Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Monday, April 30, 2007

Help Us, Calvin - You're Our (and Millen's) Only Hope

I don't think anyone jumped off the Ambassador Bridge in response to the Lions' 2007 draft. At least I haven't heard any such reports. But I wouldn't be surprised if anyone got onto I-96, pulled the car over, and leaned on the railing a bit to peer down to the Detroit River. I'm not saying I did on Sunday morning, but if I had, this is what would've been going through my mind:

For approximately six hours, from 12:30 p.m. EST to 6:30 p.m., the Lions draft looked A-OK to me. Matt Millen did exactly the right thing; he knew he had the one player (and draft slot) other teams wanted, and took advantage of that to try and get the best trade offer he could. Maybe he asked for too much in return, and teams like Tampa Bay and Atlanta called his bluff.

But when the Lions end up with the guy everyone says is the best player in the draft, the one with the most athletic gifts and fewest question marks, it's difficult to say that they lost out. (Even when I still wonder if maybe they should've taken the best offensive tackle on the board.) It looked like it was going to be a good day.

It's what Millen did the rest of the day, however, that I have a problem with. As the first round reached its end, and it was apparent that several linebackers would likely reach the Lions when their second-round pick at #34 came up. Paul Posluzsny, probably the top-rated linebacker after Patrick Willis would be there. So would Michigan's David Harris and Hampton's Justin Durant. And if they really were serious about getting a defensive end, as most of the rumors about Gaines Adams seemed to imply, LaMarr Woodley would be there, too. Millen would continue rebuilding the defense, especially the faster, younger front seven that he and Sgt. Marinelli envisioned. Things were looking good.

But then, as Mr. Big Ten Hardball and I were on the phone, wondering how Alan Branch slid out of the first round like he was covered in butter, the graphic on ESPN's screen changed from the Lions' logo to the Buffalo Bills'. What was that? What the hell happened? And just as we were trying to figure out what the Lions could've possibly gotten in return to justify such a move, the Bills selected Posluszny. Apparently, the Lions thought they were set at outside linebacker across from Ernie Sims, with Paris Lenon, Alex Lewis, or Boss Bailey.

That third-round pick better have been worth it, because two offensive tackles and a cornerback were taken off the board in the subsequent eight picks. But the middle linebackers were still there. So was Woodley. And then the ESPN cameras showed Drew Stanton on the phone, next to Drew Rosenhaus, and you just knew what was going to happen. Seconds later, he's putting on a Honolulu Blue hat and crying the tears of a kid who was just told he's not only going to play in the NFL, but for his hometown team.

I'll admit that I was okay with this pick at first. I knew the Lions were interested in Stanton, I thought it would be kind of cool to see them pick up a local guy, and I hoped that they'd consider him if he was available in the second or third round. Mr. BTH, however, was nearly apoplectic on the phone when he saw that Millen passed up Harris. And after the sweetness and charm of the hometown story passed, I began to agree with him.

Stanton might be a good NFL quarterback. And the Lions likely will have a need for one after Jon Kitna's contract runs out (or maybe even before that). But on ESPN, they were calling him a project. Steve Young, in particular, was questioning his throwing mechanics. Ron Jaworski thought Mike Martz was just the coach to mentor him over the next two years. The underlying subtext to all of that noise, however, is that the guy isn't going to play right now. And with a second-round pick, the Lions needed someone who will be a starter next season. Stanton isn't that guy.

I liked the principle of taking a quarterback to groom during Kitna's remaining two years in Detroit. But the second round wasn't the place to take him. Well, you might say, then the Lions would risk losing a guy they liked. So be it. What happened to building that defense? Millen showed once again that he seems to think all of his high draft picks are luxury picks. That was fine when Calvin Johnson was on the board. The best player didn't fill the immediate need. But when the best players available can help you out immediately, you have to take them.

I wasn't as upset as Brian about passing up Harris, because I don't know if he's the right kind of middle linebacker for the Tampa Two defense. Believe me, I love Harris and have enjoyed the hell out of his last three years at Michigan. The guy was the Wolverines' run defense. But if you need your middle linebacker to drop straight back into coverage on most pass plays, I'm not sure Harris is your man. Durant, however, looked like he had the speed (if not the ideal height) for that kind of role. If they were interested in London Fletcher as a free agent, I don't understand why they wouldn't want Durant for that same role. Again, the Lions must think their current roster has that covered.

The only thing that makes sense to me is that the Lions think they can sign Shelton Quarles, who was recently released by Tampa Bay, as a free agent for that middle linebacker spot. Or the Sarge and staff still think that another year of coaching will somehow get through to one of their present linebackers and they'll be able to fill that role. If that's the case, I really hope they get Quarles.

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Draft Notes from the Ambassador Bridge

● As far as the rest of the Lions' draft goes, I don't want to make the mistake of thinking that Matt Millen picked bad players just because I've never heard of any of them, let alone seen them play. (Just because I went to Hawaii last fall doesn't mean I saw Ikaika Alama-Francis play. And hell yes, I copied-and-pasted that name.) At least five of those six selections were defensive players (and three of them were defensive backs, which I heartily endorse). But at that point in the draft, are you getting starter-quality talent? Very likely not.

An afternoon and evening of exchanging phone calls about the draft with Mr. BTH ended with him making a point repeatedly (and this time, I'm not misquoting him for creative reasons): To those who said Millen had to trade down so he could get extra picks and fill more spots, how are you feeling with what he did when he had those opportunities? Did he really show he knows what he's doing? I suppose we'll have to wait and see. For now, however, it doesn't look so good.

● Now we know just how bad a draft pick Mike Williams was in 2005. Millen was able to get half of a fourth-round pick for him. Not even a whole pick. I'm not entirely knocking the deal because I'm glad the Lions got rid of Williams. And though I would've liked to see Josh McCown get a chance, this confirms that signing him was really a dumb move in the first place if you were giving Jon Kitna a longer contract. It only made sense if you were bringing him in to compete with Joey Harrington for the starting job, not the back-up position.

Never mind trying to figure out why the Lions drafted Drew Stanton if they think Dan Orlovsky can step in for Kitna, if necessary. Or do they just think he can hold down the back-up spot for two years while Stanton (hopefully) learns Martz's system and eventually becomes the starter? But if they don't think Orlovsky can take over that job, why trade McCown? Even if he didn't like it, he only had one more season to deal with being the back-up. Was he capable of becoming a disruption in the locker room? Does this move give the Lions a salary cap break? Am I about to smash my head against a wall?

● For that matter, if the Raiders were willing to give up Randy Moss for a fourth-round pick, would it just have been better to get him in return for Williams and McCown? I'm not saying I would've wanted Moss, and I know it's not that simple - not just because of his salary figure, but also the small question of "Where the hell would he play?" I just found it interesting that the Lions received a draft pick that was only four slots higher than the selection Oakland got back for Moss.

