Friday, March 31, 2006

The Duke Lacrosse Situation

First, trial by newspaper and blog and public opinion is not a good thing. I honestly hope that the prosecutors and investigators can get their job done quickly and conclude the investigation as to what happened in that house at that bachelor party. There are numerous links to reports on the alleged incident, the response of the Duke lacrosse captains (who categorically deny the allegations and state that DNA tests will exonerate all Duke lacrosse players) and the response of the Duke administration (which has suspended the Duke lax team, which lost in last year's national title game, until the investigation concludes). Tensions are high in Durham because of the nature of the crime and because the the races of the victims and the lacrosse players.

Second, this certainly isn't something you would expect from students at a school like Duke, the same way you wouldn't have expected the Navy QB to be brought up on sexual assault charges either. Duke likes to hold itself out as another Ivy, the Harvard of the South, the Stanford of the East, you name the metaphor. As such, that university would appear to want to hold itself and its entire community to higher standards. That's not to say that they're running a Jesuit monastery down in Durham. People in their late teens and early 20's are not fully formed, they do make mistakes, especially when they mix revelry with excess. Now, before you start to contend that I'm indicting the Duke lacrosse team for this crime, stop right there. I'm not. But in the next paragraph I will indict the Duke administration and the Duke lacrosse coaches for something very troubling if less horrifying than an alleged gang rape.

Third, as has been reported in various newspapers and by the AP (thanks to Deadspin for the link), 15 of the 47 Duke lax players have misdemeanor records for various types of misbehavior, from public drunkenness to public urination -- over the past three years. If there were one or two kids, you could cite statistics, say that you had a couple of kids with problems and that they were dealt with by the University administration. But almost 1/3 of the kids on the team have this type of record -- one that has gone beyond the University authorities to the police? Sounds like in this particular area this is more than a case of boys will be boys. Sounds like there's a culture of drinking that needs to be addressed (because I doubt that it's simply been a matter of bad luck that these young men were having their one beer of the week and happened to get caught outside with an open container by a policeman; typically, excesses occur, police get summoned, and they have to put a lid on over-the-top behavior. It's probably the case that either the campus or Durham police or both just love this particular Duke sports team).

Where is the coach here? Where is the Athletic Director? Where is the Dean of Students? Where is the University president? (I would think that many Duke kids who get a little frightened when popular athletes get wasted stay far away from the Duke men's lax team when they try to blow off steam.) That's not to say, of course, that this level of citations for public disrputions and intoxication means that the Duke lacrosse team committed the awful crimes that are alleged. But what it does say is that Duke has permitted a culture of irresponsibility permeate one of its athletic teams. No college athlete should be entitled to be above the University's rules and the law. Colleges and the towns they populate, however, are entitled to a standard of conduct that honors town and gown and doesn't demean them.

Fourth, if you don't stop bad trends, they can change into bolder, more dangerous ones. Now, because of the Buckley Amendment, Duke has to keep student records confidential. It may be that these kids, depending on their misdeeds, were suspended from the team, were compelled to take a year off, were put on disciplinary probation, what have you. After all, you shouldn't treat students differently, whether they're lacrosse players, oboists or children of influential alumni. But if there's a trend on one team, something more distinct has to be done than simply putting kids severally -- on a one-by-one, case-by-case basis -- on disciplinary probation or seeing them plead guilty to misdemeanors. The problem needs to be treated jointly -- as a team problem -- even if it means that certain kids are kicked off the team for good.

Fifth, yes, boys will be boys, but there is a certain time in their lives when they must act like men (Read this book, which, interestingly, is about a football program at an elite Baltimore school that also has a great lacrosse program). Being a faceoff specialist, a great feeder, an attackman, a long-stick defenseman or a flashy goalie is not enough. Instead of being bathed in entitlement, these students should be expected to show leadership. That means that they should respect their campus, respect their fellow students, respect the town in which their school is situated and honor the entire University community. The last time I checked, even a national-championship caliber sports program remains an extracurricular activity and certainly not what school is all about, especially at a place like Duke.

I think that Duke's president the right thing by suspending the lacrosse team at this time, even if it seems the school whiffed on previous disturbing trends surrounding this particular team. The University should investigate its disciplinary practices, especially as to the members of the lacrosse team and the disturbing trend about public misbehavior that rose beyond the dean's office to the local police -- and regardless of the outcome of the current investigation in the particular incident that has put the Duke lacrosse team in the spotlight. If you're a top-notch academic institution like Duke is, you also have to question your priorities.

Parents send their hard-working, earnest, still young kids to major universitities to help them better themselves. Yes, they get to move away from home if they're fortunate, and they'll get to meet kids from all walks of life, build life-long friendships and figure out who they are. Colleges, in and of themselves, are and should be celebrations of the best our youth have to offer. Duke is at the vanguard of all colleges, but now is gut-check time for this proud institution. Duke cannot have it both ways -- it has to hold all students to the standards that have created a brand name that stands for excellence. If the Duke administration fails in this regard, then the brand name could well evolve into one that represents compromised priorities, to say the least.

Again, to be clear on the point, I'm not throwing the Duke team under the bus for the alleged incident at this time and mean it when I say that the authorities need to do their jobs and reach their conclusions. Something happened in that house, that is for sure. Time will tell whether Duke lacrosse players were involved. But even if they weren't, the back story here, about the history of trouble of material number of Duke lax playerrs, is troubling in and of itself and shouldn't get swept under the rug should the investigators exonerate the Duke men's lacrosse team in this particular incident.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Temple Coaching Sweepstakes

Just when you thought that there were five and only five candidates, Temple AD Bill Bradshaw began interviewing others. It could be that some of the top 5 are unattainable for various reasons, it could be that the top 1 is unattainable, and it could be that he's being politically astute by interviewing anyone that an influential Temple constituent is recommending. Temple can be a very political place, so it's hard to derive meaning in the suddenly expanded pool. Still, according to this morning's Philadelphia Daily News, Penn's Fran Dunphy remains the favorite.

To recap, here's what I posted on February 26 (I basically played headhunting firm and built a pool of contenders for the job). So while Bob Huggins (who inked with Kansas State) isn't in the running (and perhaps never was), many of the top candidates I identified are. Temple has already interviewed Penn's Fran Dunphy, Drexel's Bruiser Flint, top aide Dan Leibovitz, former top Chaney aide and current Trail Blazer assistant Dean Demopoulos and current Houston Rocket and Temple alum Rick Brunson. That's a pretty good short list, and several days ago you would have thought that Bradshaw would have stopped right there.

Most recently, he's interviewed Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez, who's also in the running for the Seton Hall job, and former USC head coach and current 76er assistant (as well as being a former 76er himself), Henry Bibby. This morning, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that BC's top assistant, Bill Coen, called Temple and that he was getting consideration for an interview.

The Philadelphia papers and The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper at Penn, have given this story good coverage. The former are concerned both with who will succeed Chaney and who will succeed his successor if that successor is named Dunphy or Flint. The latter has a more parochial view -- and has written most ably about Dunphy's potential successors should he leave for the Temple job. Today's view in the DP is that the pickings are slim for a Dunphy successor, given recent developments in the current jobs of former Penn assistants Fran McCaffery and Fran O'Hanlon. While the list of logical successors is narrow (meaning that there aren't that many obvious choices among current coaches with ties to Penn or the Philadelphia area), the Penn job is a great job. I have no doubt that Penn would be able to fill the vacancy with a great coach should Fran Dunphy seek to coach at a higher level (yes, at Temple he could coach a potential Final Four team; at Penn, given that no Ivy school has won a first-round NCAA game in about 10 years, the chances are rather remote).

It's hard to figure where these sweepstakes are going. Some schools have filled their vacancies rather quickly (Indiana, Kansas State, Cincinnati), while others (Missouri, Temple, Arizona State) are taking longer. Something tells me that if Temple fills the position in the next week, someone from the short list will get it. If it takes longer than that, it makes you wonder what they're waiting for.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Observations on Duke-LSU

1. Tyrus Thomas of LSU looks like he'll have a long and prosperous NBA career. He can run the floor, defend and has game on offense. Was tonight his national coming out party?

2. You can't throw out a great career with one game, but against a very athletic LSU squad, J.J. Redick looked a bit slow and athletically outclassed. Is he a bona fide starter or sixth man for an NBA team, or will he turn into a three-point specialist? He had a great career and is a gritty player, but the game is played at a higher level at the next level. His career will be interesting to watch.

3. Coach John Brady of LSU did a great job tonight. I had thought for a while that Duke was a team of 2 main guys, 5 more guys, and then everyone else. He didn't have to play a box and one on J. J. Redick, because Garrett Temple did a fantastic job on the senior guard, but LSU denied Redick's game. Shelden Williams played well, but no one else from Duke filled in the slack. Without Redick's big numbers, Duke had trouble finding its offense.

4. Duke is a great program. If they had a corporate alliance, it would be with Target, because their prestige is such that they have a big bullseye on their backs every time they go out and play. While many teams don't want to play them, most top 10 conference teams seem to get up for Duke more than most other schools, including the likes of UConn and Memphis. It's something extra special to beat the poster kids for hoops scholar-athletes.

5. My son will be very upset tomorrow morning. He was almost crying tonight when LSU was up at the half, and I reminded him that our house will still be standing and that his sports schedules will remain intact even if Duke were to lose. He's only six and will probably heal more quickly than most Cameron Crazies. But he's so enamored of Duke that when I told him I was going to e-mail Coach K and tell him about his crayoning of our sofa, he didn't realize that I was joking and asked me not to do so because he was embarrassed. Some parents discipline their kids by taking away privileges; now I know I can threaten to e-mail Mike Krzyzewski and effect improved behavior. After all, according to his American Express ad, Coach K's life isn't about playing games. Now, when you're six, that is what your life is about, but as a parent of that kid you don't want those games extend to writing on walls or furniture. While I remain confounded by this alliance, if he had to choose one big-time school to root for, my son has shown pretty good judgment.

