This is the third in a series of spring football previews written by FWAA members for their home media outlets on teams in transition with new head coaches or coordinators.
This is the third in a series of spring football previews written by FWAA members for their home media outlets on teams in transition with new head coaches or coordinators.
A dirty little secret only seasoned scribes would know and that most fans probably don’t is that the new wave of brand-building college football coaches, so loquacious in public, are not always very personable in private. I’m not saying they’re necessarily frauds, but I won’t credit them with an overabundance of genuineness, either.
We know this because we have finely tuned BS detectors.
Today’s coaches are products of their age. For a few, selling the program seems to be a more important part of their jobs than teaching the game. The money in the gig is too crazy. The sales job to recruits and parents and alumni and donors and fans bleeds into interaction with us.
I’m old enough to know that wasn’t always true.
Think about how quickly everything has changed in three programs around which I’ve spent my entire life — Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
It used to be the same guy stuck around a school if he won. He not only became an institution and the face of a school, he became comfortable enough in his own skin and with his employment prospects that he got to know those around him — including reporters — not just as promotional targets or BS dispensers but as people. You didn’t have to particularly like them all the time to be able to access them, receive no-nonsense answers and feel like you were talking to humans rather than promoters.
So it was with Bo Schembechler (21 seasons at Michigan), Woody Hayes (28 at Ohio State) and Joe Paterno (62 at Penn State, 46 as head coach). If you were a major writer on any of these beats, you could get these guys pretty much whenever you really needed them, one-on-one.
And they would pretty much tell you exactly what they thought and how they felt. They didn’t know any other way. Unfiltered as Camel squares.
There were others, even some the last few decades — Joe Tiller at Purdue, Hayden Fry at Iowa, Gerry DiNardo at Indiana, Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. In basketball, Jud Heathcote and now Tom Izzo at Michigan State, Gene Keady at Purdue, Lou Henson at Illinois. Did they always try to spin the story their way a little? Sure. But they were also unafraid of showing their true selves.
I feel fortunate to recognize a few familiar faces in the current coaching racket who remember that time, too. And one of them did something along these lines a few weeks ago that I feel deserves recognition.
When the Penn State media contingent, which rivals the old UConn basketball “Husky Horde” for numbers, was preparing for Iowa week, we were informed that the dean of Big Ten football coaches, Fry’s protégé Kirk Ferentz, would be available to visiting media alone for a special conference call.
What? True fact. It happened. At a Power Five school that’s a traditional power in football.
I believe there were five of us on the call, arranged by Iowa associate athletic director Steve Roe and football SID Matt Weitzel. And each of us individually thanked Ferentz before asking our questions, so rare was such an occurrence anymore.
The kicker: Ferentz broke in, as I was the fourth one up thanking him. And then he thanked us, the PSU beat writers, for the show of gratitude.
Maybe I’m imagining it, but I think the fact that only a handful of reporters were on the call and that Ferentz could see our appreciation made his answers better, more insightful. When I wrote that day’s column on him and his team, not only did he come off as something more than a cheap salesman, I reflected that smidge of humanity in what I wrote about him and Iowa football.
Maybe some teenager or some parent somewhere saw it and thought, “That’s the kind of man you’d want to play for, isn’t it?” OK, well, it’s possible.
There used to be a lot of such guys sprinkled around major-college “revenue sports,” flesh-and-blood men who you wouldn’t mind having a beer with after work — and actually just might on occasion. I’m glad there are still a few.
BATON ROUGE – Close your eyes and imagine it is a year ago when then-LSU coach Les Miles was about to be fired, and someone tells you that the next coach is going to be LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.
Now, open your eyes.
Orgeron – a career journeyman coach, a failed head coach and a somewhat successful short term head coach at USC and LSU – is LSU’s next football coach.
“I’m the search,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said two months ago after firing Miles.
“I’m worried,” I said.
Well, I’m still worried.
Alleva first started looking for a new head football coach more than a year ago and started thinking about looking for a new head football coach when he came here in 2008. And this is it?
This is an embarrassment.
Former Oklahoman reporter Jason Kersey has been named the Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year for the 2015 football season, when he was covering the Oklahoma Sooners for the newspaper.
Kersey, almost 30 and now a writer for SEC Country and covering the Arkansas Razorbacks, is the sixth annual winner of this award. He will be honored during the FWAA’s Annual Awards Breakfast on Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla., at the media hotel for the CFP National Championship Game.
“I am genuinely stunned and overwhelmed,” Kersey said. “I want to thank the committee for this unbelievable honor. It means more to me than I can adequately express. I want to thank Ryan Aber (an FWAA member), who was my cohort on the OU beat. He was as perfect a beat partner as anyone working in this job could ever hope to have.
“Also, thanks to my dad for instilling in me a passionate love for sports. Thanks to my mom for how irrationally proud she is of any accomplishments, be it massive or minuscule. And a special thank you to my wife, Annie. This job can be tough on spouses, and Annie not only puts up with it but also encourages and supports me because she knows how much it means to me.”
For the first time, the FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award will be known as the Steve Ellis/FWAA Beat Writer of the Year Award. The late Ellis was a standout beat writer who covered Florida State football for the Tallahassee Democrat for a number of years.
Previous winners of this prestigious FWAA award: Doug Lesmerises (Cleveland Plain Dealer), Mark Blaudschun (Boston Globe), Steve Wieberg (USA Today), Jon Wilner (San Jose Mercury News), Tim May (Columbus Dispatch) and Chris Dufresne (Los Angeles Times).
“Jason was instrumental to The Oklahoman’s Sports section’s success in print and digitally,” said Mike Sherman, sports editor of the Tampa Bay Times and former sports editor of The Oklahoman. “He worked his way through various roles in our department, capitalizing on every opportunity to build skills, relationships and his capacity for great storytelling. His reporting broke news and ground.”
In his nomination folder, one fellow writer said: “Jason’s work during the 2015 season perfectly paralleled the play of the team he covered. Oklahoma was at the top of its game, and so was Jason. His versatility shines through on a daily basis, as he reports the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Kersey gave Sherman an assist for his award-winning coverage.
“Mike Sherman is the best sports editor in the country,” Kersey said. “He hired me as a part-timer when I was just an awkward, 19-year-old college sophomore. Throughout our almost decade-long working relationship, he always believed I could do better. I miss working for Mike Sherman every single day because he flat-out makes writers better.
“When I was little, I thought I would someday be a quarterback. I didn’t have the arm, so I tried wide receiver,” Kersey added. “And when I found my speed and athleticism lacking, I decided writing might be my ticket to a career involving football.”
Jason Kersey joined The Oklahoman’s staff in November 2006 and worked as a part-time results clerk, a page designer/copy editor and a high school sports and recruiting reporter before spending four years on the OU football beat.
His work covering the Sooners twice resulted in national recognition as a top-10 beat writer from the Associated Press Sports Editors, as well as top-10 APSE honors for features, breaking news and multimedia. Jason has also won awards from the Tulsa Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists. During his time covering Oklahoma, Jason chronicled the Sooners’ monumental 2014 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, the rise of quarterback Baker Mayfield and OU’s run to the 2015 College Football Playoff.
His work at The Oklahoman also included extensive coverage of the racist fraternity video that shocked the entire country and spurred social change on OU’s campus; exclusive reporting on a Title IX sexual assault investigation involving a football player; and the Joe Mixon saga.
Jason left The Oklahoman in May 2016 to join Cox Media Group’s new venture, SEC Country, as its Arkansas beat writer. He is wrapping up his first season covering Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks.
A Noble, Okla., native, Jason graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2009. He lives in Fayetteville, Ark., with his wife Annie and dog Buster.
DALLAS — Five semifinalists for the Outland Trophy were named on Wednesday night by the Football Writers Association of America and were featured during a reception in Omaha, Neb., where the trophy presentation banquet for the 71st Outland Trophy winner will be held in January.
The five semifinalists — all offensive linemen — in alphabetical order, are: Pat Elflein, Ohio State; Cody O’Connell, Washington State; Ethan Pocic, LSU; Cam Robinson, Alabama, and Connor Williams, Texas.
Elflein is a 6-3, 300-pound senior, who previously played guard, but is a center this season for the nation’s second-ranked team. O’Connell is a behemoth 6-8, 351-pound junior guard who helps trigger Washington State’s high-octane offense which ranks second in the country in passing with quarterback Luke Falk. Pocic, a 6-7, 302-pound senior center, anchors the line for LSU’s potent rushing game, which is led by Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. Robinson, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound junior, is the top offensive tackle on the No. 1-ranked team in college football that produces 492.2 offensive yards a game. Williams, a 6-6, 288-pound sophomore tackle at Texas, blocks for the leading rusher in the FBS in yards per game, D’Onta Foreman.
The five semifinalists will be whittled down to three finalists and announced on Tuesday during The Home Depot College Football Awards Nomination Special, starting at 3 p.m. (Eastern Time) on ESPNU. The winner of the 2016 Outland Trophy, will be announced Dec. 8 on The Home Depot College Football Awards on ESPN, the main show beginning at 7 p.m. (Eastern Time) from the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
The Outland Trophy is named after the late John Outland, an All-America lineman at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, is the third-oldest player award in major college football behind the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award. It has been awarded to the best interior lineman in college football on offense or defense since 1946 when Notre Dame’s George Connor was named the recipient.
For the 20th consecutive year, the presentation of the Outland Trophy will occur in Omaha, on Jan. 11, 2017 at a banquet sponsored by the Greater Omaha Sports Committee. At the same banquet, Oklahoma offensive lineman Greg Roberts, will receive an Outland Trophy. Roberts was the 1978 winner of the award before trophies were handed out by the FWAA. His Oklahoma coach, the legendary Barry Switzer, will receive the third annual Tom Osborne Legacy Award during the evening.
The Outland Trophy is a member of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA). The NCFAA encompasses the most prestigious awards in college football. The 22 awards boast about 700 years of tradition-selection excellence.
The Football Writers Association of America, a non-profit organization founded in 1941, consists of more than 1,300 men and women who cover college football. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include game-day operations, major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its award programs, contact Steve Richardson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 214-870-6516.
The Greater Omaha Sports Committee, founded in 1977, is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, consisting of more than 900 men and women from the City of Omaha, the State of Nebraska and others. The membership serves to communicate, develop, initiate and promote sports activities in the Greater Omaha sports area. In addition to the Outland Trophy Award Dinner, the Greater Omaha Sports Committee promotes high school, college, and professional sports in the Greater Omaha area and the Midwest.
The following dates and locations for 2016 football media days have been set:
SEC: July 11-14, Hoover, AL (Hyatt Regency-Wynfrey)
BIG 12: July 18-19. Dallas (Omni Hotel)
ATLANTIC COAST: July 21-22, Charlotte, NC (Westin Hotel)
BIG TEN: July 25-26, Chicago (Hyatt Regency McCormick Place)
AMERICAN: Aug. 1-2, Newport, RI (Hyatt Regency)
CONFERENCE USA: July 25-26, Irving, TX (C-USA Offices/Las Colinas Marriott)
MOUNTAIN WEST: July 26-27, Las Vegas, NV (Cosmopolitan)
SUN BELT: July 25, New Orleans (Mercedes-Benz Superdome/Omni Riverfront Hotel)
PAC-12: July 14-15, Hollywood, CA (Loews Hollywood Hotel)
MID-AMERICAN: July 28, Detroit (Ford Field)
The Football Writers Association of America is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2015. Founded in 1941, the FWAA has served the writing profession and college football during a time when the world has changed greatly and the sport of football has along with it. In an effort to tell the stories of the members of the organization, we will publish each week a sketch on one of the FWAA’s most important leaders — all Bert McGrane Award winners.
The Bert McGrane Award, symbolic of the association’s Hall of Fame, is presented to an FWAA member who has performed great service to the organization and/or the writing profession. It is named after McGrane, a Des Moines, Iowa, writer who was the executive secretary of the FWAA from the early 1940s until 1973. The McGrane Award was first bestowed on an FWAA member in 1974.
For a list of all the winners go to: http://www.sportswriters.net/fwaa/awards/mcgrane/index.html.
The following is the 18th installment of the Pillars of the FWAA series. Jim Brock was the 1989 winner of the Bert McGrane Award. Thanks to FWAA member Gene Duffey for writing and researching this sketch.
Several reporters were attempting to gain access to the Olympic Village at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. Because of the massacre at the 1972 Games in Munich, security was extremely tight.
One of the reporters finally got hold of Jim Brock, one of the press stewards for the American delegation, who could approve entrance to the Village.
“I’m burning my feet in that direction right now, Hoss,” replied Brock. The line became the most repeated of any among the media covering the Games and Brock became as popular as U.S. boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and high jumper Dwight Stones for his unlimited cooperation.
You couldn’t help but have a good team if you were around Jim Brock. If he had been an actor he would have been perfect for movies like “The Sting” or “Eight Men Out,” wearing a black bowler hat and handling an unlit cigar.
The name “Hoss” became Brock’s trademark. He called nearly everyone “Hoss.” He never had to worry about forgetting anyone’s name. And if the guy’s wife was along, she was usually “Darlin’ ” to Brock. Even though he knew thousands of “Hosses,” the way Brock said it made every one of them feel special.
Comment by the judge, Alan Cox: Good look at one of the bigger games of the season as Oregon beat seemingly unbeatable Florida State, hitting home the key plays from the game. The article gave you a feel for what happened without simply being just a complete play-by-play recap, and had a great variety of quotes from both sides. It had a great lead and was easy and enjoyable to read.
