by J.R. Lind
This Week In The 'Drome: Whispering, moving, firing, hiring, disparaging and more ...
The Signal vs. The Noise : Late Tuesday, Memphis TV station WREG reported that as part of an offer to woo Jon Gruden to coach the University of Tennessee, Jimmy Haslam offered an ownership stake in the Cleveland Browns.
It's the kind of rumor more appropriate for an Internet messageboard than an ABC affiliate, which makes sense because, indeed, that exact rumor had been bouncing around the fevered world of UT forums for a few days. The Browns, Gruden and UT all debunked the tale — which WREG sourced to "sources" — giving it a credence it didn't deserve. Membership in the exclusive fraternity of NFL owners is hard to come by and requires a Skull & Bones-type vote from the existing owners. NCAA rules would prohibit such a transfer of stock. And even for those not versed in the by-laws of the NFL and the nonsense of the NCAA rule book, it just sounds stupid.
But this is the world, now. A professional can use a messageboard post as a "source," forcing the players in the drama to react to something posted by SmokeyOnOldRockyTopGeneralNeylandIsMyHomeboy3981. Such a cottage industry has sprung up around this particular coach, there's a term for it: Grumors, which sounds like either a weird sex thing or the name of a knock-off Muppet.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and that giant sucking sound you hear from Knoxville is an informational void. UT AD Dave Hart's reticence in this search for Derek Dooley's replacement would make Calvin Coolidge seem loquacious.
So those seeking to be in the know are forced onto the Wild West of web forums and the sycophantic echo chamber of sports talk radio. And it sucks in even the pros, pressed by desperation to peddle defecation — or at least sling it onto the wall and hope it sticks.
The great democratization of the Internet sometimes produces good work, and sometimes it produces garbage, as best illustrated here.
In the rush to advance a storyline, it can be reported that Jon Gruden owns land in East Tennessee. And sure, that's true. You don't need to be "a reader who asked to be anonymous" to actually track it down. You can do it yourself by going here and typing "Gruden" in the search box. Indeed, The Chuckster does own a heap of property in Jefferson County. He bought it six or seven years ago. That doesn't seem terribly relevant to an ongoing coaching search, but in this amped-up world, it means everything. Especially if you ignore how long ago the land sale was.
Jon Gruden very well may be the next coach at Tennessee — personally, I'm not convinced (Ed. Note: And the latest reports indicate I'm right) — but any real clues as to his true intentions are getting drowned out by the static.
The Week Behind
Hartford Wailers: One day, "hapless" will stop being the adjective of choice for the Titans.
That day is not today.
The Two Toners went to Jacksonville to take on the 1-9 Jags, who were being led by their back-up quarterback. In America's Logistics Capital they found a very game team and left town wondering who, indeed, was the worst team in the AFC South after being beat 24-19.
No sequence so illustrated the ineptitude of the Titans like the three last plays of the game. Darius Reynaud ill-advisedly brought a kickoff out of the endzone and then meekly threw a lateral. If this was Home Run Throwback, Sunday brought us Slow Dribbler To The Shortstop Throwback. Then the Titans tried some kind of hook-and-lateral nonsense on first down that resulted in a tackle-for-loss, officially credited as a Yakety Sack. And then Jake Locker threw an interception.
Then Monday, Mike Munchak canned offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, turfing the man he elevated from the coaching ranks of the UFL's Hartford Colonials and surprising the city by revealing that the Titans had an offensive coordinator.
Yes, Palmer had coached quarterbacks in New York and had been a coordinator for some very mediocre Houston Texans teams and had a hand in the original runners and shooters in Love Ya Blue Houston. And while the run-and-shoot is an offense that is exciting to watch and can be blisteringly effective, the vintage he brought to the East Bank was meek and bumbling.
Dowell Loggains took time off from being footloose and will be the OC for now, directing a squad which has "more issues than people want to admit to," according to Palmer and also anyone who has watched the Titans. At least the players seem enthusiastic about the change. If only we could share their excitement.
Dinky Deacons: Vanderbilt erased any concerns they'd have an emotional letdown after beating Tennessee, winning 55-21 at Wake Forest.
In the course of — as weird as this sounds — yet another blowout by the Commodores, Jordan Matthews set the single-season receiving record at Vandy and Zac Stacy set the school record for longest run from scrimmage.
Now, Vandy waits to see where they'll be bowling. In the mix are the hometown Music City Bowl, the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Birmingham's BBVA Compass Bowl and, perhaps, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis or Atlanta's Chick-Fil-A Not The Peach Bowl Any More. Bowl committees are interested in the almighty dollar above all things. Vandy is harmed here in having a small alumni base, but the 'Dores are a compelling story, which could drive TV ratings. To help their cause, the school is pre-selling bowl tickets to show the selectors they are capital S Serious.
Garbage Time: Perhaps David Boclair's excellent cover story on Predators' captain Shea Weber would have been better had, ya know, hockey started, but it's a good read nonetheless. ... MTSU got the Troy monkey off its back, actually holding off a fourth-quarter comeback for once and winning The Palladium. It's one of the strangest traveling trophies there is, but a 'Drome Favorite because its backstory is delightfully ancient and esoteric. ... Vanderbilt basketball played what Nashville Sports Hub speculated was one of the worst college basketball games ever played on an ESPN network, losing 50-33 to Marist. Then they beat UTEP.
Book 'Em, Dan-O : Fun story: Last year, Fox 17 sports guy Dan Phillips tweeted some unkind things about 'Drome Favorite and erstwhile Titans defensive lineman Shaun Smith, which resulted in the latter more or less challenging the former to say it to his face and blah blah blah. In a way, my desire to share this story with the world helped spawn The Hippodrome.
Phillips drew the ire of an even more dangerous foe than Smith this week, when he tweeted some not-so-nice things about Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin, thus attracting the attention of the suddenly muscley Vanderbilt fan base.
It all started because Phillips shared his belief that Franklin is going to take a job somewhere else — and to the reporter's credit, Franklin hasn't exactly made a Sherman statement about leaving. But then he got caught on the back foot a bit, hinting that he'd heard of suspect recruiting practices and insinuating a bunch of nastiness about the coach's character.
Since his spat, Phillips has been silent on the Twitter machine.
Meanwhile, in other Twitter news, Chris Johnson told a fantasy owner "F ur points." Which is how everyone else feels about your fantasy team.
No Spin Zone: This week in the dead-tree, I talk to R.A. Dickey about the documentary Knuckleball!, a documentary about the knuckleball. It opened at The Belcourt last night with a Q&A with the Cy Young winner, and it runs through next week.
It's not a story about baseball so much as a story about the men who use the mystery pitch. It's a glimpse into this weird fraternity, a glance at a subculture that resists the easy trope of casting baseball as a Metaphor for Life and Everything Else. Recommend.
The Week Ahead
Dennis Vassar Will Be Performing, But Will The Titans ?: The Dowell Loggains Era begins with the team taking the highway to the danger zone, hosting the division-leading Houston Texans.
We'll see what the new OC has to offer, but expectations are for a stripped-down playbook, the option routes of Chris Palmer's run-and-shoot deleted for a scheme with more emphasis on match-ups, which could mean Jared Cook can pump up his stats so he can make a zillion dollars in free agency.
It no longer seems necessary to mention that Chris Johnson is playing a lot better and if there's any positives from the loss to Jacksonville, it's that the Titans were able to sack Chad Henne so frequently. That's an encouraging step, especially for a defense whose leader (for now?) Jerry Gray doesn't live and die by the pass rush.
All that's great, but Houston has too many weapons for this to be much of a contest. But at least Phil Vassar took time out of his busy schedule of playing at every event at the city to perform with Gretchen Wilson on the band stage.
Worthless Prediction: Houston 34, Titans 17. Phil Vassar leaves the game early to perform a set at the grand opening of a gas station in Kingston Springs.
A New World Order: MTSU travels to Jonesboro, Ark. to take on Gus Malzahn's Arkansas State Used To Be Indians.
Middle has shared the Sun Belt title twice, but never won it outright. What a parting gift it would be for the Blue Raiders, who announced Thursday they will leave the league for Conference USA likely in 2014, but perhaps earlier depending on the schedule. All this from a team that opened the season losing to FCS McNeese.
It harkens back to the Monday Night Wars of professional wrestling, when there were serious concerns that with all the jumping back and forth between the WWF and WCW, someone would leave a federation and take the championship belt with them. This was, I swear, an important issue.
So important, in fact, that this happened to Bret Hart.
Worthless Prediction : Middle is a 10-point dog, but so long as Earl Hebner isn't the ref, I like their chances. MTSU 24, Arky State 10.
Everyday They're Shuffling: MTSU may have bolted the Fun Belt too late.
They finally pulled the trigger on moving to Conference USA in a year when the Sun Belt looks to be the stronger conference. The minnow-est of football conferences, the Sun Belt was once perceived as a springboard for young coaches to better jobs at more powerful schools. Instead, they became a conference of golden parachutes — a place for legends to get a tan. The end result was stability, and stability produces decent football. MTSU's Rick Stockstill is hardly mentioned as a candidate for another job, despite a run of success. Nary a whisper has been heard of Gus Malzahn taking one of the vacant SEC jobs.
As the BCS conferences swap schools like teenagers swap spit — with little regard for logic or the long-term implications, ultimately resulting in a mononucleosis outbreak putting everyone to sleep — the lesser lights are forced to shuffle too.
Perhaps the best outcome for C-USA and the Sun Belt is to go through a pro forma merger. The conferences could pool their resources and then get together and re-divvy out their members. The two groups share similar geography — stretching from the Atlantic Coast to Texas — so a brief amalgamation followed by an east-west split makes a lot of sense.
But that presumes that conference re-alignment makes any sense at all. Boise and San Diego in the Big East? That east is very big indeed. So big, in fact, the geographic center of the conference — once a cabal of hardy Northeasterners — is now in Milan, Tenn.
Don Yates over at Vandymania suggests the SEC should take a look at adding (please make sure you are seated) Army and Navy. That seems downright absurd, as the academies don't feel like SEC schools the way Texas A&M did. Plus they are in Maryland and New York (but again — Boise: Big East).
Yates, though, makes a compelling case. The SEC gets access to the storied Army-Navy game (Go Navy!), plus some credibility on the student side of the student-athlete ledger. Army and Navy get some stability, as the football independents look to be going the way of the dodo, with even Notre Dame sorta-kinda joining the ACC.
Yates does just enough to raise the eyebrows and it's a case worth making. The realignment revolution looks to be a permanent one.
Want to join the Big East? Shoot an email to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. And be sure to listen at 6 pm Tuesdays when I join Willy Daunic and Darren McFarland on 102.5 The Game.