One of the many enjoyable aspects of covering Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, the greatest motivator in the history of baseball, centered on witnessing him lose his cool in his office.
Most of the time, anyway. I could have done without the flying chicken spittle, but hey, chalk that up to an occupational hazard of a very interesting occupation. Beat writers enjoyed Tommy's blowups so much that sometimes we, I mean they, tried to goad him into them.
Sometimes it worked. Other times he saw through the attempt and laughed.
I'll never forget the time Barry Bloom, a really smart man blessed with a terrific sense of humor, covered the Padres and could bait the manager with the best of them. Lasorda's day started with reading the newspaper and seeing all the play his restaurant had been cited for multiple health-code violations. His day ended with a tough loss to the Padres.
"What hurts worse, Tommy," Barry asked, "knowing you have rats in your restaurant or losing to the Padres?"
Much to our disappointment, Lasorda couldn't stop laughing at Bloom's question and finally got around to answering it: "Oh, no question, losing to the Padres."
Better at managing baseball than restaurants, Lasorda also could have gone either way with his answer to another question I witnessed him being asked: "Tommy, you are the all-time leader in wins for International League pitchers. Is that an indication of how good a pitcher you were or how bad?"
He laughed and reeled off the names of great Brooklyn Dodgers pitchers who blocked his path to the major leagues. Lasorda appeared in eight games with the Dodgers in 1954-55 and seven with the 1956 Kansas City A's. He retired with 0-4 record and 6.48 ERA. He won 1,599 games as a manager.
I recall one question that elicited the opposite response of a laugh from Lasorda. A little background: TV announcers loved it when Lasorda took over third-base coaching duties to break a losing streak and it usually worked, to the delight of the broadcasters who loved the peppy, colorful way he coached third base.
The question: "It seems every time you decide to coach third base to break losing streak the game is on national TV and the opposing starting pitcher is either a struggling rookie or an over-the-hill guy hanging on by a thread. Is that just a coincidence?"
Run for cover. More than chicken spittle flew that day. A stream of words that made those used by the father fixing the furnace in a "A Christmas Story" seem fit for church by comparison, bounced off the walls of his office.
So what does this have to do with Kansas football? Good question. Think David Beaty's decision to fire offensive coordinator Doug Meacham and appoint himself as the OC/quarterbacks coach. Is it just a coincidence that it happens to come when Kansas faces Texas Tech, a traditionally horrible defensive team? Well, yes, because the Red Raiders no longer fit that description.
In three Big 12 games, Tech has allowed just 24.3 points per game, fourth-best in the Big 12 and has allowed 428.7 yards per Big 12 game, sixth in the conference without the benefit of having played Kansas yet.
So Beaty didn't time this move to make himself look good.
Freshman guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson, an athletic duo of McDonald’s All-Americans, are known as better scorers than pure shooters, so they might not put up great 3-point shooting numbers this season.
That doesn’t mean they won’t leave Kansas as better shooters, depending on how long they decide to stay. (Guards who project as points in the NBA generally don’t enter as quickly as big men).
“I would rather recruit a shooter than a scorer, to be honest with you,” Kansas Bill Self said last week at media day. “You can kind of teach a shooter how to score, but sometimes it's hard to teach a scorer how to shoot. I do think that my assistants do a great job with our guys in that area, as far as shooting the ball.”
Kurtis Townsend works on the technical aspects of shooting with players, getting them to stop drifting and to tuck their shooting elbows, etc.
And the way Self coaches nurtures the confidence of shooters. He talks them up and is more likely to pull them for a defensive lapse or for not keeping the ball moving, letting it “stick” as the coach likes to say, than for missing an open shot.
“I do feel like that when they play here, they have confidence to make shots because, in large part, that's not something that we emphasize,” Self said. “I firmly believe it's a good or a bad shot when it leaves your hand, not when it goes in or not. If you have that mindset, you should always be somewhat confident. We know you have to make shots to win games; certainly, to win big games, but I don't want those guys to have the pressure that you have to shoot well to play well."
Shooting percentages on 3-pointers tend to improve throughout players’ careers because they come to understand what a good shot is and because they grow stronger and because their technique is monitored by the coaching staff.
