Friday, February 25, 2011



For the last week, I have been driving a Jeep Wrangler.

It’s a fun little vehicle to scoot around in and would no doubt provide even more fun if I could have had the opportunity to do the kind of things it is designed for, like taking it out on a trail, over rocks, or up a mountain. There are trails around here in South Florida, but few mountains, except for those made by piling up trash.

I also have been reluctant to take an off-road vehicle into Everglades trails I am not familiar with. The way I figure it, a vehicle like the Wrangler may handle ruts and rocks with ease, but it also can sink.
So I was left to drive the Wrangler for everyday tasks, like hauling groceries or running errands, etc.
And how did it compare doing that to the Ford Focus I had the week before?

Not bad. Not ideal for an every-day driver, but not bad.

The Focus is a lot more economical (it’s four-cylinder engine is rated at 25 mpg city, 34 highway compared to the Wrangler’s numbers of 15/19), and no doubt it’s more comfortable for the passenger. The Focus also is a four-door, which makes it a helluva lot easier to get in and out of the back (Wrangler also comes in a four-door version but the Sahara model I had is a two-door) and it’s lower than the Wrangler, which needs the extra ground clearance to handle off-road excursions.
But as far as maneuverability and handling on streets and parking lots, the Wrangler does so with only a bit more noticeably rougher ride than the Focus provides. (Yes, I know it borders on the ridiculous to compare a Wrangler with a Focus, and that’s not my intent. I’m just looking at the way they handle the chores of daily living and driving.) 

The Wrangler has some nice touches, too, in the way of creature comforts and has far from the spartan interior you might expect from off-road, trail-rated vehicles. A/C is standard, and it has all the hookups for such things as MP3 players and other audio gear. Satellite radio is available and standard on upper trim levels.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel features finger-tip controls for audio, cruise control, and other functions to attain information such as the distance-to-empty for your fuel, mileage, etc.
There are not quite as many bells and whistles as the Focus offers with its Ford Sync system, but Ford has gotten out in front of its competitors in the way of innovative technology, especially for a vehicle in the Focus’ price range. The Focus starts at under $17,000 for the base model; the top-of-the-line Titanium model, which is full of gadgetry, starts about $3,000 higher.

The Wrangler comes with a much bigger power train, a 3.8-liter, V6, than the four-banger in the Focus, which, of course, accounts for that difference in fuel mileage. It’s also a factor in the Wrangler’s pricing. The Sahara starts at just over $27,000. The top-of-the-line Rubicon starts at just under $33,000.

That V6 pumps out 237 lb-ft of torque, which you need to get its 4,269 pounds over the hills and through the woods securely. The 2.0-liter in the Focus puts out only 136 lb-ft of torque,
but that is enough to handle its 2,600 pounds on city streets and highways.

Both the Wrangler and the Focus are available with either manual and automatic transmissions (well, not quite; the top-of-the-line SEL Focus comes only with a four-speed automatic). Though I love manuals, I always thought an automatic would be better if you’re off-roading, but someone with trail experience once told me that isn’t necessarily the case.

Cutting to the quick here, yes, the Wrangler is a specialized vehicle that takes the description “unconventional” to the extreme, but it’s not so limited that it can’t handle the less-exotic tasks we demand of our cars. If you intend to stay on pavement, though, shop sedans like the Focus.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I don’t have a lot of experience as far as meeting CEO’s of large companies, so it could be they are all impressive figures who are friendly, outgoing, and down-to-earth while still having a certain air of class and confidence about them.

But I kind of doubt it.

Odds alone would be against it.

But I must say that Ralph Gilles, the CEO and President of Dodge, meets all those expectations and more.

Gilles -- whose name is pronounced with a “soft G” as in Georgia and rhymes with shields, but without the “d” on the end -- was in town for our media association luncheon last week.

That would be the Southern Automotive Media Association, a group of journalists, PR folks, manufacturers’ reps, and others in the auto industry based in Miami but with membership extending all over the place, even Ohio. (It’s south of Canada, OK?)

He not only was the centerpiece of the program, introducing more than 40 members and guests in attendance to the Dodge lineup of vehicles for 2011, he also took time to sit with a few of us for an extended question-and-answer session.

