Thursday, March 29, 2007

Garner finds a home back on the bench, this time in Iowa

Fired Southeast men's basketball coach Gary Garner will be back on the bench soon, this time in the NBA's developmental league.

The new Iowa franchise of the minor-league group announced its coaching staff Thursday, and it's headed up by 39-year-old Nick Nurse, a former basketball player at Northern Iowa. Garner, 63, will be his assistant.

Garner spent nine seasons as a head coach at SEMO and took the Redhawks (Indians, at the time) to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2000. He was fired after the 2005-06 season and replaced weeks later by Scott Edgar.

• How's this for a big debut season: Former SEMO women's basketball assistant Kevin Emerick took his Jefferson College team to the NJCAA national women's basketball tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., in his first year with the Hillsboro school. His team went 1-2 in the double-elimination tournament, ending its season last week at 31-5. And he wasn't shy about describing his exit from SEMO in 2005 after his one and only season there.

"At Southeast, the experience was very good," Emerick said in a story published by the Jefferson County Journal. "It was a great school and a great program. There were just some violations going on. I just didn't want to be involved with those things."

The violations, which turned out to be more than a half-dozen infractions revealed by an independent investigation last year, came under coach B.J. Smith, who was fired in November. The school is still awaiting an official finding from the NCAA.

Ryne Harper, a senior guard at Clarksville (Tenn.) High School, says he's gotten interest from SEMO and Austin Peay. Harper said he hasn't been offered a scholarship from either school. He's also a shortstop and pitcher on Clarksville's baseball team.

• The Jefferson City News-Tribune just wrapped up a multi-part series on the potential split between public and private schools that could threaten the MSHSAA. An index of all the stories in the series is here.

• The 2007 football game scheduled between OVC member Jacksonville State and the SEC's Mississippi State looks unlikely now, and that might cost JSU a six-figure check for breaking its contract.

The problem stems from JSU scheduling Mississippi State on Sept. 22, the same date the OVC already had scheduled JSU against Eastern Kentucky in a conference game. EKU says it's unwilling to reschedule, so that means JSU will likely have to pay a penalty to Mississippi State for backing out of the deal.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

SEMO is thinking football (and a big-money opener)

The slow evolution of SEMO's football schedule -- which was first updated on in early February -- appears to finally be complete, although still unofficially.

The Southeast Missourian said on Sunday that SEMO's final remaining date (Sept. 8) is likely to be be filled by Southwest Baptist, a Division II school in Bolivar. So far that appears to be the only game not yet sealed by contract. As reported here several days ago, SEMO will not play Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech this season, but it added last season's bottom two Gateway Conference teams -- Indiana State and Missouri State -- plus BCS bowl qualifier Cincinnati, a Big East school that will play this season with a new coach and new quarterback. That game will be worth more than $200,000 to Southeast.

SEMO isn't the only OVC team going for big bucks this season against the NCAA's newly named FBS (Football Bowl Series) schools. The others in the '07 football season: Murray State at Louisville, Eastern Illinois at Purdue, Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky, Samford at Georgia Tech, Tennessee Tech at Auburn and Tennessee-Martin at Southern Mississippi.

Other items of interest over the weekend:

Josh Sain of Jackson (Tenn.) Liberty Tech said Saturday that SEMO is still one of his final three college choices, even after a personal visit last week from Alabama coach Mike Gottfried, who flew to Jackson and offered Sain a scholarship in person. Sain, a 6-foot-5 senior foward, scored 14 points at the TACA East-West boys all-star basketball game in Nashville last week, and he was the Class AA tournament MVP a week earlier after averaging 25 points in three tournament games. He said he will choose Bama, SEMO or Middle Tennessee State.

Lauren Scannell, who spent two seasons on the SEMO volleyball team and graduated last year, will coach the first-year boys varsity volleyball program at her alma mater, Belleville (Ill.) Althoff. Her team's season begins this week.

Rick Christophel is the new football coach at Austin Peay, SEMO's newest football opponent in the OVC. Christophel was the Govs' quarterback from 1971-74 and spent the past 13 seasons as an assistant coach at Alabama-Birmingham. The announcement came Friday.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Coaching changes: Who's coming, who's going

Tubby Smith's hasty retreat from Kentucky isn't the only coaching shakeup coming to light late this week, although it might be the most surprising -- especially to the insiders who never connected the dots between Smith and the open Minnesota job until the announcement Thursday. (A note for UK fans: A couple of sources are mentioning Texas coach Rick Barnes as No. 1 on the Wildcats' wish list so far).

