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, March 31, 2006

Connecting Dots Or Reaching For Tinfoil 

I think I've established that I prefer actual information as opposed to overly broad speculation based on limited information. Now having said that, this could descend to borderline fantasy by the time the post is finished.

I noted that Duquesne made what I thought was at least on its face, a halfway decent hire for head coach. That was going to be the extent of my thoughts. I couldn't really say that I find Duquesne much of a concern. So, I didn't bother passing along a contrary view from Greg Doyel at Spotsline.com on the the hire (Mar 29, second entry).
Here's how bad the Duquesne job has become: The school is about to hire Ron Everhart of Northeastern. Understand two things about Everhart: One, he didn't start winning at Northeastern until he hired an assistant coach from Miami named Frank Martin, at which point Martin began delivering players like Jose Juan Barea -- at which point Northeastern began to win. Martin's at Kansas State now. And, two, Everhart is in bed with one of the most hotly discussed prep school coaches in New England, Bill Barton of Notre Dame Prep, who is known among mid-majors for steering his players -- even players committed elsewhere -- to Northeastern. If Everhart was the best Duquesne could do, then Everhart was the best Duquesne could do.
Okay, so Everhart has a sort of connection to a Huggins assistant. Of course, as we learned this week, not just any Huggins assistant. Martin is tight with the AAU Coach Art Alvarez of the Miami Tropics which of course ties back to Arlington County Day School, Rex Morgan and of course J.O. Stright. The Huggins connection is not even hidden by Duquesne:
"I've known Ron for a long time. He's a 'basketball guy' who has great respect for the game. He coaches the game with great passion. I think he's one of the really good younger guys in the business."
So when there was the formal introduction of Everhart, Stright was there and being quoted.

One of the people in the stands, J. O. Stright, will help Everhart recruit locally. Stright has strong ties to youth basketball in the area and plans to showcase a number of players next week at a local gym. "It's mainly going to be for Ron," Stright said. "The kids will be sophomores and juniors with some seniors who haven't signed yet. Ninety percent will come from the J.O.T.S., and some will be prep school kids.

"Ron is my type of guy. I like the way he does things."

He also said this.

Shaler's J.O. Stright, the founder of the Pittsburgh JOTS Junior AAU team, welcomed Everhart. Stright, arguably the most influential person in Western Pennsylvania basketball, is certain Everhart will improve Duquesne's ability to recruit.

"I don't think Duquesne could have picked a better guy to rebuild the program," Stright said. "I think (recruits) will consider Duquesne now. It's obviously going to rejuvenate the program. It was dead. It was on its heels. But just being around Ronnie, you will see a big difference."

So there are ties between the two with Huggins and Martin -- at a minimum. You have to suspect they have at least some familiarity with each other and perhaps meeting in other settings. Who else can be added to the mix.

A tip-off to what Ron Everhart brings as the men's basketball coach at Duquesne University came across loud and clear yesterday when he mentioned a number of people who helped him decide to take the job -- Rick Pitino, Sonny Vaccaro, Bob Huggins and J.O. Stright, all shakers and movers in the business of college basketball.

Everhart knows how the game works when it comes to finding the players who can turn a losing program into a winner.

"I'm very fortunate to have their support and friendship," Everhart said of Pitino, the coach at Louisville; Huggins, the new coach at Kansas State; Vaccaro, the godfather of high school all-star basketball games; and Stright, who has ties to the local youth basketball scene as an AAU coach and founder of the J.O.T.S.

We can cross off Pitino, one of Everhart's assistants at Northeastern happened to be Richard Pitino -- Rick's kid. Of course they'd say nice things about each other.

Sonny Vaccaro, on the other hand, is hard to miss. Vaccaro's been with Reebok for a few years after leaving Adidas. Vaccaro, a Western PA native, is tight with most AAU coaches and runs the ABCD Camp, set up various others and is widely credited with the AAU, summer programs for high school basketball players and so on -- for better or worse.

Vaccaro, while still at Adidas, was a player in helping Howland to UCLA (shoe money for the salary). He also pushed hard for Pitt to hire Bobby Gonzalez from Manhattan -- another one of his "up-and-coming coaches" at the time. Funny how Gonzalez's star seemed to dim without Vaccaro's backing.

This is all somewhere between a lot of coincidences and a deep dark conspiracy Pitt should be wary of.

Who knows.

Final B-Ball Q&A 

Ray Fittipaldo gives his last Q&A for the year. Questions about Dixon's contract stuff, J.O. Stright comes up, recruiting types of players, Aaron Gray and better use of Sam Young.
Q: Although Pitt had a great season, I have one question: Do the coaches ever recruit bigger guards or more athletic small forwards? It seems like they have guards who play small forward.

Fittipaldo: I'm sure they recruit athletic forwards, but they don't land many, Chris. Small forward has been the one position holding Pitt back in recent seasons. Ever since Jaron Brown left the program, Pitt has been searching for answers at small forward. Dixon tried Yuri Demetris and Mark McCarroll there two seasons ago. He tried John DeGroat, Keith Benjamin and Antonio Graves there this season. Demetris, Benjamin and Graves were guards who tried to play small forward. McCarroll was a power forward playing out of position. DeGroat was a small forward, but he just didn't pan out. Maybe this Smith from Hargrave is the answer to their problems. I know he is highly coveted by the staff.

It may be just me, but if the coaches could sell Benjamin on it, I think he could come close to doing what Jaron Brown did on defense. Benjamin is fast enough and looks like he could be strong enough to be a shut-down one-on-one defender. The problem is, Benjamin is much more in love with scoring and the offense. Not sure if he could make the mental adjustment.

Defensive Notes 

Spring Practices are underway for everyone. That means ridiculously early previews are starting to be released. One such site, NationalChamps.net has its early 2006 preview available -- but you have to pay ($8.95 for the college football junkies that are truly desperate). In there they list their pre-season All-American team and include Darrelle Revis on the 1st team and H.B. Blades on 3d team.

Additional time waster, NationalChamps.net also hosts the very interesting Helmet Project, where they are compiling graphics of all past helmets worn by football teams. The groupings are divided by conferences in college football including the Big East.

Sam Clancy recently moved back to Pittsburgh to finally complete his college education. He is also interested in helping the football team.
Sam Clancy, a former basketball standout at Pitt and an NFL defensive end, watched Thursday's practice from the sideline. There are no vacancies on coach Dave Wannstedt's staff, and NCAA rules prohibit him from doing any hands-on unpaid coaching. But Clancy hopes to be a positive presence around the players.

"I'd like to help out any way I can," Clancy said. "I'm looking forward to being around the young kids. This is where you mold them for the next level. This will be a challenge for me, because I've only been around professional athletes." Clancy coached for six years in the NFL for Oakland and New Orleans and five seasons for the Barcelona Dragons in NFL Europe.

Earlier this week I noted a couple Clint Session stories. Here's another.

Session will open this season as the Panthers' starting strong-side linebacker.

"He's got to stay healthy," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He knows his position. He knows his responsibility. So, I expect good results."

Last season, Pitt's defense was soft against opposing running backs. The Panthers gave up only 185.2 rushing yards per game -- the only team that didn't crack 100 yards against them was Ohio.

"It definitely gets me a little fired up," Session said. "Being a linebacker, the main thing we want to do is stop the run.

"It's embarrassing when a guy runs on you, even if it's 2 or 3 yards. When you can't stop the run, the other team's pretty much got you in its hands, and it can do whatever it wants with you."

The article repeats the earlier stuff: coming back from injury, losing weight, working in Florida to get faster, and the 3d person quote.

Ending with a human interest story. A Carlisle teen with Spina Bifida got an autographed football from Coach Dave Wannstedt. The kid has been in and out of Children's Hospital for surgeries, meeting players and becoming a fan.

Offense Notes 

The focus is on Fullback Conredge Collins. Part of why Collins came to Pitt was for the opportunity to play tailback -- as a fullback he was considered one of the top recruits in the country -- but he seems to be coming around to playing fullback.
At 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, slimmer than the 245 he weighed after returning from Christmas break, Collins is a bulldozer and much more-suited to the role than senior Tim Murphy was last season.

Collins was recruited as a tailback and really wanted to play that position at this level.

"We just have to convince (Collins) that there's activity at the position other than just throwing your big body at somebody to block him," Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "But he's adapted to it pretty well. He's still working at it, but he's on track."

Stephens-Howling and Collins appear to give Pitt a solid one-two punch.

"I think we work well together," Stephens-Howling said. "He's a good runner, and he's getting better as a blocker. I like running behind him."

Along with his running, pass-catching and blocking duties, Collins has been like a third tight end and gone in motion at times this spring.

Since John Pelusi might have to redshirt because of offseason knee surgery, Pitt is down to two tight ends until freshman recruit Nate Byham comes in this summer.
Playing time was a big reason he agreed to the shift.

