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USC’s Martin Says He’s Still Got His Team’s Back

gfx - they said itFrank Martin is a quote machine.  In fact, we should probably create a new icon that simply says “Frank Said It.”  Couple his loquaciousness with a miserable year on the hardwood — South Carolina is 12-13 overall, but 2-10 in SEC play — and you’re sure to get quotation gold.  Like these dandies Martin tossed out after his Gamecocks’ home loss to LSU last Thursday:

 

1.  “If you take (point guard) Bruce Ellington off our team, you’d probably have the 12 leading candidates for the starring roles in ‘The Return of the Living Dead,’ the zombie movie.”

2.  “I’ve been doing this for 28 years, nine of which as a junior varsity high school coach. That means I’ve dealt with 14-year-olds. I’ve never been more embarrassed to call myself a basketball coach than I am today.”

3.  “We lead the country in air-ball layups. If guys can’t make layups, it’s hard to win. You’ve got to invest yourself to be good. In life, you get what you deserve. If you don’t put in the time, that ball ain’t going to go in the basket. We’ve got guys that don’t comprehend that. They put in the time when I make them put in the time. They don’t put in the time for the love of the game. Until that doesn’t change, it ain’t going to get any better.”

4.  “If this was the NBA, we’d fine them, we’d take their money, we’d release them and say, ‘Good luck with ever finding another job.’ I shouldn’t coach basketball ever again if this is how my team plays.”

 

Yowza.  Those are the kinds of comments a coach can make in Year One because fans want to know that that the guy with the clipboard shares their pain.  After the honeymoon ends, however, those kinds of comments typically leave fans asking, “Well, why don’t you fix it?”

As for the comments themselves, don’t try to tell Martin that he was placing blame on his team.  Yesterday, he said that the above quotes dealt with the culture of his program, not his players:

 

“If you know anything about me, for 28 years I have never thrown my players under the bus.  I threw the culture under the bus.  I threw our approach under the bus. Don’t ever say I threw my players under the bus.

If you know anything about me that has never happened in 28 years. It didn’t happen yesterday; it ain’t happened today.  The day they kick me out of here and out of this business I still won’t do it. Now, our culture, our approach is no good.  That has to change.  But I am not throwing players under the bus.  I fight for my guys.  I don’t kick them.”

 

Our take?  He threw both USC’s culture and his players under the bus.  Though there’s nothing wrong with an occasional bus-throwing-undering if an entire team — and not just an individual or two — gets tossed onto the pavement.  Martin isn’t the first coach to rip his team in a moment of frustration.  Heck, John Calipari said on Saturday that some of his players are “uncoachable.”  It happens, even with some of the biggest “players’ coaches” out there.

But, “We’d release them and say, ‘Good luck with ever finding another job,’” is indeed a rip job of Martin’s players.  There’s no way to spin that one.

In his first season, trying to light a fire under his teams, we don’t see anything wrong with Martin’s tongue-lashing.  Again, it was aimed at the whole and not an individual.  But he’d better be careful with these kinds of remarks moving forward.  It doesn’t take long for fans to start blaming coaches for the underperforming athletes on their roster.

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Starters Banged Up; Freeze Worried At Ole Miss

Having served as an aide to Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze knew the UM football program.  Born in Oxford, he knew the big picture challenges faced by the Rebels, too.

Well here’s hoping Freeze knew what kind of a major mess he was walking into in Year One when he accepted the Ole Miss gig last winter.

The Rebels are near the bottom of the pack in the SEC when it comes to veteran talent.  Roster depth is an issue at almost every position.  (Grades were an issue, too, until Freeze got things straightened out on that front.)  But now that fall camp has begun, UM is seeing valuable starters go down with injuries and there just aren’t many bodies behind them that are ready to move up to take their places.

Yesterday, Ole Miss had four starters leave practice while another was considered to be in the “walking wounded” category.  If he didn’t know before taking the job, Freeze is certainly aware of how paper thin his roster is right now:

 

“It keeps me up at night.  I hate injuries.  But we’re at a state in our program where we better learn to compete.  I don’t know how to do it.  We don’t take them to the ground too much, but we do have a lot of physical play right now.  We got to get that.  We just got to pray we can get everybody healthy by gametime.”

 

If Freeze errs on the side of safety, it could burn the Rebels come gametime.  After all, two seasons ago Georgia’s Mark Richt decided to ease up in preseason camp in order to avoid injuries… only to come back at the end of a seven-loss season and say his team hadn’t been toughened up enough.

On the flipside, if Freeze continues to instill physicality in his squad, he may well be left with a depth chart resembling swiss cheese.

Freeze might be walking into the toughest SEC job since Derek Dooley took over a Tennessee program decimated by two coaching changes in two years.  Hopefully UM fans will be patient in 2012, but beyond that it’s doubtful.

Sure he’s making good money, but if you were going to change jobs with any SEC football coach, I’m pretty sure Freeze would not be your man.

 

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Dooley Says Staff Exodus At UT Was “A Good Correction For Me”

When a head coach loses seven of his nine assistants in one offseason — an offseason heading into what many view as a make-or-break season, for the matter — it’s hard to put a good spin on the turnover.  But that’s what Derek Dooley has been faced with at Tennessee since last November.  And with each coach who’s left for a lateral job elsewhere the mass exodus has been viewed more and more as a case of rats scurrying to find an exit from a sinking ship.

But don’t tell that to the Vols’ third-year coach:

 

“Is it normal to have seven coaches transition in a year?  No, it’s very rare for something like that to happen.  But I kind of view it as sort of a correction.  When you start a company, when you start anything, you always have that little initial correction to kind of fix all the things maybe you didn’t get right in the beginning.

I think it was a good correction for me, and I think it’s going to be for the team…

I think some left because the fit wasn’t right.  I think some left because they maybe allowed the fear… the fear made the wolf a little bigger than it was. I think some left just because professionally they thought it would be a good growth situation.

Each coach was unique in why they left, and it’s part of the profession.”

 

Uh, sort of.

Yes, coaches move.  But not in droves as they did from Knoxville over the past few months (as Dooley freely admitted).  Part of the problem for Dooley’s staffing issues might have resulted from a miscalculation — or a signal sent — on the part of his boss, new AD Dave Hart.

Several of Dooley’s ex-aides were looking for some type of contract extension this past offseason to insure that they wouldn’t be left without a seat in the coaching game should things go poorly for UT this fall.  But Hart wasn’t interested in giving extensions to coaches who had led the Vols to an 11-14 record in two years and who had just blown a 26-game winning streak over Kentucky.

Several of the ex-coaches realized it was better to make a lateral move for a two-year deal than to stay in place on a “you-could-be-done-at-year’s-end” type of pact.  Heck, that’s just smart business.  The bad part for UT, however, was that the school found in order to hire new assistants — many from smaller schools like UCF, The Citadel, and MTSU — Hart and Tennessee wound up having to offer multi-year contracts anyway.

Whether this was a miscalculation on Hart’s part or a message to Dooley that he’d better put things together quickly is anyone’s guess.  In fact, a bit of both could be true.  But the bottom line is this: Dooley’s heading into a key season with seven new assistants and he’s implementing a new 3-4 defense as well… a move that usually works better in Year Two than in Year One of such transitions.

At this point, Dooley’s not willing to compare his last staff to his current one.  He told The Chattanooga Times Free Press that “it’s a little premature” for that kind of call.  He did say, however, that he believes “this group has a real good understanding of Tennessee, the SEC and what it takes to be successful in this league.”

For his sake, he’d better hope so.

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Bama-To-UT Transfer Sentimore Thinks Sunseri Will Lead Vols To A Title

Defensive end Darrington Sentimore played for two seasons at Alabama.  He’s familiar with Sal Sunseri’s work as an assistant.  Now that the two have reunited at Tennessee — with Sentimore transferring in and Sunseri taking the reins of defensive coordinator — the player believes the coach will lead UT to new heights with his Nick Saban-style 3-4 defense:


“It’s not a lot different.  It’s pretty much the same stuff.  Coach Sal is a lot harder than he was at Alabama, though.

I know a lot of guys are going to be able to make plays in the 3-4.  In this type of defense Coach Sal is running, he disciplines his guys well.  I know we’re going to win a championship over here with him as our defensive coordinator.”


The trick for Sunseri and Tennessee is two-fold:


1.  Derek Dooley is on a hot seat and this could be his final roundup in Knoxville if the team doesn’t win eight or more games.

2.  Teams switching from 4-3 to 3-4 defenses usually make bigger progress in the second year of the system thanks to a year of experience in the system and a year of recruiting players specifically for said system.


Saban had more success in Year Two than in Year One at Alabama.  Georgia defensive coordinator had more success in Year Two than in Year One in Athens.

So the question is: If Tennessee doesn’t have enough success in Year One of the 3-4 under Sunseri, will he and Dooley even be around for a Year Two?

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Pearl Continues To Overshadow Martin In Knoxville

It appears the former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl is still The Man in Knoxville.  Part of that is understandable.  His six-year run at UT was the school’s best-ever period in terms of NCAA Tournament appearances and success.  Thompson-Boling Arena went from being a tomb to one of the best gyms in the country.  And the Vols became a national brand, even reaching the top of the polls for a brief stay.

On the other hand, his rule violations brought the NCAA to town and his lie to NCAA investigators brought the program crashing back to earth.  But even after his ouster in March, he remains a popular figure with many Vols fans and a good chunk of the Tennessee media.

How else do you explain the photo at left?

Last night, Pearl took in the final game of Knoxville’s summer Rocky Top league.  When he departed, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that he left the high school gym “to applause and cheers of ‘Bruuuuce!’”

The Sentinel’s website features a photo of Pearl — and the “Bruuuuce!” quote — on its front page today.  That’s the image at left.

“Tonight was about me coming out to see my son play and supporting the guys we recruited to Tennessee who have played hard for the Vols,” Pearl said of his appearance.  “These guys are well-seasoned now, and they’re ready to play.”

Nothing wrong with a man watching his son play.  Nothing wrong with a man showing support for players he once recruited and coached, either.

But it still might not sit right with new Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin.  While Martin would likely never admit it, having a popular ex-coach still walking around town — getting cheered — probably won’t make his own life any easier.  Especially if his team struggles in Year One… which is likely due to the roster he inherited.

Pearl built Tennessee basketball to the point that many fans simply don’t care that he also had a big hand in its likely decline.  That’s some loyalty to the coach right there, folks.  So why would he leave an area where he is cheered, where his wife comes from, and where his kids go to school?  (And — as some in the Knoxville media would tell you — “where he would like to coach again someday?”)

If Pearl wants to stay, that’s certainly his right.  But he’s not doing his replacement any favors by doing so.

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Dooley: “We’re Not Good Enough Anywhere Right Now”

Never let it be said that Derek Dooley doesn’t say what he’s thinking.  Whether it’s comparing his team to the Germans at Normandy or expressing his feelings about his roster, Tennessee’s coach speaks his mind.

“We’re not good enough anywhere right now,” Dooley said of his team yesterday.  “When you say compete for an SEC championship, which is what we need to be doing here in this program, it’s hard to say there’s one position that is ready to compete for an SEC championship.  It’s everything — there is no one area.

“We’re improved, but there’s a long way to go.  There are some areas where we feel like we’ve got enough players to continue to develop, and there are other areas where we’re going to need some help.”

Dooley has referred to this season — his second — as Year One and last season as Year Zero.  Depth was an issue in 2010.  And while the depth should be a little better in 2011, the roster is now almost void of experience.  Example: Nine of Tennessee’s 11 starters on offense are expected to be underclassmen.

In other words, there’s still a lot of room for growth in Knoxville.

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