LSU’s Dark Days

These are not good times for LSU fans. We”re not even 90 days removed from the last great moment in Tiger sports – the thrashing of Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl – and good news is rare in South Baton Rouge. Men”s basketball wasn”t even invited to the NIT a year after reaching the Final Four. Women”s hoops opens the NCAA tourney today under the weight of Pokey Chatman”s sex-scandal resignation. Baseball began SEC play yesterday – getting shut out by South Carolina – unranked and having dropped series to the powerhouse programs that are Stetson and Lipscomb.

And the man in the middle – Skip Bertman – is under fire for his handling of the Pokey situation, the state of the baseball program and increasingly his general management of the athletic department. Sure, all those new buildings and Tiger Stadium expansions are nice, but Tiger fans aren”t really happy with the old baseball coach, who”ll be stepping aside no more than a year from this summer. Especially in the wake of the sex scandal, more pressure may be put on Bertman to go ahead and retire when his current contract ends June 30.

Given the problems with hoops and baseball, the shining light of LSU sports is clearly football. And the brightest light in the program is about to be an Oakland Raider.

To say the 2007 football season is important for LSU sports is like saying Jessica Simpson”s tits are important to her career. Obvious and a huge understatement.

The expectations for Leslie are huge. LSU may start the season ranked higher than any year since 1959, when we debuted at No. 1 coming off our first national championship (we started at No. 4 in 2004 and No. 5 in 2005). The schedule – so brutal in 2006 – favors LSU, with South Carolina, Florida, Auburn and Arkansas all coming to Baton Rouge (along with Virginia Tech), and the clear expectation is an SEC West title and another shot at the BCS.

Really rabid Tiger fans expect nothing less than another national championship this season, but the sane among us realize the BCS is too much of a crap shoot to project any team into the title game before late November (unless you”re talking about USC, of course). SEC teams shoot for no more than one loss – to a good team – a division title and an SEC Championship Game win. How things fall beyond that are in the hands of the football gods.

That”s Leslie”s expectation this year. Stay in the top 5 and win the west. And, by the way, you”d better beat Fonzie in Tuscaloosa to satisfy the Saban=Satan crowd.

Of course, there will be no JaMarcus Russell this year; no Dwayne Bowe; no LaRon Landry and no Jessie Daniels. The staff, like the players, is less Saban-influenced and the program clearly will carry Miles” mark from here on. This is the season Leslie shows his worth – the influence and the expectations are all his now.

With so much of the LSU sports program in disarray, football success is critical. Big wins in Tiger Stadium do wonders to take attention away from problems elsewhere. And when football is down, there needs to be success elsewhere to keep LSU hope alive (see LSU Baseball: 1989 – 2000). With football expectations so high and problems elsewhere so troubling, the importance of football success is magnified even more.

LSU football is on the brink of “elite” status. Winning the SEC and getting back to the BCS this year would get us there. Faltering and winding up 8-4 or worse would just toss another log on the fire of LSU”s athletic woes.

I”ll be rooting hard for Leslie this fall.

Saban LSU sticker – likely not real; still funny

Supposedly the result of an LSU fan finding Fonzie”s car parked in the “head coach” spot outside of the Bama football offices.

I do remember Nick Saban liking the black Mercedes S-Classes back in the day.

Evolution of an AJC executive pay story

Going through my RSS feeds last night, I was surprised to see a fairly rational account of The Coca Cola Company”s proxy filing and executive pay disclosures in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But, alas, that was just the initial filing of the story. The original piece, which my reader said came across at 1:36 p.m. (maybe still available here if you”ve given a fake email address) was headlined “Coke CEO gets $7 mil in cash pay for “06 and was written thusly:

Coca-Cola Chairman and Chief Executive Neville Isdell earned $7 million in salary and incentive pay in 2006, plus stock awards and other perks worth millions more, the soft drink maker reported Friday.

The payout included a one-time award of $5.5 million based on the company”s total performance for the year, as determined by Coke”s board of directors using a preset award range.

Isdell”s base salary in 2006 was $1.5 million, the same as he earned in 2005. Isdell also received stock awards and options worth millions more, according to a filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. Many of the stock awards and options can be cashed in only after meeting certain targets or remaining with the company for a set period of time.

