Sports management, leadership, crisis control ...
It’s hard to think about my father without putting it into a sporting context. After all, the greatest bond that my brother Jerry and I shared with Dad was probably our mutual love of sports, especially Kentucky basketball and the Boston Red Sox. Dad was not an effusive conversationalist, but he could wax poetic on the virtues of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Mike Casey. The two former were his favorite Sox stars over the years, and the latter was like his third son, growing up just down the road from us in our rural metropolis of Clark Station, Kentucky. But there was, oh, so much more to our Dad, as I was reminded when I re-read the following tribute that Jerry and I put together in 2002 on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Four years before he passed away at age 84, we wrote down 80 reasons why we loved him. I’ve winnowed the list a bit for space reasons, but I present this on Father’s Day, hoping you can relate memories of your father or even think about what your own children might write about you someday. Enjoy:
The first things you read to us were the Bible and the comics. We loved how you would wax nostalgic about the glory days of Clark Station, Pap’s store and when the train would stop. We marveled at your tales of picking beans for 50 cents a day. You taught us the love of vegetable gardening.You would try to get us to eat turnips, by calling them “that kind of potatoes.” Jim remembers when you saved his life by killing that vicious garter snake on Mema’s back porch. Jerry will never forget how Mema scolded you for not cleaning off your garden tools, like Pap did. We first saw you cry when Pap died.
We remember our fishing trips to Cattail Lakes with your friend Lee Druin. How we loved going to the County Fair and the State Fair, especially to see the dairy cows. You taught us the love of sports. Jim will never forget the first time he walked with you up the ramp at Parkway Field and saw the Louisville Colonels’ beautiful green playing field. You showed us how left field was supposed to be played. But you knew when it was time to put away your glove and spikes.Your love of the Red Sox taught us perseverance. Your love of the Wildcats taught us there’s nothing wrong with a winner. You got Jim his first baseball autograph, Al Corwin, pitcher, Louisville Colonels, and you still treasure the Mike Greenwell autograph ball that Jim got for you.You taught us the best dog is a rabbit dog.
You taught us responsibility when you bought us each a calf to raise and how you played along when Jerry’s “Nosey” became a pet. Riding on the milk truck, our job was to open all the gates and scare away the mean dogs. It was on the truck that you taught us “fine dining” meant a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and a Pepsi. Vacations were the best of times. How we loved “Ogle’s Creekbend Cabins” and those times in Gatlinburg. You instilled in us a love of history during those drives through the Chattanooga and Chickamauga battlefields. You taught us a love for adventure when we “explored” those bear paths and trails in the Smokies. We embraced your love of Florida. You taught us honesty when you argued with a Daytona Howard Johnson restaurant cashier that she had given you too much change. The importance of family, particularly the visits with Uncle Fred in Florida, taught us a love of genealogy. Jim will never forget the only time he saw you sip a beer, with Uncle Fred at Busch Gardens.You taught us that Millers travel by car and had a lot of baloney-and-cheese “picnics.” You taught us that four people could have a great vacation for $300.
The years passed, but you kept playing ping-pong with us, long after we started to win. When Jim turned 16 and almost wrecked the pickup, you gratefully stepped aside and let Mom teach him to drive.You had the last laugh with a lesson in humility, by buying a 1960 Ford Falcon as Jim’s first car. As we grew, you tolerated our preferences, from our politics to hair over our eyebrows. You endured our mistakes, but you let us learn from them. And you always waited patiently until we came back from the edge. When we started to observe politics, you admitted voting for Democrats in the first presidential elections you could vote (for FDR and Truman). You kept Jim plugging away at UK when his first-semester GPA suggested a lesser school. You gave us such a head-start on life by paying for college and giving us each a new car on graduation. When we were struggling after going out on our own – you loaned us money and then forgave the loans.
