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On the second day of 2008, Jeff Ireland got the type of big-time NFL gig he'd always wanted, leaving the Dallas Cowboys' personnel department to serve under football czar Bill Parcells as the Miami Dolphins' general manager.
"We might pop a bottle of champagne!" Ireland's elated mother, Sandi Holub, told The Miami Herald's Jeff Darlington upon learning of the hiring. Holub explained that Ireland, the grandson of longtime Chicago Bears personnel guru Jim Parmer (and the stepson of E.J. Holub, a Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker/center), had yearned for such an opportunity from a young age.
"It has been his ultimate dream all his life," she said, "from the time he would ride on trips with his granddaddy, sitting in dark rooms, watching 16-millimeter film with Daddy. He's always wanted to have the chance to build a championship team."
Ireland got off to an impressive start, revamping the roster of a team that had gone 1-15 the previous season and deservedly receiving praise when the Dolphins stunned the football world by winning the AFC East in '08.
By all accounts, he is very good at evaluating talent. Unfortunately, his people skills aren't nearly as accomplished. From what I can tell, Ireland seems like a strong candidate to be decreed the biggest jerk in the history of job interviewers.
I wonder how Sandi would feel about the story I'm about to share, one which simultaneously illustrates the Dolphins' organizational arrogance and the NFL's complete disconnect from society when it comes to such things as respect, decorum and class.
In fairness to Ireland, the Dolphins' habitually brusque treatment of their current and prospective players is purely a Parcells production. Unfortunately for the general manager, he's about to be unmasked as an A-list A-hole.
Last Wednesday, the night before he was selected 24th overall by the Cowboys, former Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant(notes) told me that during one of his predraft visits, a high-level executive of one NFL franchise had asked him if his mother, Angela, was a prostitute.
"No, my mom is not a prostitute," said Bryant, whose background – including his mother's lifestyle and past legal troubles – was under great scrutiny prior to the draft. "I got mad – really mad – but I didn't show it."
The offender was Ireland, who on Monday declined to comment on the matter. Harvey Greene, the Dolphins' senior vice president of media relations, said, "It's our organizational policy that we don't discuss publicly the process we use to evaluate potential draft choices."
That's a wise idea given the demeaning, offensive and possibly actionable evaluation process that was used to assess Bryant's fitness to catch passes for Miami, a franchise which apparently holds nothing sacred in such contexts.
In recent weeks, we've heard about some preposterous questions that have been tossed at this year's top draft prospects, including one team's query to defensive tackle Gerald McCoy(notes) during an interview at the NFL scouting combine: Do you play in a G-string or a jock strap? (Creepy.)
Recently, Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart(notes) told me one team asked him if being a white running back made him feel "entitled." (Nonsensical.)
And Ireland's question of Bryant, which came with only a desk in between them? I must say I'm rather impressed – with the size of the GM's cojones, and with the comprehensive coverage that's evidently offered by the Dolphins' dental plan.
"I don't care who you are or who you're talking to – that kind of question usually gets your [expletive] teeth kicked in," says former NFL lineman Kyle Turley(notes). "I mean, where do these people come from? That's just completely [expletive] classless and totally unprofessional."
I realize there will be plenty of people who'll try to defend such actions as sound management techniques. Some of you who operate under the assumption that the NFL is a hallowed American institution that's beyond reproach will say these are justifiable screening tactics, given the multimillion dollar investments teams make in signing highly drafted players. Others will undoubtedly rationalize the confronting of athletes with unpleasant topics as a shrewd personality test, a means of gauging players' reactions to stressful circumstances and assessing self-control.
And I'm not buying any of it. Maybe this kind of crap flies in your fantasy league, but if you think it's cool for actual NFL team executives to behave this way, you need a reality check.
First of all, can you conceive of anything like this happening in any other industry in American society? Imagine an entry-level applicant who is considered to be one of the best prospects in the nation being interviewed for a highly paid, high-profile position at, say, an investment-banking firm. After the young hotshot sat down to meet the hiring committee, how do you think the G-string question would play in the conference room?
In many states, employers can theoretically be sued for so much as inquiring about an applicant's age. I'm pretty sure the kind of racially charged questions Gerhart said he fielded would make most company lawyers go into convulsions.
