Archive for December, 2007

Happy New Year, everyone!!!

December 31, 2007

For Mississippi State, 2007 was pretty darn good. NIT Final Four. Women’s NIT. College World Series. Liberty Bowl. Not bad.

Now, it’s time for you to predict the big sports headline for 2008.

And finally, the first stories of the new year . . .
Larry Templeton not happy with the way Arkansas hired Ellis Johnson.
My New Year’s resolution colmn, along with some ideas for others.


Yes. There’s more news than just Johnson leaving

December 31, 2007

With all the craziness of the day involving Ellis Johnson’s departure to Arkansas, kinda lost in the shuffle was Barry Stewart.

Remember him? He’s a guard on the basketball team.

Anyway, he was named the SEC’s player of the week following his stellar performance against Missouri, where he totaled a career-high 24 points and seven assists.

He’s the first MSU player since Lawrence Roberts (twice in 2004-05 as a senior) to garner this weekly honor. Stewart did earned SEC freshman of the week honors twice a year ago.

What a day for MSU athletis.

Again, I’m going to try and take some time off. Of course, as soon as I get comfortable, there will be more news. LOL! Sorta!

Johnson leaves MSU for Arkansas (updated)

December 31, 2007

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has stepped down at Mississippi State to take the same job at Arkansas under new coach Bobby Petrino, Slyvester Croom has confirmed.

Johnson has been at MSU for four years. Two weeks ago, he interviewed at South Carolina and Georgia Tech.

So much for him wanting to get closer to home. Apparently, he just wanted out at Mississippi State. Funny thing, he told me on Thursday how appreciative he was of MSU making a commitment to him and how he’s looking forward to his future with the Bulldogs.

Wow! A coach that doesn’t tell the truth. Imagine that.

He told Croom of his decision on Sunday morning, hours after the Bulldogs rallied to defeat Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl, 10-3.

Here’s what Croom had to say:

“We feel that we have done everything possible to keep Ellis here, but he indicated to me that his decision was in his family’s best interest.”

And apparently, Arkansas didn’t go through the proper channels in contacting Johnson, which didn’t settle too well with MSU officials. I’ll have more on this in my story for Tuesday’s paper.

Elvis has left the building.

December 30, 2007

OK. That was a lie. He’s still here. However, I’m not.

Now that the bowl is put to rest, I’m going to take some to recharge the batteries before SEC basketball play starts. But ya’ll feel free to continue to post all you want. Farley, you’re in charge. Wow! Can’t believe I said that.

Anyway, I just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed this last year with you here on this blog. It’s been awesome. Heck, you all feel like family.

Have a great New Year and stay safe. I’ll see you all again this weekend. It’s time for some Wii action with the kids.

Pretty it wasn’t, a win it was

December 29, 2007

Call it an ugly game if you wish, but Mississippi State defeated Central Florida 10-3 to win Saturday’s Liberty Bowl.

Not the kind of game I expected. I really thought it would be a high-scoring affair.

Oh well.

Your thoughts?

Live from the Liberty Bowl

December 29, 2007

Well, sports fans, it’s game day. I have a feeling the traffic here will be a little slow today, as most of you are either here in Memphis or will be watching on TV. But feel free to pop in when you wish. If you have questions during the game, I’ll have answers.

A few notes . . .
• MSU’s ticket office sold 33,800 tickets.
• Tay Bowser will start at left cornerback
• Brandon Hart will start at fullback

I was slapped in the face by major dose of reality

December 28, 2007

Today was one of those days we all need to encounter at least once to gain a true perspective on life.

This morning, I accompanied 15 Mississippi State players, Rockey Felker and Sylvester Croom and his wife to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. I only thought life was tough.

I was touched, inspired and overwhelmed by kids who have been thrown a major curveball in life. And funny thing, not one complained.

Sure. They were down and tired, as were their parents, all of whom are troopers. But once they saw the players, their faces lit up and they forgot about the pain and ailments, even if temporarily. Talk about a lump in the throat.

