Gary Parrish is Barely a Journalist

Used computer salesman, ‘Brooklyn’ Gary Parrish took another cheap shot at Memphis Basketball Wednesday night:

Never mind the fact that the tweet is likely bullshit, that it’s entirely possible Memphis backed off Matt Stanley or made it clear that his role would be limited.

Even if Stanley technically had an offer, the tweet is a cheap shot. Memphis has signed 5 or 6 recruits ranked higher than Stanley – so Parrish is deliberately creating a misleading narrative to rile up Memphis fans and entertain his national followers.

But never mind all that.

What was nice about this little episode is that we finally got confirmation that apparently Gary Parrish thinks his job consists of “looking for clicks.”

I learned this because as I was scrolling through the replies to Parrish’s latest chicken-shit “commentary” on Memphis basketball, I eventually found this beauty:

As of 10:08 pm, the above reply by Alex T. Wood, which claims that Parrish’s job is to “look for clicks,” had 1 like:  Gary Parrish himself.

That’s right folks, Gary Parrish thinks his job is to look for clicks.  

Social media interns look for clicks.

Sales and PR professionals look for clicks.

Porn producers look for clicks.

In other words, Gary Parrish is not necessarily a journalist.

According to Wikipedia, A journalist is a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information. A journalist’s work is called journalism

I guess Gary Parrish is a journalist in the same way that anyone who can locate the RT button on Twitter is a journalist – but not so much beyond that.

Gary Parrish is a talk radio personality and a clickbait generator for CBS Sports.

It also wouldn’t surprise me if he’s been paid to help deliver recruits or get coaches jobs.  I can’t prove that of course – because I’m not a journalist. I write a blog.

Gary Parrish is good at his job, and seems like a decent guy, but he’s not (or is barely) a journalist.

 

Fake News: Gary Parrish Edition

If geopolitical events of the past year have taught us anything – it’s that we should all be more discerning consumers of information.

We should all be on the lookout for fake news. 

Which on Tuesday night led me to ask the following question:

Why is Gary Parrish writing misleading columns about the University of Memphis men’s basketball program?

I don’t know the answer.

Nor am I here to defend the men’s basketball program at the University of Memphis, or its head coach Tubby Smith – neither of which are easy tasks these days.

This is just a clear acknowledgement that local resident Gary Parrish, a radio host and respected national college basketball writer at CBS Sports, wrote a misleading column about the men’s basketball program at the University of Memphis on Tuesday.

In the first paragraph of his hit piece, Parrish paints a picture of a Memphis basketball program in very good shape when Tubby Smith inherited it in April, 2016.

Never mind the fact that nobody remotely familiar with the Memphis program in April, 2016 saw the situation that way.

In 2014-15 Memphis lost 14 games, finished 5th in the AAC, suffered a rash of transfers and missed the post-season entirely.

In 2015-16 Memphis lost 15 games, finished 7th in the AAC, suffered a rash of transfers and missed the post-season entirely.

Here’s a fact that Gary Parrish knows to be true: 29 losses and no-postseason appearances in 2-consecutive seasons at Memphis is a bad situation.

Period.

Tubby may take it from bad to worse. 

Again, I’m not here to argue otherwise.

But Parrish is arguing that Tubby took it from “not bad” to bad.

To be fair, Parrish was referring specifically to the returning roster when offering his assessment. He neglected to include the context of recent performance. He also neglected to mention the already (as of April, 2016) constant parade of transfers out of the program – a fact which is highly relevant to the point of his column.

To support the false premise that the Memphis program was in decent shape, Parrish pointed to the presence on the roster of “four former top-100 recruits (Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson, Markel Crawford, Nick Marshall) and another top-100 prospect (Charlie Moore) signed to a national letter of intent.”

Parrish, being a college basketball expert, knows that top-100 prospects like Moore rarely stay committed to their school after a coaching change. In fact, he’s probably made this exact point no less than 1000 times on his radio show.

Parrish, being a local college basketball expert, knows that Marshall went AWOL from the program shortly after Smith was hired, that his absence from the program could hardly be attributable to Smith.

At best, Parrish’s references to Moore and Marshall were misleading.

At worst, Parrish’s references to Moore and Marshall were intentionally misleading.

Parrish then went on to discuss the topic du jour on talk radio in Memphis on Tuesday: the fact that Memphis Athletic Director Tom Bowen issued a statement on Tuesday that contradicted a statement released by Tubby Smith on Monday.

The contradiction?

On Tuesday Bowen said he and Tubby Smith weren’t surprised by the rash of transfers following Smith’s first year as head coach in 2016-17.

Yet on Monday, when responding specifically to the Lawson news, Smith said in a statement that he was in fact “surprised and disappointed in the decision, as they had a strong year for us, and were a big part of our success during the season.”

Guess what?

There was also a 3rd quote!

The 3rd relevant quote was delivered by Smith himself on March 28, 2017.

Smith was asked at his end of year press conference if he was surprised by Guard Craig Randall’s decision to transfer.

Smith’s answer:

“I’m never surprised at anything young men decide to do.”

So there you have it folks, Tubby Smith is not surprised.

Parrish’s column never mentioned the 3rd quote (found here at the 6:20 mark). In fairness, I doubt Parrish even knew about it, because I doubt he cared to attend the end of year press conference for the coach of a 19-13, 5th place AAC team.

On the other hand, if Parrish is willing to dedicate space in his national column to pillorying Tubby Smith, one could argue he should have the courtesy to attend his end of year press conference – or at least listen to it on the Commercial Appeal website afterwards.

But I’ve wandered from the point.

The point is this:

Was there an unfortunate, obvious contradiction in the Bowen / Smith statements? 

Clearly.

But was it hard to figure out what Tubby Smith meant?

Not for anyone who cared to listen to the March 28 press conference or for anyone that is trying to be intellectually honest.

I think we can all assume that Tubby Smith, after 26 years as a collegiate head coach, isn’t astonished at players transferring – even if he was clearly disappointed and taken aback by the Lawson’s announcement on Monday.

Hardly confusing, and hardly a reason to kill the guy.

Parrish then moved on to his bread and butter – shady recruiting. He proceeded to recite the now tired trope that Tubby Smith has “burned his most valuable bridge” to the fertile Memphis base by having demoted Keelon Lawson last Spring.

I’m not interested in litigating the details of the Lawson / Smith situation. Parrish, being connected, clearly knows them better than most people.

Yet it seems obvious to me that reasonable people should be able to agree that both of the following facts are true:

(a) Kansas offered a better situation for the Lawson family than Memphis did, and…

(b) Tubby Smith has earned the right to build his program and staff the way he sees fit.

In fact, if Smith decides he’s still dedicated to recruiting Memphis, he will have a line of Memphians 100-deep by Wednesday morning ready to take Lawson’s old job. Many of those 100 would be qualified, connected and hungry.

I’ve said that Smith should think carefully before re-committing to a local recruiting strategy.

Which brings me to my final beef with Parrish. The not-so-thinly disguised message of his column, and indeed of much of his daily radio program over the years, is that college basketball recruiting is an unsavory endeavor – and especially so in Memphis.

Of course, Parrish is right on this point. But how he goes about presenting this narrative is a tad irksome.

On his show, Parrish often shares stories of college coaches skirting NCAA rules. Parrish protects the anonymity of these coaches, presumably to protect the confidence of his sources.

It’s understandable, and makes for great radio. But at times it also makes Parrish seem less like a journalist and more like a P.R. guy for coaches he clearly likes – especially when he’s openly advocating for certain coaches to get certain jobs.

In the past, Parrish has suggested that Steve Forbes of ETSU and Andy Kennedy of Ole Miss would be a good fit for the Memphis job. These are hardly guys with sterling reputations as regards the NCAA or the law in general.

But again, I’m slightly off the point.

The point is that the column was misleading and unduly harsh. Parrish is out here killing Tubby Smith for trying to win the only way he knows how.

The point is it seems as if Parrish, whose work I’ve admired and followed for years, has an agenda.

The point is that it seems as if fake news has hit Memphis basketball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything You Believe About Tiger Basketball Is a Lie

There’s a central idea concerning Memphis basketball.

If you’ve been around the program for any substantial period of time you’ve encountered the idea countless times.

You’ve accepted the idea as doctrine, you’ve come to believe it unquestionably.

All Memphis Basketball needs in order to win at a high level is a competent coach that can keep the local talent home.

Boom.

There it is.

If you’ve listened to talk radio this week, you’ve heard this idea repeated ad nauseam.

It has served as the basis for every modern day criticism, commentary and analysis of the Memphis program, from Dana Kirk to Tubby Smith.

The idea itself undergirds the fan base’s emotional connection to the program.

Penny Hardaway, Larry Finch, Keith Lee, Andre Turner, Elliot Perry.

It’s eloquent.

It’s distinctive.

There’s only one problem.

It’s a myth.

It isn’t true.

It’s a lie.

Think about it. What actual Tiger team or era serves as a basis for the belief that a group of predominately Memphis kids can collectively win at a high level in the NCAA tournament?

None.

No team or era can serve as a realistic basis for this belief.

1973? 

Folks old enough to remember the 1973 Memphis State NCAA Finalist team will tell you that though the heart of the team may have been Larry Finch, the key to their success was Larry Kenon. Kenon, a 2-time NBA all star, was certainly the player on that team that went on to the most professional success. It may surprise you to know that Kenon was born in Alabama and recruited to Memphis via a Junior College in Texas.

Oh, and the team’s point guard, Bill Laurie, was from Versailles, Missouri.

1983-1985?

At first glance, this should be the team / era that provides the most compelling argument for the central idea that recruiting Memphis is enough to establish a high level Division 1 basketball team.

