I’m Seriously Not Joking: Call Me Barnhart!

The vast emptiness of Commonwealth Stadium, November 3, 2012. I’d fill this bad boy.

I was inspired to originally write this post after my good friend, Roger, and I sat through the entire, sorry University of Kentucky/Western Kentucky University football game earlier this season. Today, November 4, 2012, UK announced that it will have a new football coach next season. So, I again announce my candidacy for what is now a vacancy. UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart can now consider this an open letter to him.

The Western game was just another of many inexplicable UK losses we’ve watched over the years. UK football games are like watching Old Yeller. You know how it ends. You know you’ll be sad, but you watch it anyway.

Roll forward several weeks and our beloved Cats stand–or kneel–at 1 and 9. The latest loss was ignominious 40-0 pounding by Vanderbilt. The last time Vandy stomped us like that, Teddy Roosevelt was President and football was literally played with a pigskin.

We’ve also been eviscerated by Arkansas and Missouri for their first conference wins. We did play well for a half against South Carolina and most of the game against Georgia. We took a beating from Florida when we tried an ill-conceived game plan of playing without a quarteback. Mississippi State bludgeoned us, too.

Inspiration is the bastard child of bitter defeat. No one ever said that. I just made it up, but feel free to quote me. After the game, we were bemoaning the loss–on a trick-play, two point conversion that a high school team could have stopped. Of course, we need a new coach. Except for a few random seasons, that’s pretty much the constant state of affairs for our beloved Wildcats.

My optimism for this season was short-lived. The inevitable coaching change is now upon us. Names like David Cutcliffe of Duke and Sonny Dykes of Louisiana Tech have been floated. What about an old warhorse like Phillip Fulmer?

My thought earlier this year was to go contrarian and hire the worst coach we can find. Maybe Bobby Hauck at UNLV (4-21 in his first two seasons). How about Indiana’s coach, Kevin Wilson? He went 1-11 in his first season. Gene Chizek is on his way out at Auburn. He’s looking at two wins at AUBURN! He has to be bad.

Just hire the worst we can find and accept our fate. My friend, Roger, had an inspired thought: Why not hire someone who’s NEVER coached football on any level?

He suggested hiring himself, which is just foolish. He lives in another state. It would be very inconvenient. I, on the other hand, live right here in Lexington. Again, I officially declare myself a candidate. Not only a candidate. The only candidate.

QUALIFICATIONS

Except for some limited experience in my backyard, I’ve never played football. I never even seriously considered it. I was too small, and I don’t like getting hit. I also don’t like getting dirty. This is an advantage. Many great athletes make poor coaches because they don’t understand why their players can’t perform at a high level. This won’t be a problem for me. Almost anyone would be a better athlete than I ever was. I’ll be impressed by pretty much everything.

I’m 50 years old. That’s the prime of the my professional life. After 25 years practicing law, I’m ready for a new challenge. Bring it on.

I’ve watched a lot of football. I mean A LOT. College, NFL, Arena League–even Canadian Football. I even watched the XFL. According to the radio call-in shows, watching football makes one an excellent football coach. I’ve also played a lot of Madden Football. Hundreds, if not thousands, of games. I’m a good strategist.

I’m also a UK alum–two times, in fact. Add to that my 40 year allegiance to the football program, and I bring an every man quality to the job that other candidates lack. I remember all the bitter defeats. I’ll cry and carry on after every loss just like a fan, because that’s what I am. In fact, I’ll call for my own firing if we lose. Fans will love me.

CONTRACT

My contract will be simple. Here are my terms:

  • $500,000 base salary–easily the lowest in the Southeastern Conference.
  • $100,000 bonus for each win. I’ll guarantee you that I’ll do anything to win if I get 100 large.
  • Discretion to hire my friends as assistant coaches.
  • Two days a week off. I’m used to working 5 days a week. I can’t really change that at my age.
  • A provision that excuses me for NCAA violations. As a low-paid coach, I can’t be expected to learn all that legal mumbo jumbo.
  • No long-term deal or buyout needed. If you want to fire me, do it. I don’t care.

We’ll have this deal wrapped up in about 15 minutes.

RECRUITING

You probably think I can’t recruit. Oh, how wrong you are on that one. First, I’ll completely ignore the NCAA rules and be open about it. We know that all coaches operate in the gray areas of the rules, anyway. I’ll head straight to the black area. You want a car? You got it. Cash? Sure. A house? You’ll have to be pretty damn good for that, but it’s doable. Now, if I give you this stuff and you suck, I want it back. That’ll be some good incentive.

The best part is that my lack of coaching skill will be a selling point. The first thing I’ll do is ask some recruiting nerd to identify the best quarterback in the country. Then, I’ll go to his house. Here’s my recruiting pitch:

Okay, son, here’s the deal. If you want to be the best quarterback in the country, UK is your school. Why? Because you’ll call every play we run. All of them. Why? Because I don’t know a damn thing about football. You can throw it every down if you want. Trick plays, everyone out for a pass. I won’t give a shit. And don’t worry about that headset I wear. It’s hooked to my iPod. If you want a nanny to wipe your nose or someone to treat you like an idiot, go to one of these “power” schools. I’ll admit that UK isn’t for everyone, but you’ve got what it takes. Want a car?

We’ll have so many quarterbacks, I wouldn’t know what do with them even if I actually did know what I was doing. If I need an offense lineman, here’s the pitch:

ME: How much you weigh?

PLAYER: About 260, sir.

ME: If you can put on 100 pounds, we want you.

PLAYER: Sir, I’m willing to work hard in the weight room.

ME: Weeeellll, that’s one way, I guess. Really, if you can just eat like a pig that will work, too. We want the biggest players we can get. I don’t care if they’re fat. I want the offensive line to average 350–or even bigger. We don’t really waste a lot of time on things like “technique” and weird blocking schemes. We’re going for bulk. Want a car?

What kid could resist that? A full scholarship and permission to eat like a horse. Plus, a car. They’ll line up.

There has been a lot of talk about UK needing a recruiting. Once I saw, I understood:

The UK Football Recruiting Room, where top high school talent can enjoy a fine meal and then run the calories off on the track.

While I agree this is pathetic, I won’t demand huge money for a new one. Here is my basement:

My basement. Plenty of sitting area, 60 inch plasma TV. What recruit wouldn’t be impressed?

Recruits can laze around on the couch watching TV with my teenage son. It will be just like being in someone’s home.

COACHING

I don’t have the patience to deal with a bunch of know-it-all so-called football “coaches.” Besides, we’ve had entire staffs full of these guys and still suck. I’ll hire whomever I want.

I won’t have offensive or defensive coordinators. That’s too complicated. The quarterback will call all the plays. On defense, they can just line up however they want. As far as I know, there aren’t any illegal defensive formations. 10 linemen? Let’s give it a shot. Blitz on every play? Why not? I’ll have only one defensive play: TACKLE THE GUY WITH THE DAMN BALL! How you do that is up to you. I need self-starters–not a bunch of mama’s boys who expect me to figure out everything for them.

There is one play I will run–the strongside toss/stiff arm. Years ago, Roger and I were both quite good at EA Sports NCAA Football. At the time, Anthony White was UK’s tailback. In my games, the toss to White to the strongside always resulted in large gains because of his crippling stiff-arm. If I recall correctly, Roger once rushed for 700 yards in a game using that play. It’s all in the timing. I may even bring Anthony in to teach it or I can just show it on a video game.

One thing won’t do is punt, except on first down sometimes. Then, it will be a quick kick by the quarterback designed to stun the defense and to put up ridiculously long punting yardage averages.

I also won’t waste a lot of time on practice. Our teams have practiced and practiced over the years and have almost nothing to show for it. Here’s what we’ll do. All the big guys will hit each other. All the fast guys will have balls thrown or handed to them. All the white guys will practice kicking. After a couple of hours of that, we’ll talk about our next opponent to see if anyone has seen them play and has suggestions. That’s it. Oh, and all the practices are open to the media and fans, even to opposing coaches. I’ve got nothing to hide, plus someone might have some ideas.

I won’t be a disciplinarian. I have three children whom I dearly love. I’ve not been much of disciplinarian with them. I can hardly be expected to be one with someone else’s kids. In fact, I won’t really care what they do. They can smoke and drink if they want. During games. We’ve played many games over the years where our players (and coaches) appeared to be drunk. Why not give it a real shot and see what happens? Imagine the shock if a huge Alabama defensive tackle lines up and sees our lineman dragging on a Marlboro. We’ll win the psychological war before the ball is even snapped.

I do expect some effort in class. Just enough to stay eligible will be fine. I don’t want a bunch of eggheads who think they’re better than I am.

