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The Monday After: College football coaching carousel inflation sets up for disappointment

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There are going to be a lot of disappointed fanbases in the next few weeks. Dan Mullen became the latest big-name coach at a big-time program to be shown the door, as Florida decided it was time to move in a different direction. While the midseason parting of ways could be seen coming, it still felt like a shock to the system considering where Florida was at this time a year ago.

Mullen wasn’t even the only coach fired Sunday, even if he was the one grabbing the headlines. Troy fired Chip Lindsey, too, meaning there have now been 14 coaches fired at the FBS level and it isn’t even Thanksgiving. While four of those jobs (Georgia Southern, Texas Tech, UMass and UConn) have already been filled, there are likely to be even more openings coming as teams finish their seasons on Thanksgiving weekend. It also happens that three of the top-20 jobs in the country — I’ll let you argue amongst yourselves whether it should be top 15 or top 10 — happen to be open right now, as Florida joins LSU and USC. Outside of those three, there are another four Power Five gigs currently available.

Those are seven jobs that will be attractive to a lot of coaches, but there’s a significant problem: Which coaches are going to fill those jobs? I took Economics 101. I learned about supply and demand. Right now, there’s a far greater demand than there seems to be a supply capable of filling it.

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Seriously, take a look at the coaching candidate lists written not just on this site, but every site, the moment a job comes open. They all have the same core of five to six names. Once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.

There just aren’t a lot of proven commodities available at the moment. Jimbo Fisher has said as loudly and emphatically as he can that he’s staying at Texas A&M. James Franklin was a candidate for both USC and LSU when those jobs came open (seemingly years ago at this point), but Penn State has cooled off down the stretch and indications are he’ll be signing an extension to stay in Happy Valley.

Louisiana’s Billy Napier is another excellent option. He seems ready to tackle a Power Five gig and is on the shortlist for plenty of openings, but he’s only one coach. Luke Fickell might be on the verge of reaching the College Football Playoff with Cincinnati and has been extremely picky already. There’s no guarantee he’ll even entertain job offers for another six weeks. Maybe Matt Campbell will decide he’s done all he can do at Iowa State, and now is the time to move on, but still … he can only choose one school. Lane Kiffin can’t coach at every job in the southeast, either, though I wouldn’t put it past him to try.

This is how a head coach who is 16-14 over his three-season career is reportedly on the precipice of receiving a new $95 million contract that could alter the coaching salary landscape and make agents rich beyond their wildest imaginations. I don’t mean that as a shot at Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, whom I believe can win a lot of games at a Power Five program. It’s just that $95 million is a lot of money for a coach who hasn’t proven it yet, and it’s also a sign of how Michigan State feels. Not just about Tucker, but about the pool of available candidates should he decide to leave East Lansing.

And it’s how I already know there will be a lot of disappointed fanbases talking themselves into coaches who hadn’t appeared on their lists. But that doesn’t mean your school won’t make a great hire! If your school has an opening, take solace in the fact that “proven” coaches tend to have the same hit rate as the “unproven” kind. And no matter who you hire, if they don’t win a national title in the next 12 months, you can just fire them and start again. 

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Heisman Moments of the Week

I am a Heisman voter, which means two things: First, they truly will let anybody vote on the award. Second, there are never fewer than two rifle scopes trained on me, ready to take action if I even hint for whom I’m going to vote.

I’m willing to take that risk after Saturday’s action. The entire season has had several candidates, but nobody ever took the reins. That’s why Saturday’s game between Ohio State and Michigan State had some added significance. It wasn’t simply a top-10 showdown between two teams fighting for a conference title and possible playoff berth. It was a head-to-head showdown of sorts between two Heisman hopefuls in Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. Stroud won it handily, throwing for 432 yards and six touchdowns in the first half, while Walker was held to 25 yards by the Buckeyes defense. The performance was enough to vault Stroud to the head of the pack, as sportsbooks across the country changed their odds to reflect him as the favorite. (Caesars Sportsbook has Stroud at -220.) 

Then the Alabama game started, and Bryce Young threw for a school-record 559 yards and five touchdowns as the Tide had a much tougher test against Arkansas than the Buckeyes did against Michigan State. Now, everybody who spent the last few months debating over which defensive player could be the one to finally break through and win the award will spend the next two weeks dissecting Stroud and Young.

Large Human Touchdown of the Week

Speaking of defensive players people were trying to talk themselves into as Heisman candidates … did you see Georgia’s Jordan Davis on Saturday? It turns out Davis knows how to do more than stop the run. He studied his opponent’s tendencies so effectively that now he knows how to use their weapons against them. How do you stop the run of the man who stops the run?

