Ray Ratto

NFL coaches live the life of praise players in public, purge in private


NFL coaches live the life of praise players in public, purge in private

Jon Gruden’s arrival made Marshawn Lynch expendable.
Oh, sure this will be listed on Doug Martin’s legacy, as his new deal with the Oakland Raiders makes Lynch a likely early casualty in the Gruden Part Deux Era, but just as Jack Del Rio was hired by Mark Davis as a sop to the fan base he was planning to abandon, so too was Lynch, and finally Gruden.
And this just unchecks a thrice-checked box. Lynch as a face of the franchise was Mark Davis’ idea, he was one of the faces of a 6-10 team, and Gruden as the new face of the franchise has other ideas about whose face has the force of law.
At least that’s one superficial and probably misleading read from Martin’s signing, as the now-former Tampa Bay running back basically takes Lynch’s spot on Gruden’s first roster. It is a football decision (Martin may still have more tread), it is a cultural decision (Gruden isn’t all that warm or fuzzy with the employees) and it’s a new boss decision (Gruden wants his guys, not someone else’s).
But it also reminds us that coaches are liars unless forced into the truth, and when Gruden lauded Lynch a month ago, veteran observers could hear his fingers crossing themselves. After all, the rule of thumb for any public figure who isn’t either crazy or narcisstic is always “praise in public, purge in private,” and people who know Gruden well couldn’t see him nuzzling up to Lynch only to discipline him later for all the things he was allowed to do under Del Rio.
The same logic is being applied to the attraction for Jordy Nelson as a replacement for Michael Crabtree – well, except the mileage part. Gruden is recreating the Raiders in his image, which not only puts an interesting ellipsis on his own resume but puts all but a few players from the old regime (or regimes) in danger of being relocated.
And while we’re at it, the same is true for Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, who watched center Daniel Kilgore get a new deal last month and traded to Miami this month – giving a fresh interpretation to the notion of being day-to-day. In the NFL, everyone is, right up to the door of the owner’s suite.
Whether the Martin signing is a good idea or not remains to be determined, of course, because the future has an odd way of not obeying the needs of the present, and March’s good idea can become October’s mistake. But Gruden reminded us yet again that coaches aren’t to be taken seriously when they say something in public because they don’t regard anything they say as binding. Every answer is simply a placeholder until it has to be changed, and that’s a valuable lesson for us to remember the next time we think a coach is leveling with us on anything. They live in an autocorrect world, and when it comes to taking them at their word, we should remember that.

Sorting through Pete Carroll's latest flirtation with Kaepernick and the Seahawks


Sorting through Pete Carroll's latest flirtation with Kaepernick and the Seahawks

There are any number of ways to sort out Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s latest public flirtation with the concept (as opposed to the actual presence) of Colin Kaepernick on his roster, but they all end the same.

Not a chance in hell. Okay, not much of a chance in hell.

It is a measure of our industrial inability to let go of a seemingly dead storyline that the question was even raised in Carroll’s pre-draft press conference Monday, and even more bizarre that he dangled it as a possibility when all it did was remind people yet again that the National Football League is run by narrow-minded, inflexible and even socially thuggish billionaires.

What it did not to do is make anyone think that (a) this is a football decision upon which Carroll has final say, or that (b) this is an employment decision upon which owner Paul Allen has the only vote that matters.

Now we could end up dead wrong in public here – it has happened before, of course. But Kaepernick is the handy hot button the owners have used to show their fealty to the noisy symbols-above-rights crowd that are taking credit they don’t deserve for the decline in football’s television popularity. It seems unfathomable that they would give that up, or more specifically, to let any of their individual members give that up on their behalf.

At least not without running it through HR.

It could be that the depositions in Kaepernick’s complaint against the league are going badly for the league in a strictly legal sense, though there is no public indication of such. It could be that the dovish win of the owners find this a needless distraction that the league would be better off solving quietly and quickly (if 15 months can be described as quick). It could even be that at his advanced age Allen has decided to put a finger in the eyes of his colleagues just for the sake of seeing them tear up.

But these all seem unlikely. Moreover, Carroll may be trying to pressure his superiors through public discussion to get Kaepernick in for a workout that leads to a job, and that’s not normally a triumphant stratagem.

In short, the smart money is to bet that this is one more red herring in a lake full of them. Colin Kaepernick will be as ex- a football player as he has been, people will re-convince themselves that his future as a player still has value as a talking point of brain-free chat shows, and the hamster wheel will continue to spin.

And in the end, the only good thing to come out of any of it is the number of cranial collisions Kaepernick does not endure by still being that ex-player.

Odds are relatively strong that Belt actually doesn’t have the longest at-bat ever

Odds are relatively strong that Belt actually doesn’t have the longest at-bat ever

Brandon Belt’s 21-pitch at-bat in Sunday’s Giants’ 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels is the stuff of nerdley legend. It must also have made Rob Manfred pull off his own head in exasperation.

Baseball games are quicker this year because of the new speed diktats, all of them part of the Manfredian compulsion that pace is the thing that is keeping baseball from becoming the cool kids’ sport.

But here is Belt, laying down a 12-minute batting opus that droned on so long that Belt admitted later that he hates that sort of thing when he is in the field. He, too, understands where Manfred’s bread is buttered.

But it was also described as “the longest at-bat ever” by people who should know better but clearly don’t. It might have been the longest at-bat ever, but people have only been counting this for 20 years, and there have been long at-bats before. The odds are that there have been longer at-bats in baseball history, and that Belt’s extended soliloquy doesn’t rank first, but maybe 12th, or 29th, or 214th. According to BaseballReference.com, there have been 14,689,043 at-bats, so the odds are relatively strong that Belt actually doesn’t have the record at all.

So what we have here, then, is a fascinating oddity but not necessarily an epochal one. Frankly, if Belt really cared about the record, he would have fouled off seven or eight more pitches and made a better claim for having a record that nobody actually can make.

But every day is a new set of at-bats, and while Belt can never truly have a totally true record, he could make Rob Manfred turn purple with rage. That’s better than any record right there.