Monday, January 9, 2012
Going into yesterday's AFC Wild-Card playoff game, the prospects for the Denver Broncos' were, shall we say, a little bleak. Having barely won the AFC West with an unimpressive 8-8 record, and finishing the regular season with 3 consecutive losses, few believed Denver would have much of a chance against the perennially stout Pittsburgh Steelers. Adding to Denver's perceived woes was their weak quarterback play of late from the heavily criticized, heavily scrutinized, Tim Tebow.
Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida has, of course, been the story of this NFL season. Named Denver's starter six games into the regular season, the much discussed Tebow has become a polarizing figure of epic proportions. While the decision to start Tebow was a popular one amongst Broncos’ fans, commentators and pundits within the media, viewed the decision as something of well, a complete farce.
Yes, pundits and media members conceded Tebow was a fine college player, but too raw, too fundamentally inept, and certainly not schooled in the nuances of playing the quarterback position at the NFL level. Further, the only thing that masked the popular Tebow's total lack of talent was the endless, nauseating hype surrounding him.
Conversely, in the mind of Tebow supporters, Tebow's talent deficiencies didn't really matter all that much. They insisted the quarterback could succeed because, well, he was Tim Tebow--a transcendent leader with a unique skill set and intangible leadership qualities never before seen. Sure, he may not have the arm of Aaron Rodgers or the precision of Drew Brees, but he was after all, Tim Tebow; a former Heisman trophy winner, renowned for his unparalleled work ethic, possessing charisma off the charts, and that counted for something.
Exacerbating the Tebow debate even more, was Tebow himself. Tebow, of course, has been very public since his days at Florida about his evangelical Christian faith, taking public stances on controversial issues, such as abortion. While I've asserted in print, on numerous occasions, my belief Tebow has expressed his faith in a positive, non-combative, non-judgemental, mature manner, there are some who simply are take exception to any public display of faith, no matter how positive the message.
Also, adding to the polarizing nature of Tebow, was the perception that his own team didn’t even want him. Of course, head coach John Fox, who took over this past off-season, and Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway was hired late last season, inherited Tebow. Reports indicated Tebow, who was drafted by former head coach Josh McDaniels, was largely viewed as a talent lacking irritant, handed down from the prior administration. And despite his lack of talent, he had the support of the Denver faithful.
However, sitting at 1-4 a month into the season, with the season seemingly lost, and an apathetic fan base growing more vocal in their desire to see Tebow, Elway and Fox gave in. Begrudgingly, it seemed, Tebow was named the starter for their week 7 game at Miami. Then, Elway traded the team’s best wide receiver at the time, Brandon Lloyd, reports surfaced that the move was made because the team was actually hoping Tebow would fail. Was this really happening? Was a team really hoping it’s own quarterback would fall flat on his face, so they could stick it to their own loud, ignorant fan base?
While that thesis seems incredibly far fetched, the question was put forth. And further perpetuating the debate, Tebow provided evidence to vindicate both critics and supporters alike in his first few starts. Critics pointed to lousy mechanics, and some rather ugly stat lines, claiming that even if Denver won it was not because, rather in spite of, Tebow.
And in fairness, Tebow has thrown more than his fair share of wobbly balls, and one hopped more than a few receivers. Many of his stat lines have been downright ugly, as he has often failed to complete less than half his passes, including one Denver victory, in which he recorded a mere 2 completions.
Ugly as some of those passing stats were, Tebow supporters contended Denver was more often than not, winning. A season that started 1-4, became 8-5 as the Broncos won 7 of 8. The team creatively tailored an offense around Tebow's unique skill set, while simultaneously masking his deficiencies. While many claimed the offense was archaic and gimmicky, the Broncos’ emergence as a playoff contender could be directly linked to Tebow becoming the starter.
Stunned by the fact the Broncos were winning with Tebow behind center, the experts who so loudly lampooned him, quickly chalked up Denver's success to a host of factors, none of which included Tebow, himself. Endless credit was heaped on the Broncos' stout defense. Denver’s soft middle of the season schedule was likewise cited. One pundit even suggested that Denver's impressive mid-season streak was largely the product of their fine kicker, Matt Prater, who had the added advantage of kicking at high altitude.
