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One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.

11/29/2006

Money for nothing

Finally had a few spare minutes to blog now that Michigan State's coaching search is done, and I must say I think Mark Dantonio was a safe, solid choice as MSU coach. I don't see him bringing national championships to East Lansing, but with his recruiting ties and pedigree I expect the Spartans to be bowl-eligible again in two years and regular contenders for the top of the conference. Anything less would be a disappointment. The first thing that struck me about the hire, however, was how devalued MSU's coaching position is. Dantonio will make $1.1 million a year with the Spartans and has a standard incentive package. Don't buy the company line that it's an incentive-laden contract and Dantonio will make a great deal of money if he's successful. Every coach has incentives that will reward him in a similar way for winning big. His contract is nothing special. Dantonio's total compensation package is the fourth lowest in the Big Ten, behind only Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Indiana's Terry Hoeppner and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, and Bielema is due for a big raise after taking the Badgers to an 11-1 record his first season. Unfortunately, that's the company MSU football is keeping these days. Two schools that struggle to draw 50,000 fans a game and (for the moment at least) one 36-year-old first-time coach. I can't rag on MSU too much for paying as little as it did. After eating two years on John L. Smith's enormous contract, the powerbrokers definitely learned their lesson. But I'm also left wondering if money cost the Spartans a shot at bigger-name coach like Butch Davis, Steve Mariucci, Todd Grantham or someone else totally off the radar.

11/21/2006

Izzo for football coach

Don't dismiss the Tom Izzo for football coach rumors as mindless Internet speculation. There was and is little chance of it happening, but something like that doesn't pop out of nowhere. In this bizarre coaching search, where no one is a slam-dunk and half the MSU fan base will be against whoever's hired, Tom Izzo for football coach was just another test balloon floated up to gauge everyone's reaction.

Do I think Izzo could be a successful football coach? Yes. He is a brilliant motivator, a great recruiter and a driven man. (What bigger challenge could someone who's already reached the top of the college basketball world undertake than trying to become the first coach ever to win basketball and football championships?) If he surrounded himself with the right people - think Norm Chow as offensive coordinator with full autonomy, or Steve Mariucci as his personal sounding board - there's no reason he couldn't win.

Do I think Michigan State would actually pull the trigger on such move? Yes and no. I'm 99.99 percent sure it's not going to happen, not now, not with all the negative publicity it's received. But could it? Absolutely, for two reasons.

One, associate athletics director Mark Hollis is a visionary (and close Izzo confidant). He made the WJR deal happen, he dreamed up the Cold War and the BasketBowl. And he's bright enough to think outside the box, turn to the best coach and program-builder he knows, and say you're the man to this thing around. A colleague of mine compared it General Electric tapping the CEO of Boeing to run its company. You think a plane guy knows much about light bulbs? No, he knows running a business, just like Izzo knows coaching and leading a group of young men.

Two, I leave the door open the slightest of cracks - maybe not even open, but unlocked - because none of the final candidates is an overwhelming, can't-miss coach. Todd Grantham has Nick Saban's recommendation and a brilliant defensive mind, but also little buzz and folks are worried he might leave for the NFL in a few years. Pat Shurmur loves MSU like no other, but, for better or worse, he's got George Perles ties and no coordinator experience. Bo Pelini has another successful defensive pedigree, but a history of job jumping. And Brian Kelly is a MAC coach, which to some overshadows the fact that he's a successful one.

In the end, it will be one of those four. My personal choice remains Kelly. He's won every place he's been, he knows and has recruited Michigan all his life, he's having success at a place a person many think will be the next Michigan coach (Mike DeBord) could not, and he has a perceived loyalty to MSU that boosters find appealing. In reality, he's a lot like Izzo - and that's what MSU is looking for in its football coach.

Izzo for football coach

Don't dismiss the Tom Izzo for football coach rumors as mindless Internet speculation. There was and is little chance of it happening, but something like that doesn't pop out of nowhere. In this bizarre coaching search, where no one is a slam-dunk and half the MSU fan base will be against whoever's hired, Tom Izzo for football coach was just another test balloon floated up to gauge everyone's reaction.