Typo of the Week

I don’t know why I find the word “Ritgers” to be so amusing, but I do. It’s fun to say out lod. Go ahead and try it if you don’t believe me. Ritgers

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Oh, and I’m not sure how lucky I’d consider myself if I had to watch a Rutgers-Maryland game.

Coordinator of the Week

Do you know who Jim Knowles is? Don’t worry if you don’t, because most college football fans outside the Big 12 don’t. I wasn’t familiar with him before he joined Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State staff as defensive coordinator, either. Knowles spent years as an assistant at places that don’t get much attention and went only 26-34 in six seasons as the head coach at his alma mater, Cornell, before joining David Cutcliffe’s staff at Duke.

When Gundy hired him to run Oklahoma State’s defense, the move didn’t cause much of a ripple outside Stillwater. It turns out it might’ve been the best decision Gundy’s ever made.

Oklahoma State won 47 games from 2013 to 2017, but the defense always let them down when they needed it most. In those five seasons, the Oklahoma State defense allowed an average of 31 points per game in Big 12 play. When Knowles joined the scene in 2018, things actually got worse. Much worse. The Cowboys allowed 37.6 points per game in the Big 12 that year and finished the season 7-6. In 2019, the defense took a significant step forward, allowing 28.1 points per game, and last season that number again dropped to 24.1. This season, it’s down to a ridiculously low 13.1 points per game.

Knowles’ defense is the primary reason Oklahoma State is 10-1 with a legitimate shot at beating Oklahoma in Bedlam next week for the first time since 2014, as well as appearing in its first Big 12 Championship Game. 

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Best Use of an Official of the Week

I love everything about this fake field goal that Arkansas ran to score a touchdown against Alabama. I love the decision to run it. I love the jump-pass aspect of it. And, more than anything, I love that it uses the umpire as a screen. I don’t know if this was part of the play design, but it very well could’ve been and I hope it was. It’s not like offensive coordinators don’t consider the positioning of the officials when they run all those crossing routes. 

Personal Foul of the Week

UCLA not only laid an epic 62-33 beatdown on rival USC Saturday, but the Bruins discovered new ways to pick up personal fouls. After rushing for a four-yard touchdown to put the Bruins ahead 28-10 late in the first half, Dorian Thompson-Robinson stopped to sign an autograph for a young fan and was penalized for it.

Did you notice the color of the shirt and hat the kid was wearing? They were red because it turns out that this young DTR fan is also a USC fan. Yep, 12-year old Declin Manz wanted the autograph because DTR tossed him a glove two years ago in this same game. At this rate, you have to wonder what colors young Declin will be wearing the next time UCLA visits The Coliseum.

Complaint of the Week

Can television networks please start sending announcers to games again? I understand that COVID had a terrible impact on how networks could broadcast games last season and a lack of live sports hurt the bottom line everywhere. Still, I fear that the lesson networks learned from the experience wasn’t “this makes our broadcasts worse” as much as it was “hey, we can save some money!”

But, make no mistake, it does make the broadcasts worse. The viewer is cheated when announcers are in a studio 2,000 miles away from the game. Too many times this season I’ve seen critical penalties called, which the announcers have no explanation for if they’re even aware of them in the first place. And it’s not their fault. Survey every play-by-play or color analyst in the country and I guarantee you they’d all prefer being on-site than in a studio. They’re people who take pride in their work and realize they can’t fulfill their jobs to the best of their abilities this way. I understand why a network might be hesitant to send a whole production team to a mid-week game in a smaller conference, but I’ve routinely seen it happen with much larger games on Saturday. Networks are paying billions of dollars for the right to broadcast the games, but then treat them like they aren’t worth their attention or time. That doesn’t seem like a sound business model.

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Stock Advice of the Week

BUY — Miami QB Tyler Van Dyke: I don’t know what Miami will do with coach Manny Diaz. Depending on who you talk to, he’s either back next season, or he’s going to be fired after the Duke game. Whatever happens, I’m already more optimistic about Miami in 2022 than I have been at any point in 2021, and it’s all thanks to Tyler Van Dyke.

