Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Heeke not holding Zeigler hostage

I have had some people mention to me today that Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press mentioned on Lansing radio today that Dave Heeke's contract offer to Ernie Zeigler is only if Trey Zeigler agrees to come to CMU. I can state that that is completely untrue.

Here is what is going on:
-There is a 4-year offer on the table to Ernie right now. The sides are still discussing details of the offer. Right now, the new contract would feature a pay increase in base salary and in media compensation. The guaranteed money is believed to be in the range of $200K per-year.
-I am uncertain of what details the sides are still trying to iron out.
-No matter where Trey signs to play college basketball, this is the offer that will remain for Ernie. CMU has not and will not change the contract based on where Trey goes to school. They are basing the offer on Ernie's coaching performance thus far.

Just wanted to clear that up. Dave Heeke would be crazy to hold a coach hostage as McCabe accused him of. Heeke has a track record of offering extensions and salary increases to coaches that win titles and I am sure he will continue to do the same with Ernie if he continues to win MAC West and overall championships.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

UCLA making a play for 2 Zeiglers?

There has been some interesting news out of UCLA over the past 24 hours where top assistant men's basketball coach Donny Daniels, who had been with the Bruins for seven years, decided to take a position with the Gonzaga men's basketball program. The move was confirmed by UCLA coach Ben Howland today.
When asked when he would hire a replacement, Howland remarked that he would not make a hire until after the April signing period, but there is some speculation that Central Michigan men's basketball coach Ernie Zeigler is on their radar to return to the staff.
Zeigler's son, Trey, has UCLA as one of five remaining schools on his list of possible colleges he will attend to play basketball, and certainly if Howland was able to get Ernie to leave CMU for UCLA, that would probably bring Trey as well.
UCLA would be able to pay its top assistant close to equal if not more than what the Chippewas can pay their head coach.
CMU and Zeigler are in talks about a new four-year contract that would give Zeigler an increase in pay of $15,000 more in base salary per-year, but no deal has been officially signed.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

CMU Spring Practice Notes: Saturday

Here are some notes from Saturday's spring practice for CMU:

First to answer some questions:
- Adam Fenton looks good at defensive end. He has been getting reps with the second team. His coaches ride him a lot but I think it is because they know he can take it and they see a lot of potential in him. He is a very strong kid.
- The defensive end position has a lot of youth and inexperience. Right now, with Kashawn Fraser not being involved in contact drills, the first team ends have been Caesar Rodriguez and Joe Kinville. The second team has been Fenton and Will Schwarz while Darryll Stinson and Jarrett Fleming are also getting reps at DE. Fleming needs to add some weight, but he shows some promise and could be a nice speed rusher.
- At DT, Sean Murnane and Daniel Jackson are getting first team reps with John Williams out because of injury. Matt Maletzke and a guy not listed on the roster, Nate Williams, have gotten reps at second team along with Aaron McCord.
- At linebacker, along with Shamari Benton, Alex Smith and Mike Petrucci are getting second team reps.
- During pass skeleton, Dannie Bolden made a nice interception on a throw by A.J. Westendorp that was behind tight end David Blackburn. Bobby Seay also had a nice interception on a throw by Derek Rifenbury that was under thrown.
- CMU did a lot of third and short situational snaps and Tim Phillips looked good, picking up some solid runs. Paris Cotton also had some nice runs, including about a 25-yard touchdown run. The defense made some nice stuffs as well and were game on most plays.
- CMU then did some full scrimmage drives starting at the CMU 30-yard line. Nick Bellore laid a vicious hit on Tyler Reed as he was coming over the middle for a short pass. It got a big rise out of the entire defense.
- The highlight of the scrimmage was a 42-yard run by Cotton that eventually led to a score.
- The big problems for the offense, especially for Westendorp were getting the snaps under center handled. He also ran into the running back in the backfield on a few plays. Radcliff is the one quarterback that seems to have the fewest issues under center.
- In the kicking game, Richie Hogan seems to be setting himself apart. He looks to have the strongest leg and the most consistency.

That is about it for Saturday. I will have more notes next week.


