All That and a Bag of Mail

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It’s Friday and we’ve got five big football games being played over the next three days, rejoice.

I’m headed down to New Orleans on Sunday for the Clemson-LSU game, which should be incredible. But I’ll be doing radio, TV, and the Periscope and Facebook shows just like I normally do.

So let’s get rolling with the Friday mailbag.

Here goes:

Kyle writes:

“With the new hires at Mississippi State and Ole Miss who do you think came away with the better hire or upper hand heading into the 2020 season?”

I think the peeing celebration in the Egg Bowl likely put Ole Miss and Mississippi State both on infinitely better footing when it comes to their programs with Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach than they were in with Matt Luke and Joe Moorhead.

Based on his history Mike Leach has led Texas Tech and Washington State to much better historical rates of success than either of those schools have ever accomplished.

Leach won 11 games at both schools.

Yes, the quality of competition in the SEC will be higher, but his quality of recruit will be better too. So I’d suspect that Leach will do well at Mississippi State.

More importantly, perhaps, I also suspect he will be really entertaining.

As for Kiffin, I think the ceiling is higher for him because I think he’ll recruit at a really high level. But I also think Kiffin is more likely to leave for another job if he has success. Kiffin, wildly, is still only 44 years old. Let’s say he has three good years at Ole Miss — then he’s going to move right back to the top of the college coaching ranks and potentially look for a better job.

Leach will turn 59 in March.

I can see Leach wanting to coach another seven or eight years and then retiring. (Maybe I’m wrong and he’ll want to coach longer, but regardless he may not want to head elsewhere. Remember, he stayed at Texas Tech for ten years and Washington State for eight years.)

Meanwhile Kiffin was at Oakland for 1.25 years, Tennessee for one year, USC for 3.5 years, and FAU for three years as a head coach. So he’s averaged just barely over two years as a head coach at his four stops. Maybe that changes with Ole Miss, but I tend to think if he has success that Kiffin will be looking for the next, better job.

So I think Kiffin offers a higher ceiling in the short term, but that Leach offers more stability over a five+ year window.

O. writes:

“What are your thoughts about the “lack of diversity” amongst NFL head coaches? Is there any truth to it?”

The first question I think you have to ask here is this question: what should the NFL coaching profession look like? In other words, what would “appropriate” diversity look like?

Because, and I think this is key, in theory NFL head coaching jobs are open to everyone regardless of what their athletic talent is. That is, every single person — every single man at least — is able to be an NFL head coach at birth. You aren’t eliminated based on height or weight or athleticism.

Right now the percentage of black head coaches in the NFL is roughly equivalent to the percentage of black people in America. (There are three black head coaches out of 32 NFL teams. So the NFL has 9.4% black head coaches compared to 12% of the population being black. If there were one more black NFL head coach then the NFL head coaching ranks would overindex for black men.)

The argument that there isn’t enough diversity in NFL coaching is predicated on the race of the players. (Roughly 70-75% of NFL players are black) But I’m not sure that’s the appropriate measure of head coaching. Why? Because a growing percentage of coaches never played in the NFL. They did, however, likely play in high school or college. So if you want to argue that football playing is a prerequisite you should probably look at the national percentage of football players in high school or college, for instance, instead of in the NFL.

The majority of high school football players are, not surprisingly, white.

Presumably many of these players, who may recognize early on that they have no shot at playing professionally, fall in love with the game and crave the opportunity to one day make a living involved with the industry. (It receives far less attention, but look at the percentage of team athletic trainers and team doctors who are white. How often does a black trainer or doctor jog out onto the field to check and see if an injured football player, frequently black, is okay? Not very often, right? Is this racism on behalf of the teams or are white people pursuing these jobs more than black people? I’d surmise it’s the latter, but it’s interesting how hardly anyone ever mentions it.)

