Holbrook Resignation Complicated, But Not That Complicated

(Photo credit: ABC Columbia)

“For a program that measures itself by College World Series appearances and results, not making the 64-team field is unacceptable.” – Josh Kendall, The State, May 29

By every account, Chad Holbrook is a fine man. His son Reece fought and beat cancer, and Holbrook has spent much of his free time raising significant amounts of money to go towards pediatric cancer research. No matter what happens with his baseball career, he will have no accomplishment on the baseball diamond that will top that.

By every account, Chad Holbrook was an outstanding assistant baseball coach. In his 15 seasons at North Carolina the Tar Heels made 11 NCAA tournament appearances and three College World Series trips. As Associate Head Coach at South Carolina, he was instrumental in helping build a team that went to three College World Series’ and won two. When Ray Tanner took the job as South Carolina Athletic Director after the 2012 season, it was a foregone conclusion that Holbrook would take over, and I don’t think Gamecock fans had much of a problem with that. Holbrook had been groomed for many years, it was his time.

In 2013 Holbrook guided the Gamecocks to within a game of another CWS. Oddly, it was in the deciding game of that Super Regional series against his former team, UNC, that we began to see the first chink in his managerial armor. The crime? Sacrificing one of his best hitters, Joey Pankake, in the first inning of that game with no score. (Many will argue they saw issues long before this, but this is the first time I remember recognizing it as a significant flaw in his strategic thinking.)  Regardless, it was a very good season and nobody really complained about missing the CWS for the first time in four years.

In 2014 the Gamecocks shockingly lost to Maryland at home in the NCAA Regionals, with the final game being a 10-1 whitewashing. Again, you run into a hot team at the wrong time in the tournament and bad things happen. There was no need to panic at this point.

In 2015, USC went 13-17 in the SEC and missed the NCAA Tournament altogether. In the day and age of social media, and specifically Twitter, it was now time to panic. This Gamecock program, what we believed to be an elite national program, did not miss the NCAA Tournament. The fringe began to call for Holbrook’s firing, but the moderates among us knew that was not an option after only three years.

The 2016 season was a strange one. The cry for Holbrook’s head grew during the course of the season as, after starting the SEC slate 6-0 against Arkansas and Ole Miss, the team lost weekend series to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas A&M. But sandwiched around those losses were sweeps of mediocre to bad teams Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama. In the end, sweeping five series and not being swept in any resulted in a 20-9 conference finish and first place in the SEC East. That’s great, isn’t it? Call me foolish, but something just didn’t feel right.

As a host in the NCAA Tournament, with Clemson looming as a Super Regional opponent, the Gamecocks lost the opening game to Rhode Island (RHODE ISLAND) to fall into the loser’s bracket. Fortunately, the overall regional draw was extremely weak, and USC breezed past Duke, Rhode Island again, and then UNC Wilmington twice to make it to the Super Regional. Clemson lost their regional, and the Super fell into Columbia’s lap the following weekend. A red-hot Oklahoma State pitching staff rode into town and ended the season for South Carolina.

In my humble opinion, 2016 was fool’s gold for Gamecock fans. A weak bottom of the SEC combined with a fortuitous draw in the NCAA tournament led to the easiest path to a Super Regional we will ever see. Proponents of Chad Holbrook will always say “yeah, but they made a Super you idiot!” I can’t deny that, but look under the covers. There were still problems.

(Side note, SEC Tournament wins for Chad Holbrook to this point: 0.)

I won’t even rehash 2017, because you’ve heard it all. A preseason top five ranking turned into a complete disaster only rivaled by the 2014 football team in Gamecock lore. Players who were expected to take a step forward didn’t. The deep pitching staff was shallow as puddle. And Chad Holbrook continued to make mind-boggling in-game decisions, and even took a shot at our fans in frustration. It literally couldn’t have gone worse. Was all of this Chad Holbrook’s fault? Of course not, but this is life in sports. When things don’t go well, more often than not the head man takes the fall.

So now, after two weeks of back-and-forth about the future of Holbrook, he is gone. Some people will argue that he should still be our head man, but the evidence doesn’t support that. Consider:

Pros

2 Super Regionals

1 Regional

1 First-place SEC East Finish

40 win average

Cons

0 College World Series

2 Missed NCAA Tournaments

4-17-1 in series against top 50 RPI teams (2015-2017)

2 losing records in SEC play

8 straight series losses in SEC play (2017)

3 straight series losses to Clemson

3 SEC Tournament wins in five years (all this year)

2 humiliating blowout losses to UNC

Now look back at the opening quote from Josh Kendall. This was not a difficult decision. And please don’t throw out ridiculous hypotheticals – “so if Chad had made 5 straight Super Regionals should he have been fired?”. Of course not, context matters. And the context of the last five years is simply not good enough.

Finally, about our fans. Aaron Fitt wrote this ridiculous piece about Holbrook and Gamecock fans. First, to say Holbrook was dismissed…er, “resigned”…because the relationship with fans became toxic is an insult to Ray Tanner. All I’ve read about Ray Tanner is how hard he studies the facts of the situation and makes an educated decision based on those facts. The fact is Ray Tanner has higher expectations for this program, just like the fans. That’s why Chad Holbrook is no longer our coach.

And we have high expectations? And we’re spoiled? You’re damn right on both accounts. I can’t defend anyone spewing personal venom towards Holbrook or the players during games or on social media. We frankly don’t need those fans. But the vast majority of Gamecock fans are passionate, loyal, and devote an inordinate amount of time and resources to all our athletic programs, of which baseball is a crown jewel. We’re not going to take a back seat to anyone on the baseball diamond, and we’re not going to keep quiet when we feel a change is needed. No apologies here.

I feel bad for Chad Holbrook, I really do. If you’ve ever lost a job it is horrible feeling, and can scar you for a long time. I wish him nothing but success in the future, and hope he bounces back quickly.

