Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Getting Seasoned in Canada: A Viable Option for a Young NFL Candidate?

Canada's Grey Cup Trophy
There are many NFL players who began their professional careers across the border in Canada.  Some players stayed and did pretty well, but the money in recent years has fallen well short of the NFL rates.  Canada does not lack enthusiasm for football, it lacks population to fill the seats the way they fill down south in the United States. On the other hand, a starter in Canada is going to play 18 regular season games.  Some young developing players might prefer the work rather than warming the bench in the United States. The CFL offers a competitive entertaining brand of football. 

In the early days of the CFL,  many players from the U.S. were attracted with lucrative salary deals, but most recently, the maximum salary for a top CFL player was $400,000.  The top 100 quarterbacks in the NFL all make over $400,000.  So if you were looking at the dollars and sense of it, the NFL would be a better situation for almost all quarterbacks. Things may change however.

Canadian sports TV channels TSN (English) and RDS (French) have renewed their agreement with the Canadian Football League and the price has at least doubled over the previous contract.  The new agreement is thought to be worth at least $30 million and some believe it may be much higher.

At the same time, the Canadian Football League and its players' association resume talks for a new collective bargaining agreement later this week that needs to be in place when the old contract expires on May 31, 2014.  The CFL has 9 teams and it has been tough sledding for many to continue.  The extra TV funds are welcome and needed, but how much the league can afford to share with players remains to be seen.  Never-the-less, assuming both sides can come to an agreement, playing in Canada is likely to be a more appealing venture. Although the salaries may only improve marginally, at least the teams will be on firmer financial footing.
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships and other fine book including Maddie Takes the Ice;  The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life);  Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle; and Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout.  Seen here.

Paul Brown's Phenomenal Early Coaching

Washington High School
Paul Brown was a tremendous coach at every level.  In the professional ranks, he is ranked on most everyone's top ten list including ours in Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships.  In college and in his military coaching tenures, he made his mark quickly and was recruited to manage the new Cleveland team in the All-American Football Conference.  Brown helped make the AAFC indeed an "All-American" conference when he recruited several great black athletes.  But Brown's high school coaching career is also worth noting--it was phenomenal.

High School Career

In 1930, after Brown graduated from Miami University, he took a job teaching at Severn Prep in Maryland whose students would often go on to the Naval Academy in Annapolis.  At Severn, he taught English and History, while coaching football, lacrosse, and track.  Severn’s football team record in the 2 years Brown served was 16–1–1.  When Brown was offered a teaching and coaching position at his alma mater, Washington High School in Massillon, he happily accepted.  Dr. H.W. Bell, the president of the Massillon School Board, who would serve the Browns as their family physician, selected Brown on the recommendation of Dave Stewart.

Poor equipment, old uniforms, rickety stands, and a horrible playing surface greeted Brown on his return to Massillon.  The new coach also inherited an undersized team that got beat up the last half of his first season.  Although it was the midst of the Great Depression, nothing would deter Brown from quickly building a first-class program.  

There was something in Paul Brown’s character that was expansive.  Brown accepted responsibility for the entire athletic department at Washington High School and then became director of athletics for the entire city.  Brown brought team and community together.  Community pride was enhanced as a result of the football program and strengthened more by the connections that Brown was making throughout the entire school system.  Massillon School Superintendant L. J. Smith supported Brown’s athletic efforts.  Brown, on his part, was willing to support all efforts to improve the Massillon schools’ academic performances.  During Brown’s tenure at Washington High School, a Booster Club was formed to help garner even more support for the programs.  In 1938, a new 16,600 seat stadium was built with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds that served Washington High School and others in the community.  Eventually this stadium would be called Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.  The gate receipts from this huge facility improved the financial situation for the Washington High School football team.  Better uniforms and equipment were purchased.  The previous year’s equipment was passed down to each of the junior high schools in Massillon each year.  Stadium receipts also supported extracurricular activities.  Brown saw that the junior high school coaches were high-caliber individuals and that their programs delivered conditioned athletes that fed into the Washington High School program.

Brown groomed athletes to be their best. Rules extended to activities outside the football field. Players were expected to take part in offseason activities. Each practice session was choreographed for maximum effect. Assistant coaches were not just helpers, they played an integral role. Scouting was valued. Athletes needed more than skills and abilities in sport, they needed knowledge.  Brown provided playbooks for each of his athletes. 

Brown was innovative, but he took ideas from the best practitioners of the game and adapted their methods and strategies as he saw fit. He was credited with his own inventions—the first football facemask, the first known pass-blocking schemes, and many new plays.  But more than anything else, it was Brown’s penchant for organization that was without rival at every level of play he coached. 

