Heard it From Hoard: Column 15
Forget what the odds makers say, UC's win in the Crosstown Shootout was a bigger upset than either time Xavier knocked off the Bearcats when UC was ranked #1 in the country. Consider the circumstances. When Mick Cronin accepted the head coaching job in March, he had one established division one player on the roster in Cedric McGowan. Xavier had every starter back from last year's NCAA tournament loss to Gonzaga and added former McDonald's All-American Drew Lavender. If Cincinnati qualifies for postseason play this year, Mick should get serious consideration for national coach of the year.
As a sports fan, one of my goals is to see the "greats" of my lifetime perform in person. Someday I'll tell young Sam Hoard (finally sporting UC gear in his latest photo) that I saw Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Ken Griffey Jr., Roger Clemens, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in action. At the top of my must-see list is LeBron James, tentatively set for early January in Boston. My number one regret on this topic is never making the effort to see Wayne Gretzky. I mention this because one day I can see telling Sam that I saw Ohio State's Greg Oden as an 18-year-old college kid. Not only is he a genetic freak, but with his personality and work ethic, he could become one of the all-time greats if he stays healthy. Buckeye fans had better enjoy "The Bigger O" now, because there's no way he returns to college ball next year.
Syracuse's Paul Harris received the preseason pub, but if the season ended today, Deonta Vaughn should be the Big East Rookie of the Year. In first nine starts, he's averaging 18.0 points while leading the team in assists. Here's an interesting tidbit about the Bearcat freshman: Between the 8th and 9th grades, he told his AAU coach that he wanted to play for Cincinnati some day. Mick Cronin is certainly happy that his wish came true.
Here's something I bet you haven't noticed about John Williamson. He's the rare 21st century athlete who is tattoo free. John admits that there's peer pressure to get one, but says he's not a fan of "ink" and has no plans to get tattooed. That's not the only thing that's unusual about John. When I asked him if there's a reason why he wears the #45, he said it's because of Michael Jordan. You have to be a trivia buff to remember that Jordan briefly wore that number the first time he came out of retirement before switching back to his familiar #23.
I've made it clear in previous columns that I have a high regard for former UC football coach Mark Dantonio and wish him well at Michigan State. But if I had to identify a couple of shortcomings, I would say his conservative offensive approach and his blandness as a public speaker. His successor, Brian Kelly, appears to be a big improvement in those two areas. This year his Central Michigan team averaged 29 points a game with a true freshman at quarterback and one of his two national championship teams at Grand Valley State scored 55 points in the title game. Plus, he certainly has the gift of gab. As the son of a former Massachusetts politician, Kelly learned the power of public speaking at an early age and should be a big hit on the banquet circuit. I've always said the key to improving Cincinnati's home attendance in football is simply to win more games, but a more exciting offensive style with a more charismatic public speaker in charge can't hurt.
I know quite a few of you are upset that Coach Dantonio is attempting to convince recruits who verbally committed to Cincinnati to go to Michigan State instead, but realistically, what's he supposed to do? If he doesn't win within a few years at MSU he'll get fired. Plus, put yourself in the players' shoes. If the coaching staff was a major factor in their decision, I don't blame them for following the staff to East Lansing.
Cincinnati will be fine. Some of Coach Dantonio's recruits probably weren't a good fit in Coach Kelly's system anyway. Plus, who knows what quarterbacks and wide receivers will eventually pick UC knowing the Bearcats will be throwing the ball 30+ times a game.
When Dantonio left town, I listened to WLW's Tom Gamble make the case on his evening talk show that UC should hire Colerain's Kerry Coombs as his replacement. As much as I like and respect Kerry, it would have been a huge gamble to hand the keys to the car to someone with no college coaching experience. What happened instead was ideal. Athletic Director Mike Thomas hired a proven college head coach who promptly hired Coombs as one of his assistants. Think that might have a positive impact on recruiting?
If you haven't done so before, I strongly encourage you to attend a Mick Cronin radio show at the Original Montgomery Inn on Thursday nights from 8:00 to 9:00. Mick not only answers questions from callers for an hour, but stays after the show for an extended give-and-take with the audience. When Bob Huggins was at UC we used to call it "Huggs Unplugged," with Mick, I think we'll change it to "Mick without the Mic." Hope to see you there next Thursday.
I'd love to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.