Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oklahoma Sooners Football: Is Bob Stoops Underrated?

By Billy Ray

May 16, 2011

Since Bob Stoops arrival at the University of Oklahoma in 1999, most Sooner fans have tried to put the memory of the lost decade of the 1990's behind them.

When Coach Stoops took over at Oklahoma, the Sooner Schooner was mired in the muck created by having three different coaching staffs in Norman over the previous five seasons, which had led to three straight losing campaigns.

Stoops turned the once-powerful program around so quickly that the the Dark Ages between legendary coach Barry Switzer and Stoops tenure have now been all but forgotten.

Maybe forgetting that era is why many so-called experts don't give Stoops the credit he deserves for what he did in reviving the most prestigious program of the modern era.

Contrasting the teams that donned the Crimson and Cream in the 1990's against Stoops Troops is like comparing the government of the 70's to the Reagan era.

The former was a period of incompetence, bumbling futility, and loss of prestige, while the latter was an era of pride, purpose, and restored dominance.

After becoming accustomed to big victories, championships and national respect, OU fans watched as their program slowly sank into mediocrity and worse after Barry Switzer was forced out after the 1988 season.

Defensive Coordinator Gary Gibbs was named as Switzers' replacement for the 1989 season, but the former Oklahoma linebacker never produced the kind of success that the Sooner faithful had become accustomed to while his predecessor was in charge.

Though he managed to clean up the program and his record never included a losing season despite being hobbled by stiff NCAA sanctions, his inability to defeat foes Nebraska, Colorado and Red River Rival Texas contributed heavily to his downfall, as his teams finished a combined 2-15-1 against his toughest opponents.

Gibbs was forced out in 1994 after six largely disappointing seasons with an overall record of 44-23-2 and a somewhat misleading .637 winning percentage.

However, things had not yet hit rock bottom for the OU program.

The Sooner faithful quickly realized the grass is not always greener when they made the mistake of hiring one-and-done coach Howard Schnellenberger for the 1995 season.

Though Schnellenberger boasted a solid reputation as the man who had built the Miami Hurricane program, his one year reign of terror was a fiasco. After starting the season at 4-1 and climbing into the top 10 in the polls, his Sooner squad limped to a 1-4-1 finish and failed to make a bowl game.

His unpopularity with fans and players was coupled with a rumored drinking problem, and both sides were happy to end this brief but disastrous union after a season-ending 37-0 beat-down by top-ranked Nebraska.

Oklahoma State fans, elated over their own Cowboys shut-out victory over big brother in Norman, produced a 12-0 bumper sticker to immortalize the victory over a Sooner team that was in disarray by the time Schnellenberger left town.

Surely things could not get worse reasoned Sooner fans... or could it?

When former player John Blake took the reins on the Sooner Schooner from 1996 till 1998, the Sooners' hit rock bottom.

Although Blakes' ability to convince quality players to go to Norman is indisputable, he became a cautionary tale of a head coach-without-a-clue by not knowing what to do with them on the field.

The first red flag that Blake was in over his head came early. In only his second game, he scrapped the new pro-style offense that had been painstakingly installed over the previous off-season and decided to re-instate the wishbone offense.

Blake started his career 0-4, despite playing three games in Memorial Stadium.

His squad did tap into some long-lost Sooner Magic, beating the hated Longhorns in overtime in the his fifth game, but the momentum was short-lived. In fact, the following week's victory over Baylor was one of only three times his team managed to win consecutive games during his three years of futility.

Blake was forced out at the end of a 5-6 season in 1998 with an embarrassing 12-20 record.

The Sooners' 10-year record during this decade of decay was a dismal mark of 61-50-2. While an average record of 6-5 may be good enough at some programs, it was a slow death for OU fans.

Since 1950 and the beginning of the modern era for the college game (which coincidentally was the beginning of Oklahoma's rise to preeminence), only the 1960's record of 62-40-2 can even come close to the dubious distinction of rivaling this era of ineptitude.

Contrast this with the first 10 years of the Stoops era at Oklahoma. From 1999-2008, the Sooner Schooner rolled with Big-Game Bob at the reigns, boasting a sterling record of 109-24.

