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A bunch of Pitt fans/alumni writing and ranting about the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and anything sports and entertainment related. Other than being alumni, the writers of this blog have no affiliation or official connection with the University of Pittsburgh, the Pitt Panthers, and related entities. The views expressed on this blog are solely our own. You can e-mail us: PittSportsBlather-at-sbcglobal.net.

Friday, April 30, 2004

A Drink For Pitt 

Lee mentioned the idea below.

Incidentally, wouldn't it be interesting if each college -- in addition to its other traditions (fight songs, marching bands, etc...) -- had a unique drink associated with it... like the mint julep is associated with the Kentucky Derby? And no, I'm not suggesting that Iron City pounders be associated with Pitt...

Interesting idea. For Pitt, the history suggests a Whiskey drink. The Whiskey Rebellion was in Western PA, after all.

A couple suggestions and comments:

Rusty Nail
1 part scotch (whiskey)
1 part Drambuie
Stir in glass with ice.

Pros: Great name, simple.
Cons: The Drambuie is too sweet, and expensive. When was the last time you saw Drambuie at a friend's place?

Golden Nail
1 part whiskey
1 part Southern Comfort
Stir in glass with ice.

Pros: Decent name; simple, strong drink.
Cons: SoCo is too South.

Whiskey Highball
2 oz. Whiskey
1 lemon peel
Ginger Ale top off
Whiskey in the highball (or Collins) glass, add ice in the glass. Squeeze lemon peel and drop in glass. Pour ginger ale to top off.

Pros: Good drink, for a long night of drinking. Simple, but not too strong -- girls would actually drink this.
Cons: Kind of boring.

What else?

A Few Cheap Shots at the Kentucky Derby and, of course, Penn State 

While watching Kenny Mayne's coverage from Churchill Downs on SportsCenter earlier this week, I wondered aloud to my wife what kind of chain-smoking blue hair still gets into horse racing -- a sport that officially died around 1957 or so when Americans began to realize that watching television (and hell, even Sputnik) was more fun.

Well, I found one. And get a load of this freak. I mean, he actually goes into detail about (1) who owns each horse, (2) what each horse's odds are, and (3) how you make a freakin' mint julep.

Hey, if I made fun of Pat for getting into European soccer, I gotta give Chas a little for getting into the Kentucky Derby. Although in Chas's defense, I'm convinced that he's only pretending to be into it for the excuse to drink a bourbon-based beverage.

Incidentally, wouldn't it be interesting if each college -- in addition to its other traditions (fight songs, marching bands, etc...) -- had a unique drink associated with it... like the mint julep is associated with the Kentucky Derby? And no, I'm not suggesting that Iron City pounders be associated with Pitt...

However, I could suggest that Bud Light drafts in a cheap plastic cup be associated with Penn State. Hey, speaking of Wal-Mart State, it's nice to see that their current streak of near-monthly football player arrests continues unabated. This month's offender is Michael P. Sothern, a terroristic-threats-and-disorderly-conduct-making redshirt freshman linebacker who JoePa allowed to play in last Saturday's Blue-White game despite the fact that the coach knew of the charges beforehand.

So add Sothern to the list of Nittany Lions who have been arrested since NCAA President Myles Brandt said that "Penn State is the poster child for doing it right in college sports" last winter...

Defensive lineman Ed Johnson (Feb. 7 riot at the Ice Pavilion)
Defensive lineman Matthew Rice (Feb. 7 riot at the Ice Pavilion)
Quarterback Michael Robinson (Feb. 7 riot at the Ice Pavilion)
Defensive end Lavon Chisley (currently the target of a sexual-assault investigation)
Defensive lineman Richard Cheek (criminal conspiracy, identity theft, access device fraud and receiving stolen property)
Wide receiver Maurice Humphrey (aggravated assault, simple assault and summaries)

Add in the spate of DUI charges from last fall, including the one against star senior wide receiver Tony Johnson, and I can't help but wonder if Brandt should raise his standards for poster children. I mean, for the safety of those of us who have to live in the shadow of Central Pennsylvania's Sodom, could we possibly expect more from student athletes than what Penn State dishes out?

Yeah, I know. Pitt has had a few off-the-field problems recently too. But you see, Miles Brandt never called us a "poster child for doing it right." Besides, we're hardly in Penn State's league yet.

Incidentally, I love how the Central PA media clings to Brandt's quote as some proof of superiority over programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, and Iowa who the Nittany Lions can no longer beat on the football field. Really, it's very Notre Dame of them. It's very Nietzsche's "Genealogy of Morals," in case there are any other Philosophy majors out there.

Incidentally, for the idiot Nittany Lion fan in your life who believes that PSU is gonna win ten or so games next fall, here's a well-written dose of reality from Walt Moody at the Centre Daily Times. I'm actually really starting to like that paper. It sure beats old Neil Rudel at the Altoona Mirror, anyways.

Well, it's 10:00. I probably should get to work now...

Hail to Bourbon

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Point Is Just Beyond His Grasp 

Stupid column from Bob Smizik wondering why people got so bent out of shape over the possibility of associate head coach and top recruiter Barry Rohrssen leaving the program for St. John's last week.

Maybe I was too vague for someone like Smizik, last week. Let me spell it out.

In the last year plus for Pitt athletics:

-- Lost the AD that helped rebuild the two major college sports, hired the coaches, moved the football team into sharing a pro level stadium, and helped to push the construction of the Pete and the new South Side training facilities.

-- Lost the head basketball coach who rebuilt the basketball program from bottom feeder to Big East Champions and back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances.

-- Had one of the most pathetic, embarrassing and sloppy pursuit of hiring a new basketball coach.

-- Saw the school go over 6 months without naming a new AD, losing the interim one as well.

-- Had the ACC raid the Big East for the top two football programs, then come back for BC as the cherry on top.

-- Had the BCS status of the Big East up in the air for the last 6 months, and even now, it doesn't feel safe.

-- Had a football season with BCS potential fall apart when the defense couldn't stop anything on the ground.

-- Lost a top assistant on the football coaching staff to a new job, leaving Harris in total control of the offense without any dissenting voice.

