Could Charlie Strong and Texas change football for the better?

Many of you are probably aware that I have been very critical of the game of football and the type of people/athletes that the game attracts. I’ve been pretty subtle about it, but yeah, it’s there.

I’ve never denied the possibility that football can be a game that encourages discipline, hard work and structure while being an enjoyable event. The problem is that it can be either that or a game of chaos and extreme brutality that encourages barbarism on and off the field, and recent years has shown much more of the latter occurring. Critics of mine can point out that bad eggs are present in all sports and walks of life, but that still can’t erase the fact that such individuals are coming out of the game of football much more frequently and with little to no outrage about it from the public.

But maybe, just maybe, that attitude could be on the verge of changing.

If there is a silver lining in seeing the horrific abuse that Ray Rice laid on Janay Palmer, it’s that it might have snapped enough people out of their state of denial and realized that abusive violence committed by football players (and yes, on a smaller scale, athletes in general) is a serious problem that not enough has been done about. Numerous other sports leagues like the NHL have cracked down on such actions, and done so without bungling it like Roger Goodell did with Rice.

But if there’s one event that might be a true sign of that, it would be standout Maryland high school quarterback Kai Locksley flipping his commitment at near the last moment and deciding to go to the University of Texas instead of Florida State.

The knock on Charlie Strong when Texas hired him was that he was too old-fashioned and hard. His tough, discipline-driven style could never win over kids in a world were recruits can get helicopter rides to campus from recruiters – add that to the list of complaints the spoiled boosters of the Whiny Orange have with Strong.

Well, so much for that theory. Texas signed a top 10 recruiting class last week, highlighted by linebackers Mailk Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler as well as the number one tight end according to ESPN, Devonaire Clarington.

But Locksley was the one Texas fans have to be jumping for joy over, seeing him as the solution the Horns need at quarterback after enduing the past season with Tyrone Swoopes. But it’s not just the fact that Strong landed this particular kid but where he poached him from where the change in football’s culture may lie.

I remember one of my Twitter followers saying that Strong’s best weapon in recruiting is “you win over the parent, you win the kid.” I think it’s safe to suggest that this was the case with Locksley, with Strong convincing his parents that Texas would be a much better place for their kid.

You can’t tell me that the horror stories coming out of Florida State, where not only was Jameis Winston accused of rape and stealing crab legs, but there has been a laundry list of incidents where FSU players committed heinous acts and the Tallahassee police simply looked the other way, started drawing concerns from the parents of talented but impressionable high school athletes.

Would you want to send your kid to an atmosphere like that?

It looks like Locksley’s parents did not. And when Strong came knocking on their door to offer a much different environment, the choice became obvious.

Texas was right there with Florida State for years, especially in the final years of Mack Brown’s term as coach. Players making headlines for the wrong reasons in the weeks leading up to bowl season were too common an occurrence for the program. Brown had always been known as someone who would coddle his players, but it was clear by the end that the inmates were running the asylum.

But things appear to be changing in Austin, with not just the new coach but a new athletics director and a new president on the way. If Steve Patterson will back his football coach and start telling the likes of Red McCombs to stay out of their business, the change could be complete.

It’s a new culture the Orangebloods should embrace. Brown’s practice of spoiling his players had to be a factor in his teams always underperforming for the talent they had. By contrast, Gary Patterson has built a tough winning program against the odds through strong discipline while still having the backs of his players. If Texas infuses that type of atmosphere in addition to the talent they can draw on the name alone, they could be the greatest force in college football.

There is how football could be used to make boys into better men – using the games intensity to focus them and learn the lessons of structure and boundaries, both on and off the field. It’s a practice that has been slipping away over the years in favor of a culture of chaos and unbridled brutality, and the results have been way too many stories on SportsCenter involving police reports.

Football needs such a shot in the arm, because with more and more stories like Rice and Winston and Aaron Hernandez along with a growing concern regarding concussions, more and more parents are showing concern over whether their kids should play that sport when there are plenty of other athletic options available. It’s a bigger problem than a lot of die-hard fans like Daniel Flynn want to admit, and something has to change if you want your beloved sport to endure.

