Ray Ratto

Harbaugh-Payton tension is tangible


Harbaugh-Payton tension is tangible

In the summer, people thought New Orleans coach Sean Payton dialed up a bunch of blitz packages for the exhibition game with the 49ers because he had an unpleasant experience with Jim Harbaugh.

Then Payton said that didnt happen at all, that he always does that to get the packages down right. And that he doesnt have a problem with Harbaugh.

Well, let us suggest a third path. That the first two things are equally true -- that he didnt deliberately blitz Alex Smith into a thin gray paste, and that he isnt a big Harbaugh fan.

And one more thing: That it doesnt really matter either way.

Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh are the same guy -- a football coach with an unshakeable belief in his role as the smartest guy in the room. They are not easy to get along with, either as superiors or subordinates, but they deliver a better quality of groceries than most others, so they get a pass.

Except with each other. Coaches are alpha males, and they like each other in the same heart-touching way that firemen enjoy arsonists.

So lets say that Payton and Harbaugh are not chums, or even close to it. Lets even say that if people didnt complain so much about HandshakeGate in Detroit, theyd probably just flip each other off after the game.

In fact all coaches would do that, because all football coaches divide the world into two circles -- people who can help them succeed, and Communists.

So thats a given. And now we can move on to what matters -- the players on the field and how they perform. Or we can continue to fetishize the coaches and their personalities.

We are fascinated with coaches for two reasons for winning a lot, and for losing. And losing is defined by not winning a lot.

But in an ideal world, if you could strap coaches to chairs before a game and give them a drug to remove their inhibitions, they really would try to beat the hell out of each other with whatever iron-based object they could reach -- and thats either Vince Lombardi and Tony Dungy, or Mike Ditka and Todd Haley.

So yes, we can report with great confidence that Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh do not care for each other, and if they could, they would cheat ferociously to subdue each other. And that is true for the other 30 coaches as well.

So what we have here is no big deal; at best, a mild sidebar to kill time before kickoff. Their true value for purposes of our entertainment is as technicians and motivators for their players, and their secondary value is as self-salesmen (to the extent that they bother) to the outside world. Most notably the people who pay them. And you don't care whether they're friendly, correct or sworn enemies. You really don't.

So Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh probably didnt expend a lot of extra energy on their exhibition schedules. They know that nobody gets paid off in August. If it helped get their teams ready, fine. If it didnt, it was wasted energy.

And as for Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh as pals and compatriots in the joint venture that is the National Football League? Well, lets just say that any photo of them sharing beers will either be doctored or staged. Theyre good with that. And so should we all be.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy


Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.