Sam Mellinger

Bill Self going hard, Clark Hunt bad at PR, Andy Reid learning (?), baseball free agents, and love advice

Lagerald Vick's return means Kansas faces uncertainty with the minutes in its rotation.
Lagerald Vick's return means Kansas faces uncertainty with the minutes in its rotation. skeyser@kcstar.com

Bill Self can be mean. He can be cold. He can be demanding, unrelenting, brutal, and challenging.

And that’s usually to the players he likes.

I’ve had the opportunity to watch many practices over the years, and the guy who got it the worst might’ve been Andrew Wiggins. Self probably wanted it to be that way. Wiggins is the best recruit he’s ever signed, a 100 percent lock to be one-and-done, so if Self showed his guys he’d be tough on the golden boy then nobody was off limits.

“Best player in the country my foot!” he yelled during one moment, though he definitely did not say foot. “Tell me one thing you do to help us win. Just one!”

After lack of effort and selfishness, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self will change his starting lineup Tuesday night, starting Mitch Lightfoot in place of Lagerald Vick against TCU.

Thing is, Self usually keeps that kind of thing in private. You’ll see him go bananas on the sideline during games, get in guys’ faces, but what coach doesn’t do a little of that? He’s better than most at using the media to get his message across, but the harshest criticisms are usually calling someone “soft,” and even then it’s done in generalities — not to a specific player.

That’s what made his rant on Lagerald Vick yesterday stand out. He never mentioned Vick by name, but the message was obvious, and not just because Vick is losing his spot in the starting lineup in favor of Mitch Lightfoot.

Self has talked often — this year and many times in the past — about how he believes the most valuable part of having a deep roster is being able to bench guys who aren’t playing well or smart enough.

He has virtually no depth on this team, so his players know they can play through mistakes, which means Self has almost certainly tried every motivational ploy he can think of with Vick before resorting to a benching and public admonishment.

Vick may be KU’s best athlete, and if he’s not, he’s absolutely the guy who is most underperforming at the moment.

KU will probably still win at least a share of the league title no matter what he does going forward, but a share of the league title stopped being the goal a long time ago. The margin for error is smaller at KU than it’s been in a very long time, and Vick has the lion’s share of that margin.

Maybe he’s unreachable, maybe there’s something else going on that’s stopping him from giving his best effort.

Whatever the case, this is a desperate coach going to a desperate move.

This week’s eating recommendation is the steak sandwich at Brewery Emperial, and the reading recommendation is Ted Jackson the search for Jackie Wallace.

Please give me a follow on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

My goodness, what a bad look.

For reasons that stretch beyond that scene, and beyond Nick Foles winning the Super Bowl and being named the game’s MVP, Fisher should not be given another head coaching job in the NFL, ever.

He’s trying, you know. Wants another job. And I’m not here to make Fisher jokes, either. He’s a smart football man. You don’t get a head coaching job without knowing football. But he’s a coordinator at best, and probably more a guy in line for a sort of Brad Childress consulting job with an old friend somewhere.

The Eagles won the Super Bowl. They won with a ton of injuries, with Foles as their quarterback, and they beat the closest thing to a dynasty we’re likely to see in the modern NFL.

We all have takeaways here, and I’m not going to diminish any of them. Different perspectives are good. Maybe you think the takeaway is that aggressive coaches win, or that Foles is now an elite quarterback, or that quarterbacks are overrated, or that sports fans tend to take results of games far more absolutely than they should.

I actually agree with the last one, because if Jake Elliott misses that kick, Corey Clement’s touchdown wasn’t ruled a catch, or the Patriots’ right guard held his block, or the Patriots blew up that 4th and 1 pass to Foles, or a hundred other moments went another way we could be talking about the Patriots winning a sixth Super Bowl in 17 years.

My takeaway: we need to stop acting like there’s one way to win.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson, the former Chiefs offensive coordinator, spoke to his team after its win over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018.

We need to stop acting like every year’s champion — in any sport — is The New Way to win.

We need to stop acting like every sport’s champion is absolutely the best in the sport, that there’s not some chance involved, that the results of the game or season should be taken as the objectively best way of doing something.

It’s nonsense.

I’m probably more guilty of this than I’d like to admit, so to whatever extent I’ve acted like there is one certain way to win in a given sport I apologize.

