Chansky’s Notebook: Three Days in Hoover

This is today’s Art Chansky’s Sports Notebook as heard on 97.9 WCHL. You can listen to previous Sports Notebooks here.

The SEC has three football media days and the ACC has . . . hmmm.

I guess college football season is under way when the throng of SEC media heads to Hoover, Alabama, for three days of interviews with the coaches and players from the 14 programs, four exclusive hours apiece. Seriously, three days in Hoover, Alabama? It’s a good time to rob the confederacy.

Hundreds of media members flock to Hoover, and getting press passes for the confab is apparently harder than getting them for the SEC BASKETBALL tournament. Here is how the SEC kicks off the football season in Hoover.

Day one begins with the commissioner’s state of the state. And this year, new commissioner Greg Sankey quoted from Bob Dylan, starting off with the obvious things are a-changing. Then come the dedicated four hours with the teams, coaches and three players each coach brings along. This goes on for three full days in Hoover so the SEC can boast it has the first, the longest and the best preseason media coverage. As if we didn’t know that already.

I went to, perhaps the slowest website in all of sports, and the only thing I could find was ACC Kickoff, July 19-21, in Pinehurst. But on the schedule, it has nothing scheduled for July 19, at least on its website. Maybe that is a day on Pinehurst No. 2, because that would be the way to start in my book. Somehow, the ACC gets its 14 coaches and players in front of the media in only two days.

After all, what does the ACC have to talk about that could last three days? Besides who has been suspended or kicked off at Florida State in the off-season, does anyone want to spend even one hour listening to Dabo Swinney, David Cutcliffe and Dave Doren? I guess I could take Larry Fedora for that long, but Mr. Fidgety can’t even stand still for six minutes, let alone 60.

Meanwhile, who can even name the coaches for Miami, Wake Forest, Virginia, Pitt, Boston College and Syracuse? I hope they hand out name tags. For the record, and I had to look it up, they are Al Golden, Dave Clawson, Mike London, Pat Narduzzi, Steve Addazio and Scott Shafer. Then you have Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech and Bobby Petrino at Louisville, all Mr. Personality. Not a Steve Spurrier or Nick Saban in the bunch, off the field or on.

Guess that’s why the SEC has three media days and the ACC has two, or is it three?

The Long Hard Way

When UNC played Duke while I was offensive coordinator, our staff talked a lot about “going the long hard way” versus their defense.  Duke plays a very aggressive and disciplined form of zone that prevents many big plays.  If we just took what they gave us and made every play work, we could go the “long hard way.” 

The Carolina offense had 25 first downs in each of the last two games against the Blue Devils.  On one hand these can be viewed as good stats, but on the other it’s cause for concern because we couldn’t score on big plays.  The tailback position of the Heels carried the ball 66 times for 340 yards against Duke in their last two meetings. Over those two games, Dwight Jones had 21 catches but for only 222 yards.  Any Tar Heel fan knows that Dwight was capable of a 200 yard receiving day with only seven catches. 
Coach Knowles and the Duke staff limited our quick strike ability and made us play a patient, grind it out style of football.  Sometimes commentators refer to this as a “bend but don’t break” style of defense.  I think that has negative connotations.  Aggressive zone schemes that don’t give up big plays and force an offense to have mental and physical endurance while going the “long hard way” is sound football.  
Last week against Virginia Tech I was surprised that the Blue Devils gave up four touchdowns of 40 yards or more.  This is highly uncharacteristic for their style.  In fact the Duke defense hadn’t given up a scoring play of more than 40 yards since the second play of the season, on September 1, against FIU.  Good coaching staffs have a way of correcting problems from week to week.  I imagine Duke spent a great deal of time this week on eliminating big plays. 
The good news is that UNC appears to have the mental and physical endurance to put drives together.  They also have the talent.  Gio is an uncommon back running behind an uncommon group of offensive linemen.  I had dinner with an NFL scout recently and he remarked that the three most talented lines he has seen in the country this year are Alabama, Texas A&M, and North Carolina.  James Hurst, Jonathan Cooper, Russell Bodine, Travis Bond, Landon Turner, and Brennan Williams are fully capable of maintaining long sustained drives again this year.

All kinds of new North Carolina books

Summer has suddenly come to an end. And I bet there is a stack of books by your bed or somewhere in your house, ones you meant to read this summer.

Watch out!

Here comes another batch of new North Carolina books, some of which belong at the top of your pile and others you ought to know about, even though they might not end up in your reading pile.

