Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The ‘six-and-six bowls’; bands charged for tickets; thank you for the response to the book (and my apologies) and much more…

Let me start today with what is most important: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and, of course, Happy Festivus to all. I hope everyone thrived—and survived—the holidays.

We are now in the midst of the bowls, which began 10 days ago and go on until January 9th. As someone who was closely associated for 14 years with a school that aspired each year to reach a second tier bowl, I am not one to put down what I sometimes refer to as the ‘six-and-six bowls.’ I did a count last week and I believe there are 11 teams with 6-6 records who have ‘earned,’ bowl bids this season. That does NOT count UCLA, which is 6-7, or North Carolina State which was 5-5 against Division 1-A teams and padded its record to 7-5 with a pair of wins against 1-AA teams. (Sorry NCAA, still not buying into your new euphemisms for your football divisions).

As I said, having done Navy games for 14 years and knowing what it meant to the players and the fans to go to second-tier bowls for the past eight seasons, I don’t put these bowls down. I see a reason for their existence although the number of empty seats at many of them—including some of the BCS bowls—is remarkable and hearing the poor announcers trying to say the corporate names with a straight face time-after-time is laughable. Did you catch last night’s AdvoCare 100 Independence Bowl? Of course that game has come a long way from the days when it became symbolic of second-tieredness (I know, that’s not a word) when it was known as The Poulan Weed Eater Independence Bowl.

N.C. State is playing in what is now known as The Belk Bowl. If you scoring at home, that’s a department store that is based, I believe, in North Carolina. At least that’s where I’ve encountered it. The Belk, as I like to call it, is played in Charlotte. It has existed for about 10 to 12 years and this is, I think, its FOURTH corporate sponsor. When Navy played in it in 2006 it was The Meineke Car Care Bowl. It can be tough to know which bowl is played where because they change names just about every year. How about this: The Cotton Bowl—can’t remember the corporate name and I’m not going to look it up—is now played in Jerry Jones Stadium while the actual Cotton Bowl stadium hosts something called The Ticket City Bowl. This makes almost as much sense as the fact that Manhattan College is located in The Bronx.

I honestly don’t care who wins the national championship game whenever they finally get around to playing it. I sort of like Les Miles because he comes off as a goof ball but is clearly an excellent coach and I don’t like Nick Saban since he apparently thinks he’s God. (Don’t tell Tim Tebow). So, I’d lean to LSU but the chances that I’ll still be up at midnight when that game finally ends are somewhere between slim and none and slim has to be up at 6 the next morning.

How about this little piece of news for you: In order to send their bands to the championship game Alabama and LSU will each have to pay about $500,000 apiece. A large part of this is because they are being charged $350 a ticket for seats in the stands. Aah, the down home traditions of college football, right? Are you kidding: $350 a pop to get your band into the stadium? Here’s what the two schools should do: They should tell The Sugar Bowl people—who are in charge of the championship game this year—where to stick their $350 tickets, leave the bands home and give that money to one of The Katrina relief funds.

How do you think ESPN would like a band-less national championship game? I now believe I was wrong when I labeled the NCAA the most corrupt organization on earth. It is tied with all the bowls who use their power—teams desperately want to play postseason football SOMEWHERE, even in Mobile and Shreveport and Detroit—to blackmail the schools into paying for tickets that will never be sold and now, for tickets for their BANDS.

What next, buying standing room tickets for the players and coaches on the sidelines? Can these people be any more obnoxious and corrupt?

When Navy participated in bowl games in the past we were always required at some point to have on some bowl official in an ugly jacket as a halftime guest. Needless to say, I didn’t participate in those interviews. I don’t think I missed much.


Since my book tour is now pretty much over, I want to thank all the people who came out to the book signings I did in Washington, Indianapolis and Raleigh. It was really heartening that so many people came although I have to apologize on behalf of Little, Brown for the lousy job that was done with distribution which caused book shortages at the signings and, apparently, in quite a few places.

This is a good news/bad news deal for any author. On the one hand I can say, ‘we’re into our fifth printing (which we are) in only three weeks.’ On the other hand that’s a sign that the publisher badly miscalculated how the book was going to sell and then was slow to react when the book began selling beyond what they expected. It’s embarrassing for ME when booksellers say they can’t re-order books and it is downright frustrating when for close to a week both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com are posting that books can’t be delivered before Christmas because the book is out of stock.

I say that not to rip Little, Brown which, for the most part, has published me very well dating to ‘A Good Walk Spoiled,’ but so people understand that no one is more upset than I am when they can’t get the books that they want to get.

Obviously, sales have been good and the reviews and the feedback I’ve gotten have been gratifying. There are now—finally—enough books out there. I know that doesn’t help those who were looking for holiday gifts but given that the overall word-of-mouth has been excellent I hope people will continue to look for it in the coming weeks and months. The book was as much fun as I’ve had in a while.


Finally: I’ve been asked quite a few times in the last few weeks if I watched the ‘Showtime,’ Army-Navy documentary. Any of you who know me know the answer to that question: No. I did see a couple of the promotional trailers they (endlessly) sent out and, because I know anything I say will come off as biased and jaded (which it is) I’ll keep most of my opinions to myself. All I’ll say is this: Given the money that was spent and the access that they had I thought there would be new ground broken. I didn’t hear or see anything about Army-Navy I hadn’t heard or seen before. The production was impressive and glitzy. I was also amused every time I heard someone from CBS talk about the project as if NO ONE had ever thought to do something like this before. Please.

Am I still pissed off? You bet. And I make no apologies for feeling that way. For those who are inclined to write and day, 'get over it,' I will. Just not quite yet.

My newest book is now available at your local bookstore, or you can order on-line here (we hope): One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Two stunning announcements: John Thompson is retiring from radio, George Vecsey no longer a full time columnist

I woke up this morning to find two stunning announcements in my morning newspapers.

One was a relatively small item inside The Washington Post saying that John Thompson would be retiring from hosting his radio show on WTEM when his contract is up in February. The other was a column in The New York Times written by George Vecsey that was his farewell as a fulltime columnist.

It isn’t as if either man is young—Thompson is 70 and Vecsey must be closing in on that age if not there already (his Wikipedia doesn’t include a birthdate but he started his career in journalism in 1960)—but having known both of them as long as I have it is still kind of stunning to think of either stepping away from the stage.

As anyone who lives in Washington undoubtedly knows, Thompson and I have had many battles through the years. We squabbled early and often over access to his Georgetown teams when I covered them for The Washington Post. In ‘One on One,’ I describe a scene where I was dumb enough to offer to go outside with Thompson after a game at Capital Centre and also tell the story about what happened when I wrote a piece in The Sporting News that included the phrase, “Hoya Paranoia.”

We have also disagreed for years over Georgetown’s—or more specifically John’s—refusal to participate in The BB+T Classic, the local tournament played in Verizon Center for the last 17 years that has raised almost $5 million for kids at risk in the D.C. area. We had a discussion about that subject as recently as two weeks ago. We still disagree.

But our relationship changed over the years, even before he got out of coaching. I think it is fair to say that two of the most important people in John’s life were Dean Smith and Red Auerbach. Most people know how I feel about Dean and Red. John was absolutely devoted to Red. So was I. We shared that. He would often thank me for all the time I spent with Red without mentioning that he often went to see Red at his apartment late at night, knowing Red was almost always up watching games. The only reason I knew about that was because Red told me.

I was never a huge fan of his radio show. If the subject was basketball you listened because John didn’t get into the basketball Hall of Fame by accident. Other subjects, not so much. If I wanted to hear what, “Joe the Fan,” thought of a subject I didn’t need to listen to the radio.

WTEM paid John a lot of money, in large part because he’s an icon in Washington. But it was also because he had David Falk negotiate his contract. I wouldn’t trust Falk to tell me the time of day but he’s not stupid. When the station decided to cut John’s show from three hours a day to two hours a day I’m told (reliably) that Falk called the station GM and said, “okay, so how much more are you going to pay John?”

“More?” the GM reportedly answered. “We’re making the show SHORTER not longer.”

