Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I never pass up an opportunity to pile on and stuff...

More correspondence with Messr. Elkon in reference to this post on Stewart Mandel's most recent mailbag.

I wanted to touch on something in the column that Michael only briefly touched on and which I think provides some insight as to Mandel's view toward his job. Done (poorly) in FJM style...

Stewart, is Ralph Friedgen making a huge mistake in leaning towards Jordan Steffy as Maryland's starting quarterback over transfer Josh Portis? What I have seen of Steffy so far has been far from impressive, and Portis seems like a perfect fit for Fridge's offense (a la former Georgia Tech QB Joe Hamilton). What gives?
--Brandon, College Park, Md.

That's a good question.

Nice start for Stewart. Appreciative. And it is a good question. QB controversies are usually news, and an athletic, mobile QB has had success in Friedgen's offense before. Indeed, what gives?

Back when Portis decided to transfer to Maryland from Florida (where, if he stayed, he'd now be competing with Tim Tebow), I assumed Friedgen would just hand him the starting job in '07 if for no other reason than to avoid the wrath of Portis' psycho mother.

Anecdotal and slightly humorous, yet offers no analysis. Akin to "this guy should start because he 'looks good in a uniform' or 'has a name that sounds like a linebacker'".

But without having seen Portis play beyond a few meaningless snaps at Florida, I'm not sure I'm equipped to answer the question.

Thank you Joe Morgan. You are paid to know something about football. You have done exactly 2 mailbags since January. You are under no immediate pressure to provide an answer to this question. You can (a) call the Maryland SID and ask for some practice film, perhaps make a call to Friedgen himself or the OC or QB coach, track down some old coaches at Florida for insight or film, etc., simply do some, ANY leg work on this; or (b) you can say nothing of consequence and either shrug off the question or farm it out.

So I've called in a guest expert, Heather Dinich, the Baltimore Sun's all-knowing Terrpains beat writer, whose Blog is a must-read both for her expertise on the Terps and her highly amusing comebacks at some of the "haters" who post on her comments board.

You choose (b). So a guy from Maryland asks you a question to get some information he might not find elsewhere, and you engage a source he probably already reads (you called her "must read") to answer it. Also, nice dig at message board denizens - gotta defend the turf of elite media.

Regarding Portis, Heather says: "Everybody WANTS to see Portis because of all the hype surrounding him, and his exciting promise of athletic ability, but he's only a 'perfect fit' for Friedgen's offense if he knows it. Ralph has nearly 200 different pass patterns that can be run from about 15 different formations. Until Ralph is convinced Portis has an understanding of everything, Portis is going to be behind Steffy -- who has had more time to learn the system and spent all of last season calling plays in from the sidelines. There might also be a wee bit of politics involved. (Gasp!) It certainly isn't as if Ralph can afford to have Steffy transfer. Bottom line? Neither one of them has proven anything yet."

Heather's response seems more reasoned than Mandel's, but in actuality, it's not really a response. The questioner asks if it's a mistake to lean toward Steffy, says Steffy's been unimpressive in what he's seen, and implies that Portis is a better fit for his physical gifts. Dinich's response doesn't say if it's a mistake or not, doesn't say anything about Steffy's ability on the field, and seems to agree with the questioner that Portis is better physically. She suggests that Portis might not know the system, but she doesn't say that precisely. If it's true, just say it. Then she says nobody's proven anything. So what we now know is that (1) Steffy has had more time in the program, (2) Friedgen's system is complex, (3) and Portis is athletic. What we don't know from this response is (1) whether the hype surrounding Portis is deserved, (2) whether Portis is good enough of an athlete to overcome Steffy's advantage with knowledge of the system, (3) exactly how bad Portis' grasp of the system is, (4) whether Steffy is as unimpressive as the questioner presents, (5) what happened on the practice fields during the spring, (6) what the coaches think, (7) what "politics" have to do with this, and (8) why Friedgen can't have Steffy transfer. Basically all we know is what someone who can look up school class of the 2 QBs can know via Google. And, believe it or not, that response is actually more informative than Mandel's usually are.

By the way, I would have pegged Steffy -- who played a bit in 2004 -- as an eighth-year senior himself, but it turns out he's only a fourth-year junior.

And we're back to the beginning: Anecdotal and slightly humorous, yet offers no analysis.
What's odd about this question is Mandel's incuriosity, how he doesn't really want to do any legwork, and also his willingness to let us know that he doesn't know anything or want to do anything to learn anything.

See, if I'm an editor, on January 9th I'm starting to brainstorm potential storylines for the next season. One that comes up every single year: QB controversies. If I'm a national writer, I'd identify the 5-10 schools where there might be a QB controversy (or even just a new QB) early on, and I'd be at their spring games, I'd watch every second of game film, I'd have close contacts with their current coaches and their former coaches. Off the top of my head, I'd be thinking about this at Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and probably a few others. And if I get some emails from people wondering about Maryland, that'd send off a signal that I should be doing the same there. And maybe I wouldn't run a response in the first mailbag that displayed for all to see how little I knew about the situation. Maybe I'd take the time to find something out about the question, serve as an information filter, process and analyze what I learn, and then respond adequately. But that's just me. I'm not a college football journalist, and he is, so perhaps I shouldn't tell him how to do his job. Or perhaps I shouldn't have to.

I'll try to take note on future mailbags to see if Mandel actually answers his questions or if he just relies on conventional wisdom and gut-level responses. I do not expect to learn anything.