Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Best quote you'll read all year

Today's Republic includes a well-written article by Jeff Metcalfe regarding Dennis Erickson's early success in recruiting, despite the lack of big name commitments to this year's class.

The article includes this quote from Allen Wallace. It's something we should all learn by heart:
One of the most fundamental wrong focuses of a coach's first year is who he brings in. It's the least important thing. Fans want everything, to fix the future and the immediate. The new coach is supposed to do in two-three months what everybody else hasn't done in a year. It's not going to happen that way.

It sounds like DE and his staff are a lot more focused on building the foundation for future classes, versus this year's haul.

Having said that, Metcalfe also reports that ASU received two more commitments yesterday, including one from Jonathan English from Louisiana.

Monday, January 29, 2007

What to Expect When You're Expecting

Twenty years ago, the best day of the year for the geek football fan was NFL draft day. Back then, it was still only an event that the hardcore fan set aside on their calendar.

Now that the NFL draft is mainstream, the new "best day of the year" for overly obsessive fans is National Letter of Intent day, also known as LOI day, which is usually the first Wednesday of February.

If you have already scheduled to take the day off work, or are planning to work from home in order to be able to hit the Refresh button on your PC 100 times per hour all day, then your priorities are probably out of whack. However, let's face it, it's fun. Just like Christmas, and just like draft day, on LOI day everyone is a winner.

Since some of you will be about to experience your first internet LOI day, here are a few things you should and should not expect:

- DO expect an official announcement at around 5p.m. AZ time -- usually no word from ASU until an official press release gets posted to the Sun Devils website in the late afternoon. Often you will get confirmation of a few signings prior to the official release from one of the recruiting sites.
- DO expect one or two names to be missing, but don't painc -- each year one or two LOIs arrive too late for inclusion in the initial release, so if the name of one commitment is missing, don't be too worried (unless he shows up on another school's LOI list!!!)
- Do NOT expect many surprises -- every year we hope for a couple of unexpected names to appear on the list. Never happens. If you follow the major recruiting sites, then by Monday or Tuesday you'll have a pretty solid idea of who will sign.
- DO expect a major outpouring of grief on the message boards. Topics you can be sure to read about will be: "See, this proves that Dennis Erickson is useless". "See, this proves that Dirk Koetter should never have been fired", "See, this proves that Ron English should have been hired", "ASU will never win another game", "I will not renew my season tickets", "Does [Insert Name Here] know how cold it is in [Insert State Here] in the winter?", "au has beaten us again in the rankings", etc. Seasoned posters know to stay well clear of the message boards for at least 48 hours following LOI day.
- Do NOT expect anyone to rationally point out that this year's class is, for the most part, an irrelevance in the big picture. DE's success at ASU will be defined by his 2008 and (even more) his 2009 classes. Hopefully he is laying the foundation for those classes right now.
- DO expect great things from the kids that sign. This will be a special class, probably comprising more overachiever types than usual. Welcome them all with open arms; after all, they have chosen to be SUN DEVILS. Who knows, they may be the first class to win two Rose Bowls in the maroon-and-gold.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Bickley can't resist

It's not quite journalistic stalking, but the Republic's Dan Bickley can't resist making a little-too-late stab at fired ASU coach Dirk Koetter in his column on Andrew Walter:

As a rookie in 2005 he watched the 49ers' Alex Smith have an awful inaugural season, and he remembers how Dirk Koetter once came to ASU and proclaimed Chad Christensen the better quarterback.

He has also noticed that the Raiders play the Jaguars next season, and wouldn't it be fun to see Koetter pacing the opposing sideline?

As I recall, Walter started for Koetter for three years, and Koetter's downfield passing game allowed Walter to show off all of his strengths.

Why would it be "fun" to see Koetter on the other side of the field? What is Bickley not saying here? I'd be willing to bet Walter wishes he had Koetter on his own sidelines this past season.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Foles' surgeon optomistic

Nick Foles, ASU's 6-5 dynamo QB recruit from Texas, had successful surgery to repair a torn labrum on his throwing shoulder. Here's the good news:

- His doctor is Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala., quite literally THE orthopedic surgeon for athletes in the U.S.

- Dr. Andrews did a similar surgery on Drew Brees last year and said Foles' injury was not as bad. Brees, who also prepped in Texas, sent text messages of encouragement to Foles.

