Archive for July, 2012

Falcons go into camp knowing playoff failures need to end

The unhappy faces of the Falcons' brass said it all after last season. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The unhappy faces of the Falcons' brass said it all after last season. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Falcons open training camp this week. They play their first regular-season game in seven weeks. They will be judged in six months.

This is their new reality.

The question with this franchise used to be, “Can they walk straight?” The answer generally was no.

Things improved. The question became, “Can they compete?” The answer over the past four seasons mostly has been yes, at least through December.

But after raising the bar with three playoff appearances in four seasons following mostly decades of infamy, the question now is a more difficult one to answer: Have they have hit a wall?

Some within the organization believe the criticism for postseason failures has been a bit too harsh. After all, two of the team’s three playoff losses have come against eventual Super Bowl winners (Green Bay and New York). The other came in quarterback Matt Ryan’s rookie season and against a team that …

Continue reading Falcons go into camp knowing playoff failures need to end »

Richt, Georgia have been hurt by too many recruiting risks

Mark Richt has seen several players arrested and suspended this offseason, including departed running back Isaiah Crowell. (AP photo)

Mark Richt has seen several players arrested and suspended this offseason, including former tailback Isaiah Crowell. (AP photo)

HOOVER, Ala. – Mark Richt ignored the red flags and was among the nation’s coaches who lined up around the block for Isaiah Crowell.

He already has seen seven members from his vaunted 2011 recruiting class either kicked out, flunked out or never academically qualified to begin with (“Dream Team”? Anybody?).

Arrests and suspensions likely will lead to four defensive starters missing games next season.

There is a problem again at Georgia — and it matters little that it’s a different one from the past.

Richt, to his credit, no longer responds to players’ criminal or just plain stupid actions by merely making them run stadium steps or suspending their dessert privileges. He has come a long way from enabling Odell Thurman. He suspends players. He kicks them out. He tries to make them understand that getting four or five stars stamped on your …

Continue reading Richt, Georgia have been hurt by too many recruiting risks »

Arkansas living with deserved humiliation after Petrino firing

While John L. Smith has his hands together, he might want to drop to his knees. (AP photo)

John L. Smith has his hands together. He should drop to his knees.

HOOVER, Ala. — Similar to three months ago, when the invertebrate Bobby Petrino took his young wench (“student-athlete development coordinator”) for a mid-life crisis spin on his motorcycle and got run over by the karma train, Arkansas is feeling the pain for its missteps.

Sympathy? Anybody?

When Petrino was fired – not because Arkansas suits really cared that he cheated on his wife or even lied to their face, but rather to protect themselves from litigation for playing footsie with a subordinate – they hired former assistant John L. Smith.

This is the same John L. Smith who agreed to take the job as a temp (10-month contract) even though he had just left for the Weber State job four months earlier. So much for loyalty. In that sense, at least, this should be a seamless transition from Petrino.

Smith is 63. He’s entertaining. He’s the kind of guy who would watch his house burn down and suddenly break …

Continue reading Arkansas living with deserved humiliation after Petrino firing »

SEC Media Days: Muschamp deserves some time at Florida

Will Muschamp is under some pressure after going 3-5 in SEC in first season. (AP photo)

Will Muschamp is under some pressure after going 3-5 in SEC in first season. (AP photo)

(It’s Day 2 at SEC Media Days. Here’s a quick look at Will Muschamp and Florida.)

HOOVER, Ala. — Shortly after taking over as coach at Florida, Will Muschamp summoned Janoris Jenkins to his office and informed the talented but troubled cornerback that he would be suspended for five games because of multiple failed drug tests.

Jenkins’ response was not one of remorse but rather entitlement. He told Muschamp: “Do you know who you’re talking to?” And so ended Jenkins’ career at Florida.

We use that story partly to defend Muschamp, who has come under some heat, and illustrate the problems he has dealt with at Florida since replacing Urban Meyer. A dozen players have left or been run off in the past year. It’s now clear the talent base at Florida wasn’t what you would expect – and Meyer probably knew this, which is why he “retired” in the first place: He saw the problems …

Continue reading SEC Media Days: Muschamp deserves some time at Florida »

Slive: SEC needs to be vigilant to avoid Penn State situation

Mike Slive .... (AP photo)

Mike Slive sees Penn State as cautionary tale. (AP photo)

HOOVER, Ala. — Between quoting Churchill, Shakespeare, Muhammad Ali and I believe all but three of the Seven Dwarfs in his State of the Empire address Tuesday, SEC commissioner Mike Slive made a reference to Penn State.

He did it as only a smooth, well-practiced executive could. He didn’t mention the school by name. Or the deviate in prison. Or the legendary late head coach who so clearly either closed his eyes or looked away.

