The Tuesday Mailbag

The Titans got their man—a coach who knows how to push the right buttons—with some down-to-the-wire decision-making. Now, can he turn Jake Locker into a franchise QB?

The Tennessee Titans had their pick between their top choice on offense (San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt) and one of their top two choices on defense (Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer), and time was of the essence. The Detroit Lions were gaining on Whisenhunt, and were ready to send a plane to fetch him to San Diego for a second interview. If Whisenhunt got on that plane, it was over. The Lions were primed to win in 2014 (heck, they were primed to win in 2013, and 2012) with a far better quarterback situation than Tennessee had, and so if Titans GM Ruston Webster wanted Whisenhunt, he was going to have to make his move before Whisenhunt went to Detroit for that interview.

Webster made the commitment to Whisenhunt, and so he got his man—with maybe an hour to spare, I’m told. Had Webster tarried, there’s a good chance Whisenhunt would have convinced the Ford family (he already had GM Martin Mayhem in his camp) that he should be the next Detroit coach, and he’d have been named today or tomorrow. But that’s what happens in the business of finding a coach. Tennessee didn’t even interview Whisenhunt until last Friday, and today the Titans are introducing him as the their third coach since the franchise moved from Houston in 1997.

Whisenhunt’s task for 2014 is to evaluate whether Jake Locker is the future at QB. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Whisenhunt’s task for 2014 is to evaluate whether Jake Locker is the future at QB for Tennessee. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

I want to tell you a story about why Ken Whisenhunt is so well regarded in NFL circles, and why owners and GMs can overlook his inability to develop a quarterback post-Kurt Warner while he was head coach of the Cardinals. Whisenhunt’s Cards went 18-30 from 2010 to 2012, after Warner’s retirement, with a succession of mediocrity, or worse, starting games in those three seasons: Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Lindley. One after the other, Whisenhunt gave each a chance—and not a short one, in any case but Hall—to win the job. None worked out. And that’s why Whisenhunt was coaching Philip Rivers in 2013, not coaching for the Bidwills in Arizona. Whisenhunt is going to have be much more successful with Jake Locker, who hasn’t been able to stay on the field long enough to see if he’s the long-term answer in Tennessee. He’s Whisenhunt’s project, and for at least 2014 Locker gets the shot at proving that Whisenhunt, who was offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh during Ben Roethlisberger’s first three seasons in the league, can indeed be his quarterback-whisperer.

Now for that story:

In 2008, back when the NFC West stunk, Arizona started 7-3 and was in position to win the division easily. But then the Cards lost four of five and were teetering. Though they’d clinched the division entering Week 16 at New England, Whisenhunt was concerned that the team needed to play much better or the season would go up in flames. Then the Cards went out and lost embarrassingly and non-competitively, 47-7, to the Patriots. Then the team had plane trouble leaving Providence after the game. There was a three-hour delay. More time for Whisenhunt to stew. When the Cards finally arrived back in Phoenix in the early morning of Dec. 22, Whisenhunt decided what to do: boot camp. With a division clinched, he chose to practice hard that week. Whisenhunt is a calm man mostly; rarely does he get too fired up in front of the team. That week, he told them they were blowing their season, and he was not going to sit by and watch it happen.

review-quarterbacks
Whisenhunt has worked with three accomplished QBs in Roethlisberger, Warner and Rivers. (Gene J. Puskar/AP :: Gene Lower/Getty Images :: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Whisenhunt put the Cardinals in full pads on Christmas day, and they practiced for two and a quarter hours. Hard.

“That was a shock to all of us,” Larry Fitzgerald said a couple of weeks later. “But he had the pulse of the team. He knew what to do.”

Maybe a practice like that wakes players up, maybe not. But the Cardinals played better that week, beating a poor Seattle team, and got ready for the playoffs. The favored and hot Falcons were up in Round One; Arizona 30, Atlanta 24. Then a trip to Charlotte to play the two seed, Carolina; Arizona 33, Carolina 13. Now a gift home NFC title game, because the Eagles had upset the top-seeded Giants; Arizona 32, Philadelphia 25.

