Saturday, April 27, 2019

Old And New Draft Memories

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
JACKSONVILLE, FL

The first drafts I covered were back in 1982-83 when I was a writer for the Hallandale Digest.

As a young student learning on the job, I have to admit that working with Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shula was quite intimidating.

But as I got to know Shula, especially during training camp, I became more comfortable and he eventually warmed up to me.

I also used to cover the NFL Draft on a regular basis at the Pontiac Silverdome as a writer for the Detroit Monitor covering the Lions during the 1990's.

I'd spend all day Saturday and Sunday going through tons of player notes on paper, talking to assistant coaches and of course the head coach had his meeting with us after each pick.

I learned a lot about football talking to these coaches.

My work bag was filled when I left the stadium and I didn't even own a laptop computer at that time.

The Lions PR People Bill Keenist, Mike Murray, James Petrylka Sr. (whose is picture with me on the right) made sure we had everything we needed.


These three guys were like a Dream Team and I've maintained these friendships throughout the years!

The two head coaches I worked with were Wayne Fontes and Bobby Ross.

The one draft that stood out was in 1993.

The Lions traded their first round pick, to the New Orleans Saints for Pro Bowl Pass Rusher Pat Swilling. This pick was the eighth overall.

On the surface, the trade looked good for the Lions as Fontes raved about how happy he was that he could give opposing QB's nightmares.

Fontes was smoking his cigar because he had his marquee pass rusher.

Detroit would go to the playoffs in both of Swilling's two seasons only to lose to the Green Bay Packers twice. He went to one Pro Bowl for the Lions.

But the Saints would make out like bandits.

They selected offensive tackle Willie Roaf out of Louisiana Tech.

Roaf would play for the Saints from 1993-2001.

During his nine seasons, he made seven Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the Saints Hall Of Fame and Ring Of Honor.

After Roaf left New Orleans, he played for the Kansas City Chiefs and added four more Pro Bowls from 2002-2005.

Roaf was elected to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame on February 4, 2012.

There were 12 rounds over two days.

Teams had 15 minutes in the first round and 10 minutes in the second and third then five minutes for the rest of the draft.

I would spend an average of about 15-18 hours at the Pontiac Silverdome on Saturday and Sunday.

The Lions fed us real well!

As I cover my first draft in 2000's, so many things have changed.

The Draft is in PrimeTime on Thursday and Friday then it wraps up on Saturday. The draft is only seven rounds.

It also rotates to a different city each year and draws hundreds of thousands of people which is a boon for the local economy. This year's host Nashville had over 600,000 people attend the event.

This year's draft was watched by a record 47.5 Million viewers.

ABC aired the coverage for the first time in primetime.

The ratings increased by 5% from 2018.

Ironically, the Lions had the eighth overall pick in this draft, but this time they kept it.

It turned out to be Iowa TE T.J. Hockenson.

But now I'm in a new stadium. It's called TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Once upon a time, it was called The Gator Bowl, the home of the Florida/Georgia Football Game border war as well an annual Bowl Games.

It's changed names a couple times since I've covered games writing about the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The main PR People are Dan Edwards, Tad Dickman, Amanda Holt and Andy Esworthy.

There are no completed round-by-round draft sheets or bios of every player.

This place is practically paperless and everything is found online, just a finger click away.

If you want up to the minute updates then go to the internet where you can find anything you want, who, what, when, where and why, all within minutes.

Everything is always on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc... not the case in the 1990's.

There were no sign of assistant coaches.

The main individuals handling the press conferences were Coach Doug Marrone and GM David Caldwell.

Tom Coughlin had a press conference at the end of the draft.

I didn't know a single beat writer by name although I recognized the faces when I saw them covering the team during previous regular seasons.

Yet, they and all the other media members were all pleasant to work with.

I feel like I'm one of the elder statesmen in the room which is kind of neat.

I was unable to cover the First Night on Thursday because Peter Wein and I were broadcasting 'The Sports Exchange' on the https://www.weinetwork.com/.