Is it too soon to say things are definitely going to turn around? Perhaps.

But if the viewing public never forgets the horrors committed by people like Ray Race and are willing to embrace more people like Charlie Strong, maybe even this cranky, snarky sports fan and writer will find little to complain about regarding the game.

Social media making college recruiting even crazier

The internet has brought many benefits to society, but there have been detriments as well, especially in the realm of social media. People post and share anything, and it’s nigh impossible to figure out what among it is actually true. I actually began a new web show ridiculing fake news stories because of this.

This is very much the case in sports as well. Any and all rumors will get sprawled all over Facebook and Twitter, fact checking be damned.

That has proven apparent as National Signing Day has drawn closer, and it appears that recruits everywhere are taking to one of the most infamous online practices: Trolling.

There have likely been multiple types of issues, but perhaps the most infamous of late has been that of Allen’s Kyler Murray, the supposed commit to Texas A&M. That is, until a few weeks back when he posted on Twitter an image of a University of Texas jersey. This came just after his friend DaMarkus Lodge had done the same.

Naturally, everyone pounced on this and went into a frenzy. Aggies on fan forums began roasting the five-star Murray for betraying them, claiming how A&M was losing recruits because the athletes were too “weak” to handle the SEC.

And… it all pretty much amounted to nothing, as just a few days ago, Murray sent another Tweet reading “Following my heart… #GigEm.”

It should be noted that the allure of another college may not even be the greatest threat toward Murray’s chances of actually playing in College Station, as USA Today recently reported that many baseball scouts believe he may have an even brighter future in that sport; it may very well depend on how much money the pro baseball leagues are willing to throw at him.

And it looks like Texas didn’t come up empty-handed in this, as reports are now saying that four-star quarterback Kai Locksley has switched his commitment from Florida State to come to Austin.

But ultimately, this is what happened: Kyler Murray punk’d you all. Did what he did get you all talking about him? Mission accomplished, then. He never had to make such a change, but he got his name back in the headlines for a few more days, stroking his own ego.

All of this is why I have been reluctant to talk too much about recruiting in the past few days and make a huge fuss about who has announced where and what school and what player has reportedly flip flopped. This has always been a part of the recruiting season, but it’s only going to get worse thanks to social media. And it’s going to be another one of those lessons that people never learn.

More than ever, this is why it has to be re-affirmed that “commitments” to college are all unofficial until the moment the recruits sign that letter of intent, which will start happening today. Only then will we actually know who is going where.

In the meantime, the recruits, a lot more savvy with the Internet than many of the writers covering them, will find new ways with the technology to troll them. And the writers will fall for it and keep feeding the athletes’ egos.

Gary Patterson Represents the Good in College Football

Randy Galloway doesn’t call them “The Whiny Orange” for nothing.

Within days of the University of Texas announcing Charlie Strong as its new football coach, the high-dollar boosters began moping that their Brinks trucks of orange money could not lure the likes of Nick Saban, Art Briles or Jon Gruden to Austin, led by Red McCombs going on San Antonio radio and coming off like the ultimate racist hick upset that a black man will lead his team for the first time ever.

I have heard from people with connections to the UT athletic department that essentially, people like McCombs are the reason no high-profile coach will come to UT. Sure, there are boosters like that at every major school, but UT’s base may be the absolute worst at having their claws sink into the department – unless people like Strong and new AD Steve Patterson can wrench them out.

Time for the Orangebloods to come down to earth: Texas is not THAT much better of a job than Alabama, a program that won six national championships before you won your first, And Briles? If you CAN beat them, don’t join them. And Gruden has such a cushy job with MNF that he should never coach again.

None of those coaches were going anywhere. But it’s amazing that one other coach was not in the running – unless it’s already accepted that he’s never going anywhere else. And that is among the reasons why that coach is one even I can salute.

People want me to say something good related to football? Here you go. With accused rapists leading their teams to national championships and programs getting slaps on the wrist for violations worse than what SMU did in the 80s, one shining beacon of hope has been the man running the show over in Fort Worth.

Who would have thought that Gary Patterson would still be the coach at TCU today? When Patterson took over for the departing Dennis Franchione in 2000, many thought that, at best, he could maintain what had been going for three years and then bolt for greener pastures like his predecessor.

