Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Butch Davis Era, Year Two

If you read my post from earlier in this season, I was hopeful but not fully confident the football Tar Heels would have a successful year. (I said the games vs. Virginia and NC State were locks, and they lost both. Games vs. UConn and Notre Dame were wins, and I wasn't counting on either.)

Any objective observer would think the team made dramatic improvements this year, going from 4-8 in 2007 to 8-5 in 2008 (including the 31-30 loss to West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl).

Going into the season, I thought a 6-6 record and a bowl game were possible, so I should be elated, right? After all, WVU was a preseason Top 10 team. And (like last year), had the Heels not lost a few close ones, they could have had double-digit wins.

That said, expectations for this group became too high, especially after they trounced two Big East teams early in the season, entered the second half of the year 5-1 and would have won the ACC Coastal had they beaten Maryland and NC State.

What happened? Two key injuries prevented a 10- or 11-win season.

First, QB T.J. Yates broke his ankle during the Virginia Tech game in September. The Heels were up 17-3 when Yates was hurt and they lost 20-17. Davis put redshirt freshman Mike Paulus behind center and the highly recruited Paulus stank up the joint, throwing two picks out of the nine passes he threw. The next week, redshirt junior Cam Sexton took over and played the role of Kerry Collins (or perhaps in a better analogy, Bill Kilmer) -- essentially, he didn't mess up. The offense wasn't very exciting, but it didn't need to be. And the defense created enough turnovers to keep the team in the game.

Yates came back for the State game and looked really rusty. And we got smoked by QB Russell Wilson (more on him later), who's going to be a nightmare for ACC opponents as long as he's in Raleigh.

Next, WR/KR Brandon Tate blew out his ACL vs. Notre Dame. Tate's injury probably hurt more than TJ's. It's impossible to replace the all-time NCAA record holder in kick return yardage. Plus, Butch had figured ways to include Tate in the running game (with reverses -- he was the team's leading rusher and the time of the injury) and made him the featured wideout. If he touched the ball a dozen times on offense, chances are, he'd score once or twice.

His injury allowed Hakeem Nicks to again be the focus of the offense, as he was during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. But if we can use the NFL analogy again, Nicks is Muhsin Muhammad to Tate's Steve Smith. Nicks is power, precision; Tate is explosive speed.

Nicks also made a couple of the most amazing catches I've ever seen. One was in the bowl game, and it'll make plenty of highlight reels. A ball over the middle was thrown behind him and he caught the ball with his trailing (right) hand and while fighting off a defender he switched hands by putting the ball behind his back, never breaking stride. In an even better one, vs. Duke, he caught a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone with one hand, pinning it on his helmet (a la David Tyree).

Both those guys should have lengthy NFL careers.

Anyway, without Tate, there was no real kick return threat. The special teams were a weapon when Tate was there and not so much after his injury. Soph. Greg Little may be that guy eventually, but he's not there yet.

Going forward, I see seven likely wins next year: The Citadel, U.Conn, Florida State, Duke, Miami, Virginia, East Carolina. The others -- NC State, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech -- are winnable, but they're on the road. I think they'll get at least one of those, and it wouldn't surprise me if they won them all. So, 8-4 or 9-3 is a reasonable expectation.

There are only 12 seniors on the roster, and they'll probably lose Nicks, a junior, who's likely to go pro. As of today, the recruiting class is rated No. 6 by Scouts.com.

Davis is building the kind of team he wants -- one that relies on speed and athleticism to win. His guys are bigger, faster, and stronger than the other guys.

The defensive coordinator, Everett Withers, doesn't believe much in using a lot of weird schemes defensively. They don't blitz much. They rely on pressure from the front four. They play zone, play their lanes, hit hard, close fast on the ball and if the other quarterback makes a bad throw, they pick it off. They can give up frightening amounts of yardage and win by capitalizing on mistakes, not necessarily forcing them. If the pass rush isn't effective, they can get shredded.