The rest of the story, of course, is that James Harrison had the miracle 100-yard interception return on the last play of the first half, and Ben Roethlisberger the miracle drive from the Arizona 12 in the last two minutes, and Pittsburgh held off the Cards to win the Super Bowl, 27-23. But coaches are paid to read their team and to lead their team. Whisenhunt did both in what turned out to be the most memorable Cardinals season since they moved west from St. Louis 25 years ago.

Postscript: The season after the Super Bowl, Arizona was on the way to a second straight division title. The Cards struggled to win at Detroit on the Sunday before Christmas, but the game did clinch the division. Christmas was on a Friday that year, and Whisenhunt had a decision to make about what to do seeing that Christmas came so close to game day. Teams just don’t get Fridays off customarily. But Whisenhunt gave the coaches and players the day off. The Cardinals went out and routed the Rams two days later, lost a meaningless season finale to Green Bay … and then beat the Packers in a wild Wild Card game, 51-45.

That was Whisenhunt’s last shining moment in Arizona. The Cards traveled to New Orleans in the divisional round and lost to the eventual Super Bowl champs in the Superdome. But it’s a good example of what buttons a coach must push each year depending on the situation. Whisenhunt knows the right ones to push, and he is a smart man with a good feel for his teams. Now he’ll have a deserved second head coaching shot, in Tennessee. As happens so many times in this business, success or failure will hinge as much on the care and development of the quarterback as on pushing the right buttons.

* * *

Now for your email:  

Andrew Luck has led the Colts to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, but has thrown eight interceptions in three postseason games. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Andrew Luck has led the Colts to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, but has thrown eight interceptions in three postseason games. (Elsa/Getty Images)

LUCK IMMUNE TO CRITICISM? I understand that everyone believes Andrew Luck is the future of the NFL, but does that make him immune from criticism? Dalton throws three picks in his past two playoff games and every website is flooded with commentary. Luck throws seven picks in his past two playoff games and there isn’t an article about it, or even a negative comment in yours. I understand Luck might turn out to be the greatest of all-time, but what has he done to earn the kid gloves treatment? A bunch of fourth-quarter wins signify a quarterback who doesn’t give up, but they also signify a quarterback who didn’t play well in the first three quarters.

—John

You bring up some good points. We probably tend to give highly drafted, multiple-tool players more of the benefit of the doubt than players who entered the draft with some deficiencies. In my opinion, Luck doesn’t get killed this postseason because of the adjustments he had to make with a group of lesser receivers. He was missing his top tight end, Dwayne Allen, for all of this year, and his top wide receiver, Reggie Wayne, for much of this year. Towards the end of the season, he was prospering with a group of receivers who, with the exception of T.Y. Hilton, were all new to the team this year. I’m not sure Andy Dalton, even with a solid set of weapons, would have put up 45 points on Kansas City in a playoff game. 

ON CALMER COACHING. Are we sure Jim Harbaugh was flagged for complaining about the call on the Vernon Davis catch or the clock? I ask because he immediately ran onto the field pointing at the scoreboard and it would seem that the replay hadn’t been played yet. As for the clock, it ran for two to three seconds after the whistle blew, which would have limited San Fran’s options had the call not been reversed. My take is he was upset the clock continued to run after the play, something he would immediately need to bring to the attention of the refs.

—Greg

You are right. I was wrong to criticize Harbaugh for being angry about an official’s call. However, if a coach asks his players to keep their composure in times of adversity, I think it’s a bad example for the coach to set to have a meltdown in a playoff game and run on the field. So I was wrong in why Harbaugh flipped out. But my criticism of him for flipping out still holds.

TALK BACK

Got a question for Peter? Send it with your name and hometown to talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in next Tuesday's mailbag.

THE MANNING MOVEMENTS. Four 49ers fans were watching the Denver-San Diego game. On at least two of the encroachment penalties called against the Chargers, all four of us were in agreement that a false start should have been called on Peyton Manning. He bobbed his head vigorously and at the same time thrust his hands forward in a sharp manner. We looked it up in the rule book and it sure seems that he got away with at least two false starts. And don’t say that is Manning’s normal way to receive the ball, because it is not. When he is actually getting the snap, he does not bob his head and jerk his hands forward. I imagine both Mike McCoy and Bill Belichick will be asking the NFL to take a look at this.

