Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Devil You Don't Know--Until Gwen Ifill Tells You About It

The definition of Muslim Brotherhood, according to Wikipedia: “The Society of the Muslim Brothers (often simply, The Brotherhood or MB) is an Islamic transnational movement and the largest political opposition organization in many Arab states. The group is the world's oldest and largest Islamic political group, and the ‘world's most influential Islamist movement.’ The Brotherhood has as its slogan, ‘Islam is the solution.’ It was founded in 1928 in Egypt by the Islamic scholar and schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna.”

Wow. Really?

Now, I ask you: Until all this Egypt stuff started, had you EVER heard of the Muslim Brotherhood? I hadn’t, and I consider myself a fairly media-savvy individual. It’s been more than 30 years since the Iranian Revolution, and since then there’ve been numerous international events that have heightened our exposure to all things Islamic, including the Gulf War and many terrorist events before that and since, not least of all 9/11.

In fact, in the U.S., in the modern age, we have been pretty much obsessed with Islam, Muslims, Arabs, etc., not only because of the terrorist aspects that affect our country, but also because the U.S. maintains a cozy relationship with Israel--a relationship that is forever in danger of being stressed by our need to deal with the Arabs. (We need their oil and Arab countries essentially surround Israel, whom historically they don’t like.)

But really, folks, why is it that only fast on the heels of Egyptian upheaval are we learning about the Muslim Brotherhood--”the world's oldest and largest Islamic political group, and the ‘world's most influential Islamist movement.’ ”? What the--??

I’ve been watching PBS news and news programming for decades. I catch “Meet the Press” fairly often. I’ve watched the cable news wars. And never once did I hear Gwen Ifill, John McLaughlin or the late Tim Russert or the current David Gregory or anybody else say a single word about the MB. Not even after 9/11, when everyone was rushing to their computers to research Al Qaeda, was there any common profiling of this group. And whatever there was must have been pretty sketchy.

Now, the MB are (is?) this supposedly hugely influential group in the Arab world. All of a sudden. Just like that.

Well, no, they’ve been around a long time, apparently. But it’s very interesting to me that it’s only now that the average American citizen is learning of them.

I must say, their name doesn’t exactly inspire a warm, fuzzy feeling. The Muslim Brotherhood. It seems closer to organized crime than to thoughtful, measured Middle Eastern political policy. Presumably, it’s not a sisterhood, either. So that would exclude the thousands of Egyptian females that kept popping up on American news programs--the ones in Tahrir Square who kept saying they wanted to become doctors and lawyers and teachers and scientists.

All we really know is that the MB is Muslim, and while we’re trying to be openminded and all--support your local mosque, either at Ground Zero or in Murfreesboro, Tennessee--whatever we're feeling presently doesn't exactly smack of peace of mind.

At any rate, now we know who’s calling the shots for Middle East governments. We can use that information--as one Arab nation after another collapses under the weight of its newfound desire for “freedom” and “prosperity.” Hmmmm...

We can only hope the MB play fair. And have a vision characterized by progressive thought and good intentions. But if I’m an Israeli, I’d be a little more nervous than I already am.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

OC/DC: Munchak Announces Appointments to Key Titans Coaching Slots

Caught this afternoon on The Zone, radio 104.5 FM: The Tennessee Titans’ press conference where head coach Mike Munchak presented new defensive coordinator Jerry Gray to the media. Gray sounded, uh, like a mediocre mind. Hate to say it, but that’s the vibe he transmitted. He even seemed to struggle with his cliches. Gray is a veteran position coach and former DC with the Buffalo Bills, where he actually had some statistical success. Let’s hope his performance on the field surpasses his rather halting responses at the podium.

The bigger news on the Titans front, however, is the announcement that former NFL coach Chris Palmer has been appointed offensive coordinator. Palmer, most recently a coach in the UFL, has been an assistant many places but also was head coach of the Cleveland Browns, whom he “led” to a dismal 5-27 record in 1999-2000.

Neither of these hires inspires any immediate confidence, but then the promotion of Munchak didn’t do that either. The Titans look to be in trouble, and with Jeff Fisher gone, we may be reflecting often in 2011 on just how important his leadership and decisionmaking were to the team’s past success.

Not that we don't wish "Munchie" well. Life goes on. But the season ahead could be a really long one.