● Even though I began to feel bad for Brady Quinn once the commissioner took him out of the green room to avoid the embarrassment of another dozen teams passing him over, the only thing that would've been more sadistically enjoyable (and I feel that way largely because I don't enjoy having a player shoved in my face and being told I should think he's great) was if Drew Rosenhaus was his agent and had to sit next to him the whole time.

● Actually, I take that back. The funniest thing about Saturday was Cam Cameron stepping to the podium in front of Dolphins fans to announce (or explain?) their selection of Ted Ginn, Jr. I actually like Cameron, but the look on his face, quickly sliding from proud and triumphant to perplexed and irritated, as he was showered with boos and chants of "Bra-dy!" while trying to explain that Ginn was a great kick returner, was great video. And so was his lame attempt to turn the mood in his favor by saying they needed to turn those thumbs downs to thumbs up. I'm sure he got a different finger after that.

Oh, if only Lions fans had the opportunity to do the same to Millen...

● And at least one blogger is excited about the Lions getting to select "Mr. Irrelevant" at pick #255. Congratulations, Ramzee Robinson. I hope you can play defensive back in the NFL, because the Lions need someone to do it. (Does the Tampa Two require cornerbacks? I'm just checking, because Detroit's off-season plans seem to imply it doesn't.) It's kind of amazing that Millen hasn't had that pick before, since so many of his other draft picks have literally become irrelevant.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Ambassador Bridge Watch: Two Days Until the NFL Draft

You've heard the jokes. You've probably made them several times yourself. NFL Draft Saturday is annually the Detroit Lions' Super Bowl. It's the one day in which hope, rather than disgust, is the prevailing emotion. It's the one time of the year where Lions fans feel like we actually won something. It's also the one day we'll tolerate someone (Mel Kiper) frequently mispronouncing Detroit as "DEE-troit." (Yes, Mason does it at Pistons games, but that's a style choice.)

This year, however, is different. At least it seems that way to me. Yes, as in years past, that sensation in our stomachs is anticipation. But rather than being laced with excitement, that feeling is spiked with dread.

What the hell is Matt Millen going to do with that #2 overall pick?

I attended three of four Michigan baseball games last weekend with Mr. Big Ten Hardball, and the Lions' draft probably took up 75% of our conversation. (Okay, maybe 50%.) A typical exchange went something like this:

Me: Man, the ball is taking some bad hops on the infield, don't you thi--

BTB: The Lions are going to take Gaines Adams with that pick! I know it!

Me: No way. They're not gonna do that, are they? They have to take Calvi--

BTB: They're gonna do it! They have a chance at three superstars, but they're gonna take a role player. It'll be a disaster.

Me: I'll keep my cell phone nearby on Saturday if you need me.

BTB: I might have to call. I don't know what I'm gonna do.

Later, Sam-Sam with the Wonder Cam joined in with the "Just don't pick Brady Quinn" sentiment.

Clearly, I hadn't been paying as much attention to this stuff as I had in past years, because I didn't know that this was the scuttlebutt around the Lions. I knew Millen and Co. were interested in Adams - because Sgt. Marinelli is all about his beloved defensive lineman - but the general consensus seemed to be that he wasn't worthy of the second overall pick. From what I understand, Adams can rush the passer - which the Lions certainly need - but isn't very good against the run. Can you risk such a high draft pick on a guy who has those types of questions surrounding him?

At #2, a defensive end better project as an all-pro/future Hall of Famer like Bruce Smith or Julius Peppers (or even, as the Houston Texans obviously hope, Mario Williams), someone who can either run around an offensive tackle and push him aside. But if Adams is essentially a heavier pass-rushing outside linebacker, well, aren't the Lions already overpaying a guy who was supposed to fill that role? Just look how productive he's been.

Not only that, but if the Lions are planning on drafting a defensive end, then why in the name of Barry Sanders did they designate Cory Redding (oh, he's a defensive tackle - wink, wink) as their franchise player and sign Dewayne White as a free agent? Okay, maybe the Lions didn't realize how good of a prospect Adams would be. But shouldn't they have, before deciding to invest most of their off-season spending money into the defensive line?

The biggest problem for the Lions is that none of the superstar talent in this draft ideally fits one of their glaring needs (although you could very easily argue that Detroit could use either of the projected top players), and since Millen has been utterly inept in building an NFL team up until now, he's left with too far too many holes to plug. He can't build around a prospective talent because he already tried that, and failed miserably. That's why I previously advocated Joe Thomas as the Lions' first-round pick. But in yet another example of Millen's piss-poor management, an offensive tackle likely doesn't make financial sense for the roster as presently constructed.

So if the Lions can't fill a need, they have to go with the best player available. And there's very little argument that Calvin Johnson is that guy. Almost (and when I say "almost," it's like 99%) every so-called expert and observer thinks he's the surest prospect in this draft, the most physically talented athlete with the greatest skills and the fewest questions about his overall game. This pick has to be a sure thing, and an near-unquestionable impact player. One player fulfills both of those criteria, and if he's there, you take him.

Just as many - if not more - people are standing by with their "Ha ha ha! Matt Millen took another wide receiver! What a surprise!" jokes. So there's been some speculation that Millen would pass on Johnson because he's afraid of the crap he'd take. If that's really true, then he should absolutely be fired after the draft. But I'd find that hard to believe. If he was that fearful of public opinion, he'd have resigned by now. Maybe this is kind of a silly position for a sports blogger to take, but who gives a $#!+ what people think? Build a winning team! Fans have their ideas about what the Lions should do, but ultimately that's what they really care about.

Besides, it's not like Detroit doesn't need another wide receiver to line up across from Roy Williams because all the other ones Millen brought in have totally crapped out. Mike Martz tried a new player in that spot almost every week last season. (And don't you dare say to me, "But they already signed Shaun McDonald.")

Having said all that, there's only one other option for the Lions, and it's so obviously the right thing to do that it almost isn't worth mentioning because it's simply understood. What do you do if you don't want to use a high draft pick? Trade it to another team who does. Move on down, pocket some extra picks, and get Adams or Patrick Willis, the two guys they apparently really want. (Or how about a frickin' defensive back? From the football I've watched in my lifetime, it seems to me that you need at least two cornerbacks on the field. Do the Lions even have that right now?)

Even if Millen has such a proposal on the table, we shouldn't be surprised that he hasn't taken it yet. He'd be crazy to. Wait until the last possible minute and see what other options exist, even if Atlanta has already made what's probably the best possible offer. (And sweet sassy molassy, that's a perfect fit.) Find out how bad other teams want to move into that #2 slot.

