Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Keith Whitmire

Keith Whitmire is defending his alma mater.

I've been hearing a lot of pundits - both amateurs on local blogs and professional media - talk about SMU football as if every season is a 1-7 nightmare. They paint the picture that SMU has no hope of ever winning. It's simply not true.

SMU won six games last year. If they could have scored from first-and-goal at the Rice one yard line, they would have gone to a bowl game in 2006. As it was, 6-6 would have gotten SMU into a bowl if C-USA had one more bowl agreement last year.

A lot of this has to do with Ed Housewright's disparaging uniformed remarks on one of the pretentious DMN blogs.

Go get 'em, Keith.

Next Year's Schedule

On the message boards at Mustang Maniacs, Scott Farrell let's us know that next year's nonconference schedule is set. Texas State; @ Texas Tech; TCU; and @ Navy. I know some people don't like scheduling I-AA, errr Championship Subdivision teams, but I think it is integral to getting SMU going and will indeed help SMU recruit a head coach. I have previously discussed scheduling here and here (I swear I have talked about it more than that but I can't find the posts, but whatever).

I know some people want SMU to play USC, Notre Dame, Texas and LSU, under the guise that SMU is in a weak conference and needs to play up. I disagree. SMU needs wins. I think last year was exciting in part because of the Sam Houston win. If that Sam Houston win was a hypothetical Florida State loss, the season would have had a quite different feel.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Unfair Park

Unfair Park, the blog of the Dallas Observer mentioned this site, which is pretty cool, I guess.

At least Robert Wilonsky didn't think this site was terrrrrrible.

Five more questions you may be (and are) asking.

Since the blog started back up, the emails are now coming in again and questions are being asked. Form a review of the message boards, it appears there are a number of questions about the press conference and what was said and what was not said. If you haven't seen the press conference in its entirety, especially the second-half with Steve Orsini, you need to see it.

Without further ado, let’s look at the issues.

Hey, I was listening to the Ticket before the press conference and they proceeded to kick SMU in the groin repeatedly. They made it sound like it was going to be impossible to find someone willing to take this job. Are we actually going to be stuck with some coach from Texas State or I-AA School?

First of all, with regards to the Ticket, nobody except Rich Phillips and George Dunham know a darn thing about college football beyond the top 25. Corby Davidson, who spoke most of the groin-kicking comments, can’t even speak articulately about his own alma mater (TCU), much less another school that isn’t Oklahoma. Make no mistake, SMU football is lucky to be on the Ticket and listen to the Ticket religiously, I just don’t recommend relying on the Ticket to be your SMU Information Station.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the old “Who on earth are we ever going to get to take this awful job?” argument.

This argument, self-loathing and pitiful though it may be, is incredibly uninformed.

Never mind that this cry of woe was made when Jim Copeland retired/got fired. The answer, in that case, was someone better than anyone reasonably expected: Steve Orsini left the equivalent position at a successful university in the same conference.

Never mind that this same cry of woe was uttered again when Jimmy Tubbs was fired as the basketball coach. The answer, again, was someone better than anyone expected: Matt Doherty, former NCAA coach of the year, a coach that some suggested before Jimmy Tubbs was hired and was dismissed “because HE’d never come here” is now looking at paint samples for the walls of his new office in his new practice facility.

One would think people would stop asking this question.

With football, it is even easier; all you have to do is do the math. There are presently 120 Bowl Subdivision teams (that is Division I-A to you and me). Over the last seven years, there have been an average of 18 coaching changes in Division IA. There simply are not that many jobs out there. A lot of people point to Bob Stoops who turned down offer after offer waiting for a job like Oklahoma to come calling. Bob Stoops is not typical. Bob Stoops took the advice of a man who didn’t even follow it: Steve Spurrier.

