One of the first things you learn at any Journalism school, even what was at the time a pretty poor one like I attended, is that most things make news because they are unusual. Of course, defining unusual is difficult at times because what is normal? Everyone is odd in their own way.
This week we have plenty of unusual. Let’s start with last Saturday’s Army-Navy game. No it’s not unusual for Army to win as they were bound to break Navy’s winning streak at some point. Just as halftime was finishing, into the CBS booth pops President-Elect Donald J. Trump. Nothing unusual about the future commander-in-chief taking in the Army-Navy game as it’s been happening for years, but when asked his thoughts on the game, Trump said that it’s probably not the greatest football in the world. On that point he happens to be correct, it’s not. But, when you are about to be the commander-in-chief of 85% of the people in that stadium, you don’t say it. This is not a political thing here. He’s the President-Elect. But for the love of God would somebody please delete his Twitter account.
It got more bizarre again on Monday when Florida Atlantic University hired Lane Kiffin to be its head coach. That’s Lane “I’ve never done a damn thing as a head coach” Kiffin. FAU needed attention and well now they have it and it’s probably going to wind up being the attention they don’t actually want or need.
Kiffin is the classic example of constantly failing up. An obscure offensive coordinator at USC in the early 2000s, Kiffin, the son of long-time NFL Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin, was hired at age 32 to be the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Just 4 games into his second season, Raiders’ owner Al Davis (an undisputed crazy old coot) fired Kiffin and he left town in a dispute over getting paid and a 5-15 record. You’d figure he’d settle back into a coordinator’s role right? Wrong, Tennessee’s then dumb-dumb Athletic Director Mike Hamilton hired him to replace Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee. In all fairness, he did rescue Vols quarterback Jonathan Crompton off the scrap heap, but his final record after losing a bowl game was 7-6. In addition, he added the thug element to UT’s roster while going for the quick fix to the program. Those players like Nukeese Richardson and David Oku completely flamed out. And, after 13 games when USC came calling, Kiffin left Knoxville in the middle of the night with a bizarre press conference in which he initially told Tennessee Sports Information Director Bud Ford he would only attend if the local television agreed not to record it. That created anger, particularly from a local television news director who insisted that Kiffin was the coach at a public institution and couldn’t dictate those terms. On that point he was right and so Kiffin instead walked in, made a 30 second statement about him leaving and exited stage left with a police escort back to his home in West Knoxville. On the way out of town, Monte Kiffin went with him and so did Ed Orgeron, but only after he called Tennessee’s recruits to see if they’d like to come to USC. Classy, don’t you think?
At USC, again in all fairness he inherited a program that was gutted by NCAA sanctions under former Coach Pete Carroll who never had to face the music because he rolled out of town back to the NFL ahead of the NCAA’s posse. But, Kiffin earned a dubious honor at USC, taking a team that was pre-season A.P. Number 1 all the way to a loss in the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech. After the game, his players were reportedly fighting each other in the locker room. He also ran afoul of the local media banning them from seeing any of practice after they reported on injuries. So much for freedom of the press in the Free State of Lane Kiffin. Eventually to add the scene that is Lane Kiffin, he was fired on the tarmac at LAX by then athletic director Pat Haden and had to find a ride home as Haden wouldn’t let him back on the team bus.
Kiffin has rebuilt his reputation somewhat as the offensive coordinator at Alabama the past three years. But, the questions still linger about his maturity. He suffers from the same chronic illness as Donald Trump with no filter between his brain and his mouth. He likewise has not show the ability to run a program. A head coach must do more than call plays and Kiffin has only ever distinguished himself as a gifted Xs and Os guy who carries a giant play card. He’s likewise in the midst of a divorce. He reportedly was having an affair with a local Knoxville media personality on the same night he wrecked his school issued vehicle and the rumors of extra-marital activity followed him to Alabama. Again, they are just rumors but why the divorce if there isn’t at least some substance to them? Florida Atlantic wanted a “splashy hire” for its infant football program and they go it. They are also getting what it is like to have Lane Kiffin around. He signed his first player just yesterday in Quarterback De’Andre Johnson, the same guy who was kicked out of Florida State in July 2015 when video surfaced of him hitting a woman at a Tallahassee bar. You get Kiffin, but you also get his baggage and don’t think for 10 seconds that he won’t do to FAU what he did to Tennessee, only this time in Miami the local media is certain not to care.
But, the most bizarre story of the week comes from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. On Tuesday, Wake fired its radio analyst Tommy Elrod after an investigation showed that Elrod was giving information regarding Wake’s game plans to other schools and had been doing so since 2014. The veritable crap hit the fan when Wake somehow discovered prior to their November 12th game with Louisville that someone had given Louisville a sheet featuring some additional plays that Wake had not used that season and was planning to run in the game against the Cardinals.
Elrod was a former Wake Forest player and a coach on the staff of former coach Jim Grobe. When Grobe was shown the door in late 2013, Elrod was not retained by new coach Dave Clawson. Hey, that happens all the time. Most mature adults will get upset (that’s natural) and then find the next thing in their career. Instead, Elrod took a job on the Wake Forest-IMG Radio Network and used his inside access to the program as a former player and radio analyst to turn 007 and undermine the coach who wouldn’t keep him. He’s now been banned from Wake’s athletic events and facilities and this is his alma mater.
