Tag Archives: Mike Thomas

Gary Waters is Gone. Who Will Coach Cleveland State?

The Gary Waters Era at Cleveland State has ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.

An early-round exit in the Horizon League Tournament at the hands of Youngstown State sounds like a pretty anticlimactic ending for the all-time wins leader in school history. But that’s exactly how it came down, and on the heels of a second straight 20-loss season.

Waters virtually pulled the Vikings out of the hoops scrap heap in 2006, taking a team loaded with talent to the 2009 NCAA Tournament, a run that was capped by a first-round upset of Wake Forest.

But what goes up, apparently, must come down. In spite of multiple 20-win seasons, a spate of post-season appearances and a first-round NBA draft pick in Norris Cole, Waters was never able to repeat the success of that tourney year.

In the end, the near-misses, transfers and possibly the slide back into obscurity took its toll on Waters. And even though he has a ton of upperclassmen returning, which includes second team All-Horizon League selection Rob Edwards, Waters, who has two years left on his contract, will be parting ways with CSU.

Despite the latter-year shortcomings, history will be quite kind to Waters. The good he brought to the program, which includes all of his players graduating and one of the highest APRs in the NCAA, outweigh the bad.

But as the old saying goes, the show must go on.

It’s the future that is on the mind of athletic director Mike Thomas. He’ll be looking at a coach who will not only continue the work off the court players have done, but he will undoubtedly be seeking a vast improvement of the on-the-court product, both in the standings and in the stands.

With attendance at the Wolstein Center shrinking to virtually nothing and the partnership with Quicken Loans Arena netting very little value, Thomas’ pick for the next head coach will have his work cut out for him.

So, who will emerge as Cleveland State’s next head coach? Here are some possibilities:

Jerrod Calhoun, head coach, Fairmont State

Look up either “Rollie Massimino coaching tree” or “Bob Huggins coaching tree.” Realistically, either statement would be accurate for Calhoun. The 34-year old head coach at Division II Fairmont State has two advantages: Cleveland State roots and a reputation for building a winning program.

The Viking roots come from his start as a manager and ascending to the roster, even starting for Cleveland State during Massimino’s final season in 2002-03. Calhoun would eventually head to Cincinnati to join Huggins as a student assistant and to complete his Bachelor’s degree. The two would meet up again when Huggins took the West Virginia job and Calhoun joined the staff prior to heading down I-79 to coach FSU.

As for his coaching skills, the Falcons have won 20 games in every season of his tenure and includes this season’s tear, in which Fairmont State easily took the Mountain East Conference regular season crown and earned the Falcons a No. 1 ranking in Division II.

John Groce, head coach, Illinois

Groce has big advantages and disadvantages in the coaching race. The biggest advantage? He’s the coach Thomas hired at Illinois after a wildly successful stint at Ohio. With the Bobcats, Groce notched a Sweet Sixteen appearance that including beating Michigan, which probably made then-football coach Brady Hoke a bit uncomfortable.

The disadvantages? Well, first is that he’s not exactly available at the moment. The Illini still have Groce under contract as of now, so he still has a job to do. Also, even if he gets bought out by Illinois, he may be a bit rich for CSU’s blood. If either scenario is a deterrent, consider one of his assistants, Dustin Ford, as a viable alternative.

Billy Donlon, assistant coach, Michigan

When last we saw Donlon, he was giving Green Bay a run for its money in finals of the 2016 edition of Motor City Madness while head coach at Wright State. Most fans around the Horizon League fully expected the Raiders to accept a bid to the CIT or CBI afterwards, but when it didn’t happen, something was up.

And that something turned out to be athletic director Bob Grant showing Donlon the door, replacing him with South Dakota State’s Scott Nagy for a rather sizable sum of money.

Donlon, however, landed on his feet, and joined John Beilein on the Michigan coaching staff, joining fellow ex-Horizon League assistants Saddi Washington (Oakland) and Jeff Meyer (Butler). Look for Donlon to express an interest in the Cleveland State gig if, for no other reason, the need to exact some revenge.

