Badger basketball in trouble?

What’s going on with the Wisconsin Badger men’s basketball team? Last year when they missed the tournament for the first time in what seemed forever, we had the excuses. Young inexperienced team and injuries to key contributors.

This season, there was hope. Optimism. Players were healthy, younger players got some experience, and it was Ethan Happs’ final season. There was no way this team was NOT going to make the tournament. And it looked that way to start the season. Wins against Oklahoma, NC State, and Iowa that helped propel the Badgers into the rankings.

Then came these last few weeks. Turnovers, missed free throws, slow starts have doomed the Badgers. They lost a game they had no business losing to in Minnesota at the Kohl Center. They lost to Purdue and Maryland in back-to-back games and now have Michigan coming up. Good chance they will be riding a three-game losing streak after this weekend.

Some fans are already calling for the dismissal of head coach Greg Gard. Are we at that point yet though?

I don’t understand what is going on with the Badgers during this rut and perhaps it is just a rut. They look to have athletes and solid players in that lineup. Brad Davison showed what he was made of last year,
D’Mitrik Trice started off this season on fire, and we know what Ethan Happ can do (and can’t for that matter.)

So the fact we know the Badgers have some ball players makes it all the more frustrating they’re at this point. But should we start pointing the finger to Gard?

There is still a lot of season left. Still a lot to be played out. A lot of things can happen. While some fans may want to see a new coach, I don’t see it happening after this year regardless of what happens. It may frustrate Badger fans, but I think Barry Alvarez would give Gard one more year if they don’t make the tournament this year.

But they still can make the tournament. Let’s concentrate on that right now instead of writing this team off already.

Top 5 Wisconsin Sports Stories in 2018

With 2018 coming to a close, here are my top 5 Wisconsin Sports Stories of 2018.

  1. The Milwaukee Brewers. Going to game 163 against the Cubs, winning the division, and getting to within one game of the World Series was an awesome year for the Brewers and their fans. Add in Christian Yelich being named the NL MVP and you easily have the best Wisconsin sports story this year.
  2. Mike McCarthy Fired. The writing may have been on the wall, but it’s still a big story that the Packers parted ways with their coach who had been with the team for 13 seasons and won them a Super Bowl.
  3. Giannis and the Bucks. The end of the 2018 season we saw the Bucks get to the playoffs, but lose in the first round. But the 2017-18 season we saw Giannis Antetokounmpo take a big leap in not only his play, but his popularity. The Bucks have started this 2018-19 season as one of the best teams in the league and Giannis is an MVP candidate.
  4. Badger Football Disappoints. There was a lot of hype and excitement for the Badger football team for the 2018 season and it didn’t even come close to preseason expectations. There was talk of the Badgers competing for the National Championship this year and the Badgers finished their season going 8-5 and finishing second in the west division of the Big Ten.
  5. Badger Basketball Tournament Run Ends. The Badger men’s basketball team had a run of 19 straight seasons getting into the NCAA tournament. That streak ended last season with a combination of a young roster and injuries to key players. So far, the start of the 2018-19 season looks like the Badgers will be back in the tournament in March.

Top 10 List of Packers Head Coaching Candidates

The Packers are now looking for a new head coach for the first time since 2006. Here is my top 10 list of candidates in no particular order:

Josh McDaniels – New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator

McDaniels is probably on the top of many lists. Yahoo! Sports is already reporting that some NFL assistants are already gearing up to possibly join his potential staff in Green Bay. Packers GM Brian Gutekunst and McDaniels already got to know each other during the 49ers coaching and GM search a couple of years ago. The Packers need to hire a coach that will command the respect from Aaron Rodgers. If McDaniels can command the respect of Rodgers good friend Tom Brady, shouldn’t Rodgers buy into McDaniels system?

Jim Harbaugh – Michigan Head Coach

Rob Demovsky is reporting that his source said Brian Gutekunst wants a “no non-sense guy” and that he has long admired Jim Harbaugh. Rodgers has long said he prefers his position coaches to be someone who has played the quarterback position. How about if his head coach played the quarterback position?

Lincoln Riley – Oklahoma Head Coach

He’s the hottest name in the college ranks that NFL teams with openings would love to talk to. The biggest question is, will he make the jump? And will teams be willing to wait until Oklahoma’s season is over with? His offense is drawing the attention of a lot of people, so of course people are intrigued with pairing Riley and Rodgers together.

Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern Head Coach

It’s been rumored that the Northwestern coach would only make the jump to the NFL for one team: the Chicago Bears. But would he make the jump a little further north and join up with Mark Murphy, who hired him at Northwestern when Murphy was the Athletic Director? Murphy and Fitzgerald have an obvious connection, which makes him a candidate.

James Franklin – Penn State Head Coach

Franklin hasn’t been rumored with the Packers, but he has been attached to previous NFL openings. He’s had one coaching stint in the NFL during his career and that was as wide receivers coach with the Packers in 2005. His offenses at Penn State have been pretty solid, but would he want to leave his home state to jump to the pros? It’s worth a call.

Pete Carmichael – New Orleans Saints Offensive Coordinator

A lot of fans seem to like this pick. He’s the offensive coordinator of the dynamic New Orleans Saints offense. He’s been with Sean Payton for a long time now, but he doesn’t call plays for the Saints. Will that hurt his chances? A lot of Packers fans would like to emulate the Saints offense and hiring Carmichael would be the way to do it.

Vic Fangio – Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator

If the Packers decide to go defense, they should make a call to the Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. A lot of Packers fans, and even McCarthy, wanted Fangio as their defensive coordinator this season. And why not? He was impressive as defensive coordinator with the 49ers under Harbaugh and continues that with the Bears. It would also hurt their division rival prying him away.

