Saturday, January 24, 2009

Remebering Kay Yow

I prefer to celebrate the life of Kay Yow, rather than call her passing tragic.

Her 66 years were not nearly enough, but the gifts and lessons she passed along will live on far longer. She touched the lives of everyone she came into contact with. Her coaches, her players, her family, and Wolfpack Nation.

I was blessed to have crossed paths with her, when I worked in Raleigh from 1995-2002. She was always genuine in her remarks, never dodged a tough question, and carried herself in a way that any university would be proud. She was a leader, a tremendous coach, but most of all, she was one-of-a-kind when it came to the kind of person she was.

She faced cancer the same way she faced opponents. Fearlessly. Never once did she say "why me," but rather it was "how am I gonna beat it." Straight forward, no holds barred. Kay Yow was a fighter. Ultimately, she had fought long enough.

Kay Yow will be remembered more for the way she touched lives. The lessons will live on. Her current coaches and players will pass on her legacy, just the same as her previous coaches and players.

As a result, Kay Yow will live on forever.

Thank you, coach. In the short time that we were able to share a conversation, a laugh, a win or a loss, you taught me plenty--and you probably didn't even know it at the time.

I join the rest of the NC State family with my condolences, but I am grateful to have been indirectly mentored by someone who's strengths far surpassed anyone I have ever met.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, January 22, 2009

OK, so who is left?

You have likely noticed that I haven't anchored this week due to the NASCAR media tour (more on that in a minute), but what in the heck is up with the Panther coaching staff? Who's left?

Let's see:
Defensive Coordinator Mike Trgovac. Gone
D-Line coach Sal Sunseri. Gone
Linebackers coach Ken Flajole. Gone
QB coach Mike McCoy. Gone
DB coach Tim Lewis. Gone


Mind you, Flajole and McCoy took coordinator jobs (Flajole in St. Louis with the defense, and McCoy the OC job in Denver), which are upward moves. Sunseri went back to college to work alongside Nick Saban at Alabama--he aspires to be a collegiate head coach someday. Lewis made a lateral move, taking basically the same role with Seattle.

Trgovac is a bit of a mystery, as the Panthers were talking contract, and he turned them down to "pursue other interests." What other interests? Stamp collecting? A karaoke business?

In years past, Panther assistants haven't been allowed to interview for other positions (as I have been told by some of my media friends who cover the team regularly). Apparently, the door was opened for them to look around, and as it stands, virtually the entire defensive coaching staff is gone. Why the mass exodus?

If this has any relation to the Julius Peppers desires to go elsewhere to be "challenged" more, then the Panthers have basically given in to his wishes. The Panthers are not likely to change their defensive philosophy of a 4-3 defense to placate Peppers. Now, the team has to find an entirely new defensive coaching staff and try to improve a defense that, through much of the year, was in the top 10 in the league in most categories. Their 2nd half left something to be desired, as yards piled up, as did points. Still, Carolina finished 12-4, thanks to an offense that hit its stride.

Personally, I hope this isn't an orchestrated show of "Stay Julius." One player does not a football team make. It's the collection of players. Offense. Defense. Special teams. All of them. Peppers had a monster year, and will be paid for it. Too much has been said, by the Peppers camp, to make it seem that he'll be in a Panthers uniform in 2009. I wouldn't be shocked if he withdraws from the Pro Bowl to: A) not get hurt, and B) not represent the Panthers.

Maybe I am wrong about that. Maybe the Panthers have the strength to take the slap from Peppers and his agent, and work out a deal to keep him. Right now, in my eyes, he's trying to be bigger than the team. that sort of thing doesn't fly, nor should it, for a Jerry Richardson owned ballclub. Richardson is the epitome of family and team. Hard to bring back a person who has openly questioned what the family has done in the past, and would do going forward.

We'll keep watching to see how this plays out, but the calendar is inching closer to the time the Panthers will be forced to do something.

NASCAR season is almost here. Folks that complain about NBA and NHL seasons being too long should reassess that thought. Nascar goes from mid-February through mid-November. 2 and a half months of down time. That's it. It all kicked off with the Sprint media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway this week, and Tim Baier and I went through the 4 days of interview sessions, and video opportunities. Loads of those materials are available on our website and will also be on Carolina On Demand (channel 1234 on your digital cable).

Running themes for the week: the sour economy and the lack of testing at NASCAR sanctioned tracks. Had good chats with Tony Stewart, Rick Hendrick, Dale Jr., and tons more. Be on the lookout for those interviews, and stories in the weeks leading up to Daytona. Apologies for not snapping off a few pictures--I regretted not having the camera with me all week long.

