December 29, 2009

Around the Nation: Thoughts on Urban Meyer, Eric Mangini, Bill Cowher, Florida hoops, Manti Te'o, and the shaky start to the Tom Crean era in Indiana

7) Maybe this amounts to kicking a program while they're down, but am I the only one who is a little surprised at the depths to which the Indiana program has fallen?? I know Tom Crean inherited an absolute mess that was going to require a massive rebuilding project, but home losses to Loyola and Boston University?? A 6-6 record heading into conference play?? How are the faithful going to react to another 10-12 win type season if that's where they are headed??

Man, I know they're young, but it's Indiana!! I don't care how young you are. You can't beat Loyola at home?? Everyone in college basketball is young. Look at Kentucky. They're dominating people with freshmen. There are teams all over the country starting multiple freshmen and sophomores. Carolina, Texas, UConn, etc. You don't win with four seniors in your starting lineup anymore in today's game. You recruit players who can help you win right away. And this isn't football where you need 40-50 players to contribute and a few years for them to develop. It's a 13 man roster that you can transform overnight with 6-7 contributors.

I just looked up Indiana's top eight scorers:

Maurice Creek - freshman
Christian Watford - freshman
Verdell Jones - sophomore
Jeremiah Rivers - junior
Derek Elston - freshman
Tom Pritchard - sophomore
Devan Dumes - senior
Jordan Hulls - freshman

Ok, that's a young team without question, but there's talent there. Creek and Watford were top 50 recruits, and Elston was another top 100. Plus, Rivers was a pretty solid recruit out of Georgetown. That's probably not an NCAA team or anything, but capable of beating teams like Boston and George Mason and Loyola?? Yes. The home court alone should win you those games.

Plus, it's not like Tom Crean is tearing it up on the recruiting trail going forward either. He's got two 3 star guys in the 2010 class right now, and has one top 100 guy in the 2011 class. That's a good class for Marquette. But for Indiana?? Not really. If he wants to be a big winner at IU, Crean has to start pulling 5 star kinda guys to Bloomington. Rick Pitino stole two studs right out of his backyard in Indianapolis. Maybe Crean doesn't like playing the AAU game. If not, he's not going to get the superstar players that the Bill Selfs and the Roy Williams and John Caliparis and Jim Calhouns are getting.

Don't get me wrong, Crean is a good coach who will eventually produce winning teams at Indiana, and maybe Crean is doing a lot behind the scenes to keep the IU fans excited about the future. But I haven't really been blown away with what he's done so far at Indiana. Last year was a mulligan with all the roster problems, but he's in his second year and they're still treading water at the bottom of the Big Ten. When you bring in a top 10 class and can't beat Loyola at home, I'm not sure the "we're rebuilding" mantra gets the same sympathetic ear that it did last year.

Crean had good teams at Marquette, but is "good" what IU fans are looking for?? I sort of thought IU fans were looking to get back to being an elite program again that goes to Final Fours, recruits elite talent, and competes for national championships. Is that where Crean is taking this program or is he going to be Tubby Smith 2.0 with nice 22-11 type teams that finish 4th in the Big Ten and lose in the 2nd round of the NCAAs with above-average but not elite talent??

Indiana is the fourth best basketball program in the state of Indiana right now. Maybe that will change soon, but I never thought I'd be saying that about Indiana basketball. IU has a little bit of a Notre Dame football problem. They're clinging to an era of basketball from 25 years ago. You aren't going to the Final Four by sprinkling the crimson and cream fairy dust on a bunch of honkies running around slapping the floor on defense. Time to get with the times and become a "basketball factory" like all the other big boys. If you want to win big, you better be willing to play the AAU game and massage the egos and spend the dollars that you need to spend to be a big time program.

Oh and in other news, the Mike Davis-coached UAB Blazers are 11-1 right now and ranked #24 in the country with wins over Cincinnati and Butler. Hmmmmm.

6) I think Urban Meyer made a good decision to take a leave of absence. If he had resigned, goes off and gets some therapy and some rest and wants to come back in a year, he'd be kicking himself. It's not like there's some better job out there. It's Florida!! Yes, the SEC is brutal, but you have everything you could ever need to win big there. Great facilities, great weather, great fan support, tons of money, and the most fertile recruiting base in the country. For my money, it's the best job in college football these days. If Urban wants to be able to win a championship when he comes back, he's better off just staying where he is and hoping that he can handle the stress the next time around.