“Read the contract,” Falk said. “It says any CHANGE in the format means you have to pay him more. This is a change.”

I know John has some things going on in his personal life that have made it tougher for him to put in five days a week on the show. I have no idea what WTEM will do to replace him. I’m pretty confident I won’t be offered the job. But in an odd way I’ll truly miss knowing John was there even if we agreed on very little. John once told me he didn’t like me but he respected me. I always respected him. And, being honest, I also like him.

I also like and respect George Vecsey. I would say he’s been a role model for me except I’ve never come close to handling myself as calmly and evenly as George did in almost all situations. I do think one thing we had (have) in common is that George liked to write about people—regardless of who they were or what they did. He covered religion, he covered country music, he covered sports and he covered politics. He was good at all of them.

I never got his obsession with soccer but he probably never got my love of golf. I still remember when he showed up for the last round of the 1998 PGA Championship at Sahalee (he was there mostly to see his daughter Laura who was working in Seattle at the time) and was stunned when he learned the media was allowed to walk inside the ropes.

I honestly thought George did some of his best work the last couple of years. I had meant to write him a note about that but—as I often do—forgot. When I ran into him somewhere I told him that I thought he was on a serious roll, not that my affirmation is a big deal, but I like to tell people when I think they’ve done good work because I know how much I enjoy it when people do the same for me.

It says something about how George handled himself and his job that all three of his children are involved in journalism in one form or another. Laura, like her dad, started out in sports and is now covering politics. Who knows, maybe she will come full circle too, as he did.

In any event, The Times will miss George’s thoughtful columns and his graceful prose. I have no idea who will replace him although I’m guessing it won’t be me. (Hey, give me some points for consistency). Being a New Yorker I have read The Times all my life. Once upon a time being a Times columnist was what I most wanted to be not because I haven’t loved every minute I’ve spent at The Washington Post but because I am a New Yorker at heart and I learned to read as a kid getting up in the mornings to read The Times sports section because I needed to know how the Mets, Yankees, Jets, Giants, Knicks and Rangers had done and didn’t want to wait for my parents to wake up.

Whoever replaces George Vecsey will be someone I will envy. He or she will also, to use a cliché George would never use, have very big shoes to fill.

My newest book is now available at your local bookstore, or you can order on-line here: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book tour highlights; Why I’m not appearing on Tony Kornheiser’s show to discuss the book

People have asked me often if I enjoy book tours. The answer is yes—and no.

I’d be a liar if I said I don’t enjoy getting the chance to talk about a book. Since the book usually comes out about six months after I finish writing it, a good interview tends to bring back a lot of memories about the process that produced the book. And, it is always gratifying when a host has taken the time to read the book. It makes for much better television or radio than when someone opens the interview by saying, “So, tell me what you’re book is about.”

What makes book tours difficult—besides the travel, which is never easy whether you fly or, like me, drive—is that you have one agenda and many of the people interviewing you have a completely different agenda.

There’s also the issue of the pressure you feel because you want people to buy the book and to like the book. The former is important professionally; the latter personally although my brother once played in a pro-am in Indianapolis year ago with a guy who said to him: “I bought your brother’s book (Season on the Brink) I used it for firewood.”

My brother shrugged and said, “As long as you bought it we don’t really care what you did with it. Buy a hundred and start a bonfire.”

In truth, in the 25 years since the publication of ‘Season on the Brink,’ people in Indiana have been almost universally kind to me. That’s one reason why I wanted to start the tour for ‘One-on-One,’ which is keyed to the 25th anniversary of that book, in Indianapolis. It didn’t work out exactly that way because I did spend a day in New York doing Mike Francesa’s show on WFAN and taping a ‘Fresh Air,’ segment, but it was close.

I did a book-signing at an independent book store called, “Big Hat Books,” which couldn’t have been more enjoyable. I’m a big fan of independents because they are so hard to find these days and because I’ve always found that the people who work there really CARE about books and writing and reading. That’s not to say the chains don’t have people like that, there are just fewer of them.

“Big Hat,” is run by Liz Houghton and a group of people who clearly care a lot about what they’re doing. Even on a miserable rainy night that reminded me of a lot of my nights in all those years ago in Indiana, there were more than 100 people crowded into the store and Liz told me her only problem was that she had run out of books—she’d ordered 250—and was having to take orders while she tried to get more from Little-Brown. (The really good news is that they’ve had to go back for two more printings in just one week).

Every person who asked me to sign a book or books was enthusiastic and had something nice to say—with one exception. “I agreed with Knight about the profanity,” one man said. “I thought there was too much of it.”

I told him I appreciated what he was saying but wondered if he knew that I left about 90 to 95 percent of Knight’s profanity out of the book.

“Really?” he said.

“If I’d written it all I’d still be writing,” I said.

“Oh my,” he said, clearly confused.

The next morning I appeared on ‘Bob and Tom,’—which was, as always, great. Twenty-eight books, twenty-eight appearances on that show. Maybe I should have dedicated a book to those guys.

From Indy I went to Chicago where, in spite of a cab driver who had never heard of WGN, I made it to my early-morning TV appearance there. Before I left town I taped an interview—which will air this week—for ‘Chicago Tonight,’ on WTTW, the local PBS station. Phil Ponce is the host, someone I’ve known since his days in Washington working as a reporter for the ‘Newshour.’ Not only is he a good guy and a good interviewer, he did read the entire book. His being prepared made my job easy.

Along the way, there were the usual frustrations: Reports of not enough books in Indiana (good news and bad news); a similar problem at Amazon, which at one point was saying it didn’t have enough books to guarantee delivery before Christmas (since corrected); an old friend on a Baltimore radio station trying to turn the interview into a Q+A about my column two weeks ago on Randy Edsall (there’s always one of those along the way); a couple of satellite issues causing cancellations during Friday’s TV satellite tour.

All in all though, the first week went about as well as could be hoped. After my TV satellite on Friday, I went to the DC convention center where the sponsor of the Army-Navy game, USAA, had set up a mini-‘radio row.’ My first instinct when I was asked to take part was to not do it—I’ve steered clear of all things Army-Navy all fall since my decision not to do Navy on radio—but the simple fact is it was a good opportunity to let more people know about ‘One-on-One,’ especially since large chunks of it, including the epilogue are about the kids (now young men) I wrote about in “A Civil War.”

The only problem with doing this was that as I talked about why Army-Navy is so special to me and the relationships I’ve had with the players I started getting very emotional about it all. As it turned out I was fine watching the game on television and I didn’t miss dealing with the extra security that comes when The President and Vice President are at the game. As I said I was fine—until they played the alma maters. Then, as always, I lost it. Some things never change.

This week I’ll be in North Carolina for a couple of days including a trip to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on Wednesday night. (7:30). That’s another very cool independent book store where I’ve been in the past. My hope is that Little-Brown will have to go back for another printing by the end of this week.


One other note: Those of you who were expecting to hear me Tuesday on Tony Kornheiser’s show, you won’t. You WILL hear Tony talking about the book and why I’m not there. The simple answer is Chuck Sapienza, the station’s program director. No doubt you’ve heard Tony talk about how much he loves him in the past.

When I left the station last summer to go to WJFK in large part because Sapienza had cut the money I was being paid to appear from a small amount to almost nothing and WJFK offered a good deal more than that, Sapienza and I talked after he’d taken a weird cheap shot at me claiming he was glad to have Darren Rovell (who I like) on the station instead of me because Rovell is younger.

At the end of the conversation Sapienza said this: “Just so you know, I understand Tony will want you to come on when you have a book out and you can always do that and come on the station to talk about any new book you have.”

I thanked Sapienza for that and even made sure Chris Kinard at WJFK knew about it so there wouldn’t be any confusion when ‘One-on-One,’ came out. Kinard was absolutely fine with it.

Thursday, Tony called and said that after he had promoted my appearance, Sapienza had told him I couldn’t appear. When Tony reminded him about what he had said in the summer, Sapienza said, “I know. I changed my mind.”

