Monday, April 30, 2012

Vikings Stadium Becomes Political Pawn

Just one week ago, the Minnesota Vikings' push for a new Minneapolis stadium seemed like a legislative priority. It seemed important.

Granted, this all happened after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell visited the Capitol and delivered what one prominent Minnesota politician called a "reality check," but it happened. For a few days after Goodell's visit -- he said there was no threat, but it's clear there was at least an implied threat of franchise relocation, which is not at all desirable in NFL circles because of how valuable they feel the franchise is in its current city -- it seemed politicians cared about this issue for the first time in a long time.

You see, Minnesota's NFL franchise has been trying for over a decade to get a new stadium to replace the antiquated, crappy, and awfully antiquated (did I mention that it's crappy?) Metrodome. Since the funding for Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium was finalized in 2006, ownership has been trying (but ultimately waiting patiently) to get something done.

Until Goodell visited, there was no urgency.

Ten days after Goodell stopped by, the urgency has again departed. Instead, Minnesota's "leadership" has turned the stadium -- and, by extension, the franchise's future in Minnesota -- into just another political pawn.

A chief author of the Minnesota Vikings stadium plan said Sunday it was "very questionable" that the project would win approval unless Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders first reach agreement on other issues.

"Without a global agreement, without an agreement on a bonding bill and a tax bill," said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, "it's very questionable whether there will be a vote on the stadium."

... Lanning seemed to dangle the promise of the stadium passing the Republican-controlled House -- he said there were enough votes -- but said it all depended on Dayton's willingness to agree to business tax relief and a smaller state bond package.

... The governor said Saturday that the Republicans' "view of compromise is doing things their way" and "that's just not going to work this time."

... Republicans want the elimination of the statewide business property tax, a move the governor has resisted because it could require dipping into the state's emergency budget reserves. A House-Senate conference panel nonetheless agreed late Saturday on a series of business-friendly tax provisions, including a freeze on business property taxes.

Dayton and DFLers meanwhile want a larger state bonding bill, spending that many Republicans oppose.

The Vikings stadium, which has its own set of political problems, for now seems to be caught in the middle.

No one is saying that the stadium is more important than the other issues on the table. I understand that a bonding bill is a big deal, and it has to get done before the session ends.

But this is the same group that somehow took time last week to declare a state soil. Yeah, Minnesota has a state dirt. Great.

Priorities aren't exactly a high point of politicians. They are worried about their re-elections ahead of anything else, and if they think they can put a hot-button issue off during an election year, they're going to do it almost every time.

Of course, if a stadium deal doesn't get done before the end of this session, it might be time to bury the Vikings franchise in some of that state dirt.

Friday, April 27, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Packers Bolster Defense

In the interest of fairness, equal time, and actually taking a few moments to write about the team that has made the playoffs over the last couple years, I figured I'd offer up a few draft thoughts on my favorite football team, the Packers.

As I mentioned earlier this week, the Packers were in a rather odd position. Even though Green Bay was 15-1 last season and didn't lose much in free agency, the general consensus going into the draft is that the Packers have some work to do, especially on defense.

General manager Ted Thompson apparently agrees with this assessment. In his time as GM, he has now made five trades to improve his team's draft position ("trade ups," in other words). Two of those trades happened Friday night.

Dissatisfied with his position at 27th in the second round, Thompson moved up four spots in a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. He dealt the Packers' second-round pick and a fourth-rounder for the right to move up and take Michigan State defensive lineman Jerel Worthy. The big man should work as a defensive end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme, while first-round pick Nick Perry is slotted in opposite Clay Matthews at right outside linebacker. The goal with Worthy is to get a replacement of sorts for Cullen Jenkins, who was a key cog in the Packers' line during their Super Bowl XLV run. Jenkins left for Philadelphia after the lockout last summer, and he was not even remotely replaced. His loss rendered many guys, most notably Matthews and nose man BJ Raji, as much less effective than they were the previous season. Matthews' dropoff in production was also caused by a lack of a pass rush threat anywhere else in the front seven.

Thompson wasn't done. Seeing a lack of depth at cornerback, he dealt back into the second round, getting the 62nd pick from New England in exchange for the Packers' third-round selection and another Saturday pick. Thompson added to his secondary with Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward. He doesn't have to make an immediate impact, but instead can work behind Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson. If he develops quickly, he provides the Packers with the security needed to potentially move Woodson to safety if that's a choice the organization wants to make.

(I'm not saying I'm in favor of it or not. As long as Woodson can play at a high level, I don't care what position he plays. I'll let the coaches make that call.)

Green Bay isn't done. This week's release of former All-Pro safety Nick Collins -- who suffered a serious neck injury in Week 2 last year and was apparently not going to be cleared to play by the Packers' medical staff -- creates a gaping hole in the middle of the secondary. Green Bay suffered greatly without Collins last year, as Charlie Peprah was torched on a seemingly regular basis. This isn't a good draft for safeties, so it's possible Thompson has something else in mind there.

Hopefully, the team doesn't plan to go into the season with the status quo. It was a scary good last season, and not in a good way. The other hope is that building more strength elsewhere on defense will help alleviate the issues at safety.

As we all know, a good pass rush can cover for a lot of deficiencies in the back. Similarly, having a strong secondary can help counter a poor pass rush. Of course, no matter what, you can only expect to cover receivers for so long before someone gets open.

The Packers still have some picks on Saturday, giving them a chance to add to a pretty solid special teams group (not the kicker and punter, instead I'm talking about adding depth for the return and coverage teams). Between that and the crop of undrafted free agents, it seems unlikely Thompson -- no matter how good he is at this job, and we know he's good -- is going to find a Week 1 starter. Can't be ruled out, but it would be foolish to count on it.

Last year's playoff disaster is still fresh in the minds of the Cheeseheads, but the way Thompson has started this draft should help calm their nerves a little bit.

2012 NFL Draft: Vikings Score With Smarts

The Minnesota Vikings were 3-13 in 2011. There are noticeable holes at wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, cornerback, and safety. It could be argued that the Vikings needed to get three and perhaps four immediate starters out of this draft to fill the holes that clearly exist.

That they got two out of the first round of the draft is a great accomplishment, one that isn't easy to pull off.

Minnesota traded out of the third spot in Thursday's first round, dealing with Cleveland to swap picks in the top five. The Browns then took Alabama running back Trent Richardson, while the Vikings slid back to the fourth spot, knowing full well that they would still be able to get their guy.

Despite a pretty elaborate smokescreen, many knew that their guy all along was USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, and he was indeed the fourth pick.

