Chat with Our Sports Expert

Brett Haber talks Mike Shanahan, Randy Edsall, and the Caps' rough spell.

Good morning, Washingtonians.

I join you from foreign shores this morning—and by shores I mean the kinds with chaise lounges and cocktail waiters. I’m in Grand Cayman to do some television for a tennis tournament here, the “KPMG Legends Classic” (Philippoussis, Hingis, Capriati, and other members of the over-30 set). But as a sign of solidarity with my DC brothers and sisters who are enduring the first signs of frost in the morning, I vow not to come home with a tan (don’t believe that.)

Okay, let me begin with some random thoughts, and then the floor is yours:

1) Rex Grossman is a better, more experienced quarterback than John Beck, but neither is restaurant quality. They are now at the stage where injuries have so decimated the offensive roster so severely that they cannot afford to let a green QB like Beck learn on the job—he’d get slaughtered. This has to be a Rex production for the rest of the season, such as it is.

2) Full compliments to Mike Rizzo and the Nationals front office for their handling of the beyond frightening Wilson Ramos kidnapping. I know Mike wasn’t the one carrying the AK-47 on the rescue raid into Venezuela, but his steady hand managed the situation from the DC end and coordinated with Major League Baseball security and international law enforcement as well as the Ramos family to help facilitate his safe return. He also took steps to make sure his other international players were safe —all striking the proper solemn (but not panicked) tone back home. Well done.

3) The Sandusky/Costas phone interview was perhaps the greatest PR train wreck I’ve ever witnessed. His lawyer should be disbarred for malpractice on the grounds of idiocy and failure to properly prepare his client.

4) I attended “Fight Night for Children” on Thursday night at the Washington Hilton. This is the eighth or ninth time I’ve been to this legendary “Smoker” of a fundraiser and, as usual, it lived up to its reputation as one of the most hedonistic events on the annual DC calendar, complete with rampant booze, cigars, boxing, imported female hostesses for each table, etc., etc. But what gets consistently lost amid the haze of smoke surrounding this event is the unfathomable good work they do and have done for the children of DC over nearly a quarter-century. The Fight for Children organization (which runs “Fight Night) has raised more than $100 million in the 22 years of its existence and has received an additional $350 million in federal funding for DC education programs. The organization seeds that money into the DC community by awarding grants to improve K-12 student achievement in DC schools (public, charter and parochial). The driving force behind it all has been Joe Robert. The DC businessman has made it his life’s work to promote the children of the community that has made him a wealthy man. Joe Robert is now gravely ill. He appeared at Fight Night on Thursday, requiring what was very clearly a monumental effort and announced in failing voice that he was making a personal $5 million donation to further endow the organization and asking his friends and fellow Washingtonians to dig deep to do what they could in the same vein to ensure that they organization continues to do good work after his leadership is no longer available. Godspeed, Joe.

With that, let’s chat!

Guys, Thanks for the great give-and-take. I’m off to dive the wreck of the USS Kittiwake (yes, I have my Padi card). My next chat will be right here on Monday, November 28, at 11 AM. I’ll see you then. And watch this space for my latest Washingtonian column next week.

McLean, VA

First and foremost, GREAT writing—a real pleasure to readliterate, witty and cogent. As to content, I’m not sure I agree. As an ND alum who suffered at the hands of Coach Edsall’s UConn team, my advice would be to give the guy a chance.

Thanks for the kind words. Many more to come, I hope. As for giving Edsall a chance, I feel that you can’t have it both ways. If Maryland truly wants to be considered a football power and not the kitschy little also-ran in the ACC that carries Florida State’s helmet around, there has to be a cutthroat approach regarding results. That means coaches have short leashes if they underperform. And I’d say taking a 9–4 team and turning it into a 2-8 team IS underperforming. Plus, Terps fans are a little spoiled by the fact that in Fridge’s first year they went 10–2 and made the Orange Bowl. To quote Aaron Sorkin (which I do often), “This is big boy camp.”