He’s entitled to do that. What he isn’t entitled to do is to walk up to me Friday at the Army-Navy radio row and say, “I just want you to know it’s nothing personal.”
Of course it’s personal. He never thought I’d leave which is why he kept cutting the money back—almost daring me to do something about it. When I did, he took a cheap shot at me publicly; gave his word on something and then, ‘changed his mind,’ because he knew the station would back him. I’ve been told by several people at the station that his word has all the value of confederate money.

It’s fine. I doubt it will affect book sales very much if at all. I’d actually rather have Tony talk about the book than me. He’ll be funnier. But don’t tell me it isn’t personal.

My newest book is now available at your local bookstore, or you can order on-line here: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Washington Post column: BCS gives us a nighmare schedule instead of a dream tournament

Here's my newest column for The Washington Post, on the miserable bowl lineup ----

Sunday night, I had a dream:

Now that was a thrilling Selection Sunday.
Oh sure, everyone knew that LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma State and Stanford were going to be the top four seeds in the NCAA tournament but no one had any idea how the last four spots would play out and there were plenty of surprises when the field was unveiled.
Boise State was seeded fifth, setting up a quarterfinal against Stanford that might come down to who has the ball last with Andrew Luck and Kellen Moore, the two most decorated college quarterbacks of recent years, going head-to-head. Wisconsin got the sixth seed after beating Michigan State to win the Big Ten title and will open against Oklahoma State. But the last two spots were real surprises: Baylor jumped from not even being on the bubble into the seventh slot after crushing Texas — who says the tournament takes away the meaning of the regular season? — and TCU, which looked like it was headed for the Las Vegas Bowl just a few weeks ago, got the coveted final spot and will open the tournament against LSU.
When the LSU-TCU matchup went on the board, one could hear the screams of pain and anger coming from Ann Arbor, Mich.; Manhattan, Kan.; and Fayetteville, Ark. There were barely whimpers from anyone in the ACC or the Big East. Those two leagues probably had their fate sealed when the committee voted against automatic bids for the tournament, meaning their three-loss champions will be headed for second tier bowls — which is where they clearly belong.
“When we set up the new system we said we wanted the eight best teams and, preferably, the teams playing the best football at the end of the season,” said committee chairman Gene Corrigan, the former ACC Commissioner who once helped invent the late, unlamented Bowl Championship Series. “This isn’t about what league you play in or how many tickets you might sell. This is about getting the best eight teams to play for a championship. Someone has to be disappointed, just like in the basketball tournament.” 
Click here for the rest of the column:  BCS gives us a nighmare schedule instead of a dream tournament

My newest book is now available at your local bookstore, or you can order on-line here: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book details: Interview with NPR's Fresh Air

Earlier today I made an appearance on NPR's Fresh Air from WHYY to discuss the sports media and my newest book, One on One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game.  Click the permalink, and the link below, for the segment.

Link to the NPR interview -- Author interview: Going 'One On One' With Sports' Greatest Stars

The book is now available at your local bookstore, or can be ordered here: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book tour details; Sad and murky situation at Syracuse, Ohio State doesn’t change and extra talk on Edsall and Maryland

It has been a while since I’ve had a chance to write here in part because there has been a lot going on which has caused me to spend a good deal of time writing Washington Post columns but also because I’ve been pretty caught up in getting things lined up for my impending book tour.

I’m actually fired up about the book tour, which is unusual. Normally I dread them but I’m excited about this book and the early response it has gotten. Tomorrow I’m in New York where, among other things, I’ll spend an hour (4-5 o’clock) on Mike Francesa’s WFAN show. Francesa and I often disagree but I’ve always said his radio show is almost always a good listen and the fact that he read the book and wanted to book me for an hour is very encouraging. I will also be taping a ‘Fresh Air,’ interview which will air on Thursday. That’s a good combo—WFAN (and YES network) on Wednesday; a big-time NPR show on Thursday.

Next week I go to Indianapolis on Monday evening. I made the decision to be there on the official publication date of the book because ‘One-on-One,’ is, after all, keyed to the 25th anniversary of ‘Season on the Brink,’ so where else would I want to be on the day the book is officially released? I’m doing an appearance Monday night at The Big Hat bookstore, which is on Cornell Avenue in Indy.

The next morning I will be in-studio to do The Bob and Tom Show, which for me is a big deal. It’s a big deal because those guys are great at selling books. But beyond that, it’s a big deal because the very first interview I did for ‘Season on the Brink,’ was on Bob and Tom. Back then it was a local show in Indianapolis. I still remember it like it was yesterday: It was snowing and dark when I got to the station and I was on for a long time. They had read the book and were totally prepared for the interview—which I now know is how they always do business.

Since then I’ve been on the show countless times and have been on for every single book I’ve ever written. This makes 28. The same people who did the show then—on and off air—do the show now and I always look forward to talking to them and, in this case, seeing them.

After that I’ll do some local TV and radio in Indy, winding up by going on Dan Dakich’s radio show. It’s hard to believe that Dan, who I probably spent more time with than anybody during my ‘Season on the Brink,’ winter, is now a big media star. Except it isn’t that hard to believe because he’s very bright and is also very good on-air. He’s a rising star at ESPN, which makes me happy except for the part about working for ESPN. But Dan—unlike me—has the temperament to handle working for those guys, so good for him.

From there, I drive over to Chicago and from Chicago to Cleveland the next day. Then it’s home for a day of satellite TV and local TV and radio and then back on the road again the next week. It will be hectic but I made the schedule that way because, as I said, I honestly believe people will like reading this book.

Okay, maybe Bob Knight won’t like it. Tiger Woods may not hate it as much as you might expect. Then again, I’m not counting on either of them reading it. Knight will tell you he still hasn’t read, ‘Season on the Brink.’

Onto the news and the question is where to begin.

The latest out of Syracuse on Bernie Fine is devastating. We are not talking a Penn State scandal here because there’s no evidence that Jim Boeheim or any officials at Syracuse knew what is alleged to have gone on. The whole thing is so—you pick a word: slimy, sad, murky. I don’t know. But it is also confusing: the original accuser went to ESPN and The Syracuse Post-Standard eight years ago but they couldn’t find enough corroborating evidence to go with the story. Second accuser, the original accuser’s half-brother comes forward. Then, the original accuser releases a tape from years ago (why didn’t he release it years ago?) that is alleged to be Bernie Fine’s wife. The tape is sickening on many levels. Now a third accuser who has been accused of sexually abusing a child himself comes forward.

Boeheim, who was jumping up and down in Fine’s defense—understandable after working together for so many years—is now retreating rapidly and Fine has been fired. As with Penn State, this is far from over. There will no doubt be more allegations and, I’m guessing, more murkiness. Meanwhile, I’m so sick of all of this I want to hide under the couch.

Then again, there’s Ohio State. It is good to know that my pal the bow-tied E. Gordon Gee learned his lesson from the Jim Tressel mess. Clearly he learned that having a football coach who is bigger than the school is a bad idea. Clearly he learned that sending a message that football is more important than anything by guaranteeing a new coach $4 million a year is really good idea. Clearly he was unfazed by the number of Florida players arrested during Urban Meyer’s tenure there.

And, just as clearly, Meyer is a believer in upholding the Tressel tradition of lying with a straight face. Here’s my question: WHY would he keep denying he had been offered the job last week when it was apparent to EVERYONE that he was going to be the new coach on Monday? Why not just say, ‘no comment,’ or, ‘It would be unfair to anyone at Ohio State for me to say anything when they’re getting ready to play Michigan.’ Sure, people will see through that but they also saw through the, ‘no one has offered me the job,’ line which may have been technically accurate in some way but was clearly not true.

I don’t get it some times with these power coaches. They really believe if they say the sun will rise in the west that it WILL rise in the west and if you doubt them, how dare you.

Speaking of football coaches, I wrote on Monday that Randy Edsall should be fired after one year as Maryland’s coach. The response to the column has been overwhelmingly positive but I am still amazed at some people’s ability to NOT read. A handful of posters said I was hypocritical to call for a coach to be fired after one season, regardless of record. A few others—and my friend Steve Czaban at WTEM—rattled on about how Maryland can’t afford to buy a coach out in light of its financial crisis.

