Last Chance U Part Deux: Buddy Stephens Revisited

When the first season of Netflix's football series "Last Chance U" ended we saw the JUCO program of Eastern Mississippi exiting the Mississippi state playoffs after getting into a brawl. Coach Buddy Stephens was berating his players as "thugs," much to the dismay of many of them.

The new season of the series promised more football and more drama. What I didn't count on was Stephens announcing that he was embarrassed watching the first season of the show and that he was going to be nicer to his players. Call me skeptical but I didn't buy it at the time and as the show went on, I was right.

The first couple of games he preached change, positivity and how he was a new man. His use of swear words in practice led to him having to drop down to crank out push-ups in front of the team. I was more stunned than impressed, he almost seemed to be embarrassing himself in front of the team.

As the wins mounted, so too did the immense pressure lofted onto Stephens' shoulders. Injuries hit star running back Isiah Wright. The defense struggled to stop anyone who ran right at them. When Coach would attempt to talk to a player it felt as if he was begging that person to say anything at all. One word and Stephens would snap.

I lost count the number of times he kicked Wright out of practice. As the defense struggled to find an identity he berated the Defensive Coordinator for not doing enough. When the refs asked Stephens to back up from the sidelines he freaked out on them.

"Don't touch me. I don't touch you." Stephens screamed at them. So much for the kinder, gentler coach.

Near the end of the season as the team played for the Mississippi state championship Stephens sent his offensive coordinator up to the press box. The same offensive coordinator that had been there for years. I thought that Stephens wanted to turn over a new leaf, but no.

Even though the team won the game and the state championship, Stephens had damaged his team in the process.

Team mother Brittany Wagner left Eastern Mississippi to form her own company to help students.

Offensive coordinator Marcus Wood stepped down from his duties after his interactions on the sidelines of that championship game.

Quarterbacks coach Clint Trickett left the program to work at Florida Atlantic University.

Defensive coordinator Ed Holly left to coach high school football in Florida.

Who else?

To paraphrase Isiah Wright, he said "I can tell when someone cares for me and when they want something from me." The former running back of Eastern Mississippi couldn't have been more painfully clear about the situation in Scooba, MS. It also becomes obvious less than halfway through the season that the head coach's driving factor is to win football games.

The series visits former players and examines their current situation. My favorite is Ronald Ollie who looked happy to have left Eastern Mississippi for Nicholls State. Even former quarterback John Franklin III smiles for the camera while explaining his situation as a backup quarterback at Auburn University. Their lives are drastic comparisons to what the athletes are experiencing back at the junior college.

Eastern Mississippi's defense shows a disconnect because of the malaise that starts at the top. The offense runs well only because former offensive coordinator Wood cares about his kids and sheltered them from Stephens' negativity.

By the end of the season even he can't keep away the drama and is swallowed up by it. I believe Stephens' lack of self control is ultimately going to be his downfall. Even if he wins football games, his lack of compassion guarantees he will never grow as a person. I feel bad that he never gets to understand the kids the way Wagner and Wood did but one day he'll realize that humanity is more important than wins.

A League Full Of Losers

In the NFL, 31 teams go home at the end of the season as losers.  If you think about it that’s 97 percent of the league that doesn’t accomplish the ultimate goal every single year.  It doesn’t matter if your favorite team won their division if they didn’t win the Super Bowl, they still came up short.

As previously stated in earlier blogs, football is a business and owners do whatever it takes to make their product earn.  Unfortunately there are times when the monster eats itself or some teams just don’t have the structure in place internally.  Many times what’s seen on the field reflects that lack of planning by General Managers or Owners but at the end of the year when the results are in, the coach takes the fall.  

The coach may not be able to win with the lack of depth they were given or maybe the GM didn’t give them players that fit their system.  Too bad, the coach is the one to go.  Think about all the different parts of a football team and the number of players that have to do their job.  If one player doesn’t perform their assignment the whole chain will snap.  Many times the players don’t realize that the average career of an NFL player is less than 4 years.  Players see guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that have longevity in a rough and tumble league.  However, because of the violent collisions injuries are common and career threatening.  

When these players drop their end of the rope, coaches have to scramble to find someone else to pick it up.  It’s what many refer to as a “next man up” mentality.  The problem is there are guys who aren’t able to deal with the pressure or the pace and they too fall.  Even though most players in the NFL are close to the same skill set in most areas, it’s the mental aspect that makes guys great.  It’s up to coaches to push men to find that.

