Sports Outside the Beltway

ESPN Football Coverage Sucks

About a year ago, I explained why Monday Night Football on ESPN Sucks. After watching the network’s college football coverage the last two weeks, though, I think we can strike the “Monday Night” from that: They suck all the time now.

The last two Saturday nights, the Alabama Crimson Tide has been on ESPN. Since I don’t live in Alabama any more, that used to be a good thing, since it meant I got to see the games. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true anymore, since ESPN is apparently now run by the people who bring us the Olympics and decided long ago that people aren’t actually interested in the sporting events being covered but, rather, other stuff.

Last week, Alabama played Arkansas in a roller coaster game. Alabama went up by three touchdowns, let Arkansas back into the game, went up by three touchdowns again, and then collapsed to give Arkansas a big lead. Alabama fought back, though, to a thrilling victory with just 8 seconds left on the clock.

A pretty exciting game, right?

Apparently, though, ESPN didn’t think people tuned in late on a Saturday night to watch a college football game would find that stimulating enough. So, they brought in some gal from the women’s soccer team, which were in the middle of a big tournament overseas. And they yapped with her, via telephone no less, for several minutes right during the most critical part of the first half game action. No play-by-play of the game. Often, no cameras on the game, either, since fans would obviously rather see close-ups of the idiot game announcers and a picture of the head of the woman’s soccer player who wasn’t even in the damn booth.

And it got better.

We got to hear about Todd Blackledge’s adventures eating barbecue in Tuscaloosa. With actual footage of him looking at the menu and ordering food. While the game was on!!!

And, to top it off, they brought the annoying woman soccer player back in the second half to interrupt yet more game action.

Last night, Alabama and Georgia played in another close, exciting game that went into overtime.

Again, however, the cameras were on the announcers almost as much as on the game action. Again, we got treated to watching Blackledge eating grilled meat, this time at the pre-game tailgating parties. And some old announcer guy who’s so frail he can’t actually travel one state over to watch a football game was on the telephone for like half an hour yapping about his career while we were missing live football action.

The producers are also too inept to manage game breaks and commercials. Several times, we missed kickoffs, major plays, and other game action because they switched over to show ads or update us on other games and didn’t get back in time. And, each time, they pretended that it hadn’t happened, blithely carrying on as if we hadn’t missed anything.

I’ve been watching football on television for more than thirty years now. I’ve watched local games sponsored by local insurance companies that were better. I’ve literally never seen coverage as bad as what ESPN has put on the last two weeks. It’s absolutely frustrating.

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Alabama Loses to Georgia in OT

Well, so much for Nick Saban restoring Alabama to glory in his first year. Neither the offense nor the defense were very good last night in regulation but they managed to capitalize on some Bulldog receivers who couldn’t catch the ball to limp into OT tied 20-20. They finally fell to Georgia in overtime after a pitiful offensive showing forced them to kick a field goal while an even worse defensive performance gave up a 25-yard TD on the very first play.

Alabama - Georgia Photo 2007

Georgia halts Alabama’s run at comeback with TD pass (Paul Gattis, Huntsville Times):

The 22nd-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday night handed the Crimson Tide its first loss under coach Nick Saban, getting a 25-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Mikey Henderson for a 26-23 overtime victory.

“Obviously, we’re very disappointed about the outcome of the game,” Saban said. “There are a lot of lessons about the way we played in the first half. I was concerned with the intensity we prepared for and the focus and the concentration we had in practice. We harped on it and I think it showed in our first-half performance.”

Georgia led 10-3 at the half and dominated the game over the first 30 minutes.

“That was the worst we’ve played all year long,” Saban said of the first half, “not only in terms of our ability to execute but also the intensity and the toughness. The look in our eye wasn’t what it needs to be.”

No. 16 Alabama tied it at 20-all on a 6-yard touchdown run by John Parker Wilson with 1:09 left to play to overcome a 20-10, fourth-quarter deficit. But the Tide offense could manage only a 42-yard field goal by Leigh Tiffin in overtime for a 23-20 lead and Georgia immediately went for the win.


So, just a week after its last-second touchdown that beat Arkansas, the Tide (3-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) tasted the bitter side of such a loss as a stunned sellout crowd of more than 92,000 at Bryant-Denny Stadium looked on.

Loss to Bulldogs should snap Tide fans back to reality (Ian Rapoport, Birmingham News)

It was a week filled with boundless optimism from fans and seemingly endless national attention.

All the while, in his quest for realism, University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban used every opportunity to deliver his message: Don’t pay attention to any of it.

Assume players and fans understand now.

All it took was the 16th-ranked Crimson Tide’s 26-23 loss to No.22 Georgia in overtime Saturday night in front of a soldout crowd of 92,318 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The image of Bulldogs receiver Mikey Henderson beating UA cornerback Lionel Mitchell for a 25-yard touchdown pass in overtime will contribute to Saban’s message. Not that it makes a loss like Saturday’s any easier to swallow.

