'Tis the season to run teams into the ground

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On Tuesday at Cleveland Browns headquarters in Berea, Ohio, owner Randy Lerner welcomed two men into his office who go by the handles Dawgpound Mike and Mobile Dawg and spent two hours discussing the decrepit state of his organization.

Lerner initiated the meeting in response to the fan protest the two men are organizing for the Browns' Nov. 16 home game against the Baltimore Ravens – a boycott of the opening kickoff which, even after Tuesday's conversation, is still a go. According to Dawgpound Mike (a.k.a. Mike Randall of Massillon), Lerner "listened to everything we had to say. He asked our opinions on a number of things."

Woof, woof.

Dawgpound Mike also told the Canton Repository that he came away from the meeting convinced that Lerner will fire head coach Eric Mangini after the season unless the 1-7 Browns show dramatic improvement.

"I believe, from what I heard, that if it doesn't work out this year, Randy will make a move," Randall said. "He's not going to sit there and take this garbage anymore. He is [ticked] off. He is disgusted."

Trust me, dude with a giant dog bone on your head – he's not the only one.

In the latest lesson on How Not To Run An NFL Franchise (a seminar also being offered in Oakland, Tampa and Washington, D.C.), Lerner managed to drag his dysfunctional organization to a new level of public embarrassment.

On Thursday, I spoke to two NFL general managers who were appalled by Lerner's behavior. Neither believed that even the most skilled men in their profession would have a chance of succeeding in such an environment.

"If you show panic like that, it's over," one GM said. "If it was me, and my owner did that, I'd quit on the spot. I'd say, 'If you'd rather have those discussions with two ticket-holders than with me or my coach, then more power to you, because I'm out of here.' "

Conveniently, Lerner had already deep-sixed his GM, George Kokinis, the day before his meeting with Dawgpound Mike and Mobile Dawg. Though Lerner on Thursday denied to Sports Illustrated's Peter King that he had fired Kokinis just eight games into a five-year deal, it's merely a matter of semantics. If Kokinis were to try to enter Lerner's office, with or without the dog-bone headwear, the cops would be called.

Whatever Lerner may have told his guests on Tuesday, the bottom line is this: Kokinis was a casualty of a flawed organizational environment that makes carrying out a plan for sustained success – or even channeling enough constructive energy to realize on-the-field rewards in the short term – a virtual impossibility.

They know all about this in Oakland, where Raiders owner Al Davis' focus is diverted by legal proceedings (most notably, his attempt to terminate former coach Lane Kiffin "with cause" and thus avoid paying his contract) and multiple allegations of violent behavior against current coach Tom Cable. In terms of organizational humiliation, it's tough to top the specter of a head coach, on the morning of a game, issuing a statement to ESPN that he had once struck his first wife because he believed she had committed adultery.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't compete on that level, but their 0-7 start has produced its share of awkwardness and shame. Last week, co-owner Joel Glazer strongly denied rumors that the team could be for sale because of significant financial losses sustained in the Bernie Madoff investment scam; such talk is fueled by the fact that the suddenly stingy Bucs reportedly have far more space under the salary cap than any NFL team. On Tuesday, meanwhile, rookie coach Raheem Morris tried to rationalize a reported incident in which cornerback Aqib Talib(notes) heatedly swore at him after missing curfew during the team's recent trip to London.

And while Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder hasn't yet initiated any meetings with the "Hogettes", he did apologize to fans at a charity event Tuesday for the team's 2-5 start, saying: "We just feel terrible … We're embarrassed … "

So is Snyder's embattled second-year coach, Jim Zorn, who was recently stripped of play-calling duties in favor of Sherm Lewis – a coach deep into retirement who, until a few weeks ago, was calling out Bingo numbers at a Detroit-area senior center.

Do I feel sorry for any of these owners? No. Each is largely responsible for his own predicament.

Lerner, as my colleague Charles Robinson pointed out Thursday, created a situation doomed to failure in January when he hired Mangini first, then allowed the new coach to choose Kokinis as his GM. Lerner's detached ownership style and malleable philosophical convictions form a brutal combination; forgive me if I'm not as easily won over as Dawgpound Mike.

