As we battle through the dog days of Summer, engaging sports topics are few and far between: memorable sports deaths, famous second bananas, is Federer the best of all time?....blah, blah, blah.
I, myself, having been rendered delirious by the searing New Orleans heat that reached 104 degrees yesterday, engaged a homeless man in conversation about the death of Michael Jackson.
We both agreed that that the King of Pop's invention of words such as shabooty and shamon are one of the things that made him such a special man in so many special ways.
Then, he asked if I could spare a few bucks for a Caramel Frappuccino. I politely refused and he uttered a phrase not suitable for publication, but he said it with such pure contempt that you could not help but admire him - if only NFL coaches spoke with such passion and conviction.
Speaking of coach and player speak, let's look back at Sean Payton's season-ending press conference on Dec. 29, 2008 and see what he said and what actually transpired.Then, analyze defensive end Bobby Mc Cray's remarks following the last game of '08.
After a second straight year of missing the playoffs, Payton did not indicate that any major changes were forthcoming at the final press conference and defended embattled defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs without giving him a vote of confidence and he was non-committal on the future of running back Deuce McAllister.
Payton on Dec. 29: "I'm not going to answer the question right now (on Gibbs' future with the team) because I think the day after the season ends, it's like 'What's Deuce (McAllister's) future? Are you keeping Gary Gibbs? We're not answering those questions."
It's unfair. It's unfair to Gary. It's unfair to point out specific players and coaches."
Result: Payton fired Gibbs one week later after the Saints finished the season ranked 23rd in total defense and replaced him with high-profile Jacksonville Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams who is known for his aggressive 4-3 schemes.
Gibbs had the Saints defense ranked 11th during the playoff season of 2006. However, they fell to 26th in 2007 and continued a downward slide last year. Williams gained notoriety for building top-ranked defenses in Tennessee, Buffalo and Washington as he spent his formative years under defensive guru Buddy Ryan.
Deuce McAllister, the Saints all-time leading rusher, was released by the club on Feb. 17 following a series of knee injuries that curtailed his effectiveness.
Translation: If the coach tells the media it's unfair to evaluate your performance the day after the season, you may or may not survive but it is probably a good idea to polish your resume and contact your agent.
Payton: "It would be easy to say, with where we finished offensively, we're going to point to defense. Some of that might be true.But there are some things that we have to be better at offensively."
"We had the opportunity to really put the game away at Washington (in Week Two) and we were unable to run the ball in a key situation. We were unable to get that key yard in Denver (in Week Three) So this doesn't all just shift to one side or the other, (even though) it's easy to do that."
Result: Saints' brass, clearly concerned about the running game, made a concerted effort to trade down in the first-round of the draft to acquire Ohio State tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells. However, talks with New England fell through -as if you needed another reason to despise Belichick
GM Mickey Loomis says the Saints are not interested in aging star Edgerrin James, released by Arizona in the off-season. It looks as though the team may take its chances with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush spelled by former Denver Bronco Mike Bell. Bell fell into Shanahan's doghouse in Denver but shined in OTA's.
Translation: Payton knows Bush will never be an every-down back and he has his doubts about Pierre Thomas carrying the load but with Drew Brees and a cast of talented receivers, Payton will take his chances with the current stable of running backs.
Payton: "This is an important part of the year, because this is where a mistake made can set you back, or the right decision can set you forward. So we take it very seriously."
Result: The Saints parted company with defensive coordinator Gibbs in favor of Williams, released McAllister and Mike McKenzie, arguably the best cornerback in team history. Age, salary and injury factored in the decision to part ways with McKenzie who could return at some point down the road.
The Saints also released FB Mike Karney and replaced him with former Patriot Heath Evans—a more nimble version of Karney. Veteran free safety Darren Sharper was added in free agency along with veterans Jabari Greer and Pierson Prioleau to strengthen a battered secondary.
Translation: Payton and GM Loomis were under the gun to make major changes on defense- particularly to the coaching staff and defensive backfield. If Sharper is just a shadow of his former self, he will be a vast upgrade over former safeties Kevin Kaesviharn and Josh Bullocks.
New defensive line coach Bill Johnson excels at teaching the game which will benefit rising stars such as former USC star Sedrick Ellis and DE Bobby McCray.
Defensive End Bobby McCray: "We had a good scheme this year. I would rather see if we could just give them some new looks, just mix it up a little bit, kind of confuse the offense a little bit, just do some different things at times. Other than that Gary Gibbs did a good job calling plays. We've just got to execute our assignments."
Result: Gibbs fired. Gregg Williams hired.
Translation: Obviously, McCray felt Gibbs' defense was too "Vanilla", too predictable. Williams is known for his exotic looks and formations. He believes in attacking from every conceivable angle.
In OTAs, McCray, a former Florida star, seemed to be benefiting from Williams' unconventional style as he produced what would have been four sacks in live action. Williams transformed another Florida star, Jevon Kearse, into an all-pro.
Can he do the same for McCray who appears on the verge of beating out veteran Charles Grant?
Alas, it's all coach speak and player speak and as long as it is said with a lot of passion and conviction who cares whether it is true or not.