Sunday, October 18, 2009

How to destroy an NFL football team

When Tim Ruskell took over the General Manager duties from Mike Holmgren in 2005, the Seattle Seahawks were stocked full of top-tier talent built for the unique West Coast Offense that Holmgren had run to near perfection since joining the Seahawks from the Green Bay Packers.

In 2005, the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl.

Critics hailed Ruskell's abilities as a GM, despite the fact that Holmgren, who handled all personnel decisions that built the team into the NFC powerhouse they had become, was the mechanic behind the sleek Seahawks engine.

And then Ruskell, basking in the glow of false confidence, placed a nuclear bomb deep within the recesses of the Seattle Seahawks franchise, slipped away into his fallout shelter, and waited, fingers twitching, eyes darting, wondering if anyone would be left alive to point the finger at him.

The nuclear bomb has officially exploded. For those of you interested in becoming a General Manager one day, or anyone struggling to figure out the salary cap penalties his franchise is mysteriously accruing in Madden 2010, this is an exploration in what NOT to do ... don't get confused though, Ruskell only built his bunker for one ... you'll be left to melt in the radiation.

Now, the Seahawks are in a unique position in the NFL because of their deep-pocketed superowner, Paul Allen. Where other GMs may struggle to find the cash to splash on free agents or to pay signing bonuses to high-caliber rookies, the Seahawks have always had plenty of money on hand to take care of business. But money doesn't solve everything (as we're going to find out after the 2011 lockout and the uncapped 2012 season ... yikes), and in Ruskell's case, it was the non-financially motivated decisions that led to the dramatic decline of the Seattle Seahawks since the 2005 Super Bowl.

Outside of the NBA Draft, the NFL Draft can have the biggest impact on revitalizing a franchise and restocking the team with great young talent. When Holmgren was playing house, the Seahawks made smart trades (bringing in QB Matt Hasselbeck from Green Bay) and smart draft picks (All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson, now with the undefeated Minnesota Vikings, whom Ruskell dumbfoundingly-decided not to resign a few years ago). But drafting isn't just about selecting the best-available players and plugging them in whenever they get a chance, it's about directly restocking the vital areas of a team:

  • Quarterback
  • Offensive tackle
  • Running back
  • Defensive end
  • Cornerback
  • Safety

Those are the six biggest needs to put together a successful franchise. You need offensive playmakers, someone to protect the blind side of your most important asset (your quarterback), someone to rush the opposing passer and penetrate the backfield, and finally a secondary that can properly defend against the pass.

In 2005, the Seahawks had all of those positions locked up with Pro-Bowlers (not professional bowlers, that wouldn't make sense) and successful role players. When Ruskell took over the franchise, however, he made the crucial mistake to not restock those positions with talented draft picks who could learn the position slowly from veterans in front of them before the natural "changing of the guard" could take place.

But Ruskell didn't just make that mistake once.

He made it four times.

Bill Belichick, the moody genius head coach of the New England Patriots, consistently used his draft picks, especially later-round draft picks, to fill his squad with barrels of ammunition that led the team to multiple Super Bowl titles in the decade. Tom Brady was famously drafted in the sixth round.

The point is that PLAYER EVALUATION is a General Manager's single most-important responsibility. A GM that can't properly evaluate talent, as the Seattle Mariners found out (cough ... Bill Bavasi ... cough), can single-handedly destroy your team. So the question hangs: Is Ruskell a good judge of talent? Is he capable of handling his primary function as an employee of the Seattle Seahawks? Would you keep a beer vendor who somehow filled every plastic cup with orange juice without ever realizing or accepting that he was bad at his job?

So just keeping in mind how much Belichick valued making smart draft picks and keeping in mind how critical player evaluation and restocking your team via the draft are, let's take a look at what Ruskell has done since he took over the team in 2005, starting with the 2006 NFL Draft.