Patrick Tatham, assistant coach, Maine Red Claws

The inclusion of former Cleveland State player Tatham to this list may be a bit out of left field, but it would come as a surprise to many fans that the Brampton, Ontario native has quite a bit of coaching experience under his belt, including his current stint with the Red Claws in the NBA D-League.

In fact, Tatham is still part of the coaching staff at Ryerson University in Toronto (he’s completing a season in the D-League while taking a leave of absence). The Maine coaching offer came on the heels of Tatham serving as the Rams interim head coach while head coach Rob Rana led Canada’s under-18 international squad.

The interim season proved to be a great one, with Ryerson finishing 17-2 and topping the Ontario University Athletics conference. A third-place finish in the U Sports (then called the CIS) tournament also netted Tatham national coach of the year honors.

Undoubtedly, there will be additional names that pop up during the search process, but one thing is likely clear to Thomas and Cleveland State: The program needs a boost, and the next head coach must bring it in a big way.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State Must Learn to Close to Survive in the Horizon League Tournament

In the iconic movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin’s character, Blake, snarls at salesman Shelley Levene (played in the movie by Jack Lemmon) with the famous line, “coffee’s for closers.”

This season, had Blake gotten in front of this season’s Cleveland State team, he’d probably be doing to exact same thing.

Nobody thought that the 2016-17 campaign would be anywhere near as disastrous as the 2015-16 season had been. And yet, at least on paper, here we stand. Heading into the Horizon League Tournament (aka Motor City Madness), the Vikings have only been able to muster the same amount of wins this year as they did last year.

The problem this season hasn’t been being competitive, as evidenced by the string of double-digit defeats last year. In fact, Cleveland State hung with all of its Horizon League foes, the lone exception being the 78-57 smackdown at the hands of Valparaiso.

What did become the running theme this season was the inability to cinch the close games. The Vikings were 2-8 in contests that were decided by five points or less, and that doesn’t include a 74-68 double-overtime loss to Wright State.

So instead of a finish in the middle of the conference pack (Full disclosure: I had originally expected CSU to finish fifth), Cleveland State ended up with a dismal 5-13 record in the Horizon League, which was only good enough for eighth.

Quite simply, the Vikings are better than they were; they just aren’t good enough.

The close losses have obviously taxed what’s left of the Cleveland State fan base, who showed up to home games in smaller numbers than at any point in time in the history of the Wolstein Center. And whatever student outreach had been done prior to the start of the season fell on deaf ears, as evidenced by the nearly empty student section during the home finale against Youngstown State.

And that has to weigh heavily on the mind of head coach Gary Waters, whose frustration has been more and more visible as the season drug on. Rumors of his future have been swirling around ever since the hire of new athletic director Mike Thomas.

Of course, Waters remains at the helm for now and the foreseeable future, and his focus is on how to get his squad to close out games. That’s because as improbable as it may sound, there is, indeed, a path to victory for the Vikings.

Their opening round opponent, YSU, is a team that CSU beat convincingly last Saturday, 69-55. Moreover, the top seed in the tournament is Oakland, and will be looming over the winner of the Vikings-Penguins contest.

As foreboding as the top seed would be to face, Cleveland State can take heart in the fact that it has already beaten the Golden Grizzlies ones this season and came close to pulling off another win at the Wolstein Center, if not for a missed three-pointer by Bobby Word.

Further down the line, the Raiders nearly fell victim to the Vikings in the aforementioned double overtime game, and Northern Kentucky eked out a two-point win on CSU. Either team could be waiting for Cleveland State if it should get past Oakland.

And even Valparaiso, which bested CSU twice, has all of a sudden become more vulnerable, as Alec Peters has been declared done for the season with a stress fracture.

None of this matters, however, unless the Vikings can do what they haven’t been able to do very well all season: close.

E-mail bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State Throws a Curve, Tabs Mike Thomas as AD

In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, “Boy, that escalated quickly!