Brown used the large Paul Brown Tiger Stadium to his advantage by inviting football powerhouses to come to Massillon and share in a larger gate receipt. In 9 years at Massillon, Brown amassed a record of 80–8–2, which was good for six consecutive state championships and four national scholastic championships.  Brown’s winning percentage was .909. He was a legend in Ohio, the state of football legends, before he ever coached a single college game.

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships and other fine book including Maddie Takes the Ice;  The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life);  Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle; and Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout.  Seen here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Jordan Lynch Under the NFL Microscope

Jordan Lynch had a bad day at the East-West Shrine game in January and it will take a long time for the memory of that game to die.  Players are tossed in and out of such games and if you are not doing well there is little hesitation for a coach to hold back a substitution.  In the Shrine Game, it looked like the defense was loaded up for the short passing plays and the receivers were running simple hook patterns.  Everyone looked tight and no one on offense was in rhythm at the time.

NIU games and the highlights are full of Lynch's runs, which are pretty instructive.  He has great lateral movement and used his skills to move behind his big lineman and pop into holes before the defenses saw him.  When he did get knocked down, he jumped up before the grass had time to settle on his uniform. 

Lynch is a couple inches shorter than today's prototype NFL quarterback, but he's taller than some.  His arm apparently is not nearly as strong as many of the top pros, but it's stronger than some.  His running game is better than most--he's fast and elusive--so much so that quite a few analysts believe he can play running back. His athleticism is a real plus so some say he could be a defensive back. Lynch tries to point out to people that he became what NIU needed, a running quarterback who could spread the field and keep the offense going against most any competitor.  Lynch was essentially the top QB at NIU for two years, so he's also a little raw.  It's difficult to determine his real potential.

As we said before, NFL history is full of players who moved from college quarterback to something else and it is also full of players who were good college players who came into the pros as questionable QB prospects and surprised a lot of people.  Joe Montana was a guy who had a lot of heart in college, but he was thought to be too inconsistent and weak-armed to be an NFL quarterback.  He proved them wrong. But I suppose for every 100 players who anticipate being the next Joe Montana-like underdog, there are at least 99  who don't make it.

Lynch completed 509 passes on 824 attempts for 6,209 yards giving him a 61.8% completion rate with 52 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions.  The analysts think he is not accurate enough for the pros.  His quarterback rating was 142.1 and he passed for 7.5 yards per attempt. The best quarterbacks have completion rates in the 60s in the pros--and most would have had much better rates in the college game. But it's trickly looking at a college completion rate and forecasting a completion rate in the pros.  Tim Tebow completed 661 passes on 995 attempts for 9,285 yards giving him a 66.4% completion rate with 88 touchdowns and only 16 interceptions. His quarterback rating was an awesome 170.8 and he passed for 9.3 yards per attempt.  It didn't work out that way in the pros--at least not yet! 

But it seems to me to be a little unfair to expect super accurate passing stats from a guy who gets whacked a bunch of times in a game on running plays and is looking to run half the time.  Jordan Lynch was an exceptional runner.  He rushed for 4,343 yards on 662 carries for an average of 6.6 yards per carry and 48 touchdowns. 

I am reminded of Bill Walsh's discernment of what makes a good quarterback--talent.  Walsh was not worried by Montana's inconsistencies at Notre Dame.  He saw his great talent and he knew what he could do, rather than focus on mistakes.  In this way, what might be critical for Jordan Lynch is that he is picked up by a team with a coach who sees potential. 

One  thing for sure is that the team that drafts Lynch or gives him a tryout will have some pretty smart people who will have a good feel for what's best for Lynch and the team he plays on.
Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by Patrick McCaskey. Order your copies here  for immediate shipment.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pillars of the NFL a Best Seller?

We've been in business now for several years and it's been very tough. The economy was in a sad state of affairs when we started and the gloom hung on for a long time.  Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by Patrick McCaskey has just published and it is moving up the Amazon Hot New Football book list very quickly.  Yesterday, it was number 33 and today it is number 16. I honestly don't know how this stuff works, but I can tell you that we are not buying our own books to promote it.  

The only way a small publisher can really make it is by publishing a very strong seller that can help support the program.  Maybe this is it.  Keep us in your thoughts and prayers---and oh yeah, buy Pillars.
 Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of several excellent sports books, the most recent is Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by Patrick McCaskey.  Pillars examines the football lives of the 10 top coaches in NFL history.  Patrick McCaskey is a Senior Director of the Chicago Bears who has worked for the club for 40 years. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi Wins Boston Marathon

American Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon yesterday.  Keflezighi was the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1983 and he did it with a 2:08:37 time, his personal best although he is a few weeks away from reaching his 39th birthday!

