Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sitting and Waiting

Uggggh! This coaching search is KILLING me! The first nation-wide coaching search for the University in a long while is underway and should be wrapping up here within the next week, according to Pat Kilkenny who is leading the search. Soooo many names have been tossed around, so let's break 'em down:
1) Mark Few, Gonzaga- When in the past 3-5 years has his name NOT been mentioned as the next Oregon head basketball coach? The long time Zags coach is an alum and native of Creswell. Why wouldn't he want to coach here? Pac-10 school, incredible facilities, Nike?? Or is his comfy little thing he has up in Spokane working just fine for him? 10 straight WCC regular season championships and 8 out of the last 10 WCC tourney champs. It sounds like he is doing alright. If Few doesn't take the Oregon job now...he will never leave Spokane.

2) Jamie Dixon, Pitt- This guy is good, he's young and he has west coast ties. A former assistant of Ben Howland and predecessor of him at Pitt, Dixon is one of the best young coaches in the game today. He has kept Pitt competitive in the super conference Big East. Dixon is a Nike guy and would be an awesome fit at Oregon. Rumors of Pat Kilkenny in NYC have him interviewing Dixon. This is my number one choice.

3) Mark Turgeon, Texas A&M- This could have been a good get as well for the Ducks. Rumors are that Turgeon has agreed to a contract extension to remain in Aggie land. Turgeon has ties to the Oregon program, he was an assistant under Jerry Green, the man who Kent took over for. Turgeon's name seems to be fading in this search.

4) Tubby Smith, Minnesota- A surprise name, but would not be a bad hire at all. Obviously a Nike guy, he has had undeniable success as a head coach in college basketball. Only once has he failed to achieve 20 wins in a season, which was his first season as a head coach. It is rumored that Oregon has already offered him a $2 million contract, more than what he makes for the Golden Gophers. Also key, Smith was guaranteed a new practice facility upon agreeing to take the Minnesota job 4 years ago. Yet there has been no significant movements to make sure that occurs by the university. With Oregon just months away from opening a fantastic $200 million arena outfitted with TWO practice facilities. Many factors here to watch, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Smith accepts the offer.

5) Tom Izzo, Michigan State- Talk about surprise name! There is no way that Tom Izzo leaves East Lansing. 6 final fours in the last 12 years?! That is crazy good. Izzo is a staple at Michigan State and in the Big 10. Even if Oregon's offer of the largest contract in college basketball were true, I don't see him leaving. He has too much going on there to just drop it all. No chance here.

6) Brad Stevens, Butler- You want a young coach? How about 33 years old and just earned a trip to the Final Four. Butler is THE hottest team in the nation, they are on a 24 game win streak. Stevens has potential but not out here in the west. No ties with recruiting out here and he just seems like a better fit for a team like Iowa, who is looking to make a splash in the Big 10 again since they lost Alford (another Duck candidate). Don't expect Stevens to come to Oregon, or anywhere else for that matter as he, much like Few, has something really nice going at Butler.

7) Randy Bennett, Saint Mary's- He has had recent success in Moraga, giving the biggest challenge to the dominant Gonzaga Bulldogs by winning the WCC tourney this year and making a good run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA's. He doesn't have the name that the other candidates do, but his track record speaks for itself and many would commend Oregon on hiring him. Positives to bringing him in? He will be cheaper than a Few or Dixon or Izzo. He can recruit from unusual places really well (Australia-- but do we want another Ian Crosswhite?). What is going against Bennett? How about the fact that he is coaching at Saint Mary's, which was where Ernie Kent was plucked from when came to Oregon. Does the university want to go back to the well? If Tubby Smith or Jamie Dixon don't pan out, look for Bennett to be the fall back guy.

7) Dave Rose, BYU- He isn't high on a lot of fans wish lists. Rose relatively came from nowhere this year and lead BYU to a top-10 ranking and a very exciting NCAA appearance that ended in the second round. Still, Rose runs a very up-tempo style offense that would be conducive to the current Oregon roster, and like Bennett, he would come cheaper. He is option number three for the Ducks.

