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Jeff Herr's Blog

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.

Jeff Herr: Small Sample Sizes and Big Expectations

We’ve all heard them before.  The folly of small sample sizes leading to big conclusions that only exist to break our hearts.  Sometimes they work in reverse like Alex Gordon’s start in 2012 giving way to a stellar season.  But on the high-low scale, the majority of the time they take us from high to low.  Baseball stat aficionados talk a lot of about “splits.”  Ripping apart a players numbers like a birthday present hoping to find that oh-so-special present inside, while trying to eliminate the possibility of a 12-pack of tube socks.


It’s a dangerous game but whenever you don’t have a complete--or even just a “large enough”--sample, but its not as though nothing is to be gained from investigating what you see.  After all, the excuses of the prolonged Spring Training are now gone.  These games count and players are actually trying.


And here the Royals are.  After a solid home opener they sit at 4-3.  More importantly, the only games that haven’t been close were skewed towards the good guys.  This team is one game over .500 and they’re already 0-2 in one run games.  Often times when a team overachieves or “gets lucky” a lot of that luck happens in one-run games (oh hi there 2012 Baltimore Orioles).  


This team is at 4-3 but could easily be 6-1.  In their 1-0 season opening loss to the White Sox, in which James Shields pitched excellently, the Royals had the bases loaded with only one out.  They came away scoring no runs.  This led to many a groan from those worried about the offensive woes from last season.  Many of those woes have since been alleviated with some stellar performances so far.  And the important thing to remember is that even though it goes down as a loss, the team was in a position to win.  Couple that with the blown save by Greg Holland that could have easily been a victory and the Royals would be looking pretty good right now.


It’s a feat past Royals teams weren’t capable of to be able to have a blown save and squander multiple golden opportunities in a seven game stretch and still find themselves on the plus side of even.  A blown save in a somewhat pivotal game might have sent past Royals teams on a slide like we saw last year when a walk off hit-by-pitch sent the Royals spiraling around the drain of a 12 game losing streak.  The team never fully recovered.


The biggest missing piece that facilitated that egregious run of ineptitude was quality starting pitching.  The team didn’t have a James Shields who might give up four runs but could limit the damage to just that.  They didn’t have an Ervin Santana who would go eight innings on a thin, resting bullpen.  They didn’t have a starting staff with the second most strikeouts in all of baseball.  The team couldn’t count on any starting pitcher and all of that has changed.  We all know its early, but its hard not to be happy with the results.


Baseball is always a marathon and not a sprint.  Like a cheap boy-band song from the 90’s, that adage has been hammered into our skulls with no remorse.  A game is just one game.  One of one hundred and sixty two.  Less than one percent of a full baseball season.  That’s what everyone else says, anyway.  Here in Kansas City certain games take on more meaning than others.  With a young team still developing and still getting used to handling pressure, some of these early games have more importance than ones in late June.  A game is simply a game, but when you’re the Royals, killing a two-game losing streak with a much needed win is a little bit more.  Winning the first home opener in Kansas City since 2008 means just a tad more than other teams.


The Royals have often had their own set of expectations.  It wasn’t “win” or “make the playoffs” so much as it was “be competitive.”  Such things are gone now.  Those excuses can’t be had.  As fans we know this much.  The trick is getting the players to believe.  Everyone on this team must know that these aren’t “Royals expectations” any more, they’re major league expectations.  Like so many things this is easier said than done.  It’s not a mantra that can be understood by verbalized repetition.  It must be learned on the field.  Players need to be held accountable and this team needs to win.  It’s the only way they will learn to play above the level the fans have become accustomed to over the last decade plus.


Despite the Royals inability to communicate well as an organization in the public sector, their actions--both on the field and in how they’ve shaped/used this roster--have shown an intent to win that we simply haven’t seen in awhile.  No matter how well he pitched in Spring Training, Luis Mendoza never would have won a job over two higher paid players in years past.  An important player like Eric Hosmer probably wouldn’t have started the year down at sixth in the order.  And it would have been a cold day in you-know-where before Yost would have pulled his designated closer like he did to Greg Holland just two games ago.


This year--so far--has marked the first time in a long while that the Royals appear to be walking the walk when it comes to truly trying to win ball games.  What helps is that everyone on this team is allowed to work within themselves.  Every player on this team has proven--in some form or another--that they can do what needs to be done.  This team is no longer crossing their fingers and hoping a winning ball club materializes.  It’s not about hoping Luke Hochevar turns the corner or Kyle Davies finally gets it right.  It’s not unnecessarily high expectations on Alex Gordon or Billy Butler or Eric Hosmer.  The way this lineup has performed in the early going they’re starting to have faith in each other that they can be picked up when one or the other is down.  It appears that this time, the Royals are truly focused on building a winner.


Then the reality sets in.  It’s only seven games.  Less than five percent of the season.  As better as this pitching staff is than last year, its still hard to believe they could sustain a 3.56 ERA through an entire 162 game season.  Typically a strikeout heavy team, the Royals might not be as disciplined at the plate and might see their strikeouts increase as the year goes on.  


Small sample sizes are exactly that.  You have to look deeper to find any meaning.  What I’ve seen so far is a team that is committed to trying to put a winning product on the field.  If that means starting the guy making league minimum over the one making over four million, then so be it.  If it means a possible future all-star batting sixth, then it has to be done.


It’s these things that lead me to believe that if the players perform then they could actually win.  That’s not a feeling that’s common around these parts.  Like a desert oasis we’ve been tempted with winning before.  2003 was a grand experiment.  2009 started as well as any season only to fall apart.  This team has a different feel.  


The sample size is small and the usual caveats apply.  But if the Royals have been negatively affected by bad small samples in the past, there’s no reason it couldn’t work the other way here.  There’s a positivity in this town about this club and for the first time in awhile there’s true reason to be.  You can see it on the player’s faces.  They’re learning how to win and they’re liking the feeling.


There’s far too much season left to draw any conclusions, but I certainly like what I’ve seen so far.

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Jeff Herr: Royals 2013 Prediction

 “Once More into the fray.”  It was a line spoken in the vastly underrated movie ‘The Grey’ that came out last year and perfectly encapsulates the feeling of the Royals impending season.  Just as the film might have kept many ‘on the edge of their seats’ it feels like the same anxiety permeates the Royals fanbase like waiting in the lobby right before a big job interview.  You think you’re prepared.  You know you’re ready. But as always happens, that dam of self assurance breaks and the outpouring of questions and uncertainty begin to flow.


What if Eric Hosmer doesn’t perform to expectations? What if James Shields road woes hold true outside of The Trop? What if Salvador Perez can’t do it for a full season? What if Alcides Escobar can’t hit like 2012 and can’t field like 2011? What if Moustakas is more like the 2nd half of last year than the first? And the most important question of all, are the Royals actually for real this time?


In a year as important as this, expectations carry with them the weight of an entire city.  If last years ‘Our Time’ mantra was too much burden for this team to bear, then they better snap out of it quickly because while ‘Come to Play’ isn’t as immediate, trading your best offensive prospect away for a pitcher on the north side of 30, is.  


The Royals can’t pretend as if this year is the same as all the rest and, to their credit, they haven’t.  While it isn’t burning with the fury of a thousand suns, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Dayton Moore’s seat is getting a little warmer these days.  When you’re approaching year seven as the man in charge and haven’t garnered more than 75 wins in a season, this sort of thing comes with the territory.


By all accounts the result of that warm seat cushion has put the Royals in ‘win now’ mode.  This philosophy is a precarious ledge.  It seems as though the Royals have been peeking over the side ever since they were anointed as the best farm system is the history of history.  With all their prospects and talent it was only a matter of time before they pulled the trigger on a big trade that brought somebody here.  Now that the Royals have done so, they’ve crossed the line.  There’s no more moving goalposts.  No more “this is a young team” explanations  They have given up the right for those excuses.  By trading their best young offensive and pitching prospects they have said without saying that this team is ready to compete.


Yet, a trade does not solve all problems.  As the adage goes “that’s why they play the games” and that’s why the Royals will have to produce results on the field.  So what does all this mean for the Royals as they start this season?  Well, I’ve never considered myself Nostradamus in any way, but I will certainly play my hand at Royals predictions to try to determine what everything truly does mean (full disclosure: I predicted the Royals to be 82-80 last year, so take this for what it’s worth).  I won’t make predictions for everyone/everything, but will for the most important factors.


-Eric Hosmer - At this point we know a few things about Eric Hosmer.  We know that his talent was Herculean at the AAA level.  We know that his rookie year was just as good as Bryce Harper’s rookie year from last year, even if he was two years older than Harper.  We also know that he struggled mightily in 2012.  Like a dog trying to maintain his balance in the backseat of a car Hosmer wavered through many ups and downs last year, most of which was down.  “Will the real Eric Hosmer please stand up.”  His .293/.334/.465 slash line in 2011 was supposed to be the tip of the iceberg.  The tantalizing carrot lightly dangled out in front of a fanbase dying for a league-wide superstar.  The follow up 2012 season of .232/.304/.359 wasn’t nearly as impressive. In fact, it was downright awful.


You could make the case that as goes Hosmer, so go the Royals.  It’s quite possible no other player on any roster has more importance to their team. If Hosmer ends the season with a line of .320/.375/.525 and 20+ homeruns, then the Royals will be in contention and probably have the best record in the last 15 years.  If he repeats 2012 then all will most likely be for naught.  The Royals could fade quietly into irrelevance yet again and there might be a repeat of the Houston Astros fire sale right here in the heartland.


I don’t have as much faith in Hosmer as I once did.  My concern for him is at unusually high levels given the breadth of his talent.  I’m in the minority here but we’ve seen time and time again how easily prospects can fall apart.  Not only here in KC, but everywhere.  I feel Hosmer’s career arc so far has been similar to Jason Heyward’s of Atlanta and if I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a similar third season.  My 2013 prediction for Hosmer: .271/.335/.460 with 22 homeruns and roughly 87 RBIs. This should be enough to keep the Royals interesting but not necessarily playoff bound.


-Mike Moustakas - Another one of the young guns the Royals are laying a lot of their hopes on.  We saw his defense make near Gold Glove level strides in 2012.  We saw his bat make strides in the first half of the year, and then fall off a cliff like so many young players do in the second part of the season.  There is talk that he wasn’t completely healthy in the second half of last year, and that may be true, but he needs to prove himself a viable offensive option all season for this team to have a chance.  My prediction for Moose this season: .265/.300/.530 with 27 HRs and about 100 RBIs.  


-Billy Butler - Over the last five years Billy Butler has been the best, most consistent, and most often underappreciated player on this team.  All the man does is hit.  Literally.  As DH he struggled with the idea of not being in the field in 2011, but really embraced his role in 2012.  Like Liam Neeson Butler has a very specific set of skills.  He will find the ball and he will hit it.  Historically a doubles machine Butler turned many of them into homeruns last year and hopes to do the same even more so this year.  Through July he was on pace to break the Royals homerun record and then tailed off.  If others can pick up their game around him in the lineup, the record could be in play this year.  Butler’s line: .323/.380/.500 28 HRs, 105 RBIs.


-Alex Gordon - After disappointment in his first four years in the league Gordon has come on strong the last two with two gold gloves and being the team's most consistent offensive performer this side of Butler.  People were wondering if 2011 was a fluke and 2012 proved it wasn’t.  Gordon might not be exactly what everyone thought but he’s a darn good baseball player and should have another solid year.  Gordon in 2013: .287/.370/.420 with 17 homeruns and 65 RBIs.


-James Shields - So much of how this Royals season is evaluated will depend on the success of Shields.  Rather, the success of Shields combined with the top prospect he was traded for in Wil Myers and how Myers does in Tampa Bay.  Shields has been pretty consistent over the last six years putting up solid numbers and staying healthy.  He has had some difficulty with home and road splits which is concerning, but he has shown the ability to consistently work, continue to improve, and help out the younger pitchers.  A lights out Shields will go a long way towards turning this franchise around.  Shields 2013 prediction. 17-14, 4.12 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 217 innings pitched, 202 strikeouts.


-Jeremy Guthrie - Guthrie came on in the second half of the season for the Royals last year.  After Dave Eiland made a tweak to his delivery Guthrie turned things around and was a lights out pitcher for this team over the last two months of the season.  He parlayed that into a 3 year $25 million contract that was probably about the correct market value.  Guthrie is getting up there in age at 34 years old, but I think he’s got a solid season or two left in.  This Guthrie situation has often felt like when Gil Meche came to KC. Not quite the same, but similar enough to give me a positive outlook on Guthrie’s immediate future here in KC.  2013 prediction: 16-10, 3.91 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 197 innings pitched, 152 strikeouts.


-Wade Davis - Another part of the Wil Myers trade.  In many ways Davis could be the key. If the Royals can get anything close to the value of a #3 or #4 pitcher out of Davis and Shields performs to the expectations he has set for himself, then the trade will be looked upon much higher.  The issue here is that Davis’ success has all come in the bullpen and he was a middling to below average starter.  The hope is that his time in the bullpen means that he learned how to attack hitters and it translates to better numbers and more wins as a starter.  Time will tell but I don’t know that I have much confidence in that line of thinking.  Davis 2013 prediction: 10-12, 4.79 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 187 innings pitched, 159 strikeouts.


-Royals - So what does this all mean for what actually matters?  How many wins will the Royals get this year.  Ever since the Shields trade the number 85 has burned into the back of my retinas like I’ve been staring at the sun too long, so I’ll stick with that number.  I’m being far too optimistic about this team but hope springs eternal and nothing signifies the start of spring quite like opening day.  If I’m truthful I think Moore is just hoping to bridge the gap this year as the Royals continue to groom players like Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura, Jason Adam, Bubba Starling, Adalberto Mondesi, and Miguel Almonte for a big run in 2014 and 2015.  


Even still, whatever win total the Royals procure it must contain an 8 in front of it for Moore to be secure in his job.  If everything breaks absolutely right for the Royals they could be the Baltimore Orioles from last year.  Rooting to be the 2012 Orioles doesn’t exactly inspire confidence but in KC it’s the best we’ve had in quite some time.  Just like any Royals season there is the threat of impending doom.  Everyone will wait for that double digit losing streak for the season to get out of hand or that on pitcher we were all counting on to break down with Tommy John surgery, or any number of things that put this season in the “Royals start making excuses” category.


But as I’ve said before, the time for making excuses is over. 2013 has to show us something.  I think that it will but won’t be quite enough to much more than keep us interested. Then again, that’s a very welcome sight in this town.  Royals 2013 record: 85-77.

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Jeff Herr: Confliction, Thy Name is Roy Williams

It still doesn’t feel right. Ten years hence from his hasty departure, his hair a little grayer, his shade of blue a little lighter, it still doesn’t look right seeing Roy Williams on the opposing sideline.  Perhaps it’s still the residual pieces of my broken heart being slammed together but I don’t know that I’ll ever get completely used to the idea of the coach I grew up rooting for and being so proud of opposing Kansas.  Even with the two Final Fours, the keychain that burns a hole in my pocket every day saying “2008 National Champions Kansas Jayhawks,” andh the program in better shape with Bill Self than when Williams left it, if I’m honest with myself it still stings.


Nobody likes to get better-dealed.  There isn’t a better deal than Kansas.  If a program is a ship then Kansas is a dreadnought tearing through the ocean that is the NCAA, and it is rarely rudderless.  When that rare occasion does occur it is either by choice (sorry, Ted Owens), or the only legitimate step above a program like Kansas--transferring to the NBA (hi, Larry Brown).  Only once in Kansas’ history has one of the most storied programs ever, where the inventor of the game himself cut his teeth as a coach, been left in the lurch for another college program deemed to be “better.”

You could debate that the University of North Carolina is a better program than Kansas.  I would listen.  But whatever possible difference exists is in perception and subtleties.  When you have a tough decision in life you only ever hope you can break it down to “either way, it’s a good choice.”  At that point it comes down to personal preference.  Like a deranged basketball version of Sophie’s Choice Williams had to make his own between the program that had his heart and the program that had his soul.  

Williams made his choice and the results can’t be argued.  Since leaving his post in Lawrence, Kansas and returning to his alma mater in the house his mentor built (Dean Smith, a Kansas graduate no less), and has since taken them to three final fours and won two National Championships.  In the process erasing all doubts or moniker’s as the “best coach to never win a championship.”

The funny thing is, as good as the program was when he left, and as successful as he’s been at UNC, the University of Kansas just may be better than it’s ever been.  The program that had reached four Final Fours and two national title games while falling short with Roy got a championship with Self in 2008. They’ve since reached another Final Four.  While the Final Four and National Championship numbers aren’t quite what Williams’ are at UNC, the rest is even better. Nine straight conference titles, six 30-win seasons, five NCAA Tournament number one seeds, all accomplishments matching or exceeding Williams’ totals (with the exception of Final Fours) in less time.  


2008 was a year to exercise many demons for this Kansas program.  In the Elite Eight they played the type of underdog in a Davidson program  that had done them in in the past.  The entire nation outside of the Jayhawk faithful was rooting against them and for the underdog.  To make matters worse they were the last number one seed to play in a year in which all three other number one seeds had advanced to the national semi-final.  This was a chance for history to be the only Final Four in which all number one seeds advanced.  The pressure carried with it the weight of history for a program that already had its fair share--both good and bad.  


When the final shot clanked off the backboard the collective sigh of relief from Lawrence might have been enough to reverse the jetstream that naturally makes it way through the midwest.  Thankfully, the jetstream remained intact as did the only Final Four to include all four number one seeds.  


While that seemed to be the worst of it, the biggest demon was yet to come.  The battle against underdog Davidson was more akin to purgatory than what awaited them in their battle with the giant monkey on their back that was the only coach to spurn them in their history--Williams.  As the number one overall seed in the tournament with the “one that got away” at the helm this had the feel of David versus Goliath.  Under no circumstance would any sane college basketball fan put Kansas in the realm of a “David,” especially not in a Final Four, but when you are the underdog, however slight that might be, you have to take what you can get.  

Williams seemed conflicted and contrite about this matchup.  Despite his new surroundings in Chapel Hill, a small piece of his heart would forever remain in America’s heartland.  He had the better team on paper and came in as the favorite but the result shows us all why they play the games.  After jumping out to a “this can’t be happening” videogame-like 40-12 lead, Kansas never looked back.  UNC was able to make it close at one point before KU woke back up and ran away with it.  They demoralized the Tar Heels by 18 points on their way to a National Championship.  Williams almost looked relieved.  He came out two days later to watch the final game wearing a Jayhawk sticker proudly over his heart.

Last year the two teams met in the Elite Eight, this time with a trip to the Final Four at stake.  Again, Williams’ squad came in the higher ranked and favorite.  Again they walked away with a double digit loss.  KU didn’t win the championship that year but Self’s second Final Four solidified him as a coach on the same level as Williams and--as many allege--even better.

This year was no different.  They may say third time’s a charm but superstitions don’t apply when teams can make their own luck.  Over the years Self has proved himself a master of making his own luck, and Williams a victim of the bad kind all too often.  After trailing by nine at halftime the Jayhawks came out with some adjustments and better shooting and rode their wave of better play to yet another double digit victory over their once and future great.^

^By no means does this suggest that Williams will one day be back at Kansas.  What it does suggest is that no list of great Kansas coaches will be complete without Williams.  


Williams always seemed to be holding place at Kansas.  Despite the fact that he passed up on coming to UNC in 2000, there was always a feeling he would go.  Chapel Hill called to him like a siren.  Williams always had the feel of a coach slightly bigger than his program.  He wasn’t the captain of the ship, he was his own vessel.  When the siren called he could not resist but to point the rudder towards that island of Chapel Hill.

His conflict appears real.  His actions suggested a move he was happy to make and he knew inevitable but never imagined to be as hard as it was.  When Bob Huggins was asked about leaving Kansas State after one year for his alma mater of West Virginia he stated he wasn’t sure if it was the right decision.  Williams would never be as candid but you sense the same internal struggle remains.

This week Williams said that he would never agree to a home-and-home against the Jayhawks because there is no way he could walk out of the visitor’s tunnel at historic Allen Fieldhouse.  With such words being spoken it seemed that KU had beatev Williams before they even take the floor.  Williams wouldn’t coach to lose or change his gameplan--and actually had a rather solid one in the first half on Sunday that gave them a nine point halftime advantage--but when you have the anxiety that Williams displayed your team can follow suit.  Perhaps there is a mental block that doesn’t allow Williams the killer instinct against Kansas that has made him a future Hall of Fame coach.  Perhaps some demons can never be exorcised.  


If Kansas fans weren’t before, this matchup should allow them to be over their hurt for Williams’ departure.  The program is in better shape, and the torch has been passed to Self as the greatest KU coach in a generation.  If nothing else, this past weekend proved that as much as many KU fans might have been hurt by Williams departure, the greatest sting of them all is reserved for Williams himself.

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Jeff Herr: Positive train keeps rolling

Positivity is filling the air here in Kansas City it seems.  With the Chiefs retaining some of their more popular free agents last week (Dwayne Bowe, Dustin Colquitt, and a franchise tag on Branden Albert), and the impending arrival of Alex Smith—which I wrote about last week in a positive fashion—2013 looks quite a bit brighter than the dismal mess that was 2012.

But across the way at the Truman Sports Complex the Royals are conjuring up a level of excitement not seen in at least a decade.  Based on some offseason moves the Royals have made they truly do appear to be “all in” for 2013.  Or better yet, it seems they did “come to play” (see what I did there?).  But as well know World Series’ aren’t won in December.  “All in” or not means little until you actually put things together on the field. 

Now, spring training games have the predictive value of claiming Lindsay Lohan is America’s next great actress circa ‘Mean Girls,’ but what the Royals are doing is quite impressive nonetheless.  The Royals are absolutely destroying the Cactus League and have a three game advantage on the entire league for best record in Spring Training.

As fans of one of the most floundering organizations in all of professional sports we have been trained to extol the virtue of small victories.  Relevance is only a few triumphs away and the colossal failure of the organizations recent history makes any significant winning all the more jarring.

Just about all of the players the Royals need to be hitting are hitting. Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez are all hitting above .380 in spring training.   Not that meaningful really, but you like to see a team that struggled offensively last year show some signs of being who we thought they’d be.

It’s important to remember we’ve been here before.  While I can’t remember the last time the Royals dominated something so meaningless in such a meaningful way, they’ve had their fair share of pre-season success stories.  Other teams have as well.  Just last year the Toronto Blue Jays got off to a similarly scorching start in the spring and wound up with only one more win than our very own Royals.

I could go on and on about how objectively worthless spring training is from a predictive standpoint.  But we’re going to stick with the positive here.  First of all, they have spring training for a reason.  If it was entirely 100% worthless then they simply wouldn’t have it or it would only be a couple of weeks.  But it’s not.  There is a purpose behind Spring Training and it’s to get the players ready and in shape for the marathon that is a 162-game baseball season.

There are many factors that can lead you to discount the things that happen in the spring—inferior competition, different players working on different things, split squads, chief among them—but on some level it’s all relative.  All teams are doing the same things and while the playing field isn’t equal all the way around, it’s not as big of a disparity as some might lead you to believe.

Next, we have the pitching.  Mr. Magoo could have told you the Royals biggest problem from 2012 was a lack of productive starting pitching.  Whether you like the Wil Myers/James Shields trade or not, it ended up netting the Royals a VERY good pitcher and even helped fill out the rotation on the back end with Wade Davis.  Through their first couple of appearances this revamped rotation of Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, and Davis has looked good.  Even the five spot which is a competition between Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, Will Smith, and Luis Mendoza isn’t quite the dumpster fire you would think from that motley crew of names.  It’s especially encouraging when you know that two of those players were in competition for the opening day starter role in 2012.  What a difference a year makes.

But quite possibly the biggest difference is the “feel” of this team.  It’s different.  I’ll spare you the indignity of me breaking into song but there’s something in the air.  Maybe it’s delirium from a Chiefs season gone awry.  Maybe it’s after effects of a bachelor party in New Orleans.  Maybe its re-opened wounds of painful memories of a disappointing 2004 (after a winning season in 2003) and a 19 game losing streak in 2005.  Then again, maybe something actually is different this time.

For the first time in a long while the Royals have a roster in which you could objectively look at it and say they can compete.  It’s not without its holes, but based on what we know, most people would feel decent-to-good about going out there with the Royals lineup every day. 

That’s worth getting excited about.  The Royals won’t be delegated to little league standards of success this year, despite their 2013 motto of “Come to Play.”  Anything less than 80 wins this year would be a failure and even that wouldn’t seem like much of a success.  While nothing the Royals could do would surprise me-- including laying an egg to the tune of 70 or fewer wins this season—the fact that the expectations are that of a legitimate baseball team portends to excitement we haven’t seen in these parts for a long time.

There’s plenty to look forward to in 2013.  Between Shields starting opening day, Hosmer, Moustakas, and Perez continuing to develop, and the stalwarts like Alex Gordon and Billy Butler continuing to assert themselves as stars it should be an intriguing year.  While I’m not ready to buy the Royals as a playoff team in 2013, I’m certainly excited for the coming season.

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Jeff Herr: Time for some positivity

Like a PBR tallboy sports fan pessimism in Kansas City comes cheap and goes down easy.  Wait, am I think of PBR or am I thinking of gasoline?  No matter.  This is the kind of stuff that happens when your football team hasn’t won a playoff game since the Clinton administration and your baseball team hasn’t been relevant since Germany was two separate countries.  Yet, like humidity in August and snow in February this town can be counted on for its sports teams to make a move in their respective offseasons to conjure up fanbase malaise and anger not seen this side of Darth Vader.

I’d like to say it’s overblown.  I would love nothing more than to say that fans just need something to complain about so they choose the [insert most recent move here] and run with it.  Few things would please me more than to take a step back and say that our teams have been so good for so long that we have to find the most miniscule things to dissect as fans.  This is something I would love to do.

I would also like for the fan complaints to be shut up by the teams themselves through, you know, winning.  If the Royals make the playoffs and the Chiefs win a playoff game, the fan unrest will decrease exponentially.  As it stands, we’re going on over two decades worth of futility in both departments.

So it’s no surprise that the reported move to bring Alex Smith to the Chiefs was met with the ire of a broken down and beaten fanbase. 

Lots wanted the Chiefs to draft a QB with the number one overall pick.  I wrote 3,000+ words saying they should do just that no more than two days before the trade was reported last week.  That appears all but a pipedream now and any QB not named Alex Smith on this roster will be a flawed “project” from the later rounds Andy Reid will attempt to work his magic on. 

For those that follow me on twitter you know which camp I stand in on this.  I have said my opinion and made my peace with this.  Whether I like it or not bringing in Smith is the move the Chiefs have made and we must push forward. 

Having gotten the majority of my problems with this trade out there already I’m going to take a different approach.  One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to be more positive and not overreact as much (especially on twitter).  As I have not done so great with that so far this year, I dub this day “Positive Monday” and will try to make amends as I try to convince everyone—but mainly myself—that maybe the “same ole Chiefs” bringing in Smith isn’t such a bad thing after all.

First, let’s go over a few things.  The incumbent Chiefs quarterback is Matt Cassel.  Over the last two years it would be hard to find a QB who has played much worse, but even still he has to be the basis for comparison since he would most likely be the option if not for Smith.  The two find themselves in somewhat similar situations, which is shocking given how wildly different their careers started.  Cassel was a seventh round pick, career backup-type for one of the greatest QBs ever.  Smith was the much ballyhooed number one overall pick who was supposed to save the San Francisco 49ers franchise and return them to the Promised Land.

Smith took his lumps and Cassel didn’t start a game in his first four seasons.  At some point, they were both traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for a second round pick and heralded as the QB who will right the ship for a new general manager and head coach.  Cassel never proved up to the task and Smith’s success or failure remains to be seen. 

But the similarities end there.  Alex Smith is not Matt Cassel.  Besides the obvious fact of their driver’s license, the comparisons of their on-field prowess as similar are also rather off-base.  Smith had the much better pedigree coming in to the league and he remains a more talented player.  The gap isn’t as wide as someone like Peyton Manning to Cassel is, but there is no mistaking that Smith is a step up for the Chiefs of the last five years.

People often have brought up quarterback rating to show how similar the two QBs are.  Cassel’s career QB rating stands at 80.4 while Smith’s sits at 79.1.   If we’re completely objective then Cassel is a better QB over the course of his career than Smith.  But these two career numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Many in KC think Cassel didn’t get a fair shot with the carousel of offensive coordinators that spun around him.  His best season in 2010 with Charlie Weis showed what could be--if given consistency and a competent coach.  These same people forget that Smith had the same problem, if not worse, in his first years in San Francisco.  Smith had a different offensive coordinator his first four years in the league.  Such a situation makes it hard for anybody to be successful, let alone a rookie who is just trying to get his feet on the ground.

Despite these odds, Smith showed improvement each near, no matter how slight it might have been.  Since 2007 Smith’s QB rating has increased each year, showing that he still may be trending upwards in his career (Smith was injured all of 2008 and did not play).  As we all know this is a “what have you done for me lately” league, therefor making importance of how awful Smith’s first couple of years are less and less important the further we get away from them. 

Last year Alex Smith had a 104.1 QB rating which would have put him near the tops of the league.  Now, saying “would have” is important there because after suffering a concussion Smith lost his job permanently for their run to the Super Bowl.  Even still, he was 6-2-1 as a starter this year, albeit with a VERY good 49ers team around him.

Jim Harbaugh is seen as a big reason for Smith’s success and his role cannot be underplayed.  However, if we look at the past four years of Smith’s career—two of which were without Harbaugh—his QB rating over that time is a solid 88.2.  To put that in perspective Cassel’s rating for that timeframe is 77.5.  Even last year’s Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco from 2009-2012 had an overall QB rating of 87.6.  And he just signed a contract guaranteeing him $52M.

It must be said that Flacco and Smith have wildly different skill-sets.  But, that only underscores the importance of the system.  What those numbers will tell us is that in the right system, Smith can be just as successful as a Super Bowl MVP.

Another point brought up is the relatively low output of Smith’s stats.  In a time when throwing for 5,000 yards in a season is becoming a regular occurrence in the league Smith has never tossed for more than 3,144 in a season.  This is where it’s important to remember how Smith’s seasons have gone.  Playing behind poor offensive lines for most of his career he has been injury riddled season after season. 

If we take the last four years of his career, and get an average of his output per 16 games he would be putting up a line of 3,413 yards, 22 TDs, and 11 INTs per year.  Comparatively, Donovon McNabb—Chiefs new head coach Andy Reid’s QB for the majority of his time in Philadelphia—had an average per-16-game performance as an Eagle of 3,553 yards, 23 TDs, and 11 INT.  Pretty similar.

The narrative would have you believe that Andy Reid likes to air it out and that doesn’t mesh well with Smith’s shortcomings as a passer.  But McNabb’s stats reveal a little more showing us what some already know that Reid likes the short to intermediate passing game.  The most important trait for a QB in Reid’s system is to be very accurate for 25 yards and under, as well as be mobile in the pocket.  Both of these are strengths of Smith.

Then we have to look beyond the stats and ask what we want to see from our quarterback.  The biggest issue with Matt Cassel was that he couldn’t win you a ball game.  At his best, Cassel wouldn’t lose you a game, but even playing above his head he couldn’t win one on his own.  Looking at the Baltimore Ravens playoff game in 2010 gives you all you need to know.

So what do people want from their QB?  Well, one who can be counted on with the ball in their hands with the game on the line is a great start.  Such a thing is a nebulous metric at best and can even be subjective on many levels.  Does Joe Flacco get credit for his game winning pass against Denver in the 2012 playoffs?  They put the ball in his hands, he made the pass, and they won the game.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story as Flacco’s touchdown pass in the waning seconds was an underthrown rainbow that, if not for an inexcusably horrible play on the ball by the safety, is intercepted nine times out of 10.

But subjectivity or no, putting the ball in the hands of the QB and coming up with the plays to win the game has to count for something.  Due to the poor teams Smith played on for most of his career there isn’t much to go off of.  However, Smith did play rather large in one of the biggest games of his career in the 2011 playoffs.

In the final 4:02 of regulation against the New Orleans Saints, Smith marched down the field twice on drives of 80 and 85 yards to score touchdowns en route to a 36-32 victory.  In the remaining seconds of the game Smith put the ball in a tight window to tight end Vernon Davis and propelled the 49ers to their first NFC Championship game in over a decade.  Regarding Smith’s performance against the Saints, Ron Jaworski said “Alex Smith won the game.  Not Alex Smith won the game by not making mistakes.  His performance won the game for the 49ers.”  No such quote has ever been uttered about Matt Cassel.

I don’t know how well Alex Smith will play for the Chiefs.  I don’t know how many wins it will translate to, or more importantly how many playoff victories.  What I do know is that Smith has operated at a very high level as a QB over the last two seasons and only seemed to get better under a system designed to play to his strengths.  I know that he has a record of 19-5-1 over the last two years and has won a playoff game.  He also had an incredible defense.  And if there’s one thing we all know, this Chiefs defense is closer to breaking out and being an elite unit than the offense is. 

The future is still unwritten for Smith in Kansas City and that just may be the best part.  This regime has hitched their wagon to Smith and their tenure will be defined by his success whether they like it or not.  I believe both GM John Dorsey and Reid are aware of this and did not make this decision lightly.  After the debacle that was the Scott Pioli era I am skeptical no matter how good of a reputation those in charge have.  However, the track record is there from this front office to suggest our faith in them is not misplaced.  With Smith the Chiefs are a better team in 2013.  The only question that remains is how much better they will be.

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Jeff Herr: JUST DRAFT A QB!!!

I get too worked up about this stuff.  On the one hand I look at it and say to myself “in the grand scheme of things sports don’t really matter, why are you spending so much time on this?” But on the other hand I look at it and say “people go through their lives rarely getting to do anything they’re passionate about and you get to write on the internet about a topic you love (even if you still have to have another job to pay the bills), so who cares about the grand scheme, just dive right in.”  This is when I get too deep and sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees (and yes, that’s the actual expression which my girlfriend will kindly remind me of, even though it makes MUCH more sense to say can’t see the forest THROUGH the trees—but I digress).

The longer I’ve done this—which makes me sound like a seasoned writer doesn’t it? —the more self-aware I have become of my opinions and it has granted me an opportunity to take a step back and look at the big picture.  Now, I am not perfect—just as nobody is—and I don’t always do this, but I make a concerted effort to get better at it as I go along (it was even one of my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions).

It’s in this way that I think reading ‘Moneyball’ really helped me out in that regard.  It’s not about statistics any more than ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ is about time travel and aliens.  Yes, there is some of that in there, but the ultimate point gets lost when you bog yourself down in the details.  What a book like ‘Moneyball’ was really about, at its core, was that you can take a step back and look at things differently.  The narrative of “how things work” and how they’ve “always been” doesn’t have to be the code you live by.  You can look a situation differently if you so choose and you might see things more clearly as a result.

The ‘Moneyball’ reference may seem like this is a lead-in to a baseball column, but it’s not.  I’ve still got some thoughts on the Chiefs draft and with the possibility of trading for Alex Smith gaining momentum, I have to get them out.  I’ve accepted my fate on this one, but that doesn’t mean I can’t espouse my opinion.  Luke Joeckel will be the next Chief—after Smith, probably--and I’m sure everyone in the city just can’t wait to see that glorious #79 Joeckel jersey hanging up in your local Dick’s Sporting Goods. 

But when it’s all said and done, the Chiefs will still presumably be without a QB and it will just be rinse and repeat for the next quarter century until we can FINALLY get somebody in here who is bold enough to draft a guy and turn the keys of the franchise over to him.  Now, not everyone believes like I do that the Chiefs should draft a QB (hard to believe, I know).  There are quite a few arguments against drafting a QB number one overall this year and I’d like to give my responses to them.

1)     There is no Andrew Luck in this draft and no QB worth taking with the first overall pick.


It is true that Luck was drafted last year and is therefore unavailable in this year’s draft.  There was also no Luck in 2009 or 2010 when a QB went first overall either.  When people were saying “Andrew Luck is the best QB prospect to come out of college since Peyton Manning,” that wasn’t hyperbole. Since 1998, there hadn’t been a QB to come out with the skillset of Luck and the “sure-fire success” written all over him.  I don’t disagree with that and most probably wouldn’t. 


What I think most wouldn’t disagree with either, is that between Manning and Luck—believe it or not—there have been successful quarterbacks.  Donovon McNabb, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and that’s just off the top of my head.  In that group of QBs, we have players who were picked as high as number one overall and as low as in the third round.  In that group they’ve got nine Super Bowl appearances and six victories.  And that number might be a little skewed because some of them played each other. 


The point here is that if you’re waiting for the next Manning or Luck to come around, you’re probably going to be waiting for a long time. ^   Looking back at some of those QBs you had players with different grades who went where they were supposed to, above, or below it. 


^Even before Manning the only other sure-fire bet might have been John Elway and that was 1983.  So we’re looking at a 15 year clip for any “sure-fire, immediate impact” QB to come available on the market.  Not only that, but if they do, they will surely go number one and…well we’ll get to that later.


The most prominent example has to be newly minted Super Bowl MVP Flacco.  The battle cry we all heard after the Super Bowl was “FLACCO IS ELITE!”  As if that even matters after winning a world championship.  “Well everyone says you have to have an elite QB to win a Super Bowl, and the Ravens just won a Super Bowl, so Flacco must be elite.”  I hate to break it to you, but the logic behind this phantom transitive property of elite QBs wouldn’t hold up on the SATs. 


I bet if you asked just about any Chiefs fan right now, they would say that they would trade the #1 overall pick for Flacco and sign him up for $20M a year.  Those same people would probably forget that Flacco had a second round grade when he came out of college and some thought the Ravens “reached” for him when they traded up to pick him at #18.  They might also have forgotten that before the Super Bowl, and even during this season, some Ravens fans were calling for Flacco to be let go after the season.  And yet, most balk at the idea of picking a QB #1 overall that has a second-half-of-the-first-round grade.  Granted, Flacco has obviously proven himself, but all this shows is that these “rankings” aren’t exactly infallible.


2)     Well, Andy Reid is good with QBs and Matt Cassel did well with Charlie Weis so let Reid fix Cassel, he’ll be better, and we can wait for “our guy” next year or the year after.


This is such an interesting thought to me.  We’ve seen Cassel’s ceiling.  We know what he is at his absolute best, as we saw in 2010.  When he’s playing out-of-his-mind he is a competent QB who beats up on lesser defenses but still has flaws.  Even at such a level he isn’t the QB who can win games and can actually lose them for you.  All you need to do is look at the final Raiders game and the Ravens playoff game of 2010 to see how all of that shakes out.  Even if Reid is the Gandalf of QB gurus, that’s all he’s gonna get out of Cassel.


Not to mention, people seem to enjoy using this logic except when it comes to something that doesn’t push their point.  It’s convenient to think that Reid can “fix” a QB who has already reached his ceiling and regressed, but not as much when it comes to Reid using those same powers on what is perceived as a more risky scenario—choosing a QB number one overall.


It’s curious why everybody thinks that the Chiefs only get the player they’re drafting.  What I mean by that is, when the Packers selected Rodgers, they didn’t get 2010 Super Bowl MVP Rodgers.  When the Ravens selected Flacco, they didn’t get 2012 Super Bowl MVP Flacco.  Both those players improved each season and got better at their craft.  Whether its Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, or Geno Smith, is there any reason to believe that under Reid’s tutelage they wouldn’t improve at all?


The answer is no.  There is no reason to believe they wouldn’t improve.  There’s not a single draft pick ever made based on the idea that he won’t ever improve.  Luck had a 76.5 QB rating last year.  If he has that in five years, he will be a bust.  He won’t because he will improve.  Any QB taken will be better tomorrow than they were yesterday or they aren’t even in the discussion.


3)     QB isn’t the best player and we should pick best player available so the Chiefs should pick whoever the best player is.


I’m going to tell you right now, and I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to anybody, but the BPA philosophy is a fallacy.  The idea that you go into each draft blind and pick players as if you are starting from scratch and only want “good players” isn’t taking the “big picture” into account.  Fact is, you have players on your team, you have areas of need, and that has to factor in.


Let’s throw out a scenario here.  Say Chiefs GM John Dorsey selects Joeckel #1 overall.  Then say the Chiefs trot out Cassel again and have another 2-14 season with another top five pick waiting in the wings.  Then let’s say that the best player available at their spot in the draft next year is another left tackle.  Then maybe the best player available in the second round is another left tackle.  You see what I’m getting at?  The other factors can’t be ignored.^^


^^I understand it’s not quite this simplistic because the odds of the same position being the best available every time you pick is slim.  But then again, that’s just a convenient excuse/loophole that allows you to use that method.


It’s also easy to say that BPA was the direction you went because nobody looks at your board.  Take the Patriots for example, they drafted Ryan Mallet in 2011 in the third round.  They said he was the #1 QB on their board.  Yet, they have Tom Brady so they decided not to pick Mallet with the previous four picks.  QBs are a little different in that area, but the fact remains, Mallet was certainly better than players he was selected after on the Patriots board, but their needs factored in.


4)     The Chiefs should take the best player at #1 overall and then take a QB in the second round with the 34th overall pick.

Another interesting argument.  I suppose I’d hear this one more clearly if it made much sense.  If you could guarantee that the #1 QB in the class would be available at #34, it would be much easier to stomach.  In an ideal world, this would be the case.  But there is no way this happens.


Even if the Chiefs were to wait till the second round, why would you want them to? If the Chiefs are going to draft a QB in the second round—and we all know that most likely three will be taken in the first 33 picks with the New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Oakland Raiders all in the mix for a QB—then the likelihood is that they get the third or fourth best quarterback in the class, at best. 


So people aren’t comfortable with QB number one overall because it’s a weak class, but are comfortable hitching their wagon to the fourth best QB in this supposedly weak class?  Something about that logic doesn’t pass the sniff test.  If you’re going to draft a QB, pick the best player you can.  You’re probably never going to be in this place again, so make it count.


5)     The QB crop will be better next year, the Chiefs should wait. 


Well this has two parts of it that don’t exactly make sense.  First of all, how do we know the QB crop next year will be that much better?  At this time last year Matt Barkley was the sure-fire number one overall pick and Tyler Wilson was looking like he might not be too far behind.  Now some are saying both might last into the second round.  If you’re going to believe that the QBs this year regressed that much, then you certainly have to realize that there is no certainty for next year. 


The second part is that maybe this is right.  The leader in the clubhouse right now for the #1 QB is Murray, so let’s say he tears it up and he’s the guy.  If that’s the case, he’s probably going #1 overall, and are we hoping that the Chiefs have an awful, miserable, terrible season again so they can make that pick?  We want the Chiefs to go 2-14 in Reid’s first year, show no improvement, waste another year of Jamaal Charles, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Eric Berry, and Derrick Johnson in their prime all so we can pick up Aaron Murray?  I’m starting to feel sick.


But we’re nobody’s expecting that to happen.  We’re thinking that Reid can come in here and coach this team up to a 6-8 win team.  If so, that means they are picking in the middle of the draft in 2014 and whoever that best QB is most likely won’t be available.  Which brings me to the next and final argument…


6)     The Chiefs should build an excellent team around the QB and then go get their guy.  Look at the trades the Falcons made for Julio Jones, the Redskins made for RGIII, and the Browns made for Trent Richardson, and the Bears made for Jay Cutler.  And look at how the Saints got Drew Brees.  They should just trade and go get their guy when everything else is in place.


There’s a lot wrong with this argument.  The most obvious is that these types of situations don’t happen all that often.  Situations like the Rams giving up the number two pick for a huge bounty from the Redskins only takes place because they just drafted a QB with their number one overall pick two years earlier.  The Browns traded away a pick to the Falcons in 2011 that could have been used on a QB, but they got a huge haul in return and that entire administration has been removed.  It’s not as though incompetence of another team can be relied on for your team’s future success. 