In addition, Isdell got the benefit of the company”s corporate jet, a car and driver, and security that were all worth nearly $320,000, according to Coke”s filing.

The SEC requires publicly-traded companies to disclose compensation for the top five highest paid employees.

The rest of the piece talks about other proxy matters.

OK, so it headlines the $7 million in cash, mentions Isdell got stock and options “worth millions more” and correctly states that a lot of that compensation “can be cashed in only after meeting certain targets”. It would be far too much to ask, of course, for the AJC to put the compensation in context of the company”s performance – such as the $17 billion in market cap added in 2006 – and there”s no chance in hell the AJC would reference any of the exhaustive explanation Coke lists about how pay is determined.

But for the AJC, this was a relatively fair bit of reporting.

However, by the time the story was massaged for today”s physical paper – which apparently some people actually still buy – the headline had become “Coke chief”s compensation $32.3 million in “06” and the story read:

Coca-Cola Chairman and Chief Executive Neville Isdell earned $7.5 million in salary, incentive pay and perks in 2006, the soft drink maker reported Friday.

But including stock options and awards, pension benefits, deferred compensation and other benefits, Isdell”s total compensation hit $32.3 million in 2006, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The SEC requires publicly traded companies to disclose annually the compensation for the five highest-paid employees. New rules this year greatly expand how companies disclose compensation. The rules aim to give investors a more transparent view into executive compensation.

Had the rules been in place last year, Isdell”s total compensation would have been reported as a little more than $26 million for 2005, according to Coke”s calculations.

Isdell”s pay included a one-time cash award of $5.5 million based on the company”s total performance for the year, as determined by Coke”s board of directors using a preset award range. That was up from the $4.5 million bonus Isdell received in 2005.

Isdell”s base salary in 2006 was $1.5 million, the same as he earned in 2005.

In addition to the cash and benefits compensation, Isdell received stock awards and options currently worth roughly $19.4 million, according to the SEC filing. Isdell won”t be able to cash in these stock awards and options until the company meets certain financial targets and he remains with the company for a set period of time.

Isdell received other pension benefits and deferred compensation worth nearly $5.4 million.

Isdell”s perks included the use of the company”s corporate jet, a car and driver and security that were all worth nearly $320,000, according to Coke”s filing.

If you”re a bit lazy, here are the changes:

- Headline focuses on the big money (which he may not actually get)

- Value of “perks” added to the “cash” received to raise that total by $500K

- Stock value pushed up with not-at-all-agenda-driven “But …” lead in and value stated

- Paragraph about SEC rules added to reinforce how you poor people now get to know exactly how much these fatcats “make”

- Paragraph added to report what the big number would have been in 2005

- Note added that cash award was up from 2005

- Conditions of his options award changed from “Many of the stock awards and options can be cashed in only after meeting certain targets” to “Isdell won”t be able to cash in these stock awards and options until the company meets certain financial targets”. Key change there is “after meeting” becomes “until the company meets”, which implies much more certainty that the gain will be realized.

- The note “In addition, Isdell got the benefit of the company”s corporate jet, a car and driver, and security that were all worth nearly $320,000″ became “Isdell”s perks included the use of the company”s corporate jet, a car and driver and security that were all worth nearly $320,000″. That”s a classic and telling AJC twist – “perks” is a much better wealth-envy term than “benefits”. The information is exactly the same, just twisted to better suit the AJC “Business” section”s anti-business agenda.

I”m sure the AJC editors would say the changes merely represent the difference between an immediate, breaking story and one written after the reporter had more time to examine the SEC filing. Yes, there”s more information in the follow-on piece, but it all serves the purpose of making Isdell”s package look fatter.

The paper also had the time to read Coke”s 40-page explanation of how executive compensation is determined, but they included none of the context provided by the company. I”m sure the AJC read the part where Coke explains in great detail why Isdell is required by the company (for security reasons) to always travel on corporate planes and how the car and driver he”s provided with are used for other company purposes when not transporting Isdell, but again they saw no reason to use any of that information in their expanded story.

Of course, none of this is surprising. I just wanted to point it out.