So you could see why keeping some, any, continuity in the basketball program for a little longer might be considered a relief. Just for a while to keep some of the same people running the show might be good for the stability and long term psyche of Pitt athletics.

Ohio's Mr. Football -- 5 Years to Rehabilitate His Image 

Looks like WVU has decided to pull the scholarship offer to Running Back Raymond Williams. This comes on the heels of his arrest and accusations of robbery and murder.

I expect Williams to eventually end up at Division II or some I-AA school. He will set all sorts of records, and be considered a medium to high draft pick, and then ESPN will do some story on his fall and rise.

UPDATE: Make that 15 years. It appears from reports Williams and another have confessed to the actions

Two Benedictine High School football stars have confessed to taking part in a botched robbery that left a teammate dead and will beg for the state's mercy, a lawyer for one of them says.

City prosecutors filed murder and aggravated-robbery charges Wednesday against Raymond Williams, who won Ohio's Mr. Football honor last year as the state's outstanding prep star, and Jon Huddleston, a defensive back on the state-champion team. If convicted, the Cleveland teens would face at least 15 years to life in prison.
Police say the two and 16-year-old Lorenzo Hunter tried to rob a 20-year-old man with a fake gun around 2 a.m. April 16, only to see the intended victim pull a gun, fire and kill Lorenzo as Huddleston and Williams ran.

Pat D'Angelo, Huddleston's lawyer, said both youths spoke with Benedictine counselors, then agreed to give police oral and written statements without attorneys present.

"They made statements to investigators that expose themselves to liability," D'Angelo said Wednesday. "We're contrite, remorseful and saddened that someone died."

'Angelo said he reviewed statements from both defendants and understands that Williams brandished the phony gun during the stickup of Rodney Roberts near East 124th Street and Craven Avenue.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Go Bulls! 

You are in a college football conference that has just lost its two best programs for the last 10+ years. You are a football program that has seen a top-20 recruiting class fall apart and sink into the 60s. You are a football program that has still managed to pull itself close to respectability, but struggles to get national exposure.

Your school is offered a chance to put an early season game on ESPN on Labor Day. What do you do?

If you are Pitt. You say no.

The Big East and ESPN asked Pitt to move their season opening game with South Florida from Saturday to Monday and a game that may get local tv coverage would be seen nationally.

Pitt decided not to move the game because that would only give them 4 days to prepare for the home opener with the Ohio University Bobcats.

Brilliant.

I understand that the coaches would want more time, but think guys. Pitt needs more exposure, especially this year. It needs to be seen.

Of course, given that Pitt is playing USF, and what happened last time... maybe not having many people see the game is a better approach.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Big Problems For WVU Recruit 

West Virginia may be missing one of the jewels from their 2004 football recruiting class.

Ohio's reigning Mr. Football, Raymond Williams, and a teammate were jailed Monday, accused of taking part in a robbery that led to the shooting death of their friend.

Cleveland police took Williams and fellow Benedictine High School football player Jon Huddles ton, both 18, to City Jail, but neither was charged, a police spokeswoman said.

Williams, committed to attend West Virginia University this fall, was held on suspicion of murder.

Williams was also selected to the "Parade Magazine's All-America High School Football Team." The details are sketchy, but it appears the charges will be much lower than the sensationalized accusations.

Police do not believe Williams or Huddleston fired the gun that killed teammate Lorenzo Hunter; rather, they say that the two took part in the holdup with Lorenzo and that the robbery led to his death.

Lorenzo, 16, was shot and killed about 2 a.m. April 16 near East 124th Street and Craven Avenue in Cleveland. Authorities said Lorenzo was hanging out with friends during his spring break when he tried to rob a neighborhood man with a phony gun.

The 20-year-old man, Rodney Roberts, opened fire with a real one. Roberts lived just a few doors from the shooting scene. He was charged last week with aggravated murder. At a court hearing, his lawyers said Roberts was being robbed when he shot Lorenzo in self-defense.

I don't know what this will do to his scholarship? Looks like WVU wants to take Miami's place in the Big East as the destination for thugs and punks.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

More About Day 1 of the Draft 

As previously mentioned, 3 Pitt Panthers were drafted in the first 2 rounds.

Kris Wilson was drafted #61 overall by the KC Chiefs in something of a surprise. Wilson was expected to go in the 3rd to 5th round. Going near the end of Round 2 may be considered a reach by some, but the Chiefs really liked him.

The Chiefs, however, are convinced Wilson, a 6-foot-1, 248-pounder out of Pittsburgh, can be a tight end/fullback type who can instantly contribute on special teams and certain offensive formations.

"Our tight-ends coach and wide-receivers coach worked him out and really thought he was extremely talented," Chiefs team president/general manager Carl Peterson said. "He can catch the ball, can run, can block. His stature's a little short at 6-foot-1 1/2, but he's got excellent, excellent measurables — a guy we think will make our football team and make it better on game day."
...
The Chiefs envision using Wilson and Gonzalez to create matchup problems in two-tight-end sets.

"You're talking about a guy who can do a multitude of things,” said Chiefs vice president of football operations Lynn Stiles. “I had an in-depth discussion with Al Saunders yesterday and we talked about a variety of things he thought he could bring to the offense in either a two-back combination or two tight ends or split out from the formation."

Would it be wrong to note that the article notes that back-up fullback Omar Easy will have to fight to stay on the roster because of Wilson being drafted. Easy played his college ball at Penn State. Heh.

Shawntae Spencer went at #58 to the SF 49ers.

Skip Bayless of the San Jose Mercury News didn't like the pick of Spencer.

Yet unless Donahue can get one of Dr. York's labs to pour Shawntae Spencer into Mike Rumph, the G.M. wasted the second-round pick that Philadelphia gave him to move up from 28 to 16. Spencer, from Pittsburgh, was not invited to the combine or a single all-star game, but he wowed gullible scouts with his individual workout.

That same AFC assistant, who studied the 6-foot-1, 181-pound Spencer's game tapes, said: "We crossed him off because he runs from contact. He can run and cover but he will not tackle, and unless you're Deion Sanders, a corner has to tackle in this league.''

