Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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I'm still in the process of figuring out exactly how to use this blog. Today I'm going to start a pretty silly but topical feature I'll call Local Power Rankings.
This will assess the relative merits and strengths of the seven local major revenue sports. I'll plan to do this every Friday, as a way to offer brief commentary on developments on the local sports scene.
My inaugural Local Sports Power Ranking:
1. Minnesota Wild
Spent some time this week with Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo. They're pulling a neat trick, getting younger and yet improving on the fly. The young D has been impressive, the goalies have been spectacular, but I think Yeo is the MVP of the team so far. He's developing a gritty, unselfish team that can win even when it's not scoring many goals. This is miracle work, for the Wild to be in first place of the Northwest Division with this team, and these injuries.
I wrote about this topic for the Sunday Star Tribune.
2. Golden Gopher hockey
The Gophers have been more dominant than the Wild...but this should be the best college hockey program in the land, and only postseason success should be deemed real success. I like the fact that this team looks tougher, mentally and physically, than a lot of Don Lucia's recent failures. But I have to wait before doling out too much credit here.
Still, a fantastic start for the Gophs.
3. Gopher basketball
It's a measure of the lousiness of the local sports scene that Tubby's guys can climb this high without playing a meaningful game. These have been nothing more than exhibitions, and I still don't see that he's solved his ballhandling or scoring problems.
Still, this team should be competitive, which puts it ahead of most of the local competition.
Not playing games puts the Wolves right in the middle of the pack, because they at least have the promise of Rick Adelman and Derrick Williams. I still haven't given up hope that the lockout will end in the next two weeks and the season begins by January. Or Christmas.
This franchise is a mess right now, but Terry Ryan has made two reasonable, surgical signings in Carroll and Doumit. Ryan alone gives me hope for this franchise.
6. Gopher football
Tough choice between Gopher football and the Vikings for the bottom slot. I would argue that the Vikings are more disappointing and have earned the bottom. I actually think Jerry Kill will eventually make this program competent.
I didn't think this would be a good, but even so, I picked it to finish 7-9 before the season started. I was a raving optimist, bhut not as much as Leslie Frazier and the people who thought this should be a playoff team.
Everyone in this organization should be on notice. If this is a rebuilding job, are these coaches and personnel experts the right people to do the rebuilding?
As I said above, I like Terry Ryan's first two moves. Carroll can catch the ball and get on base, which makes him light years better than anyone who played shortstop for the Twins last year. Ryan Doumit can catch, play first base and rightfield, meaning he could be the perfect complement to Joe Mauer in a season in which we have no idea how often Mauer will play and where he'll wind up.
Most of the people disappointed with these moves expected the Twins to spend $100 million on someone like Jose Reyes. Not gonna happen, people. Be realists. Spending ridiculous money on the best free agent on the market (Mauer) is exactly how the Twins wound up in this mess.
Congratulations to Dan Monson on his team's upset of Pitt. Monson's not a bad guy or a bad coach, he was just a terrible fit for Minnesota. Dan: My apologies for taking cheap shots at you. Best of luck at Long Beach State, which is probably just the right kind of program for a good coach who doesn't like the Midwest or unrealistic expectations.
After getting 8 million emails telling me the Penn State child rape scandal is none of the NCAA's business, the NCAA is now investigating the program for lack of institutional control.
Which is exactly what should happen.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. today, and again at 6:15 with Tom Pelissero. Sunday, we have Chuck Fletcher lined up for Sunday Morning Sports Talk (10-noon) as well as Kevin Seifert and possibly another guest.
My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
The Wolves really are cursed. They finally inspire hope with the hiring of Rick Adelman, and now they might not have a season.
My knee-jerk, Twitter-enabled reaction to the NBA players union shunning the owner's latest offer was that the players are being foolish. They're giving up huge money that they'll never make back while fighting over terms many of them don't even understand. (I'm not insulting their intelligence; I don't understand most of these deep financial negotiations, either.)
