Monday, December 20, 2010

The Damned Rovers?

Cindy and I watched the movie "The Damned United" this weekend and I couldn't help but draw an analogy between the topic of the movie -- Brian Clough's brief, unsuccessful reign as manager of Leeds United in 1974 -- and the current situation that my Blackburn Rovers find themselves in.

To make a long story short, Clough was a young, brash, self-confident manger in England who led lowly Derby (that's pronounced "Darby" for all you American readers) County from the depths of the second division to the championship of Division One in England (what is now called the Premier League) in two short years. Along the way he first admired and then came to loathe the manager of Leeds United, Don Revie, who was an "old school" manger (read: his players played hard, arguably dirty, soccer).

Clough had a habit of buying the rights to players without the approval of the Chairman of Derby and, at least according the to admittedly fictionalized movie account depicted in The Damned United, became more arrogant in his dealings with the Chairman after his initial success. Ultimately, he submitted his resignation to the Board in an attempted power play to leverage his running of the club without the Chairman's involvement. Unfortunately for him, the resignation was accepted.

After a brief stint at a lower division club in Brighton, Clough was offered the manager's position at Leeds. Revie had accepted the job as England's manager and the club targeted Clough as his replacement.
Clough's reign at Leeds lasted exactly 44 days, but during that time he managed to alienate its board, the media, Revie, and most importantly his players. Whether Clough was right or not (and the movie suggests that he was) it was hardly the way to start a relationship when he supposedly told his players (who had won the first division championship in 1973-74, the year before Clough led Derby to the title, and the FA Cup the year before that) that they could "all throw [their] medals in the bin because they were not fairly won."

Brian Clough leading Leeds onto the pitch before the 1974 FA Charity Shield match. 

Predictably, the players did not play hard for Clough and he was ousted after less than a month and a half in charge.

The comparison to Blackburn is that this week its new owners sacked their manager, Sam Allardyce. While many Rovers fans were not admirers of Allardyce, they were almost unanimously surprised by his firing since Rovers were mid-table at the time -- a standing about as good as most fans expect given the club's limited resources. There was talk of a protest by fans before the match this past Saturday against West Ham and many have speculated that the firing, the reasons given for it (essentially, lack of ambition and an unattractive style of play), and the expectations that the club's new owners have all demonstrate that they are naive at best and will endanger the club's Premier League life at worst.

I suspect that just as Clough failed to appreciate how his words and attitude would affects his new players at Leeds and their desire to play well for him, so too Allardyce may have overestimated the weight his belief in his own managerial style and abilities would have with Rovers' new owners when compared to how his message was delivered.

Sam Allardyce, cutting a somewhat less dashing figure than Clough.

Allardyce, although admittedly somewhat successful in a previous managerial stint at Bolton and in keeping Rovers afloat, seems (inordinately) impressed with his own managerial ability, which to the casual observer is exclusively comprised of one-note football built around long balls and set pieces. To his credit, his players did seem to genuinely like playing for him. But the players weren't footing the bill.

This is pure, unsupported conjecture on my part, but one can easily imagine Allardyce communicating with his new bosses in a manner that was both self-congratulatory and condescending in informing them of his previous work, what their priorities should be (almost exclusively Premier League survival), and how they should go about achieving them (leaving him alone and letting him manage the club the way he wanted to).

Like Clough, Allardyce entered a new situation in his job and probably thought that the way he had handled such a relationship in the past would be good enough -- particularly since it was his way. You should always consider before speaking to any audience not only the message but how it ought to be conveyed. Particularly if your job is on the line. And if you're a manager, it always is, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Guess It's Unavoidable

I've been avoiding my impulse to comment on the whole South Charleston-Hurricane-Brooke-SSAC-Judge Webster-Supreme Court brouhaha for a number of reasons. I serve on the SSAC's Soccer Committee (possible conflict). I know South Charleston's defensive coordinator (possible conflict). My wife Cindy is an employee of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (you get the idea). I have met and like Judge Webster and the players' counsel, Ben Salango. One of the counsel for Brooke County is my former law school roommate. The conflicts abound.