7 names to think about, probably only three realistic names out of the bunch: Smith, Bennett and Rose. I still retain hope that Jamie Dixon comes out here, but again would be pleased with Tubby Smith. Oregon definitely wants to make a splash with this hire and Smith would do just that. The program has already taken a lot of flack for even being rumored at offering jobs to the likes of Izzo, Billy Donovan and Dixon. Would it be a failure if Oregon winds up with Bennett or Rose or have the Ducks already won by getting rid of Kent?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Eugene Experience

I finally utilized the power of being part of the 'media' this past Friday as I spent the day down in Eugene, covering the court appearances of LaMichael James and Jeremiah Masoli. It was all volunteered, no O.T. pay but a chance to be behind the scenes, to witness the sentencing of those two was a life-time experience.

It wasn't the best story to cover and I had to still come into work at my normal time (2 a.m.) and then left for Eugene around five. Arrived in Eugene at about seven and then James was due in court at 8:10 a.m. There were three of us, our reporter Mark Ross, photographer James "Sparky" Sparks and myself. Mark and Sparky drove down in the satellite truck, while I tagged along in my Honda. The Lane County Courthouse was swarming. Plenty of media setting up and camera men running around. ESPN was there, Shelly Smith was reporting on the case (no one is a fan of Shelly Smith). With tripod and cables in hand, the three of us marched up to the third floor and court room 305. Sparks plugged into the Pool feed, only one camera is allowed in the courtroom so all the stations plug into a box to get the feed into the camera. Everyone was anxiously awaiting for LaMichaels' arrival, cameras pointed right at the elevators. Eventually James just appeared in the courtroom, so he must have came in the side door. 8:10--showtime!

The audio was terrible, very hard to hear what was going on in the court room but I was able to make out a key phrase: 10-day sentence. James would leave the court room through a side door once again, much to the shigrin of the camera men. Once Mark Ross came out of the court room, he confirmed it: a 10-day jail sentence with credit for days served, 24 month probation. All in all, a fitting punishment for what LaMichael pleaded guilty to, that being harassment (his former girlfriend, Heidi, pleaded guilty to the same charge). Upon retiring back to the satellite truck, I was reading the court documents that stated exactly what occurred that night between James and his girlfriend. The documents have been made readily available (but cost us $2.75 at the court house), and many of you probably have read it. But it was sobering to read what actually happened and to compare the story to the rumors swirling around the internet.

The time between the James and Masoli hearing was rather uneventful, a failed attempt to get lunch at Papa Soul Food was rather disappointing. After ingesting the video from the James hearing and helping out KGW (yes, we do aide rival stations), I found out that I would be going on campus to get student reactions from the court hearings. As in, I would be 'asking the tough questions'! But...first things first, Masoli.

As we sauntered back up to the court room, room 305 again (same judge too), we caught up to some family friends of the Masolis'. They said they did not know what kind of punishment Jeremiah should receive, but they were there for support no matter what. And the support didn't stop there. As I sat in the back of the court room, several football players entered the room, one of which was Simi Toeaina. Masoli sure had a lot of support. As soon as they sat down, the judge entered and the hearing began.

We quickly gathered that this was going to be more than just an arraignment. Garrett Embry was also present in the court room. He and his attorney did a majority of the talking. Embry's attorney asked that a sentencing occur on the same day. The most surreal moment of the day occurred shortly thereafter when Masoli stood in front of the judge and openly admitted that he intended to steal property from the SAE fraternity house, his only response to the judge being, "yes". Masoli's expression did not change once in the court room. He had a deadpanned stare the entire time. That definitely differs from his happy-go-lucky, easy-going attitude that he normally sports when on the football field. This difference in appearance will be the lasting image for me.

As with LaMichael James, Embry and Masoli disappeared from the media's view after the hearing. Everyone and their grandmas knew that Chip Kelly was going to have a press conference on the matter, so every media member booked it to Autzen Stadium and the Casanova Center to prepare. My job was to follow a second photog who came down before the second hearing and go to campus to get reaction about the sentencing from students. Mark Ross had given me some tips as to how to be a good 'interviewer'. Luckily I had Tad, the second photog, there to help me out as well. Tad, an Oregon alum, asked me if my major at U of O was in journalism. Heh, not quite. So he stepped in and helped out some, and made it easier to get the good sound bites. We got four or five interviews and then rushed back to Autzen to ingest the video so we could use it on our 4 and 5 o'clock hits. That's where everything went wrong.

