Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mike Preston is a moron

Preston is a sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun. In this week's edition of Mike Preston is a moron –

Well it's almost not fair to pick on this column. It's one of those random grab-bags, a few paragraphs on one subject, a few on another. I tend to like columns like that. And this one is interesting thruout, full of interesting notes on KJ Gerard & Dawan Landry, Domonique Foxworth, and Tavares Gooden. The section I'm going to hammer Preston on is one single sentence. Shouldn't a journalist under deadline be able to catch a break on one single throwaway sentence?

Perhaps most columnists. But Mike Preston is a moron.

Preston writes that John Harbaugh has definitely taken control of the Ravens team. It's a fair subject for a column, because the Ravens squad definitely has its share of strong personalities, including Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. And there was a perception that they were a little out-of-control under Brian Billick (although it should be pointed out that the main source for that perception was Preston himself). And there were questions about how strongly a rookie head coach could grab the reins of a veteran, cocky squad. Preston observes the high attendance at the offseason OTA's and says:

It's definitely Harbaugh's team now
by Mike Preston
Preston says that while there will be some tests, and while Harbaugh still has to deal with some stuff, it's his team. Here's one specific item Preston calls out:
Harbaugh still needs to improve the way he talks to players.

Are you trying to imagine what might lie behind a throwaway comment like that? I am. Perhaps Mike Preston has listened in on film sessions and locker room talks and practices, and feels that Harbaugh could improve his rhythm and timing. What, no? No. No, Harbaugh's locker rooms and practices have not been wide open to the media.

Well then perhaps Preston is observing the performance of the team, and astutely concluding that the team isn't displaying the unity that comes when coach and team are all on the same page moving in perfect step with each other. What, no? No: the Ravens advanced to the conference championship game last season, playing with more heart and unity then they've shown since maybe 2002. Many commentators observed that, after the conference championship game, the Ravens post-game locker room was angry and focussed; and the OTA's have been crisp and business like. And well-attended, as Preston himself notes in this column.

Then what?

Here's what it is. A couple of veterans last year grumbled to Preston that they didn't like the hard new regime as much as they liked Brian Billick's laissez faire approach – an approach which years ago Mike Preston dubbed "Camp Creampuff". Preston rushed to print with these in a column last year. Reading between the lines, that group of grumbling veterans may have included Chris McAllister (since cut), Ed Reed, maybe Willis McGahee, maybe some other "names". So they grumble to Preston off the record. "Harbaugh's too in-your-face" or "Harbaugh is a rah-rah guy" or whatever the hell they say.

And Preston swallows it hook, line and sinker. With absolutely no critical thinking about the source or what may lie behind it. He prints an "uh oh, there's trouble" column. Some of the veterans aren't buying in. And now, a season later, he still thinks of it as part of the iceberg of truth hidden beneath the surface of the Ravens "we're all family" PR machine.

John Harbaugh has been talking to football players for something on the order of 25 yrs. A dozen or so years in the college ranks, and then 10 yrs in the NFL as a highly-regarded asst coach, and then a very successful year as an NFL head coach. Isn't the preponderance of evidence that Harbaugh knows exactly how to talk to players? Or put another way, if you're going to suggest that Harbaugh needs to improve in that area, don't you have to accept a burden of proof? We're not talking about Josh McDaniel, here.

Because what it looks like is, Harbaugh stepped into a situation with a team that needed to be challenged a little. Football coaches, as a class, are rather confrontational guys anyway: cf Rex Ryan, Bill Parcells, Ditka, et al. Mike Tomlin is a stone-cold killa. Harbaugh displayed exactly zero hesitation about challenging his team. ("Hesitation" as a personality trait seems to have been omitted from his makeup, completely.) Chris Mcllister definitely needed his ass kicked a little; Willis McGahee too. But just because guys complain about how a coach talks to them, that does not necessarily indicate that the coach needs to change. In the my-way-or-the-highway NFL, it more often means the player might need to make an adjustment.

None of this seemed to cross Preston's mind at all.

"Speaking", as an area of job performance, looks like a big strength for Harbaugh. He manages to be forceful, direct, warm & engaging all at once. One thing that stands out after watching all the Ravens coaches press conferences last year, Harbaugh never criticizes a player publicly. There was much smoke in the media last season about McAllister being on the outs with Harbaugh; Harbaugh never said a word about it when pressed by reporters. McGahee was rumored to be in the doghouse for not being physically prepared to play: asked about it, Harbaugh said he sees a guy who's "killing himself" trying to get back on the field. That's specific praise of effort. Todd Heap was rumored to be in the doghouse for not having a great season as a receiver; asked about it, Harbaugh praises Heap's play as a blocker and talks about tight ends being "football players", not receivers. Etc.

Not that this is remarkable; it's normal adult behavior. (Actually, "normal adult behavior" is a little remarkable, when you see it in the NFL.) But it is an example of observable behavior that belies the assertion that Harbaugh doesn't know how to talk to people.

Here's more of Harbaugh interacting with his team:
Brigance's Brigade Marches Strong
The Ravens' entire team came out for O.J. Brigance and ALS research.
Listen, at the end of the day, I don't know a thing about how Harbugh talks to his players. Mike Preston has actually met these players, as I have not; so maybe I ought to give him the benefit of the doubt when he reports on what they think. But cripes, Preston: accept some responsibility as a writer, for having thought about what you mean when you say stuff.


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