This has been a busy week for me. It began with some major assignments to close out the semester and ended with final exams. It’s also been a busy week in sports news. There’s a few subjects I could have been blogging about if I had the time. So, here is a review of the week that was.
On Monday, Wake Forest football coach Jim Grobe resigned, leaving the program he has taken from being an afterthought to being relevant on his own terms. Grobe said the program just wasn’t winning enough, and he felt it was best for him to simply step aside and allow some “fresh energy” to potentially rebuild the program. In 13 years, Grobe took the program to 5 bowl games, after having been to just 5 bowl games over its previous history. The pinnacle of Grobe’s tenure is clearly the 2006 team, which was picked to finish last in the ACC Atlantic division, but pulled off multiple upsets on their way to the ACC title, and an appearance against Louisville in the Orange Bowl. That team had a pair of trademarks. One was the “5th quarter”, when the team would hold up 5 fingers instead of 4 before the 4th quarter of each game, in honor of Luke Abbate, brother of LB Jon Abbate, who had worn #5 on his high school team before dying in a car accident before the season (that story became a movie in 2011, titled “The 5th Quarter”). The other was Grobe’s final words to his team before each game, “Play like your hair’s on fire!”.
That team in 2006 is one of my all-time favorite sports teams, due to their magical ride to the top of their conference, winning their only conference title since 1970. Grobe won both ACC and National Coach of the Year that year, but as good of a coach as he is, all indications say he’s an even better person. While I’ve never met him, what I’ve seen on TV and what others have said about him points to one of the best individuals in the game of college football. It is a shame for the Wake Forest football team, for the university, and for the entire ACC that he will not be around coaching next year. While Grobe says he would be open to continuing coaching, he will be 62 years old in February, so the more likely scenario might be for him to be someone’s defensive coordinator.
As for Grobe’s replacement, a few names have been circulated through the rumor mill, such as former USC interim Ed Orgeron, and Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, among others. However, two names have emerged as the leading candidates for the job, from what I’ve read online, with one candidate already being interviewed. I said to a friend on Wednesday morning that my prediction for the job was that it would go to Ball State coach Pete Lembo, and Lembo ended up as the first man interviewed by Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman. Wellman supposedly wants someone with head coaching experience (which eliminates Narduzzi, by the way), preferably with experience at a private school with strong academics, which would be comparable to the Wake Forest job. Lembo has both, with experience not only at Ball State, but also Lehigh and Elon, which is about an hour up the road from Wake Forest, meaning Lembo would be familiar with the area. The second leading candidate, according to reports, is Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson, who made a good case for himself tonight as his Falcons upset previously undefeated Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game. While he is currently at a state institution (then again, so is Lembo), he too has private school experience, with successful stints at Fordham and Richmond.
In other news, I turned around and the Yankees had Brian McCann (I know that was a couple of weeks ago, but he was introduced this week), Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Kelly Johnson on their roster, and Robinson Cano had departed for Seattle. The Mariners will now be better, although now the Yankees will be World Series favorites for years to come.
The investigation into Florida State QB Jameis Winston ended, with the announcement yesterday that no charges would be filed against him. Had he been charged, of course, it would have effectively ended his shot at winning the Heisman, and would have given Duke a little bit better shot against the Seminoles in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game. Instead, since no charges were filed, Winston’s Heisman trophy is effectively locked up, barring a major disaster against Duke. Am I the only one bothered by that last sentence? Let me repeat it: Since no charges were filed, Winston’s Heisman trophy is effectively locked up. It is a little bit bothersome to me that most every analyst on ESPN, as well as other media outlets, effectively said, “Oh, it’s OK, since he didn’t commit a crime, so we can still reward his performance with a Heisman.” Don’t get me wrong, he has been the best player in college football this year, on the field. But there’s a lot of questionable character choices a person can make without committing a crime. This applies here; the fact Winston put himself in that situation to begin with is problematic, especially considering that he had (still has) a girlfriend (that’s another conversation for another day). I’m not trying to completely criticize the man’s character (we all make mistakes, after all), but I don’t agree with the media all but giving him the Heisman immediately after the investigation was closed. The media shouldn’t even crown him the winner before all the games have been played, because we don’t know how he will play tomorrow. I will say that one thing that would have helped this situation, as far as the Heisman goes, is if those around him in the Heisman race had played better down the stretch. Unfortunately, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Jordan Lynch, Andre Williams, and others have all had one or more bad games to effectively end their Heisman chances. While AJ McCarron didn’t have a bad game against Auburn, his chances ended when his special teams unit couldn’t prevent a missed field goal return as time expired (don’t know what that has to do with him, but…). We are, in all likelihood, headed for one of the biggest voting blowouts in the history of the Heisman trophy. It took 78 years for a freshman to win the Heisman trophy, and now it may only take a year more for another freshman to win it.
I don’t know much about soccer, and don’t at all pretend to, but the World Cup draw for next summer was on Friday, and has the United States paired with Ghana, Portugal, and Germany in group play. This will be a tough group to get of, as the top 2 advance to the knockout stage. Elsewhere, host Brazil will be grouped with Croatia, Mexico, and Cameroon, and Spain and The Netherlands will meet in group play in a rematch of the 2010 final. While in the United States we have the Super Bowl, The Masters, the Ryder Cup, the Final Four, the NBA Finals, the BCS Championship Game, the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Kentucky Derby, there is no doubt that the biggest sporting event in the world is the World Cup.
All of that was overshadowed late Thursday afternoon by the death of Nelson Mandela. Mandela fought against the injustice of apartheid in South Africa, leading non-violent protests before being arrested and jailed for 27 years. As the apartheid system fell, he was released in 1990 at the age of 71, and was elected president at age 75 in 1994, in an election in which blacks could vote in for the first time ever. He retired after one term in 1999, in a precedent-setting move similar to George Washington’s retirement from the US presidency in 1797. He became an elder statesman, both for South Africa and the entire African continent, and even for the world. His death was not a surprise, as his health had been poor for some time, but it has allowed all of us to reflect on the remarkable life he lived. I remarked to some friends upon hearing of his death that he had the impact on South African history, and even world history, of George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. combined, and asked them to imagine if the United States lost a leader of that magnitude.
Mandela also had a couple of sports connections. He became an inspiration for a nation and its rugby team when South Africa hosted and won the 1995 Rugby World Cup. That South African team, known as Springboks, was integrated and given Mandela’s full support, ending one of the final symbols of apartheid. He played a major role in the 2010 FIFA World Cup coming to South Africa, which was the first World Cup hosted on the African continent, and made his final public appearance at the tournament’s final between Spain and The Netherlands.
Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Muhammad Ali, and Usain Bolt, among others, all commented on Mandela’s passing in the hours following the news. Another notable statement from the sports world came from Thomas Bush, president of the International Olympic Committee, who said Mandela was “a remarkable man who understood that sport could build bridges, break down walls, and reveal our common humanity.”