What Needs to Happen to Fix The Chiefs?

The Kansas City Chiefs are 1-5 and coming off their bye week have named Brady Quinn as their starting quarterback over Matt Cassel.

This isn’t a shock, given the ineffective play of Cassel so far this season, but is it all that is needed to rescue the Chiefs season? Looking at Quinn’s performances so far in his NFL career, probably not. So what is needed to fix the Chiefs and turn the team around for this season or next?

The General Manager?

Scott Pioli has drafted some decent players during his tenure in KC, but he has also not hit on several high picks, including the last two first round picks, Jonathan Baldwin and Dontari Poe. Neither of these two are ready to be big contributors to the Chiefs, and developing them is important to the future of the team.

One of the main problems though is that he has stuck solidly behind Matt Cassel on the basis of one good season in New England and one good season with the Chiefs. Backing Cassel as QB has meant that the Chiefs have passed on signal callers who could have been improvements, such as Andy Dalton, who is now the future in Cincinnati.

There hasn’t been much improvement in their record during his time in charge of the team. The team has gone 22-33 with Pioli as GM, and has not improved year-on-year. Pioli has also hired Head Coaches who have not been successful hires, whether it was Todd Haley or Romeo Crennel.

Firing Pioli would be a popular move with the Chiefs fans, but to do this would mean a full-blown reworking of the organisation, since it would mean a new GM, most likely a new coaching staff and a new quarterback. There is some talent on the team to rebuild with, as well as some high draft picks given the current record. If the team does stick with Pioli, how much will he do to change things? Possibly not a great deal. The team need to get away from the Patriots Superbowl era staff, with Pioli, Crennel, and Daboll all having been involved with the Pats in the early 2000s.

The Coaching Staff?

Romeo Crennel was described as a coach players want to play for after last season’s period as Interim Head Coach. This is something that either means the players will try harder for a coach that they like and respect (e.g. Dick Vermeil) or it means that the coach allows them to do whatever they want, and as soon as it gets hard the team doesn’t fight (e.g. Raheem Morris). At the end of last season the team pulled out all the stops for Crennel, but mainly because he wasn’t Todd Haley.

Also, Crennel is 65 and while he has got success as a defensive coordinator, he has not been convincing as the Head Coach with either Cleveland or Kansas City. A 27-46 record as a Head Coach in the NFL with one winning season seems to suggest that Crennel isn’t really HC material, and isn’t able to improve the team he is in charge of.

Combining the 2009 Browns offensive pairing of Brian Daboll and Brady Quinn is not likely to generate any real improvement on a poor offence that has not been able to put up a lot of points, especially through the air.

The Quarterback?

Matt Cassel has had enough opportunities to prove that he should be the guy in KC, and outside of the 2010 season, he hasn’t shown enough. When you get benched for Brady Quinn, I think it is a sign that it is time to move on. The other quarterback on the roster is Ricky Stanzi, who might as well get an opportunity to show what he can do, given that the two QBs ahead of him on the depth chart are pretty much known commodities right now. The quarterback of the Chiefs future doesn’t seem to be on their roster right now, and it is the position that is holding them back the most.

The Roster?

Offence: The Chiefs have a decent rushing attack, with Jamaal Charles one of the premier backs in the league this season. Having Peyton Hillis as the power back and change of pace gives a decent balance to the running game. Tony Moeaki is a pretty good tight end, and the combination of him and Kevin Boss at the position next season could be solid. Jon Baldwin needs to be developed faster, and Steve Breaston is not looking as effective as he was in Arizona, though this may have a lot to do with who is throwing the ball. What Dexter McCluster‘s role in the team is going to be also needs to be defined, otherwise they are in danger of falling into the Devin Hester trap: trying to get a player involved in the offence because of his athletic ability rather than his real skills.

Defence: There are some talented players on the defence. Up front Glenn Dorsey is a good player, at linebacker Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston are all good players, and if the secondary can get better performance from Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry, there are pieces to build with on defence. It is understandable why Dontari Poe was drafted to fill the middle of the defensive line, but his play has not been good enough yet.