But that one down, here are others of local interest:

  • Austin Peay is expected to announce its new football coach in the next few days. The OVC school brought five candidates to campus over the past few days for interviews: former Alabama-Birmingham assistant and Austin Peay quarterback Rick Christophel, former Elon and East Tennessee State head coach Paul Hamilton, current interim head coach Steve Haywood, former Samford assistant Shawn Gregory and former Alabama assistant Dave Rader. One of them will replace Carroll McCray, who resigned in February.

  • We posted the link at when the story broke Wednesday afternoon, but in case you missed it: Former SEMO assistant Keno Davis is the new men's basketball coach at Drake. He took over for his dad, Tom, who formally announced his retirement this week. Some Drake boosters are grumbling because Drake didn't have a formal search, even though the school said in early 2006 that the job would go to Keno when it became open. Keno was a SEMO assistant for four seasons under Gary Garner, also a former Drake coach; he left SEMO two seasons before Garner was fired.

  • SIU's Chris Lowery is being mentioned as a frontrunner for the Michigan job, and he's already gaining buzz in the Iowa search now that Steve Alford is going to New Mexico. The way SIU exited the NCAA's Sweet 16 with a bang Thursday's loss to Kansas, it'll be stunning if Lowery (also a former SEMO assistant) is still at SIU next season.

  • Among local high schools, it's being mentioned elsewhere online that Jason Long is out as boys basketball coach at Clarkton -- surprising (if it's true) in light of Clarkton's just-completed 23-4 season, but maybe not so surpring because of what fans say is Long's lukewarm support around town and among parents. There's also talk of a coaching change at South Pemiscot, odd timing (if it's true) after the Bulldogs reached the Class 2 state quarterfinals just days ago and lost to eventual state champ Wellston. I'll try to find out more and post it here.

  • Coaching changes that are confirmed are Frank Killian, who stepped down as coach at Cooter (where he's also the high school principal), and Chris Miller, who e-mailed me late Wednesday to confirm that he's leaving Zalma for a job at Southern Reynolds (Ellington). And two of the six MAAA boys basketball jobs were filled this week when Ste. Genevieve and Potosi hired coaches.
  • Monday, March 19, 2007

    Turned down by SEMO, Rod Barnes lands a new job in Georgia

    Rod Barnes, the fired Mississippi coach who was one of three final applicants for SEMO's men's basketball job, was hired Monday as the basketball coach at Georgia State, a Colonial Athletic Association team.

    Barnes was one of three finalists for the Southeast job after former coach Gary Garner was fired. The job ultimately went to Scott Edgar. Jay Spoonhour was the other finalist at SEMO. Spoonhour later became an assistant head coach at Texas-San Antonio, and Barnes was an assistant coach at Oklahoma this season.

    Barnes was the 2001 Naismith national coach of the year after Mississippi finished with a school-record 27 wins and landed in the Sweet 16. But after earning NCAA bids in three of his first four years at the school, Barnes was fired in March 2006 after four straight losing seasons. He was 141-107 in eight years at Mississippi, his alma mater.

  • The news appeared here first last week, but in case you haven't heard: Samford is on its way out of the OVC and likely off the Southeast sports schedules, at least in football. Samford will play the 2007-'08 season as an OVC member before moving to the Southern Conference.

    The move is effective July 1, 2008. Samford, which is a private school in Birmingham, Ala., has been a member of the OVC since 2003. The move will leave the OVC with 10 member schools after the 2007-08 school year and give the SoCon 12 schools, which will allow it to create two divisions.

    There's already talk that the OVC eventually could pursue Southern Illinois-Edwardsville as a member; SIU-E is in the process of moving up from Division II and will compete at the Division I level with the 2008-'09 season.

    At least for the upcoming football season, the OVC will have 10 member schools with the addition of Austin Peay. Once Samford leaves after this season, that number drops to nine.

    Unless a school is found quickly, Samford's move will create two open dates on SEMO's basketball schedules. The Redhawks would play 18 league games instead of 20.

  • Thursday, March 08, 2007

    What's the ultimate price of Ishee's promotion?

    Good luck finding a story more intriguing than John Ishee's. Or a season more captivating. Or a promotion potentially more divisive.

    Ishee's elevation from interim head coach to B.J. Smith's official $75,000-a-year replacement Monday came as the program's exclamation mark to its OVC tournament championship roughly 48 hours earlier. Local media praised the school for its brilliant choice, in the same breath saying that the team -- which overwhelmingly was against Ishee's hiring -- needed to stop bitching and play ball.

    Unfortunately, it's not that easy. And so far, they're not the only ones complaining.

    Ishee came along as a basketball assistant just in time to see the Redhawks picked near the middle of the OVC women's preseason standings. He was moved to interim head coach in early November when Smith was suspended over allegations that he frequently skipped a university class he was assigned to teach. A month later, Smith -- facing the prospect of being fired -- accepted the school's resignation package.

