The Grand Jury Asterisk

A federal grand jury in Barry Bonds’ home turf placed the asterisk on his home run record that baseball declined to provide. Bonds received indictments for perjury and obstruction of justice yesterday for his actions in a federal investigation into illegal distribution networks of steroids. Given that he claimed no knowledge of steroid use, the perjury indictments demonstrate the grand jury’s conclusion from the evidence that Bonds knew well that he juiced himself to win baseball’s most prized records:

Barry Bonds, baseball’s home run king, was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice Thursday and could go to prison instead of the Hall of Fame for telling a federal grand jury he did not knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs.
The indictment, culminating a four-year investigation into steroid use by elite athletes, charged Bonds with four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice. If convicted, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years in prison.
Shortly after the indictment was handed up, Bonds’ personal trainer, Greg Anderson, was ordered released after spending most of the past year in prison for refusing to testify against his longtime friend.
The 10-page indictment mainly consists of excerpts from Bonds’ December 2003 testimony before a federal grand jury investigating the Bay Area supplements lab at the center of a steroid distribution ring. It cites 19 occasions in which Bonds allegedly lied under oath.
An attorney familiar with the investigation told ESPN’s T.J. Quinn that the government obtained the results of positive steroids tests for Barry Bonds during a search of BALCO facilities. The source said the positive results did not come from confidential testing conducted by Major League Baseball and the players association. In approximately 2001, MLB conducted tests to guage the level of substance problems among players. The government subpoenaed those records.

The release of Anderson is curious. Did he finally roll over on his friend? The positive steroids tests may not be entirely applicable, even if they came from BALCO rather than MLB. In order to prove perjury and/or obstruction, one has to prove an intent to mislead, and Bonds could still say that he didn’t know that the preparations he received contained steroids. The grand jury likely found evidence of his knowledge and his active participation in a cover-up — and Anderson could have provided that.
Bond’s team reacted with typical arrogance. His attorney, Mike Rains, complained that a Justice Department that didn’t know that waterboarding is torture couldn’t tell the difference between prosecution and persecution, either. He accused prosecutors of “unethical conduct” without offering any specifics, and Rains didn’t take any questions, either.
Should Bonds get the asterisk, or if convicted of perjury and obstruction, get removed from the record books altogether? Some will undoubtedly say yes, that cheating cannot be condoned, and that Bonds’ use of steroids cheated pitchers and other players from honest competition. I’d have more sympathy to that argument if pitchers and other players hadn’t also juiced themselves along the way, and if baseball had lifted a single finger in the years Bonds played to stop steroid use.
Not every baseball star juiced to achieve success, of course. But baseball allowed and even encouraged players to buff up, to put astronomical offensive numbers on the board in order to generate intense interest in the game. After its labor woes, MLB needed fireworks like the Sosa-McGwire chase, and Bonds’ effort afterwards. As long as dingers put butts in the seats and clips on ESPN, baseball wasn’t about to challenge the basis for their new success.
It’s easy to target the arrogant star at the center of this controversy. He’s mostly dislikable, and he’s allegedly a liar to boot. However, Bonds doesn’t deserve an asterisk for his records. Major League Baseball deserves an asterisk for an entire era of its statistics, and everyone — the owners who reaped the profits, the players who refused to police themselves, and the fans who ate the sausage without caring how it was made — should take the blame for it.

NFL Gives Vick The Pete Rose Treatment

Hours after releasing an admission that he had helped kill dogs and had bankrolled gambling as part of a dogfighting operation, Michael Vick got an indefinite suspension from the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell cited the “cruel and reprehensible” nature of Vick’s acts, but it does not necessarily preclude Vick from a return to gridiron action in the future:

The NFL indefinitely suspended Michael Vick without pay Friday just hours after he acknowledged in court papers that he did, indeed, bankroll gambling on dogfighting and helped kill some dogs not worthy of the pit.
Vick, however, insisted he placed no bets of his own nor took any winnings.
In disciplining Vick, commissioner Roger Goodell said Vick’s admitted conduct was “not only illegal but also cruel and reprehensible” and regardless whether he personally placed bets, “your actions in funding the betting and your association with illegal gambling both violate the terms of your NFL player contract and expose you to corrupting influences in derogation of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of an NFL player.”

