Archive for November, 2013|Monthly archive page


In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on November 9, 2013 at 4:35 am
Not long ago, a lawyer acquaintance dropped me a note after the University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier dismissed starting quarterback Stephen Garcia, allegedly because of his problems with alcohol and marijuana, according to ESPN.
“The reason I thought of you is because a while back, we exchanged a few emails about how alcohol has pervaded college athletics,” he wrote. “I’m sure you have heard of the recent troubles with our quarterback who was finally let go. Alcohol was a big problem for him. The University also had a problem with alcohol and its fraternity rush that was so bad that it had to suspend rush for several weeks this fall.
“It seems to me that it is inconsistent with the University’s and Athletic Department’s policies to have Budweiser as the primary sponsor all of the
pregame shows. At the same time, Coach Spurrier has a line of wines bearing his name and then he appears in radio spots warning against drinking and driving and touting designated drivers. I wrote to the athletic department 2010 but was summarily ignored.”
I’m not all that familiar with the South Carolina situation, but his e-mail doesn’t surprise me. College athletics couldn’t exist these days without the advertising and sponsorship money that major breweries pump into big-time college football and basketball, not to mention the NFL, which has its own problem with far too many athletes drinking too much.
Spurrier, by the way, does own Steve Spurrier Vineyards. A Google search, in fact, revealed the following story posted by a South Carolina television station on the vineyard’s newest product.
It reads, ““Coach Steve Spurrier has announced the latest offering from Spurrier Vineyards–”Gamecock Garnet”–with proceeds set to go to the Steve Spurrier Foundation and USCGolf programs.The wine is offered at more than 50 retail locations throughout South Carolina, including several in the Midlands.
Spurrier said the commemorative wine is offered through a partnership between Southern Wine and Spirits of South Carolina.  Southern Wine and Spirits Vice President and General Manager Tom Collins said in a news release that the wine celebrates the Gamecock Football Team’s SEC Eastern Division championship in 2010.
“The wine is a great way to recognize the title and also benefit South Carolina 
 & Coach Spurrier’s charities,” Collins said.”
I like a glass of Chardonnay as much as anyone, and I suspect Spurrier must be something of a connoisseur, as well. But the notion that a football coach at a major state university who just released his star quarterback for excessive drinking owning his own vineyard that produces an alcoholic beverage surely smacks of some serious hypocricy, even if the golf team and other charities are beneficiaries.
Wonder how many kids at the school are heading to their local Piggly Wiggly and showing their school spirit (pardon the expression) by plunking down $15 for a little Gamecock Garnet, and then getting blitzed guzzling it down on Saturday night after the big game.
With so many campuses facing serious problems with binge drinking on campus, one might think the university might have something to say about the head coach’s wine business. Apparently, as long as the Gamecocks keep winning, it’s no problem for anyone save the star quarterback, who is no longer with the football team because he can’t handle his alcohol.


In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on November 9, 2013 at 4:30 am

The Richmond Spiders bowed out of the NCAAs after cracking the NCAA Sweet Sixteen but the campus is still celebrating.

Coach Chris Mooney surprised the college basketball world by signing a contract extension at Richmond through 2020. With ACC coaching vacancies at Georgia Tech and N.C. State, somehow Mooney and his Princeton-style offense remained in the Atlantic 10

Now if Shaka Smart can stay at VCU – busy this week with an affair called the Final Four – it’ll be a coup for the Commonwealth’s Capital.

In the past five years, Mooney and George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga chose to stay at their Mid-Major venues instead of stepping onto the “coaching Broadway.” Coach L said “No” to his alma mater – Providence – after leading the Patriots to the 2006 Final Four. Maybe life in Mid-Major Land isn’t so “middle of the road.” Let’s see, you have job security, you’re assured of 20 wins a season, courts are named after you and your team is likely to reach the NCAAs year after year.

In Larranaga’s case, maybe it was the blustery Rhode Island winters that kept him in sunny Fairfax. Jim and his wife can grill out in early March, whereas in New England, you don’t retrieve the patio furniture from the garage until June. Plus, it’s easier to outrecruit ODU, VCU and James Madison that it is Connecticut, Villanova, Syracuse and St. John’s.

When Winthrop’s Gregg Marshall shunned the Friars for Wichita State, it branded the Mid-Major level anything but “mid.” He averaged 22 wins a year for Winthrop and continued the pace, winning an average of 20 a year in Wichita. I don’t think he’d have the same winning percentage at PC, NC State or Georgia Tech.