MEDIA/FAN RELATIONS

This may be my one weak point. I am overly sensitive to criticism, especially when it is valid. One might also say that I’m volatile and dangerously so on occasion. I am subject to unprovoked fits of pique. I tend to hold grudges over both real and imagined slights. I will need tamp down these and other psychological problems. To build strong media and fan relationships, I will do the following:

  • In an effort to stay in a good mood, I will never watch game film. If we’ve won, I’ve obviously done a good job and don’t need to do anything else. If we’ve lost, I’ll just get depressed if I see what our next opponent looks like. Obviously, as a fan, I’d never watch any of our own defeats. Why subject myself to that?
  • Personally recruit the greatest flautist in the country to prance about the field playing the entire Jethro Tull catalogue at each game. Aqualung will become our fight song.
  • Take my medication.
  • Engage the fans by asking for play calls via Twitter during the games.
  • Insist on being introduced as the head coach of the “Greatest Program in the History of College Football.”
  • Have Nike make an array of garish uniforms. Each player can wear whatever he wants each game.
  • Punch Steve Spurrier in the throat.
  • End our decades long losing streak to Florida by constant prayer that their entire team be stricken with a non-serious disease that will debilitate them for only 3-4 hours.
  • IF we lose a game, I will start my post-game press conference by saying: “We meant to lose.”
  • Buy O.J. Simpson’s Heisman Trophy and then claim that I won it.

These are but a few of the things which come to mind. Mostly, I’ll try to be like the fan I am. If we lose, I will call-in to radio shows and demand my own firing. I’ll tailgate before and even during games. I’ll treat the media with disdain by calling them “ink-stained wretches” or I’ll kiss up to them depending on my many moods. I’ll call our fans the greatest in all the world until I get booed. Then, I will consistently refer to them as a bunch of miserable jackasses spoiled by success. I promise that it won’t be boring.

RESULTS

I predict great things. I’m certain I can win two games or so a season, which will make me quite successful by UK standards. Even if the heat is on, I’ll get 4 or 5 years to implement my system. By then, I’ll have knocked down a boatload of money anyway.

If things get really bad, I’ll wreck a motorcycle or start betting on games or coach a game naked or something that will make it easy to get rid of me. Then, I’ll get a gig at ESPN as a football expert–the last bastion of washed out coaches.

Our one win was against Kent State. I’m pretty sure this is now the low point in the history of their university, surpassing the whole National Guard thing.

I still hold out hope that we can beat Samford–assuming they are really bad. Regardless, we all have something to look forward to now. Go Cats!

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Flaming the Fans

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto has banned alcohol in certain tailgating areas for football games.  Why?  Because a group of drunken idiots got in fights at a recent game.  Of course, the idiots are apoplectic about this, because that’s how idiots react.

President Capilouto also banned DJs in those same areas. They may not have anything to do with the fights.  Maybe it’s just a nod to good taste.

(Apropos of nothing, I should note that a friend of mine and I always refer to the President as “Doctor Copulate-O.”  Oh, how we laugh when we say that)

This recent edict got me thinking about my own history as a fan and various fan personalities.  I don’t have much to say about fans acting like fools.  My friend, Meisterblogger, wrote an excellent piece on that subject.  I have nothing to add to that.  It does, however, make me ponder the behavior of fans, behavior in which I have engaged on some level my entire life.

I’m a sports fan.  Always have been.  When did it start?  I can’t really remember, but I know it started with baseball cards.  The one I remember best was a 1966 Willie Mays card.  For some reason, I loved that card.  I kept it under the desktop glass of a desk in our house.  I would sit and just look at it.  I loved it right up until my little brother managed to get it out from under the glass and tear it in half.  It was then replaced by a 1969 Willie Mays, which I kept in my pocket for safekeeping.

I carried the Say Hey Kid in my pocket for years.

I’ve cheered my teams.  I’ve screamed myself hoarse.  I’ve also cried.  Yes, cried.  Literally.  Who are my teams?  At various times, I’ve been fanatic about:

  • Los Angeles Lakers:  I’m not talking about the “Showtime” Lakers of the ’80’s.  These were the Lakers of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Why?  Wilt Chamberlain.  Wilt was the first basketball player of whom I was aware.  He was bigger than life.  Headband; knee pads (on his shins!); tape and rubber bands on his wrists–he had swag before there was swag.  In those days, there was only one NBA game a week on TV.  The Lakers and Knicks dominated.   I remember when the Lakers won 33 games in a row.  The starting line-up was Wilt, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Happy Hairston and Jim McMillan.  Wilt retired, then West, then my interest in the NBA.

There was only one Wilt.

  • Kentucky Colonels:  After Wilt retired, my interest shifted to the American Basketball Association.  Kentucky had a team.  Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore, Louie Dampier, Darrel Carrier and many others.  We rarely got to see them on TV, but I followed their every exploit.  The ABA was great.  Red, white and blue ball; three pointers; big Afros.  I loved it.  A couple of times, ABA barnstorming teams came to Harlan and played exhibition games.  We’d get Dampier, Carrier and a few other stars.  They were great guys.  They even let one of our local basketball coaches, John D. Wilson, play in one of the games.  Great stuff.  When the ABA merged with the NBA, the Colonels folded.  THAT was a sad day.

Artis Gilmore was everything cool about the ABA

  • Cincinnati Reds:  When I became a baseball fan, it didn’t take long to become a Reds fan.  Everyone in Kentucky was a Reds fan in those days.  You didn’t have much choice in the matter.  Johnny Bench was my icon.  He could do no wrong in my eyes.  I followed the Reds as closely as one could during the 1970’s.  I listened to the games on the radio.  I cut the box scores out of th paper. When they finally won the World Series in 1975, I was as happy as a kid could be .  My fandom continued in earnest through the mid-1990’s.  I’ll confess that it burned off through a combination of things.  One, free agency in baseball took away the concept of “my” team.  Rosters change too much and too quickly. Second, I’m one of those who never got his passion back after the 1994 players strike.  I still follow it, but I don’t live and die with it.
  • Dallas Cowboys:  From Craig Morton to Tony Romo.  Calvin Hill to Demarco Murray; Bob Hayes to Miles Austin; Bob Lilly to DeMarcus Ware, I’ve followed the Cowboys.  Roger Staubach was the hero of my youth.  I’ve reveled in the salad days of the 1970’s and 1990’s and suffered through the 1980’s and 2000’s.  Jerry Jones is the bane of my existence, but I still watch and hope.  Mostly, I long for the day when the Jones family dies out.
  • The University of Kentucky:  I save this for last, but it is certainly not least.  This is the one where my fandom has not waned.  Oh, being older, I’m not as psychotic as I used to be, but I’m still a card-carrying member of Big Blue Nation–basketball and football, of course.  I’m a two-time alum, but that doesn’t really matter.  You don’t have to be a grad to belong to BBN.  Hell, you don’t even have to ever set foot on campus.  It’s bigger than that.  It IS Kentucky.  My obsession with all things UK has evolved, but it has never died.

Against this backdrop, I’ve learned a lot about fans.  I am one.  Who are they?

THE DRUNK

I’ve been this guy.  He shows up at 9:00 a.m. to tailgate for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.  He drinks and drinks and drinks.  He’s loud and obnoxious.  He freely uses foul language.  He’ll insult opposing fans.  He’ll insult his friends. He’ll pick fights.  He’ll randomly vomit.  He watches the game–maybe.  It doesn’t matter if he does or not, because he won’t remember it.

Here’s how I used to do it.  Show up several hours before kickoff with a grocery bag full of beer.  Drink the beer.  Wander from the tailgate to tailgate bumming more beer.  Watch the football game.  Try not to pass out or puke.  Drink more.

I would find myself with people I didn’t know.  Drinking and cheering.  High-fiving and hugging.  Once, I was tailgating and a woman asked of me and a friend:  “Do you mother****ers wanna dance?”  We declined. That’s the crowd we were in.

Drunk Fan isn’t to be confused with his cousin, Drinking Fan, a mostly amiable fellow who occasionally goes over the edge.  He’s okay.

Fortunately, the strongest thing I drink these days is coffee.  The good news is that I remember all UK’s basketball games.  The bad news is that I remember all the football games, too.  Nothing is perfect.

THE DEMENTED

This guy believes he’s part of the team.  More accurately, he is the team, and the team is him.  They are one.  WE win.  He wears jerseys of his team.  He paints his face.  He names his kids after players.

If his team wins, this guy is a better person.  Not only that, he’s just better in general.  Healthier, happier, stronger.  Better.  He will gloat.  He will post things on Facebook like:

Cats win!  Yeah, baby, we’re rolling!  Suck it, Louisville!