Those who couldn't offer a football related explanation offered the lucid thought that the Broncos' winning ways were the product of an inexplicable, string of unparalleled luck. The best example of this was the Broncos defeat of the Chicago Bears in Week 14, when running back Marion Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds while the Bears were killing the clock. Certainly, however, it wasn't Tebow.
And when Tebow played poorly down the stretch, as Denver dropped their final 3 games, two against non-playoff opponents, many insisted they had told us about Tebow all along. Finally, they insisted, order was restored to the NFL universe, as the league had figured out the gimmick. With the Broncos backing into the playoffs on the heels of three straight losses, it stood to reason the clock had struck midnight on Cinderella.
But a funny thing happened yesterday on the way to the demise of Tebow and the Broncos. Tebow was sublime, throwing for over 300 yards, including an 80 yard touchdown pass in overtime to clinch the game. Of course, the best part of Denver's win will be to watch the pundits spin this latest Tebow surprise. I’m sure we’ll hear that two of Pittsburgh’s defensive linemen left with injuries, and that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t 100%. And they would be right that the Steelers were not at full strength.
Of course, we've been hearing such justifications for 3 months now. We've been hearing how the Broncos' continued success is unsustainable with their gimmick of a quarterback. This week, we'll be sure to hear there is no way such success can continue, as Denver must travel to New England, and have a tall task against the vaunted Patriots.
In the meantime, I think it's appropriate to recognize Tebow and the Broncos have taken us on a ride never before seen. A Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, with unprecedented popularity, unwanted by his own team, and openly mocked by the so called experts, has his team two wins from the Super Bowl after inheriting a 1-4 record. In the face of hostile criticism, he's done nothing but turn the other cheek, and win 8 of 12 games, despite supposedly lacking the physical tools deemed necessary to succeed at the NFL level. Simply put, there's never been anything like it.
So go ahead and continue to smash Tebow. I'm sure he'll throw a few more wobbly spirals or two hop a few more receivers on crossing routes. Likewise, I'm sure he has another 6-22 passing day in him. Go ahead and predict he and the Broncos' improbable run will come to an end this weekend, against the Patriots.
However, just realize we've witnessed a run without historic parallel. Hopefully, you haven't been too preoccupied with making sure Tim tebow receives no credit to realize that.
Contact Brian at email@example.com
Follow Brian on Twitter @bricarr2
Friday, December 23, 2011
"You play to win the game," were the famous words once uttered by then New York Jets' head coach Herman Edwards. The colorful Edwards was, of course, responding to a question from a snippy reporter he seemingly took exception to, after a loss early in his tenure with the Jets. While Edwards, as he is known to do, likely embellished the matter, his grandstanding performance has become an enduring soundbite; a soundbite more relevant now than ever.
Of course, the possibility of drafting Stanford star junior quarterback Andrew Luck, has people questioning whether you play to win the game. Luck by all measures is a once in a generation prospect, with elite physical tools, off the charts intelligence and an NFL pedigree. It is widely believed Luck will declare for the draft, and therefore be available with the #1 overall pick.
The belief amongst many is that teams in contention for the #1 overall pick, such as Indianapolis, Minnesota, and St. Louis, are best served by losing their remaining "meaningless," games, as a team earns a higher draft position the worse their record. Indianapolis, of course, staged a late comeback against Houston last evening to earn their second victory of 2011, and immediately the prospect of the Colts improved record hurting their potential draft position was raised.
A similar sentiment is prevalent here in Washington, as the 5-9 Redskins are out of playoff contention, and have a clear need at quarterback. While Washington is not in the running for the for the #1 overall pick, they are currently slated to draft in the top 10. Many have suggested, the Redskins should use that top 10 pick as part of a package to help them "move up" to take a player such as Luck. Even if the Redskins did not trade for Luck, the thought amongst many of the team's supporters is the higher the draft pick they have, the better. Therefore, any more wins in this lost season that compromise the team's chances of a higher draft pick, are deemed counter-productive.