But what happens when guys tune that out?  Or what happens when some guys don’t have the ability to push through that final wall?  Scouting players isn’t a science, as is evident by the many busts in the NFL draft.  These players can become what is known as “coach killers” contributing to the average length of a coaching career being less than 5 years.  Think about that player who was drafted and fizzled out within his first 4 years in the league even though the first year coach relied so heavy on him.  Now the coach might have one more year to prove himself, but more than likely that coach is already out the door.

When we watch football very few of us think of those guys that walk up and down the sidelines.  Not just the main guys like Bill Belichick or Mike Tomlin.  There are those men behind them, the ones that give their all to coach the wide receivers or the defensive backs that rarely have their names in the paper or the news.  When a defense plays lights out it’s normally the defensive coordinator who gets the credit even though that defensive backs coach gave up his free time and his life to be there researching and preparing too.  When the coach gets fired guess who is going to go too?  All those coaches.  Maybe some of them will never get another job in football even though they were great at what they did.  The problem is no one knew them except for that coach and now he can’t find another job.  But the players who let go of the rope, they might get another shot.  That General Manager who didn’t bring in enough players that were good enough to cover for injuries?  You can bet he’s still there.  

I understand that coaches watch film and prepare a game plan.  They call the plays and try to put the players in the right position to win however sometimes it isn’t the coach’s fault that a team loses.  Sometimes there truly are bad teams based upon the roster they’ve been given. Sure it’s up to them to make the best of hands they are dealt but I think many times fans, executives and the media expect way too much of coaches instead of realizing that players have to be held accountable too.  Coaches aren’t miracle workers, they are human and can only do so much- it’s time to stop blaming them for everything and start praising them.

Football Isn’t A Game

I refuse to say the word “gamechanger,” I hate when it is used in everyday context.  I’ve seen it used on car commercials or in ads for other products.  Those things aren’t games.  However, I don’t even like it when it is used in the football sense either – football isn’t a game.

A perfect example is the Los Angeles Rams.  In 2016, the Rams moved from St. Louis, Missouri to L.A. because the owner wasn’t making enough money and he wanted the city to help finance a new stadium.  No go on that, so he pulled the plug and decided to take his show to L.A. where the Rams came from and the place where he owned a large piece of land.  A perfect piece of property to put up a megalithic stadium that will make all the other NFL owner and fans jealous.   Why not right?

In the meantime, the Rams were coming off picking first overall in the NFL draft after going 7-9 the season before.  They had previously traded picks with Tennessee in order to allow the Titans to get Marcus Mariota in the 2015 draft.  All that being said, the Rams also traded their starting Quarterback from 2016 Sam Bradford to Philadelphia, leaving them with a lifetime backup in Case Keenum to open the year.  Let it be said that a good starting Quarterback in the NFL is hard to find.

For all the humor that was made of Jeff Fisher, I think he’s a good human being as is evident in the two video series produced about the 2016 Rams season.  Unfortunately, he was handed a young team with a less than stellar Quarterback in Keenum and then was forced to start the Rookie in the 10th game of the season after many failures.  Fisher was replaced after going 4-9 in 2016, a result of not being able to get the defense off the field or get the run game going.  Both of these things I believe come back to the decision to trade Bradford and start Keenum.

As is the case, the coach takes the axe when it comes to these decisions and it was Fisher whose head rolled.  It’s not about how he coached the game or how much he cared about the game it was about wins.  Plain and simple it was about how much money the owner could make, how good he could make the product look in order to keep the fans.  Football isn’t about the game or the people, it’s about the score and the result.  Owners don’t care about the coach or the players as long as they get the W.  The only “gamechanger” is money, it rules the world.

Volunteering For Basketball Practice

Let me start by saying I’m all about getting paid for doing a job.  Whether you are a bricklayer or a courier or whatever it is that you do, you should get paid to do your 9 to 5.  Or whatever your hours may be.  If your boss says you are to work 6 days a week for 8 hours a day, then that is the job you’ve signed up for and you should get paid for them.

However, when it comes to volunteering, as soon as you agree to help, you can’t back up and say “Hey wait a minute I need to get paid.”

It doesn’t work that way.

Especially when it comes to kids.

If you are a basketball coach and you volunteer to help teach the sport to elementary age kids on Saturday, your off day, you go into that day knowing you aren’t going to get paid.

There’s something about saying, “Yes I know I’m not getting paid but I’m doing it so that these children can learn the game and appreciate the game.”

Maybe it’s because I grew up in Tennessee, the Volunteer State, that I appreciate volunteerism so much.  That’s a sad joke.  However, I have a real big problem with this.

Let’s go back to the beginning.  Let’s say, Coach Smith is the head of the high school boys’ basketball team and the local town comes to him asking for help at the start of the school year.