Many wondered whether Vick would get a chance to plea out without taking responsibility for killing dogs or gambling on the illegal dogfights. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that he would not do so, but obviously the US Attorney on the case refused to cut a deal otherwise. Vick didn’t have much leverage; his three co-conspirators had already cut deals to testify against him.
Instead, Vick was forced to capitulate and submit a stipulation that the government would have proven a number of allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. The crimes included interstate transport to promote an illegal business, conspiring to do same, buying the property explicitly for that purpose, and so on. Paragraph 32 states that Vick and his partners “rolled” or tested dogs in April 2007, when the investigation first hit the news, and that “approximately 6-8 dogs … were killed by various methods, including hanging and drowning. Vick agrees and stipulates that these dogs all died as a result of the collective efforts of Peace, Phillips, and Vick.” Paragraph 4 states that “Most of the “Bad Newz Kennels” operation and gambling monies were provided by Vick.”
It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Vick’s attorneys say that he will have a statement for the press later. It’s hard to see how he can spin this any other way than to admit to being just a little depraved.
However, depraved sells in the NFL. Even if Vick gets the 12-18 months that some have suggested, he could be ready for 2009. Will the NFL remain as offended then as they are now? As Duane Patterson and I discussed today on CQ Radio, Baltimore’s Ray Lewis managed to come back to the NFL after pleading out to obstruction of justice in a case where human beings died rather than dogs. The league shrugged that off, and Lewis has been a good citizen ever since, at least publicly.
Will they let Vick do the same? It’s hard to imagine that any team will be too keen on attaching themselves to Vick at the moment, but that could change in a couple of years. Once he’s paid the price for his crime, he’ll probably be 29 years old and still in good shape. Look for the NFL to soften its stance and allow Vick to latch onto a team — and don’t be surprised if he lands in Oakland.

Why Aaron Is King

Barry Bonds broke the career home-run record held for 33 years by Henry Aaron last night, jolting number 756 out of the park at home in San Francisco. Bonds took a 3-2 pitch into the stands 435 feet away — and extended a controversy as to whether he deserves the record:

The ball exploded off Barry Bonds’ bat, a small white sphere streaking through the dark San Francisco sky, headed for the right-center field seats and a hallowed place in baseball history.
It was 8:51 Tuesday, a night no one in the sellout crowd of 43,154 at AT&T Park would ever forget, a night to be lived and relived by word of mouth, digital camera and endless reels of highlight tape.
On a 3-and-2 pitch from Washington Nationals left-hander Mike Bacsik, Bonds, in his second game after tying Hank Aaron’s career home run mark of 755, belted No. 756.
In this, his 23rd season in the major leagues, his 16th in a Giants uniform, the holder of the single-season home run record with 73 in 2001 and a record seven most-valuable player awards, Bonds added the final jewel to his home run crown.

If Hammerin’ Hank had his doubts about the steroid-fueled capture of his mark in baseball history, he had too much class to make that argument last night. Aaron, who pointedly refused to attend Bonds’ games in objection to Bonds’ alleged use of steroids, did the next-best thing:

Willie Mays, Bonds’ godfather, the first Giants’ icon in San Francisco, emerged from the dugout. The two men stood arm in arm, 1,416 home runs between them, first and fourth on the all-time list.
And then Bonds turned, Mays turned, we all turned to the enormous video board behind center field. There was Aaron, suddenly second on the all-time list, larger than life and appropriately so.
“I would like to offer my congratulations to Barry Bonds on becoming baseball’s career home run leader,” Aaron said. “It is a great accomplishment which requires longevity and determination. Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball, and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years.
“I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historical achievement. My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams.”

