Friday, March 23, 2012

Damn, It Feels Good To Be a Bobcat...

Sports are wonderful thing. For many people who watch, they are metaphor for our lives, really.

When our team wins, we are elated. When they lose, we are crushed. We embrace the athletes who represent us, and pin our hopes and dreams on the achievements they reach on the field... court... ice... you get the point.

Well, like I said... that's for most people.

However, I graduated from Ohio (the State University, not to be confused with Ohio $tate, Inc.).I chose Ohio because of it's top-notch journalism school, which still stands as one of the finest in the nation. I worked at a couple of the fine publications in Athens, and later returned to get a Master's degree and begin a radio and television career as well.

I also attended quite a few athletic events during my time. However, that whole "pinning-our-hopes-and-dreams-on-our-college-athletes" concept was pretty foreign to OU people until recently.

My first football season was in... well, it was a long time ago. I hadn't read up much on the program before I arrived in Athens, but I knew it had been a few years since they had had a winning season. It would be a few more.

My first football game was against Miami... it was a 31-7 loss in a homecoming game. I also learned for the first time that leaving right after the Marching 110 left the field at halftime was apparently a time-honored tradition. That first game was in the midst of an 0-11 season... which was the last four head coach Tom Lichtenberg. That "oh" included the loss in the final week of the season, between the 0-10 Bobcats and an 0-10 Akron Zips team . In hindsight, I'm glad that was a road game, because that could not have been pretty.

The next year, I attended the Bobcats' game against I-AA Illinois State. The Bobcats' overall losing streak was at 14 or 15 games at that point. After the fairly unimpressive win, I was one among the group of about 30 to 40 students who stormed the north end zone.

No, I did not participate in any sort of property destruction.

A) My vertical jump was decent, but otherwise unimpressive, and B) OUPD was standing right there. The police in Athens tend to overreact, so I wasn't taking any chances.

However, the rocking of the goalposts eventually caused the crossbar and uprights to tip over to one side. One of my rabble-rousing colleagues (no I didn't know him) managed to very impressively shimmy his way up to what had been the left upright. After hanging and bobbing for about 30 seconds, the post worked its way out of its socket.

As heaven-knows-how-many years worth of rainwater, gunk and crud poured out of the socket where the upright had been, I and my fellow hooligans discovered that our goalposts were still made of wood. Yeah, it had been a long time since the Bobcat football team had done anything really tear-down-the-goalpost worthy.

Anyway with the guy who fell with the goalpost apparently uninjured, we turned our eyes toward the south end zone.

A few OUPD officers were standing 20 feet away from us, glaring and shaking their heads.

Yeah, never mind. I grabbed a handful of grass and made my merry way home.

OU always seemed more of a basketball school, anyway. We made the NCAA Tournament every so often, but never really went far. There was a flash of brilliance, however, when Gary Trent led the Bobcats to a victory in the Preseason NIT in 1994... a run which saw OU beat Ohio $tate and even Virginia before going to New York to wrap it all up. That boosted the Cats to somewhere in the teens in the rankings, too. 14th or something, if I recall.

After that... sure there were some wins... an NCAA berth (and subsequent first-round exit) here and there. Hell, there was even a win over North Carolina. Sure, it was during that disastrous year UNC had, but it was huge. UNC is more than a basketball team... it's a brand. There are probably people who don't know what basketball even is, and wear UNC swag.

And then that upset of Georgetown happened two years ago. The Bobcats earned their first NCAA Tournament win in 27 years that night. And the "did that just freaking happen" chaos ensued.

Last weekend, they did it again as a 13 seed, knocking off Michigan... then dispatching South Florida in the second round. As a bonus, the Mrs. and I watched that second-round game at Byrne's Pub (which was also hosting the St. Patrick's Day Survivors' Party that night).

And look who was there to visit...

Why yes... our own beloved Burrito Buggy made the trip again this year from Athens. [It was stormy that night... I swear it's there in the picture, though...]

Stuff from the Buggy never tasted so good as it did that night.

And here our guys sit in the Sweet 16 tonight, getting ready to take on top-seeded North Carolina. Another upset? Who knows?

But we know that memories are being made. Hell, I defy anyone to watch Clark Kellogg's reaction to his son Nick making the Sweet 16 with the Bobcats and not feel joy.