His teams played in seven Big 12 championships and won six . He also brought home the programs seventh national championship while playing for three others. Stoops' Troops averaged 11.2 victories against only 2.4 defeats.

His teams have lost back-to-back games only twice on his watch. In his first season, the Sooners lost consecutively to Notre Dame in South Bend and to Texas in Dallas. In 2003, they lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game, and then to LSU in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship.

That's it as far as losing streaks go in the Stoops era. In 12 seasons, Sooner fans have had to suffer through only two such streaks, and combined they total a mere four games.

Stoops squads have the distinction of being the only Big 12 team to win consecutive conference championships. In fact, they won three in a row from 2006-2008, as well as the final conference championship game in 2010, giving him a mark of 7-1 in the now-defunct title game.

The Sooners are also the only college team to appear in every BCS game, having played in the Fiesta three times, the Orange twice, and both the Rose, Sugar and BCS Championship Game once each.

Add in his Cotton Bowl victory and his squad has played in the six toughest post-season games that the FBS has to offer.

Stoops detractors point to his 1-3 record in the national title game and his 6-6 bowl record as their main evidence that he's overrated, but that involves a kind of circular logic that can give his supporters vertigo.

Ask yourself this: How many big games must be won during a season to be in position to play for the highest stakes?

Of his bowl game losses, only the 2004 blowout to USC in the Orange Bowl and the 2007 Fiesta Bowl loss to West Virginia can be called big-game flops.

However, USC is acknowledged as the all-time best team money could buy (don't worry Auburn fans, we'll update the list as events unfold).

In 2007, OU was down five starters when they lost to a WVU team that started the season ranked in the top three and was itself only kept from the national title game by a late-season upset by their rivals from Pittsburgh.

Of the Sooners other bowl losses, they lost to national champions in LSU in Louisiana and Florida in Florida by a combined 17 points, with both games decided in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

The 2006 Fiesta Bowl loss came against a Boise State team that used every trick play in the book to win in overtime and finished the year as the only undefeated team in the country. Considered by many to be a monumental upset at the time, the Broncos have since proven themselves to be among the elite programs in the country.

Oklahoma's bowl victories have come against teams like Stanford, Oregon, Florida State and Arkansas.

After 12 seasons under Bob Stoops, the average Sooner record is 10.75 wins, 2.58 losses and an average score of 37-18 in OU's favor.

Not too shabby, for those of you paying attention.

Like Reagan, Stoops often doesn't receive the respect he's due for all of his accomplishments.

While Coach Stoops may not have won the cold war and restored the greatness of a country like Reagan did, Stoops has defeated the Sooners' major rivals on the field, and once again has the program at the forefront of the football world.

While Stoops, as of yet, is not included in the discussion of the all-time greatest football coaches like former Sooner bosses Switzer and Bud Wilkinson, another national title on his resume and the debate will heat up.

Think of this, all you fans of the Team in Crimson and Cream: The Sooners will likely open the season ranked at the top of most of the major polls.

In Stoops' tenure, Oklahoma has played for the national championship once out of every three seasons.

Their last appearance was in 2008.

You do the math.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The biggest winner, hands down: Ron Prince

Embarrassing scandals over at Kansas, Kansas St

By Doug Tucker, AP Sports Writer

May 13, 2011

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Within days of one another, two unrelated and very expensive scandals have finally wound down at Kansas State and Kansas.

The embarrassing episodes made headlines around the nation. They cost the state's two biggest universities hard-won prestige, some important friends and millions of dollars.

Officials at both schools say valuable lessons have not only been learned, but taken to heart.

Individually, the biggest losers are five former Kansas staff members who are headed for prison. But other victims include two highly accomplished executives who are settling into retirement with tarnished reputations.

The biggest winner, hands down, was Ron Prince.

Last week, Kansas State agreed to a settlement with its former head football coach, agreeing to pay him $1.65 million. It absolves Prince of any wrongdoing in a dispute over a memorandum of agreement that Kansas State had contended was signed without the knowledge of then-president Jon Wefald.

