Da’Shawn Hand: Michigan’s loss is Alabama’s gain

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The general consensus Thursday morning was that Da’Shawn Hand, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, would play his college ball at Michigan. Brady Hoke’s staff was expected to land the nation’s two top recruits, with Hand joining No. 2 overall prospect Jabril Peppers, a defensive back from New Jersey.

But, like everything in college football the last three years, it all came back to Alabama.

“It was hard, but I think I made the right decision,” Hand said. “Roll Tide.”

Hand would’ve been a game-changing recruit for a program like Michigan. Adding him and Peppers to the mix in 2014 could’ve been a boon for Michigan’s BCS hopes, even with both players seeing their first collegiate snaps.

For Alabama, he adds to the ever-growing talent pool in Tuscaloosa.

“I know when I go in, I’m not going to No. 1 on the depth chart, and I know I gotta do a lot of hard work,” Hand said. “But they have the most freshmen playing this year, so anything’s possible.”

No doubt this one stings for Brady Hoke and his coaching staff. At 6-3 and with games at Northwestern and Iowa preceding a season-ending home game vs. Ohio State, Michigan isn’t in great shape. After beating Notre Dame in Week 2, it was hard to imagine this team sputtering to what could be a 7-5 finish. A year ago, Michigan went 8-5.

Hoke isn’t, and shouldn’t be, on the hot seat in Ann Arbor just yet. But landing Hand and Peppers in the same class could’ve positioned Michigan extremely well in a weak conference dominated by their rival to the south.

South Carolina hadn’t won 10 games since 1984 before Jadeveon Clowney — 2011’s No. 1 recruit — came to Columbia. In Clowney’s first two seasons on campus, South Carolina went 11-2; the Gamecocks are 7-2 and likely will make it three consecutive 10-win seasons with a victory over Clemson or in their bowl game.

Of course, there are plenty of other factors that’ve gone into that success beyond just Clowney — the emergence of Marcus Lattimore, for example.

But these No. 1 recruits are game-changers, especially for programs spinning their wheels a bit (side note: Michigan made the 2012 Sugar Bowl less on merit and more on fanbase; eligible teams in Boise State, Kansas State and Baylor all ranked ahead of Michigan in the final regular season BCS standings).

Perhaps Peppers can turn Michigan around on his own. But that’s not an easy task for any single player, let alone a defensive back.

Instead, the game-changing Hand goes to a program not in need of a game-changer. He’ll likely help widen the gap between Alabama and everyone else. Specifically looking at Hand’s choices, he’ll also help widen the gulf between the SEC and Big Ten.

While Hand talked up Alabama’s academics — he’ll major in civil engineering — Michigan brought excellent academics to the table. The difference-maker, then, become this: Two straight national championships, three in four years and a possible three-peat clinched in January.

It’s tough for any program to compete with that.

“Why not go where it’s a great possibility that you can win a national championship,” Hand said. “I’m just excited. Roll Tide.”

Tracy Claeys discusses protests that led to his firing from Minnesota

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Chances are you haven’t heard Tracy Claeys‘s name mentioned in a while. The former Minnesota interim-turned-full time head coach was let go in January and has not been picked up by a new staff in the months since.

But Minnesota released an outside report last week that defended the school’s decision to suspend 10 players amid a sexual assault investigation and pinned the subsequent team-wide threatened boycott of the Holiday Bowl on “weak leadership” of the coaching staff. The Gophers played and won that Holiday Bowl, but it wasn’t enough to save Claeys’s job.

On Wednesday, Claeys penned an essay in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that both defended his tenure as the Golden Gophers’ head coach and admitted mistakes in a saga that would have swallowed many a head coach’s career.

Last September, I suspended five players for a reported sexual assault. When law enforcement authorities the following month declined to file any charges, the university reinstated those players. At the time, I was congratulated by our athletic director for my handling of this issue and promised that I would remain the head football coach in 2017.

But university officials soon conducted their own inquiry and in December resuspended the five players and suspended five more — again, even though prosecutors had determined there was no basis for formal charges.

Members of our Football Leadership Group and others on the team felt strongly that administration officials had overstepped their authority and that the accused players were treated unfairly and denied protection under due process. To amplify their argument and shine light on what players felt was a flawed and unjust process by the university, the team voted to boycott the Holiday Bowl.

It was a decision that moved us directly into the national spotlight. Unfortunately, some misunderstood or misinterpreted the players’ decision to boycott the Holiday Bowl. They felt that our team and coaches were condoning or downplaying sexual misconduct or assault. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

In light of this new report, are there things I would have done differently? Certainly. First and foremost, I would have remained on campus with my team and coaches rather than attend a Holiday Bowl news conference in San Diego. I’m confident that my presence would have better directed the conversation with our players and that I could have steered them toward something other than a decision to boycott the game.