As for the idea of teams attempting to incite draft-eligible players to see how they'll respond, I must say I'm a bit confused. Surely, there is something to be said for displaying self-discipline and restraint, as Bryant did during his meeting with Ireland. Yet this is football, a sport in which aggression, violence and prideful rage play an enormous role in one's propensity for success. If I were an NFL general manager, I think I'd be more inclined to draft a kid who'd react angrily to questions such as the one Ireland asked Bryant.
I've been covering the NFL for more than 20 years, and when I think back to the best, most passionate players I've encountered during that time, I'm convinced that a high percentage of them would have had Ireland up against the wall by his collar in that situation, or at least have been very close to doing so. Ronnie Lott, Ray Lewis(notes), John Elway, Junior Seau(notes), Michael Strahan(notes) and Warren Sapp(notes) come to mind.
"They're trying to break people down in ways they've never been broken before, to see if a kid will snap," Sapp says. "They know exactly what they're saying, and it's a damn shame we're still at this point."
Basically, some team executives are applying a "Mad Men" mentality to a modern, more enlightened era, and their cluelessness is cringe-inducing.
This kind of behavior is an embarrassment to the NFL, whose commissioner, Roger Goodell, has gone to great lengths to improve the league's branding – most conspicuously implementing a no-nonsense personal-conduct policy designed to, as he has said, "protect the shield."
Bryant hugs his mom, Angela, after getting the call from the Cowboys Thursday night.
(Image courtesy Lawrence Jenkins)
Ireland's treatment of Bryant in particular reflects negatively on Stephen Ross, the Dolphins' marketing-conscious owner, and on the franchise as a whole. Chances are it won't be held in high esteem by a fan base that's already been stung by Parcells' dismissive actions toward a pair of local icons, former All-Pro defenders Zach Thomas(notes) and Jason Taylor(notes).
Thomas was released in Ireland's second month on the job in '08, an understandable move given the linebacker's age and injury issues. Yet Thomas recently revealed in an interview with Miami's WQAM that his request to have a farewell press conference at the team facility to thank fans and media for their support was shot down by the Parcells regime.
"Their answer was, 'No, he's not a Dolphins player anymore, he's got to do it off premises,' " Thomas told the radio station.
In other words: Hit the road, Zach, and don't you come back no more …
Taylor, the NFL's active sacks (127½) leader, returned for a second stint with Miami in '09 after having spent the previous season with the Redskins. He says he wanted to re-sign with the Dolphins this offseason but felt he was essentially blown off by Parcells and Ireland. Last week, he signed a two-year deal with the rival New York Jets.
In a farewell press conference (no, it wasn't at the team facility, either), a teary-eyed Taylor insisted that the Dolphins never made him an offer to return after the '09 season ended.
"You can't make someone respect you," Taylor told reporters.
For comparison's sake, Taylor was hotly pursued by Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan, a process that included a private helicopter ride to the new Meadowlands stadium the team will share with the Giants, where Taylor saw a tape of his career highlights on the giant video screen.
Again, I have no problem with Parcells and Ireland for deciding that they didn't value Taylor enough to keep him. It's the NFL, and beloved veterans get cast aside with regularity. It's the utter disdain for the player's legacy, and what emotions might be experienced by the paying customers, that makes the organization look petty. Taylor, a former Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year whose ongoing charitable endeavors in South Florida have been well documented, deserved better – and so did the Dolphins fans who revere him.
All of this will be largely forgiven, of course, if Miami can win big in 2010 and beyond. But the Dolphins sputtered to a 7-9 record in '09, the second year of the Parcells era, and it's possible the franchise's arrogance cost Miami a chance to get better at a key position in 2010.
In March, free safety Ryan Clark(notes) – one of Miami's top targets in free agency – paid a visit to South Florida, dining with head coach Tony Sparano and spending the following day meeting with various officials at the team's facility. Clark, who'd spent the previous four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, told the Herald's Darlington upon his arrival in South Florida that he didn't want to leave without a contract, saying: "I'm praying it goes well."
It didn't. A few hours before a scheduled dinner with Dolphins assistant head coach/secondary coach Todd Bowles, Clark called an audible, heading for the airport to catch an earlier flight and telling his agent, Joel Turner, he wanted to re-sign with Pittsburgh. After inking a four-year deal with the Steelers, Clark didn't offer up many specifics, and Turner didn't reveal the impetus for Clark's action, either. The agent portrayed staying in Pittsburgh as a family lifestyle choice, insisting, "Honest to God, it wasn't about the money."
