Almost two decades later, it's the deal that put Nashville on the cultural map: Bud Adams moved his NFL franchise to Nashville.
For all of the plaudits that Nashville has received over the last few years, becoming an NFL city put it in an elite club, showcased it on national television and made people unfamiliar with the city take notice. And it didn't hurt that the year they moved into their new, taxpayer-financed stadium, they came up a foot short in Super Bowl.
So how did Adams bring the then-oilers to Music City? It was a tough deal.
First, Phil Bredesen told the Nashville Post, the city had to be sure that Adams wasn't using Nashville as leverage. Though the two had bonded over a mutual love of art at an initial lunch and seemed to respect each other, Bredesen said that the sides needed to be sure they could trust each other. Bredesen was looking for a sports team — the under-construction downtown arena was built to NHL and NBA specs — and the NFL hadn't been considered an option. Adams was looking for a new stadium and had been flatly turned down by the mayor of Houston.
Enter the exclusive agreement. Adams secretly agreed to negotiate only with Nashville — and more importantly, to not take any deal back to Houston — and in response, the city came up with a $292 million package, including $80 million in bonds backed by taxpayers.
"I think Bud really appreciated Phil's straightforward, business-like approach to difficult issues," said lawyer Byron Trauger, the city's leading negotiator. "And I think that was something he had not previously seen in many political leaders.
"I found him to be a tough but fair negotiator. He was not present for most of the negotiations, of course, because in a deal like that the lead people would not be. But I remember two or three times as we were working on the deal, the lawyers and negotiators reached an impasse, and on those occasions then-Mayor Phil Bredesen and Bud would go into a room alone and work out the issue."
Bredesen said Adams was good for Nashville and agreed the Texan was a tough, but fair, negotiator. The only trepidation Adams had was when the bond referendum came up, Bredesen said, and the fervor with which opponents approached the vote was "second only to the county's liquor-by-the-drink referendum, I am told."
"He was very upset about it," the former mayor and governor said. "When we had talked originally, i think because of the political problems he had in Houston, he said, 'Look, if this requires a vote, I don't want any part of it.' And I assured him it did not, because it didn't. No one ever thought that part of the charter would be pulled out. By the time that happened, we were already a long way down the road. He said, 'Look, I trust you guys. I'm sorry it's come to this, but let's get it done and let's get the team here.' He stuck with us and we got the vote done — the 'yes' referendum — and I think it was very good for the team and the city."
One side-effect of the referendum? It was now a settled matter. "A lot of those folks who voted no have become Titans fans and some are even season ticket holders," he said.
With the deal done — and bridges burned in Houston, which never got a chance to counter — Adams' Oilers endured a lost 1996 season in Texas with dwindling attendance. The next year the team moved to Memphis, temporarily and then to Vanderbilt for a season in 1998. By 1999, the gleaming new stadium, now LP Field, was finished and witnessed a 13-3 regular season, the "Music City Miracle" in the playoffs and a run to the Super Bowl.
The Houston Chronicle and other outlets are reporting that Titans owner, K.S. "Bud" Adams has died at the age of 90.
Mr. Adams moved the Houston Oilers — the franchise he started as part of the upstart American Football League in 1960 — to Tennessee in 1997, playing in Memphis and at Vanderbilt before opening what is now LP Field as the Tennessee Titans in 1999.
In that season, the Titans would advance to the Super Bowl — doing something the team never did in Houston.
Mr. Adams had developed a contentious relationship with the city he called home (and continued to call home even after he relocated his beloved team) — having almost moved the team earlier to Jacksonville. Mr. Adams was involved with the group that brought Major League Baseball to Houston in 1962 when the Colt .45s (now the Astros) began play.
In addition, Mr. Adams also owned Houston's ABA franchise and one of the iterations of the Nashville Kats arena football team.
Mr. Adams, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and graduate of the University of Kansas, originally made his fortune in oil and gas.
Coincidentally, Mr. Adams died just days after Bum Phillips, the coach of the Oilers during the heady Luv Ya Blue period. Mr Adams fired Mr. Phillips in 1980, seen by many as the beginning of acrimonious relationship between owner, city and fans.
During a radio interview on 102.5 The Game earlier this week, Hockey Abstract's Rob Vollman mentioned that the Predators had consulted with a hockey analytics man named Eric Tulsky. (Indeed, Tulsky's Twitter bio alludes to the relationship.)
