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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Posts about Leslie Frazier

Big changes for Wolves, other stuff

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 14, 2011 - 1:04 PM

Leslie Frazier and Christian Ponder just finished speaking at Winter Park.

Frazier said Ponder and Adrian Peterson both look healthy and should be fine for Sunday, and Frazier said Ponder is the unquestioned starter.

I asked Frazier about Joe Webb's future, and Frazier, while complimentary, said he's not sure how Webb's career will play out.

Also: Vikings longsnapper Cullen Loeffler was named to the USA Football All-Fundamentals team. He receives a $1,500 grant that he plans to donate to his high school, Tom Moore High, in Texas.

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Congratulations to Tom Lehman for being named Champions Tour player of the year.

Somehow, I had never spent much time around Lehman. When I covered the Masters, he was rarely there, and when he was there, he wasn't playing well.

I covered his second-place finish at the 3M Championship last summer, and found him to be very thoughtful and honest in assessing his career. As I wrote then, he had reasons to lament that his career could have been better, but in the big picture he went from a fringe golfer to Ryder Cup captain and major champion, and he did it with class.

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Spent the last two days at Wolves practice, and Rick Adelman allows the media inside in time to watch a portion of scrimmaging. As I wrote in today's paper, Ricky Rubio is making a good first impression on his teammates and coach, and I really didn't expect that, given his struggles in Europe last season.

I don't think he'll ever be a star or post gaudy statistics, but I think he can run an offense and a fastbreak, which would make him an immense upgrade over Jonny Flynn.

I love the J.J. Barea signing, too. The guy can score and penetrate. He's not a great defender, but he fits perfectly here as a dynamic point guard who speaks Spanish. He's an ideal signing.

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Realignment is going to be a godsend for the Wild, which is struggling to sell tickets even as the team sits atop the NHL.

The atmosphere in Winnipeg last night seemed raucous. Blackhawk and Red Wing fans will love coming to Minneapolis for games. The Wild is going to have real, geographic, intense rivalries with teams featuring crazed fan bases, and we'll get to watch more road games at a reasonable time on TV.

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Anyone harboring an old-school, tough-it-out mentality about head shots and concussions is going to have to join the modern era of sports. I found it amazing that a number of ESPN analysts tried to defend James Harrison's helmet-to-helmet hit on Colt McCoy.

The more we find out about concussions, the more we should understand how devastating they are to an athlete's career and life. Athletes need to be protected from unecessary shots to the head. Harrison launched himself, helmet-first, into McCoy's head. He got off easy with a one-game suspension.

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If it's true that Josh Willingham is in and Michael Cuddyer will no longer be a Twin, I'm in favor of the move as an analyst and I hate the move as a human being.

Cuddyer is one of the best people I've covered in sports. I was there the day he took batting practice in the Metrodome the day after signing with the Twins, and I found him to be one of the most honest and down-to-earth athletes I've ever encountered.

In terms of baseball value, though, the Twins got Willingham for less money, and would pick up two draft picks if Cuddyer signs elsewhere. For a rebuilding team stuck with huge contracts like Joe Mauer's and Justin Morneau's, this is a sensible decision, to sign Willingham.

Willingham is a similar player to Cuddyer. The draft picks and affordability make him more attractive as a free agent than Cuddyer.

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I'd include a section here on Gopher basketball, but until they start playing real opponents, I don't care about the program or the season. Who cares if they can beat an overmatched small school? All that will matter is how they perform in the Big Ten, and this team will have to prove it's tough enough and talented enough to compete in the conference.

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Upcoming: I'll be at the Wild game tonight, working on a future column, and will be on 1500espn at 2:05 today and every weekday with Reusse and Mackey. My twitter name is @Souhanstrib.

Bad day of coaching

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 5, 2011 - 6:54 AM

Big picture: The Vikings are much better off losing these games and landing the second pick in the draft, and facing their shortcomings, than they are winning meaningless games and making themselves feel better as the end of the year looms.

Small picture: That was a poorly-coached team that lost to the Broncos on Sunday.

Writing opinion for a living can make you look pretty silly. My column in the Sunday paper made the point that while the Vikings' coaching staff hasn't distinguished itself, it's a lack of personnel and depth that is the Vikings' biggest problem.

I'll stick with that opinion, but the Vikings' coaching staff failed in pretty much every area on Sunday.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave often left Kyle Rudolph, perhaps his best possession receiver, on the sideline on obvious passing downs. He sometimes even left Percy Harvin, the best player on the field, on the sidelines, too.

