Chiefs Start 8-0 — Thoughts and Observations

November 2nd, 2013 by Lee Eldridge

Kansas City ChiefsNobody saw this coming. I thought the Chiefs would be better. I never expected them to start 8-0.

If I’d written my preseason AFC West predictions as I normally do, I would have predicted 8-8 with a ceiling of 9-10 wins, and a second place finish in the West. The offense and Alex Smith have been pretty much what I expected. But the defense has been awesome, and the NFC East has been abysmal.

How Did They Get Here?
New defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has been masterful. His scheme fits incredibly well with the talent of his players. I’ve always preferred an attacking, relentless defense (like the Gunther Cunningham days) than a read and react or cover two approach. There is some high risk high reward with an attacking defense. This year it’s been all high reward. The Chiefs are number one in the league giving up an average of only 12.25 points per game.

There has been a lot of talk about the Chiefs’ schedule. You can only play the teams in front of you, and you should never apologize for that. But fans also need to realize that the Chiefs have had an amazing string of good luck through the first half of the season.

1. Their first half opponents have a cumulative record of 20-41, and none of them have a winning record as of today. Only the Cowboys look likely to make the playoffs. By default, somebody has to win the NFC East. Their second half opponents have a cumulative record of 35-24. (This is counting all division foes twice.)

2. In the first half, the Chiefs played teams with injuries, turmoil and inexperience at quarterback (Raiders, Jaguars, Titans, Texans, Browns), or teams with quarterbacks having down years (Giants, Eagles). Only the Cowboys feature an above average quarterback playing pretty well. In the second half they’ll see Peyton Manning twice, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Philip Rivers twice (having a much better year than I would have predicted). The defense will be tested in the second half, and will be giving up more than 12 points per game. It will be interesting to see how they hold up against much better competition.

3. The football gods have been good to the Chiefs so far this year. Multiple scores from the defense and special teams. Few key injuries. And potential turnovers that have bounced back to the Chiefs. That’s tough to expect for a full season.

Kansas City Chiefs Alex SmithReasons for Concern
1. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Alex Smith has been very mediocre. He has 9 TDs and 4 INTs, and has thrown for 1795 yards. Very pedestrian numbers. He’s shown some nice escapability out of the pocket, and has a nice touch on shorter passes. He often hits his receivers in stride, which is a nice contrast compared to Matt Cassel. But much like Matt, he’s inaccurate when he throws to the sidelines or down the field. He’s missed some open receivers where big opportunities were available. While I think it’s possible, even likely, that the offense can continue to improve, I’m not sure how much Smith can improve. This is what he is. I still don’t see him as a long-term solution for the Chiefs.

2. Jamaal Charles is having an excellent year. They’ve done a great job of integrating him into the passing game. But they’re overworking him, and his yards per rush are down. He’s yet to break a big run, which is probably the most surprising. Maybe he’ll have a couple in the second half. The Chiefs badly need to get Knile Davis integrated into the offense for a second threat out of the backfield, and to keep Charles fresh over the second half.

3. The offensive line has been inconsistent at best, and at times they’ve been dreadful. This may be one of the reasons Charles has yet to break a big run. And might be why the Chiefs seldom look downfield in their passing game. Smith rarely has much time to setup and scour the field for his receivers.

4. We need the D-Bowe Show to emerge. If the Chiefs have any shot to make a run in the playoffs, they need their best receiver to average more than 3.25 receptions and 38 yards per game. Hard to tell if this is a scheme issue, a chemistry issue, or what. Cassel often forced the ball to Bowe, but Dwayne made the receptions. He’s gotten few opportunities this year. The good news is that he’s kept his head in the game, seems genuinely enthused about the team, and has made some great blocks downfield for Charles. The Chiefs are paying him way too much to be a decoy and downfield blocker.

Second Half Predictions
Not sure what Vegas thinks, but I’d put the over/under at 4.5 wins. It’s likely the Chiefs will go 5-3 or 4-4 over the final eight games. The Chiefs will probably lose at Denver, and I think it’s likely they stumble at either Oakland or Washington. That’s two losses. They have tough home games against Indianapolis, Denver and San Diego. There’s one more loss in there somewhere — hopefully not against the Broncos. And then they wrap up the season on the road at San Diego. If the Chargers are still in the running for a wildcard birth, that will be a tough game. While this team is different, this season reminds me a lot of the 2003 season when the Chiefs started 9-0 before the wheels started shaking. The Chiefs won’t collapse. They may even play better football over the second half of the season. I want to predict 13-3, but I’m going to predict 12-4. And I’m not going to be terribly surprised if they finish 11-5.

The Epic Fail of HealthCare.gov

October 23rd, 2013 by Lee Eldridge

Picard Face PalmLike many, I’ve been following the news reports of the launch of the Affordable Care Act’s website HealthCare.gov with great interest. The launch has been described as “unacceptable” by just about everybody in the media and politicians from both sides of the aisle. Though I’m not sure we all have the same understanding of what “unacceptable” means. But I’ll come back to that in a minute.

I have a background that allows me to provide some insights into the epic failure of HealthCare.gov. I have managed the launch of several dozen websites including custom-built, database-driven e-commerce solutions. Nothing as complicated as what’s needed for HealthCare.gov, but enough that I understand the process, the pitfalls and the traps.

And yes, I’ve been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act a.k.a. ObamaCare. I’ve also been the one warning fellow critics for weeks not to gloat about the technical problems that have plagued this website. The failure of the launch is not because ObamaCare is bad policy. It failed because the development of the site was poorly managed.

 So What Happened?
Imagine this scenario: You’ve decided to build one of the biggest and most spectacular homes ever built. And you decide to be your own general contractor. The problem? You’ve never built a home. Certainly nothing of the magnitude you now intend to build. And you’re in over your head.