By trade, Tulsky is an inorganic chemist and nanotechnology researcher and he holds a bachelor's in chemistry and physics from Harvard and a PhD in chemistry from Berkeley. He also blogs about hockey at Philadelphia Flyers blog Broad Street Hockey. At MIT's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, he presented research on the importance of zone entries to a hockey team — basically, his research explores how a team brings the puck into (or out of) the defensive, neutral and offensive thirds of the ice and how that can lead to success.
In essence, Tulsky says his research "finally gets our stats into a form that's useful to a coach and a player — we can pull the video of the plays where you dumped the puck in and figure out what needs to change to give you a better chance to carry the puck in. ... The coach can go to the video, find the correct adaptation, and work with his players to improve their shot differential — something that's hard to do with just a big-picture metric like Corsi."
Throughout the offseason and into training camp, Predators Coach Barry Trotz has said he wants his team to get better at transitioning the puck, to focus on carrying the puck into the attack (rather than dumping it into the corner and chasing it down). During free agency, General Manager David Poile lauded the amount of shots (read our explanation of Corsi and its relationship to possession and success) his free-agent acquisitions produced and, in some cases, how well those new players carried the puck. It's an easy leap to make between Tulsky's research, his relationship with the team and this new emphasis from the Predators decision-makers.
Here's a Q&A with Tulsky on his research, his findings and the world of hockey analytics in general — and he provides a clue as to why the Predators see Matt Cullen as a first-line center.
PostSports: It was — and in lots of circles still is — challenging to get the hockey community to embrace analytics. But it seems there's been a sea change certainly in the last year. People like TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie and Hockey Night In Canada's Elliote Friedman cite Corsi, a handful of teams are open about employing dedicated analytics people in their hockey operations departments with a few discussing openly how they use analytics.
As training camps have opened, coaches like Minnesota's Mike Yeo have explicitly pointed to analytics as reasons for a change and here in Nashville, Barry Trotz has dropped buzzwords into his comments — talking about "puck possession" and "zone entries" and so on. Was there a specific point where you said, "Hey, this is really something that's become part of the conversation"? If there has been a sea change, what can it be ascribed to?
Tulsky: The change doesn't seem as abrupt to me as you're describing. Two years ago, James Mirtle was writing about how Gabriel Desjardins was working for several teams and two others had hired Sports Analytics Institute. Six months later, (Boston Bruins' general manager) Peter Chiarelli said half the teams in the league were doing analytics work of some form. There's no doubt that things have moved along farther since then, but I think if there's been a sea change in the last year, it's been more in the media than in team front offices.
PS: It's generally accepted that shot-based metrics — Corsi and Fenwick — are seen as both accurate indicators of possession and, by extension, measurements of success and indicators of future performance. With that having taken hold, you and others have started looking at what drives those numbers.
In other words, how can a team address a deficiency. Your research focuses a lot on zone entries. Explain what we're talking about when we say "zone entries."
ET: In zone entry tracking, each time a team sends the puck into the offensive zone, we note which player sent it in and whether they carried it in or played dump and chase. With those little pieces of information, we can calculate a bunch of interesting metrics for each player:
• How involved is he in gaining the zone: if the team enters the zone with him on the ice, what are the odds he's the one sending it in?
• How successful is he at gaining the zone: when he brings the puck in, how often does he carry it to possession rather than dump and chase?
• How good is he with the puck in the offensive zone: when he carries the puck in, how many shots does the team get?
• How good is he off the puck in the neutral zone: what is the team's carry-in percentage when he's on the ice?
• How good is he off the puck in the offensive zone: how many shots per carry-in does the team get when he's on the ice?
• How good is he at puck retrieval: how many shots per dump-in does the team get when he's on the ice?
• How good is his neutral zone defense: what is the opponent's carry-in percentage when he's on the ice?
• How good is his defensive zone defense: how many shots per carry-in do the opponents get when he's on the ice?
And that's just a start; there are literally dozens of interesting things we can calculate from just this one piece of information and the data in the NHL's play-by-play sheet. It's an incredibly powerful tool.
PS: How did you decide to examine zone entries relationship to possession? Was it a trend you perceived before you dove into the numbers or was it more a matter of looking at a bunch of different things then discovering zone entry was the keystone?
ET: Honestly, when I started the project, I thought we were headed in a different direction altogether.
