by Tom Weppel
My, My, My….what a roller coaster of situations, stories, and pure craziness we’ve encountered in the last week or so!
Let’s start off with the crazy deal with Southern Cal and Lane Kiffin.As I’m sure most of you know, USC was looking for a Head Coach, following the decision by Pete Carroll to leave USC to go back and coach in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. The decision, I’m guessing, caught Trojan AD Mike Garrett off-guard.
And so Garrett talked first to Oregon St. coach Mike Riley, then Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio. Neither coach ended up working to make the move, others were rumored to have been shown interest. UNTIL Tuesday night, when out of nowhere, Garrett called Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin and asked if he wanted to come back and be the head man. Kiffin had been an assistant under Carroll from 2001-2006, before leaving to coach the Raiders, then the Vols.
Kiffin agreed to the switch, after only one season with the Vols. UT fans were not happy at all with Kiffin’s decision, coming out with limited rioting on campus, among other negative fanfare.
On the surface, Lane Kiffin seems like a decent hire. However, when you consider he was 5-15 with the Raiders, then only 7-6 with Tennessee, you have to wonder actually how good he really is (or is going to be). He’s bringing along his daddy, Monte, to handle defense, along with Ed Orgeron, who was an assistant with him at UT. But USC is not in the greatest of shape with their team and roster, and its possible there will be NCAA violations from past dealings. So, we’ll see how Lane Kiffin and USC go, now, and into the season. In addition to all of this, we have the question as to what will happen in consideration of all the recruits who have made oral commitments to a) USC, and b) Tennessee. Obviously, when a high school kid commits to a college to play a sport, at least SOME of the decision is influenced by the Head Coach. With Kiffin leaving UT for USC, you would think quite a few kids will now de-commit from Tennessee, now giving thought to going somewhere they would feel better. Meanwhile, the USC commitments have to wonder what Kiffin is all about, including how he will contrast in style to Carroll.
My thinking is there will be some changes and some moves, on all levels, in the next few weeks, as we get closer to National Signing Day…
Last week, Jack Del Rio was taking the week off, reportedly heading out West to his homeland for a slight amount of R&R. With three years and about $15 million left on his Jaguar contract, Del Rio was approached by his alma mater about possibly coming back out to USC. While such a move would’ve been pretty tough for all parties, there’s no question in my mind Del Rio gave solid thought and consideration to the idea of coaching the Trojans. Del Rio is a West Coast guy, and USC is perfect for the style and personality he carries, which is NOT something that has been appreciated or accepted here in North Florida.
And so Jags owner Wayne Weaver met with Del Rio, and they obviously decided it was cool to give this partnership at least another year to see how things can evolve, following the 7-9 season…a season that ended with four consecutive losses. In Weaver’s press conference on Tuesday, he mentioned that he wants things to be a little different than how they have been, since the results aren’t what Weaver obviously wants. That’s kind of surprising to me, since change was certainly in the mix of the Jaguar squad that played this past season.
Jack Del Rio has been here in Jacksonville now for seven years. His record has been mediocre. He hasn’t been outwardly accommodating in his relationship with fans and media. In addition, his relationship with some of his better, veteran players hasn’t played out very well, either, as we’ve all seen. Its no wonder there are so many younger players on the roster.
Obviously, the expectations for the Jaguars are now higher than the previous season. The owner and the fans will be looking for a playoff season, which is something that has been fleeting, especially after the Jaguars starting franchise years, when they got into the playoffs with regularity.
So we’ll see how things go down, heading into the free agency period, the Draft, and then, training camp. Should be entertaining, to say the least…
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
And so Round Two of the NFL playoffs gets underway this weekend. Two of the wildcard teams won last week, those being the Jets and the Ravens.
In the AFC, we saw the Ravens go into Foxboro and essentially wax the New England Patriots, running over, around, and through them on the way to a solid 33-14 drubbing. Now Baltimore will go to Indianapolis and face NFL MVP Peyton Manning and the Colts. The Ravens running game is on a tremendous roll, with Ray Rice and Willis McGahee providing a tough, effective tandem. Baltimore’s defense, led by LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed, was dominant as well, and should pose problems for Manning. The huge question here is how the Colts will play after these past few weeks of inactivity, especially for their key players. Should make things interesting…
The second AFC game will give us the New York Jets, who tamed the Bengals last weekend, flying out to the West Coast to face the San Diego Chargers, who finished the season on an incredible eleven game winning streak. New York goes into the game with one of the top running games in the League, along with a great defense. The Chargers, however, are one strong, solid group, on both sides of the ball, and they should come out as a much better outfit than what the Jets encountered in Cincinnati.
In the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals will take their high-flying operation to New Orleans to face a Saints team that ended the regular season on a three-game slide. In their game against the Packers, Arizona showed us how great they are with their passing game. QB Kurt Warner, and WR’s Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, and Early Ducet, all were outstanding. Its quite possible WR Anquan Boldin might be able to play this weekend. They will be very tough to stop, once again, as the Saints were lacking towards the end of the season. Another consideration here is that the Cardinals are working off the experience of last years’ run to the Super Bowl. Knowing what they need to do can be a huge advantage against New Orleans.
Finally, the Dallas Cowboys, who put a solid hurtin’ on the Eagles, will now go to Minneapolis to face Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings. This is easily the ‘sexy’ game of the weekend, with America’s team going against future hall-of-famer Favre. Dallas has shown us good play in these past weeks, and their confidence has been building as they continue a strong run. QB Tony Romo has led the defense to solid productivity, and the defense is shutting teams down. But the Vikings have a lot of talent on their roster. Favre, RB Adrian Peterson, WR Sydney Rice, DE Jared Allen, and DT Kevin Williams are all Pro Bowlers. Their ability to make plays should come out, especially playing at home in the comforts of their Dome.
Earlier this week, MARK MCGWIRE came out with an admission (finally) of using steroids and HGH during his time playing baseball, for the Oakland A’s and the St. Louis Cardinals. McGwire’s home run prowess was certainly noteworthy, as he broke the record held for so long by Roger Maris, in 1998. McGwire was both tearful and remorseful in his statement, which was completely contrived and certainly done with good reason. He had just signed a few months ago to be the Cardinals hitting instructor. One interesting point here, is that McGwire mentioned that the steroid use did not affect his hand-eye coordination in hitting. He said he was going to be a good hitter…using the steroids more to heal from injury. But his bulky strength was blatant.
Any person can take this in a number of ways. They can accept his admission and offer forgiveness, or they can simply shrug it off and perceive him as they always have, and always will…as nothing more than a juiced-up slugger in the steroid era. In any case, the bottom line here is that, even though he made his statement, it almost doesn’t really matter at this point. The world is moving much faster, with plenty more things to do or worry about in life, than contemplating past drug use of a baseball player. And I guarantee you we won’t here much more from Mark McGwire. Most of us probably won’t care.