Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Good Old-Fashioned Notes Column

Lots of little things happening right now that have at least some relation to Pittsburgh sports, and since I didn't have any better ideas, I'm going to resort to the old-fashioned notes column, employed by lazy sportswriters the world over! And away we go...

-Not that I ever got to see him pitch, but it was surprising and certainly sad to see the passing of Dock Ellis in this morning's news. Of course, Ellis will always be known first and foremost as the guy who claimed to have thrown a no-hitter while on LSD, a truly zany sports story if there ever was one. Almost certainly because of moments like that, Ellis became a strong spokesman against drug use after his playing career ended, and certainly more than redeemed himself. Certainly the world lost a very powerful and positive presence yesterday.

-In other Pirates news, (YAWN) the team has shaken some things up in their minor league management. As always, the PBC Blog that Dejan Kovacevic runs on the Post-Gazette site has just about anything you could ask for if you really want the gory details. Typically I avoid reading too much background on these guys because it always make them sound like the second coming of Branch Rickey (if they are management) or Connie Mack (if they are field personnel), but if that's your kind of thing, go for it. The only thing that will matter to me is if these guys can get some tangible results out of the minors, and I don't mean seeing guys like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Jose Tabata make it, because they are both talented enough to do it on their own. I want to see them turn Neil Walker back around, help Shelby Ford and Jim Negrych continue their surprising developments, and work to develop the recent, promising additions to the organization, guys like Robbie Grossman, Jordy Mercer, Bryan Morris, etc.

-A big congrats is due to Paul Rhoads for his somewhat surprising hiring as the new head coach for Iowa State football. It was a very weird development that Rhoads, the former Pitt defensive coordinator who left the Panthers to go to Auburn for the same position this past season, will replace the guy, Gene Chizk, who just became the new head coach at Rhoads' now former employer, Auburn. Anyway, I know Rhoads has long been rumored for head coaching jobs, but I'm a little surprised his first job is as a head coach in the Big 12. Yikes! Good luck stopping those offenses, Paul. As much as I would like to see a former Pitt guy do well, I can't see this ending well for Paul. He was a wildly inconsistent defensive coordinator, leading me to coin the term "The Paul Rhoads special" for those games when, just as the defense looks as though it is coming together....BAM! They give up 48 points to Navy. He drove me nuts. Anyway, I don't see him having the gusto to turn around an Iowa State program that, quite frankly, is in shambles. I do think his involvement with their defense will pay off in the form of at least 1 big upset that no one sees coming, as he can put together a wildly impressive defensive game plan when you least expect it. Good luck Paul, I think you're going to need it.

-It seems like everyone is all sorts of fired up about the Steelers these days, and as I think I mentioned the other day, nothing makes me more nervous than that. Being the favorite, for whatever reason, just doesn't sit quite right with me, especially when it comes to the Steelers. I've been burned by too many AFC Championship losses I suppose. I have seen far too many people picking the Steelers over the Titans tomorrow, and that makes me equally uneasy. This Titans team didn't get here by being a pushover, and even without Haynesworth tomorrow, I'm still highly skeptical. I think tomorrow's ball game tells us a whole lot about our boys. Of course, I'll have a more in-depth preview posted tomorrow, so you'll have to wait until then.

-Bowl season is kicking off today, and I'm on the board with a 1 for 1 start thanks to Wake's very exciting come-from-behind W over Navy. Today's slate gives us three more games to look forward to, and there are few things more strangely enjoyable than watching a college game in a half-empty stadium in mid-December between two randomly thrown together squads. The BYU-Arizona game tonight in Las Vegas is a perfect example of that, yet that will be a pretty good game I think.

-Unfortunately, it looks like our Pitt football squad may soon be looking for yet another new defensive coordinator. The Trib is reporting that Phil Bennett has been contacted by some other schools (notably LSU) about their DC positions. That's upsetting if its true, because I thought Bennett did a very nice job this season with the defense after a sorta rocky start against those MAC schools, and the Paul Rhoads Special against Rutgers. Defensive Coordinator is a tough position to fill in college football, and I don't know that Pitt will be able to find someone as good as Bennett yet again, and the guess here is that the job would probably fall to current Pitt assistant Greg Gattuso, who many thought would get it last year. If that's the case, I expect Wanny to take on a greater role in the defense, as Gattuso doesn't have the clout of a Bennett or a Rhoads.

-It's a very busy weekend for all of our sports teams. Not only do the Steelers have the game of the weekend in the NFL tomorrow when they take on the Titans, Pitt hoops travels outside of Western PA all the way down to Tallahassee to take on Florida State tomorrow evening, a very athletic team that should give us a bit of a challenge even if they are not highly regarded, and the Penguins welcome the Maple Leafs into the Igloo this evening.

-Looks like Ryan Whitney will return Tuesday night against the Penguins South...I mean the Tampa Bay Lightning, who overpaid for several former Pens and are now regretting it. I am all sorts of pumped over that news, as I will be in attendance, which is great luck considering this is just the fourth game I've had tickets to all season. I'll report in with how Whitters looked, of course, and it will be interesting to see how he is handled in the first few weeks back. Expect him to be scratched a few times in the early going, as that can't be easy to skate daily on a surgically repaired foot. He is scheduled to be in Wilkes-Barre tonight for a 1 game rehab stint. Will be interesting to hear the reports on that one.
-The Pirates are just about set to sign Ryan Doumit to a contract extension that will lock him up through his arbitration-eligible years. I haven't been able to find any details about just how much this contract is for, so I will be very curious to see what the final figures are, as catchers who can hit like Doumit usually get more than they probably should because of the complete lack of hitting at the position across the board. Strangely, it appears zero progress was made in getting a deal done with Nate McLouth. I wonder if the Bucs are hesitant because of how flukish McLouth's numbers this past season look in comparison to his career. I'm not saying I don't believe in McLouth, because I definitely do, but I would be surprised to see him go over 20 home runs again (that power REALLY came out of nowhere), and I'm not sure where he fits in a good big league lineup, not that this is a relevant question for the 09 Pirates, because they figure to have a terrible big league lineup. I just don't think his OBP will be good enough to have a 1-2 spot in a contender's order, and certainly he's no ideal 3-4-5 guy, so I'd say he's a 6 hitter. And lastly, maybe the Pirates are also hesitant because they have McCutchen and Tabata on the cusp (probably June 09 arrival for Cutch and Opening Day 2010 for Tabata) and there's also a chance Pedro Alvarez ends up an outfielder as well. Or, maybe McLouth just wanted to see how this first year's process would go.

-Back tomorrow with a Steelers-Titans preview. Until then...


Jonathan Bryant said...

Oh man Paul Rhoads is gonna be a disaster at Iowa State. Those pass happy offenses gave him trouble here all the time, and those teams weren't anywhere near the talent of the Big 12. I'm really glad he wasn't still on the market if Phil Bennett does leave, I'd be terrified Pitt would bring him back.

Ryan said...

Yeah I gotta be honest though, I don't think Rhoads would have come back here or Pitt would have wanted him back, either. He left here because he didn't want to get pigeon-holed here as the DC for too long, and if he came back, that'd be the message he'd be sending, and Pitt wouldn't want him because they'd know he'd be looking for a new job almost immediately.