Saturday, July 3, 2010

Former ECU quarterback still the No. 1 guy in Jacksonville, Jags GM says

There has been a lot of talk in the football world that former East Carolina quarterback David Garrard may lose his job as starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars. After all, the Jags were 7-5 going into the final four games and needed to win two of them to guarantee a playoff spot. They lost all four (including two games by four points and one by six).

I suppose it's possible that backup Luke McCown could overtake Garrard in training camp but Jaguars' General Manager Gene Smith told me yesterday without hesitation that Garrard is the No. 1 guy.

I had dinner with Smith and his family (they are friends of my in-laws) and we of course talked football. Smith, who lived in Southern Pines when he was scouting for the Jaguars, started with the team at its inception in 1994 and he worked his way up to General Manager a year ago. While I got some insight from Smith, it was a social occasion and I don't feel comfortable talking about our conversations, especially in light of the fact that we weren't talking on the record.

But I am confident that he is confident in Garrard and the offensive abilities of the Jaguars this season. The Jaguars scored only 18 points per game last season, which was 24th in the league. But Jacksonville got some good young talent on the offensive line during Smith's first draft as the final decision maker on personnel.

This past draft was rated as average by most NFL experts and Smith took a bit of a pounding for his first-round draft pick Tyson Alualu, the defensive end out of Cal, who many called a stretch that early.

Some experts have the Jags going 7-9 again this year while others have them going to the playoffs as a wild card team. If Garrard lives up to expectations and the offensive line improves, the Jaguars should go 9-7 and sneak into the playoffs.

If not, time could be running out for Coach Jack Del Rio and Smith, and possibly the town of Jacksonville as well. Attendance has been dismal and that means TV blackouts. The Jaguars have lowered ticket prices and have an advertising campaign going that stresses the importance of Jaguars' fans.

Those North Carolinians who have remained Redskins fans tend to have a soft spot for the Jaguars, who came in the league at the same time as the Panthers. Since the Panthers took the Redskins off TV in North Carolina, many Skins fans have wanted the Jags to do better than the Panthers. The Panthers have been to the Super Bowl but the Jaguars hold the edge in head-to-head matchups.

Smith is a nice guy who loves it here in North Carolina. He has fond memories of his time here and is loyal to the friends he made while living in NC. He has a smart and engaging wife and two little girls who are not only sharp but are respectful and mannerly. I wish him and the Jaguars well this season - and a lot of it rides on an ECU guy named David Garrard.

(To jog your memory, Garrard led the Pirates to a 9-3 record in '99, a season that included a 27-23 come-from-behind thrilling upset of Miami in a game played in Raleigh because of devastation in eastern NC caused by Hurricane Floyd.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Goodbye Whitney; Hello, again, Babchuk

The first day of the NHL's free agency period saw more comings and goings as the Carolina Hurricanes continue to get younger.

The Hurricanes brought defenseman Anton Babchuk, an effective member of their 2008-09 squad, back to the team following a one-year absence. At the same time, veteran fan-favorite Ray Whitney signed a 2-year deal with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Whitney's departure became more and more imminent during the run-up to Thursday's opening of the free-agent market. With the Hurricanes determined to keep payroll on the lower end of the salary-cap spectrum for 2010-11, there wasn't going to be a place for a 38-year-old left winger.

That's not to say that Whitney doesn't have value. His lockerroom presence is immense and he did contribute 21 goals and 37 assists last season. That makes four consecutive seasons he's notched at least 20 goals.

But the reported $6 million Whitney will receive from Phoenix over the life of his new contract probably exceeds what he will produce in the waning years of his career.

Babcuck, 26, comes back to Carolina after playing in Russia last season. He'll make $1.4 million for the Hurricanes in 2010-11. He played well during his last stint for the Canes, establishing career highs in goals (16) and assists (19) in the 2008-09 season.

Carolina, Duke make top 10 in Directors Cup final standings

UNC SPORTS INFORMATION NEWS RELEASE - The University of North Carolina finished in seventh place nationally in the Learfield Sports Directors Cup, the Tar Heels’ 15th top 10 finish in the award’s 17-year history.

The Directors Cup, run by the National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA), measures a school’s postseason success in men’s and women’s sports. Each school receives points its 10-highest men’s and 10-highest women’s finishes in NCAA competition.

The seventh-place showing marked the eighth top 10 finish by the Tar Heels in the last nine years. By comparison, the other 11 ACC schools have a total of eight top 10 finishes in Directors Cup history.

Stanford won for the 16th straight year, claiming the 2009-10 award with 1508.5 points. Florida was second with 1310.25 points and was followed by Virginia, UCLA, Florida State, Texas A&M, North Carolina, Ohio State, California and Duke.

