Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The SEC's Most Mediocre Coach

Now that the Lakers removed the NBA from our list of sports to watch, leaving only baseball for the next two months, the sporting world enters the period in which anything, and I mean anything, remotely interesting become a much bigger story than it actually should be. For instance, one of the top stories on ESPN's website as I write this is a blurb about Michael Phelps being nominated for four ESPYs. No one outside of the ESPN self-promotion machine or Phelps’ mom gives a crap about that story. But because you can't have seven baseball stories as a top stories, we have ourselves a Michael Phelps story that doesn’t involve drugs or Las Vegas dancers.

This is also the period of time (and it started when the NBA playoffs reached its second round) where college football fans, at least SEC fans (I'm assuming it happens other places, but I can only keep up with so much), begin to create all sorts of lists to pass the time until late August. In the past few weeks, I've seen lists that rank the top 30 players in the SEC, what each team needs in order to have a good year and, of course, a medley of best/worst lists that cover just about every topic one can imagine. And because there are so many lists that are so similar, they all run together and basically repeat the same information over and over again.

So with looking for a fresh idea in mind, I have elected to undertake the task of identifying the most mediocre coach in the SEC. Anyone can rattle off who they consider to be the top three or worst three coaches in the league, but to consider who really is 100% blah in their coaching performances takes some effort (which is a rare thing on the Belly of the Beast).

First off, a couple of ground rules I developed. One, record isn't the only thing that matters. That would be too easy. And two, potential, talent and resources weigh heavily in my thinking, all of which cannot accurately be measured, thus leaving this list open to ridicule with no statistical evidence to back it up.

The first thing we need to do is weed out the non-contenders. Automatically, we have to toss out all the coaches who have never coached in the SEC or have only spent one year in the league. We don't know how bad, good or just plain average these guys are. Those restrictions eliminate Dan Mullen, whose slew of retread assistant coaches could have him in contention for this title in a few years, Lane Kiffin, who will certainly find himself on hundreds of "worst" lists by the end of season one, Gene Chizik, who still can't believe he transformed a 5-19 stint at Iowa State into the Auburn job, and Bobby Petrino, who spent the last year with Casey Dick running his offense. These guys are out.

Second, we need to get rid of the guys who would be considered in the "best" group of coaches. Urban Meyer (although a trained monkey could win nine games at Florida every year, but he has won big everywhere he’s been) and Nick Saban headline this group, and I think you have to throw in Houston Nutt on the level right below them. He's not Saban or Meyer and you can argue his SEC record of 47-41 is pretty mediocre, but my overall impression of his work at Arkansas, a state with little high school football talent, was he always did more with less. Eight bowl games and two trips to Atlanta. Plus, what he did with Ole Miss last year really strengthens his case to be considered in the top tiers and thus eliminated from mediocrity.

Looking at his record, I suppose it's hard to leave Les Miles out of the best group (22-10 SEC record, one national title and one SEC title in four years), but there's no way in good conscience I can include him in the "best" or even the “worst” category, for which an argument could probably be made. Les gets his own category, which will be called "lucky bastard who inherited great talent and gets away with every dumb decision he's ever made (except this past season)." So he also is eliminated from the competition.

And our last omission is Bobby Johnson of Vanderbilt. It's hard to judge someone when they're coaching Vanderbilt. He's made them competitive in many games, lost some really bad ones and lost many he should have won. I have no idea if any of that is related to coaching or just lack of talent. Or you could just argue that it's Vanderbilt and it all sucks. Whatever the reason, it’s way too confusing to attempt to break it down so he's eliminated.

That leaves us with our three main candidates: Rich Brooks, Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt. Year in and year out Richt falls short of expectations, but never truly has a bad year in the eyes of his school. Every year there’s some hype that says this will finally be the year Spurrier puts it together for a big year at South Carolina, but he never quite gets there. And in the case of Brooks, who, after a rough start at Kentucky, has consistently nailed the average season. In the words of George Costanza, these guys are producing results right in the meaty part of the curve. Not showing off, not falling behind.

First up for debate is Kentucky coach Rich Brooks. In recent years, it seems as though Kentucky has gone 7-5 every season, which, other than 6-6, is one of the true signs of mediocrity. Turns out, here’s Kentucky’s regular season record under Brooks since 2006: 7-5, 7-5, 6-6. But in all three years, they did win their bowl games to get to improve to 8, 8 and 7 wins, respectively. That, my friends, is average.

However, as I mentioned before, records aren’t the only determining factor in this quest. Looking closer at Kentucky, they have more talent than maybe only Vanderbilt, who beat them 31-24 last season, and possibly Mississippi State, who they beat 14-13 in 2008. And the state of Kentucky isn’t exactly a recruiting hotbed. Expectations each year hover between the six and eight win mark. Well, at least I imagine that’s what the Kentucky fans who realize there is another sport other than basketball think. So with those expectations, results and talent level, it would appear that Rich Brooks is doing exactly what its expected of him, which means he’s not so mediocre. Plus, considering he took over a Kentucky program hit with NCAA probation and had won only 11 games in the three years before the got there, he’s done a good job at bringing Kentucky out of a hole.

