Wednesday, May 06, 2009

April 2009... What a Month!



Good morning Coug Nation. Longball here, and it's time for me to check in.

Whew, was that one of the craziest months in the history of Cougar sports, or what? From being unceremoniously dumped by our super sexy basketball coach, to charging into 2nd place in the PAC-10 baseball standings, then almost losing home Apple Cups for the next 6 years, then getting the apple Cup back, then the talk of getting kicked out of the PAC- 10 (WTF?), then securing a humdinger of a basketball recruiting class that has visions of rafter banners dancing in our heads... it has been the Montezuma's Revenge of emotional roller coasters. So as the 2009 school year draws to a close, where do we stand? From where I'm sitting the dust has yet to settle on what may be one of the most interesting eras in Cougar sports history. Lets take it sport by sport...



BASKETBALL

The month began with the news that Tony Bennett was leaving us... for Virginia. Huh? Really? I was absolutely floored. It HAD to be an April Fool's joke and I read the now infamous 5 pillars over and over to reassure myself that it was just not possible.

As it turned out the 5 pillars were a total load of bull and our handsome prince rode off to a much richer kingdom. My family and friends witnessed what can only be described as a full on emotional breakdown by yours truly.

Why the breakdown? A little background; One of the most scarring moments of my youth was the departure of Kelvin Sampson, who took the high flying sophomore-to-be Nate Erdmann and super recruit Ernie Abercrombie to Oklahoma with him. It was devastating, and the beginning of our descent into the bottomless pit the Bennett family eventually dug us out of. It would be difficult to exaggerate how close my friends and I were to those Sampson era teams. We were in the first few rows for EVERY game. We played pickup games with the Coug players up at the gyms (this was before the new Rec Center). In our high school AV class we made "I Want to be Like Ike" t-shirts for Ike Fontaine and wore them to every game. We were practically married to cougar hoops. I can't say for sure if any of us cried when Sampson left, but I also can't say that we didn't.

Fast forward to April, 2009... As the Bennett news broke I waited for the cascade of bad news that would surely follow. Players would transfer, recruits would de-commit, we would hire some nobody from nowhere... I knew the drill. But something entirely different happened. It turned out our AD had a strong connection to the wiz who had been surprising everybody at Portland State the last 2 years. Ken Bone came on board and from that point on it has been all good news.

Not only did we keep all our critical recruits, we added a stand out point guard who was being recruited by, wait for it... Oregon, UCLA and MEMPHIS!! We also retained an assistant, Ben Johnson, whose leadership has been one of the cornerstones of our recent success. By all measures our hoops program is actually in better shape today than it was on April 1. Amazing.

While it remains to be seen what a team composed almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores can do in the PAC-10 next year, all indications point to an upward trajectory for Coug hoops in the coming years.


FOOTBALL




On the gridiron we are still deep in the midst of a major rebuilding effort. Literally every level of our program is being rebuilt, from the culture in the locker room, to the bodies on the field, and of course the field itself as we scratch and claw our way towards the remaining two phases of the stadium upgrade in the middle of a global economic meltdown.

As our boys were grinding their way through Spring camp we were blind sided by news that the Apple Cup, or as some know it "the only game that really matters", was going to be moved to Seattle full time. Like most of you I received this news with a combination of dizziness, nausea and that strange discomforting sensation that shoots up your spine and is distributed to all your organs like a million white hot pokers when you get kicked in the balls. Then, I read about why we were doing this. We were poor. Poor like the stories our grandparents tell us about walking 15 miles to school in a blizzard with burlap sacks for shoes and a baked potato in their pocket to keep their hands warm and then eat for lunch. If the PAC-10 was an elementary school classroom we would be THAT kid. You know the one... sitting in the back, with hand-me-down everything, dirt on his face, trying to cheat off Stanford's test. Just like "That Kid", we seemed destined for expulsion.

