2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • AFA basketball: Expectations are a requirement for women’s program

    Wed, March 31, 2010 by David Ramsey with 2 comments

    During Ardie McInelly’s nine seasons as head coach of the Air Force Academy women’s basketball team, she won 12 Mountain West Conference games. At some point long before Monday, it should have been obvious she was not going to turn around the program.

    Granted, she had one of the tougher jobs in Division I basketball, men’s or women’s.

    But she was able to survive for so long because there were no expectations for the program. Well, I take that back. Athletic director Hans Mueh seemed to expect the program to lose almost every game.

    Let’s look at the Army football program, which has struggled for years. From 2000-2009, the Black Knights won 20 games and lost  82.

    The program also went through five coaches during that tumble.

    The wins weren’t there, but the expectations remained. The leaders of Army’s athletic program were always searching for the right man to revive the program.

    And if you don’t search, you never find what you want and what you need.

    McInelly was a great hire. There was reason to believe she could deliver victories to a sagging program.

    She turned out not to be the coach this program needed. And it shouldn’t have taken nine seasons to close the door on the Ardie era.

    At one of her final press conferences, McInelly praised Mueh, the man she called “my boss” and thanked leaders of the AFA athletic department for their understanding of her plight.

    “They understand the difficulty,” she said. “They understand the setbacks. They do understand.”

    They understood far too well.

    McInelly gave her best and she could very well succeed at another coaching destination.

    But her departure offers a fresh chance for female basketball players at the academy.

    Maybe now expectations will return.

    Check out Jake Schaller’s AFA blog:


  • AFA basketball: Falcons begin journey into a new realm: the present tense

    Mon, March 29, 2010 by David Ramsey with 5 comments

    As Ardie McInelly approached what turned out to be the final games of her Air Force Academy coaching career, she spoke words that are familiar to all Falcons sports fans.

    “Help,” she said with a confident voice, “is on the way.”

    McInelly lost 124 of 136 Mountain West Conference games as women’s basketball coach. In her final 37 MWC games, she lost 37 times.

    And yet …

    She always stubbornly insisted bright days were right around the bend. If you squinted just right – and only she and athletic director Hans Mueh seemed blessed with this special squinting ability – you also could see the wonders of the future.

    McInelly was relieved of her job on Monday. Her departure marks a new approach for AFA athletics. For losing coaches – and we’re talking about you Jeff  Reynolds and Mike Hutcheon – it’s no longer in style to endlessly talk about how fantastic the future will be while losses pile up today.

    In the fall, AFA volleyball coach Penny Lucas-White was dismissed after losing 302 of 399 during her tenure.

    On Monday, McInelly joined Lucas-White.

    It’s a new era at AFA.

    The present tense matters.

    Here’s Jake Schaller’s story on McInelly’s departure:


  • Nuggets: Big game tonight at Dallas as Denver tries to end slow fade

    Mon, March 29, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    On Feb. 9, there was no doubt who ranked as the second-best team in the NBA’s Western Conference.

    The Denver Nuggets pulverized the Dallas Mavericks, 127-91, in a triumph that was even more convincing than the score. As John Elway sat laughing in his courtside seat, the Nuggets showed superior muscle and skill. It was one long party at the Pepsi Center.

    Then Mavs owner Mark Cuban did what any good – and utterly humiliated – owner should do.

    He went out and found new players.

    Cuban robbed the Washington Wizards of Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson. Cuban, who doesn’t worry much about money, happily took on the trio’s big salaries.

    Butler has lifted the Mavericks to a title contender. Dallas has passed the Nuggets as the second-best team in the West, behind the Lakers, and has a chance – not a great chance, but a chance – to compete in the NBA Finals.

    Meanwhile, the Nuggets stayed with their bare-bones approach and declined to seek another big man in the trade market. The cautious, cheap approach has been a disaster now that Kenyon Martin is watching from the bench with a sore knee.