It made me realized just how blessed I am to have two healthy kids and that their knucklehead behavior can be tolorated a little more.

I’m glad it went, even if some of the stories just break your heart. I’ll have a column about the visit on Saturday.

As for this afternoon’s practice at the Liberty Bowl, it was cold, wet and windy. Just a 35-minute walk through. Nothing special. Sly just wanted the players to get a feel for the field.

OK. Pick that score

December 28, 2007

Finally, kickoff is closing in with Mississippi State and Central Florida in the 49th annual Liberty Bowl. What’s your score and who’s the key player?

And for your reading enjoyment, here are some stories from today . . .

Ellis Johnson thought his defense would be decent.
George O’Leary loves cowbells and jokes that they should be outlawed.

The hay is in the barn . . .

December 27, 2007

Those were the words of Sylvester Croom as he walked off the artificial turf of MUS on Thursday night as the Bulldogs concluded their practices for Saturday’s Liberty Bowl.

In other words, the work is done and it’s time to play.

The two-hour session was rather cold and State worked on its two-minute drills and special teams situations the most.

On Friday, Croom’s troops will do a short walk-through at the Liberty Bowl. Then that will be it until kickoff.

There’s really not much news to report, except that Tay Bowser will start at left corner in the place of the injured Anthony Johnson, while Jasper O’Quinn will be the backup.

Friday afternoon, “Pick that Score” will return, so be thinking about the score.

Looking back, looking ahead

December 27, 2007

Please forgive me, for I have failed. I just realized I didn’t blog following Wednesday’s practice. My bad.

Anyways, it was a good, spirited practice that focused a lot on special teams. But the interesting note was those in attendance – former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman (who lives in Memphis) and Memphis Tigers coach Tommy West.

As for today, there is a press conference at 1 p.m. and then practice has been moved to 3 p.m. at MUS.

Here are today’s links . . .
• A story on UCF running back Kevin Smith and how quick George O’Leary discovered how good he was.
Rockey Felker recalls last bowl experience with MSU.

Plenty of room at the inn

December 26, 2007

So I get back to Memphis around 10 p.m. on Christmas night, check into the Marriott on Perkins and then it hits me. There’s six cars in the parking lot. Well, eight if you count the two shuttle vans.

I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a hotel on Christmas. Maybe that’s why I’m surprised that it’s quite empty. However, the front desk manager was adament the place would start filling up today. We shall see. Anyway, there was plenty of hot water.

As for today, it’s pratice at Rhodes around 11 a.m. and a press conference at 2:45 p.m. Then it’s on to dinner somewhere. Not sure where, though.

Now for some Daily Journal links (nothing indepth, that’s coming later in the week).
• A notebook from Tuesday’s practice and what the team did for its Christmas feast.
• And in case you missed it, my annual Christmas Carols column that ran earlier this week. Based on a few emails I got, I realized a lot of readers don’t get my humor. Oh, well.

Top sports stories

December 25, 2007

There’s been a lot of interesting sports stories this season, from MSU going to the NIT Final Four, Omaha and now a bowl, to the firing of Ed Orgeron and Jeff Bower and Ole Miss being ranked in basketball.

So, what do you think are the top five stories of the year in Mississippi? Obviously, it’s not just limited to MSU sports.

And I hope Santa came to see everyone this morning. Merry Christmas.

Live from the Peabody Hotel . . .

December 23, 2007

It’s finally bowl week and the players and coaches have reported. Everyone seems to be in a good and festive mood, and three of us scribes – Kyle Veazey of the Clarion Ledger and Ron Higgins of the Commercial Appeal – spent time talking with the players and coaches how to have fun while trying to win a game too.

And of course, staying out of trouble.

