Friday, December 7, 2012

The Hippodrome: Did You Turn Down Tennessee?

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2012 at 8:15 AM

This Week In The 'Drome: The Vols' long strange trip to Nowheresville, the Titans tailspin, hockey's furniture move and more ...

Mark Mangino: Available, looks good with orange
  • Mark Mangino: Available, looks good with orange

Opening Face-Off

Thanks vs. No Thanks : It's never great when your school's coaching search results in a snarky, nationwide Twitter trending topic, but such have been the last few weeks for Tennessee.

Spurned by Jon Gruden. Spurned by Charlie Strong. Spurned by Larry Fedora. Spurned by Mike Gundy.

With UT AD Dave Hart looking far and wide for his next head coach and his candidates' list shrinking like Rick Moranis' fictional family, some Internet yucksters provided helpful visual aids.

Do they not realize this is Serious Business with Serious Implications? Dave Hart was in a panic, people! He was two more rejections away from locking himself in a room with six pints of Cherry Garcia, a copy of Love Actually and a stack of resumes from Howard Schnellenberger, Ron Prince, Trooper Taylor, Robbie Caldwell and (to bring us full circle) Danny O'Shea.

What was once a joke — that Hart consider a Phil Fulmer Reflux — was talked about seriously. And why not? It worked for Kansas State.

But thankfully, Dave Hart found his man before he had to resort to ice-cream eating and Phil Fulmer. Butch Jones of Cincinnati is UT's new coach. Many UT fans responded to the initial rumor with vitriol, I guess because Jones coaches at Cincinnati, not a traditional powerhouse like Louisville? Or maybe it's because Jones lost to Derek Dooley (although he did beat James Franklin!). Plus he has knowledge of things that are half bear and half cat.

It got so bad, ESPN's Scott Van Pelt took to the Twitter to, more or less, tell UT fans to act like grown-ups. The Vols could certainly have done worse than Jones (who, by the way, has a better record than Charlie Strong).

The Week Behind

The Drome during the Titans game (artists depiction)
  • The 'Drome during the Titans game (artist's depiction)

Blah : Looking at the 24-10 score, someone who missed the game might have thought they missed a game.

They didn't.

How the Texans only beat the Titans by 14 is a mystery, especially since most everyone who tuned in — and that was the lowest number since 2006 — fell asleep somewhere in the middle of the third quarter.

If football teams are, as the cliche goes, a reflection of their coach, then Mike Munchak must be more milquetoast than assumed, and that's a pretty high (low?) bar.

The Titans are bad. But not that bad (the loss to Jacksonville notwithstanding). But they are boring. Oh so horribly, mind-numblingly boring. To their credit, they occasionally creep into the farcical, their towers Fawlty, their errors comedic. Unfortunately, their hours last a whole hour and not just 22 minutes. Their star wide receiver having as many tackles as catches is a prime example of how silly this team can be.

It's easy to pin blame on the quarterback. The occasionally flashy Jake Locker is also just as occasionally flaky, prompting calls to replace him with Nashville's Tim Tefaux and prompting a former signal-caller to offer advice for some reason.

But it's not all Locker. It's everywhere for a team going nowhere fast (just not fast enough to lock up a decent draft pick).

Whoever Scheduled The Bridge Burning Should Be Fired : Despite an 8-4 record and beating ACC "runner-up" Georgia Tech, MTSU did not get invited to a bowl game.

Western Kentucky did. They got a free trip and all the $5 Hot 'n' Ready pizzas they can stand with their bid to the Little Caesar's Bowl or whatever it's called in Detroit. And Western lost to the Blue Raiders.

And why is MTSU out in the cold? In part, it's because they play in the Sun Belt, which does not have enough dedicated tie-ins to guarantee that all five of its bowl eligible teams would play in the post-season. Thus, Middle announced they would depart for Conference USA. Had they won at Arkansas State Saturday, they would have locked up a bid to lovely and modern Mobile for the GMAC Bowl or whatever it's called. They didn't; they got massacred on Crowley's Ridge. Thus, their fate was, more or less, in the hands of the Sun Belt office, which would make a recommendation to various bowls on which team to take.

