— In an article in ESPN: The Magazine, Michael Lewis investigates why NFL coaches continue to punt “too much” on 4th down, even after being confronted with David Romer’s paper on the subject. Doug Drinen has a nice discussion of the paper in several posts (I just linked to one). Dave Berri has a nice post on Lewis’s article.
Lewis concludes that coaches don’t go for it simply because it’s against to code of coaching, and by doing so you limit your chances of being hired as a coordinator by your peers—because there is a good chance you’ll be fired. If you violate the rule, you’re out of the club. Interestingly, John Fox—who didn’t have kind words for the Romer paper in Lewis’s article—must feel he’s got a lot of job security after what he pulled against the Falcons on Christmas Eve. Not only did the Panthers only pass 7 times during the game, but on eight plays the Panthers pulled the quarterback out of the backfield. When you think about it, if you have Chris Weinke as your quarterback, it’s a smart play; but, it couldn’t have won Fox many friends. He completely embarrassed Jim Mora and his coaching staff when they couldn’t stop the pre-Knute Rockne offense of the Panthers. Had it not been Christmas Eve, I expect Arthur Blank would have fired Mora minutes after the game. I’ve never seen a football play without a quarterback on the field. If going for it on fourth is uncouth, his move couldn’t have made Fox popular in the coaching world.
Overall, I find Lewis’s explanation unsatisfying, but that’s hardly a criticism. I think he does a good job of explaining away other alternatives—like NFL coaches are dumb. It’s an interesting question that merits further study. I wish I could come up with a satisfying explanation of my own.
— Barry Zito ultimately signed a seven-year $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. I project that if he pitches exactly as he did in 2006 for the next seven years, he’ll generate a total of $124 million over the life of the contract. That doesn’t mean I’d have recommend this deal to the Giants—I don’t think he can keep his performance up for that long—but I’m surprised at how close those numbers are.
— For Christmas I received a copy of R.E.M.’s latest, And I Feel Fine…: The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-1987. I’m a big R.E.M. fan, but I held off purchasing the latest collection so I’d have something to get for Christmas. If you’re going to pick up a copy, make sure you get the collectors edition, which has a second disk (who needs the greatest hits when you already own them all?). I have a decent collection of bootlegs, but these live and demo recordings from the early years are fantastic. The Hib-Tone version of “Sitting Still” is my favorite track right now. I wish they’d released it a long time ago. Er, but who am I to complain, considering the consumer surplus I’ve enjoyed from R.E.M. for most of my life? I’ll just say “thanks” instead.