It has been gone for 50 years, but people still talk about the Dixie Classic, that holiday basketball tournament with Duke, Carolina, State and Wake and four more of the best teams in the country. Greenville’s Bethany Bradsher, author of “The Classic: How Everett Case and His Tournament Brought Big-Time Basketball to the South,” follows the Classic from its origins to its scandalous end. She will be the guest on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch on Friday, September 28, at 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, September 30, at 5 p.m.

Charlotte poet Judy Goldman’s two novels, “Early Leaving” and “The Slow Way Back,” explored the complicated, beautiful, and painful relationships that come with being part of a family. Now she turns her poet’s and storyteller’s talents to a memoir, “Losing My Sister.” It tells the story of her family and her complicated and sometimes hurtful relationship with her sister. Their anger at each other runs side by side with their love. It is a poignant relationship that will resonate with everyone who has a sibling. (Oct. 5, 7)

Ten years ago, David Cecelski’s great book, “The Waterman’s Song,” introduced me to Abraham Galloway, an ex-slave from Wilmington who became an incredible leader of blacks in North Carolina during the Civil War and later in state government. I became fascinated with Galloway and wrote then, “He is my candidate for North Carolina’s greatest civil rights hero.  He packed into his short life a story of an escape from slavery, intrigue and dedication, leadership and audacity, and political achievement that is as inspiring as the tales of Robin Hood, King David, and Rob Roy MacGregor.” I waited a long time for Cecelski to tell me more. Now he has done it with his new book, “The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves’ Civil War.” (Oct. 12, 14)

Longtime Charlotte lawyer Jon Buchan represents newspapers and once was a reporter for The Charlotte Observer. Now he is a novelist. His powerful first book,  “Code of the Forest,” is about inside politics in both Carolinas. Political and business leaders look out for each other based on loyalties formed in exclusive prep schools and at hunting lodges deep in the forest. Buchan also takes his readers through the terrible and challenging mess a libel action lawsuit can be. (Oct. 19, 21)

Novelist Lee Smith says that this book is “deeply moving, disturbing, haunting, and important.” She is talking about “Leaving Tuscaloosa,” the debut novel of Walter Bennett, a former lawyer and judge. He is also known as the husband of N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences retiring director, Betsy Bennett. Walter Bennett’s “Leaving Tuscaloosa” is set in the 1960s and features two Tuscaloosa, Alabama, teenagers, one white, Richeboux Branscomb, the other black, Acee Waites, who, although they are the same age and live in the same town, hardly ever cross paths, until their parallel lives explode tragically and memorably. (Oct. 26, 28)

One of the greatest horrors of slavery was the breakup of families. A husband sold away from his wife, a mother from her child. UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Heather Andrea Williams tells another chapter in that story. Her new book, “Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery” relates how separated families attempted to find each other and reunite, before and after the Civil War. (Nov. 2, 4)

Scandal at UNC

Once again, scandal has reared its ugly head at UNC. It seems that coincidentally 18 UNC football players were all enrolled in the same Black American Studies Class. That in itself might not raise eyebrows, but when lectures were held few and far between, and all the students passed the course with flying colors, red flags should have been flown. But more than a  year elapsed before it was brought to the attention of the administration indicating a total lack of oversight. And now UNC has asked the State Bureau of Investigation for a probe into possible criminal activity.

And once again the UNC Administration has expressed dismay that something like this could happen within its hallowed halls of academia. But it shouldn’t come as any surprise.

Perhaps with minor variations, athletic misconduct has become a rite of passage at UNC. Athletics and academics are like oil and water. They just don’t mix very well. UNC isn’t the only university that has been plagued with improper benefits and academic misconduct involving athletes. Ohio State, USC, Alabama quickly come to mind.

Not long ago 14 UNC football players were either dismissed or received game suspensions for violating NCAA rules. In addition, an associate coach was terminated for allegedly receiving payoffs for steering athletes to an NFL agent. Though not charged with any wrongdoing, head football coach Butch Davis was dismissed by Chancellor Thorpe.

There has to be something rotten in Denmark when academics has become the sacrificial lamb to big time, money-making college athletics. Either we change the winning-is-everything culture, or we make a mockery out of this vaunted institution of higher learning called UNC.

It Would Be Hog Heaven!

The University of Arkansas has a perfect solution to its problem with philandering football coach Bobby Petrino. Fire him and hire Butch Davis.

Think about it. Davis is an Arkansas grad and former player there (until injured early in his career) and has since been a coaching “fixer” for problem college and pro football programs.

And Davis has some recent history with Arkansas, leveraging an alleged opportunity to return there after his first season at Carolina (2007) to get a $291,000 raise and contract extension. Some people said it was a head fake by Davis’ new agent Jimmy Sexton, but nevertheless it proved effective enough to extract the contract bump following an inaugural 4-8 record with the Tar Heels.

