November 30, 2009

Thom Loverro, of the DC Times, still remembers when Vince Lombardi arrived in DC and reinvigorated the Redskins. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is football: “Most plays last just three or four seconds. So you have to execute immediately, upon the snap of the ball. You have to know where you’re going and move decisively. Linemen, you have to win that initial contact, make the hit, drive your man, stay on your man. If you can move him back even just a foot or two, he doesn’t beat you and the play can succeed. This is how we’re going to win. “Defenders want to penetrate. Once they cross that line of scrimmage, the play is destroyed. So our mentality is simple – snap the ball, hit your man, move him back a step or two. We win right there. We’re going to go man on man, run it at you, send runners into the holes, pick up four or five yards, move those chains. And there isn’t anything you can do about it, because we’re going to execute better.” That is what Vince Lombardi told his players in 1959 when he first addressed them as coach of the Green Bay Packers, a once-proud franchise fallen on hard times, according to “That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory” by Baltimore author John Eisenberg. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not football: “There was a glitch, but it didn’t have to do with the play caller and the play calls or anything like that. It had to do completely with something else. One of the times we had to call the timeout, I am looking around and saying, ‘What just happened?’ I didn’t feel that the clock was being managed right by the scorekeeper or whatever, because it happened so quick. We were getting the play in good enough time, and all of a sudden Jason [Campbell] had to call a timeout and I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said it was down to zero. .. It happened so fast, I couldn’t believe it. … To work that situation in real time is very difficult.” That is Redskins coach Jim Zorn talking about the problems his team had with playcalling, clock management and who knows what else during their 7-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. It is unfair, of course, to compare Zorn with Lombardi. But it is important to understand what great leadership and coaching sound like because it’s been so long since we’ve seen it in the District. It is worth examining what Vince Lombardi did in Green Bay that first season – and certainly worth reading the book about it – because what he accomplished there needs to be accomplished at Redskin Park to restore this once-proud franchise. The Redskins need to hire someone to change the culture of this organization. Coaches like Lombardi come along perhaps once every 50 years, but the Redskins don’t need to find another Lombardi. There are coaches who presumably are available who could change the Redskins’ culture – Mike Holmgren and Tony Dungy, for instance – in a role as a team president. Those are men who can lead change. Of course, the man currently in charge of the Redskins, owner Dan Snyder, would have to want the culture to be changed – and we still have no evidence of that. Snyder was asked after Joe Gibbs resigned nearly two years ago if he’d consider hiring a general manager. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. Forty years ago, Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams saw a desperate need for a change in the culture of his club, which had not had a winning season in 14 years. So, in 1969, he hired Lombardi to do for the Redskins what he did for the Packers 10 years earlier. Sure enough, in just one season here before his death from cancer, Lombardi changed the way people thought about the Redskins and the way the Redskins thought about themselves. There was the hiccup of a 6-8 season under Bill Austin after Lombardi’s death, but the organization recommitted to the change Lombardi had started the next year with the arrival of George Allen. Dan Snyder now has the chance to make that kind of change – historic change, the kind they write books about.”

Phil Rogers of the ChiTrib said that, “When Bruce Springsteen played the Bradley Center in Milwaukee earlier this month, he led into his encore with “No Surrender,” sending its haunting refrain of “no retreat, no surrender” echoing around the arena. Bud Selig is not a Springsteen fan. Yet that song applies to the Wisconsin-based commissioner as well as anyone. Selig has held true to his passion for baseball through his entire life, including 50 years of involvement in the sport, the last 17 of which have been as its chief executive. To many, it must seem as if Selig has been commissioner forever, given all that has transpired in the major leagues in the last two decades. Selig is entering the closing chapters of his tenure. He made that point semi-officially during an owners meeting in Chicago in mid-November. According to sources, a group of five owners approached the 75-year-old Selig about remaining on the job beyond the end of his contract, which expires after the 2012 season. It was the same kind of approach that had been used to convince him to stay in charge at least two other times, the first being after he stepped in as head of the executive council to lead ownership after Fay Vincent was forced to resign as commissioner in 1992. Selig’s tenure most recently had been scheduled to end in 2009, but his deal was extended quietly in early 2008. This time, according to sources, Selig told the owners he will step aside after 2012 — not because he is tiring but because he has other things to do while he’s able. Reached at his Milwaukee office Wednesday, Selig declined to discuss his conversations with ownership but confirmed he plans to stay on the job three more years. That means the next labor agreement, due to be negotiated in 2011, would be his final official act. Selig doesn’t see himself considering retirement. He said he is trying to create time to write a book and possibly even teach some history. That was his major at the University of Wisconsin. Selig’s children and grandchildren gathered in Milwaukee for the Thanksgiving holiday. Selig’s wife, Sue, was hoping to have him home Wednesday to help greet them. “I told her I’d only be (in the office) until 4:30,” Selig said. “That’s pretty good. I’m almost always here until 6.” It’s hard to imagine Selig with time on his hands. But the time finally is coming when baseball is going to need to consider the next commissioner. One of Selig’s top lieutenants, Bob DuPuy or Rob Manfred, might be the best choice if the goal of owners is to continue in the same direction. Baltimore Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail, whose father and grandfather are in the Hall of Fame as executives, would be a popular choice among owners. The list is sure to grow as Selig moves closer to retiring.” Phil also commented about Omar Vizquel, “The White Sox hope the newly signed Omar Vizquel will serve as a mentor to Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham. But don’t be surprised if they also arrange for him to work with 20-year-old Eduardo Escobar at some point. Escobar, who played at low Class A Kannapolis last season, is a shortstop with Gold Glove potential who, like a young Vizquel, is challenged as a hitter. He’s something to see in the field, however, joining Andrew Garcia (the grandson of former Indians manager Dave Garcia) to form a middle-infield tandem that helped Kannapolis hold opponents to 3.8 runs per game last season. Escobar, like Vizquel a switch hitter from Venezuela, hasn’t received a lot of attention as a prospect because he has a .320 career on-base percentage with limited power, hitting .256 this season. Vizquel batted .263 in high Class A when he was 20. His fielding skills were so advanced, however, the Mariners brought him to the big leagues at 22, and he has gone on to play a record 2,681 games at shortstop. He’s a lifetime .273 hitter who once batted .333 and hit .295 in 2006, when he was 39. Some with the White Sox believe Escobar has that type of potential. “He struggled really badly the first two or three months this season and was terrific the last two months,” White Sox farm director Buddy Bell said. “That’s a great sign. But I don’t think we want to drop Omar Vizquel (comparisons) on him just yet.”


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