During his formal presentation, he delivered his insights on the vehicles with such ease and clarity it was like he was talking directly to each one present. His answers to our questions at the Q&A session earlier were insightful, thoughtful, and directly to the point.

It was a very impressive performance.

Afterward, I made the comment to a fellow member that Gilles was a real up-and-comer in the automotive industry, thinking of his age (40). The member corrected me.

“Considering his position, I’d say he already has arrived,” my friend said.

True enough.

I think you are going to be hearing more in the future from Gilles, the man behind the design of the groundbreaking Chrysler 300 sedan. He would seem to be well on his way to achieving the “rock star” status Bob Lutz reaching among his stops at Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors before his retirement.

That’s assuming the general news media is interested in getting straight information about the auto industry and not just going for the outrageous “sound bite” that they often got from Lutz, who once called global warming a crock of something other than chicken soup.

That may be asking a lot of what passes for investigative meda these days, but it will be their loss if they don’t seek out Gilles when doing stories about the automotive industry.

You can see coverage of both his presentation and his discussion with us at our website,

Sunday, February 20, 2011


My apologies in advance, but the Mr. Grammar Person inside me is going on a rant today. He just can’t take it any more.

It would make him feel sooooo good if people, many of whom should know better, would quit misusing the word “I.” Not just using it, as in the old days when columnists would go to awkward phrasing to avoid using the vertical pronoun, but misusing it, such as in phrases like “between you and I” or “it’s up to you and I.”


It just grates on my copy editing background to hear that from just about anybody, but especially from a radio or television commentator. Sometimes, not often though, I even have seen it in print. I also have heard it said in newsrooms where I have worked.

Hey, people!

The correct phrases are “between you and me” and “it’s up to you and me.” The words “you and me” are both the object of the prepositions “between” and “to” and require objective case. It’s really not that complicated.

On the other hand, it’s also a pet peeve of Mr. Grammar Person for so-called well-educated folks to misuse the objective case for who, using “whom”  instead as in phrasing like this: The game will be won by whomever wants it most.

Nope. Not whomever.

Whomever is not the object of the preposition “to.” The object of the preposition here is the entire phrase, “whomever wants it most.” Therefore, instead of whomever being a object here, it actually is the subject of the phrase and “whoever wants it most” is correct.

The funny thing is, I suspect many people, including one local sports columnist in South Florida, think they are being so proper and correct when they use “whom.” I used to work for a city editor who used it incorrectly all the time.

Now, I realize this is probably not a big thing with most people. If you say “between you and I” or “to whomever wants it most”, you may be incorrect grammatically, but nobody is going to misunderstand you.

I’ll accept that.

But I hold people in the media to higher standards. They should know better and be using proper language.

Mr. Grammar Person now gets off his soap box.

Or whatever.

Friday, February 18, 2011


If you’re looking for something fun to ride around in, chances are a convertible or two is going to show up on your shopping list.

So check out my review of the Audi A5 Cabriolet that appears on our media association website,

You will find a lot of other interesting stuff there, too. The site is an outlet for many of members of the Southern Automotive Media Association and features video clips in addition to many other features, like travel stories. Some are in Spanish.

Especially if you're interested in cars, check it out.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I used to bemoan the lack of conversation about auto racing on the sports talk shows I listen to when I am driving about town.

Even when there was a big event in town, like say the Ford Championship Weekend that crows champions in all three of NASCAR's major series at Homestead-Miami Speedway, you would hardly hear anything about it through all the talk about the woes of the Dolphins and Hurricanes.

But then on the rare occasion someone on one of these radio Dolphins’ fests would bring up the sport, I would cringe at what they had to say.

Back in 2005, when Danica Patrick became the first woman driver to lead the Indianapolis 500 but had to slow to conserve fuel and ended up fourth, one guy came on the air the next day and wondered if Danica had choked.

The next year, a couple of on-air guys went back and forth with the issue of whether Homestead-Miami Speedway should have cancelled its afternoon Indy car race when driver Paul Dana was killed during morning practice.

No, drivers don’t “choke” when they slow to conserve fuel, and, cold as it may seem, races at the top levels don’t get canceled when a driver is killed in a crash.