But I should be more even-handed. The owners are just as much to blame as the players. They were on the verge of a great deal for them, and by trying to wring the last dime and concession out of the players that they could, they did the worst thing they possibly could have done: They pushed the players into shutting down negotiations and lawyering up.
Whether it's divorce or sports negotiations, it's never a good sign when one or both sides invest heavily in power lawyers. Because power lawyers aren't there to get a fair deal. They're there to prove their worth by crushing the opponent. They're there to rack up billable hours.
I could still see a deal getting done in the next three weeks, could see the owners realizing they pushed too far and working to save the season with a reasonable deal. But now it's a long-shot, and David Stern is just as much to blame as the players.
It's nice that the Gophers basketball team keeps beating overmatched opponents, but the measure of a Tubby Smith Minnesota team is whether they can win a close game against a decent Big Ten team by running a real offense in crunch time. Until I see that, I'm not going to be impressed.
If you enjoyed watching the Lynx, like women's basketball or just like to watch a talented athlete of any gender or age develop, I recommend watching the Gopher women and freshman point guard Rachel Banham.
She's a dynamnic ballhandler who can shoot, finish and set up here teammates. She's the most talented player the Gophers have had since Lindsay Whalen left.
With the NBA locked out and the football teams stinking it up, we're pretty close to becoming a hockey town. (Or hockey cities.)
What's encouraging about the local hockey teams is that the Gophers look like they're much tougher physically and mentally than they've been in years. They don't wimp out around the net or in the corners, and they bounced back from a tough loss at Wisconsin with an impressive victory.
And while it's always risky to jump to conclusions at any point of the long NHL season, it appears Mike Yeo has the presence of a winning coach. It's funny, too, that the way they're playing now reminds you a lot of the way Wild played under Lemaire - responsible defensively, and making the most of the few goals they score.
You are entitled to be underwhelmed by the Twins' signing of shortstop Jamey Carroll, but this is the kind of reasonable, subtle, important move that the Twins need to make.
No matter what their payroll, they're not going to outspend big-market teams for premier talent. They have to use their money wisely, and Carroll, while limited, is a great upgrade over everyone who played shortstop for the Twins last year.
Now the Twins need to sign someone who can either catch 140 games if needed, or can move around the diamond and sub at catcher for Joe Mauer.
If only Trevor Plouffe could catch....
Aaron Rodgers is so good that, for the first time since I started writing about the NFL in 1989, I'm startled when a pass falls incomplete.
He completed 23 of 30 passes on Monday night. The web site Profootballfocus.com reported that of the 27 passes he tried to complete (wasn't spiking or throwing away), he completed 23, and his receivers dropped three of his four incompletions.
I know a lot of Minnesotans love to hate the Pack, but I like watching greatness no matter what color it wears. This is greatness.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
By late last night, when I was done talking to people about Terry Ryan's return to the general manager's job with the Minnesota Twins, I got the sense that Bill Smith was ready to step down.
I don't think he had the stomach for making sweeping changes in the organization, for apportioning blame to people he liked. I think the Pohlads wanted answers, and a plan, and Smith wanted to stay the course and hope that better health would fix what ailed the franchise.
As I wrote in today's paper, Twins employees were heartened by the look in Ryan's eye. I know when I spoke with him privately he looked and sounded intense. He feels it is his responsibility to fix this franchise.
Smith was viewed differently by people at different levels of the organization. Those who worked closely with him admired his work ethic and appreciated his low-key management style. Those above him stopped having faith in him as a No. 1 decision-maker. And many of those below him found him scatter-brained, distracted by his willingness to fill his plate with disparate tasks (he'd sometimes interrupt a meeting about free agents to discuss work that needed to be done on the spring training ballpark in Fort Myers), and difficult to communicate with.
In all, Smith did about as well as could have been expected for an administrator in a position that usually demands personnel expertise. He presided over three highly successful seasons. But as the Twins' organization became less a product of Ryan's philosophies and handiwork and more a product of Smith's tenure, we all saw problems arising.
