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The Signing Day fallout

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When the day was complete and all the signed letters of intent had been received, UC football coach Butch Jones could sit back, reflect on the past two months and then get back to work almost immediately.

 

"With the structure of getting our staff here, playing in the late bowl and having a couple dead periods of recruiting sandwiched in there, it made it extremely challenging," Jones said after today's recruiting rundown presser. "But I can't say enough in the job our staff did in assembling this class. We're very excited about the potential of it. (But) we're still going to continue to recruit for this class. There are some area needs that we would like to be filled. We're still looking to recruit this class and then we'll move onto the class of 2011."

 

But for the moment - and maybe only for this very moment - he could showcase to the assembled media the 22 members of the 2010 recruiting class, a mixture of Brian Kelly and Butch Jones recruits, and be proud of the work he and his assistant coaches accomplished in the first seven weeks of their tenure.

 

To illustrate that point, Jones pulled out his staff's itinerary from the first full week of January. On Jan. 6, the assistants that remained at Central Michigan helped coach the Chippewas to a victory against Troy in the GMAC Bowl. Of course, the game went to double overtime, which was a problem because the coaches had to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Cincinnati the next day. The new staff reached campus about noon on Jan. 7. The very next day, they were recruiting for UC.

 

"That's the whirlwind we've been through," Jones said. "This process was approached with meticulous attention to detail. It was finding the right individual that fits our profile, individuals who are representing the C. We made no promises, no guarantees. The only thing that was guaranteed was to compete for a top-10 football program on a daily basis. To re-recruit a class in a short period of time, that has a lot of challenges. We were forced to build relationships in a short period of time. We take great pride in the developmental business. We're going to teach our players to reach their potential."

 

More than a couple of the newest Bearcats, though, already have impressed people around the country with their talent. Guys like quarterback Munchie Legaux, who's ranked as the No. 12 dual threat quarterback by rivals.com and who committed to the Bearcats late Tuesday night after Legeaux's high school basketball game in New Orleans.

 

It was an especially key get late in the recruiting season because the Bearcats are in dire need quarterbacks - they only have three left in the system, junior Zach Collaros, junior Chazz Anderson, and sophomore Brendon Kay.

 

"He came up on his visit and fell in love with the place," Jones said. "He's an individual with high character. But we don't have to beg anybody to come to the University of Cincinnati. We're very attractive, especially for a young man who plays quarterback. Him also seeing us at the Sugar Bowl, he was able to understand our passion."

 

Legaux, while watching the Sugar Bowl, apparently was wearing a Florida Gators T-shirt. "We wanted to make sure we got that corrected," Jones said.

 

Another key element of this recruiting class was the former Central Michigan's staff familiarity with quarterback Cody Kater (from Montague, Mich.) and receiver Montrel Robinson (from Southfield, Mich.) - both of whom had attended CMU camps in previous years that were run by Jones and his staff. Those prior relationships helped ease the pain of losing former UC commits Luke Massa (to Notre Dame) and Dominique Brown (to Louisville).

 

"Recruiting is about relationships, and the relationships we had formed with Kater and Montrel, those are basically year-long relationships," Jones said. "There are so many things that go into a recruitment of a young man and the bonds that you form. Sometimes people look at these kids as property instead of as human beings. The relationship process was big with those two."

 

I also asked him if the coaches felt like they needed to make a big splash with this year's recruiting class so they could prove to the national recruits and pundits that they actually could recruit on a national level.

 

"No, I trust my coaches and I trust myself," Jones said. "It's all about the evaluating process. We don't get caught up in who's recruiting who or if he's a one-star or two-star or three-star recruit. The last time I checked we went to the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, and our recruiting classes have been middle to last in the Big East conference. We're just looking for the best players that fit our system and the best players we can develop."

The remaining nine

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UC has put itself in pretty good position. At 14-7 overall and 5-4 in the Big East, the Bearcats have moved their way into a tie for sixth place in the conference and, for now, have clawed their way into the conscience of NCAA tournament prognosticators.

 

But remember, this is similar to what happened last season as well - before UC lost six of its final seven games (including that mind-numbing defeat to DePaul (winless during league play in the regular season that year) in the first round of the conference tournament). The Bearcats believe this year will be different.

 

Here's how I see the final nine regular-season games of the year for UC.

 

At Notre Dame, Thursday: The Bearcats (basically) shut down Luke Harangody once this season, thanks to the tremendous defensive input of sophomore forward Yancy Gates. It'll be harder to do that again - particularly in the Joyce Center.

 

Vs. Syracuse, Feb. 7: Whew, this is going to be a tough one for the Bearcats. The Orange have lost once all season (unless you're also counting the Lemoyne exhibition defeat) - a 10-point home loss to Pitt. They're aiming for the best start in program history, and with five players averaging double-figures, they'll probably get it en route to a No. 1 NCAA tourney seed.

 

At UConn, Feb. 13: With how much the Huskies have struggled since they lost to UC last month - plus, with the uncertainty surrounding coach Jim Calhoun - this might be UC's best chance to grab a road victory. Unless it's ...

 

At USF, Feb. 16: The Bearcats haven't fared well in the Sun Dome (and with those hideously-painted seats, you can certainly understand why), but UC still has more talent and they'll be playing for a postseason berth. Yet, it's also tough to win back-to-back games on the road in conference play. Really, I'd say a win at UConn is more likely than a win in Tampa, but that's just kind of a gut feeling. And probably incorrect.

 

Vs. Marquette, Feb. 21: Despite one stupefying bad loss at DePaul, the Eagles have a couple pretty good wins on their resume (Xavier, Georgetown). But mostly, they've won the games they're supposed to win and lost the ones they're supposed to lose. Where does UC fit in there? At 5/3, Marquette probably won't be favored.