There are more than a few questions at play here. First, Wake says it used e-mails, text messages and phone records to determine that it was Elrod playing CIA turned KGB agent. If he didn’t have a school issued e-mail account, or phone how the hell did Wake even get those records? The only way I can think of is either voluntarily which may have happened or the more unlikely subpoena route and you’d need an open legal matter for that. Wake has also not shown anyone the proof it says it has of Elrod’s misdeeds and as a private school it won’t have to unless there is some type of litigation and then all bets are off.
Elrod, who has been dubbed the “Leakin’ Deacon” by the local media in the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina isn’t saying anything and has already lawyered up. So unless there is some type of litigation coming or criminal charges, why do you need a lawyer? More curious, is why do you need inside information from freaking Wake Forest to beat them? This is a school with 27 losing seasons since 1978. Prior to this year’s 6-6 Bowl team, Clawson’s teams at Wake Forest were 3-9 and 3-9. Clearly, Virginia Tech didn’t benefit from any intelligence in 2014 when they lost in Double Overtime to Wake 6-3 in the worst college football game ever played.
To top it all off, is anyone in the world surprised that Louisville is involved in this and in particular head coach Bobby Petrino? Petrino is a brilliant offensive mind and a complete piece of crap. He’s always angry about something, has the personality of a 5 pound bag of fertilizer and has shown himself to have some fundamental character flaws. He lost his job at Arkansas after an accident on a motorcycle where he had his mistress riding along with him, the same girl he employed in the football office. So, he cheated on his wife and then lied about it to his bosses. Petrino is of course denying any knowledge, but the school did acknowledge on Wednesday that its offensive coordinator Lonnie Galloway – a longtime friend of Elrod – did get some information and turned it over to the school’s defensive coordinator. You going to tell me that Petrino didn’t know? Please, he’s the head coach and calls the plays. In this day of social media, there are no secrets and this story isn’t going away no matter how much Louisville wants it to. It’s been dubbed Wakeyleaks by some wise ass in North Carolina and it’s only just beginning because truth is definitely stranger than fiction most of the time.
Bowl season begins this weekend with 5 games on Saturday featuring mostly afterthought teams in minor conferences. However, on the watchability scale, the Las Vegas Bowl between Houston and San Diego State is interesting. It gets a prime TV spot at 3:30 pm. on ABC and it’s the debut for new Houston coach Major Applewhite. Unless you are truly vested in schools like Toledo, Appalachian State and Louisiana-Lafayette, the rest of Saturday’s lineup is mostly unwatchable.
The FCS Playoffs reach the semi-finals this weekend. The FCS is strange in that it will play the semi-finals this weekend then take a 3 week break before the Championship game on January 7th in Frisco, Texas. Friday night, 12-1 James Madison, the Champions of the Colonial Athletic Association travel to Fargo, North Dakota to face the top seed, 12-1 and 5 time defending National Champion Bison of North Dakota State. This is only the second meeting between these two schools. The first was in the FCS Quarterfinals in 2010, won by North Dakota State 26-14. The Bison have lost just 11 games since 2010.
The other semi-final game matches 11-3 Youngstown State at 12-1 Eastern Washington. EWU has won 11 straight games and play their home games on red turf (I kid you not). These two schools have only met once previously and it came in the 1997 FCS Semi-Finals with Youngstown State winning in route to another FCS Title. Should North Dakota State and Eastern Washington both win, it sets up a National Championship game between the two schools that have combined to win the last 6 FCS Titles. Before North Dakota State ran off 5 in a row from 2011 to 2015, the last school not named North Dakota State to win the FCS was Eastern Washington in 2010.
It’s Championship weekend for Divisions II and III. Division II sets up shop in Kansas City for a game between two of Division II’s traditional powers as the 14-0 Bearkats of Northwest Missouri State face the 11-1 Lions of North Alabama. Northwest Missouri is trying to go back-to-back and win 3 of the last 4 D-II titles. They have 5 overall in 1998, 1999, 2009, 2013 and 2015. Throw is 4 runner-up finishes and this is the Bearkats 10th appearance in the Championship game. North Alabama is back in the title game for the first time since completing a three-peat in 1993, 1994 and 1995.
For the 24th straight season my friends in Salem, Virginia host the Division III title game also known as the Stagg Bowl. However, they must be happy that there is something different this weekend than in recent years. For 11 straight years, the Championship game featured either Mount Union or Wisconsin-Whitewater. Nine of those times they faced each other. This year however, it’s a new championship game which I’d have to think would attract more locals to the stadium as Mary-Hardin Baylor faces Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Mary Hardin-Baylor is back in the D-III title game for the first time since 2004 still looking for their first championship. Wisconsin-Oshkosh is making its first appearance, but are trying to become the third Wisconsin-hyphen school to win the Championship following both Wisconsin-Whitewater and Wisconsin-Lacrosse who won the title in 1995.
Enjoy the weekend everyone…