By: Dan Grant
Head coaches have varying degrees of importance in sports. The NFL is probably the sport where a coach can single-handedly affect a game to the greatest degree, due to the intense amount of preparation for each game and the control over play-calling the game affords them from the sidelines. In the NBA and NHL, it’s more about implementing a style of play and hoping your players buy in. Today in Quick Hitters, we’re going to shake things up a bit; we’re dipping into the NFL, because with DeflateGate going on, how could we not? Then we’ll get back to our normal Toronto sports scene. Let’s get it!
The NFL can’t go six months without giving us a truly earth shattering scandal, can it? From the speculation-fuelled ‘What actually happened?’ intrigue-fests like Bounty Gate and the Ray Rice saga (before we saw the video), to the replacement officials of 2013, to a general referendum on Adrian Peterson as a human being, the hits just keep on coming, both on and off the field. There have been myriad ‘The NFL is going through its darkest period’ pieces run on various major news outlets in the past 12 months, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Not because it’s not a dark period for the NFL; it certainly is. No, that doesn’t hold water because this crap has been going on for as long as I can remember. From Brett Favre texting his wang for all the world to see, all the way back to SpyGate in 2007, ever since social media exploded, the curtain has been pulled back on the seedy underbelly of NFL culture. And if you think the reprehensible behaviour just suddenly began when the cameras turned on, well, then I have a ketchup Popsicle to sell you, and no, don’t worry, it won’t ruin your white gloves!
Of course, if you have a pulse, you know the scandal du jour involves – surprise! – the New England Patriots (allegedly) cheating in such a minor way that it seems almost believable they’d be stupid enough to get caught. Again. Who checks ball pressure anyway? Their quarterback, Tom Terrific himself, has been assigned a four game suspension by the league, the team has been stripped of two draft picks, including their first round pick in 2016, and a 1 million dollar fine has been levied. In other words, Roger Goodell decided to huck the book at the Pats, based on a controversial report severely hampered by Brady’s refusal to co-operate with any facet of the investigation.
Look, there are roughly fifty million articles out there that are going to debate everything from the severity of the punishment to whether we should even care how inflated the ball is. They’ll discuss things like the Patriots unusually low fumble rate and then they’ll try to debunk that same set of statistics. What has barely discussed, which I find incredibly weird, are the actions of the first contestant on this special edition of Quick Hitters, El Jeffe himself, Mr. William Stephen Belichick.
The point has been made that the NFL deciding to go nuclear on the Patriots has a lot to do with how SpyGate was handled eight years ago. They’re being treated as repeat offenders, hence the harsh fine and multiple lost picks. Brady is being punished both for his role in the scandal and for refusing to cooperate. Belichick himself was fined ‘only’ $500,000 for SpyGate and was not suspended. Brady is set to lose nearly 2 million in salary if his 4 game suspension is upheld (which seems more and more unlikely with each passing hour). The Wells Report, however flawed, is what the NFL is basing its punishment on, and it specifically clears Belichick of any wrongdoing.
During this entire DeflateGate debacle, Belichick has been noticeable by his absence. He gave a press conference in which he essentially told the media he had no explanation for what happened and that they should ask Brady about it instead. That led to this famous Brady deer-in-the-headlights media session. If you click one link in this article, click that one. It’s so cringe-worthy that I just popped a disc. Belichick didn’t so much throw his quarterback under the bus, as chain him to the front bumper and drive through a cactus patch.
Like an Easter egg left behind the radiator, something smells funny there.
Bill Belichick doesn’t miss details. He doesn’t skip the small things and he doesn’t strike me as a guy who makes the same mistake twice. That first press conference, to me, reeked of Belichick at his most pissed off. He was just completely dismissive and detached. He seemed like an exasperated father having to answer for his wayward son. This is rank speculation, but it felt like he knew what was going on and had told Brady to knock it off. It makes sense, when you think about it. Why else would he be so angry? What could possibly cause him to put absolutely every ounce of responsibility on Brady?
