Last week, we found out that friend of the podcast Parker Hageman was once on a reality television show. The only surprise is that it took us a week to have him on the podcast to talk about it.
NOTE: This appeared first at RandBall.
Game of the weekend: The Olympics
I could try to list out all of NBC’s coverage, which is spread across five networks, but I’ll do better just linking you to their official site and letting you work things out. I’ll also offer you the following scientific ranking of Winter Olympic sports:
- Hockey: Like basketball, the Olympics is the most important international competition. The game is better because the ice is bigger. And sometimes this happens to Canada. It’s got everything!
- Curling: Mesmerizing, and full of Minnesotans. You know how ESPN shows bowling on Sunday afternoons in the fall because everybody’s watching football? I wish they’d show curling instead. I would watch so much curling.
- Alpine skiing: NASCAR should have races like this, by which I mean time trials on an icy mountain.
- (tie) Bobsled / luge / skeleton: These are basically all the same sport.
- Speed skating (short track): Ooh! A pileup!
- Figure skating: This tends to be more popular with one gender than the other. I can’t quite figure out why. It goes in the same category as women’s gymnastics and the royal wedding, for me, but I realize that there are many people for whom the Winter Olympics are nothing but figure skating.
- Speed skating (long track): Are there people who watch the 10,000 meters at the Summer Olympics? I bet those people live for long-track speed skating.
- Biathlon: Something that involves carrying a gun around should be less boring.
- Ski jumping: Something that involves jumping off a mountain should be less boring.
- Snowboarding / freestyle skiing: I cannot shake the feeling that all snowboarding and freestyle skiing events should be broadcast only on MTV, be sponsored by Surge and/or OK Soda, and take place in 1997.
- Cross-country skiing: The Tour de France of the Winter Olympics, by which I mean way too long and incredibly boring to watch.
What else to watch
Today, 11:30am: Cardiff City at Swansea City (NBC). These teams are A) both in Wales, B) separated by just three points in the standings, and C) both in some danger of being relegated back into the second division. All of which should make for quite the game.
Today, 1pm: #10 Michigan at #17 Iowa. I wonder if Acie Earl is going to play in this game? I’ll bet he is.
Today/Sunday, 2pm: Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (CBS). Now that you’re into February, you have my permission to start dreaming about playing golf again. Forget that it’s snowing and ten degrees outside. Use your imagination.
Sunday, 1pm: Penn State at Gopher Wrestling (BTN). The Nittany Lions are #1 in the country; the Gophers are #3. There should be battles between two Top-10 wrestlers at six of the ten weights; it’s time for J Robinson’s men to prove whether they have what it takes to challenge Penn State at the top.
We got both Aaron Gleeman and John Bonnes to come on the podcast at the same time this week. We celebrated by going to the bar. This was the result.
What to watch this weekend
Okay, you and I both know that we’re watching the Super Bowl tomorrow. We just are. It’s the secular Christmas / Thanksgiving, a time to spend with people you like and eat far, far too much awesome food.
So, let’s review a few things:
- The game’s on FOX.
- It begins at 5:30, but the FOX pregame show starts at 1pm.
- You can also watch pregame coverage beginning at 9am on Fox Sports 1, but if you do this – like plan it out and plop down in front of the TV more than eight hours before the game begins – please get professional help.
What else to watch this weekend
5:30pm today: #17 Duke at #2 Syracuse (ESPN). Every March, I get excited about March Madness because, hey, basketball all day! I may not be too smart, though, because by my count there are 32 – 32! – men’s college basketball games on today. Anyway, you can watch all 32, or you can watch undefeated Syracuse try to beat their new conference rivals, and call that the best of the day. It’s up to you.
2pm Sunday: Phoenix Open (CBS). Let’s be honest, you do not want to watch the Super Bowl pregame show. You kind of think you do, then you remember how unbelievably boring it was last year, and the year before that, and every year stretching back until the dawn of time. So, heck, Bubba Watson started the week 64-66 in Phoenix; let’s hope he comes to the famed 16th on Sunday with the lead and, I don’t know, tries to roll a driver through the cacti and all the way to the green, just to entertain the crowd.