Not to mention, how often does a situation like the Rams in 2012 actually happen?  Precisely.  Nobody knows because it’s not that often.  And let’s not forget the fact that if the Chiefs were banking on that they’d be banking on another team, with a good QB, to fail miserably and want to trade out of that pick.  Like I said, these things don’t happen that often.


Further, free agent QBs like Drew Brees don’t come available very frequently either.  Plus, when and if these players do become available, there’s usually a caveat emptor warning.  Brees had his elbow issues that teams were wary of.  Even last year Peyton Manning was an uncertainty after four neck surgeries in 12 months.  And those are the only two high profile, elite or franchise QBs to come onto the market in recent memory.  If you’re counting at home that makes two in the last eight years (assuming Flacco doesn’t make it to the market this year).


There’s this weird phenomenon that exists where if a team drafts and develops a top flight QB, they end up keeping him.  And that’s the biggest part. It’s not draft a QB, its draft and develop a QB.  Even the best had to be tutored and developed on some level.  The Chiefs have grown accustomed to letting another team do that, then try to find a situation where somebody gets squeezed out and they are the beneficiary (see: Bono, Steve; Grbac, Elvis; Green, Trent).  All that has done is gotten the Chiefs no playoff win and it’s stretching into one of the longest streaks in professional sports. 


I’m not going to sit here and say that Matt Barkley or Tyler Wilson will become superstars and win multiple Super Bowls.  I wouldn’t even say that about Andrew Luck last year, because until they arrive in the NFL we just don’t know what they will be.

What I do know is this, your odds of winning a championship significantly improve with the better QB play that you have.  The better QB play usually comes from the players chosen at the top of their QB class.  If the history of the Kansas City Chiefs and Andy Reid is any indicator, this franchise will never be in this position to draft the best QB in a class in the next half century.  The Chiefs have had hall of fame linebackers, left tackles, tight ends, and running backs in the last twenty years and not a single playoff win to show for it.

The Chiefs have drafted QBs, but for seemingly no other reason than to say they drafted them.  As an organization they have never put in the time or the effort to draft AND develop a guy who can be the cornerstone for the organization.  I have no doubt that there is a guy like that out there in this draft, and it’s up to the Chiefs to go find him.

I have been beating the drum on this topic for months now and I will continue to do so.  I don’t believe anyone can convince me that it is the smart decision not to draft a QB.  If the Chiefs don’t, and they trade for somebody’s backup, or wait till the second or third round and get the fourth or fifth overall best QB, then it’s the same old Chiefs. 

Andy Reid was brought in to bring in a new era.  He and Dorsey arrived in Kansas City to finally get a QB and correct the most glaring flaw that has plagued this organization for the entirety of its existence.  If they ignore that then the organizational paradigm remains the status quo.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

I’m not sure about any of you, but another decade or two of fairly competitive 8-10 win seasons with nothing to show for it doesn’t exactly seem appealing to me.

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Jeff Herr: What 2013 means for the Royals

Hope springs eternal.  It’s a phrase we’ve all heard more times than we can remember, but none of us would be surprised if it was coined by a baseball fan.  With the coming of spring brings with it the onset of everyone’s favorite time of the year for baseball (especially in Kansas City), Spring Training.  It’s that point of the year where everybody is tied for first—although technically last as well—and if you squint hard enough through your Royals-colored glasses you can see the team having a winning record for the first time in 10 years and maybe, just maybe, competing for a playoff spot.

As the calendar continues to tick off the day’s towards opening day the talk about the Royals will go places it hasn’t gone in quite a while.  The term “competing” has taken on a different meaning in this part of the country.  Most other Major League Baseball franchises look at competing as vying for a playoff spot.  Here in the heart of the country, competing has been used in the vein of little league.  If the Royals can “compete” in a given year, usually that means that everyone thinks they should be good enough to not get blown out every time they take the field—which has been hard to come by some years.

Even in those seasons if everything fell right or the organization and players played to their potential this city would have been happy with a win total that had an eight in front of it and a winning record.  “Our Time” last year was one of those years where they were poised to “compete” and if everything went just right might even win 80 games or more.

As we all know, that didn’t happen. 

Time is starting to run short for Dayton Moore and, if nothing else, it’s obvious he knows it by the moves he made this offseason.  He traded for Ervin Santana, re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, and traded away the best hitting prospect in all of baseball—from an offensively challenged team, no less—for a 31 year-old pitcher who has received Cy Young votes before and carries the moniker “Big Game.”

The Royals this year stand poised to legitimately compete.  Not in the watered down version of the term we’ve become accustomed to around these parts, but in the sense that everyone else thinks of it.  Maybe they’re not going to win 90 games, maybe they’re not a shoe-in for the playoffs, but if everything breaks in their favor and everyone plays to their potential, if you squint just hard enough and peek around that corner that Luke Hochevar has turned about 187 times, you just might see the Royals in the playoffs.

This is what we had hoped for seven years ago when Moore took over.  This is where we were promised we’d be.  All things considered this team probably should have been here sooner, but the ultimate result is that the Royals have finally reached the point where everything won’t have to be measured with the qualifier “—for the Royals.” 

What still gives me pause as we head into the meat of spring training is whether or not this is a new reality for the Royals, or if we’re just trying to convince ourselves that the hope that comes with spring training blinding us all to the reality right in front of us.

Moore’s current status within the organization is hinged on him creating one of the best and deepest farm systems in all of major league baseball.  His 2011 system was heaped with more praise than a Meryl Streep performance.  The promise was endless and people began to wonder how such a collection of talent was even possible.  Two years later and the unfortunate reality is that Streep has won more than that great farm system has here in KC.

“Trust the process” was the mantra Moore brought with him in 2006.  What was supposed to be a sound philosophy, turned into a moniker of pleading for blind faith, and finally has devolved into a punch line for local radio hosts. 

Moore has done more than enough to warrant every chance he has been given.  Fans take things for granted now, but not many realize quite how awful of shape this organization was in when Moore took over.  Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and a wayward Zack Greinke were all the team had when Moore first came aboard.  After those players this team had to be built from the ground up.  Moore did a fantastic job in turning the overall talent in the organization from league worst to league best.

But as with any coin there is always the other side.  Moore has done plenty to this organization to warrant dismissal from many others.  The acquisition of Mike Jacobs, Jose Guillen, and Jeff Franceour, by means of poor trades or unnecessary contracts—among other moves--have all hurt this franchise more than helped.  

Moore has had a notorious failure to develop pitching.  Whether it’s the players’ fault or the Royals fault is up for debate and that won’t take place here.  Regardless, the fact remains that this team hasn’t been able to develop pitching and as a result had to trade away one of the best offensive prospects in major league baseball this offseason in Wil Myers just to get it.  Maybe it will work out best for both sides, maybe not. 

While some of the development falls out of the hands of Moore and the Royals but development should always be the cornerstone of any organization.  While the idea of “draft and develop” is paramount to baseball—especially in small market teams—to this point Moore and his crew have only won half of that battle (drafting, albeit convincingly). 

Some of the developmental concerns come with philosophy and inconsistent approaches to the game that this regime has taken.  Once a “small ball” more National League-type approach of “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” has now lead way to “pull the ball, more home runs” approach that might not be the best fit for this current lineup. 

With the exception of Mike Moustakas, nobody on this team projected as a true homerun hitting, power hitter.  Most like Butler, Gordon and Eric Hosmer were considered guys who could hit for high average but have good pop as well.  Some of them might be in the 30 homerun range, but would be better suited hitting .320 with lots of doubles.  The effect such an approach might on have on the non-power aspects of this lineup remain to be seen, but it’s a shaky proposition when one blanket approach to hitting is applied to a lineup that has a wide array of hitters with different approaches.

The Royals remain, as they’ve always been, an American League team.  Yet, as they have three games out of their total 162 early in the season, Manager Ned Yost has been quoted as saying they will run their spring training more like a National League camp to compensate.  The shortsighted thinking is just another example of issues that have plagued this team throughout Moore’s tenure.

This might be the most exciting time to be a Royals fan in the last decade.  More than that, it is one of the most pivotal years in the organizations history.  If they fall flat on their face and win 75 or less games, they could clean house.  A new regime might mean a Florida Marlins-style fire sale to start fresh.  Moore’s golden opportunity gone asunder would mean back to the scouting ranks for him.  And it would be a return of neutered expectations for this team. 

While that may seem like a gloom and doom approach to this season, it’s really meant to underlie the importance of what 2013 means to this franchise.  The course of this team will be altered with the results of the coming year.  Whether that means jumping into yearly playoff contention or back to the drawing board, the importance of the next six months cannot be understated.

I look at this season the way I usually do with my sports teams.  My powder blue-colored glasses tell me the Royals are an 85 win team that could make a run at the playoffs.  The rational side of brain says that Moore and Yost together might not be the right men to get this franchise back to where it needs to be.  At this time of year I can fool myself in believing.  After all, hope springs eternal, even if job security in major league baseball doesn’t. 

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Jeff Herr: What's up with Kansas?

Kansas fans have been spoiled.  It doesn’t take a genius to see that.  Eight straight Big XII championships, all the Final Fours, National Championships and tradition will do that.  The mere fact that they haven’t had a three game losing streak in the better part of a decade speaks volumes.  What it also does is put this team into some context that might not paint the best picture.

The last time Kansas found themselves coming off three straight losses was in 2005.  This was only Bill Self’s second season and featured a team prominently comprised of Roy Williams’ players.  Self hadn’t fully established himself as the coaching force of nature that he is today and players had to stomach playing Self’s grind it out Big XII style that they didn’t sign up for.  They were coming off an Elite Eight and two straight Final Fours in the three previous years, respectively.

Before that it was a Roy Williams team in 1994 coming off their second Final Four in three years.  The previous streak before that team came in 1989 in Williams’ first year and after they had captured a national championship the year before and been to two out of three Final Fours.

This year KU is in the midst of their own streak and they’re trying to stop the bleeding against the newly minted top ten Kansas State Wildcats.  This year, of course, sees the Jayhawks coming off a National Championship appearance and an Elite Eight bow out the year before.  Notice a pattern emerging?

While it’s not exactly conclusive, periods of elongated seasons and increased expectations can have an adverse effect on a senior laden team.

And it’s not all about the physicality.  Sure, playing between 4-10 extra games is nearly an extra third of a season, but there’s more to it than that.  It’s hard enough being a student-athlete at one of the most prestigious men’s basketball programs in the country, but the weight of constant expectations has to make things even worse. 

Every new Final Four this program makes it to, the bar is artificially raised.  When you take into account the fact that this team is chock full of seniors who have been through multiple long tournament runs and one conference championship after another, the mental weight becomes staggering.

Self has typically shown himself a master at finding ways to help young men deal with this impact that reverberates on campus from Allen Fieldhouse.  Every once in a while, though, there is no answer.  Because of Self’s excellence it’s a far more rare occasion than other schools, but it can still happen at Kansas.

It doesn’t help that Self doesn’t have the answers he has accustomed himself with.  He doesn’t have a 2012 Elijah Johnson to throw in there like he did when Bad Tyshawn Taylor showed up.  He doesn’t have a sparkplug off the bench like Thomas Robinson when the Morris twins weren’t being effective, or the luxury of Jeff Withey to settle things down when Robinson got a little too carried away.

Without those options Self has to place more faith in his players than he might normally if he had the depth that is normally taken for granted in Lawrence.  And the weight of the season only gets heavier on the ones who must shoulder the load.  It’s a situation Self hasn’t found himself in since his early days before starting their current streak of consecutive Big XII championships.

If there’s anybody in the nation who can fix a team like this, it’s Self.  He has done a masterful job with teams in the past.  What Self has excelled at is reaching different players on different levels.  Not every person is the same and takes different coaching to be successful.  The great coaches are who they are because they don’t have a cookie cutter style and can relate to players in multiple ways.  Self seems to be struggling with that this year and needs to find a way to get his players to respond.

Self’s struggle with that also brings up the impact that the loss of Danny Manning could be having on this year’s team.  With McDonald’s All-American Perry Ellis coming in it seemed like Kansas was in good shape in the frontcourt.  Ellis was thought to be a great compliment to Withey, but at the moment is struggling to see minutes.  Ellis’ improvements have been minimal and that’s not what we’ve come to expect from KU big men.

Manning’s absence mean’s that Self has to shoulder more of the responsibility that Manning once had and as the head coach simply can’t devote as much time as Manning did.  I’m not privy to the dynamics of the current coaching staff but it’s safe to say that there’s not anybody of Manning’s caliber when it comes to coaching players in the paint.  How big or small the impact actually is can’t be clear, but to say it isn’t in impact probably isn’t being honest.

Last year with their backs against the wall in nearly every tournament game the Jayhawks responded and marched to the National Championship game.  Too often this program is evaluated based on their tournament success.  With their backs against the wall, their success will depend on Self’s ability to deal with mostly unchartered waters and this team’s unforeseen ability to respond.

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Jeff Herr: Flacco not 'elite'

We heard it all during the post-game show. Ray Lewis talked about it in his post-game interview as did everybody else.  “Joe Flacco is elite.”  As if a Super Bowl victory in the ultimate team game really shapes a players skill set differently than any other game does.  There’s something to be said for playing well under pressure, but that is a nebulous intangible and in the ultimate moment only matters ever so much. 

Just a couple months ago when the Ravens were on a bit of a slide, Baltimore fans were talking about Flacco as if they might prefer the Ravens not to sign him when he becomes a free agent.  The man who had led them to the playoffs and a playoff victory every year of his career was deemed as only borderline good enough to be the QB on the team that possibly had one of the most inflated egos in the entire league. 

As with most things the media is probably the most to blame for all of this.  With the arrival of players like Andrew Luck everyone is anxious to crown the next “elite QB.”  And talented teams who have fallen short often blame their lack of such a quarterback as the reason.  Since the narrative on Flacco was that he wasn’t an elite QB, fans start to complain. 

But now all the Ravens fans are going to be watching their championship parade talking about how much money they will gladly pay their elite quarterback.  Fact of the matter is, last night's Super Bowl doesn’t change who Flacco is, doesn’t make him an elite QB, and might be the best news the Chiefs could have hoped for. 

First of all, there flat out aren’t that many elite QBs in this league.  At any given time there are probably five or less and there’s not one in every draft.  What there are more of in the league is franchise quarterbacks and as we saw last night, that’s all that’s necessary to win. 

What’s the difference you say? Well, I’m glad you asked. 

Elite quarterbacks are a step above your typical franchise guy.  An elite QB has the skill-set to take a team on his back.  Think Peyton Manning and just about any of his Colts teams, Drew Brees and most of his Saints teams, Aaron Rodgers has the same ability, Tom Brady keeping the Patriots competitive with a revolving cast.  Flacco isn’t there. 

Consider this, Joe Flacco has never had a defense that has been outside the top 12 in points allowed in a season or top 17 in yards allowed.  In Manning’s first six years, the defenses he played with weren’t even close.  Manning, Rodgers, Brady and Brees all have career QB ratings that would rank higher than Flacco’s best season.  Between Manning, Brady, Rodgers, and Brees they have had 41 seasons as starting QBs and only two seasons in which any of them have completed less than 60% of their passes.  Flacco has done that twice in his five as a starter. 

Flacco has never passed for more than 3,817 yards in a season or thrown more than 25 touchdowns.  The aforementioned “elite” group has only thrown 25 or less touchdowns in five seasons combined.  Now, part of that is the offense that Baltimore runs, but if you had an elite quarterback wouldn’t you let him sling a little more than that? 

People wouldn’t compare Flacco to any of these superior QBs straight up, but when they try to call Flacco an elite QB, that’s exactly what they’ll be doing.  Even after a stellar performance last night Flacco hasn’t reached that level and probably never will.  And you know what, none of that matters. 

Having an elite QB gives you a better chance to win a Super Bowl.  Nobody will debate that.  But that’s the same as saying that having a Cy Young winner in baseball gives you a chance to win more games.  As saying that me dating Kate Upton is outkicking my coverage by about three football fields.  It’s obvious.  What doesn’t appear to be as obvious is that an elite QB isn’t necessary and last night just proved it. 

Flacco represents the franchise quarterback mold.  A step below the “elite,” still good enough to win a Super Bowl, but not good enough to carry a team on his own.  When defensive injuries started to catch up with the Ravens this year, the team suffered.  Flacco did what he could, but it just wasn’t enough.  Look at players like Ben Roethlisberger and and Eli Manning, as well.  Their defenses didn’t show up this year and neither player made the playoffs.  Yet, between them they’ve won four out of the last eight Super Bowls.   

There’s nothing wrong with being a franchise quarterback.  Matter of fact, there is an awful lot that is right with being one.  It means you’re good enough to win it all and that your team will not have a second thought about putting the ball in your hands with the game on the line.  But you’re probably not going to do it alone. 

With the first pick in the draft the Chiefs can pick any QB they want.  The draft is reportedly low on QB talent, but the only player that’s really missing is an elite QB talent.  There is no Luck like there was in 2012.  But what we should have more confidence in now is that a player like Luck isn’t necessary.  Preferred? Yes. But not necessary. 

If the Chiefs are waiting for the next Luck or Manning to come along, then it will be another 30 years before they draft a QB.  Fact is, they don’t come around that often and if Andy Reid and John Dorsey are worth the money the Chiefs are paying them, then they will find a way to make the Chiefs competitive enough to never be in this position again. 

I couldn’t tell you which one of this years QBs will be a franchise quarterback.  If I had to guess I would say it would come from one of the three names we all know: Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, or Geno Smith.  It’s Reid and Dorsey’s job to figure out which one will be that guy and make him a Chief (that is of course if Leon Sandcastle isn’t available). 

Point of all this is that there is a major misconception out there about this draft.  No elite quarterbacks doesn’t mean that there isn’t any good ones available.  The year Matt Ryan and Flacco were drafted most called that QB class “below average.”  Those two alone have been to four championship games and have now won a Super bowl.   

With the disproportionate importance of quarterbacks in today’s NFL, their value is higher than ever.  If you have a chance to get the best QB in the draft and pass it up, it better be for that once-in-a-decade non-QB talent and that simply isn’t there this year either.  Players like Luke Joeckel and Jarvis Jones will probably be good players in the NFL, but either of them in a Chiefs uniform makes the team only marginally better.   

Anything other than some of the worst quarterback play in the league last year and the Chiefs probably win about four more games in 2012.  Better play from their left tackle or outside linebacker nets them next to nothing.  Even if he’s the best ever at his position, it might make the difference in one game. 

I’ve been beating the drum that the Chiefs should draft a QB #1 overall ever since they secured the pick.  I understand that everyone would rather be in last year’s draft when Luck was available, but if we’re playing that game I’d rather be in 1998 when Peyton Manning was available, or in 1983 when John Elway was available.  We might be waiting another 15 years for that surefire talent to come out, but that doesn’t mean no talented quarterback will be drafted before then. 

Flacco’s performance this season proved what the Chiefs needed to know to make the right pick.  Your quarterback doesn’t have to be elite, he just has to be good enough to win.  Not every quarterback in the league is,and it will be up to the Chiefs to find the one that is and make him the next Kansas City Chief.
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Jeff Herr: Ray Lewis legacy

Ray Lewis.  Saying the name will divide just about any room right down the middle.  Some revere him, some revile him.  His on-field skill is unquestioned but the agreement ends there.  Going to his second Super Bowl, his position as the best linebacker ever just might be solidified.  But even after all the tackles, all the awards, all the accolades, his career will still have an ever present black eye.

We all know the story, or at least think we do.  Lewis was with some friends at a nightclub in Atlanta Super Bowl Sunday, January 31, 2000.  Wearing a white suit, he and his friends got into an altercation with another group that resulted in the murder of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. 

To this day only the people that were there know the exact truth.  Lewis’ involvement wasn’t questioned, but the extent of it was.  In order to save himself from jail time, Lewis testified against the very friends he was with that night and pleaded his own case down.  The white suit he was wearing—apparently covered in victims’ blood—was never found. 

Later that year, with his freedom intact, he had the best season of his career, won league MVP, helped his team to the Super Bowl, and won Super Bowl MVP.

By all accounts it was one of the greatest years by a defensive player in history.  But the entire year had a black cloud hung over its head. 

Whatever happened that night shortly after the turn of the millennium not many can speak to.  What we can speak to is everything that’s happened since.  No matter your thoughts on Lewis after that night, what can’t be disputed is that he has stayed out of trouble off the field.

No amount of “good behavior” can bring back the two men that were killed that night.  But in a world in which athletes rarely learn from their mistakes—mostly because they don’t have to as they aren’t held accountable by many—Lewis seemed to have learned from his. 

Here in Kansas City we’re familiar with Larry Johnson and his off the field issues.  What made Johnson’s already frustrating actions even more worse, was his inability to learn from his mistakes and change.  It’s bad enough that he had multiple slip-ups, but you truly have to wonder about somebody when they repeatedly make the same mistakes.

Regardless of your thoughts on Lewis, something has to be said for his ability to not fall back to his previous ways.

Former KC Star columnist Jason Whitlock recently wrote an article about Lewis.  In that column he opined that the pain from that trial still lingers and remains with Lewis. That pain is part of what has fueled his ability to play the most violent position in the most violent game with such ferocity for longer than most could ever dream.  It’s an interesting theory and I think it holds water. 

During this remarkable postseason run the Ravens have had, Lewis is the first interview after every victory.  In a season cut short by injury, his team was just trying to make it to the postseason to get him a chance to play one more game in what he has said will be his last season.  Lewis is either lauded or loathed each time. 

Some people think the passion Lewis shows for the game and for his religious and spiritual beliefs is admirable.  Some think you can’t add as many air fresheners you want but it’s not going to cover up the stench of what Lewis may or may not have done but was certainly involved with.

Going a step beyond the pain, I see a man who is overcompensating.  I don’t pretend to know Lewis or what his life is about.  I can only surmise by what I see from how the man presents himself to us as the American public.  What I see there is a man who has seemingly rededicated his life to being a better person, in hopes that it will make up for his past transgressions.

Anybody who has even a vague familiarity with our legal system in America will tell you there are far too many holes that will allow a guilty man to go free.  Anybody who has that same familiarity with any kind of religion will tell you that forgiveness plays a large role in any belief set.

For me personally, the ballad of Ray Lewis isn’t about forgiveness or loopholes.  It’s about learning and growing. 

The Super Bowl that took place the day of the double homicide Lewis was involved in had a player who participated named Leonard Little, who most are probably familiar with.  About a year and a half before that game he was convicted of vehicular manslaughter while driving intoxicated.  Four years after that Super Bowl, he was arrested again for driving under the influence. 

Little didn’t learn from his mistakes.  And his story isn’t the exception either.  These athletes grow up in a world in which they are the most popular, they make the most money, and everybody bends over backwards to make sure they don’t have to deal with any unwanted consequences.  For that reason, it’s hard for them to learn from their mistakes.

It appears Lewis has bucked that trend.  I don’t wish to call him guilty or not guilty for the events of that night in the year 2000.  I can’t even claim to like his post-game interviews.  At times, they can be self-indulgent and preachy.  There may be more “look at me” in Lewis than there should; given the role he’s actually played this season.  The play of quarterback Joe Flacco probably deserves more attention than he does. 

But all of that may just be his way of dealing with his knowledge of what actually happened that night.  Forced attrition and disingenuous apologies are things that I hate, especially from athletes.  What I can appreciate about Lewis, despite the attention-grabbing nature of how he goes about his business, is that it seems completely genuine.

If Lewis can turn his life around and be an inspiration for others to do the same, then it just might be worth all the love he gets lavished with.  I am not one who thinks that athletes are role models or should be.  But I am also one who can’t ignore the role they play in our society.  Even if they shouldn’t be looked to as role models, it doesn’t mean that can’t be positive examples.  I don’t know what happened that night, and I won’t pretend to.  I am not going to anoint Lewis as some have either.  But what I can say is that Lewis has earned my respect on the field and off of it as well for what he has done to positively change his life. 

People make mistakes.  People can change for the better.  Lewis is a great example of both and the grand stage of the Super Bowl after this tumultuous season for the Ravens will be a fitting end to his career that always seemed made for the world’s biggest stage.

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Jeff Herr: No More Fear

The Chiefs are staring down the barrel of the most important decision in this franchise's history.  With the number one overall pick, they can choose any player they would like from the college ranks.  With that, they can choose their QB of the future, or they can choose a different player, try to find a QB on the scrap heap and tread the same water they’ve been treading for the last 25 years. 

The Chiefs are an organization paralyzed by fear.  Fear of becoming irrelevant and fear of failing publicly.  This fear has ruled the Chiefs organization for the last two decades.  After their top ten QB pick of Todd Blackledge busted out in the late 80’s the Chiefs have not drafted a QB in the first round since.   

In that time this organization has paraded around multiple former San Francisco 49ers QBs in Steve DeBerg, Joe Montana, Steve Bono, and Elvis Grbac.  They’ve also collected other teams’ former cast offs including Dave Kreig, Trent Green, Damon Huard, and most recently, Matt Cassel.  In that time, only two of those QBs have won a playoff game for this franchise.  Neither won a championship game or a Super Bowl. 

The only quarterback the Chiefs drafted to start a game for them in the last 25 years is Brodie Croyle, who has a stellar 0-10 record as a starter.  Croyle was taken in the third round and hyped up as the QB of the future. 

What the Chiefs are left with is a battered franchise.  With a new coach, front office, and direction often comes a new quarterback.  New coach Andy Reid did as much when he took Donovan McNabb with his first pick as Eagles coach in 1999.  Both Reid and GM John Dorsey have ties to Green Bay which saw Mike Holmgren trade for Brett Favre and then leave Green Bay to head to Seattle and immediately trade for Matt Hasselbeck. 

Conventional wisdom says that a quarterback will be selected.  But the narrative this year suggests that is not the right play, whether its the Chiefs or anybody in the first round.  It’s a QB class that’s perceived as weak and therefore has nobody worth taking number one overall. 

The alternative getting the most noise is Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel.  Joeckel gets this years moniker as “best left tackle in _____ years.”  But even if he’s that good, does that make him the smarter play? 

Looking back at recent high profile left tackles taken, the evidence would suggest that he wouldn’t be.  Jake Long was taken #1 overall in 2008 and although his team made the playoffs in 2009, hasn’t won more than seven games since and might not even be back with the team next year.  Oh by the way, the Dolphins passed up on Matt Ryan and ended up drafting a quarterback in the top 10 last year in Ryan Tannehill. 

Joe Thomas was drafted by the Browns number three overall and has played at an all-pro level only to lead his team to zero playoff appearances.  While a solid piece of the franchise, he has done little to reverse the moribund fortunes of Cleveland.  Even with Thomas, the most optimistic the Browns have looked in years is with last year's first round pick Josh Weeden in place at quarterback. 

The issue resides in value.  Everyone agrees that the quarterback position is the most valuable position in all of professional sports.  Even though football is the consummate team game, the quarterback has a disproportionately high effect on the win total.   

All things being equal, a marginal improvement in quarterback play leads to more wins than a marginal improvement in left tackle play.  It’s for this reason that, as long as the Chiefs are sure no player is worse than Matt Cassel, a quarterback should be taken. 

The two major arguments against this are the aforementioned perceived weakness of the talent pool, and the idea that that marginal improvement could come from elsewhere besides the number one overall pick, whether that be in free agency or the first pick of the second round. 

Now, the perceived weakness of this class is made that much worse by the success of the one that immediately precedes it.  If so many highly touted rookie QBs hadn’t lived up to the hype, then things might look a lot better this year.  But think about this, put Andrew Luck of last year and Robert Griffin III in 2009 or 2010 drafts, and do Matt Stafford and Sam Bradford still go number one?  Even though they were the consensus best picks?  Just because there is not Andrew Luck or RGIII doesn’t mean there is no good quarterback in this draft. 

But with the success of later round picks like Russell Wilson (3rd round), Colin Kaepernick (2nd round) and Andy Dalton (2nd round), maybe the Chiefs would be better served to wait?  The only problem here is that you’re taking all mitigating factors and putting them in the hands of other teams. 

Every quarterback carries risk.  In a crowded year like this one where no QB has firmly taken hold of the #1 spot that risk is even higher.  The best way to mitigate this risk is to have player evaluation you trust, which we assume the Chiefs do at this point.  The next best way is to be in a position where you can choose what risk you take.  By that I mean for the Chiefs to be in a position to choose the quarterback with the least amount of risk or that they think they can manage best. 

The Chiefs are in that position.  If they wait till the second round, they lose that advantage and depend on other teams leaving them with the least risk.  The NFL draft is the last place you want to depend on other teams to help you out.  As we’ve all seen over the last few years, its nearly impossible to predict what other teams will do.  That’s adding another layer of risk to a position and pick that already carries enough with it.   

There are a lot of high upside possibilities out there for the Chiefs and its up to them to find the one they believe will be able to attain it.  What they can’t do is pass up the opportunity they’ve been waiting on for the last 25 years, to correct the most prominent mistake in franchise history.
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Jeff Herr: Is Russell Wilson More Fool’s Gold for the Chiefs?

Everyone saw it. It was probably the game of the weekend.  Down 27-7 to the Atlanta Falcons, the Seattle Seahawks were in dire straights.  Then, rookie third round draft pick Russell Wilson sprang into action.  By the time there was less than a minute left in the game the Seahawks had taken a 28-27 lead.  Wilson lead the charge with his arms and legs, showing composure unusual for someone of such limited experience.   

Unfortunately, Wilson's defense couldn’t hold on and the Seahawks lost (giving Chiefs great Tony Gonzalez his first ever playoff win in the process).   The box score was good enough for Wilson, 24/36, 385 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT and a 109.1 QB rating is about as good of a playoff performance as you could ask for.  But when you couple that with the fact that he led his team to 12 previous wins, was one of only four quarterbacks to have a QB rating over 100 for the season, and did it all as an undersized rookie who had to fend off a high-priced free agent for the job, it becomes all the more impressive. 

Wilson represents so many things that can go right in the NFL. When you pair a talented QB with a good head coach and offensive coordinator who can make him successful, anything can happen.  But he also shows us things that can go wrong.  Wrong like all 32 teams passing on him at least twice, and some of them three times before he finally got selected number 75 overall. 

Wilson fell victim to the NFL combine “measurables” that can create millionaires or stifle them.  Tom Brady slipped to the sixth round because he didn’t “look” like your typical QB. Nobody thought Joe Montana had what was needed to be a first round pick either. But they will go down as two of the best ever.  While Wilson’s fate in that regard remains to be seen, and he’s no Montana or Brady yet, he fell victim to the same prejudices that forced Montana and Brady to fight their way to greatness in the early part of their careers. 

But this has also led to one of the greatest myths in the history of the NFL: the late-round quarterback “find.”   

It’s no secret around these parts that the Chiefs were one of those unlucky teams that passed on Wilson a total of three times.  The Chiefs decided to take Dontari Poe (1st round), Jeff Allen (2nd round) and Donald Stephenson (3rd round - the pick right before Wilson at #74 overall) instead.  None of these were bad picks, and from how they all played this year look to be pretty solid.  But anybody that saw what the Seahawks did this year and what they nearly pulled off yesterday will say the Chiefs season could have taken an entirely different turn if they had Wilson instead of Stephenson or any of the Chiefs first three picks. 

The fact that such a talented and proven player lasted that long is surprising, only with an incomplete understanding of how the NFL works.  “Measurables” that can be put on paper and pointed to as defense for a pick are king in the most successful sports league in America.  What a player has done isn’t weighted as heavily as what his profile tells you he COULD do.  Projection is an important part of evaluation, but ignoring past indicators and what they see on the field only leads teams to do a facepalm when they see Wilson shredding defenses and think to themselves “that could have been us” (three times!).  Making matters worse is that he will be seen as the exception and no NFL team will change how they do anything because of Wilson. 

Teams will go on ignoring players that don’t “measure up.”  Then they will go right along and point to the success of those players as reason’s to not take the risk on a QB with a high pick.  There has been no greater offender of such a failed notion than the Kansas City Chiefs. 

While Wilson was setting rookie records and winning 12 games for his team, the Chiefs remained a franchise that hasn’t had a win from a quarterback they’ve drafted since the Regan Administration.^   

^Interestingly, this makes two things the current “milennial” generation has never seen: a Royals playoff run and a win from a Chiefs-drafted quarterback.  How sad is this fact? According to this website (http://kansascitymo.areaconnect.com/statistics.htm) roughly 51.5% of the city is between the ages of 0-34. If we extrapolate that to the roughly two million people in the greater metro area, that means there’s about 1,200,000 people who have never seen either event! People on tail end of that range might vaguely remember the Royals winning or Todd Blackledge willing his team to victory when they were seven or so, but not anything clearly. Even Cleveland has seen a win from a QB they’ve drafted AND had a playoff run in baseball...within the last five years. CLEVELAND! 

With Scott Pioli in charge over the last four years we heard Tom Brady’s name quite a bit.  The Patriots were given credit for “finding” him in the sixth round and turning him into the first ballot hall of famer he is today.   

What you rarely hear people point out is that the Patriots were like most other teams and passed on Brady five times.  They didn’t think he was the next Montana, they just thought he could back up Drew Bledsoe.  If not for a bad injury to Bledsoe, we might not even know Brady’s name.  Point being, the Patriots didn’t so much “unearth” Brady, as they did luck out with him the sixth round.  Just as the 49ers weren’t “genius” by picking Montana, the Patriots were just extremely fortunate. 

Revisionist history would lead us to believe that those teams saw something in those players just like people will one day say the Seahawks saw something in Wilson. Fact is, these teams were all hoping to get lucky and they just happened to be the ones that did.  If the Seahawks truly believed in Wilson, they wouldn’t have let him get to the third round. Same goes for Brady and Montana.  Part of being “genius” is being bold and none of these picks fit that bill. 

The Chiefs have a golden opportunity to be bold and find their guy this year.  With the number one overall pick they don’t have to depend on anybody else to make or not make a pick and they have the entire field of eligible players to choose from.  Hoping to get lucky with a late round pick just doesn’t work.   

The Chiefs have been playing it safe with late round QBs and free agent pickups for the last quarter century and its gotten them absolutely nowhere.  The recent quotes from Dick Vermeil only give fuel to the fire that the Chiefs don’t need to draft a quarterback. “I’d rather have a great owner and no quarterback, than a great quarterback and not a good owner,” Vermeil stated in a recent article in the Kansas City Star. Nevermind the fact that when he won his Super Bowl, it was with a great quarterback and not a good owner.  Conventional “wisdom” and pointless idioms are not what the Chiefs need to be basing their decisions on. This is not a mutually exclusive relationship and no choice has to be made. It’s not elite QB or elite owner, you can have both. This is what the Chiefs should strive for. 

Currently, 21 teams in the NFL have starting quarterbacks drafted in the first round (and that’s not counting Blaine Gabbert as starter in Jacksonville and not counting Drew Brees as a first round pick even though he was #1 pick of the 2nd round, when there were only 31 teams, making him the number 32 overall pick).  The Chiefs have sat and watched long enough, its time to step and take a swing. 

Now, the argument against taking a QB number one overall is somewhat justified, but not as concrete as most seem to think.  The crop is reportedly weak this year, but we’re also coming off a year where three rookies took their teams to the playoffs.  The inflated skill level of last year's class is diluting this years.  If you put these players against the ‘09 or ‘10 QB crop, things would probably look quite a bit different.  And while you can’t fail if you don’t try, you also can’t fail if you don’t try.  The Chiefs haven’t tried for decades and they’ve still failed.  It hasn’t worked. They’ve tried the re-treads, they’ve tried to strike gold in the late rounds, and none of it has helped them get over the hump. 

With their first #1 overall pick since the 60’s the Chiefs have to find a way to get their guy.  I hear the argument to not take a QB number one overall, and I’ve always been a “best player available” kind of guy, but I will say that the pick is only worth what it means to your team.  If their biggest need is QB (and it absolutely is for this team), and they have somebody they think will be successful, the value of that position over any other dictates they need to make that pick. 
The core of this team is strong. The new coach and GM are great evaluators and developers of talent, especially quarterbacks.  This is the time to change this franchise forever.  Clark Hunt has changed the organizational structure and shed the format that has held them back for years. It’s time they put their greatest draft misstep of a 1st round quarterback failure (Todd Blackledge - 1983) behind them as well. The entire organization is on the clock.
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Jeff Herr: The Andy Reid Era Has Begun

The suspense was short lived.  Andy Reid is the new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.  After my post last week implored Chiefs owner Clark Hunt to finally take charge of the organization, he did just that.  Only three days after being dismissed from the Philadelphia Eagles, Hunt and his Chiefs front office contingent flew to the city of Brotherly Love and got their man.  Shortly after that Scott Pioli was dismissed from his role as General Manager inciting chants across the city of “ding dong the--” well you get the point. 

With this move it appears that Hunt is no longer setting the franchise his father built on cruise control.  He has now shifted it into gear and attempted to make it his own.  His father’s methods of a pronounced organizational structure starting with the GM and working down are no more.  With Reid at the helm, the head coach and the GM will be on equal footing and will report to Hunt.  They will work together on personnel decisions with Reid having the final say.   

Often times Hunt gets little credit as an owner.  If he’s not being called cheap, he’s being dinged for being “out of touch” with his fan base and now knowing what’s going on in his own offices.  Regardless of how much any of that is true, that was the perception.  The results on the field, as well as articles like ‘Arrowhead Anxiety,’ didn’t do much to sway that perception.   

Through all of that, the biggest criticism I had for Hunt was his inability to self-evaluate and learn from his mistakes, in order to correct them.  Without speaking too soon, it appears he has taken steps toward fixing that. 

Getting rid of Pioli and changing the power structure was number one.  He realized that he wasn’t as involved as he needed to be and as a result he changed how he will govern his team.  While the Chiefs may not be the most profitable of Hunt’s businesses, they are the most visible.  Perception is important and it looks as though Hunt finally got tired of not being in control of that perception. 

Much has been made about the “four pronged approach to winning in the NFL.”  The four prongs are having a great (1) owner, (2) general manager, (3) head coach, (4) and quarterback.  In 2012, it appeared the Chiefs had zero of the four.  For 2013, Hunt knows that number one is in his hands and nobody else’s, and he’s trying to turn it around.  He also knows that he can fix number three and with that head coach they have a chance to make number four realities either with a free agent, a trade, or the number one overall pick.  What Hunt also may have realized is that number two on that list might be the biggest crap shoot of them all. 

Typically, general managers come to a team in either one of two situations: they have previously failed or they have held a position below general manager and are being given their first shot.  Rarely does a GM get a second chance after failing at their first one.  Sometimes after being away from the game for a bit, they may be given a chance, but typically have to take a lesser position in the front office. 

General manager success is the hardest to predict of them all.  Different front offices have different structures and titles are not consistent between organizations.  Some may have different responsibilities with the same titles.  It’s never exactly clear how the decision making process is structured with who makes the draft picks, the free agent signing, and who balances the salary cap.  Pioli was heralded as the hidden genius in the Patriots dynasty, but history will tell that Belichick was genius as advertised and Thomas Dimitroff (Atlanta’s current GM) was the underrated one of the bunch. 

Being so hard to tell how much involvement people have and how they will perform given their new responsibilities GM might be the most difficult hire of the front office, the easiest failure, and therefore the biggest risk.  Hunt is trying to mitigate this risk by setting the GM and the coach on equal footing, giving the coach personnel power, and Hunt ultimate responsibility.  Hunt’s effectively turning it into a three pronged approach which cuts out some possibility for failure and makes it easier to control.   

However, it also means that the risk is not equally distributed.  This is why the GM will still be hired to help Reid.  This new structure is unchartered territory for the Chiefs and hopefully will pay off. 

The biggest component of the lack of success the Chiefs had over the last four years was discontinuity.  The GM, coach, and players never seemed to be on the same page.  Hunt is trying to streamline this process so that doesn’t happen again.   

For all of this, Hunt deserves a large amount of credit.   

Now, the structure change is big news, but the biggest was obviously the impetus behind the shift: the hiring of Reid.  From the “name” standpoint, there might not have been a better choice out there.  Reid has the pedigree of a winner.  He’s won 130 games over the last 14 years, and 10 playoff games in that time span, which is more than the Chiefs have won in their history.  He has helped develop many quarterbacks over the years including Brett Favre, Matt Hasselbeck, Donovon McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and Michael Vick.  It’s one of his strengths and one of the reasons he has found himself in KC. 

His 14 years of success brings up an interesting topic.  What is the success rate of head coaches with 10+ years at a previous stop?  The list is short and hard to compare with many different eras.   

Curly Lambeau coached the Packers for 30 years and went on to coach the Cardinals (Chicago) and the Redskins.  His success was limited, but the NFL was barely recognizable from the game we see today.  Mike Ditka spent 11 years as the coach of the Chicago Bears and later failed miserably with the New Orleans Saints.  Then again, Ditka spent five years away from the game and his act wore thin in Chicago which led to his dismissal anyway.  Jeff Fisher is probably the best comparison having spent 17 years with the Titans.  His success with the Rams remains to be seen, but they look to be on the right track.   

Those aren’t the only ones but the sample size is still small.  Regardless, it still doesn’t give much evidence to support future success of Reid here in KC.   

On Twitter I mentioned that this was a very “Chiefs move,” and was met with much consternation.  People weren't quite sure what I was getting at, or just assumed it was a negative reaction and thought I was jumping the gun.  What makes this a “Chiefs move” in my opinion is that they made the move looking backwards.  While I don’t claim to know all the reasons Reid was hired, his previous 14 years of experience was noted as a major factor.   

Having a past history of success is a necessary part of any hire, but you don’t want to be in a position where you are chasing ghosts.  Looking at what someone has done previously can let you fall into a trap where they are trying to recreate something, forgetting what made them successful in the first place.   

When he took over in Philly, Reid was an innovator, a solid judge of talent (especially at the QB position), and someone who was ahead of his time in how he utilized his offense.  Now, Reid is a commodity whose best years were nearly a decade ago.  The last two years in Philadelphia were unmitigated disasters and now he’s been handed the keys to the car that is the Kansas City Chiefs like it’s his sixteenth birthday. 

Reid has never been the same since his longtime confidant and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson left the Eagles and passed away.  Defense has never been his strong suit and its part of what led to his downfall in Philly.  With the excitement Hunt had for Reid, we can only hope he called him on this.  If Hunt’s biggest struggle was not being involved enough, his next biggest was not being a competent evaluator.  Pioli needed to be checked and never was and it caused a dysfunctional, toxic atmosphere at Arrowhead that led to the worst season in franchise history. 

Only time will tell but Hunt needs to make sure that Reid himself knows where his weaknesses lie.  There needs to be a plan in place to handle the defense as well as insure the last two years in Philadelphia were the exception and not the rule.  Reid needs to realize the foils that have always followed him with his inability to consistently manage a game, and how that will be corrected in Kansas City.  If Reid will report to Hunt, the responsibility will fall on Hunt to make sure that Reid knows his strengths and his weaknesses. 

From the outside, Reid seems like a great hire.  From the inside, it seems like an all too familiar tale that we’ve seen.  A coach who had success before comes into town to save the organization and bring back the tradition that is harped on so often.  So far, it’s only led to mediocrity and temporary flirts with greatness that’s given this town no playoff wins in the last 20 years and no Super Bowl appearances in the last 43.   

While the Kansas City chapter of Reid’s book is yet to be written, it does hold itself as little risk and high reward.  The Chiefs will be relevant again.  Whether they get over the hump or not and win a playoff game and possibly more remains to be seen.   

That said, if ever there was a good candidate for the positive effect of a change of scenery, Reid is it.  After his son lost his life via a drug overdose last year and the way things ended in Philly a new town, team, and direction could pay off for the Chiefs and Reid.  In coaching terms Reid is still relatively young at 54 and, if successful, another 10 years might not be out of the question. 