Go Cocks.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized

Did the Bunt Work? Midseason Report

With the season halfway through the books, @FeatherdWarrior from @DidtheBuntWork joins us to investigate…well, did the bunt work? (Note: statistics do not include last night’s game against Mississippi State.)

It’s been a long week folks. The 20-5 drubbing Carolina endured at the hands of the Tarheels has reignited the debate around the hotness of Chad Holbrook’s seat for a second straight year. The consensus seems to be that if it’s not hot, it’s definitely uncomfortably swampy. Given the intensity of that debate, I thought it might be a good time to take a detour and check in on our little project account @didtheBUNTwork.

The basics are pretty simple. To date, the South Carolina Gamecocks have executed 11 successful bunts out of 27 attempts. That’s a success rate of about .407, which looks pretty good if you’re comparing it to the team batting average (sitting at .274 at the time of this writing). However, keep in mind we’re defining a successful bunt as one that advances a runner who later scores, so comparing a bunt success ratio to a batting average isn’t exactly apples-to-apples. For one thing, even a “successful” bunt can result in an out. Assuming most of our bunts are sacrifices with zero outs, we’re essentially giving a bunt a whole inning of at-bats before we conclude whether it was successful. Therefore, I think I more appropriate benchmark would be to multiply the team batting average by 3 since, if the bunt weren’t an option, the team would have three outs to score the runner. In that case, a .407 success rate doesn’t look all that good next to an .822 success rate (.274 x 3), does it?

Before you say anything, I’m well aware of how crude this comparison is. This is the equivalent of a napkin scribble to settle an argument in a bar. For all the attention our bunting receives on Twitter, no one ever seems to address it in any kind of intellectually rigorous way. This is my attempt at doing so. I’m not trying to add Bill James’s sword to my throne or anything.

With that in mind, here are some other interesting nuggets I’ve pulled out from the data I’ve collected so far.

Eight bunts (.296) have failed to advance any runners. A major reason for utilizing the bunt is to guarantee advancing at least one runner at least one base. If we’re not even advancing a runner 30% of the time, how effective can that strategy be? Another 4 bunts (.148) only advanced a runner because the opposing team committed a fielding error. That means nearly 45% of the time (.444) our players cannot execute a bunt correctly. Granted, not all of our bunt attempts are sacrifices. Sometimes we actually bunt for a hit, but that’s extremely rare. So far this season we’ve successfully bunted for a hit a dismal 2 of 27 (.074) times.

For the season, the Gamecocks have logged a +31 weighted base runner differential. This is something I kind of made up, but basically you weight the bases 1-4 with 1st base being a 1 and scoring a run being a 4. So if a bunt advances a runner from 1st to 2nd, the WBD would be +1 (2 – 1 = 1), assuming the batter is called out. If the batter is safe the WBD would +2 (2 -1 +1 = 2). This means that, on average, the Gamecocks advance a runner 1.15 bases per bunt attempt. Six times a Gamecocks bunt has resulted in a 0 WBD and twice it has resulted in a negative WBD.

Danny Blair (.239 batting average) is the Gamecocks’ most prolific bunter with seven attempts.

Jonah Bride, the second best hitter on the team (.306) has accounted 6 of 27 bunts, twice the expected amount if you assumed the bunts were spread evenly throughout the order (9/27 = 3). Three of Bride’s bunts have been successful.

True to his word, Chad Holbrook has not bunted the 3rd or 4th place batter at all this season. He has, however, bunted the 1st and 2nd place batters a total 15 times.

So there you have it. It will be interesting to see how these numbers compare to the second half numbers considering our level of competition will have greatly increased. More than anything, I see this as a starting point for future discussions. If my attention span endures I’d like record Carolina’s bunting stats well into the future. I think it would be interesting to see how our success varies over the years. And I’d really like to be able to compare our bunting statistics with the rest of the SEC, but I just don’t have that kind of time.

 

Top 6 BAV. w/ At Least 50 ABs Batting Average Bunts Successful Bunts
LT Tolbert 0.324 2 1
Jonah Bride 0.306 6 3
Chris Cullen 0.303 1 0
Jacob Olson 0.298 0 n/a
Matt Williams 0.278 1 1
Alex Destino 0.277 0 n/a
Lineup Position No. of Bunts Successful Bunts
1 9 3
2 6 3
3 0 n/a
4 0 n/a
5 2 0
6 2 1
7 0 n/a
8 4 2
9 4 2
Inning No. of Bunts
1 0
2 1
3 2
4 2
5 4
6 4
7 6
8 4
9 2
10 2
Posted in Uncategorized

TRC Unleashed Episode 95 – We’re in the FINAL FOUR

TRC Unleashed returns to discuss the Gamecocks’ upcoming appearance in the Final Four.  Among other things the triumvirate ponders:

  • Is this the greatest accomplishment in South Carolina sports history?
  • Will a loss either Saturday or Monday really be disappointing, or is this all gravy?
  • What does this mean for the program short and long-term?
  • Fighting 25 duck-sized Frank Martin’s would be terrifying.

Oh y’all this is so much fun. Join us for the ride won’t you.

You can stream the episode by clicking the logo below. Or you can listen through iTunes, and enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized

Gamecocks’ NCAA Futility Washed Away in an Instant

I started watching college basketball when I was seven years old. The first game I can remember was the 1977 NCAA final between North Carolina and Marquette, and I was immediately hooked. It wasn’t March Madness back then, but it wasn’t long after that the moniker took hold.

There seemed to be something magical every year. 1979, Magic beat Bird. 1982, Jordan, a freshman, finally gave Dean Smith a title. 1983, Lorenzo Charles dunked Dereck Whittenburg’s miss. 1985, Villanova plays a perfect game against Georgetown. 1987, Keith Smart’s cold-blooded jumper. 1988, Danny Manning carries undermanned Kansas.