The guys’ trip to Fenway Park is the best trip either of us ever took.You looked on with understanding as we sipped a beer at the Cambridge Marriott. Jerry has never forgotten the picture of you and your Army buddies in New York; your table crowded with beer bottles. Jim remembers the only time he saw you drink a beer was with Uncle Fred at Busch Gardens. We remember the pride we felt every time we saw your old army uniform and scrapbook. Even before Tom Brokaw told us, we always knew that yours was the “greatest generation.” Jerry is still awed by what you must have felt when the kamikaze plane exploded into a nearby ship off the Philippines. Jim admired the picture from Hawaii of you dancing with the babe in the hula skirt. We were so happy that 50 years later we could take you back to Hawaii.
Jerry will never forget how proud you were that he became the President of the Lions Club, like you had been. You and Billy taught us that, like a marriage, if you work at it, brothers really can work together. You personified the term “quiet dignity.” You taught us to turn the other cheek. You were no activist, but you taught us that the Civil Rights movement in the Sixties was merely a question of respect for others. More recently, Jim realized he should have listened when you told us CDs were safer than stocks. You were always there when we needed you. If there is anything as important to you as your family, it’s your faith. You continue to show us how to keep going when you don’t feel like it.
You wanted us to do better than you did. We later discovered that we’d never do better than you did in the things that really matter. All either of us ever wanted to achieve in life is for you to be proud of us. And over all these years we are strengthened every time you tell us you love us because we love you.
Happy Father's Day!
Random thoughts while driving back from another horse show. I will resume timely features this week, but the timing of the annual Tryon Riding & Hunt Club show renders me unavailable to comment on Sunday night’s Heat-Spurs NBA playoff game. However, the view before the game is thus: Somebody said the Miami Heat faced a “must win” game against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of the NBA playoffs. Whenever I hear that phrase, I think of Marv Levy’s quote when a sportswriter asked if the Bills’ next crucial game was a “must win” affair. Levy, who has a PhD in history, responded calmly: “Must win? World War II was a ‘Must Win.’ This is a football game!”
A shout-out for the LSU baseball Tigers after they won the Super Regional over Oklahoma and head for the College World Series in Omaha. Austin Nola outpitched Oklahoma’s No. 3 draft pick Jonathan Gray in the Super Regional opener and then LSU proceeded to pound the Sooners 11-1 in Game Two. A measure of the LSU talent is the fact that nine present and future Tigers were drafted by Major League baseball over the weekend. Teams like Alabama football, Kentucky basketball and LSU baseball don’t merely recruit. They reload. Good luck to them and Go, SEC!
I didn’t pick Orb to win the Kentucky Derby, but after he won it I was pulling for him to go on and sweep the Triple Crown. Racing needs another super star, and the only way the industry will get one is through a Triple Crown winner, something that hasn’t happened since Affirmed nosed out Alydar in three straight races in 1978. But it’s also good when Oxbow won the Preakness and Palace Malice won the Belmont. It shows that horse racing is as unpredictable as most other major championships. So let’s just continue to enjoy the races and hope that sooner or later we will have another superhorse to win all three majors.
I watched the French Open women’s final this week and received a reminder why I don’t like women’s tennis. If I want to hear a women go UNGHH, UNGHH I will buy my wife flowers and candy and hope for the best. Why must the tennis players let the rest of us know how much they are exerting on every stroke? I do not want that to diminish what Serena Williams did on Saturday, winning her first French title since 2002. It’s just not one of my preferred diversions from NCIS reruns.
And now, a personal note judging by the picture at the top: My daughter Layne, who is headed to Kentucky to study equine sciences, distinguished herself again at the annual Tryon (N.C.) Hunt Club show the past two weekends. Layne is still breaking in her Thoroughbred jumper, Just Cinnamon, which we acquired just over a year ago because Layne wanted to jump higher. Her little quarter horse, Oliver with a Twist, was a perennial champion at the 3-foot and 3-foot-3 heights, but Layne wanted to jump higher, and she is with Just Cinnamon. She finished as Reserve Champion in one class (that is second place for you non-horsies), and they are getting better. Like any good team, it takes a while to jell, and it won’t be long before Layne and Cinnamon start winning regularly. You don't care? Hey, it’s my website, and I can brag about my daughter, okay?