Looking at their schedule from the past three years (I didn’t look at the previous three years because they were so bad), here’s a list of the SEC teams they’ve beaten:

Ole Miss
Mississippi State (2)
Vanderbilt (2)
Arkansas (2)

The biggest non-conference wins:

Louisville (2)
A collection of directional and Sun Belt schools

That’s a solid collection of victories over average to bad teams with two upsets (LSU and Georgia) thrown in. Tennessee and South Carolina are noticeably absent from that list, considering Kentucky plays them every year, and those two teams haven’t been exactly tearing it up since 2006. All of this means that Rich Brooks has feasted on bad teams, had his share of wins against fellow average teams and has pulled off a couple of upsets. Normally, that would indicate that Brooks is doing what a mediocre coach does. Beats the bad teams, goes around .500 versus other average teams and wins a few games against far superior teams.

But, given the resources, talent level and history surrounding Kentucky football, can you really say Brooks has done a mediocre job? It would be ridiculous to argue that he’s done an outstanding job (can’t beat South Carolina, a team not that far ahead of Kentucky, and hasn’t been able to pick off Tennessee when they’ve been down), but it’s not a stretch to say he’s done a good job. He coaching at a school where he’ll always be second fiddle to basketball, plays in an average stadium in an uninspiring environment and has no real talent base with which to feed his program. And despite all of that against him, Brooks has gone to and won three straight bowl games.

There’s little to no chance Brooks will ever get Kentucky to Atlanta as long as Florida, Georgia and Tennessee have pulses. But, to his credit, you won’t find Kentucky consistently getting smacked around and challenging Vanderbilt for sixth in the SEC East. He’s taken a less-than-ideal coaching situation at a non-football school and made something out of it, which doesn’t make him so mediocre.

Now comes probably the most complicated man on the list: South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier. Earlier in his career at Florida, such an inclusion on this list would have led to a horde of angry men and women in jorts and tank tops throwing hair product, earrings and fake Oakley sunglasses at anyone who would suggest this idea. But unfortunately for Spurrier, South Carolina isn’t Florida. While he has brought winning to South Carolina, a place that hasn’t really ever seen consistent winning, it hasn’t been as successful of a return to the SEC as many predicted.

At a glance, Spurrier’s records at South Carolina have been straight up mediocre. Starting in 2005 and running through last year, he’s gone 7-5, 8-5, 6-6 and 7-6, respectively. In the previous four years from 2004 and before, the Gamecocks went 6-5, 5-7, 5-7 and 9-3. Other than Lou Holtz stumbling into a 9-3 season, Spurrier has improved, although not tremendously, the consistency of football at South Carolina.

If you check a little further into South Carolina’s history, you’ll find it’s much bleaker than you could ever imagine. Since 1892 when they started playing football, they’ve compiled a LOSING record of 528-529-44. And in those years, the school has won 10 and nine games only ONCE each. Once!!! Lou Holtz, responsible for the nine-win season, won just 33 games and had three winning seasons in the six years before Spurrier arrived. Even worse than that, before Holtz got there, the football team won just 41 games DURING THE 1990s (although it was Holtz who threw up an 0-11 season in 1999).

As you can see, Spurrier is trying to win at a place that has had very little success. In fact, Spurrier is the first coach at South Carolina since World War II to not post a losing record (a guy named J.P. Moran coached only one year in 1943 and posted a 5-2 record). Even though he hasn’t won big, he’s already accomplished something most South Carolina fans have never been alive to see.

Although he finds himself in a state that traditionally is pretty strong in terms of high school football talent, Spurrier is fighting a recruiting battle against some of the other big SEC schools, ACC schools and 107 years of bad to mediocre football. He’s got the facilities and loyal fanbase that can match up with other schools, but the name Steve Spurrier doesn’t mean the same thing in 2009 as it did in 1999 and can’t cover up the stink of the school’s football history.

His coaching history has shown that if he has the players, Spurrier can beat everybody. Of course, part of being a coach in college football is also being a recruiter, which is something Spurrier has not always been highly motivated to do. And although its been reported that Spurrier has put much more time and effort into recruiting, he hasn’t landed some guys that really stand out. Certainly he’s increased the talent level, but he’s been missing what talking heads like to call difference makers, especially at quarterback.

His ability to increase the talent level yet not having some superstar players is reflected in the Gamecocks’ performance on the field. He’s 1-3 against Florida and Georgia (but he does seem to play Georgia close every year), undefeated against Kentucky and is 2-2 against Tennessee. But here are some records that really surprised me:

Auburn 0-2
Arkansas 1-3
LSU 0-2
Vanderbilt 2-2

Much like Rich Brooks, Spurrier has lived off of beating bad teams, going around .500 against similar teams and has a couple of upsets against much better teams. But unlike Brooks, Spurrier has been much more competitive than his record indicates. Since 2005, Spurrier’s record is 28-22 and Brooks’ 26-24. But, of Spurrier’s 22 losses, only six could be considered what I call a blowout, a loss by more than three scores (17 points). While of Brooks’ 24 losses, 13 were by more than 17 points.

In Spurrier’s time at South Carolina, he has increased the talent level, producing teams that are good enough at times to play with anyone, but are often wildly inconsistent and aren’t good enough to get away with bringing their “C” game. Obviously, some of that inconsistency has to fall on Spurrier, but you’ll find that just about every team in all sports goes through “C” game times. What sets Spurrier above mediocrity is that he’s actually brought competitive football for four straight years to a place that has a lengthy history of being bad at football. He gives those fans who have been eating crap for the past 107 years yet still fill the stadium a reason to think they’re going to win each game. I don’t know if we’ll ever see Steve Spurrier back in Atlanta, but he’s putting South Carolina in a position that, if the perfect storm were to arise, they’d at least have a chance, which is more than has ever been done there.

