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In this week's SI, Peter King writes about the difficult transition college coaches face when they head to the NFL, and offers advice to those thinking about making the jump. Oh, how I wish someone had been around three years ago to somehow stop the marriage between the Browns and Butch Davis. Or perhaps someone could go back in time, a la Marty McFly, to January 2001 and get in Butch's ear, convincing him to stay in Miami.
Then, while watching the Bengals' 58-48 victory over the Browns on Sunday, I might have seen Chaun Thompson gradually disappear from the screen, as McFly does when it appears his dad isn't going to successfully woo his mom after all. Instead, Sunday's game was a bizarre affair. (Yes, I watched the whole thing. Pathetic.)
My theory was that the defense was tanking so Davis would get fired, while the offense -- perhaps hip to the rumors that Davis was interested in the Florida job -- played the game of their lives to make him look good, so if he wanted to leave for the Gators he'd have to quit, saving the team some cash. (When Davis did quit yesterday, the team said it would honor the remainder of his deal.)
So what went wrong? Is this further proof that college coaches can't hack it in the NFL? The biggest problem Davis had, and it's one that's common to a lot of college coaches making the jump, is that he wasn't a shrewd personnel guy, yet he insisted on having total control. It's not that he was a bad judge of talent (though that was part of it). It's just that running an NFL team is tricky. It's not college, where you're the BMOC and that's that. There's an art to it, to signing free agents, to building a roster that can't include 142 players, to drafting.
Case in point: In 2003 Davis decides he really likes a linebacker named Chaun Thompson, who plied his trade at a Division-II school that was winless in his senior year. That's the kind of situation that might skew one's evaluation of a player -- he's the best guy on a horrible team. Is that really a compliment? Now, I've got no problem with looking for a diamond in the rough, but Davis threw a second-round pick away on a guy who was going to be there the next time by. And he spent a fifth-round pick that year on a long snapper. It's not like being at Miami, where you can throw a scholarship offer at anyone you think has a decent upside. The Browns brought in Ron Wolf last offseason to advise on personnel decisions. Davis wasn't content to just ignore Wolf, who put together some pretty good teams in Green Bay. He had to publicly disparage him, leading to Wolf's resignation a few months after he took the job.
Davis led the Browns to one playoff appearance, using mostly leftover players. Injuries have hit this team harder than most, but the fact remains that Davis just put together a bad team. And he's not the only college coach to have done that. (Steve Spurrier tried to replicate Gainesville in Washington, stocking the Redskins with former Gators.) The lesson I hope the Browns pick up: hire an NFL guy, preferably one who's been around the block a time or two but is still young. Not many coaches get it right the first time around -- and if the Browns need a reminder of that, they only need to look across the field Sunday, when they'll face the Patriots, who are led by Bill Belichick, whose greatest accomplishment as Browns coach was that he successfully avoided being tarred and feathered.
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Now, here's where I disagree with Peter. Last week he gave a fairly glowing review to the new U2 album. I've got to say, I was disappointed. When I bought the album I also bought the Live Aid DVD, which is a pretty cool set, by the way. Look at U2 then -- Bono's got a mullet, male pattern baldness is setting in on the Edge. But they were passionate. If you weren't moved by the sight of Bono jumping off the stage to slow dance with a girl in the front row during Bad then you have no heart. A few years later, of course, they discovered irony, which meant that such a heart-on-the-sleeve attitude wasn't going to cut it. But at least the music (Achtung, Baby and the criminally underrated Zooropa) was good. Then they did a horrible disco album, decided enough was enough, and released a proper rock album. Through the entire process of invention and reinvention, they were constantly evolving. Now, though, for the first time in their career, they've released an album that sounds just like the one before it (only it's not as good). It's like they're a U2 tribute band or something. Listenable record, just a bit of a letdown.
Jennings goes down
As I'm sure the 10 Spot has pointed out, Ken Jennings got beat on Jeopardy!. His downfall: he went 0-for-2 on the Daily Doubles in Double Jeopardy and missed Final Jeopardy -- a sort of game show golden sombrero. Not to take anything away from the man's intellect, but Ken's biggest strength, if you ask me, was his trigger finger, which allowed him to always be the first to ring in. So I guess that makes it OK to discuss this on a sports site.
Finally, congrats to Notre Dame, which is now thisclose to becoming Alabama: a big-time program no one wants to coach. Would you want the ND job? They ran off Ty Willingham before giving him a chance to play with guys he recruited. And apparently students were planning a protest to clamor for his head. Well, you got your wish. Now good luck finding someone willing to subject themselves to ridiculously high expectations, round-the-clock scrutiny and the headaches that come with them.
Mark Bechtel covers NASCAR for Sports Illustrated and SI.com.