Friday, September 2, 2011

Admit it.  When you heard the news that Steve Spurrier had chosen Connor Shaw as his starting quarterback over Stephen Garcia you were surprised.  Maybe a little, maybe a lot, but you were.  I know I was, and it was more than a little.

I'm not here to question the football decisions Steve Spurrier makes.  He's won a lot, knows a lot and has insights none of the rest of us do when it comes to his team.  I can, however, question the methods he employs when it comes to announcing his more controversial decisions.  This is one of those times.

Before we discuss the latest news, let's harken back to the beginning of spring football at Carolina.  The first practice was slated to begin late one March afternoon.  Many folks noticed almost instantly that Garcia wasn't there.  No one thought much of it at the time, assuming he had a class or some other appointment the coaches knew of.  No big deal, right?  Wrong.  After practice Coach Spurrier informed all of us that Garcia was actually suspended again, this time for something that happened two nights before the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.  Talk about bad timing.

Stephen's screw up in the ATL warranted a suspension for sure, but why would Spurrier and his staff wait until the day a spring practice full of promise was beginning to inform all of Gamecock nation about something so important?  It instantly derailed overall excitement about the ball club and put the spotlight back on Garcia, and for the wrong reasons.

They knew they were going to suspend him.  Telling the media a week or two prior to the start of camp would've allowed the story to be hashed out by fans, hosts, beat writers and bloggers so that it would have been a non-issue on day one.  Instead a mini firestorm kicked up and it took a few days to put it out.  In the end it wasn't that big of a deal, but any controversy involving quarterbacks at big time football schools is going to become bigger than it should, which brings us to the latest twist at Carolina.

Just 48 hours before the season opener, Spurrier dropped another bomb on us.  Shaw will start, Garcia will back him up.  Wow.  The reasons the coach gave are very valid, and if completely true I have no issue with it as far as football goes.  However, the world we live in isn't as black and white as we would like, and once again the timing of all of this is proving to be distracting.

Instead of focusing on the opponent, fans are concerned about their own QB - again.  "How will this affect the other guys," "Is Stephen being punished again," "What if Connor stinks it up," "Why would Spurrier yank Garcia around like this."  All questions I've seen or been asked.  All valid.  All avoidable too.  How, you ask?  Timing.

I love that Spurrier announces news on his call in show.  As a radio guy I think it's fantastic marketing.  This time though, I'd have done it sooner.  Based on the coach's comments during Wednesday morning's SEC teleconference, he already had his mind made up.  Go ahead and say it, and do so with clear conviction so there's no gray area in anyone's mind.  That's not the case today.  No matter the reasons, no matter the outcome, the announcement has caused a controversy and a distraction to the bigger picture of the 2011 Gamecock football season.  Perhaps by the end of the game it's all over.  Perhaps not.

Last night on Twitter I said if this is strictly about football, so be it.  If, however, this is another last minute, super-secret punishment of an often troubled QB, I'd have done it differently so that it didn't take away from everyone else on my team.  Timing is everything, and once again, at the beginning of something that looks so good, the timing of big news seems so bad.

No matter what, Carolina's got to go play a big game in Charlotte.  They should win, regardless of who's taking snaps.  It just would've been nicer to have the starter announced in a manner that didn't catch everyone off guard.

Then again, maybe that was Spurrier's plan all along.  He's wily like that, right?

Monday, March 21, 2011

'Gamecock Glory' far more than a baseball book

It took less than a minute for the first lump-in-the-throat moment.  I knew what 'Gamecock Glory' was about.  The author is a friend, the team is one I followed, the story one I knew - or so I thought.  Just a few pages in I realized this wasn't going to be a book about a baseball team winning some big games one year.  It was a lot bigger than that.

'Gamecock Glory' is a chronicle of the 2010 University of South Carolina baseball team and it's journey toward a College World Series title.  What becomes significant almost instantly is just how long before the season began that the journey itself actually began.

