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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rational Actors, Irrational Outcomes, and the GOP Nomination

Social scientists often use game theory in order to model real-world situations that involve cooperation between two or more parties. Perhaps the best known game is the "prisoner's dilemma," which illustrates how two individuals can act rationally but collectively reach an irrational outcome. Imagine a situation in which the police have two people in prison, but they don't have enough evidence to convict them on the principal charge. They do, however, have enough to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement and can't communicate with the other. The police decide to offer each prisoner the opportunity to get off scot free if they testify against the other.


The various outcomes are captured in the above matrix, which lists the "payoffs" for both prisoners (Prisoner #1's payoffs appear below each of the diagonals, while Prisoner #2's payoffs appear above). From the perspective of the prisoners, the best option is for both to keep their mouth shut. If they do, they'll only serve one year in prison (note the "1s" above and below the diagonal in the upper left cell of the table below). However, the rational thing for each prisoner to do individually is to betray the other so that they can go free. For example, if Prisoner #1 betrays Prisoner #2 and Prisoner #2 remains silent, the former will go free, while the latter will serve a three year sentence. The catch, of course, is that if both prisoners act "rationally," they'll both betray the other, and both will serve two-year sentences, which, at least from their perspective, is an irrational outcome.

The current race for the GOP presidential nomination is somewhat analogous to the rational/irrational dynamic captured by the prisoner's dilemma game. In an insightful analysis of the data ("Donald Trump’s Support In Iowa Is Narrow But Deep") Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight shows why although Donald Trump is the candidate unacceptable to the most Iowa Republicans (according to the latest Des Moines Register poll, 37 percent said they would be “not OK” with Trump winning the Republican nomination), he will probably win the Iowa caucuses:
How does that make any sense? Trump isn’t liked by many Republicans, but he’s loved by a few, and in a 12-candidate field, that may be enough... Trump would almost certainly lose the Iowa caucuses if the field of candidates were smaller. Just 7 percent of Iowa Republicans list Trump as their second choice, while 17 percent list Cruz and 20 percent list Rubio. The Des Moines Register poll found that likely Republican caucus-goers preferred Cruz over Trump in a one-on-one matchup 53 percent to 35 percent. The problem for this majority is they’ll never get to vote in a two-man race. In a field of 12 candidates, it’s all about core support. You don’t get to cast a negative vote.
In other words, if there weren't so many candidates vying for the Republican nomination, then it's unlikely that Trump would win in Iowa. However, because most still believe they have a chance to win, they haven't dropped out of the race, and thus collectively they are handing Iowa to Trump. Put differently, by acting in their (rational) self-interest, collectively they are producing an irrational outcome.

The question is: after Monday will several of the candidates will have an epiphany, realize they can't win, and drop out? If they do, then someone like Marco Rubio might just have a chance of winning the nomination ("Don't Write Off Marco Rubio Just Yet"). For the general election, this could be good news for Republicans and bad news for Democrats ("It’s Rubio Or Bust For Republicans Who Want To Win"). It will be interesting to see if those who are running for President are able to set-aside their individual aspirations for the good of the GOP. Otherwise, they might be shut out of the White House again.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Don't Write Marco Rubio Off Just Yet

Some political observers believe that it is a forgone conclusion that Donald Trump will win the Republican nomination. And why not? He's been leading in the polls for months now, and he appears in position to win the Iowa caucuses, as well as New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries. I find this potential outcome stunning because like many others I completely underestimated Trump's appeal. But it's real, even if some of us don't share it. And his opponents ignore or dismiss it to their peril.