Nearly two weeks ago, I had touched on the retirement of Cleveland State athletic director John Parry and how the search for his replacement was relatively quiet. At the time, I, like other CSU fans, were of the opinion that the search was primarily internal and, as a result, somebody who was already in athletics would become Parry’s successor.

Given the transition to Parry from Lee Reed, which saw the former take on an interim tag before becoming the permanent AD, history and conventional wisdom, along with the deafening silence over the past three months, led us all to think an internal transition was what would happen.

However, that turned out not to be the case at all. In fact, Cleveland State has opted for an athletic director who not only had local ties but also a rather solid history in the top spot.

And that person is Mike Thomas who begins his new job on March 1.

What’s even more significant is that breaking news of a new athletic director coming down the pike didn’t come from cleveland.com, the local news or even here (though you can’t blame me for trying). The news came from The Cauldron, CSU’s student newspaper.

From all indications, Thomas is exactly what Cleveland State was looking for. Clearly the highest item on the priority list was fundraising, which, as Parry himself admitted recently in Crain’s Cleveland Business, had been a particular challenge to him.

Thomas, on the other hand, appears to be rather adept at convincing donors to fork over some serious cash. Not only does this include the $165 million he was able to raise while at Illinois, it also includes the $20 million that was raised while he was at Akron to build Infocision Stadium.

Of course, Thomas’ tenure in Champaign did end rather abruptly. Illinois, in the wake of football coach Tim Beckman’s alleged mistreatment of his players and subsequent firing (along with racial discrimination suits against both the women’s basketball and women’s soccer coaches), took a “buck stops here” approach. That, of course, was Thomas, at the end of 2015, he was bought out of his contract.

That ding on his resume notwithstanding, the item that stands out across Thomas’ career that should be of great interest to CSU fans is the coaches that he has brought in. From hiring Keith Dambrot at Akron to Mick Cronin and Brian Kelly at Cincinnati, the arrival of Thomas may very well be an omen of things to come for Cleveland State.

And that means you could very well be witnessing the beginning of the end for Gary Waters.

So even with the Vikings staring down the barrel of yet another losing season, all signs point to Waters’ services being retained for next year.

Then again, you never know. Remember that Waters arrived at CSU after being dismissed by Rutgers, immediately replacing Mike Garland.

Looking at the current landscape, the Illini faithful aren’t terribly impressed with coach John Groce, and the drumbeats for his ouster are getting louder. If that’s the case, there might be a perfect-storm scenario in which Groce, whose coaching resume includes a successful stint at Ohio, could be roaming the Cleveland State sidelines.

But obviously, that would be yet another of those crazy dreams fans who have grown weary of Waters would like to hope for. Back on planet Earth, Thomas is going to have far bigger fish to fry.

The first, as most important, will be the future of the Wolstein Center. With it becoming more and more likely that the arena doesn’t really have a future, Thomas will have to be instrumental is figuring out what CSU should be looking at in terms of facilities for its basketball teams.

Also on Thomas’ to-do list will certainly be the downward spiral that has taken place with Cleveland State’s attendance numbers. His hiring would seem to indicate that the university wants to try and tackle the serious issue it has with apathy towards athletics. Not only that, but as Parry had stated, the model of having student fees fund the athletic program isn’t really a long-term sustainable one, so other revenue streams are going to have to improve significantly.

It will certainly be interesting to see what Thomas starts working on first once he takes the helm. For CSU, the hire looks like it is wanting to make athletics more of a priority, which may not have been conveyed very well in recent years.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via FightingIllini.com

Less Star Power Means More for Ohio State Offense

The 2015 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes could very well have been one of the most talented rosters ever assembled in Columbus. Fitting all those talented pieces together on one field is the hard part.

With NFL draft picks Ezekiel Elliott, Mike Thomas, and Braxton Miller on one offense, you could see there could be a problem with just one football to go around.

