By Gregg Easterbrook
Special to Page 2

Yes! Yes! Wayne Huizenga, hire Mike Shula! Not only is Shula a fine coach and an admirable person -- because Shula has integrity, he didn't fit in at the University of Alabama Athletic Department -- it would just be so amazingly cool if the Dolphins and Tide swapped coaches. Surely Miami would come out ahead. Not only would Dolphins fans be delighted to see the Shula aura return, but all of America would root for Mike Shula, a man of honor, to do better at Miami than that weasel Little Nicky does at Alabama.

Speaking of Little Nicky, Burrill Strong of Chelsea, Mich. writes, "Concerning Saban's using e-mail to inform his players that he was leaving, I thought of a story Lloyd Carr told at the memorial service for Bo Schembechler. Carr was talking about the time Bo received a lucrative offer from Texas A&M, and asked his assistants what they thought. His staff's response was divided; some believed he should take the money. With a tear in his eye and with his voice cracking, Bo said, 'Yes, but you don't have to tell those players that you're leaving.' That, I think, is an example of great character in a coach." Little Nicky solved the problem by refusing to look his players in the eye and tell them. Miami Dolphins: You just unloaded a coach who lacks character, and eventually this will be seen as a huge break for the Dolphins franchise. Replace the weasel with the genuine article -- a Shula.

Bo Schembechler
AP Photo/Reed Saxon
This man stayed true to his school.

Michael Mandelbaum of Berkeley, Calif., author of the excellent book "The Meaning of Sports" -- I commend this book to all sports enthusiasts -- takes issue with my saying that NFL coaches are now too highly paid and the subject of too much fascination: "Football is a sequential-collective game. Because it is collective -- everybody acts at once -- it must be coordinated. Because it is sequential -- things happen one play at a time rather than continuously -- it can be coordinated from without, which is what the coach does. Add to that the fact that there are more players in football than in the other two games, and that the coach chooses them, and you get someone who ordinarily has a greater impact on the outcome of a game and a season than any individual player. So it is rational to pay coaches more than players get, especially when there is a salary cap for players but not for coaches."

Jason Kaifesh of Burbank, Calif. reports, "I agree with the annoyance of having to watch that Wendy's $2.99 meal commercial over and over and over and over. But what really confuses me about the spot is -- why are they eating lunch in a library?" Marion, Madam Librarian, surely would not have allowed value meals to be eaten in the River City Public Library!

Brian Barrett of Chicago proffers, "Not to go against the grain and actually defend Marty Schottenheimer's coaching, but his decision to review the Marlon McCree fumble might not have been a bad one. Your column frequently warns of the one-two punch that occurs when a team quickly scores a touchdown or makes a big play immediately following an opponent's turnover. Maybe Marty was keeping that in mind when he decided to challenge the play. The Chargers' defense had been on the field for the majority of the second half and had just stopped a potential game-tying drive with a big interception on fourth down. Once McCree fumbled and gave the Patriots the ball back, it would not have been an indefensible action for San Diego to have called a timeout to allow the Chargers' defense to regroup emotionally. Had Marty called a regular timeout, it would have lasted one minute. By challenging the play, even if the challenge was doomed to be unsuccessful, Marty essentially called a five-minute timeout. Sometimes I wonder why more coaches don't challenge trivial things at key junctures just to generate an extra-long timeout in which their players can catch their breath and regroup."

Librarian
AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek
If you don't bring your lunch into our library, we won't bring our books into your Wendy's.

Brian Bohn of Taipei, Taiwan offers a simpler explanation for the red handkerchief: "Marty is the only head coach in the NFL who does not wear a headset. In this case, he apparently was not getting feedback from the coaches box upstairs, and instead based his challenge decision on what was seen on the Jumbotron. Philip Rivers thought he saw McCree bobble the ball after the interception, and immediately ran over to Schottenheimer and relayed his opinion, which inspired the somewhat reflexive flag toss." Wade Phillips, the Chargers' defensive coordinator -- the one who called the big blitz when San Diego seemed to have New England stopped at third-and-10, allowing the 49-yard completion that put the Pats in range for the winning kick -- did not wear a headset when he was head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Chargers, it's the 21st century, improve your communication technology! Bill Belichick wears a headset; case closed.

I wrote that McCree should simply have swatted down the fourth-down pass that he intercepted instead, then fumbled back. Natalie Belsen of Burlington, Vt. says, "But isn't it all about stats? The bonus offers received by defensive backs are heavily influenced by interception stats. Defensive backs will do anything for a pick stat, even if it hurts the team." Chris Sherry of Denver adds that some third-down passes should not be picked off either: "Score 12-6, the Ravens had just kicked a field goal and had momentum. The Colts faced third-and-17 from their own 12 in a game where the team with the best field position would likely win. Manning fades back from inside the 5 and chucks the ball as far as he can. Instead of batting the pass away, Ed Reed intercepts at the Baltimore 39 and steps out of bounds. Had Reed batted the ball down, the Colts would have been punting from their own end zone and the Ravens would have likely gotten the ball on the Colts side of the field. Reed was falling down when he made the pick, so he knew he couldn't get a return." But he did get a stat! I agree that in cases like this, the defender should slap the ball down. But it's not realistic to think all this can go through a safety's head. "Fourth down, knock it down!" is a simple, coachable rule. "Third-and-17, knock it down if you're falling sideways" is not a coachable concept.

