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primal defense

Sam Ehlinger and the money generated at UT

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I'm OK with Sam's approach to this. He states his position in an inflammatory manner to encourage change where he sees inequity while recognizing what the organization provides for him.

I doubt there has ever been or ever will be anyone who challenges the status quo that isn't told to stop rocking the boat. 

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How Recruiting's Two Media Giants Built an Entire Corner of the Internet Around Hope

 

At the turn of the century, sports on the Internet were a novelty. Games were broadcast exclusively on television. Newspapers were the most reliable source of written content about a fan’s favorite team, and their websites were still rudimentary at best. For a time so relatively recent, it can seem like another world of sports media consumption, and it would have been impossible back then to imagine what sports on the Internet would look like today, each with its own weird and expansive online community.

NBA Twitter has vaulted clever civilians with hoops takes to cultural relevance. NFL fans supplement an oppressive amount of traditional media coverage with their own world of advanced stats and in-depth tape breakdowns. Baseball fans are grappling with a mind-boggling quantity of play-tracking data. Within this collection of digital fiefdoms, college sports—college football, in particular—thrive on hyper-local sites, which host vibrant message boards populated by diehards who shell out monthly fees for access to exclusive nuggets of information.

Almost all of those sites are housed under one of two networks: Rivals and 247Sports, which together offer 366 school-specific sites (plus more general sub-sites and regional high school sites) that cover college football to varying degrees. The dueling empires can feel like an alternate universe from the newspapers, magazines and general sports sites where casual supporters can get all the news they need.

Meanwhile, Rivals and 247 have redefined the concept of “need” to their subscribers, providing them exhaustive recruiting coverage, which is the sites’ main draw. The constant demand by subscribers—these are fans who are looking forward to next year’s signing day during this year’s spring practice—compels the sites to report even more heavily on high school prospects, which sets the expectation for even more granular newsbreaks, which pushes the cycle onward and opens the door for the type of weirdness that holds crossover appeal. In 2015, Rivals started tracking players in the sixth grade. Last month, its rating of a fake recruit set off a domino effect by which the recruit wound up in 247’s composite rankings and set off sniping on all sides.

 

But the story of these networks and their individual sites goes far beyond those flash points. Rivals and 247 have become a critical artery through which a large chunk of fans get some or all of their college football news. Their collective vise grip on the world of recruiting and dedication to relaying the smallest bits of info have helped them amass hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

Plus, both outlets make money—though that wasn’t always the case. The idea for team-specific, recruiting-heavy sites was born more than 20 years ago, before there was money to be made on the Internet, or at least before there was a model for such a thing. Since then, the sites’ key revenue stream has evolved from ad dollars to subscribers to a hybrid, and parent companies have been hatched and bought, filed for bankruptcy and sold. There have been years of stability and even more years of uncertainty. Kim Grinolds, co-founder of Dawgman.com, the successful University of Washington site that launched in 1997 and is now under the 247 umbrella, puts it plainly: “We should have died two or three times.”

But somehow, these sites have persisted. No matter what pressures the parent networks and their corporate overlords are facing, fans need their fix of recruiting news and message-board banter in good times and in bad. It’s an online environment unique to college sports, which are intrinsically rooted in an element that many of the writers and publishers of these subscription sites say is the driver of the whole business: hope.

Distill this whole thing down, and that’s what you’re left with. To cover a recruiting cycle or a coaching search is to cover hope—and those are the two biggest drivers of traffic for most sites in the Rivals and 247 networks. Games are great, but college football delivers the fewest of any major sport, which leaves a ton of time to fill. “Most teams are guaranteed 12 games,” says J.C. Shurburtt, who first joined Rivals as a recruiting analyst in 2004 and now owns and edits the South Carolina 247 site after serving as 247’s national recruiting director from 2010 to ’15. “Some play 13, 14, 15. So that leaves 350 to 353 days out of the year to be passionate about your team. Most of the focus during that time is on roster personnel, what’s going to happen in the future and then, in a lot of cases, hope.

 

“College football teams, they don’t play exhibitions. They don’t do scrimmages. They ... play very few games. I think, what are you going to do for the rest of your time? We’ve kind of solved that. That’s the thing.”


