Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Boras On This Year's Naughty List

This just in from the North Pole: Scott Boras has officially been added to the Naughty List.

On his way to becoming baseball’s mega-agent, Boras has developed a reputation for being one of the greediest brokers in the business of sports.

Unfortunately, no one, Santa included, can argue that Boras isn’t good at what he does.

In fact, he’s probably the best player’s agent ever. His clients get paid the most, often for the least results, and he’s got so many clients that major league teams can’t avoid him.

The problem is Boras’ practices are almost always bad for baseball.

One way or another Boras himself comes out on top in almost every deal he strikes, typically with total disregard for the game that has afforded him the opportunity to make such a living.

You may remember that he was the architect of the infamous $252 million contract awarded to Alex Rodriguez by the Texas Rangers in 2000. The deal has tormented the Rangers financially ever since and drove the market for big name players even higher.

More recently Boras hosed the San Francisco Giants into signing his client, Barry Zito, to a seven-year deal worth $126 million despite every indication that his career was headed for the tubes. In Zito’s second year in San Francisco he was so bad at one point that he was demoted to Triple-A.

And earlier this year he miraculously convinced the LA Dodgers that Andruw Jones was still worth $18 million a year just months after hit .222 for the Braves. As a result, the Dodgers paid Jones $18 million for just three home runs and a .158 batting average this past season.

Boras struck again yesterday, just two days before Christmas, with one of his most despicable acts to date.

He convinced Mark Teixeira, one of baseball’s "good guys," to shun his hometown Baltimore Orioles, the team he was rumored to have wanted to play for since childhood, for the glitz and glamour of playing in the Bronx.

This time the implications of Boras’ latest monster contract may be far more serious than the previous ones.

Instead of negotiating a contract worth more than his client as he is famous for doing, he contributed to baseball's biggest problem by convincing yet another superstar to turn his back on the rest of the country and head to New York.

In the Big Apple, Teixeira can make even more money for Boras through endorsements and other activities only possible in New York City. 

Capitalism is All-American, but not when it's destroying America's Pastime.

Unlike the signings of post-prime players like Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi that fattened up the Yankees before their eventual slaughter either before or during the playoffs, the Yankees’ latest free agent acquisitions could permanently change the landscape of Major League Baseball.

Apparently the Yanks learned from their mistakes of the last decade and went out and pounced on this year’s healthy crop of big name free agents in the middle of their prime baseball years.

C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, three of baseball’s finest players, will be in pinstripes for at least the next five years at a total cost of $423.5 million.

To put in perspective how lopsided the playing field is becoming in Major League Baseball, the Florida Marlins could pay their entire 2008 roster for 20 seasons with that amount of money.

With the signing of Teixeira, the Yankees now have the four highest paid players in baseball, all four of whom could have covered the Marlins’ payroll with their own salary.

If the master plans of Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner work out the way they look like they might, World Series Championships will be up for sale with only a few teams in the mix to afford the price tag.

The brilliant management of smaller market franchises like the Marlins, Twins and A’s is the main reason Major League baseball has been to avoid a salary cap as long as it has. 

Amazingly those franchises have stayed ahead of the curve without big money and won consistently with the help groundbreaking strategies like sabermetrics. 

However, the Yankees, with the help of Scott Boras and a team stacked with as many as eight or nine future Hall of Famers, could usher in an era in which small market clubs haven’t the slightest chance of competing for World Series.

Now you know how Boras ended up where he did, near the top of Santa’s 2008 Naughty List.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Peyton's Third MVP Season

After the Titans beat the Colts 31-21 on Monday Night Football sending the Colts to a disappointing 3-4 start to the 2008 season, Kerry Collins was a more popular pick for NFL MVP than Peyton Manning.

In fact, people far and wide began to suggest that this was the beginning of the end for Peyton, as he’s affectionately known in this part of the country. They said that his surgically repaired left knee would never be the same and that he had lost some velocity on his passes as a result.

In reality, there were other factors contributing to Peyton and the Colt’s slow start like his depleted offensive line that relied heavily on three rookies and was missing its mainstay, center Jeff Saturday for much of the season.

Marvin Harrison, who has been Peyton’s top target for years, finally slowed down in his 13th season meaning that Manning was without his top downfield weapon for the first time ever.

But Peyton’s biggest challenge of the season and possibly his career came from the inconsistency of the Colts’ running game. The Colts’ woeful run game has managed only 76.9 yards per game, good for 31st in the NFL and ahead of only the “pass happy” Arizona Cardinals. And only once this season has a Colts’ running back cracked the 100-yard mark in a game.

So how did Peyton respond to the adversity of Colts’ worst start to since his rookie season? With eight consecutive wins including a magical come from behind victory this week against the Jaguars that his coach, Tony Dungy,  referred to as “an MVP performance for sure.”

The win in Jacksonville not only secured a Colts’ seventh consecutive trip to the playoffs, it pushed Peyton to the forefront of the NFL MVP race.

On Thursday night, Peyton yet again picked up the slack for the Colts’ run game, which gained only 32 yards, with one of the finest individual performances in recent memory as he completed 29 of his 34 passes for 364 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

In the process, he officially silenced his critics, you know, the ones worried about his bum knee and lost velocity.

What was once younger brother Eli’s season, whose Giants appeared to be the NFL’s most dominant team until recently, is beginning to look like older brother Peyton’s finest hour as a pro.