—Phillip

I think you have a very good point. The Manning motions, I am sure, will be addressed by the Competition Committee this offseason. I would say it’s likely that whoever officiates that game this weekend will be reminded to watch for overt movement by Manning. Thanks for writing such an intelligent email.

LEAGUE HELP FOR STRUGGLING FRANCHISES. With the turmoil in Cleveland, the lack of interest by the Jacksonville fan base and Oakland’s never ending front-office issues, does the league office offer any guidance to these organizations, to help get them on the right track, as a business? Being that the owners hire the commissioner, would it be considered unethical for the NFL to offer a team of executives and experts to dig into the issues that keep these teams as perennial losers? I would think that the lack of fans in the stands, as the season winds down, would be incentive enough to build winners, to ensure a steady profit. However, it would seem that these teams losing year after year hurts the bottom line of the entire league, and therefore would want to offer solutions to struggling franchises.

—Jason

The NFL does offer assistance of various kinds to struggling franchises. One example is the eight-person head hunting group that was set up this year to help teams in their coaching searches. But these organizations have to want the help. I don’t think Jimmy Haslam in Cleveland, after hiring Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi to run his football side, is eager to call the NFL and ask, “Who should we hire as coach?” Also, I’m not sure how much help the league office can be to a place like Jacksonville in selling tickets.

GATES-GATE. I love your column, but I thoroughly disagree with your criticism of Secretary Robert Gates. I am not exactly in favor of throwing your former boss under the bus, but Gates—like every cabinet member, as well as any elected official for that matter—owes his loyalty to the people of this nation, not any one individual, no matter which office they hold. While I think it is more than fair to question his motives (financial?) in writing the book, I think you should take one fact into consideration before you question his loyalty: Robert Gates is the only Secretary of Defense in our nation’s history to hold the post under two presidents from two different parties. That means he is probably as apolitical and non-partisan as Washington D.C. gets, and therefore his criticisms of the presidents he worked for should be taken into careful consideration. If you have not yet read his memoir then you should refrain from offering any opinion on the matter.

—Reed

Good email, Reed. I picked yours out of scores of similar emails excoriating me for criticizing Gates. Here’s how I look at it: Suppose the Indianapolis Colts hired me tomorrow to work in the front office. Suppose I work with them through the draft, and I am exposed to all sorts of inside information about players and contracts and future strategy and the basic inner workings of the team. Let’s say I’d know everything from owner Jim Irsay’s real feelings about Andrew Luck, whatever they might be, to the players GM Ryan Grigson plans to make salary cap casualties in the coming season. And then let’s say I have a strong difference of opinion with Irsay, or Grigson, or coach Chuck Pagano, and we decide to part ways in October. I’d be an unemployed American citizen. And suppose a media company came to me and said, “We’d like you to write a long article about your experiences working for the Colts and what you found out about the inside working of the Colts.” If I agreed to do it, and I spilled the beans on things about the football team and personal opinions and the franchise’s strategic future, I would be within my rights—unless I signed a confidentiality agreement with the team—to write whatever I wanted to write. But would it be the right thing? Part of me thinks it would be a great story. But part of me thinks it would be the morally wrong thing to do.

It’s the same thing with Gates. I have no problem once President Obama leaves office for any employee in his administration to write anything he or she wants. And you’re right—I haven’t read the book. I have only read news reports. I have great admiration for Gates, from everything I have read or heard about him. I hope I am wrong about this, but the book strikes me as a kiss-and-tell book.

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79 comments
James22
James22

The clock ran FOUR more seconds after Vernon Davis's touchdown ended, and had it stood as an incompletion, that was the difference between the 49ers having time to run a 3rd down play from the one (with a timeout) vs having to kick a FG right away. Harbaugh himself said he was pointing at the running clock and yelling at the official to stop it, as it most certainly should stop immediately after a pass into the endzone (whether it's caught or not).


You can be sanctimonious about "not losing your cool" all you want, but that was an egregious abuse of the clock by the Panthers' timekeeper, and it could have very seriously impacted the game. Harbaugh had plenty of reason to be upset.