    On Feb. 9, the Nuggets showed the fire required to conquer Kobe Bryant and his mighty Lakers.

    On March 29, the Nuggets are limping after enduring weeks of adversity. Coach George Karl is recovering from cancer treatments. Martin might not be his wonderfully violent self again this season. The team has lost three of four and star Carmelo Anthony recently wondered if the squad had gone “soft.”

    A revival is needed, badly needed, tonight in Dallas.

    A Nuggets victory would again  lift them into the second seed in the West. A win would give the Nuggets a needed morale boost.

    This is the biggest game so far this season for Denver.

    But don’t pencil in a victory just yet.

    The Mavericks are 25-11 at home, and the Nuggets are coming off a tough loss at Orlando on Sunday.

    I’m predicting a Mavericks win, by six points. The Mavs have done a fine job of recovering from that Feb. 9 devastation.

    Meanwhile, the Nuggets are suffering through a slow fade.

  • CC hockey: 2010 DU Pioneers are strangely similar to 2008 Tigers

    Sun, March 28, 2010 by David Ramsey with 1 comment

    The 2010 University of Denver Pioneers are stumbling around, trying to figure out what happened to their fantastic season.

    The Pioneers blazed through the regular season as the best team in college hockey. The Pioneers were jammed with talent with 13 NHL picks on the roster.

    The Pioneers lost their last three games of the season. It was a stunning collapse.

    And a virtual repeat of the 2008 Colorado College Tigers.

    The 2008 Tigers roared into the WCHA Final Five with 28 victories and a staggering 21-6-1 conference record. The Tigers boasted superb goaltending and a powerful offense.

    The Tigers lost their final three games, including a 3-1 loss to Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

    There’s one aspect of the Tigers collapse that makes their season even more disappointing than the Pioneers current disaster.

    The Tigers lost on their home ice in the NCAAs.

    Check out Joe Paisley’s CC blog:


    And here’s a look at DU’s season from Denver Post writer Mike Chambers:


  • CC hockey: AD Ralph talks about season, future and ticket prices

    Sat, March 27, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Talked with Colorado College athletic director Ken Ralph about the 2009-2010 hockey season and the Tigers’ recent struggles.

    Is the program in a slump?

    RALPH:  “I don’t know if I would use the word slump. … I think the team this season in many ways outperformed expectations. We lost Richard Bachman and Brian Connelly and John Moore. You put those guys into the lineup and what does the team look like?

    “I think the coachers did a remarkable job and the players really rose ot the occasion to be competitive in what was clearly the best conference in the country this year.”

    GAZETTE: What about next season?

    RALPH: “The first thing to be excited about is the quality of this season’s freshmen class. We have Schwartz and Joe Howe coming back.  I am extremely optimistic. We’re very young, but I think the talent level is going to be closer to what our fans remember in terms of high-end skill.

    GAZETTE: What about attendance at World Arena?


    “You talk to 90 percent of athletic directors of hockey programs and they’re concerned about attendance.  We will have  price reductions in all ticketed levels.  We parlayed some of the success of the program into ticket prices that are beyond what this market can bear.

    “When we talked to  fans about why they weren’t attending games, it wasn’t even close. The No. 1 reason is price. We’re going to add more value to every single ticket. We’ll be  rolling out the plan in the next couple  of weeks.”

  • CC hockey: Scott Owens talks about the Tigers season and the word ‘slump’

    Fri, March 26, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Talked with Scott Owens earlier this week about the state of the Colorado College hockey program.

    These are relatively tough times for the program. The Tigers have failed to win an NCAA Tournament game since 2005 and failed to win 20 games three times in the past four season and during the same period  failed to compete in the WCHA Final Five three out of four times.

    This dip comes after Owens averaged 27 wins a season from 2000-2005. (Tomorrow on the blog, I’ll talk with athletic director Ken Ralph about this dip.)

    I told Owens he and the program were in a slump.

    OWENS: “Slump? Two years ago, we won the wcha title and last year we were picked to win the league and tied for third  and this year we were picked eighth and lost three guys to the pros.