Of course, he can also lose.  Losing is crippling.  He can’t face the light of day.  He won’t read the papers or watch TV, lest he be exposed to the terrible truth of his own failings.  Losing makes him a lesser person.  Unworthy.  Yet, he will tweet this:

U of L fans suck!  Chipstrapped losers!  Enjoy your one win, because we’re still BIG BLUE!! #UofLblows

The Demented Fan sees each game as a personal triumph or failure. It never dawns on him that he isn’t playing and has no stake in the outcome of games played by others who are not conscious of his existence.  Sadly, I’ve been there, too.  Why, oh, why, dear God, did they lose???  My cheering, my clothing, my very presence should have made the difference.  They did not.  I have failed.  Life sucks.

THE PSYCHOTIC

He rants.  He raves.  He yells obscenities.  He throws things.  He does all of these things just watching on TV.  I’ve been that guy, too:

  • Christian Laettner’s shot hits the bottom of the net to beat UK in the Regional Final.  In one seamless motion, I sweep a full ashtray into my hand and hurl it against the fireplace.  It shatters into a thousand pieces.  A stream of obscenities follow.  I can’t sleep for days. It takes 20 years for me to watch a replay of the shot.
  • Colt Jim O’Brien’s kick splits the uprights to beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.  I cry.
  • Remember Dwight Clark’s famous catch against the Dallas Cowboys?  The “Catch?”  I screamed and fell to my knees.
  • LSU beat UK on a Hail Mary pass with no time left.  I was watching the game at home and drinking.  I stepped outside, pick up a basketball and hit it with a baseball bat.  Not understanding the immutable laws of physics, I did not know that the bat would fly back, instead of the ball flying forward.  The back cracked me in the middle of the forehead.  I immediately went into a swoon and puked up about 2 gallons of beer.
  • North Carolina beats UK in the regional finals.  I am so deranged, I don’t know what to do.  First, I punch the door.  A steel door.  Bad move.  Then, for reasons I don’t understand, I tore my jeans in half–while wearing them.  You know how the Bible talks about people “tearing at their robes?”  That was me.
  • I once spit on the TV screen.  By “once” I mean innumerable times.
  • I have used every foul word and phrase in the English language watching games–even when my team is winning.
  • In a futile effort to protect our possessions, my wife bought me foam bricks to throw.  Not enough heft to them, but I did shred one.

Remember what I said above about fans acting like fools?  Burning couches and fistfights are for fools.  My actions were acts of passion.  Fortunately, I’ve outgrown this behavior–for the most part.  Now, my wife acts worse than I do.  At least I get to see what an annoying pain in the ass I was.

THE CASUAL FAN

I really have nothing to say about this guy.  He is just one step above the contemptible Fair Weather Fan.  The Casual Fan only pretends to be a fan.  He never loses sleep or acts like a jackass over a game.  He doesn’t know the players’ birthdays or their hometowns.  He’s a fraud.  I’ve never been him, and I won’t be.

I have crawled from top to bottom of the Fan’s Tree of Life.  I’m now a passionate–yet mostly normal–fan.  I still get agitated and take it too seriously.  But, I tell myself that the sun will still come up tomorrow and life is good.  I even believe that sometimes.

So, what kind of fan are YOU?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

No Joke: I’m the Man for U.K. Football

My good friend, Roger, and I sat through the entire, sorry University of Kentucky/Western Kentucky University football game last night. It was just another of many inexplicable UK losses we’ve watched over the years. UK football games are like watching Old Yeller. You know how it ends. You know you’ll be sad, but you watch it anyway.

Inspiration is the bastard child of bitter defeat. No one ever said that. I just made it up, but feel free to quote me. After the game, we were bemoaning the loss–on a trick-play, two point conversion that a high school team could have stopped. Of course, we need a new coach. Except for a few random seasons, that’s pretty much the constant state of affairs for our beloved Wildcats.

My optimism for this season was short-lived. Coach Joker Phillips has jumped from the hot seat into the cauldron. A coaching changes seems inevitable now, as does a two win season.

Our first thought was to go contrarian and hire the worst coach we can find. Maybe Bobby Hauck at UNLV (4-21 in his first two seasons). How about Indiana’s coach, Kevin Wilson? He went 1-11 in his first season. Just hire the worst we can find and accept our fate. Then, Roger had inspired thought: Why not hire someone who’s NEVER coached football on any level?

He suggested hiring himself, which is just foolish. He lives in another state. It would be very inconvenient. I, on the other hand, live right here in Lexington. I officially declare myself a candidate. Not only a candidate. The only candidate.

QUALIFICATIONS

Except for some limited experience in my backyard, I’ve never played football. I never even seriously considered it. I was too small, and I don’t like getting hit. I also don’t like getting dirty. This is an advantage. Many great athletes make poor coaches because they don’t understand why their players can’t perform at a high level. This won’t be a problem for me. Almost anyone would be a better athlete than I ever was. I’ll be impressed by pretty much everything.

I’m 50 years old. That’s the prime of the my professional life. After 25 years practicing law, I’m ready for a new challenge. Bring it on.

I’ve watched a lot of football. I mean A LOT. College, NFL, Arena League–even Canadian Football. I even watched the XFL. According to the radio call-in shows, watching football makes one an excellent football coach. I’ve also played a lot of Madden Football. Hundreds, if not thousands, of games. I’m a good strategist.

I’m also a UK alum–two times, in fact. Add to that my 40 year allegiance to the football program, and I bring an every man quality to the job that other candidates lack. I remember all the bitter defeats. I’ll cry and carry on after every loss just like a fan, because that’s what I am. In fact, I’ll call for my own firing if we lose. Fans will love me.

CONTRACT

My contract will be simple. Here are my terms:

  • $500,000 base salary–easily the lowest in the Southeastern Conference.
  • $100,000 bonus for each win. I’ll guarantee you that I’ll do anything to win if I get 100 large.
  • Discretion to hire my friends as assistant coaches.
  • Two days a week off. I’m used to working 5 days a week. I can’t really change that at my age.
  • A provision that excuses me for NCAA violations. As a low-paid coach, I can’t be expected to learn all that legal mumbo jumbo.
  • No long-term deal or buyout needed. If you want to fire me, do it. I don’t care.

We’ll have this deal wrapped up in about 15 minutes.

RECRUITING

You probably think I can’t recruit. Oh, how wrong you are on that one. First, I’ll completely ignore the NCAA rules and be open about it. We know that all coaches operate in the gray areas of the rules, anyway. I’ll head straight to the black area. You want a car? You got it. Cash? Sure. A house? You’ll have to be pretty damn good for that, but it’s doable. Now, if I give you this stuff and you suck, I want it back. That’ll be some good incentive.

The best part is that my lack of coaching skill will be a selling point. The first thing I’ll do is ask some recruiting nerd to identify the best quarterback in the country. Then, I’ll go to his house. Here’s my recruiting pitch:

Okay, son, here’s the deal. If you want to be the best quarterback in the country, UK is your school. Why? Because you’ll call every play we run. All of them. Why? Because I don’t know a damn thing about football. You can throw it every down if you want. Trick plays, everyone out for a pass. I won’t give a shit. And don’t worry about that headset I wear. It’s hooked to my iPod. If you want a nanny to wipe your nose or someone to treat you like an idiot, go to one of these “power” schools. I’ll admit that UK isn’t for everyone, but you’ve got what it takes. Want a car?

We’ll have so many quarterbacks, I wouldn’t know what do with them even if I actually did know what I was doing. If I need an offense lineman, here’s the pitch:

ME: How much you weigh?

PLAYER: About 260, sir.

ME: If you can put on 100 pounds, we want you.

PLAYER: Sir, I’m willing to work hard in the weight room.

ME: Weeeellll, that’s one way, I guess. Really, if you can just eat like a pig that will work, too. We want the biggest players we can get. I don’t care if they’re fat. I want the offensive line to average 350–or even bigger. We don’t really waste a lot of time on things like “technique” and weird blocking schemes. We’re going for bulk. Want a car?

What kid could resist that? A full scholarship and permission to eat like a horse. Plus, a car. They’ll line up.

COACHING

I don’t have the patience to deal with a bunch of know-it-all so-called football “coaches.” Besides, we’ve had entire staffs full of these guys and still suck. I’ll hire whomever I want.

I won’t have offensive or defensive coordinators. That’s too complicated. The quarterback will call all the plays. On defense, they can just line up however they want. As far as I know, there aren’t any illegal defensive formations. 10 linemen? Let’s give it a shot. Blitz on every play? Why not? I’ll have only one defensive play: TACKLE THE GUY WITH THE DAMN BALL! How you do that is up to you. I need self-starters–not a bunch of mama’s boys who expect me to figure out everything for them.

