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Saturday, January 31, 2009

An event well done

I've got to admit, I wasn't all that jazzed when LSU began the process of this centennial season weekend for basketball.

I like basketball. I just wasn't all that hyped up about it. Maybe it was malaise left over from the John Brady era.

Anyway, I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the weekend. The former players or their families coming back was great. It was good to see a large, appreciative crowd there.

And even though the state may not always realize it, LSU has its share of stars if not basketball tradition.

Anyway, kudos to LSU for a wonderful weekend and event on Saturday.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Finishing time

College football recruiting hits its final stretch this weekend.

For LSU fans, the end has not always been kind to the Tigers. Most LSU fans won't forget that feeling they had when Joe McKnight slipped on that USC hat.

The end didn't get off to the greatest start this morning when defensive end Ed Stinson committed to Alabama. Stinson, a Homestead, Fla., product had visited LSU last weekend. Now, admittedly, Alabama had been in the lead for Stinson but there were some who were getting good vibes from his trip to Baton Rouge.

Apparently, not so much.

While most observers expect West Monroe linebacker Barkevious Mingo to eventually end up at LSU, there is probably more uncertainty than LSU fan can handle when it comes to Bastrop's Rueben Randle. But just as Stinson was thought to be headed to Alabama, so many think Randle is headed to LSU.

Anyway, the last week will be about holding on to what LSU has and getting these top remaining in-state targets.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Revisionist history

Former LSU coach John Brady, now at Arkansas State, spoke Monday at the Downtown Tip-Off Club in Little Rock, Ark.

Brady, it seems, is doing a little bit of revisionist history when it comes to his time at LSU.

Among his remarks: "I will never apologize for the 10½ years I was there. I left there in the right way. I feel good about it. They’re still paying me for three more years. So it all worked out."

The reason "they're still paying me for three more years'' is because of a mistake in extending his contract to the length it was extended.

Then there is this: "A coach gets fired when the program’s in disarray. That program’s not in disarray."

Maybe not in disarray, but consider the words of LSU coach Trent Johnson from Monday's SEC teleconference: "These guys have done an excellent job of changing the negativity and the culture of the basketball program.''

OK, so maybe the program wasn't in"disarray'' when Johnson took over, but it wasn't like Brady was Dean Smith stepping down at North Carolina.

Look, it's understandable for Brady to be defensive about his tenure at LSU. He inherited a mess with losing teams, NCAA sanctions and a second (or third) sport mentality. He won a couple of SEC titles and made a trip to the Final Four. But there are times when a change is needed and that time had come at LSU.

Brady's coaching career isn't done by any means. He can work his way back up to a power conference with success at Arkansas State.

But it's probably best to leave the past in the past and move ahead.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Trent's take

Here is what LSU coach Trent Johnson had to say today on the SEC teleconference about his team's 80-70 loss to No. 15 Xavier on Saturday.

"What I learned is we're not there yet, but we're not far away in terms of being able to compete at that high level like that and win a game. To start the second half, we came out, we competed really hard and played well.

"And there was a six-minute stretch there where offensively we had some good shots that just didn't go down. It's one of those situations where you have to put it behind you and understand that we're back in league play and we've got 12 games before the SEC Tournament. We've got six of them at home and six of them on the road. And you have to compete at a high level just like we did against Xavier and hopefully we can get over the hump against good teams, which I'm sure we're going to see our share.''

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The cost of doing business

The AP is reporting that Tennessee is paying more than $5.3 million in football coaching salaries for 2009.

The two biggest numbers that jump out are among the assistant coaching salaries.

Monte Kiffin, the Vols' defensive coordinator and father of head coach Lane Kiffin, is making $1.2 million.

That throws the scale of pay for coordinators in the SEC completely out of whack. By comparison, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis -- who had been at Tennessee -- is making $500,000.

Now I realize Monte Kiffin is coming from the NFL, but still, $1.2 million for an assistant is a bit much.

The other number that jumped out is the salary of recruiting coordinator/defensive line coach Ed Orgeron who went from the Saints to Tennessee for $650,000.

If LSU indeed was set to pay Orgeron $600,000, then apparently the extra $50,000 got him to Knoxville.

Again, $650,000 for a position coach in college football is a little out of hand.

What the coaches at Tennessee may not understand is that their salaries will raise expectations. There will be less patience among the Tennessee fan base. There will also be less understanding if Tennessee can't crack the East's top two teams of Florida and Georgia.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Recruiting analysis

We've always thought and said that college football recruiting is best in an area where talent is nearby.