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

Peter, the problem that your analogy with Robert Gates and the Indianapolis Colts is that they're just not the same thing.  As an employee of the Colts, you work for the Colts and the owner of the team, not the fans or the people of Indianapolis.  As an employee of the United States, your duty IS to the people that you work for and in this case, the people of the United States come above the boss.

grogseal
grogseal

The 49ers' game was yet another example of the game clock being mismanaged. It happens frequently throughout the season at many stadiums. Someday the NFL will pay attention to the problem and do something about it.

gary41
gary41

Whisenhunt has been OK when he has a good QB, but not so hot developing one.  In Jake Locker what do you think his chances are??  The next OC & QB coach, will have a real job next year.  Good luck.....

nflsamoa
nflsamoa

You just defended Luck again ... it borders on absurd !!!!!

pk_sea
pk_sea

Since this is a sports/political column, here's my take on Gates. If he was critical and saw wrong doings by the administration, he should have stepped down when he felt the president didn't have the troop's backs. Probably could have saved the country 4 more years of hope and change. 

Tenacious_G
Tenacious_G

The Luck rationalization is absurd.  His interceptions shot up in the post-season and several of his picks were just awful throws.  How does his receiving core impact any of this?  When King falls in love with a player, man, he really falls in love.

SamPerkins
SamPerkins

A classic King.  He is wrong about not criticizing Luck - but then he tells us he really was right.  He was wrong about Dalton, but he really was right, he was wrong about.... All the way down to his unnecessary, uncalled for political commentary.  Pete - your head is getting to big for your keyboard.


Jim21
Jim21

Peter King = The Oprah of football columns. 

Jim21
Jim21

I don't think the Titans will be any better off with Wisenhunt at HC than they were with Munchak. Looking at the skill positions on the Titans, Munchak was working with scrubs. 

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subscriptions

I made the decision long ago to stop reading TMMQ at "non-football thoughts".

It's Mr. King's prerogative to fill his column with whatever content he wishes.

But while I highly value his football musings, his non-football opinions could not interest me less.

I find Mr. King's opinions on society, politics and economics to be generally sanctimonious and reliably left-wing. Once his column diverges from football you know what you're going to get.

Mr. King is a typical wanna-be liberal elitist who uses his NFL forum as a soapbox to preach on social ills and who confuses articulation with intellect.

If his non-football thoughts annoy you then don't read them.

gphotopoulos
gphotopoulos

"Martin Mayhem" instead of "Martin Mayhew" is one of the most hilarious typos ever.

dennis
dennis

Yeah, after Obama leaves office, an employe of the IRS will write a book about how they helped him win and how he helped them cover it up. First clue is no investigation has started even with the clear evidence.

SemperFiDTM
SemperFiDTM

Hey Pete, sent you an email. Basically, you cant compare the Secretary of Defense to an NFL GM. "Its not in the same ballpark not in the same sport!" ~ Jules, Pulp Fiction


The American voting public deserves to know everything about a sitting POTUS, as he will have major influence on not only the Democratic Party (DNC) primary, but the next presidential election as well in 2016. Id say thats a bit more important than divulging sensitive information such as draft strategy and salary cap management.....And dont tell me Gates did this for the money. As Secy of Defense, he commands enormous speaking fees, and can basically be a top executive at any think tank/corporate firm....

acebb20
acebb20

These comments regarding Gates are some of the more embarrassing drivel I've ever read, King.


Have you at any point prior to Obama being elected criticized any other author or book that has been critical of a sitting President? Especially the last one.


Since everyone reading knows the answer is no, and you're increasingly a partisan mouth piece for the political left, you should probably just come out and say that. You don't object of criticism of a President as a principle, you object to the criticism of a President you voted for and support.  

tonybot3
tonybot3

don't kid yourself... he was going to Cleveland, not Detroit... Heck, he still might.

