Hue Jackson/Al Davis; Jed York/Jim Harbaugh/49ers stadium; Billy Beane; DH
IN ANSWER to many queries, yes, Hue Jackson is overmatched as Raiders coach, but it isn’t all his fault.
The Raiders have been dysfunctional as an organization for some time. Al Davis assembled a good scouting staff, which has brought in good players in low rounds in the draft, but he concentrated all the decision-making in his own hands. That wasn’t working well even before he died, and his death created a total power vacuum for the football decisions. Amy Trask is very intelligent but her job has been to handle legal/administrative questions. She is not a football person. Mark Davis, the nominal CEO, has never been involved in any business, let alone an NFL franchise.
In the absence of a normal general manager, Jackson made the decision to trade two high draft choices for Carson Palmer, and I believe that was the right decision. But he had nobody to advise him when linebacker Rolando McClain was accused of beating up a friend and firing a gun past his ear when he was back in Alabama to attend his grandmother’s funeral.
In that power vacuum, Jackson made the decision to play McClain, which I believe was totally wrong. Not that it would necessarily have been made differently if Davis were still alive. When I was on the Raiders beat, Davis played a rapist, Warren Wells, and tried to get fellow partner Wayne Valley to influence his friend, Stanley Gold, who was the judge on the case. Valley’s refusal further worsened the rift between him and Davis.
As a coach, Jackson should have realized it was necessary to prove a point to his team, that all players should be held accountable for their actions. Instead, he reinforced the old Raider motto that anything goes. That was fine when the Raider players who drank and played hard off the field then played just as hard on it, but that’s no longer true. They play with an alarming lack of discipline, which is why their performances vary from the sublime (the win over the Chargers in San Diego) to the ridiculous (their loss to the Dolphins in Miami).
Jackson also needs to drop his standard “This one is on me for not coaching them better” post-game message. While it may seem fair that the coach doesn’t single out his players for blame, when he does this after every loss, he’s telling his players they’re not accountable. They should be.
If there is ever going to be any change in the Raiders culture, Jackson has to look at the example of Jon Gruden, who systematically cleaned out the underachievers on the roster he inherited from Joe Bugel until he had players like Rich Gannon and Bill Romanowski who not only did their own job well but served as leaders for the offense and defense, respectively.
There are some talented players on the roster now but there are no leaders. Richard Seymour is supposed to be a leader for the defense but he only talks a big game. He can be as inconsistent as anybody else. He gets called much too frequently for penalties and he got thrown out of Sunday’s game for punching a Miami linemen while both were on the ground. This is a leader?
Jackson is in his first year as a head coach. The good head coaches I’ve known have all been preparing in their minds for the job long before they got it. I don’t have any sense that Jackson was doing that. He’s been a good, imaginative offensive coordinator, but he definitely seems in over his head as a head coach. And that, among other things, probably dooms the Raiders chances for the postseason.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT that the 49ers had gotten $850 million in financing from businesses for their planned stadium in Santa Clara met with the usual knee-jerk reaction in San Francisco. A Chronicle editorial this morning said that there is a “compelling site” for a stadium at Hunter’s Point, in the planning by Lennar Corporation which has Carmen Policy as a spokesman. Unsaid in the editorial is who would pay for the access roads that would have to be built to access the stadium, which is further from the highway than Candlestick Park. San Francisco? Ho, ho, ho.
The fact is, the 49ers haven’t truly been a San Francisco team for many years. Currently, the percentage of season ticket buys in San Francisco is only about 10 per cent, and even that figure is misleading because many of the buys are from corporations. I’m sure Jed York, the 49ers CEO, will remind San Francisco mayor Ed Lee of that when they meet tomorrow.
Old-timers tell me that San Francisco was once a great sports town. There were certainly a lot of great athletes, most of them baseball players like the DiMaggio brothers, Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, etc. But even by the time I arrived, in 1963, that heritage was fading, and the great ethnic stew that is San Francisco today has little interest in the major American sports.
Most of the 49ers fan base moved down the Peninsula years ago. As I’ve written before, Lou Spadia wanted to build a new stadium in mid-Peninsula in the ‘70s but had promised the Morabito widows that he’d keep the team in San Francisco, so he moved them instead to Candlestick Park, remodeled for football.
Meanwhile, the 49ers moved their offices from the old Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco to Redwood City and then to Santa Clara, opposite where the new stadium is planned, in the mid-‘80s.
The new stadium is well located to serve the majority of their fans. The plans make room for another team to share the stadium, but that would require the Raiders to figure out what they’re doing. Davis had wanted a new stadium built in Oakland but that has zero chances of happening. Perhaps Ms. Trask and whoever comes in as general manager will be more realistic.
IN ALL the talk about the 49ers great season, few have noted the job Jed York has done. York, after all, is the one who sought out and signed Jim Harbaugh, and he’s also worked tirelessly on the stadium project.
I’ve had two one-on-one conversations with York. The first came in 2008, and I was impressed then with his intelligence and his understanding of the issues that faced him. He wasn’t yet comfortable in his job, knowing that he had it only because his family owned the team, and that unease showed when he and Scot McCloughan faced the cameras when Mike Nolan was fired in midseason. Both had that deer-in-the-headlights look.