Now we come to Mark Richt, the man who might spark the most outrage or dissent over being called a mediocre coach. After all, he owns a career 82-22 overall record and a 46-18 record in the SEC, two SEC titles and three BCS bowl game appearances. Plus, his road record is something insane like 30-4. But as I said earlier, the records don't tell the whole story. And if you look closely, you’ll discover that Mark Richt is the most mediocre coach in the SEC.

At Georgia, Richt sits in one of the richest areas of the country in terms of high school talent. His program is the only major one in the state (sorry, Georgia doesn't compete with Georgia Tech for recruits) and he regularly cleans up in in-state recruiting. So his team is made up of the best players in one of the best states for recruiting. Throw in a well-funded athletic department, a 92,000-seat stadium and a huge alumni base and the guy is sitting on a pile of nearly limitless resources.

Outside of Georgia in the SEC, only LSU and Florida have all of those luxuries (A case could be made for Alabama, but with Auburn being in the state, they don’t have complete control of it just yet. Another year or two of Gene Chizik and they might move into this group). And since Richt’s arrival at Georgia, LSU and Florida have both won two national titles. Richt’s best two finishes were Sugar Bowl wins over Florida State and Hawaii. And we shouldn’t forget about the Sugar Bowl against West Virginia where Richt’s team lost to a far inferior team (Georgia was a 14 point favorite) and allowed the Big East to gain entry into the national television scene (Seriously, he’s directly responsible for South Florida once being ranked number two.)

And of course there are the head-to-head records. Against LSU and Florida, Richt has gone a combined 5-8, which includes an awful 2-6 against Florida. Yes, he does have a winning record against LSU, 3-2, but take away his wins over the overwhelmed Les Miles and he’s just 1-2 (to his credit he has never lost to Les Miles) against the Tigers. Even against rivals Tennessee and Auburn, both teams that are usually not nearly as talented as Georgia, he’s produced just 5-3 records against each.

The point of all these numbers and comparisons is that Richt has just as much talent and as many resources as LSU and Florida but never produces the same results. He’s got a great record, been to some great bowl games, but when it comes time to win a game that will make or define a season, he hasn’t been very good. Instead, he’s made a career out of beating the inferior teams in the SEC. And that’s what mediocre coaches with great talent and resources around them do. They beat the teams they should beat, occasionally get upset by one of them (which also happens to good coaches) and struggle to beat teams just as good as they are. When teams with equal talent and resources face each other, good and great coaches win, and Mark Richt has proven throughout his time at Georgia that he is not one of those coaches.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not Working for the Weekend

Remember earlier this week when I mentioned I was working on an idea that is taking way too long to finish? Well, it still isn't finished. This whole thing has turned into a Waterworld of sorts. Huge buildup, budget blown apart, way behind schedule and I can only imagine the colossal disappointment when it finally makes its way into the public eye. Only the difference between Waterworld and my idea in the works is that there is no money involved (just time), the public eye is only like 20 people and Kevin Costner isn't hovering around making sure I spell his last name correctly on the check.

Plus, it's been so damn hot the past 10 days, I'm trying to do as little activity as possible, and that includes using my brain. Small aside: We're not yet to July and the heat index for the past ten days has been clipping along anywhere from 100 to 110. Looking at the next few days and today, our highs here in Memphis are 101, 101 and 95. As sorry as I feel for myself and everyone else, my real sympathy lies with my house's air conditioner. I'm treating it like Dusty Baker treats young pitchers. It's blasting icy cold air 23 hours a day while I sit on the couch wearing my wrist bands, spinning a toothpick in my mouth and thinking about the time I once had Kerry Wood throw 314 pitches in a single game.

(Back to whatever I was talking about.)
So, since heat is so miserable, I wanted to give you a post today that didn't require any thinking to prevent any possibility of you making yourself hotter. And no one likes active learning/thinking anyway. Spoon fed is the way to go. I present a few YouTube clips for your passive learning/thinking pleasure.

I emailed this to a few of you, but it's always worth another 50 views. Honestly, I can't stop watching this.

Even though this video is almost a year old, I'm sure those involved were arguing over beer because it was so damn hot in Memphis. How do I know they were arguing over beer? An eyewitness tells all.

How about another video from the great city of Memphis? If you're a local auto dealer, THIS is how you should make a commercial. My only regret over this video is that the Lil' Wayne promo at the end wasn't fully recorded.

And because these never get old, it's another news reporter being terrorized by an animal (or whatever a lizard is considered). My apologies for the music at the begining and end.

In honor of Manny Ramirez's future return to the Dodgers and restoring the baseball life of Andre Ethier (member of my fantasy team), here's an interview from last season he gave with fellow Dodger Angel Berroa. This video adds legitimacy to the theory that it had to be impossible for him to remember take his steroids and fertility drugs on a regular basis.

