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Mark's Blog

Mark Knudson’s Three Strikes Blog: Bobo made a mistake coming to CSU; MPJ is MIA, and “Kill the Win” in the NFL

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@MarkKnudson41

Strike One: Mike Bobo is a good man. But he made a mistake accepting the head coaching gig at Colorado State.

Back in 2014, Bobo was one of those “hot commodity” college football assistant coaches. At the time he was the Offensive Coordinator at the University of Georgia and looking for his first head coaching opportunity. CSU had just lost Jim McElwain to the Florida Gators after a 10-3 season in 2014. There was a Grand Opening scheduled for a spectacular, brand new football stadium on the CSU campus in August of 2016, along with new practice facilities to boot. Everything was trending in the right direction for the Rams. As non-Power Five jobs where concerned, CSU was about the best out there five years ago.

When their search began, Colorado State officials initially targeted Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost, and while the two sides got very close to an agreement, Frost elected to stay with the Ducks who were in the College Football Play-off that season (he took the Central Florida job after the following season.) Second choice was Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who instead accepted the head job at the University of Pittsburgh. CSU turned to Bobo, and he took the job.

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He shouldn’t have.

Bobo’s roots were – and still are – in the deep south. He played and coached at the University of Georgia. He quarterbacked the Bulldogs from 1993-97, spent time as a graduate assistant in Athens before accepted the job as the QB coach at Jacksonville in 2000. Before coming to Fort Collins, it was the only year of his coaching career he didn’t spend “between the hedges.”

Bobo returned to Athens in 2001 and spent five years as the QB coach there before becoming the OC in 2007.

Add it all up, and Bobo had coached for 17 years before moving his family and his life to our forgotten time zone. He spent 16 of those at Georgia, the other in Florida. No question he knew the landscape down in Dixie. He had a bunch of recruiting connections and several dozen area high school coaches on speed dial.

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As for Colorado? It might as well have been in Canada.

You certainly don’t fault a young coach from wanting his own head coaching opportunity. Spending 17 years as an assistant was enough. But Bobo and CSU weren’t a good fit from the outset. When he formed his first coaching staff, he kept local coaching vet Marty English on board, but everyone else was pure Dixie. And they didn’t spend much time updating the names on their speed dials with the 303 or720 area codes.

In state recruiting slacked off, and with so many new recruits coming from homes so far away, it should come as no surprise that the name on the front of the green jerseys took on less importance to those out of state kids who ended up wearing it.

Ironically, this was around the time the university started using the moto, “State Pride” when that was something that was sorely lacking.

There were a lot of head coaching openings after that 2014 season. Big ones like Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin and Nebraska among others. No telling which schools Bobo and his agent spoke with, but you could certainly see him as a better fit at a place like Troy (in Alabama) or Tulsa. Maybe even SMU or Houston. All were looking for new coaches that winter.

Bobo would have been better off starting his head coaching career at a place located at or below the Mason-Dixon line, where he already knew the landscape. Had he spent a few seasons at a school closer to his roots, he could have learned the ropes, built a better resume, and won more football games on turf he was already familiar with. THEN he could have had his choice of head coaching gigs – when a season likes this one, for example, winds down. There are already openings right now at Florida State and Missouri. Bobo would have probably been a candidate for both if he’d had five solid seasons at Troy first.

This is all revisionist history now, and there’s no doubt Mike Bobo will eventually become a very successful head football coach. It’s just that now – here – is not that time. CSU and Bobo are a bad fit. Perhaps a return to his roots (as say maybe the new/old OC for the Georgia Bulldogs?) would help jump start things back in the right direction for him?

Strike Two: It’s all great when you’re winning. So right now is not the time to grumble about the Denver Nuggets. Or is it?

The Nuggets have very quietly put together one of the best starts in the NBA. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are getting almost all the attention – along with the LA Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks. But Denver has the second-best record in the Western Conference. And no one outside the Colorado border knows it.

But everything isn’t…great.

This year’s Nuggets are playing excellent team defense, which is a welcome sight for head coach Michael Malone. He’s been trying to get his team to this point for five seasons. But offensively, the Nuggets are stagnant. A lot of standing and watching other guys go one-on-one. The bad part is Denver doesn’t really have a great one-on-one scorer. No one on this team is great at creating his own shot. Success on offense last season came from excellent ball movement with a lot of assists. Those things are lacking so far this season.

On offense, this year’s Nuggets look almost identical to last spring’s Nuggets. Those guys were taken to seven games by an inferior San Antonio team in the first round of the play-offs, only to get bounced out in the second round by Portland…all because outside of Nikola Jokic, they couldn’t shoot. At all. As a team, Denver shot 46% in the series against the Spurs, just 39% in Game 7 (and still somehow won.) They dropped to 42% for the Portland series, with an abysmal 37% shooting effort in the Game 7 loss that ended their season.

That’s why everyone who follows the Nuggets was so excited about the addition of a healthy Michael Porter Jr. to the line-up. Finally, a dynamic scoring threat who can slash to the basket AND hit from the outside. At 6’10” he’s a match up nightmare. That’s something Denver hasn’t had since…well…Carmelo Anthony in his heyday I suppose. Imagine what MPJ could do being on the receiving end of passes from the Joker?

And now that Porter is healthy and ready to roll…he’s mostly…sitting on the bench. Porter has been a “DNP/Coach’s Decision” seven times in the first 17 games, including the last two. He’s gotten double figure minutes in just three games.

Malone is rolling with the same group that won 53 games last season. If the goal is to exceed last season’s win total, perhaps earn the top seed in the conference, then it’s a sound strategy. Porter’s defense isn’t yet close to where it needs to be to fit in with this group. In fact, it drives Malone nuts sometimes. He wants five guys on the court who are all committed to playing that excellent team defense. Porter’s game at that end of the floor remains a work in progress.

Question is, how is MPJ supposed to get better at anything if he doesn’t get on the floor? Malone is playing Will Barton, Torrey Craig and Jauncho Hernangomez in front of Porter. All three are decent players who’ve already hit their ceiling. Each is as good as they will ever be, which is a long way from what Porter has the potential to become. None of them is going to suddenly become an above average scoring threat.

You know what they say: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Playing the same line-up as last season means winning in the play-offs is likely to be a struggle…just like it was last season.

If the goal is to win in the play-offs, then Malone should sacrifice some defense in December and get Porter and his offensive potential on the floor. Get him consistent, meaningful minutes now and come play-off time, MPJ will be a better defensive player at a time when his offense will be desperately needed.

Strike Three: There’s a movement out there to “Kill the Win” statistic in Major League Baseball. The feeling is that continuing to count a “W” for a starting pitcher in the age of mega-bullpen use has become pretty meaningless. I disagree, but that debate’s for another time.

But what about the NFL?

At the end of Sunday’s dramatic Denver Broncos win over the LA Chargers, Drew Lock stood as only the second Broncos quarterback since Peyton Manning retired to have a “winning record.” Of course, Lock is now 1-0.

And if he were a starting pitcher, the fact that Lock finished the game and played a substantial role in the victory would earn him that “W.” Cheers.

That doesn’t change the fact that the way the NFL counts “wins” for quarterbacks is ridiculous.

The only other Broncos QB with a “winning record” is the eminently forgettable Trevor Siemian, who was 13-11 as a Broncos starter.

What a crock.

More often than not during the 2016 season, the defending Super Bowl champs had to try to win games in spite of lousy quarterback play from first-time starter Siemian.

Let’s look back at a couple of examples. For starters, in his first game as the starter, Siemian got credit for a win when Carolina Panther’s kicker Graham Gano missed a field goal in the waning seconds – after hitting a practice attempt right before the Broncos called a time out second earlier. Siemian passed for 187 yard and threw two interceptions in that game. He was almost the reason the Broncos lost.

Later that year, Siemian was credited with a win after leaving the game in the second quarter and being relieved by Paxton Lynch, who in his best performance as a Bronco led Denver to a 27-7 win. In MLB, a starter must go more than half the game to qualify for the win. In the NFL, all you have to do is start it.

The following season, Drew Brees drove the New Orleans Saints to what appeared to be the winning touchdown with just over a minute to play before the Broncos Justin Simmons blocked the extra point and Will Parks returned it for a two-point conversion and a 25-23 Denver win… that on the stat sheet at least, Siemian got credit for. Really.

Those are just three examples that poke big holes in Siemian’s “won-loss” record. He was a lousy starting quarterback and Denver was lucky to win in spite of his subpar play.

So maybe those guys who are campaigning to “Kill the Win” in MLB should first work on getting rid of it in the NFL, where all you need to do is get introduced with the starters in order to qualify.

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