In light of this realization, my shock and dismay over the decision to move the Apple Cup to Quest suddenly turned to relief. I was thrilled that we found such an easy revenue stream to help pay the bills so we could come through these trying times unscathed. Moreover, while the Cougar nation whaled in righteous indignation at the perceived slight of playing the game in Seattle, I marveled at our good fortune that the Huskies had agreed to a deal which clearly benefited us WAY more than them. Of course, the Dawgs soon realized this themselves, and in a last ditch attempt to get a deal that didn't totally screw their season ticket holders blind, they effectively torpedoed the whole thing by asking for a 60/40 ticket split (and rumored to be even more, such as 80/20). Sterk chose to not be lynched by the crimson mob and wisely backed away from the table.

So where does that leave us? Off the field, we are still dirt poor and any future phases of our stadium upgrade are a pipe dream until we get some serious support from the very loud, but equally miserly Cougar faithful. As we have had clearly explained to us now by Mr. Sterk, continuing to play in a high school stadium does not bode well for our long term hopes of remaining in the PAC-10. So there you have it Cougs. The Apple Cup is back in Pullman, it just may be an out-of-conference game some day.

Meanwhile, on the field we have at least one more PAC-10 season ahead of us. So far I am very encouraged by the culture change taking place on and off the field. However this is a team that still fails the eye test. While we are making great strides in the weight room we still do not look like a PAC-10 team, especially on the lines. For the most part our big guys are fat guys with too few exceptions. If you want to see a PAC-10 body type, check out Joe Eppele.

Now THAT is more of what our linemen should look like. I am very excited to see CPW's first true recruiting class show up for Fall camp. From all indications we will immediately look a lot more like a BCS conference team. One unit we have that most certainly passes the eye test... our running back corps. How on earth did we assemble this posse? While my expectations for the coming season couldn't quite be described as "modest", I still look forward to seeing some Cougar football this year that is actually watchable. If Bud Light has drinkability, I predict this year's Cougars will have watchability. Mark my words.


BASEBALL



A lot of folks round here seem to have joined the Cougar nation upon their recent matriculation to WSU, so I must inform you that there once was a time when the ONLY sport we Cougs could hang our hat on was baseball. For decades we were a baseball school, in fact. There used to be this strange thing called the PAC-10 North that had Gonzaga and Portland State and I think Cheney High School in it and the Cougs won it every year. We were a pipeline to MLB including Ken Phelps, Aaron Seeley, Scott Hatterburg, John Olerud, Mike Kincaid and even Jim Rome's childhood hero, Ron Cey. I know, Ron f-ing Cey was a Coug! That's pretty damn cool.

Well it seems the glory has returned to Bailey-Brayton field. Coach Marbut has the Cougs playing great ball and they stand alone in 2nd place in the PAC-10. We are well positioned to make our first post season appearance on the diamond in a very long time and I'm sure Bobo Brayton couldn't be more proud. But like all news this April, our success on the diamond is a silver lining that comes with its own gray cloud. There is a lot of speculation (and thankfully so far it is only speculation) that Baseball is one of the programs on the potential chopping block as WSU athletics looks to make some deep cuts. That would be an unbearable shame. Baseball is one of our few sports that actually has a winning tradition and right now we have a team we can really be proud of. As the season winds down I urge each of you to grab a Ferdinand's ice cream, head over to Bailey-Brayton and take in a ball game. Bring the kids, its the easiest sporting event to get some quality face time with Butch.

Overall, my outlook on the future of Cougar Athletics is optimistic. There is major cause for worry on the $$$$ front, but it cannot be denied that despite everything each program is moving in the right direction. Heck, we own the Apple Cup. Lets not forget to savor that at least once a day. With that, I leave you all with some photos that surely would have won the contest had us blogsters been allowed to enter...

This is Amieable and Longball before the Apple Cup.



...and after.


You gotta hand it to her, she ain't no bandwagon fan. In a year like the Dawgs just had she put on her purple and braved the hostiles in Martin Stadium, only to get her heart broken. Don't worry, babe, in the coming years I'm sure you'll get yours.

But, in the meantime, and as always... Go Cougs!

25 comments:

'03CouveCoug said...

Wow, great breakdown, Longball! It really has been an interesting spring, hasn’t it?