Mid-Majors have the coaching but not the publicity. The Bracketbuster – featuring clashes between the Mid-Major giants, lasts one weekend in February. League commissioners should stage a 3-4 day event (like the ACC-Big East Challenge), where every game is televised – nationally. Games involving Butler, UAB, Rhode Island, Cleveland State, Tulsa, Creighton, Murray State, Bucknell, College of Charleston, Northern Iowa, Bradley, Xavier, Dayton, Southern Illinois, Wichita State, Mason, VCU, Old Dominion and Siena would be seen by athletic directors who huddle on the NCAA selection committee – great exposure while programs tweak their postseason-hopeful portfolios.

The Colonial had TWO different teams in the Final Four in the last five years — proof a Mid-Major can compete with any league in the nation. Only problem is the nation isn’t aware of it until they’re shocked by what Mason and VCU accomplished.

And consider Wichita State (under Mark Turgeon), Southern Illinois (under Bruce Weber), Southwest Missouri State (under Steve Alford) and Northern Iowa (under Ben Jacobson) each have reached the Sweet Sixteen in very recent years.

In their Final Four runs, Mason and VCU knocked off SIX former national champions: North Carolina, Michigan State, Connecticut, Villanova, Georgetown and Kansas.

VCU’s athletic director should be huddling with Richmond’s athletic director right now on “how to keep your coach.” The alternative is calling Florida Coach Billy Donovan, who provided the Rams their last two coaches – Anthony Grant and Smart.

Though big money can be guaranteed at the big time, success isn’t. Consider these coaches who left their Mid-Major posts only to fail on the bigger stage.

Siena lost Mike Deane to Marquette and Paul Hewitt to Georgia Tech. Both are now jobless.

VCU lost Jeff Capel to Oklahoma but was fired after failing to elevate the Sooners to the glory days under Billy Tubbs (Elite Eight) and Kelvin Sampson (Final Four and Elite Eight).

Western Kentucky lost Dennis Felton to Georgia. Once in Athens, Felton was 84-91 with only one NCAA appearance in six years.

Butler advanced to a pair of Sweet Sixteens under Todd Lickliter before he left for Iowa. In Iowa City, Lickliter was 38-57 and a putrid 15-38 in Big Ten games.

Xavier lost Pete Gillen to Providence and later, Virginia but he failed to achieve the same success in the Big East or ACC. Like others, he is now out of coaching.

Richmond lost Jerry Wainwright to DePaul, which was his last stop in coaching.

George Washington made the Sweet Sixteen under Coach Mike Jarvis, who left for St. John’s. With the Johnnies, he advanced to an Elite Eight and won an NIT before being fired after six games in 2003-04 when the NCAA learned he paid a players for four years. Jarvis is now at Florida Atlantic, where he lost 42 games in his first two years before he took the team to the NIT this year.

Kent State’s Stan Heath was lights out with the Golden Flashes, winning 30 games and landing a berth in the 2002 NCAA Elite Eight. When he left for Arkansas, it took him three years just to muster a winning record. He since has moved to South Florida, where he’s 41-54 after four seasons. Looking back, Heath’s Mid-American Conference schedule included Toledo, Northern Illinois, Miami of Ohio and Ball State. Now, the menu features Connecticut, Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, Marquette and Louisville – all of whom have national championship trophies. And his league’s “weaker“ teams – West Virginia, Notre Dame, Providence and St. John’s – have all advanced to Final Fours in their histories.

Remember Duke’s Tommy Amaker? He had success at Seton Hall before taking the Michigan job. When he failed there, he ended up in the Ivy League at Harvard. So much for the big-time.

Conversely, consider coaching “giants” who never left their Mid-Minor venues. Pete Carril coached at Princeton 29 years. Jim Phelan spent his entire 49-year career at Mount St. Mary’s. Don Haskins coached little ol’ Texas Western to a national title during his 38-year stay in El Paso.

Maybe these coaches savored success more than most – even if the masses never heard of their schools.


In LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT Ross MacCallum on November 9, 2013 at 4:23 am

It’s been a week full of shocks… and aftershocks. You would have thought an earthquake followed by a hurricane would have been enough of a jolt for folks who don’t typically live through either event in a decade let alone a single week. But, in some ways, the weather and the seismic activity weren’t the most stunning events of the past seven or eight days.

I’m still staggered by the death of longtime Oriole, Mike Flanagan. Self-inflicted gunshot to the head. A suicide. He was 59.

I seriously doubt that anyone who knew Mike saw this coming. I hadn’t seen him in person or interviewed him since 2007 when Cal Ripken was elected to the Hall of Fame. ‘Flanny’ was then, as the stories you’ve been reading about him since his death have indicated, a nice guy. My memories of him are of someone who always seemed to have time for you; someone who took care to give you an intelligent quote or a nice soundbite—often with a humorous twist.