And on the surface, this seems to be a reasonable position. Since the Redskins cannot make the playoffs, what do the remaining games really mean? Other than the team's professional obligation to the paying customer, wouldn't it behoove the Redskins to simply lose out, improve their draft position, and thus their future prospects?
While it is unlikely Redskin fans will nostalgically recall anything that happens in this season's final two games, the idea that the team's best interests are served by losing is an ignorant and presumptuous one; one that misunderstands both the nature of success and the NFL draft. Further, the best thing the Washington Redskins can do for themselves, tomorrow against Minnesota, next week in Philadelphia and any time in the future is "play to win the game."
See, winning is not something a team "gets around to," like one might get around to cleaning the gutter. Rather, winning or success, is something one strives for; something successful franchises such as the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers do consistently despite injury, and despite rarely having top draft picks.
In the case of the Redskins, I imagine their ultimate goal is to convert the franchise into a perennial winner a la the Patriots or Steelers. Both franchises are playoff, if not Super Bowl, contenders on an annual basis. Both franchises also have forged a unique identity that characterizes its success. With the Patriots you think of the smooth, methodical approach led by quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. In the case of Pittsburgh, a bruising physical style of play characterized by players such as James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger, comes to mind.
However, what ultimately makes both teams a success, is not the way they win, but rather the fact, they win. The winning gives mystique and credibility to the manner, in which they win. That is why you may hear a Steeler player scream out "let's play some Steeler football," imploring his teammates to perform better at a time the Steelers are struggling. After all, "Steeler football," is a tried and true formula, that has won Super Bowls.
Currently, the Redskins are searching for that. They are searching for an identity, searching for a manner in which they can become like the Steelers or Patriots. What that identity is, we don't know yet. However, no such identity will be forged unless the team is successful.
Further, the notion that a team will experience success at some arbitrary future point when it obtains a certain player who has yet to play a down in the league, is a falsehood. Keep in mind, the Redskins for nearly the past 2 decades have not been very good, even though they have had numerous high picks in the NFL draft. While they have at times traded these picks away, they nevertheless have drafted very high, very often.
In fact, since 1995, the Redskins have made five top 5 picks, and 12 top ten picks. One year, 2000, the team had the second and third overall picks. By comparison, the previously mentioned Patriots, have made 0 top 5 draft picks since 1995. None. Yet, during this time, the Patriots have won 11 division titles, 17 playoff games, and 3 of the 5 Super Bowls they've appeared in. The Redskins for their part have won one division title, a mere one playoff game, and of course, have appeared in zero Super Bowls, despite having better draft position year after year after year.
In other words, just because a team has a high draft pick, does not mean it will use it well. If the organization drafting the player misjudges him, or the organization does not create an environment where a player can succeed, having a high draft pick, or even multiple high draft picks, does little good. All it likely means, is that the team will be drafting in a similar position the following year.
Of course, the Redskins have not enjoyed the stability in recent years an organization like New England has. Whereas, the Patriots have had one head coach, Bill Belichick, since 2000, the Redskins have had 7. And with 7 head coaches, have come a multitude of philosophies, schemes, practice plans, playbooks, and personnel. The stability of New England has likely been instrumental in creating an environment where the players they draft can thrive.
New England provides a great case study for this as well. In 2008, their future hall of fame quarterback Brady, who New England drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, was injured in the first game of the season. His backup, Matt Cassel, who had never started a college game took over, and the team went 11-5. Clearly, the environment New England created had something to do with a sixth rounder becoming a hall of famer, and a quarterback who never started a college game succeeding.
The case of Cassel can be compared with a recent example of a highly touted prospect who was drafted very high. Former Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford was taken by the St. Louis Rams with the number overall pick in 2010. Bradford was very highly regarded coming out of Oklahoma, and has all the physical tools of a pure passer. At times looked worthy of the #1 pick and huge contract he signed. However, he does not have elite weapons at wide receiver, and his offensive line is very weak. He's battled numerous injuries and struggled as the talent around him is not strong, and the Rams currently sit at 2-12.
And discussing Bradford brings us back to the Redskins. The Redskins, like the Rams when they drafted Bradford, are not one player away. Presuming anything to the contrary is completely ludicrous. Certainly, head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen have made many improvements to the team during their first two seasons in D.C. They have placed a premium on building through the draft, restored a sense of professionalism and eliminated the entitlement culture that existed at Redskin Park.
However, the Redskins remain numerous continued improvements to the numerous continued improvements already made away. Of course, numerous fans and media pundits will mindlessly cling to the fallacy that the Redskins' only hope exists in the upcoming draft. While the upcoming draft will be an important one for the franchise, that is a matter for the off season.
In the meantime, the Redskins' best interests are served by heeding the words of Herm Edwards, and always remembering "you play to win the game."
Monday, December 19, 2011
It was a strange NFL Sunday this week. The seemingly unbeatable Green Bay Packers lost, my Washington Redskins had a game wrapped up midway through the fourth quarter, and there was no Tim Tebow miracle. No, the polarizing Tebow, who won 7 of 8 games since being named Denver Broncos starting quarterback, had nothing in his bag of tricks this past weekend. There was no fluky occurrence like an opponent inexplicably running out of bounds. There was no miraculous fourth quarter comeback. When faced with Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots, the transcendent Tebow could not turn water into wine, as his Broncos lost 41-23, finally restoring a sense of symmetry and order to the universe.
Of course, many have viewed the recent success of Tebow and Denver akin to something of a mystical phenomenon. After all, in the minds of many football "experts," Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner, clearly lacks the tools necessary to be a successful quarterback in the NFL. These "experts," include, but are by no means limited to, notable analysts like Mel Kiper, Tom Jackson and Dan Marino. And in fairness, whatever Tebow's strengths happen to be, his throwing motion is visibly awkward and clumsy, and his passing statistics do not exactly call to mind images of Montana, Unitas or Manning.
And because Tebow clearly lacks the tools of conventionally successful NFL quarterbacks, many contend that the Broncos have won not because of, rather in spite, of Tebow. The team's very stout defense or soft schedule are often cited as examples explaining Denver's success.
If those theories don't suffice and further explanation is needed, many may make the lucid observation that Tebow and the Broncos, have been the benefactors of incredible luck. Of course, everyone saw an example of such luck in week 14, when Chicago Bears running back Marion Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds to stop the clock late in the fourth quarter. Tebow and Denver would capitalize on Barber's mistake and force overtime, before beating Chicago with a second 50+ yard field goal from kicker Matt Prater.
To many, this incredible run of luck, from a talentless joke of a quarterback, who took advantage of a soft schedule is only made worse by the fact the guy is so darn popular with the mindless masses. Where many fans, particularly in Denver, see a charismatic, inspirational leader, who resurrected the Broncos season, others see a sanctimonious, nauseating, blowhard, whose total lack of talent is masked only by his cheesy "no one will work harder than me," speeches.
And for nearly two months, this notion of Tebow as a hard working underdog was perpetuated as he seemingly orchestrated one win after another. A fluke play here, some inspirational nonsense there, and Tebow had the Broncos in contention for a playoff berth.
However, this weekend, the Broncos and Tebow got their just due. With a hall of fame coach and quarterback in town, a college playbook and rah-rah speeches didn't suffice. There was no lucky bounce, no incomprehensible choke job, no inexplicable comeback. The Broncos and Tebow got plain beat by a better team.
Predictably, the many Tebow critics are claiming "I told you so." In their minds, the Broncos' flukish run of winning games with a no-talent, sanctimonious quarterback had to end. However, the assertions of such prognosticators become less impressive, when you consider many have been predicting Tebow's demise for two months, or in many cases, before he was even named the starter. Heck, they had to be right eventually. Further, the prognosticators who are so busy snickering at Tebow's shoddy mechanics and quick to attribute any of his success to luck, are missing something very important.
See, because so many have been so vociferous in predicting Tebow's demise, they've actually become invested in seeing it come to fruition. They no longer see Tebow as Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Denver Broncos, rather Tim Tebow, the idea. An idea that, if successful, poses a challenge to their world view. If Tebow continues to experience success in spite of his unconventional skills and unconventional style, what does it say about them?
So when you hear some talking head slamming Tebow this week saying "I told you so," go ahead and take it with a grain of salt. And while Tim Tebow can't demand more daunting opponents or that his team play worse defense, so his critics will quiet, he can help execute the plays to help the Broncos win, something he has done thus far.
Nevertheless, many who criticize Tebow are too invested to turn back now. To them, any success he has is nothing but a joke. However, if they ever took a minute to reconsider, they might realize, the joke is on them.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Less than an hour ago, the Denver Broncos won their 5th consecutive game with a 35-32 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Denver, as is becoming their custom, managed to mount a 4th quarter comeback, as they had been trailing most of the game. However, the story in Denver, and the rest of the league for that matter these days is less about the Broncos, and more about their phenomenon of a quarterback, Tim Tebow.
Tebow, of course, was installed as the starting quarterback six games into the season, to the snickers and derision of many. His promotion was viewed by many as something of a joke, as it was believed at the time, Tebow lacked the tools necessary to succeed at the NFL level. While he was a great college player at Florida, many football experts believed Tebow's failure in the NFL was inevitbale and Denver was caving in to their delusional fan base, who wanted to see the popular Tebow play.
However, a funny thing has happened along the way to Tebow's inevitable demise. The Broncos have won 6 of Tebow's 7 starts, as the charismatic quarterback's story has taken the league by storm. Everywhere you turn people are taking about the quarterback none of the experts thought could play. In fact, Tebow is such a phenomenon, his name has actually become a gerund.
This happened about a month ago, when Detroit linebacker Stephen Tulloch celebrated his sack of Tebow, by kneeling, an apparent mock of Tebow's outward evangelical Christianity. Tulloch's rather odd celebration was referred to as "Tebowing." And there is even a website dedicated to said "Tebowing." Funny, but I don't recall anyone ever "Bradying," or "Manninging."
Nevertheless, Tebow has been the story of the NFL season. Yet many still view his success as something of a fluke. After all, Tebow's passing numbers have not called to mind any images of Unitas, Montana or Brady. In one win against Kansas City he completed 2 passes, and it wasn't until today that he threw for 200 yards in one game. Further, the offense Denver employs has been somewhat gimmicky--read options, jump passes, misdirections.
Experts also have been quick to point out Denver's strong defensive play of late, although they surrendered 32 points today. While the intention may, in fact, be to compliment Bronco star defenders Champ Bailey or Von Miller, one can't help but view a compliment of the defense as a veiled insult of Tebow.
And while I'm not writing to tell all the "Tebow haters," out there to shove it, I am intrigued by the ongoing animosity towards Tebow. In a league where such a premium is placed on winning, why are so many questioning how Tebow wins? While NFL experts correctly point out that Tebow lacks the tools of an elite passer, why do some of them seem almost to be outwardly cheering for him to fail? What is it about Tebow, who from all indications seems incredibly likable, that has fostered such hostility?
Certainly, one element with Tebow that must be raised is his very open and public advertising of his Christianity. Simply put, athletes who publicly profess their faith, are seen in certain circles as sanctimonious, bible thumpers. While I believe Tebow is very genuine about his faith, seems to live the message he preaches, and does so in a way that is not judgemental or insensitive to others, there are simply those who frown upon any public display of faith.
Still, my thoughts aside, if Tebow chooses to continue advertising his faith, there will be people that take exception. And while this article is primarily about football, the fact Tebow is viewed by many as a self-righteous proselytizer, adds to the "Tebow hate," in some circles.
And in my opinion most "Tebow haters," are not actually rooting against Tebow, per se. However, they are rooting against the idea of Tebow--what Tebow represents. His personality, style of play, and skill set, do not represent the conventional path to success in the NFL. Further, if you buy into the nauseating hype surrounding Tebow, you are in the opinion of many, a mindless dolt. You lack football knowledge and sophisitcation, if you will.