Maybe Reid will go down in history as one of the great Chiefs coaches.  Maybe everyone will remember Reid in the red and gold instead of the green white.  Perhaps the Lamar Hunt trophy and possibly even the Lombardi trophy are on their way back to Kansas City in this new era.  Then again, maybe he is just another Dick Vermeil who will do some good things but whose time is largely passed.   

It will be a great deal of fun these next few months to see how Reid’s staff comes together and who he picks with the franchise’s first number one overall pick since the 1960’s.  But championships aren’t won in March, May, or August.  They are won in December, January and February.  I’m not sold that Reid is the man to keep the Chiefs seasons alive during the cold KC winter months, but I wouldn’t be surprised if if my January’s were a lot more exciting in the next few years either.   
Here’s to hoping that Hunt’s new direction and the Andy Reid era leads to the first ever exciting February in my lifetime.
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Jeff Herr: Hunt Needs to Step Up

For the longest time when I was growing up Black Monday meant very little for Chiefs fans.  Between 1989 and 1998 the Chiefs had the same GM and the same coach.  The only relevance Black Monday had was what jobs opened up that might mean other teams pilfering the Chiefs staff for a new head coach.  Other than that, it was looking towards next year, assuming they weren’t in the playoffs which they usually were.

These last few years though, Chiefs fans have been on the edge of their seat, glued to ESPN, Fox Sports, Twitter, or wherever else they get their sports news to hear what direction the Chiefs were headed.  In 2008 it was the first GM search for the Chiefs in 20 years and a new head coach was shortly to follow. 

Nearly every year since even if there hasn’t been moves made there had been whispers.  Now, here we sit yet again with Chiefs nation on the edge of their seat.  Only this time, the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been.

This has the unmistakable odor of a pivotal point in this organizations history.  With the number one pick, a chance to get a possible franchise quarterback (whether you believe there is one in this draft or not), and new possible general manager and head coach, these next few weeks hold particular importance.

News has already spread about the firing of Romeo Crennell, the possible retention of Scott Pioli and that the Chiefs have already been granted permission to interview Dirk Koetter and Keith Armstrong of the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff (offensive coordinator and special teams coach, respectively).  Hopefully this is a sign that the Chiefs will move swiftly and not drag their feet as they did in 2009 resulting in their hiring of Todd Haley, who was not their most desired candidate.

It’s hard to discuss the Chiefs future right now as so many things are up in the air.  Pioli’s future still remains “under review,” the new head coach is a mystery, and nobody has any clue what this means for the #1 overall pick in next April’s NFL draft.

In many ways this is an exciting time to be a Chiefs fan, as change always gets the motor revving, but it a precipitous time for Chiefs brass as well.

There has been a long-standing belief in this city that KC is a “baseball town.”  The unbridled enthusiasm for the All-Star game this past year and ability to draw nearly 20k fans to a below average baseball team in September gives credence to that.  If there was ever a time for the Royals to swoop in and reclaim the unabashed love of this city, it is now.

The Royals made a largely controversial move this offseason in trading for James Shields, but one that puts them in a solid position to compete in the weakest division in baseball.  If everything breaks right, the Royals could make the playoffs in 2013 (and that’s a HUGE IF).  If that happens, where does that leave the Chiefs?  Coming off a 2-14 season, with Pioli possibly still employed, and somebody like Koetter or possibly the rumored Kirk Ferentz (Ferentz is an extremely remote possibility, but it’s out there) as head coach?  Not exactly the recipe for a boost in ticket sales. 

The long-time contention has been that owner Clark Hunt only cares about money.  Regardless of how true or un-true that is, money certainly plays a factor with every owner.  The only way Hunt’s pocket book truly gets affected is with the perfect storm of an embarrassing Chiefs season, retaining Pioli, no new QB (the draft is not looking pretty) and the Royals stealing all of the city’s good will (what little remains for the professional sports teams).

Hunt has typically remained a rather hands-off owner, and for the most part that is good.  When it’s not good is when he allows someone like Pioli to come in, install gestapo like tactics that go as far as to govern one’s ability to have their window blinds open, and never step in to try to change things for the better.  In business ethics there is something called “tone at the top” which posits that the lowest rung on the ladder will follow the lead of the head honcho.  If things are going awry and Hunt doesn’t step in, what kind of tone does that set?

It’s time for Hunt to be more involved. 

This doesn’t mean Hunt needs to become Jerry Jones and be the GM as well as the owner.  What it does mean is that he can’t let a front office run roughshod over a once proud organization.  Bottom line is this team is a reflection on him, whether he likes that or not.  The perception in the national media right now is that the Chiefs are a mess and a laughingstock.  I can’t speak to how other teams in the league view them, but would think it’s similar.

It’s time for Hunt to step in and truly take control of the organization.  Pioli should be an extension of Hunt, not someone given carte blanche to run the franchise into the ground.  In times of turmoil people often talk about “changing the culture.”  That has to start with Hunt.  Whoever the general manager is in 2013 has to know that it’s Hunts team.  And the head coach, owner, and GM need to be on the same page when it comes to running this organization. 

Hunt has been hands off but on the sidelines too long.  He needs to truly stand up and own this franchise his father built.  If he wants to go his own route then that is fine, but his vision needs to be clear and well communicated.  In 2009 everyone thought Hunt was on the right track.  That experiment failed. 

Hunt now needs to truly make this organization his own, and he’ll never have a better chance than now.

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Jeff Herr: Almost moving day?

Word came out last week that both Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel had been told by somebody in the Kansas City Chiefs organization that they would not be retained at the end of the year.  All parties involved have denied the rumor, but it’s not exactly going out on a limb as most have suspected both Crennel and Pioli’s days were numbered since mid-season. 

It seems pretty easy to see that Crennel is gone no matter which way the Chiefs decide to go. He is 28-54 as a head coach both here and in Cleveland. 

But Pioli is a different story.  As I wrote about last week here on 610sports.com I noted that we have no evidence to suggest dismissing Pioli is something Clark would do.  Further, if he was removed, we also have no reason to have faith that he will make the correct decision on his replacement.  Yet, for the purposes of this article we are going to live in a fantasy world that most KC sports fans are familiar with, in which Hunt does the right thing and makes all the right moves going in to next season.

The question as always then turns to where do the Chiefs look?  Who has the experience, the pedigree, the dedication, and the ability to be the “perfect fit” for this organization?  This also has to be determined while looking back and realizing that Scott Pioli was deemed the “perfect fit.” 

Ultimately, that has to be the first place the Chiefs look—right in the mirror.  Many have said it and it still remains true that Clark Hunt has to look at the mistakes he made last time and be sure not to repeat them.  The greatest fear is that Hunt is arrogant enough to think that he didn’t make a mistake, that 2012 was just an anomaly, and if it were truly up to him the current regime would be retained.  As of now, all signs point to this being bigger than any possible arrogance and a house-cleaning is due.

Instead of looking at candidates I’m going to take a different approach here.  Fact is, most of us have no idea about who coaches really are and how they operate.  We don’t know what a GM’s philosophy is or how much they really had to do with any perceived success of their current organization.  And just about everybody universally applauded the Chiefs for the hires of Pioli and Haley so we all know that sometimes perception isn’t quite reality.

Instead, I’ll take a look at what the Chiefs need to focus on in their search instead of whom.

What’s more important than the position the person fills is who they really are.  I think most would agree that the Pioli fans know of now isn’t the football wizard we all thought we were getting.  This comes back on Hunt.  He should have done his diligence to determine if Pioli was truly the right man for the job or not. 

In 2009 when Pioli was hired, it wasn’t actually Scott Pioli they brought on board, it was his reputation.  Hunt went up to New England where a franchise he envied, owned by a man he revered, produced someone who was a 3-time executive of the year and who sports pundits and experts couldn’t stop raving about.  Whispers were out there that maybe even Pioli was the true reason behind the New England dynasty.  Pioli was the white whale and Hunt was Ahab on a mission to harpoon the GM that would solidify him as one of the best owners in the game.

But like all tragedies it ran a twisted and painful course that is still heading towards a (hopeful) resolution. 

There doesn’t appear to be a Scott Pioli around this time.  No slam-dunk hire that is a surefire bet to turn around a franchise.  No football genius that will bring Super Bowl trophies back to this town.  In this coming search, the Chiefs have their work cut out for them.

Most importantly, the Chiefs need to find a GM and coach with an eye towards the future, not the past.  All too often over the last 20-plus years the Chiefs have been chasing ghosts.  Well, chasing some and batting away others. 

It’s well known the Chiefs haven’t won a game with a quarterback they’ve drafted since 1987.  The failure of Todd Blackledge is like a bad haircut.  People walking down the street probably can’t tell, but when you look in the mirror you know it’s there.

Because of this one instance this organization has balked at drafting another quarterback in the first round for going on 30 years now.  Instead, they have gone the route of re-treads.  They made a bold trade for the legend Joe Montana in 1993, it paid off with a trip to the AFC Championship game, and they haven’t won a playoff game since.  But that failure doesn’t mean any change in methods.  Instead they grabbed former San Francisco backup Steve Bono to replace Montana, then SF backup Elvis Grbac to replace him.

The list continues to grow and the Chiefs continue to be too scared to take a chance.

That same philosophy permeates their choices for GMs and head coaches over the last 25 years.  Through Carl Peterson’s entire regime he didn’t make one bold hire.  Marty Schottenheimer was an established coach who was able to carry his success over to KC.  When he resigned, Peterson just moved up defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham without even asking if he was the right man for the job.  Nevermind, that it split the locker room right down the middle.   

Then came the hire of Peterson’s old friend Dick Vermeil.  Together they made a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles (and lost) in 1980, and Vermeil went on to win one with the St. Louis Rams in 1999.  In 2001, they set Vermeil up with the backup quarterback from that Rams team (Trent Green), and tried to recreate the greatest show on turf on the grass at Arrowhead.  While some of it was spectacular, none of it resulted in a single playoff win.

Then came the hire of Herm Edwards who had won a playoff game in New York as their head coach and served on Schottenheimer’s staff.  This led to the worst record in Chiefs history in 2008, which will most likely be matched by this year’s squad. 

Invariably, that led to the hiring of Pioli and Haley to try to recreate what they had done in their previous stops.  That experiment has failed miserably and it’s been failing for the last 20 years.  Every stop along the way has been an effort to recreate something that somebody else built.  Nobody has tried to recreate what the Chiefs have done in that time period. 

The great coaches in the game don’t try to recreate what others have already done.  They don’t refuse to evolve.  They grow with the game and make themselves and their team better.  Bill Belichick meets up a different college coach seemingly every year in the offseason.  Belichick knows that in order to keep his club at the top of the heap he has to keep Tom Brady healthy, and be ahead of the curve.

This is what the Chiefs need to look for in their next regime.  If they want to be set up long-term as an organization they need to elect a regime that isn’t afraid of the game.  The NFL is an incredibly dynamic league.  Rules change every offseason.  The college game gets more advanced and different each year.  Philosophies on how to build and coach a team are necessary, but stubbornness isn’t.  It’s a plague that has haunted this organization for years and it’s time to go.

There are a lot of things this organization needs to do this offseason.  Chief among them (pun intended) is to turn a figurative new chapter for this organization, both in personnel and in spirit.  The Chiefs lone Super Bowl victory was over 40 years ago.  The bust of Blackledge is 30 years gone.  Tradition is great and should be respected, but not chased.  It’s time for Hunt to truly be bold. 

He doesn’t need to hire a reputation, a past or a philosophy.  He needs to hire a person who can lead this organization into the future and not the past.

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Jeff Herr: Clark Hunt Hasnt Earned Our Trust

Sunday could go down as the most embarrassing loss in franchise history for the Kansas City Chiefs.  It’s bad enough to lose, worse to lose to the Raiders, but when the Raiders are one of the worst teams in the league with the 30th ranked defense and the Chiefs can’t even muster a single point, it’s an epic level of ineptitude rarely seen this side of Kristen Stewart’s acting.

With such a pitifully awful display, it would seem that changes are in order for the front office, the coaching staff, half the players, heck just about everybody will and should be under the microscope.  If football is the ultimate team game then some of the blame for this, however big or small, falls on everybody.  Nobody should escape the scrutiny of true evaluation after this season.  Such a thing should be true for the owner as well.

Unfortunately, the owner of a sports team is the ultimate “buck stops here” position in which nobody can tell him/her what to do.  Clark Hunt is in that position.  Hunt won’t be under a microscope and he has given us no confidence that he will turn it on the right people.

Trying to reach back and see how Hunt would feel about this past Sunday is a futile exercise.  It makes us realize how little we know about the owner of the most beloved franchise in the city.  You would think he would be disgusted by the embarrassing performance.  You would think he would come out and tell us that this is unacceptable and it will get better as the Jacksonville Jaguars owner has done.  But silence has spoken volumes.  Even if actions are louder than words his inaction is shouting from the top of a 78,000+ seat stadium through a blowhorn with nothing but euphemisms and clichés. 

Hunt has remained mum on the disappointing play of this team on the field in 2012.  Even more so about the supposed and undeserved extension that Scott Pioli was rumored to have received in August.  When he has spoken it has been trite and clichéd nonsense about what winning organizations do, none of which is actually done by the team he runs.

Yet, this is the same man who invited a fan into his office after receiving a letter suggesting Hunt was cheap.  While not much was revealed about the meeting, the fan did note that he had a newfound respect for the owner.

Through all of this Hunt still remains a mystery.  He talks about cash spending versus cap spending to justify why letting people like Brandon Carr go is an acceptable casualty for the long-term plans of the franchise, and not a short-sighted, ill-advised, penny pinching move. 

He talks about turning this organization into the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New England Patriots who are in contention every year.  What he neglects is to actually look at those organizations and find what it is that makes them successful, which is a consistency of message and accountability.

Does anyone think it possible that any of Bill Belichick’s players or coaching staff isn’t on the exact same letter of the same word on the same page?  Could anyone believe that even with their struggles Mike Tomlin still doesn’t have full control over the Steelers? 

From day one those coaches are clear on what their message is.  They have it laid out where they’re going, how they’re going to get there, and why.  I don’t know if there’s anybody who could legitimately suggest the same level of organization occurs at One Arrowhead Drive.

With all the confusion the fans don’t know who to believe.  On Twitter last year it was #TeamHaley versus #TeamPioli.  Some people believe the players, some believe the coaches, some think those are the ones to blame and the front office is to be believed.  The dysfunction in this organization has caused even the fans to choose sides on the infighting.

From a fan-to-team perspective all this has done is breed distrust.  Faith that this organization will make the right moves and reward us properly for being the fans that we are is at an all-time low.  We all know that Pioli and Crennell should be gone.  I happen to think Crennell is probably out, but Pioli is 50/50 to stay or leave.  Regardless, that is just the symptom and not the true problem.  There is no evidence to suggest, or even to have faith, that if Pioli and Crennell are fired that Hunt will be able to make the right decision.

Besides Hunt’s track record for lack of accountability and action within the organization, the evidence exists outside of football to further our lack of trust.  Some digging into Clark Hunt’s business dealings reveals a relationship he had with Barrett Wissman in Dallas, TX.  Wissman pleaded guilty to securities fraud in New York after, according to this article from dmagazine.com, “essentially bringing people to get state pension funds to invest with a hedge fund controlled by Wissman and Hunt – except Hunt says he didn’t know what was going down.  His hands are clean.”

The article goes on further to explain to how a woman named Hilary Kramer filed suit against Hunt and Wissman in 2010 claiming that they destroyed her hedge fund.  Apparently Kramer had knowledge of shady business dealings that Hunt and Wissman were involved in while conducting business for Hunt’s hedge fund endeavor HFV (Hunt Financial Ventures). 

Now, no formal charges have been brought against Hunt nor are any accusations being thrown here to implicate Hunt himself.  However, it is true that Hunt and Wissman are long-time friends having gone to the same high school in Dallas and Wissman did plead guilty to these charges.  What’s also true is that Hunt put Wissman in charge of a multi-million dollar portion of his business, the very one that his father built and he inherited.

Even if Hunt truly didn’t know what was going on, he still put Wissman in charge.  While it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Wissman could have been a good man and suddenly changed course on account of greed (he most certainly wouldn’t be the first), the greater likelihood is that Hunt knew how Wissman did business and that’s exactly why he hired him.  Hunt’s hands may have been clean, but it shows a larger window into his methods.

As just another piece of Hunt’s track record, does this give us any confidence that he will make a sound decision to put the right man in charge?  While he may not have perpetrated any fraud himself, Hunt has to be held responsible for putting the man that did in that position.  The same should be applied to the Chiefs.  While he didn’t make any of the personnel decisions on his own, or hire the coach, he most certainly put the man in charge who did and who’s fostered the dysfunction that is ruining this organization.

As fans we’ve had enough of Pioli and the underachieving suck that is this organization.  As fans we deserve better.  As a fan myself I’d like to believe we’ll get it.  Unfortunately, I have no evidence to support such belief.  Maybe a championship will get brought back to KC someday.  Maybe one Chiefs team will catch a wave of luck, as so much of sports come down to that anyway.  It’s all very possible. But I know that, with who we have in charge at the moment, I won’t be holding my breath.
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Jeff Herr: The good, the bad & the ugly from the Royals trade

In a vacuum, this is quite possibly the best thing the Royals could have done.  Last night, the Royals traded Wil Myers (teams #1 prospect, and top 5 prospect in all of baseball), Jake Odorizzi (another top 5 organizational prospect), Mike Montgomery (former #1 organizational prospect, who regressed hard last season), and Patrick Leonard (recent draftee who spent all of 2012 in rookie ball, where he played quite well), to Tampa Bay for starter James Shields (otherwise known as “Big Game James”) and starter/reliever Wade Davis. 
For 2013, this is a fantastic deal that makes the Royals better.  Wil Myers likely would have been in AAA Omaha until May, and probably would have had some rookie struggles in his first year as most players do.  Jake Odorizzi had a somewhat difficult time in an incredibly small sample size in the majors last season, and he never projected to be a pitcher close to what Shields is.  Montgomery isn’t the prospect he was two years ago and Patrick Leonard may amount to something but was probably a throw in. 
Shields got his nickname for a reason.  He is coming off two seasons in which he pitched an average of 238 innings, had a combined 3.15 ERA, won 31 games combined, and struck out an average of 224 batters per year, nearly one per inning.  His ERA+ in 2011 was 134 and in 2012 it was 108, and has been above 100 (which is league average) for five of the last six years.  By just about any measure, Shields is an excellent, dependable pitcher who deserves to be at the front of a rotation and would be on any contending team (as he was on the Rays last year). 
Wade Davis is a pitcher who has started 64 games in the majors and has a career ERA below 4.00.  Now, it bears mentioning that his ERA is helped by a 2012 ERA of 2.43 in which he was used in relief.  70.1 of his 458.1 major league innings came in relief and have helped bolster his statistics.  The Royals believe he can be a starter and will slot him in opening day.  At worse, he projects to be a solid innings eater that will probably be better than the alternative of Luke Hochevar/Luis Mendoza/Bruce Chen. 
Another not-insignificant note was that there was also a “player to be named later or cash.”  Now, lots of times the PTBNL is a recent draft pick.  Draft picks can’t be traded within a year of being drafted so if a player from the Rays 2012 draft was agreed upon, we won’t know until June.  If it was one of their top draft picks then the Royals could have another solid piece as part of this trade.  It will be something fans most definitely need to keep their eyes open for. 
That is the good. 
The Myers that this team gave up is the player we thought he would be to this point.  He is the player the Royals paid well over slot for in 2009 to draft.  He was minor league player of the year in 2012, a prestigious list that includes players like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and current Royal Alex Gordon.  He hit .314/.387/.554 with 37 homeruns and 109 RBIs.  For a team that has changed their philosophy to “hit as many homeruns as we can or pop out trying” a young power hitter sure seemed like he would be perfect for this team. 
Odorizzi was one of the key pieces to the Zack Greinke trade.  While he wasn’t developing into a pitcher like Shields he was expected to eventually be a part of the rotation in 2013.  Odorizzi would probably settle into the three or four spot of a rotation and give a lot of good quality innings.  If that turns out to be true, he will be doing it in Tampa Bay and not here in KC. 
Montgomery was once the golden boy, pitching prospect of this organization.  A 6’4” lefty who threw gas and had a very good changeup with a big league curve seemed destined for stardom.  Some disagreements with the Royals, setbacks in his development, and who knows what else has caused Montgomery to regress considerably and had him in AA at the end of 2012, when he started 2011 thinking he might break camp with the team.  It was widely known the developmental issues Monty had with the Royals.  I for one will be incredibly curious to see if the Rays can fix him with their stellar track record in developing pitchers. 
Leonard is a player who I admittedly know very little about but have heard good things.  Probably a throw-in to the deal but still another prospect gone from this system that is deep enough to absorb it. 
That’s the bad.   
While 2013 looks brighter, and maybe even 2014 if you squint hard enough, that’s where this ends.  In this deal James Shields only has two years left on his current contract.  If he pitches like the Royals need him to for this trade to be a victory, then they won’t be able to afford him in 2015 and he will walk.  This could be the same time that Myers is making league minimum and making his way to the MVP discussion. 
For the record, I don’t think that Myers will be quite that good, but I do think he has a better than zero chance of being a very good player in the major leagues.  The problem here is the flaw in the Royals thinking and their screwy logic. 
It has come out over the past couple of weeks that the Royals have a “soft cap” of roughly $70M and that owner David Glass would give $76M in order to make a necessary move.  Well, he has put his money where his mouth is and with the addition of Shields and Davis are over that amount right now.  However, they are mostly tapped out and any additions to this team will be on the very cheap. 
The Royals talk about their “soft cap.”  They constantly lament the unfair structure of baseball and how its harder for the Royals to compete because they can’t spend $150M+ on their major league payroll.  This is a fair argument.  Yet, they just traded away cheap options that they have cost controlled for the next six to seven years who could have helped this team.   
The most glaring weakness this shows is that the Royals didn’t have to be in this position.  The Royals made this trade with the Rays because the Rays have a surplus of pitching talent.  They could give up Shields and still have one of the better rotations in the majors.  This is because they have developed their own pitching.  The Rays have a very measured and distinct philosophy on how they develop pitchers.  It has worked and the dividends continue to pay.  The Rays are at the front of the pack when it comes to this arena. 
The Royals are not. 
As an organization the Royals have only developed one pitcher in the last 20 years (Zack Greinke) and refuse to accept new methods of development and incorporate them.  As a result, players like Mike Montgomery have regressed and nobody else has amounted to much since Dayton Moore became the General Manager in 2006 (Danny Duffy’s fate is still TBD). 
With the incredibly out of whack economics of baseball the Royals are at an economic disadvantage.  The problem is, that doesn’t immediately equate to failure.  The Rays are in a worse position economically but have been to the playoffs in three of the last five years, and competed in the other two.  They have some of the best young talent in the majors and continue to get better.  Instead of crying about their situation, they have found every advantage they could and exploited it.  It’s no surprise that Andrew Friedman comes off looking good in this trade and Moore comes off looking like a desperate man clinging to the last thread of job security. 
The Royals too often lean on their economic position as an excuse.  There are no excuses in sports.  Teams like the Rays, the Brewers, the Orioles and the A’s have shown it can be done.  Flipping prospects or players can be part of it.  The problem is, it needs to be for that last remaining piece, or for more pieces than you’re giving up.  The Royals got neither.   
Will the Royals be able to compete in the weakest division in baseball?  Probably.  Does this make them an 85 win team?  There’s a good chance of that, too.  What it doesn’t do is most likely put them in the playoffs.  There’s still a good chance they finish 10 games behind the Tigers.  But with 85 wins and second place finish, Moore keeps his job.  And the cycle repeats. 
Taken by itself for 2013, this is a solid move.  But it also underscores the Royals inability to cope with their position in the marketplace of baseball and exploit the advantages they are allowed.  While trading prospects is one of those advantages, this move wreaked more of desperation than advantageous play. 
Shields arriving in KC doesn’t hasten the development of Kyle Zimmer, John Lamb, Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, or any other of the young pitchers still left in this organization.  He also doesn’t make the problems that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas has last year go away.  He doesn’t make Jeff Francoeur better and he doesn’t play a mean second base.   
Many people who advocate the trade do so stating that Myers “isn’t a sure thing,” while at the same time extolling the virtues of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas who are only a marginally better bet to become all-stars.  The Royals got better last night but their end game is to get to the playoffs and I don’t know that this move does it.  I will gladly eat my words on this, but until then this trade isn’t good or bad, it’s something else.
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Jeff Herr: Sobering Weekend at Arrowhead

As a blogger I have a luxury that full-time, salaried journalists don’t typically have.  Namely, I don’t have to write about everything.  When truly horrific or tragic events happen our responses are often times “I don’t have words.”  Yet, many journalists are tasked with coming up with words, many of them, to encapsulate the situation and try to help people understand the world that has seemingly gone haywire around them.  For that reason true journalism will always be a powerful thing as these wordsmiths are able to help us gain a greater understanding and get a handle on these situations.  When events like the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky event took place or the Bernie Fine situation at Syracuse that continues to develop , or the recent suicides that have happened with former professional football players they’re hard to write about.  

The murder-suicide that happened this past weekend with Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins being in our very city, it makes it hard not to write about.  I don’t know that I can offer a greater understanding or help anybody cope with such an event as a murder-suicide but I can put my thoughts down on paper and hope to provide some perspective, however limited it might be.

Waking up Saturday I had some errands to run.  I ran them with my girlfriend and returned home around 10:45 and fired up Twitter for the first time of the day.  It was at that point the myriad of Chiefs followers and local media I followed had taken over my timeline with news so horrific I couldn’t possibly fathom that it actually happened.  As I scrolled through tweet after tweet the news became more clear.  Belcher had shot his girlfriend multiple times in front of her mother, driven to Arrowhead, had a gun to his head, was trying to be talked down by head coach Romeo Crennell and General Manager Scott Pioli and then took his own life right there in the practice facility parking lot.

The news was chilling to say the least.  We are trained as fans to look at football players are meta-humans.  They are people with unbelievable talent and skill that the other 99% doesn’t possess.  They are paid accordingly.  It’s easy to look at them and think that everything must be great.  They are playing a game they love for a living, they are getting paid handsomely for it, and they have the adulation of thousands every week.  It’s often hard to look underneath and see the player for who they really are as a human being.

Words get thrown around that one player is a “great guy on and off the field,” or that another player is a “clubhouse cancer.”  These things are looking beyond the physical skill-set, but still only see things as a subset of their total package as a football player.  The word “gladiator” often gets thrown around about these individuals and there’s a modicum of truth to that.  They’re job is to entertain and that is exactly what they do.  A byproduct of that is a little bit of their humanity is lost.

Players are defined by who and what they are on the field.  I am an accountant by day, a blogger by night, a son, a brother, a friend and last but certainly not least a boyfriend to an amazing girlfriend.  I am all of these things but not any one in particular.  By that I mean that I don’t completely define my existence as any singular aspect.  All of these are pieces of who I am that make up my whole.  It seems that athletes don’t really have that luxury these days.

These players are forced to define themselves by their talent.  They are a football player on and off the field.  Think about how many times you hear of players being harassed by people at bars or clubs or even when they’re grocery shopping.  Part of this comes with the territory of being an athlete and an entertainer.  Even still, there are consequences to not being able to disconnect yourself.

Brady Quinn said it best in his post game speech when he said that often people ask “how you doing?” or answer “doing fine,” but how often do we really mean those?  When you ask somebody do you really want to know how they’re doing?  When you tell somebody you’re “fine” are you telling the truth?  We all put on different faces in different situations.  What you ultimately hope is that those faces don’t turn into a mask that hides what’s really going on.

Belcher seemed to be wearing a mask.  Nobody saw this coming and certainly people are still in shock.  In just a short time period Belcher went from athlete to murderer.  There is a sentiment out there that he was a troubled man and deserved a level of sympathy.  There is other sentiment out there that he no longer as the right to sympathy after pulling the trigger on his girlfriend and leaving his three month old baby parentless.  

In this situation, with the information we have its simply not clear enough to fully understand.  It’s certainly easy to judge in this scenario.  It’s easy to label and say that this man is a murderer.  It’s easy to judge the other players for making t-shirts and offering up their prayers and respect for this man they came to know as a brother.  What’s not easy is to try to understand a situation that is not strictly black and white.

After such an event, playing a game roughly 28 hours later seemed like the last thing anybody would want to do.  But this aspect wasn’t quite that simple either.  The logistics of an NFL game are large and having to move them on such short notice would no-doubt have been a large undertaking.  There were definitely lots of things to consider when trying to decide to play the game.  

I personally don’t believe it should have been played.  There is an argument to be made for needing and having an escape from life's problems.  Sports has typically been that escape for many people.  But 28 hours after the fact just isn’t enough time.  Many people won’t even be able to process such a horrific and awful event in that timeframe.  I had no specific involvement and I’m still trying to process.  

Apparently, the vote went to the team captains to help make the decision to play and they all voted to move forward as scheduled.  It was former Kansas City Star columnist Kent Babb who made the salient point on twitter that these men are trained from a very young age to go no matter what, so if left up to them of course they would say to play.  It comes back to them being “gladiators” and “warriors.”  They are conditioned to “ignore the pain.”  Athletes aren’t allowed to be vulnerable or ask for help as that would be a show of weakness.  While the athlete culture isn’t entirely to blame for what happened, I don’t think its a stretch to say it had something to do with what Belcher did.

Many players have come out and admit that they either have or would lie about concussions or injuries to get back on the field.  Players routinely take shots of cortisone to hide their pain and get them back into action.  They will often not cop to injuries to keep their spot and not show weakness.  If we aren’t allowing athletes to disconnect from their life, how can they let themselves?  This attitude most likely translates into everything they do and someone like Belcher can’t or won’t admit he needs help.

If there’s a takeaway from all of this, that has to be it.  Nobody is alone in this world.  The very players who are being criticized for making t-shirts in remembrance of Belcher would have been there to help if he would have asked.  Maybe they should have seen signs and maybe they should have tried to get him help but we can’t speculate on those issues.  The point here is the man needed help and didn’t get it. 

Belcher’s acts were heinous.  There is no excuse for what he did.  Many have and will have opinions on his actions.  I have my own.  But now is not a time for judging.  Now is a time to fight for understanding and to learn.  It is a time to realize that your actions have consequences.  An innocent woman died and a beautiful baby girl will not have parents growing up and will one day hear what her father did.  I can’t imagine that scenario.  

The world is not cut and dry.  There are things that often fall in the margins that are hard to explain or comprehend.  What’s more important than labeling here, whether it be “gladiator,” “athlete,” “murderer,” or anything of the like is to strive for understanding so we can learn from this situation.  

Mental illness and the people that are dealing with tough times won’t go away after this story leaves the mainstream media attention.  Our focus on helping people that need it and understanding the warning signs shouldn’t either.  No matter what people choose to define others as we are all human underneath and all have issues that we have to deal with.  Life can throw big ones and small ones at you but everyone has people to help them out.  The key is finding it when you need it so that life doesn’t come down to a series of horrific events. 
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Jeff Herr: Recent Royals Relevance Does Not Hide Problems

The Chiefs are 1-10.  They are the first team mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs and the “Chiefs in November” has become the new “Royals in May”: seasons over, time to look across the street.  For the first time in a quarter century the Royals are legitimately more exciting than the Chiefs, and frankly more relevant.

With one more move the Royals could be a contender in one of the weakest divisions in baseball.  The Chiefs are dead in the water, and the lack of response from the front office means that there probably won't be the sweeping changes we hope for, which means there is probably more of this to come.  

After eight straight losses the Chiefs have put the media of this town on repeat.  The same stories keep cropping up because the Chiefs have the same issues that aren’t getting fixed: namely, ineptitude from the top down.

To break this cycle of repetition regarding the Chiefs I have decided to write about the Royals this week.  The major reason for this is that I believe now that the Royals have legitimately become more exciting and more intriguing for the first time in the last quarter century.  

First, we have the big news of the Royals signing Jeremy Guthrie last week to a three year, backloaded, $25 million deal.  At only $5 million for 2013 the immediate reaction is two-fold.  Fantastic to get a league average or above pitcher for that cheap,^ and the cheapness means there is still room to work with.

^ Yes cheap.  In the incredibly inefficient and uneven world of baseball free agent pitchers, players like Guthrie go for a bit more than $5M/year.

Depending on who you ask the reports are conflicting about how much the Royals payroll is for 2013 but they typically are in the same area of about $67M-$72M.  That includes roughly $4M-$5M for arbitration eligible Luke Hochevar.  As its not a stretch to see this organization at $80M in payroll, if they were to drop Hochevar and free up another five million, then the Royals would certainly have room to bring on another pitcher with a possibly front loaded deal.  

Going further, if Ervin Santana’s contract comes off the books in 2014 like its scheduled, then that’s an additional $12M the Royals could use for said pitcher.  Not to mention, the loss of Santana would be mitigated (hopefully), by the return of Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino from Tommy John surgery.  That doesn’t account for the fact that, in all likelihood, 2012 draft pick Kyle Zimmer and fellow TJ recovery candidate John Lamb could be ready for this rotation by opening day 2014.  

While it is a quintessential Royals move to look past a season that hasn’t even started yet, it's noteworthy to look at this and see a possible 2014 rotation of [Unnamed Pitcher at $12M-$15M/year], Guthrie at $9M, Danny Duffy on his rookie contract, Kyle Zimmer on his rookie contract, and Jake Odorizzi on his rookie contract.  This is not at all far-fetched and sets the Royals up nicely for the future.

Now, coming back to the present, the Guthrie deal has seemingly split the Royals fanbase.  Half the people think AAV of $8.33 million for Guthrie is overpaying for a middling pitcher that might only give league average innings.  The other half appears to believe that the Royals got a solid-but-not-great deal on a pitcher that the market would open up for.  Ultimately, time will tell and even if Guthrie only gives one good year for 2013, helps the Royals stay competitive for the playoffs, and then drops off as reinforcements arrive, it would be worth it.  

The second development to make the Royals exciting for the next few weeks it the bevy of trade talks involving all the young talent in this organization.  The main names you keep hearing pop up are the usual suspects: uber-prospect Wil Myers, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas.  All those players are on the table and depending on who you talk to you either the Royals are shopping all of them or at least listening to offers.

Every one of the aforementioned players has All-Star potential.  At their ceiling they even have MVP caliber potential.  Nobody would like to see any of those players leave town.  Unfortunately, with the Royals self-professed budget constraints it seems likely the only way to get that top-flight pitcher they crave is to trade one of these bright young players.

While that would ease the burden of a top pitcher financially, it would only improve them marginally if they sacrificed some potential offense to bring it here.  This situation is a double-edged sword.

Fans have been screaming for starting pitching for a long time now.  It’s what wins in baseball and the Royals don’t have any of it.  But when trade talks rear their ugly head, nobody wants to get rid of the prized prospects and players in this organization.  Unless owner David Glass loosens the purse strings (which he largely won’t), then they will have to make a trade and the Royals biggest underlying issue will be the topic that very few people seem to be talking about.

Think back over the last quarter century of irrelevance for the Royals.  They have developed their share of solid hitters during that time with the likes of Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Johnny Damon, and others.  But think back real hard and see if you can remember any pitcher the Royals have developed.

Zack Greinke and his bumpy road to Cy Young glory jumps to mind, but look past that and give another name.  We all remember the dubious ones: Colt Griffen, Dan Reichart, Jeff Austin, Chris George, Jimmy Gobble, Kyle Snyder, Luke Hochevar, etc.  The memories of those supposedly promising pitchers gone wrong are burned into our collective memories.

Of all the things the Royals have tried in order to creep back into relevance in the last 25 years, none of it has involved player development.  As an organization in a small market, they have to try to win by exploiting other areas that the bigger clubs have enough money to pay to cover their failures.  Teams like the Oakland A’s, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Baltimore Orioles have found ways to exploit this and make runs in the playoffs.  The Royals have failed to capitalize on any of these areas or even explore them.  

The Winter Meetings are coming up and Dayton Moore loves to make moves either during or shortly after.  If there is a trade to be made then expect it within the next couple of weeks.  But even if the Royals can net that big time starter, even if they do it without giving up any current major leaguers or Myers, it will only mask their biggest problem.  The Royals have shown they can’t keep players for their whole career so if they want to remain relevant for the foreseeable future they need to find a way to develop pitchers that doesn’t involve trading valuable prospects.
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Jeff Herr: The Silence is Deafening

Just about as quickly as this season started it went from bad, to worse, to “we’re going to need dental records to identify this season.”
Quite simply this is the worst possible nightmare as a Chiefs fan.  The only thing more redundant that talking and writing about the same Chiefs problems they’ve had the last decade is the losing this team has accomplished.  What was once the scariest place to play in all of football is now the equivalent to getting a peanut buster parfait from Dairy Queen.  You think it’s gonna be bad for you, but you end up enjoying yourself.

With a 28-6 loss to the middling Bengals--who have no business blowing anybody out--one of the most intimidating atmospheres in all of professional sports was reduced to fans wearing black to show their revolt and a silence so palpable the players undoubtedly heard the vitriol the fans were spewing at this team they actually paid to see.  The only thing more deafening than the usually raucous Arrowhead crowd is the owner of the most embarrassing team in football.

The narrative would have you believe that Clark Hunt is cheap, only cares about money, and is not in touch with the fanbase of his team.  Other views might have you believe that he is paying attention and biding his time.  Still others would tell you that he is not his father and doesn’t have as much patience--action should be expected.

The problem with all those lines of thought are that the fans have no idea which is true.  In the roughly six years that Hunt has control over this organization since his father’s passing, he has spoken little to the public.  After taking over he emulated his father’s ritual of walking the stadium and crowd before the games to mingle with the fans.  He came out to talk about the hiring of Scott Pioli as general manager and how it signaled a new era of bringing a championship to this town.  The Chiefs were going to be the new Pittsburgh Steelers.  They were going to be built the right way and always in contention.

Since then, nothing.  And none of the promises Hunt made have come true.  The Chiefs are not closer to a championship now than when he took over.

The fans have made up their own narrative about Hunt because he has let them.  He has chosen to remain quiet on how his general manager and the coach he selected (Todd Haley) couldn’t get along and let a toxic relationship destroy a season.  Mum was the word on the hiring of Crennel and why it would be different/better than Haley.  And after a 1-9 season so far--that includes seven straight losses--we have heard no words from the owner of this franchise.  

Simon and Garfunkel said it best “silence like a cancer grows.”  It’s growing, and it’s growth has already devoured a season, is going after the players and coaching staff next, and in its wake is leaving a disgruntled fanbase that used to turn to this team to cleanse their palate after a season of seeing the team the across the street.  Unfortunately, there is no respite now.  The Chiefs are worse than the Royals and I’m not even quite sure who that is insulting more.

Looking at Hunt and how he’s run this organization calls for evaluation on how the Chiefs got into this mess.  Many people believe there is a four pronged approach to winning in the NFL.  It starts with the owner (1), then moves to the GM (2), down to the head coach (3) and finally falls on the quarterback (4).  Looking at a team like the New England Patriots, they have all four as some of the best in the game.  Nearly all the winning organizations have all four or at least three of four.  The Chiefs currently have zero.

They just benched their supposed “franchise” quarterback whom they paid $60 million.  They fired the coach they initially hired and now have someone who currently has a record of 27-49.  The general manager currently has a record of 22-36 and might have been oversold as one of the true architects behind the New England dynasty of the 2000’s.  And the owner, who appears to be respected amongst NFL owners for carrying the Hunt name, has so far not shown the ability to put the right people in charge and build a winner.

Nobody is breaking new ground when they say this isn’t how things were supposed to go.  Likewise, its nothing new to suggest that something needs to be done.  As a fan, it’s not too much to ask for something, anything, from this owner.  For an organization that seems so concerned with their perception they appear to be awfully out-of-touch with their incredibly passionate fanbase.  

The time has come for this team.  The symptoms can no longer be fixed.  Changing quarterbacks to one that is equally inept won’t do it.  Cutting one of your biggest free agent signings at cornerback won’t make it better either.  The problem needs to be fixed at its core.  While the owner can’t be fired, Hunt needs to look at what has caused this mess and let the fans know it will be fixed.  

Nobody will blame the Chiefs for hiring Pioli.  By all accounts he was the hottest GM candidate around.  But the Chiefs can be blamed for giving him too much power and letting the status quo continue for as long as it has.  The Haley situation was the first clue and the Chiefs did nothing.  If Pioli is to remain in power then he needs to be correctly evaluated and held accountable.  

Ultimately, the fans need to hear from Hunt.  They need to know that he Hunts knows what’s happening isn’t acceptable.  They need to know that changes will be made.  This fanbase needs to be reassured that their dedication is worthwhile.  Because to this point, the silence is saying more than anything and that silence is driving fans away.  Soon enough the only thing more quiet than the owner will be Arrowhead stadium and by then, it just might be too late.
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Jeff Herr: Monday Night Gut Punch

I didn’t expect to feel any different today.  Correction, I expected to feel a lot different in August.  A possible victory against a quality Pittsburgh Steelers team was supposed to solidify the Chiefs position as the top in the AFC West and show them capable of making a run at the playoffs and possibly more.  My, what a difference just a few months makes.  After the first two months of the season leading to a 1-7 record, I knew this is exactly how I would be feeling.

Yet, right at that moment when you think this Chiefs team has punched you in the gut in more ways than you thought possible, they find another way.  This team came out and grabbed their first lead of the season.  That’s right, we all know the stat by now, but it still bears mentioning that the Chiefs took eight full games and over six minutes into the next before they had their first lead with time on the clock.

But fortune seemed to be smiling even more on this team as, not only were they able to get a lead, but at one point extended it to 10 points!  That’s two scores!  This Chiefs team has performed awful enough to make us thankful they get two scores in a game, let alone in the first quarter or lead by said amount.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and just like Todd Haley’s tenure as the Chiefs head coach, this lead was not long for this game.  After allowing the Steelers to take back control of the game the Chiefs had the ball with precious little time left to drive and tie the game.

Anybody who has watched the Chiefs this season knows that this offense, trailing in the two-minute drill is just asking for disaster.  But as the Chiefs always do--good or bad--they find a way to surprise you.

Against all odds this putrid offense was sputtering its way down the field.  As the fourth quarter was coming ever closer to an end, the Chiefs kept finding a way to matriculate down the field.  Dwayne Bowe drops a catch, then makes another spectacular one a few plays later. Jonathan Baldwin drops a ball, but Tony Moeaki steps up.  Matt Cassel makes an awful third down decision, throwing the ball into the dirt at Dexter McCluster, then throws a spectacular dart to Bowe on fourth and long to save the game (for the moment).

Ryan Succop, who missed a 30 yard chip shot earlier in the game, came on to attempt a 47-yarder in the swirling wind and suspect ground conditions.  And wouldn’t you know it, the kick was good, time expired, and the Chiefs found themselves in overtime.  They won the coin toss and looked poised to ride their momentum right into victory number two on the season.

Then we were all reminded why Cassel is who he is.  A solid backup quarterback thrust into a situation with expectations he can’t possibly live up to and most likely tries too hard to achieve.  After making some fantastic throws down the stretch, Cassel gave a punch to the gut of this fanbase one more time as he placed a pass right into the waiting arms of a Steelers defender who took it back inside the ten yard line.  The Steelers wasted no time and kicked the game winner on 1st down.  

There are two things I’ll never question about Cassel, even as cliche as they might be.  The first is his heart.  The man competes no matter what and he wants to win.  The second is his class.  I’m not sure of any other athlete in a similar situation that would handle this particular scenario as well as Cassel has.  He didn’t choose to have these expectations thrust upon him (remember, he was franchised and traded for).  I’m not going to play a violin for Cassel though.  The man has $60+ million dollars in his pocket, setting he and his family up for a lifetime, and he still has a future in this league as a backup.

