Big 12: Elsa Murano

Texas A&M audit shows problems in controlling finances

December, 17, 2009
12/17/09
4:59
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An internal audit indicates that the Texas A&M athletic department has problems in controlling its finances.

The San Antonio Express-News received a copy of the 25-page report that was written by six accountants from inside the Texas A&M system.

The Express-News reported Thursday that athletic director Bill Byrne's job is not in jeopardy because of the findings. But the A&M athletic director mentioned the audit in his weekly column posted on the school's athletic department Web site.

“The auditors also made one very serious observation,” Byrne wrote. “During the period under audit, they believed that we had limited monitoring of, and limited accountability for, daily financial operations. And during that time, the auditors were correct.”

Byrne wrote that he's personally fixed the problems that were mentioned by changing management in the business office. He remains "confident that our business operations are being conducted effective and efficiently today."

One area that came under scrutiny in the report was the lack of a balance sheet for the athletic department -- keeping the school from having a complete picture of athletic department expenditures and revenue sources.

More than $2.5 million in revenue and expenses were not included in the statements, the report said. About $1.1 million came through the school's 12th Man Foundation and about $1.4 million came in product revenues and expenses provided from athletic apparel contracts with industry giants Adidas and Nike.

Earlier this summer, news of fiscal problems at the school were revealed. In June, former university president Elsa Murano reported as part of her annual review that the university had loaned the athletic department $16 million four years ago. That resulted in a tight fiscal plan to begin immediately repaying that 10-year loan. In July, Byrne was responsible for eliminating 17 jobs in the athletic department.

The report wasn't a good sign for Byrne or the 12th Man Foundation, but it appears he has taken steps to get the financing under control. It's resulted in a change in the way that business is conducted at Texas A&M.

"Overall, in spite of the hardships imposed on our fans by the economy, the financial picture for the athletic department is healthy," Byrne said. "We have begun repaying the $16 million loan from the University and intend to adhere to its terms."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The holiday weekend was a bad time around Texas A&M, where unprecedented economic struggles are leading to major financial changes in the school's athletic department.

Long-time employees Billy Pickard, Chris Harrell and Jim Kotch were among 17 support personnel who were told their jobs would be phased out last week in a series of meetings that have been named "Black Thursday" by Texas newspapers.

Even veteran A&M radio broadcaster Dave South will be taking early retirement, keeping his play-by-play job while his job as associate athletic director in charge of sponsorships and broadcasting is being phased out.

"The Texas A&M University Athletic Department is facing difficult economic decisions like many companies and universities across the United States. Charged by the University to reduce the budget by $4.5 million for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, our goal was to make spending cuts that would not impact the competitiveness of our teams and to ensure that our student athletes have a good experience here at Texas A&M," Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said in a prepared statement.

"We were able to identify $3.5 million in cuts without reducing personnel. Unfortunately, the Athletic Department had to eliminate 17 positions to balance the budget. The cuts came across the entire spectrum of the department. This difficult decision came after an exhaustive review of the entire program and with great reluctance."

The cuts run deep. Take Pickard, who began his association with A&M when he worked as a student trainer under Paul "Bear" Bryant and remained working with the athletic department for 45 consecutive years. Or Harrell, a longtime employee of the Aggies' sports information department who grew up nearby and attended high school at nearby A&M Consolidated. Or Kotch, a former A&M ticket manager who has worked at the school for 28 years.

These job cuts are coming on the heels of the revelation of a $16 million, no-interest loan the athletic department received from the university four years ago from former A&M president Robert Gates. The athletic department has to start repaying that debt back to the university in November.

The job cuts are part of a university directive designed to reduce the budget by $4.5 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

And that comes after the resignation of A&M president Elsa Murano. The Aggies are still paying for Dennis Franchione and his $4.4 million settlement. The Bryan Eagle reports that sales of football season tickets are down for the upcoming season.

These struggles are prompting a lot of grumbling among A&M former students considering the recent economic success at two of the Aggies' biggest rivals.

