All That and a Bag of Mail

NASHVILLE, TN – DECEMBER 30: Coach Derek Dooley of the Tennessee Volunteers looks for an official as players are cleared from the field after what appeared to a win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl at LP Field on December 30, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee. North Carolina defeated Tennessee 30-27 in double overtime. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Derek Dooley Grant Halverson Getty Images North America

Last week I missed the Friday mailbag because I was traveling to Oakmont for the U.S. Open. It was also the day after our first ever Outkick primetime interview special with former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. So my apologies for missing that Friday.  

Since that time you guys have flooded me with responses to the Dooley interview, the vast, vast majority of which — over 95% — have been incredibly positive. Many of those emails and Tweets and Facebook messages have asked for more details about how the Dooley interview came to happen. So I wanted to answer those questions up here at the top of the mailbag. 

First, Dooley and his camp reached out directly to me with the idea. They wanted to do one interview that could answer all the questions about his time at Tennessee. And they wanted to do it with someone that they knew wouldn’t pull any punches with him during the interview. So they picked me.

Doing it in primetime was their idea — specifically Adam Dicus’s idea — and it was a brilliant way to draw a large so audience. So brilliant that we’re going to be doing more and more of these primetime interviews. I love that the Dooley interview we did last week will be as good to listen to five years from now as it is now.

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to go back and listen to it, I think it was the best interview any head football coach has ever given. At least the best that I’ve ever heard. That’s almost entirely a credit to Derek Dooley, who was willing to be authentic and honest at a time when most coaches are steeped in inauthenticity and dishonesty. 

The night before the interview we went out to dinner and talked for over three hours. It was just three of us, me, Dooley and Dooley’s former chief of staff at Tennessee, Adam Dicus. I told Dooley when we finished dinner that if he was as honest talking during the public interview as he had been during our private conversation that people would love it. 

At the time I thought I might write a long form piece about the interview, but the interview was so detailed and specific, I don’t what more I can add that drastically alters anyone’s perceptions. Just watch it for yourselves. 

But now that I’ve listened to the interview, there are three things that really stuck out to me.

1. How do you deal with failure when you’ve had a lifetime of success?

No matter who you are at some point in time you are going to fail. Most of you won’t fail as publicly as Dooley failed, but I thought his attempts to understand why he failed and grow from it was one of the most fascinating parts of the interview. 

The natural reaction when you fail is to lash out at those around you, but ultimately that’s counterproductive. If you fail and you’re in charge, you bear the responsibility. 

At the age of 27 Derek Dooley decided to became a football coach. By 42 years old he’d become the head coach at the University of Tennessee.

His life was all on an upward trajectory and then the wheels came off and he was fired after three years at Tennessee.

So at 45 years old what made sense for him to do? That’s still incredibly young in coaching years. Hell, Dooley’s still just 48. That’s younger than over half of the coaches in the SEC this upcoming season. Hell, Dooley is younger than Butch Jones.  

Regardless of what you do for a living, how do you rebuild after a tremendous career setback? And how do you decide what to do next? Also, how do you define success? Instead of looking at the end product, how about looking at the process? If you’d told Dooley at 27 years old that by 48 he’d have been an SEC head coach and become a multi-millionaire, who doesn’t sign up for that offer? Only looking at the end result of a particular part of your career journey obscures the trip itself. 

2. We — myself included — are too prone to extremes when it comes to ranking coaches as great or awful.

The vast, vast majority of coaches are somewhere in between great and awful, but social media has created a universe where everything is always the greatest or the worst. That fits the coaching narrative perfectly. 

Dooley contends he’d be a much better coach today than he was when he got his first head coaching job. Yet the perception is that he’d still be awful and that nothing about his tenure at Tennessee was successful. That isn’t fair. Dooley didn’t succeed, but how many coaches would have succeeded at a high level given he took over a program with 52 scholarship athletes? Not many.  

