Grateful, But Not Dead Yet

Well folks, 2015 is in our rear-view mirror and 2016 is upon us. As the Grateful Dead ponders the passage of time in their song, Uncle John’s Band, “Oh, oh but I want to know, where does the time go?”

Beats me. And when you’re well to the north side of of six decades on this spinning blue marble, that line rings ever so true. I’m running as fast as I can, but I often feel like I can’t keep up. ZOOOOOOMMMMM!!! Collecting Social Security? WHOOOOSSSSHHHH!!! Looking down the barrel of sixty-five turns-around-the-horn in a mere twenty months?

Wot hoppened?

Life did, that’s what. Fine. Carpe diem! Rock ‘N Roll, Mick! I’ve tried to enjoy every minute of it and I plan to keep on doing just that!

Now, let’s take a quick glance back at 2015, and Auburn, before we turn the page to 2016.

It truly does seem like yesterday that we were about to make our way to Tampa for the Outback Bowl between Auburn and Wisconsin. Auburn was flush with promise. Will Muschamp had just been hired as the defensive coordinator on The Plains and things were looking up.

That bowl game, in hindsight, was a portent of things to come. Daniel Carlson, a superb placekicker, bounced a field goal attempt off the goalpost, at Raymond James Stadium in overtime, and the Tigers found itself on the losing end of its first bowl game of 2015. They will play their SECOND bowl game of the year in the Birmingham Bowl. The opponent is the Memphis Tigers. That game is either in progress, or has been completed, by the time you read this.

Then came recruiting. Gus and company landed an excellent class. Check it out!

The A-Day game, in mid-April, gave Auburn fans more reason to hope as Jeremy Johnson, Sean White, Duke Williams, Roc Thomas, and company lit it up! Woo Hooo!

SEC Media Days ushered in a blast of unabated enthusiasm for Auburn Tiger fans all across this spinning globe. They were picked, by the media, to win the SEC and advance to the College Football Playoff. I was, and many of you were, so stoked by this time that we could hardly contain ourselves. Auburn’s in the top five and Jeremy Johnson is getting Heisman hype!

GULP! We know, all too well, what transpired next and continued throughout the entire autumn.

Mediocrity. In spades.

So, where does that leave us? In Birmingham, that’s where.

I was once told, by an attendant at what was the old Gulf station at College and Glenn, in Auburn, when my old Pontiac Astre broke down, “You have a blew gasket.” That was, of course, spoken to me. I knew my gasket wasn’t the color blue. I knew it was busted, broken, kaput.

And as I peer at 2016 through my orange and blue crystal ball, I’m hoping this thing ain’t “blew”.

I believe Gus will get his bus up and running MUCH more smoothly than it ran in 2015, when it sputtered and spewed and belched forth six regular season wins.

I think he will locate a very good defensive coordinator that will, hopefully, give us the continuity and stability he is looking for.

I think he will come up with an exciting dual threat quarterback, John Franklin?, that will get the offense back in the mode Gus has become known for with his HUNH.

The Tigers have a good nucleus of returning players to build around in 2016. They include Braden Smith, Alex Kozan, Austin Golson, Robert Leff, and Kaleb Kim on the O line. Will Shon Coleman and Avery Young go pro?

The D line should return Carl Lawson (PLEASE!), Gimel President, Raashed Kennion, Maurice Swain, Dontavius Russell, Devaroe Lawrence, and Price Tega Wanogho, among others.

Linebackers? Tre’ Williams, Deshaun Davis, Jeff Holland, and Cameron Toney will make up the core.

How about the secondary? Carlton Davis (BOOM!), T.J. Davis, Josh Holsey, Stephen Roberts, Nick Ruffin, Johnathan “Rudy” Ford, Tim Irvin, Tray Matthews, and Montavious Atkinson.

And back to the offense. The aforementioned John Franklin, Tyler Queen, Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and, the incoming Woody Barrett, are all potential starters at quarterback.

The running back position looks great with Jovon Robinson, Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas, and Kerryon Johnson helping to make up that group.

