jennings the GM into Jennings the on-field manager so there’s no use putting this off any longer.

In my opinion, Jeffrey Loria’s faith in managers is so shaken, and the concept of wasting big money on them has proven so counterproductive to him, that the Marlins owner figures he can just handle the job himself, by proxy.

The Miami Marlins new manager Dan Jennings stands in the dugout during the second inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Miami, Monday, May 18, 2015.  (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
The Miami Marlins new manager Dan Jennings stands in the dugout during the second inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Miami, Monday, May 18, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

By placing Jennings, never a manager, in direct command over in-game decisions, Loria eliminates the annoyance of pushback the next time he wants to bench somebody or write up a new lineup card or promote a minor-leaguer in response to a galling loss or string of losses.

That “new voice” that president of baseball operations Michael Hill spoke of is really an echo of Loria’s own.

Jennings has often stated how much he loves the owner and how he has been treated as a valued Marlins employee. He feels that he owes Loria for every opportunity with the organization, including this one. They talk pretty much daily about every facet of the team and that won’t change now just because Jennings is wearing a uniform instead of a suit.

Also avoided here is the need to dedicate another big-money budget item for a manager. Ozzie Guillen and Mike Redmond are old contracts that must be paid. Jennings is already on the payroll. The other guys may be losses but Jennings is a two-for-one special. Loria, who rolled out all the dough for Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, doesn’t mind spending money but he wants it to be on his terms.

That’s why the 16-22 start was so galling. Redmond got a two-year extension at the end of the 2014 season. Marlins president David Samson wants to take the blame for Loria on that one, giving a guy a new deal without having enough faith in him to ride out a couple of bad months with him.

“The old story is a turnaround specialist may be different than the person needed once the turnaround is ready for its next phase,” Samson said Monday. “I think that may be something I got wrong. Red was really great turning it around and navigating through … I may have been wrong for the same voice continuing that process.”

Miami Marlins president David Samson, right, responds to a question as general manager Dan Jennings, left, looks on during a news conference where Jennings was named Marlins manager, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Miami. Jennings replaces Mike Redmond. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Miami Marlins president David Samson, right, responds to a question as general manager Dan Jennings, left, looks on during a news conference where Jennings was named Marlins manager, Monday, May 18, 2015, in Miami. Jennings replaces Mike Redmond. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Listen, though, to what Samson said this spring about the Marlins’ botched try at achieving instant karma by putting volatile Ozzie Guillen in charge of a team peppered with freshly acquired stars. That strategy, remember, was quickly abandoned via a midseason roster flush.

“As I look back on it, we thought that we were doing it right and we weren’t,” Samson said on March 23. “Now, I think we’re doing it right again and I think it makes more sense.
“We may have underestimated the importance of clubhouse culture back then. As we thought back to 2003 and thought back to winning, the clubhouse culture and who you had in the clubhouse may have made a big difference. This clubhouse, with Red at the helm, is special.”

Pick a message, any message. Just know that Samson has taken the role of designated fall guy for Loria and Jennings, never a manager at any level in professional baseball, is Loria’s attempt to minimize the instinctive pitch-by-pitch power of the manager while maximizing the global reach of the owner and his front office.

In effect, the front office runs the whole show now, not from up in the stadium suites but up close and personal, just in case any player is unclear on exactly what Loria expects of him on a given day or a given at-bat.

Jennings, again, is a smart guy. The Marlins, however, have fired a guy who had very little managerial experience and replaced him with one who had no managerial experience whatsoever until Monday night’s 13-inning loss to Arizona.

Being realistic, the best you could hope for from Jennings is to do no worse than Redmond on the pitch-by-pitch decisions that alter but seldom actually dictate wins and losses. Maybe that will be possible with former Seattle bench coach Mike Goff at his side in the dugout.

In truth, this is the closest thing to Loria managing the team himself. It’s such a grind, though, that no team owner would want to put himself through that.

Better to have Jennings give it a try, at least until some other epiphany presents itself on the question of how to motivate every last player on the Marlins roster to play at an all-star level from April until October’s World Series parade.

 

Any coach who doesn’t make one of 43 bowl games deserves to be fired on the spot

Nick Saban was grumbling the other day about his disappointment with the new four-team College Football Playoff system. Sure, Alabama was a part of the inaugural field but Saban does enjoy a good grumble.

Talking at a celebrity golf tournament in Birmingham, Saban said he worried from the very first that the new playoff system would minimize the interest in other bowl games, “which I think is sort of what happened and I hate to see that for college football.

