PostHeaderIcon I AM NOT SURE I BELIEVE IT: DID A CLEVELAND TEAM REALLY WIN A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP?

I woke up Monday morning feeling groggy. It was like I was in a fog. The sun was shining in the bedroom window and I could tell it was another beautiful day in South Florida, but I had virtually little sleep and my head hurt. Then I thought, “Did that really happen?”

Or did I dream about the whole damn thing?

Did a team from Cleveland really win a world championship?

I still wasn’t convinced until I turned on ESPN just to make sure. And there it was: replays of players wearing Cleveland jerseys holding a golden trophy and spraying champagne on themselves.

Fifty-two years.

One-hundred and forty-four professional seasons of the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers played ended with some other team from some other city celebrating, having victory parades and wearing championship hats and t-shirts.

Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Miami, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Denver, Oakland, San Francisco. You name the major city, they’ve enjoyed championships. Even small markets like New Orleans, Tampa, Kansas City, and that other alleged Ohio city, Cincinnati, Ky., have had championship parades.

Growing up in nearby Ashland, Ohio, I was born into the territory that rooted for the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers. I was born into frustration.

Which means we rooted for our lovable losers for our entire lives, unless one is old enough to remember the Browns’ 1964 NFL championship. It was the year the Beatles came to America and the country was recovering from the Kennedy assassination. At four years old, I certainly wasn’t old enough to remember any of it.

To me, Jim Brown is a grumpy old man and bad actor who once snapped at me during an interview years ago. I never knew him as the NFL superstar who took the Browns to a title. But that was two years before the Super Bowl was even invented and the Cavaliers weren’t even born then.

Like any sports fan in Northeast Ohio, we came to know heartache and what the bottom of the standings looked like. It became  familiar. It became expected. It became a ritual And you lived with it. Once in a while, we actually had hope. “This would be the year,” we would say. For some cruel reason, that year never came.

The weird thing is, I can remember where I was when most of those crushing moments occurred.

It was Jan. 4, 1981, and we all gathered in my buddy Dave Patterson’s apartment just north of the Ohio State campus. It was about 3 degrees outside. As we huddled around Dave’s tiny television, all of us Browns fans, we huddled in optimism knowing we were rooting for the best team in the AFC which home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Then a quarterback who grew up in San Diego, Brian Sipe, made a terrible decision, pulling the string on “Red Right 88” and it was a real taste of sadness for me. I couldn’t even study, knowing I had an exam the following day. That team had a real chance. It was the beginning of several rip-your-heart-out moments with the Browns.

On Jan. 11, 1987, the Browns scored to take a 20-13 lead over Denver and were just 5:32 away from the Super Bowl. They kicked off and the Broncos muffed the return and ended up on their own 2-yard line. It was then that I walked into the kitchen of my house in West Palm Beach, pulled the only bottle of champagne I had in my wine rack and stuck it into the freezer.

Big mistake.

As everyone knows, John Elway drove the Broncos 98 yards to tie the game, before they won in overtime 23-20. It is now famously called “The Drive.”

I call it the day I erupted in anger, breaking a remote control and the night my champagne exploded in the freezer. I had gone to bed, completely forgetting about that bottle. Fortunately, it was only Korbel, but it still left a real mess.

Three-hundred and fifty-nine days later, those same two teams would play again for another trip to the Super Bowl.

When the Browns practiced in Vero Beach, Fla., at the old Dodgertown complex to get out of frozen Cleveland before the game, I was assigned to cover their practices. After one, I wondered into the lounge where receiver Brian Brennan and running back Earnest Byner were playing pool. I put my laptop on a table, wrote my story and watched those two key players laughing as the pool balls sometimes flew off the table and dented the walls.

Then the players packed up and flew to Denver. That Sunday, I watched in horror as Byner forgot the football on the way to his game-tying touchdown. Broncos 38, Browns 31.

It became known as “The Fumble.”

All that pain culminated when owner Art Modell, who then had a condominium near the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach, moved the team to Baltimore following the 1995 season. We all watched his Ravens win a Super Bowl only five years later. It was "The Move."

One day soon after, I saw Modell walking down Flagler Boulevard near his winter home. He was recovering from hip replacement and getting his daily exercise. I swear the thought of getting out of that car and pushing him into the Intracoastal popped into my mind, but before I could park, I had remembered the state of Florida had recently increased prison time for crimes involving assault and battery on the elderly.

The Browns were gone. Little did I know then that the NFL would bring them back to us again. Hadn’t we suffered enough?

Then there are the Indians. They last won a World Series in 1948, three years after World War II concluded. To put this into my perspective, it was two years into my parents’ marriage. Next week, on June 30, we will all gather on the shores of Lake Erie to celebrate my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary.

