Thoughts on Lito, Kornheiser

Colleague John Smallwood wrote an interesting column today about Lito Sheppard's disparaging of the Eagles' front office, which Lito expressed in an interview with Newsday. Part of John's point was that it's really naive for Lito to pine for help from the NFL in attempting to get a valid contract reworked. No quarrel there with me.

I was watching John Clark and Howard Eskin discuss the matter Sunday night on "Sports Final," though, and Eskin said something I thought deserved a response. Howard, who can be depended upon to parrot Eagles management's take on any given issue, weighed in on Lito's contention that Sheldon Brown can expect to be demoted, now that Sheldon has expressed dissatisfaction with his contract.

Eskin asked Clark if he really believed that Andy Reid would play a lesser player over a better player because of a contract situation.

That has been the Eagles' response to such charges for a while now, and it's a sure winner. Who in their right mind is going to say, "Yeah, the coaches don't really want to win games, they bench guys based on their contracts"?

Eskin's take is a catchy response, but it really isn't the final word.

First, Eskin's answer assumes players are evaluated completely objectively, that there is no subjective/emotional component to the way coaches look at them. I've been around pro sports, mostly hockey and football, for quite a while now, and I don't think that's true. It's like anything else in life -- if a coach likes the way a guy carries himself, sees him as one of "his guys," the player's faults tend to be viewed as harmless quirks. If a coach thinks a guy is a pain, starts to not really trust him, then every little glitch is viewed much more harshly. Also, as Lito acknowledged at the end of the 2008 season, not liking your situation can affect your play; the player, like the coach, is human.

More important is this: You, me, Howard, John and everyone else watching in Eagle Nation can agree the coaches wouldn't penalize an unhappy guy. What we think really doesn't matter  -- if the players in the locker room think otherwise, then management has a problem.

And the players do think otherwise. They think they've seen it in action, from Michael Lewis to Rod Hood to Lito -- some would even toss Jevon Kearse in there. Maybe this is true in every locker room, I don't know. But I have to wonder, in this as in some other issues, if effective communication between management/coaches and the players isn't a big part of the problem.

Lots of guys in that locker room will be looking at what happens with Sheldon Brown this season, and thinking about their own situations. For that reason, if I'm the Eagles, and I really believe in Ellis Hobbs, I trade Sheldon for something before training camp starts, just to eliminate the distraction. I doubt it'll happen, but it should.


Former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden will replace Tony Kornheiser in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth, ESPN announced today.

Gruden will join Mike Tirico and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski.

Kornheiser spent 3 years with Monday Night Football and will continue in his role on the popular "Pardon the Interruption" and add other ESPN projects, the network said.

Kornheiser's reaction was a reminder from the good old days of  the journalism business, back before they just started laying people off willy-nilly because of poor profits. Every now and then, for whatever reason, a prominent columnist or editor would be demoted. Somebody would then post a memo on the bulletin board, and possibly in the newspaper, explaining that good old so-and-so was "returning to his first love," which often turned out to be a much lesser job, the love of which had heretofore gone unexpressed by the columnist or editor.

“I am totally grateful for the MNF opportunity that I truly enjoyed the last three seasons," Kornheiser said in a statement. "I feel we got better each year. My fear of planes is legendary and sadly true. When I looked at the upcoming schedule it was the perfect storm that would've frequently moved me from the bus to the air. I kept looking at the schedule the past month and wanted to find a way to quietly extricate myself. If I could handpick a replacement of a football guy, I would cast a net and drag in Jon Gruden. He is the two things you most want -- smart and funny -- and has the two things I don't -- good hair and a tan. I love PTI and am looking forward to continuing to yammer and yodel with Wilbon until the end of time.”

The thing about the planes is a fresh twist, but otherwise, Tony Kornheiser is "returning to his first love." Or the one that made him a national name, anyhow.

Gruden, a former Eagles assistant coach, served as an NFL head coach the past 11 seasons with the Oakland Raiders (1998-2001) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-08). He compiled a career record of 100-85 and led his teams to five division titles.

“Jon is one of the best football minds in the game, he has a natural ability to communicate that knowledge and he brings great enthusiasm – everything you want in an analyst,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president, production. “Combining Mike, one of the top play-by-play commentators in TV and radio, and Jaws, arguably the NFL’s best X’s and O’s analyst, with Jon, a Super Bowl-winning head coach, will create a must-watch Monday Night Football booth during the 40th season and in the years ahead.”

Said Jaws of his new partner: "I first got to know Jon when he was a coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was young, bright and energetic. He has a tremendous football mind and his career speaks for itself. He will bring a unique perspective to Monday Night Football and I am excited to work with him."