‘T’ is for terrible: Clipboard foils Miles

by Tony Phifer on February 21, 2011

If somebody offers you a ticket to a karate demonstration by Tim Miles, walk away. No, run. Believe me, it’s a scam.

I saw all the proof I needed Saturday night during the CSU-UNLV game at Moby Arena. That’s when Miles, CSU’s colorful and charismatic coach, tried to bust a clipboard over his knee – pretty basic stuff for your average chartreuse belt in karate. And he failed. Miserably.

Instead of shattering the clipboard or, at the very least, breaking it in two, Miles bounced the clipboard high into the air, well above the heads of the players and coaches gathered around him. David Beckham would have been proud of the effort. Bruce Lee, not so much.

If he had snapped the clipboard, chances are good that Miles wouldn’t have been hit with a technical foul. But when an official sees a clipboard soaring through the air with a higher arc than most jumpshots, he has no choice but to slap a “T” on the offender.

Clearly, Miles needs to get in the weight room. Either that, or his managers need to buy him some wimpier clipboards.

Come on, coach. We expect better!

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Games just keep getting bigger, and bigger …

by Tony Phifer on February 19, 2011

One of the great things about sports are comparisons. We love to compare past players or coaches with those currently on board, or measure previously played games against those currently taking place.

So when CSU fans start calling Saturday’s men’s basketball battle with UNLV “the biggest home game  since …” it makes me smile. There was a time, when legendary coach Jim Williams was patrolling the sidelines and the paint on the Moby Arena (It was called Moby Gym back in those days) was still fresh, when every game was big. At least, it seemed that way.

If I had to choose the last truly big game at Moby, I would be torn between a few during the Boyd Grant era.

In 1988, Grant’s first year, the Rams reeled off three consecutive NIT victories at home, with the last one securing a trip to New York for the NIT’s version of the Final Four. The crowds at each of those games was amazing, with fans occupying every seat and plenty of others standing wherever they could find space. The last home game of 1988 – a 69-49 win over Arkansas State – was one of the greatest CSU events I’ve ever witnessed.

The following two years, when the Rams were winning back-to-back WAC championships – CSU’s only conference titles over the past 50-plus years – they had a number of huge home games, including battles with Tim Hardaway’s talented UTEP squad, and Marty Haws and a very good BYU team. Those seasons, each home game got just a bit bigger and a smidge more important, building in a deafening crescendo at Moby.

That’s when sports are really fun – when each game is a little bigger that the last one. And that’s what has happened this year at Moby.

So, enjoy the ride – and hope we don’t have to wait another 20-plus years to experience something like this.     

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Miles: Let’s make a (longer) deal

by Tony Phifer on February 15, 2011

CSU’s Paul Kowalczyk has the problem every major college athletic director loves and hates – at the same time.

Kowalczyk loves the fact that Tim Miles, the no-name basketball coach he brought to Fort Collins four years ago from North Dakota State, is emerging as a force to reckoned with. Miles has his Rams playing great basketball and within reach of CSU’s first NCAA Tournament berth in eiTim-Miles-blog2-11ght years. He has become a media darling with his from-the-heart quotes, funny one-liners and entertaining tweets.

He is, in every way, an AD’s dream.

And that’s the part that Kowalczyk hates.

Miles is much more than a media sensation. His first team – he inherited a rag-tag bunch that included just two scholarship players and a reputation for causing trouble on the court and underachieving on it – went 0-16 in MWC play. Just three years later, the Rams are 17-7 and being talked about locally, regionally and nationally.

No matter how the season ends for the Rams – in disappointment or triumph – Miles is now on the national radar. Any program seeking a coach with a reputation for building successful programs from the scrap heap will want to talk to him. Heck, even successful programs with an image problem and a losing record will have him on their shopping list. He’s a unique guy – a rare treasure Kowalczyk highly values.

So, in case you were wondering, yes, he is trying to piece together a contract extension for Miles.

“There’s no question that Tim’s a guy we want to keep around,” Kowalczyk told me recently. “He’s a joy to work with, and he knows where he wants this program to go and what he needs to get there. He’s doing a fantastic job.”

Miles currently has two years remaining on his contract after this season, so there is no great rush to rework the deal. However, extending his contract and beefing up his salary now would go a long way toward keeping Miles in place for the long haul.

The good news is that Miles loves Fort Collins, and his family has adjusted well after moving from North Dakota. And the recent run of big, loud crowds at Moby Arena have helped convince him that CSU can, indeed, be a force in basketball.

