Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"I wasn't gonna walk in there and say, 'Hey, I want a raise.' "

Dallas Morning news version.

Daily Campus version.

First of all, this needs to be said. This could have been handled better. This did not have to drag out until Tuesday afternoon. SMU cannot dismiss this as a routine “evaluation;” Schellas Hyndman’s review was not the same as Phil Bennett’s and we all know it.

Consider this exchange between AD and head coach sometime during five hours of talks:

Bennett: "Am I your guy?"

Orsini: "When we get through with this, I'll tell you."

I am not entirely sure of the logic for keeping Bennett. I keep looking through the articles and there really isn’t one given. The closest thing we get from Orsini is the following:

"While we did not succeed to the levels we had hoped this season, we continued to make progress," Orsini said in a statement. "We will return SMU football to national prominence."

And that is part of the problem. I can’t tell you how many “ponyfans” told me they thought that even if Bennett made a bowl, that if Orsini thought he get an upgrade, he would do it. Obviously, those people were wrong, but the sentiment is right. It doesn’t matter if Bennett went from five wins to six in 2006; what matters is whether Bennett can go from six wins to seven or eight in 2007. Stealing a bit from Bob Sturm, it is just like Jim Cramer on “Mad Money”.

“We aren’t worried about where a stock has been, we are only worried about where it is going.”

Is this football team going to be better next year than this year? And the year after? That is the only question that matters. I don’t really care about 0-12 in 2004; I just care about 7-5 (or better) in 2007.

Yesterday, I was reminded there are six Conference USA bowl tie-ins next year and not just five. With these results in 2007, SMU is a bowl team. So it very well may be that Orsini is banking on the continued parity in Conference USA. After all, Jordan Palmer is gone at UTEP; Kolb is gone at Houston.

And then there is the very real probability that it just came down to money. SMU is paying for two basketball coaches and a football coach in 2006. Maybe paying for two basketball coaches and two football coach in 2007 was too much for the athletic department to bear.

But let’s not forget that letting Bennett go was a complete crapshoot. We don't know what SMU would have gotten. Maybe SMU would have found the next Charlie Weis; maybe SMU would have found the next Mike Cavan. Decent chance SMU would have found the next Phil Bennett.

Keeping Bennett has its own risks. Anybody walking around saying they think Bennett has made the right call on even 80% of his coaching decisions is crazy. I concede that this year, the decision-making improved, but there were still numerous calls that were mindboggling, AND WE ALL KNOW IT.

And here is the other thing. This year, Bennett was given everything he ever asked for. First, contrary to popular belief, Bennett can by and large recruit who he wants. As an aside, I think it is ironic that the same people that continually rip Stallion for his negativity are using his arguments to defend Bennett. The exception is transfers, and again, I think that rule is changed now, too. Second, this is Bennett's dream schedule. Bennett has complained about the schedule since he got here. SMU scheduled NTSU! Why? For Bennett! So, he gets what he wants and he comes up short. Short against NTSU and short of a bowl bid. And on top of all that, a school with a job that before the season started every single one of us would have said was a harder job than SMU, Rice overcomes all these same things and is going to a bowl game.

There is no guarantee that a new coach has to start over from scratch the way Bennett did when he took over for Cavan. If that is the way you feel, then Bennett needed to be fired now because apparently he has already left the cupboard bare. At least, that is what I was told repeatedly by Bennett in the first three years he was here: there was no talent when Cavan left. That is why he had to start over. So if SMU has to start over again, what does that say about the job Bennett has been doing?

I will warn the fire Bennett camp, and I have warned everybody of this for three years. At some point, if Bennett no longer coaches at SMU, I guarantee you he will be in our backyard within a month recruiting the same kids as SMU. Contrary to the belief of some, Benett can recruit-he is a heck of a salesman and anybody that has met him knows it; part of his problem at SMU is he hasn't had much to sell (by and large his own fault, I should add). It should be our dream that he ends up the linebacker coach on some NFL team because we don't want him as the defensive coordinator at one of our "natural and traditional rivals."

