Thursday, November 30, 2006

Delusion's End

Steve Spurrier put an abrupt end to the biggest collective fantasy since the last "Lord of the Rings" movie this afternoon:
SC head coach Steve Spurrier told his players Thursday afternoon that he's not leaving.

Spurrier met with the team Thursday in a previously scheduled closed-door meeting. A source close to the team told News19's Matt Barrie that Spurrier told the players that he came to Columbia, "to do things that had never been done before, including winning an SEC title," and that he's "not leaving until that's done."

He reportedly jokingly told them, "some of you might not like me, but you're stuck with me."

UAT message boards immediately filled up with variations on "we didn't want him anyway," and "this makes Saban a lock."

As Chaste Chadd once put it, the Turd Creed remains "I belive that this is a delusional world..."

Breaking The Silence

Major kudos to SI's Stewart Mandel for blowing the lid off one of the more annoying (and least reported-on) scams in all of college football and the people who cover it:
What role do agents play in all of these coaching rumors? I'm sick of Jimmy Sexton's SEC clients (Nick Saban, Tommy Tuberville, Steve Spurrier and Houston Nutt) being mentioned as "potential candidates" for every major opening on the planet. Why does the media allow this guy to manipulate them just so that his clients can get leverage in negotiating with their current schools?
--Jeff, Columbia, Mo.

They play a bigger role than you can possibly imagine. Ballpark estimate: 70 percent of the stories you read about some seemingly random coach being linked to a coaching opening are probably a result of the coach's agent -- or the agent of another candidate in the running for that job -- floating it to a reporter. Houston Nutt, in particular, has "turned down" more jobs he was never in the running for than any coach I know.

Why do the reporters go for it? Because eventually the agent will return the favor and feed him the "scoop" when one of his candidates actually accepts a job (or if he finds out someone else's candidate has been offered the job).

Hats off to Mandel for admitting what a whole lot of his collegues won't. Agents in general--and Jimmy Sexton in particular--play the sports media the way Eddie Van Halen plays a customized Stratocaster.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Separated At Birth?

We post, you decide:

UAT Athletic Director Maw Mooah

The Tall Man from Phantasm

Turdistan Held Hostage: Day Two

FTB's secret inside source in Tuscaloosa comes through again:

From The Desk Of Maw Mooah

Updated Coaching Search list:
1. Frank Beamer
2. Bobby Petrino
3. Jim Grobe
4. Paul Johnson
5. Jim Leavitt
5. Mike Sherman

Hand-written below: What is the problem here? Angus II assured me our tradishun would have these guys crawling naked over glass to kiss PBJ's ring. And who the hell is Mike Sherman? Must consult with the Roman Numerals on how to proceed. Don't think I could survive another guy named Mike who nobody's ever heard of.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Turdistan Held Hostage: Day One

Breaking News: The following memorandum was just faxed to FTB world headquarters from a secret inside source in Tuscaloosa:

From The Desk Of Maw Mooah

Prospect List:
1. Steve Spurrier
2. Nick Saban
3. Belichick guy with all the good press
4. Bill Parcells

written in margin: This isn't working out. Must listen to Finebaum show tonight for more suggestions from callers. Damn it, we need some Bear Boys for this list. Where is Danny Ford's phone number? Ask secretary to confirm whether Charley Pell is actually dead.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thumbs Down--The Choices of Maw Mooah

So, why did UAT fire Mike Shula?

I don't mean why as in, why fire him at all--Shula was and is an incompetent coach, and if UAT hadn't been both stupid and desperate after Mike Price met his Destiny, Shula would have long since joined the ranks of ex-coaches. But they did hire him, and then give him a big raise and a ludicrous buyout just a year ago. Even so, after the raising of the Thumb (okay, I suspect losing to Mississippi State had more to do with it), Mikey had to go. But again, why right now?

Here's what I think. The last week has been a complete media circus in Alabama. Every newspaper, every local newscast, and whoa-Nellie, every radio show has had one major sports topic: Is Mike Shula going to be back for 2007?

