'Efficiency' looking a bit chaotic

Tackling "inefficiencies": New coach Chip Kelly keeps the Eagles moving during a practice.
Tackling "inefficiencies": New coach Chip Kelly keeps the Eagles moving during a practice. (DAVID A. MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: May 27, 2013

This case of dyspepsia has been building up for a couple of months.

It started when Jeffrey Lurie said the ability to identify "inefficiencies" was a key attribute he would look for in hiring a replacement for Andy Reid.

It really crystallized when the Sixers hired former Houston executive Sam Hinkie as their new general manager earlier this month. In researching Hinkie, I came across an article in the Houston Press about how the Rockets were using advanced statistics to build their roster.

The article included quotes from Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, Mr. Moneyball himself, who explained the revolution in sports management.

"I think a major portion of sports front offices are going to look not unlike what Wall Street looked like 10 or 15 years ago," Beane told the Press. "Sort of the best and brightest. Because it is a business."

So this is the question: Is that supposed to be a good thing? Because the "best and brightest" who flocked to Wall Street 10 or 15 years ago were the ones who nearly destroyed the U.S. economy. They're the geniuses who figured out how to create short-term profits for themselves by packaging toxic debts and selling them under the guise of innovative "products."

This isn't a political issue. This is fact. It started during the Clinton administration and spiraled out of control by the end of George W. Bush's second term. The people who ran these scams should have gone to prison. Instead, they got rich, and now their post-crisis brethren are looking for new "inefficiencies" to exploit.

Hello, sports world.

In Houston, Hinkie worked with Daryl Morey, who is the NBA's answer to Beane. These men have been congratulated rather extravagantly for being innovative and smart.

Beane is in his 15th season as GM of the A's. The team has been to the postseason six times in those years. It has lost in the division series five times and in the AL Championship Series once. He was portrayed by Brad Pitt in the movie version, so that's something.

Morey just finished his sixth season as GM of the Rockets. The team has won one playoff series in those years. It has been a lottery team in three of those years.

Now this isn't a "revenge of the nerds" thing. It isn't a dismissal of smart people or of advanced stats as a tool for evaluating players. There is a lot of potential value in all of those things. I'll take a smart coach or GM over the alternative every single time.

But I'm really leery about this influx of young execs who might have been Wall Street-bound in previous eras. The criminals who tanked our financial system were bailed out by you and me and every other taxpayer. They may have made money, but they were failures by every other measure.

This wave of sports-oriented geniuses might find ways to get big jobs and earn tons of money for themselves. But ultimately, if their teams don't win anything, what exactly is the point of all this?

Last week, I watched my first Chip Kelly Eagles practice with great interest. There was a lot of noise. There was a lot of running around. But there was an awful lot of wasted motion, too.

During one drill, Michael Vick and an offensive group ran onto the field from the sideline. Vick spent about 15 seconds trying to see the hand signals from the sideline. He stepped to the line, handed off to a back, and then the whole group ran off. Nick Foles and an entirely different group ran in and repeated the procedure.

Don't tell Lurie, but I think I spotted some inefficiencies.

I've watched way too many football practices, run by everyone from Marion Campbell to Buddy Ryan to Andy Reid and everyone in between. Maybe Kelly is smarter than every other coach in the history of the game. Or maybe he's selling a product that looks good to his bosses but may prove worthless over time.

Ask the guys who used to run Bear Stearns how that could happen.

It was in the movie Wall Street that Gordon Gekko, the ethically challenged character played by Michael Douglas, famously declared that "Greed is good."

So is winning. It would be nice to see some of that from the self-anointed best and brightest before we heap any more praise on them.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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