So:

If the Chiefs decide to fire Pioli it will mean a change of coaching staff, quarterback and some more roster adjustments. While this means essentially three Head Coaches in three years – which is certainly not a recipe for success – they need to define where the future of the team is. There is enough talent on the team to tempt good GM and HC candidates. While they are not on the same talent level as the 49ers, this is the model they should look at: some talented pieces who aren’t being well coached and need a strong coach who can bring real direction and purpose to the team.

This won’t happen until Pioli is gone though, since he does not seem to have a real idea of where this direction is going. Once they get to clean house, then they can rebuild. Until this happens, the holding pattern will continue and things won’t get any better.

In Defence of The Kick It Out Campaign

This weekend we have seen several high-profile black players refusing to wear the t-shirts of the Kick It Out Campaign, in protest at a perceived lack of action taken in tackling racism. While it is clear that not enough action has been taken by authorities to tackle racism both on and off the pitch around Europe, blaming Kick It Out is misguided and focuses on the wrong target.

First, some facts about the campaign:

  • Founded in 1993 as Kick Racism Out of Football
  • It employs seven staff.
  • 2010-11 season, it’s operating budget was £453,913 (or just over two weeks of Rio Ferdinand‘s and John Terry’s wages)

The reason why blaming the campaign is unhelpful is that they are essentially a lobbyist and a pressure group. They raise awareness of when racism and other forms of discrimination are taking place and look to challenge it. The campaign does not have any judicial or executive power to punish either players, clubs or fans. Their remit is to educate people and increase levels of awareness about where and why discrimination is a problem.

For who is really responsible for taking action against racism in terms of punishments, then it is the FA domestically and UEFA across Europe who are responsible. In terms of the world game, ultimately it is FIFA that is responsible. These are the people who ought to be challenged on their role in tackling racism, though they are much less easy targets than a seven-person pressure group.

As Jason Roberts, one of those to boycott the awareness week t-shirts, says in an interview with the BBC, “If Danny Rose, who I think acted excellently in the whole thing, and his team-mates walk off the pitch when they first hear racist abuse, guaranteed UEFA will start to change things”. See who it is that he says needs to change things? UEFA.

Both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have commented that by boycotting the Kick It Out Campaign, black players are not showing that there needs to be more action against discrimination, rather they are simply undermining the one group that is working to expose it. It is counterproductive. The strongest action would have been to wear the shirt and acknowledge that not enough has been done, and that ultimately the responsibility for punishing discrimination in football is down to the authorities.

Kick It Out and their action weeks have helped to reduce the level of discrimination at football grounds, but it is not down to just them to make the changes that need to be made. There needs to be a tough stance taken by FIFA, UEFA and the FA. John Terry could, and should, have received a more lengthy ban, as should Luis Suarez. While there were differences in the offence, a higher level of punishment, even for first time offences, would send a real message.

As for what happened in Serbia during the week, Sol Campbell is right to call on UEFA to dock points. The best way to change the culture of fans and players in the game is by pressuring them to police themselves. When English clubs were banned from European competition because of hooligans, it drove the FA, the clubs and the fans to clean it up. The same must be done with discrimination. If a fan group make racist chants, then points should be docked, matches played behind closed doors and if things still do not change, then teams banned from competitions. Using Serbia as an example, if all of their national teams were banned from their next international tournament, then it might inspire their FA to take action, and the fans to start to realise that monkey chants at black players is totally unacceptable, anywhere.

UEFA handed out €20,000 fines during Euro 2012 for racist chants by Spanish fans, but allowed them to keep the €23m prize money. If abuse happens during tournaments, then for each incident, 15% of prize money ought to be deducted and donated to organisations such as Kick It Out and FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) – so using the figures above as an example, that would be €3.45m given to the fight against discrimination, out of the pockets of those responsible.

More support should be given by players, teams and managers to groups like Kick It Out and FARE, but it is also down to those same players, teams and fans to pressure those charged with governing football to have strong, no tolerance punishments against discrimination. These ought to be the real target, not the groups who are trying to do just that.

Jerry Jones: In Danger of Becoming the New Al Davis?