After Prince was fired at the end of the 2008 season, the school said it discovered the agreement signed by Prince and then-athletic director Robert Krause. Under that pact, Prince was supposedly owed $3.2 million by Kansas State and the Intercollegiate Athletic Council in addition to a severance payment of about $1.3 million.

Under terms of the original agreement, he was not to receive any portion of the money for almost five more years, and the full amount would not have been paid until the end of 2020.

The settlement left many unanswered questions, including why the Wildcats after two years suddenly dropped the fight.

"I don't want to get into any of those things," said athletic director John Currie.

The Prince matter was the icing on the cake of an embarrassing audit done by an outside firm in connection with Wefald's retirement after more than 20 years as Kansas State president. The audit called attention to many questionable accounting procedures and sent Wefald out the door under a cloud of controversy.

Many of Kansas State's biggest donors angrily said they would write no more checks.

Wefald's successor, Kirk Schulz, insisted on a policy of near-total transparency. When Currie was introduced at a news conference two years ago, copies of his contract lay on a table in the back of the room.

And it was this transparency, Currie said, that brought the people back.

"The first year of fundraising, we had a $5 million increase that first year in annual gifts," he said. "It was critical in our beginning to rebuild the trust in our fan base. If we're going to ask people to invest in our program, they need to know exactly where the dollars they invest will go."

In the meantime, five former Kansas athletic department officials are going to prison for their part in a ticket scalping scandal. Counting legal bills, the affair has cost the Jayhawks more than $2 million.

Ben Kirtland, the highest-ranking official snared in the affair, was sentenced on Thursday to almost five years in prison. He was the last to be sentenced in the case and U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom told The Associated Press it was time for Kansas "to move on."

The Jayhawks can't move on fast enough.

"Today marks the close of a painful chapter in the history of Kansas Athletics and the University of Kansas as the last of the conspirators in the recent ticket theft case was sentenced," Kansas president Bernadette Gray-Little and athletic director Sheahan Zenger told thousands of donors in an e-mail.

Just minutes after Kirtland was sentenced, Gray-Little and Zenger assured donors that steps had been taken to make sure nothing like this ever happens to Kansas again.

"We want to thank all of you who stood with the university during this difficult period, as well as those of you who made your concerns and disappointment known," they said.

As the scandal grew, athletic director Lew Perkins retired a year early. Like Wefald, his distinguished career was diminished in some eyes just as it was coming to an end. Investigators said he had no part in the scam. But critics will always say his failure of oversight let the school down.

Like Kansas State, Kansas has installed new policies and new procedures, all designed to make sure no such thing ever happens again.

The Jayhawks have also offered to advise other universities on what happened, and why. They are taking a proactive role in offering to share their experience, and the lessons they've learned, with other universities in hopes of preventing a similar theft.

"That's the silver lining you always look for," said associate athletic director Jim Marchiony.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ron Prince happy with settlement

May 10, 2011

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Former Kansas State football coach Ron Prince says he is satisfied with a settlement reached with the school that calls for him to receive $1.65 million.

Announced on Friday, the settlement also absolves Prince of any wrongdoing in a dispute over a memorandum of agreement that Kansas State had contended was signed without the knowledge of then-president Jon Wefald.

After Prince was fired at the end of the 2008 season, the school said it accidentally discovered the agreement signed by Prince and then-athletic director Robert Krause. Under that pact, Prince was supposedly owed $3.2 million by Kansas State and the Intercollegiate Athletic Council in addition to a severance payment of about $1.3 million.

Under terms of the original agreement, he was not to receive any portion of the money for almost five more years, and the full amount would not have been paid until the end of 2020.

Neil Cornrich, Prince's agent, said the settlement -- at its present value of $1.65 million -- "essentially represents an agreement by KSU and IAC to pay Coach Prince almost the entire $3.2 million termination payment. Coach Prince will receive these funds upfront and almost nine years earlier than they were originally due, providing a significant financial advantage over the deferred payments."

Monday, May 09, 2011

Kansas State to pay ex-coach Ron Prince $1.65 million in settlement

Ron Prince was hired at K-State in 2005 and coached the Wildcats for three seasons, going 17-20 during his tenure. He was fired in 2008 with three games remaining in the season.


