SI’s Story on Homeless Athletes Brings Back a Memory

October 23rd, 2014

Last week’s Sports Illustrated cover story was about homeless athletes. That subject reminded me of a story I retold in a blog from August, 2013. Due to the timing and impact of the SI story, I felt it might be a good time to re-post it.

 

Many of Jerry Tarkanian’s critics claimed he gave his players too much leeway, i.e. his disciplinary beliefs were entirely too soft, even non-existent. I’ve always maintained that one thing I particularly liked about working for Jerry was that he let you be yourself. Of the ten head coaches I worked for, he was definitely the best in that regard. (I worked for him at Fresno State). He felt that he hired us to do a job so why not let us do it. That’s not to say he wouldn’t take us to task if our job performance wasn’t up to par.

In the case of players, the standard line Tark would use when one of the guys would get in trouble was, “He’s a good kid.” Where his philosophy might have backfired was several of the players we had shouldn’t have been themselves. Being themselves is what got them where they were. True, many of his players took advantage of his ultra-loyal nature. Many people wondered, “How could an intelligent guy” - which when it came to understanding people, Jerry was as good as anyone - “be duped so often?” A story from his early coaching years sheds evidence on his behavior better than any psychological explanation can.

It was at the beginning of his junior college career and Tark was no different than most budding, young coaches of the time - a fiery leader who wanted to show he was in charge and was going to demand full intensity at every practice. One of his best players had a really bad practice, playing well below his potential. Making matters worse was that it was the young guy’s second subpar practice in a row. If anyone knows Jerry, practice is absolutely sacred time. It’s when teams are made into winners. Or losers. Any great coach feels exactly the same. He told the kid to see him in his office after practice.

Once the player walked in, Jerry immediately lit into him - yelling about how he was letting the team down, that the only chance they had of being a great squad was for this kid to be a leader - that his effort would dictate how practices, and then games, would turn out. He got hit with the full wrath of a young Coach Tark.

Jerry said the player had tears in his eyes and began to apologize. What he said would have as much of an impact on Jerry Tarkanian as any other incident in his long and storied career.  “Coach,” the youngster began, “I know I’ve let you and the team down the past few days. It’s just that I haven’t had anything to eat for the past three days but ketchup and water. We don’t put the water in to make it taste better, just to make it last longer.”

Tark has said he felt about an inch tall. He got a lump in his throat, as he does to this day when he recounts that story. “I never, ever, considered that was the reason the kid was having bad practices. I couldn’t believe anybody had to live like that.” The coach made sure the young man got something to eat from there on out and, sure enough, he became the player Jerry thought he would be.

There are many versions of the following quote but the most pertinent in this case - and the most telling when it comes to explaining Jerry Tarkanian’s feelings toward his players - might be:

“Try walking a mile in my shoes and see how far you get.”

If Only “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core” Were Really the Answer

October 22nd, 2014

Every teacher has his or her own method of getting across the information, of teaching the kids in class. I recent years administrators, who get their orders from above (administrators and politicians think the chain of command ought to be vertical), have attempted to come up with various strategies to improve how teachers teach (rather than asking teachers what they thought - and then listen to what they have to say).

No Child Left Behind was a political edict that those who forced it on schools finally had to admit didn’t work (except for a number of hard-headed fools who still maintain it would have worked if it had been implemented correctly). Since I was knee deep in NCLB, I can tell you there was no way what the higher ups wanted done was going to get done. They were so far removed from the reality of the classroom they didn’t realize, as a colleague of mine said, “We don’t leave any child behind; some of them just choose to stay.”

After NCLB was discarded for the latest panacea, Common Core, the leaders of education explained that teachers were now going to teach the young people how to reason, actually how to process information and come up with an answer - as opposed to memorizing formulas by rote. When I heard it, I was intrigued (most likely because I was retiring). However, it was what I thought should have been done, what I tried to do (in my own way which, naturally, differed greatly from what “they” expected). I was skeptical of what they wanted to do because I’d seen so many times these people using their “seagull” form of leadership. For those who haven’t heard of this management style, it’s modeled after a seagull, i.e. swoop down, make a lot of squawking noises, dump a load of shit and fly away. What I’ve heard from my teaching friends, as well as what I’ve read, Common Core isn’t the answer, either.