Al Davis was the force behind the Oakland Raiders for the better part of 45 years as owner and general manger. With Davis in charge of football operations, the Raiders won three Superbowls (XI, XV, XVIII) in a seven-year span, and for a while were the dominant team and most recognisable teams in the NFL. They relocated from Oakland to Los Angeles and back again because of the facilities and finances involved in each location at the time. However, during Davis’ later years the teams struggled. In part, this was due to the draft choices of Davis, who picked players with speed to fit into his philosophy on football. It was also in part to poor hiring decisions on the coaching staff and loyalty occasionally taking priority over what was good for the team. The Raiders have not made the Superbowl since their defeat in 2003, and Davis passed away in 2011.

Jerry Jones is the force behind the Dallas Cowboys, and has been since he bought the team in the offseason in early 1989. With Jones as owner and general manager, the Cowboys have won three Superbowls (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX) in a four-year span. In the 1990s they were one of the dominant teams in the NFL, winning six division championships and making eight playoff appearances. Cowboys jerseys are among the most sold out of all the NFL teams, and they are one of the most watched on television. Forbes has valued the franchise as worth approximately $2.1 billion.

Since Jones took over Football operations in Dallas, the Cowboys rank 11th in win percentage (53.8%) in the league behind

  • Pittsburgh: 62.2% (2 Superbowls)
  • Green Bay: 60.6% (2 Superbowls)
  • San Francisco: 58.2% (2 Superbowls)
  • New England: 57.6% (3 Superbowls)
  • Philadelphia: 57.5%
  • Denver: 57.1 (2 Superbowls)
  • Tennessee: 55.2%
  • New York Giants: 54.9% (3 Superbowls)
  • Baltimore: 54.7% (1 Superbowl)
  • Indianapolis: 54.6% (1 Superbowl)
  • Dallas: 53.8% (3 Superbowls)

This is a decent, and a much better win percentage over the same time period than the other franchises that have or had owners as GMs, Oakland (45.7%) and Cincinnati (43.0%). The problem is that while Jones and the Cowboys have three rings and a massive new stadium, since they won their last title after the 1995 season they have won two playoff games, one after the ’96 season and one after the ’09 season. Over that period, they’ve lost seven playoff games and failed to reach the postseason in nine other seasons. As a side note, they’ve also collected six 10-loss seasons.

So what does this all come down to? Jones needs to consider bringing someone in to run the football side of the team, while he focuses on the business. Yes, he has had success in the past, but the recent team struggles have been down to poor drafting, some poor trades (Roy Williams, anyone?) and mistakes in free agency. This is where the GM can either make or break the team, and at the moment Jerry Jones the GM is making life hard for Jerry Jones the owner of the team. There needs to be a split made, or there is a danger that the poor decision-making and lack of touch that plagued the Raiders during the last decade of the Al Davis era will also come to haunt the Cowboys.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Should It Be More Than Pink?

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States. To support this, the National Football League runs the “A Crucial Catch” Campaign, involving players wearing pink accessories, shoes, gloves and so on, which are auctioned to raise money to fight breast cancer.

This is certainly a worthy cause, and it is good to see such a prominent business as the NFL getting involved. The question, for both the NFL and the American Cancer Society, is where are the other awareness months and events for other forms of cancer?

According to ACS statistics, breast cancer cases form 19.98% of new cancer cases across the US. This is the fourth highest percentage, and translates to approximately 229,060 new cases in 2012. Areas with higher numbers of new cases include the Respiratory system, where Lung Cancer is the biggest cause, Digestive system, where Colon Cancer alone causes 103,170 new cases, and the Genital system, where there are more new cases of Prostate Cancer alone: 241,740.

Given that there are a large number of men in the US and around the world who watch the NFL on Sunday afternoons, would it not be beneficial to use such an opportunity to raise awareness of prostate cancer? Breast cancer, partly due to campaigns such as the Awareness Month, is now one of the most well-known forms of cancer. Why not also try to use such an international platform to spread awareness for other forms of cancer, and raise money for treatment, prevention and cures? According to the ACS report, around 17.42% of breast cancer cases in 2012 are fatal. The number is high, but contrast this with colon cancer, which has a 50.10% death rate, or the 69.57% death rate of ovarian cancer.