And at the going rate don’t be surprised if Peyton walks away with his second MVP award in a few weeks thanks to his second half heroics.

From a statistical perspective Peyton has put up more gaudy numbers in the past, but he’s still in the top five in the league in completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns.

However, his other “non-statistical” qualities are what have made this a special year for him and Colts fans.  

With the odds stacked against him, Peyton’s game management skills and unrivaled on-field leadership ability have led the way to the Colts’ eight-game win streak and make him the most deserving candidate for this year’s MVP award.

An important part of Peyton’s case for MVP rests in the way that the Colts have won their 11 games. They rarely blew out their opponents, instead, they scraped and clawed their way past them week after week.

The Colts have won six games by four points or less and eight games by a touchdown or less meaning that in eight of their 11 wins, the Colts’ success was just a mistake or two away from being failure.

Luckily, Peyton has made the big plays when his team needed them this season, but just as importantly he has kept the mistakes at an all time minimum.

His 16:3 touchdown to interception ratio during the Colts’ eight-game win streak proves that the big plays have been far more common than the mistakes in Peyton’s third MVP season.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Auburn and UT Headed in Different Directions

Monte Kiffin On His Way to Knoxville

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin ended the speculation on Sunday by announcing that he would, indeed, join his son’s coaching staff at the University of Tennessee.

Some see this as old news, but I was a taking a “believe when I see it” approach like Tony Dungy said he was taking about the rumors that Kiffin would follow his son to Knoxville.

Old or not, this is big news for Tennessee football because it confirms that the Vols were the biggest winners in the coaching free agent market.

While the Kiffin’s success on the field will ultimately determine whether or not Mike Hamilton made a good decision, Hamilton is looking as good as any AD in the country after hiring a big name offensive guru as his head coach who brings with him a legendary NFL defensive coordinator.

There is really no precedent for a major college program simply stealing away one of the best NFL coordinators, let alone one of the highest paid, to do the same job at the collegiate level.
Clearly, from day one the Kiffin hire was a package deal orchestrated by Hamilton and at this early point in the process it’s a decision that is looking better and better.

The elder Kiffin will have two future NFL safeties at his disposal in his first year, including Eric Berry, who will be seen as an early candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He’ll also have two quality returning cornerbacks to plug into his famed “Tampa Cover 2” defensive scheme which could wreak serious havoc in the SEC as early as next season.

At this point, too much attention has been paid to the few deficiencies on Lane Kiffin’s resume and too little attention has been paid to the fact that his father, an elite NFL coach, is coming with him to run his son’s defense, therefore allowing the younger Kiffin to focus primarily the offense, something he has proven he can do very well.

Auburn Replaces Tuberville with…Gene Chizik?

I rarely agree with Charles Barkley, but he’s dead on this time with his sharp criticism of his alma mater over the hiring of former Iowa State head coach Gene Chizik.

Barkley, who had openly endorsed Buffalo’s Turner Gill for the Auburn job, said this about the decision, “You can say it’s not about the race, but you can’t compare the two resumes and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst resume.”

Let’s hope Auburn didn’t interview anybody with a resume that included something worse than Chizik’s current 10-game losing streak at Iowa State.

We will never know if Turner Gill was the right coach for Auburn, but I’m convinced that Gene Chizik is not the answer. What began as an attempt by Auburn to strike fear in Nick Saban’s heart, instead, turned into a reason for Saban to be licking his chops at the Tigers' new coach with a 5-19 record as a head coach.

Rumors have it that the former Auburn defensive coordinator was the favorite of a few high level boosters, despite his obvious failures at Iowa State. But the fact is that if Chizik can’t win a conference game in the Big 12, he won’t last more than three years in the SEC.

And the irony is that in those three years Chizik will never beat Saban, the man he was brought in to compete with. He probably won’t even come close. You heard it here first.

The firing of head coach Tommy Tuberville was the most controversial of any this season in
college football, given his six-game winning streak against rival Alabama entering this season and the program being just four years removed from an undefeated season.

As a result, Auburn needed to make a splash, and, in a relatively shallow coaching market, could have done so with Gill.

His quick ascent at Buffalo would have made him a steal for Auburn and he would have had an opportunity to carve a unique recruiting niche in the SEC as an African American.

Chizik, on the other hand, is going to have to convince recruits that he actually knows how to win football games as a head coach, a task that won’t be easy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Football Utopia...

In football utopia some things on the college football calendar over the next few weeks would stay just the same.

For example, Michigan State’s Javon Ringer and Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno would still go head-to-head in the Capital One Bowl giving fans the opportunity to see two future NFL running backs on the same field.

Fans would still be treated to a surprisingly strong Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup between defending National Champion LSU and arguably the best team from the ACC, Georgia Tech.

Even lowly Colorado State would still get a chance to play in the New Mexico Bowl in this imaginary world of football justice.

Some things, however, would be different in football utopia.

Texas Tech and their high-flying offense would not be in Dallas for a Cotton Bowl matchup with the 8-4 Ole Miss Rebels. In utopia that would be considered a waste of one of the most exciting teams in the country, and a slap in the face to a few of its finest players.

Nor would the Alabama Crimson Tide be stuck playing Utah in the meaningless Sugar Bowl after starting the season 12-0 and losing its first game (and season) in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship.