Note to Czabe: You need to read past the headline sometimes. One of my points was that it will cost Maryland MORE long term to keep Edsall than it will to buy him out now because people can’t STAND the guy. And the reason they—and most importantly the players—can’t stand him is because he’s never wrong and doesn’t take responsibility for his own failings. Edsall rattled on about ‘accountability,’ all the time. How about HIS accountability?

I didn’t call for Edsall to be fired for going 2-10. I would never advocate firing a coach after one year based on a poor record. Many great coaches have had poor records early in their tenure—although most didn’t take over a team that had been 9-4 the previous season. I think it takes at least two years, more often three, to really get a handle on where a coach is going.

But Edsall shows NO sign of understanding any of his flaws or mistakes or that he even has any. He has consistently blamed everyone but himself all fall. What put me over the top wasn’t giving up 42 straight points to North Carolina State on Saturday but Edsall comparing himself last week to Bob Kraft and the New England Patriots because Kraft talked about, the “Patriots Way,” in an interview. Trust me the “Patriots Way,” wouldn’t be nearly as effective without Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but that’s beside the point. The point is Edsall said that he was doing the same things Kraft did and therefore, “I must be right.”

Wrong Randy. You’ve been wrong every second since you didn’t bother to go meet with your Connecticut players in person to tell them you were leaving—accountability?—and you’re still wrong.

My rule has always been you don’t judge a coach after one year—good or bad. There are exceptions to every rule.

My newest book is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Washington Post column: Terps need to end Edsall era -- now

Here's my newest column for The Washington Post, on the Maryland coaching situation ----

On Saturday, in the wake of his football team’s final humiliation of 2011, a 56-41 loss to North Carolina State in which the Wolfpack outscored his team 42-0 in the last 21 minutes, Maryland Coach Randy Edsall told reporters he was heading out to recruit for a couple of days and would then begin reevaluating his team and his program.

Edsall’s boss, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, should cancel that recruiting trip. And Edsall’s reevaluation. Anderson should do the reevaluation. And here’s the conclusion he should reach in about 15 seconds: Maryland needs a new football coach.

Randy Edsall should be fired — today.

There are all sorts of reasons why such a conclusion can be labeled rash and overboard. For one thing, Maryland is in a financial crisis right now, one that has forced it to announce plans to eliminate eight varsity sports at the end of this school year. Adding a tab of $2 million per year for the next five years to pay someone not to coach the football team sounds ludicrous.

What’s more, it is unfair to judge a coach—good or bad—on the basis of one season, no matter how horrific it may have been. Maryland went from 9-4 to 2-10 this fall, losing its last seven games by double digits, culminating with the extraordinary meltdown at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Click here for the rest of the column:  Terps need to end Edsall era -- now

My newest book is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Washington Post: After crazy weekend, another fine mess for BCS

Here's my newest column for The Washington Post ----

Several weeks ago, Bill Hancock, the executive director of The Bogus Championship Series, spent a couple of days in Washington on a handshake tour of Capitol Hill and various media outlets in a valiant attempt to defend the indefensible organization he represents.

Hancock’s point appeared to be this: Because only one of the 36 postseason college football games is played with anything at stake, a system that allows teams to get to see the sights of places like Shreveport, La.; Mobile, Ala.; and Detroit is surely worth saving — regardless of whether there’s any fairness involved.

Given the results of this past weekend in college football, heck, Hancock might be right. Let’s just throw a bunch of parties and forget the football altogether, because there is absolutely no way that selecting just two teams to play for the national championship can be done fairly or correctly.

As of this minute, LSU clearly belongs in the championship game. Of course, the Tigers could lose to Arkansas on Friday or to Georgia in the SEC championship game and then they would fall back into the pack with everyone else.

During a visit to The Washington Post, Hancock rolled out the BCS’s latest bit of rhetoric. “College football is the only sport that gives the athletes the chance to end the season by having a party,” he said. “That’s what the bowls are, a chance to go to a nice place, experience it and have a party.”

Click here for the rest of the column:  After crazy weekend, another fine mess for BCS

My newest book is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game

A lot of people have been asking through e-mails and posts the last couple of weeks about the publication date of my new book. The book is called, “One-on-One—Up Close with the Greats in the Game.” It is a professional memoir, keyed to the 25th anniversary of ‘A Season on the Brink.’ It’s more personal than any book I’ve ever written because I tell a lot of stories about my relationships with the people I’ve written about through the years. It begins on the night I approached Knight about doing what became, ‘Season on the Brink.’

The official publication date is December 5th (I will be in Indianapolis that night for a bookstore appearance—more details closer to the date) but the book should be in stores by Thanksgiving weekend. It can also be pre-ordered on line now.

It was great fun to do and the pre-publication reviews (Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Book List) have been great so I’m really encouraged and looking forward to seeing what happens when the book comes out.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Penn State tragedy -- I didn't get it right last week

One week ago when I wrote my first (of two) columns - here and here - on Joe Paterno and the tragedy at Penn State quite a few people—including my wife—felt that I didn’t put enough emphasis on what is by far the most tragic aspect of the whole debacle, which is what happened to at least eight young boys and, in all likelihood, far more than that.

I plead guilty—with an explanation.

Some people have speculated that I was just looking at it from the jock perspective, wondering what this would do to Paterno and Penn State rather than focusing more on the victims. Actually, that’s not true. I made a cardinal error: I assumed it was a given that the most tragic aspect of what was going on was what had been done to the boys and the fact that it could have been stopped years ago and wasn’t.

You know the old cliché about what happens when you assume.

That was mistake number one. Mistake number two—now that I have the benefit of seven days hindsight—was clearly my bias towards Paterno. Or, more specifically, my inability to wrestle to the ground the notion that someone I had put on a pedestal for so long could have fallen and crashed from that pedestal so hard.

My bias here wasn’t personal as it might have been with any number of basketball coaches or a small handful of football coaches—specifically those I’ve worked with on book projects and come to know well. I’ve met Paterno, interviewed Paterno, but can hardly claim to know him.

But I’ve admired him and his program since I was a kid. Growing up in New York City there were three college football teams I followed with passion: Columbia, Army and Penn State. I always enjoyed Paterno’s acerbic wit and his insistence that his players go to class and graduate and learn about more than football. I also liked the fact that everyone around Penn State always called him, ‘Joe,’ in a world where most coaches wear the title of ‘Coach,’ as if it was inherited at birth.

As far back as 1999 I wanted to do a book on Paterno. Right around the time that Jerry Sandusky was ‘retiring,’ I wrote Paterno a letter asking him for an audience so I could try to convince him to grant me access that fall to do a book. My request in the letter was simple: Don’t say no, just say you’ll listen. I honestly believed if I could get in the room with him and explain to him how little time I would actually need with him once the season started that I would have a shot.

I never got the chance. I still have the letter he wrote to me in response. It wasn’t a two-line blow-off, it took up an entire page. It was still a blow-off, but it was one that made me feel not totally rejected. He explained the timing of my request was bad because he was launching several non-football projects. He knew my work, respected my work but this wasn’t the right time. The added touch was a handwritten sentence at the bottom of the page: “Really enjoy listening to you on NPR.”

I knew Paterno was a Republican. But he listened to NPR. That was impressive too.

I was, needless to say, disappointed. Paterno was going to turn 73 at the end of that season and I thought the ’99 team might be his last chance to make a run at a national championship. Actually a loss to Minnesota after an 8-0 start began a five year spiral that climaxed when President Graham Spanier went to Paterno’s house to suggest he retire and apparently got thrown out of the house.

Good for Joe I thought back then. If anyone deserved to plan his own exit it was Paterno.

As I’ve written here before I took another swipe at getting in to see Paterno three years ago. Thanks to my friend Malcolm Moran who now teaches at Penn State (and wrote a wonderful piece in the Sunday New York Times on the mood up there on Saturday) I had lunch with a marketing guy named Guido D’Elia who had become very close to Paterno and had become his un-official gatekeeper.

