Sunday, January 29, 2012

Catching up with Washington Post articles: Maryland's Honor Violation; Navy Steps in the Wrong Direction

Here are two of my latest from The Washington Post --------

When the Maryland basketball team won the national championship in 2002, Gary Williams received hundreds, if not thousands, of letters congratulating him on taking the Terrapins to a place few dreamed they could ever go.

Williams read almost all the letters. Some meant more than others, coming from old friends and coaching colleagues. One stood out. It came from a former Maryland coach.

“Congratulations,” it read in part. “You have now made Maryland the UCLA of the East.”
The note came from Lefty Driesell.

It was Driesell who made the term “UCLA of the East” famous when he came to Maryland in 1969 and boldly predicted he would build a program somehow comparable to college basketball’s most incomparable program.

Driesell came up 10 national championships short of John Wooden but he did put Maryland basketball on the national map, taking the Terrapins to eight NCAA tournaments in 17 seasons, twice reaching the Elite Eight. He left in 1986 in the aftermath of the Len Bias tragedy.

It was Williams, after the disastrous three-year tenure of Bob Wade, who picked up the pieces of a shattered program and made Maryland matter again. Ultimately, he did what Driesell could not do, taking Maryland to back-to-back Final Fours and the national title that brought the kind of joy to the Maryland campus that for years seemed impossible in the wake of Bias’s death.

Click here for the rest of the column: Maryland's Honor Violation


In November 1995, I was standing on the sidelines at Michie Stadium on a frigid afternoon watching the Army football team practice. Al Vanderbush, then Army’s athletic director, was watching with me. In the midst of small talk about plans for Thanksgiving, Vanderbush suddenly said, “Mind if I ask your opinion on something?”

Flattered, I said, sure.

“What would you think about us joining Conference USA?” Vanderbush said.

My answer was instinctive rather than thought-out: “You’re kidding, right?”

Sadly, Vanderbush wasn’t kidding, nor was anyone else at West Point. They thought that being part of Conference USA’s TV package would give them more exposure and more revenue and being part of a league would help in recruiting.

Put simply, the end result was a disaster, culminating in an 0-13 season in 2003. To be fair, Todd Berry, who was hired in 2000 to replace Bob Sutton as coach, and Rick Greenspan, the athletic director who hired him, had as much to do with that record as playing in Conference USA did. But the decision to join C-USA in 1998 led to Sutton’s firing and a fall from football grace so precipitous that, all these years later, Army is still recovering.

Click here for the rest of the column: Navy Steps in the Wrong Direction

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 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Washington Post columns: Hockey not the same without Ovechkin vs. Crosby; ACC basketball

Just passing along my latest The Washington Post columns from this week.

Maybe it was force of habit, but NBC Sports Network (which was Versus until two weeks ago) decided Wednesday that America’s hockey fans couldn’t live without seeing the eighth-place team in the NHL’s Eastern Conference take on the 10th-place team.

That was the matchup at Verizon Center: The eighth-place Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the 10th-place Washington Capitals. This is the rivalry formerly known as Ovi vs. Sid the Kid.

Both superstars were in the building Wednesday. Alex Ovechkin was wearing his familiar red sweater with the No. 8 stitched in white underneath his name. Sidney Crosby was wearing a very unfamiliar blue pinstripe suit and making small talk in the press box in the minutes leading up to faceoff.

Crosby has played in eight games this season because of lingering concussion symptoms that began a little more than a year ago after he took a hit from former Cap David Steckel during the Winter Classic. Neither the Penguins nor the NHL have been quite the same since. In the opening round of last spring’s playoffs, Pittsburgh blew a three-games-to-one lead and lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning — the same team that then swept the Capitals; the same team that Steven Stamkos, currently the league’s leading scorer, skates for right now.
Click here for the rest of the column: Hockey just isn’t the same without Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby


In the spring of 2004, the nine ACC men’s basketball coaches were asked to consider a proposal to add Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College as league members.

The discussion, according to those in the room, was brief. The vote was emphatic: 9 to 0 against expansion.

“It might have been the only 9 to 0 vote we ever had in my 22 years,” former Maryland coach Gary Williams recalled recently, laughing at the memory. “Of course the commissioner and the presidents said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and did what they were planning to do. Our thoughts never left that room because they didn’t care.”

Almost eight years later, it looks as if they should have cared. Consider these names: Iona (which beat Maryland, easily), Wofford, Boston University, Holy Cross, Mercer, Coastal Carolina, Princeton, Harvard (twice) and Tulane. They all have wins over ACC teams this season.

This is the basketball conference in the country?

Click here for the rest of the column: Since expansion, the ACC has been merely another common conference in basketball

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 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sorry state of ACC football, basketball; Odds and ends: Islanders, PGA Tour starts today, Army-Navy documentary

I have one question this morning: Has West Virginia stopped scoring yet?

It is now fair to say that the ACC’s complete and total humiliation as a football conference is complete. If the league had one very small thing going for it the last few years it was that it had so destroyed The Big East as a football conference by raiding Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, that it could always at least make the claim that, “Well, we’re not as bad as The Big East.”