The administration decided they would act as their own general contractor for HealthCare.gov, possibly the most complex and robust website that has ever been built. From Megan McArdle on Bloomberg:

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services inexplicably decided to take on the role of central project manager itself, assuming responsibility for integrating all the various software pieces they’d subcontracted, rather than assigning that role to a lead contractor. CMS is not known to maintain a pool of crack programming talent with extensive project management experience that can be deployed to this sort of task.

A lead contractor would have been responsible for overseeing that the contractors were fulfilling their duties and responsibilities, and developing adequate testing procedures for the site. But this still may not have mattered. The administration would still have been running the show.

Why did they decide to do this internally? Megan speculates on this as well. I’ll let you read her article. It’s a must read. (And yes, I borrowed her general contractor analogy. I was going to use the analogy that you’ve decided to film the movie Titanic without a director. I liked hers better.)

I’ve been critical of the Obama administration for years for what I’ve seen as a lack of leadership and a lack of understanding for how to get things done. Speeches seldom solve problems. And the problem with always thinking you’re the smartest person in the room is that you don’t feel the need for input from others. When you think you know all of the answers, you fail to ask the most important questions.

The first thing the administration should have done was pull together experts from the online community — CEOs and tech leaders from companies like Facebook, Amazon, Dell and Twitter. Meet with them, give them all a beer, and ask: What do we need to know before we do this? How do we manage this? Not only would these people have provided invaluable advice, I can almost guarantee you that they would have recommended bringing in an outside director to manage the project. What the administration needed was not only somebody knowledgeable and experienced, but somebody who could be the liaison between the administration and the development teams. Somebody who would coordinate the efforts of all of the outside contractors. Provide adequate testing procedures. And just as importantly, manage the administration’s expectations for what could be accomplished within a certain amount of time.

Why Did This Website Go Over Budget?
It’s hard to nail down the numbers, but it appears that this website was initially estimated to cost less than $100 million, and that we’ve already spent several times that amount of money. Reuters runs through some of the numbers here:

In addition, said CGI spokeswoman Linda Odorisio, there were three one-year options, bringing the total potential value of the contract to $93.7 million. By August 2012, spending on the contract was already close to that limit.

This year, the bills skyrocketed. The government spent $27.7 million more in April, an additional $58 million in May and, in its latest outlay, $18.2 million in mid-September.

According to the government records, that brought the total spending for CGI’s work on Healthcare.gov to $196 million. Adding in potential options, the contract is now valued at $292 million.

Why do projects go over budget? Typically one of two reasons. One, the client (in this case the federal government) doesn’t provide full information to the contractors upfront. Or two, the client changes the scope of the project.

Back to our analogy of building a home. Imagine that you’ve dug the foundation, poured the concrete, and started framing the house. Then your spouse says, “No, I think the garage should go on the other side of the house.” So you tell your sub-contractors to move the garage.

When we worked with our clients, we would develop full designs and specs for approval before a single letter of code would be written. Once a customer approves the project, and then later updates the requirements of the project, we would sit down with them and explain how these changes would impact the budget and development timeline.  Some changes may be minor, but some may require scrapping days, weeks, and in this case, possibly months of work. The administration was constantly updating and changing the specs for HealthCare.gov. From some reports, as late as last month! From Reuters:

CGI officials have also told committee staff the widely criticized design feature requiring visitors to create accounts before shopping for insurance was implemented in late August or early September, barely a month before the October 1 start of open enrollment.

This gets us back to the need for an outside director who would have stopped the constant changes to the site in time to test it properly, or not allowed the site to have been launched when it wasn’t ready.

How Much Time Did They Need?
This is a great question, and one I don’t have the answer to. Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the point person for the Affordable Care Act, has been questioned repeatedly this year on whether or not HealthCare.gov would be ready to launch on time. Rumors continued to spread that the exchanges were not ready. She repeatedly said that they were on track for development and testing. As late as September 20th, she said: “Testing is being done. We are very much on track to be ready Oct. 1.” Any “bumps in the road” would be fixed before opening day, she said. See more of her comments here in IBD.

Clearly this wasn’t true. Alarm bells have been going off for months that the exchanges were not ready to be launched. From Forbes:

Back in March, at an insurance industry conference in Washington, the problems were apparent. Henry Chao, chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, openly fretted that the exchanges wouldn’t be ready by October. “I’m pretty nervous—I don’t know about you,” he told the crowd. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.”

Testing either hadn’t been done, or what little had been done, had yielded very poor results. Most accounts have been that testing didn’t begin in earnest until five days before the launch. And according to the Washington Post, just days before launch, the site failed during a simple simulation:

Days before the launch of President Obama’s online health ­insurance marketplace, government officials and contractors tested a key part of the Web site to see whether it could handle tens of thousands of consumers at the same time. It crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously.

Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.

I added the bold for emphasis. The site didn’t crash because it was overwhelmed with traffic, despite this continued line from the administration. The site crashed because it was rushed by the administration, poorly managed, largely untested, and not ready for prime time.

This Is Unacceptable!
We have heard from just about everybody that this epic failure of a launch is unacceptable, including from President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. And typically when something is unacceptable, that would mean that somebody will be held accountable. Don’t hold your breath. I’m sure the administration would love to blame the GOP, but that’s a tough argument to make. They can’t blame a lack of budget, though there have been some who have tried, as they’ve gone way over the original budget. Somehow they’ve managed to find several hundred million dollars to fund this project. I’ve been expecting them to throw the developers under the bus, but then this comment from Sebelius appeared in the Wall Street Journal:

After two weeks of review, the HHS secretary concluded, “We didn’t have enough testing, specifically for high volumes, for a very complicated project.”

The online insurance marketplace needed five years of construction and a year of testing, she said: “We had two years and almost no testing.”

You can’t throw the developers under the bus when you’ve now admitted they needed five years to accomplish this project properly. Though I find this conclusion as bogus as her earlier claims that the site would be ready on time. While complex, they do not need five years to develop and test this website.