Friday, March 26, 2010

CMU-Zeigler Talking 4-year Deal

Central Michigan University and men's basketball coach Ernie Zeigler are in discussion on a new 4-year contract that would begin in the 2010-11 season, sources close to the situation tell me.
The deal would wipe out the year left on his current contract and begin immediately for next season. There are hopes that the deal will be finalized and signed early next week.
The deal is believed to have about a $15,000 increase in guaranteed money per-year and would give Zeigler the four year stability that he is looking for with the program.
The four years could also be a number that would allow CMU to show Ernie's son, Trey, that his father would be in place as the head coach of the Chippewas throughout his college playing days.
I will post more updates as I hear them.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dear Todd McShay

Dear Todd McShay:

First, let me start by saying I have enjoyed and appreciated your work on scouting college prospects for the NFL Draft in years past.
I think you bring a good opposing view at ESPN to your counterpart, Mel Kiper Jr.
But, I need to strongly object to a statement you made on Thursday during an episode of Sportscenter.
Here is what you had to say about former Central Michigan quarterback, Dan LeFevour:
“Dan LeFevour is stiff in his upper body, he’s not accurate, he has no idea about the pro style passing game, he is indecisive, and I don’t think he’s a good leader. I know he won a lot of games at a middle-level school, but Dan LeFevour should be a fifth or sixth round draft pick.”Now I am not going to argue on your assessment of where LeFevour fits into the NFL Draft. You have seen a lot more film on college and NFL quarterbacks and have talked with a lot more professional scouts than I have. I trust your opinion there.
But, I couldn’t disagree more with you statement on LeFevour as a leader. To make a broad statement like that is simply asinine.
I know you feel LeFevour is an overrated prospect, and that is fine, but stick to what you know. Evaluate him as a quarterback and his mechanics. Don’t act like you know him on a personal level and don’t think that watching him on film or in a game gives you an idea of how to evaluate him as a leader.
I am pretty sure that there are 20,000 plus people in the Mid-Michigan area that would like to explain to you why LeFevour is a good leader and at least 10 other guys that took the field with him on Saturdays that would like to strongly disagree with you.
Would a poor leader find a way to win three conference championships?
Would a poor leader find a way to win two bowl games?
Would a poor leader hold every major passing and scoring record at his college?
Would a poor leader score more touchdowns than any other player in Division 1 college football history?
Would a poor leader guide his team to its first ever top 25 ranking in school history?
Now maybe a guy that was a one-hit wonder and did well in one season could get by without leading his team, but LeFevour is not that guy.
I have watched with my own eyes as LeFevour emerged as a true leader for Central Michigan, on and off the field. He has dedicated his time and energy to making his team the best it could be through his efforts and the efforts of his teammates.
He has offered advice and friendship to many on his team and earned their trust and respect by leading by example.
Just being a freshman that stepped on the field in his first college game and winning over a huddle that featured a future NFL first round draft pick in Joe Staley is sign enough that LeFevour knows how to command a huddle and be a leader for his team. Not to mention, there hasn’t been one instance of off the field issues in four years as the face of a program.
But, I guess that’s not leadership.
If you think LeFevour won’t be a good NFL quarterback or isn’t worthy of an early round pick, I won’t argue with you. You know your stuff there. But, don’t take a cheap shot to try and strengthen your argument. It only discredits you as a professional.
I hope LeFevour does well in the NFL but I also know that he has a lot of work to do to become a franchise quarterback. I think he would admit the same.
But, what I do know, and what I know through four years of covering LeFevour, is that a team couldn’t ask for a better leader for their franchise if he becomes their starting quarterback.

Drew Ellis

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CMU Spring Practice: Thursday

Not a whole lot to report on today.