Van Dyke was a four-star prospect in Miami’s 2020 class that was somewhat forgotten after Jake Garcia committed to the Canes in 2021. He wasn’t forgotten by this Miami coaching staff, though, because they turned to Van Dyke as D’Eriq King’s replacement, and it is looking like a wise decision. After a couple of rough performances in his first two starts against Virginia and North Carolina, Van Dyke settled in to throw 325 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-30 upset over NC State. A week later, he threw for 426 yards and three touchdowns in an upset win over Pitt. After throwing for 357 yards in a 38-26 win over Virginia Tech this weekend, Van Dyke has thrown for at least 300 yards in five consecutive games. Van Dyke’s five games of at least 300 yards passing are the most any Miami QB has thrown in a single season since Ken Dorsey in 2002. Nobody had managed even four since Brad Kaaya in 2016.

BUY — Wisconsin RB Braelon Allen: I’m required by law to tell you that Braelon Allen is only 17 years old. This comes as a surprise to most people because you don’t see many 17-year olds rushing for more than 1,000 yards, particularly in a Power Five conference. After rushing for 228 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin’s 35-28 win over Nebraska, he’s at 1,062 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. Those numbers are strong enough on their own, but become even more impressive when you consider Allen wasn’t the team’s featured running back until October. Allen had only 12 carries in Wisconsin’s first four games, but has averaged 21.3 carries and 144.7 yards per game since. Allen was playing linebacker in high school not long ago (again, 17), but it looks like he’s the next great Wisconsin running back.

BUY — East Carolina HC Mike Houston: I started the column by talking about the lack of coaching candidates, so why not add one to the board that I haven’t seen get a lot of consideration? Mike Houston is in his third season at East Carolina and the Pirates have steadily improved each year. Houston inherited a program struggling to adapt to life in the American Athletic Conference after moving from Conference USA, going 22-39 in its first five seasons in the AAC, including a mark of 12-28 in the conference.

In Houston’s first season, the Pirates’ struggles continued as they went 4-8 and 1-7 in conference. They took a step forward last year, though, going 3-6 overall and 3-5 in the AAC. This season the Pirates are 7-4 and 5-2 in the AAC after beating Navy Saturday. That’s improvement every season so far, and that was a common theme for Houston’s stops at Lenoir-Rhyne (three conference titles in three years), The Citadel (a 2015 conference title) and James Madison (a national title and two conference titles in three seasons).

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If I’m Virginia Tech — or any P5 job — I’d be taking a long hard look at him. And if I’m East Carolina, I’m doing everything in my power to keep him.

College Football Playoff Projection of the Week

  1. Georgia
  2. Ohio State
  3. Alabama
  4. Michigan

Until the next Monday After!





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Discussing Carson Wentz’s potential, Sam Howell’s development with Commanders QBs coach Ken Zampese

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Ken Zampese oversees an intriguing quarterbacks room with the Washington Commanders entering the 2022 season. There’s Carson Wentz, the former No. 2 overall pick traded by the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts in consecutive seasons after failing to live up to expectations; Taylor Heinicke, the Old Dominion student-turned almost Tom Brady slayer (within a month!) and then the team’s full-time starter last season; and finally Sam Howell, a projected top-five draft pick before an underwhelming 2021 dropped him all the way to the fifth round.

Wentz’s seemingly final chance to be an NFL starter will unfold in Washington, while Heinicke will be anxiously waiting to be called upon if necessary and Howell will look to rediscover his 2020 magic as he acclimates himself to the NFL. Guiding all of these players is Zampese, 55, who enters his 19th season as an NFL quarterbacks coach.

Ahead of the Commanders’ preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday afternoon, Zampese spoke with CBS Sports about Wentz’s potential, Howell’s continuing development and more.

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The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was your initial reaction when you found out Carson Wentz was joining the team?

“I was so excited I could hardly stand myself. My hope went through the roof, my confidence went through the roof. I just know when you add talent and you get a guy that’s accountable and you hold him accountable, good things are going to happen. When? Who knows. But we’re going to be moving in a positive direction all the time, and I knew that was a good deal. … I just know that he is a very capable NFL passer, and I’m very happy we got him here.”

What have been your impressions of Wentz since you started working with him?

“He’s locked into details. He wants to know and he wants to communicate it so that we’re all on the same page. That’s obvious from the time we started when it was just he and I. And then as we get the players into the building, you see the communication and going back to talk through a rep after it’s already been done, to come to a greater understanding so that when we go to the next time, you can anticipate it a little bit more, and you get better balls, better looks, better spots.”

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Is that the main thing that has stood out about Wentz so far? Or have other things also caught your attention?

“That’s the one you want to have, because then the guy’s locked into what you’re doing and is trying to do it the way that we’re talking about doing it. And then he brings his own stuff from where he’s been to where there’s (additions) and there’s things that we subtracted, and we’re just making it our offense this year. It’s our 2022 Commanders offense.”

