Is The NFL Executive Of The Year Award Cursed?

In a move that surprised many, the New York Jets on Wednesday fired general manager Mike Maccagnan and named head coach Adam Gase as the team’s interim GM. The timing was unusual in that Maccagnan just last month had job security enough to oversee the team’s draft, including the selection of the third overall pick in defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Maccagnan was likewise given the freedom to spend $125 million in free agency this offseason, which included paying for easily replaceable production by signing former Pittsburgh star Le’veon Bell at running back. Maccagnan was also reportedly instrumental in hiring Gase, a decision that may have ultimately led to his ouster.

Maccagnan’s fall from grace was precipitous. He was named executive of the year by the Pro Football Writers of America for the 2015 season, his first as Jets GM. That season, he helped shepherd the Jets to a 10-6 record, coming up a win short of the playoffs. Now, less than four years after being recognized as the top executive in the league, Maccagnan is unemployed.

But perhaps we should have known his days were numbered when he won that award. Shockingly, this honor has become the front office equivalent of the Madden curse. Seven of the past 10 award winners have been fired. Of the three winners who still have jobs, one — Jerry Jones — is an owner who is unlikely to fire himself, and the other two are the most recent recipients: Howie Roseman in 2017 and Chris Ballard in 2018.

Is this award cursed?

Employment history of the winners of the past 10 awards for the NFL executive of the year from the Pro Football Writers of America

Season GM Team Status
2018 Chris Ballard Indianapolis Colts Active
2017 Howie Roseman Philadelphia Eagles Active
2016 Reggie McKenzie Oakland Raiders Fired Dec. 10, 2018
2015 Mike Maccagnan New York Jets Fired May 15, 2019
2014 Jerry Jones Dallas Cowboys Owner
2013 John Dorsey Kansas City Chiefs Fired June 22, 2017
2012 Ryan Grigson Indianapolis Colts Fired Jan. 21, 2017
2011 Trent Baalke San Francisco 49ers Fired Jan. 1, 2016
2010 Scott Pioli Kansas City Chiefs Fired Jan. 4, 2013
2009 Bill Polian Indianapolis Colts Fired Jan. 3 2012

Source: Pro Football Writers of America

For the seven fired GMs, the average time from winning executive of the year to being unemployed works out to a brisk 1,122 days, or just over three years. Former Colts’ GM Bill Polian leads the seven in time served, with a 12-year run with the Colts and 22 years total as an NFL executive prior to winning a record fifth executive of the year award in 2009. He stepped down as GM after the 2009 season but remained vice chairman of the team, and then he began the decade of despair by getting unceremoniously fired — along with his son, who succeeded him as GM — two years later.

It’s interesting to note that the longest-tenured GMs in the NFL who aren’t also owners — the Patriots’ Bill Belichick and the Steelers’ Kevin Colbert — have never won the award. Neither has Washington’s on-again, off-again GM Bruce Allen, and he’s been able to hold on to a spot in the organization for the past nine years. Perhaps owners and league observers are giving GMs both too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things come up pear-shaped. Half of the honored executives during the past decade worked as GMs of the Colts and the Chiefs, suggesting that the teams they inherited might have been just as important to their success.

Often, GMs on the list rose and fell based on the fortunes of their head coaches or quarterbacks. San Francisco’s Trent Baalke won the award while paired with head coach Jim Harbaugh, who would take the Niners to the brink of Super Bowl glory. But Harbaugh departed for Michigan, and Baalke was quickly dismissed after he hitched his wagon to a sweaty and confused Jim Tomsula and the ghost of Chip Kelly. Indianapolis’s Ryan Grigson, gifted the first overall pick in his rookie year as a GM, took an absolute no-brainer in quarterback Andrew Luck and reaped the benefits for five years, posting a record of 52-34 as a GM before being fired.

The reigning executive of the year, Chris Ballard, might be an exception. Ballard worked under fellow award winner and former mentor John Dorsey in Kansas City. Dorsey was fired soon after Ballard left for Indianapolis, and some insiders have pointed to Ballard’s management acumen and attention to detail as something Dorsey leaned on and was unable to replicate in Ballard’s absence. Dorsey landed on his feet in Cleveland, however, and he inherited both the first and fourth overall picks in the 2018 draft, setting himself and his team up for success.

If Maccagnan has an opportunity at a second act as an NFL GM, he should probably follow in the footsteps of Baalke and Dorsey and seek out a team with a good coach and a high draft pick. Then he should probably pray that he never wins another executive of the year award.

