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Highs and lows from the weekend's TV sports coverage

Best season ever

We still have another couple of months before March Madness, and there are a lot of things to be settled. But at this moment, about a dozen teams seem good enough to make the Final Four. Pitt, Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut, Syracuse, Clemson, Michigan State and Wake Forest (the lone undefeated team left) look like Final Four teams. Then throw in a few teams that aren't ranked in the Top 10 but look like legitimate contenders, such as Louisville, Texas, UCLA and Arizona State. Then you have some mid-major teams, such as Xavier and Butler. Add that a Cinderella team always catches fire in the tournament and you have the makings of the 2009 NCAA Tournament being one of the best we've seen.

Times staff writer Tom Jones looks at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Best reason to stay calm

The worst thing that can be said about new Bucs coach Raheem Morris is he has no experience as an NFL head coach. But the best thing that can be said is he has no baggage. Sometimes the unknown is more exciting than a retread, a coach who has been around long enough for us to see his warts and scars.

On Sunday's Sports Reporters on ESPN, Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom said, "An assistant coach is like a backup goalie, a concept car or an attractive photo on an Internet dating site. The seduction is in the fact that they've never been tried.''

Time will tell if Morris' hiring is a good thing or a bad thing, but ultimately what will decide Morris' fate in Tampa Bay is the players. If the Bucs have good ones, they'll win. If they don't, it won't matter how hard Morris works.

Bucs coverage

The news conference Saturday afternoon to announce the hiring of coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik was covered live by Chs. 10 and 13 and Bright House Sports Network. It was not covered live by either Ch. 28 or Ch. 8.

Best available coach

Early word is the New York Jets are not interested in former Bucs coach Jon Gruden to fill their head coach opening. The question is: Why not?

Gruden would be perfect in the Big Apple. He's a big enough name to satisfy the fans and the media, and, you know, the guy was good enough to coach a Super Bowl champ. Plus, if the Jets were to hire him, there's a decent chance Brett Favre would come back as quarterback, and something says a Gruden-Favre partnership just might work.

It appears as if the Jets are going to go after Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, but isn't Gruden worth at least a phone call?

One more thought on Gruden

If Notre Dame has another so-so season in 2009 and Jon Gruden doesn't land a job this offseason, do you think the Irish might consider firing Charlie Weis, above, and hiring the guy who grew up in South Bend?

Worst behavior

Anyone else had enough of UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma? In case you missed it Saturday, Auriemma spent much of the afternoon during his team's 107-53 victory over Syracuse whining about noncalls. The Orange was too physical with his Huskies, he thought. And even though the officials didn't think anyone was doing anything dirty, or even out of the ordinary, Auriemma shot dirty looks at the Syracuse bench throughout the game. Then — and this was where he crossed the line — he got into it with Syracuse's Nicole Michael after the game because apparently the 21-year-old forward refused to shake his hand. Auriemma and Michael exchanged words, and it appeared Michael tried to trip him. Auriemma had to be escorted away by an assistant as he tried to walk back toward Michael.

Auriemma is the adult here. If some college kid doesn't want to shake his hand, or even mouths off to him, he needs to walk away in silence, especially after his team just won by 54 points. One role of a coach is to defuse confrontations between teams, not contribute to them. But Auriemma's ego is too big for that. That's his problem: He thinks he's more important than he is.

Best debate

NBC's excellent coverage of the NHL returned Sunday. What makes it excellent? The entire broadcast team treats the game and fans with respect by not dumbing down the coverage. It makes the right assumption that hockey fans are watching, and so the team speaks to them, as opposed to trying to teach the rules to nonfans, who probably aren't watching. The highlight Sunday was a first-intermission discussion between analysts Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire on fighting in hockey that continued throughout the game. Milbury thinks fighting has a place, and McGuire does not. Both made great points about hockey's most polarizing subject. The only nit was Milbury briefly poking fun at those who would like to see fighting eliminated by calling them "the granola crowd'' and saying that eliminating fighting would be "pansy-fying'' the game. Normally that's fine, but those words came just after McGuire mentioned that a player recently died in a senior league game in Canada after he hit his head on the ice during a fight. Whether you think fighting has a place or not, what happened in that senior league game is going to happen in the NHL someday — a player will hit his head on the ice and be permanently disabled or worse. When that happens, what will those who think fighting has a place think then?

Three things that popped into my head

1. Just when you allow yourself to think the Lightning might sneak back into the playoff picture, it goes out and loses a game it simply cannot lose, as it did Saturday night, 4-3 to the Panthers. A 3-1 lead at home against a team it had to catch? It can't lose that game.

2. Wasn't the timing of USF offensive coordinator Greg Gregory, left, being let go over the weekend a little strange?

3. This became evident Friday night in the wake of Jon Gruden being fired: When ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson opens his mouth, I'm interested in what's coming out of it.

Best thing to keep in mind

There's something to be said for having a new voice, for having a coach who is able to relate to players, for hiring someone with youthful energy. Those are all good reasons for the Bucs promoting 32-year-old Raheem Morris to head coach. But at the end of the day, a coach has to be the one in charge. We hope Morris will realize that he's now the boss, not one of the guys. Listen to what ESPN's Chris Mortensen said on Sunday morning's SportsCenter: "It's dangerous territory for Raheem Morris. He does relate to players. He is charismatic. He is energetic. Yeah, he listens to the same music as (his players). And they compare him to (Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin. But I'll tell you one thing we found out about Mike Tomlin as soon as he got the Steelers job: You heard players saying, 'Wow, Mike Tomlin is tougher on us than Bill Cowher.' And I think Raheem Morris has to do the same thing in Tampa.''

Highs and lows from the weekend's TV sports coverage 01/18/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 18, 2009 9:40pm]
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