Instead, what we have seen is nearly a decade and a half of Patterson running The Little Program That Could, causing fits to the big boys and the national sports pundits who kiss those schools’ butts. And his program is dang proud of it.

He wouldn’t stand for his team being disrespected for playing the “little sisters of the poor,” but he ultimately let his players answer that by beating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and earning the program’s highest raking ever. He wouldn’t let the school’s constant shifting from conference to conference affect his program, which has consistently won from the WAC to Conference USA to the Mountain West.

What’s more, Patterson has proved that his program will be run with integrity. In the Frogs’ first ever Big 12 season, he did not hesitate to suspend his starting quarterback for drug use. Let’s see him do that, even for a greater offense, at UT or, say Florida State, and survive.

That brings us to another group of people that deserve some credit: The TCU boosters. They keep ponying up the cash to keep Patterson at their school, but they don’t meddle. They trust that he’s doing the right thing. And that’s why Patterson should get the time he needs to build the program to the level where it can compete with Texas and Oklahoma consistently. Hey, if Baylor found a way to do it…

He might have gotten more money going somewhere else. But by staying at TCU, he has achieved something more valuable: The status of a legend.

Maybe I’m naive, but it’s starting to look like the attitudes of college coaches may be changing. The practice of breaking contracts to get more money at a “high-level” program may not be happening as often as people think. Why take a few million more for the headaches of unrealistic expectations if you can still get a good salary AND the chance to do something really special where you are?

And if that mindset is beginning to take hold, a lot of credit should go to Gary Patterson, whether he meant to or not, for making it popular.

Aledo May Not Be Bullies, But UIL Still Needs to Address Things

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Figured the time would come when I’d have to talk about this sport.

The phenomenon that is high school football in Texas has now exploded into national headlines following one of the most lopsided games in history, when Aledo High beat Fort Worth Western Hills 91-0. It wasn’t the score itself that drew the attention; it was one parent going so far as to file an accusation of “bullying” on Aledo’s team for what they did.

Bullying? Yeah, that is probably taking it to an extreme. And it once again has led to the same wave of people doing their own whining about the “wussification” of America.

But there is a deeper issue here that may be being overlooked by those rolling their eyes at one whining parent. And amazingly, it was a caller to one of Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket’s shows that addressed it.

That issue is that it makes no sense for Aledo to be in Class 4A (the second level of Texas high school athletics) and in District 7 with mostly Fort Worth ISD schools.

Aledo clearly has 5A-level talent, regularly sending players off to college like Jonathan Gray, now carrying the ball for the Texas Longhorns.  FWISD schools, meanwhile, are stretched so thin on athletes that many of their football teams have to play two ways out of necessity.

And yes, I can personally vouch for this. Back when I was broadcasting high school games while in college, there was one game with Arlington High facing off against Paschal (which was amazingly at the 5A level). Looking over at the Paschal sideline and seeing so few players there while the teams were on the field, my partners and I couldn’t help but reference the 1990s movie Necessary Roughness.

The numbers about how unfairly better Aledo is against its competition speak for themselves. The Western Hills game was just the most extreme example. With a schedule against no schools above the 4A level and one 3A school (according to Press Box Services), Aledo has yet to score fewer than 44 points in a game or allow more than 16. The average score of their district games this year has had them winning 84-7.

That doesn’t mean those players should be ashamed of putting up scores like that. Nor does it justify anyone going so far as to file a complaint that the school now must investigate by state law.

But neither does it mean the Western Hills players deserve to be struck back by elitist sports writers and personalities (many of whom probably didn’t even play anything past the junior high level) saying, “Hey you guys need to just accept the fact that you’re a bunch of pathetic losers who don’t deserve to ever set foot on a football field ever again.” Especially when it wasn’t the players who filed this claim. THAT could be a greater claim of bullying.

Who knows what will eventually come from this case. But if there is hope, it will be the realization that the UIL, the University of Texas-based governing body of Texas high school sports, needs to make serious changes to its alignment policies.