Now we have another example of how members of the general sports media just don’t get it when it comes to auto racing, though in this incident someone who should have known better stepped in it as well.

On the “Pardon the Interruption” ESPN television show he hosts with Washington Post colleague Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser speculated this week that NASCAR may have rigged it for its most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., to win the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

This is the 10th anniversary of his father’s death at Daytona International Speedway, you see, and having Junior lead the field down to the green flag would be an appropriate way to mark the occasion. At least, that’s the way the thinking goes.

Kornheiser’s source for this claim -- as far as I know, Kornheiser wasn’t anywhere near Daytona on pole day last Sunday, won’t be there this Sunday when the race is run, and may never have come anywhere near a race track or garage area in his life -- was Washington Post reporter Liz Clarke.

Clarke has covered NASCAR since the 1990s when she was working for the Charlotte Observer in the heart of NASCAR country. Presumably she can tell the difference between a lug nut and a wing nut. She’s the one who should have known better.

Clarke told Kornheiser (on his radio show in D.C., not “PTL”) that “a lot were just laughing when they heard Junior won the pole because of the rich NASCAR tradition of ginning up story lines and outcomes.”

At Kornheiser’s prompting, she came up with a figure of “better than 60 percent” for the claim being true, which she later said she regretted. (Where in hell do people come up with things like a  “60 percent chance” in the first place? I mean, when the weather weenie tells me there is a “30 percent chance of rain,” do I need an umbrella or not?)
Kornheiser noted Dale Junior’s recent struggles, which is one thing he did get right, as lending credence to the claim Junior needed favorable treatment to have success.

But I would say the odds for Dale Jr. to win a pole would be more favorable at Daytona than any other speedway on the NASCAR circuit. Some drivers just have a knack for success there. How else can you explain Michael Waltrip’s two Daytona 500 wins and his back-of-the-pack finishes everywhere else?

Unlike the statements outlined in my earlier examples, those of both Kornheiser and Clarke go beyond mere unfamiliarity with the sport (especially on Clarke’s part), however, and fall into the category of irresponsible “journalism” by just about any ethical standard you set. Back in the day we used to joke that one wire service’s motto was “Get it first, then get it right.” Apparently, with Kornheiser, that seems to be one of his pillars of journalism.

From what I have seen, the media for the most part have taken Kornheiser and Clarke to task for their unsubstantiated (to way the least) speculation.

Here’s what my good friend David Green, who knows more about NASCAR and auto racing than anybody I know, wrote about it:

“It doesn’t even have anything to do with whether a qualifying run was rigged. The problem is the unfounded, published speculation about it.

“Anybody who cannot see the irresponsibility of such ‘stab in the dark’ journalism is alarmingly clueless about ethics. It matters not at all whether the accusation is valid; until Kornheiser or Clarke can prove it, their words are nothing more than gossip.

“That’s what separates (or, at least, is supposed to separate) the masses from the mass communicators. Civilians gossip; reporters work to prove, or at least support with some solid foundational basis – something more substantial than anecdotal observations. Then, and only then, do they report.

“The problem is not whether NASCAR fixed Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s qualifying run; the problem is that unsubstantiated reports are suggesting that it did, with no evidence to support the accusation.”

By the way, in case you missed, Dale Jr. wrecked in practice the other day and has to switch to his backup car for the race. Because of that, under NASCAR rules he will have to start at the pack of the back.

I wonder what the chances are Kornheiser thinks NASCAR rigged that wreck. Sixty percent maybe? Where is my umbrella?

Monday, February 14, 2011


From time to time, we pretty much all get strange emails, no matter how efficient our spam filter is.

Somebody out there wants to make sure we have a good credit score, or wants to help us lose weight, or help us make money by working at home, or fix us up with somebody, or ... you get the idea.

I myself don't am not concerned with any of those things because I am happily married, don't want to work at home, am already losing weight (slowly, granted, but watching my diet and walking is working), and I'm not concerned about my credit score.

The reason I am not worried about my credit score is because soon I will have all the money I need. There is an unclaimed pile of money in Nigeria and somebody is going to pay me millions of dollars if I help them get it out of Nigeria.

