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May 2010 Archives

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Remember me?

 

As you probably know, I love broadcasting baseball games, but one of the disadvantages of spending the summer working for the Pawtucket Red Sox is that I miss seeing my friends in Cincinnati and hanging around the UC football and basketball programs.

 

I will say this - the success of the Bearcat football program over the last few years has increased my standing among minor league baseball players.  I've been getting regular questions about the NFL prospects of guys like Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard, while also being asked about Cincinnati's chances of going to another BCS Bowl in 2010.  You would be surprised to hear how many pro baseball players from all over the country say that they love watching the Bearcats on TV.

 

I've also been getting a ton of questions about UC's new football coach Butch Jones.  I am obviously still getting to know him, and Butch was kind enough to recently answer some non-football questions to give me a better sense of who he is.

 

I thought you might enjoy our Q & A.

 

Butch Jones.jpg 

Where did the nickname Butch come from?

 

My real name is Lyle.  That was my dad's name and he gave me that nickname at a very young age and it stuck.  What's amazing is that the people who know me would never think of calling me Lyle.  I can tell when somebody doesn't know me because they'll call me Lyle.

 

Where did you grow up?

 

I grew up in a small town in southwest Michigan called Saugatuk - right on Lake Michigan.  It's a resort/tourist community - my father was the Chief of Police there for more than 30 years.  In his last year as Chief of Police, they had the largest bank robbery in the United States that year.  They finally caught the guy, but the joke going around was that my dad was going to have a nice retirement. 

 

Was your dad pretty strict?

 

I didn't get away with much.  My dad knew anything and everything that went on, but he was a tremendous role model.  Respect for my father kept me out of trouble.  My dad instilled discipline in us.  When my dad spoke, he commanded respect right away.

 

Did you consider becoming a policeman?

 

That was initially my goal - to be a police officer.  My uncle was a Michigan state police trooper and he was third-in-charge of the entire Michigan state police operations at one point in time, so it was in our family.  Prior to coaching, that was what I wanted to do.

 

Are your parents still living?

 

My father passed away in August.  On the first day of training camp, he went into the hospital and he passed away two weeks later.  That kind of became a rallying cry for our Central Michigan football team and the seniors all showed up at his funeral.  I always carry his ID band in my pocket and at the Michigan State game, every individual held his ID band before we kicked the game-winning field goal.  I told our kicker that, 'All you have to do is worry about kicking the ball and my dad will take care of the rest.'  My mom is still alive and living in Saugatuk and she found some direct flights out of Grand Rapids, so she's fired out about coming to Cincinnati a lot.

 

Aside from your father, who was your childhood hero?

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Doug Williams.  As a child - don't ask me why - I grew up a big Tampa Bay Bucs fan.  When I had the opportunity to work for them (as an intern, 1987-89), that was something that I treasured very much.  I have an aunt and uncle that are like my second family and they live down there, and in 1976 when the Bucs started, they became my team and I've been with them ever since.  It was a great thrill when I started to work for them and got to be a little part of their history.

 

Who are your biggest coaching mentors?

 

I've worked for so many great coaches - not only head coaches, but assistant coaches.  I think that's really helped me.  Doug Graber, who was the Defensive Coordinator at Tampa Bay, took me under his wing.  Rich Rodriquez - the two years that I spent with him in the Big East Conference at West Virginia really helped me.  I've worked with a lot of great individuals like Brian VanGorder who is the Defensive Coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons . . . Willie Martinez who was the Defensive Coordinator at Georgia and is now at Oklahoma.  I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of great coaches. 

 

Are you the type of guy who studies coaches and reads their biographies?

 

I study coaches each and every day.  I'm also a big fan of John Maxwell, the business author, and a big reader of all of his books.

 

Have you had any other jobs besides football coach? 

 

At the age of 14, my parents wanted me to start working, so I went to work in the restaurant business.  I was a dishwasher and then I worked in the restaurant for a good six years as a short-order cook and I love cooking breakfast.  Outside of football, I've been a cook and a dishwasher. 

 

Who is your favorite entertainer?

 

I like Adam Sandler.  With as much time as you spend in the office, and as stressful as the job can be, I like to go watch a good movie and laugh a little bit. 

 

Any hobbies?

 

I'm a shopper - I like to shop for some reason.  Clothes, gear . . . I've already found Koch's Sporting Goods downtown and I bet that I spent a good two hours down there.  I love to go to a good sporting goods place and do some shopping.

 

Describe the perfect day?

 

A sunny Saturday morning . . . getting up with the family (wife Barb and sons Alex, Adam, and Andrew) and eating breakfast before going to the ballpark and watching the Cincinnati Reds.  Then coming home and grilling out as a family and sitting out on the deck and having some friends over.  I love to go to baseball games and get my mind off of things.  Just sitting at a ballpark with all of the green around is very serene.

 

* * * * *

 

As many of you have probably seen, I have been offered a tremendous opportunity to broadcast three of the Cincinnati Bengals pre-season games on TV.  It will be a thrill to do NFL play-by-play for the first time, and I'm looking forward to working with Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz. 

 

Unfortunately, because of the Bengals final pre-season game at Indianapolis on September 2nd, and the final weekend of the Pawtucket Red Sox regular season, I will miss the Bearcats opener at Fresno State on September 4th.

 

I appreciate Mike Thomas and Mike Waddell from UC, WLW's Darryl Parks, and Mike Tamburro of the PawSox for allowing me to adjust my schedule.  And I'm grateful to Mike Brown and Vince Cicero from the Bengals for giving me this opportunity.

 

Ironically, my first NFL game will also be Tim Tebow's pro debut when the Bengals host the Broncos on August 15th.

 

Let's hope he's not as good as he was on January 1st.

 

I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

 

And if you want to follow my baseball adventures, check out my PawSox blog at danhoard.mlblogs.com.

Nippert Stadium Home Improvement

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The talk has begun again for Nippert Stadium home field improvement and I think this time is the right time to begin moving forward. I had talked to an architect name Wade Price, a passionate UC fan and he had his own ideas about how the stadium could look going forward and I'm sure others in his field have also. With the success of football courtesy of Dantonio and Notre Dame Kel', the way was paved and now with Coach Butch Jones gaining momentum at every turn, the reality that aluminum seats may now disappear gives me joy!

A few luxury suites, upgraded seating for alumni and more restrooms, and this stadium might attract more fans as a result of their efforts. It's why your detergent is new and improved the the Escalade is all new; everybody likes new and improved even if, like me, you don't know what was really wrong with the old product. Well admittedly I do know what's wrong with this product; simply put the stadium is not up to code, football code for the Big East and any pending merger of conferences on the horizon. Don't get me wrong its a special place and its an advantage to have the heat on our sideline during cold games, etc. but it could be so much more. It's like some cars look good but adding a little detail brings out the uniqueness and beauty of the vehicle.

I hope they move as fast as possible given the red tape these projects have in tow; but when I look back at Wade's futuristic approach to upgrading Nippert, I can't help but get excited that yet another Cincinnati iconic structure gets a much needed facelift. Look at the expressway downtown as you drive on it or crossover it, post renovations; look at the Duke Energy Center after its expansion and renovation and look at Kenwood Towne Center (formerly plaza) after it ascended from the ashes and you can see why I'm excited for Nippert too. 

Lets get the stadium the Big East upgrade and division I home improvement it deserves. The luxury boxes will sell as will the premium seating. Oh and while you're at it can you start the preliminary discussion for the Big Orena named (obviously) for Oscar Robertson. He's had yet another birthday since I last brought this up and I will lead this charge as an employee of UC if I have to because I KNOW it can be done. 

By doing this the Nippert home improvement and The Big Orena basketball complex are 2 moves that would make President Williams' tenure a treasured part of UC, past present and future.

That's the way I see it sitting in The Box Seat.

UC going westward

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The Bearcats basketball team will face Oklahoma Dec. 18 in Oklahoma City in the All-College Basketball Classic, the world's oldest basketball tournament (it began in 1936). That's what UC announced today. But what does it mean?

Well, it means the goal of getting as much national publicity as possible continues for the Bearcats. The game will be preceded by Oklahoma State-Alabama and it will be broadcast on an ESPN network. So, that's good for the program.

 

Also it will help UC's RPI, and although this game won't be included in next year's season ticket package because, you know, it's not a home game, playing another BCS school, assuming the Bearcats win, will help pad their resume for the NCAA tournament.

 

The coaches spoke in statements released by the school:

 

"As always, we're honored to be a part of the All-College Classic," said Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel. "This being the 75th year of the event makes it even more special, and we're proud and excited to once again play in Oklahoma City. Playing a team like Cincinnati provides a very, very tough challenge. Coming from the BIG EAST, they're a team that plays really hard, is very well coached and will return a lot of players from last year."

 

"I have great respect for Jeff Capel and the Oklahoma program," said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. "We are excited to play a team from the Big 12 and we thank ESPN for their help in making this series a reality."

ON THE BUTCH JONES BEAT

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butchjones2.jpg


      As the saying goes, "There's a new sheriff in town!".

      He's full of detail, research, integrity,hard work and results. He's as no-nonsense as they come.

      In a sense, he's Joe Friday from Dragnet. He does his homework, he understands intricate pieces that make a big puzzle and he has "functional intelligence" (just the facts).

      Based on that, it's no surprise new UC football coach Butch Jones likens his duties to that of a law enforcement official. Turns out, if he wasn't coaching football, he'd be on a beat somewhere.

      "No brainer, I'd be a police officer," said Jones quickly. "My father was a chief of police for 35 years, my uncle was a post commander in the Michigan State Police, so I grew up in a police household. Shoot, I was three-years-old and had my own police uniform. I think there's a lot of similarities between police work and football. That's why I've really wanted to reach out to the local authorities and get them involved in our program and for our players to understand that the uniform is good. I do have a passion for police work and great respect for all that they do."

      Considering the police background, it's no wonder Jones has set high standards for the Bearcat football program and considers everyone in his "precinct" family. That mentality also shows in the "Represent the C" mantra that's been preached since Coach Jones first addressed the fans and students at a UC basketball game. In Jones' eyes, the "C" equates to a badge that must be lived up to and honored.

      Thus far, Butch Jones and the Bearcats have done just that. After a successful spring practice session during the month of April, Jones and company are continuing on with recruiting and also are engaging in a number of appearances in the warm months. Though not exactly "tent revivals", the Bearcat Caravans allow fans to hear some of the other coaches, in addition to Butch Jones, speak of their programs. (Though not necessarily fundraisers, should you be inspired to pass an offering plate UCATS would gladly help you direct your money.)

