Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Chizikapalooza. The day after.

Pollard thinks BIG, and scores: One of the reasons no one saw the Gene Chizik hire coming is we all figured an up and coming, in demand, star coach like him would not be interested in Iowa State. Fortunately for Cyclone fans, Jamie Pollard does not think that way. You don't know if you don't ask.

Will Chizik lead ISU to Championships? We really don't know. I think he shows as much potential as you could possibly hire, and he has the backing that he'll need from the University, but it won't be easy. Yes, Chizik is a great recruiter when he's recruiting Texas kids to the University of Texas or Alabama kids to Auburn, but now he'll need to ask them to leave home and head to a place many couldn't find on a map: Ames, Iowa.

Does that make it impossible? No. But it won't make ISU the University of Texas either. What Cyclone fans should expect is for Chizik to improve the level of leftovers ISU takes from Texas, Florida and other fertile recruiting grounds. Occasionally, maybe Chizik and his staff actually steal someone who the big guys wanted.

Staff is also key, and $1.5 million will help a LOT. Chizik is a defensive guru. Expect Iowa State to improve right away. He's also smart enough to hire an offensive coordinator who can do more with less. ISU will not have Oklahoma talent anytime soon, so you have to work harder, be more creative, and out-think the Sooners (and half the other teams in the Big 12).

Hiring in Secrecy: I was fairly certain ISU had hired Brian Kelly. Partly because we spent several days eliminating virtually everyone else we thought it might be (see paragraph one); partly because ISU officially asked for permission to interview Kelly Saturday and announced a hiring the next day; and partly because Kelly wouldn't deny he was the coach! Conversely, there were several things that bothered me about the Kelly assumption, including the fact he'd be introduced to Iowa State fans just three days before his Central Michigan team played for a conference championship. Do you want a coach who would agree to that? We also had conflicting information. Some sources said "it's not Kelly", more said, "it is Kelly". Fortunately, I followed my gut and never went to air with a confirmed news story that it was Kelly. Some sources previously in the know at ISU no longer are.

Many of you have asked me how so many media outlets got it wrong. First of all, I think it's important to acknowledge that the local media did not get it wrong in a way that required a retraction. WHO-TV, KCCI, WOI and the Des Moines Register all reported that many signs pointed to Kelly, but some signs did not. All we can do is responsibly report everything we're hearing. We did the same thing on SoundOFF. It's an opinion show, and I said repeatedly that I think it's Kelly, but Shawn Terrell and I also pointed out some reasons to doubt that, such as Central Michigan players telling us shortly before the show that Kelly had not said anything to them about leaving. There was also the urban legend that Pollard was telling people the media had yet to identify the right guy. Maybe it wasn't legend after all.

I hate being wrong---even when giving a prediction---but Pollard is under no obligation to let the media in on his search. He has every right to try and keep it a secret, just as we have every right to try and figure it out. I think it will ultimately lead to more objectivity. If Pollard's not stroking anyone, you won't have to worry about compromised coverage, just as you shouldn't. That's good for everyone.

I do think the fact we were all off in our forecasting is a cautionary tale to slow down and take a breath. There's no reason anyone had to know before the day of the hiring. Afterall, many Cyclone fans were complaining about being left out of the loop, but you don't hear any backlash now. The most important thing is to get it right, and when you don't know for sure, say so. We did that.

I didn't learn from a reliable source that it was Chizik until 9:30 a.m. Monday morning. By then, my friend, John Walters, Voice of the Cyclones and WOI Sports Director, had already broken the news. Once it's out there, it's much easier to confirm. It's good for Iowa State that it got out there or you would have had a lot of people at the rally going, "Who is that?". Hardcore college football fans knew Chizik, but casual fans did not. The 9 hour heads-up gave everyone a chance to figure out that ISU had hired a guy fans should be excited to welcome. And they did.

If you'd like to learn more about what Chizik's like as a coach and person, I recommend the 5 minute 13Raw interview on the whotv.com sports page with Texas Longhorns sideline reporter Roger Wallace. You'll also find my live interview with Pollard and the 13Raw feed of the Chizik news conference and pep rally.

And that is most certainly enough Chizik for now, don't you think?

Monday, November 27, 2006

It's Chizik! And this time we're sure.

We were there this morning in Ames as Chizik and his family exited the Aikman Enterprises private jet. There to greet Gene Chizik with a hug, ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard (the video is on news at your desk elsewhere on whotv.com).