John Chaney, Fran Dunphy Succession Derbies

I've blogged earlier about the John Chaney succession derby at Temple, and you can click here and here for links to my initial and follow-up thoughts on the subject. Having read the Philadelphia-area newspapers over the past couple of days, it looks like the Owls have narrowed the field to five finalists -- Penn's Fran Dunphy, Drexel's Bruiser Flint, Portland Trail Blazer assistant Dean Demopoulos, current Temple top aide Dan Leibovitz and current Houston Rocket Rick Brunson. Demopoloulos, as you may remember, was Chaney's top aide for years. Brunson played his college basketball at Temple.

Let's suppose that Dunphy, who in my mind is the favorite, gets the Temple job. Who would succeed him at Penn?

I speculated on that sweepstakes almost two years ago, when Coach Dunphy was seriously considering leaving Penn for his alma mater, LaSalle. Here's a link to that post.

Gil Jackson, then Dunphy's top assistant, is out. He just completed his first year at Howard as head coach and I don't think the timing would be right. Ditto for Siena head coach Fran McCaffery, a Penn alum, who, after several years at UNC-Greensboro, completed his first year at Siena, also as a head coach. Reports are that he might be signing a long-term extension shortly.

While I don't have time to link to the Penn coaching staff's page, I don't think that any of the current assistants will be a candidate. One, David Duke, looks to be a career assistant, while the other two, both Penn alums -- Matt Langel and Shawn Trice -- haven't been coaching long enough. The two leading candidates, in my mind, would be Cornell's Steve Donahue, who assisted Dunphy for ten years and remains beloved in Philadelphia, and Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon, once a Dunphy aide and an outstanding coach in his own right.

The plus to Donahue is that he is relatively young (about 43), well-known to Penn, and well liked there. The minus is that in his six years at Cornell, he has lost many more times than he has won. He has turned the program around to a degree, but he hasn't built a perennial winner, at least not yet. Penn cognoscenti will say, "well, it's Cornell, what can you expect?" and have a point, but if that's the case, then Brown's Glenn Miller, who has fared much better in Providence than Donahue has in Ithaca, should be a serious candidate too (and I don't think he will be because of his lack of a connection to Penn).

The plus to O'Hanlon is that he's an amazing coach, a great strategic hoops thinker and someone who can do more with less. Before the Patriot League introduced scholarships, he built some fine teams. When other Patriot schools began giving hoops scholarships and Lafayette did not, his program suffered, but his teams still compete hard. The minus is that, while schools can't discriminate against age, he's in his late 50's and wouldn't seem to provide a 20-year answer the way Dunphy almost has. In addition, Lafayette will begin to grant hoops scholarships, and that could entice O'Hanlon to stay in Easton (but I doubt one would remain in Easton if he could coach at Penn).

Others will get mention. Both the Columbia and Penn student newspapers have suggested that Brown's Glenn Miller would be in the mix because of what he's done at Brown, but I don't think Miller would be a serious candidate. His teams haven't played good defense during his tenure there, and that's a Penn hallmark. He's fared better than Donahue has, certainly, but there's no real Penn connection and I just don't see a compelling reason for his hiring. I do respect him as a coach -- he's very good -- but I just don't see him at Penn.

My bet is that Steve Donahue gets the job if Fran Dunphy leaves.

I would offer it first to Fran O'Hanlon.

Put O'Hanlon at Penn and, in my mind, in the next several years, once recruiting classes mature, he could have the Quakers not only winning an NCAA playoff game, but also winning two.

If He Does for Hoops What Bill Snyder Did For Football. . .

Then Kansas State will be on the map and give cross-state rival Kansas fits for years.

That's right, it looks like Bob Huggins is going to Kansas State.

On the positive side, you can argue that a school with an inconsistent hoops tradition is making a bet that will put it solidly in the big-time. After all, Bob Huggins has produced results, and he should make the Big 12 even more competitive. Okay, he should be able to get K-State to the Sweet 16 in three years.

On the other side of the coin, you can argue that Kansas State is pimping its school by making a deal with a coach whose players didn't achieve a graduation rate worth bragging about and who had a major run-in with his school's president). (For those of you not familiar with a popular MTV special, someone in California writes into MTV about their lame car -- it's old, has mismatched doors, the seat cushions have worn out, the trunk doesn't work right, and then a West Coast body shop customizes it and makes it look like the baddest car in town, with bright paint, super-sharp wheels, an amazing sound system and stuff in the trunk that replicates your hobbies -- a bowler, for example, had a ball-washing machine put in his trunk. The show is called, "Pimp My Ride."). I had blogged about a school with a moribund program doing just that a while back (as well as having suggested other Sports Reality TV shows). Translated here, could it be the case that given his history, K-State is making a bad statement about the need to win? I'm sure that there are those in the University of Cincinnati administration who would agree.

I am not sure how I think about this hire at this point, except to say that the Big 12 just got tougher in many respects.

I'm just not sure that all of them are good.

When Fans Get Too Mean

Just because you may not like the public face of your favorite sports team or think that the people who are running it aren't doing a good job doesn't mean you get to demean their kids in a public forum. But that's exactly what happened to the daughter of former Phillies' General Manager Ed Wade earlier this year when the Villanova mens' basketball team, for whom she is the manager, played at St. Joseph's. Now, the rivalry is a heated one for various reasons (among those is that historically those who were more "lace curtain" went to Villanova, on the tony Main Line, while the grittier, city kids went to the Jesuit school just inside the city line), and perhaps it shows how intense it can get. St. Joe's fans actually chanted, "Gillick's Better" during the game.

For those who lack the total frame of reference, Pat Gillick, who build the Blue Jays' teams that won the World Series in '92 and '93 (and both were outstanding teams), is now the Phillies' GM, having replaced Ed Wade, who held the title for about eight years, after last season. During Wade's tenure, the Phillies had more losing seasons than winning ones, and they did not make the playoffs once (they did come close last year, missing out by one game). Many fans did not like Wade, whose discomfort with the media didn't help his cause any. They blamed him for the relative ineptitude of the Phillies' franchise, and some were very vocal in doing so (there was a website dedicated to his firing). Wade did have some fans, among them former Phillies' great and Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt (who recently was quoted as saying he did a good job), but by and large he was the symbol for the problems that the Phillies had.

(By way of full disclosure, I did blog on this website that I thought Ed Wade should go, but not with the vitriol that many anti-Wade pieces on other sites and message boards were written. My examination of the facts told me that his long tenure, when compared to the won-loss record, dictated that a change be made. That said, I did not fault the Phillies' overall problems with Ed Wade, who became the body that was publicly flogged. I place almost all of the blame on the Phillies' ownership, which should sell the team, and its President, David Montgomery, who heads up the ownership team. Wade was their employee, and while he did not perform that well, it is the ownership that, save for Ruly Carpenter in the late 1970's and early 1980's, has served a baseball-savvy and championship-hungry fan base poorly, and, in fact, much more poorly than Ed Wade did. Dave Montgomery happens to have a more likable public persona than Ed Wade, so perhaps why he gets the pass that Ed Wade did not. Montgomery shouldn't get a pass either).

But I've digressed on what I came here to write about, which is this: leave the kids (and other family members) alone. Erin Wade is not, and has not been, a public figure. She's a student at Villanova, and she happens to be the manager of the men's hoops team. That doesn't mean that she should have to field a cheap shot about her father's competence on the job in a public forum. The St. Joe's fans should know better than that, and they should be ashamed on picking on her, especially because she can't fight back. I'm certainly no proponent of speech codes, although I am a fan of good taste, and at least when he hears chants of "laptop" (referring to a well-publicized incident that had him miss the first half of this season), UConn's Marcus Williams can silence an annoying crowd by burying shot after shot. Erin Wade, though, has no such luxury. Were she to run full tilt across the gym floor and low bridge the never-stop-flapping-its-wings St. Joe's Hawk mascot, she would be viewed as retaliating excessively, even if a certain portion of the St. Joe's fan base deserves a swift kick in the butt for spouting such nonsense.

What was chanted at that game wasn't fair and isn't right. Regardless of whether you appreciated what Ed Wade did for the Phillies, you should leave his family out of the mess and not even make personal comments about him. Otherwise, you are transgressing far more than he did. A bad trade or two is one thing, but that's part of the overall sports experience. Losing control of your point of view to drag the discussion into the dirt is far worse.

I recall about six years or so ago when Princeton played Penn at the Palestra, the Penn fans, who usually have the most clever chants in the Ivies, started on Princeton's Nate Walton by chanting "Luke is Better." Luke, of course, is former Arizona starter and current Laker Luke Walton, Nate's older brother and, by all accounts, a better basketball player. Somehow, that comment didn't irk me at all, and I was heartened by Nate Walton's reaction (he was a senior at the time). He looked up, shook his head slightly, and started to laugh a bit. I think he actually thought that what was said was funny (and far more acceptable that signs that the Penn crowd held which questioned a certain Princeton player's sexual orientation only a year earlier), and the Tigers had the last laugh by unexpectedly winning that night at Penn and then winning the Ivy title. It might have been that Luke was better, but having a Walton at Princeton was a very sweet thing for the Tigers that year. He was a unanimous first-team all-Ivy player and should have been named the conference's player of the year. No one brought Nate Walton's family into the mix, and that is where the line seems to be drawn. Of course, that's not to say that just because a kid plays makes him fair game for public derision or ridicule, and while I won't advocate a speech code, I will advocate good taste.

Remember, the college players are just kids, and people should treat them the way they'd want their kids to be treated. I, for one, will yet at referees and make an occasional comment to an opposing coach to sit down, but I will not direct any comments to college hoops players. To me, that's out of bounds. Yes, I'll applaud them, yes I'll give them a standing ovation after a good run, but if they err the worst I'll do is cringe at an ill-advised pass or a stupid foul. They're just kids, after all, and they're playing a game. The experience -- for everyone -- should be fun.

