SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Did Larry Brown Meet with Princeton About Its Head Coaching Job?

Comcast SportsNet reports that he did.

And I discussed the possibility here weeks ago.

(Thanks to Jon of the Princeton Basketball News blog for pointing out this coverage as well as other coverage on the hiring. If you're a Tiger hoops fan like I am, his is the best blog to get all information regarding Tiger hoops).

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Lure of the Princeton Men's Hoops Program

Over the past several weeks, I've read ESPN.com a lot to see if there was any news on many college hoops coaching fronts. A minority of schools (like Kentucky) merited links on the front page of the website. Most stories about hoops coaching changes were relegated to the front page of the Men's Basketball page (these were links, of course, and not full articles).

Over the past hour, a headline for the Princeton story (with a link) was mentioned on the front page of the website.

Just goes to show you that the brand name of Princeton basketball remains strong despite the record for the 2006-2007 season.

The "over and under" for Penn fans taking shots in the comments section at the previous sentence is four.

Sydney Johnson To Take Princeton Head Coaching Job

So reported Fox Sports an hour ago.

The Daily Princetonian scooped the story on Wednesday night (namely, that Princeton had offered Johnson the job), and the Princeton Basketball News blog (a great blog, by the way) as usual had great information on developments. Naturally, the delay between the offer and now the purported acceptance had some Tiger fans concerned.

I thought that Johnson would be among Princeton's top three or four choices, with the others (in no particular order) being Georgetown (and former Princeton) assistant Robert Burke (who apparently wasn't in the pool, seemingly because, being the top aide at a Top 10 program, he can get a much more "big-time" job in the next year or so), Northwestern assistant (and former Princeton player) Mitch Henderson and Brown head coach Craig Robinson (a former Princeton player and two-time Ivy Player of the Year; Johnson was Ivy Player of the Year his senior year).

I think that Sydney Johnson is an excellent choice. By all accounts, he was very well-liked and well-respected on campus when a student, and he played the game with exceptional effort and determination (so much so that after an early-season contest either his junior or senior season, then-Indiana head coach Bob Knight took him aside after the game and spoke with him for several minutes about how much he appreciated how Johnson played the game "the right way"). Johnson is a bit light on coaching experience (only 3 years as an assistant at Georgetown), but he's had the opportunity to learn from outstanding coaches (Pete Carril, for whom he played, and John Thompson III, whom he assisted) and, no doubt, will hire some good assistants (as of now, it's unclear whether long-time and much-respected Tiger assistants Mike Brennan and Howard Levy will remain with the program) to help out. He's certainly a part of the Princeton family, and the question will be how much, if at all, he sticks with the "Princeton system." The bet here is that he has his own system that is more akin to the Georgetown modified Princeton system than the orthodox Princeton system of Joe Scott.

He does come into a program that is at its nadir, as last season it had its worst Ivy record ever (2-12) and its first last-place finish in the Ivies, ever. He does have two promising rising sophomore guards in Marcus Schroeder and Lincoln Gunn, and a promising rising sophomore center in Zach Finley. What is unclear is if there are any incoming recruits other than a swingman from Long Island. As Tigerhawk reported the other day, one-time top Princeton recruit Jeff Peterson, a PG from DeMatha in suburban DC, signed a letter of intent with Iowa. I also read where the Tigers had been competing with Rice for a 6'9", 230-pound center from Texas, but I haven't read any more on the subject. When you compare the paucity of Tiger recruits to what by most accounts is Penn's strongest recruiting class since the class that contained Ugonna Onyekwe, Duane King, Dave Klatsky and Koko Archibong, you can see the tough task that faces Sydney Johnson.

Then again, with respect to Jeff Peterson, keep this in the back of your mind -- the Ivies don't recognize letters of intent (because the Ivies give aid based on need), and Georgetown (with in all likelihood Sydney Johnson involved) recruited two of his teammates, who will be Hoyas this fall. Don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that Sydney Johnson gets Jeff Peterson to change his mind and come to Princeton. He just might.

It would have been great to see former Tiger great Craig Robinson coaching the team instead of being the head coach at rival Brown, so I'll continue to wish Craig endless 12-2 seasons in the Ivies. That said, Princeton AD Gary Walters is around 62 years old and won't remain in Tigertown forever. Perhaps theTigers will pursue this outstanding alumnus to succeed Walters. Just a thought, of course, but I think that Craig Robinson would do a great job as Princeton's AD, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Phillies Fire Charlie Manuel

and replace him with Sanjaya Malakhar, who's available now that he's been voted off American Idol.

It would make about as much sense as the Phillies' latest move, that's for sure. Heck, after the front office's desperation following a season where they spent way too much money on Adam Eaton at the expense of adding another powerful bat in the outfield and fortifying their bullpen, Manuel might welcome being fired. And hey, Sanjaya would help attendance -- millions of Americans voted for him, after all.