Operating a satellite truck requires three people: the reporter for the live shot, the photog to shoot and edit video and a satellite operator to solely operator the satellite truck. We had: the reporter, the photog....and me. So that left Sparks, our initial photog, to run the the sat truck and edit video. That doesn't work, so that is why Tad came down, to edit video that Sparky shot. That also doesn't work because Tad doesn't really know what Sparky shot. See the problems?

We eventually got our shot, a half hour late. I definitely got the crazy end of how live shots work, but it was a ton of fun and I have to thank Mark Ross, James Sparks and Tad for allowing me to help and learn.

As for my take on the Chip punishments: overall, I am content. I think he did the right thing with LaMichael but I do think that Masoli should have been kicked off the team given his prior history and that he also lied to Kelly about his involvement in the theft. I think if Jeremiah comes back in 2011, it will just cause problems for the entire program once again. As for who will be the next starter...I support Darren Thomas but I do think Nate Costa will get the first shot.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Improving Professional Sports

Whew. Midterms are over... time to get back at it.

I was approached by a co-worker and asked how I could make the NHL more appealing to Americans. Interest in hockey around the United States spiked during the 2-week period of the Olympic hockey tournament. But how can that interest continue to thrive?

Names like Ryan Miller, Zach Parise and Brian Rafalski have become household now in the States and that is a start. In order for more interest among Americans to grow, Americans must get to know their players! The NHL does a good job at promoting its young talent. Most people would recognize names like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and that is due to the NHL (over)promoting them. Now it's time for the NHL or USA Hockey to promote their players, familiarize the public with their country's stars. Obviously people have really taken to Miller and Parise, and there are plenty of other great American players out there.

So there is the player aspect, how about the game aspect? How great was that Gold medal game? Huge numbers watched the game. It was tabbed as the biggest and most important hockey game ever played in North America. Bob Costas said it was one of the most exciting sporting events he has ever witnessed. But how does Olympic hockey compare to NHL competition?
Overall... the NHL is a better brand of hockey compared to the pool play of the Olympics. Now, nothing beats playoff hockey where desperation is at its highest (FYI--playoffs begin in April!) So if you were into Olympic hockey, why not try out the NHL? Some rules are different (fighting IS allowed) and the quality of play is better. The best of the best who play hockey, play in the NHL. You don't see these mismatches like Canada/Norway or Russia/Belarus... each NHL team has talent that is worth watching. Also, just one night, watch SportsCenter's top 10 plays of the day... I guarantee you will see a play or two from the rink that will be the prettiest thing you've seen on ice since Sasha Cohen.

So there you have it. Get to know your American players and sit down and watch a game, learn some rules and it will grasp you in some way!

What other sport can we improve?? How about the NFL! America's most popular sport, hands down, is undergoing some revamping. Their overtime rules have been the worst thing about the sport. First to score works in the NHL (5 minute 4-on-4 session) but due to the flow of the game, each team gets shots at the victory in hockey. That is not the case in the NFL where often times, if you win the coin-toss, the results favor that team. Around 52% of teams that win the toss, win the game.
The new proposed overtime rules would guarantee each team a possession unless the first team puts 6 on the board. Then, its game over. This is a slight improvement but not a solution. So what is a solution? Glad you asked. How about a "kick-off". This would work much like a shoot-out does in the NHL to end a scoreless O.T. period. We begin by starting at the 15-yard line and much like the Kansas Plan in college football, each kicker gets a crack at that distance. After each successful round, the ball is placed 5-yards back. Kickers continue to attempt these field goals until one misses and giving us a winner! Perfect.
It is fair, it is high drama and it ends any possibility of ties. Plus it will eliminate any sort of confusion with overtime rules (ahem...Donovan?)