Thus, it should be easier for LSU to sign a player from Baton Rouge than Birmingham. It should be easier to sign a player from New Orleans than Newark. But as you go out farther from your school's location, the degree of difficulty begins to increase.

There is statistical evidence to back up this theory. You can find it here . I don't think it's an earth-shattering story. But it does back up the importance of closing off the borders in your own state.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Trent's take

LSU coach Trent Johnson talked about his team's recent play -- back-to-back wins over South Carolina and Ole Miss -- on the SEC teleconference today.

Here is what Johnson had to say about the Tigers:

"We're playing well. I thought our last home game versus South Carolina and, of course, on the road against Ole Miss, I thought we probably played in both games in the first half as good of basketball as we have played all year long. It's a good time to start playing well. We're getting contributions from a lot of guys right now.''

LSU will need to continue to play well. SEC Western Division leader Mississippi State visits LSU on Wednesday and No. 15 Xavier comes to town on Saturday.

Both of those games will be good tests to see exactly where the LSU team is right now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Coming and going

So Brandon LaFell is coming back and Dexter Pratt is not coming at all to LSU.

I'm guessing most LSU fans would settle for that trade, although most probably don't want to see a highly touted running back leave for Oklahoma State.

Anyway, let's start with LaFell. His decision to return to LSU -- since he did not sign with an agent he had until Sunday to decide if he wanted to come back -- is a boost for the Tigers.

After a shaky sophomore season, LaFell was a dependable receiver as a junior. His return gives LSU a boost, but the Tigers certainly still need to sign Rueben Randle.

Pratt was headed to LSU, but according to the school, he ran into problems with the NCAA Clearinghouse.

He was the 11th-rated running back prospect in the country according to one service. Personlly, I think you can withstand losing a running back a lot easier than say, a defensive lineman. You hate to say that running backs are a dime a dozen, but the game-winning touchdown in the NFC Championship Game was scored by a guy (Tim Hightower) who wasn't even invited to the NFL Combine.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Final draft scorecard

So the deadline for early entry into the NFL Draft has come and gone. It looks like most of the decisions made by LSU players were the right ones.

DL Ricky Jean-Francois - Gone. Let's face it, school was always going to be a problem for this guy. I don't know if he'll make it in the NFL but it's apparent he wasn't going to make it in school.

RB Charles Scott -- Staying. He was projected as a third-round pick and that's why he's coming back. Scott will likely improve his stock by staying. Running backs, though, are a dime a dozen in the NFL.

OL Ciron Black -- Staying. To me, linemen should just about always stay in school. You get a little bigger, stronger and better prepared for the NFL by staying -- unless you're the top prospect in the draft. Black wasn't. His return should help the LSU line in 2009.

WR Brandon LaFell -- Leaving. A year ago, most LSU fans would have been glad to see LaFell leave after all of the drops. This year, not so much. His departure -- if he doesn't pull his name out of consideration this weekend since he doesn't have an agent -- means signing Rueben Randle takes on an even greater significance.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Passing the test

LSU fans have to like the way the Tigers bounced back from losses at Utah and Alabama on Wednesday night against a good South Carolina team.

LSU jumped out to a 40-22 halftime lead and won 85-68 at home in the Maravich Assembly Center.

"I have a good feel for our group and when we practice well and play hard we are capable of competing with anybody,'' LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "When we have slippage, even from just one or two guys, we have a tendency to have trouble.''

There was no slippage tonight.

Now the trick is to carry that some effort on the road.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hoops talk

For all of the good reviews the LSU basketball team got for blitzing its way through a cream-puff schedule, the Tigers still need to learn how to win on the road.

They were competitive with Texas A&M (in Houston) and even Alabama on Sunday but not-so-much at Utah.

Because of the preciousness of road wins in conference, it will be imperative for LSU to play well on Wednesday.

And that may be easier said than done.

South Carolina has already won on the road against a better team and tougher environment (Baylor).

LSU might have some margin for error if the Tigers had a road win or had played a tougher nonconference schedule. As it is, home games are a must if LSU has postseason aspirations.

Friday, January 09, 2009

SEC not so bad after all

Until the last week in December, this had been a down year for SEC football.

