Friday, January 24, 2014

Detroit's Coaching/Manager Changes

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTO BY CANDICE EBLING

A year ago, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49'ers at the New Orleans Superdome.

Since that time, there has been some shifting for the Detroit Coaching/Managerial Scene.

I'll take this team by team.

The Detroit Pistons hired Lawrence Frank on August 3, 2011. In two seasons he compiled a 54-94 mark and Detroit missed the playoffs both campaigns.

Termination Day came on April 18, 2013 as the Pistons Management became fed up with his inability to communicate with players.

On June 28, 2013, Brooklyn Nets rookie Head Coach Jason Kidd hired Frank to be his lead assistant and his right-hand man. It didn't take long for Kidd to get fed-up with Frank as he banned him from games and practices on December 3, 2013. Now Frank has been demoted to filing team evaluation reports.

The Pistons hired Maurice Cheeks as his replacement and there is no doubt he's an upgrade over Frank.

The Detroit Tigers managerial change wasn't of their own choosing. Jim Leyland decided to retire with a 700-597 record on October 21, 2013.He led Detroit to a pair of World Series appearances. Leyland guided Detroit to four playoff appearances which is the most in team history.

Leyland, who piloted the Tigers from 2006-2013 is the Tigers second manager to have a winning record since 1979 joining the late Sparky Anderson. Leyland's winning percentage is .540 while from 1979-1995, Anderson was 1,331-1248 for a .516 percentage.

On January 8, 2014, Leyland was named as a Special Assistant to Tigers President, CEO and GM Dave Dombrowski. I had a feeling that he couldn't totally stay away.

Meanwhile, Brad Ausmus has been hired to replace Leyland. He appears to have assembled a good coaching staff. I'm pleased that Ausmus retained Pitching Coach Jeff Jones and Bench Coach Gene Lamont. These were the two areas which needed to maintain continuity.

The Detroit Lions coaching change was inevitable after two straight late season collapses which cost Jim Schwartz his job.

Schwartz finished with a 29-52 mark in his tenure with the Lions from 2009-2013.

He was a highly coveted hire when he joined Detroit as the Tennessee Titans former defensive coordinator. His Lions record is somewhat deceiving because he inherited an 0-16 team without a franchise quarterback.

But the 2012 and 2013 seasons sealed Schwartz's fate. In 2012, Detroit started 4-4 but went 0-8 and finished 4-12. After a 6-3 start in 2013, The Lions wound up 7-9. You do the math. It was ugly at 1-6 and that's why Schwartz became unemployed on Dec 30, 2013. A 1-14 mark in November and December doesn't get it done.

As much as people like to criticize the Ford Family because of the Lions woeful record over the years, the only thing I'll say is they don't meddle with their coaches and don't lack patience. That's why many NFL People thought it was one of the best jobs available.

The only major coaching move which bothered me over the years was when Detroit had a chance to hire Assistant Coach Chuck Knox but elected to go with Monte Clark. Knox went on to coach the Los Angeles Rams and had good success while the Lions struggled with Clark. The only exciting players worth watching in the Clark era were Running Back Billy Sims and QB Gary Danielson.

I know a lot of people seem to be criticizing the Jim Caldwell hire. But hold on because while this might not be the most sexy big name guy, he comes with great credentials and recommendations from future Hall of Fame Coach Tony Dungy, former Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Polian, Future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning along with many others. Caldwell is known for his calm demeanor.

Caldwell led the Colts to a Super Bowl appearance as a head coach, and has won others as an assistant coach. He has an excellent reputation developing signal callers and as long as he hires assistant coaches that can only enhance the development of Matt Stafford, I have a feeling that many critics will be eating their words.

Caldwell may not be the quote machine that My Fellow Media Members want, but I'm sure My Detroit Colleagues will trade the quotes for an opportunity to see the Lions reach the Super Bowl.

