David Shaw/Andrew Luck; Braylon Edwards/Jim Harbaugh/Alex Smith/Joe Montana/Coco Crisp
STANFORD COACH David Shaw has been heavily criticized, by media and the experts who call in to sports talk shows, because he played conservatively at the end of the Fiesta Bowl, not putting the ball in the hands of Andrew Luck and relying on freshman kicker Jordan Williamson.
Philisophically, Iím in the same camp. I always prefer to see a team playing aggressively. But, thatís not always the right strategy. If you need proof of that, think of how many times the 49ers have been criticized this season for their conservative offense. The result: David Akers set a club record for scoring, largely because of the field goals he kicked when the Niners couldnít score a touchdown but the 49ers finished 13-3, the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
And, donít forget that Shaw got the Cardinal to the Fiesta Bowl in his first season as a head coach, which is a considerable achievement. Shaw is not a colorful character, unlike his predecessor, Jim Harbaugh, but heís probably going to be the Stanford coach for a long time. Historically, the coaches who have done well at Stanford are the ones who have understood both the advantages and disadvantages of coaching there. Nobody understands them better than Shaw, who played at Stanford and was then an assistant under Harbaugh. He has said he wants to stay at Stanford, and I think heís a perfect fit.
Of course, Shaw wonít have the benefit of having Luck as his quarterback next season, which undoubtedly will mean some falloff for the Cardinal. Luck is a very special player, not only physically talented but very intelligent. He even calls his own plays. I canít remember the last college quarterback to do that, and pro quarterbacks donít, either.
Luck is also a young man who makes decisions based on what he values most Ė and that isnít money. Last year, he passed up the chance to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft because he wanted to complete his Stanford education first, and he also valued his experience on the Stanford campus. Because the undergraduate enrollment is so small Ė under 6,000, I believe Ė and select, itís almost like being a member of a very large club, not an university.
That decision cost Luck a considerable amount of money, because the new NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement cuts the amount first-round draft choices can make. He knew that would happen but his education was more important to him. I applaud him for that. Many collegiate athletes leave school before their eligibility has expired because they and their families need the money, and I understand that. But Luck wasnít in that position, so he could make the right decision.
Heíll still be the No. 1 pick in this yearís draft, though Robert Griffin won the Heisman Trophy, because pro scouts think he has the best chance to succeed. The Indianapolis Colts have the No. 1 pick and there has been media speculation that the Colts might trade the pick because Peyton Manning will presumably return next season. One local columnist even speculated that the 49ers should put together a package fo get Luck, which falls in the category of ďWhatís he smoking?Ē
Everybody seems to be assuming that Manning will return but he, or his doctors, may decide thatís not in his best interests. Heís had three operations on his neck. Iím not a doctor but Iíd fear that a serious hit on his neck could lead to partial paralysis. Thereís no amount of money worth that. Manning has had a great career, one which will surely land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I hope he retires, instead of risking further injury. But, even if he doesnít, it wonít be long before Luck is the Coltsí quarterback. Theyíd be foolish to trade away a talent like that.
BRAYLON EDWARDS was released last week by the 49ers with absolutely no fanfare, which was an indication of what kind of organization the 49ers have become this year.
Edwards was signed by the Niners to provide a big play threat in the passing game. Early in the season, when I was a guest on ď49ers PreviewĒ, Tim Ryan, a regular on the program and a color man on NFL telecasts, was talking about what a threat Edwards would be in the red zone because of his size. On the fade patterns, Alex Smith could put the ball up in the air in the end zone and Edwards could use his size and jumping ability to get the ball.
It didnít work out that way. Edwards had some injuries, but the big problem was his attitude. He has had the reputation of a player who loafs if he doesnít see enough passes thrown his way, kind of a Randy Moss j.g.
When Moss came to the Raiders, coaches had to put up with his erratic play because he was an Al Davis favorite. But Jim Harbaugh doesnít have anybody second-guessing him with the 49ers. When Edwards came off the injured list two weeks ago, Harbaugh didnít activate him for the game against Seattle. Then, last week, he released him. The message is clear: This is about the team, not an individual.
Meanwhile, the Raiders continue as a rudderless ship. They badly need a general manager, among other things, and there are good candidates out there. Bill Polian, who will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was fired by the Colts. He should be grabbed up immediately, but thereís nobody in what passes for the Raiders front office who can make that decision quickly enough.
The Raiders need a complete makeover. Iím planning to write on this in my Friday Examiner column.
PARDON ME for saying I told youo so, but the Giants are paying for Brian Sabeanís mistake in signing Aubrey Huff to a two-year contract for $22 million.
I wrote at the time that it was fitting for the Giants to reward Huff for his contributions to the Giants World Series campaign but it should be a one-year contract with a club option for a second year. Instead, Sabean gave him a straight two-year contract and Huff responded by not getting in shape and having a terrible year.