Sure, the Tribe has been futile for much of that time, but there were 1995 and ’97 when they had real chances to win the World Series.

It was Oct. 26, 1997, when the Indians were two outs away from beating the Florida Marlins in Game 7 of the World Series. Then manager Mike Hargrove had stuck to his formula of going to closer Jose Mesa in the ninth, no matter the circumstances, no matter common sense, no matter what happened earlier in the game.

As the Indians clung to a 2-1 lead entering the ninth, Mesa got the first out easily… they were only two outs away. Then all hell broke loose and by the time it was over the Indians had lost 3-2 in 11 innings.

The Marlins were in only their fifth season of existence and most of their fans didn’t jump on their bandwagon until October began, perhaps a month earlier. Yet there they were jumping up and down and celebrating all night like they actually had a history with this team. Indians fans had waited a half-century. As newbie Marlins fans celebrated everywhere around me that next day, I had to visit the store where I had bought my TV ... to get a new remote. Again.

The misery of the Browns and Indians somehow became ingrained in us. It was like it was part of our DNA. Pro sports = failure. I know my Dad watched every game with extreme pessimism over the years, simply because he has been hardened by their inexcusable losses. They were never called the Browns in my household -- without the word “bumblehead” in front of their name.

I would call home on Sundays and Mom would answer the phone.

“What’s Dad doing?” I would ask.

“He’s in the den yelling at the Bumblehead Browns,” she would answer.

As far as the Cavaliers, when I first received my driver’s license in 1976, somehow Mom and Dad let me take the car and make that 45-mile drive to the old Richfield Coliseum where they played. Remember that place? It was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cow fields. I made that trip often. Back when Cavs’ tickets were cheap and attendance was sparse, no matter the weather, I was there. By the time the fourth quarter came around, I always found myself somewhere near courtside because ushers didn’t really pay attention like they do now.

The players had names like Bingo Smith, Dick Snyder, “Footsie” Walker, Austin Carr, Campy Russell and Jim Brewer.

After the games, I often stood outside Pete Franklin’s glass both in the upper level, listening to the cranky radio host rant and rave about Cleveland sports. I peered through that glass like a little boy at the zoo watching a lion roar. In fact, that is exactly where I saw Reggie Jackson hit his third home run into the upper deck as the Yankees won the World Series on Oct. 18, 1977. Reggie's feat meant nothing to me, but the Cavs’ 91-88 season-opening loss to the Bulls that ended moments earlier had surely ruined my night.

Then came the era with names like Craig Ehlo, Mark Price and Brad Daugherty and some really good Cavs teams. Unfortunately, the Bulls had a North Carolina kid with the number 23 and we Cavs’ fans had no hope.

It was Nov. 4, 1988, and I remember being on the road to cover a Florida State football game when my sports editor called me in my hotel room in Columbia, S.C., that Friday afternoon. “Jeff, get in your rental car and drive up to Charlotte to cover the Bobcats’ first game tonight,” he ordered. “Your credential will be at will call. You have three hours to get up there for tipoff.”

What a stupid assignment, I thought. Who in the hell in South Florida cares about the Bobcats, an expansion NBA team playing their first game? Then I noticed it was against the Cavaliers. Still, I wasn’t thrilled. I would be returning to my hotel room at about 2 a.m. and then have to cover a college football game the next day.

When I arrived in the Charlotte Coliseum that night, I checked the press row seating chart and noticed legends Bill Russell and Bill Walton were to my left. There were a lot of NBA dignitaries there that night. Then something made my heart jump. Sitting to my right would be Jim Chones and Joe Tait – the Cavs’ radio team.

Believe me when I say I hardly looked to my left all night, only to notice fans behind us continually bothering the two Bills for autographs. I spent the night leaning to my right and talking to Chones every time he took off his headset. He and Tait were celebrities to me, when nobody in the stands behind us that night in Charlotte would have been able to name either one of them.

As for Tait, he owned the voice I grew up with since he was the play-by-play man for Cavs and Indians games on radio. I had a small transistor that was never far from my ear all those nights as a boy. I didn’t watch many sit-coms back then. Regretfully, I didn’t study enough back then. I listened to Tait and partner Herb Score as they made music for my ears.

And for some reason, I don't think it never mattered that the Indians were 20 games under .500. I just thought that was normal. And listening to them was a great way to spend the night.

