Archive for June, 2009

NYT bearish on Virginia

June 18, 2009

Yes, Virginia, The New York Times cares about college sports.  Even college football.  Quite a bit, in fact.  The Quad is the NYT’s college sports blog, and is in the middle of an in-depth countdown of all 120 Division I (FBS) teams.

Al Groh’s Cavaliers check in at spot #81 for 2009, ahead of only Duke (#96) in the ACC.  The Times points out the obvious in stating that “if Virginia is to improve in 2009, the offense must begin to carry its weight.”  The hiring of Gregg Brandon as OC is called “a very good start” and “a wise move by Groh.”  However, Brandon inherits “likely the A.C.C.’s worst group of skill players,” the result of Virginia’s “inability over the past handful of recruiting cycles to sign and enroll top recruits.”

At QB, Vic Hall is “not the type of passer you’d hope for in Brandon’s offense,” but “is the favorite to start the season opener.”  Jameel Sewell is seen as “likely to “eventually reclaim his starting spot” from 2007’s 9-win team.  The OC will “implement a pass-first version of the spread offense” but be “without the services of its [top] five pass catchers from a season ago; no returning player had more than 15 receptions last fall, and no returning receiver had more than 12.”  Perhaps as a result, offensive strengths listed by the NYT include “a solid, experienced line, albeit one that lacks the star power of recent years” and a potentially “improved performance from the Virginia running game,” given a healthy Mikell Simpson. 

Interestingly Brandon’s old team (Bowling Green) is ranked five spots lower at #86, as his successor – former Richmond HC and Tennessee OC Dave Clawson – goes about “implementing new schemes” and attempting “to run more than his predecessor did.”

On the other side of the ball, there is rebuilding at LB – “an integral unit in Virginia’s 3-4 defense” – where “the Cavaliers must find three new starters.”  The defense is called “strong on the line and in the secondary, where its cornerback depth is as good as any in the A.C.C.”  On the DL, “seven of its top eight” return, “making the unit the most experienced on the defense.”  The Times is “excited about the potential of the secondary, which returns two starters from 2008 — the talented junior Ras-I Dowling and the sophomore Chase Minnifield — and a third past starter, Chris Cook, who missed all of last fall.”   Safety may finally be a strength as well, with Rodney McLeod moving over from CB to team with Corey Mosley.  As DC, Groh (“very much on the hot seat” as HC) has “shown the ability to keep his teams in games with an inept offensive coordinator.”

Regarding the schedule, the NYT calls the Indiana, @Maryland, Georgia Tech, Duke, @Miami six-game (in six weeks) portion “a big stretch for the Cavaliers. Go 4-2, and the team will likely get to .500 and reach a bowl game. Anything less, and Virginia will need to get an upset or two to improve upon last year’s finish.”  Optimistically, if the “defense is stellar and the offense not terrible” nine wins are possible.  However, if the offense continues to sputter and “the defense takes a step back… sounds like a 4-8 season.”  The ultimate prediction is closer to the latter…

“Perhaps simply adding Brandon will be good enough to see the team fight for the top spot in the Coastal division. Yes, perhaps. But not likely. I see the Cavaliers repeating the 5-7 record of a season ago; if that is the case, the university may opt to go in a new direction at head coach.”

 

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O’Connor/Mainieri press (lots of it)

June 11, 2009

No fewer than ten articles on this subject Tuesday… here are some highlights:

  • The AP’s Hank Kurz (and everyone else) informs that Virginia coach Brian O’Connor grew up “just a few miles from Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha,” and attended “games there with his father and brother every year from the time he was 4 years old.”
  • O’Connor played in the 1991 Series for Creighton, “absorbing a 12th-inning loss in his only appearance when a chopper up the middle bounced just out of his reach,” and coached in the 2002 series as an assistant to then-Notre Dame (and current LSU) coach Paul Mainieri.
  • The two coaches talk 3-4 times a week in-season, and BOC says they agreed “that we would never play each other until the NCAA said that we need to play each other, and now it happened and it just so happens to be in Omaha. We’ll be friends up to the game, through the game and after the game.”

  • The RTD’s Jeff White adds a 2007 quote from Mainieri: “I told Craig Littlepage he could search the world and never find a better young coach than Brian, and I think he’s proven I was correct.”
  • Mainieri – the 2008 national COY – also channeled R.E. Lee during the conversation with the RTD, stating that “When he left, it was like I lost my right arm.”
  • Back in 2003, he told The Observer that O’Connor’s departure generated “a tremendous sense of loss” and was “almost like a death in your family.”

 

  • Sean Ryan of collegebaseballinsider.com relays a quote from BAC the fan on the CWS: “It’s more the experience of going to the game…taking your glove to the game and trying to catch a foul ball.”
  • O’Connor and Mainieri “agreed to meet for a steak dinner when they arrive in Omaha and that the 1991 game O’Connor pitched in was ranked as the “third-best game in CWS history” according to the Omaha World Herald and at the time called the “best college game in history” according to O’Connor.

  • Steven Pivovar of the World Herald focuses on the connection between the two coaches, current Chicago Cubs GM Paul Hendry.  He was the Creighton coach in 1991, later “recommended that best friend Mainieri hire O’Connor to be the pitching coach at Notre Dame,” but got his start as an assistant to Mainieri’s father in the Cape Cod League for a team that included the younger Mainieri on its roster.
  • Hendry on BOC: “In anything you do, you run across certain people that stand out. Brian O’Connor is one of those guys. After the first year I was with him, I knew that no matter what he did in life, he was going to be good at it. He had ‘it.’ He was a total team guy, an overachiever who wanted to compete at the highest level. He pitched in discomfort and never complained about it. He was an integral part of that ’91 team. Character-wise, he was way beyond his years. Even at 19 and 20 years old, you knew he was special.”
  • Henry: “Paul didn’t know if he could do it… He said, ‘He’s awfully young, and I’m young myself.’ I told Paul to bring Brian in, and that once he met him, he’d feel differently.”
  • Mainieri: “Jim said he had the perfect guy for me. I invited Brian over to South Bend, and I knew five minutes into dinner that Brian was the right guy… It was absolutely the best relationship possible. We were so on the same page. We had the same philosophy. We thought the same way. I don’t know if we ever had a disagreement the nine years we were together.”
  • PM on the Virginia-Ole Miss rubber match: “When Virginia got the final out, I jumped off the couch, threw both fists into the air and yelled, ‘Yes!!!’ My next thought was, ‘Oh, no, we have to play them.”
  • Hendry, on playing Mainieri’s Air Force team many years ago: “That was not a fun thing to do. When I coached against Paul’s team, I tried to forget that he was even on the field. That’s about the only way you can handle something like this. It’s going to be a tremendously emotional experience for both of them.”

 

  • The Daily Press’ Norm Wood quotes O’Connor as getting just “two hours of sleep Sunday night… because I could not stop thinking about Saturday and that they do the lineups for the first game of the College World Series and it’s like the all-star lineups. Everybody lines up on the baseline. Well, I will be the last one introduced for our program. Then, they’ll introduce LSU, and coach Mainieri will be the last one introduced, and then those two managers shake hands at home plate. I just can’t imagine the emotion that I’m going to have.”
  • BOC “told his team what to expect in Omaha — fans taking more than a week off from work so they can go to every game, standing ovations when players walk into restaurants, greeters at the airport, constant autographs.”
  • BOC: “Did I learn a lot about him from a manager’s style as a coach? No question — from an inside-the-game standpoint. What I’m grateful for learning from him is nobody does it classier than this guy. I think he’s the best in college baseball… What I learned from him was how to deal with players the right way. How to treat them like men. How to handle them. How to develop them. I was fortunate for nine years to be able to witness it and work right alongside him. So, is it going to be emotional? No question. The guy is my best friend.”

  • Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times adds yet another BOC quote: “I’ve had multiple conversations with a good friend of mine that I lived with back in Omaha. He kept saying, ‘This is the year, Brian. This is the year. You’ve got to coach a team in that stadium before they demolish it.'”
  • And still another, this one about the 1991 loss: “It was the biggest crowd in the history of the game. We had beaten Clemson in the first round and I gave up the third run to lose the ballgame. I wish I could have it back. Jim Hendry tells me that, if I’d caught that chopper, we’d still be playing today,” O’Connor said. “I think, if I would have caught it, that we would have had a chance to win the national championship. Sure, you’re disappointed about the loss, but that was a long time ago.”

 

  • Ken Trahan of neworleans.com is a bit more poetic, calling the game “a classic battle between teacher and pupil” and “to say that they know each other well would be an understatement.”
  • He also notes that “LSU third base coach Javi Sanchez knows O’ Connor well, having played for Mainieri and O’ Connor at Notre Dame.”

 

  • Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times also breaks out the teacher/pupil metaphor and quotes the former on the latter: “He’s really like a younger brother to me. I don’t like coaching against friends.”

 

  • Randy Rosetta of The Advocate points out that “in the last two seasons at LSU, Mainieri has faced Michigan State head coach and former Notre Dame assistant David Grewe and Central Florida, coached by Terry Rooney and Cliff Godwin — the Tigers’ top two assistants last season, when they returned to the CWS. Grewe left Michigan State to join Mainieri’s LSU staff last June after Rooney took the head-coaching job at UCF. In those two showdowns against his former coaches, Mainieri is 5-0.
  • PM on Omaha: “Make no mistake: Last year, when we went to Omaha, we went to win. Reality is, the first time you’re there, it’s an awe-inspiring place. …. Nothing feels normal. It’s hard to prepare for something like that. Now we have a lot of guys who have been there already, and I expect us to go there with a lot more comfort and confidence.”

 

  • Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune provides insight into a recent electronic exchange from Mainieri: “I said (in text) ‘Remember, I taught you everything you know but not everything I know.’ I had to keep a few secrets back for this inevitable day. I was so ecstatic for him to get in because it validates his career. I’ve been telling everyone for six years he’s one of the best coaches in the country.”
  • In addition to Sanchez, LSU assistant David Grewe is also “good friends with O’Connor, who stood in Grewe’s wedding and pushed him toward Mainieri at Notre Dame.”  Grewe is quoted as saying “you hate playing a close friend. After the game, you feel like. … crap. He deserves to go to Omaha for all that he’s done and how he’s turned that program around. He walked into a good situation and made it better. He is getting rewarded. It’s going to be fun to see him.”