Rowell/Mullin; Athletes As Role Models; DHB/Cliff Branch
by Glenn Dickey
May 13, 2009

LITTLE BOBBY ROWELL got his wish this week, officially announcing the end of Chris Mullin’s five-year run as general manager. But, don’t blame Little Bobby. He shouldn’t be in charge of anything more demanding than handing out paper clips, but he’s a buddy of owner Chris Cohan, who has a habit of putting incompetents into positions of power. That’s what led me to designate Cohan as the Bay Area’s worst owner, despite formidable opposition, in an Examiner column last week.

Little Bobby claimed he would only be making “business” decisions, but not bringing Baron Davis back was a “business decision.” So was deciding to withhold payment of Monta Ellis’s salary for that part of his contract he couldn’t fulfill because of his moped injury – and threatening to fine Ellis even more. Mullin fought both decisions because he was thinking more in terms of making the Warriors successful than Cohan’s bottom line. But Little Bobby knew he had the trump card.

No doubt, Little Bobby will also be overruling Larry Riley, too. I’d feel sorry for Riley except that he’s seen this power struggle up close and should know what he’s getting into. I hope his salary makes it worth it for him to swallow his pride.

Don Nelson doesn’t exactly come out of this smelling like a rose, either. I don’t buy the argument that he wants to be general manager, too, as he was earlier in his Warriors coaching career. At 69, he doesn’t want to work that hard. I’m sure he’s off on Maui now, working on his golf game.

But Nelson didn’t lift a finger to protect Mullin, with whom he supposedly had a close connection, dating back to Mully’s All-Star playing career with the Warriors. When push came to shove, Nellie left his “buddy” out in the ocean on an ice floe. With friends like that, you don’t need enemies.

Mullin made his share of mistakes as GM, but he also generally compensated for them. Giving Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy contract extensions was a mistake, for instance, but he was able to package them in the deal with Indianapolis which brought in Stephen Jackson. His draft picks have been inconsistent, too, mostly because he’s been trying to bring in “bigs”, who often take longer to develop. Bu, Andris Biedrins was a keeper and Anthony Randolph has the potential to be something special. Brandan Wright appeared to be coming along this last season until he was injured. And Ellis was a find as a second-round pick.

The thing about Mullin was that he was always working hard to make the team better. His midseason trade for Davis made the Warriors a playoff team for the one time in the 14 years Cohan has owned the team. Mully thought he had a deal to keep Davis here, but he was overruled by Little Bobby. Without a point guard, the Warriors were again godawful this season.

But, Little Bobby saved his friend Cohan some money. He no doubt counts that as one of his major accomplishments.

With Little Bobby in charge and Nelson relentlessly sacrificing principle to look out for No. 1, I have little hope that the Warriors will arise from their torpor.

But, congratulations to Cohan: You really know how to pick ‘em.

STEROIDS CONTINUED: Every time I write on this subject, I get e-mail from readers who say something like, “I’d hate to see a high school boy taking steroids because he thinks that’s the way to be a big star.”

Well, so would I, but I think parents have to start taking responsibility for their kids. I’m a parent myself and my wife and I spent a lot of time talking with our son, so he listened to us when we cautioned him against using any kind of drugs, for instance. But many parents don’t talk with their kids; they only talk to them, telling them what to do. When their kids become teenagers, they no longer listen. Big surprise.

But, don’t lay off your parental responsibilities on athletes, who are usually immature, self-centered and looking only to find a way to succeed, whether with steroids, amphetemines or the next popular substance to come along. Expecting them to be role models makes as much sense as thinking female entertainers should stop getting Botox injections or breast implants because they’re a bad influence on young girls.

Meanwhile, the media frenzy about steroids, especially at my old paper, remains unabated. There was one exception last week: Bruce Jenkins wrote a thoughtful column on the subject in Saturday’s paper. But the next day, another Chronicle writer said that baseball should adopt the Olympics drug-testing program. Not going to happen, nor should it. The Olympic movement has been notoriously anti-athlete – the latest example was a three-month suspension for Michael Phelps because he was shown with a marijuana pipe on camera – and they get away with it because there’s no union for the athletes. Baseball players have the Players Association, which protects their rights.

