Urban: How much rope do Giants give Huff?

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Urban: How much rope do Giants give Huff?

July 27, 2011

URBAN ARCHIVE
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Mychael Urban
CSNBayArea.com

PHILADELPHIA -- As Frank the Tank from "Old School" might tell some wide-eyed frat pledges, the Giants had a nice little Wednesday in Philadelphia. They picked up a big bat in Carlos Beltran to boost the anemic offense, and perhaps buoyed by news that said bat was en route to Philly, the anemic offense bulked up just enough to pick up a win over their newest and most fierce and frightening rivals.They had to overcome the oddity of catcher Eli Whiteside appearing intent on sabotaging Matt Cain's standard excellence, but key hits by former Phillie Aaron Rowand, recent pickup Jeff Keppinger and Nate Schierholtz -- not to mention a haunting reminder for the citizens of Citizens Bank Park from Brian Wilson -- got the job done. Alas, it was not a nice little Wednesday for Aubrey Huff, who went 1-for-4 without an RBI on the heels of a hitless, RBI-less Tuesday, and together the pair of unproductive days made it all too easy to forget that Huff showed some signs of life -- 5-for-9 with a walk -- last weekend at home against the Brewers.

Now that the Giants have likely concluded their July shopping spree -- Beltran and Keppinger for three minor-league arms -- it's time for the team to turn its focus inward, and it certainly can't like what it's seeing from Huff.Huff, of course, isn't alone among Giants who aren't pulling the same kind of weight they did last season. But he's alone in that only he got a two-year, 22-million deal for the weight he pulled on the way to the World Series, and as a projected middle-of-the-order banger who's banged so little that he's often been dropped from the middle of the order, he's the most visible problem in the lineup.That Beltran is as good as gone as a free agent this winter, and that the Giants so willingly parted with three pitchers said to be virtual locks as future big-league contributors (if not outright stars), makes it quite clear that the Giants are again going for all the marbles right now. They have the starting rotation, they have the bullpen, and with Beltran aboard they have the makings of an offense stout enough to support all that pitching and make another run deep into October.But only if Huff picks it up. And if he doesn't pick it up soon, change might have to be considered. On July 27 of last season, Huff was batting .306 with 19 homers and 60 RBIs on his way to a top-10 finish in the National League MVP voting. He entered Wednesday's game batting .239 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs. That's a pretty dramatic drop-off, and it's a realization of some well-founded fears. Huff, over the past several years of his career, has established a pattern of following a strong season with a weak one, and it's happening again before our eyes.So as Huff's struggles continue, the question is obvious: How long is Huff's rope?On one hand, you have every reason to believe the rope is as long as Rapunzel's locks. As a strong clubhouse presence and a respected veteran leader, he fits the mold of struggling players that Giants manager Bruce Bochy tends to stick with well past the milk turns sour. To wit: Randy Winn and Aaron Rowand in 2009, Bengie Molina in 2010, pre-trade.On the other hand, 2010 also offered evidence that Bochy -- maybe Giants GM Brian Sabean and ownership have a say in such matters as well -- had changed his tune in regards the aforementioned. Rowand and his big contract spent huge chunks of the season on the bench, and Barry Zito and his huger contract spent the entire playoffs on the bench.Might the Giants reach that point with Huff? It's not like they don't have a viable option in reserve. Rookie Brandon Belt is a better defensive first baseman, runs much better, appears to have more power at present, and he's at the stage in his career where he needs to play every day. Belt, who is batting .333 (4-for-12) with a homer, three RBIs and a game-winning double against the Dodgers since his most recent call-up to the bigs, escaped the reaper when it came time to creating roster space for Beltran. He is ready, willing and able to step in whenever Huff runs out of rope.
Could Huff "poison the well" were his playing time diminished? Unlikely. Way too good a guy. What he'd probably do is get right to work on trying to rediscover that gorgeous backspin-producing stroke that proved so instrumental last season. Meanwhile, Belt would be getting the playing time he needs and deserves.And if Belt struggles? Go back to Huff. Bochy's been juggling all year.He hasn't juggled much with Huff, though. It might soon be time to at least consider starting.

Report: Shanahan 'almost certain' to accept 49ers' offer

Report: Shanahan 'almost certain' to accept 49ers' offer

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is reportedly “almost certain” to accept the 49ers’ offer to become head coach.

Shanahan is the lone remaining candidate among the six individuals who interviewed with 49ers executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe. The 49ers plan for a second interview with Shanahan and a job offer, a source told CSNBayArea.com. Shanahan is expected to accept the 49ers’ offer, reports Michael Silver of the NFL Network, citing sources familiar with both parties.