All 5 starters on the 1985 Final Four team were from Memphis, assuming of course that you count West Memphis, AR – home to star forward Keith Lee.

Indeed, this was the team that seemingly gave rise to the myth.

Yet the uncomfortable facts of the 1985 era Tigers undermine the idea of “success” and present an odd parallel from to the present era when you consider the following facts:

  • It was later revealed that numerous extra benefits were systematically provided to the players on that team – including cash payments to Lee, cars to William Bedford; and extra pell grant money to numerous athletes.
  • The years following 1985 proved to be incredibly dark for many members of this team. The coach served time in prison, the NAACP accused the program of exploiting black athletes, one player (Aaron Price) was murdered, another (Baskerville Holmes) killed himself in an apparent murder-suicide. Bedford had a long struggle with drug addiction. Vincent Askew was later arrested for having sex with a minor.

In other words, if you’re using the 1985 team to prove the point that you can win with Memphis players if you’re willing to – as 92.9 radio host Gary Parrish is so fond of saying – “do what it takes” to get and keep Memphis players happy, then I’m not sure you’re being realistic about what it takes.

Also, literally no other Memphis-dominated team in the ensuing 32 years has produced even close to that level of on-court success.

The Larry Finch era?

Finch coached Memphis from 1986 to 1997 and fully relied on the central idea to build his teams. Finch routinely gobbled up local talent at the beginning of his tenure and was eventually fired, in part, because he started losing Memphis talent to SEC rivals.

Finch recruited a great Memphis high school player, Elliot Perry, to lead his first Tiger teams. Finch surrounded Perry with other local products. Perry was an incredible college player, and eventually went on to a nice career in the NBA.

Care to guess how many NCAA tournament games Perry won at Memphis?

One.

Elliot Perry won one NCAA tournament game at Memphis – probably because the Memphis guys surrounding him weren’t that good.

Finch rode Penny Hardaway to an Elite 8 in 1992 and Lorenzen Wright to a Sweet 16 in 1995, but both those teams were reinforced by Finch’s nephew – David Vaughn of Whites Creek, TN.

Vaughn, a highly skilled 6’9 Forward with a soft-touch, hit last second shots during the Round of 32 during both the 1992 and 1995 NCAA tournaments.

In other words, if it weren’t for the last second heroics of a guy from outside Nashville – Memphis wouldn’t have had a Sweet 16 appearance from 1985 until 2006.

The Calipari Era?

Of course we all know that the great teams of 2006 – 2009 had but a few Memphis guys, typically role players such as Jeremy Hunt, Willie Kemp and Andre Allen.

Indeed, though Calipari rattled off the names of local high school coaches during his introductory press conference, he quickly decided that Memphis kids weren’t worth the trouble and barely recruited them during his tenure.

So again, where’s the proof that a group of elite Memphis high school talent can produce an elite college basketball team?

The Josh Pastner era?

Nope.

From 2009 – 2016, Pastner worked tirelessly to stockpile high level Memphis talent during what was widely considered to be the high water mark for high school basketball prospects coming out of the city.

Joe Jackson, Tarik Black, Chris Crawford, Adonis Thomas, Austin Nichols, Nick King, Markel Crawford, Dedric Lawson, KJ Lawson.

All came to Memphis as celebrated, big time prospects. All had multiple high major offers from “Power 5” teams. Jackson, Thomas, and Lawson were McDonalds All Americans.

Number of NCAA wins during this 7 year era: two.

TWO!

All of the above players left Memphis after disappointing careers.

Bad coaching? Maybe. But that debate has been had and had and had again.

The point here, is that it’s time to let the dream die. It’s time to expose the myth.

There is absolutely no proof, absolutely no reason to believe based on the evidence, that recruiting the best talent in Memphis and assembling it into a team is a recipe for high level sustainable success in college basketball. 

I don’t know if Tubby Smith is the guy to lead Memphis basketball to sustained success or not. Unlike the self-proclaimed experts on talk radio, I’m willing to give him more than one season and two recruiting classes before declaring the hire a disaster. Certainly the early returns are troubling.

What I do know is that judging Smith exclusively on his failure to recruit or retain Memphis kids is shortsighted and ignores the totality of the modern history of the program.

 

About Those Memphis Kids…

Let’s connect a few dots here.

John Calipari didn’t recruit Memphis kids because he determined they were too much trouble.

Josh Pastner was run out of town because the Memphis kids he recruited didn’t win enough and then repeatedly quit on his program.

And now Tubby Smith should be run out of town because he’s not ‘doing what it takes’ to keep Memphis kids happy.

Maybe the problem isn’t the coach.

Maybe the problem is…wait for it…Memphis kids!

Maybe?

For 30 years Tiger Basketball fans have held on to a dream that the right coach will assemble the best Memphis kids and return the program to the Final Four.

Maybe it’s time for this dream to die.

The dream took root in 1973 and flowered in 1985.

1973 took place 44 years ago. Richard Nixon was still hanging on.

44 years is a long time. Back then, for example, players couldn’t offer two middle fingers in a Tweet.

Also, upon closer inspection 1973 and 1985 aren’t the same dream as you might remember.

Larry Kenon, arguably the most talented player on the 1973 team, was from Birmingham, AL.

That 1985 team? Its legacy is pure tragedy. We eventually found out that the beloved coach of that team was a criminal, the players had been paid, and that the NAACP had determined that the program was exploiting black athletes. One starter died in an apparent murder-suicide, and another saw his career derailed by drug addiction.

So again, maybe it’s time for Memphis basketball to seek a new legacy rather than coast on the deluded dreams of yesteryear.

And maybe you’ll understand why I wanted to throw up when I tuned into local radio yesterday and heard our self proclaimed “local college basketball expert” radio-host tell us everything Tubby Smith is doing wrong.

Tubby Smith has been a head College Basketball coach for 26 consecutive seasons. He’s had 24 winning seasons and led his teams to 18 NCAA tournaments. He’s won 7 conference championships and an NCAA championship. He’s won multiple National Coach of the Year Awards, including as recently as 2016. He’s won at the best job in the profession (Kentucky) and at the worst (Texas Tech) and at levels in between (Tulsa, Georgia, Minnesota).

So with all due respect to the radio host, I think Tubby Smith is our local college basketball expert.

The guy on the radio clearly thinks the best strategy for Memphis basketball is to ‘keep people happy’ in the local college basketball scene, collect a bunch of Memphis kids, and wait for the NCAA tournament wins to start piling up.  The guy on the radio is aghast that Tubby Smith is doing anything but this….

Yet where is the evidence that this approach will yield the most success? It certainly isn’t to be found in the Josh Pastner era, or the Dana Kirk era – assuming of course that your idea of success involves not getting called out on the carpet by the US Department of Justice and the NAACP.

Alternate theory:  perhaps the best approach for now is to let the coach assemble a roster of players and coach his team. After all, until the Memphis kids quit on the season, the 2016-17 team was looking quite promising. Individual players were improving. Tubby Smith appears to understand the game of basketball. Maybe he can actually develop a core group of 4-year players that will find some success. Maybe he’ll even find one or two Memphis kids that fit his program and (gasp) actually want to play for the Tigers.

Or maybe he’ll fail and be replaced in a few years. Maybe believing that Tubby Smith can win at Memphis, with his particular approach to recruiting, is a pipe dream.

Either way, it’s a more realistic dream than the one our ‘local college basketball experts’ have been peddling for years now – that Memphis kids can somehow be the nucleus of a high level, consistent college basketball program.

Thoughts on Memphis Big XII Snub (??)

*Several people have asked my thoughts about Brett McMurphy’s ESPN report that Memphis “is not among the schools being considered” for Big XII expansion at this point.

(*At least 1 or 2).

Here are a few thoughts:

  • My first reaction, like a lot of Memphis fans, is denial. How can this be true? What happened?
  • Geoff Calkins has already answered most of those questions over at the CA.
  • By the way, if you’re a conspiracy theory type person, you can parse McMurphy’s words and come to the conclusion that the Big XII has already decided to add Memphis.  After all, why would the Big XII need to consider Memphis if they’ve already decided to add them?  They wouldn’t.  I didn’t consider walking my dog this morning.  I just walked him.  I do that every morning.
  • Do I believe that?  Absolutely not, but it’s a little odd that the U of M president (David Rudd) wouldn’t confirm that Memphis has been eliminated. I assume Rudd was probably just allowing time for the bitterness and hurt to sink in.
  • Back in reality, at least one part of the ESPN report makes no sense.   McMurphy wrote:

    “Sources told ESPN that offering to accept less revenue might have actually hurt Memphis’ chances. The league, sources said, is more interested in teams that can strengthen and add value to the league as opposed to schools that need to be ‘propped up’ by the league.”

    How does having a ton of money available from boosters translate to the need to be ‘propped up’ by the league?  It doesn’t. This is a shot taken at Memphis by McMurphy’s anonymous source and alludes to the perception problems that come from stories alleging that FedEx was going to pay off the Big XII to Memphis.

  • Similar PR damage was done many years ago when Memphis based writer Gary Parrish of CBS Sports wrote that Memphis was using FedEx to buy its way into the BIG EAST, though eventually that effort paid off when Memphis was accepted into that league.
  • Speaking of the BIG EAST, remember when UCF, SMU, Houston, Boise State and SDSU were all announced / added and Memphis was left behind?  I do. It was a gut punch, a lot like the one Memphis took last week.
  • The lesson: be patient. Whatever 8, 9, or 10 schools eventually get left behind in the AAC will be fine for a few years. They’ll still be on ESPN all the time, and they’ll still have access to the CFB playoff and access bowl.  There may even be expansion (Boise? SDSU? Western wing?) that makes the AAC the undisputed 6th best league.
  • Lack of TV money will hurt, but the whole TV and conference landscape could and probably will change more in the next 5-10 years than it did in the last 50. By the time 2025 rolls around, the AAC could have a deal with ESPN, and a deal with Netflix or Twitter. Nobody knows what things are going to look like.
  • One thing is for sure with decentralization (cord cutting) of programming – the days of Iowa State making the same Tier 1 money as Texas and Oklahoma, appear to be numbered.
  • My point: the Big XII is about as stable as the BIG EAST was when Memphis was trying to get on board there.  Not very. This is crushing news in the short term, but long term it’s not the death blow some people will make it out to be.

