Weekly Conversation: Thoughts on Grantland and Jah’Shawn Johnson’s Ejection

Travis and Seth talk a little bit about Grantland, Jah’Shawn Johnson’s ejection and the effect on the team and consistency.

Seth: Before we get to the game, I wanted to go back and forth a bit about the end of Grantland. If there is one thing that I’ve learned thus far in blogging, especially what we have here at Staking the Plains, is that it’s hard to make money doing this. I could never give up my day-job and become a full time blogger because: a) those jobs are very tough to come by; b) I’m not talented enough; and c) I really only care about Texas Tech, which is why I have such a limited audience.

Immediately after the news broke on Friday, there were all sorts of folks clamoring that the contracts of Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith could cover the cost of running Grantland, and I agree. That is certainly true, but that’s really not the point. There are a handful of things that could have been used to keep Grantland. In fact, ESPN still intends on running up The Undefeated , the ESPN venture that will focus on African-American writers and issues in sports. ESPN is not out of the business of smart writing, they’re just out of this particular blog. After having a weekend to think about this, Grantland was canned because of the spat between Bill Simmons and because the model wasn’t there for profitability. I don’t know how large the staff grew, but there were so many writers and editors for Grantland (all supremely talented) and it appears that this is not the way to run a profitable internet sports blog. You do that by doing what SB Nation has done, which is to hire a select few writers and editors and then let all of the folks who are looking to get their foot in the door write and cover the team, while you pay the folks in charge of each blog very little, but you pay a premium for the handful of writers that set things in motion.

From what I can tell, this is what the Cauldron is about, but I really want clarification from you. For those that don’t know, The Cauldron was this independent sports site that eventually brought under the roof of Sports Illustrated. It still is associated with Medium, which is a blogging platform. You’ve actually had a couple of articles posted there, but from what I can tell, they have their core group of writers, and then they accept submissions from lots of folks to write about a particular subject. I would guess that there is some sort of pay involved, but it’s not enough to make a living off of.

I don’t want to pigeon hole your thoughts here, so feel free to just give your own thoughts here. I am sure you have some that are independent and more entertaining than mine.

Travis: There are several layers to this but it’s a subject that greatly interests me (and you too) so I hope the readers will indulge us for a bit. As someone who’s been through a layoff, I personally feel bad for all involved at Grantland and the uncertain future many are now facing. But there’s another side of it too. Many of those guys got a chance to do things that few others have (and deservedly so) so it’s hard for me to feel devastated for them, or even the sense of outrage that has been permeating the internet since Friday.

Blogging/writing/journalism is such a topsy-turvy world right now. The guys at Grantland lost their gigs, but there are thousands of us out here scratching and clawing, just trying to get to a place and platform similar to what those writers were fortunate enough to be a part of.

And the outrage over what transpired reminds me of that fable about a scorpion and a frog. The scorpion convinces the frog to take him across the pond, the frog asks if he will get stung, the scorpion promises him he won’t because they would both drown. Halfway across the pond the scorpion stings the frog. The frog asks why and the scorpion says “because I’m a scorpion.”

Folks are up in arms about Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, but that’s what ESPN is now. It’s a screaming shit show that preys on the lowest common denominator in all of us in hopes of driving clicks, page views, and subscriptions. If those guys at Grantland are as smart and savvy as everyone proclaims them to be, then they had to know this was coming.

And you’re spot on about The Cauldron. Jamie O’Grady and Andy Glockner started it up a little over a year ago and have had tremendous success building it into what it is today. There is a core group and then they take submissions from outside writers and pay them as freelance contractors. Their standards are pretty high and it’s not easy to get a piece published, but I think it’s a great model.

So let’s get back to football. I though Johnson getting kicked out of the game was a huge turning point. I read in the post-game comments where someone said the air went out of the stadium when that happened. I know Don Williams discounted the possibility, but do you think his ejection had as significant an impact on the way the game played out as I do?