What none of these people who, either 1) have never been in the classroom or 2) were in it, couldn’t handle it, so they decided to move “up” into administration understand is, in order to teach a child, that child must 1) want to learn, 2) have support from home and 3) work at it. Sure, the administrators paraded out there in front of TV cameras people like the late Jaime Escalante, a math teacher from Oakland, CA best known for the movie, Stand and Deliver, which documents his career or Ron Clark, a North Carolinian who moved into Harlem and accomplished absolutely wondrous things there and is currently teaching in Atlanta. The 1988 movie made Jaime Escalante “famous” in the world of teaching (since I taught 12 years of high school math, I was a big fan ) and Ron Clark spoke to our school district - and wowed each and every one of us) in the early 2000s. But thinking that studying Escalante or listening to Clark could make me (or any other teacher) as good as them is like thinking that a baseball player could study Sandy Koufax or listen to Derek Jeter and become as good as either of those guys. It takes more and, just like baseball, there’s no one solution for education.

In my class one year was a sophomore cheerleader who had taken algebra 1 her freshman year and failed it. She passed the first semester with a D. Obviously, the material during the second semester was more difficult and, although she had after school remedial help and re-tests following each exam, with four weeks to go in the semester, she was failing.

A little background on how I’d run class. After explaining how to do problems, I would give the class time to work in groups of three (I placed the best math student in the middle of three desks and have the kids on the sides ask the one in the center for help - if there were no questions, I’d make sure the student in the center ask questions to those on either side, in cases of shyness or lack of interest). I’d check the groups to make sure they all were engaged. Then, I would ask someone to explain how to do one of the problems, on the board or from his or her seat.

I would give kids problems I thought they could handle. If, say, #22 was easier, I’d call on kids who struggled and, usually, we could work our way through the problem, with me asking pointed questions if they got stuck. For harder problems, I would choose students whom I felt either knew it, or should have known it. For this girl, though, in order to avoid embarrassment, I wouldn’t ask her to do a problem. Rather, I would say, “OK, who knows the first step to do this problem?” This pattern would continue until we got to a point in which the problem was simple enough that she’d at least know how to do the next step. After a few steps a problem was down to “x + 3x = 200.” I looked at her and said (not her name), “Emily, what is the next step?”

I saw confusion wash across her face until she resignedly said, “Subtract x from both sides.” (For those of you whose algebra is shaky, the answer was to combine x + 3x and get 4x = 200. I’ll let you figure out the answer).

At our school, the semesters were 18 weeks long. Every six weeks each student would receive a progress report which told the parents what their child’s grades were in each class. In May (with about four weeks to go in the school year), I got an email from her mother, stating she was concerned about her daughter’s failing grade. This was the first time the mother had corresponded with me, although she had received two progress reports, one after six weeks, and another after 12 weeks, which said her daughter’s algebra 1 grade was an F. The counselor had told me when she had spoken to the mom that she blamed her poor grade on cheerleading practice, claiming it lasted four hours and her daughter was too tired to finish (or was it, start?) her homework.

At a meeting the following week that the cheerleading coach and I had attended, she asked me how “Emily” was doing. I looked at her and said (also not her name), “Sarah, if I asked Emily what comes next in the sequence, “2, 4, 6, 8, . . . ” she would say:

“Who do we appreciate?”

Just When We Thought Jon Gruden Couldn’t Get Any More Excited

October 21st, 2014

What a color commentator on television is supposed to do is educate - and entertain - the viewer. The job is easier than its radio counterpart because the audience is actually seeing the game, meaning the play-by-play voice on TV doesn’t have to do as much talking. While the radio color guy needs to “get in and get out,” the TV color commentator gets to speak more. I was fortunate enough to do both when I was director of basketball operations (Tark was great about allowing me to make outside income) and, for anyone who knows me, it comes as no surprise I liked the TV gig better. More talking. In either position, the one point the producer stresses for both play-by-play and color commentary is energy.