D’Elia was, to put it politely, dismissive of the idea and of me. Paterno wasn’t ready to do legacy stuff he explained, even at 82. When I told him that I hoped he’d be ready soon and I’d like to have the chance to talk to him sooner rather than later about it, D’Elia said, “We’ll put you on the list.”

(I did a google search this morning to see if D’Elia’s name has surfaced at all in the last week. I found nothing. I find that strange).

The day wasn’t a complete loss though. Malcolm had arranged for he and I to do a two-man ‘forum,’ that night discussing journalism and college athletics. One of the people who showed up was Jay Paterno. Malcolm introduced us and we chatted for a few minutes. No doubt strictly to be courteous, Jay said, “Hey, if I can ever be of any help to you, here’s my contact info.”

He handed me his card. In one of the great upsets of the last 50 years I somehow didn’t lose it. I have lost more important phone numbers than perhaps anyone in history. Last year, after Penn State’s season was over, I dug out the card and contacted Jay. I told him I was looking for help and asked if we could have lunch—which we did.

I liked him instantly. He was smart, funny and totally un-impressed with himself. He was (is) also a Democrat who had worked for President Obama in ’08. Naturally I liked that too. I asked Jay to do one thing for me: Get me in to see his father. He said he would talk to him as soon as he came back from vacation.

Unfortunately (or, perhaps fortunately) unbeknownst to Jay, his father was already making a book deal with Joe Posnanski. I could hardly blame him for choosing Joe who he knew a lot better than me and who is very damn good. My guess was that my pal Guido was behind that deal but I honestly don’t know.

So that’s the background. I’ve been a Paterno fan for a long time and thought he’d make a fascinating book subject. Clearly I was right about that but not for the reasons I thought. I think I may have been in a little bit of denial a week ago about Paterno’s culpability. And, I’ll also admit that, then—as now—I can’t help but think about Jay Paterno.

He’s gone from having a bright future in coaching or politics (he was being encouraged by a number of important Democrats to run for Congress next year if his dad retired) to a future that is now completely murky. If feeling badly about that makes me a bad guy, so be it.

I hate this story in every possible way. I hate it first and foremost for those kids and their families who have been to hell and back and yet their journey’s far from over. I hate it on a much different level for The Penn State players and for all the Penn State people who honestly believed their program and their coach WERE different from the other big time programs. As I said this morning in The Post, I talked to a long-time coach last week, not someone close to Paterno at all and he said this: “If you ask me the list of all the big-time coaches I am absolutely certain don’t cheat here it is: Joe Paterno.”

Of course this went way beyond cheating. It is, without doubt, the worst thing that has ever happened in college athletics. That’s not to diminish the death of Len Bias 25 years ago or the murder of Patrick Dennehy eight years ago or the death of any college athlete. This involved innocent children being abused repeatedly and it is a story that is going to go on and on for years to come.

I didn’t get it right last week. I’m not sure I’ll ever get it right. In fact, I’m not sure there IS a right here. Just an awful lot of wrongs.

My newest book, to be published Dec. 5th, is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Washington Post: College basketball 2011: North Carolina is in shipshape condition

My first college basketball article of the season for The Washington Post ---

If you want hoops hype in November, you can’t just throw two high-profile teams — in this case No. 1 North Carolina and Michigan State — in a gym.

You need to stage the game on a billion-dollar aircraft carrier: the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, the one that carried Osama Bin Laden’s body out to sea.

You need a top-ranked team that may have the best chance to go unbeaten since Indiana did it in 1976.
You need President Obama.

And of course you need Dick Vitale.

The only problem with Friday night’s much-ballyhooed “Carrier Classic” is that unless someone from Michigan State can figure out a way to heave all the basketballs overboard, the Spartans may have trouble staying on the court — and the ship — with North Carolina.

Yes, the Tar Heels are potentially that good.

Sometime this winter, North Carolina Coach Roy Williams needs to write a thank-you note to David Stern and Billy Hunter. The decision by the NBA commissioner and the head of the players’ union to go to war is one reason why it may be close to impossible to deny Ol’ Roy his third national title in eight seasons.

The Tar Heels had three underclassmen who were locks to be first-round picks last spring, led by then-freshman Harrison Barnes, who would have gone in the top three. Big men John Henson and Tyler Zeller, who both blossomed late last winter, might have been lottery picks, too.

But with everyone talking lockout, all three decided that one more year on a picturesque campus wasn’t such a bad thing. So they’re back in Chapel Hill, where they are joined by two freshmen who also might be first-round picks if and when the NBA holds another draft. One is 6-foot-9 James McAdoo, who some scouts rate ahead of Barnes as a pro prospect. The other is 6-5 shooting guard P.J. Hairston, who just happens to play the one position where North Carolina might need some help after a season-ending injury to sophomore Leslie McDonald.

Click here for the rest of the column:  North Carolina is in shipshape condition

My newest book is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Washington Post column: Penn State scandal threatens one of sports’ greatest legacies

My article from The Washington Post on the Penn State scandal ---

“Tragic” is the single most over-used word in sports Almost nothing that takes place within the context of sports is a tragedy. There is no such thing as a tragic loss or even a tragic injury.

What is happening right now at Penn State is, if not tragic, well beyond sad.

If the sexual abuse and assault charges brought by a Pennsylvania grand jury against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky prove to be true on any level, then this will be the single worst thing that has happened in college sports in just about forever.

That’s not to diminish what happened at Baylor in 2003, when one basketball player killed another. Or the death of any athlete, on the field or off.

Th Penn State case could prove tragic in a completely different way, because it involves Joe Paterno. No football coach has meant more to his sport in the past 50 years than Paterno, and his 409 victories at Penn State are only a small part of why he is who he is. In an era when so much is wrong with college athletics, Paterno always has stood for all that is righ.

When USC, Ohio State, Miami and North Carolina are caught cheating in one way or another, most people roll their eyes and say, ‘Here we go again.’ When public records from a lawsuit allege that an agent was bankrolling a basketball player and his mother starting when the kid was 14, the reaction is more eye-rolling. The university presidents publicly wring their hands, declare they’re shocked cheating is going on and go back to counting their money.

Click here for the rest of the column: Penn State scandal threatens one of sports’ greatest legacies

My newest book is now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Washington Post column: Tide should be one and done

Here is my newest The Washington Post piece ---

Our long national hypemare is over.

The game of several centuries — the last one; this one and, no doubt, the next one, was finally played on Saturday night.

Perhaps if LSU and Alabama had played into the next century, one of them would have scored a touchdown.

Here’s what we know after the Tigers’ 9-6 overtime victory in Bryant-Denny Stadium: LSU has a better kicking game than Alabama. Both teams have fabulous defenses. Neither team has a quarterback who is going to bring back memories of Joe Namath or Bert Jones or, for that matter, John Huarte. That’s a trivia note: Huarte won the Heisman Trophy in 1964; Namath did not, but that was back when Notre Dame still played big-time football.

There will be much debate about this game. The apologists, who were already lining up Sunday morning, are going to insist it was a great game because there were two great defenses on the field and there’s nothing wrong with that. Others will go the other way: The game was awful. The punters were on the field more than the quarterbacks.

Click here for the rest of the column:  Tide should be one and done

Newest book now available for pre-order: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The many misperceptions of Tony LaRussa

Tony LaRussa retired Monday, a surprise to almost everyone in baseball, especially since he always came across as one of those guys who they would have to rip the uniform off before they’d get him out of the dugout.

That’s one of a number of perceptions about LaRussa that I don’t believe were ever correct. The most important of them—and the one repeated most often—is that HE thought he was a genius. That myth came about because of George Will’s book, “Men at Work,” which portrayed LaRussa as some kind of baseball genius. I still remember bringing it up the first time I met LaRussa in 1992 during spring training and the way he reacted.

“I’m a baseball manager, period,” he said then. “If I have good players, I’ve got as good a chance to win as other guys—no better and, I hope, no worse. I appreciate George’s love for the game but I honestly wish the whole thing hadn’t come off the way it did.”

