East Carolina, Florida agree to 2015 football meeting

February 27th, 2014 at 11:38 am by under Sports, Uncategorized

East Carolina, Florida agree to 2015 football meeting

By Bruce Rader Thursday, February 27, 2014, 11:36 am

Pirates Will Visit Ben Hill Griffin Stadium For First Clash Against Gators Since 1983

GREENVILLE, N.C. (wavy) – East Carolina and Florida have agreed on a single-game contract for the Pirates and Gators to play at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sept. 12, 2015, according to a joint announcement by both institutions Thursday.

The meeting will mark ECU’s second visit to Gainesville and first since 1983 when No. 6 UF used a late fourth-quarter touchdown run by Neal Anderson to post a 24-17 victory on Oct. 22.

“I’m sure many of our fans will remember the last time we played in The Swamp,” East Carolina Director of Athletics Jeff Compher said. “While it’s a great opportunity to compete in that environment against a program with the tradition Florida has, I’m confident Coach (Ruffin) McNeill will have the Pirates ready to play.”

The contest against Florida will also maintain the continuity of Southeastern Conference opponents on the Pirates’ future schedules, which includes visits to South Carolina in both 2014 and 2016. In addition to a 17-game series with the Gamecocks that dates back to 1977 and one previous encounter with the Gators, ECU has also faced current SEC members Alabama (1998), Arkansas (2010), Auburn (1985, 1986, 1994), Georgia (1990), Kentucky (1993, 2009), LSU (1981), Missouri (1982, 1983) and Tennessee (1995) in its history.

ECU’s 2015 non-conference schedule now includes road games at Florida and BYU with home matchups again Virginia Tech and an opponent to be announced.

The Pirates, who compiled a 10-3 record and made their seventh bowl appearance in the last eight years in 2013, will open play in the American Athletic Conference this season after a 17-year membership in Conference USA.

East Carolina Football

Florida was 4-8 under third-year head coach Will Muschamp last fall.

Va. Beach to get arena proposal from ESG

February 15th, 2014 at 12:18 am by under News, Sports, Uncategorized

Two outstanding companies, both with wonderful ideas have finally given the Virginia Beach City Council something to smile about.

W.M. Jordan Co. and The ESG Companies have put together proposals that should eventually lead to Hampton Roads finally getting that 18,000 seat arena the region has wanted for years.

On Tuesday, ESG a Virginia Beach company founded by Eddie Garcia over 60 years ago, will present to council plans to construct an 18,000-seat sports arena and entertainment complex across from the city owned Convention Center. The deal came together after the company hosted business leaders from China last summer.

Unlike the Jordan proposal which was given to council three months ago, the ESG group will promise to design, build and facilitate the project using all private funds. Although S.B. Ballard Construction Company in Virginia Beach will be involved in the building of the arena, a major player will be Mortenson Construction, which just broke ground on a new NFL stadium for the Vikings in Minnesota. Mortenson is considered one of the largest sports contractors in the nation, and has offices in several US cities as well as Shanghai, China.

China is a major player in the venture. While the Jordan proposal is expected to need equity contribution from both the city and the state, Andrea Kilmer, the CFO of ESG says her project will be built with private money. That statement will have Beach tax payers and council members jumping for joy.

But who would loan ESG some $200 million dollars to build an arena without a major league sports franchise an anchor? A bank in China has agreed to finance the deal. ESG would pay it back over time. Chinese companies invested $14 billion in the US last year, driven by aggressive economic reforms in China, a more liberal policy environment for Chinese outbound investors, and a positive outlook for the U.S. economy. Local company Smithfield Foods was bought by a Chinese company this past September for $7 billion dollars. So a $200 million dollar loan for an arena in one of America’s top resort cities seems like chump change.

