Archive for April, 2010

29
Apr
10

U.S. Army General: “PowerPoint Makes Us Stupid”

The PowerPoint slide shown to US commanders shows security, economic and political conditions in Afghanistan.

Can’t help but comment on this because it strikes a chord with me. The Daily Mail of London brings us this story on how U.S. in Afghanistan has come to loathe the Microsoft software known as PowerPoint. The article quotes Brigadier General H.R. McMaster who “banned the presentation package when he led an offensive in Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2005.” The General is quoted telling the New York Times, “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control… Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

General James N. Mattis, the Joint Forces Commander, was even more demonstrative: “PowerPoint makes us stupid.”

My favorite quote on PowerPoint came from someone at Padilla Speer Beardsley, a Minneapolis-based PR  firm I interned at several years ago. It’s a truism I live by: Stories are compelling; PowerPoint presentations aren’t. If you have something to say, wrap it up in a story to illustrate your point. If you recite a bunch of facts listed in bullet point fashion, people won’t remember it nearly as well — if at all. Think about it.

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24
Apr
10

Tyson Alualu: Yeah, we remember him!

Photo by Vince Muzik

As I was pulling into my parking spot at the Minnesota Vikings draft Party at Jimmy’s in Vadnais Heights Thursday night, I listened to the incredulous tone of the guys on the radio as the Jacksonville Jags made their first round selection in NFL Draft — Tyson Alualu, defensive tackle, from the University of California Golden Bears!

Say what?

Young Mr. Alualu, the 10th overall selection, wasn’t scheduled to go until later in the draft, perhaps as late as the fifth round according to some. Maybe he was a reach. Time will tell. However, if you watched the Golden Bears play the Gophers last September here at TCF Bank Staduim, Alualu stood out. He was very “active” as they like to say in the business. At half-time, my friend Matt Sherman, himself a former quarterback at Iowa (1994-97), said, “That one defensive tackle they’ve got is really good.” Were Matt and I the only ones who took note?

“Has anyone ever in the history been this much of a reach?” one of the guys on the radio inquired. Yes, and the name should be very familiar to football fans. William “The Refrigerator” Perry was selected out of Clemson by the Chicago Bears in 1985. “The Frig” was thought to be more of a fifth rounder due to weigh concerns. Those who remember the great ’85 Chicago Bears team know Perry etched a place in NFL history as the blocking back for Walter Payton in goal line situations who also scored two TDs himself as a rookie, one in the Super Bowl. He played 10 NFL seasons.

The NFL Draft is fun because you get to see where your favorite college players will continue their careers. Beyond that, it gets ridiculous to think you can forecast the future. Rick Reilly of ESPN put it well: “It’s a drama with no ending.” It’s just a start; the conclusion comes years later. The day after is way too early to talk winners and losers.  That’s why the late Toronto Maple Leafs chief scout Pierre Dorion told me back in 1990 during a conversation we had in his Marriott Hotel room, “You never criticize some one else’s player decisions because you never know when you’ll be the one picking a dog — and the one subject to the criticism that goes with.”

16
Apr
10

Taking Note of Jimmy Clausen

One coach I grew up working with was Kevin Hartzell, then head coach of the St. Paul Vulcans and now back in the business coaching the Sioux Falls Stampede of the U.S. Hockey League, a Tier I Junior (16-19 year old players) League based across the Midwestern U.S. Hartz made it a point to notice how a player approached his work, feeling it was indicative of the sort of player he was. Did the kid pay attention to detail or was he sloppy? Was he early for practice or was he always a late arrival? “Little things” Hartz would call them.

That stuck in my head last night watching ESPN’s  Jon Gruden’s QB Camp, a film session Gruden does with the top four quarterback prospects — Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, TimTebow,and Jimmy Clausen — in this year’s NFL Draft. Claussen has gained a reputation for being arrogant. For what reasons, I don’t know. My friend Michael Floyd caught passes from him at Notre Dame for two years and liked Jimmy. That’s all the recommendation I need.