Kalil might not be the prospect at left tackle that Jake Long and Joe Thomas were when they came out, but he is far and away the best left tackle in this draft, and he's a guy who should start immediately as Christian Ponder's blind-side protector. It's a solid, safe pick.

New general manager Rick Spielman wasn't done, though. He maneuvered himself into the 29th position, via a deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Once the Packers didn't select the player Spielman wanted, it was an easy call to make the trade. The player he wanted was Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, another player who should be an immediate starter.

Smith doesn't have the best hands (he dropped a couple picks as a senior last year). He also had seven picks as a junior, and he's got the athleticism necessary to be a factor covering backs and tight ends. Good size, strong, and a great tackler. He has good instincts for the safety position.

Anytime you can pull two immediate starters out of the first round, it's cause for celebration. Making matters even better was that Spielman actually profited in draft pick currency from the wheeling and dealing.

The Browns gave up three picks -- albeit none of them before the fourth round -- to swap positions for the right to select Richardson, a player they clearly coveted. Minnesota only surrendered two -- a second and a fourth -- to move into Baltimore's first-round pick for Smith.

That leaves Spielman with ten picks. Even though he no longer has one in Friday's second round, it's a win for a team that hasn't had many lately.

You might think Spielman needs four starters out of this draft. Even if that's the case, he has plenty of ammunition to make that happen. Don't be surprised to see Minnesota try to move into the second round if a player Spielman likes falls far enough.

It was a good start for the new GM, and a good start to what fans hope is the kind of turnaround that has become quite common in the NFL these days.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Random Rabble: April 25

Here's a shocker: The Vikings stadium bill -- which looked dead in the water before Friday -- now appears to have an "air of inevitability," just days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell showed up in Minnesota for half a day and scared the hell out of the politicos. Listen, you know where I stand on this. Couldn't be more clear. And I agree with Sen. Richard Cohen, a DFLer out of St. Paul, who said Tuesday that this charade makes lawmakers look like "a total gang of idiots."

I'd disagree in a sense, though, because the lawmakers looked like buffoons long before Goodell and Steelers owner Art Rooney arrived at the airport Friday.

If the league commissioner has to take half a day to fly to Minnesota and teach lawmakers about the economic impact of an NFL franchise on a region, and make it abundantly clear that even if the league were to ever bring a different team to Minnesota, it would 1) be a long time, and 2) be a hell of a lot more expensive, then the problem here lies with the lawmakers.

Just remember that come November, whether this thing ends up getting done this week or not. Your favorite football team has been left to twist in the wind since the money for TCF Bank Stadium and Target Field was allocated in 2006. You know, six years ago. The blame doesn't fall on your favorite football team. It falls on the people you can help elect or not elect.

Do your research on your local lawmakers' stances on this issue, and make your voice heard. It's the only recourse you have.

The NFL Draft is Thursday. I don't do mock drafts anymore, largely because it's fruitless, and largely because hockey duties take away from my note-taking time. The scouts love them some Luck and RGIII, which is fine, but I'm a bit concerned that the depth behind these two is lackluster at best. Of course, in most years that I have this reaction, things turn out just fine.

I think Minnesota will draft Matt Kalil, despite the increased steam surrounding the likes of LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. I'm not saying Claiborne is a bad pick, nor am I going back on what I said before regarding wide receiver Justin Blackmon, a guy I was trumpeting for the Vikings once it became clear they would be picking early in the draft (you know, around Week 2).

Despite a pretty blatant smokescreen thrown up by GM Rick Spielman, I don't think the Vikings are a serious candidate to trade this pick. No one else wants/needs Kalil enough to move up, and if the Vikes decide to draft Claiborne, there are other cornerbacks -- hi, Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina! -- on the board who justify first-round selections.

I'm a fan of Gilmore. He probably looks better on tape than Claiborne, though it's close. I think he'd be a good pick for someone in the middle of the round, and it certainly lowers the value of Claiborne a bit. Kalil, however, is easily the best tackle in the draft, something that should give the Vikings even more reason to pull the trigger on that pick.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Packers Need To Do Well, Despite Recent Success

The Green Bay Packers have posted three straight winning seasons since a 6-10 performance the year after Brett Favre's first retirement.

Once Aaron Rodgers got his feet wet and was entrenched as the starter, there was no need or reason for worry about the offense.

In 2010, Dom Capers got his defense to peak at the best time possible, as it played incredibly well late in the season to help the Packers get into the NFC playoffs as the No. 6 seed. In the playoffs, the defense had plenty of high moments, including some big turnovers in all four games as the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl.

Last year, as the Packers started 13-0 and finished 15-1 in defense of their title, the defense struggled. They couldn't sack the quarterback, they got gashed in the passing game, and they allowed too many big plays, due in large part to missed tackles.

With general manager Ted Thompson entrenched in a philosophy that eschews free agency in favor of drafting and developing guys into top players, the Packers aren't going to try to find a quick fix on defense. They're sticking with the 3-4, and Capers will do what he can with the talent Thompson procures for him.

That makes this a pretty important draft. Green Bay is scheduled to pick 12 times, and the Packers have plenty of needs, most notably on defense. Thompson needs to find some depth for a defensive front that had none last year, and he needs to find an explosive guy to put opposite Clay Matthews at outside linebacker, a position where Green Bay was so weak last year it adversely affected Matthews' game.

Thompson isn't known for predictability in the draft, but there are a couple names I've honed in on as potential picks for the Packers late in the first round.

One of those is Boise State outside linebacker Shea McClellin. I'm a bit concerned that McClellin will be off the board when Green Bay picks, but if he's still around, he's a good bet to become a Packer. He's a top player who fits a pretty huge need for the Packers.

I could also see Thompson taking a shot at a defensive lineman.

I don't think that guy will be Memphis tackle Dontari Poe. The 350-pounder had everyone's attention at the scouting combine, but didn't do much on the field in college. I'm not saying guys don't wow at the combine and turn into good pros, but I don't see Thompson wasting a first round pick on a guy when YouTube searches for him yield more weightlifting and combine clips than football highlights.

More realistically, if Thompson is going to take a lineman who might not be high on the pre-draft boards you can access on the interwebs, I think a safer bet is Penn State's Devon Still.

Still can play, and he might start right away as an end in the Packers' 3-4 lineup. I like the fact that he has some explosiveness, but he also takes on blockers well. In a 3-4, the linemen need to hold their own and take up blockers. It frees up the likes of Matthews to make plays in the backfield instead of fighting off blocks while the quarterback finds an open guy 15 yards downfield.

Of course, with all this said, watch Thompson draft a running back.

