Mark Wiedmer: Long's day kind of lost in long day

Mark Wiedmer: Long's day kind of lost in long day

May 21st, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Wes Long joins the Mocs basketball staff. Long comes from Queens University of Charlotte where he was head coach the last five seasons.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

At 2:14 Monday afternoon I left McKenzie Arena after interviewing new University of Tennessee at Chattanooga assistant basketball coach Wes Long.

On the way home I stopped by the grocery for a few dinner items, began thinking about how best to fit Long's pet Labradors Hootie and Trap into my column and considered pulling a few weeds while my backyard soil remained somewhere between the consistency of chili and cheesecake.

It was shaping up to be a pretty nice workday afternoon. At least until I turned on the Weather Channel a little after 4 p.m. EDT.

That's when a live video of a massive, horrific tornado fueled by 200-mph winds was shown roaring through Moore, Okla. Suddenly the fact that new Mocs head coach Will Wade drinks only water, lemonade and sweet tea despite sleeping no more than five or six hours a night seemed far less important.

So, too, the fact that the 32-year-old Long left his head coaching job at Division II Queens University of Charlotte (N.C.) to join the 30-year-old Wade because "this is a guy who's a rising star."

Over time, both former Clemson assistants, retained UTC aide and former Mocs player Casey Long (no relation to Wes) and a couple of coaches to be named later no doubt will raise the program's star back to its 1990s decade of dominance, when it reached the NCAA tournament four times and the Sweet 16 once.

Nor should anyone wonder if the entire staff is going to be made up of coaches with four-letter last names.

Asked Monday if that trend will end with his next hire, Wade smiled and said, "Yes. And we hope to announce that hire by the end of the week."

But for much of the rest of this week, most of the nation likely will focus on the chaos, devastation and loss of life in Moore rather than the Chaos defense Wade intends to run with the Mocs.

It's another sobering reminder of how so many words we carelessly toss around in sports -- gladiator, war, hero, courage -- have much different and far more dramatic meanings in the real world.

Want a real hero? An elementary school teacher in Moore fell across six students to protect them from falling debris. Fortunately, both the teacher and her students survived.

This isn't to say sports isn't important, maybe never more so than at a time such as this, when we all need a break from life's grizzly tragedies.

A quote to continue the honeymoon all Moc Maniacs are experiencing with these coaching hires? When Wes Long initially encountered the younger Wade during their Clemson days, he said, "My first thought was, 'This guy thinks he knows everything.' Now I'm not sure he doesn't."

But as Monday afternoon raced toward Monday night, the images of Moore filling our television screens, what we began to think we'd soon know was heartbreaking.

Especially for parents like me, whose older daughter is in the third grade, the same age as the children who were trapped inside Plaza Towers Elementary when the walls caved in.

This could have been any of us. Heck, it was our community two years ago, along with Tuscaloosa and Joplin, the total destruction still difficult to accept, the memories still generating tears and fears for those most profoundly affected.

Deny global warning if you like, but add hurricanes Katrina and Sandy to this witches' brew and something's undeniably changing with our weather and it isn't good.

As he walked from flattened home to flattened home Monday evening, the Weather Channel's Mike Bettis recalled the 1999 tornado that previously devastated the Moore community and said, "When Moore is hit for the second time in 14 years, it makes you really question what's going on in the world today."

More troubling, it makes you really fear what world our children are going to inherit tomorrow.