The dysfunctional, contentious environment cultivated by Davis has been well-documented, as has his tendency in recent years to make decisions very slowly. It's hardly a big deal by Raiders' standards, but after last Sunday's defeat to the San Diego Chargers several players complained to the Oakland Tribune's Monte Poole that they still hadn't been given a schedule for the upcoming bye week. In the obsessively planned world of the NFL, such a state of affairs is reasonably shocking, and it's a sign that the coach (who obviously has his own issues, and may not be the coach much longer) can't act without the owner's expressed consent.

Joel Glazer and his brothers – and father Malcolm before them – have been good owners for most of the past 14 years. Yet their decision to fire head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen in January seemed capricious and resulted in a situation in which neophytes Morris (a 32-year-old who'd been elevated to defensive coordinator only days earlier) and GM Mark Dominik (elevated from pro personnel director) were learning on the fly and with a reduced payroll. On Sunday, when the Bucs bust out their old Creamsicle jerseys for their game against the Green Bay Packers, it will complete the bad-flashback imagery for fans at Raymond James Stadium.

Snyder, leaning on the advice of bulletproof vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, was the one who decided in February of '08 that Zorn, who had never been a play-caller, offensive coordinator or head coach, could handle all three duties for the 'Skins. And Snyder's impatience, volatility and close relationships with players such as Clinton Portis(notes) haven't helped Zorn's efforts to grow into those roles. Those criticisms, in my opinion, are far more reasonable than the ones leveled earlier this week by ex-Washington great John Riggins, who said on Showtime's "Inside the NFL" that Snyder "is a bad guy" whose "heart is dark."

Gulp. Have I mentioned that these are embarrassing times?

So how do these teams stop the madness? The two general managers to whom I spoke on Thursday agreed that organizational stability, beginning with unquestioned support from ownership and extending to a productive and compatible relationship with the head coach, was the biggest determining factor toward success.

Further, just as players can have their focus derailed by outside forces, organizational distractions can impair a general manager's ability to provide the bold, decisive and reasoned leadership required to build a winner. This is especially true of a first-timer like Kokinis, who sources say was quickly unnerved by Mangini's paranoid and domineering approach.

The general manager who said he'd have quit on the spot after learning of Lerner's meeting with the fans told me he believes Kokinis "was in over his head." Kokinis, he said, was unresponsive when it came to making trades, possibly because his nominal decision-making power had been usurped by Mangini.

The other GM with whom I spoke agreed that Kokinis was overwhelmed by the situation, saying: "He was disheveled from the start. If you're not in a sound environment and things aren't functioning smoothly, it's hard to think clearly. When he was called about [potential] trades, he'd say, 'We're not in that mode; I've got to get back to you.' It was never at the forefront because you got the feeling he had to deal with something down the hall. The [implication] was, 'I can't think about this right now.'


Kokinis' union with the Browns was short-lived.

(Tony Dejak/AP Photo)

"Look, it's hard enough as a first-time GM – you have enough to concern yourself in terms of shaping the roster and managing the front office. You want to talk about disruptive? Oh, man, I can't even imagine having to deal with that stuff."

The GM was talking about the infighting within Lerner's organization, but he said similar things as we discussed the Raiders, Bucs and 'Skins.

All four situations seem hopeless, but perhaps the owners in question will learn from these miserable experiences and bring new leaders into improved environments – or empower the current ones with the structure and stability necessary to give them a fighting chance.

It sounds good, in theory, but I have my doubts. In Lerner's case, especially, I see the potential for prolonged futility, as evidenced by his comments Thursday to the Cleveland Plain Dealer which seemed to endorse Mangini as his coach beyond this season.

It's quite possible that Lerner's "solution" will be to hire a new GM and pair him with the heavy-handed coach who drove out his predecessor. In other words, you can't teach an old dog new tricks – even if Dawgpound Mike thinks otherwise.


The Arizona Cardinals will struggle for a second consecutive week and lose to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field – and nonetheless remain in control of the NFC West. … The Dolphins will put up a great fight in Foxborough before falling to the Patriots. … Vince Young(notes) Mania will hit Nashville as the embattled quarterback leads the Titans to a narrow victory over the Niners in San Francisco.


