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I would say that the Chan Gailey era was a dark time for Buffalo, but really, after Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, and Dick Jauron, I guess darkness is relative. Doug Marrone, former Syracuse head coach and, more importantly, former Saints offensive coordinator, is the latest attempt at a worthy carrier of Marv Levy’s torch, and so far, Bills fans at least have to be pleased that the sins of the previous regime are slowly being purged.
In March, the Bills released quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, he of the six-year, $59 million contract signed less than two years earlier. With their first pick in April’s draft, Buffalo drafted the man they hope to be their answer at that position — Florida State’s E.J. Manuel. And about a month ago, 40-year-old Doug Whaley replaced Buddy Nix — the man responsible for Fitzpatrick’s payday — as the team’s general manager.
But if Fitzpatrick is the most brutal crime committed by old management, C.J. Spiller is the black mark of the old coaching staff. Spiller, taken ninth overall in the 2010 draft out of Clemson, was used as a situational player for his season and a half in Buffalo. A punt returner in both 2010 and 2011, Spiller didn’t hit double-digit carries until a Week 10 injury to starting running back Fred Jackson gave Spiller the nod for the rest of the season. Spiller did well enough with the work — averaging 5.19 yards per carry over the final six games — to earn the 1a role in Buffalo’s two-man running game heading into last season. What followed was enough to drive Bills fans completely insane.
Before making his fourth move in five years, Dana Holgorsen needed a little convincing. West Virginia had contacted the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator and expressed interest in grooming him to be its next head coach. But prior to any commitments, Holgorsen wanted to see what it was his new home had to offer. So in late fall of 2010, he boarded a plane for Pittsburgh, where he was met by WVU athletic director Oliver Luck. And on they went, the 75 miles south to Morgantown.
Holgorsen’s first request was to see WVU’s indoor practice area, an amenity Oklahoma State had yet to add. The tour moved through the football facilities, and it was there, walking past photos of that year’s team, that Oliver Luck first mentioned Tavon Austin. “One of the first things Oliver did when he walked me through the building was point to a picture of Tavon Austin and say, ‘You need to get that guy the ball as much as you possibly can,’” Holgorsen recalls. “[Tavon] certainly was not shy about wanting the ball, and we certainly weren’t shy about giving it to him.”
During two seasons in Holgorsen’s offense, Austin got the ball plenty — 303 times, an average of more than 11.5 touches per game. As a senior, he caught 114 passes for 1,289 yards. He added another 643 yards rushing, on 8.9 yards per carry. Including kick returns, Austin hit the end zone 17 times. He was, along with USC’s Marqise Lee, one of the two most electric players in college football.
In case you were out demanding that Red Lobster serve you a never-ending pasta bowl, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
In a thrilling conclusion to the NCAA tournament, the Louisville Cardinals beat the Michigan Wolverines, 82-76, to win their first NCAA title in 27 years. Reserve forward Luke Hancock was named the Final Four's MOP after his 22-point performance in the title game. When asked if he saw his performance coming, Hancock responded, "I mean, how can you see a thing like this coming?" before Michigan's Trey Burke came up from behind to congratulate him on the win. Unfortunately, Burke's intentions were misinterpreted by a security guard, who immediately removed Burke from the stadium.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino's good fortunes continued as he was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2013. Pitino, who'll be inducted alongside Gary Payton, Bernard King, and Jerry Tarkanian, among others, also saw his horse Goldencents win the Santa Anita Derby over the weekend. Pitino's great week didn't end there, as he was invited to two separate parties at the Louisville Discovery Zone this coming weekend, both of which are rumored to be supplied with both Pizza Factory pizza and Carvel ice-cream cake.
There's one enormous misconception that keeps cropping up this NFL offseason in the reaction to surprising personnel decisions. In terms of evaluating how much a particular player is worth (to his team or another), one little tidbit matters more than anything else: Past performance, future performance, personality, and name value all fall by the wayside to this most essential bargaining chip. It explains both the Tony Romo deal from this past weekend and Carson Palmer's desperate attempt to flee the East Bay. In the NFL, leverage is everything.
Consider Dallas's predicament with regard to its occasionally brilliant, frequently embattled quarterback this offseason. With a team of expensive veterans surrounded by a relative paucity of players on cheap, team-friendly rookie contracts, the Cowboys normally would be up against the salary cap. It didn't help when the Cowboys failed to come to terms with Anthony Spencer on a long-term deal and were forced to franchise him for the second consecutive year. Throw in the cap penalty they're eating after the NFL took away $10 million over two years for their handiwork during the uncapped year, and the Cowboys were really struggling to create space under the cap. Cap figures aren't released publicly, but by some accounts, the Cowboys couldn't have fit a Crown Victoria into their cap space this offseason, let alone Victor Butler.
