Jon from Wright City, MO
Vic, I have embraced your “players, not plays” philosophy and I find a lot of fans in all the major sports do not tend to have that same philosophy. My question is what do I look for in coaches to know if they are a good coach or a bad coach? How can I tell if the talent is poor or the coach is not tapping into all that talent? When should a coach be fired?
Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh and Jimmy Johnson were a combined 4-42 in their rookie seasons as head coach. Combined, those three coaches would go on to win nine Super Bowls so, clearly, their teams lacked talent when they inherited them. Fans need to control their expectations and show some patience. Noll was 5-9 in his second season and 6-8 in year three. By today's impatient standards, Noll would've been fired after year three. Instead, the Steelers' patient ownership saw the improvement and felt the greatness that lie ahead, and remained committed to a man who would win four Super Bowls in six years. The answer to your question, Jon, is you'll know a good coach when you see one. His qualities are undeniable. His team improves in all ways. The longer he coaches it, the more dramatically its arrow points upward. His players respect him and it shows in their effort. They win with consistent execution, not with will-of-the-wisp schemes that excite one week and disappoint the next. Good coaches have an identity and it becomes their team's identity. Their teams impose their will. They make big plays at big times in the game. They are resolute. One more thing: Good coaches have good ownerships. Without a committed owner, a good coach may lack the time and support required to win.
L.J. from Chicago, IL
In your response to the naming of a London team, you stated they’ll carry the relocated team’s name with them. Not always. It’s still not the Tennessee Oilers now, is it? And it sure as heck wasn’t the Baltimore Browns.
The Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta and they're still the Braves. The Giants and Dodgers moved from New York to California and they're still the Giants and Dodgers. The Athletics were originally in Philadelphia and spent time in Kansas City before moving to Oakland, and they're still the Athletics. The Colts are still the Colts, the Cardinals are still the Cardinals, and the Rams moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles to St. Louis and back to Los Angeles and they're still the Rams but, you're right, a few fleeing franchises have elected to rebrand themselves. The Chiefs, for example, were originally the Dallas Texans. The Brewers were the Pilots when they played in Seattle. As for the Oilers, they remained the Oilers when they began their move from Houston to Tennessee. They were the Oilers when they played in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis in 1997, and they were still the Oilers when they played at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville in 1998. They didn't become the Titans until their third season in Tennessee. The Browns? Art Modell left the name behind as a peace offering.
Fred from Jacksonville, FL
Tony Brackens on your All-Vic Steelers, Jags, Packers team as defensive end. Did I read that right? With all those defensive linemen on the Steel Curtain? Can you tell us about Tony Brackens and what made you choose him?
Brackens might be the best natural pass rusher I ever covered. He was a playmaker. He could and did take over games. He turned in a Joe Greene-like performance in Baltimore one year; his play dominated and decided the game. He wasn't great against the run, but I've never covered a defensive lineman who was better in space than Brackens was. I largely felt he was under-used. It wasn't until Dom Capers came along that Brackens' talents were fully utilized. A knee injury compromised and cut short what could've become a Hall-of-Fame career.
Pete from Minneapolis, MN
Vic, what’s a run game coordinator?
He specializes in coordinating the strategy and execution involved in the running game. He would report, for example, what he observed on tape of the opponent's run defense. He might detect a particular flaw the run game might attack. It could be something that might've escaped a broader look at the opponent. A run game coordinator provides greater attention to detail to a phase of the game that isn't getting the attention it once did. The days of endless nine-on-seven drills in practice are over because padded practices and contact drills have been greatly reduced. I like the idea of a run game coordinator. If I was a head coach, I'd at least assign to one of my offensive assistants the task of finding a way to convert third-and-one downs. Converting third and one has become so difficult and critical to the outcome of games I might even name a third-and-one coordinator. The ball shouldn't have to be thrown to gain a yard.
Kelly from Koloa, HI
Vic, as a reporter, what makes a good question?
I think a good question allows the interviewee to talk on the subject beyond yes and no. A good question doesn't accurse, it explores. A good question invites thought and commentary. For example, "What did you think you could do offensively?" is a good question. It's broad enough to allow commentary without causing the interviewee to become defensive or beg off the question because it might reveal specific strategy. It's a fair question and it's deserving of a respectful response. "Should you have run more screen passes?" is not a good question. Why? Because you're not going to get a good answer. It goes to strategy and talent evaluation. It's very unlikely a coach or quarterback is going to say, "Yeah, we should've run more screen passes because their linebackers stink." A good interviewer asks questions that can be answered. The tough questions, or at least the ones fans think are tough, are really just show-off ambush questions. It doesn't require much interviewing skill to get a coach, for example, on camera and ask him point blank, "Who's to blame for this defeat?" That's not a question, that's a statement. The interviewer has already formed his opinion and he wants the coach to help write the story.
