Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Chryst Legacy


What will be the legacy of Paul Chryst at the University of Pittsburgh?

Some wags have already suggested that his greatest legacy will be the fact that his departure brought about the firing of Steve Pederson, but let's put such cynicism aside for the moment.

When you think of what Chryst came into three years ago following the thief-in-the-night departure of Todd Graham, which was preceded by the Wannstedt firing and the Heywood fiasco, it seemed as though Chryst was put into a hole six feet deep and told to dig his way out.  Given that he stayed in Oakland for three seasons, his tenure seems to have brought some - not a lot, but some - stability to the football program.  It was low bar to clear, and his departure, while not as odious as Graham's, does leave a bad taste in the mouth.

He managed to recruit two bonafide super stars in James Conner and Tyler Boyd.

His teams in his second and third seasons were laden with a lot of freshman and sophomores, which promised hope for the future.

His teams went 19-19 over three seasons.  

He lost games to Youngstown State and Akron.

Under Chryst, Pitt won exactly one game against what I would say was a clearly superior team (Notre Dame in 2013).

And of course, if we wanted to really nitpick, we can all find strategic decisions that may have cost Pitt a win here or there (remember the Duke game this year?), but that isn't really fair, and you can find those kinds of things with ANY coach.

As a fan, I really hoped and wanted Paul Chryst to succeed at Pitt, and perhaps the groundwork for such success had been laid over these last three years, and the Panthers were ready to bust out big time over the next two seasons.  However, Chryst is now gone to America's Dairy land, and will never know what would have happened.  Or, as 19th century poet John Greenlief Whittier, who was an early advocate of the spread offense, would have put it:

"For all sad words of tongue and pen, 
The saddest are these, 'It Might have been.' "

Years from now football historians not yet born will look upon Paul Chryst and the early 21st century Panthers and say, "Well, he was no Jock Sutherland, but he was a hell of a lot better than Dave Hart."



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Pitt Merry-Go-Round Continues

Later today it will become official:  Football Coach Paul Chryst is leaving Pitt to become Head Football Coach at the University of Wisconsin, and the all too familiar process, to Pitt fans, of selecting a new football coach  at Pitt will begin, has already begun, in point of fact.

Pitt fans know the sad litany of Harris-Wannstedt-Haywood-Graham-Chryst-and Whoever the Interim Guys were, so let's not rehash that.  So, what are we faced with at this point?

I have read enough and heard enough from people whose opinions I respect to come to the conclusion that AD Steve Pederson should be kept out of the loop in deciding who should be the next football coach at Pitt.  For all the good Pederson has done at Pitt, and he HAS done a lot of good there, as even some of his detractors admit, Pederson's history of hiring football coaches both at Pitt and Nebraska, has been a disaster, and Football, for better or worse, is the engine that drives the athletic train at major universities.  You screw it up with football, and pretty much everything else doesn't matter.

Should new Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher fire Pederson, name a new AD and let the New Guy hire the coach?  A lot of people are clamoring for that, but if Pederson got the boot today, how long would it take to find candidates, screen and interview them, and hire one of them as the new AD?  And how long would it take that guy to find, screen, and hire a new football coach?  A month or so?  You do that, and an entire year's recruiting class would be lost, and the new coach would be starting in hole that would take at least two to three years to dig out from.

Or, you form a Blue Ribbon Committee to hire the new coach, and then fire Pederson, and bring in a new AD.  At that point, the new AD would have a football coach who is not "his guy", Pitt goes 5-7 next year, and this whole cycle begins all over again.

Or, someone other than Pederson hires a coach, Pederson stays, and nobody is happy.

Leaving aside the whole situation with the Athletic Director, my own thought is that Pitt needs to bring in a younger guy, some hot young OC or DC at a power school, as head coach and hope that you get lucky and that he does the job, and turns Pitt into a serious contender for ACC Championships.  Of course, when and if that happens, this guy will walk whenever another school with a higher profile, in a "better" conference, and with more money comes calling.  Look what happened with Christ, and he only went 19-19 during his tenure.  Like it or not, this is what the Pitt job is - a stepping stone.  Lots of Pitt fans don't want to admit that, but that is the way it is, and has been since the early 1980's, and that's over thirty years ago.  Pitt got lucky a long time ago with Johnny Majors and Jackie Sherrill (both of whom, it should be noted, left Pitt for "better" jobs), and some extraordinary players (Dorsett, Green, Marino, e.g.).  

One can only hope that they can get lucky again with this next hire, and that this new guy will build something that will make Pitt a desired job for those who will follow.  I am not so sure that Chryst and his 19-19 record did that.

We will see.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The First College Football Playoff


There hype and feeding frenzy over which teams would comprise the final four for the first ever College Football Playoff culminated this past Sunday with the announcement that The Committee That Condoleezza Rice Is On had selected, in order, Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, and Florida State.  Left out in then cold were the Big 12 (which has nine teams, btw) powers Texas Christian and Baylor.