As the Aggies are cutting, the Oklahoma athletic department recently announced it would be giving $3 million back to the school's general academic fund to keep the school from having to raise tuition. And Texas is having unprecedented recent success after leading the nation in football revenue at $72.95 million last season and in total athletic department revenue at $120.8 million.

The Longhorns recently gave most of their football staff raises totaling $44,000 after the Longhorns earned a share of a three-way tie for the South Division championship last year.

Another item of contention has been Byrne himself. The A&M athletic director received a $204,000 raise less than a year ago from the A&M Board of Regents, boosting his yearly salary to $690,000. His salary total ranks third among Big 12 athletic directors behind only Lew Perkins of Kansas and Joe Castiglione of Oklahoma.

When Byrne arrived, he saw a crumbling infrastructure which needed immediate fixing. He invested heavily in facilities and coaches for sports other than football, men's and women's basketball and baseball -- traditionally the backbone of A&M's athletic support.

That attention clearly has paid off. The Aggies claimed the national men's golf championship and the men's and women's track and field championships in the last several months. Those victories helped the school finish 13th in the national Learfield Sports Directors' Cup and a record 12th nationally in the Sports Director's Cup standings last season.

But as strong as that success has been, it's been somewhat of a pyrrhic victory for many Aggie fans. A&M's football program has struggled with a combined record of 25-24 in the last four seasons.

A&M comes into the season with lessened expectations than in any recent season as most preseason polls predict that Mike Sherman's team will struggle to stay out of the South Division cellar. The Aggies haven't sniffed of a South Division championship since R.C. Slocum led them to the 1998 title.

Since then, Mack Brown and Bob Stoops have helped boost Texas and Oklahoma into consistent national championship contenders with record attendance figures to boot.

And across the South Division, other schools and their football programs clearly are on an upswing. Mike Leach has transformed Texas Tech into a program with wide national appeal. Oklahoma State is poised to do that this season with more preseason publicity entering the season than any in recent memory. And even Baylor is nipping at A&M's heels as most preseason predictions expect them to pass the Aggies and contend for their first bowl berth since 1994.

One other item that made me realize how real the economic problems really are at Texas A&M.

The school has agreed to allow the Texas Hurricanes of the Southern Indoor Football League to use the school's McFerrin Multi-Purpose Facility as it relocates to the Bryan-College Station area. While there, the school will battle the team for sponsorships and the hearts and minds of Aggie fans during the spring sports season.

It's never wise to allow any kind of competition to gain a foothold in your own backyard. But the Aggies' sports administration must believe that rent payments from the arena team will help offset any losses that might be caused with their other sports.

The economy has made for some bleak times for athletic departments across the country. A&M hasn't decided to cut any athletic programs -- yet.

Still, Byrne will be facing a difficult task of trimming budgets in an uncertain time as he tries to ramp up the overall athletic success of his school.

Throw in the fact that his football program is rebuilding and it makes a challenging economic task that much tougher.

Big 12 lunch links: How will Murano's departure change A&M?

June, 15, 2009
6/15/09
1:16
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's summertime and the stories are supposed to be drying up across college football.

That might be true everywhere except the Big 12, where we have all kinds of stories popping up these days. Here are some of the most notable after the weekend.

Big 12 lunch links: OU QBs remember their national titles

June, 8, 2009
6/08/09
1:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The glory days of Oklahoma football were remembered this weekend in a personal appearance where all five national championship winning quarterbacks for the Sooners appeared.

Hundreds of fans from across the state lined up for several hours for the chance to meet the players who quarterbacked those seven national championship winners -- Claude Arnold, Jimmy Harris, Steve Davis, Jamelle Holieway and Josh Heupel.

Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts could not allow all five players to be present at the same time. But the Oklahoman's Berry Tramel wrote an interesting story about reliving so much Sooner history in one place on Sunday with all of the quarterbacks.

Sam Bradford hopes to be able to join that fraternity this year. He's already made history by becoming one of two Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks with Jason White. And Bradford already is the only Sooner quarterback to lead his team to back-to-back Big 12 titles.