As a child of the 80’s, and a huge sports fan, these games shaped me, and are the reason the NCAA Tournament remains my favorite sporting event. It rarely, if ever, disappoints.

But there has always been something missing – my alma mater.

I didn’t become a South Carolina fan until my freshman year in 1987, but that was still well past USC basketball’s “glory days” during the late 60s and early 70s. I attended games at the old, sterile concrete jungle we called Carolina Coliseum. Back in those days we were an independent in football, but played in the Metro Conference in basketball. That’s right, the Metro Conference.

Our home slate included games against the likes of Florida State, Memphis State, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech. There was better fan support than the team warranted most games, but since you’re more than likely a Gamecock fan reading this that shouldn’t come as a surprise. We had a blast at those games, and we’d get in line early every week when student tickets were distributed.

Some really nice players came through when I was in school, including JoJo English, Joe Rhett, Barry Manning, John Hudson, Terry Dozier and Jamie Watson. We were never really bad, but we were never really good either. We had just enough to give good teams a run for their money, and occasionally not enough to prevent bad losses to inferior teams.

We made the tournament in 1989 and were ousted in the first round by NC State. We then wandered the desert for eight years until the remarkable breakthrough season of 1996-97. We won the SEC title outright and earned a #2 seed in our region. I thought, finally, I get to see MY team make a run in the Big Dance.

Flop.

Then 1997-98 was almost as good. We earned another high seed, #3, and surely we wouldn’t blow this opportu…

Flop.

Six years later we squeezed into the tournament as a #10 seed and were promptly ousted by Memphis.

That was it. Forty-four years without a win in the NCAA Tournament. Only four tournament appearances for me personally as a fan. Two historical faceplants out of those four appearances.

This was Gamecock basketball.

Then two weeks ago, after 13 long years, we secured another one of those elusive bids. We earned a #7 seed in the East Regional, along with defending national champion Villanova and perennial power Duke. We didn’t exactly storm into the tournament, having lost six of our last nine games. Still, the excitement of that bid brought a renewed optimism among the faithful that we would be able to beat Marquette and get the NCAA monkey off our back. We weren’t exactly sure how we were going to do it, but we decided to believe.

As it turns out, we did it the same way we thrashed teams like Michigan and Syracuse in December – suffocating defense. After the first 10 minutes of shaking off nerves, the Gamecocks were pressuring, rotating and flying to the ball in a manner we hadn’t seen in several weeks. They pulled away in the last six minutes to end that blasted tourney drought.

“Good enough for me,” I thought. “This tournament is already a success. With Duke looming, anything more than just this is gravy.” Thank God our team didn’t think that way.

The Blue Devils entered the NCAAs as a favorite after playing their best basketball of the season and winning the ACC tournament championship. The stage was overwhelming early for USC as Duke built a 10-point lead, and carried a 7-point lead into the half. After halftime, we saw what might have been the best 20 minutes of Carolina basketball in my lifetime.

The Gamecocks scored a record 65 points in the second half, the most ever scored against a Mike Krzyzewski team. It was a stunning upset, and is still the upset of the tournament. South Carolina just doesn’t beat a team like Duke in the NCAA Tournament. Hell, until Marquette they quite simply didn’t beat ANYBODY in the NCAA Tournament. After all those years, we were finally part of the Madness. On the good side.

Baylor? Baylor had no chance in the Sweet Sixteen. The Gamecocks mauled the Bears from the get-go, continuing to steamroll over anything in their way. I couldn’t believe this was my team. Our team. Now the national darling of March.

Yesterday, against a familiar and formidable foe, I was finally greedy. I didn’t think for a minute it would be all right to lose to Florida. My only thought was how heartbreaking it would be to get this close – THIS CLOSE – and not make it to the Final Four. I don’t really know how to gauge levels of nervousness, but I’m guessing on a scale of 1 to 10 I was about a 27 for two hours. I was dying as the Gators were draining threes in the first half. Contested, uncontested, banked, it didn’t matter, they were on fire.

I told my son at the half things would even out. Teams that on average shoot 35% from behind the arc don’t typically shoot 58% for an entire game. They’d stop falling, and if they didn’t, you just tip your cap. I said it with confidence, but I’m not sure I believed it.

It was obvious early in the second half the Gamecocks had decided to stop playing around. They were back to being hellhounds on defense. Shots were falling. That second half intensity overwhelmed Florida down the stretch, and they went 0-14 on three-pointers. Only for a brief moment, on a USC turnover and Chris Chiozza layup, did I think it might be slipping away.

When Maik Kotsar drilled a 10-footer with two minutes left – the shot of the game – I started to think it might be coming true. We tried to make it interesting, missing a few free throws down the stretch. But when Chiozza was stripped by PJ Dozier in the final seconds, and Duane Notice slammed home the last points to send South Carolina to the Final Four, all those years of futility and frustration were washed away.

My team, our team, South Carolina, was in the Final Four.

I’m not saying anything here any of you haven’t already thought or said. I don’t have any special words to use to describe what we’ve witnessed. It’s been unbelievable, unreal, surreal, special, spectacular, and on and on. I’ve consumed every article, watched every highlight, video and GIF. I don’t know if a team has ever made me as proud as this Gamecock basketball team. It’s all been so unexpected.

The man responsible is Frank Martin. He wanted out of Kansas State so badly that five years ago he decided to take over a program mired in sub-mediocrity for decades. He had a plan, he implemented his plan, and he asked us to be patient. It hasn’t been easy. When he was suspended a few years ago for an outburst at Duane Notice on the bench, I thought maybe we had seen the last of him. He wasn’t winning, and his brash personality wasn’t sitting well with everyone. But he returned, and as time went by you saw how much his players adored him and how hard they played for him and our university.

