Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Domestics vs. Imports: Forget What You Think You Know

Let's face it, Cleveland fans. We're 90 days away until the real NBA season begins for the Cavs, the Browns' offseason drama has gone into hibernation until March, and the Indians aren't even on the radar of relevance right now, so, I'm writing about whatever I feel like, and I'm on a car kick...and I feel like informing you about the re-emergence of the Domestic car.

Ten years ago, if you said Toyota and Honda ran circles around Ford, GM and Chrysler, well, that would be a valid argument.

Today and moving forward, not the case. In fact, the re-emergence of the domestic brands really began five years ago for Ford, and three years ago for GM (forget Chrysler, for now, they have a LOT of ground to make up, and have a good chance to if Fiat plays their hand right, Fiat makes quality products in Europe).

How did this happen? How did the U.S. automakers catch up to the imports so quickly? Part of it is domestic automakers getting serious about cars instead of SUV's, and part of it is the Japanese automakers becoming lazy. Don't believe me? Take a look at the current flagship sedans of Toyota, Honda, Chevrolet and Ford: The Camry, Accord, Malibu and Fusion. Compare their exteriors: The Malibu is elegant, the Fusion is edgy, while the Accord and Camry are monstrosities. In fact, the previous designs of the Accord and Camry are better looking than the current models, and the design of the interiors are better in the older Camry and Accord as well. The interiors of the Malibu and Fusion? First class. I can't begin to tell you how awesome the Fusion's interior is, and the Malibu is not far behind at all. This doesn't even factor in quality: the quality of Honda and Toyota have taken a nosedive in recent years, while the exact opposite has happened with domestic automakers not named Chrysler.

Foreign automakers still have a leg up on the smaller cars, but that's changing with the new Ford Fiesta, Chevy Aveo, Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze. I've blogged enough about the Focus, but I do know that the domestic automakers are VERY serious about smaller cars now. The Fiesta is getting rave reviews and is reportedly above and beyond the current class leading Honda Fit.

Ford has all their ducks in a row and GM is getting theirs aligned. Chrysler? To be determined. But the Japanese automakers have quickly fallen behind the 8-ball...behind Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia, who have their act together too. (check out the new Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sorrento, Kia Forte and upcoming Hyundai Elantra...awesome cars that, like domestics, are better than Japanese cars)

So, in closing, STOP automatically ASSuming that Japanese-made cars are better than U.S.-made cars. Forget what you know: Detroit is back.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Love at first sight: 2011 Ford Focus

For those of you who read this blog, you know that I've developed a taste for compact cars. They're fuel efficient, practical, but most of all, are sportier than people give them credit for.

Over the past decade, compacts in the U.S. have gone from entry-level econoboxes to refined vehicles that could be family cars. (smaller subcompacts such as the Chevy Aveo and upcoming Ford Fiesta have taken the place of the former compacts as entry level cars...and even subcompacts have become very refined...the new Fiesta is awesome, but a bit on the feminine side for me)

It all started with the Ford Focus in the early 2000's, at least domestically. I had to trade in my first love, my '99 Mustang convertible for a multitude of reasons (horrific traction in snow and lack of storage mainly), and looked at compacts. I was shown a used Dodge Neon, Chevy Cavalier and Focus...it was no comparison: the Focus had a larger, classier interior, and it drove unlike any compact I had sat in. Thus, the 2003 Focus became my 2nd car.

Fast forward to next year, when Ford will release the 2011 Ford Focus. It's an important deal because it is Ford's first truly world car: one car with minimal changes across the world. (currently, U.S. customers are treated to a facelifted first generation Focus...so mainly, while the exterior and interior are more refined, it's essentially the same car I drive...this is in contrast to the European Focus, which is world class) In other words, the compact car that Americans have been dying for is coming to the U.S...and engineers from every country have put work into the car to make sure its among the finest in the world.