Rumph, the 49ers' top pick in 2002, can't run or cover, but at 6-2 and 205 pounds he will knock your block off. If only Donahue could meld them into Shawntae Rumph.

(For a great ripping take down of Bayless as a columnist, read this.)
Yet the not tackling, but defending against the receiver was part of why Erickson drafted Spencer.

On the field, Spencer has shown the critical ability to cover while off the receiver.

"You have got to be able to play off because (of rule changes) you can't touch (receivers) anymore," Erickson said.

Larry Fitzgerald of course was the headline act for the Pitt players. The #3 pick overall. He went to the Arizona Cardinals, who had a rather surreal draft day as many still mourn the loss of Pat Tillman.

If the NFL draft weren't surreal enough, the scene at Cardinals' headquarters was straight out of The Twilight Zone. Cardinals officials found themselves doing a victory dance inside the draft room as soon as Fitzgerald was there for the taking. Yet just outside the facility, somber fans stood beside a Pat Tillman memorial, shedding tears, saying prayers and leaving flowers.

If the celebration was bittersweet, there was also a strange sense of destiny in the air. This reunion of Fitzgerald and Green seems almost too perfect.

The well know story, of course is that Fitzgerald was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings for many of the years that Dennis Green (now the Cardinals head coach) was the Vikings' head coach. Green made no secret that he was going to pick Fitzgerald if he was still there to make their receiving core one of the most potentially explosive.

In the 6-foot-2, 223-pound Fitzgerald, the Cardinals reportedly have a solid citizen and an uncommon talent. He will be paired with Anquan Boldin, a second-round pick last year who set an NFL rookie record with 101 receptions and led the Cardinals in receiving with 1,377 yards.
...
Bryant Johnson, a first-round pick last year, is likely to be the team's third receiver.

The trio of young receivers could give the Cardinals an offense in the mold of what Green had in Minnesota with receivers such as Cris Carter, Jake Reed and Randy Moss.

"If we can put those things together, the way he (Green) has had it in the past, we have a great chance to be a successful football team," Graves said.

Still up to 7 more Pitt players can be taken in day 2.

Rohrssen Watch -- Now Confirmed That He Stays 

The same day the P-G reported that Rohrssen was staying, Joe Starkey of the Trib. had a column calling Rohrssen's departure "imminent." Reading the column, you could see that Starkey was getting a lot of info from Rohrssen or people close to him, but then Rohrssen and Pitt announced he was staying. Starkey was probably a little annoyed to look so wrong.

A last-ditch attempt by St. John's University to lure Pitt assistant Barry Rohrssen wasn't enough in the end. The New York City native turned down his hometown university and a lucrative offer early Saturday morning to extend his flourishing career with coach Jamie Dixon and the Panthers.

Rohrssen met with Pitt vice chancellor Jerry Cochran and Dixon on Friday evening, and the trio ultimately came to a verbal agreement.

However, St. John's officials made one final appeal just past the midnight hour. The university offered close to $50,000 in incentives in addition to a $200,000 contract offer.

Rohrssen says he decided to stay because of Jamie Dixon. He will make around $175,000 and is now the "associate head coach." Rohrssen is now the highest paid assistant associate head coach in the Big East.

Starkey penned a new column for today about Rohrssen staying. Saying Rohrssen made "the right call."

As of Friday afternoon, however, Rohrssen was ready to bolt to become the associate head coach on Norm Roberts' new staff at St. John's.

Rohrssen said Pitt had not acted quickly enough or boldly enough to keep him, even though it was offering to make him the highest-paid assistant coach in the Big East.

St. John's was offering an annual salary of approximately $200,000. Pitt's offer fell between $170,000 and $180,000.

What made Rohrssen change his mind later that night?

"Jamie Dixon," Rohrssen said Saturday. "He just convinced me."

Rohrssen will leave someday. Maybe as soon as next year for either his own head coaching gig, or for an even higher paying, higher profile assistant/associate coaching job. Pitt is lucky, though, to at least get another year of coaching continuity for the basketball program. It is a definite positive.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Draft Day 1 -- Good Day 

Conversation with the wife this morning.

Wife: Do you want to go to Angie's play class with us this morning and then run some errands?

Me: Uh, no. Not really. I kinda' want to watch at least some of the draft. You know, to see where some of the Pitt players will go.

Wife: (Rolling the eyes.) How long is the draft?

Me: Um, 17 hours.

Wife: Blank stare.

Me: Not in a row.

Wife: You're not watching it all day.

Me: (Lowering my eyes.) Yes, dear.

So how was your draft day?

Look, it wasn't expected that Pitt would come near what Miami players did in the draft on the first day. Six picks in the first round? Geez. And if Gore (the running back) hadn't gotten hurt, he might have been in the mix if he declared.

Still, for Pitt, this was one of their best showings on the first day of the draft in over a decade.

Larry Fitzgerald went #3 in the draft to the Arizona Cardinals as expected. The first Pitt player to go in the top five since 1992 with Sean Gilbert going to the then LA Rams.

Pitt had two other players go in the latter half of the second round (ESPN Insider subs. req'd). Shawntae Spencer went #58 overall to the San Francisco 49ers, in something of a slip since there were a lot of rumors of him going late in the 1st or early in the 2nd Round. He was the 7th Cornerback taken in the draft.

This is a great pick for the 49ers. We had some other cornerbacks rated a little bit higher than Spencer, but he was the fastest rising player in the entire draft over the course of the last month. He is a 6-1 cornerback who ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and also held up extremely well as a three-year starter at Pittsburgh. The 49ers desperately needed to find their nickel cornerback in this draft, and Spencer will fill that role.

In something of a surprise to the ESPN scouts, Kris Wilson went at #61 to the KC Chiefs. The 4th Tight End taken in the draft.

Adding Wilson improves depth behind Tony Gonzalez, but more importantly he makes the Chiefs' two-tight end sets that much more dangerous. Like Gonzalez, Wilson has the speed to stretch the field, and Kansas City should be able to create more single-coverage matchups when he is on the field

And Mel Kiper, Jr. said of Wilson:

An excellent pass receiver who is an underrated major-college performer. Wilson would have gotten much more attention if he were a little taller, but he has similar size to Shannon Sharpe and Alge Crumpler. He is an adequate blocker and a fine overall project pick.