That may not be completely true – it's possible Clark wanted to remain with the Steelers all along and used the Dolphins for leverage. Perhaps he felt a sudden wave of attachment to Pittsburgh and rushed back to make sure he was still wanted in Steeltown.
Or maybe he paid a visit to Ireland's office and got the Dez Bryant treatment. And then, in honor of Gerald McCoy, he packed up his G-string and went home.
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
Isn't it getting a little old to keep picking Oakland last? We had the eighth pick in the draft, and this with some of the worst QB'ing (apologies to Bruce Gradkowski(notes)) you will ever see. This team will not finish in last place; this is nothing more than personal bias. Be honest, you pick them last because it is fun, not because it is accurate. Show some class every once in a while and distinguish yourself from all of the other immature Raider Haters that were picked on as kids. Yes, Al Davis is crazy, but there are Raiders players with pride that deserve their efforts to be analyzed with some respect. There are worse teams than Oakland; it just isn't as fun to pick on them. You're a clown, not a journalist.
Yeah, ranking the Raiders at the bottom is strictly a product of my personal agenda – and, for this immature hater, what a seven years it has been! For the first time in NFL history, a team has registered 11 or more defeats for seven consecutive seasons and, conveniently, Oakland is that team. Unless I missed the drafting of a new owner and coach last weekend, I'm fairly confident the Raiders will make a run at extending that dubious record. And if they do, rest assured I'll celebrate by buying some new shoes.
Another Yahoo! Sports story, another comment about race and racism. There is a pattern here. Except no one cares. Really.
Really? Read on …
Dear angst-and-white-guilt-ridden liberal: When referring to Goodell's intro of Trent Williams(notes), you wrote "I realize that … as a society we should be beyond such overtones." Most of us are beyond them, Michael. Just not, well, guilt-ridden white Bay Area liberals. Regarding your "interesting conversation with a veteran Steelers player … and his take was that, like Michael Vick(notes) before him, Big Ben now had an idea 'what it's like to be a black quarterback.' " Poor Ben and Michael – unable to break the law with impunity, torturing dogs and sexually assaulting women. This racism must stop!
You might want to go back and re-read what I wrote: It was a series of text messages I received from an appalled African-American ex-player in the wake of Goodell's comments, which convinced me that at least some reasonable people might have been offended. With all due respect to non-minorities, including liberals who may or may not be guilt-ridden, it's not just for us to decide how charged analogies should be perceived by people who've had to put up with hateful garbage many of us can't even imagine. I stand by my belief that it would have been better for the commissioner to pass on Williams' request.
You wanna know when racism will go away? When you and others like you stop being racist. The player asked to be announced like that, meant something to him and his friends, the only people who did the doubletake are people who cannot let racism die. Let go of your racist notions and racism will start to go away as it should have already, but no … like always everyone is too quick to assume it was meant as a slur … guess what? You're the racist.
Here's a guess: You're a white, Christian, heterosexual male? I thought so.
Hey, Mike, I had a funny question for my friend the other night. "What if somehow Washington had been able to convince St. Louis to make a trade, and then picked Bradford? Would it have been OK to say, 'The Redskins pick the Redskin' "? (Bradford of course, having American Indian blood) No, he said, that would not be OK. Made me think of the discussion surrounding Washington's mascot. A different spin to it, perhaps.
This takes me back to a column I wrote 11 months ago, and the intense reaction it provoked – and it reminds me that racial (and ethnic) insensitivity remains a major issue in 21st century America. And it's something that was on many of your minds after a column I wrote the previous week …
Mr. Silver, I commend you on having the courage to write this article. Discrimination is something that shouldn't happen no matter who is being targeted. Hopefully the fallout will not be too great for pointing out what has occurred with Mr. Gerhart. People sometimes do not want the truth told if it doesn't promote their particular agenda. Take care and best wishes.
Bonita Springs, Fla.