Now that he's the starter, he's trying to figure out what his role his, but he's sure he'll be a big part of the offense. He said the key for him is that he is only a sophomore, yet he already has earned a starting job. Now, it's time to prove himself.

"I knew that after this past season, there'd be a lot of openings in the backfield, and that's one of the reasons I came here," said Collins, who is from Miami and is the son of former New England Patriots running back Tony Collins.

"Being the big back, the power back, I know I'll get in a lot of one-back situations and get to catch the ball out of the backfield or run the short-yardage plays. So, it is up to me to get it done now."

Other notes from the article observe that Connor Lee and David Abdul are still battling for the starting job. Cavanaugh noted that various offensive assistant coaches already want to have Dorin Dickerson play a bit at other positions.
"The only coach who hasn't yet asked for him is [offensive line coach] Paul Dunn, and it won't be long before he does," Cavanaugh said.
Ominous note that Center Chris Vangas hurt his knee -- the extent not yet known. He was in a battle for the starting spot.

QB Tyler Palko is still pissed about last season and using it to motivate.
"You have that sick feeling of 5-6, and I really hope that the guys on this team feel the same way," Palko said about Pitt's record last season. "I want to make sure we never have that feeling again. You don't want to send your seniors out like that, and I feel bad that we did."

There's no guarantee the Panthers can secure a winning record next season, but the chances are better just because it's their second year in Dave Wannstedt's system.

"We've had a lot less mental mistakes than we had last year at this time, and I think they're starting to understand," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "A lot of the terminology is identical, with just a few changes, but there's better communication overall."

Palko has noticed a big difference as well.

"It's going to be easier, because the system isn't as new," Palko said.
Cavanaugh was disappointed with his own work last year.

"I'm disappointed that we were 5-6 last year. I take blame for a couple of those losses; I think I called some poor games and didn't give our players a chance to execute some plays. So, I've got no comfort level. I expect us to be a lot more sound in every area. I've got a lot of improvement to make."

Pitt held its seventh spring practice yesterday. Cavanaugh is encouraged that the players on offense are making fewer mental mistakes than a year ago at this time. "We're coming out of the huddle with a better idea of what we're supposed to be doing," he said.

"There's still a lot of things, fundamentally, that we've got to work on, but I think they're grasping the schemes better. We want them coming out of the huddle confident in what they're doing. If we can get them to that point, then we can correct all the fundamental things."

You would hate to see the results if the offense took a step back. Actually, we have seen that. They are called Syracuse.

Rohrssen Watch, No Change Just Rumors 

As I wrote yesterday, Seton Hall won't make a decision until after the Final Four. It does, however, really appear that it is down to Pitt Associate Head Coach Barry Rohrssen or Manhattan Head Coach Bobby Gonzalez.

Seton Hall athletic director Joe Quinlan has narrowed the field for the vacant basketball head coaching job to Pittsburgh assistant Barry Rohrssen and Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez, according to a person familiar with the school's coaching search.

The individual, who requested anonymity in order to maintain the university's desire to keep aspects of the search private, said Quinlan may interview one or two more candidates but Rohrssen or Gonzalez will likely become the school's next coach.

One report yesterday, said that Rohrssen had absolutely killed in his interview.

Quinlan had already met with Barry Rohrssen on Tuesday, and sources told the Daily News that Quinlan was impressed with the Pittsburgh assistant.

"It's (Rohrssen's) job to lose," the source said.

There could be lots of coaching turnover on the basketball staff. Assistant Joe Lombardi is eyeing a head gig.

Meanwhile, Pitt assistant Joe Lombardi has expressed interest in the vacant head coaching position at Indiana (Pa.), where he served as an assistant from 1984-87.

Lombardi, a Sharon native, has spent the past three seasons at Pitt. He also is a former assistant at Ohio, Youngstown State, St. Francis (Pa.), La Salle and St. Bonaventure, where he served as associate head coach for more than half of his tenure.

The potential turnover of two coaches could have an affect on Pitt's chances of landing Tyler Smith.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dokish On Stright, Part 2 

Chris Dokish, the writer of the very interesting article on J.O. Stright for Pittsburgh Sports Report was kind enough to agree to answer a bunch of questions I had for him regarding Stright. This is Part 2 of the Q&A. Part 1 is below.

[Continued from Part 1.]

Having said that, the events surrounding the trip to Arlington County Day School (ACDS) still seem quite vague. Are there other connections for Stright with ACDS and Rex Morgan beyond the AAU? Even with the AAU stuff, that just seemed downright odd to try and get him down to Florida when his family is in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
After Pope committed to Pitt, it was reported that Pope was transferring to ACDS. I quickly called Pope who was actually at the school. He said it was not true and was coming back to Aliquippa. But he did not want me to tell anybody until he came back on Monday (the call was on Saturday). He said it was because he did not want anybody there to know that he wasn't staying. In the meantime, the local Pittsburgh papers were reporting that Pope was transferring to ACDS and even had quotes from ACDS coach Rex Morgan that said "he's enrolled and going to class". I called Pope back and he was already in Aliquippa. Pryor says that he and Pope were recruited by ACDS at an AAU tournament. These things do happen but it seems very coincidental that this school just happens to have a big connection with Huggins.

As for the connection between Stright and Morgan, Morgan is friends with the coaches at the Miami Tropics AAU team, who are best friends with Frank Martin, the right hand man of Huggins. Morgan sends his top players to the Tropics but it was understood that Pope and Pryor would come back and play for the JOTS in the summer.
Given that Huggins had no school/NCAA regulations to bind or restrict him this past year, along with the way he has openly and brazenly been recruiting players like Bennett, Mayo and Walker -- to say nothing of Pope -- there's a lot of speculation as to the role of Stright beyond merely advising and funneling. Have Huggins, Stright and Pope gotten together in settings outside of HS games? The phone call from Pope to Stright you describe seems to imply that there has been more than a little direct contact with Huggins and facilitated by Stright.
Stright is more than a coach to some of these players, especially Pope. He is more like a mentor and they do know each other away from the basketball court. Stright did facilitate other contact between Huggins and some of his players including last month when he organized a tryout with Huggins that included Pryor, plus Schenley stars DJ Kennedy and DeJuan Blair.
Then there is Pryor. The early reports when he committed were that one of the major reasons Pryor made a verbal to Pitt and is viewed as more likely to actually follow through on it, has been that he wants to be able to stay close to his father and have him be able to come to the games. Then in the story, he was halfway to ACDS in Florida and ready to go to a prep school for at least a year anywhere Stright recommends. There seems to be a real question as to what level of influence he is exerting.
Most close to Pryor thinks there is a very good chance that he will end up at Pitt. Pryor himself told me last week that it was "90%". He is not as close to Stright, though he does see Stright as the organizer for his recruiting since he really doesn't have a strong family influence. He doesn't live with either of his parents and neither does Pope for that matter. Any influence that Stright may have on Pryor may stop at college, though, as Pryor does not seem thrilled with playing at Kansas State and he never really said anything to me that indicated that he would follow Huggins. He is actually a very good kid who many think could be the superstar player Pitt needs to raise the program up even further.

As for Pryor almost attending ACDS, he said he sent in the papers to attend but then changed his mind. Stright said Pryor never sent any papers. When I tried to get clarification for this, Pryor said that he gave the signed papers to an assistant coach so if ACDS didn't get them then the coach must not have sent them. I have no idea why Pryor would not question any of this and I am not sure which team this assistant coached for.
The comment in the story regarding the present Pitt coaching staff. What or who doesn't Stright like or how they are recruiting players from his AAU team? Are they trying to bypass him?
Stright feels slighted that Joe Lombardi was sent to recruit his players and not Barry Rohrssen, though many college basketball analysts will tell you that Lombardi is an excellent recruiter. He was also upset that they did not recruit Ben McCauley harder. And, yes, he feels like Pitt does not ask for his advice more. One highly respected national basketball figure told me that Pitt should get the players they are interested in out of the JOTS but that is not realistic. For players like Pope and Pryor, Stright is all they know and he does have a lot of power. In this case, more power than Pitt, who would no doubt pay the price if they tried to get somebody like Pope away from the JOTS.
Does Stright even understand why he is regarded so, um, warily?

By that I mean, not only is he a very influential AAU Coach with tight personal ties with a college coach who is considered to skate a gray area with regards to recruits and recruiting. He is also tight with at least one prep school.

Huggins, AAU basketball and Prep schools have all come under more scrutiny in recent years. All three have been attracting increasing NCAA scrutiny in recent years.