Thoughts on Rothstein / Smith Interview

I have a few quick thoughts on a very good interview / podcast that Tubby Smith recently did with Jon Rothstein:

  • Perhaps it’s attributable to his age, but it’s nice to have a coach who isn’t determined to give canned answers to interview questions in order to promote an agenda.
  • It’s been a while on that front for Memphis fans. For nearly a decade, John Calipari turned every interview into an opportunity to promote his cause du jour.
  • At least Calipari was entertaining. Josh Pastner, clearly trying to emulate Calipari, tried the same pre-packaged approach for the past 7 years, but with far less success.
  • Pastner’s interviews were hellish to listen to because (a) he’s not nearly as gifted an orator, and (b) he stopped winning as much.
  • Tubby is familiarizing himself with the roster and seems cautiously, though genuinely positive about the roster he might have in the Fall (assuming D. Lawson stays).
  • On Dedric Lawson: “If Dedric comes back, we’re gonna have some good, solid players.”
  • Tubby did indicate he is planning as if Dedric will be on the roster, but will be prepared for any circumstance.
  • He did acknowledge the lack of depth and the need to add more pieces in 2016.
  • The first player Tubby mentioned, without Rothstein even asking? PG Jeremiah Martin.
  • On Martin:“We have a young man, who was a Freshman, will be Sophomore this year, who we think can really help us a lot in Jeremiah Martin.”
  • Perhaps in Martin, Tubby sees a potential floor general. One of the maddening aspects of the last few years was that Josh Pastner never developed a true PG.
  • On Sophomore Forward Nick Marshall: “Big guy, takes up a lot of space inside. In workouts, he’s moved extremely well. He’s worked pretty hard, and done a good job.”
  • On incoming JUCO F Jimario Rivers: “Pretty talented.”
  • Tubby said he’s impressed with the AAC, but also understands that Memphis is positioned to try and move up in conference realignment.
  • Overall, it’s good to be excited about Tiger basketball again.

Debate Regarding Lawsons Lacks Nuance

There are 2 prevailing takes on the Keelon / Dedric / KJ Lawson situation brewing over at the University of Memphis.

Take # 1: Tubby Smith screwed up. He’s out of touch. He should have given Keelon what he wanted and kept the Lawsons. Without the Lawsons, the Tigers are going to be terrible. The sky is falling.

Take # 2: Screw the Lawsons. Keelon is exploiting his sons. Tubby should let them walk. Tubby has character, he shouldn’t compromise his values to ‘play ball.’ 

Spare me either of these takes, please.

Both have a hint of truth, but are ultimately distortions that lack nuance.

Let me acknowledge that if I had to lean towards one of these takes, I might favor the former. It would have been nice for this situation not to exist at all, and presumably it could have been avoided had Tubby Smith just made Keelon Lawson an assistant.

And I don’t buy the exploitation story either. An assistant’s job is to get players and nepotism is encouraged in college basketball. After all, the Memphis staff is very likely to include Tubby’s son, Saul.

On the other hand, shouldn’t we all keep in mind that 2 days before Tubby was hired Dedric Lawson announced that he was returning to school? Presumably, this left Smith with the impression that he had some flexibility in precisely how he was going to assemble his staff, even if Keelon had been assured a spot.

To that point, Gary Parrish of CBS Sports has confirmed that there were assurances made to Keelon before Smith’s hire was announced. One can assume there was miscommunication, but shouldn’t Keelon understand that though his spot was guaranteed the new coach ought to decide who handles which specific roles?

I guess not.

And then the Lawsons went public with their discontent.

Which leaves Tubby little room to maneuver. At this point, if Smith hires Lawson, it might undermine his credibility within his program and within the community.

I’m not sure it will do that (undermine his credibility), but it might.

Which lends credence to Take # 2. Let em’ walk. 

So my take is that I’ll be cool with whatever Tubby decides to do at this point.

If he finds a way to keep the Lawsons, that’s great. If he lets them walk, I’m cool with that too.

Nuance.

But if he chooses #2, he needs to quickly go find some other dudes.

On Tubby’s Staff

I spoke with someone this morning who was very close to one of Tubby Smith’s former programs. He had some interesting things to say.

He got to know Tubby well and said he’s “truly a great person.”

Like everyone else, he recognizes the good fit:

“Memphis is much easier to win at than Minnesota and Texas Tech.”

He also echoes the other narratives about this hire:

“There is no better representative of the program than Tubby, he’s as good of a person as you’ll find at this level, but it’s a concern if he still has the passion and fire in the belly.”

Regarding the staff, he had some interesting things to say:

“If he brings Vince Taylor, Saul Smith (Tubby’s son) or Joe Esposito it’s a bad sign. If he hires local Memphis guys who are great recruiters then you’ll be in good shape.”

“Vince is a great guy and the best recruiter of the three, but he’s not the relentless recruiter Tubby needs. Saul has been in over his head from the get go and had some off the court issues, and Esposito is way over his head as an assistant. Hire a couple of well connected AAU guys from the area and Tubby will have the program turned around quickly.”

So again, this is an exciting hire for Memphis – but Memphis fans should pay close attention to what Tubby Smith does with his staff before they start blocking off dates for future Final Fours.

Cautiously Optimistic About Tubby Smith

USA Today sportswriter and former Commercial Appeal Tiger beat writer Dan Wolken broke the news today that the University of Memphis is zeroing in on Tubby Smith to replace Josh Pastner as the head men’s basketball coach. The deal could be done as soon as today:

Initial Reaction.

First off, let’s not breeze past the fact that Tubby Smith is likely going to be in the Naismith Hall of Fame at some point. After replacing Rick Pitino, Smith coached Kentucky to a National Title, and then 3 more Elite 8 appearances.

His Kentucky legacy is obviously overshadowed by Rick Pitino and John Calipari, but he had a solid run there. Even after he ran out of Pitino’s players, he guided the 2002-2003 Wildcat squad to 32 wins and an Elite 8 following an undefeated SEC regular season. 2 years before he left for Minnesota, Smith finished with 28 wins and guided the Cats to another Elite 8 performance.

Tubby Smith may not have been up to Kentucky standards, but he wasn’t Billy Gillespie either.

He also went to the NCAA Tournament as Georgia’s coach, as Tulsa’s coach, as Minnesota’s coach and as Texas Tech’s coach.

That’s a big deal.

Those are all pretty much coaching graveyards, and Tubby won at all of them. He took each of them to the NCAA tournament.

So what should we expect at Memphis?

Given that history, it should be expected that Tubby Smith will win at Memphis. He’ll go to the NCAA tournament. He’ll presumably have well coached teams (though I can’t honestly say I know much about his style of play).

He’ll run a clean program, not that Memphis fans really care about that.

Memphis in the AAC is not relative exactly to Kentucky in the SEC, but it’s closer to the best job in its league than the other spots Smith has coached. Way closer.

I expect that Smith, if he can find a way to get talent to Memphis, will restore excitement and optimism at Memphis.

Does that mean Sweet 16’s? Elite 8’s? Final Fours?

My best answer to that is it depends on what kind of talent he can accumulate.

Recruiting, Recruiting, Recruiting.

So ultimately, this will come down to whether or not Smith can recruit well. A source close to one of Smith’s former program’s told me that he is a “very lazy recruiter.” I’ve seen others say that while that’s true, he’s a good closer.

This necessitates a sound plan to support Smith with some player-getters. Perhaps a coach in waiting (Smith will be 65 this year) like Penny Hardaway? Perhaps someone like Tony Madlock on staff?

Obviously the news that Dedric Lawson is coming back will help. Perhaps Keelon Lawson will stick around to deliver the youngest Lawson.

I don’t care what the plan is, but there better be a plan. I assume there is.

Something Different.

Memphis hasn’t hired a coach like Tubby Smith in my lifetime. John Calipari was just as accomplished, but he had baggage. Josh Pastner was unproven. Both were upwardly mobile – and at first you feared they’d be moving along to the next stop. At the end, Memphis fans were praying Pastner would move along to the next stop.

Tubby Smith, if hired, is an elder statesman of the game. A Hall of Fame candidate, widely respected throughout the industry. A solid pro who will surely be coming to his final stop.

Memphis is a place where maybe Smith can put the capstone on a wonderful career by achieving the same levels of success he saw over a decade ago in Lexington. Perhaps that’s a stretch, but it’s kind of exciting.

It’s a far cry from where we were a week ago.

Race and Gravitas Matter.

And let’s not ignore the racial reality of this hire.

There was no imperative to hire an African American coach. Memphis fans of all races prioritize winning over anything else. Memphis basketball has always done more to unite races in the city than to divide them (though the Larry Finch saga was certainly a strain).

That being said, Memphis needs to hire a coach that can inspire local talent to stay at home and thrive at home. Josh Pastner failed in that regard.

I think Tubby Smith could succeed in that area, and not just because he happens to be African American.

Smith was one of 17 children born to sharecroppers.  He gradually worked his way up the coaching ladder and has now had a 25 year basketball coaching career with great success. I can imagine him inspiring and motivating young, talented Memphis basketball players to play with passion in a way that Josh Pastner never did.

For that reason especially, I’m optimistic.

 

On Gary Parrish, OJ Simpson, Buzz Williams and dannyb73

When the University of Memphis finally hires a basketball coach (dear God please make it today) Gary Parrish will probably be the guy to break the story.

Parrish, a national CBS columnist but local radio host, knows the candidates and the committee. He’s the guy plugged into what’s happening.

So naturally I’m listening to every word he says on the radio as this search drags on.

On Tuesday afternoon, Parrish pulled an OJ Simpson.

No, he didn’t cut anyone’s head off.

But he did utilize a rhetorical trick similar to what Simpson did when he published the book “If I did It: Confessions of the Killer” in which Simpson allegedly puts forth a “hypothetical” description of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Parrish used the same trick on Tuesday.

“People keep asking me two questions. What would you do if you were heading the University of Memphis search and what do you think the University of Memphis is actually doing? Now, those two things aren’t necessarily the same thing, but they could be. They could be exactly the same thing.”

Parrish said it with a playfulness that indicated he knew something.

He then went on to describe what he would do.

What he would do is offer Buzz Williams (Virginia Tech coach and presumed top candidate if Gregg Marshall is in fact unavailable) the exact same contract he currently has at Virginia Tech, except with financial raises. Put that contract in front of Buzz and at least make him say no before moving on to other candidates.

Parrish went on to explain that he wasn’t sure Buzz would take the Memphis job, but felt certain he’d at least consider it.

Naturally, all night there were rumors that Memphis was in the process of offering Buzz Williams a contract.

It felt to me Parrish was channeling his inner OJ Simpson and actually knows something.

Of course, that’s assuming OJ Simpson actually killed those 2 people.

Everyone I know assumed OJ killed those 2 people, everyone except MemphisTigers.org poster dannyb73.

I know dannyb73 personally, and he always insisted OJ was innocent. Always.

I never got the feeling dannyb73 really believed that, but he always insisted it nonetheless, which brings me to my 2nd Gary Parrish story of the day. One that happened a few hours earlier.

I tuned into the Geoff Calkins show yesterday morning to hear him interview Parrish.

They were talking about 2nd tier candidates and the name Tad Boyle (Colorado coach) was being discussed.

“The name that started surfacing on social media last night was Tad Boyle. I guess it could be Tad Boyle. I wouldn’t understand the fit for him or for The University of Memphis, but that is a name that started popping on social media pretty randomly and I don’t think somebody just invented Tad Boyle out of nowhere.”

Parrish and Calkins went on to talk about Boyle for the next several minutes and Parrish, though clearly skeptical of the sourcing, reinforced the validity of the rumor.

“Somebody heard that from somebody.”

Wrong, Gary.

Nobody heard it from anybody. Somebody did invent Tad Boyle out of nowhere.

That person? dannyb73

How do I know?  He told me.

That’s right.  The same guy who convinced me he thought OJ didn’t do it, convinced a national columnist he knew what he was talking about, though that wasn’t his intent necessarily.

He was just messing with some dudes. It’s what dannyb73 does for fun.

Allow him to explain:

“There’s so many keyboard tough guys (on MemphisTigers.org) and they’re going to refute anything you say whether it’s true or not. Everybody plays tough guy on there – it’s negative 3/4 of the time and they’re gonna bash you – and so turnabout is fair play.”

This is what happens when national columnists read message boards, or talk to people who read message boards.

And I’m not bashing Parrish here. I realize Parrish knows a lot more about what’s happening than he’s allowed to say. Since he can’t break the confidentiality of his sources, Parrish is left to fill radio time talking about message board rumors.

And when that fails, to employ the OJ Simpson hypothetical.

Either way, I’ll be tuning into every word Parrish says again today – because his “hypothetical” scenarios have more basis in reality than anything else out there – unless dannyb73 is involved.

 

 

 

Some Rules to Live By When Evaluating 2nd Tier Candidates

Gary Parrish is as connected as anyone, certainly anyone in Memphis, when it comes to College Basketball coaching searches. On his radio show Monday, Parrish made it clear that Gregg Marshall likely isn’t coming to Memphis. Bruce Pearl, Buzz Williams – also probably not coming.

As most schools do, Memphis will wind up choosing a basketball coach from a “next tier” of candidates. In Memphis’ case that “next” tier of candidates equates to dudes that for one reason or another, can be lured from their current school to work for a salary of approximately $2.5m per year.

This is assuming Memphis wants a sitting or former head coach – which they most certainly should want in light of how the whole Pastner era unfolded.

Not that it matters what I think, but I’m fine with that. I think Memphis can make a good hire for roughly the same money they were paying Josh Pastner.

That being said, there are some rules I suggest living by when shopping from this particular zone of candidates. They are as follows:

  1. Don’t hire a dude that’s in the habit of losing 10+ games almost every single year. Example: Andy Kennedy. Kennedy has coached 11 years in college basketball. He’s lost more than 10 games in all but one of those seasons. That’s not great. I’m a big believer in past performance being a somewhat reliable indicator of future outcomes. So while I think Kennedy would connect with the Memphis fan base, recruit well and be an upgrade over Josh Pastner, I prefer dudes whose record will inspire greater dreams.
  2. Don’t hire a coach that routinely misses the NCAA tournament. Example: Kermit Davis. Again, see above statement regarding past performance. And I recognize that qualifying for the NCAA tournament is more difficult in some leagues than others, but consider this: Kermit Davis coached an entire decade at MTSU (2002 – 2012) before qualifying for the NCAA tournament. He also lost at least 12 games each of those years. That’s a prolonged run of futility. Sure, he turned it on the last few years, and that’s great – but I’m too big a believer in these 2 rules to roll the dice on a guy like this.
  3. Hire a coach whose experience allows you to reasonably dream that he’ll succeed at a very high level. This is almost the converse of the two rules above – but it’s important.  Let’s call it the “plausible case for excellence” rule. It further disqualifies Davis, and to a lesser extent Kennedy.
  4. Hire a coach that has some familiarity / history with the Memphis program. Call this the “good vibe” rule.

Essentially you want a coach that understands your program, might be really good and doesn’t clearly suck (again, those are repetitive, but important).

These rules also cast doubt on the respective candidacies of Lorenzo Romar, Brad Brownell, and Mike Anderson (to a lesser degree) all of whom have been discussed as possible candidates. Apart from one really good season at Missouri, Anderson’s career has been remarkably unremarkable since leaving UAB 10 years ago.

So who does this leave?

Parrish said Kelvin Sampson was in a group of guys Memphis could hire “in 30 minutes.”

Well if that’s the case then that’s a hell of a good backup plan. In his last 10 full seasons of coaching College Basketball, Sampson has lost less than 10 games 7 times. He went to 7 NCAA tournaments during that span as well. In 2 short years, he’s upgraded the Houston program tremendously. Sampson’s downside is the NCAA trouble he’s been in in the past regarding illegal contact with recruits, but those issues seem resolved, especially since the NCAA has subsequently loosened restrictions regarding such contact.

Former Memphis beat writer Mike Decourcey apparently suggested that Nevada coach and former Memphis Grizzlies Assistant Eric Mussleman could be a candidate. Side note: I say “apparently” because even though I had been a huge and vocal fan of Decourcey, he blocked me on Twitter for correctly pointing out that he was peddling an implausible realignment story which was clearly planted to further his hometown school’s (Cincinnati) case for P5 inclusion. So now I don’t typically read his stuff unless someone else re-tweets him. 

Parrish also included Musselman in  the “30 second” group, implying that he’s gettable. Mussleman doesn’t have enough of a track record in college to violate the 2 initial rules above regarding losing records and he comes with the added bonus of some NBA head coaching experience (with the hometown Grizzlies), which reinforces the plausible case for excellence.

So for unique reasons, I like Mussleman.

While I was looking, I came across a few “2nd tier” ideas that don’t  violate the rules:

BYU’s Dave Rose is 283-99 in 11 years as a college coach, and played at the University of Houston during the famed Phi Slamma Jamma era, meaning he’s familiar with the Memphis program. Perhaps he could be lured away from BYU given that he’s from Houston originally. Rose’s current salary isn’t public.

You wouldn’t think John Thompson III will ever leave Georgetown, but the popular Casual Hoya blog is openly speculating that maybe the Hoyas should make a change – so it’s possible that Memphis could pluck him away. Does Thompson III violate the rules enunciated here?

In 12 years at Georgetown, Thompson III has missed the NCAA 4 times, and he’s lost more than 10 games 8 times. I’m OK with those numbers, especially given that most of that time was spent in the impossibly hard version of the BIG EAST conference.

Thompson III makes a lot of money and his family is legendary in DC, but perhaps his recent struggles make him a good candidate for the Memphis job.

Just a thought, but I’d be exploring it before I threw money at candidates whom I can’t plausibly believe can be excellent.

 

 

Is Today the Day?

I remember exactly where I was when Dana Kirk was fired.

I cried when Larry Finch coached his last game.

I watched the John Calipari introductory press conference in giddy disbelief.

I was sitting in class when I got a Blackberry message that Memphis had struck a deal with Josh Pastner.

Memphis isn’t a school that changes basketball coaches all that often – essentially 4 transitions in the last 30 years.

The next transition appears to be happening today.

Be Thankful to Pastner

Memphis fans are grateful for a new start, and they should be. But they should also take a moment to be grateful to Pastner for what he did here.

No established coaches wanted to follow Calipari. Not only was his win loss record intimidating, but the school was facing NCAA probation (the fans didn’t know it, but I’m guessing those in the coaching community might have).

Additionally, don’t forget that Memphis was still rotting away in CUSA at the time – behind schools like Houston and UCF in terms of a workable exit strategy (i.e. a viable football program).