Significant Digits For Tuesday, May 14, 2019

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

$60 billion in goods

China has launched its own salvo in the latest escalation of President Trump’s trade war, saying that it will raise tariffs on nearly $60 billion in U.S. goods from 10 percent to 20 percent or 25 percent. After the news, the S&P 500 fell more than 2 percent. [The New York Times]

30 percent commission

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4, in a majority opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh and joined by the court’s liberal bloc, that an antitrust action against Apple brought by iPhone users could proceed. The users argue that Apple’s 30 percent commission on App Store sales “is an unfair use of monopoly power that results in inflated prices passed on to consumers.” [CNBC]

265,000 galaxies

We have a new “deep-field image” from the Hubble Space Telescope, the most comprehensive such image of the cosmos to date. It is made from 16 years’ worth of data, over 7,500 separate exposures, and shows 265,000 galaxies dating back over 13 billion years. I’m guessing it took that long just to get everyone to look at the camera and not blink. [MIT Technology Review]

5th place

In the midst of the protracted Brexit tumult, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party fell to fifth place in a recent YouGov poll ahead of the European parliamentary elections. The Conservatives (at 10 percent) were behind the Brexit Party (34 percent), Labour (16 percent), Liberal Democrats (15 percent) and the Greens (11 percent). [Reuters]

85 percent of the solar system

The new “gold rush” may take place in outer space as upstart star-gazing firms such as the Asteroid Mining Corp. seek to exploit heavenly bodies for their for precious metals and minerals. But a group of scientists has proposed making more than 85 percent of the solar system off-limits to such development. “Its primary goal is to ensure that humanity avoids a catastrophic future in which all of the resources within its reach are permanently used up,” reports The Guardian. [The Guardian]

15 days

The fallout from the controversial Kentucky Derby continues to settle. Luis Saez, the jockey atop the disqualified Maximum Security, has been banned for 15 days, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced. He was suspended for failing to “make the proper effort to maintain a straight course.” [Associated Press]

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How The Warriors Finished The Rockets

Playing without injured star Kevin Durant and working with what appeared to be a rapidly thinning bench, you might have figured the Golden State Warriors would be in deep trouble if they saw a half in which Stephen Curry went scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting. After all, while the Warriors entered Game 6 having compiled a 29-4 record in games when Durant sat and Curry played, those games involved Curry averaging 27.8 points.

But instead of finding themselves in trouble on Friday, the Warriors found themselves headed to the locker room at halftime tied with the Houston Rockets. They earned that halftime deadlock behind both a 3-point explosion from Klay Thompson and timely contributions from several of the same players who had seen their performances maligned earlier in the series. Then, Steph poured in 33 second-half points — including a career-high 23 in the fourth quarter — to send the Rockets home and the Warriors back to the Western Conference finals for the fifth consecutive season.

Thompson knocked down five threes during that first half, pouring in 21 of the Warriors’ 57 points. He scored only six points after the break, but the early burst was key in allowing his team to survive Curry’s frigid shooting. Not that this was anything out of the ordinary for Thompson — he has become something of a Game 6 specialist over the past several years, knocking down in excess of 52 percent of his 3-point tries in the Warriors’ seven Game 6s during the Steve Kerr era. This victory also pushed the Warriors’ record during that time to an incredible 95-9 (and 18-3 in the playoffs) in games when Thompson makes five or more shots from beyond the arc.

Thompson was not alone in buoying the Warriors while Curry struggled. Golden State’s bench players had been absolutely dreadful during this series, but in the first half of Game 6, Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell, Jonas Jerebko, Andrew Bogut and Alfonzo McKinnie actually came to play. That group of seven players combined for 20 points prior to halftime — more than they had collectively scored during any of the previous five games in this series.

Livingston finished the game with 11 points, marking just the fifth time all season he cracked double digits and the first time since the middle of January. Looney hammered the Rockets on the offensive glass, collecting 16.7 percent of available offensive boards while he was on the floor — a rate that would rank among the best in the league if he sustained it over a full season. His 14 points also marked the second-highest total of his playoff career, and Friday was only the third time he’s reached double digits during a postseason game. Cook didn’t score in the second half, but he dished out two extremely timely assists before the break and, late in the third quarter, set up Curry’s first 3-pointer of the game.