Furthermore, there’s a decent argument to be made that being an elite NFL player might actually be a detriment when it comes to coaching because a prolonged playing career frequently puts a player behind a coach in the coaching industry. Look at Rams coach Sean McVay. He’s younger than many of his players because he immediately went into the coaching ranks when his college football career ended and he realized he had no pro football future.

It’s easier to put in the coaching hours as as a young, single guy than it is, probably, as a married guy with kids.

My point here is that coaching and playing really aren’t the same jobs at all.

Just because you did one doesn’t mean you’d want to do the other. (Or, significantly, be very good at it. After all, as if we’ve seen time and again, the better the player, the worse the coach tends to be.)

Since every coaching job is open to every single person regardless of athletic ability, I’d argue the NFL coaching percentages should be something similar to what the nation’s population is, not what the NFL’s player population is. That’s especially the case when it seems quite likely that the VAST majority of NFL players have no interest in ever being NFL coaches. That is, the vast majority of these players, regardless of their races, understand, far better than the average fan does, that being a coach is a grind and that young coaches make almost no money and work insane hours. How many players, having recently made millions of dollars as players want to make $50k a year working 100 hour weeks as a coach?

Not many.

So the idea that the coaching profession should resemble the player profession is, I think, a pretty big fallacy. These are totally different jobs.

Second, you can’t focus on the end result — who are the head coaches? — without knowing who enters the job market with an interest in being a head coach in the first place. You need to know the data on what entry-level coaches look like.

In other words, let’s assume it takes at least 25 years, on average, for a coach to go from entry-level coaching to becoming a head coach. (Assuming you graduated college and started coaching at 22 this would make the average first time NFL head coach around 47 years old, which feels roughly correct). Well, what do those starting employees look like at 22? You’d need to know those percentages before you can focus on the end result 25 years later.

If you want more coaching diversity at 47 years old then you need to start with more coaching diversity at 22 years old.

So what does the entry point look like and who keeps working at those jobs?

Third, I think everyone reading this right now would agree that the NFL is insanely competitive. That every player, coach, and owner is trying to do whatever he can — both within the rules and sometimes beyond the rules, hello Patriots — to increase his team’s likelihood of winning. If you believe that to be true, which I do, then a failure to hire the best coaching candidates would be a major flaw in the NFL system. In other words, you’d need for someone like Bill Belichick, who is obsessed with winning, to obsessively review his player roster to ensure he has the best possible team, but not to care just as much about his coaches.

Worse, you’d need him to actively discriminate against coaches based on their race — making it less likely that his team wins. That is, being racist wouldn’t just be bad because judging someone based on the color of their skin is wrong, it would also be bad because it would lessen your chances of winning.

What’s more, you could use the racism of other teams to your advantage, thereby winning more by employing minority head coaches.

This would be all about value — the market would eventually determine that black coaches were undervalued and the teams that gave them jobs would win more.

But has that happened?

Not really.

In fact, black NFL head coaches, at least in the past decade, have underperformed white head coaches when it comes to wins and losses.

My point here is that the NFL is so hyper competitive that you need the best possible players and coaches in order to win.

If some NFL teams were excluding coaches based on race then the teams that weren’t doing that — the ones that were the least racist — would win more. And the absolute least racist team in the NFL would be the most successful of all. Far from hiring minority coaches being a negative, it would actually be a huge competitive advantage.

The NFL is one of the most brutal meritocracies that exists in sports.

So you’re telling me that NFL teams work as hard as they possibly can for the best 1800 or so players and practice squad players in the entire league regardless of their race and, sometimes, regardless even of their criminal backgrounds, but they aren’t similarly as competitive when it comes to trying to get the best 300 or so coaches?

It just doesn’t add up.

The number one goal of every head coach is having the best possible staff to ensure he keeps his job. And the number one goal of every general manager is to have the best head coach to ensure he keeps his job too.