LaRussa could be difficult—his nickname in Oakland was, “The Load,” because dealing with him day in and day out could be so tough—but he really did absolutely love the game. I honestly think the reason he always talked to me, often at great length, in spite of his close friendship with Bob Knight, was because he thought I appreciated the game he loved.

He was, under the right circumstances, a GREAT interview because he almost always said something on a subject that no one else had said. He might sit slumped in his chair answering desultory questions about that night’s lineup, but if someone asked something that intrigued him, his eyes would light up and he’d be off.

This past summer I went to see him in Baltimore and told him I was planning to do a book next year on minor league baseball, spending the season bouncing around Triple-A looking for stories.

“No kidding, really?” he said. “That’s a great idea. Oh boy will you find stories there.” He started giving me names of people I should talk to and when his coaches came into the office for one reason or another he kept saying, “You gotta hear what John’s doing next year.”

Naturally I was flattered that he liked the idea. Beyond that though it reminded me that, for all the white noise that surrounds LaRussa whenever he’s in the spotlight, he truly loves baseball and loved being a part of baseball. That’s why I was surprised but not surprised when he decided to walk away.

I was surprised because I know he’ll miss it, especially the day-to-day preparation, the work trying to figure out ways to make good players great; decent players good and mediocre players decent. LaRussa got hurt early in his career (shoulder) and spent most of his time shuttling between Triple-A and the big leagues, hitting .199 for his career. (Maybe that’s why he liked the Triple-A idea so much, he can relate).

When he realized he wasn’t going to get rich playing baseball he went to law school but never practiced because he ended up managing the White Sox in 1979 by the time he was 35. Everyone knows the rest: 33 seasons with three teams; three World Series title; six pennants; third most victories by a manager in history. Not bad for a guy who never won a case.

I wasn’t surprised because LaRussa’s smart enough to know he is NEVER going to match the last two months of this season and he has a chance to go out as a winner in a way very few people get the chance to go out. Plus, he’s got a lot of other things in his life, among them his work for Animal Rights, a cause he’s championed for many years.

I know there are some in my profession who found LaRussa difficult, who reveled in his failures (like game 5 of The World Series). I get that. Others will point to his blinders-on defense of Mark McGwire and they’ll be right. In that sense—to me anyway—LaRussa was no different than guys like Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Belichick: you stand up for your guys, no matter what. Sometimes when you do that you’re wrong and you look bad but you do it anyway.

I have a number of LaRussa memories but one stands out because to me, it personifies who he really was—and is.

In 1996 after he had taken the Cardinals job I went to a spring training game in St. Petersburg. I don’t even remember who the Cardinals played that day because, well, it was spring training. I spent about an hour with LaRussa before the game for a column, then sat in the stands with my pal Dave Scheiber, who worked then for The St. Petersburg Times, and watched the game.

In the ninth inning, John Mabry, who was playing first base for the Cardinals, made one of the greatest defensive plays I’ve ever seen, basically running up the tarpaulin, bouncing off it, reversing direction and then diving back the other way to make the catch. (the wind off the bay was swirling big-time).

I remember thinking how cool it was that in a meaningless March game I had just seen as good a play as I would ever see. The Cardinals ended up losing and I went to see LaRussa, largely because Scheiber needed to talk to some people in the clubhouse so I had a few minutes to kill. I had all I needed to write my column.

When I walked in to his office, LaRussa looked up at me and said nothing. He was studying something on his desk.

“How amazing was that play by Mabry?” I asked.

LaRussa looked up at me blankly. “Mabry?” he said. “Why do I care about Mabry? We just lost a f----- game.”

“A spring training game,” I said.

“They kept score didn’t they?” he said. I thought he was about to get angry at me for not understanding how pissed he was at losing—regardless of the time of year.

He put the papers down on his desk and rocked back in his chair. “Been watching baseball all my life I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better play,” he said. “Made the whole day worthwhile, didn’t it?”

That was LaRussa. He WAS pissed about losing the game. But when he thought about Mabry’s play for a moment, he realized he’d seen something special and he was able to enjoy it.

One last LaRussa note. When I was working on my first baseball book in 1992, I asked him once how badly the game would be damaged by another long work stoppage—which appeared inevitable then and came to be in 1994—and he smiled and said, “The game will be fine.”

I was surprised, so I asked him why he felt that way. He just shrugged and said, “Because in the end, the game is better than all of us.”

He was, of course, right. I’d add one addendum: the game was better because LaRussa was part of it.


A lot of people have been asking through e-mails and posts the last couple of weeks about the publication date of my new book. The book is called, “One-on-One—Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game.” It is a professional memoir, keyed to the 25th anniversary of ‘A Season on the Brink.’ It’s more personal than any book I’ve ever written because I tell a lot of stories about my relationships with the people I’ve written about through the years. It begins on the night I approached Knight about doing what became, ‘Season on the Brink.’

The official publication date is December 5th (I will be in Indianapolis that night for a bookstore appearance—more details closer to the date) but the book should be in stores by Thanksgiving weekend. I’m told it can be pre-ordered on line now.

It was great fun to do and the pre-publication reviews (Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Book List) have been great so I’m really encouraged and looking forward to seeing what happens when the book comes out.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Washington Post column: Maryland football's accountability needs to start at the top

Here is the newest article for The Washington Post -------

Let’s give credit where credit is due: Maryland football coach Randy Edsall is learning.

“Ultimately,” he said Saturday after the Terrapins’ latest embarrassing loss. “I am the guy who is responsible for this.”

If his team isn’t progressing on the field, at least Edsall is making some slow progress off the field.

Someday, Maryland fans may look back at the miserable scene that unfolded inside Byrd Stadium two days before Halloween 2011 and talk about the 28-17 loss to Boston College as the moment when the football program hit rock bottom before its turnaround began. Of course, a lot of people thought the 38-7 loss to Temple in September was that moment.

Temple is a much better football team than Boston College. The Eagles are flat-out bad, a team that hadn’t beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team all season and had lost at home a few weeks back to Duke.

Click here for the rest of the column: Maryland football's accountability needs to start at the top

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Back after the 'Morning Drive' experience; Thoughts on the goings on -- World Series, Moneyball, BCS, Stern and Gumbel, and Notre Dame

I took last week off from the blog for the simple reason that I was waking up at 4:30 each morning in Orlando to co-host ‘Morning Drive,’ on The Golf Channel and I found it difficult to do the show, spend some time out at Disney (for the golf tournament not for Mickey Mouse—sadly) and THEN sit down and write. Twenty years ago I probably could have pulled it off; maybe even 10 years ago. Now, not so much.

Actually I had a choice most afternoons: I could swim or I could blog. I opted to swim. That probably worked out best for everyone.

Life’s back to normal now—or at least my definition of normal—and I have a number of thoughts on all that’s going on in sports, which is a lot.

Let me start though, with the ‘Morning Drive,’ experience. The 4:30 wake-up calls sucked (I’m one of those people who always wakes up before the alarm or the call regardless of the hour. I’ve always wondered how that works, but I swear to God I rolled over in bed at exactly 4:25 each day) but the rest of the experience was fun. Everyone I worked with could not have been more welcoming and I like the way the show sets up: the hosts talk a lot. I like to talk.

If you’ve ever watched the show you know the hosts dress casually, no jacket and tie. I was told to wear whatever I wanted but NOT Golf Channel gear. So, the first day I showed up in a Richmond basketball shirt that Jerry Wainwright gave me years ago after I spoke at the team’s pre-season banquet.

The Richmond shirt got far more attention than anything I said all morning. Kevin Streelman, who is a Duke graduate, was an in-studio guest. “What’s with the Richmond shirt?” he asked on-air.

Fred Couples, who came on to respond to Greg Norman criticizing his pick of Tiger Woods for The Presidents Cup team, answered my first question about what Norman had said this way: “Didn’t you go to Duke University?”

“Yes,” I said. “They gave me a degree if I promised never to come back.”

“So why are you wearing a Richmond basketball shirt? What’s your connection to Richmond?”

