UK basketball notebook: Schnellenberger sees hope for UK football

Herald-Leader Staff WriterNovember 3, 2012 

Jerry Tipton

Long before Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, there was another "Yes, we can" man. Seemingly by force of personality, Howard Schnellenberger willed downtrodden football programs to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s.

Miami (Fla.) hired Schnellenberger in 1979 while considering a move down to what was then known as the I-AA level. Five years later, the Hurricanes won the national championship and became a college football dynasty.

At Louisville, which then played its home games in a minor-league baseball stadium, Schnellenberger led the Cardinals to a 10-1-1 record and a 34-7 victory over Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl. U of L football meant something.

Of Florida Atlantic, where he started a football program and now serves in retirement as self-described "ambassador at large," Schnellenberger said, "We're on a collision course, first, with the Big East Conference and then for the right to play for the national championship in my lifetime."

People (blush) once snickered when Schnellenberger spoke of Louisville someday colliding with a football national championship. Then he and U of L came close enough to delivering.

So when Schnellenberger, 78, said last week that Kentucky can be a power in football as well as basketball, you find yourself ... believing?

Schnellenberger scoffed at the notion that a perceived "basketball school" like UK cannot excel in football.

"Basketball is our greatest asset," he said, the "our" a product of his being a 1955 UK graduate.

"What a thing to recruit. How many universities in America have 22,000 crazy damn people in Rupp Arena — what? — 16 times a year? You put any high school kid into that environment, (gee whiz), he thinks he's in the bastion of sports heaven."

As Louisville football coach, Schnellenberger brought prospects to Freedom Hall — not Cardinal Stadium — during recruiting visits.

But wouldn't rival recruiters tell prospects that UK's devotion to basketball made football a secondary concern?

"The hell with what they say," Schnellenberger said. "It's what you say."

He likened rival schools to rival pizza chains. Each touts distinctive advantages: freshest ingredients or cheesiest crust.

"You don't worry about what your competitor says," he said. "It's what you say. You've got to be a salesman. And you've got Rupp Arena and the greatest basketball team in the world, and the greatest fans in the world. Jeez.

"Hell, I might even come out of retirement and go up there and do that."

He was kidding about coaching again, but not about the possibility of Kentucky being a football power. "It's not futile at all," he said.

Schnellenberger cited the revivals he led at Miami and Louisville. Bill Snyder made Kansas State a national contender.

"How the hell did that school out there with the blue football field (become relevant)?" he said of Boise State. "You know where Boise is? Do you know how many people are out there?

"There's nothing written you can't be great."

First must come what Schnellenberger called "a blood oath," a commitment from school administrators to make football prominence a priority. That must be in place to allow the coach to excel.

"You're not going to bring in somebody who can be the Pied Piper and can be the music man, who can be the commander in chief and make something happen unless there is support," he said.

The coach must proclaim a lofty goal, then exude confidence that it will be reached.

"Then that dream is not a dream anymore," Schnellenberger said. "It's a goal.

"Every loyal son and daughter of the University of Kentucky joins in together. They're going to lay it on the line. This is our effort to become the Alabama of the north."

Lanter reprise

Bo Lanter, a walk-on for UK in the early 1980s, watched with pride as his son began his own career as a Wildcat in Thursday's exhibition.

"I'm thrilled to death," he said at halftime of his son, Tod Lanter, being part of the UK team.

The elder Lanter noted the hard work his son did to make the team. After graduating from Dunbar High, Tod Lanter played as a freshman for Gulf Coast State College. He averaged 3.8 points.

Tod decided to sit out last season, a time he used to put on 20 pounds. Father joined son in daily workouts.

"Tod went in and worked out for Coach (John) Robic," Bo said. "There were no promises. We waited to see what they were going to say."

With UK deciding to add his son, Bo spoke to the anxieties of being a spectator.

"As a player, your instincts kick in and your abilities kick in," he said. "You don't think about it."

The mind churns as a father, which Bo knows doubly well. His daughter, Kyndall, is a goalie for the Southern Miss women's soccer team.

Ratings numbers

Both nationally and regionally, the ratings for the All-Access Kentucky show dipped from episode I to II.

Nationally, episode I drew a .57 rating. Episode II drew a .44.

Regionally, the rating dipped from 3.8 to 1.4. That meant that only 1.4 percent of homes in the central Kentucky viewing area watched episode II.

That's not to suggest that UK basketball is losing its psychic hold on Kentuckians.

Episode II aired regionally on the same day as the Blue-White Game. The Blue-White Game drew a rating of 15, which made it the highest-rated show on any channel that day/night.

Credit for the regional numbers goes to Rentrak Ratings Data, which serves Lexington's ABC affiliate, WTVQ.

Polling numbers

Ken Pomeroy, the Nate Silver of college basketball, made Kentucky No. 1 in his pre-season poll. Silver, by the way, is the ardent political numbers cruncher whose accuracy led to a job with The New York Times.