Better yet, that 11-1 Texas squad that beat Oklahoma by 10 points on neutral turf would surely not be insulted in such a way that they would be forced to conclude their outstanding season with a date in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. The same Ohio State team that, in football utopia, would have actually had to play a conference championship game like everyone else.

And no, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati would not be automatically included based exclusively on the fact that their conference is called a “BCS” conference.

Instead, Brian Kelly’s Bearcats would be judged by their own quality as a football team and this year that would have been good enough to punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff, football utopia’s featured event.

Here justice is served the same way it is in every other Division I sport.

There are eight teams in a bracket designed to yield one, undisputed National Champion. There is no bias to big conferences or small ones, just the eight best teams in the country getting a fair shot to win it all.

Making money is still possible in football utopia, in fact, it’s encouraged. Instead of there being empty seats at the Orange Bowl this year when Cincinnati and Virginia Tech play, the Orange Bowl would serve as home to one the first or second round playoff games. And trust me, football utopia’s College Football Playoff is so thrilling that there would not be a seat left empty.

This sponsorship system allows all four BCS Bowls (Fiesta, Rose, Sugar and Orange) to play a major role in the playoff while allowing two more bowls to bid up into the top tier of bowls because there would be six total games before the National Championship.

Here’s what we would be in for:

#1 Oklahoma vs. #8 Cincinnati: Big East champ up against the Big 12 champ to see if Cincinnati can hang with the big boys, good thing Cincinnati improved as the season progressed because the Sooners whipped the Bearcats 52-26 in early September.

#2 Texas vs. #7 Texas Tech: How exciting would it be to replay this classic? These are the kind of things that could unfold if we had a playoff.

#3 Florida vs. #6 Penn State: Old school vs. new school in this one with one of the all-time greats, Joe Paterno, matched up with arguably college football’s top coach Urban Meyer. Only one team advances.

#4 Alabama vs. #5 Southern Cal: The richly steeped tradition of the Crimson Tide clashes with the top program of the new millennium. Two different offensive philosophies that have found great success this season would make for a very interesting matchup of West Coast style versus SEC style.

Monday, December 8, 2008

National Championship Could (and should) Feature Two Heismans

When Oklahoma and Florida meet in the BCS National Championship game on January 8th, the storyline should be about the showdown between Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford.

Much like Tebow did in last year his sophomore season, Bradford has taken college football by storm this season as a sophomore and now the debate officially begins over who is more deserving to win this year’s Heisman Trophy, the defending trophy winner with more celebrity power or the newcomer with more statistical power.

These days the Heisman Trophy is based largely on statistical performance and that fact helped Tebow as much as it has anyone.

Last year some said Arkansas’ Darren McFadden should have won because he was a more exciting football player than Tebow and others thought Missouri’s Chase Daniel was more deserving because his team was more successful than Tebow’s.

Despite losing three games in the regular season and a fourth in a bowl game, Tebow still won the 2007 Heisman Trophy.

Why?

Because he scored 55 total touchdowns and was college football’s first 20-20 player, meaning he threw for 20 touchdowns and ran for 20 touchdowns. And looking back on it Darren McFadden, Chase Daniel and Colt Brennan weren’t all that stiff of competition.

This year is different, Tebow’s numbers are down across the board and his 23 rushing touchdowns from 2007 nearly dropped in half to 12 this year. All the while, his competition for the trophy got a lot tougher.

In the Big 12 alone Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, Texas’ Colt McCoy and Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell have all thrown for more yards and more touchdowns than Tebow on teams that, like the Gators, lost only one game this season.

However, from start to finish, no one in the country rivaled the kind of season that Bradford has had in 2008. Bradford’s season line is stunning: 48 passing touchdowns, 4464 passing yards and six rushing touchdowns to boot.

By comparison Tebow’s line almost looks pedestrian: 28 passing touchdowns, 2,515 passing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.

Some have argued that Tebow’s strong finish to the end of the season should earn him the Heisman, but even his valiant late season efforts against Florida State and Alabama were matched or exceeded by Bradford, who threw 14 touchdowns, zero interceptions and no less than 300 yards in his last four games of the season.

Tebow had a four game stretch in the middle of the season in which he never reached 200 yards passing, whereas Bradford went four games at one point without throwing for less than 370 yards.

Bradford did, however, throw for less than 200 yards in one game this season, the Sooners’ season opener against UTC when he only played the first half and Oklahoma won 57-2.

Sure, the video clips of Tebow after the Ole Miss game guaranteeing that nobody will work harder than him are emotionally riveting, but those kinds of things should not factor into the Heisman voting.

The point is that same standard that won the Heisman for Tebow last year should do the same for Bradford this weekend.

With the hype growing around the possibility of back-to-back trophies for Tebow, one has to ask if those six extra rushing touchdowns really outweigh Bradford’s 20 extra passing touchdowns and 1949 extra passing yards.

The fun part of this is that we will see if the statistics indeed do tell the whole story when Tebow and Bradford meet in Miami.

If the Heisman Trophy winner’s team does not come out on top, this is certain to be one of the most controversial Heisman Trophies ever awarded.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Two Different Stories: Plaxico Burress and Myron Rolle

This week stories about two very different football players were brought to the forefront of the sports world.

