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Madden: Will Rhoads make Harris expendable?

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Here's a way to have autumn fun: Clip this column apart into individual refreshing sports notes, take them outside, fling them in the air and watch them change colors before your very eyes!

At the end of this season, Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson will have to choose between Walt Harris and defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads. If Harris stays as head football coach, Rhoads will undoubtedly become a head coach elsewhere. But if Harris is fired, Rhoads will become the Panthers' next head coach. Don't be surprised if Pederson goes with Rhoads no matter how Pitt's season turns out.

If Joe Paterno keeps spouting conspiracy theories about Big Ten referees "not giving our team a chance to win," Penn State might have to find him a blue and white straitjacket. Paterno seems to have a problem with Ohio referees officiating in Ohio, and with Michigan referees officiating in Michigan. What does Paterno want the Big Ten to do, import referees from Kuala Lumpur?

Johnnie Cochran's proposal to reward NFL teams with extra draft picks for giving job interviews to minority coaches -- and to give teams that hire minority coaches even more extra picks -- is absurd. The plan would get minority coaches a ton of interviews and a few token hirings. But I don't think tokenism is anything to shoot for.

If Cochran wants to investigate something, he should find out why New York Yankees' third-base coach Willie Randolph still isn't a major-league manager. Randolph, a black coach, is eminently qualified, as opposed to the white nobodies that got hired in Cleveland and Milwaukee.

The Pirates gave pitcher Bryan Bullington, the first choice overall in this year's draft, a $4 million signing bonus. That's $500,000 less than this year's second pick got, and $1.15 million less than last year's top pick got. That's amazing, and a real feather in the cap of General Manager Dave Littlefield.

I don't know what Coach Art Walker Jr. knows about the Central Catholic football sexual assault case. I don't know when he knew it, either. But I do know that Walker has lost control of his program. I also know that the reputation of Central Catholic football can't possibly be restored as long as he's the coach. Walker has done a fine job at Central. But he has to be terminated.

Two high school football teams in Ohio recently allowed a mentally handicapped player to score a touchdown at the end of a blowout, and it's being hailed in many circles as the feel-good story of the new millennium. Sorry, but making the last bastion of pure athletic competition into a sham does nothing to make me feel good. The mentally challenged should get every opportunity to lead productive lives. But if they want to participate in sports, let them do it at the Special Olympics. Leave high school football alone, and for heaven's sake, don't put the fix in.

Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala is a solid running back. But he's hurt far too often to be of any value to the Steelers. If I ran the Steelers, I'd dump him as soon as the season was over. And if I were Fuamatu-Ma'afala, I'd shoot it up, tape it up and get out there. With Bettis hurt, opportunity is knocking. Amos Zereoue is answering. Fuamatu-Ma'afala is busy having his pectoral muscle examined. Or his ribs taped. Or his hangnail clipped.

When the deficiencies of the Steelers' running game are discussed, everyone says that the offensive line isn't making any mistakes. That seems true enough. But there's a difference between playing well and merely not making any mistakes. The Steelers could get more out of their line.

Whenever you see a fine levied for a helmet-to-helmet hit, it's always a defensive back and usually a safety. To paraphrase Jack Ham, either the dirtiest players in the NFL are coincidentally all defensive backs, or such hits are an unavoidable by-product of playing the position. I would suspect the latter, but, in any event, the NFL needs to analyze the matter, not just fine players willy-nilly.

If you want to know how Mario Lemieux is feeling, don't ask him. Just watch. Not only is Lemieux dominating on a nightly basis, but he's taking draws, which means his back feels fine, and he's performing the strenuous duty of killing two-man disadvantages, which means his stamina is high. All that speaks far louder than 23 points in 10 games. OK, not really. That is one heck of a lot of points.

The grinding line of Wayne Primeau, Dan LaCouture and Ville Nieminen are a Penguins rarity: Role players who not only perform their role but also accept it and seem to like it. Checkers have often fancied themselves skilled players upon their arrival in Pittsburgh. Rene Corbet thought he could dangle like Wayne Gretzky. Primeau, LaCouture and Nieminen are, in their own way, as valuable as any line the Penguins have.

Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick has been grilled for some of his recent moves, and justifiably so. But give him credit for signing free-agent defenseman Dick Tarnstrom. Without Tarnstrom to move the puck up the ice, the Penguins' power play and top line would not be nearly as productive.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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