Friday, November 15, 2013

Bill Walsh: reincarnated as a talking head at MSNBC

Let me get a couple of things out of the way, before going anywhere with this bit that move seem more than a little inflammatory. First, Bill Walsh is one of the all-time greats in the pantheon of NFL coaches. He--along with Joe Montana--radically changed the game and led the San Francisco 49ers to three championships. Moreover, Walsh mentored many men who would go on to become great--or at least very good--coaches, as well. Second, Bill Walsh was--by all accounts--a decent guy. His death from leukemia in 2007 was a sad and tragic thing.

All that said, Bill Walsh was--without a doubt--one of the absolute worst broadcasters ever hired and retained by a major network to cover NFL games. He joined NBC Sports in 1989 and was given the analyst position on the lead broadcasting crew for the NFL, opposite Dick Enberg. He graced our Sundays for several years, before mercifully returning to coaching in 1992.

He was just awful to listen to. Because of his bona fides, he spoke with a great deal of authority; Enberg deferred to him as a matter of course, just as Summerall deferred to Madden. In truth, I think NBC was hoping that with Enberg and Walsh, they had something of a response to CBS's Summerall and Madden, but Walsh was no Madden. Hell, Walsh was no Theismann, and that's really saying something. He had a great deal of knowledge to share, but clearly lacked the ability to communicate it during a game's broadcasting. He said a lot of inane--even stupid--things, too.

To this day, I remember something he said during a Redskins game that made me want to put my head through a wall. The Redskins had the ball and it was, I believe, second down. They ran a form of the old counter trey, a running play, that netted a loss of a couple of yards. That's something that can happen with a delayed run, if the defense stays at home or sniffs it out. And that's what happened here, a good play by the defense. But Bill Walsh, after the play was over, declared that it was pointless call, that the Redskins decided to "just take that play off."

Coaches and players in the NFL don't intentionally take plays off. The Redskins didn't run that play because they didn't care how it worked out, they ran it hoping to catch the other team off-guard, to at least gain some yards, if not break off a big run. It didn't work in this case. Walsh, in actually saying what he said, sounded like an idiot. And I don't think Walsh is an idiot. What I think is that he just wasn't cut out for offering instant opinions on what was happening. I think he might have meant to say something more along the lines of the Redskins running a play that would give their lineman a break from pass defending, or the like. I should note that the coach of the Redskins at the time was Joe Gibbs, not a man known for taking plays--or anything else--off.

Such a comment was all too typical of what Walsh had to offer throughout his career in the booth. NBC stuck with him, though, hoping he would improve I guess, but he never did in my opinion. I'm certain some executives at the network were thrilled when Walsh decided to return to coaching.

Of course, we're just talking about football, a sport, a game, hardly critical stuff in the big picture. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people on television equally inept as Walsh commenting on things that are important, people who are getting paid to do that commenting. One of the worst in this regard is MSNBC's co-host of The Cycle, Touré. The single name is no mistake. Apparently, Touré fancies himself as some kind of rockstar or Brazilian footballer. I've noted his on-air stupidity several times in the past, from his silly attempt to make "angry" a racial code word to his even sillier analysis of Jon Stewart.

But now Touré has really outdone himself, said something so mindbogglingly stupid--for someone who is supposed to be a professional political commentator, an expert on politics--that there are no other comparisons I can think of in punditry land that would do justice to his words.

Speaking on The Cycle last night, with regard to the Democratic support of Senator Mary Landrieu's ACA "fix" bill (that would supposedly stop all of the policy cancellations), Touré said the following (my boldface):
Democrats remain extremely supportive of the ACA, and especially Gallup showing young folks are extremely supportive of the ACA. So that is still a message that will work to Democratic audiences. Talk about immigration, I mean, we could definitely message against immigration and what Republicans have done to hurt the country and not passing reform on that. But let's stay on the ACA.

Let's just look at members who are supporting this Landrieu bill, right. Mary Landrieu from a red state. Senator Kay Hagan from a red state. Joe Manchin from a red state. Senator Pryor from a red state. Senator Mark Begich from a red state. Do you notice anything? We see red state Democrats who are dealing with the challenge of living and governing in a gerrymandered world where sometimes they have to deal with what the folks on the right - very low support from the Republican side for this – what the folks on the right want.
The part in bold is so ignorant, it must be a mistake, right? Certainly Touré knows (doesn't he?) that gerrymandering has no impact on Senate races. Gerrymandering occurs at the district level and impacts House races, alone (and is the principle tool utilized by African-American Democrats to win elections, to be sure). Senate races are state-wide and are not dependent on district lines in the least. It is true that Democrats in "red states" need to "deal with the folks on the right," but that's because some of those folks helped them get elected, as a matter of definition.

Yet, this wasn't the worst thing he said last night, despite all the play the above remark is getting. He continued with his analysis and said (my boldface):
The only two sort of outliers are Merkley from Oregon – which is a state with a lot of red, a lot of rural areas, and he’s up for reelection next year. And then Dianne Feinstein who other folks like Jimmy Williams and Steve Kornacki who understand this much better, Sen. Feinstein sometimes just goes to the right and just, you know, bucks her party from time to time. So she’s sort of an outlier in this situation.
Wait, what? Did Touré just say what I think he said? Did he just suggest that Senator Feinstein's support is being given to the bill just for the hell of it, that Feinstein is just randomly choosing an issue to "buck her party" on?

It was this comment that drew out the Bill Walsh parallels for me, parallels that gained depth because of San Fran's commonality here. Like Bill Walsh's claim that the Redskins were just "taking a play off," Touré's claim that Feinstein is just haphazardly opposing the party line is not just stupid, not just unsupported by any evidence, it's total nonsense. Anyone who understands football and Joe Gibbs--in the first case--and politics and Senator Feinstein--in the second--knows this immediately. Feinstein doesn't just randomly choose positions. Love her or hate her, she's one of the most ideologically consistent people in the entire Senate, in the entire Congress. If she supports Landrieu's bill, it's because she's thought about it and come to her own conclusion on the matter. She's not "bucking" anything, she's supporting what she thinks she should support.

And I have to believe Touré is not really this stupid, that he knows Senator Feinstein doesn't play this kind of game. But he was on the spot, trying to quickly come up for a reason to explain the "outliers" to his central thesis (which of course is flawed), his mouth worked much faster than his brain.

All of this leads to one overriding question: what the hell is he doing on TV?