Arlington, VA

Do you think we’ll have an NBA season this year? Why are both sides willing to scrap an entire season over a few hundred million dollars? Also, since it looks like we’re stuck with only college basketball for the near future, how do you rate Georgetown’s chances this year?

It’s not impossible, but I’d say if the next seven days expire without some major backtracking, then likely all hope is lost. I was honestly shocked by the developments of the last 72 hours. And I think both sides have been equally foolish. The players have been the most foolish by far—the difference between the 51/49 deal and the 50/50 deal and the 49/51 deal are miniscule compared to what they stand to lose if the entire season is scrapped. That’s a math equation that more players should be doing in their heads. On one level, I admire that they are thinking about the future of the NBAPA and player incomes for future generations, but pragmatically, if the average NBA career is 4-6 years, by sacrificing an entire season they would be kissing off a goodly percentage of their career earnings. Not sure I’d do that. Equally, I blame David Stern for painting the players into a corner. This whole notion of a “ticking clock” at the expiration of which the NBA’s offer would get worse is draconian bullying. Stern is treating the players like children and I believe that approach is what has in large measure caused the players’ recalcitrance. Then again, with an estimated three fourths of NBA teams losing money last year, maybe they WANT to miss the season.

As for Georgetown’s chances, I have spent quite a bit of time around the program lately for a piece you’ll see in Washingtonian in the new year and here’s what I’ve learned: Don’t use the “R” word around McDonnough’s gym. The “R” word is “Rebuilding” and Hoya people don’t like it—even though it may be an apt term to describe what they’re going through this year. They’ve been picked 10th in the Big East. Hard to argue that when you lose stars like Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims are the linchpins to a respectable season. They’ve been good in the first two games (Sims had a career-high 19 in the opener against Savannah State, which I attended), but they need to provide leadership to a roster that has five freshmen. They got off to a rough start with that brawl in China this summer, but I think that experience (not just the fight, but the trip in general) will create cohesion in this team that is searching for an identity. One thing I know: JT3 will get every ounce out of them.

Bethesda, MD

Will Mark Turgeon fare better than Randy Edsall in his first year at Maryland?

I think so. And the biggest reason may be that unlike Edsall, Turgeon seems to be operating with the full backing of the previous administration. Turgeon’s hiring was blessed by outgoing Gary Williams and consequently the fans and alumni have gotten behind Turgeon. It hasn’t hurt that Turgeon has said all the right things and struck all the right notes in his comments. He seems to “Get” Maryland. Conversely, (as I stated in my column last week) the Edsall-for-Friedgen trade was not well executed. It was Kevin Anderson’s first big move at Maryland, and I suspect if he had it to do over again, he’d do some things differentlyperhaps not do it at all. As for Turgeon’s prospects on the court, some tough losses—Jordan Williams should be in his junior season, instead he’ll be playing (or not playing) for the Nets. They also lose Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, and Dino Gregory. They were 7-9 in the ACC last year. A lot of pressure on Mosley and Stoglin to fill voids. Team didn’t look overly impressive in first two games against Northwood (5-point margin) and UNCW (9-point margin). And as always, the ACC is a beeyotch.

Columbia, MD

The Redskins season is pretty much over at this point, right? If you’re Mike Shanahan, where do you focus in the draft and during the offseason? They have holes everywhere.

Uyyy. Has to be offense. With Kerrigan and Orakpo (or “Kerrakpo” as my friend Brian Mitchell likes to refer to them) as the bread in your 3-4 sandwich and with Hall/Landry/Wilson in the D-backfield, that unit is not the problem. On offense, let’s list the issues: We need a quarterback, two receivers, a runningback (no disrespect to Roy Helu or the injured Tim Hightower), and most of an offensive line. Outside of tight end and left tackle you could argue the Redskins need everything on offense. Obviously they have to go after a young quarterback next year (though unless they can lose 11 games in the final eight weeks of the season, Andrew Luck will be long gone by the time they draft). My thing is, unless they make a major commitment to improving the line, whatever quarterback they draft will undergo exactly what happened to Jason Campbell—his development will be stunted because instead of reading defenses and going through his progressions, he’ll spend all his time running for his lifeand that’s the kind of thing that will permanently damage a young quarterback.

