City Desk

Cheap Seats Daily: Will NFL Go for the Clooney Rule?

Steve Czaban says Dan Snyder really can step out of the way and let people who know how to better run the things he owns run them.

Czaban's proof? WTEM-AM.

"If people ask why can't Snyder just hire really good people and let them do what they do, well, that's exactly what he's doing on the radio front," says Czaban, co-host of "The Sports Reporters," the drive-time show and jewel in the schedule of Snyder's WTEM, also called ESPN980.

Czaban's got an ego, and he really is really good at what he does, but the "really good people" he's referring to here is Bruce Gilbert, CEO of Red Zebra Broadcasting and the guy who Snyder put in charge of WTEM last year when he bought what was then the only sports station in the market. Gilbert canned on-air personalities Brian Mitchell and Al Koken, but kept Czaban and his longtime partner, Andy Pollin, in the WTEM stable.

Can we trust Czaban's kind words for Snyder? On paper, Czaban's conflicted out the wazoo. He works for Snyder, and needs the WTEM job more than ever now: the bosses at FoxSports Radio, where Czaban had his own syndicated morning show for the last five years, just gave him his walking papers as a Christmas present. Stephen A. Smith takes over Czaban's old time slot there.

Czaban had been tougher on the Redskins than anybody in the market before Snyder became his boss. One example: Czaban lost a moonlighting gig with the Redskins post-game show on Comcast sports three years ago after a testy interview with Mark Brunell, during which he asked the QB how comfortable he was about his job status. Brunell was visibly peeved, and Redskins management quickly complained to Comcast about Czaban. He was immediately suspended by Comcast, and did not return to the postgame show the following season.

Yet, despite the conflicts, any reduction in the harshness of Czaban's Skins critiques under Snyder's ownership has been too subtle to notice.

(AFTER THE JUMP: Who coined "Clinton Tortoise"? Will NFL go for the Clooney Rule? Hire the OTHER Mike: Forget Shanahan, go for Leach! Will next year's EagleBank Bowl be held in a telephone booth?)

For but one of the hundreds of examples of the fun they've had at the Redskins' expense amid the team's debacle of a season: In October, Czaban and Pollin coined the nickname "Clinton Tortoise" for quickly aging running back Clinton Portis.

Just doing his job, Czaban says. "I don't think I've said anything about the Redskins this year that hasn't been said by other people more directly and more harshly," he says.

And Snyder has let him say it all. Czaban says he hasn't even met Snyder since the ownership change. And the ratings of the Sports Reporters in their target demographic — males 25-54 — have never been higher.

The biggest test of Snyder's laissez faire-ness will come a year from now, when Czaban's and Pollin's contracts with Red Zebra come up for renewal. Will Snyder continue to pay Czaban and let him be Czaban?

Or will Czaban's entertaining honesty earn Stephen A. Smith ANOTHER call?

***

The Rooney Rule, at least as applied in the Redskins latest coach search, has turned into a joke, making liars and traitors out of co-workers.

I say the NFL should take its phony foot-in-the-door program several steps further, to add more giggles. Why not institute, say, the Clooney Rule? In honor of George Clooney, nobody gets hired until a team interviews a cheerleader. And the Looney Rule, where at least one certifiable wacko gets a shot (Greg Blache could fill that quota with the Skins). Or maybe the Soon-Yi Rule, in which at least one daughter and/or wife of Woody Allen is considered before anybody's signed?

It's just a joke! Right?

Butt seriously: If, after all the charades, Mike Shanahan is indeed at the end of the Redskins rainbow, nobody's going to be excited by the hire. He won't sell one club seat.

But there is an exciting coach who should be available soon. In fact, as I type this, Texas Tech's Mike Leach, the most exciting football coach in the land might already be up for grabs. Forget the West Coast Offense; he's got the West Texas Offense! Leach is Steve Spurrier, with discipline!

If the papers got things right, Leach is Buford Pusser in a pair of sweat pants. He's going to lose his job at Texas Tech because he locked a player with a concussion in a dark room for an entire practice. Imagine what he'd do to Albert Haynesworth! When Haynesworth comes out of the game on a cart, would Leach allow him to put himself back in the game a few plays later? Hell no! Leach would leave him strapped to the cart all game long! That's just what these Redskins need!

Actually, I'm with Leach in this debacle. The player who Leach allegedly wasn't nice to is the son of Craig James, a lead ESPN football analyst. Leach was suspended yesterday not for having made the kid stand in a dark room, but for refusing to apologize to the player's dad! Craig James got the media's ear early on, but the worm is starting to turn. Leach has asserted that Craig James was constantly phoning him and complaining and acting "like a Little League father." Even if Leach is exonerated, he's a goner with the Red Raiders. Texas Tech's my alma mater, and damn if that place ever misses a chance to screw things up. Lubbock just ain't big enough for Leach.

(Texas Tech is the school that brought in Bobby Knight, the godfather of player abuse, after he was fired for assaulting a kid and lying about it.)

***

Kendall Marshall, an O'Connell guard who was starting for his high school varsity team when he was in sixth grade (somehow, that was seven years ago), is not as highly prized as he once was by the ranking services. But his future coach, North Carolina's Roy Williams, says Marshall's going to be just fine.

***

The Examiner ran a rosy preview of the EagleBank Bowl yesterday.

The second EagleBank Bowl takes on greater prominence than the inaugural 2008 game — a matchup of Wake Forest and Navy that was buried in the bowl mix with an 11 a.m. Dec. 20 start.

That game drew fewer than 29,000 fans, far short of the average bowl attendance of 55,183. Many, including the Navy squad, came from a short distance. Only 22 sponsors signed on.

But this year's game has a forecast for partly sunny skies and a more fan-friendly 4:30 p.m. kickoff, and bowl organizers hope to seat 40,000 for the nationally televised battle. There are more than 60 sponsors and an intriguing first-ever matchup between UCLA and Temple, a marquee program from the Pacific-10 Conference versus a team from the Mid-American Conference that hasn't been to a bowl game in 30 years.

"This is a dead time of year in D.C.," said Steve Beck, EagleBank Bowl executive director. "It's creating a lot of activity."

The Washington Post, also yesterday, said that organizers "were hoping for an attendance of around 25,000."

The Post came closest. In today's Washington Times, in the middle of Dick Heller's gloomy and doomy review of the contest, he put the crowd at 23,000 and change. Even that number might be inflated. The stadium looked much emptier than that in photos.

And, as pointed out by SB Nation, the attendance slot on the official EagleBank Bowl box score was filled with "NA."

***

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