The police report suggests “financial troubles” as the major contributor to his death although several news agencies reported there was no outward sign of money problems, bankruptcy, foreclosure, etc. Of course, Mike didn’t leave a note, so we’ll probably never know the whole story. WBAL-TV in Baltimore reported that sources strongly suggested that the Orioles struggles on the field over the past 14 years weighed heavily on Mike. The O’s haven’t had a winning season since 1997 and their wire-to-wire run to the A.L. East title.

WBAL quoted a source as saying that Flanagan was “despondent over what he considered a false perception from a community he loved of his role in the team’s prolonged failure.” Even after the police report seemed to discount that, WBAL issued a statement saying that it “stands by its story.”

I can’t imagine anyone holding Mike Flanagan solely accountable for the Orioles current losing ways. Frankly, he’s among the least likely targets of the fans’ ire. Owner Peter Angelos is the most-hated baseball man in Baltimore for a reason. And, even though Flanagan was a key player in the O’s front office for several seasons, he’s just one of six men who have served as a de facto G.M. under Angelos. And, Flanagan never served alone. He never wielded solo supreme power. He was either paired with Jim Beattie or Jim Duquette during his days as a Vice President of Baseball Operations, so the blame (if there must be blame) is to be shared by many in the Orioles franchise. Trust me, this mess isn’t Flanagan’s fault. Yes, the Beattie-Flanagan combo gave us a past-his-prime Javy Lopez, but it was the sainted Pat Gillick who signed Albert Belle.

You can never know what someone really thinks about himself or others. On the surface, Flanagan was a popular player, coach, executive and TV analyst for the Orioles; a member of the Orioles organization in some capacity since the mid-70’s. It’s a shame, if the WBAL report is true, that the team’s on-field struggles led to Flanagan’s off-field struggles. Struggles that he felt he could not win.

Speaking of a struggle that will be, at best, difficult to win, we shift the focus to Tennessee women’s basketball coach, Pat Summitt.

The 59-year-old Summitt has announced that she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia—Alzheimer’s.

Pat told the Washington Post and her hometown Knoxville paper that she became concerned with her cognitive abilities last season while she was “trying to coach and figure out schemes… and it wasn’t coming to me.”

I can’t picture women’s college basketball without Pat Summitt prowling the sideline. And, yet, that day will come, and sadly, sooner than expected. She has no immediate plans to quit coaching, nor should she. She told the media and Volunteer fans that she will “rely on her assistants” more than ever and will work hard to keep her mind sharp.

Folks who know Pat will all say that if somebody can take Alzheimer’s head on, it’s her. But, the track record of this disease does not bode well for Summitt or anyone who receives this diagnosis.

My last contact with Pat was several years ago when she was a consultant to the WNBA’s Washington Mystics during the Chamique Holdsclaw-era. But, I’ll never forget the first time I met her. It was the summer of 1984. She was the head coach of the U.S. Women’s Olympic team. I was doing a story on her point guard, Kansas-grad Lynette Woodard, and caught up with the team at the San Diego Sports Arena just ahead of a pre-Olympic exhibition game.

All I really knew about Pat was “The Stare.” Before Jon Gruden developed “Chucky,” Pat Summitt gave us the “The Stare.” In a word—intimidating. And, I was expecting the worst. Curt answers. The “I have to prepare for the world, and I don’t have time for you” attitude.

The interview had been scheduled on the fly, and the best Team USA could offer was a concrete storage room in the basement of the arena near the locker room. My photographer struggled to light it and make it look like anything other than what it really was. I struggled to pare down a list of questions to fit the 15 minutes I had been granted.

Long story short. Pat Summitt stunned me with her warmth. She actually asked me questions to get to know me a little better. She double-checked the pronunciation of my name. The interview, albeit brief, was wonderful and added a great dimension to my piece on Woodard. I never forgot that night (in part because men’s team coach Bob Knight swore at us because our TV lights were too bright), and anytime people called Pat ‘cold’ or were intimidated by ‘the stare,’ I recalled for them my first meeting with her.

In the many years since that night in San Diego, Pat was won more games than any coach in college basketball history, man or woman. She’s won eight NCAA titles. Appeared in 18 Final Fours. Been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Coached some of the best players in Tennessee and NCAA history.

We’ll never forget her. But, there may come a time when she’ll not be able to remember her 37-plus years at Tennessee. For her, the titles, the players, the winning moments will be lost. And, that will truly be a loss for us all.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia