Archive for October, 2007
There is a constantly raging debate in college football about haves/have nots. Central to this discussion is the plight of previous national powers fallen trying to rejoin the elite and programs with maybe one or two brief past glory periods trying to do the same.
As to the former, you have programs such as Nebraska, Notre Dame, Florida State and Miami-FL. It has been claimed that Nebraska stands little of being mentioned in the same breath as USC again because players have greater choice and why should any one now need to go to Lincoln, NE. Such a position neglects the resurgence of a program that fell on hard times in the 1990s – the Oklahoma Sooners. Why on earth would anyone want to go to Norman, OK?!
In Notre Dame’s case, academics and recruits’ ignorance of ND’s past cachet has been their undoing. However, ND’s academics have always been stringent. For FSU & Miami-FL, the ever-increasing attention placed on recruiting Florida has certainly hurt these programs’ talent bases. Recruits no longer need to sit as the 3rd string WR at UM when you can be a star (and get TV exposure) at Rutgers or South Florida. However, the rise of South Florida itself and continued excellence at the University of Florida is testament to the depth of the Sunshine State.
In the second case, you have lesser programs such as Clemson, Ole Miss and unfortunately, my alma mater, Pitt. These are programs that experienced meteoric success in short periods in the past. They have never been consistent national title contenders decade after decade like UMich, Ohio State & USC. Yet fans of these schools still look on their teams as still being one snap short, one player short of returning to the glory years. They go from coach to coach, AD to AD, in search of that elusive peak.
In order to divine whether these two types of programs indeed have a lessened or non-existence shot at resurging, we must look more closely at the Have’s in college football. Actually, we should say the Current-Have’s. OU is once again a national power while Nebraska flounders. USC is a contender while Notre Dame languishes. Virginia Tech wins while Pitt languishes. Rutgers rise from (beyond) the ashes while Syracuse bottoms out.
My contention is that coaching is the biggest factor. Programs such as Clemson, Ole Miss, Pitt, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame all have the support of their Administrations. They have great or improving facilities. They all have some sort of tradition and a past of winning and producing great pro players. But they don’t or may not have the right coaching anymore.
Look at USC post-John Robinson/pre-Pete Carroll, OU after Switzer but before Stoops, Notre Dame since Lou Holtz’s departure. Consider Nebraska after Tom Osbourne, Florida State without Bowden’s great offensive coordinators. Now look at USC with Pete Carroll, OU with Stoops, LSU since Nick Saban and now with Les Miles.
It is not a chicken or egg issue. Great coaches can turn around a badly-constructed institution. A bad coach cannot turn win at a well-built administration. Certainly a bad coach can humble a great program. If that was not the case, Paul Hackett would still be at USC, Bob Davie would be winning titles at Notre Dame and Bill Callahan would not have one foot in the grave at Nebraska.
Because they exert greater control over their players and programs, college coaches have much more of an impact than professional coaches. Nick Saban awakened LSU; Greg Schiano is doing the near-impossible at Rutgers; Frank Beamer has built a colossus at his alma mater, Virginia Tech. Soon – Butch Davis at UNC, Dennis Erickson at Arizona State. H*ll, Steve Spurrier won at Duke two decades ago. South Carolina is/will be a picnic compared to Durham. And for my sake, let us hope – Dave Wannstedt at Pitt… or maybe the next guy.
It’s simple really – bandwagon jumpers and obnoxiousness.
In baseball, you either love or hate the Yankees. But after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and broke their curse (and sadly, Maher did root for the Red Sox to beat the Yankees in the ALCS that year), they’ve almost become the new Yankees. Suddenly there are scores upon scores of people claiming to have been Red Sox fans all along – so many people in Pittsburgh even began wearing that disgusting red B. Seriously?
Normally I would ignore the Indians. But because the Red Sox nation is peopled by a bunch of sanctimonious sh*ts, we root for the Indians. Doing so in this limited instance does not mean that we approve of the very existence of Cleveland or Ohio, in general. However, the Indians do not materially affect the Pirates’ fortunes, unlike the Browns.
Keep in mind though that had the Indians won the ALCS, we would have turned and rooted for the Rockies. Of course, we are not surprised that the Red Sox came back from 3 games to 1 down to win the ALCS. It is less testament to their excellence than the collective karma of the Mistake by the Lake. We will continue to root against the Red Sox.
Another reason is Boston’s sports writers/sports personalities – people like Bob Ryan, Jackie MacMullen and Bill Simmons. Oh to hear them go on and on and on about Boston this and Boston that. Kill me now!
We all know that any East Conf team stands little or no shot at beating a Western Conf team in the NBA finals. But now that Celtics have acquired Ray Allen & Kevin Garnett to go along with Paul Pierce, their national exposure will increase exponentially. Even though Allen & Garnett have been two of my favorite players over the course of the past decade or so (and who could forget Allen’s role as Jesus Shuttlesworth in He Got Game), I will be hard presst not to begin to hate the Celtics given the disproportionate amount of hype they are about to receive.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled hatred (of Cleveland).
Donovan McNabb’s recent comments about the extra scrutiny and pressures of being a black quarterback in the NFL touched a chord with me. I’m glad he had the courage to speak his truths to power. Too often, black athletes don’t use the podium to speak truth to power. Michael Jordan’s famous comment that “even Republicans buy basketball shoes” comes to mind.
The reactions of young quarterbacks Vince Young and Jason Campbell were typical of what most sports fans would probably want to hear – that all quarterbacks are under the pressure cooker, that there is no such prejudice anymore, that you deal with it or get out. However, these reactions belie a certain naiveté about the institutional racism still prevalent in sports and in society in general. It also speaks to an ignorance of the sacrifices made by pioneers such as “Jefferson Street” Joe Gilliam and Doug Williams.
Why is it that in a game in which 75% of the athletes are black, there are only 3 or 4 black starting quarterbacks? For years, we’ve known that NFL owners and coaches questioned the ability to blacks to lead, to be coaches or quarterbacks or point guards in major football and basketball. How will we know that we do not have such prejudice anymore? Maybe when leaders such as Donovan McNabb no longer espouse such beliefs, we’ll have gotten there.
The greater issue here is the opportunity to achieve success commensurate with one’s abilities and work ethic. This is what makes institutional and societal racism so difficult to see and to distinguish. Just because there aren’t public lynching’s anymore does not mean that we have rid ourselves of racism in this country. Instead, in many walks of life, there now exists a glass ceiling.
When I was little, my father, in his many exhortations to me to do better in scholastics, told me that I would have to be twice as good as any white person in order to do well. I never even questioned why that had to be the case. Only twice as good. I wonder how much better Donovan McNabb has had to be in order to reach the level of success he’s enjoyed.