ESPN.com reported tonight that the Phillies have relegated #1 starter Brett Myers (who has struggled) to the bullpen (with Myers' agreement) and have inserted former #6 starter Jon Lieber into the rotation. As Jayson Stark commented, it's a desperate move.

What is The Puppetmaster, Pat Gillick, thinking? What must Charlie Manuel be thinking? First, he calls out the local prima donna sports talk show host. Now, he has to take a promising #1 starter who recently had his contract extended and hopes to cure him in the set-up role in a combustible bullpen. In my family, we tend to think that bad things happen in threes. What's next for Charlie Manuel -- will the Phillies ownership bail Ugueth Urbina out of a Venezuelan jail and put him back into the bullpen mix?

3-9 and counting.

Some pundits are throwing Charlie Manuel under the bus.

They'd better check first, though, to make sure that the wheels haven't fallen off of it.

Ads for Your Abs

I get up very early in the morning to work out and try to do so 5 days a week. I get up early because at that time I'm in control of my day, and there are very few things than can interrupt me at that time. I am diligent about stretching, riding my spin bike (it's nice and quiet, and there's no danger of waking up anyone else), and then doing a bunch of work with medicine balls, especially core work. Overally, my routine takes about an hour, and, thereafter, I veg on my basement couch and channel surf. It's a fun way to cool down before beginning the day.

When I flip channels, I notice a few things -- evangelists and shows that demonstrate workouts or machines to help you improve your abs, including one that shows that someone lost 7 inches off his waist in about 2 weeks. Do you ever see this stuff? What fun is working out if you don't work? Some of those who give testimonials a) must have had bariatric surger, b) must not eat, c) must be bulimic or d) are nuts because they say they don't want to sweat or be on the floor doing crunches as part of their workout. Remember, whoever said "no pain, no gain," made a very good point.

You see people sitting on a machine that goes side to side (with abs more impressive than my grandmother's old washboard) or standing on a machine where your legs go side to side and where you're told you only need to do ten minutes at a time. I honestly think that people who look that good a) spend at least 2 hours a day in the gym and b) do lots of exercises to make their bodies look as wonderful as they do. It's just not that easy to get a flat stomach, especially if a) you have a commute, b) you sit a lot during the day and c) you eat more than sprouts and drink more than coffee.

I wish that there were statistics on this sort of thing. Who buys this stuff, how much do they use it, and for how long? And how much of it ends up stored under a bed, in the basement or gets used as a towel rack? For those who make the investment in the good machines and then use them, the investments are well worth it. But some of these machines look like gimmicks, and fads usually flame out quickly.

Look, some exercise is better than none, and most Americans need to do more in this area. But if you're going to get started again after a while of not working out, talk to your doctor to see what makes sense. Start slowly, and then avoid getting hooked on it to the point where you work out for 2 hours a more a day at the expense of all else and then, when you suffer your first cold or tweak, fall out of your routine and are reluctant to get back to it because the extra sleep or free time is just too good to pass up. Be the tortoise, not the hare, and vary your routine so that you don't get bored (and stay with it). Walk, run (if your knees still permit you), bike, shoot baskets, lift weights (resistance work is important), do core work (crunches, etc.) and break a good sweat.

You'll be glad you did.

Now the Media is the Story

The other day, I wrote about now-suspended NBA referee Joey Crawford, and commented that the fans pay to see the players, not the refs. In other words, the best refs are the ones that really don't get noticed, and the good ones don't draw attention to themselves. Crawford's in hot water for committing both sins, even though Commissioner David Stern concedes that he's good at his craft. Apparently that type of competence isn't enough. Besides, who wants to see a lead story about a referee, anyway? We need good officiating, yes, but the same way people don't watch games because of who is announcing (if that were the case, very few would watch CBS's coverage of the Final Four because of the presence of Billy Packer), they're not watching games because of who is doing the officiating.

Now the spotlight focuses on long-time Philadelphia sports talk show host Howard Eskin (who would be disdainful of this blog for two reasons, one because he believes very few people much knowledge about sports and two, because he's out their hoofing it for the stories, and bloggers and fans are not). Eskin is knowledgeable about sports and by all appearances he does work hard, but he is very opinionated (he's paid to be) and seldom in doubt, and he's a bit full of himself (some fans would challenge my use of "a bit" and suggest that it be deleted). He likes it when callers refer to him as "The King" and at Eagles games he took to wearing fur coats and calling himself "The King of Bling." He's a complicated guy, because he works hard and he is knowledgeable, but he can get very short with fans and doesn't tolerate opinions that differ from his all that much. In short -- he's the lightning rod that his employers pay him to be. (I listen to him a few times a week at most, if only because the local ESPN guys are not that knowledgeable and sound like they're 15, and the guys on WFAN are much better than Eskin or the ESPN guys).