Sebelius Will Testify In Front Of Congress
I’ve watched these Congressional investigations many times. The grandstanding from the politicians drive me crazy. They either spend their time making a speech or asking all of the wrong questions. At this point, there are only a few relevant questions.

1. Mrs. Sebelius, you’ve stated that you needed five years to develop and test this website. When did you come to this conclusion?

This question is important, though I would not expect a truthful answer. She would either have to admit that she knew before the launch and she lied to Congress about the readiness of the site, or she didn’t know until after it was launched that the site didn’t work. And if that’s true, they’re even more incompetent than I imagined.

2. When did you convey to the President that to do this project correctly, you needed five years of development and testing?

Clearly this would require a truthful answer to the first question for her to truthfully answer this second question. Which will never happen. What I can tell you is this: There’s no way that they didn’t know there were significant problems months ago. There were too many rumors to the contrary. I can guarantee you that the developers were expressing concerns EVERY time the administration changed the specs of the project.

3. Obviously you knew before the launch that the site had not been fully tested and had failed the few tests that had been implemented. Who made the decision to launch the site knowing that it wasn’t ready? And why?

The most obvious reason I can come up with, and this has been speculated by others, is that the administration was afraid to postpone the launch because this would give their critics more ammunition to use against them and ObamaCare. Though I’m unclear how delaying the launch would have been worse for them than launching a site that doesn’t work, was poorly developed, was largely untested and came in way over budget. As it is now, even the talking heads on MSNBC have called out the administration on this one.

4. When will the problems be fixed?

Nobody seems to know, and the administration isn’t saying. I’m sure she won’t give any specifics to Congress. The fact that they’re calling in outside assistance, a “tech surge” as the President called it, would indicate they don’t know. The speculation is that they won’t know the underlying problems until they can fix and test the obvious problems. If they thought they were close, there would be no need to bring in “the best and brightest” for their input. Which makes me wonder, if they’re bringing in the “best and brightest”, who was overseeing this project in the first place? Clearly not the “best and brightest”.

A Parting Shot
And to lighten the mood, if you haven’t seen this from Jon Stewart, you need to watch it. Jon is a funny man.

And a Final Thought
Sooner or later they’ll get HealthCare.gov in a workable condition. A few weeks or a few months? Who knows? At some point soon the administration will have to consider extending deadlines for compliance for the individual mandate, or eliminating the penalties for this next year. The longer this takes, the worse the repercussions will be for all of us.

2013 NFL Draft Begins Thursday

April 21st, 2013 by Lee Eldridge

Kansas City ChiefsJust a couple quick thoughts as we head into the 2013 NFL Draft.

Twitter Is Awesome
For those of you not on Twitter yet, what are you waiting for? I’ve been following a number of NFL player analysts and draft analysts. Have really enjoyed their insights and banter. A great daily fix for an NFL junkie like me. (Shameless plug: follow me on Twitter @leeceldridge.)

What I Wish Would Have Happened
I won’t belabor the point, but I would have much preferred drafting Geno Smith than trading for Alex Smith. At this point, I can only hope I’m wrong. Alex is good enough to improve the Chiefs immediately. We may make it to the playoffs with him. Hell, we might even win a playoff game for the first time in 20 years. Wouldn’t that be nice? But I have no illusions that Alex is going to win a Super Bowl. I’d take the unknown with the higher ceiling (Geno) over the game manager (Alex). It’s also not my job on the line if I’m wrong.

Draft Scenarios for the Chiefs
As I see it, there are four scenarios for what the Chiefs could do at the top of the draft. And it depends on whether or not they can trade offensive tackle Branden Albert, trade their top pick, or both.

1. The Status Quo: If the Chiefs are unable to trade Branden Albert, and if they’re unable to trade down, they must make their pick of the number one overall draft choice. The Chiefs have been coy and continue to say that there are four players they’re interested in with this pick. I assume that’s gamesmanship. And smart. I just can’t imagine they haven’t already made this decision. It’s just not their preferred outcome.

2. Trading Albert: The Chiefs appear to be in negotiations with the Dolphins for a second round pick. It’s been reported that the Dolphins are talking with Albert’s agent about a long-term contract. The Chiefs clearly want this to happen. I think it’s likely to happen, but not certain to happen.

3. Trading the Pick: I would imagine that the Chiefs would like to trade down and acquire more picks. This will be difficult to do. The most likely scenario is if a team has fallen in love with Geno Smith and is concerned about losing him. It just doesn’t sound like a likely scenario. My guess is that there’s less than a 20% chance that the Chiefs can trade out of this pick.

4. Trade Albert AND Trade Down: At this point, I’d take this in a heartbeat. Don’t think it’s likely. But I’d do it.

Trading Albert
A lot has been made of whether or not the Chiefs should trade Branden Albert. Supporters of Albert like to point to the fact that he gives up few sacks as an indication that he’s an elite left tackle. I’ve also seen analysts break down the tape and point out significant flaws and holes in his game. The eye test tells me he’s a good, but not great, left tackle. And he missed several games last year with back problems, which makes me nervous. I don’t have a problem with trading Albert for a second round pick and drafting either Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher — currently sitting at #1 and #2 on Scouts Inc.’s Top 32. I think this would improve the left tackle position for years to come with a younger, better player with a higher ceiling. It will also save the Chiefs a significant amount of money by avoiding paying Albert almost $10 million this year.

Cap Space
The Chiefs have been accused for years of being cheap. Not this year. They’ve spent their money and are only about $3 million from the cap (according to NFL.com here). They will actually need to open up some cap space to sign their draft picks. The trading of Branden Albert is probably all they’ll need to do to open up the necessary cap room to sign their draft picks, and maybe even do some last minute bargain shopping among available free agents. Karlos Dansby anybody? Chiefs have a hole at inside linebacker, and Dansby is still on the market.