“Duke never sends me stuff,” I answered.

I thought wearing an Army shirt two days later would get a lot more comment than the Richmond shirt but it didn’t. I guess people DO know my connection to the military academies even though it isn’t what it used to be.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience. I wish we’d had more time with Kelsey Grammer, who was doing a satellite tour to promote his new show and undoubtedly looked at his schedule and said, ‘Golf Channel, why the hell am I doing Golf Channel?’ I still watch Frasier most nights when I’m home and I still think Niles is one of TV’s all-time funny characters. Trivia: Did you know that Frasier was originally created for a six-show stint on ‘Cheers,’ and was supposed to be written out after Diane left him at the alter? The producers liked the character—and Grammer—so much they kept him in the show and he ended up playing Frasier for 20 years, winning Emmys for playing him on THREE shows—he won one as a guest-star on ‘Wings,’ in addition to ‘Cheers,’ and ‘Frasier.’

Okay, enough of that. On to some real stuff.

--The World Series. Riveting. Four games out of five have been terrific and the one blowout had the Albert Pujols three home run performance. I truly hope that Pujols stays in St. Louis. Great baseball towns deserve great players and Pujols is clearly that. For the record though, Tony LaRussa’s explanation that no one told Pujols that the media wanted to talk to him after his gaffe in game two doesn’t hold even a little water. No one wanted to talk to him after game 2 of the World Series? Seriously? Oh wait, maybe it’s that he’s not an important player. No. That doesn’t work either. Come on Tony, you’re better than that.

Pujols should stay in St. Louis and Prince Fielder should stay in Milwaukee. The latter isn’t likely to happen. Fielder’s going to go where he gets offered the most money and one of the big-money teams will probably come in with a blow-away offer. Too bad. Milwaukee is also a wonderful baseball town.

--On another baseball note I saw, ‘Moneyball,’ on Saturday. It’s good theater. Michael Lewis is brilliant and Aaron Sorkin is a genius so that’s about as good a writing combination as you can have. That said, I’d recommend people read my friend David Maraniss’s op-ed in the Tuesday Washington Post because it sums up pretty well how I feel about the whole ‘moneyball,’ concept. In the movie, Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder essentially don’t exist.

I’m not saying there isn’t merit to the whole ‘moneyball,’ way of thinking. I think the best organizations combine good scouting with all the Bill James stuff. I also think if Dave Roberts hadn’t stolen second base in game 4 of the ALCS in 2004, the whole concept would not be glorified the way it is. And the A’s and Beane haven’t looked quite so brilliant since the above-named players left town. Still, I enjoyed the movie just like I enjoyed the book although I couldn’t help but feel badly for Art Howe. (Philip Seymour Hoffman was great. He was also superb in ‘The Ides of March.’ I’m on a roll seeing movies of late).

--The BCS. Oh please. Or, as my good friend Bill Hancock said over the weekend, “good grief.” I’m hoping and praying for four undefeated teams so the politicians in two states can go ballistic when ‘their,’ teams don’t make the championship game.

--The NBA lockout, David Stern and Bryant Gumbel. The lockout is getting uglier by the minute. More and more people I talk to think the whole season is going by the boards. I’m still not buying it. I think both sides will cave after New Year’s; they’ll agree on something close to a 50-50 split on revenue and a harder though not totally inflexible cap. Stern is a tough guy to play poker against but he’s also smart enough to know he needs the playoffs on TV. Kobe Bryant isn’t getting any younger. For that matter, neither is LeBron James, believe it or not. I wonder how a second round pick like Maryland’s Jordan Williams, who hasn’t yet seen a penny and isn’t guaranteed a penny once the lockout ends, feels about leaving school right about now.

Gumbel is a very smart guy and you can bet he knew exactly what he was saying when he compared Stern to a plantation owner who is ‘treating men like boys,’ in his commentary on HBO’s ‘Real Sports.’ Gumbel knew what the reaction would be when he said what he said but he was clearly tired—as many people are—of Stern’s tactics and wanted to be SURE he got that message across.

I’m a Stern guy. I think he’s been a great commissioner. Can he be imperious? You bet. But I also know that implying in any way that what he’s doing has racial connotations is ridiculous. This is business, pure and simple. Stern’s been charged by the owners with getting them a better deal and he will do and say what has to be said and done to get that deal. Charles Barkley—of all people—brought up a telling stat: Since Stern became commissioner in 1984 the average player salary has gone from $300,000 a year to $5.1 million a year. And that’s in a league not nearly as successful as the NFL where there are STILL no guaranteed contracts. If Gumbel should have a problem with a commissioner or a group of owners for the way they treat their players he should focus on football.

Finally: Did Brian Kelly REALLY say the following when he was asked if he was concerned about quarterback Dayne Crist’s mental state after Crist fumbled a snap on the one-yard line with Notre Dame trailing Southern California 17-10: “No. I don’t have to worry about it he does.”? Seriously? He said that?

Wow. Talk about standing up for your players. Kelly also threw his whole team under the bus for a poor first half but refused to second-guess himself for his team’s preparation for the game coming off a bye week. Kelly cited his record coming off bye weeks the last 20 years as the reason he KNEW he didn’t do anything wrong.

So what’s his record coming off a bye week THIS year? Does this guy take responsibility for ANYTHING?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Washington Post column: BCS represents college football’s ongoing scandal

Here is my newest column for The Washington Post -----

Amid the morass of college football scandals that have unfolded in recent months, there is one man who loves the sport who has benefitted greatly from the ongoing debacles at Ohio State and Miami and North Carolina and USC.

Bill Hancock.

Hancock is the genial executive director of the so-called Bowl Championship Series, which is the ongoing scandal in college football that is still being perpetrated on players, coaches and fans alike much the same way reality TV continues to be a pox that simply won’t go away.

This fall, Hancock’s bosses — the BCS presidents — have conspired to keep the wolves away from his door. First, many of them have allowed their athletic programs to run completely amok. The two people who symbolize what the BCS stands for are, without question, Miami President Donna Shalala, who did everything but rename her school “Shapiro U” while currently jailed booster Nevin Shapiro was lavishing money on her and the one-time “U,” and, of course, Ohio State President Gordon Gee, whose two trademarks are his bowtie and his foot planted firmly inside his mouth.

It was Gee who made himself the Neville Chamberlain of college athletics last spring when he was asked if he would consider firing Jim Tressel as football coach and he replied with a straight face, “Fire him? I just hope he doesn’t fire me.”

The shame of it is that Tressel didn’t stay at Ohio State long enough to get around to firing Gee before Tressel left in disgrace. Of course, the NCAA, led by its top stooge, President Mark Emmert, has been so busy calling meetings and being shocked to learn that cheating is going on that it has yet to take any action against anyone — and will probably come down with a really hard wrist slap when the time finally comes.

Instead it has been left to Roger Goodell, who at last glance was running the NFL, to impose any discipline on Tressel and Terrelle Pryor, his oft-tattooed quarterback. Goodell suspended both for five games when they fled Ohio State for jobs in the NFL.

Maybe Goodell can do something about the BCS. You can bet that Emmert won’t at any point in this lifetime. All of which brings us back to Hancock and the BCS.

Click here for the rest of the article:  BCS represents college football’s ongoing scandal

Thursday, October 13, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Mike Wise Show, The Gas Man, The Sports Junkies)

Here is the link to this week's radio segments, including the new continuing appearance on The Mike Wise Show and The Sports Junkies. Click the permalink below, then the link to the audio links, for the newest available interviews.

Wednesday I joined The Mike Wise Show in my weekly spot at 11am. We spent much of this segment discussing the Washington Capitals in regards to what the team goals could be, and took at look at the pressure on Bruce Boudreau.   Then we moved on to baseball and the turmoil going on with the Boston Red Sox, which leads to opinions of the Cubs hiring of Theo Epstein, then finished up on talk about the Eagles' struggles and the Maryland football outlook.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Mike Wise Show


I joined The Gas Man, out of Seattle, for my weekly spot at 5:35 PT.  On a somewhat sore subject, we started out talking about the NBA, David Stern and the lockout situation. We followed that up discussing Steve Spurrier and what is happening at South Carolina this week, and finished off discussing the comments coming out of Boston College about ACC expansion.