The Warriors also got incredibly valuable contributions from Andre Iguodala, who should somehow find a way to include the tape of this game on his application to the Basketball Hall of Fame, if such a thing is possible. Iguodala not only finished with 17 points, but he also knocked down five threes for the first time in six years. His most valuable contributions, though, came on defense, where he hounded James Harden into an 11-for-25 shooting line and came away with a steal on four of Harden’s five live-ball turnovers, including one that essentially sealed the game late in the fourth quarter. Iguodala was Golden State’s preferred defender on Harden throughout the series,1 and Game 6 was an object lesson in why.

Of course, all of those players’ contributions were merely the preamble to Chef Curry getting cooking in the second half. After going scoreless during the first half for the first time in 102 career playoff games, Steph had the most explosive second half of not just his own playoff career but of any player who had gone scoreless before halftime in the past 20 postseasons. Seemingly out of rhythm for most of the night, Curry didn’t really get going until he knocked down one of his classic relocation threes late in the third period. His next shot rimmed out, and a three-quarter-court heave at the end of the quarter came up just short, but he spent most of the rest of the game looking like the Stephen Curry we’ve come to know once he knocked down that corner three.

That Stephen Curry is a killer, and he absolutely killed the Rockets in the fourth quarter, racking up 23 points while shooting 6 of 8 from the field, 3 of 5 from three and 8 of 8 from the line.

Mostly, he shredded the Rockets out of the pick and roll. The Warriors had run a Curry-Draymond Green pick and roll 58 times during the first five games of the series, per Second Spectrum tracking data, for an average of 11.6 per game. They ran that action 10 times during the fourth quarter of Game 6 alone, and those plays resulted in 20 Warriors points, 15 of them from Curry himself. Driving layups, scoop floaters, step-back threes, hitting Green on the short roll so that he could make a 4-on-3 play coming downhill — Curry showed off the entire ball-screen repertoire down the stretch, and the Rockets simply had no answers for him.

Very few teams have had answers for Curry over the years, though the Rockets did hound him into some of his very worst playoff basketball ever during this series. Steph struggled in Games 1 and 2, but the Warriors still came out on top thanks largely to the brilliance of Durant and the under-heralded contributions of Green and Iguodala. Houston rebounded to tie the series by winning the next two games at home while Curry continued misfiring, but in both Game 5 and Game 6, the Rockets squandered opportunities to take advantage of his continued struggles until it was too late, and he managed to get going again. And when Curry gets going like that, the Warriors are near impossible to beat.

Check out our latest NBA playoff predictions.

Tottenham Somehow Topped Liverpool’s Dramatics

On Tuesday, Liverpool shocked the world by overcoming a 3-0 semifinal deficit to bounce Lionel Messi and Barcelona from the Champions League. It was one of the most remarkable European victories in the history of a club that’s known for remarkable European victories; it seemed inconceivable that any team would top it for some time.

Just 24 hours later, Tottenham Hotspur answered the call.

The London club pulled off a dramatic comeback — its second Champions League thriller in a month — in the final seconds of Wednesday’s semifinal against Ajax, which means that for just the second time in the competition’s history, two English teams will play in the final match. According to the FiveThirtyEight Soccer Power Index (SPI), none of this was supposed to happen. Before the second legs of the two semifinals, SPI gave Tottenham a 25 percent chance to advance to the final and Liverpool just a 7 percent chance. But both teams pulled off the very, very unlikely, and now Madrid will be overrun on June 1 with overserved British fans chanting the names of their favorite players.

To be sure, Tottenham entered its second-leg match in better shape than its Premier League rivals did a day before, if just barely. Spurs lost 1-0 to Ajax in the first leg, and their troubles were compounded by the fact that they conceded a dreaded away goal,1 but the deficit was just one goal. A goal and a shutout in Amsterdam would ensure they reached at least extra time, while two goals and a clean sheet would give Tottenham passage to the final. Nothing was out of reach, but the London side still had a lot to do against a plucky group of Dutch youngsters who had become the tournament’s feel-good story.

When Ajax’s teenage captain, Matthijs de Ligt, opened the scoring with a header in the fifth minute, whatever hope Spurs clung to started to fade. The Dutch squad began the second leg the same way it began the first, attacking with abandon and causing Tottenham’s older, tired center backs plenty of grief. It wasn’t long before Ajax bagged a second goal courtesy of a left-footed strike from forward Hakim Ziyech that swerved past the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. If 1-0 felt doable, 2-0 felt insurmountable — particularly for a Spurs team that looked exhausted.

But after halftime, Tottenham seemed magically refreshed. Mauricio Pochettino’s side forced Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana to make a few key stops before getting their breakthrough in the 55th minute on a left-footed strike from forward Lucas Moura. A second came just four minutes later, again on a left-footed effort from Moura.

