Saturday, July 24, 2010

The story behind how Bill Cowher met his wife

Kaye Cowher died Friday from skin cancer, and I can’t tell you how deeply sad that makes me feel. I remember being in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s as a reporter for The News and Observer and interviewing Cowher about how they met.

Because I had come all the way from Raleigh to see him, he actually came into the press room to talk to me – NFL coaches rarely do that, by the way – and as we talked you could tell the entire press corps was listening.

Kaye and her twin sister Faye played basketball at State, and Cowher was a star linebacker at the time. One night he was at Edward’s Grocery – then a raucous bar on Hillsborough St. – and he met Kaye. He got her number but the next morning he had a problem – he couldn’t remember if he’d met Faye or Kaye.

So he got an idea. He called the number and, fortunately, the roommate answered. He said in a loud voice, “Is Aye there?”

Who, the person on the phone asked.

“You know, the basketball player,” Cowher said.

The roommate yelled out, “Kaye! Phone’s for you!’” and Cowher had his answer.

They raised three children, had incredible success together in the NFL, and returned to Raleigh at the height of his fame to have more family time together. She was one of us, and she was cool.

Kaye Cowher was 54.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Make a list of the best N.C. State football players ever, and you can guarantee this - Dennis Byrd is on it.

Byrd died Thursday at the age of 63. You knew it was serious when Johnny Evans opened the Triangle Pigskin Preview with a prayer for Byrd.

Byrd, as detailed here in GoPack.com, was State's first two-time All-America and the anchor of the White Shoes defense on the famous 1967 team. It's probably fair to say that after Roman Gabriel, he was the second great Wolfpack player on a national level.

Best player in Wolfpack history? That's open for debate, but the names to consider on my list would be Philip Rivers, Roman Gabriel, Ted Brown, Jim Ritcher, Torry Holt, Dave Buckey, Mario Williams, Erik Kramer, Dick Christy, Mike Quick, Russell Wilson ... and Dennis Byrd.

Gosh, that didn't work out so well ...

Inside Carolina, which really does some great working covering UNC, has its football preview issue out ... and all you can say is, Ouch.

Robbie Caldwell lights up SEC media days

Remember Robbie Caldwell? He was the excellent offensive line coach for N.C. State under Dick Sheridan and Mike O'Cain and moved to UNC when O'Cain was fired.

Caldwell took over as interim head coach at Vanderbilt when Bobby Johnson suddenly stepped down recently. It's his first head coaching job in college football. And Caldwell, with the folksy style was a huge hit with the media this week at the SEC football media event. Here's a great read from the Huntsville, Ala., paper on the fact that Caldwell got something rare from the media - an ovation.

Duke refuses to move Alabama game, even for $2 million

Big-time college football programs often “buy out” games against smaller schools, paying them to play the game elsewhere. And so the University of Alabama approached Duke about moving their Sept. 18 game from Wallace Wade Stadium to perhaps Charlotte or Atlanta.

Duke’s answer? No chance.

Devils coach David Cutcliffe told Capital Sports he didn’t blame Alabama for trying.

“Why wouldn’t you want a home-game atmosphere for yourself?” Cutcliffe said. “[Athletics director] Kevin White and I never budged. This game belongs in Durham.”

One source told Capital Sports that Alabama offered $2 million to move the game, a figure Cutcliffe didn’t deny. And Duke has sold games in the past, moving home games with Florida State in the 1990s to Orlando and Jacksonville.

Duke has little chance of beating Alabama, so playing it in Charlotte would have netted the school a major chunk of change. But Cutcliffe said he thought selling the game would send a bad signal.

“That’s short-term thinking,” he said. “We’re here to build a program.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

ECU helmet fetches $3,100, and Duke nets $3,000

I gasped Thursday at the Triangle Pigskin Preview event at the Washington Duke Inn when N.C. State athletics director Debbie Yow spent $1,500 for a Wolfpack football helmet.