Georgia was a preseason No. 1 and fell flat. LSU had reached as high as No. 2 and then flamed out at the end of the regular season. As bad as those two disappointments were at least Mark Richt and Les Miles kept their jobs. Phil Fulmer at Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville at Auburn weren't so lucky.

No, this was a down year for the SEC -- at least when it came to national perception.

Then, a funny thing happened, the bowls started. With a month off, teams got healty and rested and refreshed mentally and, what do you know, the SEC wasn't so bad after all this year.

The conference went 6-2 in bowl games.

The embarrassment of Alabama getting rolled by Utah in the Sugar Bowl was offset by Florida defeating Oklahoma in the national championship game.

All of the talk of the Big 12 being the best conference was just that -- talk.

Head-to-head, the SEC was 2-0 with Ole Miss romping over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.

So maybe it wasn't such a down year after all in the SEC.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Champion crowned tonight; Utah, USC, forget about it

BATON ROUGE - Texas was No. 1 in my final regular season Associated Press poll based on the Longhorns' 10-point win over BCS No. 1 Oklahoma at a neutral site, and the fact that Texas' only loss was at Texas Tech in the final moments at the end of the toughest four-game schedule in college football this season.

But Texas Tech finished not so great and at 11-2 with a loss to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl, and Texas finished not so great with a last-seconds, 24-21 win over Ohio State (Egad! A Big Ten team!) in the Fiesta Bowl. Texas, which finished 11-2, looked average against a borderline top 10 team.

This brings us to Utah, which finished 13-0 and with an impressive flourish in a 31-17 victory over BCS No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Utah was only No. 6 in the BCS going into the game, however, and No. 9 in my final regular season poll. A team has to beat a team ranked higher than No. 4 to make that much of a jump to No. 1, and this No. 4 Alabama team barely beat LSU. The Utes could well beat Florida or Oklahoma, but unfortunately they won't get the chance much like Auburn - 13-0 in a "real" BCS conference - didn't get the chance in 2004 to play USC or Oklahoma.

It's just the way it fell. Utah admirably scheduled real BCS teams this season such as Michigan and Oregon State and won those games along with an impressive victory over TCU, but it wasn't quite enough.

Utah is a fashionable argument of late, but it doesn't have enough meat. Alabama, in the end, was not an elite team this season and not nearly as good as Utah has been making it out to be. Most of the teams Alabama beat this season were not nearly as good as they were supposed to be - Clemson, LSU, Tennessee, Auburn. Now had Utah defeated Texas in the Fiesta Bowl, which would have been a better pairing, then Utah would have a legitimate argument.

This brings us to USC, which is again a fashionable argument from national media without the time to get past the cosmetics. For the third straight year USC's loss to a bad or average team knocks it out of the conversation period. When a team plays in such an easy conference, it has to be perfect. It doesn't matter how hot it is at 2 a.m. The Trojans were not getting past their ridiculous loss to 4-8 Stanford last season, and they're not getting by their silly loss to Oregon State this year.

Oregon State ended up 9-4 after a 3-0 win over Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl. (What, 3-0?) But Oregon State is obviously not as good as the two teams that have wins over the BCS championship game combatants. Florida's loss to Ole Miss looks much better now as the Rebels finished 9-4 with a 47-34 win over Texas Tech, and Oklahoma's only loss is to Texas, which will likely finish No. 3 in the nation. Florida and Oklahoma each were able to redeem itself after each loss with impressive wins over impressive opponents, whereas USC played mostly easy teams until its nice win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Another nice season for USC, but not elite. Schedule better, put Utah in the Pac (it in) -10 or win them all.

As for tonight, I see Oklahoma in an upset. The Sooners have nearly as much speed as the Gators. Remember, Oklahoma is not Ohio State, and the Big 12 was the best conference this regular season. Florida will score early and often, but Oklahoma will score more. Tim Tebow is a great player, but in the Big 12 he really would be No. 4 as a passer.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Miles shouldn't be bitter about Orgeron turning him down

BATON ROUGE - LSU coach Les Miles was asked about the dance he had last week with former New Orleans Saints defensive line coach Ed Orgeron on Monday.

"I thing there was some respect for a quality coach," Miles said. "That's about it."
As is often the case, Miles did not tell the whole truth.

Miles offered Orgeron the opportunity to be defensive line coach, associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for about the same or more money than new LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis will be making, which is about $500,000 a year.

Orgeron was not going to be making $700,000 a year at LSU like he was telling some people. But he would have been close to $600,000 a year. This has happened before.