Seth: Oh, yes, I do think that it had an impact, without a doubt. Aside from a potential let down, mentally, the other thing is that he’s the defense’s top 1 or 2 players on the team? It’s not exactly like this team is heavy on talent on the defensive side of the ball, so you take out the team’s best playmaker and it’s not surprising that the defense deflated a bit. It doesn’t explain everything that happened in the second half, but it explains some of it.

The problem with all of it though is that the defense can be good, but there are lapses. Lapses for just one play, and then another and then it’s out of control. A lot of times that still comes with consistency and that’s a tough thing.

Channel your inner-Spur. I’m sure that success isn’t a single thing, but one of the things that we’ve somewhat talked about this week is consistency. That you have to be consistent in order to create any semblance of success. How important do you think consistency is when it comes to building something successful, like a defense or a team like the Spurs who have been consistently good for as long as I can remember.

Travis: With the Spurs I think it’s a combination of things, a little luck and some patience. First, it’s foolish to say that the Spurs weren’t lucky in landing David Robinson and Tim Duncan, both of whom are huge factors in laying a foundation for success. Popovich calls it “corporate knowledge,” which is basically the expectation that everyone who comes into the organization is held to a standard, no matter who they are.

But the environment that Pop and Buford have created wouldn’t survive if the players, particularly the stars, didn’t buy in 100%. I think that’s what Tech needs- some stars that buy in and pass those standards along.

And there is also a degree of patience necessary. It’s kind of an urban legend around here but Popovich was on the brink of being fired in 1998. The team started slow and it all came down to a game against the Rockets. The Spurs had to win or he was getting the ax. They gathered before the game and agreed that it wasn’t going to happen like that, so they went out and won that night against Houston and the rest is history.

Coaching question for you: do you think moving Justin Stockton to outside receiver would kill 2 birds with one stone (get him the ball in space and get production outside)?

Seth: To your first point, do you think there has been a buy-in from the players and if not, when does it happen? At what point do the players look at each other and the coaches and just say that we’re tired of this and it stops today. Today.

I see Stockton as more of an inside receiver rather than an outside receiver. It seems that the coaches are set on getting more size on the outside. Every receiver recruited last year was over 6’0″ other than Keke Coutee and it appears that Texas Tech is headed that way again, with the exception of Bryson Denley, the running back from Steele who the coaches want at inside receiver, and De’Quan Bowman, who is 5’11, but I get the feeling that they also want him at inside receiver. The thing that I’d like to see Stockton do is just move all over the field. Put him at some non-traditional spots, and integrate some fly-sweeps, tunnel screens, reverses and things like that. Anything where he works in space. Between the tackles just isn’t his strong point. He could be Reggie Bush in the sense that he can just do a handful of things, just not running the ball out of the backfield.

What’s your level of concern for the West Virginia game, 1 being not worried at all and 10 being unable to sleep the night before.

Travis: I think there is buy in, but not at the level necessary. Using the Spurs again, say you’ve got the ultimate leadership from 3 guys and the other 12 fall in line behind that. On a team of 100 or so, you need 15-20 true leaders that are 100% committed and play at a championship level. Of course this is all anecdotal, but I think once you get more guys like DeAndre, Pat, Fehoko, Clark, Johnson and Bethel, you’re on the right track.

I think I’m at about an 8 for Saturday. I hope they prove me wrong. How about you?

Seth: Yeah, 8 sounds about right. I’m nervous about the fact that the Texas Tech offense has only scored 35 points on the road, which is the high mark for the year and the road vs. home splits are pretty significant. I’d guess that Texas Tech’s output won’t be like it was last week. Never understood how playing on the road can affect the team, but it certainly has shown that for this team this year. Of course, playing Oklahoma and Baylor (which really wasn’t a road game, but it goes down on the books as one) don’t help. The one game that you would think they would bring up their average didn’t happen, which was Kansas. I get the idea that this is why Vegas has Texas Tech as a 8.5 underdog.

Do we need to mix things up and get something other than a cute cuddly red panda?

Travis: Yes, let’s get away from the cute little pandas and get back to some badass pandas.



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