Last night’s game in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and the Houston Texans saw the visitors jump out to an early 13-0 lead. The game had all the makings of what play-by-play and color commentators dread - a blowout. In those contests, you have to rely on your “filler,” i.e. interesting stories about the players or coaches, their families, fun facts about the organization - anything - to keep the viewer (worse, the listener, if radio) from turning you off.

During the first three possessions the men from the ‘Burgh had little going for them as they started the game with a punt, a sack and subsequent fumble by QB Ben Roethlisberger and another punt, while the Texans answered each possession with a score (a TD and two FGs). On the Steelers’ next offensive sequence they faced a third and 10 on their own 14 when Gruden said something to the effect that it was time they go to Le’Veon Bell because of the mismatch he had with a linebacker. They did, the play went for 43 yards to the Houston 43. Jon Gruden will never be accused of being anything less than enthusiastic but this play - which he nailed - gave even the passionate Gruden a boost.

From that point on, it was pure role reversal. It was three and out for Houston, the Steelers taking over with 1:46 to go in the first half. Pittsburgh’s offense put together a two-play drive, culminating with a 35 yard TD pass from Big Ben to Martavis Bryant. Gruden was excited, as we’d expect, but it was nothing like what was to come.

Houston’s Danieal Manning (not to be confused with, nah, Ed would never spell his kid’s first name like that) didn’t field the kickoff cleanly, then came out and fumbled. With Murphy’s Law in effect, the ball rolled back between his legs, just far enough for him not to be able to locate it easily. He recovered it only in time to be smothered by the kickoff team. At that time Arian Foster had only fumbled once in his last 300 carries, but . . . Murphy’s Law. Initially, it was not ruled a fumble. The replay guys - in New York? - stopped play and reviewed it. Sure enough, conclusive video evidence. The Steelers took over on the Houston 3.

Gruden had just commented on the Steelers’ struggles all year in the red zone. So maybe it shouldn’t have come as a shock they’d go deep into their offensive bag to ensure a touchdown. Yet, it did. Because nobody, and I mean nobody, expected what play call they decided to go with - as Gruden described it, “a toss sweep, reverse pass with a left-handed flanker.” Considering how much football “Chuckie” has seen, the viewer had to pause to fully appreciate his next remark. He said he never had seen that play run inside the five yard line. I guess even guys like Gruden can be surprised.

For the improbability of the next amazing play, we need to go to John Brenkus, ESPN’s science guy. The Texans tried a short pass which Steelers LB Brett Keisel tipped in the direction of teammate Lawrence Timmons. The ball ricocheted off of Timmons’ right shoulder pad back to Keisel which set up their third touchdown in 87 seconds. Brenkus, master of such weird plays made it a 500:1 shot. Gruden was beside himself - which is a frightening thought: two Jon Grudens, side by side.

Bill Gates once said of himself - and it is also true of Jon Gruden (wow, I wonder what could possibly come next):

“What I do best is share my enthusiasm.”

Everybody Should Hear What Drew Brees Said After the Saints’ Loss

October 20th, 2014

The Percy Harvin trade, which came at such an interesting time in the season, has occupied a good deal of the sports news. Jameis Winston continues to polarize the sports world while Florida fans are calling for Will Muschamp’s head. Or, at the very least, his job.

As with any football weekend, there are an equal number of wins and losses (no, I haven’t forgotten the tie between . . . who was it again)? The fans of the winners feel good (other than the ones who never feel good), while the losers’ followers blame the coach/quarterback/kicker/whoever fumbled/offensive or defensive coordinator/referees or somebody damnit!

Well, was there any positive news this weekend (other than Peyton Manning breaking a record that, while it might be broken someday, that someday won’t be for a long, long time - unless Roger Goodell manages to expand the season to 25 games and the “competition” committee passes a rule stating DBs aren’t allowed to touch a receiver until after he catches the ball)? Note: Is that what your high school English teacher used to call a run-on sentence?