Of course, the Raiders could absolutely $#@% everything up for the Lions and take Johnson with their #1 overall pick, as Dan Shanoff did in Awful Announcing's Sports Bloggers Mock Draft, leaving Big Al with virtually no other choice than to take JaMarcus Russell. And that's probably what the Lions should do if that's how the real draft shakes out, although some other good QBs (Drew Stanton, John Beck) should be available in later rounds. Taking a quarterback with a top five pick is essentially a crapshoot, but in a couple of years (or sooner), the Lions will have a crying need for one. And you might as well get him now, with Jon Kitna being a proven mentor for quarterbacks.

Man, Detroit would be screwed if the Raiders didn't take Russell. My stomach hurts.

What the hell is Millen going to do with that #2 overall pick? Start staffing regular patrols around the Ambassador Bridge at approximately 12:30 p.m. EST on Saturday.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Happy Hour 04/24: Grant Hill Can't Have It Both Ways

At Detroit Bad Boys, Matt Watson has a response to Grant Hill's recent lamentations over playing on what turned out to be a broken ankle at the end of his days with the Pistons. Even if Hill is trying to lay blame elsewhere or revise history, I'm kind of glad he's bringing this subject up, because it's something I've always wondered about.

If Hill had to do it all over again, would he decide not to play on that ankle (even if it meant Detroit fans probably would've questioned his toughness)? Of course, it's not like the injury cost him financially, as Mike Bianchi points out in the Orlando Sentinel column that started this discussion.

It's natural to revisit this situation, I suppose, especially with Hill now facing his former team in a playoff series. But Hill's implied accusations come off as a little phony - and I think that's an issue many Detroit fans had with Hill, much as New York fans currently have with Alex Rodriguez - when it seems rather clear that playing with the injury and opting for surgery were his decision, and a situation over which he held all the control.

Such remarks seem almost silly when you consider - as Matt also pointed out at the AOL Fanhouse last month - that Arnie Kander, the Pistons' strength and conditioning coach, has worked wonders in rehabilitating Antonio McDyess and Chris Webber, whose injuries never seemed to heal with other teams. (The New York Times also cited Kander's value in keeping the team healthy last year.)

Regardless of whether or not you thought he was being entirely sincere at the time, I think Hill left Detroit in as classy a manner as he could. He didn't have to talk to local columnists or appear on sports talk radio shows to answer questions from hosts and fans, but he did - and not many athletes do that on their way out of town.

Maybe it was another example of Hill trying to get everyone to like him (though I think that's being a tad cynical), but at least he made an effort to keep things cool with the fans here. That's the Grant Hill I like to remember. And I really hope he doesn't say anything to change that perception as his career winds down toward its end.

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You Know You're Going to Lose a Series When...

[I know I haven't posted much here lately. Maybe (maybe?) I was a tad delusional in thinking I could keep both my baby and the new gig updated on a consistent basis. Plus, there's just been so much to write about in Detroit sports over the past few days that I really didn't know where to begin. As Big Al said, we're really fortunate to enjoy so much in this area. But I still intend to post stuff here 2-3 times a week. I appreciate you continuing to stop by and check for fresh material.]

It wasn't the most important shot in last night's Pistons-Magic playoff game. It didn't decide the outcome, and didn't result in a lead change. But if Orlando had any thoughts about getting back into the game, Rasheed Wallace banking in a shot clock beating, three-point heave with three minutes left had to crush those hopes. Detroit's lead went back up to 10, and the game was essentially over.

As you might imagine, Need4Sheed has video of the shot. It's a beaut. I'm not sure what's better: Keyon Dooling's "Son of a biscuit!" reaction on the bench or 'Sheed's "That's right - I know I'm bad" stone-faced expression as he backpedaled toward the Pistons' end of the court.

Despite the eight-point margin at the time, the Pistons seemed well on their way to winning the game anyway, so 'Sheed's shot was really more of an emphatic smackdown than a game-changing moment. You get the feeling that the only thing keeping these games close is Detroit getting bored (or, frankly, a little bit arrogant).

At virtually every position, The Pistons have a match-up advantage over Orlando. The exception should be at center, where Dwight Howard looks more physically gifted and athletic than either 'Sheed or Chris Webber. Yet Detroit's experience and physical presence (and an upset stomach, apparently) pushed Howard off his game, showing him he has still has a lot to learn. (And this will show how little I've watched the NBA this season, other than Pistons games, but when did Howard stick his 21-year-old head on Karl Malone's body? Dude is pumped.)

It's probably most clear at point guard, where Chauncey Billups can do absolutely anything he wants against Jameer Nelson. Nelson is a tough player who might be quicker than Billups, and can occasionally dart past him to the basket. But in every other area, he (literally) comes up short. Chauncey can see the floor over Nelson, and make any pass he needs to. He's strong to push through any arm, hand, or body check that might be attempted on defense. He can post him up down low, he can shoot over him on the perimeter, and can toss him around like a rag doll when moving without the ball.

At the other end of the floor, it's much the same case. Nelson can't pass around or over Billups. He can't push him out of the way. And Billups also has more than enough experience to know where Nelson might go with the ball. It's one of the more glaring mismatches you might see in a playoff series.

But what else can Brian Hill do? He tried putting Grant Hill on Billups, but that can't last the whole game. Not unless they're okay with Tayshaun Prince scoring 30 points a game. (And Hedo Turkoglu apparently is. That guy sure can shoot, though.) Carlos Arroyo? Yes, Coach Hill, please keep trying that.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Tigers Fan Community Mourns a Loss

The news coming out of Blacksburg, VA yesterday was just horrifying and numbing. Over at SB Nation, many bloggers were debating whether or not to post something about the tragedy, if for no other reason than to acknowledge that there are much bigger, far more serious things going on in this world than sports. I decided not to say anything, because... what can you really say?

The shootings were just such a terrible tragedy and I guess I figured if people wanted (or needed) to use sports as an escape last night, that was at least something to offer. I can't say I'm entirely comfortable with that decision a day later, however. But several other bloggers felt differently, and I'm glad they followed their hearts on the matter.

I watched much of the television news coverage this morning and was paralyzed at seeing photos of several victims, each of whom looked far too young and hopeful to have their lives taken away, and hear testimonials from those who witnessed the carnage and were trying to cope with losing friends and family members. I can't even imagine what it must feel like to be a parent, relative, or friend of anyone who was senselessly killed.

A college campus should be a safe place, where someone feels free to grow, to find him or herself, to become part of a community, to learn. For so many of us, some of the best years of our lives were spent in such environments. It should never feel like a place where you'd fear for your safety. And it most certainly should not be defined by such a heartbreaking outbreak of violence.

