Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

The time for talking about promise and potential is over. The Sixers’ progress should be measured in wins next season, and anything less than contending for a playoff berth should be deemed unacceptable.

Fletcher Cox (pictured) returns a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown with 1:29 remaining, sealing the Eagles’ 30-17 season-opening victory and ending a 5-game losing streak against the Redskins and a 7-game road losing streak.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on Fletcher Cox and Marcus Smith missing OTAs, why we should be concerned about Tiger Woods, and the awesome writing of the late, great Frank DeFord.

Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

Good men leave huge void

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 25 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

It’s the end of an era in the Big 5. When next season begins, it will be the first time in 35 years that Phil Martelli and Fran Dunphy won’t be part of a Big 5 program. Their absence will leave a void in the Big 5 and the Philadelphia sports scene.

Dunphy finished his 13-year tenure as Temple’s head coach on Tuesday with an 81-70 loss to Belmont in a “first four” game of the NCAA Tournament. Earlier that day, Saint Joseph’s announced a “leadership change” in its men’s basketball program. Basically, it meant that Martelli, who spent 24 years as head coach on Hawk Hill after 10 years as an assistant coach, was fired.

Dunphy wasn’t fired, but he was certainly given a nudge out the door. Nearly one year ago, Temple announced that Dunphy would coach one final season before stepping aside so that assistant coach Aaron McKie, a former Temple star and 76ers starter, could take over.

Universities have the right to hire and fire coaches. The Owls were 16-16 and 17-16 in the two seasons before the announcement was made that Dunphy would coach one more season. The Hawks haven’t had a winning season the past three years, going 11-20, 16-16 and 14-19.

Dunphy and Martelli know that college basketball is a business. Losing records and empty seats make the coach’s seat extremely hot.

If you doubt that college basketball is a business, look at all the revenue raked in by the NCAA Tournament. Or, you could look at the three-paragraph statement Saint Joseph’s released when it dismissed Martelli. Basketball is described as “an important strategic asset for Saint Joseph’s.” And, no, that wasn’t written by Sixers owner Joshua Harris or former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie – at least not as far as I know.

But college basketball isn’t simply about business from a dollar and cents perspective. College basketball, at its best, is the business of molding young men.

Martelli and Dunphy both cared about their players as people. Their players weren’t disposable parts, to be discarded when their basketball careers were done. Martelli and Dunphy both saw value in their players beyond on-court statistics.

There are other similarities between Martelli and Dunphy. Both have well-deserved images as good men. They are active leaders, both locally and nationally, in raising money for Coaches vs. Cancer. Dunphy has always been a class act during his 13 years at Temple and 17 seasons as Penn’s head coach. Martelli, with his quick wit, is a media favorite.

Both, however, have another side to them. Contrary to his fatherly public image, Dunphy was a tough coach. In an excellent article by philly.com’s Mike Jensen, former Penn player Brian Grandieri recalls a practice during Selection Sunday. According to Grandieri, Dunphy pointed toward the cameras and said, “See all those (expletives). They think I’m a good guy. I’m a (expletive) bad guy. I don’t care about those guys. I care about you guys, and giving your best.”

Similarly, Martelli wasn’t always a smiling bundle of joy. At one news conference during the Hawks’ undefeated 2003-04 regular season, Martelli responded to an opinionated “inside basketball” question that annoyed him with an intentionally nonsensical answer – delivered with a straight face and even tone – while the reporter nodded his head and furiously scribbled down the answer.

One year later, while standing in the gym a few moments after interviewing Martelli in his office a day or two prior to the Atlantic 10 Tournament, I heard Martelli express his wrath upon learning that there was a conflict between the time the media was told to arrive and the time he wanted to begin practice.

None of the behind-the-scenes revelations, however, changes the fact that Dunphy and Martelli are terrific college basketball coaches. Although both are certainly proficient at X’s and O’s, that’s not what college coaching is all about. At least that’s not all it should be about. College coaching should be about developing young men, both as players and as people.

And there are few, if any, who do that better than Phil Martelli and Fran Dunphy.

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 18 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

The Eagles’ offseason is far from over. We must keep that in mind when evaluating Howie Roseman’s moves. But the early moves leave plenty of question marks.

The most notable issue is at running back. Mark Ingram and Tevin Coleman switched teams at a reasonable price. Let’s give Roseman time, though. I doubt the Eagles are going to enter the 2019 season with the same running backs they had last season.

Instead of looking at what hasn’t been done – because there’s still time to bring in more players – let’s examining what has been done.

The big splash was trading for DeSean Jackson. The Eagles gave up a sixth-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft for Jackson and a seventh-round pick next year. That makes it clear that the Buccaneers were eager to cut ties with Jackson. That doesn’t mean, however, that Jackson won’t give the Eagles a boost. Jackson is happy to be back with the Eagles. A motivated Jackson with the speed to stretch a defense should definitely help the offense.