Seldom do we find a player who made a mistake (that probably cost his team the game) own up to it. For the third straight week, New Orleans QB Drew Brees threw for over 340 yards. His final stats were 28 of 45 for 342 yards and two touchdowns, but with four min to go on a third and nine play, Brees threw his only pick of the game and the Saints lost 24-23. Being the stand-up guy that he is - and always has been - Brees made the following statement that is a perfect life lesson for all, but especially young athletes who aspire, someday, to be big-time like . . . Drew Brees:

“The worst feeling in professional sports is when you feel like you let your team down.”

One Way to Hire an Athletics Director

October 19th, 2014

During my 30-year career in intercollegiate athletics at nine Division I institutions, I worked for fifteen directors of athletics. Whether or not that makes me an expert in ADs or not is unknown but I certainly have seen my share of them.

Can a director of athletics make a significant difference? From my experiences, absolutely. Which means that the university must take the hiring of the leader of its athletics department very seriously. But what does seriously mean?

Ask any AD in what used to be referred to as Division I (now, the Power 5 conferences and the “Other 5″ conferences, for lack of a better term) and I will guarantee you close to 100% of them have a “short list” of football and basketball coaches they would contact (directly or subtly) if their coach “needed to be replaced” (left, retired, fired or died). This might even apply to other sports, especially if it’s a revenue producer. Why is that not also the case for the president of the school when a change is made in the leadership of the department of athletics?

After all, in addition to a multimillion dollar budget, this person is in charge of multiple sports and facilities, including the coaches, players, cheerleaders (possibly song girls, dance teams, etc.) and support staff (managers, equipment personnel, secretaries, custodians and student assistants). And I imagine I’ve missed some.

As the Director of Basketball Operations at Fresno State from 1995-2002 we had four different directors of athletics, although one of them was a vice president who also had the interim tag until the a full time replacement was found. Since then, there have been four additional ADs, one interim, one full time and, currently, a couple co-interims. Meaning, once again, they’re in search of a director.

Recently, there was an article in the local paper explaining how the selection process will be made. The president has done what presidents - or really any administrator, love to do: named a committee. Jim Murray, the greatest sportswriter of all-time, once remarked, “A camel is a horse made by a committee.”

This committee is composed of 15, yeah, fifteen members. Naturally, a high ranking administrator, in this case, the Provost and VP for Academic Affairs, will chair it. Of course, both co’s will be members, as well as three representatives of the community (it’s a good bet none have money problems), three faculty members, a head men’s coach and a head women’s coach, someone from the media relations department, a student and a couple non-voting members (how important must they feel)? Really, now, when was the last time 15 people agreed on anything?

As if that breakdown isn’t enough, the article went on to describe how the people actually got on the committee. The president named the chair, the co-interims and the three big-hitters. Two of the professors were selected by the school’s Academic Senate, the other one is the head of the kinesiology department with whom the athletics department shares two practice gymnasiums. The two coaches and the media relations person were chosen by their peers, while the student was picked by the Associated Students, Inc. The article didn’t mention how the non-voting members made it, possibly by a random drawing.

Some readers familiar with such hiring processes might be asking, “why didn’t Fresno State just hire a search firm?” Oh yeah, they did that, too. At a cost of $70,000 (of non-state funds). The administration’s plan is for the hire to be made by the December holidays and for the new director of athletics to come on board early in 2015. Smooth transition.

As a caveat, let it be known that, so far this century, Fresno State has paid out tens of millions of dollars in four separate Title IX related deals so, if ever, a school would try to cover all bases, it’s FSU. In fact, I’m surprised a veteran isn’t on the committee but maybe one of the 15 meets that requirement.

When it comes to hiring a director of athletics - or pretty much trying to accomplish anything - always remember the phrase:

“Nothing is so bad it can’t be made worse by a committee.”

And a search firm.

Finally! A Method for Dealing with the Prima Donna

October 18th, 2014

In case you haven’t heard - because, maybe, you had a son playing high school football or a daughter cheering (or, good luck to you, both) last night - and you were so into the game that you didn’t check your phone for up-to-the-minute sports news, then you went to bed, woke up and the first thing you did was check my blog, the Seattle Seahawks traded one of the most talented and exciting players in the NFL, Percy Harvin, to the New York Jets for no one. At least for no one who can help them this year.

