Tradition restored on the Hilltop

If you have paid any attention to SMU over the last few seasons, then you have noticed a big change. Back in the days of the old Southwest Conference the Mustangs could hang with the best of them. SMU had a winning tradition in the 70’s and 80’s. But, all of the success and fanfare came to a crashing and a grinding halt with the death penalty resulting from their abuse of the football program.

About 3 years ago the school made a surprising move when they lured away, Coach June Jones from Hawaii. June Jones has a long coaching pedigree that includes stints in the NFL and other college stops. He has rebuilt more than one struggling program. As soon as he arrived on the hilltop it was an attitude adjustment for the whole program. He took over the program after the 2008 season, and in his first season as head coach the Mustangs snapped a 25 year bowl drought.

It has been a steady climb for the Ponies and for the school itself. They have now played in 3 straight bowl games, and played for one conference title. Obviously this is a long way from the first days coming back from the death penalty; some naysayers said it would never be done. Unfortunately this success has come with a few hiccups along the way. The biggest one being Coach Jones nearly left for another job this off season. Thankfully this was worked out and SMU announced they would be joining the Big East conference starting in 2013.

This is a big move for the athletics program. The administrators and fans alike have started to feel this program is ready to compete with the big boys of college football. Even though they lobbied for a Big XII spot they were unfortunately unable to obtain the invite. However, moving into the Big East Conference is putting SMU right in the middle of the BCS, and this along with winning will help attract quality players to the hilltop. SMU now is beginning to be a destination stop for top quality athletes.

It was also recently announced that SMU athletics is now going to sign with Nike as the apparel provider for the school. Nothing against Addidas, but Nike is the big time as far as apparel goes. While there is still a long way to go, SMU is transitioning itself into big time athletics. While it isn’t fully complete, there is a winning tradition being restored on the hilltop once again.

As a side note, the basketball arena, Moody Coliseum, is beginning to undergo some improvements as well. This is another good lesson in college athletics; when the football program is winning, the rest of the athletic departments benefit.

Whether you’re a long time fan, or someone who has just adopted SMU as your school of choice, you should be proud of what SMU has done. Whether you choose the “Stampede” or “Pony up”, if you live close by then you need to pay attention to SMU because they are on the rise and could be a big time football program once again. Once this transformation is complete, then everyone can forget the bad days and be proud of a new found winning tradition.

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Tulsa wins 7th straight in Dallas

I experienced another sports writing thrill for me today. With press credentials in hand I had a chance to see the Golden Hurricane of Tulsa as they stormed into Dallas on a 6 game winning streak. They were able to take an early lead on the Ponies and never look back. The SMU faithful showed up in small numbers; but they were loud and boisterous every chance the Ponies got close. But alas, there was no slowing down the Hurricanes today.

It was a very close and intense game from beginning to end and the Mustangs looked poised to make a run at one point, unfortunately the best they could do was tie the score. Obviously this kept the fans involved in the game. However, every time the score was tied the Hurricanes would respond with another run and stretch their lead back out. I guess the old cliché applies here, “close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades”.

Tulsa was undoubtedly a little revenge minded after losing a buzzer beater to the Mustangs on their home floor recently. The Ponies put up a stalwart fight today, but there was just not enough “horse power” for them to overtake Tulsa.

This SMU team showed a lot of heart, but in the end the Hurricanes were just too much for them.

There are signs of improvement for this Mustang team. They are beginning to play as a unit. Tulsa looks to be one of the best teams in Conference USA, so hanging with them was at least a moral victory for the Ponies. It’s not time to throw in the towel. There is still a lot of basketball left to play in the conference. At that point we will find out where these two teams will finish. Don’t be surprised if you find SMU in the hunt at the end of the season.

This was a good game, but just too much of a test for SMU today. However, if they continue to grow and mature…who knows? They have the potential…they just need to work on the resolve, consistency and desire. They have good athletes…they just need to play up to their potential.

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Loss of Legendary figure: The passing of Joe Paterno

Upon hearing about the passing of Joe Paterno, I had to take some time to really get my thoughts and feelings into check. I have no association with Penn State or Joe Paterno in any way shape or form. But being a lifelong college football fan there have been very few figures that everyone could look up to and admire.  He was a true role model.

Joe Paterno, or “Joepa” as he has been affectionately called as long as anyone can remember, was the head coach at Penn State for 45 years. Some would occasionally say the game had passed him by and it was time for him to go. Then he would go out and have a stellar season and prove all the critics wrong. This season was supposed to be one of his best in over a decade and people wondered if he could win another championship.

Then the scandal broke in the media and it started a snow ball that even he couldn’t stop. It was unfortunate the scandal brought his coaching career to a tragic and unjust end. Joepa was a football coach first and foremost, and I doubt he truly understood the severity of what was happening at the school. He did what he felt was right. He followed the protocol he was supposed to. In the end, nobody really knows the truth except him and the administrators.