I may not even have to wait for that. I may already be a winner in the Publisher Clearinghouse Sweepstakes!

You probably have something even better.

But something popped up in my mailbox today that really did catch me by surprise.

Addressing me by my email address, not my name, a “Stephanie Murphy” said she it was her pleasure to inform me that I qualified for “a 2010/2011 membership to the National Association of Professional Women, the largest network of professional women in the United States!”

Membership, Stephanie goes on to write, “is a privilege shared by thousands of professional women throughout America each year.”

Well, isn’t that impressive!

Sign me up now! Not!

I don’t know why but I decided to go a google and bing search on this. (Well, yes, I do know why; I must confess I was looking for something to blog about, and this provided a handy topic).

It didn’t take long, about three entries down on google’s first page, for a string of messages to show up claiming that this appeal was a scam, though the string did include someone denying it is a fraud and saying it was a great organization.

Then someone else wrote there was something fishy about that person’s claim.

So I don’t know.

I do know that a news item popped up on Bing that Ivanka Trump was going going to be the keynote speaker at the group’s April meeting in New York. The meeting is billed as the “first annual” networking conference for the group.

So I guess it’s legitimate, but in addition to the incorrect usage of “first annual” (it’s not annual until you have a second), the organization doesn’t have much of a screening process for prospective members.

I won’t be joining.

Oh, and you can keep your wise-ass comments to yourself!

Friday, February 11, 2011


For the last week, I have been driving a Dodge Ram 2500 pickup truck around town. It is quite an experience, I’ll say that.

I am not going to give it a full review here, mostly because I could not really test this truck for what it is designed for.

This is a big pickup truck, really big, huge, in fact. This is not a truck you would want for routine trips to Home Depot or Lowe’s to gather materials for weekend chores.

No, this a real working man’s truck designed to haul and tow big things. The only challenge I could give it was to bring a couple of chairs, two tables, and a filing cabinet down from my wife’s family home in Coral Gables to mine in West Kendall.

It handled the “task” with no problem.

Shoot, it may have even towed the whole house down if I could have found a way to get it on a trailer. Towing capacity is over 13,000 pounds. That’ll float your boat.

This particular model was the Laramie Crew Cab, which had a refined interior that seats five comfortably. It’s a bit of a chore to get in and out of it, but handles on the A pillars make the climb and descent easier.

Plenty of storage room in the console as well, and knobs for controls are big and should be easy to handle with gloves on. I say “should be” because gloves are not exactly required down here in South Florida. I’ve got a pair somewhere in a drawer, but I’m not sure where.

It had a 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel I6 engine that pumps out 350 horsepower and, more important, 650 pound-feet of torque, via a six-speed automatic transmission. A little switch in the steering column gearshift lever lets you select a gear if you desire, but no, it’s not like paddle shifting a Porsche.

The computer said I was averaging about 15 mpg for the 100-plus miles I put on it. I usually put more miles on my test cars, but with the Ram 2500, I pretty much eliminated casual trips to the drug store with his cramped parking lot.

Yes, you must be a serious working man if it takes a Ram 2500 to fill your needs. And to think, Dodge even makes a 3500 series as well.

This bit of advice if you see one of those coming your way: Move over.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


If early blossoms are an accurate indication, my backyard mango tree is going to produce a bumper crop of fruit this year. I went out to sit in the yard the other day (eat your heart out, you snowbound, frozen denizens) and noticed that the table and chairs were covered with tiny bits blossoms from the tree branches above.

When I looked up, sure enough the tree was full of them.

We don’t always get a good crop from this tree.

We moved here in 1993 and the next spring. our first here, we got zero mangos. Oh, well, we thought, it would have been nice to have some but it’s no big deal.

Then the tree produced fruit the next year and has pretty much done so for all but a couple of times since. Once we went on vacation in June and when we got back the yard was covered with mangos that had fallen from it. We made a mental note not to be gone for long in June any more.

Every morning when the fruit begins to ripen my wife will go out and pick up a half dozen or more that have fallen overnight. Some will have bites out of them from passing wildlife. Geckos would be my guess. (Maybe I can work out some sort of catering deal with Geico on this.) I try to reach as many as I can with a shrimp net, but many are too high up to reach.