I like my teams, I think, as much as anyone else who is balanced in his or her approach.

It's just that there should be some lines out there, and as adults we should lead by example and not cross them.

College kids, when doing what they do, should think about where passionate rooting ends and meanness begins.

After all, we're only talking about kids' games here.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Angie Soriaga for President

Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but remember way back when, when someone did something so great that somebody hoisted a sign suggesting that they live in the White House, run the country, be the face of America? Well, I saw a performance on TV last night, admittedly while killing time before tuning into what I didn't know was a re-run of Desperate Housewives, that was just memorable. Angie Soriaga, playing her last college basketball game, went out with guns ablazing.

It just goes to show you that you can find greatness in any game you watch, whether it's on an inter-city playground, at the West 4th Street Courts in NYC, in a high school playoff game, in a pick-up game in which you participate. If you relax, don't get caught up in having to watch an event, and revel in the game for the gutsy, spirited play that you should be seeking whether as a player or a fan, you can find some wonderful stuff.

The stage was the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, New Jersey, a relatively cozy arena that hosted the #3-#14 game in one of the regions in the NCAA Women's Bracket. The NCAA tries to schedule the highest seeds at venues nearest their schools, which had #3 Rutgers, from nearby New Brunswick, New Jersey, hosting #14 Dartmouth, the winner of the Ivy League's two-game playoff. Going into the game, few game the Big Green of Dartmouth a chance, as I don't believe a #14 has ever beaten a #3 in the history of the 64-team NCAA women's bracket.

Rutgers, of course, has a team full of highly recruited players, some of whom were high-school all-Americans. They have a great team and a great program. Their coach, Vivian Stringer, is well-known, and its best player, Cappie Pondexter, is one of the nation's best and could be the first pick in the WBNA's draft this year. In contrast, Dartmouth plays (good) basketball in a state (New Hampshire) more known for outdoor winter sports. On paper, the game shouldn't have been much of a matchup.

In the end, Rutgers, heavily favored, won by 5, 63-58 and moved on to the second round. The Scarlet Knights just had too much for the Big Green, which played hard until the very end. What made the game compelling was the never-say-die attitude of Soriaga, a first-team all-Ivy point guard who scored 20 of her 23 points in the second half and shot 6-10 from behind the arc, including hitting four threes in the last eight and a half minutes (three of them came in the last 4:39). Watching the game, it seemed like every time Dartmouth needed a big hoop, it was Soriaga, who was named the player of the game, hitting a big shot. She was so automatic that had the game gone into a five-minute overtime, Dartmouth might have figured out a way to have beaten Rutgers. As it was, the Angie Soriaga show was quite a treat.

It could well be that Cappie Pondexter and Rutgers make it to the Final Four and contend for a national title. It was the case that last night, Angie Soriaga of the Dartmouth Big Green stole the show.

In Rutgers' back yard.

I'm sure that Angie Soriaga would have traded her player-of-the-game award for a win last night, but those of us who saw her play won't forget her determination and her outstanding display of shooting for a long time.

Even if the lowest seeds don't have too much of a chance, they play the games for a reason. Angie Soriaga reminded us, with bold strokes, last night what that reason is -- the pure joy of competing and bringing out the best, not only in yourself and your opponents, but also the game.

Put This Guy at the Top of Your Short Lists

No, it's not Mick Cronin, the former assistant to Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins, who has gotten his Murray State team into the Big Dance two years' running. He'll make some lists, though, that's for sure.

No, it's not Bradley's Jim Les, who has done a great job too (you may remember him as the "other" guard to Hersey Hawkins, when Bradley was last nationally prominent; Hawkins went on to become a first-round draft choice (76ers) and Olympian). Les is coaching his alma mater, but he could be on short lists too.

It's Mark Turgeon, the Wichita State coach.

Now, for the average college hoops fan, that's a big "duh", because Wichita State of the Mighty Missouri Valley Conference (take that, Jim Nantz and Billy Packer!) is a Sweet 16 team, and writers and bloggers (such as College Basketball's Yoni Cohen) have anointed him this year's Bruce Pearl. (For the casual fan, Pearl led Wisconsin-Milwaukee to the Sweet 16 last year, got the Tennessee job and revived a moribund program there, although the Vols did disappoint relative to their #2 seed this year by falling in the second round of the tournament this past weekend).

Why Turgeon?

Well, he's achieved wherever he's been -- played at Kansas, did a good job in his first head-coaching job at Jacksonville State, and has excelled at Wichita State. Even with that, he has one other fact going for him -- he's a Larry Brown disciple. Played for him, coached under him.

Now, there's something to be said for legendary coaches and their disciples. If you look at the hoops world, there is a split as to the success of legacies. Of the John Wooden line, Denny Crum won national titles at Louisville and Gene Bartow achieved success at other schools, but the rest of the former assistants didn't fare so well. Of the Dean Smith disciples, Roy Williams (finally) won his national title, and Bill Guthridge took the Heels to two final fours, but the other legacies (former assistants and players), well, the jury is still out on Buzz Peterson and Jeff Lebo (Eddie Fogler didn't quite get there, and Phil Ford never got the chance to be a head coach). Of the Bob Knight line, Mike Krzyzewski is one of the best ever, but Bob Donewald, Don Devoe, Jim Crews, Tom Miller, Dave Bliss and Bob Weltlich didn't become household names. Of the Coach K disciples, Quin Snyder had a very rough time at Missouri, and Tommy Amaker fared above average at Seton Hall and has struggled at Michigan. Mike Brey has been a good coach at Delaware and Notre Dame, while David Henderson recently was fired at Delaware.

In short, playing or coaching for a legend guarantees you better access to interviews and jobs, but it doesn't mean that you'll automatically build a dynasty. Still, guys like Turgeon are more than just legacies, they have proven track records, and that's what makes them so appealing.

This guy has paid his dues at remote places, and he has the Larry Brown thing going for him to boot. That combination should make him irresistable to an AD looking to rekindle magic at his program and do it with class.

Somehow, I think that the formula we just described yields one one-time national power as an obvious port of call for Mr. Turgeon.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

On Top Of That, The Year I Don't Enter a Pool . . .

I picked 13 of the Sweet 16.

Now, you do have to do a little spelunking on that post to figure out what my predictions are, but if you're pressed for time, here goes:


West Virginia-Texas.

Score: 4 out of 4.



Score: 3 out of 4.

I missed on Bradley and thought that Pitt would beat them. The MVC is for real.

Washington, D.C.

George Mason-Wichita St.

Score: 2 for 4.

I missed on Washington and George Mason, figuring that Illinois and Carolina (which both came close) would have gone instead.



Score: 4 for 4.

I'm particularly proud of this one, because this is a brutal region.

Given that there have been some upsets that I called and some that I missed, I'd say that 13 of 16 is a pretty good score.

How are you doing?

Reflections on March Madness

I had figured I'd follow March Madness like mostly everyone else, by watching games on Thursday and Friday nights and sneaking a peak at Yahoo! or for scores every now and then during the day. I'm not emotionally connected to any particular team, so I figured I'd just watch the most compelling action (given that CBS decides that for you) and hope that I could catch early on whether a #15 or #16 seed was doing the unthinkable.

Wednesday afternoon, about mid-afternoon, I got a call from a long-time, close friend who told me that he had an extra ticket for the Friday night games at The Wachovia Center in Philadelphia and asked if I would like to join him. "Sure," I said, as I have some fond memories of attending NCAA playoff games at what's now the Wachovia Spectrum with my father. "That would be great." Connecticut and Kentucky, here I come.

About a half hour later another friend called, asking me to the afternoon session. That's about as close an example of lightning striking twice in the same place that I can think of as having happened in my life, except this would be much better than lightning -- call it winning a lottery -- twice in two days. I declined the second invitation because my schedule didn't permit my blowing off work for most of the day, and, in doing so, I passed on the chance to go to the Villanova-Monmouth game in what was a charged atmosphere because Villanova was playing in its home city. That was a bummer, but even with my love of hoops my life is such right now that I only can afford so much spontaneity.

Having given up tickets to the 1992 Duke-Kentucky regional final to go with my then-girlfriend (now wife) to a wine tasting, I knew that I could have been tempting basketball fate again. That was the last time I passed on going to an NCAA tourney game in person, and, well, would I be passing on another all-time game again? I confess that I did switch over from work-related stuff to Yahoo! a few times to track the scores of the games at the Wachovia Center, only to be relieved that Villanova won and that no one was talking about the Wonder of Wachovia the way old enough Philadelphia Eagles fans talk about the Miracle of the Meadowlands.

I made my way down I-95 (which is almost a contact sport -- if the trucks don't get you the potholes could) into Center City Philadelphia, only to hit a traffic snarl right off the Vine Street Expressway owing to both the Friday afternoon rush and St. Patrick's Day. Ultimately, I met my friends for a drink and some appetizers off Walnut Street, and then we drove down Broad Street (and you gotta love South Philadelphia, where people park on the median and get away with it -- and have since I can remember) to the Wachovia Center. We joked that the UConn-Albany game would be over in the first five minutes, and we thought that UAB-Kentucky would be the compelling game of the night.

It's nice going in comfort. While the Wachovia Center lacks the intimacy of its neighbor to the south, the Wachovia Spectrum (where, among others, Dr. J and Moses Malone played for the 76ers' title team in 1982-1983 and where that fabled Duke-Kentucky game took place), it has good sight lines and there was nothing bad about being in a Club Box for the games. Sitting in our area were several NBA types, including 76ers scout (and former Villanova and Celtic player and NBA coach Chris Ford and NBA all-time great, former Celtic and current head honcho for hoops at Minnesota, Kevin McHale). They were pretty much left alone, and we settled into our seats to watch the first game.

