Monday, December 20, 2010

Redskins, Wizards, Capitals and Maryland all make noise this week

You certainly can’t say that living in Washington is boring these days—and I’m not talking about the repeal of, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

Think about the events of the last week:

--The much ballyhooed coach who was hired last January to (again) bring back the glory days of The Washington Redskins—remember the ‘are you in?’ marketing campaign—benches the much ballyhooed quarterback he brought in last April to lead those who decided they were in. He does so in favor of the immortal Rex Grossman who will be 31 by the time next season starts and is not exactly an untested rookie.

Grossman throws two interceptions and fumbles the ball away once in Dallas on Sunday. But he also throws four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter to lead a comeback from 30-14 down to a 30-all tie before the Redskins (naturally) find a way to lose against a bad team that has also shown a knack for losing close games all season. These teams are basically mirror images of one another: Run by egomaniacal owners who have screwed up once-proud franchises almost beyond recognition.

So now, the Washington media is PRAISING Mike and Kyle Shanahan for benching McNabb in favor of Grossman. Really? Seriously? Did I miss the part where the Redskins won the game? Did I miss the part where they were playing the 12-2 Patriots and not the (now) 5-9 Cowboys? Does anyone in their right mind think that REX GROSSMAN is going to lead the Redskins to anywhere but (maybe) 8-8 if he’s the starting quarterback next year? Is that the goal now?

Here’s what the Shanahans and their out of control egos have done: They’ve taken away their flexibility to wait a year or two to draft a quarterback or sign one as a free agent. Now they’ve got to make a move right away. They’ve only got six draft picks as it is and now—when they probably need at least three offensive linemen—they’re going to have to spend one on a quarterback.

Brilliant. Still, what’s even better are the fawning media who think this was a good move. The only GOOD thing about Sunday for the Redskins was that they lost the game. Winning can only hurt them now since it moves them down in the draft.

--The man who was once the most popular athlete in town is gone. And almost no one is sorry to see him go.

With barely a whimper, Gilbert Arenas packed his bags on Saturday and left for Orlando. It is to the credit of Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld that he was able to find someone—anyone—to take on Arenas’s contract, which calls for him to be paid more than $60 million through the 2014 season. In return the Wizards got back Rashard Lewis, who was a very good player once upon a time but seems to be fading into the NBA sunset at the age of 31. No matter. His contract will go off the books a year sooner than Arenas’s and could save the team as much as $30 million in cap space.

Arenas was once the biggest part of the Wizards solution. Ultimately though, he became the biggest problem they had.

He led the team to the playoffs for three straight seasons and was the key component in the only playoff series they have won since the 1980s. Then he started getting hurt—a lot. The Wizards managed to make the playoffs a fourth straight year but went downhill quickly after that. They hit rock bottom a year ago when Arenas brought guns into The Verizon Center locker room to settle some kind of disagreement that had sprung up during a card game on a chartered airplane with equally knuckleheaded teammate Javaris Crittendon. Arenas managed to make the situation worse by not understanding how serious it was and thinking he could laugh it off and joke about it.

That was pretty much the end for him in Washington even though he came back this season to play reasonably well—although he played his best when star rookie John Wall was hurt; not a good sign for the future.

My friend Tony Kornheiser coined the phrase, ‘curse of Les Boulez,’ years ago to describe the constant syndrome of injuries, bad draft picks and trades that seemed to follow the franchise. The curse appears to still be alive and well with Wall already missing multiple games with injuries and the team a train wreck yet again at 6-19. Losing by 100 to Orlando on opening night was probably not a good sign. Not having won a road game with Christmas looming is also probably not a good sign.

Arenas is gone. The curse of Les Boulez lives on.

--Ralph Friedgen is fired as Maryland’s football coach a little more than a month after it was announced he would return for at least one more season. What is it Lee Corso says?—not so fast my friend. When Athletic Director Kevin Anderson saw a chance to get Mike Leach and jump start interest in his football program, he pushed Friedgen out the door about as fast as you can push someone the Fridge’s size out any door.

A year ago, then Athletic Director Debby Yow wanted to fire Friedgen—who she had once taken so many bows for hiring her back must have been sore. She couldn’t come up with the $4 million it would have required—not to mention the extra $1 million she would have needed to buy out ‘coach-in-waiting,’ James Franklin who she inexplicably put in that position a year earlier.