At any rate, Eskin rankled Phillies' skipper Charlie Manuel, who challenged him to a fight. Most Philadelphia fans would probably want to reinstitute the code duello of Revolutionary War times and let the two have at it either with pistols at ten paces or sacks of horse maneure. While Eskin is in various stages of being in shape from time to time (he seemingly has gone on more diets than your average supermodel), Manuel has the girth of a run-stopping defensive lineman and probably could wrestle the talk show king into submission. Of course, this fight will not happen.

It does, however, raise some interesting questions. Last year, the Phillies were comatose at some point in the season, when Manuel went on a dugout-based tirade that seemingly kick-started the Phillies into gear. Eskin suggested the same sort of tactic last night, and he caught Manuel at the wrong time. Manuel took objection to Eskin's question and perhaps to Eskin personally, and then things mushroomed from there. Perhaps the players, who appear to like playing for their skipper, will now rally to Charlie's cause and start playing as if it were August and September (where they've excelled the past two years) as opposed to March/April, where they've acted like they've been employed as pick 'n packers at a frozen food warehouse.

Were this to happen and were the Phillies to go on a tear, the King of Bling would take credit for inspiring them to their best finish in 14 years.

Because that's the way it works on talk radio.

I'm not a huge Eskin fan and probably won't be, but in fairness to him he's taken the time this year to point out that he's not criticizing Manuel personally, just his managing style. I don't recall Eskin's particular opinions, but he has tried to make that point clear (even, to my recollection, going so far as to say that some people knock Manuel because the way he speaks, and he doesn't think that's fair). That said, Eskin can be unrelenting.

My guess is that deep down, many Philadelphia players, owners, coaches and managers -- past and present -- were hoping that Charlie had picked up a folding chair and used it as a bat while using Eskin's head as a ball. Again, that's what his employers, and Eskin, deep down want, because they'd be at the center of attention. Okay, so no one wants to get hit in the head with a chair, but a photo of Charlie wielding one and chasing Eskin would make the King of Bling a national figure.

This whole sideshow doesn't change anything. The Phillies aren't playing well, and tensions are high. Managers get fired for less, and while Pat Gillick's shortcomings with respect to the bullpen and outfield depth are well-chronicled, the front-office guys usually fall later. Gillick just got to the Cradle of Liberty, so he's not going anywhere.

And neither is the heart of the lineup, which looks like it needs a defibrillator.

In the meantime, this post-game madness has given Philadelphia fans the most excitement since the Eagles beat the Giants in the first round of the playoffs, or since the Wing Bowl.

Manuel vs. Eskin, at the Blue Horizon any day now.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

ESPN's Experts' Mock First Round in the NFL Draft

Click here and read it for yourself.

I'll admit I'm a draft junkie, I read stuff on ESPN's "Insider" and I bought a magazine about draft prospects. Suffice it to say that the information in that publication, while helpful, is almost out of date when you buy it. Why? Because the market for players changes from day to day.

The only team I've followed closely is the Philadelphia Eagles. My guess, right now, is that they'll take one of two safeties in the first round, either Reggie Nelson of Florida or Michael Griffin of Texas, both of whom should challenge Sean Considine for the starting strong safety role and probably would beat him out. The ESPN experts, save one, all have the Birds picking a linebacker, somewhat forgetting that they did trade for Takeo Spikes and have promising second-year player Omar Gaither returning (yes, Matt McCoy was a disappointment, Jeremiah Trotter has perhaps one season left, Shawn Barber has moved on and Dhani Jones drives us all nuts). I don't think that Lawrence Timmons of FSU will be available when they select (he had a bad combine and measured much shorter than people thought), and I'm not sure that Florida LB Jon Beason will be available, either (he has risen in recent weeks, even though many publications written several weeks ago had him going in the second round). Michigan LB David Harris isn't a first-rounder, and I'm not sure that Texas CB Aaron Ross will be available when the Eagles pick at #26 either. I also don't think that the Eagles really will draft a CB this early, as it's not as much of a position of need as safety or linebacker. I also think that the Eagles, with their second-round pick, might nab a linebacker such as Harris or Florida's Brandon Siler, a tough hitter. But what do I know?

Football's the one sport that the average fan knows much less about than, say, basketball or baseball. It's more complicated, some players can't pick up schemes, others have a flaw -- speed, the ability to go backward, the ability to catch the ball -- that could be fatal to their team. Still, the way the market values players -- how some slip and some rise -- has always fascinated me. As have the fifth-rounders who become Pro Bowl players.

I'll just issue one word of caution -- teams that take physical specimens who really haven't performed up to their ability might be making a big mistake. Who's to say that the first-round talent who didn't produce well in college all of a sudden will turn it around against much tougher competition in the pros? And who fits that bill? (There's a defensive player who is projected to go in the first round who has fallen off Mel Kiper's Top 25 list).