The 2009-10 season marks the first time that four Atlantic Coast Conference schools finished in the Top 10 and just the third time that the Tar Heels were not the highest finishing ACC school. No other conference had more than three schools finish in the Top 10.

Six different Tar Heel teams finished in the top five nationally in their respective sports, including field hockey and women’s soccer, which both won NCAA championships. Men’s soccer, women’s lacrosse and women’s tennis each finished third and men’s lacrosse was fifth. Men’s swimming and diving (15th), men’s indoor track and field (20th) and women’s swimming and diving (20th) each placed in the top 20.

The Tar Heels are the only school other than Stanford to win the Directors Cup. Carolina won the inaugural trophy in 1994 and has averaged a sixth-place finish.

(Other ACC finishes: Maryland 28th, Virginia Tech 38th, Georgia Tech 45th, Clemson 48th, Wake Forest 53rd, Miami 58th, Boston College 63rd and N.C. State 89th.)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bulls land 3 in Triple-A All-Star Game

The defending Triple-A national champion Durham Bulls will be well represented when the all-star game for the highest level of minor-league baseball is played July 14.

Dan Johnson, Joe Dillon and Elliot Johnson were selected to the International League squad, which will face the Pacific Coast League stars at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pa. Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo will manage the IL all-star team. The game will be televised live on MLB Network (DirecTV channel 213).

Dan Johnson, a left fielder, leads the International League with 63 RBIs and has 18 home runs. Dillon, a second baseman, is batting .295 with five home runs and 31 RBIs. Elliot Johnson, also an infielder, is batting .282 and has 19 stolen bases. His availability for the game is in doubt as he has been on the disabled list with a pulled quad muscle since June 13.

Durham, a Tampa Bay Rays affiliate, began play Wednesday night with a league-best 47-31 record. The Bulls lead the International League's South Division by nine games over second-place Charlotte.

Brind'Amour won't play, will join Canes organization

The Carolina Hurricanes made the right, and classy, move with Rod Brind'Amour. Brind'Amour  announced Wednesday afternoon that he won't return to the Carolina Hurricanes as a player, but will join the team in a new role.

Brind'Amour said general manager Jim Rutherford had told him, in a conversation a few weeks ago, that there was not a fit for him to come back next season. That left Brind'Amour weighing whether to try to play for another team after a disappointing 2010 season.

Leaving Raleigh, Brind'Amour said, "never ever felt right."

"I certainly don't want to play anywhere else," he said. After Rutherford called him Wednesday morning and said Brind'Amour could have a role with the team, that sealed it for Brind'Amour. That role has not yet been defined.

Here's the harsh truth - Brind'Amour's play had fallen to the point where Carolina had make a change. But you have to applaud the franchise for looking for a way to keep Brind'Amour around.

Tysiac delivers strong read on N.C. State's Fowler

Worth a read today is great story in The News & Observer on Lee Fowler at N.C. State. Fowler's final day is today, and Ken Tysiac has an excellent piece on Fowler reflecting on his time as the Wolfpack athletics director.

Tysiac, who covered the Triangle for The Charlotte Observer before the papers merged, has a great knack for anticipating stories. While most of the Triangle media was focused on Tuesday's Sidney Lowe news conference, Tysiac delivered a fresh read on Fowler's 10 years with the Wolfpack.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sophomores, better depth will help Lowe and N.C. State improve

N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe held his summer news conference Tuesday, and much of the attention, as expected, focused on the incoming freshmen. There’s no doubt point guard Ryan Harrow, guard Lorenzo Brown and forward C.J. Leslie give State an infusion of talent.

But the real difference in the Wolfpack’s season could be that, for the first time under Lowe, State has competition for playing time. Remember that State’s sophomore class is quite good, and college basketball players generally experience their greatest improvement from their freshmen to sophomore years.

State’s problem in recent years has been a lack of legitimate ACC players on the roster. That’s not the case now. Scott Wood started all 16 ACC games and averaged 28.9 minutes and 8.4 points.

With added strength, as detailed by A.J. Carr on GoPack.com, he should become even better. Look at it like this – wouldn’t State fans be thrilled if Brown averaged 28 minutes and 8 points in ACC play?

Sophomore Richard Howell missed the entire preseason and first four games with knee surgery but showed the potential to be a real beast inside by season’s end. He averaged 14.2 minutes and 5.3 points in ACC games.

Lowe, WRAL.com reports, said that Tracy Smith will play power forward and sophomore DeShawn Painter will compete for time at center. And you have to expect 7-1 sophomore Jordan Vandenberg to be improved and push for minutes as well. So remember, this is a sophomore class that helped turn around the malaise State had suffered in previous seasons and helped bring a tougher spirit back to Wolfpack basketball.

