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.

Announcing the Wake Forest Sports News & Discussion Page @ FriendFeed

In an effort to bring some of the Web 2.0/social networking flexibility and features to fellow Wake Forest Demon Deacon sports fans, I have created a Wake Forest sports page at FriendFeed.  The new FriendFeed design allows for a seamless integration of news content and message board discussion- things that have traditionally been separate.

It is and will remain a work in progress, as I and hopefully others locate and import relevant news feeds for centralized reading and to serve as discussion starters.  I have added a few Deacon sports-related news feeds.  Others will be added, and some will likely be dropped over time as we zero in on the best feeds for content and discussion purposes.

The thing I like about this structure is that discussion threads, resembling traditional message board threads, can be started by any user, via the message box at the top of the page.  Additionally, each news item has an associated comment box beneath it.  If I can get a critical mass of WFU fans to give it a try, I think people will really like the flexibility inherent in the FriendFeed design.

wfufriendfeed

Here’s the message box, where users can create discussion topics.  You
can add photos and/or links to your post.  You can also select to push
any post you make to Twitter, Facebook or other external sites.

ffmessagebox

Here’s the way discussion threads display.  Yes, it’s different
from traditional message board posts, but the ability to import
all kinds of relevant content and to view discussions on the same
page creates a vastly improved experience.

Note that you can “Like” a news story and/or start a Comment (e.g., discussion thread) below the story.

I hope some other WFU fans will join me in my efforts to create a new and improved news and discussion experience.

Go Deacs!

What Happens in Facebook Doesn’t Stay in Facebook

facebook

I’ve mentioned more than once that young people who play behind the Facebook walls should proceed (and post) with caution, since things said in the faux-safety of that place of a thousand friends can come back to haunt you.  Here’s an object lesson on that topic.

Meet Lucas Caparelli, until recently a running back for my alma mater, Wake Forest.  Lucas is described by college sports site Scout as having break away speed and vision. “Gritty player that just loves to compete. Athleticism and competitive drive could carry him far at the next level.”  The Deacons were thrilled to sign Lucas, who was also recruited by Maryland, Pitt, Virginia and Virginia Tech, among others.

Lucas arrived at Wake Forest at the beginning of the golden era of WFU football under the guidance of wonder-coach Jim Grobe.  The Demon Deacons won the Atlantic Coast Conference and played in the Orange Bowl last year and won nine games including the Meineke Car Care Bowl this year.  Things are good for WFU football (they are not so good for WFU basketball, but that’s a topic for another day).

Lucas has, or had, a Facebook page.  At some point, he apparently wrote on his Facebook page, that he was going to “blow up the campus.”  He also wrote, according to published reports, a post in Facebook’s trademark third person saying “for those left standing he will have an Uzi locked and loaded in his bag.”  After another student saw the Facebook posting and, quite correctly, notified authorities, Lucas got a visit from the police.  While the police did not find any weapons in his bags or dorm room, Lucas has been dismissed from the football team and suspended, at least for now, from the university.

Here’s a lengthy discussion about the matter, including some current WFU students, at ACCBoards.Com.  Here’s a related post on the Old Gold & Blog, a Wake Forest sports blog.

One of the local television stations spoke with Caparelli (here’s a video with portions of that conversation).  He admitted he did a stupid thing.  He apologized, and said he “never thought it was going to snowball into this.”  But that’s the thing.  In this post 9-11, post Virginia Tech world, no right-thinking school, employer or friend (the real or Facebook kind) can afford to take chances.  Threatening things written must be taken at face value, regardless of the intent or state of mind of the writer.  There are no do-overs anymore.  Thanks to technology, easy capital and cheap storage, things that may be intended as one-off rants, jokes or juvenile nonsense are captured, archived, indexed and, often, distributed.

College kids behaving stupidly is nothing new.  When I was at Wake Forest, a guy drunkenly told me he was going to kill me because a few of us intercepted his pizza delivery, paid for it and ate it (that was our “on demand” hack of the Domino’s delivery system).  I didn’t really think he was going to kill me, but his words when spoken sounded as serious as they were slurred.  Imagine how they would have looked in writing.  During that same period, we used to joke that phones should have breathalyzers on them so we couldn’t come home after too many beers, call our girlfriends (or prospective girlfriends) and mumble out what we heard as suave and the girls heard as stupid.  Thank goodness the internet didn’t exist back then.

By all accounts, it doesn’t look like Caparelli planned to commit any actual acts of violence.  It may very well have been a stupid joke, a poorly thought-out response to some dissatisfaction with school, or just misguided late night ramblings.  But regardless of his true intent, this event will likely affect him for the rest of his life, to one degree or another.  Hopefully, he’ll learn from it.  If Jim Grobe recruited him, chances are he’s a good kid.  But his life just got harder than it would have otherwise been.

In a few years when he applies for a job, this unfortunate event will almost certainly come up, particularly if his prospective employer does a background check.  And if somehow it doesn’t, he’ll have to choose between disclosing it and risking the reaction or living in fear of Google.

The obvious moral of this story is to write every post as if everyone you ever know will see it.

Because the chances are pretty good that they will.

Explaining the WFU – Duke Game in Three Words

I guess Buzz Bruggeman was mighty happy on Sunday when his boy J.J. Reddick got to experience winning a game at Wake Forest for the first time ever. This loss won’t do much to increase the WFU hat quotient.

I’m going to explain that loss in three words. It’s about recruiting.

I’m not trashing Wake’s players. Wake has some great players that compare well to most other teams in the country. Teams that actually have to recruit players, that is.

If you follow college basketball recruiting you know that Duke can generally select the recruits it signs. Take a look at the recruting databases on Scout.Com or any major college sports network and you’ll see blue chip prospects with offers from tons of schools with a notation that the kid has “medium interest” in those schools. Then there’s Duke with a “no offer” notation and an indication that the player has “high interest” in the Blue Devils. Usually this means these kids are waiting to see if Duke will “select” them. Duke doesn’t recruit, it selects.

So think about it this way. Let’s say we decide to play basketball or soccer or croquet or red rover or whatever. And let’s say that rather than take turns picking our team, I get to pick my entire team first. In that case, I should win almost every game, right? In fact, if I don’t it’s the result of either a failure on my part to pick the right people or a tremendous effort on the part of you or your team.

When you think about it that way, it says a lot about Skip Prosser and the WFU team that J.J. Reddick took 4 years to win at Wake.

WFU Week Four: Downward Spiral

After beating ECU for win number one in this soon to be written off season, the Deacs took on Maryland this afternoon in the Deacs’ Homecoming game. Not too many people came home if the crowd on TV, particularly early, was any indication. The Deacs lost a game that was only within reach because of Maryland mistakes 22-12.

Rather than rehash how bad we looked, how predictable our offense is and how we couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean from the shore, I think I’ll jump right to my conclusions:

1) Like everything in college sports, it comes down to recruiting. Some optimists at ACCBoards.Com love to bash recruiting rankings and claim such rankings are skewed and don’t matter. Here’s the only problem with that: it’s utterly and completely wrong. While rankings are certainly part art as well as part science, it has been empirically proven by the ACC Area Sports Journal on more than one occasion that the teams that get the higher ranked players will win more games than those that don’t. I’m not bashing our players by saying that- I am simply stating a fact.

2) The fact that WFU generally battles Duke for the lowest ranked recruiting classes in the ACC requires Jim Grobe to do things to compensate for the talent differential. At first, he was able to close that gap by running a lot of misdirection and orbit plays (I don’t know where that overused and never successful shovel pass came from- it was on almost as much as the commercial for that stupid golf movie). The problem is that other teams, especially the other ACC teams, have figured it out. The smoke and mirrors quit working and while the coordinators have not distinguished themselves this year, there’s only so much they can do. The way to win more games consistently over the medium and long term is to recruit players as good or better than most of the other teams you play. I don’t know if that’s possible at WFU, but trying to pretend it’s not necessary is a recipe for failure. You simply can’t count on sneaking up on people to get you to a bowl every year or five.

3) The talent differential also makes it easier for other coaches to implement halftime adjustments than for Grobe to do so. The second half trends this year bear that out. Grobe appears to be getting outcoached at halftime, but again there’s only so much he can do.

4) WFU does not have a single real threat at wide receiver. Part of the reason Ben (who ain’t jamin’) Mauk looks so bad out there (and he does look really bad out there) is because his receivers can’t get open. And even when they do and he actually throws the ball to them instead of tucking it for yet another QB keeper (if I were the running backs I wouldn’t even bother running on the option plays because Mauk never gives them the ball), they often drop it. If we had better receivers, Mauk would look less bad.

5) Now for the thing I’m the most certain about- the coaching staff does not have confidence in Mauk. They can say they do, but their game plans make it obvious they don’t. Grobe said earlier this year that Mauk does not have the green light to audible out of plays except in certain situations (which must mean that all the pointing and walking around pre-snap is some sort of head fake designed to fool any defensive players who didn’t read that interview). If that’s the case, then the play calling makes it abundantly clear that the staff views Mauk’s arm as the weapon of last resort. Whether this is because of him or them, I don’t know. But if this is so obvious to me, it’s also obvious to other coaches, which is exactly why other teams keep daring Wake to pass the ball.

This all adds up to a long season for the Deacs. I’m not sure if there is an answer, but if there is, someone on the WFU board at ACCBoards.Com will come up with it.

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WFU Week Two: Deja Vu All Over Again

Last week I predicted that Wake would lose at Nebraska by 10 or less. Silly me, I forgot that the game was on national TV. A nationally televised game guarantees a WFU embarrassment and that’s what we got. I suspect that at some point the networks will notice this and, but for any games mandated by the ACC TV contract, we won’t see any more Deacon football on national TV.

In a game in which Nebraska’s bad offense made Wake’s mediocre (which, by WFU standards, means “pretty good”) defense look very good for a half, Nebraska spanked the Deacs 31-3. WFU is now 0-2 for the season, with 5 top 25 teams among the 9 games that make up the rest of the season. It’s going to be tough to match last years’ 4-7 record. That’s what losing at home to Vanderbilt will do for you.

Ben Mauk, who was an amazing high school QB but was (maybe not so) curiously not recruited by the big boys, looked absolutely awful (and that’s being kind). Micah Andrews looked OK, but lightning didn’t strike twice (not another 250+ yard game). The special teams looked, well, not very special. If there’s a worse kicking team in America, I don’t know about it. As far as I can tell, we have no WRs.

Here’s my thing: Jim Grobe has been riding the benefits of taking a typically 3-8 team and turning it into a typically 5-6 team for a couple of years now. That’s a fine accomplishment, but at some point Wake needs to actually win some games. Clearly, Bill Callahan made much more effective halftime adjustments than Grobe. I’m still a Grobe fan, because I believe that if anyone can win at Wake, it’s Grobe. But itsy bitsy baby steps and moral victories are no longer enough for me. I want some tangible evidence in the only place where it matters: the won-loss column.

Playing in the ACC, you simply can’t afford to let winnable games slip away. Vanderbilt (at home, no less) was a gimme that Wake lost. Nebraska, who has an anemic offense and struggled with Division I-AA Maine last week, was winnable. Many of the remaining games are simply not winnable absent a major upset. Wake plays better when it has no chance, so expect some close losses (as long as the Deacs are not on national TV).

Some folks will rightly call for Cory Randolph at QB after Mauk’s performance. I can understand that (believe me I can), but Grobe should either stick with Mauk or, if there is a younger QB with potential, maybe give him a shot. This year is over bowl-wise, and Randlolph is a senior. We need to give next year’s QB experience this year. There’s always next year. It’s just that with the Deacs, next year will probably look a lot like this year.

Come join the post-game party on the WFU message board at ACCBoards.Com.

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WFU Week One: Clash of the Titans

In a clash of the titans that resonated throughout college football, my two alma maters met in a gridiron war tonight. In the first live college football game televised on ESPN-U, Vanderbilt (my graduate school) beat Wake Forest (my undergraduate school) 24-20.

I care about Wake Forest and follow the Deacons football team closely, even though I know from 40+ years experience that it will almost always be painful and frustrating. I don’t follow Vanderbilt athletics at all, so the fact that this was a game between my alma maters is more trivia than conflict.

Jim Grobe has been anointed the savior of Wake Forest football, and he may be (to the extent it can be saved). Wake loses games by a few points now, whereas it used to lose by a lot of points. Vanderbilt, who was 2-9 last year and is even more entrenched near the bottom of the SEC than WFU is near the bottom of the ACC came into Wake’s home stadium and beat the Deacs again, raising Vandy’s record against Wake to 7-3 (a better record than either team has had since 1992). Next week, the Deacs travel to Nebraska. Let’s do some projections: Wake loses to a traditionally pitiful Vandy team at home by 4 then travels to play a traditionally good Nebraska team. Hmmm…. Sounds like a recipe for moral victory (Wake has a lot of those). Mark it down- Wake will lose by 10 or less next week. For sure, the Deacs will lose, but they will look good doing it. Otherwise we Deac fans would just write off the season and try to recoup our emotional investment. An investment that has had consistently poor returns over the years.

Here are my thoughts on tonight’s game.

Yes, Vandy’s Jay Cutler is a good QB (276 yards passing). But to try to rationalize this loss on the fact that the opponent has a good QB is simply a canard. If it hadn’t been the QB it would have been a RB, WR, kicker or equipment manager.

Like every other year, the Deacs seem utterly unable to put any pressure on the QB. With 11 seconds to throw, Harpo Marx would look like Johnny U.

I thought we were in for another year of horrible special teams play after a few of those squib kick-looking kickoffs, but Swank later sent one out of the end zone. Maybe he was just messing with us on the first few, setting expectations low and all that.

The Deacs still have trouble throwing downfield, but I think this year that has more to do with the inexperienced receiving corp that the QB or the system.

Granted, it was against Vanderbilt, but the offensive line looked very good and Micah Andrews (254 yards rushing) looks like a player. Wake has good pass/run balance and that should help keep the loss margins in the single digits.

I sure hope Jon Abatte (Wake’s best defensive player and the anchor of the defense) isn’t hurt. He was not on the field much, if any, in the second half (at least as far as I could tell). Without him, our defense would be much less effective against the run. Granted, the run defense was pretty good tonight until Vandy’s final drive, but the Deacs don’t play Vandy every week (much to Vandy’s dismay).

Yes, I sound frustrated. That’s because I am. But make no mistake, I love the Deacons. I just keep expecting them to become the good team they are allegedly on the verge of becoming. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t care.

Few of us picked our colleges based on how good their sports teams are. Obviously, I didn’t. There are many, many reasons to love Wake Forest that go beyond and above its football record. But it sure would be nice to have one more reason to love my school.

If you want to talk about the Deacons, visit the WFU message board at ACCBoards.Com. It’s hopping tonight.

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