Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tech coach had the glory but not the power

He had thought he was bigger than the college president, a mistake one of his former Texas Tech counterparts had made on an early stop in his career. But just like Bob Knight at Indiana, Mike Leach misread his standing, a miscalculation that cost Leach his job.

In a way, Tech's decision yesterday to fire Leach could represent a tectonic shifting in the intercollegiate landscape, a reminder to people that football and basketball coaches don't lord over an institution like Third World strongmen. Even a coach with Leach's coaching portfolio can't design all the rules at an institution of higher learning.

That fact seems to have lost its currency over the years.

Let a coach win enough games and championships, and nothing he does ever earns him censure. His fiefdom has one man in charge, and anybody else who enters must take off his shoes at the front door.

Just think about how college coaches have demanded the world from university officials and ended up with the universe. Alumni talk about how energized they are because their alma mater is winning.

The school's graduation rate?

Leave it to a rump organization like the NCAA to worry about that. Besides, a Top 10 ranking in the year-end AP Poll always trumps a 10-percent graduation rate, right?

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pacman vs. Pretty Boy: Will they rumble after all?

To drug test or not, that's seems to be the nettlesome question that's threatening what should be the fight of this century: Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

4211682947_a410276979_m.jpgA childish dispute over drug testing looks like a lousy excuse for delaying the bout or for keeping it from happening altogether.

But what's surprising here?

Isn't this simply how professional boxing has been for the better part of 1990s and beyond?

The sport has given its fans this head-fake before. It has stoked interest in a signature match only to let trifling matters undo everything. What should be an easy fight for promoters Bob Arum and Richard Schaefer to make has become more complicated than the U.S. tax code or the "simple" instructions to a do-it-yourself project that promises even a caveman can do it.

Nothing falls into the easy category, however, when it comes to putting together big-time fights. Greed and ego ruin everything, so can stupidity, which is the reason Mayweather might not step into the ring against Pacquiao after all.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Story of the Year? Only Tiger can be No. 1

Sports editors called steroids the biggest story of 2009. Theirs, of course, was an intriguing choice last week, but it was a choice that, frankly, seemed out of step with the prevailing trend.

2309168685_704fb16b4f_m.jpgFor the steroids story is as passé as disco dancing and polyester bell-bottoms. Steroids might have been a headline-grabber, oh, two or three years ago, but at this point in a tale of sports figures' going bad, the story doesn't resonate; it's a tired report that soon will have its eulogy read.

In sports and in American pop culture, the story of 2009 was Tiger. Yes, it was the year of the Tiger -- as in golfer Tiger Woods.

What other story proved bigger?

For Tiger's story was a profile of what has been the undoing of sports today: greed and privilege. His story speaks to the entitlements stars have come to demand.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Quinn out, Anderson back in for Browns

His biggest play last Sunday was his last big play of the season.

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Sure, Brady Quinn, the Notre Dame poster boy, finished out the game, turning his 24-yard bootleg into what would be the game-winning points. But Quinn also hurt his right foot on the play, and the injury has ended his season.

His getting hurt was the last thing Browns coach Eric Mangini wanted.

Make no mistake here, Quinn wasn't Mangini's ideal quarterback. No other alternative on the Browns is. But Quinn was Mangini's best option, considering those alternatives. Now with Quinn sidelined, Mangini has to use Derek Anderson, whose return to the lineup threatens to revive the quarterback controversy that began this season.

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Getting Bradley a slow dance with the devil

Milton Bradley can find men -- other black men like himself -- who have taken the same trails in life, run into troubles and then got to the end of the trail to confront some unintended, often horrific, consequence.

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Maybe Bradley's life hasn't played out yet quite like O.J. Simpson's or Mike Tyson's or Chris Henry's or Plaxico Burress' or Jayson Williams' or Michael Vick's. To his credit, Bradley has had no criminality attached to his crass behavior or, apparently, no long list of "baby mommas" like Shawn Kemp to eat into his net worth.

That's a comfort of sorts. It's also a reminder that, for all of his temper tantrums, Bradley has escaped what has undone other big-name athletes. Then again, it might just be his dumb luck.

For Bradley has shown he's a hard push from going off sanity's precipice. He's a blood-and-guts example of pent-up madness; he's an emotional volcano that threatens to erupt like Mount St. Helens. He doesn't need a change of scenery; he needs psychiatric treatment.

What Bradley, 31, doesn't need is a maple or ash bat in his hands and people around him. He proved as much in past seasons and last season. For the Cubs, he went postal, fighting people's efforts to restrain him. His rage, though, was impossible to corral. Much like trying to harness a rattlesnake, you steer clear of it, ever mindful that the rattler can kill at any moment.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Even in Browns win, Quinn provides little help

Not sure what to make of the Browns these days. Now, I can't see this team as among the league's elites, regardless of how many games it runs off as this season of disappointment staggers to a conclusion.

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But these Browns are showing life, a pulse that belies their 3-10 record. They haven't quit on their embattled coach, whose tenure at the team's helm might be a new general manager away from its end.

The hand coach Eric Mangini was dealt might not be one any coach should have been told to play. Mangini was brought in to put together a puzzle that had pieces missing. He inherited a football team with little talent, and he had a quarterback controversy that never did sort itself out.

Mangini didn't help matters with his waffling on Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, a strategy that didn't engender confidence in either man. Both have played like quarterbacks with no belief in themselves.

The job is now in Quinn's hands -- again. But what Quinn has shown in his last three games, two of which were wins -- suggests he holds a loose grip on it. He has played like a quarterback with no feel for the position and no confidence.

Look at his latest performance. In a 41-34 win Sunday, Quinn was -- how to put it kindly -- a caretaker. His contribution to the win was a 24-yard bootleg that kept alive a fourth-quarter drive which led to the winning touchdown.

Take away that run, and the Browns would have been better off sticking Josh Cribbs behind center. Quinn completed 10 passes, a measly total in a game that saw the Browns score 41 points. His quarterback rating was 27.7. His passing yards came to 66. That's no misprint: 66 yards.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Contract dump: Bad Bradley for bad Silva

Talking about a shocking trade that didn't help anybody: look at the Milton Bradley-for-Carlos Silva deal Friday that the Mariners and the Cubs agreed to.

One (Bradley) is a bad actor; the other (Silva) is a bad pitcher. Both carry heavy-duty contracts, which limited any potential suitors. It took two organizations with the same purpose to swallow this deal whole.

Yet if somebody had to pick a winner here -- and it'll be a photo finish -- he'd give the edge to the Cubs, because getting anybody to take Bradley off the team's payroll was a dream Cubs general manager Jim Hendry couldn't possibly have expected to come true.

Not that Silva will help the Cubs much; he won't. A lousy pitcher in the American League won't become a Cy Young winner merely by switching leagues. But Silva won't turn the clubhouse into a nut house, which Bradley is sure to do in Seattle.

Now, the Mariners say they are hopeful Bradley's nuclear temper will chill a bit under the influence of Grade A characters like Ken Griffey Jr. and Chone Figgins, a recent acquisition. They are also counting on a calmer, more sedate Milton Bradley being a productive Milton Bradley.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tiger, you made a mess of your greatness

My friend has grown weary of the Tiger tale. He's weary of how everybody from the media to the paparazzi to people who don't know golf from Ping-Pong has obsessed over the world's greatest golfer.

He's unwilling, of course, to pardon Tiger's adultery. How could he? He himself is a person of principles, and his principles don't brook behavior of Tiger's kind. Yet my friend has weighed in his mind what his conduct might have been had he been, well ... the world's greatest golfer.

He offers no answer.

"I wish I could pull into town and have 50 women outside my hotel wanting to do anything I wanted them to do," my friend tells me. "The women - the women you dream about having when you were in high school -- they're everywhere."

When you're the world's greatest golfer, these women are everywhere. They are everywhere when you're the world's greatest basketball player or the world's greatest sprinter or the world's greatest cyclist or the world's greatest violinist. The women show up in all the places where a so-called "great" man goes, my friend says.

They have no qualms about a man's marital status or a man's sexual appetite. They will sate that appetite for him - and do whatever else a man might want women to do, my friend says.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wrong to Ellis Burks needs to be set right

    "Hey," said Ellis Burks, waving his hand to catch my attention. "Let me talk to you about something that's been bothering me."

    Burks was in the Indians dugout as I walked over to the where he sat. I plopped down next to him, and Burks, frustrated, proceeded to spell out something that had been eating at him for five or six seasons. He said he didn't know who might take up his cause, but he figured he had a good one.

    As Burks told me on that summer day in 2002, he had been robbed. No, it wasn't armed robbery; no dangerous weapon was used. The robbery was an intellectual one -- a statistical decision that robbed Burks of a batting title.

    The decision puzzled him when it happened years earlier, and other ballplayers in the National League felt the same way, Burks told me.

    All had a good point.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Justice is served: 3 up and 3 down ...

THREE UP …

1. No one expected the Red Sox to remain idle this offseason, and the Sox didn’t. Looking up at the Yankees, the Red Sox needed to fortify their rotation, so they went out and signed free agent John Lackey. With Lackey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, the Red Sox have the strongest one-two-three punch in baseball.

2. What am I missing here? Everywhere I hear people talk about history and the importance of the Colts and the Saints going 16-0. But the only history worth making will come in February. Win the Super Bowl, and that’s the history that matters. Nothing else does.