- His four-month rehab should have him ready to throw by fall camp.

If you're looking for something to speculate on here, Erickson and two assistants went to Austin to make sure Foles was ready to throw this summer. That's a long way to go and a lot of staff to take with you to tell a kid you haven't signed to an LOI yet to be ready to throw entering a season with a junior incumbent starter at QB.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Two Black Coaches or Two Good Coaches?

With the Colts win over my adopted Patriots, a milestone (of sorts) will be reached as two black coaches face off across the field on Super Bowl Sunday. Listening to Shannon Sharpe on CBS, one is led to believe that it is only events like this that will convince team owners in the NFL or Athletic Directors in college to hire black coaches. Of course, if Sharpe's view that black coaches will only be hired once black coaches demonstrate success on the field is accurate, then no black coaches would have been previously hired as there would not be any black coaches in a position to be successful. Rather, the fact that two black coaches are squaring off in the Super Bowl is prima facie evidence that Sharpe is wrong, and that there is no glass ceiling for minority coaching candidates in the NFL.

In the PAC-10, the glass ceiling has certainly been shattered. Ty Willingham is coaching at UW after previous engagements at Notre Dame and Stanford. Karl Dorrell is starting to turn around a UCLA team that has floundered since '98. At ASU, one of the finalists for the head coaching position was Michigan's Defensive Coordinator, Ron English. His candidacy was primarily the result of a groundswell of fan support based on his quality and qualifications; not on his race. The deciding factor was Dennis Erickson's wealth of experience and Ron's comparative lack; again, race was not the issue.

This last example highlights the real reason that there are not more black head coaches in college or the pros; it takes time for individuals to develop the experience and credentials which are prerequisite to the position. As more black coaches are recognized for their skills, they will continue to advance their careers and gain the experience required to attain head coaching positions throughout the college and pro football ranks.

Which brings us to the real goal, the real milestone we're striving for; that accomplished men are defined by their accomplishments and not by their race. That along with great athletes and competitors (e.g. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Jim Thorpe, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, etc.) who have transcended categorization we might reflect on great coaches, and the additional adjectives can be dispensed with as they are without significance.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Wanted: Basketball fans in Tempe

Sometime next year, going to an ASU basketball game may become the hip new place to be.

Until then, it would be nice of people who claim an unwavering allegiance to ASU and an interest in basketball to buy a few cheap tickets to fill the seats for a group of kids who work their butts off every game.

It's no fun when your team is winless in the conference. Yes, the offense is ugly, shooting an eye-sore 45 percent from the field. There are but two real shooters on the team, and the offense requires a fleet of shooters to work.

But suffering with your team in the hard times makes the good times that much more enjoyable. There's very little going on if you're not a Suns fan, and you could always Tivo their games. Make it out to Ned Wulk Court sometime soon. You owe it to yourself and your school.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Night games: nothing has really changed

Yesterday's announcement by ASU that the first four games of the season will kickoff at 7p.m. has been greeted by some as evidence of a change in policy by the Athletic Department.

Don't be fooled. Nothing has really changed.

These games are all in September, and ASU has for many years now kept September games at night. The notable exception was last season's game versus Oregon, although that was played on the last day of the month. Prior to that, the last home game in September to kickoff prior to 7p.m. that this writer can recall was the Oregon game in 1996, a week after the epic win over Nebraska.

The real issue with day games has always been, and continues to be, games played in October. The Notre Dame game in 1998 was played on October 10 when it was still brutally hot. I clearly remember many people leaving at half time due to the heat, and a good friend had to spend the second half in the concourses to get out of the sun.

I must admit to being of split opinion when it comes to day games. On one hand, the additional exposure of having the game televised is good for the program, and one could argue that the heat is only a factor when the Devils are getting killed (the USC game in 1996 was a 12:30p.m. kickoff yet no one left that game complaining about the heat!).

However, there is something magical about Sun Devil Stadium at night. There is a buzz that just doesn't exist during day games. One of the greatest atmospheres I can recall was the game in 1997 versus Ryan Leaf and his unbeaten Washington State team. That game was played at night on November 1.

Regardless of the month, I believe the Athletic Department should do everything in its power to keep ALL home games at night, even the late season games. I am still not clear (and would love an official explanation) as to whether ASU can actually refuse to move a Pac-10 game for TV. The real test this year will be the two October home games versus Washington (13th) and Cal (27th).