May 9, 2011

MANHATTAN — Kansas State has reached a settlement in its lawsuit against Ron Prince that will pay the former football coach $1.65 million, a lump sum Prince’s lawyers and agent say is better than what he was previously owed.

The settlement ends a two-year process in which K-State attempted to bar Prince from receiving deferred payments of $3.2 million from a “secret agreement” between Prince and former athletic director Bob Krause in 2008, months before Prince was fired.

Prince also received $1.2 million in buyout money from his regular contract.

“We are happy that the university has recognized its commitment,” said James Neale, a Virginia-based lawyer representing Prince. “We’re pleased with the deal financially, but we’re even more pleased with the fact that Ron Prince has been vindicated.”

Neil Cornrich, Prince’s agent, said in a statement that Prince was “appreciative of KSU’s willingness to structure the settlement in such a favorable manner.” Cornrich contends the settlement is a “significant financial advantage” for Prince compared to the $3.2 million buyout. Those payments were not scheduled to start for almost five years and would not be fully paid until Dec. 31, 2020.

“Discounted to present value, the $1.65 million settlement figure essentially represents an agreement to pay Coach Prince almost the entire $3.2 million termination payment,” Cornrich said. “Coach Prince will receive these funds upfront and almost nine years earlier than they were originally due.”

The $1.65 million must be paid by May 25.

K-State’s athletic department incurred a total of $395,000 in outside legal fees during this process. In a university release, athletics director John Currie said the settlement amount will be paid from conference and NCAA revenue and that no individual donations or ticket revenue will be used.

The department will earmark K-State’s share of the withdrawal fees to be paid by Nebraska and Colorado to the Big 12 Conference toward fulfilling the settlement.

Closing the chapter

“We are glad to close this chapter and focus our energies on building upon the terrific 2010-11 year Kansas State student-athletes have had both on the playing field and in the classroom,” Currie said in a statement.

Both sides were to argue their cases in front of a jury beginning June 13 in Riley County District Court.

“Both sides wanted to put all this behind them,” said Wichita lawyer Craig Shultz, who also represents Prince. “The only way to do that was to settle now.”

The lawsuit began when K-State claimed Krause overstepped his bounds by negotiating a memorandum of understanding with Prince that contained the $3.2 million buyout. Former president Jon Wefald insisted the agreement was made without his knowledge and that Krause did not have the authority to make such a deal without his involvement.

The agreement was inadvertently discovered by K-State in 2009, it said, and the university responded by launching a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the deal.

“From our perspective, the cash payment is fair,” Shultz said, “and as good as getting the full payments listed in the contract over time.”

No wrongdoing

Shultz said a part of the settlement includes a statement by K-State that clears Prince of any wrongdoing.

The statement says: “Neither the University nor K-State Athletics contends or believes that in negotiating his employment agreement or the MOU (memorandum of understanding), Coach Prince engaged in any wrongful or unethical conduct. Discovery has demonstrated that this situation was not of Coach Prince’s making.”

It’s safe to say the case will be remembered for years.

Not only was it a first-of-its-kind dispute, it led to a regime change within the athletic department.

Putting all that behind it could have impacted the settlement on K-State’s end.

“I think it’s a favorable outcome for Prince,” said Michael McCann, a Vermont law professor who also works as a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated. “For the school, there is a benefit to having closure to litigation. I don’t know what the value of that is, because it’s hard to quantify, but this lawsuit has attracted a lot of publicity that the school doesn’t want.

“It will provide closure, whereas if it goes through litigation, regardless of who wins and loses, you still have the possibility of appeals and public statements. You can certainly see why the school wants to settle it and have some closure even if it means paying Prince a substantial amount of money.”

Arguments made during a hearing for summary judgment last fall in Riley County District Court appeared to give Prince the advantage.

“He probably had the stronger argument,” McCann said. “It seemed that the athletic director either had authority (to negotiate a coaching contract) or one could presume he had authority, and in either case Prince would likely win.

“I think Prince had the stronger legal argument heading into the case, but there is still a benefit to Prince for settling. It ends all risk of losing.”