I want to establish that I did pick UConn to win this tournament, and I didn't expect to go to these games and spend any emotional fan energy. After all, I have no real connection to any of these schools, the closest being that an office neighbor's son graduated from UConn last year. Armed with that, I was going to watch some spirited college hoops, I thought, and that was it.

But then the SUNY-Albany Great Danes showed up.


No one told them that they were supposed to make a demonstration for about six minutes, perhaps even score the first hoops, and then fade away and lose by a respectable seventeen or so. If they were supposed to have been told, then the memo got lost.

Because Albany, you see, came to play. The bright lights and the presence of Billy Packer and Jim Nance didn't overwhelm them (I was quite grateful not to have to endure that dynamic duo of college hoops broadcasting malpractice while watching the game), and the crowd got into it the way passionate Philadelphia crowds can. That's the risk for a top seed at any of these venues -- fall behind to an underdog, and the underdog captures the crowd's hearts and suddenly about 3/4 of the 20,000 or so in attendance is pulling against you (which typically is about 3-4 times as many fans as the underdog's gym holds).

The risk materialized for UConn. Albany was up a few at the half, played fluid basketball, got after the Huskies on defense and took good shots. Most importanly, they didn't turn the ball over. UConn, in contrast, looked in a daze. I doubt that Rudy Gay impressed the NBA scouts with his sleepwalking act, and I'm sure Josh Boone didn't have Kevin McHale returning to Minneapolis saying "I've got to get this guy." I also doubt that any Albany player vaulted onto the "must-have" list of one of the NBA scouts, but all had to admire the Great Danes' grit.

And then the game got even more interesting. Because UConn didn't come storming out of the locker room to blow out Albany right after intermission. Instead, the Huskies played as though someone was spiking their water bottles with Ambien. The Great Danes continued to play crisply, and they were up twelve with about ten and a half to go.

That said, this was the conversation the three of us had at halftime.

Me: "Boy, this would be great if it could stick. Grown men would actually be crying at this kind of upset."

Friend: "Lot of time left. A lot can happen."

Me: "I suppose you're right. Albany will play well for a total of 33, 34 minutes, and then their ride will turn into a pumpkin. UConn could go on something like a 25-4 run and the game will be over."

Honestly, that was the conversation, and it was partially correct. Albany lasted about 35, 36 minutes, but it was around a little before that time that UConn stormed back, thanks, in large part, to PG Marcus Williams, and by the time the game ended UConn won by about 12 (okay, it might have been 13), but it was precisely that big type of run that ruined Albany.

What happened?

First, UConn woke up.

Second, Albany got tired. They couldn't cover inside and outside the way they did for the first 30 minutes, with the result that UConn's shooters were getting good looks in the last 10 minutes. There's a reason you play a somewhat tough non-conference schedule and a brutal conference schedule -- to give yourself the experiences necessary to rebound from a bad half. To UConn's credit, they played well enough to win. They needed to find a different gear, and they did.

Yet, most of the cheers were for Albany (except for those of the UConn faithful). The Great Danes were great indeed, and they were very fun to watch. The game was a lot closer than the final score, but, yes, we're still awaiting a #16 to upset a #1 seed. It has never happened since the tournament went to 64 (now 65) teams, and we might have to wait another 25 years for it to happen. But watching the #16 have a 12-point lead on a #1 seed with 10 and a half to go was about as exciting as it could have been.

The game also marked another chapter in a personal journey for me regarding the NCAA playoffs in Philadelphia. My father, who is long-since deceased, and I went to two Final Fours in Philadelphia, the first in 1976 and the second in 1981. (It is a profound shame and virtual scandal that in its quest to squeeze every last dime out of this tournament, the NCAA has forsaken some of the true college basketball hotbeds in the country -- most prominently, Philadelphia -- for the multi-purpose stadiums that hold 50,000 plus people (and give most of them bad seats for hoops). I was a teenager then, and there's something great about going to a big-time event with your dad.

In 1976, we watched two undefeated teams play in the Final Four. We saw Indiana, coached by then-Bobby Knight (with his plaid sports jacket), which had a starting lineup of Quinn Buckner, Bobby Wilkerson, Tom Abernathy, Scott May and Kent Benson, and we saw Rutgers, coached by Tom Young, who had, among others, a PG named Eddie Jordan (now the Wizards coach) and a SF named Phil Sellers, who was Rutgers' star (there was also a fine young center named James Bailey, who went on to play in the NBA). Indiana played John Wooden's last Final Four team and won a high-scoring affair in the first round, while Rutgers ran into Michigan, coached by Johnny Orr, and lost in double figures. Michigan had Phil Hubbard and Ricky Green, a super-quick PG, on its roster. In the final, Michigan played great in the first half, taking a five-point lead into halftime, and, thereafter, it was all Indiana. The Hoosiers played an even better second half, an almost-perfect one, and won 86-68 to give Coach Knight his first national title. It was a great weekend, seeing the Final Four in one of the best cities to watch a basketball game.

(There was an interesting quote from Arizona PG Mustafa Shakur, a Philadelphia native, regarding Arizona's pending meeting against Villanova today. Shakur indicated it would be exciting going up against some of the Villanova guys he knows from Philadelphia or summer leagues. He said that playing against them at the Wachovia Center would be great, but not as great as playing them either on the playground or at Penn's Palestra. I think that most Philadelphians would agree with the Arizona guard's sentiments about the venue. A Final Four will not take place at Penn's fabled Palestra, but it it were to the drama and intensity would more than make up for the 41,000 fewer fans the building can hold).

We had a great time in 1976 with one of my dad's closest friends and the friend's hoop-playing brothers, and we returned with them to the Spectrum in 1981 to watch Indiana vie again for a national title. The semifinals pitted North Carolina, led by Al Wood, against Virginia, with Ralph Sampson. Indiana, led by a sophomore guard named Isiah Thomas, was pitted against LSU, led by a guard named Howard Carter. Wood had a career-like game against UVA, scoring something like 44 points, and Indiana handled LSU rather easily. The week of the game was marred by Knight's allegedly thrusting a reporter into a trash can. At dinner the night of the semifinals, I even met Bill Mlkvy, the two-time first-team all-American from Temple (he played in the early 1950's) who had one of the best nicknames of all time --the Owl without a Vowel. Great nickname. Very nice man, too.

Well, a sad thing happened the day of the national title game -- the President was shot. The game went on anyway (whether it should have was another story, as some argued quite eloquently that respect for the office alone should have caused the game to be delayed at least a day), and Isiah Thomas played his last game for Indiana and led them to a win over Carolina. Thomas turned pro after that season, and Coach Knight had his second national title. There was something about Indiana hoops then -- they played smart, they played hard, they had a lot of talent, and, quite frankly, the combination proved too much for most opponents. Isiah Thomas that weekend was just that much better than everyone else.

I'm probably not doing those experiences justice, but they were amazing. The whole arena was alive, lots of huge names in college hoops were in attendance, and you had lots of big names -- Wooden, Smith, Knight, UCLA, Indiana, Carolina. Most importantly, I was with my father and his friends, and we had a great bond generally and specifically over this stuff, and there was a warmth and bunch of smiles and excitement that I hope every father can share with his son. It was very special.

(In between, we went, in 1978, the Eastern Regional at the Spectrum, where we saw Syracuse with Louis Orr and Roosevelt Bouie, Maryland with Albert King, Georgetown with Craig Shelton, John Duren and Sleepy Floyd, and Iowa with Ronnie Lester and Bob Hansen -- to our great surprise, this white-haired coach from Iowa called some great trapping defenses, and, yes, it was Lute Olson's Hawkeyes who made it to the Final Four. But we also got a taste of John Thompson, Jr. and his first really good Georgetown team, and we had no doubt we'd see more of the Hoyas in years to come).

After that, the Final Four and Regional Finals drifted away from Philadelphia, and by 1986 my father had contracted cancer and died several months later. I suppose that the magic of going to games like these lost its luster, because I had lost not only my father, but a dear friend and someone with whom I enjoyed sharing experiences like those very much. Oh, I still liked watching games like that, especially for teams I really cared about, but the urge to go had left me a bit. While I did enter the lottery in 1992 and win four good seats to the 1992 Eastern Regional, which featured UMass with Marcus Camby, Seton Hall with Danny Hurley, Rick Pitino's Kentucky squad and Duke (with Grant Hill and Christian Laettner), after watching the Sweet 16 round I felt that Duke was so much better than Kentucky that it wouldn't be a contest. So I didn't feel that badly about giving up my tickets, and, I suppose, part of the reason was that while I cherish my friends (and the group I went to those games with is a great trio), I missed going with my father.

My father-in-law joked at our wedding that when he heard that I gave up tickets to the Duke-Kentucky game to go to a winetasting with is daughter, he had two conflict thoughts. He said, "As a future father-in-law I was gratified, but as a college basketball fan, I was appalled." I'm sure that my father would have shared similar sentiments, although it might well have been the case that had he been alive I would have gone to the games (as it was, my then girlfriend now wife told me that it would have been totally okay for me to blow off the winetasting because she knew then, and knows now, what a big hoops fan I am). At any rate, I am better off for having passed on the Duke-Kentucky game, and I am grateful for the opportunities presented me last week.

I found I actually hadn't left college hoops because of my father's passing. I'm glad I had the chance to go to the games on Friday night, because my attendance there helped rekindle that warm feeling, one that I thought I couldn't replicate, about special, spirited events like that again.

My host made the night a special one simply by including me.

The Great Danes made the night an extra-special one by reminding everyone in the country why the games are played in the first place and why the champion of any league deserves a berth in this wonderful tournament.

And, yes, my bracket remains in tact (my four Final Four teams are still alive) and my son, of all things, is a Duke fan.

To top it off, my mother told me last week that I was looking very well-preserved, especially compared to that coach that people think look like me. A native Philadelphian and sports fan, she knows a lot about the game and was very supportive of my father's and my love for basketball. That said, she hasn't kept totally current on the college game, as witnessed by the following exchange:

Mom: "You know, I saw that coach who looks like you on TV the other night. My God, how he's aged. You look so much better than he does."