Rounds 4-7 are tomorrow. Only about 7 hours left.

Rohrssen Watch -- Staying Put 

Looks like Barry Rohrssen will stay with Pitt another year.

St. John's also offered the associate head coach title and between $200,000 and $250,000. Pitt didn't match the $200,000 figure but got close enough to keep Rohrssen, the program's conduit to New York City, in the fold.

An official announcement could come as early as today.

It may not seem like a big deal to retain an assistant, even one as important as Rohrssen; but with the way the last 12 months have been for Pitt, it's something.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Rohrssen Watch 

Pitt Assistant Coach and vital NYC recruiter Barry Rohrssen went on his own recruiting trip yesterday to interview for the associate head coach job at St. John's. He stands to be offered more money and a better job title, though Pitt would likely match the money.

As part of the recruiting trip, St. John's AD and new head coach took Rohrssen to the Knicks-Nets playoff game at Madison Square Garden last night.

One thing working against Rohrssen taking the job are the looming sanctions from the NCAA. The rumors suggest loss of scholarships and probation.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Recruiting Notes -- Football and Basketball 

Pitt got a verbal commitment for the 2005 football recruiting class. LaRod Stephens, 5'8", 165 RB from Johnstown, PA. Pitt was the first to offer him a scholarship. He was drawing interest from PSU, WVU, Indiana and Ole Miss. Last season, Stephens was an Associated Press first-team All-Class AAA all-state selection and the Tribune-Democrat Player of the Year.

Pitt is now pursuing a prep star from New Jersey. Alex Galindo, small forward, is considered the #65 player in the country, and will visit Pitt this weekend. He orginally committed to UTEP, but the coach there left for Texas A&M. Galindo also has a visit planned to Kansas and possibly Rutgers. According to the report, Pitt does not have a scholarship available to offer him unless a member of the 3-player incoming class or a current player leaves the team. Pitt, though, is acting like they will have a scholarship available.

Basketball Coaching Notes 

The restructuring the contract of Pitt basketball coach, Jamie Dixon, seems to be proceeding. A new contract could be announced on Monday.

Now the bad news. Assistant coach and vital recruiter, Barry Rohrssen, could be lured to St. John's. He would be installed as associate head coach, and make twice as much as what he makes at Pitt.

NCAA Football 2005 

Almost a week after PSB mentioned it, the Pitt Athletic Department put out a press release on Fitzgerald being on the cover of NCAA Football 2005. The game comes out some time in July


EA Sports has a website for the game, and an interview with Larry Fitzgerald.

EA SPORTS: What's it like being selected to be on the cover of a video game?

Larry Fitzgerald: You work your entire career to put yourself in the position to do something like this -- be on the cover of such a prestigious game, a game that will sell over two million copies. It also creates a lot of attention for my school as well; it will help recruiting, and help my team as well, so it's just great for all parties.

We can only hope.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Mountain or Molehill? You make the call! 

A little tiff may lead to bigger problems later on, or it may lead to nothing. Here are the details so far.

Dreamin' of 1985 

Maybe I'm not the right guy to be writing this. I'm not hung up on the past greatness of Big East basketball -- specifically those mid 80s when the Big East showed all of the other conferences how to get the national exposure and TV money with ESPN and CBS. When the Big East was the basketball conference. Half the time, I read something about it and it seems so overdone.

I also can't get too worked up over it, because Pitt wasn't among the best of the Big East for much of those halcyon days. Reflected light is mostly glare to me.

What the Big East had at that time were some good/great coaches at 5 of the 8 schools that now seem to loom even larger over their schools. Making it that much harder to go forward.

Boston College was always middle of the pack. UConn was a bottom feeder, as Calhoun only arrived in 1986 to start building the program. Pitt had a brief surge of talent in the late 80s, but is more remembered for Jerome Lane's backboard shattering dunk, than for the way that squad underachieved under Paul Evans. These three schools are not included.

Villanova has struggled for years to even approximate the magic of their time under Rollie Massimino (and Rollie struggled to copy that success for a while before he eventually gave up while at Cleveland State a couple years ago). They have shown glimmers but have never gotten close.

Providence briefly had Rick Pitino on his way up the coaching ladder. Until this year, that was usually the only context in which Providence was mentioned -- as a footnote in the Pitino resume.

Seton Hall and P.J. Carlesimo had their great run in the 1989 NCAA to lose in OT to Michigan (or did they? How does it work with Michigan and the pay offs and the taken down banners?), but P.J. may be more remembered for being choked by Latrell Sprewell when he was coaching Golden State.

Jim Boeheim and Syracuse were perpetual underachievers, especially considering the talent they had. Boeheim is still there and finally won the big one, but you have to wonder about one day down the road.

St. John's under Lou Carnesecca still draws wistful words from the media. Everyone likes Lou. He won at St. John's with style and grace -- apparently. He retired in 94 and has haunted the program ever since. Sitting in the stands at the games, being interviewed whenever their game is on national TV. He has been involved in all the coaching hirings -- yet he has no accountability for the failures.

Then there is Georgetown with John Thompson, Jr. The big powerful, bully coach. The man who truly established the Big East as the tough league. With a punishing, bruising defense first style that turned out one successful big man after another. Ewing, Mutumbo, Mourning. The man single-handily made Georgetown a national name in college basketball. He did a fair job of taking it back down. Georgetown and Thompson seemed to be coasting on reputation by the mid 90s. There was a brief resurgence when Iverson fell into their lap for a couple years, but the program was sliding and Thompson didn't seem to care. His abrupt resignation during the season in 1999 drove home his apathy. The program was turned over to his longtime assistant, Craig Esherick, at Thompson's request. Esherick failed miserably as a head coach and recruiter.

Without question, given the geographic proximity to so much hoops talent, St. John's and Georgetown have been astounding in their failure. Both schools have completed miserable seasons and fired their coaches. With about a week apart, both schools have hired new coaches.

St. John's hired Norm Roberts, a NYC native, and top assistant under Kansas coach Bill Self. Roberts has been an assistant to Self for the past 8 years at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas. Roberts is a very good recruiter who has maintained his NYC ties. Carnesecca met with Roberts and other candidates and backed the hiring (just as he did with the previous 3 coaches that came after him). Roberts is 38 years-old, and served as head coach at Queens College, his alma mater, from 1992-1995. His record, 24-84.

Yesterday Georgetown hired John Thompson III. No one even disputes that being the son of Thompson, Jr. played a big role in him landing the job. JT III was head coach at Princeton, his alma mater, and is 38 years-old.

Both were easy hires because they came with the stamp of approval from a coach that the alumni and boosters (read: big money donors) revere for the success and national prominence they brought to the school. It sells well, and gives the administration room to distance itself if things don't work. You never know if the hire will work out well. I do know that the schools took the easy way. Georgetown by staying within a family tree, and St. John's by having Carnesecca bless the hiring.

So far, it hasn't worked for either school.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

NFL Draft Prospects 

Less than a week before the NFL Draft. I don't know what it is about the draft, that I find myself watching a couple hours of it every year. It's really not that interesting, lots of blather, plenty of downtime between picks, and not much in the way of surprises. Still, I get entranced by the slow kabuki dance of draft. The video phone calls sponsored by some communications group, the interviews with coaches and GMs swearing they got the guy they wanted no matter what the situation, and of course, the hair of Mel Kiper, Jr.

Watching the draft to see where Pitt players would go, at best, would mean tuning in around 4 or 5 pm on the first day to see the second round. Pitt would have one or two guys go in the 2nd-3rd round and maybe one or two others on the second day. This year, Pitt has 10 guys draft eligible, with 9 likely to be drafted. They will be taken throughout the draft this year.

Player, overall rank (out of 379), rank by position.

Larry Fitzgerald #1 WR - #1
Shawntae Spencer #64 CB - #10
Kris Wilson #94 TE - #6
Lousaka Polite #147 FB - #1
Lewis Moore #153 OLB - #10
Claude Harriott #177 DE - #18
Brandon Miree #222 RB - #17
Rod Rutherford #240 QB - #14
Andy Lee #327 P - #4
Mike Morgan NR OT - NR (expected free agent signee)

The player rankings are very, very rough aproximations as to where the player might go in the draft. Some positions get valued higher (cornerback, quaterback) others tend to be undervalued (fullback, tightend).

Some thoughts on what the "expert" takes were.

Spencer -- They see a fair amount of upside on Spencer, and the report seems to have been before his workout. Their summary was about right, though, especially this part, "Lacks recovery speed if he makes a mistake. Inconsistent in coverage, suffers occasional mental lapses."

Wilson -- Surprisingly down on Wilson. He's just a little undersized. They argue that he's already near his max potential, so his ceiling isn't that much higher. "Wilson most likely will be selected in the mid-to-late rounds and will probably level off as a backup or reserve H-back." I'm biased since Wilson was one of my favorites from this Panther team, but he is not that much smaller than your average tight end. I remain convinced that he could end up as a starter in a couple years.

Polite -- Fullbacks are late draft picks. Even if you are the best at the position.

Moore -- A bit of a project. They see him going on the second day.

Harriott -- Lots of potential, but his poor play and injuries this season really hurt his draft rank. At best he's going near the end of day one, but likely day two. My feeling is that he'll go near the end of day one. His position is one that is always in demand.

Miree -- They see him being drafted, but no real NFL future. Mainly because he doesn't have a good burst of speed or very good at catching the ball. Some team will take a shot at him on day two, because he is a strong north-south runner. He is willing to go inside without dancing trying to find the hole.

Rutherford -- They hate his mechanics. "Rutherford has very good athleticism and arm strength, and he did a fine job of operating within the Panthers' West Coast offense. He is a developmental quarterback prospect who would best fit in a similar NFL scheme because of his experience and style. Rutherford is rough around the edges and must improve his mechanics, accuracy and ability to read defenses, but he is an intriguing late-round prospect." I see him on the practice squad playing the role of Mike Vick for teams getting ready to play the Falcons.

Lee -- They actually think Lee could get drafted as opposed to simply being a free agent invite. For a punter, that's pretty good.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Video Game Geek Alert 

Larry Fitzgerald will grace the cover of EA Sports upcoming NCAA Football 2005 video game (no release date announced).

Monday, April 12, 2004

More Radio Notes 

More details have been coming out regarding the new Pitt radio deal with Clear Channel. First some kudos to AD Jeff Long for getting this accomplished. We at PSB have waiting for improvements in the media/PR game. This is an important step that we've been waiting for since the AD Long started implementing the revised radio shows and even a little new PR weekly on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

I have one suggestion for Long regarding the radio shows -- make sure they are streamed on the internet. Either let the stations do it, and provide a link on the Pitt website, or do it yourself. I know Lee listens to the Ohio St. stuff on the web, and it is a great way to reach the fans that don't actually live in Pittsburgh -- not mention a way to build up fan support and interest for other radio stations in the state to carry the shows. And for these shows, do not do it through Yahoo!, so that you have to pay an annual fee. These are not the games. These are informational/propoganda shows. You want them distributed as widely as possible.

There was a little more about the deal in both papers yesterday. The Post-Gazette was a little weaker in details:

In a new deal that started with middle-management talks last summer, the Panthers hike their on-air presence by a minimum of 3 hours weekly during football and 1 1/2-3 hours weekly during basketball.

Football broadcasts will contain a 90-minute pregame and 60-minute postgame show, simulcast on both stations. Then, on the AM all-sports outlet, there will follow a 60-minute "Panthers Hotline," a call-in show previously heard five years ago -- after football games only, though.

Basketball games will include a 30-minute pregame and postgame show, to be followed on the AM by the new basketball version "Panthers Hotline."

Also, there will be Walt Harris and Jamie Dixon coaches shows, most likely on 104.7, which Clear Channel regional vice president John Rohm called the flagship. Fox Sports Radio 970 also is AM home to the Steelers and Penguins, whose game broadcasts would take precedence over any conflicts with the Pitt basketball schedule. WPGB's schedule won't run into any conflicts, Rohm said, because Clear Channel's WDVE-FM (102.5) is the Steelers' flagship and WWSW-FM (94.5) is the Penguins' flagship.