But I've always believed that Super Bowls are won beyond the first round.

Days Two and Three dictate more as teams attempt to find their hidden gems.


On Friday, the Jags introduced Defensive End Josh Allen, their first round pick to the media.

Allen was selected out of Kentucky with the seventh overall selection.

I asked Allen did his selection bolster Kentucky's credibility when Kentucky is considered a basketball school?

"I did everything I could to change the program," Allen said. "I just did my part. This just came with the success. Kentucky is on the right track. We won 10 games. Hopefully we will win the same or more next year. I wish them nothing but the best, but I left my footprint on my teammates.

"Hopefully, they understood what I did, what I sacrificed and hopefully they can do the same thing and become a great team."

Allen is only the second Wildcat ever drafted by the Jaguars, and the first since Jacksonville selected safety Marlon McCree in 2001 in the seventh round.





The Jags struck again by nabbing another SEC player. This one was two hours down the road and played in Gainesville, FL.

Jacksonville traded up with the Oakland Raiders in the second round to land offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor from the Florida Gators.

He declared for the NFL Draft following the season.

He played in all 13 games and started 12 at right tackle. Florida's offensive line allowed just 18 sacks over the course of the entire season, which ranked 20th in the country and third among SEC teams.

As for Caldwell, since he began his tenure as the Jaguars GM in 2013, Jacksonville has selected a player from the SEC in the first round in five of his seven drafts.

After Taylor, Jacksonville landed TE Josh Oliver in the third round out of San Jose State.
Jacksonville's final pick in the third round was linebacker Quincy Williams out of Murray State.

The small schools finished out the second night.

On day three, Jacksonville didn't have a selection in the fourth round.

But with the second pick overall in the fifth round, running back Ryquell Armstead gets to make the trek down I-95 South as the Temple product will start his career in Northern Florida.

Last year QB Nick Foles played in Philadelphia for the Eagles and now Armstead will follow Foles to town.

Armstead is 5-11, 215 pounds that could be a good combination back as a receiver and a runner.

The later the draft the more interesting it became.

Round No.6 enabled Jacksonville to land QB Gardner Minshew II of Washington State.

The 6-2, 220 pound signal caller finished fifth in 2018 Heisman Trophy voting....won 2018 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (nation's top senior or fourth year junior QB). He was named finalist for Walter Camp Player of the Year and Davey O'Brien Award (nation's top quarterback).

He was set up for success by playing for Washington State Head Coach and offensive mastermind Mike Leach.

In 2018, he was second in the country in passing yards (4,779), and total offense (376.8), fourth in TD Passes (38) and third in completion percentage (70.7%), each are Pac 12 bests.

He also set Pac-12 Conference and WSU single season records in passing yards (4,779) and completions (468). Add to the fact that he amassed 38 TD's and was the only player in the country with six 400-yard games and 11 300-yard games and you have a potential steal at the end of the draft! He only threw nine interceptions.

Jacksonville's seventh round and final selection in the draft produced defensive tackle Dontavius Russell out of Auburn.

When it was all said and done, Jacksonville selected four players from Power Five Conference Schools. Three came elsewhere.

Before this weekend, the team made changes to upgrade their roster and went into the draft looking for ways to give newly acquired QB Nick Foles some help to get themselves back into the playoff picture.


Time will tell which of these players make an impact.

But of these picks, I will admit, the ones that intrigue me the most are Armstead and Minshew II.

It doesn't matter when you're covering a draft, the theme is consistent.

These guys are just prospects!

Nobody knows how they're going to turn out until you see them on the field, study film and actually find out how much talent they really have.

Throughout the weekend, I continued to learn more from the individuals made available at the press conferences.

They all bring something to the table.

But when I turn back the clock back to the 1990's and work in this millennium, I'm amazed at how much the news cycle has indeed changed.

Therefore, in the end, it was an opportunity to think about the old and now new memories.

