Day 1 of the National Pac-10 Media Tour - Or How Yellow Fever is the Worst Journalist Ever

On Monday I reported live from the Cal Reception at MJ Amstrong's.

On Tuesday I priced a convertible bond with an embedded Bermudan call option.

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via blog.seattletimes.nwsource.com

Oh yeah, I also went to day one of the Pac-10 national media tour.

Notable events from Monday?  Probably nothing you haven't heard or seen already from our buddies at Bears with Fangs, who did a fantastic job with his writeup there.  What I have to add to that are my personal experiences there and questions that I asked to Tedford and Sandy one-on-one:

  • Open bar and hors'deourves for 10 bucks?  That's a great deal, with or without Cal football talk from Sandy and Tedford.
  • Tedford said that he hasn't been told what realignment will look like, and that he imagines conversations of that nature are going on right now.  Indicated that Sandy would know better than he would about that.
  • What about the conference championship game?  Does he like it?  Well, yeah, he kinda figured that was the point of the expansion - there's so much money there that really, what's the point of expanding without doing the championship game?
  • And where does he want it?  Tedford likes San Diego - take a look at every pod within the Pac-10, and at each one you'll find a NFL (or NFL quality) stadium nearby, with the exception of Oregon.  And you definitely want to put the game at a big time stadium.  But you've got the University of Phoenix in Arizona, the Coliseum and Candlestick in the Bay Area, the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum in LA, and Qwest Field in Seattle, and you don't really want to give a potential participant a significant home-field advantage.  For that reason San Diego probably works out the best because you want to have the game in a location with nice weather where fans are going to want to go regardless of who's playing, and though the LA schools might have a home-field advantage, it's still less than it might otherwise be.
  • I threw out there that I write for the California Golden Blogs, an affiliate of Sports Blog Nation...which got me a blank stare.  I went on to say that we love writing about Cal sports, but media access would be incredibly helpful, which got Tedford to suggest we call the guy who handles that.  So we're going to continue pursuing our white whale.  Whatever it takes.
  • Next was trying to find Sandy, but then I remembered I had no idea what she looked like.  So I figured I might run into her while heading for the hors'deourves - and that's what happened, but not before I almost stepped right into a picture someone was trying to take with Oski.  Sandy ended up appearing right behind Oski after he left, and she complimented me on my choice of Jahvid Best jersey.
  • I asked her about the logistics of the Pac-10 expansion, and said that that's going to be on the table when they start new discussions on Friday.  I asked about how expansion will fit other sports and she said that's definitely going to have to be a part of the conversation, because scheduling will have to make sense for everyone going forward.
I proceeded to go get my hors'deourves (6/10, as I mentioned) only to find that my previous seat was taken by these two rather large guys that I didn't recognize.  I didn't mind a great deal as I had some tweeting to do, and waited for Sandy and Tedford to address the crowd...

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...wherein Tedford revealed that the two large guys who took my spot were Steve and Eric Levy.  Well then!  For what Sandy and Tedford talked about, you can take a look at the previous link to Bears with Fangs, as he has a great recap there.

After Tedford and Sandy made their prepared remarks and answered a few questions, it was back to mingling with the proletariat of bear territory.  I tracked down Sandy again to ask her what her thoughts were on the recent university report condemning the athletics department (though my exact words were, how do you feel about the university task force report throwing the athletics department under the bus?), and her response is that it is a legitimate issue, and it's an age-old question - how many resources should an institute of higher learning devote to athletics?  But it's not her job to question that, and it's just her job to work with what she gets.  If the university decides to cut funding, it's her job to let the chancellor know that the performance of all of the teams affected is likely going to suffer, and there's no way around it.

I had thought about talking to Levy and asking for an interview, but decided that it looked like he was enjoying himself, so I'd track him down later...

...like Tuesday.  I should probably mention up front that I wasn't expecting to get into this thing, and I was completely unprepared.  I spent most of my day working on the aforementioned convertible bond and putting a memo together before deciding I'd make the short walk to the W Hotel and crashing the party.  I wasn't confident that I would get in, but we'd heard through the grapevine that our buddy Paragon SC would be there, so I thought it would be worth a shot.

