Friday, September 28, 2012

This Coach Has Guts

I like University of Louisiana-Monroe’s Todd Berry and I have never met the coach. The guy has spunk and guts.

Berry and his Warhawk football team have received much love from the college football world since ULM knocked off then No. 8 Arkansas in its season opener. College fans paid more attention to the Warhawks when they lost the next week to Auburn in overtime and then fell short last week in a nationally televised Friday night game against Baylor.

Berry’s team features a wide-open spread offense. The coach is not afraid to take major risks on fourth down plays. In the old days, the term “Riverboat Gambler” would apply to such a coach.

But maybe Berry’s greatest risk came last season when he strolled through the tailgate crowd before a home game.

For my international readers and some United States’ ones, you must realize LSU (Louisiana State) is the kingpin of state universities in Louisiana. LSU has a huge fan base and the remaining schools basically pick up the crumbs. It isn’t unusual to see a vehicle on another Louisiana campus proclaiming love for LSU.

Berry understands this. Every coach and athletic department in Louisiana not associated with LSU understands it.

But last year, Berry challenged this big brother-little brother mentality. According to an article from SB Nation, Berry confronted several fans who were showing their allegiance to LSU while at an ULM tailgate. Berry told one fan, which featured a purple-and-gold LSU tailgating tent, “LSU’s playing four hours south.” I say, you tell them, coach.

Berry said in the article that he believed this LSU allegiance showed disrespect to his ULM players. And I agree.

I think LSU Coach Les Miles should challenge Berry to a dual on the football field. And big brother should even travel to Monroe and ULM for the game.

What do you think? Should a fan attend a game at one school while proclaiming obvious love for another school?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

College Coaches on the Hot Seat

Speculation is one interesting aspect of sports and it takes various forms.

Yesterday, I heard about a website called “Coaches Hot Seat.” It lists ( the top 10 college football coaches who are apparently fighting (speculation) for their jobs this season.

I won’t cover the entire list in case you are interested in going to the site. The site contains other interesting information such as coaches’ salaries, coaches’ contracts etc.

Boston College’s Frank Spaziani is listed No. 1. Boston is a pro sports town. Fighting for fan interest is a tough job at Boston College. Pity Spaziani and the men’s basketball coach. Translation: the football coach at Boston College is always on the hot seat.

Idaho’s Robb Akey is No. 2. I have never heard of Akey and know little about the Vandal program.

There is a joker at No. 7—Joker Phillips of Kentucky. The Kentucky football program is a major challenge. First problem, Kentucky is a basketball school. Second problem, Kentucky competes in the best football conference in America (SEC). Those two elements are (pardon the pun) no joking matter.

Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is No. 8. I blogged Monday that despite the Iowa fan’s outcry about Ferentz after the upset loss to Central Michigan, Ferentz is going nowhere. Ferentz’s buyout is huge. This website talks how one-sided Ferentz’s contact is. It rips the Iowa administration for apparently giving the coach tremendous leverage.

I’m sure the list will change as the season goes along. Wins and losses will affect the speculation. That’s what makes the coaching ebbs and flows interesting.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fickle Fans

The sun arose in Iowa City, Iowa Sunday morning.

The way some fans reacted to Iowa’s stunning 32-31 loss to Central Michigan Saturday, it made you wonder about that warm glow in the sky.

As predicted, Iowa fans were not in a joyful mood after losing to a Mid-American Conference school on a field goal with seconds remaining. Their team is now 2-2 heading into the Big Ten Conference season. Some say Iowa is a break or two from being 4-0. The Hawks are also a play or two from being 1-3.

Hawk fans expressed their displeasure on post-game call-in shows and Internet message boards. Frankly, this Iowa squad isn’t a strong one. Many knew that coming into the season. It was termed the two words every fan hates: rebuilding year. But sometimes fans follow their hearts instead of their heads. Isn’t fan short for fanatic?

One thing that amazes me about fans is their short memories. You don’t hear much about the coach’s salary when the team is winning. But when the team is losing, fans cry about how much the coach is earning. I guess money equals victories.

Iowa fans were not happy with coach Kirk Ferentz Saturday. There were calls and message board posts demanding his firing. But Ferentz isn’t going anywhere. He’s been at Iowa since 1999 and has a long-term contract. Reports say Ferentz would receive about $20 million in a buyout scenario.

In the past, Iowa fans were concerned Ferentz would leave the program for an NFL job. Now, some wish a NFL team would take the coach away. Be careful what you wish for Iowa fans.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Billy Gillispie's Sad Tale

You knew the hammer would fall on Texas Tech’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie. It was just a matter of time.

The announcement came late Thursday that Gillispie was done.

