Archive for July, 2011

The NFL lockout ends. What the heck was THAT all about?

"Can't somebody lock us out another week? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"Can't somebody lock us out again?" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Associated Press is reporting that the NFL lockout is over, and I believe I speak for the masses when I say …

Lockout? There was a lockout?

I have to admit I’m a little disappointed. If you’re going to stage a work stoppage, you should at least stop some meaningful work. (Yes, I’m a slacker at heart.) The only NFL game that will be skipped is the annual exhibition in Canton, Ohio, which is no big deal for anyone outside of Canton, Ohio.

There’s still going to be free agency. (Breaking news! The Falcons just signed Bubba Smith! Ha, made you look!) There’s still going to be a training camp. There will still be four preseason games for all teams, which are 3 3/4 too many.

Mike Smith still won’t say anything very interesting. (This by design.) Thomas Dimitroff will still say many interesting things. (Can’t help himself.) Arthur Blank will shake many hands. (Can’t help himself.) Mike Mularkey will still call for …

Continue reading The NFL lockout ends. What the heck was THAT all about? »

Heat Check: Braves’ pitching gets cold; pennant fever on hold

Brandon Beachy after yielding a home run Sunday. (AP photo)

Brandon Beachy after yielding a homer. (AP photo)

Who’s hot? Who’s not? Glad you asked, or else there’d be no reason for our Monday Heat Check. Which begins now.

The Braves’ pitching: Don’t look now — hey, I told you not to look – but the team that had the lowest ERA in baseball no longer has the lowest ERA in baseball. Fact is, the Braves aren’t in the top five. The team ERA, which hovered near 3.00 for  the longest time, has risen to 3.36, sixth-best in the majors. The starters’ ERA is now the eighth-best overall; the relievers’ ERA is the fifth-best. Meaning: It’s not all Scott Proctor’s fault, though he has done his bit. Heat Index: Is that an autumn chill in the air?

The Braves’ hitting: It’s still terrible. Only three teams — Washington, San Diego and Seattle — have hit for a lower average. Only five — the aforementioned three plus Oakland and Minnesota — have a lower on-base percentage. If MLB had an award for the year’s best hitting coach, Larry Parrish would not be …

Continue reading Heat Check: Braves’ pitching gets cold; pennant fever on hold »

I don’t like trading pitching, but I’d swap Mike Minor for Beltran

BRAVES nlds5 ra5

October 2004: Carlos Beltran homers yet again; Jaret Wright surrenders. (AP photo)

The Braves have cause to beware the prospect(s)-for-rental-player trade. They’ve been burned twice this century: Once in December 2003, when they shipped Jason Marquis and Adam Wainwright to St. Louis for a year’s worth of J.D. Drew, and again in July 2007 when they sent the entire farm system — OK, not really — to Texas for 364 days of Mark Teixeira’s services.

And now, another trade deadline close at hand, we here have reason to ponder the merits of another rumored young-for-old swap. The Mets are looking to divest themselves of Carlos Beltran, who will become a free agent at season’s  end. (And if you’re thinking the Braves might have a chance to keep Beltran longer-term, forget it. His agent, as was the case with Drew and Teixeira, is Scott Boras.)

Owing to money problems from Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the Mets have money problems. They’re not looking for big names. They’re in need  of …

Continue reading I don’t like trading pitching, but I’d swap Mike Minor for Beltran »

Why is Bama so feared? Because its coach scares us to death

The Saban worshipers queue up in the Wynfrey Hotel. (Photo by M. Bradley)

The cult of Nick congregates in the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Hoover, Ala. – Alabama was the choice of the assembled media here to win the 2011 SEC championship, which was no shock. Everybody exalts Alabama nowadays. It was in January 2010, after the Crimson Tide won the first of what would be one consecutive BCS title, that Sports Illustrated proclaimed it “a dynasty,” and it was only last fall we were wondering if  Bama was unbeatable.

Then it lost to South Carolina, to LSU and to Auburn (after leading 24-0 in Tuscaloosa), and suddenly we media folks were grasping: How did the program newly seen as the nation’s flagship finish in the bottom half of the SEC West? Didn’t another school from Alabama take the BCS title? Was it possible the dynastic Tide had been overblown?

Guess not. Because we media types are doing it again. The Tide figures to start the season ranked no worse than No. 2 (behind Oklahoma and nobody else) in the polls, and in the …

Continue reading Why is Bama so feared? Because its coach scares us to death »

There’s joy in Bulldog Nation: UGA picked second in the East!

"Yeah, baby! Time to dance! We're No. 2 and you're not!" (AJC file photo)

"Yeah, baby! Time to dance! We're No. 2 and you're not!" (AJC file photo)

Hoover, Ala. – Earlier in the week I’d wondered if the SEC media would, for the first time in memory, pick Georgia above Florida. (Lest we forget, in 2008 the Bulldogs entered the season ranked No. 1 in the land — but had been slotted second behind the Gators in their division.) OK, here’s the answer:

Yes. The assembled SEC media has voted Georgia second in the East behind South Carolina.

Warning: Over time, this body has proved inexact in its forecasts. Only twice since 1991 has the correct league champ been identified during Media Days. (This year’s choice is Alabama.) Still, it’s fascinating to get a sense of how the wind is blowing, at least in the eyes of the SEC press corps.

(Disclaimer: Neither I nor esteemed colleague Chip Towers voted in the poll. The AJC doesn’t allow its writers to participiate in polls or suchlike.)

