It’s good to be back. I have missed you guys (and ladies) the past two months.
Because we need to catch up, this entry will be a tad long today so please bear with me.
So what have I missed? There is so much but let’s start with these five:
1. Lane Kiffin, the gift that keeps on giving: Over the weekend somebody predicted this would be the No. 1 story when I returned. He was right, of course. How could it not be?
After a less than quality experience with the Oakland Raiders, Kiffin takes over at Tennessee and decides to completely change the culture in Big Orange Country. He has succeeded. After 17 years of having a button-downed head coach (Phillip Fulmer) who chose his words carefully, Kiffin decided it was time for Tennessee to, rhetorically speaking, start kicking butt and take some names.
I’ve heard some people rip into Kiffin as a young coach who is not too bright. I don’t believe that for a minute. I think Lane Kiffin knows exactly what he’s doing. When he accused Urban Meyer of cheating, Kiffin was walking into lunch room on the first day of school and smacking the biggest, baddest dude across the mouth just to announce his presence. Yeah, he got a reprimand from the commissioner but he also fired up a Tennessee fan base that sorely needed it.
There were several fun incidents after that, the latest being the claim by a South Carolina signee that Kiffin told him “he would be pumping gas” like the other players from that state who signed with the Gamecocks. Kiffin denied he ever said it but by this point it really didn’t matter if it was true or not. Because of what Kiffin had done and said before, to the media it “sounded” like something he would say so it got traction.
Now Kiffin has Al Davis, the very strange owner of the Oakland Raiders, trashing him (through his minions) in a letter to the Tennessee president. Not really sure that’s a bad thing for Kiffin.
That’s why Kiffin has to be measured in his comments in the future. Once the national media paints an image of a coach, especially if it’s bad, it takes a long time and a lot of wins to change it. It took Les Miles four seasons, 42 wins, and one national championship at LSU before some people would admit that he’s a pretty good football coach.
2. Alabama’s textbook case: How serious? Understand that when the NCAA is involved, nothing happens in a vacuum. The NCAA has a long, long memory.
Here is what I mean. Normally, jay walking is not a serious offense. But if you go before the same judge a bunch of times for various transgressions, he might be tempted to send you a message with a punishment that goes beyond the seriousness of the crime. And then you have to hire a lawyer and fight like crazy on what appeared to be something fairly minor.
That is the situation that faces Alabama football. In the fall of 2007 the school had to sit five football players because of what it said was a glitch in its method of providing textbooks and other educational materials to athletes. This glitch allowed “friends” of the athletes to also get these materials, whose reported value was around $1,600. If you think that sounds like chump change in a multi-million dollar enterprise that is Alabama football, it is. But it also misses the point.
Alabama went before the judge, better known as the NCAA’s committee on infractions, on Feb. 20. The COI normally makes a final decision about 4-6 weeks after that meeting.
The judge probably wanted to know why, after getting everything BUT the death penalty in 2002, Alabama would allow ANY glitches like this to happen.
Nobody knows what is going to happen in this case. If somebody tells you they do, they are delusional—or lying. But you can’t dismiss it as minor until the judge SAYS that it is minor.
3. Florida State academic scandal: Is this it for Bobby Bowden? As an old coach once told me, “there is breaking the rules and then there’s cheating.” And Florida State admits there was academic cheating going on in its athletic department. The school admits that tutors played fast and loose with some on-line courses. When athletic officials found out about it, they declared the athletes ineligible and imposed a number of sanctions, which included loss of scholarships and suspension for the first three games of the 2008 season for the football players involved. They fired the employees who took part.
But the NCAA Committee on Infractions also wants Florida State to vacate all of the victories in which the offending athletes participated. That could cost the school an NCAA track championship. It could also cost Bobby Bowden, the second winningest coach in Division I-A history, 14 wins from his current total of 382.
Florida State is going to appeal this part of the NCAA’s ruling and I believe the school will prevail because there is a precedent. In 2006 Georgia Tech won an appeal on an academic fraud case claiming the penalty of vacating football victories was excessive and inconsistent with previous cases of this kind. The appeals committee agreed.
But what if this appeals committee does not agree? Bowden, who trails Penn State’s Joe Paterno by one victory, would not have a chance to retire as college football’s all time winner. Would he coach this season and retire? Would he retire before the season?
4. The Bryce Brown Sweepstakes: Let’s see if I have this straight. Young Mr. Brown just couldn’t get enough of the endless recruiting process and decided to drag it out until today, when he will announce his decision to the world at an elaborately staged event . We can only pray that hats will not be involved. Mr. Brown has an “advisor,” Brian Butler, who is a former manager of a cell phone calling center and, until some good reporting by the New York Times, was selling information on the recruitment of his client via a website.
I have one piece of advice for the team who signs the running back from Wichita. You had better make damn sure this kid is worth it because every move he makes in college will be scrutinized to the extreme. And if he screws up—and a lot of kids do because they are kids—the press will be brutal. This kid, and his “advisor,” had better not have any skeletons in their closets because the NCAA is looking for them as we speak. I’m not saying don’t sign him. But do it with your eyes wide open.
5. The Andre Smith meltdown: This one just broke my heart. The day that Andre Smith walked onto the Alabama campus he was the starting left tackle, which is a hard thing to do in the Southeastern Conference. He was the best player at his position in college football. NFL teams dream about drafting a guy they can put at left tackle and not worry for the next 10 years. Andre Smith was one of those guys.
Then it all fell apart. He got kicked off the team for dabbling with people representing an agent. Then he hired an agent who really only had one job: Get Andre to the NFL combine in good shape. It didn’t happen. Andre showed up fat, announced that he wasn’t going to work out, and then left without telling anybody. He got trashed by the NFL experts, who put a big premium on future professionals ACTING like professionals.
He probably helped himself a little at last week’s pro day workouts in Tuscaloosa. But I thought for the right team that Smith could be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He is that good. Miami needed a left tackle in the last draft and made Michigan’s Jake Long the No. 1 pick. His contract included $30 million of guaranteed money. Let’s see where Andre is drafted and how much money he is guaranteed. Then you’ll know what this cost him. Very sad.