And the head-coaching careers of both men run strangely parallel.

Petrino was 41-9 in four seasons at Louisville, then hired by the Atlanta Falcons where he quit in the middle of his first season, which star quarterback Michael Vick missed after being suspended for his role in an illegal dog-fighting ring in Virginia. He bolted the Falcons to take the Arkansas job, and left a livid locker room behind.

Petrino was hailed as the savior of Razorback Nation and has challenged Alabama and Auburn in the murderous SEC West, going 20-5 the last two seasons. But his career is in serious jeopardy after covering up that he had a 25-year-old woman employee of the football program on the back of his motorcycle when it crashed in rural Arkansas last weekend. Petrino, 51 and married with four children, has since apologized for an “inappropriate relationship” without elaborating further. The story seems to get more damning for Petrino every day. 
Davis’ first head-coaching job was at Miami, where he cleaned up a probation-laden program left to him by predecessor Dennis Erickson. By the time he fled five years later, Miami had been ranked as high as No. 2 in the country, played in the Sugar Bowl and had a roster of stars that would win the national championship in 2001 under his successor Larry Coker. Davis then went to Cleveland in the NFL and left midway through his third season amidst a maelstrom, his players saying the same uncomplimentary things about him as the Falcons heaped on Petrino. In 2006, Davis arrived in Chapel Hill as the savior of Carolina football, and you know the rest of that story.

Davis did not have the success on the field that Petrino has had at Arkansas, but he signed great recruiting classes and won eight games his last three seasons. His controversy, the NCAA scandal that led to his firing last July, also involved a woman in her 20s, the infamous tutor Jennifer Wiley who wound up in the middle of UNC’s academic fraud while also employed by Davis and his wife as a private tutor for their teenage son Drew. At worst, you can call Davis’ relationship with Wiley as “professionally inappropriate” and nowhere near what could turn out to be the case with Petrino and former Arkansas volleyball player Jessica Dorrell.

But Arkansas AD Jeff Long may find himself in the position where he has to fire Petrino if, according to a clause in the coach’s contract, he “negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs in any way.” I would say Petrino wiping out on his chopper with a girl half his age riding shotgun and then apologizing to everyone in sight violates that contract.

What is it with these multi-million-dollar coaches who do such stupid things? And I do not include Davis in that group, because his sins may have been more of omission than commission in overseeing a program that is now on a three-year NCAA probation.

How can they be so dumb to put themselves in a position that could not only jeopardize their careers, but their families? From the late Joe Paterno to the still very-much-alive Rick Pitino, errors in judgment occurred that makes you wonder whether some coaches believe they are either above the law and/or rules or oblivious to them.

Google “coaching scandals” and the list runs from household names to less-known coaches who were no less stupid. Petrino is the latest, and whether he keeps his job or not the respect he has built in Arkansas will be largely eroded. How many times will he have to confront the question in the homes of recruits?

That could cause Long to fire him, after all.

If Long then hired Davis, who has since taken a nebulous job with the Tampa Bay Bucs because he wants back in college coaching someday soon and would be a hero coming home to rescue the program, it would be a win-win for him and his old school. As the new head coach at his alma mater, Davis would let UNC off the hook for the $1.8 million in severance pay he is still owed.

Hog heaven for everyone except Petrino.

"I Applaud Chancellor Thorp"

There are a lot of us folks who applaud the Chancellor for putting institution above any sport.

I am a season ticket holder and a twenty-five year Ram but I do not want to see Carolina become a football factory. Our b-ball program makes it clear that excellence and graduating the kids can go together.

Recently the University announced that once again, for the tenth time, UNC was ranked as the 5th best public university (2011 “Americas Best Colleges,” Another USNews publication “Great Schools, Great Prices” ranks UNC as 1st among public universities; the sixth year UNC has held that ranking. Those rankings are just a sampling.

In football, the ACC ranks first among all conferences in graduation rates (Birmingham News). On a broader scale, UNC is tied with Penn State for 4th highest among all major football universities. That’s a full twenty points ahead of BYU, Alabama, Southern Cal, and LSU who graduate about half their players. Texas, Georgia, and Oklahoma are below 50%.

Obviously the schools with poor graduation rates for football can still be great universities as I’m sure they would assert. The obvious implication is that they have somehow segmented their academic side from their major sports programs. There are lots of questions, but one is; does Carolina want to give up any pretense of the “student athlete?”

Perhaps the broader question for the “Carolina Nation” may be; looking just at graduation rates as one barometer, is it possible to achieve a top twenty program, which we all would applaud, without condemning up to half of our football players to an unfinished degree and, short of the NFL, artificially limited career prospects? To be a Texas, or an LSU, are we willing to essentially exploit kids who are big and fast for their entertainment value, knowing full well most of them will not find a place in the NFL?