Alabama associate head coach and inside linebackers coach Kevin Steele made a larger salary last season than did Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

But Orgeron turned the job down and took more money and less pressure at Tennessee. With Miles coming off an 8-5 season, he will be under much more pressure to win bigger next season than will new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin. That's another reason Orgeron took Tennessee over LSU. It wasn't just money. If Miles has a losing season next season, he could be gone and Orgeron would be job hunting for the third straight year. If Saints coach Sean Payton has a losing season next year, he could also be gone. If Kiffin has a losing season, he'll be back in 2010 because he's just starting out.

Miles also made a comment that could be interpreted as a little shot at Orgeron.

"John's a team guy," Miles said of Chavis. "That was probably one of the pieces that was important for me to see John possess. You can just tell when you talk to him. He's really admired LSU from afar. I think he wanted to be at LSU. He's been awful loyal to the place he was at and to the coach. To me, you talk to people that have been coached by him and coached with him - he is a team player. And I think we'll enjoy him."

Miles knows Payton, who recently criticized Orgeron for not exactly being a team player late last season with the Saints because Orgeron was so concerned with his next job and possibly not the next game.

Miles should not be bitter toward Orgeron. Orgeron did to three teams - the Saints, the Tigers and the Vols - what so many coaches do to prospects every recruiting season. And he was obviously as good at that as he is at recruiting.

Miles should not be trying to distance himself from the fact that he wanted Orgeron on his staff. Miles should be credited for trying to hire Orgeron even if it didn't work out. Miles' effort to hire Orgeron illustrates just how much Miles will do to get LSU back to elite status. Miles went after Orgeron for the betterment of LSU even though he and members of his staff have had their differences with Orgeron.

That's what a smart head coach does. He gets the best players and coaches available.

Orgeron's fiery personality is just what LSU's underachieving and, in some cases, overweight defensive line needed. Ricky Jean-Francois, Al Woods, Kirston Pittman, Drake Nevis and Lazarius Levingston all underachieved in 2008. None of them have developed as they should have. Orgeron is also an excellent recruiter. His hire at LSU would have meant he would not be recruiting against LSU, which is what he will be doing in Louisiana for Tennessee.

Again, great try, Les. Miles put aside any bad blood he and his staff may have had or still have with Orgeron and tried to hire him. The two actually made up somewhat at the Superdome early this month during the high school championships.

Maybe Orgeron would not have mixed well with LSU's current staff. But sometimes that's what a staff needs. Everyone got along famously on LSU's staff last season, but they lost five games with great talent while getting along so well. Some of the best staffs do not get along. Jimbo Fisher and Miles did not always get along, but they won big and no Fisher quarterback ever played as poorly as Jarrett Lee did this season.

Orgeron would have been a great hire. Miles made a great effort.

Miles also was interested in Alabama defensive line coach Bo Davis, who is a rare former LSU player in the coaching profession. That also would have been a good hire, but in the end Miles got a better coach than Davis. Brick Haley has SEC and NFL experience. He also has something in common with Orgeron. He's a yeller. And LSU's defense certainly needed that this past year. New secondary coach Ron Cooper is also known as a yeller and has a lot of SEC experience as well.

As Miles said Monday, he has "three guys" with a lot of SEC experience, counting Chavis. Orgeron would have been a great addition, but Miles still has put together the best defensive staff he has ever had at LSU. Chavis will not only be better than what LSU had this past year, he will also be better than former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, who lacked SEC experience and it often showed. Chavis will be a much better blitzer than Pelini, who never really got that.

Miles knows this.

"I think there will be some pieces in place now that we needed to have in place," Miles said. "I think the future is very bright here."

Sunday, January 04, 2009

So much for a big weekend

The problem with recruiting out of state is the difficulty of signing those players goes up dramatically.

So, LSU's weekend wasn't totally lost when safety Craig Loston chose the Tigers.

But for those hoping for a bunch of dominoes to fall, well, that didn't happen.

On Saturday in San Antonio, defensive tackle William Campbell of Detroit re-committed to Michigan. There was no Joseph Barksdale moment there.

For LSU fans who hoped Russell Shepard could coax a commitment out of wide receiver Andre Debose of Seminole (Fla.), they were disappointed as well. Debose stuck with home state Florida in committing to the Gators tonight.

John Martinez, another LSU target from Utah, committed to USC on Sunday.