Friday, January 29, 2010

Another going to the weekend hit

As Snowmageddon descends upon the Tar Heel State, a few thoughts on the sporting world.

  • Congrats to Charlotte Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace on his selection to the upcoming NBA All Star game. Great honor for him, as he becomes the first All Star representative in franchise history. Weird how he is also the last remaining original Bobcat. Gonna be a busy weekend for him, with the dunk contest the day before the actual game. He'll be fun to watch.
  • Pro Bowl this weekend in Miami. Normally, this game means nothing. Ok, it still means nothing, but given the weather that is expected, it may be worth a look Sunday night. 3 Panthers, DE Julius Peppers, RB DeAngelo Williams and C Ryan Kalil are on the NFC squad. It's amazing to me that I can care so little about football when the coverage aspect of the the job ends with the season. Don't get me wrong, I love the game, but when the grind of the season comes to an end, a break is a welcome thing.
  • LATE UPDATE--ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Panthers LB Jon Beason is heading to the Pro Bowl, rpelacing Patrick Willis from San Francisco. Willis is dealing with a knee injury, so Beason is in. On Friday. 2 days before the game. Not the way he wante dto go, I'm sure, but still, he's there. Good for Beason.
  • Charlotte 49ers did a nice job knocking off Temple on Wednesday night. I love the detractors, though. "Don't storm the floor." "Act like you've been there." News flash--they haven't been here in a while. Let them enjoy the win. Remember, this is college basketball, not the NFL. Exuberance is welcome, and even encouraged. Just do it safely, and never do it in the SEC. South Carolina got smacked with a $25,000 fine from the league after their fans stormed the floor following the Gamecocks win over #1 Kentucky. Really, SEC? The top team gets upset by an unheralded school, that school's fans celebrate on the floor, and you fine them $25K? Take a step back next time, SEC. That was a little ridiculous.
  • Charlotte Checkers remain mum on a possible affiliate and league switch. reports last week had the Checkers becoming the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010. Neither side is confirming that story, and I suspect it's because a deal is close. This is my hunch, and opinion, but I think it's happening, which is a good thing for Charlotte hockey fans. the challenge would then be to get those fans to come to the games, and bring a friend with them.

Be sure to check out our Discount Tire High School All Star tonight. It is Cierra Burdick from Butler High School. Wonderful young lady, with a bright future. Also, by going to this link, you can find my sit down with 4-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Have a great weekend!