I’m not sure exactly what kind of mangos these are. I think they’re Kent because they are really tasty and they are not stringy at all, as some varieties are. You can have them for breakfast, as a dessert, or just a snack, and they make great daiquiris.

Not everyone appreciates mangos, though. A few years ago, I took some to a friend’s home on a visit. He and his wife looked at them kind of suspiciously, and the next morning when she peeled them for breakfast, she handled them like they were hand grenades with the pin pulled. My friends took a taste to be polite and left the rest for me. (The breakfast she fixed was better any way.)

Of course, if you have ever peeled a mango, you know how messy they can be. Someone wrote, only a bit facetiously, that the first step in peeling a mango is to get into a bathtub.

My friend lives in Indiana, which is where I am from, and we hadn’t heard of mangos when we were growing up. Peaches were the big deal in Knox County, not mangos.

We used to call green peppers “mango peppers”, usually shortened to just mangos.

Some years later, when I was in the service and stationed outside the States, you can imagine my puzzlement when I heard someone sigh and say, “I wish I had some mango ice cream.”

Ice cream made from green peppers? What in hell does that taste like? And do you eat it as a salad or a dessert?

I have since learned what they are, and I like mangos. Very much. And not just in daiquiris either, if that is what you were thinking.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


“Of all the luxury models on the market today, probably the most distinctive are those put out by Jaguar. You may have to take a closer look to distinguish some of its luxury competitors, but not this revered English marque which is now under the control of the Indian company, Tata Motors.”

I wrote those words a couple of years ago in a mini-review I did for Miami Monthly Magazine.

Nothing has changed my mind since.

It is still with much anticipation that I await the arrival of any model Jaguar in my driveway when I am told one is coming, and I have never been disappointed.

So far, any and every Jaguar model that has shown up has been breathtaking just sitting in the driveway, even more so when I take it out the road.

Recently, I had the opportunity to drive the XKR coupe for a week around town and managed a quick jaunt to the Keys for lunch. (One of the perks of living where I do in the southern part of Dade County is being only 40 minutes or so away from Key Largo. Of course, you don’t want to stop there. Key Largo has become what I consider “beach-town junky”, though there are no beaches save the bits of sand behind motels. But Islamorada is just beyond and things tend to get better.)

The only thing that might have made it better would have been if it had been the convertible that had been delivered instead of the coupe, but my wife isn’t a big fan of hitting the turnpike topless (speaking of the car, of course) any way, so it was just as well to be in the coupe.

The XKR is a supercharged version of the standard XK coupe, boosting horsepower for the 5.0-liter, V8 power plant to 510 from the normally aspirated version’s 385. The boost in torque is similar, to 461 from 380. What all that does is knock a little over a half-a-second from the zero-to-60 mph to a quick 4.6 seconds while knocking about one-mile-per-gallon off the EPA fuel mileage figures to 15 mpg city, 22 highway, 17 combined.

That power gets to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. At engine startup (push-button, of course), a dial pops up on the console for you to select fully automatic or the sport mode, which provides for sequential shifting via the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

One of the problems in driving in South Florida, however, is the lack of really good roads for you to make full use of the manual shifting. Aside from an on-ramp or two where are no hills, and the curves are pretty much all right angles.

But that doesn’t make the XKR itself any less fun to drive. It’s that way for every make and model.

The XKR provides a nice, comfortable ride, at least for the front-seat passengers. There’s not a whole lot of room in the back, and getting back there itself can be a bit of a chore. With the convertible, you can put the top down, and that would make things easier.

There’s enough leather throughout the cabin to make even the most demanding dominatrix happy (not that I would know about those things, you understand). This is a luxury car that gets up to a six-figure price tag with just a couple of options added on, and it lives up to the requisite requirements in refinement.

I would, however, like to see Jaguar do something about its touchscreen operation for such functions as audio, climate control, phone, and navigation. They are not what you would consider “intuitive”, especially after you get the map onto the screen and you want to go back to a prior mode. The screen itself is on the small side.