Bethesda, MD

What’s up with the Caps? It’s like they hit a wall after their hot start.

I think the hot start may have lulled them into a minor state of complacency. Did you hear Mike Knuble’s rant last week about some of his teammates not being committed and not playing with full effort? It was pretty telling (he actually apologized the next day for being too blunt). These guys are supremely talented, and sometimes teams like that rely too much on talent alone and forget to work hard. That’s one of the reasons, in my opinion, that they’ve been underachievers in the post-season. Regular season hockey may be about talent and flashy goal scoring, byut playoff hockey is about grinding and defense and hard work. One of the bigger problems is they’re short on the blueline. Green out, Poti out, others out. They actually had Brooks Laich playing a full game on defense the other night. I know George McPhee is trolling around looking for defense right now, both in the NHL and in the minors.

Washington DC

Which local college hoops team has the best chance of cracking the top 25?

This may be the year that we have a tough time. As mentioned in my previous answer, Georgetown is reloading (see, I didn’t say “rebuilding”). They’re picked to finish tenth in the conference minus Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. Maryland has a shot, but with a new coach, a number of key graduations, and Jordan Williams pulling the ripcord for the NBA, that might be a tough ask. Mason and GW are under new management. it might be time to expand your definition of “local teams” to include the Richmond area (less thatn 100 miles away)remember what VCU and the Spiders did last year?

Bethesda, Maryland

Brett: You’ve covered a lot of sports teamshas there been a worse NFL owner than Dan Snyder? Since 1999 he’s made one bad decision after another, all while getting rich off Redskin fans. You see any redeeming qualities in him?

If you’re looking for someone to say something nice about Dan Snyder, you’ve come to the wrong Web chat. I think the guy is a megalomaniacal, duplicitous egomaniac who couldn’t find the good end of public opinion if he had Mother Theresa on one side of him and Oprah on the other. I think he has show a pattern over 11 years of capricious decision-making, shoddy leadership, and a sense of entitlement that makes him feel like he is not only better than you, but above the law (as evidenced by his frivolous lawsuit against the Washington City Paper,which was recently dismissed). Based on his results with Six Flags and Johnny Rockets, he doesn’t seem to be much of a businessman. Sure, he developed a fortune in the mid-’90s during the Internet bubbleso did a lot of guys who didn’t deserve it, but I worry that his willy-nilly knee-jerk management style could do long-term damage to this historic franchiseas if it already hasn’t. The good news is, he is now aware of his own reputation, and I think this will force him to stick with the Shanahans long enough that some of their (and Bruce Allen’s) positive institutional changes make actually take hold.

Washington, DC

The University of Maryland (College Park) just announced potential cuts to eight sports programs including all three men’s track teams (indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, cross-country); men’s swimming and diving; women’s swimming and diving; men’s tennis; women’s water polo; and aerobics and tumbling (formerly known as competitive cheer). They cite decreased athletic donations and revenue losses from football and men’s basketball as the cause of the budget cuts. If athletic departments are relying on football and men’s basketball to fund their departments, what does this mean for Title IX, and for the emphasis we put on those sports and athletes (particularly in the wake of Penn State’s football issues)?

I wrote yesterday how disappointed I am that Maryland finds it necessary to cut these programs. Many, many schools are facing the same issues and many have cut sports. In some cases, alumni and parents have come to the eleventh hour rescue with donations to endow the sports, but in many cases they have been casualties of the faltering economy. Here’s why I think Maryland needs to keep most (if not all) of these programs: because they’re a bigtime schooland bigtime scools have swim teams and tennis teams. I know they’re not revenue generators, but a lot of things that are part of college campuses are not revenue generators. But they add to the overall allure and prestige of the institution. Over time when you eliminate these things, you slowly erode a school’s stature. I guarantee you Harvard will never cut the swim team (I know, Harvard has the biggest endowment on earth). I think the relation to Title IX is part of what these cuts are meant to accommodate. They need to keep a balance in male-female scholarship opportunities, and I’m sure these cuts will be done in such a way that maintains the necessary ratios keeping in mind that football isn’t going anywhere and won’t have women. Not sure how the Penn State issue plays into this at Marylandunless the negativity surrounding their athletic program spreads to others, which I don’t expect. 