Prince was hired at K-State in 2005 and coached the Wildcats for three seasons, going 17-20 during his tenure. He was fired in 2008 with three games remaining in the season.

Krause, who had already taken a new role at a K-State satellite campus in Olathe, resigned from his position when news of the second buyout with Prince became public. Wefald retired in 2009.

Kirk Schulz took his place as K-State president, and John Currie followed Krause as athletic director. Prince is an assistant offensive line coach for the Indianapolis Colts.

K-State, Prince reach settlement

May 6, 2011

By Austin Meek

After two years of litigation, Kansas State University has settled its lawsuit against former football coach Ron Prince.

Prince will receive a settlement worth $1.65 million, roughly half the value of his $3.2 million buyout agreement.

That so-called secret agreement, discovered by the university in May 2009, sparked a prolonged legal battle between the school and its former coach. Prince, now an assistant with the Indianapolis Colts, is relieved to have closure, one of his attorneys said Friday.

"This case was difficult on him," said attorney Jim Neale, of Charlottesville, Va. "I think he did feel on some level betrayed."

With a June 13 trial date looming, both sides had incentive to settle. Neale said negotiations gained momentum after Riley County District Court Judge David Stutzman denied summary judgment motions from both parties, leaving a settlement as the only alternative.

"Nobody wants to spend a week in court in with lawyers," Neale said. "The prospect of a trial was expensive and stressful. It's the last thing in the world anyone wants to do."

As part of the settlement, K-State released a statement absolving Prince of wrongdoing in the negotiation of his $3.2 million memorandum of understanding.

"Neither the university nor K-State Athletics contends or believes that in negotiation (of) his employment agreement or the MOU, coach Prince engaged in any wrongful or unethical conduct," the statement read. "Discovery has demonstrated that this situation was not of coach Prince's making."

Prince's agent, Neil Cornrich, described the public statement as "an extraordinary step," and Neale said it was a major factor in Prince's decision to settle.

"He's very happy to have K-State make the statement they did about him not doing anything wrong," Neale said. "It's unusual, if not extraordinary, to resolve a civil litigation with a statement like that."

The MOU called for Prince to receive deferred payments of $800,000 in 2015 and 2016 and $1.6 million in 2020. Prince will receive the $1.65 million as a lump sum, a stipulation that made the settlement more attractive.

"Discounted to present value, the $1.65 million settlement figure essentially represents almost the entire $3.2 million termination payment," Cornrich said in a statement. "Coach Prince will receive these funds up front and almost nine years earlier than they were originally due, providing a significant financial advantage over the deferred payments."

K-State athletic director John Currie said the settlement will be paid with Big 12 and NCAA revenue instead of private donations or ticket revenue. K-State has earmarked its share of the conference withdrawal fees to be paid by Nebraska and Colorado to offset the expense.

"We are glad to close this chapter and focus our energies on building upon the terrific 2010-11 year Kansas State student-athletes have had both on the playing field and in the classroom," Currie said in a statement.

Prince received a $1.2 million buyout when he was fired in November 2008. Six months later, the school discovered the $3.2 million addendum, signed by Prince and former athletic director Bob Krause. K-State sued to invalidate the agreement, arguing Krause acted outside his authority in negotiations.

Neale questioned the wisdom of the lawsuit, which was filed before Currie and President Kirk Schulz arrived at K-State.

"I don't understand why they filed suit," Neale said. "It's never been clear to me. I don't know why they didn't just pick up the phone and talk to coach Prince and quietly try to negotiate."

After two years and nearly $400,000 in legal fees, K-State is happy to move forward.

"We are pleased to have this matter resolved," Schulz said. “We appreciate the work that our university counsel has provided during this process and can now maintain focus on moving forward as a university community.”

Lesson Learned

Prince, K-State settle lawsuit for $1.65 million

By John Taylor

May 6, 2011

During the time when the legal dispute between Kansas State and former head coach Ron Prince had become particularly heated back in August of 2009, we wrote that one of these days the school will learn that you neither mess with Mother Nature nor attempt to cheat the clients of Neil Cornrich.