Teams need to be adaptable. They need to be lucky. They need to be gutsy. They need to be well prepared, and talented, and confident, and smart, but perhaps above all else they need to be adaptable.

There’s always A Next Way to win, and teams need to be smarter and quicker in finding it. The Eagles won because they have a terrific roster and performed in the right moments and got the right breaks.

You can say fortune favors the bold, and that’s true, but fortune also favors the smart, and the prepared. That’s what teams need. They don’t need to chase some prepackaged template of winning created by some other champion. They need to create their own template, and innovate, and do things their way.

That’s my takeaway, but even calling it a takeaway is the wrong way to say it, because it implies it comes from this year’s Super Bowl.

And that’s not what I mean. I thought this before the other night, and it’s part of why I think the most important thing the Chiefs can do this offseason is for Andy Reid to do some uncomfortable soul-searching and self-scouting about how he can find the next edge, or create his own new edge, to maximize the margins in a way that he’s so far been unable to do.

He’s a good coach, and anyone who tells you otherwise is not worth your attention. The narrative about him being unable to call plays is completely overdone. You can’t stick around 19 years, and clean up the 2-14 mess of 2012 the way he did without being a good coach.

He’s terrific in many of the most important ways. That’s why his teams are almost always good in a league built to ensure everyone takes their turn being bad.

But at the highest levels, NFL games are won on tiny margins, and Reid hasn’t been good enough in those margins. Some of that is a lack of aggressiveness in moments of certain games, some is not being proactive enough in diversifying scheme and calls, some is boring program management stuff done behind the scenes.

But that part has to change, or else there’s no reason to believe a man who for 19 years has been good enough to lose in the playoffs will continue to be anything more.

I’ve asked him that question directly, and there’s no one thing, no single criteria. He will talk about making progress, and of winning games, and of making the playoffs and of winning the Super Bowl.

I thought he made a very basic, avoidable, and sadly predictable mistake in telling Terez this was a successful season.

Part of me thinks that’s him trying to be positive, trying to shine light on the accomplishments instead of the failures, but no matter what it was a dumb thing that he should not have said. He knows the reputation he and his franchise have, that the goal too often is to be good instead of great, and he should have known calling an embarrassing playoff collapse at home to an inferior team a successful season would have been fairly crushed by fans.

I have a lot of thoughts about this.

In general, owners don’t matter as much as some fans and lots of media want to believe. Owners can lose games and seasons, but they can’t win them. Their job is to hire the best people, support them, and stay out of the way.

Jeff Lurie didn’t make any football decisions that led to the Super Bowl beyond hiring Doug Pederson and supporting him. Robert Kraft didn’t make any football decisions that kept the Patriots from winning. Owners can screw things up, they can get in the way, but they can’t make draft picks and can’t call plays.

Specific to Clark, I believe he’s a fine owner in the ways that functionally matter the most, even as he’s among the many owners across the league who are better for the league than their own teams.

I believe he supports his football people, tries to learn from his own mistakes, challenges the processes of those who work for him in the right ways, and — yes — wants to win a Super Bowl.

I believe part of that desire is specifically because his dad went so long without doing it, because he’s spent his life as Lamar’s kid and winning a Super Bowl would be his best way to early his own platform.

I also believe he is really bad at PR.

Really bad at speaking to fans.

He’s not a naturally charismatic person, doesn’t have his dad’s everyman charm, doesn’t have a salesman’s way, and too often shows himself to be detached or out of touch with how so many of his fans are feeling.

He’s too smart, and has been doing this too long, to not be better at that.

This is, I believe, where so much of the fan frustration with him comes from.

Honestly, I’m not sure that can change.

And, honestly, I’m not sure it fundamentally matters. If the Chiefs win a Super Bowl, the opinion of Clark changes. If they don’t, he can only do so much to improve his image.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-conversation=”none” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>In your opinion, what is the next move the Chiefs need to make??</p>&mdash; Mitch (@mitchdegraw) <a href=”https://twitter.com/mitchdegraw/status/960533237536784385?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw“>February 5, 2018</a></blockquote>

<script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js“ charset=”utf-8”></script>

Well, besides Andy Reid making those changes we talked about earlier, right?

At this point, it’s mostly about improving the cap on the way to improving the roster.

The Chiefs got a lot better last week with the trade of Alex Smith. That’s not necessarily even a statement about Patrick Mahomes’ ability, and it’s certainly not a statement about Alex Smith.