MediaNotes
According to 104.5 FM “3 Hour Lunch” co-host Brent Dougherty--the guy with the meathead voice who actually does a good job as the 12 noon-3 p.m. show’s point man--local Channel 2-WKRN news anchor Christine Maddela Tweeted an ageist remark about the 60something Palmer. Something about his bedtime, thus necessitating an earlier-in-the-day scheduling for the Titans press conference.

Uh...that’s pretty interesting, if not downright shocking, since you’d think that a Hispanic female news lady--of whatever age--would be sensitive to bigoted remarks. You’d also think that a product of the famed Mizzou journalism program would be smart enough not to be posting ageist statements in a public forum. Which just goes to prove that there are more insidious bigotries out there than the racial kind. (We further note with no little irony that male hormone replacement providers are regular sponsors of 104.5 sports programming.)

Come to think of it, I saw Maddela last year at a TPAC theatrical event, and I was surprised at how, er, big-boned, she looked in person. Just being forthright and honest. Right, Christine?

I’m coming to the conclusion that Twitter is the refuge of the emotionally immature. It’s kind of like writing on the bathroom walls. Except attributed. Eeeesh...

Gaga Over Gaga

Monday is the worst television night of the week--for those of us who are cable-challenged. And so it was with great joy that I ran into Lady Gaga last night as a guest on “The Tonight Show” on “free” TV NBC.

I’m here to say it publically: I love Gaga. No, wait: More than that, I might even march with her into hell. What’s more, I’m unable to properly explain why those feelings are so strong, though I’ll try.

I certainly loved “Poker Face.” Great song. It’s catchy, quirky and lovably weird, and the arrangement is great. Plus you can dance to it. (Really: I don’t care what it’s about!) I give it a 99.

Now, what I’ve heard of Gaga musically since then has been totally vague and scattershot. I couldn’t even name you another one of her songs. (“Just Dance”?? How does that go again?) But, really, I don’t care about that. If Gaga’s goal was to make her very walking being an appealing art form, then she has succeeded.

My admiration is particularly surprising to me because in my “real life” I’m an entertainment critic, gifted at dissecting theatrical performance and backing up my opinions. I tend be “be critical.” I tend to formulate specific reasons why I like or dislike something/anything/anybody.

Yet even through the TV screen, Gaga--not yet 25 but so self-possessed--communicates something so personally likable that I find myself simply smiling and enjoying her. Without any questions at all.

Let’s look at some conventional gauges. She’s an attractive gal--but she’s not a great beauty. She has a decent figure--but she’s not really voluptuous or overtly sexy. She can and does sing and dance--but I’m not sure she’s going to challenge for top skill honors in either category.

Frankly, I wouldn’t care if Gaga never recorded another song. It is, in the end, her PERSONHOOD I celebrate. She seems like a truly decent and honest (enough) human being, that rare celebrity who actually doesn’t seem to take her celebrity that seriously.

Sure, I could be wrong. It might all be a plausible misperception. Maybe, since she made it big early in life--what a relief THAT is, right?!--there’s no way to really be sure of Gaga’s personal integrity. But for now, and with all my heart, I think Lady Gaga--nee Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta--has character, and that’s something you don’t see much anywhere, but especially not in show business. Because show-biz makes whores of everybody, and the lure of the easy buck makes character a negotiable commodity.

I don’t know why, America, but I trust Lady Gaga. I think she’s intelligent, inherently kind and blessed with a wonderfully winking sense of humor.

She makes me laugh. And that’s what I like in a lady.

Viva La Gaga!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Santa Anita--The Horse Palace in Arcadia


I recently paid a visit to California--to get out of the dark and coldness of the Southeast in an attempt to rejuvenate a flagging spirit. I was moderately successful. It was 60s and 70s in the Los Angeles area with general sun, though chilly in the mornings and at night, as deserts can be. I never got to a beach. Mostly I hung with my brother, visited with a long-lost cousin, and spent ample time in internet cafes on a laptop and on my cell phone, and also reading LA Weekly cover to cover. (Nice rag.)