But deals that seem too good to be true often are. While the ESG group may not be asking the city to help with construction costs, Virginia Beach taxpayers will be expected to kick in for various improvements. A giant TV screen outside the building, a skating rink, improved roads, parking lots, maybe even a new off ramp at Birdneck Rd. The cost could be as much as $50 million, but would be less of a burden on the city’s bond ratings than what may be required by Mr. Lawson’s proposal. Considering projects like light rail and the Dome Site are still on the council’s priority list, interest rates and bond ratings are important. As any citizen knows, you can only borrow so much.

But where does an arena rank on the council’s priority list? A year ago, it probably wasn’t even there. But with these two fabulous proposals on the table it has moved up close to if not to the top. It was certainly discussed at the council’s last private retreat.

If ESG builds the arena, SMG will manage the building. They also manage the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. Should the W.M. Jordan group get the bid, Comcast-Spectacor would run the building on a 25 year lease and would kick in millions of cash for construction costs. Both plans are aesthetically breathtaking, the ESG building with giant doors in the back that would open for sound stages and equipment for state of the art concerts and sporting events.

The devil is in the details and that may end up being John Lawson’s biggest problem. He told me his proposal was the most extensive and time consuming his company has ever undertaken. It is very specific, every nail, window, and door handle accounted for. Ms Kilmer’s offer is expected to be a little more vague. Had Lawson presented his proposal earlier, before the Chinese came for their visit, it may have already been approved.

But that boat has sailed. City staff will now go through both proposals with a fine tooth comb. Term sheets will have to be written, and citizens will get their say. It will be one of the most crucial votes by the City Council in decades, and could frame the oceanfront for generations.

They have to get this right. The winner will end up being the heroes. But if they don’t follow through with their promises and the project is not completed, they will always be remembered as the goat.

More on this story Monday, February 17th on WAVY-TV and FOX 43 news.

Ref lose control of Old Dominion vs UTEP game

February 9th, 2014 at 12:48 am by under News, Sports, Uncategorized

Players have bad games, coaches have bad games and they are always held accountable by both the fans and the media. Win or lose after the game they meet the press sometimes with a smile, sometimes with their heads hung low.

Referees and officials also at times have bad games, not very often in my opinion, but every once in a while it happens and since they are such a big part of the contest they too have to be held accountable.

So let me say basketball officials Tim Gattis, Greg Rennegarbe and Brent Dugas had a bad night in Norfolk, Virginia tonight.

Gattis, Rennegarbe and Dugas refereed the Old Dominion game against UTEP. It ended as expected with the USA Conference leading Minors blowing out the home team 63-49. Coach Tim Floyd’s team is big, athletic and deep. Even without the three players kicked off the team last month after gambling allegations forced the school to report the alleged infractions to the FBI, UTEP is good. Old Dominion is in a rebuilding year and began the game with a surprising 5-3 conference record.

Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones has done a wonderful job in just a few months remaking what had been a decimated team. Jones a former player and head coach at the University of Virginia was a fiery competitor in his younger years, but transformed into a more mature and calculating teacher after a dozen years at American University in Washington, D.C. If I were to guess, I would say he was worth maybe one technical a year.

Jones got his annual “T” just two minutes into tonight’s game.

Gattis, Rennegarbe and Dugas had to be out of breath after this one. They called 52 personal fouls, three technical fouls and a flagrant foul. The calls pretty much evened out on both sides. Although UTEP was clearly the better team, causing ODU to play sloppy basketball, it was also evident the officials called a sloppy game. Gattis has been calling NCAA contests since 1996, he has several NCAA tournament appearances under his belt, so he is no rookie. Rennegarbe and Dugas are veterans too, and normally come and go where nobody knows their name.

Not tonight.

I have been covering Old Dominion basketball for 39 years. I have never seen a fan being escorted out of game by police for yelling at an official, until tonight. One was tossed by a referee, and I am not sure what was said. The second was thrown out by an Old Dominion police officer sitting behind the UTEP bench. Not sure what was said there either, or why the officer took it upon his or her self to make that call. Perhaps a re-evaluation of ODU’s “throwing fans out of the building procedure” might be in order.