Friday, January 19, 2007

Turkey day football at Sun Devil Stadium

Despite my earlier prediction that it may be several months before the Pac-10 schedule is finalized, the conference actually announced the 2007 lineup a full eight months in advance.

This rare display of proactive behavior from the conference office doesn't change my opinion that Tom Hansen needs to go, but it's nice to see the conference, and ASU in particular, get a prime timeslot on Thanksgiving evening.

The ASU press release makes a couple of dubious claims. First, it asserts that "ASU will enjoy a national stage alone on Thanksgiving evening at 6 p.m." which is true only if you count college football. There will be an NFL game starting at the exact same time, although I guess you could argue that the NFL Network isn't exactly on the national stage.

The second claim that caused me to raise an eyebrow is: "ASU asked for (and received) an evening kickoff time for that date so that fans could have the opportunity for a traditional Thanksgiving meal and then attend the game." Hmmmm, methinks that ESPN had no interest in starting the game at any time other than 8p.m. Eastern, in order to avoid competing with the NFL games on CBS and Fox.

Anyway, exaggerated claims aside, this is good news for the program. A national TV audience is never a bad thing, and it spreads out the last five games of the season. Let's just hope that ESPN doesn't unleash its dreaded Full Circle coverage on us.

It's also worth noting that Oregon's game at au was moved to Thursday, November 15 so the rats will have 16 days to prepare for their defeat at the hands of the good guys.

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Opinions are welcome, so please feel free to add your feedback to any of the articles.

Why do recruits pick a certain school?

Trying to get inside the mind of a teenager is difficult at best, yet people who follow the recruiting process seem to be continually amazed as to why a high school athlete would elect to sign a Letter of Intent with a specific school. Having followed the recruiting process for ten years, it is obvious to me that the factors that really do influence many kids are not the same things that we think should influence their decision. This disconnect is especially apparent this year, when a handful of kids from Arizona High Schools have made non-binding commitments to Nebraska. Having read hundreds of "do they know how bad the weather is in Nebraska?" posts, it occurs to me that the average fan misunderstands why the majority of kids select a specific school.

The things that really do influence a high school kid's decision:

Immediate playing time - kids want to play, and they want to play soon (if not in their first year, then certainly by their second).
Relationship with assistant coach - most kids are recruited by a specific assistant on the staff, not by the Head Coach. When I read quotes from kids after they make a commitment, I nearly always read that “I got on great with Coach X, and we chat every week.”
Opportunity to make the pros – although a small percentage of Division 1-A players will make the NFL, they all think they will. Kids want to believe that their choice of school will prepare them for the next level.
Academics – this works both ways. Some kids want to use their athletic skills to get a free education at a top flight school. Quite honestly, who could blame Mike Mitchell for going to Stanford or Darnell Autry from choosing Northwestern? Don’t get me wrong, ASU can provide a first-class education, but it doesn’t have the same reputation as the elite institutions. On the other hand, some kids may need to look for a school with lower academic standards than ASU.
Availability of choice of major – on a related note, some kids have a very specific major in mind and want to go to a school where that major is featured. Last year, Myron Rolle (who wants to become a neurosurgeon) selected Florida State because of their pre-med program. I recall reading an article that mentioned he was impressed by FSU because when he went for his official visit they took him to meet the faculty before he met the coaches.
TV exposure – this is one area where all the Pac-10 schools, with the notable exception of USC, lose out big time. Michigan can come in to Arizona and tell a kid that his parents will be able to watch him on TV every week. ASU cannot go to Michigan and tell a kid there the same thing. Also, because Pac-10 teams get little exposure outside of the Pac-10 states, kids outside that territory do not grow up dreaming of becoming a Sun Devil.
Parental influence (and sometimes, parental interference) – personally, if my mother had told me to go to School X, I would have crossed it off my list immediately, but some kids do listen to their parents, and some parents are more opinionated than others.
High school coach – many kids respect their high school coach. In some cases, he is probably their dominant father figure. So if your coach tells you that School X is no good, or School Y is the place to be, it’s bound to have an impact.
Distance between home and school – some kids want to play close to home so that their friends and family can attend every game. Others probably want to get a long way away from home. (Of course, at USC the boosters will fly your parents in every weekend so distance is less of an issue!).
General impression of the athletic department – au’s basketball program probably helps their football recruiting more than anything their football program has ever done. au hoops is truly a national program, and that certainly helps the school’s name recognition.
Fan support – if you were a recruit and made your official visit to Nebraska and saw the stadium full, with everyone wearing red, how could you not be impressed? And if you then attended a game at a half-full Sun Devil Stadium, with most people arriving mid-way through the first quarter and gone by mid-way through the fourth quarter, how could it not have an impact?