In reality there are probably ten great coaches, after that there’s a huge pile of guys who are good to mediocre and then the number of truly awful coaches is relatively small.  

I don’t believe that Derek Dooley was truly awful. I think he was a young coach who failed, but if he got another coaching opportunity I’m not convinced he’d fail again. He might, but he might win. 

3. The line between success and failure is minuscule. 

His final year at Tennessee Dooley lost games where his teams scored 41, 35, and 31 on the road and 48 at home. How many SEC teams have lost four league games when they scored 31 or more?

Dooley helmed one of the best offenses in Tennessee football history, his defense was just absymal.  

If Dooley doesn’t hire Sal Sunseri and end up with a historically bad defense — or Justin Wilcox doesn’t leave — Tennessee probably wins at least nine games in 2012 and Dooley gets a raise and an extension.

Is it possible that he’s still the coach there today?

Certainly.

I’d encourage all of you to watch or listen to this interview even if you aren’t Tennessee fans.  

On to the mailbag. 

K. writes:

I just read an article from Mike Wilbon on The Undefeated where he basically said he believes OJ committed the double murder, but he celebrated the acquittal because for many years white people had been acquitted of murder and other crimes against black people. I’m a white guy so maybe that’s why I don’t get it, but isn’t this a morally reprehensible viewpoint? Two people were brutally murdered but the killer shouldn’t be brought to justice because of past injustice? It’s insane. Also, you mentioned black privilege the other day on your show. Wouldn’t another black privilege be the ability to say anything racist you want while also being able to call any person or statement you don’t like racist?”

Here’s the money paragraph from Wilbon’s column, which I linked above and I’d encourage you to read because I hate when people pull quotes out of my articles and don’t provide the context that led up to the paragraph being linked:

Why are you cheering his acquittal when there was so much evidence against him?

“Why? Because there has been overwhelming evidence against white murderers and rapists for 400 years. and when black victims got no justice, there was usually zero national outrage. To quote Malcolm X, perhaps the chickens had come home to roost. Turnabout brought some teeny-tiny measure of a sense of universal justice, if not justice in our legal system. For every O.J. Simpson (and there seemed to be only one) there were thousands of Byron De La Beckwiths littering American history, as if the evidence against him wasn’t overwhelming after he murdered Medgar Evers and nonetheless walked for three decades.”

Revenge is a powerful motive, but it isn’t typically grounded in morality. If you believe you’ve been wronged, you’re often willing to support actions that are morally indefensible. I think that’s what Wilbon is hitting at here and I understand his perspective.

Wilbon, who I loved reading when he wrote at the “Washington Post” and I was in college feels, quite rightly, that many black men didn’t receive justice in the past because of their race. So if this black man is acquitted for murdering two white people — even though he did it — it helps to even the scales of justice in his mind. 

I don’t agree with his position, but I understand the perspective when you analyze it from that direction. 

The problem with this position is pretty clear, you don’t achieve lasting justice by consistently providing unjust results. In particular, how many men or women deserve to be acquitted based on the color of their skin to make up for the ones who were unjustly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit based on the color of their skin? How many white people need to be murdered by black people who are then acquitted of the crimes before we’re even?

That kind of retributive justice is what makes countries collapse. If too many people lose faith in the justice system then the government isn’t far behind.   

Taking it away from the criminal justice system, this is essentially what affirmative action does, right? Affirmative action is based on the idea that black people, because of the country’s history of racial discrimination against them, deserve advantages today to make up for the disadvantages they’ve faced in the past.

But I think what many people are asking — including you by referencing black privilege — is in a competitive society when many white, Asian and Hispanic people feel like they’re falling behind, why should one group of people receive advantageous governmental treatment based on the color of their skin? (This gets even more interesting when you look at the data which shows that actual African-Americans, that is those people born in Africa or the sons and daughters of those recently immigrating to America — are some of the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action. If the country needs to provide redress to black Americans for its past wrongs, shouldn’t it go to those whose ancestors were actually enslaved here?)  