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I ran into Sandy again outside the ballroom, and she either didn't recognize me, or was confused about how the hell I got in.  After all, I hadn't told her that I write for CGB, only Tedford.  I ran into Paragon in the waiting room after we signed in, and this spared me having to explain what was going on to Sandy.  We collected our media guides, USB drives, Pac-10 pens, and notepads, then sat down and marveled at the Pac-10 wives in attendance.
Paragon and I agree - Sarkisian's wife is attractive
Kiffin walking around like he owns the place. His wife is attractive as well
So that was nice.  Other thoughts - Ted Miller looked like a cool guy, Stewart Mandel is really quite short in person, and I couldn't pick Andy Staples out of a lineup.  Miller's recap of the event indicates that he was there...but I honestly couldn't recognize him.  Dude must not look like his SI.com picture.

Everyone was herded into the main room, with all of the coaches sitting up front with Commish Larry Scott, and five tables labeled with coach names, arranged by rival (Cal/Furd, Oregon/OSU, UCLA/USC, Arizona/ASU, Washington/Wazzu).  I almost sat down at the Washington table along with Paragon - then when he realized he'd rather talk with Kiffin I took a powder on the thought of sitting with Paul Wulff and sat over at the Furd/Cal table.

We opened with the new Pac-10 media video, and I was sufficiently awe-inspired to want to clap at the end.  But I didn't.  I tell you, it was hard to fight the instinct, because I've just been trained to clap after that sort of thing at any type of corporate event whatsoever.  But thankfully, Stewart Mandel and his death stare reminded me not to do that.
Mandel has what looks like a permanent scowl on his face. Probably because he's at Kiffin table
OMG HE'S STARING AT ME
Whew he stopped
Scott went through some prepared remarks about how the Pac-10 brand is one of athletic and academic greatness, how the conference will be mathematically correct (Pac-12 on the way!) and how the conference is poised to increase its awareness and presence nationally through it's national media tour.  And with that, each coach was headed off to his table to speak with individual reporters.

Uh oh.  I was expecting a panel discussion similar to what happened during Pac-10 media day where I could just blend into the crowd, raise my hand every now and then, and let other reporters run the show.  I wasn't prepared for this.  

I looked back at the table.  I didn't have any questions prepared.  Everyone else got up.  I was gathering my things, when Harbaugh walks up to me.

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Now, I've never been a reporter for anything in my life.  Not even a fake reporter.  I've never even interviewed my dog. The most difficult question I ever asked a sports personality was asking Jarvis Hayes when he would take Bobby Simmons' starting job. Right in front of Bobby Simmons. And here comes Jim Harbaugh.  I'm telling you, it's easy to sit back and say, "YES!  Ask him the tough questions! What's his deal! LOL~~~~".

Yeah, it's not that easy.  I mean, he's probably not answering that if I'm an asshole, you know?

I stammered out that I write for the Cal SBN blog (no signs of recognition), a couple questions about how he likes his team ("very much"), whether he thought Gerhart should have gone higher (not so important when he went, but it's good that he went to a team that's a good fit) and whether the passing game will pick up this year (yeah, we're seeing some things)...then I slunk off into a corner to regroup.

This was not a good start.  I walked off, surveyed the landscape, introduced myself to Ted Miller (Hi, Uncle Ted!) and regrouped.  What kind of questions was I going to ask?  Who did I want to talk to?  What the hell am I doing here?!

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Then Tedford sat down with Steve Levy.  Thank Tedford!  He graciously offered to give me the number of the member of the sports department who handles credentials.  Another step towards conquering the white whale!  But rather than take up more of Tedford's time (who did recognize me), I figured it would also be great to talk with 2005 Big Game hero, Steve Levy.