Prediction
My best guess is that the Chiefs will trade Albert to the Dolphins, but will be unable to trade out of their pick atop the draft. Will be interesting to see which of the two left tackles they like better. I’m guessing it will be Joeckel.

Alex Smith To Become A Chief

March 2nd, 2013 by Lee Eldridge

Alex Smith Kansas City ChiefsMuch has been written about our new quarterback, Alex Smith. I’d been planning for weeks to write a column about what the Chiefs need to do at quarterback. But now that the Chiefs have apparently acquired Smith, I’m going to try to come at this from a slightly different direction.

A friend asked me, “Is this trade worth it if Alex Smith takes the Chiefs to the playoffs and wins a playoff game?” As we all know, the Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since Joe Montana took the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game following the 1993 season. It would be great to win a playoff game.

But the answer, is no. If you’re not trying to win a Super Bowl, you’re not trying. And Alex Smith will not win a Super Bowl.

I hope I’m wrong. I will be rooting for the Chiefs. I’ll be watching every game. But I have no illusions that Smith is the guy. And here’s why.

Elite Quarterbacks Win Super Bowls
I was admittedly late jumping on the whole “elite quarterback” thing. I’ve been an NFL junkie my whole life, and I remember plenty of decent, but not spectacular, quarterbacks leading good teams to Super Bowl victories. But I’m an analytical guy. What can change my mind on a subject? History and facts.

Let’s look at the last 21 Super Bowls — what I would consider the modern era of the NFL. Here’s the list of quarterbacks who have won: Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Brett Favre, John Elway, Kurt Warner, Trent Dilfer, Tom Brady, Brad Johnson, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco.

I would lump these quarterbacks into three categories:

1 – Elite Quarterbacks – Quarterbacks who consistently play at a high level, and are considered among the very best in the league year after year. For me, this includes: Aikman, Young, Favre, Elway, Brady, P. Manning, Brees and Rodgers.

2 – Almost Elite Quarterbacks – These are the guys capable of playing at a very high level for stretches at a time, but don’t do it consistently enough for me to consider them truly elite quarterbacks. For me, this includes: Warner, Roethlisberger, E. Manning and Flacco. (Before this season, it would have been impossible to put Flacco in this category, but he was amazing down the stretch.)

3 – Game Managers – Guys who can make a play here or there, but mostly are there to manage the game, and avoid mistakes. This includes: Dilfer and Johnson.

So out of the last 21 Super Bowls, 19 have been won by elite quarterbacks, or quarterbacks capable of playing at an elite level. And two have been won by game managers. By the numbers, that means that in the modern era of football, non-elite quarterbacks only win 9% of the Super Bowls. Basically one every ten years. Elite and almost elite quarterbacks win 91% of the Super Bowls — nine out of every ten.

How many elite quarterbacks are there in the game today? I probably grade harder than most, but I count four: Rodgers, P. Manning, Brady and Brees. (If you’re counting more than a few guys, then you misunderstand what the word elite means. It means the best of the best.)

How many almost elite quarterbacks are there in the game today? This is a bit harder, but I would include: Matt Ryan, Flacco, E. Manning and Roethlisberger. Cases could be made for a couple others.

And you’ve got a group of young quarterbacks trying to add their names to these lists, such as Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck. Not all of them will make it. Not all of them will become elite quarterbacks.

So going into any given season, how many elite or almost elite quarterbacks are there? I’d say maybe ten. So ten teams cumulatively have about a 90% chance to win the Super Bowl, and the other 22 teams cumulatively have about a 10% chance to win a Super Bowl.

Is Alex Smith an elite quarterback? No. Is he an almost elite quarterback? No. He doesn’t appear to be to me. So statistically, the Chiefs have virtually no chance to win a Super Bowl. They are lumped into the bottom 22 with a cumulative 10% chance to win it all (which breaks down to about a .5% chance per team each year).

Sound bleak? Let me add one more fly to the ointment. When Trent Dilfer won the Super Bowl, the Ravens didn’t have just a great defense, it’s widely been considered one of the best defenses EVER in the history of the NFL. And Brad Johnson? Yes, the Bucs also had a dominating defense the year they won the Super Bowl. Do the Chiefs have a dominating defense? Nope. And if recent history is any indication, it doesn’t appear that a game manager QB can win a Super Bowl without the help of a dominating defense.

Reasons To Be Optimistic About Alex Smith
Alex Smith is a good guy. He’s a leader. He’s athletic. He’s been in a bad situation for years in San Francisco. Multiple defensive-minded head coaches who weren’t very good. Yearly changes with offensive coordinators. Few quarterbacks could thrive under these conditions. But finally the 49ers have a good (maybe great) head coach in Jim Harbaugh, and Smith has played well for him. Alex has become a very good game manager on a team that runs the ball well, plays great defense, and has great coaching.

Andy Reid knows quarterbacks, and word has it that he likes Smith a lot. Alex is accurate on the short and medium range routes, which is vital to run Reid’s version of the West Coast Offense. Maybe it’s the perfect match, and maybe Reid can do what so few other coaches have been able to do in the modern era — win a Super Bowl with a game manager at quarterback. Or maybe Smith will excel and shed the description of game manager. Flacco did it this year.

Reasons To be Pessimistic About Alex Smith
I’m concerned that Smith is Matt Cassel. Their career stats are eerily similar. Cassel put up good numbers in 2008 in New England (good coaching and great organization), and again in 2010 under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Under the right coaching and the right surroundings, Cassel has proven to be an effective game manager. But with bad coaching and bad surroundings (the last two years in Kansas City), he’s proven that he’s not a good enough quarterback to elevate the team around him. Alex Smith has been at his best the last two seasons, and his numbers are still very comparable to Cassel’s number from ’08 and ’10.

And the coach who turned around Smith’s career and who knows him as well as anybody, Jim Harbaugh, benched him for a second year quarterback with no experience. Why? Because he wanted a quarterback capable of playing at an elite level.