      "Well, I tell you what, it's really been an enjoyable journey so far," said Jones of the public meet and greets. "We were in Columbus, Salem Gardens (east side of Cincinnati) we'll even venture up to Cleveland. It's been great to meet our fans, meet our supporters and hear their passions."

      Butch Jones has only been around since mid-December, but his days seem to fly by with meetings, outings, appearances, workouts and the non-stop necessity that is recruiting. As I have with previous coaches, I teased him about putting out a "Butch Jones Summer Tour 2010" t-shirt. In recent years, you'd be hard pressed to find a baby kissing, glad handing, chamber of commerce affair without a Bearcat coach nearby. In Jones' case, he's been visible and still has throwing out a first pitch at a Reds game and dropping a puck for the Cyclones playoff game ahead.

      Is he selling this program harder than others he's been at before?

      "Probably a little bit more--especially with this being the first year and all that," said Jones. "I also think it's necessary for us to get out vision out on where this football family's going. Like I said, the opportunity to meet people's been very, very rewarding. With stags and getting around local high schools and the communities, then with the Bearcat Caravans it's been hectic. But, I enjoy meeting people and hearing their thoughts about the program. It's obviously a very exciting time right now."

      Of course, it was exciting before Jones got here. His job is to maintain that level of optimism which sometimes can be harder than building a program up. What was also difficult was being named as head coach, then having to watch from a distance someone else coach his team (Jeff Quinn) in a BCS bowl game.

      "I had to have the seatbelt at Mike Thomas' box at the Sugar Bowl," confirmed Jones. "I've enjoyed the process. I thought being hired on December 16th has really proved to be beneficial. It was an opportunity to kind of evaluate the program, evaluate some of our players and also get to know those players and ease their minds a little bit. Being a coach, it was difficult (watching the Sugar Bowl) keeping your distance and staying afar. You know there's so many things you wanted to do. Once that Sugar Bowl was over, knowing that it's your team is very exciting. I think everything has been beneficial in the transition."

      Since then, the program has been all Jones. Players appear closer to the head coach and practices are even faster than they were before. The style is similar to Brian Kelly's, but definitely has the stamp of Butch Jones on it.

      "Every coach has his little idiosyncrasies, some similarities, some differences," said Jones. "Every person has their own little touches. But I'm excited. I'm excited about the kids, I'm excited about the program."

      Jones is so excited, that he seemingly spends every waking moment on UC football. With his family not here 'til after the school year, he's not exactly sitting home watching, "American Idol" or "Dancing With The Stars".

      "No question," said Jones with a grin. "I could probably tell you my favorite TV shows right now are practices one through 15 (spring ball)!"

      What the public has seen is just a small sample of what was worked on in spring ball in the public Bearcat Bowl IV. While the scrimmage had it's moments, Coach Jones and staff haven't even installed the whole offense. What you saw in late April at Nippert was less than half of what is scheduled to be unleashed on Fresno State to start the season.

      Spring practice for Butch Jones was a chance to get back on the field, and if he could legally do it, he'd probably have the guys back out this month.

      "I wish we had 15 more practices," said Jones. "But, I thought it was very, very beneficial. We were able to accomplish many things and the first thing is our expectations. You know, what's expected at all three phases--the way we practice--doing it the Bearcat way which we talk about everyday. Then obviously, implementing our schemes in offense/defense/special teams and then evaluating personnel and trying to figure out what players we can win with in 2010."

      Clearly, there are a lot of players the Bearcats can win with this upcoming season, as many return for another Big East title run. Armon Binns is back to haul in long passes and Isaiah Pead is back to burst runs. Specifically, several other players caught Jones' eye in April.

      "Well, I thought Darrin Williams really stepped up," said Jones. "That's a position, the running back position, where we must have depth. Obviously, Zach (Collaros) the last couple weeks really came on strong and I thought really ended spring with a great grasp of our offensive system. I thought D.J. Woods ended with a very productive spring game. He's an individual that I thought obviously got better and proved that he's one of the guys that we have to get the ball in his hands. Then, I think Walter Stewart defensively, added a little 'edge' presence to our defense. J.K. (Schaffer) was J.K., just consistent. Then I said time in and time again, especially at the corner position we have a great battle of competition brewing there that will go on throughout training camp."

      Once training camp arrives, a whole new crop of youngsters get to suit up in black and white jerseys and enter the fray. On occasion, a true freshman finds his way onto the playing field. Plus, back-to-back BCS bowls has provided UC with superbly talented young men. However, Jones cautions those that think they'll just automatically be entered onto the "two deep" depth chart.

      "It's really difficult at this time to really say," said Jones. "You're dealing with 17 and 18-year-old high school seniors. I'll know more--I think they report June 20th and they'll get going for summer school. I'll probably know a little bit more probably after the first week of training camp--really after the first week at Camp Higher Ground."

      By then, we could know more about some of the shifting going on in the college conferences. The rumors are the Big East could lose Rutgers. Other stories have pointed at Pitt and West Virginia perhaps being courted by the Big 10. Syracuse has also been mentioned. With experience at Rutgers, West Virginia and now here, Butch Jones isn't losing much sleep over it.

      "I've been really focused with the task at hand which is our football team," said Jones. "You know, I think a lot of it is hearsay. I don't think anyone really knows. I'm excited because I think we're at an institution where, no matter what happens, we're a commodity. The University of Cincinnati I think has so much respect. Not only on the field with what we've done the last couple of years in our football program, but off the field academically, our fan support, our passion, our location. So, I think we're an extremely attractive university. I think the Big East is going to be fine."

      Truly a veteran answer by someone who's been surrounded by veterans with impressive backgrounds. Through his many stops, Butch Jones has numerous influences that have led him to the style of play and strategies he preaches today.

      "There's a lot and I'd be remiss if I missed anybody," started Jones. "But, I think at a young age, Ray Perkins with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then, working for Rich Rodriguez and the things we were able to accomplish at West Virginia. I've worked with so many great assistant football coaches and then obviously working for one year with Brian Kelly at Central Michigan."

      Now, as he did at CMU, he follows a high scoring, successful coach and hopes to better his mark. The bar's been set high, but Butch Jones shows no fear in leaping.

      Since Kelly's departure, the "Jones era" has featured remodeling the football offices to include video, trophies and bowl watches from the various games on display. The second floor team areas have new displays, and the pictures outside of the locker room have all been updated. The goal of all of it is to link the past with the present.

      "It's critical--that's part of having a football program and not a team," said Jones. "You know, there's so many things, from our players 'Representing the C' and what that 'C' stands for--the pride, the history, the past and where the foundation's laid. For recruiting, it's about being able to attract the highest caliber student-athlete for our football family. It's all about facilities. Facilities mean everything--how you're going to develop the player on a daily basis. Everything is done strategically and everything is about morale and pride. The things that we're doing with the players lounge, our nutritional bar, the entrance to our football facility and the Jefferson Avenue Sports Complex as well. That's really our classroom--our practice fields are developing future champions and future Bearcats."

      In terms of "Butch's Bubble" (the unofficial name of the structure as determined by a one-man steering committee...me) you can't miss the progress on a daily basis. Cranes are flying and Corryville currently has the highest concentration of hard hats and fluorescent vests in the city. What was a drawing will be a reality sooner rather than later.

      "We're excited about that, being able in the increment weather to go in and practice," said Jones. "I'm excited that everything is on schedule. Our administration has done a tremendous job. It's going to pay dividends from a recruiting piece, involvement with other athletic teams here at UC, the community piece--being able to host football games there. It's going to be a welcome addition and it's going to be a great piece to our football facilities."

      In the meantime, Butch Jones waits. He waits on his recruits. He waits on his next appearance as assigned by his assistant, Sherry Murray. And, he waits on his family. He waits to find time to be "Dad" again.

      "I've not had any free time," said Jones. "When I do get some free time I guess it's going to be being with my family. We've been away from each other now for almost about five months and I'm looking forward to waking up one sunny afternoon and just doing something with the family."

      While he waits, he "holds the rope" as his wristband says. He's learned about the area and looks forward to some summer activity with his kids, before his late summer activity with his "other kids" cranks up.

      "I'm looking forward to all the different venues we have in this great city," said Jones. "I'm a huge, baseball fan so every free moment I do get, if it's an hour and a half, I'll sneak down to Great American Ballpark and watch the Reds. I'm excited from the Zoo, to the Cincinnati Reds, to Kings Island, just going down to the city and being a part of it."

      He's also learning the local nuances, which allows one to adapt to life closer to I-75, or I-71.

      "I'm becoming a Cincinnatian," said Jones. "I understand the east side, the west side, all the great eating establishments to go to. Skyline Chili, you name it, I know it now. Those are the little things that make a difference, the little things that separate us from the other areas of the country."

      That, and being in the BCS conversation two years running.



HISTORY

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I went to Major League Baseball's Civil Rights luncheon hosted by the Cincinnati Reds this past Saturday and enjoyed hearing the stories, in particular, from Willie Mays aka the Say Hey Kid. Please Google and read if you don't know about him, here's a good place to start:

http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/may0bio-1

Willie Mays like so many other sports pioneers seem to fall by the wayside because we don't keep their stories in the forefront. It got me to thinking about pioneers at UC; players of color who had to endure internal as well as external discrimination. In some cases women too. As we think of the success of modern day players at the University let us not forget the ones who dared to come here when it may not have been entirely encouraged. They endured the stares, glares and cowardly threats but chose to stay in the heat of the battle. And what is their reward? I don't think its to be recognized for what they did, I think their reward should be, to know they won't be forgotten as a piece of the equality puzzle.

At the luncheon I saw Chuck Harmon in his wheelchair smiling; others limping and yet others just struggling to "be there". As I get older I realize I'm fortunate that I got to see Muhammad Ali in his prime; Oscar Robertson, Frank Robinson, Jim Brown, John Carlos, Tommie Smith and others at their best. I pass along the stories to the youngsters who proclaim modern day superstars as the pinnacle of the sport without doing their homework. But its our job, those of us who know, to educate and encourage them to look back and read.

So let me take a moment to thank all pioneers who entered the University of Cincinnati when it wasn't comfortable to do so. You were sent here knowingly or unknowingly on a spiritual journey and I'm sure you wondered at times why; Well Mardy Gilyard is why; Lance Stephenson is why and even Antione Drakeford is why. When doors are opened, barriers broken down and opportunities seized, the flood follows the open gates. And young men and women of color and women in general can get a scholarship based on their grades and skills, realizing a quality education in the process.