Actually, there was an explanation: Yow was trying to get the Fridge gone without actually firing him. Fridge didn’t take the hint and told people HE would decide when he would retire. The 2-10 record in 2009 changed that and put him on the hot seat. The 8-4 record in 2010 seemed to put him back in control.

Then two things happened: Franklin got the Vanderbilt job, removing the $1 million Yow-created albatross from Anderson’s neck and he found out that Leach could be had as his next coach. Baggage or no baggage, Leach can coach AND he can sell tickets, something Friedgen simply couldn’t do anymore.

Out with the Fridge, in with the Pirate.

Look, the move makes sense. It is also pretty damn cold but college athletics is a cold world. Personally, I would have liked to have seen Friedgen ride off into the sunset under his own terms but I’m not responsible for the athletic budget at Maryland.

The irony in all this is that, in the end, Yow probably got Friedgen fired. It was her decision to push for an expanded stadium and over-priced luxury boxes that put so much pressure on Friedgen. For years, when Byrd Stadium seated 45,000 people, winning eight games and going to a second tier bowl was just fine for the football team. Most Maryland fans were just waiting for basketball season to start anyway.

But with the expanded stadium and all those empty boxes, people—notably potential recruits—noticed that Maryland football fever wasn’t exactly a contagious disease. Anderson is new to Maryland and has no reason to be loyal to Friedgen—Maryland grad or not. His loyalty is to the bottom line. Leach can probably make that look better.

--And finally: The Winter Classic is now 10 days away and part 2 of the HBO 24/7 four part series on the Capitals and Penguins airs Wednesday night. I saw the first part and I thought it was excellent. What strikes me about all the HBO documentaries is how well written they are. Sure, they have plenty of access but ESPN gets all sorts of access (did you see any of that truly AWFUL stuff on Duke’s pre-season; My God I WENT to Duke and it made me gag, I can imagine how other people felt) and never knows what to do with it. HBO knows what it’s doing.

Of course some people here in Washington were upset with all the f-bombs that were picked up coming out of Coach Bruce Boudreau’s mouth. What do people expect when a team is losing 8 straight? Hearts and flowers? My friend, Post columnist Mike Wise, decided HBO was making the Caps into the bad guys, the Penguins into the good guys. Um Mike: The Penguins had won 12 straight—who did you expect to come off as the happier-go-lucky team at this point? In fact, the end of part 1 makes the point about the rhythms of a season, the ups and downs that are part of it. Exactly right. I can’t wait to see part 2. Don’t worry DC fans it will be better: The Caps WON on Sunday night.

And Alex Ovechkin isn’t being traded, benched or fired anytime soon. Hallelujah.


Anonymous said...

Watching the DC area sports scene this past weekend, all I could think about was "Wow! What a holiday gift bag for both John and Tony!"

Anonymous said...

John, agree on the 24/7 HBO series being a fantastic franchize. Whether boxing, nascar or hard knocks, all very very well done. Love your shot at ESPN but unfortunately you are a little off. Their 30 for 30 series was OUTSTANDING. Check um out if you haven't had the chance. The access and interviews/insight especially given some of the historical hurdles they had to overcome (some of these events took place 20 and 30 years ago) is really amazing.

David said...

If Maryland hires Leach, as a donor can I demand my money back based on them throwing my money in the toilet in their hire of a 'search firm'?

Jackie DeLister said...

Anderson got the Vanderbilt job, removing the $1 million Yow-created albatross from Anderson’s neck

You mean that Franklin got the Vanderbilt job.

FOTB said...

Thanks Jackie.

PeteWill said...

John, as a Maryland Alum I am all in with Anderson on this. But I sure hope the next coach is Mike Leach and not some other lesser name. Miami hired a great candidate. WVA and Pitt seem to have made good choices as well. But we need some sizzle in College Park.

Anonymous said...

I agree that several of the 30 for 30 segments were outstanding, most were at the least very good. They did have a few real dogs, though (Jimmy the Greek, in particular). But that's because they gave more or less free reign to the directors -- those were NOT the typical "An ESPN Production" projects.

Tony said...

I'm not the biggest hockey fan but I love the 24/7 series. HBO sports really gets it. I also wondered why people were all up in arms about Boudreau's f-bombs. What did people expect him to do? Not everyone can be Tony Dungy.

Anonymous said...

If Fridge and Gary ever had to "go out back and settle it like men", who ya got?

JJ said...

Thoughts on Gary Williams? Is he safe forever even though he hasn't made it out of the 2nd round of the NCAA's for the past 7 years? In fact 3 of those years Maryland played in the NIT.