And finally, I feel it's necessary to mention the United States' soccer win over world number one Spain on Wednesday. So here are the highlights packaged in just under three minutes. And, as a bonus, the announcers are Spanish because it's always more fun to listen to guys scream in Spanish.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What Didn't Happen Over the Weekend

Normally on Mondays or Tuesdays, I like to take a look at what happened over the weekend. But considering the only thing that happened this weekend was the playing of multiple baseball games, I decided that wouldn’t be as compelling and rich as the readers of the Beast demand. So with that in mind, I introduce a new segment that will hopefully become a regular feature (which all depends on how motivated I am) around here. As the title clearly notes, I call it “What Didn’t Happen Over the Weekend.” Instead of covering all sports like the usual weekend recap, this first attempt will be an SEC only edition.

Good news Tennessee fans, your head coach, Lane Kiffin, did not rack up any new NCAA rules violations. He managed to accomplish this by not picking up any telephones, turning on a computer, opening his mouth or making any sort of hand gestures. For safety, he was placed in that contraption the FBI put Hannibal Lecter in when they took him to meet that senator or governor in Memphis. I don’t think he’ll bite off anyone’s face in order to start committing more rules violations, but it should be known the potential is always there.

Actually, there are two pieces of good news for Tennessee fans. Ed Orgeron survived the weekend without challenging the entire Tennessee football team to a fight. If this were early August, he may not have made it. However, he did tell all the graduate assistants that if he had to do it again, he’d still go for the fourth and one against Mississippi State.

Alabama did not get down on its knees and praise God for the slap on the wrist from the NCAA. Instead, they have elected to appeal the punishment handed down. Whether they are aware of it or not, they have also elected to have the NCAA up in their shit for the next five years. Not that anything will come of it, it’s Alabama.

Ole Miss signee Bobby Massie (and future left tackle) did not get into school. There was no indication he would, as he appears to be on the same timetable as Brent Schaeffer was, but it would have been nice.

Reports out of Starkville confirm that quarterback Tyson Lee did not grow four inches and is still 5’8”. That shouldn’t matter once Dan Mullen sends him to the bench after a three interception effort against Auburn, but until then I hope he retained his speed.

There is a bit of bad news for Tennessee. Turns out they’re not paying just one person to coach strength and conditioning. They still have to pay former strength coach Mark Smith his salary (unless he gets another job) and also have to pay Ed Orgeron’s hire, Aaron Ausmus. Ausmus, who comes from the football juggernaut of North Texas, was Orgeron’s guy at Ole Miss and also spent time at Southern Cal with both Kiffin and Orgeron. This also adds more steam to the rumors that Ed Orgeron has much more influence and power than he should ever be allowed to have.

Urban Meyer did not become any less insufferable in the past few days. All indications are that he is sharpening his poser steely glare by practicing in front of a mirror every day for two hours. He is also planning to dazzle the college football media with a revolutionary idea that he wants to be the team that scores the most points this season.

I’m sure he tried, but Auburn coach Gene Chizik did not improve his 5-19 career head coaching record. Unfortunately, that record won’t move until September. In a related story, Iowa State fans did not stop walking around with looks of pure joy.

And finally, South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia did not do anything over the weekend that embarrassed himself, his family, team, coaches, school or the Columbia community. Unfortunately for him, he still has another summer school session and each day he walks by that professor’s car it gets harder and harder to keep those keys in his pocket.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Wednesday Filler

I'm working on something much better than what you're about to watch (well, that may be debatable), but it has taken me much longer to finish than I thought it would. And, for the record, had I known how long it was going to take, I would not have started. I'm lazy like that. Anyway, here are a couple of videos to take up some space. The first is the timeless Ed Orgeron Hummer commercial he so graciously made during his time at Ole Miss. The second is simply five minutes of him answering questions from the media, which is arguably just as funny. Enjoy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ivan Maisel is Easily Impressed

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the NCAA handing down sanctions to 16 Alabama athletic programs, including the football team, for its athletes improperly obtaining textbooks. All teams were placed on probation for three years and the football team, which according to the chairman of the committee on infractions had four of the worst offenders, was forced to vacate 21 wins from the 2005-2007 seasons.

(Note: Three of those wins came against Ed Orgeron-led Ole Miss, but before the Shrimp Boat can go bragging to all his friends at Tennessee about how he actually went 3-0 against Alabama, he has to realize that the term “vacating” doesn’t mean the same as “forfeit.” In a rule that only the NCAA could create (or perhaps the federal government), Alabama will have the wins taken out of the record books, but teams like Ole Miss will not be allowed to change those loses to wins. I know. This is completely logical. So Ed Orgeron’s record against Alabama remains at 0-3, while Alabama’s record against Ed Orgeron becomes 0-0. Seriously, this is the solution the NCAA finds to be the best.)

After the NCAA’s ruling was released yesterday, ESPN’s Ivan Maisel wrote a column on the whole situation that I couldn’t believe he actually turned in and allowed to be published. Normally, I find Maisel’s writing to be pretty solid. He’s seemingly well connected in college football and knows enough that he can write on just about any team or conference. But this column was just a bit much. So in honor of the old firejoemorgan.com website, let’s attempt to break this down as they used to do so masterfully.

(Maisel’s words are in bold, mine are below his.)

With the announcement Thursday that the NCAA has wrist-slapped Alabama for its textbook problem, the university's rehabilitation might be complete.

Not so long ago, the school didn't have a textbook problem. It was a textbook problem.