Jason Smith, Tony Stevens, Stanton Truitt, Marcus Davis, Darius Slayton, Ryan Davis, and Gray King will return at wide receiver.

The kicking duties are in excellent hands (or legs?) with Daniel Carlson and Kevin Phillips coming back.

I expect the tight end and H-back/fullback roles to perform much better with some experience and added talent.

All the guys, just mentioned, were known quantities, for the most part. There are redshirt and incoming freshman that will bolster the talent levels, as well.

What else do the last couple of days in 2015 and the New Year of 2016 hold for those of us who are rabid college football fans.

I have Alabama over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and Oklahoma over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

What will happen in Glendale? Will Nick Saban win one more Natty at Alabama and depart T-Town? Or maybe retire? Possibly?

Who will be the early favorites for the 2016 crown? Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Notre Dame, it appears.

The SEC West? That has to be Bama. The SEC East? I like Tennessee.

Ohio State should get a strong challenge from Michigan and, especially, Michigan State in the Big 10.

Florida State looks set for the long haul in the ACC, after Clemson.

You have to stay with Okie State, TCU, and Baylor to continue to be strong in the Big 12.

The PAC-12? Wide open. USC, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, and, my dark horse, the Washington Huskies, should all contend.

A fly-in-the-ointment? Houston? Boise State?

And what about the Auburn Tigers? You’ve been given a look at some solid returning talent and there are some studs in the 2016 signing class. Only time will tell. But, playing in the SEC West is absolutely brutal.

Where do we find victories on that next schedule?

The Tigers open with my pre-season numero uno, Clemson… in Auburn…on my birthday. I’m not of the mind to pencil that one in as a win.

Let’s go with victories over Arkansas State, Texas A&M, LA-Monroe, Mississippi State (bye, Dak), Vanderbilt, and Alabama A&M. That’s six. I have LSU (in Auburn), and Arkansas (also in Auburn) as, at least, 50/50 shots. Clemson, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama? You simply cannot pencil wins in for any of those tough ones. But, I do believe Auburn will have a chance to win any game they play in, with an 8-4 record a good possibility. Anything else will be gravy. Well, bring on the turkey and dressing ’cause we have that gravy awaiting on The Plains.

Happy New Year and War Damn Eagle!

Advertisements

Top Ten Tuesday (With a Teaser or Two)

I was recently asked, by our Executive Editor here at Campus Pressbox, Damien Bowman, to select ten people for the Baseball Hall of Fame off the 2016 ballot. I did. And here they are:

Mike Piazza
Jeff Bagwell
Tim Raines
Larry Walker
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Nomar Garciaparra
Jeff Kent
Fred McGriff
Edgar Martinez
Alan Trammel

I attempted not to choose any known “juicers”. No Bonds, McGwire, etc. I don’t know if I succeeded in this, but I did my best, IMHO. That is another discussion for another day, and I’m sure we’ll take it up on a podcast in the not-too-distant-future.

I attempt to be a purist. No DH, Astro Turf, et al. That’s probably, at least, a little disingenuous, but one has to try.

Our SEC 411 podcast, which we are about to record, is not going to contain much discussion on football, the SEC, or sports in general. I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Stay tuned!

The ten Hall of Famers prompted me to come up with a column which contains no SEC football or sports, except for the above mentioned HOF nominees.

We’re going to go with a “Top Ten Tuesday” (I know this posts on Wednesday but I wrote it on Tuesday. So there!) which will be lists of my top ten in areas that are, pretty much, pop culture. And this is not scientific, in any particular order, or what I consider to be, technically the best. It’s just my favorites… today.

So here we go!