But none of this makes up for the fact that Cassel simply isn’t a starting caliber NFL quarterback.  The most important position on the field is the Chiefs biggest deficiency.  While most certainly not their only one, it is their most glaring.  Perhaps Brady Quinn will be healthy enough to play next week and maybe this will be the last gut punch Cassel gives this aching fanbase.  

Unfortunately, the face may change, but a rose by any other name--forget it, Quinn is just as bad.  The point here is that there is a fundamental flaw in this organization.  Their logic is backwards, they don’t have a clue, and their ripping this fanbase apart with each gut wrenching loss.

Looking at teams like the Washington Redskins and the Indianapolis Colts reveals a truth the Chiefs have been far too myopic to see: the quarterback is by far and away the most important piece to any franchise.  Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck have proved that awful teams that looked hopeless can be completely turned around with just a QB.  The Colts have already won three times as many games as last season.  They were 2-14 and are 6-3 now.  And Luck is just a rookie.  His best years are ahead of him.

Now, Luck is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, but the fact still remains.  Other teams with young quarterbacks like the Vikings and Buccaneers are getting the job done as well.  Much like the Colts last year, this Chiefs team could possibly have a unique opportunity ahead of them.  As they currently sit, they would have the number 1 pick in next April’s draft.  While this years crop of college QB’s continues to see their stock plummet, one of them will most certainly be successful in the NFL.  It’s just playing the odds.

The biggest and saddest part here is how little faith the fans seem to have in organization.  There is a large percentage of the fanbase that is even doubting if general manager Scott Pioli would even pick a quarterback with the number one pick, let alone the right one.  

It’s this fear that his this fanbase rooting for this team to lose.  Not to get a high draft pick and take Matt Barkley or Geno Smith, but to make sure that Pioli gets as far away from this organization as humanly possible.  Unfortunately, I’d say the odds are less than 50/50 he goes.  But either way, this isn’t right.  This isn’t why we are fans.  Nobody likes a team so they can root against them, its just unnatural.  And this is what its come to.  The franchise has spun so wildly out of control that the fanbase has completely flipped on this team and is rooting against it.  As much as the Royals have been through in the last 27 years, it says a lot when Royals fans look across the parking lot and think “well, it could be worse.”

I understand that not all the fans are rooting against the team.  However, I do think there is a large amount that are, even if they are the vocal minority.  This is beyond nitpickers and contrarians now, many normal fans are starting to believe losses are the only way to fix this organization.

As a Chiefs fan I will eternally hope for the best and think that they can bring a championship back to Kansas City.  As a realist, I understand its a long ways away.  The longer this goes on, the less change I believe will happen.  As a Kansas City sports fan I know that the gut punch from Monday night won’t be the last.
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Jeff Herr: Chiefs moves are too little...too late

Good news: This past weekend gave Chiefs fans the first of two consecutive weekends without a loss. 

The bad news: this loss just got shifted to Thursday and next weeks game is shifted to Monday.  With Todd Haley chomping at the bit to make his old team realize their mistake by firing him, the Pittsburgh Steelers will most likely turn it up to 11 on their way to a predictable rout of the Chiefs that will drop them to an inexplicably awful 1-8.

Speaking of “rout,” in a move that reeks of Lindsay Lohan-like desperation the Chiefs decided to cut ties with cornerback Stanford Routt.  Yes, the same Routt the Chiefs signed to replace Brandon Carr.  The same Routt who many thought (truth: myself included) would end up being a wash in his replacement of Carr.  Oh, and also the same man who the Chiefs thought was worth six million dollars per year even though they could have had Carr for an extra four million.  Apparently, the Chiefs would have rather saved the money.  They did, and they also saved themselves the trouble of having Routt for a full year.

This move comes hand in hand with head coach Romeo Crennell “stepping down” as defensive coordinator to focus on being head coach full time.  In his stead, Gary Gibbs will take over helming the defense.  Let’s remember that Crennell is the very same coach whom Pioli spent his entire media tour over the bye week telling everyone how he still has as much confidence in him as the day he hired him.  Despite that fact, Crennell appears to have little confidence in himself anymore.  This either shows that Pioli is so out of touch with his head coach he has no idea of his limitations, or shows that he was wrong to allow Crennell to be head coach and defensive coordinator at the same time, possibly costing the Chiefs this season.  Either of those is a fireable offense.

This is the type of thing that children do.  When you broke a window growing up, the first thing you did was look for an excuse.  “I’m sorry dad, I the wind took the baseball and blew it right into the window.  I swear!  It’s not my fault!”  Quite simply, you looked for anyone and everyone to blame for your mistake, so you avoid as much trouble as possible.  

Pioli has gone around and told everyone he has interviewed with recently, “it all falls on me as the general manager.”  As far as Chiefs fans are concerned, those are just words.  

If you took a look at Twitter during any presidential debate this year, what did you see?  Everyone who was watching and tweeting would demand proof of the candidates facts or ask for more information.  Why do you think [insert current policy here] is bad?  How do you plan to lower taxes?  At this day and age of information overload, promises and empty buzz words aren’t enough anymore.  As citizens and as fans, we deserve more.

Pioli has refused to give that to us.  All he’s stated is how everything falls on him.  We’ve heard it all before.  Fans want to know how he’s going to fix things.   

Well, if that was the message sent, and the “Save our Chiefs” movement would say that it was, then Pioli received it.  Or at least what mangled mess of a message was left when it got to him.  As Pioli prepares to defend himself to his increasingly frustrated owner, he is positioning his argument.  The cutting of Routt and changing of defensive coordinator responsibilities is simply Pioli trying to stack the deck in his favor.  This makes it easy to point to what caused this situation and how he deserves a chance to fix it.

Pioli continues to show his cluelessness.  For the man that was supposed to be an organization building savant, Pioli has shown increasingly less touch with his franchise and its suffering fanbase.  

It seems Pioli continually fails to realize what is all too clear to the rest of the sports world: his method is not working.  This being his fourth year in charge Pioli has had three years to look at what he’s done.  For a man who has a supposedly measured and analytical approach, he doesn’t use that method for evaluating himself.

After the Todd Haley situation blew up in his face he could have looked at himself and wondered what he did to hurt that situation.  Instead, he hired somebody who he knew wouldn’t question him and would more or less be a puppet for Pioli to micro manage every part of this organization into failure.

This season was beyond the saving point long ago.  This franchise has been torn down to the lowest it's ever been.  But it can be saved.  The time for internal change of coaches responsibility and cutting players of “questionable character” has passed.  This organization needs sweeping change and it needs to start with the top.  Clark Hunt needs to remove Pioli and Crennell and find a way to fix an organization that has been broken for over half a decade now.  

It starts with Hunt realizing there is no roadmap to success.  You can’t do it cheaply, even if you don’t have to spend the most money.  You can’t do it the same way other teams have, even if you can take their advice and guidance.  Dynasty’s aren’t copied in this league, they’re built.  

The biggest failure of this organization has been its inability to address the most important position on the field internally.  We’ve all heard that stat that the Chiefs haven’t won a game by a quarterback they drafted since 1987.  Even more remarkable might be that Brodie Croyle was given 10 chances and didn’t come through once.

This franchise has been content with re-treads and cast offs because they thought they were just good enough to keep this team competitive, give the fans hope, keep the butts in the seats, and do it on the cheap.  There is no cheap way and there is no easy way to being the Pittsburgh Steeler or the New England Patriots.  Everybody else can see it.  The Chiefs need to finally realize this, and maybe then this organization will be headed in the right direction.
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Jeff Herr: Breaking Points

I’m sitting in my driveway.  It’s darker than usual after a Chiefs game.  The first 3:00 game at Arrowhead in quite some time will do that.  Both hands on the wheel and my head down all I can do is listen to the calls of angered and tired fans pour into the post game show.  I’ve got two dogs and a cat, a house I’m trying to sell, a girlfriend waiting for me and I still can’t stop listening to the deserved negativity on the radio.  I couldn’t help but wonder, where’s the breaking point?

I’ve resigned myself to my fate that I will never be broken of my fandom of the Chiefs.  While maybe I can’t be saved, this organization still can.  As the results continue to get worse, there has to be a breaking point to start that mending process.

Let’s start with head coach Romeo Crennell who refused to give up who the emergency third quarterback was for this game.  Even though it was almost necessary to use him, Crennell didn’t give up the information for fear of giving future teams an advantage (as if they didn’t have one already).  Frankly though, based on the evidence we have I’m not even sure we should have any confidence Crennell even knew who the emergency quarterback was.

This situation is just an amalgam for how far in over his head Crennell is.  He has repeatedly said that he doesn’t know why his team is playing so poorly.  He said after this past Sunday’s game that he didn’t know why the teams best player, Jamaal Charles, only got five carries.  

Forgetting the fact that football isn’t a normal business, or at least isn’t run like one in practice, in any walk of life it’s never acceptable to claim ignorance to your responsibilities.  A coach should know these things and if he doesn’t like them, should change them.  There’s a reason the head coach has all the power.

General Manager Scott Pioli’s track record of ineffectiveness has been documented ad nauseum but if this game reminds us of anything, it’s that the one player responsible for the Chiefs last 18 of 25 points on offense--kicker Ryan Succop, formerly known as Mr. Irrelevant--may be the biggest feather in his cap.  This is unacceptable.  

Admittedly, I bought into the hype of this team in the preseason.  I failed to recognize the holes of this roster and coaching staff.  Pioli and Crennell need to be held accountable for these failings.

This isn’t a once-a-year, making-the-local-media-rounds-to-give-a-condescending-10-minute-interview-on-radio-accountability, either.  There needs to be an objective showing of how the decision makers in this organization are being held responsible for what’s gone wrong and what they’re going to do to fix it, whether internally or externally.

The status quo just won’t cut it in Kansas City any longer.  We’ve heard the cliches, we’ve heard the excuses, we’ve heard it all.  We already know the coaches need to look at the game tape.  We already know that this teams putrid and embarrassing play on the field ultimately falls on the GM.  These are a part of their respective jobs and come with the territory.  It’s not enough to talk the talk anymore, it’s time for this franchise to do some walking.

As fans we can never truly understand what its like to run a football team.  The pressure, the hours, the scrutiny, everything involved surely makes it tougher than the majority of us have to deal with.  What we can understand, and is exceedingly simple, is that no matter what goes into building a team they are graded by their wins and losses.  When the losses pile up, something isn’t being done right.  From there, two options are available: either an organization looks at itself with a truly critical eye and decides to change from within, or the hand is forced and the change comes from the outside.

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of this franchise over the last 4 years is that they have no desire to look inside.  The front office is so eager to prove everybody else wrong and not admit their mistakes that they have hung on to a quarterback in Matt Cassel who has never consistently displayed above average skills.  They fired their “wildcard” coach, that they themselves hand-picked, to prove it was him holding them back.  And it’s gotten to the point now where they continue to feed us an inferior product, helmed by an in-over-his-head coach, with worse results week after week.

Owner Clark Hunt very well could be a part of the problem here, as well.  We have no idea if the narrative is true on Hunt and if he truly only wants to make money.  He could be a very passionate football fan.  Could be.  As fans, his refusal to speak to the masses and make his opinions and theories known mean all we have to go on is the evidence.  That evidence shows us someone who doesn’t live in Kansas City, has a hands-off approach that has allowed Pioli to spin this organization out of control, and typically hasn’t had football as #1 on his priority list as a sports owner.  It also shows us someone who, while he does spend money, could spend more and chooses not to.  As poorly as his team performs, he still rakes in the money just like all the other NFL teams.

Yet, as a business man, Hunt has to have a breaking point.  Money may keep coming in, but that money will decline.  Successful people in any walk of life aren’t just satisfied with maintaining the norm.  Those that are the best at what they do are always looking for ways to improve and get better.  You can’t cheat your way to the end game.  There are no shortcuts.

Remember, this was part of the reason that Carl Peterson was fired.  The Chiefs were tired of the status quo and wanted somebody who could help them take the next step.  This is why Pioli was brought in to begin with.  He was pulled by three Super Bowl trophies that we now know he had increasingly less to do with than we first thought.  And it was a carriage that long ago was turned back into a pumpkin and, at this point, most likely lays rotting on the side of One Arrowhead Drive.

I counted no less than three separate banners flying over Arrowhead on Sunday.  These are things that only make the Chiefs look more hapless to outsiders.  It’s something that these fans, some of the most civic-minded and prideful fans in the country, embrace because they want so much better.  

While the banners show an unprecedented level of fan frustration, the day could soon come when there are no banners because fan’s don’t even care enough to fly them.  The time for change in this organization is now.  Many of the fans have reached their breaking point already and many more are close behind.  The question remains to Hunt, when will he reach his? 
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Jeff Herr: Bill Snyder is the Greatest

This post could spend time talking about how the 2012 Kansas State Wildcats beat one of the lesser Oklahoma teams of recent years.  We could talk about how the West Virginia team they just beat might have been the most overrated team in the country.  On the flip side, we could also talk about how K-State has one of the most impressive resumes, through this point in the season, for any national title contenders.  They have defeated three top 25 teams on the road and are winning one of the toughest conferences in all the country.

Then there’s Collin Klein.  The man whom KSU fans have turned to calling “Optimus Klein” in a riff on the name of the leader of the autobots from the movie/game/cartoon/toy series Transformers (and for my money might be the best nickname in the country. So there’s that.).  And we can’t forget about All-American candidate Arthur Brown, who anchored a defense that shut down one of the fastest moving offenses in all the country in West Virginia.

But any of these things would only be missing the point that we understand oh so well here, but the rest of the country is still catching up to.  That would be that Bill Snyder has solidified himself, in my opinion and that of many others, as one of the greatest coaches of all time, if not the greatest.

Sure Nick Saban, Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and the rest will all have their history and championships to lean back on, but none of them have done what Snyder has done.  From that list his only contemporary, Saban, took the highest profile highest paid job at one of the most prestigious football schools in the country after failing in the NFL.  

None of those people came to schools that hadn’t won a game in the previous two years.  None of them turned around the worst program in college football history...twice!  Snyder has won and built a legitimate program in one of the hardest places to win in the entire country.  So, how has he done it (twice)?  The answer isn’t exactly simple, but the short of it is by being a different coach than you would ever expect to encounter in any ranks of coaching.

I actually have a personal example that can illustrate part of what makes Snyder a unique and successful individual.  

In college I was part of an organization that would have their ‘National Conclave’ at a different chapter each year and the executive council would attend.  My senior year of college I was on executive council and the national conclave was in Manhattan, KS at the K-State chapter.

Now, typically these national get togethers were kind of pointless and not all that fun.  I wasn’t exactly looking forward to spending my weekend driving, in the snow, from Kirksville, MO to Manhattan, KS in what was sure to be the least eventful road trip in the history of college road trips.

Upon arrival, it was slightly interesting to see how other chapters operated, but still nothing to get too excited about.  That is, until I received the itinerary for the conference.  On the second day, our keynote speaker during lunch was going to be none other than the incomparable, Bill Snyder.

These lunches seem to always be designed the same.  Big round tables that seat roughly 10 people, with the podium at the front.  We were informed that Coach Snyder would be here to speak, but probably wouldn’t be joining us for lunch.  Keep in mind, this is in Bill Snyder’s first year of retirement.

There were nine of us from our chapter that went to this conclave and we all sat down at the same table.  This left one empty chair.  Realizing there was a chance of Coach Snyder to be at the lunch before he was scheduled to speak, we decided to reserve our remaining seat for him.  We took a piece of paper, wrote “Reserved for Coach Snyder” on it, folded it over once, and placed it on the back of the chair.

One of the organizers of the event came up to us and asked if we were serious or if we were making fun of Coach Snyder.  Merely the thought that we would be making fun of such a man was enough to get us riled up, but we calmly explained that no, we were not making fun of one of the greatest coaches in NCAA history.

Unbeknownst to us, the reason she was asking is because Coach Snyder had arrived.  Not only that, she pointed out that we had “reserved” a seat for him.  And he decided to come sit with us!

What followed is what forever made me revere Bill Snyder as not only a great coach, but a great man.  He differentiated himself right from the start.  Before sitting down he shook each one of our hands.  He asked our names and if he didn’t hear it asked to repeat it and wanted to know each of our last names repeating each one before moving to the next introduction.

He then sat down with us for the next hour and talked.  He told us how, when he first arrived at K-State, he did studies on how losing affected players.  The seniors he had that year couldn’t remember what it was like to win and were embarrassed to walk around campus and go to classes.  Their grades had plummeted from their freshman year.

He told us how he wanted to change all of that.  Coach Snyder wanted his players to be proud to put on that football uniform every week and walk the campus.  He knew this was the end of the football road for most of these players and they would have to go on to other things.  He wanted them to be prepared to succeed in life beyond the football field, and wanted his program to foster that growth and ability amongst these young men.

Once the program reached a level of success he turned his attention towards the community.  He worked with the owners of local establishments and his players to have K-State football be a positive impact in Manhattan, KS.  When he retired from coaching he stuck around and worked with state senators and representatives and continues to have an impact in the community even after his time as football coach was up.

All of us at the table were local Kansas or Missouri residents and knew somebody that had played for Coach Snyder at one point in his tenure.  We took turns asking about these players that we knew and Snyder didn’t hesitate to remember each one of them and shared a short story as well.

This was all evidence that Snyder cared.  Lots of coaches say that care but many don’t have the ability to demonstrate it beyond simples wins and losses. For Coach Snyder, it’s about more than that your record.  Football is secondary and that attitude could be a big reason for his success.  Snyder talks the talk about developing young men and he walks the walk.

Quite simply, Snyder is one of the most genuine people aroun.  He also happens to be incredibly good at his job.  How does he make players like Michael Bishop, Jonathan Beasley, and Collin Klein into Heisman contenders?  He trusts them.  Other coaches might try to scheme around these players shortcomings, but Snyder doesn’t.  

As a coach, he designs the offense to showcase the best skills of all his players, but has complete faith that they can do anything necessary.  Klein is, by most accounts, a run-first quarterback.  But this past weekend, against a West Virginia team who stacked eight or nine players in the box, Snyder had him air it out.  Few people in the nation had confidence that Klein could lead a team to victory through the air.  Snyder did.  After slicing through the WVU defense through the air in the early going, they had to respect the pass.  After that, K-State had their way.  Klein ran and passed his way to seven total touchdowns and the front of the Heisman race.

And none of this seems possible without Snyder at the helm.  Few coaches would have entrusted and entire offense to Klein and even fewer would have allowed him to air it out like he did early on against WVU.  That’s what makes Snyder one of the greatest of all time.  You might not think it’s possible, you might not think he’d do it, but he does and has made a career of proving the doubters wrong.

Five more teams stand in the way of Snyder and his first ever perfect season.  If a team like Oregon goes undefeated along with Alabama or Florida, then he still may not get a chance to go for the National Title that is the only accolade to elude him in his illustrious career.  But championship or no, what Snyder has done is nothing short of remarkable.  There may be coaches with more rings and that might look better on paper, but none have done what he’s done.  
The rest of the country may not ever fully appreciate, but we here know the truth.  We know that Bill Snyder can never be replicated and for the last 23 years (with a small three year gap in there), we have seen one of the very greatest at the height of his powers. 
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Jeff Herr: Chiefs are a joke

All I found myself asking on Sunday was “how many more ways can I say that this is a joke?”  It’s time for a change here and I don’t see one coming.  The fans disdain, which should mean downward pressure from Clark Hunt to Scott Pioli, only seems to have strengthened their relationship.  Instead of demanding better from his GM, Hunt and Pioli have banded together, “it’s us against the world, Scott!”
Nevermind that this GM has failed to follow through with any of the promises he made in 2009 when he arrived.  Nevermind how he hired a head coach he couldn’t get along with and the tried to remedy that by hiring one to be a puppet.
No, none of that matters as we are all treated to yet another reason why Hunt is so far out of touch with the fanbase of the team he calls his own.  With the rumors surfacing that Pioli has “been offered” a contract extension, the disconnect only continues to grow. 
The unrest among the fans continues to grow as well.  The denizens of Kansas City continue to wonder: where is our all-star GM?  At the time Pioli was hired, conventional wisdom would have you believe that he was the architect behind Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s historic run in New England.  There were those out there even suggesting that, of the triumvirate of Pioli, Belichick, and Director of College Scouting for the Patriots Thomas Dimitroff, that Pioli was the most valuable. 
Dimitroff left in 2008 to go to the Falcons, Pioli a year later to Kansas City, and Belichick stayed in New England.  Since 2009, Demitroff and the Falcons are 38-16, Belichick and the Patriots are 40-14, and Pioli and the Chiefs are 22-32.  While things aren’t always simple, that’s pretty clear evidence for the case that Pioli was the least valuable piece of the Patriots front office dynasty.  Especially when you consider the Falcons were just ravaged by the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal and in worse shape than the Chiefs when Dimitroff took them over.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the what the difference is, the Patriots have Brady who you could argue is the best QB in history and the Falcons have Matt Ryan who has stepped up to become one of the top tier QBs in the NFL.  The Chiefs paid franchise QB money to a 7th round pick career backup hoping to get lucky.  While hindsight is 20/20, it turned out to be the same as buying a lottery ticket and quitting your job before the drawing even happens. 
What followed is quite possibly a series of decisions that may have set this organization back more than it moved forward.  With Cassel an offensive minded coach was hired to help him along in Todd Haley.  After supposedly being the right man for the job, it quickly came out that Haley couldn’t get along with Pioli.  To hopefully assuage this relationship Pioli brought in Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennell, seemingly without consulting Haley.
Haley and Weis couldn’t get along either, leading to Weis bolting after just one year (Cassel’s only good year as a Chief).  Without Weis the following year, Haley struggled, the relationship became untenable and Pioli fired him.  Crennell is installed, the players respond and he earns himself a head-coaching gig for 2012.
Problem here is that Cassel is still the quarterback.  With a defensive minded head coach and no Weis, there was only one true option, put as much talent around Cassel as possible, get a shut down D, and hope for the best.  Essentially, they purchased another lottery ticket to hedge their first one.  Maybe they’ll get lucky, maybe they’ll even get lucky twice, but the odds are against them both ways.
To the surprise of precisely nobody, both those lottery tickets struck out.  The Chiefs are now possibly the most embarrassing franchise in the league.  A once proud organization, whose founder’s name resides on the AFC Championship trophy, has once again become the punchline of late night monologues. 
Lamar Hunt, as an owner, hated losing.  His strong loyalty at times got in the way, but when things got really bad, he pushed the buttons that needed pushing.  At his heart, the senior Hunt was a sports enthusiast, a competitor who wanted to win. 
His son appears to feel differently.  While I don’t know Clark Hunt as a person, and he rarely speaks, I can only base my opinion on the evidence I have in front of me.  That evidence would lead me to believe he is a businessman and not consumed with winning.
Why else would he allow what’s going on to continue and actually reinforce a toxic atmosphere that is more concerned with perception than results?  You see, a businessman cares about making money.  An inferior product isn’t a concern if it still sells.  If you can hire somebody who makes things just good enough to get people to keep coming around while making you more money, you’re going to keep him around.  Why do things well when you can cut corners and nobody calls you on it?
This is where the Chiefs are currently.  This season is six feet under and the dirt is being shoveled on top.  What makes this a laughingstock is that Hunt and Pioli are the ones doing the shoveling.  A shovelful of Cassel, another of Crennell, another of a contract extension for Pioli and next thing you know, it’s completely buried.
It’s past the point of being saved this season.  Something needs to be done.  It’s not just a quarterback or a GM, either.  There are fundamental flaws of this organization.  The Chiefs are looking for the easiest and cheapest way to build a winner and make money.  This is why they keep hoping to be the Steelers or Patriots.  Instead of spending the time, effort, and failures that go with figuring things out for yourself, they want to do what everyone else has done.  The only problem is the NFL doesn’t work that way.
As far-gone as things are, it’s not an easy fix.  I don’t even know if it’s as easy as cleaning house and getting a new regime in town.  The Chiefs, and specifically Clark Hunt, need to look in the mirror and decide what kind of organization they want to be.  The fans here are sick and tired of what’s happening.  For the first time in a long while a full-scale fan revolt could be in order.  If Hunt’s not careful, this could soon hit him right where it hurts, in the pocketbook, which just may be what this organization truly needs.  It can always get worse. 

Unfortunately, this looks like it will get worse before it gets any better.
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Jeff Herr: Chiefs Need to Shake Things Up

The media hailstorm from this game will center around the cheering of Matt Cassel when he was down on the turf with an injury.  While you can argue that point both ways, and people most definitely will, what intrigued me most about this game is everything that happened outside of this injury and the cheering that went along with it.

Perhaps the most impressive take away from this game was how well the defense held up against one of the most efficient and effective offenses in all of football.  Something happened in the New Orleans game that has affected this defense for the better.  It seems early in the season Romeo Crennell was trying to get too cute, outsmart himself.  As a head coach Crennell has nobody to check him and that might possibly be the biggest weakness he has in that role.

When things finally got bad enough, Crennell stopped trying to outsmart everyone with his 2-4-5 and 2-3-6 formations and moved back to more normal fronts.  He also stopped using as much zone with the secondary.  The defense began to play more to the strengths of his top cornerbacks with more man-to-man, bump and run coverage.  This benefit was two-fold allowing him to better utilize his talented secondary and allow more men at the line of scrimmage to get more pressure on the quarterback.  

Since this switch in the New Orleans game, they haven’t given up 300 yards of total offense after giving up 376 and 379 the first two weeks, respectively.  The sack totals have gone up as well with 11 of their team total 12 sacks coming since that game against the Saints, including 5 in the last three games by Justin Houston, who is having a breakout season averaging more than a sack per game.

Yet, with his defense performing well, the team hasn’t looked much better offensively with multiple turnovers and still not being able to put points on the board.  The increasing amount of turnovers and the poor play of Cassel had made the Chiefs one of the most inept offenses at scoring points (currently ranked 27th in the league in points scored).  Rumors have been flying about how Crennell doesn’t have much confidence in Cassel, and his performance has only made those rumors stronger.
The only way to even the playing field here was to find a way that this team didn’t have to rely on Cassel and keep the ball out of the hands of the opposing offense.  

With that, the offense came in with the game plan of run, run, run.  If Crennell truly didn’t have faith in Cassel, but remained stuck with him from a higher mandate, he was going to do whatever he can to make him a non-factor.  I’m not suggesting that Crennell is at odds with Pioli for having to start Cassel (although that could very well be the case), but I am suggesting that Crennell is trying to limit the ways Cassel could hurt this team.

We have seen this before in Kansas City.  Not with the team we cheer for, but one cheer vehemently against, the Denver Broncos.  Last year the Broncos were having similar problems, off to a 1-4 start, with horrible quarterback play, they decided to make a change.  As we all know, the Broncos inserted Tim Tebow, went to a run-first, run-second, run-third, run some more and then pass offense, and marched into the playoffs (and won a game when they got there).

I couldn’t help but shake thoughts of that Denver team all game watching what the Chiefs were doing.  The Chiefs philosophy had completely changed.  No longer were they a team trying to capitalize on lots of talent, but a team trying to get their best player the ball (Jamaal Charles) as often as possible and keeping it out of the hands of their worst (Cassel).

Cassel only attempted 15 passes before leaving with an injury in the 4th quarter.  Previously, he had not attempted less than 33 passes in a game this season and threw over 40 in the three previous games.  Even a game in which they rushed for over 200 yards against the Saints, Cassel still slung the ball over 40 times.

With the strong defense the Chiefs played on Sunday, this new offense kept them in the game.  The Chiefs were physical; they outgained the Ravens and dominated the game.  Joe Flacco, the Ravens quarterback who had started to jump into the discussions of “elite quarterbacks” in the NFL, looked pedestrian against a Chiefs D that seems to have renewed life.

Yet, the Chiefs ended the game with a loss.  While these were all encouraging signs, the question is where do the Chiefs go from here?  The possibility of Cassel out means the Chiefs have a real shot at shaking things up.  This team doesn’t have a Tebow like the Broncos did last year, but maybe they could.

If the Jets were looking to trade Tebow perhaps the Chiefs could send them an offer.  And Tebow isn’t the only player out there with a skill set suited to the run, run, run then pass long offense the Chiefs could be converting to.  Colin Kaepernick was a second round pick in 2011 who has run a lot of wildcat for the 49ers.  A call to them and a 3rd or 4th round pick could mean the Chiefs have a talented young QB who could help them move things around.

While I’m not necessarily calling for a trade here, I’m simply saying that the time has come for the Chiefs to think outside the box and Sunday was the best evidence.  With a better QB who could contribute more to the running game and throw some better passes games like this last one could tip in their favor.  It’s been far too long since the Chiefs have been bold and tried to blaze their own trail.  Now is that time.
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Jeff Herr: KC Fans Owed An Explanation

I woke up on Sunday with quite a few things to look forward to.  Chief among them was the fact that our very own Chiefs were going to try to take their momentum from last week’s team-historic comeback and battle for first place against division opponent San Diego Chargers.

No less than 10 minutes in to the game any excitement I had, that had at this point only dwindled to a morbid curiosity, was completely gone.  Nearly as quickly as the game started, it was over.  Before the fans could even get excited the Chiefs had turned the ball over twice, had multiple undisciplined penalties, and found themselves down 17-0.  A lead that’s tough for any team to come back from, but darn near insurmountable for this team.

The 18-point comeback from last week was a team record for a reason.  Not being able to come back has long been a deficiency of this franchise.  Coming from behind has long been something associated with the quarterback position.  Few franchises have had as many problems finding a quarterback as the Kansas City Chiefs.  

As a result, we as fans felt on Sunday as we’ve felt more times than a fanbase this loyal should.  As fans, we have plugged our money and more importantly our hopes and dreams into this franchise.  Every Friday everybody wears red.  On Sunday people drive from sometimes up to seven hours away just to see this team play.  Families spend hundreds of dollars on a near weekly basis to support this team.  For the last 19 years this playoff victory-less franchise has made all of that be in vane, and we are owed an explanation.

We are owed an explanation as to why Matt Cassel is still the golden boy franchise quarterback when his performance hasn’t warranted such treatment.  We are owed an explanation as to why Cassels 39 interceptions in 43 games as a Chief seem to not only be tolerated but still seen as something that can improve.  

We are owed an explanation why the three top five draft picks the Chiefs have on their defense aren’t performing like they should.  More than that we are owed an explanation as to why a defense with six first round picks in total has given up 136 points in four games, averaging out to 34 points per game.  

But most of all, this town is owed an explanation as to why this franchise has ignored its shortcomings for the last two decades and refused to take the necessary steps to become a true winning organization.  

Nobody is disillusioned as to why Scott Pioli was hired.  He was brought here to do one thing: take the next step for this organization.  He came here on a platform of turning this organization into the Pittsburgh Steelers, a franchise that wins and does it “right.”

In his fourth year, Pioli hasn’t come through on any of this.  Were his position an elected one by the fans, this year would be an impeachable offense.  Besides not following through with what he promised, even though the surface looks much better, things might actually be worse than when he arrived.  

2008 was the longest and worst Chiefs season in the storied history of this franchise.  Right now, if you stripped away the names and numbers, I’d be hard pressed to find much of a difference between this iteration and that one.  

We are owed an explanation of why this team isn’t better than it was four years ago.  An explanation why the head coach who was supposed to galvanize his players can’t get his team to perform and from the looks of him on the sidelines isn’t even interested in whether they do or not. 

The fans are owed some words from the owner as to who is going to be held responsible for this mess.  It needs to be explained that these performances will not be tolerated and something will be done.

As Chiefs fans we’ve seen this all play out before.  Just like a predictable movie script any Chiefs fan who has been here for any part of the last couple decades knows how this is going to end.  The Chiefs aren’t going to win a lot of games but going to win enough to justify not making any wholesale changes.  They’ll feed the fans the same lines about how close they are and if only a couple things would go their way they’d be a winner.  

But the Chiefs don’t have what it takes to be a winner.  Everyone who watches more than a couple NFL games in the last five years will tell you it’s a passing league.  Without a quarterback you’re fighting an uphill battle no matter how good your supporting cast is.  The Chiefs haven’t drafted a QB above the third round since Todd Blackledge.  The organization has been so scared by that failure they have become averse to even the remotest of risks.  

Unfortunately, for the Chiefs there is no safe or easy route to being a winner.  Ask yourself this question when it comes to the Chiefs: if what happened to New England in 2001 with Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady happened to the Chiefs, would Tom Brady have started in the playoffs when Bledsoe was back healthy?  Any Chiefs fan knows the answer to that question and it’s not pretty.  Refusal to make the tough decisions for fear of any possible negative outcomes has hampered this organization for years.  It’s a telltale sign of insecurity coming from one the more insecure organization in all of professional sports.

I woke up on Sunday hoping for a Chiefs victory.  I woke up today hoping for an explanation.  This is what we all deserve as fans and we’re probably not going to get it.  The worst part is the very people who owe this to us probably don’t even have one.
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Jeff Herr: Chiefs Win, All Still Is Not Well

So the Chiefs have won a game, are in second place in the division with San Diego coming to town and first place at stake.  All is well and all problems fixed, right?  Well in the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”
I’m not going to try and rain on anybody’s parade here, but there are some things that need to be hashed out from that game to put it into perspective.  I’m a ‘bad news first’ kind of guy, so that’s how we’ll treat things here. 
The first and most obvious aspect of this game is that the Saints are a mess.  Their defense had its issues last year and they were ravaged by suspensions before the season.  Beyond all of that their coaching staff is in complete disarray.  Besides the fact that their excellent head coach Sean Payton is suspended for the season, the man selected to be their interim head coach was then suspended for six games.  So the Chiefs went in to New Orleans and played a team not at full strength with an interim to their interim coach.
To make matters worse, until a little over five minutes to go in this game, it was the same old story.  The Chiefs were sticking around keeping within a touchdown for the first half until the Saints scored two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter making it a 24-6 ball game with 5:36 left in the game and not much positive for the Chiefs.
Fortunately, they have Jamaal Charles and he decided to make his presence known at this very moment.  With some great blocking around the edge Charles had a huge hole and when he turned on the jets he was gone for a 91-yard touchdown scamper.
A quick strike like this completely changed the complexion of the game.  Now instead of a three score game, it was a two score game and still five minutes left.  We’ve seen single plays change the outcome of games before as Chiefs fans and that’s exactly what happened here.
On the surface this seems like a very good thing.  After all, it did lead to a victory by the Chiefs and propelled Charles to one of his biggest games.  But when we look deeper we see this as a fluke play that most likely can’t be replicated.
All week people have been saying that the Chiefs are a team that can’t win from behind.   Down by 18, it sure did seem like this game might be over.  The problem is that if it’s not something the Chiefs can depend on, does it lead to any problems being solved?  The answer is no. 
While no team should ever apologize for how they won (*ahem* 2011 victory over the Chargers), they do have to look at it and be realistic.  What was the Chiefs’ plan if they didn’t get a 91-yard touchdown run?  I don’t believe they had one.  With all the questions the Chiefs have about their offense and ability to come from behind, this is a reprieve, not an answer.
Now, while this was an explosive play, there was still much more the Chiefs had to do.  They had 11 more points to make up.  Unfortunately, the Chiefs still didn’t show that innate ability to score when they needed.  They didn’t get a touchdown after Charles’ run, but just needled their way back with field goals.  When they were within five points, a safety by the defense turned the tide yet again.  They were able to capitalize on that by getting a field goal on the ensuing drive to tie up the game.
And this is exactly where we can start talking about the good things the Chiefs did.  The defense played very well at the end of the third quarter and in the fourth quarter.  The Saints weren’t able to run the ball nearly all game.  The only got 83 rushing yards and 47 of them were on one play from Darren Spoles.
What was possibly the most encouraging sign was seeing something that we hadn’t seen before this season from the defense: they made adjustments.  Previously, it seemed like they were too busy playing catch up with the opposing offense.  This game, the defense dictated much more than it had the previous two games. 
In the first half the defense tried to stay back in coverage and force Brees to make mistakes, which he didn’t.  In the second half, they eschewed that method and moved more towards creating pressure to give Brees little time to throw and hopefully make bad decisions.  Eventually it paid off when he threw an interception to Stanford Routt that turned into the Charles touchdown a play later.
While the Chiefs slowly made their march back to tying the game the defense had to do their part and they did.  When we looked at this unit on paper going in to the season, we thought they’d be the defense that could do this and hold a Brees led offense when they needed.  They finally showed the spark and the talent that made us think they were capable of such feats.
While this game wasn’t perfect, a win is a win is a win.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again at some point.  You never have to complain about it and just move forward with the W.  Getting a huge win on the road against a team, who is hurting but still talented, can be the sort of thing to galvanize a season.  But we still need to keep in mind that a win doesn’t mean all problems are solved.  With how the Chiefs decided to handle the end of the half, it appears that they still don’t have much faith in Matt Cassel.  That doesn’t bode well for the future when Charles isn’t as effective and the game will fall on his shoulders.
All still isn’t well, but that also doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a hard fought win by a team that desperately needed one.
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Jeff Herr: Where to Look, Who to Blame

Well in a city where ‘worst case scenario’ is about as commonplace as Matthew McConaughey rom-com’s, the Chiefs have found themselves,  right in the middle of worst case scenario.  Last year, the Chiefs first two games were so awful they elicited the response of “at least it can’t get worse.”  While it hasn’t gotten worse in 2012, its most certainly just about as bad.

Last season the Chiefs led us to believe that the issue was Todd Haley.  The dysfunction of the organization was blamed on the head coach, as was the lack of preparedness.  The Chiefs were so intent on putting everything on Haley’s shoulders that they fired him with three games still to play in the season.  

Romeo Crennel was installed as interim head coach, the Chiefs beat the previously undefeated Packers, and they led us to believe all the problems were solved.  After an offseason with no lockout, a team that was better prepared and a coach the players enjoyed playing for, this talented-on-paper Chiefs team was supposed to be ready to break out.

After being outscored by a total of 75-41, this team is only slightly better than their 89-10 start from last year, especially when you consider that 14 of their 41 2012 points were scored in the last minutes of mop-up time.  Sounds a lot like the same problems they had last season.

This team could not look more disorganized at this point.  They are undisciplined (and I’m not talking about penalties here), unprepared and their body language is as poor as I’ve seen a professional team have.  As soon as this team goes down by two scores, they slump over, look at the ground and all but give up on any prospects of winning the game.  The idea of something as simple as “keep your head up” shouldn’t be a concern at this level, but it appears to be with this team.

And now after two games the apathy has started to set in like its May in Royals season.   The “civil unrest” from the fans is reaching record highs.  After an embarrassing display, most are looking for where to turn.  The convenient excuse of having three of the defenses best players out last week is no longer there.  

Kendrick Lewis was still missing but Brandon Flowers and Tamba Hali were back.  The majority of this teams problems were supposed to be solved.  Yet, there was still no pass rush and they still couldn’t defend the pass.  So what does this all say about the team?

It says there are multiple places fans can look.  The first and most obvious would be the coaching staff.  Firing a coach in midseason is a very bold move and often one reserved for desperate teams.  The Chiefs weren’t supposed to be desperate last year.  Yet, they fired Haley anyway and pretended like it was going to save the franchise.

We were told this team was going to be more prepared.  Effort wasn’t going to be an issue and they wouldn’t look like they weren’t ready as they did in some games last year.  Well, fans can look right at this coaching staff for this teams troubles so far.  If there’s a team that looks less prepared I haven’t seen or heard of it so far this season.  If there’s a team who’s effort can be questioned and preparedness scrutinized, it’s this one.  While some of that comes on the players (and we’ll get to that later) the majority of it falls on the coaching staff.

Crennell is supposedly a “players coach.”  Haley was a “non-players coach.”  All this basically means is that perception is Crennell is nice and makes things easier on them while Haley was the opposite.  Part of the Crennell decision was supposed to be based on the idea that these players would play harder for him than they did for Haley.  Yet, after two weeks we have a team that has given up on games after going down two scores.  Last week it was the second half, this week the first.  But with an error such as that, timing is the smallest factor.

Effort and preparedness are things that are 100% within the control of all parties involved and shouldn’t be an excuse, but we have heard them for two weeks now.  The coaches are as much to blame as anybody else to this point.

Fans can also look at the players.  On paper, this roster is one of the more talented in the league.  There were a lot of good free agent pickups and with the players returning from injuries things were only going to get better.  After two games, we might just have to look at these players and entertain the idea that maybe they aren’t as good as we thought they were.

Tamba Hali is an elite pass rusher but can disappear from time to time.  Brandon Flowers is a top tier corner who can be elite but is wildly inconsistent and injury prone.  Eric Berry has had a tough time living up to the hype and with his injury has taken a couple steps back from a promising rookie year.  Jamaal Charles doesn’t quite have the same burst he once did and maybe never will.  

Even so, regardless of their true talent level, these players were supposed to play for Crennell, and they flat out haven’t.  With this, you can look at the front office.  GM Scott Pioli insists on taking all the credit for football decisions and he must take the blame as well.  Pioli was supposed to make sure that Crennell was the right man for the job.  He was supposed to make sure he picked up the right players in free agency.  He was supposed to evaluate the current players the Chiefs had and make sure they were still the right men for the job.  If any of that occurred, it appears to have not been done as well as needed.  

The ultimate point is that there is no one person to blame and no easy fixes.  After two games there is plenty of time to turn things around, but changes will need to be made.  In the fourth year of the Pioli regime I don’t know that I have the confidence this ship will be righted. 
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Jeff Herr: I Saw Magic, but…

I saw magic on Sunday.  I saw a wide receiver who was a 2011 draft pick with a skill set we haven’t seen in Kansas City in a long time.  I saw a quarterback who was poised, under control, made smart decisions and looks like he’s ready to take the next step in his career.  I saw a defense that was by no means the most talented but was as fast as any offense and played a brand of smart, disciplined football we haven’t seen here since the Marty Schottenheimer era.  The only problem is, I saw all of those things on the Atlanta Falcons and not the Kansas City Chiefs.

The most hype for a season in a long time came to a head with the second consecutive year of starting the season off with a whimper.  While it wasn’t as bad as the Buffalo Bills loss from last season, in which the Chiefs were down 20-0 at halftime en route to a 41-7 loss, but a 40-24 defeat doesn’t look good no matter which way you slice it.

The excuses are plenty and they do have their legitimacy.  Tamba Hali was out with a suspension limiting the pass rush to near non-existence, Brandon Flowers and Kendrick Lewis were both inactive forcing Abe Elam and Jacque Reeves into starting roles.  This banged up secondary would have had trouble against your local flag football team, so you can imagine how well the (possibly) most prolific offense in the league performed.

Matt Ryan was a cool and efficient 23/31 for 299 yards and three touchdowns.  He might as well have been called the bubble boy the way the Chiefs looked averse to hitting him.  His jersey was clean and so was his play.  

Julio Jones looked more like Lolo Jones running all over the Chiefs short-manned secondary.  The second year stud had six receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns.  Matter of fact, I like this comparison so much I want these two to get married and their offspring can be drafted by the Chiefs.  Perhaps Juliolo Jones-Jones will be able to make more of a positive impact for the Chiefs.

Despite all the built in excuses (that everyone was already making before the game was even played) this loss was still incredibly frustrating.  There are a few reasons that I walked away from this game shaking my head and sinking deeper and deeper into the apathy that is becoming more palpable every day in this city.  