Rehabilitation might be complete? Didn’t they just get hit with three more years of probation? By my count, that makes three stints on probation since 1995. One more slip up in the next three years and the velvet hammer of NCAA justice will come reigning down.

Oh, and is Rick Reilly selling independent sentences now? Only he could craft that textbook sentence.

Here stood a two-time loser in NCAA court, a school that lost a total of 38 scholarships in two cases only seven years apart, a school that as recently as 2002 made the NCAA lawyers dust off the death penalty to see whether it fit Alabama's crimes.

To quote the 2002 chairman of the committee on infractions Thomas Yeager, “God forbid, there's ever another appearance — ever. Should there be one — particularly within the five-year period — I don't know what's left.”

Yet on Thursday, the NCAA Committee on Infractions imposed no scholarship reductions on the Crimson Tide football team or any of the university's other 15 teams that had 201 players obtain free textbooks for their buddies.

The committee ordered Alabama to vacate 21 victories in football and one in tennis. The university also must pay a fine to the NCAA of $43,900, the cost of the free textbooks distributed. That's not quite 48 cents per seat at one of the Tide's seven games at Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall.

Well chairman Yeager, looks like another appearance isn’t such a big deal after all.

Something has changed at the Capstone. In recent weeks, coach Nick Saban worried aloud that the university had not defended itself aggressively enough to the NCAA Committee on Infractions. That is quite a change from a university that for years didn't appear to take the NCAA Manual seriously.

Nick Saban may be many things, but a fool is not one of them. Of course he’s going to stand up for his team and demand that his bosses do the same. Giving him credit for doing this is like giving people credit for breathing.

And are they really taking the NCAA Manual seriously? As said earlier, this is NCAA visit number three in 14 years.

Take yourself back to 1993, the year after Alabama won its sixth AP national championship. Alabama had never been on NCAA probation. When coach Gene Stallings discovered that corner Antonio Langham's eligibility might be in jeopardy, the university's investigation consisted pretty much of a broom and a rug under which to sweep it.

Once the NCAA determined that Langham had signed with an agent, and that athletic department officials dithered in their investigation, the hammer came down. When the Committee on Infractions ruled in 1995, it took away 26 scholarships and put Alabama on three years' probation (later reduced to 17 and two, respectively).

The committee used the term "distressing failure" in its report to describe the action of athletic director Hootie Ingram, Stallings and others in their investigation of Langham.

But they kept that national title. And can we all agree that the world could use more old men named Hootie?

Lesson learned? Seven years later, the NCAA came after the football program in the case of Albert Means, a Memphis defensive tackle recruit. Again, the university failed to understand what it had at stake.

In the days before the NCAA announced its verdict, faculty athletic representative Gene Marsh, a member of the Committee on Infractions who had recused himself from the case, told athletic department officials that Alabama had no reason to worry. The football team might lose a scholarship or two, but there wouldn't be any bowl sanctions.

The NCAA stripped Alabama of 21 scholarships, added a two-year bowl sanction, put the football program on five years' probation and described the university as "looking down a gun barrel" at the death penalty.

Whoops. I think the lesson learned here was don’t listen to anyone named Gene Marsh.

Coach Dennis Franchione, who had been at Alabama for little more than a year, said he felt blindsided. The tangible loss of scholarships took its toll on the football team. Franchione stayed one more season. Then came the five-month stint of Mike Price and the four-year slog of Mike Shula.

Football mediocrity, together with the intangible stain of being a two-time NCAA loser, took its toll on Alabama officials. They got it.

Wait? You mean we’re not supposed to cheat and we should take this NCAA thing seriously? Surely you jest.

This is the part of the column where the insanity is finally let loose. He’s crediting the school for taking the NCAA seriously and ignoring the tiny, tiny details that this is the third run-in with the NCAA in 14 years and that the way they responded this time is EXACTLY HOW EVERY SCHOOL SHOULD RESPOND TO THE NCAA. Yes, by all means, let’s praise a school that finally figured out the NCAA means business when they come around town and that arrogance isn’t the best tone to take with them. It’s like praising a parent for taking care of their kids. Congratulations, you’re now a normal member of society.

In the brief statement that he read to the media Thursday afternoon, athletic director Mal Moore said that Alabama "conducted an exhaustive review."

He added, "We have clearly demonstrated our intent to do things the right way."

I believe doing things the right way means not meeting with the NCAA every four and a half years.

On Thursday, Committee on Infractions chairman Paul Dee, the former Miami athletic director, said, "I think the University of Alabama did a terrific job."

I would hope so. After all this face time with the NCAA, they should be experts on investigating their infractions that continue to happen.

The penalties apply backward, not forward. Alabama must vacate 21 football victories. But that's about it. Where these textbooks are concerned, the NCAA made a molehill out of a molehill. Alabama accepted responsibility, performed its due diligence and fixed the flaw.

Again, way to go Alabama. You cooperated for the first time with yet another NCAA investigation. You should be proud. We’ll all look forward to another glowing article that commends your next round of cooperation in four and a half years. Never in my life did I expect to read a congratulatory column for the response to another round of rules violations.

In other words, in its dealings with the NCAA, the university finally found a textbook solution.

