Hopefully everyone enjoyed their weekends, full of high scoring All Star games that few people probably watched. I know I didn’t, instead deciding to spend a lazy day playing Wii with my daughter that ended with a nice dinner out with the lady. After such a pleasant Sunday, I woke up today and noticed the weekly weather forecast in the near 60s – I might even spend the last day of January golfing. Next up, check the sports ticker – and I see the news that the Eagles have hired former Dolphins interim head coach Todd Bowles as their new secondary coach, and are retaining Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator. So much for that great mood huh? Clearly I should now be irate that the Eagles could keep the same guy whose defense kept us from winning the division and maybe even going to the Super Bowl, like the Giants. Uhh, not really.
I wrote weeks ago, on the day owner Jeffrey Lurie addressed the media, that I was in favor of retaining Castillo, even before all the popular names to replace him found other work. Without rehashing my position entirely, I simply believe the Eagles defense, and the many young players comprising it, will be better served by not going through yet another scheme change this offseason, and that once Castillo figured out what the hell he was doing, the defense improved markedly. I also knew that no established defensive corrdinator would be jumping at the opportunity to come to Philadelphia, since the tenuous position of Andy Reid could lead to the new DC searching for another job after just one year.
But let’s not let logic interfere with things. Sports fans, particularly in Philadelphia, want a change. They want a new defensive coordinator, new head coach, new goalie, new hitting coach, new defensemen, new linebackers, and they definitely want someone other than Andre Iguodala. Some of those desires are certainly reasonable – no one would dispute the Eagles’ need to upgrade their “talent” at linebacker, and the Flyers’ back line could use a boost after losing Chris Pronger, likely for the season, and maybe permanently. And sometimes, change is very effective – the Flyers changed the entire face of their franchise this past summer, and the shakeup seems to have rejuvenated the team.
But change is not always for the better, and the Flyers reflect that as well. After everyone clamored for an “established” goaltender last summer, the Flyers brought in the best goalie on the market, Ilya Bryzgalov, and signed him to a long term, lucrative contract. The deal pushed aside promising young netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, since he clearly wasn’t going to be the guy to lead this team to a Stanley Cup – not after he had the nerve to have a shaky playoffs in his rookie season. Never mind the fact that “Bob” is just 23 and had never played more than 35 games in a season in Russia. We need a goalie!! Why can’t we ever develop our own goalie?? (Yes, I’m mocking the blatant contradiction here.) So now the Orange and Black are stuck paying Bryzgalov $51 million until he’s 40, making his contract nearly untradeable, while “Bob” has clearly been the better goaltender this season by a mile.
But the Flyers fans are not alone in their impulsiveness. Many times the call for change is warranted, but the target of our venom is incorrect. Greg Gross took over as hitting coach for the Phillies for Milt Thompson when they were mired in an offensive slump two seasons ago. Now Gross is saying it’s difficult to change the players’ mentality at the plate; who would’ve thought that it’s the PLAYERS that need to change and not the coach? Interesting concept. Three years ago, before the disaster that was Eddie Jordan and the deliverance of Doug Collins, the Sixers search for a head coach led them to interview Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, who had been in charge of the Boston defense that led them to a title. The interview was widely mocked on radio and in print, as the populace wanted Avery Johnson to be hired, despite being fired in Dallas for losing in the first round in consecutive years, including the second top seeded team ever to lose to an 8 seed. Doug Collins finished second last season in the Coach of the Year voting – to Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau.
The latest impulse is for the suddenly promising Sixers to do whatever it takes to acquire a “star player.” Amare Stoudemire trade rumors were floated yesterday, as many chose to ignore the 3 years and $83 million owed to a player whose knees are so bad that the Knicks couldn’t get his contract insured. Tonight, Dwight Howard will come into town with his Orlando Magic, and many Sixers fans have decided that they should do everything in their power to woo Howard to Philly, should he become a free agent. Other than the fact that pandering to opposing players makes me sick to my stomach, it also makes little sense. I wrote that Howard was a bad fit recently, and feel even more strongly about that stance as I watch his team collapsing over the last week. Simply put, Howard is not a primary superstar – unless your only aim is selling tickets. He is an imposing presence in the middle, a force on the boards, and the last true center in the league. But he’s not the guy you give the ball to at the end of games when you need a basket. He can’t give the Sixers the type of primary scorer they need. He’s not a great passer, he clogs up an offense, and in Philly, he wouldn’t have the shooters to spread the floor to make him effective in halfcourt sets. He will not take over games, put you on his back, and carry you to a Finals. In short, Dwight Howard is NOT Superman. Even if this little fantasy were to come true, there’s a very good chance that it backfires on the Sixers. They would now have either gutted their promising young team to acquire Howard, or locked up their cap space to sign a guy who needs help to win a title.
So next time you decide you have to have the big name defensive coordinator, think about why such a talented defensive mind couldn’t get his defenses ranked in the league’s top 20, while the Eagles former offensive line coach managed to get his defense to finish 10th in his first year on the job, under tough conditions. Before yelling about the goalie situation because it’s an annual tradition, think about whether you may already have one. Being impulsive and demanding change is in every sports fan’s DNA, including mine. But being an intelligent sports fan is about using your head as much as your heart.