LSU, Alabama, Notre Dame and Who?

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This post has a soundtrack.  If you don’t have Spotify, go get it.

I’m a big college sports fan.  But when I was a kid, we didn’t have the internet.  Or many television channels.  So my generation’s perspective of colleges and whatnot was much narrower than that of today’s youth.  What I’m trying to say is that because we didn’t have the ability to see as many college football games, sports was big, but not like today.  So it never occurred to me that by electing to spend four happy years somewhere, I might be sentencing myself to decades of pulling for a perennial underdog.

And my dad went to Wake Forest, for about a minute.  Before he left to fly a Hellcat from an aircraft carrier.  To shoot and be shot at by other young dudes in other planes.  He got a bunch of medals, including a DFC, but no college degree.

So I went to Wake Forest.  I had a blast, and loved just about every minute of it.  But let me tell you, it is hard to be a WFU sports fan.  You experience brief moments of ecstasy surrounded by long periods of frustration.  There is, for sure, something noble in that.  But I can’t say I’ve never wondered what life would be like as an LSU fan or (God forbid) a University of Texas fan.

Among the big-time college football programs, LSU has long been my favorite.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Louisiana, and some of my closest friends are Cajuns.  Hard core, French talkin’, LSU lovin’ Cajuns.  And some of the coolest people- and best cooks- in the world.

So I hope LSU wins tonight.  But there’s a little problem.

In a magical occurrence that even Wake Forest fans don’t completely understand, Wake is playing Notre Dame tonight.  At Wake Forest.  Yeah, I know.  But it’s pretty cool.

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It also starts at the same time as the LSU Alabama game.

My kids tolerate the Deacons, because they know how sadly passionate I am about WFU football (I am bored to tears with WFU basketball, but that’s a topic for another say).  But this LSU Alabama game has mad traction, even with the middle school/junior high crowd.  Delaney and most of her friends have been squarely in the LSU corner, taunting and being taunted by the “Alabama girls” at school.  I’ve heard my kids talking about the game all week.

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Delaney’s bedroom door

I want to watch the Wake Forest game.  There is zero chance that any of my kids will agree to watch the Wake game in lieu of LSU Alabama.  And I want to share the game experience with my kids.

So, I had to set up some supplemental audio video gear in my study, where we watch most of our sports.  I set up a crappy little Vizio TV I bought from Woot a year or so ago for a dollar or two.

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We’ll start off with Wake Forest on the big screen, and my fingers crossed.  If Wake can hang with the Irish, we’ll have to squint a little to see the LSU game.  If Wake gets clobbered, I’ll swap screens.

Either way, this will be a great night for college football.

Calling a TKO on Wake Forest’s 2010-11 Basketball Season

They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues
~ Steely Dan, Deacon Blues

It’s hard to be a Wake Forest basketball fan.  Almost perfectly hard.  You suffer through long periods of frustration, interspersed with brief moments of sheer joy.  The most joyful being the Tim Duncan/Randolph Childress fueled back to back ACC Championships of the mid-nineties.

That was a long, long time ago, so let’s look back at a wonderful moment in time.

Those were good times.  Many fans thought they were the beginning of a long period of WFU hardcourt dominance.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Later, Skip Prosser led Wake to some good (but again not quite great) seasons.  Skip was 126-68 during the regular season, but alas had mixed post-season success.

Skip died tragically, and his top assistant and close friend Dino Gaudio took over.  Dino led WFU to a 61-31 record in 3 seasons, but the post-season collapses that pre-dated Dino continued, ultimately leading to his sacking after last season.

I was very worried when it became clear that Athletic Director Ron Wellman was bound and determined to hire his old friend Jeff Bzdelik to replace Dino.  The same Jeff Bzdelik that had a 36-58 record at Colorado, and has never won an NCAA Tournament game.  In fact, if anything his post season record made Wake’s look better.

Others shared my reaction.  It was, at least by objective measures, a strange hire.

But I was willing to take a wait and see approach.

I’ve waited, and what I have seen so far is nothing short of a complete train wreck.  Wake has gone from a team that was a contender in the ACC and ranked no. 1 in the country to having to scramble to nip a previously winless UNC-G team.  At home.

Sadly, that UNC-G win was a high point of the early season, compared to home losses to:

Stetson (Atlantic Sun). Currently 3-7 with losses to Bethune Cookman, Palm Beach Atlantic (whoever that is) and Jacksonville.

Winthrop (Big South). Currently 5-6, with losses to Hampton, Belmont and Liberty.

UNC-W (Colonial Athletic Conference). Currently 5-5, with a loss to N.C. A&T.

And then, tonight, a home loss to the 5-6 Big South juggernaut, Presbyterian (whose losses, in the interest of fairness, are better than many who have beaten Wake this season).

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It would have been unreasonable to expect Wake to be really good this year.  But it would be selling Wake short to believe that this is OK.  It’s not, and if you really believe Wake can be good, if you’re really a fan, you should not suffer quietly.  I want to make it absolutely clear to anyone who will listen that I- and many other fans- expect more than this.  It’s OK to have a bad year.  It’s never OK to have this bad a year.

Those whose psychological makeup won’t allow them to face reality argue that Wake Forest has a young team and does not have a true point guard.  True enough, and that will be a great oft-used excuse when Wake gets beat by 40 or 50 once the ACC games begin next month.  But to say that Wake’s roster, with highly regarded recruits, point guard or not, should be a cellar dweller in the Big South Conference is absurd and indefensible on its face.

Jeff Bzdelik is in all likelihood a really good guy, and I mean no personal disrespect to him.  But no one forced him to take the Wake Forest job, and he is highly paid for his troubles (I have long been fascinated by the coach-as-a-proxy-for-the-program transference that leads some to defend a guy they’d never heard of a year ago like he’s the Pope, Gandhi, Santa Claus and their favorite uncle all rolled into one).  At the end of the day, there are two possibilities.  One, all of Wake’s recruits were greatly overrated, not only by the prior coaching staffs, but also by most of the national recruiting services.  Two, Bzdelik is not, as it turns out, the second coming of John Wooden.  Occam’s razor precludes me from believing the former.

The thing is that I am a Wake Forest fan.  Not a fan of whoever happens to be the coach at the moment.  It would be cool to be excited about both.  At the moment it’s really hard to be excited about either.

And if Bzdelik and crew can’t manage a victory over Presbyterian at home, how’s it going to go when Wake plays Duke?  Call me Chicken Little, but I’m thinking not too good.

Those who try to keep their eyes closed and their chins up have provided a mountain of anecdotal evidence in support of the proposition that Bzdelik is a great game coach.  That’s it- he’s an Xs and Os wizard who will coach up his players to compete with the Dukes and the UNCs.

First, he has to coach them up to compete with the VCUs and Xaviers.

As I have said to other Wake fans: Bzdelik may be a great coach, but nothing I have seen so far proves it.  He better be a great recruiter, for all of our sake.  Crazy thing is that few have tried to argue that he will be.  Many have hung their hats on the great game coach peg.

Yes, yes a million few times yes, it’s early.   Time will tell, but no one who is being even remotely honest can say that this season so far is anything more than a complete disaster- point guard or not.

Equally as frustrating as Wake’s dismal pre-conference record is the fact that the Deacons look fundamentally unsound and unprepared, and are unbearably boring to watch.

I completely realize that if Bzdelik turns Wake around, this year (fat chance) or another, this post will be constantly tossed in my face as proof that I am a “bad fan,” whatever in the hell that is.  If that happens, I’ll be happy to admit that Wake is good again.  I’ll even admit that I could have kept my mouth shut and suffered through a dismal season or two so I could claim to be a loyal fan when WFU wins a few games.  What I’ll really be is happy, because I’ll once again be able to look forward to watching games.