Actually that might have made a pretty good slogan for ACC football: “Not as bad as The Big East!”

(That reminds me of a bumper sticker that my great friend Tom Mickle came up with years ago when he was the SID at Duke and the school hired a guy named Red Wilson as football coach. Everywhere you went in the fall of 1978 if you were anywhere close to Duke you saw the slogan, “Red Means Go!” Duke went 2-9 that season which, back then, was the worst season in Duke history. These days two wins gets whoever is coaching Duke nominated for ACC coach-of-the-year. The next spring I asked Mickle what his slogan was going to be for Wilson’s second season. “Duke Football 1979,” he said. That sounded optimistic to me).

Anyway, back to the wonders of ACC football circa 2012. The ACC got eight bowl bids this season. The only reason it wasn’t nine was because 6-6 Miami decided to take a chance that by staying home this year it might not be docked a potential postseason berth next season ala Ohio State, which couldn’t wait to send ITS 6-6 team to The Gator Bowl where it met another 6-6 team, Florida. You know the Gator Bowl used to be a halfway decent second-tier bowl. Now it has become a haven for the truly mediocre.

So, the ACC sent eight teams to bowls. Two won: North Carolina State, which managed to beat Louisville—if it were basketball that might be impressive—and Florida State, which came from behind to beat Notre Dame, a team that proved this season it can lose a close game to anyone. (For the record, Notre Dame beat one good team this season: Michigan State. Their other seven wins were over four teams with losing records; one team that is 6-6 and two teams that were 7-6. Impressive).

That’s the list of ACC bowl wins. The fact that the league got two BCS bids is absolute proof of what a farce the BCS is, as if we need any more proof than we already have. Virginia Tech is a very solid program and Frank Beamer’s an excellent coach, but the Hokies beat NO ONE this season and lost twice (soundly) to Clemson, the team that West Virginia is still scoring on as we speak. Yes, Tech kept the Sugar Bowl close before losing to Michigan in overtime. Fine. But any Hokie fan can tell you this is the school’s history the last dozen or so years: They keep it close playing big teams and ALWAYS lose. Sorry, beating Georgia Tech doesn’t count.

I’m writing my Sunday Washington Post column on the sorry state of ACC basketball. In talking to ACC people, the consensus is this: One of the things hurting basketball is the league’s insistence on trying to pump up its mediocre football. If you hire good coaches, you’ll win. If you hire bad coaches, they’ll lose. All the marketing money in the world isn’t going to change that. And the perception that Commissioner John Swofford cares only about pumping up his football dollars while letting North Carolina and Duke do all the heavy lifting in basketball isn’t helping things at all.

ACC people are already saying that Florida State will be ready for the national stage again next season. Of course that’s what they were saying about THIS season before the Seminoles became just another second-tier bowl team and lost to Wake Forest—among others.

Around Washington the joke is that the highlight of the NFL season comes in April. In the ACC it comes in August when the conference somehow lands five teams in the pre-season top 25 thanks to its PR and marketing hype before it all crashes once actual games are played. Virginia Tech will probably come in somewhere between 15 and 22 in the final polls. Florida State may sneak in at the bottom of the top 25.

That’s the list. That’s ACC football: 11 Gator Bowl teams and Duke, which would love the chance to buy tickets to watch The Gator Bowl. Of course Syracuse and Pittsburgh are on the way. Syracuse finished 5-7 this season. Pitt is 6-6 and playing on some god-awful bowl this weekend. Their addition will mean the ACC will have 13 Gator Bowl teams. And Duke—The Washington Generals of college football.


A few quick comments on other topics:

--Has anyone noticed that The New York Islanders have won three in a row and moved within 11 points of the final playoffs spot? (If you’re answer is yes I feel sorry for you. You’re as pathetic as I am.)

--I never root against a Mike Krzyzewski team. But I couldn’t help but feel really good for Fran Dunphy when his Temple team beat Duke on Wednesday. A really good coach but a better guy.

--The new golf season begins today in Hawaii with a grand total of 28 players showing up to play in the (insert car name here) Tournament of Champions. Three of the four major champions said, ‘thanks but no thanks,’ to a week on Maui playing with no cut for several million bucks. You think The PGA Tour needs to take a look at making some changes in this event before NO ONE at all shows up?

--A couple of posters asked how I could know that no new ground was broken in CBS’s multi-million dollar Army-Navy documentary when I said I didn’t watch the whole thing. What I wrote was that I didn’t see anything that broke new ground. People who HAVE watched the whole thing tell me they didn’t see anything new from start to finish. Rather than go back and watch it and give what would no doubt be a biased critique I will leave the final word (for now) to a reviewer who enjoyed the documentary and praised the idea, the slickness of the production and liked the people portrayed. “It does, however, come off as a recruiting film for both academies,” he wrote.

Gee, I’m stunned.

I have nothing bad to say about either academy as people well know. But I DO (modestly) think that the reason “A Civil War,’ resonated with a lot of people was that I did NOT attempt to glorify the players or the academies. Both by their own admission have plenty of flaws. I let them tell their stories. I thought that was enough.

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