Mike Solarte

Friday, January 22, 2010

The end of a busy week

Sorry it took me so long to get a blog up this week. The 2010 Sprint Cup Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway kept the sports team running all week long. Props to Tim Baier for his hard work this week (I was with him too, but he handled night side events while I was show building and such). Now that I have made my excuses (lol), on to the blog.
  • So much to talk about from the Media Tour, and not enough space to do it all justice. Rules changes should make for some interesting times between the green and checkered flags. Spoiler coming back, a bigger restrictor plate at Daytona and Talladega, bump-drafting being allowed, and so on. Personally, and this should come as a shock, I am thinking a Hendrick driver will win the title in 2010. Jimmie Johnson is, of course, the favorite, but I can't help but think this might be Dale Earnhardt, Jr's year. A year ago he had the look of a guy that was really enjoying his new surroundings. The year went horribly, and with changes and a dedication to getting that #88 team up to speed, I viewed Junior as a guy that likes his surroundings, and has a new resolve to live up to the expectations. He didn't come out and say that, but he has a different look about him. I won't lie--NASCAR is more interesting when he is a factor. I'll be pulling for him to have a big season.
  • The Charlotte Bobcats are rolling. Wow, are they fun to watch. If in fact they are trying to sell the team, they could get a great price. Attention fans: this team is making the playoffs, barring something ridiculous. Get on board now--there is plenty of room on the bandwagon.
  • Carolina Panthers have yet to hire a Special Teams coach, but they did bring in Tyke Tolbert to coach the wide receivers. The recently retired Richard Williamson had been on every Panthers coaching staff, so Tolbert has some big shoes to fill. No question he has a marquee player to work with, but he has to get the understudies up to snuff. If that involves Muhsin Muhammad, so be it. The Panthers could do worse. Moose is a known commodity, but I hope the deep post route to Moose is used less often in 2010. Just saying.
  • Tar Heel fans--step away from the sharp objects. Seriously. I can not believe the amount of potential bridge-jumpers that back the powder blue. Yes, the Heels are struggling, but they are banged up, missing key guys, and have lost to teams that view UNC as their national championship opponent. I do not think UNC is good enough to reach the Final Four (as it is now, I don't the ACC has a Final Four squad anywhere), but the thought of an NCAA tourney without Carolina, to me, is flat out stupid. If they continue to spiral out of control, then maybe, but I have enough faith in Roy Williams and his players, that they will get things moving in the right direction. Let the season play out, people.
  • News coming out of Raleigh and Albany is that the Carolina Hurricanes top minor league affiliate could be relocating to Charlotte. Nothing set in stone, but in the end, the Charlotte Checkers could be affiliated with the Hurricanes, and moving into the American Hockey League. I don't know what that does for the current Checkers staff, and I am hopeful the changes are non-existent, but that's not a call I can make. In the end, the product will be better on the ice, as the AHL teams send players to the NHL, and not another minor league affiliate. The AHL would be a step up from the ECHL in terms of product on the ice, but I can't say it will be better in terms of the relationship to the community. The Checkers have been wonderful to the Charlotte area in their time--that's something no one should forget, or take for granted.
  • Speaking of hockey, Carolina Hurricanes fans, fret not about the switch of captains. Rod Brind'Amour, one of the classiest and dedicated hockey players the NHL has ever known, had the opportunity to retain the "C" when the subject came uip earlier this week. Being the guy he is, the leader he is, and someone who senses that his career is winding down, did not fight it. He remains a captain of the team, wearing the "A" as alternate. Eric Staal is ready for the duties and responsibilities that come with wearing the "C". Don't loko at the Hurricanes as classless, or out to lunch on this one. The move was going to come at some point, be it mid-season or afterwards. Given the tough campaign the Hurricanes have had, this kind of news is more of a signal of changing times, and not a show of dislike for Brind'Amour. To me, the guy is a Hall of Fame center. The time simply had come to look to the future. Let me ask this of Hurricanes fans: would the organization be classless if they traded Brind'Amour to a Stanley Cup contender around the deadline? Giving him a chance to win a 2nd title? Before you answer, remember they did the same thing with defenseman Glen Wesley, and center Ron Francis. Your answer should be "no."

That's all I have for now, have a great weekend!

Mike Solarte

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Around and around it goes

Been promising this blog for a couple days--not enough hours in the day, gang...

East Carolina lost Skip Holtz to South Florida this week, and I said on Sports Night I don't see this as an advancing position. Yes, the Big East tie to the BCS is a positive, but beyond that, what does USF have? True, it's Tampa, and Holtz has family ties there which are always nice, but is that Skip's destination job? My guess is, not likely. It will be good for him and his family to be near his parents, his wife's family, etc. Holtz, though, is a highly motivated guy. He wants it all. The fire burns inside him, and I think he wants a big time program. USF isn't that program. Can he turn it into one? Who knows. If he is willing to put in Bobby Bowden years, then maybe. ECU lost a very good coach, a wonderful guy, and someone who has done a great job in reversing the fortunes of that program. I, though, will be in the long line of those who aren't surprised when Holtz puts in 3-5 years at USF, and then bolts to a bigger school, with more of a national brand, and a higher profile. If he stays, I'll be the first to admit I was wrong, but to me, the shift to USF is about personal reasons and not football. Sorry, USF fans, your program isn't Nebraska, Miami, Florida, Penn State, etc. Be wary when a school of that kind gets a hold of his phone number.