But then the Duke helmet sold for $3,000 … and the East Carolina one for $3,100 …
Auctioneer Don Shea had to be reminded by the crowd that he’d forgotten to get bids for the UNC helmet. That one went for $1,500, too. All that made the N.C. Central helmet seem like a steal at $500.

Recession? What recession?

Hey look! It's the Secretary of State!

The Buzz had North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall on the radio Thursday morning, and it’s an amusing story about how that came to be. Marshall was at Microspace, which is where The Buzz does its talk shows, for something else and someone from the station saw her and went, “Hey, wait, that’s Elaine Marshall!”

So The Buzz got her into the studio, and had a strong interview. She told The Buzz that she had assigned three investigators to look into whether the state law prohibiting agents from offering inducements outside of NCAA rules had been broken.

Marshall called into The David Glenn Show later, too. As Capital Sports reported Wednesday, Marshall said no agent has been convicted under the law. “You’ve got to have some pretty good stuff” to win a conviction, she said.

Still, this move by the state is long overdue. It’s obvious Marshall is on a tough Senate battle and wants some positive publicity, but the state of North Carolina has real power that the NCAA lacks. The state can subpoena, and jail, violators.

Keep in mind that former Duke star Corey Maggette repeatedly lied about his relationship with Myron Piggie – until the federal prosecutor stepped in.

UNC's Davis: Eliminate all contact with agents

University of North Carolina football coach Butch Davis sidestepped questions requiring specific information about the ongoing NCAA inquiry into the Tar Heels program.

But Davis was pointed Thursday when discussing how he believes the NCAA should go about stopping illegal activities between agents and eligible student-athletes.

``Having been in college football and in the NFL and having seen this from the standpoint of 12 to 15 years ago,'' Davis said. ``The process excluded agents from the process until the completion of eligibility. It made it a completely black and white issue.
``I do think, when the NCAA changed the rules to allow agents to visit players 18 months prior to their graduation, it's made everybody in America's job significantly tougher.''

Current NCAA rules allow eligible athletes to meet with agents provided the athlete covers his own expenses and that no agreement of representation is established. The NCAA rulebook lists an example scenario where an athlete has dinner with an agent.

``A student-athlete could go to dinner with an agent and no NCAA violations would result if the student-athlete provided his own transportation and paid for his meal,'' the book states.

But Davis believes the current situation, where UNC, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina are currently under NCAA investigation pertaining to athletes and agents, is a direct result of this gray area in the rule.

UNC players Marvin Austin and Greg Little are at the heart of the inquiry. Durham native Weslye Saunders, a tight end at South Carolina, has also met with NCAA officials in Columbia, S.C., about his possible involvement with agents.

Speaking Thursday at the Pigskin Preview press conference in Durham that involved coaches from UNC, N.C. State, Duke, East Carolina and N.C. Central, Davis did say the NCAA has given UNC high marks for the way it educates its athletes on the rules.

``The feedback we've gotten,'' Davis said, ``is that we are doing everything that we can to educate our young people about all kinds of things that have to do with intercollegiate athletics.''

Butch Davis addresses the NCAA investigation

Butch Davis said he couldn't comment on the NCAA investigaton but did say the NCAA told Carolina the investigation should ho quickly.

"The NCAA has told us they will make this as quick as possible," Davis said.

He also said there could be more schools involved as the probe continues. Steve Wiseman will post more of what Davis said later Thursday afternoon.

Cary Post 67 plays Saturday in American Legion state tourney

Cary Post 67, 21-8, faces off against Cherryville Post 100, 25-14, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in the first round of the double-elimination American Legion State Tournament in Asheboro.

"This is the first senior legion team Cary has ever had to go to the state playoffs," said Cary coach Neil Woodall. "It's just a real exciting time for us right now. We're real excited to be able to go to try to compete and to experience that whole state championship series thing."

Eight teams from throughout the state converge on McCrary Park for the tournament, which runs through Wednesday.

Rocky Mount Post 58, which defeated Cary two games to one in a seeding series, is the top seed and starts the tournament off with a 9 a.m. game Saturday against Rutherford County Post 423. On Wednesday, Rocky Mount earned the position with an 8-2 win at Cary. The other four teams competing are Wilmington Post 10, Kernersville Post 36, Randolph County Post 45 and Whiteville Post 137.

