Creamsicle Orange Scuttlebutt

kiffinseniorbowlDirty, unfounded, and unconfirmed rumors provided by some of the best purveyors of college football talk on the series of tubes has Coach Lunch Money (TM The Hater Nation) himself, Lane Kiffin, replacing the Lion in Winter, Phillip Fulmer, at Neyland Stadium next week. Even ESPN’s SEC blogger, who scooped everyone on Fulmer being pushed out the door, is in on it: being able to confirm that Kiffin is trying to form a staff, which would include former Ole Miss HC and USC D-line coach/recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron in some capacity.*

I have no particular attachment to such a search other than amusement, and a tendency to follow those who coach at USC and in Oakland with some interest (the former out of fandom, the latter out of perverse schadenfreude)(, and I have largely been in the camp that that the SEC is the wrong place for someone to start a head coaching career.  If true, it’s because Kiffin likes the idea of a spotlight and he can recruit. Whether he can coach is another question. Steve Sarkisian is regarded as the heavy lifter in the USC offense since Norm Chow’s departure, and rightfully so, but it’s hard to judge someone’s coaching capability based on a compromised situation in the East Bay.

Kiffin could be one of several things based on the meager evidence we’ve seen so far:

  1. An offensive wunderkind with bad judgment in terms of job selection
  2. A mediocrity only as good as the talent around him, made better by coaching five-star recruits in South L.A.
  3. The classic college coach, better suited to motivating teenagers instead of pro players with multi-million dollar contracts
  4. A complete bust who used dad Monte Kiffin’s contacts in the classic nepotism route.

Note that these aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, either.  Personally, I think Kiffin failed in Oakland because right now, everyone will fail in Oakland so long as Al Davis walks the earth.  He forged a good running game out of the mess (remember that no one projected Justin Fargas to be a breakout guy, and the O-line there still stinks); imagine if he had his choice of wide receivers or quarterback.  Kiffin’s failures came from things out of his control: I fully doubt he would have drafted JaMarcus Russell, never mind started him, and he wanted Rob Ryan out as D-coordinator. (Ryan’s defenses are just as responsible for the Raiders’ poor play during the last couple of years.)

Tennessee fans looking for a radical, fundamental change in the team’s offensive philosophy aren’t going to get it if these rumors are true; he likes his pro-style offense. This is not a crime and can be effective in the SEC (please see Alabama, and Georgia in its better moments), but we don’t know how good he is at developing a quarterback — and Nick Stephens will need that development, along with a return to a somewhat coherent offensive game plan.  Kiffin won’t exactly put the fear in any rival fan base until he starts winning games, and that’s the way it probably ought to be, regardless of who the school hires — there isn’t anyone out there who screams “scary” to head coaches and coordinators on the market.

(*I eagerly support the return of Da Coach O to college football. Earlier this year, I saw him on the CBS telecast of Chargers-Saints in London, and they went to a shot of him screaming at the New Orleans’ D-linemen, and ti felt so wrong. If anything else, it will mean the inevitable return of Every Day Should Be Lemsday.)

This Is The Business You Have Chosen

philfulmerIf Phillip Fulmer laments the way he is now going to leave the University of Tennessee, he has no one but himself to blame for how it ended. Not solely because of his team’s atrocious play this season; in past eras a season so poor might have slid under the table as an aberration. Now, a very public display of futility over the first 10 weeks of the college football season means the end of a coach who won a national championship a decade ago, and it may be even a little bit ironic considering how Johnny Majors was forced out.

Fulmer is now the ultimate proof of how far the current cutthroat mentality has gone in Division I-A, but do not pity him or pine for any sort of Lost Age, as one of the last coaches with a tangible connection to his university beyond simply cashing its checks. Spending more than 40 years on campus as a player, student assistant, assistant coach, and head coach is a remarkble feat; it won’t happen again. But Fulmer’s exit is entirely of his own making, because high expectations thrive in Knoxville, and going 3-5 in your last eight bowl games, never mind the lack of SEC championships, will make the natives restless at any school with major D-IA pull.

Fulmer is the second coach in as many weeks to have to face the obivous humiliation of sitting in a press conference and announcing that he would not return the next season, in a decision clearly not of his choosing. While the circumstances are completely different than those of Ty Willingham at Washington, it is instructive to note just how nasty a trend this is: athletic directors are taking very proud men and essentially debasing them in front of the media, boosters, and thier own players by saying they will coach out a lame-duck season.