Pastner came in and piled up the recruiting victories. Though he never won at a level that satisfied Memphis fans, his 2nd and 3rd teams were on the cusp of post-season breakthroughs. A better draw in the NCAA tournament and maybe this whole conversation, this whole era, is different.

But that’s over now and Memphis fans should simply say thank you to a man that kept their program relevant and competitive in the immediate aftermath of Calipari.

And in the biggest understatement of the day, let’s also pause briefly to acknowledge that Josh Pastner has been a terrific part of the Memphis community. He’ll be missed on that front by thousands.

What’s Next?

Now, on to the fun part. If indeed Pastner is gone, to whom will Memphis turn?

Here are some ideas:

Everyone says start with Marshall and make him say no. Seems right to me. Marshall has a history of turning down great jobs for good jobs. He stayed at Winthrop for a while and then finally jumped to….Wichita State? He’s a weird guy – maybe he fits at Memphis. Some seem to think so. That would be a home run.

I have other ideas as well, and I’m not sure how I feel about all of them but they seem somewhat realistic.

Gravitas needed.

My list is heavy on older, more established coaches because I think that’s what Memphis needs in the aftermath of Pastner.

I don’t think hiring Penny makes sense unless he’s groomed. Maybe Jim Calhoun wants to work for 2 or 3 years. He seems to be in good health and is younger than Larry Brown. He’s the approximate age of Coach K, and Boeheim. People will make fun of me for pushing this one, but I don’t care. I like the idea even if it’s a long shot.

If you’re going to go with youth – Archie Miller seems like a great idea too, and perhaps realistic.

Steve Forbes is a reasonably safe backup. Completely do-able if everyone else falls through.

This Better Happen

Now that the news has broken, Pastner better get the Georgia Tech job. Memphis fans were apathetic before. If Pastner somehow doesn’t get the Tech job at this point, they’ll be apoplectic.

Charge your phones and get your Twitter ready – gonna be an exciting day (hopefully).

 

Prominent Big 12 Columnist: “Memphis is a non-starter”

Lots of rumors floating around Memphis the last few months that Memphis is a strong candidate for Big XII expansion, which is almost certain to take place in a few months.

I’m not getting my hopes up, and one of the prominent journalists in the heart of Big XII country gave me another reason to remain skeptical.

According to Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, Memphis is a “non-starter” for the Big XII.

In his weekly online chat, I asked Tramel about fan speculation that BYU, Boise, Cincinnati and Memphis could be added in order to bring the conference membership to 14 before adding a conference championship game and conference network.

Tramel had some harsh words to describe Memphis’ chances:

“Way down the list.”

He was not as harsh regarding the other candidates:

“Now, Connecticut is a different story. You put UConn and BYU into a Big 12 Network, and you’ve got a lot of eyeballs. Cincy and Boise State would be fine, too. But not Memphis. No football fan base. None at all.”

Someone should let Tramel know Memphis averaged over 43,802 per home game at the Liberty Bowl last year – a 29% increase from 2014 and higher than at least a dozen so called “Power 5” programs.

Also more than BYU, Boise, and Cincinnati and at least one current Big XII member (Kansas). But who’s counting?

Nevertheless, it’s always advisable to understand that when it comes to expansion rumors – those of the homegrown variety should be taken with a grain of salt.

 

 

Josh Pastner is Going to be Just Fine (& Other Thoughts)

 

Diving right into my thoughts about Tiger basketball – including why people don’t need to feel bad for Josh Pastner, the program’s complex “issues” regarding the head coach position, and where to go from here…

Not as Sad as You Think

At this point, literally everyone I talk to about Tiger Basketball agrees that it would be best if the program had new leadership.

And almost everyone agrees that’s a sad conclusion to make – because they all like Josh Pastner.

But maybe we shouldn’t feel so bad, especially in light of the circumstances. First of all, Memphis has made Pastner a very wealthy man. Whenever his reign as head of the men’s program comes to an end, Pastner will have cashed in the neighborhood of $20 million in checks. The guy has a lot of mouths to feed, but that’s a lot of cheese so the Pastners should be ok.

He’s also had a chance to build his resume – and will be highly employable.

Regardless of the condition of the Tiger program currently, Pastner has accomplished a lot in Memphis. His reputation as a relentless recruiter is still in tact, which should put him in line to land an elite assistant job if he’s willing to take a step back. This happens all the time. See Jeff Capel at Duke for example.

And lets not forget that Pastner has had exclusively winning seasons, 6 of them heading into this year, all while playing by NCAA rules. Surely some lower profile schools will have interest in hiring him if and when Memphis parts ways.

Pastner might also be attractive to an NBA franchise looking for an assistant coach. NBA benches are often occupied with former college coaches with less success under their belts than Pastner. Jeff Bzdelik, for example, is currently cashing checks from the Memphis Grizzlies and he once had 6 losing seasons in a row as a college coach.

Bottom line – a lot of employers in the industry would be satisfied with a guy like Josh Pastner.

But Memphis fans are now hoping that David Rudd (President, UofM) and Tom Bowen (Athletic Director) are employers with a different mindset.

As Memphis fans await that decision, they should understand that Rudd and Bowen don’t have the historical context that they (Memphis fans) posses.

A History of Contradictions

After all, neither Rudd nor Bowen was at Memphis when John Calipari led the program to 4 consecutive 30-win seasons (and deep NCAA runs) in a row from 2005-2009. And neither was in the Bluff City in the immediate aftermath when Memphis basketball’s decades long “character problems” were again exposed.

Neither was around when Josh Pastner’s Good Samaritan persona first took the city by storm.

And that’s really what all this is about, isn’t it? What makes this situation so difficult is that Memphis basketball is built upon some troubling contradictions that have come to define the head coaching position at the school, if not the program itself.

These contradictions, or issues, go back further than I do.

In 1973 Memphians celebrated an NCAA finalist led by a local hero, Larry Finch, who went on to lead the program as head coach. The popular story is that the 1973 team helped heal a racially divided city – but keep in mind the story didn’t actually end until 25 years later when the program turned its back on the hero in a racially divisive manner.

Finch as head coach during my childhood (1986-1997) was in some ways a precursor to Josh Pastner. Well liked, did things the right way, but didn’t have a style pleasing to a majority of the fan base and ultimately didn’t win enough.

Sound familiar?

Finch won a lot (2 Sweet 16s / 1 Elite 8  / 8, 20 win seasons in 11 years) but he never got to the Final 4 and starting losing local recruits due to pervasive negativity and a perception that the program was languishing under his leadership.

Sound familiar?

It didn’t matter that Finch had cleaned up a program that under Kirk had tattered NCAA rules, broken federal laws, and had such little interest in educating its minority players that the NAACP called for the coach’s removal. The bottom line was that the fan base eroded greatly under Finch, so he was gone – unceremoniously asked to sign his buyout at a hot dog stand after a home game.

After hiring Tic Price, which was a complete debacle, Memphis was thoroughly desperate for a winner.

Enter John Calipari.

Enter 30-win seasons, night club fights, Sweet 16 appearances, allegations of fraudulent SAT tests, Final 4 appearances, failed drug tests, #1 rankings, domestic abuse arrests.

NCAA probation.

Enter Josh Pastner, and now everything has come full circle.

Again.

The Lesson

So what’s the lesson here? That Memphis basketball will settle for nothing less than Final 4 level success, even if it takes criminal activity or at the very least academic fraud to achieve it?

Yes, that’s exactly the lesson. That’s why the first name that folks throw out when they dream about Pastner’s replacement is Auburn Coach and famed cheater Bruce Pearl.

Let’s go get the dirtiest guy available!

But college basketball is different these days. Cheating in recruiting has become SOP. Everyone does it systematically, including probably Pastner’s Memphis program. Assistant coaches do the dirty work and take the fall. Head coaches skate.

Every other aspect of the industry has also become standard. Academic “support staffs” make the graduation rates look pretty. Basketball programs look more like departments in a Fortune 100 company.

This isn’t the 1980’s.

In 2016, the dividing line is less about cheating and more about resources. We’re talking ‘Power 5’ vs. ‘Group of 5’ distinctions.

So Pearl probably isn’t leaving Auburn for Memphis.

And Memphis, in the aftermath of Pastner, doesn’t necessarily have a clear direction to go.

What Next?

If money were no object, Memphis would go after Wichita State’s Greg Marshall or Dayton’s Archie Miller. These are the best coaches outside the “Power 5.” Everyone is going to want these guys. Both have “elite” written all over them and would almost certainly succeed at Memphis.

Would they come?

Hard to say, but probably not even though Marshall has historically preferred schools outside the limelight.

First off, the financial thing has to be figured out and I don’t have those answers. Secondly, does Memphis under Bowen and Rudd still consider itself a basketball school? Clearly football is a priority, as it should be with conference realignment in mind. Like it or not, life in the ‘Group of 5’ will probably prevent Memphis from hiring one of these guys.

Should Memphis try a proven coach who’s had success at a lower level? Guys like Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin), or Tim Cluess (Iona). Both are guys that got their first opportunity at an older age and might relish the Memphis job. There’s plenty of other guys out there at the mid-major level (Pearl’s former top assistant Steve Forbes is now coaching at ETSU), but hiring them is like taking a shot in the dark.

Hiring a mid-major is a shot in the dark. You could get Dana Kirk (came from VCU) or you could get Tic Price (came from New Orleans).

Or Memphis could turn within and look to guys with deep knowledge of the program. Some have suggested Penny Hardaway. Derek Kellogg at UMass would be a possibility and Damon Stoudamire is already on the payroll. The Pastner experiment has suppressed everyone’s appetite for guys with zero track record in the main chair.