Unfortunately the story of the star NFL wide receiver that “accidentally” shot himself in the leg at a New York City nightclub garnered a bit more attention than the other.

Tragedy tends to make better news than triumph.

That’s why the hottest news in the sports world all week was that the Giants’ Plaxico Burress, a Michigan State product who has developed into one of the NFL’s most physically dominant receivers, shot himself in the thigh at a nightclub last Friday night.

First of all, you can’t carry a handgun in New York City. It’s even worse if you don’t have a permit for that gun, and if you carry it into a place that serves alcohol you’re not up to anything good.

And presumably Burress was not up to anything good.

After hearing the reports that Dr. Josyann Abisaab was talked into not reporting Burress’ injury in a ridiculous cover up attempt by Burress and his handlers, one can only imagine how much of the story actually is a cover up.

After all, it seems farfetched that Burress’ .40-caliber Glock randomly discharged as he was walking through the club with a drink in one hand as the reports say. That’s a weapon that requires about five pounds of pressure on the trigger to fire under normal circumstances.

There’s no telling what was going on inside that nightclub.

Burress has developed a reputation as a distraction to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. It was just a month and a half ago that Burress was fined $45k by the NFL for verbally abusing an official and then talking smack about the officiating after the game.

And yet his teammate and fellow receiver Amani Toomer came to his defense saying, “I don’t think people understand how good of a person he really is.”

Excuse us, Mr. Toomer, but the guy curses referees and totes illegal weapons around in public places. That’s just not how good guys act.

Whatever happened to a little accountability? Burress lives in a privileged world where he just signed a five-year, $35 million deal with a four million dollar signing bonus and this is what the fans get for paying him like that.

His latest episode likely has him headed to prison for a few years. I guess that’s accountability, just a little bit too late.

Galaxies away, across the football universe, Florida State safety Myron Rolle did something this week that should be an inspiration to every young athlete in this country. Rolle announced he will forgo his senior season of eligibility at Florida State to pursue other opportunities.

For 99% of college football players a decision to forgo their senior season translates to a decision to enter the NFL Draft.

But for Myron Rolle it means he will accept the Rhodes Scholarship that he was awarded two weeks ago and attend Oxford University for his senior year of college.

Rolle still has NFL aspirations and plans to train accordingly before and after his studies at Oxford, but, unlike many others, Burress included, Rolle has his priorities straight.

As one of the top safeties in the country, Rolle has a bright future in the NFL, but an even brighter future after his playing days are over. He wants to be a neurosurgeon and plans on attending medical school after playing in the NFL.

Rolle told ESPN yesterday that his goal is to eventually open up medical facilities in the Bahamas, where his parents are from and work with other impoverished countries to improve their vaccination and mental health programs.

His is the story that deserves to be told.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lane Kiffin Introduced as Vols Coach

Lane Kiffin was introduced as the 21st head football coach at the University of Tennessee today during an afternoon press conference at Neyland Stadium.

Kiffin covered a number of topics ranging from Eric Berry to his new coaching staff in the press conference, but summed up his message with a promise that “no one will outwork us, no one will outwork me.”

Before the press conference UT released details about Kiffin’s new contract that runs through 2014 with an average yearly salary of 2.375 million dollars. That’s roughly the same as men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl and about half a million dollars less than Phil Fulmer made for the 2008 season.

Kiffin was joined by his wife Layla, who is eight months pregnant with the couple’s third child and after the press conference Kiffin said that Pearl had already been recruiting he and his wife to buy the house across the street from his in the Gettysvue neighborhood.

Though vague with the details, Kiffin did indicate that none of the current defensive assistants would be retained and that the process to replace them was underway. Four other current assistants are being kept on board for now to assist with recruiting while he finalizes his coaching staff, according to Kiffin.

As rumors swirl about Kiffin’s father, Monte, the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, joining him in Knoxville Kiffin himself dodged questions on the subject because of the contractual obligations of other coaches and asked for the patience of Tennessee fans.

Kiffin left plenty of room for optimism on the subject of a putting together a winning coaching staff by saying, “Mike (Hamilton)and the entire athletic department have made a great contribution to make sure this happens.”

“When it’s all said and done you will be extremely happy with the staff that comes here,” added Kiffin.

Kiffin spent most of his time talking about recruiting and even mentioned that he was boarding a plane headed to Memphis after the press conference to meet with a top recruit. “We have got to go out and get great players. We will go everywhere to find the best players in the United States,” said Kiffin about their current recruiting efforts.

He also expressed a desire to “put a fence around the state of Tennessee” and “make it so there is no reason that a player from the state of Tennessee would leave this state and go anywhere else.”

Kiffin has firsthand experience with the Vols’ losing top-level instate talent as he was the recruiting coordinator at Southern Cal responsible for signing All-America wide receiver Patrick Turner out of Goodpasture High School in Middle Tennessee in 2004.

Despite the unusual circumstances, Kiffin was very gracious towards outgoing head coach Phil Fulmer and his family, calling him “a legend in this profession” and saying that he is “extremely honored to follow him.”

Kiffin said when the time is right he plans to talk to Fulmer and looks forward “to developing that relationship.” He also said that he would like to “use him (Fulmer) as much as possible, as much as he’s willing to help us.”