And yet, this will continue, because football has become such a big business for public and private universities at the D-IA level; it means more for donations that grow the campus in lean years. The salaries of the football coaches have reflected this mentality of being an investment toward future gains, and when the gains no longer match the contract extensions, a public end is coming. As unfair as it seems, no one can say it was not coming or undeserved.

To paraphrase Hyman Roth, this is the business Phillip Fulmer has chosen. It is interesting to note in Chris Low’s piece for ESPN how the current players reacted angrily, seething about Fulmer being forced out.  If anything else, this should be a learning moment for them, because if a long-tenured coach like Fulmer can be forced out, think of how the system will treat you when your usefulness to the program or an NFL team, should you be lucky and good enough to play on Sundays, runs out.

Rushing The Field: Poll Anarchy

Well, seven weeks in and we’ve got the same damned problem we had last year with college football (or non-problem, for without these issues, the sport isn’t as half as fun to discuss or opine on.)  The field has leveled out so greatly that you have three of the top five getting knocked off on a Saturday.

Oklahoma and Texas were essentially trading blows for about three quarters, with Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy upping the ante on who would be favored in the Heisman race. Texas turned it in the 4th quarter: prodding Bradford into picks and getting big play from McCoy (who was 28-35 passing, good accuracy) along with a huge 60-yard run from Chris Ogbonnaya, and the Horns took the win 45-35. However, any analysis of this game without a lament about the sorry Big 12 officials in charge is incomplete. I understand the reasons for stringent rules about roughing the passer or personal foul calls; you want to keep people from getting hurt. McCoy flopped twice on ruhses out of bounds that got called for 15-yard flags, he and Bradford both were given the gift of flags on roughing penalties that shouldn’t have been called, an OU interception that should have been in the first half wasn’t, and the OU punter put on an acting job that Cristiano Ronaldo would have been ashamed of.

The Swamp is an entirely different beast of a stadium, particularly for a new starting QB like Jarrett Lee in his first road game as LSU “supplied the butt” for Florida to whip, in Mike Patrick’s parlance.  Florida got out to a 20-0 lead at one point; LSU closed it to 6 points, but the Gators’ defense finally stepped up, turning the multitude of running backs of LSU into an ineffective rotation, and forcing them to try to win on Lee’s arm — never a good prospect for a redshirt freshman.  Urban Meyer’s squad wound up putting half a hundred on ’em in the first complete game where Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin were not the sole playmakers in the Gator spread.

T. Boone Pickens’ money is apparently going to good use; it’s enough to buy a defense when there apparently was none.  A 28-23 upset of Missouri at Columbia gives Oklahoma State some of the respect they’ve been seeking, as no other team made Chase Daniel look out of sync as often as the Cowboys did (Mizzou fans may be tempted to blame the fact that Daniel was wearing #25 in honor of a fallen teammate rather than his usual #10 jersey), forcing him into crucial picks late.  Zac Robinson was a revelation for those of us who haven’t taken the time to watch him, pulling touchdown passes out of his ass. One in particular impressed me in the second half: he rolled out left and had NOTHING at the time downfield, he’d just avoided a sack, and to avoid another one, he hurled it to a spot in the end zone where he had two receivers against one cornerback — leap, catch, touchdown.

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Rushing The Field: Another SEC Barnburner

Seriously, if we’re gonna go through this every week with SEC teams in the night game on ESPN, it’s gonna be a real long, nail-biting season.  LSU pulled out the victory in the Tiger Bowl against Auburn thanks to a late touchdown pass from Jarrett Lee, who was subbing after Andrew Hatch got concussed, to Brandon LaFell to end a game largely characterized by the hard hits on both sides along with fits and starts on offense that have to infuriate Auburn fans. I mean, just watching the passing on Tony Franklin’s offense look spectacular one minute and awful the next has to drive the Auburn faithful nuts rights now.  So much more of the game was about the heavy hitters on defense, and the eight guys LSU rotated in and out on the D-line came through and pounded Chris Todd in the end to secure the win.  Les Miles would also like to remind you about the size of his play-calling balls.

When UGA’s Rennie Curran took Rudy Carpenter’s helmet with him on a sack in the first half of Georgia’s visit to Tempe to face Arizona State, I knew this game was going to be in favor of the Dawgs, and ugly in the second half. Matthew Stafford now has a new target in A.J. Green, who caught for more than 150 yards last night and a score on top of two more touchodwns from the reliable Knowshon Moreno.  Carpenter now has a fifth off-brand orifice thanks to an offensive line that can’t protect him; at least two of them were provided by USC’s Rey Maualuga.