On average, a little more than half of the eighteen job openings per year have gone to previous head coaches at the I-A or NFL level. A couple more each year will be internal hires. That leaves, on average, seven Division I-A jobs up for grabs each year among assistants at the NFL or Division I-A level or head coaches at a lower level. If you are not a hot name (Urban Meyer leaving Utah for Florida, for example), you are going to listen to almost any offer.

Sub-question: Yeah, but this is a crazy year, there are going to be like thirty job openings this year.

No. No, there won’t. The numbers suggest, despite the chatter, this will be a quiet year for coaching turnover. The numbers say that there is significant turnover every other year and last year was an above-average year. Yes, there is a lot of chatter out there, but there is a lot of chatter every year and the chatter gets worse every year. Sure, Franchione and Callahan look like they are on their way out and it sounds like Houston Nutt will finally be shown the door, but I doubt the veracity of half the claims that “so and so” is on the way out. My gut says that there will be right around the average 18 coaching changes this year, which in some ways is still atypically high.

So Bennett finally came clean pointed out all the ways that SMU is not competitive in recruiting, right?

Well . . . sorta.

Look, everybody likes Phil Bennett. Phil is a great guy. You have heard that a million times in the last 72 hours. And it is true. He comes across as is a very genuine guy and you are inclined to believe every word he says. And if you do that, you are asking for trouble. I am not saying Phil will lie to you, but I absolutely believe Phil will confuse you and allow you to walk away from a conversation with a false impression.

I quit going to Coach’s Breakfasts and Lunch’s because I got tired of the “Phil Bennett bit.” The Phil Bennett bit is as follows: Phil identifies two key decisions (in recruiting, in a game, in anything) that were questionable. The most questionable decision, Phil will defend completely and tell you how smart he is and how you just don’t know enough about football. The second decision, Phil will tell you he was wrong and then go into a laundry list of why he was right even though he just said he was wrong.

Phil is also great at saying he doesn’t make excuses, but then proceed to list a bunch of excuses.

So when Katie the Greek started asking questions about “recruiting restrictions,” Phil was all too eager to agree with the premise and start talking. And why shouldn’t he? It validates him. I am going to watch Phil’s half of the press conference again, but if you can actually decipher what he is specifically talking about, you are a mind reader. I gleaned something about transfers and something about an education major.

Add to that the fact that neither Orsini nor Turner are ever going to publicly talk about these things in specifics and Phil Bennett has free reign to say whatever the heck he wants.

Do not take away from this that I think SMU is on a perfectly level playing field. Bottom line, while I think there is something to it, I also think there is something to what Steve Orsini said about it being its own form of "negative recruiting."


When SMU dropped its Physical/Education major after Ken Pye arrived, that significantly hurt recruiting, right? Most of our opponents, even Rice and Tulane, have majors in which a majority of athletes focus on, such as Education or Physical Education, Sports Management or Kinesiology. That is one of the things Phil was talking about. This is really a big deal, right?

I know some people think so, but I am not one of them. In the interest of equal time, if someone wants to disagree with me on this or anything else I say here, feel to email me your rebuttal and I will be happy to post it.

While there is not a Physical Education, Sports Management or Kinesiology major, there are certain majors where athletes tend to "cluster," which is the faculty and administrative term for all the athletes taking the same cr@p. I was specifically told by one student (a really smart one BTW) that basic equivalent of "Rocks for Jocks" is Markets and Cultures, which is an interdisciplinary business and sociology major that has only been around for a couple of years. I mentioned the major to a faculty member I know (who hates the athletic department and just about every football and basketball player in his/her class) and he/she just rolled his/her eyes.

Further, how many kids really wanted to go to A&M and major in Agricultural Leadership and Development? The answer is “None of them.” Do you realize how easy it is to find football players at A&M majoring in Agricultural Leadership and Development? I randomly clicked on six football players on the A&M roster and two majored in Agricultural Leadership and Development.

Here is a picture of Danny Gorrer; he can be seen here interfering with a cow catching a football. Danny likes cows so much, he decided to major in “Agricultural Leadership and Development.”

