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By Bill Campbell

The Phillies

It looks like the Phillies are having some second thoughts about spending money. A few years ago Ruben Amaro, who runs the Phillies’ front office, kept hearing the same old question: Why did you trade Cliff Lee? Though they did actually trade Lee they were just out of the World Series and finished making the Lee deal when they added Roy Halladay who, if he wasn’t the best pitcher alive at the time, he was close to it. Amaro later brought Lee back and Halladay electrified us for a couple of years. But Lee is on the downhill and Halladay has just retired. Now the Phillies aren’t coming off a World Series, not even close. This past year they didn’t even make the play-offs. Amaro’s decisions over the past few seasons don’t make put him in the running for Baseball Executive of the year and, if things keep going as they have been, they won’t for a while.

It’s evident that Ruben Amaro has done a lot of thinking over the last 5 seasons. He spent a lot the team’s money putting together an unforgettable combination of players and then trying to repeat his own success. After winning the flag and a World Series, things began to change. Players aged, lost a step. Ruben has had a change of heart. Apparently, the days of throwing money around are over. No expensive free agents are on the Phillies’ scene. Deals have been made but not for highly noteworthy players. It looks like we’re in the days of “spend less and enjoy more” here. A few months back names like Beltran, Choo and the like were on the move but the Phillies signed Marlon Byrd and Roberto Hernandez rather than Matt Garza or A.J. Burnett or – whom they probably could have afforded. It looks like the Phillies’ glory days and their spending days have passed and now they will shell out what they can afford and no more.

Ruben Amaro met with the media this week and delivered a bit of a lecture on the different way that money and sports now meet. He talked about how the price of players has risen something like $50 million or so this year but said there is a strong indication the honeymoon may be coming to a close. Said the GM, “The Phillies are about to undergo a program of spending wisely. Money will now be spent wisely and while I’m not comfortable with going the extra mile with some of our guys which could be detrimental, we may have no choice.” It looks like Philadelphia may not see people like Cano, Nolasco or Ellsbury because they have, Amaro acknowledged, “already spent those sums for Howard and Papelbon and Rollins and Utley.” The Phils are facing Rebuilding Days. They’re not spending a lot to do it, so far. It may not be pretty.

College Football

After all the rumors suggesting that Chip Kelly may return to the college season at the end of his first pro year with the Eagles, (it’s amazing what an expected loss can do to a team!), a new name has popped on the scene: that of Jon Gruden, who may be asked to take over as the new head coach at the University of Texas. Lately we’re told that Gruden, former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would consider the job if asked. The slot opened when Mack Brown stepped down after 16 years with the Longhorns. Gruden’s name come up often when vacancies occur in the coaching world, both college and pro. Sources say it’s no secret that, with every football coaching position that comes open, the Gruden rumors are stirred. Further, in the college world, when Texas calls you have to listen. The university is in Austin, a city unlike others in Texas. It’s the state capital as well as the center of learning, the focus of both media and academia. So it’s really the eye of the hurricane. At the moment, Jon Gruden is an analyst for ESPN. He was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winning Super Bowl XXXVII in his first year with the Buccaneers and defeating the Raiders, his former team. At the time, Gruden was the youngest head coach ever to win a Super Bowl at age 39. But the rumor mill also suggests that, if Gruden is to be lured away from ESPN, it would be to coach another pro team. Bets are 2-1 at this writing that the job will go to Charles Strong. Chip Kelly is 16-1. Frankly, I don’t think Kelly is going anywhere for a while.

A note of interest: when Washington and Brigham Young met on December 27th in the Fight Hunger Bowl it will mark the first time in history that 2 female officials will be on the football field. Malo Choko will be the head linesperson and Saran Thomas will be the line judge.

College Hoops

Philadelphia-born Aaric Murray spent his first 2 seasons (2009-11) at LaSalle. He then went on to West Virginia (2012-13). But he ran into trouble with his coaches and the law there, and decided to finish his college career as a graduate student under Mike Davis at Texas Southern. On Wednesday, he came back home and scored 48 points at the Liacouras Center as the TSU upset the Temple Owls, 90-89. Davis, who took Indiana to the NCAA Final Four in 2002, said Murray’s was “the best offensive performance I’ve ever witnessed as a coach.” Murray is a 6’10” Mt. Airy native. He had been averaging 22.2 points per game and, in 5 previous games against temple. He’s averaged 16.4 with a high of 22 twice. On Wednesday, he was 20 for 28 from the floor, which included back-to-back 3-pointers, mainly through the second half when he scored 27. It was the most points scored in the Liacouras Center, which opened in 1997, and it almost wasn’t enough. He eclipsed the 43 scored by Lynn Green in 2002, scoring his last 3 point shot with a second to spare. Temple coach Fran Dunphy gave Murray due credit, saying, “He came here to make a statement and he certainly did nut it wasn’t much fun to watch.”

