Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tuesday Thanks and Thoughts

First of all, I have to thank some people who have really helped me out over the last week or so. A massive thank you goes to my neighbors Diane and Steve, who found the bag that was stolen from me last week (see post below for details) and got it back to me with absolutely nothing missing at all. They could not have been nicer and more helpful, and I thank them for doing me that service.

I also have to thank a young man by the name of T who helped me out over at Mitchell High School yesterday, where I was covering Thaddeus Young's college announcement (more on that later). I inexplicably neglected to realize that there was a concrete parking block in front of my car, and I tried to pull forward quickly out of my parking spot, because I was in a hurry. Bad idea. I dragged the long, heavy concrete block a good yard or so as I tried in vain to drive my car over it. Apparently I am an idiot. At this point, the block was lodged in my car's undercarriage, creating noises more at home in a horror movie than in a parking lot. T came over and immediately helped me drive the car in such a way as to realign the block where we could get it out from under the car. We jacked up the car and T slid the block out--he helped me get out of there in no time, despite my stupidity. I asked him if I could do anything for him in exchange for the help he had given me, and he just said, "No, it's fine." Thanks, T.

I was in Tuscaloosa last weekend for the Alabama/Tennessee game--first of all, it is always a pleasure to be in a place that loves college football on a gameday as big as that one was. There's an energy in the air that can't be described, but you know it when you feel it. We ate at Bob Baumhower's Wings restaurant the night before and I have to tell you, it was pretty good. I would recommend you try the "hot lips"--they're kind of like boneless buffalo wings, but a little smaller. The flavor was fantastic.

Before the game, we (me, Will, and Fish) saw plenty of Alabama and Tennessee fans mingling together, having a drink and talking about the game. No real bad blood was evident. The Alabama fans I spoke with were very easygoing and calm, and they were very respectful of Tennessee, which surprised me a bit. We parked a couple of miles away from Bryant-Denny, but we parked for free, which is always a bonus. A little pregame meal and beverage, throw the football around a bit, and we're off to the game.

After getting sent to literally 4 different gates by 5 different staff members, we managed to pick up our tickets outside the stadium. I can give you a very thorough description of Bryant-Denny because I walked around the entire place before the game trying to find my tickets. So I was already in a foul mood when I took my seat--and the game itself did little to make me feel much better.

I cannot imagine what goes through Phillip Fulmer's mind (Or Randy Sanders', for that matter) when the decision is made to put Erik Ainge in for one series in the first half, then pull him after that. Just when I think the quarterback travesty cannot get any worse, it does. Now that I can put it in print, let me take a stab at explaining how I feel about Tennessee's quarterbacks: I appreciate Rick Clausen's perseverance and his leadership, and I would love for other players to have the determination he does, but he is not a good enough quarterback at this level to be a success. I know the receivers are not well-coached, and I know the line could be better this year, but the fact remains that Clausen just cannot make the throws necessary to consistently win games. That said, Erik Ainge is, in the words of Jackie Sherrill yesterday with George, "a stallion that has never been broken". He's always been the best at every level, and now he's not--he has to be mentally strong enough to respond to this adversity. I don't know whether or not he will be. Right now, he's not.

Beyond that, though, it is the job of the coaching staff to put in the best personnel available to win games, and put them in the best position to succeed. And ultimately, regardless of whether Clausen or Ainge is under center, the coaching staff is not doing that. Not even close. Their bungling has angered Clausen and killed Ainge's mental approach.

As I mentioned before, the wide receivers are not well coached at all. They can't beat one-on-one coverage, they don't get separation, and they can't run many deep/intermediate routes because their quarterback can't throw them. It's a joke. The worst part is that Tennessee is ruining a championship-level performance from the defense, which has stepped up and played exceptionally well this season, especially against Alabama.