Talk in Boston and in the media as the race approached, centered on the extra security precautions that were being taken following last year's terrorist bombing.  Huge crowds of spectators came out to support the runners, Boston, and the United States. Many hoped an American would win the race this year as a tangible measure of resiliency and determination in the face of terrorism.  Keflezighi met the bill and then some.  

Meb Keflezighi is a veteran long distance runner and international competitor who was born May 5, 1975. He is a three-time US Cross Country Champion (2001, 2002, and 2009). The 12km race for men in the cross country championships serves to designate the national champion and the competitor who goes on to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.

Offered a scholarship to UCLA by legendary Coach Bob Larsen, Keflezighi competed for the Bruins and graduated in 1998.  While at UCLA, he won four NCAA titles including the indoor 5k, outdoor 5k, outdoor 10k, and the NCAA cross country championship. Larsen continued to coach Keflezighi after his college career and the two have worked together for 20 years.  Keflezighi won the New York City Marathon in 2009 and he won a silver medal in the marathon in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. 

Keflizighi's family came to the United States as refuges in 1987 from Eritrea, a small country in Africa that was locked into a long battle for independence.  After his college career in 1998, he became a naturalized US citizen. He created the  Meb Foundation to inspire others to lead healthy, active and balanced lives.  His book Run to Overcome tells his story of overcoming the odds.

When the world looks on to Meb Keflezighi as the man who won the Boston Marathon in 2014, they see more than an American, they see the face of America itself--a country that has bettered itself by welcoming (albeit often in imperfect ways) others across its borders to seek a new life. 
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of several excellent sports book, the most recent is Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by Patrick McCaskey.  Pillars examines the football lives of the 10 top coaches in NFL history.  Patrick McCaskey is a Senior Director of the Chicago Bears who has worked for the club for 40 years. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Millikin, the Next Cradle of Coaches?

Abe Lincoln at Millikin University

There is a statue of young Abe Lincoln that graces the front lawn of Millikin University.  Perhaps it suggests that great and noble people come from this little school in Decatur, Illinois. Two big college football hirings recently cast a spotlight on little-but-mighty Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. 

Chuck Martin at Miami University

Chuck Martin, Courtesy of Miami U.
Coaching veteran, Chuck Martin, left the powerful Fighting Irish program this winter under Brian Kelly to become head coach of Miami University of Ohio--the storied school that is known as the Cradle of Coaches.  Martin is considered one of the top recruiters in the country and served as offensive coordinator for Kelly in his last position in South Bend.  Kelly has been at the helm of a Renaissance in South Bend and Martin has been at his side.  Martin also worked with Kelly at Grand Valley State and when he took over the program, the Lakers won back-to-back national championships in 2005 and 2006 and he was named the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) National Coach of the Year following those seasons.

A 1990 graduate of Millikin University with a degree in accounting, Martin was an All-American safety who received academic honors as well.  He was inducted into the Millikin Hall of Fame in 2008. Martin earned his master's degree in physical education from Mankato State University in 1993.

Jeff Monken at US Military Academy at West Point

Coach Monken, West Point News Photo
Veteran college coach Jeff Monken was selected to head the Army program at West Point.  Monken spent the last four seasons as head coach at Georgia Southern where his team went  38-16.  Before taking on the head coaching job at Georgia Southern, Monken worked for Paul Johnson a  who uses a triple-option offense.  He studied under Johnson at Navy and Georgia Tech.

Working for one of the military academies requires special skills due to limited practice times and player roster limitations due the requirements of the academy.  Like other service academy coaches,  Monken will not only be expected to produce a quality program at West Point, but his program must held develop the character of young men who are held to the highest standards not only while in school, but after graduation in the service of their country. 

Monken played wide receiver and earned varsity letters in track and field while obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Millikin University in 1989. He was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.  He received his master’s degree from Hawaii in 1991.

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press


Patrick McCaskey's new book, Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championship Games available at selected stores and from Sporting Chance Press.  Pillars explores the football lives of the 10 most successful NFL coaches in history.  A great readable intro into NFL history and much more...

Millikin photo by Norris.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bronko Nagurski's Unique Strength and Resiliency

Bronislaw “Bronko” Nagurski

Bronko Nagurski was a one-of-a-kind fullback and linebacker who played in the 1930s.  “Bronk” had the size, strength, and speed of modern fullbacks coupled with the toughness of a freight train.  He later became a professional wrestler.  He was a professional athlete for three decades.  