Was he fired or did he resign? It doesn’t really matter. Gillispie will receive his parting money and the divorce will be final.

Gillispie was in trouble when reports revealed players were not happy with the coach. He was tough, he was demanding. Don’t people remember Bobby Knight coached at Texas Tech?

But Gillispie’s major sin apparently was practicing over the limit the NCAA allows. These athletes have a life beyond basketball.

Gillispie was on medical leave for stress/high blood pressure. The condition does happen in the coaching world. But this was a different case. Gillispie coaching style and practices were on trial. In this days of the Internet world, that means the coach is in serious trouble.

People will say Texas Tech should have seen this coming. Gillipie’s coaching career starting to head downward when he lasted only two years at Kentucky. But before that, Gillispie helped turn around programs at Texas-El Paso and Texas A&M. The Red Raiders were hoping for the old Gillispie, not the previous one.

Will Gillispie rebound? If he does, look for the coach to land a job with a smaller program. No matter what the cause, he needs to restore his reputation and coaching ability.

As for the specific basketball job at Texas Tech, that’s a blog for another day.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Friday Night College Football

Normally, I am not a big fan of the Friday night ESPN college football game.

I always figured Friday night was for high school football. Plus, the Friday night college matchup is usually two teams desperate for national TV exposure.

Well, this week is different and I hope to tune into the action.

The game features early season media darling, University of Louisiana-Monroe (ULM), and Big 12 conference Baylor—a media darling last season because of Robert Griffin III (RG3).

ULM shocked the college football world in week No. 2 with an overtime win over then No. 8 ranked Arkansas. The Warhawks played overtime again last week but Auburn won on a field goal.

Baylor has entered the post-RG3-era with two straight victories. The Bears will be leery of an ULM team that battled two Southeastern Conference squads (SEC) toe-to-toe.

One interesting aspect of the game is the location. Baylor will come to Monroe to play the Warhawks. It’s rare for a Bowl Champion Series (BCS) team to go on the road to oppose a non-BCS school. It’s the biggest named opponent ULM has hosted since Minnesota several years ago.

Will the ULM fans fill the stadium (30,427) for the game? They should. This is a big game and their team is off to an interesting start. ULM fans have been criticized in the past for not showing up, but this week they have little excuse unless they are going to a high school game.

This game should be fun whether you’re in the stands or watching it on your television. Both teams can score points. The question is what defense will play winning football and limit the other team?

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Feel-Good Rescue Mission

The Iowa football team was looking for a spark Saturday, any spark—and it found a jolt in an unlikely place.

Walk-on running back Mark Weisman started way down on the depth chart for the University of Northern Iowa game and later found himself the Hawkeye’s big hero. Weisman rushed for 113 yards and scored three touchdowns in a relief role after Iowa lost its two top tailbacks to injuries during the game.

Weisman, a fullback by trade, put his hard-hat on and plowed through Northern Iowa defenders often carrying them along down the field. The guy was rarely stopped.

Quite a performance from this no-name guy on the depth chart. You can be sure the Big Ten Conference took note for future reference. Weisman will not be sneaking up on Iowa’s remaining opponents.

Weisman has an interesting story. The Iowa sophomore first attended the Air Force Academy but the rigors of the academy and football didn’t mix with this guy from the Chicago area. So he decided to transfer to Iowa—one of the schools he was interested in back in high school.

Walks-on normally don’t play a major role in a college football game. They might see action on special teams or maybe during a blowout game, but opportunities are generally rare.

Weisman not only received the opportunity, he became a star for one day, one game. Hawkeye fans are extremely thankful. Hawkeye coaches will probably provide a future scholarship to Saturday’s hero.

I bet Weisman is amazed at the turn of events in his new football career. He’s proof that good things do happen to guys that keep their heads down and focus on the goal—the goal line.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Mighty Have Fallen

Place the Notre Dame Fighting Irish into the category of “Oh how the mighty have fallen.”

Notre Dame will join the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in all sports except football and hockey. The Irish will escape a crippled Big East Conference. The news was announced Wednesday

On another news day, say 5-10 years ago, Notre Dame and conference realignment would pose big news. But not anymore. The Irish is just another college sports program.

Notre Dame lost its larger than life status already a number of years ago. It’s once mighty football program that won national championships is now mediocre at best. We all know that Notre Dame will probably never return to its glory days. Like most college sports programs, the Irish feed off their football program.

Putting it all in perspective, Notre Dame football and its athletic programs are yesterday’s news.

The Irish cut the best deal they could with the ACC. They will keep their football independence but be required to play several ACC opponents each season. I sense it will only become a matter of time however before Notre Dame becomes a full-fledged football member of the ACC.