U.S. Army All-American Game

Showcases like the U.S. Army All-American Bowl expose top prospects to a national audience, but by that point diehards already know plenty about them from recruiting sites that track their every move.

John Albright/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

The model for Rivals, the original college sports subscription network, was created amid crisis. Jim Heckman's marriage to the daughter of legendary Washington coach Don James went up in flames right around the time his business, Sports Washington magazine, collapsed. Having married into Husky football royalty, Heckman had been making a solid living with the magazine and other ventures, including a 900 number he set up to provide recruiting information to callers. He was riding that wave of success in 1992 when accusations began to roll in that he had paid recruits and players and influenced their decision-making. (Heckman told reporters at the time that he had made a small donation to the program in order to secure season tickets.) Heckman denied any boosterism and maintained that he’d simply been providing advice when he told players the reasons they should sign with his father-in-law’s program. The Pac-10 didn’t buy it; the conference leaned on Washington, and the school banned Heckman and several others from contact with the athletics department until 1996.

His business upended, Heckman retreated—sort of. By the mid-1990s, a burgeoning interest in recruiting had taken hold on the servers of AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy. Fans could dial up and access information about the teenagers their favorite teams were targeting, though there wasn’t much money in it for the information brokers. Other enterprising fans, like Grinolds, were launching sites of their own, on servers that proved ill-equipped to handle their web traffic. Heckman, who’d had success earlier in the decade by uniting the owners of 900 numbers to bargain for a greater profit share, thought the same thing could apply to these sites. He wanted to link them and create a colossus that would be able to bring in meaningful ad revenue. “We started getting pressure from the people that were doing the servers, because we had such high traffic volume,” Grinolds says. “And then Jim came to us and wanted us to join him in his venture, that was going to be Rivals.com. … We were getting pressure because they wanted to boot us off their server. We were the highest non-porn traffic on their servers.”

Talk to enough of the guys—and that’s what they were for the most part, young and middle-aged white men—who were on the scene when the idea for Rivals was hatched, and the conversation is bound to head toward porn. There were just too many parallels back then: The company that handled the 900 numbers mostly dealt with college football and porn. The men who posted video to the early servers streamed through hours of college football and porn. They are, as Heckman says, two things people are willing to spend “an irrational amount of money on.” 

“The college fan is way more intense than NFL,” Heckman continues. “That’s the school that accepted you, right? … It’s family. These guys accepted me, so I want that team which represents me and my self-worth to be successful. People are very personal. A lot of people met their spouses at the games and tailgates, right, so the fanaticism [is personal].” He has a corollary to that theory specifically about recruiting. When a great player picks a school, he says, fans aren’t happy simply because their team improved. “That player validates you as a person,” Heckman says. “This person thinks [my school is] cool. He’s a great player and that validates me. It’s a totally different level that people don’t understand.”

Rivals was born to streamline the interests of these sites, 900 numbers and email lists to maximize earning power, but the path that the brand and its offshoots have taken since 1998 has been far from linear.

Heckman secured outside investors and began to recruit people like Grinolds and their sites, then created more sites for more teams. “The kids come from all over the country, coaches come from all over the country, so the idea of consolidating under a single platform but delivering direct to the fans, we loved,” he explains. For a few years, the model relied more on ad revenue than subscribers—and then the dot-com bubble burst. Sites with robust subscriber bases survived. Rivals, as it was originally intended, did not.

In 2001 Heckman, whom one longtime writer described as functioning “like a crack addict with cash,” sold the struggling network to a group of purchasers that held onto it until ’07, when Rivals was sold again to Yahoo! for $100 million. Once divested, Heckman launched a similar concept in ’01 that he branded first as “The Insiders” and then as Scout.com. He sold Scout to Fox for $60 million in ’05, and Fox let the network founder. Heckman, as the head of yet another purchasing group, reacquired Scout in ’13. Meanwhile, in ’10 one of the men involved in the group that bought Rivals from Heckman in ’01 split off to found another, similar site: 247Sports.com. In ’15, CBS purchased 247, and two years later, 247 acquired Scout for nearly $10 million, folding it into its existing sites.