Again with a textbook line! I hope Reilly gave you a discount for buying in bulk.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Looking for a Midweek Pulse

As we trudge through the barren sports wilderness that is June, July and August, it is my hope that I spend that time mentioning baseball as few times as possible. I enjoy following baseball but I can imagine nothing more boring than a weekly discussion on the ups and downs of life in the National League East (Although, I imagine around the end of June, maybe early July, I’ll launch into a tirade on the Braves’ shortcomings in the 2009 season). So, that said, I’ve got some non-sports related items in the oven and look forward to unveiling them as we lumber toward the start of football season. But for now, I go to an old rock, the ESPN headlines.

If you’ve never read before, I take a screen shot of ESPN’s top headlines on this day and, after reviewing each headline, I determine if there is life in the world of sports at the midway point of this week. This is not a knock on ESPN, but simply to point out how badly the sporting world sucks without football. On to the headlines…

USC coach Floyd submits resignation. I think the real shocker in this story is the following sentence, which was also read by an anchor on SportsCenter last night:

The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., first reported Floyd's resignation.”

Score one for the ol’ hometown paper. Obviously, columnist Rick Cleveland’s friendship with Floyd was the key to The Clarion-Ledger getting some national credit for breaking the story. I’m sure there are a half a dozen columns from Cleveland documenting it, but if you weren’t aware, Floyd and Cleveland grew up together in Hattiesburg and their dads were friends as well. And you can mark it down right now, come the start of college basketball season expect a column from Cleveland on how Tim Floyd is ready to get back into coaching and that some struggling team out there should give him a chance to turn around their program.

2 scores enough for Pens to force 7. I have a suspicion that this is a hockey story. Or maybe some really cool gambling game I don’t know about. If it’s a hockey story, it should be placed on the yet-to-be-created ESPNHockey page where only people who care about hockey can see it. And if you’ve been keeping score, I’ve now given ESPN three ideas on how to manage content for their webpage: ESPNWomen, ESPNKids and now ESPNHockey.

Sources: Favre a no-show, Vikes slow chase. Of the top three headlines, two involve people with connections to the Hattiesburg area. The first, Tim Floyd, is allegedly one of the nicer and more genuine people you could ever meet who may have been caught up in the sleaze of college basketball recruiting. The second, Brett Favre, is a selfish asshole who enjoys holding NFL franchises hostage for months at a time, then screwing them over at the least opportune time.

Sources: Rambis passes so Kings net Westphal. Let’s see, Kurt Rambis could continue coaching with the Lakers, one of the top teams in professional basketball, and potentially take over when Phil Jackson retires, or he could take over the Sacramento Kings, a team that just finished 15-67, whose best player is Kevin Martin and in two years, the franchise may not even be in Sacramento. Tough choice.

Fight for 1st: BoSox rip Yanks. I thought about something to write here, but decided I’d wait until these teams meet for the 35th time later this season.

Manny visits team: ‘What happened, happened.’ You know what happened, Manny? You got yourself suspended and just about killed Andre Ethier’s season. Normally, I wouldn’t care, but Ethier is on my fantasy baseball team, which was thoroughly enjoying the results of his batting in front of or behind Manny. When Manny went away, he took Ethier’s bat with him. So you take your “What happened, happened” and go to hell.

Nationals select Strasburg at No. 1. You want to read something confusing? Check out the compensatory picks section of the Wikipedia page on the Major League Baseball draft. For such a simple game, baseball did a great job of creating player personnel rules that confuse and create general ignorance among its fans.

Ex-minor league pitcher, 25, joins BC as QB. Seriously, give it up Chris Weinke. It’s over.

Sources: Mayfield tested positive for meth. It jumped up a bit didn’t it? I mean, this really got out of hand fast. No steroids, but METHAMPHETAMINES. Not sure who Jeremy Mayfield is? HE’S A PROFESSIONAL STOCK CAR DRIVER. I think we can all agree that there’s nothing safer than snorting a little meth before getting behind the wheel. It’s science (No more Anchorman quotes, I promise).

Rumors: Mavs will swap J. Howard for pick 5. “Here’s what’s happening in your world. A La Jolla man clings to life at a university hospital after being viciously attacked by a pack of wild dogs in an abandoned pool.” Sorry, I tried to stop, but I love that movie so damn much. After it’s over I think we should get an apartment together.

Pulse Verdict: DEAD.

Monday, June 08, 2009

When It's Over

In my lifetime as an Ole Miss fan, I’ve seen more games involving an Ole Miss team collapsing than I care to remember. I’ve seen more meltdowns than care to remember. I’ve seen more epic meltdowns than I care to remember. And, on rare occasions, I’ve seen a how-the-hell-did-we-win-that game. All of these are part of the experience of being an Ole Miss fan. A few euphoric highs mixed in with a steady diet of soul-numbing losses.

But through all of these wins and losses there is one common thread that most Ole Miss fans know very well. We can tell you the exact moment when we knew the game would be won or lost. Usually it’s a single play, but sometimes it can be a series of plays. For instance, last football season when I saw Jevan Snead on one drive carve up LSU’s defense with three of the best passes I’ve ever seen, the last of which gave Ole Miss a 21-3 lead, I knew there was no way LSU had a prayer to get back in that game even though the game was still in the second quarter.