- Weather was much colder and a strong wind was causing problems for the quarterbacks at times. None of the quarterbacks looked too great today as there were a lot of missed throws and communication problems between them and the receivers. Still, Ryan Radcliff had a nice pass to David Blackburn late in pass skeleton drills and A.J. Westendorp had some nice lengthy passes too.
- The defense is well ahead of the offense right now, which is to be expected. The defense has been ahead of the offense in past springs and falls as well, so I wouldn't worry too much about that.
- Shamari Benton and Armond Staten are both contending for the Sam Linebacker. Staten seems to be set in at the No. 1 spot but Benton is making a lot of positive strides and he has been taken under the wing of Matt Berning, which is a good sign for him.
- Tim Phillips looked pretty good today in practice. He has great feet and really can find the holes in the front line.
- Things got scrappy toward the end of practice, but I think it was more of a sign of frustration from the offense and their struggles. The team is still upbeat and I think they are responding well to the coaching staff.
- Frank Zombo and may of the other CMU Pro Day athletes were there. Frank told me he just started preparing for tight end work outs last weekend, but the response has been great and he said the Chiefs were going to be in contact with him.

That is about it for today. Sorry its nothing too exciting. The opening days were probably the biggest as far as new news goes. I will try to catch all of Saturday's practice and provide some more detail. If you would like to know about specific players, feel free to drop a comment and I will try to key in on them on Saturday.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pro Day Updated Story

Sun Sports Writer

After weeks of criticism from the national media, Wednesday was time for Dan LeFevour to do what he does best, throw the football.
LeFevour worked out his arm as part of CMU’s Pro Day at the Indoor Athletic Complex after choosing not to throw during the NFL Combine late last month.
Scouts from 22 different NFL teams were on hand to watch LeFevour and other CMU seniors from the 2009 team show their skills in hopes to set up a future in the NFL.
LeFevour only took part in throwing as he displayed his ability to take snaps under center, show improved footwork, and complete a variety of throws of difference distances and angles.
LeFevour threw a little over 60 passes, completing all but seven of his throws.
“I think it went pretty well,” LeFevour said of his workout. “I am very critical of myself so I felt it could have went better. I missed a few throws early on and didn’t feel I was as sharp as I was a few days ago, but I still feel I did well. I wish I could do it over again, but that is just what kind of person I am.”
LeFevour focused on being able to roll out of the pocket and make throws across his body and also his ability to hit deep targets and sideline routes. He also exhibiting his ability to hand the ball off under center.
All scouts in attendance were focusing on LeFevour during the event with teams from Cleveland, Seattle, Kansas City, Carolina, and Minnesota seeming to do the most note taking during the workout.
“I think the scouts wanted to see how I flowed under center and I even took some one-handed snaps just to show that I have been working hard on that,” LeFevour said. “I think they just wanted to see that I could make all of the throws quarterbacks need to make. I was glad that I could show them what I have been working on and how I have progressed.”
Kansas City and Seattle spoke in length with LeFevour following the workout and Carolina has a private workout schedule with LeFevour in the upcoming weeks.
There wasn’t a lot of praise for the performance from scouts, but most of the them. keep their evaluations to themselves as they don’t want to give any teams an idea of their interest level in a player. LeFevour’s deep ball throws looked to lack velocity but his short throws were primarily on target.
Charlie Weis, the new Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator, wouldn’t comment on what he thought of LeFevour’s performance but did state that he was at the Pro Day to see LeFevour.
Following his Pro Day LeFevour still felt good about his prospects of being drafted in the first three rounds.
“I am going to be watching the whole draft and I am hoping to be taken somewhere in the first two days of the draft,” LeFevour said. “But, I will be in no way disappointed if I am drafted between the fourth and seventh round. I am just looking for an opportunity to play in the NFL.
One of the other main attractions Wednesday was wide receiver Antonio Brown, who improved his 4.5 40-yard dash time from the NFL Combine by running a 4.45 on Wednesday, according to
Brown also took part in LeFevour’s workout by catching passes and showing his route running ability.
“My routes looked really crispy, I had good burst out of my breaks, had good acceleration out of my cuts, and I had a great day catching the ball and a great 40,” Brown said. “Overall, it was a great day.”
Minnesota, Detroit, and Miami were among some of the teams that spoke with Brown on Wednesday, with the Dolphins going so far as to taking him out to Kelly/Shorts Stadium to work him out individually.
“I have plans to go in the second round,” Brown said. “I have a lot of workouts scheduled and I don’t want to say who they are with, but I feel if I go later than the second round, the team is getting a steal. I bring so much to the table.”
Two others that had solid showings were wide receiver Bryan Anderson and cornerback Josh Gordy.
Anderson posted a 4.49 40-yard dash to help his draft prospects as his speed was a big concern for NFL scouts. Anderson also ran a 6.36 in the 3-cone drill, which would have been one of the top times in the NFL Combine.
Josh Gordy showed his speed by running a 4.32 and 4.35 in the 40-yard dash. Gordy also ran a 6.68 in the 3-cone drill to earn some high praise from scouts.
“I just wanted to come out and perform well and set the bar higher for myself,” Gordy said. “I feel pretty good about how I did. This was my chance to just test well and give myself a chance for the future.”
Defensive end Frank Zombo also took part in workouts, running a 4.71 and 4.69 in the 40-yard dash and a 7.05 in the 3-cone. Zombo also did 23 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press.
Zombo took part in LeFevour’s workout as well, running routes as a tight end, and a few scouts worked him out as a tight end, including Kansas City. Zombo played tight end in high school and came to CMU as a tight end before moving to defensive end.
The NFL Draft will start on Thursday, April 22. The first round will take place that night with second and third rounds taking place on Friday, April 23 and the final four rounds taking place on Saturday, April 24.