Sunday, November 30, 2008

10 Suggestions for Lane Kiffin

1. Convince Rico McCoy and Dan Williams to return

Outside linebacker Rico McCoy and defensive tackle Dan Williams are the only starters Kiffin and his father will have returning from the Vols’ front seven. That is, if the Kiffins can convince them to stay at UT for their senior year.

The sell should not be too difficult as neither is ready to contribute in the NFL nor are they likely to get high round NFL draft grades. However, losing one or both to the NFL could have a catastrophic effect on next year’s run defense.

2. Hold the '09 recruiting class intact

The Vols current freshman class shows very little promise either offensively or defensively, so it is important that Kiffin go to work on the recruiting trail immediately so that the ’09 class does not end up looking like the ’08 one.

Fulmer and his staff had put together a nice recruiting class before he was fired and it seems as most of the recruits that decommitted or showed wavering interest is still in play.

3. Give Trooper Taylor a call

Trooper Taylor was a fan and player favorite over his four years as an assistant coach in Knoxville before leaving to become the co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Truth be told, had Fulmer taken a gamble last spring and hired Taylor instead of Dave Clawson as his offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin probably would not be taking over this week.

Kiffin is likely to call the plays and manage the offense for the foreseeable future, so you could argue that there is relatively low risk involved with bringing Taylor back to Knoxville as offensive coordinator. Plus, Taylor is a heralded national recruiter who would bring yet another star to Lane Kiffin’s recruiting dream team.

4. Keep a couple of Fulmer’s assistants

Kiffin does not want to risk alienating Vols’ fans or more importantly Vols’ players by dumping every single assistant coach employed by the program. The fact is that Phil Fulmer leaves behind a very talented coaching staff, with the exception of failed first year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson.

Running backs coach Stan Drayton is at the top of the list of assistants Kiffin should consider retaining. Defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell and Defensive backs coach Larry Slade are veterans of the staff that Kiffin would be wise to keep on board. Tight ends coach Jason Michael has a lot of time invested in the Vols’ four tight ends and would also be an asset to Kiffin.

5. Learn everything you can from Bruce Pearl

Pearl mastered the transition from Tennessee outsider to revered family member like it has never been done before. He captured the hearts of Vols’ fans and transformed Tennessee into a football AND basketball state in just three years. Kiffin could learn a lot about salesmanship and leadership from Bruce Pearl.

6. Don't overwhelm the offense next year

It’s expected that Kiffin will bring a pro-style offense to Tennessee. That’s fine, but he should not try to re-teach every single thing these young football players know about the game between now and next August. Dave Clawson tried that and his offense was a miserable failure as a result.

7. Reunite Vol Nation

Kiffin steps in to one of the best jobs in college football, except that at the moment there are still major divisions in the Tennessee football family due to Fulmer’s dismissal just one season after playing for the SEC Championship. It will be important that Kiffin play the role of “uniter “ over the next several months.

8. Promote the Tampa Bay Cover 2 featuring the “Berry and Morley Show”

Defensively, the front seven will be young and no one will have a clue what to expect from the Vols’ offense next year. However, the Vols’ will return the most talented secondary in the SEC featuring two of the finest safeties in the country. Eric Berry will appear on Heisman Trophy lists at the beginning of next season and Demetrice Morley will be yet another in a long line of Tennessee safeties in the NFL.

Kiffin should capitalize early and often on the star power of Berry and Morley in his father’s famous “Tampa Bay Cover 2” coverage scheme. The “Berry and Morley Show” could be the gridiron version of the famed “Ernie and Bernie Show” that shined on the hardwood in the late 70s.

9. Talk to B.J. Coleman about being your team leader

For years now the Vols have lacked outspoken player leadership similar to the type shown by Peyton Manning and Al Wilson in the late 90s. Quarterback B.J. Coleman has the confidence of his teammates and the leadership ability to make Lane Kiffin’s job much easier.

Kiffin should focus his attention immediately on grooming Coleman to be his starting quarterback for the next three years. It’s a move that could pay dividends for Kiffin down the road.

10. Reconcile with Fulmer’s loyalists

Kiffin can’t afford to lose the former players and boosters who were on Fulmer’s side through this whole process.

In due time, Kiffin needs to approach and ask for the support of those who were outspoken in their defense of Fulmer such as Chattanooga booster John “Thunder” Thornton and the numerous former players who expressed disappointment in their alma mater over the decision.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lane Kiffin Era Begins Monday

Monday will mark four weeks since the Phil Fulmer era effectively ended at the University of Tennessee.

More importantly it will mark the beginning of the Lane Kiffin era.

After nearly a month of intense speculation it appears that Lane Kiffin, the 33 year-old football coaching prodigy, came out on top in UT’s “once-in-a-generation” coaching search. In no time the Kiffins will assume the responsibilities of being the Vol Nation’s first family which begs the question, “Does he have any idea what he’s gotten himself into?”

Kiffin and his wife, Layla, have two young daughters, both of whom are headed for a far different life than the one they would have had in Oakland, California where their dad was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Raiders’ fans are something else, no doubt, but it’s still not quite the same thing as the “eat, sleep and drink college football” mentality that exists in East Tennessee.

If any two girls should be okay under such circumstances, it would be two with the kind of football-embedded DNA that Landry and Presley Kiffin have.

Their maternal grandfather, John Reaves, was an All-America quarterback at the University of Florida and played nine seasons in the NFL.