Me: "Which coach are you talking about?"

Mom: "The guy who coaches Syracuse."

Me: "Jim Boeheim."

Mom: "That's him. He really got old looking."

Me: "Mom, Jim Boeheim is at least 15 years older than I am."

Mom: "Really? I thought he was your age. Now wonder why you look so good."

March Madness, indeed.

Friday, March 17, 2006

More Thoughts on the John Chaney Replacement Sweepstakes

And welcome to those of you who are checking out this site for the first time from the Temple Rivals board. Please have a look around and stay a while.

If you're a hiring manager, you should have an idea of the type of person you want to fill this job. You also will work you're network, because someone who comes well-recommended from people whose opinion you value means a lot. There's a saying that the candidate you interview on a Friday isn't exactly the one who shows up for work the following Monday after you've hired him or her. Importantly, even if people in the coaching profession are better known because at this level they're public personalities, you really have no idea of what they are like to work with the same way you don't know what goes on in anyone else's house. In this regard, hiring people whom you know is a big plus and offers much less risk. If you're a hiring manager and you're graded on the quality of your hiring, that's an important consideration. It's also human nature.

Are you following so far? Sure, this is management-book speak, but it speaks to the logic of how hiring managers operate. Sure, they go through the company' processes and they build a pool and they bring in candidates, but in the end they have a few constituencies to satisfy. First, they must satisfy themselves that the candidate they hire is someone with whom they can work. In the coaching profession, that could well eliminate certain candidates, especially those who clash with authority, can get too big for their britches, etc. Second, they need someone who will have credibility within the organization, or else the instant pressure to excel will be too great. Put another way, if Temple AD Bill Bradshaw goes with the person with the great credentials, he can find a) someone who is good to work with and b) someone for whom he doesn't have to stick out his neck. Translated, he won't have to risk his job if he hires the "right" candidate. Unless, of course, the right candidate becomes an unmitigated failure. Finally, the hiring manager needs to be able to sell the candidate to his organization and community. If the coach to be doesn't have the right credentials, the pressure on everyone in the basketball program at the school will be too great. Yes, you can go the "old boy" networking route, but the person you bring in had better be able to bring home the wins, too. And quickly.

So what does this mean for the Temple search? Here are a few points to consider:

1. I think that any mention of Rick Brunson, the former Chaney player and current Houston Rocket is pure speculation. Brunson may well be a great guy, and his journey under Chaney is fascinating, as he went from someone that Chaney virtually told to leave to someone who made himself into an outstanding player and a Chaney favorite. (He was well-recruited, but he had trouble adjusting to Temple and Chaney). Brunson will get his shot somewhere, some day, and while he has a good hoops IQ, he's not ready. According the Hiring 101, he's too much of a risk, he doesn't have enough experience and he hasn't really paid his dues.

2. The logic I suggest also would seem to eliminate Bob Huggins. They say that those who get married for a second time are examples of the triumph of hope over experience. What's to say that Huggins won't clash with the Temple administration? Philadelphia sports fans are all too weary of giving a high-maintenance sports figure a second chance, as the Terrell Owens experiment proved to be a disaster. There's no reason for Bradshaw to hire Huggins. Temple's program needs a good basketball man; it doesn't need a savior. Huggins could well end up at a moribund program at a big conference school.

3. Others on the list I first posted on February 26 and recently re-posted the other day would get eliminated probably because Bradshaw won't be able to sell them. Head coaches from Northern Iowa and Winthrop might move up into the top six conferences, but they'll probably have a better chance of doing so in their regions and not outside of them. For example, if Indiana does the safe thing and brings Steve Alford back to Bloomington from Iowa, then the Hawkeyes might need to look no further than Northern Iowa and hire Greg McDermott. It's hard to sell McDermott, though, to the Philadelphia college hoops community. He'd be too much of an outsider in a community where most people who live there actually grew up nearby.

4. So who would the candidates be? Since I first posted, I received a few e-mails that suggested that the short list might include Penn's Fran Dunphy, Drexel's Bruiser Flint, Portland Trailblazer assistant Dean Demopoulos, Temple assistant Dan Lebovitz, Lehigh head coach Billy Taylor, soon-to-be-former Indiana head coach Mike Davis, one-time Ohio State and 76ers head coach Randy Ayres and current Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins. That's a pretty good pool, but then let's apply Hiring Basics 101 and handicap the race:

a. Penn's Fran Dunphy. He's beloved at Penn, well-respected in the coaching community, well-respected by John Chaney, and he knows Temple A.D. Bill Bradshaw from their days together at LaSalle. Dunphy has a great reputation, and Bradshaw wouldn't be sticking his neck out to get Dunphy the job. The only drawbacks to Dunphy are a) he's been in the same job a long time and b) he's been in a league that doesn't give athletic scholarships. Some hiring experts would argue that factor a) would signify a lack of ambition and some complacency about his lot in the coaching world, and they would argue that b) might be a tough skill to acquire after not having had to recruit with scholarships for so long. Both of those concerns can be easily dispensed with. First, Dunphy has the ambition. He apparently turned down Penn State three years ago when Ed DeChellis got the job because the compensation package wasn't enough, and he was a finalist for the Ohio State and Georgetown jobs a few years back. So, he has the itch, and he schedules tough non-conference opponents. As for the second concern, usually it's the other way around. Ivy coaches should have little problem recruiting with scholarships than a non-Ivy coach would have going to the Ivies after years of recruiting with them. Dunphy will do fine, and he's smart enough to hire a staff that has experience with that type of recruiting. The only other concern would be his ability to adjust to the type of kid that he might attract to Temple versus Penn. After years in the Ivies, that adjustment might be the hardest. Still, he's the favorite.

b) Dean Demopoulos. This is an easy one. He was Chaney's top aide for years, and Chaney wanted Temple to annoint Demopoulos his successor years ago. When that didn't happen, Demopoulos left to pursue other opportunities. He has great ties to the area, should get a good recommendation from Chaney and is well-known to the Temple community. As for Hiring Basics 101, Bradshaw wouldn't be sticking his neck out for an unknown if he hires Demopoulos, because he'd be hiring a Chaney protege. That said, Demopoulos didn't actually set the world on fire in his year at Missouri-Kansas City, and he's been away from the college game for a while. Of course, college hoops and is a small world, and my guess is that if he had the appropriate assistants, his recent absence from the college game wouldn't hurt him.

c) Bruiser Flint. Great guy, from all accounts, extremely well-connected to HS and AAU coaches in the area, popular in Philadelphia, and has strong media support. Going with Hiring Basics 101, he's the people's choice for those who wouldn't be backing Dunphy, and Bradshaw wouldn't be sticking his neck out too far because Flint played his HS ball in the area, went to St. Joe's and has had two Division 1 coaching jobs. The drawback is that he hasn't excelled at either UMass (where, among others, Philadelphia Inquirer reporters think he got a raw deal after he succeeded John Calipari) and Drexel, where he's been for the past few years. Had Flint turned around the Drexel program in his short tenure there, he might be the favorite. His candidacy is the type where Bradshaw would perhaps say that his heart tells him that Bruiser Flint might be the right guy, but his head would tell him to look elsewhere.

d) Johnny Dawkins, top assistant, Duke. Not much has been written because Dawkins' sole connection to Philadelphia was that he played for the 76ers in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Still, that's enough of a connection, and being Coach K's top aide is a big plus. He has the credentials, but he's been at Duke long enough to make you at least ask the question whether he's happy being the #2 man and really has the ambition to be the #1 man. Moreover, the track record of Coach K's assistants in head coaching positions hasn't been great. Mike Brey did well at Delaware and has done above average at Notre Dame, while we're still waiting for Tommy Amaker to emerge at Michigan after only faring above average at Seton Hall. David Henderson was just fired at Delaware, and Quin Snyder quit under a cloud of suspicion at Missouri. In other words, the question could arise whether Coach K is so dominating a presence that he really is developing head coaches. Dawkins is an intriguing possibility. If he's interested, he probably gets a lot more than a courtesy interview.

As for the rest of the candidates, I'll note that Taylor hasn't been at Lehigh long enough or done well enough there to warrant serious consideration. Temple would not be smart to hire him instead of Bruiser Flint, who is better known to the community. As for Lebovitz, apparently he's more than a capable assistant, and he'd be a dark horse candidate. The advantage is that he's a known quantity and that he's the top assistant now. The last time, however, that Temple replaced a legend with a top assistant, Don Casey, Harry Litwack's top aide, achieved only to an above-average level (Casey is the answer to the trivia question "Who coached men's basketball at Temple between Harry Litwack and John Chaney?"). It may be that Lebovitz, like junior faculty at Harvard, has to get his tenure elsewhere as a head coach before getting consideration in the city where he grew up. As for Randy Ayres and Mike Davis, well, both have outstanding resumes. If Temple were to hire either of them, Bradshaw would have to make sure that they have recovered from whatever burnout they might have suffered at their previous jobs. Davis seems burned out, but he was in an almost impossible situation at Indiana, and he's a decent recruiter. Ayres has been away from the college game for a long time.

Another name mentioned was Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon, whom I would heartily endorse, because I think that he's a transcendant coaching talent, perhaps better than anyone in Philadelphia who has yet to retire. With all due respect to the other Big Five coaches (Jay Wright, John Giannini, who did a great job at LaSalle this year), Fran Dunphy and Phil Martelli, and, also, Flint, O'Hanlon is a technical wizard and his teams are fun to watch. He's an excellent technician, and he's suffered at Lafayette because he's coaching at the only Patriot League school that doesn't give full rides for men's hoops (Army and Navy do by way of grants, and the rest give full scholarships). Put O'Hanlon on North Broad Street, and the Owls will do great, great things. (My guess is that if Fran Dunphy were to get the Temple job, Fran O'Hanlon would be a leading candidate for the Penn job). Sure, O'Hanlon has about a .500 record in Easton, Pennsylvania over the past 12 or so years, but don't let that fool you. The man can flat out coach -- with anyone. He's a known quantity within Philadelphia, has a good reputation, etc., but the political risk according to Hiring Basics 101 is that because of his long tenure at Lafayette he might be tough to sell to the Temple community. After all, it's hard to hold Bruiser Flint and Fran O'Hanlon to different standards, except that the latter has probably had a handicap to his coaching success that the former has not.

