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Pirate Notebook No. 350
Sunday, July 20, 2008

By Denny O'Brien


League coaches invade Memphis

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

MEMPHIS — Conference USA’s football coaches arrived in Memphis Saturday in anticipation of today’s annual Football Media Kickoff. It marks a return to the Blues City after visits to Dallas in 2006 and New Orleans in 2007.

This year conference officials spared no expense as the event is being held at the internationally renowned Peabody Hotel, widely considered the South’s Taj Mahal. Even so, it isn’t the world famous Peabody ducks that are the biggest draw on this hot July day.

Here’s a preview of today’s storylines:

Missing in Action

Absent from the media frenzy will be the familiar drawls of former league coaches Jeff Bower and Art Briles. Bower was fired last year from Southern Miss, while Briles bolted Houston for Baylor and the Big XII.

Bower had been the league monarch since its inception, and he also was a media favorite for his candid responses and opinions. You never left an interview with Bower wondering where he stood.

Briles’ Texas twang was the antithesis of his offensive philosophy. His offenses were as fast-paced as his speech was slow, and both were so distinct that they were unmistakably Briles.

With their absence, the league is beginning to run low on good-ole-boy rhetoric. Thankfully, Memphis coach Tommy West is still around to pick up the slack.

New Faces

Though Bower and Briles are gone, there should be no shortage of intriguing characters. New Southern Methodist coach June Jones is likely the hottest ticket.

Jones is tasked with rebuilding the Pony Express after taking Hawaii to new heights. The Warriors stormed into the Bowl Championship Series last year after finishing the regular season 12-0.

Though not nearly as intriguing, new coaches Larry Fedora (Southern Miss) and Kevin Sumlin (Houston) also will command their share of attention. They may not have the national appeal of Jones, but their teams should finish higher in the standings this fall.

Expansion Buzz

League expansion has been a hot topic within the media of late, though none of the conversation has been driven by the C-USA office. But you can bet it will likely surface when media members make their rounds with Commissioner Britton Banowsky and league coaches.

Some of the expansion conversation can be traced back to East Carolina athletics director Terry Holland, who is open to exploring a move to 16 in C-USA. The rest of the fodder is mostly the invention of columnists and fans in dire need of a football fix.

Prediction: The message from the C-USA brass tomorrow will render all previous expansion banter as moot.

Pinkney and Slate

Quarterback Patrick Pinkney and defensive end Zach Slate are accompanying East Carolina coach Skip Holtz to the media hoedown. The honor has traditionally been reserved for two media-savvy seniors — one from each side of the ball — who figure to have a significant impact on the upcoming season.

Slate’s name is etched on nearly every All-Conference USA preseason ballot, and his engine makes him a media favorite. Though Pinkney isn’t found on any preseason superlative lists, his presence in Memphis is significant.

He marks the first ECU quarterback to attend the event since David Garrard last manned the huddle.

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07/21/2008 12:52:58 AM

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