Maplesyrup
Maplesyrup

So Wisenhunt is the right coach because he gave one team CHRISTMAS off, and because he was pissed after another of his teams got blown out by 40 points so he gave them a tough practice. Lol. No mention of how the only moments ofsuccess he's had were with good quarterbacks. Pretty much every coach does well with a good quarterback. There's evidence to support the statement that Wisenhunt is any better than his 45-51 Arizona record suggests. Peter King: long on connections, short on logic.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

and you had arnie spaner who was saying oh there should've been two penalties on ahmad brooks the offsides and then a personal foul for throwing newton to the ground and the officals rightly didn't throw the flag as they saw the same thing everyone else saw, that brooks all he did was touch newton on the back and newton flopping to the ground

jlaspence
jlaspence

re Whisenhunt


Whisenhunt got very lucky back in 2008: 1/ his Cards were in one of the weakest division's in NFL history; 2/ a rejuvenated Kurt Warner fell in his lap; and 3/, in the playoff games against Atlanta and Charlotte, both those teams turned over the ball like drunk sailors on shore leave spend their money.  Atlanta was leading through most of their game until they (characteristically) self-destructed (Ryan, two interceptions; fumble returned for a touchdown, etc.)  In Charlotte, Jake Delhomme threw five (5!) interceptions (Charlotte also fumbled).  Once Lady Luck (and Kurt Warner) departed, and the division got stronger, the Cards sunk.  The real measure of Whisenhunt is how he did without luck and Warner to prop him up.  He failed miserably, and for several years, and the team was getting worse every season.  Then Arians comes in, and with basically the same team, and a mediocre turnover machine at QB (Carson Palmer), in the now toughest division in the NFL, wins 10 games.   The Titans will go nowhere with Whisenhunt.  He'll feud with his best players and coaches until they leave (remember his frequent sideline spats with Kurt Warner?)  The Titans have messed up.  Again. 

dawnsblood
dawnsblood

I have no problem once President Obama leaves office for any employee in his administration to write anything he or she wants.

---------------------------


The only problem with this sentiment is that this is not when the people of the country need this information. We tend to need to know the shortcomings of our leaders now while adjustments can be made. This sort of thing works well for historians and people that study history but not for the electorate.


I am glad Gates came clean now. Perhaps this will help Senators when they need to confirm folks for certain positions or just in general when the President makes requests regarding areas Gates discusses. Knowing the President's potential blind spots, could inform their decisions for the betterment of everyone. 

blynder
blynder

On Manning's movements.  


I remember, as someone else noted below, that there was to be more of an emphasis on the QB doing things to try to draw players off-side in the beginning of the season.  I remember watching, at that time, to see what movements QB's were making and not making.  Many of the ones I saw all had some type of regular movement they did during the snap count.  And I remember noting that those would get exaggerated in those circumstances when they were trying to draw opposing guys off-side.  Those situations were fairly obvious most of the time and the defense was sometimes ready, sometimes not.  What struck me about all of that is that the changes appeared to me rather subtle and specific.  QB X is trying to draw someone off-sides so they will slightly over-exaggerate the leg lift that they always do.  In watching the Den/San D game Mannings' movements were consistent, but sometimes he would over emphasize the same head bob he did, or the same hand movement repeatedly - what it does (should have done) is make the defensive players WATCH THE DAMN BALL. That is what they're supposed to do anyway. The occasional snap count snafu is expected (on both offense and defense - as I recall J.Thomas got a False Start Penalty); but repeatedly, that isn't about the Ref's anymore, that is about discipline among the players. 

petriclee
petriclee

Read the book, then comment.  Otherwise, STFU.

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

I'm just wondering what Mike Munchak did to earn various interviews for head coaching positions.  He didn't even have a winning season in Tennessee.  

RosaNosabe
RosaNosabe

Jason: What's this shot again with Jacksonville attendance? Please refer to the official attendance stats http://espn.go.com/nfl/attendance/_/sort/homePct There are 6 teams with lower attendance percentage with some of them have better winning record than the Jags. They have also consistently outselling Tampa and Oakland yet people keep piling on Jax. Geesh.

CMFJ
CMFJ

" The Manning motions, I am sure, will be addressed by the Competition Committee this offseason."


I was watching a game earlier this season and the QB was called for a false start on at least one, possibly two, occasions for the type of hand motions the emailer mentioned.  The commentators noted that calling this was a point of emphasis this year.  Like many of these point of emphasis, as the year goes on, officials tend to become less strict.  

James22
James22

@KristianColasacco There is no question that Peter King's opinion on this issue would be different if Gates ripped Bush instead of Obama. The man is a strong left-wing partisan, as he consistently shows. It's a shame he can't stick to football.

