Kirk Herbstreit, Phil Simms and Mark Schlereth were young once. Successful football players. Bright, curious and eager to learn about the latest and most innovative strategies and philosophies. Embracing wisdom and the resources available to them helped them excel in a sport that often chews up the dreams and bodies of so many.

Herbstreit, Simms and Schlereth are now well past 50, and they aren’t aging gracefully. All of them have had recent senior moments as analysts that make them sound more like intolerant grandfathers at Thanksgiving.

Last week, Herbstreit slammed college athletes for opting out of bowl games. Last month, Simms raged against analytics and two-point conversions. And finally, last week Schlereth complained about the advanced metric of “air yards” while talking about Aaron Rodgers’ MVP candidacy.

They are by no means alone. They are just another example of older football talking heads who routinely resist new thinking and the latest information. We’re not talking about differences of opinion. Herbstreit can thoughtfully discuss how players not participating in bowl games hurts the college product. Simms can disagree with the Baltimore Ravens going for two-point conversions. And Schlereth can point to multiple reasons why Rodgers should be the MVP.

Where did it all go wrong? They fell into the trap of believing that the way they grew up is the way it should always be. They are convinced that anyone who thinks differently doesn’t know football the way they know football. Being so rigidly entrenched in your opinions without even considering an alternate point of view is sad.

The biggest lie we tell ourselves: things were better back in our day. Usually that’s just a falsehood wrapped up in nostalgia. That type of thinking is especially prevalent in sports where the toughness and desire of now-retired athletes end up mythologized. The game and its participants weren’t better back in the days of Herbstreit, Simms and Schlereth. Simply different. All three of them grew up before the modern information age.

If Herbstreit, Simms and Schlereth were playing today, they would probably be more accepting of the very things they can’t stand. The easiest way to truly grow old in society is to completely dismiss that there may be another way, a fresh way to look at the world. Sports and society are constantly evolving. The opinions you have currently might not be the same beliefs that you’ll hold ten, or five, or even just one year from now. Maybe not even tomorrow.

That’s a good thing. That’s how progress happens.

 

Herbstreit revealed a blind spot when he said: “I think this era of player just doesn’t love football.” While he later clarified his remarks, the damage was done. Herbstreit grossly overestimated that his most audience would back him on his musty opinion. He was startled by the pushback. This only happens when you’re not paying attention to what’s happening around you.

The average NFL career is 3 to 4 years. Players have a short window to get into the league and make money. Why jeopardize that by participating in glorified exhibition games? The whole purpose behind college is to prepare you for your next job. If you’re ready to start preparation rather than risk a potential career-ending injury, opting out makes sense.

At one time over his 26-year career, perhaps the majority might have agreed with Herbstreit. Not anymore. A more knowledgeable public has evolved. Why can’t he?

Every sport goes through changes. Sometimes in widely held beliefs. Sometimes in the way the game is played. More information is available than ever before. The analytics revolution is here to stay.

In baseball, there are more home runs. In basketball, more three-point shots. In football, more going for it on fourth down and more two-point tries. Being aggressive is mathematically worth it. You would think older NFL veterans would embrace this.

Not so much. Simms criticized Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s decision to go for two down nine in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Cleveland Browns. Instead of attempting to make any semblance of a well-reasoned argument, the 66-year-old Simms said: “We don’t put that into the analytics…I don’t think, I don’t know, I don’t care.”

Analytics are probabilities not absolutes. Just because a decision isn’t successful, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right choice. Harbaugh understands that. Does Simms?

The numbers conversation got even more ridiculous. Not sure what Schlereth was going for with last week’s tweet. He sounded like an old-timey pro wrestler yelling about pencil-necked geeks. Except he described analytics experts as “number nerds.” Schlereth, of course, is unaware that the word “nerd” is no longer a pejorative. Nerds are cool.

Schlereth claimed that he doesn’t know what “air yards” means and asked: “Who keeps track of this crap?” While he made some decent points about Rodgers, his entire argument was undercut by his own ignorance.

Air yards isn’t that obscure and is self-explanatory: how far a pass traveled in the air before it was caught. Google it, or just use context clues. Why can’t Schlereth do that?

Football has never been more popular. America craves it and is eager to learn more. Herbstreit, Simms and Schlereth should all welcome the opportunity to discuss it in greater detail with greater understanding.

If they refuse, their audience will start paying more attention to those who do.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.