One thing that troubled me is that we didn't really have statistics that separate offensive skill from defensive skill. Shot differential metrics like Corsi obviously involve both, but even if you look just at shots for, it's convolved with defense — maybe the team gets a lot of shots because the player's defensive skill keeps the opponent's possessions short and so they get back into the offensive end quickly. To try to address this, I wanted to move from looking at shots per minute to shots per possession. All I needed to do that was the information in the official play-by-play plus a list of zone entries. That lets me divide the game into a series of possessions that each begin with either a zone entry or an offensive zone faceoff and each end with either a stoppage or a clear. Then I can calculate how many shots come from each possession and look for players who have a systematic influence.
It was only after we collected the data that I found how important a driver of possession the zone entry was.
PS: Sort of counter-intuitively perhaps, you found that neutral-zone play is the key — that it matters how a team gets into and out of the center third of the ice more than it matters what they do in their attacking or defending ends. Was that a surprise to you? When you talk to teams, is it a surprise to them? Are you turning the world on its ear?
ET: I touched on this above, but that definitely wasn't what I was expecting. It turned out that the difference between players in how often they establish possession in the offensive zone was much larger than the difference in how many shots they generate from each possession. The neutral zone appears to largely determine a team's shot differential, and the offensive and defensive zone play is often more related to the quality of those shots.
Teams seem surprised and interested when I share the data with them, but not so shocked as to be skeptical. It's obvious that carrying the puck into the offensive zone is better for the offense than dumping it in, but it's a bit surprising how large that difference is -- and how much less damaging the failed attempt to carry is than we might imagine. A bad entry certainly can turn into an odd man rush the other way, but we've tracked failed entries and find that those plays aren't nearly as frequent as people think.
PS: When someone just looks at Corsi, for example, it's tempting to say "Well, they'd be better if they only shot more and increased their Corsi." But it's not that easy, right? If Corsi is a reflection of possession, then isn't the bigger question "How do we get, keep and maintain possession?" Is Corsi just the tip of the iceberg?
ET: As you note, shot differential correlates very well with puck possession and scoring chances. So it's safe to guess that if your team consistently outshoots the opponents whenever you're on the ice, you're probably doing something right -- but it doesn't say what. It's useful information for a GM deciding whether you're someone he wants on his team, but it's not much help to you or your coach.
Breaking things down to analyze exactly what drives possession makes that form of player evaluation even better; it lets us suss out exactly how responsible you were individually for the good results your team had with you on the ice. But just as important, it finally gets our stats into a form that's useful to a coach and a player -- we can pull the video of the plays where you dumped the puck in and figure out what needs to change to give you a better chance to carry the puck in. Maybe you need to get the puck earlier, or maybe you need to be positioned differently, or maybe a teammate needs to be positioned differently, or maybe you had a lane that you didn't see, or maybe you just need to be more aggressive in challenging the defense. The coach can go to the video, find the correct adaptation, and work with his players to improve their shot differential -- something that's hard to do with just a big-picture metric like Corsi.
PS: Describe, if you can, the big takeaway of your research. Is it as simple as "carrying the puck in the zone is better than passing it in and both are far better than dumping and chasing"? To what measurable degree does carrying the puck in improve a team's chances over a dump in or a pass in?
ET: I've touched on some of this in my answers above, and I presented a fairly thorough review [pdf] at last year's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. The short version is this:
• Carrying the puck (or passing it; they're roughly equivalent) in generates more than twice as many shots and goals as dump-and-chase, even after you weed out odd-man rushes and plays where the team with the puck dumps the puck in and goes for a line change.
• At least across a few hundred games, differences between players on shots per carry-in (or shots per dump-in) were small, so the majority of shot differential was determined in the neutral zone.
• Failed attempts to carry the puck in don't appear to be nearly as damaging as people might think.
With the upside of carrying the puck in being bigger than people realize and the downside of failing smaller than they realize, the net result is that teams should be much more aggressive at the blue line than they currently are.
PS: When you consult with a team, what do you say? How do you approach these grizzled old hockey guys? Do you see a light go on in their eyes and what makes that happen?
In a lot of ways, an outside consultant in hockey is no different than an outside consultant in any field. They are bringing you in because you have an idea of how to do something better, but inertia is a powerful force in all businesses.