There needs to be an increase in awareness of these forms of cancer as well. Possibly through different colours for each one, and then each team can support one cause per game for the month – for example, given the battle that their Head Coach Chuck Pagano is going through against leukaemia, the Colts could wear a colour that would raise awareness of that frightening disease. I would certainly support that. Then every team would be able to do their part, as well as helping to raise awareness of a variety of different forms of cancer, so that the fight can be taken to the entire disease, and there is not a hierarchy placed on which ones deserve more attention than others.

Helping to educate people to the existence of these diseases can be a big step in feeling comfortable enough to see your doctor if you are having health problems – especially for men at risk of prostate cancer. There is a global audience for the NFL, and it could be used to inform people every Sunday, Monday and Thursday night in October.

Good Reads: ‘Councilor: A Life at the Edge of History’ by Ted Sorensen

Theodore C. Sorensen, Special Counsel to U.S. ...

An excellent book, and a detailed view into one of the most famous periods of American history, without bravado, bluster or pretension.

Ted Sorensen was President Kennedy‘s speechwriter and one of his closest advisers. Councilor is his autobiography, and one of the most interesting and readable non-fiction books I have ever read.

The book covers Sorensen’s birth in Lincoln Nebraska, through his time in the Kennedy White House and, after the assassination, his work on Robert Kennedy’s campaign as well as his own campaign for the US Senate.

I found it to be an incredibly accessible book, written with clarity and focus – much as one would expect from a speechwriter. Of course, much of the book involves the Kennedy administration, from the early days of campaigning to the “deeply traumatic experience” of the events in Dallas. This is a period of history that has always interested me, since I was curious to know whether or not much of the positive thought towards Kennedy was genuine, or due to his untimely death. This book, with its obvious and understandable appreciation of the man, does not shy away from some of his failings, and reveals that there were times when he disagreed with his staff – as well as acknowledging some of JFK’s more personal mistakes.

The insight that Sorensen provides, along with his reflection on how things could have been done differently, makes the events of Kennedy’s time in office much more understandable, and even if you do not agree with the decisions made, it is much easier to see why and how those choices were made. This, I think, is the key to biographies. Not to excuse or cover up events, but to explain the process that went into them.

In particular, the sections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, McCarthy and Civil Rights are most fascinating. Sorensen recounts the meetings, strategies and different forces that played into the response to Khrushchev – a letter that Sorensen himself wrote – and it is startling to realise just how close the world came to disaster. On McCarthy, there is the admission that while not voting for censure was politically beneficial for Kennedy given his ties to McCarthy and the support he enjoyed from the Irish population in New England, it is described by Sorensen as one of his, and the Presidents failings.

When it comes to Civil Rights, it is clear that there were concerns about pushing too hard, or making decisions that could not be clearly supported, but also a desire to improve the situation. Understanding and learning from previous confrontations in Mississippi meant that the handling of George Wallace in Alabama (allowing him to be photographed outside the school door so that his constituency could see him protest) was done shrewdly and with some care.

These and similar insights into the Kennedy presidency make Councilor a worthy read on their own, but the rest of the story of Ted Sorensen is equally fascinating and provides a balanced and thorough view of historical events, whether they were experienced first hand or happening on the edge of Sorensen’s own life.

Good Reads: Matthew Reilly’s Schofield Series

One of my main concerns with action movies is that they are too concerned with set pieces and CGI, rather than the excitement of the characters in high pressure situations. Those situations are certainly not lacking in the books of Australian author Matthew Reilly.

The series that really grabbed my attention first was the Shane Schofield series – revolving around the central character of Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield, a member of the United States Marine Corps.

The first of Reilly’s Schofield books I read was Ice Station, based in Antarctica. The combination of mysterious technology trapped in ancient ice sheets, evil French and British military forces and some really sea mammals pretty much had me hooked. What I really enjoy about Reilly’s work is that there is never just one thing happening at once. Keeping track of events in a submerged cavern, in the research station where much of the action takes place and also in the States made it such a hard book to put down, because there are never any breaks from important things happening. A willingness to kill off likeable characters also really keeps the reader on their toes.