ACC Basketball season is, if nothing else, interesting. UNC drops their first 2 conference games, Wake ascends to number 1, only to lose to Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Duke has a loss (a roadie at Michigan), but if they manage to hold serve against Maryland this weekend, they should be the number 1 team come next Monday. NC State continues to struggle, as do the Charlotte 49ers in the A-10. We'll continue to ramp up the hoop coverage for you on both the college and NBA sides as well.

Oh, and in case you've missed it (as the Bobcats continue to remind us), the Bobcats are playing quite well of late. 8 games under 500, a transformed roster, and perhaps a team Larry Brown might like. Cats face Phoenix on Friday night--the return of Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley to the Queen City. We'll see how the new-look Bobcats hold up against the Suns.

Mike Solarte

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Peppers wants out

The Julius Peppers era in Carolina Panthers football seems to be at end, thanks to a statement released to ESPN by his agent. The statement saying Peppers wants a change of scenery, and that he "could thrive in a new situation."

Nothing the Panthers can do about it--if he wants to be elsewhere, he wants to be elsewhere.

The Panthers should grant his wish, but they should do it on their terms.

Peppers wants to go, so Carolina should franchise him, and then trade him. What team in the NFL wouldn't give up draft picks for a proven commodity like number 90? He had a career high 14.5 sacks in 2008, a huge improvement from his 2.5 in 2007. Pepp is a gifted athlete, and will make some team quite happy. Or maybe he won't.

Peppers is a very guarded person, not very open with his thoughts or emotions, and if he goes someplace else, and tanks (like 2007), he'll be a very wealthy player that the new team will wonder what they were thinking giving up draft picks to land him. And Peppers won't have much to say about that.

Bottom line on this deal is the Panthers have found out early enough that they can figure out the best fit for THEM. Peppers wants out, so show him the door with a handshake and a kind word., but make sure that the door remains open for the spoils of trading away one of the franchise's greatest players. You have to get value for him, and Peppers is very valuable. Hence, the Panthers have to get great value in moving him.

That being done, the Panthers can now focus on locking up Jordan Gross to a long term deal. The off-season will now become a bit more critical as the Panthers try to find a guy that can be the kind of player that will take Peppers' place (which won't be easy).

Suddenly, things just got more interesting for the Panthers, and they won't touch a football until the post-draft mini-camp the first weekend in May.

Oh, one more thing. Trade him to a team you NEVER play on a regualr basis. Like San Diego or something. Nothing would be worse than seeing Peppers on a regular basis, like on an NFC South roster.

Mike Solarte

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bobcats make trade

The Charlotte Bobcats acquired DeSagana Diop from the Dallas Mavericks for G Matt Carroll and F Ryan Hollins.

The Bobcats give up a nice 3 point shooter in Carroll, and a young, unproven Hollins for Diop. Diop's career numbers (courtesy of the Bobcats PR Staff):

"The 7-0 Diop has appeared in 468 career NBA games spread between Cleveland, New Jersey and Dallas. He has career averages of 2.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks, while shooting .430 from the field. In 34 games with the Mavericks this season he averaged 1.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13.3 minutes."

So in 13 minutes, he didn't average a basket, and got an average of 3 rebounds per game. I ask, huh? Sure, the guy is 7 feet tall, but 7 feet tall, averaging 3 boards per game isn't what you would call a "difference maker."

Carroll and Hollins are 2 great guys. I wish them both well in their careers. Both players were always great with the media, always had a smile during practice, and a joke or 2 if you needled them enough. I can see why Carroll could be moved--he has value to a team looking for a 3 point shooter. He just couldn't get enough minutes under Larry Brown to ever get into a rhythm. Maybe he'll find that in Dallas.

Hollins is still young, has springs for legs, and I think, once he learns the NBA game, he'll be fine.

The Bobcats may have wanted to move G Raymond Felton, and still may, but DJ Augustin is banged up with an abdominal injury, so Felton is invaluable at this moment.

Charlotte hosts Portland on Saturday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Off the ledge

Panthers should be safely back indoors, and off the ledge, after the Cats were shown the door by the Arizona Cardinals last Saturday night. It's been almost 5 days now. The emotions should be back to normal (or at least close to it). Truth be told, I couldn't blame Panther fans for not wanting to watch the games this weekend, knowing that had they beaten Arizona, the Cats would be hosting the Eagles in the NFC title game. Still, as I said in the last blog post, props to Ken Whisenhunt and his team. Great game plan, great execution. They won that game just as much as the Panthers lost it.