Tremendous guy.  Here's what I asked him about:
  • How he ended up at Cal: Steve was a late recruit, as he was just busting his tail trying to get offers later in the recruiting season.  He'd heard of Tedford's reputation as a QB guru, and cited Joey Harrington as one of his favorite college QBs of all time. (I didn't ask about whether his pro career had any impact on that, though I thought about it.) Cal agreed to bring him out for an official visit, and it was actually the first time Steve went out to California. But the visit was so nice, the campus so great, that he committed during that trip.
  • What he's up to now: Working as a personality for the MSG Network covering all kinds of New Jersey high school sports. It's something he's looked at doing for a while and something that he wanted to do ever since high school, what with the network having covered his games at Don Bosco Prep and all. It just seemed like it would be interesting being on the other side of that some day.
  • How it happened: After his playing career ended, Steve bounced around a couple of arena leagues and even went to the EFL (I'll be honest, I'd never heard of it up until this point), but eventually ended up in the sports media, doing spots here and there for local ABC affiliates. He'd always imagined he'd have to stay in the Bay Area since that's where he'd made his name, but then MSG called, so here he is.
  • What's the long-term goal: Working for ESPN with a job similar to the one held by Craig James. I brought up how I would have imagined most analysts want to be on GameDay with Herbstreit and Corso, but Steve would rather focus on one game a week and provide in-depth analysis, as opposed to kind of more mainstream stuff that Herbstreit does.  
  • (EDIT: Straight from Steve upon reading the first cut)

Great stuff!! the only thing I would change is where I see my self being at the top of my career.The Craig James comparison is on key... . In a perfect world I would like to do 1 game a week(Thursday) and sit in a studio ALL DAY Saturday breaking down all of the games for pre game, half and post game analysis. Kirk is the man and Love him, but I see my self more like James and that's what he does.

  • By the way, Craig James is a family friend.  These Levys get around.
  • Has he ever met the ESPN Steve Levy?: Yes!  We even reminisced over how Sportscenter's Top Plays the night of the Big Game featured Levy wearing a Cal helmet as if he were in the one QBing the Bears.  Steve (our Steve) emailed ESPN Steve to say he thought the bit was great, and that he'd be interested in meeting him. ESPN Steve wrote back and said it would be great and that they'd love to give him and his brother a tour of the studios and show them around.  So that's what they did the next time they came back to New York.
  • How exactly did he end up making the switch from QB to FB and back?: First, the switch to FB was all his idea. He looked at the depth chart in 2004 and saw, well, I'm probably not getting a whole lot of playing time with all of the QBs here and coming in. And besides, he'd been an all-state LB. He just wanted to help out the team in whatever way possible, and was promised if things happen, he'll still get a look at QB. Then he hurt his shoulder. The next year when Rodgers left early, there was a spot for a third QB, and he made the jump back.  Then circumstances (BOOYA!~) came in and let him play, and there he was.
On Monday when I mentioned to the other writers of our blog that Levy was there, they wanted me to talk to him right then and there, and gave me some damn good questions to ask.  So I did. 
  • Is DeSean as much of a jerk as everyone says he is? I asked this when Tedford turned around and was otherwise occupied, saying that I'm not sure how that would affect his answer.  But speaking only from personal experience, he's always found DeSean to be a good guy personally, to him.  Which isn't to say that he wasn't a bit of a different guy (take that to mean what you will) but he always played hard and cared about winning.  On a personal level, Steve's visited DeSean's house in Philadelphia and they have a good relationship.  As far as anything that happened after Steve graduated in 2006, well, he wasn't there so he can't speak to what happened then.
  • What the heck happened during the 2006 Holiday Bowl?: Steve and Ayoob (BOOYA!~) were splitting time, and just killing the clock, when the team found itself at the doorstep of the goal line after an interception by Sean Young with less than three minutes left.  And you remember what happened here:
C 1-G  T05   CALIFORNIA drive start at 02:25 (4th).
C 1-G T05 Hampton, B. rush to the TA7, fumble by Hampton, B. recovered by CAL
Schutte, Bryan at TA5.
C 2-G T05 Holley, Brian rush for 2 yards to the TA3 (Featherston, M.).
C 3-G T03 Schutte, Bryan rush for 3 yards to the TA0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 00:28.
Schneider, Tom kick attempt good.
Of course, we all know it's not Tedford's MO to run up the score (as witnessed by the 2004 Southern Miss game) so this seemed a bit odd at the time.  Also, exactly who scored was also a bit strange.  So I'll let Steve take it from here:
We're standing in the huddle, and I said, coach wants us to take a knee.  Meanwhile, Eric Beegun is yelling at me, SCREW IT, LET'S THROW THE BALL.  Because he was a guy who was mostly a blocking tight end and had never caught a touchdown.  I look around and I say, we're not throwing the ball, we're running it.  Because I'm looking over and I see that Bryan Schutte is in the game.  You see, Schutte never scored a touchdown and everyone liked the guy.