I will also add that if Bennett were let go, those outside the SMU bubble would have thought we were nuts just as we think the NTSU'rs are nuts for canning Dickey. All they see is “bowl eligible” and more wins than last year. That is all JJT sees; that is all Norm sees. That is all freakin’ Dale Hanson sees. Yeah, Dale said keeping Bennett was the right thing to do at 10PM on Tuesday, which almost certainly means it is a mistake.

And finally, there is the fact that Bennett is a great guy. He is a great guy to us. While Cavan came here and gave the impression that he couldn't wait to get out of here, Bennett at least acts like he enjoys it. And he puts up with a lot of cr@p from us. On the other hand, he has to put up with the cr@p because he lost the benefit of the doubt a long time ago.

So put your faith in Orsini because (i) this was not an easy decision; and (ii) it was his frickin call anyway and we will have years to second guess it.

For me, this is liberating. No more mincing words. No more keeping my mouth shut because I don't want this board used against Bennett in recruiting. The current situation is obvious. This is f'ing it. Year six of the Bennett regime. Six seasons will tie Bennett with Meyer and Rossley for the 4th longest coaching tenure in SMU history. Put up or shut up time for Bennett and all of his supporters. So without further ado…

"Four years ago they were 8 and 4, when was the last time SMU has been 8 and 4?" Bennett said. "They have 11 All-American receivers. When I got here I had to move a backup tight end to starting quarterback. They have a quarterback that threw 25 touchdown passes. They've had [academic] exemptions forever. SMU never had exemptions."

"If you want to evaluate me, the only thing you have to look to is where we came from," Bennett said.

First of all, it was five years ago, not four. Second of all, that Rice season was a fluke; Rice played THREE schools that didn’t win a game that year and six of those wins were against schools with a combined six wins. Third of all, that 8-4 Rice team lost to SMU that year. Fourth of all, that was Rice’s only winning season since 1997, which is the last year SMU had a winning record as well.

I don’t even know what “11 All-American receivers” means. Surely that is some kind of misquote or typo. Rice has had one receiver in its history with receptions for 1,000 yards and his is a sophomore this year. And he is the only Rice player in the top 100 for receptions, receiving yardage or yardage per game. More on Mr. Dillard in a moment.

Rice doesn’t have a quarterback that threw 25 touchdown passes. Chase Clement through 21 in 2006 and five in 2005. Oh, and he didn’t play against SMU, don’t forget. Unless he means SMU and Justin Willis. This article is confusing. But Willis threw 26 touchdowns and ran for another three. And if we are talking about Willis, well, to suggest that Bennett isn’t at least partially responsible for SMU’s QB problems in the past is a folly.

Now, as for Mr. Dillard, if Mr. Bennett wants to suggest SMU couldn’t get Mr. Dillard or others into school at SMU, well, I’m sorry, brother, that dog don’t hunt.

Dillard was not recruited seriously for football by anybody. Dillard received his first and only offer from Rice two days before signing day. He got into Colgate and was going to go there to play basketball. Are we expected to believe that Dillard could get into Rice or Colgate but not SMU? Oh, and Bennett forgot to mention that he invited Dillard to walkon at SMU. That is kind of an important detail that Bennett has neglected to mention.

If SMU had seriously recruited him and had offered him and he had committed, his commitment would have been panned by many because he was small and he had no other offers. Truth is Dillard is the kind of lucky homerun that a school hits every now and then. Of course, you would also have to assume that a coaching staff would know what to do with the player when he got to the school.

“If 81 would have gotten hurt instead of me," he asked, referring to a player who scored three touchdowns in Rice's 31-27 win, "who'd have won that game?"

Whoa. I can’t believe somebody would even make this ridiculous argument. Rice was without its starting quarterback and now we have to wonder what would have happened if they lost their best receiver, too? Then what? Are we supposed to pray that their running back gets hurt, too? Last time I looked, Dillard wasn’t on Rice’s goal line defense.

Speaking of goal line play…

Bennett said that he did not expect to make changes to his coaching staff.

But he does have a wide-ranging plan for improvement that touches on everything from the football nitty-gritty to getting the student body more involved to adding to the program's support staff. Bennett said he planned to add in-house recruiting and high school relations coordinators. Improved recruiting will continue to be a major emphasis.