Either the Seahawks’ front office has huge, huge cojones or Percy Harvin was/is such a “malignant cancer,” he had to be dealt with as any malignant cancer would be. Cut it out. When things are said such as was reported by ESPN’s NFL insider, John Clayton (who, like him or not, has proved to be a reliable, on-the-money source for NFL news), “They had to make him happy” and “Personalities on the team clashed,” and from ESPN.com’s Seahawks’ insider, Terry Blount, “He was too much of a disruptive force. He became more trouble than he was worth,” what happens is the team takes a back seat to the egomaniac and, independent of how talented he is, he simply cannot remain a member of the franchise.

Usually, a prima donna plays for a losing team. The reason is because, in team sports, there’s no place for a me-first guy. Individual sports are completely different, i.e. the only way someone can help the team is to win his or her event or match (track & field, golf, wrestling, tennis). In that setting, someone whom everybody on the team loves, who runs around and cheers like crazy for all the others, but who doesn’t win, is, unfortunately, of little or no value. In order to win consistently in a team sport, it’s not only necessary, but vital, to have everyone on the same page. From the same book. Teamwork makes the dream work, as the saying goes.

If only other head coaches, GMs, presidents, owners, administrators, i.e. decision makers, acted the same way, there would be infinitely fewer divas in sports, much to the relief of every other team member and nearly all coaches - at least assistant coaches. On teams in which the head coach is weak, often he (I can only speak from personal experience, so only the male gender) will bow to the “superstar,” feeling to rid the team of such a talent would leave the club too shorthanded. So, . . . the team continues losing - and the head coach loses the rest of the squad. And, usually, his job.

It puts the assistants in such a difficult position because 1) the rest of the players are going to the assistants because they fear repercussion from the head man if they approach him, putting the assistants in the awkward situation of being truthful or disloyal 2) the head coach knows how the assistants feel because they’ve told him and 3) the star knows he holds the power over the head coach and, subtly - or not so subtly - flaunts his position over everyone else involved.

What Percy Harvin needs to understand is a positive attitude in a team setting is mandatory or else, as Danny Cox, famous speaker from Orange County used to say:

“If you’re not fired with enthusiasm, you’ll be fired - with enthusiasm.”

Jameis Winston Has No Idea of What His Enablers Are Doing to Him

October 17th, 2014

Jameis Winston is an ultra-talented athlete who has the ability to block out distractions (mostly caused by him) and lead his Florida State team to win after win, week after week and, so far, year after year. It’s almost frightening how the on-field leader of the nation’s defending champion can deal with adversity in such a cool manner. Could it be that he needs such an environment in order to perform his magic? Maybe that’s been the attitude of those who could be helping him (coaching staff, athletics administration, media relations people, counselors, family members).

It is quite a stretch to say Winston intentionally undermines the “normal” life of what is expected of a college football player - practice, position meetings, film study, a couple days of work with pads, walk-throughs (oh yeah, and classes) - with some tomfoolery, or worse, just so he can turn into his superhero self come game day. Yet, that could be said, on a lesser scale, of his college baseball season last year.

As contradictory as it sounds, there are some people who need chaos to lead an organized life. Whatever the acts or allegations, Winston remains unfazed and unflappable - just as he did when he accepted the Heisman Trophy last year (as the youngest player ever to do so). His name was called and he promptly proceeded to ignore his fellow finalists (unlike other past winners) and headed directly to his parents. Not an unreasonable act, but one that looked a bit staged. Then he pulled out a prepared speech (a wise move, I mean, who in the world would want to win football’s most prestigious award and just babble through a few minutes of unpracticed appreciative drivel)? His presentation was obviously rehearsed (once again, why not?) but, looking back, it seemed like he was saying, “If you think last year was something, just wait.”

NFL scouts and front office people are aghast. One NFL scout, in essence speaking for most all of them said, “We’re talent whores. But we’re not total whores. It’s almost impossible, at this point, to trust Winston.” When you’re investing a first round draft pick - or any in the top 3-4 rounds - trust has to be closer to the top of the list of qualities the player has to possess. And when the position is that of a quarterback, i.e. the guy who speaks in the huddle, the guy who has to make the other ten around him believe what he’s saying is in everybody’s best interest, if “trust” doesn’t trump “skill,” it can’t be too far behind.