It’s dumb enough that the UIL for some reason has to re-structure the districts every two years, meaning Arlington high schools are now playing against the likes of Weatherford instead of Grand Prairie or Mansfield. But clearly student enrollment is not a good enough barometer for deciding what class level a school should be in.

No, you can’t fault the Aledo players for continuing to play hard in a game. But they should be doing it against 5A schools because that’s clearly where their talent level is at. Right now, them being at 4A is like the University of Kentucky basketball team playing at the Division II or III level.

This is more than just the issue of the remaining schools in District 7 and the rest of Class 4A not having a fair chance against a grossly superior program. There is the risk of damaging the Aledo players by giving them a false sense of confidence and the belief that everything is going to come easy for them because they are not being tested. It would be a whole lot different if they were up against the likes of Euless Trinity or Southlake Carroll.

Yes, an accusation of “bullying” because of a high school football game may be too much. But it doesn’t

Astros Might Not Be the Rangers’ Whipping Boys Forever

Jim Crane might want to double-check the lease on Minute Maid Park and make sure his team’s name is on it and not the Rangers.

Yeah yeah, I know, old joke. But it’s still amazing just how badly our guys in North Texas have dominated this year in the city Randy Galloway loves to call Mosquitoville.

The Rangers opened the 2013 season at the park formerly known as Enron and got drilled 8-2. They did not lose in Houston for the rest of the year, finishing 9-1 on the road against the Astros.

The streak was completed by the same person who started it. In two starts this year in Houston, Yu Darvish allowed two hits in 17 innings – none prior to the eighth in either game.

Of course, they haven’t been the only ones to kick the Astros around. While the Rangers made the incredible comeback from six games back to one game up in nine days, Houston has now dropped back to 31 games out of first. A full month behind the leader in the division.

I get the feeling more than a few fans in H-Town wish they’d never left the league where pitchers are still forced to bat. Well, here are a couple of things to try and ease the pain.

First, it’s doubtful that the Astros would be any better if they were still in the National League Central, given that the Cardinals and surprising Pirates are battling for baseball’s best record in that division.

And second, it’s likely they won’t be the Disastros for much longer.

To say Houston has a young inexperienced team is an understatement. Eric Bedard is the only Astros player to currently make more than $505,000 (the league minimum is $490,000)

But while the Astros may be bringing up the rear in the American League, their farm system has the best record in all of baseball. Amazingly, just a few years ago, the franchise had cellar dwellers at the major, AAA and AA levels; now, both Oklahoma City and Corpus Christi are looking to the postseason.

And it’s not like there isn’t some promise with the group currently on the big league roster, especially with the battery the Rangers faced in their last game.

Finding a good catcher can be a headache, as we have seen in these post-Pudge days, but the Astros may have something in Carlos Corporan. In the ninth inning on Monday, when Corproan made a snap throw to first to nearly pick off Craig Gentry, Tom Greive couldn’t help but compare him to The Magnificent 7 with how he screened himself behind the left-handed batter to try and fool the runner. A few pitches later, Corporan fired a very Pudge-like bullet to second base to gun down Gentry.

It was also Corporan who ruined Darvish’s second attempt to no-hit the Astros this year with his home run in the eighth inning. With seven homers (tied for fifth on the team; Jason Castro and Matt Dominguez are tied for second with 14 each) and 31 total runs (15 R/16 RBI) in just 46 games, he has the promise of being a run producer behind the plate.

And it looks like Brett Oberholtzer has finally figured things out. Called back up from Oklahoma City after the Bud Norris trade and thrown into the rotation, Brett has actually been more than pretty good; the two the Rangers scored off him in the first inning Monday are so far the only runs he’s allowed in three starts. Texas handed him his first loss, making it his first start that he didn’t get out of the seventh inning.

While a third straight 100-loss season looks inevitable, at least the Astros are doing it right in trying to build. With the franchise having poached Nolan Ryan’s son Reid to be team president, running a group led by general manager Jeff Luhnow and and some good throwbacks to the Astros’ previous success (including Craig Biggio as a special assistant and Quinton McCracken as director of player development), the Astros are clearly focused on this amazing new tactic of building from within that is actually now seeing success in the game.

