Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Over. It's All Over.

Pop quiz, hotshots.  Does this post title refer to:
  1. The Illini's search for a new football coach, now that Tim Beckman has been hired?
  2. The Tyler Colvin era in Chicago, now that he's been traded to the Rockies for Ian Stewart?
  3. The Bears' playoff chances after Sunday's date with the Tebow steamroller?
  4. None of the above
The answer is "D", none of the above.  The post title refers to this blog.

When I started writing, the Cubs were run by Jim Hendry, the Illini were run by Ron Guenther, the Bears were run by Jerry Angelo, and everything seemed hopeless, sports-wise, so I needed an outlet to vent my frustrations.  But now, 17 months later, the Cubs have a competent front office, the Illini have an AD who demands accountability from his coaches, and the Bears...well, two out of three ain't bad, right?  Anyway, I don't know how many people are actually reading these posts, and I'm just tired of writing, so I've decided that I'm not going to be updating the blog anymore.

And as my final post draws to a close, I'm reminded of a few of the events that brought me closer to you: Albert Pujols leaving St. Louis, back-to-back football wins over Northwestern, premium ice cream wars, dogs that were mistakenly issued major credit cards, and others that weren't so lucky. 

And so, farewell.  It's been a blast.  And if you do like what I write but can only take it in doses of 140 characters or less, don't forget to look for my new column in PC World magazine that you can still follow me on Twitter

Smell ya later!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Now That We Fired Zook, What Are We Gonna Do?

When Mike Thomas said he was going to "assess" Ron Zook at the end of the season, "assess" was apparently a code word for "fire immediately", and "end of the season" meant "end of the regular season after a humiliating blowout loss to a horrible team, bowl game or not."  Honestly, I feel bad for the Zooker right now.  While his overall record at Illinois (34-51, 18-37 in conference play) was awful, he did walk into a terrible situation when he took over the Illini (three straight losing seasons before he arrived), and unlike the two guys who had the job before he did (and unlike certain basketball coaches), at least he did leave things in better shape than when he got here.  But even though Zook seems like a good guy, he wasn't a very good coach, his faults were glaringly obvious, and the six-game regular-season-ending losing streak made it clear that he's not the right man to lead this program going forward.

The good news is that whoever the new permanent head coach is, with the talent on hand there's no way next year's Illini go 0-11 (as they did in Ron Turner's first year after taking over for Lou Tepper) or 2-9 (as they did in Zook's first year after taking over for Turner).  It's also encouraging to see that Thomas won't tolerate mediocrity; back-to-back six-win regular seasons probably would have earned Zook a five-year contract extension if Ron Guenther were still the AD.  As a side note, I'm guessing this also means Bruce Weber's seat just got a little bit hotter, and that Weber will need to do better than spending every year on the NCAA Tournament bubble if he wants to stick around.  So now the fun begins.  In hiring Zook's replacement, Mike Thomas gets to make his first big impact on Illini athletics.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Illini vs. Minnesota Preview: Please Make It Stop

Congratulations, Ron Zook - after a fantastic start to the 2011 season, your team's five game losing streak has completely crushed my spirit.  Of course, I will be rooting for the Illini to beat the Golden Gophers on Saturday, but for me this game will have the same feel as the Illini basketball team's NIT game against Stony Brook in 2010.  If we win, I probably won't be excited as much as relieved that we didn't suffer a humiliating loss.

Fortunately, even though the Illini went from Columbus Day to Thanksgiving without winning a game, we still have a better team than Minnesota.  If the Illini defense could hold Wisconsin's powerful offense in check, they should be able to stop the Golden Gophers' offense.  I think we'll get just enough production from our offense and for a change we won't shoot ourselves in the foot on special teams.  It will add up to a win and a little momentum going into whatever crappy bowl game we get invited to.  Yippee.  But more importantly, it means that the regular season will be over,  so we'll be that much closer to getting an answer from Mike Thomas on whether he wants Zook to be a part of the future of the football program.  And that answer should be something to get excited about.

