Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bell, Book, and Candle atThe Cleveland Play House Now through February 3

            For a moment or two it seemed like it might have been a rarity, a clunker at the Cleveland Play House, but got its act together after intermission and turned into an enjoyable evening of theater as Bell, Book and Candle opened Wednesday night.
            The classy 1950’s play written by John Van Druten, and the model the popular television show Bewitched was based on, tells the tale of a classy, modern witch living in New York City who falls for her mortal publisher neighbor. Georgia Cohen is perfectly cast as the witch, with a nice balance of sexiness and humor. Eric Martin Brown is the neighbor, Jeremy Webb plays Cohen’s warlock brother, Marc Moritz plays a famous author writing a book about witchcraft in New York City, and Patricia Kilgarriff steals every scene she is in as the elderly witch aunt.
            The play was fun, with only several small criticisms. First, there was some dead time in the first act when we couldn’t decide if this was comedy or a romance, and second, the use of recorded music brought down the overall quality of the production. The play was filled with 50’s jazz riffs and spooky sounds, and ends with the pop classic “This Magic Moment.” All of it would have been better with live musicians. A four piece jazz combo would have been perfect for this production.
            Speaking of music, I am really excited about the next production downtown at the Play House, their annual musical biography, this year it’s The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith. Over the years they have done George Gershwin, Ginger Rogers, and Ella Fitzgerald amongst others, and to me, it has always been one of the highlights of their season. The show will run February 15-March 10. And, yes, they use real musicians for these productions.
            For more information on all the good things going on at the Cleveland Play house visit

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Personnel Matters

I'm still writing a monthly column for's Browns publication the Orange and Brown Report. I am currently organizing and posting any of the columns out of the past on my website under football articles. To subscribe to the OBR go to Here is the latest article I wrote at the end of the Browns' season about personnel matters looking to next season.

Personnel Matters
It is now the off-season and time to talk personnel decisions for the 2013 Browns. For what it is worth here are my comments on a few things related to our favorite team and a few other teams around the NFL.
I still disagree with the media’s love affair with Robert Griffin III. Yes, he is a talented athlete and does have a big upside, but he still as some big hurdles to clear. His rookie year he missed games because of his first concussion and his first knee injury, both came on plays were he was running downfield. He must change his game are he is going to join that long list, and the list is getting longer, of college spread quarterbacks who could not make the transformation to NFL quarterbacks.  If RGIII keeps running eight or nine times a game soon will come his second concussion, then his third, and then another knee injury. And don’t forget about what has happened to Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, Vince Young, and Michael Vick.
Speaking of quarterbacks, I can’t believe I hear people in the media who keep saying Vick will be a starter next year for someone, as long as that team let’s Michael Vick be Michael Vick.  And that would be a mistake. You let Michael Vick be Michael Vick and he will get yet another injury, probably a concussion, and he will be on the sidelines just like he spent most of this season.
Brandon Weedon’s rookie year had its ups and downs. At times he looked very good, at times very poor. But he started 15 games (this article was written before the last Pittsburgh game), and his rookie stats compare favorable to many other rookie seasons of some pretty good NFL quarterbacks. For example, Bernie Kosar threw only 8 touchdowns his first year as a starter, while Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions his rookie year. (Weedon stats after 15 games: 14 touchdowns, 17 interceptions). Don’t forget he has had 7 games without a pick, and four of his interceptions came in the first game. Even when playing poorly against the Redskins the numbers didn’t look that bad: 21/35 for 244 yards, one TD and 2 picks.
Last year’s draft was a fluke with the large amount of rookie quarterbacks that started and contributed to their NFL teams. There is only one, maybe two, first round QB picks this year, and after that it does not get any better. As I have written before, not enough college teams run a pro style offense, and the NFL is not developing its own quarterbacks without NFL Europe. All the more reason for the Browns to keep both Weedon and McCoy. Who else is there? The NFL is soon to be filled with spread option quarterbacks trying to learn the pro passing game. No matter what you think of both Browns quarterbacks, they will be miles ahead of most NFL quarterbacks next season.
Maybe I am too much of an old school coach, but I still feel you build championship teams from the trenches first, and you got to be happy with the young units the Browns have on both sides of the ball. On offense perennial all pro Joe Thomas is the old man, and he is only 27. He along with fellow first round picks Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwarz are playing like first round draft picks. All three, along with guard Shawn Lauvao started all 16 games. And on defense they are building a solid unit, built around defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker, and defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, John Hughes, and Billy Winn. All of these players still have promising careers ahead of them.
Pittsburgh and Baltimore ended the regular season still thinking they had a chance to win it all this season, which kept both teams with sticking with their aging lineups. Although both teams do have some good young players, especially Pittsburgh, the fact both teams kept too long with the Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, and others, will catch up to them in the near future. Plus, as I have said before, it is hard to replace some of the best players in the history of their franchises.
Something is going to happen next season that has never happened to the Browns since they returned in 1999. They will have a talented, young, homegrown player returning at almost every position on both sides of the ball. We still have to see how the dust settles on the sidelines and in the front office under new owner Jimmy Haslem, but the personnel situation has never been better.
Speaking of the front office, by the time you read this a decision will be made about Tom Heckert. I would hate to see him go after he just gave us the best draft of the new Browns era, one of the best drafts ever. The 2012 draft gave us a starting right tackle in Mitchell Schwartz, Trent Richardson at running back, and Weedon at quarterback.  On offense also throw in starting receiver Josh Gordon (from the supplemental draft), and back ups speedster Travis Benjamin at receiver and offensive lineman Ryan Miller. On defense, at one time or another, rookies James-Michael Johnson, Billy Winn, John Hughes, and L.J. Fort also have started. And all seem to be quality players with solid careers in front of them.
I think to be a Browns fan you have to have a touch of the sentimental fool inside of you, and for that reason, as well as some pretty logical ones, I would definitely resign Phil Dawson and Josh Cribbs. The Browns special teams are greatly improved over last year, much to Dawson and Cribbs, and they don’t need changes at major positions going into next year. Dawson even with fifteen years under his belt is still at the top of his game, which includes not only kicking in our stadium and all the weather change it brings, but also open air stadiums in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Baltimore. Cribbs might be ready to turn the punt return chores over to Travis Benjamin, but he is still solid on kickoffs, never afraid to get the last few tough yards, and still ranks at the top of the league as a cover man in the kicking game. Plus both players have been the face of the franchise during some very trying times, they both deserve to finish their careers in Browns uniforms.
There are still spots that need improvement. Including the defensive backfield, another defensive end, and depth on both sides of the ball. However, when the Browns do take the field for their first regular season game next season they will field a team we have been waiting for since sometime in the early 1990’s, a talented team with an experienced player lining up at almost every position. And they will be playing in a division where the two teams that have dominated it for over a decade will be showing their age and be at the beginnings of their own rebuilding projects.