Critics have explained his actions as entitlement. The (botched) rape allegation which isn’t over yet, the crab legs fiasco, screaming in a campus setting vile obscenities (something reserved for fraternity pledges) and now, the autograph ordeal are all actions of a young man who feels he’s above the law, social mores and, simply, how civilized people act. Yet, I don’t believe it’s entitlement.

From where I sit and observe the guy, it’s almost like Winston is making the following case to the people he views as his future employers. “Look. There’s always going to be adversity. But adversity cannot stop me - or even slow me down. There’s nothing I can’t get out of. Sure, I’m a fun-loving guy, but one who’s going to make your organization a big winner.” While that explanation might be extremely presumptuous of me, I can think of one other alternate answer.

Immaturity. As has been written on this site any number of times regarding such individuals, “Some people don’t know, and some people don’t know that they don’t know. If it’s not entitlement or an overabundance of cockiness, maybe it’s immaturity that defines “today’s” Jameis Winston. If so, the good news is that, one day - hopefully soon - Jameis will realize his actions aren’t one of a leader of men (massive and highly skilled ones at that) and he will decide his actions off the field should equate to those on it.

Or he might resemble Dennis Rodman who said when asked about his character:

“My rookie year, I was very immature.”

What Is Chris Bosh’s Problem with LeBron?

October 14th, 2014

It’s time for basketball practice to start and, at many campuses around the country, that means Midnight Madness. Jane and I are going over to Monterey to watch Alex and his fellow Otters at Cal State Monterey Bay do whatever players do at midnight of the day official practice starts. After going through similar events with teams I was associated with, I’m not sure exactly what to expect but we’ll get to have a nice dinner with some friends and one of us will do some shopping.

This blog will return Friday, Oct. 17.

So Chris Bosh says he and LeBron James haven’t spoken since James left for Cleveland. People have one of two opinions regarding the two former teammates. The pro-Bosh group feels that when the Big Three came to Miami, they spoke of winning multiple championships. “Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…” was the boast made by James.

On the flip side are those who feel Bosh owed LeBron. Sure, Bosh was a perennial all-star in Toronto but, more often than not, his Raptors lost. By moving from one team to another (a better one), one city to another (with sweet beaches) and one country to another (saving a whole lot in taxes – because of where he left and where he went), he changed from being “the guy” for a losing, questionably managed franchise to one of three superstars for what many felt was the model franchise – deftly run by Pat Riley – and, in the process, won two championships.

True, Bosh did have to relinquish a good deal of his offense (although he was encouraged to defend more than he’d done previously) but did he seriously think, when he made the move, that he was going to be the first option for the Heat?

Dwyane Wade had been “The Man” for Miami, leading them to their first NBA championship. Granted, he did have a pretty good second banana in Shaquille O’Neal but let’s not forget it was the big guy who, upon arriving in South Beach, anointed Wade as “Flash” and let it be known the Heat were Wade’s team. Did Bosh really believe the offensive game plan was going to be split in equal thirds? If Bosh’s complaint is that he was “uncomfortable” in the offense before LBJ left, his offensive game will now be unleashed to his heart’s (and ego’s) content.    

Maybe it’s just that Bosh is upset over James skipping town, violating the unwritten pact they had four years ago. Or, worse, that LeBron has been persona absentia when Bosh has tried to communicate with him as all this was going down. All of that might be legit but, let’s not forget, the three of them did go four-for-four in NBA Finals appearances and twice walked away with the Lawrence O’Brien trophy. However, it was apparent after watching them against the Spurs it was time some personnel changes needed to be made and the salary cap was against them.

Maybe Bosh wanted to get in touch with his former home boy to thank him for the huge raise he got. Many felt a max deal would have been offered to Bosh – elsewhere – had James stayed. So it would have been Bosh who would have been the guy who skipped out of Dodge, unless his loyalty to the Big Three would have kept him in Miami. When James left, Bosh got to cash in.  