Not long after his firing, he was reported to have been stricken with cancer and it led to his passing. But much like the previous coaches who had long illustrious careers, it was only a short time before they passed on to the great coaching box in the sky. One of the finest coaches to ever coach has joined them to add his game plan to theirs.  It is entirely possible he died from a broken heart.

Joepa was a great coach, but it was the fact that he never got “famous”. Now what I mean by that is the simple fact that he didn’t buy a bigger house, or nicer cars. He didn’t wear flashy jewelry or try to make sure everyone knew how much money he had or how successful he was. He was one of the few coaches who did everything he could to improve the university, his players and bring more fame to the school and not just his football team.  He also leaves a legendary graduation rate of his players.  He showed time and time again his faith and support in his interactions with his players.

Joe Paterno was the last of a now dying breed. He coached football to change young men’s lives. He didn’t recruit players to help step them up to the NFL; he recruited players who wanted to win and wanted to obtain their degree. Maybe not all of them would earn it in their four years at the school, but many went back and completed it.

Joepa would donate most of his money back into the university over the later years of his career. I bet Nick Saban, Les Miles, Bob Stoops or Mack Brown wouldn’t do that. I am not saying those coaches aren’t great and change men’s lives, but they aren’t cut from the same mold as Joe Paterno. The world lost a great man, but college football lost a true legend. And for that, fans across the country will morn this loss.

Maybe I am just old school, and old fashioned.  I for one think College football needs more guys like Joe Paterno and a few less Nick Saban types.

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Tim Tebow: Overrated Football Player, But Great Christian

For those of you who have followed my blog for any length of time, you already know my opinion of Tim Tebow. I don’t have anything against the guy personally, and I will even admit he was a great college player. But the media’s fascination with talking about him endlessly when he has accomplished nothing but winning a few games in the NFL bothers me. He is a mediocre quarterbck(at best) but gets treated like he is a hall of famer.

Until he can actually prove himself on the field, he shouldn’t get more than five minutes of air time. I would dare say he is walking a Tony Romo-esque line, being all hype and little substance to this point of his career. Maybe he will prove me wrong, but I have to see something big to admit I was wrong. Yes, I do know he has won some impressive come from behind games, but he wasn’t overly impressive at any point.

The one thing I will give Tebow props for is the fact that he has been very open with his life style and belief in God. Unlike most players, he has done it since his first days at Florida and hasn’t ever gotten in trouble. He is genuinely a good person, and touts the Lord every chance he gets. For this fact, I will give Tim Tebow all the respect he deserves off the field. However he has to earn praise on the field, and I don’t see his talent being good enough to do that.

Tim deserves every bit of praise for being a stand up person as well as a quality role model for young people. But he shouldn’t be brought up in the media for his mediocre play on the field. Can ESPN end their fascination with him and only bring his name up if they are doing a story about his latest mission trip? Tim Tebow is a great person for our youth to look up to, but on the field he is just another below average quarterback. The NFL is full of them.

Is Fielder A Better Solution Than Hamilton?

It is nearing the end of the Major League Baseball “Hot Stove” season and yet one of the biggest free agents is still sitting out there. It makes you wonder why. Prince Fielder, the biggest free agent behind Albert Pujols is still sitting in the market and has been reported to be waiting on the Texas Rangers to finish with the Yu Darvish negotiations.

Prince was reported to be in town for a meeting with Rangers brass last weekend, and there have been reports that make it sound like he wants to play here. That is all well and good, but then the local radio personalities and writers all jumped on the Prince band wagon saying he is a better option than Josh Hamilton. Upon hearing this, I had to literally scream out, “Not so fast my friends”.

I can understand some of the thought process. Prince Fielder is younger and could be able to fill the need longer than Hamilton. But at the same time, it is unknown how Fielder would fare in the American League. Breaking down the stats, both guys are pretty similar and could almost be interchangeable. But you have to remember, for the Rangers, Josh Hamilton is already an established player here and you know what you have.

Prince Fielder is going to be an unknown commodity. There have been rumblings about him not being a great “locker room” guy. And, he has been called a “cancer” before by some sports writers who covered him with the Brewers. Josh is a beloved player and has been great for team chemistry with the Rangers. The only glaring difference between the two players is the fact that Fielder has been able to play 162 multiple times in his short career and Josh Hamilton hasn’t been able to do that yet.

In my humble opinion, if you are going to dump a ton of money on one of these players. It would be wise for the Rangers to pay Josh Hamilton and have him finish his years here. He is already loved by all of the fans and has made his mark with the team. He is totally all out hustle, strong as a mule, runs like a deer and has shown a lot of character on and off the field. If you want to compare the stats, then go here to look at Hamilton’s’ and here to look at Fielder’s.

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