The new Focus comes with a 2.0 liter 155-horsepower engine that will deliver 10% better fuel economy than the current Focus, and an dual-clutch automatic transmission that will deliver 9% better fuel economy than the current automatic tranny. My current Focus has a wimpy 110 horses and it works just fine although it's a tad slow when flooring it on the highway, so 155 ponies should be PLENTY. My rough estimate is it'll get 28 MPG city, 41 MPG highway (current economy is 24/34, I just multiplied both by 119%...go ahead, call me a geek). But that's just the base engine...which leads me to...

EcoBoost. If you don't know what this is, Google it cuz I don't have the time to explain it. Mainly, Ford's EcoBoost engines use direct injection and turbo charging to deliver better power in a smaller engine, which means better fuel economy. While Ford hasn't announced it yet, I'll bet the down payment on my next Focus that it comes with the EcoBoost engine at launch...a 1.6L turbo expected to deliver 180-horsepower, and fuel economy that's WELL above and beyond the 28/41 that I calculated for the base engine. 180 horses in a compact car is a rocket ship! (imagine the numbers in a performance model, think 300 ponies...not even kidding)

The best part? This next Focus will come with every single option that Ford has up its sleeve. The same stuff that you can currently find in the new Taurus and Fusion...aka this car has luxury-level options at an affordable price. Oh and if you think it's too small to carry things you can carry in a larger car? The new Focus is larger than the old model...and if you fold down the seats on the Hatchback, there is PLENTY of room to store just about anything.

So let's see: Great fuel economy, great power, all the bells and whistles of larger, more expensive cars? Where can I sign up for a black hatchback? I'm already saving up

Click here for pics of the new Focus. Personally, I'm interested in seeing what its Mercury sibling will look like, maybe it'll look a little more upscale and classy...but this one screams "Fun."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sometimes the "real media" baffles me.

I have to admit to being wrong, Cleveland Frowns was right: The witch hunt against Coach Mangini really is THAT bad.

Even when Mangini receives an endorsement from one of the most respected names in all of football (President Holmgren) and from his new co-worker (new General Manager Tom Heckert), the media has to twist it in some way.

I've had my thoughts about Plain Dealer columnist Tony Grossi drumming up his agenda for years now, but lately my ire is with my place of former unpaid employment: ESPN Cleveland.

Before you think I'm going to throw anyone under the bus: No, I'm not. The people there are still class acts and wonderful professionals to work with. But I found myself wanting to throw up in my car, as I was driving, as I was listening to their otherwise fine programming late last week. Upon hearing Mangini was retained, you'd swear that someone's puppy died if you were listening to KNR.

Here's a list of falsifications that drew my ire...

Statement: "Mangini is a 3-4 guy, Holmgren is a 4-3 guy."
Truth: Mangini is a 3-4 guy, but Holmgren is an offensive guy. He was never married to any defensive scheme and in fact the rumor was Holmgren was looking for a defensive minded head coach to focus on that side of the ball while he offers his input on the offense.

Statement: "Mangini likes to run the ball, Holmgren's West Coast Offense revolves around the passing game."
Truth: We couldn't pass the ball to save our lives and Jerome Harrison emerged and the offensive line began to click as a smashmouth run blocking unit. As for Holmgren, didn't Shaun Alexander lead the league in rushing under his watch? Wouldn't it take a smashmouth running game behind a stud offensive guard like perrennial Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson for something like that to happen?

Statement: "Mangini isn't a west coast guy. Holmgren is."
Truth: This statement actually IS true, BUT, Mangini worked with Bill Callahan in his days with the Jets and uses concepts from every offensive scheme in existence to create the Browns offense. Why does it suck? Blame the pathetic QB situation and the youth of the receiving core on that, along with an aging Jamal Lewis until Harrison's emergence.

Statement: "Mangini doesn't want to win with stars or stud athletes, he wants to win with hard working nobodies."
Truth: Could not be further from the truth. Yes, he wants hard working players, but to say he doesn't want stud athletes is erroneous. Look at all the talent he amassed in New York: Thomas Jones, Nick Mangold, Calvin Pace, Kris Jenkins, David Harris, Darrelle Revis, Alan Faneca, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Leon Washington among others. Fact is you can not have a team full of poor character players in today's NFL and expect to win consistently. Every team needs players with intensity, but there's a difference between intensity and players with poor character. Notice how much better the Dallas Cowboys are without Terrell Owens...the mentality of the Cowboys this year is MUCH different compared to last year's team, whose personality was defined by "Hollywood swagger."