The Tennessee Volunteers just flat out gave up when Florida came to town. The final score does say that the Vols got on the scoreboard, but really, when you’re down 27-0 in the third quarter, do any points after that count?  It wasn’t exactly a spectacular game for Tim Tebow, and that offense still looks a little too dependent upon him and Percy Harvin, but the Vols defense had very few counters and the Vols on offense — well, this is a team with two studs at RB in Arian Foster and Monterio Hardesty whom they can’t open holes for and get the ball to. Jonathan Crompton is still being asked to do way too much.  In joining Steve Spurrier as the second Florida coach to beat Tennessee and Phil Fulmer four times in a row, Urban Meyer would be perfectly within his rights to snark, “You can’t spell Outback without UT.”

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Lazy Hump Day Video Posting

Via Black Heart Gold Pants, we discover the intensity and vulgarity of USC coach Brennan Carroll driving potential walk-ons through workouts. “Brennan Carroll: Office Special Teams Coach” seems an appropriate header.

And thanks to EDSBS, a dandy visual summary of Tennessee Vol fanhood:

Ill-Advised Sweet 16 Predictions

Just the usual quick and dirty here. My Final Four is still intact, but I can’t say that I think it will be after the next two days.

East Regional:

  • UNC over Wazzu — this’ll be a slog of a game, I think, because this is the best defensive team the Heels will see unless they play UCLA in the final. UNC has enough talent to get by the Cougars, but they won’t be scoring 100 this time.
  • Tennessee beats Louisville — the Cardinals are streaking right now and the Vols look vulnerable. My pick of Tennessee is pure sticking with my bracket; it could go either way.

West Regional:

  • UCLA tops Western Kentucky — Nice run, Hilltoppers, but UCLA gets calls and plays defense too well. The Bruins can overcome a bad start.
  • Xavier over West Virginia — Like L’Ville/Tenn, this is a bracket pick that I’m sticking with because I think this will be a close game and don’t really know how it will go. I think Xavier’s defense will be the defining factor.

Midwest Regional:

  • Kansas over Villanova — Jayhawks, although it will not be a walkover and Villanova will give them a very good game.
  • Wisconsin ends Davidson’s run — On a Sweet 16 bracket, I picked Davidson for fun, but really, Bo Ryan’s defense seems to smother all and I don’t see another upset for the Wildcats here.

South Regional:

  • Michigan State upsets Memphis — Watch. The Tigers will kill themselves with bad free throw shooting and being forced to take jumpers that don’t fall.
  • Stanford beats Texas — Guard play is a big thing in the NCAA tournament, but having the Lopez twins to get points and clean up the boards will be crucial in a close Stanford win.

Photo: AP/Ted S. Warren

Above The Rim: That’s Just Sick

(Thanks to the FanHouse for the tip to the video.)

That Rajon Rondo dunk was likely the eye-dropping play as the Celtics sealed up a playoff spot with a win over the Pistons — a likely playoff match-up that we’ll all be dying to see. KG had 31 points, Rondo had 16, and center Kendrick Perkins had 10 points and a bigger 20 boards. Rasheed had 23 and Rip 15 for the Pistons.

Who does 50 points and 10 assists? LeBron James does — and was two rebounds away from another triple-double in the Cavs’ victory over the hapless Knicks. New York area hoops lovers can only dream of James signing with a Brooklyn-bound Nets team when watching him — and a Cleveland fan rushed towards the bench to give effusive praise.

16 in a row for the Rockets after taking it out on Indiana with Tracy McGrady’s 25 points. 15 straight points scored by Houston in the second quarter helped lead to the blowout. Is this team better without Yao? Maybe. It’s too soon to tell — and upcoming games against the Western Conference powers will give us a better idea.

The Denver Nuggets are the little, adorable girl with the curls. When they’re good, they’re angelic — and the firepower they showed against a Suns team on the decline was a nice display. 30 points and 13 boards for Melo, Iverson leads with 31, and J.R. Smith kept hitting shots off the bench for 20. This while Shaq gave a great effort on the boards with 18 rebounds, and Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 22 points.

Jason Richardson wasn’t exactly happy to leave Golden State via trade in the draft — and he finally got a measure of revenge, scoring 42 points as the Bobcats took one from the Warriors, who are now only one game ahead of Denver for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

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