The Only Team which hasn't made a change and I wouldn't foresee it in the future are the Detroit Red Wings. They are the Model Franchise in this city. They have won four championships with two coaches in Scotty Bowman and Mike Babcock.

Babcock is doing one of the best coaching jobs I've ever seen because he's had only two players that have participated in all the team's games. The Red Wings made the playoffs on the last game of the Regular Season and reached the Western Conference Finals only to lose to eventual eventual champs, the Chicago Blackhawks,.

I have a feeling the Wings consecutive playoff streak will increase to 23-years with a hot streak and getting some players back from injuries. If Detroit can keep winning, who knows, they could take this playoff streak into the New Olympia Stadium in a few years.

In the meantime, I'll be curious to see how these three new coaches perform a year from now.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

NFL Prospects Highlight Capital One Bowl

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

The last time we saw the Wisconsin Badgers play on November 30, 2013 in Madison at Camp Randall Stadium, there were some interesting story lines against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

The game temperature was 42 degrees and the winds were blowing Southwest at 10 mph.

The Badgers were vying for a position in a BCS Bowl game, but Penn State's 31-24 win sent Wisconsin (9-3) to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando instead of a possible spot in the Orange Bowl In Miami.

As it turns out, Penn State's win was the last for Coach Bill O'Brien, who became the head coach of the Houston Texans.

The walk from the Press Parking Garage in Madison to the stadium was about 35 minutes compared to the five minutes at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Lot A.

Weather Conditions for the Capital One Bowl were 64 degrees with winds seven mph along with a misty light rain that had ponchos available for the photographers to stay dry.

December 30, 2013 was Black Monday in the NFL. The first coaching casualty hit the Washington Redskins as Mike Shanahan was fired.

South Carolina Gamecocks Coach Steve Spurrier piloted the Redskins from 2002-2003 and he was 12-20 in two seasons before re-resigning on December 30, 2003 with three years and $15 million left on his contract.

He took 2004 off then landed with the Gamecocks in 2005 where he's taken this program to higher levels compiling a 76-39 record going into the Capital One Bowl Game against the Badgers. 

Spurrier has guided South Carolina to a 10-2 mark in 2013. This is Spurrier's third straight 10-2 record going into a bowl game.

The contest against Wisconsin is Spurrier's 300th collegiate game. Going into the game he is 218-79-2. Spurrier said somebody told him right before the game and that he hadn't thought about it until right before the game.

Spurrier had a two-game bowl winning streak. 

Two years ago, he led a 10-2 South Carolina squad into the Citrus Bowl and throttled the Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3), 30-13 on January 2, 2012.

Last year, on January 1, 2013, South Carolina was 10-2 and defeated the Michigan Wolverines (8-4) 33-28 in the Outback Bowl in Tampa. But this game would be known for what happened with 8:21 left in the fourth quarter.

Jadeveon Clowney delivered a tenacious hit on Michigan Running Back Vincent Smith. Clowney's hit dislodged Smith's helmet, forced a fumble that Jadeveon recovered and led to the game winning touchdown.

So what would give on January 1, 2014 against Wisconsin? Would the Badgers get their ninth 10-win season in school history and fourth in five years?

The Badgers entered the game as the eighth best rushing team in the nation with 3,396 yards with a 283 average. Wisconsin featured multiple running backs that averaged at least 100 yards a game in sophomore Melvin Gordon (122.2) and senior James White (111.4). 

White wears No. 20 and Detroit Lions fans remember that a Hall of Fame Player named Barry Sanders wore this number.

Wisconsin is currently 2-0 in the Capital One Bowl with their last trip here in 2006. 

UW was victorious in its last game in Orlando scoring a 20-14 win over Miami in the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl, and is 3-1 all-time at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.

As it turned out, there were no crunching hits by the 6-6, 274 pound, Clowney, (Photographed wearing No.7) who hails from Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

Instead, it was the Connor Shaw Show as the senior QB lit up the Badgers secondary by throwing for 312 yards and three touchdowns to defeat the Badgers 34-24 in front of 56,629 fans at The Citrus Bowl.

