Sports Expert Brett Haber Answers Readers’ Questions

From the Caps to the Redskins to this weekend's tennis world finals, Brett answers all your sports questions.

Good morning Washington. Back home after a 12-day swing through Grand Cayman and Los Angeles, during which time we got a new hockey coach, an NBA labor deal, our first Redskins victory since early October and the most monumental college football collapse since Moses wore short pants. A few random thoughts before we open the floor:

This morning’s Boudreau firing had to happen. Let me first say, I am a big admirer of Gabby and this year’s troubles should not cause us to forget what he accomplished with this franchise. When he took over from Glen Hanlon almost exactly four years ago, the team was in last place. He brought them to first by the end of the season and was named NHL Coach of the Year. The problem is, his style of coaching is aggressive (read: abrasive) and while that often produces quick results, it also tends to wear on players over time. I think the HBO 24/7 series last year gave fans a pretty decent sneak-peak into what it’s like to be a player in Bruce Boudreau’s locker room during stressful times—not always easy, not always pretty (rarely rated PG). The final straw was the rift between him and the team’s biggest star. Coaches rarely survive that. I blame Ovi as much as I blame Gabby. This is the problem with giving star players long-term mega contracts—they become more powerful than the coach. That’s what Ovi became on this team and he wielded his power unwisely. He did a disservice to his teammates by opting out of his implied partnership with Boudreau. It is the star’s responsibility to lead and to get his teammates to buy into the coach’s system. Ovi didn’t do that. He showed up Bruce publicly and that reflects an immaturity on Ovi’s part that I would have hoped at this point he had grown out of. The team needed a new voice, but I suspect this could have been forestalled had Ovi gotten behind the coach. His teammates would have followed and who knows—they may have (and may still) orchestrated a second-half turnaround, made a deep cup run and turned Bruce back into the toast of the town. We’ll never know. Let me add that I’m optimistic about the Hunter hire. He is a Caps legend and a very strong minor league coaching pedigree (as Bruce had). And as the NHL’s second all-time Penalty Minutes leader, I don’t suspect Ovi will be calling him a Fat “F—“ as he did Gabby.

Redskins: a win is a win, and when you haven’t had one in a month and a half, you  can’t get picky. Rex was, well, Rex. He was 26-of-35 for 314 yards, but his 2 interceptions nearly cost the Skins the game. The second one was particularly mystifying as he threw a duck into triple-coverage with no realistic expectation of a positive outcome. That said, he has a definite swagger and is a much better option than Beck. The offense was still significantly imbalanced towards the pass (35 pass plays, just 24 runs). This is a troubling trend. I understand Kyle’s compulsion to sling it when the team is playing from behind, but they went to the half in this game tied at 7. That is not Redskins football; that is not the brand of football that wins in the NFC East in December; that is not the brand of football you play when you have a group of quarterbacks you don’t trust. They got away with it yesterday. Full credit to Roy Helu (23 carries for 108 yards). If he emerges as the team’s starting back next year (very possible with Hightower and Torrain as the other current options), this will be the game that launched him. I am more troubled by a couple of brain bubbles I witnessed. The Fred Davis unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for dropping the ball on a defender after a completion AND Jabbar Gaffney mindlessly stepping out of the back of the endzone before his would-be touchdown reception. Those are mental errors. They reflect lack of discipline. Who’s to blame for that?

Randy Edsall is a dead-man walking.  As I stated in my column in this space three weeks ago, his failures on the field have been compounded by his failures off the field with media, alumni, and players. He is a poor fit for a program he claims to have grown up following. This Saturday’s epic collapse at NC State may well have sealed his fate. You can live with losses; that was a surrender. Forty-two unanswered points in the second half indicates that the opposing coach was making adjustments and you  were ill-prepared to respond. Kevin Anderson needs to cut bait. The problem is, given Maryland’s budget crisis, eating Edsall’s salary is going to be a tough sell. The thing is, the implications of keeping him will be far worse.