The development of Blake Cooper, the recruitment of Christian Walker, Adrian Morales and Jackie Bradley, Jr. and the creation of a "spirit stick" are just a few of the stories author Travis Haney weaves into the book.  Those and others, like the dogged determination of Head Coach Ray Tanner, the perspective of assistant coach Chad Holbrook and the perseverance of pitching coach Mark Calvi, help define just what the team was made of.  None, however, compare to the story of Bayler Teal and his direct influence on the Gamecocks.

By now across the state of South Carolina, the name Bayler Teal is as much a part of Carolina's run to the title as Matt Price, Michael Roth or Whit Merrifield.  Bayler was a young fan from Bishopville, SC who was stricken with an aggressive childhood cancer.  Nearly two years before their triumph in Omaha, the baseball team had "adopted" Bayler as one of their own.  Travis does a masterful job of just how entwined the team and the Teal family became through their respective journeys toward a better place.

I'm not one for spoilers, but let me simply say that the moment that clearly becomes the book's tipping point left me in tears.  I literally had to stop for a minute before continuing on.  I was overcome with the power of such a brief moment.  That convergence of events - that tipping point - was no coincidence.  No matter your beliefs you'll feel it too, and Travis is to be commended for writing in such a way as to illustrate that so simply and so strongly at the same time.

There's plenty of great baseball stuff in 'Gamecock Glory' too, and Travis includes box scores from some of the bigger late season games to give you a sense of how the team played, but for the most part this is a book about people.  The coaches, the players, the fans, the (sometimes mystified) opponents and a unique little boy with a genuine spirit and the family who taught him to be a Gamecock, a great big brother and an inspiration to thousands of people he never met but who all knew him well.

Read 'Gamecock Glory.'  Whether you're a Carolina fan or not, you'll come away with far more than you expect when you start, and it won't take long to understand why.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Some (nearly) final thoughts on 'BatGate'

From the second it happened on Sunday afternoon I didn't like it.  Jack Leggett, who for years has been to Ray Tanner what the Bears are to the Packers, had, in my opinion, crossed the line.  I'll tell you why I feel that way shortly, but first, a little background.

After Tuesday's 5-4 loss to South Carolina, Leggett's all-time record against his top rival is 33-34.  Considering the relative strength of the two nationally prominent programs, splitting the overall series is a fine record.  The rub is that the Gamecocks have now won 14 of the last 20 games played.

In the last 5 or so seasons Jack Leggett's winning percentage against USC is a mere .300.  Included in there are the two crushing defeats at the 2010 College World Series, where for the second time in his career Leggett led a Tigers squad out of the winner's bracket and into matches with South Carolina, only to lose each game played.  The fact that the Gamecocks went on to claim the final National Championship to be earned at Rosenblatt Stadium no doubt further dampens Leggett's mood.

To open the series in 2011, South Carolina got three home runs, two big double plays and a Matt Price save en route to a 6-3 win in Columbia.  Clemson actually jumped out to an early 3-0 lead thanks to an error and some timely hits in the top of the second, but it was the only inning in which they scored.  Saturday's rain forced postponement of the neutral site game in Greenville, so game 2 was now at Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson.  It didn't start well for Leggett.

Gamecock All-American Jackie Bradley, Jr., a young man with a sterling local and national reputation, hit a wind-aided, opposite field homer to put Carolina up 1-0 in the first inning.  In what now, based on some of Leggett's cryptic comments, seems to have been a premeditated move, the Clemson head coach had the umpiring crew inspect Bradley's bat.  For what we're still not completely sure, but it seems he may have been "concerned" with the literal warmth of the bat itself.  More on that in a minute.

More important is what Leggett's ultimate goal was.  His team needed a spark, and if the Gamecocks struck early he was going to provide it.  Get under their skin.  Play mind games.  Coaches have attempted to do those things to one another since man invented team sports.  Leggett is good at it, so good that two of his former assistants, Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin and Florida's Kevin O'Sullivan, have earned reputations as virtual carbon copies of their former boss during their own rise to national prominence.