I was wrong. I thought the new coach would be Central Michigan's Brian Kelly, though I was never able to confirm it, and now we know why. I got a call early this morning from a source who has never been wrong, and he told me Kelly was out, Chizik was in.

Chizik's hire has energized the Cyclone fan base like no one else could, except DITKA! Chizik's thought by some to be the best assistant coach in America.

I talked with KXAN's Roger Wallace about Chizek. Roger meets with Chizek every week and works the sidelines for Texas football. He desribes Chizek as positive, intense and energetic. He says he's not a screamer, but definitely gets his point across. Chizek took the job at Texas with one thing in mind: becoming a head coach. He's a highly respected defensive coordinator who helped the Longhorns win a national championship last season. This year Texas has three losses and Chizik's defense took some criticism after being worked by K-State and Texas A&M.

I think it's another inspired hire by Jamie Pollard. And it's not Brian Kelly.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

ISU's next coach; What Mac really thinks of Pollard; Hawks fans earn bowl bid.

Tonight I'm thinking about...

ISU Coaching Search: The only thing I know for sure, is that I'm not sure of anything. I've talked to every source I know, but the only one who really matters---Jamie Pollard---isn't talking. I've heard the same things you've read elsewhere, Jim Harbaugh was the early favorite, but Jay Norvell had a good interview. Norvell is also lobbying for the job in a BIG WAY. Keep in mind, he's an assistant, so he can let it leak how interested he is, while current head coaches have to be careful because most will have to go back to the jobs they're in now and pretend they're right where they want to be. It's how the game is played.

Norvell shows much promise as a head coach, but his hire would not cause a run on season tickets at ISU. He's the offensive coordinator at Nebraska, but Bill Callahan runs the show. The always entertaining Marty Tirrell, of KXNO's Marty & Miller, really put Norvell's name out there after Marty had a conversation with his dentist (Not making that up). Marty makes compelling points why it will be Norvell (e.g. Ties to Wisconsin, Alvarez, and key recruiting. Norvell lived in Ames and coached at ISU. He understands the job. He's worked for some of the best minds in coaching, etc.), but he lacks the WOW factor most fans hope for. I still think Pollard's privately talking to someone off our radar. We'll know for sure in the next ten days. I think you'll see an announcement on one of the next two Mondays, and you can expect a pep rally welcome like McDermott received---hopefully, with more fans.

The McCarney Hangover: No, this has nothing to do with Mac being "half in the bag" for his ESPN interview after the 2002 Nebraska game. The hangover is the funk still reverberating through the ISU athletic department. I think Pollard had to do what he did, but I also think he underestimated how beloved McCarney is in many Cyclone circles. You hear so much from the often critical vocal minority, that it's easy to overlook the more reasonable majority. I know this because I fight the same thing with all the SoundOFF feedback we receive.

There are key people at ISU who are having a hard time going forward after Mac was forced out. I've talked to three people who are downright despondent. They can talk for hours about all the things McCarney did for ISU both on and off the field, and they just don't understand how he could lose his job.

Pollard's next hire determines how he'll be remembered, and he knows it. I applaud him for being bold. Keeping Mac would have been the safe way out, but ISU won zero conference games in 2003, and just 1 this year (with help from a holding a call the Big 12 says it blew). No matter how much Dan did for ISU, and he did do more than any coach in history, there's no way season tickets at a higher price were going to sell at the volume Pollard needs. It's all about money these days. All.

McCarney's Feelings for Pollard: Mac took the high road and stayed on it. He showed so much class that it made more than a few fans question their thoughts that he should be fired. But don't think for a minute McCarney really has all those warm and fuzzy thoughts about Pollard. Mac did not want to resign, does not think it's best for ISU, and does not believe Pollard made the right decision. In his shoes, wouldn't we all feel the same?

Seniors Back Mac: Two different players told me the Seniors voted unanimously to not invite Pollard or President Geoffroy to the football banquet. As far as I know, or one of my sources could see, neither showed. I wouldn't read too much into the Seniors gesture either. Those close to Mac are intensely loyal. What would you expect?

Pollard Hired McDermott: And he's off to a great start. How nice was it to see the Cyclones playing team basketball at Minnesota. They're actually playing defense, rebounding and passing the ball through designed plays. They're also 5-0, which against the competition is no big deal, but it's impressive when you consider all the new players, no Hubalek, and a new system.