It’s a statement about clearing nearly $16 million in cap space, adding a really, REALLY good cornerback, and a draft pick.

Give me a paragraph about Kendall Fuller, the cornerback who comes over from Washington. I watched a lot of Fuller tape last week, including during the A-Team’s emergency podcast, and it’s hard to believe Washington gave him up. He’s only 22, still on a rookie contract. He’s aggressive, appears really smart and well-prepared in anticipating routes, plays with obvious confidence, and fills a position of desperate need.

Washington will be sending cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs as part of the Alex Smith trade. These five Pro Football Focus stats show how well Fuller played in 2017.

At this point, the Chiefs are about $8 million under the cap, which really isn’t much with a draft class still needing to be signed. So the next moves need to be about creating more space.

The most obvious is Tamba Hali. He has to go. I believe this will be Brett Veach’s easiest decision of the offseason, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already told Tamba. Derrick Johnson needs to be cut or restructured, and the same can be said of Allen Bailey. There are others, like Dan Sorensen or Demetrius Harris, the typical sorts of cap pruning that most teams go through.

This is hand in hand with acquiring talent, without naming names — though, for the record, I’d be all for adding Aqib Talib — the Chiefs need help at all three levels of the defense plus a veteran backup quarterback and perhaps some depth on the offensive line.

This is a little revisionist. Foles wasn’t that good against Jacksonville. Threw a deep ball that was a bad idea executed poorly, should’ve been picked, but was dropped because the Jags still stunk back then. Threw another in a key moment later that could’ve been picked.

Overall, completed 20 of 33 passes for 187 yards that day. The Chiefs won 19-14 with a gameplan that looked mostly geared toward not exposing him.

Now, he was really good the week before, at Indianapolis, in relief duty after Alex Smith’s head bounced off the concrete turf there a few times. If that’s what you’re thinking of, yes, that was a good showing — 16 of 22, 223 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was aggressive, decisive, and effective.

But, I don’t know, I stand before you today unwilling to crush the Chiefs for that decision. I believe Alex Smith is better than Nick Foles. I believe that Philadelphia has a much better offensive line, and a dominant defense that helped him look good.

Smith is often criticized for not throwing deep enough, even after he was among the NFL’s most effective deep passers this season, and threw for nearly a yard and a half more per attempt than Foles this season. Smith is a better athlete.

I guess this gets back to what I said at the top. Focusing on the quarterback is almost always the better story, especially in this instance, but there’s so much more that goes into it.

Foles was terrific in the postseason, but Smith has been pretty good in those games, too: 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.

The better story to write or take to make is that Foles just proved Smith stinks, or is otherwise not up to the challenge, but the truer statement is that Smith is the better or at worst a comparable quarterback and that Foles was surrounded by better talent, coaching, and breaks this year.

I’d also say this: the Eagles’ success is an argument for what the Chiefs are currently doing. Build around a quarterback on a rookie contract. If you believe in him, and can use the excess money for the best possible roster, it’s the cleanest path to success.

Eagles quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles talks about playing against Tom Brady and the Patriots in the biggest game of them all. The Eagles upset the Patriots, 41-33.

Cousins.

But let me say this: the Broncos aren’t the problem.

That offensive line is a mess, and the defense isn’t as good as the public image. Their most obvious problem is quarterback, but there are a lot of issues with that roster. I believe it’s much more likely that the Chargers win the division next year than the Broncos, and I might say the same thing about the Raiders.

No.

You’re not going to like this, but golfers are the biggest crybabies.

Yeah, I said it. Someone had to say it. It had to be said.

I mean, come on. This happened ...

... and golf acted like the man kneecapped Tiger.

I get it, golf culture, golf etiquette, all that stuff. But this is also sports, entertainment, and please god forbid some excitement happening.

But, anyway, on with baseball players ...

... yes.

First, let me quick tangent into tying this together with the previous question. I understand the temptation to call the players whiners, and in some cases they are, but they absolutely should be making the case for the biggest contracts possible.

Reality gets muddied a bit when we’re talking about $18 million salaries not being fair, but one of the great successes of the owners is that they’ve kept their books (mostly) closed while players’ salaries are publicly known.

Eric Hosmer is a good example here. He could sign right now for 7 years and $140 million. But if he’s truly pushing for an eighth or ninth year, it becomes easy for fans to throw their hands up, and wonder what’s wrong with $140 million over seven years while forgetting that owners run foolproof and no-risk businesses worth hundreds of millions (at least).