Chancellor Thorp has said no. He has placed institution above sport and I applaud his decision. I like what I see and hear in Coach Withers and I look forward to a great year of college football in Chapel Hill.

David Wynne ‘71
Virginia Beach, Va.

A Baseball School?

About 20 years ago, when Dean Smith had caught his second wind and was again dominating the ACC and college basketball toward the end of his coaching career, he was asked about his sport overshadowing all others at UNC.

“A basketball school?” Smith mused. “We’re a women’s soccer school.”

Smith was giving well-deserved props to one of his indirect protégés, Anson Dorrance, who by then had already won about 10 national championships, and when his women did not bring home the NCAA trophy it was tantamount to John Wooden not winning it all in his prime.

Dorrance, as a UNC soccer player and then young coach, had become a student of the way Smith organized and tutored his team, using many of the measurements and methods that he observed as a privileged character allowed to attend Smith’s private classroom practices.

Dorrance, of course, is still going strong, and Roy Williams, one of Smith’s successors to the Carolina Basketball Empire, has won two of his own national titles and will be a preseason favorite to bring home a third in 2012. But Smith’s legacy, Dorrance and Ol’ Roy all have to step aside this time of the year.

Carolina is a baseball school.

What Mike Fox has done with the once-sleepy version of the national pastime at UNC is no less amazing than what Smith and Dorrance have accomplished in their sports. Remember, in the days Carolina was coached by Walter Rabb and Mike Roberts, the diamond Tar Heels were what most amateur baseball represents in this country — a sweet way to move from spring through summer. The old stadium beside Avery Dorm usually had a few hundred fans in the stands when the Tar Heels played. Sure, an occasional Duke or N.C. State series brought bigger crowds, but those games were for local pride as Clemson generally owned the ACC and contended for the College World Series.

When the ACC expanded for football reasons, it really screwed the pooch in basketball but over 12 years the additions of Florida State and Miami had the most impact on baseball. While the two Sunshine State schools were diamond-dominators, that began to change when UNC hired Fox, who had played on one of the Tar Heels’ two previous College World Series teams in 1978.

It took Fox a few years, but he figured out why it seemed so hard to reach the hallowed aura of Omaha, Nebraska. Since Chad Flack’s dramatic home run in the regional round at Alabama five years ago, Carolina has unlocked the key to the baseball promised land.

Of course, it’s not ALL coaching, and Fox has used the pristine Carolina campus and a $26 million renovation of Boshamer to attract some of the best talent in the country, most up and down the east coast, particularly Rye, New York, in Westchester County, which sent the Moran brothers here 25 years after their uncle B.J. Surhoff starred for the Mike Roberts Tar Heels on the way to becoming a Major League All-Star.

Brian Moran, a lefty reliever for Fox with a 90-8 strikeout-walk ratio, came to UNC as a walk-on and grew into one of the best relief pitchers in the nation before nailing down the last out that sent Carolina to the CWS in 2009. Brian is rising steadily in the Seattle Mariners organization and should be in The Show before too long.

Freshman Colin Moran, Brian’s younger brother, is an even better story. He came to Carolina on a partial scholarship just hoping to make the active roster. He moved to third base from his natural position at shortstop and not only won a starting spot but was the only Tar Heel to make first team All-ACC while also winning conference Freshman of the Year honors. His .342 batting average is still 50 points lower than Uncle B.J.’s career mark but, hey, the kid will play at least two more seasons in Carolina blue.

The Tar Heels, who rose from unranked by Baseball America in the preseason, to currently No. 7 by USA Today, have other great players and stories, such as sophomore shortstop Levi Michael, who graduated early from high school so he could join spring practice and wound up starting as a freshman; and junior Jacob Stallings, an anomaly as a catcher because he is 6-foot-5 (and fourth in the country at gunning down base-stealers) and because his father, Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings, lost the “recruiting” battle to Roy Williams over where Jacob would go to school.

So UNC grad Mike Fox, one of six men to both play and coach in the College World Series, has found the magic formula for Carolina baseball. His teams have missed the NCAA Tournament once since he took over in 1999 and he’s going for his fifth trip to the CWS in the last six years over the next week. Whereas UNC was an irregular qualifier for post-season play before he arrived, Fox figured out that recruiting better players and posting strong regular-season records would give Carolina the cache to earn a high seed and home-field advantage in both the NCAA sub- and super regionals.

Playing at home this time of the year makes it a lot easier to survive and advance. And doing so has turned Carolina into a baseball school during these once sleepy days of late spring.

Mike Fox Has The Magic Formula