Sunday, January 20, 2013

Old Mother Hubbard...

Since the college basketball season is now a few weeks into the conference schedule we are beginning to know who are contenders and who are pretenders.  The success some teams have had early are not necessarily paying off during conference play. 

One of those teams, unfortunately, is Illinois.

It looked like this team was starting to put the fight back in Fighting Illini. 

They had started the season with a Maui Invitational championship by beating a Butler Bulldogs team that has taken out Marquette, Indiana, and now Gonzaga after last nights miracle in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

This current Illini team also beat Gonzaga in a place where they haven't surrendered many wins in coach Mark Few's tenure. 

Coach John Groce seemed to be pushing all the right buttons in what was a 12-0 start and national ranking for his first team at Illinois.  The praise was being delivered not only from fans but from national media from across the country. 

The future looked bright and all seemed well. 

The problem was a false sense of hope and not truly analyzing the current roster of players for the long haul.  Teams need toughness and togetherness to accomplish their goals.  Coach Groce was correct after winning the Maui that they weren't done improving and had better not be complacent with their early success.

This team was able to pull out a few games that I still believe last years team would have lost like Tyler Griffey's winner against Gardener-Webb, right.  The three point shots were falling then and now they are not.  Non conference games are different than conference games.  Teams in your conference know your tendencies, what you are capable of, and just aren't surprised by "new" wrinkles in your game.  

So it gets doubly tough to be successful in conference and you need to be that more mentally tough to persevere.   This current group of Illini are totally lacking in this aspect. 

This mental deficit is what has eventually killed last season's squad and is currently killing this seasons team. 

When the going gets tough the tough get going to quote Billie Ocean.  This team, though, when the going gets tough they just collapse. 

This isn't an indictment on John Groce's coaching ability it is more an indictment on Bruce Weber's recruiting ability and the players he had brought into this university. 

The current group of Illini have shown now for two seasons to be incapable of handling adversity in the toughest of situations in Big Ten play.  They came into league play and laid a stinker of a egg with an opening loss at (6-6) Purdue. 

You felt a bit better after that with a drubbing of nationally ranked Ohio State at the Assembly Hall but followed that up with losses now to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northwestern (left).  And you looked horribly bad in the last two losses.  

John Groce can "lead" his team into battle but it ultimately comes down to the players executing the game plan.  Players are recruited by coaches and the players make coaches who they are.  

Lets call a spade a spade and say Bruce Weber left the cupboard bare.  John Groce has gone to the cupboard to get his dogs a bone and his poor little doggies had none. 

In the past three coaching changes the cupboards have not been as bare as they are for John Groce's first go around.  Lon Kruger was hired and had done such a great job building the program back up from when Lou Henson left it that he was hired by the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.  He in turn left a team with great talent that Bill Self was able to build on and bring in the crop of talent that Mr. Weber was lucky enough to have fall in his lap.  Similar to Weber's current situation at Kansas State.  Frank Martin, a fearless recruiter, left him well stocked with veteran talent from last years team.  That is how it works at times.   

So lets not kid ourselves and think for a sec. that if Deron Williams (5), Dee Brown (11), Luther Head, and company weren't brought in by Bill Self that Bruce Weber would have lasted 9 years in Champaign.  There is a reason that each one of the coaches listed have players who THEY RECRUITED and are currently having their jersey hanging in the Assembly Hall rafters.
Bruce Weber coached those players but not one single player that he recruited will hang their jersey in the Assembly Hall.  Hell, his 2010 highly regarded class that included Jereme Richmond, Myers Leonard, and Crandell Head has not one, not one of those players still on campus. 

So lets not be so quick to chastise John Groce for his current team.  He is currently making C.O.C. basketball.  Clean Out the Cupboard Basketball. 

He is in the process of bringing in his own talent that fits his system.  Bill Parcells used to say, ""If I'm going to be asked to cook the meal, I'd like to be able to pick the groceries."

Different sport but same concept. 

I have mentioned before that in the short amount of time Groce has been on campus he made serious gains in recruiting.  You have to have a foundation recruiting class in any coaches start to a program.  He did that at Ohio University by grabbing D.J. Cooper out of Chicago to start his career there.
 He is doing the same at Illinois by getting Kendrick Nunn, left, and Jaylon Tate out of Chicago Simeon.  You have to start somewhere and he is showing an ability to do so.  The future will be told but right now his current team needs an attitude adjustment.