2006 NFL Draft

  • Ruskell drafts CB Kelly Jennings (What's better than a beanpole 5'8" cornerback who can't cover, tackle, or sprint? Using a first-round draft pick on one! This pick is still haunting Seahawks fans, considering starting CB Marcus Trufant is hurt, they had to use free agent cash to bring back former Seahawk corner Ken Lucas, and they used another draft pick in 2007 on cornerback Josh Wilson, another tiny cornerback with injury-problems in the last few years ... I'm getting hives just remembering all of this stuff.)
  • Ruskell drafts DE Darryl Tapp (Just keep an eye on these numbers ... Total defensive linemen drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 1, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts OG Rob Sims (Just keep your other eye on these numbers ... Total offensive guards drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 1, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts FB David Kirtman (Never even heard of this guy, but the fact that we wasted a pick on him and then drafted fullback Owen Schmitt at the same position two years later should tell you everything you need to know.)
  • Ruskell drafts PUNTER RYAN PLACKEMEIER! (Holy crap! I didn't know that we actually wasted a draft pick on this guy! Plackemeier was cut from the 2009 Seahawks by Mike Holmgren after gaining a ton of offseason weight and averaging 40 yards per punt. Really tremendous use of a late-round draft pick.)

Needless to say, 2006 wasn't exactly the best draft class in franchise history. One terrible cornerback, a small defensive end who has only started a handful of games because better players were injured or ... weren't on the team, an offensive guard who finally got to start this season after veteran Mike Wahle retired only to end up getting hurt, a phantom fullback, and a punter that got cut three years after being drafted. Wow.

But it gets worse.

2007 NFL Draft

  • BELICHICK drafts S Brandon Meriweather with the Seahawks pick after the Seahawks traded the farm to get WR Deion Branch, a tragically-underperforming and often-injured receiver. (In just his second season, Meriweather had 83 tackles, two sacks, and four interceptions ... the Seahawks? Cut starting safety Brian Russell this year and promoted special teams player Jordan Babineaux to safety to try to get some production out of one of the worst secondaries in the NFL.)
  • Ruskell drafts CB Josh Wilson (Ah yes, the make-up pick. Jennings was so bad that Ruskell had to draft another corner the very next season. Jennings height was a major concern at cornerback, so Ruskell went out and drafted someone exactly the same height. Awesome.)
  • Ruskell drafts DT Brandon Mebane (Total defensive linemen drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 2, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts DE Baratka Atkins (Total defensive linemen drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 3, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts OG Mansfield Wrotto (Total offensive guards drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 2, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts LB Will Herring (Outside of special teams, Herring hadn't earned a sniff of playing time in four years before Leroy Hill, the Seahawks' starter, got injured in the first game of the 2009 season.)
  • Ruskell drafts WR Courtney Taylor (A small, cocky receiver with such bad hands and bad route running that he's been assigned almost exclusively to special teams duties for four straight years.)
  • Ruskell drafts WR Jordan Kent (Cut in 2009 after sustaining an injury in training camp and never producing outside of the preseason.)
  • Ruskell drafts OG Steve Vallos (Total offensive guards drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 3, number of starters produced: 0)

See, I told you it got worse.

After two seasons, Ruskell had drafted three backup defensive linemen, three backup offensive linemen, two undersized cornerbacks, two wide receivers (and traded away a first-round pick for a third), and absolutely ZERO impact players at any of the crucial six positions. And yet nobody saw the time counting down on the team's sustained-success. The Seahawks kept winning, because they still had one of the best left tackles in the history of the game in Walter Jones, they still had Matt Hasselbeck, they still had Marcus Trufant and a healthy Patrick Kerney. They still had a decent offensive line. They still were scoring touchdowns. They were

But slowly and systematically, encouraged by the ignorance of Ruskell and the front office, the team fell apart.

Ruskell, lacking any foresight about an aging and injury-prone quarterback, an aging and injury-prone left tackle, an aging and injury-prone left guard, small wide receivers, small cornerbacks, a lack of depth at safety, a lack of depth at running back, and a completely ineffective defensive line, kept plodding away like the Band-Aids and silly string would hold.