Any specific examples of his attention to detail?

“There are certain routes where we talk about, ‘Oh, our focus is over here,’ and he says, ‘Hey, if I can get this look on the backside, can we put this on it?’ So you know he’s seeing the whole field. And if we can do that and it works out and we can get another shot to throw it to Terry McLaurin), that’s a hell of a deal. It’s something where you’re seeing the whole field, how we’re using all the pieces, and he sees all the pieces and what we can do with them. That’s the fun part.”

What’s the biggest thing that’s going to change for the offense this year with Wentz at quarterback?

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“Well he’s got his own unique style, which is different than the rest of them. He can reach the whole field easily. He’s really good at quick game. The usual things that have stood out. I mean I think he was in the top 10 in plus-20 air yard passes, something like that, so there’s some downfield elements that he brings; it’s natural to him. And then his style of leadership and communication in the building. He’s very personable, 1-on-1, being deliberate to get to each guy.”

Wentz’s accuracy has been inconsistent at times throughout camp, and coach Ron Rivera has attributed that to learning a new system and getting the rhythm and timing down with his speedy receivers. How long does it typically take for a quarterback in a new system to gain that baseline of comfortability?

“There’s no threshold. You just know it when you see it over time. The easy things stay easy. You don’t see the wheels spinning on an easy concept and it’s hard to get. Guys are getting it, it’s getting to the right spot. It’s also the quickness from one read to another, ‘Oh, shoot, OK, he’s got that one. We feel good about this concept. Let’s try and do more.’ There’s no kind of magic moment, but you kind of know it when you see it.”

Have you seen it so far during training camp?

“We’re in the process. Some days are better than other days, and that’s how training camp goes. … It’s no different than anybody else who walks into the building new. We’re not six years in with somebody. We are six months in with somebody, and even though some other guys have been here, we haven’t done it together. So we’re trying to build our sustainable winning culture within our offense.”

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Wentz will start the preseason opener Saturday against the Panthers, and Rivera said he wants to see the starters get 15-20 snaps. What do you want to see from Wentz during that time?

“I just want to see the ball move down the field. It doesn’t matter to me how it works; just that it works and it’s smooth and we’re happy with the decisions and we’re finding ways to protect the football and take advantage of the defense and big plays when we get them. So yeah, just move the ball, convert some first downs, score — of course — and then just see the offense flow the way it’s supposed to, the way we’ve talked about it. And then we can come back with a greater confidence later because we actually did it on another level other than practice; we did it live.”

This is Wentz’s third team in as many years. What makes you think Washington can be a long-term fit for him?

“We’ve seen it on Sunday, him be productive on Sunday. And we have pretty good skill guys, and I think as you compare that with other spots he’s been in over time, it gives me hope that if we can get the ball out to these guys, we’ll be able to make some very, very productive plays — short range and down the field.”

Switching gears to Sam Howell: You’ve coached a lot of rookie quarterbacks who have gone on to be long-term starters (Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton, Baker Mayfield, etc.) What stands out about Howell in terms of what he brings to the NFL?

“He’s humble, he’s got a live arm, and he likes to be coached. That’s kind of Sam in a nutshell. He really gleans everything off of every meeting and wants to know, and anytime I say, ‘Hey Sam, let’s get together before or after practice,’ he says, ‘Yes sir,’ and we’re on it, we’re doing it. And that’s going to go a long way to his development toward being fast, not slow. He’s very coachable, he’s got a high motor for work and his focus is good, and he has a lot of pride. That’s the other thing that sticks out: he’s got a lot of pride. He sees himself in a very upwardly-mobile-in-this-profession way, and he should, because he can.

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“He doesn’t give himself a crutch if he misses a throw. He knows he can make it because it should be easy for him in his mind because ‘I can do all of these things, and when I don’t, I’m very disappointed,’ as opposed to, ‘Yeah, you know I just missed one. Whatever.’ It’s not like that for him. He holds himself accountable very well.

“He’s not happy about it. Those things happen because guys are rookies, but when you don’t get something that doesn’t happen right, there’s a sting that goes along with it. And if you don’t use it for fuel, you don’t gain from the experience. He uses all the stings as fuel, and that’s the important part, no matter what year you are but particularly as a rookie because you get so many of them.”

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What are the biggest areas you want to see him improve throughout his rookie campaign?