Plus, his "dream job" at ND is occupied, and it might be another 5-10 years for the OSU job to open up. Other than somehow landing at USC (long shot obviously) or maybe Michigan, there's no other elite job out there even on the radar. I think Urban woke up on Sunday and realized that he'd be crazy to just resign. If he decides to come back someday, the best option is to return to Florida.

The only question I have is how this whole "leave of absence" thing is going to work. I don't get it. He's not going to head into the office?? They're not bringing him in for a big in-home recruiting visit?? Or to handle whatever other situations come up from day to day as the head football coach?? I can't see Urban just sitting by while Steve Addazio runs the program. If Addazio does something that Urban doesn't agree with, is Urban going to just stand to the side and let it happen?? Just seems like Urban's fingerprints are still going to be all over this program. There's no way he's just going cold turkey on football.

Strange situation. This is the kind of thing that would happen at ND. We've had so many dysfunctional moments in the ND program for the last 15 years that nothing would surprise me anymore. It will be interesting to see how Florida handles this limbo stage.

Wonder how the Florida fans are taking this. On the one hand, there's no one else in the country you'd rather have coaching your team than Urban Meyer. He's one of the best in the game. On the other hand, when are you getting this guy back?? Is he ever coming back?? How is all this going to affect recruiting?? Florida has a ridiculous recruiting class coming in, but some guys are already wavering and some are talking about decommitting.

What if Steve Addazio really is in control for the next year or two and runs the program into the ground and recruits flee the scene?? Would Urban even want to come back if that happens or would he run off to Michigan or somewhere else??

The other interesting question is what you're getting when this guy does come back. Is he going to be like this new mellowed-out Urban Meyer?? If so, does that mean he's not going to be as effective as he was before?? The whole Urban Meyer aura is that he's a super intense, tightly wound guy who can't stand losing and demands that his players play precise and disciplined football. What if he lets things slide a little bit for health reasons?? Would that take the edge off the Florida program??

Offseason recruiting is going to be wild. Every one of these SEC coaches will be going all in to drive a stake into Florida's program while they have the chance. You gotta figure Lane Kiffin and all those guys are going to be pointing out every question about his health and his future at Florida. That he quit on his team, that he's not healthy, and that you don't know what you're getting when he comes back.

Plus, you have Miami and FSU and all the northern teams that go down into Florida to poach players. Jimbo Fisher is going to be looking to make a splash in recruiting, and Randy Shannon has to make a push in the next couple years. And maybe Brian Kelly will get ND into the mix down there a little more.

If you're a verbal commit to Florida, how could you not be questioning that decision?? You probably had 10 other SEC and ACC schools all over you, but you went to Florida to play for Urban. Urban will win and get you to the league. Now you're wondering if you're going to get to the league playing for Steve Addazio if Urban never comes back.

Extremely compelling stuff. Should be a fantastic offseason in the SEC. I'm prepared for anything, including Lane Kiffin sending covert ops into Gainesville hospitals to steal Urban's medical records.

5) Speaking of Florida, what has happened to Florida basketball?? Think about this for a minute. Florida hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since winning back to back national titles in 05-06 and 06-07, and now they've lost back to back home games to Richmond and South Alabama.

When they won those titles, I thought Florida had arrived as one of the elite programs in college basketball. Now, they seem to be struggling just to make the NCAA Tournament and could be headed for a third straight NIT.

Any rumblings down there in Gainesville?? If Billy Donovan misses the NCAAs yet again this year, are people going to start questioning him?? Hard to really say anything of that sort about a guy who has won 2 national titles THIS DECADE, but how does a program fall off the map like that?? Donovan needs to right the ship and get his team back in the Big Dance this year.

4) Great to see that Manti Te'o is coming back to ND next year. I hope Kelly spends all offseason telling him that he will be the focal point of this defense in 2010. Get him in the weight room and turn him into an animal next year. With his talent, he should be the type of guy who emerges as a Butkus Award candidate by next year. I don't even think that's setting the bar too high. Make him the best LB in the nation.

