A Fan’s Notes from the Eleventh Week of the NFL Regular Season.
The road to the Super Bowl is long, winding through 17 weeks of the regular season (R), and then a narrowed field navigates a month-long playoff tournament. Every team imagines they are on their way to Houston, host to this year’s Super Bowl . . .
Prescott Keeps Making Clutch Plays
The Dallas Cowboys solidified their position as the best team in the NFL this season with an authoritative come-from-behind 27-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. I’ve come to look forward to their games as a bright spot in my week, largely because of the play and style of quarterback Dak Prescott.
Prescott had another phenomenal game (not just for a rookie, either), throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. Time after time, when Dallas needed to keep a drive going, Prescott took advantage of tremendous offensive-line play and found the open receiver. At one time, he had 11 straight completions. What stood out most to me, though, was this telling detail: late in the game, the TV coverage showed Prescott on the sideline, happily draining a paper cup of water after leading a scoring drive. He threw his crumpled-up cup at the trash barrel and missed–and humbly got up, picked it up off the ground and dropped it in the trash. The rookie just seems to be doing everything right, and his team is now 9-1, alone atop the league as far as record.
Don’t Blame the Refs, Blame the Buffoon!
The Houston Texans traveled to Mexico City to take on the Oakland Raiders in a likely play-off preview game. The Texans played pretty well, but lost 27-20, and some Houston fans want to blame the referees. Certainly, there were some bad calls (as the NFL continues to claim it doesn’t need full-time officials while every week seems to feature a game or two with very obvious bad calls), especially in spotting the forward progress of the
ball on running plays. None of those calls decided the outcome of the game, while the continued Buffoonery of Coach Bill O’Brien probably did (the staff of the superb Battle Red Blog seemed to agree). When he decided to punt with about three minutes left in the fourth quarter, down by 7, he probably gave up the game, but I want to concentrate on what I see as his continuing failing–as a teacher.
I’ve worked as a teacher, in high school and in college, to some degree or another for over two decades, and I learned something basic about teaching and learning: if a teacher writes a test and more than half the students fail the test, the teacher really failed. I feel that way about “Big Brain Bill” O’Brien’s first priority as a head coach, teaching his “system” to his team. There’s been a lot of talk about how complicated the Texans’ offense is, and ESPN announcer Sean McDonough mentioned how players describe it as a system with a lot of “grey areas,” decision points in plays where receivers and the quarterback have to see the same thing in the defense and adjust accordingly. In many games this season, Texans receiver De’Andre Hopkins has seemed to be out-of-synch with quarterback Brock Osweiler, and Hopkins’ production is way down this year.
The thing is, this is the tenth game of the regular season, after an off-season, training camp, and four preseason games–a long time to teach the offense to people who do this for a living. And yet the Texans still struggle with the “operation” of the offense–getting
the play called, getting the team lined up at the line of scrimmage, and calling out adjustments. The Texans burn a lot of time-outs to avoid delay of game penalties. And then, the results are often the “Dinky Toys Offense,” Osweiler bailing out to short throws underneath. You have to wonder–I have to wonder, as a reflective teacher–whether “Big Brain Bill” isn’t just a bad teacher. I can see why that might be–his public persona is as a hot-headed buffoon, constantly blowing his stack and shouting profanity at his players.
Football coaching is an initiatory undertaking, and you have to wonder–I have to wonder, as an initiatory thinker–if O’Brien doesn’t need his next ritual wound to grow up as a coach. The good head coaches, especially O’Brien’s mentor Bill Belichick, had to get fired as head coaches in order to attain the humility necessary to succeed at the highest level. I looked across the field Monday night and saw a familiar face, Raiders’ head coach Jack Del Rio, who frequently gave Gary Kubiak a hard time when Del Rio was coaching Jacksonville and Kubiak Houston–before they both ended up getting fired. Kubiak, as you might recall, led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl win last year.
So, you know, what the heck, fire Bill O’Brien. It’s the best thing for him!
An Unhappy Renu Year
The Houston Cougars pulled a major upset last week and throttled the #6 ranked Louisville Cardinals, and got themselves back in the rankings. For University of Houston Chancellor and President Renu Khator, though, it had to feel like “too little, too late.”
I was working at UH when Dr. Khator was hired, and she was treated like a big celebrity, a “rock-star” hire, and she is one of the highest-paid public university administrators in the country (but don’t be confused, she doesn’t make football-coach money!). Her leadership has been nothing if not bold, which is another way of saying she’s been willing to spend a lot of money the school doesn’t really have, to the extent of running up debt of over $1 billion (that’s a “B”) for new building (“campus construction program”) and hires. One of her strategic initiatives was “athletic competitiveness,” and that meant sinking at least $140 million into a new on-campus stadium (who knows how much it really cost), and buying out football coach Tony Levine’s contract (a year after renegotiating it up) to spend even more on Tom Herman. Go big or go home, right?
In Farewell to Football? An American Fan’s Examination of Conscience, I explore the economics of college football and discover: “While Georgia may actually make money through their football program, at Houston like at most universities in America, the revenue stream runs in the other direction, the university having to subsidize the athletic department.” (p. 199) Click here to order a copy.
Unfortunately, the big gamble hasn’t really worked out. Herman’s first season looked good–the Cougars beat Florida State in a New Year’s Eve bowl game that paid pretty good money. This year, though, after a strong start that saw them beat Oklahoma in the opener and rise to as high as #6 in the rankings, the Cougars were denied entry into the Big 12 and then lost to Navy and, two games later, to SMU, to drop out of the rankings entirely. The upset of Louisville late in the season has to be especially frustrating to Dr. Khator, because it brought UH back into the rankings, but not high enough to get invited to a high-dollar bowl game at the end of the season. More importantly, Herman’s stock rose, and with Charlie Strong certain to be fired at Texas, and with an opening at LSU, UH is almost certain to lose their head coach.
Explore the USA Today database to find out more about NCAA Division I athletics subsidies.
To sum it up, in the realm of football, Houston lost out on the big revenue of the Big 12, lost out on the big money of a New Year’s Eve bowl game, and will most likely lose their big star head coach. That $1 billion (that’s a “B”) of debt won’t be going anywhere, though. Poor Dr. Khator, what an unhappy Renu year!
The Good News!
Thanksgiving is almost here, and two of the three NFL games on Thursday are pretty meaningful! Or, you could start reading my book:
Farewell to Football? An American Fan’s Examination of Conscience. Click here to order a copy in paperback or Kindle format.