So, too, does Pomeroy bring a scientific calculation to basketball. When asked his thinking about putting UK No. 1, he said, "It's not necessarily what I'm thinking. It's how the computer works."

Pomeroy takes into account such factors as how a team has performed in recent seasons, the number of players gone from the previous season and the perceived quality of incoming freshmen.

He acknowledged an uneasiness with basing a ranking on freshmen. He called that factor "the weakest part of the system" he uses to rate teams in the pre-season.

"I'm not terribly comfortable with that," he said. But, he added, UK's track record the past three seasons breeds confidence.

"John Calipari has had really good success," he said. "It's not going to happen every single season. But to the extent it has happened, I'm pretty comfortable."

Here's how Pomeroy rated various teams:

1. UK, 2. Ohio State, 3. Indiana, 8. Louisville, 11. Florida, 29. Missouri, 35. Alabama, 38. Tennessee, 68. Vanderbilt, 74. Ole Miss, 81. Georgia, 94. Arkansas, 115. Texas A&M, 153. LSU, 158. South Carolina, 179. Auburn, 193. Mississippi State.

As for conferences, his ranking was:

1. Big Ten, 2. Big East, 3. Big 12, 4. ACC, 5. SEC.

"I feel pretty strong that the Big Ten will be the best conference," he said. "After that, I think it's kind of up for grabs."

Objectivity overruled

Authors Ryan Clark and Joe Cox make no secret of the pro-UK basketball sentiments in their new book, a bucket list of sorts entitled "100 Things Wildcats Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die."

Of his former job as a UK basketball blogger for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Clark said, "I didn't have to be objective at all. That's not my thing. Who cares about that?"

The book is not a sober examination. It's a celebration. Within 249 pages, it ranks in order and takes a quick-hitting look at UK basketball from No. 1 Adolph Rupp to No. 100 Billy Gillispie.

"We don't sell objectivity," Clark said. "We're selling this to fans. ... I would not consider what we did as a journalistic venture."

Clark, who has a journalism degree from Western Kentucky University, worked for the newspaper chain Gannett and now teaches at Northern Kentucky University, agreed that objectivity has its place. "Most definitely," he said. But that place is not UK basketball.

"I know one thing I could never cover is University of Kentucky basketball," he said. "No way I could be objective."

Cox, once a staff writer for Clark on WKU's student newspaper and now an attorney in Bowling Green, lamented what he called "gotcha journalism."

Which brings us to Chapter 32 entitled "Read — and Possibly Loathe — the Lexington Herald-Leader." Cox conceded that UK fans did not find the newspaper inaccurate. The sin has been irreverence.

Clark and Cox offer, if not reverence, then warm and fuzzy remembrance that can serve as a primer for new fans or fill the yen for yet another planting of the UK flag. The latter impulse can be a mystery to the uninitiated ... like Clark's wife, Manda.

"She thinks the obsession we have is so bizarre," Clark said. "OK, here's this book. After reading it, maybe you can better grasp how I feel."

So did the book make Manda understand?

"It really hasn't," Clark said.

Clark and Cox plan to sign copies Saturday at the Kentucky Book Fair in the Frankfort Civic Center.

Cal touched

After the exhibition victory over Northwood, UK Coach John Calipari spoke of a text of appreciation he said he had received from Eloy Vargas.

"I told him, 'You don't know how much that meant to me,'" said Calipari, who noted how Vargas was grateful despite not playing much for UK.

Vargas has returned to his native Dominican Republic, where he's trying to decide whether to play in the NBA's Developmental League or in Europe.

Safe text

Howard Schnellenberger is retired as a coach, but not idle.

Besides seeking to raise $2 million for Florida Atlantic, he's promoting a cell phone application called Safe Text. The goal is to eliminate the dangerous practice of texting while driving.

It works like airplane mode. With the app, anyone who texts you will automatically receive a message letting them know you are driving and will respond later. You will not know someone has texted you. There will be no sound to signal an incoming text.

"Young people have to want to do it," Schnellenberger said. "They can't be forced to do it."

As an incentive, the app involves a reward system. The more texts deferred, the more points achieved. Points can be cashed in for prizes from participating businesses.

More details are at www.freesafetext.com

Condolences

Abraham Lincoln Collinsworth, a member of UK's Fiddlin' Five, was born in Salyersville Feb. 12, 1936. He passed away Oct. 13, 2012, at the age of 76 in Orlando, Florida.

Happy birthday

To Roy Kramer. The former SEC commissioner turned 83 on Tuesday. ... To Dale Brown. The former LSU coach turned 77 on Halloween. "Every birthday I pledge to be a better human being during the next year," he said in an email, "& so far have not reached my expectations." ... To ex-Cat Chuck Verderber. He turned 53 on Saturday. ... To former UK Coach Billy Gillispie. He turns 53 on Wednesday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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