Thanks, and don't worry – I'm sure the fallout will take the form of thoughtful, respectful and eloquent responses …
On Gerhart: Who didn't know that the fairly racially balanced game of football was going to turn into the predominantly black game of basketball overseen by avaricious scouts, team owners, and coaches coveting record wins and championships based on skin color and hybrid athleticism. It is not fair play to pass over champion players who can challenge the status quo simply because they're not blacks hybrided on cocaine, methamphetamines, or steroids. Racist in and of themselves, sports have become the left wing liberal's bane of "spectatorship" who'd sacrifice their virgin daughters to the gods of black sports figures, whereas Ann Coulter (and I) would point the finger straight at stupid Democrats who'd be so superficially hypocritical – with a galactic obtuseness – to exhibit team sports events with a mechanical man-style of appreciation, i.e.: Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots. There's no other reason this landscape exists in sports today other than it being that the Caucasian men in white liberals' midst won't have to participate and get hurt. He can just stand and cheer like everybody else in a stadium of spineless creeps. Drats! I say. This has become a staid racist trend that's difficult to admit is always embraced by white Jews! I have come to hate all sports I once dearly loved, starting with somebody's bright idea to pick up Jackie Robinson in white major league baseball. Funny. The McCarthy-ites back in the early '50s predicted it was going to come precisely to this.
This might be the most vile, small-minded and idiotic (the use of fancy words like "avaricious" notwithstanding) e-mail I've received in 2010 – and that's saying something. Then again, it comes from a modern-day McCarthyist who apparently has a crush on Ann Coulter, so I'm not particularly surprised. These words are embarrassing to me, Gerhart and all the non-delusional readers of this column.
RE: Tobey Gerhart. Race matters with respect to him? Bull (expletive). So, black men are supposed to what? Apologize for being dominant in the sport because a white athlete displays some skill as a running back? He's gonna get killed. It is what it is. By the way: There's no such thing as race. Sooner or later, white people are going to get hit with a hard kick to the balls about your identity and where it comes from. Black people are the parent race of the planet. All that you are is due to us and what we gave you in antiquity. Problem is, you have no gratitude for that. You want it all and did whatever you could to get it. Now that nature is slapping you back to reality, that you're a pebble, not the mountain, you're bitchin' and moanin' that it's slipping away. Well, get ready. It gets worse from here. Solar max 24 has begun. Without enough melanin? You'll be lucky to walk fast let alone run. Peace out.
You may be right, but until that time comes, let me be sure to thank you for reminding us all that the composition of over-the-top, semi-delusional e-mails is not restricted to white readers. (On the other hand, for whatever reason, I found yours much more entertaining than Carlo's.)
What is up with you folks bringing the skin color of the Stanford running back into play? Look at all of the good white running backs that have gone before him. Wake the hell up and smell the roses, you bums. What about John Riggins, Rocky Blair, and others? Get a grip man, we as a nation don't need anymore of this crap, period.
You folks? You mean, like, Gerhart himself?
Great article, Michael. It just shows how clouded people's thinking can be sometimes, even talented ones. I guess this is the same kind of thing black QBs had to put up with back in the day.
Yes, only slightly less offensive in that a) for the most part, white running backs like Gerhart are being underestimated by people of their own race; and b) their physical abilities are being questioned, which is less disturbing than having people doubt your intelligence, work ethic and leadership abilities. Still, it's ridiculous and – given that the sole motivation for NFL teams should be finding good players who can help them win – astounding.
If this article was written years ago about a black athlete not being able to be a quarterback, the outrage would be palpable. From the sound of interview questions it seems like this is the angle that you wanted to evoke. You should be ashamed. I saw him run against Oregon and he took it all and kept on giving. You should apologize and then be fired.
From the sound of interview questions? Are you hearing voices, or just assuming you a) know what I asked Gerhart and the team employees I interviewed; and b) know what my hidden agenda is?
Race factors into evaluation of Gerhart RE: This article. Not a big sports fan, but I clicked on this article 'cause that guy is a total babe. Tell him he could always fall back on a modeling career if the stupid NFL doesn't want him. Maybe a smart team will draft him and even if he sits on the bench, the calendar sales will make up for it.
This is a very serious subject, but I got a laugh out of this e-mail. So did Gerhart, when I forwarded it to him. (His girlfriend, former Stanford swimmer Meredith Ayres, may not have found it quite as humorous.)
I am a black man who had the pleasure of seeing him play against my beloved Cal Bears. This kid is a good player and it sucks that people are having these discussions. It just reminds me of the days when people did not think that us black men could be NFL quarterbacks. It is scary that they are dismissing out of hand his performances at the combines and three years at Stanford. Dangerous territory.
