Cal QBs, Giants Plan, Sam Spear, Tyrone Willingham
by Glenn Dickey
Oct 08, 2008

NATE LONGSHORE played reasonaably well in his return as starting quarterback against Arizona State. That’s the bad news for Cal supporters because it gives coach Jeff Tedford the excuse he needs to keep Longshore in a starting role.

The truth is, Longshore is the same quarterback he’s always been. If he’s given perfect protection, he can throw some very pretty passes. Truthfully, any good quarterback should be able to do that.

But when he’s pressured, Longshore doesn’t have the mobility to get away from the rushers, which causes him to throw bad passes and interceptions.

Both characteristics were evident in the game against the Sun Devils. Given the perfect protection he needs, Longshore took the Bears on two scoring drives, for a field goal and a touchdown, in the first quarter.

Then, his protection broke down on two consecutive plays late in the quarter, when the Bears were on the Arizona State 31. On the first play, Longshore threw a badly off target incompletion. On the second, he was intercepted. (Not incidentally, Longshore has three interceptions in 54 attempts this season. Kevin Riley, though he was in a pass-only situation in the Bears’ second game, against Maryland, has just one in 109 attempts.) Fortunately, the Cal defense rose to the occasion and stopped Arizona State cold after the interception.

Longshore seems unable to throw accurately unless he’s in the pocket. Early in the second quarter, operating from the Cal 37, Longshore was flushed out of the pocket but in no immediate danger of being tackled. Downfield, Nyan Boateng was a good 20 yards in front of any Arizona State defender, but Longshore’s pass was so short that Boateng had to run back to make a great catch at the Arizona State 33. It seemed for a moment that the pass would be intercepted.

That kind of play won’t be enough against better teams. Despite its stunning loss to Oregon State, USC will win the weakened Pac-10, but Cal has no chance to even finish second with Longshore at quarterback.

I talk often to Tedforrd – we had an hour and a half session just before spring practice – and I understand part of his reasoning with Longshore. There is no question Longshore has a great understanding of the system; he’s almost like a coach on the field. But it doesn’t do any good to know what you’re supposed to do, if you can’t do it.

Tedford also likes Longshore, who is a standup guy who willingly takes blame and never calls out a teammate for making a mistake. But again, that’s not enough to make him the starter.

If Tedford is concerned about Longshore’s pro future, he can forget it. NFL scouts see the same thing I see: that a hard rush gets Longshore throwing off his back foot. If he ever got into a pro game, he’d be buried under blitzes.

Riley’s play was somewhat inconsistent in his four starts, as he’s admitted, but he still gives the Bears a better chance against quality opponents. He’s often made plays when he’s seemed about to be sacked, either scrambling for yardage or finding an open receiver.

I wrote last year that Riley has a chance to be the next great quarterback at Cal. I still believe that. He’s got a big upside. What you see with Longshore is what you’ll always get, and it’s not good enough.

Cal will have a winning season with Longshore at quarterback because the defense – which won the game against Arizona State – is playing very well. But it won’t finish high enough to get to a good bowl.

If Riley returns to the starting role, the Bears have a much better shot at a higher bowl. I hope Tedford can realize that before another season is wasted.

GIANTS CHANGE: The most interesting part of yesterday’s news conference with new Giants managing partner William Neukom was his declaration that there would be a “Giants way” of doing things that would extend through the organization. He squirmed a bit when asked if that meant the Giants have had no consistent approach in the recent past, but of course, it did. Until the last couple of years, when they finally started paying attention to their farm system, with good results so far, the Giants had no plan at all.

This is hardly a novel concept. Branch Rickey did it in the ‘30s with the Cardinals and the ‘40s with the Dodgers, who continued that even after they’d moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. The Baltimore Orioles did it in the ‘60s and ‘70s and had great success.

Though teams have often jumped at free agents, it’s getting more and more difficult to build a team that way because teams often re-sign their free agents. The Giants have an additional problem: Their park is so pitcher-friendly, hitters don’t want to come here. Dusty Baker neutralized that somewhat when he was the manager because players wanted to play for Dusty, but that feeling disappeared when he was forced to leave.

Even trades are problematical. Though Giants GM Brian Sabean talks of trading pitchers like Jonathan Sanchez for the hitting help the Giants need, he’s being unrealistic, just as he was last year when he thought he could get some team to bite on Noah Lowry. The only real trading chip he has is Matt Cain, and he’s said repeatedly he won’t trade Cain. Teams are not going to give up good hitters for starters who are at best 3-4 in the rotation.

So, building the nucleus of the team through the farm system is the way to go. The Giants brought up several players this last season and seem to have a couple of starters among them -–Emmanuel Burriss at shortstop and Pablo Sandoval at whichever position they put him, most likely third at this point, I would think.