But I wouldn’t get an XKR because I wanted to read a map. I want performance, and performance is what the XKR delivers.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Today is Super Bowl Sunday, and as I write this it is shortly after 1 o’clock and the temperature here in Miami is 81 degrees and the day is sunny, but with the usual clouds hanging around.

In Dallas, where the Steelers and Packers will play, it is 47 degrees (apparently it has warmed up) with snow and ice around.

Where would you like to be for the game?

In Indianapolis and New York, future sites of the game, it is 34 and 43 degrees, respectively.

Have fun there, guys!

But enough about the weather.

I would be surprised if this past week you haven’t seen a Super Bowl story that covers the topic of dumb questions asked during Super Bowl week. I haven’t, but then I have pretty much ignored the pre-game hoopla.

As Super Bowl lore goes, the dumbest question ever asked was this query of Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams:

“Have long have you been a black quarterback?”

How dumb can you get, right? That’s even dumber than the “What’s the dumbest question you’ve been asked this week?” posed to many players. The most common answer: “That one right there.”

The reporter who asked the question of Williams once worked for me, and he was one of the best around. A good reporter, a good writer, and a hard worker. He was thorough and accurate and a key member on one of the best sports staffs in the newspaper business at the time.

So why did he ask such a dumb question?

He didn’t.

At least not in those words.

What he asked was this:

“Doug, obviously, you have been a black quarterback all your life. When did it begin to matter?”

Frankly, I think that was an interesting issue.

I’m not sure what Williams’ answer was, but even now, over two decades since that question was posed, the answer is that it still matters. Or at least it still comes up.

Consider the flap Rush Limbaugh caused a few years ago when he simply posed the contention that he thought that the media’s wish to see Donovan McNabb succeed as a black quarterback when he was with Philadelphia had affected the way his performance was perceived.

Rush didn’t say that McNabb couldn’t be a good quarterback because he was black or even that he wasn’t a good quarterback. Rush simply wondered if McNabb was a bit overrated because of a wish to see him succeed.

It caused enough flap that ESPN, where Rush had asked the question, asked him to leave the show.

Interestingly, just last fall a national sports outlet postulated that most Philly fans knew at the time that McNabb wasn’t as good as the common perception.

I’m not going to get in that issue. I liked McNabb when I saw him play at Syracuse. He was about the only weapon Syracuse had when he played against Miami as a freshman, and he later led a 66-13 rout of the Hurricanes as a senior. I think he has had a good career in the NFL.

My thought is that if McNabb were in today’s Super Bowl, though, that the issue of being a black quarterback would still be around. Maybe not as big as when Doug Williams was playing for the Redskins in Super Bowl XXII in 1988, but an issue nonetheless.

Maybe some day it won’t be.

But I’ll bet the legend of the dumb question asked of Williams will never go away completely.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


The subject today is the University of Miami football program, but please stick around even if you’re not a Hurricane fan.

I’m going to stay away from “inside baseball” stuff like how Randy Shannon, fired as coach after last season, apparently played favorites among area high school coaches much the same way he did with his players.

I just want to comment on a couple of myths that have been promulgated mostly by the national media that have contributed to the program’s image outside of South Florida (and within the area in some instances, as far as that goes).

The myths:

Shannon came in and cleaned up the Miami program, ridding it of thugs, outlaws, and near academic dropouts.

Not really. That hard work was done a decade ago by Butch Davis. I have been doing reports on Hurricanes football since 1998, attending home games and press conferences (but not many practices) all along and I can vouch for that.

Miami’s academic record was up, arrests down (especially when compared to some other programs in the state), long before Shannon took over for Larry Coker.

The notion that the team under Coker was the same as the bad ole Hurricanes of the late 1980’s and early ’90s goes back mostly to one game -- the one against Florida International in 2006. The brawl in that game, which was largely instigated by FIU (a program that really has undergone a transformation in the last five years), drew national media attention and was an embarrassment for sure.

Miami got most of the blame because, after all, headlines like “FIU brawls” wouldn’t have drawn the attention of the Miami name. But it didn’t mean Miami was up to its old ways, and Coker and his staff and the university addressed the incident with suspensions and other disciplinary actions.