There have been articles in recent months about many prep schools being nothing more than basketball mills and questionable practices. AAU basketball tournaments and the coaches are increasingly getting attention for the way they control so much of the players and their recruitment.
Not really. He is a very self-assured man who seems unfazed that Pitt fans think he is doing something wrong. I assumed he would be hesitant to talk to me but he held nothing back and was very talkative and relaxed. I actually kept a lot out of his Pitt criticisms out because it was unfair to Pitt since they can not reply, per NCAA rules, to any talk about Pope and Pryor.
Thanks once again to Chris for taking the time to do this. And also to Tony DeFazio, Editor at Pittsburgh Sports Report for helping arrange the Q&A.

Dokish On Stright, Part 1 

Chris Dokish, the writer of the very interesting article on J.O. Stright for Pittsburgh Sports Report was kind enough to agree to answer a bunch of questions I had for him regarding Stright. Because of the length, I've broken this into two parts.
I understand there are still a lot of questions but I had a word limit and unfortunately I had to have a big intro for the casual fan who may not know as much. Believe me, I could have written a book on the subject.
Fortunately, this Q&A doesn't have such restrictions.

What kind of help did Gore and Smith provide Stright back when he was starting his AAU team back in '81? Do they maintain any present connections with Stright or J.O.T.S. at this point?
The JOTS actually started in 1987. I wrote 25 years ago but that was when Stright actually started mentoring high school basketball players. It wasn't until six years later that the JOTS started. Stright was a big Pitt fan and gave Smith and Gore summer jobs while they were playing for the Panthers. When he decided to start an AAU team, he asked Smith and Gore to use their popularity to get his team off the ground. I don't know if he still talks to Gore but he is still very close with Smith and actually helped with Smith's first NBA contract.
How far do Stright and Huggins go back? My assumption has been that they met while Huggins was at Akron, and that he came to Pitt to watch the AAU team -- sometime around 1984 or 85. Was it earlier or later?
The earliest I can confirm their friendship is 1991 when Danny Fortson was a 15 year old playing for Stright on the JOTS. They may have known each other before that, but I can't say for sure.
[The mystery continues.]

I know he was once, just as close to Calipari. Are they still on good terms or did the fallout from Danny Fortson -- Calipari tried to go around Stright and Huggins to get him to UMass along with Hunter -- end that.
Stright and Calipari used to be close but not so much anymore. All three were very close, in fact, until they made a deal that Huggins would get Fortson and Calipari would get Tino Hunter. But then UMass made it to the Sweet 16 and Calipari thought he now needed Fortson so he tried to recruit him. They had a falling out because it was not part of the deal. Huggins got Calipari and Hunter went to Minnesota.
Other than Fortson and Hunter, what other players has Stright directed to certain schools/coaches?
It's tough to say who he "directed" to certain schools, other than Fortson, who Stright admits to directing to Cincinnati. There are many former JOTS players who ended up playing for Huggins at Cincinnati but they played for the Youngstown JOTS. There are five JOTS teams in total, four being in PA. The only JOTS members to attend Pitt were Josh Lay, Nate Byham, and Yuri Demetris. And Lay and Byham did not attend Pitt for basketball, of course. The most famous of the Pittsburgh JOTS were Dante Calabria (North Carolina), Archie Miller (NC State), Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (Ohio State), Chris Kirkland (UMass), Dave Young (Xavier), Matt Carroll (Notre Dame), and Ben McCauley (NC State).
[With that many teams, and really the only AAU outlet in the area for kids, there is no way to avoid dealing with Stright, it would seem.]

Regarding his Paul Evans comment -- why? Was it a personal issue? Did it have to do with the sour relationship Evans had with most of his players. Charles Smith doesn't say many nice things about him; and Jerome Lane cracked Evans, saying that Calipari should have been coaching the team and they would have made the final four.
I don't know what he had against Evans. A lot of people have speculated that it was because Evans did not recruit Stright's son, Justin, who frankly could not play at Pitt's level. But he did not get into details with me. I know he holds a grudge against the current staff for not recruiting Ben McCauley hard enough, so the theory is possible.
On the subject of Herb Pope. I don't dispute that Pope's verbal as a HS Sophomore could not be taken seriously. Even before Stright was known to be involved, Pope had amassed a disturbing early history of school transfers. Why would anyone think choosing a college would be different?
Unfortunately, like many top prospects, Pope has a past of attending many schools. And it's probably not over yet. I would not be surprised at all if Pope did not come back to Aliquippa next year. But western PA is home, he likes Jamie Dixon, and he wants to attend school with his cousin, Pitt football player Tommie Campbell, whose family Pope lives with.

Also, every time that Pope talked to me, he said the word "we" when talking about Pitt and told me even after he de-committed that the chances of him going to Pitt was "98.6%". Truthfully, given the evidence, you would think Pitt would be a very heavy favorite.

But not any longer after, he talked more and more about Huggins, and how Cincinnati wronged him by firing him. He also said, before this previous season, that he was told "by a coach" that Dixon would not be there for long. He intimated that Dixon would be fired. Around Cincinnati, it was considered a done deal that after Huggins got fired, he would end up at Pitt after Dixon also got fired. Who was spreading these rumors were setting off alarm bells for many people who follow college basketball and, correctly or incorrectly, Stright's name came up.
End of Part 1.

Shane... Shane... Come Back! 

It's probably a real sign of age, that the line is likely more familiar from some derivative use than the original. I saw the line used the other day while watching Jimmy Neutron with my daughter.

Still, I'm betting Pitt is the only Div. 1-A team in the country with two Shanes. Definitely two that are both redshirt freshmen. Any how, the two Shanes of Pitt have been doing some hitting after switching positions.
Shane Murray and Shane Brooks never expected to become heavy hitters at Pitt. But with the second week of spring drills under way, it is clear that the two redshirt freshmen know how to put a good lick on somebody.

Murray (Pittsburgh Central Catholic) is rediscovering the joys of tackling after being switched from quarterback to safety, a position he dabbled at in high school.

"It's a transition, going from taking the hits to delivering the hits, but it's not so difficult," Murray said. "In our first practice, I got a little sting, but it was nothing serious. I was able to pick up on it quickly and be physical again."

By lowering his shoulder and plowing straight ahead, Brooks (Duquesne High School) has thrust himself into the mix for the starting tailback job.

"Some guys, even after one week, have separated themselves a little bit," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Shane Brooks has got the toughness that we're looking for. He's got more run-after-contact (ability) than any back we've got."

Brooks was only moved slightly from fullback to tailback, but given his toughness, he can probably be expected to be used in either position. Especially if Pitt uses the fullback for more than just blocking as expected with Conredge Collins. Unless someone really distinguishes himself or most of the running backs go down to injury (always a possibility with the O-line), I expect that Coach Wannstedt will use a wide variety of backs this season.

Brooks said he dropped about 10 pounds in order to get a little quicker. He is 5 feet 10, 215 pounds and a bruising runner who fits in the power-run formations the Panthers like to utilize.

Stephens-Howling said he gained about 10 pounds in the offseason in order to make himself more durable, stronger and more capable of handling the pounding he'll take once the season begins.

Wannstedt said the competition has been good, but he cautioned that the starting tailback might not have reached campus yet.

"Because of our youth, it is a real strong possibility that we'll go into the season by committee," Wannstedt said. "Right now, there is no question that LaRod is our best back. But Shane Brooks is coming on, and we still have Brandon Mason. But [incoming freshman] Kevin Collier brings a lot to the table, and I haven't ruled out putting [incoming freshman] Dorin Dickerson back there and pitching him the ball."

Players have been switching positions a bit as the coaching staff tries to find the right mix.
Coach Dave Wannstedt moved a few players around for Tuesday's practice. Derrell Jones switched from defensive to offensive line.

Rashaad Duncan got a tryout at nose guard. Vernon Botts went from defensive end to tackle.

"With us, there are a lot of uncertain positions," Wannstedt said. "That's healthy, if handled in the right way."

Running backs coach David Walker said sophomore fullback Conredge Collins won't be limited to strictly blocking duties this fall.

"The reason he was recruited so highly and the reason we brought him here is because of his running ability, not necessarily because of what he did without the football. So, we have to create opportunities where he handles the ball -- whether he's a one-back, whether he's at the top of the 'I,' or whether we're throwing him the ball. We have to give him touches, and that's what we're going to do."

Part of the reason for shifting players around, especially on the defensive line, is the glaringly obvious need to improve from last year.
"We couldn't stop anybody when we needed to,'' senior linebacker H.B. Blades said. "And it wasn't just the fault of the defensive line.''

Wannstedt is putting the onus on that unit during spring practice sessions at the UPMC Sports Complex.

"We were very young and inexperienced last year,'' said Wannstedt. "That was scary, but now we're a year older. And that's going to benefit us this year. We're still young, but a lot of those guys got a lot of playing time last season.

"I told our defensive line, and I was only half kidding them, that the first four guys off the bus will start. It's all up for grabs in a healthy way, but how it unfolds ... we'll see. Guys will separate themselves, but it's going to be real interesting.''