Anyway, I believe I've made my point: The Mangini received an endorsement from two of the most respected football names of all time (Bill Parcells and Mike Holmgren), can we as fans AND the media PLEASE back off and let "the process" play out?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Is Holmgren the Ultimate Mediator?

The Cleveland Browns have hired Tom Heckert as the team's new General Manager.

This is not a surprise if you've followed the search since team President Mike Holmgren came aboard.

This IS a surprise, however, if you've followed the GM search last season when the Browns hired Coach Mangini. Last year, Heckert pulled his name out of the race for Browns GM when he learned Mangini was hired. So what has changed?

Mike Holmgren, the ultimate mediator.

One could assume that Heckert was worried his authority would be overrun by Mangini, much like most assume Mangini overruled former GM George Kokinis (however, President Holmgren mention in tonight's conference call that Mangini may have had to take on too much responsibility through no fault of his own, leading one to believe that Kokinis was not doing his job). Still, with Holmgren in place, there is a series of checks and balances in place to keep Mangini's authority in check.

Holmgren also stated he wants to act as a mentor, of sorts, to Mangini, which aligns perfectly and validates my "New Football Parents" theory.

-Mangini, born and raised on defense, with Rob Ryan as his defensive coordinator.
-Holmgren, born and raised on offense, can give insight to Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and be a credible sounding board.
-Heckert, while never had control of the 53 man roster, played a massive role in the success of the Philidelphia Eagles organization.

Browns Fan...how can you NOT like what you're hearing out of this organization?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Does Coach Mangini Have New "Football Parents?"

Football Parents.

I'm not referring to the psycho dad who pushes his son to be good at sports or face disapproval, I'm referring to what Browns head coach Eric Mangini said about Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick in a press conference early last year. For some reason that quote stuck with me because it truly does sum up how you learn the game. I still adhere to some of the philosophies I was taught in high school by my football coaches, and I study the philosophies of the successful teams in the NFL. So, I guess I've had some football parenting, even if some of it is from afar.

So, by what seems to be a miracle, Browns President Mike Holmgren has decided to retain Mangini, a move that I was hoping would happen since I saw true progress by the team when looking at the total body of work, despite my frustration during the season. I believed in Mangini's philosophy during the offseason and was hoping to see tangible results...results I and others FINALLY saw near the end. Think about it: Not only did Alex Mack play as well as any rookie in the league, Mohamed Massaquoi showed promise and there was growth in other rookies such as Kaluka Maiava and Marcus Benard, but veterans drafted under the Phil Savage/Romeo Crennel regime finally started to show some growth, most notably Jerome Harrison, Kamerion Wimbley, Eric Wright and Brodney Pool (whose career I believe will unfortunately be cut short due to concussions).

But despite this growth, Holmgren and Mangini have differing football backgrounds, so their philosophies, on the surface, weren't supposed to mesh, leading to Mangini's dismissal which never happened. But Mangini claims he's always looking to take the best philosophies and mesh them together to put his own fingerprint on them.

Enter Holmgren. For most of his career, Mangini's background was on the defensive side of the ball, aside from a brief stint in Baltimore with former coach Ted Marchibroda. No respect to Ted, but he's no Holmgren: an offensive mind that is easily one of the top three in the game.

If you think about it, the Browns now have a pretty diverse background on both offense and defense. Offensively you have the Air Coryell (Brian Daboll learned from Brian Schottenheimer), West Coast (from Bill Callahan and eventually even more from Holmgren), and the New England system from Charlie Weis. Defensively you have the Belichick 3-4 and Buddy Ryan 46 + whatever crazy systems he ran that his son Rob learned from him. Combining the best from each system is a smart strategy.

