Cubs

May I...Get You Another?

May I...Get You Another?

Friday, May 7, 2010
1:28 AM

Why not? I have plenty to serve up, here behind the bar, and in the world of sports.

HAWKY TALK: Now thats more like it. After a maddeningly inconsistent second half of the season and beginning of the playoffs, the Hawks finally showed us what we were hoping for. During the season, they played what would be considered more of a finesse game. Their talent advantage over most of the league allowed them to accumulate 112 points and the 2 seed in the West. As we know, the playoffs are going to require a little more. Thats why I was surprised in the last series against Nashville that the players actually openly talked about a lack of effort after one dismal loss. What? The Cup is on the line and you cant get up for it? Anyway, the 3 wins to end the series had obviously snapped them out of their funk, right? Then there was Game 1, against the Canucks, here we go again! The response has been two straight wins, but I still feel some uneasiness at the bar. The win in Game 3 though, is what it is all about in the Stanley Cup playoffs. On the road, in a very hostile environment, they brought their A-game. Neimi was huge early with some big stops. Then they drove the net and got into Luongos face, led buy Big Buff and his three goals. They played physical, but disciplined. As much as their turn the other cheek style of play would frustrate me during the regular season, its paying dividends now, as they are playing tough enough to frustrate the Canucks, but not taking stupid penalties in the process. (That is if you discount ANOTHER too many men on the ice infraction!) Were a long way from being done, but if they continue to put up the EFFORT that they showed on Wednesday night, I really like their chances to get where we all expect them to end up.

CUBBIE BLUE: What to make of the Cubs? Are they who we thought they were? 29 games does not a season make, but with close to 20 of it gone, you would think we would have an idea of what this team is about. Every year has hot starters who fade, and slow-pokes who catch fire. Does this Cub team strike you as one that is going to contend? The holes in the bullpen are still there. Does anyone believe a rotation featuring Gorzelanny and Silva is destined for greatness? And their ability to strand runners, almost 8 a game, is second most on the league and a cause for heartburn on a daily basis.

For me, 2 obvious things have to change. One, theres no way Lee and Ramirez can continue to hit this bad can they? Ramirez especially looks like hes in a fog, does he strike out every other at bat, or is that just me? Two, does this team seem like it has any energy? Excuse me, positive energy? It looked like they were about to turn it around when they ended their last home-stand with 3 straight wins over the D-Backs. Off to Pittsburgh and more wins in front of crowds of dozens, right? Oops! How do you get swept by the Pirates? Honestly! Closing out the series with a 11-1 loss to somebody named Brian Burres? My Roto league is NL only and I have never heard of the guy!! I wont even talk about losing to Charlie Morton and his 10.30 ERA. Of course that was after the 12.57 he brought into the game, and lasted until the seventh inning!! Theres 21 more weeks to go and if the sense of urgency on the field isnt cranked up soon, the summer could be over before it even starts.

BULL SEARCH: Honestly! This search has been going on for over TWO years and we have to listen to names like Phil Jackson and John Calipari being bandied about? Jackson will NEVER coach this team. Why are people wasting their time with even thinking it could happen? Calipari? Hes a college coach. He would be great if the Bulls want to manipulate the recruiting process and want to have seasons vacated after he leaves for another job. He had a shot at the NBA 15 years ago. He lasted 2 and part of a third season before he ran back to the college ranks. Is what the Bulls need is another guy who needs to learn on the job? (The league hasnt changed much in 12 years, has it?) Then again, if he brings LeBron with him, through his friendship with James and D-Roses agent Leon Rose, why not? I could probably coach those two together. Still, I believe what they need is someone with NBA head-coaching experience. Many, many names on that carousel, I know, and it pains me to type it. But a firm knowledge of coaching at the NBA level is whats needed now. Ill throw out the names: Van Gundy, Johnson, McHale and Cheeks as those that I would like to see get a shot.