Now the owner doesn’t have to worry about keeping his job, but he does have to run a business and make money. And what’s the number one way he makes money? By winning. (Not to mention it’s embarrassing, at least to most guys, to be the owner of a team that never wins.)

So why would you believe in a meritocracy when it comes to players and not believe in a meritocracy when it comes to coaching? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Finally, every profession doesn’t have to completely reflect the diversity of American society.

Why do we only focus on lack of NFL diversity at the head coaching position? There are many highly sought after, incredibly skilled positions that are far less diverse in the NFL than head coaching. For instance, every cornerback is black and has been for essentially twenty years. That’s 64 jobs x 20 years — 1280 jobs this century — all taken entirely by black players.

So 12% of the United States population is taking 100% of the NFL corner jobs. These NFL corner jobs, by the way, are far higher paying than the NFL head coaching jobs.

Every NFL corner being black is far more statistically improbable than the percentage of NFL coaches that are white.

But it’s hardly ever brought up by anyone.

Why?

Because there’s a belief those 64 guys are the best at their jobs. We believe, that is, in the NFL meritocracy at cornerback. We don’t think there’s a huge collection of Asian, Hispanic and white cornerbacks that are being discriminated against based on their race. We presume the NFL teams are all picking the best corners.

So why do believe in the corners being the best at their jobs and not believe in the coaches being the best at their jobs? Because it’s easier to see the corner perform his job than the coach. We don’t see 99.9% of what a coach does, but we see a corner in a game. It’s far easier for the average person to judge a corner.

But if we believe the same goal is at play when it comes to finding corner talent — a desire to have the best possible team — why do we not believe the same goal is in play for coaching?

Put simply, I just don’t buy into the fact that owners are willing to pay black athletes $30 million a year to play football, but they are too racist to pay a black guy $6 million a year to coach football.

I think owners will do whatever they believe makes it most likely they win football games. And I think the people putting in the decades of work to rise up to the level of NFL head coaches tend to be white more often than black. Sure, it’s not as sexy as screaming racism from the high heavens, but the data suggests it’s true.

Steven writes:

“Which former football power wins their conference first- Nebraska, Tennessee, or Miami?”

Well, Tennessee’s in the best shape of these three programs right now, but it’s much harder to win the SEC than it is to win the Big Ten or the ACC.

Having said that, I’ll go with Tennessee because they’ve done something Miami and Nebraska have never done, actually won their current conference. (I know Nebraska and Miami are both relatively recent additions to the Big Ten and the ACC).

But Tennessee won the SEC East and played for the SEC title in 2001, 2004, and 2007. (That was after winning in back-to-back years in 1997 and 1998). Then the bottom fell out of the program when Phil Fulmer was fired and Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, and Butch Jones all blew through Knoxville without much success. Although it was just a four years ago when Butch Jones managed to lose the SEC East despite beating Georgia and Florida in the same year.

I think Tennessee has a decent chance to compete for the SEC East next year. Yes, Florida and Georgia should be favored over the Vols, but Tennessee’s going to have the horses to be competitive for the first time under Jeremy Pruitt next year.

If the quarterback play is decent, I think Tennessee will surprise a lot of people in 2020. Because the offensive and defensive lines are going to be downright stout.

Chris writes:

“Should the Titans sign Ryan Tannehill to an extension? If Jake Fromm is available, should they invest a first round draft pick in him?”

Yes, the Titans should definitely sign Tannehill in the off-season.

I’d try to get him signed to a deal that guarantees him only two years of big money — something in the neighborhood of $50 million guaranteed — and a good team option for a third year.

I wouldn’t draft a young quarterback this year in the first round; I’d work on drafting for need because there is quite a bit of good, young talent on this roster. What do the Titans need? A rush defensive end, I think the most of all. Can you get that in the first round? Well, you can roll the dice.

Curtis writes:

“Could Trevor Lawrence drop out and join the XFL for a season (or 2), get paid, get shoe deal, and get drafted in 2021 by NFL?”