But before that plays out, there's plenty of time for some lunchtime links. And we have a strong collection for this afternoon.

Why has Texas A&M fallen behind Texas, Oklahoma, LSU?

June, 8, 2009
6/08/09
12:26
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Former Houston Chronicle columnist John P. Lopez left the newspaper business a couple of years ago to become a full-time radio talk-show host.

The airwaves' gain contributed to the loss for readers everywhere, however. No longer did we get the chance to peruse Lopez's well-reasoned thoughts on all sports topics and especially college football.

That's why it's such good news that he's back writing again and will be a regular contributor to Texags.com. And his first work this weekend was an outstanding take about why Texas A&M has fallen behind natural rivals Texas, LSU and Oklahoma in what Lopez calls the "Aggie Bermuda Triangle."

All of those schools have supplanted the Aggies as the dominant teams in that area in recent years.

Lopez blames lessened academic requirements as the major reason the Aggies have dropped in recent years.

The Sooners, Tigers and Longhorns all passed the Aggies because they all had one thing in common:

Easy majors.

Whether 'communications,' 'education' or any name they wanted to slap on those majors, athletes could enroll more easily, take general studies-type courses and an abundance of easy electives.

Since a major could be declared, degree plans also could be groomed with easier courses and heavy electives, all the way through a player's junior years.

Most important, they could stay eligible.

Lopez also writes that he favors the repeal of the "10 percent rule" that requires most admissions to a school like A&M or Texas to graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class.  

The more top 10-percent students get admitted automatically, the less room [there] is for special admissions. And let's just be honest here: That means fewer top-tier athletes admitted.

It's obvious that Lopez has thought hard about what can be done to turn around the athletic program at his old school. He provides a couple of suggestions.

Whether school president Elsa Murano would champion these causes is debatable. She seems to have enough problems of her own right now

But it's interesting to hear some steps that some Aggies believe would help return the team to relevance in the Big 12 South.

Because in recent years, they are sliding in the other direction very quickly.

Is Texas A&M's athletic program headed for big trouble?

June, 5, 2009
6/05/09
4:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Fom the outside, Texas A&M's athletic program looks strong and vibrant.

The Aggies have slumped recently at football, but still averaged 82,193 per game to rank 14th nationally in attendance. They played to 99.03 percent capacity at Kyle Field.

The men's and women's basketball teams have never been stronger, and the baseball team had a solid season. A&M is in 20th place in the most recent Learfield Sports Directors' Cup with a large infusion of points to be added from the school's men's national golf championship.

But under the seemingly tranquil surface, there are several ominous factors.

Robert Cessna of the Bryan Eagle had an interesting blog post this morning about a $16 million line of credit that former Texas A&M president Robert Gates gave to the athletic department before leaving his job to become the Secretary of Defense in 2006.

Like Cessna, I'm wondering where the money has been going. I would have thought the A&M athletic program was close to being self-sufficient considering all of the positive signs that seemingly abound around the school.

And the most intriguing fact is this: The credit was extended while Gates was the president of the school. That was obviously before the recent malaise in the economy really kicked in.

It's an item that was detailed by current A&M president Elsa Murano in her annual evaluation from A&M chancellor Mike McKinney.

That relationship between Murano and McKinney appears to have gotten rockier over the last few months, according to Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News/Houston Chronicle.

McKinney has a huge vested interest in the A&M football program, considering both of his sons played there. He was also actively involved in luring Mike Sherman back to the school from the NFL. Sherman was the offensive line coach during some of the time his sons were playing for the Aggies.

It could be argued that McKinney might be Sherman's best friend in the Aggies' upper administration. And if McKinney's role expands in A&M's hierarchy, it can't hurt Sherman.

All of this is playing out, however, as the Aggies struggle on the field more than at any time in recent history.

The Big 12 South has never been more competitive in football. Oklahoma and Texas are at the highest levels in history considering their national success. Texas Tech assuredly is at its peak.

