Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Horner, Haluska, Brunner Saved Alford's Coaching Job

This is a very busy week.

Lots of places to go, lots of people to see, lots of e-mails to read and respond to, lots of basketball games to watch, lots of multi-millionaire Cub pitchers to not feel sorry for.

So let’s get with it.

The first e-mail is from “Captain Cook” of Urbandale:


“Maybe we have to re-think the Alford coaching job.

“I tended to be on the critical side as well, but he is about even in close games this year. His teams seem to begin the season well and, provided they haven't completely self destructed, start to recover to a respectable level at the close of the season.

“I do not like his postgame comments concerning coaching decisions--maybe he just talks more than most coaches. There are also times when his teams look as though they wish they were somewhere else. Who is responsible? Players or the coach, overlooking the fact that the coach recruits the players?

“What has happened to Erek Hansen? He should get more rebound than he does simply by accident. Over the years, the post position has been a problem with Alford. If I were him, I would be looking for an assistant who was an ex-post player who made a little bit of talent go a long way, especially on defense.”

[RON MALY’S COMMENT: Mr. November has obviously saved his job with the late-season recovery program. Jeff Horner, Adam Haluska and Greg Brunner have rescued the ship. If what those guys have done makes Alford a better coach, so be it. Alford is now taking his team to Indianapolis for the NCAA tournament, and people in Indiana think he’can do no wrong. An Indiana fan said to a guy I know the other day, “Can we steal Alford from you?” The Iowa guy said, “You can have him very cheap.” The Indiana guy couldn’t believe it. As for Erek Hansen, I agree that he needs coaching from someone who knows how to work with big men. Hansen is quick, he’s a shot-blocker and he can certainly maintain a strong presence around the basket. But he needs coaching].


A reader informed me a few days ago about a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Minneapolis who is being recruited by the women’s basketball programs at both Iowa State and Iowa.

I said it was more sick than strange.

Here are a couple of e-mails I’ve received on the situation:

Said “Captain Cook:”


“I agree - let the kid be a kid for a couple more years.”

From George Wine of Coralville:


“Which is sicker--recruiting eighth-grade girls or molesting them?

“Both are bad.”


Another e-mail from George Wine:


“What surprised me about all the ESPN commentary on the NCAA field
is that nobody wondered whether Iowa got in because of Bowlsby's position on the selection committee.

“I thought sure Billy Packer would ask him something about that on
the CBS one-hour show, but he just tossed a lot of softball stuff.

“The only guy I saw who was pissed at Iowa's inclusion was the young guy from Sports Illy whose name I cannot think of. He and Clark Kellogg almost came to blows over it.

“The only [other] time the NCAA took a seventh-place Big Ten team was in 1990 when the league was the best in college basketball. Indiana got in at 8-10 that year.”

[RON MALY’S COMMENT: Bob Bowlsby is the present Iowa athletic director and the former Northern Iowa athletic director who is chairman of the NCAA tournament selection committee. I, too, couldn’t believe it when no one from CBS questioned him after Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa were picked for the 65-team field. My opinion is that Iowa State and Iowa deserved to be chosen. I’m not so sure about UNI, which was knocked out in its first game in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. But I’m glad the Panthers were picked over Notre Dame. The Sports Illustrated writer Wine was referring to is Seth Davis].

Writes the Rev. David Mumm of Des Moines:

Hi Ron,

I would think Dick Vitale would have more legitimate argument about Northern Iowa not being in if the Pathers had chosen to fill a 15 or 16 role in the tournament. The 11-5 battles are usually among the better games, because they involve teams that do deserve to be in the tournament.


The Iowa State-Minnesota game Friday in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament may not be the end of the rivalry between the Big 12 and Big Ten universities.

A Cyclones-Gophers basketball game at Wells-Fargo Arena in Des Moines and a future football series between the two schools could be in the works, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Here’a story the newspaper carried today:

When the Gophers men's basketball team plays Iowa State in Friday's first round of the NCAA tournament in Charlotte, N.C., it will be the first meeting between the two teams since the 1992-93 season.

It appears unlikely fans of the two regional neighbors will have to wait a decade for another meeting.

Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi and Iowa State AD Bruce Van De Velde have had conversations about the two schools playing in football and men's and women's basketball.

"The women's teams are going to be playing an home-and-home series," Van De Velde said. "I hope we can re-establish it on the men's side too -- in basketball and football. I think it would be great for the fans."

Maturi said a men's basketball series likely wouldn't begin next season. When a football series would begin hinges largely on whether the NCAA increases the schedule to 12 games, something that could happen next month.

"It's something I'd like to see happen," Maturi said. "I know the sensitivity of both coaches, there are some merits. The coaches understand there are recruiting implications, positive and negative.

"[Scheduling is] not as easy as people think, but I do think it's something we're looking to do."