So there you have it. That's a very strong pool, and one that's sure to yield a coach that will help Temple return to the Top 25 or the cusp thereof for a while.

The NCAA's List of the 100 Most Influential Scholar-Athletes Ever

In case you missed it among the World Baseball Classic, March Madness and ESPN's documentary on Sebastian Telfair, here's the list.

The criteria for selection are not listed, but suffice it to say that post-college success -- in sports, in politics or in business -- are major criteria. I'll bet, also, that you didn't know that eBay's Meg Whitman played lacrosse and squash at Princeton or that former Secretary of State Madeline Albright was on the swimming and diving team at Wellesley College. I'm sure you wouldn't have bet that the NCAA would have rated Donna de Varona, who swam at UCLA and in the Olympics and is a TV commentator, ahead of former U.S. Senator and Rhodes Scholar Bill Bradley, who hooped at Princeton and for the Knicks.

Any "Top 100" list will be open for criticism. The list of names is pretty amazing in its own right. Take a look and see what you think.

Breaking Down Baseball America's Top 900 Prospects

I like reading books such as Baseball America's Prospect Handbook, because I love lists and I like reading about prospects. If I can (and have room), I save the books and look at them years later to determine how accurate the lists proved to be. I also like looking at the demography of the top prospects, and I broke down the list in a few ways -- (i) country of origin and (ii) within the U.S., whether a player played at a four-year college, a two-year college or in high school. I have to admit that my breakdown totals 898 players. There was one player about whom you couldn't tell where he played last before the pros, and I suppose I goofed on the other one. Oh, one more thing, Baseball America listed the top 30 prospects per Major League organization.

With that by way of background, here goes (please note that I'm only writing about highlights and will not blog as to the background of each prospect -- you can read the book if you're so inclined):

United States 702 prospects

Rest of the World 196 prospects

United States, 4-year colleges -- 343 prospects from 156 different colleges. Of those four-year colleges, here's the breakdown of conferences:

ACC -- 33 prospects
Atlantic 10 -- 3 prospects
Big East -- 14 prospects
Big Ten -- 11 prospects
Big 12 -- 39 prospects
Big West -- 24 prospects
Conference USA -- 19 prospects
Mid-American -- 11 prospects
Pac-10 -- 30 prospects
SEC -- 42 prospects
West Coast -- 4 prospects.

The following are the four-year colleges with the most prospects:

Long Beach State -- 9 prospects
Louisiana State -- 9 prospects
Texas -- 9 prospects
Stanford -- 8 prospects
Mississippi -- 7 prospects
Rice -- 7 prospects
Arizona State -- 6 prospects
Clemson -- 6 prospects
South Carolina -- 6 prospects
Texas A&M -- 6 prospects
Tulane -- 6 prospects
Mississippi State -- 5 prospects
Oklahoma State -- 5 prospects.

2-year colleges -- 94 prospects

The following is a list of states who have the most prospects from 2-year colleges:

California -- 27
Florida -- 21
Texas -- 11.

High schools -- 265 prospects (from 38 different states). The following is a list of states who have provided 5 or more prospects from their high schools:

Florida -- 46
California -- 45
Texas -- 31
Georgia -- 23
Arizona -- 10
Louisiana -- 8
Oklahoma -- 8
Tennessee -- 7
Virginia -- 7
Pennsylvania -- 6
Ohio -- 5
Washington -- 5.

Countries outside the U.S. -- as said above, 196 prospects. The following is a list of countries that have provided 5 or more prospects:

Dominican Republic -- 78
Venezuela -- 69
Puerto Rico - 9
Australia -- 8
Canada -- 8
Taiwan -- 5.

So what does this all tell us, really? Here are a few thoughts:

1. If your kid is a prospect, move to a warm-weather state in the U.S. More specifically, go to Florida, California, Texas or Georgia, where he can play year-round.

2. A kid is more likely to be a top-30 prospect if he spends some time in college. This makes sense, because it's hard for eighteen year-olds to not only enter the work force but to move away from home to do so. College eases the transition, whether it's a two-year or four-year program.

3. Playing at college in warm-weather states helps a prospects cause. Sure, Princeton has three prospects, but with the exception of Oklahoma State, the top prospects from four-year colleges play in southern schools, Texas and Arizona. Yes, there are schools who penetrate the top 25 in the annual baseball polls who aren't in the warm-weather states, but those are typically the exception, not the rule.

4. If you're not from a handful of states in the United States, the odds are fairly steep against you're becoming a top-30 prospect.

5. There are more prospects from the Dominican Republic than there are from the top two U.S. collegiate conferences combined.

6. The top ten among four-year colleges having the most prospects only have one more prospect than the Dominican Republic. My guess is that the 78 prospects from the Dominican Republic collectively have spent less on their equipment in their lifetimes than the average U.S. college baseball team spends in a year.

7. I don't know what this statement signifies, that Stanford has as many prospects among the Top 900 as Australia and Canada. Who does that statement say more about? Is that a good or bad thing for Stanford?

8. Then again, I was surprised to see that Puerto Rico had only 1 more prospect in the Top 900 than either Australia or Canada.

9. Venezuela fares particularly well, too, with 69 prospects.

The book is always fun to read, and you can learn a lot about your favorite team. Not only are the Top 30 prospects listed (and short bios provided), but also the book provides a depth chart for minor leaguers in the organization at each position. This list goes beyond the Top-30 prospects on occasion, so you'll be well-prepared for the upcoming baseball season.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Coolest Chant of Them All

And it's not being done at any March Madness NCAA hoops game, either.

That might disappoint even the staunchest Kansas fan, who probably would swear to you that "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk!" is the best thing going. Perhaps it could be in NCAA hoops, but it's not close on the world sporting scene.

I saw this chant once, perhaps on English TV when I was in London on a business trip and was watching something on Sky TV about a world rugby tournament. The New Zealand national team, called the "All Blacks", was playing, and they engaged in this tribal chant called the Haka that was compelling viewing, to say the least. I also think that the New Zealand men's hoops team performed a version of this chant at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, led by former Cal Bear and NBA player Sean Marks.

It's really cool, and, I agree with Eric McErlain of Off-Wing Opinion that I could watch it for a while. Eric blogged about the Haka, as the chant is called, today, and his post is definitely worth reading.

Ray Lewis sometimes does his own version of the Haka before a Baltimore Ravens game (of course it's not the Haka, but it's a spectacle nonetheless), but it's nothing like a group of burly guys acting in choreographed fashion before a game. The video clips that Eric attaches are compelling because not only do they show the All Blacks, they also show the reaction of the opposition. They say in rugby that perhaps it's not as important who wins the game as to who wins the party afterwards (where beer and bawdy songs carry the day), but it could be the case that the game is won during the warm-ups, when the Haka makes opponents befuddled, mystified, angry, bothered, demoralized or wondering why the heck their team's handlers couldn't come up with anything as creative or compelling.

Read the whole thing -- and watch the video clips. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NCAA Men's Tournament Predictions

Okay, so I haven't weighed in yet on who was selected, who wasn't, whether Billy Packer and Jim Nantz were out of line with Craig Littlepage, head of the NCAA men's tournament selection committee, whether the pairings are fair, etc. Now I will address various topics, some of which I will handle in truncated fashion, and then I'll give you my tournament picks.

First, I think that overall the selections were fair. Every year there are gripes about who gets into the tournament and who gets omitted, but that's life. In the end, people don't remember that type of stuff or care that much. That the Missouri Valley Conference fared particularly well is a tribute to the hoops they play there. I didn't view the exchange among Packer, Nantz and Littlepage, but "good manners" and Packer are not frequently mentioned in the same sentence. Craig Littlepage is one of the nicest guys ever to walk the landscape of NCAA athletics, and his integrity is beyond reproach. Nantz, to me, is a lightweight on basketball, while I very much do respect the insight of Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis, not to mention ESPN's Andy Katz. At the end of the day, there's no such thing as a perfect bracket. Yes, perhaps Air Force and a few others were reaches, and, yes, I'm surprised that Tennessee got a #2 seed, but I wasn't in the room when the selectiosn were made and none of us follow the game as closely as those who get paid to do so. Let's get over that and get to the brackets.


First Round

Duke over Southern. Bambi meets Godzilla. Still, Godzilla has to worry that somewhere down the road someone will defend their two first-team all-Americans well, and then older fans will start hearing Don Meredith's rendition of "Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over."

GWU over UNC-Wilmington. Yes, GWU got blown out by Temple in the A-10 Tournament the same way St. Joe's, en route to an Elite Eight visit, got blown out early in that same tournament by Xavier two years ago. GWU still has the goods, even if UNC-Wilmington was one of five "upset special" teams named by ESPN The Magazine as capable of getting to the Sweet 16. The hoops gods certainly have put UNC-Wilmington in a position to make that run, but I think that they'll disappoint.

Texas A&M over Syracuse. This one pains me, because some of our best friends are either Syracuse alums or from the area. Still, the prime SportsProf theory is to bet against a conference "also-ran" who gets hot in the conference tournament and then wins it. Why? I think that Syracuse has already played its best hoops of the year, and I fear they'll get caught flat-footed in this game.