However, it’s most often the single plays that are the eventual cause of so much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Ed Orgeron’s decision to go for it on fourth and one while leading and dominating Mississippi State 14-0. South Carolina converting a third and goal from the 20 in Oxford last fall. Kendrick Lewis flying by Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner right before a big gain put Wake in field goal range to win the game. These are just a few examples of individual plays that the moment after they happened Ole Miss fans knew the game was lost.

This weekend Ole Miss fans saw another play get added to the ever-growing list of moments when they knew the game was lost, and in this case, when the next game was lost. On Saturday when second basemen Evan Button tapped his inner Chuck Knoblauch and threw a routine ground ball 50 feet instead of 60 feet to first, the Super Regional series against Virginia was over. Even with Ole Miss leading the series 1-0 and the game 3-2, it was done. The air was sucked right out of the crowd of over 10,000, and whether Ole Miss fans would audibly admit it or not, they knew they were about to watch a late rally from Virginia and would see the Cavaliers win on Sunday. I knew it. The friends I was with knew it. Hell, even the guy who can’t think knew it.

You don’t get within five outs of Omaha, make a crucial mistake and actually live to see Omaha. It just doesn’t happen. Unfortunately for Evan Button, his mistake was and will rightfully be remembered as the one play that ended Ole Miss’ chance at a trip to the College World Series. If he makes that play, which he said he normally makes 99 out of 100 times, Virginia is just about finished. Two outs, no one on base and four outs from elimination. That’s a tough situation from which to rally.

Instead, he choked. Of course, all the blame doesn’t fall on his shoulders, but that single play turned the series around. Last week, I wrote “[a]s for Ole Miss, they’ll have the home crowd behind them, which will be good as long as things don’t sour and help create a sense of impending doom.” Well, after Button’s error, the sense of impending doom couldn’t just be felt, it could be heard. The cries of “Why?!?! Why us?!?!,” the deep groans and the collective tightening of the sphincter muscle filled the stadium Saturday afternoon, preceding what we knew was coming.

The thing about the ability to know when the game is won or lost is that it can’t be taught. It can be learned, but not through teaching. Only through experience, and usually many painful ones, can an Ole Miss fan really develop and fine-tune this ability. I can’t remember exactly when mine started to kick in, but I know that what I have now is never wrong. I have to believe that on Saturday many Ole Miss fans either discovered this ability for the first time or sharpened theirs to a fine point. And to you newbies, it doesn’t make it any less awful.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Super Regional Fever

A fourth Super Regional in five years? The third one in Oxford in five years? Pass the kool-aid and save me a seat on the bandwagon. If you are one of the few regular readers here, you know that while I follow college baseball, although not very close, I cannot emotionally invest myself in it. Football season (and basketball season to a smaller degree) is such a drain on my core that I have to shut down emotionally for at least four months in order to prepare for the upcoming fall. If I allowed baseball season to affect me even the way basketball does, I’d have some sort of mental breakdown in October where I disappear into the woods and live off of berries and tree bark for three months. I have to take some time off. Plus, it’s hard to really get into a sport that receives almost zero national exposure and in a good year breaks even financially.

However, when postseason play rolls around, it’s any good Rebels duty to get swept up in the excitement and become emotionally invested in the baseball team. Before you begin screaming bandwagon fan, which I most certainly am, I kept up with this team (at least how they did in each SEC series) and earlier I tried to name as many players as I could. I came up with 18, most of which were pitchers. I have problems naming the other starters and their positions (seriously, how long has Logan Power been at Ole Miss?) and couldn’t give you the batting order if my life depended on it. But you better believe I’ll be sweating my ass off and getting horribly sunburned in the outfield this weekend.

So with all that said, while everyone else is offering their expert opinions on the Ole Miss/Virginia match-up, I give you everything you need to know about the Super Regional from the guy who followed Ole Miss this season, but not that closely, and just jumped on the bandwagon (hell, I might even try to drive the thing) and is now probably way too emotionally invested in the outcome.

Virginia: Champs of the ACC Tournament, forgetting that basketball exists. I mentioned a month or two ago that I was pretty certain I did not see a single highlight of Virginia basketball during the season. I still think that’s pretty amazing. A program that at one time had some really good teams, plays in a basketball-oriented conference and in recent years produced the occasional feisty team just vanished. Very weird.

As for the baseball team, I’ve read they’re built much like Ole Miss. Good hitters, not a lot of power and strong pitching. And their pitching leads the nation in ERA, which could be a result of playing in the ACC, which could be a weak baseball conference. I have no idea. Just a guess. I’m not sure it’s possible for someone to know less about a baseball team and conference than I do about Virginia and the ACC. But I still know more about the baseball team than the basketball team.

Ole Miss: SEC regular season champs, errr, co-champs, hoping to not choke away another shot at Omaha. The last time Ole Miss was in a Super Regional I wrote this. It documented the collapse in game one against Arizona State and spent some time on the state of complete misery that was Ole Miss athletics. Just reading the part about Ed Orgeron reminded me how happy I am that he’s gone (And I forgot about the defensive first baseman thing we did that season. One of the dumbest ideas ever). Anyway, that first game could be classified as not good times.

And the in two Oxford Super Regionals before that, the Rebels won both first games against Texas and Miami and then lost the next two to lose the series. The point is that the Rebels have not fared well in these games. I don’t know if it’s the pressure, the teams weren’t as good as we thought they were or that “Ole Miss” stitched across each jersey. Whatever it is, things just don’t go well. So in addition to overcoming a good Virginia team, Ole Miss will be battling the 800-pound gorilla on their backs.