“I want to see his pocket moving and sliding to make a play. And then knowing when to cut your losses and run; just the natural feel of that part of the game, like to see that. We’ve seen him out here on one-hitch fire the ball around. He’s been very productive, and now we’ll get to see it in the game. I want to see the improvisational skills.”





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By being himself, Schneider’s message is resonating with Blue Jays’ stars

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TORONTO — John Schneider arrived at spring training in 2008 with a life-changing decision to make. Six years, seven concussions and a major back surgery into his pro ball career with the Toronto Blue Jays, he’d topped out at triple-A. He had enough raw tools — strong receiver, a knack for getting on base, some pop — that he could keep grinding and perhaps find his way to a cup of coffee in The Show. But Voon Chong, his trainer in 2006-07, warned that another blow to the head would be major trouble. Dick Scott, the club’s farm director at the time, suggested a transitionary job coaching in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League if the 28-year-old was ready to move on. The club thought enough of him that the offer that would stand even if he first wanted a release to pursue a playing opportunity with another organization.

All the possibilities swirled in Schneider’s mind and his lean was toward coaching, which he’d already kicked around during the off-season. “Give me a few days,” he told Scott after their meeting. One morning, before heading over to a minor-league spring game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, as they were then called, he stopped manager Gary Cathcart. Bring another catcher for the trip, he said, because if he hit a homer that day, he was calling it a career right then and there. “Haha, OK,” is how Schneider remembers Cathcart’s response.

Sure enough, in his second at-bat, against a left-hander whose name he can’t recall, Schneider did indeed go deep. Cathcart gave him a knowing grin as they high-fived at third base. “I came in and literally took off my spikes, hung them up in the dugout and coached first the next inning. That was the last time I ever played,” says Schneider. “It was great. Went out on a high note. Because there are a lot of low notes in there.”

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The next morning, rather than sitting in the clubhouse with his teammates and friends, he was in the coaches room for his first day as hitting coach of the GCL Blue Jays, the beginning of a career arc that led to his promotion as interim manager of the big-league club on July 13. Like Cito Gaston in 1989, Schneider is a long-time franchise man with deep ties to his players essentially thrown behind the wheel of a speeding car that’s at risk of veering off the highway. The task for him now, just as it was for Gaston then, is to ensure a built-to-win club remains on course and accelerates into the playoffs. At 14-8 so far, Schneider’s helped steer the Blue Jays back on the road, but the finish line is still a long way off and a steady hand is needed.

“This is so much about the players,” Schneider says of what he most enjoys about managing. “Our job as coaches is to just get them prepared and have all the information. The greatest joy is watching guys have fun, play well, win, celebrate a win. Watching them interact with one another, watching the coaches interact. Being around this group for so long, four years with the staff and most of the players, every day when you see it work is the best feeling.”

***

Even as a kid growing up in Lawrenceville, N.J., Schneider tried to think along with the manager when he watched baseball on TV, drawn to the bigger strategies inherent to the sport. Fittingly, he ended up behind the plate as a player, relishing the games within the game every catcher must play, the vision of the entire field. Undrafted out of high school, Schneider ended up at the University of Delware, where he logged 171 games over three seasons, earning first team All-Colonial Athletic Association and American Baseball Coaches Association All-East honours in 2002. That year, the Blue Jays selected him in the 13th round and he was the prototypical college player valued by the J.P. Ricciardi-era front office, carrying both a high on-base percentage (.387) and slugging percentage (.519).

Once he signed, Schneider remembers the organization stressing the importance of on-base percentage over batting average, that the fewer outs a player made the more valuable he was, along with other principles that changed the game in those Moneyball days. Such thinking resonated with him and in 311 minor-league games across those six years, he had an on-base percentage of .340, compared to a batting average of .206, while slugging .336, rolling up and down the system almost annually.

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Interspersed through that time were six documented concussions, all off foul tips that struck him on the mask. Those followed a more severe incident in 2001 while he was playing in the Cape Cod League, when a backswing shattered his helmet. Add in the 2006 surgery to correct a herniated disc in his back, it’s understandable why Schneider was already weighing his options when he got to spring training in 2008. “It took a lot of prep work to just get ready to play three times a week, know what I mean?” he says.

The physical toll Schneider had endured and the leadership qualities he’d displayed on his various teams both caught the eye of Scott, who as a matter of course sought to identify potential future coaches among players who weren’t on a fast-track to the big-leagues. In Schneider, he saw “a hard-nosed guy who always had a sense of humour,” says Scott, now co-ordinator of coaching development and instruction for the New York Mets. “And when guys are likable and they’re good baseball guys and they care, plus being a former catcher, it’s like this guy could be a good coach in our organization. As it turned out, he was.”