Most of the best minor league talent is still relatively low in the system, but catcher Buster Posey is on the fast track and will probably be up late in the 2009 season. Bengie Molina has another year on his contract, but the Giants expect Posey to be their starter by the 2010 season.

It would be unrealistic to expect the Giants to be true contenders in 2009, even in the weak NL West. (The Dodgers are making a nice run because they picked up Manny Ramirez, but it’s very unlikely they’ll sign him as a free agent, which means they’ll come back to the pack.)

But the Giants are definitely on the right track. Their fans were patient with them this year; though attendance was off, they still drew close to 2.9 million. There will probably be more drop off next season, but the fans will return if they become contenders again by 2010.

Neukom’s talk of Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy made it plain that they’ll be around at least through next season. I’d have liked to seen a change with Sabean but I didn’t expect it.

Incidentally, a much-written error about Peter Magowan surfaced again Sunday when a writer noted that one of Magowan’s positives was leading the group of investors which bought the team and kept it in San Francisco. In fact, it was Walter Shorenstein who formed the group and headed it up until the league approved the deal. Shorenstein had no interest in running the operation, so he stepped aside at that point and let Magowan take over.

It was Magowan who signed Barry Bonds, paving the way for the success of the team in the late ‘90s and early part of this century.

30 YEARS AND COUNTING: Sam Spear celebrated 30 years of his horse racing show on Channel 26 with a big party at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday night, and it’s quite a story.

Sam literally taught himself about horse racing; as he admits, he knew noting of the sport when he first came to work at GG Fields in public relations.

He was always a baseball fan – we first met at spring training in the early ‘70s – and worked for the Giants at the start of the Bob Lurie years. He got fired because he kept telling Lurie the trruth, which he didn’t want to hear. Lurie, in fact, thought Sam was feeding information to me (he wasn’t), as if I needed help in writing columns saying that Spec Richardson was a bad joke.

Sam has been a friend for more than 35 years now, and never more than when we were burned out in the Oakland hills fire of October, 1991. Many people sympathized with us, but Sam was the only one to offer to let us stay in his home, which we did for a week before we moved into 1200 Lakeshore to stay while we were rebuilding our home.

So, I celebrate Sam’s 30 years in horse racing, and hope he has another 30 ahead!

TYRONE WILLINGHAM: Nothing since the furor over my Joe Montana columns died down has gotten me so much criticism as the column I did when Tyrone Willingham left Stanford for Notre Dame, as I predicted he would fail in South Bend. When I went on ESPN, the woman interviewer told me, “You’re the only one I’ve talked to who thinks he won’t be a success at Notre Dame.”

That wasn’t the first time nor the last that I’ve bucked media consensus opinion. I had felt that, even though he had success at Stanford, Willingham was only an average coach; only the fact that he was fortunate enough to be on the opposite sideline from Tom Holmoe for six years for Big Games, all of which Stanford won, made his record look as good as it was. He knows only one way to coach, with a rigid, almost military-like approach. He has zero flexibility, and he depends on his coordinators more than any head coach I’ve known, because he has no particular knowledge of his own.

The other reason I thought he would fail at Notre Dame: He hates dealing with the media. Even at Stanford, where he seldom got anything more than puff ball questions, he had problems, he gave only short, clipped answers and got away as fast as possible. That kind of behavior doesn’t work at Notre Dame, which is always a big national media story.

When Willingham’s first team started 8-0, my e-mail basket filled up with messages telling me how wrong I was. But from that point, Willingham’s teams were below .500, including two shutouts in 2003, the first time in one season since 1960 for Notre Dame. He was fired about three seasons.

Washington hired him, but these are not good times for the Huskies. The recruiting advantage they once had in the Northwest is gone because of Oregon’s success. Though Willingham had 19 returning starters, they were from a team which had gone 1-10 under Keith Gilbertson. Willlingham was 2-9 in his first season, 5-7 his second and 4-9 last year. This year, the Huskies have started 0-5. The alumni are in revolt, as I heard from a Seattle Times writer when he interviewed me two weeks ago. The Washington AD has said Willingham won’t be fired during the season, but it’s impossible to envision him lasting beyond the end of it.

Sometimes, a person’s strengths are also his weakness. Willingham’s steely determination has enabled him to ride out some tough times, but the flip side of that is that it’s also made him unable to adjust to changing circumstances. I think his career as a major college head coach will end with this season.

TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! Madonna is back for her October tour. Jimmy Buffet is touring through October and the classic rock icons, the Eagles, will be in Dallas, Chicago, Houston and Little Rock. COLLEGE FOOTBALL is here, and tickets are available for hot matchups like Arkansas-Texas, a well as Cal and Stanford games. Tickets for all NFL games and baseball postseason games, including the World Series, are also available. Just click on the Bay Area or national links and everything will come up.

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