Frank Mason shot .327 from 3 as a freshman, .471 as a senior. Wayne Selden was a .328 3-point shooter as a freshman, a .392 shooter as a senior. Travis Releford’s 3-point percentage improved from .325 as a junior to .415 in his senior season.
By Self preaching sharing the ball, keeping the ball moving rapidly and making the extra pass, the coach gets the intended result: a high percentage of high-percentage shots. The purpose of moving the ball rapidly is to reach the point where the shifting defense can’t keep up and Self wants the one with the ball in his hands when the defense has failed to keep up to be the one to take the shot.
In Self’s mind, if it’s an open shot from a player who is where he is supposed to be, then it’s a good shot. If it misses, it’s still a good shot that should have been taken. It’s definitely a system that nurtures a shooter’s confidence, an underrated aspect of Self’s coaching success. Self justifiably receives a lot of credit for getting his players to play unselfishly, exert a ton of effort defensively and play with a great deal of toughness.
The 16th-year coach probably doesn’t get enough kudos for creating a good environment for growing a shooter’s confidence.
The most experienced assistant coach on David Beaty’s staff has deep recruiting roots in Kansas and Florida and has such a rich well of experience working for head coaches on which to draw in cobbling his own approach to running a college football program, should Kansas decide not let Beaty complete his fourth season.
Miller worked for Jimmy Johnson, Nick Saban, Mark Mangino, Jerry Kill and Jimbo Fisher.
Miller, in his first season back at KU, is Beaty’s third linebackers coach. He follows Todd Bradford, who stayed two seasons before returning to a job in the oil industry. Ex-KU linebacker Kevin Kane was Beaty’s first linebackers coach.
Miller, 62, had two big-time recruits on the hook when Turner Gill decided not to retain him from Mark Mangino’s staff. Juco linebacker Lavonte David went to Nebraska, where he earned first-team all-conference honors in the Big 12 and Big Ten. A linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since 2012, David earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2013, second-team distinction in 2016.
Miller also had a commitment from Hutchinson High defensive end Geneo Grissom, who switched to Oklahoma after Miller wasn’t retained. Grissom started in Super Bowl LI for the Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots.
Charlie Weis was fired at 2-2 and Clint Bowen took over, juggling the duties of a head coach and defensive coordinator for the remaining eight games of the 2014 season.
The team played hard for him, had a late lead against TCU and defeated Iowa State. A groundswell of support for Bowen to be given the job on a permanent basis percolated in Lawrence, but then athletic director Sheahon Zenger didn’t want to go in that direction.
Kansas was blown out in the final two weeks of the season and Zenger included Bowen as one of the candidates he interviewed. But the selection committee did only phone interviews with every candidate except David Beaty.
Bowen’s first three defenses under Beaty were ranked among the nation’s worst statistically, begging the question of whether Bowen’s fiery personality might lend itself better to serving as a head coach than to coordinating.
His experience coaching eight games in 2014 would make the transition to interim head coach smoother than anyone else on the staff, but it also would make a harsh reality painfully obvious to everyone who hasn’t already figured it out: The program has gone backward, not forward, not stuck in neutral, under Beaty.
Since Bowen won one game and nearly won another in 2014, he would have to do the same to convince anyone that the program is in neutral, not reverse.
Oklahoma head football coach Lincoln Riley checked his temper and maintained his composure in impressive fashion during his press conference after the Kansas football captains did not shake Baker Mayfield’s hand at the coin toss. Even so, it was clear that he was fuming just beneath the surface. The thought occurred to me at the time: How badly will Riley run it up on Kansas when the Jayhawks visit Oklahoma in 2018?
It’s still a valid question. The answer: Not as badly if his brother, Kansas tight ends and fullbacks coach Garrett Riley, happens to be the interim head coach for the Nov. 17 clash at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
The brothers share a strong facial resemblance. Might they also have similar brains? They might, and since Lincoln, 35, took the Sooners all the way to the four-school college football playoffs in his first season, that might mean that Garrett is a prodigy as well, way advanced from most football coaches his age.