 

That’s where things stand today. Heckman has moved on to another digital venture, while Yahoo! and CBS provide the corporate infrastructure for the hundreds of sites across Rivals and 247, which have a healthy rivalry but often function complementarily at the local level. Unlike a decade ago, when a team’s Rivals site might have been competing to steal a subscriber from its Scout platform, today many fans pay for both Rivals and 247, indicating a demand for as much information and analysis as the Internet can muster. The sites function symbiotically at times, which caused an issue during the now-famous Blake Carringer saga last month. High school pranksters portrayed Carringer, a benchwarmer at Grace Christian Academy in Knoxville, as a fictional three-star O-line recruit, and the catfish ruse worked well enough for him to make it into Rivals’s rankings. Then, because 247 uses Rivals data to create its composite lists—more perspectives should equal less bias in the rankings—Carringer ended up ranked on both networks. In the fallout, 247 announced a policy change: no prospect not ranked by 247 analysts will appear in its composite.

On the whole, the networks are flourishing. Cumulatively, the two networks report upwards of 300,000 subscribers, who pay about $10 per month for analysis, film breakdown and access to what Shurburtt calls the “virtual sports bars” these sites have set up in their message boards, where takes of every possible temperature abound.


Message boards were “social media before they were social media,” says Barry Bolton, managing editor of 247’s Washington State site CougFan.com since 2004. They are the time-suck most fans are willing to open their wallets for in order to survive the doldrums of the offseason, and a central draw of both Rivals and 247is the 24-hour access to debate, from nuanced to incoherent. There are lewd jokes and wild tangents. The Big Spur, Shurburtt’s South Carolina site, frequently hosts Atlanta Braves hot-stove chatter on its boards. It’s not uncommon for a team’s rival to drive conversation, too.

In an age where breaking news is harder and harder to control or predict—many recruits break their college choices themselves, and athletic departments have attempted to circle the wagons on injuries and other revelatory internal news—message boards provide a world of color and context, where writers and editors chime in with information readers won’t find on the other side of the paywall. Sources, too, like that distinction; sometimes there’s information they would rather not see broadcast on the front page of a newspaper but are comfortable leaking for only the most dedicated fans to find.

The benefits of message boards go both ways, stirring up conversation for fans as well as tuning writers into their audience’s interests. Keenan Cummings, who’s a senior writer at WVSports.com, the West Virginia Rivals site, was a message-board junkie as a teenager. Now, he admits to spending a healthy amount of time on the boards his site moderates, talking with fans and figuring out what they want to know. Sometimes, if he has a big interview planned with a player or coach, he’ll ask fans what questions they’d want to ask. “I don’t necessarily make a dollar off interacting with these people,” he says, “but I do in the long run.”

In the end, it’s those message boards and recruiting coverage that keep the traffic coming, but the writers and editors behind subscription sites say their readers’ loyalty stems from something deeper than that. Many Rivals and 247 writers believe they’re able to tap into fans’ passion in a way the local newspaper's beat writer can’t because most sites fall somewhere between traditional, objective journalism and fan service. The most successful sites have employees who hold themselves to the same standards as newspaper writers, lamenting the selfies some recruiting analysts post with the teenagers they’re covering. They warn against acting as information brokers between schools and players, which has been known to happen. Instead, they pound the pavement, make cold calls, hope that an 18-year-old might choose them over Twitter. They’re also talented football minds and strong writers; when Bolton found his way to CougFan, he was attracted to it over its rival site due to the quality of the prose.

To the men who’ve been around this business for the better part of 20 years, the money involved can still seem novel. They once felt lucky to charge $20 a year; now they get that much in two months from a subscriber. They grew accustomed to rudimentary ads of cartoon monkeys at the top of their sites; now those ads have been replaced by major car manufacturers and clothing companies. They’ve gone mainstream—but they’re still having fun. “The people who were the high-powered sportswriters back in the day, they all miss their typewriters and newspapers,” Grinolds says. “Everywhere else is fledgling. And we’re rocking.”

 

Grinolds doesn’t dismiss his newspaper competitors, but he does note that often he feels like they’re not so much covering recruiting as they are covering the subscription sites covering it—and that’s fine by him and most of his colleagues. Though Grinolds signed a non-disclosure agreement about his subscriber base when Dawgfan came under the purview of CBS, he says he’s confident that his site has as many, if not more, unique viewers than any of the papers covering the team.

