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3 posts from April 2010

April 27, 2010

A good deal for everyone -- except maybe UNI

Who would have thought a decision at the University of Oregon could have such ramifications in Iowa -- and at Iowa State in particular?

Oregon hires Creighton's Dana Altman as its basketball coach and the ink's not even dry on his contract when Creighton AD Bruce Rasmussen swoops in and grabs Iowa State coach Greg McDermott to replace Altman. Thanks to Oregon's move, Iowa State and McDermott both benefit.

McDermott, good guy that he is, was going to be a lame duck coach with the Cyclones if he stuck around for another season. With what little they have coming back, they were looking at potentially their worst season ever under McDermott and AD Jamie Pollard would have had to fire him -- and pay a huge buyout.

Now, Iowa State receives $800,000 because Creighton has to buy out McDermott's contract and the school can start fresh with a new coach. If you're going to struggle, it's better to do so with a new guy who can't be blamed for what he inherits as opposed to losing again under the old regime. Maybe Pollard can pull somebody out of his hat to get folks excited about basketball, the way he did with football coach Paul Rhoads.

As for McDermott, he gets a good job that will pay him a lot of money. It's unlikely he would have gotten such an opportunity if he had stayed at ISU and then been fired. Plus, I think -- as do most others -- that McDermott will be more comfortable back in the Missouri Valley Conference, where he had success at Northern Iowa before moving to Iowa State.

In the Big 12, you need to recruit elite athletes to win and they bring elite egos, not to mention "advisers" and other hangers-on. In the Missouri Vallley, you get kids who've been told they're a half-step too slow or a couple of inches too short for the big time. They've got something to prove. They work hard and take to coaching. They go to class and they stay four years, enabling a team to develop some great chemistry. It always helps to have athletic ability, but Valley coaches can win with execution and discipline and that plays to McDermott's strengths.

The other part of this story is McDermott's son, Doug, who helped Ames High School win the last two Class 4A state championships and signed with Northern Iowa. Greg McDermott says Doug now will play for him at Creighton, though UNI's AD, Troy Dannen, has to sign off on that before it can happen.

It's kind of awkward, really. Greg McDermott and UNI coach Ben Jacobson are close friends. They'll face each other in the MVC two times a year for sure and three if they'd happen to meet in the conference tournament. Then you'd have Jacobson watching the best player in his recruiting class suiting up for the other guy. 

What's puzzling to me is why Greg McDermott didn't recruit his son to play for the Cyclones. Was he afraid of being criticized for bringing in a player that some might think wasn't good enough? Heck, the kid's a good player. He would have helped the Cyclones. At the state tournament last month, I was talking with Chuck Reed, a longtime friend who does color commentary on the telecasts of the tourney games. We figured that Doug McDermott would play at least 20 minutes a game at Northern Iowa, but joked that if he went to Iowa State he'd be good enough to play 40.

Joking aside, the onus is on Pollard to strike gold with a new coach. Iowa State fans have been a patient lot through the years. Eventually, they have a right to see their patience rewarded with some victories and NCAA tournament appearances.


April 06, 2010

What if Hayward's heave had gone in?

When it comes to basketball strategy, I have no standing to question Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K has won a few more games than I have – 868 at last count – and he owns a couple of more national championships than I can claim. OK, four more, if you insist.


But what the heck, I’m going to second guess him anyway.


With 3.6 seconds left in Monday night’s title game, Duke’s Brian Zoubek goes to the free throw line, his team clinging to a 60-59 lead over gritty Butler, which over the course of the NCAA tournament has become America’s team.

Zoubek is not a great free throw shooting. But he makes the first one and looks good doing it. No reason to think he can't make the second and give the Blue Devils a three-point lead. But Krzyzewski -- who later conceded it was a gamble -- has Zoubek miss the second shot intentionally, leaving Duke ahead by just two points.


Now, I understand the rationale. If  Butler gets the rebound, which happened, the Bulldogs would be in scramble mode to get a shot. They had no timeouts and would have to improvise – and do it quickly. If Zoubek makes the second shot, then Butler gets the ball out of bounds with a chance to throw it into the forecourt and possibly get a decent shot. That’s what Coach K wanted to avoid.


Still, if I'm coaching I’d feel a whole lot better with a three-point lead. What if Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave had gone in? Duke would have lost and, with all due respect to Bobby Plump, Indiana

would have a new Hoosier Hero. It would have gone down, quite possibly, as the greatest shot ever.

With a three-point lead, the best Butler could have done is tie it – unless Duke would have done something as incredibly foolish as fouling a 3-point shooter. That, however, would have been unlikely because this was a smart bunch of Blue Devils. Plus, they could have fouled before Butler even tried a 3-pointer, putting the Bulldogs on the line with just a second or two remaining and little hope of tying or winning.

It worked out for Coach K and his team – but boy, did Hayward come close to making that shot. Can you imagine the scene if it had fallen?

As it was, the game played out as the perfect ending to a great tournament. The matchup was so compelling that Pam, who’s not a big basketball fan and is battling a cold, pulled herself out of bed to come down to watch. She even managed to utter, “Come on little Butler” a time or two in her scratchy, cough-wracked voice.

So the Blue Devils can celebrate their victory and the Bulldogs can celebrate the experience and how they did themselves proud by standing up to some of the biggest names in college basketball and almost pulling it off.

You can’t ask for more than that from a championship game.

April 05, 2010

Word Watching 101

What business buzzwords and phrases make you crazy when you see them in print or hear them in meetings, conversations with sales folks, or even from the podium? Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs, had so many that she listed them for two days on Open Forum. They make us "sound like tools," says Handley of words that have morphed into something ugly, overused and annoying. Here are some she'd like to ban from marketing, sales, corporate communications, business schools, blogs and boardrooms:

1. Impactful - What ever happened to influential, powerful or substantial?

2. Leverage - Depending on the intended meaning, try influence, exploit, enhance, rely on or use.

3. Learnings - What's wrong with lessons? Will we next be putting an "s" on knowledge?

4. Synergy (or synergistic, synergism, synergize) - Cooperation, help, joint/pooled/combined effort are simple substitutes.

5. Revolutionary - Few things qualify for this overused word. Handley would reserve it for "an escalator to the moon."

6. Proactive - Try active, anticipate, forestall or foresee. Handley finds the word too pompous, as if you're reacting to issues even before they occur.

7. Incenting/incentivizing - Use encourage or provide incentive.

8. Almost any word ending in "ize" (productize, monetize, budgetize, optimize, operationalize) - Handley urges us to use a word that don't "sound like it was first uttered by the robot on Lost in Space."

Handley shared a few other things that irritate her:

* Businesses that use "solution" to describe a new product or service they can't otherwise explain

* Technology words applied to humans (ex: "I'm offline" for "not working" or "bandwidth" to mean "capacity")

* Harmless words that are mashed together (buy-in, mission-critical, value-add, push-back)

* Silly phrases that have become corporate-speak (Run it up the flagpole. When the rubber meets the road. Peel the onion. Touch base.)

* Phrases routed in unfortunate, regrettable events in history (because they're just bad taste), such as "brand Nazi" or "drinking the Kool-Aid" as applied to accepting ideas or concepts.

Some of us write for our livelihood, but ALL of us converse. It's worth paying attention to what clearly communicates and what words we use when we think we're adding energy and punch to our message.