Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Tale of Two Quarterbacks

It’s easy to get good players. Getting them to play together, that’s the hard part.~ Casey Stengel

This is not a story about Brett Favre. I am sick of hearing about Favre, his selfish attitude, and his general I-wanna-play-but-only-on-my-terms attitude. I used to admire his toughness and ability; now, I'm just very tired about his retirement speeches, his comebacks, and his whole soap opera.

This is not about Michael Vick. To all those who talk about how Vick paid his debt to society and how truly sorry he is, all I can say is that I firmly believe that the only thing Vick is sorry about is that he got caught. To all those who say that America is about second chances, I offer this comment that someone posted on one news site. He said he was an auditor and that if he was convicted of a felony, there would be no way on God's little green Earth that he would ever get a job in that field again.

No, this is about a couple of young men for whom I have a new-found respect.

Last year, as most college football fans know, Auburn University had about as dysfunctional a season as it's possible to have. To begin with, coach Tommy Tuberville hired his third offensive coordinator in four years, Tony Franklin. It seems Tuberville wanted to jump on the spread offense bandwagon and Franklin was supposed to be the guru of spread. For reasons known only to him, Tuberville retained all his old assistants, just as he had with previous offensive coordinators. As a footnote, you should be aware that one of those assistants was the offensive coordinator at one time. All of those assistants were fond of straight-ahead running offenses.

As if that wasn't a sufficient recipe for disaster, Franklin looked at the roster and decided that starter-in-waiting Kodi Burns, who would seem tailor made to run a spread, wasn't his sort of quarterback. So, he convinced Chris Todd to transfer to Auburn. The problem is that Mr. Todd had undergone shoulder surgery in the off-season, and his passes had as much velocity as a blimp. Despite that minor inadequacy, Mr. Todd was obviously Franklin's choice to be the starter, leaving Mr. Burns kicked to the curb.

When the season began, a number of things became painfully obvious. First, the team wasn't learning the spread very well, which may have had something to do with all those assistants who didn't much care for the offense. Second, the average Chris Todd pass would bounce off a sheet of facial tissue. Third, Mr. Todd didn't look all that mobile, which would seem to be death for a spread offense.

It was.

The net results were as follows:

  • Chris Todd was totally ineffective.
  • Kodi Burns was installed as starter.
  • The offense continued to stink.
  • Tony Franklin was fired in mid-season.
  • Tommy Tuberville "resigned" (read: was fired) at the end of the season.
  • An entirely new coaching staff was hired.
Then a strange thing happened. During spring practice and through the summer, the battle for the quarterback position was supposed to be between Kodi Burns and three other guys, none of whom was named Chris Todd. However, when the dust settled during August practice, guess who was named the starter. Yup, it was Chris Todd.

You see, Mr. Todd, rather than sulking about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, hung around. At the end of last season, he had another, evidently more successful, shoulder surgery, probably followed by some serious rehab. He then showed up for practice with a positive attitude and managed to convince all the shiny new coaches that he could, in fact, do the job.

Meanwhile, Kodi Burns found himself kicked to the curb yet again. Not only was he not the starter, he wasn't even a quarterback any longer. He was now a receiver. Now, while Mr. Burns may have been a quick quarterback, most people seem to feel he doesn't have wide receiver speed, so the odds are not in favor of him getting a bunch of playing time (especially considering he has to learn an entirely new position).

Mr. Burns could have gone into a profound sulk at this point. He had been through four offensive coordinators (Al Borges, Tony Franklin, and his interim replacement). The Auburn offense in his only time as starter was a cobbled-up mess, with players having no idea what they were supposed to be doing. He did his best, and the thank-you he got was "go long."

But, Mr. Burns didn't sulk. Instead he called a team meeting. He told the players that Chris Todd was the starter and the whole team needed to get behind him. He said that the divisiveness of last year must not be repeated; he didn't want to see cliques of players grumbling that Kodi should be starting. They had to play as a team or they would be doomed to fail.