That adjustment just might be playing the younger kids on the team and showing them the future is now.  These kids have been given scholarships to play basketball at the University of Illinois.  These scholarships are renewable after each year.  This is what a new coach will look at after the seasons end. 

If there are players in the upcoming recruiting classes they feel better fit their system and a current player who they had not brought in doesn't fit then he could have his scholarship not renewed.  Players transfer every year.  This is were the current roster of players on this Illini team need to look in the mirror and decide if they are going to be here in the future.

Because when you go to the cupboard to get your dogs a bone you want to know you have it well stocked.

And well stocked with the type of bones you crave.   


Thursday, January 17, 2013


Bob and Doug McKenzie.jpg

Coo loo coo coo, coo coo coo coo!
I can hear Bob and Doug McKenzie, of Strange Brew/SCTV fame, chanting that right now as one of their adopted sons in the Great White North has just accepted the coaching position with the Chicago Bears.

You have made a run for the border once again, Marc Trestman.  Say goodbye to the extra large field of Canadian Football League and hello to the National Football League.

The Bears took the long road to finding a replacement to the fired Lovie Smith.  They seemed to be taking the American Idol approach and just having everyone come in for an audition and then decide if they were worthy of going through to the next round. 

I have to give Phil Emery credit.  He was obviously thorough in his search.  I have to admit my confidence in him was waining when the list crept over to 13 and it didn't look like he had a clue what he was doing. 

The vision he obviously had was well focused, though, on the offensive side of the ball.  The Chicago Bears.  The Monsters of the Midway.  All that crap.  They have hung their collective hats on defense for sooooo long that there group of quarterbacks are still compared to Sid Luckman, right.  For those of you old enough or lucky enough to have family who tell great stories of past players exploits. 

Emery wanted an offensive minded coach.  Not only to turn this sorry bunch of offensive talent into a production unit.  But they needed someone who was successful with working, not just well, but tremendously with quarterbacks in their experience. 

Marc Trestman fits the bill.  He has worked with a long list of quarterbacks ranging from Steve Young, Rich Gannon (MVP with him in 2001), to Jay Cutler coming out of college. 

Trestman is known as a "Quarterback Guru", pictured below.

This is what this team needs.  I have written before that Jay Cutler is the best qb the Bears have had in ages.  I realize he has his faults but with the amount of chaos he has endured over the past three seasons he needs someone on his side and with knowledge of the position that has been lacking in Halas Hall.

Cutler was asked about his feelings on the hire and his experience when working with him before his draft year and he was quoted as saying, "you could just tell how knowledgeable he was about the quarterback position and offense in general...It's a great hire. I couldn't be more excited. He's been successful wherever he's been..."

It isn't the end all be all of getting Cutler's approval for the Bears hiring Trestman, but it doesn't hurt matters.  I am excited to have Trestman's knowledge and his experience having been very successful with quarterbacks in the past.  Hopefully Jay and Brandon will continue to be be all smiles with Trestans ability to teach the quarterback position so well.

Not only having Trestman in the fold but with the addition of former New Orleans Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach will no doubt create positive offensive production. 

There aren't to many more exciting offenses in the NFL than what the Saints have been able to produce with their pass happy scheme. 

Brandon Marshall should be salivating at the chance of catching more passes this next season.  However, I actually hope he has less catches and yards only because it means someone else has emerged as a viable target for Cutler.  Maybe Alshon Jeffrey?  Just as long as he learns to no push off on defensive backs to create space.

The Bears upper management have clearly sent a message to the entire team they wanted change in the Windy City. 

If Trestman can convince Rod Marinelli to stay as defensive coordinator and have some continuity with the current defensive roster then it could bode well for them going forward. 

You put your focus on bringing in an offensive mind and you don't want to lose sight of the defensive side of the ball.  You don't want to patch a hole and then create another one in the process.

He will want to build up the offense into what all Bears fans envision it to be.  He will also want to build upon the current veteran defensive players who have been carrying this team for years. 

What you want is a balance on your team and not have one aspect that overshadows the other.  This is why Lovie lost his job and Marc now has his first NFL head coaching gig.  

Trestman has made his living in the CFL since 2008 and has guided the Montreal Allouettes to three Grey Cups with wins in 2009 and 2010.  He was awarded CFL coach of the year in 2009.

He obviously has shown an ability to be successful in his endeavors.  There have been some former players (wide receivers) who have been vocal in their negative experiences with him as a coach.  Former player Tim Brown, while with the Oakland Raiders, was vocal in that he didn't feel Trestman was head coach material in so many words. 

