Friday, March 24, 2006

From the Doubts Over the Bloody Marys In the Football Tailgate Tent To the D1 Scheduling Mess, Morgan Went Down the Drain Quickly--And Deserved It

I first began noticing that there was some unrest among the big givers to Iowa State’s basketball program while I was walking through the tailgate area at Ames before the Cyclones’ football game last fall against Iowa.

This wasn’t the tailgate area where people were doing things Larry Eustachy-style –- which means eating Pringles and drinking Natural Light beer out of the trunk of the car.

It was the area of the big tents, where the heavy hitters were dining on shrimp with all the fixin’s, and drinking what were billed as the best bloody marys in town.

Inside one tent, there was even a well-mannered kid assigned to wait on visitors, whether they were Iowa State fans or Iowa fans.

It was just one big happy family, until I began asking about Cyclone basketball.

When I stopped by one heavy hitter’s tent, I happened to wonder what he thought of Iowa State basketball coach Wayne Morgan.

“There’s still some question about his X’s and O’s,” the heavy hitter said.

That surprised me.

Well, I knew no one had been mentioning Morgan's name in the same breath as John Wooden's or Coach K's -- but I didn't think people were already second-guessing ol' Wayne's play-calling.

After all, the Cyclones were then coming off a season in which they went 19-12, won at Texas and Kansas and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

But now I know what the heavy hitter was talking about.

Now Morgan [right] is history and Greg McDermott –- whose last job was at Northern Iowa –- is Iowa State’s coach.

Morgan was fired less than a week before McDermott was hired. It didn’t look good to athletic director Jamie Pollard [left] when it became public knowledge that some sleazebag outfit known as D1 Scheduling was arranging some of Iowa State’s non-conference games and was providing players to the program.

Players-for-games never sounds like a good idea when you’re dealing with what once was known as amateur athletics.

To protect his ass –- but maybe not Iowa State’s ass –- Pollard showed Morgan the door and brought in McDermott, who once got involved in an exchange of four-letter words with Morgan after an Iowa State-UNI game at Cedar Falls.

After Morgan was dumped, I began wondering why Pollard pulled the plug on him so quickly.

After all, Morgan took his first Cyclone team to the semifinal round of the National Invitation Tournament in a 20-13 season in 2003-2004, went to the second round of the NCAA tournament the next season and finished 16-14 this season – including a very disappointing 6-10 in the conference.

While searching for answers, I found out some interesting things.

Iowa State fans, and certainly not Pollard, didn’t like it that Iowa State began the season among the nation’s top 25 teams, ended it nowhere in sight and even got stiffed by the NIT.

The Cyclones finished what amounted to 10th in what was generally considered to be a down season in the Big 12, and were bounced out of the conference’s postseason tournament by Oklahoma State in the first round.

The Cyclones lost seven of their last nine games, and were a ship without a captain in the final minutes of a lot of those. An “end game” was something they knew nothing about.

The late-game strategy amounted to, “Get the ball to Curtis Stinson and let him get the best shot possible.”

Iowa State had no inside presence all season. That disappeared when Jared Homan played his final second in the NCAA second-round loss to North Carolina the season before. Shawn Taggart, who stands 6-10, and the 6-11 Jiri Hubalek didn’t get any better as this season progressed.

Stinson likely thought he was the best guard in collegiate basketball, and Morgan may have agreed –- but he wasn’t. With the game on the line, Stinson failed more often than he succeeded.

It was interesting that the day the D1 Scheduling scandal surfaced, Stinson and his roommate, guard Will Blalock, both said they plan to make themselves available for the NBA draft.

Neither is projected as a first-round choice in a two-round draft. Blalock indicates he’d like to play his senior season if it appears he won’t be drafted, but that probably won’t be the case with Stinson.

There are questions being raised about Stinson’s eligibility.

It could be that a place like Italy –- not the NBA –- is where both guys wind up playing.

And when Stinson and Blalock are frantically searching for Iowa State and NBA scores in the European editions of USA Today, there could be some interesting things going on in Ames.

A couple of outfits that like to do plenty of snooping –- the NCAA and the IRS – may have their magnifying glasses out while investigating Iowa State’s relationship with D1 Scheduling under Morgan.

Discipline both on and off the court was lacking at Iowa State in the Morgan years

There’s a rule at Iowa State and at most Division I universities that the team travels as a unit to and from road games.

The only exception is during the Christmas/New Year’s Day period when players can return to their family homes from a road game if the transportation is easier.

The word is that at least two Iowa State players didn’t return with the team after the Feb. 11 game at Kansas this season. Both were seen by Cyclone fans at a fast-food restaurant in northern Missouri.

One of the players, who doesn’t have a driver’s license, drove away from the restaurant.

I guess the one guy who might understand that kind of stuff would be Eustachy, who traveled on his own regularly in his years as Iowa State’s coach.

And we all know what it got him.

A one-way trip to Hattiesburg, Miss.