Duke's David Cutcliffe chose to remain at Duke, rather than go back for to Tennessee for a 3rd stint with the school. It would have been his first time as the Vols Head Coach, and personally, I am glad he stayed with the Devils. Unlike Holtz, Cutcliffe doesn't seem to be the guy chasing the big school feelings anymore. Age, and perhaps health, is a factor in that decision, I think. He's been in the SEC before, knows the lay of the land, and decided that turning Duke into a winning program--no small task--is more his cup of tea. Duke fans should be thankful that a guy chose their football program over the SEC. The way to show that appreciation is to show up at Wallace Wade Stadium on game day, and do it in droves. Make that place rock on Saturday afternoon and nights.Cutcliffe will get them to a bowl game, sooner, rather than later, and plenty of good seats are available to see it all happen.

As for the Lane Kiffin move than seemed to set the dominoes in motion, allow me to paraphrase my buddy Steve Politi of the Newark Star-Ledger, who penned something along the lines of "co coach has been offered more for doing less than Lane Kiffin." Very accurate assessment. The guy washed out in Oakland, which is no real fault of his own, given the Raiders are an absolute mess. then he takes a job in Tennessee, goes 7-6, and then jumps ship for Southern Cal? It's not like he went 13-0, and won a national title. What makes that guy so attractive to schools? Some say the package of assistants (namely his dad, Monte) that go with him. That "package" was one game over .500 in 2009. Let me know how that works out for you at USC.

Other musings:
  • Carolina Panthers aren't retaining Special Teams Coach Danny Crossman. It was something that many saw coming, although it was never a sure thing until it happened. By my count, and I could be wrong, but the last time the Panthers ran back a kickoff for a touchdown was in 2004. The returner was Rod Smart. Yeah, "He Hate Me" was the last guy to do that. A number of teams have returned punts and kickoffs against Carolina since then, and just about all of those returns came against Crossman-coached ST units. Something had to give, and given the Panthers ground-floor rankings in many ST categories, Crossman was the guy to get the heave-ho.
  • Speaking of the Panthers, they were a sponsor for the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club meeting on Friday morning at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte. ESPN's Trey Wingo was the guest speaker, and what an amazing guy he is. Had the chance to chat with him afterwards, and he is just as sharp in his knowledge as he comes across tv, and as likable as he is on camera, he's 10 times that in person. I enjoyed chatting with him, and hope our paths cross again someday. The club also presented Butler HS LB Alex Polofsky with a $1,000 scholarship. He carries a weighted 4.45 GPA on a 4.0 scale. Impressive. He also told a story about working with people while in middle school to organize, and send toiletries to US troops overseas. WHILE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL. That story made me ask myself, "What have you done today?" He's choosing between Harvard, Princeton, and Duke as his college destination. Talk about a bright future! Good luck, Alex!
  • Last. but certainly not least, the Charlotte Bobcats are hotter than sunburn. 18-19 on the season, and that is with a 7 game losing streak factored into the start of the season. I will admit, I was skeptical when Larry Brown was hired as Head Coach. I didn't think he would make much of an impact. The cynic in me said "he's been to so many teams, seen so much, he's just a name coach to put people in the seats." I will admit, in print, I was wrong. The guy has done everything he promised, and more. he needed a roster of his liking to get the results, and he's almost there. As of now, the Bobcats do not have an All-Star ()officially). I suspect Gerald Wallace will find a spot on the Eastern Conference roster, and it will be a "Jon Beason-like" crime if he doesn't go. Given that the Bobcats have one really recognizable "NBA" name (Stephen Jackson), the fact the Bobcats are in the mix for a playoff spot this late into the season (which really isn't that late), is a testament to Brown and his coaching staff. It also speaks volumes for the players that are executing that style of play, and making it fun to watch. As a franchise, they are officially worth the price of admission.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spraying to all fields

Thoughts swirling in my brain this fine day....