In 1930, George Halas and co-owner Dutch Sternaman of the Chicago Bears hired Ralph Jones, who was athletic director at Lake Forest Academy, to coach the Bears.  Jones made innovative adjustments to the Bears’ offense that gave the team a more mobile attack.  The Bears also added University of Minnesota standout, Bronko Nagurski, who gave the team one of the greatest power-runners of all time as well as a bone-crushing tackler and a terrific blocker.  With Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, and several other excellent players on the roster, the Bears were a formidable power.  

Bears’ 1932 Season and Championship

In the first 5 years of the 1930s, the Bears would win, place, or show in each of those seasons. Back George Corbett and Hall of Fame end Bill Hewitt were added to the Bears’ roster in 1932.  The season did not start out well for the Chicago Bears as they tied their first three games and then lost to the Green Bay Packers in their fourth.  The Bears turned things around after that and won 6 while tying 3 to give them a 6–1–6 record for their regularly scheduled games.  The Portsmouth Spartans ended the season at 6–1–4, which put them in first with the Bears.  Tied games were not considered in the standings.  It was determined that a championship game would be played in Chicago.  Horrific weather sent the teams indoors to the Chicago Stadium, where the game was played on an abbreviated field.  The Bears triumphed, 9–0, in a game that featured a Nagurski to Grange touchdown pass and a safety.

Bears’ 1933 Season and Championship

George Halas coached the Bears in 1933.  There were many changes in 1933.  The Bears trained at the University of Notre Dame that year.  End Bill Karr, back and kicker Jack Manders, Hall of Fame lineman George Musso from Millikin College, and back Gene Ronzani were added to the 1933 roster.  Two league divisions were created: The Eastern Division included the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Western Division included the Chicago Bears, Portsmouth Spartans, Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago Cardinals.  The divisions would allow the leaders from each to battle for the title in a championship game. 

The Bears won the West Division with a 10–2–1 record.  For the season, the Bears scored 133 points and allowed 82 from their opponents.  With Halas at the helm, the Bears played the Giants in the first scheduled championship game.  It turned out to be the most spectacular game of the season featuring a trick play by the Giants early on and one by the Bears late in the game.  It would also feature six lead changes.  

On a damp cool foggy December 17, 26,000 fans showed up to see the championship battle.  In the early goings, the Giants center Mel Hein reported as an eligible receiver.  Harry Newman took the ball under center from Hein and handed it right back to him with a slight of hand.  While the defense watched Newman fall back as if he was going to pass, Hein hid the ball under his jersey and quietly started to make his way up field.  Not a particularly good actor, Hein got anxious and began to run.  The Bears tackled him on the 15-yard line and although the play worked beautifully, the Bears held and the Giants did not score on that series.  

After two Jack Manders’s field goals, the Bears were ahead 6–0.  Morris Badgro hit Harry Newman on a 29-yard touchdown strike and the Giants took the lead, 7–6.  Again, Manders kicked a field goal for the Bears.  The Giants scored another touchdown on a short run by Max Krause.  Nagurski tossed an 18-yard pass to end Billy Karr and with a successful point after, the Bears led, 16–14.  Ken Strong hit Newman on an 8-yard pass to give the lead back to the Giants, 21–16.  Time was running out.  It was time for the Bears’ trick play.  Bronko Nagurski faked a run and threw a 14-yard jump pass to Bill Hewitt who was attracting Giants. Hewitt lateraled to Bill Karr who then made his way to the end zone.  The Bears won 23–21 to take top honors in 1933.  It was another championship win in which Nagurski played a key role. 

Bears' 1937 Championship

The Bears roared back in 1937 with the best record in football at 9–1–1.  For the season, the Bears scored 201 points and allowed 100 from their opponents.  They won the Western Division.  They split with the Packers, winning at home, 14–2, and losing away, 24–14.  And they tied the Giants, 3–3.  They beat every other opponent they faced. 

For the Bears’ Bronko Nagurski, 1937 would be his last year in the NFL, at least until he was coaxed into coming back during the war.  Bronk was 29 years old and he had 73 rushes for 343 yards for a very fine 4.7 yards per attempt.  It would also be Beattie Feathers last year with the Bears.  Feathers, who had rushed for over 1,000 yards in 1934, was 29 years old in 1937 and rushed for 211 yards.  Bears’ quarterback Bernie Masterson completed 26 passes on 72 attempts for 615 yards.  Bears’ halfback Ray Nolting was the team’s leading rusher with 424 yards.  

In the league championship game the Bears played the Eastern Division Champions, Washington Redskins.  The Redskins had moved from Boston after poor attendance created huge financial losses.  Prior to the start of their inaugural season in Washington, the Redskins picked up an outstanding quarterback in Hall of Famer, Sammy Baugh, who led the league with 81 completions for 1,127 yards.  Another Redskins’ Hall of Famer, halfback Cliff Battles, led the league in rushing with 874 yards.  