“Coach Smith we want to have elementary basketball on Saturday mornings in December through February.  Would you be willing to volunteer your time?”

Coach Smith decides that he is going to get his team to come in and help him – therefore this is considered a practice and he is getting paid for his time by the school.

Halfway through December Coach Smith decides that he wants to get paid by the town because volunteering his time is just not good enough – even though he’s getting paid by the school.

I’ve got a huge problem with that.

As a parent who volunteered for three months for six straight years to coach and ref soccer I’m disgusted by this attitude.  Not only did I have to work but I also tried to live a life outside of my commitments as well.  I didn’t ask the soccer organization for money to coach or ref.

I wanted those children to care about the game, I wanted those children to know the rules, I wanted those children to be proud of themselves and I wanted to do it because I could.

I know you might be thinking, “that sounds like you are trying to sound holy.”

It’s simply not the case.

Volunteering to help the soccer organization was the only way for me to give back my knowledge of the game.  It was the only way for me to try and further the sport.  There’s not a lot of opportunities for children to be taught by someone who has studied the rules and I want them to understand as much as I can teach them.

I’ve been saying for a while that people continue to do things for the benefit of themselves.  Whether that is in the form of money or recognition or some gift that they can receive.  I’m tired of the nonsense.  I hate how we’ve become as a culture and a society.  I want the children I’ve taught to be willing to help others because they have seen me do it out of care for other individuals.

To me that’s what it is all about: caring for others.  I am afraid we aren’t taking care of others the way we should.  There’s too much fighting and looking out for one’s self only.  I thought that we had come a long way as humans but the more I look around the more I wonder about us.  The more I wonder about our motives.  I see people that try to do for others get put down while those that are out for themselves climb over them.

This isn’t a zoo and we aren’t in the wild.  We are civilized creatures and it’s time to act like it.  I’m sick and tired of the drama and the petty bullshit.  If you can’t be bothered to help others, then you need to re-examine your priorities.  The only way we are going to go forward is together, no one is bigger or better than the other and some need more help than others and that’s why we have to be there for one another.

The Re-Evaluation Of A Sports Fan

Imagine being a sports fan all your life – knowing who is playing on Saturday and Sunday. Knowing who is in the playoffs and knowing the rosters of every team.
Being a Virginia Tech Hokies football fan I talked about interviewing the legendary Coach Frank Beamer. I sat behind the bench of a Tech game when they played Rutgers and I saw the players up close. I was there during Marcus Vick’s (yes, the brother of one Mike Vick) rookie year when he threw 2 interceptions and was benched for playing like crap. I remember seeing him and questioning how someone like that could be so highly rated over his brother. He sure didn’t look great that day.
Little did we know all the things that he would be known for – the stomp, running from the cops, the weed and the underage drinking with girls. It turned into one of the worst examples of Coach Beamer believing in a player in his tenure at Virginia Tech. I almost believe it soured him for the rest of his career from then on out. He certainly never appeared to be the same Coach after that.
Since Coach has retired and I’ve gotten older, I don’t follow Tech football or many other sports for that matter like I used to. I do try to play hockey and ref soccer but that’s about as deep as I get. Maybe it’s the philosopher in me or the psychologist that does too much questioning. I’ve ruined it. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve even ruined playing these sports just by questioning.
Walking away from the games has made Saturday and Sunday different. I can remember fall Virginia days with the windows open, the leaves falling, watching football with a blanket on. It didn’t matter what games were being broadcast I was watching them. Now, you’ll be lucky to catch me watching football for an extended period of time. I don’t know the roster of Tech and all I know is that Coach Beamer shows up on the sidelines to talk to the players but not instruct them.
The opportunity came up to go to Syracuse to see the Hokies play a Saturday game – one that I always said I would take if I ever had the chance. I declined.
“It’s too much, I don’t know the players anymore and Beamer isn’t there.”
It’s just not the same for me. It’s a struggle and a painful one at that. Something that was the biggest part of my childhood is gone. Through the questioning of concussions, wondering about the mindset of athletes and the examination of profits in sports I’ve lost that love for the game. I do truly wonder if I think too much about things.
I find myself not enjoying skating or soccer as much anymore. I question my ability to skate. Why? Why should I? It feels like a cycle or a circle. Here I go again.
“I can only do so much,” I tell myself, “but I don’t do enough.”
My body gives out and I can’t push it like I used to. I know there are guys older than me playing but why not me? Am I just not built the right way? I question my genetic makeup.
“Maybe I wasn’t built for skating.”
I’m arguing with people when it comes to soccer – i’m too strict with the rules.
“Why,” I ask myself, “does it have to be this way?”
Should I really be forcing everything in soccer to be by the book? Do I have to look for all the details to be just right?
I know that I can’t step down from my position as a coach and ref. I can’t quit on the volunteer organization simply because I feel like I am not doing the job properly. Can I?
Ah self doubt you creep in again.
Self doubt my old friend.
Where would I be if I didn’t doubt myself?
Before I step on the field I’m confident but between the games I am ready to call it quits. I think back to each decision and each play wondering if I missed something. I know I had to have.
“No one is perfect,” I tell myself.
Did I call one game too leniant? Did I call one too strict? Why? Was I tired?
It breaks me to think about these things in between games. I want to hand in my whistle because I’m sure I’m letting someone down. I can’t be a good ref and doubt myself can I? Isn’t that the reason why I gave up on sports? Because I doubted the nature of it? I doubted everything about it. How pure it was supposed to be. Now I’m doubting how good a job I’m doing as a ref. How can I help a kid learn a game if I question what it is I’m seeing?
All these questions. Isn’t it supposed to be easier? Aren’t I supposed to be good at this? For all the talk I’ve made out of knowing the game, I should boast about my ability. But that’s not me. I spend more time questioning my ability than praising it.