Man, that is awesome. Should have been done in year one. “Better late than never,” I always say. Except how is this going to help recruiting now? It isn’t. Junior College Signing Day is in three weeks and National Signing Day is two months after that. This doesn’t even rise to the level of lipstick on a pig. It is more like … eye shadow on a bat.

I didn’t expect staff changes. Why make them now? It is pointless, borderline reckless, to make scheme changes now or put in an entirely new offensive system. Really, all that would do is provide excuses. And to be fair, total offense did increase from 104th to 79th in the country (of course, that is a difference of less than 11 yards per game).

"We're the fifth winningest team in the conference. When I first came here, we couldn't win a conference game," Bennett said. "We're recruiting a higher-caliber athlete, and I think we will be a team to be reckoned with in the conference championship."

SMU is not fifth, it is the sixth winningest team in the conference this year. At first, I thought maybe SMU was fifth in conference winning percentage, but that isn’t true either. SMU is tied with Marshall for sixth in winning percentage in conference at 4-4, which I need to point out is the same conference record as last year. I don’t need to remind anybody that if SMU were fifth, it would be bowling.

Oh, and the only year SMU couldn’t win a conference game was 2003. The reality is that post-SWC, SMU has averaged more than three conference wins a year and that includes none in 2003. SMU has finished .500 or better in conference a surprising seven out of 11 times. So, contrary to popular belief, SMU CAN win conference games.

Now that I have that off my chest, it is time to move on and gear up for 2007. Bennett's homework: figure out why SMU can't convert in short yardage or stop the other team on 3rd down; figure out how SMU lost so many 4th quarter leads; above all, make these guys better. Orsini's job is to eliminate the excuses: no more arguments that SMU is not on a level playing field in recruiting. Don't blame me, your coach said it, not me.

Me? My job? Figure out how to make a good signature drink for the boulevard. I am thinking Vodka, sweet and sour and grenadine. How about you?


Anonymous said...

Vodka, Sweet and Sour and Grenadine? I'll give it a try. What are you going to call it?

Brandon said...

Great post, I think you covered all the concerns SMU fans should have. I do disagree with the not firing the coordinators however. Unless Bennett changes the way they operate, we will see the same mistakes next year. I hope and pray that Bennett can get out there the next few months and sell SMU to recruits like we hear he can...especially transfers and JUCO's.

Anonymous said...

Orsini should have fired him. It would be attacked by the Dallas media (since many writers and commentators have backed him over the last couple of years) but the heck with them, they get paid to watch SMU play, and frankly could care less about the program's success. I think you could argue that last year's team was better than this year's. Last year the Tulane coach said that because of the generosity of Bennett, SMU lost to Baylor when they should have won. So, SMU would have been 6-5 and in a bowl. Last year's schedule was much more difficult. This year, Bennett gets a I-AA team in Sam Houston, and 2 Sun Belt teams, and still goes 6-6. To sit here with that production when you watch Mike Price do wonders at UTEP, and a rookie coach at Rice (Rice ??) go to a bowl shows how pitiful we have become. You can't tell me a guy like Larry Coker could not run rings around what we will do next year. Reclamation projects do work. Just look at Frank Solich at Ohio. In Conference USA you should face the fact that reclamation projects, or giving a bright young coach his first opportunity is what you get. It is what it is. But, I think you are right about the money. Orsini has gotten a lot put into the athletic program, and my guess is, he is tapped out right now.

Anonymous said...

I have thought about this a lot also and along with the reasons you give, I think that this was Orsini's way of making Bennett his "hire". Had Bennett been fired, several people would have said that Orsini did it in order that he could have his own man in place, and the firing was not fair. This way, Orsini has, in essence, "hired" Bennett and signed him to a 3 year contract (2009 right?). Now, if next year's performance is not adequate, Orsini can bring out the ax without having to answer to those that would have blamed the firing on the egotistical need to have his own man in place. We have no idea what boosters of prominence might have voiced their opinion to Orisini, and although I think he is a man that would act on his own authority, I think this makes his job a lot easier next year, regardless of the seasons outcome. Mark Rydel

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this a lot, too. HOw about pepper vodka with tobasco sauce?