  • The Charlotte Bobcats have to be considered as a playoff contender. Attention Charlotte NBA fans: there is a team, and they are playing quite well. The attendance numbers are horrid, but those that are showing up are watching a team that continues to play hard (Bernie Bickerstaff's trademark with less talented squads), they score points, and they have fun. They deserve a better audience, and with games on Friday and Saturday against San Antonio and Phoenix, here's hoping they get more eyeballs watching them.
  • Stephen Jackson=BEAST. Seriously, Jack? 15 of 22 from the floor, a career and franchise best 43 against Houston? Not that Houston is a legit title contender, but they aren't the Nets. Rockets were 5 games over .500 this season, and that's without Tracy McGrady AND Yao Ming. They made everything they shot in the first half, yet 13 was their largest lead. Jackson refused to let the Bobcats lose. Strong stuff.
  • The Carolina Panthers are doing a nice job of staying out of the headlines, however, it is making some in the fan base a little edgy. Fans are wanting to know what is going on with their Head Coach, the franchise player, and more. Nothing is coming from Bank of America Stadium, and, in the big picture, that's probably a good thing.
  • Speaking of football....Pete Carroll goes from USC to Seattle, then Lane Kiffin (after 1 year at Tennessee) heads to USC? I can see why Carroll took off. No, I don't believe for a second that Carroll jumping at the Seattle gig was purely for getting back into the NFL. Not for one second. An NCAA investigation of the Trojan program is winding down. Hard to punish the guy when he's not there--that's just my opinion. Kiffin leaving Tennessee is completely strange. One year in the SEC (arguably college football's best conference), and he's the hot coaching prospect USC is looking for? Hey, good luck to one and all. I'll just sit here scratching my head.
  • Speaking of head scratchers, Appalachian State released their football schedule for 2010. The usual suspects from the Southern Conference care there, along with non-conference home sweeteners Jacksonville and North Carolina Central. The "huh," moment comes at the end. Nov. 20, at Gainesville, vs. Florida. What? There are times to play Florida if you are App State. That time is never the season finale. If the Mountaineers are among the tops in the SoCon in 2010, and are contending for a playoff spot, do you want to head into the Swamp before that last game, and possibly get some of your top players banged up? It's one thing to open the season there, as there is plenty of time to work through the rough spots. I am guessing there is a large check attached to App State heading to Florida in November (a check being scratched by the Gators), so I guess that plays into it. Still, it's a risk for a program that has become a fixture in the NCAA playoffs.
  • Mark McGwire came clean-he used steroids. OK, we knew that. He says he used them to help his body heal, and not for performance enhancement. News flash: an athlete taking something to heal the body faster is, in fact, enhancing their performance. Thing about McGwire's admission-he sounded genuinely hurt, and remorseful. I hope he ends up being the example of what not to do, because after the cheering fades, you have to live with your conscience.
  • World Cup soccer isn't coming to Charlotte after all. The Queen City did not make the cut of possible host site, should the United States play host to soccer's biggest tournament. I'm not surprised by that, as Charlotte just isn't that kind of city yet. More shocking was that Chicago was left out, and Nashville is still in the running. I am biased, being a Chicagoan, but the Windy City HOSTED GAMES back in 1994. Been there, done that. Strangeness continues.

Getting out of the sports world for a second to lend my support (not that he needs it), to Conan O'Brien. Talk about a guy getting a raw deal. All he ever did was honor his contract. He didn't ask for this swirl of controversy, but he's handling it wonderfully. O'Brien's status as host of "The Tonight Show" is so far up in the air, it has a nosebleed. NBC is scrapping Jay Leno's 10pm show (a failed experiment), and bringing Leno back to 11:30 (as it stands now). NBC also says they want Conan to be a part of that late night lineup, but O'Brien wants none of it.

Good for him.

Conan is being treated like a rag doll here, which is to say nothing of what Carson Daly is getting (Daly hosts the really REALLY late show from 1:30-2:00 am). Jimmy Fallon's gig at 12:30 (O'Brien's old haunts), appears to be the only show untouched at the moment.

