While the NFL playoffs and MLB chaos garnered last week’s headlines, there were other happenings in the sports world that caught my eye over the past week and month.
By Sunny Cadwallader
BAYLOR: And a Mexican-American shall lead them.
As Coach Matt Rhule made his way to Carolina (NFL), Baylor found itself in need of another head coach. A few years removed from a scandal that rocked its football program and athletic department, the Bears returned to their Christian roots to find one.
Dave Aranda, fresh off a national championship as defensive coordinator for the LSU Tigers, returned to his coaching roots in Texas. Aranda wasn’t necessarily Baylor’s first choice – courting Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech) and Billy Napier (Louisiana), but he just might be the best choice for the school.
“I have always wanted to be a part of a program that was smart, tough and dependable,” said Aranda at his introductory press conference. “At Baylor, I can coach being myself. And I can coach from the heart alongside kids who have their hearts wide open”
Rhule helped Baylor through a time of intense scrutiny. The sexual assault scandal and other alleged cover-ups left many questions about this once proud Christian university. Questions of ethics, principles – some even advocated for the NCAA death penalty for Baylor.
Football became bigger than people.
That point is what Rhule seemed to address after taking over for disgraced former coach, Art Briles. Winning helps fade the memory for the average fan, but by many accounts, what Rhule did off the field mattered more. Recruiting the right type of players goes a long way to changing a culture.
Now, continuing that path will be strictly on Aranda. Assembling the right type of coaching staff to help build on what Rhule left behind – a team that played for a Big XII championship this past season – will be key to Aranda’s tenure.
Aranda joins Mario Cristobal (Oregon), Marcus Arroyo (UNLV) and Danny Gonzales (New Mexico) as the only Hispanic head coaches in NCAA football.
No pressure for the kid from Cali.
Aranda is a student of the game and life. He’s been that way since his time growing up in southern California. “We didn’t have a lot of money,” Aranda told Sports Illustrated. “I just remember all the different people that are hanging out at the YMCA during the day. There would be so many different groups of people: the head bangers, the people who would study, the jocks, there would be the Mexican guys who didn’t speak English. I knew all of those people and could talk to them. I was really quiet always but could talk to them all. I cherished that experience.”
He’ll “be himself” at Baylor. Judging by the rave reviews his hiring has received, that’s all that Baylor needs.
CHICHARITO: (Almost) home.
The moment LA Galaxy fans have been waiting for has finally arrived. Chicharito is “home”.
Okay, so home isn’t L.A., but considering Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has been playing in Europe for the past “way too many” years, L.A. is close enough. And his arrival brings a much needed boost to Major League Soccer.
Gone from the league are three of its biggest (former/current European) stars in Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy), Wayne Rooney (DC United) and Bastian Schweinsteiger (Chicago Fire). While Chicharito may not be on the same level as those players on the field, what he brings to the league is an even greater connection to Mexican fans here in the states and in Mexico.
It’s no secret that MLS lags behind Liga MX in terms of tv ratings and, dare I say, popularity, among Latino fans in the states. Time will tell if Chicharito will close the ratings gap, he does help spice things up even more in MLS’ biggest market.
The move also ends Chicharito’s up-and-down time in Europe. He left Liga MX and Chivas Guadalajara in 2010 as a rising star in soccer. Shining at times with Manchester United, Real Madrid and others, he equally had tenures that were forgettable (Sevilla).
Blame it on managers, playing schemes or timing, his time there was still a boon to Mexican soccer. Long seen as not having the skills to match up with the best of the best by media and fans of the world’s best leagues, Hernandez acquitted himself and Mexican soccer by taking advantage of his opportunities – something he excelled at on the pitch.
El Tráfico — the Galaxy’s LA rivalry with Los Angeles FC — moves to another level. It did with Zlatan, but LAFC’s Carlos Vela vs Hernandez will be must see TV for MLS and Mexican fans. As will the MLS All-Stars vs Liga MX All-Stars next summer. With stars like Vela, Gio and Jona dos Santos and now Chicharito potentially on the pitch for the MLS (all current/former El Tri players), long may the Mexican flag wave across the stadium in…hmm…where will it be held?
Los Angeles, of course.
Welcome “home”, Chicharito.
NFL: The end is finally here.
No, I’m not talking about the Super Bowl. I’m talking about the end of “my” Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders ended their time in Oakland – forever – with another season on the outside looking in. Out of the playoffs. Not even Jon Gruden’s return could lead the Raiders back to the promised land. Quite fitting for a team – not the players, mind you – that abandoned the city of my birth long ago.
Thanks to Mark Davis.
In 2017, I wrote, Mark Davis is doing what’s best for Mark Davis. In his best Al Davis-impression, he is uprooting the team from its home, its fans, its core and heading to (greener) $$$$$$$ pastures in Vegas.
The Raiders identity was always Oakland. Even while in Los Angeles, they still had that Oakland edge to them. Tough, hard-nosed, blue collar with a bit of an edge to them. That’s Oakland. Las Vegas is all about lights, glitz, celebrities and excess.
Some may call me salty about the move. I call it melancholic. I’m an old-school sports fan, but with a new school understanding.
I get the reasoning by Mark Davis, but I see it as an end of an era in the NFL. Oakland will never get another an NFL team. Not in my lifetime, at least. Even if they do, they won’t be “my” Raiders.
- Super Bowl LIV – Kansas City Chiefs vs San Francisco 49ers: Oakland Raiders fans don’t like red. (SB Nation)
- Will MLB ratings go up? Maybe just to see the Astros bat, if this story is true (Yahoo)
- Jose Romero: Cheater tag will stick to Astros, Cora
- Later in 2020: Capitanes to join NBA’s G League (NBA.com)
- ICYMI: Flores rejected again by PFHOF. (Somos Sports)
(Dave Aranda photo courtesy of the Baylor Lariat)