Arlington VA

How would you rate the Shanahan era so far? Are we expecting too much too soon, or is it his fault for raising expectations so fast?

I’m torn on Shanny. I thought last year was a mess. I thought he bungled the Haynesworth fiascoI thought he could have gotten something out of Big Al rather that humiliating and alienating him (although that was well deserved based on his behavior). But now that I see if even Belichick couldn’t get the Round Mound of Frown to produce, I guess no one could. I thought the switch to the 3-4 was a bad fit for the personnel he had last year, and it seemed to indicate to me that Shanahan was a guy who was not willing to adapt his system to the talent that occupied his roster. Stubborn. That’s not good. A year later (notwithstanding their record), I have softened my stance. He has purged the guys he didn’t want and who didn’t want to be here (addition by subtraction is big for this team), and now he’s assembling systems and people that show signs (at least on defense) of working. Kerrigan draft was brilliant. 3-4 is working. We’re getting QB pressure for the first time in a while. As mentioned above, the offense is a disaster, but the injuries have been insane this year and he has no QB. We need to be patient with that. Don’t forget how badly this team has been mismanaged over the past decade. Vinny Cerrato and Snyder ran the Redskins into the ground talentwise the same way MLB ran the Expos/Nats into the ground when the league was operating the team—only in this case the league WAS NOT operating the team, the owner and the GM were. It just so happens those two guys have no clue how to do that. It’s going to take Allen/Shanahan a number of years to dig out. I say hunker down. What’s the alternative?

Washington, DC

Any thoughts on the state of the Caps? Personally, I don’t see anything about this team that’s different than last year’s teama team that has lots of talent but takes periods and games off, has defensive breakdowns at the worst times, etc. You think a coaching change might be necessary for this team to truly change its course?

I rode the elevator with Ted Leonsis last spring in Tampa down from the press box to the locker room after the sweep to the Lightning and based on the look on his face I thought sweeping change was about to come (meaning Boudreau was out). And that’s why Ted is a better owner than Dan Snyderhe didn’t do it. He knows he has a first class tactician and motivator in Boudreau, one his organization spent years cultivating in Hersheyand he’s not going to toss the guy out like yesterday’s paper. That said, if it happens again this year, it may be inevitable. Teams need new voices from time to time, and Bruce’s is one that can be both effective AND grating when you hear it day after day after day. You asked: What’s different? Joel Ward is different, Tomas Voukoun is different, Roman Hamerlik is different, Troy Brouwer is different. Can they change the culture of this franchise? Hard to say. I still believe the Caps only go as far as Ovi takes them and right now he is not the same playerd he was two years ago. He’s still good/great, but at the moment he’s not transcendent.

Fairfax, Va

How about Coach K getting win #903 last night. Despite all the haters, he’s the best ever, right?

Hard to live in Maryland country and compliment Coach K, but I think we have to. Four national titles, 11 Final Fours, never a hint of scandal of improprietyand all at a school that is an academic powerhouse. That’s not easy to do. The only other school that has achieved such athletic greatness on a consistent basis amid such super-elite academic excellence is Stanford. (Am I missing one? Remember, I said super-elite academics. Be honest, alumni.) And though many may be loathe to admit it, it all comes from Bobby Knight’s tree. That’s 1,800 wins between the two Coach Ks—one the protégé of the other.

Washington, DC

Do you play Fantasy Football? Who is on your team?

I don’t play FF. I got roped into it a few years back, and I found that every time I tried to get away from my job, which is following sports, I wound up following sports. Not a good way to unwind. I gave it up, along with pork rinds and my third martini at lunch (but not my second).