I liked Leno at 11:30, but as my wife and I were talking about, we watched Leno to see the end of his run. We gave Conan a try, and he's done well in my house. He's a ratings winner. Taking him out of the mix, would send my remote back to David Letterman (sorry Dave, but Conan has my attention--just keep rockin').

Michael Waltrip once said you can't gripe about a problem without having a solution, and I have one. Leno was the one that wanted out of the 11:30 slot to begin with (O'Brien's move to late night was the result of Leno's decision years ago). They say you can't go back. Don't allow him to. Find something else for Leno to do. Holiday specials. Telethons. Movies. Answer phones. Anything. Just not 11:30.

Jimmy Kimmel was dressed as Leno on his show Tuesday night (it was a scream, by the way), a sign that the industry is getting behind O'Brien. NBC and Leno should do the one thing to make it all better--leave Conan where he is.

Mike Solarte

Sunday, January 10, 2010

How did they get HERE?

ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Panthers Head Coach John Fox could void the 2010 year on his current contract if he finds a better offer. More on that here.


How did the two sides get to this point? Fox is, without question, the best coach this franchise has known, and now, it would seem, the marriage is beyond repair. Knowing that 2010 could be the last season of football we see for a little while, it made sense the team didn't want to do a long-term deal with the coach, since they would have to pay him (money going out), without games being played (money coming in).

Now, though, if Fox does have the option of voiding the final year of his contract, the Panthers would be content with a different coach for a long-term deal or a lame duck coach for what could be a lame duck season.

From my seat, this does, at long last, give credence to a big-name coach replacing Fox, if he walks. Bill Cowher or even Tony Dungy could be a possibility. Dungy coming to Carolina would seem a natural fit, given Ron Meeks in place as Defensive Coordinator. That duo worked together (quite well) in Indianapolis, before Dungy hung up his whistle, and moved to TV.

Personally, I would hate seeing this happen for this team. The guys in that room love playing for Fox. They respect him. They play hard for him. They could have laid down their swords when they were eliminated from playoff contention, yet went on a 3-game win streak to close strong. Sure, they played the New Orleans back-ups, but it's not the Panthers fault. They played hard, when they could have licked a roll of stamps, and mailed it in.

I do agree that Fox wasn't due an extension, but not because of how his team played--only because of the uncertainty that is the NFL beyond 2010.

Again, Fox has the option, according to the article. He hasn't made the move. there is also the possibility, that the "sources" quoted in the article could be glue-sniffers. In the end it's yet another interesting wrinkle for a team that went 8-8 last season, and has plenty of things to deal with this off-season.

Mike Solarte

Friday, January 8, 2010

Heading to the weekend

Couple NFL notes from a Friday:

Let the next wave of John Fox is leaving rumors begin, as ESPN's John Clayton is reporting the Seattle Seahawks are parting ways with Jim Mora, Jr . after one season at the helm. The Seahawks need to now hire a Head Coach and a G.M., so there will, no doubt, be speculation that Fox is a candidate to go there. We'll see. Read the story here.

The Panthers 2010 opponents are now known, and the schedule looks rather tame compared to the 2009 docket. According to ESPN's Pat Yasinskas and the ESPN Stats folks, Carolina's got the 26th toughest schedule for next season. You can get a look at how it all breaks down here.

Charlotte Bobcats 3-game win streak came to an end in New York on Thursday, but I still like the direction this team is heading. I do wonder, though, if they would be more effective with a backup power forward. Maybe it's just me, but since the departure of Raja Bell, Boris Diaw hasn't quite been the same. Now, I know he's been a little banged up, and Stephen Jackson's arrival has taken the ball out of Diaw's hands some, but why no backup? The Bobcats have a roster spot, with Alexis Ajinca in the NBDL, so how about it? There has to be SOME BODY out there that can contribute. Make it happen, this team can use all hands on deck, not be shorthanded.

That's about all I have for now. Have a great weekend!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bank of America Stadium is quiet

Early in the season, I wondered if the Panthers 2009 campaign would ever end. This past Sunday, I wished it would continue.