The same person who can build a wall can tear it down. I can just as easily call a good game as I can a terrible one. How do you keep the human element from creeping in when you are supposed to be a robot? An emotionless machine that calls fouls. That can be a challenge as I tend to my feelings on my sleeve. Sometimes I think that’s the best place for them. The more I think about it there’s not enough room there for all of them.

Coaching- Is It Right For You?

Not too long after I learned to drive I took up my first coaching position. My friend and I volunteered to coach an 11 and 12 year old boys basketball team.  
At first, the organizers of the league refused our attempts at leading a group of young men. They were afraid that we would not take it seriously and the boys would be led astray. After some serious begging and pleading, we were handed the clipboards.
It’s amazing to think that a couple of teenagers drafted a team of kids that we had scouted. Prior to the draft we planned our strategy and who we would build around. We had seen this tall kid who we thought we could be our “5” and like Shaq, we believed he could dominate the paint. Another young man would play the role of Penny Hardaway and handle the ball up-court. From there we had others to fill in the roles.
All our plans and plots faded in the first practice . Our big man played more like Gheorghe Muresan and our point wanted to take three point shots every time he came down court. The role players weren’t happy being just side kicks in our experiment and even though we laughed and joked in practice it blew up on game day. We often wondered why that happened. We had planned so well, scouted and kept practice light but we did work them.
After years of coaching soccer I think about the first time I struggled with coaching defeat. How much it bothers me. I know no matter what happened we took it seriously and we wanted to win. However we had no idea that we were never going to be successful. In fact I’m not sure if I have the ability to be successful as a head coach.
The role of a head coach is to not just be a leader but to be a strong individual who dictates terms. Barking out orders or standing firm in the face of adversity- that’s what I think a head coach should do.

 
But when I think about myself I think of someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve and doesn’t yell much if at all. As a ref I let my whistle do the screaming for me. Sure I try to learn my players strengths and weaknesses but at the same time I want to give them the courage to grow. I don’t know that there’s a lot of fire in my belly. I’m certainly not going to scream at you for missing a pass. I will do my best to applaud you for your hard work – don’t think I don’t notice you because I do. Sadly I’m just naturally quiet. I don’t have a good voice. That hinders my development.
I do study your play and I can tell you what is going on. Maybe I’m just not suitable coaching material. No hall of fame directors will ever call me nor will any teams for that matter. I may be lucky to make it through this season much less this week. I can’t say I haven’t earned the right to wonder about my ability. I guess the mere fact I’m still out on the field means I’m not horrible but in a volunteer organization they always need coaches- hell some poor sap let me coach at 16, imagine the disappointment that was.

Youth Sports – Simply For The Kids?

When you sign your child up for a sport you expect them to be taught the rules and how to play the game properly. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a volunteer organization or the coaches are paid. Simply put, the people who oversee the game need to understand how it works.

You don’t want your child to go out onto the baseball field wearing shin guards that are meant for soccer games.  You don’t want them to step onto the basketball court with a baseball helmet on.  It sounds simple but these are the fundamentals.

It’s like driving a car.  When you get behind the wheel you expect that the other drivers have been taught to keep their cars to the right side of the yellow line.  That is why there is a driving violation known as failure to keep right.

Or wearing a seatbelt – this is to keep you safe.

