Ask Gary: What does Lightning’s No. 1 ranking mean?

by Gary Shelton on October 22, 2016 · 3 comments

in College Sports in Florida, general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Rays, USF

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

I was happy to see that ESPN rated the Lightning organization as the best in sports. Do you think that the Rays deserved to be so low? No. 90?

Jim Willson

Jim, the challenge of making such a list is that you have to decide where your emphasis should be.

I don't know if they're No. 1 or not, but I think the Lightning is in the top handful of teams (they were third in 2015). And, if you're a Lightning fan, what is there really to complain about? The team is keeping its players, it's bonded with the community, and it's won. Jeff Vinik has a class organization; I imagine everyone would agree.

The Rays? Despite their low attendance figures, I think the Rays try. I really do. They've rated high in bang-per-buck for their ticket prices.

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But the standings also include consideration for what you do on the field (or ice). The Rays simply haven't won enough to be considered very high. The attendance figures, I'm sure, play a part to someone compiling these rankings in an office somewhere.

I don't know if No. 90 is right. But what would please you? No. 73 (the Bucs ranking)? No 58? Unless a team ranks in the top 10, what does it matter?

If I were the Rays, this would be my protest. The team was 45th last year, 35th the year before. Did they really fall 45 slots over one season? Really?  The Bucs rose 18 slots in a  year they ticket prices increased. I don't get that, either.

I'll say this: With the cost of tickets these days, the No. 1 thing I would want from my team  is the hope of winning. No, I'm not talking about every year. But I'm talking about progress you can see.

I think the Bolts have a lot of faith in their stands. I'm not sure you can say it about the Bucs or Rays.

What odds would you give on Willie Taggart being back next season?

Jim Willson

It's funny how a question can mean just the opposite of what it used to mean, isn't it? Before last season, a lot of people thought Taggart might be fired. This year, they're nervous that Willie might leave.

The odds, I'd say, are 78 percent that he's back. He loves the area. He likes the school. And I don't think he's quite won enough to open the door on a guaranteed winner. But say North Carolina or Kentucky come calling? Those would be tough choices for Taggart. More money, more prestige, etc.

The key for Taggart at this stage of his career is to be careful. I don't think he's accomplished enough, at this stage, to get a brand-name job: Oklahoma or Texas, if they came open. And he's be silly to go to Purdue or Texas Tech. Taggart has to find a place where he can win.

Would he leave? Heck, he left his alma mater. I can see the off-season coming, and Willie getting guidance from his buddy Jim Harbaugh and landing in the right spot. But it would take the right offer more than it would take money.

I think he'll be back, myself. But that's not forever. If Taggart keeps winning, schools will start calling.

The Lightning were named the No 1 franchise by ESPN in their annual ranking of professional franchises. The Rays and the Bucs by comparison were way down the list. Jeff Vinik is widely considered to be one of the best owners in sports who has built a model franchise. So does it follow that Stu Sternberg and the Glazers should be considered among the worst owners?

Larry Beller

Not necessarily, although I'd take it that way if my team ranked low on the list. ESPN isn't ranking owners, but owners have a lot to do with some of the stuff they are ranking.

I saw, for instance, that the 49ers were listed as No. 122 despite their new stadium. But they've raised ticket prices 60 percent while delivering only five wins. The team is among the least accessible in sports.

It strikes me that so much of their list starts with winning and then considers other things. They talk about how happy fans are, but fans aren't happy when the team has been away from the playoffs for a while. Fans are also pleased with how they feel they're being appreciated, how comfortable they are, and the price tag of a night out.

Can the Rays quibble that they should have been, oh, 45th? And the Bucs can say they should have been 61st. But if I'm the owners, I take this is a message that my fans are relatively unhappy. And I strike to fix it. Now.

To be a successful college football coach, what is more important -- recruiting or coaching?

Scott Myers

Define your terms, Scott. When you say coaching, are you talking just about game-day coaching? Game-day coaching is important, but by that point, the hay is in the barn. But if you count game-planning, player development (which goes hand-in-hand with coaching), scheduling and scouting, well, that's a different matter.

Recruiting is vital to win every year. But there are always programs that flourish despite not ranking high in recruiting. Where has Washington been in the recent recruiting rankings? Houston? Louisville? Bobby Bowden won for a long time before FSU became the recruiting powerhouse it is these days. I remember when Marquette Smith was such a high recruit; he shouldn't have been.

On the other hand, Alabama and Ohio State win at both recruiting and the playing of the game.

If I were going to cop out, I'd point out how vital both aspects are, which is why it's a good question. But let's don't cop out. I'm going to say coaching is first, recruiting is second and game-day coaching is about eighth.

I thought I heard next season that pitchers will be on the clock in an attempt to speed up the game? True?

Howard Powders

The clock has just started on commissioner Rob Manuel's efforts to speed up the game. He has floated the idea of a 20-second pitch clock, which seems reasonable. Still, there are a lot of major league pitchers at the 25-26 second mark. It would be an adjustment.

The clock has been effective in the minors and college baseball, but the major leaguers are sure to fight it. They''ll say that it will increase injuries. Perhaps, but I think the bigger obstacle is mental. The players will learn to adjust. They usually do.

Any rule change, however, would have to be approved by the Players' Association.

I certainly don't see it for this year. Maybe a couple of seasons afterward.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller October 23, 2016 at 8:08 am

Yes he is cheaper now because there is an obvious need to change the formula. His cheap ways are ruining this franchise. This next couple of years will be crucial for the Rays and a lot of it will depend on Sternberg. So much needs to be done to rebuild this franchise and the stadium issue must get resolved soon. If he continues the current trend I see this franchise becoming a perennial cellar dweller. They may even relocate out of the area. I still maintain the only hope for the Rays is Sternberg sells to someone who has the qualities of Jeff Vinik. The Glazer boys on the other hand have turned the corner and are spending money to rebuild a franchise that they almost single handedly tore down. Give them credit for finally getting some things right.

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Larry Beller October 22, 2016 at 7:13 am

Regarding the ESPN rankings and how it relates to owners, my take is that Stu Sternberg and the Glazers both have a huge problem of being percieved as cheap and aloof. Sternberg was quoted as saying he is still a Mets fan at heart. He probably attends more of their games than games of his own team. He won’t spend enough money to make the Rays competitive. He hasn’t invested in building a good management team of knowledgeable baseball people or a minor league system. The Glazers also went through many years of having the lowest payroll in the league and in the NFL that’s inexcusable. Besides that they come off as being totally dysfunctional by changing coaches every couple of years. Very few, if any successful franchises have bad owners and the reverse is true also. Jeff Vinik proved what a good owner can accomplish in this market. Sternberg and the Glaziers have a perfect model to follow right here in the same town if they would ever get off their wallets and live up to the responsibilities of what is required of a good owner.

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Gary Shelton October 23, 2016 at 12:26 am

Is Sternberg cheaper than he was last year when he was 45th? Or the year before when he was 35th? He’s never had a lot of money to spend. The Glazers have spent a lot on free agency since the Schiano years.

I do agree that Vinik has ownership down pat, and the others could learn a lot from him.

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