Great Day(s) To Be Alive
Cheeseburgers, beaches, and booze in blenders.
All essential elements of many college spring breakers' spring breaks.
And all also essential elements of many Jimmy Buffet songs which used to be blared across the public address system hours before Wildcat home games at Commonwealth Stadium.
It is widely known that former University of Kentucky football coach Hal Mumme was more than a little wrapped up in the music of the big Parrot. Maybe that's because coach Mumme's personality had a little bit o' Buffet in it.
Or maybe for some other reason.
But what that reason is isn't important anymore. Rather, what now becomes important is new football coach Guy Morriss' musical preferences.
Bach? Nah. Too peaceful. Even though he appears mellow, let's not forget Morriss is very much a football coach - and a former all-pro player.
Rodgers and Hammerstein? Nice, but coach Morriss is from Texas, not Oklahoma!
Skynyrd? Seems entirely possible.
Puff Daddy? Probably not.
Travis Tritt? Ah yes, Travis Tritt. Let's say him.
Tritt is a country singer known for his long brown hair, for acting out various characters in his music videos, and for wearing tight blue jeans (but then, what country crooner doesn't?).
So basically, coach Morriss seems to have little in common with TT other than both have hearty blue eyes and down home demeanors.
So why, then, say Travis Tritt?
Well, because Tritt's current hit best describes the attitude coach Morriss and his team have been exuding since Morriss was granted control of the program on Feb. 6. The song's entitled It's a Great Day to Be Alive. Sing along with the chorus, everybody now:
It's a great day to be alive / I know the sun's still shining when I close my eyes / There's some hard times in the neighborhood / But why can't every day be just this good?
And last Saturday (4/14), the day of UK football's second scrimmage of the spring, came straight out of Tritt's tune.
The weather was perfect for any outdoor activity imaginable, save ice fishing and snowman making. All along the north side of the practice field at the Nutter Training Center, fans lined up, clapping and gasping. Scattered about the south side were alumni, administrators, reporters, and staff.
On the field itself, the mouths of the players and coaches chattered like busy mountain brooks.
And the pads were smacking like Rice Krispies.
Sure, the former staff's sins still hang around the necks of many who roam in between the lines and stand beyond them. And sure, hard times are ahead - they always are when your neighborhood's the Southeastern Conference. But for now, there's only song in the air.
For spring has sprung a new kind of growth in the hearts of the Kentucky team: togetherness. And it is a beautiful blossom.
"Before, there were conflicts between positions and between position coaches," said senior outside safety Chris Gayton. "But now everyone's together. The offense is pretty much the same, and the defensive staff has taught essentially the same system for eight years. They're unified."
As a result
"Everybody understands his role," said senior free safety Anthony Wajda.
"Morale is up."
"Practices are more intense. We're excited and having fun. I'd say that 'positive' is the main word," he continued. "We feel like the coaches are on the same page with us, like they're on our team."
Strangely enough, this was not always the case under the former regime, many players are now admitting.
But Morriss fixed that. Immediately.
"As soon as Coach Morriss took over, the whole attitude changed. We were up at five in the morning running all spring," said senior inside linebacker Jamal White. "It was tough."
Actually, it was tough love. As in discipline. As in something the Wildcats seemed to lack for the majority of last season.
Another something Kentucky lacked last year - and more than just seemingly - was great tackling.
Morriss plans to fix that too. And the players are pleased. Anyone would rather have his shoulder bruised by making a tackle in practice than have his confidence bruised by missing one in a game.
"We like hitting - we need to hit," said White, who did plenty of it during the scrimmage. "We have to hit to win. And so this spring we've been doing a lot more hitting.
"A lot more football."
A lot more football now that makes sense. That's the purpose of spring practice, a time for a lot of football so that a lot of coaches can get a lot of chances to see a lot of different players in a lot of different scenarios.
And as a twist this spring, the players are examining the new coaches in much the same manner.
And so far, the players say that they like what they see and hear; all of their questions - and ours - about the new men on the sideline are being answered concretely and constructively.
Except one, maybe.
What kind of music does coach Morriss really like?
For the answer, stay tuned to a stadium near you.
The Wildcats will play their annual Blue-White Spring Game at 4 p.m. on April 21 at Georgetown College.
A Presidential Visit
Of sorts. Late-breaking news tells of the premier of the newest film by Appalshop director Mimi Pickering on the First Lady of "old-time country and bluegrass," Hazel Dickens. Titled It's Hard to Tell the Singer from the Song, the hour-long film tells of Dickens's life in the coal fields of West Virginia, feminism in country ballads, the Union seige, and more. Better still is an opening performance by those lovely ladies of country-folk, the Reel World String Band. Pickering's other Appalshop titles have all been insightful, mature treatises on Appalachian subjects, and there's no reason for this one to be any different. It happens in the auditorium of UK's Young Library, April 23, at 7pm. Call 299-5669 for more information. -RB
Cigarette butts, empty beer cans, and greasy pork rind bags be gone! The Downtown Lexington Corporation is all set to rid our beauteous downtown of such rubbish on the morning of Friday, April 20, beginning at noon. Volunteers have banned together (although more are welcome, and needed) to fight crime, er, litter and clean up the mess that others have made. Downtown businesses can even request that their sidewalk be pressure washed any time that day. As an added bonus, the first one hundred registered volunteers will receive free lunch and a t-shirt (just be sure to throw away your refuse in an acceptable receptacle or you could be arrested on the spot). To volunteer for this noble effort or to have your sidewalk cleaned, call 231-7355. -EC
Invasion by Pod People
What if all of Kentucky reads the same book? Then we'd all have been possessed by some evil alien hive mind, forced to commit unspeakable acts as our civilization went down in fiery ruin, right? Not necessarily. It may just be a plan by KET to see what happens when we do.
The book chosen is Barbara Kingsolver's first novel The Bean Trees, and so far, 5,500 Kentuckians have logged onto www.ket.org/bookclub and pledged to do so. Notables agreeing to this mad scheme are famed Kentucky historian Dr. Thomas Clark, the UK Women's Basketball coach Bernadette Mattox, soap opera sex bomb Laura Bundy, and the Guv himself, Paul Patton.
But if you want to add a little literary spice to your school table conversations, your water cooler breaks, and the time spent with friends and family, sign your precious soul away to the Alien Overlords of KET, and let 'em know you'll be reading too. Go pods! -RB
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