I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Boz (Scott Bosley) and Mr. G (Scott Gendell) on their Monday Talk Zone radio show. It only proves you can be “Loyal to you Illinois” and still have an intelligent debate on many subjects that some fans might construe as impacting negatively or positively on Illini sports.
It was no-holds-barred, no-subjects-off-limits for about 40 minutes and I don’t have a problem with those ground rules. In too many cases in dealing with anonymous e-mailers, however, you can’t engage in a civil conversation because they don’t want facts to get in the way of their agenda.
Tom Lemming, the nationally known football recruiting analyst, was a popular subject and I welcomed the opportunity to deal with an issue that seems to impact greatly on a segment of Illini Nation. I hope I was able to make a few pertinent points. Unfortunately, history tells me that many critics aren’t listening.
Do I think writing a book with Lemming called “Football’s Second Season” is a conflict of interests? Absolutely not. No more than Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald & Review, who covers Illinois daily, writing a book with Bruce Weber. Has anyone questioned Tupper about that?
I have covered high school sports for 50 years, not Illinois or Michigan or Notre Dame or any other college. Recruiting became a spinoff of my beat in 1972 when Thornridge’s Quinn Buckner, acknowledged as the No. 1 high school basketball player in the nation, was being recruited by John Wooden and Bob Knight and not by Illini coach Harv Schmidt.
That’s a great story, right? Two of the icons of the coaching profession and a state school that isn’t interested the best player in the country who lives only 100 miles away. It would have been a better story, of course, if Buckner wanted to go to Illinois. But Schmidt didn’t even send him a postcard. What if Bruce Weber had ignored Jereme Richmond?
Cecil Coleman, the Illinois’ athletic director, didn’t believe my story. I gave him my evidence. He checked it out and confirmed I was right. Then he fired Schmidt. Was I supposed to ignore the story because some Illini fans thought it would harm the Illinois program and its image? Not if I was going to retain any shred of credibility and integrity.
So recruiting became one of the most popular reads in the sports section, even before the Internet was invented and Rivals, Scout and ESPNU began to evaluate players. I wasn’t an expert in recruiting. I didn’t have time to devote to evaluating players on a full-time basis. So I sought to find people who would keep the Sun-Times as the leading source. And I found them.
In 1978, I discovered Lemming (football), a Reavis graduate who lives in the Chicago area, and Bob Gibbons (basketball), who lives in Lenoir, N.C. I thought they were the best at what they did at the time and my opinion hasn’t changed over the years. If you can name somebody better, let me know.
So I have continued to print Lemming’s evaluations for the last 30 years. He has no agenda. He didn’t go to college. He has no favorites, despite what some critics allege. Well, he is a Cubs fan. As in my profession, people love him one day and hate him the next. Nobody is going to agree with everything he writes. But nobody works harder than he does, travels more miles, personally interviews more players and studies more film.
Anyone can read between the lines or interpret his rankings any way they choose. But the truth is he has rated Illinois’ recruiting classes during the Ron Zook era higher than Rivals, Scout or ESPNU.
For some unexplainable reason, Illini Nation has a huge hangup with Notre Dame. Some claim Lemming is pro-Notre Dame. So why did Bob Davie once throw him out of Notre Dame Stadium and why did he constantly criticize and downgrade Irish recruiting during the Davie and Tyrone Willingham years?
So now critics argue that Lemming has overrated Charlie Weis’ recruiting classes, that they are constantly in the top 10 but Weis’ teams aren’t. So blame it on Weis’ lack of coaching and inability to develop his players but remember that every scouting service, not just Lemming, rated Notre Dame’s classes just as high or higher than Lemming did during that period. Every big-time program was recruiting the same players. It wasn’t a Lemming thing.
Another sore subject that Boz and Mr. G brought up is my relationship with what is referred to (by the silent majority of Illini Nation) as “the lunatic fringe of Illini Nation,” who despise me and Lemming. They have an obsession with us that is unreasonable and irrational, certainly not based on facts and historical perspective.
How irrational? Judging by their e-mails to Illiniboard.com, they don’t even believe in free speech, only what they want to hear.
LegionOf Doom referred to Boz and Mr. G as the “stupid radio show” for inviting me to be a guest on their show.
BJ163 admitted “our fans can’t let the obsession go and by putting him on the air the obsession will continue.”
I have been told not to pick fights with the lunatic fringe, to ignore them, they they are only a very small segment of the tribe, that no rational thinking person wants to have anything to do with them, that they have nothing better to do with their lives and like to see their e-mails in print.
But I can’t do it. It isn’t in my nature, I said. I can’t tolerate ignorance or stupidity. In this technology-driven age, knowledge and history are easily accessible by just inserting an electrical plug in a socket. Or, God forbid, try reading a book.
So I continue to strive to educate people who apparently don’t want to be educated, the ones whose lives began when the Internet was born. Without the Internet, the lunatic fringe of Illini Nation would have nothing to do. Some listen, most don’t. The few who do make my mission worthwhile.