Minor-league players came to the big leagues unprepared to compete, and sometime unprepared to hit a cutoff man. Players lingered on the disabled list. Joe Mauer went soft without being called on the carpet. Smith signed Nishioka as much for marketing reasons as baseball reasons, and it wound up backfiring horribly on two fronts: Nishioka couldn't play, the player he was supposed to replace, J.J. Hardy, had a career year in Baltimore.
Ryan brings personnel expertise to the job. He also brings leadership. I don't see him being able to fix the Twins in the short term, but he will move them back towards respectability, both on the field and throughout the organization.
Joe Paterno should not coach this weekend, and if he is as guilty of inaction as he appears to be in the Jerry Sandusky case, he should never coach again.
He failed as a leader. He failed as a human. He should go away, quickly and quietly.
If the Vikings ever want to be taken seriously again as an organization that values its reputation, and if the Wilfs can even remember issuing the ``Code of Conduct'' in the wake of the Love Boat, and if Chris Cook is found guilty of strangling his girlfriend, the team needs to cut ties with him.
Let due process take its course. If Cook is found guilty, the Vikings can't have him on their roster. Not if they ever want to be taken seriously again as an organization that cares about its reputation.
What Cook allegedly did is much worse than anything that happened on the so-called Love Boat. Violence against women can't be tolerated by a responsible group of owners and team executives.
Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. today. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
There are certain questions I get asked repeatedly. Let me provide a few answers:
1. I don't write headlines. If you love the headline, I don't get the credit. If you hate the headline, I'll take the blame if you like, but I didn't write it. And while we have a dedicated team of editors who do their best to capture the spirit of a column in the headline, please don't read the headline and fire off an angry email. The opinion expressed in the column might be slightly different, or less vehement, than the headline suggests.
2. I don't write ``articles.'' I write ``columns.'' The difference, and my business does a terrible job of differentiating these things, is that articles are supposed to be based in objectivity and reporting, while a column allows the auithor to express opinions and his or her perspective. It's my job to write opinion pieces, so if you're shocked to see me writing opinion, well, we in my industry haven't done a very good job of explaining to you that that is my role.
The line has blurred over the years, with more beat writers (people assigned to cover specific teams or leagues) writing more opinion pieces, but essentially my job is to do my homework and then tell you what I think. A beat writer's job is to bring you the news.
3. I don't dislike Jerry Kill, and I wouldn't be surprised if, in three years or so, he's fielding a competitive Big Ten team. In fact, I like the guy. I like open, honest, intense people.
I criticized the timing of his contract extension because it looks to me like another amateurish decision by the overseers of Gophers athletics. I'm not calling for him to be fired; I'm saying that he should be forced to prove himself like anyone else in any line of work before he's rewarded.
Sorry, a one-point win at home over Iowa doesn't justify the extension. It was a nice moment and a sign that Kill hasn't lost his players, which is a positive development. But as I've said before, if beating Iowa at home is such a monumental achievement, why didn't Jeff Horton get the job?
4. I haven't been as hard on Leslie Frazier as many of you would have liked because I had low expectations for this team entering the season. I figured this was a 7-9 team, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's about where this team ends up.
I think Frazier is learning on the job, and that should be expected. To me, the key to his tenure might be how his offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, handles the offense now that Christian Ponder is in place. Musgrave is highly respected around the league as a quarterbacks coach. Now he has to prove he can run an offense effectively. Sunday was a start, with Musgrave using Percy Harvin creatively and getting Adrian Peterson involved in the passing game.
5. I haven't been as hard on Ron Gardenhire as many of you would like because I think the average fan is nuts when it comes to evaluating managers. Take the World Series. Both managers made egregious strategical errors, and yet Ron Washington almost guided his team to a title, and Tony La Russa won the title with a team that shouldn't have even been there.
All managers, even the greats, make moves that make us scratch our heads. And no manager can win without pitching depth and talent.
I didn't see Gardenhire performing any differently this season than he did when the Twins were considered baseball's model franchise. He's not the X factor.
6. Don't take my predictions any more seriously than I do. After all, I thought the Twins were going to be good last year.