Scott also valued hiring players from within the system because they understood organizational priorities and were more invested in them. Schneider checked all the boxes, which is why he broached the idea that fateful spring, leading to a choice. He could kick around for a couple more years and see where it took him. Or he could get a head start on a different career path. “It keeps you in the game,” Schneider says of the transition. “I always said, if I wasn’t going to be a coach, I would be a teacher. I don’t know why, but I like sharing experiences. I like getting to know people. Baseball is what I know best, so it’s easy to talk to guys about anything that the game has to offer.”

Those qualities helped him learn on the fly, which helped because he didn’t jump into coaching with preconceived ideas about philosophies and approaches. Mostly, he trusted his instinct, the way he builds relationships with an added a dose of cautionary tales he’d seen. A prime example? “Not being connected to your teammates. Not being connected to your staff,” he replies. An important early piece of advice he adhered to was, “try to spend one minute a day with each person. I literally tried to just talk to people, whether it was during BP, clubhouse, whatever.”

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That part came easy to him. As a catcher he was the same way. “Social butterfly,” Schneider says with a grin. “It’s easier when people trust you. Like when pitchers trusted what I was calling, it just made it easier. And that comes through conversations, not just game experiences. With relationships comes trust.”

Among his initial coaching influences were Dwayne Murphy, Ernie Whitt and Scott, who’d regularly visit with Schneider to dissect various decisions, kick around different approaches and generally offer support. Scott liked his work as hitting coach with the GCL Blue Jays so much that the next year he made him the club’s manager. Another promotion, this time to short-season A Vancouver, came in 2011, after Scott had left the Blue Jays when Alex Anthopolous replaced Ricciardi as GM.

“John probably wouldn’t like me saying this, but he’s probably a better coach than he was player,” says Scott. “He wasn’t a bad player. But sometimes guys, their makeup is just suited for leading and coaching other guys. That’s really something that he showed.”

***

After a leave of absence in August 2011 so he could tend to a personal matter, Schneider resumed managing in 2013 with GCL Blue Jays, returning to the Canadians in 2014-15 and then jumping to low-A Lansing in 2016. It was during this period he began to find a better balance between being demanding instead of too hard on his players, while learning to manage with a bigger picture in mind. Some of the philosophies he employs now, particularly being aggressive on the bases, started taking hold then, too. “I remembered how hard baseball was and I always found it easier to not wait around for a big play to happen,” says Schneider. “If you can kind of dictate the momentum of the game or the pace of the game, it’s just easier that way. Baserunning is a big part of it. Putting the ball in play is a big part of it. And just trying to take advantage of mistakes.”

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By 2017, when he was promoted to high-A Dunedin, Schneider’s star really started to rise as he was handed many of the organization’s most important prospects. That season alone, he managed Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Danny Jansen, Jordan Romano, Ryan Borucki and Tayler Saucedo, among other future big-leaguers, and led the club to a share of the Florida State League championship. The next year, with much of the same group at double-A New Hampshire plus Santiago Espinal, Jonathan Davis and Harold Ramirez, also ended with a title. “He did a good job of making us feel like a team,” says Bichette. “In the minor leagues, a lot of times it can feel pretty individual. He made sure that we remembered it’s important to be a good teammate, important to come on the field every day to win. Yeah, we had talent, but I think he definitely had a big part in us winning.”

None of that was by accident. Typically the focus in the minor leagues is on development. At times the way players are used and how they perform is based on growth priorities and organizational restrictions. Winning can become a happy by-product as opposed to the sole goal. But Schneider refused to let one come at the expense of the other because “I thought I’d be doing them and the organization a disservice if they didn’t appreciate winning, knowing how to celebrate a win, knowing how to learn from a loss,” he says. “In between, yeah, you want to get better, you want to improve your skills. But really those years, especially in 2018, I thought it was really important to preach this is winning baseball. There’s practice time. There’s development time. And then at 7 p.m., it’s ‘Hey, we’re going to try to win.’”

As important as that was, similarly critical to Schneider’s path was the way he embraced the latest information revolution sweeping over the game at that time. The Blue Jays in those years were both diving into the new opportunities created by advances in on-field data collection and completely rebuilding the entire organization after president and CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins took over the club following the 2015 season. Gil Kim, hired as the club’s director, player development, “challenged me to do things differently, think openly,” says Schneider, and just like he had during the Ricciardi/Moneyball years, he embraced all the new info filtering down to him, from new practice drills to unorthodox pitch usages.