I don't put much stock in his ramblings, as he was still productive, played along side Jerry Rice added to their offense that year, and they made it to the Super Bowl as one of the best offenses that year with QB Rich Gannon, under Trestmans tutelage, won MVP honors.  Wideouts have egos larger than anyone and when they don't get the ball ALL THE TIME they complain and whine.

See Terrell Owens, Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson, and especially former player and author of Just Give me the damn ball, Keyshawn Johnson, pictured at left.    

Trestman has worked with NFL teams in the past and has a well documented career of success.

I think the meticulous nature of Phil Emery's interview process should pay dividends in the Bears not to distant future.

So as Bob and Doug McKenzie would say to any of his doubters out there...

"Take off, you hoser!"

And to the Chicago Bears nation of followers...

"Beauty, eh?"

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Roll Tide Roll


The BCS championship concluded last night and it went about how I expected it to go. 

Alabama ended any speculation that Notre Dame would be a national champion with the first drive of the night. 

After Notre Dame won the coin toss and deferred.  They decided to send their "vaunted" defense out there against Alabama's incredibly hulking offense to obviously try and send a message.

The message was received.  Only the one getting the message was Notre Dame. 

They were pushing out their chests and only had Alabama push harder.  Notre Dame had only just realized the game had started when Alabama was smashing the football down their throats. 

5 plays, 82 yards, and 2:57 off the clock.  Touchdown.  This game was basically over.  You could see it on the face of Manti Te'o.  Another 5 plays and a punt for Notre Dame and Alabama marched right back over the top of the Irish. 

10 plays, 61 yards, and 4:49 off the clock.  Touchdown.  Alabama had just went past what Notre Dame was averaging giving up for an entire game.

Notre Dame looked shell shocked.      

To take more words from Kansas' wonderful song it was like this:

"Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion..."

The illusion being Notre Dame's worthiness of being in this game at all.  It was a paper champion all year in  comparison to the SEC and superpower Alabama.  Notre Dame had close game after close game, to their credit, found ways to win them with senior leadership, but you can't tell me had Pitt not had a decent field goal kicker Notre Dame is never even in this game.  Sorry any-other-team-in-BCS fans.

There is a reason Alabama has won 3 of 4 BCS national championship games and Notre Dame is still looking for their first BCS win (0-4).  Alabama has established themselves as the benchmark for college football success.

This game showed real NFL talent plays SEC football and hard working, been with the program, rebuilding talent plays at Notre Dame. 

I don't care that Alabama lost a game this year to Texas A&M and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel.  I can justify that with showing they play the best teams in the country in obviously the best conference in the country the SEC.  There is a reason the SEC has won 7 straight BCS championships.

No other conference coach has felt the Gatorade on his back since Vince Young led Texas past Matt Lienart and USC.  Nick Saban is getting used to it, right. 

The SEC is just flat out better.  And we better all get used to it. 

You also give Nick Saban 45 days to come  up with a game plan and more often than not the better team will be prepared and dominate.

This game really gives credence to needing the playoff system.  It is great to know this will finally get settled on the field with semifinal games and and a true championship game.

Now I would still like to see a true playoff system with 8-16 teams in a bracket setting but you have to take baby steps with this sorry BCS system.

It just is really sad to wait that amount of time between final regular season game and the major bowl games.  It ruins the flow of the year and it causes teams to not play to their potential at times.

You have teams like Georgia, Oregon, Kansas State, Florida, Ohio State (if eligible), etc playing in a playoff system it would be out of this world.

Notre Dame is building with Brian Kelly and they will still be a thorn in all other conference teams sides as they will be in the BCS mix as long as they continue to win the majority of their games.  It will be harder though since they will be playing a majority of their non conference tilts with ACC competition.

And they haven't been burning up the college football world lately (Florida State BCS champs in 2000).

I just don't see Notre Dame or anyone else for that matter matching what Alabama and the rest of the SEC can produce on the field  at this time.  They are getting NFL caliber talent year in and year out. 

I don't like to throw around the word dynasty because it seems to be used loosely these days, but in the age of football we have today Alabama really is.

 Give credit to Alabama and what they have accomplished.  A.J. McCarron, left, is the only quarterback to go back-to-back with wins in the BCS system.  He will be trying for a three-peat next season. 

Kansas's tune states:
"I was soaring ever higher
But I flew too high..."

At this point they are soaring but I don't think they have flown to their greatest height.