Barring any free-agent additions in the final days before spring training, the Royals are expected to spend more than $110 million in payroll in 2018, a reduction of more than $30 million from last season, according to a Star analysis of the proje

It becomes easy to forget that if Hosmer signs somewhere else, and the Royals continue to cut payroll, that $140 million isn’t going toward lower ticket prices. It’s going into David Glass’ pocket.

All things being equal, I’d much rather see the money go toward the players we all spend time and money to watch.

But none of this is answering your question. Yes, I believe this offseason is adding to an already rocky relationship between players and owners. I believe the players got fleeced on the current CBA, and that factors that would have been nearly impossible to predict when it was signed have made things even worse.

The players essentially agreed to a salary cap in the current CBA. You can’t call it that, technically, but the luxury tax penalties are such that a cap effectively exists. The players gave that up and didn’t get enough in return, settling for more days off, better travel, per diems, stuff like that. They gave up limits on amateur spending.

If the union is anywhere close to as strong as its reputation and past, the next CBA will be vastly different, and I’m afraid there will be a work stoppage before we find out if that’s true.

I want to be clear. There are a lot of factors going on. Teams are valuing players differently, the richest teams don’t have needs that align with some of the bigger free agents, next year’s class is convincing teams to hold off this year, and some players are probably demanding too much. It’s a complicated issue.

But, taken from 30,000 feet, it’s hard not to believe that teams should be spending more than they have so far.

Barring a drastic change, this is setting up for a highly contentious negotiation for the next CBA. The current deal expires in 2021.

Anything is possible, particularly this year, but that seems unlikely for a few reasons. Mostly on his side.

First of all, I’ve never had the feeling Moose wants to stay in Kansas City. I think he genuinely likes the organization, appreciates the opportunity, but I’ve never had the sense from either side of a burning desire to go long-term.

I don’t know anything for sure, but I always assumed Moose wanted to go to Anaheim. So when they acquired Cozart, filling third base, maybe that changes some things but a return to Kansas City would still be a longshot.

Moustakas’ value would be lessened as a first baseman, and if he wasn’t happy with his options this winter it seems like a one- or two-year deal with the Yankees would be good for each side. Wouldn’t cost the Yankees a ton in modern baseball terms, Moose could stay at third base where he’s more valuable, and that ballpark and division would be gold for his swing and approach.

I’m actually a little conflicted about this.

As a fan, yes, 100 percent, an eight-team playoff would be far superior to a four-team playoff. Have a spot for the champion of each Power Five league, one spot for the best team from lower leagues, and the last two spots for the best remaining.

This way, everyone truly, literally, actually has a chance.

But there’s also part of me a little uncomfortable with the idea of demanding more games from unpaid players in a fundamentally dangerous sport just so our online debates are smoother.

In an eight game playoff, two teams could play 16 games. That’s a lot of collisions, a lot of danger, a lot of violence for some left guard and communications major who’s going to be in a cubicle after football.

I don’t know how to reconcile that.

If you make me king, I’d eliminate conference championship games, and move to an eight-game playoff. That way you’re not adding games to anyone’s schedule, and are actually eliminating some, with a better way to determine a champion at the end.

True, if the alternative is the status quo.

I’d actually prefer a system where the coaches were held to the same sit-a-year rule as players, so that coaches wanting to take another Division I job had to wait a year.

That will obviously never happen, so my next preference would be simply allowing all athletes a free transfer if their head coach *or primary recruiter* is fired or takes another job.

That’s pretty simple, and fundamentally fair.

Failing that, yes, sure, give the kids one free transfer. I understand the objection to it, but even with that massive rule change, the power would still be on the coaches’ side. I know Bill Self talked about not wanting a system where players on the other team were recruited during the handshake line, but that type of thing happens now.

Also, one more thing: If a kid is transferring, the school he’s leaving should not be allowed to dictate where he ends up. That’s absurd.

Oh, man, I hope so.

You probably know where I stand on this. I want Kansas and Missouri to play all the games. I want this because I’m a sports columnist in Kansas City, and it would be good for business, but I also want this because I’m a sports fan in Kansas City, and it would be fun. It would be interesting.

Sports are supposed to be fun.

Sports are supposed to be interesting.