There also was an incident after the Peach Bowl loss to LSU, but who did what to whom was never really determined. One reported blamed an LSU player from Miami for starting it by taunting Miami players as they went through the tunnel back to the locker room after their beating.

So, no, the record wasn’t perfect. But neither did the program require a major cleaning up by Shannon as some might have you believe.

The cupboard was pretty much bare of talent when Shannon took over because of his predecessor.

No question, the players Shannon inherited were not of the caliber Davis handed over to his successor, Coker, a group that won the national championship in 2001 and were within an official’s flag of winning another in 2002.

You can tell that simply by looking at the NFL draft. Starting with the 1995 draft (1994 players) through 2008 (2007 players), Miami had a player go in the first round every year and usually had more than one. In April 2002, five players went in the first round.

No Hurricane player has been picked in the first round in the last two years, though that drought could end this April

So the talent obviously was down when Shannon took over.

Here’s the thing. Shannon had a role, no doubt a big one, in recruiting those last few years under Coker. It wasn’t like he came in from a thousand miles away, like his successor, Al Golden. Shannon was on Coker’s staff and not just a scrub. He was the defensive coordinator, which put him no less than No. 2 in the chain-of-command with the offensive coordinator.

So he had to have some responsibility for what players Miami put on the field in 2007 (when the Hurricanes had a losing record), 2008, and 2009.

Now to be fair about this, I acknowledge that I didn’t hear Shannon going around making these claims. That blame goes to the media  mostly national but some local outlets as well, and fans on message boards. Miami’s program is never going to have the sparkling reputation of a Notre Dame, ill-deserved as that may be.

But neither did I ever hear Shannon attempt to clear up either of these misperceptions.

I guess it wasn’t in his character, and now what goes around, has come around.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


With all the rioting going on in Egypt, the winter storm across the country, and the continuing debate on Obamacare, you may have missed this news item:

Pete’s Wicked Ale is no more.

One of the first craft beers on the market back in the 1980s, Pete’s will be gone from the shelves after March 1. Gambrinus Company, which bought the brand from its founder, Pete Slosberg, back in 1998, is discontinuing Pete’s Wicked Ale because of -- what else? -- lagging sales.

There is a lesson here, and it’s not that craft beers are a fad soon to go the way of hula hoops and banked in layups in NBA games. Not at all. If anything, craft beers are becoming more popular.

There is a reason craft breweries are generally small operations, though.

Craft brewers are interested in producing beers with distinctive flavors running the gamut from extra hoppy to malty to flavors featuring tinges of blueberry, cherry, or other fruits. Their interest is in product, not mere mega sales numbers.

In fact, by definition, they are limited by the Brewers Association to producing no more than 6 million barrels of beer a year, a recent increase from 2 million barrels mostly to accommodate the growing Boston Beer Company and its Samuel Adams lineup.

On the other hand, the culture of the people who run the large breweries, like Anheuser-Busch, Miller’s, and Coors, is to sell more beer. Who cares what it tastes like as long as it sells.

To do that, they have to have a product that has a wide appeal, plus a clever advertising campaign to make people believe things like adding hops three times in the brewing process (not necessarily three times more hops) or vortex bottles makes the beer taste better. Distinctive or extreme flavors must be dumbed down to the level of Bud Light, which is little more than colored water.

That’s what happened to Pete’s. They modified the formula. If you go to a website called and read about the end of Pete’s, you’ll see a lot of comments from people who say the last time they tried Pete’s it wasn’t up to what they remembered.

Turns out, it wasn’t their taste buds that had changed so much as it was Pete’s Ale itself.

Myself, I got into craft  beers sometime back but never really got into Pete’s so much. I liked other alternatives, like Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, and now many others more than Pete’s. So even though it’s kind of sad to see it go, I honestly won’t really miss it.

When I go out of town, I like to have whatever the local brewery is producing, which has led me to Sweetwater in Atlanta, Highland Brewing in Asheville, N.C., and some brand that escapes me in Nashville, Tenn., brewed right down the street from the hotel where I was staying.

Two trips to Oregon last summer was like going to beer heaven with the various offerings from Deschutes and Rogue.