2008 NFL Draft

  • Ruskell drafts DE Lawrence Jackson (Jackson was so bad in his first season that there were rumors the former first-round draft pick was actually going to be cut prior to the start of his second season. Incredible. Let's check the scoreboard! Total defensive linemen drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 4, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts TE John Carlson (I have to concede on this one. Carlson has been a bit of a revelation at tight end for the Seahawks. He set a few team records in his rookie year at tight end and looks to have the one ingredient none of Ruskell's other draft choices have: Potential. That being said, Carlson has been underwhelming this year outside of opening day and seems to be dropping a lot of passes, including three this past Sunday.)
  • Ruskell drafts DT Red Bryant (More defensive linemen anyone? Total defensive linemen drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 5, number of starters produced: 0)
  • Ruskell drafts FB Owen Schmitt (The only thing Owen Schmitt has done in his short NFL career is hit himself in the head with his helmet to the point of massive blood loss.)
  • Ruskell drafts LONG SNAPPER Tyler Schmitt (Seriously? A long snapper? We drafted a long snapper?!)
  • Ruskell drafts RB Justin Forsett (A decent third-string running back, Forsett has had major issues fumbling the ball when getting any consistent playing time and has spent most of his young career on special teams or watching T.J. Duckett, another Ruskell free agent signing who ended up getting cut this season, and Edgerrin James, yet another Ruskell free agent signing who is so far past his prime the Arizona Cardinals, inter-divisional rivals to the Seahawks, let James walk a year after reaching the Super Bowl, get trash-time carries in blowout losses.)
  • Ruskell drafts K Brandon Coutou (Cut in 2009 because we drafted him when we already had a starting kicker. Of all the positions to draft a young replacement at, why in the world would Ruskell pick kicker? Why? Explain it to me. I'm waiting.)

The Seahawks finished 4-12 last year. Hasselbeck spent the majority of the season injured. Walter Jones got injured. Wahle retired. Holmgren left the team and was replaced, along with his offensive strategies, with Jim Mora. The new coach inherited a team with more injury problems than a retirement community and now sits at 2-4 before a bye-week after losing 27-3 to the Arizona Cardinals at home ... Hasselbeck, still recovering from another injury, was 10-29 passing for 112 yards (3.9 yards per completion ...) and an interception.

Who do they have backing up Hasselbeck? Seneca Wallace, a 28-year-old lifetime backup QB who's too short to see over his offensive linemen. And in 2009, when the Hawks ended up with the fourth draft pick in a loaded draft, did Ruskell attack any of the critical six areas?

2009 NFL Draft

  • Ruskell selects LB Aaron Curry (With the fourth pick in the draft, passing on a litany of offensive talent, including quarterback Mark Sanchez, two fantastic young cornerbacks in Malcolm Jenkins and Vontae Davis, two great young running backs in Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells, a swarm of first-round offensive tackles and impact defensive ends, Ruskell drafted a LINEBACKER. Is Curry a freak? Sure. Is he going to be a great NFL linebacker? Sure. But the Hawks had just resigned OLB Leroy Hill to a long-term contract and had Pro-Bowl ILB Lofa Tatupu in the middle. Spending the type of money first-round picks get in the NFL on another linebacker seemed at the time like a slippery slope. The Seahawks have a defense built like an Oreo now: A crappy cracker defensive line, fantastic creamy linebackers, and another crappy cracker in the secondary. With Hasselbeck coming off an injury, Walter Jones undergoing offseason surgery, and serious depth issues at nearly every position outside of linebacker, Ruskell's decision to select Curry leaves some serious questions to be asked.)
  • Ruskell selects OG Max Unger (Total offensive guards drafted by Tim Ruskell since 2006: 4, number of starters produced: 1. Aha! One! He got one right! Unger's a starter! Now ... would he be a starter if Ruskell hadn't whiffed on the other three guards? Doubtful. Would he be a starter if Ruskell had kept Hutch and put more money into the offensive line instead of wasting it on backups for the past three years? Double-doubtful.)
  • Ruskell selects WR Deon Butler (Yet another short wide receiver ... maybe I should've started a count on them too, especially considering the Hawks splashed out big money on free agent T.J. Houshmandzadeh this offseason, bringing their short wide-receiver count up to about 12,409 over the last four seasons. Let's check out Butler's stats this year for fun: 5 games, 3 receptions, 30 yards, 0 touchdowns. Well then.)
  • Ruskell selects QB Mike Teel (Hooray! A backup quarterback! It only took four years and the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft for Ruskell to even think about the future of the team. But what exactly is that future? Is Ruskell going to draft a QB next year in the first round with one of the two Seahawks picks? If so, is Seneca Wallace no longer on the team? And if that's the case, is Teel the backup even though when Hasselbeck got hurt this year Teel didn't even get a snap in practice because he was so far behind Wallace on learning the new Greg Knapp-designed offense?)
  • Ruskell selects S Courtney Greene (Hooray! A safety! It only took four years and the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft for Ruskell to think about the future of the secondary too. Unreal. Obviously it's too early at this point to make any judgments about Greene as a safety, but read into this at your whim: The Seahawks, after ditching S Brian Russell in the preseason, promoted Babineaux and had to sign Lawyer Milloy, an aging veteran without a team, to play backup safety.)