Compare that to the mess in Anaheim, CA, where the Los Angeles Angels of Orange County Or Whatever are loaded down with too many ginormous contracts given to players who simply are not living up to them. Already people are speculating that the Angels won’t be able to pay up to their lone bright spot, Mike Trout, when his time in arbitration comes, thanks to the millions they’re paying Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols to not do much. The cellar looks a lot closer in the future for the the Halos than the postseason does.

In the meantime, the Rangers have six games left in Arlington this year to beat up on the Astros, and they might have another year of using them as a chew toy. But we’d better enjoy it while it lasts, because eventually this Lone Star battle might become a war.

Finally, Pudge Gets His Day

Most people have that one personality that they remember being able to see more than anyone else.

For me, it was the short, stocky Puerto Rican who manned the plate for the Texas Rangers for more than 12 years.

And that’s why it’s going to be an honor tonight to see Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame.

Hopefully it will soon be followed by David Murphy accepting a new jersey number so #7 can hang from the left field facade where it belongs. But that’s for later.

For now, it’s time for North Texas to show appreciation for one individual who’s greatness wasn’t truly appreciated when it was there.

Pudge was known more than anything for that Howitzer of a throwing arm that made him they guy simply no one wanted to run on. Teams that relied on base stealing – yes, there were still some that existed even in the power ball times of the 1990s – would come to Arlington and find themselves effectively shut down.

It was more than just the arm, however – it was the reflexes. He would get the ball, and within a split second, he was up and in perfect position to throw. Maybe this is just my own nostalgia goggles, but I can almost remember him regularly going crouched position to cannon fired in about half a second, whereas most catchers would take close to a full second.

And the defense was only part of the game. I doubt anyone can fully understand how hard he worked to become one of the best pure hitters of the game.

The term “contact hitter” usually describes someone willing to take borderline pitches to force an even better one. But Pudge was the type of guy who would go after this outside pitches – not because he was undisciplined, but because he could hit them.

I’ll always remember two at-bats above all else when it comes to Pudge. The first was in a June 1995 game with the winning run at third. After swinging and missing at two high fastballs from Lee Smith, you knew he was getting another in the same location, and logic dictates he should hold back. But instead, he finds a way to get the bat up high enough and knock the third fastball at the letters into center field to win the game.

The second was back around 1998 when he hit a line drive shot into right center field for a home run. That was the deepest part of the park at more than 407 feet. And going the opposite way for him.

It all amounted to a total package that was sadly taken for granted. To many in the area, none of what he did on the field mattered as long as he couldn’t somehow guide the team’s young pitchers into Cy Young candidates. It was why so many begged the Rangers to trade him in 1999 to bring in the Great God Roger Clemens. And why when they finally let him go after 2002, newspapers quickly praised the supposed leadership abilities of Einar Diaz.

But as the Rangers headed to another last-place finish in 2003 while Pudge helped carry the Florida Marlins and its young pitching staff to a championship, that claim that he couldn’t work with pitchers was thrown right back in his critics’ faces. Turns out maybe lack of talent on the mound was more to blame in Texas.

Only then did the phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” truly sink in. And while the Rangers ultimately managed two pennants with Bengie Molina and Mike Napoli behind the plate, the revolving door of catchers goes on.

Sadly, Pudge may never be remembered for being the best at what he did perhaps in history. Historians want to be locked down on the past and treat certain individuals, like Johnny Bench, as untouchable in that regard. And of course, there is the likelihood that baseball’s “moral guardians” will try to lump Pudge in with everyone in the so-called “steroid era”of the 90s and keep him out of the big Hall of Fame for as long as possible.

But for now, Ivan Rodriguez will be honored among the people who will appreciate what he did. Finally.

Big East’s Breakup Has a Familiar Southwest Feel

Once upon a time there was a conference called the Big East. You should have seen it.

It wasn’t known as a great football conference, which is why it might not have been as well known to the people of the South and West. It was known as a basketball conference, and that was all it needed to be for years. Its collection of Northeastern powerhouse programs like Connecticut, Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown all vied for basketball supremacy in the nation besides just their conference, culminating with the annual Big East Tournament at the ultimate venue, Madison Square Garden. It was so deep in the 1980s that 1985 saw three Big East teams reach the Final Four.

Sadly, the good times were not to last. On Sunday, March 17, 2013, Louisville defeated Syracuse in the tournament final, and the conference as it has been known for years ceased to be. The Big East will still exist, and MSG will still host the tournament, but it may be a shell of its former self thanks to football, greed and bitterness tearing it apart.

Earlier this season, a collection of schools within the bloated conference, which became known as the “Catholic 7” for all the schools being affiliated with that sect, declared they were splitting up with the ever growing number of other schools that was approaching 18 and might never have stopped. Negotiations finally allowed them to officially part following the 12-13 seasons and take the Big East name with them.

This was only the final blow in what had been boiling for years. As the conference began adding more and more teams further and further away from the Northeast to try and increase its status as a football school, it saw its older teams depart – West Virginia to the Big 12, Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC. This was years after they had already lost Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC. After the conferenced declared it would add SMU, Houston, Boise State and San Diego State, the Catholic 7 finally said enough. No more of long time traditional basketball schools like Georgetown, St. Johns and Villanova having to travel further and further for conference games so this group could claim it was a football conference – a sport that none of the Catholic 7 played at the D1 level anyway. They were being disrespected and cast aside like the red-headed stepchild, and they were finally taking their ball and leaving.

They would take the name, but the tradition was lost for good in the breakup, as the departures of Syracuse, West Virginia and Pitt had already guaranteed the conference would be beyond anything people would recognize.

One might wonder why this story is being told on a site dedicated to North Texas sports. But the scene is all too familiar to what happened in this state nearly 20 years ago, when another tradition-rich conference ceased to be due to greed and infighting. Granted, the Southwest Conference was more known for football, and the Big East isn’t completely dissolving like the SWC did in 1995, but the similarities are there.

Many still point the finger at the small campus in Dallas’ backyard for the SWC’s end, blaming SMU’s “death penalty” scandal in 1987, but that’s a cheap scapegoat. Once the path was cleared for conferences to negotiate their own TV contracts, the Southeastern Conference poached away Arkansas, who gave up its status as the SWC’s outsider to a lifetime of mediocrity in the SEC. (Though the Razorbacks have won a national championship since the move – in BASKETBALL.) With the SEC forming the first “super conference” with a championship game, Texas jumped at its opportunity to make big money and partnered with Texas A&M, Texas Tech and the Big 8 to form the Big 12, and the SWC was dead. Feelings were hurt everywhere with the conference’s end, especially in Fort Worth, where they felt the Big 12 pulled a dirty deal with then-governor Ann Richards to bring in her alma mater Baylor over TCU.

The aftermath of that divorce is still felt in Texas. SMU and TCU have refused to be part of the same conference since the Frogs left the WAC – the second of five conference changes TCU has made since 1995. SMU was willing to become a real outsider in the Big East for a shot at a BCS game – a shot that no longer exists. And then, the most shocking breakup of all: Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 and ending its rivalry with Texas due to the Longhorns’ arrogance and the Aggies’ jealousy over the Longhorn Network, which almost tore apart the Big 12 as well.

Fans of college sports in Texas are now forced to hear from their schools that A&M playing Mississippi and Florida or SMU facing UConn will be just as good as when they all faced each other for bragging rights in the Lone Star State.

Now the fans who grew up with the Big East and looked forward to their rivalries are being forced to hear the same snake oil sale. So what that UConn may never play Syracuse again? They now get to face Clemson and Florida State! C’mon, West Virginia fans – you can get just as fired up for playing Texas Tech and Baylor as you did for Pitt!

But no, it won’t be the same. College sports were built on regional rivalries – being able to brag to your compatriots that your school beat their school from just 50-100 miles away, not the school 900 miles away.

As the Catholic 7 look to find members to flesh out the new Big East and the dumped other members that include SMU, Houston and Cincinnati try to find a name for what’s left of their conference, the fans who looked forward to those road trips to old rival teams and bragging to familiar opponents at MSG are the ones getting the shaft.

Just like the fans of the Southwest Conference got it in 1995. All because of greed tearing tradition apart.