New Year brings lots of changes to NFL

The end of the NFL regular season came Sunday and by Monday morning, head coaches seemed to fall like dominos.

Andy Reid fired after 14 seasons in Philadelphia. Pat Shurmur gone after two unspectacular seasons in Cleveland. Lovie Smith ousted in Chicago after a 10-6 season.

Nearly a quarter of the NFL’s teams entered 2013 without a head coach and five general managers followed them out the door, most of them sacked because they didn’t win enough.

That’s one thing that’s always baffles me about the nature of pro sports, that ‘win now’ mentality. Certainly every team in every sport enters the new season believing that it can win a championship, but only a select few will end up getting the chance to play for one. With the relative parity and the fact that most coaches are always on the hot seat in the NFL, it’s amazing to me that someone like Reid could be so successful with one franchise for so long.

You wonder if some teams are ever going to get it right. Cleveland and Buffalo, both once proud franchises will now hire their sixth coaches since 2001. Kansas City will hire its fourth since 2006. Next year Detroit could very well be thrown into that mix and if so, the Lions would be looking for their sixth coach since 2001.

It will certainly provide a lot of interesting conversation in the coming weeks, especially with a lot of big names sure on the coaching market such as Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Chip Kelly.

Speaking of the Lions, hopefully 2013 brings about some much-needed change to Motown. This year’s 4-12 finish was beyond awful (I still don’t know how the heck you lose to Arizona!), but Jim Schwartz deserves at least one more year to right the ship. There’s a good bunch of talent on the roster and one can hope things turn around this fall.

In the meantime though, there are several issues to deal with. The Lions need to upgrade their defensive backfield and maybe even tweak the offensive line a little bit. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that their first pick isn’t a wide receiver or a defensive lineman. At some point they’ll probably have to find a running back too. Seriously what is it with the Lions and running backs? Since Barry Sanders retired in 1999, the Lions have gone through names such as James Stewart, Olandis Gary, Tatum Bell, Kevin Jones, Kevin Smith, Jahvid Best, Joique Bell, Mikel Leshoure, Artose Pinner, Shawn Bryson and several others. While there has been an occasional bright spot, none of them have had staying power in the backfield for one reason or another. You’d like to think one day they can find their next franchise ball carrier (someone who’s healthy and not a Broncos leftover), but the odds don’t seem to be in their favor.

Detroit’s superstars need to step up their games as well. We know that Ndamukong Suh is quite the physical presence on the football field. I’m all for players playing with a bit of edge and some of the incidents involving Suh are borderline at best, but Suh’s attitude that he’s the greatest defensive tackle the league has ever seen is starting to grow old. There are far less heralded D-linemen putting up better numbers that him without any of the attitude. The best thing Suh can do is let his play do his talking for him and get back to the All-Pro status he achieved as a rookie.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford must also take a giant step forward. Though he’s thrown for almost 10,000 yards in the last two seasons, Stafford still makes some questionable throws and the Lions usually end up paying for it. I’m not sure if he was hurt this season or not, but he needs to get rid of that weird sidearm motion that he sometimes goes for. The kid has a cannon for an arm and there should be no reason for him to start tweaking his throwing motion mid-game.

Anyone who knows me knows that I like hockey, probably a little too much.

As a hockey fan, it’s been disappointing to see the NHL lost in the throws of its second lockout in the last decade and I’d like very much to see it come back.

But if it is going to come back, I think it needs to be done the right way. If a solid deal can’t be hammered out to play out a 48-game season, cancel the season and focus on getting something done to ensure the long-term security of the league. Hockey is already a niche sport and the NHL lags behind so many other sports in popularity that something needs to be done to make sure that whatever niche it has in the sports world is maintained.

Personally, I’m in favor of shaving a few teams from the league or relocating a few to places where fans might go to see them. As a niche sport, hockey doesn’t necessarily have the national appeal of the NFL or NBA and trying to cram a franchise in every corner of the country isn’t going to work.

The Florida Panthers for example have made the playoffs four times in their history and only just returned to the playoffs last season after 10 years. The Phoenix Coyotes have turned into a regular playoff team more or less, but are in dire straits financially. Move those teams somewhere like Quebec or Hamilton or a major city in Wisconsin or heck maybe even Seattle.

It was a good idea relocating the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg and the NHL has to look for spots where these teams will draw fans and become viable. Otherwise just get rid of them.

Upon returning to work last week after some time off for the holidays, I was shocked to learn of the passing of longtime Alpena hockey announcer Jerry LaFave. Since I’ve been here, I heard Jerry call many hockey games and listening to him always made the games more enjoyable. Jerry was an invaluable source of knowledge, especially when it came to hockey and I greatly appreciated his help on several stories I’ve written during my time at the News, particularly one that I wrote about the old Alpena Flyers team a few years ago. I never really got the chance to sit down and talk with Jerry for a great length of time, but his memorabilia collection at Northern Lights Arena speaks volumes not only about how much Jerry followed hockey, but also how deeply he cared about Alpena sports. Alpena has a great supporter and a dear friend who will be sorely missed.