Between this outstanding basketball squad with a record-breaking 29 wins so far, and a football program that wrapped a ten-win season with a bowl victory... well, his has been one hell of a year for Ohio.

A year that will be long-remembered... and is still being written.

Go Bobcats!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What If Gene Smith Had Done The Right Thing...

…and kept his mouth shut last December?

Strangely enough… it was about a year ago this week that the NCAA handed down its sentence that five players from the OSU football team would sit for the first five games of the 2011 season.

Those players would still be eligible for the Sugar Bowl, but they would sit the first five games of -- let's face it -- a pretty soft football schedule for the Buckeyes. Little did we know the Buckeyes would be so woefully ineffective against a team that turned out to be arguably worse than the Buckeyes were. But, I digress.

Gene Smith felt that wasn't good enough. The punishment was too harsh, he said. We're going to appeal this.

It has long been my belief that this single, bloated-ego moment/action by Smith was the catalyst for the snowball effect that has befallen the Ohio State Buckeyes football team in the 52 weeks since.

That snowball has now culminated in a one-year ban for a football team that desperately needed to turn the corner, and try and put this nightmare behind it.

Yes, Jim Tressel lost control of his team, and compromised his principles in order to be a winner... and of course, the initial blame falls on the five players who traded autographs and swag for cash and tattoos.

Sure, they can claim financial hardship and bemoan their living expenses all they want. They're on scholarship and go to school for free, and get money to help cover those expenses. Sure, it doesn't cover everything. Well, how many other students at OSU would kill to have that much of life covered? How many of them would kill to not have tens of thousands of dollars in debt when they graduate?

Yep... keep crying, scholarship guys. Nice ink.

However, the blame for the current state of OSU football lies with one person, and one person alone.

That person is Gene Smith.

Smith's ego and his shameless blustering about appealing this "awful" suspension set this whole year into motion.

What happened? People started digging. Local media started digging. ESPN started digging. And it wouldn't stop. More skeletons came out of the closet. It turned out Jim Tressel knew about the Tattoo Five and didn't report it. Smith fired Tressel (forced his resignation... call it what you like). Then, while the school was still under investigation players took money to make an appearance at a charity event. This not only showed a lack of character (considering the whole swag-for-tattoos scandal), but also a terrible lack of judgment on the part of those players.

More importantly, it also exposed a serious lack of institutional control by Gene Smith. The guy couldn't even make sure that players were playing by the rules, before the investigation was even over. Yet, Gene Smith still kept his job. Oh sure, he got a stern letter from President E. Gordon Gee.

Ooooooooooh… scary.

And then, as if all that weren't enough… after saying that no decision on a head coach would be made until after the season was over, they started talking with and negotiating with Urban Meyer. Problem was… not only could Smith not properly enforce the rules among players, he couldn't even seal the apparent leaks in his own athletics department. Result... oh, great... a distraction for the football team trying to focus on the most important game of the season.

Oh sure, Smith made sure that coach Fickell was going to be "taken care of" after Meyer's hiring.

Wow, Gene… that's big of you.

As if all that weren't enough, Smith did one final thumb of the nose to the NCAA, saying that OSU would accept a bowl bid if invited. Here's a hint, Gene... the University of Miami -- which, given, is embroiled in a much worse situation than Ohio State was -- said that its football team would not participate in a bowl game this year.

Any idiot could see that a school facing severe punishment for players' accepting gifts, cash and prostitutes was clearly sucking up to the NCAA to try and mitigate the damage that is clearly coming.

Think about this for a second. When a scandal-plagued, classless program like the University of Miami's football team is taking the high road and declining bowl participation…? It might be time to pause, and take a look in the mirror, Mr. Smith.

But oh, no… Gene Smith would not be denied. The Buckeyes would go to a bowl game if invited.

So either the Buckeyes or the Florida Gators will finish 6-7 this year.

At least the Gators will have something to look forward to next year. Hey, if they go 12-0, they'll probably wind up in the National Title Game. The Buckeyes could go 12-0 -- assuming the rest of the Big Ten doesn't wake them up to reality after they steamroll four cupcake teams in non-conference play -- and where will they go?

Absolutely nowhere... not even the Big Ten title game.