 

Vs. DePaul, Feb. 24: If the Bearcats lose this one at home, they probably don't deserve an NCAA tournament berth.

 

At West Virginia, Feb. 27: Mick Cronin has done pretty well against his former boss, Bob Huggins. But Huggins' team this season is really, really good. With the production of Da'Sean Butler and Kevin Jones, mixed with the talent of Devin Ebanks, this will be a tough one for the Bearcats.

 

Vs. Villanova, March 2: Yikes, this will be another dangerous one for UC. Win here, though, and that likely will affect the Bearcats' seeding more than answering the question of whether they'll still have a chance to make the tournament. By that, I mean they'll be in.  

 

At Georgetown, March 6: And sure, why not just end the regular season with the top-10 ranked Hoyas at the Verizon Center?

 

If you look at the Big East standings today, you'll see the Bearcats still have to play all four of the top teams in the league. That's a nightmare way to end the year, but the real question is whether UC can withstand the final nine games and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since Huggins left.

 

My honest answer: I see the Bearcats going 4-5 in that stretch. That would leave them at 18-12 and 9-9 in the Big East. That puts them right on the tournament bubble. But a win against one of those top four squads might just seal their place on the bracket. Maybe the best chance of that happening is in Morgantown.

 

But if I had to guess whether Deonta Vaughn finally will get to experience his first NCAA tournament, I would say ... Probably. What do you think?

 

-In football news, former WR Mardy Gilyard and former QB Tony Pike have been invited to the NFL Combine later this month. This, of course, comes as no surprise.

Also, UC has placed 12 football players on the Big East All-Academic team. They are: QB Chazz Anderson, LB Alex Delisi, OL T.J. Franklin, S Drew Frey, DL Dan Giordano, RB John Goebel, OL Alex Hoffman, OL Sean Hooey, OL Jeff Linkenbach, LB Collin McCafferty, LB J.K. Schaffer, and S Aaron Webster.

-Make sure to check back here Wednesday evening where Katz on the Cats will have a full recap of the day's recruiting news. The Butch Jones news conference happens at 3 p.m., so we'll have his thoughts on the day's events afterward.

UC-Providence Rock 'N Roll Party

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So, a really good win for the Bearcats, especially considering what could have happened if they had lost. Now they're 5-4 in the Big East and in sixth place. A couple points I want to make:

 

-Cashmere Wright surprised the Friars tonight. He scored a career-high 24 points, and Providence didn't seem to have anybody that was capable of stopping him. Remember, this is the same Cashmere Wright who hadn't started since the Dec. 16 UAB game and had played 6 minutes against UConn, 7 minutes against Rutgers, 4 minutes against Pitt, 9 minutes against St. John's, 4 minutes against South Florida and 0 minutes against Notre Dame.

 

Although Providence managed to keep Deonta Vaughn, Yancy Gates and Lance Stephenson in check (they scored a combined 31 points), the Friars were stunned by Wright, who made 9 of 11 shots.

 

"Definitely surprised," said Providence guard Sharaud Curry. "Our main concern was Vaughn and Stephenson. They threw us off balance by throwing him in the starting lineup. He came out and shot the ball great and he was big for them."

 

Said Wright: "I was just playing my game. Things started falling and that's how it happens sometimes."

 

Mick Cronin, though, wasn't surprised. Those are the kind of performances he witnessed when Wright played at Urban Christian Academy in Savannah, Ga.

 

"It has been a learning experience for him," Cronin said. "He went to an excellent school academically, but it is also very small. His high school is not allowed to play the other public schools in Georgia. Consequently, he hadn't had a lot of real game experience. He didn't get to play in big games. He played in front of 15 people - friends and family only. I think that hurt him, combined with sitting out for a year."

 

-Lance Stephenson didn't start, Cronin said, because he's suffering through a lower abdominal strain.

 

"There was a thought that he might not even play," Cronin said. "He struggled to get loose in walk-through. He came in and shot after the women's game. He felt much better. I know it bothered him a little bit."

 

-Darnell Wilks had quite a game as well, scoring 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting to go with four rebounds in 16 minutes of action.

 

"It was me listening to what coach says and being patient," Wilks said. "When I get the ball, not rushing it."

 

-One last thing to address: the abysmal free throw shooting that nearly cost UC the game. After tonight's 20 of 41 performance from the foul line, the Bearcats are shooting 63.0 percent.  That would rank 15th in the Big East and 311th out of 334 teams (using the statistics from before today's games).

 

Said Cronin: "We won't be able to do that on the road at Notre Dame. I'm a big believer in the law of averages. Deonta Vaughn hadn't missed a free throw since Gonzaga. Dion Dixon hadn't missed one in eight games. It is eventually going to catch up. Let it catch up tonight when we have a 14-point lead. If we do that Thursday, we will not win."

UC-Providence LIVE blog

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Live from 5/3:

Before the game, there was a little FT competition between Anthony Buford and former Providence star Dickey Simpkins, both of whom are analyzing tonight's game for TV. Buford made four FTs in 30 seconds; Simpkins made 5. This will have no impact on the game tonight. But I thought you should know anyway.

FASHION ALERT: Mick and his coaching staff come out in khakis and black short-sleeve windbreakery type things with sneakers (Coaches vs. Cancer and all that). Mick is wearing gray long sleeves underneath his shirt. The Friars coaches are sporting suits and sneakers. Again, no bearing on the game.

Starting lineup: Ibrahima Thomas, Yancy Gates, Rashad Bishop, Deonta Vaughn, Cashmere Wright. No Lance Stephenson.

