Yeah, yeah, I know: It's June and fall camps don't open for another month and a half. But when one's baseball team loses its seventh straight and falls 12 back of the division leaders, it's time to move on with one s life.
Okay, my life.
Thus I turn my weary eyes to the gridiron in search of a cure for the my-baseball-team-is-old-and-decrepit-summertime blues. And while there isn't much (or any) on-the-field news these days, there are plenty of side stories to be told as the 2007 season draws near.
We all knew it had to be this way: Despite the best efforts of head coach Charlie Weis, the Notre Dame Quarterback Derby has officially achieved soap opera status.
The over-hype was probably inevitable, given the scrutiny that goes along with being the quarterback at Notre Dame and the successor to Brady Quinn. Though Weis gave all four original candidates equal reps during spring practice, and was very measured with his public comments on the competition, the situation seems to be getting away from him.
First, as many Irish faithful were waiting in breathless anticipation for Weis' announcement of two finalists in late May, word broke that a week-old marijuana-possession charge against sophomore Demetrius Jones had been dropped.
This was good news, but certainly surprising, considering that no one knew Jones had been charged in the first place.
Turns out Jones was driving a borrowed car which, apparently unbeknownst to him, had some pot in the ashtray. A few good nervous laughs later, it was a crisis narrowly averted for the Irish.
Then came another curveball as Weis, after promising to cut the QB field to two, decided to retain three candidates: Jones, junior Evan Sharpley, and freshman Jimmy Clausen. (Sophomore Zach Frazer, the odd arm out in the equation, is currently exploring his transfer options.)
It's hard to blame Weis if he truly feels that each of the three has a chance at winning the job, but the announcement threw many observers for a loop. The three-man race only guarantees that fall camp will be that much more of a circus.
And that's not all. The latest gossip centers around Clausen's golden elbow, which has been the subject of speculation ever since he enrolled in school in early January. After only a few weeks on campus, reports surfaced that Clausen had bone spurs in the joint, and the whispers grew louder when Clausen's father told reporters of an arm injury his son had played through during his senior season.
Not so, said Weis at the time, insisting that Clausen was "full go" for the spring. The coach also saw fit to add that, oh by the way, "the only one who will answer for the health of our players will be me."
Fair enough, Chuck—but why are we learning about Clausen's recent elbow procedure thirdhand through the blogosphere? A Notre Dame spokesman later confirmed that the procedure took place, but not before rampant speculation that the injury would be a season-ender.
There may be more smoke than fire here, as Clausen will supposedly be ready for fall camp on August 6th. But Weis' public recalcitrance certainly hasn't helped. Though it s admirable to try to protect freshmen from the media spotlight as they adjust to college life, too much silence breeds conjecture.
And when it's a quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, all bets are off.
Harbaugh's Hard Words
You at least have to admire the balls on the new guy.
Before even setting foot on the Stanford sideline, Jim Harbaugh has picked more fights around college football than the head coach of a 1-11 team probably should.
In March, Harbaugh drew ire from Pete Carroll by telling a reporter that he heard from "inside the [USC] staff" that Carroll was on his way out of Troy.
Poodle Pete denied the story and then barked back, "And if [Harbaugh] has any questions about it he should call me."
Harbaugh stood by his statement and got in the last word, declaring, "I definitely said that. But we bow to no man. We bow to no program here at Stanford University."
Yes, the gloves were off, and no one was safe from Harbaugh's castigation—not even his own alma mater.
"Michigan is a good school and I got a good education there," Harbaugh said. "But the athletic department has ways to get borderline guys in and, when they're in, they steer them to courses in sports communications."
Nothing truly earth-shattering, but it's curious that Harbaugh would specifically choose to target his old stomping grounds, where he has been mentioned, incidentally, as a possible future head-coaching candidate.
And, of course, Harbaugh couldn't resist a chance to get a shot in at his new school's oldest rival.
When asked recently by Stanford's student paper about the differences between admissions standards at Stanford and Cal, Harbaugh said, "I don't think there's any doubt about it. It's a pretty wide gap. Right now, Stanford is No. 1 in the country at 92 percent graduation, and Cal's at 44 percent. So, I'd say they're cutting some corners."
It seems a little crazy for Harbaugh to be making so many powerful enemies before his first gameday on the job. It's obvious that "Captain Comeback" is trying to inject some juice into a moribund Stanford program—and he probably figures that if he can take some shots at a few recruiting rivals in the process, all the better. But providing so much bulletin board material to opponents who figure to pummel you anyway can't be the wisest choice.
Then again, what's Harbaugh got to lose? And it sure is more entertaining than the traditional brand of coachspeak that usually bores us all to tears.
R.I.P Terry Hoeppner
For the second consecutive year, this season's opening kickoff will be a heavy-hearted affair for a Big Ten school.
Almost a year after Northwestern coach Randy Walker died of a heart attack, the Indiana football community was shaken by news that IU coach Terry Hoeppner had succumbed to complications related to a brain tumor.
Even eerier is the close relationship between the two coaches. Hoeppner was Walker's defensive coordinator at Miami (OH), and the two continued their friendship after Hoeppner succeeded Walker in 1999.
Hoeppner had been battling cancer on and off for years, and had been absent from team activities since March. But the gravity of his disease was not known to his team until just hours before his death.
As the Wildcats can attest, this will be an emotional season for a Hoosiers team that finished 5-7 and allowed 33 points per game in 2006. Interim coach Bill Lynch has previous head coaching experience, but it will be hard to replicate Hoeppner's enthusiasm, which was instrumental in making football relevant again at Indiana.
Circle November 10th on your calendars, as the Hoosiers' visit to Evanston is sure to be a tear-jerker. And best of luck to the Indiana program as it embarks on a very difficult journey. We'll be watching and rooting.