The thing folks were talking about after the game was how Jake Delhomme cost the Panthers the win. There is plenty of truth in that. Six turnovers (1 fumble, 5 int's) will play a huge role. Jake stunk. Period. He knows it. Everyone knows it. Delhomme was not the only contributor in the defeat.

In an effort to stop the madness, let me say this: Jake Delhomme is the Panthers starting quarterback in 2009, barring something bizarre. By bizarre, I mean something like, he loses his legs in a horrible farming accident. THAT kind of bizarre. Delhomme's value to this team goes far beyond one stinker of a game at the worst possible time.

2007. Delhomme threw 8 TD's and 1 INT before being lost for the season with the elbow injury. Carolina went 7-9, with David Carr, Vinny Testaverde, and Matt Moore taking turns at the QB spot. Jake's loss was felt especially hard when Carr was in the lineup, and a little less with Vinny and Moore. The void did exist--don't try and deny it.

2008. Carolina goes 12-4 in the regular season, with Delhomme engineering 2nd half comebacks against: San Diego, Chicago, Arizona, Green Bay, and New Orleans. No Jake, Carolina is 7-9 in 2008, and there is no heartbreak in the playoffs. I ask, which would you have: a 7-9, no playoff season or 12-4 and a first round exit? Give me 12-4 and a chance in the post-season. Having a chance in the playoffs is something only 12 teams get every year. That means 20 teams pack up their belongings after week 17, and don't get back together until mini-camp after the April draft.

Carolina has decisions to make regarding the roster, and we'll keep our eyes on that as it develops in the off-season.


The Charlotte Bobcats are back in action Saturday taking on Portland, a former joke in the Western Conference. The Blazers are actually pretty good these day, but the Bobcats are showing signs of improvement. Since dealing Jason Richardson to Phoenix for Boris Diaw, Raja Bell and Sean Singletary, the Bobcats are 8-8. That's 500, kids, for a franchise that, in its existence is still on the south end of the break-even mark. Take the improvements where you can find them. The win over Detroit on Tuesday (80-78) was a big one for the confidence department. Normally, it's the Bobcat opponent hanging a 9--0 run on them to close out the game. The Cats did that to the Pistons, and did it in their house. Solid work.

The trade rumors also swirl around Raymond Felton (being dealt to the Dallas Mavericks). While I recognize Felton is not the prototypical point guard in the NBA, the guy is a competitor. He plays hard, plays hurt, and leaves nothing in the tank. He's played that way his entire career, going back to his UNC days. If Felton must be dealt (at it looks that way, with his contract coming up at the end of the season--he could be an unrestricted free agent), then get something in return. Getting DeSagana Diop in return for Felton (and whatever else has to be traded between the teams to make it a fair trade under salary cap rules) would be utterly ridiculous. The Bobcats would get more in return if they sent Felton for a dozen new basketballs, and new Gatorade bucket from the Mavs. Diop is a stiff. Felton has value. If you must move him, get the value.

Congrats to Charlotte Checkers forward Matthew Ford for being the team's representative in next week's ECHL All Star game in Reading, PA. The California native is having a nice season to date, but the Checkers need some time off to get some players healthy. Visited with Derek Wilkinson on Thursday for a bit--you can hear from him as the Checkers gear up for Mississippi on Friday and then Florida on Sunday afternoon to close out the pre-All Star portion of their schedule.

Fear not, hoops fans, I will dive into the ACC hoops world in future posts--still too early to call, but nice work done by Duke and Wake Forest so far, and not so much from UNC and NC State. Again, still too early, but so far, I like what the Devils and Deacs have done.

Also, hope you have had a chance to see the sports updates we've been putting up on Then again, I know all of you loyal readers are loyal Sports Night viewers too!

Mike Solarte

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Forget everything I said... the previous blog post. I almost nailed the score, though.

A 12-4 regular season, NFC South championship, and a first round bye culminated in one of the loudest playoff thuds ever. 5 Jake Delhomme interceptions, and 1 fumble by the QB led to a 33-113 drubbing at the hands of America's newest sweethearts, the Arizona Cardinals.

Hats off the Birds--they had an answer for anything Carolina threw at them. Kurt Warner was solid, Larry Fitzgerald proved worthy of a starting spot on the Pro Bowl team, and Neil Rackers 4 FG's were the additional spice the Cardinals needed to beat a Panthers team that seemed to not realize they were supposed to play Saturday, rather than Sunday.