So, Gene Smith's instant gratification remedy to hosing Luke Fickell and letting him coach one more game... likely cost the Buckeyes a chance to start fresh with head coach Urban Meyer next season.

I defy anyone to present one good reason why Gene Smith should still have his job at The Ohio State University.

When the NCAA handed down a five-game suspension for the Tattoo Five, Gene Smith had an opportunity to do the right thing and keep his mouth shut and accept it... or at least offer to hold those players out of the Sugar Bowl to see if that would appease the NCAA. He chose not to do so.

The result: OSU compromised the program's integrity and let those players play in the game, and the Buckeyes won the Sugar Bowl. Yay-woo! The Buckeyes beat an SEC team for the first time in forever...

...and then wound up having it not count because OSU vacated the win, and all the others from last season.

Again, Gene Smith had an opportunity to do the right thing by actually establishing the so-called "model of compliance" among OSU's football players. He neglected to do so.

The result: More suspensions... and more NCAA scrutiny that the program didn't need.

Once again, Gene Smith had an opportunity to do the right thing and wait until the season was over to call and negotiate with head-coaching candidates... and, for just one more week, resist the calls from Buckeye Nation's Lunatic Fringe to can Fickell. He chose not to do so.

The result: A team that struggled to win even without additional distractions got just the additional distraction it needed to lose its third straight game to end the season.

Gene Smith has proven multiple times in the past year that he is not capable of doing the right thing for this program. And the Buckeyes have been burned by this fact every single time.

So, it's too much to expect Gene Smith to do the right thing now and resign.

So maybe it is time for President Gee to show Smith HOW to do the right thing...

...and show Smith the door.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

("Sources" Say) Congratulations Are In Order...

Today, Buckeye Nation’s Lunatic Fringe (reportedly) gets its wish.

I seem to recall The Ohio State University saying it would not make any determination of who would be coaching football until after the season. Then again, the same school also said Jim Tressel's job was safe. Obviously, circumstances changed there.

Apparently, the circumstances changed in this case, too.

Obviously, the Buckeyes didn’t do as well as expected. They lost a couple games they really should have won, and even fizzled when they actually had an outside shot at managing to make the very first Big Ten Championship Game.

Still… did even the biggest Buckeye fans think they were just going to roll over everyone? Of course not. Five of the team’s best players were suspended… well, four after Terrelle Pryor bolted like the classless coward that he is. The first starting quarterback was so bad, it was an accomplishment for some of his passes to even hit the ground. Your next guy’s a true freshman who had his mistakes, while also having his moments of brilliance… kind of reminds me of another recent true freshman starting at OSU.

Hopefully Braxton Miller’s similarities to Pryor end there.

Look at what was handed to Luke Fickell. Was he ready to be a head coach? Probably not. But he is an “Ohio State man,” and seemingly blameless in the whole tattoo/improper benefits controversy. He can motivate these guys. It seemed even Buckeye Nation’s Lunatic Fringe would back him.

Then the Buckeyes lost to Miami. I thought Twitter was going to crash from the sheer volume of the fan comments immediately calling for Fickell’s head and the hiring of Urban Meyer. Those cries intensified with every loss.

It all (allegedly) culminates (according to “sources”) in the announcement of the (alleged) hiring of (“sources” say) former Earle Bruce graduate assistant (that part’s confirmed) and former Bowling Green and Florida head coach (also confirmed) Urban Meyer as OSU’s new head football coach. The (rumored) compensation is (allegedly) substantial.

Note, we don’t know any of this for sure, since the Columbus Dispatch only cites “sources,” but wow… with so many people reporting this before the Dispatch “confirmed” it with “sources,” it’s probably a safe bet that something’s going on.

Here’s the problem with all this… what’s also going on this week – and among Buckeye Nation, I figured this was actually more important – is that the Buckeyes are playing Michigan.

Now, aside from the obvious distraction news like this would cause… does this whole thing strike anyone else as a “jerk” kind of move? Again, I don’t think anyone expected Fickell to stick as head coach, given that he inherited a decimated team and OSU never removed that whole “Interim” from his job title. However, I seem to recall Gene Smith (or somebody in charge) said no decisions were going to be made on a coach until after the season.

Well, I know the Buckeyes are 6-5, but there’s a shot at a seventh win. So, we’re still within the boundaries of “the season.”

