In 1969, the year before Don Shula took over as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, George Wilson took a roster that included Bob Griese, Larry Csonka, Larry Little, Bill Stanfill and Nick Buoniconti to a 3-10-1 record. Shula went 10-4 in 1970 then took the Dolphins to the Super Bowl in year two. Asked what he thought of Shula during the Dolphins run to the 1970 AFC championship, Wilson told Miami media, “Any Joe Doakes could coach that team.” A couple of weeks later after Shula’s postgame press conference after the Dolphins won an important game that got them closer to the Super Bowl, Hubert Mizell told Shula, “Say hello to Mrs. Doakes and all the little Doaksies.”
It’s worth mentioning the George Wilson because he never could resist taking shots at Shula. Shula, to his credit, just kept his mouth shut. Now that we have a potential war of words simmering between Florida head coach Jim McElwain and former UF head coach Will Muschamp, now the defensive coordinator at Auburn, someone needs to remind both coaches of that famous saying by Mark Twain: “Better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, McElwain was asked about the obvious shortages at certain positions on the Florida roster, a question spurred by Muschamp’s parting shot when he left UF, “They’ve got a deep and talented roster, so don’t let that new guy tell you he ain’t got any players. I can tell you that right now. There are some good players in that locker room.” Maybe the “deep” part was a stretch, but everyone can agree that some good players were left behind.
When McElwain replied to the question he didn’t mention Muschamp by name. His statement that “the hand we were dealt was really insufficient at some of the areas” was an honest assessment. Anyone who has looked at the Florida roster can see there are holes that have to be filled. As honest as it was, it was still a backhanded smack at Muschamp, who went negative against the Gators on the recruiting trail back in January.
McElwain’s comments about the state of his roster ruffled a few feathers which led to the pot getting stirred a bit more after an Auburn practice last week. Asked to comment on McElwain’s statement, Muschamp replied that he had no idea what Mac had said, which should have ended it right there. When the reporter pressed, Muschamp should cut things off by saying something like, “Hey, the Florida roster is Jim McElwain’s problem now and it’s up to him to make good with what he’s got. I’m coaching Auburn, so why don’t you ask me about Auburn?”
Instead, he fired back a zinger that opens the door for a war of words to escalate if McElwain falls into that trap. A war of words might provide plenty of newspaper copy and increase message board traffic but it serves no one well.
There is no doubt that Muschamp wants to be a head coach again, but engaging the new head coach at the place from which he was canned in a verbal joust isn’t the way to stay on the radar when the coach firing season begins next year. The best way for Will Muschamp to get another head coaching job is to turn Auburn’s defense ferocious while at the same time showing adequate proof he’s matured from the coach who was perceived too hot headed and thin-skinned. He can do that by selling Auburn’s strong points instead of showing his bitterness toward Florida on the recruiting trail and by avoiding the bait to fire off a zinger at McElwain or the Florida administration.
The 24 people who vote for the Basketball Hall of Fame should be ashamed of themselves. John Calipari will be announced as a member of the 2015 class when it is announced this morning but not Bo Ryan. John Calipari belongs in the hall – like him or not, he’s one of the best coaches of our time – but someone needs to explain how it is that 18 people didn’t find Bo Ryan worthy. He was worthy long before his Wisconsin Badgers beat the Kentucky Wildcats in Saturday night’s NCAA semifinals.
Ryan is a class act who has taken Wisconsin to 14 consecutive NCAA Tournaments including the last two Final Fours, Bo was winning national championships in NCAA Division III at Wisconsin-Platteville. At Platteville, Ryan won four national championships including unbeaten seasons in 1994-95 and 1997-98. His career record at Platteville: 353-76, which is a nifty 82.3 winning percentage.
Overall, Ryan is 740-227 as a college basketball coach. He’s got a graduation rate that is in the 90s and there has never been a hint of scandal with one of his teams, unlike a certain coach at Kentucky who will hear his name called this morning. It’s a travesty that he’s been passed over by the hall.
Fortunately, the Wisconsin Badgers have proven to us that there is still a place for good coaching in college basketball. If this were like the NBA where the team with the most talent wins 95% of the time, the Badgers wouldn’t have a chance tonight against Duke and Coach K. Coach K has loaded the Duke roster with eight McDonald’s All-Americans, which just happens to be one less than Kentucky had Saturday night. Those nine Kentucky McDonald’s All-Americans will be watching tonight’s NCAA championship game back in Lexington, which has seen a spike in Kleenex sales the last 24 hours to wipe the tears of a Big Blue Nation that will forever see April 4, 2015 as a day of mourning.