Their paternal grandfather, Monte Kiffin, played football at the University of Nebraska and after coaching the game for over 40 years he is currently one of the highest paid assistant coaches in the NFL.

Heck, their parents met when their mom was working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their dad was a graduate assistant at Colorado State.

You get the point, the Kiffins know football. The problem is, they may not know much else.

That’s where Lane Kiffin has to prove himself, because being the football coach at the University of Tennessee is about more than just football. It’s also about a proud university, a unique region and a great state.

Phil Fulmer is both a Tennessean and a Volunteer, so serving as an ambassador for the state and the university came naturally to him. For Lane Kiffin the initial challenge of coaching at UT may be greater off the field than on it.

Winning press conferences and the trust of the fan base would be a nice preface to winning football games for Kiffin, who, at first, may have a hard time understanding that football is not a business in East Tennessee. It’s a way of life.

However, taking the reins of a storied program coming off one of its worst years in history will mean that Kiffin’s actions on the field will be under the finest of microscopes.

The first football question the ex-Raiders coach will have to answer is about who he will include in the entourage he brings with him to Knoxville.

Some speculate that Kiffin will lure his dad, who is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator, to Rocky Top to run the Vols’ defense, but given Monte Kiffin’s hefty assistant’s salary in Tampa Bay it’s more likely that former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron would come on board. Orgeron coached at USC with Kiffin and it has long been rumored that he would reunite with Kiffin wherever he lands in the college ranks.

Beyond filling his staff there is laundry list of tasks awaiting Kiffin over the next eight months.

He’s got a couple dozen recruits that he’ll have to convince to hold their commitment to play football at UT, not to mention there are few key juniors like Rico McCoy and Dan Williams that he’ll need to convince to hang around for their senior year and help him launch UT into the Kiffin era.

Speaking of launching into the Kiffin era, there are a number of major UT donors who are still Fulmer loyalists that Kiffin would do well to win over in the next few months.

And there is one last thing. There is a little bit of a mess at the quarterback position for the Vols, he might need to work on that before next season.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Monday Report: UT Coaching Stockwatch

Vols finally win, Offense Sputters

While it’s safe to assume that Mike Hamilton’s decision on who to hire as Phil Fulmer’s replacement will not be based primarily on the current win-loss record of the coaches on his short list, there is no doubt that several candidates for the UT job saw their stock affected over the weekend.

(+) Steadily Rising- Brian Kelly, University of Cincinnati

Kelly has managed an unstable quarterback situation so brilliantly this season at UC that the Bearcats are now in position to capture the Big East title next week with a win over Syracuse. Despite being forced to use four quarterbacks over the course of the season, Kelly has led Cincinnati to a 5-1 mark in the Big East and a 9-2 record overall.

Saturday’s 28-21 victory over #20 Pittsburgh extended Cincinnati’s win streak to four games and further proved Kelly’s readiness to take on a bigger stage. Since the UT coaching search began Kelly has done everything right to have his name at the top of the list.

(+) Outperforming the Market- Chris Petersen, Boise State

The Broncos survived a scare from Nevada to move a step closer to another undefeated season. Petersen's name was one of the first to be thrown around for the UT job, but he seemed to get lost in the fanfare over newer commodities such as Kelly, Lane Kiffin and Tim Brewster.

A coach with two undefeated seasons in his last three would be very hard to argue with.

(-) Slightly Bearish- Butch Davis, University of North Carolina

There was a time when Davis was considered the most sought after candidate for the Vols’ job despite his constant statements of disinterest. Following two consecutive UNC losses including an embarrassing 41-10 defeat to instate rival NC State on Saturday it is very possible that Davis’ interest in coming to Knoxville has increased as Mike Hamilton’s interest in him has declined.

(-) Oversold Stock- Mike Leach, Texas Tech University

All those Tennessee fans out there who think Leach’s exciting spread offense is the answer to all of the Vols’ problems were served a large dose of reality Saturday night. Oklahoma dismantled the seemingly unstoppable Red Raiders 65-21 in a game that highlighted Leach’s questionable game management skills.

This game served as a reminder that Leach’s success at Texas Tech has been mediocre before this season.

(-) The Bottom Has Fallen Out- Tim Brewster, University of Minnesota

Cross Brewster off your list of prospective candidates to be the next coach at Tennessee. Brewster’s first season at Minnesota was a complete disaster, but after a strong showing on the recruiting trail in the offseason and a 7-1 start to the 2008 season  his stock began to soar.

The hype didn’t last long because Brewster’s Golden Gophers have gone on to lose four consecutive games including a 29-6 blowout loss to Michigan and Saturday’s 55-0 meltdown at home vs. Iowa.

Brewster is probably best served focusing on keeping his job at Minnesota at this point.

 

Vols Finally Win, Offense Sputters

It was good to see Coach Fulmer win in his last trip to Middle Tennessee as UT’s football coach, but don’t be fooled into giving offensive coordinator Dave Clawson an ounce of the credit.

Week after week Clawson’s offense shows little or no improvement, yet thankfully on a few occasions the Vols’ defense has performed so admirably that Clawson’s ineptitude has been overcome. Such was the case on Saturday as Eric Berry returned an interception 45 yards for yet another trademark "pick six" and Brent Vinson set up a field goal with an interception return of his own deep into Vanderbilt territory.