“We know what we came here to do,” Brown said. “It’s not to go out on Beale Street and walk the street and all that type of stuff. It’s to beat the opposing team. We’re grown men and able enough to separate business and pleasure. All the guys here are mature enough. As you’ve seen, we haven’t had any players have any trouble off the field this year.”
And that’s one of the reasons fourth-year coach Sylvester Croom trusts his players enough that there won’t be a curfew for the first two nights here.

Said Sylvester Croom, “I told the team before we left I was very, very proud of what they’ve done this year. As pleased as I am with the fact that we are in a bowl game, I am very pleased with the way we got here. We showed a lot of character, discipline and mental toughness. We did that in conjunction with having the best GPA our team has ever had. Also, I’m proud of the fact we’re coming into a bowl, considering what’s going on around the rest of the country, with all of our guys eligible.
“Now, it’s just a matter if we can handle, like men, the freedom and the success of being in a bowl game. That’s the question that has to be answered up here.”

As for the next two days, I won’t be here. I’ll be in Chattanooga with family before returning here on Christmas night. So, I won’t be reporting from practice or doing a lot of blogging. I had to promise my wife.

So, if we don’t talk again until Tuesday night or Wednesday afternoon, have a great Christmas.

The rest of the story …

December 23, 2007

On the front of today’s newspaper, I had a short Q&A with Sylvester Croom that featured three questions. I had more, but the editors chose the three they liked best. The following is the entire interview.

Daily Journal: Are you surprised how coach’s salaries have escalated and does that add to the pressure to win faster?
Sylvester Croom: The younger guys are going to make a lot more money, but they’re not going to get the opportunities and patience to build a program. You won’t see a lot of guys jumping into programs that’s on probation like this one was. They know they’re not going to get enough time with the amount of money that is out there. You’re also probably going to see less programs on probation, because if you’re going to pay out that kind of money, you better not get put on probation.

DJ: When you were an assistant coach, did you ever imagine how high the pay scale would get for assistants in the college ranks?
SC: I knew they were going to go up but the problem is that the pool of qualified guys at every level is narrowing and everyone is going after the same people. To help with this, we need some limited earning coaches. You can hire some young guys at $30,000 and be training them and when you have a void in your coaching staff, they’re ready to move in. Now, unlike the old days, you don’t have time to train and develop younger coaches. That’s why having an experienced staff that can teach, recruit, work well together and know the Xs and Os is so important. That’s why it’s so important to maintain staff continuity.

DJ: How much has keeping both coordinators factored into success this year?
SC: It’s huge because my working with them is important. I trust them with what they do and tell me. They know how I work and I know how they work. Right now, the two coordinators and J.B. Grimes are the the only originals still left. And that’s the key three. When you got a good group in here, it’s important to keep the continuity.

DJ: Was there ever a point in your first three years you thought your plan wouldn’t work at Mississippi State?
SC: It never was a question if what we’re doing was going to work. The question was, could we do it here. For a couple of reasons. Could we change the mentality of our fans to be patient enough to do what we had to do. Or were they so into having a quick fix that they wouldn’t be patient enough for us to build our program. To me, those were the biggest questions. The administration supported us, and we got the facilities we needed. But would our fans keep coming to the games, because I know the real deal. The administration may be behind you, but if the fans aren’t sitting in those seats, you’re going to get fired. That’s the bottom line. I’ve been there and done that. As soon as they quit buying those tickets, you’re going to get fired. That’s the reality of it. That was my big concern. Not if what we were doing was going to be the right thing and work. I knew that.

DJ: When did Mississippi State become a good football team?
SC: When we were able to beat Alabama here. That’s when we started to make a move. We played our best game up at Kentucky in all three phases. But after the Alabama game, that’s when we started to walk with a swagger. That was huge. When we beat Alabama, I felt like we had a chance going down the stretch. I really did like our attitude in that our guys felt like they could play with the better teams.