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Pro Day Observations

Pro Day wrapped up this morning and many of the players are still doing interviews with respective teams, but here are some observations and notes from the workout:

- Most if not all NFL teams were represented. Kansas City had three people there along, including Charlie Weis. I tried to talk to him to ask him what they were looking for from LeFevour, but he wouldn't comment, but he did say that he was there to see Dan.
- The teams that seemed to be taking the most notes during LeFevour's throwing session were Kansas City, Carolina, Minnesota, and Cleveland. Kansas City and Seattle spoke with him on the field following the throwing. All of those five teams seem to have quarterback issues except for Kansas City, who just put a lot of money into Matt Cassell last year.
- Antonio Brown was getting a lot of attention. He was speaking with scouts from Minnesota, Oakland, Detroit, and others. The Miami Dolphins took him outside to do a workout after the main workouts were over. He improved on his 40-time, running around a 4.4. He feels like if he goes after the second round, the team is getting a "steal".
- Josh Gordy had impressive numbers. He ran a 40-time in the 4.3's and his agility drills looked solid. His speed could get him a post draft workout.
- Bryan Anderson ran around a 4.45 for a 40-time. That isn't too bad and was a big question mark for him.
- Frank Zombo worked out a lot at tight end and Kansas City was very responsive to him. He came to CMU as a tight end and his physical size is right where it needs to be to play tight end. His route running looked solid and his hands were good.

I will have more in tomorrow's Morning Sun but just wanted to pass those thoughts along.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CMU Spring Practice Notes: Tuesday

The Chippewas hit the pads for the first time this spring and the coaching staff made sure they established a physical tone to practice. Here are some observations from the practice.

-The highlight of practice was the "Hoot and Holler" drill which was a 4-on-4 battle between the hashes from the 10-yard line. Each set of three blockers and a ball carrier went up against four defenders. They had four downs to score. There were plenty of big hits, with perhaps the biggest coming from Derek Carter as he hammered Malek Redd. It was one of the loudest pops I have heard in quite some time.
-Taylor Bradley, Tim Phillips, Tyler Reed, Matt Torres, and Kito Poblah each had nice runs to score while LaVarus Williams had a couple of nice hits.
-In passing skeleton against the defense, A.J. Westendorp had some nice deep ball throws including a sure fire touchdown pass to Jordan McConnell that would have been about a 70-yard play had the drill been able to go the full field. Westerndorp also had a nice throw to Jerry Harris that drew a pass interference penalty on Gary Jackson.
-McConnell also caught a nice deep ball from Ryan Radcliff in the drills.
-Dannie Bolden had a nice diving pass deflection on a pass to Torres that was on a 10-yard in route.
-The biggest issue of the day and for the spring so far has to be fumbled snaps under center. Each quarterback struggled with it and all stayed after practice to work on exchanges.
-The two-minute drill ended practice and the defense got the nod after Richie Hogan missed a lengthy field goal of over 40 yards.