3. Jake, Jake, Jake! Can you believe Washington quarterback Jake Locker, a surefire No. 1 pick, decided to stay in college instead of going into the NFL draft and collecting millions? Locker will hear people second-guess his decision, but he realized what others didn’t: He’s having a ball in college, so why give it up just yet?

THREE DOWN …

1. Call it the Tiger Woods effect, but advertising experts are wondering aloud if companies will ever again pour millions into having a celebrity’s name on their products. Image is everything; it always has been. A tarnished image has little value to marketers and corporate giants. A good-guy image can unravel quickly when infidelity, thuggish behavior or drug abuse attaches itself to an athlete’s persona.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Going global: Cavs love Chinese partnership

    It was a gigantic step.

    Of course, the Cavaliers had made bold moves like this before. Two years ago, they had stepped into the global world when they played three exhibition games in China.

    LeBron James and the Gang exposed China and its people to the NBA's brand of basketball. The team was a smash hit -- as big as anything seen on Broadway.

    But bigger things were there for the franchise, and team officials couldn't let this initial economic opportunity slip away, could they?

    Absolutely not.

    Since then, Cavaliers officials have been negotiating with a Chinese company to sell it a "substantial" stake in the franchise. Those talks are winding toward a conclusion, helping to push the Cleveland Cavalier brand deeper into the Chinese psyche. Yet even this was just a starting point for an economic foothold there.

    On Monday, the franchise deepened its penetration into this two-billion-person market when team officials signed a marketing deal with Tsingtao Brewery Co., the largest beer brewer in China and the seventh largest in the world.

    "This is certainly symbolic," said Len Komoroski, team president. "We are very excited that Tsingtao shares the same values that we do. We look forward to working with them to create a positive impact in Northeast Ohio."

    Tsingtao (pronounced CHING dow) will partner with the Cavaliers on a number of local initiatives, and its beer brand will have a prominent place inside Quicken Loans Arena with permanent signage, Komoroski said. The beermaker will team with the Cavaliers on cultural and educational programs in the region.

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Justice is served: 3 up and 3 down ...

THREE UP ...

1. I took a few days to sift through my thoughts on the Heisman Trophy. As I applaud Mark Ingram for winning the award, I'm still struck that one game catapulted him to the front of the Heisman class. But no reason to question worthiness, because excellence is in the eye of the beholder. Ingram surely is an athlete who had a great season -- the greatest of 2009? Let history judge that.

2. Turner Gill, the former Nebraska star, has gotten his chance. He's moved from Buffalo, a dead-end job if any existed, to a bigger program at Kansas. Now, Kansas isn't the best place in the world to coach football, but it's a lot better than most places black coaches end.

3. Agent-speak is interesting to listen to, particularly when the agent doing the speaking is named Scott Boras. At the Winter Meetings last week, he was telling teams that his client Matt Holliday was more versatile than Jason Bay, two outfielders on the free-agent market. Boras might be right, but Bay surely will be the better buy. Regardless, both he and Holliday should come away with nice paydays.

THREE DOWN ...

1. Quit ... Randy Moss? C'mon, Chris Gamble! Randy Moss would never quit, would he? I don't know if there's a worse thing a player can say about an opponent than he quit, and if Gamble, the Panthers defensive back, is right, Moss owes fans and his Patriots teammates an apology. To give up in a game is to give up on your team, and no coach or teammates or fans should ever find comfort in that.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Shaq puts his muscle behind Cavaliers win

This is the Shaquille O'Neal that coach Mike Brown and the Cavaliers were hoping they would get. This Shaq, all 325 pounds of him, proved an indomitable force inside; this Shaq scored points; this Shaq guarded the paint like a Secret Service agent. He made a dynamic complement for LeBron James.
Now, perhaps I overvalued this one performance. Sure, Shaq finished with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds), but he did so against the Trailblazers, a team with a few fine pieces like Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge but with no one capable of pushing Shaq around inside.
"Anytime we can attack the rim, anytime that we get 'The Big Fella' playing with the will and the force that he played with, we can score a lot of points in the paint," said Brown, who bordered on giddy about a 104-99 win his Cavs came away with Friday night. "It showed in this game."
Brown got all he could ask of "The Big Fella" in a game the Cavaliers needed. They had limped back to The Q with two losses from a short road trip, and in those games, Shaq didn't dominate as Brown had hoped.
Shaq was all but invisible Wednesday night against the Rockets, a smallish, quick team that gave the Cavs fits inside. The loss to the Rockets is behind the Cavs. He doesn't have to figure out how the Cavs can better matchup against a team like Houston.
For the Rockets aren't a concern of Brown's now, not that he was happy they had beaten his team. But they aren't in the Eastern Conference, and the only way his Cavaliers will meet Houston is in the NBA Finals in June. That should give Brown ample time to devise a strategy that might be more effective.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Justice is served: 3 up and 3 down ...