Watch ESPN on draft day and find out.

Pimp My School?

Someone should tell those who run St. Louis University that Bob Huggins already left Kansas State after a single season to return to West Virginia.

You see, the Billikens fired head coach Brad Soderberg today, this after his team won 20 games this season and this after the season ended several weeks ago. To use a football analogy, the firing is like a "late flag." Why did the St. Louis administration wait so long?

It goes something like this. St. Louis is going to open a new arena in a few years, and they think that they need to perenially contend for the title to help pay for the edifice. Which means, of course, they'll need a more successful coach who can help fill the seats. After all, 20 wins just ain't what they used to be.

Is Jerry Tarkanian coming out of retirement? Imagine St. Louis, a respectable school and program, doing to its program what MTV does to rusted eight year-old cars with their doors falling off in "Pimp My Ride." Because the explanation provided in the article isn't a good one. Hiring a coach to fill and arena and win titles may be the American way, but for a school that isn't a perennial Sweet 16 contender that reason should raise eyebrows at the NCAA (especially because that august group seemingly only wanted schools from the Top 8 conferences or so to get at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament.). What will they do if the Billikens are successful in this quest? Narrow the tournament back down to 48 teams? Suspend them from post-season play for two years because they hire a slick new coach and if they succeed he must have cheated.

Sorry, but firing a coach who just won 20 games, didn't insult anyone, didn't commit any recruiting violations, didn't get photographed in a drunken stupor with co-eds and didn't have an assistant get caught sending a FedEx envelope with $1,000 in it to a recruit doesn't make any sense.

Except, perhaps, in St. Louis, where it has to make cents.

Kill the Umpire's Career!

Err, the referee's.

Click here and read about the suspension of NBA referee Joey Crawford. It appears from many accounts that Mr. Crawford had moments where he thought that people actually paid to see the referees in action.

And that has gotten him into serious trouble, most recently for ejecting Spurs' star Tim Duncan and allegedly challenging him to a fight.

Bullies with badges, be they policemen or prosecutors or referees, are a serious problem. It seems like Mr. Crawford, while a technically excellent referee, sometimes has gone over the top, as the article chronicles.

Whether his career has been thrown under the bus remains to be seen.

This is a bizarre story, to say the least.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

There's a Reason Why They Call It College Night

And not "Collegial Night."

Read this about the Phillies' attempts to draw more college kids to their games.

And then wonder whether you should go to Citizens Bank Park when the college kids are there in droves.

And then doubly marvel that the Phillies head of operations is a one-time United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Yes, you want college kids at your games.

Just not altogether at once.

Friday, April 13, 2007

I'm Wearing My Jackie Robinson Jersey Today

My wife gave it to me over 10 years ago, and, yes, it still fits well. It's a home jersey, and I've always liked the Dodgers' script and the coloring of the jersey (blue "Dodgers", red numbering).

We have casual Fridays at work (sneakers and jeans), and we're not all that tough on the dress code. I got a few nods, probably because I was bold enough to wear a jersey. I won't overestimate my co-workers' familiarity with my love for baseball or their knowledge of history.

A big baseball fan nodded to me and gave me a big smile.

He knew.

Someone else asked me if I was wearing a "Steve Garvey" or "Ron Cey" jersey.

What?

The big baseball fan e-mailed me a much-discussed lament -- that many players today are ignorant of Jackie Robinson's courage and pioneering, as are many people.

Jackie Robinson was an American original and one of the most important Americans in the 20th century. Yet, as ESPN has chronicled, there are only 75 African-Americans in the majors today. The network also reported from Daytona Beach, Florida, where Jackie played his first game in "organized" baseball (in spring training). As one coach of African-American youths there put it, baseball is fourth in the minds of the local kids, behind football, basketball and video games. Another community leader told the story of the town's trying to start a Little League, and only nine kids signed up.

Jackie Robinson's journey is a key part of American history. So, as we honor his breaking of the color line 60 years ago (April 15, 1947), take a moment to talk to your children, your friends, and your neighbors about what he meant to America. Ask your parents and grandparents, read books by Jules Tygiel, Arnold Rampersad and Jonathan Eig, and think about what he did and what he meant to so many African-Americans.

You'll be glad that you did.

Curious Lack of News on the Princeton Men's Hoops Coaching Vacancy

Princeton has yet to name a head men's basketball coach.

When Pete Carril retired about 10 years ago, the Tigers quickly named his top assistant, Bill Carmody, as his replacement.

When Carmody and top assistant Joe Scott left Tigertown about 7 years ago (and forgive me as to the timeline if I miss by a year), second assistant John Thompson quickly was named as Carmody's replacement.