Things we think should influence their decision that are overrated:

Weather – first of all, I have never heard a kid say “I selected San Diego State because the weather in San Diego is perfect”. Never. Ever. Second, most of ASU’s recruiting is in California, and it’s hard to argue that Arizona’s weather is better than California’s. Third, kids growing up in AZ may be sick of the hot summers, and the prospect of attending a school in a different climate may actually be attractive to them. Forth, most of the recruiting visits take place in the early fall, when it can still be hot in AZ. Those recruits who baked in the sun during the Oregon game this past season probably didn’t walk away too excited about the prospect of playing and practicing in that heat for six months of the year.
Girls – sure, the girls at ASU are probably the best on earth, but every school has cute co-eds.
Facilities – yes, ASU has a great weights room, but so do most of the other top schools. All of the Pac-10 programs have upgraded their facilities over the past few years. ASU is keeping up, but we’re not pulling away.
Town location – many of the top programs in the nation are is backwater towns that wouldn’t exist save for the university. But that doesn’t stop kids from attending year after year. Mill Ave. is great, but a kid’s not going to choose ASU because of it.
Head Coach – most kids have very little contact with the Head Coach diring the recruiting process. His role is usually that of the closer. Being an effective closer is critical, but few kids make their decision based on who the top man is (unless his future is in doubt, in which case the uncertainty can have a major impact).
Legacy – just because “Jimmy” is the son of a Sun Devil legend doesn’t mean he’ll want to follow his father’s footsteps. Gerald Riggs barely gave us a glance as he made his way to Tennessee.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Time to change the clock rules -- again?

ESPN's Jim Donnan has a great article breaking down how the clock change rules impacted the game this year ... and why the rules should be reversed. The bottom line is each team lost ~ seven plays a game and 84 plays for the season.

More importantly, it gives the team with a lead a new advantage.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The demise of Dirk Koetter

I've decided to post a post mortem on the coaching of Dirk Koetter at ASU. I want to list all of the criticisms that I've heard and read. I don't mean to be saying that I agree with these ideas. Here is my compilation:

1. The fan support had deteriorated to the point that visiting recruits were listening to shouts for his firing.
2. His loyalty to his coaches, such as Guy and Osborne, was hurting the team, because of low performances on their parts.
3. The unusual level of injuries and serious scandals caught up to him.
4. He was unable to win over the Phoenix media.
5. Koetter was cold and arrogant.
6. He continually asked the fans to wait one more year and his years ran out way to late.
7. Koetter was 2-19 against ranked teams and unable to perform in important games.
8. He couldn't motivate the team when necessary.
9. He was 0-12 in California.
10. He couldn't close on the big recruits.
11. He set the bar too high in his final season by saying he had an embarrassment of player talent.
12. He was just a WAC coach that found himself over his head in the bigtime.
13. He was weak in disciplining the players, as evidenced by the number of penalties, etc.
14. He couldn't hold on to talent as evidenced by all the quarterbacks that left the team.
15. He never took us to a BCS bowl.
16. Boosters were willing to pay the price to bring in a big name.

When one surveys the wide range of perceived causes, one would ask why his contract was renewed the last time. Don't worry! The person who renewed his contract also selected our current coach.

One need not feel bad for our old millionaire coach, but the one thing lost in the whole scenario in this poster's opinion, was the opinion of our players toward their coach. I keep asking why these young men would want to play for a fan base such as ours: A fan base that expresses that Koetter could not recruit at the PAC-10 level. A fan base that depicts its players as unmotivated and incapable of winning the big ones. Are these truly mediocre talents that will respond to the miracle touch of Dennis Erickson? We shall all see, won't we? Tune in next year.

We're all Saints fans this week

The only Sun Devil on the active roster of one of the NFL's final four teams is Mike Karney, fullback for the New Orleans Saints. (Jamar Williams is on injured reserve for the Bears). So as if you didn't already have enough reason already to root for the Saints, here is one more.