Jim from Maple Grove, MN
Vic, of course it's about the money. When we're talking about NFL star level money, how much of it is about paying the bills, and how much of it is about keeping score?
First, you take care of business, and then you play the game. Yes, it's a game of the heart, but only after it's a game of the wallet. I feel sorry for fans who won't accept that fact. They're doomed to wallow in delusion and sentiment.
Jimmy from Vero Beach, FL
Years ago, I read "The League: The Rise and Decline of the NFL," by David Harris, based on your recommendation. It's one of my favorite books I've ever read. Are there any other books that give an insider's view of the league? I'd love it if you'd ever post an extensive list of your favorite books. Thanks for increasing my joy.
"The Making of the Super Bowl," by Don Weiss, is a must read for any fan who wants to know how pro football became America's sports obsession. Weiss gives the best account of the roots of the modern game I have ever read.
David from Madison, WI
Would you share any tales of the old Houston air attack?
The "Red Gun" offense moved the ball up and down the field as though it was playing against air. Ernest Givens and Haywood Jeffires were a great pass-receiving combination, and Warren Moon was perfectly suited for the four-wide attack. It was near the goal line where the problems surfaced. The Oilers' run and shoot offense didn't have a tight end on the roster and it wasn't very good at pounding the ball. It liked open spaces and, as the field tightened, the Oilers tended to stall.
Jonathan from St. Joseph, MO
Even though I prefer an Eddie Lacy style running back, isn't a Le'Veon Bell style more sustainable?
I think Bell is the prototype for the future, which is to say a big back who runs with finesse. Saquon Barkley strikes me as the same type of back. He's a big back with light feet and a stop-and-start style. He likes to hurdle. I like guys who drop their pads and punish, but those days are fading away.
Christopher from Hagerstown, MD
Vic, I'm thinking about getting a kayak to do a little lazy water fishing. Do you recommend a sit-in or sit-on type?
For lazy water, you want a sit-in kayak. They cut the water and move more quickly, gracefully. For rough water or for riding the waves in the ocean surf, you want a sit-on kayak.
Dan from St. Michael, MN
My wife met Phil Villapiano recently and brought me home an autographed football. I wasn't familiar with him and I'd love to hear anything about him you could share with me.
He was a darn good linebacker for the '70s Raiders. My special memory is from a moment late in a 1977 game between the Steelers and Raiders, a game the Raiders won. I was down on the field, standing with a couple of other reporters, as Villapiano walked by. He was headed to the locker room with a knee injury. Villapiano looked at us and said, "The Steelers are history!" I smiled. That was the last game he played that season, and the Steelers would win two more Super Bowls.
Craig from Cedarburg, WI
If you could pick a coach from the pre-1978 era to coach in today’s game, who would you pick?
Your question was answered a long time ago. It's Bill Walsh. The 49ers saw in Walsh what Paul Brown missed. Walsh's ways as de facto offensive coordinator of the Bengals would become the future of the game. In my mind, Walsh is the mastermind of post-1978 offense. He taught everyone how to use the passing game as an extension of the running game. Walsh is the father of dink-and-dunk offense.
T.J. from Tampa, FL
Vic, what’s your latest quarterbacks Mt. Rushmore look like?
Unitas, Brady and Graham are set. It's the fourth guy I debate. I could go with Peyton Manning, but he's from the same era as Brady. I could go with Dan Marino, but he never won a championship. I'll go with Joe Montana. Those four quarterbacks offer a solid representation of success since the passing game became prominent.
Eric from Lansing, MI
Vic, I have learned from you not to set my sights on the Super Bowl as the goal of the season. Instead, there are many other basic dramas to watch. If you break the season into four-game segments, what is the drama at each stage, from your perspective?
The first four games of the season let you know what you have in the tank. The next four let you know if you need a tune up. The third four-game stretch lets you know if the heater is working. The final four games tell you what you have under the hood.
Lori from Brookfield, WI
Vic, what signs of decline did you see in Tom Brady's game last season?
He began to sack himself. Surrender is the beginning of the end.