Sports Nut

The Sports Pages: Will Butler Do It?

A weekly look at the sports commentariat.

There are five remaining undefeated teams in college basketball’s Top 25: Duke, Virginia, Oklahoma State, Miami, and Butler. Of those five, only one has “a reasonably good chance of finishing the regular season unbeaten,”’s Mark Button writes. “The Butler Bulldogs have survived the scary portion of their schedule (wins against Purdue, Ball State and Indiana on Saturday in the Hoosier Classic), and they’re more talented than the rest of the teams they play this year.”

The death of Riley: The San Diego Chargers fired coach Mike Riley for losing his last 11 games after a 5-2 start. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Nick Canepa blames the impatience of owner Alex Spanos for the Chargers’ woes: “There must be reasons why this organization has the worst record in The League over the past five years, why it has just three winning records in non-strike seasons since Alex Spanos purchased the club in 1984. It can’t all be coaching. The next head coach will be the Spanoses’ eighth—and fifth since 1995.” And John Butler is the owner’s fifth general manager.’sDon Banks thinks Butler will hire a coach who won’t try to subvert his authority—i.e., somebody like Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, who coached for Butler in Buffalo.’sChris Mortensen says don’t count out June Jones. Last time he was offered the job, Jones spurned the Bolts for the University of Hawaii.

In other bad-owner news, rumor has it that the Washington Redskins’ Daniel Snyder wants to hire a director of player personnel who reports directly to him, in order to offset the power he gave to coach Marty Schottenheimer. (The name being bandied about is Bobby Beathard.) A titanic Battle of the Egos is in the offing. Will Marty quit and walk away from the $7.5 million remaining on his contract?

“What we have here is something like the Cuban Missile Crisis,” the Washington Post’s Tony Kornheiser writes. “Two potentially hostile forces marking off their territory, and raising the stakes with every new blustery communiqué until they appear to be on the brink of war. And as they eye each other warily, everyone else waits to see which side blinks. … This thing could go boom. Schottenheimer isn’t Norv Turner; he won’t wait quietly while an owner dangles him like a daisy and pulls off his petals.”

Settle down, BoSox fans: The Kansas City Star’s Jeffrey Flanagan says Johnny Damon, who just signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the Red Sox, will founder in a high-pressure sports city like Boston. Fan expectations are already completely out of whack: In a Boston Herald poll, 67 percent of respondents thought Damon could help the Red Sox win the World Series. “Let’s do that poll again in June,” Flanagan writes. “Once fans at Fenway get a steady diet of Damon’s unorthodox swing and his weak arm (he’ll be playing center field, believe it or not), he’s going to be in for an earful.”

The best college coaching staff ever? The Miami Herald’s Dan LeBatard writes a column that’s putatively about Nebraska, but the real take-away is a bunch of eye-popping factoids about old Miami Hurricanes teams. Two examples: Miami had a team with Michael Irvin, Brian Blades, and Brett Perriman as the starting wide receivers; and Miami’s coaching staff once included Jimmy Johnson, Butch Davis, Dave Wannstedt, Dave Campo, and Tommy Tuberville.

But what does Dick Cheney say about him? Notre Dame hired Tyrone Willingham to succeed Bob Davie/George O’Leary as head football coach. Willingham is the first black head coach in the school’s history—in any sport. Blue and Gold Illustrated’s Tim Prister says Golden Domers have unfairly attacked Willingham’s 44-36-1 record at Stanford, while ignoring the extent of the resurrection he performed there.’s Gene Wojciechowski argues that Willingham’s “presence in South Bend won’t be lost on elite African-American recruits who have otherwise dismissed Notre Dame as being too cold, too isolated, too white.”

But if Willingham is so good, why did Notre Dame snub him the first time around? “Until he wins, Willingham will be viewed by some as the minority candidate whom Notre Dame used early, then desperately bought late,” the San Jose Mercury News’ Skip Bayless writes. “Willingham’s winning percentage at Stanford is slightly worse than Davie’s was at Notre Dame, and now Willingham stumbles into the job off a 24-14 Seattle Bowl loss to underdog Georgia Tech—the team O’Leary left.” The San Francisco Chronicle’s Glenn Dickey is more direct: “Tyrone Willingham is making a huge career mistake. At Notre Dame, he will be exposed for the mediocre coach he is.”

Either way, Willingham is surely the only NCAA coach to arrive with a recommendation from Condi Rice.