Anyway, Chones was the nicest guy in the world that night in Charlotte and at times I know he was talking to me when he was supposed to be on the air. Finally, when he went to get a Coke after the third quarter, Joe leaned over in that familiar voice that I had heard so many nights during my childhood and whispered, “I love reminiscing about the Cavs and the Indians as much as anybody, but Jim’s got a job to do and he’s getting distracted. I’ve been doing the play-by-play – and color! – by myself all night!”

Message received. I shut up for the fourth quarter and quickly filed my story (the Cavs won 133-93) from the perspective that Charlotte had pro basketball for the first time. Big deal. After the game, Chones actually said something to me like, “Always great to meet a Cavs fan, but I am sorry we weren’t better back then.”

Better back then? I guess I had forgotten that part.

It hardly matters today, does it?

A Cleveland team fought back against all odds and shocked us all. I would like to say I never gave up when they trailed 3-1 to Golden State. I would like to say I expected this. But I’ve been conditioned my entire life to expect the worst. To expect the heartbreak. (Thank God for the Ohio State Buckeyes or the entire state would be filled with a bunch of gloomy pessimists who walk around muttering to  themselves.)

Monday afternoon, the skies sure were blue in Cleveland when the Cavs’ Delta charter rolled to the gate.

Wednesday, the city of Cleveland will hold a parade. It won’t be a Memorial Day parade, a Gay Pride parade or a Christmas Parade.

It will be a championship parade.

It will surely be something the city has never seen before. Confetti will fly and people from all over Ohio will travel to stand along the streets for hours and hours. It will be one big, long, way-overdue party. I hope Jim Chones will be there. I hope Joe Tait, long since retired, will be there.

Dad is 97 now and I am glad he lived to see this. A Cleveland sports team. A world championship.

Hell, who am I kidding?

I didn't expect to live long enough to see it, either.

 

Last Updated (Monday, 20 June 2016 19:23)

 

PostHeaderIcon OJ IS INNOCENT? YEAH, RIGHT -- AND PRINCESS DI AND ELVIS ARE ALIVE AND LIVING TOGETHER IN TUPELO

And I thought Charlie Sheen was the only crazy man in his family.

Nope, it appears father Martin Sheen is even more nuts.

The elder Sheen has the gumption and misguidance to produce a TV documentary for FX on the premise that O.J. Simpson is innocent and did not kill his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman.

Look in the sky because pigs may be flying by your window.

In full disclosure: I instantly became fascinated with this case from the moment it happened in June of 1994, while I sat at the bar of the now defunct Sands Hotel in Las Vegas watching O.J. and Al Cowlings ride down the I-5 in that White Ford Bronco. As the years have passed, I have used the “Is O.J. innocent or guilty?” as a quasi IQ test for people. If they believe he is innocent or even hedge on it, I slide them into the “dumber than a rock” category. That is where Martin Sheen stands today.

I have read every book on the case, from Faye Resnick’s trashy “Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted,” to the two best: Jeffrey Toobin’s excellent “The Run of His Life: The People Versus O.J. Simpson” which details the court case and the book of O.J.’s real taped confession – “I Did It,” which the Brown family acquired the rights to and then published.

I visited the crime scene twice on separate occasions when I was in L.A. on business, even driving the distance from Nicole’s condo to O.J.’s Brentwood mansion one night at the same time the murders took place. Guess how long it took? Yeah, a whopping six minutes – and I hit a stoplight at Sunset Boulevard.

I talked to Nicole’s sister Denise at-length a few years ago when she was considering writing her own book. She even told me as soon as the Browns received the call that Nicole was dead, she knew the method (murder) and the killer (O.J.) before they were informed of the specifics.

I heard former prosecutor Marcia Clark and L.A. detective Tom Lange once agree on this statement: In the history of the U.S. judicial system which dates back more than 200 years, they could not find any crime, let alone murder, in which there are more individual pieces of evidence linking one person as the perpetrator -- than that of linking Simpson to this double-murder. Think about that for a minute. Of the thousands of murders and rapes and robberies in the history of our great country, not one generated more evidence linking the accused.

There are literally thousands and thousands of pieces of evidence – big and small – linking Simpson to the crime.

That’s because of how many investigators worked the case, the amount of fame Simpson garnered before the murders, the intense media coverage and the sheer volume of DNA and blood evidence gathered – both at the crime scene and at Simpson’s estate – tying him to the crime. Simpson’s blood was all over the sidewalk outside Nicole’s condo. Her blood and the blood of Ron Goldman was found at Simpson’s estate on the driveway, in the Bronco he drove that night, and on his socks left by his bedside. That alone should have been more than enough for a guilty verdict from a jury that was not influenced by race.