Rocky Mount at 24-6 and Wilmington at 22-3 have the best records of the contenders. The winner of the Cary-Cherryville game plays the winner of the Wilmington-Randolph County game on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. The losers of those games play each other at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

To find out more about the tournament, please click here. To read a story about one of Cherryville's best players, who overcame a surgery, please click here.

Opening stretch is grueling for UNC football team

The news on the North Carolina football team so far has focused on Marvin Austin and the NCAA probe, but here’s a point to keep in mind – Carolina has a really difficult opening schedule.

Everyone knows the Heels open against LSU in Atlanta Sept. 4. But games against Georgia Tech (Sept. 18) and at Rutgers (Sept. 25) follow. So the Tar Heels could be 1-2 or even 0-3 going into the Oct. 2 home game with East Carolina.

It doesn’t get easier after that, with Clemson at home and road trips to Virginia and Miami. (Insert Club LIV joke here). So UNC could easily stumble into November with a losing record. Any player suspensions will only make Carolina’s road that more difficult.

Sometimes a team can have a hard time finding any traction on a season when events go wrong – just ask N.C. State last year. The Wolfpack had a hard time recovering from that early injury to Nate Irving. And all the negativity surrounding UNC now won’t help as it heads into an arduous stretch of games.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

State of N.C. has not prosecuted an agent yet

The state of North Carolina has the power to prosecute rogue agents for athletes, but has not done so yet, according to a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office.

Under the current statute, passed in 2003, sports agents can be convicted of a felony for furnishing “anything of value” to an athlete in North Carolina. There were laws regulating sports agents before the current law was passed, according to Liz Proctor of the Secretary of State’s office.

However, Proctor said no agents have been prosecuted yet. “There have been inquiries but nothing that was found actionable,” she said Wednesday afternoon.

While the NCAA has met with some players at UNC, Proctor said that no formal complaint has been filed with the Secretary of State’s office. She said the Secretary of State’s office can initiate an inquiry if it wishes.

Later Wednesday, after questions from the media, the Secretary of State's office reported it would be looking into the issue. Both The News and Observer and WRAL reported that, quoting a different Secretary of State officer, George Jeter.

Proctor said the local district attorneys are the ones who prosecute if the state finds evidence that an agent broke the law. The statute allows for an agent to be convicted of a Class I felony, which is a lower-level felony but one that does have the potential for jail time.

The fact that no agent has been convicted might sound surprising, but Proctor made an important point – when the law was passed, the department received no funding, so it has no staff specifically dedicated to the issue.

Don't look for Butch Davis to say much Thursday

The area football coaches are speaking Thursday in Durham at a luncheon at the Washington Duke Inn, and you can bet many questions will be directed at North Carolina coach Butch Davis.

But don’t expect Davis to say much about the NCAA probe into his program. UNC officials said Tuesday that athletics director Dick Baddour will speak for the school. The issue of agents will be a hot topic Thursday but there are more compelling stories out there.

One is the appearance at the event of new East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill. And the other is the health of N.C. State assistant Dana Bible, who was struck with cancer last season.

Capital Sports’ Steve Wiseman and Dane Huffman will be at the event and will update the site Thursday afternoon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

State of North Carolina can punish rogue agents

The NCAA is investigating the conduct of UNC’s Marvin Austin and other players – and the state of North Carolina should, too. Under state law, sports agents can be convicted of a felony for furnishing “anything of value” to an athlete in North Carolina.

Many fans might not know that sports agents here are regulated by the state. Agents have to register with the Secretary of State, and their license can be revoked if they induce an athlete in the state of North Carolina to lose their eligibility.

But the state can do more than revoke a license – it can pursue criminal charges.

As a part of the Uniform Athletes Agents Act, agents can be found guilty of a felony if they “furnish anything of value to a student-athlete before the student-athlete enters into the agency contract” or they “furnish anything of value to any individual other than the student-athlete or another registered athlete agent.”