It's always hard to tell who's at fault when a unit collapses, but the defensive backs having no idea what their responsibilities were is frightening, considering that Leslie Frazier was a cornerback and defensive coordinator Fred Pagac has plenty of experience in the league and with this group.

And Frazier once again allowed his faith in his players to overwhelm logic. Saying that he didn't allow the Broncos to score because believed his players could block a short field goal attempt, well, that defies logic.

The Vikings probably wouldn't have won the game if they had allowed the Broncos to score quickly, but at least they would have a had a chance, and at least they would have had some control over the outcome. Instead, they played for a block of what was essentially an extra point. How often do extra points get blocked?

Almost never.

Frazier is a man of faith and likes to believe in his players. But the NFL is a game of probabilities. Frazier needs to learn how to play the odds, and he may have to learn within the next four games, to give Zygi Wilf a sign that he's making progress on the job.

Wilf takes losses hard, and I don't know if I've ever seen him more ashen-faced than when he left the lockerroom on Sunday. Frazier should take note.

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The Wild had another comeback win on the road last night, beating Anaheim, and Josh Harding was outstanding in the third period.

The Wild now has more points than any other team in the NHL, but what I'm watching is the point total for the eighth-place team in the West. What's really important is for the Wild to make the playoffs, and it has an eight-point lead over the teams tied for eighth in the West.

As far as they've come, that doesn't give them a tremendous margin for error.

Their goals differential is plus-9, the fourth-best mark in the West. They're tied for sixth in the conference in goals scored. To stay near the top of the conference, they'll eventually have to score more goals.

So far, they have far exceeded expectations, and on a team without any true stars, it's hard not to give most of the credit to Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo.

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About the only criticism remaining of Aaron Rodgers was that he has led relatively few fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, compared with the great quarterbacks with whom he statistically compares.

Did you see that drive on Sunday? It was surgical.

I've been saying all year that I think the Packers can go undefeated, not because they win easily every week, but because their offense seems to be able to score anytime it needs to.

What I wonder is if the mental wear and tear of trying to remain undefeated could cost the Packers in the playoffs. It's hard to play under pressure week after week.

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today and every weekday with Reusse & Mackey.

My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

 

Today's LPR

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: December 2, 2011 - 9:30 AM

Today's LPR, my Local Power Rankings of revenue sports, sees little change. For good reason.

1. Minnesota Wild

While most local sports fans were reveling in the Gopher basketball team beating a mediocre, unranked opponent at home, the most impressive victory on Wednesday night was the Wild coming back from a 2-0 deficit in Edmonton to win in a shootout.

Now the Wild needs to survive a stretch of the schedule in which 20 of its 29 games are on the road. They won't have the best record in the West at the end of that stretch, but if they can remain in the middle of the playoff pack, they'll be set up well for the stretch run.

Mike Yeo has got to be the coach of the year in the NHL right now, and Chuck Fletcher has to be among the leading candidates for executive of the year, given that his trades improved the Wild's prospects for the future as well as improved the team this year.

2. Golden Gopher hockey

Time for this team to prove it's not going to fade away like so many other Lucia products. They've proven they have plenty of talent; now they have to show some grit.

3. Golden Gopher basketball

Nice win on Wednesday, but the level of cheerleading among local media members is a bit embarrassing. It's our job to put things into context, not do backflips over every victory. Yes, there were positives, like Julian Welch playing well at the point and Elliott Eliason showing great court-sense, and Rodney Williams looking comfortable at power forward.

Here's the proper context, though: Tubby Smith has beaten highly-ranked teams from Louisville and North Carolina during the non-conference schedule during his tenure at Minnesota, and those victories did not catapult his team to great heights. Beating Virginia Tech at home doesn't prove a whole lot more than this team can beat Virginia Tech at home.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

I don't like to see arena workers losing paychecks, so I can't be thrilled that the NBA went through a lockout and will play a shortened season. But from a selfish standpoint, this is perfect. Early-season NBA games can be horrid and meaningless. Now we get a 66-game season that will really get rolling right about the time football wraps up, and any winning streak the Wolves can muster could actually make a difference in the standings.

I'm most intrigued not by Ricky Rubio, but by how Rick Adelman will coach a bunch of players with a certain amount of skill but no real idea of how to play the game.

5. Minnesota Twins

Terry Ryan, Wayne Krivsky and Gene Glynn are all good hires, and Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit were good, subtle, acquisitions. But the pitching staff is a mess, and without Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel the outfield will be, too.

I'm highly intrigued to see if Ryan make a bold move or merely hopes for improvement within the current roster.

