49ers Postmortem; Pac-12 Overpayment Fiasco; Another Black Coach Denied; Terry's Travails
Sometimes life isn't fair.
The 49er's glorious run of 12 straight victories, seven of them led by former third-string rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, ended in inglorious fashion yesterday after Purdy was knocked out of the game on the opening series.
At that point, for all intents and purposes, the game was over. Fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson was clearly overmatched, unable to get plays off on time on four occasions, and fumbling a shotgun snap to set up an Eagles touchdown. He was later knocked out of the game, and Purdy returned, unable to throw because of his injured elbow.
As a result, the 49ers offense became one dimensional. As in Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey was outstanding, but he couldn't do it alone, particularly after the Eagles realized he was going to get the ball on almost every play.
The officials didn't help matters. The Eagles first touchdown was set up by a fourth down pass "completion" to the six yard line, except replays showed it wasn't a catch. Their second and third touchdown drives were kept alive by four penalties on the 49ers that negated stops. In all, the 49ers were flagged 11 times.
Speaking of flags, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who has done an incredible job this season, should be faulted for not throwing the challenge flag on that fourth-down first quarter pass. Receiver DeVonta Smith signaled that the team should hurry up to get off another play, and the Eagles lined up quickly to snap the ball.
Usually, that indicates a team might be worried about a call being overturned. So instead of turning the ball over on downs, the Eagles scored a TD on the next play.
Bottom line: a highly-anticipated matchup between two terrific teams became a tedious, painful-to-watch, demoralizing, one-sided affair.
The 49ers, and millions of fans, deserved much better.
Pac-12 Overpayment Mess: If it wasn't enough to lose two marquee programs to the Big Ten, or to have found few bidders for your media rights, the Pac-12 Conference now has to deal with the fallout from an embarrassing financial fiasco. The latest blemish on the Pac-12 punching bag is the discovery that the conference owes Comcast $50 million. Turns out Comcast, the largest cable distributor for the Pac-12 Network, overpaid the conference for subscriber fees for several years. The excess payments began as far back as 2016 (possibly earlier according to some reports) and were confirmed by an audit in ’17 requested by then Pac-12 Network president Lydia Murphy Stevens and later concluded under new president Mark Shuken. But Shuken and CFO Brent Willman apparently decided to keep the overpayment news to themselves. Apparently. Last year, after Comcast started asking questions, the Pac-12 Board commissioned an independent investigation by a Palo Alto law firm, which again confirmed the overpayment and failure to report. So Shuken and Willman were summarily fired.
Questions: Many mysteries remain at this point. What was former commissioner Larry’s Scott’s role in this mess? Why did Shuken and Willman sit on this? Why did Comcast keep making payments after the overpayment was discovered?
In my mind there's zero chance that Shuken and Willman would not have informed Scott and, in all probability, the Pac-12’s general counsel, Woodie Dixon. Knowing how Scott and Dixon operate, and understanding the difficult position new commissioner George Kliafkoff finds himself in, it's clear that Shuken and Willman were thrown under the bus. They're the fall guys for this debacle. Any standup commissioner, when confronted with this news, would've immediately launched his own investigation into the overpayment. Not Larry Scott.
Not only did Scott fail to look into it, he neglected to tell the league’s presidents and chancellors. Scott may have kept it quiet because he wanted to inflate the league's value. At the time 1) he was trying to sell a 10% stake in the league’s media rights for $500M and wanted to make the Pac-12 Networks look like a thriving, viable entity; 2) he was angling for a contract extension; and 3) his bonus was based on league revenues. I have personal experience with Scott and have written often about his incompetence, arrogance and duplicity. There's likely more to this story, and it will only serve to further damage Scott's already shattered reputation. Media Rights Quest Drags On: One must pity current Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, who inherited this mess. He's now dealing with the optics of the departure of his two biggest schools, the firing of two executives, and the prospect of repaying $50M, while trying to negotiate the Pac-12’s new media rights deal. I doubt the league will have to write a check for $50M to Comcast. It's likely that Comcast will simply withhold payments to the Pac-12 until it has recouped the overpayment, meaning that all the Pac-12 schools will receive about $4 million less in payouts.
As for the media rights negotiations, the drama continues. You may recall this was supposed to be wrapped up by Thanksgiving. But Kliavkoff has found little interest at the price tag he is asking.
There has been talk about awarding the entire package to a streaming service, such as Amazon or Apple, which would be tantamount to suicide. ESPN is the only logical suitor at this point.
The conference recently announced it was moving its Pac-12 Network production facilities from San Francisco to San Ramon. I wouldn't be surprised to see the network disappear and transition into a production house to provide Pac-12 Olympic sports content for Amazon or Apple.
Black Coach Bypassed Again: We've seen this movie before. Carolina Panthers' interim head coach Steve Wilks, who'd done such an admirable job after taking over the team when Matt Ruhle was fired, was passed over for the permanent job. Wilks, a black man, took over a 1-4 Panther team in complete disarray and led it to a 6-6 record and into playoff contention. But that wasn't good enough for owner David Pepper, who instead went for Frank Reich, fired in mid-season last year as head coach at Indianapolis.
This is the second time this has happened to Wilks. Earlier, he was fired after one year as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals so the team could hire Kliff Klingsbury, supposedly an offensive mastermind, who'd had a losing record at Texas Tech. Klingsbury, of course, was just fired by Arizona after four disappointing seasons.
The message here is clear. White coaches like Reich, Klingsbury and Ruhle (just hired at Nebraska) get multiple chances. Black coaches like Wilks and Brian Flores, fired after three solid years in Miami, get very few opportunities, and when they do, the hook is very quick if they don't immediately produce excellent results. And second chances are very rare.
Gone Too Soon: Interesting article last week in SI about Tyrell Terry, the former Stanford basketball guard who turned pro after his freshman season. Terry recently retired from the sport for mental health reasons after two unsuccessful, depressing and anxiety producing seasons in the NBA. He played only 13 games in the NBA and spent most of his time either inactive or playing in the G League.
The otherwise excellent article failed to mention one of the most obvious points--Terry never should've left Stanford after just one year. He needed additional time to prepare himself for the rigors of the NBA. He needed time to mature, develop his skills, eliminate the turnovers and silly mistakes, add weight to his very slight frame and gain confidence in himself.
Instead, he rushed into the NBA after one year--yes, making a good chunk of money--but enduring two miserable years and then deciding to give up the sport that he loved.