 I also would have refrained from using social media to state my support of the team’s decision. This was too complex and important an issue to address in a 140-character message. It generated more questions than it answered and likely created more problems than it solved.
Claeys was 11-8 in his one and a half seasons as Minnesota’s head coach, his first head coaching job. Assuming he does not get hired in the next week and a half, the 2017 season will be Claeys’s first out of the game since launching his career as a student trainer at Kansas in the early ’90’s.

Kirk Ferentz and wife donate $1 million to Iowa children’s hospital

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Kirk Ferentz may be the but of a bunch of contract-related jokes, but no one jokes about the man’s character.

And for good reason.

The University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital announced Wednesday that Kirk and his wife Mary have donated $1 million to create the Savvy Ferentz Program in Neonatal Research, which will aim to improve the survival rate for premature babies. The Ferentzes made the donation in honor of their granddaughter Savvy, who was born in 2014 at 22 weeks gestation.

“We knew Savvy was born too early,” Mary said in a statement. “We also knew they do extraordinary things at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital that would give her a fighting chance. We were thankful we had that.”

The Stead Family Children’s Hospital claims higher survival rates for infants born at 24- and 25-weeks than the average U.S. hospital, and the Ferentzes hope their donation will further increase those rates.

“The University of Iowa has long been a leader in neonatal research and in providing high-level patient care, particularly to this most vulnerable population,” Iowa pediatrics professor Dr. Jeffrey L. Segar said. “This gift from the Ferentzes will help us capitalize on our strengths, advance our research, and, most important, make an impact on the lives of many Iowa children and their families, now and far into the future. We are deeply grateful for their support.”

Kirk Ferentz will begin his 19th season as Iowa’s head coach next Saturday against Wyoming (noon ET, BTN).

Texas TE Andrew Beck now out for entire 2017 season

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As it turns out, it’s much worse than originally thought for one playing member of the Texas football program.

Nearly a week ago, Andrew Beck went down during practice with what was later diagnosed to be a broken foot.  At the time, it was thought that the tight end would miss anywhere from 6-8 weeks, which would’ve put him back, at the latest, early October.

Fast-forward to Wednesday, however, and the Longhorns announced that Beck will be sidelined for the entire 2017 season because of the injury.  The senior will undergo surgery at some point this week to repair the damage.  He’s already undergone two previous foot surgeries and sat out the spring because of issues in that area.

The good news is that Beck has yet to use his redshirt season, which means he could return in 2018 as a fifth-year senior.

Beck started 13 games the past two seasons, including three in 2016.  Last season, he caught four passes for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  Entering summer camp, he had been expected to be the Longhorns’ starter.

With Beck out, that onus will likely fall on Kendall Moore, a graduate transfer from Syracuse.

Lane Kiffin on Art Briles: ‘He’s absolutely not a consultant’

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You just knew this was coming.

Lane Kiffin acknowledged to reporters covering his Florida Atlantic football team that he had turned to Art Briles, ousted as BU’s head football coach in the midst of the sexual assault scandal, for help and advice when it comes to the Owls’ offense, stating that “[e]very once in a while, I’ll text or call him and bounce something off of him.” The backlash over Kiffin even informally consulting with the disgraced coach was immediate, prompting him to clarify the state of his relationship with Briles.

“Somebody texted me and wanted to know why I hired Art Briles, and I was like, ‘What?'” Kiffin told ESPN.com‘s Chris Low. “He’s absolutely not a consultant and has never been to practice or spoken to our team. That’s classic ‘somebody trying to make it a story’ because it’s Art Briles and Lane Kiffin. …

“Kendal sent his dad our spring game to let him see how he was calling plays and running the system. I have not spoken to [Art Briles] about him watching that film. It was just his son sending his dad film so he could see what he was doing, nothing more than that.”

The Kendal mentioned would be Kendal Briles, Art’s son and Kiffin’s offensive coordinator.  Over the weekend, the younger Briles acknowledged that he’s sent film to his father, saying “[h]e’s definitely involved and we talk daily.”  From Low’s interview with Kiffin:

Kiffin said he’s called Art Briles “probably twice” to let him know that Kendal was doing a good job.

“He’s a coach’s dad just like mine, and I told him that his son is doing a really good job, which all dads, especially coach’s dads, love to hear,” Kiffin said. “It’s no different than when you call a player’s parent and tell them their son is doing well. And in the course of that, I’ve asked him a few questions because it’s obviously his [offensive] system that he’s run for years. So I’ve asked him a couple of questions about alignments of players or something like that.

So, there’s that.  Hope it clears things up.