The Pirate Coach

Before Mike Leach was summarily dismissed from his job as coach of the Texas Tech football team for forcing a concussed player to hang out in a closet he was one of the lucky few avant-garde outliers profiled by Michael Lewis in the New York Times. Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball writes about people who redefine[1] a profession by looking at it in an unconventional way. While he’s doing it, Lewis explains stuff about sports, the economy, fatherhood, etc. better than anyone I’ve ever read. Leach certainly fits the bill of the unconventional “genius”:

It was then that I looked over and noticed Bennie Wylie standing uneasily next to Mike Leach. Wylie is Texas Tech’s strength and conditioning coach. Leach hired him three years ago from the Dallas Cowboys to prepare football players to run more than they had ever run on a football field. Just after he moved to Lubbock, Wylie learned that this job might be less a job than a calling. The thought struck him when he was driving and spotted, in the distance, a sloppily dressed middle-aged man in-line skating down the center of the road. The guy was rocking back and forth in the middle of what in Lubbock passes for a busy street; cars were whizzing past at 30 m.p.h. in both directions. There was no skating lane; truth to tell, there wasn’t a lot of in-line skating going on in Lubbock. As Wylie drew closer, he thought to himself, That lunatic looks a little like Coach. As he pulled alongside the lunatic, he realized, It is Coach. Later, Leach explained that he had decided to take up in-line skating, and he’d calculated that the middle of that particular road was Lubbock’s flattest, smoothest surface and so the obvious place to start. “To Mike, everything he does makes sense,” Wylie says. “It just takes a while to see how it all fits together. But if you were a fly on his shoulder for six months, you’d laugh your eyeballs out.”

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Or who should redefine it but despite their wild success become Cassandra-esque outcasts. Leach is on his way to this fate.

The Life of an Agent

Interesting column from Rick Reilly at ESPN about a day in the life of an NFL agent – and not just any day in the life, but perhaps one of the craziest days anyone involved in NFL personnel will ever see. The highlight? An NFL player calling his agent, alarmed that he got a drug testing kit from the league and freaking out because…well…as Reilly says with masterful diplomacy, the player wasn’t “ready” to take a drug test. Turns out you can’t cram for those. Definitely worth clicking to see how it turns out, cause it’s phenomenal and there’s no way I’m spoiling the ending here.

9:44 a.m. Big crisis.

A prominent NFC player is freaking out. The NFL has dropped off a urine-testing kit at his house when he’s clearly not — how shall we say this? — ready.

Apparently, the end of the lockout came as a surprise to him. Schaffer talks him off the ledge.

“Hold on, hold on (blank). They can’t do that. They haven’t finished the language on drug testing yet in the CBA. They can’t test you if it’s not in the contract. This is still America, right?”

Schaffer calls the players’ union to check. A union lawyer gets on the line and Schaffer gets the player on the line.

“OK, listen carefully, (blank). We need you to have somebody videotape you putting the entire thing — the test tubes, the instructions, everything — into a clear, sealed bag. Then FedEx it to me immediately. Got it?”

“OK, OK,” the player says.

Then, just as a precaution, Schaffer says, “Read me the directions, will you?”

Click here to see what happens…

Getting Old in Sports

Here’s an article from Chris Ballard that was published on Sports Illustrated recently. It’s an exploration of how age works in an industry where 37 is “ancient.” I enjoyed it for his insight into professional sports, but more for how he connected his own experiences of aging while playing in recreational games with what professional athletes go through.

What is it about this age and sports? Thirty-seven is when Reggie Miller turned into a role player, when Joe Montana became human, when Muhammad Ali retired for the first—and what should have been the last—time. Thirty-seven is where expectations go to die. Fans don’t expect fortysomethings to be All-Stars; if a 41-year-old is even playing, we glorify him. Look at that lovable codger; he’s still going! But at 37 the athlete still carries a whiff of greatness. When he doesn’t perform, we are disappointed. He is not yet lovable. He is letting us down.

Chris Ryan on Relegation

This article by Chris Ryan on Grantland is an exploration of relegation. Relegation is a rule that British soccer leagues have whereby the bottom few teams at the end of each season are actually replaced by the top teams in a secondary league for the next season. The financial benefit/penalty for moving up/down a league is enormous. There’s also a great amount of pride in your favorite team being in the top league. Relegation makes the season exciting not only for the few teams that have a chance to come in first place, but also for the teams that are at risk of being relegated out of the top league. I think it’s genius and I’d love to see some version of it in American sports leagues.

You may ask why seeing teams fall to pieces or make some kind of Icarus-like journey to the sunny climbs of top-flight football (only to again scrap for their league lives) can be as compelling as who wins the Premier League. But think of it as an inverted March Madness; a tournament of desperation and despair where Cinderella’s glass slipper turns out to have an anvil tied to it, dragging teams into the dreaded relegation zone, causing thousands of fans to reach for their Prilosec, lager, and rabbit’s feet.

Sam and Max Kellerman

This is an old story but it’s one of the few that I have kept a physical copy of and moved from one apartment to the next. The death of Sam Kellerman is a tragedy in the old sense of the word and in Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated it found its bard. Be warned: this article is well worth it for its inspiring depiction of familial love, kindness, and breathtaking talent, but it will make you cry. It is sports related only insofar as it has to do with people who play and love sports.

Max began to sharpen his power of reasoning, to strip the sentiment from an argument and make it stand on the legs of logic, knowledge … and will. The dinner table became his workshop. Pick a topic. Any topic. Hakeem Olajuwon, best center in basketball? How can you say he’s better than Patrick Ewing? Didn’t matter what the conventional numbers said; Max unearthed factors that nobody else at the table knew, debated in a way that made you feel he’d already rifled through the closets and drawers of your argument and discarded it. He became an animal of logic. That’s what brother Jack said.

One boy kept entering the animal’s lair. Sam, as a fourth-grader, wrote a story about a monkey in a barrel whose keeper pelted him with numbers–big, heavy ones like 110–until the monkey heaved back a huge one, 1,186, the sum of all the numbers hurled at him, and knocked out the shocked keeper. All the brothers, as sons of a shrink, knew it was a story about Sam and Max. Sam could think and articulate as fast as his big brother, lie in wait listening and then wreak havoc with a reply. Once, debating why man had invented sports, Sam unloaded this haymaker: “Sports is man’s joke on God, Max. You see, God says to man, ‘I’ve created a universe where it seems like everything matters, where you’ll have to grapple with life and death and in the end you’ll die anyway, and it won’t really matter.’ So man says to God, ‘Oh, yeah? Within your universe we’re going to create a sub-universe called sports, one that absolutely doesn’t matter, and we’ll follow everything that happens in it as if it were life and death.'” Which delighted Max, because he craved a foil, someone who would compel him to hurl ever bigger and heavier numbers.

Chuck Klosterman Explains why Sports Fans Must Watch Live

Chuck Klosterman, the mildly well known pop-culture critic wrote a piece explaining the phenomenon of watching live sports and why watching sports on DVR just doesn’t cut it… we thought it was an ingenious and enjoyable explanation!

My life is broken into two halves. They’re not equal halves, but sometimes they feel that way. The first half is spent trying to figure out how reality works, if time is real, and what it means to be alive; the other half is spent scheduling my life around sporting events I am compelled to watch, even though I don’t care who wins and won’t remember anything significant about the game in two weeks’ time.

Read the rest of the article here…