As I sit at my desk recuperating from an infection and watching Stranger Things for the 28th time (I know, ridiculous right?), I have a few thoughts about that college football game this past Monday night, the Kentucky Wildcats' performance against Texas A&M, and a few other odds and ends. So let’s hit it wide open, shall we?
First off, I was very happy watching the Georgia/Alabama national championship game. I thought both teams played well without question. Big plays, missed opportunities, drama out the ear, it really was great.
But the biggest thing I saw in that game was the coaching. Is it a coincidence that 1) Kirby Smart comes from the Nick Saban coaching tree and 2) Saban may have pulled the gutsiest call ever by inserting Tua (not going to try to spell his last name for total respect) over Jalen Hurts at QB?
The first answer is no. It was awesome to see two great coaches staring at each other and looking in the mirror at the same time. Think about it. Nick Saban’s staff in the last couple of years has produced head coaches for Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin), Georgia (Smart), Florida (Jim McElwain), and most recently Tennessee (Jeremy Pruitt). Wow.
The second answer is yes and no. Yes because Saban had the guts to pull the current SEC player of the year and winner of 25 games in Hurts for a freshman signal caller in Tua. No question that was a gigantic gamble. But Saban rolled seven and came up a winner. Again.
But I kind of think the answer has a little no mixed in yes. Here’s why. Saban is a coaching legend in Alabama. Four national championships in eight seasons. Needless to say, Saban has a little cushion to play with. If Tua comes out and struggles, Saban has Hurts right beside him ready to go. So it was a gamble but a somewhat safe gamble.
While I’m here, let me say this: Jalen Hurts deserves the chance from this point to the start of next season to remain the starting QB in Tuscaloosa. The kid has taken the team to this point. He’s a great leader and teammate. Yes, Tua played magnificently in the second half and led the Tide to the promised land. But both guys deserve the chance to win the job. Just a thought.
Let’s flip over to the Cats' performance Tuesday night against the Aggies. It was a hard-fought 75-74 win. I was very impressed with how the Cats handled adversity and found a way to win. But again, I was impressed with the coaching on both benches.
First off, I am a tremendous fan of current Aggie coach Billy Kennedy. I can tell you he is a gentleman and a basketball mind. When I was just getting started as a coach, I met him at a basketball coaches conference. He had just completed a presentation on zone press breakers.
We bumped into each other afterwards and I shook his hand and told him I really learned a lot from him. Coach Kennedy says to email him and he would send me some stuff. So I did and that day I got everything he had in the playbook on zone presses and zone breakers. He didn’t have to do that for me. I’ll never forget that.
Secondly, I thought coach Calipari did a masterful job holding things together when it seemed like A&M could ice the game. Cal had the best quote when he looks at his kids in the huddle and tells them they have to grow up and compete. No X and O, no special play. Time to grow up and compete. Everybody needs to hear that sometime.
So a couple of tidbits to close it out.
First, Watch Pruitt and Tennessee football. I’m not a Vol fan, but this might be the coach to resurrect the program from mediocrity. New AD Phil Fulmer brought Pruitt in to restore toughness and discipline to the Vols. No champions of life, no brick by brick, and no five-star hearts. Just hard work. I respect that.
Next, we tell our kids, our players and most anyone that there are times in their lives who have to adjust and be tougher. Someone needs to break this to some NBA players and their displeasure with the referees. The league is having a meeting with the two to “settle their differences.” Really? That’s ridiculous. $100 million players mad about how games are called. To quote my good friend, Gary Greer Jr., "Stop it.”
Last but not least, I want to say that showing class, being nice, and doing the right things cost nothing and gain everything. Just throwing that out there.
Shane Shackleford is a contributing columnist for KySportsStyle.com Magazine, A Sea of Blue, the Harlan Daily Enterprise, and the Middlesboro Daily News. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.