Top Ten Movies

The Godfather

The Godfather Part Two

Pulp Fiction

Blazing Saddles

Inglorious Basterds (yes, I do LOVE Quentin Tarantino)

Apocalypse Now (and Francis Ford Coppolla, evidently)

Vertigo

The Graduate

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Big Lebowski

Top Ten Country Songs

The Grand Tour – George Jones

I Don’t Wanna Play House – Tammy Wynette

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – Hank Williams

The Pilgrim Chapter 33 – Kris Kristofferson

Whiskey River – Willie Nelson

Merry Christmas From The Family – Robert Earl Keen

Yard Sale – Sammy Kershaw

Sea Of Heartbreak – Don Gibson

Since You’ve Gone – Ferlin Husky

(Tie) Holding Things Together – Merle Haggard &
He’s Got You – Patsy Cline

Top Ten Rock/Pop Songs

Powderfinger – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Revolution – The Beatles

Babelogue>Rock N Roll Nigger – Patti Smith

Red Red Wine – Neil Diamond

Goin’ Out West – Gov’t Mule (originally done by Tom Waits)

See Me, Feel Me – The Who

White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane

Crimson And Clover – Tommy James and the Shondells or Joan Jett, take your pick.

Green River – CCR

I Love You Period – Dan Baird

Top Ten TV Shows (Network TV including PBS. And I haven’t watched many network shows in a long time. PBS, yes.)

The Andy Griffith Show

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Downton Abbey

Frasier

Saturday Night Live

Dallas

NYPD Blue

Seinfeld

Northern Exposure

M*A*S*H

Top Ten Cable TV Shows

Mad Men

Breaking Bad

Friday Night Lights

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

The Colbert Report

The Walking Dead

Damages

Better Call Saul

The Killing

Vikings

Top Ten Premium Cable TV Shows

Deadwood

The Sopranos

The Wire

Homeland

Game of Thrones

Masters of Sex

Californication

Ray Donovan

Nurse Jackie

The Larry Sanders Show

Top Ten Rock/Pop Albums

Live At The Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs – Derek & The Dominos

Are You Experienced? – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Europe ’72 – The Grateful Dead

Aqualung – Jethro Tull

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young

Chicago Transit Authority – Chicago

Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin

Revolver – The Beatles

Woodstock – Various Artists

Top Ten Jazz Albums

Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

Bitches Brew – Miles Davis

A Love Supreme – John Coltrane

Giant Steps – John Coltrane

Bill Evans – Conversations With Myself

Duke Ellington – Money Jungle

Sonny Rollins – The Bridge

Charlie Parker – Yardbird Suite: The Ultimate Charlie Parker

Thelonious Himself – Thelonious Monk

The Best Of – Django Reinhardt

Ok ok! This is typically an Auburn column, so I won’t leave you without Tiger news, or info, altogether.

Top Ten Auburn Games (I have attended)

Alabama 1989 – Tide’s first game ever played on The Plains. 30-20

Alabama 2013 – Kick Six. 34-28

Alabama 1972 – Punt Bama Punt. 17-16

Alabama 1982 – Bo Over The Top. 23-22

Florida 1993 – Number one ranked Gators go down in Jordan-Hare. 38-35

Oregon 2011 – 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 BCS National Championship Game. We’re number one! 22-19

Texas A&M 2013 – Dee Ford sacks Johnny Football on the final play of the game and we begin to feel it. The march to Pasadena! 45-41

Georgia 2013 – The Miracle at Jordan-Hare, 43-38

LSU 1997 – Dameyune Craig leads a last minute comeback in Death Valley. Just me and Luke made this trip to the Red Stick. Magical night. 31-27

Michigan 1984 – Sugar Bowl. Al Del Greco splits the uprights with a last second field goal. Auburn wins the National Championship according to the New York Times. They won it on the field as well. You will never convince me otherwise. 9-7

Hey claim ’em! It’s been done before! 😉

So there you have it! A Top Ten Tuesday! This should prompt the opportunity for some great discussion, so fire away!

I will probably do some more of this type of thing during bowl season and the off-season.

Also, many of us here at Campus Pressbox will be bringing you bowl previews. My first one will take a look at the Cure Bowl, which is to be played Saturday, 12/19, in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. San Jose State vs. Georgia State. The Spartans and the Panthers!