Jim21
Jim21

@SamPerkins Careful with any critiques you may have of The King - his legions of fans will rain down on you with the obligatory, "Don't like it, don't read it" commentary. Yawn.. 

James22
James22

@subscriptions It makes no more sense to tell people not to write criticisms then it makes for them to tell King not to write the things they criticize.


If you don't like criticisms, don't read them!

pk_sea
pk_sea

@subscriptions He's putting a lot of his political issues in the football portion as well, see Bridgegate opinion from last Monday's column. 

JayReardon
JayReardon

@acebb20 Moron:  It's Peter King's Column.  When you have your own column (not holding our breath here), you can be a partisan imbecile (mouthpiece would be a step up in your case) for the right wing nut jobs who have ruined the country.  Gates was Daddy Bush's pick for DCI but Gates was so dirty carrying Bill Bennet's water--  inflating Soviet threat assessments so Ronnie Raygun could increase the Defense budget, El Salvador-Nicaragua death squads, Iran-Contra, etc. -- that he had to withdraw his name from consideration.  Dim Son Bush brought him out of the skeleton closet to clean up Rumsfeld's mess.  Biden was the only one who was right on Afghanistan and his policy would have saved several hundred American lives and billions of dollars.  Go do dome reading of history before you shoot your mouth of and shout your ignorance in public.

bartt
bartt

@jlaspence Turnovers don't happen by themselves. Arizona had a pretty good defense that year: Adrian Wilson, Antonio Smith, Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett in their primes, an electrifying young rookie named Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and other guys that played well as a unit. Whiz deserves some credit for that, too. Now only if their defensive coordinator had learned to stop calling a prevent defense whenever they got a lead in the second half...

midatl49ers
midatl49ers

@jlaspenceWow, I was pretty much coming here to write the same exact thing. You took the words right out of my brain. Whisenhunt couldn't develop a quarterback in Arizona, and I doubt that he'll magically be able to help develop Jake Locker into what he needs to be for the Titans. I think it was a bad move, he would have been better in Detroit where at least he would have had a decent QB and a nice base of players.

pk_sea
pk_sea

@dawnsblood Gates should have come out sooner, pre 2012 election. Coming out during the lame duck term does nothing to hurt the administration. Dems are already distancing themselves from Obama.

joeg
joeg

@dawnsblood Gates isn't very kind to senators and congressmen either.

Mike26
Mike26

@RosaNosabe Jacksonville's been whining about attendance for over a decade.  They even close off significant parts of their seating to avoid blackouts.  They deserve every bit of criticism they get.

Merv
Merv

@CMFJ As a Quarterbacks fame goes up his penalties go down.

SamPerkins
SamPerkins

@Rickapolis @SamPerkins Don't I have to read it first to know I don't like it.  Tenacious_G is spot on.  The media, esp. folks like King, build quarterbacks as much or more so than any OC ever did, it's just that they are half figments of their creative writing.  

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by the way, it makes no more sense to tell people not to read criticisms than it does to tell people not to tell King not to write his left-wing tripe.

If you don't like people telling criticizers to not read King's left-wing tripe, then don't read their comments!

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What gives you the idea I don't like to read "criticisms"?

Obviously they interest me enough to the extent that I bothered to make a comment about them.

And in no sense at all did I suggest people not write criticisms.

Just what the hell are you talking about anyway?

acebb20
acebb20

@JayReardon "Go do dome reading of history before you shoot your mouth of and shout your ignorance in public."


---------

If idiot leftists like you didn't exist, the right would have to invent you in order to ridicule and mock someone.


That was one of the funniest idiotic screeds I've ever read.


Bravo, goof.

blynder
blynder

@Merv @CMFJ 

I have heard this claim before Merv, is there data to back that up some place?

Ron5
Ron5

@SamPerkins@RickapolisAfter all King didn't have to read Gates book to know it was a morally wrong, kiss and tell, story.

blynder
blynder

@Mike26 @blynder @Merv @CMFJ 

Me?  Nah.  Just curious about evidence (sincerely) because those claims are fairly common; but I have never found proof (other than unsupported opinions).

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