You saw that today in the game vs. West Virginia. Ridiculously athletic QBs who can break down defenses give them fits. Pat White did. So did Russell Wilson. They lost a game they should have won vs. UVa in overtime, because of a last-minute tying drive in regulation that was possible only because Withers stuck with a zone and didn't put any pressure on the QB.

White had his only 300-yard passing game today. The only time he had problems was the half-dozen or so times he was blitzed.

But that's the way Davis plays. When he has more athletes and more depth, he's confident he can substitute more frequently and beat you with depth. Late in the game, when your guys are gassed, his guys are still fresh. His offenses aren't really fancy. They make sure the best athletes get the ball a lot, and they win because his guys are better than your guys.

Butch is the opposite of, say, Tom O'Brien (formerly at BC, now at NC State), who gets good but not great players and "coaches them up."

In some ways, Butch is a lot like Roy Williams, who also tries to beat people with speed, athleticism and depth. Roy hates playing zones or junk defenses. His offenses are fast but predictable. He beats you by wearing you down and with crisp execution. His teams always rebound well. They make more free throws than the opponents shoot because they get the ball in the post and get fouled shooting easy shots.

So long as Butch and Roy recruit talented players, their teams will win. I see Carolina's football team being in the top 25 just about every year and in the top 15 most years. They'll probably play in more than their share of BCS bowls, either as ACC champs or as an at-large team. (Think about it; had they beaten Maryland and State, they would have been 10-2, probably good enough for an at-large bid even had they not won the division and played in the ACC title game.)

But the Tar Heels, football and basketball, will on occasion be beaten by someone with a better scheme or with one player who's better than everyone else on the field or the court.

After living through the Torbush, Bunting and Doherty eras, as a Carolina fan, I'll take it.
Back again

Time to fire up Deregulator again. I'm in a state of suspended animation, as it were. The Rocky Mountain News is for sale, and given a) the state of the newspaper industry and b) the state of the economy, the chances of the paper remaining in business aren't good.

Our owners, EW Scripps Co., will let the staff know Jan. 15 if a buyer has been found. And if not, what happens then.

To some degree, I'm whistling past the graveyard. I'm not actively seeking other jobs but have let people know that I may be within a few weeks.

This blog may be very active soon, as I may have a lot more time on my hands than I'd prefer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

John McCain is getting creamed on health care because his plan is too good

If I were designing a comprehensive medical insurance system from the ground up, John McCain's proposal offers a good model. He ends most of bias in the tax code favoring employer-provided coverage over the individual market. Employers could continue to deduct medical costs from payroll taxes; otherwise, medical benefits provided by employers would not be exempt from income taxes.

By eliminating this distortion, the theory goes (and I buy this), individuals would pay more of the true costs of their medical benefits. This should encourage them to seek out policies that are tailored to their needs, reducing the overall medical costs. With a wide array of coverage options, it should be simple for people who now aren't insured because they can't afford coverage to buy a bare-bones policy.

As the ranks of the uninsured shrank, the cost-shifting that takes place when medical providers offer services to people who can't or won't pay would go down.

There are concerns about the plan, as it's not clear whether a robust individual insurance marketplace will develop bringing individual premiums more in line with the group market. I understand this problem, because I was married to a health insurance agent and during a brief spell of unemployment bought individual coverage. It cost a lot more (even compared with COBRA) than my old employer-provided plan and it covered a lot less.

The plan tries to address this in a couple of ways: 1) individuals could purchase insurance from any licensed provider in any state, so a market for low-priced basic coverage could emerge; and 2) organizations including unions, churches and AARP could market group health insurance policies directly to members, letting individuals sign up for group coverage from some entity other than their employers.

Should these solutions become viable, the phenomenon of "job lock" so often mentioned during the early '90s -- I won't change jobs because I would lose my health insurance -- could become a non-issue. And a dynamic market for health insurance might well result.