The biggest question that ties all this together is this: Does it make the country more equal to treat some people unequally — for an undefined period of time — under the law?

This is an area where my thinking has evolved as I’ve aged. As a younger law student and practicing attorney who was more liberal in nature I was a proponent of affirmative action, but as I’ve aged I’ve come to see it as a bad idea. I don’t think any state or federal government should have an affirmative action policy in place that treats individuals differently based on the color of their skin.

I don’t think two wrongs can make a right. 

Now if individual companies or private universities want to do that because they believe it strengthens their business prospects, that’s fine, but I don’t believe the government should do it because it creates more problems than it solves.

It also overreaches and treats all black people as disadvantaged regardless of their particular lot in life.  

Put it this way, should Sasha and Malia Obama have advantages in this country because of their race? I don’t think so. They’re the daughters of two Harvard educated lawyers and their dad is president. They are more advantaged than 99.99% of white people in America will ever be. So why should we use their race — presuming they’re disadvantaged based upon the color of their skin — as a proxy of their life’s experience?

If you want to help ensure opportunity to those who don’t have equal opportunity, I’d use socioeconomic status. There’s zero doubt that many poor kids of all races — who would otherwise excel — never get that opportunity because they lack the resources to succeed. That’s what I would focus on, to me socioeconomic diversity is more important than racial diversity. And you still get a decent amount of racial diversity by using socioeconomic status as a proxy for race.

But the ultimate decision you have to make here is this one — will you allow your future to be dicated by the past? I believe enough in individual self-determination to soundly reject that idea. If you give people an opportunity to blame their circumstances for their failure, they will. And I think the line of thinking in Wilbon’s column, regardless of which race you are, leads to that result.

The simple truth is this — YOU control your life’s trajectory. If you allow yourself to believe that’s not true, then you’re right. And if you truly believe that you are the master of your fate and no one else controls your direction then you’ll be right too.   

Mick writes:

“Big fan of yours and only gained more respect for you after the US-Argentina game for attacking idiots for referencing population theory as an excuse that the US would be dominant in soccer if we concentrated on the sport.

I’m a former Division I college soccer player and the mainstream American sports fan is honestly embarrassing when they talk about how “Lebron James and Russell Westbrook would dominate the world in soccer.” The best players in the world aren’t the most athletic, and maybe a more American football example will make people understand. For example, the Raiders used to draft the fastest and most athletic players, e.g. Darrius Heyward-Bey, and tried to build a football team, how’d that work? Athleticism is a part, but does not equal success. People need to get that through their heads.”

The argument that the US would be the best in the world at soccer if our best athletes played is so tiresome and dumb. 

Yet it’s a majority opinion. 

It’s probably the single dumbest opinion that a majority of American sports fans agree with — that if LeBron James and Russell Westbrook played soccer we’d win the World Cup every year. 

It’s just not true. 

First, Lionel Messi is the best player in the world at soccer and he’s 5’7″ and probably runs a 4.6 forty at best. (He got outrun to the ball in the open field by DeAndre Yedlin in the US-Argentina game. Messi had a several yard advantage in this race and still lost. As world class athletes go, Messi just isn’t that fast.) But that’s because top line, straight speed just isn’t what matters. Raw athleticism is not the United States issue in soccer — it’s talent. 

If we had an athletic combine with Argentina now and our guys raced them in the forty yard dash, did agility drills, bench presses and vertical leap tests, our guys would be at least the equivalent of Argentina, and probably better. What we lack is skill, touch, and polish compared to the best teams.

They have perfected the skills behind the game of soccer, we haven’t. 