What worked so well for the Ohio State offense in the team’s first game of the season against Bowling Green is exactly what derailed last year’s squad. The Buckeyes would force feed touches to its stars at all cost, specifically Elliott. As good an idea as it seemed at the time, this may have been what caused the Buckeye offense to become so stagnant and predictable.

Albeit against an overmatched Bowling Green squad, the Ohio State offense amassed video game numbers in its first contest of the season.

Ohio State had one of its best offensive performances of the Urban Meyer era, putting up 77 points and a school record 776 yards of total offense. No matter who the opponent is, those numbers are ridiculous and is an indicator this Ohio State team can replace some of its losses.

On the Ground

One of the biggest questions coming into this season is how the Buckeyes would replace the 1,800 rushing yards Ezekiel Elliott took with him to the NFL.

Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber got the first crack at replacing Elliott in the Ohio State backfield, and the first-time starter impressed. Weber ran for 136 yards on 19 carries in his first career start in Ohio Stadium.

Junior H-back, (and probably  the Buckeyes most talented offensive player) Curtis Samuel also chipped in with the running game adding 84 yards on the ground as well.

The best thing about how Weber looked on Saturday, the young back definitely wasn’t afraid of the moment, running with authority on each and every carry.

With the looks of Weber in his first career start, to go along with the dynamic big play ability of Samuel, the Buckeye running game should be just fine this season.

Through the Air

For the Ohio State offense, or any offense to succeed however, there must be consistent effective play from the quarterback. The problem last season was that Ohio state never got that consistency.

The combination of J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones never gained the traction everyone thought would undoubtedly come with the talent on last year’s Ohio State roster.

Part of those struggles in the passing game may have come from trying to force feed the ball to its playmakers. The Ohio State quarterbacks looked to be trying to get certain players the ball in certain spots instead of taking what the defense gave them.

In J.T. Barrett’s first season as a starter, spreading the ball around to different receivers is what made him the Big Ten quarterback of the year. Against the Falcons, Barrett went back to spreading the wealth.

Barrett completed touchdown passes to four different receivers in just the first half and threw for 6 touchdown passes overall.

With new starters at every position within the receiving core, Barrett can focus on reading the defense and not trying to make sure one of his stars is getting the ball.

Barrett had a historic day on Saturday, and a lot of that can be attributed to the way he led the offense, distributing the ball to near perfection.

As crazy as it may sound, less star power will lead to a better offense for the 2016 Ohio State Buckeyes.

Email Derek at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Photo: Flickr

The Pipeline – August 29, 2015: A Firing, some Fines, and a new Television Deal

1. Illinois Fires Tim Beckman Seven Days before Season Opener

Our top news story in this week’s Pipeline comes from the University of Illinois.  (Never thought you’d read that, did you?)  Yes, the Illini have attracted national attention, at least for a couple days.

Head coach Tim Beckman was fired Friday afternoon just seven days before Illinois opens its season against Kent State.  Director of Athletics Mike Thomas dismissed Beckman due to the findings of an external investigation into the mistreatment of players.

Beckman is alleged to have deterred the reporting of player injuries, and pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and play through injuries.  There are also some questions as to whether or not seniors were treated fairly with respect to their scholarship status during the spring semester once they were done playing.  He has, of course, denied that the allegations are accurate, setting the stage for a future lawsuit.

These are very serious accusations.  And there must have been quite a lot of damning evidence to substantiate these claims for Thomas to can Beckman so close to the season opener.

Bill Cubit will take over for the 2015 as interim head coach.  He joined the Illini coaching staff in 2013 as offensive coordinator.

The issue of player safety became real for us last fall when Brady Hoke and the Michigan training staff failed miserably in protecting quarterback Shane Morris.  Excuse the video quality, but you should hear how Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham brought this to a live audience.  Now that a coach has been fired for mismanaging his players, it’s officially a hot button issue.

2. Fining College Football Players?

On Wednesday, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said some things he shouldn’t have about the possibility of fining players.  Athletic director Whit Babcock was quick to shut the idea down, saying Tech would be doing no such thing.

