I gotta say, having the Packers win the Super Bowl did take some of the pain out of this offseason.  Had the Steelers won their third Super Bowl in the last five seasons, it would have showcased the massive gulf between these two teams and put an immense amount of pressure to catch up.  It’s amazing what difference a couple of plays can make on the outlook of an entire offseason.  That said, Pittsburgh remains the unquestioned dominant power in the AFC North, and for all their weaknesses this season they face many fewer question marks than do the Ravens.  Luckily for the exhausted and burned out football fans of the world (I hope I’m not the only one) we have months before the draft takes over and over-coverage of bombastic showmanship in the labor negotiations begin.  But hey, there is always the Orioles!  Okay, so maybe that didn’t help.  Let’s just line up for the kick…

Spring Training Performance Carries More Weight After Disastrous 2010

Spring Training is almost upon us, so let’s let the hype machine begin.  It’s strange how over the course of an offseason the team looks better and better even if little has changed.  Every signing looks a little better that it did when it was made, and the youth on the team is expected to advance by leaps and bounds, though that is hardly a guarantee.  Given the hype going into last year I am cautious to expect anything other than last place for this team, but the end of last season does give some legitimate reasons for optimism.  Fans aren’t simply hoping that the Orioles are capable of winning- they showed they could.  After the epic failure of last season’s Spring Training that continued into the season, I will put slightly more stock in this season’s Spring Training performance than most years.   In 2010 Spring Training showed that the Orioles were simply not ready to play, regardless of injuries, and it bled into the season.  It bucked the trend of preseason being meaningless as far as an indicator of how the season would unfold.  With hopes and ambitions again high (for an O’s team, that is), it will certainly have my attention.


Randy Shannon Offered Terps’ Defensive Coordinator Position

If Randy Shannon, longtime Miami defensive coordinator and recently fired head coach was to accept a job with Maryland, it would turn the loss of Don Brown completely on its ear.  Last week I decried the immorality of Brown jumping ship just days after Signing Day, with the lone top candidate remaining (Shannon) considered too radioactive even for a desperate UCLA squad.  I was all but resigned to the idea of promoting a green assistant to continue Brown’s scheme.  Shannon has been dogged by rumors of questionable recruiting dating back as long as he has been on Miami’s staff, and was been credited with a great defense that is built more on the quality of his players than the complexity of his scheme. 

He runs a 4-3 cover 2 defense on just about every play and dares the opposition to beat it.  Yes, he has great athletes to do it, but he is the one recruiting them.  He is a tremendous coach and his defense should fit well into what the Terps were already running under Brown, not to mention helping with recruiting in talent-rich South Florida.  I won’t hold my breath, but I will be hoping Shannon, whose defenses only ranked worse than 7th once in his tenure as Miami DC, decides to head up Route 1.

Jerry Sloan Retires after 23 Seasons with Utah Jazz

23 seasons is an astonishing amount of time to make it as a head coach in any professional league, much less with a single team, and even less without winning a championship.  But don’t take that last part as a shot on Coach Sloan- the fact that he didn’t win a championship but remained as head coach is a testament to the fact that he delivered consistent winners every season, never with a lull low enough to erode the confidence of management or the fans.  He survived the exits of Vlade Divac and John Stockton and rebuilt a winner with Deron Williams and Adrei Kirilenko, and a host of role players that he yet again found the right place for. 

But in the end it was this new nucleus of players- and the new era of the NBA- that finally told him it was enough.  The league when coaches could own the locker room, when they commanded the respect of their players is long gone.  Coaches are now on a first name basis with players to the point where they are fortunate to be referred to as “coach.”  They run the team through negotiation, bargaining with star players, seen as little more than a middle-man between the player and the team’s owner.  Sloan may have realized that in his disputes with point guard Deron Williams that Williams was emboldened in knowing that ownership had his back rather than the longest tenured coach in the NBA.   At that point, he was right to walk away.