“Maybe we need to go one way or the other,” he said. “Either have bowl games or have playoffs but not try to have both.”

Marshall fans cheer during first half action during the Boca Raton Bowl between Northern Illinois University Huskies and The Herd of Marshall in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec 23, 2014.  (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Marshall fans cheer during first half action during the Boca Raton Bowl between Northern Illinois University Huskies and The Herd of Marshall in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec 23, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Maybe the importance of most bowl games has been minimized, but the sheer number of them has been maximized. There are four new ones on the schedule this year, bringing the total to 43.

Orlando’s putting on something called the Cure Bowl Dec. 19 on CBS with American Athletic Conference and Sun Belt teams. That’s pretty close both geographically and on the calendar to the Boca Raton Bowl, which has yet to announce a 2015 date but was played last year on Dec. 23.

The other new bowls are in Tucson, Little Rock and Austin, Tex. Guess they’ll just fit them in wherever they can on the TV schedule, according to ESPN’s needs.

UPDATE: Got an e-mail update from Arkansas today saying that Kevin Crass, chairman of the War Memorial Stadium Commission, has declared Little Rock unable to get a deal done to hold a bowl game there in 2015 but might try again later.

Altogether, this makes room for something like two-thirds of the whole Div. I field in the postseason bowl system.

We’re pretty much at the point where it can be said that any coach who doesn’t make a bowl deserves to be fired on the spot.

If you ask me, though, there’s not such thing as too much college football.

How about that Bahamas Bowl last year? Central Michigan ran up 607 yards in total offense and scored a touchdown on a three-lateral play that covered 75 yards and still they lost 49-48 to Western Kentucky.

They haven’t invented the sitcom or reality show that works better than that on a winter night.

 

Tom Brady’s Legal Eagles Should Look To Former Commissioner

Roger Goodell’s Thursday decision to hear the Deflategate appeal himself is daring Tom Brady’s legal team to go outside the NFL family with a lawsuit against the league.

If Tom Brady’s fancy team of lawyers is worth their hourly rate, they will do exactly that, going all Al Davis on the NFL.

Still, there might be an acceptable alternative short of that nuclear option. The Brady bunch could negotiate the selection of a former NFL commissioner to review the work of the current one.

We’re talking about Paul Tagliabue, who was appointed by Goodell to rule on the appeals of four New Orleans Saints players suspended in the 2012 Bountygate case. Tagliabue overturned the suspensions, basically saying that Goodell was correct in finding fault but overstepped his bounds with the punishment.

Tom Brady  (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Tom Brady
(Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Goodell apparently didn’t want to take that chance again, but really, would Brady be out of line in demanding the most informed and appropriate candidate to settle his appeal?

Tagliabue got his law degree at New York University and worked for more than 20 years at a powerful Washington, D.C., firm so he surely is up to speed on what it takes to make a winning argument in court. He and Brady’s lawyers would be speaking the same language, while Ted Wells, the NFL investigator more famous as a white-collar defense attorney, would be forced to defend why a first-time offender like Brady should be made to sit four games.

Roger Goodell (left) and Paul Tagliabue (AP photo)
Roger Goodell (left) and Paul Tagliabue (AP photo)

Most of all, Tagliabue was the NFL’s top boss from 1989 to 2006. He cleaned up all kinds of messes along the way and clearly believes he sees things more clearly than most. How else could he overturn Goodell’s Bountygate player rulings rather than blindly backing the judgment of his hand-picked successor?

Brady’s team couldn’t have been surprised by the news that Goodell intends to run this whole show himself. This only adds a fresh layer of contention to the process, the kind that allows lawyers to run out the clock with a vital deadline approaching, in this case the Sept. 10 season opener against Pittsburgh.

After all the public outcry, could it be that Brady won’t miss any games at all?

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Wrote quite a bit yesterday about Miami’s remarkable run of four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. Here’s one last note, however, to demonstrate how difficult it is to make it all the way to the championship series each year.

None of the three Western Conference teams that the Heat faced in those four NBA Finals are alive in the 2015 playoffs. San Antonio and Dallas lost in the first round and Oklahoma City, like Miami, didn’t even qualify for the postseason.

The Heat negotiated their way through a lot of hairpin turns in a highly competitive field over those four years. Nobody else even came close.

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We’ve had some fun with limericks in previous posts. Well, at least I have.

Let’s try a topical sports haiku today in our cultural corner. You know how it works. Five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables.

 

When known ‘Deflator’

Makes urgent bathroom visit,

Move away quickly