Keiland Williams – impressive

There was a good piece this week in The Advocate (the Baton Rouge daily, not the national gay newspaper) on LSU sophomore running back Keiland Williams. Leslie doesn”t let freshmen talk to the press, so this was Williams” first big moment with the local media. I”m a huge Williams fan. He”s got the potential to be a breakout player this season. And it”s good to get some more context around the guy now that the media blackout has been lifted.

I find it just a little disconcerting, though, that while the 20-year-old Williams commands this level of mental acuity and communication skills …

“Going into the spring I’ve heard comments that (LSU coach Les Miles) has said that I’ll be the guy because that’s how I ended the season,” Williams said. “But we have a redshirt freshman, Richard Murphy. He’s just excellent, great athleticism. And then of course Charles Scott is going to battle, and then Jacob Hester’s going to get some carries. And then I expect (Alley Broussard) to come back for a full year. So it’s going to be extremely competitive, but I’m up for the challenge.”

… the best Leslie can manage is his typical semi-coherent ramblings …

“I’d like to see three guys, three different skills and one guy might assume the first snaps in every game,”

“I’m certain that he it is his intent as it is probably the intent of four guys at that spot”

“Competition is good. He had a nice fall season and I suspect he’ll have a nice spring season.”

Free life lesson

Driving the wife to work this morning, some jackass on Marietta Street decided that it would be better for him – rather than waiting 30 seconds for the cars in front of him to turn left – to jump out into the right-hand lane directly in front of me, my wife, Cletus the fetus and my Acura TL. Thanks to my cat-like reflexes, superb driving skills and the TL”s responsiveness, what was almost a fairly significant crash turned into some mild scraping of car bodies – my beautiful TL”s front left against jackass” shitty Nissan Sentra”s right rear:

OK, really mild scraping. But it”s damage to my car and danger to my family caused by reckless behavior. So these free life lessons are in play for the jackass at fault:

- If you”re going to cut into the path of an oncoming car, it”s probably wise to wait for a car that”s about as shitty as yours, not new and much nicer.

- When you recklessly cause property damage and put us in danger because you”re too stupid to stay out of turn lanes and too impatient to wait it out, I”m not going to “settle it among ourselves”, no matter how insignificant you think the damage is.

- The police agree with me. That”s what that citation and court date mean.

- You are never going to get anywhere with my wife – especially in her current condition – by suggesting that she convince me to realize “it”s just scrapes” and forget about it.

- You could have invested 30 seconds at that light to save a moving violation, fine, day in court and higher insurance rates when you saw there was a car coming in the right lane.

How bad is this hospital?

So the wife and I were up in NashVegas this weekend to help welcome a new niece into the world. On the local next yesterday morning there was this rather strange bit about the shooting of a Springfield police officer:

Springfield Police Officer Shot
March 5, 2007 12:53 AM

A Springfield police officer was recovering Sunday night after being shot inside a local emergency room.

It happened at the NorthCrest Medical Center. Sources tell NewsChannel 5 Officer Curtis Scott was on patrol, and stopped at the ER. They say a man there started fighting with Scott.

During the struggle, a gun went off. The bullet ricocheted off the floor, and hit Scott in the stomach. Scott was then lifeflighted to Vanderbilt where he was treated for his injuries.

Officer Scott is now back at home and we”re told he”s doing okay.

Police have arrested 31 year old Malchico Gardener.

Read that carefully. The officer was shot in the emergency room of a local hospital and flown to Vanderbilt for emergency treatment. And for wounds that were not severe enough to keep the guy in the hospital for 24 hours.

Quite the PR coup for NorthCrest Medical Center.

Good news for Nick Saban

Apparently Jimbo Fisher didn”t go to Florida State, after all. This from The Advocate”s (the Baton Rouge daily, not the national gay newspaper) SEC spring football capsules this morning:

Starts: Feb. 26.
Spring game: March 24.
Last season’s record: 11-2.

LSU’s offense is in the midst of a makeover following the early departure of QB JaMarcus Russell and two of his best receivers. QB Matt Flynn, who’ll be a senior, is the projected starter, with sophomore Ryan Perrilloux backing up. New offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, hired when Jimbo Fisher left for Alabama, is expected to implement some spread-option looks. The Tigers’ are also looking for two new starters at safety and on the defensive line. Some of those spots might not be set until late summer, after several highly rated recruits have had a chance to suit up in August.