The only really big thing I did, on Saturday, Jan. 29, was go to Santa Anita Park, for the running of the Sunshine Millions, where, in selected races, Cal-bred horses squared off against Florida-bred. I placed a bet on the first race, $2 on Joe Ja (below, in the paddock with handlers) to win at 6-1, and sure enough the three-year-old descendant of Birdonthewire hustled to the finish line with a dramatic victorious flourish. The bet returned me about $14--the $12 I'd won plus my bet of $2.
At the pay window, I was handed $13 plus some change. Not bad for beginner's luck. I never won money on another single race the rest of the entire day. Such is gambling at the track.

Yet the thoroughbreds are beautiful and powerful, and each race is a joyous series of protocols, where fans can view the pre-race preparations at close quarters, then watch the jockeys mount up, ride the horses out near the statue of Seabiscuit to greet their owners, and from there parade onto the track.

Learning about Santa Anita is interesting and fun. But there's no substitute for being there. Among other things, it's the air. (Or the iPhone dolls, left.) The track turned 76 this past Christmas Day. She remains an elegant art-deco beauty, attracting the most eclectic crowds you'll ever see anywhere, everyone in thrall to the horses. (Something I learned on the way to looking up other things: From 1942 to 1944, Santa Anita was suspended from racing and was used as a Japanese American internment center. Some 17,000 people resided there.)

I ate a fantastic fresh turkey sandwich at Santa Anita, prepared by a gentleman who had to be well into his 60s. Maybe he was 70. There were a lot of older folks at the track--WORKING! It crossed my mind that an older fellow could do worse than to end up amid the hubbub of a major American race track on a sunny Saturday afternoon, making good hot sandwiches and earning an honest buck while thousands--all ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes--bustled about keeping an eye on the nags and their wagers.

If someone hasn't done it yet, they should write a mystery novel that begins at Santa Anita with the murder of... a horse?? Uhm, scratch that? I dunno. But the place is so damn atmospheric--with the majestic San Gabriel Mountains proudly backdropping the sport of kings.

Next time I go to Santa Anita--and I suspect I will--I intend to take a lot more pictures. Of the horses. Actually running the races. My first time through this horse palace of all horse palaces was distracting--too much to think about. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

100K Run: Sports Media America Avoids AOL Buyout, Settles on Milestone

Interesting. Sports Media America and Huffington Post were both founded about six years ago. Both were aiming to change the world. I can’t imagine why, but for some reason Arianna Huffington recently parlayed her venture into a huge, rich-beyond-all-dreams buyout by AOL, while we still sit here unnoticed by the big money. But who can really understand the strange workings of the new-media world? Some of us are meant, I suppose, to go about our brilliance on the relative QT. (Cold, hard truths: I suck at marketing, and I have no budget or friends in high places.)

And yet, sometime in the past week or so--completely unnoticed by me, I might add shame-facedly--Sports Media America passed the 100,000 hits mark. There were no bells or whistles to alert me, and I’ve been so busy or distracted or traveling that I had not paid attention to the site for a while. When I went to do the editorial on new contributor Henry Nichols’ story on the Tennessee Titans’ recent search for a head coach, I vaguely looked down at the SMA hit-counter and exclaimed (in my own head), “Eureka!”

Launched late in 2004, SMA was a means to indulge my serious interest in, and vast knowlege of, sports, particularly football and baseball, but potentially anything else sporting or non-sporting that could fit within our loose-ish parameters, i.e., those determined by the word media.

Happy little things happened along the way. For instance, my brother Steve became a seriously knowledgeable horse player in California, and it turned out that he was also a serious talent writing about the sport of kings. His stories on Triple Crown events have been special additions to the SMA lineup.

Sports media has exploded in the past decade, so I am ever sure that the site concept is a valid one. Sometimes it’s to the point where those reporting the news are as central to our interests as those performing on the playing fields. So I guess we’ll just keep muddling along here, posting interesting, well-written opinion pieces, sending them out into cyberspace, hoping we continue to grab our little piece of the action.

We’re very grateful to you, the mighty 100K, who have seen fit to take the time to read, and appreciate, our humble little efforts.




Sincerely,

Martin Brady
Editor/Producer

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Coaching Carousel: Titans Seek Quick Fix in the Wake of Fisher’s Sudden Departure

By Henry Nichols

After two of the more disastrous seasons in a 17-year coaching regime spanning four home venues, Jeff Fisher and the Tennessee Titans finally reached their breaking point--and not a few weeks after it appeared Fisher had finally triumphed in the greatest coach-player (Vince Young) power struggle of an otherwise streamlined tenure.