After SpyGate, Belichick knew that the Patriots were going to have a microscope jammed up their collective butts forever and for always. There is also no way he didn’t know about his quarterbacks preferences, in terms of how he liked his footballs. I just don’t buy it. I’m not saying Belichick sat there with a PSI meter and made sure everything was perfect, but I am saying he must have gotten wind at some point that his boy Tom liked his balls a little loose. Remember, this is the perfect game planner, the chameleon, the guy who adjusts his offense and defense every single season to fit whatever personnel he has on hand, the guy who exploits every loophole in the rule book. Details are where he lives. Ball inflation is a detail. That said, I do believe Belichick when he said that he personally doesn’t give two craps about how inflated a ball is. One day, I think he probably discussed said inflation with Tom and said ‘Dude, this is the kind of dumb shit they’re going to try and crucify us for. Give it a rest’ and Tom said something like ‘Bro, hakuna matata. It’s something I learned out here’ and they left it at that. And now, during Super Bowl week, Grand Poobah Belichick was being forced to answer questions about Tom Brady’s balls. Cue the rage.
Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in regards to the whole ‘Bob Kraft won’t stand for this!’ angle. I feel like this might be the time Roger Goodell has finally bitten off more than he can chew, which is pretty insane, given how badly he’s handled just about everything over the past five years. But while we’re watching this whole thing unfold, just remember, Bill Belichick will use you like a Dixie Cup and throw you away if you ever disregard his orders.
The Leafs are without a head coach or general manager currently, and the rampant speculation is that they’re after the Red Wings’ Mike Babcock. The Edmonton Oilers are the other Canadian team looking for a coach but rumour has it that they’re set to sign Todd McClellan when the World Championships end. The Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and possibly St Louis Blues are all set to be lobbying for the services of the most coveted free agent coach I can remember. Any or all of those teams, for a variety of reasons, are a better destination for Babcock in terms of either their ability to win quickly (St Louis, Philadelphia) or where they’re at in their rebuilding process (Buffalo) or even in their general organizational stability (New Jersey).
But Babcock and Shanahan do have a personal relationship. Babcock coached Shanahan during his final season in Detroit, which was also Babcock’s first in Motor City. That and the Brinks truck are really the only two advantages the Leafs have, if they want to get their man.
Time will tell, but as a Leafs fan right now? It’s hard to be especially hopeful.
The Toronto Raptors may have severely divided their fan base if reports that leaked Tuesday night are true. Dwane Casey, who guided the team to franchise win records the past two regular seasons, is set to return as coach for another season. Unfortunately both seasons ended with disappointing first round playoff exits, hence the division among fans.
Personally, I’m good with it. Stability is a good thing for a growing franchise, and you can tell from interviews (if not always from their play) the Raptors players respect the message Casey brings. The issues Toronto had this past season began and ended with health and roster construction. Major injuries to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan stifled a team that got off to a roaring 24-7 start and a general lack of perimeter defense and rim protection killed the team systemically. Fans were screaming for James Johnson during the playoffs, but he proved time and again during the regular season that he was too much of a gambler on defense, making flashy athletic plays but not playing good team defense. We all fell in love with Sweet Lou during his red hot November and December, and even though he picked up a Sixth Man of the Year award, the Raptors were truly putrid on defense when he and Greivis Vasquez shared the floor.
Casey came from the Dallas Mavericks with the reputation for being a defensive coach; he handled the defense for their 2011 championship team. However, it’s easy to coach defense when you’re running out Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler; less so with Greivis, Lou and Jonas Valanciunas. That said, the 2013-14 Raptors were a top 7 defense in the NBA. The 2014-15 Raptors finished in the bottom third of the league. So what gives? Well their major off-season addition? It was Williams. Here’s hoping Sweet Lou goes left to greener pastures during free agency this summer. If Masai Ujiri can give Casey a decent rim protector off the bench and provide an upgrade at one (or hopefully both) forward spots, I think we’ll see the Raptors get back to playing the kind of defense we saw from them in 2013-14. If they can’t get into the second round next year, well then maybe it’s time for Casey to go.
That’s it for this edition of Quick Hitters! We let John Gibbons off the hook here, mainly because I love the guy. Sign him forever, I don’t care. Boomhauer always has a place in my heart.