There was a lot of celebrating going on in the Washington, D.C. area last night.
The party that everyone noticed took place at Verizon Center where The Washington Wizards officially welcomed John Wall as the new face of their franchise. The Kentucky guard was considered by everyone in the NBA the no-brainer first pick, the closest thing there was to a sure-fire star in this year’s draft.
Almost as important, the Wizards made several other moves to acquire players, notably the Bulls Kurt Hinrich, who should help them improve after their woebegone 2009-2010 season that was ‘highlighted,’ by their star player being hauled into court for gun possession and was suspended by the league in part for bringing the guns into the locker room, in part for acting like an idiot.
Wall comes across as a nice kid who has overcome a tough childhood to become a future NBA star. One thing he needs to do though is drop the campaign he unofficially began last night to wear number 11 for The Wizards. That number was retired by the franchise years ago because it was worn by Elvin Hayes, who played a major role in the team’s only NBA title in 1978 and was a key player during a five year stretch when the Washington Bullets reached three NBA Finals. Hayes was a truly great player. You don’t go pulling numbers from the rafters (figuratively) for anyone, much less for a 20-year-old rookie, no matter how heralded he may be.
If Hayes makes some kind of money deal with Wall to use the number it will be smarmy and gross. If he graciously says, ‘go ahead and wear it,’ it will be less so but still wrong. Wall should establish his own identity and find a different number. It isn’t as if he’s worn number 11 for 15 years someplace and is attached to it that way. He wore it for one year at Kentucky and (I assume) for a couple years in high school. Move on.
Speaking of moving on: While they were delighted in downtown D.C. to welcome Wall, they were just about as happy down Route 1 in College Park to wave bye-bye to Debbie Yow, who is leaving Maryland after 16 years as athletic director to take the same job at North Carolina State. To quote one Maryland person: “What are THEY thinking.”
Yow was perfectly competent at some aspects of her job. She balanced an un-balanced budget (largely through cutbacks but nevertheless she did it); she hired some solid non-revenue coaches and she kept the trains running on time for the most part in College Park. But she didn’t make a whole lot of friends among those she worked with. People came and went in the athletic department the way pitching coaches came and went when George Steinbrenner was still running the Yankees.
She always had a bad relationship with the most important person at Maryland, basketball coach Gary Williams, and her relationship with football coach Ralph Friedgen went straight downhill just as soon as Friedgen stopped winning on a regular basis. She went from taking bows for hiring Friedgen—whose hiring she had little to do with—to acting as if she’d never heard of him and putting a ‘coach in waiting,’ in place which, even though she insisted Friedgen had ‘signed off on,’ clearly didn’t make the coach happy.
Her downfall—and believe me she’s getting out of town ahead of the posse here with a new president taking over the school on September 1—came when she thought she saw an opening to get rid of Williams in 2009 and the notion blew up in her face. The basketball program was struggling and Williams made the mistake of taking a frustrated public swipe at Yow when asked about some recruiting efforts that hadn’t panned out. Yow saw an opening and tried to pounce only to find that most Maryland people remembered what Williams had done to rebuild a fallen program into a national champion and also believed he could still coach.
Williams’ players rallied behind him to make the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and then had a very good year in 2010. Yow was forced to retreat. She even went so far as to “nominate,” Williams for the basketball Hall of Fame last month, an absolute grandstand play if there’s ever been one. Debbie Yow nominating Gary Williams for the Hall of Fame is the equivalent of Tiger Woods nominating me for The Pulitzer Prize. No one bought that act—especially Williams, who was as close to speechless as he ever gets when the subject came up.
There was also the botched attempt to get rid of Friedgen last fall. After failing to raise the money from boosters to buy Friedgen out, Yow let it leak that perhaps the money could come from state funds—an idea quickly shot down by Governor Martin O’Malley. So, she looked bad again and looked even worse because she had committed $1 million to James Franklin as the coach-in-waiting when no one on earth could see any reason to anoint Franklin.
I wrote a column on the football coaching situation last fall, saying that Yow had botched it with the Franklin deal and by not standing behind Friedgen, a Maryland grad who revived the program when he arrived before falling on some hard times. Yow’s response to the column was revealing.
She sent an angry e-mail not just to Matt Vita, the sports editor of The Post, but to Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the ex-sports editor who is now the Metro editor and to Marcus Brauchli, the executive editor. She allegedly copied me but somehow the note didn’t show up in my e-mail cue until six hours later—AFTER I’d been forwarded the note and had responded to her. Just an electronic foul-up no doubt.
Yow claimed I had my “facts,” wrong in the column—basically claiming that Friedgen was all for the coach-in-waiting concept and then singing Franklin’s praises in a way that implied that Friedgen would never have gotten a player to sign with Maryland again if Franklin hadn’t returned to the school. I wrote her back to say (A) Don’t expect an answer from Brauchli anytime soon because he probably doesn’t know Maryland HAS a football team; (B) what was she expecting Garcia-Ruiz to do, scold me for being a bad boy? And (C) I’d be more than happy to thrash out our disagreements on the issue but I felt pretty confident what I’d written was accurate. I also wasn’t the only person by any stretch to write or say what I wrote.
I never heard back. From that point on Yow, who used to love to stop me at Maryland games to point out to me that Gary had switched to a zone defense (wow, really Debbie, I never would have noticed) made a point of looking the other way whenever I saw her. Which was actually fine with me. I figured someone else could let me know if Gary switched to a zone.
What was most interesting was her behavior the night of The Children’s Charities Foundation banquet in December. I was seated at a table with the coaches who would be playing in the BB+T Classic the next day, including Gary and Villanova’s Jay Wright. Yow was at the next table. At no point during the evening did she acknowledge the presence of her basketball coach or say hello to him. Within seconds of his getting up to leave—I mean SECONDS—she raced back to our table to lavish a warm welcome on Wright. It was stunning.
Yow won’t be missed by many in College Park. She’ll have a certain honeymoon period at State because her sister Kay, who died in 2009 of cancer, was a beloved coach there for 34 years. My guess is that honeymoon won’t last terribly long.
John recently appeared on The Jim Rome Show (www.jimrome.com) to discuss 'Moment of Glory.' Click here to download, or listen in the player below:
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