Then there’s the retread option. Larry Eustachy, Tim Floyd. Maybe Mike Anderson, who has basically failed at Arkansas, could be persuaded to finally take the Memphis job. A dozen more guys like that are out there that would be intrigued by Memphis, but none of them get the blood pumping.

Here’s an idea that checks a lot of boxes:  Hire Manhattan’s Steve Masiello.

He’s won some games, learned under Rick Pitino, and already has an ethics fiasco under his belt. He lied on his resume a few years back – which cost him the South Florida job.

That seems to be the perfect mixture for the Memphis job at this point, and at any point over the past 40 years.

 

 

Super Bowl Party Manifesto

Super Bowl parties are quickly heading the way of New Year’s Eve in popular culture, obligatory national celebrations that are hackneyed and overrated. But what are you gonna do, sit at home?

No.

So because you’re inevitably going to attend or host a Super Bowl party, here are some essential guidelines to follow in order to maximize your experience.

Tips for hosting a good Super Bowl party:

Plan according to the amount of space you have. I’m not here to judge – a good Super Bowl party can be held in a tiny apartment or a mansion. That being said, if you have one TV and six seats don’t invite 30 people. I don’t want to have to hold my pee til halftime worried my seat is going to get snaked as soon as I get up. By the same token, if you have six TV rooms and a media room with twelve reclining movie theater seats don’t have four people at your party, it’s depressing.

Don’t mess up the food situation. This is not the sole responsibility of the host, but you should provide a good base. Three or four solid offerings, let’s say a cheese and cracker spread with minimum three types of cheese, some type of meat, could be chicken wings, could be pulled pork sandwiches, could be meatballs, doesn’t really matter. Then one lighter fare type item, maybe a vegetable spread with dips, something to make people feel slightly less glutinous. Then, coordinate with your guests to make sure there’s not a ton of overlap. You can’t have Susie and Natalie both bringing their famous buffalo chicken dip. Things could get ugly if one dish gets all the love.

Offer your guests some kind of gambling opportunity. Squares are pretty much the go-to, easiest thing here.  Make sure you collect up front though, the drunker and fuller your guests get the more likely they are to ghost early and leave you short.

Diversify according to interest level. If you have the space, have at least two rooms for viewing: one for serious “watchers” of the game and another for more casual observers and chatters. If I’ve got way more money on the game than I should, I really don’t wanna hear about Steve’s cross-fit routines or Lily’s kid’s summer plans.

Tips for guests:

Speaking of kids, uhh, can we keep them to a minimum? Kids are great, especially if they belong to you, but this isn’t a birthday party with a moon bounce. This is a disgusting bloated American holiday where we celebrate violence, brain damage, gambling, intoxication and overindulgence. Hire a babysitter.

Please, enough already with evaluating every commercial. This is the nadir of the Super Bowl Party. Invariably some time around the middle of the second quarter someone will say, “Gee is it me or are the commercials just not as good this year?” I guess fifteen years ago the Super Bowl was the only time of year advertising agencies really tried, and therefore some Super Bowl commercials really stood out. But now they try all year round, so we can stop giving a shit about Super Bowl commercials, okay? YouTube them the next day if you really care, but spare the rest of us.

Other Do’s and Don’ts:

Do make fun of every dumb thing Phil Simms says.

Do not party hop, pick one and stick to it.

Do bring something, but don’t half ass it and bring a bag of chips or ice, unless specifically requested to.

Don’t bring booze and then take home what’s left.

If you’re at a majority fan of one team party and you’re rooting for the other team, keep it to yourself, don’t be obnoxious.

Finally, do invite me to your party, I’m non judgmental and a great time.

To Penny Or Not To Penny?

Speculation flew around Memphis today that Penny Hardaway could potentially be tapped to be the next Tigers basketball coach. Our resident bloggers Scott Hirsch and Jay Brenner debate the idea here….

Scott:  Penny Hardaway should be the next coach of Memphis Basketball. The clearest reason for this is that it would re-energize the fan base. Fan morale is, if not at an all time low, a two decade low. The stands are empty and no one has any confidence left in Josh Pastner, not even @roll1697, who was previously the last Pastner defender standing. Anyone near my age or older, and probably lots of people younger, are going to be pretty fired up if Penny is announced as the new coach.

Secondly, it’s hard to argue that Penny wouldn’t be able to recruit well.  He has great Nike ties, he’s been involved in the AAU scene and his name still resonates. Certainly in the city of Memphis he’s a legend and it would be hard to imagine any high profile Memphis recruits not wanting to play for him.

Third, what exactly would the other options be? Bruce Pearl ain’t coming. You could promote Stoudamire, and that might work out great, but it might not. Otherwise we’re probably talking about a relative unknown taking over a program on the precipice of irrelevance.

Penny has expressed an interest in coaching college. Though it’s definitely a big risk that could backfire terribly, ya know like the one they took hiring a 32 year old assistant. But when you look at the other options it’s hard to see one that’s a better fit and has the same potential to be a home run. Hopefully he could assemble an experienced staff full of people who fill in his gaps, the thing Pastner wasn’t willing to do. Mostly, it’d be fun as hell. Lets do it!

Jay:  Well, you said it in your last paragraph when you referenced how big a risk hiring Penny would be, but to illustrate that point more clearly I’ll give you four words: Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. When Houston Cougar basketball was spiraling towards irrelevance in the 1990’s they hired Drexler, an alum with legendary status on campus. He completely tanked. The Cougars went 19-39 in his 2 years and he was replaced. Word on the street was that “The Glide” was more interested in being on “The Golf Course” than on “The Practice Floor.” Hardaway, who is probably just as wealthy or wealthier than Drexler is also an avid golfer. My point being – does this guy really want to work that hard?

I acknowledge that hiring Penny Hardaway would fire up everyone who loves Memphis, including myself. At this point the program just needs something different, but the truth is being a head college basketball coach in 2016 is more akin to being the C.E.O. of a small business. In other words, it’s not the kind of job you hand to someone with no experience in the specific industry.

Sure, Hardaway knows the game, but is he ready to handle all the ancillary responsibilities that come along with running a multi-million dollar operation? He would have to hire and supervise a staff, handle media appearances, coordinate recruiting, player development, and discipline. This isn’t just holding a press conference and then coaching games. I think Penny Hardaway would probably be a good floor coach, but I could see him getting swallowed up by the other responsibilities associated with the position.

Also, I just think hiring Penny Hardaway reeks of desperation.  Actually, it’s not a thought, it’s a fact. If Memphis buys out Josh Pastner’s $10m contract they’ll be desperate to find someone on the cheap. Perhaps Penny would do it for less than market value, but then that raises the concerns even further about how much he’d devote to all the behind-the-scenes aspects of the job.

Bottom line, I’d be way more inclined to hire someone with coaching experience. Heck, if I wanted a low-cost option I’d look at hiring a crusty old-timer that might jump at a higher profile gig. There are guys that have appreciation for the history of Memphis basketball like Tim Floyd or Larry Eustachy who might do very well here connecting with the fan base. Here’s an outside the box option – maybe you could convince Jim Calhoun to try the Larry Brown septuagenarian coaching plan? Perhaps Penny (or Stoudamire) could be his coach in waiting and learn the industry? That’s a plan I could get behind.

Scott:  Tim Floyd and Larry Eustachy? Holy buzz kill. That doesn’t reek of desperation that reeks of resignation. As to Calhoun, come on, get real. Maybe we can dig up Red Auerbach and see if he wants the job. You’re right though, we are desperate, no sense pretending we aren’t.

As to the Clyde Drexler comparison, I’m not sure that’s fair. Lots of coaches like to play golf. And Penny is coaching high school right now, which seems to indicate a more than passing interest in coaching. Whether or not he’s up to the job, we really don’t know. But being a CEO is exactly what I think he’d be good at. Hire a tactician, an ace recruiter, and let Penny close recruits, glad hand boosters and get kids to buy into his message or philosophies.

Drexler counterpoint is Hoiberg, the mayor. Zero coaching experience and that worked out pretty well.

If the choice is between washed up re-treads, young nobodies, or Penny, gimme number 25 in your hearts every time. Let’s do this!

Jay:  Not to get too detailed, but Hoiberg worked in an NBA front office before he got the Iowa State job. According to Wiki he even spent some time on the Timberwolves coaching staff after retiring from the NBA. He was around high level basketball people and working for a living. Penny has been coaching middle school for the past few years. It’s a resume that inspires less confidence. And again I’d point to motivation, Hoiberg didn’t make the kind of coin Penny did in his playing career. The dude has to work for a living, Penny almost certainly doesn’t.

As for Jim Calhoun, I’ll admit I have an unhealthy obsession with over the hill basketball coaches, but keep in mind he’s 2 years younger than SMU head coach Larry Brown – and I’d take the results the Mustangs have gotten the past few years (aside of course from that NCAA probation). I’ve heard rumors Calhoun wants to coach again so perhaps he’d be tempted by the idea of competing in UConn’s league at a school with Memphis’ pedigree. Also, the guy has 3 championship rings. You probably wouldn’t get him cheap, so it’s a silly conversation but I think Memphis could do a lot worse than giving him a 5 year contract with a coach in waiting.

I’m also a little afraid that if the Penny Hardaway thing went south it could end up toxic, like the Larry Finch situation 20 years ago. How do you fire a legend? Not at a hot dog stand. Memphis can’t afford more acrimony around the basketball program. It would have to go really well for it to work.

So again, I’d get on board with Penny, but if I’m Tom Bowen or a booster tasked with this decision I’m looking at (a) current head coaches that would jump at the opportunity to work at Memphis and that (b) have an understanding and appreciation of the Tiger fan base. A past history of high level success would be nice too. I’m willing to go outside the box for dudes like that and less likely to do so for guys that have never coached at the college level.