What amazing is that recently a knife was found on the grounds where Simpson’s mansion once stood (it was demolished years ago by the new owner) and it actually led the national newscasts that night. Investigators know that Simpson packed the real murder weapon along with his bloody clothes and famed Bruno Magli shoes and dumped them in a garbage container at LAX before he boarded the flight to Chicago that night. Lange and partner Phil Vannatter figured that out early in the case and a very credible witness saw him dumping the bag and yet the prosecution team did not plan to call him since they figured their case was strong enough to win without him.

The only real question I ever had about the crime was how and at what point was Goldman was cornered and what transpired between him and O.J. before he was stabbed more than 30 times. O.J. answered that himself in the confession book: He started arguing with Nicole outside the condo, just as Goldman, a local waiter, had arrived carrying her mother’s glasses which she left behind that night at the restaurant. After he called her the worst of names, she went to slap him and he knocked her out cold on the steps of the walkway. Goldman then came at him and immediately went into a karate stance. “What the f--- is that?” O.J. barked. “You think you can take me with this karate shit?”

“He started circling me, bobbing and weaving, and if I hadn’t been so f---ing angry I would have laughed in his face,” O.J. wrote. “’You think you’re tough, m----f----?’ Then something went terribly wrong.”

When he finished stabbing Goldman, he returned to Nicole who was just coming to. He lifted her head up and slit her throat.

“I looked down and saw her on the ground in the fetal position at the base of the stairs, not moving,” O.J. wrote. “Goldman was only a few feet away, slumped against the fence. Both he and Nicole were lying in giant pools of blood. I had never seen so much blood in my life. It didn’t seem real. I looked down at myself, in my blood-stained clothes, and noticed the knife in my hand. The knife was covered in blood, as were my hand and wrist and half of my right forearm.”

All of this, including the fact Goldman often took karate classes, matches perfectly with the crime scene. The details O.J. provided of the murder, and they are fascinating, wouldn’t have been known by anyone but the killer. Can you imagine being narcissistic enough to get away with murder, and then while knowing double jeopardy protects you from further prosecution, to go ahead and confess by revealing all the gory details? Only O.J. Simpson could do that.

Can somebody please fax pages 131-133 of O.J.’s book to Mr. Martin Sheen ASAP.

There’s a reason the L.A. police department didn’t spend one second re-investigating the case after the not guilty verdict. (L.A.P.D knows where the killer is right now – in an 8x10 cell in northern Nevada.) There’s a reason O.J. went right to golf course instead of fulfilling his promise to find the killer(s). There’s a reason that a jury found him “responsible” for the crime in a subsequent civil lawsuit. There’s a reason he felt invincible enough to rob former friends at gunpoint in a Las Vegas hotel room years later.

Because everyone involved with the case, even Simpson’s own “dream team” of attorneys (remember Robert Kardashian’s face when the verdict was announced?), knew this simple fact: O.J. killed two people – and got away with it.

No amount of stupid documentaries based on fiction books will ever change that fact.

After Sheen’s latest production, I got a few more topics for his future documentaries: How Amelia Earhardt’s airplane has been found on the moon; Elvis is Alive and Living in Mexico as a sushi chef, and How Queen Elizabeth orchestrated Princess Diana’s car crash because she hated her daughter-n-law.

Believe me, those films would be just as believable as one declaring O.J. innocent.

Last Updated (Monday, 04 April 2016 19:16)

 

PostHeaderIcon HAPPY VETERANS DAY TO THE GREATEST VETERAN I KNOW...CHEERS DAD!

It was June of 1974 when Mom and Dad invited some people from New York to come visit us in our hometown of Ashland, Ohio. They weren’t just any guests, but one of Dad’s closest buddies from the 27th Infantry Division, a unit that fought its way across the Pacific during World War II. He had not seen him in the almost three decades since the war had ended.

So here I was standing under one of our huge Weeping Willow trees in the backyard, munching on some shrimp cocktail watching the parents and 30 or so of their closest friends indulging with some adult beverages. I surmised Dad’s guests must have been a special couple because we rarely had shrimp. I was taking in the scene, wiping cocktail sauce off my shirt when this guy approached me.

His name was John Lewis.

After some small talk, he got right to the point.

“Let me show you something, son,” he said, pulling his wallet from his pants pocket.

He pulled out one of those wallet-sized photo binders, which unraveled about five feet to the grass I had just mowed hours earlier. “Look at these faces,” he said. “…My wife and all my favorite pictures of my kids. We have a great family. I love these pictures.”

He had tears in his eyes.

He then pointed to Dad, who had a beer in one hand and his arm around Mom’s shoulder.

“Look over there … that’s a great man right there,” he told me. “Did he ever tell you about me?”

I mumbled something, but I truly had never heard of this guy before.