Yes, he could.

The question is how much would the XFL be willing to pay him.

Can you imagine the amount of interest there would be if Trevor Lawrence finished his sophomore year at Clemson and then announced he was signing with the XFL and playing for a team starting in one month?

I don’t think it will happen, but if the XFL remains viable for years to come then it will dramatically undercut the argument that players should be paid to play in college because they’ll be able to go pro to the XFL if they want to make money immediately. (Right now players have to wait three years after their high school class graduates to enter the NFL).

I think most players won’t go to the XFL, however, because they will see college as the better pathway to big money and as the better pathway to grow their brands as well.

But I think it’s a loophole the XFL has smartly crafted that they should exploit — they’ve created the opportunity for top college players to join them as opposed to staying behind in college.

And, as you mention, it could offer some intriguing endorsement potential as well.

If you think, for instance, Trevor Lawrence is worth a lot of money in a shoe deal, why not pay him all that money up front and not make him wait to reach the NFL?

Johnny writes:

“Trump pulls off another geo-political master stroke, the stock market is breaking records daily…….have you ever known a society in history that roots for their own president to fail like the Democrats do Trump?”

Sadly, it has become all too common for political parties to root for the opposing president to fail. Many Republicans rooted for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to fail and many Democrats rooted for George W. Bush to fail. I think our politics got particularly nasty starting in the 1990’s and we’ve been on a downward trajectory since then.

The Internet and social media have just made it worse.

But there’s no doubt that Democrats are driven as insane now as Republicans were by Bill Clinton in the late 1990’s. That’s why I keep arguing that this period in our history reminds me a great deal of the late 1990’s. We’ve got a president impeached — who we all know isn’t going to be removed from office — and a thriving economy. We have the time and energy to spend on frivolities.

So what ended the roaring 90’s?

9/11.

What I’m afraid of is something is out there brewing that is 9/11 like that could happen and jolt us out of the era we’re in now.

In the meantime the problem the Democrats have is they adopted the stance that disaster would ensue if Donald Trump was elected president.

So they’ve been proclaiming everything a disaster since Trump took the presidency.

Russia, collusion, Kavanaugh, Ukraine, the wall, the president’s immigration policy, you name it they have lurched from one disaster to another like a drunken man trying to walk home after a Mardi Gras bender.

Only, what’s happened?

Pretty much only good things.

The stock market just set another all time high today, the unemployment rate is at a fifty year low, per capita wages for the lowest income workers are rising faster than they have in a generation, crime is down nationwide, the number of soldier deaths overseas are down, terrorists are cowed and defeated; other than Tweets that make you angry what has Trump really done that’s made America worse than it was three years ago when he became president?

Nothing.

I get that Trump drives many people crazy with his Tweets, but just imagine for a minute that he didn’t have Twitter. What would his critics really have to be upset about when it comes to the tangible results of a presidency?

Nothing.

So I’m given the choice between being perpetually triggered over what someone puts on Twitter — much of which I think is just mindless entertainment — or I can enjoy the economy and not get wrapped up in all the sideshow shenanigans.

Well, I’ll just enjoy the economy and chill.

The Democrats are in a rough spot here. They’ve sold us doom and gloom and none of it has materialized in Trump’s first term. So they’re left selling doom and gloom as lurking just around the corner, but the problem is the Democrats theory of the country isn’t, in any way, reflected by what most people in this country actually see on a day-to-day basis.

Things are good right now.

Which is why I think Trump has a good chance of being reelected in November.

Honestly, if Trump loses I think the reason won’t be because of his job performance, I think it will just be because enough people are just exhausted by the perpetual controversies.

That’s why I think Joe Biden’s best pitch isn’t some massive change, it’s just that things will go back to normal and quieten down again. That the Trump circus will finally leave town. I’m not sure that argument will work, but it might.

….

Send your questions to claytravis@gmail.com and enjoy the games this weekend.

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