So why is McCain getting killed for this plan?

For one thing, it's too wonkish -- something I never thought I'd say about a McCain domestic policy proposal. The folks at Cato and Heritage like it, for obvious reasons. It ends the long-standing flaw in tax policy that pushes people to get health coverage from their employers rather than shopping for their own.

The problem with the plan is less rational than psychological. We have more than 60 years' history with the current, flawed system and generations of Americans are accustomed to it. They need a compelling reason to abandon it, and McCain hasn't provided it -- particularly when you compare his plan to Barack Obama's.

Obama's proposal, as I understand it, would not touch employer provided medical insurance at first. It would enroll all children whose parents don't have insurance in Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Uninsured middle-class adults could enroll in a PPO similar to the one members of Congress belong to; uninsured low-income people who have too much income to qualify for Medicaid could sign up for a new government program similar to Medicare. And some of the costs of this system will be assessed on employers that don't offer health insurance to employees (a "play or pay" mandate") or through other taxes.

As a small-government, freedom-loving guy, I see this plan as an avenue to government-run health care. The employer mandate will push more and more people into the government system over time. Unless there are draconian penalties for dropping employee coverage, companies will at some point just simply pay the penalty and stop providing health insurance. Startup companies and small businesses that thought about offering medical coverage wouldn't. It may take a decade or more, but this is a stealthy way to nudge the U.S. closer to a single-payer system -- which in my view would be the death knell for medical innovation over time, and lead to massive rationing of care. Maybe not before I qualify for Medicare, but eventually.

But that's 15, 20 years down the road. For now, what does the typical voter see? If I can keep my job, Obama won't take away my health care. McCain might. I don't want to figure out what health care plan is best for me; that's for the HR department. Mac might give me more choices, but right now I want security, and Obama offers that. Winning that debate is a piece of cake.

This analysis by Clive Crook is mostly right, though he favors some form of mandated universal coverage, and I don't. But Crook correctly concludes that the Dems are not giving employers an open invitation to reduce costs by dropping medical coverage during a recession. And for that reason alone, McCain's proposal is a political stinker.

McCain's plan faces the same political obstacles of pure flat-tax plans. If you take away the home mortgage deduction, even if you set up a system that would leave taxpayers better off without the deduction, people don't like it. They think it's a trick. The home mortgage deduction has become an entitlement. And folks don't give those up easily.

What advice would I have given McCain, had he sought it? I would have left the income tax subsidy for medical care in place, perhaps capping it at some level. I'd also provide a tax credit a la McCain to individuals who purchase health coverage on their own. (It might be less than McCain is offering; I don't know what the "right" amount should be.) Whether you got health insurance at work or on your own, you get the same tax benefit. I'd certainly let individuals buy coverage from out-of-state providers and let AARP sell health insurance, too.

But this proposal should neutralize the entitlement mentality. Employers would have no incentive to drop medical coverage, and independent contractors and small businesses could purchase insurance for about the same price big employers do.

Back in the day when the magazine ads and infomercials told us we'd all be working from home in our pajamas owning our own businesses making millions doing something (t was never clear what), McCain's plan might have been an easier sell. Those days are over, and it's too late for McCain to change course.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The people have spoken, the bastards

From Bloomberg News.
"Crap sandwiches as far as the eye can see"

In his LA Times column, Jonah Goldberg pretty much nails it.

There's also solid commentary at the No Left Turns blog and some interesting back-and-forth from mostly free-market types at Infinite Monkeys.

Here's what The Rocky had to say Monday.

My take, midday Tuesday: The House is not the Senate. The minority has no right to claim any power there. Republicans should have taken what they could get in negotiations with the House Dems (and in some ways, they were able to improve the oversight and remove some of the most egregious left-wing giveaways) and then send the bill to the Senate, where a single senator can improve the aroma of a very stinky pile of legislation.