I'm right there with you, though for this proud Cal alum it will be far more pleasurable watching Gerhart play in purple than in red.
Whoa dude!! I can't believe you're hyping a Stanford guy. Did you lose some sort of bet with Jason Cole? Being from Tobacco Road I know a thing or two about rivalries, and you'd be hard-pressed to get me to admit publicly that any of Coach K's little floor slappers were anything other than cheesy little trust fund babies who had too much "Dookie" in their diaper!! This Gerhart kid must have some serious skills.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Great article. I say let the man play. I would pick him! Coming from a black former ball player, we don't see color we just see players, and a player with heart gets a team pumping!! If he can bring it, that's all that matters!
Wow! I just read your article … very well done. Here is a new topic for you: "Disregard for Federal Discrimination Laws in the NFL." The questions that Gerhart said he was asked are ridiculous. "One team I interviewed with asked me about being a white running back," Gerhart says. "They asked if it made me feel entitled, or like I felt I was a poster child for white running backs." He should sue the team that asked him that, as well as file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC. All I can say is wow!
On a positive note, at least he wasn't asked if his mother practiced the world's oldest profession.
After yet another thrilling UMD (it amazes me every year how many people don't get it), I wanted to commend you for not letting up on the pathetic response the commissioner had after Tom Cable assaulted one of his coaches last year. I just don't understand how Roger doesn't see how it is counterproductive to punish players who are not charged with a crime but not a coach. Randy (Hanson) deserves some justice and I'm glad that he has you in his corner.
West Jefferson, N.C.
I'm still waiting for an explanation as to how Hanson walked out of that meeting with a broken jaw – and for Goodell and/or someone at the league office to interview Hanson and the other coaches who were in that room.
Great column!! Being a diehard football fan from Michigan, you always have to have an alternate team! Rooting for the Lions is a waste of emotion! But having Tom Brady(notes) (the Michigan man) come back and win a Super Bowl would be awesome! Love the thought of current NFL players being eligible in the draft:) You're awesome! Love the column! Sincerely a diehard fan from the "D" rooting for anyone but the Lions;)
As a Cal fan, I promise you that the emotion is not actually wasted. It's simply recycled into different, equally pertinent emotions – dejection, despair, devastation, delusion. Tom Brady's sister Nancy knows precisely what I mean.
Given that the players are drafted "as is" – and that the 31-year-old Reed said last January it was "50-50" that he'd retire, and still hasn't announced whether he's coming back to the Ravens to play in 2010 – I think it would be a tough sell in the hypothetical war rooms.
Could you have a worse draft? Tom Brady has three rings, peyton does not. Darrel Revis over drew brees? are you insane? The most idiotic draft ever and a wide reciever at number 7? are you kidding me? your a fool! The one thing that has always irrated me about yahoo is why cant they get better sports writers? That was awful. Now i am in a bad mood, and what can I do to make myself feel better?
I am so glad you asked. First, you should bone up on your spelling and grammar. Lesson No. 1: When trying to make the point that another person is a fool, know the difference between "your" and "you're." Secondly, you should try watching some Jahvid Best(notes) highlight videos. It worked for Jim Schwartz.
Ben Roethlisbergerbergermiesterberger in the top 10? WTF are you smoking? At absolute best, he is outside the top 10 at his position, well outside, and that is before you consider his off-the-field troubles. Peyton Manning(notes), Tom Brady, Drew Brees(notes), Donovan McNabb(notes), Eli Manning(notes), Phillip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers(notes), Carson Palmer(notes), Matt Schaub(notes), Vince Young(notes), and Tony Romo(notes) are all no-brainer picks ahead of him. Jason Campbell(notes), Joe Flacco(notes), Matt Ryan(notes) and Mark Sanchez(notes) are as good if not better already and Matthew Stafford(notes) has proven that he has the potential to be a top-five player. I just don't get the love for this loser. His team won two Super Bowls in spite of his typically poor play.
Yeah, he was horrible in Super Bowl XLIII, what with that ultra-clutch game-winning drive culminating in a perfect, triple-pump touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes(notes) in the corner of the end zone. I don't know how the Steelers managed to win in spite of him.
i am now dumber for having read your mock fantasy draft. thanks
Given that you thought it was a fantasy draft, I'm not sure you needed the help.