Oklahoma State could be there with the breakthrough season many are predicting for the Cowboysn. And the resurgent Baylor program under Art Briles appears to be nipping at the heels of A&M and poised to overtake them if they can make their first bowl appearance since 1994 and the Aggies are shut out again.

Various national blogs are chiming in about the demise in Aggieland.

CollegeFootballNews.com ranks the A&M program as one of the five in the nation that do the least with the most in terms of football achievement.

CFN commentator Pete Fiutak has this to say on why A&M is struggling in football:

The short answer to why not Texas A&M is simple: Texas and Oklahoma. But if Texas Tech can become a power, even though it needs a gimmick to do it, then there's no reason the Aggies shouldn't be getting their share of top Texas talent, especially from the Houston area, and be a player in the Big 12 South race once in while.

But those comments were tame compared to those of his CFN colleague, Richard Cirminiello:

Can someone kindly explain to me why Texas A&M hasn't been able to get its act together this century?

The Aggies have all kinds of built-in advantages, but haven't been able to capitalize in a long time. They reside in one of the most talent-rich areas of the country, boast a loyal fan base, and sport a rich set of traditions. Yet, the program is no longer in Texas' league, has fallen way behind Texas Tech, and is in danger of being caught by Baylor.

It just doesn't make a lot of sense. You want tangible proof? Take a look at some interesting numbers. Since 1999, Texas A&M has sent 37 players to the NFL, a very healthy number unless you're Ohio State, USC, or Florida. However, it's averaged a paltry six wins a year over that span, and has a Gallery Furniture Bowl victory as its lone postseason triumph. That's a pathetic example of how little the Aggies have milked from their talent pool.

Sherman desperately needs a bowl appearance this season after last season's 4-8 record. It will be one of the biggest challenges in college football considering the relative strength of the South Division.

Can he turn things around?

His job security may depend on it.

Big 12 picks: Look for more struggles vs. Big East

September, 18, 2008
9/18/08
10:16
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 will be on display the next two nights as underdogs against two powerful Big East foes. After losing two games in six days to the Big East, the conference is looking for a quick turnaround.

Here are my picks:

West Virginia 33, Colorado 28: The Mountaineers have too much offensive firepower in this one, even with Colorado fans planning a "Blackout" and West Virginia offensive linemen worrying about Boulder's altitude in game preparation this week. The Buffaloes are still a little young to prevail, but will pick up some important lessons that could help them later in Big 12 play.

Connecticut 42, Baylor 17: The quick development of Baylor freshman QB Robert Griffin has given this game a little bit more sizzle than it might have had a couple of weeks ago. Baylor will be looking for its first road victory at a BCS opponent since 1996. But look for the Huskies to dominate inside because of the tough running of Donald Brown, cruising to their ninth-straight victory and second straight 4-0 start.

Missouri 57, Buffalo 20: The Bulls will be looking for their first 3-1 start since 1996. It won't happen here, however, because Missouri's potent offense is cruising, even if Gary Pinkel is claiming he can't find the off switch. The Tigers lead the nation with an average of 57.7 points per game and 10 yards per snap. It might just be a moral victory for Buffalo to keep Missouri from scoring every time they get the ball, considering that QB Chase Daniel has led Missouri on 13 straight scoring possessions over the last two games.

Miami 17, Texas A&M 7: Both teams have unsettled quarterback situations. Robert Marve and Jacory Harris have been alternating snaps for the Hurricanes. And the Aggies' starter is in flux as Stephen McGee is coming off a sprained shoulder after Jerrod Johnson's impressive relief work against New Mexico. Both teams have been offensively challenged, so look for points to be hard to come by. Even though A&M president and Miami native Elsa Murano has made beating "The U" a priority, the Aggies don't have enough firepower to do it.

Texas 48, Rice 17: The Longhorns will be looking for their 10th straight victory and 37th in the last 38 games against Rice since 1966. Look for the Longhorns to try and emphasize their running attack and their physical advantage in the trenches. Rice QB Chase Clement and WR James Casey, who is tied for first nationally in per-game receptions, could give the young Texas secondary some problems. But not that many.