There is one play I will run–the strongside toss/stiff arm. Years ago, Roger and I were both quite good at EA Sports NCAA Football. At the time, Anthony White was UK’s tailback. In my games, the toss to White to the strongside always resulted in large gains because of his crippling stiff-arm. If I recall correctly, Roger once rushed for 700 yards in a game using that play. It’s all in the timing. I may even bring Anthony in to teach it or I can just show it on a video game.

One thing won’t do is punt, except on first down sometimes. Then, it will be a quick kick by the quarterback designed to stun the defense and to put up ridiculously long punting yardage averages.

I also won’t waste a lot of time on practice. Our teams have practiced and practiced over the years and have almost nothing to show for it. Here’s what we’ll do. All the big guys will hit each other. All the fast guys will have balls thrown or handed to them. All the white guys will practice kicking. After a couple of hours of that, we’ll talk about our next opponent to see if anyone has seen them play and has suggestions. That’s it. Oh, and all the practices are open to the media and fans, even to opposing coaches. I’ve got nothing to hide, plus someone might have some ideas.

I won’t be a disciplinarian. I have three children whom I dearly love. I’ve not been much of disciplinarian with them. I can hardly be expected to be one with someone else’s kids. In fact, I won’t really care what they do. They can smoke and drink if they want. During games. We’ve played many games over the years where our players (and coaches) appeared to be drunk. Why not give it a real shot and see what happens? Imagine the shock if a huge Alabama defensive tackle lines up and sees our lineman dragging on a Marlboro. We’ll win the psychological war before the ball is even snapped.

I do expect some effort in class. Just enough to stay eligible will be fine. I don’t want a bunch of eggheads who think they’re better than I am.

MEDIA/FAN RELATIONS

This may be my one weak point. I am overly sensitive to criticism, especially when it is valid. One might also say that I’m volatile and dangerously so on occasion. I am subject to unprovoked fits of pique. I tend to hold grudges over both real and imagined slights. I will need tamp down these and other psychological problems. To build strong media and fan relationships, I will do the following:

  • In an effort to stay in a good mood, I will never watch game film. If we’ve won, I’ve obviously done a good job and don’t need to do anything else. If we’ve lost, I’ll just get depressed if I see what our next opponent looks like. Obviously, as a fan, I’d never watch any of our own defeats. Why subject myself to that?
  • Personally recruit the greatest flautist in the country to prance about the field playing the entire Jethro Tull catalogue at each game. Aqualung will become our fight song.
  • Take my medication.
  • Engage the fans by asking for play calls via Twitter during the games.
  • Insist on being introduced as the head coach of the “Greatest Program in the History of College Football.”
  • Have Nike make an array of garish uniforms. Each player can wear whatever he wants each game.
  • Punch Steve Spurrier in the throat.
  • End our decades long losing streak to Florida by constant prayer that their entire team be stricken with a non-serious disease that will debilitate them for only 3-4 hours.
  • IF we lose a game, I will start my post-game press conference by saying: “We meant to lose.”
  • Buy O.J. Simpson’s Heisman Trophy and then claim that I won it.

These are but a few of the things which come to mind. Mostly, I’ll try to be like the fan I am. If we lose, I will call-in to radio shows and demand my own firing. I’ll tailgate before and even during games. I’ll treat the media with disdain by calling them “ink-stained wretches” or I’ll kiss up to them depending on my many moods. I’ll call our fans the greatest in all the world until I get booed. Then, I will consistently refer to them as a bunch of miserable jackasses spoiled by success. I promise that it won’t be boring.

RESULTS

I predict great things. I’m certain I can win two games or so a season, which will make me quite successful by UK standards. Even if the heat is on, I’ll get 4 or 5 years to implement my system. By then, I’ll have knocked down a boatload of money anyway.

If things get really bad, I’ll wreck a motorcycle or start betting on games or coach a game naked or something that will make it easy to get rid of me. Then, I’ll get a gig at ESPN as a football expert–the last bastion of washed out coaches.

Even if we only eke out one more win this year (I hope Samford is REALLY bad), we all have something to look forward to now. Go Cats!

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

The Strange, Sad Case of Billy Gillispie

This was perhaps the last smile we saw on Billy Clyde’s face.

If you’ve read my posts, first, I apologize for rarely making a salient point.  Second, you know that I am a dyed-in-Blue University of Kentucky sports fan.  I have been since I was 8 years old.  That’s 42 years for those scoring at home.

In my time as a resident of Big Blue Nation, as we somewhat arrogantly refer to ourselves, I’ve seen some odd things.  We once lost a football game on consecutive pass interference penalties with time running out.  The Cats also once gave up a 75 yard Hail Mary pass with no time left to lose a football game.  These stories, as they relate to football, are many and varied.  Basketball, on the other hand, has brought mostly joy.  Oh, we remember the 1984 National Semi-Final game when the Cats shot 3 for 33 in the second half.  Then, there was Christian Laettner’s dagger to the heart in 1992.  Those, however, are mostly blips on the Big Blue radar.

Probably, our biggest disappointments have come off the court with our occasional run-ins with the NCAA’s Draconian rule book.  Questionable ACT scores, money in envelopes, etc., have blighted our landscape.  Of course, like any True Blue fan, I can offer you vigorous and persuasive defenses for all our transgressions.  Perhaps I will do so in a future post.  Now, though, I turn to the strangest period in UK sports–the Billy Gillispie Era.

I suppose it’s hyperbole to refer to a two-year span as an “era,” but that’s what we call it.  Billy G as we lovingly called him, succeeded Orlando “Tubby” Smith as Kentucky’s basketball coach in the Spring of 2007.  Smith had finished an 10 year run as coach which included a national championship.  He won that title in his first year as coach and was never able to repeat.  In fact, despite some near misses, Tubby never got the Cats back to the Final Four, an unforgivable sin.  Some called him “Ten Loss Tubby” in reference to his losing at least ten games in a season several times, despite averaging 26 wins a season in Lexington.  By the 2006-2007 season, many fans felt like Tubby’s time was up.

Smith did the smart thing and jumped at the chance to leave UK and coach the University of Minnesota where he still coaches.  UK fans rejoiced!  Message boards lit up!  Now, we would get us a coach to push us back over the top!

Who would it be?  Now, we UK fans believe everyone wants the Kentucky job, except maybe Mike Krzyzewski. Maybe.  Would it be former UK All-American and NBA coaching royalty Pat Riley?  What about former coach and current villain Rick Pitino?  John Wooden was 96 years old at the time, but maybe he would come back.  While the fan base was engaged in its own demented fantasy world, the university was pursuing candidates who might actually want the job.

At first, it sounded like it might be Rick Barnes, the surly and moderately successful coach at the University of Texas.  That didn’t pan out.  What about John Calipari at Memphis?  Nah, we don’t want that guy.  We settled on Billy Donovan, hot-shot coach at the University of Florida.

I rarely spend time on message boards but couldn’t resist during those days.  People were using software programs to track flights between Lexington and Gainesville, Florida.  Donovan was spotted at various locations in and around Lexington.  I even heard that a clandestine meeting had been held on the tarmac of undisclosed airport to hammer out the final details.

Bottom line:  No deal with Donovan.  He wanted the Orlando Magic job, which he took and then quit 5 days later.  Oh, well.  Then, the name Billy Clyde Gillispie rose to the top.  We in BBN knew Billy Clyde.  Why?  Because his Texas A&M team had just upset the accursed Rick Pitino and the University of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament–at Rupp Arena.  Thus, this otherwise obscure coach was already something of a hero in BBN.  What did it matter that none of us knew anything about him?  A lot, as it turns out.

Gillispie was announced as the new head basketball coach at UK on April 6, 2007.  As is our practice, a large and unnecessary pep rally  was held.  Billy G was introduced to the fans.  They cheered wildly.  He said all the right things.  Let the good times roll!

Gillispie seemed uncomfortable in front of those fans.  He said the right things but looked like a guy who wanted to catch the next bus out of town.  I chalked it up to being in the spotlight for the first time.  Wouldn’t any of us be nervous?

Then, there were rumors that Gillispie told his A&M players he was leaving via text message.  If true, that was odd.  Hmmm.

It took no time for people to start beating the drum for Billy G–or Billy Clyde as many called him.  He was a relentless recruiter.  He was tough, not soft like Tubby.  He pushed his team.  People called him The Warrior.  He was a great X’s and O’s coach.  We were confident that we’d hit a home run when  we were still in the on-deck circle.  No honeymoon ever ended as abruptly as this one.

