December 19, 2013

Loran Smith: Traveling the sports highways

— On the road, you run into interesting people and places — both of which can elicit freshening and enlightening conversations and observations.

Prior to the Southeastern Con-ference championship game be-tween Missouri and Auburn, Rodney Garner — the former Georgia defensive line coach who holds the same position at Auburn, his alma mater — had this offering: “Nick Saban is the only coach in our conference who could have gotten the officials to put one second back on the clock, and it bit him.” He was, of course, referring to the subsequent field goal attempt by Alabama, which was returned for a touchdown and sent the Tigers to the league title game.

When I encountered Mack Brown in New York — before he resigned — he seemed in a reflective mood at lunch. You would not have known he was about to make a decision about moving on to the next phase in his life. He did note that he had six years left on his contract, which means that he was owed $30 million. My guess is that he got a handsome settlement and preferred not to be fired since he is president of the American Football Coaches Association.

How long ago was it that coaches worked for a lot less and nobody had more than a one-year contract, as do the rest of university employees?

Seeing Charlie Weis at a Big 12 reception made one wonder if he is any happier being the head coach at the University of Kansas than he was as the offensive coordinator of the NFL’s New England Patriots.

Archie Manning, hosting a lunch for friends at the 21 Club in New York, has cut back on appearances and travel, owing to back surgery a few weeks ago.

“I have a lot of interesting things to do every week, and I enjoy the opportunities that I have,” he said, “but sometimes I enjoy staying at home.”

David Cutcliffe, who has led Duke to prominence in the Atlantic Coast Conference, had this reaction to the following question: “If you were a betting man, which team would you bet on in the BCS national championship game (Florida State or Auburn)?”

He smiled and said, “First of all, I’d like to make sure the NCAA knows that I am not a betting man, but if I were to bet on that game, I would go with Florida State. They have an imaginative and explosive offense, but they play better defense than people give them credit for.”

In Pasadena, Calif., the proudest of parents wearing Florida State colors will be Bill and Nan O’Leary, who both earned athletic letters at the University of Georgia — Bill in football and Nan in volleyball. Their son Nick is the starting tight end for the Seminoles.

Joining them for the title game will be Nick’s grandfather, Jack Nicklaus, who has not missed a Seminoles game this year. It is hard to imagine a grandfather who sees more of his grandchildren’s competitions than Jack. He and his wife Barbara set their entire annual schedule around the games and school events of their 22 grandchildren.

Paul Hemrick, a former manager of the Georgia basketball team, is now an assistant coach at Gardner-Webb. A lot of coaches are taking note of his work ethic, knowledge of the game, and ability to communicate.

Dinner with sportscaster Dave O’Brien in Boston was something of a Red Sox reunion with old friends who have had a lifelong appreciation of the team.

O’Brien, a former color commentator for the Bulldogs, is Boston’s radio voice. He also works college basketball and weekend Major League Baseball games for ESPN.

He is the second former Bulldogs broadcaster to call Red Sox games. The other was Jim Woods, who worked with Bill Simpson at WRFC in the 1950s.

“I am naturally a Bulldog,” he said, “but Georgia means more to me than ever now that my daughter Samantha is enrolled in Athens.”

And to quote an old friend, Furman Bisher, whom I miss very much: Selah!

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at