After Jamine Peterson hits a 3 to start the game, Wright answers with a 3 of his own.

After Providence follows with two more 3s - Sharaud Curry and Brian McKenzie - Mick takes a timeout. Replaces Thomas with Darnell Wilks. Of course, Wilks then doesn't block out McKenzie, which leads to an easy rebound/layup.

Wright scores the first seven points for UC. Then Bishop with a short jumper and a 3.

Providence makes 6 of its first 7 shots.

Providence 16, UC 12 (15:19 to go)

Gates airballs his first FT, and he can't help but smile. Perfect on the next. Toyloy in for Gates. Still no Stephenson.

Providence has hit its first 6 3s of the game. Also making 9 of first 10 shots. With about 13 minutes to go, the Friars finally miss a 3.

Stephenson finally in the game with 14:31 to go in the first half.

Providence 24, UC 18 (11:49 to go)

Brian McKenzie picks up his second foul with 11:24 to go. He'll go to the bench. Thomas picks up No. 2 59 seconds later. That's probably not the worst thing in the world. He has not been good so far. Then, with 9 minutes to play, Wilks gets foul No. 2 . He stays in the game.

Remember when Cashmere Wright got off to that really good start? He's been on the bench forever.

Couple nice shots by Wilks, and Stephenson finally gets on the board with a left-handed layup. Bearcats have cut the lead to 1, forcing a timeout from the Friars. A Stephenson 3 ties the game.

UC is shooting 68.8 percent from the floor. Providence is 57.9 percent from the floor; 70 percent from the 3.

UC 30, Providence 30 (7:55 to go)

UC takes its first lead on a nice dish from Wright to Bishop for the layup.

Crazy sequence: Bishop has a chance to extend the UC lead to 5, but blows an absolute gimme dunk. Then, transition to the other end where Duke Mondy buries a 3 to tie the game again.

Wright and Bishop lead the way with 10 points a piece. Peterson has 10 for Providence as well.

Providence 40, UC 37 (2:59 to go)

After making its first six 3-pointers, Providence misses 7 of its next 9.

UC, meanwhile, contiunes to remain hot from the floor. A turnover by Providence and a layup by Wright gives UC a one-point lead.

Gates called for an offensive foul for swinging his elbows. He can't believe it and the crowd goes crazy. I don't understand. Looked pretty blatant to me. A layup from Peterson gives Providence the lead again.

Wright with two FTs. He makes one with 4 seconds left. A missed 3 from Council means the Friars missed eight of their last 10 threes of the half.

Wright has 13 points, and Peterson has 14. Providence is outrebounding UC 17-16. But not a whole lot of missed shots to rebound. The Friars are 50 percent from the floor. UC is 51.5 percent.

UC 44, Providence 44 (half)

No Gates to start the second half. Instead, it's Toyloy. I guess 0 for 2 from the floor with 1 point will keep you on the bench to start the second half. Stephenson also starts the second half next to Mick.

A 3 by Peterson ends Providence's slump from the 3, but Vaughn hits one on the other end.

Peterson picks up foul No. 3 with 16:02 to go. He heads to the bench.

But the Friars continue to hang around, and Kyle Wright rebounds a miss and makes the layup as Gates fouls him. A free throw upcoming.

Providence 54, UC 53 (15:45 to go)

Stephenson makes his first second-half appearance 5:57 into the half.

You know who we haven't seen tonight? Dion Dixon.

If UC can't pull out this game, that would be a bad, bad loss.

Providence 60, UC 59 (11:58 to go)

A great drive and shot by Wright. He's been really, really good today.

All of a sudden, Providence in sloppy with the ball, and the Bearcats are making the Friars pay. UC goes on a 13-0 run. After a Wright 3-pointer, another timeout for Providence.

UC 70, Providence 60 (9:16 to go)

Gates picks up his fourth foul with 8:54 to go.

UC 73, Providence 63 (6:54 to go)

UC, of course, playing very well, so this is nit-picking (though not really). The FT shooting has been abysmal (7 of 19). The Bearcats should be leading by 17 or 18.

UC 75, Providence 65 (3:58 to go)

A Dion Dixon sighting. After Stephenson tried to dribble through about 300 Friars players before ultimately turning it over. Mick taps Dixon to get into the game.

Really, a heck of a job in the final 12 minutes of the game. For a minute there, it looked like UC was out of it. But then, the Bearcats defense started forcing turnovers and Wright and Bishop continued to play so well on offense. A much-needed win for the Bearcats.

Wright obliterates his 12-point career high with 24 points. Bishop has 16 and six rebounds. Stephenson gets 12 points and nine rebounds.

UC outrebounds Providence 38-33.

But geez, how bad was UC's FT shooting? I'll tell you how bad - 48.8 percent bad. The Bearcats were lucky to escape with the win.

UC 92, Providence 88 (final)

My interview with Butch Jones, part III

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Two weeks ago, I was invited into Butch Jones' office for a little question and answer session. I hadn't met Jones yet, so I was interested to see him in his new digs, how he was adjusting to his new job and how he would answer my questions. Here's part III of III of my interview. In case you missed part I, click on this link. And part II is right here.


Part III begins here:

 

Josh Katzowitz: I saw a little Skyline Chili gift basket outside your office. Have you been to Skyline yet?

 

Butch Jones: Oh yeah, I've been to Skyline a number of times. You saw the basket? That's one example of the support we've received since coming here.

 

JK: There's a Skyline neck tie in there. Are you going to wear the tie?

 

BJ: I may. You know what? I've been so busy I haven't been able to look at it too much. I went right for the crackers. I may sport that tie every now and then again.