If the issue is having majors that potential student-athletes are interested in, I think the answer is kids are interested in anything, but most of all, they are interested in winning and being successful and enjoying their time at a school, not unlike any other kid. If the issue is having classes and majors at SMU where kids can be “stashed” and keep their eligibility, then I have news for you, SMU is not that hard. Besides, read what I said about Markets and Cultures again.

But hey, if the SMU leadership wants to start an Education undergraduate degree or a Sports Management degree because students are interested in it and that happens to help recruiting, then more power to them. I just rank the lack of such majors on the level of excuses for not winning just above chick Peruna handlers and dressing the Mustang Band like Mr. Peppermint.

Bennett said something else about transfers. This is really a big deal, right?

The transfer issue is a really big deal. Or it was. Or it still is.

Make no mistake, Bennett made recruiting junior college players his bread and butter at K-State. And there were so many glaring holes on the SMU roster at times, the failure to recruit junior college players to fill those holes is obviously an issue. Add to that, the public inability to get Division I-A transfers that were previously recruited to either qualify or recruit them.

I point out the "orphan course" policy change at SMU [LINK], which was implemented less than a year ago, which made transferring credits substantially easier. As put into practice and how it applies to the athletic department so far, I can't say. I concede that there has not been an influx of student-athlete transfers in the past year. Maybe Bennett was so obsessed with winning games in October and November 2006, he didn’t focus on junior college recruiting as much as he should have; the numbers were down from even previous years during his tenure.

I will point out that SMU Defensive Tackle Serge Elizee went from JuCo to Minnesota to SMU in less than 9 months and is now playing on Saturdays for SMU, which I find encouraging.

That being said, …


What do you you take away from Orsini's criteria for a new coach?

I took one thing and only one thing away: head coaching experience. And that fits Orsini's previous hires at SMU and UCF. The guy is going to have to have head coaching experience.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Five Questions You May Be Asking

Why now?

Well, obviously, there was nothing Phil Bennett was going to do between now and the end of the season to save his job. The best he was going to do was 5-7 and no bowl. Frankly, nobody sees a four game run in this team. I certainly don’t.

Waiting until the end of the season only did a disservice to SMU and to Phil Bennett. SMU can start the search process and get a head start on every other school in the country (until Baylor fires its coach next week). Bennett doesn’t have to answer questions about his job anymore. Bennett’s job status won’t be a distraction to the team.

Six years ago, Copeland made a terrible mistake and waited until after the next to last game to fire Mike Cavan. Why was it a mistake? Because Cavan won that game, that is why. Copeland fired Cavan after a win over Rice. Did Copeland see anything in that win to convince him that Cavan needed to be fired? Of course not. It just looked bad. But that was par for the course of Copeland in those days.

Why let Bennett coach until the end of the season and not appoint an interim coach?

Why? I ask, “Why not?” Is there any good reason not to let him coach the last four games? I thought of one reason and one reason only: Keep Bennett from pulling any more redshirts so true freshmen can play on special teams. I have to believe that will stop happening anyway. Rest assured, I will be prepared to jump on the field myself if I see another true freshman run out on the field.

The only other reason is out of spite, and that is just a bad reason. Bennett is not going to do any harm by coaching these last four games. It isn’t as if anyone on the current staff is legitimately going to be considered for the head coaching job.

What next?

Just like the Athletic Director search and the Basketball Coach search, we will see a search committee formed. That will probably be finalized by the end of the week.

A search firm will be hired. Most likely, that is Eastman & Beaudine. They were hired to help with the Athletic Director search and the Basketball Coach search. Their hire seems like a given.

The only alternative that I see is to hire Chuck Neinas. Google him and you’ll find a dozen articles all saying he is the best in the business. You may also find a couple of articles accusing him of being unethical. The ethical issues revolve around him being hired by universities to find AD’s and those AD’s end up hiring him to find coaches. That really is not that uncommon (see the preceding paragraph).