DO NOT WATCH THIS GAME: 11:30am Sunday, Red Wings at Capitals, NBC. Here’s the thing: whoever sets NBC’s marquee Sunday afternoon NHL matchups thinks you’re stupid. They think what you really want is endless matchups between Boston, Chicago, Washington, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the New York Rangers. No Canadian teams. No teams west of St. Louis.
So, you know what? Forget them. If they want to show this matchup of two terrible Eastern teams, then all we can do is ignore them. I hope nobody watches. I hope this game loses to the Golf Channel in the ratings.
What to read this weekend
Friend of the blog Rocket sends along the following: Nobody cares that you don’t care about the Super Bowl. It’s true; if you’re not watching tomorrow’s game, just remember that absolutely nobody cares.
Thursday night, United announced that their preseason training will be a little more exciting this year. The club has traditionally made some short trips, but this year, they’ll range a little further afield, with trips to Los Angeles and to the United Kingdom.
The first trip, from February 23 to March 2, involves a pair of games against the Los Angeles Galaxy (and some warm-weather training to boot.) The second, from March 8 to 18, will involve three games, the biggest of which will take place against Derby County, who are currently fourth in the second-division Championship in England.
The other two games of the England trip are still being finalized, though one is tentatively planned against Matlock Town F.C., a seventh-division team from Matlock in Derbyshire.
It’s a step up for Minnesota, which last year visited Kansas City for a preseason trip, a jaunt that was virtually snowed out – something that, according to team president Nick Rogers, was part of the impetus for Minnesota to go further afield this year, to a locale that’s unlikely to be snow-affected.
The visit to Derby is also interesting. United will be staying at St. George’s Park, the base for the Football Association in England and the training home of the English national team. According to Rogers, the team may be the first-ever North American team to stay and train there.
I’m told that the genesis of the trip to Derby was, of all things, the long relationship between United owner Dr. Bill McGuire and the Minnesota Timberwolves. McGuire has had Wolves season tickets for many years, and knows team president Chris Wright, who is an England native (and who ran the Minnesota Strikers before becoming Wolves team president). Derby is owned by General Sports and Entertainment, a Michigan-based consortium, and it was through Wright’s relationship with the owners that the idea of United’s visit to Derby came about.
One signing complete, and more on the way?
United announced that they have signed Brazilian center back Tiago Calvano, who most recently played for Sydney FC in Australia. In addition to Australia’s A-League, the 32-year-old has spent time in Brazil’s top league, as well as the lower divisions in Europe.
Calvano was at the center of some controversy late last year, when he was suspended for eight matches for grabbing an A-League referee’s arm. You can see the incident here; while it’s certain that players cannot be allowed to touch referees, it’s debatable whether Calvano’s punishment truly fit the severity of his crime.
As for other signings, Rogers spent last weekend in Belgium, meeting with several United targets and taking in a game between Anderlecht and Club Brugge. While nothing has been set in stone, Rogers reports that he is still in talks and is looking to move quickly to finalize decisions.
I mentioned last week that the transfer window in Europe closes at the end of the month – in England, it closes later today – but I’ve since had it clarified for me that this only affects transfers in. In other words, United would still be able to bring players in from Belgium, even after the Belgian transfer window is closed; the North American transfer window does not close until May.
Regardless of any other signings, the move to bring in Calvano helps fill the hole in the center of defense that was left by Connor Tobin’s departure for Carolina. It brings the Minnesota squad up to 18 players; one assumes that, if the club does make any more signings, they will likely be more geared towards offense, especially in the center of midfield.
It can be hard to follow offseason news in the NASL. Rumors abound but confirmed reports are rare, and so league fans are left to try to piece together the truth from message boards, dashed-off tweets, and websites of questionable origin.
It’s a difficulty that was once again driven home over the past few days by the utterly bewildering saga of Miguel Ibarra. Last Friday, the site bigapplesoccer.com reported that Ibarra, the attacking Minnesota United winger and member of the NASL Best XI last season, was joining the New York Red Bulls as a triallist as part of their preseason training.