I genuinely believe to Frank Martin this journey isn’t about Frank Martin. He cares about the players he coaches like they’re his own family, and he insists they appreciate our university and represent us with respect. He preaches about life, and teaches life lessons through basketball. His players love him and would run through a wall for him. As a matter of fact they’ve been running through walls for him the last two weeks.

On the player side, no one at the University of South Carolina should ever wear the number 0 on a basketball court again. Sindarius Thornwell, like his team, has exceeded expectations beyond our wildest dreams. At the beginning of the year he was maybe a top 10 player in South Carolina history. After an SEC Player of the Year regular season he may have moved near the top 5. After the last two weeks the only names you can put in the same sentence with him are Roche and English. Martin said he likes players with some “dog” in them. Thornwell epitomizes this, guarding guys four and five inches taller than him on the defensive side, then being equally adept at knocking down threes or banging in the paint for an and-1 on offense. He is quite simply a legend.

The supporting cast, absent many nights during the regular season, has been incredible during this run. I could write a paragraph each about Silva, Felder, Kotsar, Notice and the rest of the bench and their contributions. Every night someone else has stepped up their game in a supporting role. The NCAA Tournament has a way of making players elevate their game to meet the moment. Our guys have done that.

Finally, I have to say how proud I am of our fans. New York became Gamecock Central (h/t to Gamecock Central) and it was so much fun to watch you guys take it over. We’ve engaged with many of you over social media and it’s been a blast. It’s definitely great to be a Gamecock.

So let me close this out before it becomes one big “I love you man”.

Regarding the Final Four, if this team didn’t give one more ounce to us fans they’ve still given more than enough. But from what I’ve seen not giving their best is not an option for any single guy on that squad. I expect to see the hellhounds in full force against Gonzaga.

No matter the outcome, this has been one great ride. And more than I ever could have expected.

Go Cocks.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

TRC Unleashed Episode 94 – It’s The Sweet One

What can make TRC Unleashed come out of hibernation? Why an improbable run in the NCAA Tournament, that’s what. Connor Tapp of 247Sports joins Buck and the Gman (hey, where Tbone at?) to discuss:

  • The nice win over Marquette
  • The unbelievable win over Duke
  • Where the win over Duke ranks in USC hoops history
  • The legacy of Sindarius Thornwell
  • How much we love Frank Martin
  • And spring football!

Join us for all this and more on the return of TRC-U. Click to listen:

Streaming

Or in iTunes.

iTunes Podcast

Posted in Uncategorized

The Gamecock Bunt Book – Week of 2/20-2/27

cws30_gm010-source-prod_affiliate-74

Is bunting a good thing? When is the right time to sacrifice? Or bunt for a hit? How about a good old-fashioned squeeze? There has been much debate over the years over the old-school approach taken by Gamecock skippers Ray Tanner and Chad Holbrook in regards to bunting. (Read: they LOVE the bunt.) But how often does it really work, and when is it not a good strategy?

This season, TRC will be the vessel for some deep-diving analysis from @chickenhoops, @featherdwarrior, and the team over at @DidtheBuntWork. The mission will be to put together some hard analytics to determine how effective the Gamecock bunt game is in 2017. Please enjoy this first installment from @chickenhoops.

Hi, you might remember me from such features as yelling about punting and Frank Martin’s lineups.  Today, we’re here to talk about the third thing that drives me crazy – Chad Holbrook’s bunting.

I’m not exactly new to this topic, but with the help of others at @DidtheBuntWork, I’ll spend this year for the first time taking a systemic approach to Chad Holbrook’s fetish.

Let’s talk about the three bunts this week!

Feb. 23 – Kansas State

Inning: Bottom 6th

Score: 6-5 KSU

Batter: Danny Blair

Lineup: 1st

Runners on: none

Outs: 0

Did it work? No

Expected runs added/lost: No change

Actual runs added/lost: -0.31

This is a bunt where I take no issue – Danny Blair attempted to bunt for a hit and it didn’t work.  My general rule here is that this should be a player-called decision, but I’m not going to fault either Holbrook or Blair for trying.

Feb. 24 – Wright State

Inning: Bottom 5th

Score: 3-3 tied

Batter: Danny Blair

Lineup: 1st

Runners on: 2nd

Outs: 0

Did it work? Not even a little bit – Wright State threw the runner out at 3rd.

Expected runs added/lost: -0.25 (anticipated one out, runner on 3rd)

Expected chance of scoring once: +3% (70% to 73%)

Actual runs added/lost: -0.76

Actual chance of scoring once: 38%

Now this is the type of Holbrook bunt that we’ve come to know and love.  In the fifth inning of a tie game, Chad decides to lower our total runs expected by a quarter of a run in exchange for a piddling three-percent chance of scoring.  He ends up being right, one run would be enough to win the game, but that’s a pretty massive bet with 12 outs to go.

Of course, Blair can’t get it down and the runner is nailed.  Here’s why it matters to little that there’s not much upside to these bunts – because look at the massive downside.  Blair’s bunt doesn’t work, and now the Gamecocks go from slightly more likely to scoring once (but less likely to score more than once) to unlikely to score at all and unlikely to score much.  No reward, all risk!

Feb. 25 – Wright State

Inning: Bottom 6th

Score: 4-0 USC

Batter: Danny Blair

Lineup: 9th

Runners on: 2nd and 3rd

Outs: 1

Did it work? Yes!

Expected runs added/lost: -0.24 (anticipated one run in, runner at 2nd, one out)

Actual runs added/lost: +0.73 (one run in, runners at 1st and 2nd, no outs) 2.06 to 2.79

Actual chance of scoring once: 38%

This is the flip side of the coin above – sometimes a team can’t make a play and a bunt turns good.  Here, the bunt works as well as possible – the run gets in and both runners are safe.  That increases the Gamecocks’ expected runs in this inning from 2.06 to 2.79 runs.  Of course, Carolina would go on to score a 6-spot in this inning, effectively putting the game away.

