Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In light of Ohio State, where is the outrage for Notre Dame's far more serious issues?; The passing of Maryland political power broker Peter O’Malley

I know I do this on occasion but the subject of today’s blog is not going to be The NBA Finals (yawn); The Stanley Cup Finals (I plan to watch it all) or even Jim Tressel (I wrote a column you can read on WashingtonPost.com or on this blog).

I will add one thing to the Tressel column that there wasn’t space for (it will also run in tomorrow’s newspaper) because even though it isn’t directly connected to Tressel, it has some relevance in any discussion of big time college athletics.

I have no sympathy at all for Tressel or for Gordon Gee or Gene Smith—who, as I wrote in the column—should both be fired too at the very least for complete incompetence. But I also think we should keep things in perspective a little bit.

Ohio State is getting fried—justifiably—for allowing its program to run amok and then for trying to cover up clear violations. But why is it that almost NO ONE around the country is nailing Notre Dame for the cavalier manner in which it handled the death of Declan Sullivan?

Please don’t tell me you buy into Father John Jenkins blanket, “we’re all guilty,” press release. Really? If everyone is guilty where is the list of those fired or at least disciplined—starting with Jenkins and then going on down to the athletic director (who claimed there was ‘nothing unusual,’ in the weather conditions minutes before Sullivan’s tower came crashing down) to the head football coach who insisted on practicing outdoors on a day when there were wind warnings all over the Midwest; to whoever was responsible for not ordering Sullivan to stay off the tower—even if he was willing, though apparently terrified, to go up there?

No one was fired. Jenkins should have added a sentence at the end of his statement if he was being intellectually honest about how he felt that said: “Now let’s get back to the important work of figuring out how to beat Navy!”

Jenkins strikes me as a complete fraud. Can you imagine him refusing to meet with the family of the girl who committed suicide shortly after filing a report alleging sexual assault against a Notre Dame football player? He was acting on the advice of his lawyers. Where in the vows Jenkins took, I wonder, does it say: “your lawyer’s advice comes before comforting those involved in a tragedy?” Meeting with the family would not have been an admission of guilt; only an admission that he cared about people who were suffering.

Can’t have that. The lawyers told him so.

I can’t wait for the fall when all the TV apologists will tell us what a wonderful, caring place and nurturing place Notre Dame is. I will keep an air sickness bag handy should I happen to encounter a Notre Dame game while flipping channels. You can bet I won’t actually WATCH one. (Go ahead you Irish fans, pile on and tell me how awful I am for criticizing such a wonderful place. Can’t wait.)

Let me move on to a different sort of Irishman. His name was Peter Francis O’Malley. He died suddenly on Saturday at the age of 72 of a heart attack. Peter O’Malley wasn’t a friend of mine but I considered him a worthy adversary.

He was a political power broker in Maryland, a lot of his base being in Prince George’s County, the place that was once home to The Washington Bullets and Washington Capitals and is now home to The Washington Redskins. O’Malley was close friends with Abe Pollin and was an ‘advisor,’ to most of the important Democratic politicians in Prince George’s and to many others throughout the state. One of his many protégés was Steny Hoyer, now the minority whip in The House of Representatives. It was also O’Malley who played a key role in helping push through the legislation that got The Capital Centre built in about 15 minutes back in the mid-1970s.

I first encountered him when I began covering Prince George’s County. One of the first things everyone involved in politics out there told me was, “you have to get to know Pete O’Malley.”

I took their advice. I got to know him. It wasn’t as if he became one of my most valued sources—Laney Hester, the head of the police union was BY FAR my most important source—but he educated me on the county’s political history; told me who was important to know and who wasn’t and always took my calls or returned them quickly.

When I moved up to cover the state legislature he remained someone important for me to know. During the 1983 legislative session, a couple of Prince George’s County legislators decided to introduce a bill that would force Abe Pollin to pay the county’s amusement tax (nine-and-a-half percent if I remember right) from which he had been exempt. The county had waved the tax after Pollin had threatened to fold the Capitals because of red ink a couple of years earlier.

Since the bill directly affected only Prince George’s, it had to be voted on by the county’s delegation before being sent to the floor of The House of Delegates. Early on a Tuesday morning, prior to the weekly meeting of the local delegation, one of O’Malley’s ‘people,’ could be seen going from office to office. He had a message from Pete: kill the bill. They did—that morning. When I began asking questions, several legislators readily said that O’Malley had made it clear he wanted the bill dead so the bill was dead. It would not be introduced again.

I called O’Malley that morning and left a message telling him what I was writing for the next day. It was the first time he ever failed to call me back. The story ran on A1 of the paper, more as an object lesson in how to exert political power than anything else.

That morning, O’Malley did call me. “We’re supposed to have lunch next Monday,” he said. “I’m canceling.”

“Oh did something come up?”

“No. I just don’t have time to have lunch with the likes of you.”

I had heard in the past about O’Malley’s volcanic temper. This was the first time I had been exposed to it first hand. “Pete, was there anything in the story that wasn’t true? Did I call you to comment?”

“That’s not the point. The point is you didn’t HAVE to write the story that way but you CHOSE to write it that way.”

“Yes I did. And I think I wrote the right story.”

“Good. Tell that to the person you have lunch with next Monday.”

O’Malley forgave me, but not until I was out of politics and back covering sports. And he forgave me in his uniquely O’Malley way. After I’d written a story on Jim Phalen, the legendary basketball coach at Mt. St. Mary’s—his alma mater—he wrote me a note about how much he had enjoyed the piece. And then he added: “I think you belong in sports. The better side of you comes out when you are working there as opposed to politics.”

I passed that along to some of his political friends who agreed it was pure O’Malley: I’m going to give you a compliment, but remind you that I’m still smarter than you.

I’ve had the chance to know a lot of people in a lot of different walks of life. As anyone who reads this blog, I tend to be very black-and-white in my feelings about people even though I try very hard to stand back from my biases—or at least recognize them—when I write. At the very least I KNOW the biases exist.

Peter O’Malley was different. He wasn’t a friend and he wasn’t an enemy. I certainly respected him but probably not as much as he thought I should have respected him. He could be difficult and he could be helpful. But he was never, ever un-interesting. I’m truly sorry for his family that he is gone so quickly and so prematurely. He deserved a long retirement. He worked very hard for a long time to get there.

Washington Post column: Ohio State’s Jim Tressel gets axed, but rotting wood remains in college athletics

Here is today's article for The Washington Post ----------

There are so many issues connected to Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel’s “resignation” Monday that it is difficult to know where to begin.

Let’s start with this: Tressel resigned the way Richard Nixon resigned. Even with his hapless bosses, Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee and Athletic Director Gene Smith, trying to push back the growing wave of accusations, Tressel finally ran out of the nine lives given to a coach with a record of 106-22.

What happened Monday is pretty easy to figure out: Ohio State goes before the NCAA infractions committee Aug. 12. To enter that hearing with Tressel still in place as football coach would have sent the following message to the committee: “We’re Ohio State. This coach wins most of the time and beats Michigan all the time. We don’t care that his program was apparently out of control or that he engaged in a cover-up of clear NCAA rules violations. We have some tickets here for our opener next month. Would one of you like to dot the ‘i’?”

That probably wouldn’t play well in that room. That’s why Tressel had to go.

Even so, there are still myriad questions surrounding the Ohio State football program.

Exactly how widespread were the violations that ex-players are saying were commonplace?

Exactly how long can Smith keep his job after declaring on Dec. 23 that the memorabilia-for- tattoos episode “an isolated incident”? Or, more specifically, why should he keep his job? survive?

As recently as two weeks ago, Smith insisted he supported Tressel. In March, when reports first surfaced that Tressel had covered up for players who should have been ineligible at the start of last season, Smith did a fly-by for a quickie news conference in Columbus, then raced back to serve his role as NCAA men’s basketball committee chairman. With his house was burning down, Smith came home just long enough to make sure the doors were locked.

As for Gee, how can anyone connected to Ohio State want the bow-tied president around for even five more minutes? He already made a fool of himself with his whiny comments about non-BCS teams last fall (which, to his credit, he admitted were ridiculous after being blasted nationally ) and then, just to prove that bit of stupidity wasn’t a fluke, he made his incredible, “I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t fire me,” wisecrack during that March news conference.

Click here for the rest of the column: Ohio State’s Jim Tressel gets axed, but rotting wood remains in college athletics

Thursday, May 26, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in my normal time slot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.  We spent a great deal of the time this week discussing Tiger Woods and the possible disintegration of his lower body, including whether his workout regimen and subsequent weight gain may have been a hindrance instead of help over the years. After Tiger we moved on to the hiring of Ed DeChellis at Navy, and where Penn State basketball may be headed. Paterno and Bob Knight on the same campus?

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Also Wednesday I joined The Gas Man in my normal weekly spot. This week we discussed the Seattle Sounders and the MLS, including a story of mine while covering the earlier rendition of the Sounders,  followed by a look at the success of the MLS including the smart choice of stadium size the league has gone with. After the soccer talk we moved on to the franchises in New York, including the amazing events that the Mets and Wilpon find themselves in, including a quick a look at the Yankees, Rangers and Islanders.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Questions on this month in sports: NBA, horse racing, UCONN, tennis and the Mets

Most days when I write I present answers—which readers are free to agree or disagree with. Today, I present questions, which readers are free to answer or not answer.

Question 1: Do you care about The NBA playoffs? The ratings would seem to indicate that a lot of you do. Certainly having The Miami Heat playing the role of villains is helping a good deal along with the emergence of genuine young superstars like Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant. The saga of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd and The Mavericks is also worthy of attention. And, when I have watched on occasion, the quality of the games has been better than in recent memory.

That said, I still have trouble really caring. I certainly don’t care about The Heat—although like a lot of people LeBron James can’t lose enough to make me happy. I recognize his brilliance, he’s an absolute physical freak, but I simply can’t put The Decision behind me even though I don’t live in Cleveland. I think he took the easy way out and I have trouble respecting that.

There’s also the issue of when the games are played. Afternoon games have basically ceased to exist and the way these series are being dragged out makes me crazy. The way the first three games of Bulls-Heat was scheduled I was beginning to wonder if David Stern had a secret plan to replace the NFL by playing once a week. Three games in eight days? Someone said that James might be a free agent again before this spring’s playoffs are over.

The late night thing, I realize, is just my problem. On school mornings I have to be up at 6 to get my son out of bed and on the road. There’s just no way I can stay up until the end of a 9 o’clock game. Plus, they’re often not 9 o’clock games. The other night I checked in on Bulls-Heat before I went to bed and the first QUARTER was just ending at 10 o’clock. Who is in charge here, Bud Selig?

Question 2: Are you like me in that you don’t care that much about horse racing but you’d love to see a Triple Crown winner?

My knowledge of horse-racing is slightly better than my knowledge of fashion. I can name most Kentucky Derby winners of the last 40 years and a lot of Preakness and Belmont winners too. I almost always watch The Triple Crown races although I skip the two hours of pre-race features. Put ‘em in the gate and run.

I know there have been star horses in recent years and that a lot of people take The Breeders Stakes very seriously. But like the golf fan who only watches Tiger Woods—and thus isn’t really a golf fan—I am more a Triple Crown fan and I’d like to see a horse accomplish it again sometime soon. I DO remember The Affirmed-Alydar classics of 33 years ago. Who thought then that no one would win another Triple Crown for 33 years? Heck, weren’t there three in six years (Secretariat ’73; Seattle Slew ’77) at that point? Yes. But if you go back and check—which I did—it had been 25 years since Citation accomplished the feat when Secretariat did it in 1973.

Think how iconic those horses all became. Horse-racing needs an icon.

Question 3: Did anyone notice that Connecticut was just stripped of two basketball scholarships for failing to meet NCAA minimum academic standards?

Who would have thought that U-Conn would end up as the symbol of all that is wrong with the NCAA? As I’ve said before I like Jim Calhoun a lot personally. I think he’s a great coach and the rebuilding job he did when he took over U-Conn in the 1980s is one of the greatest of all time. But where is the line drawn? U-Conn admitted to major recruiting violations and the NCAA slapped their wrist so damn hard that they were still wincing collectively while collecting the national championship trophy. Now the school has failed to meet academic minimums set so low by the NCAA it is almost impossible not to meet them. Any Connecticut fans out there wondering what is going on? Of course not—they just had a parade.

That’s the rule in college athletics: win a national title and you can do anything you want to. Go 5-22 the way Brad Greenberg did at Radford this past season and get nailed by the NCAA for about as minor a violation as you can imagine (taking an ineligible player on the road to WATCH games during Thanksgiving and Christmas rather than leave him home alone on campus) and you get fired.

Question 4: If The French Open is being played in Paris and no one outside the Bois de Bologne really cares, is it really being played?

Seriously folks, I know tennis junkies are agog about Novak Djokovic’s winning streak and certainly if he ends up playing Rafael Nadal there will be interest but beyond that does anyone care? There’s not a single woman in the draw anyone outside of family, agent and friends really wants to watch play and no American man has been a contender in Paris since Andre Agassi and Jim Courier moved on to the hit-and-giggle world. Does anyone remember the days of Evert-Navratilova; Graf-Seles; McEnroe-Lendl or Agassi-Courier? For that matter where have you gone Michael Chang, our nation turns its lonely clay-filled eyes to you.

The only reason to watch The French Open this week and next is if you have Tennis Channel and you can watch Mary Carillo—who told ESPN to take a hike last fall—explain the game as only she can.

Question 5: Why oh why do I torture myself, even for 10 minutes, listening to the morning pitchmen? One reason is that The Sports Junkies seem to always be in commercial when I’m in the car, and I mean for the entire 10 minutes.

This morning my friend Jayson Stark was on. His is usually one of the few listenable bits on the show if the two pitchmen will SHUT UP with their fake bickering long enough to let him talk. This morning though, Jayson was talking about Mets owner Fred Wilpon’s comments about some of his players in this week’s New Yorker.

Wilpon was—at most—mildly critical of some of his stars. He said he made a mistake signing Carlos Beltran (for the record, Beltran, when healthy has been one of the Mets BETTER signings: Can you say Oliver Perez? Jason Bay? Pedro—one good year on a five-year deal—Martinez?) and that he wasn’t going to give Jose Reyes a “Carl Crawford contract.” David Wright—according to WIlpon—is a very good player but not a franchise player.

First of all, everything Wilpon said is true. The mistakes he’s made go well beyond those three players and are too numerous to list here. (Yes, I’m a frustrated Mets fan). But Jayson, who is one of the few real reporters ESPN has, felt the need to imply that Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote The New Yorker piece, got these comments from Wilpon because WIlpon didn’t realize he was being quoted when he said what he said. One of the pitchmen chimed in to say Wilpon just thought he was, ‘schmoozing,’ when he made the comments.

Oh come on fellas. This reminds me of the time when I was sent to John Riggins’ house in Lawrence, Kansas in 1980 to ask him why he wasn’t at Redskins training camp. He had refused to talk to anyone so my boss sent me out there to try to talk to him. After saying repeatedly he had nothing to say, Riggins finally started talking and answered several questions. Later, when several regular Redskins reporters asked him why he had talked to me—a complete stranger—he said he thought we were talking off the record.

Really? Did he think I flew to Lawrence, Kansas because I was personally curious about his holdout? Did Wilpon think that Toobin came out and spent hours and hours with him because he really wanted to know what he thought about Carlos Beltran. It is worth noting that WILPON has not used this excuse.

So, I ask one more time: Why or why do I do this to myself?

Friday, May 20, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in my normal time slot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.  This week we discussed new Maryland coach Mark Turgeon's hiring of assistant Delonte Hill, the AAU-ization of the college basketball game then moved on to golf by talking about Tiger Woods and his short week at THE PLAYERS and finishing with a quick Paul Goydos story.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Also Wednesday I joined The Gas Man in my normal weekly spot. This week we spent the time speaking about my reporting of Tiger Woods at Ponte Vedra before discussing the trials and tribulations of the tournament. After moving on from golf, we finished off talking about Gary Williams and Maryland.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Monday, May 16, 2011

Long and interesting week at Ponte Vedra, including thoughts on the tournament and Tiger Woods

Wow, was that a long week in Ponte Vedra. Each day I woke up thinking I would write a blog and the next thing I knew it was 5 o’clock in the afternoon and I was too sapped by the heat to do anything except fantasize about going back to the hotel to take a shower.

The Players is the classic wannabe sports event. In recent years, The PGA Tour—they prefer to actually be called THE TOUR and that their tournament be called a championship and that The Players be called THE PLAYERS, not that they are a bit pretentious—has taken to insisting that it is NOT trying to convince people that their event is the fifth major.

If that is the case, riddle me this: Why does THE TOUR give the same five year exemption to winners of THE PLAYERS (Championship, I don’t think they insist on all caps for that) that it gives to major champions? Why does it give the same number of FedEx points to THE PLAYERS winner as it gives to those who win a major? This is where you could also wonder how it is that the winner of a playoff event gets more points than someone would get for winning all FOUR majors, but that’s another question for another day. And finally, how in the world does THE TOUR claim it isn’t trying to foist off its faux major as a major when it includes victories at THE PLAYERS on the Hall of Fame ballot as if they somehow carry as much weight on a player’s resume as a major does?

Of course we all know THE TOUR is never wrong about anything because they tell us this over and over again. When I jokingly made the point in January that the slide of the once prestigious Tournament of Champions could be pretty well summed up by the fact that it had gone from having Mercedes as a title-sponsor to Hyundai, The Tour (sorry THE TOUR) went nuts. There was all sorts of screaming and yelling about Hyundai’s new luxury car and yata-yata-yata. So I posed this question: If someone told you that you had just won a Mercedes and you showed up to collect it and they handed you the keys to a Hyundai, how would you feel?

There was also the issue of symbolism but THE TOUR doesn’t do symbolism, it does self-righteousness.

And then there was last Thursday when Tiger Woods walked off the golf course after shooting 42 on the front nine at The TPC Sawgrass. Those of you who read this blog strictly to monitor any shots at Tiger, better sit down because I actually defended Tiger.

You see, not only do I believe he was genuinely hurt—although there are conspiracy theorists who think his knee started to hurt again after his triple-bogey 7 at the fourth hole—I don’t think he should have played. I had surgery on my shoulder ONCE and I freak out whenever I feel a twinge now in either shoulder. Tiger’s had surgery on his left knee FOUR times. If he says it hurts and he needs to rest, I’m not going to question him. Throw in any achilles issues—I also tore my achilles years ago and believe me it is not a good injury—and he NEEDS to be careful, especially with a body that has proven brittle in the past.

So, when he pulls out of Quail Hollow, the one tournament he has played in past years simply because he likes the golf course, I believe him when he says he’s hurt. And when he shoots 42—42!—I don’t doubt that he’s hurt.

Commissioner Tim Finchem insisted that he saw no sign that Tiger was injured in the run-up to the tournament. He never saw him limp. I would think it would be tough to see him limp since he was carted to and from the back of the range whenever he practiced and I don’t think the commish was out there walking with him when he played nine holes on Tuesday and nine holes on Wednesday. (He also wasn’t in attendance at his ‘crown-jewel,’ for a good portion of the day Friday because he was playing golf with ex-President George W. Bush. No doubt W. will be inducted into The World Golf Hall of Fame just like his dad while the Hall continues to ignore Dan Jenkins and Jim Murray. Good job Hall voters).

Anyway, when I said on Golf Channel that I thought Tiger was hurt; that I didn’t think he should have tried to play AND I thought he felt some pressure from The Tour to play—The Tour went ballistic. I did not say that FInchem or anyone ‘forced,’ Tiger to play, a charge Finchem denied even though it hadn’t been made. I just said that Finchem had done a lot for Tiger last year—giving up his clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass for Tiger’s now infamous Tiger and Pony show and then sitting in the room with all of Tiger’s employees and minions and that perhaps—for once—Tiger felt he owed someone something and this was when The Tour had called in its chit.

I didn’t say it to be critical, hell The Tour needs to get Tiger to play more often and with Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy snubbing their event, it REALLY needed Tiger there. (I’m betting NBC is not going to be doing handstands when the weekend ratings come out with Tiger gone and Phil Mickelson nowhere near the lead. I was glued to the finish on Sunday because my guy Paul Goydos was in contention and I like David Toms a lot but I’m not exactly your typical golf viewer). I didn’t imply even that The Tour wanted Tiger to play hurt. What I was saying was that I believed the message was conveyed to Tiger—if he didn’t already know—that his presence in Ponte Vedra would be greatly appreciated.

Almost as soon as I said it, Ty Votaw, Finchem’s attack-dog when it comes to any media ‘slight,’ was on the warpath, screaming I’d made the whole thing up. For the record, I don’t make things up except in my kids mysteries. (Note to poster a couple weeks ago who said I should keep on writing kids books that, ‘no one wants to read,’ do you think my publisher would still be publishing them if no one was reading them?). I had talked to players before Tiger committed and to quite a few people after he committed. The general sentiment was that The Tour needed Tiger at The Players and his committing to a tournament he’s never liked much on a golf course he’s never liked much was his payback for Finchem’s ‘support,’ last year and that there was no doubt The Tour had let Tiger’s camp know that.

Votaw has apparently never heard of Shakespeare (he doth protest too much) and doesn’t know much about public relations. He turned a complete non-story—seriously, does anyone really care what I think about the issue all that much?—into a national story with his and Finchem’s ‘categorical,’ denials. Years ago, when Deane Beman was commissioner he hired a very smart public relations man named John Morris, who completely made over his image and relationship with the media. Sadly—on many levels—John Morris passed away nine years ago.

Finchem needs a John Morris. I have always liked him and respected him and I think he’s a good guy—rounds of golf with W. aside. I wish if he was truly upset on Thursday he had picked up a phone and called ME because I would have instantly said on the air that he had called to deny what I was saying. Instead, Votaw ran amok.

My feelings about Finchem haven’t changed at all. I still like him and respect him and am always willing to agree to disagree with him or to agree to agree with him. But I think he needs to find a John Morris.

By the way, just in case you were one of the millions not watching on Sunday, K.J Choi won The Players.

Friday, May 13, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in my normal time slot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.  This week we discussed Gary Williams departure, Mark Turgeon's arrival, a look at other legendary coaches and what happens to their programs when they retire before moving on to golf and the Tiger Woods-Bubba Watson news.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Also Wednesday I joined The Gas Man in my normal weekly spot. This week we spent the time speaking about the most important news, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, my connection to Army and Navy and their campus reactions to the event, then moved on to more trivial topics such as NFL lockout, athletes and boredom, a story of me and John Thompson and the phenomena of Gus Johnson, Dick Vitale and other announcers.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Washington Post column:Mark Turgeon wasn’t the obvious choice, but he might be the right one for Maryland

Here is today's article from The Washington Post on Maryland's coaching search and hire----------

Sometimes, the best hire is the one you don’t make.

Almost 50 years ago, when Frank McGuire left North Carolina for the NBA, very few Tar Heel supporters wanted to see his quiet, unassuming, 30-year-old assistant take his place. The exception was the school’s chancellor, who decided to give Dean Smith first crack at the job.

In 1980, Duke Athletic Director Tom Butters was being pushed by Bob Knight to hire one of Knight’s former assistants: Texas coach Bob Weltlich. Butters’ gut told him the unknown coach at Army with the impossible to pronounce name was the right guy, but he didn’t think he could hire a coach from that level who had just gone 9-17. So he thanked Mike Krzyzewski for coming down for a second interview and sent him back to the airport, intending to call Weltlich.

When Steve Vacendak, Butters’ top lieutenant, asked him why he had sent Krzyzewski home, Butters said: “I think I’d get crushed for hiring him with his record and lack of experience.”

“Do you think he’s the best coach for the job?”


The way Butters told the story, that’s when he made his decision. He sent Vacendak to the airport to bring Krzyzewski back and offered him the job. He never called Weltlich.

Mark Turgeon is not a good hire for Maryland; he’s a great hire. There are plenty of numbers to prove it, but the most impressive one is this: He went to four straight NCAA tournaments at a school that couldn’t care less about basketball in a league that has been at least as competitive as the ACC — maybe more so — during that period.

Click here for the rest of the column: Mark Turgeon wasn’t the obvious choice, but he might be the right one for Maryland

Friday, May 6, 2011

Washington Post column: Maryland's Gary Williams was in perpetual motion

For today's The Washington Post ---------------

On the night in 2002 that Maryland won the national championship, I was standing on the Georgia Dome floor with Gary Williams’s daughter, Kristin. As she watched her father cut down the last strand of net, she said, “Maybe now he can relax a little.”

I laughed and said something like, “Have you met your father?”

Relaxing was never something Gary Williams was any good at during his remarkable career as a basketball coach. On that same night, when I congratulated him on reaching the top of the mountain he had spent his entire adult life trying to scale, he shook his head almost as if he was bewildered. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself tomorrow.”

Now that he has decided to retire after 22 years at Maryland, who knows what Gary will do with himself.
“I didn’t want to be one of those coaches who is still hanging around at 70 and can’t stand up to get off the bench during a game,” he said in a phone conversation Thursday. “I’m 66. There are a lot of things I want to do.”

I know he believes that right now. I know he was worn out by a lot of things: 15 years of battling an athletic director who couldn’t stand Williams being the face of Maryland sports; the skepticism of his own fans even after he revived a beleaguered program and delivered its only national championship; the complete cesspool high school recruiting has become; and, finally, his most talented player’s misguided decision to turn pro rather than return for his junior season.

Gary would never put it on any kid, but I suspect Jordan Williams’s departure was the last straw.

“I told Joe Smith to go; I told Chris Wilcox to go; I told Steve Francis to go,” he said a couple of weeks ago. “They were lock lottery picks. Jordan’s not. It’s better for him to come back. Sure, we’re better with him than without him, but I’ve been at this long enough that I think I can look a player in the eye and tell them the truth.”

Click here for the rest of the column: Maryland's Gary Williams retires

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reflecting on the week, and the sports element in healing

It has been a while since I checked in for a number of reasons. A lot on my plate would be one, Osama bin Laden would be the other. I simply didn’t want to write a jock blog so soon after his death on Sunday. Only one thing matters: he’s dead and, for once, there isn’t a single American who doesn’t feel exactly the same way about a political/military event. I know what my response was: Thank God we finally got him.

Thinking more about Bin Laden and 9-11 though I realized there is a sports element to his death. For many, many Americans, sports played a major role in our healing after that horrific day. When the games began again, they gave us a place to go—not just physically but mentally and emotionally—an escape from the reality that was still there on our TV screens every day as the grim search for bodies continued and ground zero continued to smolder.

I still remember the chills I got when the New York Yankees were cheered in Chicago; when fans everywhere the Navy football team traveled that fall cheered the Midshipmen from the minute they got off the bus until the bus pulled away at the end of a game. I remember President Bush tossing the coin at Army-Navy that year on a cold, bright December day and a future marine named Ed Malinowski calling out for everyone to hear: “Head’s SIR!” while the coin was in the air and a chill ran through the entire stadium.

It was a tragic but remarkable fall. A friend of mine who worked for The Secret Service and worked on a task force with the FBI and the local police in Washington in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 told me that incidents of road rage dropped almost to zero. Democrats and Republicans stopped attacking one another. There seemed to be a recognition in all worlds that the ‘enemy,’ didn’t wear an opponent’s uniform or vote differently than you. We had seen the real enemy all too clearly.

Of course it didn’t last—that’s human nature. A new normal settled in to our lives, complete with long airport lines (and me all but giving up flying) and lengthy security checks at most sporting events. Metal detectors became a familiar part of our lives in jock world. No one complained because, as much as we hated the fact that there was no choice, there was no choice.

Fast-forward 10 years and there’s no doubt all of us will remember where we were when we heard the news that bin Laden was dead. I was getting ready to go to bed when my son called me from his room down the hall. Usually at that hour it’s to ask me to close his door because he doesn’t want the cats to wake him by jumping on his bed after he’s gone to sleep. This time was different.

“They got bin Laden,” he said. “They killed him.”

I was stunned. Like a lot of people I think I had gotten to the point where I just figured he had too many people—and governments—protecting him for us to ever get him. Happily, I was wrong.

The fact that it was Navy Seals who got him wasn’t surprising. There is no group more elite in the world. I’ve had the chance to know a number of football players who have gone on to become Seals and, to say you have to be special is a vast understatement. The best description I ever heard of Seals came from Doug Pavek, an Army football player who went on to become an Army Ranger—another elite group.

“They do everything that we do,” Pavek said. “Except they do most of it underwater.”

Or in helicopters or on the ground or wherever they are most needed. The shots of the celebrating at the Naval Academy that night were chill-worthy and brought me back again to 2001 when I stood on an almost silent practice field and watched the players try to prepare to play Boston College 10 days after the towers came down. There was no chatter that day; no fake cheerleading. It was still too soon for any of that.

Now when the 10th anniversary of 9-11 is commemorated—I’m amazed at how often I read each year that people are, ‘celebrating the anniversary,’—we can mix our silence and our grief with cheers for those who hunted the man behind the murders down.

I do wonder this: the first Sunday of the upcoming NFL season falls on 9-11. Would it not behoove Roger Goodell and the owners, who are the ones who started this labor battle and appear ready to go to the mat in search of a legal victory, to find a way to make sure stadiums are full on that day and that football is played?

Is it entirely out of line to suggest that the NFL—which does more flag-waving and playing on patriotic themes than almost anyone in sports or outside of sports—should declare a moratorium on the lockout and work under the old CBA for this season while still trying to negotiate a new deal going forward?

