Babb's Bits 2/20

It has been a while since the last Bits article, but that is simply because news moves so much slower in the offseason.

Slick Rick and Washington.

How about Rick Neuheisel? 

Does this coach have a nose for trouble or what?  Immediately after being hired, he is accused by Barnett of meddling with current Colorado players – which is illegal under NCAA rules.  Then in 2001-02 he embarrasses Washington via an ugly public feud between Pac Ten coaches over recruiting insults.  During the 2002 season, he was banned from making in-home visits with recruits because of repeated NCAA violations while he was still coaching Colorado.  While Rick protested and claimed he had no intention of skirting the rules, fellow coaches did not buy it and censured him (a fairly unusual move) because they said Rick showed very little remorse from their perspective.  Right after signing day 2003 there was the flap about Rick and Washington possibly talking to a Washington State player who was still under scholarship (illegal under NCAA rules).  The most recent scandal involves his blatant lying regarding his interview with San Francisco for the 49ers coaching position.  He lied to the press and he lied to his athletic director (a huge no-no).  He was actually found out because he called his parents from the airport to tell them about the interview and was unaware a sportswriter was standing nearby where he overheard the conversation.

So what has been the reaction of Washington?  Apparently they are tiring of the constant negative press and the growing perception that not only is Rick Neuheisel a character of dubious character, but they are paying him millions of dollars and allowing him to act that way.  This past week Lee Huntsman, the interim president of the university, and Rick had a little "chat" just to make sure everyone was clear on some items of importance.  Though I was not present for the "conversation, my guess is that it went something like this…

Lee:     "Hey Rick… Do you like coaching here at Washington and the $1.2 base salary we pay you?"

Rick:   "Why yes sir, I sure do.  Let me just tell you how much I –"

Lee:     "Great.  Then sit down and shut your big mouth.  We here are beyond tired of hearing about you getting in NCAA trouble, talking to players on scholarship at other universities, interviewing for other positions, and generally making us look bad.  Further, we are unhappy about how parents might perceive a coach who is constantly caught in lies and half-truths.  You can either clean it up and act like you have just a smidgeon of class and decorum, or you can go coach elsewhere.  Capiche?"

Rick:    "Well sir, let me explain.  You see it is all a big misunderstanding.  I –"


Rick:    "Umm… yeah."


Rick:   "Yes sir…  And may I just say how wonderful that red head of yours matches with your tie today.  If you don't mind, I will just let myself out now."

How bad is the current situation?  The interim president refused to answer questions about Rick's future at the university in the case of another faux pas.  He did however note that Rick and he were now clear on the expectations at Washington.  Further, Neuheisel also seems to have had "conversations" with the Athletic Director because she noted that in the future, Rick has agreed that he will not be interested in other positions when they come open…


Coaches Skipping Town After Signing Day…

Until just a few weeks ago, I increasingly leaned toward an early signing period.  I felt jaundiced by the numbers of young men simply exploiting the attention and the capacity to manipulate schools according to their latest whim. 

Now I am not so certain. 

While a student athlete is bound to play for a school (unless released from their scholarship), coaches can pick up and leave any time they wish.  I understand the concept of being offered a better job, etc.  That is fine.  If you get a better offer then sometimes you have to go for the good of your family and career.

My problem is that several of these coaches barely waited until the stroke of midnight after signing day was complete with all the players trapped into their letter of intent – to announce that they were leaving their respective school.  I wonder how many of those young men might have liked to know the coach was leaving?  I wonder how long those coaches had been talking about this new job possibility on one phone line and telling the recruits how wonderful it would be to coach them on the other?

One cannot help but question the integrity of such individuals.

Again, I understand if a coach is called with a job offer or promotion out of the blue (say with the Oregon State situation), but I completely disagree with coaches who merely wait until the ink is dry on the Letters of Intent and then sprint to the nearest airport for their new destination and position.

Barry Alvarez the New Athletic Director at Wisconsin?

I have to be missing something here.  From the outside, this does not appear to be a very good move unless Barry is a fabulous organizer and delegator. 

Recently the figures for every athletic department in the country were published.  They were illuminating to say the least.

Collegiate athletics is big business.  This is not something that is new but has been the case since the 1950's.  However, with the pressures of title IX and budgetary constraints of the last decade – Athletic Departments do not need a coach or a former football star.  They need an individual who can build (or already has) name recognition and the ability to devote themselves to a job that may require 80+ hours a week.

Barry has the name recognition but not the time.  One of these two positions he now holds (and possibly both) is going to suffer.  There is no way around it.  Barry is an extremely capable individual and arguably one of the top 3 coaches in the Big Ten right now.  It is just that he is human.  Humans can only do so much before they reach a breaking point at which point everything they are responsible for begins to decay and crumble.