HART AND SOUL: A great moment for yours truly when I found out that HBO was doing a documentary on the favorite team of my youth, The Broad Street Bullies. I was kind of surprised, being that their run ended over 34 years ago, still they were a team that changed hockey forever. For good or bad is up to debate. Getting to watch it on Tuesday was great. It brought back a flood of memories and rekindled many of the feelings I had for that team. In fact, I was soon in a E-Bay and Amazon frenzy later that night buying any item related to them. (Cant wait to see that bill! But you cant put a price on joyous memories!) I loved that they showed the team for what they were, or at least what the perception was. They reveled in their reputation, that was the point. But to have the success that they did, consecutive Stanley Cups, you have to have more than goons. Phil Esposito said as much, but I felt that part was glossed over. They were a very physical team that realized that physicality gave them an edge over any team that they played. In the end though, you still have to put the puck in to the net more than the other team, either by scoring a lot, which they did, or having Bernie Parent stand on his head for two years, which he did!

As much as it brought back a bunch of feelings, it also left me confused that HBO, who does an excellent job with just about every other documentary Ive ever watched, (The Bird-Magic one was awesome!) would miss a big reason for why that team was as loved in Philly as it was, and that was Hockey Hall of Famer, announcer Gene Hart. Hart was the voice of the team from their inception, staying 29 years until the end of the 1994-1995 season. For a city new to the sport, he was our fountain of information. As is any home-team announcer, he was our connection to the team. He lived and died with us. All while maintaining a level of excellence and professionalism that few I have listened to have ever matched. He loved two things: Hockey, and anyone who loved hockey. I can not fathom anyone telling the story of those Cup winning teams without also telling his. He was as much as part of what the Flyers did, and mean, as owner Ed Snider, coach Fred Shero and the stars and team leaders, Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent.

What that team had was a passion to win and it did whatever it took to do so. The city of Philadelphia had a passion for that team that bordered on psychotic.

And the man that brought that team into our homes, on TV and radio, was a man that shared that passion with us. To us, he was hockey. Im stunned that HBO did not pick up on that connection.

Oh, and the items I purchased the other night? Of course the first thing was SCORE! My Twenty-five Years with the Broad Street Bullies, by Gene Hart. Even though hes no longer with us I cant wait to hear his voice again.

In honor of Gene, Ill leave you with his signoff, the last words he spoke on all of his broadcasts, you might like it: Good night and good hockey!

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jon Graff, Matt Buckman and Scott Changnon rattle off their main takeaways from the weekend’s Cubs Convention, including the funniest moments and how the players engaged with fans and each other throughout the three days at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

Plus, which players — besides Kyle Schwarber — made the most of the offseason and are primed for a breakout in 2018? The crew gives its take, with options including Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ and Jason Heyward.

Take a listen below:

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

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USA TODAY

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

Circling back around from the playoffs to the Bears, or at least to the Bears using the current postseason as a bit of a prism, magnifying glass, measuring stick, all of the above:

The ultimate question, obviously meaningfully unanswerable for perhaps another 10 or 11 months, revolves around expectations that were ushered in along with Matt Nagy and the rest of his coaching staff. One early guess is that there’ll be an inevitable positive bump in the record, the only true measuring stick. Depending on changes in practices, strength training, luck, whatever, Nagy might fare better than John Fox simply by virtue of having a presumably healthier roster — pick any three Bears who were injured during the 2017 season: Leonard Floyd, Cameron Meredith, Eric Kush, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Mitch Unrein, Kevin White and Willie Young — and a broken-in Mitch Trubisky from the get-go.

This is far from a given, however. Far, far from a given for the Bears. Of the 10 coaches hired in the 50 years since George Halas stopped, only Fox, Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt improved on the winning percentage of their immediate predecessor. All dipped, save for Jack Pardee, who in 1975 equaled the 4-10 finish of Abe Gibron before him. And Pardee was getting Walter Payton in that year’s draft, so things started looking up in a hurry.

And maybe that should be the expectation for Nagy, who projects to get some or all of Fox’s wounded back, plus a draft class beginning with No. 8 overall.

Better Bears record in 2018? Maybe, but ...