At times, Kim concedes, the Blue Jays identified development concepts they liked but were unsure of how to implement. Schneider would “brainstorm with his staff, brainstorm with other coaches, come up with his own tweaks on it. And then the biggest key is that he was very consistent with implementing a lot of the new ideas that were being introduced. He was also very consistent in coming up with his own ideas as well. And through that process, we were all able to learn what are the best ways to go forward.” Kim laughs when he thinks back to some of the things they threw against the wall. “You’re not always going to agree with everything you see, read or hear,” he says. “But listening, taking time to digest the information, trying it out and then drawing conclusions is very important and that’s how he handled it.”

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Pivotal, too, is knowing what to change, and what to leave the same. The Holy Grail in baseball management is finding the right blend of traditional coaching/scouting and advanced methodologies. “When I was in minor-leagues with him, the game was still a little bit old school,” says Biggio. “Then probably about 2019, the game kind of changed, went more analytical and he learned that side of the game but ultimately maintained his feel, which is what made him such a great coach over the years.”

In a sense, then, that period of time turned out to be the perfect training ground for how the modern manager operates, buffering various inputs from the front office, fellow coaches, players and his own ideas in search of the best decision for a lineup, an approach, a pitching change, etc. Essentially, a manager must act as a translator to ensure the different parts of the organization understand what the other is saying, whether it’s why defensive shifts make sense, how to best leverage a pitching repertoire or what type of swing adjustment needs to be made. “It’s having the information and being able to answer why we’re doing it,” says Schneider. “Also it’s a credit to the players for understanding the information and being able to push back or ask questions, and never wanting to put them in spots where they’re uncomfortable. They know just about as much as we know. And then it’s coming together and saying, yeah, OK, this is important, to win we should do it. I think we do a good job of educating them on why we do certain things. It makes it a lot easier for us to have those conversations.”

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All of that progress led to speculation about Schneider as a candidate to become Blue Jays manager after John Gibbons parted ways with the club after the 2018 season. He wasn’t interviewed and the job eventually went to Charlie Montoyo, but Atkins and assistant GMs Joe Sheehan and Mike Murov did speak to him afterwards about a coaching position on the staff. They hired him initially as a major league coach but by last season he was the de facto bench coach, a title he officially took this year.

During that 2019 season, Schneider made a point of getting to know established big-leaguers like Justin Smoak and Clay Buchholz, plus guys he’d touched in the minors like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, to understand how their mindset and needs changed in the majors. He tried to soak in all he could from Montoyo, pitching coach Pete Walker, third base coach Luis Rivera and Dave Hudgens, who this year moved from bench coach to hitting strategist.

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That’s why when Atkins fired Montoyo last month, Schneider was ready to grab the wheel.

“I love this. This is what I do,” says Schneider. “The organization does a great job of giving you every piece of information you need. Being familiar with the staff is huge. Being familiar with the players is huge and having an idea of how they like to play. It’s not just like, ‘Hey, this is my style.’ You’re always evolving around your roster and the people you work with, both players and staff. So just being familiar with everyone has made it that much easier.”

***

After parting with Gibbons, the Blue Jays conducted an exhaustive search for his replacement. This is how Atkins at the time described the attributes they were looking for: “Tough, smart and passionate. Those are the overarching themes as I think about what it means to lead an environment in here to sustain championship-level expectations, understanding what it takes for communication to keep not just 25-man roster, but also the 40-man roster, the 200 minor-league players, the 100-plus scouts, the 100-plus coaches and medical staff people pulling in one direction and feeling connected. That person has to be an organizational leader and spokesperson, not just a leader of the 25-man clubhouse.”

Montoyo was Atkins’ first attempt at fulfilling that vision. How the Blue Jays fare the rest of the way will determine whether Schneider eventually has the interim tag removed to become the second. That will sort itself out in due course.

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For now, Schneider is in charge and running things the way he always has. He tries to sleep seven hours, gets to the ballpark around noon for a 7 p.m. game, makes the rounds a couple of times, stopping to chat with everyone from the security guards at the clubhouse door to the chef in the kitchen to players as they arrive, holds a staff meeting at 2 p.m. and then gets into the day’s routine. He’ll throw batting practice and watch some video, seeking out a weakness or a tendency that can perhaps be exploited before running the game, where every decision he makes is subject to internal and external judgment.