ISU will have some rough nights this season, but I'll stick with my prediction that the Clones will somehow have a winning record and make a run at the NIT. I think McDermott is that good. Remember, I think Pollard went into the interview process thinking Rob Jeter, but had the good sense to hire the more qualified candidate, one who wasn't even in the picture to start. That earns Pollard a little trust in the football process.

Hawkeyes Head to the Alamo Bowl: Iowa should buy the fans free tickets. The fans are the reason the Hawks get the nod over a team that just beat them (Minnesota). Few "teams" travel like Iowa. The Hawk fans show up in large numbers, and spend much cash. Bowl games are, first and foremost, a business. They'd love good teams and a great game, but not as much as they'd love a full house and millions pumped into the economy. Iowa usually provides both.

Kirk Ferentz gave much love to the fans at the news conference announcing Iowa's good fortune. Ferentz says he's not apologizing for going to a bowl game, and he shouldn't. There are, obviously, far too many bowls, and it's not his fault the Big Ten has an agreement with the Alamo, while Michigan and Ohio State moved into the BCS, so everyone in the conference moves up. But let's not kid ourselves. Iowa did not earn a bowl bid. Not after losing its final five conference games. Has a major conference school ever headed to a bowl on a worse skid??? I doubt it.

Ferentz Spin: I was disappointed to hear Kirk talk of the tremendous accomplishment of going to "six bowls in six years". This sounds a lot like the "5 bowls in 6 years" for which Hawk fans gave Dan McCarney a hard time, and rightly so.

With the new 12 game schedule, schools like Iowa and Iowa State play at least 3 games at home they expect to win easily---including 1AA opponents like Montana. That means, you need 3 more wins in 9 games to become bowl eligible. It's the exact formula Iowa used despite going 2-6 in the Big Ten. Truth is, reaching a bowl is no big deal anymore. Iowa fans should expect it every season.

Ferentz Salary: I'm sure the USA Today story showing Ferentz will make more than $4.7 million dollars in 13 months is causing the coach stress. The timing couldn't be worse. However, Ferentz deserves a pass from all Iowa fans. He's won two Big Ten titles in the past five years. He led Iowa to January bowl games in four consecutive seasons. Yes, he's an easy target for the label "overpaid", but he's a big reason Iowa sells out a newly renovated Kinnick Stadium every Saturday afternoon. The guess here is Ferentz will figure out what went wrong this season and fix it. He's earned that faith.

p.s. As one of you noted, Ferentz and his wife deserve props for donating $400,000 to University of Iowa hospitals. That's a huge chunk of change and will do a lot of good.

Let me know what you think...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mac's Class, Southeast Polk's Run, and Will Ferrell's Drama.

Some random thoughts:

Iowa State fans may have been divided about the direction of the Cyclone football program, but they are united in their appreciation for what Dan McCarney meant to Iowa State, and the way he handled his forced exit with class.

Jamie Pollard did a good job with a delicate and difficult situation. He's right, it's time for a change. Fans need someone new to re-energize Cyclone Nation. Even though it's hard to say after McCarney's moving farewell, there's no reason this year's football team should be that bad.

I urge all people who consider themselves Cyclone fans, to go to Saturday's final home game, even if it's cold, and show Mac the appreciation he deserves. Bring signs, leave the paper bags at home, and give McCarney a long standing ovation; Make it two. He won't want the attention, he'll want the spotlight on the Seniors, but this day should belong to the man who did more for Iowa State football than anyone in school history.

Nothing against the Valley Tigers---it's an amazing football program---but it's really cool to see Southeast Polk advance to the championship game. I wondered if the Rams would be intimidated by their first appearance in the Dome, against a team that's there every year, but Polk left no doubt, 27-14. It's not quite a "Hoosiers" story, but it's easy to see why the phone rang all night Friday with people calling, who have no ties to Southeast Polk. They just wanted to see David beat Goliath. Doesn't hurt that Southeast Polk won two games over Ankeny on the final play of the game with a kicker who's a dead-ringer for Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles. I hope the Rams win it all. (Note to college recruiters: Nate Snead can play. Someone find room for this guy. I don't care what his combine stats are, he can flat out play football.)

Saw "Stranger Than Fiction" with my mother today. I loved it. If you like books, especially works of fiction, you will LOVE this movie. Don't be deceived because Will Ferrell's in it. It's not Old School or Anchorman. It has humor, but it's subtle and sophisticated. Like Tom Hanks before him, Ferrell shows he can act in a drama. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson are great, Maggie Gyllenhaal amazing. A-

My older boys love "Heroes", and I'm starting to get into it too. About time NBC had a hit.
Save the cheerleader, save the world.