Tomorrow, Harris and Dixon are scheduled to make the radio rounds on the air with those FM stations.

Hosts for the new shows haven't yet been selected

That last line isn't totally true. There isn't a new host for the "Panther Hotline," but the other show not mentioned -- is "Panther Prowl." This show is hosted by the Tribune-Review's Mike Prisuta and Joe Bendel.

Clear Channel has six stations in the Pittsburgh market, and will be cross-promoting the shows on the stations. They claim that the Pitt programming will be an important piece of their programming on 104.7.

In addition, football coach Walt Harris and basketball coach Jamie Dixon will have weekly radio shows, on Fox Sports Radio 970. Other media personalities expected to be involved are Stan Savran, Ellis Cannon, Guy Junker and Rob King.

While Pitt football will have a 90-minute pre-game and 60-minute post-game show, its men's basketball team will have 30-minute basketball pre-game and post-game shows. Both will be followed by the one-hour "Panther Hotline" call-in show on 970.

"This is a great step into the future for the University of Pittsburgh," Long said. "Our past relationship had been inadequate for where the program had risen to."
...
Clear Channel regional vice president John Rohm said its in-house research department projects the shows to be top-3 in the market, with WPBG-FM (104.7) to be the "exclusive home" of the Panthers.

"Sports are the backbone of our operations," Rohm said. "We're looking to dominate."

Added Long: "That's what is appealing to us. We're not ancillary. We're part of the backbone."

Now if AD Long would only do something about the logo...

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Speaking of Audio 

To get in the mood for the Blue-Gold Game, how about some of the Pitt songs (you need Real Player).

The Pitt Victory Song

Hail to Pitt!

University of Pittsburgh Alma Mater

And as a brief aside, Hail to Pitt! and the Pitt Victory Song are great college songs, but they point out the stupidity and disconnect of the University's insistence on being called Pittsburgh rather than Pitt. They can't and wouldn't change the songs, but the school now hates to be called Pitt, even though the URL for the school is still www.pitt.edu. They really need to give up the whole Pittsburgh thing and go back to Pitt. I'll have to get back to this issue another day.

The Blue-Gold Game 

Pitt's annual Blue-Gold game, the end spring football practice scrimmage, is going to take in a little more than an hour. In a perfect world, I wouldn't be writing this post. I'd be in the parking lot outside of Heinz Field, tailgating with the other members of PSB and congratulating John in person on the news that he and his wife are expecting their second child. Instead, only a couple of the guys might have made it to the game, and I am here in Cleveland trying to put off some house and yard work -- but I digress.

There are a lot of questions and a fair amount of curiosity surrounding this game. More than I've seen (or merely I'm just paying closer attention than before) in the last 5 years. Mostly, it is because of the burning question of which QB will succeed Rod Rutherford -- Palko or Getsy. But there are a lot of questions about who will be the starters for many positions.

Pitt has at least eight vacant starting spots on offense and between four and six on defense. There also will be competition for the place-kicking duties and a new punter. Beyond that, coach Walt Harris' major rebuilding project also will feature countless freshman and sophomores vying for key backup spots.

But almost no positions have been won and few, if any, major advantages were gained this spring.

Take for instance the quarterback derby between sophomores Luke Getsy and Tyler Palko.

They have been engaged in an intense battle for the starting job vacated by Rod Rutherford. Coaches have had a chance to watch them perform, but both have spent most of their time running for their lives behind a patchwork and painfully inadequate offensive line.

Harris has said he'd like to decide the starter by the end of spring practice. But you have to wonder how he can. Neither has truly distinguished himself. Additionally, injuries to several of the presumed starting wide receivers has made it difficult to determine which QB has a better connection with the WRs.

Mike Pirusta has a very good column on what Pitt really needs to do between now and the opening game. Get tougher.

The Panthers weren't physical enough on either side of the ball a season ago.

They didn't block.

They didn't tackle.

They didn't dictate tempo to or inflict their will upon opponents.

That has to change before any real progress can be made.

If it doesn't, it won't matter if Palko quickly makes everyone forget Rutherford, if Jawan Walker picks up where Miree left off, if Kris Wilson's production can somehow be duplicated elsewhere, or if a Princell Brockenbrough or Greg Lee can ease the pain of Fitzgerald's absence.

Pitt found out the hard way against the likes of Notre Dame, West Virginia and Miami, Fla., that skill people can only do so much against a team that hits much harder much more often.

It takes painstaking sacrifice and preparation to play that type of game, in the weight room as well as the film room.

It takes a mindset, an attitude that Pitt lost somewhere along the way a season ago and never recovered.

If that happens again it won't matter who's throwing passes or catching them.

Dead on.

Dealing With An Evil Empire 

Pitt has signed a new radio deal. No longer will the games be on WRRK-FM -- Steel City Media. The deal is with Clear Channel Communications for both football and basketball. The games will be carried in Pittsburgh on WPGB-FM (104.7) and WBGG-AM (970). WPGB is now a news talk format, and WBGG is sports talk. The deal looks decent for Pitt, since it calls for expanded coverage. The broadcast crews for the games will remain the same. There will be longer and more detailed pregame and postgame shows. And finally, radio shows for football coach Walt Harris and basketball coach Jamie Dixon. Something the article notes, without irony, " that exists with many other major-college programs but hasn't been heard here in almost a decade." The article doesn't say what the impact will be with affiliate stations. Whether there will be more or changes in other radio stations carrying Pitt. I have to assume that there will be some additions considering the level of station ownership by Clear Channel. Nothing, not even a press release on the Panther Website at this time.

UPDATE: Now there is a press release with some additional details, including

· A 90-minute football pregame show and 60-minute postgame coverage.

· Half-hour pregame and postgame shows for basketball.

· The return of "Panther Hotline," an hour-long call-in show following football and basketball postgame coverage that will air on Fox Sports Radio 970 WBGG-AM.

· In-season shows featuring football coach Walt Harris and basketball coach Jamie Dixon on Fox Sports Radio 970 WBGG-AM.