ET: In general, I try to be really honest about what I can and can't do with the data. If I go in with the attitude of trying to sell something, I might land some business in the short run, but if I'm overpromising and can't deliver, it won't help me in the long run.
I think one of the big things I have going for me is an ability to bridge the gap between rigorous analytics and plain language, to explain in fairly simple terms exactly what the data says (and doesn't say). So my goal is to bring teams along with me, to show them exactly why I believe something and how confident in it I can be. Doing that, and building their confidence and trust, is the only way to really have an impact.
Some people try to sell black box ranking systems with a proprietary methodology. I can't see how that would ever really work well — if someone comes to me with a system like that, one of two things happens. Either:
1. The ranking system matches what I already believe, and then it doesn't have much value for me, or
2. The ranking system is different from what I believe, and I'm left wondering why I should trust this black box over my own intuition.
These guys are absolute experts in what they do, and they're right to be skeptical of a random fan who says he can help them do better. It's my job to show them exactly why I think that, and to help them see what my analytics can do.
PS: Is there a player-level way to look at entries or is it more at a team level? Is there a way for GMs to leverage what you've learned when they are looking at free agents, for example, or is this more about what coaches can do tactically? Is it a mixture of both? And if there is a way to look at it on individual level, what, if anything, can you tell us about the Predators? Who is "the best" at this stuff? Some of your research used data from the Minnesota Wild, so is a guy like Matt Cullen someone who stands out?
ET: I think I've touched on this above, and the SSAC paper has a bit more about how it can be used to evaluate players and systems. (Cullen was indeed the best on the Wild at carrying the puck in in 2011-12.) It's easy to imagine using zone entry data to figure out whether a player with a good Corsi was driving his line's results or just benefiting from playing with good teammates, and making sure to target the free agents who really drive the play. And at the system level, it's clear that teams can push harder to try to carry the puck in, to encourage their players to take risks and put them in situations where they have every chance of gaining the zone.
Another interesting example: in 2011-12, Danny Briere and Wayne Simmonds were on a line together almost all year [for the Flyers]. Briere was great at gaining the zone, carrying the puck in on about 2/3 of his entries. Simmonds wasn't very good at it at all, dumping the puck in more than half the time. So as a coach, you want Briere to be the one with the puck as they enter the zone, but in practice Simmonds actually had a lot more entries than Briere did. If I were the Flyers, I'd be going to the video to figure out whether Briere is putting Simmonds in bad situations or whether Simmonds is missing some opportunities, and working to help the two of them adjust their approach to entering the zone to get the most out of their abilities.
Titans receiver Kenny Britt was benched Sunday to "send a message."
On Twitter, he's got a message of his own:
The former first-round pick then went on to offer a glove giveaway.
More on this one as it develops, but Britt has made "I was hacked" claims before after some eyebrow-raising episodes on social media.
For Steve McNair, it was a turning point.
His 12th career start came in Week 7 of 1997, his third NFL season. He and the then-Tennessee Oilers had lost four in row, and he had thrown multiple interceptions in consecutive contests for the first time in his career. The previous week he was a miserable 12-for-28 for 101 yards at Seattle.
Beginning with the following week’s 30-7 victory over Cincinnati and continuing through the end of 2003, the third overall pick in the 1995 draft went 64-33 as a starter. That stretch included back-to-back 13-3 seasons, the only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history and a co-MVP award.
Although it guarantees nothing, that bit of franchise history is notable because Jake Locker, now in his third NFL season, will make his 12th career start for the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Pittsburgh (noon, CBS).
To this point, the 10th overall pick 2011 has been underwhelming in the role. His completion percentage is pedestrian. He has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Most notably, his won-loss record is terrible courtesy of four defeats in his last six outings.
If nothing else, McNair’s history gives the Titans reason to believe that a quarterback does not need a full season as a starter to learn all he needs to be effective in the NFL. Perhaps three training camps and 11 starts are all it takes.
“I think he’s just more comfortable with what we’re doing,” coach Mike Munchak said Wednesday. “He’s much more at ease in his relationship with the players, the receivers, the backs out of the backfield, the screen game. There’s a lot of things he’s just a lot better at. … We’re excited about where he’s at. We’re going to find out where we’re all at. Most teams in the league are in the same boat. You just don’t know quite what you have until you get it started.”
Vince Young did not have to wait nearly as long for his opportunity. The third overall pick of 2006 was a starter by the fourth game of his rookie season and logged 11 starts by mid-December.