Texas Tech 61, Massachusetts 10: Tech coach Mike Leach called out his quarterbacks and receivers this week -- and by inference QB Graham Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree -- for lack of production after beating SMU last week. Look for an inspired offense from the Red Raiders with a lot of points and yardage against the FCS Minutemen. Massachusetts QB Liam Coen has thrown 75 career touchdown passes, but will be challenged by a Tech defense that picked off five passes last week.

Kansas 45, Sam Houston State 10: After a disappointing defeat last week at South Florida, the Jayhawks are hoping to rebound and rebuild confidence in their running game at the same time. Sam Houston State hasn't played since beating East Central, 58-14, on Aug. 28. The Jayhawks will be looking for defensive improvement after failing to produce a turnover and allowing 31 straight points at one juncture last week. And they'll be challenged by Sam Houston State QB Rhett Bomar, who formerly played at Oklahoma and beat the Jayhawks while playing there.

UNLV 24, Iowa State 22: The Rebels enter this game brimming with confidence after their stunning overtime victory at Arizona State last week. It's helped them post a winning record for the first time since 2003 after failing to win more than two games in any of the last four seasons. The Cyclones are trying to bounce back after failing to score a touchdown in a loss at archrival Iowa. Iowa State remains the Big 12's most opportunistic team, but will need some big plays to win in the desert and snap Gene Chizik's 12-game road losing streak.

My pick last night: 0-1 (0 percent)

My picks for the season: 31-2 (93.9 percent)

Four-star viewers guide for this week

September, 15, 2008
9/15/08
5:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

That's right, I said this week. Because the Big 12 will have games scheduled four straight nights this week.

Ah, the nirvana of football on multiple nights. What a concept.

Here's the latest four-star viewer's guide for the games of the weekend. Plan your week and set your tape recorders and Tivos accordingly.

Like always, a ranking of four stars indicates must-see television, and maybe even a game tape to be savored by more devoted viewers. Three-star games are worth the investment in time. Two-star games bear a quick glimpse or two for occasional score updates. And one-star games are indications that your time might be better spent painting the dining room or playing with the kids. All games will be played on Saturday, unless otherwise noted.

Four-star game

West Virginia at Colorado (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., ET, ESPN): The Mountaineers toyed with the Big 12's best team last year. Can they expect a repeat playing against the hungry Buffaloes -- especially at high altitude?

Three-star games

Kansas State at Louisville (Wednesday, 8 p.m., ESPN2): The Wildcats haven't played any BCS opponents so far. But this game could be a winnable one, particularly as Steve Kragthrope's tenure at Louisville has never looked shakier.

Baylor at Connecticut (Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN2): The nation will be introduced to Baylor QB Robert Griffin, who will hook up with the underrated 3-0 Huskies. Coach Randy Edsall's team ranks fifth nationally in rushing, eighth in scoring defense and 19th in rushing defense and might be better than last season's Meineke Car Care Bowl team.

Miami at Texas A&M (3:30 p.m., ABC-TV): This battle of once-potent nationally powers sounded better when it was announced than today. But A&M coach Mike Sherman has special impetus to win this game after preseason comments by his boss, A&M president Elsa Murano, a Miami native.

Two-star games

Buffalo at Missouri (Saturday, 2 p.m.): Sentimental trip back to the Big 12 for Buffalo coach Turner Gill, who tormented the Tigers during his playing career at Nebraska. Buffalo is coming off wild last-play victory over Temple. But they won't find accommodating hosts in the Tigers, who lead the nation in total offense and scoring and rank third in passing.

Rice at Texas (Saturday, 7 p.m.): Old Southwest Conference rivalry has been dominated in recent years by the Longhorns, who have won nine straight games and 37 of their last 38 against the Owls since 1966. This one shouldn't be close, although young Texas secondary will be tested by Rice's pitch-and-catch combination of QB Chase Clement and WR Jarett Dillard.

Iowa State at UNLV (Saturday, 9 p.m., MTN): Struggling Cyclones have got to have better red-zone production against Rebels, coming off impressive overtime victory at Arizona State. Rebels have cobbled together a 2-1 record despite not ranking above 75th nationally in any of the eight major team statistical categories.

One-star games

Sam Houston State at Kansas (Saturday, 7 p.m. FCS): Lack of a running game doomed Kansas against South Florida. The Jayhawks will have a chance to work on that weakness against the Bearkats, who haven't played in more than three weeks since beating East Central on Aug. 28. Sam Houston QB Rhett Bomar returns to the Big 12 with a high-powered offense that leads FCS teams in scoring offense and turnover margin, is third in passing efficiency and fourth in rushing and total offense.

Massachusetts at Texas Tech (Saturday, 7 p.m.): Look for another offensive binge by the Red Raiders, who will be meeting their second FCS opponent so far this season. The Minutemen have struggled defensively, allowing 94 points in their last two games and rank 94th among the 109 FCS teams in scoring defense. This one could get really ugly.

Tim's mailbag: Grab bag provides respite from the road

August, 5, 2008
8/05/08
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

As we continue our trip through the North Division, I figured today would be a good time to catch up with some of the correspondence that's piled up between preview stories and traveling across the highways of the Midwest, looking for the Big 12's next great player and a Runza Restaurant between stops.

Here a look at a few of the most recent missives directed my way.

Juan from Austin writes: Puhleeze! I've said it before and I'll say it again. How can you even think about mentioning Colt McCoy in the same breath as the others for Heisman consideration?

Tim Griffin: I still see what McCoy was able to do two seasons ago when he tied the NCAA freshman record for touchdown passes (which was broken last season by Oklahoma's Sam Bradford). McCoy showed me a new maturity when I talked to him in Kansas City last month at the Big 12's Media Days. He'll be asked to do more with an inexperienced group of skill-position players.

But remember something about how the Texas program shapes national perceptions. If McCoy has a big season and the Longhorns are in South Division contention, he'll get most of the credit for it. And as such, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he's a Heisman contender. Admittedly he's fifth of the "Big Five" Big 12 quarterbacks, but he still has a shot.


Willis from Overland Park, KS writes: The complete and ongoing lack of mention of Kansas State QB Josh Freeman is absurd. What kind of stats does a true sophomore like him have to put up to be considers as good as "cough, cough" Todd Reesing.

Tim Griffin: Willis, how about 12-1, which is the record that Reesing led the Jayhawks to last season, compared to KSU's 5-7 mark. That would be a start. And also how about Reesing's 33-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season, compared to Freeman's 18-11 ratio.


Dakota from San Antonio writes: Will Art Briles do the unthinkable and turn around a miserable Baylor program? And if so, when can we expect it to happen?

Tim Griffin: This is going to be the biggest challenge of Briles' coaching career -- one that obviously isn't for the faint-hearted. For Baylor to emerge as a bowl threat, they are going to have to schedule down a little. While playing games against Wake Forest and Connecticut will be good for the program's exposure, they are going to have do something in those games. Like Briles said earlier this summer, his team needs to provide a victory or two that makes people stop for a minute the following day as they are looking at their sports page or reading the computer.

For Baylor to ever become a consistent power, somebody in the South Division is going to have to step back. I just don't see it at this time with strong coaching and facility growth across the conference. If Briles can turn around the Bears, it will make what Grant Teaff did in the old Southwest Conference appear rather small.


The Chief from Savannah, Ga., writes - Tim, I love your blog. I really believe Texas A&M will beat Miami this season? Am I wrong?

Tim Griffin: I think that the Aggies have a great shot. Particularly with A&M president Elsa Murano telling new A&M coach Mike Sherman how much she'd love to see him beat her old hometown team. Nothing like a little pressure from your boss to keep you up late at night, working on diagramming some new plays or blocking schemes.

And it also won't hurt that the game is at Kyle Field and that Miami is a shell of the national contender it used to be.


Tony from Kansas writes: Tommie Frazier from Nebraska absolutely wouldn't lose. Why didn't you include him on your clutch list?

Tim Griffin: It's a good choice, but I was limited to players who had seen action in the Big 12. Or else, I could have included Ed Hargett, Bobby Layne or even Darrell Royal -- as a player or as a coach.


Steve from Duncanville writes: Hey Tim, I loved your story about how the Big 12 recruits so heavily in Texas. Is there any way you can break those figures down to show all of the different states that are included. Many thanks.

Tim Griffin: Steve, I'll be glad to do that. Thanks for the idea. Although it sounds vaguely like something a recruiting service would do, doesn't it?


Mr. Unknown writes: Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill didn't charge anything, his stats weren't that good, that is a myth started by Mike Leach. And how can Nolan Cromwell, the wide receiver coach for Mike Holmgren the last 8 or 9 years and Tom Rossley, Brett Favre's quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for seven years at Green Bay. How can those guys not be in the top five? Your list was ridiculous.

Tim Griffin: I think you're wrong on this. The Tech defense was noticeable better down the stretch, peaking in impressive victories over Oklahoma and Virginia in the Gator Bowl. And you have a point about Rossley, although Cromwell has never been a college coach before. I'll withhold my opinion about his work until he coaches a few games at this level. That's why I didn't include him on my list.


Shadowman from Kansas City writes: Now I know everyone in the Big 12 (especially the North) hates the Huskers. Does this mean that every site has to claim we will be horrible (losing season) for Pelini's first season? Marlon Lucky is returning for his senior year and some are mentioning him as a possible preseason Heisman candidate, Joe Ganz coming in with a bit of experience from the last season, a solid defensive line, and Pelini who has a tendency to work with kids to shut down the pass, how do we not have the chance to succeed and maybe challenge for the Big 12 North?

Tim Griffin: Lucky is going to be pushed to start this year by Roy Helu Jr. And that defensive line took a hit when top back Kevin Dixon was kicked off the team Monday for a violation of team rules.

I think Bo Pelini will have the Cornhuskers flying around the ball this season. But the talent he inherited leads me to believe he should be up for Coach of the Year honors if he can win eight or nine games with this team.


Roger from Sulphur, La., writes: Tim, if you're going to cover college sports in this manner, you should've stayed covering the Big 12. Please, what kind of BS is this? Granted, the Big 12 has some quality teams, but top to bottom - no comparison with the SEC.

Tim Griffin: Roger, I appreciate your sentiments, but I couldn't help but detect your hometown and wonder if it was tinged just a bit with a touch of hometown jambalaya. And I wonder if you noticed the Big 12 had five teams ranked in the top 14 in the USA Today coaches' poll last week.

But I agree with your sentiments about the SEC's up-and-down strength. I think the Big 12 is stronger at the top, but the SEC might have the nod when you include all 12 teams.

And please tell me that my colleague Chris Low didn't put you up to that.

That's all for this time. Keep the letters coming.

Big 12 morning inks: New Aggie president loves her Hawks

July, 18, 2008
7/18/08
8:53
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin 

New Texas A&M president Elsa Murano is saying all the right things to the most tradition-steeped of all fan bases in the Big 12. Murano told the San Antonio Express-News' Brent Zwerneman that she has developed into a big sports fan since arriving in the country from Cuba in 1961.

Murano has quickly embraced all things dealing with Aggie athletics since taking the job. She's had members of A&M's women's basketball team over to her office for cake and ice cream.

And she's told new A&M football coach Mike Sherman she's pining for a victory over the college team from her hometown when the Aggies meet Miami on Sept. 20.

"I'm counting on a win," Murano told Zwerneman. "I've told Coach Sherman if you win nothing else, you've got to win this game for me."

But one thing that might give Aggie fans some concern are Murano's favorite professional teams she follows. It's understandable she would follow the recently downtrodden Miami Dolphins, considering its her home town. But she lists the Atlanta Hawks as her favorite basketball team - particularly those of the Spud Webb/Jon Koncak vintage in the late 1980s.

I've followed the NBA for 40 years. And I can legitimately say that I've never heard anyone from outside the greater Atlanta area ever claiming that the Hawks were their favorite team.