As always, the Jaguars PR Staff treated me great this weekend! I can't ask for much more than that.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottbm33@gmail.com.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Detroit Sports Perspective

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

I'll never forget the time when my longtime colleague and close friend George Eichorn asked me to write a few paragraphs about all of the Detroit teams when they were struggling in the late 1970's for the Detroit Monitor.

This happened to be the first time that I was published.

I impressed My Lakeland High School English Teacher Mrs. Ann Nozewski, who wanted every student to make an attempt to do this.

Fortunately, my second time getting published was a short story on the US Not Boycotting The 1980 Olympics, which President Jimmy Carter wanted us to Boycott The Olympics.

That would later backfire as the Soviet Union Boycotted the Olympics in 1984 at Los Angeles which I attended.

Nevertheless, lets move the clock forward to 2019 and while Nozewski certainly provided the impetus for me to get published, 40 years later, I'm still going strong!

Back in the 1970's all of the Detroit Teams were struggling.

Here in 2019, they are once again.

But at least during that time period there have been some championships along the way.

The Tigers 1984 Season produced a World Series Championship along with three Hall Of Famers. Those include Manager Sparky Anderson, Shortstop Alan Trammell and Pitcher Jack Morris.

The Pistons won three World Championships which has produced Hall of Famers and retired jerseys in the rafters. In the Bad Boys era of the late 1980's, those included Coach Chuck Daly, Guards Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and forward Dennis Rodman. Dumars was an executive when the Pistons won another title in 2004.

The Detroit Red Wings made it to the playoffs 25-straight years and won four Stanley Cup Titles.

The rafters are getting crowded with more retired numbers in addition to the championship banners. Two Hall of Famers and former Captains are Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom.

And the Lions....they've won one playoff game and Barry Sanders made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I enjoyed covering Barry from my Pontiac Silverdome Press Box vantage point watching him rise to being the third leading rusher in NFL History.

There was a period of time that I covered all 16 games at home and on the road.

To this day, I'm convinced that if Fontes was not fired and replaced by Bobby Ross, Sanders would be the all-time leading rusher as Barry viewed Wayne as a father figure.

Whether Calvin Johnson gets there remains to be seen.

The fans are waiting for QB Matthew Stafford to be surrounded by a good supporting cast that will at least get him a playoff win.

It's an eyesore when Sanders and Johnson retire in their prime because of the losing culture.

Unfortunately for Lions fans, they're one of two members in the 0-16 club and haven't won a championship since 1957.

Time will tell whether the Patriot Midwest Way anchored by Coach Matt Patricia and President/GM Bob Quinn can duplicate itself in a football starved town which is looking for any kind of success it can get.

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Now the present:

1. The Detroit Red Wings--living in South Florida, the Panthers made a coaching hire I hoped the Red Wings would have made in the Motor City by landing veteran coach Joel Queeneville.

The former Windsor Spitfires coach is second all-time in regular season wins with 890 and 118 more in the playoffs, plus three Stanley Cup Championships with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Red Wings future just became much brighter when they hired Steve Yzerman as Executive Vice President and General Manager on 4-19-2019, Good Friday. 

The Columbus Blue Jackets made the obvious happen by sweeping Tampa Bay 4-0 in their opening round series.

Yzerman had successful stints as being an Executive Director for Team Canada and The Tampa Bay Lightning. 

There is no reason to think he won't be able to get the Red Wings on the right track in time.

Yzerman will have former GM Ken Holland by his side as he was named Senior Vice President as a major resource.

Holland does has a proven track record guiding the club to Stanley Cup Championships.
I hope his patience is rewarded as he extended Coach Jeff Blashill by two additional seasons.

I think it's smart that Yzerman will honor the Blashill extension.

He worked well with another young coach in Tampa Bay. That being Jon Cooper who led the Lightning to the President's Trophy.

There is no reason to think Yzerman won't work well with Blashill.