By yesterday, things had degenerated into such chaos that UAT AD Maw Mooah had to make a move one way or the other, just to end some of the uncertainty and stop the bleeding. Remember, yesterday was the first "contact day" after a month-long recruiting quiet period. It was the first day since October that coaches could call recruits, and every single kid being recruited by Alabama had one question to ask--who is the coach next year? The Turd braintrust couldn't afford to wait any longer--Maw had to make a decision one way or the other.

When (as as I suspect) Mikey refused to fire any of his assistants yesterday, Mooah had his answer on the "can I keep him or not." That answer was a reverberating "No," and now Maw has some breathing room to conduct an actual, above-ground coaching search without the question of Shuluh staying on as a one-year lame duck. It's not an ideal situation, but it was the best of Maw's options after the stumbling fiasco of the past week.

If Maw already had a coach lined up, I think we would know it by now. Since he most likely doesn't, we can now look forward to the usual Turd coaching search thrash, which goes something like this:

Step 1. "Target" the biggest "name" coaches in the country.
Step 2. Get turned down by all of them.
Step 3. "Target" several up-and-coming coaches.
Step 4. Watch all but one or two of them parley your interest into a big raise.
Step 5. Pick from whomever's left.
Step 6. Call the new hire "the one we really wanted all along."

UPDATE: Welcome, Deadspin readers (and thanks for the link). Ah, the Instalanche of sports blogs at last...

Buh-Bye, Mikey

According to Cecil Hurt at the Tuscaloosa News, Mike Shula was fired last night. Word broke a bit after midnight Central (at least that's when I got an unexpected text message from my old bud Scott Brown) on various UAT web sites. Oddly, as of first thing this morning, nobody in the national press has picked up the story yet. At any rate, if Hurt said it, I certainly believe him. Here's the intro:

Mike Shula has been dismissed as the University of Alabama’s head football coach, multiple sources close to the Crimson Tide football program told The Tuscaloosa News on Sunday night.

Shula notified his assistant coaches late Sunday night after UA director of athletics Mal Moore gave him the news, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Neither Moore nor Shula were available for comment on Sunday night. UA is expected to make an official announcement today.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cartoons Don't Have To Be Consistent

Gee, I thought contacting potential new head coaches without informing your current head coach was the very worst thing anybody could do. I mean, it's worse than barbecuing a toddler. At least that's been the mantra in the press--especially the in-state Alabama press--ever since a famous private jet flight just over three years ago.

But golly, something seems to be different now. Wonder what that could be?

All Thumbs

Some very scattershot stuff from the weekend and its aftermath:

* This was my fifth trip to Bryant-Denny; the first was for a high-school game in the mid-80's. Back then, calling the place a dump would have been charitable. Alabama played all its big games in Birmingham in those days, relegating its official home stadium to homecomings and then-biannual Vanderbilt "rivalry." It's hard to imagine a facility even more dilapidated than Legion Field, but Bryant-Denny fit that bill, and was UAT's neglected child for a long time.

A series of renovations, the most recent completed prior to this season, have considerably improved the place. The new end zone upper deck where UAT consigns most visiting fans is no fun to get up to, and the sightlines aren't what I'd call ideal, but it is new and clean and relatively comfortable, which is more than I could say about the old lower-level end zone seating. Even with the additional seating, though, Bryant-Denny is never going to be a particularly intimidating stadium. The original grandstand design pushes the majority of the crowd well away from the field, and the old-money Alabama fans in the best seats just don't get all that loud, even in big games.

* Of course, the recent changes can't all be considered improvements. The Auburn team entered the field mid-way through Alabama's pregame video presentation (as usual, complete with incomprehensible Bryant argle-bargle), earning no end of squaking from Turds ever on the lookout for "disrespect," but as it turned out, Auburn was just trying to get out of the line of fire. The Montgomery Advertiser's Josh Moon was in the portal with the team:

Who was the genius that decided it would be a good idea to have the visiting team exit the field by going through a tunnel located right below the Alabama student section?

Surely, Mal, you didn't know anything about this idiotic idea before the construction started and it was too late, right? Because I just can't imagine that a man who has been around college football as long as you have would hear that idea and not immediately find it, well, nutty.

For a good five minutes, the Auburn coaches and players stood just outside that tunnel trying desperately to navigate their way through the downpour of half-filled plastic cups, completely filled water bottles, miniature liquor bottles and pretty much every other item the students could lift up and send in flight. After a while, I swear I noticed some of the students sizing up their smaller classmates and trying to calculate just how much force would be required to send them raining down on the AU team.