However, if you press people on a rationale explaining the Broncos' change in fortunes with a lousy quarterback, they often can't give you one. If they do, they often speak to an improved defense, which as we discussed earlier, can't be seen as anything other than a veiled Tebow insult.
This point was illustrated to me by a friend who I was bantering with about Tebow over text message. After Denver won today, his response to my snide "Tebow did it again," text was simply, "BS."
See, its not the fact Tebow is winning, that is "BS." No can dispute that he has won 6 of 7 games, a good stretch by any measure in the cut throat NFL. However, its the way he's doing it that has people alarmed, as though an alien has come to planet earth. To them, the Tebow phenomenon cannot be real. Like a 1990s dot com stock, trading at a stratospheric P/E ratio, Tebow is certain to come crashing down to earth before long.
And that may happen. After all, Tebow like any player, no matter how successful, will have difficult games and subpar showings. Surely, when one of the games does occur, the experts will start in on the "I told you so," stuff. However, the "I told you so," prescience becomes a little less impressive, when you realize it was predicted long before Tebow even became the starter.
Overall, we don't what exactly will happen with Tebow going forward. Someone who knows way more about football than me, may find the right scheme or strategy to slow Tebow and the Broncos, soon rendering this recent run a distant memory. However, no one has done that yet. Further, we've reached the point, where we no longer should be asking how Tebow can possibly succeed. Rather, we need to ask if he'll ever be stopped.
Contact brian @firstname.lastname@example.org
Around 9 p.m. Eastern Time this evening, we should receive the expected news that SEC Champion and #1 ranked LSU will face #2 Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. Of course, the matchup will be viewed by many as anti-climactic, as the SEC rivals played already with LSU winning 9-6. Further, Alabama is not the only one loss team with an impressive resume, something head coach of #3 ranked Oklahoma State Mike Gundy, and his program's biggest supporter T. Boone Pickens will happily tell you.
The Cowboys, who clinched their first Big 12 title last night with an impressive 44-10 victory over Oklahoma took little time to celebrate their first BCS Bowl bid, before pleading their case to play in the title game. When speaking of Alabama, Gundy said, "They had their shot [at LSU], give us ours." Billionaire Pickens, like Gundy something of a grand standing, nauseating windbag himself, claimed the fix was in for the SEC, and even threatened to launch an investigation if OSU was kept out of the title game.
And if Pickens reads this blog, I'll happily advise him to get an early start on that investigation. The Cowboys aren't going to New Orleans on January 9th for the title game. While they've had an incredible season, losing only once to Iowa State in overtime, the question of who should face the Tigers in the title game is not a question at all.
See, the BCS, as currently constructed, seeks to match the top 2 teams in the National Championship game. And in this case, with each team having one loss, we're left to compare those losses. Alabama lost a nail biter to the wrecking machine that is #1 LSU, whereas OSU lost 37-31 in overtime to a 6-6 Iowa State team. Further, if we're comparing one loss teams, I'd make the argument that Stanford's one loss to Oregon is less of a resume blight than OSU's loss to Iowa State.
Of course, if college football truly had a fair system, this wouldn't even be a debate. The Cowboys would be entered in a playoff of some sort, and given their just shot against an Alabama, Stanford or LSU, who would also be in said playoff, something I've written about at length (link below). Sure, we'd have to listen to and hear more from Gundy and Pickens, but OSU would have the opportunity to prove things on the field, something I believe they've earned.
However, hamstrung by a lack of leadership, and the monetary confines of a silly bowl structure and billion dollar television contracts, college football does not seek to reward deserving teams with a proper playoff. Rather, computers and silly voter polls combine to calculate who plays for the title. In this case, a deserving team like Oklahoma State is kept out of the title picture, while the rest of us are treated to an anti-climactic rematch.
Still, when Alabama is announced this evening as LSU's opponent, it will be the correct decision. While one could argue LSU is simply in a class of its own, anyway, Alabama is the most deserving team under the system in place. Alabama plays in a more difficult league, and their one loss is much less of a resume blight than OSU's. Call it SEC domination, call it anti-climactic, but it is #1 versus #2, one thing the BCS has gotten correct through the years.