Intangibles is just a made-up word like Eskimo and San Diegans. Coming into the weekend, Virginia has to feel good about themselves. They won the ACC Tournament, then went to UC Irvine, won the regional there and in the process beat the unbeatable Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State. So I’m guessing they’re not sweating a potential appearance by Brett Bukvich.

But, I doubt Virginia has played in an environment like they’ll see on Friday. Close to 12 thousand sweaty, jacked-up and alcohol-fueled fans ready for the elusive breakthrough to Omaha will be packed around Swayze Field. I don’t see it affecting them the entire series, but one would think Friday might be a little overwhelming for them.

As for Ole Miss, they’ll have the home crowd behind them, which will be good as long as things don’t sour and help create a sense of impending doom. The team is coming off what has to be considered the most clutch and best pitching performance in the history of Ole Miss baseball. Normally, I wouldn’t put too much stock in winning the final regional game. Yes, it can be a momentum builder, but often winning one of those is more of a relief than anything else, especially when you’re the one seed. But how the Rebels won absolutely created a new sense of confidence within the team. Drew Pomeranz set an example not just for the pitchers, but also for everyone else by sacking up and doing what needed to be done in a crucial situation. Hopefully, when it’s someone else’s turn this weekend, they’ll respond as he did.

Predictions are always right except when they’re wrong. I thought about this for a fairly long time. Well, more like 11 minutes, but when I look at everything…ah, screw it. Ole Miss sweeps.

Monday, June 01, 2009

From the Weekend That Was

Ole Miss baseball pulls off one for the ages. Well played, sports gods, well played. You let us get comfortable, start dreaming of a Super Regional in Oxford next weekend and then with one ferocious backhand slap, you casually remind us that we are indeed Ole Miss. It was an especially nice touch when you consider that we had not suffered a soul-numbing loss in quite some time. A small payback for football season I suppose.

If you missed it, Ole Miss, one game away from probably hosting a Super Regional since paired top seed UC Irvine lost, had a 9-3 lead in the eighth inning with our best reliever, Jake Morgan, who destroyed Western Kentucky the night before, pitching. He promptly surrendered six runs then gave way to in the ninth to Nathan Baker, who gave up a solo home run to complete the collapse. Now, after the 10-9 loss, Ole Miss plays again tonight. If they win, they most likely host a Super Regional next weekend against Virginia. Lose and the season is done.

If they manage to lose tonight, this will be another impressive chapter in The Book of Great Ole Miss Collapses: Baseball Edition. You may already be familiar with previous chapters “A Top Three Team That Doesn’t Make the SEC Tournament.” “Beating Texas Once is Easy; Losing the Next Two is the Hard Part,” “We Beat Miami Once, Who Knew We Had to Do It Again?” and “Yet Another Super Regional Loss: The Arizona State Chronicles.” All of those were truly award winning work. It’s hard to believe that Western Kentucky could be cause for a chapter, but you never know what the sports gods have planned.

Lakers and Magic set to produce mediocre NBA Finals ratings. It won’t be the worst Finals ever or the best, but the 2009 version of the NBA Finals should fall right in the meaty part of ratings history. The Lakers are obviously one of the bigger draws nationally and the Magic, while in a bad TV market, have a superstar in Dwight Howard and play an exciting enough brand of basketball that casual NBA fans will tune in for most of the series. Or at least until Fox starts airing a four-part “We didn’t land on the moon” special, which revisits the evidence that says we never landed on the moon. I love summertime TV.

Ohio State baseball has something in common with Ohio State football. It appears that being beaten without mercy is a common theme for Ohio State sports teams when they make a postseason appearance or play a quality opponent. The Buckeye baseball team’s season ended yesterday with a 37-6 loss to Florida State (By comparison, the football team lost to USC 35-3 last September). At this point, for the sake of Ohio State players and fans, the Buckeyes should only be allowed to play games in the states of Ohio and Michigan. That’s pretty much what they do anyway so all this rule would really do is ban Ohio State from postseason play, which is something we can all get behind.

The SEC passes the Houston Nutt Rule. At the meetings in Destin last Friday, the SEC presidents voted to cap the number of football player signings at 28, just nine players less than Ole Miss’ 2009 signing class of 37. Fortunately for Ole Miss, the rules requiring the Rebels to play with only nine players on the field at a time, forcing Jevan Snead to throw left handed and giving Ole Miss’ opposing quarterbacks a non-contact jersey did not pass.

Some Tennessee fans really, and I mean really, hated Jonathan Crompton. The Tennessee quarterback revealed that he was emailed at least two death threats during last season’s 5-7 disaster. I’m going to ignore what kind of a loser thinks that something like this is a good idea, takes the time to find an email address and then actually goes through with it. Everyone should know that when you’re angry at how your team’s quarterback is playing, you never take it out on him. Instead, you bury it deep inside and finally allow it to erupt in a 12 minute, profanity-laced tirade in which you denounce the school, the coaches, the players, everyone associated with the school and finally end it by swearing off sports forever and that you’ll never set foot on campus again or give another dollar to the school. That’s the way bad quarterbacks should make you feel. Any other way is completely unacceptable.