The bottom line is, the game was out of control from the opening minutes. And it is the responsibility of the referees to not let that happen. We may never know why. Coach Jones knew that with one technical already under his belt a second would most likely lead to a suspension meaning he would not be able to accompany his young team on its road trip to North Texas next week. All he could do was spend the entire game standing in front of his bench with his arms folded and his mouth shut while he glared at the officials.

When players mess up, they are called out and sometimes benched. When coaches mess up they face the music as well. Tonight, Tim Gattis, Greg Rennegarbe and Brent Dugas called one of the worst game I’ve ever seen. They would not face the media like players and coaches do win or lose after every game to explain what happened. Company policy I am sure.

But, like at least two angry fans, they too had to be escorted out of the building by the police. Something that is not supposed to happen on a Saturday night at a Conference USA basketball game.

Olympics Eve

February 6th, 2014 at 11:42 pm by under Sports, Uncategorized

All in for day one.

230 Americans spread across all 15 disciplines have gathered in Sochi Russia for tomorrow’s Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

What is supposed to be a joyous occasion tomorrow night could end up being compared to the opening scene of a Tolstoy tragedy?

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 51-billion dollar Winter Olympics, are set to go down as one of the most uninviting and stressful in the history of the games.

Unfinished buildings, un-happy citizens, un-comfortable security and the stress of terrorist attacks is not usually what one expects to find at what is supposed to be the one of the world’s most celebrated athletic events.

As far as the action on this opening day, the United States is in a three way tie for 5th place midway through the first phase of the team figure-skating event.

The top four right now, Russia, Canada, China and Japan, the team event will not be held tomorrow due to the Opening Ceremony.
Aaron Bacote scored 22 points to lead Old Dominion past Texas-San Antonio 69-61 Thursday night.

Old Dominion scored 14 straight points, including six from Bacote and five from Keenan Palmore, early in the second half to open up a 39-27 lead with just more than 16 minutes to play.

A 3-pointer by Jordan Sims with 12:08 to play pulled UTSA (7-14, 3-5 Conference USA) within eight, but the Monarchs responded with an 8-0 run, sparked by back-to-back 3s from Jordan Baker, which extended the ODU lead to 55-39 about 3 1/2 minutes later.

A 13-4 spurt by the Roadrunners pulled them within seven with, 61-54, with 3:02 remaining, but ODU (11-12, 5-3) made 9 of 12 free throws the rest of the way to seal the victory.

Palmore scored 16 points and Baker added 13 in the win.

The Admirals return to Scope tomorrow night for a two game weekend set against the top affiliate of the New York Rangers, the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Norfolk will be without the services of 21 year old Emerson Etem.

He returns to the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL after posting 11 goals and 17 assists in 25 games for the Admirals.

While Etem gets the call to Anaheim, the Ducks sent 31 year old veteran Dave Steckel back to Norfolk.

Steckel has 425 career NHL games under his belt and has a reputation as one of the top face off specialists in hockey.

Pirate’s hall of fame slugger Ralph Kiner who went onto an equally distinguished 40 year broadcasting career with the Mets died today.

Kiner was one of New York’s most beloved sports figures, broadcasting Mets games from 1962 until 2006. He was known to rub elbows with stars like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope and romanced leading ladies such as Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh.

Ralph Kiner was 91 years old.

Frank Beamer Reflects

December 20th, 2013 at 10:07 pm by under Personalities, Sports

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is preparing his Hokies for a Sun Bowl game against UCLA.

Coach Beamer is 67 years old; it was 27 years ago when he, like Coach Maynor, was brought in to turn a struggling football team around.

And boy did he, he is the winningest active coach in college football, and makes millions of dollars a year.

But in just these past few weeks he has seen two of his closest coaching friends, Mack Brown at Texas and Jim Grobe at Wake Forest give up their jobs after what some may call disappointing seasons.

Which gives even a guy like Coach Beamer, a chance to reflect.