Everyone knows that Bonds has used steroids in his efforts to improve his baseball game. It’s been part of courtroom testimony, and it’s been pretty obvious to those who have watched Bonds bulk up over the years. His 73 home runs in a single season — at 37! — made it more obvious than even Mark McGwire’s bulking up on androstenidione to hit 70 shortly before that. Sammy Sosa also allegedly bolstered his natural performance, as did Jason Giambi, Jose Conseco, and plenty of others.
But that’s part of the problem with putting a big, fat asterisk on Bonds’ record. We may want to do that to show the difference between Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, but both played in different conditions. If Bonds bulked up, so did plenty of other players, including the pitchers he faced. It’s the Steroids Era, and Bonds excelled in it.
If anyone deserved the asterisk — that despicable appendix with which Ford Frick cursed Roger Maris — it’s Babe Ruth. I’m not saying that Ruth took performance enhancing drugs; he usually handicapped himself with excessive drinking and eating. Ruth, however, played in an era that excluded some of the best talent in baseball because of segregation. He never had to face the excellent players in the Negro League, while Maris and Aaron played against a level field in their careers. Ruth hit 714 home runs (and set many other records as well) against a whites-only league. It’s not his fault — he didn’t make the rules — but it’s the one era in baseball which limited competition and talent, and all records set in that era have to be taken with a grain of salt.
So who really deserves the asterisk? Peter Ueberroth, Fay Vincent, and Bud Selig. They did nothing while steroids flourished, because owners liked what it did to the game. It resulted in more homers, and more spectacular homers at that. It generated interest in baseball during some rocky times and led to the silly Home Run Derbys before All-Star Games. The owners marketed on steroids and they depended on them just as much as the players who used them — and these commissioners didn’t lift a finger to stop it until Congress asserted what little authority it had to embarrass MLB. Only then did Selig start pushing against the Steroids Era.
So let’s not put all the blame on Bonds — but let’s recognize the man who earned that record without drugging himself, playing in an era where high mounds and wider strike zones made it one of the most difficult periods for hitters. Hammerin’ Hank had to play baseball and fight bigots to get to 755. In my mind, he and Roger Maris will always be the home-run kings of baseball.

Vick Suspended

Last week, news that Michael Vick had been indicted on dogfighting and conspiracy charges stunned sports fans — and apparently NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Yesterday, he ordered Michael Vick barred from preseason camp pending his own probe into the charges. Vick could find himself with plenty of time this fall to prepare for his defense:

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday ordered quarterback Michael Vick not to report to training camp with the Atlanta Falcons until the league has reviewed his legal troubles stemming from federal dogfighting charges.
Vick’s playing status is to be determined by Goodell, and the NFL gave no timetable for the decision other than to announce that the review would be completed “as soon as possible.” …
Others in the league have said that Vick, 27, could face a lengthy suspension under the NFL’s toughened conduct policy imposed by Goodell in April. The policy empowers Goodell to suspend a player even if he has not been convicted of a crime. After enacting the policy, Goodell suspended Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones for a full season and imposed half-season suspensions on Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry and former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson.

Goodell met with Vick in April on the allegations of dogfighting and gambling, the latter of which really will concern the NFL. Vick apparently insisted that he had no idea what had happened on the property, but the indictments allege that Vick had been an active participant in staging the fights, killing the dogs, and gambling on the events. If Goodell determines that Vick lied in their initial meeting, that may be enough for Goodell to open up a starting QB slot for Joey Harrington in Atlanta for the entire season.
While animal lovers would cheer that decision, the real problem stems from the illegal gambling. The nexus of gamblers and athletes results in questions that shake the integrity of the games they play. Especially for an athlete whose inconsistencies are so widely noted, the presence of illegal gambling — especially on a vile and illegal “sport” such as dogfighting — will prompt fans to wonder whether Vick may have paid off some debts through point-shaving. The NFL has a deep interest in keeping the game clean and eliminating these kinds of questions, and Goodell will probably act long before Vick tries to defend himself in court.
Vick and his dwindling band of supporters will protest, saying that he has not been convicted in court of any wrongdoing — but that doesn’t require the NFL from acting in its own interest. If they find evidence that Vick has violated his contract and associated with gamblers in violation of their rules, then Vick needs to go. Goodell isn’t required to sacrifice the NFL for the sake of one player’s extraordinarily bad judgment.

Falcons QB Indicted On Dogfighting Conspiracy

The Atlanta Falcons may have to count on their backup quarterback in the 2007 season. According to ABC News, a grand jury indicted the star QB on felony charges surrounding an alleged dogfighting conspiracy centered at his mansion:

Michael Vick has been indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the dogfighting probe of his property in Virginia.
The Falcons quarterback was indicted for conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Richmond, Va. Three others — Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor — also were indicted by the grand jury on the same charges.
According to court documents filed by federal authorities earlier this month, dog fights have been sponsored by “Bad Newz Kennels” at the property since at least 2002. For the events, participants and dogs traveled from South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, Texas and other states.
Members of the venture also knowingly transported, delivered and received dogs for animal fighting, the documents state.
Fifty-four pit bulls were recovered from the property during searches in April, along with a “rape stand,” used to hold dogs in place for mating; an electric treadmill modified for dogs; and a bloodied piece of carpeting, the documents said.