In the meantime, here’s hoping Kowalczyk can come up with some cash to let Miles know just how badly he wants him around. It won’t keep other schools from inquiring about Miles, but it might make saying “thanks, but no thanks” a lot easier.

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Carr stepping up in Eikmeier’s absence

by Tony Phifer on February 9, 2011

The CSU men’s basketball team gets a much-needed break this week in the form of a Wednesday night bye. As a result, starting guard Wes Eikmeier will get a couple of extra days to let his sprained foot heal.

Eikmeier, the team’s No. 3 scorer and top outsijesse-carrde threat, has missed two games and was ineffective in 10 minutes of action last week against San Diego State. Coach Tim Miles said Tuesday that pain is the issue, and he’s still not sure if Eikmeier will be ready for Saturday night’s showdown with New Mexico.

There is, however, a silver lining to the situation: Jesse Carr is starting to play like, well, Jesse Carr again. Carr, a sophomore guard who has missed all but a couple of games the past two years due to injury, at times this season has looked overmatched when facing severe defensive pressure. Carr, though, was solid Saturday night against Wyoming (6 points, 5 rebounds, 0 turnovers in 23 minutes in CSU’s 59-56 win) and should provide valuable minutes the rest of the season as the Rams chase an NCAA Tournament berth.

Saturday night’s game against New Mexico, by the way, is Orange Out Night, with fans encouraged to wear orange to celebrate the Rams’ past when they were known as the Colorado A&M Aggies. Orange Out was a huge hit in football, and CSU officials are expecting another big crowd – and perhaps the second sellout of the year – for this game, so get your tickets early.

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CSU football: Shaken and stirred

by Tony Phifer on February 5, 2011

Two days after adding 27 players to his program, CSU football coach Steve Fairchild sent out a loud-and-clear message to all coaches, players and fans: Status quo ain’t good enough.

Fairchild, entering his fourth year at the helm, had to do something. Back-to-back 3-9 seasons haven’t exactly ignited the fan base. Instead, a program’s worst enemy – apathy – was beginning to set in, and that simply cannot be tolerated.

So, Fairchild took action by revamping his staff. Clearly, this is a group that has Football v. Sacramento State University at Hughes Stadium. CSU Won 23-20.strengths, particularly in recruiting. Just as clear, however, is the reality that the Rams need to get better on the field – and that starts with the coaches.

Even though no one was fired, this was no fun for Fairchild. He essentially demoted two of his best friends and two of the most important figures in recent CSU football history: Larry Kerr and Anthoney Hill.

Kerr, whose defenses were the foundation of the great run of success CSU enjoyed from 1994-2001, remains as defensive coordinator but no longer will coach linebackers. Kerr, who once was considered the heir apparent to Sonny Lubick, also was replaced as associate head coach by Larry Lewis.

Ouch.

Hill, who quarterbacked the Rams to their first WAC title and Holiday Bowl berth in 1994, was moved from running backs to tight ends – probably the lowest spot on the coaching totem pole.

Ouch again.

Needless to say, there are a few bruised egos over at the McGraw Center, but Fairchild had to do it. CSU’s defense was one of the worst in the country last year, and the running backs did not perform up to expectations. Standing pat would have sent a message that those performances are acceptable when they clearly are not. (Kerr and Hill, by the way, are two of my very favorite people.)

More importantly, the message has been sent to every coach that the current level of performance just won’t cut it. The Rams need to start winning – and right now.

At the same time, players now know they are on the clock as well. Their efforts down the stretch last season were unacceptable, and they had better be ready to turn things around if they want to get on the field. If Fairchild can demote two of his best friends, he certainly won’t hesitate to bench players who aren’t performing up to par.

All in all, this was a big week for CSU football. Wednesday, a talented new group of players – hope for the present and future – was introduced. Today, the coaching staff got a much-needed kick in the pants. All in all, a pretty good couple of days.

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Signing day: Christmas in February

by Tony Phifer on February 2, 2011

My old boss hated recruiting in general, and signing day in particular.

His philosophy: Why are we devoting so much time and effort to covering athletes who haven’t (in most cases) even set foot on campus, let alone donned a uniform?

I countered by saying that signing day is like Christmas Day – you see the presents under the tree and you just can’t wait to open them. Sure, some the presents will be the wrong size, and others will break down shortly after they are freed from the wrapping paper. But every now and then you get to open a present that is great in every way.