This threw United fans slightly for a loop; while Minnesota’s supporters are used to seeing players try out with MLS teams in the preseason, Ibarra looked to be a key player for United in 2014, and losing him would put yet another hole in Minnesota’s already-bare attacking cupboard.
The next day, though, team president Nick Rogers took to Reddit, and then to Twitter, to denounce the rumors. “I am not willing to take the risk that a guy under contract with our club gets hurt auditioning for someone else,” he wrote, in a Reddit comment. “Makes no sense, particularly when the club says outright that they won’t pay a transfer fee. How does that help our club?”
True to the discussion, on Monday, bigapplesoccer.com reversed their original story, claiming that New York had for some reason assumed that they could have Ibarra for free, and were not willing to pay for his services. It all seemed cut and dry… until Tuesday.
When the Red Bulls released their training roster, Miguel Ibarra was indeed on it, throwing the situation back into confusion. It took the morning to clear things up – it was a different Miguel Ibarra on the roster. Rather than an American midfielder, this Ibarra is a Colombian outside defender.
So was Ibarra – Minnesota’s Ibarra – ever set to go to training with New York? It seems plausible, especially given that the Red Bulls are reported to still have interest in him, and today, Ibarra did an interview in which he said he wanted to go.
There you have it, in a nutshell: Miguel Ibarra is going on trial with New York, except not Minnesota’s Miguel Ibarra, who was never set to go on trial, except that New York was interested in bringing him in, and he wanted to go, but Minnesota wouldn’t allow it.
Confused? Welcome to the offseason in the NASL.
Hockey-reference.com manager Hans Van Slooten came on the podcast this week, and we spent a solid hour talking hockey and discussing hockey advanced stats.
This was strange for us. It had facts. Every time we do this, I rave about how great it is – and this week is no different – yet we probably won’t do it again for a couple of months. We are not great at stuff.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Just about every day that passes brings news of another potential Minnesota United target that will be playing his soccer elsewhere next year. Midfielder Luke Mulholland? Signed with Real Salt Lake. Defender Connor Tobin, a Minnesota fan favorite and a first-choice United center back last year? Gone, to Carolina. Forward Mike Ambersley? Off to Indy.
Nor are the other teams in the NASL standing pat. Tampa Bay, which lost Mulholland, signed 2013 Golden Boot winner Brian Shriver away from Carolina. Atlanta brought back Matt Horth, who led the Silverbacks in scoring in 2011 and 2012. And on, and on.
It’s gotten bad enough that fans on United’s sub-reddit have taken to posting pictures of cute animals in the comments on every new signing, in the hopes of distracting themselves from the lack of top signings for Minnesota yet this year.
Team president Nick Rogers, however, is yet to start worrying – and says that it’s too early for fans to start being concerned. “We are working on signings that people will be impressed by,” he said, noting that Minnesota’s fans seem to have a tendency to panic too quickly.
When I talked to Rogers, in fact, he was just about to head out of the office on an international trip to an “undisclosed location in Western Europe,” with the possibility of inking a player to a deal. (He promised to post hints as to where he is on Instagram, so if you’d like to guess as to where in the world he is, you can follow him on Twitter.)
As it stands, there are 17 players on Minnesota’s roster from last year – 15 holdovers, plus Christian Ramirez and Mozzi Gyorio, neither of whom was a big name. And with the loss of Tobin, you can add center back to the list of Minnesota’s needs for next year, which have centered on the need for an attacking midfielder and a forward to complement Pablo Campos.
Of course, there is plenty of time to find squad players. The NASL Combine is this weekend, and United has its own combine coming up from February 2-5. When preseason begins, the team usually has a handful of players on trial as well, some of whom almost always make the final squad and help fill out the numbers.
Rogers wouldn’t promise that the team would sign a household name, but is looking to find more than just backup players in the next few weeks. “There are hardcore fans that have heard of some of these guys,” he said. “I think people will be impressed.”
The international transfer window closes at the end of January, after which a lot of Europe-based players will be stuck with their clubs. Rogers, for his part, is asking fans to wait on their panic at least until the month is over. “I can tell you [United owner] Dr. [Bill] McGuire was not pleased with being in mid-table last year,” he said. “I think we will put more resources into the team this year than last year, and certainly make better decisions in terms of personalities. In two weeks, if we’ve announced nothing: then you can panic.”
NOTE: This appeared first at SoccerCentric.
As I mentioned in my post about this week’s podcast, I’ve been getting in a lot of disagreements – notably with friend of the blog Michael Rand – about new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Turner is mostly famous for his years as the head coach in Washington, Oakland, and San Diego, but before he got into the head-coaching game, he was an offensive coordinator in Dallas, where he won two Super Bowl rings. He has since been been a coordinator in four places – San Diego, Miami, San Francisco, and last season in Cleveland.
Mike went through his various coaching stops the other day on his blog, and came to the conclusion that Turner had improved (or “maintained”) offenses at each of his stops, based mostly on the NFL ranks of Turner teams in offensive scoring.
Rather than argue about the relative merits of using offensive scoring or offensive yards as a measurement, I went over to footballoutsiders.com and looked at the Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) numbers for Turner’s teams. (DVOA is explained here, but if you don’t want to read the explanation, just note that it ranks teams based on how successful they are on a play-by-play basis.)
Without belaboring the details, the DVOA numbers more or less matched Rand’s findings; in general, Turner’s teams were either better, or not a lot worse, in his first year at any of his stops. (The one exception was his head-coaching gig in San Diego, where the Chargers went from second in the league to 14th in his first year.)
That said, one could equally look at things the other way, and examine how Turner’s teams did after he left. If he’s an exceptional offensive genius, then teams should have gotten markedly worse when he no longer darkened the doorstep. Here’s what I found:
- Dallas: after Turner left, the Cowboys were third in offense, then first. No drop-off whatsoever.
- Washington: the Redskins dropped to 25th and 26th when he left, after being 14th in his final year.
- San Diego: the Chargers were 17th in his one year as offensive coordinator, then 15th and 12th after he departed.
- Miami: the Dolphins went from 11th and 17th in his two years as OC to 31st and 18th in the two years following.
- San Francisco: The 49ers were in the league’s bottom six offenses in the two years before and the two years after Turner, 23rd in his one year there.
- San Diego again: As head coach, Turner’s team finished 24th in the league in offense in 2012, then third last year without him.
- Cleveland: We don’t know yet, but Turner took a Browns team that was 25th and 27th in offense the year before him, and made them 26th last year.
So teams have gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse when he arrived… and have gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse when he left.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that Turner, as an offensive coordinator or a head coach, has really had very little to do with how good an offensive team he’s put on the field. In Dallas, he failed to screw up the Aikman-Smith-Irvin juggernaut, which continued on the same without him after he left. In San Diego, he did better with Doug Flutie than his predecessor did with Ryan Leaf, which is not much of a special accomplishment. He couldn’t do much in San Francisco with Alex Smith at the helm, just like the guys who came before and after couldn’t make it work with Smith, Tim Rattay, or Trent Dilfer; he didn’t mold Jason Campbell into a superstar in Cleveland, any more than others couldn’t make Colt McCoy or Brandon Weeden workable.
Ultimately, what will decide whether the Vikings have a good offense in 2014 rests far more on the arm of whoever takes the snaps, and far less on any purported two-decades-old genius. We can argue all we want about Turner, who’s been run out of multiple towns. But if Christian Ponder is at quarterback for the Purple, head coach Mike Zimmer can stitch Don Coryell, Bill Walsh, and Dutch Meyer together, Frankenstein-style, and it won’t matter, any more than Turner will.
Maybe this is the place we can all agree: Norv Turner isn’t bad or good. He’s just irrelevant.
UPDATE: Friend of the blog Brandon Broxey did some research, and put together this helpful chart, showing Turner’s year-on-year offensive improvement.
That is underwhelming, to say the least.
Podcaster emeritus Michael Rand joined us for Episode 44 of the podcast. He has been yelling at us a lot lately, and we thought it best to give him a chance to defend himself.