This high paced style and complex plot continues into the rest of the Schofield series. Area 7 sees Schofield and the survivors of his team on presidential protection duty while visiting military bases in the Utah. On arrival at the top-secret Area 7 base, they are trapped by former General, Charles “Caesar” Russell, and challenged to keep the President’s heart beating, since if it stops a signal will be sent to several nuclear warheads hidden in cities across America. Not only are they pursued by Russell’s personal army, there are also the criminals kept below the base in the chemical weapons testing facility – volunteers who would never see the outside of prison, given the heinous nature of their crimes. International and race relations, politics and the morality of chemical weapons are all tied into the fighting, running and tension.

The third book in the series (my personal favourite), and the last one that I have been able to read, is Scarecrow. A shady group of the richest men in the world, Majestic-12, issue a list of 15 bounties that need to be collected by October 26th. On that list is Shane Schofield, who, along with his team, is chased all over the world by a variety of dangerous and inventive bounty hunters. While trying to find out why he is on the list, as well as attempting to save any of the other 14 names, Schofield is helped by the mysterious Aloysius Knight – who, it is revealed has been hired to keep the Marine alive. For fans of conspiracy theories about business magnates taking over the world or a new world order, this is an excellent book. It also keeps up the Reilly staple of having many of the bad guys being French.

Each of my copies of this series also contains a small interview with the author at the end of the book, and I would also recommend giving these a read – though not until after finishing the action: Spoilers!

I have yet to get hold of a copy of Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves, but it is on my list of must reads. I would also recommend the Jack West Jr series. There will be a Good Reads post about those books coming up in the future.

Racism, Hypocrisy and John Terry

John Terry hands his boots to a fan after victory over Arsenal

The FA have released the written reason behind the John Terry verdict, the full text of which can be found on The FA’s website. It is clear that they did not believe his defence that he was simply repeating what had been said by Anton Ferdinand.

Terry now has two weeks to appeal against his four game suspension and £220,000 fine for misconduct. However, I hope that he does not appeal, accepts the punishment and moves on.

The easy comparison to make to this situation is to the one faced by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez last season, when the Uruguay international received an eight game ban for using racially offensive terms towards Patrice Evra. I felt massively uncomfortable with the actions of Liverpool as a club, and those Liverpool fans who stood so closely behind Suarez that they refused to believe that he could have done such a thing. I feel an even higher level of discomfort with this situation, since it is happening to the captain of my club.

Given that this has taken place at the club where I am a season ticket holder – and travelled to Munich for the Champions League Final last season – it is very easy to get caught up in the “he’s not a racist, he just said something racist” that I have heard Liverpool fans use as a defence for Suarez (along with the ever popular “but negro isn’t an offensive term in Uruguay”). From what I could hear coming from the seats around me in the away end at the Emirates, there was plenty of staunch Terry defenders: “One England captain, f**k the FA” being a particularly popular chant. There are a lot of Chelsea fans for whom Terry is still the “Captain, Leader, Legend” and support him accordingly by blaming Anton and Rio Ferdinand (who was certainly foolish with his “choc ice” comment, but hardly can be blamed for being related to someone), The FA, and anyone else except for the man in the number 26 shirt.

But I think that the FA were correct to bring disciplinary proceedings against Terry, even after he was cleared in court, since the two cover different legal areas. While the leniency of the suspension in comparison to Suarez does not send a particularly good message, that they felt fit to convene the panel is a good way to show that while you may not have committed a criminal offence, it was still an offense within the rules of the game.

I am uncomfortable cheering for Terry, as much as I admire him purely as a player I am very uncomfortable with him as a person given his past indiscretions and the appearance that he does not seem to learn from them. I have in the past said that if you use sexist language then it is right to call be called a sexist, and used a similar argument about Suarez. It would be immensely hypocritical of me and fellow Chelsea fans to not do the same with Terry. In both cases, ignorance is not a defence, and nor is using schoolyard ‘but he said it first’ logic.

I feel that while Chelsea dealt with the initial accusations better than Liverpool (I am so glad they didn’t bring out “Support John Terry” t-shirts in the way that Liverpool did), I believe that there is now a responsibility on the club to take actions that will show that no one is above reproach when it comes to their behaviour on or off the pitch, especially the club captain. Chelsea sacked Adrian Mutu for taking cocaine, as it was denigrating to both himself and the football club, and I think that the board and Mr Abramovich need to consider what is best for the club and team in the future, and whether or not that future should contain John Terry wearing either the captain’s armband or the club shirt.