He carried a five-game win streak into his 12th, in Buffalo on Christmas Eve, where he completed 13 of 20 passes for 183 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 127.7 passer rating remained his best for a full game until a rout of Oakland in the 2010 opener.
Young maintained that early momentum all the way through 2007, when he led the Titans to a 10-6 record and a playoff appearance. His completion percentage in his first – and only – full season as a starter was a tidy 62.3, still his career-high.
A look at how McNair, Young and Locker performed in their first 11 NFL starts:
Locker: 177-314 (56.4 percent) 2,718 yards, 10 TD 11 INT
Young: 156-301 (51.8 percent) 1,789 yards, 10 TD 11 INT
McNair: 160-292 (54.8 percent) 2,136 yards, 12 TD 9 INT
Locker: 41-291 (7.1 yards per carry) 1 TD
Young: 73-462 (6.3 yards per carry) 5 TD
McNair: 55-311 (5.6 yards per carry) 0 TD
RECORD AS A STARTER
Like McNair and Young, Locker did not enter the NFL as a finished product. He arrived strong-armed, undeniably athletic, equipped to make something out of nothing, which made him — in the eyes of team executives — worthy of selection early in the draft.
He also had technical flaws, however, some of which might never be remedied. McNair learned to maximize his strengths. Young’s weaknesses eventually overwhelmed his gifts.
Based on what current Titans coaches saw through his first 11 starts, they retooled the playbook in offseason to focus on the things Locker does well.
“Obviously, he is a talented young player,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “I’m really impressed by his mobility, his accuracy on the move that he has displayed in the preseason. We have some concerns about containing him. … His escapability is a part of what they do both by design and by ad lib. That is something you have to be concerned about if you are on defense.”
As was the case with his first-round predecessors, coaches committed to Locker as soon as they felt prudent. None simply walked into a starting job. In this latest case, it was after one season as Matt Hasselbeck’s understudy. Locker would have gotten to his 12th start last season had a shoulder injury sustained in the opener not sidelined him for more than a month.
So it is now. Has he experienced enough that his experience will start to pay off?
“I’m just trying to learn [with] every opportunity I get,” Locker said. “You always wish you had more snaps, but I’m just trying to learn from every one I get the opportunity to take.”
With the Predators rookies opening camp today, the full team reporting next week and the preseason opener 17 days away, we checked in with Predators president Sean Henry and did a walkthrough of the on-going upgrades at Bridgestone Arena.
Henry likes to point out that, ideally, renovations never stop at an entertainment venue; however, the current round of upgrades is the largest capital improvement project in the arena's history.
It primarily focuses on the Demonbreun side of the building — a long-forgotten back entrance that needed to be "activated" with the opening of the Music City Center across the street. (See rendering below.)
When the puck drops for the regular season opener Oct. 8 against Minnesota, the first big upgrades will have made their debut. Henry said the new marquee at Fifth & Broadway — which will include a double-sided video board, replacing the static sign and LED display on the current marquee — will be ready in early October, along with two new video components on the arena's Demonbreun side. The largely empty exterior wall of the rehearsal space at Demonbreun and Fifth has long featured over-sized player photos. Those photos will be replaed by 15-by-28-foot video board. Along the long side of the arena will be a rolling scroll of upcoming events at Bridgestone.
The overhaul of the ingress and egress of the rear plaza — which will include a revamped south entrance, plus expanded public gathering space, band stage and other branded spaces — should be complete by mid-November.
Henry expects all actual construction to be done by the "end of fall 2013."
The final pieces of the puzzle — which are expected to include a new pub-style, open-to-the-rear-plaza bar the lower level of what is now the parking garage and expanded retail space along Fifth — should be complete by March.
Despite serving what The Score's Jo Innes called the NHL's best hot dog, Bridgestone Arena is developing a reputation for serving arena food that is lauded for its local touches (like chicken-and-waffles and well-executed, if PG-13, hot chicken) and their simple fun (bacon on a stick!).
This season the chefs will roll out two new signature dishes: country-fried steak-on-a-stick and French-Canadian favorite poutine.
Poutine is typically served topped with brown gravy, but this is Nashville. The Bridgestone Arena version will feature sausage gravy. While we're told pimento cheese was briefly considered, ultimately the chefs stuck with what works and will use the traditional cheese curds.
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS