Monday, April 16, 2007

Monday Heat super package

Today, it's a double post of goodness, from the news to an honest, frank interview with CSU athletic director Paul Kowalczyk (scroll down) about his basketball and football programs and the challenges of climbing the mountain in both sports.

If you're ready, amigos, let's ride.

Mueh scrutiny

Have to share something -- I dislike, with a passion, when sports becomes about off-the-field drama. Now, if a team is losing or playing poorly, then talking about a coach, athletic director or general manager is related to the on-field or on-court product but when other factors come into play, well, consider me bored stiff.

And that's where I stand on Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh being questioned about his leadership in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Last I checked, he made a high-ceiling hire (Troy Calhoun) for his football program, had a great basketball coach (Jeff Bzdelik) leave for greener pastures (like he's the only one in the country doing such) and now many want to nit-pick his entire body of work.

You think he would be the subject of a witch hunt if Bzdelik would have rebuffed CU? And honestly, any time a long-tenured, well-loved coach like Fisher DeBerry is unhappy and no longer employed, then someone is going to take some heat.


Wake me when it's over.

Fact or Fiction, Buffs version

O.K., let's lay it all out on the table and be honest with one another.

Fact or fiction: The quarterback race at CU is over and the head coach's son is the Buff Idol.

Fiction -- Cody Hawkins is out in front, has the best potential, the most confidence while Nick Nelson has been slow to develop and with an apparent mild case of self doubt, but that said, Hawkins is not running away with this competition, which gives Nelson a shot, a longshot, to still start come the season opener.

Fact or fiction: CU will have a solid running game come fall.

Fiction: Yes, the Buffs have talent in the backfield, especially if prized JC recruit P.T. Gates performs some magic in the classroom to become eligible but the offensive line has question marks due new faces, depth problems and inexperience. CU might become effective running the ball but it isn't likely to be proficient early in 2007.

Fact or fiction: Kevin Eberhart, while no Mason Crosby, will become a worthy successor.

Fiction: Eberhart is shaky right now and while his leg is average to above average his accuracy is wanting. CU does not have a large margin for error to work with as a team yet. The kicking game could cost the Buffs games unless some technical errors are corrected.

Fact or Fiction, Rams version

Fact or fiction: Quarterback Caleb Hanie is set up to be a star in 2007.

Fact: Hanie has the necessary weapons on his side of the ball and the requisite talent himself but much depends on the health of running back Kyle Bell and the chemistry of the offensive line. As of now, there is uncertainty but come fall more could settle into place and give Hannie the ability to utilize the skill around him to have a big personal season.

Fact or fiction: The Rams are now an also-ran in the Mountain West Conference.

Fiction: CSU is not the consistent winner it has been previously under coach Sonny Lubick and maybe the talent has slipped too but there are still enough quality ingredients in the cupboard for the Rams to be a winning team and go bowling in 2007.

Nuggets Noise

Everyone talks about the one-two punch of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson but what about the trees that rebound, block shots and score a little -- who respects their importance?

Milo Bryant does.

And he's right. If those two "bigs" don't show up for work, Denver is hurting and getting the complaint box filled up. When Nene and Marcus Camby are right, they make a significant difference. Health will always be a major concern for the duo and you better have the extended warranty on their bodies but when they are hummin' and rollin' at 75 on the interstate they make the Nuggets one bad day at the office for opponents.

Scoreboard grumblings

Byung-Hyun Kim
was poor out of the gate on the mound on Sunday and Taylor Buchholz was ineffective in relief (surprise) as the Rockies lost on the road to Arizona, 6-4. Todd Helton homered and drove in two runs but Colorado stranded 18 men on base. This team, right now, is lost, neither hitting or pitching consistently well. It has to find itself soon or the front office will have make a move, or gamble on the fans becoming quickly disinterested on yet another mediocre product that was oversold in spring training.

Final Notes

Justin Nonu, who excited CU fans with his size and talent at the linebacker position, is likely cooked without ever registering an impact on the field due to a chronically bad back. Difficult loss but that's athletics. Injuries are the variable that always have to be accounted for when projecting players.

The NFL draft is approaching and fans of the Broncos had better hope Denver management is selling out to find a pass rusher or two, another wide receiver, help on the offensive line and maybe a linebacker or safety, too. Opposing quarterbacks need to know they don't a long lunch hour, courtesy of the Broncos' "D" whenever they drop back to pass.


