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Super Turnaround; McDaniel Hired; Someone in Washington is Paying Attention to Coaching Salaries

Two seasons ago, the Cincinnati Bengals had a 2-14 record and were the worst team in football. With the first pick in the 2020 draft, the Bengals chose Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow, who’d led LSU to college football's national championship.

It was the beginning of one of the most dramatic turnarounds in football history.

But no one would’ve predicted it a year ago. The Bengals went 4-11-1 and Burrow spent most of his rookie season running for his life behind an awful offensive line.

In fact, things still looked pretty bleak going into this season. Burrow was rehabbing from reconstructive knee surgery. Head coach Zac Taylor was on the hot seat after posting a 6-25-1 record through his first two seasons. Oddsmakers were predicting a last-place finish in the AFC.

But the Bengals won the tough NFL north—over the Steelers, Browns and Ravens—with a 10-7 record, then beat the Las Vegas Raiders in the wild card round, upset the No. 1 seeded Tennessee Titans in the divisional round, and upset the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game, with both upsets coming on the road.

This improbable rise from the NFL ashes required not only drafting Burrow, but picking his LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase a year later, and signing five important free agents—defensive end Trey Hendrickson, offensive tackle Riley Reiff, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and cornerback Mike Hilton.

Burrow had a storybook 2021 season, completing 70% of his passes for 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns. Chase caught 81 passes for 1455 yards and 13 TDs. The free agents stabilized the offensive line and plugged holes in a porous defense.

On Sunday Burrow will try to become only the third quarterback ever to win the Heisman Trophy and start for a winning team in the Super Bowl. The others: Jim Plunkett and Roger Staubach.

We like his chances.

Hallelujah: 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel was hired as Miami's new head coach. McDaniel, whose father is black, is the year’s first minority hire after the first six spots went to white men.

The 38-year-old McDaniel did not play football at any significant level and studied history at Yale before starting his coaching career as an intern with the Denver Broncos. He slowly worked his way up the NFL coaching ladder, becoming the 49ers' run game coordinator in 2017 and their offensive coordinator in January 2021.

The 49ers, who mortgaged much of their future in trading up to draft quarterback Trey Lance, will receive third round picks in 2022 and 2023 as compensation for developing a minority assistant who was hired for a head coaching job.

But here’s a great idea from The Athletic’s Mike Sando: “If the NFL is as serious as it says it is regarding diversity, why not reward teams with a compensatory first-round pick for hiring head coaches of color?” The league could add second or third round choices if the coach remained employed for two or three years, increasing the chances of him receiving a legitimate opportunity.

Someone in Washington is Paying Attention: Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey, is the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight. He’s been looking into the exorbitant salaries being paid to college football and basketball coaches, which we’ve written about in this space many times.

Pascrell just sent a letter to Stanford president Mark Tessier-Lavigne requesting information about how the University’s athletics program is furthering the educational purposes for which the school receives a tax exemption.

“Recent reports about the compensation that your school will pay its football coaches have raised significant concerns about whether the university is operating consistent with its tax exempt status,” Pascrell wrote. “It is unclear how such lucrative compensation contracts further your overall educational mission and benefit your student body as a whole.”

Pascrell’s letter stems from Stanford football coach David Shaw’s $8.9 million compensation in 2019. He has sent similar letters to LSU, USC, Michigan State, Miami and Rutgers.

“Americans across the country have a right to know if their tax dollars are being wrongly used to pad the pockets of athletic coaches in public and private institutions of higher education,” Pascrell says. “Our Subcommittee will keep shining a light on any possible abuses of our tax code.”

The letter includes several pages of questions that Stanford must answer by March 4.

Among the questions: “Who is the university’s highest paid employee and how much does such employee earn?”

And “With the increasing commercialization of the university’s football and men’s basketball programs, how does the university distinguish its activities from professional sports leagues?

A lot of us are looking for an answer to that one.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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