Loyalty grows from more than just how long a site’s been around. “I think the ones that struggle are the ones that kind of ignore the fan base right in front of them,” Cummings says. “You have to remember: A lot of the guys that we’re serving aren’t your run-of-the-mill fan. They’re very involved. These guys know everybody on the roster. Just on my site alone, you’ll have guys where, just if West Virginia updates their official roster—if a guy leaves or a guy’s weight changes—they have their laptops set to send them an alert if that happens.”

And writers like Cumming are expected to be able to tell those fans why that player left or had too many hamburgers, and what it means, and if it matters. It almost always does, at least to the men and women willing to shell out a monthly fee for a ticket to the college football Internet, the only digital space where there’s meaning ascribed to a second-string left tackle’s pants size. It might seem trivial, but the numbers behind these enterprises say otherwise. Maybe Rivals and 247 amplify that need for ever more information—but they also respect fans’ desire for it. On the college football Internet, hope springs eternal, and so do message board threads.

https://www.si.com/college-football/2019/03/07/recruiting-rivals-247-sites-rankings-business

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6 hours ago, dillohorn said:

Sam. Don't tarnish your name. Please stay out of the politics. Enjoy the ride.

From everything I've seen from Sam he is enjoying the ride.  While I'm sure everyone of us here would like to be QB at Texas, none of us are.  None of us are told we can't get a part time job for spending money without falling foul of the NCAA.  None of are told we can't get a better job without having to sit out a year.  None of us are paying the physical and mental price of being the QB at Texas.  What Sam is getting IS priceless.   What he is giving up isn't.   

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College football's 13 breakout candidates and replacements as spring practice 2019 begins

 

Texas wide receiver Bru McCoy: Lil'Jordan Humphrey was a workhorse for Texas in 2018 with 86 receptions and nearly 1,200 yards receiving. While another big target remains at wide receiver in Collin Johnson, Texas' offense will miss the big-play opportunistic Humphrey. Insert McCoy, a true freshman who is technically a transfer from USC after enrolling there in January before changing course towards Austin, Texas. He is a five-star prospect, physically ready and -- more importantly -- mentally ready. McCoy is mature, competitive and already making a strong impression on people around the program. In an offense that utilizes big-bodied pass-catchers effectively, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound McCoy, who has linebacker experience, should make an immediate impact.   

https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/college-footballs-13-breakout-candidates-and-replacements-as-spring-practice-2019-begins/

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14 hours ago, dillohorn said:

politics and money.........same same in my book. I follow college sports to get away from em.

You may want to stay away from reading this article.:)

 

Why the NCAA Lost Its Latest Landmark Case in the Battle Over What Schools Can Offer Athletes

 

https://www.si.com/college-football/2019/03/08/ncaa-antitrust-lawsuit-claudia-wilken-alston-jenkins

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 THE NEXT HEAD COACH TO WIN A NATIONAL TITLE

 

Mack Brown has one, Les Miles has one, Jimbo Fisher has one, Dabo Swinney has two and Nick Saban has a half dozen. Those are the current head coaches that have won FBS national titles. But who will be next to join that list? Here’s my top five in order:

1. Kirby Smart, Georgia – Georgia has already had one chance and lost in overtime, but the way he is recruiting, he will have other chances. You can’t recruit as well as Georgia has been and be left out of the national title picture.

2. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma – This is a tough call between Riley and Tom Herman, but Oklahoma is in slightly better shape to make a national title run before Texas is fully back.

3. Tom Herman, Texas – Herman is a great fit for the Longhorns and has them well on the way back to national prominence. The Big 12 is an interesting path to the title game because it’s always going to be either Oklahoma or Texas, at least in the short term. Texas will break through eventually.

4. Ryan Day, Ohio State – Ohio State is a juggernaut and Day can recruit and coach with the best of them so a national title is eventually in his future.

5. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan – This was a tough call between Harbaugh and Dan Mullen at Florida and this could be the wrong choice but I still think Harbaugh will put it all together one season and win it all.

https://n.rivals.com/news/three-point-stance-coaches-that-will-win-a-title-nfl-combine

 

 

https://n.rivals.com/news/three-point-stance-coaches-that-will-win-a-title-nfl-combine

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Wondering who he was attempting to develop, and exactly what was he doing to develop them.  This guy just threw away a job which appeared to have merit and was a good cause.  Guess he doesn’t need this paycheck.  

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The problem with allowing "student-athletes" the opportunity to monetize their likeness is this - it opens up a HUGE can of worms. University X can promise obscene royalties for merchandise sales in advance on the down low. Come to UT and you'll sell a helluva lot more Sam E t-shirts and whatnot. 

Just appreciate your free education, room & board, meals, swag, etc. while you're at UT, Sam.

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On 3/9/2019 at 2:58 PM, primal defense said:
1

VY didn't even bother to show up to work, from what I've read. UT gives him a cushy PR job and he can't be bothered to actually do it. Good riddance.

He'll get no sympathy from me.

 

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So, the aggies are hot while they are not sure if were back even though we lost the same amount of games, we have a top QB coming back and we had a top 3 recruiting class. Got it.

 

 

15. Aggie hotness: As spring opens, Texas A&M is ascending. In Year 2, Jimbo Fisher has momentum after a 9-4 debut. He has returning a go-to quarterback (Kellen Mond), four offensive line starters and every meaningful receiver. Throw in a top-three recruiting class and notably demanding Aggies fans will be expecting more than nine wins.

16. Is Texas back? Quarterback Sam Ehlinger sure thinks so. "Longhorn Nation, weeeee're back!" the quarterback boasted after the Sugar Bowl over Georgia. We'll see. A win over Oklahoma in New Year's Six victory and Ehlinger's emergence made the question worth asking. "They're not back until they're consistently good," former coach Mack Brown said. "Tom [Herman] has a really good feel for where it is. They've done a tremendous job with Sam. He can run it and throw it. He's a great leader, passionate. To me, he's been a huge difference."

 

25 Things for Spring: The college football names, battles and storylines you need to know

https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/25-things-for-spring-the-college-football-names-battles-and-storylines-you-need-to-know/

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10 College Football Teams That Are One Piece Away from Making the CFB Playoff

Texas Longhorns: Playmaking Linebacker

2 OF 10

 

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Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

A bumpy 2017 season paid off with a breakout 2018 campaign for head coach Tom Herman and the Texas Longhorns. Expectations are high in 2019 after the program showed significant growth on the field and hauled in a great recruiting class (third nationally). The stars may be aligning for a championship run this season.

Before getting too far, though, the Longhorns are returning just eight starters on defense. Losing their three leading tacklers from last year creates a void in the middle. Texas' one missing piece entering 2019 is a playmaking linebacker.

Both Gary Johnson and Anthony Wheeler anchored a solid unit last year and racked up some terrific production. They combined for 177 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. But their replacements are almost complete unknowns.

Junior college transfer Caleb Johnson will be given priority to make an impact along with other recent recruits. The group of Johnson, Ayodele Adeoye, DeMarvion Overshown and early enrollees De'Gabriel Floyd and Marcus Tillman Jr. should produce a worthwhile rotation just based on their athleticism and football pedigrees.

If one can emerge as a worthy heir as a playmaking linebacker, Texas will be a force in the Big 12. With so many talented options, it's a safe bet the Longhorns will find this missing piece

 

 

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2824902-10-college-football-teams-that-are-one-piece-away-from-making-the-cfb-playoff#slide2

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Take Two: Can Mack Brown keep up his momentum at North Carolina?

 
Adam Gorney and Mike Farrell
Rivals.com

 

 
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Joshua Downs
Nick Lucero/Rivals.com

MORE TAKE TWO: Will four-star Teriyon Cooper recommit to Texas?

Take Two returns with a daily offering tackling an issue in the college football landscape. Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Adam Gorney lays out the situation and then receives takes from Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell and an expert from the Rivals.com network.

THE STORYLINE

When Mack Brown was hired at North Carolina this offseason there were some questions about whether the 67-year-old would have time to rebuild the Tar Heels program and what he would be bringing to the game in what has become a young man’s sport.