I’m sure Goodell and his lawyers will give all sorts of legal reasons why that can’t be done but there are certainly instances of employees continuing to work with a collective bargaining agreement in place. Surely, legal language could be worked out to allow the games and the negotiations to go on at the same time. Aren’t there moments in life when—especially when you are rich beyond all reasonable expectations—that you STOP playing hardball for a little while and simply do the right thing?

That may be an extraordinarily naïve notion but it was once naïve to think the Yankees could get cheered on the road or that getting players and coaches to come out of their locker rooms for the national anthem would ever be possible again. Sometimes what seems naïve is just the right thing to do. I think this is one of those times.


On far more mundane topics: I cannot believe that the Washington Capitals completely flamed out in the playoffs AGAIN. The 4-0 sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay was embarrassing. I can’t help but note that the goalie who beat the Caps, Dwayne Roloson, is someone I suggested they trade for back in December. I was pilloried by many fans and my colleague at The Washington Post, Tracee Hamilton, for even suggesting a veteran goalie on hand might be a good idea.

Roloson was traded by the Islanders soon after that to the Lightning for a middling prospect. I’m not saying goaltending was the reason for the Caps demise—Michal Neuvirth played well though not brilliantly—but having Roloson in the room as a calming influence, whether he was playing or not, would have helped. And, he would NOT have been playing for the Lightning…

You have to feel a little bit sorry for The PGA Tour. It tries SO hard to convince people that The Players Championship is a really big deal; spends huge money to promote it and on prize money and what does it get? No Lee Westwood; no Rory McIlroy and, in all likelihood, no Tiger Woods who I suspect is still going to be taking care of his injured knee next week. For the record, if I’d had four knee surgeries I would be ultra-cautious too. But let me also say this for those of you who monitor this blog strictly for Tiger-shots: If he was supposed to play for a $3 million appearance fee this week, I suspect he’d find a way to play. (insert, ‘Feinstein, you suck,’ posts here).

And finally on the subject of those of you who hate me so much you can’t stop reading this blog: A friend pointed out during the NFL draft a couple of posts from last fall demanding I ‘apologize,’ to Mike Shanahan for ripping him for the handling of the Donovan McNabb benching (NOT, you Rick Reilly fans, for the benching but for the way he handled the benching) because McNabb’s ‘new contract’ proved that Shanahan had nothing personal against McNabb. How’s that turning out? You expecting to see McNabb under center if/when the NFL season begins? Or do you think the ‘contract’ with almost zero in guaranteed money, but a signing bonus, wasn’t hush money?

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in my normal time slot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.  This week we started out talking about the Washington Capitals outlook at 0-3 (pre-last nights game), then moved on to Jordan Williams leaving Maryland, looking ahead to the program next year and beyond, then finished up talking about the George Washington basketball opening and ending with talk about the PGA Tour.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Also Wednesday I joined The Gas Man in my normal weekly spot. This week we spent the time speaking about the outlook for The Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head, which is having sponsorship issues before moving on to this week's tournament in Charlotte, which was kicked off by Arnold Palmer, who is still a treasure to be around and watch, playing in the Wednesday pro-am.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Monday, May 2, 2011

Washington Post column: Jim Larranaga’s legacy is Paul Hewitt’s burden

Here is Sunday's column for the Washington Post -----------

After George Mason Athletic Director Tom O’Connor made the decision Friday to hire Paul Hewitt as his new basketball coach, he told his wife Barbara that the response he wanted when he told people was one word: “Wow.”
He got it. That said, once you get past the initial “wow,” there are some concerns. But many of them would come attached to anyone following Jim Larranaga at the school where he had become an icon.

On the one hand, Hewitt has a remarkable resume. He will be 48 on Wednesday (one year older than Larranaga when he arrived in 1997) and has won 255 games as a Division I head coach. He was only 40 when he took Georgia Tech to the national championship game seven years ago. What may have caught O’Connor’s eye at least as much, though, was his three-year record at Siena: 66-27.

Siena is not all that different from George Mason as a basketball school. It plays in a mid-major conference (the Metro Atlantic) that isn’t nearly as deep as the Colonial Athletic Association. Like the CAA, however, it has produced teams — Siena among them — that have gone to the NCAA tournament and produced early upsets.
O’Connor firmly believes that Mason is capable of continuing to play at the remarkable level Larranaga achieved. Clearly he believed Hewitt’s background at both the mid-major level and the ACC level, combined with his relative youth, was exactly what he was looking for.

Click here for the rest of the article: Jim Larranaga’s legacy is Paul Hewitt’s burden