    Fast-forward to Nashville, Tenn., where Ishee's team celebrated its second straight OVC tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA women's tournament next week. Ishee is the league's coach of the year, his team is 24-7. Fans are happy.

    But while local media continued to press SEMO to hire Ishee as Smith's replacement, team members were vocally critical. Ishee wasn't their man. Not every booster was on the Ishee bandwagon, either. They still aren't.

    The SEMO job is Ishee's first as a head coach at a Division I school. His team this year was recruited by Smith and his assistant coaches, who aren't committed to join Ishee next season. Ishee's biggest success so far: being available to fill the gap when Smith made his ultimate job mistake.

    Southeast will lose two seniors to graduation, giving Ishee a talented group that should return in the fall. There's talk that the friction in the program could lead to team members leaving after this season. Even the ones who stay will always be Smith's players, recruited to play for him, in his system, sharing in his successes.

    For Ishee to truly make this group of players his own will require more talent and ability than we've seen so far.

    Noteworthy ...

  • Seth Harrell has joined the staff at Truman State as a volunteer assistant coach. Seth originally signed with Mizzou after graduating from Jackson High School, then transferred to Southeast in time for the 2004 season. Truman State, a Division II school in Kirksville, was 6-5 last season.

  • Kearney High School has filed a complaint with the MSHSAA and says that it might have a claim to the 2004 state basketball championship won by Vashon. The teams met in the '04 state final, but Kearney suspects that Vashon was using ineligible players and wants an investigation. The Riverfront Times has the story here.

  • Sunday, March 04, 2007

    Local reporting keeps ethics stuck in a fog

    If the past month is an indication, sports ethics and credibility among Southeast Missouri media continues to plummet. Surely, rock-bottom can't be far away. Or maybe we're there already and don't even know it.

    Example: Southeast Missouri's biggest newspaper, where much of its credibility was ushered out as part of its 100th birthday celebration a few months back, can't seem to decide whether it wants to play the role of local sports booster or basher. Or maybe both, depending on which department gets the call. Good judgment doesn't appear to stop it from accepting both roles, which isn't a good thing if you're a newspaper.

    (Just to be clear, and in the interest of full disclosure, I worked for three of the area's daily newspapers in the past: the Standard-Democrat in Sikeston, the Daily Statesman in Dexter, and the Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau. They're part of the Rust Communications chain that consists of more than 40 newspapers.)

    Side A: The sports department, where the reporter assigned to cover SEMO sports -- with an inpartial approach, readers assume -- went online last week and chastised fans and readers who criticized or questioned Scott Edgar's debut season with the men's basketball program. Never mind that the team just finished the season with an 11-20 record. It's the kind of statement that doesn't just blur the line between being a fan and being an unbiased reporter, it knocks down the whole wall with a sledgehammer (in Redhawks colors, of course).

    Side B: The same newspaper crowed like a rooster with its multi-part expose of Bell City basketball and alleged wrongdoings in the school's athletics program, ultimately parading a sports broadcaster's personal credit history through a Sunday edition with all the grace and civility of a Nuremberg trial. The reporter implied that the broadcaster was evasive and shady with unknown whereabouts, overlooking his contact information readily available on popular message boards -- a fact that the sports department might very well have known.

    Of course, both situations cast the reporters far, far from the center. The idea of balance and fairness disappeared not long after the byline. Both instances should leave readers skeptical when the next story assignment comes along that demands objectivity (which, as even novice journalists know, is every story assignment).

    Sandwiched curiously between both situations was an incident in February that led to the firing of a news copy editor and news reporter over an ethical violation, along with an editor's note in the newspaper trumpeting the firings and the newspaper's hard line on upholding its standards.

    It's frustrating that in a time when online media, cable television and other news outlets continue to steal customers and send newspaper circulation even further down, local reporting can't escape itself. For every step forward, there's always another step back. And for every step back, the cliff gets just a little closer.

    Other notes ...

  • SEMO hasn't formally announced its football schedule yet, peculiar since its opponents were posted here last month. These dates are firm so far: Aug. 30 at Cincinnati, Sept. 15 vs. Indiana State, Sept. 29 vs. Eastern Illinoi, Oct. 13 at Eastern Kentucky, Oct. 27 at Tennessee-Martin, and Nov. 10 at Missouri State. The other dates will be filled by OVC opponents. SEMO was 4-7 last season.

  • Auto Tire & Parts Racepark, which returns to racing this season for the first time since closing abruptly in June 2004, is scheduled to open April 13. Events will be on Friday nights with new management.