On a completely different front, some have surmised the reason Bron-Bron hightailed it back to Cleveland was he missed the four seasons. No, seriously, the rumor (if, in fact, it is a rumor) is that the decision was made by Mrs. LeBron. Apparently, his wife wanted them to return to their roots (and extended family). If that is true, no one would deny the big fella because as everyone who’s been married knows:

“Happy wife, happy life.”

ESPN: The World Wide Leader; Mark May: The World Wide Speeder

October 13th, 2014

Not sure why it’s taken me so long to blog about this phenomenon because he fascinates me every weekend, but has anyone else noticed that ESPN’s Mark May seems to be competing for the “World’s Fastest Talker” award every week? It’s like the world-wide leader is paying him by the word. Or, perhaps, they just limit the breaths he’s allowed.

With Lou Holtz’s lisp (something he didn’t fix but overcame to become one of the nation’s best motivational speakers - not to mention a pretty successful football coach at many big-time universities), May must have felt that he needed a “signature move.” Wow, did he ever find one!

When it’s his turn to make a comment about . . . anything, he must take a deep breath and go! The abundance of words that flow from his lips, in so short a period of time, are nothing short of miraculous. If he hasn’t completed his thought, there’s a quick inhale and . . . zoom! more of the same. If it were radio, the listener would think he was drowning.

There’s no questioning his knowledge - or his experience, having played college football as an offensive lineman (1980 Outland Trophy winner) just after Pitt won the national championship, followed by a long professional career, mostly with the Washington Redskins, during the ‘Skins heyday, when they won two Super Bowls.

He tends to do what all former players do, i.e. praise the guys who play the position they played. During May’s analysis, the audience hears phrases such as, “What a hole those big guys up front made …”  and “He had all the time in the world back there to make that throw” but, other than intentionally disliking Notre Dame (to offset his partner, the biggest, er, littlest Fighting Irish cheerleader), his comments are usually even-handed.

If this thought has never crossed your mind:

“JustlistenthenexttimeMarkMaysayssomethingduringESPN’sCollegeFootballFinalshow.”

The Greatest Line I Ever Heard from a Parent

October 10th, 2014

Younger son, Alex, is coming home this weekend as it’s his last chance season before official college basketball practice starts and every weekend for the unforeseeable future will occupy his time. This will be his junior year. It goes by awfully fast. We’ll be talking academics and his major (business) and, naturally, a lot of hoops. And it certainly won’t disappoint Jane if her baby agrees to go shopping with her. For stuff for him, of course.

This blog will return Monday, Oct. 13.

Anyone who has ever coached, independent of sport, age group or level, has come in contact with a parent (or two, three,…) who has a suggestion as to the use of the squad’s personnel. If their child isn’t playing - or, in the sports which have the rule “every child must participate” (because “play” is absolutely the wrong word), their sometimes subtle, sometimes not so, advice would deal with, somehow, finding a way to increase their loved one’s playing time.

Should their young one be getting significant PT, then the coaching tip might also involve personnel, only this time regarding other children who should play more (or less). If the parent has had previous coaching experience (regardless of sport, age or level), the helpful analysis will be in the form of strategy and, somehow, will wind up with his (or her - when it comes to parental interference, women have finally achieved equality) child becoming more involved. This might mean a position change to, say, pitcher, or, maybe, to shoot more, or to play quarterback (I can’t ever recall parents requesting the coach to change their child from a skill position to offensive interior line).

When I began coaching high school basketball (the second time), I had a young guard who had matured very early in life. He was the rage when he was in elementary and junior high but his size started working against him (as he hadn’t grown a millimeter since the fourth or fifth grade). Another factor that made his less effective was many of the other kids had finally grown into their bodies, so not only did their skills increase but their coordination came along and, presto!, instant player.

This new set of circumstances became readily apparent as we scrimmaged other teams. The simple fact was the youngster was no longer the dominant player he used to be. Following a game in which the boy split time with a couple others at his position (largely due to his ineffective play), the parent came up to me and, with a straight face, said:

“You know something about him, Jack, is the longer you play him, the better he gets.”