The Eagles signed free-agent defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2017 with the Jaguars, to a three-year, $30 million contract. Jackson replaces Tim Jernigan, who was hurt for most of last season, and Haloti Ngata, who retired. Malik Jackson should benefit from playing alongside Fletcher Cox and should give the Eagles more than they got from Jernigan and Ngata last season.

On the other hand, the decision to re-sign Brandon Graham to a three-year, $40 million contract while trading Michael Bennett to the Patriots is a bit curious. Bennett, 33, was the Eagles’ best defensive end last season. He wanted more money, and an unhappy Bennett could be a distraction. But wouldn’t the Eagles have been better off signing Bennett for $10 million per year for two years and letting Graham walk away?

My biggest concern with the Eagles’ offseason, though, is the offensive line. The Eagles re-signed Jason Peters to a one-year contract. I have no problem with bring Peters back, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking he’s going to make it through a full season. The problem is that Halapoulivaati Vaitai is still the primary backup at left tackle. Having Vaitai protect Carson Wentz’s blind side for any length of time is taking a major risk.

With left guard Brandon Brooks coming off a torn Achilles tendon, suffered during the playoff loss to the Saints, the left side of the offensive line is fragile. The Eagles let veteran Stefen Wisniewski leave, so there’s uncertainty over who could fill in for Brooks or center Jason Kelce, who signed a one-year extension, keeping him under contract through 2021.

The Eagles also signed guard Isaac Seumalo to a three-year extension, keeping him under contract through 2022. Obviously, the Eagles have been impressed with Seumalo. They must also be impressed with some of their younger backups. Otherwise, how could they enter next season with a 31-year-old center, a 30-year old left guard coming off a major injury and a 37-year-old left tackle who has often had difficulty making it through a game the past two years?

The Eagles have filled in some gaps in the secondary and at linebacker. Ronald Darby is returning as the top cornerback, but will his speed still be there, especially his lateral speed, after tearing his ACL? Signing veteran safety Andrew Sendejo is a good move, but it seems as if Roseman still has work to do in order to make this a successful offseason.


COUNTDOWN IS ON: As I write this edition of Fish ‘n Chips, there are only 10 days remaining until Opening Day. It would be nice if a Phillies starting pitcher could make it through an outing during the rest of spring training without allowing two or more runs.


HARPER’S STRUGGLES: For Bryce Harper’s sake, I hope he gets a hit in spring training. It would be awful for him to arrive in Citizens Bank Park on Opening Day without a spring training hit to his credit. After being hit by a pitch in the right ankle last week, there doesn’t appear to be enough time to get Harper the 40 at-bats he said would be necessary to be in top form by Opening Day.


TOURNAMENT TIME: I’m not bullish on the chances of either Temple or Villanova in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Owls face a major threat in Belmont in the “first four” game on Tuesday (9:10 p.m.). The defending-champion Wildcats need to get past 11th-ranked St. Mary’s and, most likely, third-seeded Purdue in order to make it past the first weekend. The top seeds are Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Gonzaga, the only non-ACC top seed.


POOL PICKS: Sorry, it’s only Monday. I haven’t filled out my bracket yet. But don’t forget to fill out your bracket for PhillyPhanatics.com’s Bracket Madness.


NO INVITATION: There aren’t any local teams in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. Penn (23-6), which lost to Princeton in the Ivy League championship game, had hoped for an at-large berth, but the invitation wasn’t forthcoming. The top seeds in the women’s tournament are defending-champion Notre Dame, Mississippi State, Baylor and Louisville. Perennial power Connecticut is a No. 2 seed, the first time the Huskies haven’t been a No. 1 seed since 2006.


DYNASTY: Penn State, which finished the regular season undefeated (14-0) and won the Big Ten Championship, brings nine qualifiers to this week’s NCAA Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh. The top-ranked Nittany Lions, who have three top seeds and three No. 2 seeds in the tournament, have won seven of the past eight NCAA Championships.

Penn State’s three top seeds are Jason Nolf, Mark Hall and Bo Nickal. Nolf (26-0), wrestling at 157 pounds, is seeking his third straight individual NCAA title. Hall (26-0), the 2017 national champion in 2017, is seeking to regain his crown. Nickal (25-0), a two-time NCAA champion at 184 pounds, is attempting to win a national title at 197 pounds.


THE FINAL WORD: Congratulations to the Swarthmore men’s basketball team, which reached the final of the NCAA Division III Tournament. Wisconsin-Oshkosh defeated Swarthmore in the title game, 96-82.


TOUGH START: Optimism for the Union has been dampened by an 0-2-1 start. To be fair, the Union has had a rough schedule thus far, facing Toronto, Kansas City and defending-champion Atlanta.

Eric Fisher, who has been writing about sports for more than 30 years, is working on his NCAA Tournament bracket.

Harper hits 1st home run as Phillie