Recently TMQ had an item on the sad fact that, from the standpoint of health care, dogs in the United States live better than millions of people in developing nations. Many readers including Nadia Trossen of Pasadena, Calif. pointed out this don't-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry passage from last week's New York Times article about Internet services that make it convenient for the rich to hire private jets: "James Gay, a resident of Fredericksburg, Va., owns retail and real estate businesses and has used private jets twice in the last year when flying with Suzie, his 12-year-old mutt, so she can avoid the conditions imposed on pets who fly on commercial airlines. Mr. Gay said that by booking online through OneSky, he typically spent about $21,500 for each leg of a cross-country trip, which, he said, was considerably less expensive than the cost of a flight booked through a fractional ownership program [a type of jet service]. 'Even though I was doing it for the dog, I tried to do it so the cost was reasonable in my head,' Mr. Gay said. 'This was a great value.'" So $43,000 is spent so that Suzie can sit on her owner's lap on a cross-country flight, rather than in a box in the heated, pressurized hold. That amount of money could transform the lives of dozens of African villagers.

Veronica Burgdorff of Berthoud, Colo., writes, "You made mention of the Broncos' firing of their defensive coordinator, Larry Coyer, noting this same defensive coordinator guided Denver's defense to no touchdowns allowed in the first 11 quarters of the season. The overall decline of Denver's defense began right after you extolled it in an October TMQ for being 'like a high-school defense' -- basic, without a lot of blitzing packages. Lo and behold, not too long after that column posted I noticed a definite shift in Denver's defensive scheme -- more blitzing, and hence, more touchdowns allowed. Did Coyer read Tuesday Morning Quarterback and feel embarrassed to be so exposed as not part of modern blitz mania? Maybe Coyer is to blame for changing his scheme in midcourse."

Saad Saeed writes, "Being from Pakistan, the item this week that caught my eye was your mention of mango ice cream's advent in the West. When I was a little kid, we used to have buckets of mango ice cream delivered to our home in the summer and we'd happily relish the stuff for days. Anyway, what I was curious about was what in the world you were doing living in Pakistan." My wife is a U.S. diplomat, and we've lived in various places including Lahore, the ancient Punjabi capital. When I was there the best ice cream in Lahore was at the Carvel, a hangout of the city's well-off, since the average person could not afford ice cream. The flying saucers at the Lahore Carvel of the late 1980s tasted better than anything you could get in Hartsdale, N.Y., home of Carvel. Apparently today Carvel has distant locations only in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Two rules issues. First, Dick Moncure of Alexandria, Va. writes, "One of your readers suggested that all Dallas Cowboys should have deliberately held on the botched field goal snap at the end of the Seattle playoff game -- allowing Tony Romo to score an easier touchdown, which would then force Seattle to accept the penalty, which would then give Dallas another field goal attempt. Am I wrong, or isn't there now some arcane rule that forbids a team at the goal line in the last two minutes benefiting from a deliberate foul? If I were the referee, I'd call it flagrant unsportsmanlike conduct and just take the ball away from them." I scanned the rulebook, and the only specific ban on deliberate fouls I found says that the defense, if at its own goal line, cannot commit repeated deliberate fouls. (If the opponent is on your 1-yard line and a receiver is open, coaches teach deliberate pass interference, since that only moves the ball to the half-yard line. The next deliberate interference doesn't move the ball at all. The third deliberate interference may result in an awarded touchdown.) The rules do have a broadly worded clause saying the referee can impose any outcome in the case of a "palpably unfair act." Whether everyone deliberately holding to force the defense to accept the penalty is "palpably unfair" would be a matter for the referee's judgment. Fortunately the NFL rules were not in use at Bedford Junior High School in Bedford, Texas, since John Martin of Dallas reports, "Our coaches did plan for just this contingency. If a bad snap or placement occurred on a PAT or field goal, the holder and kicker were supposed to scream 'FIRE!' to let the linemen know to mug the closest defender in hopes of drawing an accepted penalty for a re-kick."

Finally I took Deion Branch to task for simply standing out of bounds, doing nothing, as Matt Hasselbeck scrambled for his life on Seattle's final offensive snap against Chicago. Many readers including Joe Feeney of Iowa City, Iowa countered, "Branch did the correct thing. If he steps out of bounds, he cannot be the first player to touch the ball. So had he come back in, and had Hasselbeck thrown him the ball, it would've been illegal touching and a penalty. He cannot come back in and re-establish himself like a player does when downing a punt. I remember watching that replay and thinking how smart Branch was to stay out of bounds in hopes his quarterback could find an eligible target." Branch still should have hustled back in, but my item on this point was unclear. Seattle had third-and-2 in overtime; Hasselbeck ended up throwing the ball away; the Seahawks punted, and Chicago scored on the next possession to win. Suppose Branch had come back in and caught the pass -- the Bears would have taken the penalty, giving Seattle third-and-7 and another chance.

In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse" and other books. He is also a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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