Photo by Vince Muzik

Clausen took some harsh, no-holes-barred criticism from Gruden, reputed to be an expert indeveloping young quarterbacks, as to what he could do to improve his play. Whether it was a just a product of the way ESPN edited the show, Clausen didn’t mind writing down the criticisms  Gruden had. This isn’t the sort of thing an arrogant person would do. It was reminiscent of what photo editors at Sports Illustrated have told me when critiquing my work; it’s not any fun. While taking notes won’t make you a great player, I would say that’s one of those “little things” that tells me how Clausen approaches his work: He’s a student.  Maybe the other guys have great memories; however, if they are human like the rest of us they are prone to forgetting things if they aren’t written down. Personally, if I were a young guy trying to make it in the NFL, I’d want to remember every important point a teacher like Gruden had to say to me. Even if it weren’t pleasant; it’s the only way to improve.

Personally, I think Nebraska’s defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is the best player in this draft hands down. Sam Bradford I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole after that shoulder surgery and Tim Tebow is a project not worth of a first rounder. Colt McCoy is worth a long look at the right price, but Clausen gets my vote. Of  course, whatever team he goes to will have give him good offensive line play or else he’ll get killed, but that’s another issue. For now I’ll go with Clausen.

13
Apr
10

Target Field Opens!

Amazing what some good begging can do for you. I’m not much into baseball, but I knew I had to be at opening day of Target Field, the brand new home of the Minnseota Twins here in Minneapolis. Luckily, Sports Illustrated baseball editor Nate Gordon gave me the call up from AAA to hit in the big leagues. All of these are mine except for one; the fish eye photo was by my partner for the game, Tom Dahlin. This gallery shows what the features of the new park inside. Target Field should be the place to be this summer, especially for those night games.

11
Apr
10

Where Did 20 Years Go?

Country singer Kenny Rogers once did a tune entitled “20 Years Ago,” a song  about the idea of going back to your hometown 20 years later and reminiscing about all the memories. (The older I get, the harder it is to stomach that tune.) When I was younger, I thought it would take forever to get to the point where you could look back 20 years in your life. I always wondered what it would be like when that time arrived. Now I know. Former Philadelphia Flyers president Jay Snyder gave Sports Illustrated in 1987 one of the most insightful quotes ever: “It’s amazing how fast the future shows up.”

Mike Modano must have had that on his mind Saturday night in what was probably his last game in the NHL, ironically in the same state where his career started 1989: Minnesota. The No. 1 overall draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars in 1988, Modano fought back his emotions several occasions during the game. At the end of the game, he was named the No. 1 star and pulled off a great PR move — coming out wearing his North Stars jersey with his name and number on the back. Modano returned to Minnesota playing against a robust franchise, unlike what he came to when drafted in 1988.

Going into the draft in ’88, the North Stars had the No. 1 pick courtesy of being the worst team in the NHL under first-year coach and hockey legend Herb Brooks. One year was all Herb got. His old friend, GM Lou Nanne, decided to step down from his position. The new GM, Jack Ferreira, didn’t retain Herb, prompting my mentor, Ron Woodey of the St. Paul Vulcans, the man who gave Herb his first head coaching opportunity with his team, to say, “If the Gunds (the owners of the North Stars) ran their other businesses the way they run the North Stars, they’d be broke.” It was a PR disaster.

Enter Modano. Having the No. 1 pick in the draft generated some excitement, but none of the players available were tabbed to be the next franchise-maker like Mario Lemieux. Modano had left suburban Detroit (Livonia, Mich.) to play major junior hockey in Prince Albert, Sask. — and you thought Minnesota was cold in December? — and became an offensive force for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. However, there was some debate over whether the guy rated No. 2, Trevor Linden, wasn’t the guy to take. A natural leader and mature beyond his years, Linden had won everywhere he’d been to that point — two Memorial Cup championships with his junior team, the Medicine Hat Tigers, and a gold medal for Canada in the world junior tournament.  And he turned out to be a good one: He was named captain of the Vancouver Canucks by the time he was 21, played 19 years in the NHL, and had his number retired by the Canucks in 2008. A couple other guys did well, too. The first round included another productive American player in Jeremy Roenick (8th overall), Michigan State and St. Louis Blues star Rod Brind’Amour, and the “Finnish Flash,” Teemu Selanne, whose record for goals by a rookie (76) may never be matched.

In the end, Modano became the best American forward ever and recorded a milestone few professional athletes achive — he played his entire career with the same team. If he gets a case of Brett Favre-itis and decides to play again next year, I’m sure some NHL would find a spot for him. If not, he’s done enough to justify the ovations Minnesota hockey fans gave him at the Xcel Energy Center.

05
Apr
10

ESPN’s 30 for 30: “The U”

ESPN must have a thing for running this particular documentary on holiday nights. The first time I watched “The U” by Billy Corben was back on Christmas night, then I caught it again last night (Easter).

This happens to be my favorite documentary so far in the “30 for 30” series,  a documentary series of 30 films commemorating ESPN’s thirtieth anniversary. It has some really good insights into how the University of Miami, a small school located in Coral Gables, Fla., with no history, no tradition and no facilities, became a national football power quickly, a “microwave dynasty” as former Hurricanes player Melvin Bratton put it. Between 1983-2001, the Hurriances won five national titles, four in a nine-year stretch (1983-1991) with three different head coaches (Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson).

After learning about college football recruiting from my time spent at Cretin-Derham Hall High School and watching Seantrel Henderson go through the process — and he saw at all! — a few things stood out about how Miami built their program.

When Howard Schnellenberger stood at the podium in 1979, he said it was his plan to win a national championship at the University of Miami within five years. I’m sure lots of people thought he was smoking something else besides tobacco in that pipe that became his trademark. In short, he was really a genius. Give some due credit to his wife, Beverly. According to the doc, she convinced him to give up his gig as the offensive line coach of the Miami Dolphins and take the job at the school. Schnellenberger knew that football is a way of life in South Florida. High school games routinely outdrew University of Miami games.There are a lot of kids who play, and a lot of good athletes.  Most of them are black. He decided to win “the state of Miami.” Some of that “state” is pretty tough. Even today there are parts of the city you wouldn’t want to get stuck in when the sun went down.  In the late ’70s inner city Miami had it’s share of problems, lots of crime related to drug trafficking. That didn’t stop Schnellenberger from going into “the hood” to recruit the best players he could find. Schnellenberger went there; he didn’t just send his assistants. That’s one key in the recruiting game: If the head coach shows up to recruit a kid, that means that school is INTERESTED. In other words, they are making a priority to get that player. As one player said in the doc, “They (Schnellenberger and his staff) went to places where others wouldn’t go.” And I’m sure word got around: The guys at Miami were sincere. They got to know all those players better than any other college team could because they were local and they used it to their advantage.

Coach Randy Shannon - Photo by Vince Muzik

I had a chance to meet current Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon, a former linebacker at “The U,” when he came through Minneapolis-St. Paul to recruit Seantrel. The list of great players that wore that definitive “U” logo on the Miami Hurricanes helmets is endless. Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testeverde, Michael Irvin, Steve Walsh, Warren Sapp, Eddie Brown, Alonso Highsmith, Ed Reed, Benny Blades — and on and on. They played with an attitude, and some of them in the film haven’t lost it even as they’ve hit middle age. Naturally, I wondered what the reaction was to it. Coach Shannon told me he received a lot of positive feedback from this film, even though he wasn’t in it.

If that’s so, here’s one parting thought: For Miami to get back on top Coach Shannon needs to use the amazing story told in “The U”  of the Miami Hurricanes emergence as a power to his advantage. As it stands now, Miami’s web site doesn’t even scratch the surface of the testimonies of those Hurricane alumni. In fact, their web site is really whitebread! As I learned from him, there’s a brotherhood of past Hurricanes. In the NFL off season, those guys come to Miami because of the loyalty to the program. In terms of digital marketing, they need to remind recruits of that. The Florida Gators have taken over college ball in that state. Miami’s brand is as definitive as their white helmets and orange jerseys. They even have music to go with it. Don’t lose that edge because… it’s a ‘Canes thing!