Ruskell's contract expires this year.

Here's hoping Paul Allen can even find his bunker to fire him.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Five things I love about you

Living on the West Coast has distinct sports advantages that I wasn't fully aware of when I lived in Chicago. Aside from the one downfall, having to wake up two hours earlier at 5:30 a.m. to watch Arsenal games, sports on the West Coast, especially the NFL, are built to please me (as are most people, robots, and non-vegetable food products).

Sunday morning:
9 a.m.: Wake up
10 a.m.: Football starts
1 p.m.: First round of games end
1 p.m.: Lunch time!
1:15: Next round of games start
5 p.m.: Second round of games end
5 p.m.: Dinner time!
5:30 p.m.: Sunday Night Football starts
9 p.m.: Sunday Night Football ends

It's like that every week.

And so I'm in full NFL-mode right now (it was an international break for English football this week ... that's really the only reason I'm distracted enough to write about American football). I've been watching games like Rain Man watched Jeopardy lately and have organized the clutter in my brain (246 on the floor, 4 left in the box).

I present to you, in no particular order, The Top Five Players You Must Watch on NFL Sunday.

1) JaMarcus Russell

I laugh when strangers trip in public. I stare and point at people who put their kids on leashes. Simply put, I revel in chaos. I soak myself in the randomness of the universe, not pushing it away, but embracing it and finding peace and comfort in the complete and utter unknown. And so, it makes perfect sense, that I have become drunkenly obsessed with Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

After four games this season, Russell is on pace to have one of the worst seasons in the history of the National Football League. If you averaged out his stats for a full season, this is what the 2007 NUMBER ONE DRAFT PICK would look like ...

39.8 percent completion percentage
4 touchdowns
16 interceptions
2,024 passing yards

BEAUTIFUL. I want to draw those statistics. I want to smash them into a liquid and inject them into my body. He is on pace to finish with one of the top-five worst single-seasons statistically for a quarterback ever. Ever! And it's not just the fact that he's single-handedly redefining failure in the NFL (I actually said to my brother, while watching Vince Young come in for Kerry Collins this past Sunday and immediately throw his first pass directly into the floor, "The difference between Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell is that at least Young didn't show up this season 50 pounds overweight and incapable of moving without some motorized companion." Incredible.), it's that he's doing it with such bravado. It only expounds the chaos that he's doing it for the Raiders, an organization who obviously pushed the self-destruct button a few years ago but forgot to tell any of the people on the spaceship. The Raiders coach almost murdered his own assistant coach. That's a real story. That happened this year.

But the fact that JaMarcus Russell is even more intriguing than attempted homicide shows you how wonderful his season has been. I am in awe of his season. Running around with my fiance Sunday morning, I actually pulled out my cell phone to check the Raiders box score throughout the day. I wanted to see how many passes he had thrown incomplete. I wanted to see if he had completed any.

That's what I'm waiting for. 30 attempts, zero completions. Total chaos.

2) Vince Wilfork

When Subway ... loathsome, crappy-sandwich-making Subway ... made a new NFL-themed commercial this year, featuring former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, current Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, and fat-Jared himself, I found myself infuriated by the fake laughter, superimposed camaraderie, and pseudo-celebrity these three men oozed through their pores. I didn't know how to stop Subway. I wanted fat-Jared out of my life. I felt lost ... hopeless ...

Then I watched a New England Patriots football game and saw who was going to fix it: Vince Wilfork.

I wasn't sure about the specifics ...

Was he going to go to a Subway, put every single topping on a single piece of bread, and put that store out of business, thus starting a domino effect of toppling Subways until the company folded in on itself?