Athletic Scholarships

(This is the second in a series of articles I am writing for my friend Rick Hurst's publication The Real Deal.)
Many high school athletes, and some of their parents too, dream of the day
they receive a full scholarship to play their sport at a major college. However, it is not that simple and for a variety of reasons it is something a handful of high school athletes get to experience. The amount of real DI scholarships is limited, and those that do receive them are a small group of very talented young men and women.
Television, the Internet, and the print media fill up our days with live games and news articles about our favorite Division I teams. However, in the big picture more NCAA athletes participate on the lower levels of college athletics than at DI.
DI football teams have the most amount of scholarships, 85. But remember, that is not 85 per year, it is 85 per team.  Spread that over five classes of athletes, most DI football players will be in their team’s programs for five years, and that translates to 17 a year. Men’s Division I basketball has 13 scholarships, woman have 15. Again, spread that out over five years that’s less than 3 a year for men, and three on the nose for women. That’s not a lot. Women’s volleyball with 15 scholarships, and men’s and women’s hockey with 18 apiece, also have enough scholarships to field complete teams.
What a lot of athletes and parents don’t know that with most of the rest of the sports on the Division I level there are not enough scholarships to field teams two deep with athletes. For example, baseball has 12 scholarships, but a good team needs at least 20 players to cover each position with starters and back ups, and stock a pitching staff. Men’s soccer has ten scholarships, but to have a full scrimmage in practice you would need 20 players.
What do soccer and baseball coaches do? There are two popular methods. The first is to give as many full scholarships as you can to the best athletes as you can find, and fill the rest of the team with nonscholarship players. Other coaches split scholarships, and then work with athletes and their families on other forms of financial aid, including loans and academic scholarships.
Splitting scholarships is the norm on the Division II level. For example in football DII coaches have 32 scholarships to split amongst a team of 80-100 players, sometimes more. And remember on the Division III level there are no athletic scholarships. Student-athletes at those schools live and die by their financial packages, just like every other student. Yet, without scholarships, there are over 400 DIII schools offering athletic programs across the country.
But getting back to the DI level. How exactly does one do to get a DI scholarship? The only thing that an athlete can do is practice and play to the extent of his or her ability. In today’s world of the Internet, DVD players, websites like YouTube, everything else is pretty much out of your hands. Yes, you can get a highlight video together. And yes, you can send out letters and attend recruiting nights, but in almost any sport who the premier athletes are is pretty common knowledge. In most sports, if you are not being recruited by DI schools by the beginning of your senior season, you probably are not going to end up going DI. And by being recruited I don’t mean receiving a letter in the mail, but by being actually contacted by a coach and asked to make an official visit to the school’s campus.
If you think you might be a DI athlete, or your child might one, I suggest you go to a Division I sporting event where you can get really close to the athletes. I don’t mean going to see a football or hockey game at Michigan or Michigan State, but something where you even interact with the athletes afterwards. Go to a wrestling match, or a women’s basketball or volleyball game. Sit as close to the action as possible and see how intense it is, and how big, quick, competitive, and athletic the participants are. It doesn’t even have to be your sport, or your child’s sport, to get an idea of what it is like on that level.
The most important thing to consider when deciding whether to play a sport in college, no matter what the level, is the time you will have to commit to the sport and how it will affect the time you have to put into your studies. Remember, athletics is not the ends of the means. It is a vehicle you use to attain a quality college education. Even those gifted and lucky few who go on to play sports professionally must be prepared for that day when their sports career ends and their real career starts.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Music City Bowl Road Trip 2012

Special thanks to the Music City Bowl, Vanderbilt Cheerleaders, Nick Turk, Middle Tennessee Browns Backers, the Crow's Nest, Embassy Suites Nashville Airport, and everyone else who made our road trip enjoyable. Photos by Greg Cielec and Dave Hostetler.