Sophomore Rashaad Duncan had two starts at tackle last season, while redshirt sophomore Corey Davis had another when fifth-year senior Thomas Smith was injured. Phil Tillman, a senior, started on the other side.

Playing time can be earned at those spots this spring.

For some reason, I wouldn't be putting a lot of stock in what the depth chart says in the Media Guide this season.

Other Basketball Notes 

Most of you don't care, but an update on the Arizona State basketball coaching search. It's back to square one a second time, as Rick Majerus is no longer an option.
Rick Majerus was eliminated Wednesday as a candidate for the job as Arizona State's next basketball coach on a dwindling short list that still includes Randy Bennett of Saint Mary's College and NBA assistant Lionel Hollins, according to multiple sources connected to ASU.

According to those sources, health concerns are a reason Majerus is no longer under consideration in ASU's search for a successor to Rob Evans, who was told on March 10 that he would not be back.
Now it should be no shock, just to look at the guy, that health issues would be a serious stumbling block. Apparently ASU wanted a closer look at his recent medical tests and there was some balking at that.

What's stunning is the sheer ineptness by ASU for this coaching search. None of the other possible candidates mentioned including Nevada's Mike Fox and Montana's Larry Krystkowiak, have even been contacted by ASU. The AD there apparently only calls the candidate she wants to interview next.


Carl Krauser will be in Indianapolis this weekend.
West Virginia senior center Kevin Pittsnogle will participate in the 3-point competition at the 18th annual Dell College Basketball Slam Dunk and Three-Point Shooting Championships tonight at Butler University in Indianapolis. On Friday, Pitt senior guard Carl Krauser will participate in the seventh annual National Basketball Coaches' Association All-Star Game at Canseco Fieldhouse, also in Indianapolis.


Now, stop me if you've heard this before. A top HS Sophomore basketball player in the area gives a ridiculously early commit to Pitt. Now he's reconsidering.

"I do want to go to Pitt," he said, "but I want to see what type of recruiting class they bring in. Some of their freshmen did play this past season, but I'm looking to start in college."

Pryor said that his coaches for the Pittsburgh JOTS AAU basketball club, J.O. Stright and Ken Oskey, are encouraging him to renege on his commitment.

"They want me to keep my options open," said Pryor, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound swingman who averaged 21.5 points and 10.6 rebounds this season and is considered one of the top-10 nationwide prospects in the Class of 2008. "They said a lot of major-college coaches are calling them asking about me. I may want to look elsewhere."

Pryor is the second WPIAL star -- and JOTS player -- to waver on a commitment to Pitt in the past year. Aliquippa forward Herb Pope, ranked among the nation's top-10 juniors, committed to the Panthers last March before re-opening his recruitment over the summer.

Pope and Pryor are close friends who have discussed playing together in college.

"I told him, 'Don't make a decision based upon what everybody is telling you. Make it based on a personal thing,' " Pope said. "Since I re-opened mine, he's not quite sure what he wants to do. ... I'm not going to make my decision right away. I made it a little too early. You get caught up in the local thing."

There's more than 18 months before Pryor could even decide to sign an early letter of intent with Pitt. Way too early to worry right now.


I exchanged e-mails with Chris Dokish, the writer of the Stright article from Pittsburgh Sports Report. He answered a slew of questions I had, and I will be posting them later in the day. I have some other things to do, and I have to clean the stuff up for posting.

Rohrssen Watch, Wait A Week 

Yep. While it appears Pitt Associate Head Coach Barry Rohrssen is a co-leader in the clubhouse for the Seton Hall job along with Manhattan Head Coach Bobby Gonzalez, no decision will be made before the Final Four.

A Seton Hall official said yesterday Quinlan's final decision likely wouldn't be made until next week, with an announcement likely by mid-week. Quinlan will attend the Final Four this weekend in Indianapolis, where it's expected he'll scout George Mason coach Jim Larranaga.

Larranaga - a Bronx native and Providence College graduate bound to show up on other short lists - would have tremendous backing in the Big East offices, which are in Providence.

Personally, I don't see Seton Hall stepping up with the financial package to get Larranaga to leave. But the Final Four weekend is a coach-fest. ADs, Head Coaches, Assistants and Wanna-bes descend on the place and exchange plastic smiles and pleasantries while swapping resumes and whispering numbers and gauging interest.

So, Rohrssen and Gonzalez will also be in Indy this weekend along with plenty of other prospects for Seton Hall AD Quinlan to meet and discuss.

The first-year athletic director is also interested in Ohio University's Tim O'Shea and George Mason's Jim Larranaga. Quinlan has not yet asked for permission to speak with O'Shea, Ohio University athletic director Kirby Hocutt confirmed last night. Quinlan will gauge Larranaga's interest after George Mason's magical Final Four run ends.

While Fairleigh Dickinson's Tom Green, Monmouth's Dave Calloway and Iona's Jeff Ruland remain possibilities, they are long shots.

The Pirates Plank Blog has been following the drama with a well-jaundiced eye.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fearing The FOX 

It seems the WWLS is taking the risk of Fox snaring the Big 11 TV contract quite seriously. From DeadSpin there is this internal ESPN memo.
Jim Delany, the Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference will be on the Bristol campus tomorrow and Thursday. It is important for us to show him and his associates that "Bristol is Big Ten Country".

As you have noticed, we have put pennants, banners, and Big Ten flags on campus. In addition, we have had buttons made proclaiming "Bristol is Big Ten Country". These buttons are available at the following locations:

Building 2 Lobby
Building A Lobby
Building B Lobby

Please pick one up and wear it tomorrow and Thursday.
No word as to whether that applies to their news gathering division -- which they are always quick to stress -- is not part of their "entertainment" (such as it is) division.

The Mysterious Stright 

From Pittsburgh Sports Report, a very interesting article about J.O. Stright, the founder and coach of the AAU team J.O.T.S. Very much worth reading in full. It raises more questions then it answers, though.
Stright stands out as a controversial figure, even in the often controversial world of college basketball recruiting. A close friend of another controversial figure, former Cincinnati and current Kansas State head coach Bob Huggins, Stright has drawn the ire of Pitt basketball, some of whom see him as the lone figure standing between Pitt basketball and greatness. Internet message boards burn with vitriolic words for Stright, cast as a Svengali for local high school basketball stars, as he is seen as leading them away from their hometown team and to his friend Bob Huggins.

"The truth is, I did that when Paul Evans was at Pitt, but I don't do it anymore," says Stright. "I put a kid where I think he will excel. If I think one of my kids has the best chance to excel with Huggins then I will send him there. But not every kid should be with him."

This leads to the second reason for the reemergence of Pittsburgh basketball -- a successful local college basketball team for which they could aspire to play some day. The coming of age of Pitt basketball was melding perfectly, it seemed, with what Stright was doing for the J.O.T.S. If only it were that easy.
There's no explanation as to how Huggins and Stright started hooking up in the first place. I assume it happened while Huggins was coaching at Akron in the 80s, and probably met while on a trip to Pittsburgh to scout kids. I don't know, though, and one national college basketball writer even e-mailed me asking if I could answer that question.

On the subject of Herb Pope, it is maddening. There is no further explanation as to what happened last summer with the Florida prep school. Just a comment that none of this is illegal or particularly uncommon. It probably isn't, but with the NCAA starting to take a closer look at prep schools, it is a concern as to what could happen to a coach and program who gets caught up in the wrong situation.

There's a lot more to this story than reported unfortunately.
Despite some harsh words for Pitt's staff and how they recruit his players, Stright says he is a big Pitt basketball fan and big donor to the university. "I'm a Pitt guy," says Stright, who has season tickets, "and I am one of their top 100 givers. What's that tell you?"
I can confirm he is a very generous contributor to the University. That whole paragraph, though, raises eyebrows. What exactly doesn't he like about the way Pitt is recruiting players on his AAU team?

I think most Pitt fans will write-off getting Herb Pope after this article.
"Herb called me at 11 o'clock at night," laughs Stright, "and said 'Huggins is at Kansas State? So that's where we're going?' I laughed and told him that's his decision but I will listen to him if he has any questions."
Apparently Pope thinks he's following Huggins out there. Even Terrelle Pryor becomes more of a question mark.
Although Pryor was also being courted by Arlington Country Day -- he even says he was sending transfer papers to the school before changing his mind -- Pryor seems less likely than Pope to turn away from Pitt. He does say that he may still leave Jeannette for a prep school eventually. As for which one, Pryor's answer surely will make Pitt fans cringe.

"I'll probably just go where J.O. puts me," says the 15 year old.
And this doesn't raise legit questions about the level of influence he has? And how correct or right that is?

Don't Step In The Leadership 

For a team that has Senior leaders Tyler Palko (offense), H.B. Blades (defense) and John Simonitis (O-line). Plus the presumed leader in the defensive backfield Junior Darrelle Revis, I find myself scratching my head a bit about shoehorning the rather stock topic of team leaders needed.