The younger Riley joined the staff in 2016 as an offensive analyst and became quarterbacks coach in 2017. Before coming to KU, Riley spent three seasons coaching at East Carolina, two working under his brother, then an offensive coordinator, as an offensive assistant. Before that, Riley spent a year coaching at Augustana (Ill.) College and a year at high school in Lubbock, Texas. He earned his bachelor's degree from Texas Tech in 2012 and was a quarterback on the Red Raiders' roster in 2008 and 2009, before transferring to play a year at Stephen F. Austin in 2010. A native of Muleshoe, Texas, Riley earned 2A All-State honors in 2008.
Taking over a Big 12 program at the age of 29 would be a tall order, but in his brother he would have a good road map for how to plan his week. Given how much success Lincoln Riley has had a such a young age, it's not preposterous to think Kansas could turn to Garrett if in the market for an interim head coach.
Midway through last season, his first at Kansas, offensive coordinator Doug Meacham confessed that everything he tried that had worked everywhere else he was employed was not working at Kansas.
It was a stunning admission, a 180-degree turn from coach speak designed to say nothing. It said everything, which might even factor in why Meacham doesn’t do interviews once a week, as was the case last season. He and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, and the rest of the assistants for that matter, were last available to the media before games started.
I imagine Meacham is relieved at the new policy. He might have even lobbied for it, not because he has anything against reporters, rather because he likes to tell the truth and the truth is he never has worked with such ineffective blocking, which is where it all starts for any offensive coordinator's plans.
In last season’s TCU debacle, the second consecutive shutout, this one yielding just 21 yards in total offense, Meacham looked on the sideline as if every X and O had been drained from his brain, frozen by the sight of a level of incompetence he never had witnessed.
And he coaches just one side of the ball. No need to make him responsible for both sides.
Meacham came to Kansas after TCU head coach Gary Patterson reacted to interest from other programs in co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie by making him the chief architect of the offense, which would relegate Meacham to a secondary role.
Head coach David Beaty, well connected in coaching gossip in Texas, grabbed Meacham before anyone else and surrendered OC duties, which he had taken onto his plate during a 2-10 season in 2016.
Meacham is coaching from the press box this season, a new perspective for him. So is a run-oriented offense.
An offensive lineman blocking for Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas at Oklahoma State, Meacham is a smart man, but did he smart decision to coming to KU?
College football head coaches aren’t paid by the game. They’re paid by the week, just like the rest of us, except at the FBS level they’re paid better because they landed one of just 130 available positions.
Kansas coach David Beaty’s salary calls for him to be paid $1.7 million this season, plus incentives. He already has earned $150,000 in bonuses. He earned $50,000 for defeating Central Michigan, per a clause that awards him that much for each non-conference FBS victory and $100,000 for defeating Rutgers, a Power Five opponent.
If things don’t go well in Morgantown, W.Va., and new athletic director Jeff Long decides to terminate Beaty’s contract, he will owe him a $3 million buyout, distributed in six equal payments. If I’m reading the contract correctly, that means that if Beaty were fired after the West Virginia game, then Kansas wouldn’t have to pay him his weekly salary of $32,692.23. They would save seven weeks (bye week, plus six games) of payments, which totals $228,845.61.
In today’s world, that’s not enough to influence an athletic director’s decision, but it’s money that could be used to pay the 10th assistant on the next coach’s staff. Again, not enough to influence an AD’s decision.
Routs scored over Central Michigan and Rutgers suggested this could be Beaty’s best team, but given that this is his fourth season and that 14 junior college players and five transfers from four-year schools were recruited to make this a make-or-break season, this needed to be the year Kansas would win multiple Big 12 games. That’s tough to picture when opportunities against Baylor and Oklahoma State passed.
Long’s history suggests he’s not a fan of interim hires, but I don’t imagine he’s a fan of homecoming crowds numbering 18,364 either.
So just in case things blow up Saturday in Morgantown, it’s time to resume the interim head coach countdown with the least experienced assistant on the staff.
Cassius Sendish has all the ingredients that one day will make him a good head coaching candidate. First, he’s smart. Second, he’s direct. Third, he’s passionate. Four, the next time he makes an excuse will be the first time. Fifth, he’s a tireless worker.
Those were the qualities that enabled him to make the most of his skills during his time as a Kansas safety. Sendish won’t let anything stand in his way of pursuing a coaching career. He proved that when he was offered the chance of heading way up in the sky to stand on a platform filming every practice, even though he’s afraid of heights.
