Wednesday, February 9, 2011.
The name Joe O’Brien evokes a variety of emotions in these parts. Those who remember him only as Boise State’s 1994 Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-American, the leader of a 13-2 team that made it to the Division I-AA national championship game, do so fondly. Those who remember what later happened to his coaching career? Maybe not so much. While he was defensive line coach at Montana State, O’Brien was arrested in 2003 for dealing meth and was later convicted, spending 28 months in federal prison until his September, 2006, release. O’Brien’s goal now is to restore his good name, and he’s telling his story in an autobiography co-authored by Bob Evancho, who also co-wrote “Pokey: The Good Fight” with the late Pokey Allen.
The book will be released in time for the 2011 football season, and it will be a doozy. O’Brien’s early childhood in Pittsburg, CA, was stunningly rough. It’s not the Bay Area you see in Chamber of Commerce materials. O’Brien’s substance abuse began in junior high. He turned to drugs in high school and started living what he calls “The Lie,” something that extended all the way through his charismatic playing days at Boise State—and worsened during what appeared to be a promising coaching career. Let’s just say he goes into excruciating detail in the book.
O’Brien’s ultimate dream is to prove that his life has turned around and to get back into college coaching, and former Bronco teammate Brian Smith is giving him an assist. Smith got O’Brien an assistant’s job in Fresno with the Central Valley Coyotes during the final season of af2 in 2009. Now the duo will guide the Wenatchee Valley Venom in the “Indoor Professional League,” with the season starting next month. Smith will be head coach and O’Brien will be assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. Is O’Brien on the road to redemption? The book will allow you to decide.
Here’s an indication that when Boise State leaves the WAC, despite its decade of football dominance, it’ll be gone—and forgotten by the conference. It’s been four days since the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2011 class has been introduced, and it includes one of the WAC’s all-time greats, San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk. But there’s been no acknowledgment of the honor on the WAC’s website. Faulk is the only player in NFL history to be named Offensive Player of the Year three seasons in a row (1999-2001). Faulk was also the NFL’s MVP in 2000. Faulk is still the third-leading rusher in WAC history with 4,589 yards. He set the conference record for rushing touchdowns with 57, since broken by Boise State’s Ian Johnson and again by Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick. But hey, the Aztecs bolted to the Mountain West as a charter member in 1999.
No sooner do I pass on some trumpeting of Georgia’s 2011 recruiting from SI.com than do the Bulldogs swirl with controversy again. Coach Mark Richt has suspended tailback Washaun Ealey indefinitely from offseason team activities after Ealey was a no-show for a disciplinary running session. He was UGA’s leading rusher last season with 811 yards in an underachieving running game. Ealey has been in trouble before—he was suspended one game last fall after being arrested for driving with a suspended license and leaving the scene of an accident. What this might do for Boise State fans is make prized five-star running back Isaiah Crowell, the newly-signed recruit from Columbus, GA, a more recognizable name between now and September 3.
Not sure what it might be, but Boise State will want to tweak something this week going into the Taco Bell Arena games against Fresno State and Idaho. Now that the Broncos have been through the WAC rotation once, teams seem to be packing the middle and daring BSU to shoot the three. And the Broncos are obliging—by missing a ton of them. I used this stat the other day, but I’ll turn it around: they’ve missed 68 of their last 85 attempts from three-point range. Boise State senior La’Shard Anderson hasn’t had room to create and penetrate as he did earlier this season and was held scoreless last Saturday night at Utah State. Anderson brings other things to the table, though; he’s 14th in the nation in steals, averaging more than 2½ a game.
Did I mention Bismarck’s weather yesterday? The Idaho Stampede’s game against the Dakota Wizards was pushed back an hour and a half last night because of plane delays. But it didn’t affect the Stampede’s energy, as they scored the most points they have all season in a 121-108 victory. After falling behind by two at the end of the third quarter, the Stamps put up 38 in the fourth to win going away. The balanced effort saw seven players reach double figures, led by Armon Johnson’s 22 points. Idaho now goes from frigid North Dakota to frigid South Dakota to face the Sioux Falls Skyforce Friday and Saturday.
The Idaho Steelheads are finally back on the ice tonight as they host Bakersfield in Qwest Arena. Presumably eight days of rest have been beneficial for the Steelheads, who were last seen winning five of their last six games. The Steelies’ special teams have been top-drawer, leading the ECHL in both the power play and the penalty kill. And rookie goaltender Tyler Beskorowany leads the league with a save percentage of .938. Also, the Steelheads get defenseman Dustin Friesen back tonight from the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Tonight’s matchup with the Condors is the first of a three-game series.
Former Steelhead Zenon Konopka had another nice, calm evening on the ice for the New York Islanders in a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night. He’s skated 33 shifts the past two games and hasn’t picked up a penalty, and that is news. Last Wednesday Konopka was in on nine shifts—that’s 4½ minutes of ice time—and racked up 23 minutes in penalties in a 3-0 loss at Pittsburgh. Make no mistake, Konopka has a role with the Islanders. The 30-year-old center, who helped the Steelheads to the 2004 Kelly Cup championship, has piled up 181 penalty minutes this season, No. 1 in the NHL. And 132 have come in games the Islanders have lost. Meanwhile, Konopka has scored one goal.
This Day In Sports…February 9, 2010:
As a sidebar during a press conference introducing his new chief operating officer, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott mentions the conference will be exploring expansion over the next year. And boom—it was a top story, with speculation running wild. The most plausible scenario immediately painted was Utah and Colorado moving to the Pac-10, creating a chaotic trickle-down effect that would influence the future of the Mountain West and the WAC. And a wild year in college sports ensued.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)