     “Slump? I don’t know. It’s a pretty high standard, and there a lot of teams that are doing a good job and there’s a lot more parity than it used to be.

    “Slump. I guess I don’t buy it totally.

    “If you want to say we’re in a slump, we are definitely in a slump in getting to the ncaa tournament and winning 30 games. Yeah, we’re in a slump there.

    “I’m not sure the program is in a slump. We’re regrouping.”

    GAZETTE: What are your expectations for the program?

    OWENS: “My expectation is to get home ice in the league. My expectation is to get to St. Paul (to play in the Final Five) and my expectation is to make it to the NCAA Tournament as frequently as possible. At that juncture, you kind of hope some things will turn out for you.

    GAZETTE: How often do you expect to play in the NCAA Tournament. (Hockey’s tournament has only 16 teams as compared to basketball’s 64.)

    OWENS: “Two out of every four seasons.”

    GAZETTE: What about this season?

    OWENS: “You know what,  my reaction to the season is the big picture was overall pretty good. There were lot of good things.

    “I was disappointed with our finish. I was disappointed going 2-7 in the last 9. Obviously the schedule was difficult, but still.

    “We were playing young players, playing a little more upbeat hockey and having a great first half. Overall it was a pretty good year.

    “We had the seventh-toughest schedule in the country. People forget the schedule that we play, the players that we lose to the pros. It’s very easy to overlook those things.

    “We schedule the best schedule that we can, and I think sometimes it gets overlooked by a lot of the fan base.”

    GAZETTE: What about next season and beyond?

    OWENS: “I’m very optimistic to us getting back to St. Paul and the NCAA Tournament. I think that is something we definitely will be striving for.”

    TOMORROW: CC athletic director Ken Ralph talks about the state of the hockey program.

    Here’s my column about the Tigers from today’s Gazette:


    Check out Joe Paisley’s CC hockey blog:


    Also, I’m now on Twitter. Hope you’ll join me there:


  • Broncos: McDaniels shows stubborn, and unwarranted, belief in Orton

    Thu, March 25, 2010 by David Ramsey with 3 comments

    Josh McDaniels has announced Kyle Orton is the Broncos starting quarterback.

    “There is no question,” McDaniels said this week.

    Actually, coach, there are all kind of questions.

    About Orton’s arm strength. About his willingness to stretch and test a defense. About whether he’s talented enough to lead the Broncos – or any NFL team – as a starter.

    McDaniels believes in his system, which is a slight variation on the system handed down from above by Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

    And the system will lift Orton.

    At least that’s what McDaniels believes.

    “I’m excited because this is going to be … his second calendar year in our system,” McDaniels said.

    Every NFL team should be out there looking for one of the dozen or so men on our planet who can truly excel as an NFL starting quarterback. It’s the toughest task in sports. And it’s the toughest place to remain at the top of the heap.

    Orton is not one of those dozen. He wasn’t last season. He won’t be this season.

    McDaniels can pretend his wondrous system will convert Orton.

    It won’t.

    McDaniels should be looking for a player who has the potential to become an elite NFL quarterback.

    Orton isn’t that player. Neither is Brady Quinn.

  • AFA football: Watch out, a quarterback controversy will soon invade the Springs

    Wed, March 24, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    A strong football team needs a quality backup at quarterback. Problem is, if that backup is too close to the starter in talent, it leads to all sorts of trouble.

    Football teams with quarterback controversies tend to underachieve. Offenses suffer from divided loyalties. Confusion replaces precision.

    Tim Jefferson has delivered two strong seasons as AFA’s starter, but last season’s backup, Connor Dietz, is closing the gap. Jefferson is the better passer, and it’s not close. Dietz is the better runner, and it’s not close there, either.

    That leaves the ideal situation for a quarterback controversy, which are always fascinating to watch.

    But those controversies don’t usually lead to team happiness.

    Just look at the Denver Broncos.