“I always talk about getting better when you win and not getting distracted by external things like where you are ranked or what people are saying off talk radio,” Saban said. “Sometimes you get a little relieved and satisfied with what you’ve done and you’re not as willing and as hungry to do it the next time.”

With Georgia up 20-10 in the fourth quarter, Alabama marched back with a Leigh Tiffin 22-yard field goal with six minutes left and a 6-yard scramble by quarterback John Parker Wilson with 1:09 left. When a 47-yard field goal attempt by Georgia’s Brandon Coutu went wide left, it was on to overtime.

Alabama had the ball first, but managed only a field goal. Henderson’s catch, on Georgia’s first play, ended it.

“That’s the advantage when you play defense first, you know what you need,” said Saban, after his first loss at UA. “Their guy made a good throw and they beat us one-on-one. It wasn’t bad coverage, but it wasn’t good enough.”

Not by a long shot.

It was too much to expect for Saban to come in and fix all that ailed the Tide in one season, especially since he came in near the tail end of the recruiting cycle. Still, the nature of college ball is that you can dream about championships until losing the first game.

Of course, the down side of the college game is that one loss, even early in the season, effectively ends any hope of a title, mythical or otherwise. If the team learns from the loss and gets better, they could conceivably play for the SEC title, which would be an awesome consolation prize. They’ll have to knock off LSU to do that, however. After last night’s performance, that sure doesn’t seem likely.


Complaints led University of Georgia golf coach to quit

More has learned about why the Bulldog women’s golf coach resigned last week.

ATHENS, Ga. – Todd McCorkle’s sudden decision to resign as the women’s golf coach at Georgia last week followed complaints from players about his inappropriate sexual comments and jokes, according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

McCorkle’s resignation was announced May 7 and came three days after a memo in which he was told he would have to go through extensive anti-harassment training and would be suspended without pay for July. McCorkle instead quit, but athletic director Damon Evans said he would remain employed in another undisclosed job with the athletic department.

In the memo, University of Georgia executive director for legal affairs Steve Shewmaker told McCorkle several players had complained about the coach’s behavior.


The memo was one of several documents obtained in response to an open records request by the AP. The documents included 48 pages of handwritten notes by school investigators from interviews with current and former players.

McCorkle was said to have shared a sexually explicit Paris Hilton video from the Internet with the team. Players reported McCorkle shared remarks about bras and underwear color. Other comments were more explicit, referring to male anatomy. There was a mention by one player of inappropriate physical contact.

“He is randomly rubbing your back or flipping hair, or pat on butt — and otherwise not think anything about it — but with all the other stuff feels wrong,” the unidentified player wrote.

The university’s investigation began in April. Art Leon, the father of Georgia’s No. 1 player, Taylor Leon, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution his complaints to Evans led to the investigation.

“I’m the person that initiated it,” Leon told the paper. “He doesn’t need to be a coach of women’s golf anywhere. He got what he deserved.”

McCorkle said he resigned to remove the cloud over the golf program. My own opinion is he showed poor judgment. Did he deserve to get fired? No and the University of Georgia didn’t take that action. It may have for the best that McCorkle left so any controversy would die away. Hopefully the Georgia golf program can move on from this experience and beat the Florida Gators! LOL, I live in Florida but am not a UF fan.


Tubby Smith leaves Kentucky for Minnesota

Smith coached the Wildcats to a National Championship in 1998. From AP-

MINNEAPOLIS – With Kentucky fans dogging him after another disappointing finish, Tubby Smith is bolting the bluegrass for Minnesota. Smith will be introduced as the 16th coach of the Golden Gophers at a noon press conference Friday, ending a 10-year tenure in Lexington that seemed to be nearing an end even before Minnesota contacted him.

The Wildcats went 22-12 this season and made it to the NCAA tournament, but lost to top-seeded Kansas in the second round, turning up the heat on the coach of college basketball’s winningest program.

Smith led Kentucky to the national championship in his first season in 1998, but the Wildcats haven’t been back to the Final Four since, their longest drought since the NCAA tournament began. The team has lost 10 or more games in a season five times under his watch, prompting the demanding fan base to nickname him “10-loss Tubby.”

Anyone see Smith’s move as similar to Football coach Bill Curry leaving Alabama for Kentucky?

Kentucky Basketball like Alabama Football puts any coach in a high pressure situation. Smith is probably burned out and in need of a change of scenery. Gopher fans will certainly have lesser expectations than Wildcats fans have.


SEC Too Good For Ohio State?

AP sportswriter Ben Walker penned this lede to his piece on last night’s BCS Championship game in which the Florida Gators whooped the Ohio State Buckeyes:

Turns out Florida was too good to be on the same field as Ohio State, and that Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and the Buckeyes were the ones who weren’t worthy after all.

Coach Urban Meyer’s once-beaten Gators dominated the undefeated No. 1 Buckeyes and streaked to college football’s national championship, 41-14 on Monday night.