DJ: You coached Brett Favre for four years at Green Bay. Did you think he could have this type of year this late in his career?
SC: No. No. No. First of all, he’s got some people around him. That’s the thing. Green Bay went out and got him some receivers. When I was there, we had good receivers. And last year, he didn’t. I talked to him in the off season and told him he’s still one of the top three quarterbacks in the league. I said even though he’s lost a little bit of what he had in his younger days, he’s still one of the best there is. I told him he’s not going to be happy if he leaves before his time. Go until you know you can’t go anymore. The thing I’m surprised with was that they were able to put together an offensive line to protect him. He’s done a great job of disciplining himself, and that’s cut down on his interceptions. To find the balance of still being Brett Farve and staying within the system, that’s the surprise. He has changed his style. He’s still Brett. He’s still bombs away, but he’s not making mistakes. What that tells me is that he’s studying more than he ever has. He has to be, because he’s making great decisions. Now that they’ve got a running game, people better look out for the Pack. They’re coming. If Dallas loses another game, Green Bay is going to the Super Bowl. You’re not going to Lambeau Field this time of the year and win. You can forget that.

DJ: What do you remember from the 1982 Liberty Bowl, the last game for Paul “Bear” Bryant as a coach.
SC: Pressure. Everybody talks about the pressure of games, but that is the only time I truly ever really felt pressure. That was pressure. It was the most pressurized atmosphere from our standpoint. It was Coach Bryant’s last game. Even as a coaching staff going into the game, we all thought Illinois was the better team. A lot of our guys on that team weren’t great athletes. We had guys who hadn’t played well and didn’t do a whole lot during the season. They really played above their heads that night and that’s the only way we won that football game. The players and all of us felt like there was no way we could live with losing Coach Bryant’s last game. That was the feeling. I still feel the nervousness of that last drive as Illinois was driving toward what seemed to be the winning score. Robby Jones intercepted that pass and we were relieved and happy for a few seconds. Then the grim reality was that it was a over, an end of an era. Then you had to go into the dressing room and face the finality of all of that.

Stansbury atop the charts

December 22, 2007

With Mississippi State’s 95-70 win against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Friday, Rick Stansbury passed Richard Williams as the all-time winningest coach in school history with 192.

Now, predict how many he’ll have at the end of the season.

My Top 10 plays

December 21, 2007

I asked for yours. Well, here are mine, which appeared in my column today . . .

10. With the game tied at 17-apiece in the Superdome, Mississippi State took the lead for good on its first possession in the third against Tulane when Michael Henig hit Jeremy Jones from 8-yards out. It was the spark the offense was definitely seeking.

9. Leading 24-14 against Kentucky with 8:15 to play, Christian Ducre broke free for a 34-yard scoring jaunt that put the game out of reach and sent the Wildcat fans to the exits.

8. Down 10-3 at the break against UAB, MSU scored on its first possession of the third when Anthony Dixon scored from the 1 on fourth down. MSU found life from that point and went on to win, 30-13.

7. Trailing Auburn 14-12 with 5:17 left in the fourth on the Plains, Christian Ducre exploded up the middle untouched for a 5-yard scoring run that gave MSU a 19-14 lead, one it never relinquished.

6. As the clock hit zero with John Parker Wilson standing in the pocket, defensive end Titus Brown, a Tuscaloosa native, sacked the Alabama quarterback on the last play at the MSU 46 to secure the 17-12 victory.

5. Late in the fourth with Ole Miss clinging to a 14-7 lead at Scott Field, Derek Pegues hauled in a low-line punt at his own 25 and didn’t stop running until he crossed the goal line for a touchdown that tied the game and sent the MSU faithful into a wild, stadium-shaking frenzy.

4. With Ole Miss at its own 49 and leading 14-0 with 10:05 remaining, then coach Ed Orgeron decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 rather than punt. The move backfired when BenJarvus Green-Ellis was dropped for a 3-yard loss. The play re-energized the Bulldogs, who closed the game with 17 unanswered points to claim the come-from-behind victory.