“It just kind of reminds you that nothing’s certain about this business,” he said. “But I’m very sensitive to staying around too long. I’m very appreciative of Virginia Tech, and they stuck with me when things weren’t good, stuck with me longer than most people would, and that probably won’t happen again. It’s a performance business. I fully understand that,

Over the past few months, two of Coach Beamer’s biggest supporters, longtime school president Charles Steger and athletic director Jim Weaver announced their retirements.

The new AD is expected to be hired sometime in February.

New Coach at Hampton University

December 20th, 2013 at 10:06 pm by under Personalities, Sports, Uncategorized

It’s no secret; some colleges in America are defined by their college football program.

Putting more and more pressure on coaches to win, year in and year out.

Those that don’t often are shown the door.

As was the case at Hampton University Monday night.

After two 4 and 8 seasons, Hampton University officials today made a major coaching change, firing head coach Donovan Rose and replacing him with up-and comer Connell Maynor from Winston Salem State.

Rose has coached the Pirates for 23 years, 18 as an assistant and five as head coach.

His teams struggled the past couple of seasons, and it is really no surprised he was sitting on that “hot seat” this winter.

He was reportedly told of his firing last night.
Connell May-nor on the other hand took a 1 and 10 program at Winston Salem and turned the Rams into champions.

The Rams made the NC-double A division 2 playoffs three years in a row, and played for the NCAA championship two years ago.

Maynor’s team is the two time defending CI-double A champs, and have won 24 conference games in a row.

Now he feels he’s ready to step up to division 1.
Maynor compiled a 45- and 6 record in four seasons, the best four-year period in the history of Winston Salem football.

He has the best winning percentage in program history and his 45 wins rank fourth all-time at the school.

Veterans: Good and Plenty

November 7th, 2013 at 3:29 pm by under Military, News, Personalities, Politics, Sports

6 was good enough for Matthew Plenty. That’s how many children this AIR FORCE veteran had between wives’ one, and two. And he also loved his COWBOYS! That always made for some good conversation during the few times I visited his Newport News home. Mr. Plenty could talk some “smack” about WASHINGTON. After retiring from the AIR FORCE and settling into a civil service job at FORT EUSTIS, the PLENTYs’ welcomed my wife’s family by their East End homestead all the time. I recall first meeting him at our wedding in 1982! And although my wife stayed in touch with the kids, we hadn’t seen him much over the years- one of those friends you kinda knew was always there. Always. Until Monday. I vividly recall my wife’s reaction when she learned Mr. Plenty had died. She knew he was sick, in home hospice care. We planned to visit, tomorrow.. but LIFE got in the way. I hear he had some fascinating stories to tell about his military service. But now he’s takes those stories with him. TOMORROW now becomes TODAY. I’m finalizing plans, along with a colleague over at SUNTRUST BANK in downtown Norfolk, to talk to- actually, HONOR, some other VETERANS, who have some stories to tell. I personally know two of them. Mr JULIUS GREEN is the husband of my wife’s best friend, Rosalyn. Every now and then, “Roz” would drop a dime about Mr Green’s ARMY years, duty in Korea, Germany, Fort Eustis. Only after pressing for details did I learn that he was the Army’s first African American MASTER DIVER; or in other words, the Army’s version of CARL BRASHEAR.

He was the Army's CARL BRASHEAR

Army Master Diver

Poking around a little more, I learned Mr. Green attended Warrant Officer School with his neighbor, and another friend of mine, JOHN E. GRAGG… That’s Army Chief Warrant Officer 3, John Gragg. He went on to become the ARMY’s first African American BOAT CAPTAIN.

The Army's first African American boat captain

The Army’s first African American boat captain

Gragg says he was the captain of the big tug that helped pull this ARMY VESSEL OFF a sand bar in the James River in March of 1972. And, boy, does he have more stories to tell.

CW3 John E. Gragg captains tug that helped free this stranded vessel in the James River, March, 1972.

CW3 John E. Gragg captains tug that helped free this stranded vessel in the James River, March, 1972.

Both plan to share them with us at a reception in their honor, 10 AM, FRIDAY, 09NOV13, at SUNTRUST BANK, 150 West Main Street, downtown Norfolk, 12th floor. Also being honored this day, a “young man” who earned 3 PURPLE HEARTS, the hard way. Retired Army Ranger William “Joey” Pocan. TOMORROW is TODAY…The time is now to say THANK YOU to these, and all outstanding veterans. I hope they’ll take a moment to tell us a story.

What I Should Be Telling You About The Boston Marathon…”On The Run”

April 16th, 2013 at 12:50 pm by under Sports

The Latest Running News and Notes in Hampton Roads – “On the Run” with Sportswrap Running Reporter, Jon “Flex’ Leiding

Even in Tragedy, We Have Friends "On The Run"

Even in Tragedy, We Have Friends “On The Run”

How To Describe Something Indescribable

Today I should be telling you how amazing the Boston Marathon is:  it’s history over the 117 years, some of the past winners I’ve been lucky enough to meet, and how great it was to watch the last few minutes of the race.  I should be telling you that I ran in 2009 and the feeling of joy racing down Boylston Street to the finish and setting my personal record on a historic course, making me feel like I belonged to the sport I enjoy and am somewhat successful. I should be telling you how proud we should be of our American Runners,  placing 4th and 6th place in BOTH the Men’s and Women’s Elites.

Kris Lawrence Making Strides "On The Run"

Kris Lawrence Making Strides “On The Run”

I should be telling you about how locally Kris Lawrence and Gina Slaby were so good on Patriot’s day that they finished in the Women’s Top 50, each running in the Two hour and Forty Something marks.  I should be telling you how envious I and thrilled we should be.  I should be telling you that Kris set her personal record yesterday and that we should be looking for more great things to come from these Ladies.

I should be saying how very exciting it is to run the Boston Marathon and giving “shout outs” to our local Running friends.  I should but, that all changed around 3pm yesterday.  I was handling some paperwork and my Mother calls.  “Are You Watching TV- it’s the Boston Marathon.  There was an explosion!”

Watching video after video had me thinking about all my running friends competing that day.  I watched video of the first blast showed Runners disoriented, even falling to the ground.  I saw someone pushing a stroller, like those used by several of the Fundraiser Charities racing to the side of the road for safety.  I looked the the time on the clock: Four Hours and Nine Minutes.  That’s one of the heavy traffic times through the finish for the Marathon.  From a numbers standpoint, more people are trying to break three and four hours than any other time.  I should be seeing Charity Fundraiser Runners at the finish.

My mind started to think about those who were there. I should have been writing about  John Adams, from Norfolk had run 3:10:45, even one of my friends, Thomas Hicks had run 3:14:03.  There was Brenda Kalin,  crossed the finish line Five minutes before the explosion.  First time Boston Marathoner, Trish Jones of Virginia Beach finished in 3:53:08, while her fiance’,  Bill Murray watched like others near the finish.  Our good friend, Sam Wittenberg and Jim Duffy had just finished a few minutes prior prior.  Virginia Beach resident, Lacey Baliet crossed the line in 4:09:34 .  As Chris Rupe was reveling in having finished his first Boston Marathon in 4:09, a loud blast roared behind him thirty seconds later.  He rushed toward the blast but EMTs directed him away to the medical tents.

Trish Jones at her First Boston Marathon

Trish Jones at the Boston Marathon

Over 9,000 Runners did not finish.  Susan Hagel, the Tidewater Striders Female 2012 Champion and John Price were 3/4 of a mile away, along with famed Boston Marathon Champ and writer for Runners World Magazine, Amby Burfoot.  I remembered David Mick and Dennis Welch, running with Michael Davis from Team Hoyt, all unable to finish amidst the chaos.  As Runners , we train to keep going.  Monday, the finish line had become a crime scene.  I should be writing about how inspirational all these runners are regardless of where they finish.  I should

Instead, I’m writing about how Runners turned to heroes.  After hearing of the tragedy, Runners went to the Red Cross to offer blood to help.  I’m writing about fans who lined the streets to cheer on their champions, immediately realized the troubles and didn’t run away but, stayed to help those so badly hurt.  Three people, including an eight year old who came to cheer his Dad, paid the ultimate price, while a hundred and forty others  were injured.  Cowardly as it is, no new information is available yet and the healing process will take some time but, yesterday’s race proved that in a celebration of personal achievement, our innocence was lost.   Hopefully, we catch those responsible.   I wish for us all some closure.