Indianapolis, where I can expect to be mocked by the Colts beat writers who reacted to my skepticism about the team's prospects by betting me the team would make the '09 playoffs. (Note to self: Stop at ATM on the way to Lucas Oil Stadium and pay for those meals now.) And if the Texans can pull off the upset against their AFC South rivals, I'll start to feel a little better about my slightly less dubious prediction that Houston will sneak into the postseason field.


1. If Davis fires Cable, the first candidate interviewed by the owner will be former Oakland tight end Jeremy Brigham, who's currently doing a bang-up job for a local youth team.

2. While scrambling to catch up on submitting more than three months' worth of outstanding expenses, I would never stoop so low as to ask my visiting mother to glue-stick receipts onto 8½ x 11 paper.

3. There have been more emphatic takedowns in 2009 than this one by Lions rookie Zack Follett(notes).


Thanks to the Bears, who rolled to a 30-6 victory over the Browns, I had another stress-free weekend – and I'm counting on the Atlanta Falcons to follow suit on Sunday and win easily. The Falcons, coming home after a tough defeat to the Saints, host the Redskins – enough said. Amazingly, the Skins are one of the teams I've previously won with, meaning they (along with the Bears, Colts, Packers, Eagles, Texans, Ravens and Patriots) are off limits from here on out.


I've pretty much given up on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, my buddy Malibu's struggling fantasy team. To be fair, so has Malibu. Yet lo and behold, Sabbath's ragtag lineup improved its record to 2-6 last weekend, pulling out a two-point victory over Team 420, despite subpar efforts from virtually everyone on the roster. One exception: No. 2 overall pick LaDainian Tomlinson(notes), who led the team in scoring. Malibu's hoping LT will keep it rolling this weekend against You Are a Jerk, which features Peyton Manning(notes), Jay Cutler(notes), Michael Turner(notes), Kevin Smith(notes), Larry Fitzgerald(notes), Steve Smith, Mike Sims-Walker(notes) and Jason Witten(notes). Will Sabbath be up to the challenge? Malibu will need big efforts from Kurt Warner(notes), Joe Flacco(notes), Marion Barber(notes), Hines Ward(notes), Steve Breaston(notes), Johnny Knox(notes) (yes, those are really the starting wideouts) and newly acquired Bo Scaife(notes) (my idea; Malibu waived Green Bay's Donald Lee(notes) to get him). Sadly, my big play for Ryan Moats(notes) fell through when the Texans halfback was awarded to another team; I also picked up Chad Henne(notes) (for Marc Bulger(notes)) as quarterback insurance. Yee haw.

As for UCSB women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb, her Gauchos defeated Westmont College in their exhibition opener Wednesday night, with Wake Forest transfer Mekia Valentine pumping in 28 points. We sure could have used those points (and more) over the weekend, as Harsh Reality suffered a 131-94 defeat to league-leading South Beach Playas. I witnessed the demise of Harsh Reality (4-4) first-hand at Lambeau Field: a big second half by Aaron Rodgers(notes) (28 points) and a 19-point effort from Adrian Peterson keyed Playas, while the Packers' defense (zero points) unraveled, a stark contrast to the 26 points the Bears' D scored for our opponent. Meanwhile, Chris Johnson's 35-point explosion was offset by the negative-one-point performance by newly acquired Shonn Greene(notes) (hey, didn't I tell everyone he'd be a game-changer?)

I took the blame for the defeat and, for one thing, vowed to wean Harsh Reality off the products of my Packers fixation. We agreed to go week-to-week on kicker and defense but ultimately decided to stick with Mason Crosby(notes) and the Green Bay D for Sunday's favorable matchup against the Bucs. With Greene, Terrell Owens(notes) and Bernard Berrian(notes) on byes, the lineup choices were relatively clear-cut for this week's matchup with 014: Carson Palmer(notes), Johnson, Barber, Chad Ochocinco(notes) and Greg Jennings(notes). For the swing player, we went with Julius Jones(notes) (favorable matchup vs. Lions) over newly acquired Antonio Bryant(notes) (I still love that pickup for the long haul) and stuck with smoking-hot Vernon Davis(notes) over Greg Olsen(notes) at tight end. They'll be matched against a lineup that includes Donovan McNabb(notes), Brian Westbrook(notes), Frank Gore(notes), Kevin Smith, Santonio Holmes(notes), Dwayne Bowe(notes), Antonio Gates(notes), John Carney(notes) and the Giants' defense.

Does Y! Sports expert Brad Evans approve?

Malibu's inconceivable victory last week was a tremendous feat of humanity. Next to Namath's odds-defying triumph over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, it was arguably the greatest upset in football – real or imaginary. Still, unless he fields an All-Star roster filled with USFL superstars at their peak (Jim Kelly during his Houston Generals days would boost his chances for a turnaround tenfold), and his league commissioner gives clearance for numbers from defunct leagues to be retroacted, he's cooked. Though Warner and Flacco should post top 10 QB numbers this week, Peyton, Turner, Fitzgerald and Witten, who faces an Eagles defense that has surrendered the most fantasy points to TEs this year, will lead to his seventh undoing of the season.

Bo Scaife, Silver? Really? Why don't you just poison Malibu's beer with fruit? Fred Davis(notes) (at Atl), Benjamin Watson(notes) (vs. Mia) and Kevin Boss(notes) (vs. SD) would've been brainier recommendations, assuming they were available. The prospects for Coach Gottlieb's merry band of underachievers are significantly brighter. Palmer, Ochocinco, Jennings and, of all people, Julius Jones should propel Harsh Reality into the winner's circle. However, don't be surprised if Captain Quick (Johnson) falls off the plank. Until Vince Young can consistently complete passes for more than 10 yards, he will deal with overloaded boxes. Also, San Francisco is no slouch defensively. Over the past five weeks, the Niners have conceded just 3.6 yards per carry to rushers. Mike Singletary will Super Bowl Shuffle all over Johnson's posterior this week.

Finally, I'll leave you with this thought-provoking nugget: Does an addiction (or "fixation" as Silver calls it) to Packers involve binging on deer sausage? Discuss amongst yourselves.


When the Raiders issued a statement Monday that they would "undertake a serious evaluation" of the domestic-abuse allegations against Cable, that was an appropriate response, and I have no reason to doubt the organization's sincerity. But the team's accompanying statement charging that ESPN, which aired the report containing the allegations, "routinely disseminates falsehoods about the Raiders" strains the limits of credulity. According to the team, "ESPN's role in this matter must be carefully examined." OK, let's examine it. First question: Did ESPN figure out a way to alter images or voices to create the impression that two women, on camera, said Cable was violent toward them? I'm going to go out on a limb and say no. And in that case, the Raiders' protestations about the network's role are ridiculous. Sandy Cable and Marie Lutz went public with their accusations, and how does the fact that they chose to do so on ESPN have anything to do with it? These women could have been on CNN, Fox News, Lifetime, the NFL Network, Telemundo or a homemade YouTube video, and that wouldn't have changed a thing. Oh, and when Cable gave a statement to ESPN admitting that he'd struck his ex-wife? Apparently that, too, was a product of the network's effort to disseminate falsehoods.


The Philadelphia Phillies. Though they lost the World Series, they won The Gameface's eternal devotion when they celebrated their Game 4 victory over the Dodgers in the NLCS with the world's most awesome tequila. I'm also hoisting a glass for my kids' badass ex-babysitter, Emily Azevedo, who last month was selected to the U.S. World Cup bobsled team for 2009-10. Azevedo, an accomplished push athlete, is competing for a spot on the Olympic team, which will be named at the conclusion of the season in January. And I'll be completely honest with you – if she makes it, I'll be drinking from the bottle.


Cal sophomore kicker David Seawright is a modest dude: On Thursday he was named the school's student athlete of the month for October, and suffice it to say I didn't hear about it from him. He also has a good sense of humor, a trait essential for Golden Bears last Saturday as they sweated out the bizarre final sequence of a 23-21 victory at Arizona State. (Cal, now No. 20 in the BCS standings, hosts Oregon State Saturday at Memorial Stadium.) Here's Seawright's riff on the Bears' tribute to "Where The Wild Things Are" …

Football is a game bent on innovation.

From the West Coast offense to the Spread to the Wildcat, coaches constantly seek ways to create mismatches and confuse defenses.

