Trainer Bob Baffert checks his stopwatch while watching workouts at Churchill Downs Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

First-year focus

A writer offered an interesting idea for an offseason column, rattling off the realistic goals for the four first-year SEC football coaches.

Great idea; OK-at-best conclusions.

His assessments were rather coach-speakish: Bryan Harsin to have Auburn competing in every game; UT and Josh Heupel to make a bowl; South Carolina to find an identity; Vandy to focus on defense.

So, let's peel back a little of the coating from that assessment.

For Harsin in his first year after the blah-tastic final stop for the Gus Bus, competing in every game is of course expected. Moreover, the goal should be MJHFA — Make Jordan-Hare Fun Again.

For far too many seasons under Malzahn, especially in the end, Auburn football felt like an obligation for far too many of us. We knew there eight wins out there with one that shows this team could be something more. We knew there were four-plus losses out there with one being inexplicable, either in the margin or in the miscues.

But making Jordan-Hare hop is two-fold. One the fan base aches for joy. Trust me. And that rocking doesn't have to be offensive fireworks or trick plays. Just toughness, and the ability to allow the fan base to expect positive results more than fearing the worst.

Second, Jordan-Hare has to be hopping because the biggest goal for Harsin and Co. in year 1 is finding a way to get back into the game with the elite players in the Southeast. Not an easy task for sure, but one made easier if those seven or eight home Saturday dates are a party rather than a procession.

For Heupel, I believe he has the hardest and the easiest first-year goal, and it has little to do with whether UT gets to Memphis or Birmingham for a mid-December date with a MAC or AAC foe with a 7-6 or 6-7 record hanging on the outcome.

The toughest part is Heupel has to earn the fan base's trust after more than a decade of dysfunction. This is a minefield from the opening kickoff and the first misstep is going to cause a fair percentage of a fan base dying to believe again to throw their hands in the air and say, "Here we go again."

Heupel is the guy coming off the bench with the bases loaded and two outs in a must-win game. Worse still, Heupel is coming to the plate after the No. 4 hitter pulled a quad down 0-2 in the count.

The good news? The ever-loyal, ever-passionate and ever-Orange UT fan base is dying for him to succeed. In that sense the schedule is tailor-made for a quick start, and you have to believe that after the world's worst first-impression that his predecessor floated out there against Georgia State in 2018 is top of mind for the opener against Bowling Green. After that, UT gets Pittsburgh and Tennessee Tech before a trip to Florida.

Hey, I'm not saying Ticketmaster needs to print a slate of Vols duckets for Atlanta come December by any means. But a 3-0 start is doable. And paramount for Heupel and a fan base wanting to find a way to trust the man wearing the headset on Saturdays.

For South Carolina, Shane Beamer's goal is simple. Sure Steve Spurrier found an identity at South Carolina, but that gameplay was forged by keeping homegrown talent at the state university. Again, that's easier said than done because, a) recruiting wars across the South are fought not only by in-state competitors, but rather, by every power player everywhere, and b) Clemson is rolling.

Which leads to a specific goal, and one that serves any new coach coming into a similar situation well in Year 1. Go fight Clemson tooth-and-nail. Not saying you have to win the game, but give the top-three Tigers everything they can handle, and folks will notice.

Case in point: You could make a hard argument in the flash-fire, peaks-and-valleys tenure of Gene Chizik, the most-beloved level The Chiz reached right behind hosting the crystal ball of a national title, was the 2009 Iron Bowl in Auburn when an overmatched Tigers team scared the houndstooth out of Alabama. (And in some ways, Malzahn and Cam Newton always got more credit for the Natty, so maybe that was the pinnacle of praise for The Chiz on the Plains.)

As for Vandy, Clark Lea needs to capitalize on UT's struggles. Plain and simple. Find a way to stay even with the ever-improving in-state struggles, and there may be only a few jobs out there that beating your rival offers more in terms of approval rating than Vandy beating the Vols.



Turnabout is fair play

OK, among the oft-discussed matters around these parts, there are a few.

There are my athletic man crushes. Tiger. Acuña. Shohei, who let me down drastically last night. LeBron, when he's healthy and not saying that China is cool and he and the morality mob are coming after white cops before knowing the facts.

There are the back-and-forths about policy and politics that some like and others skip.

There is the news of the weird, of course, and a fair mixture of gambling chatter.

There also quite often the conversations of race in general and cancel culture in particular.

And while those topics frequently intersect, they share a couple all-important overlap that we must forever remember.

First, both racism and the cancel culture exist. I don't think anyone can debate that to be honest, and of course racism is way worse, but neither is good.

Second, and more importantly, when the faux claims of either are made, it devalues the noble fight against both plagues on our society.

For instance, Bob Baffert claiming that the 'cancel culture' came calling because his horse tested positive for some sort of banned substance after his fun and surprising and historic Kentucky Derby win would be downright laughable if it wasn't so absurdly misguided.

Here's the thing — not unlike hollow claims of racism — when folks make monster missteps or blame every bad thing that happens on the perceptions and accusations of what in this case is consequence culture rather than cancel culture, it continues to fuel the fire of the "See, there's no such thing as cancel culture, it's just a myth."

It's almost as ridiculous as folks saying the NFL is racist because Tim Tebow got another shot in the league while Colin Kaepernick is still without a call.

That's apples to pineapples friends, unless Kaepernick has been offered a chance to put his hand in the dirt and play tight end, like Tebow has with Jacksonville. If he has, or better yet, as told teams he would be interested in that, then you have a point.

And this comes from a person that has admitted multiple times through the years that Kaepernick has been shunned by the league — and some would say cancelled — considering some of the names and talent-levels of the dudes holding clipboards around the NFL.

But the Tebow to TE and Kaepernick not getting called is a hollow comparative that devalues the real claims.


This and that

— This news made me sad. Kenny Mayne is leaving ESPN as a self-described "Salary-cap casualty" and the four-letter network extended the contract of Chris Berman. Oy vey. Mayne is legit funny. Berman is a caricature.

— Here's today's A2 conversation about the dire needs Blood Assurance has to replenish its stock as we start to head toward a summer season that is looking more and more like a return to normal. 

— Interesting back-and-forth about the jobs situation in America. The extension of the unemployment benefits have left a lot of questions, because a) the most recent jobs report showed a fraction of the expected new jobs as we start to come out of the pandemic, and b) there are a lot of places, including Chattanooga, that have an overflow of jobs and a shortage of workers in a lot of industries. So, as a growing number of states are rightly backing away from the Federal stipend to reward people for not working, President Biden said Monday that "If you're receiving unemployment benefits and you're offered a suitable job, you can't refuse that job and just keep getting unemployment benefits." Good. But, with the Devil in the details comes a question of if raising unemployment benefits is an end-around to raising matching hourly wages? Side note: Yes, I think hourly wages should be increased, but not to $15 since you would have to consider a slew of factors depending on jobs, an area's cost of living, and more. Side note, II: It's time for the added unemployment benefits to be cut, in my opinion. And I would not be surprised if Gov. Bill Lee does not make Tennessee the next state to join the list of those refusing the federal funds that pay people to stay unemployed.

— Speaking of the cancel culture, did you see that the Golden Globes are now in the crosshairs? Tom Cruise is returning his statue and NBC is refusing to air next year's broadcast because there is not enough diversity on the board. The funny part of this is not the demand for diversity — diversity is a good thing — it's the placement and importance of that demand in the eyes of folks in positions of power. Because, according to this long and well-researched investigative piece before this year's Golden Globes, the ceremony and the Hollywood Foreign Press have a long-running history of corruption and controversy, including IRS issues, accusations of bribery and charges of unethical practices. But that was fine. Now not having enough Black members on the board? That's unacceptable.

— Hmmmmmmm. OK, here's the story about the growing tug-o-war at Montague Park between the Chattanooga FC Foundation, which wants to convert 13 acres into soccer fields with a multi-million makeover, and the Sculpture Fields, which occupy 33 acres of the park already and what the tract to expand. First, interesting stuff that TFP BID-ness ace Mike Pare has on the issue. Second, I am all for as many parks — especially parks and facilities that can host youth sporting tournaments, because friends, if you are involved in that realm it is a cash cow for the facility and the surrounding area — as possible. That said, not sure how good a look it is for our new mayor that the first public hubbub involves some quick-twitch dealings with the Chattanooga FC — which Tim Kelly was a co-founder of before stepping down when he was elected mayor — no matter how much CFC Foundation organizers emphasize there is a "firewall" between the CFC and the Foundation.    

— You know the rules. Here's Paschall on a new UT defensive tackle transfer. Side note: Considering how much movement the Vols have made on the free agency wire (aka transfer portal), man program sales are going to skyrocket in September. Who are all these dudes?

— Wow, so California Governor Gavin Newsom is taking a page from the national Democrat playbook. Faced with a recall election because of the massive downward spiral California is in amid the economy, the pandemic and everything else, Newsom announced he will give away $100 billion in stimulus money to Californians. Hey, we have debated the merits of the stimulus more than once, and there are folks who need help. But the timing of this screams of vote buying plain and simple, and if you read the fine print, more than a quarter of that is coming from the Democrat-controlled Federal government. Hmmmmmmmm.

— Normally the tennis details are the realm of Paschall and Weeds, but it's impossible not to notice that for the first time in the history of the ATP world rankings, there was not an American man in the top 30. We've never been any good at men's soccer globally, but at one time we were the boss sauce in men's tennis.

— Wow this got wordy. But one more: Russell Westbrook now owns the career triple-double record, and gang, it's safe to say that what Russ-diculous has done in the last several years has toppled some all-time marks that many of thought would never be broken, including passing The Big O with 182 triple-doubles. (Side note: Yes, Mader, Russ' record came in a loss to those pesky and red-hot Hawks.)


Today's question

True or false, it's Tuesday. (Morning Ern.)

True or false, Josh Heupel has the toughest job of any of the first-year SEC coaches.

True or false, there has never been a professional athlete get more ink and do less than Tim Tebow.

True or false, if the Golden Globes ratings were up 60% rather than down 60%, NBC would have found a way to air the event come next winter.

True or false, Bob Baffert sounds like a whiny baby and his cancel culture claim is a crock of horse(bleep).

True or false, Cancel Culture would be a great name for Bob Baffert's next horse in the Kentucky Derby.

You know the drill, answer some T or Fs, leave some T or Fs.

As for today, May 11, well, let's review.

Cam Newton is 32 today. God bless you Cam, and thanks. Signed, Auburn fans everywhere.

Monty Python comedy troupe formed on this day 52 years ago.

On this day in 1977, Ted Turner managed a game for his Atlanta Braves.

It's also national ego day. Rushmore of sports star's with the biggest egos. Go.