In America we think if we just throw athletes at something, we’ll be the best. That works in some situations and some sports, primarily in football and basketball. Ziggy Ansah, a guy who didn’t play much football at all, can turn into a dominant defensive end because he has a discrete job — rush the quarterback, beat your opponent on an individual play — and he’s a physical freak. But Ansah is from Ghana, he grew up playing soccer. He’s a dominant athlete — so why isn’t he a pro soccer player? Because he’s not good enough at soccer, he doesn’t have the skills to be great.

The same thing happens with Festus Ezeli in basketball; he’s an extremely athletic tall African raised, who signs to play basketball at Vandy and becomes a Golden State Warrior despite the fact that he grew up playing soccer and not basketball. That’s possible because football and basketball players have positions to learn. You learn your position and are expected to fit in on a team. No one, to my knowledge, has yet been discovered who has never played soccer until they were 18 years old and then they become a star. 

American coaches train our basketball teams, at least in the past couple of decades, like they are football players. It’s all positional in nature. (Interestingly, European basketball and soccer players are trained differently than ours. All the big men in Europe can handle the ball and shoot. They aren’t sent inside just to play center because they’re tall. Dirk Nowitzki is the perfect example of a Euro player. The stretch four position is a direct result of the Euro influence in basketball. Euros in basketball and soccer players can all play every position, resulting in a cohesive flow. It isn’t position specific training, at least not until they’re grown.)

Partly this belief is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of soccer. 

Would you expect that LeBron James could be a great baseball or hockey or tennis or golf star? Maybe, but that would require him mastering the skill sets of all those sports and training for years to perfect them. Moreover, it would be absurd to think LeBron could be an all star player in baseball with his size. (See, Jordan, Michael, when he tried to become a major league player).

As one of you Tweeted me, only an American could see a 5’7″ Lionel Messi, the best in his world at a sport that billions and billions of people grew up playing, and presume all of our top athletes would be as good at soccer as he is.   

Soccer is much more like baseball or golf or tennis or hockey than it is a sport of raw athleticism — it’s a skill. You have to perfect the skills before you can be great. And most of our guys aren’t perfect in the skills because they haven’t played as much as the Argentinian players who were plucked from school at 10 or 12 and spent their lives training for soccer in academies. They have all trained a lot more than our guys have.  

Finally, these arguments almost always consist of white guys naming off great black athletes as an example of why we’d be incredible at soccer if we cared to be. If this were true, wouldn’t African teams win all the World Cups? After all, Africa has a ton more athletic black dudes than America does. (America, with a 12% black population, has around 19 million black men. The country as a whole, with a population of 320 million, has just 38 million black people. That’s roughly the population of California. Africa, on the other hand, has a billion black people, right 500 million of whom are black men. And the vast, vast majority of these men will grow up playing soccer as their primary sport.) 

Yet African teams haven’t ever won a World Cup. In fact, the best they’ve ever done is send a team to the quarterfinals, which has happened just three times. Their World Cup results are somewhat similar to America’s results. The reason is the same: in America and Africa we don’t develop our soccer player’s skills as rigorously as the South American and European countries do. 

It’s not athleticism, it’s skill. 

If we want to win a World Cup we need to do what those countries are doing, otherwise our skill sets will remain inferior to theirs. We can be consistently good — top 15 caliber — with an occasional run to the quarterfinals with the right draw — but never great.  

Max writes:

“Clay, you seem to be a pretty logical guy that can settle almost any debate and especially one including boobs and Game of Thrones. Me and a few buddies have been watching every episode of Game of Thrones together since last season and we always love to argue about different aspects of the show. Obviously, Game of Thrones has some of the best boobs in the history of television and we were trying to come up with the 3 best sets of boobs in all of Game of Thrones. We set some limitations, it has to be a character that has had somewhat of a prominent role in the show and obviously you have to see her naked. My ranking is 1.) Daenerys (literally the hottest boobs ever), 2.) Melisandre (definitely not the old version) 3.) Margaery Tyrell. A couple of my friends had 1 and 2 switched but everyone had either Daenerys or Melisandre as the top 2 and I feel any normal man with decent vision would know this but the third spot is where it gets tricky. Some other rankings had Missandei (translator), Talisa Stark (Robb Stark’s wife RIP), Shae (Tyrion’s girl from the earlier seasons), and one guy had Cersai. If only we could get the lord of light’s opinion because the guy can obviously pick out some great boobs. Knowing that you are fairly logical and the master of settling all debates we would love your help with ranking the best boobs in Game of Thrones.”