And, naturally, I will preview the Birmingham Bowl.

Merry Happy!!!

The Times They Are a Changin’

“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or
you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a changin’”

These words from Robert Zimmerman (Bobby Dylan to you and me) certainly ring true today, as they did, exactly fifty years ago, when this record was released. And that, most definitely, applies to the college football landscape.

From the AP and UPI poll systems, to the BCS, to the College Football Playoff, things have evolved dramatically in NCAA football. And THAT is an understatement.

From “three yards and a cloud of dust” to the HUNH (Hurry Up No Huddle), our father’s football is now almost unrecognizable. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that is a bad thing. Remember, at one time there was no forward pass. Can you imagine the furor when that change came into play?

Four years prior to Dylan’s release of “The Time’s They Are A Changin’”, I began my immersion into sports. EVERY sport. I could not get enough of sports back in 1961 and for many, many years there after.

I have now lost a great deal of my passion for professional athletics, although the Mantle and Maris home run chase of 1961 remains somewhat fresh in my mind. But I have not lost one iota of enthusiasm for college football. If anything, the love of that sector of sports, has grown in leaps and bounds. And it is quite humbling for me to find myself both writing and podcasting about that great game today. That was always a dream for me.

All of this sparked my thinking about what has become the FBS and how its current state might appear to those coaches of yesteryear. It also piqued my interest in how those coaches’ tenures compare to those of today.

I took the numbers of six legendary figures and matched them against all of the coaches who followed them at their respective institutions. I ranked them in order of the original coaches winning percentage.

1. Paul “Bear” Bryant – University of Alabama – 1958-1982
232-46-9 .824
9 coaches since – 273-122-1 .690

2. Johnny Vaught – University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) – 1947-1970 and 1973
190-61-12 .745
10 coaches since – 256-243-4 .512

3. Vince Dooley – University of Georgia – 1964-1988 – 201-77-10 .715
3 coaches since – 222-101-0 .687

4. Frank Broyles – University of Arkansas – 1958-1976 – 144-58-5 .708
10 coaches since – 276-178-3 .607

5. Charles “Cholly Mac”- McClendon – Louisiana State University – 1962-1979
137-59-7 .692
9 coaches since 276-144-6 .654

6. Ralph “Shug” Jordan – Auburn University – 1951-1975 – 176-83-6 .6754
7 coaches since 315-150-6 .6751

Four of the “legendary” head men coached at their one school for 25 years. One piloted his school for 19 years and one roamed the sidelines for 18 years at his institution of higher learning.

The one big thing that jumped out at me is that NONE of these great universities has had a winning percentage, as high as the “legendary” coach, with all of the coaches that followed him… COMBINED! ZERO. NADA.

Now boys and girls, that includes some very good coaches at each and every one of these schools. Nick Saban coached at both LSU and Alabama. Pat Dye coached at Auburn. Lou Holtz coached at Arkansas. David Cutcliffe coached at Ole Miss and Mark Richt is currently the head man at Georgia.

How about this? You have 6 of the greatest coaches of all-time who coached a total of 137 years between them. On the other hand, you have 48 coaches who coached a total of 202 years. NOW hold on! That gives the 6 coaches an average tenure of 22.8 years apiece while the remaining 48 guys averaged 4.2 years each!!!

As the former voice of Ole Miss football in the 60’s, Stan Torgenson, was known to exclaim… Hoo Hoooooo MERCY!!!

Obviously, some of these latter coaches held their positions for extremely short periods of time. Bill “Brother” Oliver was the interim coach at Auburn, in 1998, for 5 games. John L. Smith had the same position at Arkansas for 12 games and Mike Price of Alabama… well you know the story there.

So, sports fans, where does this leave us? One one hand, you can talk about “the good ole days”, simpler times, loyalty, and the like.

Conversely, one can speak of the demand to “turn it around quickly”, the huge number of demands on a coach’s time, social media, and all that goes with being a CEO of the mega-corporaate structure that is FBS football in the 21st century.