It's also a time when at least a few players have to step up and take charge of their team.

"We need leadership," Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "Last year, we had leadership, but it probably wasn't enough. This year, we're locked in on that."

In the offseason, while the sting of last season's 5-6 finish was still sharp, coach Dave Wannstedt and his assistants began approaching selected players about taking on increased leadership roles. Quarterback Tyler Palko and linebacker H.B. Blades, who will be seniors this fall, were singled out.
At midseason, Palko and Blades openly questioned whether everyone's work ethic was where it needed to be. After that, Pitt won four of its final six games.

"I want to encourage guys in a positive way, not to be a negative leader," Blades said. "People are going to make mistakes. But encouraging them in a positive way is something I learned from last year -- don't get down on each other. Go out and have fun."

Wannstedt believes, whatever Palko and Blades say in the locker room, it will have even bigger impact this year than in previous years.

Something about it just strikes me as standard stuff. Leadership wasn't the issue last year. Palko and especially Blades led by example and their words last year. Palko didn't complain about a new offense and Blades didn't fuss at a change in position. Both were right to question the team effort last year and didn't single anyone out.

What the team needed and needs is talent, to play better and for the coaches to prepare them better. I'm not worried about the leadership from the players.

Throw and Catch 

A very fawning Q&A between Paul Zeise and Tyler Palko ("Your work ethic has become legendary, from the time you put in, to how much film you watch."). Of course, the intro does disclose that Zeise has essentially been following Palko since the kid was in high school and he was covering the HS beat.

Q. Do you think your teammates are as ready to get started as you are?

Palko: They'd better be. These guys are adults so they know what we need to do. And if that season doesn't leave a sour taste in your mouth and push you to want to get back after it, you are in the wrong business. From watching our conditioning and whatnot, it seems like the guys are excited and ready to work.

Q. You lost your top receiver (Greg Lee left school early to enter the NFL draft). How difficult will he be to replace and can you guys overcome his loss?

Palko: We have no choice. We have to overcome it. We'd love to have Greg back and we wish the best for him, but he's no longer a part of our team so we have to play with what we have. And I think we have some good young players at receiver and a lot of potentially great ones coming in, so we'll be fine.

Q. Speaking of great young ones, how excited are you to play on the same team with fellow West Allegheny graduate Dorin Dickerson?

Palko: I can't wait. Obviously I am very familiar with Dorin because he played at my high school and I've followed his career. He is a great talent, but I told him he'd better be ready to work when he gets here. All of the expectations mean nothing, he needs to come here to play football and be the best player he can be.

Speaking of Greg Lee, he's trying to get drafted, so it is up to him to explain how his numbers fell last year without discussing the plethora of drops.

"When I heard we were getting him (Cavanaugh) I looked up the stats from his last season in Baltimore and his number one receiver only had 544 yards the entire season. I looked at that and knew it was more of a run based offense and there was a possibility he would implement that offense here," Lee said.

Lee was right. The Panthers threw 70 less times for 712 less yards than the season before. Inevitably, Lee's numbers suffered a drop off.

"It was kind of frustrating at the beginning. I was planning on having a better year than my sophomore season and at the beginning of the year we really weren't throwing the ball that much. We weren't winning any games; we lost our first three games," he said.

Despite the Panthers' commitment to the run, Lee had a solid junior season with 49 catches, 962 yards and 7 touchdowns. Lee still made his patented big plays and averaged 19.6 yards per catch, up from 19.1 in 2004. After the 2005 season, Lee made a decision to take his big-play ability to the big stage and declared eligible for the 2006 NFL draft.

Obviously, no one is exactly thrilled to read Lee trying to explain his drop-off in production by blaming the whole offense and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh. Especially for Pitt fans who can visualize just about every dropped pass (especially the ones in the endzone) that he's had over the past year plus.

It won't make much of a difference for many pro teams who can review films and study him. Still it was somewhat of a savvy sales job to pro football fans who probably didn't see him too much. They hear Matt Cavanaugh, offense and Ravens and it comes off as a pretty credible explanation.

Zeise Talks 

Well there was his Football Q&A from last week.
Q: I am reading between the lines that you don't have high expectations for this team. How long will Pittsburgh fans tolerate seasons of less than .500 football?

Zeise: Pitt fans shouldn't expect a less than .500 team or accept one. But the reality is, this team doesn't have the linemen yet to really compete at the level it wants to be at. You can't win when you have freshmen and sophomores up and down both sides of the line of scrimmage. A lot of this is not this coaching staff's problem, there was no depth when Wannstedt was hired. He is right now trying to clean up the previous coach's mess in terms of talent in more ways than most Walt Harris apologists care to acknowledge. Ask yourself how many big-time teams have three freshmen starting on the defensive line. Pitt could very well be the first one I've heard of.

Yes and no to this.

No argument that the lines were a complete mess. Last I checked, however, the defensive coaching staff remained completely in tact from Harris to Wannstedt. So some responsibility goes to them since they helped recruit the kids, but there is never any mention of that.

The other issue was seeing the offense take a step back in every facet last year. You can talk and build towards a different offensive philosophy, but you still need to use the talent that is there. Even with all the skill, impact players coming in the fall, it is still up to the coaches to use them and put them in a position to have an impact.

Zeise also does an online chat where he gets downright curmudgeon-ny regarding college basketball. Boy does he hate good defensive basketball.

JCastellano_Loves_Latta: After watching the young talent that such teams like UNC, Duke, Ohio St, LSU and others you had mentioned. Do you think the recruits Pitt has landed over the past few years have been hyped up too much, or even overrated?

Paul Zeise: I don't think they have been over hyper or over rated, they are what they are. I don't recall anybody referring to Pitt's recruiting class as one of the best in the land. They are good, hard-nosed kids that work hard and do what they are supposed to do as far as go to class and keep their nose clean. I don't know of anybody in their right mind that thinks they have NBA talent, like the other teams we have mentioned. In fact, that's one of the things Pitt needs to do in order to get to the next level _ begin to produce legitimate NBA players on a regular basis. Chris Taft is a marginal NBA player. Aaron Gray is a NBA prospect - a marginal one at that _ because he's 7-feet tall. I'm talking about first round picks.

JCastellano_Loves_Latta: Back to Pitt, how do you think they will do next season?

Paul Zeise: I think if you look at the Big East _ they have a chance to do well. UConn is going to lose most of those guys. Syracuse wasn't very good this year and they are losing the only dude who could put it in the hoop for them. Villanova has Curtis Sumpter returning, but they lose pretty much everyone else. West Virginia loses everyone except Frank Young. Marquette should be strong, Louisville should be strong. Cincinnati is probably in transition _ I really think the BIg East is going to be there for the taking and Pitt should be viewed as one of the favorites to win it all.

Marquette, Louisville, Georgetown and Pitt should be in some list at the top of the Big East come pre-season.

Rohrssen Watch, Strong Interview 

In terms of reports and rumors, it would appear that Associate Head Coach Barry Rohrssen interviewed yesterday for the Seton Hall job, and is the co-leader to get the gig.

Bobby Gonzalez is keeping quiet about his travel itinerary after gaining a reputation, fair or not, as a self-promoter in seasons past. Even though he interviewed with Temple yesterday and has Seton Hall up next, the Manhattan coach is cultivating his discretion this time.

With Louis Orr out as coach of Seton Hall, the Big East program has begun interviewing candidates, among them Pittsburgh assistant Barry Rohrssen, who met with officials yesterday, and Gonzalez, who will interview today or tomorrow.

As for the other candidates named for the job, Iona athletic director Pat Lyons said that Seton Hall had not called to ask permission to speak to Jeff Ruland.
Temple is a high-profile assignment, but Seton Hall would be a more logical step for Gonzalez. His main competition, Rohrssen, has a well-deserved reputation for snagging New York players like Carl Krauser and Mount Vernon's Keith Benjamin.

Benjamin's high school coach, Bob Cimmino, said Rohrssen is great with the kids and steeped in New York knowledge.

"He's a people person," Cimmino said. "He has a way of getting to know you very quickly, and he takes a keen interest in the background of the players."

But he has not been a head coach of a high-profile program. Gonzalez, on the other hand, has proved himself to be a good recruiter and adept at pulling the best out of the players with whom he has to work.

The story is very positive towards Gonzalez, though it does a good job of pointing out why Gonzalez isn't the slam dunk others assume he should be. One reason why Seton Hall may not be as hot for Gonzalez as you would think they should be, is his reputation for wanting to move further up the coaching ladder. That he was so eager to bolt Manhattan in the past for jobs that it turned ADs off to him. Seton Hall doesn't want to be perceived as a stepping stone gig. I can sympathize a little.

