A Rocky Top lullaby

Jonesin’ for some football already? Here’s ESPN’s Tennessee-themed promo for the SEC Network, the new SEC-only sports network that will launch in August and carry 45 football games in its first season. You can catch promos for all 14 SEC teams here. As of now, most providers aren’t carrying the SEC Network, but that will probably change. Among the major satellite providers, Dish Network has announced it will carry it; DirecTV still hasn’t.

Incident spells need for control

At a District 4-A baseball game between rivals Wartburg and Coalfield Friday afternoon, a controversial call at the plate ended the game in Wartburg’s favor. Coalfield coaches, players and fans were irate at the call, and this is how things ended:

 

The player who threw the punch is 18-years-old, and was arrested by Morgan County authorities on assault charges. The umpire was an off-duty law enforcement officer.

The video is hard to decipher because of its poor quality, but it’s nonetheless disturbing.

Several things jump out:

1.) The umpires should have gotten off the field more quickly. Exiting through the losing team’s dugout is not ideal, but that’s just how the field is set up. It appears that the field ump was waiting for the plate ump — who was held up by a Coalfield coach arguing with him as he left the field — and that’s not at all uncommon. But the field ump should have never gotten involved in any way with the arguing that was going on. He should have kept his mouth shut. Mistake on his part, and that should be addressed by TSSAA.

2.) Several things are going on there. You hear people in the background yelling at the umpires, which is not uncommon nor is it to be unexpected when a game ends controversially. You have two Coalfield coaches arguing with the umpires as they’re attempting to leave the field. There’s nothing inherently bad about that, at least not as it appears on video. Coaches have to maintain their cool, but it’s also human nature to complain when you feel you were done wrongly. What IS more disturbing though, is a Coalfield player waving his arms and gesturing angrily in front of the umpire and his coach making no move to pull him away.

3.) As the field ump reaches the gate, a parent who has been verbally berating him from the other side of the fence actually goes inside the fence. That’s where the line was crossed. No one seems to know exactly what was said, but the ump apparently told her to shut up when she was literally inches away from him arguing. (You can hear her on the video saying, “Don’t you tell me to shut up.”)

4.) Perhaps the most disturbing part is the ump exiting through the gate with a Coalfield coach and numerous players following him. That just had the look of disaster waiting to happen. Only one player threw a punch, and it appears that the coach is doing his best to separate the ump from the players, to his credit.

But what if things had escalated more? Things didn’t end badly there, except for the player who is facing criminal charges for unfortunately losing his cool. No one was hurt. But someone could have been hurt. The safety of the umpires, the coaches, the players and the bystanders was at risk there.

The thing that really stands out the most is that coaches have got to have control of their players and their fans better than that. In Tennessee high school baseball and softball, coaches are de facto game administrators. Which is unfortunate, because they have enough to do as it is. But, under TSSAA guidelines, that’s how it usually turns out. TSSAA does not require a game administrator for baseball and softball, and school officials often don’t take the time to attend (there are often multiple school sporting events going on at the same time, in different locations, during the spring).

A few years ago, numerous altercations caused TSSAA to require a game administrator for soccer games, and the same should be true for baseball and softball games.

But, in the meantime, someone has to be responsible. And, fairly or unfairly, that responsibility falls on the coaches. As I said, this situation did not escalate to the point that someone was hurt. But it could have very easily. It was an ugly scene.

TSSAA has put a stop to Coalfield baseball games pending a ruling. The school was forced to cancel its games with Oneida on Monday and Tuesday, and it was not immediately clear whether those games would be made up in the next few days or if they would be forfeited. There was some thought that Coalfield might be forced by TSSAA to forfeit its remaining games and be banned from the postseason this year. TSSAA held a hearing yesterday but has not yet issued its verdict.

There have been calls from some for TSSAA to come down even more harshly, since this is the third major incident like this in less than three years (the other two involved football), along with some lesser unsportsmanlike incidents that have resulted in single player ejections or game penalties.