Nick Saban has bucked that trend, but Dabo Swinney, Kirby Smart, Lincoln Riley, Tom Herman and others seem to be the future of college football. Brown appears well on his way to proving some doubters wrong.

North Carolina has the No. 11 recruiting class nationally and although it’s still a long way until the early signing period, that finish would be the best for the Tar Heels since they finished ninth in 2009.

Brown is loading up nicely with high-level prospects as four of North Carolina’s commits are four-star recruits in receivers 

.

Getting a jumpstart on the recruiting cycle has been a trademark of Brown’s since his days at Texas when he would receive commitments from nearly his entire class before the season even started.

He might not have that level of success in Chapel Hill, but he’s off to an excellent start and many of the state’s top recruits remain uncommitted including high four-star defensive end 

.

Can Brown quickly make North Carolina a contender again in the ACC or does this program have way too many holes to fill and is it surprising that he’s doing so well in recruiting without even coaching a game yet?

FIRST TAKE: ANDREW JONES, TARHEELILLUSTRATED.COM

“I’m not surprised he’s had a major impact on changing the vibe around the program and culture in it and I’m not at all surprised recruiting has picked up. But I am surprised everything has changed as much as they have and as quickly as they have. 

"So far, he’s checked every box except one, and he can’t start winning until the games begin, and that will be the toughest part. He can be successful depending on what one’s measure of success is. UNC is fully committed to winning in football and expectations are very high, so if he meets those I’d consider him a success. By changing the culture and rebuilding the infrastructure, coming close to on-field expectations will make this run for him at UNC a successful one.”

SECOND TAKE: MIKE FARRELL, RIVALS.COM

“Few guys are better in recruiting during the preseason than Brown. At Texas, he used to load up most of his classes before the season even kicked off. He’s doing a good job at North Carolina bringing a lot of buzz and interest to the program itself.

“That program is an absolute mess. We’ll see what they bring to the field. They can’t be worse. But if they go 4-8 or 3-9, will that be enough to hang on to these guys when everybody else comes in? It’s a good start. He’s selling a vision. That’s important. He’s a very, very good recruiter and he has a good staff. He’s going to be just like a lot of other programs: If you win on the field, you’ll keep your recruits, but if you don’t people will steal them.”

 

https://n.rivals.com/news/take-two-can-mack-brown-keep-up-his-momentum-at-north-carolina-

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The fastest longhorn football player I've seen. RIP

 

Ex-Texas Longhorns star, Olympic gold medalist Johnny ‘Lam’ Jones loses lengthy battle with cancer

 

https://collegefootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2019/03/15/ex-texas-longhorns-star-olympic-gold-medalist-johnny-lam-jones-loses-battle-with-cancer/

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Lynn Swann can say this about his whole tenure as the USC AD. His whole record shows he has no idea what is going on.:)

 

As a college admissions scandal rocks the University of Southern California, athletic director Lynn Swann wants everyone to know he had no idea what was going on.

 

 

USC athletic director Lynn Swann: 'I was blindsided' by admissions scandal

 

https://sports.yahoo.com/usc-athletic-director-lynn-swann-admissions-scandal-lori-loughlin-052837009.html

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Sad but true.

 

Seven 2009 College Football Stories That Resonate in a Different Way a Decade Later

TEXAS’S LAST GREAT SEASON

The Longhorns haven’t been season-long national title contenders since 2009, the end of an epic hot streak in Austin under Mack Brown. The Longhorns didn’t lose until the BCS Championship Game, after Alabama knocked Colt McCoy out of the game in the first quarter and put Texas’s fate in the hands of true freshman Garrett Gilbert. The next year, the Longhorns finished 5–7, missing a bowl game for the first time since 1997 to begin a decade in the wilderness in which their mid-aughts success hung over their frequent mediocrity.

 

https://www.si.com/college-football/2019/03/15/2009-season-clemson-oregon-texas-alabama-florida

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Garrett Gilbert’s 10-Year Journey From Texas Quarterback of the Future to AAF Star

 
 
 
Orlando Apollos v Birmingham Iron
TODD KIRKLAND/AAF/GETTY IMAGES

QUICKLY

  • Garrett Gilbert came to play for Steve Spurrier in the AAF with an eye at getting NFL attention, but leading a team for the first time in a decade (and winning) is pretty cool, too.
By LAKEN LITMAN 
March 14, 2019

Garrett Gilbert has never thought about this, but he could have been Tua Tagovailoa before Tua Tagovailoa. The whole true-freshman-gets-thrust-into-national-championship-game-and-saves-the-day story was his for the taking 10 years ago.