While I can’t say that I agreed with your position on the whole Tony Bennett thing, I found your retrospective to be spot-on in terms of the direction the Cougar Basketball program is heading with Coach Bone at the helm. Our Cougs may very well be in a better position now than when Coach McDreamy left! I am really excited about the kids that will be representing WSU, let alone our new Coach. Good and possibly great things are on the horizon!

As for football, I’m disappointed to read that you still feel like we don’t have Pac-10 caliber linemen on either side of the ball. I realize that the lines are still young, but I’m sure hoping that they can get significantly better in the summer by hammering the weights. Like you, I think the Cougs will be competitive in most games and can actually surprise some teams this year and sneak out 3 or 4 wins.

The last thing I want to comment on is Sterk’s “throw us out of the Pac-10” ploy. I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Sterk and think he’s the right guy for our job, but to me this was clearly a scare-tactic. It’s obvious that our budget is a major concern, and we Cougs need to open our wallets. However, the threat seems rather empty. Who are they going to replace us with that has as big if not a bigger budget, lives up to the Pac-10’s academic standards and fits geographically? The flavor of the month seems to be Utah because they won a BCS Bowl, but their budget is no bigger than ours and their academics don’t stack up. Same with Boise State. BYU has their “No-Sunday” policy that hampers scheduling. No other team on or near the West Coast comes even close to living up to Pac-10 criteria.

So, keep donating, but don’t do it because we’re going to get “voted out of the Pac-10.”

Again, great write-up! Go Cougs!

Chris '04 said...

Glad to see baseball getting some press on the football blog! It's good to see the team showing up on the field too. I think it was Tim Mooney that took over after Brayton and he managed to ruin the only good thing the university had going for it at the time. I really hope they don't ax the whole program. Especially after all the renovations they did at Bobo-Brayton field not even 10 years ago.

Sedihawk said...

It is always a treat when sir Longball graces us with his words of wisdom! Besides, I'm sure people are sick of my nonsense so we need the balance that he can provide. MORE Longball please! And GREAT TAKES on April '09. May you live in interesting times? Sure applies right now.

On getting booted out of the PAC? I can say without a doubt that we were told by someone who would know that this is very real. I have even heard that around 2002 or 2003, wsu was told to upgrade Martin Stadium or else, and that at that time, there were ALREADY at least two "out" votes, and maybe even three. It was and is a very real threat. And with a down economy, and Utah's flavor of the moment, and a new PAC commish, you have to wonder if he will protect the traditions of the conference? Or will he sit down at his desk on 7/1, look at the numbers and say "WHY are these guys even here?? Salt Lake City market sure sounds better than Pullman!" I hope we force the issue and get phase III done. Hopefully the call to arms works out.

kaddy said...

Didn't Farrington take over for Bobo? I think he alienated some of the former players at one point...at least that was the rumor. Mooney came after Farrington from Albertson's College. They were a dynasty, but his style never really worked at WSU. Believe he works for WSU now as an AD employee?

Anonymous said...

Great article- but don't neglect Track & Field. We have all those nations represented on Flag Row because WSU was the place to come for Track & Field for a long time. We've had some recent individual success (Jeshua Anderson, the Pickler sisters) but here's hoping we can get some team prestige.

Lucas said...

Sure was an interesting month. I would hope tennis gets cut before baseball. Would voted golf too, but with the new Palouse Ridge, it's tough to see that happening.

Had some friends who played for Mooney and everybody thought the guy was a complete and utter moron. Like where Marbut is headed, especially after his resume snafu in 2006. The field turf is not even 5 years old.

'03CouveCoug said...

Sedi-

Do you really think that a majority of the Pac-10 would vote to kick us out when no other program west of the Rocky Mountains can meet the monetary, athletic and academic requirements of the conference?

About the only thing that Utah has going for it is the bigger TV market, but if that is your only criteria for throwing someone out, OSU, U of A and even mighty U of O had better watch themselves! As I stated earlier, Utah's athletic budget is roughly the same as ours, and while they may be able to compete in Football and Men's Basketball, who's to say that the rest of their teams would match up with the those of the Pac-10? And when it comes to academics, Utah cannot compete with WSU in terms of research institution rankings, let alone the rest of the Pac-10.