Iowa State has expressed interest in the Gophers playing the Cyclones at the new Wells-Fargo Arena that is currently under construction in downtown Des Moines.

The two schools played 10 times in men's basketball from 1957 to '71 and again for a stretch in the late '80s and early '90s. In football, the two schools have played only three times since 1924 and not since 1997.

Iowa State was scheduled to play at Minnesota during the 1999 football season, but the Cyclones backed out of that game.

--Jeff Shelman and Rachel Blount [former sportswriter at the local paper]


Kirk Speraw, who lettered as an Iowa basketball player in 1978 and 1979, has another successful team as the coach at Central Florida.

Alan Schmadtke of the Orlando Sentinel wrote this story about him, which was sent to me by a Des Moines reader:

Alice Speraw stood at the back of the room, saw her son on the podium at the Atlantic Sun Championship and started to cry.

Two years after nearly losing his job, Kirk Speraw had just secured his program's first back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. He started talking about growing up in Iowa, about dreaming of the NCAA since he was old enough to dribble a ball.

Four decades after young Kirk sprawled out on the living room floor, television in sight, basketball at his side, Alice Speraw suddenly listened to him pause in front of reporters.

"He was talking about how winning never gets old, how much it means to him," she says. "I thought, 'He's thinking about his dad.' But he didn't say anything. He started talking about something else."

It is, after all, the Speraw way.

Adds Alice: "Wouldn't his dad's buttons be popping off his vest?"

Kirk Speraw probably was born to coach.

Eugene "Bud" Speraw reared his only son from the sidelines in Sioux City, Ia., where for three decades he coached football, basketball, baseball and track. Sandwiched among school, homework, chores and living with two sisters, Kirk did what coaches' sons do: He helped and he absorbed.

"When he was a basketball assistant at Central [High School], I kept the stats," Speraw says. "We'd go to the head coach's house after a game, and he and my dad would talk about the game. I'd be there tallying up stats. I went on road trips and kept up with all the numbers. All that rubbed off, I'm sure."

Bud's boy grew up to be a four-sport letterman and an all-state guard at North High, a good enough athlete to turn down small-school scholarships and walk on for Lute Olson at Iowa.

By the time he married Tracy Moser two years out of college, his career path in coaching was set.

"I probably had it in the back of my mind all along," Speraw says. "I'd been around it all my life."

Says Tracy Speraw: "He's his dad."

Bud Speraw was, by family accounts, a quintessential Midwesterner -- tall, matter-of-fact, clean-cut, patient. He never smoked or drank. He quietly roamed sidelines and dugouts, tucking his emotions away for another time.

It's the same sort of man UCF has had as its basketball coach since 1993. In a time of chest bumps and self-promotion, Bud's son preaches passing and teamwork, defense and details. Success, he says, speaking the same words he heard as a boy, comes from togetherness, not from bold headlines or stirring quotes.

The Golden Knights embrace their Capt. Kirk, their Mr. Vanilla.

If they only knew.

"People underestimate how competitive Kirk is," says former UCF assistant Jorge Fernandez, now an assistant at Miami. "They see laid-back and reserved on the bench. But he's the ultimate competitor. That son-of-a-gun hates to lose. Hates it."

He has much to like these days. UCF is in the midst of its finest run since its Division II glory years nearly 30 years ago (1975-78). The Knights are 70-25 in the past three seasons, with three appearances in the A-Sun Championship game, two tournament titles and one shared regular-season title.

The 15th-seeded Knights (24-8) will be big underdogs when they play second-seeded Connecticut (22-7) Friday in the NCAA first round at Worcester, Mass., but it can be argued that Speraw's program is more ready for next year's move to Conference USA than UCF's much-hyped football program.

"This is the product of a lot of work on a lot of people's part," says Speraw, 48. "The last three years especially, players bought in to what we wanted to convey."

There was a time -- and not long ago -- when three consecutive winning basketball seasons at UCF was enough to get the coach a better job. But in a coaching era of constant ambition and trading up, Speraw is a mid-major enigma. He'll step into C-USA as the second-longest tenured coach at any league school; Rice's Willis Wilson will have him beat by a year.

Close friends have urged him to look into openings at schools that have more appreciation for basketball than UCF, particularly after last year's school-record 25-win season. Speraw declined.

Since leaving Lon Kruger's staff at Florida to take over at UCF in 1993, Speraw hasn't interviewed for another job.

"Kirk's biggest priority is his family," says Wartburg College Coach Dick Peth, a teammate of Speraw's at Iowa. "Tracy and the kids, they keep him grounded, and they're a big support system. They helped him get through the tough years."

The Speraws have four children, whose ages range from 6 to 18. Each was born at one of his coaching stops -- Lakeland (assistant at Florida Southern), Pensacola (head coach at Pensacola Junior College), Gainesville (assistant at Florida) and Orlando.