That was the journey for the Carolina Panthers this season. Early struggles, key injuries, then the return of a tough, hard-hitting defense, an offense that seemed to be able to move the ball at will, and a team full of players that believed.

The 8-8 record is what they earned, and likely deserved given the horrendous start. It was a record that could have been better had they been able to win games against non-playoff teams like Buffalo and Miami, but as Head Coach John Fox would say, "it is what it is."

Observations now that it's done:
  • Stop making so much of the Panthers inability to put together back-to-back winning seasons. True, this franchise hasn't been able to do that in their history. In their 15 seasons of play, this was the 2nd time they followed up a winning season with an 8-8 record. By way of comparison, the Atlanta Falcons put together winning seasons in back to back years in 2008 and 2009....for the first time in their history. That trick took them 43 years to accomplish. I like that fans demand better-than-average results, but let's keep things in perspective. Factoring in the amount of injuries the 2009 Panthers had to deal with, 8-8 is nothing short of miraculous. They put 12 players on injured reserve in 2009, and we aren't talking about 2nd and 3rd team players here.
  • Folks wanting John Fox to take a hike could do well to learn this saying: "The devil that you know is better than the devil that you don't know." I'm not calling John Fox a devil, mind you. I am saying that his track record is proven--his teams believe in his message, and his methods. They play hard for him. They don't give up. There is something to be said for a leader of men that continues to get results, and effort, and even more can be said of that leader when those results and that effort comes when the chips are down. Fox has one more season left on his contract. On Monday, he said he see himself back with the team in 2009 (during his radio show). Personally, I hope he does come back, and doesn't try and go somewhere else. Reports out there suggest he will meet with team owner Jerry Richardson next week. Is he deserving of a contract extension? Not for me to say, since I don't sign the checks, but I do think he deserves a bit of respect for the things he has done with this franchise since his arrival. It wasn't that long ago this football team was 1-15, and being kicked around in their own stadium by New England on the final weekend of the season. Fox came in and has made this franchise respectable in more ways than one. I don't buy the term "lame duck" coach, either. 2011 may be a year without football (although I don't believe it comes to that), and Richardson is simply going about his business (read tying up money he may have to pay out without games being played) carefully.
  • Jake Delhomme. 2010 couldn't get here fast enough for him. 2009 was a dreadful season, one I would only wish on the Chicago Cubs. Delhomme will be back with the team in 2010 (I believe), but he isn't guaranteed of anything more than a jersey at training camp. Delhomme will have to work, and work hard to earn the starter's job in 2010. It has come to the point where he is no longer the anointed number one QB. Matt Moore's play over the final 5 games of the season only added to that situation. Delhomme's struggles in the passing game in 2009 (dating back to the playoff loss to Arizona), put the franchise in a spot where they have to closely evaluate that position. Delhomme should get the shot to prove that 2009 was a fluke. Thing is, he will have to be perfect, and I mean PERFECT in camp, and exhibition games. Hats off to Moore, who showed the NFL that he has the game to lead a football team--not bad for a guy that was among the last players cut by the Dallas Cowboys 3 years ago.
  • Now, before we make Moore the second coming of Steve Beuerlein, let's point out that he wasn't asked to beat his opponents by slinging it around the yard. The Panthers (as I have mentioned in this blog all season long), are built on running the football. They ran it quite effectively in their final 4 wins, and Moore averaged 22 pass attempts per game in the final 5 games. He had a solid completion percentage in that time, completing 79 of those throws, for a 63% clip. Basically, if Carolina does what they do--run it well, throw when needed--they win. Moore didn't take too many deep shots down the field in his games, because he didn't have to. Delhomme was forced into that situation (and I will admit, he had something to do with it, by throwing untimely interceptions). Just keeping things in perspective.

In all, it was a year that many will both remember and forget--they'll forget the bad, remember the strong finish. All will look back on 2009 as the season that could have been.

Mike Solarte

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