With the minority enrollment at 14.4% (according to the University's web site) it is working; the bigger question is are the student athletes working? on and off the field. THAT would be the biggest payback they could give the pioneers who said give us a chance...

That's the way I see it sitting in The Box Seat...


Conference realignment and the future

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This is probably not what the UC administration wants to think about, but what happens if the Big East's nightmare comes true, and the Big Ten pilfers three of its teams? Say, the Big Ten takes Syracuse, Pitt and Rutgers and leaves the Big East with exactly five football-playing schools? What then?

 

Can UC football survive and keep playing at the highest levels? It's a fair question, especially as conference realignment continues to get major play in national newspapers, magazines and web sites.

 

Here's the latest offering from SI.com's Andy Staples: To go or not to go? That's the question for expansion candidates.

 

Some of Staples' points from the column (and some of mine in response):

 

-Rutgers could go, and it'd be a marriage that benefits both parties. Rutgers would enter one of the best football conferences in the land, and the Big Ten could infiltrate the Metro New York market, which would mean more potential cable subscribers for the Big Ten Network. (Yet Rutgers has been so unimpressive through most of the last century, this wouldn't make the Big Ten football brand any better. Plus, how many Rutgers fans live in the metro NYC area? That area just doesn't strike me a college football town.)

 

-In order to grab Notre Dame - which I'm sure Big East adminstrators and fans would prefer, because that likely would be enough to satiate the Big Ten hunger for expansion - the Big Ten still would need to blow up the Big East to force Notre Dame's hand and give the Golden Dome no other option but to join. (I just don't see Notre Dame letting go of its independence. Yes, it'd make more money by joining the Big Ten for football, but I'm not sure its hubris is worth an additional $10 million.)

 

-Every Big East team would take the Big Ten's invitation and leave the Big East and join the Big Ten. (I believe this is true. And you couldn't really blame whichever Big East team the Big Ten approaches).

 

So, what now. Well, one reader, Gary, has some ideas and some complaints. For one, he doesn't understand why the Big East isn't being proactive by trying to expand itself. Gary would like to see a 16-team, two-division conference that plays a championship game every year at Yankee Stadium. Some of the teams he would bring into the field: Central Florida, Temple, Army and some old Conference USA foes. As Gary writes, "If the BE Conf. waits to see what is going to happen we are going to get picked apart or end up a basketball only conference. This may not be the perfect scenario, but we need to do something to survive as a football conference."

 

 (You have to ask yourself this: is it better to add mid-level teams from a mid-major conference to your conference, or is it better just to pack up the Big East tent and let everybody fend for themselves? Probably the former, but I'm not sure a team filled with mostly C-USA teams would have a BCS affiliation anyway. Of course, as Gary points out, it's not necessarily about the quality of the teams. It's about the TV markets.)

 

Another idea: if the Big Ten expands by picking up three Big East teams, the five schools that are left (probably UC, West Virginia, Louisville, South Florida, and Pitt or UConn) should approach the Big 12 for membership. At least, this way, UC could remain in a BCS conference.

 

(Joining another conference would be paramount for UC. If the Big 12 loses some teams to the Big Ten - say, Missouri and Nebraska - or if Colorado leaves for the Pac-10, this could be a reality. Or, if the ACC wants to expand and improve its conference, it could approach West Virginia, UC, South Florida and Louisville. But what happens if Texas bolts for the SEC? How much less attractive would the Big 12 look at that point?)

 

Gary also sent an e-mail to Big East commissioner John Marinatto that suggests merging the Big East with the rest of the ACC and making it a 16-team super conference. This assumes the ACC loses Clemson and/or Georgia Tech to the SEC. This way, Gary writes, the Big East still could remain a legit conference, albeit as a basketball-only league.

 

(I wonder if, logistically, this would be impossible to do. But I do know this. If the Big Ten follows through and pilfers a huge chunk of the Big East, Marinatto had better have some answers. If not, the Big East will collapse. And then all bets are off for UC.)

What would you do?

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With so much talk lately about conference realignment and the Big Ten poaching schools from either the Big East or the Big 12, let's get a little discussion going here. What happens to UC if the Big Ten takes a few Big East squads, say Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse? Do the Bearcats take a huge step backward? Will they continue to play for the BCS title?

 

UC athletic director Mike Thomas told the Enquirer earlier this month he expects the program to remain in the Big East. But what will be of the Big East? Yes, commissioner John Marinatto hired former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to serve as a consultant - most likely, his main role will be to figure out how to keep the league intact if the Big Ten plucks some of the conference's best fruit - but in reality, there's not much else the Big East can do until the Big Ten makes its move.

 

A few links:

 

Here's a story in the Newark Star Ledger that details Rutgers' upcoming crossroads decision.

 

One solution for the Big East? Start its own TV network.  

 

The Big East and the Big 12 aren't the only conferences that are worried about Big Ten realignment. Marshall and Conference USA are concerned as well.

 

I don't think Notre Dame will join a conference - unless its hand is absolutely forced, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick has said - but here's one argument about why the Fighting Irish should.

 

So, what do you think? Shoot me an e-mail at jkatzo@hotmail.com, and let me know what you believe UC should do if the Big Ten should demolish a major portion of the Big East. I've already heard from some of you - ahem, Gary - and I'll post those ideas later in the week. But be Big East commissioner for a day, and tell me what you would do to 1) prevent this from occurring (if it's preventable) and 2) what your response would be.

When Conferences Collide!

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There's been lots of talk about the Big East and the Big Ten possibly merging or the Big East losing teams to the former over the last month or so. I being one who likes to marinade on certain subjects prior to weighing in will cast my thoughts into the wind.

NO. No way should these conferences even think of doing anything other than a team vs. team match-up much like the Big East and SEC does; or the ACC and Big Ten. This is not corporate america but its starting to feel like it with merger-mania. Remember how many conferences have become a league of the past? At the rate these leagues keep merging and discussing the same you'll have 4 leagues: The Pac 20, The Big 24, The SEC and the The Big Twenty. In essence all the teams that are worth anything and that can afford anything will be in these four conferences. In basketball there won't be any Butlers left; they will be in the east or west, north or south division of a league conglomerate. 

So who's left? Maybe division II schools who might merge with Division I-AA to form a junior league. The thought of it upsets my stomach because you'll have no more underdog to root for like you do in the Big East. Who's the underdog in the Big East? Rutgers? no because they're in the Big East. Do you root for Northwestern in the Big Ten? No they've had success and they give the perennial powers all they want while maintaining a 3.0. Stanford? They own USC these days and probably ran Pete Carroll to the NFL.

Long story shorter, the big leagues are all sitting pretty with big name schools, boosters and TV deals. The money comes in and so does the exposure week in and week out. ESPN, FOX sports and USA Today all give them plenty of coverage, so much so, the James Madison's of the world fight for a byline. And you want to make an even bigger beast of a conference? No; just leave well enough alone and let the mid-majors continue bringing us a heartwarming story from time to time. With the disbursement of talent these days, the little schools know they can compete if their guys stay together for 3 years. While the big schools have players who are one and done, the field is leveled as a result.

So I hope things don't change but with corporate guys involved in college sports and someone whispering in the ear of the big networks about the potential of owning the league and all its games, sooner rather than later it will probably happen. I won't like it, but I'll watch. I won't even kid myself...

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat

Pead makes strides

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He had been hurt during that week of practice, and by his own account, he wasn't prepared to absorb the gameplan. Thus, though UC's offense had little problems dispatching Illinois' defense, his absence was noticeable as he gained minus-five yards on four carries.

 

"I didn't get a good feeling for him today," Brian Kelly said afterward. "I'm on the sideline bringing guys in and out. I just didn't get that connection today. It wasn't his kind of game. It didn't materialize that way."

 

And it seemed like Isaiah Pead - even though he finished with a team-high 806 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 121 carries last season as a sophomore - still had to mature before he could become the kind of running back he knows he can be.

 

"I didn't practice that much that week because of a hamstring problem," Pead said. "The install that week, I wasn't all the way locked in because I wasn't taking reps at practice. I could only take so many mental reps because I was taking therapy. It was like sitting out for a week basically."

 

Not playing that week - and perhaps some of Kelly's comments afterward - made an impact on Pead, though.

 

"It really hit me," Pead said. "There are no superstars out here. You can't just sit out for a week and expect to play in a game."

 

Last year, Pead, Darrin Williams and John Goebel had Jacob Ramsey on which they could rely. Ramsey was the senior leader, and the trio of underclassmen could share the running back responsibilities with him. No more, though. Now it's up to Pead - who likely will enter fall camp at the top of the depth chart.

 

As a result, Pead - as he's set to enter his junior year despite the knee injury he suffered during the spring game - said he's changed his mentality.

 

"It's been the last six months," Pead said. "Now it's time to be a leader - after sitting in the shadows and coming out here and there, scoring a few touchdowns and getting my feet wet behind Ramsey and John Goebel and taking mental reps. It's the determination of the person who's sitting on the bench and watching. It's transferring from taking the mental reps and to actually doing it now."

 

In order to be that top running back, though, Pead still has to work on becoming a complete running back. Which means, obviously, running the ball, but it also means Pead has had to work on other aspects of his game.

 

"We're going to expect him to pass protect," coach Butch Jones said. "He's not going to be extended out in the formation. We always talk to our running backs about being complete running backs. It's easy to find a runner or pass-catcher. But a running back has to do all the fine details - they have to pass-protect and they have to run-block, they have to have great run-fakes, they have to understand the run system and the tempo of the run plays and be able to catch the ball. That's what we've been stressing."

 

It's no surprise to Pead the biggest improvement he has to make is in his blocking.

 

"I'm an undersized back who has yet to touch 200 pounds," Pead said. "If you want to cut and be quick with it and stay up, you have to be physical. You have to be relentless, and you have to have heart. You're a smaller back and (opposing defensive ends) are making it tough on you. They're trying to bull-rush the quarterback, like you're not even there.

 

"There's no Jacob Ramsey. He was great at it, and he weighed 220 pounds. There's me, who's 195, and Goebel - who has size but needs to get his technique down - and Darrin, who's 5-6."

 

Jones believes Pead will get it, though. It's because Jones says he can see Pead's hunger. The hunger to be the first UC running back since Richard Hall in 2004 to gain 1,000 yards in a season. The hunger to be the best running back on the team.

 

"I like Isaiah's mentality," Jones said. "He's an extremely competitive young man. There isn't anybody who wants to do better than Isaiah Pead."

Defensive depth still a problem

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Butch Jones began spring practice talking about building up the depth of his defense. He ended it discussing the same subject. Yes, some strides were made during UC's 15 practices, but the defensive depth chart still will be something to work on as the Bearcats begin their summer workout regime in preparation for next season's fall camp.

 

From the Sugar Bowl starting lineup, the Bearcats said goodbye to Ricardo Matthews, Alex Daniels, Curtis Young, Andre Revels, Brad Jones and Aaron Webster. They also lost Craig Carey and Marcus Waugh. All of them were important, solid members of the UC squad

 

That leaves Derek Wolfe, J.K. Schaffer, Walter Stewart, Drew Frey and Dominique Battle as the underclassmen starters to return. John Hughes and Dan Giordano - both of whom made a good impression last year - also will look to make an impact. It's a good base to be sure.

 

But obviously, UC needs more defensive talent. That's what Jones wanted to see throughout the spring. He didn't exactly get what he wanted.

 

"It's an ongoing process," Butch Jones said. "It continues to be a work in progress. This summer will be big for a lot of individuals, especially with some people on the defensive line - to get in shape and to get bigger, faster and stronger. Our captains and leaders of the team will run our practice this summer. They have to learn the system more. There were times (during the spring game) where we struggled getting lined up right. That can't happen."

 

During the spring game, some unfamiliar names popped out at you if you perused the final defensive statistics. Alex Delisi (he's a junior linebacker) led the team with eight tackles and a sack. Ricardo Thompson (junior linebacker) had six tackles, as did Will Saddler (redshirt freshman defensive back). Maalik Bomar (sophomore linebacker) had five tackles, while relatively unheard of players such as Steve Hancock, DeMarkus Bracy and Aaron Roberson each contributed a sack.

 

Still, Jones wasn't too happy with his second-team defense's performance in Bearcat Bowl IV.

 

"I still wasn't pleased with the tackling," Jones said. "A lot of our mistakes occurred with the second defense. You have to get that corrected, because as you know, you're one step away. We'll go back and we'll look at this again. To have a chance to be really successful and have a great defense, we have to get off the field. You get off the field by being a great tackling team."

 

One bright spot was the interception by Sean McClellan, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman from Moeller who picked off Chazz Anderson and made a nice runback. He's one potential depth builder.

 

"I don't know if I am right now," McClellan said. "The only thing I have to worry about is getting better."

 

As does the rest of the defense to build that much-needed depth.

 

"Our No. 1s are doing a great job, but the 2s and 3s will continue to have to step up," McClellan said. "We'll just have to work real hard in strength and conditioning. There's still a lot of work to do."

A MOTHER'S DAY BLOG

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We've seen the hi Mom, love you Mom and even request for the favorite dishes on TV during sporting events, most of the time during football games as a outward show of affection for Moms. So with Mothers day coming up this week, I thought I would take some time out to thank all the Mothers (Dad you day is coming) for just being Moms. Typically Mom is the transporter, chef, paper processor for scholarship opportunities and judge and jury on punishment and more.

But they're also the compassionate ones who root, cheer and believe even when Dad says otherwise based on facts. All Moms know that loving and supporting that child-athlete is of vital importance and good for self esteem. To have someone believe in you even when you don't always do the same sets them apart, even if it was the sole reason they get props. But when you listen to guys talk about their Mom, especially past tense its obvious they have continued the nurturing way past the womb. If its present tense, its on going and you're looking forward to seeing her or eating her cooking as we speak because frankly: no ones food is as good as Moms (and if it is....shhhhh!)

My Mom died in 1983 and I still long for her mac and cheese, salmon croquettes and 7-up cake among other things; and have also grown to love her discipline and warnings. When you play sports in the Big East the pressures are a little more than a DII or DIII school or even a mid-major; So when you call home, the one voice that can soothe you or kick you in the butt to end the pity party is usually Mom. I say usually so that Dads who do the same recognize I'm not omitting them. But we know Mom is special, worthy of praise and they say the women you end up marrying will remind you of your Mom. If you love your Mom, then what a fitting tribute to her and compliment to your wife.

Mom's thank you for all the sacrifices, car rides, meals on the go, laundry, hemming and stitching, tissue, hugs, corny jokes, criticisms, love, support and "Momness" you give us without hesitation and regret. You are First Team All American, MVP Most Valuable Parent, and the one we can count on in the clutch, time and time and time again. We salute you and I dedicate this blog to all the Mothers of UC players past, present and future. Enjoy your day!

That's the way I see it, sitting in The Box Seat

WORKING ON A DREAM

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jake ramsey.jpegmike windt.jpegcurtis young.jpeg



(Jacob Ramsey, Mike Windt and Curtis Young)


      Including draft picks, 10 Cincinnati Bearcats were in NFL camps this past weekend. The Rams had 4th round pick WR Mardy Gilyard, the Panthers--6th round QB Tony Pike, 7th round DL Ricardo Mathews and free agent OL Jeff Linkenbach were with the Colts, free agent DL Alex Daniels was with the Raiders, S Aaron Webster with Houston, DL/LB Craig Carey with the Bears and the Bengals entertained LS Mike Windt, RB Jacob Ramsey and DL Curtis Young.

      Fresh off back-to-back BCS bowl games, these Bearcats are now in for a rollercoaster ride that'll see some make it, some not, and some waiver back and forth waiting for the proverbial "big break".

      For the three Bearcats that traveled "down the hill" to participate in Bengals rookie camp, they have a unique chance to continue playing in front of familiar fans.

      "It was a great experience for me to come out here and get a shot with the Bengals to compete for a position and come to camp," said Jacob Ramsey, who was second on the Bearcats in rushing yards and fifth in all purpose yards.

      However, Ramsey shared carries with Greg Moore, John Goebel and Isaiah Pead under Brian Kelly, while being switched to defense by his first coach, Mark Dantonio. Also, playing in a pass-oriented offense didn't really showcase his talents, so coming into a situation emphasizing the run appeals to the 22-year-old from Columbus.

      "Yessir, definitely a good thing for me," said Ramsey. "Coming from the spread offense, I didn't get a chance to run the ball, so now the tables are turned. I have an opportunity to show what I can do."

      In Ramsey's last three seasons, he ran for 362, 664 and 439 yards. However, his yards per carry jumped each year (3.8 in '07, 4.4 in '08, 6.0 in '09).

      As with most every player given the chance to put on an NFL helmet and prove his worth, Ramsey is extremely appreciative.

      "It's an opportunity to go out and play the game I love to play," said Ramsey.

      Curtis Young is in the same situation.

      He also went undrafted and perhaps unnoticed because he played for a team that didn't necessarily emphasize defense. Still, Young was among team leaders in TFL (tackles for loss) despite missing three games in '09 due to injury. This after starting his senior season strong.

      "Some things happen for a reason, that's how I look at it," said Young. "I try to stay positive for the whole thing. I got back and finished the season and I'm back at 100% now. All I wanted was to get in somebody's camp and I'd be able to show my abilities. Hopefully, when it's all said and done, I'll be a Bengal or something."

      Part of Young's problem is the pro perception that he may be "too small" to play defensive line at 6-1, 269 pounds. Former teammate (and current Cincinnati Commando) Terrill Byrd had the same problem.

      Young will hear none of that excuse.

      "I always play with a chip on my shoulder 'cause guys look at me 'cause I'm 6-1, small and all that," said Young. "To me size don't mean nothing. It's not the size, never has been."

      That "chip" could be the bargaining chip to push Curtis Young over. That, and the fact that Young at 24, has more maturity than most having had football briefly taken away from him. Young battled back and then became a mentor to younger players to prevent them from making the same mistakes.

      "Where I came from, other guys did that in high school," said Young, who attended Cleveland Glenville. "When I came to college, I had some issues, family issues, things like that. It kind of set me back, but I just didn't give up. I fought back and I got an opportunity to get my scholarship back."

      Not only did he get the scholarship back, he thrived in his final two seasons, helping the Bearcats to the Orange and Sugar Bowls. Be it here, or somewhere else, Young feels there are still games left to be played.

      "I'm just going to give it all I've got and leave it in God's hands," said Young.

      Also occupying a makeshift locker in the Paul Brown Stadium clubhouse (jokingly referred to as "Death Row" by some) is long snapper Mike Windt.

      The oldest of the Bearcat/Bengal free agents (he turns 25 on the 29th) probably has the best chance to stick with the team. He also is a native Cincinnatian and it doesn't hurt that he snapped for Bengals punter Kevin Huber during two record-setting seasons at UC.

      "Yeah, it is kind of convenient," said Windt. "Having Kevin as the punter is a very big positive. There's a good trust between us. He knows where he wants the ball and he knows I'm going to put it there."

      After being lured back onto the football field by Mark Dantonio, the former Elder Panther was perfect on every snap for Brian Kelly's headline-grabbing Bearcats for three seasons. Plus, he's used to winning. In addition to the back-to-back BCS bowls at UC, he was on back-to-back state championship teams at Elder.

      There's no question the Bengals did their homework on this signee.

      "No, never have had a bad snap," confirmed Windt. "Knock on wood (as he banged on former Bearcat/Mt. St. Joseph free agent Alex Harbin's head). Based on my college record, I never have and I don't expect to ever have a bad snap."

       He also may have set an NFL record for number of cameras situated around a long snapper at one time on his first day Friday. Most media outlets probably couldn't identify UC's long snapper if given 100 tries, but being local and being a teammate of the current punter put Windt in Chad Ochocinco-status (for at least one day).

      "Yeah, just happy for the opportunity to come out here and compete," said Windt. "I know that this opportunity is the best opportunity for me and I'm happy to come down here with Darrin--Coach Simmons (Bengals special teams coach). He just made it a lot easier decision for me. It's a great opportunity to come here and do my job."

       Realistically, the road is long for all of these guys and they know it. Most players invited to tryouts are practice players for the draft picks to compete against. They are longshots to be longshots. This isn't training camp--this is an audition to be INVITED to training camp where you immediately go to the back of the line.

       However, for a few days (and hopefully more) these players get to use NFL facilities, wear NFL garb and hang in an NFL clubhouse (even if it is in a portable locker).

      While you hope they all advance and prosper, the reality is many Bearcats have found how brief it all is. My advice to all of them--based on years of watching?

      Box up all the free stuff you can and make sure you take advantage of the catered food.