First of all, I take issue with said excuses.  Yes, Hali, Flowers, and Lewis are very important players and big losses.  The NFL has forever been a “next man up” league.  Players like Miles Austin, Victor Cruz, and others have been unsung and even undrafted before finding a spot and making the most of it.  The Green Bay Packers has 15 players on the IR the year they won the Super Bowl (2010) and that list included contributors such as Ryan Grant, Nick Barnett, Justin Harrell, Marshall Newhouse, Brady Poppinga, and Mark Tauscher.  

Now, all of those teams listed had elite or near elite quarterbacks.  If you want to argue the problem with the Chiefs is Matt Cassel then that is fine, but that’s not what this article is about.  At least not entirely.

The problem exists with the depth the Chiefs have, or the lack thereof.  More specifically, the lack of depth at positions that have persisted.  The Chiefs have needed a nose tackle since Pioli arrived and with all the players they’ve brought in to fill that role, still only have “potential.”  The secondary was mighty thin when he arrived and rumors had it that Pioli was “forced” by Todd Haley to draft Eric Berry.  While the starting four defensive backs are solid to great, there is nothing above replacement level beyond that.

Pioli has constantly harped on offensive line and depth at all those positions and while that unit wasn’t an issue today, they currently only have seven offensive linemen on the roster and are dangerously thin at the position group.

Beyond just the personnel, some of the blame has to fall with the coaching as well.  If the Chiefs are short handed, then they should have schemed to cover up those differences.  Romeo Crennell got the head-coaching job because of his proficiency as a defensive coordinator.  This was a chance for him to really show his mettle by scheming a way for the defensive secondary to make up for the loss of Flowers and Lewis.

All this game did was serve to show where the Chiefs have failed in their intended rebuild.  In the NFL, in the fourth year of a complete rebuild a team should be nearly complete.  While this roster is well constructed and close, there are still a lot of things missing from this organization.    

On the bright side the team looked pretty good in the first half.  The defense couldn’t stop anybody but the offense was keeping pace looking more like the unit we thought we were going to see.  Only trailing by three points at halftime and receiving the ball after the break was a good place to be.  Unfortunately, it was a missed field goal that seemed to turn the tide negatively for the Chiefs and it was all downhill after that.

When the Chiefs went down by 10 points, it was game over.  Come to think of it, I can’t even remember the last time the Chiefs had an offense in which I didn’t automatically call the game after they went down by ten points (2003? 2004?).  It seems being a predominantly losing team for the last six years or so has completely seeped in to the culture.  You can see it in the body language of the players when they fall behind, they expect to lose.

As I said earlier, I’m not out on the ledge because of this game.  I think the Chiefs play two teams in the coming weeks that didn’t look great today and can be winnable games.  If they’re 2-1 when they come back to Arrowhead on September 30th then things will look a lot brighter.  
But I’m no longer content with middling success.  This franchise has been there too often.  They need to take the next step and what we saw Sunday is a team that has too many obstacles in their way to prevent them taking it this year.  I predicted 10-6 and a playoff loss for this team and I’m sticking to that.  And I’ll still be waiting to see some magic on THIS side of the field.
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Jeff Herr: Chiefs Still the Cheapest?

A little while ago I wrote about how some narratives have gone awry with the Kansas City Chiefs.  In that post I discussed how players like Glen Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, and Dexter McCluster are unfairly criticized because of the narrative that developed from early in their careers.  While they may not be the players we wanted, they are all certainly good players.  Another narrative that exists that is bigger than any one player is the one about the Chiefs being an overtly cheap franchise.

As this narrative would have you believe, the Chiefs want many of the players that are available, but balk at signing any of them because it would decrease their profitability.  It would have you believe that players like Brandon Carr (and possibly Dwayne Bowe in the future) are allowed to leave on the basis that they Chiefs just didn’t want to spend the money to keep them.  While this is part of the answer, it’s not the whole answer.  
What’s made Scott Pioli unique as a general manager and what could ultimately lead to his success or his undoing is the way he values players.  I don’t know that there’s a more precise front office in terms of player valuation than the Chiefs.  It is for this reason that the Chiefs can be seen as stingy.

Some organizations will target a player and sign them at all costs.  Teams that jump out are the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins.  Cost matters little to these teams and, while they may be criticized on their decisions, their GMs are never criticized on their desire to win.  

Yet, the most consistent winning organizations rarely ever make a splash in the free agent market.  The Colts, Patriots, and Steelers, the only three teams to represent the AFC in the Super bowl in the last 9 years (Patriots: ’03, ’04, ’07, ’11; Colts: ’06, ’09; Steelers: ’05, ’08, ’10) rarely make splashy moves.  If you count signing hall of fame quarterbacks then Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s $100M+ contracts would suffice, but every organization would have made those moves, no matter how cheap.

Besides those, how often do these teams make big deals?  You’re more likely to see them pick up a player off the scrap heap of another team, plug them into their system and get them to excel than see them spend large money on a player they don’t deem to be worth it.  They also tend to spend money on the players they draft and develop, but never outside the bounds of what they are worth to the team at the time.  Players are routinely allowed to walk if they don’t fit into what the organization wants or needs.

The Steelers find themselves in the same situation with their #1 wideout Mike Wallace, as the Chiefs have with Dwayne Bowe.  The player thinks he is worth a certain amount, the market will invariably pay that amount, but the team that controls them doesn’t value them as highly as they do themselves.  Usually in this situation one of two things happens: (1) the player signs at a rate that is slightly discounted, (2) the player walks into free agency to test the market (this is of course assuming they are not given the franchise tag, or the franchise tag has been worn out with their current team).

Pioli values players to the minutest detail.  He ascribes them a worth based on how they fit into the puzzle of this team.  If a player wants more money than what Pioli thinks he’s worth, he won’t get paid.  We saw it with Brandon Carr.  It wasn’t a scenario in which Carr was good enough to keep, he just wasn’t valued by Pioli like the Cowboys valued him.

Time will ultimately tell who was right, but I have a feeling the Cowboys may be the ones who end up feeling like they overpaid.  They gave Carr number one cornerback type money and he isn’t a number one cornerback.  Pioli knew that and chose not to pay him as such.

On the other hand, Tamba Hali is one of the premiere pass rushers in the NFL.  Last offseason Pioli paid him the money a player like that deserves.  Brandon Flowers went the same way, his contract was equal to Carr’s and many believe him to be the better player.  

This shows the Chiefs don’t suffer from symptoms of cheapness, it’s symptoms of value.  The Chiefs and Pioli have chosen to value players at a certain level.  They stockpile their draft picks and waiver wire pickups and supplement with the occasional free agent piece, if the price is right.  This is how the Steelers, Colts, and Patriots built their teams over the years.

The discrepancy in salary cap space is mostly based on the elite quarterbacks the other teams have, but also related to the relatively young players on the Chiefs.  Dorsey, Jackson, Justin Houston, Eric Berry, Kendrick Lewis, and Branden Albert are all starters that are still on their first contracts.  Not all of them will command big money, but if re-signed to the Chiefs at their prescribed value, will up the cap number in the coming years.

Two or three years from now what was a rallying cry will no longer be valid.  The Chiefs payroll will most likely be in the middle of the league and that narrative will no longer be accurate.  Further, even if I’m wrong, history has shown us that there isn’t a great correlation between the highest payroll and the winningest team anyway.  

In many ways this is a make or break season for the Chiefs.  If they break, many will point to the salary cap.  The low hanging fruit makes it easy to overlook the fact that this season truly rests on Matt Cassel and his ability, who happens to be one of the highest paid players on the team. 

Beyond that, it lies with Pioli and his ability to complete the very talented and deep roster he has constructed.  More than an aversion to spending money the Achilles heel of this team could be an aversion to admitting failure and moving on.  The season is less than a week away and if Pioli has valued these players right, it could be one of the best, or at least most complete, Chiefs teams we’ve seen here in a while.
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Jeff Herr: Don't Panic Kansas City

I left for vacation a mere 10 days ago.  At that time the Chiefs were looking like legitimate playoff and possible Super Bowl contenders.  Their dismantling of the Cardinals defense made their offense look very special and their own defense, while having some problems, still looked more than adequate.  When I returned from my voyage into the mountains, chaos had broken out.

As I slowly got myself back into my daily groove last week I had to catch up piecemeal with all the happenings around the Chiefs.  They looked very poor in getting dismantled by the Rams, a team many think could be the worse in the league.

Brandon Flowers remained hurt. The Chiefs had basically thrown up their hands saying they have no clue why he is still injured.  Kendrick Lewis hurt his shoulder and had his arm in a sling.  And the consummate team player and individual Tamba Hali received a one game suspension for violating the league substance abuse policy, which both he and the team were intentionally and suspiciously vague about.

Like I said: chaos.

A team that many were starting to think could be a force, all of the sudden seemed very vulnerable.  With the explosive Atlanta Falcons offense coming to Arrowhead on September 9th, the Chiefs will be without their top pass rusher and possibly without their top two defensive backs (who at the very least will not be 100%).  No matter which way you slice it, that’s not good news.

My return to normal life and Kansas City after my vacation has not been as triumphant as I originally envisioned.

Yet, the approach I took after the first preseason game will hold true even after two bad ones: don’t read too much into it.  Now is not the time to panic in Kansas City.  While Flowers’  injury is disconcerting at best, he will most likely play against the Falcons.  Even a Flowers at 100% is better than most.  Whether he will be able to shut down Roddy White remains to be seen, but I’d take him out there with a shot of cortisone over most other options.

The loss of Hali hurts, but let’s not forget that it’s only one game and Justin Houston really started to come into his own in the second half of last year.  Of his 5.5 sacks and 53 tackles, all sacks and 34 of his tackles came in the second half of the season.  Many people also forget about Cam Sheffield who was a fifth round pick in 2010 but was derailed with a neck injury that season and had to work his way back last season.  This is their chance to prove themselves as viable second and third options as pass rushers and the early returns are solid.

Last year the Chiefs ranked 12th in points allowed and 11th in yards on defense.  This was without Eric Berry, no viable nose tackle, and 89 points and 775 yards in the first two games alone.  The defense has a chance to be elite and if Flowers is in the game should be able to overcome this adversity.

Possibly the most important thing to remember here is that the offense is still intact.  While many thought the strength of this team would be the defense, there was never any question as to the weapons the offense had planted around much maligned QB Matt Cassel.

With the emergence of Dexter McCluster, Jonathan Baldwin, the return of Dwayne Bowe, and Tony Moeaki and the addition of Kevin Boss and Peyton Hillis, this offense could be as explosive as we saw in the mid 2000’s.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this season relates to exact reason why last year went down the tubes so quickly.  The first drive of the season the Buffalo Bills moved down the field and scored a touchdown.  Before anybody knew what was happening, the Chiefs were trailing 20-0 in their first halftime.  This then fed on itself leading to at 41-7 loss at home, followed by a 48-3 debacle the next week and then eventually snowballing into a 0-3 start.  This cannot happen this season.

The first game, and even more importantly the first series could determine whether this teams shoots for the playoffs or jockeys for a draft position.  A quick and methodical offensive touchdown on the first drive or a quick three-and-out for the defense could set the tone for the first game very nicely.  Such an event would turn the opening day crowd raucous and possibly lead the team to victory.  As Lewis and Flowers get healthier and Hali returns, this could snowball itself into a 3-0 start instead of the opposite.

Of course, there are a lot of ifs in that statement.  The Chiefs could find themselves deep in a hole just like they did last year.  It could build on itself and the first month of the season could be filled with more soul searching than victories.  Then again, the Chiefs could lose 20-17 and the outcome many thought would happen anyway would hold true.  After all, you’d be hard pressed to find many who would rank the Chiefs higher than the Falcons.

The point here is that there is a lot left to be decided.  While many things can build off seemingly small events like the first drive of the season, that drive hasn’t happened yet.  Preseason can mean a lot of weird things happening.  Defenses and offenses don’t show their true selves.  Many don’t operate to their full capacity to not show other teams what they’re capable of.  The Detroit Lions in 2008 went 4-0 in the preseason only to go 0-16 in the regular season.  The Indianapolis Colts often went 0-4 or 1-3 in the preseason only to be Super Bowl contenders with Peyton Manning.

The book isn’t written on the Chiefs yet.  While some happenings are slightly discouraging, nothing has counted to this point.  There is still time to right the ship and become the team many thought they would be.  I don’t think we will see the team we saw the past two weeks, but I’m also not sure we will see the team we saw in preseason game number one either.  This is a pivotal season for this regime and if the Chiefs do well they will be revered.  If they don’t, I’ll need another vacation and hopefully my return will be better served after that one.

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Jeff Herr: Keeping up with the Royals

With Chiefs season inching ever closer by the second, the Royals seem to get more distant from the collective Kansas City sports consciousness.  Part of this is the Royals dismal July and poor record overall, the other part is the excitement around a very intriguing Chiefs team.  Yet, as the NFL slowly begins to take over the sports world there are a few things that should be keeping your attention on the diamond through the end of September.

Balboni Watch – This is quite possibly my favorite storyline of the season not involving the All-Star break, even though it does involve the ASG indirectly.  The seemingly unbeatable record set by Steve Balboni in 1985 is that of home runs by a Royals player.  Balboni whacked 36 dingers that year in helping the Royals to a World Series title, not realizing that that year would live on immortally beyond just the World Championship.

Of all the dubious records the Royals may have, losingest franchise over the last 10 years, 19 losses in a row, 27 years and no playoffs, the worst might be that they are the only team to NEVER have someone hit 40 homeruns in a single season.  If there is a greater mark of offensive futility, I do not know thee.

As of right now after 124 games (8/22) Billy Butler has 25 homeruns on the season.  At the same point, Balboni had 27.  Butler has fallen to two off the pace, but the record is still in play.  With 38 games left in the season and 12 homeruns needed, Butler needs to hit a HR roughly once every three games.  As if being the Royals lone all-star when the game was in their city wasn’t enough, breaking Balboni’s record would make him the crown prince of Kansas City forever.

Johnny Giavotella – Ever since Mark Grudzielanek finished his run with the Royals in 2008 the second base position has been in complete flux.  Many have tried, none have stuck at that position.  After putting up with 4 months of futility from Yuniesky Betancourt he was finally kicked to the curb in favor of Chris Getz.  After a season ending injury to Getz, the young AAA slugger Johnny Giavotella was brought up to see if he can finally get his footing at the major league level.

The importance of this move has been underrated by some.  The success of Gio will go a long ways towards solidifying this roster for ascension in 2013.  While this was supposed to happen last year, this is a golden opportunity for Gio to take the reins and truly cement himself as the Royals 2B of the future. 

Wil Myers – As September inches closer the most exciting aspect might be the advent of roster expansion allowing major league clubs to bring up some young prospects, which would most assuredly include Myers.  As a player Myers has a great chance at winning minor league player of the year and could very well show himself to be a huge part of the future of this franchise.  For his year in the minors through 35 games in AA and 87 games in AAA he has a line of .312/.389/603 with 34 homeruns and 99 RBI’s. 

He has definitely proved his mettle in the lower levels of the major league baseball and many will say he probably should have been brought up sooner.  Conventional wisdom says he has been blocked by the more veteran and “more proven,” Jeff Franoeur.  Even if all Frenchy has proven is that he is a below average player, albeit with a few redeeming qualities.  How Myers performs when up will likely have a large role in whether or not he starts 2013 with the team or finds his way back to Omaha to start.  He may be in AAA either way, but it would be even harder to keep him down if he had a solid last month of the season.

The strikeout rate will be the thing to pay most attention to.  Typically young hitters will strike out more than they did in the minors and Myers has been hovering around 25% strikeout rate for most of the season.  That’s not particularly good and is a little worrisome.  However, he’s still getting on base at a .379 clip in AAA which is very good and has kept his walk rate above 10%.  This suggests he has a solid approach, and his BABIP of .351 would lead us to conclude that when he makes contact it’s usually for a hit, even if he might struggle to make contact at times.  Regardless of any peccadillo’s one might find, Myers is an elite prospect and should make this team better.

Jake Odorizzi – A year and a half ago this team has more pitching talent then they could handle.  There were five pitchers alone who were in Baseball America’s top 100 list of prospects in 2011.  That has now dwindled down to just Odorizzi.

The player acquired in the Zack Greinke trade has gotten better every stop along the way.  After struggling a bit in AA last year putting up a 4.72 ERA in 12 starts, he lit up the Texas League this year with a 3.32 ERA and striking out 11 batters per nine innings and walking less than three.  He moved up to AAA from there and hit a few bumps in the road, but righted the ship and is now at a solid 2.80 ERA and still showing solid command.

Lots of hopes of the Royals future are depending on how Odorizzi fares.  The 3-5 starts he will get in September should give us a good clue of whether or not he can be successful.  Now, plenty of pitchers have come up in September and bombed and had great careers, but this September should show us just how close he might be.

Despite his outstanding numbers, his peripherals haven’t been quite as good.  The amount of men he puts on base and hits/walks he gives up indicate his overall numbers should be a bit higher.  However, he has displayed a lot of the skills that make successful MLB pitchers and should largely factor in to the 2013 rotation.

Pitching staff – This is the nebulous one that I won’t even bother making much of a prediction on.  The performances of Luke Hochevar, Luis Mendoza, and Bruce Chen down the stretch will go a long way towards trying to solidify spots in the rotation in 2013.  How Jeremy Guthrie performs will go towards whether or not the Royals offer him a contract for 2013, and if his past three performances are any indication, if the Royals can even afford to bring him back. 

2012 was a largely disappointing season by just about any standard.  The mantra of “next season” always brings hope.  As well as the Royals have done filling out this roster, there is still a lot up in the air, and especially when it comes to the starting rotation.  So while the Chiefs try to rekindle the magic of 2010 keep an eye across the parking lot as the beginnings of some very interesting storylines for 2013 will be unfolding.
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Jeff Herr: Looking at the Chiefs First Preseason Game

Here’s the thing, it’s the preseason.  Just as we would be defending the Chiefs with that mantra if they did poorly, the same theory applies that they did well.  That said, boy did they do well.  The Chiefs came out with a solid plan, they worked it to perfection, and by the time the number one offense left the game they had a 14-0 lead.

The entire point of preseason is why the Chiefs performance was exciting.  Preseason is there for evaluation, not only amongst your own team but the others as well.  Regardless of how good the Cardinals are or will be, the Chiefs should be better than them.  In many ways a team like the Cardinals is a very good litmus test of where the Chiefs are in their process.

The last few years while the Chiefs have been “rebuilding” I like to plot out a few that will really tell me how far along this team is.  I usually pick the teams who I think aren’t as good as the Chiefs on paper.  How they stack up against those opponents is a good gauge of where they are.
It is for this reason that how the Chiefs handled the Cardinals is a good sign.  The Cardinals probably aren’t going to be all that great this year.  They surprised a lot of people to go 8-8 last year, but that might have even been playing above their heads a bit.

The Cardinals aren’t going to scare most people and if the Chiefs are truly going to contend for anything they should be able to handle this team.  And handle them is what they did.  The Chiefs drove down the field with relative ease on their first two drives, got into the red zone, and scored.

It did not look like a fair contest.  The Cardinals were overmatched.  Now, it’s preseason for them too, but the Chiefs came out and looked poor last year and we all know how that went.  Fact is, this is the most impressive that the Chiefs have looked in years in the preseason.  Ultimately, it doesn’t mean much.  But it is a good amount of positivity surrounding this team now, and that is sorely needed.

There were quite a few items I was pleased with watching the game and some I wasn’t so pleased with.

Offense – The most obvious positive from this game was the offense.  In the first quarter the first team offense was moving around like a well oiled machine.  Dexter McCluster might have looked the most impressive making three receptions for 45 yards and getting the Chiefs into position to score on their second drive.  

The offensive line looked about as impressive as they look on paper.  The holes were there for the running game, Cassel had plenty of time, and it made for smooth sailing on offense.  Depth might be a small concern as the majority of the backups are young and inexperienced, but this front line will be put up against just about any O-Line in the league.

Peyton Hillis looked good, he had a 28 yard rumble late in the game and had some solid runs against the Cardinals number one defense as well.  

Matt Cassel, much maligned by Chiefs fans had himself quite a game.  The first noticeable change on the offense wasn’t even about him as much.  The offense was routinely getting to the line of scrimmage with plenty of time, which was a rare sight these past couple of years.  This allowed Cassel to survey the defense, make possible audibles or offensive line adjustments, and just be more comfortable.  The more comfortable Cassel is, the better this Chiefs team will be.

Everything wasn’t all positive though.  There were a few areas the team could have been better.

Defense – The defense didn’t play horrible, but they weren’t quite as sharp as you’d like.  This unit is what many think will be a huge strength of this team and I would tend to agree.  Nobody is worried yet because defense usually takes a little bit longer to get acclimated and different units progress at different rates.  However, they looked a little sluggish on run defense and they allowed a little bit more than I would have liked in the passing game.

The flip side of that is Brandon Flowers, the unanimous top cornerback on this squad, was out for the game and this was Eric Berry’s first game back since week 1 of 2011.  With Flowers back and as the weeks go on with Berry improving, that will no doubt help the secondary.  As the defensive line continues to gel together and get in game shape, they should only improve as well.  Despite the small concerns, this unit still has the opportunity to be elite.

Somewhere in between the positives and the negatives lies the “I’m not sure” which can be popular in the early preseason.

The biggest area that most would probably agree with, and really only area from Friday’s performance, is Jamaal Charles.  Coming off the ACL injury Charles has the toughest road back.  Berry and Tony Moeaki both have to recover as well, but neither position will likely put as much stress and test out their rebuilt knee as much as Charles will.

There have been many success stories of players coming back from ACL tears, including running backs, with the main example being Jamal Lewis in the early 2000’s.  Lewis was a bit of a different runner than Charles and didn’t put as much emphasis on cuts and quickness, but it’s still a solid example.

Charles didn’t seem to hit the holes like he did in 2010 nor did he have the burst we’ve come to expect.  The road to ACL health is a long one and he still has a ways to go.  That said, if he never gets back to 100% he still showed that he can be a productive player, even if he’s not what he once was.

Overall, it was a very positive showing from the Chiefs.  I haven’t left a preseason game and felt that good about this team in a long time.  The good feelings around this team are swirling and things could build on themselves to create one of the best teams we’ve seen here in a quite a while.
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Jeff Herr: Narratives Gone Awry

Every year when training camp rolls around, there are a few things that sports fans in Kansas City have come to expect.  There will be lots of canned answers from the Chiefs, it will be hotter than all get out, and the Royals season will be over.  While the latter two are unavoidable, the first one only means that the media is left to come up with their own stories.

At some point, a narrative begins to form and it carries its way through training camp, sometimes into the season, and other times even further into future training camps and seasons.  For whatever reason, these things begin to take on a life of their own.  

Part of the culprit is the fact that around this time there is very little to report on, especially from training camp.  Practice is usually light in the early goings, the players are doing low contact drills, and most of the time they’re not even in full pads.  All together, it makes noteworthy stories hard to come by.

Yet, with the football crazed nation we have, stories need to come out.  “[Player] is running with the 1st team,” or “[Player] didn’t participant in morning practice,” are usually what we get.  Such a thing is to be expected and can become noteworthy if there’s a trend.  However, with so much being put out there and certain stories taking lives of their, the question gets posed as to what’s real and what’s just “the narrative.”
It’s always curious to see which narratives catch on and which ones don’t.  The collective media will put many different observations and tidbits out there, and the people will react and call for more and more information.  What follows are a few of the narrative’s that have developed with the Chiefs over the last few years and my thoughts on their validity.  

-Glen Dorsey – Dorsey came in with some of the biggest expectations of a Chiefs rookie ever.  In 2008 he was looked upon as possibly the most talented player in the draft.  For most of his senior collegiate season he was seen as the consensus best player and first pick in the draft.  As usually happens his stock dropped ever so slightly with the NFL combine and increased scrutiny, allowing him to “fall” to the Chiefs at the #5 overall pick.

At the time the Chiefs were still running the Herm Edwards led ‘Tampa 2’ defense.  This was a defense with a 4-3 base and one that Dorsey and his skill set was superiorly suited for.  Defensive tackles take a notoriously long time to get acclimated to the NFL, but even by those standards Dorsey still had what many perceived to be a poor rookie season netting 46 tackles and one sack.

The next year was the biggest shift the Chiefs had seen in 20 years.  Carl Peterson was out, Scott Pioli was in and so was Todd Haley as head coach.  The two decided they wanted to install a 3-4 scheme on defense and Dorsey was going to be a defensive end.  Many fans and “experts” cried out that Dorsey wasn’t a fit for this scheme.  There was even talk of a possible trade due to Dorsey’s skill set not fitting the needs of his new position.

Instead, the Chiefs kept the supremely talented player with faith his skill set could adapt.  Even still, every year there is talk of the Chiefs possibly trying to trade Dorsey or getting someone to replace him.   While most people are judging him by his sack totals--which are very low--they don’t tell the whole story.  

Over the last 3 years, Dorsey has become one of the better 3-4 defensive ends in the league.  According to this article (http://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2012/06/02/secret-superstar-tyson-jackson-and-glenn-dorsey-des-kansas-city-chiefs/) written by Pro Football Focus after last season, it could even be argued that Dorsey is a “secret superstar.

With this being the last year of Dorsey’s current contract many people have wondered if the Chiefs will re-sign him.  I would say that it would be a huge mistake not to do so.  Dorsey has been a vastly underrated player and excellent citizen in his four years in Kansas City.  If his price is within reason the Chiefs would be remiss not to pull the trigger on re-signing this player who will be a big key to their success.

-Branden Albert – Albert is another player very similar to Dorsey.  As a first round pick in 2008 (the Chiefs had two that year) Albert came in with very high expectations as well.  Like Dorsey, Albert would be playing a spot that many deemed not his “natural position.”  A guard in college Albert was to be moved to left tackle, arguably the most important spot on the field behind quarterback.

A solid rookie season was followed by a regression in 2009.  2010 saw Albert step up and in 2011 he was able to maintain and improve, if only ever so slightly.  Every year of Albert’s tenure fans have been calling for a position switch.  The narrative would have one believe that the Chiefs were forcing his hand and he is ill prepared to be a left tackle.

This is yet another example of a narrative taking on a life of its own.  Albert’s situation is not a creation of the media as they have mostly reported simply the facts.  Albert wasn’t a tackle in college, there is no disputing this.  While many thought he was capable, there were some doubters as to whether or not Albert could maintain at LT in the NFL.

As Pro Football Focus shows in their evaluation of pass blockers (http://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2012/02/20/2011-pass-blocking-efficiency-offensive-tackles/), not only has Albert proven himself, but he’s a top ten player in the league in that regard.  With passing becoming more and more prominent in the NFL, it would be a mistake on the Chiefs part to let Albert go, as a player in which they know exactly what they have.

Both of these players represent key pieces in the solid base the Chiefs have constructed.  They are also examples of a narrative that has taken a life of its own and, while based in reality, isn’t the whole truth of the situation.  They both show that the further we get into training camp and discussing contract situations the more important it is to keep things in perspective.  Players of this caliber are not easily replaced no matter what beliefs are out there.
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Jeff Herr: Dexter McCluster...Secret Weapon

Training camp has completed its first weekend and the notes and tidbits have started to pour out.  In the early goings of training camp it is the duty of the credentialed press to blow every possible tidbit wildly out of proportion.  In Kansas City such is the way of things.  The Royals season is over as they flirt with being 20 games under .500.  Searching for something to talk about, items such as Matt Cassel overthrowing Jonathan Baldwin in his first pass of training is a lightning rod sports topic.

One of the biggest stories coming out of camp so far has been Dexter McCluster and his role on this team.  When drafted in 2010 McCluster regarded himself as an “OW” meaning “offensive weapon.”  This seemed to be right where he was headed when he had his “breakout” game against the 49ers that year with 3 receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown.  

He continued to find his footing until getting a high ankle sprain in the sixth game of the season.  After a long road to recovery he wasn’t quite the same in 2010.

Last year was a precarious year for McCluster.  He was put into a tough spot after being told he would focus less on running back and then being forced back into that role after the injury to Jamaal Charles.  McCluster was unprepared for this going in to the season and in many ways ill suited.

The Chiefs began to use him as a normal running back.  While he didn’t get a bulk of the carries, the ones he did get were standard running plays.  The only problem is that McCluster is not a standard running back.

As a player McCluster needs to be in open space, to react in the open field where he can change direction if needed.  Putting McCluster in a situation where he needs to read the defense, find the hole, and hit the hole, is not his strong suit.

The Chiefs knew this when they drafted him.  This is why he was going to be utilized more as a slot receiver in his rookie year.  Lots of bubbles screens, reverses, end arounds, and maybe even a few pitch outs were in store.  All plays designed to confuse the defense, give the player the ability to make people miss in space and turn them into a threat.

Up to this season the narrative on McCluster has been that he hasn’t been that player and hasn’t lived up to “the hype” (which was relatively little, but was still there).  Some would argue that it’s not even so much living up to the hype as it is living up to his draft status, which was the 36th overall pick, a very valuable selection the Chiefs held in 2010.

His first season was largely a letdown, which was in great part due to his injury.  Many people spent all of last year lamenting how McCluster was not suited to being the go-to running back (which is correct) and that he didn’t provide as much value as he should.  To the latter, I disagree.

Specifically in the second half of the season, after the Chiefs understood how they should utilize McCluster with Charles out, he began to become a very valuable player.  For the season McCluster racked up 844 total yards and two total touchdowns.  Not being a very physical runner or receiver, such low TD numbers are to be expected.  He’s not going to get many goal line carries nor is he going to get many passes thrown his way inside the 20.  

Even so, he was still a valuable cog in what little offense the Chiefs were able to muster last year, once the Chiefs fully figured out how to use him.  Of his 844 total yards last year, McCluster put up 503 of those yards in the second half of the season.  Breaking that down even further, 52% of his rushing yards came in the second half, and 71% of his receiving yards came in that same timeframe.

McCluster’s second half included a season high games of 61 rushing yards (which he hit twice) and 89 yards receiving.  During that span he averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 10.3 yards per reception.  Keep in mind; this was all without Charles, a healthy offensive line, a decent quarterback, and an aging Thomas Jones.

The Chiefs have noted their intention to have McCluster fill more of his slot receiver role in the upcoming season.  Of course, running back reps haven’t been ruled out, nor should they be.  With Charles back in the fold and a full set of healthy wide receivers and tight ends, there will be no shortage of weapons on this Chiefs team.

The question is how McCluster will fit in.

I think McCluster is ready for a true breakout year.  After two seasons the Chiefs have a better idea of what he’s capable of and where his strengths and weaknesses lie.  Barring any unforeseen injuries, McCluster won’t be expected to step outside his defined role.  He will be able to grow more comfortable in his role on this team and that will translate into better results on the field.

Important to keep in mind here that “breakout years” are relative.  A breakout year for McCluster would be right around 1,000 total yards, with a few more touchdowns.  However, if he puts up these types of numbers his true effect will be how the defense reacts to him when he doesn’t get the ball.

Of course, this all comes with a caveat.

So far the Chiefs have said that he will focus more on his slot receiver role, yet he is listed as RB on the team’s website.  In interviews even McCluster has been somewhat cryptic about how his position will be handled.  

If McCluster is to be a valuable part of this team, as I believe he can be, it will depend on his comfort level.  This is something the Chiefs directly control.  By providing a clear message to McCluster up front, he will be able to gain more familiarity with his role as he did the second half of last season and the results should be similar.  

As with most training camp notes, there’s a lot of “ifs” in this scenario.  However, McCluster stands a chance to be breakout offensive weapon on this team that could help the Chiefs to their goal of a second division title in three years.
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Jeff Herr: Chiefs Training Camp, What to Watch For

It’s the annual rite of passage here in Kansas City.  As spring turns into the sweltering heat of late July and the Royals figuratively end their season, the rest of the sports eyes of Kansas City turn towards the Chiefs.

Usually right about this time is when training camp is gearing up to start up for all NFL teams.  This year has occurred in lock step with years prior.  Just at the Royals are reaching a new low point for the season, training camp will start for the Chiefs on Friday.

So what are we looking for this coming weekend and into August as the city’s consciousness turns towards football?  There are many things to keep an eye on as the Chiefs will field what looks to be their best team in quite a while.

Stanford Routt – The Brandon Carr situation is still not far from the minds of Chiefs fans.  Carr is a player who was undoubtedly what general manager Scott Pioli was talking was about when he touted the “right 53.”  Carr was valued as a number one cornerback by the Dallas Cowboys, and that was more value than what the Chiefs placed on him, so he left town and went to play for Dallas with a brand new $50M contract.  In anticipation of this possible development, the Chiefs went out and signed free agent corner Routt, formerly of the Oakland Raiders.

What everyone will be watching for is whether or not Routt can match what Carr did.  Lots of fans in KC seem to think that Routt won’t measure up because they’ve bought into the narrative about him.  They look at the penalties he had last year and think the same thing will happen this year.  What they don’t realize is that the Chiefs and the Raiders play in different schemes with different philosophies.  

Over the last two years, the players statistical output is nearly identical.  Carr has 102 tackles and 5 interceptions.  Routt has 104 tackles and 6 interceptions.  This doesn’t take into effect the yards either gave up in that time, and by most accounts, Routt was worse.  However, Carr was not immune to giving up yards and Routt should benefit to playing in a less man-to-man/bump-and-run scheme.

Dontari Poe – This is the biggest question mark for the Chiefs.  Many considered this pick a reach at #11 overall in the draft, but the Chiefs contend he was one of the highest rated players on their board.  He fills the biggest need on this defense, but how well remains to be seen.  The Chiefs, like many others, were no doubt enamored with the size and athleticism of a player like Poe.  At 6’5” and 350 pounds Poe was still able to run a 4.98 40 yard dash and impress many with his abilities.  

Even still, his production in college wasn’t what you’d expect from an athlete of his caliber.  This was a trust pick.  Pioli trusts Romeo Crennell and Anthony Pleasant (defensive line coach) to mold this player into the nose tackle the Chiefs have needed ever since Pioli arrived.  Training camp should be a good window into how Poe is developing and what the Chiefs think of him based on how he’s being used.

Offensive line – There have been some changes to the offensive, all of which seem better on paper.  The replacement of Casey Weigmann with 2011 second round pick Rodney Hudson looks good from a high level view.  Take the aging veteran and replace him with the young talented player always seems good, but will have to be proven.  

Eric Winston was signed as a free agent in the offseason and was one of the biggest most high profile pickups in the NFL.  Winston is regarded by many as one of (if not the) best right tackle in the league.  He should be an immediate and noticeable upgrade over Barry Richardson at RT.  

The question will be how these new players mesh with the ones already there.  The Chiefs should have one of the best offensive lines in the league in 2012 and underperformance in this area will be one of the biggest failures of the season.  This will definitely be something to watch.

Matt Cassel – We have been over this and over this before.  At this point, Cassel is what he is.  The difference this year is there will be no excuses.  If Cassel isn’t an elite quarterback he has proven that teams can at least win with him (11-5 season with New England; 10-6 here in KC in 2010).  At his ceiling he’s the average QB who might be not able to win you the game, but won’t lose it either.  He needs to reach that ceiling and solidify that role this year.  He has the offensive line, he has the weapons, and he apparently has a more stable environment.  It’s time for Cassel to prove he’s worth that contract he signed.

ACL Injury Returns – Everyone knows about how the Chiefs 2011 season was hampered by key injuries to playmakers Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles, and Tony Moeaki.  The big “if” tied to this season will be how well those players and come back from those injuries and help this team.  The ACL tear isn’t what it once was in terms of ruining a career.  Many players have been able to come back and have fruitful careers, post surgery (Wes Welker is one of the most recent examples).  

The ceiling of this team will depend in large part on how much of an impact Charles and Berry can make.  Both are one of the most important players on either side of the ball.  If Berry can come back and flash that elite talent he showed in 2010 (especially in the playoff game) and Charles is still that homerun threat, then this team is one of the scariest in the league.

There are some questions going in to training camp this year, as there are for every team.  This year, for the Chiefs, they seem to think they have a lot of the answers.  If they are as positive as the Chiefs hope then it could be a very exciting year for football in Kansas City.
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Jeff Herr: Looking Ahead to the Trade Deadline

Each day inches us closer and closer to that all important, all-exciting day that we call the “trade deadline.”  It’s almost as if the day itself should come with an ominous echoing voiceover.  It’s the day when a team either goes all-in or decides they are all out and it’s “sell, sell, sell.” 

Occasionally, you get a team like this year’s Tampa Bay Rays in which they have been ravaged by injuries, but are still in contention and therefore could conceivably stand pat and still compete in the baseball’s second half.  For the rest of the fanbases, it’s decision time.

The Royals are not immune to this scenario.  Dayton Moore will no doubt be working the phones over the next two weeks and seeing what is out there and what he can get.  Trading hasn’t been Moore’s strong suit in his six years with this club, but he has had a few successes.  The Tim Collins trade comes to mind, as does the Zack Greinke trade that netted our shortstop of the future and possible center fielder of the future and number one starter as well.

But for each Greinke trade, there’s a Melky Cabrera trade where the return is a pitcher having one of the most awful seasons in major league history.  Then again, could anyone blame him at the time?  Melky was coming off his best season as a pro and regression was a near certainty.  The Royals desperately needed pitching and Jonathan Sanchez is a man who started games in the World Series and once threw a no-hitter. 

Talk was even that the Royals may have gotten the better end of the deal.  That was short lived.

What all this past history has lead to is the Royals being back to 11 games under .500 and looking like they might be sellers come this year’s deadline.  

If I put my GM cap on, I’d the say there are two players the Royals would like to move (in an ideal world).  Those players would be Jeff Francoeur and/or Jonathan Broxton.  Francoeur is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro in 2011 and despite his current line of .255/.294/.389 has shown some flashes of power and has gotten on some hot streaks.  In the month of May he hit .321/.368/.566 with five homeruns and 12 RBIs.  
Francoeur is a player that obviously can be an everyday starter, but might be best served platooning in an outfield spot.  My guess is that it would take a pretty desperate team to make a move for Francoeur and even still, that team wouldn’t give up much for him.  If the Royals are lucky for Francoeur they might get a really raw AA player with high upside as a reliever or maybe a middling utility player who could provide some small value in the future.  Problem is, the Royals have enough of those types of players already, even if you can’t have too many prospects in baseball.
If I was a betting man, I would bet money they sit on Francoeur and his contract and let him finish out the season.

The second trade option for the Royals is a little more attractive: Jonathan Broxton.  The position of closer (if you can actually call it that), is WAY overvalued in today’s MLB.  A player who ONLY comes in when a team is up by three runs or less and has three outs or less to get doesn’t really provide a ton of value in the grand scheme of things.  While there might be a specific skill set required of such a player, it’s still not necessarily worth what teams are giving up for it.

That said, teams continue to make big trades and give big contracts to the players they deem worth such extravagances.  For a team out there with a need for a closer and in contention, Broxton could be a very valuable asset.  

What’s working for the Royals in this scenario is that despite so-so numbers from Broxton, he has the all-important save statistic.  Broxton has 22 saves which goes a long way towards upping his value.  Despite the fact that his WHIP is 1.37, which isn’t terrible but isn’t great for a closer, and his FIP is 3.51 (very incongruous with his 2.14 ERA), he’ll still look attractive to some suitors.  

What the Royals have to hope for here is that somebody is willing to overpay in order to go all in.  They have to hope that somewhere out there somebody is willing to give up a major league ready starting pitcher, or a AA starter who’s close, in order to lock down the closer role for their playoff run.  

If there’s value to be had in today’s MLB it’s in signing veteran players to club friendly contracts and flipping them for prospects.  I always thought this was Moore’s intention with this signing, so if he can make it happen he might be able to wash the bad taste out of everyone’s mouth from the Cabrera-Sanchez trade.

Now, while these two may be the most plausible scenarios, there are additional trade options the Royals have.  These are far more unlikely (and not endorsed by me) but if the Royals want to be bold, these are moves that could be made.  

The first is to trade Wil Myers.  Whether we want to believe it or not, he’s currently blocked by Franoeur and Lorenzo Cain in the outfield.  Even though he has 28 home runs in the minor leagues, he is still blocked by a player that has and OBP below .300 and another player who has only played eight games in 2012.  This is the Royals.

A Myers trade has been talked about for the last year and a half and at this point wouldn’t surprise anyone.  The problem with trading Myers is going to be evaluating how much control they are giving up versus how much they are gaining.  If they traded Myers for a Zack Greinke type pitcher who becomes a free agent at the end of the year, it’s a complete loss.  If they were to trade for someone like Shelby Miller (not that the Cardinals would do it, but it’s just an example), then it’s a little more even as the Royals would be netting the same amount of control.  

The same rules would apply for a trade involving Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler.  The Royals are guaranteed six more years of Hosmer and Butler has already signed a contract and stated he wants to be here long-term.  If they gave them up for a pitcher who’s only going to be in Kansas City for a year or two, then what was really gained?  The answer is nothing.

The trade deadline is a fickle mistress and the Royals have not romanced her well in the past.  The Royals can be bold but first and foremost that they need to be smart.  Moving Francoeur, even if Moore likes him as a hunting buddy, makes sense for this team long-term.  Moving Broxton might fetch value where they thought they had none.  Sitting tight with their core group of young players is what Moore’s regime has been all about.

Regardless of what actually happens, one thing is clear when the trade deadline gets here, the Royals are sellers, just like they have for the past 20 years. 
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Jeff Herr: Kansas City is the Real All-Star

It’s no secret how much I love Kansas City.  I was born here, have lived here all my life (outside of a brief stint in college), and have as much KC pride as anybody.  People not from Kansas City have often asked me about my love for the sports teams here.  They want to know if I would still love these teams if they moved away.  

The answer isn’t exactly simple.  If the Royals moved away and I had no other baseball team in KC to follow, I would probably still be a fan.  If I’m going to be a fan of baseball and it’s a team not in my city I might as well be a fan of the one I’m most familiar with.  That said, if a new baseball team were to come here, they would be my new favorite team.

Sports teams and the cities they’re in have a symbiotic relationship like this.  While sports don’t directly affect our lives any more than we allow them to, we look at these teams as representatives of us.  When they put the "KC" on their cap or helmet they are a uniform representation our city on the field of play.

Recent years have not lent to this being a good representation.  Over the last 20 years the Royals have had their struggles with multiple 100 loss seasons.  For much of the time since their World Series championship, they have toiled in relative obscurity.  

With the All-Star weekend in full swing the eye of the national media is being directed towards Kansas City more than it has since that 1985 championship.  With that come articles and questions about the Royals struggles and how beaten down the fanbase has gotten over the years.

While those articles are out and the questions are rightfully asked, other news will come out about KC as well.  The national media will be writing (and have already written some) about Kansas City expressing how much they enjoy all the things we are proud of.  The barbeque is already a big hit (I tried to go to Oklahoma Joe’s at 2:00 on Saturday only to find the line out the door and around the corner after two busloads of people were brought in).  People love the layout of the city, the stadiums, and of course all the people.

The members of the national media I’ve talked to have only expressed how much they enjoy Kansas City.  People from the coasts or the larger Midwest cities like Chicago talk about how they like the city much more than they thought they would.  Poor sports teams and constantly being reminded of its “small market” nature lends itself to a less than stellar national reputation.  I’ve always found it interesting how much people who’ve never been to Kansas City think of it as more rural than it is.  And this leads to many people being pleasantly surprised about how much they enjoy this town.

What they’re really finding out is not only is Kansas City a major city, but we can put on one hell of a show.  Most people outside of this town probably questioned why the All-Star game was even brought here.  But for those that arrived Friday or Saturday, they quickly found out why.  
New visitors will see just how passionate the denizens of this city truly are.  Based on our team’s performance over the past 20 years most probably wouldn’t think the Royals have been averaging 23,558 people per night (http://espn.go.com/mlb/attendance).    We don’t get the moniker of “best fans in baseball” or even close, but perhaps we should.  Even in a year with the All-Star game in town you’d be hard pressed to find as dedicated of a fanbase in many other cities after putting up with all we’ve gone through.

Beyond our passion people have also learned how much the city has to offer for both sports and non-sports fans alike.  On Saturday hall of famers Frank Robinson, Dave Winfield, and Hank Aaron all made their way to the Negro League Baseball Museum at 18th & Vine.  The museum is a crucial part of sports history and is run incredibly well by president Bob Kendrick.  Fox filmed an interview with Kendrick and will be showing a special in the All-Star pregame about the museum and what it means to baseball.   Most people probably didn’t realize there was such a museum, let alone that it resides in Kansas City.  

Fan Fest may be run by the MLB but with the help of this city it has been one of the biggest and best yet.  According to JJ Cooper last night’s Futures Game had attendance of 40,095 and called it “easily [the] best futures game crowd ever, not even close,” on twitter.  The same things will most likely be said about the Home Run Derby tonight as well as the actual All-Star Game itself tomorrow.

This is the rare exception of a time when a sporting event can show the separation between the city and its team.  While Kansas City only has their one token All-Star in Billy Butler (even though it was overdue and 100% deserving), the city has shown itself to be the true All-Star.  As Bob Fescoe said on Twitter recently and I happen to agree: “MLB will leave Kansas City and realize, ‘this is the best all star game in the last 20 years.”

This will be great and possibly even lead to the All-Star Game coming back sooner than 39 years from now.  It has been and will continue to be a flawless showing by our city.  KC has something to be excited about in baseball for the first time in a long time. 
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Jeff Herr: Billy Butler...All-Star Hitter

With the All-Star roster announcements coming out over the weekend we finally saw something that was long overdue: Billy Butler is the Royals’ All-Star.  Since becoming an everyday player in 2009, Butler has become one of the most consistent hitters in all of baseball.  Since 2009 he is second only to Robinson Canoe in doubles (158 for Canoe and 153 for Butler), ranks in the top 20 in RBI’s and top 30 in OBP.  That’s playing for most of his career with little hitting around him and a team that historically is one of the worst at getting players on base.

All things considered it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Butler is one of the top 25 hitters in all of baseball.  When it comes to designated hitters he vaults into the top 5.  Butler doesn’t have the athletic physique of an Alex Gordon or Eric Hosmer, but he has out produced both of them.  What Butler has done has taken a specific skill set of athleticism and used it to hone the craft of hitting like few others can.

The knock on Butler by the fans for a long time has been his “lack of power.”  This, of course, is usually based on a narrow definition of power defined only by the number of home runs a player hits.  Most fans usually don’t factor in doubles and overall RBI’s, both categories in which Butler has been a team leader over the last four years.

It was around this time last year Butler’s game began to change.  With a career high of 21 HRs, the “lack of power” argument was going strong against him.  Especially for an early season slump that had him dip below .300, a place where Butler wasn’t used to being.  His body language was questioned and the “trade Butler” hashtag on twitter was started in full force.

It’s not clear if those things got to him or this is just the evolution of a young hitter, but Butler started approaching his hitting differently.  Always a very patient hitter, Butler made the pitcher pitch to him.  He was always on the lookout for a pitch he could drive into the gap, resulting in his large amounts of doubles.  It also resulted in a good amount of walks and a high on-base percentage (at least as far as the Royals are concerned).

Through June of 2011, Butler was walking at a 13.8% clip.  Not astronomically high, but high enough to make him the most patient hitter on the Royals.  And seemingly on a whim, Butler apparently decided he wanted to hit for more power. 

Butler tallied a total of six homeruns through the end of June 2011.  In the final three months of the season he more than doubled that, hitting 13.  As a result, his walk numbers went down, as did his OBP.  With his walk percentage dipping as low as 3.6% for the month of July and his OBP sagging to an uncharacteristic .318 in both July and September.

Butler has continued the same semi-power streak into this year.  He has hit less than five homeruns only twice in the last 6 months of play.  Consequently in that time his BB% has risen above 10% only once.  Looking at these numbers I get an even greater appreciation for Butler’s immense skill level.

Even at his peak, Butler isn’t going to be a 40+ homerun hitter.  What’s amazing is the seemingly conscious decision he made to hit for more power, and his execution of that.  Most power hitters have tell-tale signs and they develop into their power as they grow older and more experienced.

Those hitters have a swing and an approach that lends itself to hitting more home runs.  Butler never has.  His approach was one geared toward doubles and getting on base.  He changed his approach where lots of other hitters probably wouldn’t have wanted to or been able.  With Butler roughly on pace to hit 30+ homeruns for the first time in his career, you get the sense that he could have done this earlier if he wanted to. 

By taking more walks and having an overall more patient approach at the plate Butler was great at forcing a pitcher to give him a ball he could hit.  He didn’t swing much outside the zone and wasn’t waiting for that “perfect pitch” he could send over the fence.  That’s no longer the case.
Butler still remains patient at the plate but swings at balls he might have let go by two years ago.  Sometimes that results in more double plays or strikeouts but it also means more homeruns for KC’s newest All-Star.

It’s important to remember that a prime for a hitter is generally at its peak when that player is roughly 27 years old.  Butler turned 26 less than three months ago.  As much power as he’s developed, it could only get better from here.

With his reputation for power increasing pitchers are giving him less to hit, but when it’s there he’s making the most of it.  It’s no stretch that by the end of the season Butler could go from a top 25 hitter in the league to a top 10 hitter. 

A week from tomorrow Butler will represent Kansas City in the All-Star game.  He will look right at home with some of the greatest offensive players in the game.  It also only seems fitting that his first All-Star appearance is at Kauffman where he has committed to being for 3 more years. 

Butler has chosen to be a part of this organization like no other player since Mike Sweeney.  Butler has embraced this city and this franchise.  With his All-Star designation the league has embraced him as one of its best.  It’s time this city and this fan base embraced him not only as our All-Star but as truly one of the best hitters in all of baseball.
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Jeff Herr: Super 2, Jake Odorizzi, and the Playoffs

Well, it’s June 18th and the Royals are still, technically, in the hunt.  The team stands at 29-35, which is five games behind the first place Chicago White Sox (35-31).  After the same amount of games in 2011 this team was 28-36.  Generally, one game in baseball amounts to nothing more than the confluence of random luck.  Yet, this seems quite a bit different.

After 17 games last year the Royals stood near the tops of their division at 11-6.  They rode that momentum to a 20-20 record after 40 games and that marked the last time they saw .500 for the season.  In 2012’s iteration this team has battled back from a 12 game losing streak and 3-14 start to be one game better than they were last year.

In their charge back from their poor beginning with a stretch of 26-21, this team has been looking different ever since they ended that terrible streak.  There are a lot of factors that have contributed to this, some that point to an even better future, and some that could be harbingers of doom for this team later in the season.

First, we can talk about what’s made the change possible for this team offensively. Eric Hosmer has apparently woken up from his quarter-season long slumber.  As of today, in the month of June Hosmer has hit .268/.354/.446/.800 (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS).  This is not Earth shattering by itself, but considering where he started the season it’s fair to say he’s a much more of a contributing member of the team now, than he was in the early goings.

Alex Gordon finds himself improving in the same manner and has had an even better June with a line of .316/.451/.491/.942 (!).  A lot of that is probably fueled by his five walks yesterday, but still impressive nonetheless.  Like Hosmer, he too can claim to be helping this team after a slow start.

Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas continue to have solid seasons.  Moustakas has contributed defensively at third base more than our collective imaginings would have thought.  Butler is finally stepping up with his power (on pace for 30+HRs) while keeping pace with his average as well (currently hitting .300 on the season).

Possibly the biggest reason why the Royals have kept their head above water could also be what end up predicating their slide back to well below average baseball: the bullpen.  As it currently stands the Royals are 20th in the major leagues with a team ERA of 4.05.  Their bullpen ranks 6th in all of baseball with a 2.87 ERA, while the starters rank 28th with a 4.98 ERA.

While the dominance of the bullpen is definitely encouraging and what this team was built for, it also raises some flags.  Besides ERA, the Royals bullpen currently leads the majors in innings pitched.  In 2011 they finished eighth overall in bullpen innings, and their relievers tired out down the stretch.  The bullpen’s peak last season was in June (with a 2.70 ERA, 5th in all of baseball), started to decline in July (3.54 ERA, 14th in MLB) and then fell out by August (4.35 ERA, 26th in MLB).  This was part of the reason for the teams poor 10-19 showing in August that made certain of another disappointing season.

As the bullpen continues to pick this team up it’s important to remember that they will need a lot more help down the line if this team is to take their small amount of momentum and build on it for a late season run.  This is where it pays off to have one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball.  Help is always on the way.

To ensure that offensive production continues and even gets better (as it most assuredly will need to) there is a bonafide star-in-the-making with Wil Myers just waiting for his call up as he dominates AAA pitching.  Major league success for Myers is in no way guaranteed, but all the signs are there.  He is hitting at a clip that is reminiscent of how Hosmer and Moustakas both dominated minor league pitching.  At this point, the only mystery is when we will see him.

Often the term ‘Super 2’ is thrown out there in regards to when a team will call up a player.  We heard about it all last year with Hosmer and Moustakas and it’s again a consideration for Myers.  The nuts and bolts of the ‘Super 2’ designation is that if Myers is called up too early, then he could reach arbitration sooner, which would mean the Royals might have to pay him millions more than they would have and sooner than they planned.  

The reality of the Royals situation is that they are a small market team and that means they have to consider these things.  Myers is doing what he needs to in order to force their hand, just as Hosmer did a year ago.  However, with the Royals still on the outside of the pennant race, they don’t need to make a “win now” move that could hamper them later.

All of this means that one of the greatest pieces of the puzzle could be Jake Odorizzi.  As much as Myers is dominating offensively, Odorizzi is dominating as a pitcher.  He has a 2.41 ERA for the Omaha Storm Chasers and has looked dominant.  He has struck batters out at a clip of 9.09 K/9 and kept his walks low allowing only 2.67 per nine innings.

Odorizzi still has some things to prove in AAA to show he can handle major league hitters day in and day out, but all signs are good to this point.  If he continues this for an extended period of time, then doubts will be erased.  

If the Royals are to somehow hold it together until August a late call up from Jake Odorizzi could be just what the doctor ordered.  With a possibly laboring bullpen and a starting rotation that will most likely be inconsistent the rest of the season Odorizzi could have a huge impact.  A young pitcher who can come in and give this team six to seven innings of solid pitching every five days could be invaluable.  Just as with Myers, his success is no guarantee, but if the Royals are to have a chance this is how things must unfold.

The Royals have done well to battle back to respectability.  If things fall in their favor they can make a run at the division with some key injured players coming back and possibly other key players coming up.  Then again, this is the Royals and hoping for luck to be on their side is hoping for an awful lot. 
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Jeff Herr: 2012 is Opportunity Time

After the Athletics left Kansas City in 1967 KC’s baseball future was uncertain.  It wasn’t until Ewing Kauffman stepped up and founded the Royals that we knew where baseball was going in this town.  KC baseball was back on the map and within just a few years the Royals were one of the class organizations in baseball.  You could make the argument that from 1976 to 1985 this was the best franchise in the majors.   They made the playoffs seven out of 10 years, made the World Series twice and won once.  

When Kauffman was running the show the Royals were an innovative organization that was consumed with winning.  Recently, Brad Fanning did a story (http://www.kctv5.com/story/18644635/royals-baseball-academy) on the Royals baseball academy.  The goal was to find players that other teams didn’t.  Some of the baseball purists of the time didn’t like the idea and thought it would never work.  Despite those detractors Royals decided they were going to do what they needed to do to succeed.

According to Art Stewart from the article, this was something that was 40 years ahead of its time.  It found future 8-time Gold Glove winner and 5-time All Star Frank White, among other undiscovered talent.  Even though Kauffman was told this wouldn’t work he forged ahead.  It was revolutionary at the time and can its effects still be seen today.  

After Kauffman died in 1993 it seems that the innovation of this organization died with him.  Since Kauffman passed away, nearly twenty years ago, this organization has been behind the curve on nearly every front.  

Recently, under the guidance of Dayton Moore they have made huge strides in their talent evaluation and scouting.  Even so, before Moore got there they were way behind the curve in those areas.  They might be one of the best at it in the league, but they are just now seeing results since they were so far behind to begin with.

That is where things end when it comes to the Royals being league leaders in any area.  They can find the talent but in all other aspects it appears they are still stuck in 1995.  

This season was supposed to be different.  All the issues of the past were supposed to be put behind them as we were ushered into a new era of Royals baseball.  With a farm system still stocked even after losing a lot of talent to their own major league squad, the Royals were a chic pick to surprise.  Yet, they currently sit at 24-34 and only a half game out of last place in front of the woeful Twins.

This season is on the verge of slipping away and the Royals need to take the rest of 2012 as an opportunity.  They need exploit areas where they have the advantage.  

Take their bullpen for example.  They currently have the sixth best bullpen ERA in all of baseball.  By wins above replacement (WAR) they are fifth.  Moore spent the offseason building this team to have the best bullpen in the majors.  In terms of relievers the Royals might have more talent between the minors and the majors than any other team.  

Despite all of that, they are pitching their starters to avoid using their bullpen.  They are putting pressure on their starters to go into the 7th inning or further, when it usually ends up hurting them.  Why not switch methods and take the starter out sooner, even if they are having a good start?  Maybe with less pressure on players like Luke Hochevar, they won’t have the implosion innings we’ve come to expect.

There are obviously concerns about putting that many innings on the bullpen, but if that’s the case then the Royals should simply change the training methods of their relievers so they can be stretched out more.  This would be a way for the Royals to take advantage of the biggest strength this team has.

It doesn’t have to stop there either.  The Royals spent nearly a quarter of the season trying to find the right spot for Alex Gordon in the lineup because he doesn’t quite “look like” a leadoff hitter.  Even though that’s where he produced his career year last year and has stated he’s most comfortable, the Royals lagged in putting him there.  Gordon may not have started on such a big slump if they just put him there to start the season.  

It seems Moore and manager Ned Yost feel that baseball has to be played a certain way.  They are both “old school” baseball men and run this organization in that manner.  The two of them and the rest of the organization cite how hard it is to compete in a small market in baseball, how everyone’s not on the same level, and then try to compete on that very level with the methods that they’ve been using for years.  They took advantages they could find n the draft and scouting, but that hasn’t carried over to any other area.

The Royals don’t have to be a conventional baseball team.  They don’t have to abide by any antiquated notions of how they “should” play.  The Royals need to stop concentrating on what baseball says they should do, look at their team and do whatever THIS team needs to do to win games.  People may think methods are unconventional, but if they win then that’s all that matters.  

If they are having problems with starting pitching, instead of just hoping things get better they need to take steps to mitigate that weakness and utilize their bullpen better.  If they’re having problems on defense maybe they need to try some more extreme shifts to get their better defenders in better position.  If their fastest player can’t hit, then he doesn’t have to be leadoff just because he’s the fastest. They don’t have to abide by convention to win ball games in Kansas City.

After a poor weekend showing by this team, the fan base at a season-low for positivity, and the injuries piling up, this is the perfect opportunity for the Royals to prove they can innovate.  The Royals don’t have to wait until they must change to change, they can jump right out in front and be the leader.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Royals did something other teams would copy in a few years?  Such a thing would make Kauffman proud, and who knows, they might even win a few more games in the process.
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Jeff Herr: Is Effort Worth the Effort?

When I was younger playing youth baseball, awards were given out at the end of every year.  There were always trophies or plaque’s presented based on “effort.”  The recipient was usually either one of two extremes.  They were either the incredibly talented player who was dedicated and obviously had a future in the sport, or the kid that had no future and was lacking in skill but always tried hard and looked like he really wanted to succeed.

As a concept, “effort” can’t be quantified.  It is completely subjective in nature and often used as a crutch to support ones argument.  Over the past couple of years the Royals have taken a lot of heat when it comes to how they view and value this abstract idea.  Buzz words and phrases such as “grit,” “plays the game the right way,” and “he’s a ballplayer,” get thrown around quite frequently.  More often than not they come off as though they are merely excuses to justify why management likes a player even though they show no objective reason why they should be playing.

Like any subjective argument in sports, there are both sides to this coin and those that argue for each.  Nobody is going to tell you that Babe Ruth was not a good baseball player or that he was overrated.  But when it comes to the effort a player puts forth, that is a different story.  The fact that it’s subjective only makes it more tenuous as two different people will interpret the same event in wildly different ways.  This is due to a lot of factors, one of which may be how many received “effort” awards when they were children.

On Saturday, the Royals lost to the offensively hapless A’s by the score of 9-3.  This marked the first time the A’s have scored more than 6 runs since May 11th and only the third time all season.  The A’s as a team are batting .209 so far on the season.  A number so bad that, if it were to continue for the full season, would be much worse than even the poorest of the poor Royals teams we have seen over the last 20 years.

Such an offensively anemic team is certain to break out at least a few times during the season.  Even a historically bad offense is going to put up some solid run totals; such is the law of averages over a 162 game season.  Even so, the nine runs they did score was a bit misleading.  While the A’s were able to break out slightly against Luke Hochevar, they got some additional from the Royals that could be related to effort.
Hochevar unraveled in the top of the 5th inning as he’s wont to do.  Part of the unraveling involved a somewhat suspect play by Jarrod Dyson in that inning.  While Hochevar had already done enough damage on his own to be removed in favor of Tim Collins, there was still more damage to be done.

After Yeonis Cespedes reached first base on a single, former Royal fan favorite Kila Ka’aihue laced a double in deep center field.  Dyson labored over to the ball, not thinking Cespedes would try to go home, and when he did Dyson botched the transition and another run scored for the A’s.

More came in the top of the eighth inning.  After Kurt Suzuki reached on a walk Cliff Pennington hit a hard grounder to second base.  Oft beleaguered Yuniesky Betancourt chose to play the ball to his side instead of getting his body in front (sometimes referred to as an “ole” move).  Betancourt was not able to field it cleanly and the ball ricocheted off his glove into short right field.  No doubt disappointed in himself and thinking that the runners were content with their free bases, he jogged after the ball not even looking at the runners.

The runners chose to advance another base before the ball was retrieved.  The very next better hit a line drive single to center field and both of those players ended up scoring.  The runs were unearned and likely could have been prevented.

Display’s like this often cause fan outrage and this was most definitely the case in the Royals twitter verse.  People lamenting on the lack of effort of some of the Royals players and going further to call their commitment into question by saying they look as though they “don’t even care.”  Just as these remarks were being thrown out, the other side of the coin sprang up as well.

The idea being that “effort” and “looking like a player cares” are overrated, in large part due to the subjective nature of how they are measured.  Often times a player’s attitude can translate into them looking like they lack effort, regardless of whether or not that appears to be true.  As subjective as that topic is, it opens itself up to a lot of biases.  

Many people will also bring up the idea that most people don’t give 100% of their job every day.  As a result, the idea of effort is overrated and we can’t expect major league baseball players to a higher standard than we hold ourselves in our everyday lives.

Taking a step back, it appears that both sides may be missing the point, if ever so slightly.  Obviously effort does matter otherwise there would be no such concept.  While it is an important component of a player’s value, it does not overcome a lack of skill.  No matter how much effort Chris Getz puts forth he will always be an average second baseman at best.  Whereas, Albert Pujols can put forth 75% of his true ability in effort and still be a legitimate all-star.

On the other side, I don’t believe it’s unfair to hold an athlete to a higher standard than we do in our everyday lives.  While I don’t know how hard everyone works, it seems that not giving 100% every day of their lives to their jobs is probably an accurate statement.  However, if we are to admit that, it also bears mentioning that the majority of us aren’t even close to the best at what we do, and probably get compensated accordingly.  

A financial analyst at a local bank will get paid a certain amount.  An investment banker at a large investment banking firm, supposedly the elite of that profession, will get paid considerably more.  The more “elite” you are from a talent level, the higher your compensation, and the more is expected of you.  If Betancourt was playing for an independent league team and making less than $100k I would be less inclined to care about how he runs after his booted ball.  Since he is making $2M and plays for the Royals, I care a bit more.

While no trophies are handed out for “effort” at the major league level, there is a reason for that.  A high level of effort is expected and paid for.  In a hypercompetitive culture like professional sports, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.  Effort can’t replace skill but it most certainly means it’s won’t diminish.  It’s overrated as a substitute for talent, but is and always will an integral part of a player’s value.  It does not define a player, but they often only hurt themselves when they don’t give all that they can.  As sports fans, we deserve that much.
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Jeff Herr: Royals Need to Adapt

Looking back to 10 years ago, the Royals were behind the proverbial 8-ball in just about every category that allowed a small market team to compete.  The Royals didn’t spend money on free agents, they didn’t spend money in the draft, and they had no presence in Latin America.
This is the reason that Allard Baird was fired and Dayton Moore was hired (in 2006).  It’s not clear how much of this was Baird’s fault, but it seemed there were things going on in the world of baseball that the Royals couldn’t grasp.

Moore was installed and he talked about “the process.”  This, of course, meant building things from the ground up.  It included finding talent, drafting it, getting them to commit, and turning this team into a winner.

Moore increased the Royals presence in Latin America and they are one of the most successful franchises in that realm.  Whether he had to convince David Glass to do so or just forced his hand by making the picks, they have opened up their pocket books to sign talented young players in the draft.

Within five years this led Moore and the Royals to having the best farm system in baseball, and possibly even baseball history.  Job well done as it seemed the Royals were well on their way to ending their consistently poor performance.

Unfortunately, wholesale changes are not something the Royals were intent on doing.  They made easy changes that made sense and should have been made sooner, but when it comes to looking outside the box for new ideas to make this organization competitive they chose to keep the status quo.

The Royals are still run, on a baseball level, just as they always were.  While others around them have embraced unique and advanced approaches to varying levels of success, the Royals have stayed the course, trusted “the process,” and find themselves only slightly further along than where they started.

When Billy Beane took over the A’s and started using the “Moneyball” approach of advanced statistical measures to help run his team, it was laughed at.  People kept laughing until his team went to the playoffs.  While it’s a legitimate argument how much that actually helped versus a confluence of timing of having great players (Miguel Tejada, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, etc.), the fact that they were willing to embrace this approach shows something the Royals never have (at least to that extent).  

If there was a team worse than the Royals from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s it was the Tampa Bay Rays (formerly Devil Rays).  As an expansion team that started in 1998, the Rays were only mediocre or worse through their first 10 years.  They won 70 or more games only once in that time frame.  

Right in the middle of that, the Rays were bought by a couple of new age Financial Industry wizards.  They promptly installed former investment banker Andrew Friedman as the team’s General Manager.  People weren’t exactly sure what the Rays were doing, but they understood something that many organizations have struggled with and still can’t seem to figure out.

The Rays knew, just as the A’s did a few years before, that the deck was stacked against them.  As a small market team with less-than-super-rich owners, they couldn’t compete on the financial level.  They had to develop better scouting, better player development, and use different management techniques to turn things around.  

Four years after Friedman took over; the Rays were in the World Series.  They continue to churn out talent from their farm system year after year.  We are currently in the seventh year of Moore’s regime and the Royals haven’t sniffed the playoffs.   There are more talented players on the roster now than before he took over, but the Royals still find themselves in need of starting pitching, possibly even more so than we he first arrived.  

The Royals continue to have the same developmental problems that they’ve always had.  For the Rays to turn things around, they didn’t just change the way they scouted and drafted and called it a day.  They made changes that permeated the entire organization.  They utilize different techniques to squeeze the most out of trades and the draft, but also out of their current players with new developmental and management techniques.

The Royals have no basis to think that they are doing it right.  All the success they’ve had in the draft has been lessened by their inability to develop more than just a couple of players and have success at the major league level.  

To make matters worse, change is coming again.  With the draft right around the corner the areas where the Royals have been taking advantage are no longer there.  They can’t outspend teams in the draft or Latin America anymore.  The only thing they’ve done well over the last six years has been, in large part, taken away from them.  Now they are going to have to find other ways of leveling the playing field.  

For those that know me, I’ve lately become an advocate of long-toss as an organizational pitching philosophy.  While my personal opinion is that the virtues are many, that’s not the point.  The point here is that the Royals have been stubborn in their ability to find and implement new philosophies.  Long-toss pitchers are more and more common at every level and the Royals refuse to embrace it.  The issue being that they are not allowing players to do what they need to be successful.

This is just a microcosm of the fact that the Royals are stuck with a mentality that grit wins baseball games, statistics don’t matter, and there’s nothing wrong with the way they do things.  When Nolan Ryan took over the Texas Rangers in late 2008 he asked the questions of what they were doing wrong.  He wondered why they couldn’t develop or even keep pitchers healthy at the minor league level.  He didn’t necessarily like the answer but he made changes that put them in the World Series two years in a row.

The Royals are in a similar position.  There is something fundamentally wrong with how they do things.  If there wasn’t, they would be on the verge of their 17th losing season in their last 18 years.  The Royals need to step back and ask the questions.  They may not like all the answers but they need to be asked.  Once they do, they can realize that there are other avenues they can go down to be successful.  The Royal way doesn’t’ have to be the only way.  

They can embrace things like long-toss.  It won’t destroy their organization and it may just help some of their players be successful.  They can realize that they don’t have to change the lineup every single day.  They can try different philosophies with how they handle pitchers, how they coach them, and how they play defense.  They can change to better work with what they have instead of trying to force what they have to work with their philosophy. 

Until the Royals get past this, there won’t be winning baseball in Kansas City.
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Jeff Herr: Why is Hosmer Struggling?

Royals baseball history has more than its fair share of players who showed up to much fanfare and potential only to not live up to the hype.  Angel Berroa, the shortstop from the Domincan Republic came up and was a sensation with the Royals.  For the best Royals team since the strike shortened season of 1994, Berroa was a spark of youth and skill.  He hit .287/.338/.457* (BA/OBP/SLG) with 17 HRs and 73 RBIs and won the Rookie of the Year award.  What seemed like just the tip of the potential filled iceberg of Berroa turned out to be the apex of a follied career that would end in the majors amidst age questions and diminishing skills.

Bob “The Hammer” Hamlin was the player that preceded Berroa with this dubious honor.  Coming up at the tail end of George Brett’s career in the strike shortened season of 1994, Hamlin hit .282/.388/.599 with 24 Hrs. and 65 RBIs.  He also won the Rookie of the Year award and gave fans hope that there could be another elite player in Kansas City after the retirement of George Brett.  Instead, Hamlin, as Berroa would do years later, never reached those heights again.  

Now we have Eric Hosmer.  While he didn’t share the curse of winning Rookie of Year as Hamlin and Berroa did, he gave Royals fans the same feelings. Hosmer is a player that scouts and “baseball people” like.  He possesses a skill set that is rare and was on full display in his rookie season.  He also had to deal with high expectations coming in to his first full year in the big leagues.

From his first ever major league baseball game it was apparent that this town was ready to embrace a future star.  With a standing ovation for his first ever at bat he garnered a walk.  He would go on to end the day 0-2 but with another walk to his credit, showing the trademark plate discipline we had heard so much about from his time in the minor leagues.  

What followed over the next 127 games was Hosmer hitting a very good .293/.334/.465 with 19 HRs and 78 RBIs.  While he didn’t win Rookie of the Year, he did finish third and provided quite the argument as to whether it was given to the correct person.  It was clear that Hosmer was the future of the Kansas City Royals.

Now here we sit, 40 games in to the 2012 season (although Hosmer has only played in 38), and the face of this franchise has a dismal line of .172/.238/.311 that is only partially saved by his 5 HRs and 19 RBIs.  It doesn’t take a scout or a statistician to tell you Hosmer is struggling.  
Most around Hosmer will tell you that he’s trying to get his batting average up to .300 with just one swing.  Besides one small blip in the minors, it’s fair to say that Hosmer is probably in the worst slump that he has ever experienced.  Based on his potential it’s also fair to say we might just be witnessing the worst slump of his career, and he’s only in his first full year.

This past Friday and Saturday the Royals gave Hosmer both days off.  They wanted him to clear his head.  Royals brass didn’t even want him in the batting cages.  He just needed to step back, decompress, and return ready to take things one at-bat at a time.  Those two days off have yielded a 1-7 streak in the two days that followed.  Bringing Hosmer’s total to 1-14 in his last 3 games.  Everyone in Kansas City has started to wonder, where is Eric Hosmer?

Truth be told, he’s right here where he’s always been.  Just as any scout will tell you, Hosmer is going to be fine.  His current struggles might be perplexing and it’s not clear when he’ll come out of them, but he will.  The scouts and the Royals assure us of this.  

After all, it’s not as though Hosmer looks lost.  He’s not striking out every other time at the plate and hitting weak dribblers back to the pitcher.  Hosmer is only striking out 11.6% of the time and walking 7.9% of the time.  While not great numbers, they are both improves from the previous year.

Hosmer is hitting fly balls at 31.3%, which is actually a decrease from his prior year number of 31.7% and is well below the 2011 league average (36%).  He is also hitting line drives at a 17.6% clip which, although below his 2011 numbers of 18.7%, it’s not so low that he would be tipping the scales well below the Mendoza line.

Historically, fly balls are far more likely to turn into outs and, according to the Hardball Times (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/statpages/glossary/#ld%), line drives turn into hits about 75% of the time.  This suggests there is something else at play here causing his average to be so far below what we see.  

One possible issue might be his ground ball rate which currently sits at 51% compared to the 2011 league average of 44.4%.  Even so, that’s still only slightly higher than his groundball rate of 49% from 2011.

If we are to assume that his decrease in fly balls, and decrease in line drives from 2011 all fed into his increase in ground balls, one still wouldn’t expect the dip we’re seeing.  Ground balls aren’t as likely to be outs as fly balls and aren’t as likely to be hits as line drives, but land somewhere in the middle.  This type of fluctuation shouldn’t manifest itself in a .100+ point drop in batting average.

The only other factor is “luck.”  While not precisely defined, luck can be monitored by the Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) statistic.  This measures how many balls put in play by the hitter (so all hits excluding strikeouts and homeruns) actually fall for hits.  

It is very hard for a player to have a BABIP that is well below .300.  Historically, league averages for BABIP remain consistently near the .300 plateau.  Even in the steroid heightened apex of 2001 BABIP remained a steady .296.

Hosmer currently sits at a BABIP of .165.  It’s the lowest in the league and would create a historical anomaly if he were to finish the season anywhere close to that number.  While nobody knows for sure, this would lead us to believe that “luck” almost certainly has to be the predominant factor for Hosmer’s struggles.

What we do know for sure, and what should put the mind of many Royals fans at ease, is that he is not Hamlin or Berroa.  Hamlin was 26 when he won Rookie of the Year.  Hosmer is 22 and won’t even turn 23 until after the season is over.  Berroa came at a time when the Royals were able to catch lightning in a bottle for one season and everything went right.  The indicators were there to suggest that he might not be able to sustain.  

While this is worrisome for Hosmer, it’s not all gloom and doom yet.  League stalwarts such as Jose Bautista and even the great Albert Pujols find themselves struggling nearly as much as Hosmer so far in 2012.  While Hosmer may be pressing a little bit, he’s not stepping too far outside his game.  I won’t worry about Hosmer until his starts striking much more than he does and looking like he shouldn’t be going up against major league pitchers.  To me, he still looks like he belongs and I won’t worry about him too much until that goes away.  Even with his struggles he’s still not Berroa or Hamlin.  Not even close.

*All Stats obtained from Fangraphs.com
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Jeff Herr: No More Excuses for the Royals

The Royals came out this season touting something new and different that the fans could be proud of.  With the All-Star game coming to town, we had a team we could call our own that was supposed to be different that the past iterations that did things like lose 19 games in a row.  A team loaded with young talent only meant that any promise we had seen was just the tip of the iceberg.  There would be more to come. 

Twenty eight games into this season and I don’t know if you could find much difference between this organization and the previous versions of the last 10 years.  Different teams have had some talent on them, but ultimately, each one has been lacking in starting pitching.  Across multiple managers and general managers the one consistency has been mediocre to poor starting pitching at the major league level.  It went well past “bad luck” years ago and it’s now and organization paradigm.  A black cloud hanging over Kauffman stadium that rains out any chance of this team gaining momentum or becoming a winner.

Luke Hochevar is the prime example.  Hindsight is 20/20 and the baseball draft is a crapshoot anyway, but Hochevar was picked in front of Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, and Tim Lincecum, all of whom were top 10 picks.  It’s no stretch to say that if the Royals picked Hochevar, they at least had to look at the others.

After drafting Hochevar it was supposed to be the start of a new day.  Dayton Moore had taken over as general manager and the Royals were going to start putting more money into talent and development.  Their situation as a small market team was no longer going to be an excuse to be exploited; things were going to be different.

Here we are nearly six years later and the Royals are in the bottom three of the league in terms of wins and Luke Hochevar is near the bottom 10 in career ERA of ALL TIME.  As I said, we can look back and talk about a mistake in the draft or that Hochevar just didn’t pan out, those things happen in drafts with all sports.  This is different though.

Hochevar has had five full seasons at the major league level.  He has never had a record above .500, never posted more than 11 wins, and never had an ERA below 4.68.  After 613+ innings pitched, Hochevar has a career ERA of 5.46.  Whatever ability Hochevar has, it seems we should have seen it by now.  The little ray of hope his second half gave us last year is gone.  What’s left is a broken pitcher coming from a system that hasn’t produced much of anything over the last 25 years.

We’re not here to dump on Hochevar.  It is my personal contention that, while maybe he wasn’t worth the 1st overall pick, the Royals haven’t been able to get as much out of him as they should.  Right now, we’re here to point out that the Royals either can’t see or won’t admit to seeing what is so plainly clear to the rest of us.

Hochevar is not a good pitcher.  He has an ERA of 9.00 and has given up 16 earned runs in the last two games, which included only 6.1 innings of work.  These are things we all know.  It wouldn’t take a degree in logic to infer that the former number one overall pick is struggling to put it kindly.  Yet, here we are listening to the Royals make excuses for him nearly every start.

Yesterday, on Nick Wright's show he played audio of Ned Yost defending Hochevar.  He basically said that Hochevar is a better pitcher than he’s shown, with better stuff, a better track record, and the rest of us just can’t see it (I inferred that last part on my own).  Yost compared Hochevar to Hosmer saying that even though Hosmer is struggling they still have faith in him based on his track record.  The question is what faith does Hochevar’s track record give you?

This is a classic example of the Royals making excuses when they need to be honest, both with the fans and with themselves.  If you want to part ways with Hochevar or keep trying to get something out of him, that’s fine. But don’t try and sit there and tell the fans that what they’re seeing with their own eyes is wrong.  Don’t try to tell the fans that he’s still got “good stuff,” or that he’s still throwing “good pitches”.   We’ve been down that road before and didn’t end well (Kyle Davies anybody?).  Be honest with us and tell us that he and the rest of the staff need to be better.
This isn’t something exclusive to Hochevar either.  They make the same excuses for Luis Mendoza and for Jonathan Sanchez.  The Royals refuse to be honest with the fans.  While I understand that you can’t dump on a player in a press conference, there is nothing wrong with admitting that they need to be better. 

Instead of saying that they have faith in Hochevar and he was throwing good pitchers, why not say they think he has ability but he needs to show it and be more consistent.  By making excuses they’re not holding these pitchers accountable and making it seem as though the status quo is acceptable.  Perhaps it’s possible the Royals are being harder on these players behind the scenes.  If that’s the case, it’s almost just as bad because then you are sending an inconsistent message.

This was supposed to be about a new era of Royals baseball.  So far this year, it looks an awful lot like the previous go-rounds.  For the Royals to truly start establishing themselves as a winning organization with a winning mentality, they need to start holding their players (and themselves) accountable.  They need to stop accepting mediocrity. 

There’s no more excuses for this organization.
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Jeff Herr: Grading the Draft

In Pioli’s short tenure here in Kansas City he has seemed to be pretty consistent with his drafting strategy.  As the draft is one big crap shoot, not all of his picks have worked out, but the majority of the time I’ve come away at least understanding why each pick was made.  This more than any other draft seems to be one that was designed with high upside in mind and to build up depth, rather than concerned with immediate production.

As a practice, reactionary draft grades are essentially pointless.  There’s no legitimate way to grade players on an NFL scale when they haven’t taken a single snap in the league.  What can be done is evaluate picks on how well they performed in college, how it will translate to the NFL and the Chiefs system, and if the pick addresses (or doesn’t address) team needs.

We will start with pick #11, Dontari Poe, the NT from Memphis.  Poe is, at the very least, an intriguing pick.  “Intriguing” is not usually the word you want coming to mind with your first pick.  Usually you’re looking for the superlatives “slam dunk,” “home run,” or at a minimum “safe.”  With the expectations placed on a player and the amount of money they require, first round picks should be players that come in and contribute immediately.  

Poe raises some flags as a pick for the Chiefs.  The biggest flag, in my estimation, would be the question of his effort.  While it wasn’t a major concern put forth by most teams, it was something that was often brought up with talking about Poe.  At 6-4, 345 pounds, and possessing freakish athletic ability for his size, many felt Poe should have dominated lesser competition at Memphis in Conference USA.  33 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 1 sack in C-USA as a senior is a bit underwhelming from a first round pick you expect to anchor your defense.  

However, according to his coach at Memphis, Mike Dubose (former head coach at Alabama); some of Poe’s lack in production is his (Dubose’s) fault.  Dubose admitted that they probably didn’t give Poe the training or technique adjustments needed to be as effective as his athleticism would allow.  Therefore, it would stand to reason that Poe might find greater success at the NFL level now that he will be able to focus his training and be placed in a position to use his athleticism properly.

Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of the pick.  Nose tackle was probably the biggest need on the team, but with the other needs this team had there were better picks available.  David DeCastro from Stanford was my ideal pick here as he would have solidified this offensive line a great deal.  While the upside for DeCastro might not have been quite as high, plugging him into this offensive line for the next 5-10 years would have given the Chiefs one of the best young lines in the league.  This is especially relevant when the nose tackle many considered the second best in the draft Alameda Ta’amu from Washington was available in the fourth round.  That said, it will be very interesting to see how Romeo Crennell can mold Poe into a quality nose tackle.

The second round pick was equally interesting for the Chiefs.  I think many thought they would go inside linebacker with this pick.  Instead, they decided to go with the teams other big need of offensive line.  Jeff Allen offensive tackle from Illinois is a very solid pick in the second round.  Looking at the success of Jon Asmoah there is some pedigree there.  

Allen does a couple things for the Chiefs.  First, as a solid but non-dominant offensive tackle, he projected more as a guard in the NFL.  Moving him to guard allows him to study up behind Ryan Lilja and then take over next year, similar to the path of Asmoah.  If nothing else he will provide solid depth at guard and somebody who can fill in at tackle if need be.

The third round pick was slightly more perplexing than the first two.  The Chiefs selected Donald Stephenson, offensive tackle from Oklahoma.  It’s clear the Chiefs at this point were looking to this draft to solidify depth at many positions.  Picking another tackle, they give themselves some much needed depth on the offensive line.  However, there is still the issue of other needs that could have been filled here.  

The next pick was possibly the most questionable.  In the fourth round they selected Devon Wylie, wide receiver from Fresno St.  Wylie is a burner who ran a 4.39 40 yard dash at the combine, but doesn’t possess ideal size as he’s only 5’9”.  This pick sounded awfully familiar.  Just two years ago the Chiefs selected Dexter McCluster to fill this role.  While McCluster hasn’t blown up by any means he had over 800 total yards last year and possesses a very similar skill set.  While Wylie is a true receiver and McCluster isn’t, this pick still makes you do a double take as it didn’t seem like a need that had to be filled here.  

The Chiefs pick in round 5 was hailed as a solid pick nearly universally and I would happen to agree.  De’Quan Menzie, cornerback from Alabama was selected to compete with another Alabama product Javier Arenas, for the #3 cornerback spot.  There was talk of moving Menzie to safety, but most say he will be fine at cornerback.  With the departure of Brandon Carr, depth at CB needed to increase.  This should be a solid signing for the Chiefs that could give immediate results this year.

Grading the Chiefs on my aforementioned criteria I would give them a C+ for this draft.  They filled some needs, but the players they selected weren’t necessarily the most dominant in college.  No selection jumps off the page as an excellent pick that is immediately going to help this team.  That said, all these players should be able to contribute, however small, and step in with the inevitable injury that will happen.  The Chiefs have gotten to the position where they can focus on depth from the draft and that’s a credit to Pioli for building this roster.  Looking towards the future, some of these players could factor in with large roles on this team.
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Jeff Herr: What to Watch For in the NFL Draft

With the Royals in the midst of a 10 game losing streak, Kansas City sports fans are granted a reprieve this Thursday with the NFL draft.  The Chiefs currently have the 11th pick in the draft and there are a lot of possibilities open to this team at that spot.  I’m going to give everyone a few things to look out for this Thursday in regards to how the Chiefs will handle their spot.

First of all, we will have to deal with this business concerning Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill.  Wherever the Tannehill hype machine started, I’m not buying it.  As a QB, Tannehill was only an average to slightly above passer in college.  There are those that bring up the fact that he didn’t have the solid receivers around him, and that is a valid point.  However, receivers don’t generally cause bad decisions and Tannehill has made some crucial ones in his time.  

With Tannehill it’s also important to remember that he doesn’t fit the mold of a QB that Pioli likes to draft.  As one of Pioli’s biggest influences, Bill Parcells devised a method for drafting QBs in which they had to meet a set of criteria.  For a QB to be drafted, they had to have graduated, had to have been a senior, must have been a 3-year starter, and had to have started 23 wins in his career.  Tannehill only started 20 games in total in 1 ½ years as a starter.  Further, he only won 13 of those games.  He was even a wide receiver for his first two years at A&M.  

It seems that the Tannhill business is most likely a smoke-screen.  Pioli loves doing this and playing shadow games with the rest of the league.  Being so secretive lends itself to unpredictability and people won’t be sure if Pioli is actually interested or not.  This benefit is two-fold: (1) a team interested will trade above the Chiefs causing a player they actually want to slide down, (2) with Seattle being interested in Tannehill (reportedly) and drafting 12th, a team interested would have to trade with the Chiefs to get him if he fell that far.  This means if Tannehill is there at 11, the Chiefs will have plenty of options.  However, the consensus seems to be that he will be taken by Miami at the 8th spot so this is probably all a moot point anyway.

Which brings us to, if not Tannehill, then who?  Number one target for the Chiefs should be David DeCastro (G, Stanford).  An offensive lineman has never been a sexy pick, but has always been a necessary one.  With this pick and the pro-bowl potential of DeCastro, the Chiefs would immediately have one of the best young lines in the league.  If Rodney Hudson takes over for Casey Weigmann, then Lilja is the only player over 27 years old (and he’s only 30).  This offensive line unit has the potential to be dominant like the one from the early 2000’s (though not quite as dominant) and stay together for the next 5-10 years.

Assuming DeCastro is either off the board or the Chiefs don’t feel the value is appropriate they have a couple of other options.  A name that has risen up draft boards and a lot see the Chiefs having interest in is Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College).  Boston College has had some success as of late with linebackers transitioning to the pros (Mathias Kiwanuka of the Giants is a prime example).  Kuechly put up some pretty impressive numbers at BC including 532 total tackles in 3 years as a starter.  He seems to fit the mold of a solid ILB in a 3-4 scheme so might fit perfectly next to pro-bowler Derrick Johnson.

The problem with Kuechly here is that coming from the ACC it’s necessarily a very strong football conference.  Even with the success of players like Kiwanuka from BC, a recent example sticking out in people’s minds is Aaron Curry.  Curry rocketed up draft boards in 2009 making himself the 4th overall pick after a strong showing at the combine, but has since been disappointing in the NFL.  This could be a possibility for a player like Kuechly.  If the Chiefs are going to go linebacker, I feel they should look elsewhere.