Leah Nyfeler, an accomplished writer wrote: “And before we put this beast on trial for punishment, I’d like to see the perpetrator have to run the marathon course so that all can witness what kind of person does this. No hiding behind a backpack, no distance between perpetrator and victim, no intellectual justification. Just 26.2 miles and seeing exactly what a person is made of”.

In the meantime, don’t quit.  Don’t stop Running or planning to run an event.  If  they were looking to test our perseverance, they shouldn’t have chosen Marathoners.  We are millions strong and unified…”On The Run”.


Look for my new Running Blog on soon.  As always, I appreciate the feedback.  See you soon!

Still On The Run!

Still On The Run!

On the Run with Jon “Flex” Leiding,  Sportswrap Running Reporter.


Spring Right In- We’re On The Run Again!

April 10th, 2013 at 4:01 pm by under Sports, Uncategorized

On the Run,  Featuring The Latest Running News and Notes in the “757″ from Sportswrap Running reporter, Jon “Flex” Leiding

We're On the Run Again!

We’re On the Run Again!

Can’t Stop Now- We’ve Got News

A technical glitch had us away last week, so let’s give up some “luv” for those of you who hit the road last week, like the Autism Awareness 5K at Mt Trashmore.   Virginia Beach’s David Kidd was the Overall Champion in 16:24, while Lizzy Vanderbilt blazed the 3.1 mile course in 20:25.

At the Queens Lake 5K, good friend of the Blog, Todd Kessler,  from Newport News, won in17:17.  The real story on the Peninsula has been Mercedes Castillo-D’Amico.  The 55 year young, Newport News Resident, captured thhe Ladies title and set an Age Group Course Record with a swift20:29. Wow!

Can’t Forget My Suffolk Friends-  The Suffolk YMCA Run was fun for all who got out on the 5.66K run.  Also in Suffolk, the Bon Secours Colon Health 5K went to good friend of the Blog, Steve Speirs with a solid 17:28.  There is no stopping him these days… Chesapeake’s Emily Rivet was the Fastest female with a 22:10.  Races are all over the “757!”

A Duathlon combines two activities, this time Biking and Running.  The Va. Duathlon in Surry had plenty of Hampton Roads best, including Virginia Beach’s William Byland, a Top Three Finisher and Chesapeake’s Rachel Jastrebsky, the Winner of the Womens division.  Gotta give the “shout outs” to Courtney Ann Pollman of Virginia Beach, along with Lisa Armistead, who both rocked the 5K run along with the 23 mile Bike Ride.  Well Done, Ladies!

Time to Get Busy This Weekend!

Last week may have been a bit light but, what a weekend it will be!  Take your pick-  all over Hampton Roads, you can find races almost everywhere.     Saturday, the  Monarch Kids Run features a 5K and One Mile in Norfolk.In Newport News, the Earth Day 5K Races away from Newport News City Center, then go to the Southside.

The Dismal Swamp Half Marathon has become a tradition.  Love this race!  Ann Hupp always puts on a good event.  Sadly, work will keep me away this time but, I hear there are a few spots available.  Check out to get registered.

If you crave more, take a trip to the Outer Banks and you’ll find plenty of Fun with the Flyin’ Pirate Half Marathon.  My good friends, Angelo Celesia and the legend, Dr. Mel Williams will be there.  Be on the lookout for them!

No, we’re not done yet!  Up the road, the Ukrops Monument 10K is always a Big race in Richmond.  Good Luck to all of you taking the trip!

Then, Monday…..   BOSTON!

It All Starts Here!

It All Starts Here!