So we break the huddle and we come out in a run formation, and coach is on the sidelines going crazy because we weren't in a victory formation (set to take a knee).  I hand the ball off and the entire defense parts and Schutte just walks right in.  Everyone on the team loved that moment because Schutte, well, I don't think ever played football again.  He quit the team the next year, because he was a biochem major and he couldn't handle the load anymore, but to this day, when I see the guy.  I know he keeps that football.

It's on me as the quarterback to be the team's leader, and I was being a leader.  But Tedford gave me, well, let's just say when I got back to the sidelines he wasn't happy.  I know he's got a good relationship with Coach Fran (then-A&M coach Dennis Franchione) so he has a lot of respect for him.
Tremendous guy.  Can't say enough about him.  I'll even have to start watching MSG now, even though I hate the Knicks.  Go Bears.  Oh, and if you're reading this Mark Levy, we'd appreciate it if you'd say hi.  Your son says you read all of the boards and the blogs, so we'd love for you to say hello!

I gathered myself.  I'd successfully pulled off my first interview!  This was exciting.  I still didn't have a recorder, or even a suit, but every little bit helps.  I slunk back into the corner and overheard bits of Harbaugh's conversation with another report (Andy Staples?  Like I said, I'm still not 100% sure he was there, though Miller says he was), and Harbaugh was discussing his four steps to winning.

But I didn't want to just stalk the guy after my abysmal failure.  So I looked around to see who was unoccupied.
  • Kiffin: Swamped by multiple guys, and besides, Paragon was all over him.
  • Neuheisel: Occupied.
  • Scott: Occupied by a bunch of guys.
  • Kelly: Occupied.
  • Riley: Occupied.
  • Wulff: BINGO!

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I sat down next to the largest, scariest, meanest coach I'd ever seen in my life and gave him the most generic questions I could think of.
  • What's the team's outlook this year?: A lot of improvement everywhere.  The team should be the youngest in the Pac-10, easily, and as everyone gets more experience, more speed ,and adapts to being physical, the team should be more competitive this year.
  • Why is that any different from what we've seen in previous iterations of the team?: The caliber of recruits is better, the caliber of players are better.  They've revamped the weight program and everyone's optimistic about getting in on the ground level and building the team back up.
  • What's a realistic goal for this year?: To be competitive.  There's no fixed number on the number of wins, but if the team can go out and compete every game, six games is a possibility, though it's not something he wants to preach, putting a fixed target on anything this year.
  • Any concerns about being on the hot seat?: It was going to be a 5 year rebuilding process going in, and that's not over yet.  It's going to take time to turn things around, but no.  He's not concerned about being 
  • What's the message to recruits?  What can you push to them?: Tradition.  The Cougars have been to the Rose Bowl twice in the past twelve years, and each of the other times it's been Oregon or USC.  No one else has been to the Rose Bowl.  So the program has been there and been great, and it wasn't all that long ago. Another thing is the opportunity to play and be an integral part of the team when it does turn around.  So it's about opportunity, if players are willing to seize it.
YES!  Another good job.  I was on a roll.  I reevaluated the room:
  • Neuheisel: Now being accosted by Paragon.
  • Kiffin: Accosted by Ted Miller.
  • Harbaugh: Still talking to the same guy from before.
  • Stoops: Nada.  Time to move.