LSU versus Iona. It would be romantic to think that Gary Springer, Jr. and Steve Burtt, Jr. can help rekindle the magic that their fathers generated over 20 years ago when playing with Iona coach Jeff Ruland for the Gaels. But LSU is one of those formidable, athletic teams, and this is where the strength of a conference and the schedule its average member plays will combine to derail a mid-major team.

West Virginia versus Southern Illinois. Sure we love to watch Kevin Pittsnogle and his tattoes, but John Bellien, the Mountaineers' coach, is one of the top 20 strategic coaches in the country. His teams are usually well-prepared, and they have good tactics to break down opponents' defenses. Their lack of overall athleticism could hurt them in later rounds, but not now.

Iowa versus Northwestern State. Last year, the pundits dissed the Big 10, which did have a subpar regular season, only to find its teams have an outstanding NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes are just too good here.

Cal versus N.C. State. This should be one of the best first-round games. On the one hand, you have to like N.C. State playing close to home. On the other hand, Cal has Leon Powe, who is one of the top players in the nation. To me, the Wolfpack confound me, as they are frequently near the top 25 without making a serious run to the top 15. Cal is similarly confounding, as Ben Braun recruits some outstanding talent but apparently not enough of it. Somehow, I think that Leon Powe is just too good, and the Golden Bears will get a win here.

Texas versus Pennsylvania. Penn plays smart, has an outstanding wing guard in Ibby Jaaber, but has only one player in its rotation who is 6'8" or taller and now relies on 6 players. Texas has perhaps more talent in its starting five than anyone, including UConn and Duke. Penn might be able to give Texas fits for 30 minutes, but in the end, the 'horns will hook 'em -- by 20 or more.

Remaining games (as I won't post an endless post)

I like Duke to beat GWU and LSU to beat Texas A&M in the second round, and I like West Virginia over Iowa and Texas over Cal. The Sweet 16 matchups will pit Duke versus LSU and West Virginia versus Texas, and I do concede that I'm betting the chalk in a Duke-Texas regional final. Yes, the Selection Committee has picked a re-match, and yes, it's a revenge game for Texas. But something worries me about Rick Barnes and big games, and Duke is like the Yankees, they're hard to bet against and you have to knock 'em out. That said, neither Duke nor the Yankees have won the title in several years, and there's also the factor of the "best coach not to win a national title." In recent years, Jim Boeheim, Gary Williams and Roy Williams have shed that tag. I don't know if Rick Barnes will do it this year, but the Longhorns will beat Duke. They have the horses, 'er, the steers, to do so.


First round

Memphis versus Oral Roberts. I'm not sure that Memphis has received as much national attention as the other #1 seeds, but they're a high-octane team that should breze past Oral Roberts.

Arkansas versus Bucknell. There are a bunch of Bison fans out there, and Bucknell has had an excellent year. Yet, they're not great at taking care of the rock, and they're not as athletic as Arkansas. While I would love to see them go to the Sweet 16, Arkansas is almost as good as anyone the Bison have played this year. Along the lines of "Mom, I'm comin' home, they're starting to throw curve balls," I'll take the Razorbacks.

Pittsburgh versus Kent State. The Big East is very strong, and Pitt fared well in the Big East Tourney and seems to have a lot left. I have tons of respect for the Mid-American Conference, but Pitt has some outstanding players and hasn't suffered from the weakness of its pre-season schedule. Conferenced-hardened, the Panthers win this one.

Kansas versus Bradley. Rock, chalk, Jayhawk! They play good hoops in Peoria, but Bill Self has his team ready for a tournament run.

Indiana versus San Diego State. Steve Fisher doesn't have the Fab 5 playing for him in San Diego, and Mike Davis is a better coach than many believe and his team has some talent. This could be a good game, but I think that Davis will do some of his best coaching because he has nothing to lose here. Hoosiers win.

Gonzaga versus Xavier. See, above, my theory on Syracuse. Easy, easy win for Gonzaga here.

Marquette versus Alabama. Something tells me that Marquette coach Tom Crean and Iowa coach Steve Alford are auditioning for the Indiana job. The Warriors get past the Crimson Tide for a date with UCLA.

UCLA versus Belmont. Ben Howland is restoring the wizardry to Westwood with his team's defense. The Bruins can alway get talent. The bigger question recently has been whether they can keep it for more than two years and whether they can win with it. Comfortable win in Round 1.

Remaining Games:

I like Memphis over Arkansas in what should be a spirited regional contest, and I like Pitt over Kansas because I think that the Big East will go deeper into the tournament across the board this year than last year. I'll take Gonzaga to end Mike Davis' career at Indiana, and then I'll take under-the-radar UCLA to beat Marquette in the second round. That leaves Sweet 16 matchups between Memphis and Pitt and Gonzaga and UCLA. I have Memphis getting to the Elite 8, and I have UCLA doing the same. To some, it might be a slight upset to have UCLA beat Gonzaga, but UCLA is a more athletic team, and they play tough defense. Gonzaga had too many close calls within its inferior conference to give me comfort that it can beat UCLA. Up until today, I would have bet the chalk and said Memphis goes to the Final Four, but I've had a change of heart. Ben Howland is an excellent coach who will get to many Final Fours, and this will be the first time that he gets his UCLA teams there. It won't be the last.

Washington, D.C.

First Round

UConn versus Albany. Albany's first trip to the Big Dance will be a quick one. UConn moves on.

Kentucky versus UAB. Okay, so I may not be going out too much on a limb in the 8-9 game, but I'll pick UAB in the slight upset. Kentucky has not played well this year, certainly not when compared to other Tubby Smith teams. This is their year to go home early.

Washington versus Utah State. One day soon Utah State's Stew Morrill will get a head coaching job in a Top-6 Conference and do well there. Somehow, I think that the Huskies just have too much for Morrill's squad this time around.

Illinois versus Air Force. One of the last teams in, Air Force will be among the first to leave.

Michigan State versus George Mason. GMU are one of the darlings of the upset pickers, but they drew a tough club in Tom Izzo's Spartans. Draw a team of a lesser coach and I think that GMU would have a chance, but this is George Mason, not George Washington, and as in the country's foundational national politics, one will go on to higher perches. It's not Mason.

North Carolina versus Murray State. ESPN The Magazine picks the Racers as one of their upset specialists. Mick Cronin, their coach, will probably end up at Missouri or a Top 6 conference after this season. He'll provide ample support for that statement if his Racers can run by the Tar Heels in the first round. Something tells me that they can, but I just like Carolina too much and don't see it. Heels advance.

Wichita State versus Seton Hall. I'm a Big East fan, but not over the top about it. Mark Turgeon, Wichita State's coach, is a Larry Brown disciple, and the Missouri Valley Conference will show why they got five teams into the Big Dance when Wichita State beats the Seton Hall team that saved Coach Louis Orr his job.

Tennessee versus Winthrop. I like Bruce Pearl, I like the way he gets along with Pat Summitt, I love his orange jackets, but I don't see the Vols as a #2 seed, and Winthrop is a pretty good program in its own right. I'm actually going to summon up some courage and say that Winthrop will pull off the upset of the tournament and send nouveau-riche Tennessee home early.

Remaining Games:

I'll take UConn over UAB and then Illinois over Washington. I'll take UNC over Michigan State, and then I have Wichita State beating Winthrop. That leaves a Sweet 16 of UConn versus Illinois and Carolina versus Wichita State, and to me UConn is just too strong and Carolina has just played too well. So that makes it a Jim Calhoun-Roy Williams regional final, chalk versus chalk, but more seasoned chalk beats rookie chalk, and the Tar Heels are essentially rookie chalk. Put the Huskies -- the nationally known Huskies -- in the Final Four.


Villanova versus Monmouth. I still think that Fairleigh Dickinson, whom Monmouth beat in its conference tournament, is a bit better than Monmouth, which played a great game last night. This is a good first-round tuneup for the 'Cats, for whom Monmouth doesn't pose any particular matchup problems.

Arizona versus Wisconsin. Should be one of the best first-round games, featuring a team long on talent and flakiness this year against a team that's always been long on grit. This isn't a great Lute Olson team, and I'll take Bo Ryan's Badgers in a close game.

Nevada versus Montana. This isn't NCAA Rodeo, but perhaps it's the "yee-haw, yipee" game of the year. This should be another excellent (if little-watched) first-round game, and I like the Wolfpack of Nevada here.

B.C. versus Pacific. Now, again, ESPN The Magazine loves Pacific (I love their colors), and thinks that they can win a first-round game, but BC just took Duke to the mat in the ACC final game and is perhaps the worst type of draw for Pacific. Look for the Eagles to be Screaming Eagles here and thrash Pacific's upset hopes early.

Oklahoma versus Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Score another win for a Big 12 team.

Florida versus South Alabama. Tough game for Bill Donovan, whose one-time top assistant, John Pelphrey, coaches USA. But that's the only way this game should be tough -- on the sentimental level. Look for the Gators to advance.

Georgetown versus Northern Iowa. I respect John Thompson III too much to see his team bow out in the first round, but Northern Iowa is one of those teams that can give you fits. My head tells me the Hoyas, but my heart tells me UNI. I'll go with my head here, although I confess it might hurt after this game is over.

Ohio State versus Davidson. I love the way Davidson plays, and in Brendan Winters they have a bona fide star at shooting guard. Ohio State has flown under the radar all year. Davidson is a good mid-major, but not nearly good enough to defeat the Buckeyes.