Do you have any idea how amazing that is? In this day and age of selfish I-am-the-star athletes, to have one stand up in front of his teammates and say, "The team matters more than any one player," is beyond amazing. To have another work his way back from flop to starter when most people had forgotten he was still with the team is beyond remarkable.

Chris Todd and Kodi Burns are both deserving of praise for their attitudes and effort. Mr. Burns just might surprise everyone and become a useful tool in the offense that everyone is surprised to see Chris Todd running. They both seem like fine people, the kind you can point to and mark as examples of teamwork and unselfishness. They also have another attribute worth noting: Maturity.

Messers Favre and Vick might want to take notice.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers. ~Sydney J. Harris

All those people predicting the apocalypse and waiting for the Antichrist have been looking in all the wrong places. The Antichrist is not some world leader or charismatic religious figure. It's Bill Gates.

Now I know a lot of people are going to be screaming, "I knew it!" It's not what you think. The reason he's the Antichrist is because his company created Powerpoint. It is Powerpoint that will cause the demise of humanity, at least according to The Inquirer.

Okay, the end-of-the-world part is tongue in cheek. The point, though, is that because of the ubiquity of Microsoft's presentation software, communication is being reduced to bullet points. And those bullet points aren't always the really important points that need to be raised. Interestingly, the article quotes Andrew Brook-Holmes of Microsoft who points out that Powerpoint is just a blank canvas dependent on what users do with it. According to the article, Mr. Brook-Holmes then backtracked, saying that perhaps Powerpoint wasn't suited to all users or uses.

The gentleman is so close yet so far.

The problem is that people no longer understand how to communicate information and the receivers of information have become so lazy that they don't want to have to determine what information is really important. The easiest way to explain what's going on is to go back in time.

When I first got into business many, many years ago, presentations were handled very, very differently than they are today. To begin with, the presenter actually created a report that included a description of the data acquisition method and the analytical methods performed. If the report required it, it would contain any graphs or tables necessary to summarize the data. In many cases, there would be an appendix that actually contained the data.

This report would be put into the hands of the people who were the target of the presentation before the event. Those people were expected to actually read the report before showing up, because the main function of the presentation was to summarize the research, present the conclusions, and recommend actions. All of this was in the report, of course, but now the audience, having read the document beforehand, could ask informed questions and raise objections or offer counterproposals.

Occasionally, some particularly clever presenter would use a flip chart or -- if the company was really up to date -- present some bullet-point slides on an overhead projector. If either of these was used, it was only to accentuate the points the presenter thought were important. However, everyone realized that this was the presenter's opinion. Only a foolish person accepted everything said at face value just because it was on a clever slide.

Well, times have certainly changed. I can't recall the last time I attended a presentation where I had so much as an outline of what was to be delivered. On a couple of rare occasions, I received a copy of the Powerpoint slides when the presentations were done, which is essentially useless (after all, I just saw those things). I can recall only one occasion in recent years where I actually got all of the data that was used to justify a recommended course of action. That came from a storage vendor, who I guess figured we might as well have the data, since we ran the program (which they supplied) that gathered the data.

In other words, we already had a copy of the data the vendor now generously gave us.

I have also sat in meetings where someone complained about some sort of "network problem" but was unable to tell us how often it occurred, what errors were generated when it occurred, or even when was the last time a user had encountered the problem.

No Powerpoint presentation in the world is going to fix that sort of "communication."

Somewhere along the line, we stopped caring whether what we were being told was accurate or even true. It's not presentation software that's causing disasters to occur; it's our unwillingness to say, "On what is that based?" or "Have you considered other alternatives?" or even "Is this the only course of action available?".

All of these are questions people used to ask. Now they just ask, "Can I have a copy of the slides?".

Powerpoint isn't the problem. We have gotten lazy. Oh, we blame it on "information overload", which is a lame way of saying, "I can't be bothered to determine what is important and what isn't." Well, the important things have a way of making their presence known. Unfortunately, that presence frequently becomes known as a result of something very bad happening. After that happens, of course, someone will create a bunch of bullet-point slides to explain why it was no one's fault.

And everyone is happy --- until the next catastrophe.