When Thompson left Tigertown over three years ago, the Tigers named former assistant Joe Scott the head coach rather quickly.

What do my adverbs mean? Say, about within a week (or less) of the departure of the head coach.

Joe Scott announced he was leaving Princeton the third week of March, and there's been almost no news on the Princeton coaching front ever since. Now, in fairness, Princeton AD Gary Walters was the chair of the NCAA men's hoops committee and thereby otherwise engaged on Final Four and related matters until early April.

Still. . .

This lack of news is eloquent. This time sequence is a milennium for Tiger fans.

Which means that it must mean something.

Here are a few thoughts:

1. There is no "obvious" candidate to replace Scott the way there were obvious candidates to replace Carril, Carmody and Thompson (had Scott declined to succeed Thompson, I believe the process would have slowed down because there were no other "likely" successors at that time after Scott).

2. The Tigers, unlike previously, are embarking upon a more measured process, which is new to the hoops program.

3. The stakes are much higher. The program and its brand have declined in recent years, all the more reason to take some time to find the right head coach.

4. Because most recruits commit in the fall, there's no sense of urgency to get a new head coach locked down to ensure a decent recruiting year.

5. This means that none of Craig Robinson, Sydney Johnson, Robert Burke, Mitch Henderson and Chris Mooney are "obvious" successors, because, given previous practice, the Tigers would have zoomed in, gotten their man, held a buoyant press conference and moved on. That said, it could be that one of them emerges as the head coach, but through a more measured process than simply what happened previously (which, seemingly, involved the AD's consulting with a kitchen cabinet, getting whatever quick approvals he needed at the university, and reeling in his candidate quickly).

6. This also means that the Tigers might go outside the Princeton family. I've heard a now-former John Bellein assistant at West Virginia (and former Ivy assistant) Mike Maker's name being mentioned as a possibility at Princeton, but I haven't heard much more (and Googling hasn't helped all that much). That decision, in and of itself, means that the AD is taking more time.

About 45 DI coaching jobs opened up after the end of the season. Many of the vacancies have been filled.

Many eyes, then, are now focusing upon Princeton.

What will Gary Walters do?

His legacy at Princeton will derive, in some significant part, on this decision.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Calling ALL Major League Baseball Teams

Every Astro, Dodger, Phillie and Pirate will be wearing #42 this Sunday to honor the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game as a Major Leaguer. Some of the other teams will have at least one player who wears #42, and some teams will have multiple players who wear that number. Click here for the current list of teams and players who will wear #42.

Wouldn't it be awesome if every player on every team were to wear #42 on Sunday?

C'mon, equipment managers, order enough jerseys for everyone!

C'mon, owners, general managers and managers, encourage every player to don this number!

C'mon, Major League Baseball Players Assocation, urge your membership to honor this Hall of Famer and outstanding American!

And then, for each day thereafter, let's all recall the courage of Jackie Robinson and honor it and his legacy each and every day!

Harvard's New Basketball Coach

Harvard just hired Tommy Amaker, former Duke point guard and formerly the head coach of Seton Hall and Michigan (which recently fired him after six undistinguished seasons in the Big Ten) as its head men's basketball coach.

How will Amaker fare at Harvard? It's hard to say.

On the one hand, he's a disciple of Coach K, having played for him and coached for him. On the other hand, Coach K's progeny, except for Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, haven't fared all that well as head coaches (examples: Amaker, Quin Snyder (formerly at Missouri) and David Henderson (once at Delaware).

On the one hand, he's not in the Big Ten anymore, where recruiting is intense and if you fail to land the right player you're talking NIT as your best shot for post-season play. On the other hand, the talent disparity - from top to bottom in the Ivies -- shouldn't be and usually isn't as great.

On the one hand, recruiting shouldn't be as crazy at Harvard as it was at Michigan (read: the ethics in the Ivies presumably are better than in big-time hoops). On the other hand, you're recruiting from a much narrower pool of players in the Ivies, and you really have to worry about grades and scores to a degree that no other conference does (close second: the Patriot League).

On the one hand, you'll get to coach smart players who presumably will listen to you (and not an AAU coach, a future agent or older sibling). On the other than, you'll get to coach players who won't be able to execute at the talent level you're accustomed to coaching; they might listen, but that doesn't mean that they can do what you want them to.

On the one hand, at Michigan you had players who took the game very seriously because they were Top 200 players in high school. On the other hand, at Harvard you'll coach players to whom the game probably won't mean as much, because you don't go to Harvard with the NBA as your main goal. That relative lack of intensity might bother you from time to time.

My bottom line is that I don't think Amaker was the best recruiter out there, and that made it difficult to win at both Seton Hall and Michigan. Assuming that he's an okay recruiter in the Ivies and that the Ivies are somewhat like NASCAR autos (i.e., one car isn't that much better than another and the talent levels aren't all that far apart), we'll get to see what type of coach he is. Assuming that he'll get Harvard to make hoops more of a priority (after all, it's somewhat of a hockey school) at the admissions office, Tommy Amaker might be able to make a big difference at Harvard.