The second conversation took place this year when I interviewed Jed for an article in Gentry magazine. He was much more comfortable, both with me and his job, because he had grown into it. The most significant part of that interview was what he had to say about the Harbaugh hiring. Here’s part of it:
“Trent Baalke and I focused on Jim from the start,” said Jed. “People talk about how successful college coaches fail in the NFL, but this is a guy who played quarterback for 15 years in the NFL and worked as an assistant (Raiders) for two years. Jim knows the NFL well.
“We didn’t try to pressure Jim. We talked to him and told him he was the guy we wanted but he didn’t have to make a decision immediately. We weren’t going to go out and sign another coach if he didn’t agree to our terms right away. We were going to be right here.”
When Stanford won the Orange Bowl, Harbaugh phoned Jed and said he’d fly out that night. “I told him, ‘No, take the time to celebrate with your players and come out the next day.”
Miami owner Stephen Ross then told Harbaugh he wanted to meet with him. “I told Jim, ‘We’d rather you didn’t take that meeting, but if you feel you have to, we’ll be waiting for you.’”
Harbaugh didn’t take the meeting. He flew back to San Francisco to meet with York and Baalke. “We talked a lot of football,” remembered Jed, “but we also talked about the future of the organization, what we were trying to do.”
Harbaugh then signed on with the 49ers, and you know how that’s turned out. For those of you who formed your opinion of Jed York because of his performance at that 2008 news conference, I hope you’ve changed your minds.
ADD BILLY BEANE to the list of those who think wishing can make it so.
Beane talked optimistically this week about the chances that major league owners will strip the Giants of their territorial rights to San Jose at their January meeting, but his optimism was based solely on the fact that A’s owner Lew Wolff has an option to buy a parcel of land in San Jose for a park.
That means nothing. Wolff’s ball park plans call for a 32,000-seat park. That’s not a park, it’s a boutique. The only way that would be feasible is if tickets were priced well out of each of ordinary fans and a high number of luxury suites were built. Who would purchase them? Obviously, Wolff is aiming directly at Silicon Valley.
The problem is, the Giants have drawn from that same pool to build their park and also to fill it, in their own luxury suites and club seats. If they lost that audience, or a significant part of it, that would seriously cripple them. That’s the last thing major league baseball wants, because the San Francisco Giants are a glamour team. To cripple them to benefit Wolff, a newcomer to the game who has done nothing for it? Get real.
GIANTS MOVES: The Giants announced this morning that they have acquired outfielder Angel Pagan from the Mets for outfielder Andres Torres and reliever Ramon Ramirez. Aside from getting rid of arbitration-eligible players – and Torres was probably a one-season wonder – this trade makes no real sense. Pagan isn’t as good a defensive outfielder as Torres, and he’s not a great hitter, either.
But, the Giants have painted themselves into a financial corner with the dreadful earlier signing decisions on Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand. They cut Rowand late last season but they’re still on the hook for $12 million this year; even if Rowand is signed by another club, that club will only pay the major league minimum with the Giants paying the rest. Zito is still on the books at $18 million a year through next year. The gift that just keeps giving.
So, despite media chatter about Carlos Beltran, it seems very unlikely they’d be able to sign him. My guess is that he’ll go to an American League club which could DH him on the days he’s physically unable to play in the field.
The Giants should be better offensively because Buster Posey, who’s probably their best hitter, will return, and Melky Cabrera should also boost their production. Hopefully, this offensive production will allow them to play Brandon Crawford, an outstanding defensive shortstop, even if he only hits .220.
Meanwhile, the emphasis should continue to be on long-term contracts for Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
BASEBALL UNIFORMITY: It hasn’t been discussed much, but baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s plan is not only to have two 15-team leagues but to have them playing the same game, which means the Designated Hitter for all teams.
Frankly, this change should have been made years ago. When you think about it, the DH is an offensive specialist who’s replacing a defensive specialist, the pitcher. Few pitchers have ever reached even the .200 range as hitters; even shortstops and catchers have to do better than that to play regularly.
In sports like basketball, hockey and soccer, players have to play both offense and defense because the action is continuous, until a time out is called.
But that’s not true in football or baseball. Football once had limited substitution, which meant players had to go both ways, but that was dropped decades ago and I don’t think anybody would argue that football would be better if quarterbacks again had to play defense, as they did earlier.
The American League adopted the DH in 1973 and, since then, it has been adopted by minor leagues and colleges. Only the National League has been a holdout.
When he retired as a manager, Tony La Russa said he preferred the National League game, but as manager of the American League A’s, La Russa revolutionalized the game with the way he set up his bullpen, even while the A’s were probably the first team to make full use of the new statistics generated by Bill James and his disciples. I don’t recall any such precedent-setting moves by the Cardinals while Tony was the manager there.
The only real strategy that’s different in the National League involves the question of whether you pinch-hit for a starter or let him hit. Either way, it’s a negative decision because you’re either taking out an effective pitcher or letting an ineffective hitter swing – and probably make an out.
Of course, there’s always the captivating double switch. I just live for that.
So, when the leagues go to their new alignment, every team will use the DH. I can hardly wait for the outpouring of rage from Bruce Jenkins.
NO COMMENT: San Diego State and Boise State may be incorporated into the Big East Conference for football.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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