Sports Outside the Beltway

Ramzee Robinson 2007′s ‘Mr. Irrelevant’

NFL Draft Logo 2007 Ramzee Robinson University of Alabama Detroit Lions Photo University of Alabama cornerback Ramzee Robinson has the dubious distinction of being the last player taken in the 2007 NFL Draft, making him the honorary “Mr. Irrelevant.” He was taken with the 45th pick in the 7th round, 255 overall, as a compensatory pick by the Detroit Lions.

That coinage dates from the days when the NFL draft lasted fourteen or more rounds. Ramzee Robinson actually has a decent chance of making an NFL roster if he can contribute at least on special teams. He was a three year starter with the Crimson Tide in the toughest division in college football.


The Story behind Nick Saban’s Cajun Comments

A South Florida Sports reporter leaked the off the record comments to a radio station.

Three reporters representing The Miami Herald, The Palm Beach Post and The South Florida Sun-Sentinel met with Nick Saban on Jan. 3 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the day after he left the Dolphins, and in the ensuing 45-minute interview, the coach made a handful of off-the-record remarks.

One of those remarks included explicit language and a slur against Cajuns, and became public when Miami Herald reporter Jeff Darlington shared a recording of Saban’s words with a South Florida sports radio host.

The coach’s slur was not initially published by The Herald because of the coach’s request for that portion of the interview to remain private.

Two weeks later, Darlington e-mailed an audio file of the conversation that included the slur to 560-WQAM radio host Orlando Alzugaray, who aired the comments on his morning radio show in both South Florida and Mobile.

Copies from those airings then hit the Internet.

”In poor judgment, I decided to e-mail another journalist an audio sampling of an interview that took place in Nick Saban’s office,” Darlington said. “Though I did not expect the clip to be used, it was still my responsibility to make sure the audio was never published in any way. I apologize for my bad decision.

“My recorder was on the table in front of Coach Saban, in plain view, and he knew the conversation was being recorded. However, I never initially reported the material because he indicated to the three reporters present that it was not intended for print.”

Bob at The Daily Pulp sums this story up best.

Yeah, Jeff, who woulda thunk sending an audiotape to a radio station would end like this? I mean, radio stations usually have better sense than to drive up ratings by putting controversial tapes of celebrities on the air. So don’t beat yourself up, man, because NOBODY could have foreseen that.

Will Darlington be fired for leaking the tape? I wouldn’t think any newspaper or media outlet would appreciate a reporter doing what Darlington did.

Cross posted at The Florida Masochist and Poliblog’s Deportes


Major Applewhite Wunderkind Coach

Ian Rapoport has a longish feature on why Major Applewhite, hired by Nick Saban to fill a yet-undefined offensive role on his staff, is considered the Next Big Thing in college coaching.

“He’s a very analytical young man,” said Greg Davis, the Longhorns’ offensive coordinator who coached Applewhite. “And he tries to break things down to not only simple terms, but also common sense terms. I think the quarterbacks will fall in love with him, and he’ll do a great job.”


While Saban’s staff includes some noteworthy names, the hiring of Applewhite is perhaps the most intriguing. Not just because he grew up a hard-core fan of the Crimson Tide. Not just because, as Rice University’s offensive coordinator last season, his spread offense helped the Owls to their first bowl game since 1961. Not just because his often heroic collegiate career captured the interest of a nation. It’s because of what Applewhite, with his sharp understanding of the game, can do for the Crimson Tide.

“He thinks of plays off the top of his head like no man I’ve ever been around,” said Rice sophomore receiver Jarett Dillard, a Biletnikoff Award finalist. “He’s a mastermind.”

In leading Rice to its most prolific offensive season in its history, the thinking man’s style of Applewhite was contagious. “I was able to learn so much about the game, offensive philosophy, what a defense is doing, why things are the way they are,” recalled Rice quarterback Chase Clement. “He elevated my mental game more than anything.”


Despite splitting time with NFL-bound Chris Simms, Applewhite had a 22-8 record as a starter at Texas, finishing as the school’s all-time leader in several categories, including passing yards (8,353) and touchdown passes (60). It had storybook moments, including his comeback win over Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl.