However, just because Trump is leading in the polls, don't write Marco Rubio off just yet. A good showing by Rubio in Iowa -- that is, a strong third or second place finish in the high teens or better -- could force the other "establishment" candidates (i.e., Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich) to drop out of the race (there is some evidence that Rubio has been rising in the polls in Iowa although it is unlikely to translate into a win). It's unlikely that Bush, Christie, or Kasich would drop out before the New Hampshire primary, but if one or two suspend their campaigns after New Hampshire, their supporters could switch their allegiance to Rubio, which would almost certainly help his standing in the polls. This, in turn, would probably help Rubio pick up a few more endorsements, which is usually a good thing (but not always). It is interesting that in the last few days Rubio was endorsed by the Des Moines Register and the conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer ("The Three-Cornered Fight for the Soul of the GOP"). More could be on the way, but it will largely depend on what happens in Iowa on Monday.

Note: FiveThirtyEight editor Nate Silver just posted an excellent article on four possible GOP scenarios following the Iowa caucuses ("Four Roads Out of Iowa for Republicans"). It's worth the five minutes of your time that will take to read it.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Best Craft Breweries in the U.S.

pro·vin·cial·ism
/prəˈvinCHəˌlizəm/

noun: provincialism; plural noun: provincialisms
1. the way of life or mode of thought characteristic of the regions outside the capital city of a country, especially when regarded as unsophisticated or narrow-minded
2. concern for one's own area or region at the expense of national or supranational unity.
3. a word or phrase peculiar to a local area.
4. the degree to which plant or animal communities are restricted to particular areas.

~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~

Craft breweries are becoming increasingly popular, and (unsurprisingly) most folks are somewhat provincial in that they believe their local breweries are the best (which of course they are). Still, one can't help but wonder what the best craft breweries are in the United States. There are numerous rankings of craft beers, but of breweries, there are far fewer. I was able to track down three:
The first two listed ranked the top 50 breweries in the U.S., while the third ranked the top 20. Thus, I took the top 20 for each of the rankings, assigned them points (20 for first, 19 for second, 18 for third, etc.), added the rankings together, and arrived at a composite ranking of the top 30 craft breweries in the U.S. The rankings appear below:
  1. Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR
  2. Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma, CA
  3. Ballast Point Brewing, San Diego, CA
  4. Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, CA
  5. Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA
  6. Bell's Brewing, Kalamazoo, MI
  7. Dogfish Head Brewery, Milton, DE
  8. New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO
  9. Yuengling & Sons, Pottsville, PA
  10. Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI
  11. Boulevard Brewing, Kansas City, MO
  12. Boston Beer Company, Boston, MA
  13. Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, NY
  14. Allagash Brewing, Portland, ME
  15. Cigar City Brewing, Tampa, FL
  16. Rahr & Sons, Fort Worth, TX
  17. The Gambrinus Company, San Antonio, TX
  18. Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY
  19. Firestone Walker Brewery, Paso Robles, CA
  20. Modern Times, San Diego, CA
  21. Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, CA
  22. Sun King, Indianapolis, IN
  23. Alamo Beer, San Antonio, TX
  24. Alaskan Brewing, Juneau, AK
  25. Minhas Craft Brewery, Monroe, WI
  26. Oskar Blues Brewery, Lyons, CO
  27. Smog City Brewing, Los Angeles CA
  28. Duvel Moortgat USA, Cooperstown, NY
  29. Matt Brewing Utica, NY
  30. Breckenridge Brewery, Breckenridge, CO
It was surprising how much the individual rankings differed from one another. In fact, Deschutes Brewery from Bend, Oregon, was the only one that appeared on all three lists, which is why it ended up being ranked number one overall. However, while one can quibble with the composite ranking (I'd be inclined to rank Dogfish Head and Russian River Brewing higher than they are), it's hard to argue that any of these don't belong on the list. Of course, a list is just a list (and a sigh is just a sigh), but it's still fun to debate which ones belong on the list and which ones don't.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Cam Newton Is Channeling Richard Sherman (Except with a Smile)

After the Carolina Panthers' victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Panther quarterback Cam Newton was taking his victory lap. Along the way he grabbed a Seattle Seahawks fan's "12th-Man" flag, wadded it up, and threw it away like a piece of trash (see the video below). Evidently, this offended a few Seahawks fans. One, in particular, wrote an open letter to Newton on Facebook, in which she ripped into "Mr. Classless Cam Newton," stating
The 12th man is a community, a family, that regardless of winning stand behind our team and our community. So you see Cam, disrespecting the 12th man flag isn't just disrespecting our team, it is disrespecting the fans that back our team. A community that feeds and clothes the homeless, a community that raises funds for families in hard times, a community that helps a 3 year old girl battle cancer, a community that has more grace and respect than you could imagine.
Really? Isn't this sort of like the kettle calling the pot black? What do you expect after the rest of the league has been putting up with the antics of Richard Sherman (and other Seahawks players) over the last few years? This is what's called "karma." You know, "what goes around, comes around" (not always, but thankfully this time it did). So, get over it. If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Okay, I'm running out of cliches, but I think you get the point.


P.S. The Seahawks copied the "12th man" from the Texas A&M football team and actually had to reach a financial settlement with A&M to use the term.

P.S.S. When Newton's not playing football, he's heavily involved in charities in the Carolina area. He's been particularly active with helping children, which includes an annual Thanksgiving Jam to which he invites hundreds of underprivileged children to a free Thanksgiving meal.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Is The World More Religious Than Ever?

It is currently fashionable in some circles (in particular, academic circles) to hail the decline of religion. The claim is nothing new. It has been widely assumed among philosophers and social scientists that as societies become increasingly modernized (e.g., more education, technology, democracy, etc.), religion would become less important. Some, such as the anthropologist Anthony Wallace, believed it would disappear completely. He once wrote that the "evolutionary future of religion is extinction. Belief in supernatural beings and supernatural forces that affect nature without obeying nature’s laws will erode and become only an interesting historical memory." Others, such as the sociologists Peter Berger (a Lutheran) and Robert Bellah (an Episcopalian), saw religion as becoming less important but not disappearing altogether. In particular, they believed that more sectarian forms of religion (e.g., the beliefs and practices of groups like evangelical Protestants, conservative Catholics, and Orthodox Jews) would only survive in society’s backwaters, far removed from the corrosive effects of the secular city, whereas more inclusive forms (e.g., mainline Protestantism, Reform Judaism) would become increasingly influential or at least hold their own.

That has not happened. Although mainline Protestantism is in decline, sectarian forms of religion are thriving (reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated -- "The Myth of Evangelical Decline"), not only in rural areas but also in cities. Moreover, religious beliefs and practices are on the rise and unlikely to disappear any time soon. Christianity is growing rapidly in the global South, Russia has experienced a religious revival, and Christians now outnumber communists in China. To be sure, Europe remains the poster child of secularization, but church attendance now isn't too much lower than it was in medieval Europe ("Is Secularization Inevitable?"). Then there is the 20% of Americans who report no religious affiliation; however, of those who say they have no religious affiliation, 18% consider themselves religious, 30% have had a religious or mystical experience, 33% believe that religion is somewhat or very important, 37% consider themselves spiritual but not religious, 41% pray weekly or more, and 68% believe in God. It may be difficult to categorize such individuals, but “irreligious” and “secular” they are not.

This, and much more, is the topic of the most recent Research on Religion podcast ("Rodney Stark on The Triumph of Faith"). It features the sociologist Rodney Stark, author of over 30 books and 100 academic articles. Stark not only discusses the religious situation in the United States (e.g., the apparent lack of religion among Millennials) but also in Europe, Africa, Latin America, China, Japan, and the Middle East. Here is a brief description of the interview (from the Research on Religion website):
The decline of religion around the world may be greatly exaggerated. Returning for his sixth appearance on our podcast, Prof. Rodney Stark, co-founder of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, discusses his new book “The Triumph of Faith” and reviews how the religious landscapes in various countries and regions of the world has been greatly transformed in the past half century. We look at “nones” from the United States, the rise of indigenous Christianity in Africa, and how even the Japanese still rely upon Shinto priests for blessings.
You can download the podcast from iTunes or listen to it at the Research on Religion website, where you can also find a more complete description of the podcast ("Rodney Stark on The Triumph of Faith"). You could also read Stark's book, which is entertaining, informative, and a little bit feisty (he's a little tired of fighting the "secularization theory" battle).