The same holds true with the young athletes signing letters of intent each year. You never know what you’re going to get, but right now their potential ssteve-fairchild-storyeems unlimited.

National signing day for football is Wednesday, and I can’t wait. There’s always some sort of intrigue – either a player opts at the last minute to sign with another school, or forgot to sign his letter, or perhaps CSU lands a surprise player thought to be out of reach – to make things interesting. Even in this era of early commitments and tell-all recruiting sites that seem to know a recruit’s every move, surprises still happen.

Mostly, I just like hearing the stories about the individual players and how they came into the fold.

I want to hear how coaches convinced Kapri Bibbs, a running back from Plainfield, Ill., who rushed for 520 yards and 7 TDs in a single game, to become a Ram.

How did CSU’s coaches wrestle defensive tackle Isiah Norton, considered the jewel of the class, away from schools like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and the other 13 schools that offered him scholarships?

Is Sam Carlson, an offensive lineman who drew only lukewarm accolades from recruiting services, really a player, or did CSU coaches simply snatch him up because he played locally at Poudre High School?

Is Dorian Brown, the star running back from Loveland, expected to play next year or will he likely sit out 2011 while recovering from the ACL injury that ended his senior season before it started? And if he hadn’t been hurt, would he still have chosen CSU?

Does every CSU coach have the directions memorized to the Kawulok home outside Boulder? After all, when Joe signs Wednesday, he will be the third member of that family to cast his lot with the Rams in the past 10 years. (On a side note, what did the Kawuloks feed their kids? After all, this will be the FOURTH Kawulok boy to play Division I football – a remarkable occurrence that defies all logic.)

Who is the one sleeper – the guy nobody is paying much attention to – who really gets coach Steve Fairchild excited?

Of course, we won’t really know whether this recruiting class is any good for another two to three years. Right now, it’s all just hype and hope.

Still, with the Rams coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons, signing day is the one time when all of that is forgotten. The future looks brighter, somehow – and that’s all this fan needs on a bitter-cold February day.

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Rams forcing the country to take notice

by Tony Phifer on February 1, 2011

You probably missed this tidbit today while perusing the Web and scanning your local newspaper, but nonetheless, there it was, in tiny little type in the “Others receiving votes” section of the weekly AP Top 25 poll: Colorado State 2.

Ok, OK, so this is not a “stop the presses” moment. The Rams would need another 108 points in the weekly vote to officially crack the Top 25, and there are 18 teams ahead ofMen's Basketball v. BYU in front of a sellout crowd at Moby Arena. CSU lost 94-85. January 22, 1011 them in the “others” list. Still, it is affirmation that the Rams are getting noticed nationally – and rightly so.

The Rams, coming off a 74-68 win at Utah, are 15-6 overall and, at 5-2, alone in third place in the Mountain West standings. With at least 10 games still to play, they have a very realistic shot at producing the first 20-win season at CSU since the 1997-98 team went 20-9 and played in the NIT. Not that anyone’s keeping score, but that’s 13 years and three coaches ago.

Which leads us to Wednesday night, when sixth-ranked San Diego State comes to Moby Arena for a 7:15 clash (notice the unusual starting time). This is THE opportunity the Rams and their fans have been waiting for: A chance to prove that they truly are worthy of consideration for an NCAA Tournament berth.

The Aztecs will be the highest-ranked team to invade Moby in at least 20 years, and very much deserving of their lofty ranking. They have the second-best player in the MWC in forward Kawhi Leonard and a terrific all-around team that plays in-your-face defense and rebounds like no team the Rams have seen this season. It will take a monumental effort to win, but with a big crowd behind them, the Rams can pull this off.

Which leads us to another issue: The “big crowd” thing. Unlike Jan. 22, when fans packed Moby Arena for the first time in seven seasons to watch Jimmer Fredette and BYU, CSU officials do not expect a sellout. In fact, they are projecting that fewer than 7,000 will make it to the game.

Sadly, fans are already offering up excuses to stay home, such as “it’s going to be too cold.” Well, last I looked, basketball is played indoors, and this is January in Colorado. It’s SUPPOSED to be cold, folks!

Regardless of how many fans show up, the opportunity in front of the Rams is the kind up-and-coming programs dream about. It will be televised in high definition by CBS-College Sports, so most fans around the country can tune in.

Here’s hoping the Rams can take advantage. If so, heck, they might even get three votes next week!

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