Remaining Games:

The Villanova-Wisconsin game will be a brutal affair if the Wildcats try to trade punches with the Badgers. Jay Wright is adept enough at having his team play its game, so I'll take Villanova to advance here. I like B.C. over Nevada, because B.C. is just one of the toughest teams around. I like Florida over Oklahoma because ironically, while Billy Donovan has famous names on his team, they're not perhaps the "big" names that got spoiled through the recruiting process. Put another way, this Florida team plays well together and should advance. Finally, I like Georgetown over Ohio State, if for no other reason than John Thompson is good at winning games that people don't expect him to. His Hoyas will rise to the challenge and have Thad Matta home early enough to design a great offense around incoming frosh Greg Oden. In the Sweet 16, Villanova and B.C. could play the best game of the tournament. Here, my heart tells me Villanova, but my head tells me that it's Al Skinner's time to get the national attention. His Eagles are about as tough a team as I've watched, and Villanova's inside guys won't have an answer for Craig Smith and B.C., in a very close affair. I like Florida over Georgetown, because I think that Billy Donovan has learned a thing or two since the heyday of having over-talented clubs, if there is such a concept. In the regional final, I like Boston College to beat Florida in a very spirited contest. This will be the toughest region from which to escape.

Final Four

Texas versus UCLA.

UConn versus Boston College.So, I have a #1 seed, two #2 seeds and a #4 seed. That means I've honored the chalk without getting drunk on the Super Chalk. That leaves a Texas-UCLA matchup and a UConn-BC matchup. Going into the season, I honestly though that Texas had more talent than anyone and was shocked when Duke put Texas away by more than 30 early in the season. I'm not sure any more, but their talent ranks within the Top 5. I like Ben Howland more than I do Rick Barnes (not having met either of them, but I'm talking about their coaching), and yet, you have to be the horse and not the jockey. Texas has enough to get by UCLA and make it to the final game I also think that both UConn and B.C. are worthy of the national title game, I really do. I loved what B.C. showed against Duke, and I like the way that UConn came back to soundly defeat a Villanova team that had beaten it in Philadelphia a few weeks earlier. If Texas isn't the most talented team in the country, UConn is. The UConn-B.C. game will be a fierce contest, but UConn will emerge. That leaves UConn and Texas, and I'm afraid that unlike coaches Boeheim, Williams and Williams, Coach Barnes will not get his first national title. No, instead, Jim Calhoun will get his third. The game could be in the high eighties, and the Huskies will win it.

Call it UConn 94, Texas 90.

How Short Are Our Memories?

A few years ago, the Miami Dolphins were looking for a quarterback. In their neverending quest to find the next Dan Marino, Bob Griese or Earl Morrall, they traded a second-round draft pick for then-Eagles third-string quarterback A.J. Feeley.

You remember him, don't you? He was a back-up for most of his career at Oregon (I think some kid named Harrington, among others, was ahead of him), the Eagles saw something in him, drafted him, and then, when Donovan McNabb went down to injuries and second-team QB Koy Detmer went down almost immediately thereafter, Feeley came in, and the Eagles went 5-0 down the stretch.

Instant NFL career that's more than two years long.

Now, to Feeley's credit, he showed that he could play well under pressure for a championship-contending team. That says a lot. To his detriment, it wasn't as though the Eagles were extending their offense or running the same schemes they did for McNabb. In a sense, Feeley played QB-lite, the Eagles went back to a more basic game, and it was good for everyone. Put differently, nothing in the way Feeley played suggested that a quarterback controversy was born.

Fast forward to yesterday.

The Miami Dolphins, looking to improve their QB position, traded a second-round draft pick for Daunte Culpepper, the one-time Viking starter who has been to three Pro Bowls in his short career.

I don't think that you'd ever mention A.J. Feeley and Daunte Culpepper in the same sentence except in a post like this one. One is now a perennial back-up, one who you hope you don't have to turn your season over to if your starter goes down. There are plenty of guys like that, and in his days since he was in Philadelphia Feeley hasn't convinced anyone that he's more than a part-time player. Culpepper, on the other hand, has a serious game, and if he can get back to the way he played a few years ago (and he's still young enough to do it), the Dolphins will have stolen him from the Vikings.

Which makes you wonder:

1. Were the Dolphins just plain stupid when they traded a second-round pick for Feeley?
2. Were the Dolphins just plain geniuses when they traded a second-round pick for Culpepper?
3. Has the market changed that much in three years?

(Corresponding, were the Eagles that brilliant and the Vikings that stupid?).

I don't think that the question is as easily answered as I put it. First, Culpepper is coming off major knee surgery. Second, there isn't much data on how Mo Vaughn-sized quarterbacks fare in the mid-to-late stages in their careers. Certainly, big-bodied baseball players like Vaughn and Bobby Bonilla ballooned and lost their effectiveness. While I doubt there's a true corollary in football, it could be that the big-bodied QBs take such a pounding that it's harder for them to stay as mobile and effective (Steve McNair might be an example, but one sample doesn't a theory make). Conversely, with the extra padding they have, they might be able to take more of a beating. Third, Culpepper was not enjoying a good season last year, and fourth, his wanting out suggests that he's a malcontent. I don't put much credence in factors two, three or four, however. I do put some credence in the first point, but I still think that the Dolphins got an excellent deal from the Vikings.

I'm sure the Vikings will anesthetize themselves with Brad Johnson, who has been a championship quarterback, and tell them that they can contend with him leading the offense. But he's up in years and was signed to be Culpepper's back-up a few years ago, meaning that even back then no one in the NFL figured him to be a starting QB for a contending team. The Vikes can't claim they've upgraded the position.

Retrospectively, it's easy to say that the Eagles fleeced the Dolphins, but I think that even at the time many were scratching their heads regarding the Dolphins' trade. Perhaps the Dolphins thought they were getting the next Brett Favre at the time, but few others did. Had Feeley gone on to become Tom Brady, the Eagles would have looked silly, but when he stepped in for McNabb Feeley looked more like an average NFL QB than a potential star. Score that trade as a horrible one for the Dolphins.

As for how the market has changed, it's clear that teams are reluctant to part with their draft choices, as so few of them get traded relative to prior years. The Vikings, then, were faced with a difficult choice, and they didn't have much leverage. They took the best offer they got, and I think that several years down the road the combination of Nick Saban and Daunte Culpepper could be standing on a podium accepting a championship trophy.

At least, that's more likely than Brad Childress's doing the same with Brad Johnson anytime soon.

P.S. If, as rumored, the Eagles sign Jeff Garcia, then they'll have on their roster the two QBs that Terrell Owens couldn't get along with during his career. I sense that some immediate bonding will go on in the City of Brotherly Love if that were to happen.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Book Review: "Season of Life" by Jeffrey Marx

Okay, so I'm a bit late, but I don't know how many of you diehard sports fans read this book. You see, it's more about life than it is about football, even though one of the main characters is former Baltimore Colts defensive lineman Joe Ehrmann, now a minister and defensive coordinator for a Baltimore private school, albeit one with what now has become a perennial power in the East. And while the book might fail in its quest to become the next "Tuesdays With Morrie" (its short length and book jacket combine to try to give you that image), it is a book worth reading.

If you're a father, a son looking to connect with a father, a coach of boys, a teacher of boys or a leader of boys, you should read this book. Basically, Ehrmann and the private school's head coach, a solid man whose name is Biff (but is hardly the effete prep that his nickname might otherwise suggest), coach boys in a wonderful way. They encourage boys to be men -- courageous men -- measuring them by how they treat and sacrifice for others and not by the sometimes all-too-typical standards that high school boys judge themselves (on athletic exploits, sexual conquests, ability to shame/humiliate/outcool others). The teams that they coach excel, and the boys that they're helping turn into men are measured totally on substance.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, "It takes courage to be kind." Both Biff Poggi and Joe Ehrmann match up with anyone as male role models and leaders. They stress teamwork and character over everything else. And, yes, while they recruit and win most of their games, they do not sacrifice their core values and beliefs in so doing. It is clear that these men would prefer that their teams go 0-10 if they know that they're turning out men who will benefit society than go 10-0 if they knew that even one player would go onto become a campus headache at a big-time football school.

Marx admires both Poggi and Ehrmann, but this book, I believe, is not a lionization of either man. In fact, the book is also about Marx, his life's journey, his connection with Ehrmann that dated back to when he was a high school kid going to tennis camp at a different private school where the Colts held their training camp, and his relationship with his father. While Marx does a good job of describing Poggi's and Ehrmann's attempts to build better men, he falls a bit short in developing the parallel them of connecting with his father. In this portion of the book, Marx holds back a bit and doesn't give us much depth of context as to his historical relationship with his father. All he reveals is that his father was hard-working and first told him he loved him when he was in his twenties. There's no description of a "Great Santini" here, no comparison to Ehrmann's father, an absent, itinerant stevedore who worked the Great Lakes and slapped him silly when he was a very young boy, so, in a sense, you have the author giving you a view of his life without revealing much. I don't think that this book would have become a "Tuesdays With Morrie" for men looking to be better men anyway, but had it had a chance to do so, Marx failed it with the incomplete effort regarding his relationship with his father.

That said, I acknowledge that I'm being a bit of a tough critic here. Perhaps the "Tuesdays with Morrie" motif created expectations for this book that were too high. Perhaps I was looking for comparable excellence in the parallel themes that Marx adroitly created. All that said, Marx's book is very much worth reading. Poggi and Ehrmann and men worth listening to and following, and Marx himself gives some helpful hints about trying to heal the void he obviously carried with him about the metaphysical distance between him and his father.

It's always important to set examples for young men. Stories several years back of the hazing of high school football players at a Long Island High school were nauseating. That football coach, and a former NFL player turned sensei for the bad kids in the first "Karate Kid" movie who is profiled in this book, are the types of leaders of men that fracture our society. You don't build better men by berating them and humiliating them, by shaming them. You build better men by showing them how to be men, by teaching them how to lead, how to sacrifice, how to make the worlds in which they live a better place.

That's what Biff Poggi and Joe Ehrmann do. And that's the gift that Jeffrey Marx gives us.

In trying for perfection, Jeffrey Marx gives us an excellent book, one to read, re-read, share with a friend, discuss, and use to teach our boys to become men.

It may take courage to be kind, but it takes even more courage to take a stand against coventional mores that honor sports heroes because of their points, averages and scores, and not necessarily because of any measurement of character. One of the best high school football teams in the East knows that.

Let's hope that many others learn it.