Looking elsewhere would mean moving on down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama where Dont’a Hightower plays.  Coming off a national championship squad and a recent history of solid linebackers, Hightower would make a lot of sense for the Chiefs.  While only a one-year starter at Alabama, he had 85 tackles, 4 sacks, and 1 interception in 2011.  While not huge numbers he was an integral part of the defense and showed himself to be a slightly more versatile linebacker than Kuechly.

If they Chiefs don’t decide to go linebacker, there are some defensive linemen that they could choose.  Dontari Poe seems to be a big name at that spot, especially given the Chiefs need at nose tackle.  At 6’5” and 350 pounds he has great size for a NT and could be a big space eater there.  Even so, Poe comes from a weak football conference where he didn’t dominate as you might expect and often had problems staying on the field.  The 11th pick might be too high to draft someone who only factors into being a part-time player.

The next defensive lineman is Michael Brockers (DT, LSU).  At 6’6” 306 lbs, he’s not prototypical nose tackle size but could fit in at defensive end in the Chiefs 3-4 scheme.  The biggest hurdle here would be the Chiefs getting over drafting yet another lineman from LSU who isn’t a perfect fit in this defense.  While I don’t think Pioli factors those things into his decision a ton, it’s still out there.

Ultimately, I think the Chiefs will go defensive line or offensive line.  I don’t see Pioli valuing linebacker high enough to take at 11.  If I had my way the Chiefs would trade down and maybe get a couple of other picks, but I don’t see that happening.  With Tannehill most likely gone at the 8th spot, there are not many teams who would look to trade up with the Chiefs.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see one of the linebackers taken, but I would suspect either DeCastro or one of the defensive linemen to come off the board with the Chiefs pick.  Whomever they pick, at the very least, the NFL draft will be a momentary distraction from the Royals’ all-too-common poor start.
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Jeff Herr: Mission 2012 Still in Reach

Some Royals fans have already started to lose faith in this team at this point in the season. The Royals sit at 3-6 with the American League favorites coming in to town.  However, as unimpressive as the Royals were this past weekend, nine games aren’t even close to 10% of the season.  The results to this point mean very little in terms of how this team will end up.  The list of teams who have started 3-6 or worse and won 90 games or made the playoffs is long, to be sure.  

Fans are right to be frustrated after the poor performances we saw from the Royals this past weekend.  The Royals pitching staff gave up 32 runs in only three games including 18 in the first three innings.  It was a poor display by a much maligned pitching staff.  

Even so, those three games alone aren’t enough to get fans in a tizzy.  The real issue at play here is how these games were lost by this team.  Even before the Indians series the Royals were poised to take two out of three from the Oakland A’s.  The Royals took a one run lead in the top of the 12th inning and all they had to do was get 3 outs to close things down and come home with a 4-2 record.

Jonathan Broxton came to the mound after a scintillating performance just a couple days before in Anaheim where he got three strikeouts on 14 pitches to close out the game.  He looked to have regained his 2009, pre-injury form for at least one outing.  With this lead in the bottom of the 12th, Royals fans felt comfortable with Broxton coming in and possibly starting their home stand at 4-2.

Broxton started out rolling with a strikeout.  Then a hitter reached first on an error by Alcides Escobar.  Then it fell apart.  Two consecutive walks by Broxton and the bases are loaded.  Then Broxton hits the next batter to move in the tying run.  The damage can still be controlled with a double play and a chance for the Royals to win it on offense.  Then Broxton plunks the next batter and in comes the game winning walk off run with the A’s not even getting a hit in the final inning.

Couple this with a wasted solid performance by Bruce Chen in the season opener – in which the Royals give up five runs in the eighth inning to lose it - and the way the Indians series transpired leaves lots of fans upset.  While the point of the season being young is valid, that doesn’t mean that fans can’t get upset.  Losses happen in baseball more than any other sport.^  It only gets disconcerting when you look at the way the team loses.

^If you win 100 games that gives you a .617 winning percentage which puts that as one the best teams in baseball.  In 2005 the Chiefs had a .625 winning percentage and missed the playoffs.

The Royals chose to embrace “Our Time” as the slogan for this team.  This slogan was initially started up as simple marketing, but the team really started to believe.  This group of players has won at every level of the minors and they want to continue that in the majors.  

More than just winning, it was supposed to signify a changing of the guard.  The moribund organization of the past that loses 19 games in a row is gone.  Even with suspect starting pitching, one of the best young bullpens in the game would give this team a shot.  “Our Time” is supposed to be a new era for these Royals.  It isn’t just supposed to be about 2012; it’s about beyond this season and looking towards the bright future for this organization.

The 2012 iteration of this team was supposed to be the start of the new era.  They might not be one of the best teams in the league, but the Royals weren’t supposed to be a punch line like they were in the past.

After last season nobody would’ve expected Escobar to make that error in the 12th against Oakland.  Nobody would have thought Greg Holland would give up two runs in an inning at all this year, let alone the eighth game of the season.  These things happen in baseball and perhaps it’s all just unfortunate timing being in the beginning of the season.

I’m not going to sit here and claim that the sky is falling in regards to “Mission 2012.”  I’m also not going to sit here and make excuses for a team that has made mistakes they shouldn’t be making.  Closer’s blow saves and that happens, but it usually doesn’t occur by hitting two batters in a row.  Errors happen but our future gold glove shortstop is supposed to make the big plays when the team needs them.

There will be many people that will cry out “same ole Royals.”  This isn’t the same Royals.  They are a different team.  This team has more talent than any in the last 10 years.  Truth be told, we don’t quite know what the team is or will be.  That’s what this season is about.  It’s also about change.  It’s about a new time for this organization and these fans.  When we see the same mistakes that have plagued this organization for the last 15 years, we fans have every right to be upset.

Baseball, more than any other sport, requires patience.  This fan base has been patient, waiting 25+ years for playoff baseball to return.  We’ve waited 5+ years for Moore to build this organization into a winner.  New and exciting times are coming for this team but as fans we have earned the right to be upset with the display on the field.  These Royals may not be able to compete with the Tigers or the Yankees, but they most certainly should be able to compete with the Indians and A’s.  

Despite the poor start, all is not lost.  Being upset with this team isn’t the same as giving up on them.  If anything, being this upset this early is good.  It shows that the expectations are raised by the team and the fans.  The Royals have more than enough time to correct things and I have every faith that they will.  

Remaining patient with this team isn’t the same as Moore telling us to “trust the process” in 2006 with nothing coming.  This is a different time with a different team.  Nearly 95% of this season remains and there is a lot that can happen.  If fans are upset it should only be because they know this team is capable of much more than we’ve seen through nine games.
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Jeff Herr: What to Watch for This Royals Season

Well, I’m going to get it out of the way and say that after opening weekend, we don’t know much more about the Royals than we did 3 days ago.  That said, there was much encouragement to be had after opening weekend giving us much to look forward to the rest of the way.  

Bruce Chen, after a slow spring, looks to have picked up right where he left off last year.  This looked to be the type of roster ready to light up a pitcher like Chen.  A lefty with an 87 MPH fastball pitching against stud right handed power hitters like Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo didn’t appear to be a great matchup.  No matter, Chen had one of his best starts as a Royal.  He only lasted six innings but it was a fantastic six.  Chen didn’t look afraid or overmatched against some of the best hitters in the league.  It’s only the first start, but definitely an encouraging sign.

After Chen’s great start, both Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sanchez followed suit.  Hochever went 6.1 innings and Sanchez went five both only giving up two runs.  Neither looked “great” but both showed flashes and Hochevar continued doing what made his second half of the season last year successful (mainly pitching inside and using his slider effectively).  After three games, we know that if the starting pitching keeps up, the Royals can compete with just about anybody.

While the first three starts from the rotations were good, the real star of the show was the offense.  The Royals weren’t able to muster a run in game one, but that was against Jared Weaver who is a legitimate Cy Young candidate.  After that the bats woke up and put some good numbers on a couple of pitchers who weren’t all that bad themselves in Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.

The first stat that jumps off the page is Eric Hosmer already having two homeruns in only three games.  I don’t know how many other ways it can be said but Hosmer is one special player.  Everyone is talking about whether the Royals can sign him long-term, when he’s going to leave, etc.  What everyone needs to be doing instead is sitting back and enjoying the great player we will be able to watch here in Kansas City for the next 5 years.

It’s been a long time since the Royals had a player that could make the opposing team scared.  Even in his heyday, Mike Sweeney wasn’t that hitter.  Hosmer is that player.  He is a hitter who can make the opposing pitcher pay, even when no mistake is made.  His ceiling is one of the best hitters in the league and he may reach that sooner than originally thought.

With how Hosmer has developed this year, he may officially take the mantle of best pure hitter on the team away from Billy Butler.  However, Butler showed this past weekend that if that does happen, he won’t go quietly.  Not to be outdone by Hosmer’s first homerun, Butler hit one later that sealed the game for the Royals on Saturday.

This clued us all in to what may be the most fun thing to watch this season for the Royals: the hitting duel between these two.  While Gordon had a phenomenal season last year, regression is to be expected.  I don’t think he will regress as much as most do, but nonetheless, it will happen.

Hosmer coming into his first full year with more maturity and experience make him likely to take a big leap.  Butler, with much more protection in the lineup and being on the verge for the majority of last season, make him likely to get back to the .300’s in hitting this year.  Seeing one or both of these hitters get to .330 on the year would not surprise me.

For years we’ve been hearing that the doubles that Butler hits will turn into homeruns.  Last year we didn’t see it until the second half of the season when he picked things up hitting 13 home runs in the final 79 games.  While I don’t ever see Butler as a 30+ HR power guy, I think he takes a step up this year and puts a full year together.  Twenty-five homeruns isn’t out of the question for Butler.

Hosmer is the young prodigy who has the athletic gift and all the natural tools.  Butler might not be the most gifted athletically but has mastered the craft of hitting and turned himself into a technician at the plate.  As good as Gordon was last year, Butler has been the most consistent player offensively over the last 5 years.   Together they can provide a formidable 3-4 hitter combo, which can rank among the league’s best.

In a year where the Royals project to be very fun to watch this looks to be most fun battle.  But there’s something more important as a byproduct.  Nothing helps camaraderie on a team more than some fun side battles where teammates push each other.  When Zack Greinke was here, he and Joakim Soria would go back and forth pushing each other to be better.  The ultimate beneficiary was the teams as Greinke went on to win the Cy Young and both made All-Star trips.

It’s safe to say if Butler and Hosmer had a friendly competition the team would be more than a thankful beneficiary.  This could all lead to something even more important looking towards the future.  For those who watched the game on Saturday and saw both Hosmer and Butler homer, the post-game interview was an interesting sight.  Joel Goldberg interviewed both of them at the same time and Hosmer stood there, confident and proud of what his team has accomplished (and yes, this is his team), with his arm draped around Butler.

Goldberg commented on how good of friends they have become.  Whether chemistry can lead to more wins remains to be seen, but it most certainly can’t hurt.  What chemistry can do is make people want to play for this organization.  Hosmer has a bright future ahead of him and looks to be one of the better players in baseball once he reaches free agency.  He will most likely have his pick of where he wants to play.
It will take a lot for Hosmer to pick the Royals as they will most likely not be able to pay as much as other teams can.  What they may lack financially, they can possibly make up for in other areas.  They can offer a team Hosmer is comfortable with, likes playing for, and hopefully wins a log of games.  If that’s the case, then the chances of Hosmer being a Royal for longer than the requisite six years is a distinct possibility.  

What we know from this weekend is that the future is bright for Hosmer and the Royals.  There’s going to be a lot of fun things to watch from this team, even if there is the looming issue of Hosmer’s future with the organization.  Fortunately for us, that’s five years away and this season, we can sit back and enjoy watching what should be a fun battle within a fun season of Royals baseball.
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Jeff Herr: Another March Miracle for KU?

More than any team in recent memory this Kansas team “feels” like it’s destined for a great ending to this season.  Many other more talented Jayhawk squads have dealt with and succumbed to that feeling of impending doom that comes with being a college basketball blue blood.  This team has cast those aside and feels different than many of the powerhouse teams of Bill Self’s tenure.  

By all accounts this team shouldn’t be here.  They shouldn’t have beaten Purdue, North Carolina State, North Carolina, or Ohio State.  Yet, here they are.  As fans, players, and coaches, everyone knows that there’s no external force propelling this team to victory.  Even so, similarities between this and championship teams of the past keep creeping in to everyone’s heads.  

The 1952, 1988, and 2008 championships were all won in leap years.  This year is a leap year.  Both 1988 and 2008 championship runs started in Nebraska.  This year’s run started in Nebraska.  The 2008 championship ended against a juggernaut Memphis team coached by Kansas coaching product John Calipari after beating Roy Williams and North Carolina.  This year’s run ends (one way or another) against the juggernaut Kentucky squad coached by Kansas coaching product John Calipari after beating Roy Williams and North Carolina.

While these similarities are nothing more than coincidental they only strengthen the ‘team of destiny’ feeling this squad has.  En route to this National Title game appearance they’ve put to bed many of the issues this Kansas program has faced in the tournament over the years.  

Facing a 10 seed in the second round and trailing for the greater majority of the game is usually a recipe for disaster for Kansas. 

Not this team. 

A double digit seed in the second weekend has spelled doom in the past for KU.  Not this team.  Trailing with less than 4 minutes to go in the Final Four usually isn’t a good sign for the Jayhawks teams of past. 

Not this team.

This Kansas unit has been able to shrug off all of the weight of past failures and won all those games.  No matter what has happened, this group of young men has refused to quit and they have made themselves a part of something special.  By overcoming the upset bug that has hit more talented teams of the past, this team has become what they fear the most: a team playing with nothing to lose.

There has been no external factor the team can point to other than the fact that nobody expected them to be here.  More than anything, this team seems to love proving people wrong.  Final Four teams that lead by 13 points in the second half don’t usually lose the game, but that’s exactly what KU forced Ohio State to do.  The only mantra this team has been able to repeat is that they have had every opponent right where they want them, not expecting KU to fight back.

In the last 25 years, the two Kansas teams that have won a National Championship have had the word ‘miracle’ attached to it.  ‘Danny and the Miracles’ and ‘Mario’s Miracle’ were both unexpected championship occurrences that made those teams and those runs memorable.  A championship victory by this team would constitute another miracle and make them just as memorable as the previously mentioned squads.
In order to do that, they’re going to have to beat a Kentucky team that is as good of a team as we’ve seen in the last 25 years.  Every starting position has an NBA-caliber player.  Many of them were recruits Kansas went for and lost out on.  Losing out on those recruits is one of the reasons many thought KU would be in a “rebuilding year” in 2011-2012.  Despite all of that, this team has made their way to the pinnacle just as the supremely talented Kentucky team has.

A victory over this Kentucky iteration may just require a 3rd miracle in the last 25 years.  We all know stranger things have happened in the NCAA tournament.  It was going to take a miracle for NC State to beat Houston in 1983, and it happened.  It was going to take a miracle for Villanova to beat Georgetown in 1985, and it happened.  It was going to take a miracle for Kansas to beat Oklahoma in 1988, and it happened.

Now, here comes the dose of reality.  The problem with those scenarios is that none of those losing squads were as talented as Kentucky.  Occasionally there are teams that are above the superstitions and past failures.  Just as this Kansas team has overcome the past issues of the university, this Kentucky team looks poised to overcome the upset jinx of past dominant squads as well.

Despite all the external factors that may point to a Kansas victory, Kentucky appears to have the advantage with all the internal factors.  Even with Kansas’ “never say die” attitude, at some point it’s going to be too much.  Jeff Withey might be able to corral Anthony Davis the same way he did Jared Sullinger (MIGHT being the key word here).  Tyshawn Taylor might be able to handle Marquis Teague, but what about the rest?

This season has shown the greatness of Davis, but has also shown the less heralded Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as one of the most talented players in the country.  KU has no answer for such a player.  Same goes with Terrance Jones, and the rest of the talented Kentucky roster.  While Elijah Johnson and Travis Releord have performed better in the tourney than anyone expected, if the game comes down to the those matchups it does not lean in Kansas’ favor.

Everyone wants to believe that it was meant to be for this Kansas squad.  It would make for one of the most remarkable NCAA tournament runs if they do indeed pull off the upset.  But sometimes, tradition, superstition, and everything else doesn’t matter.  Kentucky has been on a collision course with the National Championship since day one of this season.  They came here to win, they have the talent to do it and all indications point to that tonight.

After all, those other similarities with past Kansas championship teams are just coincidence, right?
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Jeff Herr: Self is Worth a Lot

In many ways this might be one of the hardest teams to root for in Bill Self’s tenure.  With the exception of Thomas Robinson, every other player on this roster has come under fire this year.  Early on, after 11 turnovers against Duke, fans were crying about Tyshawn Taylor needing to be benched.  Elijah Johnson went through the regular season with possibly the banner of “most disappointing KU player” hanging over his head.  Jeff Withey started the season hearing mostly jokes about the fact that he was actually starting at Kansas.  Travis Releford was a fine player but had to red-shirt just to get a chance at playing.  

For those reasons this also may make this Kansas team one of the most memorable ones.  Despite all the adversity this team struggled through early in the season they’ve done something few other KU teams have.  

This is the team that took the best shot of two double digit seed BCS schools and came out on top.  This is the team that trailed for over 39 minutes against Purdue, but shook off the echoes of upsets past and won the game.

This is the team that had possibly its most disappointing player in Johnson be the hero against Purdue and last night against North Carolina.  This is the team that only had one returning starter in Taylor who looked like he had no business doing so at multiple points through the season.  Of three straight Kansas teams that have won 30+ games in a season, this is the one that has made the Final Four.

Depth is something that Self has always had as head coach of Kansas.  Looking back at the roster of the 2009-2010 team Self could have fielded two top 10 teams.  All-Americans Thomas Robinson and Marcus Morris came off the bench that season.  Yet, they came up empty as the NCAA tournaments #1 overall seed.  Losing to University of Northern Iowa brought up memories of all the upsets this Kansas team has had over the years.

Self brought in the #1 recruit in the country Josh Selby to go with many returning players that made the team a #1 overall seed in the tournament again the following season.  A trip to the Elite 8 ended in heartbreak as so many have for Self.  This looked like a year that KU would cruise to the Final Four as a 1-seed that didn’t have to play anybody higher than a 9 seed through the Elite Eight.  Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  

After extending his Elite Eight record to 1-5 there was no doubt some soul searching going on for Bill Self.  Surely there was probably some “why me?” in there as well.  After his top three recruits became ineligible for the 2011-2012 season, Self knew it was going to take a lot to reach the absurdly high standards he has set for this program.  

What last night’s victory has proved is that whatever answers Self found when he looked in the mirror were the right ones.  Through all the adversity, with the least talented and least deep team of his tenure, Self has made himself a better coach.

As the head of this program he preaches learning and getting better to his players.  Most coaches do.  What’s rare is when a coach actually grows and develops with his team.  Self can still recruit with the best of them but he may have now solidified himself as one of the best in-game coaches in the country.

Self pulling out the triangle-and-2 defense and flummoxing North Carolina was possibly his best coaching move of the tournament.  KU went on a 12-0 run to end the game and sent the Tar Heels packing with a 13-point loss.

The only thing more impressive than Self’s growth as a coach this season has been the growth of his players.  This tournament has seen the coming-of-age of Elijah Johnson right in front of our eyes.  Taylor became a true leader after many called for him to be benched.  Robinson went from role player to superstar.  And Self went from great coach to elite coach.  He now has earned the right to be mentioned with Mike Kryzewski,
Roy Williams, Tom Izzo and Jim Calhoun among others.  

This means that there are only great things still left to come.  If there was any knock on Self it was that he didn’t let his players go out and make mistakes and learn.  Selby last year was often pulled after making a mistake.  Many were concerned that method helped to stunt Selby’s development.  

Self did not have the same luxury this year.  With his shortest bench ever he had to let Taylor have his 11 turnover games.  He had to let Johnson take his lumps with bad shooting.  All those players are better for it and so is Self.

Self will lose the two best players from this team in Taylor and Robinson.  He has a quality recruiting class coming in that can only get better with a few spring signings.  Those players will be playing under a new version of Self.  This will be the elite coach Self.  No longer heavy with pressure and the “can’t get over the hump” stigma.  If it wasn’t erased after 2008 it’s eradicated now.  Self will be able to know how to manage a roster 10 deep but will also know that sometimes the best thing you can do is let them take their lumps.

Final Fours at Kansas aren’t exactly rare.  With this being the 14th trip for the school it’s a baseline more than it is a goal.  That’s not necessarily fair to have to deal with that every year, but if KU wants to be considered on that level, they have to play by those expectations.  Now, what is rare is Kansas having a season like this.  What was supposed to be a “down year,” has taken them to a Final Four and only two wins away from the true Promised Land.

This team may have been one of the most unlikely to be here, but with the growth of the coach and the players (and a couple more victories) it may end up being one of the most remembered.
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Jeff Herr: Survive and Advance

Survive and advance is a mantra you hear often repeated in March.  With Kansas’ 63-60 victory over Purdue Sunday night, this slogan was repeated many times over from the Jayhawk faithful.  As a team, KU would gladly repeat that for the next four games if it ends with them winning another National Championship.  After last night though, survive and advance seems the perfect motto for this team even beyond the confines of this year’s tournament.

Every player on this team seems to be an example of surviving an advancing.  At some point in the collegiate career of each of these players they were confronted with adversity.  At each one of those points every member of this team overcame those obstacles and that could be the reason some are calling this the toughest team of Self’s tenure.

The best player on this team has had possibly the most tumultuous journey.  Thomas Robinson is a consensus 1st team All-American and player of the year finalist, yet hardly saw the floor on this team even just a year ago.  Playing behind lottery picks Marcus and Markieff Morris not many would probably see much playing time.  With Robinson there was an issue of not only seeing the floor, but looking very raw when he did.  At the apex of Kansas’ 2011 season, against the VCU Rams in the Elite Eight, with everything on the line, Robinson only the saw the floor for 6 minutes.

Besides his struggles on the court, Robinson had to deal with much larger ones off of it.  Losing multiple family members in a month’s time, Robinson was left as the caretaker for his younger sister.  This is quite a heavy burden to place on a 20-year-old student athlete just trying to piece things together.  It was these events that gave Robinson a greater resolve.  He overcame and has played this season at an impossibly high level.  No matter how many more games he plays, this will most certainly go down as one of the greatest seasons by any player in Kansas history.  Survive and advance.

Tyshawn Taylor might be the most maligned leader any Kansas team has ever had.  Self has even said himself that at times he’s looks like an All-American, while at others he looks like he’s never been coached.  Early on in the season when the titanic matchup of collegiate blue bloods Duke and Kansas took place, it was a climactic early season battle.  The supposedly undermanned Kansas team outplayed the Blue Devils.  A close game late in the second half turned on a couple key turnovers by Taylor.

The response from the KU fan base could have been described as vitriolic.  Here was a player who was a four year starter and still making freshman mistakes.  He had 11 total turnovers in that game and there were still more awful turnovers to come.  Unrest was high with the Kansas contingent.  Suddenly something clicked.  Taylor started playing well in conference and garnered All-American discussion.  The much maligned Taylor had found his groove and finally looked like the player we all knew he could be. 

Survive and advance.

Travis Releford is a Kansas City native who always wanted to play for the Jayhawks.  When he signed the letter of intent to go to KU he most certainly had dreams bigger than how his career started.  Coming the year after the entire starting squad from a National Championship team left, the playing time seemed up for grabs.  Releford didn’t factor into the equation all that much.  So much so that Self convinced him to red-shirt the following season.  Even the year after that Releford still only played a little over 10 minutes a game.  

This probably wasn’t what Releford imagined when he decided to go to Kansas.  He could have gone to a mid-major and started.  He could have gone to a lesser power and started as well.  Instead he chose to go to Kansas.  He took his red-shirt and did not complain.  As a defender Releford might be the best on this team.  A couple games in conference had the scales tipped towards KU based on his performance.  He is currently averaging over 30 minutes a game. 

Survive and Advance.

Jeff Withey was recruited heavily by Kansas coming out of high school.  As a big man with legit skills and high upside Kansas would have been as good as any place in the country.  Instead of trekking to the Midwest, the San Diego native chose to go with Lute Olsen to Arizona.  When Olsen left, Withey asked to come back to his second choice of Kansas.  

Upon arrival Withey also sat behind the two Morris twins and even a less experienced Robinson.  He averaged 3 minutes per game two seasons ago, and only 6 last season.  Coming in he started by default.  The Jayhawks lost so much talent from last year’s squad there was nobody else.  There were not high expectations and through the first half o the season, those were filled by Withey.  Until he woke up and decided to realize that he was a top 40 recruit with legitimate skills.  Inspiring songs from local media and adulation from fans, Withey had arrived as a legitimate part of this team. 

Survive and advance.

Finally the hero from last night’s game Elijah Johnson. Johnson came as a five star recruit out of Las Vegas.  Coming with Thomas Robinson he was expected to make a bigger impact.  His freshman year consisted of only 6 minutes per game, but such is the life of a freshman under Bill Self.  The following year wasn’t much better averaging only 13 minutes per game.  

Whispers started coming out that Johnson was looking to transfer.  Rumors persisted that he was unhappy with his playing time and wanted to go be a star somewhere.  Self came out and said that it wasn’t true and Johnson was happy here.  Johnson and Self both knew his time was coming and this year was his time.  By many accounts Johnson has had an underwhelming year.  We kept hearing great things about him from Self.  He has the talent and confidence which showed it in practice.  For one reason or another he was just not putting it together.  

Last night, Johnson put it together.  The guard hit a three-point shot early on to keep Kansas in the game and give them some life.  His shot with just under three minutes to go finally put KU up by one for the first time in the game.  He didn’t quit there either.  A steal and an alley oop to Taylor might have been the play of the game and turned the tides.  Johnson was interviewed as the star of the game afterwards with a huge grin on his face.  Anybody noticing a theme here?

Survive and advance.

This team has been through more individually and as a team than most KU squad’s have to endure.  They’ve been through a lot together and have garnered toughness as a team unparalleled by Jayhawk teams.  Last night’s late victory over Purdue was a game this university doesn’t usually win.  They have been caught in games like this before and all too often it’s ended their season.  Not last night.  This team did what they have been doing their entire careers: survive and advance.
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Jeff Herr: Something Is Missing in the Manning Situation

Fans in Kansas City found themselves incredibly excited last week when word came down that the Chiefs were highly interested in signing Peyton Manning, the biggest NFL free agent since Reggie White.

When rumors crept out that the Chiefs were the only ones to offer Manning a contract, the excitement levels ratcheted up even further.  Those reports have since been questioned by knowledgeable media in the area, but it was clear the Chiefs were interested.

Since then, it has been quite the roller coaster ride of emotions regarding the situation.  What started as joy and excitement, turned to abject terror when word came out about how much time Manning spent with the Broncos.  The only thing worse than a swing and miss on Manning, would be if he were to sign at rival Denver.

While that seems more and more like a possibility every day, the situation is still pending.  Nothing concrete has come out on where Manning is leaning but it has been reported that the Chiefs are still in the running, however slight that might be.  

If Manning chooses not to sign with the Chiefs that is unfortunate but wouldn’t be a shock.  There is much more that goes on in courting free agents and negotiating things than we all realize.  We don’t know exactly what Manning is looking for and we don’t know what the Chiefs have or will offer.

The most distressing part as a Chiefs fan would have to be the fact that, not only has Manning not visited KC, but he was invited and declined.  If there was a way to show less interest in this team, someone would have to show me.

Even removing my bias, KC seems like an excellent fit for Manning.  Indianapolis and Kansas City are as close as two cities can be when it comes to culture.  The Chiefs maintain one of the best fan bases in all of sports, even through their struggles.  The team went 7-9 and almost won the division while missing their best offensive and defensive players.  Tyler Palko started four games and they were still within a last second blocked field goal of winning the division for the second year in a row.

On the surface this seems like a great place for Manning to compete while finishing out his career.  Yet, he didn’t come to visit and (according to reports), hasn’t even talked to the team himself.  I will reserve full judgment until we have a definitive answer on where Manning is going, but this does hint at some bigger issues.

There is no doubt that Manning was aware of what happened to the Chiefs last year with Todd Haley being dismissed after (reportedly) repeated issues with Scott Pioli.  He would have clearly been able to see that Chiefs have not spent the money in past years to show they are committed to winning.

While the contracts to players like Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers are encouraging, the remainder is sorely lacking.  The Chiefs may be adept at identifying their problem areas, but have not shown an ability to fix them.

Kansas City chose to go the cheap route last season with their biggest offseason need at nose tackle.  They didn’t upgrade their offensive line in any meaningful way and may have actually downgraded it for 2011.  With a player like Brandon Carr right in front of them, the Chiefs have seemingly just let him walk away (even though nothing is official yet).  While he may have cost more than the Chiefs wanted to spend, the very fact that they don’t want to spend that much conflicts with the idea they want to put a winning product on the field.

While nothing is certain, and Manning hasn’t nor will he ever explain why he didn’t want to come to Kansas City to visit, this is a swing and miss the Chiefs just couldn’t afford.  Missing this big might actually be worse than not pursuing at all.

The fans in the area could talk all they want about the league-wide perception of the Chiefs, but the evidence so far has been minimal.  A free agent this big barely giving the Chiefs a sniff could be the tip of an iceberg of much larger problems.

Chiefs brass have gone on record stating they want to be players in free agency this year.  They elected to roll over cap space from the previous year so they would have more to spend.  Whether this will come to fruition or is all talk remains to be seen.

As an organization the Chiefs have been afraid to overpay some free agents.  They have put themselves in a position now where they don’t have much of a choice.  A controlling, difficult to work with general manager, a stingy owner, and general dysfunction has lead to a reputation that has gone around the league.  Even if it’s a good fit, players might be hesitant to sign here for these reasons.

There are two ways to fix this: winning and spending.  

If last year is any indication, this team probably can’t fix this all by winning in 2012.  While they may be favorites to win the division this coming season, their prospects as a true contender are minimal.  If they don’t win on the field the only way players will want to come here is if they get paid.  

You can’t build an entire team through the draft.  Players don’t pan out, they can’t be re-signed and some years are just not available at the positions you need.  An organization must be able to bring in free agents to compete.  

The organization has been very quiet in recent years on why they have spent as little money as they have and what their plans are for the future.  While we as fans can probably never expect a straight forward explanation from the current regime, money can do a lot of the talking.  
The Chiefs don’t have to spend on every free agent out there, that wouldn’t be smart.  What the Chiefs need to do is strategically identify the players that make the most sense and can help the team.  Once they are identified, they need to be acquired.  

Perception is reality in today’s world.  The only way for the Chiefs to change their current perception is to change their reality.  Make Kansas City a destination, put a competitive team on the field, win some games (maybe even a playoff game?) and we won’t have big time names dismissing the team before their even in the running.
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Jeff Herr: Kansas City Madness

I will start by asking everyone to keep in mind that I am not trying to say this will happen.  I am asking that everyone indulge in an incredibly fun hypothetical scenario with me.  The ending of the regular season this past weekend and the turn of the calendar to March means one thing: March Madness.  The best sporting event in all of sports makes its annual appearance as the first rite of spring.

Looking forward to what March will bring are two very happy, very optimistic fan bases in Kansas City.  Both MU and KU fans are rightfully dreaming of making noise in the coming weeks.

In the case of Kansas it would be a great show of Bill Self’s coaching talents to see this team make a Final Four in what was supposed to be a “down year.”  Losing three players to the NBA, including two lottery picks, the Jayhawks were supposed to have a rare rebuilding year.  They didn’t and are currently favorites for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Missouri took what was supposed to be a “transition year” with a new coach and turned it into one of the best seasons in school history.  In his first year on the job Frank Haith took a team that wasn’t his recruits, had a divided locker room before he got there, and finished the previous season with a whimper, only to have them contending for the Big XII crown throughout the season.

Both schools have had their past successes and failures come March.  Missouri can go all the way back to 1976 with their first ever trip to the Elite Eight.  They lost that game and have since lost three other regional final matchups denying them any Final Four in their history.  

The heartbreak doesn’t end in the Elite Eight either.  The fanbase is constantly haunted by memories of the second round matchup in 1995 when Tyus Edney of UCLA drove the entire length of the floor in five seconds to drop in a layup for the victory.  It’s these moments that reinforce the “snake bit” mentality many MU fans have.

Kansas as a program has had a Number 1 seed more times than most other programs in the country.  Unfortunately, this leads to nearly as many seasons winding up as a disappointment.  Going back to the last couple of years where the Jayhawks suffered an Elite Eight loss to a VCU squad that barely made the tournament in 2011.  You only need to go back another year to see Kansas getting upset in the second round as the tournament’s overall #1 seed in 2010.

For both teams March brings a little bit of anxiety for different reasons.  While some of that remains, it has taken on a bit of a different flavor in 2012.  Both teams have spent the majority of the year in the top 10, and the bulk of that time was spent in the top five.  

With the possibility of both teams being #1 seeds going into the tournament the scenario is there in which they are both legitimate picks to make the Final Four.  This is where the hypothetical comes in: what would happen in Kansas City if both teams make the Final Four?

Now, all of this is conjecture at this point, but it’s something that we have to allow ourselves to think about.  After all, sports talk and sports blogging is nearly all conjecture anyway, so why not have some fun with it.

We could forget the controversial first and second matchups.  The refs got too much credit for helping Missouri in game #1 when Kansas couldn’t hold an eight point lead with barely over 2 minutes to go.  The same thing happened when Missouri couldn’t hold a 19 point second half lead in Lawrence.  Both games only fueled the fire, but they wouldn’t compare.

Forget the possible Big XII championship matchup.  A Missouri win would give them a win in their last ever Big XII game.  They would hold the trophy high above their heads as they marched out towards the conference to the south.

A Kansas victory would send KU fans trumpeting about their historical dominance versus MU.  Jayhawk fans would stand tall as they would send Tiger fans packing to a traditionally weaker basketball conference.  Either way, it would only deepen the hatred and rivalry between these two teams.  

And it still wouldn’t compare.

It seems as though this year has been on a collision course for this type of a scenario.  With the schools splitting victories in the regular season neither one can truly call themselves the better team.  

If the NCAA has any sense it will place them either on opposite sides of the bracket or at least in opposing regions on the same side.  Anything less than a Final Four matchup for these two teams in this year would be a disservice.

A Final Four matchup would make both fanbases a little jittery.  Missouri would have finally gotten over the hump and made their first ever Final Four.  No longer would KU be able to hold that over MU fans.  No doubt, it would not be on any Kansas fans wish list to lose that bit of leverage.  

On the other side Missouri fans would have that little man in the back of their heads telling them not to get too excited.  Of course Missouri would finally make it to the Final Four only to encounter their nemesis from across the border.

The only thing standing in the way of Missouri getting their first ever National Championship appearance in one of the two major college sports would be their eternal blood rival.  It’s poetic.

For the remainder of this rivalry the winning team would be able to say they won when it counted most.  KU fans will trumpet their Final Four appearances and multiple National Championships, but if they lose Missouri fans will always have that one day in April when all that didn’t matter.

With a Kansas victory, Missouri fans will say they’re off to bigger and better things.   KU fans can retort that no matter which conference they go to, their lasting memory of this rivalry and conference will be losing on the grandest stage of them all.

I have lived in Kansas City my entire life.  I am as familiar with this rivalry as can be.  While I hate to see it go I understand why it’s leaving.  Personally, even as good as the games have been this year I feel it would be watered down with both teams in different conferences.  

Never again will these teams meet in the regular season as they’ve met this year.  Never again will it have the prominence and impact that it did this past February.  It seems only fitting that it would all be capped off with a meeting in April.  In what could possibly be the last meeting ever it would only seem right that it would hold more significance than ever before.

I am not sure how crazy this city would get.  What I do know is that I would be unbelievably glad I’m here to watch.
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Jeff Herr: Rock Chalk Rollercoaster

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.
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Chiefs in Danger of Losing One of the Right 53

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.
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Jeff Herr: Biggest Surprise in the Big XII

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.
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Jeff Herr: The Legacy of the Patriot Way

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.
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Jeff Herr: Mission 2012

The bye week in between the Super Bowl always seemed completely arbitrary to me.  After 20 weeks of grueling competition week after week, they league decides to give the teams a free break before the biggest games of their lives.  On the surface this makes a lot of sense, it allows the teams more time to prepare and can give us a better game to watch.  Yet, we all know the real reason is to drum up more publicity and make sure it’s the most watched event of the year (which it usually is).

For me, it just delays the inevitable one more week - the end of the football season.  For a football junkie like me, the year truly doesn’t end until there’s no more football.  Until that first Sunday in February is over, I still feel like I’m clinging to that memory of 2011.  With the Super Bowl this coming weekend, I’ve begun to think what’s going to occupy my time after football takes its yearly hibernation.

Enter mission 2012.  With pitchers and catchers reporting less than a month away, “Mission 2012” for the Royals is getting closer and closer.  This moniker, of course, refers to the general thinking that the Royals may take a big step forward this year and begin to compete.  

We’ll push aside the rhetoric that 2012 is too early and 2013 is more realistic.  Pessimism has no place in spring training.  The American League Central is down this year and the Royals’ chances seem to get better by the day.  That is, if you don’t count the day the Tigers signed Prince Fielder last week.  Even so, the Royals still stand to make some noise and possibly play over .500 baseball for the first time since 2003.

While the Chiefs have seemingly done everything wrong the last 5 years, the Royals have actually done everything right.  They had the #1 farm system in all of baseball last year, and are on their way to another top 5 ranking this year.  Keeping mind that they graduated roughly 12 players to the majors in 2011 alone.  This gives you a taste of how well the Royals are doing in building this team from the ground up.

It’s for this reason that everyone is looking at 2012 as the year the Royals turn the corner from being a laughingstock, to being legitimate.  With rookie of the year finalist Eric Hosmer leading the charge, the Royals will have one of the youngest 25 man rosters in all of baseball.  Not a single position player of note is over 28 and most of them are under club control for at least the next 5 years (hopefully Alex Gordon will join that group soon).

We are currently three weeks away from when pitcher and catchers report to spring training.  This will be the spark to an excitement level for baseball in Kansas City the likes of which we haven’t seen in years.  

With pitchers and catchers reporting, the Royals will start developing the lynchpin to their success this coming season.  How far this team goes depends on their ability to pitch and a higher and more consistent level than they have in recent years.  Players like Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, Will Smith and others will all be competing to get their shot at the majors.  If any of these players are able to reach the big league club in 2012 and make an impact the Royals could be on their way to a very good season.

There is also the hope of Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sanchez turning the corner and becoming the standout pitchers everyone knows they have the skills to be.  Couple that with Bruce Chen’s consistency and Felipe Paulino’s high upside, and there is a lot to be hopeful for in KC.
It’s not just the unknown that makes this coming season exciting, either.  It’s also what we do know about this young team.  Eric Hosmer finished third in the Rookie of Year voting last year, Mike Moustakas got off to a slow start but finished strong, and Alex Gordon had a borderline All-Star year.  Salvador Perez exceeded all expectations in his short time in the big leagues and Johnny Giavotella showed some promise as well.  

As a town Kansas City has been greatly deprived of some summertime excitement.  After being a top tier organization for the majority of its existence, since the mid-90’s this team hasn’t given the town much to root for.  Their downfall coincided with the rise of the Chiefs in the 1990’s as well.  The eye of the town switched from baseball to football.  The boys of summer were backseat riders in the town they helped turn into one of the greatest sports towns in America (in my opinion anyway).

This is what ‘Mission 2012’ is really about.  It’s about the Royals taking back their place in the Kansas City sports scene.  This is not to say the Royals are fighting to be more popular than the Chiefs.  There is room for two very popular teams in this city.  Mission 2012 is about no longer being an afterthought.  

With the turmoil in the Chiefs organization ahead and more change coming (new offensive coordinator, new system, etc.), the Royals have a chance they haven’t had in a while.  This city is buzzing about this team and what the future holds.  Whispers of playoffs and World Series are starting to pick up steam.  With this most recent bye week and the football season about to come to a close, Mission 2012 is one step closer to reality.  

Football is taking a one week break before its swan song for 2011.  These thoughts will occupy my mind as this city gets ready for a summer that will (hopefully) be remembered as the start of something special.
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Jeff Herr: What the Chiefs Can Learn From This Past Weekend

In the past 11 years the AFC has sent only 4 representatives to the Super Bowl.  That’s right, for more than a decade now there have only been 4 teams to come out of an AFC championship game victorious.  The Patriots have done it five times (’01, ’03, ’04, ’07, ’11), the Steelers three times (’05, ’08, ’10) the Colts twice (’06, ’09) and the Raiders once (’02).  In that same span the NFC has sent 10 different teams, with the only team repeating being the New York Giants (’07, ’11).

Quite a few different theories can come from this information, after all trend analysis is the realm of the sports fan.  The most prevalent trend is that of the Patriot Way.  This idea has been hammered home relentlessly, so I won’t drill it in even further.  After all, this is not the only “way” present here.  There’s also the “Steeler way,” the “Colt Way,” and to a lesser extent the “Giant Way.”

Each of these organizations has spawned their own spin-offs to various degrees of success.  The “Patriot Way” has been tried and failed in Denver, New York, Cleveland, and Kansas City.  The “Steeler Way” has been tried in Arizona to very limited success.  The “Colt Way” hasn’t been mimicked simply because it’s based on Peyton Manning and there’s only one of him. 

It only goes to make this situation more comedic that this is called a “copycat league.”  One team has success that nobody saw coming and the other 31 teams scramble to replicate it.  In the meantime, with so many teams running the same schemes, teams have more experience facing it and it becomes much easier to play against.

This isn’t a new phenomenon.  Teams tried to replicate the success of the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers and failed.  Same goes .
What the copycat teams are forgetting in this scramble is what got the original teams to their position in the first place.  The teams that have had success don’t define themselves by a rigid format. 

There’s a reason that Bill Bilichick isn’t married to the 3-4 defense.  He will line his players up in mostly 4-3 sets in some games.  He is coaching his team to the game they are playing instead of adhering to a rigid standard he made for himself.  Bilichick’s greatest asset has always been his flexibility.  The “Patriot Way” is successful because there is no way.  They have Tom Brady and a coach who knows how to scheme well against his opponents.  It’s that simple, and yet teams continue to miss the point.

There is little doubt that this past weekend could spell bad news for the Chiefs.  Not only does it reinforce the myth of the Patriot Way, but it will give hope for Matt Cassel as well.  Seeing mediocre quarterbacks like Joe Flacco and Alex Smith perform well and put their team into positions to win, it will only allow the Chiefs to point to that when talking about Cassel’s future. 

The truth of this past weekend is there is no magic formula for creating a winning team.  The NFL is an ever evolving game and those that continue to win are able to stay ahead of the curve through action and not reaction.  Each game and each matchup is completely different.  Teams that can overcome different scenarios are the ones that win, not those that are meant to play one type of game.

The San Francisco 49ers got to the NFC championship game by beating the New Orleans Saints.  In that game, the 49ers played a game they hadn’t all season, a shootout.  The only reason they were able to move on was because they came out of their shell and played a game they didn’t know they were capable of playing.  When they came up against the Giants they were forced into a corner and weren’t able to adjust enough to win the game. 

The Baltimore Ravens found themselves in a similar circumstance.  They outplayed the Patriots by most accounts, but didn’t win the game.  You wouldn’t expect Tom Brady to have a game where he throws 2 INTs, no TDs and has a QB rating below 60.  Yet, he did and the Patriots were able to get a big game from Benjarvis Green-Ellis and find a way to win.  The game went as well as the Ravens could have hoped and they still didn’t pull it out.