This time though, March 6, 2011, Jack Leggett decided that the way to play mind games with South Carolina and Ray Tanner and Jackie Bradley, Jr. was to very publicly question whether or not they were doing something the rules prevented, even though a quick, private check with an umpire or perusal of the rule book before the game would have answered the question.  Instead, even though there was no basis for it, Leggett embarrassed Bradley and Tanner in front of thousands of Tiger fans and started a controversy that he - and he alone - is responsible for.

There are no rules precluding any school from keeping it's bats warm.  In fact I'm sure Pedro Cerrano would encourage it.  That said, the warmth simply lessens vibration on the hands and in no way makes the bat perform better.  By the way, the only heater Carolina used on its bats Sunday was the sun.  They were out hit 15-5 and lost 10-5.  Advantage Carolina?  No.

I'm all for mind games.  Coach Tanner employs his own methods from time to time.  Bobby Cox, Billy Martin and Earl Weaver got tossed a lot.  Mind games can work for your guys one day and against your opponent another.  With this specific case, Leggett played games with a subject that isn't funny.  He seems to genuinely believe that it was acceptable to question whether or not South Carolina was playing by the rules as a means of getting into Carolina's head and/or motivating his own squad.  Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't.  The Gamecocks won the series 2-1, so the impact on the game itself was minimal at best.

The lasting impact, and potential damage to the coaches' relationship, may be greater.  Tanner was very upset after the series concluded, and admitted that the feelings he had toward Leggett had been altered to some degree.  I believe Tanner was genuinely caught off guard and stung by the particular charge, adding that he felt it had no place in this rivalry.  I agree with him.

Some friends in the media believe Tanner would like Leggett to apologize in as public a way as he called the Gamecocks out a few days ago.  I don't see that happening, but I do believe it should.

Jack Leggett is a super coach and excellent recruiter.  He'll keep winning.  However, in this case, he screwed up.  Badly.  If he agrees he should say so.  If he doesn't, I'm certain it will change what people say about him.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ryan Won't Have To Pull His Foot From His Own Mouth

There is no doubting that Rex Ryan intentionally stirred the pot last week before his underdog New York Jets visited Foxboro to take on the mighty (ahem) New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional playoffs.  He called the matchup "personal" between Bill Belichick and himself.  His players followed suit, at times crossing the line, at least in my opinion.  I didn't think it was necessary, but Ryan did.

He was right.

On the first Sunday of December the Jets were humbled by the Pats by a final of 45-3.  I figured that was enough motivation, and maybe it was.  Now that the Jets have moved on to face Pittsburgh in the AFC title game, I get just about everything Ryan was doing, and why he felt the way he did.

Let's remember that New York beat New England back in September.  Let's remember that the Jets are a good young football team.  Let's remember that Rex's dad Buddy was not known as the most pleasant coach the NFL has ever seen.  When you stop and look at those facts and put them into context with a 42 point drubbing, you realize why it was personal.  Ryan clearly felt Belichick piled on in December, and he did all he felt was necessary to make sure his team - and the rest of us - felt the same way.

Well done coach.

I still think it was over the top, and I still feel I wouldn't have done the same thing if given the opportunity.  That said, it worked.  Quite well too.  So kudos to the Jets.  They're where they wanted to be.

Now to see if they poke the Steelers with the same stick they used last week.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Happy Snow Day

Big day here in South Carolina's capital city. Snow continues to fall at a rather brisk rate, and as of 9 am we've got about three inches on the ground. My girls are gearing up for a big day out in it.

I've got a show this afternoon ( yes, I called the boss to make sure!) that will focus on tonight's BCS title game. We'll also look back at the NFL weekend and the opening of conference play across the ACC and SEC.

That said, it's a snow day in an area that doesn't get much, so I know where everybody's REAL interests will be! Have fun, stay home, build a fire if you can and enjoy some hot chocolate.