Just because a couple of crybaby teams (most likely USC and UCLA) would vote us out because they don't like the trip to the Palouse does not make it so, I'd have to think...then again, you’re way more plugged in than I am.

Let’s just get Martin Stadium upgraded, huh?

Sedihawk said...

Hey Couve, HERE HERE ON PHASE III!

And, I can't speak with 100% certainty. I wouldn't say I/we are more dialed in than others who hear things, you know what I mean? Only what we've heard from someone who hears things, that's really it. But man, rumor-mongering is dangerous so let's leave it at that. I don't want to go down that path any more than we already have.

As to Utah, I think BH can speak better than I can in terms of how Utah would match up with the PAC-10. But I believe he looked at some things and believes they are more than "PAC-10 ready", both financially and academically. I will ask him to explain what he found out or knows about them, but he seemed pretty sure that they would be an excellent candidate to add to the conference (but NOT replace a fine research institution like WSU!).

Here's the thing to glob onto though - Jim Sterk said all this recently. And he didn't do so jokingly, or didn't say it lightly, or off the record or whatever. He said it at least on the official WSU website. Does he really appear to be the type who would mislead his fanbase via scare tactics? I don't know for sure, but I doubt it. There must be validity to it, right now, if he was willing to say in a PUBLIC FORUM that this was the case. I mean you don't just say "we could get voted out" lightly. What kind of message is that sending to potential recruits who dream of playing in the PAC-10? Come to WSU and MAYBE you can, maybe you can't be in the PAC-10? I just can't believe he would be that irresponsible with sharing that information with the public if there wasn't something awfully concrete behind it? If it is an empty threat/scare tactic, it's really a poor decision.

'03CouveCoug said...

Sedi, as usual, your take is right on. Sterk isn't the kind of guy to mislead or play Chicken Little. I'm sure you're right that he wouldn't go public with our Pac-10 status being in jeopardy if he didn't think it was a real and grave threat. However, I suppose that I'm merely saying that it can't be as easy as 5 teams saying, "You’re out." There has to be some sort of opportunity for WSU to defend itself so to speak from being ousted. I would assume that WSU would have some pretty solid legal recourse if, heaven forbid, throwing us out of the conference was ever seen through as well.

While Utah may present itself as an attractive member, as you and BH say, not at the EXPENSE of WSU. Additionally, if the Pac-10 wants to become a "power conference" with a championship game for football, they'll need to add two more teams, not SUBTRACT one (WSU) and thus have to add THREE more at that point. It just doesn't make sense to boot our Cougs. We’ve always been at the bottom in terms of athletic budget, yet we’ve always done more with less. Add to that the fact that WSU (WSC/Washington Agricultural College) has been in the Pac-10/Pac-8/PCC virtually since it’s inception, and there are some pretty strong arguments for keeping us around. I would think that most University Presidents recognize that every school has down cycles, and you can’t throw out a school based on a few poor years.

Thanks for pointing out that I needed to clarify my point. I know that President Floyd, Jim Sterk and the proud alum of WSU will not allow our place in the Pac-10 to remain in jeopardy. Again, kudos to you and everyone at WSU Football Blog for ramping up the donation effort so we all ensure my previous sentence holds true!

amieable said...

Longball took me to view a Spring practice and we watched from the top of the library. I decided I wanted to go down to the field level to see the boys strut by to get their gatorades and marvel at them.

Most were a lot smaller than I thought football players should be. Except my new boyfriend Joe Eppele (new boyfriend since my current boyfriend posted a heinous photo of me losing the Apple Cup). I had a class this semester with Mr. Eppele and can vouch for his deliciousness off the field as well. If that is what a linebacker "should" look like sign me up.

I for one think they should fight to keep baseball no matter what. If it would just stop snowing here I could attend a game.

Anonymous said...

Who is amieable and how dare a Husky slum with a Cougs? A real Husky would never hook with a Coug. Consider she is now disowned by Husky Nation.