Nearly two years later, the school’s bank account has been quoted as saying “lesson learned”.

As a thumbnail background for those unfamiliar with the Prince situation, he was fired by Kansas State in early November of 2008 and replaced by Bill Snyder. In May of 2009, the school filed a lawsuit against Prince in which it claimed that the former head coach entered into what was essentially an illegal “secret agreement” with the former athletic director, an agreement that entitled Prince to $3.2 million in deferred compensation. Prince, per the agreement, was slated to receive that compensation between 2015 and 2020.

It was announced today, however, that those legal proceedings are over and Prince got his in the here and now. Well, technically, he got half of his.

In a release issued by NC Sports this evening, it was announced that Prince and Kansas State have reached a settlement agreement in the amount of $1.65 million. That’s, of course, $1.55 million less than the number contained in the contractual agreement between Prince and ex-AD Bob Krause; however, it’s also $1.65 million more than the school claimed their former coach was owed.

Perhaps most importantly — yes, even more important than the seven-figure sum — the statement issued by the firm which represents Prince stated that the university has “also taken the extraordinary step of absolving Coach Prince of any wrongdoing whatsoever.” In May of 2009, it was alleged by the school that some sort of ethical duty had been breached by negotiating with Krause without university lawyers present.

Here’s the entire text of the release regarding Prince, who’s currently the assistant offensive line coach for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts:

Coach Ron Prince has agreed to a $1.65 million settlement with Kansas State University (“KSU”) and the Intercollegiate Athletic Council of Kansas State University, Inc. (“IAC”). While it is unfortunate that the decisions of prior administrators and a current member of its Office of General Counsel caused KSU to initiate this lawsuit and incur unnecessary and costly legal fees, Coach Prince is pleased that KSU and IAC have now chosen to do what is right and honor their obligations.

As part of the settlement, KSU and IAC have also taken the extraordinary step of absolving Coach Prince of any wrongdoing whatsoever by noting: “Neither the University nor K-State Athletics contends or believes that, in negotiating his employment agreement or the MOU, Coach Prince engaged in any wrongful or unethical conduct.”

In addition to this concession, the settlement is financially advantageous to Coach Prince. Under the terms of the contract Coach Prince had previously entered into with KSU and IAC, he was entitled to deferred termination payments totaling $3.2 million. However, Coach Prince was not scheduled to receive any portion of that sum for almost five more years, and the full amount would not have been completely paid until December 31, 2020.

Consequently, discounted to present value, the $1.65 million settlement figure essentially represents an agreement by KSU and IAC to pay Coach Prince almost the entire $3.2 million termination payment. Coach Prince will receive these funds upfront and almost nine years earlier than they were originally due, providing a significant financial advantage over the deferred payments. In addition, Coach Prince will avoid trial and litigation fees. As a result, the settlement is a complete validation of Coach Prince’s claim that the contract he signed with KSU and IAC was negotiated in good faith in an openly disclosed format, mutually agreed upon, and legally binding.

To this point, KSU and IAC had argued that the $3.2 million termination payment was part of a “secret agreement,” and that Coach Prince was therefore owed nothing. However, even with the ability to try the case in front of a hometown jury, KSU and IAC instead agreed to settle the case for nearly the full amount – a total vindication of Coach Prince and a firm indication that their legal position had been exposed as one completely without merit. Moreover, the settlement sets a clear precedent that institutions of higher learning will be held responsible for the contracts they have signed and the promises they have made to their employees.

Appreciative of KSU’s willingness to structure the settlement in such a favorable manner, as well as its decision to absolve him of any wrongdoing, Coach Prince is pleased that all parties can finally put this matter behind them.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Coach of the Year: Tom O’Brien

By Sean Ege

May 3, 2011

This year Tom O'Brien, head coach of the N.C. State football team, showed students and fans why he deserves to be Coach of the Year. The Ohio native who came to State in December of 2006 has improved the football program every year since his inaugural season, including two bowl games in 2008 and 2010.

The 2010 season has been a special one for N.C. State's football program. After being picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division in the preseason, the Wolfpack finished tied for second, was one game away from playing for an ACC title and was the third league team picked in the bowl selections.