Assessing the Owls, Dunphy noted, “We weren’t as solid as we needed to be on him. We made some decent adjustments later in the game. We went zone a couple of times and he burned us as well. He ran the floor and beat us 3 or 4 times and a few times we have people back.” Dunphy admitted, “You can make as many excuses as you want. We didn’t play good enough defense.” Texas Southern (4-7), the SWAC favorite, had lost 2 straight and 7 of 8 before this rout. Temple shot 56.3% and trailed by only 3 at halftime. Murray just owned the night. It was a memorable performance though, personally, I still would rather broadcast Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 pointer in 1962 all over again.

Keelan Johnson

Keelan Johnson gets his chance: promotion from the Eagles practice squad to the team roster. Johnson said he was confident about his future in Philadelphia, that he declined an appealing offer elsewhere because “I felt my time had come and it should be with the Eagles.” The Arizona State graduate said, “I’d spent all this time here and I felt that with my time here something good was going to happen and soon.” The Arizona Cardinals were interests in Johnson after Tyrann Mathieu hurt his knee on December 8th. He would have been guaranteed a roster spot for 4 weeks and received credit for an accrued season. But Johnson had been here for a few months and learned the defense. When Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson came up with injuries after the Vikings’ game, Johnson’s patience paid off. His primary responsibility will likely be on special teams, where he is expected to fill Anderson’s spot. Coach Chip Kelly was pleased with the move. “If you have to bring a guy up, we’d rather bring a guy up from the practice squad because he’s been here,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He understands our system.” We’ll keep an eye on Johnson.

LeSean McCoy

LeSean McCoy is chomping at the bit. He carried the ball 29 times against the Detroit Lions in the snow a couple of weeks ago at The Linc. The footing wasn’t good but McCoy ignored all that and stung the Lions, setting a franchise record 217 yards and breaking Steve Van Buren’s which had stood since 1949 to fuel a 34-20 victory. Then came last Sunday in Minneapolis where McCoy handled the ball only 8 times. He was frustrated about his role against the Vikings and the loss. “We prepared so well for this team,” he said afterwards, “and we know how much we needed a win. To come up short, we can only be angry at ourselves.” Now he’s getting ready for the Bears under the lights at 8:30 p.m. this Sunday night. The Eastern Division title is within the Eagles’ reach and Shady McCoy intends to head up the offense along with quarterback, Nick Foles, and go after it.

The Eagles must set the tone for themselves and Sunday night is the time to do it. Says McCoy of the Bears contest, “I like our match-ups. I just like our offensive linemen against their defensive front.” He is looking forward to the battle and knows what’s rising on it. “I think, in fact, we created this mess by blowing the game to the Vikings. Now it’s up to us to right the ship. It has nothing to do with how few carries I got last week, 8 carries for 38 yards against them, and I’m sure [DeSean] Jackson feels the same way about his contribution.” So they have to shake off their frustration about a surprising loss and prepare for the Bears, a team which McCoy said, “They don’t quit. They don’t stop.” The Eagles can’t either.

Offensive coach Pat Shurmer also is looking ahead to the contest against Chicago as well. He said, “When we play the Bears, we don’t need to be better than them on Saturday or Monday, we have to be better than them on Sunday. That’s the mindset. Then do everything you can to get the players ready to play, cut out all the fat and do the things that are important.” Shurmer is certain that Bears’ head coach, Marc Trestman, knows the Birds’ strengths and weaknesses just as he and all of the Eagles’ coaches do. Lance Briggs and Matt Forte are expected to play for Chicago. So far, most of the Eagles’ squad remains without serious injury. Shady McCoy is optimistic that Coach Chip Kelly will design enough plays for him to carry the ball – and for more than 8 times. We’re looking forward to seeing that.

The late, great Reggie White, the “Minister of Defense”, would have turned 52 on December 19th. White died the day after Christmas at the age of 43 in 2004. Wouldn’t you like to see him out there against the Bears? It’s going to be a wild Sunday night at The Linc, sports fans. Tune in.

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