I’m not sure I can agree with that. Most of the players at Coalfield are good kids who try to do things the right way. And there are some phenomenal athletes at Coalfield who would miss out on competition if TSSAA were to consider lack of institutional control charges and an all-athletics ban for a year, as some have called for. University of Tennessee commit Zach Stewart will be a senior this fall, and incoming freshman Parker McKinney is a phenomenal basketball player (who won the District 4-A basketball tournament MVP award as an 8th grader in February, the first time an 8th grader in Tennessee has earned the MVP award for high school sports). It isn’t fair for the good kids, and the coaches and administrators at Coalfield who try to do things the right way, to be penalized for the actions of a few.

But, at the same time, it would not be unprecedented for TSSAA to come down harshly on Coalfield in an effort to send a message that incidents like the one Friday will not be tolerated.

For the sake of Coalfield people like basketball coach Jason Hill and assistant coach Brad Jones, who work hard to make sure their basketball team represents the school the right way on the court, and for the sake of athletes like Douglas and McKinney, hopefully TSSAA won’t consider the worst case scenario.

At the end of the day, this can be a learning tool for TSSAA to better enforce safety for participants and spectators alike at spring sporting events. That might be the good that comes out of an unfortunate situation.

Update: The TSSAA announced today that it is accepting Coalfield’s proposed self-imposed sanctions, which includes forfeiting Monday’s and Tuesday’s scheduled games against Oneida, kicking the player in question off the team, and forcing all players and coaches to attend counseling before resuming practice. Additionally, TSSAA is forcing Coalfield to suspend its baseball program for the remainder of the 2014 regular season and placing the school on two years’ restricted probation, during which time the school’s baseball team will not be permitted to compete in the postseason. That effectively means that the team will be banned this season and next season from the postseason. The ban will expire in April 2016, just before the 2016 postseason begins. The school has also been fined $3,000.

Youth step to the plate

I’ve been doing groundwork for the past couple of weeks on a feature story I’m working on about teens and faith. Or, more specifically, the willingness of teens to take a stand on their beliefs and share their faith with their classmates and peers.

I’ve put more work into this story than any I’ve ever done, and I hope it will turn out well. As I’ve talked to various students at local high schools, some have said that they’re made fun of because of their faith, others say that they haven’t been made fun of at all, but that most of their classmates actually respect them more because of their faith, even if they don’t share their views on Christianity and religion. But, to a person, they all agree that they won’t allow a fear of how they’re being perceived by other students to silence them or cause them to hide their faith. 

Considering that these are impressionable teenagers, that’s quite impressive. And it’s certainly refreshing. There’s growing hostility towards Christianity and Christians in today’s culture. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen, in fact. For example, Easter afternoon I was reading the VolQuest.com messageboards to get Brent Hubbs’ thoughts on UT’s coaching search, and someone posted a thread stating, “He is risen.” The mean-spirited backlash that followed was eye-opening and telling. The days when atheists and agnostics would simply turn the other cheek to Christians is gone. Now there is outright hostility and intolerance of Christians. Of course, those who believe Bible prophecy are not surprised by this, but even amid this trend, more and more teenagers in our community are standing up and being counted as Christians. Is part of it a fad? Certainly. Even among this intolerance of Christianity, it’s cool in today’s society to throw around the word “God,” even by people who have no clue who God is. But there’s also a lot of sincerity, and that’s what I’ve found from the students I’ve talked to.

White Rock Baptist Church associate pastor Ashley Ellis says a big part of it is churches allowing kids to take on a bigger role in worship services instead of relegating them to different parts of the church during services.

“They’re youth in age, but they can still request prayer, and that sort of thing, and the best way for them to see the reality of faith is to be a part of it,” Ellis says. 

Ellis says one of the keys is a change of approach for churches from his generation and mine to the current generation.