 

Tiger Basketball YouTube gems (ETSU, 1991)

Tuesday night’s win over Temple aside, we’re in the middle of another garbage Josh Pastner season.

All the hallmarks are present.

Compete hard but lose against a few really good teams, thus engendering some excitement? Check.

Disappointing efforts and eventual losses to inferior competition? Check.

Inconsistent execution and strange, sudden changes to the rotation? Check.

Disciplinary issues and suspicious injuries and illnesses? Check.

Cliched recycled answers in post game interviews? Check.

Because we are in the middle of another basically depressing season, I thought we should take a look at some YouTube gems and find an exciting Tiger game from the past.

Shout-out to @roll1697 for pointing out  a 1991 match-up between Memphis (Memphis State) and East Tennessee State University. Now, I should note that this particular season was not necessarily a more successful one than the current campaign. The Tigers finished only 17-15 and 7-7 in the Metro Conference. Luckily for Larry Finch, Penny Hardaway would show up the next year to extend his tenure several years.  Nevertheless, this game was extremely entertaining and well played.

Here are just a few reasons for you to watch this game on YouTube.

  1. There are two incredible individual performances in this game. Keith “Mister” Jennings was a 5’7 point guard for ETSU who was absolutely electric. Jennings made seemingly every play in this game, either with incredible passes or great shot making. He is a great, forgotten college basketball player. On the Memphis side, Elliot Perry was a one man team for Memphis State. He made something like 13 shots in a row down the stretch. I had forgotten how much of a shoot first guard he was. I’m not sure I saw him make a play for a teammate the whole game but that was quite alright because he got serious buckets. I believe both players ended up with 40 + points.
  2. This was a very well played and entertaining game. The pace was absolutely frenetic. There were very few half court possessions, but also very few turnovers and tons of great shot making – especially by ETSU, who was on fire for much of the game.
  3. The Tigers made a great, late second half comeback after trailing the whole game by double digits. It seemed like every time Memphis State made a run, ETSU had an answer. Memphis finally broke through late in the second half and the Coliseum crowd was LIT. I had forgotten how bonkers that place could get.
  4. The announcers are a gem. The YouTube video is of an ETSU feed, so it’s their local announcing team. They are homers, but not comically so. The color analyst has a thick southern accent and employs many amusing colloquialisms. These dudes became pretty apoplectic during the Memphis run. Let’s just say they didn’t like that the refs swallowed their whistles – it’s pretty amusing. They had a point, the refs seemed totally intimidated by the crowd. They also consistently refer to Jennings as either “Mister” or “The Mister” which I thoroughly enjoyed.  At one point they come back from the break and the camera is focused on an attractive woman in the crowd and the guy says, “There are a lot of pretty women in Memphis, Tennessee and that’s one of them.” Brent Musburger would be proud.

Looking back 25 years, here are some other random thoughts about this classic game:

    1. Billy Smith was absolute garbage in this game. I have no idea why he got so many minutes. He reminded me of a right handed K.J. Lawson in that he has absolutely no conscience and shoots the ball every time he touches it.
    2. College basketball seemed like more fun back then. Maybe it was just this game but the up and down, frenetic nature of the game was refreshing. There wasn’t much coaching interference, aka a bunch of timeouts to draw up plays that don’t work, etc. This was high level, skillful and entertaining, something that teams like Kansas and Kentucky (and a few others) can deliver, but that we don’t see consistently enough from CBB. Obviously some of that has to do with the fact that in this game the two best players were both Seniors.
    3. The 3pt point line wasn’t as big of a deal back then. ETSU actually took a bunch of 3’s but Memphis State attempted very few. There were also 3 lines on the court, a college one, international and an NBA line. It was a bit of an eye-sore.
    4. Todd Mundt was not terrible. I had forgotten that. I think I confuse him with Brett Mundt who was, in fact, terrible.

In summary, if you clicked on this article you’re probably kinda bored anyways, so go ahead and commit to the 1:15 it will take you to watch this classic College Basketball game. The video in part 1 starts off pretty rough but it improves.

 

Democrats Toying With Hillary (Again)

It can’t be happening again, can it?

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President in 2008 and again in 2016, is on her heels.

This time, by a 74-year old Jewish guy from Brooklyn named Bernie.

Oh, and Bernie just happens to be a Democratic Socialist.

So it makes perfect sense that he’s now running neck and neck with Clinton in Iowa, and ahead of her in New Hampshire – the first 2 states in which votes will be cast next month.

Or not.

8 years ago, everyone assumed that the Democrats would nominate Clinton and that she’d easily defeat whomever the GOP put forth to carry on the legacy of the Bush presidency. A legacy that had been torched, tattered, repudiated and torched again.

In 2008 the GOP had no shot. Hillary was going to be the first woman President….until Barack Obama came along.

That’s right, Barack Obama. The neophyte, mixed race politician with a Kenyan father and non-traditional name. Surely, such a bold candidate couldn’t beat Clinton – the uber successful Senator and wife of a popular, once-in-a-lifetime President politician.

But then he did (beat Clinton), even though it made no sense. After all, she was objectively more qualified.

Well, it made a little sense. Obama had Hope and Change and the fun logo and the youthful supporters and it was a movement and sure why not?

And don’t feel bad for Hillary, the Democrats said, we’ll let her do it next time.

Except now it’s next time and the Democrats don’t appear to be letting Hillary do it.

They appear to be lining up behind Sanders. Did I mention that he’s a Democratic Socialist who is proposing trillions in new spending including tuition-free college for all, and true universal healthcare?

Just checking.

Because once again the Democrats are discarding Hillary and it’s kind of hard to watch, regardless of how you feel about Hillary Clinton. Even if you hate Hillary, you have to admit it’s weird to watch what the Democrats are doing.

It’s like Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football.

Lucy is the Democrats, Charlie Brown is Hillary and I think you get the point.

It’s like that backup girlfriend or boyfriend that you think, someday we’ll date. Sure, we’re friends now, but one day we’ll hook up. One day the timing will be right. Except it never happens. Even though they are counting on it, they’re looking forward to it, they’re planning on it, they’re obsessed with it and you’ve promised it.

But it never happens.

It’s uncomfortable.

Do you know why it never happens? Because you don’t really want it to happen, that’s why. You just want to pretend it’s going to happen.

You don’t actually want it to happen.

For all their talk about how she has the depth of experience (Champion for Healthcare in the 1990’s, Senator from New York in the 2000’s, Secretary of State most recently), for all their talk about how between her and Bill Clinton, she was the one with the drive, the ambition, the killer instinct, the intellect – for all that talk – it appears Democrats just don’t like Hillary Clinton.

And don’t tell me it’s because she’s a stiff campaigner. So what? John Kerry was stiffer than an Iowa Spruce Tree in February and the Democrats nominated him for President over Howard Dean in 2004.

Dean was perhaps the least stiff candidate of all time.

And don’t tell me that it’s because she’s cozy with Wall Street, either. Barack Obama’s administration has presided over the implementation of Dodd-Frank, a financial reform bill widely considered to be feckless. Nevertheless, Democrats (judging from my Facebook wall) still see Obama as a cross between FDR / JFK and President Josiah Bartlett from The West Wing. 

They like the guy.

So Democrats probably need to stop lying to themselves about what makes Hillary unpalatable and just admit the fact that they don’t like her and that they don’t want her to be President.

They need to face that fact, because it’s starting to appear to be unquestionably true.

Is there a latent sexism in the country that doesn’t show up in polls (because it’s latent and nobody would admit it)?

Perhaps.

All of this is going to make the next few months very interesting. Perhaps there’s going to be a quick change in feeling and the Democrats will unite behind Hillary. For this to happen, current momentum will have to be reversed.  Maybe it will.

Otherwise this election is about to get very awkward.

 

The Game of A Thousand Storylines

The National Championship Game Between Alabama and Clemson was a Sportswriter’s dream, a game of a thousand story lines.

The angles were everywhere, all you had to do is pick one.

There were the pre-game angles. Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney, the ‘Bama boy who played for Gene Stallings in 1992 as the Crimson Tide beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl to win a National Championship.

Swinney would now face off against his alma mater to try and win one as a coach. The Dabo backstory, of hardship, determination and triumph certainly got plenty of play in the lead up to the game.

So did the contrast in styles. Dabo the rah rah let’s dance after every win and B.Y.O.G. vs. the buttoned up, all business, ruthless football monster that is Nick Saban.

There was also potential symmetry.

Many people point to Bama’s 34-10 beat down of Clemson in 2008 as the beginning of the Saban dynasty. That game probably cost former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden his job and led to Dabo becoming interim, then full time head coach at Clemson. Would the Alabama dynasty end against the same team?

Once the game started, pre-game story lines faded to the background and the in game story lines and angles started to take shape.

Early on it was Derrick Henry, Alabama’s Heisman winner, bursting through the Clemson line on 3rd and short for a 50 yard TD run. The ‘Bama ground game dominates story line started to take shape. But it was quickly erased after Clemson QB Deshaun Watson promptly lead two TD drives capped off by incredible passes thrown into super tight windows.

New story: Electric mobile quarterback, Alabama’s kryptonite, takes over in biggest game. (Did you know that Nick Saban struggles with great mobile QB’s? Unlike other teams, which apparently just shut down great college quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Deshaun Watson.)

Or maybe the story was going to be that former Clemson walk on WR Hunter Renfrow dominated his match-up with 5 star, all-everything freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick.

I don’t see color so I’m not sure what race Renfrow is but let’s just say he has a ton of grit, is heady, plucky and has sneaky athleticism (might remind you of Wes Welker or Steve Largent).