Monday, April 23, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Fresh Off 'Reality Check,' Vikings Get to Focus on Football

I can't pretend to know what it's been like for Minnesota Vikings fans as of late.

The promising 2009 season went up in smoke when Brett Favre threw across his body to Tracy Porter. The promising 2010 season never really got going the way everyone expected, as the Vikings went 6-10 and appeared to bottom out, as Favre never seemed interested and the defense crumbled under the pressure of increased turnovers and decreased offensive efficiency.

Then there was that 3-13 thing. Another awful season to follow the first one.

Oh, and now there's all this talk about the need for a new stadium, with no corresponding action and now a very real threat that 2012 will be the end of an era in Minnesota.

(The latest, by the way, came Friday when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell showed up in Minnesota and delivered what Minnesota Sen. Julie Rosen called a "reality check." It's sad that the league's commissioner had to make a trip to Minnesota to tell these morons what the rest of us have known for six years -- that the Metrodome sucks, isn't a long-term solution, and the team will probably leave if one isn't found soon -- but we're all glad he did.)

Now, however, it's time for fans to finally focus on football once again, even if it's only for a couple days.

Supporting a team that consistently makes the playoffs and went 15-1 last season makes it hard to understand these types of struggles, but there is a small similarity.

The Packers went 4-12 under Mike Sherman in 2005. Regular readers will know how I felt about Mr. Sherman as a football coach and (worse) a general manager. Ted Thompson was appointed GM before the 2005 season, with Sherman serving as only the head coach that season. Once it was over, Sherman was out, and the Mike McCarthy era began.

Thompson insisted (and still does, for the most part) on building his team without high-priced free agents, choosing instead to get his core built up in the draft, and supplementing it with the occasional free agent signing (guys like Ryan Pickett would apply here).

Similarly, new Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has eschewed free agency. The plan is that the Vikings will draft several potential core players this week, and this roster will be built the right way.

There might be some differences in the overall scheme, but it seems Spielman wants to follow Thompson's plan. It's not the cheap route, because the Packers will spend close to the cap in most years, as they deal out long-term contracts to core players they drafted. The difference is the Packers won't spend much on free agents, while other organizations continue to try to make big splashes in the first couple days of free agency. Similarly, the Vikings have made sure Adrian Peterson and Chad Greenway got paid, and Percy Harvin may be next in line.

You'll notice that teams like Pittsburgh, New England, and (to a somewhat lesser extent) the Giants don't make those splashes. You'll also probably notice that those teams are contenders most of the time.

It's a philosophy that can be very successful.

It starts Thursday for the Vikings, as they pick third.

(Yes, they could trade out of this pick, but I'd say I'm about 95 percent sure they'll make a pick at No. 3. I don't see another team making an offer to move up that will blow Spielman away enough to tempt him.)

There are three guys I could see the Vikings picking. Not surprisingly, they're the three guys Spielman tabbed last week when he was making the media rounds. Of the three, I think there is a clear favorite, but if Spielman is to be believed, they're not drafting based on a need, and instead based on who they rate the highest.

If that's the case, USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil is the favorite, but not necessarily a lock.

Solid tackle, a guy that the draftniks will probably try to tear down in the coming days, but I really like his game, and I think Kalil is an immediate starter in the NFL. He's also a good starter, not just a stopgap. This could be the Vikings' answer at left tackle for a decade or more.

There are other options for the Vikings. Cornerback is a need, and LSU's Morris Claiborne is a very good prospect who should be a top five pick Thursday night. Could he go third?

I love Claiborne's ball skills. He's also plenty fast enough for the position, and he has enough muscle that he shouldn't get pushed around by guys like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall in the NFC North.

The final candidate is a guy whose tires I was pumping during the regular season. Wide receiver Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State fills a real need for the Vikings if they pick him third. He might not have the big-time buzz of a guy like AJ Green last year, but he's a receiver whose skills translate nicely to the next level.

Blackmon's got great hands, can catch the ball in traffic, and is a freaskish athlete. He's also an anti-diva type of player, whose story extends beyond the football field. Watch this heartwarming ESPN piece from last season.

I'm not going to advocate drafting Blackmon because he seems like a grounded, kind-hearted young man. But when you combine his athletic ability with what appears to be more of a Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson-type attitude, you have a pretty special prospect who won't cause you trouble in the room or off the field.

These are the top three candidates for the Vikings at No. 3. I lean Kalil based on the pre-draft news, but my heart stays with Blackmon, a player I've been trumpeting for the Vikings since September.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Raffi Torres Adds to NHL's Playoff Pain

There is a lot of good to have come out of these NHL playoffs so far.

The games have been -- for the most part -- close, dramatic, edge-of-your-seat stuff. Exciting finishes, overtime games, upsets, and some great pace to games. It's enough to keep a hockey fan excited on a nightly basis.

Unfortunately, the controversies are getting close to outweighing everything good that has happened. There have been dirty hits, suspensions, non-suspensions, injuries, non-injuries, and all the like. It's been tough, because the negative attention seems to be all that some (ahem, ESPN) want to heap on the sport, despite everything great that has happened so far.

The latest controversy came Tuesday night in Chicago. Phoenix pest Raffi Torres -- who was featured in a Chicago Sun Times article Tuesday playing dumb about why Blackhawks fans hate his guts -- was at it again, laying an exceptionally dirty and dangerous hit on Chicago forward Marian Hossa.

For a player with a past like Torres, this is as much a request to be suspended for a long time as anyone could possibly concoct.

(Well, unless you're Coyotes TV analyst Tyson Nash, who called it "as clean a hit as you'll ever get." Hey, not everyone on Earth is blessed with vision.)

This is not what the NHL wanted. There have been six suspensions since Sunday, and now you can add at least one more to the list. And it should be the longest.

The three-game ban Chicago's Andrew Shaw got for his hit on Phoenix goalie Mike Smith made me think NHL discipline guy Brendan Shanahan had seen enough. A four-game suspension to Pittsburgh's Arron Asham for his shenanigans Sunday gave me more evidence toward that.

If Torres doesn't get a double-digit suspension, we're back to the drawing board.

Vikings Might Be On Way Out

I don't think I have to remind anyone around here of my Packers fandom. I'm almost insane at times. But there are times for poking fun at rivals, and there are times for supporting them. This is a time to reach out and support a rival. The Vikings stadium situation absolutely sucks. As I noted Tuesday, the Vikings have been saying all the right things throughout this process, not dropping threats and not making it sound like the organization will move on at any point. Now, the words have gotten tougher.

Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said waiting until next year is "not an option." Bagley stopped short of threatening that the Vikings would leave Minnesota, but he said the issue must be settled in 2012. Team officials have called the Metrodome outdated and no longer profitable enough for the Vikings.

"There's no next year," Bagley said. "Our state leaders know that if we want an NFL team in this market we have to resolve this stadium issue."

The Vikings have no option but to play in the Metrodome in the 2012 season, but the team's lease in the 30-year-old facility is expired and officials have said they don't plan to renew it.

It's about time. Personally, I think the Vikings should have used the "or else" card, making it known they are willing to leave, instead of just implying it.

Despite the fact that multiple Republicans and Democrats voted against the stadium bill, House Speaker Kurt Zellers -- a Republican -- SHOCKINGLY blames this all on the DFL.

Zellers put the blame on Democrats for the setback in the House. Of the six "yes" votes, only one was a Democrat. During a four-hour hearing prior to the vote, House members raised concerns that the stadium proposal was a bad deal for taxpayers and an indefensible use of public money when the state is just starting to recover from years of budget problems.

"Now it's probably up to the governor and the Democrat leader in the House to decide if they want to go forward," Zellers said. "It was very clear last night they weren't interested in passing the bill out of committee."

Shut up.

Gov. Mark Dayton -- a Democrat -- is mad at people, even some in his own party.

Dayton said he had contact with two DFLers on the 15-member House Government Operations and Elections before Monday's meeting, and indicated that one DFLer promised to vote for the stadium but did not and that the other legislator never returned his phone call. He did not identify the two DFLers.

"I talked to one of them. He said he was going to be helpful, and wasn't," Dayton said.

Dayton might not be the best governor this state's ever had, but he's at least tried to step forward and make something happen. The problem here is Dayton can't do it himself. He's relying on people in both houses of the Legislature who are more worried about their own re-election bids than they are about being leaders and getting anything of note done. By not acting on this stadium situation -- putting it off instead of voting it completely down -- these political hacks are hoping to send a message to their constituents that they're trying to do their due diligence.

Reality is that they're afraid to make a decision because they know deciding either way will have an impact on their campaigns. It's easier to hem and haw and not say anything than it is to have the courage to take a stand and live with your decision, apparently.

Instead of voting these spineless, self-centered, worthless people out of office, the voters of the state will choose to re-elect them, buying into their bushels full of garbage about how the state is better off with them in office.

The Vikings have been waiting -- patiently, to be fair -- since 2006. They've watched the University of Minnesota and the Twins get shiny new facilities, while constantly being told to wait, and their turn will come. The Vikings are tired of waiting.

Frankly, who can blame them?

It's a reality that this team could be facing its final season in Minnesota. There are two weeks left in the legislative session. There is no indication from anyone that a special session could be in the cards should this not get done by the end of the month. There is also no indication from anyone in charge that a better day is on the horizon.

Losing this team would be a huge tragedy for its fans, the state as a whole, and also for fans of the Packers. What the hell fun would the NFC North be without the Vikings? Might it give the Packers a new division rival (no way a relocated Vikings team stays in the NFC North)? Who cares?

The Vikings-Packers rivalry is one of the best in the NFL. It's (for the most part) closely-contested, with legendary performances over the years from guys like Favre, Moss, Cunningham, Freeman, Sharper, Longwell, Rodgers, Peterson, and Ponder. Some of them have had legendary performances on both sides of the rivalry. Losing that would be a loss for Packers fans, as well as the people of Minnesota.

It's too bad the politicians charged with making decisions feel they have more important things to do than their jobs.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Minnesota Legislature Drops Ball

This might be a worse fumble than anything Adrian Peterson uncorked in his career -- before he seemingly stopped fumbling altogether.

The Minnesota House Government Operations and Gobbledegook Committee voted down the Vikings stadium bill Monday night, after some four hours of debate. The plan to build a near-$1 billion stadium near the site of the Metrodome to replace the Metrodome now goes back to the proverbial drawing board.

(Before we had drawing boards, what did we go back to? -- Steven Wright)

The Vikings are trying to say the right things, though I have to think it is becoming difficult at this point.

Lester Bagley, the Vikings' point man on the stadium push at the Capitol, said afterward that the team was "extremely disappointed" at the outcome. "I guess I would ask the state, what else would you expect us to do? What else can we do?" he said.

... Bagley said the team will continue to push the proposal in the remaining two weeks of the session. "But this is extremely disappointing, and it sends a strong message to the Vikings and the NFL about the situation," he said. He would not say whether the committee vote made the team's future in Minnesota any less secure.

My allegiances are clear. But I also maintain a semblance of common sense, unlike most politicians. This isn't about giving a billionaire (Zygi Wilf) a football stadium. Wilf is willing to put up almost half the money himself, and the state will make its share back over time, thanks to taxes paid by the team and by the players who will play games in the stadium.

(Most of you probably know this, but opposing players have to pay taxes for games they play in Minnesota. Not to mention the Vikings players do the same for their eight home games.)

Not only that, but the White Earth tribe has offered to pretty much cover the state's share. All we have to do is let them run a casino in the metro area.

(I don't want to get into a gambling debate, but I can't fathom why anyone would turn down the offer made by this tribe. The problem here is that the state is already invested in its lottery, and no one wants to do anything that could cut into the money pulled in by the state lottery. Either that, or people are afraid of this invisible backlash against gambling. You pick.)

If the unthinkable happens, and this team leaves, there will be many senators and representatives who face backlash in their districts, and it might be enough to cost some of them their jobs. If that's not bad enough, it's a virtual certainty that there would be action taken at some point to get a stadium built, and the NFL would find a way to get Minnesota another team.

What's the point? Why turn into another Cleveland, which wouldn't build a stadium for Art Modell, then suddenly found a way to get something done when the opportunity for an expansion team presented itself? Why be Houston, which lost a good franchise -- with an awesome logo -- in the Oilers, only to start over with the expansion Texans?

The Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans have both been to Super Bowls. The new Browns and Texans have combined for two playoff appearances in their franchises' histories.

Yeah, that worked out well.

Just build it, Minnesota. Get a hold of your representatives and make your feelings known. Don't let them dictate the ultimate fate of your favorite football team.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Shea Weber Welcomes Brendan Shanahan to Stanley Cup Playoffs

Well, we almost got through the first night of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Just when NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan thought he'd get to sleep without incident, Shea Weber introduced Henrik Zetterberg's head to the glass at Bridgestone Arena.

Let's go to the videotape, so to speak.

No question about this one, kids. Even in the playoffs, and even if Zetterberg is healthy enough to play Friday, that's a one-game suspension.

At least it should be.