Here are some stories that had me thinking from around the conference this morning.

  • Natalie England of the San Antonio Express-News catches up with Ken Rucker, Texas' new director of high school relations and player development. The new job should be ideal for the Longhorns' former running backs coach, who was diagnosed with and overcame prostate cancer last season.

My take -- This is a great move for one of the nice guys in the coaching profession. It will also help the Longhorns to have a mentor like Rucker around the program. 

My take -- It's just not right seeing a recent Heisman Trophy winner as a retail manager so close to the end of his playing career.

My take -- Chip is right, or there's no telling what kind of tantrums that could be in store for Mike Gundy.

  • Former Texas Tech assistant coach Dave Brown will be among this year's class enshrined Saturday into the College Football Hall of Fame. Others with Big 12 titles in the 2008 class include Oklahoma center Tom Brahaney and Texas defensive back Johnnie Johnson.

My take -- Although he played at Michigan, Brown's legacy as a leader has been embraced at Texas Tech as if he were an original Red Raider.

My take -- So does Mack Brown.

My take -- It's not a good time to be a defensive coordinator in the Big 12.

  • Nine of 12 Big 12 coaches arrived with offensive backgrounds, according to Rivals.com's Tom Dienhart. Stoops, however, is one of three national championship winners during the BCS era with a defensive pedigree.

My take -- Another reason why it's not a good time to be a Big 12 defensive coordinator.

My take -- The Cornhuskers need a surge defensively from a lot of people this season.

My take -- Me, too. I was kind of surprised that DeMarco Murray beat out Mike Goodson for the second running back slot. But maybe the rest of the media knows more about A&M's offensive line than I do.

  • Missouri junior-college transfer defensive end Brian Coulter has earned the nickname "Godzilla II" before his first game with the Tigers. The Kansas City Star's Mike DeArmond writes that some Missouri fans are already saying that Coulter could develop into a pass-rushing threat like the original "Godzilla," Justin Smith. 

My take -- Coulter might talk a good game, but he'll have a long way to go to match the production of Smith, who might be the pass rusher in Missouri history.

  • The web site Pro Fantasy Sports rates Texas Tech's Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree as the best potential quarterback and wide receiver -- for fantasy purposes -- in the conference this season. Other top choices include Nebraska running back Marlon Lucky, Missouri tight end Chase Coffman, Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert and the Oklahoma defense.

My take -- C'mon, fantasy football for college players? Give me a break.

My take -- Great idea. When your football is as loaded as Missouri's should be for the next couple of years, strike while it's hot. Cha-ching!

My take -- Gundy probably envisions Hudson adding 40 pounds or so after arriving at college and learning about the merits of extensive weight training and midnight burritos.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin 

Sorry I'm waaaay late to the party. A family vacation kept me from starting with my fellow bloggers last week.  So I've got a lot to catch up on.

Here are a few Big 12-related items to mull this morning:

  • Maybe it's not the Griswolds, but Colorado coach Dan Hawkins had some wild stories about his family vacation earlier this month to Peru. The Boulder Daily Camera has all of the details.
  • The Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock touches on an interesting legal battle between Kansas and Larry Sinks, the owner of a T-shirt company that lampoons the school's coaches and its opponents.
  • Derrick Washington will be aiming to fill Missouri's most pressing offensive need as the team's featured rushing threat.
  • New Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler was profiled by the Omaha World-Herald. Ekeler's high-energy style will be crucial for Coach Bo Pelini's new staff, but an even better story is the time he almost shaved his eyebrows off to celebrate victories at Kansas State when he was playing there. 
  • Times are good at Kansas and Missouri, where success last season is translating into unprecedented season-ticket demand for the upcoming season. 
  • The Bleacher Report likely is feeling the wrath of Oklahoma fans after this story.
  • Burnt Orange Nation provides an early look at Texas' offensive depth chart.
  • New Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman will have a lot of pressure on him to win against Miami this season. The San Antonio Express-News reports that new A&M president Elsa Murano would like nothing better than to beat the team from her old hometown.     

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