The conference selected the Hilltoppers — who, in fairness, were denied a bowl game last year they likely deserved. By announcing their conference switch just days ahead of what amounted to a de facto conference title game, Middle more or less insulted the very people who would be deciding their December fate. Not the wisest of moves. AD Chris Massaro defended the decision to announce their move early, saying indications were the conference was planning on jacking up the departure fee.

That makes sense, but still: MTSU was hoisted on its own petard.

Garbage Time : In a flanking move that would make Graf von Zieten proud, Vanderbilt re-upped James Franklin (again) before all this coaching madness got too crazy. Vandy's heading back to the Music City Bowl. ... Belmont beat Lipscomb 100-66 in the Battle of the Boulevard. Ian Clark — who I always confuse with this guy — scored 30 points. ... Vanderbilt basketball got a nice victory at Xavier. ... Baseball will return to Nashville for Winter Meetings in 2015. ... The Sounds and Metro are negotiating a new lease at Greer.

Halftime Entertainment

Give em the boot, Jonny
  • Give 'em the boot, Jonny

In Between Daze : This week in the dead-tree, I offer three totally non-realistic suggestions that might make the Titans watchable in the last month of the season (four suggestions if you count "get blind drunk").

My most intriguing (and least likely to actually occur) suggestion is for the Titans to embrace their best virtue — the kicking game — whenever possible. When they get in range, they should kick a field goal. First down, second down. Whatever. Most of the time, they are going to end up kicking anyway. And when they don't do it, chances are six-to-five they are going to turn the ball over. If they aren't in Bironas' range, they should punt. Brett Kern pinning teams might actually result in a safety or a defensive touchdown of some description, the latter more likely because it doesn't necessarily require the Titans making a tackle. Which is good, because they can't do that very well, either.

It's a take-off of a bold strategy employed by England in the 2003 Rugby World Cup, in which the rose-wearing laddies kicked goals as much as possible instead of going for the try. They knew they were outmatched in the normal, run-the-ball phase of the game, so they skipped it. What do the Titans have to lose? A bunch of games? Gonna do that anyway.

No Offense, But 'Go Navy!' : The Army-Navy game is Saturday, the lone college football game left on the regular season schedule. As a Navy vet — albeit of the enlisted variety — I'll pull for the Middies, but by all means pick whichever team you like. The CP has couple of nice Army-Navy features this week: one on Titans practice squadie and Army grad Collin Mooney and another on Navy QB Keenan Reynolds, a Goodpasture product.

As a reader (an Army man, though we won't hold it against him) wrote me this week:

I take this opportunity to express to you and to all other Navy men ... my hopes that this Saturday will bring the Mids mucho turnovers, general confusion and no injuries. Despite our decade-long ineptitude, Army-Navy remains the greatest rivalry in sport. When the game is over, both teams will stand shoulder to shoulder, at attention, while the defeated team's Alma Mater is sung. They will then about face and hear the victor's. They don't do that at the Iron Bowl. Besides, both teams genuinely respect the other. I (for real) pull for Navy in every game but one, and every Annapolis man I know reciprocates. Having married into the Auburn-Alabama morass, I was struck by the mean spiritedness of the rivalry. Hell, that wasn't a rivalry—it was war to the knife.

I've always thought that the notion that servicemen around the globe care about the game is a myth, but it truly is America's Game, and you, as a Navy man, are entitled to care about it.

So, congrats to the Mids for another good season and may the Corps sing second on Saturday.

Shameless Self-Promotion : The newly launched Nashville Sports Hub asked me to be their first victim sucker subject for what is planned as an on-going series of interviews with local sports media types. Check it out.

In Case You Missed It : This video of a middle school wrestling match from Williamson County has gone, as the kiddies say, viral. Indeed, The Belgian Boss reports a story on it — in one of Belgium's 38 official languages — made the news sites there.

The Week Ahead

Real Housewife of Atlanta or Titans starting tackle? Could go either way.
  • Real Housewife of Atlanta or Titans starting tackle? Could go either way.

