PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

September 14, 2013

West column: Aggies, Longhorns are programs going in different directions

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR —     No matter what transpired in Saturday’s Alabama-Texas A&M showdown — this column is being written on Friday — the headline across the top of Thursday’s Houston Chronicle sports section has to be hard to swallow for those attached to UT. “Texas’ elite program is in College Station”  screamed the headline. That’s not exactly a shocker for those who’ve been paying attention, but it reinforces both the dramatic rise  of Texas A&M and the ongoing downward spiral of Mack Brown’s Longhorns.  The timing, meanwhile, is uncanny. In the same week UT reject Johnny Manziel and the Aggies were a part of what some called the biggest, most high profile regular-season game ever played in Texas, the Longhorns were coming off what might have been the single biggest embarrassment in the history of a storied program. The longer Brown is allowed to serve up scapegoats and hold the program hostage, the bigger A&M’s advantage is going to become . . . Those who like to poke fun at Texas are having a field day with last week’s programming change on the Longhorn Network. Because of the magnitude of the embarrassment of an average Brigham Young team rushing for a staggering 550 yards in a 40-21 thrashing, a scheduled Sunday replay of the game was scratched and replaced with a replay of the Texas women’s volleyball team beating Penn State. I’m guessing women’s volleyball was not what ESPN had in mind to carry the ball when it dished out $20 million a year for a network featuring Longhorn sports.

    Congratulations are in order for Orange’s R.C. Slocum. A week after he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, R.C. has been named winner of the 2014 Paul “Bear” Bryant Lifetime Achievement Award. Wording in the criteria for the award pretty well reflects who R.C. was and is. It reads in part, “The award highlights the outstanding achievements and extraordinary contributions that have reflected honor and sportsmanship to the game of football throughout the coach’s career.” Slocum will be officially saluted on Jan. 15 at the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year Awards program in Houston . . . Sure had to be encouraging to Texans fans to see Matt Schaub respond the way he did after Houston trailed San Diego 28-7 in the third quarter Monday night. Schaub has been trashed non-stop since last year’s playoff loss to New England, and isn’t supposed to be a come-from-behind quarterback. While Schaub has some obvious limitations, he was about as good as a QB could be in the final 25 minutes Monday night. The Texans’ Super Bowl hopes are going to sink or swim with him and with a defense that got embarrassed early, then dominated late . . . Most popular player in the NFL? Based on jersey sales, it’s Washington’s Robert Griffin III. Closest to him are Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Eight of the top 10 top-selling jerseys are tied to quarterbacks, with only Baltimore running back Ray Rice and Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski breaking through.

    Last week’s list of former area players and coaches who made it to the NFL had one omission. Ozen’s Brandon Rideau, an undrafted free agent wide receiver out of Kansas, was signed by Cleveland in 2005 and played for the Bears from 2006-2008. That swells the all-time list to 98. Too bad there isn’t some way to determine if any other area of comparable size in the United States can come even close to matching that number. I’d be shocked . . . If I didn’t know better, I’d think Jerry Jones had branched out to training pigeons. Why? Jimmy Johnson and Terry Bradshaw were in New York City last week, preparing to do Fox’s Sunday NFL pregame show. They decided to take a walk through Central Park that was shortened after a pigeon dumped its full load into Jimmy’s well-coiffed hair. Johnson was laughing about it by the time he went on the air on Sunday, but you can bet he didn’t see the humor at the time. Bradshaw, of course, will never let him forget it . . . Rumors are flying fast and furious about who is going to replace Deloss Dodds and Mack Brown at Texas. The best insider information points to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby being hired as AD, with Alabama’s Nick Saban or Stanford’s David Shaw the next Longhorn coach. Big money donors in Dallas have been pushing hard for Saban since the end of last season, with the rumored price tag on him $40-to-$50 million over five years. Shaw, meanwhile, has ties to Bowlsby, dating back to when he was AD at Stanford.

    Include the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame among the mysteries of the universe. For some strange reason, it opted to have induction ceremonies for the class of 2013 on the first Sunday of the NFL season. You don’t have to be a genius to understand going up against the NFL insures anonymity. Only reason I care is that doing the induction last Sunday cost University of Houston basketball coach Guy Lewis a day in the media spotlight. Lewis deserved better after being snubbed for years. The good news is that the 91-year-old Lewis was able to attend the ceremonies and was surrounded by former Cougar stars like Elvin Hayes and Hakeem Olajuwon. For Hayes, it ended a lengthy HOF boycott. He vowed in the 1990s to never set foot in the building until Lewis was a member . . . The start of September couldn’t have been much better for former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. First came the word that upper-level management at Fox Sports had pulled the plug on Craig James after one week as a studio analyst on Fox Sports Southwest’s college football. James, of course, was suspected of being a driving force in getting Leach fired as head coach at Texas Tech. Icing on the cake for Leach was seeing his heavy underdog Washington State team post a shocking road win over USC. No way the latter is supposed to happen, but USC is the worst coached elite college football program west of Austin. Lane Kiffin, in fact, makes Mack Brown look good. He’ll be gone before Mack . . . No surprise here over Sports Illustrated’s expose of alleged improprieties in Oklahoma State’s football program, going back to when Les Miles was there. Cheating, of course, is a way of life in big time college sports, but it’s easier to believe when top prospects start turning up in places like Stillwater, Okla. What’s really curious, however, is why players rat out people who took care of them. It would serve them right if the IRS came calling, since I’m sure the handouts didn’t turn up on tax returns.

     Looks like MLB is trying to kiss up to Houston Astros owner Jim Crane. After pretty much forcing Crane to accept a move to the American League, then screwing him over on his first AL schedule by having the high-profile Yankees come to Houston on the final weekend of the season, when most everybody’s focus is on the NFL, Bud Selig and company have thrown Crane a scheduling bonus for 2014. Houston gets to open the season at Minute Maid Park with a three-game series against the Yankees. That’s three probable sellouts, despite the fact the Yankees are a shell of the overpaid glamor team of yesteryear . . . If you haven’t been paying attention to what former Astros are doing, Chris Johnson and Hunter Pence are having terrific seasons. Johnson, in the thankless role of replacing Chipper Jones as Atlanta’s third baseman, is hitting at a robust .330 clip and is in position to win himself a batting championship on a team that’s running away with the National League East. Pence, meanwhile, recently became the first player on the San Francisco Giants to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in a season since Barry Bonds did it in 1998. He leads the Giants in hits (166) home runs (20), triples (5), doubles (35), RBI (81), stolen bases (21) and runs scored (80). His .289 batting average is third. Pence will be a free agent at season’s end . . . Port Arthur has been without a player in MLB since Xavier Hernandez retired in 1998 and Chuck McElroy followed suit in 2001, but there may be a second generation player on the way. The St. Louis Cardinals are high on McElroy’s son C.J., taken in third round of the 2011 draft and signed after he rejected a football scholarship offer from Houston. A centerfielder converted to a switch hitter to take advantage of his speed from the left side, McElroy is considered the fastest player in the Cardinals organization.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net