Those 10 points combined with the 10 first half points scored by the Vols’ offense were enough to fend off the lifeless Commodores.

Saturday marked the seventh time in 11 games this season that Tennessee has scored exactly one offensive touchdown. That pretty much sums up the legacy that Clawson will leave behind.

After Jonathan Crompton proved yet again that he is not ready to play in the SEC, Clawson was forced to do what most coaches would have done eight games ago: put B.J. Coleman in the game. However, Coleman seemed so micromanaged by Clawson’s confused play calling style that he was never given a chance to shine. Coleman was constantly in flux as the G-Gun and Wild Berry packages were shuffled in and out of the game with little success.

Though he had hardly been allowed to throw the ball, upon making his first passing mistake, Coleman was quickly thrown under the bus by Clawson and replaced with the gaffe-prone Crompton. Not surprisingly, the Vols fumbled the ball away within seconds of Crompton’s return to the game.

If nothing else the Vols seemed more motivated with Coleman at the helm than they have been for months. Want proof? The Vols quickly built a 17-0 lead once Coleman went in the game without him completing a single pass. And we all know how hard 17 points is to come by for this Volunteer squad.

In the second quarter the offensive line put together their most impressive drive of the season with Coleman under center and he seems to be just the type of leader capable of undoing the damage that Clawson has done to the offense’s production and morale.

Here’s to next year and B.J.’s bright future.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Titans' 10-0 Start is One for the Ages

Regardless of what happens when Brett Farve’s Jets visit Nashville on Sunday, the Titans 10-0 start to the 2008 NFL season has been a masterpiece. Albeit an incomplete one.

Nevertheless, this Jeff Fisher engineered Titans team deserves credit for what it has already accomplished as its undefeated start may be the most impressive feat a football team in the state of Tennessee has ever pulled off.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, 1998 National Championship included.

Impressive may be a controversial word in this context, especially if you let yourself get caught up in the glamour and pageantry of National Championships, but if you’re interested in degree of difficulty and historical rarity then the 2008 Titans already have the 1998 Volunteers beat.

There are no University of Houston Cougars or UAB Blazers on the Titans' schedule this year as there were on the Vols' schedule in 1998. For that matter there are no Kentucky Wildcats or Vanderbilt Commodores on the Titans' schedule either.

In other words, with a schedule that threatens a loss every single Sunday the small-market Tennessee Titans have won and won and won.

Since 1970, only 10 NFL teams have won the first ten games of the season. That’s roughly one 10-0 start every four years. And in a league that prides itself on parity that far exceeds other professional sports due to a tight salary cap, the Titans win streak is probably more impressive now than it would have been in 1970.

Last year’s juggernaut New England Patriots were the first 10-0 NFL team of the millennium. Now the Titans are the second.

In college football, the number of undefeated National Champions since 1970 is much, much higher. The exact number is hard to pin down because undefeated teams have “shared” National Championships on several occasions, but it's somewhere in the 25-30 range. And that doesn't include undefeated teams that didn't claim National Championships.

This isn’t to take anything away from the Vols 1998 National Championship team, because it’s a rough comparison between college and pro football anyway. Rather it’s an effort to draw a parallel between what’s looking more and more like the state’s two best football teamsever, the 1998 Vols and 2008 Titans.

Unsuspecting quarterback. Great running backs. Stingy defense. Star talent, with a team first mentality. The ’08 Titans and the ’98 Vols have more in common than you’d think. You could even argue that great coaching is a similarity between the two teams, or at least that two great coaches finally had teams that perfectly complimented their coaching style.

In fact, the Titans could learn an important lesson from the '98 Vols. Stick to what you do best, do it one game at a time and let the rest take care of itself. The blueprint for success was laid on a collegiate level ten years ago in this state by Phil Fulmer and his Tennessee Vols. Running hard and playing tough defense, the Tennessee Titans have done a heck of a job replicating that blueprint in the NFL this season.

If the Titans play like they are capable of playing on Sunday against the Jets they will be just the 7th team in NFL history to start the season 11-0. Then history would really be calling if the Titans travel to Detroit to take on the lowly Lions with the opportunity to move to 12-0. Only four NFL teams have started 12-0 since 1970.

The scary thing is that if the Titans get to that point only the Browns and Texans will stand between them and 14-0.

I’m just saying.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Christmas to Remember on Rocky Top?

With each passing day it’s looking more and more likely that the University of Tennessee’s search for a new coach will still be a hot topic of conversation as families gather around the Christmas tree.

Almost every coach mentioned as a candidate for the Vols’ job has their hands full through the regular season and some may not be available until bowl season is underway. So, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday season the “Legit Sports” blog debuts with a list of possible mid-December Christmas presents for the Vol Nation.

In a coaching search that UT athletic director Mike Hamilton guaranteed would spread far and wide, names have been thrown out ranging from Bill Cowher to Todd Graham which leaves room for the possibility that we will all be shocked at who Hamilton introduces at that highly anticipated mid-December press conference.

If the Vol Nation wants a refund on Hamilton’s “gift” this Christmas, it is likely that he won’t last as long as the next coach. However, Hamilton deserves the benefit of the doubt because he has proven to be a shrewd businessman in his time as AD and deserves a lot of credit for bringing Bruce Pearl to Knoxville and keeping him here.

