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RICHARDS: Vanderbilt shaking things up

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Darryl Richards

 
   
 
Coaches Gone Wild, rogue programs, soaring budgets, flat revenues and plunging graduation rates over the last few years have caused college presidents to flex their muscles around the athletic department in an attempt to show who is in charge. That makes the actions of president Gordon Gee this week seem like a case of steroid-induced rage. There are a lot of things that come to mind when you mention . Lack of institutional control is not one of them. The football program was lauded for graduating 90 percent of its athletes from the 1996-97 freshman class. The Commodores are almost saintly in an SEC tarnished by NCAA investigations and probations. No, 's biggest problem was a budget shortfall. Keep in mind, a recent NCAA study that showed the Commodores have a lot of company. But Gee decided to erase the line that separated the athletics from the rest of the university and go with a model similar to Ivy League and Division II and Division III schools. Remember, intercollegiate athletics were grouped in with student recreation and wellness while Gee was at Brown University. Gee whiz, what a solution. Sure, that can work at Brown where they don't provide athletic scholarships. But compared to its SEC brethren, a lot of people think is already operating at the intramural level. went retro by dissolving its athletic department, but the Commodores could be victims of unintended circumstances. It's clear that Gee has his own agenda. Friends and associates of now former athletic director Todd Turner said he was totally caught by surprise that the athletic department was being pried out of his grasp. football coach , who has a big enough problem playing a winless team this week, had no inkling that his president was making such a move. "He's a pretty sharp guy, so we're going to do what he's asked us to do," Johnson said. "In the long run, I think it's going to be good for . But we were pretty well surprised. We had no prior warning. I haven't seen it be a distraction yet; I hope it won't. "Our guys are focused on trying to improve every time we go out to play and they're not going to let it bother them. We're convinced their experience will be improved at ." It's not as if competes with every team in the SEC for the best recruits. 's stricter academic requirements serve to reduce its talent pool. But anybody competing with for athletes can say it appears the school is toning down its programs. Johnson and Gee were adamant that the Commodores are part of the SEC and will do what it takes to compete in the league. But Johnson has to sell that to recruits. Johnson acknowledged he will have to so some recruiting spin-doctoring because the headlines blare out "Vanderbilt dissolves athletic department." No, make that major surgery. What will be more interesting is how Gee's colleagues around the country will respond to this pilot program. Gee was making a bold move at . Would a similar move fly at USC, or Florida? "I'm not sure what they are searching for here," Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. "Some of the words I heard from the chancellor seem contradictory. Perhaps the whole thing will become clearer to a lot of us. But it's a hard one to digest because Todd was so respected." Dutch Baughman's phone was going crazy Wednesday morning from athletic directors trying to get more information. Baughman, who is the executive director of the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association, said he was stunned by the move and is struggling to grasp the reasoning behind the move. "I think it is severe," Baughman said. "Todd is and has been one of the most respected athletic directors around the country. I wouldn't say there is fear but we're having a scheduled meeting at the end of the month and this is definitely coming up in our discussions." You can bet presidents around the country are thinking about how they can flex their muscles too. just received the hammer from the NCAA's infraction committee and will be on probation for four years. It usually takes building a new multi-purpose arena, sparing no expense at finding a top-flight coach or having a state-of-the-art weight room to be considered an industry leader. is taking a different approach. "Vanderbilt did something that a lot of universities will start doing," coach Jackie Sherrill said. "You can only have so many coaches, players on your team, meals a day, practices. Football budgets, per se, are pretty equal around the country. The difference is all the assistants, assistants, assistance that you have. A lot of what goes on is duplicated in the university." says it will remain a player in the SEC and Division I-A. It's apparent the Commodores are content playing a different game.

Tressel's gamble

's multi-purpose threat may be the Buckeyes' best Heisman Trophy candidate now that Maurice Clarett is gone, but don't expect to see him doing as much early in the season. coach Jim Tressel said he is monitoring how he uses Gamble, who plays offense, defense and special teams for the Buckeyes. Gamble hasn't caught a pass this season and Tressel said he hasn't put him on the field on offense that often because the weather has been warm. "We've played some good passing teams (Washington and ) and we've needed him on defense," Tressel said. "We've had some routes called, hoping we can get the ball to him. The third priority after defense and special teams is offense. My offensive coaches don't like that very much."

Tricks of the trade

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops received props from two of the game's craftiest coaches this week when 's Bobby Bowden and 's Lou Holtz acknowledged a fake punt call against . Stoops decided to call the play with the Sooners facing 4th-and-10 from their own 31 late in the third quarter. Punter shot putted a pass to reserve defensive back who picked up 22 yards on the play and quieted a frenzied crowd. The Sooners took advantage of the demoralized Crimson Tide and threw a touchdown pass on the next play to seal the victory. Bowden, who built a reputation at for calling trick plays, said he doesn't call them as often these days. But he admires Stoops' moxie. "A lot of people have trick plays but don't call them at the right time," Bowden said. "You have to admire his for having the audacity to call it. He had to have momentum away from home." Holtz agreed with Bowden when it came to the issue of timing. Holtz saw the play on television and said Oklahoma needed something to take out of the game. "If he punts, the momentum is with ," Holtz said. "If the pass had been unsuccessful, the momentum still would be with . It was a brilliant call and it was a brilliant call because it worked. I've made some of those great calls in my mind, but they were dumb calls because we didn't execute. Stoops downplayed his image as a gambler. He received the greater satisfaction from seeing Thompson catch the pass. Thompson, a starter on OU's national championship team, was near death two years ago after a car accident in Norman. Thompson didn't play in 2001 and returned last season as a backup.

Who's in charge

If you want proof that you can never have enough quarterbacks on campus, ask coach Karl Dorrell how he feels about his depth at the position this week. lost its starting quarterback when Matt Moore injured his left leg in the season opener against Colorado. Moore is out 4-6 weeks. Drew Olson will start Saturday's game against , but the depth gets rather thin after Olson. The Bruins felt comfortable with backup , but Sciarra was suspended for Saturday's game against because he didn't reveal an Aug. 8 arrest on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct-public intoxication and giving false information to a police officer. This is how precarious is 's quarterback situation going into the Colorado game. Brian Callahan, the backup of the backup of the backup, didn't start at Concord De La Salle. Callahan, the son of Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan, backed up current Michigan reserve quarterback Matt Gutierrez, for two seasons. Sciarra reportedly took his attorney's advice and didn't report the arrest to his coaches at because there was a chance the charges could be dropped. But coaches were burned two years ago when quarterback concealed two alcohol-related convictions. Paus' legal problems were part of a distraction-filled season that included star running back DeShaun Foster being suspended for the second half of the season for driving a new Ford Expedition that had been loaned to him by a Hollywood television director. If nothing else, Dorrell and athletic director Dan Guerrero have set a standard for discipline that was lacking during Bob 's tenure at Westwood.

Short yardage

  • , which won't be part of the Big East until 2004, is one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Huskies have won their last six games. Only , , , USC and Georgia sport longer streaks.
  • The SEC was under the microscope last week when it came to high-profile, intersectional games. Now it's the Big Ten's turn. League teams will face four teams in the Top 25 (No. 15/14 , No. 18/18 , No. 20/21 and No. 24/22 N.C. State); four unbeatens (Iowa State, , and ) and six 2002 bowl participants (UCLA, , , , N.C. State and ).
  • Freshman defensive tackle Amobi Okoye is well on his way to becoming the Nigerian Doogie Howser. Okoye was just 16 when he stepped on the field against . He tested into the ninth grade as a 12-year-old when his family moved from Nigeria to Huntsville, Ala. Okoye took up the sport as a sophomore. And yes, Okoye is interested in attending medical school once he graduates from .
  • Tagged: Florida State, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Boise State, Buffalo, UCLA, Alabama, Mississippi State, Auburn, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Georgia, Fresno State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado, Louisville, San Diego State

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