The timing couldn’t be better this week, as the bloated largesse of NFL free agency coincided with the mid-major magic of March Madness. As the instant mythology of Ndamukong Suh’s $114 million contract took shape (“My boss’ car-detailer told me Stephen Ross had to deposit $60 mill in Suh’s off-shore Swiss account”), tiny basketball schools were making their own personal history.
On Monday, we learned Suh would be a Dolphin. On the same night, a basketball team at a hockey school in a college hockey town made history. Bill Coen has grinded as head coach at Northeastern University in Boston for almost a decade. The program hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since Grunge was in-style in ’91. Monday night, the Huskies clinched a berth in dramatic fashion, knocking off another Cinderella dreamer, William and Mary, to grab the Colonial’s auto-bid.
Coen joined me Thursday, and was already starting to get emotional as we introduced him with CBS Sports’ NCAA tournament theme song. “To be able to go through this, it’s a lifelong dream of anybody that’s associated with basketball – whether you’re a fan, you’re a player, you’re a coach – to be a part of this. When we were coming on (at the start of your show), I heard the music and you already start to get excited.”
The Manhattan Jaspers are dancing as well. The school is actually located in the Bronx, a world away from the money-soaked ineptitude of the Knicks. And tiny Manhattan College, with less than a 4,000 student enrollment, is going back to the tourney to try and retrieve some sanity. Last year the Jaspers were the tournament’s media darling, giving powerful Louisville all it could handle. Then head coach Steve Masiello was tabbed the newest hot commodity, and offered South Florida’s job. But USF rescinded the offer after finding out Masiello lied about his degree from Kentucky, and the nation’s Golden Boy turned into its Whipping Boy.
Masiello returned, hat in hand, to the Jaspers and has led them back to the dance. He admitted to me the whirlwind of publicity and exposure you get as a coach in March can blind you with self-indulgence.
“The kids come for four years, (and) they move on. And the coaches are kind of more landmarks in college basketball. That’s the culture we’re in. Sometimes you can lose perspective. Sometimes you can lose what your roots are. And the bottom line is the roots are the student-athletes. For me.(this experience has) made be a better person and a better coach.”
We spent most of this week bickering about Chip Kelly. Is he an arrogant dictator, overestimating that he’s smarter than everyone else while blowing up a ten-win roster? Or is he a new-age genius, subverting a system in need of upheaval, blowing up an archaic way of roster-building? There was no in-between, and in the middle of fighting like cats and dogs over salary cap ramifications and whether Kelly’s moves are based in racial prejudices, we missed Murray State’s story.
A school with a 25-game win streak, winners of the OVC regular season, couldn’t punch their ticket until claiming the conference tournament. And gut-wrenchingly, a Racers squad that lost in the title game last year, was undercut again. Murray State was ranked in the top 25. It had gone undefeated in the Ohio Valley. It hadn’t lost since Thanksgiving. But Belmont drilled an off-balance three with just three seconds left to win a wild, rollicking, championship game, and the Racers were again left with their noses pressed against the candy store window.
Last week Murray State’s head coach Steve Prohm dropped by my show before the OVC tourney. “I think everybody’s thirsty for it,” Prohm told me. “That’s what you dream about as a coach, as a player, as a fan. You want to get back there. You want to play on the national stage and you want to do a great job representing your university and continuing to enhance your program.”
For Murray State, they’ll need a small miracle on Selection Sunday to get an at-large bid. For Northeastern, they already got theirs.
“We came back to campus on Tuesday,” Coen told me, “and there was a great crowd welcoming us home and meeting us as the bus pulled up to the university, so that was inspiring.”
Inspiration. We could all use a little pinch of that, couldn’t we?
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.