Today's Calls: Scott Pioli vs. Bill Cowher, Missouri vs. Northwestern, Andre Smith vs. Agents, Georgetown vs. UConn, Rodney Stuckey vs. Al Jefferson, CC Sabathia vs. Brad Penny, Hawaii vs. Miami and More.
The Opening Pitch: Scott Pioli is the new Bill Parcells.
Coming out of the NFL's annual "Black Monday," all of the attention is on the head coaches who lost their jobs. But the attention should be on the true architects of any team's success — the general managers.
Want to know who is most responsible for the NFL turnarounds of the decade in Miami and Atlanta? Sure, first-year head coaches Tony Sparano and Mike Smith are the leading candidates for NFL Coach of the Year, but more credit should go to first-year head honchos Bill Parcells and Thomas Dimitroff.
Parcells and Dimitroff hired those coaches and signed off on their staffs. Parcells and Dimitroff made the personnel moves. Parcells and Dimitroff proved what kind of impact the super-savvy GM could have on an NFL franchise.
With that as background, the team that fired its coach yesterday with the best chance of turning its fortunes around fast is the same team that also fired its GM in the house-cleaning process: The Browns.
Sure, the Browns were snubbed by Bill Cowher — good riddance to him. Let the Jets overpay to bring him in. Instead, the Browns should focus their spending — and lots of it — on poaching Pats personnel guru Scott Pioli.
That could trigger THE “triple-play” of the offseason in the NFL: Get Pioli. Then have Pioli hire away Pats offensive coordinator/wunderkind Josh McDaniels. Then, break the bank for Matt Cassel — or, more realistically, hope McDaniels can transform Brady Quinn into the next Cassel.
But it all starts with Pioli. I have never understood teams that are willing to pay tens of millions for a franchise QB, but wouldn't consider paying $10 million a year for a superstar GM. Wayne Huizenga is no genius, but he knew enough to pay to get Parcells. And it paid off, immediately.
The Jets fired Eric Mangini ... but kept GM Mike Tannenbaum. The Lions fired Rod Marinelli ... but promoted assistant GM Martin Mayhew and elevated COO Tom Lewand to team president. Under the Parcells/Dimitroff Theory, these execs should have been the first to go, and their mistakes will simply continue.
The Browns opted for the hot NFL strategy of 2008: The extreme executive makeover. It worked for the Dolphins and Falcons; now, if the Browns are willing to pay whatever it takes to land the best personnel exec in football — Tom Dimitroff's former boss, no less — Cleveland can be the 2009 edition.
NFL Must-Read: Mike Florio's 10-Pack.
Should the Jets go after Bill Cowher? He is said to be receptive to the Jets job. If the Jets want to make a big splash, all that’s keeping them from luring him is probably the number of zeroes in the offer. Money should be no object, but is this the coaching equivalent of importing Brett Favre?
NFL Coaching Carousel: Among assistants, the hot names are McDaniels, Giants D.C. Steve Spagnuolo and Cowboys O.C. Jason Garrett. Expect all three to end up with head-coaching jobs — even if Garrett is promoted when Jerry Jones figures out that he should axe Wade Phillips.
CFB Bowling: Mizzou edges Northwestern in thriller. Either NU's defense was vastly underrated or Mizzou's offense was vastly overrated. The implications of that are huge for, say, the national-title game, because it speaks to the overall quality of the Big 12.
One thing is certain: When it counted the most — say, the final 2 minutes and in OT — Mizzou made just enough plays to win, thanks to its two future NFL Pro Bowlers, WR Jeremy Maclin and TE Chase Coffman, but more despite than due to celebrated QB Chase Daniel.
(And it was the Tigers' normally porous defense that made just enough plays to hold off Northwestern, which should be credited with putting up a lot more fight than any of the "experts" thought they would; that they controlled the game right up until its ending is a credit to young NU coach Pat Fitzgerald.)
Tonight: Oklahoma State vs. Oregon is the marquee event, matching two of the best offenses in the country in what is sure to follow in the Holiday Bowl tradition of crazy shootouts. This decade, the average game features a combined point total of 64 ppg (winner: 38 ppg; loser: 26 ppg).
Bowl Scandal Watch: Alabama suspends all-world LT Andre Smith for the Sugar Bowl. I am sure he will be so upset ... as he waits to find out which of the Top two 2009 NFL Draft spots he will be drafted into. Millions of dollars can make the pain of suspension feel so much better.
CBB: What a statement win by the Hoyas, who opened the game with an 18-3 run and handed UConn its first loss of the season — in Connecticut, no less. The young Hoyas showed a combination of hustle and heart that you should file away for March bracket-picking. (And perhaps the opposite for UConn.) Chris Wright and Greg Monroe (16 pts each) are emerging as one of the best guard-post combos in the country.
Walk-On Story of the Year: Jarrett Sutton. Lesson for the kids: Don't laugh at those lunchtime pick-up games with the teachers; get in on them!
NBA Instant History: OK, so the Magic might not be the hottest team in the NBA anymore. Their seven-game win streak was snapped by the Pistons, who were led by newly established cornerstone Rodney Stuckey (19 pts). ... That is the Hawks at 20 wins before the end of December, with a huge 18-point win over the Nuggets (Joe Johnson: 25 pts, 7 ast, 5 reb). ... Anyone else NOT see the Wizards' win in Houston coming? (Antawn Jamison: 30 and 12). ... Fantasy Stud: Al Jefferson (38 and 16 in a T-Wolves’ win over the Grizz). ... Is Warriors’ Ricky Davis' drug suspension all that surprising?
MLB Hot Stove: Red Sox sign a pitcher, too. While the Yankees went out and spent $250M to sign CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the pitching-solid Red Sox signed Brad Penny to a 1Y/$5M deal. It almost seems like Boston made the move entirely to mock the Yankees' strategy.
Meanwhile, it looks like even if the Mets are out of the Manny Ramirez bidding, New York is ready to go after another aging outfielder, Andruw Jones. It's not quite Teixeira, but it would have been — oh — 10 years ago. In '08, Jones batted .158, with a larger K-to-AB ratio than total number of HRs (3).
NHL Must-Read: Eric McErlain on Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby.
The Last Word: The NFL's Pro Bowl is the least relevant all-star game in team sports, in large part due to the timing (a week after the Super Bowl, when people have stopped caring) and distance (Hawaii, too remote).
But apparently, the league is ready to change that: Reportedly, in 2010, the game will move to the site of the Super Bowl — Miami — and be played the week before the Super Bowl, during a void when fans actually are craving the NFL. It could be the NFL's version of the NBA All-Star Game.
It's a welcome move — a long time coming. No offense to Hawaii, but the NFL's fans deserve better.
Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com.
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