Shanahan is in his first year as the head of the NHL's Department of Players Not With The Minnesota Wild Safety. He's generally not done a terrible job, as long as the hits in question don't involve the Wild and he's been extremely accessible and open about his decisions, something that his predecessor was unwilling and incapable of doing.

He's going to have to figure something out here. Quick.

This has to be a suspension. In the video, NBC's Jeremy Roenick compared it to a player using a skate as a weapon. Like this.

That was a two-game ban.

Weber should at least sit for Friday's Game 2 against Detroit. If he doesn't sit, one of the league's whiniest fanbases will actually have an argument for a change. Heck, I'll give them license to crab about it all the way to the golf course after Nashville wins the series. ;)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

2012 NHL Playoff Predictions

You'll see my picks round by round at SBNation, and the round one picks you see below will be there later Wednesday.

In the meantime, here is my look at the opening round, followed by one person's stab at the rest of the playoffs.

I was going to let my son post his picks on here, but he's just picking Detroit. No drama there.

Los Angeles vs. Vancouver

If I were a Canucks fan, I'd be a little bit frightened at the Kings' ability to play a gritty style, coupled with their strong goaltending. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that Vancouver has the deeper forward lines and is capable of playing good defense. The Canucks are No. 1 for a reason, and their flaws won't be exposed in this series. Vancouver in 6.

San Jose vs. St. Louis
The Blues have done a great job simply following the orders of Ken Hitchcock behind the bench. The Sharks, meanwhile, seemed to take a step backward this season. A once-potent offense isn't nearly as good as it was, and the Sharks have still shown a propensity for getting outworked that will kill them against an opponent like this. St. Louis in 6.

Chicago vs. Phoenix
For the first time in franchise history, the Coyotes are a division champion. Phoenix has home ice advantage in this series, but it probably isn't going to help much. For starters, expect plenty of Blackhawk support in the desert. Oh, and Chicago's better. Chicago in 6.

Detroit vs. Nashville
If last year didn't do it, this series should make you fall in love with the hockey market that is Nashville. Those folks are bonkers for their Predators. On the ice, look for a fantastic, competitive, and potentially truculent series that could go the distance. Nashville in 7.

Chicago over Vancouver in 7 
Nashville over St. Louis in 7

Chicago over Nashville in 6

Ottawa vs. N.Y. Rangers

I know the Rangers lost three of the four games between these two teams during the regular season. I don't care. The Rangers look like a team built for a long run, with strong goaltending, a tough defense, and plenty of two-way forwards. New York in 5.

Washington vs. Boston
Since Bruce Boudreau led the Capitals' surge back into relevance a few years ago, Washington has owned home-ice advantage in every playoff series it has played, until this one. Perhaps this is the ticket for a Capitals team that seemed to get better late in the season. Boston has played a lot of hockey lately, and we know how hard it is to defend the Cup. Washington in 7.

New Jersey vs. Florida
Everyone wants to make fun of the Panthers for winning a bad division. Whatever. They're in, and what hardcore fans they have in South Florida have to be juiced for this. Expect low-scoring games, but I have to go with the team that has the best players in the series (Kovalchuk, Parise, Brodeur). New Jersey in 7.

Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh
This is the main event. Pittsburgh's deep offense against a Philadelphia team that will be desperate to knock the Penguins off their game. If Pittsburgh's skill guys avoid the extracurricular garbage and just play, I don't see how they lose, barring a Marc-Andre Fleury meltdown. Pittsburgh in 6.

Pittsburgh over NY Rangers in 6
Washington over New Jersey in 6

Pittsburgh over Washington in 7

Pittsburgh over Chicago in 7

Bobby Petrino Gone, Showing Integrity Matters SOMEWHERE in College Football

Ever since the news broke Tuesday night that Bobby Petrino was out as the football coach at Arkansas, I've been battling a couple different reactions.

Frankly, I don't like the idea that Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long should be commended for doing the right thing here, even though the school obviously did just that.

It's not that I disagree. Long clearly didn't want to fire Petrino, but he felt he was given no choice, thanks to the former coach's pattern of deceit. Long did what Long felt was right and necessary, even though it wasn't the desired outcome.

And obviously, given Petrino lied to his bosses about the circumstances surrounding the accident, as well as the reason he hired his mistress for a position within the football program, he had to go. I don't argue for one single solitary second Petrino should have kept his job.

What I don't like is the overwhelming praise being heaped upon Long for doing something that anyone in any sort of management position in any other kind of job in this country would have done. If Michael Scott hired his mistress to work at Dunder Mifflin over 158 other applicants for the job, and didn't bother to tell corporate that he was hiring someone he had a relationship with, Michael Scott would have been fired. Instantly.

(Sorry. It was more exciting to make an Office reference than to talk about myself or use some other dumb pronoun to make an example.)

George Schroeder, a rock-solid scribe, probably said it better than I can.

Look, Long and the Arkansas powerbrokers might have had no other option. It turns out Petrino had given the woman a $20,000 gift, and she got the job in the football office over 158 other applicants. But I agree, it was good to see the school get it right.

It was surprising, too. As the saga played out, I figured they would find a way to retain the coach.

At Arkansas like so many other places, football is too big to fail, which is why I’m more interested in the reaction of those fans at that goofy rally.

As an Arkansan, sure, I cringed, but I understood their passion. In the last few days I heard from several friends back home who were wrestling with the dilemma. The guy who organized the rally put it this way:

“We want to forgive, forget and win.”

Pay close attention to that last part, because it might hit close to home.

Ask yourself: If something similar happened at Oregon, or Oregon State — or insert your favorite school here — what would you want to happen? (Or if, say, the NCAA started digging and found significant issues?)

Integrity sounds nice in theory. But winning usually seems to matter more.

It's easy to talk about integrity, but like Schroeder says, it usually comes down to winning. In this case, however, a program 21-5 the last two years after a lot of mediocrity in recent decades just fired the coach largely responsible for that record and the product that will be on the field this fall.

I am not about to condone what Petrino did, but he probably felt that -- just like at other places in the country -- the coach was big enough to survive a couple off-field missteps. In other words, he thought he was untouchable.

The reaction of the fans -- protesting on his behalf -- certainly would lead one to a similar conclusion. Luckily, Long didn't feel like a few hundred people protesting represented his fanbase, and he didn't think Petrino's actions were those of a man who deserved to keep his job.

When the time comes for Petrino to be judged, I won't be doing the judging. But I sure am glad my son wasn't playing for that smarmy, self-absorbed, poor excuse for a human being. Someone as capable of Petrino's behavior might look like a good coach, but he's not a leader of young men.