I won’t even go into the ancillary marketing and branding effects that flow out of a successful sports program.  I just want Wake to have a good team so it will be fun to watch the games.

Here’s the thing.  Maybe when you’re in college you have some implied duty to support the team, keep a positive attitude no matter what and attend the games.  But when you’re middle aged, with a job, family and a million other things competing for your time, you have absolutely no obligation to sit in front of the TV game after game watching your team get dismantled by lesser competition.  You just don’t.

And I’m not.  I’m calling a TKO on this season.

Maybe next year will be better, more fun.  It can’t possibly be any worse.

Can it?

That Fork You See Is Aiming Right at My Love (of Spectator Sports)

Well, it looks like I may have been wrong.  It may happen.

Which is really a bummer.  Not just for Wake Forest Basketball, but for my relationship with spectator sports in general.

image Let’s look back.  When I was a kid, I was a big fan of five sports.  Pro football, pro basketball, pro baseball, college football and college basketball.  I knew all about the players on my favorite teams, and kept a constant eye on records and stats (none of which had dollar signs before them).

I had posters on my wall.  It was good.

Then money, morals and the media killed almost all of it.

Without going into the bloody details, here’s where my spectator sports interest stood a week ago.

Pro Football:  I go to maybe one Texans game a year, and watch less than that on TV.  Pro football is largely about the money, the stupid player celebrations and the media.  Fantasy football briefly rekindled my interest a few years ago, but when my fantasy league died last year, so did most of my interest.

Pro Basketball: I was an huge fan back in the day.  From Lew Alcindor to Bill Walton (pre-Celtics) to Clyde Drexler.  Then somewhere between then and now, it became a caricature of its former self.  I haven’t been to a game in years, because the experience is only remotely about the basketball.  It’s bad sensory overload and gives me a headache.  I haven’t watched one minute of pro basketball on TV in years.  It’s impossible to overstate my apathy towards the NBA.

All of this from a guy who used to play and watch hoops all the time.

Pro Baseball:  As a kid, baseball was the lesser of the big three, as far as my interest went.  Free agency, the fact that I was a Braves fan as a kid (I stopped liking them when I moved to Texas in 1985 and became an Astros fan) and, mostly, the lack of a salary cap turned it from a real sport to a WWF-like faux sport, and my interest waned accordingly.  I still watch a handful of games a year, and pro baseball is my favorite to watch in person.  So it went from last to first on my pro sports list, but as you can tell, that’s not saying much.

College Football:  As a kid, college football was probably second only to pro football on my list.  I watched a ton of it.  I still watch a ton of it, for three reasons.  One, it seems to have changed less than the others.  Two, it gained a lot of the attention share I used to spend on other sports that now bore me to tears.  Third, Jim Grobe.  Nuff said.

College Basketball:  Until the last couple of years, my interest in college basketball had remained pretty constant.  It’s become a little about the money and the media (if the NCAA Tournament does expand as reported, it will kill college basketball for the true fan, but that’s a topic for another day), but it’s still fun to watch.  The Tim Duncan/Randolph Childress era was the high point for me, as a Wake Forest fan.  Frankly, I didn’t watch many games this past season, because I thought the Deacons were just no fun to watch.

And now comes the fork.  When Wake Forest fired Dino Gaudio this week, I was hopeful that a high profile new coach, with a proven post-season record, was forthcoming.  Visions of a revitalized WFU basketball program danced in my head.  I was really excited, and refused to believe that this would happen.  Now it looks like it will.

I’m willing to wait and see, but this doesn’t look good.

Jeff Bzdelik may be the best possible choice for Wake Forest, but other than his brief tenure at Air Force, which is a far cry from ACC basketball, nothing in his won/loss record makes that obvious.

Look, I am just a long time fan with a blog.  I don’t know squat about running a university athletic department.  Maybe this hire will be a stoke of sheer brilliance.  But if it is, Ron Wellman must have information that Google hasn’t found.

Because nothing about this makes sense to the untrained eye.

Wake Forest has a top 10 recruiting class signed.  While it should never be a deciding factor in a new hire, keeping that class intact should be a goal after the hire is made.  I’m not seeing anything that would excite me if I were one of those guys.  Princeton offense?  Seriously?  Isn’t that what Herb Sendek tried at NC State?  How did that work out?

I don’t know if its about friendship.  Or trying to keep the former assistants employed (that’s sweet, but shouldn’t a major factor).  Or maybe Ron was infected by that LOWF thing (the idea that Wake can’t expect to successfully aim high, so we should be happy when we avoid the bottom).

Someone will say that keeping the assistants will help keep the recruits.  To that I say so would a high profile hire that indicates that Wake aimed high and hit the mark.  Players want to win.  Good players want to win and get drafted by the NBA.  Convince them that this will happen, and you could have an Aardvark roam the sidelines and they wouldn’t care.

My working theory is that it’s a combination of three things.

One, Wellman believes other higher profile candidates are unavailable or uninterested.  There’s just no way on earth that WFU would fire Dino Gaudio based on wins and losses to hire Jeff Bzdelik.  There is just no way.  I have thought, and this is supported by the fact that Wellman is apparently on his way to Colorado to speak in person with Bzdelik for the first time about this job, that there were some informal discussions between various parties over the Final Four weekend.  Or maybe not.  Regardless, it means that either there was a plan in place that blew up;  this is the plan; or there was no plan.

None of those make me particularly happy.

Two, the LOWF spell goes deeper than I thought, and has spread beyond the “sunshine brigade” portion of the fan base.  You know, those who are fired up that we made the NCAA Tournament and actually beat the other most under-achieving team in America to make a rare trip past the first round (of course that same post-season business was the stated reason for canning Gaudio).  When it was reported that Bzdelik might be the guy, the sunshine brigade was momentarily stunned into lucidity and actually began crapping all over the idea with everyone else.  Slowly, however, they are regrouping and have embarked on a halfhearted effort  to convince us everything is fine.  It’s about 49% valiant and 51% heartbreaking to watch.

Three, for some inexplicable reason Ron’s desire to make a change was more important than the effect and results of that change.  About the only way I can explain the timing and chronology of events would be if Ron wanted to make a change, right that minute, and deemed any change better than the status quo.  I don’t agree with that- I’m afraid we are barreling a hundred miles an hour towards something much worse that the former status quo.  But again, I’m just a guy with a blog.

As I noted the other night, I mean absolutely no disrespect to Jeff Bzdelik or Ron Wellman, but college coaches and ADs are highly paid public figures, so this sort of analysis comes with the territory.

My analysis, at least as of now, is that I’m going to have some time to fill.

I hope I’m wrong.  For one reason or another.

Is Wake Forest About to Jump Off a Cliff?

It’s hard sometimes to be a Wake Forest fan.  You struggle to become an elite basketball program, and almost- but not quite-  make it.  A taste of honey and all that.  Meanwhile Duke and UNC go to Final Fours the way most of us go to meals, and even win National Championships in down years.

image The one thing that makes it all bearable has been Ron Wellman, the Athletic Director.  He is as much of a constant to the patient and hopeful WFU fan as Penny is to Desmond.  He has shown a smart and steady hand, master-minding the resurgence (or surgence, maybe) of WFU’s football team by hiring and keeping Jim Grobe.  Even the women’s basketball team made the NIT this year, which is about as likely as Hoosiers.

Earlier this week, Ron fired basketball coach Dino Gaudio, citing WFU’s consistent year-end  and and post-season crash and burn.  I tend to think there was more to it than that- WFU couldn’t even make the Final Four with Tim Duncan AND Randolph Childress, so whoever put a post-season curse on the Deacons did it long before Dino Gaudio even heard of Wake Forest.

Regardless, I thought it was the right move.  There are hordes of WFU fans who are so beat down by years of disappointment that they have become conditioned to have low expectations for WFU sports.  If we can stay in the top half of the conference, get to the Sweet Sixteen every other year or so, then we should be happy.

I have always thought that was utter hogwash.  Wake can be an elite program.  Apparently, Ron Wellman agrees.

Or so I thought.

When Dino was fired, we all had visions of Brad Stevens or someone similar dancing in our heads.  Butler did a smart thing and signed him to a long contract (many confuse the concept of term with the concept of a buyout, but I’ll assume this extension takes him off the table, at least as far as Wake is concerned).  Maybe we should change our mascot to the Stalking Horses?

Even with Brad apparently off the table, there are plenty of good prospects out there.  Wake has a top 10 recruiting class signed.  A high profile coach with a post season track record who promises an exciting offense and lots of fans in the seats and wins on the scoreboard could  almost certainly convince all or most of the class to stay the course.

Just now, however, I read reports that Wake is just about to hire Colorado’s Jeff Bzdelik.  Look, I don’t know Jeff and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know anything about his coaching record or style other than what I have read.  I mean absolutely no disrespect to Jeff, but college coaches are highly paid public figures, so this sort of analysis comes with the territory.

What I have read does not excite me.  In the least.

Air Force?  Fisher DeBerry is a life-long friend of mine, and I would have been stoked if Wake had hired Fisher to coach its football team (I actually begged Fisher to seek the job once).  But basketball?  NIT semi-final as a high-water mark?  I do recall that Air Force beat Wake by something like 40 a few years ago.  Maybe Jeff was the coach then, which I guess makes this a mathematical step-up.  But seriously…

73-119 in the NBA?

32-57 at Colorado?  The Princeton offense (hopefully that footnote is wrong)?  One 4 star recruit (per Scout) in three years?

This is probably coming off as harsh, and I mean no disrespect to Ron or Jeff.  But this does not sound like the roadmap to putting WFU [back] on the college basketball map.  Or the way to keep a top 10 recruiting class in the fold (not that the recruiting class should be a deciding factor).

I choose not to believe this will happen, until it happens.

If it does happen, it will be soul crushing.  Almost as soul crushing as watching the inevitable (and understandable) futile efforts at putting a positive spin on it.

Surely Ron is just goofing on us, right?

This is not going to happen.  Sometime in the next few days I’ll come back here and tell you I told you so.

Everyone remain calm.

Weekend Woods and Water Update

Lots to report this weekend.

On Saturday morning, I shot my first sporting clays competition.  There were a few things I didn’t realize before hand.  Like that all stations would be at the much harder North Course.  And that all shots are doubles.  I probably should have done my homework and been aware of these nerves-inducing subtleties in advance, but where’s the fun in that.  The bad news is that I shot horribly.  The better news is that I still got third in my division.  The facts are that I need to practice more and differently.  I think I’m going to shoot the tournament at Rio Brazos next weekend.  I’d never heard of Rio Brazos before, and I’m not too keen on hunting preserves, but it’s close to Houston, and there aren’t all that many local sporting clays tournaments to choose from.

This afternoon, Cassidy and I went shooting together.  She did really well, knocking a bunch of clays down- with her .410.  I’m not sure how many I could hit with that small pattern.  The only camera I had with me was my iPhone.  She hit a bunch of clays, but this is the only shot I got on film.


(B
ackstroke heat (win), freestyle heat (win), 4×4 relay (backstroke)
and butterfly heat (blue Rice swimcap)).

Raina and Delaney had to leave before 7:00 for the swim meet and Cassidy spent the night at a friend’s house, so Luke and I got up this morning and went for a dude’s breakfast of bacon, eggs and grits.  Then we watched some Little Bear and chilled out on the couch.

My kids rock.