PASADENA, Calif. – Give a game ball to the data geeks, the emotionless analysts who crunched the numbers and determined that No. 2 Oregon would beat No. 3 Florida State and advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T.
Those of us governed by the pit of our stomachs, the ones who had seen the defending national champion Seminoles find a way to win no matter how scruffy their play, had trouble buying into the staging of Duck Dynasty at the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual.
Yes, Oregon had a plus-20 edge in turnover margin, but Florida State had come from behind in nine of its last 11 games.
Yes, the Ducks dominated the Pac-12, winning their last eight games by an average of 25 points, but the Seminoles had won seven games by six points or fewer. They had the indomitable quarterback, Jameis Winston, who had not lost since a high school game in 2011.
When the sun no longer lit the San Gabriel Mountains and the fourth quarter of the inaugural semifinal began, Florida State would seize control.
It didn’t quite work out that way on a typically spectacular New Year’s Day in the Arroyo Seco. By the time the fourth quarter began, all Florida State had seized was up. The Seminoles’ 29-game winning streak vaporized, their composure lost somewhere amid five turnovers in six possessions in the second half, Jimbo Fisher’s squad got steamrolled by the Ducks 59-20.
Comment by the judge, Steve Richardson: Thoughtful, well-researched piece on UT’s Charlie Strong. This story got way below the surface and explained why Strong is the way he is. It explains his life every step of the way from his childhood to becoming the CEO of one of college football’s traditional powers.
Charlie Strong opens his eyes. It’s 4 a.m. He rises, dresses and, without caffeine, drives 20 minutes to the Texas football facility. On Mondays he runs south to downtown via Red River Street and returns on Guadalupe Street. On Tuesdays he heads through neighborhoods to the north. The routes vary each day, but the goal remains the same — shave a few seconds off his time from the week before.
He does not always succeed, but Strong still bangs out five miles at a nine-minute clip, straining to outrace some previous version of himself. He has done this for his entire career, through 14 coaching jobs at eight universities — three decades spent pushing himself forward while running in loops. And yet even when he has reached his destination, Strong cannot help but do what he has always done, so he runs just as hard.
Last winter, after going 23-3 during his final two seasons at Louisville, Strong landed what many consider the best coaching gig in the country, signing a five-year, $26 million deal at Texas. If everything is big in Texas, the task of reviving the football team is no exception. The Longhorns went 18-17 in the Big 12 under Mack Brown over the last four seasons; this year they didn’t have a player drafted by the NFL for the first time since 1937. And Strong’s hiring as the program’s first black coach carries with it a social significance that matches the breadth of his improbable journey. “Could you ever believe,” Strong confided to a friend recently, “that I ended up at Texas?”
Comment by the judge, Alan Cox: Great look at the change in attitude and expectations of Oregon’s football program. Solid argument as to why they needed to win the championship to validate the program and to show the Playoff would expand the sport. Even more interesting in hindsight as we will see what happens to Oregon going forward having lost the championship.
Coach Rich Brooks led Oregon to an 8-4 finish in 1989, his 13th season in Eugene. If that elicits a “so what,” understand the Ducks hadn’t won that many games since 1963. Five seasons — and two losing records — later, Oregon played in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1958, losing to Penn State by 18 points, though the Ducks’ media guide celebrated the program’s effort as proving it “belonged in Pasadena.”
In 2013, Oregon went 11-2, beat Texas 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl and finished ranked No. 9 in the nation. It was considered a down season, and some wondered if first-year coach Mark Helfrich had what it takes to lead the Ducks, post-Chip Kelly.
Times change and so do expectations.
“We do sit back every now and then and kind of laugh at it, us that have been around here a long time,” said first-year Ducks defensive coordinator Don Pellum, who’s accumulated 31 seasons with his alma mater as a player, administrator and assistant coach.
For the vast majority of its 119 seasons of football, a winning record was an ambitious wish for Oregon. Yet now, as the Ducks eyeball defending national champion Florida State, winner of 29 consecutive games, as more than a touchdown favorites in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual, the simple reality is Oregon needs to win the national title.
After going 69-10 over the past six seasons, playing for a national title in 2010 and finishing ranked in the top five three times, the Ducks need to finish the deal and be the last team standing. They need to make this their year.
That need is not only about program validation, though that’s a big part of it, as the Ducks have accomplished everything else. It’s not only about opportunity, though the greatest player in program history — Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota — is likely off to the NFL next year.