In that way, Arkansas wins here, even if the team loses in the short-term without Petrino.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Random Rabble: April 10

The idea of crooked coaches with screwed-up ideas of what constitutes discipline and leadership isn't really new to college sports, but the last few days have been another hit to the overall reputation of the profession.

It started early last week, when Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino was in a motorcycle accident that landed him in the hospital with (thankfully) non-life threatening injuries. Of course, the story didn't end there.

The Razorbacks coach was put on paid administrative leave on Thursday night less than seven hours after his boss, athletic director Jeff Long, learned Petrino had failed to disclose he had been riding with a female employee half his age when his motorcycle skidded off the road over the weekend.

Petrino said he had been concerned about protecting his family and keeping an "inappropriate relationship from becoming public."

It was a stunning revelation for a highly successful coach who prides himself on complete control and intense privacy in his personal life. Petrino will now wait out his fate while Long conducts a review.


Petrino could be fired, and probably for cause, not because he's a married man with four kids who carried on an affair with a woman half his age. Instead, his employment could be in jeopardy because he lied to his boss and tried to cover up the fact she was riding with him when he crashed.

Of course, since it's the SEC, it's not as easy as logic dictates it should be. You see, Arkansas was 11-2 last season, and the Razorbacks are favored to be in the preseason top ten this summer. Why the hell would we care about Petrino lying to his bosses, or generally not being a trustworthy cat? He can win football games, and that's all that matters in that particular part of the country.

Well, until it comes to Election Day. Then, suddenly, morals matter when they fit the talking points.

Elsewhere in college football, Matt Hayes of Sporting News has a pretty impressive story on Urban Meyer's undoing at Florida. The new Ohio State coach has been the subject of much controversy already, which we'll get to in a second.

Hayes writes extensively about Meyer's inability and general unwillingness to institute any sort of discipline for his star players with the Gators. It's a culture that caused many a problem for the program after Meyer left and Will Muschamp took over.

Ironically, Florida’s downfall began at the height of Meyer’s success—the 2008 national championship season. Three seasons of enabling and pandering to elite players—what Meyer’s players called his “Circle of Trust”—began to tear away at what he’d put together.

“I’ve never heard of Circle of Trust before in my life,” Meyer said.

Former players, though, contend it was the foundation of Florida’s culture under Meyer. In the season opener against Hawaii, Meyer said a few elite players (including wideout Percy Harvin, linebacker Brandon Spikes and tight end Aaron Hernandez) would miss the game with injuries. According to multiple sources, the three players—all critical factors in Florida’s rise under Meyer—failed drug tests for marijuana and were sitting out as part of standard university punishment.

By publicly stating the three were injured and not being disciplined, former players say, Meyer was creating a divide between the haves and have-nots on the team.

“They were running with us on the first team all week in practice,” one former player said. “The next thing you know, they’re on the sidelines with a (walking) boot for the season opener like they were injured. Of course players see that and respond to it.”

It was Harvin, more than anyone, who epitomized the climate Meyer created. While former players say Harvin always was treated differently as a member of Meyer’s Circle of Trust, it was the beginning of his sophomore season—after he helped lead the Gators to the 2006 national title—that it became blatant. That's also when it began to contribute negatively toward team chemistry.

During offseason conditioning before the 2007 season, the team was running stadium steps and at one point, Harvin, according to sources, sat down and refused to run. When confronted by strength and conditioning coaches, Harvin—who failed to return calls and texts to his cell phone to comment on this story—said, “This (expletive) ends now.”

“The next day,” a former player said, “we were playing basketball as conditioning.”

It only got worse as Harvin’s career progressed. At one point during the 2008 season, multiple sources confirmed that Harvin, now a prominent member of the Minnesota Vikings, physically attacked wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, grabbing him by the neck and throwing him to the ground. Harvin had to be pulled off Gonzales by two assistant coaches—but was never disciplined.

When asked about the Harvin incident, Gonzales—now offensive coordinator at Illinois—said, “I think it’s a little overblown. I mean, every great player wants his voice to be heard.”

Said Meyer: “Something did happen and something was handled. I don’t think it’s fair to Percy Harvin or Billy Gonzales to talk about it.”

I'm not one to judge, but it seems like Meyer had a tendency to play favorites at Florida. I'm not saying this doesn't happen elsewhere, but I'm going to guess Nick Saban doesn't pull this stuff at Alabama, and it's a big reason why he is able to win year after year.

I'm also not going to judge Harvin, but it's not like his NFL career has come without any problems.

Speaking of Meyer, do you remember the kerfluffle that Wisconsin created regarding his recruiting practices at Ohio State? Hayes' story, which I told you is extensive (and very long and very, very good, too), goes on to detail some of the things Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was upset about.

Bielema, whose team hosts Ohio State on Nov. 17, has declined to offer specifics.

However, according to The Sporting News, UW officials accused Meyer of having former Ohio State players currently in the NFL call recruits. Such calls would be an NCAA violation.

In addition, UW officials accused Meyer and other Ohio State coaches of "bumping into" offensive line recruit Kyle Dodson during mandated dead periods. That would also be an NCAA violation. Dodson, from Cleveland, backed out of a commitment to UW and signed with the Buckeyes.

A college football source confirmed Monday those were the alleged violations that raised Bielema's ire long before signing day. Bielema's issues with Meyer were part of a larger look at how Meyer ran the Florida program.

"There's a few things that happened early on that I made people be aware of," Bielema said in February, "that I didn't want to see in this league that I had seen take place at other leagues . . . recruiting practices that are illegal.

"And I was very up front and was very pointed to the fact. I actually reached out to coach Meyer and shared my thoughts and concerns with him, and the situation got rectified."

I'm guessing Nov. 17 will be a very interesting day in Madison. Odds are that it'll be a prime-time game, and there's nothing like giving fans in Madison the whole day to lube up before a big game. I'm sure they'll treat Meyer wonderfully.

Monday, April 09, 2012

One Year Ago ...

It's April 9.

Happy anniversary, UMD fans.

You didn't forget the anniversary, did you?

Friday, April 06, 2012

Jack Connolly's Hobey Journey Ends Today

Duluth may swell with pride late Friday afternoon, as the 2012 Hobey Baker Award presentation takes place at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

It's there that UMD senior center and team captain Jack Connolly will vie for the school's record-setting fifth Hobey award.

Connolly will already have his third All-American honor in his pocket, to go along with the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, three All-WCHA selections, the 2012 WCHA Player of the Year award, three WCHA All-Academic selections, the Premier Player of College Hockey award, and other well-deserved accolades too numerous to mention.