Additionally, the popular "Panthers Prowl," hosted by Mike Prisuta and Joe Bendel, will continue to air weekly with an assortment of Pitt-oriented guests during football and basketball seasons.

Looks like it has potential.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Numbers That May Only Interest Me 

Just Because. Pitt basketball had the #3 defense in the country:

1. AIR FORCE 28 22-6 1412 50.4
2. PRINCETON 27 20-7 1525 56.5
3. PITTSBURGH 33 29-4 1869 56.6
4. WISCONSIN 30 24-6 1700 56.7

Chevon Troutman was tied for #4 in FG%:

1. N. Harris UTAH ST 28 132 193 .684
2. N. Dixon WESTERN KY 28 179 264 .678
3. S. Finn DAYTON 32 168 249 .675
4. C. McNaughton BUCKNELL 29 142 215 .660
4. C. Troutman PITTSBURGH 32 124 188 .660

Pitt was #7 in winning percentage for the regular season:

1. STANFORD 29-1 .967
2. SAINT JOSEPHS 27-1 .964
3. GONZAGA 27-2 .931
4. OKLAHOMA ST 27-3 .900
5. MISSISSIPPI ST 25-3 .893
6. UTAH ST 25-3 .893
7. PITTSBURGH 29-4 .879
8. KENTUCKY 26-4 .867

#9 in Scoring Margin of Victory:

1. GONZAGA 82.3 65.9 16.4
2. SAINT JOSEPHS 77.8 61.5 16.3
3. OKLAHOMA ST 78.7 63.3 15.4
4. CONNECTICUT 79.1 63.9 15.2
5. DUKE 79.8 65.0 14.8
6. CINCINNATI 76.9 62.9 14.0
7. WESTERN MICH 78.5 65.2 13.3
8. STANFORD 73.9 60.7 13.2
9. PITTSBURGH 69.2 56.6 12.6
10. LOUISVILLE 73.3 60.9 12.4

Julius Page was #3 in the country in total minutes played:

Romain Sato, Xavier 1206
Andre Emmett, Texas Tech 1179
Julius Page, Pittsburgh 1171

To really blow your mind (and lend credence to my theory that Pitt was just gassed in the last few games) Pitt was #15 in field goal shooting percentage (FG%)

1. GONZAGA 842 1635 51.5
2. OKLAHOMA ST 875 1703 51.4
3. UTAH ST 686 1342 51.1
4. MURRAY ST 977 1969 49.6
5. MICHIGAN ST 725 1464 49.5
6. CHATTANOOGA 861 1751 49.2
7. SAMFORD 644 1317 48.9
8. BYU 738 1514 48.7
9. PRINCETON 616 1268 48.6
10. ARIZONA 914 1885 48.5
11. STANFORD 796 1644 48.4
12. LAFAYETTE 731 1513 48.3
13. FLORIDA 808 1674 48.3
14. AIR FORCE 568 1177 48.3
15. PITTSBURGH 849 1760 48.2
16. BIRMINGHAM SOU 680 1412 48.2

Odds and Ends 

Just some things to pass along in 3 sports.

PSB favorite Shawntae Spencer, senior CB, has been moving quickly up the draft boards. He is now considered to have an outside shot at being drafted before the end of the 1st round. He has moved up on CB rankings ahead of Ohio St.'s Chris Gamble. Not sure what that really says about CB depth in the 2004 NFL draft.

Pitt basketball coach, Jamie Dixon, is on the recruiting trail for 2005. He has offered a scholarship to an NYC kid

Ricky Torres, a 6-foot-4 junior shooting guard from St. Raymond's High School, received word yesterday that Dixon would like for him to become a Panther.

Torres is coached by Oliver Antigua, who played with the Panthers as a walk-on from 1995-98 and is the brother of Orlando Antigua, Pitt's director of basketball operations.

He has gotten interest from UConn and NC St., but Pitt is the first to offer him a scholarship.

Finally, according to Baseball America, Pitt will make the baseball NCAA Division I regionals (subs. req'd) to be held June 4-6. There are 16 regionals with 4 teams in each, hosted by the #1 seed for the regional. They project Pitt to be the #3 seed in the Hattiesburg, Mississippi region. #1 -- Southern Miss., #2 -- Auburn, #4 -- Princeton.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

How it Works 

I had to pass along this article from the LA Times about the coach schmoozing from the Final Four. Every year, I read an article with some variation on this. This one, though, gets a little more into the little NABC product expo.

By mid-morning Friday, most of the coaches head to the Henry Gonzalez Convention Center to check out the products at the expo hosted by the National Assn. of Basketball Coaches.

A big draw is giveaways provided by the participating companies. Any business slow to catch on was reminded in a letter from the NABC, which included the following in bold type:

"The NABC highly encourages companies to utilize gift-giving opportunities to bolster traffic at your booths."

Then there are the shoe company parties for the coaches

The meeting adjourns and it's party time. Friday night is the craziest on Riverwalk because, in addition to coaches, fans have arrived by the thousands, most wearing the colors of their favored school. Barges carrying school bands and cheerleaders float along the river, a meandering yet raucous voyage that ends near an ESPN platform where analysts are on the air, predicting the next day's winners.

For coaches with enough clout to score an invitation, shoe company parties are an alternative to the open-air celebration.

The Adidas bash is at the swanky Club Rive only a few blocks from the Hyatt, and coaches under contract with Nike or Reebok are not welcome. Shoe companies pay a major portion of the salaries of top coaches -- Adidas pays Howland $375,000 a year -- and the annual Final Four parties bring together everyone with allegiance to a particular brand.

Two coaches whose teams are coming off successful seasons -- Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh and Bo Ryan of Wisconsin -- are the big Adidas draws. Six break dancers entertain on a circular dance floor, there is a generous buffet of beef tacos, chicken flautas and guacamole, and free drinks are poured by bartenders wearing T-shirts bearing the latest Adidas slogan: "Impossible is nothing."

A live mannequin in an Adidas ensemble stands frozen on a platform above the crowded room. And although a rock band plays, the music is not so loud that revelers can't carry on a conversation -- or cut a deal.