The fact is, we have to learn to deal with steroids use in sports. (It has been widespread in pro football for at least 30 years with no public uproar.) The current drug policy, which commissioner Bud Selig announced with great fanfare, is doing little to change matters. Victor Conte, who headed up the BALCO operation, said on “Chronicle Live” on Comcast last week that a player had to be stupid to get caught – which says something about Manny Ramirez. Jose Canseco, who has been the most reliable reporter on this issue – estimates that 75 per cent of players are still using steroids.

In the past, I’ve suggested a solution: Make it permissible for players to take steroids, but only if they admit to doing it. That would enable baseball to track the medical effects, both short- and long-term, for players. If long-term damage were really severe, it might be a cautionary tale for future players.

But, don’t ever expect players to act as surrogates for parents who have lost touch with their teenaged sons.

HITTING COACHES: The most thankless job in sports might be hitting coach for a major league team. Pitching coaches often have a profound effect on a staff, but hitting coaches seldom do.

The reason goes to the nature of the game. Pitchers initiate the action, so a coach who refines their techniques and approach can make a difference. Hitters react to the pitches, and you can’t coach reaction.

At a lower level, whether in school or in the minors, a hitter can be taught to change his approach to be more effective. On the major league level, it’s impossible because hitters have a comfort zone. Every spring, you’ll read a story about a hitter changing his approach, but the first time he goes 0-for-4, he simply drops back into his comfort zone, even if he knows it wasn't working before.

RAIDERS DRAFT: As has often been noted, Al Davis is obsessed with speed, which led him to pass on the best receiver in this year’s draft, Michael Crabtree, to draft Darrius Heyward-Bey, who had run the fastest time at the Combine.

There has only been one time in his history that Davis has been rewarded by picking a receiver strictly based on his speed. That would be Cliff Branch, who had clocked a 9.3 time in the 100-yard dash twice while he was in high school. Branch was truly a project. He had played only two years at Colorado in an offense that was run-dominated; in those two years, he had only 665 receiving yards.. He had few receiving skills when he came to the Raiders but he hung out with Fred Biletnikoff and in time became an excellent deep threat.

DHB, as he prefers to be called, is not comparable to the young Branch, except in speed. He spent four years (the first as a redshirt) in a pro-type offense at Maryland, but he still has problems catching the ball, as he demonstrated at the Raiders mini-camp last weekend. It’s really a stretch that, after all this time, he will become a premier receiver, like Branch.

Not incidentally, Branch was only a fourth-round pick, so he was worth the gamble. Heyward-Bey was the seventh pick on the first round.

For some time, too, I’ve wondered why teams (not just the Raiders) put so much importance on these 40 times. Players run in shorts for these speed tests, which is quite different from running in football uniforms with a football under the arm. The most notable example: Jerry Rice’s times in the 40 were in the 4.6-4.7 range, which is slow for a wide receiver. But in a football uniform with the ball under his arm, nobody ever caught Rice from behind.

One final note on Raider drafts: I applauded their choice of Darren McFadden last year, and I still feel he’s going to be a real force, if he can shake the injuries which dogged him as a rookie. And, when the Raiders drafted Nnamdi Asomugha on the first round in 2003, I wrote that it was a good pick, though most media critics saw it otherwise. I’m an independent thinker, and I base my opinions on the knowwledge I’ve acquired in more than 40 years covering pro football. In DhB’s case, I agree with those who think his selection was a disaster. And I certainly saw nothing last weekend to change
my mind.

FALSE ECONOMY: The 49ers are one of nine NFL clubs that have opted out of a league-run pension program for assistant coaches (and also front office employes). I think that’s a classic case of penny-wise, pound foolish. Maybe a team like the New England Patriots, which also opted out, can still attract assistant coaches who want to be with a winner, but it’s going to be a problem in the near future for the 49ers who have been, to put it charitably, struggling.

WEBSITE FUTURE. After numerous e-mail exchanges with readers, I’ve decided the way to go this fall will be to have the column available for those who subscribe and pay an annual fee to a PayPal account I designate. I’ll have full information last next month.

TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! . The concert scene is heating up with Bay Area appearances by Diane Krall and Tony Bennett. Nationally, The Boss is back and so is Britney. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band start touring at the end of May. Britney Spears is selling out arenas across the country. Other big names touring include Taylor Swift, The Dead and Jimmy Buffett. Meanwhile, tickets are also available for the exciting NBA playoffs. Just click on the links below and everything will come up.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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