I don't read the Internet anymore--abstaining is good for my digestion--but friends and colleagues keep informing me of the rantings of the lunatic fringe of Illini Nation, the radical few who love to keep the pot boiling with unsubstantiated rumors and erroneous information.
Not to mention that their concept of history is Neanderthal, their grammar is awful and their spelling is worse. No wonder they prefer to use anonymous names.
Obviously, the last thing the cult wants is to have a reason to remove me from their "most hated" list.
The reason to publish a blog is to attract readers, even irrational ones. You can be sure I will never become the cheerleading, flag-waving sportswriter that some cultists want me to become. As an Illinois graduate (LAS-English, 1962), I lost of piece of Illinois Loyalty when a bunch of disloyal fools who think tradition began in 1990 banished Chief Illiniwek from the reservation. A lot of alumni did.
But football coach Ron Zook's chief assistant, Cassie Arner, called me to request a parley after reading my recent blogs about "control freaks" and "suspended list" and an alleged recruiting incident involving assistant coach Mike Woodford.
No, my editors didn't tell me to do it. They didn't even know about it until after it happened, then requested a story about the meeting. They don't tell anybody what to publish or what not to publish on their blogs. In nearly 50 years in this profession, I have never had an editor tell me that I couldn't print a story.
Zook and I agreed on several issues:
1. I should love my university, he said. I do, I said. I annually donate money to the Illinois Alumni Association, LAS, UI Library, Illini Media and my fraternity. And my mother (Journalism, 1939) and I have a $1,500 paver at the entrance to Campbell Center.
2. Neither one of us should ever read the Internet. He learned his lesson at the University of Florida. I learned mine several months ago. It's a no-win situation for coaches and sportswriters. Ask Bruce Weber.
3. Our recent dispute was the result of a "miscommunication." I called Zook to get a comment for a story. He claims he was never informed of the call. His assistant, Arner, said he was informed but didn't want to omment. Whatever, in the future, I have Zook's cell phone number. It won't happen again.
4. The Chicago media isn't anti-Illinois, as many members of Illini Nation claim. Zook insists he has a very good relationship with the Chicago media. He understands that Chicago has more coverage responsibilities than just what happens in Champaign-Urbana. He said he is comfortable with his share of the action.
5. I suggested that he should have a similar one-on-one meeting with recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. He agreed. Lemming is accused of being anti-Illinois and pro-Notre Dame by many members of Illini Nation and Zook has some issues with Lemming, too. Lemming has said that he would welcome a meeting.
There is no reason to believe that we won't agree to disagree on some issues in the future. That is the nature of this business. Zook doesn't expect me to be a cheerleader and I don't expect him to tell me what is going on in his inner sanctum.
King basketball coach Landon Cox had an adversarial relationship for years. I'd write something he didn't like (Efrem Winters' grade-changing scandal) and he wouldn't talk to me for a week or two or three. But sooner or later, one of us would pick up the phone and we'd begin talking again like nothing had happened. At his request, I spoke at his retirement party.
I understand how the game is played. I think Ron Zook understands. I don't think the lunatic fringe of Illini Nation ever will.