We’ll try to catch up with the bunts we missed earlier in the season, but for this week’s games alone, here’s how Chad’s bunting turned out – let’s follow along this season as we finally take our NEVER BUNT thesis and test it over the course of an entire year.

Season-to-date (only including KSU and WSU series)

Expected runs gained/lost: 0.49 runs lost

Actual runs gained/lost: 0.34 runs lost

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Loving and Losing: My 10 Greatest Sports Defeats

5898932a937c9-image“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4, The Holy Bible (NASB)

I stood in one spot, arms crossed, practically motionless for roughly 45 minutes. It seemed like a lot longer. Hell, maybe it was, time was irrelevant to me at that point. All I knew the entire time was that I was watching, in relative terms, perhaps the greatest collapse in American sports history.

And it was happening to my team. My team for 40 God-forsaken years. A team that had   one playoff win in its first 25 years of existence. A team that didn’t have back to back winning seasons until its 44th year of existence. A team that had fought past all the crappy history and playoff flops to race to a 28-3 lead over the mighty New England Patriots. They were finally the team all Atlantans had dreamt about – unquestionably the best in pro football.

Until they weren’t.

Slowly, painfully, it unfolded in front of my eyes. I told all the casual fans I was with “it’s over” at least five times over that last 45 minutes. After all, I’m a fan of all the Atlanta franchises, and I’m a fan of the South Carolina Gamecocks. This was old hat to me. I knew the ending long before anyone else.

I watched the confetti fall and saw Belichick hug Brady and that was all I could take. I thanked my hosts for a wonderful evening, got in my truck, and on the way home listened to the Falcons’ incomparable play-by-play man Wes Durham try to make sense of it all. He sounded as if he was describing the aftermath of a natural disaster.

I tried to sleep, but I kept replaying in my mind all the plays the Falcons could have made that would have changed the outcome. Each one felt like someone was punching me. It was almost physically painful. Then at some point I thought – is this the worst? Is this the worst ever? Because it feels like the worst ever. In a sporting life with the disappointments outnumbering the major accomplishments by a ratio of roughly 100 to 1, this really felt like the worst. So as I drove in on Monday morning, I tortured myself by trying to recall something worse, and it simply never arrived.

But it did spur (pun intended) this writing. For fans like me of the Atlanta franchises and the Gamecocks, this will be all too familiar. As fans of other teams you probably don’t give a crap, but hang in there and read along, for this is where my healing begins.

A couple of quick notes here. First, the 1984 Navy game is not included because I didn’t become a Gamecock fan until 1987. There are also a couple of surprises that don’t involve Atlanta or South Carolina. Don’t judge.

So, without further adieu, here are my top 10 sports defeats of all time:

1.Super Bowl LI, February 5, 2017 – Patriots 34, Falcons 28

Maybe in time this one will fall down the list, but I at the moment I really don’t see how. You know what happened, I don’t need to rehash it. The only thing I’ll say is RUN THE DAMN BALL SHANAHAN!

2. NCAA First Round, March 14, 1997 – (15) Coppin State 78, (2) South Carolina 65

The Gamecock basketball team had a magical run in 1996-97, led by the big three of BJ McKie, Melvin Watson and Larry Davis. They blitzed through the SEC slate and won their first and only conference championship, culminated by a stunning upset of Kentucky in Lexington on their senior day. But there was one thing I couldn’t shake heading into the NCAA tournament – how in the world did this team lose to UNC Asheville and Charleston Southern early in the season? That bothered me as a number two seed, that we could possibly play down to the level of our competition in the opening game. Well, Coppin State played out of their minds, and cemented our unfortunate place in the history books.

3. World Series Game 4, October 23, 1996 – Yankees 8, Braves 6

One year earlier, as Marquis Grissom squeezed the final out of the 1995 World Series, Bob Costas declared the Atlanta Braves the “team of the 90s”. They appeared to be on the verge of solidifying their grip on that moniker, with a 6-3 lead in the 8th inning of a game that could’ve given them a commanding 3-1 lead in the 1996 Series. Alas, Mark Wohlers hung a curve ball to Jim Leyritz, who tied the game with a 3-run homer. New York would go on to win that game in extra innings, and the series four games to two. The Yankees then went on to become the ACTUAL team of the 90s, while the Braves went on an unprecedented run of postseason futility . Until Sunday, that game was the most infamous in Atlanta sports history.

4. NCAA First Round, March 12, 1998 – (14) Richmond 62, (3) South Carolina 61

If Coppin State worried me, Richmond terrified me. The Spiders were an NCAA Tournament regular, pulling off the first 15-seed vs. 2-seed upset in the history of the tourney. Unfortunately this Gamecock squad wasn’t quite as good at the ’97 version and once again bowed out in humiliation.

5. College Football, November 18, 2000 – Clemson 16, South Carolina 14

Rod Gardner pushed off, always and forever.

6. NFC Championship, January 21, 2013 – 49ers 28, Falcons 24

The Falcons blew an early 17-o lead and a 24-10 halftime lead, a trend unique to Atlanta. The good news here was I was in the hospital with my newborn daughter, so I watched the game on a tiny hospital TV and was otherwise preoccupied. Still, pretty damn painful.

7. College Football Playoff, January 10, 2017 – Clemson 35, Alabama 31

For those of you who pulled for Clemson in 2016 and/or 2017 I will never understand you. Clemson winning a national title in anything, much less football, is never a good thing for us. Now we have to deal with merchandise, license plates, billboards, etc., until we can do something about it. Which might take a while.

8. College Football, November 23, 2003 – Clemson 63, South Carolina 17 and November 27, 2016 – Clemson 56, South Carolina 7

Basically the same humiliating game 13 years apart.