As the game progressed the story line seemed to be that Alabama, who has built a dynasty chiefly on dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, is not dominating on either side of the ball.

The Tide defense wasn’t exactly playing bad, but the Clemson O-line held up reasonably well and Deshaun Watson covered up for any mistakes with breathtaking play making that hearkened back to Texas QB Vince Young vs Southern Cal – a comparison that was only made a few hundred times during the night. Nevertheless, the similarities were definitely there.

Side note:  If you don’t remember the 2005 National Championship Game between Texas and Southern Cal, it’s literally the only thing that is ever broadcast on the Longhorn Network. Check it out sometime, they just show it over there on a continual, never ending loop.

Anyway, Watson seemed to glide out of trouble and had a great sense for when to take off and run and when to scramble and throw – eerily reminiscent of Vince, whose team was also an underdog to a dynastic College Football team.

Furthermore, the ‘Bama offensive line was getting destroyed by the Clemson D-line, especially on the right side. The Tide running game was completely ineffective in the second half.

Just when the narrative was taking shape in your mind, something new happened. Nick Saban happened. The old school, traditional conservative football man called for an on-sides kick in the 4th quarter of a National Championship game with the score tied.

Most importantly, it worked.

A legendary gamble that will be talked about forever, it was the perfect on-sides kick.

‘Bama cashed in immediately. A long TD pass to O.J.Howard, his second of the game. Howard was yet another potential story line: a ballyhooed (have always wanted to work ballyhooed into a column) 5-star recruit disappoints for three years then has the game of his life in the biggest game of his life.

The story lines refused to stop there.

Back down the field comes Watson, this time settling for a field goal. It was now a 4-point Alabama lead.

Kenyan Drake then took the ensuing kick off 95-yards for a touchdown.

Ahhh, the redemption story line is here. Yes! Kenyan Drake broke his leg last year, came back this year then broke his arm two months ago. Due to the injuries, his career never got on track the way many thought it would. Then he makes the biggest play of the game and of his life. That’s a great story.

But the game still wasn’t done yet.

Watson and Gallman, the Clemson running back, lead a quick drive back down the field for a touchdown. At this point, the ‘Bama defense seemed basically helpless against the Clemson offense.

The vaunted depth of the ‘Bama defense didn’t seem to be helping. The Tide defenders were gassed and started missing tackles you rarely see missed from a Saban coached unit.

‘Bama got the ball back with about 4 minutes left needing to secure a few first downs to put the game away. On first down, Henry lost two yards.

Every ‘Bama fan in the world was cursing – because they know that the Tide doesn’t convert first downs after a negative play. Alabama was near the bottom in the country on 3rd and long conversions. So this second down call would be the biggest of Lane Kiffin’s tenure at Alabama.

This was the same Lane Kiffin who, at Southern Cal, called the 4th and 1 run to Lendale White in the 2006 BCS game versus Texas (and Vince Young). The score of that game was 41-38. The score of this game was 38-33 and if ‘Bama didn’t convert they’d have to punt it back to Deshaun Watson.

You see where this is going?

Kiffin had been quoted saying he’s been waiting ten years for a shot at redemption. And here it was, in eerily similar circumstances.

Kiffin called a play I’m certain was not run all year: a Tight End screen that initially looked doomed, but that was perfectly blocked on the edge allowing O.J. Howard to get around the corner and take off for a huge gain. It set Alabama up in the Clemson Red Zone.

Lane Kiffin came up huge in the biggest moment of his tenure at Alabama.

The game wasn’t over yet though, Jake Coker wanted his story line too.

This game was a mirror of Coker’s entire year at Alabama. Early in the game he was shaky and fairly awful. He doesn’t have a great clock in his head or innate feel for the rush the way someone like Watson does and he ends up taking sacks when he could throw the ball away. His throws were off target early.

Coker eventually settled in after a huge third and long pick up on a pass down the sideline to Ardarius Stewart. That seemed to get his confidence up. He made several great reads and throws after that. On 3rd and 3 near the goal line, with Clemson desperate to hold ‘Bama to a field goal to keep it a one score game, Coker came up with one of his now trademark ugly, improbable, man on a segway scrambles. He somehow juked the defensive end, Dodd, who had harassed him all day and dove for the first down.

Maligned Quarterback proves haters wrong and comes up big when his team needs him the most!

The game finally ended, but not before another Watson TD and an on-sides kick attempt that could have led to a Hail Mary for the win. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Alabama wins another title, and now the post game story lines started. Is Nick Saban the greatest College Football Coach of all time?

So there were a myriad of stories and they’ve probably all been written. Yet the real, true story of the night was the game itself. How great, how unpredictable, how tense, how spectacular the performances, how legendary it was.

Story lines are great, but the game, the game’s the thing.

And when the game rises to that level, it transcends everything. And that’s what we want out of sports, that’s what sports gives us that nothing else can. Real, live, unpredictable ecstatic drama, and no sport does it better than College Football.

 

Politics are the Best Sports

The calendar turned to 2016 and it’s officially a Presidential election year.

I want to write about this election, but you can imagine my hesitation.

I don’t want to write about immigration reform, tax policy, institutional racism, gun control, or anything else that actually effects people’s lives.

There are 2 obvious reasons to stay out of politics on Facebook, blogs, the work place or anywhere else:

  1. I’m really not looking to offend anyone.
  2. Like most people, I’m too ignorant about complex issues to offer a relevant opinion on just about anything that might actually matter.

Also, I don’t really care.

Also, I don’t think it really matters.

Also, if I’m wrong, and it does matter, I’m still not sure I care.

Also, please don’t be offended that I don’t care about important issues. I’m glad that other people care and I’m glad stuff gets done, but I’m just not that guy.

I’m over it.

But I still want to write about the Presidential election for the same reason I want to write about sports.

Presidential elections are the best thing going.

Presidential elections are amazing because they’re essentially the best sporting events, but they only get played every 4 years. In that respect they’re like the Olympics except actually insanely good instead of shitty and un-watchable.

Presidential elections have everything that makes entertainment great. Personalities, rivalries, history, egoic explosions, pageantry, money, sex.

They’re fun to watch and you should always be able to pick a side, even if you don’t care.

Why is it fun to watch? Because it’s unscripted drama. Unpredictable humanity. Rules and records are made to be broken. Conventional wisdom, established to be violated.

Why can I always pick a side?

Not for the reason you might think. I used to think it was because of the issues.

It wasn’t.

Turns out, I pick a side for the same reason I picked sports teams. In other words, no reason whatsoever.

I root for Memphis teams because I was born and raised in Memphis. That’s not a reason, it’s either a historical accident or a karmic predisposition, depending on your point of view.

My political inclinations are equally quaint.

I was 7 years old in 1984. My mother took me into the booth with her to vote that year. I think she voted for Walter Mondale.

I kind of liked Reagan. He had nice hair.

In 1988, my 5th grade class held a mock debate. I was adamant about something relating to Michael Dukakis and missile defense. I doubt if my argument was fully developed, but I was into it.

As a 15-year old in 1992, after only knowing old Republican Presidents from other parts of the country, I watched in amazement as 2 young southerners celebrated on election night in Little Rock.

I think I started out rooting for Bush, switched to Paul Tsongas (I liked the name Tsongas), and was thrilled to see Clinton elected.

I liked the way Clinton communicated. He made me feel optimistic about my life. It had nothing to do with his now widely panned welfare reform programs or universal healthcare or crime or anything that mattered.

I voted for the first time, in 1996.

I still liked Clinton (he was cool) and I was a closet ageist and couldn’t support Dole and his decrepit arm. Dole injured his arm while serving in World War II, but that type of heroism didn’t matter to me. I was a 19-year old moron with absolutely zero adult life experience who had as much business voting in an election as I would have had to pilot a space ship.

Side note: I really liked Ross Perot. I knew nothing about his policies or his intentions, but I liked that he was an outsider and talked funny. Plus there was that SNL skit about him dropping his running mate (James Stockdale) off in the woods to abandon him after his horrid debate performance.

I watched the Florida recount with actual fear in 2000, for an entire month. As a first year law student, I was shocked to discover how tenuous American elections actually are. At the time, I was extremely partial to the Clinton legacy, even though Gore probably lost the election for running away from it.

Also, having a President from my home state seemed fun.

In 2004 and 2008, I went door to door with actual emotion for the lefties, convinced that any effort I could contribute might actually make a difference. In my defense, I was living in a swing state. And in my further defense, I was caught up in anti-war idealism typical for a 20-something and a belief that George W. Bush was the worst thing that ever happened to America.

Perhaps that’s true, though I doubt it and either way I’ve moved on.

2012 was probably the least interesting election of my lifetime, but I went into it with an open mind and voted for the least offensive option.

So looking back – you could say I started out on one side and have slowly come back to the middle.

Or you could say I started out with a sense that it all somehow matters and now I’ve woken up to the fact that it probably doesn’t. At least not in the grander scheme of things.

I’m talking humanity’s place in the universe type grand.

I’m honestly not sure which progression is more reflective of the truth – that I’ve evolved politically or gained a truer perspective. Perhaps both, perhaps neither.

This time I’d very much like to see what would happen if Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination. Not because I think he’ll Make America Great Again, but just because I think it would make for great television in 2016.

I can’t turn it off.

I don’t necessarily think Trump is good, or right. He might actually be the worst thing that ever happened to America.

I have no idea.

If America’s political system is as broken as everyone seems to say it is, why not let Trump go in there and burn it to the ground?

Reckless, perhaps.

But again, my political inclinations are as tethered to logic as the reasons I’ll be cheering for Alabama on Monday night.

I like Saban, I like dynasties and I like excellence.

Likes. Feelings. Etc…

Nothing more enlightened than that.

But still, it’s the best sport on TV.