All that talk from some Kansas fans about how they didn’t care about the rivalry looked even sillier than it originally sounded when tickets for that exhibition at Sprint Center sold out in 3 seconds.

NCAA Tournament games don’t need extra storylines, but what KU or Mizzou fan would not be a little more interested in their first round games if a Border War awaited in the second round?

What KU or Mizzou fan wouldn’t be a little more interested in their second round game if it was the Border War?

Now, all that being said, I’ve talked to enough people who have been in on the process of making the bracket and enough media folk who’ve done the mock selection to believe there are too many boxes to check and not enough time to go back and matchmake based on TV appeal.

So what I’m telling you is that if it happens, I won’t be among those who believe the NCAA did it intentionally.

But I will be among those hugely grateful that the NCAA did it.

No.

I understand what you’re saying, the point you’re making, and in some important ways I agree. The whole is the most important thing, not the sum of the parts.

But you can only believe Mizzou is better without Porter if you believe Porter wouldn’t at least try to defend, that he wouldn’t give effort, that he would be such a detriment that it the negative would outweigh 25 (or so) per game plus the added space for his teammates.

Missouri freshman Jontay Porter discusses his bounce-back game against the Crimson Tide on Wednesday night. Mizzou won 69-60.

I — ahem — have covered 100 percent of Porter’s college career in person, but I can’t begin to tell you what kind of defender he would be and I would encourage you to laugh at anyone who tries.

I actually think Porter is exactly what Mizzou needs. He’s buckets. He’s a mismatch. He’s a scorer for a team that often struggles to score. This team is at its best when it defends, and I’m hopeful that the wins at Alabama (Mizzou’s best game of the year, in my opinion) and against Kentucky are a sign of a developing identity.

That kind of thing is particularly important in college basketball, and often happens around this time of the season.

But color me skeptical that the same thing couldn’t be true if Porter was healthy. And if it was, having a team build its identity around defense with (presumably) one of the nation’s best individual scorers would be a hell of a thing.

Well, benching Lagerald Vick in favor of Mitch Lightfoot is a heck of a start.

There is no question that KU needs more from Vick. He’s been bad, he’s been passive, he’s been ineffective. He’s also their best athlete. It’s a conundrum.

Beyond that, I would shift the offense to center more around Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman, and a little less around Devonte Graham.

Graham is a really nice college player, but he’s a bad finisher around the basket, which means he’s a bit of a square-peg-round-hole for a team in need of more attacking the basket.

Focus things on driving lanes for Svi and Newman, with Graham being more of a safety valve for kickouts. No shot is a bad shot for Svi, and the more they can get up and down the court quickly, the better.

Lightfoot is averaging about 14 minutes per game. I’d push that number somewhere between 20 and 25. He’s become a much more explosive athlete, he’s active, and he rebounds.

Most of all, I’d try to convince this team that their success is going to be on defense. That has to be how they win. Offensively, I think they’re fine. They should continue to fire 3’s, and they’re skilled and smart enough to get the right shots when they need them.

But defensively, there’s a lot more room. They should be able to pressure more, to play passing lanes more, to use athleticism to create more opportunities in the open court.

But that has to start with defense.

Well, you’ve come to the right place for romantic advice. You and your significant other are in great care. I am well known throughout the Heartland for the best tips for impressing your loved one.

I could not be less serious.

The key to this, like many things in life, is preparation. The best thing to do is have a notes file on your phone for all the times your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/whatever mentions something they like. Could be a shirt, could be a food, could be a restaurant, could be anything.

Whatever it is, write it down, save it, and don’t forget about this file on your phone, like I always do.

That way, when a birthday or anniversary or Valentine’s Day comes, you’re prepared, you order the gift, and you sit back and wait to hear, “HOW DID YOU KNOW,” and you just smile and say, “Oh, c’mon, baby, you know I love you.”

Or, at least, that’s how I picture how it would go if I ever did this.

Failing that, you could do what I’ve done, which is find a jewel of a woman who doesn’t care all that much about Valentine’s Day. Someone who makes fun of the holiday with you, and even if she’s just being nice because she knows you’re not that into it, well, that’s worth something, right?

OK, now, failing all of that, you have a little more work to do. You need to do a fair accounting of your partner, too. Will (s)he be good with the traditional, straightforward, chocolate/flowers/dinner thing?

If so, at least go to Annedore’s or Christopher Elbow or something. Don’t just buy the candy bar at the end of the grocery store aisle.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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