Of course, we'll have to listen to Gundy and Pickens moan and groan for the next month. They'll claim an SEC conspiracy, and media bias, but the simple facts don't support them. Alabama is the second best team. OSU has had a fabulous season, but under the current system, it wasn't good enough.
And most of all, that's what needs to change.
Monday, November 28, 2011
On a misty evening this past Labor Day, Randy Edsall made his debut as head football coach at the University of Maryland. Donning flashy new uniforms, and playing before a national television audience, Edsall's Terrapins electrified Byrd Stadium in upsetting the five-time national champion Miami Hurricanes. For the coach who was brought to College Park and entrusted with the task of raising Maryland's national profile, the start was beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
Sadly, aside from one win against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school Towson, nothing has gone right for the Terps since. The 2011 season quickly imploded into a disastrous 2-10 campaign that featured embarassing home losses to ACC doormat Boston College, and an unheralded Temple. Worst of all, however, was Saturday's cataclysmic collapse to N.C. State, in which the Terps surrendered a 27 point 4th quarter lead before losing by 15.
For a team that seemed destined to reach new heights less than 3 months ago, loyal Terp fans are now left to contemplate the despair of their new depths. And in identifying the source of their discontent, no one is looking anywhere other than the highly unpopular Edsall.
Edsall, of course, came to College Park last January, on the heels of a highly successful 2010 season at the University of Connecticut, in which, he led the Huskies to their first BCS Bowl game. New Maryland athetic director Kevin Anderson had been looking to make a big splash in the coaching market to replace Ralph Friedgen. After a a much publicized flirtation with former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, Anderson settled on Edsall.
And it didn't take long for the new coach to start rubbing people the wrong way. In fact, during Edsall's introductory press conference, he had to answer questions about his poor handling of his departure from UConn. Apparently, Edsall flew directly from the Fiesta Bowl to College Park, and had one of his assistants relay the news to his players, before telling them himself--by conference call.
From there, Edsall would do even more to further alienate himself from, well, everyone. A firm believer in discipline, Edsall imposed strict rules with regard to facial hair and jewelry that players recruited by the less dictatorial, and well liked Friedgen, did not take well to. Edsall, likewise, adopted the role of ornery curmudgeon with the media and team boosters, who he denied the access to players and practice they were accustomed to under the more friendly, engaging Friedgen.
However, the fact Edsall was viewed as a sanctimonious blowhard, was, in a certain sense, the least of his problems. While Edsall's childish approach to player discipline and condescending attitude with the public did him no favors, Maryland's season was not undone because Edsall wasn't down with doo rags, bling, and fan appreciation day.
Rather, Edsall's disastrous campaign was the product of an unprecedented arrogance and his failure to accept ownership of Maryland's woes, as the season deteriorated. For example, on numerous occasions Edsall insisted that his system had worked just fine at UConn. While he didn't exactly acknowledge it wasn't working at Maryland, the implication was clear: Players, who the former coach recruited were incapable of running his system effectively.
And about that former coach. Players claimed both publicly and privately that Edsall would consistently rip Friedgen. Sophomore defensive end David Mackall, who Edsall suspended November 2nd, recently told the Baltimore Sun, that many players resented the way Edsall spoke of Friedgen, often implying Friedgen ran a loose ship. While Friedgen wasn't perfect, he was and remains a beloved figure by Terrapin supporters. And no can dispute that for a decade he ran a program that had one inkling of an NCAA violation. This, of course, in spite of his casual attitude towards facial hair and earrings.
Certainly, the worst instance of Edsall's arrogance came a week ago prior to the N.C. State game. Edsall, while speaking with the media, mused aloud that he recently had a conversation with New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, and "must be doing something right," because after all, he was doing things a lot like the Patriots. Sitting at 2-9 this comment did not play well in Terrapin nation. Edsall was slammed for his comments, as they seemed to confirm everyone's worst suspicions of the new coach as being arrogant to the point of delusional. Saturday's fourth quarter debacle, did little to dispell any of that.