But it is a big acclimation for him and a huge step down from Seton Hall and Michigan, basketball-wise. Recruiting is a pain (you have to fan out nationally to find the 3-5 kids who can help your program every year). The gyms are small, they're usually half-empty, and most folks at your school won't care about the hoops program. Put differently, just because Tommy Amaker has "big-time" written all over him doesn't mean he'll vault Harvard over Penn in the Ivies anytime soon.

Still, he's an intriguing hire and will bring more attention to the Ivies.

He should remember one last detail: the last coach who achieved at a national level and came to the Ivies had an unhappy ending. After 3 relatively unsuccessful years at Princeton after transforming Air Force, Joe Scott returned to Colorado to head up the University of Denver's program. Someone forgot to tell the other Ivy coaches that they were supposed to lose to a runner up for national Coach of the Year.

How Imus Hit Home For Me

My nine and a half year-old fourth grader reads the daily newspaper on occasion. A few days ago she came upon an article about Don Imus and asked my wife what the term that Imus used and got him into trouble meant.

Imagine that you're eating a snack, talking about the Lemony Snicket book your child just read and had just asked about how the kickball game went at recess, and then you get asked this question.

Great stuff, huh?

Thanks, Imus, for bringing that discourse to my dining room table.

My wife didn't duck the question or varnish the answer. She explained in detail, with care, of course, what that term meant. My daughter, wise beyond her years, quickly picked up not only the awful term but also the fact that it was broadcast to millions about a team that didn't ask for this type of attention immediately after that team had something wonderful to celebrate (and should only have received attention for its accomplishments).

This is a sports blog, and I'm not going to join the debate regarding Imus's future, the content of the show (which I'll admit I stopped listening to over 7 years ago after tiring of Imus, Bernard McGurk and insensitive comments), how much his guests have to kiss up to him (including the politicians), the involvement of Al Sharpton as an arbiter of Imus's future, Imus's charitable works, etc. There are plenty of other places you can go for that type of discourse.

All I know is that it was he -- and not a kid her age who said something silly at recess and perhaps didn't know any better -- who brought this garbage into my house.

I'm generally forgiving by nature and I forgive Imus for his stupidity, but for everyone's sake, it's 2007, and our country -- and on-air personalities, particularly -- should be way past this sort of stuff.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

All Major League Players Should Wear #42 on April 15

April 15 marks the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color line in Major League Baseball. As you know, all Major League teams retired Jackie Robinson's #42 several years ago to commemorate a Hall of Fame player and great American.

In honor of the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game, Ken Griffey, Jr. asked the Commissoner's office for permission to wear #42 on April 15th. The Commissioner's office granted this future Hall of Famer permission to do so.

And wouldn't it be an amazing gesture if every Major Leaguer were to wear #42 on April 15?

Thanks to Ken Griffey, Jr. for asking the Commissioner's office for permission to honor a great player and an even more amazing man.

Here's to hoping that all other Major Leaguers petition the Commissioner's office for permission to wear #42.

Because I think that this is one item that the Major League Players Association and the owners should be able to agree upon quite readily.

Update: One player from each team will be permitted to wear #42 on April 15, and all members of the Dodgers will wear #42. Read about it here. I still say that every player should wear #42 on April 15.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Final Game, Leonard Zelig and Echoes of Wilt Chamberlain

Bear with me. . .

First, I thought that Jay Bilas's comment about Florida's best player being "the open man" was a great observation. The Gators, throughout the past two years, have had a great knack for moving the ball around and getting it to the open man. Last night, that player delivered, big-time, and the Gators won their second straight national championship. That's twelve straight NCAA tournament games.

Second, the Gators' defense on Greg Oden was brilliant. How many fouls did Oden draw on the guys guarding him? It was 12 or 13, wasn't it? He fouled out one guy and put two others in foul trouble for much of the night. Still, that strategy enabled the Gators to defend a future NBA Hall of Famer one-on-one, hampering the Buckeyes' ability to take advantage of double teams (which many teams used against Oden) and thus finding the Buckeyes' version of "the open man." In the 1950's, Carolina used a double- and triple-teaming defense against Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain to defeat the Jayhawks in triple overtime to win the NCAA title. People remember that Wilt lost (which isn't fair) and that Carolina basically dared the other guys to beat them. People will remember that Oden did his part and more last night, didn't get into foul trouble, and showed that he was the best player on the floor and, yes, that his teammates couldn't provide much help in the championship game. People also will remember that Florida's five starters returned after their previous national championship and showed that talent, when combined with unselfishness, almost always prevails on the basketball court.

Third, the "Zelig" reference. I couldn't help but notice the ESPN clips of the Gators' posing with the national championship trophy. You had the players, the coaches, some family members and, in the lower righthand corner, a guy in a suit who was smiling widely and looking gleeful. Who was that guy? Was it a poseur? Someone on one of those Bud Light commercials? No, it was the head of the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee, Princeton Athletic Director Gary Walters, who had presented the trophy to the Florida Gators. I don't know whether Walters got stuck in the group photo or was supposed to be in it, but his presence reminded me of the Woody Allen character Leonard Zelig from the movie "Zelig", the guy who always seemed to be in the background of famous photographs or present at famous events. Of course, Gary Walters belonged in those photos, but somehow he looked Zelig-like (perhaps it's because Princeton's hoops program is low DI and, unless it drops to DIII, won't be winning a national title in men's hoops in the near future, and perhaps it's because he just looked too Ivy for the photo). At any rate, was it just me, or did any of you notice it too?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Larry Brown to Coach at Princeton?

I suppose I'm in the mood for writing provocative headlines these days, but in reviewing who's looked at this blog recently, I noticed that one of you Googled "Larry Brown to Coach at Princeton."

And that got me to thinking.

Okay, so he's in his 60's, and, yes, his latest gig wasn't a success, and, further, he was making a ton of money (over $5 million a year) and got 8 figures in his divorce settlement from the Knicks (where he worked indirectly for a Princeton alum and former outstanding hoopster and still one of the all-around nicest guys, Steve Mills, Class of 1981). But he's available, he lives in suburban Philadelphia, he visited Princeton during the last NBA strike (when Bill Carmody was the coach) a few times to get a sense of the Princeton system (and enjoyed the visits very much), and he's been nomadic throughout his coaching career. He's been successful everywhere he's been, he's turned program after program around, and he's coached an NCAA champion and an NBA champion. The challenges for him are probably more eclectic now, and, well, this type of challenge could intrigue him (I had heard that in the mid-1960's Brown had applied for the Princeton job -- as had Bob Knight -- when Pete Carril got it, but I haven't been able to confirm that Brown actually had applied; he only would have been in his early 20's at the time and unlikely to have received serious consideration). Finally, Brown's a member of the Carolina family, and that's one of the most special "families" in college basketball.

He lives nearby. He has the resume. He doesn't need the money (which is a good thing, because the Ivies don't pay what the Kentuckys will). He and his wife have young kids, they like the Philadelphia area, and Princeton isn't that far away.

Makes total sense, doesn't it?

Gary Walters, a loyal son of Princeton, the AD and the PG on the Bill Bradley Final Four team, wants to leave a legacy for his beloved men's hoops program, which arguably is the signature program in the Princeton athletic department. In hiring Brown, he hires a top-notch coach who should be able to recruit and give Penn a run for its money. Moreover, he also could work with Brown to cultivate a successor or two on Brown's staff. After all, many a young coach would relish the opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer.

The more you think about it, the more the appeal is there, isn't it?

Of course, there are a few details, such as recruiting and having a good sense of the Ivy way of doing things. You'll recall that when at Kansas Brown hired a former pro named Ed Manning (who most recently before then had been driving a truck) as an assistant coach. If you didn't know better, you'd say that Brown was doing an old colleague a favor and showing magnanimity. But those of you with longer memories will remember that Manning's son, Danny, was the top HS player at the time, and he opted to go to Kansas (Dad was hired before Son had to make his decision), where he led the Jayhawks to an NCAA title. Needless to say, you can't be that creative in your personnel decisions in the Ivies. It also helps if the kid has good grades and SAT scores and might want a career working in investment banking instead of banking the ball off the glass from behind the arc.

Then again, Brown now lives on Philadelphia's elite Main Line and sends his kids to a very elite private school (the one that gave the ACC both Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson), and that school (Episcopal Academy) is a feeder for the Ivies. So, just by osmosis, he probably knows more about the Ivies than he has in the past, and, to paraphrase Bill Murray in "Caddyshack," he has that going for him.

So what will Gary Walters do? He probably can't pay Coach Brown more than a quarter of a million to coach hoops, and there are no booster clubs to pick up the difference (Ivies, I think, don't permit that sort of thing). But for Coach Brown, money can't be an object, at least any more, thanks to the largesse of the Dolan family. If that's the case, then why not accept a challenge to help re-build a storied college basketball program, the one that gave the world Bill Bradley, the Princeton Offense and the classic 1989 almost-upset of Georgetown?

My guess is that both men would be intrigued by the possibility.

Even if it were to mean, for Coach Brown, a rented bus to games instead of a chartered plane, staying at Best Westerns instead of Four Seasons, and coaching players who might only be able to go to their right, who can't jump more than the width of a Princeton-area phone directory, and who don't have the best upper-body strength. How would he react then?