Could it be that Mangini, shunned by his "football parent," Bill Belichick, has been adopted by a new "football parent," Mike Holmgren? And with that he can combine the best of every offensive and defensive concept he's learned to create a phenomenal X's and O's package? We'll see, but it's exciting to think about.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

FACTS About the Cribbs Situation

You had to do it to me...

I was all set to go to bed before too much misinformation popped up on my Twitter feed and Facebook Live Feed. Enough people have been riled up about the recent Josh Cribbs contract situation, thinking we've lost him and he's going to walk away that it's time that some common sense was brought into play. Oh well, I've gotten little sleep all week thanks to the BCS, might as well let it play out another night.

1) Let's be perfectly clear on this: JOSHUA CRIBBS IS NOT GOING ANYWHERE UNLESS THE BROWNS TRADE OR RELEASE HIM. CRIBBS WILL NOT BE RELEASED....and I'll be amazed if they trade him.

2) Cribbs has three years left on his contract. As the Genie said in Aladdin, "Count em', three."

3) An NFL contract is not, I repeat, NOT, like a normal "real job" where someone gives two weeks notice because they received a better offer. You can NOT switch teams unless you're traded, released or your contract expires and you become an UNRESTRICTED Free Agent. Cribbs is NOT a UFA!

4) Cribbs IS underpaid and deserves a new deal, but does NOT deserve Devin Hester money. Hell, Devin Hester doesn't even deserve Devin Hester money! He DOES deserve more than what was offered, however.

5) The Browns' INITIAL CONTRACT OFFER was a lowball. That's how contract negotiations work. He deserves more than this...but keep in mind he's locked into 3 more years on his contract. Chances are the numbers would be higher if he didn't choose "stability" in the first place and had, say, one year left on his deal...Cribbs needs to remember this. He really put himself in a bind here. So him and his agent should realize this and knock their demands down a peg considering the circumstances...their leverage is not as good as they hoped, despite how good he's been.

6) If Cribbs sits out, he'll still have three years left on his deal whenever he decides to return, whether it's now or 2050. And he won't get paid.

7) Chances are they'll agree on something in between, probably favoring the organization more than Cribbs considering the circumstances. But note to Josh: $1.4 million/year is much more than the current money you're making, and since you chose the "stable" contract the first time, you'll have to play within the system, so to speak. Take what you can, but realize you can't demand the moon and the stars here.

My personal thought? Josh should take $2 million per year and be glad he was able to get something better than the awful contract he signed previously. Additionally, he should receive a bonus that is similar to his pay increase, which would be around a $6-8 million bonus. He'll make plenty of money in endorsements for the rest of his life. I know it's not what he wants, but $2 million a year with $6-8 million up front, when your current deal only gives $6.7 million in the total life of the contract? You better take it, Josh.

So quit acting like the sky is falling, Browns Fan. It hasn't...


....yet.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Holmgren: The Solution

For those of you who've been reading my Tweets and have talked to me over the past few days, you'd know that I don't want the Browns to fire Eric Mangini. Why? For the first time since 1999, the Browns are playing "Cleveland Browns Football." By that, we're going out there and outmuscling the opposition. We're pounding it down their throats. We're getting after the QB using multiple blitzes and formations...and something tells me that if our wins were spread out over the season, rather than 4 in a row at the end, Holmgren wouldn't be here. Mangini's return wouldn't be a question, and I'd be ok with that.

That being said, Mike Holmgren running the operation is like dumping the woman you settled for, for the Captain of the football cheerleading squad.

How can you NOT be excited if he hires Tom Heckert as GM? A man who has helped organize the Philadelphia Eagles' roster that is very talented and contends year after year? A team that is built with a strong, physical offensive line, gets after the QB on defense, and overall is an exciting team to watch?

I have a dirty little secret: the Eagles are my "adopt-a-team" every year that the Browns aren't in the playoffs. I love the way they play the game.

Will I be upset if Mangini is gone by the end of this week? Absolutely. Even though the team was unbearable to watch for a good chunk of the season, in the end, it turned out he did some very good things.

In the end, he gave us back Cleveland Browns Football.

But, Mike Holmgren's football credibility is THAT much better, and that's the separating factor.