    In 1999, Brian Griese slipped past Bubby Brister to win the starting job. Brister was popular with teammates, who had believed he would follow John Elway as the offense’s leader.

    Chaos takes over the entire team, and the Broncos finish 6-10 one year after winning the Super Bowl.

    Let’s move to 2006. Jay Cutler replaces Jake Plummer as Broncos starter late in the season. Again, there is confusion and chaos.

    The Broncos had opened with seven wins in their first nine games under Plummer’s direction. They collapse in the final weeks, finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs. This is one season after the Broncos traveled to the AFC title game.

    AFA coach Troy Calhoun believes in the value of daily, even hourly, competition. Calhoun has never taken steps to make Jefferson believe his job is secure. Calhoun has never taken steps to make Jefferson’s offensive teammates believe Jefferson is the permanent offensive boss. There’s no doubt Dietz deserves his shot.

    Get ready. An quarterback controversy is on the horizon.

    And if you’re an AFA fan, that’s bad news.

    Check out Jake Schaller’s AFA blog, where he offers news and views from the recently completed spring football drills:


  • NCAA Tournament: Watch out for Cornell

    Mon, March 22, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    I’ve watched a couple hundred games at the Carrier Dome on the Syracuse University campus, and when it’s packed – and it often is packed – the sound in the big room makes your body shake.

    On Thursday, the Dome will be jammed, and it will be jammed mostly with Cornell fans.

    Yes, the Big Red faces a massive task as they seek to upset Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.

    But the Big Red will be playing 50 miles from the Cornell campus. It’s a virtual home game for Cornell.

    And there’s no doubt Cornell can play.

    The NCAA Tournament keeps rising in popularity despite a constant drain on the talent level in college basketball. Used to be, a player like Alonzo Mourning played four seasons at Georgetown. Now, Alonzo would play one season in college, and he would spend that one season  thinking about the NBA.

    But the tournament consistently provides one of the best things about sports:


    Northern Iowa beats Kansas. St. Mary’s beats Villanova. Washington beats New Mexico.

    Writers at The Sporting News came up with  a good name for this season’s final 16, usually known as the Sweet 16.

    They call it the “Strange 16.”

    Here’s a ranking, from 1 to 16,  of the teams left in the tournament:


  • MWC basketball: Conference stumbles, yet again, at the NCAA’s Big Dance

    Sun, March 21, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Mountain West basketball coaches enjoy talking about the might of their conference.

    “It’s not a mid-major,” AFA’s Jeff Reynolds likes to say.

    And he’s been right.

    The MWC hasn’t been strong enough to be considered a mid-major.

    MWC teams took, as is usual, a quick exit from the NCAA Tournament. BYU performed admirably, but New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV all played typical MWC style. The tournament rolls on. The MWC is gone. Since 2000, MWC teams have won 10 games in the Big Dance.

    And lost 26.

    New Mexico was blessed with a No. 3 seed, which should  stop the complaining about the MWC not getting the respect it deserves, and the Lobos struggled against Montana and then got smacked upside the head by Washington. The Huskies walked into the game with a No. 11 seed. New Mexico, as we’ve said, was a No. 3 seed.

    And the Huskies were favored. The masterminds in Vegas seem to have a pretty good grip on the might of the MWC.

    “People don’t know how tough this conference is,” Reynolds likes to say.

    Again, he’s right.

    The conference is a lot less tough than people have thought. The MWC is 2-6 in the NCAAs in the past two seasons.

    And yet …

    Next season could be different. Next season should be different.

    New Mexico returns almost intact. BYU star Jimmer Fredette, who never met a shot he didn’t like,  will be back to fire away from everywhere. San Diego State boasts vast potential. Even Air Force has a chance to climb the stairs of escape from the basement of college  basketball.

    In other words, the conference has a chance to become the conference the coaches constantly talk about.

    You know, a respectable, mid-major conference.

    Check out Jake Schaller’s AFA blog: