Archive for April, 2009
So the Anaheim Ducks knocked the top-seeded San Jose Sharks out of the Stanley Cup playoffs last night. And the walls came tumbling down! As if. This can’t be a surprise to anyone who knows anything about the NHL.
It doesn’t really matter that the Sharks won the President’s Trophy. It doesn’t matter that they were playing a #8 seed. What matters is that these are Joe Thornton’s San Jose Sharks, the biggest chokers in recent memory. This is a franchise that hasn’t advanced past the second round since 2004, despite being one of the NHL’s best in the regular season in recent years.
Leave it to Joe Thornton to make a Flyers’ sized mistake by fighting Ryan Getzlaf at the start of Game 7. Just perfect, Joseph. Give the underrated Ducks a psychological boost.
I’m not trying to take anything away from the Ducks who persevered and ultimately triumphed. They deserved everything for which they fought. Perhaps the Sharks’ fate would have been different had they not drawn a team only two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup. But I doubt it.
Photo Credit: hockeydraft.ca
I daresay I’m one of the few football fans out there who has little interest in the upcoming NFL draft. I may track who the Steelers take with their first couple picks but I don’t tune in to ESPN all day or get immersed in the minutiae of late round picks or talking about a potential draftee’s upside or the dreaded “value pick”. Give me a damn break.
Mel Kiper has to be one of the greatest snake oil salesmen in modern history. He whiffs on picks, mis-analyses players and generally mucks up the works. I remember a number of years ago, he claimed that the Steelers would regret for years afterwards not picking Chad Pennington, a player at the time whose greatest upside was that he was a “poor man’s Joe Montana”. As if.
I suppose that the draft is a time of hope for those who root for inferior teams. But I support a team and organization whose drafting prowess is so well-established that there’s really no point in my questioning their draft decisions. This year, the Steelers will be looking to shore up OL, DL and DB. They could also use some depth at WR and LB. Yes, I pretty much named every position except QB. No wait, the Steelers might need to draft a late-round QB for #3/#4 QB depth reasons.
Tony Mandarch was a colossal flame-out. Rod Woodson was a highly rated first round pick. James Harrison and Willie Parker went undrafted. Donovan McNabb was booed on draft day. Tom Brady was a 6th round pick. Joe Montana was a 3rd round pick. Tim Worley was drafted ahead of Emmitt Smith. Gabe Rivera was drafted by the Steelers instead of Dan Marino. I do get interested in where Pitt kids or my favorite college football fantasy players may get drafted but it’s still worth noting that Curtis Martin slipped into the 3rd round and had a Hall of Fame career nonetheless.
Wake me up when training camp starts. Otherwise, I think I’ll skip Kiper and his faux intensity.
I’m here in San Francisco visiting a friend. He’s an northeastern transplant and as such, he’s pretty sports-oriented like many northeasterns. He confirmed a suspicion of mine (and many other eastern people) that sports just isn’t as huge a part of the culture here as it is on the right side of the country.
Now there’s no doubt that there are sports-mad people on the left coast but by and large, it seems as though the sporting-life isn’t as integral. He told me that not once during football season did someone give him a call to ask what he was doing for the games on Sunday. I would get email chains on a weekly basis asking what I was doing for the Steelers game, do folks want to meet at a bar or someone’s place to watch, who’s lucky enough to be going to a game, etc.
Some of it has to be climate-affected. During a northeastern winter, what better thing is there to do than escape the cold and watch some sports or go to a movie. But if it’s still nice enough to go for a hike, why not spend Sunday roaming the hills of SF. People go to wine tastings or art galleries or walk around the parks on a nice Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I enjoy those activities in the summer and Oreo loves going to the parks but I’m probably more likely to want to go to a Pirates game at PNC Park on a Sunday afternoon than the average Bay Area citizen is to go to a Giants game.
Please understand that I’m not making a value judgment here. If there’s one thing that annoys me about people who are stridently west coast or east coast, it’s the value judgments they place on their way of life. I don’t give a flying frak if you prefer wine tastings to football or hockey to hiking. I’m just pointing out a difference. Speaking of which, my northeastern friend and I are going to an SF Giants game at AT&T Park today. Go Sports!
A quick list of the Grand Canyon State’s ever growing contingent of Pittsburgh-related coaching connections:
* Cardinals’ coach Ken Whisenhunt served most of his coaching career with the Steelers, ending as Offensive Coordinator.
* Whisenhunt’s top assistant Russ Grimm is from Scottsdale, played his college ball at Pitt and was Bill Cowher’s top assistant/offensive line coach with the Steelers.
* Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Billy Davis got his first start in NFL coaching with the Steelers.
* Arizona State head basketball coach Herb Sendek grew up in Pittsburgh, graduating from Penn Hills High School and Carnegie Mellon University.
* Finally, new University of Arizona head basketball coach Sean Miller is from Blackhawk High School and considered one of the best point guards ever to play for Pitt. He also spent some time as an assistant at Pitt.
Is that enough to convince you that Arizona = Pittsburgh West? Oh and there’s also Larry Fitzgerald.
* I was all set to write a post about how Arizona should know its place in the college basketball world and that despite its past history, Arizona shouldn’t mentioned in the same breath as UCLA, UNC or Kansas anymore. After all, Mark Few, Jamie Dixon, John Calipari and Tim Floyd had already rejected the Wildcats’ advances.
Then they go out and get Sean Miller. Way to step up to the plate, Jim Livengood. Miller is a fantastic coach; he’ll do well out there. He’s just the guy to transform Arizona from a school defined by its legendary coach, Lute Olson, into a school that defines its head coach.
* Note to all those arrogant Dukies though – you are a Coach K move away from becoming Arizona. Duke was ok before Krzyzewski arrived in Durham but they’re obviously off the charts with him. As I’ve stated before, there’s no reason to believe that Duke has a “right” to be part of college basketball royalty. Even UCLA had some lean years post-John Wooden. Ultimately, schools like Arizona or eventually Duke will have to transform from being defined by a coach to being defined by the program.
* I really came to respect Tom Izzo’s considerable coaching abilities last year when his Spartans took out Pitt in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s face it – that was not his best team and Pitt was on a roll after winning the Big East tournament. I would honestly consider him among the top 5 major coaches out there, alongside Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun and Mike Krzyzewski.
I’m leaving my alma mater’s last two coaches, Jamie Dixon and Ben Howland, off the list because titles are the name of the game. All the coaches on this list have reached the summit. But I honestly believe Izzo is one of the few coaches out there who could step up and compete in the Big East.
* A good friend of mine at Duke recently got very excited that Seth Curry is transferring from Liberty to Duke. Like most single-mindedly, self-absborbed Duke ‘fans’, he decided to trumpet this event to me in the middle of my misery over the Pitt loss. Now that I’m somewhat more clear-headed, I have to say – whoop dee doo! Just what Duke needs; another jump shooter. Nope, not a big or a banger. Another skinny little kid for Duke’s dribble-drive, kick-it-out offense. Curry is a great player but he couldn’t have banged with the big dawgs in the Big East.
As the college basketball season draws to a close, the coaching carousel has started to spin, as it always does this time of year. Jamie Dixon has been rumored to leave Pitt for a few years now; whether it was when USC a few years ago or now that Arizona is searching. I don’t think he’ll leave… for now.
John Calipari is leaving a pretty good situation at Memphis for the University of Kentucky. Tim Floyd turned down Arizona to stay at USC. Mike Anderson is staying at Missouri after getting a hefty pay raise and who knows what Mark Few at Gonzaga will do.
Some programs are defined by one great coach. Arizona is considered one of the better jobs in the country because Lute Olson made it that way. Likewise, Jim Calhoun at UConn and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke define their institutions.
Other great programs define their coaches. Ben Howland at UCLA, Roy Williams at UNC and now John Calipari at Kentucky are just another few names in the long list of winners at their schools. Great though they may be, the institutions are the big schtick, not the coaches.
Money aside, I often wonder why rebuilding a program seems more attractive to a coach than creating his own legacy. Kentucky’s tradition may be greater than most programs in the country but once you reach a certain level, the infrastructure is the same. If we take long-term legacy into account, who’s to say that Memphis under Calipari couldn’t have become the next UConn.
I, for one, think Jamie Dixon could become the icon of Pitt basketball. He could be the one to make it a destination job. Laugh if you will but there was no predetermination that schools such as Kansas or Indiana would become college basketball royalty. College basketball is slightly different from college football in that you don’t need a fertile recruting backyard to be successful. Duke had ZERO players from North Carolina on its roster. Of those 14 players, only two were from the same home state.
I don’t think anyone would fault Calipari for taking the enormous pay raise he got from Kentucky. I think he is poised to become the next great Wildcats coach and will rule the SEC for years to come. But if he had been offered “only” $1 million more, would it have been prudent to leave a program he was already building into a dominant force. We will never know.