Illinois 24
Minnesota 10
Ron Zook will be fired after the game and will not coach our bowl game

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bears Sign Josh McCown as Backup QB

Or was it Luke McCown?  It couldn't have been Cade McNown, could it?  No, it actually was Josh McCown.  Too bad it wasn't Neckbeard the Pirate, but apparently the Chiefs got to him first. Oh, well - I guess that just means (1) we'll have to settle for Josh McCown as Caleb Hanie's backup until Jay Cutler gets back into the lineup, and (2) we'll get to see Kyle Orton soon enough, when the Chiefs visit Chicago a week from Sunday.  OK, Josh - here's hoping you're ready to stand on the sidelines holding a clipboard.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thumbs Down - Can the Bears Overcome Jay Cutler's Injury?

"I've learned that life is one crushing defeat after another, until you just wish Flanders was dead." - Homer Simpson

I certainly don't feel that way about life in general (and not just because, like hens love roosters and geese love ganders, I love Ned Flanders more than Homer Simpson loves a nacho hat).  But the first part of that sentence does a pretty good job of summarizing how I've felt watching my football teams this fall.  After a 6-0 start, the Illini may need to win their last game of the regular season at Minnesota to avoid being shut out of a bowl game.  The Bears had been doing a good job of covering up the stench emanating from Champaign by posting a five-game winning streak - and major props to you if you guessed that the Bears, who were sitting at 2-3 at the same time the Illini were 6-0, would reach seven wins before the Illini did.  However, as you've undoubtedly heard, the Bears suffered a crushing injury on Sunday, losing long snapper Patrick Mannelly to a torn ACL.  Oh - and there was also something about Jay Cutler breaking his thumb during the win over the Chargers.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Velcome to Chicago, Dale Sveum!

That's "SWAYM"
In all honesty, I wasn't exactly thrilled when I first heard the news that the Cubs were planning to hire Dale Sveum as their new manager.  This is the first big decision by the Cubs' new front office team.  So why were they (and the Red Sox, for that matter) so eager to pursue a guy who had twice been passed over for the managerial opening in Milwaukee - once when he was the Brewers' interim manager and had just guided the franchise to its first postseason appearance in 26 years?  Then I read about how Sveum "is a believer in the advanced statistical analysis that Chicago's new leadership loves and is counting on to build up the farm system."  Money quote:

''I do my due diligence and video work and prepare as much as anybody,'' Sveum said before he was hired. ''As far as the stats, those are what they are, and we can use them to our advantage. It's a big part of the game now. It's helping us win a lot of ballgames, the stats and the matchups. That's just part of the game now, and you use what you can.''

Taking advantage of stats and no more equating drawing walks with "clogging the bases"?  No more batting a low OBP guy in the leadoff spot because that's where he's "comfortable"?  No more putting a thoroughly average hitter (career OPS+ of 100) in the middle of the order every day?  Wow - if this is true, I can sum up my thoughts on this hire in two words (no, not those two words):

Illini vs. Wisconsin Preview: Ron Zook's Last Stand?

But does Mike Thomas agree?
One of the most painful outcomes for Illinois football in recent years came in the 2009 season finale against Fresno State.  Nearly two years later, it's still difficult to believe that our Senior Day was ruined on a last-second, tipped-pass-for-a-two-point-conversion reception by a Bulldogs offensive lineman.  That loss capped off a 3-9 season for the Illini (Ron Zook's second straight losing season), and it seemed all but certain that we would never see Zook on the Illinois sideline at Memorial Stadium again.  But thanks to the generosity, insanity, and/or stupidity of then-AD Ron Guenther, Zook survived, and we've now seen him coach an additional 13 games at Memorial Stadium.  This Saturday's clash against #15/#17 Wisconsin will be his 14th since that Fresno State game.  But unless the Illini can score a victory over the Badgers, it's difficult to believe that current AD Mike Thomas will give Zook the opportunity to extend that number, no matter what Thomas is saying now.  By the way, I've heard that ESPN was planning to bring the blimp to Champaign for Saturday's broadcast, but in a cost-cutting move they've instead decided to get their aerial shots of the game by strapping cameras to the vultures circling over Zook's head.

Given that atmosphere, is there any hope for the Fighting Zookers on Saturday?