So well done, Nick.

How to tell when your town has become a Google hub

Google has really been expanding its Atlanta presence of late, adding engineering jobs to the sales positions and data center (outside of town) jobs they”ve been basing here for a while now. A completely unscientific analysis of Google”s U.S. job postings shows Atlanta”s rising profile in Googleville. The top U.S. markets by “types of positions” open:

- Mountain View (748 types of openings)
- New York City (151)

- Seattle/Kirkland (48)
- Santa Monica (46)
- Chicago (41)
- Irvine, Ca. (33)
- Atlanta (23)

Our fair city is ahead of Boston and Dallas, so bully for Atlanta. It seems logical that some of the Bay Area Boom would filter out to places like Atlanta (Yahoo is also expanding beyond ad sales here). It”s unbelievably expensive to live out there, which has to have an effect on recruiting into the market; there”s value in getting something other than “Valley Think” into your products, and spreading talent and operations beyond the earthquake zone is just smart planning. Plus, Google is consuming office space in Mountain View at a Godzilla pace – they”ll run out of buildings between the bay and the 101 here soon.

And I guess this week marks the point when Google officially “arrives” in Atlanta. They”ve posted a Cafe Manager job for their office here. And, yes, they do advertise on Yahoo HotJobs.

The Sirius / XM Merger

OK, so now the deal is done for merging my fabulous Sirius Satellite Radio with the crappy XM Radio. There are lots of issues to be resolved: regulatory, technical and operational. But the biggest issue in my mind is programming. I”ve said many times that XM music programming sucks. Because it does. I know this even better now after having it free in my new car for three months.

To put it most simply, XM is largely music you would hear on crappy regular radio, just without the commercials (most of the time). Sirius programming is much more interesting and on the fringes of genres the service explores. XM is more mainstream, and that”s what concerns me. The easy choice is to dump the Sirius niches and go for the dumb masses.

And with both companies relying on distribution through new car sales, the consumer hook isn”t primarily the music choices, it”s no commercials and that fact that your new car came with XM or Sirius installed.

So I”m not hopeful. But in the spirit of positive thinking, I”d like to offer my suggestions for what make sure to keep in a Sirius / XM combined lineup:

BBC Radio 1
Elvis Radio
First Wave
Hair Nation

Underground Garage
The Who Channel
Sirius Disorder
Outlaw Country

um … yeah, I got nothing. Keep their Top 40 crap, I guess. Any channel that doesn”t require a personality can come from XM.

Sirius really should just wipe XM”s entire music lineup, because it”s inferior to Sirius across the board. News and talk is largely shared (ESPN, Weather Channel and the like), and as long as they keep at least one Trucker Channel, I”ll be happy there.

Sports programming will be better because there won”t be two services splitting leagues and conferences (although Sirius already carries SEC football, so again it”s fitting my needs just fine), but beyond listening to the rare LSU game that”s not on TV or listening to pre-game, I don”t care that much about live sports. I don”t listen to a lot of live hockey or NASCAR on the radio.

Howard Stern, Oprah, Opie & Anthony? I really don”t care. But the prospect of XM”s grating “Oprah and Friends … Friends and Oprah …” jingle being on my service might just make me cancel it.

Will the deal ultimately go through? I think it will. Sirius and XM have a good case in the idea that HD Radio, iPods, etc. represent the new competition for satellite radio, so combining the two satellite radio services won”t impact the choice in consumer music services. And without a merger, it”s likely one of them would end up in bankruptcy anyway, so the economic reality is that a combination is best for the companies and ultimately consumers.

Just choose your stations wisely, Mel.

College football is not played on Thursday nights

I don”t care if it means LSU / Mississippi State will be the first college football game of the season. I don”t care if it makes ESPN happy. I don”t care if it takes pressure off LSU to move a home game someday. I don”t care if opening with MSU instead of MTSU will better prepare LSU to play Virginia Tech on Sept. 8. COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS NOT PLAYED ON FUCKING THURSDAY NIGHTS

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