Within the Detroit Tigers fan community, this tragedy has unfortunately hit very close to home, as one of its own was a victim of yesterday's shootings. Brian Bluhm, a frequent commentor on The Detroit Tigers Weblog and the Motown Sports forum was one of those who had their life taken far too early, with so much promise ahead. Those who lost a good friend and fellow fan have posted tributes today to Brian.

The Detroit Tigers Weblog

Mack Avenue Tigers

Tiger Tales

● Two posts at Minor League Ball

Motown Sports

If I have missed any others, I sincerely apologize. My deepest sympathies to those who knew Brian, and condolences to his family, as well as everyone who has been affected by this tragedy. No one should have to go through something like this.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Here's To You, Mr. Robinson

Major League Baseball can get a lot of things wrong (last week's decision to play the Angels and Indians in Milwaukee might be the latest example), and professional athletes often get knocked for lacking a sense of history and tradition. Today, however, both parties are getting it right by commemorating the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In honor of the first black man to play in the major leagues, more than 150 players will wear Robinson's #42 on the field today. Six Detroit Tigers - Gary Sheffield, Craig Monroe, Pudge Rodriguez, Marcus Thames, Lloyd McClendon, and Curtis Granderson - will pay tribute, while six entire ballclubs - the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, and of course, the Los Angeles Dodgers - will outfit their players, coaches, and ballboys with Robinson's number.

I wrote a longer piece about the occasion (as well as a paper I wrote in high school) over at Bless You Boys, and am hoping you'll head over there to check it out. I also included a bunch of links to other places that have posted a wealth of material on Robinson, his experiences, and his legacy. Today should be a pretty special day, one we don't get to see too often anymore in professional sports.


Friday, April 13, 2007

He Would've Been a Great Sports Blogger

I wrote my thoughts on Kurt Vonnegut's death yesterday on my personal blog, but there's a footnote that is just too funny not to share. And it's sports-related, which is why I'm repeating it here. If you haven't seen this already, Awful Announcing (via The Wade Blogs) posted a hilarious anecdote about Vonnegut's early writing career.

In its early days of publication, Sports Illustrated tried to boost the quality of the magazine's writing by brooming out mediocre sportswriters in favor of literary-grade storytellers who may or may not have cared or known anything about sports, but could write one hell of a feature. One of those writers was Vonnegut, who was hired to compose a piece about a race horse that had jumped over the fence and into the stands.

How did that go? Here's the account from a 1998 review in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Michael MacCambridge's The Franchise: A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine (which appears to be out of print):

Kurt Vonnegut worked briefly at SI until being told to write a story about a race horse that had jumped the rail and terrorized the infield at a local track. Vonnegut stared at his desk for what seemed like hours before finally departing the building without a word. Inside his deserted typewriter was this: ''The horse jumped over the fucking fence.''

C'mon, how great is that?! Vonnegut's editor certainly couldn't have complained that he buried the lead. Maybe I'll try that on the sports blog. Here's how a post on tonight's Pistons-Raptors game could go tomorrow might go: One basketball team scored more fucking points than the other one.

▪▪ "Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?" -- Kurt Vonnegut

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Big Al's On the Clock!

As I'm flush with eager anticipation for Big Al's pick for the Detroit Lions in Awful Announcing's 2007 Sports Blogger NFL Mock Draft, I stumbled upon this video at Blogging the Boys that I wish I'd have sent to him before making his selection last night.

The clip is a bit on the long side, and I don't quite know that I agree with the comparison that its author is making, but it's most certainly food for thought as the Lions are presented with the opportunity to select a potential all-world talent.

I don't know who Big Al drafted in his proxy Matt Millen role - we won't know until Monday - and I actually don't envy the dilemma he must have faced (though I certainly envy being put in such a position). But I do wonder if the following sounds and images were floating across his thought patterns as he contemplated his decision.

It's a belated wish now, Big Al, but good luck - we're all counting on you.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Happy Hour 04/11: Keeping My Lions Glass Half Empty

Well, dagnabbit - Big Al already beat me to this, but while driving around town today and listening to the announcement of the NFL schedules (and later marveling at how much air time ESPN was devoting to this as I watched during lunch), it seemed like perfectly good material for a post, so I'm still going through with it. Not only do I hate swallowing a decent (if unoriginal) idea, but hey, I already typed most of this out.

Last year, I pegged the Detroit Lions for a 6-10 record and third-place finish in the NFC North division. What little optimism fueled that prediction was based on a belief that the Lions would at least be better than the Green Bay Packers. Oops. Apparently, I seriously underestimated the restorative powers of Sensodyne for Brett Favre.

Of course, I realize that the roster the Lions will take into September hasn't yet been fully formed. There's that whole draft thing, and then whatever free agents they could pick up following early summer and training camp cuts.

Also, it surely stands to reason that Motown's mighty gridiron heroes would have to show some improvement after a one-year apprenticeship in the Mike Martz Happy-Happy-Fun-Time offensive and Tampa Two defensive schemes. Not to give the rest of this post away, but you'll soon discover that I'm right in line with that line of thinking.

So let's get to it, and run down the Detroit Lions' 2007 schedule:

Sept. 9 @ Raiders: Right away, the naysayers will have a chance to utter those tired refrains, "Same ol' Lions" and "I told you they sucked." On paper, the Raiders are a worse football team. Yet going to the West Coast will throw off their body clocks and circadian rhythms. Making it more infuriating is that the Lions could be beaten by their former back-up quarterback, if Josh McCown is traded to Oakland, as is rumored. LOSS

Sept. 16 - Vikings: Though the Lions have become even worse than history and conventional wisdom might inform you, I'll still cling to the theory that they tend to split the season series with the Vikings. And we pretty much know they won't win in the Metrodome. I tend to think Minnesota could be terrible, but have no hard facts to back that up right now. So the Lions will be 1-1, and for one week, Lions fans will actually allow that bud of optimism to flower. WIN

Sept. 23 @ Eagles: Dude, you can't be serious. Beat the Eagles at Philadelphia? Broham, please. LOSS

Sept. 30 - Bears: You know, I think this is kind of a tough call. Because the Lions tend to play the Bears closely at home, and really should've beaten them at least a couple of times recently at Ford Field. Yet Chicago always turns out to be better than I think, and Detroit typically finds a way to lose this one. LOSS

Oct. 7 @ Redskins: This is another one that could go either way because the Redskins seem to have no rhyme or reason to their team building, despite paying their coaching staff more than some NFL franchise pay their players. But this is a road game. And I think Gregg Williams' blitz-heavy schemes will make life miserable for Jon Kitna. LOSS

Oct. 14 Bye Week: Yeah, yeah, yeah - hey, at least the Lions didn't lose this week. Har. You should do an open mike night. But you'll probably also have to do that yard work you've been putting off. The leaves have been piling up. Or if you live in a condo or apartment, you could catch the new Farrelly brothers movie.

Oct. 21 - Buccaneers: Sure, Jeff Garcia could come in and stick it to the fans that (justifiably) thought he was absolute dog vomit and only on the roster because of Steve Mariucci's mancrush. But he could also get pounded like a rag doll and crushed into the Ford Field turf like ground-up tires. And though Jon Gruden is surely familiar enough with Rod Marinelli's defense to know how to beat it, I think Marinelli's familiarity with Gruden's schemes will trump that. WIN

Oct. 28 @ Bears: The only difference between this game and the Lions' last few visits to Soldier Field is that it's not scheduled two weeks into the season. LOSS

Nov. 4 - Broncos: To me, this is the toughest call on the schedule. The Broncos should've made the playoffs last year, and arguably have made the most notable improvements this off-season. And if you look at Denver's schedule, this could be a trap game, coming the week before a division match-up with the Chiefs. Once upon a time, you could count on the Lions to beat a better team at least once a season. Those days are long gone. LOSS

Nov. 11 @ Cardinals: But you can still count on the Lions to lose to an inferior team that they should absolutely beat, home or away. Sadly, that hasn't changed. LOSS

Nov. 18 - Giants: If Tom Coughlin hasn't already been fired by now, his job security will be obliterated after this game. The Lions' defense might actually make Eli Manning cry. This could be Detroit's most impressive win of the season. WIN

Nov. 22 - Packers: For yet another year, the greatest myth in all of Detroit sports - the idea that the Lions are somehow unbeatable on Thanksgiving Day - will continue to be debunked. Favre might actually gnaw on a turkey leg as he torches the Lions' secondary (which will avoid anonymity only because their names will be constantly mentioned as they're beaten for touchdowns throughout the season) for another 80-yard bomb. LOSS

Dec. 9 @ Vikings: Even if they don't split with Minnesota, the Lions sure as hell won't win this one. But I still think the Vikings could stink. LOSS

Dec. 16 - Cowboys: You might say that them Cowboys are itching for some Texas-style vengeance after the Lions embarrassed them in Dallas last year. Are you kidding me? The Lions own the Cowboys, dude. WIN

Dec. 23 - Chiefs: If Dick Vermeil was still Kansas City's coach, I'd almost say this was a guaranteed win for Detroit. Martz wouldn't sleep all week, trying to figure out ways to beat his former boss. But Herm Edwards is the coach now, and I think his head would explode if the Chiefs lost this game. Fortunately, I think brain matter cleans off the field turf just fine. Call the Lions butter, 'cuz they'll be on a roll! WIN

Dec. 30 @ Packers: This is the deal the Lions had to make to bring the Packers in on Thanksgiving. In return, they'll have to play a late December game at Lambeau Field in bone-chilling cold. Favre will be buying all the booze for his New Year's Eve party as he scorches the Lions' secondary for another 80-yard bomb. Oh, sweet merciful end. LOSS

So after counting all the blue words and red words, I have the Lions going 5-11. Technically, that is an improvement over last season, so all of you who think that they have to improve if for no other reason than they can't be worse should be absolutely correct. And though we've heard rumblings that Matt Millen could be done if the Lions don't finish .500 (and therein lies the true kernel of hope for Lions fans), you have to think he'll somehow be able to sell this whole improvement/making progress/it's so close to coming together thing to William Clay Ford yet again.

I'm sorry. For you. For me. For all of us. You might want to start reviewing prospects for the other NFL team you inevitably decide to root for early this year.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Is This the Week I Get Back Into Hockey?

So the NHL playoffs begin this week. The Red Wings begin their post-season Thursday against the Calgary Flames (and old friend Darren McCarty). The Wings' marketing department has rolled out their new slogan for the Stanley Cup run: Join the Red Wave.

Usually, I'm less than impressed by these dippy rallying cries, but there's something appropriate about this one. In past years, there was no "joining" in Detroit. You'd been following the Wings all season long. There was no playoff bandwagon to jump onto. Everyone was already excited and eagerly anticipating the affirmation that the playoffs would surely bring.

But now, it does kind of feel like fans need to be recruited. More specifically, they need to be reminded. The Wings once ruled Detroit. You know, "Hockeytown" and all that. Sure, maybe some of that was because the Pistons and Tigers were down, but there was also a genuine love and passion for the team. And for the sport.

I know I need to myself that at one point, I loved hockey. I couldn't get enough of either the NHL or college games. Come playoff time, nothing mattered more than the Wings game. I cancelled dates. (And as you might imagine, they were rarely, if ever, rescheduled.) I tried to grow a playoff beard as the weather neared summer temperatures because that's just what you did at that time of year.

I alienated family members by sticking to my superstitions. Every time I watched the first period of a Wings playoff game, they seemed to lose. So I'd listen to the first period on the radio, sometimes in another room, sometimes in the car. One Sunday afternoon in May of 1998, the family had gathered for a birthday dinner, and someone wanted to turn on the game. I told everyone my superstition, and of course, everyone laughed. But I was serious. I was not going to watch that game on TV. There was too much at stake.

So while the rest of my family ate dinner, I sat in my car to listen to the beginning of the Wings game. And I ate my meal during the first intermission. The Wings won their second straight Stanley Cup that year. I'm comfortable with my decision.

But I can't imagine doing such a thing now. At least not for a hockey game. (I could think of several reasons to bail on my extended family during a meal, however.)

I wrote a Red Wings preview for a magazine assignment, and listening to various analysts give me quotes about Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Dominik Hasek stirred up some of those old feelings. I thought that writing that article might reignite my interest for hockey. But I didn't watch any regular season games this year, other than when Steve Yzerman's jersey was retired. And I barely checked to see how the Wings were doing. If a blog I normally read decides to write about hockey that day, I often either just skim the post or skip it altogether. And as I'm off to another site, I find myself thinking, "Why is he writing about hockey? No one cares anymore."

What got me thinking about all this is an article in today's Detroit News. Apparently, I'm not the only one who's either trying to re-familiarize myself with the sport or just turning away from it altogether. Who's got tickets? The Red Wings do. Lots of 'em. Need an entire row? Operators are standing by. 2,500 season ticket holders passed on playoff tickets.

Times are most definitely tough around here economically, and those seats ain't getting any cheaper, but that's almost unheard of. Maybe people decided to throw their ticket money at the Tigers this year.

Anyway, I think I'll tune in on Thursday night. Although I do love The Office (Oh, does someone do a podcast about that show? Ahem.) and 30 Rock...

▪▪ While I'm on the subject of hockey, belated congratulations to the Michigan State hockey team for winning the national championship on Saturday night. I got home in time to catch the third period, and was rewarded with one hell of an ending. If I recall correctly, MSU was "the hockey school" in the state when I started to become familiar with college hockey. And Munn Ice Arena is always a nice place to catch a game (though not as loud as Yost - c'mon, you know I'm right). So a tip of the cap to Sparty for bringing a trophy back to Michigan.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Happy Hour 04/06: You Know, I Never Liked That Guy

I won't make a habit of recycling content from Bless You Boys over here, but I think this case deserves an exception. Not only is it an outrage, but frankly, I still feel bad about not showing more blogger solidarity the last time Colin Cowherd showed disrespect for the blogosphere, and wish I'd have chimed in at the time. Hopefully, this makes up for it in some regard.

I originally found out about this indirectly when I wanted to link to The Big Lead for a story on Curtis Granderson. Then I read Deadspin's account of it, and later Big Al's.

If you're not familiar with the story, this is basically what happened: For whatever reason, Cowherd thought it would be funny to flex some nationally syndicated radio muscle and use his audience to take down some unsuspecting (yet apparently successful enough to attract such attention) blog. So he asked his listeners to flood TBL with hits, thus crashing the server and taking the site down (where it still remains as I write this).

This is the same guy, mind you, who previously thought blogs were so insignificant that he could just swipe their material without proper credit or attribution.

Why would Cowherd do such a thing? I have no idea, but a conspiracy theory is gnawing at me. The Big Lead has aired out a lot of ESPN's dirty laundry in its year-plus of existence, so maybe someone at the network decided to strike back. So who on the ESPN Radio roster would abide such a request? Mike & Mike and Dan Patrick still have some professional and journalistic integrity to them, and likely wouldn't accommodate such a fool's errand.

Hey! Let's go with our resident corporate stooge, the one who will do anything we ask him to do. Get Cowherd! He already hates blogs for exposing him as an unoriginal fraud and complete tool. Tell him this will get his show on in a couple of large markets that won't put it on the air. And if he hesitates, threaten to take away that three-minute segment of his that we bury at the end of the Sunday morning SportsCenter.

Again, I don't know why Cowherd would do this, other than to try and defend the corporate interests and big markets he frequently sucks up to (unlike his predecessor, Tony Kornheiser) from something they all don't really comprehend, and therefore feel threatened by.

And I don't know what possible recourse could cause his radio show as much damage as he caused The Big Lead. Probably the most productive counter-measure is to follow The M Zone's lead and express your disapproval to those who can actually do something about it. Either leave a comment for ESPN's ombudsman or e-mail presidents of ESPN and ABC Radio.

♦ george.bodenheimer (at) espn (dot) com

♦ john.hare (at) abc (dot) com

It's bad enough Cowherd (or should I say "Schrutebag") gets away with 15 hours of lame radio a week. He shouldn't be able to get away with being a bully and an @$$hole, too.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Happy Hour 04/05: Non Sequitur Shots!

♦ I'm not a Washington Wizards fan, but I was looking forward to seeing what Gilbert Arenas could do in this year's playoffs. Watching him and LeBron-Bron go at it last year was some of the most fun I had watching basketball last year. And now that Agent Zero is out for the rest of the season, the Eastern Conference playoffs just won't be as exciting. I should be more scared of Miami and Chicago as a Pistons fan, but Arenas is the guy I didn't want to face in the earlier rounds.

♦ Here's more on the current misery afflicting Wizards fans from Bullets Forever and DC Sports Bog.

♦ Another thing that might scare me as a Pistons fan is if Rip Hamilton decides to lose his damn mind again, as he did last night against Chicago's Tyrus Thomas. What the hell was that? Maybe Rip just wanted an early shower since the Pistons were getting their butts kicked at home (106-88) by the Bulls.

Here's more from Detroit Bad Boys, including the news that the NBA won't suspend Hamilton for his behavior.

♦ By the way, for all the talk about how many technical fouls Rasheed Wallace draws and how he'll draw suspensions because of them, how surprising is it to read that Hamilton is one tech away from sitting out for a game? I had no idea it was like that.

♦ Following John Beilein's official introduction as Michigan men's basketball coach yesterday, I found this Yahoo! Sports column by Adrian Wojnarowski on a message board that should get Wolverines fans really excited.

The article is from January, long before "Michigan" and "John Beilein" would be in the same sentence, and wonders how Beilein's offensive schemes would work in the NBA, not at another school. In Wojnarowski's eyes, that should've been the next jump for Beilein. Somebody show this column to Manny Harris.

♦ And wouldn't it be some cold shit painful irony if Manny Harris ended up going to Tennessee, which was a rumor making the rounds last night? And after all of the down-on-my-knees pleading I did (in private, anyway) for my homeboy Bruce Pearl to come to Ann Arbor. Apparently, that's what Coach meant when he said he could recruit the state of Michigan.

♦ By the way, I know Beilein's doing this now largely because he just got the job, but it's been nice to hear him make the rounds on local radio over the past couple of days. I hope that's something he keeps doing as he settles into the job, and I was glad to see financial provisions attached to doing radio and TV shows, because after Tommy Amaker's media blackout, Michigan's basketball coach has to be out there so much that you almost get sick of him. And so far, it looks like Beilein is up to that task.

♦ From here on out, I think virtually everything I write about baseball will be at Bless You Boys (and it's been going well over there so far), but I thought I'd link to my 2007 Detroit Tigers, AL Central, and MLB season previews.

There's a distinct aroma of homer to my predictions, but it's not like the Tigers aren't actually good enough to follow through on such expectations. For a quick recap, here's how I see the AL Central:
  1. Detroit
  2. Cleveland
  3. Minnesota
  4. Chicago
  5. Kansas City
Joining the Tigers as AL division winners will be the Yankees and Angels, with the Red Sox as the Wild Card. In the NL, the Braves, Brewers and Dodgers will win their division, and the Mets will take the Wild Card. The Tigers will make it back to the World Series and beat the Dodgers.

Your Most Valuable Players will be Cleveland's Grady Sizemore and the Mets' Jose Reyes. Cy Young Awards will go to Minnesota's Johan Santana and the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano. And the Rookies of the Year will be Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka (even though he probably shouldn't be eligible for the award) and Arizona's Chris Young.

♦ Finally, is ESPN really devoting two hours of programming tonight to the NFL schedule? C'mon, man - show a frickin' baseball game. The season just started.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Last Word on Tommy? Part 1

I've probably embarrased myself by declaring so much love for Tony Kornheiser's show on Washington Post Radio before, but he had two interviews last week that I think could be of interest to Michigan basketball fans. So during this lull, before John Beilein is officially introduced as the Wolverines' next coach (and in the meantime, Maize n Brew has given him a checklist to go over), I figured this could be a good way to pass the time.

Last Thursday, Kornheiser talked to his old buddy John Feinstein about the Final Four, and more specifically, Kentucky's interest in Billy Donovan. Toward the end of the interview, however, Mr. Tony snuck in a question about Tommy Amaker, whom he still holds a curiosity for because he's a "local kid" from northern Virginia, and - as Michigan fans might hurt to remember - he was considered something of a future coaching star when he arrived in Ann Arbor.

I've transcribed the conversation about Amaker for you to read (which I hope I'm allowed to do), but if you'd prefer to listen to it yourself, the show is available via podcast. (You can also download the show directly here.) If you're pressed for time, the Amaker stuff is from the 51:27 to 53:33 mark.

Tony Kornheiser: What's the deal with Tommy Amaker?

John Feinstein: I wish I knew the answer to that. To me, Tommy has everything that should make him a successful college coach. He's a bright guy, he came out of a great program, he learned from a great coach, he's someone people like when they meet him. He's gotta be great in the homes. You know, any mother has gotta look at Tommy Amaker and say, "I want my kid to be with him for four years." He recruited some very highly rated high school players when he was at Michigan, and they never, ever lived up to their alleged potential.

TK: Mm-hmm.

JF: And this year, they were seniors. He had four seniors on the team this year. You know what's interesting about a situation like this? They're playing Ohio State the last Saturday of the regular season, they're up six with three and a half to go... and they don't score again, they lose the game. If they win that game, they're in the tournament, and Tommy is still the coach.

TK: Right.

JF: It's that slender a margin sometimes. You know, that's the business. And Tommy understands that. Every coach in the business understands that, that there can be one play - literally - that decides a coach's future one way or the other. And in this case, they didn't get it done in a couple of games in the last two or three years. They're about three wins away from being in the NCAA the last three years, and he's probably got a contract extension, but they didn't win --

TK: Will he get another Division I, high profile job, for his next job, or will he have to do sort of what Matt Doherty did, and go way down?

JF: I don't know about how far down he'll have to go. But he'll have to take a step down. He's not getting a Big East job. He's not getting an ACC job, you know? And again, knowing Tommy, he might, at this point in his life, be saying, "maybe that's more the route I wanna go. Maybe it'd be more fun for me to coach at that next level now. I made a lot of money." His wife's a psychiatrist. It's not, like, you know, they're gonna be hungry. Maybe he might enjoy that next level down more. I don't know. I'm purely speculating on that.

On Friday, Kornheiser also asked Jay Bilas about Amaker, and... you can probably imagine how that went. But I've transcribed that in a second post, which you can read below.

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The Last Word on Tommy? Part 2

On his Friday Washington Post Radio show, Tony Kornheiser had ESPN analyst Jay Bilas on as a guest, presumably to talk about the Final Four. However, Kornheiser brought up Tommy Amaker (as he did with John Feinstein the day before) at the beginning of the interview, and it ended up dominating almost the entire segment.

As you might have guessed, Bilas had quite a bit to say on the subject as he stuck up for his good friend and former teammate. If you've been following this story for a while, some of this stuff will probably be familiar to you, as Bilas said many of the same things immediately after Amaker was fired by Michigan. He also made the comparison to Gary Williams, which Rob Parker also tried in Amaker's defense.

Again, I've transcribed the dialogue, which is a bit longer than the conversation with John Feinstein. But if you'd prefer to listen to it yourself, the show is available via podcast. (You can also download the show directly here.) If you're pressed for time, the Amaker stuff is from the 33:00 to 43:00 mark.

Tony Kornheiser: This is interesting - and if you don't want to talk about this, you can actually say on the air, "I don't want to talk about this" - but your teammate for years at Duke, the point guard at Duke, was Tommy Amaker. I think I'm correct on that, right?

Jay Bilas: Yes. Oh yeah. We played for three years together. We coached for three years together.

TK: I'm quite certain he's a dear friend of yours.

JB: Yes.

TK: And he did not succeed - at Seton Hall, the jury was out, but at least he made the tournament - and he did not make it at all in Michigan. He's personable, and he's smart, and he's accomplished - and he would seem to be a perfect candidate to be a big-time basketball coach. And I wonder why it's not working?

JB: Well, I think it did work at Seton Hall. You know, he took over a program that was in bad shape, and he turned it into a winner, and he recruited a bunch of great players, including Eddie Griffin, who wound up being a top pick in the NBA draft. And they did get to the Sweet 16, and then he left for Michigan.

And when he took over at Michigan, I'm not sure... Listen, I'm not in the business of making excuses for friends or otherwise, but --

TK: Right, right.

JB: -- but what I think happened is, when he took over Michigan, that place was in a hole like I can't imagine. He was there for six years; five of the six years, they were on probation. They were forbidden from going to the NCAA Tournament one of the years that they were qualified to go, and I think would've gone his second year there.

And Tony, when you look - just for example - if you looked at Gary Williams, and when he took over at Maryland, and the hole that place was in --

TK: Terrible.

JB: -- it was very similar to what Michigan was going through. Michigan fired Steve Fisher, they hired a guy named Brian Ellerbe that actually coached at Loyola-Maryland, and lost there, and wound up the head coach because they fired Fisher at Michigan. So it was similar to what Maryland had gone through - without the horrible tragedy, the Bias death - but hiring Bob Wade, and then [Williams] taking it over.

Amaker's record at Michigan, in his first six years, was better than Gary Williams' first six years at Maryland. But Michigan didn't have the patience to see this thing through. And I'll tell you one thing that most people don't know. He had a point guard there named Daniel Horton; graduated not this year, but last year. I think it was three years ago.

Horton had gotten in an altercation with his girlfriend, and the school decided to suspend Horton - through the basketball program - for the entire season. Now, Amaker didn't agree with that. I certainly agree with it when I heard about it. But Amaker remained silent about it; he did what the school wanted. But the truth was, Horton was being suspended for what Steve Fisher did, not for what he did. And I thought it was wrong, because you should treat each kid the same, and handle each of these things the same.

The football program didn't have to worry about that, because the basketball program had been through a horrible scene where they cheated, and they had to pull all their banners down --

TK: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

JB: -- they had to vacate five years of games. Five or six years of games. Including two Final Four appearances. And that's what they were punishing the Horton kid for. And that's one of the reasons they didn't make the tournament that year. So it's those kinds of things that we can look at it from afar and say, "Six years, no tournament - he's gotta go."

But while Michigan's sitting there, talking about "everybody wants this job"... If so many people really wanted that job, and it was so great - and it is better now than it was when Amaker took it over - why didn't Tubby Smith go there? He went to Minnesota!

TK: Yeah...

JB: The truth is, it's not that great of a job. It's a good job, it's a Big Ten job. But they're going to wind up with... you know, they're gonna get a good coach. They're gonna wind up hiring either a mid-major coach like Chris Lowery or someone like him. Or Kevin Stallings from Vanderbilt, or something like that. And that's what Michigan is dealing with right now, because their facilities are awful.

Amaker and his staff had to drive from their office to practice. They couldn't, like, walk downstairs or walk in the same building. They had to get in their cars and drive to practice - which is ludicrous.

TK: What happens to a guy like Tommy Amaker now? Is it sort of like with Matt Doherty, where you have to take a couple of steps down? Do you get out of coaching altogether? How does it work?

JB: Well, he's so versatile, he could do a number of different things. But he's going to stay in coaching. And he'll, I'm sure, be interviewed for things. But Tommy, he keeps things very close to the vest and very quiet. He's a very dignified person, and handles things, in my judgment, the right way.

TK: Yeah, he's a local for us. I mean, he's from northern Virginia, so it's why I bring it up.

JB: Listen, I don't want to sit and wax poetic about Tommy all day...

TK: You can.

JB: But there's no player I played with that I admire more than Tommy. None. He was the best teammate I've ever had, and remains one of my best friends. Not because of any other reason than he's an unbelievably good guy, a good person. I'd hire him today, if I had a job - whatever it was. I think he's a big-time basketball coach. And I think he will be, again, in the eyes of sort of the casual observers. But what does a guy do in his position? He probably won't get the big-time job now, like a Big Ten job or something like that. He probably will have to take what some people would think is a step down.

But he's a really good coach, and a really good guy. This is something that happens in basketball, which is why it's important that you always take into account the circumstances of any job you take. There are some jobs that you're better off not taking, even though they may be great later on, because the circumstances aren't going to be in your favor during that time period. And if you don't turn it right away - and Tommy did turn it; he went to postseason and he won 20-plus games three times while he was there - he just didn't get over that NCAA Tournament hump.

You know, Tony - one other thing: Look at Stan Heath. He went to two tournaments in a row and Frank Broyles fired him.

TK: Yeah, at Arkansas.

JB: So there's no rhyme or reason to it.

Again, consider the source. Bilas obviously can't be objective about this, though he raises a good point about how much Michigan continued to punish itself for the sins of the Steve Fisher era.

After Bilas got off the phone with Kornheiser, however, Mr. Tony pointed out the folly of the Gary Williams comparison to his co-host. Even if Amaker and Williams initially found themselves in similar situations, Williams had Maryland at the top of the ACC in six years. Amaker, as we're painfully familiar with, couldn't even get Michigan into the NCAA Tournament within that same period. And now, all parties are moving on.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

All That's Left is the Official Presser

It looks like it's as official as official gets: Your next Michigan men's basketball coach will be John Beilein.

From the Ann Arbor News:
West Virginia's John Beilein has agreed to be Michigan's men's basketball coach, four independent sources told The News Monday night.

Reached via phone, Michigan athletic director Bill Martin declined to confirm or deny the story.

Earlier Monday, a source confirmed Michigan had offered Beilein a contract, but said there was no timetable for a decision.

MGoBlog, Michigan Sports Center, and Maize n Brew have each confirmed the report through various sources.

Once the initial explosion of speculation occurred after Amaker's firing cleared out, this apparently became a rather narrow coaching search pretty quickly. But Michigan may not have had much choice once several other jobs opened up around the country. I'm guessing we'll never quite know the truth on that, though perhaps the introductory press conference will be enlightening. Hey, you never know.

By the way, it's not yet clear if Beilein will be introduced tomorrow. The first thing on the coach's agenda for Tuesday is to meet with his West Virginia squad and give them the news first-hand.

Here's some biographical info on Beilein, courtesy of the Ann Arbor News' Nathan Fenno.

From the Take It or Leave It Bureau, the Detroit News' Terry Foster says he hears that Beilein isn't interested in recruiting Detroit or Flint. Yet he doesn't pass along where he's heard such things, either. (Foster also said he heard Beilein may have soured on the Michigan job, which is obviously untrue one day later.)

▪▪ Meanwhile, it's also now being reported that Iowa has hired Butler's Todd Lickliter for their head coaching vacancy. And he will be introduced on Tuesday. (Here's the official announcement from the University of Iowa.) Does that affect how you feel about Michigan's choice, by any chance? Just curious.

Here's more on that from Steve Alford's Hair Gel.

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The Best Sports Day of the Year!

With it being Opening Day in baseball, the new gig is taking up most of my attention today. If you're interested, please check out my 2007 Detroit Tigers and AL Central previews over at Bless You Boys.

Otherwise, I can see that plenty of people are stopping by to see if I have anything to offer on John Beilein and the Michigan men's basketball job. Unfortunately, I just have to go with what's been reported. Michigan's offered the job, and Beilein is listening.

More on that tomorrow, hopefully (and not just because the Tigers will have an off day.) Please forgive me for the rerun, but since today is the best sports day of the year, I hope you'll indulge me repeating much of what I wrote around the same time last April (with a few appropriate edits).

Today might be my favorite day on the calendar. Christmas brings some nice presents, and so does my birthday. Halloween allows you to dress up. Memorial Day often means the first cookout of the spring.

But the first Monday in April, with Major League Baseball's Opening Day games being played in the afternoon and evening, followed by college basketball's National Championship game at night, is a sports holiday. We should all have the day off - especially if your team is playing at home today, as the Tigers are in Detroit.

Some of you might think the opening Sunday of the NFL season is more exciting. And I wouldn't argue much with that. I'm much more likely to spend the entire day in front of the TV (especially because it's a Sunday) on that day than I will be today.

I'm not saying it's my favorite time of year. That would be September, with college and pro football getting started, and the late-season pennant races in baseball. Every weekend (and most weeknights) seems to have something at stake in the fall.

But there's something about today - with the end of one season and the beginning of another - that feels more special to me. And this will be the first time in a long time that I'll really be able to enjoy it. In the last few years, I either couldn't (or didn't) get the day off from work, or I had a paper due and ended up pulling an all-nighter because I spent all day watching TV. Of course, I could never fully enjoy watching baseball and basketball with the dark cloud of a term paper and a night of no sleep looming over my head.

Not this year. The calendar is cleared. I have a big sandwich ready. The day began with picking up the Detroit Free Press baseball preview this morning, and they're on my coffee table, along with Sports Illustrated's preview, ready for my perusal. It's time to rock. Bring on the Blue Jays and Tigers!

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