We have laws and rules in games and in life that help to keep everyone safe.  Whether it’s our children or ourselves.
As a human, it’s only natural to criticize the ones who enforce these rules.  As a referee, it can be tough to take on the role of calling the game based upon the laws of the game. The problem is when organizations put people in charge of monitoring games that have not spent time with the rule book.

A town cannot put a building inspector on the job who does not know the laws and town code otherwise things are going to be missed.  It’s possible buildings are going to be put up improperly and lives are going to be put at risk.

The same can be said for a referee especially when judging youth contests.  Slide tackles can hurt young people and late challenges can harm a defenseless goalie.  As much as the game is supposed to be competitive there has to be an environment of safety.  Those who aren’t trained and focused, struggle to maintain that condition.

We all are aware that refs are going to get flak from everyone no matter whether you are right or wrong – paid or volunteer. This is the nature of being an official, and it is something that referees must learn to deflect. Those that cannot stand the heat have to get out of the kitchen, it’s as simple as that.  That’s not to say that parents, coaches and players can berate them over and over.

However, the referee does miss calls and the referee can be wrong.  Sometimes the referee is paying attention to two players that are going at each other on one side of the field while the ball goes out.  The ref may call the ball for one team while the coach and player for that team may say “no we kicked it out.”  The ref may change that call.  The coaches are allowed to question that call.  If the coaches have a question about why the ref called something then they can question that.  Sports are not run as a dictatorship.  The ref is not Stalin, nor should the ref act like that.

Maybe with all this “you aren’t supposed to talk to the ref” stuff we’ve gotten a little too unfair. You can’t say to the ref, “hey listen there’s two players in the box on a penalty shot. They can’t be there?”

However we are losing out to the finer points that need to be adhered to.  Keeping your feet planted and making a good throw in soccer.  The in-bounds play as well as dribbling in basketball.  Learning the fundamentals.  It is the fundamentals that form the basis of the game.  Maybe I’m a stickler but if you don’t frame the puzzle you can’t fill it in.
Unfortunately though not only are we letting down ourselves by not learning the rules but we are letting down the kids. They look to us to show them the proper way to play the game.
Imagine playing baseball and being able to hit a foul ball and running to first base because the umpire didn’t bother to learn the rules.
Imagine playing basketball and dribbling around defenders out-of-bounds because the referees didn’t learn the rule book.
Or they gave a free throw when the ball was kicked.

Wouldn’t you get furious as a coach?

Shouldn’t we expect those who volunteer to referee to understand the rules of the game?

If you are going to use the excuse that soccer is hard to learn, read the NBA rule book. I have. I can tell you that there is no reason that 10-12 year old children can’t be expected to be refereed by someone who knows the rules.

We have to take a look at ourselves. Are we ruining it for the children? I don’t know.  However, they are old enough to understand what’s going on behind the scenes. Are we ruining it for other adults? For the ones who care enough to know the rules and show up on time, give their and everything they have to care about…yeah we are killing them.  At the same point maybe some people need to ask themselves what they are doing it for?  Are they doing it for the kids?  Are they doing it to live through their kids?  Do they care about the game?  Or is it just about another ounce of power?  Who cares if we teach the kids the right rules so they can go on to play at higher level knowing the RIGHT way to play the game, “I just want to be able to say I have control and I can tell other adults what to do.”  Sad.

But this is the state of the world we live in.  Sadly you never see the cards until they play their hand – then it’s too late.  Call me crazy but this isn’t the game I signed up for.  I only wanted to show kids the right way to play soccer not argue over who has the best hand.

Lind-y Me Your Ear

My puns are terrible.  They aren’t going to get any better sadly.

It’s strange how the learning process can coincide so much with playing well and player’s confidence.  I think all three things are very important, especially when it comes to playing hockey.  It’s one of the reasons why I have had such a hard time with the way that Dallas Stars head coach Lindy Ruff has played his goaltenders during the playoffs.  I believe he should have picked either Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi and stuck with them or else it was going to end up in flames like it did.  I didn’t know which round but it was going to end in disaster and I can only imagine that the goalies feel bitter about it.

In case you haven’t followed the Stars this postseason his philosophy has been “if you have a bad game you are coming out and the other guy is coming in.”  Hell of a way to inspire confidence in a player.  Can you imagine if Mike Sullivan did that when Marc-Andre Fleury was back from injury for Game 6 even though rookie goaltender Matt Murray was playing well?  Murray had done so much for the Pens but he lost Game 5, what if Sullivan threw Fleury in Game 6?  Granted Fleury hasn’t played all postseason, but still, you can’t inspire much confidence in a goalkeeper when all you do is rotate every time one has a bad game.