To say it has been an epic offseason so far for the original AFC Oilers/Titans would define “understatement.” Truth be told, one may have to go back so far as then-new Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ unceremonious dismissal of coaching icon Tom Landry in 1989 to find a starker break from a decorated-but-stale tradition of NFL franchise functionality.

The savvy observer might expect an upstart NFL owner like Jones or Washington’s Daniel Snyder to make a clean break with the past, however glorious, with hopes of building superior pillars upon the foundations of his predecessors’ success. But when the 88-year-old creator/owner of a franchise decides to completely revamp the fabric of his long-standing house so far into the twilight of his years, that’s a different story.

Titans octagenarian owner K.S. (“Bud”) Adams Jr., his top brass and Fisher mutually agreed on an official “parting of ways” Jan. 27, but to let such a presumably coveted coaching free-agent get away seems a dubious course for an old man who dreams desperately of another Super Bowl before his passing.

It is widely speculated that the real final straw in the soap opera between Adams and Fisher was the coach’s recent string of clandestine contracts/extensions aimed at retaining his favored assistants, allegedly made without the blessings of Adams, club president/general counsel Steve Underwood and general manager Mike Reinfeldt. This revelation explains why embattled defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil was re-signed immediately after the season only to be fired a week before Fisher stepped down.

So, for the first time in Nashville major-revenue pro sports history, a coaching change is afoot. (Fisher was hired in 1994 as the Houston Oilers’ interim coach before being promoted full-time that offseason.) But will the new hire constitute a regime change? Not necessarily.

Adams is famous for his tight-fisted ways, even if it seemingly leads to ham-fisted outcomes. With Fisher allegedly due $4 million through his contract buy-out, plus hundreds of thousands owed on assistants’ contracts that have since been terminated, you can take it to Bud’s bank that the next hire will be penny-wise rather than dollar-foolish.

More specifically, the consensus scuttlebutt is that Adams will simply look in-house for a short, quick, cost-cutting promotion process between a few loyal lieutenants.

While conventional wisdom might suggest that an outside choice is prudent--to bring a fresh voice and direction to the organization--that doesn’t seem to be the kind of gamble that Adams wants to make when he might be able to count the number of years he has left on one hand. Instead of a “Hail Mary,” he’ll likely hope that a couple of internal tweaks with the right candidate will get him to one more Super Bowl.

THE INSIDER CANDIDATES

  • Mike Munchak, Fisher’s longtime offensive line coach, interviewed this past Monday for the head-coaching job. The factors that led many to believe Munchak is the frontrunner include “favored son” status with Adams and a relationship with Reinfeldt that goes back to their days as Oilers teammates circa the “Love Ya Blue” era of the late ’70s/early ’80s.

    Though he lacks coordinator experience, Munchak is reputed as a key cog in Fisher’s success through his underrated influence in the Titans’ run schemes and steadying influence on a usually solid group in the trenches. The biggest pro of promoting Munchak would obviously be focused around streamlined organizational continuity and offsetting the price of Fisher’s exit for Adams. The biggest drawback, just as with the other Titans assistants being considered, is the question of where he will assemble his new staff from and how long his contract will be. If he is afforded a cheap contract with little more than an interim status attached to it, then the realistic best-case scenario he could hope for would be convincing the few assistants still on staff to stay and hustling to fill in the remaining gaps with the best available candidates, many of whom won’t think Munchak is being put in a position to compete in the AFC South. In an eerie way, a Fisher-to-Munchak torch passing would very closely mirror the Bobby Johnson/Robbie Caldwell switch at Vanderbilt almost exactly half a year ago.

  • Another logical choice for coach/caretaker (as the NFL heads into relatively uncertain times during the new collective bargaining agreement) would be linebackers coach Dave McGinnis. Also Fisher’s assistant head coach, McGinnis first earned his stripes as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals (2000-03), where he went 17-40 with one of the NFL’s more inept rosters. McGinnis’ elevation could easily be validated through his past experience in directing a rebuilding franchise that’s recently fallen from performance peaks; before his promotion to head coach at Arizona, he was the defensive coordinator for the 1998 team that reached the playoffs for the first time since the franchise moved to Phoenix. However, McGinnis is 59 years old, relatively old for a pro coach to begin such a massive undertaking and his hire would be equally met by media, prospective coaches and free-agents with long-term skepticism and questions about the short-term upside of the Titans. Like Munchak, McGinnis would have a hard time hiring a competitive AFC staff.

  • Fisher’s longtime offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, in a vacuum, would easily be regarded as the most innovative and pedigree-strong in-house candidate. However, even as a potential caretaker, Heimerdinger’s hire would be regarded as the shakiest of the in-house candidates due to his ongoing cancer treatment and chemotherapy. In fact, had Fisher stayed, it was questionable as to whether ’Dinger would ultimately be well enough to carry on in a coordinator’s role through 2011 since he indefinitely relinquished his play-calling duties Nov. 24. Once a burgeoning candidate for several NFL skipper openings, his candidacy for the Titans or anyone else right now might be a non-starter, though he did interview for the job Tuesday.
DARKHORSES
  • Like Fisher, Jim Mora Jr. is a successful former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator and was the victim of a “coach-killer” star quarterback during a somewhat successful tenure as Atlanta’s head coach (2004-06), where he went 26-22 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game in his first year. He also shares some “Six Degrees” familiarity with the AFC South through his dad, Jim E. Mora, whose 13-3 Colts squad lost an AFC divisional round home playoff game in 1999 to the Titans, 19-16, during Tennessee’s Super Bowl run. Reinfeldt, previously the Seahawks’ VP of Football Administration, worked with Mora Jr. in Seattle, albeit very briefly for half a month in early 2007 (just after the Seahawks hired Mora as assistant head coach and just before the Titans hired Reinfeldt). Few know what impression Mora left on Reinfeldt during that sliver of time, but there is no doubt he is a promising young coach with a wealth of coaching connections and personnel resources. He was fired after going 5-11 during his only season as Seahawks coach in 2009 following Mike Holmgren’s coaching retirement, but his dismissal was more a function of a general manager switch than judgment of an overall body of work.

  • Alabama coach Nick Saban was rumored to have met with the Titans this week as part of their search, and believe it or not, he has an organizational connection that goes back longer than Fisher or Williams. Saban served as the Oilers’ defensive backs coach in 1988-89 before spending the 1990 season as Toledo’s head coach. Apart from Saban’s abbreviated stint as head coach of the Dolphins, where he went 15-17 from 2005-06, he also served as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Browns from 1991-94. After winning a national championship at Alabama in 2010, the itinerant taskmaster may feel his batteries are properly re-charged for another shot at the big-time in an organization where he already has a comfort level. Oh, and he probably wouldn’t have to sell his house. If hired, Saban could and would likely push for significant control over personnel matters and be able to hire a stellar staff. Hey, there’s certainly worse PR moves than hiring a “Belichick disciple.”

  • Former Titans wide receivers coach Ray Sherman is talking with the brass in Tennessee this week about the gig, but it is likely only a token interview to fulfill the NFL’s Rooney Rule requiring the interviewing of at least one minority candidate for a vacant head-coaching job. Like McGinnis, Sherman is nearly 60 and hasn’t served in a coordinator’s role since 1999 (as the offensive coordinator of the Vikings). He has been out of coaching this month since the Cowboys decided not to bring him back for the 2011 season.

  • Former Colts coach Tony Dungy seems to me like a perfect match on paper for the Titans. His newfound celebrity as a Christian author would play well deeper into the Bible Belt and his defenses are always solid regardless of the personnel available to him. He has one Lombardi Trophy under his belt (two if you count the 2002 title Jon Gruden won with his staff and players in Tampa Bay) and might feel re-energized enough to try again at the helm of his old AFC South rival. And while he is a defensive match for Fisher as a coach, his schemes would bring something new and exciting to Nashville and he could probably reel in virtually any available assistant he wants on staff. Then again, the former University of Minnesota quarterback and ex-Vikings defensive coordinator may feel compelled to wait and see what happens with Minnesota’s coaching position after the 2011 season, where Leslie Frazier’s coaching security is relatively tenuous.

    IN THE MIX: Also reportedly in consideration are former Buffalo head coach Mike Mularkey and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
Contributor Henry Nichols is a Nashville-based sports reporter, writer and radio personality. He has worked for WNSR-560 AM and CBSSports.com.