Do I think Izzo could be a successful football coach? Yes. He is a brilliant motivator, a great recruiter and a driven man. (What bigger challenge could someone who's already reached the top of the college basketball world undertake than trying to become the first coach ever to win basketball and football championships?) If he surrounded himself with the right people - think Norm Chow as offensive coordinator with full autonomy, or Steve Mariucci as his personal sounding board - there's no reason he couldn't win.

Do I think Michigan State would actually pull the trigger on such move? Yes and no. I'm 99.99 percent sure it's not going to happen, not now, not with all the negative publicity it's received. But could it? Absolutely, for two reasons.

One, associate athletics director Mark Hollis is a visionary (and close Izzo confidant). He made the WJR deal happen, he dreamed up the Cold War and the BasketBowl. And he's bright enough to think outside the box, turn to the best coach and program-builder he knows, and say you're the man to this thing around. A colleague of mine compared it General Electric tapping the CEO of Boeing to run its company. You think a plane guy knows much about light bulbs? No, he knows running a business, just like Izzo knows coaching and leading a group of young men.

Two, I leave the door open the slightest of cracks - maybe not even open, but unlocked - because none of the final candidates is an overwhelming, can't-miss coach. Todd Grantham has Nick Saban's recommendation and a brilliant defensive mind, but also little buzz and folks are worried he might leave for the NFL in a few years. Pat Shurmur loves MSU like no other, but, for better or worse, he's got George Perles ties and no coordinator experience. Bo Pelini has another successful defensive pedigree, but a history of job jumping. And Brian Kelly is a MAC coach, which to some overshadows the fact that he's a successful one.

In the end, it will be one of those four. My personal choice remains Kelly. He's won every place he's been, he knows and has recruited Michigan all his life, he's having success at a place a person many think will be the next Michigan coach (Mike DeBord) could not, and he has a perceived loyalty to MSU that boosters find appealing. In reality, he's a lot like Izzo - and that's what MSU is looking for in its football coach.

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11/20/2006

Izzo's troops looking good

I'm sure I'm not alone in saying this, but I was mighty impressed with Michigan State's performance in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. The Spartans got solid all-around performances from Drew Neitzel and Raymar Morgan, and big contributions from Drew Naymick, Maurice Joseph and Marquise Gray to beat No. 19 Texas yesterday at Madison Square Garden.

The Longhorns aren't a great team, but this was a great win for Michigan State. Texas has one of the best players in the country in freshman Kevin Durant, whose ball skills are amazing for someone 6-9, and fine complimentary pieces in guards A.J. Abrams and D.J. Augustin and forward Damion Jones.

For Michigan State, the victory signaled a return to the Izzo roots of team basketball with dog-nasty defense and rebounding force. MSU held Texas without a field goal for four minutes early in the second half and without a point for the final 2:48, and outboarded the more athletic Longhorns, 41-37.

Tonight, they've got another test tonight against Maryland, a super deep team that ran all over St. John's yesterday. If they win, they'll no doubt be ranked in the top 20 next week. I fingered MSU as a six seed before the season, but I never thought they'd look this good early. We'll see just how real they are tonight.

11/14/2006

The basketball diary

We're a week into the college basketball season and already it's upsets galore. No. 15 Arizona lost to Virginia in its season opener. Bradley beat a DePaul team many had pegged for the NCAA tournament - by 20. And on Monday, No. 14 Boston College fell to Vermont, and No. 17 Marquette needed overtime to beat Idaho State.

George Mason made it clear last March that the gap is closing between major-conference powers and all the rest, but the slew of early upsets this year is attributable to something else. This college basketball season tipped off two weeks earlier than in past years. That means less prep time for coaches and less mesh time for some of the game's top young talent.

"I'm really disappointed in how unfair I think that is," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "They better either not let us play that early or start letting us practice earlier cause that isn't fair. That's been hard on me and hard on them and in all honesty not fair to the players."

Izzo has been one of the more outspoken critics of the new, longer season, and his team - with four new starters and a starting lineup that features three sophomores and a freshman - is 3-0.

Eventually, things will balance out. Arizona is still a Final Four-caliber team, one whose two best players may be true freshman Chase Budinger and sophomore Marcus Williams. Boston College will learn to make do without Craig Smith. And Bradley will give a few more major-conference teams fits.