I'll be back soon...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

No sports, just movies.

It's Entertainment Day here at Murphy's Law. (I need a new name. Murphy's Law? Too obvious. I'm close to going Katie Couric on you and asking for suggestions.) Let's catch up on movies.

The Departed: Best movie I've seen this year. Absolutely brilliant. The dialogue is incredible, the acting top notch, and the story gripping. If Martin Scorsese is passed over for an Academy Award again, they should stop giving out directing Oscars. All the actors are at the top of their games. Matt Damon has never been better, but I'm singling out Leonardo Dicaprio. I've seen Dicaprio proves he's the read deal a few times (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Aviator, Gangs of New York), but I had no idea he could be this good. The Departed also reminds us when Mark Wahlberg is good, he's very good (Boogie Nights), and when he's bad, he's very bad (Planet of the Apes). Here's he's electric.

The movie earns its R rating, so don't go if rough language and brutal violence turn you off. Otherwise, do not miss. The Departed gets an A.

Flicka: Went to this one with my mother. She loved it. The Wyoming scenery (if that really is Wyoming) is awe-inspiring, as is Tim McGraw's toupee. It's the often told story of a girl who wants to be like dad (a rancher), but dad wants her to be more girl-like. Any father and teenage daughter who go to this will need a box of tissues. It's good, although the fact I know Alison Lohman is 27 and was playing McGraw's young teenage daughter did bother me. It's not quite 34 year old Stockard Channing playing a high school Senior in Grease, but it's close. B- for Flicka. (Flicka is the horse).

Flyboys: Saw this at the Nova. $5 for a movie, popcorn and a pop. Can't beat that. Second-run theaters are having a hard time though. They're often showing movies just a few weeks before they're released on DVD, and that makes it a tough sell to many. Not me. There's nothing like a a theater. The shared experience, the undivided attention, the big screen... plus, in this one, I got to hold my girlfriend's hand. Well, at least until my hand fell asleep.

Flyboys is a good, old fashioned World War II picture. Action, romance, heroism... had it all. I'll give this one a B. If they're ever looking for someone to play James Dean, James Franco is a shoo-in. Never mind, I just remembered he already played Dean.

Flags of our Fathers: Incredible story. Clint Eastwood takes the most iconic war photograph in American history and shows how it was used to further fund the U-S war effort. Eastwood makes all of the flag-raisers human, and therefore real. None considered themselves heroes, and all but one would never get past their guilt for being singled out when they felt the real heroes had died at Iwo Jima. I highly recommend anyone 14 or older go see this. It's not quite the masterpiece I hoped for---the story never quite casts the spell it should---but it's still very good. A-

The Prestige: I had no idea what to expect from this movie about rival magicians. I'm still not 100% sure what happened at the end, but I think I got it. Should have known the director of Memento would keep me guessing. Props to lead actors Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. Scarlett Johansson's cleavage has a supporting role. B+

Jackass Number 2: Can't believe what these guys will do for a laugh. Crude, rude and undeniably funny. Some of it is so gross, I nearly puked (the horse scene, the dollhouse), but when it's funny, it's REALLY funny. B-

Open Season: Saw this with my son, Colin. He's 2 1/2. He kind of liked it, but I think even he recognized he'd seen this story before. Same old, same old with some nice voice work by Iowan Ashton Kutcher and Martin Lawrence. Not sure where he's from. B

The Guardian: Speaking of Kutcher, he bought his former Iowa High School brand new football equipment. All he asked in return was that they go see The Guardian. It's basically Officer and a Gentleman meets Top Gun, but it's good. A little long, but done well. I learned a lot about the Coast Guard. I'm always amazed and humbled by people who put their lives on the line every day to save strangers. Kevin Costner is also good in this movie. He's wearing his age well. Another B.

Jet Li's Fearless: My dad loves movies, just as I do. Or rather, I love them, just as he does. Dad doesn't hear so well these days, so he can only watch movies on DVD with closed-captioning. He likes action movies, so when I saw Jet Li's latest was in a foreign language with subtitles, I took my father back to the movies. This was a surprisingly touching story about the life of a man who learns some tough lessons and becomes a hero to an entire nation. B for Fearless. A+ for getting to see it with my Dad. It's his birthday as I write this. Please indulge me. He reads this blog.

Happy Birthday Dad. I love you. Thanks for always being so good to me. We miss you here in Iowa.