The practice was certainly physical and gave the players an idea of what is expected on the field in the fall. Speaking of physical, Jahleel Addae is really playing physical from the safety position. I have been impressed with him. He is taking second string snaps right now, but I would have to expect he will see the field in the fall. The linebackers should be solid as Berning and Bellore are two of the best and guys like Staten and Shamari Benton have looked good in their positions. The biggest concern position wise would probably be defensive end, where CMU is lacking a lot of capable bodies who are of size and speed to play the position. Practice continues on Thursday, will have more info then.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

CMU Spring Practice Notes: Saturday

CMU held another spring practice on Saturday. The team was indoors because of the cold weather. Plenty of recruits were on hand to watch the action and speak with the coaching staff afterward.

Here are a few notes from the practice:
-Add Jake Olson to those not practicing because of injuries. He didn't practice on Thursday either, but I couldn't identify him among the players because he didn't have a number on. Linebacker Kyle Zelinsky is also among the injured that are wearing red during the spring.
-With Olson out, Rocky Weaver and Eric Fisher are at the tackle spots with the first team with Darren Keyton and Matt Kanitz at the guards and Colin Miller at center.
-Paris Cotton was back at practice today and getting reps mixed in with the other backs. Volny and Tipton still seem to be getting the most looks though.
-Taylor Bradley is back with CMU and practicing, he has been practicing at wide receiver though, where he originally started. He was getting a lot of deep ball throws and he may be the guy CMU turns to the go down field in the passing game. Bradley showed a lot of promise as a receiver his freshman year, so this could be a nice move back for him.
-Vince Agnew had a couple of nice plays during 11-on-11 drills. He batted away a couple of passes and had a near pick-six that he dropped.
-Redshirt freshman Shamari Benton is getting a lot of reps with the second team defense at linebacker. He is playing the hybrid/nickel back spot that Tim Brazzel played most of last season. I was impressed with his play during practice and also how much weight he has put on since the fall. Benton was a kid that I wasn't sure was going to be able to make it through his first season early on, but now he looks to be doing well and in position to see the field this year.
-In the quarterback competition, Ryan Radcliff clearly looks to be the best option. He has the strongest arm and seems to make the best reads. Derek Rifenbury struggled with taking snaps, as he fumbled the snap twice. A.J. Westendorp has a nice arm and throws a pretty ball, but his delivery is very different and I think it leads to him telegraphing his throws. His delivery takes more time and it keys the secondary in to where the ball is going. He had a number of passes broken up for that reason today in my opinion.
-The funniest moment of the practice was during field goal practice and one of the kickers swore after missing an attempt. Dan Enos grabbed the kid and said "Hey, we don't talk like that here. My kids are here. We have recruits here. We don't talk like that." Given the previous regime and the language they used, that is quite a difference in practice procedure.
-Dan LeFevour and Antonio Brown were at practice today. I got a chance to talk with LeFevour for a minute and he sounds optimistic about how his draft prep is going. He has some personal workouts lined up in the coming weeks and his pro day should be highly attended by NFL scouts. He felt the key to his pro day will be his arm strength and mechanics, as he has made some slight corrections to his throwing motion. Allen Ollenburger will be his center during the workouts. LeFevour added that he would like to go to a team where he has a chance to play early in his career, but also has a veteran on the squad that can help mentor him and bring him along.
-I spoke with Radcliff following practice and will have a story on him in Sunday's paper. I also spoke with QB Coach Jay Johnson about the quarterbacks.

CMU holds another practice Tuesday, I will pass on some more notes then.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

CMU Spring Practice Notes: Day 1

The Central Michigan football team held its first spring practice on Thursday morning and it looked a lot like one would expect with a new coaching staff.
Each member of the team and coaching staff wore name tags on helmets or apparel to get comfortable with each other and a lot of new terminology and plays were used. Here are some observations I had at practice:

- Some injuries to note right now are Jeff Maddux, Paris Cotton, John Williams, Steve Winston, and Darryll Stinson. There were others, but those were the ones I noticed. Cotton was not at practice, but I saw him in the IAC before practice. It was good to see Stinson, as last year it was believed that he would never play again. Still no telling if he will, but he is doing all he can to get back on the field.
- Antonio Brown was at practice. I spoke with him for a moment and he will be taking part in CMU's Pro Day next week and he believes he is a lock to be a 3rd round pick in the draft with hopes of moving into the second round.
- While I won't get into great specifics, the offense did take a lot of snaps under center, but also mixed in shotgun formations. Most of the looks had three receiver sets and mixed in two back or one back and one tight end features.
- Ryan Radcliff took all the first team snaps and was joined by the receiving trio of Kito Poblah, Cody Wilson, and Matt Torres. Carl Volny and Zurlon Tipton took most of the snaps at running back, while Tyler Reed was also featured at fullback.
- The defense was pretty much what was expected. Nick Bellore, Matt Berning, and Armond Staten made up the starting linebackers while Lorenzo White Jr. and Vince Agnew were at corner back and Bobby Seay and Dannie Bolden were at safety. The D-Line was mixed up a lot but Sean Murnane, Daniel Jackson, and Caeser Rodriguez got a lot of snaps with the first team.
- I know fans are concerned with the offense and how it will look, but CMU had a lot of different formations and looks and really attacked all areas of the field. The offense looks to be wide open. I do expect Reed and tight end David Blackburn to have an increased role, but CMU is not going to be just a power running team.
- The practice ended with a two minute drill. The first team offense scored on a nice 30+ yard strike from Radcliff to Poblah. The second team failed to score as a Derek Rifenbury pass was knocked down by Chris Reeves on fourth and short.
- Ithaca quarterback Alex Niznak was at the practice and kept a close eye on the work the quarterbacks did all practice.

Overall, the practice was a typical first practice. The look and schedule of the practice was different, but that doesn't mean it was worse in any way. Clearly there is a lot of new language to learn with the new system and until the team gets comfortable with that, it will be hard to determine what the expectations for this team will be.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