Thanks all for the questions. I’ll be back here for another chat on Wednesday December 14th at 11 AM. In the meantime, look out for my latest column in this space next week. Hope everyone is easing back too work without too much pain.

Columbia, MD

Is Kyle Orton a better option for the Redskins than Rex or Becks at this point in the season?

As I recall the Bears already made that choice circa 2006 (Rex won). I think they are largely the same quarterback. Orton is slightly more accomplished having been a full-time starter four seasons in his career while Rex has only held that role once. Orton completes a slightly higher percentage of passes and is slightly less prone to the big mistake, but that is off-set by the fact that he doesn’t know the Redskins offense and Rex does. That alone makes Rex a more palatable option to me for the immediate future as the franchise searches for its next next next “QOF” (Quarterback of the Future). Plus, if you can’t beat out Tebow, that tells you something about what coaches and management feel about you.

Arlington VA

Will Shanahan ever stick to one running back? Why not see what Roy Helu can do week in and week out?

As mentioned above, I think Helu has a decent shot at being the Redskins primary back next year—if for no other reason than Mike Shanahan has shown a propensity for not placing a ton of emphasis on who his running back is. When he traded Clinton Portis for Champ Bailey he was basically saying, “Give me any schmo back there and with the offensive line we have, he’ll run for 1300 yards”. Of course, that assumes the Redskins can assemble a first class offensive line (Trent and Jamal are a good start). Helu showed his pass receiving skills in the 49ers game (14 catches were a franchise record) and he showed what he can do on the ground yesterday. I don’t think Hightower’s credentials make him the automatic incumbent when he recovers from his injury and I don’t think Shanny thinks much of Torrain based on where he sat o the depth chart coming out of training camp. Shanahan and Allen spent a high draft choice on Helu and all other things being equal, management loves to make themselves look smart by having those draft choices pan out.

Alexandria, VA

The NBA is back! What should the Wizards do in the upcoming “offseason”?

The Wizards need a lot of help. They’ve done two great things in the last year—drafting John Wall and dumping Gilbert Arenas. Now they need to do a third. Get rid of Andray Blatche. If getting rid of Agent Zero was done in part to insure that Wall would not be corrupted or derailed by association, dumping Blatche should be done for the same reason. The guy has shown repeated lapses in judgment off the court and truth be told he’s not nearly as good as he thinks he is. He averaged 16 PPG last year because the Wizards had nobody else on offense who could score—(Jordan Crawford developed later in the season). He’s 6’11” coming off a career-year stat-wise—perfect time to deal him.

Arlington VA

One a scale of zero to Rick Neuheisel, how safe is Randy Edsall’s job?

See opening comments above.

Bethesda, MD

Is Mike Leach still available?

Yep. But Maryland will never go after him at this point. Rumor is that Kevin Anderson wanted him last year and that University officials vetoed the selection because of the static in Leach’s past at Texas Tech. Leach is currently a TV analyst for CBS’ College Sports cable network. Some school will get him at a bargain price in the next 18 months—but it won’t be Maryland.

Silver Spring MD

Is it safe to say the only person happy about Randy Edsall’s job this season is Mark Turgeon? It’s not like the basketball team is playing well.

I grant you, the Terps hoop squad is off to a middling start. The close wins against Northwood and UNCW were warnings and then the loss to Iona was a body-blow. Still, I think Turgeon is in a much better position than Edsall. First of all, Turgeon is inheriting a team that was just 7-9 in the ACC last year and suffered major personnel losses. Jordan Williams should be entering his junior season for the terps, instead he’ll be playing for the Nets. I think Turgeon will get a grace period. He has done a better job than Edsall relating to the fan-base and kissing Gary’s ring. Tough non-conference stretch upcoming with games against Illinois and Notre Dame. and then . . . the ACC.

Vienna VA

With Boudreaux gone, which local head coach has the most job security right now?

