Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
A few years ago Nike, hoping to catch the Lebron James mania at its apex, came out with the slogan “We are all witnesses.” The reference was to the greatness of James. On Saturday I think it’s safe to say that everyone involved in the Kansas-Missouri rivalry were witnesses as well. If game 1 wasn’t enough, with the Jayhawks coughing up an eight point lead with only 2:30 to play, game 2 topped it. KU found itself down by 19 points with just over 16 minutes to go, and clawed their way back to victory in overtime.
KU got smacked in the mouth and went into half time down 12. They came out and only looked worse. Phil Pressey, Marcus Denmon, and Michael Dixon were too quick for the Kansas guards. Ricardo Ratliffe was dominating inside against player of the year candidate Thomas Robinson. The Jayhawks had no answer for the Tigers.
Then something clicked. KU started playing lock down defense. Missouri started getting forced into making mistakes. Kansas started chipping away at the lead and the next thing you know it was only eight points with less than eight minutes to go.
The Jayhawks kept their foot on the gas and got it to three points with under a minute. Robinson gets a foul under the basket, makes it, and completes the and-one. The game was tied. Eventually, it brought us to overtime which was just as good as regulation. Tyshawn Taylor and Michael Dixon traded blows all overtime long reminiscent of the Keith Langford and Jarret Jack in the double overtime Elite Eight game in 2004.
KU held on to win 87-86 and secured a share of their eighth straight Big XII title. The Jayhawks laid claim to the title outright last night with their 70-58 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
We learned a lot about the top two teams in this league. We learned that MU can be a truly special team. We learned that KU, despite previous evidence to the contrary, can close out a game. We learned that sometimes it helps to have a few calls go your way. Most importantly, we learned that both these teams can lay legitimate claims to being forces come March.
With Kansas securing the Big XII title, and Gonzaga’s streak of 11 straight conference titles most assuredly ending this year, Kansas will have the longest conference title streak in the country. It also needs to be mentioned this was accomplished in one of the top 3 best basketball conferences in all the land.
Back in 2003 Most Kansas fans greeted Bill Self with lukewarm feelings. Coming off of two straight Final Fours and a last second defeat in the National Championship game, Roy Williams left Lawrence and Jayhawk basketball fans feeling a little lost when he shipped off to North Carolina.
Self took an experienced team that Williams recruited and went to the Elite Eight losing to Georgia Tech in double overtime. Roy Williams was quickly forgotten and everyone had all the reason in the world to think great thoughts about what was in store for Self and Kansas.
Things started going in the other direction shortly thereafter. Following their Elite Eight loss, Self had a team full of seniors and experience going in to the 2004-2005 season. The team had stars that had been to two Final Fours and never exited before the Elite Eight. They started out 20-0, faltered a little bit, but still found their way to a #3 seed in the tournament. Then they met the Bucknell Bison and the 14 seeded mid-major took down the mighty Jayhawks.
This was disappointing, but did not seem cause for concern. Williams had his fair share of flub ups in the early rounds as well. The next year Self had a team full of freshmen who were talented but inexperienced. They started off slow, then turned things around, won the Big XII and came into the tournament as a #4 seed. Unfortunately, they met the Bradley Braves, an under seeded, talented team that took out the Jayhawks. Concern was now legitimate.
After three years and two first round upsets people were starting to wonder if Self was actually the right man for the job. Kansas, with their supremely talented sophomores, grabbed a #1 seed and won 30 games, but fell short again in the Elite Eight. Self now moved to 0-4 in Regional Finals in his career (0-1 with Tulsa, 0-1 with Illinois, 0-2 with Kansas).
The next year, everything finally aligned. The Jayhawks withstood the upset storm from Davidson, got Mario’s Miracle, and 2008 is ingrained in everybody’s head as the year Kansas finally made it happen again. When looking back at Self’s career this is the pinnacle. This is the moment everyone looks to in proving Self is one of the greatest coaches in the country. What’s missing is what was going on behind all of this.
To get to where he was, Self took a moribund Oral Roberts squad that went 6-21 in his first season to a 21-7 record with a trip to the NIT just three years later. The Green Wave of Tulsa was never in anybody’s mind as a force to be reckoned with until Self won 32 games with them in the 1999-2000 season and took a trip to the Elite Eight. In his first year at Illinois Self was ousted in the Elite Eight again and then went on to recruit the players that ended up falling just short without him in the 2005 National Championship.
When he arrived at Kansas he won the conference in his second year and hasn’t relinquished that top spot since. Eight straight conference championships in this league is nothing short of remarkable. Self is a coach defined by his ultimate success, and yet too often marred by his failures.