To extend or not to extend, that is the question

The hot topic around Central Michigan athletics these days is Ernie Zeigler’s future as Chippewa men’s basketball coach.
The fourth-year coach has one year left on his current contract, making this a make-or-break offseason for him.
Let’s face facts, no coach is going to be able to lead his program without at least one year on his contract after the current season he is in.
A coach can’t be expected to recruit kids without having the ability to assure them he will be around next season. That is what led to the split between CMU and Jay Smith, which brought Zeigler in in the first place.
Zeigler will be looking to get at least a two or three year extension and probably a slight increase in pay.
Some feel he should get it, some feel otherwise.
Here is my breakdown of the situation.
First, Zeigler has a 54-69 record through four seasons as a coach and is 31-33 in Mid-American Conference play. The 54 wins is the most by a CMU coach in his first four seasons since Charlie Coles won 64 from the 1985-85 season to the 1988-89 season.
Zeigler has led CMU to back-to-back MAC West Division titles for the first time in Chippewa school history. Many will argue the talent pool in the MAC West is weak, but the accomplishment is still a first in school history.
Zeigler is 9-9 against rivals Western and Eastern Michigan. Jay Smith by comparison was 13-22 against the Eagles and Broncos while Coles was 12-13 against the two in his six years as head coach.
Those are just some numbers to consider. Here are some strengths I believe he has as a coach:
-I think Zeigler has the right message and philosophy. I think his mindset is the one a coach needs in the MAC. In a conference that is not going to get the most talent, you have to be able to out-work your opponent. While his team has not always been successful, they have been largely competitive because they try to do the small things correctly.
-Zeigler has tried to put his team in the best position to win based on the talent he has. Last season, Zeigler had to play a slow down style in order to limit opposing possessions. Some people may not have liked it, but with the lack of depth, it was the right move to make and it allowed CMU to win a share of the MAC West title.
-Zeigler has adapted his recruiting philosophy as a coach and matured as a coach. Early on Zeigler came in and tried to land the top athletes and prime players, but those players didn’t fit his system and it led to a lot of disappointment and frustration, as well as player departures. More recently, Zeigler has targeted hard nosed kids that will do what he wants. He has tapped into a lot of junior college talent that can contribute right away in order to fill the gaps of prior recruits that didn’t turn out.
Now, here are some of the areas of concern I know fans have and would like to see him improve on:
-The big problem this season has been CMU blowing leads in games. There have been four notable second-half collapses late this season. While the collapses are not good, they are more indicative of CMU being a jump shooting team and the shots not falling. That combined with inexperience at being a winning program led to the Chippewas pressing when a team made a comeback effort against them. The one area this could have improved from Zeigler’s part was in time out management. Too often this season, CMU was without a time out in the closing minutes of a close game. That can’t happen.
-I think a lot of the community doesn’t feel a bond with Zeigler and that is perhaps why many aren’t behind him getting an extension. While Zeigler may not be at a lot of community functions or be out in public a lot, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel like a part of Mt. Pleasant. I think toward the end of the year, Zeigler started to do more to reach out to the community and is making positive steps in that direction. The attendance numbers went up toward the end of the season and with the new Events Center opening next season, I think CMU wants to know that the fan support will be there for Zeigler.
-The frequency of player turnover on the roster has been alarming as well. Just last season five members of the team left, all of which were Zeigler recruits. That kind of loss in the roster is why some are not hopeful for the future. Outside of Jordan Bitzer and Robbie Harman, there hasn’t been much consistency with the Chippewa roster so fans have a hard time identifying with the team. Zeigler needs to make sure he is bringing in the right guys and bringing in players that will stay for the remainder of their eligibility. This year’s class seems to be sticking around, aside from Tyler Brown, who left because of the severity of his injury.
-Player development has also been a big question mark. We haven’t seen Zeigler consistently develop the players he brought in. Marcus Van made a huge jump in his senior year, which gives me the feeling that Zeigler can develop his talent. Jordan Bitzer and Robbie Harman clearly made strides, but they were brought in by another coaching staff. The lack of development in Marko Spica has been a big concern as he was highly touted coming in and CMU will need him to be a big factor next season. But, Jalin Thomas, Amir Rashid, and Antonio Weary all look to be improving as they head toward their senior seasons next winter.
-The final issue is fans concerns over next season. With Harman and Bitzer gone, you have to wonder how the Chippewas are going to be able to score consistently. While we don’t know the talent level of the incoming recruits, can you really expect a true freshman to step in right away. I know many believe that Trey Zeigler is the answer, but you can’t expect him to sign with CMU. If he does, that is obviously a great bonus, but a player of his caliber is more likely to play on a bigger stage. You also can’t discredit Ernie’s ability to recruit if Trey doesn’t come here. Trey needs to give himself the best option to reach the NBA and if he feels CMU is not that option, he has the right to go elsewhere.
When you really break it down, I think CMU would be making a mistake by not giving Zeigler an extension. You can say he hasn’t had a winning season and comparing to Jay Smith is giving him a crutch, but you have to compare to where the program was to where it is. You can’t expect a team to go from nothing to Kent State level in just four seasons, it doesn’t work that way.
Just look at Toledo. They let Stan Joplin go after 12 years despite two conference titles to his credit. Joplin always made the Rockets contenders and they had a mediocre year or two down the stretch that still landed them in the middle of the MAC.
So, they brought in Gene Cross, who won 11 games in two seasons with the Rockets, and stepped down last week after an off-court scandal emerged. Now, the Rockets have to hire a new coach to rebuild from the very level CMU was at when Zeigler took over.
Could Zeigler have done better, probably. He is human, he has made some mistakes. But, he has made a slow upward trend with the program and is now in the process where his entire roster is made up of guys he brought in.
You don’t have to like everything about him, but your other option is to hire a new coach, who would need at least another four years to develop his system and bring in his players with no guarantee that he could even match what Zeigler has accomplished.
Bottom line, Zeigler has made Central Michigan men’s basketball a hot topic into March the past few seasons, which is something this program hasn’t had since 2003. That in itself deserves to be recognized and that alone tells me he deserves to keep working on making things better in Mt. Pleasant.

(Drew Ellis is a sports writer for the Morning Sun and can be contacted via email at or by phone at 989-779-6060)

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Coaches trying to impress Trey

I have been covering Mt. Pleasant's district tournament all week and I have noticed some recognizable attendants this week.

- On Monday, Michigan coach John Beilein attended Trey's game against Midland Dow.