One's A Trainwreck Reality Show, The Other Is On Bravo : Friend of The 'Drome Justin Bruce (who is great, but is no Bill Hall) says the weather Sunday afternoon is going to be pleasant but with an increasing chance of storms.

If that drives you indoors, there's a Real Housewives of Atlanta marathon on Bravo. But if you really want to gouge your eyes out, the Titans are playing at Indianapolis. Redeeming factor? Our old buddies Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts are on the stick!

Anyway, the Colts are actually pretty good and may just compete for an AFC Wild Card. Andrew Luck is proving to be the quarterback everyone expected. After a very dismal Manningless year, the Colts are back on the up. What a struggle it must be to be a Colts fan, what with the engaging, entertaining owner who actually lives in the area and likes music from the 1970s and not the 1870s. You get to cheer for a team that was good for a long time, then was bad for a year and now looks to be good again. In Tennessee, we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves.

Worthless Prediction : Colts 28, Titans 10.

Overtime

There is nothing exciting about a podium. Here is my dog, Sully.
  • There is nothing exciting about a podium. Here is my dog, Sully.

Podium, Dais or Lectern? : The NHL and its players' union got off-center this week and then seemingly went off the rails.

As suggested by Commissioner Gary Bettman, they eschewed their normal — and apparently worthless — negotiating system and opted to have a small group of owners and a less small group of players talk directly to one another. Neither Bettman nor union chief Don Fehr were involved.

It appeared to work. The groups met for some 10 hours Tuesday — ending with a rare joint appearance by consiglieri Bill Daly and Steve Fehr. Then they got back together Wednesday, interrupted only by a regularly-scheduled Board of Governors meeting (NB: I find it charmingly anachronistic that the NHL calls its owners' committee 'the Board of Governors' like they are running the British East India Company). They met some more and then something amazing happened.

Around 10 PM Eastern, someone set up a podium. #NHLPodium actually trended on Twitter — disabusing anyone of the notion that there are segments of the population which won't come back to hockey full of excitement.

Speculation abounded about the podium. Yahoo's Nick Cotsonika reported that it wasn't just a podium. There was a lectern ON TOP of the podium. Folks, this is heady stuff.

Much back and forth was reported, but the sides agreed to meet again Thursday. Apparently, the players' union asked for a federal mediator to come in — even though the first time that was tried it did exactly zero good.

Then Don Fehr had a very optimistic press conference and then Brother Steve got a phone call from the NHL throwing cold water on the good feelings. Almost as if Don Fehr had a press conference to sound all optimistic knowing the NHL was going to reject a deal. I mean, isn't that just so convenient?

And then Gary Bettman came over and had a very emotional press conference.

It was like the world's most uninteresting tennis metaphor.

The fascinating part of this — if a labor negotiation can be fascinating — is how it is playing out in the era of social media. Follow enough hockey types and a Twitter timeline on Wednesday night was nothing but the word "podium" over and over again. Or, later, the name "Hainsey." There are the initial bursts of information and then hours of jokes — often the same ones.

Fans certainly feel like they know more than ever before about what's going on behind the curtain (if not behind the podium), but do they? Not really. It's just the information is coming out faster. We certainly feel more engaged in the process and maybe that's healthy, just as the gallows humor is cleansing. It's certainly more healthy than the swings from unabashed optimism to irrational angry pessimism.

But the fact is all the press conferences — including two very weird ones last night — are like watching kabuki if you don't know Japanese or anything about kabuki. Plain and simple, the only labor negotiations anyone pays much attention to are those in pro sports and it all seems simple. The, say, longshoremen's union doesn't negotiate its deals in public and when talks "break down," they don't answer to dozens of media. As bad as things looked last night, a long view says the two sides are closer. This is all a very silly game to you and me — but to people on the inside, it's very serious business.

Hockey will be back by the new year. Bet there's a deal announced by Dec. 15.

Got any good furniture jokes? Email 'em to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. And listen every Tuesday (except when there's a basketball game) from 6-7 PM when I join Willy Daunic and Darren McFarland on 102.5 The Game.

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