Draft and Develop
Some have called the trade for Alex Smith “bold”. I don’t understand that at all. Though the Chiefs gave up quite a bit to get Smith, I think this move was incredibly safe. The Chiefs will be better next year with Reid and Smith. I would venture to guess that the Chiefs will make the playoffs in the next two to three years. They might even win a playoff game. I think Smith is likely to be an effective quarterback in Reid’s system.

Does that make this trade worth it? No. If you’re not trying to win a Super Bowl, you’re not trying.

The Chiefs have clearly decided that Smith is a better option than the quarterbacks available in this year’s draft. And in the short term, they’re probably right. But somewhere in this draft is a quarterback who will become an elite quarterback, or at least is capable of playing at an elite level. There is a quarterback in this draft who will become a better quarterback than Alex Smith. Who? I don’t know. Maybe Geno Smith. Maybe not. But the odds are a lot better on winning a Super Bowl with a quarterback with a high ceiling capable of playing at an elite level, than settling for another game manager.

Chief Opinions 1-6-2013

January 6th, 2013 by Lee Eldridge

Kansas City ChiefsYesterday we discussed the hiring of Andy Reid. Today we’ll wrap up a few final thoughts about the Chiefs season, and recent events.

The Firing of Romeo Crennel
On black Monday, the Chiefs fired head coach Romeo Crennel. I had my reservations a year ago when the Chiefs hired him, but I had no idea it would be this bad. He’s a good man. A good defensive coordinator. He represented himself and this city well. Maybe if the Chiefs had signed Kyle Orton, the quarterback Crennel clearly preferred, things would have turned out differently. Crennel often seemed confused and uncertain about how to proceed. It never appeared that Crennel had confidence in Matt Cassel. And after a few losses, it appeared that the team had lost faith that it could win with Crennel and Cassel leading the way.

The Firing of Scott Pioli
On black Monday, the Chiefs publicly neutered general manager Scott Pioli, and left him twisting in the wind. Clark Hunt stripped him of many of his responsibilities, and rearranged the structure of the organization. It was Hunt who would interview and hire the next head coach. And the head coach would report directly to Hunt. Pioli’s fate would be decided soon.

What were the Chiefs waiting for? Were four years of mistakes not enough of a track record to fire Pioli? Chiefs fans became nervous that Hunt was going to give Pioli another chance. Then the news came down that Pioli was accompanying Clark Hunt and the rest of the Chiefs’ brass during the head coach interviews. I was nervous.

This is purely a guess. There were reports that Pioli had received a contract extension before the season, though this was denied by a source within the organization. I bet that Pioli got the extension, and that it took a few days for the Chiefs and Pioli to reach a buyout agreement for him to step aside. Remember, before the season began, there were high expectations for the Chiefs. Many pundits had picked the Chiefs to win the division. If the Chiefs had announced a contract extension before the season, most fans would have understood. Though after the season went south, it would have been a publicity nightmare to admit that Pioli had received an extension.

If it wasn’t the contract, then Hunt really was leaving the door open for Pioli to remain in Kansas City. Shudder.

The Hiring of Any Reid
This is pure speculation on my part. I think Clark Hunt knew all along who he wanted to hire for his next head coach. And it hit me when I listened to an interview with Dick Vermeil.

Dick Vermeil has close ties to both Andy Reid and the Chiefs organization. Plenty of speculation existed that the Eagles were going to fire Reid. If you were Clark Hunt, who would you call to gauge Reid’s interest in Kansas City without violating the NFL’s tampering rules? I’m betting that Hunt called Vermeil in the last few weeks for his input, and to test the waters about Reid, in case he became available. Vermeil has said that he told Reid that he can win in Kansas City, and that he should take the job. But Vermeil was never asked when this conversation took place. Not that Vermeil would likely admit if it had happened before the Eagles fired Reid. Vermeil was clearly pleased that the Chiefs had hired Reid.

And think about the timing of events. On Monday, the Chiefs fire Crennel. On Tuesday, they interview a couple coaches in Atlanta, one of whom is black, which means that the Chiefs have met the requirements of the Rooney Rule (which I think needs to be eliminated, but that’s a discussion for another day). And on Wednesday, Clark Hunt and his top executives fly to Philadelphia, and conduct a nine hour interview with Andy Reid.

Kudos to Clark Hunt for getting his man. And doing it quickly.

Finding a Quarterback
We’ll talk more about the draft in upcoming weeks, but I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t draft a quarterback this year. I don’t want to trade for a veteran backup. I don’t want to sign a guy who has failed elsewhere. I don’t want to trade for Alex Smith, Kevin Kolb or Michael Vick. I want to draft and develop our own quarterback.

The pundits have said that there isn’t a quarterback worth drafting number one overall. They’re wrong. Somewhere in this draft is an elite quarterback. And elite quarterbacks are worth the number one pick. It may not be a “value” pick, but I don’t care. And if I were running the Chiefs, I’d do exactly what the Redskins did last year. I would draft a quarterback in the first round, and then draft another one in the third or fourth round.

Who should they draft? I don’t know. There’s a handful of quarterbacks who are potential first round picks. I’m still betting that by April one or two of these quarterbacks will climb into the list of top ten prospects, and it won’t be so much of a reach to draft one of them. I do think it’s interesting that several analysts have compared West Virginia’s Geno Smith to Donovan McNabb, the quarterback that Reid drafted with the second overall pick in 1999. And you still might end up with somebody like Mike Glennon from NC State on the board at the top of the fourth round.

Chiefs Hire Andy Reid

January 5th, 2013 by Lee Eldridge

Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy ReidAs you might expect, I have quite a few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs this week. And I’m pleased that owner Clark Hunt made quick and decisive plans for the future of the organization. Today we’ll focus on his hiring of Andy Reid as the Chiefs’ head coach.

Andy Reid is One of the Most Successful NFL Coaches to Never Win a Super Bowl
Reid spent 14 years as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. During that time, he amassed a regular season record of 130-93. His teams were amazingly consistent, finishing first or second in the NFC East 10 of those 14 years. If you take away his first season (5-11) and his last season (4-12), the numbers are even more impressive.

If I were to list the top three NFL head coaches to never win a Super Bowl, it would be Marv Levy (4-1 in AFC Championship Games, and 0-4 in Super Bowls), Andy Reid (1-4 in NFC Championship Games, and 0-1 in Super Bowls), and Marty Schottenheimer (0-3 AFC Championship Games and an NFL regular season record of 200-126 across four NFL teams). Most interesting to me is that all three of these men have now been head coaches for the Chiefs. Quite a dubious distinction.

What Went Wrong in Philadelphia?
There are plenty of people who follow the Eagles much more closely than I do. I think there are two pretty obvious reasons for what went wrong.

1. You’ve got to have a franchise quarterback to win in the NFL. We know this better in Kansas City than most cities. With Donovan McNabb at the helm from 1999-2009, the Eagles went 108-67 (that’s the team’s record, which includes games started by other quarterbacks). Since then, the Eagles have gone 22-26.

2. Sometimes you’re the product of your own success. Six of Reid’s assistant coaches become head coaches — Brad Childress, John Harbaugh, Steve Spagnola, Leslie Frazier, Ron Rivera and Pat Shumur. Add to that long time defensive coordinator Jim Johnson (1999-2008) who left the Eagles for health reasons. That’s a lot of talent to replace.

Is Reid the Right Choice for the Chiefs?
I’m torn on this one. He’s a MUCH better choice than Romeo Crennel. He’s a very good coach. He’s low risk. He’s young enough at 54 to be a long-term solution. He’s a good evaluator of talent. He will likely make the Chiefs competitive almost immediately. But I’m not sure this is a great hire. And I’m ready for greatness in Kansas City.

He’s got two big decisions to make that will likely shape whether this is a good hire, or a great hire.

1. Quarterback: The Chiefs must draft and develop a quarterback. Every year there are two to three quarterbacks drafted that become very good quarterbacks, if not elite quarterbacks. In 1999, Reid’s first year in Philadelphia, there were five quarterbacks taken in the first round of the draft. Reid selected Donovan McNabb with the second pick in the draft. Tim Couch had gone number one overall to the Browns. Akili Smith was chosen third by the Bengals. The Vikings picked Daunte Culpepper with the 11th pick. And Cade McNown was taken 12th by the Bears. Culpepper had some good years, but McNabb was clearly the best of the bunch. This should give us hope that Reid can identify the next quarterback for the Chiefs.

2. I completely trust Reid to assemble an offensive staff. The key acquisition will be at defensive coordinator, where he clearly failed to adequately replace Jim Johnson with the Eagles. The Chiefs have plenty of talent on defense, and should be an attractive fit for the right defensive coordinator.

Parting Shot
Sam Mellinger at the Kansas City Star made an interesting point in his column:

If Reid helps drive the Chiefs to the Super Bowl, it would fit the pattern of many football men who found bigger success in their second job. Tom Coughlin spent eight years in Jacksonville before winning two Super Bowls with the Giants. Tony Dungy was fired in Tampa Bay before winning a title in Indianapolis. Gruden failed with the Raiders before winning big with the Bucs. Bill Belichick flopped in Cleveland before becoming the most successful coach in recent NFL history.

All told, seven of the last 11 Super Bowl winners were coached by a man in his second job.

What is Sam missing in this analysis? Coughlin has Eli Manning with the Giants. Tony Dungy had Peyton Manning with the Colts. And Bill Belichick has Tom Brady in New England. All three are significant upgrades compared to the quarterbacks they had during their first jobs. Only Gruden ended up leaving the better quarterback behind with Rich Gannon, though Brad Johnson had a very good season for the Bucs when they won it all.

Patience can pay off for an organization. The Steelers gave Bill Cowher time, and he rewarded them with a Super Bowl victory in his 14th season in Pittsburgh, with the help from quarterback Ben Roethisberger. I anticipate the Chiefs giving Reid plenty of time in Kansas City, but if we’re hoping for a Super Bowl, it still comes back to finding the right quarterback.

The Chiefs Moving Forward

November 29th, 2012 by Lee Eldridge

Kansas City ChiefsAs you know, I’m a diehard Chiefs fan. But I’m not a fanatic. I’m the preacher of patience. The voice of reason. I understand that football is a business, and that not all long-term decisions are popular today. That sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward. That injuries can derail a season. And that sometimes, the football gods are unkind. Not once in more than 20 years have I called for the Chiefs to fire their general manager or head coach.

Until today.

Fire Scot Pioli
The Chiefs are 1-10 in the fourth year of general manager Scott Pioli’s tenure in Kansas City. The worst record in the NFL. This was a team many predicted to win the AFC West. I did not, though I expected them to play much more competitive football. The question that owner Clark Hunt must ask himself is this: Do I want Scott Pioli to lead this team moving forward? Let’s evaluate Pioli’s track record on the most important decisions.

