Heard it From Hoard: Column 30
One of my first jobs after graduating from Syracuse University was hosting a 90-minute talk show on SU's statewide radio network after the football and basketball games. One night following a hoop game in January of 1991, someone called the show to say he had heard a rumor that Syracuse's beloved football coach, Dick MacPherson, was leaving the 'Cuse to become the head coach of the New England Patriots.
"That's the stupidest rumor I've ever heard," I huffed over 18 radio stations. "There's no way on God's green earth that Coach Mac - at age 60 - is going to walk away from a program that he's built into a perennial Top 25 contender in a city where he's worshipped, to take a job where he's destined to fail. You are a gullible fool if you believe that rumor."
MacPherson was named the Patriots head coach the next morning.
I was way wrong that weekend, and I was wrong again this past weekend. I had little doubt the Bearcats would beat Pittsburgh.
Everything pointed to a Cincinnati win. The Panthers had a four-game losing streak, were starting a true freshman at quarterback, and hadn't forced a fumble on defense all season. As for the Bearcats, after having their nine-game winning streak snapped by Louisville, the players gave Coach Kelly every reason to believe they would bounce back with a strong performance.
"As I said to our football team, 'Louisville beat us. Let's not let them beat us twice,' Kelly told me on the pre-game show. "I think we closed the book on that. I think our kids clearly understand how important this game is today and that we have to play cleaner football if we want to continue to win games in the Big East."
But the Bearcats performance was anything but "clean." There were physical mistakes (3 fourth quarter turnovers), mental mistakes (a season-high 12 penalties), and effort-related mistakes (poor tackling).
"We started getting sloppy and there was a domino effect," junior Connor Barwin said after the game. "It's terrible. There's no reason to have 12 penalties. You're gonna get offsides here or there but you can't have 12. That's something we can control. Right now there's frustration, anger, and a lot of disappointment. We had everything set up for us to go 7-1 into our bye and now we have to regroup and figure out what we're going to do with the rest of our season."
"It was a poorly coached football team today and it starts with me," Coach Kelly told me. "Mistakes, turnovers, penalties - a litany of errors. I think there were 5 personal fouls, procedure penalties, false start penalties - you name it, we had it. We'll get this thing turned around one way or the other, because I'm not going to go and have to explain 12 penalties each week. It's just unacceptable. We knew what our challenge was. It was to stop the running game and we just didn't do it. From that perspective you have to give Pittsburgh credit, but we're going to watch the film, evaluate our personnel, evaluate our schemes, and find out what we're doing. We're going to evaluate everything that's associated with preparing our football team."
At 6-2, the 'Cats still have plenty to play for. In fact, if they win their remaining four games, a Big East championship is not out of the question.
Right now that doesn't appear likely. But I've been wrong before.
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The upcoming game at South Florida gives young Sam Hoard an opportunity to see a set of grandparents, as we'll head down a few days early to see my folks who spend a few months each winter about an hour south of Tampa. Here's this week's photo of the handsome lad.