“Well, let me tell you that every face in those photos exists because of your father,” he said. “They wouldn’t be here without him. I wouldn’t be here talking to you today without him.”

Now the tears were running down his cheeks and he had my attention. So he began to tell me  his war story. It was June of 1944 when the 27th was taking mortar fire on the island of Saipan, one of the fiercest battles in the Pacific where the Japanese eventually suffered a 100 percent casualty rate. He got hit by one and jumped into a foxhole, surely to bleed out and die right then and there with no medic in sight.

That’s when my dad, William “Ed” Snook, jumped into the foxhole with him.

Later, I asked Dad to tell me the story.

“Well, we pulled into Saipan and we had expected to be floating reserve there for the Marines,” he began. “But on the second day, it was obvious we were needed on Saipan … everybody on our side was fighting for their lives. We were right off shore and I looked through my binoculars and I could see everything going on. It was a helluva fight.

“We came in on Red Beach. I could hear the firing, hear the pinging of bullets. I knew it was close. The Marines didn’t get in but 100 yards or 200 yards and they had to pull back. It was an eye- opener for me. There were dead bodies everywhere, including many of our own. I could tell ours from theirs only by the boot. We wore GI combat boots and the Japanese wore a tennis-shoe type of boot.

“Eventually, we made our way to the highlands of the island. I remember in Saipan we fought and fought and I went 30 days without a bath. I would see a puddle of rain on a rock or tree leaves and I would take a towel to it and get a quick bath. After weeks of fighting, we had pushed them to Death Valley, aptly named as it turned out.

“During one battle, I was confident that they had us pinned down and we lost four or five men right away. I heard “pop pop pop pop” and I hit the ground. They had a weapon called a “knee mortar” … firing shells about the size of a baseball. I could see them … probably coming at us at a range of 500 to 700 yards. They were just reigning mortars on us. The Japanese mortar shells were not like our grenades. There would be a huge bang concussion and it would split apart in two pieces.

“A friend of mine who took care of the weapons … he could fix any weapon there was. He was just a little guy who wore these big thick glasses. He was right next to me when I heard it and I knew right away he had bought it. I looked over and half of that shell hit him right in the side of the head. It had just missed me and hit him. He was gone.

"Our radio man also took a hit and he ran into a depression. There was no medic with us.”

So Dad jumped in with John Lewis, the radioman.

“It didn’t look too bad in the front, but he was moaning and groaning,” Dad told me. “I said, ‘Hey John, you didn’t get hit too bad. You'll be OK.' Then I rolled him over and I could have put my fist in that hole in his back. He wasn’t bleeding at the mouth, so I gave him some pain pills. He slugged down water, which later I was told was a mistake. I took the biggest sulfa pack I had and stuffed it in that hole in his back and wrapped it as tight as I could."

“Can you move?” I asked him. “We have got to get out of here.”

The wounded man couldn’t move.

“John was bigger than me, but I got him over my shoulder and started blowing my whistle as I ran. We all carried whistles to call for the medics. I knew if I get him back about 200 to 300 yards I could get a medic to him.”

So he did just that, after surviving a long run under fire, he laid John Lewis down at the feet of a medic before returning to the front line.

“I really figured he was a goner and I would never see him again,” Dad explained.

The U.S. won the battle in July of 1944, taking Saipan in order to build airstrips which gave our airplanes shorter trips on bombing missions. Once the Japanese army was defeated, many Japanese women and children jumped off the cliffs of Saipan rather than be captured by the Americans. Dad saw many of their suicides through his binoculars.

Months later, he was on a medical ship offshore, recovering from Dengue fever and lock jaw and one of his buddies mentioned John Lewis.

“Yeah, what about him?” Dad asked.

“Well, he was telling me what you did,” the buddy explained.

“You mean he’s alive?” Dad asked.

He was shocked to learn that Lewis not only was alive, but was starting to recover from the mortar wound.

“He put me in for the silver star,” Dad said, “but they awarded me the Bronze Star instead. I always joked with him that he if had been a corporal I would have gotten that Silver Star. We always had a special bond after that.”

Dad had requisitioned some souvenirs off the Japanese near the end of the war, things I saw in our basement over the years. One of them was a knee mortar that sat on a mantle behind our downstairs bar.

That day in the summer of 1974, Dad took John Lewis to the basement and pointed to it.

“That’s the weapon that hit you,” he explained.

I remember John standing there staring at the piece of killing equipment and I wondered what must have been going through his mind.

John Lewis and his wife died within the past 10 years, leaving behind children and grandchildren and great memories and a complete life together. As for Dad, he will turn 97 years old in January. He has trouble walking and he spends most days in the den watching westerns like “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” and any war documentary or movie that he can find on TV. Behind his chair on one wall of that den is a glass case housing his bronze star and purple heart.

He still has an ice-cold beer around 5 p.m. every day and his memory is sharp as a tack. He has often told me there is not a day that goes by that he does not think of something that happened during those four years from 1941-45.

I am proud to think he was a member of the Greatest Generation of Americans that changed the world during those four years. It’s also painful to remember that more than 400,000 Americans did not return home from that war, but since that summer day in 1974, I have often thought of John Lewis’ photo album and I have been thankful that he and Dad were two GIs who made it home.

So cheers Dad. And Happy Veterans’ Day!

Last Updated (Saturday, 21 November 2015 18:06)

 

PostHeaderIcon AFTER MICHIGAN'S PUNT DISASTER, GEORGIA TECH'S FG RETURN AND MIAMI'S MIRACLE* ... WHAT'S NEXT?

After the past three Saturdays, you just have to wonder: Where will the next wackiest final-play ending to a college football game happen?

First, we had the Michigan State miracle in Ann Arbor on what was an ordinary punt. Then we had Georgia Tech’s blocked field goal return to upset undefeated Florida State. Last week, we saw Miami throw eight backward passes, one of which was from a player’s knee, which also included one obvious block in the back and two more possible blocks in the back and a 12th man running onto the field sans helmet, to return a kickoff to upset Duke.

All that was missing was Duke’s band on the field.

The first two were legitimate plays, not enabled by poor officiating.

The latter, however, was an abomination in which the officials somehow missed the play live and then the instant replay official missed doing the right thing during the nine-minute review.

The ACC crew was suspended for two games and probably should have been fired.

While Miami fans have mocked Duke and already printed T shirts celebrating the play, many in the media have called for the Hurricanes to forfeit the game or for the ACC to overturn the outcome. Neither would be right. Once a game is called final, no matter how poor the officiating, it should remain final.

Amazingly, when the Hurricanes were returning the kick, Minnesota was scoring to upset Michigan. However, the Gophers’ apparent game-winning touchdown pass was overturned as the tight end’s knee landed on the 1-yard line with 19 seconds remaining.

The Gophers (with one timeout in their pocket) then exhibited the worst clock management of the year, under interim coach Tracy Claeys, and let 11 seconds ran off before they snapped the ball for their next play – and this was after an instant replay review. The incomplete pass left only two seconds on the clock and rather than kick a game-tying field goal and go to overtime, Claeys rolled the dice and a quarterback sneak was stuffed for no gain. Game over. Michigan wins 29-26.

Claeys has openly campaigned for the job but if I was Minnesota’s athletic director, that mind-boggling blunder would eliminate his candidacy.

Which brings me to…

FOSTER NEEDS A PROMOTION AT VIRGINIA TECH

If there’s ever been a more obvious or deserving assistant coach to be promoted to head coach at the same program, it has to be Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s situation in the wake of Frank Beamer’s retirement.

Over the past 20 years, Foster has turned down defensive coordinator jobs at Florida (under Steve Spurrier) and Texas A&M (under Kevin Sumlin), along with several others, to remain loyal to the Hokies. In fact, he also turned down several head coaching jobs, including the Pittsburgh job three years ago.

But signs are pointing that new athletic director Whit Babcock may want to make an outside hire. Not helping Foster’s chances are his age (56) and the fact the Hokies’ defense has been inconsistent the past two seasons, largely due to injuries. However, from 1995-2013, no defense in the country was more sound or well-coached than Virginia Tech’s. Just ask Urban Meyer and Tom Herman, who were completely befuddled during the Hokies’ 35-21 upset of Ohio State in September, 2014 – the last game Ohio State has lost.

If I was Babcock, I still would give Foster the job, believing he would add his own style, ideas and upgrades while nobody knows the recruiting area and the entire program as well as him. There would be little transition and it would be a popular hire amid the fan base. If Babcock goes outside the program, however, as it appears he will, Babcock would be on the hook for a missed hire.

The latest reports have Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, 39, interested in the job. Smart may become a good head coach someday, but if Babcock is to promote an assistant coach, it needs to be the one in his own building.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: Alabama 27, LSU 20 – It should be close, but I can’t pick against the Tide in Tuscaloosa.

Clemson 31, Florida State 27 – This appears to be the Tigers’ year. No more Clemsoning? We’ll see.

UPSET OF THE WEEK: Indiana 29, No. 10 Iowa 26 – I’ll take the bait; just don’t think the Hawkeyes are that good.

BLOWOUT OF THE WEEK: Texas 44, Kansas 6 – The Jayhawks own the right side of this category.

BEST BETS: Tulsa (-14 ) over Central Florida; Florida State (+12.5) at Clemson; Michigan State (-4.5) at Nebraska; North Carolina State (-3.5) at Boston College.

OTHER GAMES…

Ohio State 38, Minnesota 14 – It’s Cardale’s show for one week.

Baylor 34, Kansas State 24 – Much closer than expected.

Temple 31, SMU 6 – The Owls are very good, as they proved in loss to Notre Dame.

Purdue 44, Illinois 40 – Can the Boilermakers build on upset of Nebraska?

North Carolina 27, Duke 24 – How will the Blue Devils react to that heartbreak of a week ago?

Georgia 38, Kentucky 24 – Mark Richt needs a win perhaps more than any other coach in the country.

Florida 35, Vanderbilt 17 – The surprising Gators keep rolling.

Northwestern 24, Penn State 10 – I think the Nittany Lions are the Big Ten’s most overrated team.

Notre Dame 30, Pitt 28 – This could be an upset if the Panthers get a key turnover or two.

Miami 40, Virginia 20 – The Cavs’ Mike London may be the next coach to go.

Michigan 38, Rutgers 7 – The Wolverines got lucky at Minneapolis and return home first time since wild Michigan State finish.

Wisconsin 41, Maryland 15 – The Badgers are playing better while the Terps are rudderless.

 

Tennessee 34, South Carolina 14 – Should be an easy one for the Volunteers at home.

Last Updated (Thursday, 05 November 2015 17:19)

 

PostHeaderIcon KILL'S SAD RETIREMENT ADDS TO GROWING LIST OF HEAD COACHING OPENINGS

If you are a fan of college football, or of great people in general, your heart had to break for Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill when he announced his retirement Wednesday.

Kill, who has battled epilepsy and has had several seizures during his coaching career, announced he had to walk away from the game for good for the good of his health.

And he said it with tears in his eyes during an emotional press conference.

“You all know the struggles I have been through and some of them have returned,” he said. “I don’t want to cheat the game. Count on your health, not your wealth and count on God, instead of yourself.”

Kill admitted cheating on his medicine and not taking what the doctor prescribed, because it was not allowing him to think clearly, which he deemed unfair to his players. And his doctor obviously noticed and gave him a stern warning – that it was football or his life.

“I don’t want to be a liability,” Kill said. “I don’t want anybody to have to worry about if I am going to drop on the field. And I don’t want to coach from the pressbox.”

Contrast Kill’s retirement with Steve Spurrier walking away from South Carolina two weeks ago. Spurrier, 70, quit on his team mid-season, because he hated losing. Kill, 54, obviously would give anything to trade positions with Spurrier, having a healthy body so he could continue what he was called to do – coaching.

By now, the eighth week of the season, it is obvious that this will be the year of tremendous coaching turnover in college football. To illustrate the turmoil, just consider that three of the last four opponents for Ohio State likely will have new head coaches next season (Maryland, Rutgers and Minnesota).

It is not yet November and there are eight head-coaching openings and more are sure to come. Here are the openings so far, ranked in order of the best jobs:

USC – Pete Carroll made it one of the top-five coaching jobs in the country, which it once was in the 1970s before the Trojans became mediocre through much of the ‘80s and ‘90s. If a coach can’t sign four- and five-star athletes here, he can’t get them anywhere. It is premier recruiting ground, coupled with a rich tradition of championships and Heisman Trophy winners – and it is Los Angeles, after all. BEST CANDIDATES FOR THE JOB: Jeff Fisher, Clay Helton, Kyle Wittingham. The Men of Troy may have to go outside the family, like they did with Carroll, to find their next savior.

MIAMI – I've heard some on ESPN say this job is better than USC's. Not even close. It’s not the great job it once was simply because the Orange Bowl is long gone. Given Al Golden made about half the money that most coaches in the SEC make, it is not even a very good job anymore. Miami needs an on-campus stadium more than any program in the country, but space is limited in tiny Coral Gables so the Hurricanes continue to play 30 miles away in Broward County in mostly empty Sun Life Stadium. I love it when TV announcers say it is “a half-empty” stadium. UM officials would love a half-empty stadium. Mostly, it’s a “two-thirds empty” stadium, unless Florida State comes to town every other year. Miami cannot afford the money it takes to attract a head coach who is making more money at another school, so it probably will hire someone with UM ties. BEST CANDIDATES FOR THE JOB: Greg Schiano, Mario Cristobal, Rob Chudzinski.