Head Coach: In year one, Pioli hired the fiery Todd Haley to coach the Chiefs. By year two, the Chiefs were 10-6 and won the AFC West. The future looked bright, but a fractured relationship was bubbling under the surface. Apparently Pioli and Haley were unable to work together, and as the Chiefs underachieved in 2011 (they finished 7-9), Haley was fired with three games left in the season. Pioli replaced Haley with veteran defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. I voiced reservations about promoting Crennel last year. Crennel is largely responsible for the team’s failure this year. More on him shortly. Pioli Grade: F

Quarterback: What has happened to the Chiefs is not Matt Cassel’s fault. Since he came to Kansas City, he’s had five offensive coordinators in four years. He’s shown that with the right team and the right coaching, he can be a competent quarterback (see 2008 with the Patriots and 2010 with Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator in KC). But it’s also clear that he’s not good enough to overcome the many obstacles he’s faced in Kansas City. Backup Brady Quinn is worse than Cassel. And second year quarterback Ricky Stanzi must be awful because he can’t even get a whiff of the field. The Chiefs are looking at having to replace at least two, if not all three, of their quarterbacks for 2013. Pioli Grade: F

The Draft: The NFL draft is the lifeblood of your team. And first round picks are one of your most important commodities. In the last four years Pioli has drafted defense lineman Tyson Jackson, safety Eric Berry, wide receiver Jon Baldwin and nose tackle Dontari Poe in the first rounds of the draft. Jackson has been underwhelming to say the least. Berry may become a great player, but I haven’t seen it yet. Baldwin has done nothing. And Poe is a project. Other than 2011′s third round pick, linebacker Justin Houston, have any of Pioli’s picks made a significant impact on the team? No. Pioli Grade: C- (and that’s being generous)

Free Agency: This year’s crop of free agents looked good coming into the year with offensive tackle Eric Winston, running back Peyton Hillis, and cornerback Stanford Routt. Winston has been OK but will be most remembered for calling out Chiefs fans for booing Matt Cassel’s injury. Hillis has been largely ineffective. And Routt has already been released from the team, making the decision not to resign Brandon Carr even worse. In four years in Kansas City, who were Pioli’s most significant signings in free agency? Wide receiver Steve Breaston was productive last year, but has done nothing this year. Offensive guard Ryan Lilja has been pretty good. That’s it. Pioli Grade: F

Pioli has been a bust at hiring head coaches. We have no quarterback of the future. Though I would agree that the team is more talented than it was when he was hired, the majority of our best players were already here (Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Branden Albert, Dwayne Bowe, Dustin Colquitt, and Brandon Flowers). He’s provided no stability within the organization. And we’re left with a losing team, angry fans and a half empty Arrowhead on game days.

There have been reports that Clark Hunt extended Pioli’s contract before this season began, though there have also been reports that the deal was never signed. If true, that would make firing Pioli expensive. Either way, Hunt must fire him. And the sooner, the better.

Romeo CrennelFire Romeo Crennel
When you take a team that was expected to win the division and go 1-10, can you really expect to keep your job? I was afraid that Crennel was another Wade Phillips — a fine defensive coordinator but ineffective head coach. I was wrong. He’s worse than that. Crennel is in way over his head. I could site a whole laundry list of stats to show just how bad this team has been, but the one that sticks out to me the most is point differential. The Chiefs have been outscored by 140 points this year in just 11 games. Take away their one win, and they’re losing by 14 points per game. Only two other teams in the NFL have point differentials of more than 100 — the Raiders at -138 and the Jaguars at -120. This team is more talented than the team that won the division in 2010. The difference is coaching.

Parting Shots
Scott Pioli was a good hire four years ago. He was highly respected around the league from a successful organization. Many expected him to be the next great general manager. It just didn’t work. It happens. If owner Clark Hunt still remains unconvinced about firing Pioli, he needs to think about two things. Why wouldn’t head coach Jeff Fisher consider Kansas City, opting to coach the Rams, a team with less talent than the Chiefs? Why wouldn’t quarterback Peyton Manning consider Kansas City, opting to play for the Broncos, a team with less talent than the Chiefs? Maybe the Chiefs were never serious about either Fisher or Manning. Or maybe they had no desire to come to Kansas City because of Scott Pioli.

Moving Forward
I’ve seen enough of both Pioli and Crennel to know what needs to be done. I would fire Pioli now and start the hunt (no pun intended) for a new general manager. If you can get the right GM hired before the season is over, you’ve given that person a huge advantage heading into next season. I don’t see any advantage of firing Crennel until a new general manager has been hired. Somebody has to coach this team through the next few games. It might as well be Crennel.

The Quarterback
We’ll talk about the quarterback position a lot heading into the draft. My only comment for today is that we know what Matt Cassel is. We think we know what Brady Quinn is. We have no idea what Ricky Stanzi is. The Chiefs need to start Stanzi the last three or four games of the season in order to evaluate him for next year. Is he the future of the team? Probably not. But it would be nice to know if he’s capable of being a competent backup.

New Norm or Obamanomaly?

November 9th, 2012 by Lee Eldridge

Yes, I am still licking my wounds after predicting a Romney win 52-47. An election I thought would be like 1980 with the challenger Reagan beating Carter, ended up more like 2004 with the vulnerable incumbent Bush beating the unlikable Kerry (old rich white guy from Massachusetts).

I’ve spent a little time reading opinions about the election, but not much. Everyone likes to assign blame. Pundits like to make bold points about the winners and losers. Me? I’m just left with a bunch of questions.

In 2008, Obama won with a strong showing from democrats where they outvoted republicans by seven points (D+7). Those of us skeptical about the polls thought the electorate would reflect something closer to its historical numbers. According to exit polls, here’s how party ID has broken down in recent elections (not including independents):

2010: Even
2008: D+7
2006: D+2
2004: Even
2002: R+1
2000: D+4
1998: D+2
1996: D+4
1994: D+1

Even in years where the republicans have done very well, such as 1994 and 2010, party ID is fairly even. I believed that at best the democrats could expect a D+3, which would have won it for Romney. But instead, President Obama wins with an impressive D+6, even though he lost independents by 5 (45/50).

So my question is this: Is this the new normal? Or just an Obamanomaly?

Yesterday, Austan Goolsbee tweeted: “if demogr is the new destiny, are we in for wild 08/10 swings every midterm b/c turnout drops frm 70 to 40 and demo composition shifts?”

I had already decided to write this post before reading Goolsbee’s tweet, but this is the right question to ask. Are we going to continue to see strong showings from democrats in presidential election years on the scale of D+6, and even support for both parties in the mid-term years? If so, don’t be surprised if republicans take the Senate in 2014.

Losing exposes vulnerabilities. And winning masks weaknesses. I’m not sure either party should leap to conclusions about what will happen in future elections.