Was he going to eat Jared whole like a vacuum cleaner sucking up a live spider?

Was he going to simply absorb all three men into his body and digest them slowly through osmosis?

He's listed at 325 pounds on ... I wasn't aware the league was weighing individual body parts now. Wilfork is a scientific marvel, the human equivalent of the bumblebee, and should be studied extensively before his kind disappear forever from our planet. That is all.

Man, JaMarcus Russell, Vince Wilfork ... I need a third NFL fat guy to make an action squad. I wonder how I'll ever find another fat guy in a league that actively promotes obesity.

3) Michael Crabtree

Finally, an NFL player who lets us know exactly what he's all about: Money.

Honesty is all I've ever asked for in my life. I wanted my parents to tell me that they were just too lazy to go get the mail. I wanted my tennis coach to tell me my backhand sucked. And, as always, I wanted my athletes to be honest.

Tell me you're faking injuries. Tell me you're out buying guns and plan to use them on your own legs. And tell me all you care about is money. It's a sort of sociological divider. If an athlete is honest with me, I have the instant ability to choose which side of the fence I'm on. With Michael Crabtree, drafted 10th overall by the San Francisco 49ers, a contract holdout five weeks into the REGULAR season, his football abstinance let me immediately pick my side. I hate Michael Crabtree, and that's what I love about him.

He's finally signed his contract now and will reportedly play Oct. 25 for the 49ers. I will be rooting for him to drop every pass and pull a hammy in the first quarter because his conditioning isn't up to NFL-standards. I want crippling failure to haunt his career. The league has so many villains already, but they materialize because of some manufactured on- or off-field alter-ego (aside from Pacman Jones, who's just stupid and crazy) perpetrated by the media. But there are very few actual villains in the league. Michael Crabtree, a contract holdout because he wanted to be paid based on MOCK DRAFT guesses from idiots like myself on where he'd be drafted, crippled his team and his career in the short-term before suddenly having a change of heart once the 49ers became the toast of the NFC West.

A guy who wouldn't play because he wasn't getting enough money based on guessed projections but quickly signed once his team started winning?

Yes please, I'll have some of that. October 25th can't come soon enough.

4) Richie Incognito

Yes! The action squad is complete! Richie Incognito, an offensive guard for the St. Louis Rams, is the only peron who could've matched wits with JaMarcus Russell and size with Vince Wilfork. Weighing in at 326 lbs. (another lowball number by a league that's stuck trying to get kids to be active but also doesn't have an offensive lineman under 300 lbs.), Incognito is a nasty, angry offensive lineman. Throughout history, some of the best offensive linemen were the nastiest (John Runyan of the Washington Redskins comes to mind), but Incognito seems to have blurred the lines between "nasty" and "mentally incapacitated."

This year alone, he has accounted for enough false starts, unsportsmanlike conducts, and holding penalties that his coach, Steve Spagnuolo, yanked him out of the starting line-up, only to have Incognito start a shouting match with him on the sideline on national television. Awesome. Oh and his prior coach, Jim Haslett, was also seen mouthing the words, "What is wrong with this motherf***er?" by television cameras after Incognito got in a fight during a game last season.

This from a player who was kicked off the Nebraska football team in college, transferred to Oregon and was kicked off that team before ever playing a single game. Richie Incognito!

I wonder if he knows the meaning of his own last name?

5) Kyle Orton

As a Seahawks fan first and a Bears fan second, it's hard for me to talk positively about Kyle Orton. It's hard for me to even describe what it feels like watching the Denver Freaking Broncos, one of the hated historical-rivals of the Seahawks, led by Kyle Orton, the sucker punch of every bad-quarterback joke for the last four years from his miserable stint with the Bears, sit at 5-0 this season.

So why can't I stop watching him play?

Because of the tension. Kyle Orton makes every offensive possession excruciating. He'll overthrow a receiver by 20 yards. He'll misread the defense and toss a slant pass to a receiver who's running an out-route. He is constantly on the threshold of offensive collapse. This past Sunday, in overtime, Orton threw one of his classic ducks downfield, right to Patriots cornerback Shawn Springs. The ball hung in the air and Springs had it lined up perfectly, but at the last second, Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall mauls Springs (no flag) and the pass fell harmlessly incomplete. The Broncos kick the game-winning field goal after that and push their record to 5-0. Nobody remembers how close Orton came to blowing it! Nobody remembers that Orton threw a surefire interception at the end of the Broncos' first game of the season, only to have the pass tipped and caught by his own receiver for a game-winning, 79-yard touchdown with seconds to play. Nobody remembers that roughly 20 times a game, Orton makes the wrong decision or the wrong throw and comes out of it without a scratch! It's Kyle Orton! Why is the executioner staying his hand?! I'm starting to think maybe this whole "Jesus rose" thing wasn't so historically inaccurate ... the mullet and beard are already there.

I have seen nearly every Broncos game this year, seen Orton throw passes directly to opposing defenders who unfathomably drop the pass, consistently overthrow or underthrow his receivers by 10-15 yards. And yet no defenders are ever in the area. It's amazing! Just watch Kyle Orton play quarterback. Do it. He's playing Russian roulette with every single pass, and five games into the season, he's clicked through the gun so often the other guys he's playing with are wondering if the gun is even real.

And yet, he's 5-0. Kyle Orton is 5-0 ... no matter how many times I say that it just doesn't sound right. But he is, and I can't stop watching him throw. I can't stop. It's like a real-life game of Frogger. Kyle Orton is the frog, the opposing defenders are the vehicles, and he has been wandering through traffic for FIVE WEEKS untouched. When is he going to get smushed? When is the semi-truck going to box him in?!

Guess I'll just have to keep watching.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hiring the wolf to write the sheep's newsletter

The wolf sits at his typewriter, glasses pushed down to the brim of his nose, a cigar burning away in an ashtray by his fingers. The click-clack of the typewriter fills the forest ...

The Daily Sheep
by The Sheep

Today, I realized that all sheep are wrong for having misgivings about the wolves who prowl the forest and prey on our young and sick. The wolves are good creatures, just like we are, and share many of the same herd values. I think it's time that we let down our guard, put our heads confidently into the grass and munch away.

See, wolves are kind and considerate. They give milk to their babies, just like we do! They eat food, just like we do! Don't get caught up the drama of what they eat, but just enjoy the fact that our four-legged brothers are, without a doubt, no longer going to stalk and kill the rest of our herd. Yep, it's time we relaxed, fellow sheep. It's time we realize that wolves aren't killing us, but our FEAR of the unknown is what's truly killing us!

I met a wolf the other day. He was stuck in a wolf trap, his foot was injured ... injured bad. He was crying out to me: "Fellow forest creature! Help me! I am but a lowly wolf, you a proud, stout sheep. Only you can free me from this trap and save my life and the lives of my pups." Warily, I approached the injured wolf. But I could see his wolf tears were real, so I freed his leg from the trap and he sprung free and kissed my cheek, his nose was wet and cold, and showed me to the finest patch of grass I've ever seen in my entire life.

So there. Trust the wolves. My anecdote pretty much proves it forever. So stop questioning all the time and just ... just keep your heads down in the grass eating no matter what you hear.

Until next time,
The Sheep

Confused yet?

I would've been too, had I not read the first two articles from ESPN's newly appointed ombudsman, Don Ohlmeyer.

But before we get to Ohlmeyer, let's use history to prove a much larger point about the role of the ombudsman in a large corporate entity like ESPN.

The one thing that kept me coming back to ESPN over the last few years, the one thing that filled me with hope that the network could still at times be an unbiased, thoughtful, self-critiquing, responsible member of the dying breed of true journalism was the work of the prior ombudsmen, Le Anne Schreiber, and before her, George Solomon, who served as the sports editor for the Washington Post for nearly three decades.

The ombudsman's job is, vaguely, to serve as the public's representative to ESPN, gathering questions, concerns and frustrations, internally and from the public, about the reporting, writing, and broadcasting of ESPN as a whole. The independent ombudsman is the single-most valuable member of the company. The ombudsman is the voice of the people ... at least it was before Ohlmeyer was hired.

I want to focus specifically on Schreiber, because in her two-year contracted stint as the ombudsman,
Schreiber squared ESPN up in front of her and hit the spineless conglomerate between the eyes over and over again. Schreiber was the Grim Reaper, or as my fiance so eloquently calls it, "Grim the Reaper," delivering deathly poignant analysis about the past, present, and future of ESPN.

Schreiber's background gave her that ability. She covered foreign affairs and the 1976 Montreal Olympics for Time magazine, was named editor in chief of Womensport's magazine, and was the sports editor at The New York Times (the first female to hold the title at a major American daily newspaper). She left that post in 1980 to become deputy editor of The New York Times Book Review.

She is also the author of two memoirs and won a National Magazine Award for a 1991 magazine series in Glamour about the violence and intimidation faced by doctors who perform abortions.

Simply put, she's a firestarter. Where there's fuel, Schreiber spent her entire journalistic life throwing a match on it. And when ESPN hired her to serve as their ombudsman two years ago, it seemed like the spineless conglomerate had finally done the right thing.

And for two years,
Schreiber was infallible. Here's a montage of some of her article headlines:

-"Too much shouting obscures the message"

-"At ESPN, conflict of interest is business as usual"

-"Viewers held hostage by 'tyranny of the storyline'"

-"ESPN must allow announcers to keep eyes on the ball"

-"Fed fast food of opinion, ESPN audience starves for reported fact"

-"'Sportscenter Specials' too often just hot air on hot topics"

-"Breathing room: ESPN must stop the suffocation of synergy"

-"ESPN guilty of teller becoming the tale"

I could seriously keep going. It was like she was writing all of the swear-ridden thoughts I, and every other true sports fan, was constantly shouting in my head at the TV. Go back and read through her archives when you get a chance, you'll feel like she downloaded the thoughts of your brain on a flash drive and just plugged in "Ands" and "Thes" before publishing. It's beautiful.

Now read back on all of those: Too much shouting, announcers making the games about themselves and not the players on the field, too much opinion, not enough fact. Has ANYTHING changed since
Schreiber started her crusade against ESPN for the people who watch it?

I'd argue to say that things have EXPONENTIALLY worsened. It's almost as if the network executives took
Schreiber's work and said, "Let's do the opposite, who does she think she is?!" She was a revolutionary who ended up having no power over the dictatorship. A brilliant voice mashed into the floor by blow-horn propaganda. And so, with a final farewell from Schreiber who warned ESPN to "curb the excess, dial back the arrogance and don't be so predictable," the ombudsman was gone.



Now we have a wolf writing the sheep's newsletter.

Don Ohlmeyer is EXACTLY who you'd expect ESPN to hire as ombudsman, which makes the Solomon and
Schreiber hires before him even more astounding in hindsight. Ohlmeyer could easily be one of the 1,209 talking heads shouting catch-phrases and "As reported by ESPN's" at us from an unnecessary game-break.

Schreiber was an award-winning rebel, a respected journalist, and a vigilant truth-seeker. Ohlmeyer is a corporate poster child, tossing out thoughtless words like "Due diligence" and "Rigor" as a means to not say anything at all. He is brilliant in his own way, not like Schrieber for unabashedly exposing the ridiculous company for what it is, but for his incredible ability to willingly throw horse-blinders on himself and tell everyone, even as the "public's representative to ESPN," that the network is totally awesome all the time. Awesome!

We know
Schreiber's background, but let's see who ESPN, a television broadcasting giant, chose to speak for the people. Directly from ESPN's announcement of their new knight in shining armor:

"Ohlmeyer has built one of the most distinguished careers in the history of television. He has served as an executive producer, producer, director and writer for entertainment and sports programming since 1967, culminating in his last network post as president, NBC West Coast prior to his retirement in 1999. Ohlmeyer twice worked at NBC; he first joined the network in 1977 as executive producer of sports. He returned as president in 1993, where he oversaw the activities of all the company's entertainment-related businesses, including NBC Entertainment, NBC Studios and NBC Enterprises.

"Prior to his time at NBC, Ohlmeyer worked at ABC, where he had served as producer and director of three Olympic broadcasts, produced ABC's Monday Night Football, worked extensively on ABC's Wide World of Sports and developed The Superstars for television.

"Over the next five years, he created the sports anthology series SportsWorld and served as executive producer of NBC coverage of the Super Bowl and the World Series as well as the prime-time series Games People Play and the made-for-television movie The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story. Ohlmeyer became well known for expanding the network's sports coverage and introducing innovative production techniques.

"He installed Bryant Gumbel as the host of NBC's live NFL show, hired Bob Costas, Marv Albert, partnered Dick Enberg with Merlin Olsen in football and Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire in what is widely regarded as the best basketball commentary team in history.

"In his career, Ohlmeyer has been honored with 16 Emmys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award and two Peabody Awards, and has been inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame."

While that little biography ends with a flourish, the blood and guts of his career makes my spine tingle at ESPN's obvious attempts to solidify their own fortress. Don't get me wrong, he's had an incredible career in the broadcasting business, but that's WHY this move is so jaw-droppingly unjust from the public perspective. He's a broadcast frat boy wearing a member's only jacket with ESPN written on the back in Greek letters. The ombudsman's job is to report. To gather and report. To criticize, to highlight, to dissect the situation like a surgeon. A print journalist, at least before the era of modern journalism, was trained to ask the questions no one else would ask, write the thoughts and ideas that no one was willing to face. A journalist WAS the voice of the public. But broadcast journalism is an entirely different school of thought. Broadcast journalism is, well, what ESPN has become. ESPN was started and hosted initially by nothing but the finest print journalists. Were they pretty? Hardly ever. But they were journalists to their core, asking questions and making statements, based in fact and not opinion, that caused athletes to shiver in fear.

But as the true journalists at ESPN were moved off-air and replaced by talking parrots, the standard and quality of the REPORTING disappeared. And so it only makes sense that ESPN would take the last bastion of journalistic integrity and critique and assimilate it into the company. ESPN, meet the Borg.

What Solomon and
Schreiber were, Ohlmeyer is not.

And he proved that with his first two columns. Just as we highlighted some of Schrieber's best work through her headlines, I'll highlight some of Ohlmeyer's work directly through his articles:

-"Sports television is a world of loud, quick decisions, not quiet reflection."

-"Ultimately, I want to give YOU a better understanding of how ESPN works."

-"But there's no feeling in the industry more thrilling than walking out of the control room after a Super Bowl, knowing it was a good telecast."

-"On the other hand, Tirico, Jaworski and Gruden's handling of the dramatic finish of the Buffalo-New England game was first-rate. The play-by-play was totally controlled, hitting the key points. Both analysts, judicious in their comments, never strayed from the intensity of the moment. All were enthusiastic, yet restrained -- a tough order when the adrenalin is flowing as strongly in the booth as it is on the field. The trio let the drama build and unfold with intentional moments of silence that enhanced the tension. When the Patriots scored the winning touchdown, there was a long pause in the booth -- allowing the audience to enjoy the pandemonium around the stadium. This doesn't happen by accident. It was a conscious choice made by the booth and the truck, and it was excellently executed. "

Wow. I feel like I'm reading a movie review written by the director of the movie. Quite the drastic change from the pointed critiques Schrieber provided, eh?

But that's not even the scary part. I know I've been trying to convince you that Ohlmeyer is a corporate snake, chosen specifically by ESPN to minimize public outcry and quiet the voice of dissent. Whether or not I was able to convince you isn't really important, because Ohlmeyer can confirm that directly for me:

"Under the category of disclosure, back in the 1980s and '90s I had my own company. It included a full-service advertising agency and production, marketing and consulting arms, with clients such as the NFL, NHL and MLB. We were hired by ESPN as a consultant. The company was a joint venture with Nabisco Brands, and, as part of our consulting arrangement, purchased 20 percent of ESPN. I represented that interest on ESPN's board. Those were the early years of what would become the 'Worldwide Leader in Sports' -- when it was still carving its niche and deciding what it wanted to be when it grew up. My business relationship with ESPN ended in the late '80s when KKR took over RJR Nabisco and sold the 20 percent interest to Hearst. In 1993, I sold the sports portion of my company to ESPN.

"More disclosure: One of my sons has worked at ESPN Regional Television for 15 years as a producer/director. He's made a great career for himself. If one of his shows requires comment in this space, I'll be sure to remind you. As the saying goes, 'A conflict disclosed is not a conflict.'"

My, ESPN, what big eyes you have.

My, ESPN, what big ears you have.

My, ESPN, what big teeth you have.