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Does Jeb! Still have a Chance?

Donald Trump's continued popularity has confounded political observers, including yours truly. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Trump would still be at the top of the pack this late in the game. Although his repeated half-truths and offensive statements haven't hurt him in the polls. Instead, they've helped. I'm not sure what that says about the American public. I just hope its only a phase we're going through.

Concomitant with Trump's rise has been the fall of Jeb Bush, the "preseason" favorite to win the nomination. Like others I'm about ready to write Jeb! off, but part of me can't help but wonder if he still has a chance. My reason for wondering is because he continues to receive endorsements - just this week he he was endorsed by Lindsay Graham from South Carolina ("Lindsey Graham Endorses Jeb Bush") - and currently leads FiveThirtyEight's "Endorsement Primary" (Note: This early in an election, endorsements are generally a better predictor of who wins the nomination than polls). Nevertheless, I still think Bush is a long shot, but I don't think he completely out of the game.

Of course, Jeb! isn't the only candidate picking up endorsements. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have been picking up some too. Even John Kasich has. One candidate hasn't, though: Donald Trump. And that should help spell his doom in the long run. However, maybe things really are different this time around. Stay tuned. It should be interesting.

Friday, January 15, 2016

How Will Chip Kelly Do?

How will Chip Kelly do as the 49ers head coach? Who knows? Only time will tell. As I noted in a previous post ("What Should Chip Kelly Do?"), I thought Kelly would benefit from a few years working as an offensive coordinator for a successful coach, such as Bill Belichick. That said, I am cautiously optimistic. Although Kelly's star has faded somewhat in the last year, by all accounts he still possesses a brilliant offensive mind, something the Niners desperately need. And let's not forget that his first two years at Philly were successful. The Eagles finished 10-6 both years, they made for the playoffs in 2013, and they had a better record than the the Carolina Panthers in 2014, who qualified for the playoffs by winning their division with a 7-9 record. Problems didn't begin until 2015 when Kelly took over personnel decisions. Most people assume that he wanted this power, but reports in today's San Jose Mercury News suggest that personnel power was foisted on him and not necessarily his choice.

More interesting are some of the backstories to Kelly's hiring. One that is attracting a lot of attention is whether Kelly and Niner General Manager Trent Baalke (pictured above) will get along. Baalke's fractious relationship with Jim Harbaugh eventually led to Harbaugh's ouster, and we all know how well that worked out, and Kelly isn't known for his warm fuzzies. However, Baalke is on the hot seat and appears to have lost some favor with the York family (see below), so he may learned an important lesson in the "firing-Harbaugh and hiring-Tomsula" debacle: A key trait that NFL GMs must possess in order to be successful is the ability to get along with highly-talented coaches even if they're unlikable. We'll see if Baalke's learned that lesson. Moreover, Kelly is friends with 49ers senior personnel executive Tom Gamble, who worked in the Eagles front office from 2013-14 (and why Kelly got an interview with the Niners in the first place). Gamble's presence may help mitigate any potential friction between Baalke and Kelly.

Another is whether Kelly can gain the respect of his players. He reportedly "lost the locker room" this past year in Philadelphia, but that may have more to do with his personnel decisions than his frosty personality, and now that that personnel are no longer his to make, this may become a non-issue. Moreover, when your winning, almost everyone is happy and the media pay little attention to the those who are not. However, when you're losing, all of sudden those who are unhappy attract a disproportionate amount of media time. That is perhaps why Hall of Fame coach, Bill Parcells, recently dismissed reports about Kelly's cold relationships with players: "He's been a very successful coach, and there's been a lot of players he's coached that readily accepted him and he had a lot of success with those people." I think it's likely that there were several players on the Giants and Patriots who couldn't stand Parcells, but no one paid them any attention because the Giants and Patriots were winning. Of course, as the Niners learned with Mike Singletary and Jim Tomsula, teams with coaches who are loved by their players do not necessarily win. In fact, it has often been coaches, such as Bill Belichick, who haven't been known for their winsome ways who have done alright.

Finally, a story that isn't getting too much play, at least not yet, is the fact that Niner CEO Jed York appears to have hired Kelly over Baalke's objections. Kelly almost certainly wasn't high on Baalke's list. Baalke's a disciple of Bill Parcells and his grind-it-out running-oriented offense. It's no accident that he traveled all the way to New York to interview Tom Coughlin. Coughlin is Baalke's kind of coach. Kelly isn't. Thus, the fact that Jed chose Kelly may say a lot about Baalke's current standing in the Niners' organization.

P.S. On a somewhat different note: Don't be surprised if Kelly hires Lane Kiffin as his offensive coordinator. Kelly was in Alabama the week before the National Championship game; in fact, Kiffin incorporated some of Kelly's ideas into Alabama's offensive game plan.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

What Should Chip Kelly Do?

Three years ago Chip Kelly was a hot property. His innovative offensive mind not only led the University of Oregon's football team to prominence, but he also helped Bill Belichick design a strategically-similar offense (quick counts, lots of plays) for an immobile quarterback (Tom Brady), and Urban Meyer adopted many of his schemes for an Ohio State offense that won a national championship (ironically, beating Oregon to do so). Currently, however, Kelly is unemployed. The Philadelphia Eagles fired him with a week to go in the season, a season that was characterized by questionable personnel decisions and a poor win-loss record.

So, what should Kelly do? One option is to take (if it is offered) the Tennessee Titans job where he would be reunited with Marcus Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner whom Kelly recruited to Oregon. Mariota knows Kelly's offense as well as anyone, which would certainly be an attractive option not only to Kelly but to the owners of the Titans. Another option is to take (if it is offered) the San Francisco 49ers job. After a dismal seasons, the Niners are looking for an offensive-minded head coach, and Kelly certainly fits that bill. Kelly could reboot the career of Colin Kaepernick, who would probably feel right at home with Kelly's system since he ran a similar one in college. Kelly might also work well with someone like Cal's Jared Goff or Memphis's Paxton Lynch (both are projected first round picks). In fact, the Niners could draft one of them and have him play behind Blaine Gabbert or Kaepernick for a couple of seasons before working him in as the starting quarterback.

As much as I am a fan of Kelly, personally I think he'd would be better off if he spent a few years as the offensive coordinator for an NFL team (e.g., the New England Patriots if its current offensive coordinator, Josh Daniels, leaves to take a head coaching position). Kelly worked as a offensive coordinator at Oregon before becoming its head coach, and I'm sure he learned a lot during that time about managing young men who like to play a violent sport. Serving as the offensive coordinator for someone like Bill Belichick (who was also fired after his first head coaching job and then worked as a defensive coordinator before taking the Patriots' job) would offer him the opportunity to see how to manage young men who play a violent sport AND get paid lots of money to do so. It could be just what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Who Will Jed and Trent Hire? Who's Willing to Work for Them?

The 49ers didn't waste anytime firing Jim Tomsula. Two hours after the end of the final game of the season, they relieved him of his head coaching duties. The question now becomes, who will they hire? Or rather, who would be willing to work for an organization that  was dumb enough to fire Jim Harbaugh. As Dan Wetzel recently noted ("49ers' boss 'hears criticism,' including salty tweet from Harbaugh") its hard to find a great coach and you should hold on to them when you do:
NFL franchises generally wander about in search of one of two things – a great coach and a great quarterback. When you get one, you cling to them and deal with whatever baggage they may bring. When you have two you can win it all. When you have them for a prolonged stretch, you become the New England Patriots (or the old 49ers).
Not Niner CEO Jed York, though. He and his co-conspirator GM Trent Baalke apparently think (or, at least, though) they know more about football than anyone else, and who wants to work for someone like that. Still, someone will. Here is a list of possible candidates (not in any particular order except the last one):

Josh Daniels -- Currently the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots where he runs an offense Chip Kelly helped design (albeit for an immobile quarterback), Daniels had a relatively unsuccessful stint as the Denver Broncos' head coach from 2009-2010 (he drafted Tim Tebow in the first round). Before that he was an offensive assistant for the Patriots. Apparently the Niners approached him last year about the job, but he wasn't too interested. If he were to leave New England, that would open the door for Chip Kelly to sign on as the Patriots' offensive coordinator (see below).

Hue Jackson -- The 49ers have already requested permission to interview Jackson, who is currently the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals and was the Raiders head coach in 2011 (he was fired after one year following an 8-8 season -- a record the Raiders haven't surpassed since). This will be the second time in five years the 49ers have spoken to Jackson about the head coaching position. The first time was in 2011 when he was the Raiders' offensive coordinator. The Niners ended up hiring Jim Harbaugh instead, and Jackson became Oakland's head coach.

Chip Kelly -- I can't imagine Kelly working well with Baalke since both want total control over personnel decisions. That said, since Kelly was recently fired for what are perceived to be poor personnel decisions, he may be willing to forgo some power for coaching a potentially very good team. A Kelly hire could resurrect the career of Colin Kaepernick, who would probably feel right at home with Kelly's system since he ran a similar one in college. Kelly might also work well with someone like Memphis QB Paxton Lynch (a projected first round pick). In fact, the Niners could draft Lynch and let him play behind Blaine Gabbert (or Kap) for a season or so and slowly work him into the starting quarterback position. Still, I think Kelly would be better off signing on with the Tennessee Titans, so that he can be reunited with Marcus Mariota, who probably knows his system better than any player on the planet. An even smarter decision on his part would be to spend a few years as the offensive coordinator for an NFL team (New England Patriots if Josh Daniels leaves) before taking another head coaching position in the NFL. He could then learn from one of the best on how to manage young men who get paid enormous amounts of money to play a violent sport.

Rob Chudzinski -- Chudzinski is currently the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts and was the Cleveland Browns head coach in 2013 (4-12). The Niners tried to interview him last year but were denied. I'm not sure how attractive a candidate he is given how the Colts offense floundered this year, but it may not be Cghudzinski's fault that the Colts' offensive line was terrible. Plus, he didn't take over the offensive coordinator position until November 3rd when the previous coordinator was fired. Not my first choice but since he is unlikely to be as "hot" a candidate as some of the others, he may be willing to take the 49ers' job.

Anthony Lynn -- Lynn is a former NFL running back who played for the 49ers from 1995-1996. He's currently the assistant head coach and running backs coach under Rex Ryan. In fact, he's worked for Ryan since 2009 when Ryan hired him as his running backs coach while with the New York Jets. The fact that he is neither an offensive nor defensive coordinator is a strike against him, in my opinion, especially after what happened this past year when the Niners elevated Tomsula from his defensive line coaching position to head coach. Still, the Niners plan to interview him ("49ers to interview Anthony Lynn, Bills assistant HC/RB coach"), so you never know. Because he's even less "hot" of a candidate than Chudzinski, he may be one of the few who's willing to sign with the Niners.

Adam Gase -- Conventional wisdom has it that Gase, currently the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, will be a hot property in the offseason because of his work with Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler ("Eagles, Browns, Dolphins all expected to chase Adam Gase").
Gase emerged as a hot candidate based on his work with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, an effort that came after three years of working with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Gase’s ability to thrive with a quarterback having a reputation of caring too much immediately followed by a quarterback having a reputation for caring too little bolsters the perception that Gase can get the most out of any quarterback.
Evidently, Baalke had Gase lined up as the Niners' head coach last year, but Jed York (in all his wisdom) insisted that Gase hire Tomsula as his defensive coordinator, Gase ran the other way. I can't imagine him reconsidering his decision to flee from York and Baalke when there are several and far less dysfunctional teams out there chasing him.

David Shaw -- Stanford's head coach has repeatedly said that he has not interest in leaving Stanford. He likes the area and where his kids are attending school. Plus, he's a Stanford alumnus. Thus, it is unlikely that he will leave Stanford for the NFL. However, if he were to consider leaving, he'd probably only leave for the 49ers since he and his family could stay local. The jump from the college ranks to the NFL is not always easy, however, as Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Chip Kelly discovered. Moreover, Shaw has had a ringside seat to the 49er implosion and probably remains in contact with Harbaugh, so why would he want to work for the Niners?

Sean Payton -- Payton is an intriguing possibility given his success in building great offensive teams (it does help to have Drew Brees at the helm, of course). Plus he's won a Super Bowl, and both he and Baalke were mentored by Bill Parcells. However, he's still under contract with the Saints, so the 49ers might have to give up a compensatory draft pick (probably second-round) to get him, and that may be a higher cost than the Niners are willing to incur. Also, Payton might want more power than York and Baalke are willing to part with. Still, if the Niners did hire Payton, he probably could dictate what the Niners did in the first round of the draft. He would almost certainly want to draft a top QB -- Jared Goff from Cal, in particular. The Niners would probably have to trade up in the draft to get Goff (the Browns have expressed interest), something that Baalke has been loathe to do in the past. But, if the Niners go all in with Payton, they probably won't have a choice.

Mike Shanahan -- Shanahan is the NFL's 11th winningest coach and won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos. He was also the 49ers offensive coordinator the last time the Niners won a Super Bowl. His tenure with the Redskins (2010-2013) wasn't terribly successful, but that wasn't entirely his fault. He would certainly be an upgrade from Tomsula. I doubt he'd sign on with the Niners without being granted some control over personnel decisions, something that Baalke may be reluctant to give up. Plus, York and Baalke may think he's too old (see comments on Mike Holmgren below).

Mike Holmgren -- Holmgren is my favorite pick. He's from the Bay Area, and he worked as the Niner offensive coordinator from 1989-1991. He was also head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1992-1998 and the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks from 1999-2008. With the former he won a Super Bowl in 1996, and he almost won one for the Seahawks in 2006. Holmgren would bring some much needed class back to the 49ers, and he may possess the political wherewithal to work with Trent Baalke. With a little luck, he could push Baalke out of a job and eventually take over the GM position. As others have noted, he's just interested in coaching and doesn’t have interest in personnel power ("Hire Holmgren? Ex-coach has strong interest in 49ers’ potential opening"). He has already expressed interest in the job ("Report: Mike Holmgren is interested in coaching the 49ers"); in fact, he expressed interested in it last year, but York and Baalke told him they wanted someone younger. Hopefully, they won't be so stupid this year.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Win With Class? The 49ers Can't Even Lose With Class

The 49ers fired Jim Tomsula only two hours after the Niners won their final game of finish the season with a losing record (5-11). An organization that claims to want to win with class can't even lose with class. Surely, they could've let Tomsula savor his final victory for one night. Maybe even two. What's worse is that they didn't even do it in person. Neither GM Baalke nor CEO York showed up for today's game, and York announced Tomsula's firing through a press release. York and Baalke are looking for a scapegoat, but most people know that Tomsula had little to do with the Niners' dismal season ("The Yorks Shouldn't Blame Jim Tomsula for the 49er's Terrible Season"). The blame for that lies with York and Baalke, who collectively believed they knew more about football than Jim Harbaugh, whom they fired last year and then watched several of their best players retire or bolt the team as a result (does anyone really believe that all of those departures would have occurred if they hadn't fired Harbaugh?).