Shaw was named the Capital One Bowl MVP. It was his first 300-yard passing game of the season. He finished his South Carolina career with 27 wins as a starting quarterback as the victory extended a school record he extended earlier this season.

Shaw (Photographed wearing No.14) became the fourth player in school history to surpass the 6,000 career mark with 6,074.

The Flowery Branch, Georgia native, was 22-25 and had only three incomplete passes and sacked just once. He also rushed for another 47 yards and a touchdown. Clearly, a poised hybrid signal caller.

The Wisconsin loss dropped the Badgers to 9-4, 2-1 all-time in the Capital One Bowl and 3-2 in the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.

There were no hits that would earn an ESPY Award on ESPN.

Just potential pro prospects.

Clowney had five tackles, four solo and one assist. He also had two break-ups and one quarterback hurry. Clowney's next football activities figure to be his Pro Day, and the NFL Scouting Combine.

After the game, Clowney wasted no time by announcing his intentions that he was making himself eligible for the NFL Draft.

According to many draft experts, Clowney is projected as a top five selection.

White gained 108 yards in his final game with the Badgers. He finished his career with 4,011 yards which is fourth on the Badgers all-time list, trailing Ron Dayne (7,125) Montee Ball (5,140) and Anthony Davis (4,676).

Ball will be playing in the Super Bowl on February 2 in New York/New Jersey at MetLife Stadium. 

For White, it was his 18th career 100-yard game, tying him with John Clay for sixth place on Wisconsin's all-time list.

The teams highly touted rushing attack amassed 293 yards for UW, the third best rushing performance in a bowl game in school history. Gordon lead the team with 146 yards.

The Dynamic Duo of Gordon and White made history with their combined 250 yards rushing. They became the single-season all-time leading rushing tandem. Gordon finished with 1,609 yards while White had 1,444. Their combined total 3,053 yards are better than the FBS record of 3,004 set by Nevada's Cody Fajardo and Stefphon Jefferson in 2012.

Gordon (photographed, wearing No.25) and White are the first teammates in FBS History to rush for at least 1,400 in the same season.

The Badgers amassed 3,689 yards in 2013, a new school record..

It will be interesting to see how many pros emerge when South Carolina and Wisconsin hold their Pro Days during the spring. I'll be curious to see how many players get invited to the NFL Scouting Combine as well as the upcoming College All-Star Games including this weekends Senior Bowl.

But Spurrier's 300th game turned out to be a winner as he's won three straight bowl games against Major Big Ten Teams. He's now 77-39 at South Carolina and 219-79-2, plus three straight 11 win seasons.

South Carolina is now 7-12 all-time in bowl games and Spurrier is 4-4 in bowl games as the Gamecocks head coach.

Wisconsin dropped to 11-14 all-time in bowl games. Wisconsin finished No.22 in The AP Top 25 and No.21 in The USA Today Poll.

South Carolina finished No.4 in both The AP Top 25 and USA Today Polls.

South Carolina's senior class set a new record of 42 wins in four years eclipsing the old mark of  38 set by last years class.

When the contest was over, Spurrier was relieved that Wisconsin's two-headed running back monster tandem didn't lead the Badgers to a victory.

"I'm glad that the team that rushed the most yards didn't win today," Spurrier said. "I didn't realize that they had that many, but I knew they had a lot of big runs. Even though we gave up a lot of rushing yards in the middle of the field, our guys were pretty tough down there, and they made some key third downs which enabled those drives in the first half to keep going.

"Scoring is the big defensive stat, as we all know. We held them to 17 points, kickoff return on one. A good day for our defense, even though Wisconsin is a good running team as we know."

Spurrier added that he was proud of what Shaw's accomplished in his career.

"Connor will play a lot more football. I'm sure the NFL guys were watching today," Spurrier said. "They're looking for quarterbacks that can avoid the rush, move around a little bit and throw. And Connor can do all of that. So I think he's got an excellent chance."

Spurrier said that Shaw without question is one of the best signal callers that he's ever coached.

"I've had a lot of good ones," he said. 'Connor can take care of the ball and make plays when the game is on the line. And the game was on the line a whole bunch of plays today."

Badgers Coach Gary Andersen said this was a tremendous bowl game and something that everybody will remember the rest of their lives. It had great memories but unfortunate that the Badgers didn't get a win.

He said there is one player that made a major difference in this contest and that was the Gamecocks quarterback.

"We knew coming in that he's the engine and he does a great job extending plays," Andersen said. "He doesn't necessarily look to scramble, but to make a throw and he hurt us on that and a couple times later in the game. He played well. We were kind of disappointed without being able to contain him better. I give him a lot of credit. He's a great player."

Shaw is listed at 6-1, 209 pounds. Whether he is a first round draft choice is anybody's guess.

But three non first rounders that come to mind that have played in Super Bowls in recent years include Tom Brady a sixth round pick by New England, Colin Kaepernick second, by San Francisco, and former Badger Russell Wilson, who has guided the Seattle Seahawks this year.

Going into the Capital One Bowl it looked like Clowney would be the main attraction to the scouts and Shaw would be on the undercard.

It will be interesting to see what draft order they'll go and which one will be a better pro.

But watch out for James White. It will be interesting to see what type of NFL career he has playing for a university known for producing running backs.

Although these three players stand out at the moment, there are the Hidden Gems in the middle, end of the draft as well as undrafted free agents that can make NFL scouts and player personnel staff  look like geniuses.

One player that we saw during the playoffs was LeGarrette Blount, who led the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game, but fell short to the Denver Broncos.

Blount started his career with the Tennessee Titans, moved on to the Tampa Bay Bucs, both of whom missed this years playoffs, before making New England his third stop.

If there is one reason I enjoy covering, college football, watching bowl games, it's looking for future NFL Players.

The Capital One Bowl has a payout of $9,200,000 and this was the 68th annual game.

When you have a Big Ten vs Southeastern Conference match-up, on New Years Day, you're bound to find good players.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bizarre Night At BB&T Center

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

I've seen a lot of Crazy Circumstances in My Media Days, but 4.5 hours before I'd turn 51 on December 29, 2013, there was a first.

I've never had a problem logging onto a computer at a Sports Event until the Detroit Red Wings (19-15-10) faced the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, FL., on December 28, 2013 at the BB&T Center.

From the outset, it seemed simple to use the login name and password provided. As simple as they were, they didn't work.

But I just couldn't get My Acer Net Book connected after struggling all first period as the Red Wings took a 2-0 lead.

During the first intermission, the Panthers Public Relations Guy tried but was unsuccessful. He proceeded to call his I.T. Technician, who wasn't able to log on. They were both nice and worked very diligently. The I.T Guy was unable to connect in the second period.

By the start of the third period, the score was tied 2-2.

They initially thought the Wireless Adapter would have to be updated or uploaded again.

Meanwhile, I finally gave up, put the Acer back into the Computer Case and I went back to old pen and paper.

Just in time to see the Red Wings score two quick goals, and hold on to a 4-3 regulation win in a contest where they were out shot 33-31.

In the past, I've had other difficult situations.

In 1982, My Tape Recorder broke in the middle of an interview with Fort Lauderdale Yankees Manager Stump Merrill. Luckily, My Photographer Ken Rotberg, who had a tape recorder to mention players, numbers and key plays, let me use his.

Merrill was great and we did the entire interview over.

In fact, afterwards, Merrill and I shared a few laughs. He said "I manage young ballplayers and you're a young reporter."

It's safe to say that Stump didn't lack patience.

Another situation took place at the 1985 Florida State League All Star Game in Kissimmee.