If he pulls off another coaching hire that works out anything like the Bruce Pearl experiment then the Vols could be headed for two-sport dominance rivaled by only Florida and Texas.
Vol Nation, here is your list of potential early Christmas presents…

“A New Car”

Jon Gruden, Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lovie Smith, Head Coach of the Chicago Bears

A car is really the mother of all Christmas presents and a surprising hire of either Gruden or Smith would be the same for the Vols faithful. Both coaches have ties to Knoxville from early in their careers (Gruden was a Graduate Assistant and Smith was the Vols’ Defensive Backs coach in ’93 and ’94) and have at least been rumored to have interest in a major college job.

Both would be grand slams for the University and the football program as they would bring with them the highest level of professionalism and excellent coaching ability, not to mention a Super Bowl ring for Gruden and an NFC Championship for Smith. The next coach is going to have to go head to head with the finest coaches in the country on the recruiting trail and it goes without saying that these two would instantly be tough recruiting competition in the SEC.

“A Nintendo Wii game console”

Lane Kiffin, former Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders

Much like the Wii, the 33-year old Kiffin would be like an exciting new toy for Vol fans this Christmas, but may end up not being worth the relatively high price tag.

Hiring Kiffin would certainly be a bold gamble for Hamilton, but it could generate both fan excitement and success on the field very quickly. There is a lot to like about Kiffin including the record-setting offenses that he coached at USC in 2005-06 and his three consecutive #1 nationally ranked recruiting classes as the Trojans’ recruiting coordinator.

Forget about his short tenure as the Raiders head coach because it was in no way a fair reflection on Kiffin’s ability to coach. He is going to end up being a great coach somewhere and Vols fans may wish they had him five years from now.

“Red Ryder BB Gun”

Butch Davis, Head Coach at the University of North Carolina

The Red Ryder BB gun has been a Christmas favorite for decades for its dependability all around quality. Butch Davis would bring the same things to the Volunteer program and he also seems to be the favorite of many inside the UT athletic department despite his repeated disinterest in the Tennessee coaching job.

While it’s hard to see the program going south on Davis’ watch, he arguably has far less upside than some of the other candidates being mentioned. His reputation is built on his success as the head coach at Miami, but the Hurricanes were still in the Big East in those days which means he still hasn’t had significant success in major conference college football. And even this year at North Carolina, where he has revived his coaching career, all three of the Tar Heels losses came in the fourth quarter on questionable coaching decisions.

At 57, Davis is either past his prime or near the end of it and I don’t see much more than a few 9-4 or 10-3 seasons for him if he came to the SEC.

“$50 Best Buy Gift Card”

Will Muschamp, Defensive Coordinator at the University of Texas

At only 37 years old Muschamp is already a journeyman defensive coordinator after having served in that position at LSU, Auburn and Texas where he is currently Mack Brown’s DC.

In the same way you need to add a little extra money to a $50 Best Buy Gift Card to buy something nice , the defensive specialist Muschamp would need some great offensive minds around him to balance his lack of head coaching experience. He would bring the same kind of intensity and passion to the football program that Pearl has brought to the basketball program, but it’s unlikely that Hamilton risks his own career on a hot-headed college assistant with no head coaching experience.

“The Bruce Pearl Bobble Head Doll”

Brian Kelly, Head Coach at the University of Cincinnati

This would seem like an endorsement of Kelly simply by virtue of mentioning his name in the same breath as Bruce Pearl, but it’s more of a simple comparison of their similarities leading up to their first big break.

Kelly, also a Boston area native, was a big time winner in Division II at Grand Valley State before rebuilding a lost program at Central Michigan and then doing the same thing at Cincinnati. He’s got the Bearcats eyeing the Big East title for the second straight year and he would almost certainly be thrilled to have the opportunity to run a major program like Tennessee’s.

The media in Cincinnati raves about Kelly’s accessibility and his strength as a salesman causes many to compare him to Pearl. More importantly, he would treat the opportunity to coach at UT as the honor of a lifetime rather than a stepping stone to better things in much the same way Pearl has spoken of his opportunity at UT.

“Sweater from Grandma”

Mike Leach, Head Coach at Texas Tech University

He is one weird dude, and he is frankly one weird dude with a less than impressive resume. According to Rivals.com rankings, Leach has failed to bring in a Top 100 recruit since he’s been the Red Raiders’ head coach.

Worse yet is the fact that despite his thrilling offense, Leach has dabbled in Big 12 mediocrity ever season until this year.

An opening like the one at the University of Washington, is more fitting for the pirate-loving Leach.

“Sack of Coal”

Tim Brewster, Head Coach at the University of Minnesota
Todd Graham, Head Coach at the University of Tulsa
Chris Petersen, Head Coach at Boise St. University

Any of these coaches would present a worst possible scenario for the Vol Nation this Christmas. Brewster has mysteriously found his way into the discussion for UT’s new head coach because of some connection he has to the athletic department. Brewster didn’t get his first head coaching job until he was 46 and in two seasons at Minnesota he has managed to go 8-14, yet he is somehow being seen as an up and coming coach.

Graham and Petersen are mid-major gambles that could lead to a revolving door at the head coaching position for the Vols, much like Alabama’s situation over the past decade. Not to mention Petersen’s affinity for Scientology would go over like a lead balloon in East Tennessee. Enough said about those two.