Tom O'Brien's squad is the first Wolfpack squad to garner nine wins since 2003 and has posted State's first winning season in five years. With the Champs Sports Bowl victory over West Virginia, the 2010 squad tied the second highest win total in school history.

The team finished 9-3 this year including its win over West Virginia at the Champ Sports Bowl. Tom O'Brien has coached his players to their best potential as can be noted with several favored NFL draft players, including one of the best quarterbacks N.C. State fans have seen in past decade, and MLB draft athlete Russell Wilson.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Alex Henery highest drafted kicker since 2006

Grading Teams on Their Picks

May 2, 2011

USA Today’s Jarrett Bell grades every NFL team on their 2011 draft picks:

Philadelphia Eagles: Another typical Andy Reid pick for the trenches, with G Danny Watkins bringing immediate impact. They addressed the DB concerns with Jaiqwaun Jarrett and Curtis Marsh. OLB Casey Matthews already has a connection: his brother Clay had the hit on Kevin Kolb that put Michael Vick on the field. Fourth-rounder Alex Henery was highest-drafted kicker since the New England Patriots took Stephen Gostkowski in 2006.

Vikings Did Well Taking Chance on Christian Ballard

By Gabe Zaldivar

May 1, 2011

2011 NFL Draft Grades are in for the Minnesota Vikings. Their fourth round pick for Christian Ballard stole the show.

The Vikings found not only a starter in the fourth round, they found someone who will make the rest of the defensive attack better.

Ballard is a hard working end that loves the game. If there was something he loved more, it would be getting to the quarterback. His high motor will command a lot of attention on the line.

He is a bit inconsistent. If he can find some measure of a rhythm at the line, the Vikings may have the biggest value pick of the draft.

Ballard has the power and speed to be a top-tier producer. If he can find that perfect mix of skill and maturity, the Vikings will be very glad they took a shot at him in the fourth.

Storm adds Olympian Katie Smith to roster

By KING 5 Staff

April 29, 2011

SEATTLE, Wash – Three-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time WNBA champion Katie Smith will join the Seattle Storm for the 2011 season following a three-way trade. In addition, the Storm acquired Jacinta Monroe, also from the Washington Mystics, and the Indiana Fever’s second-round pick in the 2012 draft.

As part of the deal, the Mystics receive Jasmine Thomas, the Storm’s first-round pick this season, as well as Seattle’s first-round pick and Indiana’s third-round pick in 2012. Indiana receives Storm guard Erin Phillips and Seattle’s third-round pick in 2012.

“This is a trade that benefits all three teams,” Agler said. “That being said, in Katie Smith we are adding a great player, a great person, someone who is a tremendous competitor to a team full of competitors. Obviously we have some elite players on our team with Sue (Bird), Swin (Cash) and Lauren (Jackson) as well as some good young players coming up. Katie fits right into that group. She is the type of player and person who is going to give us quality depth and versatile lineups on the floor.”

Smith, a 5-11 guard who celebrates her 37th birthday on June 4th, the same day the Storm opens its 2011 season against Phoenix, brings a familiar presence with a wealth of championship experience to Seattle.

Smith and Agler won a pair of titles with the Columbus Quest of the ABL in 1996-97 and 1997-98. She has played with Bird and Cash on the USA National Team, winning Olympic gold medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Smith also earned a WNBA title with Cash when the pair played for the Detroit Shock in 2006. Current Storm assistant coach Nancy Darsch was also Smith's head coach at Ohio State during Smith’s collegiate career.

“I am very excited to join Seattle,” added Smith. “It’s a great team, in a great city, with outstanding fans. I have history and familiarity with the coaches and players. And they know what they are getting. It’s an easy, comfortable fit.”

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring in one of the all-time greats,” added Storm President and CEO Karen Bryant. “We’re determined to defend our championship in 2011. Adding Katie Smith was a huge step in the right direction toward that goal.”

Monroe, a 6-5 center, was the sixth pick out of Florida State in 2010. As a rookie with Washington, she played in 17 games, averaging 2.1 points and 0.9 rebounds in 6.9 minutes per game. A fractured left hand caused Monroe to miss 15 games. As a Seminole, Monroe set school records for career blocks (301) and games played (136) and was named to the All-ACC First Team as a senior.

Smith and Monroe are expected to arrive in Seattle for the Storm’s training camp, which begins May 15.

Monday, May 02, 2011

NFL: With lockout, undrafted players are out of luck

May 1, 2011


School is over and the scholarship checks have quit coming. Thirty-two NFL teams have bypassed you in the draft, and thanks to a lockout, nobody can sign you to a free-agent contract.

Cue the country music song, because it's a tough time to be an undrafted former college player.

"It's an uncertain situation right now," Dexter Larimore, a former Ohio State defensive tackle, said last night. "It's a grayer situation than normal free agency, which was a gray area anyway."

Larimore is in the same boat as former teammates who went undrafted, such as Dane Sanzenbacher, Brandon Saine, Justin Boren, Devon Torrence and Bryant Browning.

The NFL's lockout was briefly lifted on Friday, in time for a few first-round draft picks to visit their new teams and perhaps get a playbook. They were the lucky ones, because once an appeals court sided with the league's owners that night, all contact with players was once again forbidden.

The case is expected to be heard in courts again early this week.

The situation affects all rookie players, drafted or not. Ohio State's Brian Rolle was taken by Philadelphia yesterday in the sixth round and keenly felt the lockout's bite soon afterward.

"It's heartbreaking to be drafted and not be able to go to camp," he said. "You think about (getting drafted) all your life, and you've seen guys get picked, and then the next day they are taking pictures at the team's headquarters. (Thursday and Friday) you saw guys doing it.

"But they put the lockout back in, which means the guys picked after, it was unfortunate that they can't take part in something like that. It is real confusing."

But as Rolle added, "We all know I'm an Eagle now."

That makes a big difference. If they know a player on their NFL team - such as former Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman with the Eagles - someone like Rolle can at least start to learn some concepts or vocabulary.

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden advised drafted rookies to spend their lockout downtime wisely.

"The first thing I'd do is find a projector and I'd find somebody that can get me game film of what I've got to learn," Gruden said. "Not only do they have to get in great shape, but they've got to learn the specifics of what defense they'll play in, what offense they'll play in. There is a tremendous amount of football that needs to be learned.

"So I'd encourage all of them to stay in shape, find a projector and start studying film, because the great players aren't locked out."

First-round picks such as Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward are less concerned than others. Their draft status ensures them a spot on the roster almost no matter what, and if finances are an issue, agents might be more likely to loan them money to get them through the lockout because of the lucrative contract yet to come.

Maybe that's why Heyward, taken 31st overall by Pittsburgh, felt comfortable enough to joke that if the lockout continued for long, "I'll come back (to OSU) for a fifth year. I'd love to do that."

But the undrafted players can't say that. They all face uncertainty, and some might face financial strain.

"You're sitting here at the end of April and your bank account is dry," said Jim Cordle, a former OSU offensive lineman who was undrafted in 2010 but signed with the New York Giants and spent the season on their practice squad. "You don't know if or when you will ever sign with a team, so what are you going to do? Hold on and try to live out the dream, or jump into the work force?"

The longer the lockout goes on, the tougher the road to a roster spot gets for undrafted free agents. They already are the lowest on the NFL's totem pole, but without being able to go through any mini-camps or offseason workouts, it might be next to impossible for them to catch on in the fall.

"It's an unbelievable disadvantage," Cordle said. "Rookie free agents are the first ones gone, anyway."

Cleveland-based agent Neil Cornrich said he is advising his clients to stay in school (if they have not graduated) and keep working out.

That's exactly what Rolle plans to do. He is on track to graduate in June.

"I am going to continue what I've been doing, which is going to school to get my degree, and continue to keep working hard - everything that 'B-Rolle' always does," Rolle said. "I know what my purpose is now. I know I have an organization that I'm now a part of."

Not everyone can say that, though. The undrafted are adrift like never before.

"Once I get to a team, I still think I can do things," Larimore said. "It's just kind of a matter of getting somewhere."

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