Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Memo To Rodriguez: It's All About Ohio State

The more I read about the reaction in West Virginia to Rich Rodriguez’s decision to leave for Michigan, the more I understand why.
Rodriguez took a lot of heat when his team, with a bid to the BCS championship game on the line, dropped a stink bomb during its season finale against Pitt. It was a game the Mountaineers clearly should have won - and in a rout.
Coaches sure are a sensitive breed. The criticism stings them more than it should. Especially those prone to cut and run will move on rapidly if they don’t feel secure. It’s why Nick Saban left MSU in a huff after his best season there. His family was perfectly happy in East Lansing. LSU was not in great shape. Saban had gotten his program righted at MSU. He left because he didn’t feel like he had enough backing, and the criticism from the previous years stung him mightily.
I like the Rodriguez hire. I don’t think Michigan could have done better. The only thing I don’t like about Rodriguez is the way he kind of blew off the Ohio State question at his press conference. He has never been involved in a rivalry close to matching it. You can just tell. Wonder if he understands just how big it is, particularly since Michigan has lost six of its last seven games against the hairless nuts. I can guarantee you this: He will soon find out.

Random Thoughts

- I can’t help but wonder what the first of the year has in store for the Tigers. I know Dave Dombrowski is going to make some moves to bolster the bullpen. It will be interesting to see what those moves will be.

- I think the Pistons will beat the Celtics tonight. And I do think it will matter. This is as close to a statement game as a regular season game can be. Look for Chauncey Billups to have his best game of the season - and for the Pistons to clamp down defensively on the Celtics’ Big Three.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lions Still Need An Answer To QB Woes

There were a lot of things not to like about the Lions’ 37-point loss to the San Diego Chargers Sunday. The Lions’ defense was awful. They played completely uninspired football. And it was obvious they were overmatched by the Chargers, who have bounced back nicely from a 4-4 start and are starting to peak just in time for the postseason.
But I think the most disturbing aspect is the lack of a future for the Lions. And to me, that begins at the quarterback position. Look, I admire Jon Kitna for his leadership qualities. He does bring a certain amount of pluck to the position that had been lacking for a long time with the Lions.
It’s just that he is 35 years old and has never really been a winning starting QB in the league. Lets face it, the Lions are going nowhere with him under center. He just isn’t that good.
In the meantime, you see good young quarterbacks developing with playoff contenders. Trent Edwards, the rookie the Lions bypassed in the draft for Drew Stanton, in Buffalo. Derek Anderson in Cleveland. Vince Young with Tennessee. Tarvaris Jackson with Minnesota. Eli Manning with the Giants. Missing his whole first year like this has not been good for Stanton, who hasn’t been able to practice with the full squad since he was put on injured reserve during training.
And make no mistake, the biggest single issue for the Lions during their 50 years of ineptitude has been a hole at the QB position.

Random Thoughts

- I can see Michigan’s basketball team easily losing nine of its next 10 games. Saturday’s home game vs. UCLA is going to be particularly one-side. It’s going to get ugly soon at Crisler Arena.

- If Rich Rodriguez doesn’t work out for Michigan, wonder who would be first in line to replace him, Les Miles or Jim Harbaugh? Wonder if those petty wounds, pertaining to Harbaugh, will ever heal.

- I do think the NHL Network is doing a terrific job. Love the vintage games and specialty shows. Just watched a couple on Denis Savard and Bobby Orr - and enjoyed them immensely. The NHL Network’s expanded game highlights are also welcomed.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mitchell Report Not Exactly Shocking

I understand all the hoopla surrounding the release of the Mitchell Report Thursday. I understand how it works when a story like that becomes the top item for the mainstream media - the so-called flavor of the day.
But to be honest, the real shocker would have come had Mitchell stood before the nation and claimed there wasn’t much steroid use in baseball during the last two decades.
There were no surprises there. It would be naive, also, to believe only the players named have done performance-enhancing drugs during that time period. It was many, many more.
To me, the big news was Roger Clemens’ name coming up. It has long been suspected, but that’s first time he has actually been fingered. Wonder how that will hurt his Hall of Fame chances? I have a vote and will have to ponder that one. We’re talking about one of the greatest pitchers of all time.
Clemens is denying this, but he does have the recourse to sue. Why wouldn’t he sue if he wasn’t a user? It’s the question that has kept Mark McGwire labeled "guilty" in the court of public opinion.
I don’t believe this will effect the popularity of baseball. The only thing that really does, honestly, is labor stoppages.