If Barry spends too much time away from the football team, there are only two possible outcomes.  (1)  His players will decide that while the cat is away the mouse will play.  They will begin to sneak around a bit and either find trouble or trouble will find them.  The direct result might be a situation similar to the one at Notre Dame in Holtz's last few seasons there.  The players managed to land the program on probation when Lou was preoccupied with he and his wife's health problems.  (2)  The players and program will not get in trouble, but the loss of the coach's single-minded attention will result in more losses and fewer wins.  Fewer wins for the football program will result in unhappy alumni.  Unhappy alumni are not going to open their wallets at fundraisers organized by the athletic director, especially to the head coach that they view as responsible for those losses.  The whole thing then potentially becomes a vicious circle.  Because of losses on the football field, Barry works harder to raise funds to meet the budget and has to spend less time on film review and with the players.  The players, without the undivided attention of one of the top coaches in the conference, do not perform as well and lose more often…

The only possible way that this recent development makes sense is if Barry wanted a raise, is looking to retire soon, nobody else wanted the position, or if Barry has the football program so healthy that it is on autopilot.  I doubt it is the final option, but only time will tell if it was any of the former ones.

Football Players in Other Sports at OSU

  Russ Rogers and Jim O'Brien have to be more than a little grateful to Jim Tressel right now.  While some coaches discourage their players from being in multiple sports on the college level, Tressel (and to his credit John Cooper) apparently do not.

 Nate Salley has been providing some serious depth for the Buckeye hoopsters.  Apparently O'Brien had all but forgotten Nate's desire to play both sports.  When Nate showed up one morning to practice with the team, he was uncertain how to find a way into the building and just started pounding on a locked door.  Jim was getting annoyed with whoever was pounding on the door and wanted someone to run that individual off only to discover it was Nate coming to play basketball.  Maybe Salley is not going to set the world on fire, but he has provided some needed minutes for a team beset with injuries.

Russ Rogers has had an embarrassment of riches on the Buckeye Track Team.  Mike D'Andrea, Drew Carter, Harlen Jacobs, Maurice Hall, Michael Jenkins, and Brandon Mitchell are some of the football players who are competing in two sports.  Drew Carter in particular deserves special mention as he has been winning the long jump event at multiple meets.  He recently jumped a distance of over 24 feet and just missed gaining a provisional qualification for the NCAAs this Spring. 

Apparently, the football team has some very talented athletes – which is good news for Ohio State but very unwelcome news to this fall's opponents.

Walton Hired By Saban

Nick Saban, a former Ohio State assistant, recently hired Tim Walton to coach defensive backs at LSU. 

Buckeye fans will remember Tim from the early 1990's.  He played defensive back and was a part of the 1993 squad which finished 10-1-1.  Since leaving OSU, Tim has been working hard advancing through the ranks as a young coach and making some noise along the way.  He served 4 years at Bowling Green as running backs and defensive secondary coach.  In 2000, he accepted a position at Memphis University where for the next two seasons his secondary performed well above expectations.  This caught the eye of Paul Pasqualoni when Syracuse had a position open in 2002, and he brought Tim aboard.

The latest move for Tim Walton is an excellent opportunity.  Saban is a coach who is on the rise at a successful program – which means his assistants that do well will get great opportunities to advance even further in the coaching ranks.  The secondary lost three starters this past season and will be a young group, but the talent is there for Tim to work with and develop.  If he can help create the kind of defense Saban loves and the SEC fears, look for Tim to get another promotion – and soon.  Maybe he will even end up back at Ohio State when the inevitable raids on the Buckeye coaching staff begin…

If You can Beat ‘em, You Get to Join ‘em!

I am once again impressed with the personnel decisions of Bob Stoops.  In 1999, Bob lost Leach to Texas Tech.  He replaced him with Mark Mangino and won a national championship in 2000.  In 2001, the Sooners struggled mightily to gain even the shortest of distances in the running game.  Mangino left for the head coaching job at Kansas after the season, and Bob promoted Chuck Long to the position of Offensive Coordinator.  Meanwhile, he scouted for the exact right man to help what ailed his spread offense.  He found him in Kevin Wilson.  Wilson had been the architect behind a Northwestern spread attack that was based upon the run setting up the pass (the opposite of OU's attack).  Within just one season, Wilson transformed OU from a soft team that could not run the football to a balanced offense that was as physical as anyone in the nation.  When the annual Sooner staff raids commenced this season and Bob Stoops lost his tight ends/special teams coach Kevin Hayes to the Cincinnati Bengals, he looked around to find the right man for the position.  His hire?  Bob landed Kevin Sumlin.

Sumlin spent this past season at Texas A&M.  Only 38, Slocum placed him in charge of reviving the offense when they averaged only 16 points in their first three games.  Sumlin not only brought the offense back to life, he had it walking on water the rest of the season with a stellar 33 points per game average – including an upset of then #1 Oklahoma.  After the season, Kevin accepted a position at Colorado, but when Stoops called – he appears to have all but broken a leg trying to get to reach Norman to accept the position.

I am just very impressed with the coaching staffs at Oklahoma, Southern California, Ohio State, and Arizona State right now.  They are positioning themselves for long-term success with quality individuals who seem to understand the game of football.  Oklahoma deserves particular kudos for Bob Stoops' ability to replace multiple coordinators who left for head coaching positions and each time actually improving the performance of the team with the new hire.

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