The easy answer would have been Jim Larranaga. He could have stayed at George Mason until they had to wheel him out. But the allure of the Big East was too strong and off he went to take his talents to South Beach. After that, I would have said Shanahan. I think Dan Snyder is married to this guy for the reasonably long term. I think his quick trigger with guys like Schottenheimer, Zorn and Spurrier has forced his hand to stick with a guy or run the risk of having an even worse PR nightmare than the one he’s already living through. I think Shanahan will quit before he gets axed. I think if Snyder is wise (ahem), he will let Shanny and Bruce Allen have the requisite time to let their draft picks blossom and let their organiational overhaul take hold. No one else comes to mind as being safe.

Potomac, MD

Morning Brett, Thanks for having this sports chat today. Given your expertise in tennis and with the ATP World Tour Finals finishing yesterday, who in your opinion had the best 2011 in mens tennis? Best, Romi

No doubt it was Djokovic’s year—10 titles, 3 slams, 70-6 record, $11M in prize money—absolutely insane. But his sputtering finish guaranteed that it would not be viewed as the greatest season in tennis history. 7-5 in his last four events (including the Tour finals). What we learned in the last month is that at age 30, Federer is far from done. Three straight titles in the last three events of the year, including his sixth trophy at the year-end championships. He is back to number three in the world and I like his chances in melbourne. I think if the draw breaks in his favor he still has another slam in him, and I know he desperately wants to do well at the olympics—which are at Wimbledon this year.

Bethesda, Maryland

What did Randy Edsall do to John Feinstein to trigger the “Let’s fire Edsall now” tirade in today’s Post. Edsall did a great job at UConn and he took over a program in disarray at Maryland. He can’t even finish his first year? Shouldn’t he be judged on maybe three years, not one?

I think Feinstein makes excellent points in his column (I confess, I’m a fan). It’s more than just the 2-10 record with Edsall. It’s his defiance in the face of the obvious evidence, which is: He did a bad job this year. There’s a reason people always tell you to make a good first impression—they last. And sadly for Edsall, his will last. He thinks his program is comparable to what Kraft and Bellichick have built in New England? That’s laughable, as John points out. His even better point is that even in the face of Maryland’s budget crisis, biting the bullet on an Edsall buyout is still a wise expenditure. The ripple effects of letting the football program continue to wallow under Edsall’s dubious leadership would be far more costly in terms of donations and ticket sales than $10 million.

Washington DC

What can Dale Hunter do get the Caps going in the right direction?

A couple of things: Instill some more toughness on this team. He’s certainly the right guy to do it. He proved that you can be productive offensively and still make sure you don’t get pushed around. he was the only player in NHL history with over 1,000 points and over 3,000 penalty minutes. The Caps are a finesse team. Yes, I know Ovi is a bruiser and loves to hit, but we need more guys doing it. Hunter has a hard job. He needs to find a balance between the free-wheeling style that had the Caps scoring six and seven goals at a clip last year and the defensive style that wins games in the playoffs. Right now the team is in the midst of an inner struggle. Some players felt Bruce’s effort to clamp down defensively was inhibiting what they do best. If Hunter simpy takes the reins off and lets them revert to their previous wide-open style, it may satisfy his roster and be aesthetically pleasing to the fans, but I’m not sure that advances the franchise any closer to its goal of winning a cup. I think a lot of it rests on Ovi. He needs to lead and buy in. As I said two weeks ago in this space, he needs to re-elevate from being good/great to being transcendant. Also, GM George McPhee may need to make some offensive sacrifices (read: Semin) to secure another top-flight defenseman.

Bethesda, MD

Will the Wizards be active when the NBA’s free agency period begins?

I wouldn’t. After last year’s free-for-all, this is not a deep class. There are no LeBrons and Boshes in this class. The names you’d be looking at are guys like Shane Battier, Aaron Afflolo, Jamal Crawford and Jason Richardson—none of them are franchise changers. And because the class is so shallow this year, teams will undoubtedly overpay for those players who are available. The Wizards were terrible last year. They’re not likely to make a quantum leap this season. Let’s develop Wall, Jordan Crawford, JaVale McGree, and hope Josh Howard is totally healthty. If those things happen and the team shows improvement, I’d consider investing in a fre agent or two next year. Why waste now?