The 49ers continued to work Tuesday evening on the process of narrowing down the general manager choices, a source said. Shanahan is expected to play a role in the select the team’s next GM, sources said.

On Tuesday, Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable and Seahawks co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner removed their names from consideration for the vacant coach and general manager positions. The 49ers fired Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke after the 49ers' 2-14 season.

One source said Cable and Kirchner believed the 49ers were using them as leverage to hire Shanahan. Cable interviewed with 49ers co-chair Denise DeBartolo York over the phone on Tuesday, NFL Network reported.

The 49ers are allowed to interview Shanahan for a second time after the Falcons’ NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The 49ers are prohibited from hiring or making a formal contract offer to Shanahan until the Falcons' season has concluded.

The top remaining candidates for the general manager job are believed to be Green Bay executives Brian Gutekunst and Eliot Wolf, Arizona's Terry McDonough and Minnesota's George Paton.

Wilcox embracing challenge, will change the way Cal looks on field

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AP

Wilcox embracing challenge, will change the way Cal looks on field

BERKELEY — With more than a half-century without a Rose Bowl berth, tougher academic standards than most Pac-12 schools and lackluster fan support in a pro-sports focused market, there are plenty of hurdles for a football coach at California.

Coach Justin Wilcox took the job for the Golden Bears because he embraces those obstacles and he wants players who feel the same way as he seeks to rebuild a program that has one winning record in the past five years and no conference championships since 1958.

"When you come here, there are challenges," Wilcox said at his introductory news conference Tuesday. "You don't come here and go through school and just go through the motions. You'll be challenged in the classroom, challenged on the football field and learn to interact in a dynamic society. I believe in that and that helps guys grow."

Wilcox faces many hurdles in his new job replacing the recently fired Sonny Dykes less than three weeks before national signing day. He has to put together a coaching staff, evaluate the players already on campus and try to keep together, and even add to, a recruiting class that committed to a different staff.

Athletic director Mike Williams fired Dykes after four seasons on Jan. 8 because he wanted a coach committed to Cal instead of flirting with other jobs and needed someone who could excite a fan base that often stayed away from Memorial Stadium in recent years as the Bears teamed porous defenses with sometimes exciting offenses while posting a 19-30 record.

Williams had five finalists for the job but chose a former Cal assistant with a defensive background and familiarity with the Pac-12 as an assistant for seven years at three schools in the conference.

"He truly gets this place, he truly gets coaching in the West," Williams said. "He came in and was very organized and thoughtful. He knew what he wanted to do and who he wanted to hire. ... It's a special place and I think he'll treat it as a special place."

While Dykes flirted with job openings at Houston and Baylor this past offseason in part because of his concern about increased academic standards for recruits, the Bears hope Wilcox is someone who wants to stick around after more than a decade of being on a self-described "windy" path as a top defensive coach.

The former Oregon defensive back began his coaching career in 2001 as a graduate assistant at Boise State. He spent three years as linebackers coach under Jeff Tedford at Cal from 2003-05 when the Bears nearly ended their Rose Bowl drought during a 10-win season with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback in 2004.

Wilcox has spent the past 11 years as a defensive coordinator with stops at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, Southern California and finally Wisconsin, where he helped the Badgers field a top 10 defense and win the Cotton Bowl.

Wilcox has worked and played for many successful coaches, including Tedford, Chris Petersen, Dan Hawkins, Mike Bellotti, and Paul Chryst.

"I've been extremely fortunate to work for and with people I learned so much from," he said. "Each step along the way, I've seen it done a lot of different ways. I'm not trying to be any of those people. I always try to take pieces and make it my own."

Wilcox has begun putting together his staff, having hired former Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin as offensive coordinator and longtime Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood to fill that role on the Bears.

The Bears will look very different under Wilcox than Dykes. Wilcox said he will recruit tight ends as Cal moves from the spread "Bear Raid" offense that relied on four receivers almost exclusively to a more balanced offense with tight ends and more power concepts.

While he will delegate most of the offensive responsibilities to Baldwin, Wilcox said he will be more involved on defense where he wants to find players who can fit into his base 3-4 system.

Cal ranked 125th in total defense, 127th in scoring defense and 122nd in yards per play out of 128 FBS teams last season on the way to a 5-7 record.

"Every second is critical right now," Wilcox said. "I will not sacrifice the long-term good of the program for what everyone wants which is certainty. Things will happen quickly. I understand the recruits have some anxiety about the situation and there's emotions involved. That's totally understandable. I'd feel the same way."