The Bears are perhaps something of an anomaly (imagine that) in the near constant of incoming coaches failing to improve matters in their first years. One of the more memorable aspects of this writer’s first year on the Bears beat (1992) — besides the obvious pyrotechnics of Mike Ditka’s epic final season — was the startling turnarounds effected by first-year (and first-time) NFL coaches that year, with several teams on the Bears’ schedule that year, meaning there were chances to study those in depth.

Consider: Bill Cowher took the Steelers from 7-9 to 11-5, Dennis Green took the Vikings from 8-8 to 11-5, Mike Holmgren took the Packers from 4-12 to 11-5, Bobby Ross took the Chargers from 4-12 to 11-5, and Dave Shula took the Bengals from 3-13 to 5-11.

The Bears played all but the Chargers that year, losing twice to Green, once to Holmgren and defeating the Cowher and Shula teams. Holmgren’s Packers didn’t make the playoffs, but he had to make an in-season quarterback change, which worked out pretty well long-term (Brett Favre).

Bears coaching-change history notwithstanding, the Nagy bar should be well above the five wins of Fox’s 2017. Nagy is a first-time head coach, but none of Cowher, Green, Holmgren, Ross or Shula had ever been NFL head coaches previously, either. Green and Ross had been college head coaches, albeit Green with a losing record and Ross barely .500 in those tenures.

And those coaches were taking over in the last year before the advent of free agency, which began in 1993. The Bears “landed” Anthony Blaylock and Craig Heyward. The Vikings secured Jack Del Rio. The Packers, Reggie White.

Odd years coming

Expectations vs. results will be interesting to observe in quite a few places this season. In some spots, the situation wasn’t completely broken but they “fixed” it anyway, in the dubious tradition of the Bears axing Lovie Smith after consecutive seasons of 11-5, 8-8 and 10-6 — two more wins (29) than Fox and Marc Trestman had combined (27) over the next five years.

Sometimes that sort of thing can work out. Phil Jackson did get the Michael Jordan Bulls to the next level that Doug Collins hadn’t. And Joe Maddon got the Cubs over the Rick Renteria hump, though adding Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler and Jon Lester probably helped, too. Fox got the Broncos into a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, but Gary Kubiak won one with Manning. Fox’s Broncos went against the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, one of the top 10 defenses of all time, while Kubiak had the good fortune of instead having one of the all-time great defenses in 2015.

But back to current NFL case studies:

— The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season, his third winning year out of four there, two of those going to the playoffs.

— The Titans concluded their playoff year with the exit of Mike Mularkey, his reward for a second straight 9-7 that reversed four straight losing years under others.

— Chuck Pagano had five .500-or-better seasons with the Colts, didn’t have Andrew Luck all year, and was fired two years after going 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck filling in for Luck.

What the expectations are in those venues is their business, just as it was when Phil Emery launched Smith in a fashion similar to the Titans with Mularkey. Smith didn’t reach the 2012 playoffs but would have been fired for anything short of a Super Bowl appearance, as Mularkey was for only winning one playoff game with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback.

All of which makes the Nagy/Pace Era more than a little intriguing. Nagy takes over a team with a No. 2-overall quarterback, as Mularkey did with Mariota. Some of Mularkey’s undoing traced to failing to maximize Mariota with an offense suited to how his quarterback plays his best, and force-fitting a player into a scheme is high-risk at best.

That doesn’t really apply in the case of a conservatively wired Fox, who directed that the offense be kept under ball-security control with a rookie quarterback. Fox and Dowell Loggains arguably were as constrained by Trubisky as he was by them.

But Nick Foles flourished with the Eagles under Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson, struggling a bit under Jeff Fisher. Case Keenum, a teammate of Foles when the Rams played in St. Louis, was so-so under the defense-based Fisher with the Rams, yet went supernova this year under the defense-based Mike Zimmer with the Vikings, which speaks to the value of the right coordinator irrespective of the head coach’s offensive or defensive background.

In the end Nagy’s achievements will be player-based. They always are. What he can do with what he’s got and given, via draft, free agency or whatever, vs. the successes and non-successes of others in his situation, is the work in progress now.