The balloting for second in the East wasn’t as close as I thought it might …

Continue reading There’s joy in Bulldog Nation: UGA picked second in the East! »

Just call Auburn coach Gene Chizik the chairman of the bored

"Anybody here heard any good Nick Saban jokes lately?" (AP photo)

"OK, show of hands. Who here has heard any good Nick Saban jokes?" (AP photo)

Hoover, Ala. – Know what one coat of paint says to the other when both are drying? “Oh, this isn’t so bad. We could be listening to Gene Chizik.”

I know, I know. Chizik’s job is to coach football at Auburn, and he’s obviously pretty good at it, having won the BCS title and all. He isn’t paid to entertain us media folks. And that’s a good thing. Because Gene Chizik is to entertainment as Jim Belushi is to method acting.

I’ve been — irony alert! — privileged to sit through a few G-Chiz briefings, and they aren’t just dull. They’re oppressively dull. They’re dullness deployed as a weapon of mass tedium. I can understand if a guy has nothing to say; what I can’t abide is if a guy acts as if he has a lot of things he might say but chooses to share none of them.

In my view, that’s not just being dull. That’s being dull and smug. (”Smull,” to coin a lousy word.)

I mention this because Chiz the Whiz had his …

Continue reading Just call Auburn coach Gene Chizik the chairman of the bored »

It’s not easy to restart a program, but UGA’s Richt just might

How 'bout these young Dawgs? Isaiah Crowell on Signing Day. (AP photo by Mike Haskey)

How 'bout these young Dawgs? Isaiah Crowell on Signing Day. (AP photo by Mike Haskey)

Hoover, Ala. — His program, figuratively if not literally, was headed south. “Georgia had declined in record and in how people nationally perceived our program,” Mark Richt said. “I realized that.”

That was important. Realization that you’re going wrong is the first move toward making things go right again. But such knowledge isn’t always the precursor to change. Fact is, it’s harder to recapture momentum than to build it in the first place.

“You can get it back,” said Richt, speaking before his appearance before the full body of the SEC media here Thursday. (These glitzy Media Days are like the Oscars in that there’s a pre-show for selected local and national scribes.) “There’s positive momentum around our program right now. There’s a sense of excitement. Anticipation is very high.”

He’s right. There is. Over the winter, Georgia went from being the team that couldn’t score a touchdown …

Continue reading It’s not easy to restart a program, but UGA’s Richt just might »

The Gators’ Will Muschamp: The next Urban or another Zook?

"The next game I win as head coach will be my first." (AP photo)

"The next game I win as head coach will be my first." (AP photo)

Hoover, Ala. — Let’s stipulate that Florida is pretty good at hiring football coaches. Two of the past three tapped by the Gators went on to win a national championship. The third was Ron Zook.

The  Zooker had never been a head coach. At Florida, he didn’t last three full seasons. (Still beat Georgia twice, though.) We mention this because Florida again has a head coach who has never been a head coach. He’s Will Muschamp, and he’s no Ron Zook. He’s probably not a Steve Spurrier or an Urban Meyer, either.

If you get past the obvious disadvantage of having played under Ray Goff, Muschamp has a solid background. He’s the son of a coach. He played in the SEC. He has worked at Auburn and at LSU. He apprenticed under Nick Saban, who’s the best in the business. He was the coach-in-waiting at Texas, which takes the sport seriously. That said …

He hasn’t coached a game. As Spurrier himself has said: “If you want to know …

Continue reading The Gators’ Will Muschamp: The next Urban or another Zook? »

How to clean up college sports? Lend an ear to Mike Slive

Commissioner Slive after delivering his mandate for change. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Mike Slive after delivering his mandate. (Photo by M. Bradley)

Hoover, Ala. – No man in college athletics has a bullier pulpit than Mike Slive. He’s the commissioner of the SEC, which plays the best football, which is the sport that pays most of the bills. And say this for the commish: From that pulpit, he’s trying to make a difference.

What’s usually an annual exercise in chest-thumping — the SEC Media Days, which actually run the better part of a workweek — began with Slive addressing the elephant in the room. (And by this we don’t mean Alabama’s mascot.) He mentioned the rash of ugly offseason headlines that have emanated “from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Gulf to the Great Lakes.” He quoted NCAA president Mark Emmert as having said: “Intercollegiate athletics have lost the benefit of the doubt.”

We pause here to note that, because of what he represents, Slive risks being seen as the world’s biggest hypocrite. A team from the SEC won the 2010 BCS title using a …

Continue reading How to clean up college sports? Lend an ear to Mike Slive »

Memo to Georgia Tech: LSU shows how to handle the NCAA

Tech could have spared itself the harsh lighting by being nicer. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Georgia Tech could have spared itself by being nicer. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Here’s a quote that should be posted on the wall of the Edge Center, which is the official name of the building that houses Georgia Tech’s athletic association. It comes from LSU chancellor Michael Martin in the wake of his school’s NCAA sanctions, which were announced Tuesday:

“A situation that could have been much worse was made better by the dedicated work of the LSU athletics compliance staff and I am pleased that the NCAA recognized LSU’s effort to cooperate and be proactive. The compliance staff … made an exemplary showing of how a university should react when mistakes are made.”

To recap: LSU was found guilty of major violations involving former assistant coach D.J. McCarthy, who’d been recruiting JUCO transfer Akiem Hicks. For this, the NCAA placed the Tigers on one year’s probation.

Point of comparison: Georgia Tech took what should have been a secondary violation and turned it …

Continue reading Memo to Georgia Tech: LSU shows how to handle the NCAA »