(Oh, and if all of that isn't enough, you can be virtually assured it's just a matter of time before Connolly's No. 12 is retired by UMD. I'm not saying I've been told it's going to happen, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out it's beyond likely.)

The Friday afternoon Hobey ceremony will air on NHL Network. If you don't have that channel, you can come watch it at my house watch it online at

To get you warmed up, Amsoil Arena's Jeff Stark produced a cool Connolly tribute video a couple weeks ago.

Jack Connolly Wins Senior CLASS Award

In what we can only hope is the first of two major national college hockey honors coming his way this week, UMD senior center Jack Connolly has won the 2012 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award.

Connolly, a three-time WCHA All-Academic, will likely be named an All-American player for the third straight year Friday.

Here is the press release on the Senior CLASS Award:

Minnesota Duluth All-American Jack Connolly has been selected as the 2012 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award winner in NCAA® Division I men’s ice hockey. The announcement and trophy presentation were made today by Lowe’s, an official Corporate Partner of the NCAA, during the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four®.

The award, chosen by a nationwide vote of Division I men’s ice hockey head coaches, national media and fans, is given annually to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition.

An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School®, the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.

“Winning the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award means a lot to me and the UMD hockey program,” Connolly said. “I always try to do my best in everything that I do whether it be hockey, school or helping out in the community. I am truly honored and proud to receive this prestigious award.”

A three-time Western Collegiate Hockey Association All-Academic team pick, Connolly is scheduled to graduate this spring with a degree in communication. During his college career, he interned in the UMD sports information office and wrote a blog for the department’s website. Throughout his years on campus, Connolly has volunteered for the Boys and Girls Club of Duluth, the Pucks for Poverty Program, the Northern Lights Foundation, the Adopt-A-Highway Program and various cancer fundraisers.

"’Class’ is one of the best ways to describe Jack Connolly, so this is certainly a fitting and well deserved honor for him,” head coach Scott Sandelin said. “Everything he does – on and off the ice – he does with class.  I really can't say enough about what this young man has meant to our program, our school and our community over the past four years.”

On the ice, the three-time All-American and team captain has ranked among the NCAA’s leaders in scoring and assists and has been a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award for each of the past two seasons. After a seven-year absence, the UMD Bulldogs made it back to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2011, winning the national championship with an overtime victory against Michigan.

“Jack Connolly got to realize his dream of playing hockey for his hometown university,” said David Geren, Lowe’s vice president of marketing. “Because of all he has done in the classroom, on the ice and in the community, he has truly lived the dream to its fullest. Lowe’s salutes Jack for his dedication to the university and the entire city of Duluth.”

For more information on all the finalists, visit

# # # #

Men’s Ice Hockey First-Team All-Americans
Chad Billins, Defender, Ferris State
Jack Connolly, Center, Minnesota-Duluth
Ryan Flanigan, Forward, Merrimack
Keir Ross, Defender, Cornell
Paul Weisgarber, Forward, Air Force

Men’s Ice Hockey Second-Team All-Americans
Sean Duddy, Defender, Ohio State
Scott Greenham, Goaltender, Alaska-Fairbanks
Sean Lorenz, Defender, Notre Dame
Jack Maclellan, Forward, Brown
Cody Reichard, Goaltender, Miami (Ohio)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Gregg Williams Speech Should End Saints Appeal of Bounty Bans

Thursday, the NFL is scheduled to hear appeals by the New Orleans Saints, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant coach Joe Vitt, and head coach Sean Payton of their respective punishments from the bounty scandal that's been all the rage. The Saints took a fine and lost two draft picks. Loomis was suspended for half the upcoming season. Vitt got a six-game ban. Payton was suspended for a year.

Also suspended was former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has since moved on to the St. Louis Rams. Williams was suspended indefinitely -- he will miss at least the upcoming season before he can be reinstated.

After Wednesday's revelation, Williams should be informed he will never be welcome back in the league, and the Saints should just scrap the idea of trying to appeal these suspensions.

I'll let Mike Silver, the fine NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports, take it from here.

The night before Gregg Williams’ final game as the New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator, the since-suspended coach gave a fiery speech to the team’s defensive players during which he made specific references to inflicting physical punishment upon several San Francisco 49ers in a postseason game the next day.

In the speech at the team’s hotel near the San Francisco Airport, Williams – according to documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon – at one point made a hand signal suggesting he would personally pay for a ferocious shot on 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

Williams also referenced the prospect of his players inflicting a severe knee injury upon San Francisco wideout Michael Crabtree and exhorted them to “put a lick on” backup receiver Kyle Williams in an effort to “find out” if he was still suffering from the effects of a late-December concussion.

That's the G-rated stuff.

Simply ridiculous.

I know that the Saints weren't the first -- and likely won't be the last -- team to use a bounty system to fire up players or unite them or whatever stupid excuse you want to buy into.

But as I've said numerous times before in a number of different situations, "Everyone else is doing it" is no more an excuse for breaking the rules than ignorance -- "Oh, I didn't know that was against the rules" -- is.

You don't get to stand up and say you're not worthy of a severe punishment because others are breaking the same rule. It's that simple.

The Williams audio -- available here if you can stomach it -- flies against the spirit of competition, and it is as disrespectful as anything you'll ever hear when it comes to a coach trying to fire up his team.

The audio isn't damning of Loomis or Payton. Filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, who was working on a project featuring former Saint Steve Gleason, who now suffers from ALS, said Loomis and Payton weren't present for the meeting where this particular audio was recorded.

That said, this audio should end their appeals. The team was aware of the league investigation before this playoff game. The team was aware that there was a freaking filmmaker who had access to meetings and was recording them. In a move that reeks of the ultimate "You can't touch me" arrogance, the Saints continued to allow Williams to run roughshod, letting him deliver a speech that was at the height of insanity.

Loomis didn't do anything enough to stop the bounties. Payton didn't do anything enough to stop the bounties.

Now, it's clear Williams was not backing down, even faced with the strong possibility of getting caught. His indefinite ban should be turned into a permanent one, no matter how strongly he tries to speak out against this type of behavior. He did what he did, and then he delivered his own version of an "eff you" to the NFL by continuing the program amid the ongoing league investigation.

The NFL doesn't need to mess around with reinstating this guy. Send him into retirement, where he can think indefinitely about the strong reputation he tarnished when he crossed the line and started asking his players to hurt opponents for money.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Random Rabble: April 4

The NCAA Frozen Four starts Thursday in Tampa, and apparently ticket sales haven't been as brisk as in the past. The NCAA announced Tuesday that single-session tickets would be available for the event. All-session passes were in the neighborhood of $200, with single-session tickets priced at $110.

Does this sound absolutely insane to anyone else? This isn't St. Paul, where you can turn on the lights at the XCel Energy Center, tell people there's a hockey game going on, and draw thousands and thousands of fans.

In Tampa, the NHL team has troubles drawing for playoff games. Yes, there are great hockey fans in Florida, but there isn't a college hockey team within hundreds of miles. And the one closest -- Alabama-Huntsville, the tournament "host" -- is an independent that might be near extinction if it can't find a league soon.

These kinds of prices for what is probably an unknown commodity to most fans -- even diehard hockey fans -- in the general area is just a death wish.

Expect scores of empty seats at the Tampa Bay Times Forum this weekend, and that's too bad. The Frozen Four has grown in stature over the years, just not enough to be held anywhere that has a big-enough facility.

(Then again, the NCAA also thinks that the regional sites are working, even though the crowds two weekends ago were nothing short of embarrassing. Just keep the head buried in the sand, guys. You don't want to see what's really going on, because it might force you to make an effort to improve things.)

Speaking of insanity, I hope you're all familiar with NBC/NBC Sports Network/CBC hockey "analyst" Mike Milbury. The former failure of an NHL coach and executive is a rather controversial figure on television, thanks to a number of different incidents over the years. Rather than go through them all, I'll just give you a couple.

Nuts. I know.

Anyway, Milbury's latest strike came on the Pittsburgh Penguins after Sunday's now-infamous brawl with Philadelphia.

On a sports radio station in Philly Monday, Milbury made fun of Sidney Crosby's concussion problems, called him a "punk" and a "goody two shoes," and told Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma to take off his "skirt."

Milbury apologized -- sort of -- by noon Tuesday.

"I reached out to David Morehouse and the Penguins about the comments I made yesterday on Philadelphia radio. In hindsight, I realize what I said was inappropriate and wrong, and I want to apologize to the Penguins organization and their fans."

Yeah. I can't wait until NBC is carrying Penguins playoff games, and Milbury is called on for some sort of objective analysis. He's such a pro that I'm sure it won't be an issue at all.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Troy Jutting Out At Minnesota State

Minnesota State made the first coaching change of the men's college hockey offseason Sunday, announcing that Troy Jutting will be reassigned within the athletic department. Jutting spent 26 years at Minnesota State, including four as a player, a decade as an assistant coach, and then 12 years as head coach. I may not have approved of the physical play I saw from many of his teams, but Jutting worked his tail off to better the MSU hockey program, and he often proved to be a good soundbite -- the type of thing that matters to a hardened radio nerd.

(I'm easy. I appreciate any coach who helps make my job easier. Minnesota State doesn't get on television a lot, so I lean on those around the team for some insights before UMD plays the Mavericks. Everyone, most notably Jutting, has always been great.)

MSU has a tough decision ahead. As proven by schools like Ferris State, UMD, Minnesota, and many others, stability can really matter. UMD and Minnesota, most notably, had decisions to make in recent years regarding the direction of their respectable programs. After the 2007-2008 season, UMD fans were starting to call for coach Scott Sandelin's head. A WCHA title in 2009 earned him a modest two-year extension, but a third straight 20-win season and the school's first NCAA title in 2011 was the reward UMD deserved for its patience.

Last year, Minnesota fans were all over Don Lucia. Instead of changing the head coach, the school gave Lucia an extension, and Lucia replaced assistant coach John Hill with longtime aide Mike Guentzel. That seems to have worked out well, as Minnesota is back in the Frozen Four this week. Lucia is safe again.

Ferris State has Bob Daniels, a 20-year head coach responsible for more than half the wins in Ferris' history as a Division I program. The Bulldogs have never been a highly-regarded program in a league -- the CCHA -- loaded with big-name programs like Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. Ferris is in the Frozen Four, off a CCHA regular-season championship.

Of course, not every program has seen success with the stability route. Look at Western Michigan. Jeff Blashill was hired before the 2010-11 season, and a downtrodden program saw immediate success. Western made the NCAAs and started landing some serious recruits. Blashill rode off into the sunset as quickly as he arrived, taking a job with the Detroit Red Wings.

The school brought in former NHL coach Andy Murray, who proved a quick study to college coaching. The Broncos won the CCHA tournament and made the NCAAs in Murray's first year. Thanks to the upcoming membership in the NCHC, things are really looking up in Kalamazoo.

Obviously, Murray may bring the school more stability than his predecessor could, but reality is that Western hired the best available coach (Blashill), probably understanding that he could very well bolt quickly if his rebuild was successful. It's not like WMU had Murray in its back pocket all along, instead it was about getting the best coach for the job.

Nothing is permanent. If you're Minnesota State, you can't go into this looking for a guy who will be around for a decade. After all, if the administration hits on this hire, reality is that the new guy will be coaching in Mankato, not exactly fertile ground for college hockey immortality.

I have four names that popped into my head immediately. None of them have any Division I head coaching experience. Someone on Twitter mentioned the idea of alum Ryan McKelvie, currently head coach at Division III Lake Forest (Ill.), but I think that's a heck of a home run swing that could come up empty. He's pretty inexperienced at this point, and won just five games in his first season with the Foresters.

The four names I came up with were former UMD assistant Steve Rohlik, now an assistant with Ohio State; Minnesota assistant coach Mike Guentzel, who may be a head-coach-in-waiting type at Minnesota, depending on how much longer you think Don Lucia wants to do this; Colorado College assistant Eric Rud, former head coach in Green Bay (USHL), as well as a former St. Cloud State assistant; and Green Bay's current head coach, Derek Lalonde, a former Denver assistant.

I can't guarantee any would give you long-term stability. You just never know how the coaching climate will be from year to year. One school's trash can become another's treasure, and an unknown coach can get his name on the map pretty quickly.

MSU needs to do what every school says it's doing. It needs to hire the best available coach, regardless of pedigree, and regardless of what the tea leaves say about that coach's willingness to spend 20 years in Mankato.

I'm biased, but I think Rohlik should get the first crack at the job. I don't know if he would take it, but with the number of contacts he has, and the number of close relationships he has, I can't imagine he would be a bad hire. He has great intensity, understands the game, and is a very good recruiter.

I think any of the four guys I listed would be great hires, even if they didn't end up being long for Mankato. They all have the look of being guys whose work would end up being good for the Minnesota State program's future.

No one should celebrate on a day like this, as a good man has lost a job he cared a lot about. It is ultimately an opportunity for Minnesota State to improve its signature sports program, and it's not an opportunity anyone should take lightly.