6. Golden Gopher football

They haven't lost in, like, two weeks. Is that some sort of record?

7. Minnesota Vikings

I wrote about Leslie Frazier and the Vikings' front office for the Sunday paper. If you really care about this team, all you should be hoping for now is positive developments in the stadium chase, a healthy end of the season for players like Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen, and the highest-possible draft pick.

In other words, lose, baby, lose.

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A follow-up to my column today on the ills of high-profile college coaching: I prefer pro sports to college sports. Pro sports are inherently honest. You win or you get fired. You produce or you get cut. No one is pretending to be Mother Teresa. I admire high school and small-college coaches who obviously aren't in it for the money, who actually do have a positive effect on their kids and sometimes their communities.

Only in large-revenue college athletics do you have the disconnect of rich, domineering coaches who, when they lose, want to tell you that they're molders of young men. Only in large-revenue college athletics on insular campuses could men like Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine be able to use the auspices of a program to lure victims, and not get caught.

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today for my regular appearance on Reusse & Mackey, then I'm filling in for Joe Soucheray on Garage Logic on the same station from 3-6. I'll also be on Tom Pelissero's show at about 6:15.

My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

Enjoy the weekend.

 

Second-guessing the second-guessing

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: November 28, 2011 - 8:20 AM

In real time, sitting in the press box at the Georgia Dome, I didn't like the Vikings' play calls on their four-down series inside the Atlanta 5-yard-line in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

But is it possible I didn't like the play calls simply because they didn't work? And didn't one of them essentially work, in that Percy Harvin found himself in the end zone with the football and at least one referee telling him that he had scored?

The Vikings are 2-9. Their coaches are easy targets right now. But with the benefit of time spent thinking about this, I'm not sure they messed up Sunday, even if Leslie Frazier blamed himself for not kicking the field goal.

Let's review:

First-and-goal from the 3: Christian Ponder rolls right and gets sacked. It's not really a bad play call. Using Ponder's speed on a rollout makes sense. I question having only one receiver in the area that Ponder could have easily thrown to - Devin Aromashodu - but the rollout itself wasn't a bad idea.

Second-and-goal from the 5: Percy Harvin runs up the middle. This may not not seem like an ideal play call, but Harvin runs with remarkable power for someone his size, and the play essentially worked, with the offensive line moving the pile and Harvin gaining three yards.

Third-and-goal from the 2: Harvin smashes up the middle again. And again, you can question why Harvin is running power plays at the goal line, except that, like the previous play, this one pretty much worked. Harvin, according to himself and a lot of people watching the game with benefit of more replays than I saw, seemed to score. So if he essentially broke the plane of the goalline with the ball, can we really second-guess the call?

Fourth-and-goal from the 1: Frazier is kicking himself for not kicking the field goal and cutting the Atlanta lead to 7, but doesn't it make sense to try to score when you're on the 1, and your last two running plays worked as designed? This is another easy second-guess I'm not sure we should make.

Toby Gerhart never had a chance on the play. I'd rather question the design of the actual play, which required pulling offensive lineman, than the idea of going for the touchdown, or handing it to Gerhart. If Gerhart is going to have value, it's going to be in backing up Adrian Peterson and running hard between the tackles. On an obvious running down, though, you might want to rely on simplified blocking schemes.

In hindsight, I don't think the Vikings' coaches should be taking so much heat for this sequence.

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I spoke with Harvin after the game, and asked if he's still bothered by migraine headaches.

``That's all behind me,'' he said. ``I haven't had a headache, don't look to have one again. The training staff has been doing great on following all the protocols if anything pops up...but nothing has. We're going to keep with the menu we have and hope for the best.''

The Vikings lost again on Sunday, but what struck me were a few positiives: Harvin's incredible talent and competitiveness, Jared Allen's willingness to long-snap and his hustle while covering punts, and Christian Ponder's poise.

A couple of Viking employees told me that when veterans started expressing frustration on the sideline or in the huddle, it was Ponder who calmed them.

I asked Allen about beating his teammates down the field to force a fair catch, after he served as the long-snapper. ``Don't give me too much credit,'' he said, laughing. ``It's my strategy to beat everyone down there so I don't get blindsided.''

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Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today and every day this week with Reusse and Mackey, and probably joining Tom Pelissero tonight on his show between 6-8.

My twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.

Power rankings, Twins moves, Wild thoughts

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: November 18, 2011 - 2:02 PM

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.

4. Wolves

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.

5. Twins

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.

7. Vikings

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?

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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.

Kudos, Terry.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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