A lot of the work happens during the pre-game staff meeting. Schneider is very organized, to the point “I’m almost OCD sometimes with certain things.” The group will try to plan for various scenarios, using all available information to identify ideal matchups and possible opportunities they can exploit and debate the merits of different plans. “Some of it is projection, some of it is percentages,” Schneider explains. “Doing things consistently and not shying away from saying this is how we’re going to do it, this is collectively how we feel we’re going to win and staying consistent with that is key.” There’s still room for instinct. “Totally,” he continues. “You’ve got to still use your eyes. You’ve got to feel out what this guy is doing that night, how has his work been? Where is he at mentally? There are so many numbers and pieces of information you have where it’s like you could just go by the book and there’s always a handful of decisions each game that you go, OK, this is what I feel is best, along with the staff, you’ve got to make it and live with it. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong.”

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And then there’s managing a group of 26 highly driven, uber competitive players who will have varying needs and desires at any given moment. A big part of what Schneider does when he’s making the rounds is taking the temperature in the clubhouse because “you’re never going to have perfect attendance — someone’s always going to be pissed off at you,” he says. “Someone’s always going through something and you kind of just try to stay ahead of it.”

To that end, he believes in “being brutally honest with players” but approaches difficult conversations with empathy “and always having their best interests in the forefront,” he adds. “It’s not being afraid to say, hey, that’s not up to standards, that’s not up to par, this needs to be better or, hey, man, way to be aggressive. Whatever it is. But that’s the delicate part. Being consistent in who you are. I’m not going to come in and bang tables and pound my chest and say I’m in charge. That’s not how I operate. But them understanding yeah, I want to have fun and be loose, but at the same time there’s definitely a standard we’re going to hold you to.”

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That’s something Biggio has long appreciated about Schneider, whom he’s played for every year since appearing in nine games with Lansing in 2016. Especially now that he’s in a super utility role, the stream of communication about why he is or isn’t playing is especially important on a personal level, and it eliminates the guesswork on a collective level, too. “You want someone who has your back and sets you up for the best chance to succeed,” says Biggio. “And then one of the biggest parts is having poise. John embodies all three of those things really well.”

Dick Scott saw the ingredients for Schneider to provide all that way back in the day and now that his focus is on developing coaches, he still sees all the current elements a manager needs in him, too. “There’s a lot more to it than X’s and O’s. There are guys who are good managers that know the X’s and O’s and there are guys who communicate well. When you get a combination of that, you’ve got yourself a good guy,” explains Scott. “From the periphery the players seem to like the vibe in the clubhouse, and that’s so important. It’s really the vibe, guys comfortable being themselves, they can go play, no extra tension coming from the manager’s office. It’s effective, especially in this day and age. That’s what players want.”

For the time being, that seems to be what the Blue Jays have. “I just know how I’ve always done it and it just feels natural for me to do it that way,” says Schneider. “I’ve always said that great teams at the end of the year, they always say what a great group of guys, we loved coming to the field every day. I always try to keep that in the forefront and make sure that vibe is consistent, both with staff, players, support staff, everyone. That’s just how I operate.”

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Ravens extend NFL record for consecutive preseason wins following Thursday’s victory over the Titans

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The No. 21 is now synonymous with the longest winning streaks in NFL regular and preseason history. the 2003-04 Patriots won 21 consecutive games, an NFL record. On Thursday night, the Ravens won their 21st consecutive preseason game after securing a 23-10 decision against the Tennessee Titans

Baltimore has not lost a preseason game since 2016. Joe Flacco was their starting quarterback when the streak began, while Steve Smith Jr., who this past year was eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the first time, was heading into his final NFL season. Baltimore’s roster also included Terrell Suggs, who was entering his second-to-last season with the franchise. 

Along with not losing preseason games, another constant in Baltimore over the past six years has been kicker Justin Tucker, who is entering his 11th season with the Ravens. Tucker’s field goals of 47, 25 and 47 yards on Thursday night helped Baltimore pull out the win after falling behind midway through the second quarter. 

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The Ravens won Thursday’s game by winning the turnover margin while holding the Titans to 1 of 3 red zone efficiency. One of those turnovers was scooped up by Kyle Hamilton, the Ravens’ first-round pick in this past year’s draft. 

Baltimore won despite the efforts of Malik Willis, the Titans’ rookie quarterback who overcame a slow start to score his first NFL touchdown, a 7-yard run early in the second quarter. Speaking of quarterbacks, the Ravens received a strong night from Tyler Huntley, who completed all but two of his 18 pass attempts that included his game-winning touchdown pass to Shemar Bridges



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