On a cold and bitter December 12, 1937, in Chicago’s Wrigley field, the Bears and Redskins played for the NFL Championship.  The field was frozen with jagged clumps of dirt that cut and bruised players.  Yet, the athletes overcame the elements to provide spectators with a tremendous game.  The Bears featured a running game that ground out yards with tough blocking and powerful runners.  Chicago’s defense was stingy and strong.  In eight regular season games that season, they allowed their opponents 7 points or less.  
Washington offered a balanced attack on the strength of spectacular Baugh along with a good receiving and rushing core.  The Redskins’ defense was especially tough on running teams.  

After the first few series, the Redskins and Bears swapped touchdowns.  Baugh managed to sustain a drive and Cliff Battles took a handoff on a reverse and scored from 7 yards out.  Manders scored on a run up the middle for the Bears.  As the first quarter was winding down, Baugh was intercepted by Bears’ end George Wilson.  A few plays later, Masterson hit Manders on a 37-yard touchdown pass.  The teams moved remarkably well considering the field conditions, but in the second quarter the conditions likely contributed to Manders missing two field goal attempts.  

Baugh had been shaken up in the second quarter, but came back in the third and tossed a 55-yard touchdown strike to end Wayne Millner.  The Bears came back on a long touchdown drive that characteristically ground out yardage with Nagurski, Manders, and Nolting.  Masterson’s short pass to Manske gave the lead back to the Bears, 21–14.  Rookie quarterback, Baugh, put on an exhibition from that point forward in the quarter.  He threw two more touchdowns, including a long bomb of 78 yards to another Hall of Famer, Wayne Millner.  Baugh’s last strike of the day was to Ed Justice from 35 yards out.  
Early in the fourth quarter the Bears drove downfield to a first down on the Redskins’ 12-yard line.  After moving the ball to the 7-yard line on two runs, Masterson was sacked back at the 12-yard line.  A fourth down pass fell incomplete and the Redskins took over.  The balance of the fourth quarter was dramatic, but sloppy.  Playing for field position, Baugh attempted a quick kick on the Redskins’ 28-yard line on a third down.  His punt was blocked and recovered by teammate Bill Young.  On fourth and 19, Baugh punted again, but this time the punt was mishandled by the Bears’ Ray Buivid and recovered by the Redskins at their own 41.  A few plays later, Cliff Battles fumbled the ball back to the Bears, but Masterson gave it right back when he threw an interception on the next series. The Redskins won the game, 28–21.

Bears' 1943 Season

The 1943 Bears would play without Halas during much of World War II, as Papa Bear was serving in the Navy.  The league suffered financially and players were in short supply.  Assistants Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos coached the Bears to another great season.  They were helped immeasurably when Bronko Nagurski was coaxed out of retirement after leaving football in 1937.  Nagurski had become a wrestler.  

Nagurski at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, had the size to play fullback today and the heart to play it in any era.  In his first professional football stretch, he played fullback and defensive line.  When he came back to the Bears, he played tackle.  When the Bears were trailing the Cardinals in a must-win game at the end of the season, Bronko returned to his fullback position, scored a key touchdown, and turned the tide in favor of the Bears.  He returned again as fullback in the championship game in which the Bears beat the Washington Redskins 41–21.  The Bears had won three of the last four championships. 

Bronko Wrestling

Nagurski took to wrestling in the 1930 and held the heavyweight championship several times during his career in singles wrestling.  Wrestling could be more grueling than football in some ways and it is remarkable that he continued to compete for so long.  Well into his 40s in the 1950s, Nagurski formed a tag team with another remarkable wrestler, Verne Gagne, and together they took the tag team title in 1957 and held it for over a year.  After Nagurski retired, he lived another 30  years, passing away in 1990 at age 82.   

Final Summation of Bronko Nagurski

Revered sports writer Grantland Rice, summed up Bronko Nagurski's place in professional football:
 "In my opinion," Rice continued, "the final answer seems to lie in this question: Who would you pick to win a football game - eleven Jim Thorpes - eleven Glen Davises - eleven Ernie Nevers - eleven Red Granges - or eleven Bronko Nagurskis? "I honestly don't think there would be any contest. The eleven Nagurskis would be a mop-up. It would be something close to murder and massacre. For the Bronk would start at any position on the field - with 228 pounds of authority to back him up."

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press

Much of this post is taken from Patrick McCaskey's new book, Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championship Games available at selected stores and from Sporting Chance Press.