In case you were busy dealing with your body shutting down all systems unrelated to the production of mucus, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Dwight Howard scored 39 points as he led the Los Angeles Lakers to a 106-96 win over the Magic in Orlando, where he played the first eight seasons of his career. Howard was met with a chorus of boos, or as he calls them, "Laughs, right? Cause that's the typical reaction to my hilarious antics. That and guffaws. Kobe's a big guffawer. Let me show you what I mean." Howard then stared at the assembled press and did a throat slash gesture, before adding, "Oh, man, that guy can't get enough of me."
Valparaiso beat Wright State, 62-54, to win the Horizon League championship and qualify for the NCAA tournament. "Bryce Drew isn't walking through that door, so it's time to write your own destiny," said Valparaiso legend and current head coach Bryce Drew after the game, before adding, "Well, he is. He did. I mean, I is — I did. I meant, as a player, you're gonna have to create your own legend. But he will be attending the game. I mean, I will. You don't have to worry about that."
Black Monday delivered. The first morning of the offseason for 20 of the league's 32 teams brought a stunning wave of pink slips, as more than half of those 20 teams responded to their disappointing campaigns by firing at least one prominent member of their front offices or coaching staffs. Most handled it with class. Bud Adams of the Titans fired his COO, former general manager Mike Reinfeldt, by noting "I think we’d be better off without him," which is a total disregard for tact that you can only possess by being 90 years old and an NFL owner. It's like sending a telegram whose entire contents read "IDGAF." By the end of the day, seven head coaches and five general managers had hit the street, despite the continued employment of embattled candidates like Mike Munchak, Ron Rivera, and Jeff Ireland. Somehow, though, the only move that seemed truly surprising came out of Chicago, where Lovie Smith was sacrificed for the Bears' second-half collapse.
It's much easier to figure out which coaches and general managers are likely to be fired than fill those same holes with available candidates, so I'm going to avoid prognosticating here. My rule of thumb is that teams tend to notice their personnel's weaknesses as they fire them and replace them with personnel of the opposite persuasion. If they've just fired an offensive-minded leader with a reputation for being a player's coach, teams often look for a defensive coordinator with a disciplinarian streak. I don't know that the pattern I'm describing is necessarily what teams should follow, but I think it's a path that a fair amount of the league's teams do, in fact, take.
So, with that in mind, I want to examine why these 12 men didn't make it into 2013 with their jobs. Understanding what went wrong (or what was perceived to have gone wrong) should give us some insight into whether the moves made any sense and if the teams in question are actually going to improve by making a switch.
There's no clear-cut smoking gun in every case, but there is one factor that plays an obvious role in many of these firings: disappointing quarterback play. By my count, the only firings on Monday that weren't directly preceded by a failed season from the sacked employee's quarterbacks were with Smith in Chicago and the combination of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner in San Diego. You can make a case that Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers didn't quite meet expectations, but consider that each of the nine other candidates oversaw quarterbacks who will either lose their job or be in a battle for their previously secure starting job in 2013, and you have an idea of just how closely quarterback play and coach/GM job security are related.
Let's start with the most surprising firing of Black Monday and work our way down.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP award, beating out Angels rookie Mike Trout by a healthy margin. And now it's time for the ANGRY OLD SPORTSWRITER! "Look, I know all you stat nerds out there are going 'Wahhh, wahhh, Trout should have won because he has a higher WAR.' You know what I think of that? HAR. As in HARDY HAR-HAR, morons. There's so much Trout love going around that I think the sports world is full of bears. And guess what? Bears eat salmon, so you're wrong there, too. Get a grip. Miguel Cabrera won a Triple Crown, you sniveling little Adlai Stevensons. Back when I was around, in the 1930s, that used to mean something. In fact, players back then would actually wear three different crowns to signify that they'd won. Was it uncomfortable? Sure. But I dare you to find a more beautiful site than Jimmie Foxx strutting around Philadelphia with three golden crowns perched atop his gorgeous head. There wasn't a man there who didn't get an erection. So can the stupid Trout arguments. Mike Trout is threatening to ruin baseball, and if Bud Selig had any cojones, he'd send him on the next ship to Venezuela, and he'd say, 'Either you take down that tyrant Hugo Chavez and his nationalized oil, or you don't come home.' And that's a Triple Crown we can all wear."
“Who’s up for another three hours of shitty football? Pull up a chair and watch poorly prepared, banged-up football players from two forgettable teams bring out the worst in each other ... it’s Roger Goodell’s Shameless Money Grab, coming up live on the NFL Network!!!!! Hello, everyone, I’m Brad Nessler, along with Mike Mayock, we’re here in Buffalo, and Mike, you’re expecting something truly horrific tonight ”
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Tonight’s game isn’t THAT bad — the Bills are laying 2½ points to Miami with their entire season on the line. What needs to happen for the 3-6 Bills to make the playoffs? Well
You may have noticed that we at Grantland take bad quarterback play very seriously. While Grantland's finest in the Los Angeles office take part in the BQBL each season, my basis for bad quarterback knowledge dates back to a childhood during which the starting quarterbacks for my favorite team were universally terrible. You try suffering through Dave Brown, Kent Graham, and Danny Kanell for a five-year stretch and see how much you enjoy it. Those mid-'90s Giants teams even gave away Tommy Maddox, who would eventually become a starter in Pittsburgh after winning an XFL Championship, but he delivered one of the worst backup performances in a single year I've ever seen: 6-for-23 for 49 yards with three interceptions and a fumble is probably deserving of professional excommunication.