Mike's shining moment this season was the game at Dallas, where he scored three touchdowns after having played in 43 pro games without a TD. Watch for #44 on most of New Orleans' big rushing plays and you'll see him laying a key block.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Success means beating USC, UCLA, Cal off the field

CFN, a publication I've never been able to fully endorse, has a respectable list of Top 30 players in the Pac-10 regardless of position.

ASU had two players make the list for this past season, Zach Miller and Ryan Torain. One has announced his NFL eligibility, while the other probably thought long and hard about it.

Meanwhile, USC, UCLA, and Cal racked up 19 of the top positions between them. The thin spread of premium talent doesn't appear to change much next year. Only Oregon State's Sammie Stroughter breaks the monopoly on those three schools stranglehold of Top 10 returning talent.

If you are a Pac-10 program wanting to challenge for top dog status, you have to beat those three schools in recruiting -- two of them in their own backyard. There's no other path. We've seen forays in Texas, Illinois, and the Midwest the past 20 years with very mixed results. Winning the battles in SoCal have produced two Rose Bowl teams. There's no alternative.

What Dirk meant....

Certain cryptic comments made by Dirk Koetter after being fired have caused a mild stir in Sun Devil Nation. Koetter in his usual guarded self left much room for interpretation when he was quoted saying "The thing is, and I was guilty of this, a lot of people look at ASU on the outside and have this perception of what Arizona State is. And that's not what it is. You have to go on the inside for a while". Some Devil fans were outraged by these comments viewing them as a parting shot by Koetter. While others looked at it as a view to some of the issues that Koetter and now Dennis Erickson face as the head of the football program. A recent article from the San Diego Union Tribune about SDSU recruiting might give some insight into Koetter's remarks. The article and the accompanying chart show ASU as a school that has been reluctant to make exceptions when admitting student athletes who don't meet the normal admission standards of the school. Obviously this practice does not aid ASU in recruiting, but let’s not let Koetter off the hook based on this information. It's hard to make the argument that ASU admission standards are at such a high level that makes them non-competitive. There were much deeper issues that hurt ASU recruiting under Koetter. Too many local and elite recruits reported ASU interest level as mild. ASU was typically a non factor in major Los Angeles and Northern California area prospects. Sure there were some close calls such as with Brigham Harwell, but that was an exception the last 5 years. With many top instate recruits ASU seemed to get in late compared to other big schools. Gerell Robinson a top player for 2008 has already declared to Arizona. Moving forward the question is will Erickson have enough gravitas to affect change in ASU admission policy and in the larger sense will he be as successful in recruiting as he was at Oregon State and Miami.

Possible changes to the 2007 football schedule

According to the Trib's ASU football notebook, the ASU/USC game at Sun Devil Stadium, currently scheduled for November 17, could be moved to Thanksgiving, pushing the au game back to December 1.

I'd be all in favor of this move. We already know that the last five weeks of the schedule are brutal (Cal, @Oregon, @UCLA, USC, au) so adding a bye week could only help. Plus, the TV exposure would be significant.

According to a few posts on various message boards, there is some confusion as to whether the proposal is to move the game to Thanksgiving Day itself, or to the Saturday following Thanksgiving. Either would be OK from my perspective.

Keep in mind that in 2007 Pac-10 games will be split between ABC, Fox Sports Net and ESPN, so expect the conference to move several games to non-traditional slots.

Typically the pre-season selections for TV games are announced in May/June, so it may be several months before anything is confirmed.

This should kill the "Danny White for Head Coach" talk forever

Try to make it through the whole thing -- I dare you! DW's grand appearance is at the 0:44 mark.

Updated 09-29-08: the original YouTube video is gone, but I found another copy!

Welcome to the NEW Wired Devils

Since Wired Devils launched in 1998, its primary mission has been to serve as a central source of links for Sun Devil fans.

Today, we're pleased to introduce a new feature: a Sun Devil blog. We hope to bring you a mix of insightful and irreverent articles, and give you an opportunity to participate, either by posting comments or by becoming a contributor yourself.

The links are still here. Click on Main Links from the navigation menu to see the old home page, and remember that the Sparky's Favorites section at the top of this page provides quick links to the best ASU resources on the Net.

So check back often for new articles, and thank you for all the support you have given Wired Devils over the years. We are excited to have you on board!