But the key to any turnaround while Detroit is in a massive rebuild, the Red Wings must continue to hit on their draft choices.

I respect them for not tanking in an effort to get the No.1 pick in the NHL Draft as they ended up sixth.

I'll continue to invest in the Center Ice Package hoping the younger players ultimately start maturing. But let's face reality, the 2019-2020 season will be the most pivotal one in the direction of this proud Original Six Franchise which owns 11 Stanley Cup Championships.

2. The Detroit Tigers--also owned by the Illitch family are also in rebuild mode.

We get the MLB Package and while the Tigers are trying to develop from within, they're slowly freeing up money from undesirable contracts.

For a team that has made it to the World Series twice under retired Skipper Jim Leyland only to come up short, can another veteran Manager Ron Gardenhire see this project through and reap from the benefits in the next couple of years?

Time will tell as to what comes up from the farm.

But like the Red Wings, patience is something Owner Chris Illitch doesn't seem to lack as he remains loyal to his key front office people.

The one thing about baseball is teams can turn their losing fortunes around in three years and go from worst to first quite quickly as we've found out from the success of the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs that ultimately led them to World Series Championships.

Just build a good young core of players and lock them up to long term contracts. Then keep building their farm systems.

The Tampa Bay Rays seem to make a lot out of nothing because of strong player development then find solid veterans to blend in.

3. The Detroit Pistons--had the distinction as the first team to play a playoff game in Little Caesars Arena (LCA).

During the regular season, the Pistons were swept 4-0 to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The same held true in the playoffs as Milwaukee won all four contests in the playoffs, all by double digits.

As a result, Detroit now owns the longest playoff losing streak in NBA History with 14.

Despite Griffin playing in two games, it never mattered, and after the season was over he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

Milwaukee is considered favorites to win their first NBA Title since 1974.

But getting rid of Stan Van Gundy was a positive step last season. He trades the team's top draft choice to the LA Clippers who had a 48-34 mark in the Western Conference. Like the Clippers, the Pistons are the eight seed but compile a 41-41 mark.

Had Blake Griffin been healthy towards the end of the regular season, they wouldn't have drawn the match-up they ended up with.

Nevertheless, I do believe that Dwane Casey was a coaching upgrade over Van Gundy.

But until the Pistons get financial flexibility and start hitting on their draft choices, it wouldn't matter if they are playing downtown at LCA or the Palace Of Auburn Hills, the fans won't fill the stadium until they're convinced they're a legitimate entertainment option.

4. The Detroit Lions--There isn't much to say about this franchise except that I hope they don't waste away the career of another star player.



Contrary to what people say about Stafford, I do believe he's the best QB the Lions have had since Bobby Layne. He's the all-time leading passer in franchise history with 38,526 yards and 237 TD passes.

The team was relevant when Wayne Fontes was the head coach.

Does anybody remember the last QB to win a playoff game?

Erik Kramer.

He eventually left to play for the Chicago Bears.

In 1987, Jerry Vainisi was the Vice President of Player Personnel and when he departed to create and head the football operations of the World League of American Football (NFL Europe), the Lions haven't been relevant since in the front office.

He was a key contributor in the Lions success which produced a 38-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys as Detroit reached it's lone NFC Championship Game only to get clobbered on the road to the Washington Redskins 41-10.

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Unfortunately, I can't offer a guess as to who will break through and will create Metro Detroit's next championship wave of success.

If I was so smart, I would be working in the front offices of these teams.

So I'll hang out at the beach in sunny Florida and still cover these squads when they come here, when I'm in Metro Detroit, or if they play in a place I travel to get answers like the rest of us.

I do watch the Lions at Duffy's Sports Bar in South Florida.

In the meantime, I'll pull out my Rubik's Cube and try to conquer that puzzle.

But in the spirit of Mrs Anne Nozewski wherever you are, at least more people have heard about me because of my lengthy tenure in the media, my additional platforms, along with people trying to google my name.