“The common approach (back then) was to use manipulation,” Ellis says. “That would change people for a couple of weeks, but kids today are too smart for that. They want you to be truthful with them. They want the truth, but they want it real.” 

In other words, “Don’t force them. Let it come natural to them. And, then, even if they are ridiculed for their faith, it doesn’t matter as much because it is their faith and their beliefs,” Ellis says.

I’ll explore the issue much more deeply — and several different teenagers from the community will speak out in their own words on the subject — in an upcoming issue of the Independent Herald. In the meantime, this subject has been a refreshing one for me because, amid all the talk about how our younger generation is in trouble — too lazy, too immoral, etc. — it turns out that there are many teenagers within the community who stand firm on their beliefs, try their best to do the right thing, and have a keen interest in changing the culture around them for the better. 

Severe weather lurks

We’re on pace for the lowest tornado total since 1915 in  the U.S., but the weather looks to become more active by this weekend. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., is sounding the alarm on a “significant multi-day” severe weather event that will extend from the central and southern plains on Saturday and Sunday to the Mid-South — including — Tennessee on Monday, with strong tornadoes possible all three days: 

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The bulk of the modeling data over the past 48 hours has painted an ominous picture. Large hail, damaging straight line winds and violent tornadoes are all possible if the models — particularly the ECMWF and the GFS — have the correct handle on this system. However, it’s still a ways out, and there’s much time for change. Timing is still up in the air. And, of course, tornadoes and strong supercell thunderstorms depend on mesoscale features in the atmosphere that cannot be accurately projected by the models this far in advance.

Not to wish ill on our neighbors to the west, but the good news for those of us here on the northern Cumberland Plateau and in East Tennessee is that the threat — as you see it outlined on the SPC’s map above — is currently west of here. No doubt there will be a slight risk for severe weather in our neck of the woods as this threat continues to develop and we get closer, but for now it looks like the Tennessee threat will be primarily in West Tennessee, with a slightly reduced threat on into Middle Tennessee.

While the SPC, which monitors severe weather possibilities for the entire U.S., is already sounding the alarm on tornadoes, the NWS’s Nashville weather field office is taking a bit of a more conservative approach. In a forecast discussion this morning, NWS-Nashville stated, “Don’t see how this system, if it develops as suggested, wouldn’t have a severe straight line wind and large hail threat. The T word on the other hand will not be mentioned on account that this is still the GFS beyond 120 hours and doing so would be…unwise.”

Again, there’s plenty of time for change. But if this system continues to evolve as it’s currently being depicted, this could be the biggest severe weather threat Dixie Alley has seen in three years.

Time to go topless

My newspaper column this week: 

I stuck my head out the door Easter morning, and was greeted by the sound of chirping birds and — more importantly — the feel of the sun’s warmth. It was, I decided, finally time.

Time to go topless.

And so I did.

I went topless to church Sunday, and that felt so good that I went topless to work Monday, too.

They say that “If you don’t like the weather in Tennessee, wait five minutes.” Truthfully, “they” say that about every state. But it’s especially true within North America’s transitional zone for weather, and Tennessee sits directly within that transitional zone.

Never has that saying been more accurate than this spring. We’ve experienced record warmth and record cold — within days of one another. And last week, just five days before topless weather finally arrived, we saw our latest accumulating snow in more than a half-century here in Oneida. The following morning, we dropped to a record 27 degrees, which wasn’t cold enough to do much harm to blooming fruit trees and other flowering trees — as first feared — but was plenty cold enough to kill hostas and a variety of other garden and landscaping favorites.

But mother nature made up for that curve ball with a truly beautiful Easter weekend, and if long-range meteorologists are worth their salt, ol’ man winter has finally given up the ghost — spring is here to stay.

After the winter we’ve had, the first tick I find crawling on my arm will almost be a welcomed relief. In fact, I experienced my first mosquito bite of the season Sunday and almost didn’t squash his sorry blood-sucking self with the palm of my hand. (But just almost.)