Applewhite worked at Texas for two years as a graduate assistant, at Syracuse for one year as quarterback coach, then in one year as Rice’s offensive coordinator. But it was his playing career that gave him instant credibility. “Most of us saw the way he played on the field, and we kind of allowed him to take the leadership role,” Clement said. “We all believed in him.”


Colleagues say he has no set scheme. He does not try to force a system onto his players. Quite the opposite. And he constantly reacts based on what the defense gives him. “He’s going to adjust whatever he has to adjust to get the ball to guys to make plays,” Dillard said. “At Rice, we were a one-back, quick-tempo, coming-at-you-fast kind of thing. If the defense runs this, we’re giving you that. If you want to play 10 yards off the ball, we’ll run a hitch all day. We’re taking whatever you give us.”

The bad thing about having The Next Big Thing on your coaching staff is that you’ll almost certainly lose him. My guess is Saban will be with the Tide for years to come, since he’s learned he doesn’t want to be in the NFL and it’s hard to imagine that there’s a better college job out there for him. Still, it’ll be nice to have the phenom teaching Alabama quarterbacks and calling the plays while it lasts.


Alabama Football Off Probation

Alabama’s football program has quietly ended its five year NCAA probation. Paul Gattis reflects on what it all means.

Mostly, it means that new coach Nick Saban has a great opportunity to restore the program to national glory quickly. He’s already having a banner recruiting season, despite coming to the game quite late. Alabama will never have the kind of success it did under Bear Bryant–that’s just not possible in the current environment–but it’s now able to compete again on a level playing field with the full advantage of a big name coach and a big name program.


Tide King in Alabama Despite Auburn’s Recent Success

Paul Finebaum explains that he got a lot of hate mail from Auburn fans after a recent column saying that Nick Saban’s hiring at put Alabama ahead of their cross-state rival in national attention again.

It isn’t so much the hiring of Saban that has some Auburn fans sniveling, but the resiliency of the Alabama Nation. How many times has this Alabama program been knocked down to the canvas since the death of Paul Bryant but somehow, some way, been able to get up, bloody, beaten and battered, to live to see another day? Even to someone from another state and who attended a rival school, it is an extraordinary thing to witness.


Bill Curry, after three straight losses to Auburn, tucks his tail in early 1990 for Kentucky, replaced by a popular but underwhelming choice in Gene Stallings. He loses his first three games. Yet he wins a national championship in 1992 and runs off a streak of 28 games without a loss. In 1995, the Tide program is humiliated with its first NCAA probation, but the next year Stallings wins 10 games and retires with a 5-2 mark against Auburn. Mike DuBose enters, gets caught up in a secretary scandal three years later, is nearly fired, loses to Louisiana Tech (and is days from being fired), and follows up with an overtime win over Florida and then beats the Gators for the SEC title. He goes from preseason No. 3 in the nation to 3-8 in 2000 and is gone. The Albert Means story explodes and Alabama is staring down the barrel of a gun from the NCAA, which is threatening the death penalty. Dennis Franchione has a cup of coffee and bolts; Mike Price, his replacement, goes down in flames (before ever coaching a game); and Mike Shula, who seemingly throws up all over himself for two years, wins 10 games and finishes No. 8 in the nation ahead of Auburn, which should have played for the national championship the year before.

This season, of course, Alabama loses to Mississippi State and nearly everyone else, and gets left at the altar by Rich Rodriguez (and nearly everyone else) in the aftermath of Shula’s bungled firing. The entire college football world, led by Auburn fans, are dancing on Alabama’s grave and guess what? The Tide lands Saban — one the most feared college coaches in recent history.

Yes, I can feel the pain of the Auburn Nation. I can understand its frustration. It’s like, “Dude, what else do we have to do?”

Finebaum’s right.

I’m an Alabama alum, so I’m a little biased on this one. Still, I was 14 when I moved to the state and have no animosity toward Auburn; indeed, I wish them well on days they’re not playing ‘Bama.

The bottom line is that, though Auburn’s has almost certainly been the premier football program in the state over the last decade or so, Alabama has a legacy that they will never be able to match. Alabama is The Capstone; Auburn is the ag college. (No matter that Auburn’s academic programs are often more highly ranked nationally.) Alabama has won 12 national football championships; Auburn has only one (although they might have won a couple more had they not been on probation in their undefeated 1993 season and screwed by the BCS system in 2004). The Tide has far more fans statewide and it’s not even close nationally.

These things put Auburn at a substantial competitive disadvantage. It’s really quite amazing that Tommy Tuberville has made them regular championship contenders and beaten the Tide five straight years. That should change now, though, with Bama off probation and with a first rate coach.


Mike Shula Jaguars New QB Coach

Mike Shula has landed on his feet, as quarterbacks coach for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Former Alabama coach Mike Shula was hired as the quarterbacks coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday. Coach Jack Del Rio and Shula reached a deal at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and the team expected a contract to be signed early next week.

Shula went 26-23 in four years at Alabama but was 0-8 against Southeastern Conference West rivals LSU and Auburn. The Tide finished 10-2 under Shula in 2005, but the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula was fired last November after the team went 6-6 during the regular season.

Shula had been a candidate for the head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins, but his father’s former team chose San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to replace Nick Saban.

Shula was in over his head at Alabama, although he faced difficult circumstances. Not only did he take over one of the most prominent head coaching jobs in the country without the right seasoning, he did so in the worst possible situation. Not only was the team smack in the middle of stringent NCAA penalties but he was the third head coach in one offseason, after Dennis Franchione bolted for Texas A&M and Mike Price got caught in an embarrassing scandal with a stripper.

I’m glad both that the Tide has landed Nick Saban and that Shula has a chance to work his way back up the ladder.


Dolphins Interview Mike Shula

The Dolphins are considering Mike Shula to fill the vacancy created by Nick Saban’s departure for Alabama. This is somewhat amusing, given that the Alabama vacancy was created by the firing of Mike Shula.

The latest candidate to emerge for the Miami Dolphins’ coaching job has a big edge in name recognition: He’s a Shula.

Mike Shula interviewed for the job Saturday, a person familiar with the team’s search said Tuesday. The person requested anonymity because the Dolphins have declined to identify candidates.

Shula’s dad, Don, coached the Dolphins for 26 years, holds the NFL record with 347 victories and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hiring the younger Shula would mean a swap of coaches with Alabama. He was fired by the Crimson Tide in November and replaced by Nick Saban, who left the Dolphins on Jan. 3 after two seasons.

Two other candidates have interviewed with Miami twice: former Atlanta Falcons coach Jim Mora and Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey. Management met with 12 coaches during the first round of interviews, which ended last Wednesday.

The 41-year-old Shula went 26-23 in four years at Alabama, but 0-4 against rival Auburn. The Crimson Tide fired him after going 6-6 during the 2006 regular season. Shula said he left Alabama in better shape than the program he inherited, which was weakened by NCAA sanctions.

Shula was a Dolphins ballboy when his dad coached the team. He has spent 15 years as an NFL assistant, most recently in 2000-02 as Miami’s quarterbacks coach.

Mike Shula is a decent fellow and may well be a solid head coach one day. A trade of him for Nick Saban, though, is one Alabama fans have to like.

As someone who is both a Bama and Dallas Cowboys fan, I am especially amused that Galey and Shula comprise two thirds of the Dolphins wish list. Why aren’t Mike DuBose, Dave Campo, and Barry Switzer being considered?

Indeed, Switzer has won both a Super Bowl and a college championship. He’d be, by far, the best candidate on the list. And I’m given to understand he already owns a handgun, which will come in handy in Miami.

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Fire Major Applewhite!

Are the boosters in Tuscaloosa already upset?

Well, no, not exactly.

All I can say is that this is borderline stalking via blog.


Saban Alabama Coaching Staff Complete

Nick Saban has lured Clemson running backs coach Burton Burns to fill the same role at Alabama. Thomas Murphy reports that this should complete the staff, which should look like this: “Joe Pendry, offensive coordinator; Major Applewhite, quarterbacks; Burns, running backs; Ron Middleton, receivers; Steve Marshall, offensive line; Kevin Steele, defensive coordinator and linebackers; Bo Davis, defensive line; Kirby Smart defensive backs; Lance Thompson, defensive line.”

That’s a formidable lineup and includes a nice mix of proven veterans and up-and-comers.


Saban’s Pay is Inconsequential

The Tuscaloosa News picked up my TCS Daily piece on the economics of college coaching pay, publishing a slightly longer version under the headline, “Saban’s pay is inconsequential” in today’s edition.


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