THREE UP ... 1. Can't wait to see middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik back in the ring. His absence hasn't helped the sweet science -- nor Kelly's bank account. There are big-money paydays out there for good fighters, and tough guy like Pavlik (aka "The Ghost"), sidelined 10 months with a string of injuries, should scoop up some of it. So news that he'll be fighting Miguel Espino on Dec. 19 is something to applaud.

2. I have a friend who lives and dies with the Raiders, so he has to be pleased that Bruce Gradkowski, the AFC Player of the Week, has emerged as the team's quarterback of the future. NFL teams have had their hits and misses at that position in recent years, so maybe instead of wasting No. 1 picks on quarterbacks, teams might be wiser to follow what the Raiders did: look for somebody else's discard. Who wouldn't take "Grad" over JaMarcus Russell, Matt Leinart or Brady Quinn?

3. I'm betting freshman John Wall will do a 'Melo Anthony: play one season in college, win a NCAA title and then head to the NBA. In this early hoops season, Wall has been as solid as the Great Wall and hotter than a wall of fire. There might be a better freshman than Wall, but he hasn't shown himself yet. Enjoy looking at this "great" Wall in "Bluegrass Country" while you can.

THREE DOWN ... 1. Some crooner once sang about fools falling in love, but someone also should have sang about how fools act like fools, as Greg Baker, the executive director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, did when he signaled that the museum will jettison the figure who helped build the institution. Essentially, Baker slammed the museum's front door in the face of Buck O'Neil.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Killing a legacy: Museum doing 'Buck' wrong

I came late to the party. The legacy of black baseball had been cemented long before I was drawn to its lore. I didn’t make that love connection until 2002, the year I first visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

In my early discussions with people there, I kept referring to the museum as a Hall of Fame, which everybody politely corrected me on. They reminded me that the Baseball Hall of Fame was in Cooperstown, N.Y., which is where all the stars of Negro Leagues baseball should also be.

The museum is a tribute to the men who made the game thrive in an era when color kept them from plying their skills in the Major Leagues. To Satchel, to Cool Papa, to Josh, to Smokey Joe and Biz and Double Duty, names that might have been lost forever if not for the museum. Yet no one who saw these men play could really doubt they were as good as the big leaguers of the day, and they had one man alive to keep those stories of black baseball fresh.

His name was Buck O’Neil. He was a blood-and-guts icon who was, through all of the museum’s formative years, its face, its voice, its link to yesteryear. Buck was the museum’s ambassador of goodwill, spreading the gospel of black baseball wherever it needed to be spread. And that was seemingly everywhere among a growing population of black sports fans who had loosened their hold on the game.

But Buck kept their grip from breaking free altogether, and Buck did it in his role as chairman of the baseball museum in the heart of the city’s black community. Thanks to Buck O’Neil, the place was a shiny gem among unpolished diamonds.

For that alone, the museum owed him whatever fame it had. For whatever the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is today, it is that because of Buck O’Neil, whose death, at 94, in 2006 left a void at the top of the organization.

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Justice is served: 3 up and 3 down ...

THREE UP ... 1. No mistakes this time. Notre Dame seems to have it right, even if school officials aren't holding a broad search that would be more inclusive than this one was. But the ready candidate the Irish and their faithful thought they had (Urban Meyer) before hiring Charlie Weis is there for the taking this time, and if Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly is their man, the football program will be better for it. While I'm not somebody who cheers for the Fighting Irish (not even when they play Michigan), I know that college football is always better when Notre Dame is good, not bad.

2. Where have you gone, Tiger? Once the TV face of cars and razor blades, Tiger Woods has disappeared from the airwaves in the wake of stories about his promiscuous lifestyle. He's bedded more cocktail waitresses than the late Wilt Chamberlain -- or so it seems. The last time one of Tiger's ads appeared on TV was Nov. 29, Bloomberg News reported. And if the self-righteous, petty, whiny and immoral golf star doesn't appear ever again, TV viewers will not miss him. Good riddance to Tiger-mania -- finally! Please give us Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer back.

3. The reigning king of home runs -- or is he the king of steroids abuse? -- is hanging up his maple bat. Good riddance! See you later, Barry Bonds? Don't book a hotel room in Cooperstown anytime this century. Between you, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, nobody did more damage to the game's integrity on the field than they did. Now off the field, commissioner Bud Selig's behind all the trouble there.

THREE DOWN ... 1. So, the authorities in New York don't want to give inmate Plaxico Burress, the former New York Giants star, a break, eh? I guess I understand their position in denying him work release, which one assistant district attorney said would send "a very bad message." But what's such a bad message about letting a non-violent offender out of an overcrowded jail early? Burress' real crime is stupidity, and stupidity shouldn't merit two years in prison, should it? His is a punishment that simply doesn't fit the crime.

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