The best boobs on “Game of Thrones” are as follows:

1. Melisandre

2. The Sand Snake who flashed Bronn. (Assuming she’s a major enough character).

3. Daenerys

The greatest boobs in the history of television remain, however, Alexandra Daddario in the first season of True Detective. 

Everything else pales in comparison.  

David writes:

“The NFL would dominate old-school warfare. Unlike the NBA and MLB – and even to some extent unlike the NHL – NFL players are all accustomed to wearing and moving well with helmets and body armor. Do you remember first playing football, when it took a couple of weeks for your neck to get used to the weight of the helmet and you had to figure out how to move in and use your padding? That’s what the basketball and baseball players (and, to a lesser extent, the hockey players) will have to deal with. Instant disadvantage.

But contrary to your perspective, I think coaching and training is what will make the real difference in this hypothetical war. The first thing commander-in-chief Bill Belichick would do is train his troops to fight in a Greek-style heavy infantry phalanx 50 men wide and seven ranks deep, with two separate 50-man light infantry units on the wings. He’d put offensive and defensive linemen in the first two or three ranks, giving them huge, heavy shields with which to form a nearly-impenetrable wall; their job is to block and bulldoze anything that gets in their path – which is pretty much their current job description.

Behind them you’d have linebackers, tight ends, and running backs with long spears that would project out in front of the linemen’s shield-wall, decimating anyone who attempted to approach the NFL’s front line. In the back rank you’d have artillery in the form of quarterbacks throwing javelins with far more power and accuracy than any basketball or hockey players could hope to achieve.

On the wings of your primary force, you have what amounts to human cavalry, the speedy wide receivers and defensive backs who are ready to harass and disrupt any effort to get around or flank the main force.

Football players are already trained to work as a large, cohesive unit with specialized tasks and the skill sets these players have already developed lend themselves amazingly well to the tactics that dominated western-style warfare for millennia. Especially if this was was going to be fought on short notice, with little time to train, the NFL destroys everyone else in rapid succession – unless the other three sports all attempted to ally themselves and take on the NFL at the same time. Even then, I think it would be like the Persians getting slaughtered by the Greeks at Thermopylae. The question would be if the Triple Alliance’s forces could wear down the NFL’s troops sufficiently before all of their own were dead.

I agree with you that the NHL would be the second-best unit in this style of warfare. They’re used to light armor and helmets, they have an awesome fighting mentality, they’re used to using sticks, which are something akin to weaponry, and they also know how to work as units in shifts. These all give the hockey players something of an advantage over the NBA and MLB. But hockey players are only used to cooperating with four or five other people on their team, and (goalies aside) the job description for hockey players does not vary much. There will be a few huge guys they might use to try and counter the NFL’s shield-wall, but the average weight of an NHL player is just over 200 lbs. They would typically be facing about a 40-90 lb. disadvantage per fighting man against the NFL. Multiply that by one 50-man rank of the NFL phalanx and you’re looking at a 2,000 to 4,500 lb. disadvantage when the lines collide. That’s bad, bad news for the hockey players. Again, if they could join forces with the NBA and MLB, they might be able to effectively counter the NFL’s size and strength advantages, and also to make for some of the skill deficiencies, but they couldn’t hope to do it alone.