My first problem was with Billy G was his disturbing resemblance to Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame.  I couldn’t get past it.

Separated at birth? I would rather have given Squiggy a shot at the job.

Of course, I’m joking–sort of.  He does look like Squiggy.

The first problem most other folks had with him was called Gardner-Webb.  That’s a college.  I knew that because that’s where Artis Gilmore had gone to school before he attended Jacksonville State.  UK fans now know G-W because they laid an 84-68 ass-whipping on UK in Gillispie’s second game.  There were other ignominious losses, but the Cats wound up going 12-4 in the SEC, and Billy Clyde was even named SEC Coach of the Year.

Despite our ending the season on a bit of an uptick, there were signs that things weren’t right:

  • Our recruiting was going nowhere fast.  He was getting commitments from players no one knew, even an 8th grader in one instance.
  • His media performances were tepid, to say the least.  Even his Coachspeak was limited to repeatedly saying that the Cats must “compete.”
  • Rumors abounded about his off-the-court lifestyle.  It sounded as if Austin Powers had taken the reins of our beloved program.
  • We heard stories of grueling game day practices with feet bleeding from non-stop running.
  • Worst of all, Cats finished 18-13 and lost to Marquette in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Billy G’s second season was not an improvement.   VMI was our Gardner-Webb beating the Cats 111-103.  Billy G famously insulted an ESPN reporter during a game.  The Cats sputtered to a 22-14 record losing in the freakin’ NIT!  Billy G sealed his fate by stating that being the face of the basketball program wasn’t part of his job.  If he had any supporters, they didn’t make much noise.  Three stories, in particular, rankled Kentucky fans:

  • Perry Stephenson, a forward from Louisiana, was the epitome of the player who needed fill out his frame.  He never did.  The story was that Billy G, incensed over Stephenson’s lanky frame, forced him to eat a box of Pop Tarts.

Did Billy G really force Perry to eat a box of Pop Tarts? We thought so.

  • Billy G became so irate with Josh Harrellson that he forced him to stand in a bathroom stall during halftime of a game.  Later, he forced Harrellson to ride back to Lexington in the equipment van.
  • He even kicked one of the walk-ons off the team for laughing on the bench during a loss.

Right or wrong, UK basketball players are beloved.  Beloved.  Abusing them–either through grueling practices or outright embarrassment– was unacceptable, especially when the NIT was the result.

By the end of that second season, Billy G had dribbled out the clock. Game over. UK fired him on March 27, 2009. The next day, the ex-coach held a bizarre farewell press conference. He said he was happy and that everything was great. With that, he was gone. Sort of.

First, he decided to sue over his well-deserved firing. Second, he re-appeared on our local news six months later after being arrested a mere 20 miles from Lexington after a late night of golf and drinking. Like a bad penny, he kept turning up.

He then did an obligatory stay at John Lucas’s rehab facility. He emerged a new man, contrite over his old ways. Declaring himself a non-alcoholic, he was ready for a second chance.

We were just glad that he’d already been fired when this mug shot was taken after Billy G’s DUI arrest.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that “there are no second acts in American life.”  Of course, this was before Big Time Sports.  Billy G would get another chance.  Texas Tech was that chance.

Texas Tech was the ideal job.  Lubbock is in his home state, far removed from the national spotlight.  He had great success turning around moribund programs at Texas-El Paso and Texas A&M.  Texas Tech is, at its heart, a football school.  Basketball success is a bonus.  He would have time to build what he wanted.

It took Billy Clyde two years to squander one of the top jobs in college basketball.  Somehow, in a year at Tech, he has himself back on the ledge.  By the time you read this, he may already be fired.  In the past couple of weeks, the following events have transpired:

We know the end of this story.  He is on his way out.  Remember this, too:  His immediate predecessors were Bob Knight and his Hellish offspring, Pat–two coaches never to be confused with Dale Carnegie.  There may not another chance after this.

I’ve never met Billy Clyde.  Those I know who did during his time in Lexington were not impressed.  I don’t know what his problems are or why he’s blown two chances that others would fight for.  But, I know his type–Me.  In my own way, I used to act like him:  Drink too much and dismiss it as no problem.  Force my way upon others, even when my way was not effective and sure to alienate those around me.  Fight with authority when that authority held all the cards.  Then, when things turned out poorly, we wonder why things went so wrong.  I was younger than Billy G when I started to grow up, to take responsibility for my actions and find a better way to live.  Growing up before one grows old is always preferable. Any time otherwise successful people pull their world down around them bad things are under the surface.

I don’t what his medical leave is about, but I hope he is addressing whatever demons have created his problems with living.  A cynic (realist?) would suggest that this is a ploy to force a buy-out of his contract.  Maybe it is.  I make no judgment about his drinking or his emotional state.  I don’t engage in pop psychology.  What I do know is that people who consistently sabotage themselves have problems with living that a new job won’t cure.

I’m not so naive that I believe Billy G would have the same conflicts if he were consistently winning games.  Look no further than Bob Knight for an example of contemptible behavior being deemed acceptable if balanced with enough winning.  Billy G, it seems, has too few wins to be Bob Knight.

Will he get another chance?  Probably.  Sports fans are forgiving, especially if contrition is shown.  A record of success doesn’t hurt either.  Billy is still a young man, 52 years old.  He’ll likely emerge as an assistant somewhere. Sadly, he may repeat this tired act again.  Even though he wasn’t success at UK, I wish him well.  For as many negatives as we’ve heard, many other people saygood things about him.  Like of all us, he’s probably a mixture of good and bad.  No one, it has been said, should be judged by his worst.  Whatever gnaws at him compromises that good.  Let’s all hope he gets a third act and is ready for his role.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

The Go Big Blues

I am an unabashed fan of University of Kentucky football. I’m not the only one, either. There are a bunch of us. I have been a fan for 40 years. The Cats’ record during that span? 193 wins, 250 losses, 5 ties. Our most successful coach, Fran Curci, won a whopping 48% of his games.

I date my fandom to the beginning of the Fran Curci Era in 1973. Prior that, all I knew was that John Ray was a terrible coach (according to my Dad).  Dad talked a lot about the Cats winning the Sugar Bowl in 1950.  Kentucky fans still talk about that.  It’s our high water mark.

All of mankind knows UK won 13-7. This was a mere 60 years ago.

Curci got us to 10-1 in 1977. We beat Penn State and finished 6th in the polls (somehow Penn State was 5th). Oh, we didn’t play in a bowl game. Probation. Such are the fortunes of UK football.

The hiring of Fran Curci ushered in a golden era of Kentucky football which saw us win almost half our games.

It’s 2012, and we’ve never gotten back to those halcyon days. We won 9 games one year and 8 several times. We’ve been to a few bowl games but never really challenged on the national stage.  In fact, we’ve never really challenged in our own conference, the formidable SEC.

Historically, UK fans have been optimistic to the point of delusion.  I have a friend who looks at the schedule every year and sees 9 wins. I haven’t talked to him about this season, but he’ll probably give me this assessment:

  • Louisville:  Of course, we’ll beat them.
  • Samford, Kent State, Western Kentucky: Win, win, win. 4-0.
  • Florida: They’re down and we’re due, having lost 26 in a row. 5-0.
  • Vanderbilt: We always beat them (This isn’t true, but UK fans believe it).
  • Tennessee: They’re down, too. Plus, we broke our long losing streak against them last year. We own them now. That’s 7 wins.
  • Mississippi State: Should have beat them last year. We’ve got them. 8 wins.
  • Georgia: We always play them tough (not true, either). Probably a loss, but it will be close.
  • Missouri: Don’t know much about them, but we have a shot.
  • South Carolina: This one is probably a loss.
  • Arkansas: they’ll be in chaos. We have a shot.
  • There you go. At least 9 wins.

This season is different. The old blind optimism is gone. Gloom and doom prevail. I haven’t gotten my friend’s predictions, yet, but he probably only sees 6 wins.  Most fans see 3 wins, 4 if we’re lucky. Last year, we went 5-7–a fairly typical record for UK football. In the past, such a record would be considered a launching pad for greatness. Not now. Why?

I guess I should tell you that I’ve never been one of the optimists.  Generally, I’ve seen every season as holding the potential for 6 or so wins if things go well and 2 or 3 if we don’t get some breaks.  I feel better about this season for some reason.  My friend and fellow blogger, Meisterblogger, posted an excellent piece on this optimism.  I agree with each of his points.  If he and I are optimistic, things must be getting better.