The story focuses a bit on an assistant coach from Geneva College in Beaver Falls. Worth reading in full.

Idle Thoughts About Next Year in Big East Basketball 

So now the season is completely over. UConn is the national champion, to go with their Big East Tournament Championship. A season that began with question marks (life after Brandin Knight and Ben Howland, Jamie Dixon, Krauser) and modest expectations -- finish in the top-25, maybe come in 2nd or 3rd in the Big East, make a little noise in the Big East Tourney and hopefully make it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. The end, though, was disappointing despite the achievements:

-- #9 in the polls at the end of the regular season
-- Winning the Big East Regular Season outright
-- Runner up to UConn in the Big East Tournament
-- A #3 seed in the NCAA Tourney was considered the biggest slight of the seeding
-- Making it to the Sweet 16 to be knocked out by a Final Four team
-- #7 in the final USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll for 2003-2004

Already there is rumination about next year. Should we be surprised Pitt wasn't included in this list? I want to say yes, but not really. We don't have the name cache established that would put us in there no matter what, and there will again be plenty of questions about the team with the loss of Page and Brown.

There will be lots of questions. Will McCarroll be the new starting power forward, and finally play better defense? Will Graves and/or Demetrius sieze the starting shooting guard position, or lose to JUCO transfer DeGroat. Will some of the other recruits from last year and incoming push any of the starters for playing time? How will Jamie Dixon do with more expectations and more of his own players?

2004-05 will be the last year of Big East basketball as we know it. The following season will have Cinci, Louisville, Marquette and DePaul in the conference to swell it to a 16 team behemoth. For all the talk about how at that point, the Big East will be THE college basketball conference, next year will be far from shabby. Consider:

Top Teams
UConn -- They lose Taliek Brown, Okafor and Gordon, but still have Villanueva, Boone, Anderson and a stellar incoming class. Along with their coaching, you know they are merely reloading.

Syracuse -- No reason to think they won't be as good if not better than this past season. The Billy Edelin distractions look to be done for good.

Notre Dame -- They disappointed this season, but will be a year older and better.

Villanova -- All the talent in the world (as they showed at the Big East Tournament) and young, but will they finally put it together?

Boston College -- A team in its last year in the Big East, but totally built for the Big East. Another year older and stronger. They will be a sleeper team to win it in the Big East.

Pitt -- Page and Brown were guys that led the way for this team, but Troutman and Krauser are still leaders. Taft will be stronger and more aggressive. There is still a lot to like about Pitt.

NIT More or Less
Rutgers -- Runner-up in the NIT. One of these years...

Providence -- Still a good team, but expect Gomes to be gone. They finished as a top team so they will have a brutal BE schedule.

WVU -- Good coach, rebuilding the program. They have some talent and size.

Seton Hall -- Probably closer to less than more. They will be rebuilding, but they have a good system.


Bottom Feeding
Georgetown -- They may or may not have a good recruiting class incoming, still need a new coach to get those wavering recruits.

St. John's -- A complete mess.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Fear and Trembling: Panther Football 2004 

Beyond the tailgating, of course, I'm not entirely looking forward to this season of Panther Football. That being said, sticking with your team through the tough times is what makes you a real fan.

There wasn't much in the Post-Gazette over the weekend. Our secondary will be inexperienced (d'uh), Paul Rhoads still hasn't been fired, we'll have to devise something else to yell after interceptions other than "SHAWN-TAY," Luke Getsy is still outperforming Tyler Palko in spring practices, the offensive line still sucks, and Walt still needs to work on his poses when the press is around.


Regarding our schedule, FOXSports.com has designated South Florida (our opener) as our 2004 "landmine game" -- that is to say, the game in which we are most likely to get upset. Given that Pitt always starts slow, even USF is beating us in recruiting these days, and this game will be on the road, in the heat, in Tampa, would this really be an upset if we lost? I mean, can I just predict this one right now?

Imagine. Losing two in a row to the Bulls... Get ready, John.

Heck, let me glance over our schedule and highlight what I feel are our likely losses right now...

Sep 4 at South Florida 7:00PM
Sep 11 OHIO 7:00PM
Sep 18 NEBRASKA (Need I explain?)
Sep 25 FURMAN
Sep 30 at Connecticut (This may be my riskiest pick. But hey, they're supposed to be tough this year.)
Oct 9 at Temple
Oct 16 BOSTON COLLEGE (We lost a lot more than they did this winter, especially on offense.)
Oct 23 RUTGERS
Nov 6 at Syracuse (We're more than due for an asskicking at the hands of these guys.)
Nov 13 at Notre Dame (I just love watching my teams get crushed by Notre Dame on NBC.)
Nov 25 WEST VIRGINIA (This one's gonna hurt worst of them all.)

There you go. My first and earliest inklings have us going 4-7 in 2004. Like I said, sticking with your team through the tough times is what makes you a real fan...

Hail to the Hoopies getting blasted with some kind of a recruiting/sex scandal before Thanksgiving or something... and hail to Daylight Savings Time.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Bad Joke 

Just seeing if there was anything else on Pitt out there at the moment, when I cam across this press release regarding the Mountain Dew College Slam Dunk and Three-Point Championships:

Expected to compete in the men's three-point shootout are Pittsburgh's Julius Page, Gonzaga's Blake Stepp, Stanford's Matt Lottich, and Texas' Brandon Mouton.

Needless to say, I sputtered out my coffee. Julius Page with a .329 3-point shooting average this year? How could a Purdue press release be pulling such a bad April Fools joke on us. Well, the Pitt Athletic department press release lists Page as participating in the Dunk portion.

Don't think I'm going to watch it, I find them rather dull, but it airs tonight on ESPN, and then several more times:

Thursday, April 1 -- 9:00-11:00 p.m. EST
Friday, April 2 -- 3:00-5:00 p.m. EST
Saturday, April 3 -- 1:00-3:00 p.m. EST
Sunday, April 4 -- 1:30-3:30 a.m. EST
Wednesday, April 7 -- 3:00-5:00 a.m. EST

For Lee's benefit, I note that one of the judges is his favorite basketball coach, Bob Huggins.

A check at a couple other school sites confirms Page in the Dunk portion.

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