Is Sendish ready to take on the massive task of taking over a Big 12 football program in midseason, even with mentor Clint Bowen sharing what worked and what didn’t when he took over for Charlie Weis for the final eight games of the 2014 season?
Of course not. He has only been an on-field coach for half a season. But Kansas could do worse. He loves his alma mater, loves football and loves work.
Told you last week that it was preposterous to make Army a 31-point underdog against Oklahoma.
Anyway, enough gloating. Onto this week’s picks made with odds as of Thursday night from Vegasinsider.com.
1 — Samford +9 at Kennesaw State: Kennesaw State first fielded a football team in 2015 and the Owls already are ranked No. 4 in the FCS national rankings.
How is that possible?
Well, KSU shook the right coaching tree, the most underrated coaching tree in college football.
Brian Bohannon, 47, is the latest from the Paul Johnson coaching tree to accomplish amazing things, following Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo and Army’s Jeff Monken.
Bohannon worked for Johnson for 16 years at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech. Clearly, Bohannon was paying attention.
Hired in the spring of 2013, Bohannon’s organizational and evaluation skills and ability to teach the flexbone offense and recruit to that system enabled him to quickly assemble a competitive season. Somehow, Bohannon coached Kennesaw State to a 6-5 record in its debut season, improved to 8-3 in 2016 and 12-2 last season with a trip to the quarterfinal round of the FCS, where Sam Houston State bounced the Owls, 34-27.
KSU’s only other loss came at the hands of Samford, 28-23.
The Owls seek revenge Saturday.
Predicted score: Kennesaw State 38, Samford 31
Pick vs. spread: Samford
2 (Best bet) — Virginia Tech +5 at Duke: This a tough game for Ryan Willis to be making his first Hokies start. Duke ranks tied for 16th in the nation by giving up 15.3 points per game.
Predicted score: Duke 31, Virginia Tech 17
Pick vs. spread: Duke
3 — Oklahoma State -17 at Kansas: So let me get this straight: The Cowboys scored 17 points against Texas Tech and is favored by that many points on the road? Too big a spread.
Predicted score: Oklahoma State 24, Kansas 17
Pick vs. spread: Kansas
Last week’s record: 2-1
Best bet record: 1-0
Carter Stanley's mobility is his biggest advantage over fellow Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender, so it stands to reason that Stanley will play the majority of the snaps, if not all of them, given KU's opponent Saturday at its homecoming game.
Oklahoma State leads the nation with 19 sacks, three more than Alabama, Boston College and Clemson, all tied for second.
Defensive end Jordan Brailford, a preseason first-time All-Big 12 selection, leads the conference with four sacks. Jarrell Owens, the Cowboys' other D-end, is tied for second in the conference with three sacks.
Only 30 schools have allowed more than the 2.75 sacks per game that Kansas has given up, so the Oklahoma State pass rush vs. the Kansas pass protection shapes up as the biggest mismatch going into the game.
Stanley also can be used with more scripted runs than Bender.
Also, an examination of the two quarterbacks' passing numbers vs. Big 12 competition only reveals Stanley with better ones in all categories except touchdowns per throw. Bender has thrown one TD for every 36 throws, Stanley one for every 53.9 throws. Stanley has a higher completion percentage (56.7) and yards per attempt (6.0) than Bender (50.7, 4.75) than Bender vs. Big 12 foes.
LeBron James’ history shows he prefers playing with veterans, but given how many assists James could make on Svi Mykhailiuk 3-pointers, don’t you think it might be a good idea for James to make an exception? Sure, he would have to guard his man and Svi’s much of the time, but even so, if Svi’s scoring three points at one end and giving up two at the other, the Lakers are ahead in that equation.
The impressive video in this Tweet posted by @LakerFilmRoom is as revealing as any of a shooter not being guarded can be.
The Lakers open their six-game preseason schedule Sunday in San Diego, the first indication of how Lakers coach Luke Walton might plan on using the shooter extraordinaire who just turned 21 last June 10.
The Lakers' projected starting lineup: Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, LeBron, JaVale McGee.
Top perimeter reserves: Rajon Rondo, Josh Hart and Lance Stephenson.
In time, the Lakers might find that Svi’s better equipped to take advantage of the generosity of skilled passers James and Ball than Stephenson, a career .303 3-point shooter.