Then again, he'd be coaching players who would soak up his every word, a fan base that would welcome his hiring with open arms, players who don't have hangers on and agents and shoe companies telling them how to play the game. He'd be coaching players with appreciative parents and in an area where basketball, to a degree, could be more pure than it was in one of the game's meccas, Madison Square Garden.

Maybe that's what Coach Brown is looking for -- a place to coach where the players really listen, where the distractions are few, and where he can have one more gig purely for the love of the game.

If that's where Larry Brown's head is, Princeton should hire him in a heartbeat.

And boy it would be fun to watch!

Relaxation with Madden 2007

Here's how it works.

Get home at night, spend time with the family, read to the kids, help put them to bed, read the mail, check on some e-mails, and then find some time to relax. I've found one good way to do so: play a game of Madden 2007.

Now, I'm not that adroit with the controller, and I'm not that keen on replaying key matchups. Put simply, I want to win, I want to do damage when I'm on defense and score when I'm on offense. So. . .

I take a good NFL team, such as the Colts or Patriots, and I play them at home against the worst team from the European League, the Hamburg Sea Devils (whose QB, Casey Bramlet, is well known to me and would probably end up being the Bionic Man were his team to play a regular schedule in the NFL). I blitz Bramlet on almost every down, especially in nickel situations when I play the extra DB on the weak side (the QB's blind side) and bring him hard. Most usually, that means Bramlet throws about 5 picks a game and ends up with a QB rating of something like 15. (A very good NFL QB is in the 90's).

On offense, I use the run to set up the pass, and then I read the coverages. Once I get a sense of which way the safeties break, I isolate a WR or TE in one-on-one coverage and throw the ball. About 12-13, touchdown passes later, I win routinely by scores of 110-10. Lots of offense, lots of tackles for losses, lots of sacks and interceptions.

I feel for the Sea Devils and for Bramlet, who has parents just like the rest of us. It's just that why play an NFC-title game that could be as stressful as your day was when you can make magical things happen on the gridiron. Work, after all, is all about setting and achieving goals. A good antidote to a frustrating day is getting home, putting on your slippers, and scoring (endless) goals of a different sort.

Even when the days are good and you accomplish some of your goals.

I've also played against the Rhein Fire, Amsterdam Admirals and Cologne Centurions with similar results. As Jim Bouton wrote in "Ball Four" after he was optioned to AAA and complained about the facilities, "The minor leagues are really minor."

Apparently so.

There's one other point I'd like to make, which is the tough job that NFL QB's have, why the good ones are in such rarified air and why their jobs are so hard. They don't have much time (only a few seconds) to make a read, and then, with huge guys coming at them who want to maim them for life, they have to thread a throw through or over guys who want to inflict pain on their teammates at the other end. Sounds simple, huh? Play Madden 2007 and you'll realize how hard it is.

But, if you get good at it like an NFL QB, you'll also realize that if you can isolate a receiver in single coverage, you can complete a pass for a big gain.

I'm not so sure I could do so against the top NFL defense, but NFL Europe fits the bill just fine.

Baseball 2007, Line of the Day

I have been reading with interest what the pundits have been saying about my beloved Phillies, and I've seen them predicted to finish anywhere from first to third in the NL East, and, more likely than not, second or third. The consensus presents a fair assessment of the Phillies -- a strong core group of hitters, a strong core group of starters, an iffy bullpen and an average outfield. The most eloquent comment came from an anonymous scout, who said, "Remember, it's the Phillies, so I'd pick against them until they actually do something." The point is well taken, as my hometown 9 has made the post-season only once in the past 23 years.

The NL is a very flawed league, and it's hard to predict who will represent the Senior Circuit in the World Series. I ran into an ESPN reporter during my travels in March, and he told me that the NL is just brutal and that it probably will take only 85-88 games to win any division.

Me: "How about my Phillies? They don't have much of a bullpen."

Him: "The Mets don't have any starting pitching. Your concern might not matter."

And the Cardinals have replaced 60% of their starting rotation, the Marlins are up-and-coming, the Astros might not hit, the Brewers could be the dark horse, the Reds and Pirates are, well, the Reds and Pirates, the Diamondbacks are young and a chic pick, but lots could go wrong and the Big Unit already is on the DL, the Dodgers are another chic pick with a deep rotation and talent to burn, but no really huge hitters to scare you, the Giants aren't that good, and the Padres' lineup doesn't scare people.

All of this means, of course, that the NL season should bear watching well into September.

Right now, my heart tells me the Phillies will do well, but my head tells me that until someone really takes it to the Mets, the NL is theirs to lose, even though their rotation isn't that strong and their bullpen isn't as tough as last year's. They have one formidable lineup, and they are a (very) good baseball team.