You have to pick one goalkeeper and stick with him.  Goalkeepers are going to have bad nights.  They just are.  They are just like every other player.  They’re going to have crap goals that go in.  You know Patrick Roy let in the bad bounce here in and there.  I’m going to alienate some people when I say this, but to me he was the best goaltender of my lifetime.  Marty Brodeur is right there, but I still would pick Roy if I have to pick one of the two.

There are stories of goalies who have been less celebrated than Roy or Brodeur who have won Cups for their teams.  We know the Corey Crawford story about how he came out of nowhere and backstopped the Blackhawks but in the 1940’s there was a man who had one of the best names for a hockey player you can find: Frank McCool.  The 1994-1945 Toronto Maple Leafs were missing their regular and future Hall of Fame goalkeeper Turk Broda, who was busy serving with the Canadian army over in Europe.  They had to call on young rookie McCool to carry the load for the cherished Leafs and during the playoffs he carried the ’44 Leafs all the way to Cup.  They beat their hated rival Montreal Canadiens in six games on the way to the Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.  McCool shutout the Wings the first three games but was unable to win the next three before eventually leading the Maple Leafs to the win in the seventh and deciding game.  Can you imagine if Toronto coach Hap Day, who himself is in the Hall of Fame, would have pulled McCool after the Game Four loss how that series would have turned out?

My point in all this is that we see confidence ebb and flow.  As much as we may struggle we have to find a way to pick it up.  We all deal with that struggle in different ways.  I may not be able to make the quick turn and I may fall.  I may deal with that by getting frustrated at myself.  Sometimes I’m going to grit my teeth and curse myself.  The next night I may smile and brush it off.  I’m not sure.  It’s going to ebb and flow with me depending on how I’m feeling on the ice.  It all depends on how I feel when I step on that sheet of ice.

I remember when I first came to the rink and laced up my pair of used Bauer skates for skills class.  I walked out to the ice, the door was open to go out and I hesitated.  “What if I fall?”  I’m going to use the door to step on the ice but what if I fall right out of the gate?  How’s that going to go over?  Starting out on my first day and falling right before the start?  Imagine if they made me go get those metal things the little kids use to learn to skate and push those around the ice?  I guess I’d do it if they told me.  I didn’t expect them to.  I stepped on the ice and my knees shook.  My legs wobbled.  I gingerly made my way over to the bench and was thankful I didn’t fall in front of everyone.  Rookie checklist step one accomplished.  When you start out at the very bottom any accomplishment is a huge celebration.  Started from the bottom…Drake reference…had to do it.

Looking back at it and where I’ve progressed to, I see my gains in small steps.  Recently when I skated quick turns, I fell once, but I remember what happened when I started.  Fall, get up, skate, fall, get up, skate, fall…you get the picture.  This past time one fall.  I was not Pavel Bure but I wasn’t Yosemite Sam on skates either.  Though I imagine he probably has a low center of gravity.

When you have guys behind you doing the drill that are fast they push you and it helps.  I didn’t want to fall, but everyone has seen me fall.  They’ve seen me curse myself.  It’s tough, you want so hard to be so good so fast after feeling like you’ve come so far.  It just doesn’t happen overnight.  But it’s all about the support system.  Everyone supports you.  If you fall they pick you up.

Imagine if the group treated me the way Lindy Ruff treated his goalies.  I wouldn’t develop, I wouldn’t have any confidence at all.  Coaching is as much teaching as it is being able to manage players.  Sometimes the pursuit of winning gets in the way of understanding that everyone is human.  We are all human and we all have emotions.  Some people express those emotions in different ways.  I can say I’m not always good at expressing my frustration and as I’ve gotten older it’s gotten harder and harder to hide it.  I know I work on it, but hockey is frustrating sometimes.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it.  I do.  I just find myself staring at the ice sometimes wondering is it my feet, is it my back, is it my head, am I fighting it too much?  I just feel like I’m just over thinking myself to the point I’m so far in my own head that I’ve completely done myself in.  When I get into a drill and a pass goes way off I feel like it’s the end of the world.  I just have to get that confidence.  Somehow someway or from somewhere.  It’s just going to take some time.  I’m just going to have to find it.  I’m going to have to find it in me.  There’s so much I’m trying to learn all at once and I think I’m trying to figure everything all out at once instead of enjoying it.  The first couple of times I was enjoying it, now I’m just forcing it.  It’s time to get back to enjoying it instead of letting the lack of confidence ruin it.  I can’t Ruff it anymore, it’s time to enjoy it.