Once upon a time at the beginning there was the Detroit Monitor. Now I've created an online publication, https://southfloridatribune.com/.

Now, I still have Eichorn around and there is Cyber Space which enables me to write on numerous platforms.

Stay Tuned.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com.

My Social Media:
Twitter--Scoop33333
Instagram--southfloridatribune
Facebook--Sports Exchange and South Florida Tribune Pages.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Faith Day At The Ballpark

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING
PORT CHARLOTTE, FL

Happy Palm Sunday Everybody from the Sunshine State filled with Palm Trees.


I've seen a lot of promotional days throughout the years covering baseball as well as other sports, but this one is different.

I've seen Bat, Glove, Ball Day, etc... but Not Faith Day, until today.

Today Candy Ebling and I took our act on the road to begin our first trip to see the Florida State League as we expect to see all 12 teams home games.

This road trip was 185 miles from our home in Deerfield Beach, FL which took close to three hours.

During the 2019 Season, we'll be providing material for the South Florida Tribune and interviews for the Sports Exchange which airs on Tuesday and Thursday from 5-7 ET  on the weinetwork.com.

Today's column is the first of those 12 stops and we'll also be covering the FSL All-Star Game from June 14-16.

There will be a future interview with retiring FSL President Ken Carson on a future edition of the Sports Exchange.

At the end of the season, we'll issue a Final Grade for each club that will be based on the environment as well as the Media Relations Department's ability to deliver human interest stories in an effort to see how well they promote their ballclub.

I'll be doing my best to notify FSL Media Relations Directors hoping to get return communication in an attempt to make our job easier when we get to the ballpark to avoid an unsatisfactory outcome.

Throughout the years I've always enjoyed covering the Advanced A Florida State League because  teams top prospects perform in the same ballpark which houses the Major League Club.

During the 1980's, I covered the Fort Lauderdale Yankees and The Tampa Tarpons (Reds).

In  addition to producing players, the FSL also produces managers and coaches, many of whom have been former MLB Players or have had lengthy Minor League Careers who didn't reach the Big Leagues.

There are many great players and managers that ultimately made it to the Major Leagues one way or the other and there are too many to mention.

At any rate, today's game is different as the game started at 10:30 am. Today's early start reminds me of our time in Hawaii when we were at my nieces wedding, and baseball games on the East Coast would start as early as 8 am.

Get them over early and you have the rest of the day for yourself.

John Vittas, who is the Broadcasting & Media Relations Manager for the Charlotte Stone Crabs said, "It's our second year partnering with Awaken Church, who hosts a non-denominational church service from 8:40-9:40 am at the ballpark.

"Members of their congregation are encouraged to stay at the stadium following the service to enjoy the baseball game."

This is a very smart concept.

The attendance of the game was 1,974.

Todays festivities at Charlotte Sports Park included free admission and free parking.

This makes it more affordable for the fans as they'll have money to buy souvenirs at the gift store.


The Stone Crabs offer their community Free Sunday's presented by King Plastic Corporation this season.

Prior to all Sunday games, fans are permitted to play catch on the field before the game, creating their own "Field of Dreams."

As for the game itself, one of the few teams which actually uses the name of it's parent club is the Palm Beach Cardinals.

The Stone Crabs lost 5-3 to the Cardinals.

The loss was the fifth in a row for the Stone Crabs. They dropped to 3-8.

After the contest, I was hoping to speak to Pitching Coach Steve "Doc" Watson and Coach Ivan Ochoa and General Manager Jeff Cook, but none of those conversations transpired.

The game was three hours and ended at 1:32 pm ET.

You can hear my entire interview with John Vittas on a future edition of the Sports Exchange.

For updates on this and future stories, you can like the South Florida Tribune and Sports Exchange Pages on Facebook.

On Twitter, look for Scoop33333 and on Instagram, Follow southfloridatribune and look for my name.

Meanwhile, Happy Easter and Passover to Everyone.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com.

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