The Travels Of Adu

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Freddy Adu was deemed ‘America’s Soccer Savior’. He was supposed to be for soccer what Michael Jordan was for the NBA and what Wayne Gretzky was for the NHL. It hasn’t worked out that way. So what happened and where is he now?

FREDDY ADU

What happened? That’s tough to answer. No one really knows. Was it not enough nurture vs nature or vice versa? Either way Adu didn’t turn into the American soccer’s first Jordan or Gretzky. Once he left DC United (his original club) nothing ever seemed to stick including playing time. He’s appeared in less than 100 games since 2006.

Where is he now? Well Adu signed on with a Finnish club, KuPS (Kuopion Palloseura). Whether he will see any action at all is still up in the air. Since he was traded from DC United, Adu has been with 10 teams across eight countries. He only saw significant playing time with one club over that time. Ironically, that club (Philadelphia Union) was in MLS.

Where does Adu go from here? It’s hard to tell. He is only 25 years of age. That’s a good 10 years before he is ‘over the hill’ in the soccer world. The fact is Adu needs to get on the pitch. He needs to play and find that rhythm of being a starter. If he can do that then he may have a chance of winning back part of those initial (and unfair) expectations.

Grantland Article on Adu 

Advertisements

Welcome To The North

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

MNUnitedFC

Minneapolis received the 23rd MLS franchise. Minnesota United FC (MNUFC) will begin play in 2018. Two interesting things to take away from this announcement; first, Minneapolis will enter a rare stratosphere in the US. It will be one of nine cities in the United States that has a team in every major professional sports league and second, a woman co-owner.

Minneapolis is considered a lot of things. Cold, a fly-over city, hockey country, etc. It has over the last 15 years become a sports mecca. While some of it’s teams have not been at the top of their profession (Minnesota Timberwolves) others have been very competitive over the years like the Major League Baseball’s Twins or the NFL’s Vikings. More importantly, each pro franchise will have their own sport specific venue in the next five years or so. This doesn’t include the University of Minnesota who has their own facilities.

With the addition of MNUFC, the Twin Cities joins the likes of the Bay Area, Denver, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Boston, and the New York City area that has a pro franchise in every one of the five major sports leagues. From the NFL to the NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS, these cities (or areas if you prefer) have a team that competes at the highest level. While Los Angeles and Miami could soon join these ranks, it shows how difficult it can be to support a professional franchise in any sport much less all five leagues. A massive, diverse and economically well off population is needed to spread around that much disposable income.

During the official announcement MLS commissioner Don Garber said that soccer was ‘a sport for a new America’ in reference to why the league and team where focusing on the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market area for a soccer stadium. This reflects in the ownership of the franchise as well. Wendy Nelson Carlson was introduced as a co-owner of the franchise.

Wendy-MNUnited
Yes, the graphics person got the name wrong.

 

Carlson is in rare company. There are only a handful of women listed as owners or co-owners of a major professional franchise. Virginia Halas McCaskey is listed as the principal owner of the Chicago Bears, a franchise she inherited from her father George Halas upon his death in 1983. While she is the principal owner, the ownership of the team is often referred to as ‘being owned by the McCaskey family.’ While female executives and other minority groups are underrepresented in the C-Suite at just about any business, it’s even more rare for a female co-owner to be introduced at the official announcement of an expansion franchise. (To show how far women have to go, Fox couldn’t even get her name right.)

The MLS and Minnesota United FC have their work cut out for them. Minneapolis is a very crowded sports market (we didn’t even go into the University of Minnesota Men’s Hockey team) and one that has recently built or is building stadiums for just about every professional and college team in the last 20 years. But this is not new to MLS. They have done this expansion thing many times before (not always successfully) and have a pretty good blueprint of what to do and how to do it. Add in their understanding of their fanbase and MNUFC should find success on the and off the pitch.

 

 

 

acCUSE-d Of Not Paying Enough Attention

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim is one of the most successful coaches in the history of the sport. He has been the head coach at his alma mater since 1976 and will probably retire after next season. He has spent a lifetime building a legacy that is now going to be tarnished because he wasn’t micromanaging the basketball program enough.

Jim Boeheim

The NCAA investigation pointed out some not so good things about Syracuse basketball. This included academic fraud and improper payments to players by a booster. It’s bad but many feel that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. That punishment includes vacating wins and suspending Boeheim for several conference games next season.

The 94-page NCAA report reads in part, ‘the head basketball coach’s failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff…‘ which is a direct slap in the face to Boeheim. The NCAA uses this line to essentially say that the coach should have known what was going on. Boeheim took responsibility and apologized even though he feels that the program was far from running amuck. Regardless, Syracuse will give up scholarships, vacate wins in both basketball and football and the AD has even stepped down.

These sanctions fall on the basketball program while the memory of the Bernie Fine incident is still fresh on everyone’s mind. Boeheim withstood that storm but these latest sanctions appeared to be the straw that broke the 70 year olds back.