“Last week’s headlines remind us that we must be ever vigilant on all issues of integrity, and that our primary mission is to educate and protect young people,” Slive said at the opening of SEC Media Days. “There must be an effective system of checks and balances within the administrative structure to protect all who come in contact with it, especially those who cannot protect themselves. No one program, no one person, no matter how popular, no matter how successful, can be allowed to derail …

Continue reading Slive: SEC needs to be vigilant to avoid Penn State situation »

Digi-Blog: Welcome back to SEC Media Daze

Hello, I'm Mike Slive. I can crush you with my wallet.

Hello, I'm Mike Slive. I can crush you with my wallet.

HOOVER, Ala. — Made it to SEC media days, the biggest-dumbest annual event of the college football season, if we assume July is college football season, and it must be because here’s another chance to make Nick Saban jokes.

Today’s schedule includes news conferences with newbies Texas A&M and Missouri, who probably feel like those astronauts in “Planet of the Apes” when they crash-landed on a planet and didn’t realize they had just passed through a time warp and they’re really still on Earth (sort of). Also on stage today is South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier (who’s generally well-equipped with talking points and this time won’t have to defend how Stephen Garcia is just misunderstood) and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin.

Also, SEC commissioner Mike Slive will have his State of the Empire address.

I’ve done a full Digi-Blog on SEC media days in the past. Here’s a link from the 2009 SEC Media Daze. But here are a few shots from …

Continue reading Digi-Blog: Welcome back to SEC Media Daze »

Ben Sheets looks like medical miracle in Braves’ debut

Ben Sheets didn't expect to pitch again, let alone throw six shutout innings. (Curtis Compton)

Ben Sheets didn't expect to pitch again. He did far better than that. (Curtis Compton)

Two years ago, Ben Sheets had a simple goal.

“I just wanted them to fix me so I could play catch with my boy,” he said.

He did more than that Sunday. He played catch with Brian McCann. He threw 88 major league pitches, exactly 88 more than he would’ve expected when his elbow mutated into some ugly blog of disconnected tendons and ligaments in 2010. He struck out the first batter of the game. He retired the last 10 he faced. He allowed only two hits in six shutout innings, defeated the New York Mets 6-1 and in the process likely clinched the next magazine cover – not of Sports Illustrated, but the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Sheets didn’t play catch with his boys, Seaver and Miller. But when it was over, he did hug his two young boys when they ran into the Braves’ clubhouse after the game, a scene he never could’ve envisioned after pitching his final game for …

Continue reading Ben Sheets looks like medical miracle in Braves’ debut »

Braves have opening vs. Nats, but still need to make move

Frank Wren shouldn't let opportunity of this season slip away without a move. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Frank Wren can't let this season's opportunity slip away without a move. (Curtis Compton)

(Second update: 11:35 p.m.)

John Smoltz looks at the Braves and sees what everybody else sees.

“They’ve made some adjustments offensively, but the inconsistency of their starting pitching has them where they are,” he said. “Win six, lose eight. Win five, lose four. They’re stuck in neutral.”

Neutral isn’t necessarily a bad place to be, particularly in the National League East. When baseball’s second half opened Friday, the Braves were only four games behind the Washington Nationals, which is better than being four games behind a team with an actual resume. The Nationals’ franchise last made the playoffs 31 years ago in a whole different language (Montreal).

There’s also this curious matter of Stephen Strasburg. Washington maintains it’s serious about this plan to limit its best starting pitcher (and his surgically repaired arm) to 160 innings. That could be construed as …

Continue reading Braves have opening vs. Nats, but still need to make move »

Penn State deserves death penalty for Sandusky cover-up

The problem isn't just what Jerry Sandusky (left) did but what Joe Paterno and his superiors didn't do. (AP photo)

Joe Paterno and other Penn State officials enabled the actions of Jerry Sandusky. (AP photo)

(Updated: 12:45 p.m.)

If we make a big deal about a college football program playing dumb when a recruit takes free shoes or tattoos, or his family lives in a house rent free, how can we look the other way when evidence screams that one of the nation’s most powerful universities enabled a pedophile?

How can we sit through something so sick and vile as the testimony in the Jerry Sandusky trial and conclude that this was a one-source scandal worthy of only one individual or entity suffering consequences?

Penn State should not be allowed to play another football game. It put sport, image and fundraising above everything else. That is what every cheater in college athletics does, and because of that it deserves the NCAA’s “death penalty.”

Southern Methodist University, one of the nation’s top academic schools, saw its football program given the death penalty in 1987 because it …

Continue reading Penn State deserves death penalty for Sandusky cover-up »