Click here for the audio: The Gas Man


Last Friday I joined The Sports Junkies in my normal slot. This segment we spoke about Tiger Woods and his continued lackluster play and discuss why he doesn't play more before moving into talk about the Tigers and Jim Leland then finished off discussing Skip Bayless and ESPN with Chris Cooley.

Click here for the audio: The Sports Junkies

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Having a tough time watching Steve Spurrier this week, I expect more of him

There is probably no football coach I like more than Steve Spurrier. I first met the Ol’ Ball Coach (I know he is generally known more often as the Head Ball Coach) but my memory is that he referred to himself as the Ol’ Ball Coach years ago) when he was the offensive coordinator at Duke in the early 1980s and was primarily responsible for the development of quarterback Ben Bennett who—believe it or not—beat out Boomer Esiason for ACC player-of-the-year as a senior.

Bennett’s stats and Duke’s respectable record back then were due in large part to Spurrier. That wasn’t why I liked him though: it was his sense of humor, his irreverence and his honesty. The OBC told you exactly what he thought and he often did it in a way that made you laugh.

And he was very damn good at what he did. I’d make the case that his three years as head coach at Duke, when the Blue Devils went 20-13-1 and tied for an ACC title were as good a coaching job as anyone has done anywhere in college football in the last 30 years. If you don’t believe me just look at Duke’s record since he left.

He went on to fame and fortune and a national championship (1996) at Florida, then made the mistake of being tempted by the NFL after 12 seasons as head Gator. The mistake wasn’t so much wanting to see if he could succeed one level up as WHERE he went to find out: Little Danny Snyder land. Snyder was still a good eight years away from being willing to cede any control to a coach and the Redskins, in part because Spurrier was learning on the job, but also because Snyder was still making his coaches watch tape with him back then, were awful.

After two years, Spurrier decided he’d had enough and walked away from the remaining $15 million left on his contract. Once, when I brought up Snyder’s name to him and said I’d felt sorry for him dealing with the guy for two years, Spurrier laughed. “I don’t have anything against old Danny,” he said. “He paid me a lot of money to put up with all that s----.”

Yes he did.

Because he lost a lot of games and didn’t play coaches games trying to shift blame and because he just walked away, most of the media in Washington—many of them die-hard Redskin fans—made him an object of ridicule. (Still do). One radio guy who I consider a friend called him “pathetic,” when a story appeared in The Washington Post chronicling the fact that he had opted to stay out of coaching for a year so that his youngest son wouldn’t have to move as a high school senior.

Really, putting your son first is pathetic? Thinking that and saying it on the air—now THAT’S pathetic.

The good side of Spurrier is rarely talked about. He and his wife Gerry, who have been married more than 40 years, went out and adopted a new family after their own kids had grown. In 1997, I was trying to round up auction items for a charity and called Spurrier on a Friday morning to see if I could get a football autographed by his national championship team. His secretary asked if he could call back Monday since he and the team were about to leave for a road game. Of course.

Five minutes later the phone rang. It was Spurrier. This was before everyone had a cell phone.

“Isn’t the bus leaving right now for the airport?” I asked.

“You know, last I looked I was head ball coach of this team (he DID say head ball coach that time) and I don’t think they’re going to leave without me. What’s up?”

He didn’t send an autographed football—he sent two. There was a note: “See if you can bid this up a little and maybe do that trick where you say you’ll get two if the second bidder will match the first.”

I say all this because I’m having a very tough time with what is going on at South Carolina this week.

First, the school announced it was tossing Stephen Garcia off the football team once and for all. My guess is Garcia DID violate the terms of his FIFTH return from suspension to the team and, sadly, the internet rumor is that he may have failed a mandatory alcohol-test.

You know what? I don’t care. When Spurrier and the school still needed him to play quarterback, they kept bringing him back, saying he was a fine young man who deserved one more chance. Now, when he couldn’t produce in the final minute of the loss to Auburn two weeks ago and got benched, he’s off the team for good.

It just LOOKS bad. It looks like a classic case of, ‘we don’t need this kid anymore, so, as Athletic Director Eric Hyman said in his smarmy statement about ‘student-athletes,’ they wish him luck with the rest of his life and send him packing.

Seriously? That’s it? We were 100 percent behind you as long as you could win football games for us but now that your eligibility is just about up and a younger QB has taken your job, thanks for the memories? IF he failed an alcohol test, the school at the very least owes him help—whether it is counseling or rehab or both. Clearly, the last two weeks haven’t been good for him: he fails in the Auburn game; gets benched and then sees Connor Shaw, his successor, have a big game against Kentucky.

One thing I know for sure: Stephen Garcia won’t be an NFL quarterback—he’s the kind of guy who might get kept around to hold a clipboard EXCEPT that he’s had off-field problems.  The fact that he got his degree last spring would indicate he was at least TRYING to deal with his problem, all the more reason why he should be allowed to remain part of the team, regardless of whether he ever plays another down.

Just as the Garcia news was breaking on Tuesday, the OBC showed up for his weekly press conference. But rather than talking about the win over Kentucky (yawn) or this week’s game against Mississippi State (more yawns) the OBC launched into a diatribe against Ron Morris, a long time columnist for The State Newspaper in Columbia.

Repeatedly he called Morris a “negative guy,” and railed against a column Morris wrote in the spring about the decision of South Carolina point guard Bruce Ellington to also play football this fall. In the column, Morris wrote that Spurrier had been, “courting Ellington since the end of football season,” to join his team. Morris didn’t say Spurrier was wrong to court him or that basketball coach Darrin Horn was upset about it. He went on to discuss how difficult it is for any athlete to play two sports in this day and age and speculated that playing football would hurt Ellington’s development as a basketball player.

Sis months later, Spurrier walked into a press conference and declared he wouldn’t talk while Morris was in the room. He said this had been bothering him for months, that he had never recruited Ellington until after Ellington had talked to Horn about playing football and it was, “his right,” to not talk to a reporter who was, “trying to hurt our football team.”

Of course it’s his right. But he’s wrong. I’ve known Morris for almost 30 years since his days in Durham. He doesn’t make stuff up. SOMEONE told him Spurrier was “courting,” Ellington. Maybe it was the kid. Maybe it was Horn. Morris didn’t make it up, I promise you that. And he didn’t write it to, “hurt the football team.”

I’ve been in a lot of battles like this myself. Years ago, the Maryland football team, under orders from its coach, “voted,” not to speak to me because I’d written a three-part series, with every single quote on the record, about why the program had hit a ceiling and was slipping. Of course the way I found out about the “vote,” was that several players called to tell me about it. When I covered Lefty Driesell, who is now a close friend, we fought almost daily.

Several years back, Gary Williams was complaining to me about Josh Barr, who was then The Post’s beat writer covering his team. Barr was (and is) good and when you’re good (like Morris) and not a cheerleader you are bound to clash with any coach you cover because every team has things happen that a coach would rather not see come out in public—even the good guys like the OBC and Lefty and Gary.

When Gary complained about Barr I said to him, “you understand, if I’d ever covered you on a daily basis we’d have been screaming at one another most of the time? Sometimes you have to write a story even if you know you’re going to get yelled at by a coach for writing it.”

Spurrier said he didn’t mind being criticized (and I think through most of his career that’s been true) but he didn’t like someone writing something that wasn’t true. I’m sure he means that. That said, Morris blistered him after the Auburn game, holding him responsible for the failed last drive. The OBC is human. You have to wonder if that column reminded him that he was upset about the Ellington story six months ago.

Regardless, he should have handled it in private with Morris. Scream, yell, curse—whatever. But don’t make yourself look like a bully. The OBC is a good man who is good at what he does. So is Morris. They should sit down and talk this out. And then Spurrier should make Stephen Garcia a student coach for the rest of the season and make sure he gets whatever help he needs.

I don’t expect a lot from football coaches most of the time. I do expect more from the OBC.