 
ADVERTISING

When Colt McCoy was knocked out five plays into the national championship game that capped off the 2009 season, Gilbert was called up. He remembers being on the Rose Bowl sideline in a baseball cap and looking at the video board for a replay because he didn’t see the hit. Then he remembers seeing chaos on the sideline, spending too much time looking for his helmet, and finally going in. “The next time I came up for air was halftime,” Gilbert says. “Everything [in the first half] was a blur.”

The part of that night often forgotten by everyone else is that despite finishing 15-of-40 for 186 passing yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions in Texas’s 37–21 loss to Alabama, Gilbert nearly led a comeback. Down just 24–21 with 3:14 left, the Longhorns were a 93-yard scoring drive away from Gilbert going down as a savior. But after a penalty and a strip-sack that led to touchdowns from Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, the game was over.

Despite the loss, Gilbert had gained invaluable experience and remained Texas’s quarterback of the future. He’d been the No. 1 pro-style quarterback prospect in Texas during the 2009 recruiting cycle for a reason. He was teed up perfectly to take over for McCoy and continue the Longhorns’ winning tradition under Mack Brown.

Except that’s not how his story went. Gilbert didn’t win enough games over the next two seasons at Texas, transferred from his childhood dream school to SMU to finish his college career, and became a sixth-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 NFL draft. Since then, he’s floated between five different NFL scout teams, winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots as a member of the practice squad at the end of his rookie season.

 

Now Gilbert, 27, finds himself playing for Steve Spurrier and the Orlando Apollos in the new Alliance of American Football league. And he’s never looked better.


Gilbert wanted nothing more in life growing up in Austin than to be the quarterback at Texas. After winning consecutive state championships at Lake Travis, earning Gatorade National Player of the Year and becoming a consensus five-star recruit, that’s exactly the opportunity he created for himself.

After the national championship game, Gilbert felt good about making the offense his that 2010 season. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis was successful running the zone read and catering to big, physical passers like Vince Young in the past, and Gilbert was 6'4" and just over 200 pounds as a freshman. Although Gilbert says nothing felt off about the 2010 offseason at the time, the effects of a championship game hangover and the departure of McCoy, leading receiver Jordan Shipley and several defensive contributors were plain to see by the time the season rolled around. Texas crashed to 5–7, and head coach Mack Brown made significant staff changes, which included Davis resigning and being replaced by co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Bryan Harsin, who was known for his aggressive and innovative offenses at Boise State. Gilbert had to quickly learn a completely new system, which didn’t pan out.

“Garrett is a very smart guy and he wants to do everything perfect and you change coaches on him, change systems, and then you’re a rookie again every time you do that,” says June Jones, who coached Gilbert at SMU from 2012 to ’13. “Some guys need to be in the same system with the same coaches. I think if Garrett had played for me for five years he probably would have been a first-round draft pick.”

Gilbert started two games as a junior in 2011 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. By that point, he wasn’t in a good place mentally. He’d been listening to the crowd’s boos and reading negative coverage. His parents, who live in Austin, stopped taking the local newspaper. Ultimately, Gilbert and his family decided he needed a fresh start, so he hustled to graduate early and transferred to SMU, where he was immediately eligible.

Gilbert was more comfortable in Jones’s Air Raid offense, though he still had to regain confidence. In his fourth game starting for the Mustangs, Gilbert went 23-of-44 for 274 yards with four interceptions and was sacked six times as TCU crushed SMU, 48–17. The next day, Jones pulled a dejected Gilbert aside and highlighted the positive things he did and reinforced trust in his quarterback.

 

“I knew that he had it in him because I had watched him in high school and he was the top quarterback in the country,” says Jones, now an associate coach for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. “As an 18-, 19-year-old kid to go through what he went through at Texas, basically getting booed at a young age, it certainly shocks your confidence. I knew it was going to take a little time for him to come out of that shell, and we got him to come out of it.”

Eventually Gilbert grew out of his funk. In his final college season in 2013, SMU had a top-10 passing offense and he finished fourth in FBS in passing yards per game, completing 66.5% of his passes for 3,528 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Gilbert doesn’t point fingers as to why things didn’t work out at Texas. It can be chalked up to wrong place, wrong time where he didn’t win enough games and also couldn’t find stability among the multiple offensive coordinator and identity changes.

“To be honest, things just didn’t work out for whatever reason and that wasn’t meant to be,” Gilbert says, looking back. “I’m very thankful for my time at Texas. It got me to where I’m at today, and without having battled through some adversity there I don’t think I’d still be playing football. I’m thankful for that opportunity and what it taught me.”


Garrett Gilbert and Steve Spurrier
Todd Kirkland/AAF/Getty Images

Where Gilbert is today is the star of the Alliance of American Football. He’s enjoying the revival of his career under the 73-year-old Spurrier’s quarterback-friendly offense.

“He’s a natural passer, a beautiful passer,” Spurrier says. “His ball comes out almost with a perfect spiral every time and his balls are catchable. We’ve worked on timing with receivers, head position and all the kind of stuff, and he’s coming around nicely.

“He’s a very good player. A very good player.”

The Apollos are 5–0 at the midway point of the AAF’s inaugural season, and Gilbert leads the league with 1,357 passing yards for eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s been the most impressive player by far, with other recognizable college quarterbacks like Zach Mettenberger (475 yards, one INT, three TDs) and Christian Hackenberg (277, 3, 0) trailing behind.

The goal is to earn a more permanent opportunity in the NFL by showcasing his talents in the AAF. But winning is fun, as is getting added reps and taking ownership of a team for the first time since college. He’s been voted captain every week by his teammates, a group he had no experience playing with up until this year.

“In the [NFL] preseason you get a few snaps here, a few quarters there,” Gilbert says. “So to be able to have this opportunity and actually get to play for an extended period of time is fun.

“And I’m just excited about this next chapter. You never really know what to expect [in the NFL] and a lot of guys in the past, if something didn’t work out, that was kind of it. And to be able to have this chance and put something on tape and give myself another shot, I’m certainly excited.”

Coaches who know him best can’t pinpoint why Gilbert never caught on with an NFL team when he has all the tools and physical traits. “He’s a genuine leader,” says Chad Morris, who coached Gilbert in high school and is now the head coach at Arkansas. “He’s extremely intelligent and knows where everybody is supposed to be, understands coverages and leverages of routes and he’s able to coach those guys up.”

Spurrier thinks he still could be a franchise quarterback because “he’s tough, stays in the pocket, takes the hit, and can make all the throws—there’s no question he can be outstanding for whoever.” Jones says that if he were coaching in the NFL, Gilbert would be playing very well for him. “You have to have someone who believes in you, wants you to be the guy and knows how to bring the best out [of you].”

At the midway point in the AAF season, Gilbert hasn’t heard from any NFL coaches or scouts. Players are held to their AAF contracts through the season but can sign free-agent contracts afterward. He’s not concerned by that at the moment, though.

“I don’t know if, when those things will come, but right now I’m in a position where I’d like to stay focused and continue working on being the best quarterback I can be for this team,” Gilbert says. “If I focus on what I’m doing every day here and improving, then those things will take care of themselves.”

 

Gilbert has thought about what comes after football. He’d consider coaching. In fact, Morris tried to hire him when he was coaching at SMU from 2015 to ’17 and has said whenever Gilbert is ready to “just holler.” Gilbert was working as a coach at a high school in Charlotte when the Carolina Panthers called on Christmas Eve to re-sign him as a backup. He played in one game against the New Orleans Saints, completing two of three passes for 40 yards in his first appearance on an NFL stat sheet. His second career is on hold until he finishes taking advantage of every possible opportunity at his dream job. His current head coach is one of many rooting for him.

“He’s a good one,” Spurrier says. “Hopefully he can lead us to big things here, then get a shot in the NFL next year.”

https://www.si.com/college-football/2019/03/14/garrett-gilbert-orlando-apollos-aaf-texas-longhorns

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