Craft beers generally cost a bit more than your standard fare, but not always. Full Sail, an Oregon brewery in Hood River, is not as much a six-pack as most other brands I have run across. (Yes, even in Miami, you can find beers from Oregon, but you have to hunt for them.)

The good thing is, generally speaking, you don’t drink as much of a craft beer at a sitting because their flavor satisfies you. The law of diminishing beers, um, I mean diminishing returns, also applies here. By the time you’re on about your third beer, they no longer seem to have a distinctive taste, which is what you’re drinking them for in the first place. Might as well have a Bud (but not a Bud Light) by that point.

The other reason you may not want to drink many craft beers at a sitting has to do with alcohol content. Some, not all, but some, have higher ABV percentages than your standard macro-beer fare. Two or three of those and you’re in normal four- or five-beer territory pretty quickly.

And you can’t tell a beer’s ABV by color. Not all dark beers are heavy in alcohol. Not all golden beers are light in alcohol. Guinness Draught, about as dark as you can get, is 4.0 percent. Bud (not Bud Light) is 5.0 percent, Miller High Life (probably the best of the macros) is 5.5.

Pete’s Wicked Ale came in at 5.7 percent.

But soon, not any more.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


This is a big day in college athletics, but if you're a relatively sane person, you probably aren’t going to give it  more than a casual glance.

No, it isn’t the day of the national championship football game. That was nearly a month ago.

And although there are many basketball games tonight, they aren’t what makes this a big day.

What makes this a big day is that it is “national signing day.”

This is the day that 18-year-old kids who have been courted like they were some kind of football god are going to find out they really aren’t all that. They are going to put their names on pieces of paper committing them to play football whatever school’s name appears on that paper, at least for a year. Next fall most of them, the ones many fans are slobbering over right now as we-got-to-have-him-to-save-the-program, will be on the scout team helping the starters prepare for the next opponent. Maybe in two years you’ll hear from them again. Maybe you won’t.

For many fans, this day ranks right up there with bowl games and season openers in excitement. They want every bit of information they can find about how their school has done and how it stacks up with others.

You think I’m kidding? I just tried to sign on to the website of one of those services and couldn’t do it. The server was overloaded.

I always tried to avoid getting involved in all this hoopla, even when I was the sports editor of a newspaper in Mississippi.

The thing is, you just never know how these recruiting classes are going to work out. Three years ago Randy Shannon’s first full class at the University of Miami got No. 1 rankings from at least one scouting service that will go unnamed. All that group did was get Shannon fired last November.

So you won’t get any analysis from me today about what team really won out in the recruiting race. But here is a look back at a few of the top signees of 2007 and how their careers have gone, as listed by one recruiting service:

1. QB Jimmy Clausen: A program savior? Hardly. He left Notre Dame a year early and his coach was fired. He’s now on the bench for the Carolina Panthers, which is kind of like being in the FBI’s Witness Protection Program.

2. RB Joe McKnight: Became the subject of an NCAA investigation into his use of an SUV while at USC. He, too, left school early to enter the NFL draft and played in nine games for the Jets last year.

3. DB Eric Berry: He, too, left Tennessee early for the NFL draft. Do you detect a trend here? He was the second-leading tackler for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010.

4. QB Ryan Mallett -- Started out at Michigan, transferred to Arkansas. He took the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl this past season and now has put his name in the NFL draft, though he had another season of eligibility.

5. DE Carlos Dunlap: After capping his 2008 year by winning defensive MVP honors in Florida’s national championship game victory over Oklahoma, he returned for his junior year in 2009. He was suspended for the SEC Championship game after being charged with DUI, and, you guessed it, he decided to pass up his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

(If you wonder why some of this class would have been seniors in 2010 and others will, or would have been, seniors this fall, it’s because some of them played as true freshmen, others sat out a year as a redshirt.)

I could go on, but I won’t.

Some other names from that 2007 class you will recognize today, like Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. He was No. 28 on the list when he signed with Florida, where he lasted two years before running into problems and transferring to a junior college and then onto Auburn, where he won the Heisman Trophy.

Others you probably won’t.

Remember that when you hear fans talking up today’s signees.