Seriously, I appreciate your indulgence! Back in force later this week!
In a Cinderella world, the Indiana Pacers would come out tonight and turn the hailed and hallowed Miami Lebrons back into a pumpkin. You might actually believe that if you believe that matchups can explode myths of invincibility just because one team’s players match up well against those of a better team. That has been the reason the Pacers and Heat are tied at three games apiece going into the rubber match in Miami tonight.
Indiana excels at rebounding, a Miami weakness. The Heat ranked fourth-worst in offensive-rebounding and eighth-worst in defensive rebounding because they almost always played without a true center in their small-ball lineup. By contrast, the sizable Pacers led the league with a 52.9% overall rebounding mark. The Heat could be in trouble because they've been unable to hold down Indiana's big front line led by 7-2 center Roy Hibbert, who has dwarfed Miami's defenders while averaging 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds.
"Roy Hibbert is making extraordinary plays in the pocket, poise in the pocket we call it," said coach Frank Vogel who once served as Rick Pitino’s student manager at Kentucky. "He's getting the paint catches and he's just having great reads. He's not plowing over guys. He has been under control, and when the help comes he either finishes over them or he makes the extra pass. Roy is playing the best basketball of his career right now. He's leading us, and he's a big reason why we are where we are."
In addition, All-Star small forward Paul George threw in 28 points to help avoid elimination in Game 6 at Indianapolis, and his scoring and playmaking have also created problems for the Heat. Former Hornet David West made five of his last seven shots in Game 6 despite playing with a high fever. While Indiana has been able to rely on production from its front line, Miami has been struggling to generate numbers from All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who were a combined 4 for 18 in Game 6. Wade has been limited by a knee injury, while Bosh has been dealing with a sprained ankle and a loss of confidence in his shooting.
But this is Game 7 of the conference series, and you can throw past performances out the window. This is Lebron James’ stage, and he will make the difference as the Heat win and move on to face the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night. It’s a championship or bust for James, who will not accept falling one step short of reaching the Finals. He takes over big games from all parts of the floor, whether it is popping three-pointers, hitting an open teammate or grabbing a rebound and driving the length of the floor. If James needs to score 45 points, grab 12 rebounds and distribute eight assists while playing the entire game and conducting the timeout huddles, he will.
Don’t get me wrong, I am pulling for the Pacers, as most unattached sporting fans will be doing tonight. I just believe that enough reasons exist why the Heat will win this game and advance to a third straight NBA Finals. They have the best player in the world in James, who has been averaging 28.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists in this series. They'll be able to draw upon the soothing experiences of their championship, including the tight Game 7 they won in Miami in this same round against the Celtics one year ago. They'll be welcoming back center Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who hasn't missed a shot in this round but was suspended from Game 6 because of an altercation with Tyler Hansbrough. Wade and Bosh also need to prove that Miami’s Big Three has not been reduced by two-thirds. The pair combined for a measly 15 points, six rebounds and one assist in Game 6 while getting manhandled by their Pacers counterparts. It won’t hurt that the game is being played at American Airlines Arena where the Heat is 43-6 this season and 6-2 in the playoffs.
Of course, one of those losses was to the Pacers, and that’s why they will play the game rather than going straight to the coronation. My brain says the Heat, although my heart will be beating for the Pacers.
A good man who was my last hire as a college athletic director was fired yesterday, and I take it personally. Bruce Peddie, whom I hired as head baseball coach when I was AD at the University of New Orleans, was let go yesterday after a 7-44 season. You might look at the 2013 record or Peddie’s overall 40-161 record at UNO and ask “What’s the big deal?” Coaches get fired all the time, many with records not nearly as dismal as Peddie’s. The big deal is that Peddie was doing his damndest to make chicken salad of the worst chicken-bleep coaching situation in America.