- On Wednesday, MSU coach Tom Izzo was at Trey's game against Midland. Izzo stood off to the side but was still constantly hounded by fans.

- On Friday, in perhaps the most impressive appearance, just hours after having his heart ripped out by Evan Turner, Beilein showed up in the second half of Zeigler's district final with Bay City Western. Still looking to be wearing the suit he coached in, Beilein showed that he wants Zeigler and perhaps needs him desperately.

Clearly both Michigan and Michigan State are still strongly after Zeigler and want him on their teams. Beilein may need him more than anyone as Michigan may lose its two top players while State clearly has plenty of talent to work with.

Obviously Trey's dad was in attendance on Monday and Friday as well and going to CMU is still an option for him, though I don't know how much of a realistic option it is.

Zeigler is expected to take some more visits following the end of his season and then making a decision in April.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dave Heeke needs a better contract

George Ross, welcome to Central Michigan University.
Being the new President of CMU, I know you have a lot of things to address.
As you get comfortable in your new position, I have one suggestion for you to take care of as soon as possible.
Athletics Director Dave Heeke needs a new contract.
Currently working on a year-by-year contract at under $170,000 per-year, Heeke is among the lowest paid in the country for his position and in the Mid-American Conference, yet he has done a number of positive things for the university that have benefited all aspects of the school.
Since beginning the position in January of 2006, there hasn’t been a situation Heeke hasn’t had to face.
In four years time, Heeke has had to hire numerous coaches, including two football, one women’s basketball and one men’s basketball.
Those three sports and their success are all vital to the fundraising dollars that help keep a university’s athletic program afloat.
In football alone, the hire of Butch Jones resulted in two Mid-American Conference championships and a top-25 national ranking. The success of the football program has clearly brought in more attention from alumni and prospective students through national television exposure.
But, it isn’t just about hiring for Heeke.
From the start of his time in Mt. Pleasant, Heeke’s focus and attention has been on making CMU athletics as strong as it can be through marketing and fundraising.
Heeke has traveled all over the country to sell the Chippewa name and tap into new resources for bringing in money to not only athletics, but the university. There is no doubt that the increase in interest for athletics has opened the doors to new academic projects on campus.
Heeke’s efforts have helped bring CMU from $650,000 annually in fundraising for athletics to now over $1.2 million annually.
Those fundraising dollars have helped improve the facilities that CMU currently uses as Kelly/Shorts Stadium has received numerous upgrades in appearance from simple paint jobs to a new video scoreboard. The entire Indoor Athletic Facility has seen improvements in appearance and added a study hall through the help of alumni like Dick Enberg.
There will also be the new CMU Events Center opening next basketball season that was no small task for athletics to make happen. In tight economic times, Heeke used a slow and steady approach to reach the $21 million goal that made this project a reality. The Events Center will not only help athletics but make the university more attractive for future concerts, graduations, and other public attractions.
Perhaps the biggest honor Heeke has helped CMU achieve is the Cartwright Award, which is awarded to the MAC university that most completely demonstrates citizenship and academic and athletic success. The Chippewas were the first school to ever win this honor.
Now remember, all of this has been done with an athletic budget that is also among the lowest in the MAC and the country. The low budget has forced Heeke to have to seek “big money” games for football where the team has to play a very difficult game against a high-profile opponent in order to collect a sizeable check that will help all athletic programs.
Heeke has clearly been a positive for CMU since coming to the university and the lack of support for athletics from former president Michael Rao has made his life difficult, yet he has still found a way to succeed.
But, with a low budget and a salary that is not even comparable to his conference peers, what is going to keep Heeke around.
For his efforts, Heeke doesn’t even have job security to know that he will be around for a number of years. He simply has to hope his year-to-year contract will be renewed.
What he deserves is a multi-year contract with a salary that is at least average to other athletic directors in the MAC.
Fans, supporters, and alumni have all taken a new pride in CMU athletics over recent years and Heeke is the man behind the scenes that has made it all possible and he will quickly become a hot commodity around the country, if he isn’t already.
Mr. Ross, you need to give Heeke a reason to keep making positive things happen for the university, or the trends we have all seen where successful administrators and coaches head elsewhere for brighter pastures could soon apply here as well.

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