The Count never played college football. Oh, he had mad skills in high school. Great quickness and an ability to disguise his coverages. For some reason he always excelled at night games. But he figured if everybody was going to call him bloodsucker all the time, he might as well go to law school and be an agent. Worked out well. Made a nice living getting Sesame Street to bust its budget every year and he avoided some of the sideline wackos that are now molding young minds. What is going on with college football coaches lately? First, there are reports of South Florida’s Jim Leavitt grabbing a player by the throat and punching him in the the face twice at halftime of a game. Then Mark “Jabba The” Mangino of Kansas loses his job after being tagged for all sorts of bizarre abuse of players, including one incident in which he forced a player to “bear crawl” across a hot turf practice field, where the artificial turf has reached temperatures of 199 degrees. The player ended up with singed hands. But Mangino got the the worst of it. A judge ordered him to eat a salad. Now comes Mike Leach, who has a thing for dark closets. We count down . . .
ESPN has dropped former SMU great Craig James from its coverage team for Saturday’s Alamo Bowl between Texas Tech and Michigan State. Smart call there. Might as well eliminate any chance of an analyst yelling, “Creep! Thug! Nazi!” at one of the coaches on national TV. James’ son, Adam James, a receiver on Texas Tech, has accused Leach of more bizarre and over-the-top abuse, including being made to practice with a concussion, and being forced to stand in a dark shed for three hours because Leach thought he was faking, according to the Lubbock Avalanche Journal. ESPN also reported James was ordered to stand in an electrical closest, which, of course, leads to the question: Does Lubbock have electricity? Now, if you want to wait to see how this thing plays out, that’s fine. All I know is, Texas Tech just suspended its $2.5 million a year football coach for a bowl game, so there’s got to be something to this. In fact, word is that Leach doesn’t really deny anything — he just thinks there’s nothing wrong with it. All together now: Oy.
Do I need to be nice to Leach because he’s an offensive whiz and he coached at Valdosta State? No. He gives even psychotic football coaches a bad name. (And by the way, between Leach and Mangino, you would think Big 12 football teams actually hit somebody.) There’s a difference between disciplining players and humiliating them. And with sensitivity about concussions at an all-time high — even the NFL admits it’s an issue after decades of, well, standing in the dark — Leach’s alleged behavior is reckless. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. When the whole Mangino story broke, Leach came to his defense: “I think you try to select the most effective way to coach your guys, but my suspicion is, and nobody truly knows what went on in Kansas, but my suspicion is Mark is in the middle of a witch hunt, which is unjustified. Heaven forbid somebody should ask a guy to focus and for the sake of his coaches and teammates pay attention. Well there are different ways to do that. Sometimes after you’ve asked them a number of times, you raise the bar.” Your witness.
If you were to make out a list of things that winning the Independence Bowl is better than, it would go something like this: 1) Losing the Independence Bowl; 2) Um… OK, yes it was a good thing Georgia dumped Texas A&M Monday night. The potential positives of a win were outlined here before the game. But Independence Bowl champions T-shirts? Sweatshirts? Hats? Seriously? Yes. Here’s the link. You can buy your gear now or just wait a week when they’ll be in a half-price bin at Value City, adjacent to the defective three-legged jeans and the discontinued prune-and-mulberry Pop Tarts. OK, here’s the deal. The Count doesn’t have much of a budget. But if you’re the first lunatic to buy one of these shirts, take a picture of yourself and email it to me (firstname.lastname@example.org), I’ll send you $5. Ready. Go!
If Elin Nordegren has her way, the only thing Tiger Woods will be left with after the divorce is an Independence Bowl shirt and the bent 5-iron she whacked over his cranium. But even if Nordegren takes Woods for $1 billion, it still wouldn’t match the projected $5 billion to $12 billion collective shareholder losses of the companies that Woods has endorsement ties with. Two economics professors from the University of California-Davis looked at recent stock market returns of Woods’ eight major sponsors, including Nike and Gatorade, and determined he makes 1929 look like a Tupperware party. Honestly, I’m not smart enough to break down numbers like economics professors. But when one of them says, “Total shareholder losses may exceed several decades’ worth of Tiger Woods’ personal endorsement income,” I figure that’s newsworthy.
Woods must be taking the report hard. He was spotted partying in Palm Beach over the weekend with mistress No. 1, Rachel Uchitel. I believe it was a Tupperware party.
So people ask me all the time whether the media spends too much time reporting on athletes’ personal lives. I tell them, I don’t write about 90 percent of what I know. They say, “Yeah?” I say, “Yeah.” They say, “So how do you know when to write something?” I tell them this: If I’m sitting in a hotel lobby and I see a Braves’ pitcher walking into an elevator with, um, an independent
contractor, I’m not going to write about it. But if I’m sitting in the same hotel lobby and I see the Pope walking into an elevator with the same independent contractor, do I ignore it? No. I ask the Pope about his new follower. If he declines to answer, then I’ll ask him if he can make sense of the Javier Vazquez-for-Melky Cabrera trade. The point is you have to weigh what’s a story. Tiger’s a story. He’s not the leader of a religion but he has a significant flock, and this story long ago mutated far beyond the standard celebrity-cheats-on-wife story. Why do I tell you this now? Easy . . .
Get used to this. TMZ.com, which excels in checkbook journalism and dumpster diving, has seen its traffic jump with Woods’ sexcapades coverage. So it soon will launch TMZSports.com. Producer Harvey Levin told the New York Times, “I really don’t see a difference between a sports star and a celebrity.” Forget that Braves pitcher/Pope analogy I just used.
If you believe Thrashers general manager Don Waddell, impending free agent Ilya Kovalchuk gave his agent, Jay Grossman, the go-ahead to start talking about a contract several weeks back because he liked the early direction of the team. But now you have to wonder if Kovalchuk’s thoughts have changed. Told you 11 days ago that negotiations between the player and team suddenly looked ominous. A few days later, Waddell admitted that negotiations had hit a “snag.” (A snag? Is that what they call several million dollars these days?) Now the worst news: The Thrashers are fading. After a 14-7-3 start, they’ve lost five straight and have won only four of 14 games in December (4-9-1). So if the money’s not there and the results aren’t there, what is Waddell going to sell Kovalchuk on? The weather? Nyet.
Taking a break from football tonight to blog live from the Hawks’ game against LeBron James, the remains of Shaquille O’Neal and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The last time the Cavs were in Philips Arena, they were closing out a four-game sweep in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Something tells me things will tip in the other direction tonight.
Saw this linked on The Big Lead. A New York plastic surgeon is offering a New Year’s Eve breast augmentation package for $100,000. It includes roundtrip airfare between New York and Miami, luxury hotel accommodations for one month (!) and tickets to three parties, including the Lady Gaga show at the Fontainebleau. I’m not sure but I think the only requirement is that you name your new booms Mike and Mark.