But, regardless of all this, there is one undeniable thread that weaves its way throughout the history of college football… WINNING. “Just win, baby” as, now deceased, Oakland Raiders owner, Al Davis, was oft-quoted.

Winning does “soothe the savage beast” that is today’s college football fan, but just for a bit. That fan wants to win today, tomorrow and forever. That fan also wants to win big and with style. And that winning includes having the best facilities possible.

So, what would I say to today’s young and eager, prospective college football coaches, if I had them as an audience? To those coaches whose tenure at a school might, possibly, fall into the 4.2 years average that was mentioned above?

My answer might go something like this…

“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or
you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a changin’”

Winter Words / Vol.9 / Football, Baseball and Blessings

The time has changed. The weather has changed. It remains winter, as the vernal equinox has yet to visit us, but spring is within sniffing distance. The forecast for north Georgia is for warm temperatures but it is going to be WET, really wet, this week. But, like a friend said, as I stopped to chat on my walk around midday, we certainly have it better than our friends and neighbors in the northeast. It’s been brutal up there. May you thaw quickly folks!

Baseball’s Spring Training is in full swing and I caught a good bit of the Braves vs. the Nats today. The Braves won, 2-1. It’s not like that matters at this point. All the youngsters are getting a good long look and all will have an opportunity to prove their mettle.

I do hope the Braves’ pitching will remain as strong as it has been thus far. Nine arms combined for a no-hitter this past weekend. That was an odd game. It ended in a 2-2 tie as the game was called after ten innings. They had a shutout through eight today. Good going!

Yes, regular season baseball is just around the corner, but that is not the Big News.

The Big News is… the Auburn Tigers being spring practice TOMORROW. Gus will have a press conference at 11:30 AM CDT and then the burnt orange and navy blue will go about the business of beginning FOR REAL preparation for the 2015 season. YeeeeHaaaaaw!!!

According to early Vegas odds, the Tigers are 4-1 to win the SEC. The Georgia Bulldogs also stand at 4-1 and Ole Miss comes in at 4.2-1. Alabama is favored to repeat at 2-1. Fine.

All of this may be much ado about nothing, in the grand scheme, but it is great fodder for conversation when you live, eat and sleep college football as we do here in the Deep South. March Madness might be about to crank up, but football is what truly captures our hearts and souls 365/24/7.

Speaking of roundball, the SEC Tournament begins, in NashVegas, in a couple of days. The big question is… Can anyone challenge the Kentucky Wildcats? I have heard, and used, the term Mildcats when referring to the Bluegrass State’s flagship school on the gridiron. No one, in their right mind, would refer to their basketball team as such. They are a juggernaut! Their record stands at 31-0 and they are the prohibitive favorite to win it all. I hope they do.

Auburn has no chance to win the SEC Tourney or play in the Big Dance this year. That’s okay, for now, because the future is VERY bright for the Tigers. Coach Bruce Pearl is doing an outstanding job of coaching and recruiting, on The Plains, and I expect them to make a lot of noise soon.

It really is remarkable what Pearl has done so far with the program. Who would have EVER expected numerous sellouts in basketball at Auburn? How about the presence of scalpers at an EXHIBITION GAME?

Incredible!

And how about the promise of Easter?

It seems that resurrection is rearing its head in every aspect of my life. I hope and pray that it is for each and every one of you.

So War Eagle and Go Cats!!!

And…

May God our Father/Mother and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

Selah

Jesus, The Missing Years

There has been much speculation as to what Jesus did between the ages of twelve and thirty. Some theorize that he traveled East and studied Buddhism. This brings to mind a line from a Ray Wylie Hubbard song, “Buddha wasn’t a Christian but Jesus would’ve made a good Buddhist.”