For those of you who are familiar with the UNO situation, and if you are not you can click on the box to the right and read all about it in my book Where the Water Kept Rising, you know that after Hurricane Katrina the UNO baseball team under Tom Walter won the Sun Belt Conference championship in 2007 and had the conference’s best record in 2008 while going to the NCAA tournament both years. The team featured such stars as Johnny Giavotella, who has been up and down with the Kansas City Royals, and Joey Butler, who is at the Texas Rangers’ top farm club at Round Rock. But Walter left for the head coaching job at Wake Forest, and I hired Peddie, Walter's assistant head coach, to be the guy.
Unfortunately, the timing was terrible because the UNO administration soon launched an ill-advised strategy to de-emphasize athletics. Translated, it was a gutless decision to strip the program of its funding, which effectively gelded the university of its most economical and cost-effective means of attracting public attention. That is when I made the decision to leave (it’s all in the book!) and return to full-time writing. The downside, which I deeply regret, was that nobody was left to stand in the doorway to prevent the university’s storm troopers from making an almost comical series of Keystone Kops decisions. It was all Ready, Fire, AIM!
First came the decision to downgrade the program to Division III. No scholarships to fund meant the university would be relieved of athletics’ biggest cost item. But wait a minute! After the announcement was made, somebody noticed the lack of Division III schools within a bus ride of UNO. Who would they play? Hmmm, the wizards met again and decided that Division II would be the way to go. Plenty of D-II schools around and even a conference that was dying to add New Orleans to its panoply of garden spots that included Livingston AL, Cleveland MS and Carrollton GA. The only thing those moves proved was that university administrators are educated far beyond their intelligence.
Fortunately, the posse finally caught up with the instigator of all this wizened mayhem, and he was canned. A new president was selected with the foresight that a Division I athletic program was, in fact, the most cost-efficient and economical method for a mid-sized university to gain attention. He declared that UNO would not leave Division I and that he would support the program. But a declaration does not instantly control the damage already done. Scholarships were cut for three straight years and recruiting all but stopped. To Bruce Peddie’s credit, he wanted his players to continue to enjoy the Division I experience, and that is the way he scheduled the Privateers’ opponents. He took the moral high road that he owed something to the kids he recruited during the good years, and he refused to schedule down. LSU, Tulane, Oklahoma and other Division I schools continued on the schedule, and, predictably, Peddie’s undermanned squad was pounded more often than not. But he did the right thing for his kids.
As one who has sat in the athletic director’s chair, I know that people without all the facts run a risk when condemning difficult decisions. But I do have enough of the facts to know that Bruce Peddie did not deserve to be fired after doing everything in his power for his program and its student-athletes.
College administrations at the highest levels are a mish-mash of egos and greed who think their every word should be chiseled in marble and revered for all eternity. If somebody deserves to be fired, it’s Ohio State’s prissy president, Gordon Gee, who thought he was dazzling a captive audience with his deprecations on the Catholic Church, Southeastern Conference and the former Wisconsin football coach. When I am elected emperor, the Gordon Gees of the world will be sent to the guillotine, and once they arrive, they will find good men like Bruce Peddie sharpening the blade.
I’m sorry, but I can’t get excited about the Indianapolis 500, which held its traditional Memorial Day weekend milk run on Sunday. I know it’s the Kentucky Derby of auto racing, and I know the race has a huge history and respect and blah, blah, blah, so forgive me. I have experienced all the thrills of racing that I need coming to work on the Causeway at 7 a.m., dodging young ladies who are putting on their lipstick with one hand, talking in their cellphone in the other and guiding their unguided missiles with their knees at 75 miles an hour.