The Exit Polls

You know I’m a stats geek. Just a few quick thoughts about the exit polls.

Latinos: Obama won with Latinos 71/27. This is a number that the republicans need to take seriously. They can’t lose the Latino vote by such large margins and expect to win national campaigns. The important questions become why did they lose the Latino vote by so much, and what should they do about it? I’m not sure it’s an easy answer.

The War on Women: Much has been made about the war on women. Obama won women by 11 points (55/44). Romney won men by 7 points (52/45). A gender gap exists, but probably not in the way that many of the pundits will explain it to you. Romney won married women (53/46 = almost identical to the “man” vote), but lost single women (31/67). Married women voted on the economy. Single women did not. The big gap wasn’t between men and women, but between married and unmarried women.

The Young Vote: Obama won 18-29 year old voters 60/37 which accounted for a margin of 5.1 million votes. Romney won the 30+ age group by 1.8 million votes. Obama won the election by about 2.5 million votes. Which means that kids in their 20s with little life experience picked the president. (No offense to kids in their 20s. I was there once upon a time, and thought I knew everything, too.)

The White Vote: You probably already know that whites overwhelmingly voted for Romney (59/39). What this stat doesn’t tell you is that millions of whites who voted in 2008 chose not to vote in this election. Whites who voted for Obama stayed home. Whites who voted for McCain stayed home. The republicans thought they had enthusiasm on their side. They did not.

Read more about exit polls here on CNN.

Antiques and More For Sale

November 3rd, 2012 by Lee Eldridge

I don’t typically use the blog for personal gain, but just a quickie. I have some items we want to sell that we don’t have room for in the house. Items include antique roll top desk, antique chairs, gamer chairs, vintage lamps, brass lamps and TV wall mounts. Read more here.

Final Thoughts Election 2012

November 1st, 2012 by Lee Eldridge

This is likely to be my final post before the election on Tuesday. I am looking forward to the end. Or the beginning.

Mitt RomneyState of the Polls
We’ll have an answer on Tuesday about the polls with the only poll that really matters. In case you’ve missed it, there’s been a considerable disturbance in the force. And I’m not talking about Disney buying Lucasfilm. Pollsters and pundits have fallen into one of two camps, and it’s all about voter turnout and party ID. In 2008, democrats outvoted republicans by seven points and swept President Obama into office, along with significant majorities in Congress. In 2010, democrats and republicans voted evenly, and the GOP was swept into Congress, making huge gains in the House, and modest gains in the Senate.

So what will the turnout be in 2012? My guess has been somewhere in the middle, probably two to three points favoring the democrats. Many of the state polls from companies such as Marist and Quinnipiac continue to show democrats with equal or even greater turnout than 2008. This makes little sense to me. Based off of these polls, the left’s polling guru Nate Silver is predicting a 79% chance that Obama will win the election, and take 300 electoral votes in the process. Those on the right question the polls and cite the underlying numbers. The GOP is more enthusiastic about this election, and independents have swung from Obama to Romney in fairly significant numbers. A few of the pollsters such as Gallup and Rasmussen are expecting a turnout that more resembles 2010, or possibly even a republican advantage.

One more anomaly I’ve seen in the polls, then we’ll move on. Polling likely voters is more predictive than polling registered voters. And pollsters attempt to determine if a person is a likely voter, or just a registered voter. On some of theses state polls, they’re filtering out very few voters — they’re considering 96-99% of the registered voters to be likely voters. Enthusiasm for the election may be high, but that’s just ridiculous.

President ObamaEarly Voting
In 2008, Obama crushed McCain in early voting by nearly 20 points. And this was to be one of Obama’s great strengths against Romney. The numbers don’t reflect that. Gallup came out with an article a couple days ago that Romney is beating Obama in early voting 52-46. And if you don’t believe Gallup, Pew came out with similar numbers with Romney ahead 50-43 among early voters. That’s a very bad sign for the President.

The Electoral College
Since the election of 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election, many on the left have wanted to dump the electoral college in favor of the popular vote. There certainly is a scenario where Romney could win the popular vote, lose Ohio, and lose the election. Will these same people scream about the unfairness of the electoral college? Will they claim Obama to be an illegitimate President like they did Bush? My guess is no.

Wednesday Excuses
If Obama loses, what excuses will be made? I wrote an article two months ago detailing why it will be difficult for Obama to win. But for months, some on the far left have set the table full of excuses ready to be used.

Voter Suppression: If you don’t think some on the left will use this as an explanation for Obama’s loss, think again. MoveOn.org has already released a web ad to this point. You can watch it here. May not be appropriate to watch this in an office or around children.

Money: I understand the frustration of those wanting campaign finance reform. There’s a lot of money in politics. And where there’s money, there’s corruption. A few months ago we were seeing articles from the mainstream media about the huge amounts of money raised by Romney and the Super PACs. But with Obama and the democrats raising $181 million in September, it’s difficult to make an argument that Obama didn’t have enough money to compete. And for the most part, these stories have disappeared. In 2008, Obama outraised and outspent McCain by a significant margin. Is that why he won the election? No. Obama was the better candidate, and positioned himself as the agent of change. (Which is what Romney is doing to Obama this time around.)

Racism: I’ve made this point before, and I’ll make it again. There’s a group on the left who believe that if you oppose the President, you must be racist. I’m a fiscal conservative. I oppose the President on many issues because I’m a fiscal conservative, and he’s not. You would think that since the President won by a significant margin in ’08 that this argument would go away. But it hasn’t. If Obama loses, it will be because moderates and independents who voted for him four years ago changed their vote this time around.

Prediction
I see nothing to change my mind about my prediction from August. I still believe Romney will win 52-47, and win the electoral college.

What’s Next?
And even though I believe that Romney will win, and that he’s the right choice, President Obama easily could have won this election. And if he loses, next week I’ll tell you how.