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I rolled over to the Arizona table and introduced myself.
  • Do you feel like you have a realistic shot at the Pac-10 this year?: Everyone's always shooting to win, and that's everyone's goal. Is that a realistic goal? He feels like it's a difficult league which makes for a grueling season because so many of the teams are so good, so yeah.  A lot of teams can win, including his.
  • Where does Foles stack up against the other more famous Pac-10 QBs like Barkley, Luck, and Locker?: He's right there with them.  The statistics speak for themselves, so he feels like he's right there with them, and there isn't any drop-off from those guys to his.
  • What was he thinking about the prospect of playing his brother every year?: It's not something he would have liked.  Bob's helped him out tremendously, and they have a close relationship, but it's not something they ever would have wanted to do.  Even with the prospect of possibly playing Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl - there wouldn't have been any winners there.
  • I almost thought about asking what the difference was here between the Stoops and why it would have been so difficult for them whereas the Bowdens coached against each other all the time without any apparent issues...but it's clear that they have a close relationship and it's just not something they're interested in doing.
  • I'm a closet Cal fan. You guys have stomped on our dreams the past few years in Tucson. To what do you attribute that success?: (Mike got a kick out of this).  It's just matchups.  Every other year we seem to match up well, and we're relatively evenly matched, so these games can swing on homefield advantage.  In general we're pretty close in level to Cal, so we're going to win some and we're going to lose some.  There's no secret there.
  • So what's going to be the key to the team this year?: Our passing game is there with Foles.  Our running game, with Grigsby, Antolin, it should be fine.  The key is going to be the defense and whether it can rise up. If it does, the rest of the team will also go a long way. 
I thanked Mike Stoops for his time and wandered for a bit.  Collected my thoughts.  And saw that the only coach not occupied was Harbaugh.

Uh oh.  Ok, breathe.  I consulted with Steve over my faceplant with Harbaugh and he gave me a few tips on what to ask.  So I did.  And I talked to him again.
  • Do you have anything you'd want to say to Cal fans who may not have the best opinion of you because we're all biased?  (death stare)  (silence) (more silence) (continued death stare) (pause) (another pause) (pregnant pause) (death stare) "...No."
  • Well, this was going just great!
  • How do you come up with your tweets? What tweets? You know, the recruiting ones. Yeah, they're not all about recruiting. Oh. I mean, just because some writer for SI says they are doesn't mean they are. (laughs)
  • OH MY GOD WHEW MY FIRST QUESTION THAT WASN'T A FACEPLANT
  • So what about the hype for Andrew Luck? He's being talked about as a potential number 1 overall pick - do you feel like the hype is justified?  And what has to happen for him to get there?: Harbaugh can see why the hype is there, and it's justified.  He's got all of the tools, and at this point it's about incremental improvements.  But yes, he can definitely see him being the number one pick.  And he doesn't have all that far to go.
  • Any thoughts about him staying another year?  Any discussion at all? They'll cross that bridge when they get there.
  • Some guys like Ted Miller are picking you as darkhorse national championship contenders.  Thoughts?: It's time to play the games. Hype is just that.
  • No, I didn't ask what's his deal.  I'm leaving that for Berkelium97.
At this point the questioning round ended and everyone was to head down to the cocktail bar for a reception. Extremely conscious of how much I'd already botched things, I figured it would not be a good idea to combine open bar with Pac-10 head coaches.  Questions I would have liked to ask, but didn't get to:
  • Chip Kelly: Thoughts on Masoli to Ole Miss, or anywhere else?
  • Mike Riley: TCU AND Boise State?  What are you thinking?
  • Erickson: I thought you guys were up and coming a few years ago.  What happened?
  • Scott: What's a ballpark figure that you're going to be shooting for with the next round of TV negotiations?
  • Kiffin: Any fallout so far from the Titans suing the school?  Do you wish you'd handle the hire another way? And what were you doing without an OC up to this point anyway?
  • Neuheisel: Want to help me lay odds on who wins the Pac-10 Any regrets over the recruitment and subsequent dismissal of those four new recruits?
  • Sarkisian: Ever compare wives with Lane Locker.  Worth the hype? His passing numbers going to get better? How are you going to prepare him for the pro game?
Overall, it was a learning experience, to put it mildly.  And really, my one thought is, I hope I didn't mess up our chances to get a press pass, if ever there were any chances to begin with.  As a matter of fact, I probably should have found Sandy after it was all over and asked her about it.  But c'est la vie.

Berkelium97, you're up Thursday!
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