Guys I know and respect, like former Saints head coach Jim Mora and former Saints trainer Dean Kleinschmidt, rave about the pageantry of the event and the race strategy. But Mora, who was Peyton Manning’s first head coach with the Colts, and “Sawbones” Kleinschmidt, who attended Indiana University, had up-close and personal exposure to the Kool-Aid. When I was in college at Kentucky, one of my roommates in the SAE house, the late, great Richard Haskell “Hoot” Gibson from New Albany, Indiana, pleaded with me every year to go the 500 with him. He spoke of the reverance and glory of the race in making his plea. Hoot’s garrulous personality and infrequent sobriety made him a perfect cross between the erudite Otter and John Belushi’s Neanderthal Bluto of Animal House. But he could never persuade me to drive three hours to watch a three-hour car race.
I know there are horse racing skeptics who would say the same thing about the Kentucky Derby, that you can go to Churchill Downs on Derby day, sit in the infield and never see a horse amid the 150,000 revelers, while the Indy 500 hosts twice that number, and every one of them can close their eyes and know there’s a race going on. But, hey, there are zillions of reasons why the Derby is a superior sporting event, and I will name only a few that space permits.
Sunday’s 500 was only the 97th edition of the race as opposed to 139 Derbies, and don’t complicate things with the fact that horses have been around much longer than cars. Doesn’t matter! The Derby is part of Americana. Ulysses S. Grant was president when Aristides won the first Derby in 1875. We’re not talking Herb Schreiner here, we are talking about Ulysses S. Grant, man! You want some other reasons why the Derby is better than the 500? Nothing beats the hats on Derby day. Most are creative, some border on the odd and other push right through to over-the-top. Whatever you think about the hats on Derby day, one thing is for sure: you can’t look away.
What song comes to mind when someone mentions the Indy 500? Give up? I don’t know, either, so, even if there is one, it can’t compare with Stephen Foster’s "My Old Kentucky Home." The song was written in 1850 and for decades has been the official song of the Kentucky Derby. How about betting? Where is the $2 window at the Indy 500? Oh, they don’t allow betting? Bummer! Part of the fun of the Derby is a chance for a big payday or at least the few moments when you fancy yourself a racing aficionado. Whether you pick a horse because of the jockey, the color silks or even the horse’s name, part of the fun is picking a horse and pulling for it. For more serious touts, the Daily Racing Form makes it easy to see past performances and make a pick. I honestly don’t know if such a form exists where you can study the relative merits of drivers Buddy Lazier over Pippa Mann or Simon Pagenaud.
I have to admit the announcement “Gentlemen, start your engines,” is a cool tradition. But as a pinnacle moment it can’t match: "And they're off!" The bell strikes “Brinnnng!” and 20 horses roar out of the starting gate, hoping that two minutes later they will run their way into the history books. And that brings us to another feather in the Derby hat. The race only takes a few seconds over 2 minutes, and if that’s doesn’t make it an almost sexual experience it is at least much more efficient than spending three-plus hours sucking gasoline fumes and hoping nobody blows a tire and hurtles into the crowd.
So what do the winners of the two races get? The Derby winner has an elegant garland of roses thrown over its neck, while hundreds of adoring paparazzi snap pictures. The Indy 500 winner is expected to guzzle a jug of milk while hundreds of adoring paparazzi snap pictures. Nothing wrong with milk, especially with hot fudge brownies, but if I’m winning a race, I expect something a little stronger than pasteurized 2%. Speaking of which, the Derby has the ultimate signature drink in all of sports, the mint julep. Philadelphia Eagles fans might argue that it’s Bud Light with no third-quarter cutoff, but the mint julep has been promoted by Churchill Downs as the official drink of the Kentucky Derby since 1938. Every year, almost 120,000 juleps are served over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Derby.
Finally, the Derby is special because it is the first of three major races that comprise the elusive Triple Crown. Elusive because 1978 was the last time we saw a Triple Crown winner, when Affirmed became the 11th and last horse to ever win the crown jewel of horse racing. If the Indy 500 really wanted to get my attention, they would propose a Triple Crown series that combined the Indy 500, the Daytona 500 and Causeway Rush Hour. Wow! That would be a Triple Crown series unparalleled in sports. But if that ever happened, I’m betting on the young ladies who are late for work and are steering with their knees!