Looks like we're going to a 3-4 defense next year. Here's how I'd set this front seven in 2010 if I was Kelly:

DE - Ethan Johnson
NT - Ian Williams
OLB - Fleming
ILB - Te'o
ILB - Brian Smith
OLB - Filer/Neal

That would be my preseason depth chart. Having said that, I think Kelly should tell this team that every job on the roster is an open competition. Get these guys to Camp Kelly and see who emerges as the leaders on this defense. If Brian Smith has a sloppy offseason, stick him on the bench and find somebody who isn't afraid to make a tackle. I really like that linebacker unit. I'm not crazy about the 3-4, but sounds like Kelly prefers it going forward. And to be honest, the personnel on this team is probably better suited for a 3-4 since a lot of these guys were recruited as 3-4 type players. Unleash guys like Filer and Neal and Fleming from the edges, and that could be a real weapon for this team next year.

3) Some NFL thoughts:

1) Can't believe I'm saying this, but I think Holmgren should give some consideration to bringing back Eric Mangini in 2010. He's actually got something going in Cleveland right now. Their line is playing great, they are running the football (which is absolutely essential in the AFC North), and their defense has been better the last month or so. If they beat Jacksonville this week, that gives them 4 straight wins to end the season.

I doubt Holmgren will want to bring back Mangini, but who is Holmgren going to hire?? One of his guys?? Welcome Steve Mariucci or Marty Mohrinweg. Yikes. That would be ugly and immediately would have fans questioning Holmgren.

I thought Mangini was a disaster early in the year, but now I'm coming around on him and might be buying into the idea that he has them headed in the right direction. This late season surge also will get them away from one of those top 5 picks in the Draft. Unless there are absolute franchise guys at the top of the draft (Manning type guys), those picks are like kryptonite for your franchise and cap killers (think Alex Smith). Give me a #9/#10 type pick all day long over a top 5 pick. You get a good player for half the price.

2) I will never understand why the Colts insist on mailing it in down the stretch every year. Makes absolutely no sense to me. You battle all year and then pull the plug right before the playoffs and take the edge off your squad?? The Colts are such an intelligent and well-run organization that I don't understand why they have not changed their philosophy on this.

Meanwhile, look at San Diego and New England. Both teams are surging into the playoffs with a ton of momentum. My guess is that one of those two teams will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

3) There's no way to predict how this AFC wildcard thing is going to shake out, but I'll go ahead and rank who I'd like to see the Bengals play in round one of the playoffs:

1) Jets
2) Denver
3) Baltimore
4) Houston
5) Pittsburgh

Would love to get the Jets in round one. "The Sanchise" on the road in his first playoff game?? Yes please. Almost makes me want the Bengals to tank this game against the Jets this weekend.

The two teams that terrify me are Houston and Pittsburgh. Houston has some Arizona type potential. And the karma gods are not going to let the Bengals beat Pittsburgh for a third time in one season. No way that happens. I'm picturing 20,000 Steeler fans in Paul Brown Stadium with Ben and Hines Ward going nuts and Carson Palmer with the Carson Palmer face in full effect. I'm having nightmares already.

4) Are we even sure how good of an NFL coach Bill Cowher is?? How much of his success was him or was he another product of the Pittsburgh machine?? If he goes to a place like Tampa Bay, is he going to have the same success?? We've seen other Pittsburgh coaches like Mike Mularkey and Dick Lebeau and Dom Capers go off to NFL head coaching jobs and not get it done. How do we know that Cowher would succeed outside of the Pittsburgh bubble?

Sometimes the organization is just bigger than the coach. Look at Indy. Dungy retires, and Indy is as good as ever with Jim Caldwell. Do we even know that Caldwell is a good coach?? He was a head coach at Wake Forest and was a disaster. Now he's suddenly this great NFL coach?? I'm just guessing that his success has a lot more to do with the fact that he has an NFL legend like Bill Polian running the organization and Peyton Manning at quarterback.

2) I don't know what to make of this Mike Leach thing. Is this like the year of parents complaining about their kids getting mistreated?? Between Mangino, Rodriguez, Leavitt, and Leach, it seems like there has been one incident after another about coaches working their players too hard.

It's football!! Leach got suspended for making a player stand in a closet?? What's next?? Getting suspended for cursing at a player?? At what point do you need to give these coaches a little breathing room to run their programs as they see fit?? Coaches do all kinds of things to motivate their players. It's been going on for fifty years. If you're going to put all this pressure on these coaches to win, I don't see why they should be neutered from doing things to motivate their players (barring some sort of rampant physical abuse).

To me, this whole thing sounds like Craig James' son wasn't getting playing time and Leach wouldn't release him from his scholarship and.....yada yada yada.....Mike Leach is suspended. I don't like it.