Sabean just canít seem to help himself with these contracts. William Neukom and now Larry Baer have put some restraints on so there wonít be any of these ridiculous multi-year contracts like Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand got, but the Giants are still stuck with Huff, now 35, for another year. And, because manager Bruce Bochy favors veteran players, that means Huff will still be at first base while Brandon Belt and Brett Pill struggle to get playing time. Not a recipe for success.
ALEX SMITH: The 49ersí success this season hasnít silenced the Alex Smith critics. When I compared the 1981 and 2011 Niners in my Tuesday Examiner column, including the season statistics of Smith and Joe Montana, I was immediately hit with complaints that I was saying Smith was the equal of Montana.
In fact, I was only comparing their statistics for one season, which were very similar. Montana became a folk hero for 49ers fans with that season, because the Niners had never won a championship before and the Joe Thomas era that preceded Bill Walshís arrival had been the absolute nadir of the franchise. But the reality is that what put Montana in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was the stretch from mid-season 1988 through 1990 when, probably responding to the challenge from Steve Young, he had a stretch that may well have been the best run for an NFL quarterback ever, leading to two more Super Bowls and a near-miss for a third Super Bowl appearance. Before that stretch, Montana had had a career much like that of Ken Stabler, who had a very nice run with the Raiders but not a long one. Stabler, of course, has not made the HOF. But after the 1988-90 run, Montana was definitely Super Joe.
Smith has had a very good year playing within the confines of the Harbaugh offense. His detractors never allow for the fact that he has had a subpar receivers group. In that 1988-90 period, Montana was throwing to Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Brent Jones, as well as Roger Craig coming out of the backfield. For the current 49ers, Michael Crabtrree is finally maturing into the receiver the Niners hoped he would be, but heís also been injured frequently. Vernon Davis can be brilliant, but he often drops passes. In fact, Davis and Crabtree have both dropped sure touchdown passes this year. Ted Ginn Jr. lost track of one long pass against Arizona which was perfectly thrown. He should have caught it at the five and cruised into the end zone.
Despite these problems, Smith has thrown for 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions. His media critics have been won over but not the fans, to which Iíd say, get over it and enjoy the teamís success instead of dissing your quarterback.
WARRIORS: I was about to go on vacation when the story about a woman who had worked for the Warriors charging Monta Ellis with sending her sexually-charged e-mails. The teamís response to that was awful, the team president basically accusing the woman of lying in a brief news conference.
I donít believe he was speaking for himself. His directive no doubt came from Joe Lacob, one of the new owners and the one who seems to be making the decisions. But it was absolutely the wrong choice. Any club response should basically have been, ďWe canít respond to the accusations because itís a legal matter but we support our player.Ē
But the reality is that clubs always protect their players because of the huge financial investment they have. Remember the Brett Favre case?
I have no specific information on this case, but it wouldnít surprise me at all if the Warriors wind up with egg on their collective face when all the facts come out.
THE AíS finally retained one of their free agents, center fielder Coco Crisp, who is an excellent player when he can stay healthy, a far-ranging defensive outfielder and a top base stealer. He will be important to a pitching staff which has been depleted by the trades of top starters Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez as well as closer Andrew Bailey.
Because two other starting outfielders, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus have also left, and backup Ryan Sweeney has been traded, the Aís will have plenty of openings in the outfield for prospects Michael Taylor and Chris Carter. Willinghamís loss is especially critical because he was the only power hitter on the team. I didnít think the trade for DeJesus before last season was a good one, and he did nothing during the season to change my mind.
In all this wheeling and dealing, Billy Beane admitted what I had long suspected: The Lew Wolff/John Fisher ownership had starved the farm system and scouting department, so the Aís were not drafting well and their minor league teams were not winning and producing top prospects as they had in the past.
Of course, it has been Wolffís straegy all along to make the major league team unattractive to drive down attendance so he could claim that Oakland canít support a team, so he has to move it to San Jose.
Unfortunately, there is this little detail that the Giants have an agreement with major league baseball that they have exclusive rights to San Jose.
The story persists that Walter Haas gave Bob Lurie permission to try to build a park in the San Jose/Santa Clara area Ė proposals in each of those cities were both rejected by voters Ė and thatís why the Giants have those rights. Not true. Haas and Lurie were friends and Haas agreed not to step in Lurieís way, but what the Giants have now is the agreement they made with MLB when the current ownership bought the team in 1992, that they would get a new park (MLBĒs condition) in exchange for territorial rights on the peninsula and in San Jose.
My hope is that, when owners fail to change that right, knowing theyíd get sued, Wolff and Fisher will finally give up and sell the club.
In the meantime, the hardest job in sports is that of selling tickets to Aís games. Oh, well, the poor souls who have to do this can always consult their counterparts with the Sacramento River Cats for advice on marketing a Triple-A team.
E-MAILS: If you e-mailed me while I was on vacation, please forgive me for not answering. Iíve been catching up with what happened while I was gone. When Iím on vacation, I donít watch games and I donít check the Internet to find out what happened.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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