The mood at Johan Cruyff Arena went from ecstasy to agony within a matter of minutes. Could this be happening? Could their beloved Ajax really be on the verge of collapse?

Ajax managed to settle the game after Moura’s second mark, but the squad failed to convert a number of excellent scoring chances that would have buried Tottenham. A shot from Ziyech that clanged off the right post and a massive Lloris save in stoppage time kept the Lilywhites in the game, but they were still in need of a minor miracle — or a Lucas Moura hat trick.

And as if to say to Liverpool, “Here, hold my drink,” Spurs got their wish as Moura slotted yet another left-footed effort2 into the bottom-right corner of the Ajax goal, this time in the final minute of stoppage time. The goal leveled things on aggregate at 3-3 but gave Tottenham the win on away goals.

In the end, the result was a fair one: The Londoners took more total shots, directed more shots on goal, completed more passes in the attacking third, completed more passes in the opposing penalty area and created more big chances than their counterparts from Amsterdam. Over the course of both legs, Tottenham outperformed Ajax in expected goals 4.5 to 2.9, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group. The second half of the second leg will be responsible for much of that discrepancy, but it doesn’t matter when the goals come, just that they come at all.

We wondered in March if an English team could win the Champions League title. We know now that one will — it’s just a matter of which one. Liverpool has the edge — 71 percent to 29 percent — but after this week, it’s clear that the odds don’t mean much to these two teams.

Check out our latest soccer predictions.

Cable News Is Covering Biden As Much As Every Other Democratic Candidate Combined

In the first full week of his 2020 campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden continued to dominate cable news coverage on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. According to data from the TV News Archive, which chops up TV news into 15-second clips that we access using the GDELT Project’s Television API,1 Biden was mentioned in more clips that any other candidate across the three networks last week, and he was mentioned almost four times as often as Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had been getting the most coverage of any 2020 candidate before Biden joined the race. For the second consecutive week, Biden, who has also been well ahead in polling and endorsements, was mentioned in about as many clips as all the other candidates combined.

Most candidates get a bump in media coverage around the time they announce that they’re running, but for some candidates — like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who was mentioned in about 870 clips in the week after he declared his candidacy but has recently been getting about a quarter of that level of coverage — that bump can quickly fade. For others, like Sanders, it can be the start of more sustained run of higher media attention. We’re already seeing less cable news coverage of Biden this week compared to the week that he announced, but he started at such a high peak that even a 34 percent drop has still left him on top.

Cable news is still talking about Biden more than all others

How often each Democratic candidate was mentioned each week in news programming on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, counted by the number of 15-second clips that include each person’s full name

Number of Clips
Candidate Last Week This Week
Joe Biden 3,393 2,232
Bernie Sanders 1,099 602
Kamala Harris 412 419
Elizabeth Warren 626 339
Beto O’Rourke 155 221
Pete Buttigieg 373 205
Cory Booker 92 106
Amy Klobuchar 102 88
Michael Bennet* 46
Eric Swalwell 45 43
Kirsten Gillibrand 16 41
Julian Castro 40 39
Jay Inslee 9 35
John Hickenlooper 1 21
John Delaney 12 16
Tim Ryan 28 13
Andrew Yang 18 10
Tulsi Gabbard 23 7
Seth Moulton 76 6
Marianne Williamson 0 2

Includes all candidates that qualify as “major” in FiveThirtyEight’s rubric. Each network’s daily news coverage is chopped up into 15-second clips, and each clip that includes a candidate’s first and last name (found by running a search seeking an exact match for their name) is counted as one mention.

*Not a declared candidate last week

Source: Internet Archive’s Television News Archive via the GDELT Project

By our metric, Sanders was either the first or second most-talked-about candidate in cable news every week in April. Sen. Kamala Harris, who was the third most mentioned candidate this week, didn’t see much of a change from the previous week, but she moved up in the rankings because South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s coverage has declined for two consecutive weeks now and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s coverage is down from last week, when she drew media attention with a CNN town hall. O’Rourke, who through much of April had been less prominently featured on the three cable networks we monitor, had received about 150 mentions in each of the past three weeks, but was mentioned in 221 clips this week.

As much fun as the week-to-week coverage fluctuations can be, what we’re really interested in is larger patterns, like the sustained dominance of Sanders, and whether Biden can keep leading the pack. And we’ll be right here to track them in the weeks to come, so stay tuned!