Lowe will have to balance out the playing time and build camaraderie, but overall, competition in practice makes for a much better team. Lowe finally will have that. The freshmen have a level of athleticism that surpasses the sophomore class, but the bottom line is Lowe has quality and quantity on the roster for the first time.

Duke-Carolina on primetime network TV? Whoopty do

As Dane Huffman mentioned below, CBS Sports announced today that the Saturday, March 5, 2011 Duke at North Carolina basketball game will be aired in primetime at 8 p.m. It will be the first primetime broadcast of the series on network television. Whoopty do.

Does it really matter much anymore? Primetime network ain't exactly what it used to be. It's not as if there are only three or four channels like years ago. Most people have satellite or cable with hundreds of entertainment choices. Plus, frankly, I'd rather watch an afternoon game and have Saturday evening free.

I haven't even gotten used to the Sunday night ACC games on Fox Sports (that used to be a TV movie night or a night to get to bed early to start a new work week) and now this.

Most people I know are going to watch the Duke at Carolina game if they played it at 7 a.m. in a parking lot. Certainly they are figuring a lot of eyes will be in front of their TV sets and that a good game could set the tone for the NCAA tournament coverage set to begin a few days later.

"It is an honor for the Duke-North Carolina game to be placed on this stage — for us, the ACC and for college basketball," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement released by Duke. "Hopefully the game will live up to that level of expectation."

The emotion should certainly be there but, while it will be played up even more because its on primetime network TV, the emotion shouldn't be any higher because its on channel 5 rather than channel 31. Plus, some show you might have Tivoed on channel 5 while you watch the game on ESPN will be preempted.

Let's just hope the game means something. Otherwise, a lot of people might just stick with "Cops" and "America's Most Wanted."

CBS grabs Duke at Carolina men's basketball game

Speaking of Duke and North Carolina (see post below), CBS Sports announced Tuesday that the Duke at UNC men’s basketball game will be broadcast in prime time on Saturday, March 5, at 8 p.m.

Believe it or not, this is the first prime-time airing of the game on network television. The game will air locally on WRAL.

The complete ACC basketball schedule is expected to be released in August.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Duke basketball schedule will be fascinating as Krzyzewski chases Smith's victory total

Duke basketball schedules are always carefully thought out, and you can bet the 11th through the 13th games of the 2010-11 season will be interesting when schedules are out in August as Mike Krzyzewski pursues Dean Smith's victory total.
Krzyzewski, who held his summer media conference on Monday, now has 868 wins in his career. That’s only 11 short of Smith’s 879 victories, and you can bet Duke will want to be playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium when Krzyzewski ties and breaks that mark.

Last year, Duke’s 11th game came on Dec. 29 against Long Beach State and its 12th on Dec. 31 against Pennsylvania. Both were held in Cameron. The ACC opener, on Jan. 3, also was at home.

ACC teams tend to play at home over the holidays, often against weak teams, so they can get back into the groove after exams and prepare for league play. Look for the Blue Devils to hold a host of home games in that stretch as Krzyzewski closes in on major career milestones.

Krzyzewski probably will catch his former coach, Bob Knight, next season. Knight has 902 wins, followed by Smith at 879 and Adolph Rupp at 876.

By the way, the most interesting part of the news conference came when Krzyzewski , according to the AP, said, "I'm a basketball coach all the time. That's what I do. I don't play golf. I chase my dog, or he chases me, and I whack down some trees and bushes and play with my grandkids and drink a little bit of wine. I like to socialize, but I'm a basketball coach every day of my life."

You can watch the entire news conference on GoDuke.com.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Soccer still faces tough road in U.S.

So, quick, who leads the Eastern Conference of the MLS? Give up?
New York and Columbus are tied, with 24 points. Think 1 percent of Americans know that?
The English and Americans are out of the World Cup after the weekend.

Beyond that, the two nations have little in common when it comes to soccer. Soccer is a real passion in England, where the Premier League pays top dollar for talent and the game is played at the highest level. And you can bet English fans know their standings.

The U.S. made an exhilarating run to the round of 16, but soccer enthusiasts who believe interest will spike in the Beautiful Game will be disappointed. Youth interest is phenomenal, but soccer has never turned that into interest at the gate for the professional game.

The MLS claims that only two teams in 2009 were profitable, Seattle and Toronto. The league has 16 teams but not one, right now, between Washington and Texas. MLS salaries are well below the European leagues. Only one New York player makes over $1 million, and many are well below $100,000 in salary.

The American run was amazing, and the U.S. team and coaches deserve praise for what they achieved. But in the end, we couldn’t beat Ghana, a small country with 24 million people. The exhilaration of the run left one feeling that soccer remains like an Olympic sport – one with some passionate fans, but many who engage only every four years.