A piece of advice, though: stay off the roads if you can. There's always some yahoo driver who will treat today as any other out there. You'll see their picture on the cover of tomorrow's paper.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Andrew Luck debate shouldn't even exist

About 12 years ago, a close friend of mine quit smoking cigarettes.  It was, I believe, a very smart move on his part.  Another friend - a smoker - told him one day "I can't believe you quit.  You like it so much."  Translation: "I'd never quit, so why did you?"

The same scenario seems to be playing out across the country in reaction to Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck's decision to remain in school, complete his degree in architectural design and enter the draft (presumably) in 2012.  Those who would bolt for the money ASAP are nearly incredulous in their reaction.  To them, it's ALL about the money.  Nothing else matters.  How sad.

Luck just completed his redshirt sophomore season with the Cardinal and had already been projected as the top pick in this year's NFL Draft.  His father Oliver is a former NFL QB and is currently Athletics Director at West Virginia.  His head coach is Jim Harbaugh, another former NFL QB who's been in the news as much as any American politician this week.  Andrew has received excellent counsel from both and has made a rare, surprising and, in this guy's opinion, very welcome decision.  He likes school and is staying put.  Well done young man.

That's where this debate should end, but it hasn't.

This story broke about halfway through our show Thursday.  Michael and I both agreed this was a great choice.  We also agreed that had Luck elected to go pro that too would've been a wise move.  He simply couldn't go wrong.  Degree from Stanford in four years?  Worth millions to him, just like an NFL contract. Plus, from a football perspective, he'll be the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, come back to a team that lost just once and returns the bulk of its starting lineup.  We should all be so fortunate to have that type of "backup plan."

However, as time passed yesterday it became apparent that many found his decision foolish and misguided.  "What if he gets hurt?"  "Is he doing this to avoid the Panthers?"  My answers: what if he does and no.  He's doing it because he's a fine student at one of the most respected universities on the planet.  He likes college, his team, his friends and simply wants to finish what he started.  Refreshing in this day and age.

Don't get it twisted here.  If a college underclassman is ready, projected as a high draft pick and decides to bolt a year or two early then good for him.  I'd never be one to stand in the way.  What I don't understand is the vilification of a 20 year old who actually highlights the student portion of "student-athlete."  How is that bad?

Most people get it and are happy for him.  The ones who think he's foolish, stupid or worse; the ones who'd do it just for money and nothing else are very loud today.  That's too bad.  The world could probably use a few more Andrew Lucks, but the ones that need him most would never follow his lead.

Maybe they'd be happier following Ryan Leaf.  How's he doing these days?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Sugar Bowl is over and I'm still mad

Get over it.  Move on.  Worry about today.

We all tell ourselves, and each other, these types of things when something troublesome is behind us.  We want to change it.  We want someone - anyone - to listen to our concerns and (sorry Spike) "do the right thing."

It rarely happens.  Case in point: last night's Sugar Bowl.

By now we all know the story of Ohio State's "Tat Five" and the NCAA's subsequent "handling" of their case.  I for one had hoped Jim Tressel would give us even an ounce of honor and courage and sit the kids for at least a quarter, but their pledge to return and face the suspensions was obviously more than enough for the Buckeyes' head coach.

Maybe Dan Herron and Terrelle Pryor will miss the first five games of their NFL team's season next year instead. (Cue sitcom laugh track)  I know I'm being overly cynical, but the NCAA forced my hand by telling me their decision was based on the best interests of the student athletes and had nothing - NOTHING - to do with commerce.

(Hang on, the NCAA real estate division just called to offer me beach front land in Kansas)

Seriously, here's my biggest problem: what happens next?  Will all five stay in Columbus?  I'll believe it when I see it.  What about the next school to face a similar circumstance?  If they don't generate headlines (and dollars) like Ohio State or Alabama, judgement will be swift - and unfair.

Good luck moving forward NCAA.  You've shackled yourself to a bad ruling and lost a lot of credibility in the process.  Worst of all, you're good with it.  But hey, at least you can now tell the millions who feel like I do to get over it, move on and worry about today, which is always easier than dealing with the issue itself.

Alright, I'm off to ride unicorns near my new beach house in Kansas.

(Have more to add?  Let me know what you think.)