1) Some bowl game predictions for the upcoming weekend:

Oklahoma -11 over Stanford -- OU will be looking to make a statement that they are going to be back in the national championship picture in 2010.

Navy +6.5 over Missouri -- I've seen Navy hang around too many times with the big boys to think they can't do the same against Missouri. I fully expect them to win this game.

Tennessee +4.5 over VT -- The Lane Kiffin era officially takes off. Love how they played down the stretch. And Kiffin is POUNDING the recruiting trail. Already has them at #6 in Rivals. Say what you want about the guy, but he has built some buzz in Vols Country.

Interestingly, I wonder how much Mitch Browning had to do with their success running the ball in 2009?? Would love to see him at ND this fall coaching the o-line under Brian Kelly.

Auburn -7.5 over Northwestern -- The Outback Bowl is always wacky, but this game just feels like a mismatch. Northwestern would be a bottom three team in the SEC.

Florida State +2.5 over WVU -- I'm just assuming that Jimbo Fisher has taken the reigns, so I'll go with the Noles in a mild upset. Very interested to see what Jimbo Fisher does at FSU. Off to a pretty good start on the recruiting trail.

LSU +3 over Penn State -- If LSU loses this game, go ahead and put Les Miles on the hot seat going into 2010. I'm pretty surprised that they are dogs in this game.

Cincinnati +12.5 vs. Florida -- I don't even really believe in this pick, but what the heck. I'd love to see a competitive game, especially since New Years Day has become such a bust for bowl games and this is the only primetime game. Remember the days when there were 2-3 bowl games on at 1pm, 4pm, and 8pm on New Years Day?? At night, you'd have the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl and maybe even the Fiesta Bowl. Man, I miss those days.

Last game for Tim Tebow and maybe the last game for Urban Meyer. Please don't let Thom Brennaman anywhere within 500 feet of the Superdome. He won't be able to handle himself.

Ohio State +4 over Oregon -- Not sure if I really believe in this pick either, but Ohio State really really needs this game. If they get destroyed by Oregon, it's going to be a long offseason in Columbus. It almost feels like people are afraid to talk about this game locally because everyone is fearing another big stage embarrassment.

It wouldn't surprise me if Oregon won this game big though. They smoked the same USC team that beat Ohio State in Columbus, and I'm picturing that offense running wild with the Buckeyes not able to keep up. If Oregon jumps out to a lead and Terrelle Pryor has to try to win the game with his arm, look out. It could get ugly. I love watching Oregon play. The tempo, the speed, the precision, the run/pass threat. It's a fun offense to watch.

Meanwhile, watching the Buckeyes' offense is like watching paint dry. Tressel is going to do everything possible to win this game with Tressel Ball. Will it work?? Probably not, but Tressel is not changing his approach. Run the ball, pin Oregon back, play good defense, and hope you can make a couple big plays to pull it out.

I do think OSU will have some wrinkles defensively that will have some success slowing down Oregon's offense. They'll probably try to use their d-line to close up some holes and try to make Oregon one-dimensional in the passing game. And if OSU can get some pressure, they might be able to get to Masoli. One area where Tressel and his staff have adjusted has been the more aggressive defensive game plans the last couple seasons. It all starts up front with their d-line.

On paper, the matchups seem to favor Oregon, but I expect the Buckeyes to go out there on a mission to change the national perception of their program. Tressel really needs this win in the worst way, and a big win for him would really catapult this team into the 2010 season with a ton of momentum.


the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

The problem with you logic about Indiana's must wins at home over the likes of Boston U and George Mason is that they didn't play them in Bloomington.

They didn't even play them in Indiana or on the mainland. Those games were both played in Puerto Rico.

Apparently, wins on the road over Pittsburgh (who just beat Cincinnati, which seems to be your highwater mark) and at home over Michigan (which just beat Ohio State) mean nothing.

Fire Tom Crean. He's a charlatan and a lousy coach! Bring back Mike Davis! He would do awesome with a bunch of JUCO transfers, freshmen and walk-ons! So much better than Crean ever could. He'd energize the crowd and he would never underutilize talent, right Bracey Wright and Marshall Strickland?

Kat @ said...

I can definitely relate to your ups and downs. I'm in the trenches with my four! I will definitely be back on your blog!
Our blogs are semi-similar; I'd love your feedback about mine, if you have a sec! Thanks!!