You can bet that finding agents guilty of felonies would work wonders to squelch how they approach athletes in this state.

No comment from Barry Saunders is disappointing

Reporters are always asking people to fess up, so shouldn’t they do that themselves? Just look at The News & Observer Tuesday morning.

The paper’s Ken Tysiac ran a strong story about problems colleges have regulating agents (and the paper, to its credit, avoided Monday’s flimsy report in the National Football Post). But one player under fire is South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders, who played at Durham Riverside and is the son of N&O Metro columnist Barry Saunders.

Barry Saunders is refusing to comment on the case, which has to make for awkward moments in the newsroom. The Columbia (S.C.) State is a McClatchy paper, like The N&O, and reporters from Raleigh, Charlotte and Columbia often work together.

Saunders wrote his usual column news Tuesday, so it’s not like he’s off on vacation. His column Tuesday was about how much he gained from reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a youth. Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch had a passion to reveal the truth, regardless of the consequences, and that’s a trait that makes for great lawyers – and journalists.

If the press is going to demand answers from others, it should be forthcoming itself.

Cary Post 67 only Triangle area team left in Legion baseball tourney

Cary 67 has qualified for the eight-team American Legion Baseball State Tournament which starts Saturday in Asheboro at McCrary Park.

Post 67, now 18-6, defeated Garner Post 232 and Johnston County Post 71 to earn the berth.

In a best-of-three series for seeding purposes against Rocky Mount Post 58, Cary trails 1-0 with Game 2 being played tonight at 7 p.m. at Cary High School. If you can't be there and want to check out the action, you can hear the game by clicking here.

Post 58, which defeated Cary 9-6 Monday night in Rocky Mount to move to 23-5, is undefeated in playoff action and is a victory away from the No. 1 seed at the state tourney.

Monday, July 19, 2010

N.C. State's Wilson struggles to hit in minors again

Russell Wilson has struggled to hit in his summer as a minor leaguer in the Colorado Rockies system.

Wilson, the N.C. State quarterback, was hitting just .207 through Sunday for the Tri-City Dust Devils. He was listed as a center fielder when drafted in the fourth round in June but has been playing second base in the minors. So
far, he has two homers and three steals but has been caught four times in 22 games. Wilson has 22 at-bats.

This is the second summer where Wilson has struggled to hit in the minors. He hit just .205 for Gastonia in 2009.

Wilson may make it in baseball, but he needs at-bats – and plenty of them – to adjust to wood bats and the pace of professional baseball.

NCAA allegations against UNC are rare

The fact that the NCAA is asking questions of the North Carolina football program is news because such situations are rare. The NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions publicizes its final reports, and a Google search showed the only time UNC popped up in recent memory came in field hockey.

The infraction? It was “failure to adhere to bench area policies at the championship event of the 2009 NCAA Division I Field Hockey Championship,” according to a Feb. 23 NCAA release.

In fact, the NCAA was so irate it said it was “disappointed” in the UNC team and fined the school a whopping … $300.

The football situation could be much more serious. If UNC prospects like Marvin Austin were accepting gifts from agents, that’s a clear NCAA violation and could result in suspension. That would hurt Carolina on the field, of course, but it would also be a dent in the image the Heels look to convey.

The National Football Post is reporting Austin may be suspended for the year, but keep in mind this is a website that is not crediting any sources. Where all this lands remains to be seen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

NCAA probe of UNC also involves South Carolina

The (Columbia) State newspaper is reporting today that Durham native Weslye Saunders, a senior tight end at South Carolina, was also interviewed by NCAA officials about his possible involvement with agents.

Joseph Person of The State reports that Saunders was interviewed by the NCAA last week in Columbia. UNC football players Marvin Austin and Greg Little are the center of an NCAA investigation about their possible involvement with agents.

Saunders, the son of News and Observer metro columnist Barry Saunders, is friends with Austin. Saunders considered entering the NFL Draft following last season and received information from the league's underclassman advisory committee. But he changed his mind in January and stayed in school at South Carolina.