With my esteemed qualifications, then, I was skeptical this Sunday when people started referring to Philip Rivers's bizarre pick-six against the Buccaneers as the worst pass of the year. Sure, it essentially turned a game that was about to be tied in the fourth quarter into one where the Chargers had an 11 percent chance of winning, but swings like that happen every day. A truly bad pass is more than just an ill-timed poor decision. It has to have panache. It needs to make you rewind with equal parts disgust and confusion. If possible, the cheery ex-quarterback doing color commentary should audibly groan or say something like "Oh no" as the pass is traveling in the air. It shouldn't look anything like a normal football play. Those are the truly terrible passes. And after I watched Rivers's pass, I realized that it did truly deserve to be in the running for worst pass of the year.
Although you would be forgiven for forgetting, there were actually brief moments of football that snuck between the blown calls and "bullshit" chants that seemed to dominate this past weekend of NFL action. Some of that football inspired very interesting coaching decisions, and while the best and worst of those decisions normally come up in the "Thank You for Not Coaching" section in the Monday column, there were so many decisions worth discussing this week that it's going to serve as the basis for this edition of the newly named Tuesday column, "Fourth and Short." (Thanks to reader Josh Dixon for giving us a better name than "The NFL Thing We Used to Call 'Fabs and Flops.'")
The home team's offensive possessions in Sunday's Bills-Chiefs game saw two units traveling in opposite directions. On one side was Bills running back C.J. Spiller, the speed demon from Clemson who has emerged as a surprise superstar during the first two weeks of this young NFL season. Opposite him was a Chiefs defense that had just allowed 40 points to the Falcons and was about to get 35 more put on them by Spiller and his teammates. Spiller produced his second monstrous performance in as many weeks, running for 123 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries while adding in 47 more yards on three receptions.
Whenever a big game like this happens for a back, it's always a combination of effective offense and ineffective defense, but the important thing is figuring out which side contributed more to the effort and why. In this case, we want to figure out how the Bills are using Spiller, what they did to prevent the Chiefs from getting near him, and whether the Chiefs can do anything about it in future weeks. Let's try to figure out if C.J. Spiller and the Chiefs' porous defense are each for real.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Red-hot Mariners ace Felix Hernandez tossed a five-hit, complete game shutout as the M's squeaked by the Twins 1-0. In related news, Las Vegas is now a bankrupt ghost town after more than 100 million gamblers placed significant bets on the Mariners-Twins game ending 1-0.
Patriots shell out more money to pass catchers, continue blatant taunting of Wes Welker
Every bit of this Karen Guregian blog post for the Boston Herald is so perfectly Bill Belichick that I don’t think anything could make me happier. It starts with the news of Aaron Hernandez’s new $40 million extension, which comes on the heels of Wes Welker’s very public griping about his own contract situation. It’s no secret that Belichick’s Pats have never let loyalty get in the way of business matters, but an apparent willingness to jettison Welker is a far cry from dealing Deion Branch. Welker has caught at least 110 passes in four of his five seasons in New England, including a 122-catch, 1,500-yard 2011 campaign. Allowing Welker to walk would take the Patriot Way to an entirely different place — the place where we might finally be able to conclude that Belichick has lost his mind.
Hey, Red Sox fans! Does the adorable nature of this video make Bill Buckner's error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series any more digestible? Does the fact that these Kenyan schoolchildren still possess the childlike wonder with which most of us once looked at baseball make it any less difficult to accept the fact that sometimes even the pros make mistakes? No? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Let's just acknowledge it: The acquisitions portion of the football offseason is over. Listen, we're not any happier about this than you are. Those halcyon days when half the league's teams were linked to Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III in these pages are in the past. One day we'll all look back at the spring of 2012 and all chortle at how young we once were — Skrillex, really? — and, well why don't we do that today?
No, now is not the time to start filming our I Love the '10s pitches about dubstep kings. Since the league's 32 teams are done with the vast majority of their player acquisitions for the upcoming season, though, we can start putting all those signings and trades and drafts into context by taking a look at which teams actually made a serious investment into filling the biggest holes on their roster. Of course, we also need to question those teams who failed to fill their noticeable problem, whether they entered the offseason with that issue or created it with their offseason moves without addressing it by the end of the NFL draft this past weekend.