Cat Fight

Tobacco Road spat: O’Brien rips Withers’ ‘academic’ comments

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Apparently, there’s a cute little cat fight brewing between the football coaches at North Carolina and North Carolina State — over academics.

The back story: during a radio appearance Wednesday ahead of their annual rivalry game with NCSU, UNC interim coach Everett Withers questioned “the academic environment” at the Raleigh school, and said recruits in the area “need to know the flagship school in this state.”

“They need to know it academically,” Withers said during the radio spot. “If you look at our graduation rates, as opposed to our opponent’s this week, graduation rates for athletics, for football, you’ll see a difference. … If you look at the educational environment here, I think you’ll see a difference.”

Conveniently, Withers failed to mention that, of the two schools, only his has appeared before the NCAA Committee on Infractions recently to answer questions regarding, among other things, academic fraud in the football program.  That point didn’t go unnoticed by Withers’ NCSU counterpart, who lit into the coach’s remarks when asked about them Thursday, bringing up not only the academic fraud angle of the NCAA issues but also the one-time presence of John Blake on the coaching staff — alleged to be on the take from a now-deceased NFL agent — as well as multiple players receiving impermissible benefits.

“Here is a guy that’s on a football staff that ends up in Indianapolis,” O’Brien said at his regularly scheduled post-practice media availability. “. . .If you take three things that you can’t do in college football, you have an agent on your staff. You’re paying your players. And you have academic fraud. That’s a triple play as far as the NCAA goes. So I don’t know that he has anything to talk about or they have anything to talk about. If that’s what people want in their flagship university in North Carolina, then so be it.”

He was asked what he meant by “paying your players.” He indicated that he was referring to the impermissible benefits players received.

“They had players accepting money from somebody,” O’Brien said. “I mean, money is being given from someone to somebody, that’s been documented, right? I don’t know how it got there. Maybe I’m wrong saying that. But those are no-nos as far as the NCAA goes.”

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You’ll have to forgive any cattiness being displayed by the respective coaches theses days.  Withers is the head coach of the Tar Heels on an interim basis and will likely be replaced following the season with a permanent coach following a national search.  O’Brien’s hold on the Wolfpack job is a tenuous one, rumored to be on the coaching hot seat in the midst of a 4-4 season and with just one winning record in his first four years at the school.

And, as far as what the two are squabbling over?  The Charlotte Observer notes that, “[a]ccording to data provided by the NCAA, North Carolina’s football team had a graduation success rate of 75 percent for the freshman class of 2004, compared to 56 percent for N.C. State.”

The graduation success rate in 1-A (FBS) football for entering class of 2004 is 69 percent.

Forza Blu? Michigan reportedly planning spring practice in Italy

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 29: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines directs a drill during warm ups prior to playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on October 29, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Undeterred by recent NCAA legislation, Jim Harbaugh is reportedly going international.

As noted by the Detroit Free Press, a post on Rivals affiliate TheWolverine.com reports that Michigan is planning to spend the final week of football spring practice in Rome, Italy. The team would not only practice several times on Italian soil, but would allow the team to visit the sights in the area and even leave players in Europe to study abroad for a semester.

The move would no doubt ruffle even more feathers in the football and NCAA communities after Harbaugh famously took the Wolverines to the IMG Academy down in Florida for spring practice last March. That prompted recent legislation that was passed at the NCAA convention in Nashville this week — a Harbaugh Rule if you will — that prohibited off-campus practice during a vacation period outside of a playing season.

While it would seem that would rule out trips away from Ann Arbor for spring football practices, it appears the Michigan athletic department is going to push forward by exploiting a slight loophole in the language of the rule. While vacation periods may be off limits like spring break, it appears the Wolverines would be looking to leave town at the end of April, which would be after the semester ends  and does not fall into any scheduled vacation time.

We’ll see if anything becomes of this report and if Michigan indeed announces such an unprecedented trip. While foreign tours are common in sports like basketball at the NCAA levels, it really hasn’t happened in football aside from occasional games overseas so it will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend, or is just another case of Harbaugh being Harbaugh.