It was a mess. An ugly, classless, embarrassing mess.

You'd think that after five straight years of losing to Auburn and four straight home losses to the Tigers that the students would be used to this scene by now.

The carnage didn't end there, of course. After the game, Auburn's David Irons was struck in the eye by a water bottle tossed from the UAT student section. I'm frankly not surprised at any bad behavior coming from the Mountain Brook cokehead brats who populate UAT's Greek "Machine," and the Turd braintrust (such as it is) shouldn't be surprised either. Hopefully they'll take some action to prevent their home-grown idiots from acting this idiotic the next time around.

* I'll never understand how an institution that so loudly proclaims its "class" could allow the tacky flea market that jams the streets leading up to Bryant-Denny before a game. I've never seen anything remotely like it at any other college campus. Every possible variety of cheesy elephant porn you could imagine, lined up for sale along several blocks. I guess it's heaven to a redneck who somehow stumbles into Tuscaloosa, but for a normal human, it's an eyesore and a nuisance.

* Watching Tyrone Prothro painfully limp out to midfield before the game was just viscerally unpleasant. I wish him nothing but the best, but the kid is basically crippled, and the television coverage Saturday did not capture the awful lingering extent of his injury.

If it was Prothro's own notion to go out there and fire up his teammates and the fans, fine and good for him. But if it was some PR guy's bright idea, that PR guy needs to be dragged out and horsewhipped.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Here Comes The Thumb

The English language needs a new word. It's long past time for a single term to describe the feeling you have on a Sunday morning after your team has won the Auburn-Alabama game. This rare combination of serene, languorous satisfaction, bone-deep joy, and let's be honest here, frank relief ought to have its own name.

For now, we'll just call it Thumbiness.

Okay, okay, before getting my gloat on, let's talk about the actual football. First and foremost, it was a hell of a good football game, the best contest on the field since the back-to-back one-pointers of 1996-97, and really the first time since then that AU and UAT were both competitive from wire to wire. There's a lot of griping this morning about missed opportunities from the other side, but from where I was sitting (which, granted, was somewhere in the stratosphere of Bryant-Denny's new upper deck), there wasn't a whole lot left on the field.

Both teams played a whale of a ball game. UAT quarterback John Wilson obviously had a solid day. Getting slobberknockered by Quentin Groves a couple of times wasn't his fault; that was courtesy of Chris Capps, the lousiest excuse for an SEC lineman I've seen in some time. Alabama's passing game was dead on the mark, even if they couldn't run much at all. That said, Auburn's much-maligned secondary deserves a lot of credit for completely shutting down D.J. Hall and containing Keith Brown--but spread that credit around to sophomore wideout Nikita Stover, who broke 100 yards and scored that late-second-quarter touchdown that kept the Turds in the game.

Brandon Cox started out the game poorly. It was obvious from his first passing attempt that Cox was still reeling from the Georgia debacle. Fortunately for Auburn, all it took was one clutch completion to Rod Smith on a third-and-long early in the second half for Cox to rise above the dismal sounds of the prior Saturday. After that, Cox was in it to win it, and it didn't hurt any that the young receiving corps finally stepped up to play. Prechae Rodriguez isn't likely to have a bigger catch in his career than the game-winner.

Of course, with only 14 pass attempts to 40 rushes, Cox was playing a secondary role to Kenny Irons, Brad Lester and Carl Stewart in the AU scheme. All three backs played well, but I think I've been most impressed with Stewart's development this season. He was pretty much written off as a too-slow tailback before the season, but a preseason injury to Mike McLaughlin thrust Stewart into a new role, and he's flourished in the interim. Stewart was a menace clearing the path for Irons and Lester, and you're rarely going to see two bigger plays in a rivalry game than his pair of long receptions off the wheel route.

It was a fun game. Not fun like last year's drubbing, but fun all the same. Take away the last couple of minutes, and I'll be you most Alabama fans would agree with me.

A few numbers of note. In modern-era games played outside dolorous confines of Legion Field, Auburn is now 10-2 in the series. Needless to say, that's a big deal. AU has won six of the last seven, and clinched the decade (whatever the 2000's are called) with Saturday's victory.

Zero: the number of touchdowns (and, not coincidentally, wins) UAT running back Ken Darby tallied against Auburn in his four-year career. Darby's rushing totals over four Auburn games--three of which he started--were: 1, 14, 89 and 48. That's right--for somebody who really loved to shoot his mouth off about Auburn, Darby barely managed to top 150 total yards over four years.

In most other cases, I'm happy to tip my hat to UAT's players for a great effort, but not for this bozo. Darby, you suck.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The End Of All That

What can I say about the 2006 Auburn-Georgia game that hasn't already been said about Krakatoa? As epic apocalypses go, this one was a doozy. It had everything: bad defense, back kick protection, and more turnovers than a Pepperidge Farm factory. The best thing I can say about this one is, there were so many big plays going against the Tigers, there's no way all of them could have made it to the overnight highlight reels. Say what you will about Tommy Tuberville, but when he lays an egg, brother, he doesn't fool around.

As far as what to take away from the debacle, I don't think it's any great revelation to point out that Auburn just hasn't recruited well at wide receiver and in the interiors of both lines. The loss of three thousand-yard receivers to graduation after 2005 turned out to be far more damaging to Al Borges' offense than the departure of the famed 2004 backfield. With only a couple of productive receivers on the field (neither of them being mistaken for speed demons) and weak pass protection up front, AU's air attack is a shadow if its former self, even when Brandon Cox is on his game. When he's off, or injured (and he was likely both on Saturday), well, you saw what can happen.

Tommy Tuberville said after the game that he, personally, had messed up the defensive game plan, which didn't come as a great surprise to anybody who recalled similar disasters against Arkansas in 2002 and Alabama in 2001. As a rule, when Tuberville leans in over his DC's shoulder and puts in a very aggresive package, you can pretty much bet the bank that overpursuit will be the rule of the day. Give the coach his due for taking responsibility up front, but this defense has been going backwards for a month now, and not because of faulty game planning. Regardless of who came up with the schemes for this particular game, the breakdowns in fundamentals are far more troubling to me than any lapse in strategy. You can fix a bad strategy at halftime. You can't fix bad tackling until next spring, and then maybe.

Of course, while everything was going wrong for Auburn, everything was simultaneously going right for Georgia. A true freshman quarterback who'd thrown three times as many interceptions as touchdowns suddenly couldn't miss, and the palms of a receiving corps that couldn't catch syphillis in Bangkok suddenly started secreting Crazy Glue. Mark Richt's offense was abused in Jordan-Hare two years ago, but Richt paid back the favor in spades this time around. You didn't have to be an offensive genius to look at Auburn's defensive tendencies and figure out that draws and counters work great (heck, you just have to watch films of the Arkansas game), but give all the credit where it's due: Georgia shook off its midseason funk with a vengeance.

As the JCCW pointed out after the Arkansas game, this is what you tend to get with a Tuberville team. On balance, he's going to win a couple that he shouldn't, and he's going to completely screw the pooch once or twice a year. That's the pattern, and with the entirely-notable exception of 2004, it hasn't changed much during Tuberville's entire tenure. Does the latest televised embarrasment mean I want him to be fired (again)? Hell, no. Tuberville proved his point since late 2003, and I'm not climing on the run-him-off bandwagon again.

Now, do I expect a lot better than what we saw yesterday? Hell, yes.

I tried yesterday to recall the last time Auburn lost a close game. The best I could do was overtime in Baton Rouge last year. Before that, you'd have to go back to the Ole Miss game in '03. Everything else that's been remotely close has been a win. That's actually a heck of a record, and a solid testament to a team that does know how to win in the clutch. The bad side, of course, is that all the rest of the losses never got to the "clutch" part--they were mostly over by halftime.

If nothing else, Saturday's putrid result will add quite a bit of spice to a pre-UAT-game week that was looking decidedly dull about 36 hours ago. It's another of Tuberville's tendencies to come out strong immediately after a bad loss, and it would be, er, good if he could manage as much this weekend. And if nothing else, nobody around Auburn is going to lose any sleep over the BCS standings for the rest of the year...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Stand By

Sorry for the lack of posting, real life has been real busy. Hopefully something new up later today.