So, if this (alleged) hire is a done deal (in priniciple, according to “sources”), then Ohio State has been doing some “back room” dealing, although these “sources close to the situation” are more than happy to share with the media (although apparently the Dispatch didn’t get priority… oops).

So… is it safe to conclude that Gene Smith is as good at controlling media leaks within his own athletics department, as he is at keeping players from accepting money for an appearance at a charity event?

While his athletics department is already under an NCAA investigation?

I said back in December that Smith was making a big mistake in appealing that “too harsh” five-game suspension against the Tattoo Five, and that his grandstanding was just going to bite him later. He should have left it alone… but didn’t. And the situation got worse. And worse.

Urban Meyer was still denying his (alleged) hire this afternoon. Why? Well, maybe he was trying to take the high road, to try and not cause the inevitable distraction that this would stir up… because it’s Beat Michigan Week.

Too late for that, Coach… if you were part of the discussions, there’s no way in hell you’re not at least somewhat responsible now. If you’re coming to Ohio State… give up, and just say so. Smith’s athletics department is leaking like Steve Mason in front of the Blue Jackets’ net.

Urban Meyer is not the answer to Ohio State’s problems, because hiring Urban Meyer doesn’t address the problem of Gene Smith.

The apparent defiance in the face of NCAA punishment. Continued violations by already-suspended players. Doing back-room negotiations with a coach before the head coach’s seat is even VACANT, let alone COLD.

Absolutely classless.

If this is official, than this is Luke Fickell’s last regular season game as the Buckeyes’ football coach (obviously, we don’t know what will happen, bowl-wise, with the NCAA).

And the game is against Michigan. Michigan was supposed to be the focus of this week.

I still remember when Earle Bruce was fired before the Michigan game. I still remember that game, and that win, and the sight of that team carrying Bruce off the field on their shoulders.

I hope that on Saturday, not only does Luke Fickell get the win over Michigan (carrying off the field optional), but that he walks up to Gene Smith afterwards and tells him where to put those Gold Pants.

Don’t think me too much of a tool in invoking Woody Hayes here… but I do have one final point, and I don’t think it counts as taking Woody’s name in vain.

We’ve heard Coach Hayes’ mantra for decades: “You win with people.”

Urban Meyer is a good choice. He has been a winner everywhere he has coached. I think he can build the Buckeyes back into a national power sooner rather than later. I think he’ll recruit young student-athletes with character who deserve to wear the uniform… and avoid the Terrelle Pryors, Devier Poseys and Jaamal Berrys.

Luke Fickell is a winner, and what happened when he coached what was left of this team doesn't change that fact. He doesn’t deserve to go out like this.

But… (alleged) Coach Meyer, congratulations, I guess.

Maybe, just maybe, with the coaching search (allegedly) out of the way… perhaps President (this part’s confirmed) Gee can start a search for a new athletics director. If you’re going to start clean… do it with the right people.

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Hey... I Watch Other Sports, Too...

Why a spinoff?

Well, why not?

Actually, there are a few reasons why not. Like Joey, Phyllis, Valerie's Family...

Wait... I guess Valerie's Family wasn't so much a spinoff, as it was an attempt to keep a show going after losing the lead actress (in this case, Valerie Harper... I'm not sure why she left).

I just couldn't think of a third unsuccessful spinoff off the top of my head. Hey, wait, didn't one of the guys from Barney Miller get one?

But I digress....

Anyway, spinoffs don't always work. Joey, for instance, flopped horribly after the roaring success of Friends, and nine out of ten people reading this probably have no idea who the hell Phyllis is (it was a spinoff of Mary Tyler Moore).

No, I'm not that old. I just watched a lot of Nick At Nite after college, for some reason.

Anyway, the fact is, I watch sports other than hockey, and I also like to share my opinions on other stuff... but it would seem a little weird to put that stuff on my blog that is devoted to hockey. It confuses the brand.

I've done work in the past for other sites, first in hockey, then branched out into other stuff. However, I figured I'd just do this, be my own boss in another venture, publish when I feel like it and shamelessly cross-self-promote it when necessary.

I decided to do this because it's fun...

...oh, and I had something to say about Gene Smith, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes today.

Read on...

If you like it, feel free to subscribe... tell your friends about it, etc. Thanks for stopping by!