Many of you will are taking the trip to be part of the “Massachusetts Madness”.  This is one race that you have to have a qualifying time.

From Hopkinton, all the way to Boylston Street, over 26,000 Runners will challenge the famed Heartbreak Hill, while experiencing the worl’d oldest Marthon. There are so many stories, charities, and great people, just “amped up” to get to the starting line.  Having run the event in 2009, I send “best of luck” wishes to all of you going.

Race Director, Dave McGilivray, who is also holds the same duties for the Williamsburg Run For the Dream Half Marathon weekend,  has run the marathon each year since  1973. For 16 years he ran it with all the other runners and since he began working with the race in 1988 he has run  the course afterwards.

Two Years Ago,  I caught up with him and we cghatted a while.  Here’s a look back to give you some of the flavor that is the  Boston Marathon:    Click on this link>>>   On The Run With Boston Marathon Race Director, Dave McGillivray    <<<Click on this link

If I look a bit exhausted, I had just finished the Half Marathon about ten minutes prior. Thanks for checking out the interview!

Here’s to Fast Times a Good Breeze to take you to the Finish!

Boston M Finish

Also on the Horizon, the Peninsula Track Club will be holding a 24 Hour Run at Sandy Bottom Park in two weeks.   That should be a real challenge.  We’ll try to keep you informed.   We always appreciate the Feedback.  If you have a story idea or just want to drop us a line, please do!

That’s All for this week.  Maybe we’ll catch you soon… “On The Run!”

On the Run With Sportswrap Running Reporter, Jon “Flex” Leiding on


Was Jeff Jones Best Hire for ODU?

April 4th, 2013 at 9:42 pm by under Personalities, Sports, Uncategorized

Social media, (, Facebook, and comments from nameless readers at the end of articles on newspaper web pages) is the new water cooler gossip zone, reminded my colleague and Old Dominion graduate Jeff Myers today. Jeff is a season ticket holder for both ODU football and basketball, and like thousands of others, had an opinion of the hiring of new basketball coach Jeff Jones.

In less than 24 hours, anonymous pundits typed their fingers raw, calling for the firing of Old Dominion athletic director Dr. Wood Selig after word leaked out Selig had hired Jeff Jones away from American University in Washington, D.C. to replace longtime coach Blaine Taylor who was fired in the midst of Old Dominion’s most miserable season in school history.

Looking back, I must admit I think Dr. Selig made his first mistake by being honest and saying he was looking for a hard working, maybe young coach, who would work hard, knows the area and would bring excitement back to the Ted Constant Center.

So much for honesty. Like other AD’s, Dr. Selig should have just clammed up and said he was looking for the best coach possible. But that is not his style.

His second mistake (and this is only my personal opinion) came when he publicly proclaimed in late February that interim coach Jim Corrigan was not only in the running for the job, but that “another candidate had to come in and beat him.” A great slap on the back for a job well done under difficult circumstances, but nothing I ever believed to be true. Although I am sure Dr. Selig will disagree.

I wonder how ecstatic Monarchs fans would have been if Selig had hired the loyal 54-year old Corrigan who had spent 19 years as an ODU assistant, but had only won three games as a head coach? Not a very sexy hire.

Virginian Pilot reporter Ed Miller, one of the best, and who’s primary beat is ODU basketball, reported the finalists to replace Taylor were down to a handful. Dennis Felton, who left Western Kentucky to move onto Georgia where he was fired in 2009. Kevin Keatts, a promising assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville, who’s previous job was as a Prep School coach at Hargrave Military Academy. And 56-year old Steve Robinson, Roy Williams’ top assistant at North Carolina, who was fired as head coach at Florida State after five years. Felton has been out of the business for four years, and although Robinson is considered one of the top assistant coaches in basketball he did not fare well in his only shot at being a head coach.

Keatts seems to have the most upside, but there is no guarantee he would be the next Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart or Danny Hurley (my guess to be the next coach at Rutgers, if they can get him).