Sadly, there seems to be little Maryland can do to extricate itself from the disastrous hire of Edsall. The school is apparently in a deep financial hole, and plans to cut as many as 8 varsity sports over the next year. Maryland needs the football team to be successful to sell tickets and create buzz. However, their stuck with a coach, who seems unwilling to generate any goodwill, and is guaranteed $10 million over the next five years.
Because Maryland is unlikely to swallow that $10 million pill and fire Edsall, the school's only hope is that their new coach can chart a new course, and repair relationships amongst players and supporters. However, if Edsall's first year is any indication, this already disastrous situation will likely get worse before it gets better.
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Sunday, November 6, 2011
Yesterday, quarterback Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to their third win of the season with a 38-24 defeat of the Oakland Raiders. It was the former Heisman Trophy winner's third start of 2011 and second win since securing the starting job three weeks ago. Of course, no player in the National Football League (NFL), currently, receives more media attention or generates a broader range of opinions than the suddenly controversial and polarizing Tebow.
To some, Tebow is a cheesy, rah-rah, self-promoting windbag whose lack of physical ability is masked only by the nauseating hype surrounding him. We saw this lack of physical ability last week when the Broncos played the Detroit Lions, a game in which, Tebow was horrendous. On the contrary, others view Tebow as a transcendent figure of sorts, who possesses leadership and intangible qualities that, in spite of any physical shortcomings, elevate those around him, as we witnessed yesterday.
And despite yesterday's win, Tebow critics remain unimpressed. They contend the second year quarterback simply lacks the tools, mental and physical, necessary to play the quarterback position in the NFL. Whether it's his slow, awkward release, lack of touch on the ball, or inability to read complex NFL defenses, Tebow simply can't cut it. Further, these deficiencies are exacerbated by the fact Tebow did not play in a "pro-style" offense in college, rather an offense built largely around him. Any success the quarterback has, such as yesterday, when the Broncos ran a disproportional amount, is considered a gimmick. In their opinion, those that support the controversial quarterback are mindless dolts, intoxicated by the nauseating hype surrounding Tebow, and clueless to the intricate subtleties of playing quarterback in the NFL.
Now, to be clear, Tebow supporters do not dispute many of the criticisms outlined above. If anything, they are willing to concede Tebow lacks the attributes most consider synonymous with playing quarterback in the NFL. However, they likewise maintain, that Tebow is a unique talent and individual, with off the chart intangibles; a proven winner who won at Florida not by doing things the conventional way, rather his own, unique, Tim Tebow way: jump passes, fake run-pass plays, quarterback draws, etc. This position contends that any of Tebow's supposed shortcomings can be overcome because after all Tim Tebow, is well, Tim Tebow; a transcendent leader with a proven record of elevating all those around him to unforeseen heights, as he did at Florida and as he did yesterday. Thus, because Tebow is so unique, the hype surrounding him is worth buying into.
And therein lies the rub. There are two contrasting positions and paradigms, with regard to Tim Tebow, which are irreconcilable. The very criticism most make of him, is the same thing his supporters cherish most. What one group sees as inane and foolish hype, the other sees as the transcendent magnetism only Tim Tebow can bring. What one side sees as paralyzing physical deficiencies, the other contends can be overcome by the mere fact Tim Tebow, is, well, Tim Tebow.
And in the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit I'm rooting for the kid. I've never been put off by Tebow openly discussing his Christianity, or his corny, rah-rah speeches. To me, Tebow, has never been anything less than 100% genuine. Further, I've been super impressed with the maturity he has displayed the past few months in light of intense media scrutiny, much of which was not his doing. For those reasons, and more, I wish the kid well
Whatever does happen, the Tebow saga remains the most intriguing story of the NFL season, and likely the most intriguing story over the next few years. Tebow's physical shortcomings certainly seem to be a hindrance to him ever becoming a conventionally pure passer a la Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
However, he is Tim Tebow. And if past history tell us anything, that may be more than enough.