Wisconsin extends head coach Paul Chryst’s contract through 2022

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 2: Corey Clement #6 of the Wisconsin Badgers points toward head coach Paul Chryst  as the two celebrate following the 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. Wisconsin defeated Western Michigan 24-16. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
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Winning a New Year’s Six bowl and outperforming nearly every preseason expectation typically results in a nice boost to a head coach’s bank account and that is the case at Wisconsin this year.

The Badgers announced on Friday that the school’s athletic board had extended head football coach Paul Chryst another year, running through January 31, 2022. Additional contract terms such as a potential raise or incentives were not announced, meaning this was likely just tacking another year onto the former Wisconsin quarterback’s original deal in Madison.

The move isn’t new for the program, which pulled the same extension almost to the day a year ago after Chryst led the Badgers to a 10-3 year in 2015 that was capped off with a Holiday Bowl victory over USC. The coach one-upped that performance in 2016, winning the Big Ten West title and getting selected for the Cotton Bowl, which the team won over previously undefeated Western Michigan.

Chryst’s original contract he signed two years ago was for a term of five seasons through 2020. He originally made around $2.3 million a year but should be hitting the $2.5 million mark heading into 2017 with various increases incorporated.

Vol legend Peyton Manning reportedly advising alma mater Tennessee on AD search

COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 08:  Former Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Peyton Manning walks across the field prior to the start of their game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field on October 8, 2016 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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New College Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning is staying busy with various ventures now that he’s retired from the NFL and apparently the Vol legend doesn’t mind returning to Tennessee to add another thing to his plate.

According to a report from the Knoxville News Sentinel, Manning will be part of a search committee for the school’s chancellor as she attempts to find a new athletic director following the retirement of Dave Hart at the end of June. Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is also expected to be part of the six-person strong committee, which will assist recently hired search firm Turnkey Sports and Entertainment in finding the right candidate to lead the department.

Hart’s retirement has known for some time and the fact that Alabama surprisingly hired Greg Byrne away from Arizona without as much as a sniff from the Vols have made many in the fan base a little anxious about the state of the on-going  (and lengthy) search. Manning’s former head coach Phillip Fulmer has reportedly been mentioned as a candidate for the gig but the hire of a search firm and advisory committee suggests that a hire may be a few weeks or months away.

There are few folks connected to Tennessee football more fondly remembered around Knoxville than Manning and you can’t help but wonder if Vols fans longing for some stability and a big name in the AD chair wouldn’t mind pushing the quarterback’s name for the position. If so, perhaps joining the search committee is the first step toward that path and a move that would certainly make a lot more sense than bringing somebody like Fulmer back into the fold.

All Oregon football players released from hospital after offseason workouts

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 29: defensive back Tyree Robinson #2 of the Oregon Ducks dives into the crowd before the game against the Arizona State Sun Devilsat Autzen Stadium on October 29, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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All three Oregon football players hospitalized this week as the result of grueling offseason workouts have been released.

The news, first reported by The Oregonian,  concludes a dramatic week for the program and their new coaching staff after revelations surfaced on Monday that the three were sent to a nearby Springfield, Oregon hospital with symptoms of rhabdomyolysis. The condition primarily affects soft tissue and is triggered by overwork and can eventually lead to damage of the kidneys.

Senior offensive linemen Doug Brenner was actually released on Tuesday per the report, but it took until Friday morning for redshirt freshmen tight end Cam McCormick and offensive lineman Sam Poutasi to be sent home from the PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center.

As a result of the workouts, Oregon suspended new strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde for one month without pay and changed the structure on the staff so that Oderinde, who came over from South Florida with Willie Taggart, no longer reports to the Ducks’ coach but the school’s director of performance and sport science.

While you never want to hear about football players going to the hospital, it’s great to hear that the three players who were injured as a result of the workouts have been cleared and sent home.