Happy Thursday, Coaches. Game Day is almost here. We’ve got a few stories to check out.

1. The terrifyingly high legal stakes for high school coaches, who can get sued for … coaching (NJ.com)

This is a scary story for high school coaches, and one that may only prove to push good coaches away from their respective sports.

It’s a story of a baseball third-base coach in Somerville, N.J., getting sued for telling a player to slide on a close play at third base. The parents of the JV player believe that player was destined for college and perhaps even pro fame, and because the player is no longer able to pursue that career path due to an injury suffered while sliding, they want reparations.

The coach — John Suk — instructed the player — Jake Mesar — to slide into the base, only for the 15-year-old Mesar to hear his ankle pop. He needed multiple surgeries to correct the issue.

Doctors were able to repair Mesar’s ankle, but it came at a cost. His baseball career was over. On top of that, Mesar could no longer do high-impact activities. He was even discouraged from jogging.

Mesar’s attorneys called Suk’s coaching experience and education into question. They painstakingly went over the play, questioning whether Suk gave Mesar enough time to slide and whether Suk was paying attention during the play.

The author of this column, Steve Politi, felt the verdict would determine the future for coaches across all sports.

So, yes, I have found the intersection of our overly litigious society and our out-of-control youth sports culture. As Suk sits there, scribbling away, I am consumed with a sickening thought: If this JV baseball coach is found liable for telling a player to slide, there’s nothing to stop the dominoes from falling everywhere around us.
In short: We’re all f—ed.

Suk’s defense hovered around one thing: Sliding is a routine action in baseball. An injury like this can happen, but often doesn’t.

The jury wasn’t fully on board with Suk’s reasoning initially. Six of the eight jurors believed Suk was not at fault. The jury needed seven of eight members to agree to reach a verdict.

After some convincing, one member of the jury changed their vote. Suk was cleared. He was facing a seven-figure payment if the jury found Suk liable.

Had things not gone Suk’s way, Politi believes the verdict could have resulted in the end of high school sports.

It could be John Suk. You could be John Suk. It isn’t hard to imagine switching places with this former high school catcher, sitting there in his black suit and wrinkled gray shirt. He takes notes to distract himself from the constant verbal assaults.
Early during voir dire, it becomes clear that picking a jury without including someone who has coached on some level is nearly impossible. Who, when you reach a certain age, hasn’t told a kid to dive for a ball and not worried as he or she hit the ground with a thud?

How can we prevent coaches from getting sued when players get injured?

2. Go for It: The Story Behind the NFL’s Fourth-Down Conversion (The Ringer)

This is a fun story about the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Patriots-Colts game in 2009, when Bill Belichick opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his team’s own 28-yard-line in hopes of putting the game away on offense — rather than letting Peyton Manning take the field again.

The greatest coach in the history of football was making what most of the football world considered to be a monumental gamble. The NFL is still a risk-averse league, but prior eras of football were even more resistant.

Even though the result for the Patriots wasn’t great — they missed the fourth-down conversion, and allowed Peyton Manning to drive the 28 yards for the game-winning touchdown — this article makes the case that it changed the NFL in a good way. More teams go for it now on fourth down because the analytics support that decision.

The math took a while to take hold: Teams did not immediately increase their fourth-down attempts after 2009. Instead, Belichick’s decision simply started a conversation—a more aggressive approach didn’t become commonplace until later in this decade. NFL teams are forfeiting about half of what they did a decade ago, Burke says. To translate that, teams are suffering the consequences of bad decisions half as much as they did 10 years ago, so they are learning. The league changed dramatically—and there’s still a lot more room to go. In short, fourth down is increasingly an offensive down.

Fourth down can be a scary proposition for coaches. Even if there’s greater acceptance about being more aggressive, the math says to go for it so often—in so many precarious positions—that it takes a big adjustment to embrace the math. The New York Times’ Fourth Down Bot offers these rules of thumb for sound decisions:

  • On fourth-and-1, go for it any place on the field where that is possible, starting at your 9-yard line.
  • On fourth-and-2, go for it everywhere beyond your 28-yard line.
  • On fourth-and-3, go for it almost everywhere beyond your 40.

This, of course, is far too aggressive for NFL coaches.

“I got this sheet yesterday that shows what you should do,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur tells me in a golf cart at Green Bay’s training camp before the season started. “Analytics tell you to go for it whether you are on the minus-10-yard line, go for it on fourth-and-1. The average on fourth down is about 75 percent, so is it worth it to go for it all the time? You have to think about who you are playing, how you are playing. It’s not a black-and-white answer, I don’t care what anyone says. If we get to that midfield mark, yeah, I am way more apt to go for it. I am a little more reserved if we’re on the minus-10-yard line—three out of four times you get it, but when you don’t, that’s automatic points.”

What do you use as a guide to determine whether to go for it on fourth down?

3. Herbstreit: Ed Orgeron locker room video was ‘all-time no-no’ (247 Sports)

This seems to be happening more and more — starting with Antonio Brown live-streaming the post-game celebration in the locker room following a Steelers’ playoff win in 2018. His stream caught coach Mike Tomlin using a disparaging term to refer to the next week’s opponent, the New England Patriots.

On Saturday night, video of LSU coach Ed Orgeron expressing his thoughts on “Roll Tide” with some colorful language in the LSU locker room made the rounds on social media.

In a video posted to Instagram, Orgeron uses some explicit language to verbalize how he felt about Alabama after his team’s massive road win over the Crimson Tide. Of course, that spread like wildfire and there were plenty of takes on what he said. On the latest episode of the “College Football Podcast with Herbie and Pollack,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit reacted to what Orgeron said.

“You would think most people would know, in the midst of a postgame celebration, not to record anything,” Herbstreit said. “Have your music on. Record each other smiling, having fun, and dancing. All that is fine, but you cannot record the coach and what he says. I remember Mike Tomlin, when he made some comments, Antonio Brown had video of that. It’s the all-time no-no … When a coach is talking, when he’s emotional, and when he’s fired up, he’s going to say some things that you don’t want the world to know about. That’s just a given. Hopefully it won’t get a lot of traction. I’m sure Alabama will use that next time they play LSU, but I’m not allowing that to take away from just a magical weekend and a great moment for LSU.”

On Monday, Orgeron addressed the video and said that it never should have happened. The LSU coach spoke to the player who took the video and knows that it wasn’t done with bad intentions. Orgeron doesn’t believe it will be an issue going forward.

“I wished that wouldn’t have happened,” Orgeron said. “That shouldn’t have happened. I addressed the player that did it and he felt bad about it. They are so used to having those phones on them all the time. I mean, we have pre-game meal, and I tell them to turn the phones off for just a little bit so we can say the prayer. We say the prayer, and they are back on their phones.
“I think it’s just the product of today. Everyone carries their phone with them all the time. I don’t think it was done with (bad) intent. I addressed the player and I don’t think it’s going to happen again.”

What are your team rules about using cell phones in the locker room?

What’s driving the conversation in your locker room? Email Managing Editor Dan Guttenplan or Tweet us @fnfcoaches. Don’t forget to use that hashtag #FNFCoachesTalk

 

 

About the author

Dan Guttenplan