There are, of course several others, listed as possibilities for Seton Hall.

Monmouth coach Dave Calloway is also expected to be contacted. Quinlan will gauge Larranaga's interest after George Mason is finished playing in the Final Four. Larranaga, a Bronx native, has orchestrated one of the most improbable runs through the NCAA Tournament.

While Iona coach Jeff Ruland remains a possibility, he is considered a long shot at this point.

Florida Atlantic University Coach Matt Doherty is also a name being bandied about.

Still, the reports keep indicating that it is Gonzalez or Rohrssen.
With Pecora out of the mix, Seton Hall athletic director Joe Quinlan is focusing his attention on Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez and Pittsburgh assistant Barry Rohrssen, according to three people familiar with Seton Hall's coaching search.
Rohrssen is also a possibility at Fairfield.

Rohrssen, regarded as one of the nation's top New York City recruiters, also is a candidate at Fairfield along with former St. John's coach Fran Fraschilla, who is said to be interviewing with the MAAC school today.

Fraschilla - who worked the NIT for ESPN last night at the Garden and has been outward in his affection for his current position - would neither confirm nor deny the rumor.

"I have had conversations with [athletic director] Gene Doris," he told The Post, "and I think Fairfield is an excellent university."

There is some surprise that Rohrssen would be as strong a possibility as Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who guided the Jaspers to a pair of NCAA tournaments, including an upset of Florida in 2004, and two NIT appearances, should have a leg up.

Rohrssen, who has funneled New York high school talent to Pittsburgh for years, is known as a strong recruiter, something Gonzalez can match. But Gonzalez has seven years of head coaching experience, something Rohrssen does not.

Seton Hall has no recruits signed for next season, so the new coach will have to play catchup in a big way on the recruiting trails.

Coach Dixon was, naturally, positive about the possibility of Rohrssen moving to a new job.

"I want guys who want to be head coaches," Dixon said. "To be a good head coach you have to be a good assistant first. I want our guys looking at head coaching jobs and preparing to be head coaches because that makes them good assistant coaches."
Former Pitt Coach Ben Howland reminisced a little about Jamie Dixon as he glowingly spoke about him.

If not for the job at UCLA -- in Los Angeles, near both men's roots -- Howland said he likely would have stayed at Pitt and would have hoped that Dixon would have remained on his staff as his top assistant.

"Jamie is an incredible coach," said Howland, who leads the Bruins against LSU in the national semifinals Saturday. "He represents the community and the university with the type of values you expect."
Before deciding to remain at Pitt, where he conceded he always figured to be, Dixon was being courted by Arizona State and Missouri to fill their coaching vacancies.

"I was getting calls from a lot of big schools about Jamie," Howland said. "He could have gotten more money, but with him, it's not about that.

"I'm so happy and excited for the University of Pittsburgh and for Jamie. It's a perfect match."

Just before news finally started leaking that Dixon was going to stay at Pitt,stories had started surfacing that Howland was telling people that Dixon would be staying at Pitt.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Duquesne Hires A Hokie Hoopie 

Looks like if Pitt loses Associate Head Coach Barry Rohrssen it will be to a school in NY/NJ. Duquesne hired Ron Everhart from Northeastern. Apparently out of default.
Ron Everhart, who built successful programs at Northeastern and McNeese State, will be the next basketball coach at Duquesne, a person familiar with the decision told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
Everhart, who grew up 90 minutes from Pittsburgh in Fairmont, W.Va., was hired after interviewing last weekend and again Monday with Duquesne athletic director Greg Amodio, who is making his first major hire since replacing Brian Colleary nearly a year ago.

Everhart and Kent State coach Jim Christian were the finalists for the job, but Christian pulled his name out of contention Tuesday. John Groce, an Ohio State assistant and a longtime friend of Amodio, apparently was not interested in the job.

Everhart played his college ball at Virginia Tech. This may be the final test for whether Duquesne should drop to Div. II or not. Everheart actually would appear to have some credibility when it comes to turning around programs.

The 44-year-old Everhart had an 82-68 record at Northeastern, including a 19-11 overall record and 12-6 conference record this season in the school's first year in the Colonial Athletic Association -- the conference that sent George Mason to the NCAA Final Four and Old Dominion to the NIT semifinals.

In 2004-05, the Huskies went 21-10 and were 15-3 in America East, the school's best conference record since 1986-87. Among the schools the Huskies beat under Everhart were West Virginia, Boston College and Massachusetts.

Before being hired at Northeastern, Everhart had a 92-104 record at McNeese State, a school that hadn't had a winning record in four seasons before he arrived in 1994.

His final McNeese team went 22-9. With many of the players he recruited, the Cowboys advanced to the NCAA Tournament the season after he left.

Northeastern's 1986-87 team was put together by Jim Calhoun, who left for UConn prior to that season.

The City Game might actually stand a chance at being competitive someday.

Defensive Notes 

Maybe he really is standing out in spring drills. Maybe it's because he's one of the new faces. Whatever the reason, there seems to be a steady bit of buzz regarding Freshman CB Jovani Chappel.
Chappel, a Big 33 game performer, might be the most intriguing player. He has a lot of talent, but is the least experienced.

"He's ahead of some of our veterans from a knowledge standpoint," Rhoads said. "He's very self-motivated."

That was evident after a brief conversation.

"All I think I have to do is show that I'm improving," Chappel said. "Coach Rhoads said that he doesn't want me making the same mistakes twice, and I want to show him that I'm actually learning the system.

"So, I watch film and give 100 percent," Chappel said. "He says you can't coach effort, so I want to give 100 percent every time I go out there."
Not that Junior Kennard Cox and Senior Reggie Carter are ready to concede the open starting CB spot to him. It's just that attention seems to be directed to Chappel.
For the second consecutive day, redshirt freshman wideout Cedric McGee and freshman cornerback Jovanni Chappel exchanged barbs -- and a few shoves -- on the practice field.

They traded head slaps Friday night after Chappel broke up a pass. Yesterday, Chappel tossed McGee out of bounds with extra ferocity after McGee made a catch.

"Me and Cedric go at it all the time," Chappel said, laughing. "We're in the same predicament. We're both trying to move up on the depth chart. And we're both physical guys. So, I make him better, and he makes me better every day."

Chappel seems to really enjoy getting into it with the WRs. Yesterday I noted the story on his roommate, Redshirt Freshman WR Oderick Turner. They also apparently like to go at each other.

The article noting Chappel and McGee going at it really focused on Darrelle Revis and thoughts of going pro. Especially after he attended Pitt's pro day.

Revis, who will be a junior this fall, is aware he could be auditioning for the scouts this time next year.

"My thoughts always drift toward that," he said. "But right now, coach (Dave) Wannstedt talked to me about being focused on this year. I'm not going to put myself ahead of the team.

"I don't know if I'm going to leave next year. If the opportunity presents itself, then I'll go. If not, I can stay for my senior year and help the team even more."

At the Pro Day, Revis kept a close eye on corner Josh Lay, his cousin and former Pitt teammate. Lay had a great workout, and, with the NFL Draft taking place in less than five weeks, his stock reportedly is rising.

"Josh is excited," Revis said. "He's always talking about how it's a dream come true."

I suppose there is some concern that Revis might start putting his own pro aspirations ahead of the team. I'm not overly concerned because he's shown no sign of it to this point, and the nature of his position puts him on more of an island on the field. He has to be responsible for himself.

Really, he simply answered the question honestly. Maybe it would have been easier to go with some simple cliche and deflect away from the issue with an, "I'm not thinking about that at all. I just want to help the team..."

He had just been in attendance of an event where Pitt Seniors were performing for NFL scouts. Of course it's on his mind.

Additionally, it's always been there for Revis. He's always had the talent and everyone knew from day one he has the potential. Add in the fact that his uncle is Sean Gilbert a past NFL All-pro and even another relative, Aliquippa HS Junior Herb Pope, will one day head to the NBA. He comes from an athletically gifted family with skills to play at the pro level.

Line Session 

Given the expected youth and lack of quality depth on the lines, the health of the starters will be vital. One of the things that hurt Pitt's D-line last year was Clint Session being in and out of the line-up with various injuries. He's worked to get faster and drop extra weight.

Session was moved last spring from inside linebacker to outside linebacker, a position he had not played in some time. Then in summer camp, a knee injury prevented him from being a factor early in the season and he had a bothersome shin injury that hampered him in midseason.

After making 11 starts as a sophomore on the team that won the Big East and went to the Fiesta Bowl, Session was relegated to part-time player status last season who contributed just 28 tackles in eight games.
Session spent the offseason watching what he ate and worked on his speed with a track coach in Florida. He came into spring practice 12 pounds lighter than the end of last season and feels good physically.

"This is the most comfortable I've been since I've been here," he said. "I feel like I can really help this scheme. Coach is expecting big things out of me this year. He's expecting me to be a leader."

