Tuesday, July 27, 2010

“The Answer” for T.O.

Terrell Owens (T.O.) is a free agent still looking for a job in the NFL.  The 6-Time Pro Bowler known for his “excessive celebrations” is watching everyone else start training camp while he tries to get a NFL contract.  One of his most memorable celebrations happened during a Monday Night Football game when he was with the San Francisco 49ers.  After a 61-yard touchdown pass, he pointed to his wristband with the words, “The Answer” inscribed on it.  He did it because, in his own words, “I am the answer.”  Seven years later and after stops with the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills, T.O. is trying to get “an answer” to join someone’s locker room.

I have “the answer” for T.O.

T.O. is without a job because of his unrealistic view of his value, not his skill set.  Despite what people say about his last season with the Bills, he still had over 800 receiving yards, which could help several teams.  However, this does not put him in the category of the top 10 receivers who acquired over 1150 yards last season.  Hines Ward and Randy Moss both have just two years less experience than Owens and they earned 1167 and 1264 yards respectively.  They are “the answers.”

Owens and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, are trying to negotiate a deal as if T.O. is “the answer” that a team can count on to put up 1300 yards plus in one season.  To get T.O. on a team, they will have to lower their salary demands and expectations that he be the #1 receiver.  Teams are not going to pay $5 million for a 36 year-old veteran to come off the bench and jeopardize the game with a 15-yard penalty for “excessive celebration.”  This is not “the answer.”

Secondly, T.O. has to understand his role as a veteran.  Teams pay veterans not just for what they do on the field, but the leadership that they provide in the locker room.  T.O. has a reputation for being disruptive in the locker room and blasting teammates to the media.  He called Jeff Garcia a homosexual, implied that Donovan McNabb was lazy, and said that Tony Romo was distracted by his girlfriend.  This would be tolerated if he was going to bring in 1400 receiving yards, but owners do not want to deal with a cancerous player in the locker room for half of that production.  That’s not “the answer” to building camaraderie on the team. 

T.O. will get a job because he is still a decent receiver.  He works hard and keeps himself in great shape.  Mike Brown, the owner of the Cincinnati Bengals has left the door open for him to join his good friend, Chad Ochocino, in “The Nasty Nati.”  If he does not reach an agreement with the Bengals, we will see T.O. sign with a contract after training camp with a team who is desperate to fill in the gap for an injured player or rookie who needs more time to develop.   Either way, it will not be on his terms.

T.O. is no longer “the answer.”  He is an option.

Heels &  Helmets

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I’m not sure Michael Jordan would not have done what LeBron did

I had a nice drive through Western Pennsylvania yesterday.  This is Pittsburgh Steelers’ territory and the pride of “Steeler Nation” was evident along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  All of the Steelers flags, banners and signs against vivid, green foliage made me excited about the upcoming NFL season.  The Steelers report to training camp next week, so as I sped through the hills on 76, I thought about the Steelers’ quarterbacks and if Terrell Owens (T.O.) could finally land a home in “Steel City.”  I was prepared to provide a little insight to help you make an argument.

Now, I can’t. 

The media attention encircling Michael Jordan’s comments regarding LeBron James’ decision to take his “talents to South Beach” have distracted me.  Reports are that arguably the game’s best player said that he would not have done what LeBron did.  Period.

Before I break down why you can’t even compare the situation and in fairness to “His Airness,” I have to include what he actually said about the new trio in Miami.

"There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic [Johnson] and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team,'" Jordan said after playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada. The interview aired on the NBC telecast of the event. "But that's ... things are different. I can't say that's a bad thing. It's an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys."

Notice MJ said “hindsight.”  His answer reflects how he would respond today at 47 years old with all of his experience, wisdom and championship rings; not what he would have actually done 22 years ago at 25 years old.

With that said here are a few facts (hindsight for MJ) to consider that make the circumstances incomparable.

1. At 25, Jordan had played 3 ½ seasons in the NBA.  At the same age, LeBron had played 6 ½ seasons.  That is almost twice as many as Jordan.  By the time Jordan was in his fifth year, he had his “Robin” in Scottie Pippen.  Going seven years without that type of support would have given Jordan a different level of frustration.

2. The Bulls brought in strong players to compliment Jordan.  After Jordan retired in the fall of 1993, the Bulls made the playoffs that season and went to the second round.  They were a solid team.  With LeBron in Miami, we are not going to see the current Cavaliers roster in the playoffs next spring.  The Cavs are not relevant without LeBron.  This demonstrates that they did not get LeBron sufficient support.

3. Jordan had two rings before he played in the Olympics on the 1992 “Dream Team” with his Chicago Bulls’ teammate, Pippen.  He was accustomed to playing with talented people on his side.  He did not return from Barcelona excited about the experience of having skilled players support his efforts.  LeBron left for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing to play on the "Redeem Team" without any rings or a teammate the caliber of Pippen.  After his days playing in high school, where no one was even close to his level, and on a lackluster Cavs team, it was energizing for him to play with people who are just as skilled and competitive as he is.