But the NCAA would be wise to listen to Izzo and other coaches, who are hamstrung by an outdated calendar that tried squeezing two exhibition games into three weeks of practice before last Friday's official start to the season.

11/09/2006

Mooch out; who's up next?

Steve Mariucci will not be your next Michigan State football coach, that according to MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo, who ruled out his good buddy late Wednesday night after the Spartans opened the hoops season with an ugly 45-34 win over Brown.

Mariucci, the former Lions coach, would have been a no-brainer had he wanted the job, but there were too many other things complicating matters. First, Mooch's wife reportedly wants to move back to the West coast. Second - and you won't hear him say this - but at 51, Mariucci's next job will be the most important one he ever takes and MSU is not the type of gig you want to gamble on. His reputation was tarnished by his failures with the Lions (though it's debatable exactly who's fault that was), and if he fails this time he might never get a head coaching gig again.

The Michigan State football job is not a bad job - you can do plenty worse at the Division I level - but it's not a plum either. It's tough to win in the Big Ten if you're not Michigan or Ohio State, and it's tough to recruit when those two schools and Notre Dame are as close as any to your campus.

The administration had to check out Mooch and Butch Davis, who apparently is on his way to North Carolina, to appease a fan base that's teetering on the brink of disinterest. Now, it's time they turn their attention to a more realistic half-dozen candidates that include in-state coaches Brian Kelly and Bill Cubit (who square off Friday), defensive coordinators Bo Pelini and John Tenuta, and NFL assistants Pat Shurmur and Todd Grantham. My gut tells me one of those six will get the job, though I believe Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English should garner strong consideration as well.

11/07/2006

Five Fearless Predictions - The basketball version

1. Michigan State will make its 10th straight NCAA tournament appearance - as a six seed. After watching the Spartans up close the last two days, in exhibition action Sunday and at practice Monday, I'm confident a healthy MSU team will top 20 wins this year. The Spartans are huge up front, and if Matt Trannon rejoins the team as expected - he's been invited to one postseason all-star football game, but basketball will be his best springboard to the NFL - MSU will have one of the most versatile and physical front lines around with six players 6-6 or taller: Trannon, Raymar Morgan, Goran Suton, Marquise Gray, Drew Naymick and Idong Ibok (a seventh, Tom Herzog, should be redshirted). The Spartans will win with defense and rebounding, things that play well in the knock-em-out Big Ten and for fiery coach Tom Izzo, but their eventual downfall will be a lack of perimeter scoring and penetration.

2. Michigan will extend its NCAA tournament drought to nine years. The Wolverines have serious questions at point guard. I don't trust Jerret Smith at the position, and Dion Harris would prefer to play off the ball. Still, with Harris, Lester Abram and Courtney and DeShawn Sims, Michigan should have enough scoring to get to the dance. So why won't happen? I'm predicting another late-season slide. Michigan plays eight regular-season games in February and March, two against Ohio State, Michigan State and Minnesota, and one against Indiana and Illinois. Minnesota is the only cupcake of the bunch, but a Feb. 24 trip to Williams Arena for Senior Day and what could be Gopher coach Dan Monson's last game will be tough to win. If the Wolverines don't steal one of their three big non-conference games (at North Carolina State and UCLA, home against Georgetown) I don't think they make the NCAAs.

3. Wisconsin will win the Big Ten, by two games over Ohio State, but the Buckeyes will represent the Big Ten in the Final Four. Wisconsin's always a tough tournament out because of its style of play, and both the Badgers (Chicago) and Buckeyes (Columbus) should have friendly first- and second-round sites. But Ohio State will be primed for a long March with freshman sensation Greg Oden set to re-join the team sometime late next month. Oden is a beast. He'll need some adjusting to get used to the Big Ten, but by missing all the preseason he'll avoid the freshman wall that most first-year players hit at some point. His one-and-done college career will end in Atlanta March 31.

4. UCLA, Kansas and North Carolina will join the Buckeyes in the Final Four. That's right, no Florida, no LSU, no Pitt, but no huge surprises either. I think UCLA forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is as solid a player as there is in the game, that's why I pick UCLA to win the Pac 10 and navigate through Spokane, Wash., and San Jose, Calif., tournament stops. North Carolina has a loaded freshman class and an All-American-caliber player in Tyler Hansbrough, and by the end of the year Kansas might have the game's best 1-2 punch in Brandon Rush and Julian Wright. If you're looking for a sleeper, look no further than Marquette and stud guard Dominic James.

5. So who wins it all? Ohio State (Oden) and North Carolina (Hansbrough and freshman Brandan Wright) each have lottery picks starting in their frontcourt, Kansas has some frontcourt issues with Sasha Kaun (knee) and C.J. Giles (suspension), so I'm going UCLA. The Bruins return to the Final Four, and this time Arron Afflalo and Co. get it done.

11/05/2006

Sunday walk-through: Paterno in pain

I feel bad for Joe Paterno. I really do. Watching the 79-year-old Penn State coach get rolled on the sideline of the Nittany Lions' 13-3 loss to Wisconsin Saturday was tough to stomach. You never want to see anyone injured in such a frightful manner, especially someone as frail as my grandmother.

But Paterno's injury - he has a fractured left leg - could be the impetus to open up Penn State's offense. If Paterno is forced to miss this week's game against Temple, something that remains possible as of this writing, and Penn State's assistants have more leeway with the offensive gameplan, we could finally see the Lions make full use of their talent.

Quarterback Anthony Morelli has been wildly inconsistent, but he's got a gun for an arm. Tony Hunt is a bull of a runner. And Derrick Williams is one of the most talented - and underutelized - players in the NCAA. Williams had 30catches heading into the weekend (and four more on Saturday). He should touch the ball at least 10 times a game on a combination of receptions, runs and reverses.

Punt, pass and kick
Punt; Indiana blew its best chance to make a bowl with Saturday's loss to Minnesota, a reminder of just how fragile 19- and 20-year-old football players are. The Hoosiers don';t have a chance this week against Michigan, but still can beat Purdue in their regular-season finale.

Pass: You say Michigan and Ohio State won close games against Ball State and Illinois, I say so what? Yeah, both teams were looking ahead to their Nov. 18 showdown, but they're both good enough to do so.

Kick: We'll step out of the Big Ten for a minute, because the biggest game around these parts is Friday when Central Michigan takes on Western Michigan. Winner gets a spot in the MAC title game and likely the Motor City Bowl. Huge game for both programs and both coaches, who have built their teams into contenders from the ground up.

11/02/2006

Good coach, bad situation

As rare as in-season firings are in college football, Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon made the bold and correct decision - and make no mistake, it was hers and hers alone - to fire John L. Smith Wednesday.

Smith is a good coach who, for a myriad of reasons, never got it done at MSU. He took the Spartans to a bowl game in his first season and won Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, but always seemed one game, one play, one player away from turning things around after that.

His quirky ways and Cowboy persona did little to curry favor among the big-money boosters that matter. And his team's struggles on the field against Louisiana Tech, Rutgers and most recently Indiana, not to mention Michigan and Ohio State (a combined 0-8), hastened his departure from a job that is as difficult as any in the country.

He'll never say it, but Smith has to regret leaving Louisville four years ago, right before the Cardinals joined the Big East and fell into BCS Championship game contention. He took over a program coming off a 1-10 season and won 41 games and made five bowl appearances in five years. The foundation he laid is the reason why Louisville is undefeated heading into tonight's game against West Virginia.

But Smith fit MSU like Cinderella's sister fit that slipper. And the more he jammed, the uglier things became. He was railed for innocently slapping himself (a jab at Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis) after losing to Illinois earlier this year, and his running feud with the local Lansing media embarrassed some power-wielding bigwigs in the MSU front office.

But the reality is, Smith was fired because his team lost too much — losing to Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State is excusable, losing to Indiana and Illinois is not — and by acting now the Spartans hope to have their pick of what could be a tight coaching market. Former University of Miami and Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis is the No. 1 target, but Davis will have his choice of college jobs if he's patient. Already North Carolina is interested, and positions at Arizona State, Alabama and the wild card Miami could open up.

Smith did the stand-up thing and met with the media briefly Wednesday. I called him this morning but have not yet heard back. The reality of the situation is Smith is a good man and a good coach who got caught in a bad situation. Whoever follows in his footsteps will have his work cut out as well.