SOUTH CAROLINA -- The Gamecocks have never won much of anything, until Steve Spurrier put together three 11-win seasons. But Clemson now owns the Palmetto State with a richer football tradition and better fan base. It’s tough to recruit in Columbia, surrounded by Georgia, Clemson, North Carolina and Tennessee. Plus, every season, the Gamecocks must compete with Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Missouri in the SEC East. This is really not a plum job, not even in the top 20 in my opinion. BEST CANDIDATES FOR THE JOB: Justin Fuente, Kirby Smart.

CENTRAL FLORIDA – I really think this can be a pretty good job, as George O’Leary discovered two years ago when the Knights played in front of big crowds at a new stadium and won the Fiesta Bowl. It is in the heart of fertile recruiting territory, too, located in Orlando.

MARYLAND – It’s now a decent job since the Terps joined the Big Ten, which paid the school approximately $28 million last year and even more will flow through the coffers this year. Maryland is in the middle of facility upgrades which will be finished in 2018. The East Coast is a great recruiting ground, but football tradition isn’t close to the basketball tradition in College Park.

MINNESOTA – The Gophers have a new on-campus stadium and solid tradition as a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten program. It’s tough to get top three- and four-star Southern kids to visit Minneapolis and that leaves the head coach here with recruiting three-star Midwest players, competing with the MAC as well as Illinois, Indiana and Iowa.

ILLINOIS --- See above. Not a great job by any means. Only John Mackovic has succeeded here before moving on to a better job (Texas). Otherwise, it’s a dead end for most head coaches, who end up fired after three or four years.

OTHER PROBABLE OPENINGS … It would be very surprising if Virginia Tech is not added to this list by late November. It is no secret that the natives are restless and Frank Beamer’s 29-year tenure probably will come to an end through retirement. The Hokies’ job would rank right behind the Miami job for third on this list – their facilities have been upgraded tremendously in recent years with a recently-completed indoor practice facility and Lane Stadium is one of the best atmospheres in college football. However, it is tough to recruit in the state of Virginia…

Hawaii surely will open as well, as Norm Chow will either be fired or retire from coaching, but few experienced head coaches would be clamoring for this job, even though it means living in paradise, The athletic department struggles to pay its bills and plays in front of sparse crowds at an off-campus stadium.

The Hokies’ rival, Virginia, also likely will have an opening. Mike London has had more than enough chances to turn the Cavaliers into winners and it’s obvious he cannot pull off the job, even though the administration has thrown tons of money at facilities and London’s staff.

Iowa State probably will fire Paul Rhoads, who has a 7-24 record in the past three seasons and is in his seventh year. And Rutgers’ Kyle Flood isn’t likely to survive his mental boo-boo in contacting a professor over a player’s academic status, an act for which he served a three-game suspension earlier this season. More importantly, after a 55-52 win at Indiana, the Scarlet Knights were not competitive against Ohio State. Now flush with Big Ten money, Rutgers can afford to fire him. Ditto for Purdue’s Darrell Hazell, a former Jim Tressel assistant who has a 5-26 record for the Boilermakers. Purdue is not improving and attendance is dropping like a rock. Not a good sign.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Georgia 21, Florida 17 – A hard-hitting, low-scoring game, but as Games of the Week go, not much national attention.
UPSET OF THE WEEK: Temple (+11) over Notre Dame – I really think the Owls can pull off the upset. This is the real Game of the Week, but had to pick it as an upset.

BLOWOUT OF THE WEEK: Oklahoma 59, Kansas 0 – Aren’t the hapless Jayhawks on this list every week?

BEST BETS: Houston (-13) over Vanderbilt – Cougars are unbeaten and explosive; UCLA (-20) over Colorado – Buffs are reeling again; Louisville (-11) at Wake Forest – The Deacons are just bad.

OTHER GAMES…

Michigan 23, Minnesota 20 – The Gophers will be fired up to upset Michigan on behalf of Jerry Kill.

Nebraska 35, Purdue 17 – The Boilermakers just can’t get it together while the Cornhuskers have lost four heart-breakers.

Tennessee 38, Kentucky 35 – A shootout and a close one.

Virginia Tech 12, Boston College 7 – Seriously, it may be this low-scoring.

USC 38, Cal 30 – Will the Trojans put together two consecutive good performances?

Iowa 34, Maryland 10 – The unbeaten Hawkeyes rolling toward Big Ten West title.

Ole Miss 30, Auburn 27 – The Tigers lose on The Plains again.

Clemson 44, N.C. State 27 – These Tigers have some big bite.

Texas A&M 38, South Carolina 24 – Spurrier would not have loved playing in College Station.

 

Last Updated (Wednesday, 28 October 2015 21:44)

 
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