Notre Dame and the ACC can spin it anyway in the press they wish, this marriage isn’t that special. If it was special, it would not be happening.

Notre Dame’s cookie is crumbling and the ACC is just picking up the crumbs.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ugly Game

A little college football cleanup from the weekend.

I watched Iowa State and Iowa play for an extremely long 3 ½ hours. It was flat out ugly no matter what your routing preference. I kept thinking that nobody really wanted to win the game. The offenses in a word were “terrible.” Sometimes in a low scoring game (like the 9-6 final), you credit the defenses. Not in this one: bad, bad offense was the culprit.

Iowa State was up 9-3 at the half and it seemed the Cyclones should have been up a lot more. I sensed an Iowa comeback in the second half. Didn’t the Hawks provide late- game heroics the week before against Northern Illinois?

Iowa did drive the football into Iowa State territory in the final minutes, but Cyclone linebacker Jake Knott reached high and tripped a pass and caught in on its downward flight to end the threat. In a game with few memorable moments that play was the memorable one.

Iowa State didn’t really win the game; it just didn’t make the final mistake. As the old saying goes, “it’s sometimes better to be lucky than good.”

Iowa was neither on the day.

I would suggest both teams destroy the game film as soon as possible.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Stunner

It’s safe to say Arkansas will no longer schedule the University of Louisiana-Monroe in football.

Teams like big-boy Arkansas schedule little-boy ULM with a few unwritten rules in play. The big boys gladly provide the little boys with a fat check in the assumption that the little boys will lie down, take their sound defeat and go home.

Well, ULM didn’t follow the script last Saturday as the Warhawks upended the Razorbacks in overtime 34-31.

It was the biggest win in ULM football history. Arkansas came into the game ranked No. 8 in the country and by Sunday fell out of the ratings completely. The Warhawks won for the first time in 10 tries against Arkansas. The ULM general website featured the victory as its top story Sunday

Usually, upset-mind teams lead most of the game and hold on at the end. However, ULM staged an impressive comeback in the second half. Equally impressive was how the Warhawks won the contest in overtime. After Arkansas tallied a field goal on its possession, ULM was faced with a 4-and-1 on its possession within field goal distance. ULM went for the win and quarterback Kolton Browning made a nifty, 13-yard run for the touchdown.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for ULM. I attended the Monroe school and worked in athletic media relations in the early 80s when it was called Northeast Louisiana University and the team nickname was the Indians.

I’m sure Saturday’s win was highly celebrated on the campus. But it’s time for the football team to get back to work. In the next three weeks, ULM travels to Auburn, hosts Baylor and goes to Tulane.

Now, how about my hankering for a Johnny’s Pizza in Monroe?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Throwback Uniforms

I must be missing something here.

What are all these sport teams fascination with wearing throwback uniforms?

Iowa and Iowa State renew their big football rivalry tomorrow (Saturday) in Iowa City. And surprise, surprise, the Hawkeyes will wear uniforms from the past.

Normally, I am a guy who likes the past because it doesn’t require change. But get a gripe sports teams. The uniforms of the old days should stay in the old days. If you need an old uniform fix, fire up the ‘ole eight millimeters projector and enjoy the view.

America is a strange place in terms of old things. We celebrate old cars and other collector’s items, but we are quick to throw away old TVs and slightly used clothing. And yet, people buy these throwback jerseys like there are some special trinkets.

So, I guess these old uniforms must fits in the celebration old category. I say this with a gulp in the throat, “Where are the Oregon Duck’s uniforms when we need them.”

What are your thoughts on throwback uniforms?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Week No. 1 College Football Impressions

It seems a while ago (with the Labor Day holiday mixed in) but three cheers for college football returning last week.

Since I live in Big 12 and Big Ten Conference territory, I tend to focus on schools from those leagues.

Let’s just say the rumors about the Big Ten being down this season probably aren’t rumors. It may be a hard cold fact. Wisconsin escaped a talented FCS (Football Championship Series) in the University of Northern Iowa. The Badgers miss quarterback Russell Wilson who can make up for glaring weaknesses on a team. Iowa was just happy to escape a pesky Northern Illinois squad late. The Hawkeye offense appears to be a continual work in progress. Then, how about Michigan? I thought the Wolverines would at least provide Alabama a competitive game. It wasn’t pretty, but rather ugly.

Over in the Big 12, Iowa State played good football at home against Tulsa. Tulsa provided a firm punch in the first half, but the Cyclones responded and were the aggressor most of the remaining way. Quarterback Nick Florence won’t remind Baylor fans of Robert Griffin III (RG3), but the senior played solid against SMU. The Bears will continue to score points and the wide receivers will continue to play a large role.