CSU athletic director Paul Kowalczyk was gracious with his time last week in my desire to talk about his football and basketball programs. I think you will find his answers refreshingly free of the spin and defensiveness that many leaders in pro sports specialize in these days.

WSN: You know what it takes to build a successful athletic department, having achieved wonders at Southern Illinois in both football and basketball. Your work speaks volumes, Paul. So the question here is what characteristics is CSU currently lacking and how difficult is it going to be able to resolve those shortcomings?

Kowalczyk: You have to have the common goals, the right people in place, the attitude, that positive energy, that can-do approach. You need people who are going to work as hard as possible, go that extra mile to do what it takes and you need to pay attention to the little things.

WSN: So what kind of timetable do you have for such a transformation to take place within the athletic department's programs?

Kowalczyk: I don't like to set time frames because it can lead to disappointments.

In some areas we're very close and in other areas we're farther away. I think we have the personnel, and when I say that, I mean the coaches, to get the job done.

Coach (Tim) Miles and his staff -- I think that's a renewed energy and enthusiasm for taking this program on the path to success.

In football, Sonny (Lubick) was not a happy camper after last year and he's definitely determined to have a better season this year.

Financially, we have some struggles where we have to make chicken salad out of chicken droppings in the short term and our facilities are not quite adequate but we're going to make due with them and build from where we are.

We can win right now but longer term you can't sustain that success if you don't have a better budget and you don't have better facilities -- those are absolutely elemental with being successful.

I've told the school president, the board of governors and our staff if we're in the top-3 of our conference with our budget, in each sport, then we should be competing every year for conference championships.

We have to work to get there at this point.

WSN: So how does CSU get there?

Kowalczyk: Obviously, it's a step-by-step process.

I am revamping our development efforts but we also need to have some success somewhere to break through the glass ceiling we're under right now. We really haven't had a lot of success lately in football or basketball and I think the minute one of these programs shows renewed signs of life, people will get start getting excited again about what's going on, which will make all potential revenue streams we have grow.

Budgetary, we have to take some risks and spend a little to make that back -- it's called investing.

WSN: Tim Miles' name seemed to come from nowhere for casual fans and maybe even moderately educated ones, Paul. What made him stand out in your eyes, made him your guy, above all others?

Kowalczyk: He's worked hard, he's paid his dues, he's been successful every step of the way, he has 11 winning seasons out of 12 while building programs, the fact that he had two very special wins, on the road, while coaching kids at a school that wasn't going to be able to appear in the NCAA Tournament.

I thought, on paper, this guy has something special.

I liked his coaching demeanor, how his team played and in our conversations, I could tell he had the drive and the values. I want to win but I don't want to cheat to get there or bend every rule in the book and in I can tell you, in that regard, he's just like (former coaches under him) Bruce (Weber), Matt (Painter) and Chris (Lowery).

WSN: CSU basketball has been very average for a while. Not terrible, just mediocre. What are your expectations for this program in the short term?

Kowalczyk: People will look at our record and our team and say we're not that far away. I beg to differ. We are in a program-building mode and it's going to take a little bit of time to get there.

Our fans need to be excited because we've got the right guy (Miles) but they also need to be patient. The difference is going to be in the recruiting and the style of play.

WSN: Turning to football -- Sonny Lubick has done some tremendous things for the Rams' program but some might say it has been slipping from Lubick's previous standard. What are your hopes for football in 2007 and the next few seasons?

Kowalczyk: We need to get back into a bowl game and our long-term goal is to be a BCS bowl team, and I think that's achievable.

The greatest challenge is trying to reset our goals and change our culture, to get us thinking and dreaming big. I don't want to be an occasional bowl team -- I want to be there every year and every year fighting for a BCS bowl. I want to be winning the Mountain West Conference championship every year, for all our sports.

That has to be the reason we're here or otherwise we're just punching the clock.

Publisher's Note: Do you see it? Listen to Kowalczyk and you can feel his aspirations for CSU athletics is much grander than most fans and media feel possible. What I derived from our conversation is that he is fully aware of the current reality, obstacles and the hard work on the horizon but in time, with the proper achieving of goals along the road to success, Kowalczyk believes, I mean he truly believes, and why shouldn't he, that the Rams' programs could become similar to those like Louisville and West Virginia in football and basketball. For followers of CSU, that has to be exciting. The man has done it before at a smaller school. He has the blueprint. Now he's back being the developer, overseeing the construction of his newest project.

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