We have been known to employ such novelty ourselves. During the closing moments of Saturday's game at Arizona state, quarterback Kevin Riley orchestrated a brilliant 11-play drive downfield, creating a second-and-goal from the 5-yard line with the score 21-20

There, running back Shane Vereen lined up in our version of the Wildcat formation and lobbed a pass to tight end Anthony Miller in the back of the end zone that fell incomplete.

Now, even though we won the game off of a Giorgio Tavecchio field goal two plays later, I propose an innovation that could have made it all much easier: the Seawright Special.

In a unique variation of the Wildcat constructed specifically for fourth-and-short or down by two, end of game goal line situations (since, you know, they happen so frequently), I will receive a direct snap and be left with a plethora of options.

Like in the traditional Wildcat scheme, I will have the option to power my way for six, hand off the ball to a more suitable ballcarrier or to take a shot into the end zone with my arm. But the twist comes in the form of a fourth option – a Flutie-esque drop kick.

I can only imagine the terror I would strike into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators. With the game on the line, we would have four viable options to put points on the board, one more than any other possible formation.

Besides, Vereen spends his time working hard on being the complete package as a running back, not a quarterback. Me? Well, I spend most of my time playing catch with All-American punter Bryan Anger, so my arm is always ready.

You think Tim Tebow's a threat to score all the time? Consider him one-upped. Add me to your Heisman watch lists now!

This is the next step in the evolutionary process of football schematics. What can I say? I'm just an innovator.


95 yard goal


The doom and gloom that has infiltrated the Reading Football Club throughout the 2009-10 season finally lifted Saturday night at the Ricoh Arena, as the Royals vaulted themselves out of the relegation zone by rolling to a 3-1 victory over Coventry City. The visitors were all business: Grzegorz Rasiak headed home a pinpoint cross from Jobi McAnuff at the far post 31 seconds in, and McAnuff's first goal in a Reading uniform made it 2-0 in the 54th minute. Freddy Eastwood's score from 25 yards out 10 minutes later brought Sky Blues to within 2-1, but Rasiak responded with a second tally, heading home a rebound after sub Shane Long smacked one off the inside post and sliding to his knees in celebration. Now 21st in the 24-team Football League Championship table with 13 points, the Royals will try to keep the good times rolling Saturday against last-place Ipswich Town at Madejski Stadium – where they are winless in seven games this season and have been outscored by an 8-2 margin.


In recent weeks, Miles Austin(notes) has clearly emerged as the Cowboys' No. 1 receiver – and Roy Williams, the guy who still thinks he's the team's top wideout, clearly isn't happy about it. So while Williams claims he's not filling the antagonist's role once played by a certain temperamental ex-teammate, he certainly seems to have more in common with Terrell Owens than he does, say, the greatest Dallas receiver of his era. Confused? Here's Williams making sense of it all by channeling young Roger Daltrey (or, at least, as I imagine he would), to the tune of The Who's "I Can See For Miles."

I know you've deceived me, now here's a surprise
I know that you have from a guy that you despise
You've got eyes for Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles
Oh yeah

If you think that I don't know about the little tricky throws
And never see you when deliberately you put balls at my toes

Well, here's a poke at you
Cause the Cowpokes are a zoo
You're gonna lose that smile
Cause under the pile

You can't throw to Miles, to Miles
You can't throw to Miles, to Miles
You've got eyes for Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles
Oh yeah

You took advantage of my trust in you – that throw in the Denver game
You put it high and D.J. Williams(notes) cracked my ribs and took my breath away

Like Jess once did thee
Now she's with Colt B.
And you gotta stand trial
Because Gomer Pyle

You've got eyes for Miles, for Miles
You've got eyes for Miles, for Miles
You've got eyes for Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles
Oh yeah

I know you've deceived me, now here's a surprise
I know from T.O. – yeah, that guy that you despise
You've got eyes for Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles
Oh yeah

Reunion Tower and Niagara Falls are mine to see on clear days
I'm wide open but you won't throw the ball so I can make big plays

Well, here's a poke at you
You and that joke of a "2"
You're gonna lose that smile
Cause under the pile

You can't throw to Miles, to Miles
You can't throw to Miles, to Miles
You've got eyes for Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles for Miles

You've got eyes for Miles, for Miles …