9. NFC Divisional Playoffs, January 4, 1981 – Cowboys 30, Falcons 27

I really didn’t expect the Falcons to make the list three times when I first started thinking about this, but here we are. I was only 11 at the time, and don’t remember much about it except that I was extremely bummed. This game once again featured the Falcons building a big lead and collapsing at the end. Sound familiar?

10. College Basketball National Championship, March 28, 1977 – Marquette 67, North Carolina 59 and March 30, 1981 – Indiana 63, North Carolina 50

I know this surprises and possibly upsets some of you, but again I remind you I was not a Gamecock fan until 1987. Prior to that, North Carolina basketball was truly my first love. The UNC-Marquette game was the second sporting event I can ever recall watching (the first was Super Bowl XI between the Vikings and Raiders). I loved Dean Smith, I loved the Carolina blue and I decided that night the Tar Heels were my team. Of course they lost.

In ’81 the game between Indiana and UNC was almost postponed because President Reagan had been shot earlier in the afternoon. I remember thinking “looks like he’s going to live, let’s play ball!” (Hey, give me a break, I was a kid.) I got so frustrated with the game I would turn the TV off for 10 minutes at a time hoping that when I turned it back on the Tar Heels would have closed the gap. They never did, and I cried myself to sleep.

North Carolina would break through for their first, and my first, national title in 1982 behind the brilliance of Jordan, Worthy and Perkins. Of course I can’t claim that any longer because I now despise the Tar Heels with every fiber of my being. Was fun at the time, though.

Please, make me feel better and share your toughest defeats in the comments section.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Guest Post: The Death of Joe Morrison, 28 Years Later

The Sumter Item - February 6, 1989

The Sumter Item – February 6, 1989

Long-time friend of TRC and former Garnet and Black Attack contributor @FeatherdWarrior reflects on the anniversary of the death of former Gamecock head coach Joe Morrison.  

Today marks the 28th anniversary of the death of Joe Morrison, probably the Gamecocks’ most successful football coach until the advent of Steve Spurrier nearly two decades later. Morrison’s death came as a shock to everyone and led to the eventual hiring of Sparky Woods as head coach – another tragedy, depending on whom you ask.

Not too long ago I came into possession of a copy of The Sumter Item from the day after Morrison passed away. The paper contains the AP’s account of Morrison’s death as well as his career. Most of what Gamecocks fans remember about Joe Morrison begins and ends with the 1984 “Black Magic” season, but it’s interesting to get a sense of atmosphere surrounding USC’s football program at the time. It’s also interesting to see what kinds of stories were in the news back then. I’ve transcribed the article about Morrison’s death below the line, and I’ve also included some of the other headlines from that day immediately below. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Dooley won’t run for governor – “Vince Dooley’s run for governor is over, less than two months after he announced retirement as the winningest coach in the history of the football-proud University of Georgia.”

Father advises Sanders to leave – “If Barry Sanders’ father has his way, the Heisman Trophy winner won’t return to Oklahoma State for his senior season.”

Kentucky board supports investigation results – “Members of the University of Kentucky board of trustees who attended a briefing on the school’s response to 18 NCAA allegations against the men’s basketball program said they supported the results of a 10-month independent investigation.”

Lakers are back, thanks to Jabbar – “The Los Angeles Lakers are back in sync, largely due to the improved play of Kareem Abdul Jabbar.”

Soviets out of Afghanistan; guerrillas close in on Kabul – “The last Red Army convoys abandoned their garrisons and headed north for home today, Soviet officials said, bringing to an end a nine-year adventure that cost more than 13,000 Soviet lives.

Bush heads for Canada this week – “Canadians looking for assurance that their country won’t be ignored by Washington now that a free trade agreement between the two countries is in place should be cheered by President Bush’s visit to Ottawa this week.”


Heart Attack Claims USC’s Morrison

COLUMBIA (AP) – South Carolina coach Joe Morrison, who brought the Gamecocks into the national spotlight with success on the football field and controversy off it, dies of a heart attack after playing racquetball with three friends. He was 51.

Morrison had been playing racquetball at Williams-Brice Stadium for about a half-hour with defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, attorney Edward “Punky” Holler and businessman Ken Wheat before he suffered what Providence Hospital spokeswoman Dawn Catalano called a “massive heart attack.”

Morrison, who had a history of heart problems, was taken to Providence, arriving at 8:44 p.m. alive but unconscious. He was pronounced dead at 9:04 p.m.

Morrison was not feeling any pain but did have a “small, funny sensation near his elbow” after playing racquetball, Athletic Director King Dixon said. But when the players shook hands they noticed Morrison’s hands were “awfully cold,” Dixon said.

Dunn called trainer Terry Lewis, who in turn contacted the team doctor, who checked Morrison’s pulse and heartbeat, Dixon said.

“I think they were well within the range when the doctor got there. But they prevailed upon Joe to spend the night in the hospital to have a complete check, which Joe agreed to,” Dixon Said.

First, however, Morrison decided to take a shower. But during the shower, he collapsed. He was found there by one or more of his playing partners, who began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the coach, Catalano said.

Morrison, a smoker, underwent a surgical procedures for removal of a blockage in a coronary artery in March 1985.

Dixon said Morrison, who had been on the road recruiting almost constantly since the season ended, had been sick about a week ago with a flu or virus that had left him “feeling awfully weak.”

“Coach Joe Lee Dunn said he had never seen Joe feel so badly in his life physically,” Dixon said.

Morrison, who played in the NFL for the New York Giants from 1959-72 as a running back and receiver, came to South Carolina after coaching stints at both Tennessee-Chattanooga and New Mexico. Morrison’s career record was 101-72-7 over 16 seasons.