The alleged perpetrators carefully bathed the dogs before a fight. Some participants apparently would occasionally put poison on the dogs’ coats in order to disable its opponent. This consideration would end in a loss; if the dog survived, they would kill it by electrocution, drowning, strangulation, gun shot, or whatever other method was handy.
Vick denied that he had any connection to the activities on his property. He sold it after the initial search, but apparently not quickly enough to convince federal investigators. He stopped talking about the case over the last couple of months — a wise move. The federal grand jury didn’t need to hear from him to hand down the indictments.
Why federal and not state investigators? The conspiracy crossed several state lines. Bad Newz Kennels staged dogfights as far north as New Jersey and as far south as South Carolina. The Virginia Attorney General originally accused federal officials of going after Vick because of his celebrity, then changed his tune when the extent of the ring became apparent.
I like watching Vick on the football field, even though I’m usually rooting against him. He’s exciting and unpredictable. However, if he’s guilty of this, he should do some serious prison time for participating in such a cruel so-called “sport”. It’s despicable, and if convicted, the NFL should think twice before allowing him back in the game — and not just for the cruelty, but for the gambling as well.

Joe Paterno, National Treasure

Remember when colleges justified the expense of their sports programs by claiming that they built character for the student athletes — and it was still true for the premier sports, like football? I’m not sure if any CQ readers are that old, but I know one man who still believes it … and he’s the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions football team. Joe Paterno wants to make sure that his team learns character along with pass protections and blitzing schemes (via Mitch Berg):

This spring, six Penn State football players were arrested and charged for crimes stemming from an off-campus fight April 1 in which at least 15 Nittany Lions were present. The charged included a couple of star players, although what apparently bothered coach Joe Paterno the most was how many of his kids were willing to be involved.
And so Paterno, 80 now but no less tough, no less disciplined, hatched a plan to set things right within his program. He’ll let the local legal and student judicial process play out, but regardless he decided that to keep people from thinking his team was trash, it’ll spend the fall cleaning it up.
According to Paterno, the Penn State football team will clean Beaver Stadium after each home football game this fall. It’ll gather garbage, sweep stairs and maybe even hose parts down. …
It’s a job that usually goes to members of club sports on campus – say, rugby or crew – which do it to raise money so they can compete. Paterno said the clubs still will get the $5,000 for the job, but his guys, fresh off playing 60 minutes of major college football the day before, will do all the work starting Sunday morning.

It started as a personal conflict between Anthony Scirrotto and some passers-by who insulted Scirrotto and his girlfriend. That started a fistfight, which apparently left Scirrotto dissatisfied. He called some of his teammates when he found out that his antagonists would be at an off-campus party, and they crashed the party and started a brawl. Police arrested several of the team members, but more avoided getting caught.
Except by Paterno. When he heard the details, the lack of character and leadership among his team angered him, and he decided that they needed to learn both in a memorable way. And that’s why the pride of Penn State will raise funds for other groups on campus by replacing them on cleanup detail after Penn State football games all season long.
Will he lose players over this? Possibly. If so, those who leave will only hurt themselves. Paterno obviously cares more about his players and their futures than he does about winning ball games, and any student willing to turn his back on that kind of coach deserves to get exploited somewhere else.
This is why, although I always root for Notre Dame, Joe Paterno is my favorite college coach of all time.

Celebrating #42

George Will has few peers in politics and in baseball politics, and he proves it yet again today in his look at the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers. For those confused by the Don Imus kerfuffle, here’s what real prejudice and hatred looked like:

To appreciate how far the nation has come, propelled by what began 60 years ago today, consider not the invectives that Robinson heard from opponents’ dugouts and fans but the way he had been praised. “Dusky Jack Robinson,” as the Los Angeles Times called him, alerting readers to the race of UCLA’s four-sport star, ran with a football “like it was a watermelon and the guy who owned it was after him with a shotgun.”

And that was from Robinson’s allies in the media. Will continues:

Eig is especially informative about the dynamics among the Dodgers, who, like many teams, had a Southern tinge. The most popular player was nicknamed Dixie (Walker) and one of the best pitchers was the grandson of a Confederate soldier. The Dodgers’ radio broadcaster, Red Barber, a Mississippian, considered resigning, then thought better. Radio presented Robinson as television cameras could not have — as, Eig shrewdly writes, “all action,” undifferentiated by visual differences from his teammates.
After the opening two games against the Boston Braves, the Dodgers played the Giants at the Polo Grounds in Harlem. The president of the National League, fearing excessive enthusiasm, suggested that Robinson should develop a sprained ankle. He did not, and the crowds were large, dressed as if for church — men in suits and hats, women in dresses — and decorous. Soon a commentator wrote, “Like plastics and penicillin, it seems like Jackie is here to stay.”

It’s hard to imagine the surprise felt by commentators when a crowd of African-Americans behaved themselves in a ballpark on opening day. What did they expect? A riot? Instead, these commentators saw a people long oppressed standing in line to see a small measure of justice on the playing field — far from their full due, but a promise that equality would not be long in coming. It would take longer than many expected, though. Not until seventeen years had passed would the US act to guarantee voting rights for the descendants of slaves and to start rolling back the Jim Crow laws that had kept them as second-class citizens since the Civil War.
Jackie, and Branch Rickey, redeemed the national pastime sixty years ago today. It took years before the redemption became complete, as owners resisted hiring black ballplayers; the Red Sox would wait several years before finally integrating, and it took more before teams dropped the notion of rationing spots on the roster to blacks to maintain some artificial racial balance. Nevertheless, today we celebrate the man who had the courage to make himself a target and step onto fields where he confronted hatred, fear, and abuse — and in the end triumphed over all of them.
Be sure to read all of Will’s excellent column.

Retreating On Robinson

ABC News interviewed Hall of Fame baseball player Dave Winfield on an intriguing question: what has happened to black baseball players? After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, African-American children wanted to follow in his cleat steps, and many of them did. As ABC and Winfield note and the latter laments, that has not been the case for decades now. After peaking at 27% in 1974, the percentage of blacks among major-league ballplayers has fallen to a paltry 9%.
So what happened? The children have moved to football and basketball, but ABC and Winfield miss one of the most important reasons why:

Baseball is no longer the sport of choice for America’s children. Gone are the days of sandlot pickup games and summer afternoons filled with playing catch and home run derbies. Kids — especially in urban areas — today dream of dunking like Shaquille O’Neal, throwing the winning touchdown like Donovan McNabb, and signing a multimillion dollar deal at the age of 19 like 2003’s No.1 NBA draft pick LeBron James. …
Winfield, who batted .283 in 22 Major League seasons, attributes the dwindling number of blacks in baseball to “myriad factors,” including lack of field space in urban areas, the availability of local leagues, the cost of equipment and improper instruction.
“There are a lot of socio-economic factors,” said Winfield. “Society has changed. There used to be open spaces, and people said, ‘Hey, let’s play, let’s go outside.’ Stick ball, stoop ball, home run derby — in the urban areas, you rarely see that anymore. There are very few spaces that developers haven’t taken advantage of and, on the other end, other sports — specifically basketball and football — have [attracted] the great athletes in urban areas.”

Without a doubt, Winfield names some of the reasons why the game doesn’t capture the imaginations of black children in the same way it did earlier. Cities have less room for baseball fields, and families have less time to allow children to play it. Basketball courts fit perfectly into city environments, and football gets plenty of support from the schools, as also does basketball. With crimes against children getting serious attention, the days of allowing them to hang out in the streets unattended has started to pass — and when they do, predatory gangs afflict those neighborhoods, replacing any thought of organized ball.
The one major change they miss, though, is the amateur draft. The modern amateur baseball draft started in 1965, and one of my favorite players, Rick Monday, was the first player drafted. The draft forced all amateur baseball players from the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico to enter into it in order to get placed with a major-league organization. It excludes players from other countries — and that’s the problem.
In the decades before the modern draft, teams scouted the country to look for hidden gems in the heartland. They encouraged children to play ball, in rural and urban areas, in order to broaden the pool. The scouts lived to find prospects who could play ball and whom other scouts had never seen, and to sign them for their own organization. The teams spent plenty of money doing that, until the draft.
Now they spend tons of money on player development, but they do it in places like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela. The teams want to get a direct benefit from their development dollars. In the US, that’s been impossible for 42 years; they can’t sign kids they discover, but can only encourage them into the draft. In these other countries, they can sign the players themselves and recoup the investment directly.
What has happened is that the demographics of major-league baseball players has turned decidedly international. There’s nothing wrong with that, either; MLB wants an international audience for its game, and it has to get players from around the world to build that kind of interest. This is another part of Robinson’s legacy in breaking the color barrier. However, it means that African-Americans get a smaller share of the pie than they do in other sports, and as a result, they feel less engaged with the sport in their youth.
It’s no accident that the peak of African-American participation came nine years after the draft; it takes that long for most of the people in the minors to work their way to the big clubs. After the draft started changing the demographics in the minors, the majors were certain to follow suit.
Baseball can certainly change that by investing more time and money in building urban programs to get children interested in the game. However, they may want to rethink the draft and the impact it has had on the sport’s competitive interest in American ballplayers.

Buyer’s Remorse Replaces Bugler’s Delight

Great Britain celebrated when they won the 2012 Olympics over the French in 2005, hailing it as a triumph of Cool Britannia and a chance to underscore the importance of the UK. The Parisians sulked in grand fashion. Both may want to reconsider their reactions in the face of the mounting costs of conducting the Olympics:

It has been reported that the cost of the 2012 London Olympics could soar to £9 billion, almost four times the original estimate.
The BBC has reported that the Treasury and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are discussing the price, up from the £2.35 billion set out in London’s bid document.
The Government reportedly believes construction alone could cost £3.3 billion, with an extra £2 billion allocated as a contingency fund. The £9 billion figure also includes regeneration costs of £1.8 billion and a £1 billion VAT bill.

Given the state of the world at the moment, it should surprise no one that it also includes a £900 million bill for security. London seems particularly challenging in that regard. With Muslim extremists attracting more and more followers in the ancient city, the Olympics seems a rather tempting target for radical Islamist terrorism, even as far off as these Games still are.
Nine billion pounds equates to $17.7 billion at today’s rate of conversion. By comparison, the Salt Lake City games — conducted in 2002 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks — cost $2 billion. Atlanta, which was marred by domestic terrorism, cost $2.4 billion in 1996, at that point a record amount. Sydney’s 2000 summer games cost $2 billion. However, London isn’t far off from the bill generated by Athens, which ran to $14.6 billion in 2004.
I’ve heard of inflation, but this is ridiculous. You could feed Africa on what Athens and the UK will have spent on two summer Olympics. In 2006 dollars, we spent $17 billion developing and building the command and service modules for the Apollo project that put a man on the moon; in fact, the London Olympics — which lasts less than three weeks — will spend over 12% of what we spent on the entire Apollo program in today’s dollars.
The Olympics have turned into the most self-indulgent, overblown human endeavor in history. The peoples of the world should refuse to hold these events until the amount of publc funds spent on them start to have some relationship to their actual benefit.

Going 14-2 Wasn’t Enough?

Fans of the NFL might have figured that any coach with a 14-2 record in the regular season would have had no worries about his employment in the 2007 season. For most teams, that would have been true, but apparently not in San Diego. Marty Schottenheimer finds himself unceremoniously dumped by the Chargers after one of its best seasons:

Marty Schottenheimer performed well enough to go 14-2 last season despite what team president Dean Spanos called a “dysfunctional situation” between the coach and his general manager.
Less than a month after San Diego’s NFL-best 14-2 season was wrecked in a home playoff loss to New England, Spanos said the exodus of assistant coaches — the two coordinators became NFL head coaches and two assistants became coordinators — contributed to an “untenable” situation that resulted in the coach being fired. Schottenheimer is due more than $3 million for the final year left on his contract.
While confirming he had no working relationship with Smith, Schottenheimer seemed puzzled that Spanos made the coach take the fall for his assistants leaving.
“That is absolutely unfair in my view,” Schottenheimer told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We had no control over two guys who became head coaches in this league. We gave two guys an opportunity to be coordinators in this league. We’ve added a couple of guys that people should be very pleased with. The future coach will be very pleased, as well.”

It’s a strange situation. Smith let Drew Brees go after a shoulder injury at the end of last season, only to see Brees once again become one of the league’s most effective quarterbacks. While Philip Rivers has turned out to be a pretty good QB on his own, Brees’ experience would have been helpful in their playoff game against the New England Patriots.
Besides, Smith hardly quaifies as legendary material, even as a GM. The fact that Schottenheimer produced two head coaches from his staff speaks pretty clearly about his value in developing talent, not as some sort of disqualification. This sounds like a very silly excuse to fire Schottenheimer for not taking them to the Super Bowl, a complaint that would have resulted in 28 dismissals last week had the rest of the league followed the Spanos example.
Schottenheimer will find another job. I’ll bet that Jerry Jones is kicking himself for hiring Wade Phillips in Dallas a few days too soon. Spanos will have a tough time finding a coach of Schottenheimer’s stature and talent, and the next head coach will have to wonder how secure his job will be if he loses two games early in the season.