On Thursday a list of all finable offenses is spotted outside the Tech locker room.  A picture is taken.  The picture makes its way around the internet.  And Foster’s words are legitimized, proving that there was a plan in place to fine Hokie players for misbehavior.

Then, Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville seconds Foster’s motion.  The AD in this case, UC’s Mike Bohn does not squash his coach’s idea, but instead agrees with him.

There’s some confusion about whether this is legal.  NCAA rules state that taking money from a student’s scholarship is impermissible.  However, there is supposedly some language in these financial aid contracts which states the school may subtract aid if the violations go against department policy or the student code of conduct.

I’m no legal eagle.  I’ll let the lawyers decide what exactly the contracts allow schools to do with players’ financial aid.  I can say that this will undoubtedly add another convoluted layer to the already complicated cake that is the controversy over compensating college athletes.

3. Pac-12 Network on DirecTV

As our own Mike Wilson wrote last week, west coast football fans might be able to relax soon.  After years of not carrying the Pac-12 Network on their cable package, DirecTV will finally give fans out west what they want.

DirecTV, which was recently bought by AT&T, began testing on Friday that appears to be the first step towards bringing the Pac-12 Network to their customers’ television sets.

Imagine the frustration of paying for sports packages you’re not interested in while your favorite conference’s network is unavailable to you.  This is what some fans have been dealing with since the Pac-12 Network’s inception in 2012.

Luckily for them it seems to be coming to an end just in time for the 2015 season.

4. Sarkisian Apologizes for “Inappropriate” Behavior

Steve Sarkisian addressed the media on Tuesday concerning his “inappropriate” behavior at a USC donor event last Saturday.  Apparently, he had too much to drink and had taken some pills he was prescribed.

The press conference was short, but notably odd.

There were unnecessarily personal questions about specifically what medication Sarkisian was referring to in his statement.  Rightfully, he declined to disclose that information.

When asked if he had a drinking problem, Sarkisian said, “No, I don’t believe so, but through Pat [Haden] and the University, I’m going to find that out.”

“I don’t know if I even need rehab,” Sarkisian said.  “That’s part of the process, and I credit Pat Haden for this, that he has put things in place for me to have meetings to figure that out.”

He was quick to ‘swear off’ drinking for the rest of the season, and clarified that while there was never any alcohol in the players’ locker room, it will now be completely banned from all USC football facilities.

The USC players had their coach do a set of down-ups, just as they would have had to do for breaking team rules.

The team has moved on and so should the media.  This was a big mistake, but it was not an accurate reflection of Sarkisian’s character.

5. Vernon Adams Wins Oregon’s Starting QB Job

Anyone who was following the quarterback battle at Oregon knew there was a good chance Vernon Adams would end up winning the job.  The Ducks’ week one depth chart was released on Friday, and sure enough Adams was at the top.

This is news mostly because it wasn’t news to those of us who were paying attention.

Adams is a graduate transfer student who played three seasons at Eastern Washington.  He put up the type of numbers you see from Oregon quarterbacks, throwing for 10,438 yards and 110 touchdowns while with the Eagles.  With Marcus Mariota gone to the NFL and the rest of the team in place, the Ducks needed a new quarterback who could step in and preform immediately.  In Adams, they’ve got just that.

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Interestingly, Adams will make his first start against his alma mater next weekend when the Ducks host the Eagles.  That’s right, just three weeks after graduating from Eastern Washington he will take the field against his former team.

Ahh, what a glorious loophole in the NCAA’s transfer rules.

MTAF Morning News – August 11

Penn State coach Joe Paterno is out of the hospital and came to Wednesday’s practice with his arm in a sling. Washington Redskins quarterback (and ex-Bears QB) Rex Grossman sounded delusional when he predicted his team would win the NFC East.

Rory McIlroy will enter the U.S. PGA Championship today as one of the favorites. NY Giants wide receiver Steve Smith shocked his old team and is headed to the Dream Team Philadelphia Eagles while ex-Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor postponed his pro day.

Again. Continue reading MTAF Morning News – August 11