So who would have drawn cheers had they been introduced today instead of Coach Jones? Alabama’s Anthony Grant would be nice, but his $1.8 million price tag is a little out of ODU’s reach. Seton Hall took a chance with Tommy Amaker, a then young Duke assistant, who left Seton Hall after three short years for a better job at Michigan where he was fired and replaced by Richmond’s John Beilein. Amaker is at Harvard now, where he turned down a $1.1 million a year offer from Miami last year.

Of course, it would have made national news today had Florida Gulf Coast’s Andy Enfield donned a Blue and White Monarchs cap. Dr. Selig had the darling of this year’s NCAA tournament secretly on his radar before March Madness began and had already interviewed Enfield before his team’s unbelievable run in the NCAA tournament two weeks ago. Selig was so interested in Enfield he had a private plane ready to fly down to Ft. Myers to bring Enfield and his wife to Norfolk for a final talk and maybe a final offer. The plane was sent back into the hanger when Enfield instead flew to Los Angeles where he landed a six-year $6 million dollar deal to become the new coach at USC.

But let’s be honest. Let’s say FGC (where is it, again?) had not beaten San Diego St. and Georgetown two weeks ago. Let’s say Enfield had agreed to come to Old Dominion. How many Monarchs fans had him in their coaches search bracket? What would the reaction have been when word leaked out that ODU’s new coach was a former businessman with two years of coaching experience at the school nobody had ever heard of.

“Fire Wood Selig” would have been the rant of the day.

So with Enfield in LA, and all the other finalists with their fair share of question marks, Selig may have taken the safe way out. ESPN college basketball guru Fran Fraschilla, the former coach at St. Johns and New Mexico convinced Dr. Selig that Jeff Jones was the perfect man for the job. A hard worker, a great strategist, well connected in the world of AAU basketball (maybe the most important complement). A coach who can calmly make the kind of adjustments on the fly which is worth two or three wins a year. That can be the difference between making the postseason and being a bubble team bust.

ESPN host Tony Kornheiser pointed out today that Jones’ record at AU was the best in the school’s history and even more impressive considering the private school in the Patriot league with tough academic standards is no Duke. NBA reporter David Aldridge said this morning Jones had taken American U to the NCAA tournament twice, something none of its previous coaches including Gary Williams (Ohio St. and Maryland), Jim Lynam (St. Joseph’s), or Tom Davis (Iowa) was able to do during their coaching stints there.

Aldridge said what impressed him the most, was that Jones stayed at AU for 13 years and did not use it as a stepping stone for a better job. Aldridge said Jones respected the people and fans at American University and appreciated their love of basketball, that he gave the fans there the excitement of having a winning and championship team. When AU beat Colgate in 2008 and made the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, Jones sat on the bench after the game with a towel over his head and sobbed with joy over what his team had accomplished and what it meant to the fans. He brought respectability and a winning attitude to the program, and the AU fans will forever be grateful for that.

It may not be sexy—but it appeared to be sincere.

Boo Williams, one of the most successful AAU coaches in the nation, who lives in nearby Hampton, told David Teel of the Daily Press today, “They (ODU) needed to get somebody who knows the 757 and North Carolina. Jeff knows the area. I think it’s a good hire.”

But in the age of the web, where every game is on TV, and a totally obscure coach with a hot wife can get a million dollar a year raise by winning two games, fans want flash. You know, Mark Schmidt at St. Bonaventure, Scott Nagy at South Dakota State, Chris Mack at Xavier, Baylor’s Scott Drew. Had Dr. Selig been able to steal away any one of these household names how excited would Monarch fans be tonight?

I pointed out to Dr. Selig today, something he already knew of course, that some ODU fans were disappointed and were wishing for a “sexier” hire.

His response…

“I can understand that but my number one goal is to put ODU basketball in a position to win championships, because I believe championships are sexy. So if ODU is going to win Conference USA championships, if ODU is going to go to the NCAA and compete and make noise in the NCAA Tournament, the position I believed was best suited to put us in a position to accomplish that was Jeff Jones.”

And considering the options, I tend to agree.