Don't forget the Friday mailbag — there are still some open spots available. Let's get to work.
Live from the "Mama McNabb stage at the Al Davis studios," here we go:
Southern California head coach Lane Kiffin, right, gives instructions to wide receiver Kyle Prater during the second half of their NCAA college football game against Syracuse, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in Los Angeles. USC won 38-17. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Graham sets new standard
All of the sketchy coaching departures are now fighting for second-worst. All of the cheesy non-denial denials that seem Shakespearean compared to the out-and-out lies coaches and administrators have spewed for various reasons during coaches searches seem forthright in comparison. All the sleazy, sneaky, hypocritical exits until this day would have been called a "Kiffin," now they could be called a "Graham," as in Todd Graham, the new Arizona State football coach who left Pittsburgh on Wednesday after one season that included a 6-6 record and a river of lies.
This guy makes Jim Tressel seem reliable and Bruce Pearl look like baby-sitting material. Who's going to be this guy's recruiting coordinator, Nevin Shapiro?
And the feedback — from the Pittsburgh side and in part from the Arizona State side — has been quick and relentless.
One of PIttsburgh's best players, receiver Devin Street, pulled no punches on social media, tweeting about being lied to and how Graham told the team he was at Pittsburgh to stay. "No class, he’s a quitter, soft, liar, hypocrite," Street tweeted.
Granted, part of this is the business of college sports. Coaches are hired to be fired, and coaches are always looking for the next opportunity. That's a simple truth.
But for Graham, who was 6-6 in his only season at Pitt, this has become a pattern. He left Rice after one season before going to Tulsa five years ago, but now he stands up at ASU — his fourth school in six years — at a news conference and says, "It was very quick and very rapid, and I had no intention of (taking) any other job. It was very, very heart-wrenching ... but this is a dream situation for us."
OK, that's possible and it's play No. 1 in the new coach handbook, "Oh the last place, we didn't expect to leave and it was great but this place is a dream, blah, blah, blah." But last weekend Graham told recruits and players he was not going anywhere, including ASU, which has been looking for a coach for several weeks. It has been reported that Graham sought out the Arizona State job, not the other way around. It also has been reported that Graham asked Pitt administrators for permission to talk to ASU, and that request was denied. Heck, Graham spoke Tuesday at the "Coaches Corner" banquet in Pittsburgh, selling the program and talking about the future. Roughly 24 hours later, that future was 2,500 miles West.
Plus, Graham had the class and dignity to inform his team with a statement through a text message that was relayed through a second party. Even Bobby Petrino, who left the Atlanta Falcons in the middle of the night with a note to the players on the locker room wall, would think that was cowardly.
You stay CLASSY, Todd.
Tennessee forward Jordan McRae (52) is stuffed by Austin Peay forward Melvin Baker, rear, as guard Jerome Clyburn (1) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011.Photo by (AP Photo by Adam Brimer/Knoxville News Sentinel)
UT Vols fall in Charleston
Cuonzo Martin's team is under-talented. Yes, we made up that word, but it seems to fit.
The Vols are under-talented, and it's not as bad as under-achieving or nowhere near as troubling under-trying. These Vols, who lost at College of Charleston 71-65 Wednesday night, simply do not have the horses. The Vols' talent level forces Martin to take a knife to a gun fight almost on a regular basis, including Wednesday, when College of Charleston was every bit the Vols equal in talent. (That at least bodes well for the UTC Mocs, who took that same CoC team to double-OT before losing earlier this month. UTC plays at Knoxville on Jan. 2.)
If you don't believe it or refuse to believe that the Vols have talent that would make them the SoCon favorite, well, know that Skylar McBee and his Camaro-esque 'Stache were prominently involved in crunch-time minutes Wednesday.
We've been impressed with Martin's style and approach — these Vols play harder than any UT team since Bruce Pearl's second season — they just don't have the horses. Which brings us to this question for Martin and Co.: When you don't have an offensive star, why is the phrase "premature shot selection," the best way to describe your plan of attack. Hey, even Norman Dale punted the "four passes before a shot approach" when Jimmy Chitwood joined the Huskers because when you have a star you feed him the ball. These Vols do not have an offensive star — if you think Jordan McRae counts, then you need to skip to the next item, or we'd like to thank you for reading, Jordan McRae's mom — so maybe an extra pass or two could lead to an open shot. Just a thought.
A Atlanta Falcons fan watches the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons second half of a NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
HUGE game in the A-T-L
There's no way to overstate tonight's NFL tackle football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Jacksonville Jaguars for the home-standing Falcons.
At 8-5, the Falcons and Detroit currently hold the wildcard spots — one game ahead of Chicago, Dallas and New York — with three games left. Seattle and Arizona are two game off the pace at 6-7.
For the Falcons, tonight's game against the 4-9 Jags is the easiest of the final three. Atlanta goes to New Orleans on Dec. 26 and welcomes Tampa Bay on New Year's Day. This is a "gotta-have" game for the Falcons, who have pushed their chips in for right now.
Atlanta traded next year's first-round pick for Julio Jones — a move that signified this team's desire to make a Super Bowl charge sooner rather than later. The 5-at-10 backed that move then, and we back it now, but missing the playoffs was not part of the equation.
And remember, the Packers won the Super Bowl as the No. 6 seed last year, so all these Falcons have to do is find a way into the playoffs. And that starts tonight.
This and that
— Reports out of Indy say Peyton Manning is doing more throwing as part of his rehab from the neck surgeries that have cost him all of the 2011 season so far. He has been throwing a football, now he's throwing more. There has been no word as to when Manning will return to practice as a participant.
— South Carolina released its self-imposed penalties after the NCAA found major violations in the Gamecocks football program that included players getting $55,000 in benefits in hotel rooms and a shady relationship with some USC boosters that run a Delaware-based mentoring group. South Carolina has proposed a fine of $18,500 and will eliminate six football scholarships over the next three years, which may appease today's NCAA. The lesson here is two-fold: One it appears that South Carolina was truthful in its dealings with the NCAA, and we all know the importance of that; Secondly, from the timing is everything file, if this stuff with the Gamecocks had come before the NCAA three years ago — before Tressel and the Miami scandal and the evil at Penn State — there would be outcries of cover-up and corruption and conspiracy. Today, the charges against USC seem rather pedestrian, which in the grand scheme of things, they are.
— The 5-at-10 is finishing up our Winners/Losers Bowl-a-palooza. Check back around 2 p.m. for complete details.
The 5-at-10 loves, Loves, LOVES Christmas. Always has and always will. You know this.
This week our questions have been/will be about Christmas and sports. Monday was passive/aggressive Christmas cards, and there were some great ones (to Nick Fairley, to Lane Kiffin, even to Al Davis — well-played indeed). Tuesday was the best sports-related Christmas gifts (kudos to chas9 and Co. for a great round of comments). Wednesday was pleas to Sports Santa (golf clubs were requested, better golf swings likely are needed).
Today, we going more sentimental than sports. Best Christmas song.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...