And you guys left out how you morons destroyed our stadium remodel. And thanks for wasting the last 10 minutes of my life reading this drivel. Can I have it back please.

IT'S A SARK ATTACK!

Sedihawk said...

"And thanks for wasting the last 10 minutes of my life reading this drivel. Can I have it back please."

NO.

'03CouveCoug said...

Wow. I'm shocked he didn't tell all of us to bow down. What a jackass!

Anonymous said...

BOW DOWN!

Longball said...

Anony #1 -

Great point about track and field. We were a force to be reckoned with during the Chapman years, including NCAA runners up the year we barely lost the champioship to Tennessee. Remember Augustine Alobia? If I spelled that name right I should get a medal. Anway, that dude was a major burner on the track. I am pretty sure he beat Rocket Ismail in the 50 M indoor and he even came out for the football team one year as a wide receiver. Fly patterns only, of course.

As far as the bodies we see on the Cougs, i think we have some talent on the O line especially, but as a unit, both lines just look like cannon fodder for other teams in our conference. I am one who you can count as not sold on Wolfgram, just from the looks of things. I cant tell you how much i miss having some boheomuths like Aaron Johnson and Ropati on our sideline.

I would love to be pleasantly surprised by our boys up front, but I have seen no reason to be too optimistic. Besides Toby Turpin, the aforementioned Joe Eppele... we just look a lot more "doughey" than BIG. Of course they could all break me in half and eat me for lunch so i better just shut up now.

Longball said...

Oh,

And if any of you read Nuss over at Cougcenter you know he brought up some concerns about the training this Spring being "too hard". Talking to folks at the spring scrimmage I heard a lot about how hard they are being worked, and that it has been a shock to them. However, nobody even came close to implying it wasn't what they needed. While some may be worried about the injuries, i was thrilled to hear this. Rob Oviatt was a well regarded guy round these parts, but i am not too sure he was the all-world trainer we always were told he was. One thing about the transition of Wullfs staff we heard a lot last year and still a little this year, is the lingering sour grapes from members of and supporters of the former regime. I am pretty sure you can chalk any criticism of the current workouts to exactly that. Anyone i hear wondering if they are being worked too hard gets a pretty straight forward answer from me...

WAH, WAAH, BOO HOO.

When the curtain goes up on Sept. 5Stanford ain't gonna line up with a bunch of Erkels. We better be ready.

Anonymous said...

Bow down to the FACT that you have lost 14 straight football games? GLADLY.

Soze said...

536 days and counting...

BH said...

Ditto Sedi. This blog becomes exponentially better and more respectable every time LB makes a post.

In terms of other banter, Amieble, you're always welcome.

RE: Utah. TOTALLY BCS ready. Great school, great facilities, top flight Research I academics, and really competitive teams.

I've told Sedi for a long time that I think that any change in the Pac-10 involves EXPANSION, not the elimination of schools.

That said, i am not ready or willing to find out if I am wrong.

We'll have more on the stadium campaign at the end of the week.

Go Cougs.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget about Cory McKay for the D-line... that guy also passes the eye test and he played really well in the spring scrimmages. Other than that though, our lines don't really pass the eye test, however our DBs and RBs do...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Utah is a "top flight" research institution and the home of the Cold Fusion debacle...need I say more...?

Shawn said...

MORE LONGBALL, please!

Shawn said...

Love the write up.

Crazy times in Cougar Nation....

If I were the Commish of the Pac-10, outside of cutting into the 5x5 regional rivals, replacing the Cougs would make a ton of sense. Utah (and/or BYU) would be logical additions. Or even more embarrassing, but not surprising, Boise State.

I think we are safe for now, but when the economy crashes crazy things can happen.

Found it strange but encouraging when huskies and Cougs united for about a week against the Cup moving to Qwest Field. Only to have a fresh dose of husky arrogance squash the potential deal. My hatred for UW was reconfirmed.

-Hurricane

Matthew said...

longball .... who are you... This is M Wilde from P-Town class of '96...

Longball said...

Howdy Matt,

I didnt see your comment till just now. Its Shane J. I believe you dunked on me a few times in basketball practice. Where you at these days?