You can argue - and many have - that (a) Baylor for screwed, (b) TCU got screwed, (c) the Big 12 got screwed because they don't play a conference championship game, (d) Ohio State doesn't belong because the Big 10 stinks, and (e) the whole thing was orchestrated to include the teams that ESPN wants in the Playoff.  Well, I am not here to argue any of that, and in my opinion, for what that is worth, I think that The Committee got it right with the four teams that they chose.

Be all that as it may, one thing cannot be argued:  The Playoff format and the weekly rankings issued by The Committee was a rousing success for this simple reason - it has gotten the sports world talking and thinking about College Football and then upcoming Playoff to a degree that no one probably envisioned.  The Sugar and Rose Bowls on New Year's Day will become must see television to a degree never seen before.

On Pardon the Interruption yesterday, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon got into a discussion centered around "should the Playoff include eight teams" so as to avoid situations such as Baylor and TCU this year.  Wilbon put forth the interesting premise that it was better to have only four teams so as to have seemingly deserving teams still standing once the music stops.  This way conversation, controversy, and argument can still be ginned up even after the results were in.  With eight teams in the party, there would have been no such conversation as the Baylor/TCU/Ohio State arguments that led up to last weekend.  

I tend to agree with them, but I also face the inevitable conclusion that Mike Wilbon came to:  The Playoff will go to eight teams whenever ESPN decides that it SHOULD be eight teams.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

MadBum, Hodges, and....Peter Pan and Social Media

Selected Short Subjects.....


Sports Illustrated announced yesterday that San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner will be its Sportsman of the Year for 2014.  Regular readers know that I stand in awe of the post-season performance, and in particular, the World Series performance of Bumgarner throughout this past season's MLB Playoffs and World Series.  I made a case that Bumgarner is the greatest World Series pitcher, over the course of a career, in all World Series history, and I got very few arguments when I did so.

This is one year where Sports Illustrated most definitely got it right.







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The Golden Era Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame made their long awaited announcement yesterday, and the results were somewhat surprising: Nobody was elected by the Committee to the Hall of Fame.  Not Jim Kaat, not Richie Allen, not Minnie Minoso, and not Gil Hodges. Nobody.

Just as I predicted, Facebook erupted with rancorous posts and comments from the legion of Gil Hodges supporters out there.  As for me, I am going to try to follow the advice of friend Joe Risacher and stay out of Hall of Fame debates.  To those in despair over this, I say, as might Aaron Rodgers, Relax.  The sun will come up tomorrow, Obla Di Obla Da Life Goes On, and be very thankful that the biggest problem in your life is whether or not some ball player is or is not in his sports's Hall of Fame.

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Like many of you, I watched NBC's live telecast of "Peter Pan" last Thursday evening.

It was a pleasant enough experience.  Allison Williams, with whom I was completely unfamiliar, was charming enough in the title role, Christopher Walken was miscast as Captain Hook and seemed to phone it in, and there was the cachet of seeing a live performance on television that made it intriguing to watch.

All in all, as I said, a pleasant viewing experience.  Like so many things on TV these days, NBC promoted different hash tags in the corner of the screen throughout so that viewers could Tweet, Facebook, and use other forms of social media as they watched the show.  Out of curiosity, when the show was over, I went to Twitter and entered some of the hash tags to see what people said, and I was shocked, although perhaps I shouldn't have been, over the viciousness and meanness of the comments made.  I didn't tote them up, but if I had to guess, I would say that barely one in twenty comments had anything good to say about the show, and no one stopped with a simple "I don't like it".  Their comments had to be mean, vicious, and snarky to the nth degree.  I mean, if the show is THAT bad in your eyes, why are you even watching it in the first place?

It made me resolve to be a lot more cognizant of some if the things that I put out there on Twitter, Facebook, and, yes, The Grandstander.

Oh, and one last comment on Allison Williams.  In addition to being attractive and talented, she has to have the most beautiful set of teeth that I have ever seen.  Honest to God, her teeth were absolutely dazzling.  Beautiful choppers!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Murder for Two" at the CLO

We took took a break from the Sunday tradition of Chaining Yourself To The TV Set And Watching The Steelers today.  Instead, we went into downtown Pittsburgh to check out the Christmas Village that has been set up in Market Square, and to have lunch and catch the matinee performance of "Murder for Two" at the CLO Cabaret.


First off, we were surprised at just how many people were in downtown Pittsburgh at Noon on a Sunday afternoon.  It was beautiful day, quite cold, but clear and sunny, but the number of people in Market Square still surprised us.

Secondly, the CLO's Cabaret Theater is a terrific venue.  Comfortable and intimate, and perfect for the types of shows that the CLO stages there.  You can even dine there before the show, which we did today.

Thirdly, "Murder for Two" is quite a fun little show.  Only two performers, one of whom played all ten "suspects" in this musical murder mystery.  Two very talented actors in a rather clever show.  If you are looking for a fun and entertaining night out during the Holiday season, you could do a lot worse than taking in this show.

A(nother) Gripe About ESPN

Last Wednesday night, I tuned into ESPN to catch a few minutes of the North Carolina - Iowa basketball game, and just as I did, announcers John Saunders and Dick Vitale launched into a commentary into the academic scandal that has recently come to light at UNC.

(I know that it has become a stale cliche to rip on Dicky V, so bear with me.  Thank you.)

Both Saunders and Vitale said how awful it is that such a great University as North Carolina should have something like the happen to them, and what a terrible shame it is.  They, and especially Vitale, went on to stress that  (a) athletes weren't the only students to go through these phantom classes, and (b) none of the coaches, and certainly not Roy Williams or Dean Smith, would have had ANY IDEA that any of their athletes would have benefited from such fraud.  Vitale went on to say that coaches don't and can't concern themselves with the academic progress or status of any of the athletes in their charge.  Really?  Man, have I been deluded over the years if that's the case.  Or perhaps just hopelessly naive.

They also went on to say that past UNC football coaches Mack Brown and Butch Davis, who were at Chapel Hill when these events were occurring, also had NO IDEA that such things were taking place. 

It should be noted that both Brown and Davis are currently employed as talking heads at ESPN, and as for Vitale, well, the day when he will ever say anything even remotely critical of any college basketball coach will indeed be the day that the earth will stand still.

I should also say that I hate to see something like this happen at the University of North Carolina.  I have always liked the school, have usually rooted for it's basketball teams, and have a family member for whom I have nothing but the highest regard who is a UNC graduate.  I am guessing that she and her husband, also a UNC grad, are probably as appalled as anyone over this whole situation.

Steelers 42 - Bengals 21, and Other Football Thoughts

There are very few absolutes in life - the sun will rise in the east, the Pope will always pray for peace, the Yankees will always spend vast amounts of money.  That's about it, but there is another one that you can take to the bank with as close to absolute certainty as there is in professional sports, and that is this: with rare, very rare, exceptions, the Cincinnati Bengals will almost always revert to being, well, the Cincinnati Bengals.

Facing the a home game against the Steelers wherein a victory would just about put a death knell on the Steelers playoff aspirations, and increase their own playoff possibilities, the Bengals took a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter and proceeded to allow the Steelers to score 25 straight points in the space of about nine minutes.  That ain't easy, but if any team has shown a historical propensity for such happenings, it is the Bengals.  I don't want to sell the Steelers short here.  They thoroughly earned this victory in what, for three quarters anyway, was a close, hard fought, and pretty good football game.

The Steelers are a flawed team, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  They give up too many long plays, often for scores  - it happened twice today - but the offensive unit sure seems to be peaking at the right time of the season.  Ben Roethlisberger continues having one of his best seasons ever (despite some inexplicably bad games this season), Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are having Pro Bowl seasons, and the offensive line appears to be among the best in the league.  Can they make a deep run in the NFL Playoffs?  Given the weaknesses of the defense, probably not, but the trick is to get into the Playoffs.  To do that they will need to win at least two of their remaining three games, with one of those wins coming in the season finale against the Bengals.  Once you get into the Playoffs, anything can happen, as the KayCee Royals can tell you.  I know, I know, different sport, but still a good analogy.

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Because Marilyn and I went to a play this afternoon, I only watched the Steelers game via my DVR recording, beginning at around 4:45.  Did you realize that you can watch an entire NFL game in about ninety minutes or so this way?  Terrific.

Anyway, this circumstance meant that we listened to the radio broadcast of the game for the twenty or so real time minutes of the fourth quarter that transpired during our drive home.  It would take a writer much, much, MUCH better than I to describe just how incredibly bad the radio team of Bill Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin, and, yes, Craig Wolfley is.   On the long incompletion  that Andy Dalton threw to A.J. Green with Cincy down 28-21, Hilgrove described it as, and I may not have it exactly here, but the gist is correct: "A guy came and knocked the ball away, pushed Green out of bounds and another guy almost intercepted the ball."  The two "guys" in question were, I might add, Steelers with whom, presumably, Hillgrove is familiar and should be able to identify by name.  I might also add that Tunch made no effort to step in a identify who those two Steelers defenders were.

Awful, and the Steelers and their broadcast partners should really move onto some fresh blood next season.  The glory days of "turn down the TV sound and listen to Fleming and Cope on the radio" are long gone.

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I see that the college football playoff committee has settled on Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State as the first ever college football final four.  I think it's a just line-up.  All the pre-weekend hype centered on whether or not TCU should be ranked ahead of Baylor if all teams held serve over the weekend.  All teams did hold serve, and all but still undefeated FSU won in blowouts, including fifth ranked Ohio State.  It seems to me, and to some knowledgeable football people out there, that as the season progressed, it became apparent that Ohio State, despite playing in a weak Big Ten, was certainly among the four best teams in the country, and maybe even the best team.  The advanced metrics crowd will surely argue that this is not the case, but they passed the "eye test" to me, and, apparently, the twelve person committee, so I like the line-up.

I also like that Alabama and Ohio State will be matched up in one of the semi-final games.  With two such cheerful, outgoing, and likable coaches like Nick Saban and Urban Meyer going head to head, gosh it's going to be tough to decide which guy you would like to win more.