 

KOTC: That's the major headline. Jones: I May Sport that Skyline Tie Every Now and Again. Anyway, getting back to talking about Nippert Stadium and making it a tough ticket to get. Obviously you're getting some new practice facilities, and there's a lot of talk about expanding Nippert. Were do you stand on that?

 

BJ: The thing that excites me is the term they use about Nippert being the Wrigley Field of college football. You look at it and look at the great tradition that's been played in Nippert Stadium and the great atmosphere and the great environment. It's our job to put a product on the field that people want to come and watch. Also, the gameday environment: it's fan friendly, it's family friendly. I want to make it an event, and when you do that and people witness that, they want to keep coming back. I haven't really thought too much about (stadium expansion). But it's something to be said about college football and the environment and the nostalgia that comes with gameday. We obviously have that here, and I'm excited to witness that and build upon that.

 

JK: What's going on with the practice fields? Is it still on for this year?

 

BJ: It's still going. I'm very excited. That's the continuation of the building process of this football program. To be able to have a practice facility like that, to be able, when the weather gets cold for bowl prep or November games, to go inside a climate-controlled practice facility, it's going to be big for our program.

 

JK: You guys had that at West Virginia, right?

 

BJ: Yes, and we had it at Central (Michigan) too.

 

JK: Invariably, the comparisons to you and Brian Kelly are going to continue to exist. I don't know much you had that at Central. I imagine it was a little bit ...

 

BJ: Big.

 

JK: Obviously, you're not the same guy, you're not the same personality, you're not the same coach. How do you deal with that?

 

BJ: I don't spend too much time thinking about it. My sole focus is working hard each and every day to make everyone proud of the UC football program. Building upon the championship culture that exists here and making this program better each and every day. I don't lend myself to comparisons between myself and Brian Kelly. I don't even know what's out there. The big thing is it's about the kids, our players. It's about developing our players on the field and off the field.

 

JK: You guys are similar in the way in that you spent some time in Division III football (at Wilkes University). How did that work in your development?

 

BJ: It really lends itself to your development. There are so many things you have to do coaching at those levels. It makes you appreciate the game. You're coaching for the love of the game. You're having to do the laundry, you're having to coach other sports. When I was there, I was the head men's tennis coach and the intramural director. The passion you have to have to coach football, the sacrifices you have to do that are associated with that. It really lends into your development.

 

JK: Were you a pretty good tennis coach?

 

BJ: No.

 

JK: I think that's about it. Anything else I should be asking that you want to get out there?

 

BJ: We want high expectations. But people also need to be realistic. We've been through it, we've taken over a program and built upon it. There were growing pains at first. But if you look at how we developed the program there ... when I took the job at Central Michigan, I said we were going to be a top-25 football program. Everyone looked at me and they laughed and chuckled and said that can't be done at Central Michigan. We finished 23rd in the country this year. Any time you go 12-2 in the MAC with an out of conference schedule that includes Michigan State, Arizona and Boston College, that doesn't happen by mistake. We know how to take a program to the next level.

 

"We beat Northern Illinois for the first time at their place in years. Three years ago, we beat Western Michigan and it was the first time we had won at their place since 1993. We did it again this year. We took them to three straight bowl games. That had never been accomplished. The top-25 ranking is huge. Been there three years and two conference championships. We were getting everybody's best shot. We were the hunted each and every game.

 

JK: It strikes me that you can have a great season next year. You could go 9-3 and go to, say, the Meineke Car Care Bowl and it would seem almost like a step down. How do you deal with that?

 

BJ: You just continue to build a football program. You just look at the world of college football. There's parity everywhere. What separates winning and losing is inches. It's maybe three or four plays in a game. It's a decision here or a decision there. Winning is very fragile and staying on top is very fragile as well. But you wouldn't want it any other way.

 

Bearcats trio out to impress at Senior Bowl

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So much of the attention the first few days of the Senior Bowl has been focused on Tim Tebow and Terrence Cody*. But there are others - a few of them you might actually know - who are doing their best to make a mental mark on the scouts and coaches assembled in Alabama for the annual all-star game/meat market.

 

*Especially if he's going to walk around for photos like this.

 

If you happen to catch the game Saturday at 4 p.m. on the NFL Network, here's who you'll want to be watching.

 

Tony Pike: There are, as you probably know by now, a few knocks on Pike as he begins his offseason of prepping for the NFL Combine, working out for whichever teams decide to bring him to their complexes before the Draft and participating in UC's Pro Day. He's got good height for a QB, but he's thin (he weighed in at 212 pounds this week) and he seems to be a bit brittle. That will be a concern and why, instead of becoming a late first- or early second-round pick (as some had him before he was injured in this year's South Florida game), he might drop to the middle rounds. Also, you have to wonder if he is a (dreaded) system quarterback

 

But he's got an NFL-ready arm, and he seems like a smart, well-reasoned, calm individual - on the field and off it. That certainly counts for something.

 

During his first day of practice, he performed well, and, according to the Sporting News, he "definitely looked like an NFL quarterback ... and really could help himself if able to play at this level all week."

 

But ESPN's Todd McShay isn't sure about Pike. Before the Sugar Bowl in a teleconference call with national reporters, McShay didn't seem so impressed with Pike, and earlier this week, he reiterated that opinion by writing:

 

Tony Pike is accurate and tall enough to develop into an NFL backup and possibly a starter down the line. However, his ability to read NFL coverage is a concern and there are questions about his overall work ethic, so he may never reach that potential.


His ability to take advantage of and learn from the Detroit Lions coaching staff throughout the week will either amplify or dampen these concerns. In addition, Pike must prove he can make the transition from the spread attack of his college coach Brian Kelly to a pro-style system.