How long is this going to take?

Don’t hold your breath. There are only a handful of people worth considering who can be interviewed before the college football regular season is over. If SMU considers doing anything other than hiring someone currently out of coaching, we may not hear anything for a while.

I expect this search to take longer than the search that led to Bennett or Doherty, which were 16 days and 18 days respectively. Accordingly, the story that the search has to be open for 30 days to meet school or government rules doesn’t hold water.

Dude, I read the athletic department was going broke or something. Is that true?

No. While it is true that the athletic department loses money for SMU and Orsini would welcome your contribution towards the basketball practice facility, the athletic department is in no worse financial shape than it has been the past several years. Anecdotally, SMU athletics was in far worse shape in 1936, when if not for the money that went along with the invitation to the Rose Bowl, old Ownby Stadium might have been foreclosed upon.

I have some experience with the press. One thing I know is that reporters like a narrative. Regardless of the reality, reporters report facts that fit the story they want to tell. Katie the Greek, for whatever reason, wanted to tell a story of an athletic department in trouble, rather than just a football program. I don’t know why. Maybe it is because SMU made her work on a Sunday.

I guarantee you SMU will pay the next coach more than the last coach.

Bonus question: Don’t you have a list of candidates or something?

In due time.

Bennett is gone

Dallas Morning News


Two images bookend my memories from Phil Bennett’s tenure at SMU.

The first is the first game of Bennett’s career. I wasn’t even there. I had a three week old son. Too young to take to the game and leaving my wife alone for a Saturday was not an option. So I sat there in a rocking chair, trying to rock my crying son to sleep while listening to the game begin. Holding my new son, listening to a football game with a brand new coach in his first game against a pathetic opponent that hadn’t won a game the year before. And then disaster struck. From the fire on the grass; to the pathetic defense, to the complete blowout; most of the time, I was rocking my son trying to figure out what the hell was happening.

The second memory is the Rice game in 2006. Winner goes bowling; loser would stay home. Coincidentally, I didn’t go to that game either. Through an odd twist of fate, both my wife’s parents were in the hospital. She had to be there and I had to watch the kids. My friends road down in an RV; they were having a great time. I watched the game on all-access while listening to the radio. Again, disaster would befall the Mustangs.

But my memory isn’t really from the game itself, it is from Jean-Jacques Taylor’s column the next day. He wrote, “After the game, several SMU players sat on the bench and watched Rice's jubilation. Another fell to the ground, tears streaming down his face. Another screamed obscenities to no one in particular.”

That image stuck with me.

“What about the 2007 season,” you ask? Honestly, there is not one damn thing I will remember about Phil Bennett in 2007. The season was entirely forgettable and almost entirely irrelevant. The only thing SMU accomplished is proving that SMU is patient to a fault.

I suppose I may remember the last SMU offensive series of consequence. SMU had first and goal to seal the victory. In an offense that relies on its best player more than any other offense in football, SMU chose not to put the ball in Justin Willis' hands. SMU failed to score, squandering the best defensive effort of the season. Had the defense played that well all season, I dare say, we would not be having this conversation this week.

I must say, the result is not unexpected. I expected to see SMU with a completely rebuilt defensive line fail to get any pressure on the quarterback, leaving the mediocre, at best, secondary exposed and forcing the offense to play catchup most of the game and the load would be too much for the reigning C-USA Freshman of the Year to bear. I just didn't expect the defense to flame out in such spectacular fashion and I didn't expect the season to end in Week Eight. I thought the offense would carry SMU to at least four, more likely five, wins; I thought SUM would be chasing the New Orleans Bowl all the way to the end of the season.

SMU is the first school to fire its head football coach in 2007. Now is the time for Steve Orsini to do what we all know he was hired to do in the first place.

Note to Steve: Don't screw it up.

We Are Back!!!