Bonus points for Clint referring to himself in the 3d person in this puff piece. Just something that has been missing from early stories on players this spring even if he was inconsistent in slipping in and out of it.

"Last year was tough, but it was like a stepping stone," Session said. "I'm just happy it's over and out of the way, and it's a new year. It was tough going through that, but it's a new year now. And I really don't want to talk about last year. We're looking toward this year, now.

"But it definitely was motivation for me. It almost was a wasted year. Clint Session's name wasn't out there helping his teammates, and he wasn't out there contributing to the team. So, you always want to bounce back from that. It's the last year to get a chance to have a winning season."

Session primarily worked on improving his speed, and he trained at a camp specifically geared toward speed work when he went back home to southern Florida in the offseason.

"I believe I've gotten faster, because that's mostly what I was working on in the offseason," Session said. "Just trying to be fast. I did some running at home with some guys, and I know it's paying off.

"I got a trainer back home (who is) a speed trainer. He put me through some hard drills, and hopefully that can get the best out of me. You pull a sled and pull guys with ropes, so that's what I did to improve my speed."
Of course it isn't just Session. The whole line has to be better.

"For us to make some strides as a football team, that position is critical," Wannstedt said. "I don't care what level you're talking about, those guys up front have to perform -- and perform at a high level. We were inexperienced last year. That's scary. Now we're a year older and that will benefit us this year."

A couple of local players are hoping to earn starting positions and shore up the line. Corey Davis, a 6-foot-1, 300-pound sophomore from Peabody High School, played in six games last season and recorded five tackles. Craig Bokor, a 6-3, 290-pound redshirt freshman from Hopewell, did not play but hopes to be a part of the rotation this season.

"We have no choice but to improve from last year," Davis said. "It can't get any worse."

Bokor said the coaches have tweaked the defensive scheme this spring. Last season, he said, the defensive linemen played a read-and-react style that took away the natural aggression of the players. That philosophy is gone, replaced by a full-steam-ahead, play-making mentality for the four down linemen.

"They just want us to get off the ball," Bokor said. "We want to put the linemen in the backfield. They call it capturing the lineman's heels. We just want to be powerful and physical."

Sounds good, and god knows they need to be more aggressive off the line. Lots of questions, though, as to whether they will be better. I vaguely recall last year the offensive line talking glowingly about being more aggressive and attacking with a more run-oriented offense, rather than playing to pass-block. That didn't work so well.

Off-Season BlogPoll Roundtable 

The first of what will be many. This one is hosted over at Schembechler Hall. Unlike the detailed essay from Matt on these questions, I'm going to -- in a rare change of pace -- be brief.

1) It's early, but thus far, which offseason change or changes in college football are you most excited about?

The sense of impending doom that is just now beginning to dawn with the knowledge that Fox and the Fox-ification of coverage of the BCS Bowls is drawing ever closer. I can't wait for the screams and brutal treatment it will receive.

2) With spring practice underway, what are the three concerns about your team that are causing you the most anxiety? (USC fans can't just list the departures of Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and LenDale White.)

  1. Line play -- defense.
  2. Line play -- offense.
  3. Line play -- generally.
Notice a trend?

3) Care to take a stab at a preseason top five?

This will be very preliminary. I don't like any team trying to break-in a new QB being in the top-5, so without looking too deep and plenty of caveats and caution. Here's an impulsive listing:
  1. Florida
  2. Ohio St.
  3. LSU
  4. ND
  5. WVU
But don't expect that to stay that way come August and the return of the BlogPoll.

Go Ahead And Jump 

Track and Field began for high schools a few days ago in Western PA. I admit to generally not caring. I'll make an exception here.
Valley junior Toney Clemons already has four scholarship offers for football.

Pitt, Mississippi, Akron and Connecticut have all courted Clemons, a wide receiver/defensive back, who has delicate hands and blazing speed.

But Clemons doesn't think he'd be drawing nearly as much attention if it wasn't for track.

"Like coach (George) Webb says, track is a warm-up for football," said Clemons, who is the defending champion in the WPIAL Class AA long jump. "Track's always been my first sport, but football is my first love. But the two go hand-in-hand. You need one to be conditioned for the other."

Judging by the list of teams interested in him and that Scout.com already has him listed as a 4-star recruit, I think there's a good chance he'd still be getting plenty of interest.

Coaching Carousel and Rohrssen Watching 

Duquesne is still looking for a coach, and haven't exactly rushed into the interview process. They got around to getting permission from a couple of schools.

Two head coaches -- Jim Christian of Kent State and Ron Everhart of Northeastern -- were given permission to speak with Duquesne about its men's basketball vacancy.

"They did request permission to speak with (Christian), and it was granted," Kent State director of athletic communications Jeff Schaefer said.

Mark Harris, the assistant director of sports information at Northeastern, said Everhart was cleared to speak with Duquesne.
Meanwhile, Ohio State assistant coach John Groce, regarded as one of the frontrunners for most of the four-week search, has told friends he is not interested in the Duquesne job.
Duquesne's salary range has been reported anywhere from $300,000 to $600,000 per season.
Christian, 40, a former assistant at Pittsburgh under Ralph Williard from 1996-99, is 89-40 in four seasons at Kent State. His contract runs through 2012 and pays him about $170,000 annually.

Everhart is 82-68 in five years at Northeastern, a Colonial Athletic Association school. His current contract runs through the 2007-08 season.

Kennedy is currently renegotiating a long-term contract for his coach. It is believed the new deal would boost Christian's salary into the range of $250,000 per season, making him the highest paid coach at the Mid-American Conference school.

I'm guessing Duquesne is looking to keep the salary range to start much closer to the $300,000 range. No mention of Pitt Associate Head Coach Barry Rohrssen in the article.

Ron Cook hails the Dixon extension for Pitt as the end to fan concerns that coaches view Pitt as merely a stepping stone job and that the administration wouldn't work to keep coaches.

What's important is that a good, young coach wanted to stay at Pitt. The guess here is Dixon never seriously considered leaving. He merely took advantage of being in the right place at the right time. His young Pitt team had surprising success in the Big East this season before its collapse against Bradley in the NCAA tournament. There were job openings at Arizona State and Missouri. Both schools reached out to him. Dixon used that interest to get a big raise, much the way Prosser worked Wake Forest three years ago.

Dixon might have gotten a little more at Arizona State or Missouri, but it wouldn't have been worth him moving. He knows he should have a strong team next season; all but Carl Krauser among his key players will be back. Of greater note, Dixon knows he has a chance to be a big winner at Pitt for a long time. He realized he didn't have to leave to get that opportunity.

The grass no longer is greener someplace else.

He does get the timeline wrong about the Big East football break-up. That started happening several weeks after Dixon was given the head job.

While on the subject of a real stepping stone job, Seton Hall looks to be rebuffed by Tom Pecora of Hofstra. Seems he actually likes where he lives, his job, his salary raise and doesn't like what he's seen of Seton Hall.

That's what happened to the Seton Hall University men's basketball program Monday when Hofstra's Tom Pecora rebuffed an opportunity to become the Pirates' next head coach.

Sources at both schools said Pecora will remain with Hofstra, which scheduled a news conference for 1 p.m. today.

While Seton Hall technically did not offer him the position, sources said Pecora had been informed informally that he was the top choice to succeed Louis Orr, who was fired Friday.

Pecora, who has proclaimed his loyalty to Hofstra on various broadcast outlets over the past few days, was said to be concerned about job security at Seton Hall in light of the firing of Orr, who had led the Pirates to two NCAA Tournament appearances over the past three seasons.
Why would Pecora turn down a Big East job to remain with a mid-major program?

The financial gain could be negligible. Between his base salary and income from conducting camps and clinics, Pecora is making close to $400,000, sources say.

Orr's base salary was $499,000. Hofstra administrators could close the gap by sweetening the pot a little.

Hofstra narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament this year, returns most of its key players next year and has a strong recruiting class on the way. Pecora's profile could get even stronger if he stays put.

Sources close to Pecora say he loves Hofstra and was turned off by Seton Hall's handling of Orr, which was blasted by the national media.

He didn't even view it as a good stepping stone from Hofstra. Seton Hall's humiliation continues.

So who is Seton Hall moving on to next?

Seton Hall, which sought and received permission to contact Pecora over the weekend, apparently has moved on and received similar permission to approach Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez and Pittsburgh assistant Barry Rohrssen. Iona coach Jeff Ruland also is a candidate.
You would think Bobby Gonzalez would be the best choice with his success with Manhattan and actually winning a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. The fact that Rohrssen is being considered as another lead candidate is a testament to his charisma and recruiting reputation. Of course, Seton Hall fans might also view it as part of the administration's unwillingness to pay much for a coach, since Rohrssen has never been a head coach, and would likely come cheaper than Gonzalez or other candidates.