The taste is still bitter for Panther fans, no doubt, but the truth is the Cardinals were simply that much better Saturday night. It's easy to put the blame on Delhomme. Look a little deeper, and maybe 2 portions of the Panthers as a whole would get a passing grade for their performance. Kick returner Mark Jones was average, perhaps slightly better than average. The offensive line surrendered just 2 sacks. I would grade both the return game, and the O-line with passing grades.

Everyone else was less than passing. In some cases far less.

The O-line gets a passing mark, because the Panthers only had 15 rushing attempts. The strength of the Panthers over the back end of the season was their ability to run the ball. they abandoned that a bit early in my opinion. Sure they trailed 14-7 after the fumble that led to the go-ahead TD for Arizona. It was still the first quarter. So much time left, no one tried to settle the offense down, and try to get them to establish a rhythm. It was quicksand (to borrow a line from a scene in "The Replacements." You fight hard, have a setback, fight harder, but one bad thing leads to another, until you are in over your head-like quicksand. That's what happened to the Panthers. One mistake led to an avalanche of points, and more mistakes, and in the end, 33-13 is how anyone will remember 2008 for the Panthers.

Next up for Carolina, the April draft. The Panthers do not have a 1st round selection as of yet. Do they try and trade into one? Who knows. Lots of decisions, and contracts have to be worked out. Jordan Gross and Julius Peppers come to mind--both are going to the Pro Bowl. Both will command a big contract number in 2009.

The 2009 season begins on Sunday for the Panthers. That's far too soon for a team that had such high hopes.

Mike Solarte

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hours before kickoff

Gonna be heading over to the Stadium for the showdown in a little while. Just some passing thoughts before the Panthers and Cardinals mix it up:

  • Rain a possibility for game time. While our Weather on the Ones forecast team has fallen off of my Christmas card list as a result (kidding guys), any rains would seem to favor the Panthers. They are more equipped to deal with the wet stuff by using their running game. I was actually tired of listening to the Cardinal faithful, as well as some media outlets, spraining their shoulders as they patted the Cards on the back for getting Edgerrin James over 70 yards on the ground against Atlanta. Slow down there, gang. A whole 70 yards? I don't remember what he finished with, but 70 yards on the ground against Carolina won't amount to much. The Giants went over 300, and needed overtime to beat the Panthers. Next case, your honor.
  • I am expecting the Panthers runners to have a nice game--perhaps even a big one. The bye week got Jeff Otah back healthy, and if Geoff Hangartner is unavailable, there isn't much drop off to Jeremy Bridges. Full speed ahead for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. One of those guys will break 100 yards, and they could combine for 3 scores. Or more.
  • Jake Delhomme holds the 3rd highest post-season passer rating for his career in NFL HISTORY. Only Bart Starr and Joe Montana are ahead of him. Translation: the Cajun QB can flat out play in the playoffs. Look for Jake to have a good game, protect the ball, and do his job. Rain or no rain, Delhomme should have roughly 20-30 passing attempts in the game--if the ground game is rolling up yardage, that number will drop.
  • There is one thing that concerns me about this one is the "Cinderella Factor." All due respect to the NFC West champion Cardinals, they are a decided underdog in this one (Vegas has Carolina a 9.5 point favorite). The Cards are also feeling disrespected as a result. The Cards played their first home playoff game since the Truman administration (1947) last week. They COULD be the team that America is pulling for, as the USA loves themselves an underdog. The best thing the Panthers can do is start fast, keep the hammer down, and send the Cards back on a plane to the desert with a thorough beating. Let them hang around, and Cinderella could have her dress pressed for the NFC title game next weekend.

Prediction: Cinderella's dress has seen its last dance after tonight. The carriage turns back into a pumpkin, and the Panthers await (they hope) an Eagles win on Sunday.

Carolina 3o-17

Enjoy the game!

Mike Solarte

Friday, January 9, 2009

Panthers-Cards:T-Minus 48 hours

Notes on the Panthers-Cardinals game this Saturday night:

  • Cards WR Anquan Boldin hasn't practiced all week, and says he won't test his injured hamstring until Saturday before the game-the truest definition of "game-time decision." His absence would hinder Arizona's passing attack, but the birds had 3 WR's break the 1,000 yard plateau this season (Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston), so don't count on there being a big drop off.
  • Panthers LT Jordan Gross, and LB Jon Beason were named to the AP All-Pro team on Thursday. Nice honor, considering the team is made up of players from both conferences, not one AFC and one NFC roster. The AP identified them as being among the best players at their position in the NFL as a whole. Pretty impressive. Congrats to both of them.
  • Injuries not being much of an issue for the Panthers heading into the game. OL Jeff Hangartner was limited in practice on Thursday, but everyone else was at full speed. The healthiest this squad has been in quite a while. If Hangartner can't start (which could be likely at this stage of the week), look for Jeremy Bridges to start at RG for Carolina. Not a drop-off by any stretch--he's played that spot plenty.
  • Steve Keim is the Director of Player Personnel for the Cardinals. His name will sound familiar to ACC (and more specifically NC State) football fans. Keim was an offensive lineman for the Wolfpack in the mid 90's, playing alongside guys like Ian Rafferty and Seamus Murphy. Rafferty had a short stint in the NFL, while Murphy tried to catch on with several clubs (he did land in Pittsburgh briefly). Keim's stay in the NFL has gone from a scout with the Cards on up the ladder to his current post which he took in May of 2008. He's a great guy, and a smart football man. I hope to have him on Sports Night on Friday evening, if he can make some time for us.
  • The field at Bank of America Stadium will look different from it's regular season appearance. Due to the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Panthers grounds crew has painted the endzones black, and stenciled in the "Carolina" and "Panthers" artwork in the endzones (like normal). January is a tough time to keep grass green, but the field staff has the turf looking absolutely smoking. It's awesome, and when you add in the backdrop of the Uptown skyline (with buildings keeping lights on, and the Ban of America building showing off it's blue top), Saturday night will be electric.
  • If it feels like this week is dragging in anticipation of the game, you are not alone. I know that we are into Friday, but it feels like it's been a month since the Panthers picked up the win against New Orleans.

Lots happening on Sports Night on Friday, so don't miss it!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The first blog hit of 2009

First and foremost, a belated Happy New Year to all of you in Blogville. Most sincere wishes to you for health, happiness and prosperity in 2009.

My goal was to enjoy the Panthers bye week, watch some games, and then return to do some preview hits leading into Saturday night. My plan was sailing right along until I was asked by a loyal reader of this corner of the internet if my keyboard was actually non-functional. OK, boss. I get it.


3rd meeting between these teams since Oct. 14, 2007. Think back to that game, and Vinny Testaverde made his Panther debut, and did something David Carr couldn't. Get the ball to Steve Smith. OK, Vinny did A LOT of things Carr couldn't do, and as a result, the Panthers were able to limp to the finish line with that 7-9 record--which should have been far worse.

In week 8 of 2008, the Panthers came from behind to beat the Cards 27-23. To say the Cardinals feel like they are competitive in this recent history would be an understatement. The Panthers won the 2007 game 25-10, and they trailed 10-9 after 3 quarters. Basically, the Panthers haven't raced out to big leads against Arizona (they led 24-23 after 3 quarters back in week 8).

Starting Fast

It's a tired saying, but in football, it's so appropriate. Putting up points early and often is the kind of thing that sucks the life out of the opposition. Let an inferior team hang around, and find themselves within 3 points, one touchdown, or even have a lead, you see that inferior team start to play with confidence, and they then become much tougher to beat. Forget about the nuts and bolts of the actual score--it's the attitude that team develops that is much tougher to overcome. A team that thinks they are unbeatable IS unbeatable. Carolina has to have that feeling walking onto the field Saturday night.

Carolina can not allow Arizona to feel they have any shot at winning this game. The Panthers have shown they struggle at putting teams away to turn tight games into walks--see the season finale in New Orleans as Exhibit A. The normal football-isms: step on their necks, go for the throat...all of them are applicable. The Panthers must be the aggressors and take the game to the Cards. If they don't, Arizona will likely have the confidence they can hang with the Panthers.

Injury Front

The Panthers had all hands on deck, except for OL Geoff Hangartner (ankle). DT Maake Kemoeatu (ankle), DT Damione Lewis (shoulder), and RT Jeff Otah (toe) all were at full speed on Wednesday. I would anticipate all 3 playing, and Jeremy Bridges filling Hangartner's spot if he can't go Saturday night.

For the Cardinals, WR Anquan Boldin (hamstring), and TE Ben Patrick (knee) did not practice, DE Travis LeBoy (ankle) was limited, and TE Leonard Pope (knee) was at full speed. The Boldin injury is one we'll keep watching, as his absence could truly (pardon the pun) hamstring the Cards offense.

Much more on this match-up, along with injury updates as they warrant, leading into Saturday night's rumble at the big ATM in Uptown Charlotte.

A milestone of sorts--this is the 100th post on the Sports Night Blog. Cool, huh? Ok, maybe not.

Mike Solarte