Point being, the formula is not universal.  The Chiefs will look at this and see a reinforcement of their beliefs that they are on the right track.  They will look at this and believe that those models are the correct ways to build a team.  They will also be missing the point.

Going forward, Romeo Crennel will do his best Belichick impression.  Scott Pioli will continue to try to prove he was the architect of the Patriot way and he can do it again here in Kansas City.  The entire organization will throw support behind Matt Cassel as one whom they still believe can be the next Brady, or at least good enough to be Joe Flacco.

The Chiefs will be a shining example of the old axiom that if you don’t learn from history then you are doomed to repeat it.  As long as the Chiefs continue to pretend they are something they are not, they will never be allowed the success they crave.  They are not the Patriots or the Steelers, they are the Chiefs.  The sooner they realize this, the sooner they can start winning and maybe then other teams will try to copy them.
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Jeff Herr: What is Going On At One Arrowhead Drive?

This past Sunday as the NFL playoffs continue to roll on without the Chiefs, Kent Babb wrote an interesting article about what’s going at One Arrowhead Drive.  The article talks about the increasing level of anxiety at Chiefs headquarters.  In Babb’s article the methods of Scott Pioli and the new era of the Chiefs organization is explored.

According to the article, former employees have described the atmosphere as one of intimidation and paranoia.  Employees are told not to fraternize with others from different departments, they are reprimanded for seemingly simple things (such as referring to the Chiefs GM by his last name only), and are afraid to talk about anything on the phone for fear the lines are bugged.  Regardless of how much of this is true, the perception is out there.

Judging from the fan’s reaction, there seems to be two opinions on this article.  One is the people that are upset over the methods that Pioli has chosen to use creating a poor work atmosphere that hasn’t translated to wins on the field.  The other side is the people who think that change was necessary and is to be expected with new leadership.  This group of people will say that change is always hard.

To a certain extent, both sides are right, and yet both sides might also be missing the point.  Creating a sense of fear in a workplace is never a good thing.  Yet, keeping the status quo from the previous regime will not be successful either.  Change isn’t always bad, so long as it’s handled in a manner that is appropriate.  

The change that Pioli has implemented isn’t the pervasive issue; it’s the way he’s gone about it.  From Pioli’s standpoint his methods make sense on the surface level.  If you want to implement change and construct a winning organization, then you have to permeate all levels.  Change comes from the top down, but has to be integrated from the ground up.  That being the case a staple of good management is knowing when and where to pick your battles while dealing with full scale change.

In accounting there is a concept of materiality.  If there is a multi-billion dollar company, information is only considered material if it will influence the economic decision about a company by an outsider.  It basically provides a threshold in which you can determine a cut-off point for what characteristics are important to an organization.  The risk you run is that all the small amounts can equal one large amount in aggregate, but the point is to not lose focus of the bigger picture.

An anecdote from Babb’s story included Pioli picking up a candy wrapper, placing it in an envelope, and bringing it to people’s attention in a meeting.  I am not an expert on the structure of NFL organizations, but it seems to me picking up trash should be low on the list of concerns for the general manager.  This does not appear to be an issue that is material to the Chiefs.  Candy bar wrappers lying around the facility wouldn’t seem to have an impact on the product put out on the field.  This isn’t a battle Pioli should be concerning himself with.

From an outsider’s perspective, this is an example of what appear to be flaws in Pioli’s management style.  Beyond the obvious poor results on the field, it seems as though Pioli chooses to compartmentalize everything within the organization.  With a little digging we can see where Pioli is coming from.  By cordoning off each unit, they can focus on themselves and get to the level they need to be.  All these units are silos unto themselves.  By each one raising its level, then eventually the organization will be better off as a whole.  On the forefront, this makes sense.  However, it seems Pioli is using this approach and not looking at the big picture.

If the Chiefs are winning then Pioli can complain about trash all he wants.  As long as results are where we want them, then the GM can stick his nose wherever he wishes.  However, the point that most are missing with this article isn’t any acts themselves, it’s what they insinuating.  If we were to take Pioli’s thought process and place all of these actions in a silo, they don’t matter.

In Corporate America in 2011-2012, most of these things are normal.  The majority of companies have the ability and means to track websites, emails, and phone logs.  This is not uncommon.  

Now, regardless of the extent of how these things are happening, on some level they exist.  This is the crux of the article that can’t be overlooked.  Pioli is spending, at the very least, some time and effort on these things when his team is failing on the field.  Pioli has his hands in everything and is dictating so much within this organization that the football team is just another silo, when it should command a much bigger focus.  
As fans, we don’t care all that much how the Chiefs choose to run their business.  Obviously, mistreating of employees and unethical or poor business practices won’t be accepted, but beyond that they can run things however they choose.  When the running of the business side takes away from the results on the field that’s when things get messy.

Therefore, it’s not Pioli’s acts that are enraging, but his seeming inability to understand that small issues don’t permeate the organization like the team on the field does.  If the Chiefs win 3 championships in 4 years then candy bar wrappers might be the biggest concern.  When the Chiefs are 7-9 and struggled to make it that far, those items can wait.  

From that article it is apparent that we don’t really know what’s going over at Arrowhead.  Those that do are sworn to secrecy about it.  One thing we do know is that it appears there are issues.  These instances might be all Pioli’s doing, or they could be directives from Clark Hunt.  None of us are in a position to know for sure.  However, we are in a position to know what it looks like as fans.  What it looks like from that angle is one of dysfunction and poor results.  

Everyone in every position in life makes mistakes.  It’s up to each person how much they learn from those mistakes.  If Pioli doesn’t learn from whatever mistakes he has made, it might cost him his job.  As fan’s we will always be here, his time will eventually come to an end.  When that occurs is it up to him.

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Jeff Herr: Chiefs Officially Hire Crennel. Now What?

Originally, I wasn’t going to post about the Chiefs today.  With the season over, the playoffs in full swing, and the dead period looming after the Super Bowl, it seemed prime time to pick up college basketball talk, or possibly even a Royals post.  Then, the Chiefs went ahead and made it official that they would keep the status quo as Romeo Crennel became the 12th head coach in Chiefs history.

The reasons to like Romeo are obvious.  The big one that most will point to is his 5 Super Bowl Rings.  Crennel has won three with the Patriots as defensive coordinator and 2 with the Giants on Bill Parcell’s coaching staff. 

Romeo came in and took this Chiefs defense from no better than 24th overall in either points or yards the past three years, and turned them into a top 13 defense in both categories for 2010.  The unit took a step back this year but a lot of that can be attributed to the issues between the head coach and general manager that plagued most of the season.

Crennel has head coaching experience and a more sure-handed approach than Todd Haley.  Crennel’s M.O. has been keeping things on an even keel.  Romeo doesn’t really get that fired up on the sidelines, he doesn’t get that excited, he keeps things in perspective and keeps players calm.  This is a 180 from where Haley was and seems to fit right along with the usual pattern of hiring coaches.  If a previous coach was hard-nosed, then you usually follow that with a “players coach,” and vice versa.

With those reasons to like Crennel, there are also many reasons not to like him.  Crennel has previous head coaching experience.  While usually a good thing, his 24-40 record as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 2005-2008 was unimpressive at best.  He had one winning season and no other season with more than 6 victories.  It might be somewhat comforting to know that nobody has had success in Cleveland.  The organization has only made the playoffs twice in the last 20 years (four of those years they didn’t have a team after former owner Art Modell moved the old Browns to Balimore to become the Ravens) and once in the last 12.  

Even the current model of a head coach, Bill Belichick, couldn’t get it done in Cleveland.  This might give fans a little hope about this situation.  However, that’s not the only factor in play here.  While Cleveland might be snake bit as a franchise, that doesn’t exonerate Crennel for underachieving.  He had the talent to go 10-6, but followed that up by going 4-12 the next season.  There was a decent amount of talent on that team and Romeo couldn’t get it all to work together.  After he left, they blew that team up and they haven’t been able to have a winning season since.

Excuses can be made for this Crennel’s situation.  The biggest one could be that Crennel didn’t have a quarterback.  They went 10-6 with Derek Anderson who made the Pro Bowl that year.  Anderson had a career year passing for over 3,700 yards with 29 TDs and 19 INTs.  The warning signs were there, but Anderson started the next season as the starter and went 3-6 while dropping his TD:INT ratio to 9:8.  Anderson and Matt Cassel’s career have followed a very similar path.  That being the case, this puts Crennel in a similar situation as Cleveland.  This Chiefs team will go into 2012 with a talented roster, a good defense, a defense-minded coach, and a suspect quarterback.

Crennel is being put in a situation where the likelihood of failure is high.  The odds are looking like they won’t bring in a new offensive coordinator, and either Bill Muir will stay on or Jim Zorn will take over those duties.  Crennel will most likely have a ‘hands-off’ approach to the offense, which is fine, but with that being this team’s biggest issue, would only increase his chance of failure.

By all accounts Crennel is a great person.  He is well liked by most media members, front office personnel, and most importantly – the players.  Respected teammates such as Tamba Hali have gone vocal with their support of Crennel as the new coach.  The defense loves playing for him and showed at times they can be elite under his watch.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like such a bad hire, even with his past failure as a head coach.  Yet, we also need to remember that he will be 65 by the time the 2012 season starts.  The list of coaches who made their first Super Bowl at that age is pretty short.  The oldest coach ever to win a Super Bowl was Dick Vermeil at age 63 in 1999.  The Chiefs tried that route and it didn’t work, either.  Tom Coughlin won at age 61, but seems to be on the hot seat every year.  The next year the Giants don’t make the playoffs, he’s gone.  Marv Levy made his first Super Bowl appearance at age 65 and followed it up with 3 more.  Even so, he never won any of them.

Considering the circumstances, the Chiefs most definitely could have made a worse choice than Crennel.  There are a lot of reasons he fits.  There are a lot of reasons to think he will be successful.  Unfortunately, the Chiefs at this point haven’t done enough to give him the best possible tools to realize that success.  With questions still at quarterback and on who’s going to run the offense, the Chiefs have seemingly painted themselves into a corner here.  

While Crennel has the ability to be a successful head coach, he can only work with what he has.  There is still plenty of offseason left though.  If the Chiefs are going to compete for championships in 2012, (which they are only a few moves away from doing), they have to do what needs to be done.  There is time for that to happen.   The best bet for the Chiefs success in 2012 is using this as the jumping off point.  They don’t need to stand pat, but need to give Crennel the tools they never gave Haley to ensure he can succeed.

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Jeff Herr: The Chiefs Off-Season Needs to be Great

The Chiefs are coming into one of the most important off-seasons in franchise history.  It’s a pivotal time for this organization.  With the talent they have amassed, a couple smart moves could open up a window of dominance similar to what the Patriots or Colts have done the last 10+ years.  The wrong move could lead this team down a path that might damage the franchise for years to come.

What Scott Pioli and Clark Hunt have shown us so far is a lack of ability to make moves outside their comfort zone.  They have a list of criteria they want from their players and coaches, and if they don’t meet it, they aren’t considered.  As head coach, Todd Haley was thought to meet those criteria, but didn’t, and was run out of town.

With the opening at head coach (and probably many other coaching positions) the Chiefs can make a decision that sets them up to be a contending team for a long time.  Unlike any other sport, the coach in football makes a difference on the field.  With preparation, motivation, and proper communication the head football coach can lead a team to success, at times even over a superiorly talented opponent.  

The issue many Chiefs fans have at this point is whether or not Pioli is able to make that move for the Chiefs that will set them up for future success.  As a GM, Pioli has always been thought of as a difficult person to work with.  His reputation has only increased in that regard since he was hired in KC.  Haley couldn’t work with him and it caused a rift that possibly cost the Chiefs the playoffs this year.  With such a situation blowing up so large, and Pioli as equal to blame as Haley, the question looms of how he will handle his next hire.

Pioli can surprise Chiefs fans by showing some self-awareness.  By looking in the mirror and discovering what he did wrong, he can use that to hire a coach that will be the perfect fit for this organization.  Now, if Chiefs fans suspicions are true, and he hires someone that he knows can work for him, how much is there to gain?  Is Romeo Crennel the coach the Chiefs need to take them to the promised land or just the one to make sure Pioli keeps his job?  

That point will most likely be belabored ad nauseum until a decision is made.    The Chiefs have been through 10 years of 9-10 wins and underwhelming playoff success (the 1990’s).  They want more this time around.

Look at the Indianapolis Colts as an example.  Recently, owner Jim Irsay made an interesting comment about his team and their future direction.  He stated that (and I’m paraphrasing here), his organization was interested in greatness, not going 9-7 and regressing to the mean. 

As part of this ideal he fired long time front office staple Bill Polian and his son Chris.  Head Coach Jim Caldwell is sure to follow soon and it will be an entire house cleaning as the Colts get ready to decide who they are going to take with #1 overall pick in the draft.

Greatness is Irsay’s plan for the Colts moving forward.  For one reason or another, Irsay decided that the Polian had to go.  He did not fit into his vision of greatness as this team goes into 2012.  Whether Irsay is right or wrong, he made a decision that he thinks puts his team in a better position to achieve their goals in the future.  Never mind that Polian was the one who drafted Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and others that were all big parts in their Super Bowl win in 2006.  Irsay didn’t feel Polian was the correct fit anymore and sent him packing.
Many people are labeling this move by Irsay as suspect.  After being one of the winningest teams of the last decade, one 2-14 season hardly seems reason enough to dismiss someone who played such a large part in the organizations revival.  There is quite a bit to question in this decision, but there’s also quite a bit to like, and the Chiefs could take some notes.

Seeing a future of possible mediocrity with an aging QB (or a #1 draft pick QB) and little talent around him, Irsay decided to switch gears in bring in someone who can put his team in position to get back to where they were.  The Chiefs need to do this very same thing.

The Chiefs and the majority of the NFL actually, are afraid to be great.  As an organization their definitions of what they want and what they are looking for is too rigid.  The Chiefs wanted a certain type of GM and they got him.  They wanted a certain type of head coach and they messed it up, so they’re looking.  However, they haven’t used this opportunity to change who they are and what they’re looking for to meet the needs of their evolved team.  This is a different group of players than was around in 2009 but Pioli most likely won’t change his criteria for a head coach from what it was then.

The coach that is hired will have a set of rules they will have to abide by.  They will have to get along with whatever offensive coordinator Pioli hires, they will have to be OK with running a 3-4 defense, and they will have to be able to put up with Scott Pioli.  

There is no reason why coaches and front offices in the NFL should be so rigid in their philosophies.  As the saying goes, those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.  The NFL has been repeating the same mistakes for decades.  Coaches and players in this league continually get recycled by a group that should know better.

The Chiefs have a chance to prove that they do know better.  They can learn from their mistakes here.  Hiring somebody in their comfort zone who can perpetuate the status quo is not the best move for this organization.  All signs indicate that’s where they are headed.  Hunt, Pioli, and the Chiefs need to take it upon themselves to make a move that will be shooting for greatness.  The fans will eat it up and it will only get better if they actually achieve that level.  At least if it doesn’t work they can say they went down swinging.  If you go for the knockout and get knocked out, at least you went for it.  Nobody wants to lose their title shot on a decision.  It’s up to the Chiefs to decide how they want to go out this offseason.

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Jeff Herr: Chiefs Coaching Candidates

Looking forward seems to be a Kansas City sports pass-time.  Really, that’s all that KC fans have been able to do.  With no playoff victory for the Chiefs in almost 20 years, no playoffs at all for the Royals in over 25 years, the ‘next year’ mantra is tired and clichéd.  This makes the upcoming offseason and subsequent coaching search all the more important.  Fans in KC are growing tired and want a winner.  

The coaching search will be the first place the Chiefs can make this big splash and give the fans something to get excited about.  This isn’t just any coaching search, though.  This might be the most important hire in Chiefs history.  Losing is something that can permeate an organization.  It did this to the Chiefs from 2007-2009.  The 2010 season was supposed to signal the change.  After how 2011 has gone, the Chiefs are at risk of moving back into that realm of not only a losing team but a losing organization.  This needs to be stopped.  As we’ve seen in the past, losing is a vicious cycle and it often takes a house cleaning to get rid of it.  That is not where the Chiefs want to be 2-3 years from now.

In order to make sure this doesn’t happen, they need to find a coach that fits them perfectly.  This is not a situation in which Pioli can pick someone he “thinks” will fit.  That mistake was made with Haley.  He needs to look in the mirror and see what he’s done wrong.  He needs to find what he can improve to make this relationship something that contributes to winning and not losing.  He also needs to realize that he has to find a coach who can handle Pioli.  Pioli demands a lot from his staff, is stubborn, and believes in his system.  He needs to find someone who is able to handle that and win in spite of his faults.

There are always names thrown out there for head coaching candidates and below are I have listed some  that could have a chance at being hired.  Bill Cowher is not a candidate.  While he got his start here in KC and feels loyalty to the Hunt family, this is just not a realistic situation for him to take over.  Same goes for Jon Gruden.  That said, on to the candidates:

Romeo Crennel– This one is obvious.  He has a long history with Pioli working with him in New York, Cleveland, New England, and now here in Kansas City.  Crennel has head coaching experience and knows how to deal with Pioli.  He did not have the greatest success as Cleveland’s head coach with a 24-40 record.  However, it is important to remember that lots of successful coaches have failed in their first attempt.  Bill Belichick couldn’t win in Cleveland, either.   Mike Shannahan couldn’t win in Oakland.   Marv Levy couldn’t win in Kansas City.  In many situations you have to experience failure and learn from it before you can experience great success.

Josh McDaniels – This is the candidate that makes Chiefs fans cringe the most, and rightfully so.  He fell completely flat on his face in only two years in Denver.  While the aforementioned axiom rings true about failure, McDaniels was a bit different.  As a young coach in his 30’s he was completely overmatched.  He had too much control, too much ego, and too much stubbornness to be effective.  He needs a few years to see how things work and mature before getting another shot.  

Kirk Ferentz – Of all the things that Pioli has shown us, he hasn’t shown much of an ability to go outside his “network.”  If he’s going to go outside his top two candidates from above then this is a very likely course of action.  Ferentz has not shown a desire to leave the college ranks and go to the NFL.  He does have experience coaching in the league, albeit not as a head coach.  I don’t see this as very likely because of low interest in leaving college.  

Marty Mornhingweg – This is one nobody is really talking about.  While Mornhingweg doesn’t have a Pioli connection and probably isn’t on the list, he should be.  Mornhingweg was about as hotshot of an assistant as there was in 2001.  After spending six years with the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, Mornhingweg had the pedigree coaching at winning organizations brings you.  However, he took over as head coach of the Lions in 2001 and a two year stint ended badly with a record of 5-27.  He was not the right guy for the job at the time.  Since then Mornhingweg has been an assistant with the Eagles.  

He has gotten the best out of Donovon McNabb and Michael Vick for years.  Desean Jackson has been turned from a talented second round pick to a legitimate #1 or #2 receiver.  Lesean McCoy may be staking his claim this year as the best running back in the NFL.  All of this showing that he has a very good offensive mind.  Mornhingweg has an offense that would fit the Chiefs talent well enough.  Not sure if Pioli could work with him, but he’s as good of a candidate as any.

Mike Mularky
– This one doesn’t seem quite as obvious, either.  However, it still makes a lot of sense.  While his previous stint as head coach wasn’t all that great, as aforementioned, that doesn’t always equal a bad hire.  Mularky was 14-18 with the Bills and might not have been given a true shot to succeed.   He has shown the ability to groom a quarterback as he has spent the last 4 years in Atlanta making Matt Ryan a top tier quarterback.   His offense has made Michael Turner an elite running back.  Roddy White and Julio Jones have flourished as wide receivers.  With the talent the Chiefs have, Mularky could be in a situation to have some terrific success.  If Crennel stays on as defensive coordinator the Chiefs would be AFC West favorites going into 2012.

Above are 5 candidates that could and should be on Pioli’s list.  Jeff Fisher isn’t on this list because, quite frankly, I’m not sold on him as the coach for this team.  The argument is made that Fisher had inferior talent on his teams and I don’t find that to be accurate.  Steve McNair, Eddie George, Kevin Dyson, Derrick Mason, Keith Bullock, Jevon Kearse, Sumari Rolle, Blaine Bishop among others were all top level players that Fisher had.  Most of them were at the same time as well.  While he did make a Super Bowl, the rest of his tenure isn’t that impressive.  

Looking at the past and what has made a successful head coach, I would go with Mornhingweg.  He and Mularky would be at the top of my list.  They are risky assistant hires, but have been head coaches before.  If experience is valuable, these two have it.  The Chiefs have to find somebody that is going to have the ability to take them to the next level.  As organization they have talked about this for years, it’s finally time they actually go out and get there.

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Jeff Herr: Don't Get Too Excited...

Winning 19-14 over the Green Bay Packers—and dominating the game, really—the Chiefs looked impressive on Sunday.  Under interim head coach Romeo Crennel they looked more prepared than they have all year.  They played with more passion, and quite frankly looked the best they have all season.  This often happens to a team after an in-season coaching switch.  The players are so emotionally charged with the change they come out and play with renewed energy.

With the win, the Chiefs are still in contention for a playoff spot.  This division is still within reach.  The Chiefs need to win out and get a little bit of luck and it’s playoffs for the second year in a row.  A tumultuous season would have been saved and the hope for 2012 would be renewed.  
This feels all too familiar.  Going in to the 1993 season the Chiefs were coming off 3 straight years with 10+ wins and only a 1-3 playoff record to show for it.  The Chiefs were just a QB away, so they decided to make a trade for Joe Montana.  That year they went to the AFC championship game.  Montana remains the last Chiefs QB to win a playoff game.  

After Montana left in 1994, they saw no need for any sweeping changes since they were so close previously.  This gave way to the Steve Bono era.  Bono took the team to 13-3 and the #1 overall seed in the playoffs.  They lost in their first playoff game, went 9-7 the next year to miss the playoffs, and Bono was gone.

To fix the QB situation the Chiefs looked to Elvis Grbac.  Sure enough, in 1997 they went 13-3 and were the #1 overall seed again.  After not winning a playoff game the Chiefs went 7-9 the next year and Marty Schottenheimer left the organization.  Feeling the Chiefs were still on the cusp, Gunther Cunningham was installed as head coach, Grabac remained starting QB, and the status quo was maintained.  After two years and a 16-16 record Cunningham was dispatched as Chiefs head coach in favor of Dick Vermeil.

The last three years of the Vermeil era ended with the Chiefs at 30-18.  They had one of the best offenses in the NFL and only needed a mid-level defense to compete for the Super Bowl.  Enter Herm Edwards.  As a “defensive guru” Edwards was going to come in, keep the offense intact, shore up the defense and make the Chiefs a Super Bowl team.  

With very few changes made, the Edwards led Chiefs made the playoffs in 2006.  As a playoff team they tried to keep the magic going for the 2007 season and ended up 4-12.  That’s when the Chiefs actually decided to start building from the draft.  It was two years too late.

Finally, this brings us to what we’re going through right now.  Todd Haley and Chiefs went 10-6 and made the playoffs in 2010, we all know this.  They didn’t make many changes this coming year and were looking to compete for the division title yet again.  After starting 5-8 the Chiefs parted ways with Haley last week. 

This sums up almost the last 20 years of Chiefs football.  Each one of the above scenarios showed the Chiefs too timid to make the necessary changes to put the Chiefs over the hump.  As an organization, the Chiefs have all too often dragged their feet in their decision making process.

Currently, the Chiefs have a better chance of making the playoffs than it would seem at first glance.  If the Chiefs win out that puts them at 8-8.  A win over the Raiders next week all but takes Oakland out of the playoffs.  If the Chargers lose one game they are eliminated.  Then, if the Buffalo Bills beat the Broncos next week, the last game of the season in Denver is for the division title and a trip to the playoffs.

Any of this sound familiar?  With a trip to the playoffs it will seem like the Chiefs problems are minimal.  If they can win with this injury riddled team, then surely they will be able to compete for the Super Bowl next year, right?  The Chiefs don’t need to make any major changes, just get healthy and fill a couple small holes.

Getting in to the playoffs this year all but assures Romeo Crennel being named the full-time head coach.  If the offense operates as well as it did yesterday against the Packers then 2012 will surely start with Kyle Orton or Matt Cassel taking snaps under center.  

This will all be part of a mask hiding the fans from the realization that Crennel was 24-40 as a head coach in Cleveland and is now 64 years old.  Fans will gloss over Orton’s 34-33 record as a starter and career completion percentage lower than Matt Cassel’s.  

There is a certain amount of buzz kill to this argument, but it’s important for Chiefs fans to keep things in perspective.  This is a very pivotal point in the Chiefs history.  Inaction here and the Chiefs window could be closed sooner than expected.

In today’s NFL things can completely change course in as little as one year.  As the previous examples have shown, the Chiefs made mistakes before by holding on too long.  This level of inaction can cause a team more than just one year.  If the Chiefs keep the status quo at QB and don’t draft one this year they are committing to Orton or Cassel.  With a commitment to Crennel, the Chiefs would be saddling themselves with a coach who most likely would only be here for five years max.

Over the years the Chiefs have taken a very even keeled, measured approach to their decision making.  Generally, this is a good thing.  However, this also opens up many decisions to possible second guessing.  More often than not this leads to inaction over action.  The Chiefs need to take this season as the opportunity to make the decisions that will set them up long-term, not just get them to 8-8, winning one of the weakest divisions in football.

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Jeff Herr: Questions Abound for the Chiefs the Rest of the Way

At this point I believe it’s safe to say that nobody has any clue how this is going to go.  After the first two games of the season everybody knew the Chiefs were going to be awful.  After seven games everybody knew the Chiefs were legitimate division contenders.  After 11 games everybody knew that the Chiefs were out of it for the year and Head Coach Todd Haley was likely set to be fired.  After yesterday, I don’t think anybody knows where this team is going. 

A hard fought victory over the Bears has given the Chiefs some hope in this dismal season.  True, Chicago was without starting QB Jay Cutler and Matt Forte got hurt early in the game.  However, the Bears were still a team right in the thick of the playoff hunt in the NFC and with a legitimate top tier defense.  As it turned out, the Chiefs were the one’s showing that they may also have a top tier defense.  Shutting down the beleaguered Chicago offense the Chiefs, with the help of a Hail Mary to end the first half, were able to come away with a much needed victory.

When the Chiefs had their four game winning streak earlier in the year, it came against teams like the Chicago team from Sunday.  These teams were hampered by injuries and in a difficult spot.  Perhaps if the Chiefs played those four teams today, the results might be different.  The Chiefs may have encountered another stroke of luck against the Bears.

On the other hand, the Chiefs could be showing how they are taking one step closer to being an elite defense in the NFL.  The Dolphins and Broncos games may have been the low point of the season defensively.  Both those teams made the Chiefs D look like it was awful and possibly beyond help.  Since those games, Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel has been making adjustment after adjustment and it’s paying off on the field.

The Chiefs stuck with New England for the first half until they got worn down by the Pats offense.  Being worn down by Tom Brady and company through four quarters is not unique to Kansas City.  Then the Chiefs held the Steelers to only 13 points and less than 300 yards of offense.  Yesterday was yet another step closer to becoming a top defense.  While the Bears were injury stricken, the Chiefs weren’t exactly offensive juggernauts themselves.  After extending their lead to 7 points in the third quarter the Chiefs relied almost solely on their defense.  The D came through and basically won the game itself by shutting down the Bears offense.

What was thought to be the biggest weakness early in the season, now appears to be the biggest, if not only, strength of this team.  There are few who could have seen this coming going in to the 4th quarter of the season.  Yet, here we are. 

As the Chiefs look toward closing out 2011, we have to wonder what we will know when this season’s over.  When a season spirals out of control as this one did, there are some opportunities to be had.  With so many injuries there are opportunities for other players to step up.  Unfortunately, the Chiefs are yet to use this season to that end.  Young players like Jerrell Powe, Jalil Brown, and Rodney Hudson have not been used very much.  Kelly Gregg and Casey Weigmann are nearing retirement.  Brandon Carr still has not signed a contract and is playing as a restricted free agent.  This is the perfect scenario to find out what we have to replace these players, if need be.  The Chiefs have chosen not to pursue this avenue.

In fact, the Chiefs have remained “in it” just enough to justify selling out everything to try to win.  Todd Haley knows that he might have to make the playoffs to save his job.  Scott Pioli knows that, even though he’d probably like to fire Haley, it would grant him favor with the fans if they made the playoffs.  There is just enough motivation that they must do whatever is within their power to win.  That includes signing Kyle Orton, keeping players like Powe inactive and starting Tyler Palko due to this familiarity with the system.

With four games left in the season, the Chiefs trail both the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos who are both 7-5.  In the Chiefs final four games, they play both the Broncos and the Raiders.  All three teams sit at 2-2 in the division.  If the Raiders and Broncos go 1-3 the rest of the way, and the Chiefs go 3-1 beating both Denver and Oakland, then it’s the playoffs for the Chiefs.  After all they’ve been through it’s just that simple, go 3-1 and you’ve done just about all you can to make the playoffs.

For the sake of this argument, let’s say that’s exactly what happens.  The Chiefs wind up 8-8, division champions, and host a playoff game again.  They will most likely host the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals, or the New York Jets.  In all likelihood, any one of those teams is going to dispatch the Chiefs in the first round (even though in this scenario the Chiefs would have previously beaten the Jets). 

At this point, 17 games (if we’re counting the playoff game) will have been played and we will have learned incredibly little about this team.  With the lack of knowledge they would have, the Chiefs would then be able to convince themselves that the status quo is acceptable.  If they can make the playoffs and win the division with this team, then who’s to say when everyone returns healthy they won’t be Super Bowl bound?  All they need is just another player or two from the draft or free agency and that will make all the difference.  It will feel like the Carl Peterson era all over again.

This is not to say that the Chiefs should lose.  I will never stand for such a thing.  “Suck for Luck” was never something I was about supporting.  What I’m simply saying is that even if all the events unfold in this uber-lucky manner, nobody will know any more about the Chiefs than we did before the season started.  With the exception of the emergence of Justin Houston, we are no better off.  The viability of Hudson, Powe, Brown, and other young players is still in question going in to 2012.  The depth issue will still remain going forward.

This season could have provided lots of answers for where this organization is headed.  Instead, we are left not knowing anything more at this point than we did at the end of the 2010 season.  This team has holes to fill and it’s anybody’s guess as to when they will be addressed.


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Jeff Herr: What To Be Thankful For As a Chiefs Fan

With the tough loss to the Steelers last night putting the Chiefs at 4-7 on the year, there is plenty of negativity to go around.  That being the case, I’m going to go a different route and give some things Chiefs fans should be thankful for.  After all, this seems appropriate based on the holiday weekend we all just enjoyed.

From a historical perspective there are plenty of things to be thankful for.  First and foremost, I am thankful the Chiefs have won a Super Bowl.  I know we live in a “what have you done for me lately” society and the Super Bowl victory was over 40 years ago.  However, plenty of other fanbases would gladly take the Chiefs situation in this regard.  Ask fans in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Jacksonville, San Diego, Houston, Tennessee, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Carolina, Atlanta, Detroit, Minnesota, Arizona, and Seattle if they would like just one Super Bowl victory, their answer is going to most likely be yes.  

Fans should also be thankful that we have an owner who brought the team to Kansas City and is committed to keeping it here.  Cities like Las Angeles, Orlando, and Memphis among others would all love a football team.  The Chiefs have one that is here for the foreseeable future.  Most of the fanbase has taken it for granted because it has been here so long, but it very well couldn’t be and we should all be thankful the team remains in our fair city.

On to the current state of this team and what there is to be thankful for.  Fans should all be thankful that the current team we have is not who we start next year with.  By that I mean we still have premiere players on this team.  The Chiefs have elite players on both sides of the ball as well as solid players that have barely seen any time this year because of injuries.  With these players in the game, this season takes a bit of a different turn.

Kansas City fans should be thankful that the Chiefs have roughly $27M in cap space.  Chiefs fans have cried out this year about why the team hasn’t spent more money in the offseason.  The depth issue is something that went unaddressed and the Chiefs are now seeing why that’s a problem.  The Chiefs need to fix their depth issue in the offseason but at least they have money to do it.  They would be in a much worse position if they had this team with no extra money to spend.  It remains to be seen whether the Chiefs will spend more in 2012, but at least they have the resources if they choose to do so.

Chiefs fans should be thankful for the elite players on this team.  Jamaal Charles is a top 5 running back, and even if he only comes back at 85%, still remains a top 10 running back.  Tamba Hali is an elite pass rusher.  Hali has seven sacks on the season and is consistently able to get pressure on the QB and disrupt the play.  Eric Berry is an elite safety.  As a rookie Berry was voted a top 100 player in the NFL by his peers.  It’s clear to everyone that he is going to be a superstar in this league.  We will be able to see Berry grow as a player and become a lynchpin of this defense for years to come.  Brandon Flowers might not be quite elite but is a top tier cornerback.  He has lapses and gets beat, but such is the nature of the position.  Thirty two other teams would jump at the chance to have Flowers start for them.  

This may seem like a small issue, but the Chiefs have a team full of players you can root for.  They might be somewhat devoid of talent as of this moment, but they are players you can get behind.  The Chiefs haven’t had an off-field incident of note since Larry Johnson tweeted his last words in Kansas City.  Dwayne Bowe made some suspect comments but that is the worst we have seen.  Whether they like it or not, these players are role models for young children and people of the KC community.  Players like Hali, Flowers, and Berry among others are players and human beings that Kansas City fans can easily cheer for.  

Most importantly, Chiefs fans should be thankful for each other.  Kansas City is home to one of the most dedicated fanbases in the country.  The Chiefs have teetered on the plane of mediocrity for the last 20 years and this town still gets out and gets behind their team.  As a city KC continues to look through the football world with red, Chiefs colored glasses.  The fans show up each and every week to support this team.  The weather in this town can get rough, the Chiefs can be playing poorly, but more often than not fans come out and support.  Few other cities would put up with what fans have in this city for the last 20 years and still turn out in droves.

This is not to say that we should be positive about the Chiefs right now overall.  The organization has issues which come as no surprise to anybody.  There is a lot of work to be done.  Sweeping changes will have to be made not only with the team but with the direction of this franchise.  No longer should mediocrity be acceptable to anybody involved, especially the fans.  Fans should maintain pressure on this organization to fix the issues it has.  Until that happens this is simply a reminder that there are things that can make this fanbase optimistic about this organization.  There are reasons to believe that with the right moves this team could be something special, and we can all be thankful for that.

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Jeff Herr: It Wasn’t Supposed to Be Like This

This is not how it was all supposed to go down.  When Scot Pioli came to the Chiefs in 2009 he was supposed to be creating “New England West.”  Not to say that Pioli wasn’t going to create his own legend here in Kansas City, rather, he was supposed to turn the Chiefs into perennial Super Bowl contenders.  The next time the Chiefs and the Patriots were going to meet it was going to be the two class organizations of the AFC going at it.  Instead, we have tonight’s matchup of the class of the AFC Patriots versus the 4-5 Chiefs whose season is hanging by a thread.

Pioli’s first couples of moves as General Manager made it look like the team was going to be headed in the direction of the Patriots.  He picked Todd Haley as the head coach who came from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, just like Bill Belichick in New England.  He traded for Matt Cassel to be the franchise QB.  Cassel was a late round selection by the Patriots and was thought to be an undervalued commodity, just as Tom Brady was.  Tyson Jackson was drafted with Pioli’s first draft choice as general manager, and was supposed to be the Kansas City version of Richard Seymour.  These were all cornerstones of the Patriots run and were supposed to be the same for the Chiefs.

Here we are three years later and things haven’t exactly worked to plan.  Cassel remains a divisive figure at best.  The relationship between Pioli and Haley can only be described as contentious. Tyson Jackson looks to be an average player, if not an all out bust.

The Chiefs have been ravaged by injuries this year.  Yet, even without those injuries would there be much hope for this game tonight?  The Chiefs are a rudderless ship at this point.  They have no identity.  The “Patriot Way” isn’t working here.  There’s the obvious reason that we don’t have Tom Brady in KC, but there’s more to it than that. 

There is one distinct difference between the “Patriot Way” and what has transpired during Pioli’s tenure.  As an identity the “Patriot Way” is not something they had in mind when Pioli and Belichick arrived in New England.  They had a philosophy they were trying to implement, but the ultimate identity developed on its own.    

When the Pioli regime started in KC, they proclaimed they were going to build a franchise that will churn out perennial contenders like the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Patriots.  The problem is they ascribed a predetermined identity to a team that did not have one.  While in some circles that would seem like what a general manager should do, I happen to disagree.  A general manager is there to facilitate and to ensure continuity.  The GM should facilitate an identity that develops on its own.  Once developed the GM just has to make sure it continues.  That is not the approach Pioli has taken.

While at New England, the Patriots took on a life of their own.  They made shrewd moves with their personnel and with their coaching staff.  No one player was above the team.  That developed because the players and coaching staff bought into their philosophy.  Eventually, that became the identity that later was turned into the “Patriot Way.”

Deion Branch was a Super Bowl MVP and the Patriots let him walk out the door.  He never achieved such success again.  Ty Law was an all-pro and he was allowed to leave the team without much fuss.  Law’s success after New England was short lived (including a two-year stop in KC).  These players, though talented, were put in place to succeed by the Patriots.  Belichick knew that they were replaceable because they possessed skill sets that could be found in others.  With the exception of Tom Brady, nobody on the Patriots championship teams possessed out of this world skills.  Rather, they were all put in position to succeed.

The Chiefs have tried to circumvent this building of their identity.  They have tried to enforce their identity upon these players.  Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson probably aren’t cut out for a 3-4, but they’re playing it anyway.  Matt Cassel is not Tom Brady, but the Chiefs are paying and treating him like he is.  Jamaal Charles may be the best running back in the league (before his injury, anyway), but Thomas Jones started over him for an entire season. 

Those are all examples of the Chiefs setting a tone and enforcing an identity the players didn’t necessarily agree with and might not be suited for.  Thus, in year 3 of the Pioli-Haley regime we have wound up where we’re at today. 

When the Chiefs look across the sideline at their opponent they will see the team that they want to be.  What they won’t see are the reasons why there is such a gap between the two organizations.  There is no set time table to building a franchise but I don’t believe I’m alone when I say that most probably thought the Chiefs would be closer than they currently are.

While the front line of the Chiefs is great with budding stars like Charles, Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry, and others. There is still much work to do.  Over the last three years the Chiefs have been near the bottom in salary cap spending.  While they have done a good job signing the players that were already here, they have sorely neglected getting this team the depth they need.  Injuries have been a popular excuse for the Chiefs struggles in 2011.  Yet, we all saw the 2010 Green Bay Packers have near historic amount of injuries and still win the Super Bowl.  The next guy stepped up and they didn’t miss a beat.

Kansas City lacks that depth right now and it’s a large reason why the Chiefs are farther than they should be after three years in the Pioli regime. Trying to force feed an identity and proving they are smarter than the rest of the league has led the Chiefs to be undermanned going into one of the hardest five game stretches in recent memory.

Going in to 2011 that wasn’t supposed to be the storyline for tonight’s game.  This was supposed to be master versus pupil, Belichick vs. Pioli, Cassel vs. Brady, etc.  This was supposed to be two teams looking for division championships and playoff spots.  Instead, we are treated to an inferior Chiefs squad going up against the model organization it’s striving to be. 

This was definitely not the way it was supposed to be.

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Jeff Herr: Celebrating Buck's 100th

Buck O’Neil is a special man here in Kansas City.  Simply saying the word “Buck” makes most people think of this great man.  Buck is a legend in every sense of the word.  Were he still alive the legendary Negro League Baseball player (and ambassador for all of baseball) would be turning 100 years old on November 13.  In honor of this occasion the Negro League Baseball Museum will be holding a few special events in the coming weekend.  

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Kendrick the President of the Negro League Baseball Museum through an interview on the Royalman Report podcast.  Kendrick started working for the museum, as a volunteer in 1991 and 20 years later is the president.  Working hand in hand with Buck for many years Kendrick has a wealth of knowledge and stories about the man himself.

Coming in studio to join the crew, Kendrick was able to recount many great memories through his experiences with Buck and the museum.  Kendrick was able to recount with remarkable accuracy the great stories that give us an idea about this piece of baseball history and American culture.  As Kendrick himself put it the Negro League Baseball museum shows us “America at its worst, and America at its triumphant best.”
I wasn’t lucky enough to have met Buck O’Neil in person.  However, I was lucky enough to be alive to see the greatness he brought to this game. 

My favorite memory of Buck was from when I was young.  I attended a Royals game with my father.  This was not a special Negro League memorial game.  This was not a special game to honor Buck O’Neil either.  This was just a normal summer game.  Buck was sitting in what is now known as the “Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat,” and was shown on the jumbotron.  The game literally had to be stopped.  Just from showing Buck on the jumbotron the entire stadium rose to their feet in thunderous applause.  

This was one of the most amazing moments I have ever seen in sports.  To see the effect one man can have on so many was truly a special moment.  I can live out the rest of my days and highly doubt I will ever see another man affect any sport the way Buck O’Neil did.

You get the feeling for just how special of a person Buck was when you see someone like Kendrick speak of him.  Remembering some of the great memories he had of buck Kendrick’s face lights up like a kid on Christmas.  Asking Kendrick to recount the Cool Papa Bell story or any other number of moments brings an incredibly large smile across his face.  

It’s quite the experience to hear Kendrick recount the stories of the early days of the Negro League Museum.  The museum wasn’t always as we know it today.  The original iteration of the museum started out as a simple office.  In order to keep it up and running Buck and other Negro League alumni would take turns playing the monthly rent.  Without this dedication the museum most certainly wouldn’t have survived.

This dedication was necessary so that we all could learn about this part of Kansas City and America’s history.  It is through all this dedication that we now know that players had to eat cheese and crackers for dinner on their bus after selling out stadiums, because establishments in those cities would not serve them.  As Kendrick pointed out, these were men who “just wanted to play ball.”

Play ball is just what they did.  We forget how all these talented players didn’t go up against the giants of the game that we love.  Babe Ruth never had to hit against Satchel Page.  Ty Cobb never had to try to put a fastball past Josh Gibson.  Kendrick can recount the great Pittsburgh team of the 1930’s in which Page, Gibson and others made a team that would have contended in any league or era.  These are men that would have been larger than life in today’s game, but were only an afterthought in their time.  The Negro League museum makes sure that they don’t remain an afterthought.  

Like most people, I have probably taken the Negro League Museum for granted due to its proximity.  That said, I have been there and it truly is an amazing place.  Some of the memorabilia in there would send chills down any baseball fans spine.  The life-size replica baseball diamond in particular is one such great exhibit.

It is real easy these days to forget our past.  With the 24 hours news cycle and constant feed of information on Twitter, Facebook, and the like, it’s easy to only look forward.  Yet, it is our responsibility to look back at our past.  We need to learn from our past and use that knowledge to help us going forward.  The point of the Negro League Museum isn’t to look back at all the wrong that was going on at the time; it’s to look at the triumphant spirit that came out of all of that.

Kendrick told one story that resonated greatly about the legend of Buck O’Neil.  When the Baseball Hall of Fame was looking at a list of 35 players from the Negro League’s to possibly be inducted, Buck was expected to be selected.  Unfortunately, Buck didn’t make the cut.  In total 17 players were chosen, but Buck O’Neil was not one of them.  When Kendrick told Buck the news he slammed his fist on his desk.  This was not done is despair or anger, but in jubilation.  17 of Buck’s friends and fellow players had gotten such a great honor.  It didn’t matter that he was not selected; this was an event to be celebrated.

Such a story encapsulates Buck and his exuberance for life and the sport he loved.  Buck’s reaction to that news and the Negro League Museum itself are reminders that even through adversity greatness will shine through.  Trials abound in li