With any luck Self will eclipse the 500 win plateau as a coach in the 2012-2013 season. If that luck continues Kansas could take their 9th straight Big XII title. Just like this past Saturday it’s been a rollercoaster ride of a career. Self has been doubted as possibly not cut out for the job at Kansas. Self has been touted as the best coach in the country. Through all of it, he has only remained as consistent as any coach in the country.
All too often the public lets Self’s shortcomings get in the way of his greatness. Make no mistake, with his eighth straight conference title; we are all witnesses to Self’s greatness.
There has been much talk this offseason (and it will only pick up from here) about the fate of the Chiefs marquee free agents: Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Carr. It has been made known that the Chiefs have been working with Bowe and his agent nearly all season. With Bowe’s future still up in the air that puts Brandon Carr’s situation in flux as well.
With both scenarios as they are, two groups of thinking have emerged. One group of thought is that the Chiefs will look to sign Bowe as the more valuable player; the other suggests that Carr is more important to future Chiefs success. While I go back and forth on which is more valuable, I think they are about as close as can be. That said, the way the team is currently constructed I see the loss of Bowe as easier to make up for. Unfortunately, I also see the loss of Carr as the more realistic of an option.
This seems even more likely Monday as the Chiefs officially announced that they have signed free agent corner Stanford Routt from Oakland.
It seems that signing a FA cornerback with starting experience would mean that Carr is probably not going to be back. Now, when you take a cursory look at the stats for 2011, Routt and Carr’s performances were nearly identical. Both had 15 passes defended, both had 4 interceptions, and Routt had 49 tackles to Carr’s 45. What that doesn’t tell you is that Routt was a league leader in amount of times he got “burnt.” While this isn’t an official statistic, the advanced stat sites keep up with it and it is an interesting metric.
What also bears mentioning here is that the Raiders play a bit of a different style of man coverage than the Chiefs. Oakland plays more of a bump and run, one-on-one game with less help from the safeties than the Chiefs, which increases the amount of times a cornerback will get beat. My guess would be with Routt playing off of the receivers more (as the Chiefs do) and getting more help from safeties, those numbers would dissipate. However, that’s not even the biggest issue at play.
What stands out the most in the Carr situation is why the Chiefs haven’t been able to sign him. While he’s not officially gone yet, every indication would be that he and the Chiefs won’t be able to reach a deal. After hearing him on Nick Wrights show it’s clear he enjoys Kansas City, being a Chief, and would like to stay if the opportunity presented itself.
What makes this situation difficult is Carr and his agent knowing that he will most likely get overpaid in the free agent market. Cover cornerbacks are at a premium in the league now and somebody with Carr’s skills can cash in on this. While he may not be a true #1 cornerback, there are teams out there that will most likely be willing to pay him that level of money.
Even with that being the case, it seems like he might take a bit of a “hometown discount” to stay with the team that drafted him. If the Chiefs would go a little above what they value him at, but still below that #1 level, a deal might be reached (bear in mind this is pure speculation on my part).
What’s involved here is a bigger issue with how Scott Pioli does business. To this point, Pioli has done a fantastic job of keeping the players that the Chiefs already have. Jamaal Charles, Brandon Flowers, Derrick Johnson, and Tamba Hali are all top tier players at their position and have all been signed before hitting free agency., (Hali being the lone exception as he was franchised).
So, why has it been so difficult to get Carr signed?
In signing players to new contracts Pioli has repeated his ‘Right 53’ mantra nearly every time. When players have bought in and shown they can be an integral part of this team, they have been rewarded. By all accounts, Carr has been a model citizen, player, and teammate, so what’s the holdup?
The gap between player and organization in this case seems to be based on value. As a general manager one of Pioli’s strengths has always been his ability to correctly value players. As strong as that is, it’s also become one of his weaknesses.
With Pioli’s ‘Right 53’ philosophy, he has taken a more detailed approach to the roster. Each and every player on this team from the #1 player all the way to #53 has their role defined. This goes in contrast to the previous regime that seemed to organize players into tiers, and avoided going into detail about where each one fit exactly.
With this methodology, Pioli has subscribed a value to each player on this team. He has determined Carr’s value and doesn’t intend on spending more than that. Pioli spends a lot of time valuing players, is very good at it, and does not like to overpay. Market inefficiencies are something he likes to take advantage of, not perpetuate.
A great example would be Shaun Smith. It was reported that the difference between what Shaun Smith was offered by the Chiefs to re-sign and what he received on his new contract was less than one million dollars. Seems like a reasonable amount to increase for someone who started nearly every game for the Chiefs in 2010, yet they chose not to. According to Pioli and the Chiefs, Smith’s value didn’t warrant the additional money.
This seems to be the impasse with Carr. Without having any firsthand knowledge of the negotiations, it seems that the differences consist of his perceived value versus what he can receive in the market. I’m not sure how far apart the two sides are, but it seems the Chiefs should be able to move up a bit and make the sign while still coming in below the highest bid of the market. After all, Clark Hunt has come out and said that money is not an option in this year’s free agency. From everything we know, Carr is a picture perfect representation of the ‘Right 53.’ The two sides should be able to make a deal.
The public perception about the Chiefs has shifted in recent years. The team is losing ground in the Kansas City sports market and part of it is their staunch practices. If the Chiefs want to change that perception they can start with Brandon Carr. Give him more than they want to pay, show the team that the right players will be rewarded and show the fans that you are committed to making this team a legitimate contender. It all starts here before Carr motors on out of town.
Well, the Big XII basketball season is 2/3 complete and suffices it to say this has been a season different than in years past. With no clear cut frontrunner coming in, the Big XII was just waiting for somebody to come and take hold. Texas seemed to be down after their usual NBA exodus. Kansas has the least talented team of Bill Self’s tenure as head coach. Missouri had a senior laden team but a new coach, new system, and lost their best big man. Baylor had the most talent but were still coached by Scott Drew And, Texas A&M seemed poised to make a run but faltered quickly.
While this most likely makes fans of these teams uncomfortable with all the uncertainty, it provides for an exciting conference season for the unbiased observer (which I am not, but I play one in this blog). There have been many surprises this year, some not as big as others, but we’ll take a look of some of the biggest ones this conference season.
University of Missouri – Mizzou can certainly make an argument for biggest surprise of the season. After the team quit on its coach last year most weren’t quite sure what to expect. They had the talent to be a solid team, but transitions can often get messy. After Laurence Bowers went down, it only made matters worse. However, Frank Haith got this team to buy in and they are one of the biggest surprises, not just in the Big XII, but the whole country. Haith has to be a solid front runner for coach of the year nationally and players like Marcus Denmon, Phil Pressey, and Ricardo Ratliffe have really come into their own under his tutelage.
University of Kansas – Kansas is a surprise in two ways. They are a surprise in that they aren’t in the same league as the teams that won 35+ games each of the last two seasons. They are also a surprise in that, even with less talent, they still sit atop the Big XII rankings for the 8th year in a row (although they are tied with Missouri and are currently losing the head-to-head). Despite a slip-up against Davidson, this team doesn’t have a really bad loss and arguably outplayed two of the teams they lost to (Duke and Missouri). The battle between the Jayhawks and the Tigers in Lawrence on February 25 will have lots of people watching and should be an exciting one.
Baylor University – By nearly all accounts Baylor should be high atop the mountain that is the Big XII conference. They have easily the most talented team of the bunch and some experience to go with it. What they don’t have is toughness, resiliency, and solid coaching. Generally, it takes no more than one punch in the mouth and Baylor goes down. A solid run by a team putting them up by 10 points or so at and Baylor changes. Their body language goes limp and they just try to get out of the building as soon as possible. If Frank Haith, Bill Self, Frank Martin or any other of the Big XII coaches were to take over Baylor, I feel like they might still be undefeated. As it stands, Baylor is cruising towards a third or fourth place finish with the most talented team.
Texas A&M University – The Aggies were a top 20 team in the preseason and got off to a decent enough start. Then they started conference play losing their first 3 and are currently 3-9 in conference. Most thought TAMU could compete for the conference crown if things fell their way, and they’ve proved everybody wrong. This team should not be where they are. They will not make the tournament this year and if this is any indication it might be a while before they’re back.
This brings us to my biggest surprise of the year in the Big XII: The Iowa State University Cyclones.
Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg has done an amazing job with the Cyclones. He has taken a risk on some transfer talent and it has paid off. If not for Frank Haith, Hoiberg would probably be getting a lot more mentions for coach of the year. As for now, his campaign is relatively quiet. At 8-4 in conference and a split with Kansas a Big XII title is still a possibility with two games against Baylor and one against Mizzou remaining.
After finishing 16-16 last year, I think some people thought they would be decent this year, but I don’t know how many were thinking title contention. They’ve beaten Kansas and Texas at home and played MU very close. For the first time in a while, that is not a bad thing. Barring a massive collapse, Iowa State will most likely make the tournament and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win a couple games either. With this program back on its feet and MU continuing to climb the old Big 8 days are flooding back and that is a very good thing.
There have been quite a few surprises this year in conference and those are only the ones I thought bared mentioning here. There are most certainly more to come and they could start tonight with the Sunflower Showdown in Manhattan between KU and K-STATE and Iowa State battling Baylor for what looks like second or third place honors in the conference. As fun as it has been to this point, there is still a third of the conference season to go and the Big XII Tournament to finish it off. The rest of February and March should be fun for Big XII fans.
Super Bowl XLVI is in the can and there are two ways you can look at the result. With the Giants winning 21-17, you can look at this as Eli Manning cementing his legacy or as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick weakening their own.
In 2007 it came out that the Patriots coaching staff had acquired illegal tapes of the opposing teams signals. These were turned over to the NFL, destroyed, and the Patriots and Bill Belichick were fined $500,000 each as well as stripped of their first round draft pick. A pretty high price, especially considering it wasn’t known exactly what was on the tapes. It then became an issue of whether or not their legacy is legitimate.
Instantly, talk began of Belichick and Brady and how they haven’t won a Super Bowl without being allowed to cheat. The years moved along and the talk continued to grow. This year was supposed to be the year that they proved it wasn’t due to cheating. The only thing in their way was the same Giants team that ended their season abruptly just four years prior.
As most of us probably saw last night, the Giants stood as a brick wall in the way of the Patriots validating their “dynasty.” After coming up short twice now, the question demands a little more attention in regards to whether or not Belichick and Brady are worthy of being in the conversation of “best of all time.”
Generally, the best QB and coaches of all time are arguable. Usually, this discussion consists of Brady versus Joe Montana and/or John Elway. Greatest coach is a little bit stickier but the conversation usually involves Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, Vince Lombardi, and Don Shula. Walsh and Noll have the distinction of being the only coaches to win four Super Bowls. Lombardi was perfect in his attempts and Don Shula coached the only undefeated team ever on his way to two Super Bowl wins, even though they were flanked by four losses.
Compared to those, the Belichick and Brady combination has yielded three Super Bowl victories, just one shy of the Montana-Walsh combo and the Bradshaw-Noll combo. Yet, after the “Spygate” scandal, they are held a notch below these combinations.
Now, I’m not going argue what the Patriots did was right or justified. It was cheating as defined by the NFL and therefore wrong. What I will do is explain why it is not something that prevents Belichick and Brady from being in the “best ever” discussions.
Belichick was found guilty of cheating, but are we to assume that no cheating has ever occurred in the NFL before? Bill Walsh was accused by Bill Parcells of some cheating back in the 1980’s. The Denver Broncos cheated the salary cap in the 1990’s and were the subject of rumors that they put Vaseline on their jersey’s to make them harder to tackle. Chop blocks were a routine part of their offense.
Just because cheating occurred before, does not justify it now. However, it does show that it’s possible that others in the “greatest ever” discussion have towed the line. But this isn’t even the most important part of the story. Everybody agrees that the Patriots haven’t cheated in any way since 2006. Since that time the Patriots have gone 64-16, made the playoffs four times and made the Super Bowl twice. Both those Super Bowls were lost by a combined 7 points, and they held the lead with 1:00 to go in each of them.
In 2008, if Asante Samuel had not dropped an interception the Patriots go down in the discussion as one of the greatest teams ever. If they get a bit of a different bounce and Rob Gronkowski catches that Hail Mary at the end of last night’s game, they solidify their dynasty. Neither of those things happened and now Brady and Belichick will have to deal with questions until they can win a Super Bowl to keep people quiet.
While I don’t happen to think that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, I think he absolutely has to be involved in the discussion. Does Brady get no credit for reaching two Super Bowls outside of Spygate? That’s more than Drew Brees, Steve Young, Aaron Rodgers, and as many as Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Eli Manning. He went 16-0 which no QB has ever done before. He’s also had arguably the greatest season in NFL history when he threw for 50 TDs in 2007.
The same argument can be made for Belichick. He also went 16-0 in one season, which no coach has ever done. He also took a team missing an all-time great QB and had them go 11-5 narrowly missing the playoffs. He’s made two Super Bowls and hasn’t gotten outcoached or even outplayed, he simply lost the games.
While the circumstances surrounding the first three victories may be suspicious, taped signals didn’t run, throw, and catch the ball for those games. Taped signals didn’t kick Adam Vinatieri’s field goals in the waning seconds in 2001 and 2003.
It remains to be seen how big of an advantage those tapes gave them. If a couple things bounce the Pats way we’re not talking about it anymore and they’re largely irrelevant. Yet, here we are, discussing how valid this legacy is. As Chiefs fans we know, all imperfections are revealed in the playoffs. If you’re not a sound team you’re not going to make it far. The Patriots have twice proved they had what it takes to make the pinnacle of the NFL. They knocked on the door, came up a little short and everybody is calling them frauds. While I’m not sure where they rank in term of “greatest ever,” arguments against them don’t hold much water. While I am not a Pats or Tom Brady fan, I am a fan of greatness and they both belong in the discussion.
People will continue to question how good Brady and Belichick really are, but many great coaches and QB’s have done less with more. They may not be people’s favorites, but they are deserving of being in the discussion. To deny this is to join in the chorus of those accusing anyone of beating them as cheaters. As the Patriots found out last night, sometimes you just lose and it’s not cheating, it’s not anything but the reason they play the game.