Essentially it’s been one thing after another since Boeheim led Syracuse to the  NCAA Title back in 2003. Yes he probably isn’t as “on top” of the program as he was back when he was 50 but who really is “on top” of their program? There are only so many hours in the day and the job is hard enough to do when you are in your 40’s much less in your 70’s.

Does Boeheim deserve to be run out of the game by the NCAA because of these latest violations? Probably not but he is getting a bit of a break. He is getting his choice as to when to leave when a coach of lesser standing may have been fired on the spot. Regardless if the NCAA vacates wins or not, we know who was standing on the sideline for Syracuse during that time. We know the legacy Boeheim built and not even the NCAA can take that away from the memory of basketball fans.

Setting The Standard

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Stanford Head Coach David Shaw may be the most respected man in football. He has had success on the field, he is a Stanford graduate, been an assistant in the NFL and is even an advisor/ investor in a virtual reality company. He is doing it all and then some.

Recently Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports sat down with him. They touched on a lot of things but the main thing was the use of Oculus Rift for quarterback Kevin Hogan. He improved dramatically in the last three games of the season in part because of the device.

 

It’s not just the fact that Shaw has embraced virtual reality (VR) but that he has tried other things like GoPro’s in the past. It’s this embracing of technology, this embracing of the Silicon Valley mentality. Hell, the man has given a Ted Talk.

 

 

While in the end he will be judged on wins and losses he, and other coaches, have to do than just win football games. They have to have this long term view of things. From identifying talent at an early age to adapting to how to relate to players as society changes not to mention taking on new football philosophies.

Shaw does this and does it at Stanford, one of the toughest academic schools in the world in one of the best football conferences in the country. It’s not an easy gig and no one would blame him or his staff for sticking with the classic football ideals. He doesn’t. He is taking on new ideas that could help him win, not just next season, but in the years to come.

Shaw is what a college coach should be. Good, tough, smart, and willing to take on new ideas. If college teaches us anything it’s that we should be more like him.

The Difference In The End

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

There were several surprising retirement announcements in the last few days. First, the San Francisco 49ers Patrick Willis followed by Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker, former Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds. Common factor, all under the age of 31 and could still command top dollar. It came as a surprise but it shouldn’t be, especially in the age of CTE.

Patrick Willis could, and probably will, be considered for induction into the pro football hall of fame. He’s been that good. In fact he’s been the cornerstone of the 49ers for the eight years that he’s been in San Francisco. Through thick and thin, he’s been the constant.

Patrick Willis

Willis said goodbye to the 49ers and the NFL on Tuesday in a surprise to just about everybody. Reason, his feet and not being able to play at a high level. Later in the day came news that Jake Locker was walking away from the game, only four years removed from being a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft. Locker, like Willis, had been suffering from constant injuries. Unlike Willis though, Locker played 30 games and never lived up to the franchise quarterback tag that people branded on him when he was drafted.

Finnegan and Worilds are two more players who could have commanded top dollar on the free agent market but chose instead to walk away. Finnegan after a nine year career and Worilds at the age of 27. Worilds reason is a bit more interesting, he wants to devote more time to his religion (he is a Jehovah’s Witness). Finnegan did leave us with a great / not-so-great moment, when he and Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson got into a fight during a game.

While each player has their own reason for walking away from a high profile, lucrative career you have to believe that the reports about CTE had to play a part in their decision. What is all the money and glory for if you can’t remember what you did and enjoy your life after football?

Other players have retired at a young age such as former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. He wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post last year as to why he left the game at the age of 26. He is currently pursuing a screenwriting career in Southern California.

Could this be a new trend in the game? Players leaving after five, six, seven years? Cashing out while they are up? Convincing themselves that to go any longer would cost more than it’s worth? Time will tell but it is a distinct possibility.

All Coaching Aside

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Being a head coach in college football is not just about coaching. While actually coaching football is the cornerstone of the job, the majority of the job now consists of selling, raising money and riling up the fan base. Sounds more like a politician than being a football coach.

There was once a time when Nebraska was the 800lbs gorilla in College Football. That changed in recent years and now they have the ‘nicest guy in the coaching’ Mike Riley heading up their program. Riley, like a lot of other coaches, is out shaking hands, making appearances, and selling the program to future recruits.

Nebraska’s recent video reflects the importance of quality PR when you are trying to put a program back on track. It captures some of the beliefs that Riley has and plans to instill and is actually pretty damn cool.

Yes, coaching on the collegiate level is more than just coaching, especially when you have to get a program back on track. Just look at Tennessee. Lane Kiffin was terrible at PR and Derek Dooley wasn’t much better. Butch Jones on the other hand has embraced the role like seasoned politician. He has riled up the fan base, taken pictures, shaken hands and has done a little bit of that coaching part too. He was gotten Tennessee on the road back to prominence or at the very least, raised expectations.