Matt LaFleur – Tennessee Titans Offensive Coordinator

A lot of teams may be trying to find the next Sean McVay and this might be the guy. He was the Rams offensive coordinator last year and is currently the offensive coordinator for the Titans. He just turned 39 this year, so if the Packers elect to go with the young head coach approach and a guy that has worked with McVay in the past, this would be their best bet.

Eric Bieniemy – Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator

If you have been an offensive coordinator under Andy Reid, chances are you’re going to be getting interviews for a head coaching job. Bieniemy has been attached to possible head coaching jobs even before he was Reid’s offensive coordinator. If the Packers want to pick from the Reid coaching tree, it’s worth taking a look at his latest offensive coordinator, especially with the way the Chiefs offense has been playing this year.

Bruce Arians – Retired

Would Arians consider coming out of retirement for the Packers? How much does he have left in the tank? That’s probably the biggest question that needs to be answered. Arians has proven to be a good head coach and play caller and if the Packers want an instant turnaround on offense, Arians might be their best bet. But he won’t be around for the long haul. And do they want a coach that was out of the league this year? It’s still worth an interview.

Just missed the cut: John Defilippo – Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator

His stock was extremely high at the start of the season, but it has come down a lot as of late. Mike Zimmer kind of calling him out in the media hasn’t helped much and Vikings fans would like to see them run the ball more. Run the ball more, does that sound familiar Packers fans? Defilippo will still get some head coaching interviews, but with the complaints from Vikings fans about Defilippo sounding an awful lot like the complaints against McCarthy, do Packers fans want Defilippo?

Change the message and plan. Or move on.

If I have one piece of advice for Mike McCarthy, it might be to avoid social media these days. It’s a dangerous world out there. A lot of fans, and now national media members, are calling for his job.

A lot of Packers fans would like to see McCarthy gone because of the Packers inability to win more games. Some would look at the lack of creativity or the unwillingness to change up the playbook. Some would point to what seems a lack of enthusiasm, discipline, and game management. The list goes on.

If the Packers decide to move on from their coach since 2006, I’m going to throw one more reason out there: Aaron Rodgers.

Not because Rodgers looks annoyed. It’s not because Rodgers should tell management they should make a change. And no, Aaron is NOT throwing games to get McCarthy fired. Anybody who thinks that is ridiculous.

The Packers may need to bring in a coach that can kind of rein Aaron Rodgers back in.

I don’t know if Rodgers isn’t buying into the system anymore. I don’t know if a lot of his frustration on the field is directed at the play calls, his teammates, or his own play. In all honesty, it might be a little bit of all that.

But Rodgers isn’t playing to the all-world level that we have been used to from him. If you look at his stats, yeah they look pretty dang good. One interception?! But the Packers are built to go only as far as Rodgers can lead them. That’s why you pay him all that money.

But watch the games and don’t box score scout. Rodgers is one of the leaders in throwaways, which is even more frustrating at times because he takes a lot of unnecessary sacks. His completion percentage is down. He’s missing open guys and still looks like he doesn’t trust a lot of guys at times, outside of Davante Adams.

But what was extremely evident in Thursday’s loss was Rodgers, for whatever reasons, not hitting the check downs to Aaron Jones and taking big sacks on third downs. We’ve seen the still frames and the pictures on social media. You know what I’m talking about.

So why is he doing that? My theory: Rodgers is still looking for the big play down the field. The big plays down the field we saw in the first half of the game against the Seahawks that looked vintage Rodgers. We all took to social media after that throw to Robert Tonyan and said, “Yup, that’s Aaron being Aaron.” And Rodgers succeeded in extending that play that allowed them to score that big touchdown.

But Rodgers is approaching 35 years old and he has a banged up knee. Consistently, Rodgers won’t be able to win all the time by using his legs, moving the pocket, and making big play after big play by extending the play. Playing backyard football if you want to call it that.

I think we saw some of that inability last night and we’ve seen some of that inability throughout the season. At some point, Rodgers has to realize that he doesn’t have the same maneuverability as he once did. He has to take what the defense gives him at times, like checking it down.

And whoever the next coach is, whether it’s still McCarthy or someone else, that coach has to tell him that. Not only tell him that, but game plan for it. Use shorter routes. Don’t always rely on slow, big developing plays to win on offense. You can still have those plays. You still NEED those plays. But the Packers cannot make that a priority on their offense anymore with an aging quarterback. Don’t give Rodgers that option all the time. Rein the offense in a bit.

Now 35 years old doesn’t mean Rodgers is over the hill. He’s not done. Not even close to being done. Look no further than Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Two high caliber quarterbacks still getting it down, without being as mobile, and not afraid to take the check downs and taking what the defense gives them. They have adapted as they have gotten older. Rodgers has to, no, MUST, do the same.

If McCarthy refuses to do that or his message doesn’t get through Rodgers, than that’s extremely concerning. And that to me, is the big reason it may be time for a change. McCarthy did that for Brett Favre. If he can’t do that for Rodgers or Rodgers doesn’t listen to him, how can McCarthy still be his coach and playcaller?

To sum it up: Rodgers is playing good, but not great. And the Packers need great Rodgers. It’s up to the head coach and playcaller to help Rodgers. Coach him. Adjust play calls to help him. Adjust to the older Rodgers. If Rodgers is checked out or has no interest in that, it’s time to move on and bring in a new voice. I don’t like calling for peoples jobs, but this may be a break that both sides need.

And run the ball more.