Good point brother Ray. After all, Buddha is known as The Compassionate One. Christianity was, in the beginning, an Eastern religion. It has become Western Europeanized and North Americanized to the point that it sometimes it’s hard to recognize. Well, that’s all good for another time and another day. All that being said, it brings me to my point…

Where was I for the twenty-six years of August 1987 until August 2013? Studying and practicing Buddhism, however erratically, was included in a chunk of those years. Those years would be the 90’s. I met some good Buddhists and some of them were monks. I learned the importance of meditation back then. I wish I could discipline myself to practice it more frequently. It is very important to stop, sit and just breathe. STOP. Be quiet. Listen.

Remember August 1 from the ‘Amazing Grace’ blog last week? It was written on August 1 to coincide with my conversion experience which took place on August 1, 1975.

We now go to August 1, 1987. Our family was having a nice afternoon at Point Reyes Beach which is north of San Francisco. I had been getting that “feeling” deep in my heart. THE SPIRIT was rumbling restless in my soul. Ok, what’s going on here, I thought. Every song and every sign seemed to whisper, “Alabama… Home.” I was getting nervous and you can only imagine how Melodye with an E felt. By the time we got back to our apartment in San Rafael, CA I was listening.

Me and Paul had tickets to a Hank Williams, Jr concert that night. I thought it a good opportunity to do some good ole honky tonkin’ on that Saturday evening and, maybe, get away from the serious soul searching I was wrestling with for awhile. WRONG!!! (Remember the McLaughin Report parody on SNL?)

It turns out all the Hank Jr concert did was to add to the case that was being built by THE SPIRIT. Return to Alabama. You have got to be kidding me! Hank Jr ? I will sleep on it. I slept on it. “Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that it did not hurt…” And I sent Paul and the kids on to church while I stayed home and did some ferocious grappling. I felt like Jacob… or Kris Kristofferson.

I prayed and I grappled and the more I did the louder it got. GO HOME! When Paul got back from church I broke the news to her. She took it like she did all the other “calls”, pretty much in stride, saint that she is. Thus we began to make plans to return to the “Heart of Dixie.” But where? When? How?

I continue to be amazed at how she rolls with all of these situations we find ourselves in but she was adamant about one thing concerning this move. She flatly stated, “If we are going back to Alabama there is only ONE place that I will move to… Auburn!”

Long story short is, three weeks later we find ourselves living in Starr’s Trailer Park in the Loveliest Village. With the help of her uncle L.C. Brown, who had been a principal at Beulah High School for many years, Paul got a job at Beauregard High School in Lee County. I submitted my credentials to the local Baptist Association there. Also I picked up the Opelika-Auburn News that first Sunday we were there and began to scour the want ads. I came to one job opening that jumped off the page at me. The Auburn Alumni association was hiring someone to speak to Auburn Club meetings and perform other various and sundry duties. I’m their man ! WRONG PART DEUX!!!

I did not even get interviewed for the job. I chalked it up as their loss. Now it is lesson time about how things work as a “civilian.” Sixty sets of World Books sold door to door later, I get a call from the said local Baptist Association. I was informed that Loachapoka Baptist Church needed a preacher. This was in January of 1988.

I met with some of the good people of the church and we set up a Sunday, that month, to preach a trial sermon. Now let me say here that I had been having some doubts in my walk of faith. I was very much disenchanted with the Institutional Church, and disenchanted is putting it mildly.

I had done a project on Will D. Campbell while at Golden Gate Seminary. He had been one of the biggest influences on my life at that point. I had found a friend in my disdain for the Institutional Church. Preacher Will had been out of it for many years. He had been a participant on the cutting edge of the Civil Rights movement. He was my hero. And if you haven’t read any of his works then HURRY up and do so. Start with ‘Brother to a Dragonfly’.

We return to a bright and sunny Sunday morning in the same January of 1988. I brought the message and it was very well-received. The small white clapboard building was almost full. They had turned out in force. I stood at the entry door to the church and shook hands with the congregants as they departed. They were all smiles. I could see where this was going. There was one small problem though… “I don’t believe what I just said.” That thought was blindingly overwhelming me. Rut Row! I did not participate in another sermon for almost twenty-six years. So that brings us to… Jesus, The Missing Years.