The Houston Astros just moved into Osceola County Stadium (5,300) and it still houses their Class A team and Spring Training.

I was using an old computer the Tampa Tribune provided reporters where the old rotary phones had to be put in old suction cups.

I had my feature and game stories written, but because of phone line issues, I couldn't send them.

The deadline was midnight and I couldn't meet it.

However, I convinced My Editor Rick Nelson to get it extended by 45 minutes to the production people.

I dictated both stories to Rick and got this done in 30 minutes.

Rick did a sensational job and the stories actually turned out well considering the circumstances.

But on this Bizarre Night At The BB&T Center, there were some other firsts.
 * This was the first time the Red Wings defeated the Panthers this season.
* After missing 11 games, Red Wings Captain Henrik Zetterberg scored a goal in the first period to spark Detroit. He had one goal (photographed) in 21:43 minutes of ice time.
* This was My first time seeing the Red Wings play the Panthers in their long overdue move to the Eastern Conference. But certainly, the beginning of more games in this beautiful stadium.
* This was My Photographer Candice Ebling's first photo assignment for hockey and she admitted , it was quite challenging. But she did a great job especially with her action photos.

Yet, when the game was over, the Red Wings came away with a win. At the time, it was their third in four games.

Despite all of their injury problems, Coach Mike Babcock is doing a masterful job keeping them in the playoff hunt.

He should get consideration for Coach Of The Year honors with all his challenges.

I did manage to talk to him after the game and we spoke about the adversity he's faced.

"What I would say is the year you're in is the most challenging," Babcock said. "Every year you grind. That's the way it is. It doesn't matter how good or average your team is, it's always tough. The NHL is tight. Especially now. So injuries affect you.

"Our guys have tried hard. They've been positive about what they're doing so we have to keep getting better and I know we will."

The Panthers benefited at the gate. The
BB&T Center was 98.3% full as a crowd of 18,932 watched a hard fought contest.

I saw a fan wear an old No.24 White Red Wings Bob Probert Jersey. Indeed a die hard traditional hockey fan.

Zetterberg was named the No.2 Star of the Game.

As I left the arena, there were a lot of Red Wings fans wearing their jerseys trying to get autographs as the team was headed towards its bus area not far from the visiting locker room.

Then we went to a nearby McDonald's on Sunrise Boulevard to see if the WI-FI was working.

I was able to connect and just one hour before My Birthday, I didn't hit 52 before I hit 51.

There were more Red Wings fans taking a late night snack at McDonald's.

Before My technical problems, there were issues with My Windows 7, but I knew the computer didn't crash otherwise, I wouldn't see My Desktop Icons.

Nonetheless, the Red Wings came away with a win in the warm weather of South Florida.

For me, getting through the night was about winning ugly instead of losing pretty.

But I expect to be back at the BB&T Center for the Red Wings third and final game in South Florida on February 6, 2014.

By then, I have a feeling Detroit will be much healthier and playoff ready.

This meeting with the Panthers comes before the Olympic Break so by the time the Detroit returns to action on February 26 at Montreal, they'll be healthier and more rested. At least most of them
should.


Ten players will be on Olympic Rosters.

I give the Red Wings credit for hanging in as long as they finish this marathon strong, knowing all year their roster has resembled a MASH UNIT.

This won't be good news for the rest of their Eastern Conference opponents.

My next visit to BB&T Center is expected to be a much less stressful situation.


Whether you have internet or basic phone problems, it does get difficult with technical issues.

By the time I write on the Red Wings again, the focus will be on the playoffs, in addition to Detroit's adjustment to playing in the Eastern Conference.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

About Me

My photo
My Super Passion: In 40-years in the Sports Media Business, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some Great Moments with Championship People. I look forward to any feedback you readers have. I encourage you to look at the MOTOR CITY MAD MOUTH HALL OF FAME ON August 8, 2012 because these people have made the Journey in Sports Media as fun as it's been.

Blog Archive