Random Thoughts

- Anybody notice Dick Jauron has the Bills with a 7-6 record and in the thick of the AFC playoff race with a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back? Think maybe the Lions should have taken Trent Edwards instead of Drew Stanton in the draft? Seems like more egg on Matt Millen’s face to me.

- Bud Selig is embarrassing. Baseball thrives despite him, not because of him.

- Can’t wait for the Pistons-Celtics game week. I still see the Pistons as being the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. If there is such a thing as a statement game during the regular season, this will be it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

When Did "I'm Not" Become "I am?"

There was a time when somebody made a statement that it actually meant something.
People were taken for their word. But, evidently, not anymore.
The more Les Miles denies he is a candidate for the Michigan football head coaching position, the more he says he is going to remain at LSU, the more it seems Michigan fans are hopeful he will be the Wolverines' next coach.
Honestly, it has gotten to the point of absurdity. Miles still has a buyout clause in his contract that stipulates he can go to Michigan. It’s all Michigan fans ever think about. Doesn’t matter that Miles came flat out and said Michigan must move on with its coaching search.
A couple things here: If Les Miles were to leave LSU for Michigan at this point, he would be the biggest snake there is in the grass. Secondly, many Michigan fans - not the university, really, - have totally showed just how frightened they are by that empty coaching spot. I will tell Michigan fans the same thing about Miles I used to my buddies in college when they would get jilted by some girl: Get over it. There are plenty of fish in the ocean.

Random Thoughts

- George Mitchell’s investigation of steroid use in baseball is likely to be a lot of noise without much substance. It won’t be that comprehensive because not many people came forward and truly cooperated with Mitchell - and those that did were forced to under duress. So even if there are names of players revealed who were steroid users - 60-to-80 are expected to be named - it is not going to carry that much cache. It will be interesting to see how Bud Selig handles this. Punishment for past infractions will be difficult to hand out. Mitchell won’t really have gotten to the heart of the matter. And baseball hasn’t necessarily cleaned up its act because there is no viable test for Human Growth Hormone.

- The Lions’ best player, in my opinion, is linebacker Ernie Sims. He is a hard-hitter and definitely does play the game with the proper passion. But is he a star? Doesn’t seem like Sims makes that many big plays.

- An event I can’t wait to see: Michigan State vs. Texas December 22 at The Palace. State’s played better lately, but the Spartans will have their hands full with Texas. The Longhorns were very impressive while beating UCLA on the road.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Curious Case Of Brandon Inge

Brandon Inge has always been somewhat of a lightning rod in this town. Seems like people either think he is a great player or a useless one - with no gray area.
Yet, even Inge’s biggest supporters must acknowledge the fact he is no Miguel Cabrera, and Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has come out and essentially said that Inge will be traded.
And it’s not necessarily the Tigers who are forcing the issue, but Inge himself because he wants to be an every day third baseman rather than a "super utilityman" or catcher.
I have talked to Inge about this in the past, and he is very consistent in his thinking about it. He understands his value as a catcher is much greater to him financially. He is a very good defensive catcher with offensive numbers that would make him highly-regarded at that position.
He is also a very good defensive third baseman with hitting statistics that aren’t good enough to play regularly for an extended period of years at that position. Inge has had one year, really, when his numbers were truly acceptable. It was 2006 when he displayed a lot of power. Before and since, he hasn’t been much of a hitter.
The logic doesn’t matter. He wants to play third. He loves the position. Figures it is his home.
The question is how much value does he really have? I am not sure it is that much. The only way I see the Tigers moving Inge for any type of player of value is if they deal with a small-market team and pick up a large portion of his salary.

Random Thoughts

- The Michigan football coaching search has quickly become an embarrassment for the university and this state. There are many members of the Michigan Mafia still holding out hope that Les Miles is on his way. It is, however, disturbing that these people have put all their eggs in that one basket. Michigan, given the status of its program, should have more than one viable option.

- People are all over Shaun Rogers about his lack of production lately, but what about Cory Redding? He is a three-technique tackle with a good share of freedom to make plays, especially since it is Rogers who is drawing the double-team. Redding performance this season has been, to say the least, disappointing. And the Lions are paying him how much?

- It is rare the Lions ever put a player on the field I have never heard of before, but I must confess I had never heard of Greg Blue before, at least in the NFL. I vaguely remember him when he played at Georgia. And he was terrific Sunday in the loss to Dallas, recovering a fumble and making several tackles. But was it real or a mirage? Seems like the Lions should give him more playing time to find out.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cabrera And Willis Make Everybody Better

Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis not only add production for the Tigers, but as important will be the domino effect they will have on the rest of the team. Cabrera gives the Tigers one more huge bat in the middle of the lineup, protecting yet another hitter. The pressure on opposing pitching staffs will great. Think last season before Gary Sheffield got hurt and how productive the Tigers’ lineup was - they were averaging more than six runs per game. Now it will be enhanced - if Sheffield is healthy. And even if he isn’t, the Tigers will at least be back to where they were before he was injured.
As for Willis, he takes a lot of pressure off Jeremy Bonderman. For reasons I, honestly, haven’t been able to figure out, he has not responded well to pitching at the top of the rotation in the heat of a pennant race. Willis has thrived under such pressure in the past. He has had his problems when the Marlins have fallen out of contention. There is also the matter of innings. Willis chews them up, which takes pressure off the bullpen.
This was a great trade for the Tigers. It doesn’t guarantee them a spot in the playoffs. Baseball is a fickle beast. Nothing does. But the Tigers odds have skyrocketed.

Note: You can read my column about the trade at "Sports Columns" at or in the print edition of The Oakland Press.

Random Thoughts

- Honestly, Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski must have told the Marlins to pick any six prospects from the Tigers organization. Outside of Rick Porcello, who can’t be traded at this point (you must to be in professional baseball for a year before eligible to be traded), the Marlins cherry-picked the Tigers’ five best prospects - and backup catcher Mike Rabelo. The Tigers farms system has been gutted. I did the Baseball America Top 10 prospects list for a dozen years and, in my opinion, the Tigers have traded seven of their top 10 prospects within the last month or so.

- The Tigers had to go for it now. They made their bed when they traded Gorkys Hernandez and Jair Jurrgens to Atlanta for Edgar Renteria. This trade, despite the considerable cost, was a wise move.

- This trade tells you exactly why Mike Ilitch is Mike Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski is Dave Dombrowski - and why William Clay Ford is William Clay Ford and Matt Millen is Matt Millen. Know what I mean?

- Until the Tigers add legitimate quality to their bullpen, they are still behind the Red Sox. They have, however, blown right on by the Indians and the White Sox within their division.

- Of all the prospects the Tigers have dealt this off season, I have a hunch Hernandez will ultimately be the best player.

Monday, December 03, 2007

About The BCS, UM, MSU And Those Nutty Lions

Honestly, my initial thought when it was announced LSU would be facing Ohio State in the BCS national championship game, was now we will find out if Les Miles would have been any better in head-to-head competition with Jim Tressel than Lloyd Carr.
Can you imagine if LSU beats the Buckeyes, now that Miles isn’t coming to Ann Arbor? There will be an even more uneasy feeling about him turning down the Michigan job.
It has been, to say the least, a strange college football season. Normally it is relatively clear-cut who should play in the BCS title game - even last season despite all the unfounded laments by the Michigan Mafia that the Wolverines, not Florida, belonged in the title game. (You don’t hear them yapping about that any more, do you? Wonder why?).
In truth, though, it does seem like the BCS got it right. These are the two best teams. Certainly more so than if Missouri were facing West Virginia, which appeared like it was going to be the matchup until both those teams lost over the weekend.
LSU and OSU have superior athletes and are well-coached. I think Ohio State’s defense is one of the best I have ever seen, although I am perplexed how it was destroyed in that one game by Illinois. LSU’s defense has been exposed a couple times. It doesn’t seem like LSU has all that much overall team speed, particularly given the reputation of the SEC for speed. My early thoughts are that Ohio State will win this game. Now that would be redemption for the Big Ten, would it? Not to mention disconcerting for Michigan, if OSU wins a second national title under The Sweater Man.

Random Thoughts

- Michigan’s bowl matchup is going to be a difficult one the Wolverines. There isn’t a better running quarterback than Florida’s Tim Tebow. Urban Meyer must be licking his chops at the prospect of game-planning against U-M’s defense with his spread offense, which is the state of the art.

- As much as I would have liked to have seen Michigan State play in the Motor City Bowl, facing Boston College in Florida was clearly a better option for the Spartans. The only down side might come in the caliber of the opposition. Mark Dantonio better have his team ready to play or it will be embarrassed by a very good football team and a great quarterback - BC’s Matt Ryan.
And the Purdue-Central Michigan matchup in the Motor City Bowl is good one. So Detroit wasn’t left out in the cold by the Big Ten.

- It’s not just disturbing that the Lions have gone into the tank for this season, but it’s also that their future doesn’t look particularly bright. Matt Millen has drafted poorly and there seems to be no plan in place to build a championship-caliber roster. It get worse by the year, not better. And that is saying something when a franchise has already hit rock bottom. My column on the Lions loss Sunday at Minnesota is under "sports columns" at Please check it out.