Not sure I agree with the work ethic thing, but OK, I'll buy most of that.

 

Mardy Gilyard: I'll be really interested to see where Gilyard goes in the draft. He's got first-round talent, but a late-rounds body. He weighed in at a light 179 pounds, and at 6-1 (though I'm pretty sure he's shorter than that), that's not going to help impress the scouts who think those measures are so important.

 

We both know, though, that Gilyard is an NFL talent. He's not the fastest receiver in the country, but he's got great hands, quick moves and he knows how to use his body to his advantage. Plus, he's one of the best kick returners in the nation.

 

According to the Sporting News, he had a strong first day, showing "good quickness and agility in his routes, getting out of cuts quickly and flashing the ability to make tough catches." But not everybody was quite as impressed. Like Dallas Morning News scribe Gerry Fraley, who wrote that Gilyard had stiff hands after dropping three passes during Tuesday's practice. And like Lions receivers coach Shawn Jefferson.

 

Check out this passage from strong Butch Hobson in his Bengals.com story from Tuesday:

 

MOBILE, Ala. - Call it Mardy Gilyard's first professional chewing out after Monday afternoon's first Senior Bowl practice for the North.

 

In a not so intimate huddle Lions wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson lit into his group for their inability to keep up with the speed of the game and since Gilyard is considered by many to be the best of the lot at this all-star game despite the 113 catches of Missouri's 6-4, 220-pound Danario Alexander and the 4.38-second 40-yard dash time of Clemson's 5-8 Jacoby Ford, Jefferson seemed to be staring at him much of the time during the tirade.

 

"I think he has potential, but it seems like the game is a little too fast for him," Jefferson said later. "Maybe I'm too hard on him, but in this day and age there is no time to get these kids ready. They have to be ready now. Today was a bit overwhelming for him.

 

Moments later Jefferson walked over to Gilyard kneeling on one knee and patted him on the shoulder and Gilyard told him, "I'm going to look you up tonight," after Jefferson challenged them to spend extra time with him to learn the plays.

 

Gilyard then fired on himself in a passionate diatribe for coming out so passively.

 

"When I ran my first comeback and it got picked, I was saying, 'What's going on? What am I doing?'" Gilyard fumed at himself. "I'm being coached hard and with intensity. I need that and it's something that I love. I got frustrated. Then once I relaxed I got a little bit better toward the end. I need to take what I did at the end and transfer it to the beginning and just keep moving."

 

If I had to guess, though, I think Gilyard goes before Pike in the Draft.

 

Mike Windt: You ever notice him on the field for Bearcats? Probably not, and that's probably a good thing. A long-snapper is there not to be noticed, but to be solid on every single snap. And Windt has been exactly that during his UC career.

 

Honestly, I didn't expect to find much news on Windt, but along came this little passage on kcchiefs.com:


Some things are universal. At NFL practices, the specialists hang in packs (packs of three to be precise) and that's no different at the Senior Bowl, even if the trio just met within the past 48 hours. Specialists are also typically the first ones to arrive at practice and usually display some sort of "abnormal behavior" in the process.

 

This morning, the few people at Ladd-Peebles Stadium 60 minutes prior to the North's start-time were treated to a sprinting Mike Windt (LS - Cincinnati) singing the U.C. fight song. Odd behavior among specialists seems to be world-wide.

 

On a side note, don't think that coaches and scouts simply watch practice and leave to review the tape. These NFL talent evaluators join media members on the field for post-practice interviews of their own with the college prospects. Even though the Chiefs seem set at both kicker and punter, that didn't stop special teams coach Steve Hoffman from gathering all three North specialists for a post-practice chat.

My interview with Butch Jones, part II

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Two weeks ago, I was invited into Butch Jones' office for a little question and answer session. I hadn't met Jones yet, so I was interested to see him in his new digs, how he was adjusting to his new job and how he would answer my questions. Here's part II of III of my interview. In case you missed part I, click on this link.


Part II begins here:

 

Josh Katzowitz: Not many people have talked about this, but what kind of defense do you run?

 

Butch Jones: First of all, we'll be real multiple with a four-down and three-down front. We'll be very, very aggressive, but we're going to be fundamentally sound. We'll be a great, great tackling team. We'll pride ourselves on playing with great fundamentals, not only on defense but on the other phases as well.

 

JK: Obviously, they went from a 4-3 with Joe Tresey to a 3-4 with Bob Diaco last year. Is it a hybrid of that for you, or is it a wholesale change?

 

BJ: It's not a wholesale change. It'll be a hybrid. We'll do some things with a standup defensive end and also have him down in a three-point. It's probably a combination of both defenses.

 

JK: What do you like about that defense?

 

BK: It becomes real multiple. You're able to disguise coverages. You're able to be sound in the run game and the throw game. It allows you to bring pressure from the field and from the boundary. It allows you to be multiple yet maintain some simplicity as well.

 

JK: It's interesting with these offensive head coaches who run spread and what their defensive philosophy is, because that defense has to go against the offense every day in practice. I wonder if they're always thinking about how they would stop their own offense. I know Brian thought the 3-4 was right because it could stop what he was doing.

 

BJ: Obviously, you look first and foremost at the offenses in the Big East and what you're going to have to be defending against. That's the first thing. When your defense is going against your offense, it's imperative you're able to have the schemes in place that they're going to be seeing on a week-to-week basis in the Big East conference. A lot of people tend to think of spread offense as four and five receivers all the time and throwing the ball around and the term "finesse" comes out. We're far from being a finesse offense. We'll play with a fullback; we'll play with a tight end. We'll be in multiple personnel groupings. You need that - you need to take pride in being a physical football team. In order to be a physical football team, your defense has to see a physical style of football from your offense day in and day out.

 

JK: You'll play with a fullback, huh? We haven't seen that here in a while.

 

BJ: Yeah. Well, it's a fullback/h-back, which is a little different. It's not 21 personnel and getting high formation. I'm talking about doing different things with the tight end off the ball and moving him around - more of an H-back type.

 

JK: Because you were in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl and because it was such a blowout loss, do you worry about losing any kind of momentum from a fan's standpoint? There was so much hype going into that game and then the team kind of fell flat. Do you worry about that?

 

BK: No, I think part of being great fans is the term "loyalty." Fans have great loyalty to our program and our football players. We have great tradition. You couldn't help but see the excitement in New Orleans. The fan support was incredible. I don't think we lost any momentum at all. What it's done is been a renewed spirit and renewed energy level for our players and propelling us into our offseason strength and conditioning program. It was a very special season. Any time you go undefeated, that's legacy. I don't think there's been any momentum lost at all. It's refocused our players. They now understand what it takes to play on a national stage and the things that are associated with those types of games. I don't think there's been any momentum lost at all.

 

JK: How much do you have to do with fans because the coaching transition, at least at the beginning, was ... well, frankly, it pissed a lot of people off. I wonder if there's something you need to do to mend fences. What are your thoughts on that?

 

BJ: Well, I'm going to be extremely visible as the head football coach at the University of Cincinnati. I'm going to get into the community. They're going to know me, they're going to know my family. They're going to see mine and my staff's passion for UC, for Cincinnati in general. You can't hide that passion. They'll see that passion portrayed out on the football field with our football teams. We have great fans here, very passionate fans. I'm very excited to be a part of that process. There will be a process that goes along with it. People here have been outstanding. Everybody told me that we were moving to a great community. I've seen that. People have gone out of their way to say hello and welcome us to the area. You can see that passion. You go back to the Sugar Bowl. That was an unbelievable scene. It led me to believe that UC football is very important to the people.

 

JK: I'm not from Cincinnati, but moving here and working for the Post and seeing it from an objective point of a view, I've seen that if you're not winning, people don't really care about the team. Even the Bengals this year, for the playoff game, it didn't sell out and there was nobody in the tailgating lots 2 ½ hours before the game. It's great for you that you had 25,000 people that went down to New Orleans. But I wonder how difficult it is to maintain that enthusiasm. 

 

BJ: I wouldn't say we're going to maintain that enthusiasm; we're going to build off the enthusiasm. We're going to make that even better. I expect season tickets to increase. I expect it to be even harder to get into Nippert Stadium than it's ever been. I think of building upon it and building upon what has been established here and taking it to even greater levels.

 

JK: Do you do that by being out in the community?

 

It's a number of things. We talk about being a family and developing pride and "Representing the C." But first of all, it's our players representing extremely well, our players being visible and our coaches being out there. Our student body, our fans, our alumni, they see us as one of them as we are in this thing together. It's the way we'll perform on the field and all the little things. They will know us. It does become a pride thing. It does become a pride for great support. I think you just continue to build upon that.

 

(To be continued later this week) ...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UC-Louisville LIVE blog

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Live from the basement:

Sounds like Lance Stephenson is going to play today. Will be interested to see how effective he is with his ankle injury.

The starting lineup for UC: Deonta Vaughn, Lance Stephenson, Jaquon Parker, Ibrahima Thomas and Yancy Gates.

Also interested to see how Gates matches up with Samardo Samuels.

I'm still confused about how Mick sees Thomas. Sometimes, he plays 7 minutes in a game. Sometimes, he starts. Today, he starts and immediately hits a 3-pointer.

Looks like Stephenson is fine. He rebounds a Thomas miss and puts in a short jumper and then hits a 3 from top of the key to give UC a 8-0 lead and forces a timeout from Rick Pitino. Later, he rebounds a Vaughn miss and slams it home.

First Yancy Gates foul 2:02 into the game on a hedge 25 feet from the basket. Mick, like he said he would, yanks Gates and puts in Toyloy.

Two minutes later, Toyloy commits his first foul (an offensvie foul), and McClain enters. I'm sure Samuels likes that matchup.

UC is killing Louisville on the boards.

UC 12, Louisville 4 (14:44 to go)

Lance Stephenson with yet another 3-pointer.

UC struggling against the full-court pressure and then against the Cards' zone. Parker catches a break when he's fouled with 1 second on the shot clock. Lucky because he had no chance of getting off a shot.

UC 17, Louisville 8 (11:35 to go)

A couple threes by the Cards, and suddenly, Louisville is right back in the game.

10-second violation for UC, thanks to Louisville's full-court press.

UC 23, Louisville 16 (7:48 to go)

Jaquon Parker, as was to be expected, isn't quite as sure of himself handling the ball today.

Cards go on an 8-0 run, but Vaughn hits a 3 to move the lead to 4.

After missing a 3-pointer, Thomas plays nice defense on Samuels on the other end. First, Samuels basically airballs a layup and then Thomas swats away his second-chance attempt.

The Bearcats have one field goal in the last 6 minutes.

UC 26, Louisville 23 (3:35 to go)

Sosa hits a 3 with 1:40 to go to tie the game at 28-28.

UC goes from pretty good on offense to absolutely horrendous in the span of about 7 minutes. Louisville's press is really hurting the Bearcats.

Vaughn misses the layup, but Gates is there to rebound and dunk to cut the lead to 1. Sosa misses a last-second 3.

Louisville 31, UC 30 (half)

Stephenson leads the way with 12 points and five rebounds, and Gates has eight points. UC is outrebounding Louisville 19-14 and is shooting better from the floor.

Samuels has eight points, but Delk has been pretty impressive as well with seven points and five rebounds.

First three trips down the floor for UC in the second half: a turnover and three bad shots. Bad, as in advisable.

A turnover by Parker, and then Sosa drives right by him for the easy layup.

Louisville on a 26-12 run.

Louisville 40, UC 35 (15:24 to go)

I'll tell you what: UC looks like it has no clue what to do on offense.

Gotta watch out for Sosa. UC doubles the post, leaving Sosa open in the corner. He drains it for the 7-point Louisville lead.

Announcers have been talking about the experience of Vaughn. But he commits an intentional foul on Siva, and the Cards take two FTs and get the ball back.

Whatever happened to Stephenson?

Louisville 48, UC 38 (11:54 to go)

Vaughn hits a 3 from the top of the key to keep UC close.

Louisville 54, UC 47 (7:26 to go)

Cashmere Wright scores five straight points. He's done a nice job today.

UC cuts the leads to two, but Dixon misses a 3 and the commits an offensive foul. Meanwhile, Delk hits a 3 and Samuels hits a turnaround jumper to increase the lead to seven again.

Cardinals definitely outhustling the Bearcats.

But Wright hits another 3 to cut the lead to 4. He's scored the team's last 10 points.

Louisville 61, UC 57 (2:28 to go)

For some reason, Mick takes out Wright and inserts Parker. My tweeps argue it was for defensive reasons, but I still don't like the move.

Sosa hits a 3 to increase it to 7.

Samuels misses a 3 with 1:05 to play, and Delk gets the rebound. Yep, this one is about over.

Louisville 64, UC 57 (1:00 to go)

Vaughn hits a 3 to make it 66-60, but that's as close as the Bearcats will get.

Vaughn, Gates and Stephenson each finish with 12 points. Stephenson has seven rebounds and Vaughn with five assists. UC didn't shoot terribly, but its 17 turnovers hurt.

Louisville 68, UC 60 (final)

My interview with Butch Jones, part I

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Last week, I was invited into Butch Jones' office for a little question and answer session. I hadn't met Jones yet, so I was interested to see him in his new digs, how he was adjusting to his new job and how he would answer my questions. Here's part I of III of my interview.

 

Josh Katzowitz: So, you've been here a couple weeks. How's everything going?

 

Butch Jones: The transition has been extremely smooth. We really benefitted from being here very early. Getting a head start on everything, a head start on recruiting. Being able to evaluate things, so all of a sudden after the Sugar Bowl, we've come in and hit the ground running.

 

JK: It's interesting the way the dynamic was. The last head coach came in and was caching the team for the International Bowl game. It was a little different situation with you. Was it OK for you? I don't know if it was an awkward situation, but it must have been nice to be able to take a step back and see who you've got.

 

BJ: It was great to be able to evaluate everything. I tried to stay as much in the background as possible. It was extremely beneficial to be able to take the time in hiring the staff and do due diligence there. We really benefited as a program of that time where we could sit back and see what was needed so we could hit it running once we were able to maintain a staff and go out and start recruiting.

 

JK: How's that aspect of it? How's the recruiting going?

 

BJ: It's going extremely well. We had our first official visit weekend (the weekend of Jan. 8). I thought it went extremely well, and our coaches did a great job. That's one of the great things about being at the University of Cincinnati. There's so much to sell, from great academics, to great facilities, great people, great city. A lot of times it sells itself.

 

JK: I wonder: you have these recruits that are already committed to UC. How do you spend your time keeping the guys you want and maybe there are some guys you don't want and going out and getting new recruits? It must be an interesting dynamic.

 

BJ: It is very interesting. You have to basically re-recruit them. We basically started the process of recruiting from scratch. But I'll tell you what: We have a lot of players in this class that are extremely loyal to Cincinnati. That's critical in the recruiting process. It's something special to be able to stay at home and stay in your hometown and represent your university. We've been able to get with our players that were committed and obviously bringing in some new players as well.

 

JK: I did a lot of research for my book, and every coach that came in always said, "We need to recruit Cincinnati, because there's such a good base of players here." Most of the guys were not successful. It began to get better with (Mark) Dantonio, and Brian (Kelly), with Kerry (Coombs), did a nice job. Is the base of the city still very important to you?

 

BJ: Sure, The foundation of our football program will be based from the greater Cincinnati area. And within a 200-mile radius. We'll also venture off and find the best possible student-athletes that will represent the University of Cincinnati. We use a term called "Represent the C." There are so many things that the C stands for, from character to championships to academics to University of Cincinnati, to city of Cincinnati. You're in a great state, one of the best states for high school football, and you couple it with a great area and the surrounding areas. The respect that we have on a national scope as well really lends itself to the recruiting process.

 

JK: At Central, I would imagine you're not as focused on more national-type recruiting. I'm sure you saw more of that (when you were an assistant coach) at West Virginia. How do you balance that here because Cincinnati is now becoming more of a national program? Is that something where you can compete on the national level?

 

BJ: First of all, at Central Michigan in last year's recruiting class, we had 12 different states represented. That's a byproduct of being on national television and this past year, we were a top-25 football program. You look at Cincinnati. We're going to win with Cincinnati players, with the state of Ohio first and foremost, but again, because of the national scope, we're able to walk into different areas and people understand what Cincinnati is all about. They understand the tradition that exists here. We'll continue to go anywhere and everywhere for players. But we're going to take care of home.

 

JK: Obviously, the first hire you made was Kerry. Why?