Here’s how I think the Triple Alliance would need to approach matters to have any hope of surviving a war against the NFL…

Assuming none of these professional athletes has an innate skill with horses and archery (meaning no Mongol-style horse archers), they would have to form a phalanx of their own, and it would be directed by one of the hockey coaches because their coaching experience is more relevant to a battlefield setting than would be the experience of baseball managers or basketball coaches. All of the hockey players would go into the shield wall, which would be both longer and deeper than the NFL’s line – say 90 men long and five ranks deep, with the plan being that as the front two ranks got tired out they could shift lines and let the fresh legs and arms advance to the front. The additional length of the line would engage the NFL’s wide receivers and defensive backs and would threaten the possibility of enveloping and turning the flanks of the NFL line. The NBA players with their own ultra-long spears would line up behind the hockey players and would attempt to find holes in the shield wall that would allow them to break the NFL line. Behind and to the wings of the Triple Alliance would be the baseball players, doing basically what the quarterbacks are doing for the NFL, but with more volume and less accuracy.

Looking at history, we know that even when faced with forces that vastly outnumbered them, the superior training and tactics of the Greeks and Macedonians allowed them to demolish opposing armies. I think that, given the unparalleled speed, strength, weight, accuracy, and generalship of the NFL, they would still have a decent chance of beating the combined forces of the three other sports leagues even if they faced them all at once. But taking on each one individually? The NFL crushes the others, no contest.”

I love all of you. 

This email is an amazing response to the last Friday mailbag when we discussed who would win a “Game of Thrones” style challenge. 

Have great weekends. 

I’m driving up to Michigan with three kids under eight. Pray for me. 

Big fan of yours and only gained more respect for you tonight after attacking idiots for referencing population theory as an excuse that the US should be  dominant in soccer if we concentrated on the sport. Im a former Division I college soccer player and the mainstream American sports fan is honestly embarrassing when they talk about how “Lebron James and Russell Westbrook would dominate the world in soccer.” The best players in the world aren’t the most athletic, and maybe a more American football example will make people understand. For example, the Raiders used to draft the fastest and most athletic players, e.g. Darrius Heyward-Bey, and tried to build a football team, how’d that work? Athleticism is a part, but does not equal success. People need to get that through their heads.
Big fan of yours and only gained more respect for you tonight after attacking idiots for referencing population theory as an excuse that the US should be  dominant in soccer if we concentrated on the sport. Im a former Division I college soccer player and the mainstream American sports fan is honestly embarrassing when they talk about how “Lebron James and Russell Westbrook would dominate the world in soccer.” The best players in the world aren’t the most athletic, and maybe a more American football example will make people understand. For example, the Raiders used to draft the fastest and most athletic players, e.g. Darrius Heyward-Bey, and tried to build a football team, how’d that work? Athleticism is a part, but does not equal success. People need to get that through their heads.
Big fan of yours and only gained more respect for you tonight after attacking idiots for referencing population theory as an excuse that the US should be  dominant in soccer if we concentrated on the sport. Im a former Division I college soccer player and the mainstream American sports fan is honestly embarrassing when they talk about how “Lebron James and Russell Westbrook would dominate the world in soccer.” The best players in the world aren’t the most athletic, and maybe a more American football example will make people understand. For example, the Raiders used to draft the fastest and most athletic players, e.g. Darrius Heyward-Bey, and tried to build a football team, how’d that work? Athleticism is a part, but does not equal success. People need to get that through their heads.
Big fan of yours and only gained more respect for you tonight after attacking idiots for referencing population theory as an excuse that the US should be  dominant in soccer if we concentrated on the sport. Im a former Division I college soccer player and the mainstream American sports fan is honestly embarrassing when they talk about how “Lebron James and Russell Westbrook would dominate the world in soccer.” The best players in the world aren’t the most athletic, and maybe a more American football example will make people understand. For example, the Raiders used to draft the fastest and most athletic players, e.g. Darrius Heyward-Bey, and tried to build a football team, how’d that work? Athleticism is a part, but does not equal success. People need to get that through their heads.
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