"We've moved enough that we know that's what happens in coaching," Tracy Speraw says. "But Kirk hasn't thought much about leaving because we love Orlando, our kids love Orlando and they're at the [high school] age where they really don't want to leave. I'm sure Kirk will say, 'Never say never,' but honestly, he has a lot of emotion invested in UCF."

For a while, UCF appeared poised to divest itself of him. He had raised expectations at a school once regarded as a graveyard for basketball coaches, only to become a seeming victim of his own success.

When Speraw arrived in '93, none of UCF's previous Division I coaches -- Chuck Machock, Phil Carter and Joe Dean -- still were in the profession. UCF, in fact, was the last coaching stop for each. They fell victims of inadequate funding, poor administrative support and, in the case of the first two, woeful facilities.


I know this right now. I’m going to miss ol’ Stoney in the TV booth.

That would be Steve Stone, who put in so many seasons on the stations that carried the Chicago Cubs’ games.

Stoney couldn’t get along with manager Dusty Baker and some of the players last season, so he’s gone elsewhere.

But they haven’t been able to shut him up yet.

The Chicago Sun-Times carried this story today on some of the things Stoney has been saying:

Steve Stone may no longer be in the booth, but the former Cubs broadcaster still is plenty vocal with his opinions. Appearing Monday in his regular stint with WSCR-AM (670), Stone gave his take on the injury problems confronting Cubs pitchers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.

"Mark has had a couple of different ailments," said Stone, citing the Achilles problem that sidelined Prior last spring. "I know it's the elbow flaring up now. But the history of baseball is replete with gentlemen with leg problems, and they develop into arm problems."

On those who've questioned Prior's toughness, Stone said: "I won't name names, but coming out of camp last year at times was [the opinion] that Prior probably wasn't tough enough. That he had to pitch with pain. That he has to go out there, that's what major-league pitchers do.

"I have to believe if he's telling you he's hurting, he's hurting. And because they can't find a cause doesn't make the pain any less real. So you've got a multimillion-dollar talent, you want to keep running him out there and saying he's not tough enough?

"Well, I'll tell you what: Let him go and see if anybody else picks him up."

As for Wood, Stone said the oft-injured ace needs to be willing to make adjustments in his pitching style.

"Wood has shown no adaptability," Stone said. "He wants to throw the ball 95 to 96 [mph]; he wants to throw it at times through the catcher. When he loses his mechanics, he can't get them back again. Somebody is going to have to tell Kerry the object of the game is to pitch. That's why they call you a pitcher. If not, they call you a thrower.

"And if they call you a thrower, and if you keep saying you can't change your mechanics, and if in fact your mechanics are partially responsible for you getting hurt every year, you've got a couple of choices: You can take all the money you've made --which is a bundle -- and you can go sell cars. Or you can make some adjustments and try to stay around this league for 10 years.”


Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune writes about Gene Wojeciechowski, who has written a book titled, “Cubs Nation: 162 Games, 162 Stories, One Addiction.”

Wojeciechowski [try that saying name six time quickly!] chronicles the 2004 Cubs’ season, which ended poorly—as so many other Cub seasons have ended.

The author told Greenstein that only two Cub players wouldn’t talk to him one-on-one for the book— right-fielder/slugger Sammy Sosa and relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth, both of whom have since been traded.

Wojeciechowski said Sosa, who was the highest-salaried Cub player, wanted to be paid for his time. Farnsworth, after agreeing to be interviewed, made him wait three hours in the dugout, then told him he wouldn’t do the interview.


This got my attention right away.

The AP story was about the top editor of the newspaper in Mankato, Minn., who has quit rather than cut newsroom jobs to meet budget targets.

Now, I can think of nine or 10 editors at other papers who I wish would make the same decision as Deb Flemming.

On Tuesday, The Free Press reported the decision by editor Flemming to leave the company on April 9 as part of a broader cost-cutting plan. She informed her staff on Monday.

"Clearly, my leaving kept additional folks in the newsroom,'' she said. "You need people to do the job. Without people, it will impact the quality of the product you give readers.''

Flemming, 50, said she wouldn't be looking for another newspaper job, at least right away. "I've been doing this for 25 years and I'm really looking forward to a change.''

The daily newspaper is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. of Alabama, which publishes daily, weekly, and semiweekly newspapers in more than 200 communities in the United States.

Publisher Ken Lingen said the financial pinch was due to "getting our budget in line with industry standards'' rather than unexpected expenses or revenue shortfalls.

Flemming said she came to her decision while working on a plan to bring newsroom full-time staffing to an industry standard that calls for about one newsroom employee for each 1,000 in circulation. The Free Press has a daily circulation of 22,500.

With 30 staff members, the paper was considered overstaffed, Flemming said.

Vol. 4, No. 322
March 15, 2004