The Day The Rex Ship Ran Aground

*Thanks to the New York Daily News for the image and for making it.

This whole Rex Ryan thing is completely out of hand.

I’m convinced that the Buffalo Bills have lost control.  They don’t even know what to do with him anymore.

Stay with me, I know, you’re rolling your eyes – it’s starting to get old. Rex Ryan is my go to whipping boy for days when I want someone to beat up on.  But this time my Buffalo Bills fan club card is truly at the bottom of the sea with Sebastian and Ariel.

Rex has decided that he is going to “introduce” Donald Trump at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo when the Presidential Candidate stumps for Republican voters in his visit to the Bills home city.  I’m not wading into the politics on this one, that’s not my point here.  I have different bones to pick.

I wanted to look at what Rex and the Bills have to say about it because this is after all the same Trump that tried to buy the Bills after Ralph Wilson’s death.  Thankfully Terry Pegula was able to buy the team and keep it from Trump – and Jon Bon Jovi who wanted to move it to Toronto for the sake of making money.  If I ever make a billion dollars I have ideas for you Jon!

But I digress and I move on to Rex.

“I’m not going to say who my endorsement is and all that stuff,” Rex is quoted as saying according to Syracuse.com. “I’ll say this, Chris Christie was my guy 100-percent because we were the lap-banded brothers. We both had that lap band and we really are pretty close.”

Great, so you aren’t endorsing him so to speak but by going out on stage you are playing your hand anyway.  That’s like me saying that I’m wearing this Bills stuff but I’m not going to tell you what team I cheer for.  Just because I’m wearing Bills stuff doesn’t mean I want anything to do with the Bills.  Well, that’s back when I was wearing the Bills stuff anyway.  Stay with me.

The Bills are all cool with it.  Not cool with me.  I don’t know what they think of me.  I know when I was in Buffalo and tried to get a tour of the Ralph they didn’t have one.  Who doesn’t have a stadium tour these days?  Lame!

“It is a personal decision by Rex to introduce Donald Trump at this evening’s rally,” the Bills explained in a statement released by Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. “The Bills organization does not endorse political candidates and so he is not representing the organization at tonight’s event.”

Who releases a statement like that?  I mean, sure they are going to distance themselves from the coach.  Okay I get that.  But they can’t come out and release a broad public statement?  There’s nothing on their website about it.  Do they not think that everything this man does gets traction?  “Nah, this won’t go anywhere we’ll just release it through a reporter.”  Come on, put it on your website.

I believe if I’m not mistaken this is the same Bills organization that Trump said he would buy in 2014 and make money on.  He wished current Bills owner Terry Pegula better luck with the Bills than with Sabres.

Meanwhile their head coach and “face” of the franchise is introducing the guy who talked trash and bad mouthed the current owner of the club.  But that’s okay?  Not in my book.  Not if I owned the club.  I’d be snipping that one down in a heartbeat.

Also in the same day, word came out that Rex admitted to is stealing slogans from college coaches.  Rex borrowed “All in” from Clemson’s Dabo Swinney as a means to promote unity among the players.  Can’t a guy come up with ideas on his own?

These two things on one day?  Isn’t that enough to get someone fired?

I know the Bills don’t want to get rid of him.  Why would they?  If they wanted to they would have gotten rid of him after he promised the playoffs and didn’t deliver.  Besides every Bills fan who could read the writing on the wall knew they weren’t going to make the playoffs.  Anyone who could see the team for who they were only knew he was going to make it worse.  Look at the Jets trajectory since he left, guess where it is headed?  Straight up.

Rex is the loud mouth that gets the Bills all this free publicity and he keeps the team in first segments of ESPN because there’s always a dumb comment that sportscasters make fun of.  Who cares if the team ever wins, when was the last time the guy won a Super Bowl? When was the last time he overcame his New England demons?

Now he’s just shoving all his insubordination in the boss’ face and calling it a “personal decision.”

A personal decision is choosing to wear a different tie to work.  A personal decision is choosing to wear a different color vest on Sundays.  A personal decision is choosing to donate your pay check to Relay for Life.  This is far from a personal decision.

This is another squirt of gasoline on what has become a massive dumpster fire burning out of control burning by Lake Ontario.  Until they get their “Rex Problem” under control the Bills can go ahead and take my fan card. Leadership, respect and the ability to teach humanity starts at the top and the Bills are showing that they are just letting Rex walk all over them. Tyrod or no Tyrod, it’s over for me.

 

Would You Quit Professional Baseball For Your Child?

