COLUMN: Times are a-changin in Bluegrass football

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Girls' hoops loses its Number One Fan

By John Herndon

Notes written while my head is spinning....

Who would have ever thought that during the second week of December, in a year when a college football team from Kentucky is playing in the Sugar Bowl, the talk in these parts centers on the hiring of a new coach at a school playing in a post-season game named for a pizza chain and the return of a hot assistant coach to his home stomping ground.

As Bob Dylan said, “Times, they are a-changin.'”

When we left you last week, we all thought the football buzz was pretty much over with Mark Stoops taking over at the University of Kentucky. Most observers have given UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart high marks for taking the chance on Stoops. Of course, given the fact that Stoops has never called a play or run a practice as the head coach, there are some legitimate questions, but they will be answered soon enough.

But since last Wednesday, we've seen reports of a plane heading from Knoxville, Tenn. to Louisville only to turn back empty-handed. (I never did see whether that was actually true or not. I assume it wasn't.)

We've seen an entire fan base, one starved for a winner, on edge as reports continued to mount that a favorite son, now known as one of football's best at running an offense, would return to the Bluegrass.

He did.

Then we saw the man who led another school to its first bowl game as a major college program bolt for home only to see the school often considered – rightly or wrongly – a regional “mid-major” pull off one of the biggest name hires of the off-season.

Two of the moves showed great fortitude. The other is reaping the benefits of the same trait.


**At Western Kentucky, the hiring of Bobby Petrino triggered the expected responses. The holier-than-thou crew asked why an institution of higher learning would even consider hiring someone whose actions with a mistress had brought much embarrassment to his most previous employer.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who are quick to note that Bobby P. says he is a changed man. They ask how those of us who are imperfect can stand in judgment when a fellow claims to have seen the light.

Both sides raise valid points.

From this corner, the hiring of Petrino carries enormous risk, but all will be forgotten in Bowling Green if he wins big again.

And that is the state of college athletics today.


**Neal Brown. There are few assistant coaches that have created more buzz than the former UK wide receiver who ran the offensive show at Texas Tech. His hiring is one of the most significant anywhere in college football this off-season.

For years, UK has been criticized for not putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to football, but the Brown hiring says that is changing. Whether or not that change is permanent remains to be seen.


**As for Charlie Strong, you can't help but admire the guy for staying in Louisville. While Cardinal athletic director Tom Jurich says he will match any financial package that comes Strong's way, the fact is that even with the move to the ACC, there are some areas – prestige and fan base come to mind – Louisville can't match the SEC right now and may never be able to.

Yet for Strong, money was not the main issue. Published reports indicated family matters were.

Love or hate the Cards, you have to admire Strong's character and loyalty in a time when those traits seem to be in short supply.


**Neal Brown, Part 2. If you want to feel old, just dig into the memory a bit and realize that Brown played for Boyle County against Anderson in what many consider one of the greatest football games in Anderson history.

It was in 1996 when the Bearcats had opened a 14-0 lead on Boyle, but saw the Rebels storm back to take a 15-14 lead late in the game. The man who caught that pass and conversion? It was Neal Brown.

Anderson came back to win on a long field goal by Jason Munafo in the final seconds.


**Changing gears to girls basketball.  Even if you never met Louis Meadows, chances are he touched your life, especially if you love girls' basketball.

Mr. Meadows, who lived in Dry Ridge, put together a statewide girls' basketball news network that might have been the most informative e-mail to find a home in my inbox each week.

Mr. Meadows died last week after a long battle with cancer.

The first time I met Mr. Meadows was at the girls' Eighth Region Tournament. He was wearing a shirt that said, “The number one fan of girls' basketball in Kentucky.”

His passion got its start when, as a teacher, he believed the girls did not get a fair shake in the media. Over the years, I sent him notes about Anderson County and he used every one, simply to give kids more exposure. He could tell you as much about the girls' game as anyone I ever knew and  had well over 1,000 people in his address book and published the newsletter on a website, too.

Mr. Meadows was one of those nice guys who was  genuinely in it for the kids.

He signed off every newsletter with “Until I am back in the saddle again, may all your trails be happy and your water be cool."

RIP, Number One Fan.


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