3. Up 17-14 with 48 seconds to play, Mississippi State’s defense had its back against the wall with Auburn at the 9. But on fourth down, the Tigers’ last attempt at victory was thwarted when a pass by Brandon Cox fell incomplete in the end zone.

2. One year after missing a 50-yard field goal that would have sent the Egg Bowl into overtime, Adam Carlson nailed a career-long 48-yarder with 12 seconds remaining to lift the Bulldogs to a thrilling 17-14 victory against the Rebels and ensure a Liberty Bowl bid.

1. With Alabama at the MSU 2 and facing third-and-goal with a 9-3 lead, John Parker Wilson dropped back to pass. But with Titus Brown closing in, Wilson threw the football up for grabs and it landed into the hands of cornerback Anthony Johnson, who returned the interception 100 yards for the touchdown with three seconds left in the half for a 10-9 lead.

Croom gets money for assistants

December 20, 2007

Late Thursday afternoon, Sylvester Croom received word from Mississippi State president Robert “Doc” Foglesong that his assistants will receive pay increases. However, he wouldn’t say how much.

“We’ve got to get everything finalized, but the commitment has been made,” an elated Croom said. “Things are now in place to move this program to the next level and maintain continuity within the coaching staff.”

He said he’ll sit down with each assistant and discuss raises. Then from Dec. 30 through the coaches convention that ends with the national championship game on Jan. 7 in New Orleans, his assistants will be able to discuss other possible job opportunities with different schools.

But after the convention, he won’t grant permission to other schools to talk with his assistants.

I tip my hat to the president. He ponied up and did his part to make sure this program remains on solid ground.

Dang, Paps, feed your dog

December 20, 2007

In the news of the weird, how’s this for former MSU baseball standout Jonathan Papelbon. Nice! I wonder if the dog ate his homework, too?

See, only in Boston. Go Yankees!

Fun will be the driving theme in Memphis

December 20, 2007

Even as a player, Sylvester Croom observed closely how Paul “Bear” Bryant treated bowls. And as an assistant under his former coach, he continued to observe.

And the one thing he noticed was that playersweren’t fun. And that’s something Croom doesn’t want his own team to say.

So, there will be no curfew the first couple of days. Sly has all the trust in the world in his team, and if that trust is broken, a price will be paid.

“At some point you’ve got to trust them,” he said. “If they betray that trust, they’re going to pay the consequences, but I’m not going to punish the entire football team. If one or two of them break the rules, one or two are going to suffer the consequences. But when we do give them time off in Memphis and when they’re at the different functions, I want them to have as much fun as they possibly can and enjoy the experience.”

Now, for a few other notes . . .
• Ellis Johnson interviewed at Georgia Tech yesterday with Paul Johnson about the defensive coordinator position. I would like to be able to tell you how that went, but Ellis didn’t return calls.
• Congrats to Rick Stansbury. With MSU’s 85-54 rout of Loyola Marymount, he tied Richard Williams school record of 191 wins. He’ll go for the record on Saturday when the Bulldogs conclude their road swing at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
• The bowl season officially begins tonight when Navy and Utah meet in the Poinsettia Bowl. Kickoff in San Diego is slated for 8 p.m. and the game will be televised by ESPN.
• The Lady Bulldogs are back at the Hump at 7 p.m. today against McNeese State. MSU is 8-3, while the Cowgirls are 2-10. Giddy up.
• And finally, if you want to see what ESPN has to say about the Liberty Bowl, check out this site.

Think . . . really hard . . . new assignment

December 19, 2007

What are your Top 10 MSU gridiron plays of the year, in order?

No more homework assignments. I promise.

Oh, and Ellis Johnson isn’t going to South Carolina. Instead, Steve Spurrier hired Brian VanGorder. He was with Bobby Petrino on the Atlanta Falcons’ staff.

Germans, I know.

And don’t forget, Ellis Johnson was at Georgia Tech today interviewing with Paul Johnson. A couple of us tried to grab him after practice, but he said he was in a hurry and bolted.