7. I'm hearing that the NBA lockout will end within three weeks, and that the owners will get pretty much the deal they wanted all along. They always planned to make the players miss a paycheck or two, knowing that would bring them all the leverage they need to finalize a deal.
8. I don't expect the Twins to re-sign Joe Nathan or Michael Cuddyer. The Twins value them both, but once a player hits the open market, someone is going to bid more than the Twins. That's just reality. If the Twins really wanted Cuddyer back, they wouldn't have offered him $16 million over two years, which was bound to insult Cuddyer's agent if not Cuddyer himself.
9. Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 p.m. today, and all weekdays, with Reusse and Mackey. My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
Before I get to the news of the week, I'd like to share a thoughts from Tom Kelly that didn't fit into my Wednesday newspaper column.
I spoke with TK on the phone yesterday. He was at home, and that was a reminder that Kelly retired when he could have easily kept working and making $1 million a year or more. His friends have always told me that he's managed his money extremely well. The last time I visited Tom at home, he showed off an amazing backyard garden that he and his wife must spend hours on, and he seemed remarkably relaxed and happy.
Meanwhile his old friend and sparring partner, Tony La Russa, has padded his resume to the point where there's no doubt he'll be in the Hall of Fame, even if he keeps making mistakes the way he did on Monday night.
When I asked Kelly about the fact that some national writers are comparing this World Series to the 1991 classic, Kelly didn't seem too impressed. But then he mentioned something I didn't expect.
``I thought we pitched pretty well in '91,'' Kelly said. ``Scotty Erickson had some trouble, but we all know he was pitching with a bad elbow. He went out there when maybe he shouldn't have, and that's something I'll have to live with.''
It is well-known that Erickson pitched through elbow pain. And after dominating in 1991, Erickson was never quite the same. I thought it was remarkable that after all this time, Kelly would still feel regrets about Erickson putting himself at risk.
Next time you want to celebrate that '91 team, you might want to remember Erickson's guts, as well as Puckett's homer and Jack Morris' glare.
My old Dallas Morning News colleague Blackie Sherrod used to write a Sunday notes column called ``Scattershooting.'' Well, ``colleague'' is too strong a word. I don't know if Sherrod knew who I was.
But ``scattershooting'' is a good way to get to the news of the day today...
1. It's easy to bash Bernard Berrian today. He deserves it. He's been an unproductive pain in the butt for too long. But before we all rip the Vikings for ever signing him, let's remember that he had a very good season in 2008 while playing with Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson. He caught 48 passes for 964 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging an impressive 20.1 yards per catch.
His career turned when Brett Favre came to town and decided he didn't trust Berrian a whole lot. If Favre had thrown to a wide-open Berrian in the NFC championship game, instead of forcing a pass to Sidney Rice that was intercepted, Berrian could have been a part of a Super Bowl winner.
I'm not excusing Berrian's play or behaviour the last two years. He deserved to get cut. I'm just saying that the guy wasn't a complete bust until 2010.
2. The Vikings made the right move, suspending Chris Cook without pay. I don't know if much more needs to be said.
3. After speaking with a few people, I think Joe Nathan probably is gone for good. I sense that he wants to pitch for a winner, and I don't think the Twins currently qualify. I also think that once he hits the open market his feelings of allegiance to the Twins will disappear. Just a guess at this point, but that's the guess I'm going with.
4. Yes, the Jerry Kill contract is a joke. The man agreed to five-year deal. Then he started 1-6 while his team was embarrassed in every Big Ten game it played. Also: He suffered a seizure on the sideline.
I think the University should have stuck to its five-year deal. Adding two more years, and offering a raise, is foolishness.
5. Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today with Reusse and Mackey.
6. I'm hearing Game 6 of the World Series will be postponed. There's also rain in the forecast for tomorrow night. This could be a long week, and I think the longer it lasts, the more of an advantage the Cardinals have, because every day of postponement is a day of rest for ace Chris Carpenter.
7. Tom Pelissero and myself will conduct Sunday Sports Talk from Carolina on Sunday. We'll be there to cover the Vikings game, and will be on from 10-noon locally.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib, and I"ll be tweeting from Winter Park today.
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