On March 15, Adam LaRoche walked away from the Chicago White Sox on principle.  He walked away from the game he loved because upper management informed him that no longer could he bring his 14-year-old son to the White Sox clubhouse as often as he wanted.  White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams informed him that he had to limit the amount of time his home-schooled son Drake had to the club’s spring training activities.

As it turns out, Drake had been coming to his dad’s spring training back to his days with the Washington Nationals some five years ago without any issues with coaches, players or management having issues.  All that changed when Williams brought Drake’s presence in the clubhouse to the forefront as an issue.

So LaRoche made a decision that certainly doesn’t come easy for an athlete.  Choose the team and the pursuit of a championship or choose your family?

LaRoche chose his son and on March 18, 2016 White Sox pitcher Chris Sale walked to his locker room to find autographed Adam and Drake LaRoche jerseys hanging at Sale’s locker.

Adam decided to walk away but not before leaving his ace pitcher and supportive teammate a note – “Thanks for everything.  I’ll never forget you.”

For his part, Drake was just as gracious – “Chris, thank you for taking care of me.”

Sale took his case to Williams on behalf of LaRoche, because they felt that it was unfair, even taking it so far as to say Drake was part of team referencing his maturity and his appearance on the field during drills.

Adam doesn’t seem like the guy that wanted to cause a stir in the clubhouse however on March 18, he released a statement on Twitter where he talked about his retirement:

Over the last five years, with both the Nationals and the White Sox, I have been given the opportunity to have my son with me in the clubhouse. It is a privilege I have greatly valued. I have never taken it for granted, and I feel an enormous amount of gratitude toward both of those organizations.

Though I clearly indicated to both teams the importance of having my son with me, I also made clear that if there was ever a moment when a teammate, coach or manager was made to feel uncomfortable, then I would immediately address it. I realize that this is their office and their career, and it would not be fair to the team if anybody in the clubhouse was unhappy with the situation. Fortunately, that problem never developed. I’m not going to speak about my son Drake’s behavior, his manners, and the quality of person that he is, because everyone knows that I am biased. All of the statements from my teammates, past and present, should say enough. Those comments from all of the people who have interacted with Drake are a testimony to how he carries himself.

Prior to signing with the White Sox, my first question to the club concerned my son’s ability to be a part of the team. After some due diligence on the club’s part, we reached an agreement. The 2015 season presented no problems as far as Drake was concerned. (My bat and our record are another story!)

With all of this in mind, we move toward the current situation which arose after White Sox VP Ken Williams recently advised me to significantly scale back the time that my son spent in the clubhouse. Later, I was told not to bring him to the ballpark at all. Obviously, I expressed my displeasure toward this decision to alter the agreement we had reached before I signed with the White Sox. Upon doing so, I had to make a decision. Do I choose my teammates and my career? Or do I choose my family? The decision was easy, but in no way was it a reflection of how I feel about my teammates, manager, general manager or the club’s owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

The White Sox organization is full of people with strong values and solid character. My decision to walk away was simply the result of a fundamental disagreement between myself and Ken Williams.

 

Simply put, LaRoche directs the blame on Williams for breaking the contract AND trust that he came to with Williams and the White Sox.  If his play was suspect, which he no doubt discusses in his explanation, then go to him about that.  But it feels like the attempt was a dirty ploy.

Was this a dirty ploy to get $13 million that he was owed off the books?  Or was this a dirty ploy to get the players to rally together and hate management and play for each other in one of those “rah rah let’s win one for Adam and Drake” things?  If so, both are poorly thought out and really bad ideas.  The Major League Baseball Players Association is now getting involved and that can only bring some sort of bad publicity for the club as well.  One this is for certain, this won’t be good for Williams or club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

I can’t say for sure what I would do if I was in the same position as Adam LaRoche.  I would like to think I would give up my spot on an MLB team for my daughter.  If I was set money-wise like it seems LaRoche is and comfortable with my position in the game’s history.  If the club isn’t going to respect our agreement on bringing her to spring training and letting her be around, what else would they want to cut out of my contract?

Some may say that LaRoche quit on his teammates, but apparently they aren’t seeing how much he means to them.  Or maybe they don’t see the bigger picture, if the club is going to cut out its promises to one player to bring his son to spring training, a teenager who did nothing to disturb the club at all, then what else are they going to cut? Isn’t it like the owner of the Indians in the movie Major League, Rachel Phelps?  Phelps begins cutting luxuries from the Indians (hot water and a private jet for instance) in order to make the club lose so that they are less profitable and she can move them to Miami.  Who wants to play for someone like that?  Maybe Adam LaRoche was right?  If you had the choice what would you choose?