So, how does Bo Ryan do it? How does he have Wisconsin on the verge of its first national championship in 74 years with a roster that lacks even one McDonald’s All-American? It’s a two-part answer: (1) Ryan finds players who fit his system perfectly and (2) he spends four years developing them.
Ryan’s system is built around efficiency. The Badgers average an astounding 1.285 points per offensive possession, which is the highest total since Ken Pomeroy began tracking offensive efficiency. And get this: the Badgers have actually raised their efficiency in the last two games against Arizona and Kentucky, which were both ranked top three in defensive efficiency. The offensive system is beautiful to watch. The Badgers spread the floor with five guys who can shoot and handle the ball. They’re so good at what they do that even when the shot clock hits six there isn’t anything close to panic. Of course, when they’re running the offense, they’re also playing defense. Opponents have to chase the Badgers all over the floor and that takes their legs out from under them. Notice how many shots Kentucky left short or went air ball the last six minutes Saturday night?
The second part of the Ryan system is developing players. Sam Dekker is that rare freshman who started. He’s now in his third year. Frank Kaminsky, the national player of the year, sat his first two years before blossoming into a star as a junior and senior. This is a veteran team that has run this offense so many times in practices and games that it is second nature and they play defense without fouling. What a concept that is – a team that moves its feet and plays for position instead of trying to mug the opponent.
If you go by sheer talent, then Duke will get Coach K his fifth NCAA title tonight. If you go by coaching the most efficient system in the country and developing players, then Bo Ryan will get his fifth NCAA title. Of course, four of Bo’s were in Division III, but this will be a well-deserved championship if he can pull it off. He’s one of the good guys in the college game and at a time when the game seems all about one and done and playing to impress the pro scouts, Bo Ryan is clearly a breath of the fresh air college basketball needs in the worst way.
Prediction: Duke beat Wisconsin by 10 points back in December, a game in which Sam Dekker scored only five points and Wisconsin shot only 40.7% from the field. Wisconsin plays with far greater efficiency than the team that lost to Duke in December. Duke’s last loss was to Notre Dame in the ACC championship game. Notre Dame spread the floor, ran its offense efficiently, shot 50% from the floor and won the game. Wisconsin is a far better offensive team than that Notre Dame team. The Badgers get the win and give the Big Ten the two crown jewels in college sports, the national championships in both football and basketball.
Alabama has worked out a deal to bring in Avery Johnson as its new basketball coach, a move that Crimson Tide supporters are spinning as “a home run hire.” Johnson has had some success coaching in the NBA but he’s also been fired from all three of his NBA jobs and hasn’t coached a game in 2-1/2 years. Getting fired from an NBA job isn’t necessarily the worst thing that can happen, but it should raise eyebrows when it comes to Johnson if you throw in the fact he’s never coached a college basketball game either as a head coach or assistant.
Avery is one of the really nice people you will ever meet and if you’ve seen him on ESPN where he has worked as an analyst, then you know he’s got a big smile and a great personality. How well that will translate into recruiting the kind of athletes it will take to justify the $3 million or so that Alabama is going to pay him remains to be seen.
Alabama athletic director Bill Battle is banking on Johnson’s NBA background to magnetically lure the kind of athletes it will take to compete for SEC championships in Tuscaloosa. The logic is that it’s working in Kentucky with a former NBA coach, so why not here? Well, there are a couple of distinct differences. First off, John Calipari was a successful college coach before he failed in the NBA. Second, he worked his way up to Kentucky by taking over what was then a downtrodden Memphis program and making it nationally relevant. When Cal got to Kentucky, he took over a program that was, is and will always be nationally relevant so the NBA connection just added gasoline to an already raging fire of basketball passion.
There is no such passionate fire for basketball in Tuscaloosa and as long as there is such a thing as football, odds are that it won’t be. Avery Johnson is a nice guy and there is always that possibility that he will defy the odds and turn Alabama into a place that churns out great players and competes for championships. The odds are better that the big splash of this hire will be followed by the thud of the rock hitting the bottom of the lake.
Who do you like in tonight’s NCAA championship game: Wisconsin or Duke and why?
“Tapestry” remains the crowning achievement of Carole King’s outstanding career as a singer and songwriter. The album, which has gone Platinum 10 times, was good for four Grammy Awards in 1972. King went #1 with singles “I Feel the Earth Move” and “It’s Too Late,” and “You’ve Got a Friend” was turned into a #1 by James Taylor. The album also includes a couple of songs that King wrote earlier in her career that others turned into hits such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles and “A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin. My favorite song on the album is today’s music, “So Far Away.”