And yet, I have to weigh in on the issue of whether the SSAC and the Supreme Court got it right, don't I? Isn't this blog supposed to be about coaching and the law? When the two intersect, as they so clearly did here, I would be remiss if I didn't throw in my two cents' worth.

So here it is. The Supreme Court got it right. And South Charleston High has only its coaches and administration to blame if it doesn't like the result.

Like it or not, the SSAC has to have the ability and the right to serve as the ultimate arbiter of decisions regarding eligibility and suspensions. The Supreme Court made it very clear in the O.J. Mayo case just three years ago that it was going to give the SSAC wide latitude in its governance of high school sports. Whether you agree with all, most, or none of its decisions, the SSAC can't run high school sports (and, by extension, its referees can't govern and control contests) if it is subject to being second-guessed by a litigant or a court whenever it makes a decision.

As for the SSAC's swift action in declaring the semi-final between Brooke and South Charleston forfeited, you had to see that coming.  I'm sure South Charleston understood that if it played the suspended players and the court's decision ultimately went against them, the SSAC would make them forfeit the game.

I can't for the life of me understand the South Charleston head coach's comments blaming the SSAC and particularly the Brooke County Board of Education for the decision. He must have known that playing the four suspended players could (and likely would) result in the forfeiture of the game. How can you blame Brooke County for making sure that the correct decision was made before the Championship game took place?

South Charleston's coach and administration had three clear choices: (1) discipline the players for their part in the brawl (which was never denied in any of the court proceedings); (2) impose no discipline but hold them out of the Brooke game pending a final resolution of the court case; (3) put the players in the game despite the suspensions and take their chances that the players would prevail before the Supreme Court.

That they chose option three speaks volumes for what they thought was important (winning, at any cost) and what they thought the chances of winning were without the players (zilch).

The Eagles made their nest, no one else. Now they can lie in it all winter long.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Blah, blah, blah

So for some reason last Saturday night I continually subjected myself to the inane musings of three different commentators on three different college football games. And since misery loves company I feel the need to inflict some of the pain on my readers as well.

Brent Musburger, Matt Millen, and Bob Davie were the guilty parties this weekend, but by no means are they the only sinners when it comes to filling our ears with useless trivia, incorrect information, statements of the obvious, or the repeated utterance of all three. Instead of the old adage "those who can do, do, those that can't, teach" (with which I do not agree, by the way) I firmly believe that these days "those that can do, do, and those that can't talk about it endlessly and for some inexplicable reason are paid to do it."

Each of the three guilty parties, though, is a poster boy for his own particular brand of inanity. Musburger is a know-it-all-who-is-mostly-wrong whose status as a semi-iconic broadcaster is a constant source of befuddlement for me. He always tries to "capture the moment" through some over-the-top description rather than allowing the viewer (or listener in his case) to reach his or her own conclusion, or even enjoy the moment in some way other than that which Brent tells you to. Brent's babbling is so predictable, there's even a hilarious drinking game in his honor.

Davie insists on saying the same thing over and over and over. During the South Florida v. UConn game I must have heard him say on at least five different occasions (and keep in mind I was switching between that game and the Florida State-Virginia Tech and Oklahoma-Nebraska games too) about how "similar" UConn and South Florida were and then supposedly backing it up with meaningless statistics ("see!  told you! they both have 163 total yards through three quarters!!!"). We got the point the first time Bob.  And the second. And the third . . .

The winner in the race for my opprobrium award, however is Millen. I admit it stems at least in part from his miserable tenure as the General Manager of the Detroit Lions, something from which they still have not recovered two seasons after his much belated departure. Really, how much of an expert can a guy be who drafts a wide receiver two consecutive years when his team's defense is the worst in the League?

Millen's forte in the booth is, not surprisingly, stating the obvious. "They could really use a first down here" on third and long.  Or short. "They need a touchdown here" when a team is down by 21 with five minutes to go. Thanks for that, Matt. We never would have figured it out without you.

There are some good broadcasters doing football games (Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth are very good on Sunday Night Football, and as much as it pains me to say it, Kirk Herbstreit is funny and insightful), but with the bowl season upon us, I plan to keep a finger on the mute button or else my television set may not last until January 11.