Former Texas head coach Mack Brown may have been the best at this. He had to constantly win people over in probably the most demanding job in all of college football (and probably in all of Texas.) Pat Forde wrote a great series about Brown a few years ago called Constant Eyes Of Texas or CEO of TexasIt seems that a lot of coaches now are pulling pages out of Brown’s book on how to run a successful modern day college football program. They are being part football coach and part politician.

Being a head coach in major college football is a very tough job. You are the face of the program and the only constant it has. With that comes great monetary reward but also great scrutiny, just like any high profile politician. In order to be successful in this day and age, the PR part is almost as important as the coaching part.

The Sunday: Legendary In More Ways Than One

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Sometimes we see legendary things, people, incidents, etc and don’t even blink an eye. Other times we can’t believe it. When you look at it through that prism then you’ll realize that last week was legendary.

THE HIT:

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf absolutely leveled St Louis Blues winger TJ Oshie on Saturday night in Toronto. While the Blues took care of business by beating the hapless Leafs 6-1, the score is a side note. The real story is not only the incredable hit Phaneuf laid on Oshie but the fact that Oshie popped right back up.

THE THROW:

Rory McIlroy is golf’s #1 player. Even if he wasn’t it would still be pretty incredible to see a professional golfer chuck his club into the water after a lousy shot. Well that’s what happened. It even amazed the announcers when he did it.

 THE WORDS:

LeBron James is by all accounts one of the best basketball players on Earth. So there is something to be said when he says that he ‘sucked’. He said so after a subpar performance against the NBA’s best team the Atlanta Hawks.

Remember James had 18 points, six rebounds and eight assists. However he turned the ball over nine times. Last weekend he went 3-11 from the free throw line against the Houston Rockets arguably costing his team the win.

It’s not been a good week for The King.

THE EXIT:

The UFC has had some legendary fights and fighters. However one of the cornerstones of the organization has been Site Coordinator Burt Watson. Watson left the organization earlier this week after an incident at UFC 184 in Los Angeles. He confirmed as much later in the week. 

Watson is known to the fighters and others simply as Burt. He ‘un-fucked shit’ as he would say. From logistics to fighter requests about who would be or not be in their locker room, he handled it all. His exit left an outpouring of disbelief from the fighters.

Whatever happened the fact is that during upcoming UFC events, fighters will not be told it’s time to go with Watson’s catchphrase ‘WEEEE ROLLLLIIIIINNNNN YEAH!!!! BABY!’

Showdown Joe Ferraro at SportsNet in Toronto sat down with Watson last year. If you have never heard of Burt Watson before then watch this.

 

Yes it was a legendary week in more ways than one. Most of the time we don’t even notice this stuff. We just chalk it up as trivial but a lot of times it’s not. It certainly isn’t to the participants. It’s ok to stop every now and then, look back and recognize what just happened.

Remembering Hank Gathers

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

I am not a Keith Olberman fan but he did a great job with this. On a personal note, I can remember balling my eyes out when I heard the news. Hank Gathers was one of my favorite basketball players. I loved watching him and his Loyola Marymount teammates run up and down the court and score 120+ points a game.

If you haven’t seen ESPN’s 30 for 30 entitled ‘The Guru of Go’ I highly recommend it. It doesn’t focus on Gathers but on the coach Paul Westhead. It touches heavily on what happened to Gathers and to that team.

Rest in peace Mr Gathers. You are still greatly missed.

From NRL to NFL?

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Jarryd Hayne is getting his shot to make an NFL roster. Hayne was the best rugby player in Australia before he retired to chase his dream of making it in the NFL. This spring he will get his chance when he shows up for camp with San Francisco 49ers.

We haven’t covered here at Sideline Signals and we’re not going to pretend that we know anything about this guy. What we do know is that he has been working out in the US in an attempt to make a roster and that he has the size and speed of an H-Back or possibly a return specialist. In other words, stranger things have happened.

Hayne went to the right place though. New 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula coached in NFL Europe and has experience working with international players. While Tomsula will have his plate full with his first NFL head coaching gig, he obviously has the patience to teach and motivate someone like Hayne.

The 49ers organization also has a track record of moving players to other positions (fullback Bruce Miller who was CUSA Defensive Player of the Year as a defensive end or former running back Michael Robinson who was a quarterback at Penn State). The 49ers are also one of the few teams out there that need an utilize their fullback position. It was a big blow to the team a few years ago when Miller went down before the playoffs. Hayne could fill a backup fullback role if everything goes really well.

Hayne’s biggest issue may just be the numbers. Is there a roster spot for a guy with such a big learning curve? Obviously his best chance is going to be on special teams. First as a gunner on punt cover and possibly as a returner. If he tackles and learns to block effectively then he has a shot to sway the numbers in his favor. At the minimum, he could make the practice team.

The fact is this, Hayne has got as good of shot as anybody. Injuries are a part of football and if someone goes down here or there and Hayne proves that he is a quick study then he could make the active roster. It’s a long shot this season but it’s still a shot. Give the 49ers credit for taking a chance and believing that someone can transition from one sport to another.