 

BJ: First of all, I've known Kerry Coombs for a number of years. I've had great respect for him - not only as a coach but as a person. Kerry brings so much to our football program. To me, that was critical. He's been instrumental in the transition phase - not only for myself but for our coaches as well. He means so much to UC football.

 

JK: I guess it is nice to have at least one guy who can transition the staffs and stay on recruiting.

 

BJ: No question. Coach Coombs is respected so much in Cincinnati, in the entire state of Ohio and surrounding areas. Obviously, he has a great passion and energy and great love for UC. He knows the ins and outs, and he's been a great asset to me and the rest of the staff.

 

JK: There's been a lot of talk about your (offensive) philosophies - that brand of exciting football, throw it down the field a lot. How would your characterize your offense? Is it spread, no-huddle?

 

BJ: We're a spread, no-huddle, up-tempo football team. We're up-tempo, and we're going to play fast in all three phases - offensively, defensively and with special teams. Everything we do, we train to play fast. We'll be very aggressive on defense and very sound in the kicking game.

 

JK: Who did you learn offense from? Who were your mentors?

 

BJ: I've benefitted with working for a lot of great coaches. It's not just been one coach, but it's been a number of coaches. I've benefitted from getting into coaching at an early age because of an injury in college. Being able to work in the National Football League for three years, it got my career jumpstarted a little bit. From the spread offense with Rich Rodriguez and being with him a little over two years and being with Brian for a year and some other coaches as well. I've really been a benefactor of working with and working for a lot of great coaches.

 

JK: Was that the Tampa Bay Bucs in the late '80s? Who was coaching?

 

BJ: Ray Perkins. 1987, 88, 89.

 

JK: What did you do?

 

BK: I was an intern and then a quality control coach.

 

JK: Is that a pretty good education for a young guy?

 

BJ: OH, it's a great education. Those experiences are invaluable.

 

Parts II and III of my Butch Jones interview will run next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UC-USF thoughts

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Perhaps it wasn't exactly the win the Bearcats - not to mention coach Mick Cronin - would have wanted, but UC will take it. The 78-70 victory against South Florida gives the Bearcats a 4-3 Big East record and slightly strengthens their resume for possible NCAA tournament inclusion. And yeah, there were some problems that need to be corrected before they travel to Louisville on Sunday, but maybe, they should just take a moment to reflect in a hard-fought win.

 

Particularly with the way the Bearcats shot the ball (55.6 percent from the floor) and with how little sophomore forward Yancy Gates played. Oh yeah, and the fact Lance Stephenson (sprained ankle) was missing as well.

 

"I'm really happy we got out with a win," Cronin said.

 

And he should be. But there's plenty on which the Bearcats can improve. Goal No. 1: convince Gates that he needs to stop getting himself into foul trouble.

 

Gates was coming off his stalwart performance on defense against Notre Dame's Luke Harangody and his game-winning shot to beat the Irish. Against the Bulls early, he looked ready for another big game, scoring six-straight points to give the Bearcats a 10-4 lead. But he picked up foul No. 2 just four minutes into the game and he took a seat on the bench as the Bulls went on a 6-0 run of their own to tie the contest.

 

In the second half, he was whistled for his fourth foul with 13:51 remaining, and once again, Cronin had to yank him from the game. Gates finished with eight points and two rebounds. He'll need to be more productive than that on Sunday in Louisville when he has to face Cardinals sophomore center Samardo Samuels, who's averaging 16.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the Cardinals.

 

"He has to adjust," Cronin said on his postgame radio show. "If he gets the quick early one, I'm going to take him out. And he was dominating. It's tougher for a big guy because your man could get by you and drive to the basket and then they may jump into him. It may not even be a foul on him. But he has to know in that situation that it's just not worth it early in the game. It affects us."

 

Luckily for UC, Steve Toyloy - who was battling a stomach virus - managed to play 28 minutes and finish with nine points and eight rebounds.

 

"Steve Toyloy gutted it out," Cronin said. "We had to sub him out because he was having stomach flu issues. He had to come out and throw up a couple of times. It wasn't a pretty sight from what I hear."

 

--Freshman guard Lance Stephenson sprained his ankle during Tuesday's practice, the same ankle he hurt earlier in the season, and after not playing him vs. the Bulls, Cronin said Stephenson was day to day. He could suit up against the Cardinals on Sunday, though. He plans to give Stephenson the day off from practice Thursday but would like to see him practice Friday and/or Saturday in preparation for the Louisville game.

 

Cronin, though, will not push him too hard.

 

"I'm not going to put Lance in jeopardy," Cronin said. "We have a long season. If he's healthy, he'll play. If he's not, he won't. I'm not going to throw him out there if he's hobbling. Our season is too long, and we have too many things to accomplish. He's too important to just put him out there if he can't practice."

 

--Although Cronin seemed pleased with the response he got from freshman point guard Cashmere Wright after Cronin benched him for the Notre Dame game because of a lack of effort during practice, he started freshman Jaquon Parker in his place. And Parker rewarded him with a 15-point, five-assist effort.

 

"Coach (Larry) Davis told me before the game just to be solid and get everyone involved," Parker said. "And when you score, just to make the best of it. Shots were going in. It was a good game for me. Oh man, that's good (on having five assists and zero turnovers). There were some close calls."

 

South Florida coach Stan Heath wasn't happy to see it.

 

"Very surprised," he said. "I won't be too happy with my assistant coaches for scouting. He stepped up. I didn't really know how to look at Lance not playing. I was afraid we let our guard down and relaxed. I was afraid that Deonta (Vaughn, who scored a team-high 20 points) would step up, and both of those things happened. A guy like Parker really stepped up and made some great plays and shots. He did a nice job for their team."