He was 39-28-2 in six seasons at South Carolina, including 8-4 in 198, when he took the Gamecocks to the Liberty Bowl, where they lost to Indiana 34-10. South Carolina has never won a bowl game in eight tries.

The season was a controversial one, however. The Gamecocks faltered near the end, losing four of their last six games. That came on the heels of allegations of steroid use among football players by former Gamecock defensive lineman Tommy Chaikin.

In a story in Sports Illustrated, Chaikin, who played at South Carolina from 1983-87, said he and other players used steroids and about half of the 1986 team used the muscle-building drugs. Chaikin also said some players used drugs such as cocaine and LSD.

Morrison he had heard rumors some players might have been using steroids but the allegations were never substantiated.

The allegations by Chaikin have prompted a grand jury investigation that is expected to continue when jurors reconvene later this month.

University President James Holderman said he didn’t think Morrison was under any added pressure this year.

“I don’t think he was under any more stress than any football coach was under,” Holderman said.

Dixon agreed.

“I did not detect any more stress on Joe this year,” Dixon said.

Morrison’s private life was the focus of intense scrutiny two years ago when it was learned he has had a child by a woman he began seeing while he was at New Mexico. The woman, Barbara J. Button, moved to South Carolina after Morrison became coach of the Gamecocks.

Morrison acknowledged he was the father of Button’s daughter, Lisa Nicole Morrison, who was born June 12, 1982 in Albuquerque, N.M.

Despite the controversies, Morrison was known as a winner as a coach and a player. Morrison’s best year at South Carolina was in 1984 when he was named the 1984 Walter Camp national Coach of the Year. South Carolina went 10-2 that season, losing to Oklahoma State 21-14 in the Gator Bowl.

Morrison began his coaching career at Tennessee-Chattanooga after former Giants teammate Sam Huff recommended him for the job. The Moccasins went 4-7 in each of his first two seasons, then went 5-5-1 in 1975.

Over his final four seasons there, Morrison coached the team to records of 6-4-1, 9-1-1, 7-3-1, and 9-2, winning the Southern Conference championship three times.

He moved to New Mexico in 1970 and the Lobos went 4-7 in his first two seasons at Albuquerque. New Mexico went 10-2 in 1982, its only loss 40-12 to Brigham Young.

South Carolina hired him away Dec. 5, 1982. The Gamecocks went 5-6 in his first season, then went 10-2 in 1984, rising as high as second in The Associated Press poll before a 38-21 loss to Navy on Nov. 17. The Gamecocks finished 1988 (sic) ranked 11th.

South Carolina was 5-6 in 1985, 3-6-2 in 1986 and 8-4 in 1987, finishing with a 20-16 loss to eventual national champion Miami of Florida and a 30-13 loss to Louisiana State in the Gator Bowl.

Morrison, who was born August 21, 1937, and grew up in Lima, Ohio, was as outstanding a player as he was a coach. At Cincinnati, he set school records in scoring, passing and rushing and twice was named to the All Missouri Valley Conference team.

He led the Bearcats in rushing and receiving in 1958. He played in the 1959 College All-Star Game, Senior Bowl and North-South All-Star Game.

After graduating in 1959, he was drafted on the third round by the Giants and went on to play 14 years for New York, earning the nickname “Old Dependable” for his clutch play.

He was named Most Valuable Player by the NFL Touchdown Club in 1972, his final season. The Giants that year retired his No. 40.

Morrison is the Giants’ all-time leader in receptions with 395, for 4, 993 yards and 47 touchdowns. He gained 2,472 yards rushing in his career on 677 carries, scoring 18 touchdowns.

His 65 career touchdowns rank him fourth in the history of the Giants with 390 points.

“He was such a versatile player,” Giants owner Wellington Mara said. “ He was the ultimate team player. He would do anything you asked him. Run the Ball, catch, play on special teams, anything.”

Dunbar Funeral Home was handling the arrangements, but they were incomplete this morning.

Posted in Uncategorized

Snap Judgments – 2016 USC @ Clemson Edition

WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!! (Photo: thestate.com)

WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!! (Photo: thestate.com)

Embarrassment. Last week after the Western Carolina game I wrote that we just needed to chalk that game up as an anomaly. It was a bad game before our annual contest against our biggest rival, and surely we were going to pull things together and play a competitive game against Clemson.

Instead, the game against the Catamounts should have set off flashing red lights and sirens all over the place. Our bend but don’t break defense that had experienced extraordinarily good fortune in the red zone for most of the season was gashed by one of the worst teams in the FCS. If we couldn’t get off the field against WCU, what in the world made us think we could against Clemson? Yes, our red zone defense had been stellar for most of the season, mostly due to timely turnovers – some born of good plays by the defense, but some that could be attributed to boneheaded plays by our opponents.

The fact is our coaches never wanted to be a bend-but-don’t-break defense, that’s just the way things played out over the course of the season. I guarantee you Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson would’ve preferred we stop teams before they ever got over the 50. But we simply weren’t good enough any phase of our defense to stop teams between the twenties, and we had to rely on stopping them once they were faced with a smaller field to work with.

Unfortunately, there was no bowing up, no locking down, and most certainly no luck for the Gamecocks on Saturday night on any part of the field. Clemson was light years better on offense than we were on defense. They were more physical, faster and more talented across the board and it showed more than at perhaps any other time in the history of the rivalry. The game was quite literally over at 14-0, and the Tigers could have scored 80 points if they had felt so inclined.

What about our offense against their defense? It was no better. Our turnstile offensive line was beaten on virtually every play. Our freshman quarterback who couldn’t be rattled was beyond rattled. We couldn’t run, couldn’t pass, and had to resort to a trick play to avoid being shut out.

The 2016 Carolina-Clemson game was the thing of nightmares. It was domination, and it was swift and decisive. It was also a complete and total embarrassment.

NO-ffense. A few years ago I was the offensive coordinator for a youth football team. I remember one game in particular where we were not only not moving the ball, but were losing yardage on practically every play. We had decent skill players, but our offensive line was atrocious. Around the third quarter I starting hearing rumblings of frustration from the fans in the stands, which were right behind us. The rumblings grew louder, until finally I heard…

“COME ON COACH!”

I had literally run ever play in the playbook (granted, they were kids, it wasn’t a very big playbook) and nothing was working. I was helpless.

I remembered this when I saw some folks complaining about Kurt Roper on Saturday night, and I felt kind of bad for him. I could just imagine him sitting in the press box looking at his play sheet wondering what the hell in front of him might work. I know there are plenty of your who think Roper is a bad OC. There are some who think he is a good OC, but doesn’t have the talent (OL specifically) to run his offense at the moment. I lean towards the latter personally, but will admit that may only be wishful thinking.

What I do know is very little of what he had planned for Saturday night had a chance of working. Not because he had a game plan, and not because his guys did know what they were supposed to be doing. It was because they didn’t have the ABILITY to do what needed to be done. They didn’t have the ability to beat the man in front of them. And until we fix that, our offense will always look pedestrian, or worse.

Onward and upward. Last week on our podcast we were asked what could put a damper on this season. Well, a 56-7 loss to our rival has certainly done it for the time being. Our bowl destination, opponent, and a positive outcome in that game could certainly put some salve on the wound, but there is obviously quite a bit of work to be done.

As far as next year, I still think this team can be a contender for the SEC East title, mostly because just about everyone will be a contender for the SEC East title. But seriously, we found a quarterback in Jake Bentley, and skill players in Rico Dowdle, Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards that should make the offense more consistent and more explosive provided the offensive line can improve. On defense we need significant help at defensive end, linebacker and safety, and will hopefully find that in the offseason. I think an 8-4 regular season would not be too much to ask for 2017.

Can we close the gap on Clemson? I certainly think so, mostly because they should come back to the pack a bit next year. Now, some Tiger fan will get a hold of this and tell me about all the talent they have waiting in the wings, which is fine. But they have to replace the best quarterback in school history, who also happens to be the best player in the country and will be a first-round draft pick. They have to replace a first-rounder in Mike Williams and others who will be in the NFL next year including Artavis Scott, Wayne Gallman, Carlos Watkins and Ben Boulware.

The last two seasons have cemented Clemson as a recognized national brand, and that’s something we’ll have to deal with for a while. The best way to deal with it is to recruit better, coach better and play better. All those things are on Will Muschamp, and he has his work cut out for him.

Extracurricular. It really made me sick(er) to wake up on Sunday morning and read about all of the accusations of racial slurs, disrespect, etc. being thrown around. I have mixed feelings about most of it and pretty strong feelings about one specific aspect. So here are my stream of consciousness thoughts:

  • Racial slur by a Clemson player – I’m not sure what to think of this. I find it hard to believe a Clemson player would direct a racial slur at a South Carolina player when the make-up of both rosters is overwhelmingly black. At the same time, it’s an odd accusation to just make up out of thin air. Something happened, but what we’ll probably never know.
  • Racial slur by a Clemson fan – Honestly, would anyone be surprised by this? And I don’t mean because it’s a Clemson fan, I mean because it’s a fan, period. Out of millions of Clemson fans, and millions of South Carolina fans, do you not think there are more than a handful of raging racists on either side? And do you not think those people would throw out a racial epithet if given the opportunity? It’s disgusting, it’s humiliating, and it is unfortunately part of the world in which we live. It’s not a South Carolina or Clemson problem, it’s an everybody problem. And it’s up to you and me to stop it when we see or hear it.
  • Disrespect, Part I – Ah, yes, the “d” word. I get it, nobody likes to have trash talked in their face then they’re getting their asses handed to them. The old man in me is always inclined to say “if you don’t like it then do something about it”. And if you can’t do something about it, don’t whine about it. But on the other hand, sometimes there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, even in the brutal game of football. Which brings me to…

Disrespect, Part II. So here’s what I had a problem with – the curtain call. I’ve seen a lot of curtain calls in my 40 years of being a sports fan, but never one quite as showy at the one at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Dabo Swinney took out a lot of his starters in the third quarter, including Watson, Williams and Scott. At that point, up by six touchdowns, it was obvious he was not going to need the services of those guys or his three remaining time outs. It would have been easy to do the curtain call right then and there, and have those same guys run off to the same applause they got later in the game.

Instead, that group sat until late in the fourth quarter. Swinney called time out, and when the Tigers ran back on the field the starters were back in. They stood to rousing applause, waving their arms and gesticulating to the crowd, until the play clock ran down and Swinney called another time out. They then ran off the field to more applause and smiles and hugs.

I’m sure it was humiliating for our guys to have to stand out there for the better part of five minutes and have their noses rubbed in the worst loss of their football careers. At that point all they wanted was for the clock to run out and get the hell out of there. Yes, yes, if you don’t like it, do something about it. But for Dabo Swinney to be such a champion of integrity and respect and doing things the right way, that was one hell of a bush league move.

I have no doubt in my mind Will Muschamp didn’t appreciate that one bit. Hopefully someday he’ll have a chance to do something similar in return, and he’ll pass.

Go Cocks.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

TRC Unleashed 93 – A Very Special TRC Thanksgiving

The Rubber Chickens return with some Thanksgiving musings ahead of the showdown with Clemson. Included:

  • How we’re doing in the game of life
  • Gamecocks we’re thankful for
  • Who’s the greatest Gamecock ever
  • What will it take to beat Clemson
  • Where is the Music City Bowl?
  • How early can you start drinking on Thanksgiving
  • Possible bowl destinations

Click the graphic below to stream this episode, or listen via iTunes right here, and enjoy!

TRC-Unleashed-Button

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment