Off the Yard: Volume I

When I approached my editor recently about letting me start a column devoted to answering the thousands of questions I get from my loyal readers regarding Navy sports, he sounded surprised. "You get thousands of questions?" To which I responded, "Would you believe hundreds?" He didn't, and, well, he was correct. I don't get a lot of questions from loyal readers, but I argued that some day I might.

And that was good enough for him to let me start the column. Hey, this isn't the Washington Post but it's nice to dream. 

Since I didn't have any questions to answer in this volume, I decided to ask and answer the questions which I knew were keeping Navy fans up at night. Since I hope that I won't have to play both sides of the column again, please send some questions to Ausiellodp@yahoo.com for my next installment of "Off the Yard." I'll try to answer the questions myself (my opinion), through professional research (ask someone smarter), or if I don't know the answer, I'll make something up. Like I said, this isn't the New York Times. So with that stupendous (my two-year-old daughter's favorite adjective) introduction, here I go.

Do you think it is a good thing that Navy accepted a Poinsettia Bowl invitation so early?

Good question – and it is probably based on the recent Annapolis Capital article http://www.hometownannapolis.com/cgi-bin/read/2007/04_17-47/SPO in which its author Joe Gross argued that it wasn't a good thing. Gross suggests that some of the aura is gone regarding how bowl invitations are awarded. Specifically, he believes bowl games used to reward teams for a great season, and if Navy goes 6-6 "that can hardly be considered a good season." Furthermore, Gross states that allowing .500 teams to play in bowls "robs the games of the quality that was once necessary for teams to get there, it knocks down the pride factor, it takes away the appreciation that comes with having earned a bowl berth, it lessens the joy of achievement."

I couldn't agree with him more. But exactly what was the alternative for Navy? To find the answer to that question, give the Army football program a call because that is exactly what they face now that the Poinsettia Bowl has signed up Navy. If Army beats Akron, Rhode Island, Temple, Tulane, Central Michigan and either Navy, Air Force or Tulsa, they will be bowl-eligible. Sort of a long shot, but if they do it will it matter in terms of a bowl game? Where exactly would they go? Every other bowl game has a conference affiliation. Believe it or not, a bowl-eligible Army team will have to hope that there aren't enough .500 teams or better out there. Last year there were 73 bowl eligible teams and 64 slots. This year there are 64 slots and each one now, thanks to Navy, is spoken for. Joe Gross may have been unhappy with the current state of the postseason and Navy's early agreement with the Poinsettia Bowl, but think about how Army must feel.

Do you have any good quotes that you have been saving for a future column?

As a matter of fact I do, thanks for asking. Here are four in particular that caught my ear:

"After the first scrimmage, Coach Johnson said to the offensive line, why don't we just let Antron snap the ball and put four cones next to him and we could do just as good."

  • Navy center Antron Harper recalling one of the funny compliments

      he received from Coach Johnson this spring.

"Coach Johnson has a softer way of doing things, (pause) well, maybe not."

  • Navy safety and former basketball guard Corey Johnson comparing

   Coach Paul Johnson's style to his former coach, Billy Lange.

"Ask Coach Johnson why he didn't get the ball to the slot backs more often."

  • An unnamed fan who sarcastically suggested I ask the Navy coach that

   question following the spring game.

"Go Who Dot Com?"

  • A White House security guard's question to me during screening for admittance into the Rose Garden for the Commander in Chief's Trophy presentation.

Do you think Navy will ever fire lacrosse coach Richie Meade?

Ever is a pretty long time, but my answer is still an emphatic, no. Sure, after another Patriot League crown in his resume, it's easier for me to say this, but my opinion was actually cemented during the magical 2004 season. Maybe I'm wrong, but unlike other prominent Navy sports (football and basketball), I don't get the impression that lacrosse is a "what have you done for me lately" occupation for its head coaches. According to laxpower.com, in 2004-05, 56 Division I colleges fielded a lacrosse team. (In comparison, Division I and I-AA schools currently support 241 football programs.) Out of the 56 lacrosse teams, Navy is arguably one of the top 15 programs (maybe 10) over the past four seasons. That works for me, and now that the team is in the Patriot League it will always be in the mix for an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Colgate and Bucknell will probably continue to close the gap in coming years, which is why Navy will need a coach of Meade's caliber to stick around. Furthermore, I get the impression that Meade is a class act who always says the right thing after a tough loss. That has got to count for something at a service academy. 

How is that Wesley Brown Field House coming along?

I'll say this, that building is huge – and very close to the Severn River. I sure hope they have water-tight doors on it because the integrity of the structure will be tested during the hurricane season…you can bet on that. I also hope that there is a running track in the facility. Any Naval Academy graduate who had to run the physical readiness test in Halsey Field House knows what I am talking about. For everyone else, know this…if you ran more than one lap in the aforementioned building, you almost always came down with the infamous "Halsey Hack" – which was an extremely unpleasant whooping cough that lasted hours. 

Why did you interview Air Force coach Troy Calhoun?

This question was actually posed to me by a GoMids.com message board member, and since I try not to spend too much time replying to comments on the board, I figured I would address it here. My immediate response when I saw that question was, "huh?" Actually I was kind of ticked off because I thought it was a darn good interview which provided some good insight. If you missed it, you can read Parts I and II here. But to answer the question, I interviewed him because Air Force granted me access and an inspiring responsible journalist, that's what we do. The Air Force fans seemed to like it.

Who is going to win American Idol?

What does this have to do with Navy sports? Nothing, but it is the question I get asked most frequently at work. So I figured everyone else would want to know that I think Jordin Sparks of Glendale, AZ will win and it shouldn't be close. Blake Lewis of Bothell, WA will be the runner-up.

Alright, there you have it, volume I of my new column, "Off the Yard," in which I will answer e-mails and questions on pretty much anything. We'll see how long it lasts. Maybe this will be the only volume. Maybe my editor will put an end to this next week. To make things interesting, the first person to email me a usable question for the next column will win a prize. Asking what the prize is does not qualify as a question. Good try. 

ausiellodp@yahoo.com


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