That doesn't necessarily mean that Tomsula shouldn't have been fired. At times he appeared in over his head, and some of his strategic decisions were dumbfounding (e.g., electing to punt against the Rams rather than giving place kicker Phil Dawson a shot at winning the game in regulation -- the Niners escaped with a win only because the Rams botched an attempted field goal in overtime). Moreover, there is some evidence that York sought to undermine Harbaugh during the 2014 season, which may help explain Harbaugh's somewhat cryptic tweet shortly after Tomsula was fired ("Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow."). Of course, that could've been directed at York and Baalke too. It may have been directed at all three.

Still, it is somewhat surprising that Jed York was willing to fire Tomsula. Tomsula has been a York family favorite for years. York reportedly wanted to hire Tomsula back in 2011. In fact, he named him interim head coach for the last game of 2010 after he fired head coach Mike Singletary with one game to go. However, because he needed to generate support for the construction of a new stadium, he hired Jim Harbaugh instead. However, once the stadium was built, York apparently believed he could fire Harbaugh, hire Tomsula, and the Niners would be fine. What a mistake that turned out to be.

The question is, who will be willing to become the head coach for an organization that is clearly dysfunctional? Adam Gase, Hue Jackson, Chip Kelly, Sean Payton, and David Shaw have all been mentioned as possible candidates. My favorite is Mike Holmgren. He would bring some class back to the Niners and may have the ability to out-politic Trent Baalke. In a future post I'll consider these possible candidates in more detail.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Yorks Shouldn't Blame Jim Tomsula for the 49er's Terrible Season

In an earlier post ("How Will the Niners Do This Year?") I noted that using ESPN's FPI (Football Power Index), FiveThirtyEight projected that the Niners would finish last in their division (granted one of the toughest divisions in football) with 6.6 wins ("2015 NFL Preview: Everything You Need To Know About The Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams And 49ers"). Later, using a different rating system (ELO), which gives greater weight to a team's performance the previous season, FiveThirtyEight projected that the Niners would win 8 games ("2015 NFL Projections").

Taken together, these provide a helpful benchmark to judge the performance of Niner head coach Jim Tomsula. They indicate that the Niners should've won approximately seven (7) games in 2015, and the fact that, at best, they will win five (5) (if they beat the Rams in their last game of the season) suggests that they underperformed in 2015 and that Tomsula is at least partially responsible. 

However, it wasn't Tomsula's fault why so many players bolted the team (either by retiring or signing with another team) after York and Baalke fired Jim Harbaugh (let's not pretend it was something else). Moreover, several Hall of Fame (or future Hall of Fame) coaches were unsuccessful early in the coaching careers. To wit:
  • Pete Carroll was 6-10 coaching the New York Jets in 1994 (and was fired after one season)
  • Bill Belichick was 36-44 coaching the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95 (after which he was fired)
  • Tom Landry was 18-46-4 in his first five seasons coaching the Dallas Cowboys (he wasn't fired and went on to win 2 Super Bowls)
  • Chuck Knoll was 12-30 in his first three seasons as the Pittsburgh Steeler's head coach (he, too, wasn't fired and went on to win 4 Super Bowls)
  • Bill Walsh was 8-24 in his first two seasons as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers (as you've probably guessed: he wasn't fired and went on to win 3 Super Bowls?)
Patience can be a virtue.

That said, the Niners are in need of an overhaul. The root of their problems lie squarely with CEO Jed York and General Manager Trent Baalke. Although it's unlikely that the Jed's mom Denise (who owns the team) will fire Jed or sell the Niners (Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is reportedly interested in buying the team), something needs to happen. The most obvious move would be to "mutually part ways" with Baalke, but since the York's seldom do the obvious (except, perhaps, hiring Jim Harbaugh in 2011), who knows what they will do. If they do fire Baalke, then it's likely that Jim Tomsula will be gone as well because Tomsula is seen as Baalke's boy (so to speak).