4. Jordan was never a free agent.  Jordan signed a seven-year contract with the Bulls after he was drafted in 1984.  In 1988, he signed an eight-year extension.  This took him to the mid- 1990s and his mid-thirties.  LeBron was a young free agent and every team (along with the rest of the basketball world) had been counting down to July 1, 2010 since the summer of 2006 when he signed an extension with the Cavs. 

5. Jordan was a basketball player.  LeBron is a businessman.  For Jordan, he was playing a game that he loves and felt lucky to get paid for it.  When his contract extension was being negotiated in the late 80s, he was quoted as saying:
"I haven't really been monitoring it.  I think (the Bulls) have been talking to my attorneys. I've just been playing. If they decide to give me a raise, give me a raise. I'll live with that.” 

LeBron understands that this is a business and recognizes his value.  At a younger age than Jordan, he is much more active in the negotiations and decisions that affect his career and business.  While Jordan admits that he deserved more in salary, he accepted what he was given.  LeBron is not just going to live with what an owner gives him.

Jordan’s hindsight is the Bulls building a talented team around him, 6 rings in 8 years and a bronze statue in his likeness in front of United Center.  Knowing that, why would he have left?  If he were actually in LeBron’s shoes: 25 years old, entering his eighth season and not seeing the potential to accomplish his goal of a championship, would he go to another team?  We’ll never know, but I think so.  Jordan is extremely competitive.  I could see him leaving, going back to Chicago Stadium with his new team and scoring 100 points on the Bulls.  The “House that Jordan Built” would not have been erected.

Then again, maybe not.  This is a new time.  Back then professional players just played basketball.  Even Jordan understands that. 

A player planning his own future is so foreign that Charles Barkley (former NBA All-Star player without a championship) is “disturbed” because he believes that LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh planned this all along.  He is probably right.  Champions and great organizations don’t just happen; they are planned.  I’m disturbed that he can’t conceptualize players being savvy enough to plan and build a great team and environment for themselves.  As I said last week, we are now in the era of A.T.D and players are no longer just playing on the court.  They are treating it as the business that it is. 

Sorry for the distraction.  I’ll get to T.O. and the start of NFL training camp next week.

Heels &  Helmets

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I could say a lot about LeBron’s past, but I’ll just talk about the future

Last week LeBron James announced “The Decision” live on ESPN.  We all know that his decision was to take his talents to South Beach, Florida and join his friends and 2008 Olympic teammates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh at the Miami Heat.  Since that time a lot of critics, sports pundits and Cavs fans have expressed their disappointment in his decision and the way he announced it.  There have also been a lot of comments about LBJ’s legacy and how he will never be in the same company of players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  The most shocking comments came from the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert.  He went on a tirade in an open letter to Cavs fans referring to James as a coward and quitter who betrayed him and Cleveland.  I am still baffled at his crass, unprofessional response.  I find it interesting that he lost his temper, displayed poor sportsmanship, and yet proclaims that LeBron’s behavior is damaging to our children.

With everything that has been said, there are a lot of things that I could say, but I won’t.

I could respond to Mr. Gilbert and illustrate that he acted like a spoiled brat and sore loser and showed every current and future free agent just how professional and appreciative he is of his players.  But, I won’t.

I could list all of LBJ’s accomplishments and what he did for Cleveland and send it to all of the Cavs fans that now say he is nothing but an arrogant basketball player as they burn his jersey.  But, I won’t.

I could highlight that LeBron James acted like a professional by thanking the Cavs and the City of Cleveland, withholding any negative or disappointing experiences he may have had, and not responding to the comments of his former boss.  But, I won’t.

I could refute sports journalists like Mitch Albom and tell them that watching a professional athlete chart his own course is exactly what children, in particular urban youth, need to see.  But, I won’t. 

I could simply define the term free agent for Cavs fans and tell them that LBJ is not “theirs.”  He is not bound to Ohio or responsible for building their economy.  He is also not the savior born to reverse “the curse.”  But, I won’t.

I could discuss the fact that professionals athletes are traded all of the time without prior knowledge.  Many times they are informed after the deal is completed.  But, I won’t. 

I could point out that the media, which is speaking of LeBron as an egotistic, media hound is the same establishment that began covering him as a sophomore in high school and deemed “King James” the future of the NBA.  I could even say it’s ironic. But, I won’t. 

I won’t because like LeBron Raymone James, I want to discuss the future.  

“The Decision” last week has strong implications about what is going to happen on the court this fall in Miami; but it will have an even bigger impact on what happens in professional basketball off the court.  This is a notice to owners, general managers and the NBA that their players are professional athletes.   Yes, they are the “product” that entertains all of us, but they are not plastic commodities that owners can just buy and sell.  They are professionals and responsible for managing their careers.  Like any other professional highly sought after, LeBron listened to presentations and made the best decision for him.  The problem is that for years sports leagues (not just the NBA) have treated their players as lifeless commodities that go and do what they are told.  They can't fathom that a player would conduct the free agency process, make a decision and announce it on his terms.  The fact that players discussing the possibilities of working together before free agency begins is not prohibited or considered tampering indicates that the owners and the NBA do not think of the players as “role players” in the boardroom.  They never thought that the players would one day host their own “summit” and put together a game plan to land on the same team.  This is the real reason why LeBron is no longer in Cleveland.   

Dan Gilbert and the Cavs miscalculated.  They prepared for their presentation to LeBron like it was 2009 which means they were unprepared.  The key components to a successful negotiation are: understand what is most valuable to the person on the other side of the table; do not take your opponent for granted; know your weaknesses and do not overestimate your strengths.  The Cavs spent too much time, money and energy trying to sell LeBron on things that were not his top priorities.  They took him for granted, thought too highly of their advantages and couldn’t conceptualize that there was any meaning to any conversations he had with his friends Bosh and Wade.  They felt comfortable because they knew that the other teams could not speak to him until July 1, but they did not realize that those conversations with his friends were actually very serious.

It is refreshing for me to see Bosh, James and Wade take control of their careers and navigate the ships instead of simply riding the wave.  This will motivate other players to do the same thing.  We are going to see more players get active in the boardroom, free agency and their contract negotiations.  I think history will look back on this and talk more about the big three in Miami being game changers on the business side and opening the door to a new era of free agency.  We will now specify free agency activity as B.T.D and A.T.D.  (Before The Decision and After The Decision).  Owners better get ready for A.T.D. and respect all players as professional athletes on and off the court.

I could suggest Dan Gilbert start by reading one of my favorite business books, “Winning with Integrity,” by Leigh Steinberg.  But, I won’t.

I’m looking forward to players leveling the field in the boardroom.  And I can't wait to watch the new trio in Miami go to work this fall.  Countdown to NBA Opening Week!

Heels Helmets

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

High School football moms prepare for the road to National Signing Day

Recently, I received several questions from “football moms” seeking advice on helping their sons choose a college to play football.  So, I decided to share a few points to help moms go through college recruiting with their sons.  This is not an endorsed list from a university or the NCAA, it is my insight based on experience working in college football recruitment and discussions with my friends who were recruited and played Division I football.  Here are 6 key things to consider and understand as you go through the recruitment process to National Signing Day. 

1. More to college than football - Set objectives with your son for his college career.  He plays football, but what other interests does he have?  Is it the arts?  Is it traveling abroad?  Does he want to be close to home?  What is he interested in studying?  Outline all of his aspirations inclusive of his football plans and determine the objectives for his college experience.  Create a checklist with these details to measure all of the universities.

2. The football program – Understand the Head Coach’s philosophy (on and off the field), the direction that he is taking the program and his plans for your son.  What position is he considering for your son?  Could he be considered for more than one position?  How does he envision your son contributing to the team?  Look into the current student-athletes and recruits that play the same position as your son.  Will your son be able to compete for a position?  Not starting as a freshman should not be a deterrent.  However, your son has to weigh how important being active immediately and continuing in the same position is to him.  Talk to current student-athletes and get their perspectives on the team and locker room culture.

3. Coaches are not immortal – I’m sure that your son has a favorite college coach.  He will be excited to be recruited by this coach and eager to play for him.  Head Coaches are the face of a college football program, but they are not permanent fixtures at a college or university.  They are not guaranteed to lead the program for the duration of your son’s college tenure.  It’s important that you guide your son, so he does not select a university solely to play for his favorite coach.

4. College or University APR – APR stands for Academic Progress Rates.  As part of their academic reform initiatives, the NCAA implemented the APR program to track and measure the academic performance of student-athletes.  The programs with low APRs can lose scholarships and possibly face other penalties.  The NCAA has released the 2010 report.  Look up the APR for the colleges or universities that are on your son's list.  This provides some information on how current student-athletes are performing in the classroom.

5. Education is still the key – Your son’s goal may be to play in the NFL.  I believe that you should encourage him to do his best and reach this goal.  Having said that, I also think that it is imperative that parents are realistic about their son’s ability and stress the importance of an education and experience outside of football.  Even if he plays in the NFL, the average career length is 3.5 years.  That means on average, NFL players are finished playing in their mid-twenties.  (Very young!)  What will he do after he finishes his career in the NFL?  What are his plans if he does not play professional football?  It is important that he is prepared for both situations.  This brings me back to my first point, set objectives based on all of his aspirations, not just football.

6.  It’s your son’s decision – I think that this is the most difficult part for parents.  Your role is to provide insight and guidance to help them make the best decision.  This decision is not to vicariously accomplish some things that you did not do in undergrad.  And please no threats of being removed from the will if they do not choose your alma mater.  I’ll give you a pass if he attempts to go to a rival.  I’m not a mother yet and if my son told me that he wanted to play football in Ohio, let’s just say I would only see him lose at Michigan Stadium!  Seriously, do your best to remain objective and present information and not make the decision for him.   

At 15 and 16 years old, your son’s world might revolve around football.  (OK, after Super Bowl, even I go through a little seasonal depression.)  But, there is more to life than football.  Do your part to expose your son, stimulate his other interests and guide him to have a well-rounded college experience.

This is an exciting time for you and your son.  So enjoy the process and we look forward to hearing from you on National Signing Day! 

Heels Helmets