“Honestly, we’ve played a lot better teams than them,” Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss said. “I could name four or five teams in the SEC that could probably compete with them and play the same type of game we did against them.”

Honestly, I think that’s right. That’s why the simple counting of wins and losses is a silly way to pick national title contenders in Division I. The idea that Boise State, which played a schedule filled with teams that probably couldn’t beat Florida’s high school championship team, is better than teams with even three or four losses in the SEC or ACC, is a joke. LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Arkansas, and Tennessee probably all could have beaten Ohio State last night.

Of course, that’s why we need a playoff system rather than a beauty contest.


Did Alabama Sabotage UAB Hire of Jimbo Fisher?

Ben Cook of Lindy’s Sports writes about a far-fetched scenario in the Alabama head coaching search:

Everything came out in the open last week when the UAB Blazers of Conference USA were ready to hire LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher as their head coach. All that remained was ironing out the details. It was to be for $600,000 a year, most of which was going to be covered by some influential UAB supporters. But then the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama system (which includes the University of Alabama, UAB and UAH) stepped in and said that UAB could not hire Fisher. They claimed it was because of financial considerations, but that excuse doesn’t hold water since the bulk of Fisher’s salary was going to be covered by boosters.

Apparently, the Board of Trustees realized UAB was about to hire the most coveted assistant coach in the country. They realized It also could mean that UAB might wind up with a better coach than Alabama, and the idea panicked the Board of Trustees. They decided that couldn’t happen, so they stepped in and overstepped the boundaries of a Board. They took the hiring of UAB’s coach right out of UAB’s hands. Not only did they not allow UAB to hire Fisher, they then imposed their own handpicked candidate on UAB. They strongly suggested Neil Callaway, Georgia’s offensive coordinator, was the acceptable choice for UAB.

The Board will deny the Callaway link, but after the Fisher debacle there is no other explanation for UAB turning to Callaway, a former Alabama player with no head coaching experience that no other school on the planet was looking to hire. Fisher had no head coaching experience either, but he has been coveted by schools before and will be again; Callaway has not. Fisher is thought to be the next Bob Stoops waiting to happen; Callaway is not.There is one other possible explanation. The Alabama job is still open and there are plenty in Tuscaloosa who believe Nick Saban is going to leave the Miami Dolphins after Miami’s season ends. If Saban were to actually take the UA job, perhaps he would bring his old offensive coordinator from LSU with him, and that would be Jimbo Fisher. Then, in four of five years when Saban got the inevitable itch to move on, it would be an easy move to elevate Fisher to the head coaching job at Alabama, which could be what the UA Board of Trustees wants all along.That way they could achieve two goals–they could get one of the hottest coaches in the country at Alabama and simultaneously knock the pins out from under the UAB football program, making sure it continued to struggle along until perhaps just giving up the ghost and dropping football. That would delight the University of Alabama Board of Trustees.

It’s rather bizarre, to be sure, but Alabama football is a pretty strange phenomenon.


Georgia OC Neil Callaway Takes UAB Job

Georgia offensive coordinator Neil Callaway will be the next head football coach at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

UAB has hired Georgia offensive coordinator Neil Callaway as its football coach, several sources close to the situation confirmed Saturday night. The school will announce Callaway’s hiring at a news conference at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. Callaway signed a five-year contract with UAB; financial terms weren’t immediately available.

Callaway will coach Georgia’s offensive line against Virginia Tech in the Dec. 30 Chick-Fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Callaway, 51, played for legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant from 1974-77 and also worked as an assistant at Alabama and Auburn.

Callaway replaces Watson Brown, who resigned last week to become coach at Division I-AA Tennessee Tech. Brown, the brother of Texas football coach Mack Brown, had a 62-75 record in 12 seasons as UAB’s coach. The Blazers finished 3-9, 2-6 in Conference USA this season.

I have not followed UAB football since leaving the state four years ago and thought it was silly for them to start a I-A football program at a commuter college in a small state that already had two major programs. Troy made it four a few years later.

That said, it’s odd to me that Watson Brown would leave a I-A program that he inaugurated and which has had more success than most thought possible for a I-AA school.

In the 11 years since Watson Brown arrived at UAB as the head football coach, he has seen amazing growth in Blazer football.

Starting with UAB’s jump from Division I-AA to I-A status in 1996 to the Blazers becoming a football member of Conference USA to their stature as a contender for conference championships, Brown, as the program’s chief architect, has guided UAB football to rapid success. Not bad for a football program that fielded its first team in 1991 at the Division III level.

UAB has progressed steadily through its 10 seasons of competition at the NCAA Division I-A level. The Blazers have been bowl-eligible three times in the past six seasons and in 2004 attained their previously elusive first bowl invitation with a trip to Honolulu to play in the Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl.

Granted that Brown was born and raised in Tennessee and played his college ball at Vandy, he has coached all over the country since his graduate assistant tenure ended in 1973.

That said, Callaway is a good hire. Georgia is a big-time program and brings instant credibility.


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