Monday, August 16, 2010

Conflicted on Cardinals

With Steve Kragthorpe and three seasons of ineptitude fading into the rearview mirror, I want to be optimistic about this year’s University of Louisville football team. I really do. But I’m finding myself somewhat conflicted.

Take the quarterback position as a prime example. Louisville returns three quarterbacks who won games last year in Justin Burke, Adam Froman and Will Stein. (That’s no small feat for a team that won all of four games.) All three showed flashes of being good quarterbacks last year. Burke looked downright unstoppable through most of the opener, which was a near upset of arch rival Kentucky. Froman proved to be a good, hardnosed leader. Stein’s size is questioned, but his toughness is beyond reproach.

Based on offensive coordinator Mike Sanford’s description of his spread offense, none of the returning quarterbacks seem ideally suited for it. Sanford recently talked about the importance of dual treat quarterback. He even mentioned running some option. That might point toward some involvement from true freshman Dominique Brown. From my perspective, you better not count on the option being an important part of your offense unless you’re jersey says “Navy” on the front or “Tebow” on the back. To make matters worse, Louisville couldn’t keep its quarterbacks healthy last year, even without running the option.

On the plus side, Louisville’s running back corps looks so solid behind Victor Anderson and Bilal Powell that Head Coach Charlie Strong moved the team’s second leading rusher from last season, Darius Ashley, to defense. Let’s hope Powell proves Strong right by hitting the hole with authority this season instead of more dancing like in the past. Both runners will have a big and experienced line to run behind.

No matter how leery I am of the offense, I am much more concerned about the Cardinals’ defense. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford recently said only two players have nailed down starting positions, Greg Scruggs and Brandon Heath. He added that the Cards are so undersized on the defensive front that opposing offenses will just run the ball at them until they can stop it. As a result, most of the buzz around the defense surrounds two players who have yet to even join the team in USC transfer Jordan Campbell and former Michigan signee Demar Dorsey. One or both may not make it to campus.

I want to believe that better coaching alone could result in an extra win or two for the Cards this season. Strong has done and said all the right things since coming to Louisville. Yet, for all his competence to this point, the former Florida defensive coordinator has never called the shots. Sanford has more head coaching experience than he does. Maybe that’s why Strong has so readily handed over the offensive play calling over to him.

This strikes me as a little odd. We know Strong can be a top-notch defensive coordinator. You’d think he’d be eager to show off his offensive chops. Yet, he turns his offense over to someone else. That’s like a CEO who doesn’t want to serve on his company’s board of directors. We saw too much of this kind of delegating under Kragthorpe.

Despite these nagging doubts, I can imagine a scenario in which a leader emerges at quarterback, the defense makes up for its lack of size with quickness, and Strong shows everyone why he should have been a head coach five years ago. I can also imagine a scenario under which none of that happens and history repeats itself.

As I said, I’m conflicted.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reagan Library Has Hits, Misses

On a recent business trip, I had the opportunity to visit the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., with my family. I saw a lot of things, but the most memorable by far was one of the simplest. It was the quote on Reagan’s tombstone, which read:

“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”

The quote was pure Reagan. It captured Reagan’s unbridled optimism. It was "The Great Communicator” at his best.

I wish the same could be said for the rest of the library. Don't get me wrong, the library does a lot of things right. The setting is beautiful. The food is good. And the exhibits are so approachable that even children enjoy them. However, aside from the tombstone, I was provided with little insight into what made Reagan into Reagan.

Much of the museum’s wow factor is more about the office of president, than specific to nation’s 40th president. For instance, the library’s centerpiece is a retired Air Force One. I’m not talking about a section either. I'm talking about the whole darned plane in all its glory. How they got that thing in there still puzzles me.

Additionally, the museum displays a retired presidential helicopter, Marine One, a retired fighter jet, a presidential motorcade and a model of the White House. It’s all cool stuff for someone like me with a great curiosity about the office. But -- like the out-of-place display of vintage motorcycles -- gives little insight into Reagan himself.

A couple of exceptions were an exhibit devoted to the Cold War that highlighted Reagan's belief in “peace through strength” and a piece of the Berlin Wall, which came down, in no small part, thanks to his leadership. The most jolting exhibit is the suit coat Reagan wore on the day he was shot, complete with bullet hole. The accompanying text tells visitors not only about the shooting, but Reagan's demeanor afterward, including the fact that he prayed for his attacker and cracked wise that he hoped the doctors were Republicans.

In contrast, I saw little to nothing about Reagan’s upbringing, his days as an actor, his stint as governor of California or even his family, friends and colleagues. As a result, I left having enjoyed a wonderful view, a good burrito and a great keepsake photo of my family on the doorstep of Air Force One, but without an understanding of the forces that shaped one of the nation’s greatest presidents.

I did note several signs about a renovation that will mark what would have been Reagan's 100th year, as well as a lot of signs warning about rattlesnakes. Hopefully this means some of this is being rectified -- at least the content, if not the snakes.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

No Shame at UK

With the University of Kentucky waist deep in NCAA trouble in the 1980s, Sports Illustrated published a famous cover. It featured a supposed Kentucky basketball player with his head hung low under the headline “Kentucky’s Shame.”

The same headline couldn’t be published today. Under John Calipari, Kentucky clearly has no shame. Let me give you a couple of examples:

2011 recruiting: Anthony Davis, perhaps the top prospect in the nation in his class, has yet to sign with Kentucky, but there has already been a report of a rumor that he was paid $200,000 to do so.

2010: recruiting: Terrence Jones, a top prospect on the West Coast, called a press conference announcing his decision to go to the University of Washington, only to change his mind following a talk with Calipari.

2009 recruiting: Questions abound about the signing of Kentucky’s Eric Bledsoe, including the remarkable resurrection of his grades and allegations that his high school coach paid for his rent.

2009 recruiting: Big Blue deity John Wall was suspended for a couple games and ordered to pay back $800 given to him by an agent.

I don’t even want to talk about Marcus Teague.

The point is Calipari always works the margins. Where other coaches see trouble, he sees opportunities. When Tyreke Evans was implicated in a drive-by shooting, other coaches backed off. Calipari sped ahead. When Wall was cited for breaking and entering, others retreated. Calipari charged in.These kinds of shenanigans have resulted in Calipari-coached teams vacating NCAA Final Four appearances at both UMass and Memphis. He probably would have had to do the same thing at Kentucky, if only he had made the Final Four.

If any of us got a speeding ticket, we’d probably slow down … at least for a few days. That’s not the case with Calipari. He’s been warned and all but handcuffed, but he’s still flying past all the warning signs.

Let’s sum it up another way:

  • If Kentucky were BP, it would be drilling new wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • If Kentucky were a prisoner, it would be stealing from its cellmate.

  • If Kentucky were Bill Clinton, it would be celebrating its impeachment acquittal at dinner with Monica Lewinsky.

  • If Kentucky were a basketball team, it would be, well, Kentucky.
No shame.