Will there be changes? That's the question everyone asks me--and I have no idea. I would doubt it. Change is a foreign concept at Tennessee. Continuity is valued over innovation, status quo over fresh thinking. That's why the Walt Harris offense in place at Tennessee hasn't changed much at all over the last two decades or so. It was one thing when Tennessee had more talent than almost everyone else they played--a bruising, conservative attack can work fine in those situations (with, yes, even a little deep passing during the years the QB was solid). Now the talent gap has vanished and Tennessee is being asked to beat teams with coaching, execution, and schemes. They are not answering the bell.

As if things weren't bad enough, Gerald Riggs is out for the season. It's a microcosm of the Tennessee season--all the talent in the world, ultimately accomplishing nothing. I wish Gerald the best in his recovery, and I hope his mental approach improves if he wants to truly be great.

And, by the way, Tennessee was BEATEN on Saturday--Tennessee did not beat itself. Alabama played great on defense (people don't usually fumble unless they're hit), had a quarterback who came up with a huge play when his team needed it, and were honestly the better team. Anyone who says otherwise is fooling his- or herself.

OK, rant over. Sorry about that. I sometimes get carried away.

I've been saying it for the last few weeks, and I will write it today: GO WATCH DEANGELO WILLIAMS PLAY! You've only got two more shots to do it, and I can assure you that watching him now will cost you a lot less than it will in about a year or so. There cannot be a better ambassador for a football program than DeAngelo. I have never covered a person who combined such breathtaking talent with such a delightful personality. He's actually a funny guy in person, doesn't take himself too seriously, is a great team leader without being cocky about it, and, by the way, has a chance to become the NCAA leader in rushing yards and all-purpose yards before the end of his career. What more could you want?

I refuse to believe that only 31,000 or so people want to be a part of this historic season. I just refuse to believe it. I hope the fans of Memphis prove me right on this one. It would be an absolute shame if only 30-35 thousand people show up for the last two games of a historic career. He is the best player that has ever, and likely will ever, put on a Memphis uniform. GO WATCH HIM PLAY.


OK, Thaddeus made his decision. Let's all just move on. How can we be surprised and act all self-righteous that a kid treats his future as a business when the entire college basketball scene is a business? Coaches make money off clothing deals, shoe deals, endorsement deals--administrators make money off ticket sales and broadcast deals, everyone cashes in but the players. And yet we're indignant when high school athletes have people around them worrying about business deals/marketing/exposure? Hypocrisy. Guess what, people--1950 ain't coming back soon. It's 2005. Money is a part of the sports world. Get over it.

Last night's Grizzlies/Magic exhibition game made me hate basketball. Look at that box score. There were 122 missed shots, including 26 missed free throws. The Grizzlies scored precisely ZERO points off the 19 Magic turnovers. Goodness. Rudy Tomjanovich, who is now scouting for the Lakers as he gets healthy again, reportedly left the game early because he just couldn't take it. One Knicks scout told me it was one of his top ten worst games ever, and he's seen tens of thousands of games at every level. As Damon Stoudamire said in the locker room last night, "I can't believe you're going to report on that (bleep)." Fair enough. Let's move on.

I still think the Grizzlies have positioned themselves well to compete, given what they had to do to get the team settled in the offseason. They've made the best of a tough situation, and I really think the defense and the guardplay will keep them afloat while they work out a lot of kinks involving chemistry and poor shooting.

Brad Lidge--wow. Sorry, man. That, uh, that sucks.

Surely THIS couldn't happen, could it? Eli Savoie would be on suicide watch.

Hail to the Redskins! Did I just imagine things or did the 'Skins score 52 points on Sunday? I don't care if it was against the horrendous 49ers--or against a high school team--whenever the Redskins can rack up 52, I'm excited. They're still tied for the lead in the NFC East--what a deep division that has turned out to be, huh? Unlike the NFC North which, frankly, sucks.


USC is still better than Texas.

From 10-11 every night, you should be watching Comedy Central.

Tim McCarver is still worse than Paul Maguire, but only just.

"It's Coach Martz? Send it to voicemail."


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