Big Blue Nation disagrees.  Season ticket sales are down–way down.  The call-in shows (as our former coach Bill Curry once said, “The Fellowship of the Miserable”) are consistently predicting 3 or 4 wins.  A coach change looms.  With the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, years of cellar-dwelling are a virtual certainty.  Our fan base has had a go to pieces.

Much like addicts, UK fans have hit bottom.  The reality of their situation is inescapable.  They have given up hope.  Why?

THE COACHING CONUNDRUM

For the uninitiated, our coach is Joe “Joker” Phillips.  Joker is a Kentucky native.  He played at UK.  He was an assistant coach at UK for many years.  He’s charming.  He’s the prototype of what we should want.  In two seasons at UK, his record is 11 and 14, making him one of the most successful UK head men in recent memory. Nevertheless, after two seasons, he’s almost universally disliked.  The most common description of Joker starts like this:  “Joker is a nice guy and I really hope he does well, but…..”  Then comes a scathing critique.

Joker Phillips, “a nice guy, but…..”

Miami University in Ohio trumpets itself as the Cradle of Coaches because of its history of producing football coaches.  UK, on the other hand, can legitimately lay claim to being  the Graveyard of Coaches.  Here is what happened with our coaches in the last 40 years:

  • Fran Curci:  Never coached again.
  • Jerry Claiborne:  Ditto.
  • Bill Curry:  Didn’t coach again for many years until a brief return to start the program at Georgia State.
  • Hal Mumme:  He’s had a couple of head jobs but seems destined to slide back to obscurity.
  • Guy Morriss:  He left UK for Baylor where he lasted 4 seasons.
  • Rich Brooks:  Retired.

The last UK coaches to go on to great success were Bear Bryant and Blanton Collier, both of whom left UK over 50 years ago.  The next two–Charlie Bradshaw and John Ray–also never had head coaching jobs again.  UK isn’t the job you want if you have greater aspirations.

“CAN’T YOU PLAY BETTER?” UK fans have sunk lower than the Bill Curry Era.

We’ve tried everything with our coaches.  John Ray was a hot-shot assistant at Notre Dame.  Curci was an up and coming mid-major coach (yes, the University of Miami was a mid-major in the early 1970’s).  Claiborne was an established, successful coach and UK grad.  Curry was an A-list coach hired away from Alabama of all places.  Mumme was a Division III superstar.  Morriss was the emergency interim coach.  Brooks was an old pro with decades of experience.  Joker is the loyal assistant. Some were better than others, but no one could push us over the top.

For years, UK fans believed that the head coach was to blame.  The right coach and everything will be great.  Now, there seems to be a growing resignation that there is no right coach.  UK isn’t a “destination” job–unless you can’t find a job or want your career to abruptly end.  I can assure you that when Urban Meyer took his year off he wasn’t waiting to see if Joker got fired.  A lot of folks want rid of Joker but very few have ideas about a replacement.  Oh, we still have a small–very small–contingent who believe that almost anyone would take the UK job.  Most now despair that no one can help us.

Coaching football is not that difficult.  Recently, I heard ESPN commentator and long-time NFL offensive lineman Mark Schlereth say:  “The words ‘football coach’ and ‘genius’ don’t belong in the same sentence.  It’s 300 pound guys hitting each other.”  I know I shouldn’t say that, but it’s true.  It’s football, not gene-splicing.  This is especially true in college football, where the talent gulf between the haves and have-nots is huge.  My ten-year old son can recognize many different offensive and defensive formations on TV.  How did he learn to decipher such complexities?  Madden Football.  It’s not that tough.  We can find someone who’s bright enough to coach a football team.

But, if that’s true, what’s the problem?  This leads to my next point…

THE JIMMYS AND JOES

Someone once said “It ain’t about the x’s and o’s.  It’s the Jimmys and Joes.”  I don’t know who said that (it sounds like something Darrell Royal would have said), but it’s true.  College football at the highest level is all about the players.  Preparation, game-planning and play-calling are all neutralized by overwhelmingly superior talent.  UK fans have come to accept that our program is light-years away from an SEC Championship roster.

At UK, we might recruit 2 or 3 four-star players a year.  Every now and then, we grab a five-star.   The teams at the top of the heap are getting 15 of these guys every, single season.  When we have an injured starter, we may have to bring in a young man who simply lacks the skill to play at the SEC level.  When LSU has an injury, it looks down the bench for another NFL player.  That’s big difference that you can’t coach around.

The best quarterbacks at UK in the last 40 years are Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen and Andre Woodson.  Among them, they hold every significant record in school history.  The all went to high school in Kentucky.  Players of that caliber are a rarity in Kentucky high school football.  We certainly don’t get enough to fill out a roster.

Joker is blamed for the current state of the roster.  He was the recruiting coordinator under Coach Brooks, after all.  Maybe a new coach would do better.  Maybe not.  We’ve been down that road before.  The only thing encouraging about this is that our fan base has finally accepted that we lack a lot more than magic coaching to compete with the big boys.

For many years, UK fans moaned about coaching decisions as though a play or two could have made the difference in the most recent 50 point loss.  It seems we’ve come to realize that the talent gulf is so great we may not be able to bridge it.  Compounding that realization is that UK also has a history of NCAA recruiting violations.  Even when we’ve cheated, it hasn’t helped.  If you’re going to cheat, at least win in the process.

For the first time, I hear a growing consensus that we just don’t have players.  Fans seem to have given up on improvement.  They want these players to play well but don’t really think they can do it.

This takes me to my last point…

ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER

This line was how Dante envisioned the entrance to Hell.  A growing number of UK fans feel the same way about Commonwealth Stadium now.  Hope no longer springs eternal.

We UK fans like to think we are great fans.  The best.  I’ll engage in a bit of blasphemy and say that’s not true.  Yes, we have attended football games where we had no chance to win.  A lot of fan bases do that.  We like to tailgate.  Who doesn’t?  The football program makes tons of money.  In the SEC, I don’t how you wouldn’t make a mint.  I’ve attended UK games regularly since the early 1980’s.  When the season goes south, we don’t fill the stadium.  I’ve been in Commonwealth Stadium with crowds of well below 20,000, regardless of the announced attendance.  At the end of Bill Curry’s tenure, you could have shot arrows into the upper deck with no chance of injuring anyone.  Expect a repeat of that if this season goes as badly as predicted.

Simply put, the fans are no longer entertained.  5-7 and 7-5 seasons are better than 1-10 (which we’ve seen), but they don’t inspire.  Seven wins doesn’t mean we’re turning the corner.  It just means we beat Louisville and the three cupcakes on the schedule plus some fellow SEC bottom feeders.  Ho hum.

I don’t have any solutions, just observations.  The atmosphere is as negative as I’ve seen since the last days of Bill Curry.  Maybe worse.  Of course, we open the season with Louisville.  If we win, the old optimism will return–just long enough to lure us back.  Heart break awaits.  Oh well.  GO CATS!

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

My (Big) Blue Heaven

Since the end of our glorious University of Kentucky Basketball season, I’ve been jotting down my thoughts on the year from time to time.  Many of you have reveled in the 2012 NCAA Championship, but may feel slightly unfulfilled.   You’ve asked yourself:  “I know I’m happy, but what does HE think?”  Now, you can know.

  • In the span of one year, Anthony Davis was named a McDonald’s High School All-American; NCAA Freshman of the Year; NCAA Defensive POY; Consensus National POY; SEC POY; First Team NCAA All-American; and Final Four Most Outstanding Player.  In addition, he won an NCAA championship; is the likely 1st pick in the NBA draft; and has a chance to play on the Olympic team.  If this isn’t the best year a college player ever had, it’s got to be close.
  • I can’t overstate how impressed I am with the job John Calipari did this year.  It’s tough enough to meld a team of stars and potential stars into a cohesive unit.  When many of your players are straight from high school, it’s even tougher.
  • The post-championship statewide Trophy Tour was pure genius.  Cal knows his audience.  I also really liked including Joe Hall and Herky Rupp.  Hall has become something of an elder statesman of UK basketball, but Coach Rupp has been largely pushed into the background.  The Rupp family has spent far too much time defending his legacy.  It was a nice move to include Coach Rupp’s son in the celebration.  Well done.
  • Speaking of Davis, his high school team went 6-19 his senior year.  I can only assume his teammates were less than skilled.
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is one of my favorite players ever at UK.  He played hard on both ends of the court with the same demeanor at all times.
  • I’m the worst at evaluating NBA potential.  I’m the guy who thought Rajon Rondo would be out of the league in 3 years and that Ron Mercer would be a perennial all-star.  With that qualification–and as much as I like MKG–I really question his NBA skills.  I just wonder if a player his size without a reliable jumper can be a star.  I know he can play in the league, but will he justify being a top 5 pick?  Probably (see my comment on Rondo above).
  • I have the same questions about Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague but for different reasons.  There are players like them in every major basketball conference.  What sets them apart?  I’m not sure.  I hope they have great success, but I will be surprised.
  • Don’t be surprised if Darius Miller plays in the NBA for a long time.  He has the size and skills to do a lot of things well.
  • Eloy Vargas impresses me.  Like a lot of folks, I had hoped he would be a big contributor on the court, but he wasn’t.  Despite attending three colleges, he got his degree.  Plus, by all accounts (including that of my 10 year old son), he’s a nice young man.  A lot of players would have been frustrated with his situation.  He embraced the experience at UK.   I wish him well and hope he gets a chance to play for pay.
  • There has been all manner of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the end of the UK-IU series.  Name the most exciting moments from the last 20 UK-IU games.  Ok, Mike Davis’s mental collapse is one.  Watford’s jumper is another, and that just sucked.  For whatever reason, the game wasn’t that important to either UK or IU.  I suspect that it’s because neither school is all that fired up about a tough pre-conference game.  Add to that the obvious close friendship between Cal and Tom Crean.
  • Speaking of schedules, I used to believe that a tough pre-conference schedule was a key to being tournament-ready.  Take a look at other schools’ schedules.  Duke rarely plays a good team on the road.  All its tough games are at home or neutral sites.  The same is true of many top teams.  Teams loading their schedules with killer home and home series are a thing of the past.  Seeding for the tournament is too important to get saddled with 3 or 4 non-conference losses.
  • I suppose it’s a function of age, but the Cats winning the title did not fill me with the unbridled joy of, say, the 1996 title.  I know it had been 14 years between titles, but now 14 years just doesn’t seem that long ago.  Plus, I guess I’ve reached the point where a bunch of children winning a tournament doesn’t REALLY make my life any better.
  • The NBA’s “One and Done” rule is here to stay.  I heard a recent interview with NBA Commissioner David Stern, and he expressed his view that the rule works quite well.  I agree.  It gives the NBA a one year screening tool to weed out those high school players with holes in their games or,  as in Anthony Davis’s case, to discover those who are far better than originally thought.  I don’t see the NBA changing it any time soon.
  • A by-product of the One and Done Rule is that predicting college basketball’s powers year-to-year is now almost impossible.  Right now, most assume that Louisville and Indiana are two favorites to win the title next year.  We’ll see.  Once you mix in all the incoming freshmen, the landscape may change dramatically.
  • People pay too much attention to the RPI during the season.   It’s not a game-to-game measuring stick.  It’s designed to place a value on a team’s entire season.  That’s why looking at your school’s RPI in December is useless.  Now, if your school LOSES to bunch of low RPI teams, you’ll see the difference come seeding time.
  • I guess the big recruiting “get” is Nerlens Noel and his flat top fade.  He seems to be an engaging young man and willing to embrace Big Blue Nation and all its madness.  Here’s hoping that BBN tempers its expectations of him.  He’s not Anthony Davis.  Davis was a once in a generation talent.  Let’s cut this young man some slack and let him develop as a player.
  • I’ve heard a lot of debate about whether Davis and similar short time Cats should have their jerseys retired.    Why not?  If the honor is to recognize great basketball players, it shouldn’t matter if they played one year or four.
  • It doesn’t bother me at all if a student leaves college after a year to play pro basketball.  For most, that is their career goal.  I’ve never known anyone who was harmed by attending college, even for a year or two.  They’re not being exploited.  They are being given a golden opportunity to change their lives and the lives of future generations.  Plus, the education is always available.  Shaquille O’Neal just earned his doctorate.
  • Of course, the downside to winning the championship is that it feeds the beast.  I fear that out-sized expectations have returned.  Remember folks:  Getting to the Final Four is hard.  Winning the tournament is even harder.  Enjoy the ride.
  • It’s hard now to imagine that Billy Gillispie coached at UK, but he did.  He gave me the gift of seeing what it’s like for UK to be irrelevant.
  • I hope our YUM! envy passes soon.  I realize that Louisville plays in a palace now, but I don’t care.  Rupp Arena is the home of the Cats.  Maybe it needs more upgrades and isn’t the prettiest venue, but I like it.  The last thing we need is a white elephant that can’t ever be paid off.
  • Can we stop with the talk that UK spends too much money on sports?  Here’s how it works:  Right or wrong, college sports generate  huge dollars.  The argument seems to be that UK should take all that income and re-direct it to academics.  Now, the football revenue–coming largely from the SEC–could be pilfered for quite a while.  The basketball program would quickly dip into irrelevance without paying coaches top money and spending on top flight facilities.  It doesn’t cost the university a dime.  Get over it.
  • While we’re talking about academics,  I’m certainly no intellectual nor I am an academic snob.  I have two degrees from the University of Kentucky, and I’ve done quite well.  It must not be nearly as awful a university as I hear others complain about.
  • Was the 2012 team the best ever at UK?  I don’t have any idea.  The ’96 team certainly had more depth and experienced talent.  The ’78 team was the only one that I thought would win every game it played.  My Dad would have said the 1948 team.  You can only compare teams and players to the their competition.  In its way, this team was every bit as dominant as UK team I’ve seen.  That’s good enough for me.
  • Calipari is ahead of his colleagues on dealing with modern college basketball.  The top shelf players want to attend college for a year, maybe two.  Cal has created a system to allow them to do that if they have the skills.  Yes, there is a revolving door, but that’s going to be the case with all the top talent.  UK just has more of these players than other schools.  That being the case, the Cats will be a top team more often than not.  I expect this will even out some in the next few years, but for now let’s enjoy the ride.
  • There will be annual speculation about Cal leaving UK.   I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  One, he failed as an NBA coach and the media (especially ESPN) holds to the idea that the NBA is the pinnacle of success.  The other is that UK, despite its success, is just not held in high regard.  There is never speculation about Roy Williams or, rarely, Coach K.  The implication is that a coach would be insane to leave either of those jobs, but equally crazy to stay at UK.  It wouldn’t surprise if Cal did jump back to the NBA at some point, but I don’t see it being the yearly flirtation that it was with Rick Pitino.
  • There’s been uproar over Cal’s views on scheduling.  He’s 102-14 with a title.  I’ll defer to him on that.  Like I said, he’s ahead of the curve.  I’m willing to bet he’s right about this, too.  I’ve heard comments like:  “They can’t expect to keep asking for big money if they don’t deliver a great home schedule.”  Really?  If you have season tickets, turn them in.  I’m pretty sure UK can unload them.
  • The best news since the title has been that a good friend of mine has purchased two seats behind the UK bench.  Sweet.  This fits well with my personal philosophy.

So, there you have it–the random thoughts which bounce around in my head from time to time.  Now, what we will look like next year?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Music City Mayhem: One Night In The Box

It was 1999.  These were halcyon days of University of Kentucky football.  We had endured 8 years of the Bill Curry Era which resulted in one non-losing season.  Even that season ended in disappointment with a disheartening Peach Bowl loss to Clemson.  Curry was eventually fired.  In 1997, UK hired an unknown and incredibly ill-prepared coach from a Division III school–Hal Mumme.  Mumme brought one thing to the table: An insanely pass-happy offense.  We loved it. Our Kentucky-bred hero Tim Couch played quarterback and broke every school passing record.  At the end of the 1998 season, we actually went to New Years Day bowl game, losing a close game to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

The 1999 season was also a success, albeit not quite what we had under Couch.  Dusty Bonner was our quarterback, and UK had another winning season!  For the first time in 15 years, we were going to bowl games in consecutive years.  This time, it was the Homepoint.Com Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee.

At the time, I worked at a law firm which had an office in Nashville.  The Firm secured a luxury suite at Adelphia Stadium for the Music City Bowl.  Normally, I would have been excluded from benefitting from this without a second thought; however, I had stumbled upon some good fortune which made it possible for me to at least request a couple of tickets for the BOX.

Like most large law firms, the Firm embraced a concept known as “origination credit.”  Essentially, this was a system (I use that word loosely) which gave attorneys credit for bringing clients into the Firm.  Once you got origination credit, all the money generated by that client went into a column called “Origination.”  You wanted that column to swell.  If it did, you not only could make more money, but you could also gain access to some of the perks reserved for the Firm’s high rollers.  The Box was definitely one of those perks.

I had (and still have) a very close friend.  I shall call him “Nick” for purposes of this tale.  That is not exactly his real name.  Nick, too, had worked at the Firm where we became fast and lifelong friends.  Unfortunately, he parted ways with the Firm on bad terms.  As fortune would have it, he became quite successful, much more so than I.  Eventually, he became an officer in a large, publicly traded corporation.  He, understanding origination, sent me some work.  Not much, but some work.  I had the origination.  Nick’s company had myriad legal battles and eventually sent substantial business to the Firm for which I got all the origination.  I was now a “rainmaker,” the most envied title in any law firm.