The main concern for anyone considering the Seton Hall job is if you can win/recruit enough to satisfy the administration while being hindered by poor facilities, a low budget and fierce competition for local talent.

I would be mildly surprised if Rohrssen got the Seton Hall job. It would be a huge achievement and huge risk. It would be more logical and expected that Manhattan or Iona would consider him if Seton Hall hired their guy away. Or perhaps one of the other NYC metro colleges needing a new coach.

I do want Rohrssen to get an opportunity. It would be good for Pitt to have coaches from the staff get the chance. It helps the reputation of the school and quite frankly it will increase the interest and quality of potential applicants to take his place if they know it will lead to more opportunities in the future. The better the staff around Coach Dixon, the better the overall coaching, team and future players.

Paul Evans was not the best coach in the world, and his players still don't speak that highly of him. What he did have were top assistants like John Calipari to help control the situation, recruit and coach.

If Rohrssen were to leave, I would look closely at who is on staff at Hofstra, Manhattan and the other schools. Which assistants have built relationships within the NY/NJ area and could maintain them from Pittsburgh.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Blegging Update 

I've received a couple e-mails asking how the contributions are coming to move to a new site and achieve more mobile blogging with a new laptop.

A decent first week. 12 contributions on-line and sending checks. About 25% towards where I would like to reach in terms of monetary donations.

I hope more will be willing to make a contribution. One of the things that moving to a separate site will allow me to do will be to save comments as well as posts. One of the drawbacks to the present system is that comments are not archived and that's something I would like to change.


As previously noted, the spring drills are the time for the receivers to bond with Palko and try and jockey for position on the depth chart before the highly heralded commits arrive for the fall.

Joe DelSardo, Derek Kinder, Marcel Pestano, Cedric McGee and Oderick Turner all could be a factor for Pitt.

"I've tried to spend as much time with those guys as possible to find out their likes and dislikes," Palko said at spring practice Thursday. "Are they a put-your-arm-around-them type of guy or do you need to get on their tails or do you just need to talk to them? Hopefully, I'll find that out pretty quick here."

Kinder, who will be a junior in the fall, made eight starts - including the final seven games - and steadily improved throughout last season. He finished second to Lee with 37 catches for 374 yards and three touchdowns. But Lee's defection left a void at the split end spot.

DelSardo, who was replaced by the bigger, faster Kinder, dropped to just 15 catches and no touchdowns after making 49 catches with four scores as a sophomore. The speedy Pestano had just one catch for five yards as a redshirt freshman, while Turner and McGee both redshirted last season.

"No one is penciled in as a starter on opening day yet, and I think that's the way you have to look at it whether you have good freshmen coming in or not," Palko said. "Competition always makes you play better, and that's what we're experiencing now during practice. We have a talented recruiting class coming in, but it's their time now. And the guys that are here need to step up."

Derek Kinder is feeling more comfortable as a starting receiver and that he has Palko's confidence.

Redshirt Freshman Oderick Turner gets a puff-piece as he tries to get a good spot on the depth chart.

Oderick Turner is a freshman, so he didn't want to sound cocky or greedy when someone asked how he felt when wideout Greg Lee decided to bolt for the NFL.

"I don't know if I was surprised," Turner said. "But he was good enough to go. So, if he had the chance, it was probably the best thing for him. That's his decision. It wasn't that I was happy ..."

Turner paused and smiled.

"But, then again, I am happy."

He does have his cliches down. An important first step.

"I'm just trying to be more consistent and (get a) better understanding of the offense," he said. "Whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do it."
By the end of camp, Turner suspected he would be redshirted. Wannstedt confirmed it a couple of weeks into the season.

"It was the best thing for me to do," Turner said. "That way, I could get to know the system better and be more comfortable. Plus, I had Greg and all those other receivers to learn from. I just sat back and watched them, and it taught me a lot."

Turner's father Odessa played receiver in the NFL from '87 to '93, and played his college ball at Northwestern St. -- the school that knocked off Iowa in the NCAA. His roommate this season is Freshman CB Jovani Chappel. They like to go at each other.

Early Watch Lists 

H.B. Blades was put on the preliminary watch lists for the Rotary Lombardi Award and the Lott Trophy.

The Lombardi Award goes to the "top down lineman or defensive player who lines up within five yards of the football."

Rutgers TE, Clark Harris; WVU LB, Kevin McLee; and WVU C, Dan Mozes are the other Big East players on the list.

The Lott Trophy is named for Ronnie Lott, and must be a new one, because I never heard of it.
The award is unique because it represents the first trophy to give equal weight to personal character as well as athletic performance from a defensive college player and will be the first national college football award based on the West Coast.
Okay. Yep, this is the 3rd year for it.

While on the subject of Blades, he got a puff piece in the Harrisburg paper yesterday.

While Blades readily accepted his leadership role, he said it's hard to believe he is approaching his final college season.

"Time flies," Blades said. "When I was a freshman, I remember Lousake [Polite] and those guys telling me that it will go by fast. I said, 'I've got a whole three years left after this.' But now I'm going into my senior year, my final year, and I'm going to try to make it as memorable as possible."

Blades, the son of Bennie Blades, led the Panthers with 121 tackles last year. But Pitt's run defense was shredded in losses to Notre Dame in the opener, Louisville near midseason and West Virginia in the regular-season finale.

And that performance against the Mountaineers, when Pitt gave up 451 yards on the ground, stayed with Blades for a long time.

"It's been a long offseason, for sure, but the break after the West Virginia game gave us a chance to think," Blades said. "We thought about why we weren't at a bowl game, what we could have done, and we ... want to go out and correct those problems."

For some reason, though, I'm chilled to the bone by this comment from DC Paul Rhoads.

Blades said Pitt's biggest problems on defense were stopping the run, the most glaring issue, and tackling. Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads partially agreed with Blades' assessment.

"For sure, we've got to stop the run," Rhoads said. "I wasn't displeased with how we tackled last year, but obviously we were extremely porous against the run. The way you stop it is that you get more comfortable with your assignments and get into the right places."

He "wasn't displeased" with how Pitt tackled? Oh, )!^%#$@*!!!! Then he's the only one. That doesn't fill me with great confidence.

Rohrssen Watch, Not The First Choice 

It looks like the focus by Seton Hall, quite logically, is on Tom Pecora the Head Coach at Hofstra. The problem for Seton Hall, they aren't sure whether he wants the job.
According to a person close to the Hofstra men's basketball program, Pecora will meet with Hayes and Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz tomorrow morning. The source said Pecora will not meet with Seton Hall athletic director Joe Quinlan until after his meeting with the Hofstra administrators.

Pecora has said he would prefer to stay on Long Island. Hofstra likely will offer him a contract extension at that meeting to cement his feelings.
Pecora gets about $225,000/year at Hofstra. At this point, it isn't even clear if Seton Hall has contacted Pitt for permission to talk to Rohrssen.

On Friday, Quinlan said he was looking for the Pirates' next coach to have strong metropolitan recruiting ties. Pecora, known as a proven recruiter, recently expressed his happiness being at Hofstra. The Long Island native led the Pride to a 26-7 record this season. Hofstra went to the NIT quarterfinals, winning its first two postseason games as a Division 1 program. Pecora is 81-71 in five years at the school.

Pittsburgh assistant Barry Rohrssen also could be on the Hall's short list. Pittsburgh athletic director Jeff Long, through a university spokesman, declined to comment on whether Seton Hall had contacted him to request to interview Rohrssen.

Other candidates appear to include Ohio University coach Tim O'Shea, Bobby Gonzalez of Manhattan and Iona's Jeff Ruland.

Pirate's Plank Blog (obligatory, "aarrr") seems to believe they will target a coach with some head coaching experience.


A story from the Jerusalem Post about March Madness.

A narrow aisle, no more than a foot wide, divides the cluster of red sweatshirts from the cluster of blue ones. The fans on the right, the ones in red, are a visibly older bunch who know that one more victory brings their Bradley University Braves to a Land that is far from Promised to a Mid-Major school. The Sweet 16.

Segregated to the left, the fans in blue expect their University of Pittsburgh Panthers, a power team from a power conference, to take care of business. A victory is a victory, but the Final Four is the Final Four.

Although the driver has no choice but to sit on the left side, he has made a point to dress in a neutral white polo. His only loyalties are to his job, which consists of shuttling fans from the Big Bucks Brewery to The Palace at Auburn Hills for the NCAA Tournament's second round matchups.

"Driver," a Panthers fan shouts. "You sure you don't want a Pitt sticker?"

The driver laughs off the offer.

"You know that after the game, you'll have to drive us both home," says a Bradley fan. "And only one of us is going to be happy."

The woman has revealed a truth that leaves the men and women on the bus - both blue and red - silent and uneasy.

Unfortunately, we know which group that was.

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