And for crying out loud, grow up! If you're so offended by insults from the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank that you can't do you duty, get another job.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Carolina chameleons

Young, talented teams will surprise you. In good and bad ways. This year's gridiron Tar Heels are 3-1 on the field and 2-2 in surprises. They have played better than expected on the road and have disappointed at home.

They could easily be 4-0 had they avoided 14 penalties and three huge turnovers in a 20-17 home loss last week to Va. Tech. This week they needed two interceptions in the final minutes (including an incredible pick in their own end zone by Tremaine Goddard in the closing seconds) to beat Miami 28-24 on the road.

Next week they play undefeated, nationally ranked UConn at Chapel Hill. And then unranked but always good for headlines Notre Dame, also at Kenan. UVa's a sure win on the 18th. Three good weeks and they're bowl eligible with NC State (another certain victory) and four question marks to go.

The schedule is turning out to be tougher than expected. Maryland and Ga. Tech and BC are decent teams. Dook, for crying out loud, is 3-1. (They meet Ga. Tech in Atlanta on Saturday. We'll see.)

The ACC is clearly weaker than the SEC, Big 10 and the Big 12. Better than the Big East and perhaps on a par with the Pac 10. (Take out USC and Oregon and there ain't much.) Is the WAC better than the Big East?

Anyway, the Heels could finish anywhere between 11-1 and 6-6. They are young and they're going to get better, so I plan to enjoy the ride.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A fairly straightforward (and sobering) explanation of the financial crisis

Here.

Another thought, that my boss mentioned yesterday, is that owning stock right now may not be such a bad idea after all. Even during the Depression, if you owned a piece of a company that stayed in business, you owned an actual asset that will maintain some value as long as the business is viable. And will recover value when the economy evenutally bounces back. Cash or bonds (government or corporate) may not be worth much more than paper or pixels.

It may be a rough ride.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Man, am I out of touch

Billboard picks the top No. 1 single of each year, beginning in 1958. I'm not sure I could identify any of the ones selected in the past 20 years. (Maybe Santana's "Smooth," if you played it for me.)
Well, he is a lumberjack

I knew this would happen as soon as Sarah Palin was picked. The Michael Palin for President Web site.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This Tar Heel team may actually be decent

It's been a long time since I've been able to say that. Since Mack Brown was there, maybe.

Even in 2001, when they had Julius Peppers and I think six or seven other starters on defense who were drafted into the NFL, I was never all that confident about them. (The offense really was uninspiring, even though Darian Durrant was a dynamic QB.)

They looked pretty dang good vs. Rutgers. On the road, where they hadn't won in 20(!) games.

They play Va. Tech Saturday at Chapel Hill. Tech's not as good as they've been in recent years, but they're expected to win the Coastal Division of the ACC. The Heels lost by only a touchdown to them in Blacksburg last year. Right now, it's the toughest game remaining on the schedule (though, to be sure, teams like Georgia Tech, Boston College and Maryland could improve as the season goes along). If somehow the Heels pull this one off, they could win a bunch more.
Palinmania

10,000 people queue up to see Sarah Palin at a facility that will hold 3,500.

The post also notes that an appearance here in Colorado was overbooked.

Here's a report from the Rocky's David Montero:

Her appearance with John McCain in Colorado Springs a week ago drew 10,000 people on short notice. Her campaign had to scrap plans to serve a pancake breakfast during Palin's appearance Monday, saying the demand for tickets was so great there wasn't enough room for tables and chairs to accommodate 5,000 people.


Look, I have no idea if she's prepared to be vice president, which is not to question whether she's qualified. (If Obama's qualified for the top of the ticket, she's certainly qualified for the No. 2 slot.)

In her ABC interviews this past week, Charles Gibson actually threw her a few softballs on domestic policy, asking her where she'd cut spending and what she'd do about Social Security. She swung and missed, in my view.

Decide for yourself. Here's the transcript.

That said, there's something about the prestige media's approach to her that may tend to further marginalize organizations like The New York Times and The Washington Post.

This piece in the Sunday New York Times attempts to reveal a vindictive pol with a secretive style, but it seems thin to me. Attempting to shield e-mails from public view is a very troubling thing, if that's at all an indicator of how she would govern. (Dick Cheney the hockey mom?) But the rest of it isn't convincing at all.

As for her testy relations with other Alaska pols, how about this for a contrary narrative: Palin tried to become active in Alaska politics through conventional Republican circles. She soon learned that the insular party didn't cotton to outsiders like her. So when she found out she couldn't rise through the ranks in a traditional way, and that the party was rife with cronyism and corruption, she railed against it ... and had some success.

It's quite possible she entered politics with no intent of being a reformer. But that's where she wound up. And her former adversaries (from both parties) aren't at all happy about her rise.

Is this a credible narrative? I have no idea. But I'd really appreciate some fair-minded reporters checking it out.
If it's not treason

I have a Facebook page
So long, KCUV

I leave the blog for a few months, and what happens? KCUV, Denver's best commercial radio station by far, leaves the airwaves. It was scoring about a 1 in the ratings, so I guess it was no surprise.

Still, it was the only place I knew you could hear Robert Earl Keen and Clarence Gatemouth Brown. They sponsored Hot Tuna, Junior Brown and Duke Robillard gigs in Denver.

Another reason to renew my XM subscription, I suppose.
I hate to say anything good about Coach K

So I won't. But if you watch any cable sports, you're likely to see the Larry Linville lookalike on an advertisement for DePuy USA, maker of joint replacements, including the new hip he got a few years back. I'm a big fan of prosthetics (my ex's life is much improved, thanks to knee replacements).

But what's really cool about this ad is that the older guitarist you see gyrating around the stage is the great Roy Gaines. Dude played with T-Bone Walker when Roy was 11 or 12. He's now in his 70s, and he still does this.

Back in the day, I became a fan of Gaines thanks to Gary "the Wagman" Wagner at KLON. Bought a couple of CDs and then saw him live twice in Vegas at the Railhead.

The shows were dynamite. Plus, he was signing CDs between sets and I got a chance to speak with him briefly. What a sweet guy.

I know blues musicians don't make a lot of money, so I'm guessing the residuals he gets from these commercials will help pay the bills. Good for Roy and good for De Puy for featuring him.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ever wonder how those Nigerian scams work?

Mary Baker at Dover Canyon (have I mentioned recently it's my favorite winery?) does too, and the matter got almost personal when someone attempted to entangle the winery in one of these scams. Read her fascinating account of it in the posts on her blog. Here's a taste:

First, the scamster orders wine from the winery or retailer. But there's a problem. He lives out of the country. He knows this is inconvenient for you, so he'll ask a shipping firm he's used before to pick up your wine, and take care of all the export documentation. All you need to do is charge his credit card for the sale and the shipper's fees, and then wire the transportation fees to the shipper, as they are not set up to take credit cards. How easy is that? Cha-ching, cha-ching.

Because the wine is being shipped overseas, the cost of shipping is high--maybe $200 a case. An order for 10 cases of wine would involve $2,000 in transport fees; a pallet of wine would be about $11,000.

Credit cards are the preferred method, because all the numbers are stolen. Sometimes they offer a money order instead. Few people know that although a bank may report that a money order has cleared and you have access to the funds, the order can still be voided.

There's a growing problem with credit card fraud, however, and that's the increasing use of Fraud Alert programs. Fraud Alert will trigger an alarm whenever there is 'unusual activity' on an account. To get around that, fraudsters will ask that you split the transaction between 4 or more cards.


The story's pretty gripping on its own -- especially when you learn who the "American contact" probably is. And the fact that the feds apparently had little interest in pursuing this attempted heist makes you wonder how serious they are about cracking down on fraud -- notwithstanding those bizarre PSAs about identity theft.