At this point, you may ask:  How does this origination thing work?  If there were rules, I never saw them.  There weren’t in writing.  Origination was a Byzantine morass of standards and exceptions to those standards.  As its most basic, it worked like this:  Imagine that you are a salesman.  You sell a pencil to new Client X.  You are now the “originator” of Client X.  Next week, another salesman sells Client X a nuclear submarine.  You’re still the originator.  You get credit for both sales.  Makes sense, huh?  Just accept it.  Don’t question the logic.

In any event, I saw my opportunity to get into the Box.  I requested two tickets–one for me and one for Nick.  The Firm may have been aware of the possibility of offending Nick because of its troubled past with him.  Our Managing Partner quickly agreed and gave me two tickets to the Box.  We were in!

Now, Nick and I had a long, storied past of attending UK sporting events.  For example, the previous season, we took a road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee to witness a thorough thrashing of our beloved Wildcats.  That weekend was a booze-soaked orgy of football and revelry.  We were also well-known for our unique tailgating at home games where we carried beer in a plastic bag and roamed the parking lot looking for friends–old and new–who would provide us with more to drink.  You get the picture.  We weren’t exactly accustomed to life among the hoi polloi.  When we drank we became loud, obnoxious and wholly unmanageable.  Nick would frequently yell:  ZOOM! ZOOM! ZOOM! for no reason.  I would laugh uproariously.  Good times.

We were indeed Bacchanals, but our drinking habits were vastly different.  Nick was–and is to this day–a “party” drinker.  He would go long stretches without drinking only to blow it out on occasion, at the risk drinking himself into a stupor.  I, on the other, drank more as though I were taking an ill-conceived medicine of some kind.  Imagine you are given a prescription for a drug.  This drug is harmless in small quantities but deadly poison when consumed to excess.  The instructions with the drug read:  TAKE DAILY UNTIL THE DESIRED EFFECT IS ACHIEVED.  THEN TAKE MORE.  Despite our varying approaches, we could match each other drink for drink.

I drove to Nashville and arrived on game day at around 1:00 p.m.  On the way, I  purchased a 6 pack of beer to ensure I had something to start the party with while awaiting Nick’s arrival.  Nick, experiencing largesse of which I had no understanding, flew to Nashville on his company’s jet.  While waiting at the hotel, I received a call from a client of mine.  His office was in Nashville.  He thought I might be down there and wanted to know if I could attend a meeting at his office at 10:00 the next morning.  After I explained that I would be adorned in UK clothing from head to toe, he assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem.  One of his business partners was a UK grad and would be glad to see my school spirit.  I began thinking that I should take it easy so I would be in tip-top shape for my meeting.  So, I drank the six-pack and took a nap.  Nick arrived soon after I awoke (or “came to” as some would say).

We immediately headed downtown.  Neither of us were very familiar with Nashville, so we had the taxi drop us off when we saw a lot of people.  We began our bar crawl which lasted a couple of hours.  Time to head to the stadium.

Nick and I are both small town people.  As a result, we are, to some extent, socially inept, but we both have an “every man” quality which allows us to move at will among all social strata.  The problem–and it was a bad one–was that drinking often left us confused as to which stratum we were in at any given moment.  I, in particular, had a disquieting habit of becoming verbally abusive to people who would be considered my superiors–both professionally and socially.  It was a volatile cocktail that night, but I was ready to roll.

I must admit that I was impressed with the Box.  Very nice.  It was full of people sipping drinks and eating finger food, awaiting kick-off of UK and Syracuse.  Nick and I were already in our cups, but I felt we were both in fine form for some serious schmoozing.  We quickly made friends with the bartender and began to give him outrageous tips to bring us drinks.   Nick kept yelling ZOOM!  ZOOM! ZOOM! I kept saying:  “You’re gettin’ a night in the box, boy!” (in my best Strother Martin from Cool Hand Luke).  For no reason, we would periodically high-five each other.  Our language was punctuated with all manner of obscenities spoken too loudly for polite company.  It was like the caddy swimming party in Caddyshack, and we were the caddies.

After some time, I felt the tell tale signs of nausea and needed a rest, so I leaned up against the wall.  The Box had theater seating to which you could walk down for a better view of the game.  Nick was sitting on the steps down to the seats beside the Firm’s Managing Partner engaged in animated conversation.  I observed him wildly gesticulating–it was unclear whether he was actually speaking or just flailing about while listening.  Then, he began to make some point and leaned over toward the Managing Partner, tilting his nearly full beer sideways.  A small ribbon of beer began to pour from the bottle–directly into the Managing Partner’s shoe.  I began to watch as if detached from my body.  It was oddly mesmerizing.  It resembled nothing so much as a man with a grotesquely enlarged prostate slowly and deliberately relieving himself into someone’s shoe.

When the beer had drained nearly to the bottom, Nick turned the bottom up and downed the last swig with a satisfied gulp.  The Managing Partner never reacted.  Perhaps advancing age had dulled his senses.  Perhaps Nick had brought so much money to the Firm that the Managing Partner was willing to remain passive while he was publicly degraded.  Either possibility is equally plausible.

Oh, yeah. They played a football game.  To the best of my recollection, here’s what happened:

  • Sometime in the first half, UK’s best player, James Whalen, dislocated his elbow doing something.
  • At some point, I leaned out the window of the Box (likely to yell obscenities).  I spotted a guy from my hometown directly below the Box.  I high-fived him and gloated about being in the Box.
  • At the end of the game, UK let Syracuse score so UK could get the ball back and try to tie the game.  Apparently, the strategy failed, as I later learned that Syracuse won 20-13.

The rest of the game is forever lost to a black out.  A black out just means that my memory was erased or never recorded.  It’s not the same as “passing” out, but the effect is pretty much the same.

The game ended, but it was still early.  We over-tipped our bartender one last time and headed out.  Our post game bar crawl lasted several hours, most of which are obscured by a dense brain fog, but I do remember two things:

  • We happened into a small sports bar at some point.  Nick somehow struck up a conversation with two women. (Understand that we were NOT philandering husbands.  Nick just became extremely talkative as he consumed more alcohol).  After chit-chatting for a moment, Nick announced:  “I have to go to the bathroom.”  I responded:  “It’s over there.  Go on.”  Nick then said:  “I REALLY have to go. I have diarrhea!”  Needless to say, had we been philanderers, that would have ended our adventure.  The ladies looked horrified.  I, of course, burst out laughing.  After he returned and assured us all that he did NOT, in fact, have any gastrointestinal distress, he and I went on our way.
  • I wanted to go to the famous Wild Horse Saloon.  We stood in line for 20-30 minutes.  We were both a little unsteady, but I had learned to simply be quiet in such situations.  Nick, on the other hand, was ZOOM, ZOOM, ZOOMING and occasionally offering me an awkward high-five.  This caused me to burst into inappropriate laughter.  I cautioned him to be quiet when we got the door.  Finally, we got there.  I paid my $6 cover charge and stepped inside.  Nick then loudly announced:  “I AM SOOOOO F**KED UP!”  Boom! He was denied entry.  I stood staring at him and the long line, thinking about my $6.  Through the door, I told him to get back in line and be quiet.  20 minutes later, all was well and he gained entry.  Things happened after that, I’m sure, but I don’t remember.

That’s pretty much all I remember.  You may ask:  How did your meeting  go?  Surprisingly well.  I was hung over and reeking of beer sweat, but I managed to be engaged.  I was also fully decked out in my UK attire.  I returned home after the meeting, while Nick jetted off to parts unknown.

A few weeks later, the Managing Partner told me that he didn’t like the “atmosphere” in the Box.  I took this personally, of course, seeing as how Nick and I were the atmosphere that evening.  Perhaps having a beer poured in one’s shoe is more uncomfortable than it looks.  I’m sure I also berated him at some point.

Year have passed since then.  I’ve been a teetotaler for several years now.  Nick and I still attend UK sporting events.  He has risen to such lofty heights that he now has seats in his own luxury suite, and I cling to him like a stubborn barnacle during football season.  We still have a good time, and I remember all of it, which is not necessarily a positive given the fortunes of UK football.  Occasionally, Nick gives me a ZOOM! ZOOM! ZOOM! or a high-five and I vaguely remember our rough and rowdy days.  Things are much better now–and more fun–but I do think about our adventures.  I’m just glad it’s all in the past tense.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012