Crappie are biting, bluegill will soon be spawning, and there are dozens of sandy spots along the BSF river bank just begging to have a tent pitched and a campfire lit.

And my Jeep top is stored away in the basement, where it will stay until October. (What kind of topless did you think I was talking about?)


He Locked the Gates

A few days ago I posted a clip from my iPhone of Dollywood’s The Kingdom Heirs singing this song. Here’s the real thing, recorded live at Dollywood. This song is the quintessential Southern Gospel quartet song, and it shines a spotlight on the strengths of The Kingdom Heirs, which is lead singer Arthur Rice and bass singer Jeff Chapman — both of who are among the best in the business.

Tyndall is All Vol

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Just hours after being formally rejected by Louisiana Tech’s Michael White, Tennessee has a new basketball coach — Southern Miss’s Donnie Tyndall.

As I speculated last evening, Tyndall was the first coach UT athletic director Dave Hart turned to after negotiations with White broke down.

It did not take long for Tyndall to agree to make the move from Hattiesburg to Knoxville. Although he had not met with Tennessee in person today, he readily accepted the offer to become the Vols’ next head coach.

CBS’s Gary Parrish — who has beaten local media badly in breaking details of this coaching saga — was the first to report that Tyndall had agreed to coach at Tennessee. ESPN quickly followed.

So who is Donnie Tyndall? 

That’s a question many UT fans will ask as this news spreads through East Tennessee this evening. 

Tyndall played at Morehead State from 1990 to 1993 after one season with Iowa Central Community College. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Iowa Central after graduating from Morehead State, spent four seasons at LSU (1997-2001) and also coached at Middle Tennessee State (2002-2006) before earning a head coaching gig at Morehead State in the Ohio Valley Conference.

At Morehead State, Tyndall had an overall record of 114-84 (.580), including 70-40 in conference play (.640). He made two appearances in the NCAA tournament (2009 and 2011), and defeated Louisville in the tournament in 2011. He did not win the conference in the regular season at Morehead, but twice won the OVC tournament.

Tyndall made the move from Morehead State to Southern Miss in 2012. In two seasons, he is 56-17 (.767) at Southern Miss, including 25-7 (.781) in Conference USA. 

Southern Miss twice advanced to the NIT quarterfinals. This season, the Eagles won the regular season conference championship, and were the highest-rated team in the RPI standings to not make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team. 

Tyndall is widely regarded as a charismatic coach who wins over fans. At Southern Miss, he increased attendance and endeared himself to the community. 

Tyndall’s teams tend to play at a pace that is very similar to Cuonzo Martin. However, he is likely to earn a better reputation with fans here than Martin had because he tends to be more upbeat and energetic. 

At Southern Miss, Tyndall’s teams did not greatly improve over previous Southern Miss teams. In fact, the Eagles went to the NCAA tournament in 2012, and did not return once Tyndall arrived on campus. 

On the other hand, he did advance to the quarterfinals of the NIT twice — including a win over Michael White’s Louisiana Tech team in 2013 and a win over Missouri from the SEC in 2014. Southern Miss lost 81-73 to eventual NIT champion Minnesota in this year’s tournament.

(For what it’s worth, Tyndall was 2-2 against White and Louisiana Tech.)

Tyndall did a fantastic job building the Morehead State program. In his first season, Morehead was 12-18 overall, 8-12 in the OVC. By year two, the team was 15-15 overall and 12-8 in the conference. By year three, Morehead won the OVC tournament championship.

The one flaw with Tyndall: His Morehead State team wound up on NCAA probation with self-imposed sanctions that included reduced scholarships and recruiting limitations for major violations involving boosters — violations that Tyndall apparently knew about. But Bruce Pearl is an NCAA felon as well, and there are few people in Knoxville who would not have welcomed him back with open arms.

There is all sorts of information swirling about why talks broke down between Tennessee and Michael White. Perhaps that will sort itself out in the days ahead. For now, though, there is no point in speculating about what could have been or who is at fault. The bottom line is that Tyndall is the coach at Tennessee.

Tyndall was one of the candidates Tennessee identified from the very beginning. He isn’t an “A-List” candidate; guys like Gregg Marshall and Shaka Smart were never coming to Tennessee. And, when it comes to the “B-List” candidates, White was clearly the guy Tennessee wanted. 

Are the Vols “settling” for Tyndall, or will this prove to be a situation very much like the football hire, when Tennessee whiffed on Charlie Strong but wound up with Butch Jones, who is mega-popular in Knoxville these days?

I would be lying if I said the Tyndall hire excites me. But I’ve yet to hear from any Southern Miss fan who has anything bad to say about the guy, so I’m willing to give him a chance.

Let’s see what happens.

See Tyndall in his own words:

Cowboys & indians in the sunset

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I was outside doing some work this evening when I happened to notice my neighbor’s son playing cowboys & indians with my own son as the sun set over the horizon. I went inside, grabbed my Nikon D7100, cranked the ISO down to 100, and snapped some photos. The result was this unedited photo of a silhouetted 3-year-old against a fiery evening sky.

The scene brings back memories from my own childhood, when we often played cowboys & indians until the last remaining light has disappeared from the summer sky. It was wholesome fun . . . definitely better for us than the video game entertainment that keeps most kids occupied today. But that made me think of the anti-gun movement in today’s society. Some of our most liberal members of society have decided that toy guns are bad influences for kids. There are plenty who would decry this very picture (and, in fact, I halfway expect to get a nasty email from someone who stumbles across this post). There are actually some municipalities and locales in America where someone would be investigated by law enforcement for allowing their kids to play with toy guns and posting a picture of it online.

But, thankfully, I still live in rural East Tennessee. And, to date, such nonsense hasn’t permeated our local culture. 

All signs point to White

Michael white ncaa basketball louisiana tech southern mississippi

**UPDATE (11:16 p.m.): There are reports tonight that negotiations between Michael White and Tennessee are on very thin ice, if not broken off completely.**

It appears that one of two things will happen tomorrow: 

1.) Michael White will be introduced as Tennessee’s next basketball coach.

2.) News will break that White has rejected the Vols, which would be just about as big a disaster for the UT Athletic Department as one could imagine.

According to numerous reports, Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart has identified the Louisiana Tech coach as his man. VolQuest.com’s Brent Hubbs reported that White met with UT reps on Thursday (that’s the day Hart was at the zoo with his grandkids, for what it’s worth), then met with Hart himself for several hours on Saturday.

Additional reports state that Tennessee has offered White, and that White is “mulling over” the Tennessee offer. Hubbs reported Easter afternoon that the hold-up was over buyout numbers. That would suggest that White wants a lesser financial penalty for leaving Tennessee prematurely than Hart is willing to offer. Considering that White is an Ole Miss alum and former assistant coach there, and current Reb head man Andy Kennedy is on relatively thin ice there, that isn’t necessarily surprising.

If White were to turn down Tennessee, it would be a PR disaster. It’s already been revealed by CBS Sports that at least one “A-list” candidate turned down the Vols because of UT’s talent-thin roster. That’s more a knock on Cuonzo Martin than on UT, but it does show that White isn’t UT’s first option. We can only speculate as to who that “A-list’er” was, but it stands to reason that it was someone like Xavier’s Chris Mack or Colorado’s Tad Boyle. 

Frankly, no one could blame White if he did turn down Tennessee. He’s very much considered a rising star in the coaching industry, and moving up the coaching ladder is all about timing. Coaches have to recognize when they’ve peaked and when it’s time to win on. White has had back-to-back very successful seasons at Louisiana Tech, and has won 71% of his games overall in three seasons in Ruston, but he’s hardly peaked. He returns four of five starters next season and should win the conference and earn an NCAA tournament berth, which will increase his stock and open doors for potentially better jobs than the UT gig. 

But perception is everything, and public perception if White spurns the Vols would be an unmitigated disaster.

On the other hand, if White agrees to Tennessee’s offer, Hart has likely found himself an excellent coach. No one can say for certain that White would be successful in the SEC, but he has all the intangibles. As a former player and assistant at Ole Miss, he knows the SEC inside and out. He’s won 71% of his games as a head coach. He was considered a standout recruiter in the South during his coaching days at Ole Miss. He won an award as the nation’s top assistant there, as well. And his father is the athletic director at Duke University, for whatever that is worth.

Many UT fans have prepared themselves for the possibility of White being unveiled as Tennessee’s coach by comparing him to Derek Dooley, since Dooley was also a head coach at Louisiana Tech. Sensible people, of course, recognize that the school doesn’t define a coach’s merit. Saying Mike White is the same as Derek Dooley because they both coached at Louisiana Tech is like saying Mike DuBose is the same as Nick Saban because they both coached at Alabama.

Fans who are opposed to White’s hire because he has not been to an NCAA tournament as a head coach have a more legitimate gripe, but White’s credentials are nonetheless solid. In fact, White would have a much better resume coming into the SEC than none other than Billy Donovan. When Donovan was hired by Florida in 1996, he had coached at mid-major Marshall for two seasons, winning 64% of his games but failing to make the postseason. Obviously, he has turned out to be an excellent coach. Likewise, White would have a better winning percentage coming in than former UT coach Bruce Pearl when the Vols hired him from Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Mike White is the anti-Cuonzo in just about every way imaginable. Martin preferred a conservative approach that focused on solid half-court defense. White runs an up-tempo approach that features a fun-to-watch pressing defense and relies on transition offense. Martin was bland in his approach to fans and the media. White’s press conferences are decidedly more upbeat. Martin was often criticized for fans for failing to plead his team’s case with officials in an effort to influence their calls. White . . . well: 

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White would be a good hire for Hart and the Vols. He isn’t, as they often say on the sports messageboards and talk shows, a “sexy” hire. His name isn’t Gregg Marshall or Shaka Smart. But, as I blogged last week, those guys weren’t coming to Knoxville. 

Tennessee had a legitimate chance at top-tier coaches like Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and Xavier’s Chris Mack, but it was a long shot. A very long shot, in fact. 

Behind those guys, Hart had (has; this search isn’t over, after all) two options: Go after a retread. Or go after an up-and-comer.

There were retreads who would have come to Tennessee. Former UCLA coach Ben Howland reportedly reached out to Tennessee, as did former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who is currently at Texas Tech. But there were issues with both. Howland had a ton of success early in his career, but lost control of his UCLA program towards the end of his career. Player discipline issues became a huge problem in Los Angeles. As for Smith, who was fired by Minnesota last season after failing to build the Gophers into a Big Ten championship contender, it’s pretty clear by now what his ceiling is . . . and it’s a ceiling that probably would not allow UT to annually compete for the SEC championship, which is the ultimate goal.

Once you move on down to the up-and-comers, there was (is) no better option than Mike White. 

If White turns down Tennessee, it won’t be the end of the world . . . but it might sure feel like it. 

If White and Hart come to terms, Tennessee will have upgraded its basketball coach and Martin will have done Tennessee a favor by leaving for Berkeley.

If White says ‘no’, Tennessee’s next option is probably Souther Miss’s Donnie Tyndall. Tyndall has won 65% of his games in two seasons at Southern Miss, twice reaching the NIT quarterfinals. Before that, he spent six seasons at Morehead State, where he won 58% of his games and twice made the NCAA tournament. 

Tyndall would likely come to Tennessee, unless Missouri wants him, too.