Wake: A Program in Exile

By the time I retired from writing for daily newspapers in August of 2017, I had long since concluded that no story should ever be written about any coach in any sport at any time in the history of that sport without at least a fleeting reference the Grand Disclaimer of All-Time.

Which is:

A coach who wins often enough can do no wrong.

A coach who loses often enough can do no right.

If Wake was 75-58– and more to the point, 52-20 in ACC play – over Danny Manning’s four-plus seasons as head coach, it would matter little that Manning was hired after a run of six good weeks during his second season at Tulsa.

It would matter little that because of his guarded, some might say aloof nature, he has forged little to no connection with the media or fanbase.

It would matter little that he has yet to answer (that I’ve heard) any question asked him with any specificity or detail.

It would matter little that Manning at least appears to lack the fire in the belly of a Chris Mack or a Buzz Williams or a Jeff Capel or a Roy Williams or a Mike Kzyzewski or a Kevin Keatts or, for that matter, most any of his of his fellow coaching brethren.

And I don’t even think it would matter all that much that five players with eligibility remaining voted with their feet, by departing the program in search of greener pastures since last season.

But the cold hard facts of life for that ever-dwindling core of Wake fans who have yet to give up on the program are that Manning is not 74-56 and 20-52 in ACC play over his four-plus seasons as Wake’s head coach.

Manning, instead is, 58-75 and 20-52.

And because he loses and loses often, all the above questions and criticisms do matter, and they matter greatly.

And what matters even more is that in Manning’s fifth season as head coach his team is losing at home to one of the worst teams in all of college basketball, Houston Baptist. What matters even more is that in Manning’s fifth season as head coach, his team is extended into the final minute to beat another of the worst teams in college basketball, Western Carolina.

Again, at home.

What matters even more is that during a three-day period when the rest of the ACC is either coming off, playing or getting ready to play games in the vaunted ACC/Big Ten Challenge on packages televised across the globe, Wake is playing at home against Western Carolina in front of 3,500 gluttons for punishment.

As my man Evan Lepler mentioned during the play-by-play streaming on ACCN Extra, Wake was in exile from the ACC last night. Pitt, the only team picked to finish below Wake this season, was making a damn good showing in a 69-68 loss at 14th-ranked Iowa. N.C. State gave Wisconsin all it wanted at one of the toughest places to win in all of college basketball, the notorious Kohl Center. And Louisville was giving ACC foes a glimpse of what to expect under Mack by knocking off No. 9 Michigan State.

All while, once again, Wake is barely beating Western Carolina at home in front of 3,500 gluttons for punishment.

Has there ever been a time when Wake’s ties to the ACC – at least in the flagship sport of basketball – felt more tenuous?

Looking for some explanation, some reasonable alibi or justification for what I had just watched on ACCN streaming, I checked out Manning’s post-game address on Les Johns’ Demon Deacon Digest. Since retirement I’ve gotten really good at wasting time.

Asked if he was surprised to to find himself in a game late after leading 21-3 early, Manning’s answer was “that’s college basketball.’’

Well that’s not college basketball as played at SMU, which beat Western Carolina by 33. That’s not college basketball as played by Jacksonville State, which beat Western Carolina by 31. That’s not college basketball as played at Arizona, which beat Houston Baptist by 30. That’s not college basketball as played at Wisconsin, which beat Houston Baptist by 37.

But it is college basketball as played at Wake in Danny Manning’s fifth season as head coach.

The one rationalization Manning was quick to mention was the inexperience of his fifth team at Wake Forest.

“We’re a young team,’’ he said. And then he repeated it.

What he didn’t mention is that Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore and Keyshawn Woods had, among them, played a combined 247 games at Wake, and all had eligibility remaining. All were bragged on time and again by Manning during their career at Wake, and yet all chose to play this season elsewhere – Crawford in Israel, Moore in the G-Leage and Woods as a highly effective grad transfer at Ohio State.

Yes Wake is young, again. And there’s a reason Wake is young, again.

But is there any reason Danny Manning is still head basketball coach at Wake Forest?

If so, I’d love to hear it.

Worst Loss Ever?

In the fifth game of Danny Manning’s fifth season as Wake’s head basketball coach, the Deacons committed 22 turnovers while forcing 10, yielded 16 offensive rebounds, didn’t make a field goal in the final 8:58 of regulation, blew a 14-point lead in the final eight minutes of regulation and lost at home to Houston Baptist in overtime, 93-91.

Yes, that Houston Baptist, the one picked to finish 10th in the vaunted 13-team Southland Conference – ahead of such juggernauts as Nicholls, Northwestern State and Incarnate Word.

Yes, that Houston Baptist, the one that was 1-2, having lost to Arizona by 30 and to Wisconsin by 37.

Yes, that Houston Baptist, the program coming off a 6-25 season in which it won all of two games in the vaunted Southland Conference.

Yes, that Houston Baptist, the program ranked 296 by KenPom – precisely 174 spots below the lowest-ranked ACC team, Pittsburgh.

Yes, that Houston Baptist, the team that scored on 27 of the final 44 times it crossed half-court today in possession of the basketball. The one that spent the first half sizing up the Deacons, and the rest of the game taking the fight to them. The one that gave five players hailing from the state of North Carolina the homecoming of their lifetime.

The Houston Baptist that shouldn’t even be on the same court as an ACC team, much less beating one.

There are bad losses in basketball, and there are worse losses in basketball. Given when it came – in the fifth season under a coach that has already lost to Delaware State, Georgia Southern and Liberty – this one has to be at least in the conversation for worst loss in Wake basketball history.

Yeah, I remember Stetson, the team that knocked off Wake in the same season its coached got fired for losing too many games. But that loss came in Jeff Bzdelik’s first game as head coach at Wake.

Today’s loss came in Manning’s 131st game in charge of the Deacons’ basketball fortunes. And of those 131 games, the Deacons have won 57. In Manning’s 131st game in charge of the Deacons’ basketball fortunes, he calls timeout for the climatic play and the Deacons end up with a long, contested 3-pointer from Brandon Childress that clanked hard off the rim.

“We just wanted to spread the floor,” Manning explained. “We didn’t know the defense, what they were going to come out in. And for us, it’s just ball movement and be able to attack.

“And we were a little stagnant. And we didn’t move the ball and we didn’t get a paint touch. They wanted us to shoot long jump shots and we settled for it too many times.”

I can recall when Wake was good in basketball, which means only that I’m old.

And I’m beginning to wonder if I’m too old to ever again see a day when Wake is again a respected member of the ACC.

Hiring decisions, like elections, have consequences.

When Athletics Director Ron Wellman decided that Dino Gaudio was not the face he wanted of the Wake basketball program, he hired Bzdelik.

And when Bzdelik’s 51-76 record proved untenable, the same man, Wellman, hired Danny Manning fresh off his only two seasons as a head basketball coach at Tulsa.

Whit Babcock, the director of Virginia Tech, found himself in a similar predicament as Wellman going into the 2014-15 season, having watched his basketball program lose 41 of 63 games under coach James Johnson.

So Babcock’s solution was to hire Buzz Williams, and in the four-plus seasons since the Hokies have won 78 and lost 60, played in post-season three-straight seasons and in the NCAA Tournament two-straight seasons, are coming off a 21-12 campaign and are currently ranked No. 13 at 4-0 going into tomorrow’s game against St. Francis.

I defy anyone to name any historical advantage Virginia Tech has over Wake in basketball, but look at the gap between the two programs.

Babcock cared enough about the brand of basketball played by his school to fire a coach after two seasons when it became evident that coach was not the right man for the job.

If losing to Houston Baptist at home in the fifth game of your fifth season doesn’t prove you’re not the right man for the job, then I have to wonder what would. And I also have to wonder if Wake did at long last make a move, would the decision be left to the same man who hired Jeff Bzdelik and Danny Manning?

What’s that definition of insanity again?

Black and Gold Path of Least Resistance

For all the comings and goings during Danny Manning’s four-plus seasons at Wake – and lately those going have been doing so at an alarming rate – one constant remains.

The Deacons can’t defend, or at least they can’t do so well enough collectively to be more than fodder to those good teams lucky enough to play them. Such was the case in Year One of Manning’s run at Wake, and such is the case at the start of Year Five.

Manning’s counterpart, Phil Martelli of St. Joe’s, had plenty of reason to feel good going into the Myrtle Beach Invitational. His daughter gave birth to Martelli’s grandson and his Hawks were afforded the Path of Least Resistance into the semifinals of the tournament.

A Path of Least Resistance is what Wake has been since the day Manning arrived, and that’s what the Deacons were again today in a demoralizing 89-69 thumping. Whether it’s advancing in a tournament or climbing one more step toward the top of the ACC standings, few teams provide less resistance than a Wake team coached by Danny Manning.

This one was more demoralizing than so many that came before because of all the optimism around the program going into the season.

You know #newbeginnings, and all that.

The Deacons did, after all, add highly-regarded freshmen Jaylen Hoard, Isaiah Mucius and Sharone Wright, Jr., and Manning and his staff were coming off a full season of coaching up promising sophomores Chaundee Brown and Olivier Sarr.

Yet over the first 10 minutes of the second half – while the Hawks were scoring on 14 of 20 possessions to blow a tie game wide open – the brand of basketball being played by the Deacons looked for all the world like the same old same old we’ve all been watching for the past four years.

We saw it all once again, hot shooters shooting wide-open shots, drivers driving straight-line to the basket for layups, cutters cutting off ball screens to find nobody between them and the basket.

Over my seasons since retirement, I watch Wake basketball with a pad in my hand, and tally how many possessions opponents get and how many times the Deacons stop them from scoring. Even with counting the three St. Joe’s possessions after both coaches emptied their bench – the Hawks scored on 38 of their 68 possessions.

They scored on 19 of 35 in the first half, and 19 of 33 in the second. But they made their greatest hay midway through the second half by scoring on seven straight possessions.

Not until the damage had already been done, and St. Joe’s was looking forward to its next game in the tournament, did Wake stop the Hawks twice in a row in the second half. And not until the coaches emptied the bench did the Deacons stop St. Joe’s more than twice in a row.

The season-opening 90-78 victory over North Carolina A&T was fun, in that we got to see Hoard and Mucius finally put their considerable athletic talents on display in a college setting, and had reason to wonder just how good Wright, Brown and Sarr might be. But alarm bells had to go off when the Aggies shot 46 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point range, while being forced into just eight turnovers.

Then comes today, when the Hawks shoot 52 percent from the floor and 53 percent from beyond the arc and score 89 points while committing just eight turnovers.

Hoard and Mucius are good offensive players, and they’re going to fill a high-light reel for the season. Brown looked good in the first half, before pulling his all-to-familiar disappearing act in the second.

But can the Deacons beat anybody good when their starting center, Sarr, plays 22 minutes and gets only one shot – a 3-pointer he drilled from the top of the key?

Throughout my career, I resisted making snap judgments, and I continue to do so today. It’s a long season, and all that. Nothing is static in life. Everything is dynamic, in a state of flux.

Maybe today was a case of early-season jitters, and maybe the Deacons will come out and romp through the next two games of the tournament. I’d like to think that’s the case, and might even succeed if what we saw today didn’t look so much like what we’ve all seen so many times before.

Commission the Statue

We had us another hot time in the old town of Bethania last night at our Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe.

As always, it was all kinds of people playing all kinds of music all kinds of ways having all kinds of fun doing so.

But as good a night as I had, I know one guy who had a better night. A much better night.

In fact it’s hard for me to remember a Wake football coach having a better night – at least not in the regular season — than Dave Clawson enjoyed last night about 100 miles east of Bethania at N.C. State.

Everybody knew going in that Wake never wins at N.C. State. Everybody knew Wake was too depleted on defense to hold the 14th-ranked Wolfpack to fewer than 50 points. Everybody knew there was no way Wake was going to walk into Carter-Finley Stadium with a quarterback who had never started a game and get out with anything less than a old-fashion tail-whipping.

Betting was never my thing during my years as a sportswriter, partly because I’m too tight to part with my money but mostly because I didn’t think that professionally it would be a good idea.

But if I had bet on last night’s game I would have lost bigly. I mean really hugely. Because, like pretty much everybody who wasn’t on the team bus from Winston-Salem to Raleigh, I thought there was no way Wake would win.

Dave Clawson proved me wrong. Dave Clawson proved everybody wrong, and as a result the Deacons got back on that team bus and celebrated their most improbable 27-23 victory all the way back down I-40 to campus.

Dave Clawson proved me wrong in more ways than one. I thought it was wrong to fire Jay Sawvel, the defensive coordinator, three games into the season. My position, I thought, was confirmed when the Deacons continued to get shredded long after Sawvel was gone.

But to take a defense that had given up 177 points in its previous four games and coach it up to the point it could hold N.C. State to two touchdowns and three field goals was one of the inspired coaching performances I can remember. Making it all the more astounding was the fact Clawson had only five days to do it.

(And by the way, who was it that broke up Ryan Finley’s fourth-down pass late, a play that gave the Deacons a chance to win? It was none other than the much-maligned – by me and pretty much everybody – Ja’Sir Taylor. What a night.)

Dave Clawson proved me wrong for positing that he and his staff had squandered the four years that John Wolford started at quarterback without recruiting a quarterback good enough to either beat out or back up freshman Sam Hartman. I’ve said before that Jamie Newman, at 6-4, 230, certainly looks the part of an ACC quarterback, but last night he also played like one when it mattered most, directing the two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that pulled out the victory.

Now I could grumble about how seldom any of us are told about the injuries on the Wake team, and how none of us knew the litany of injuries that had kept Jamie Newman sidelined. I could even suggest – admittedly without a shred of evidence to back it up – that maybe Clawson was starting the wrong guy all along, or, short of that, too slow to insert Newman for Hartman when the going got rough.

I could also point out that Clawson came around to the realization that I, like many others, had arrived at weeks earlier – that to protect his worn and tattered defense he needed to run fewer plays on offense. He freely acknowledged that the strategy last night was to downshift on offense.

But to cast any aspersions on the kind of victory Wake enjoyed last night at N.C. State would be small of me, and I don’t want to be like that. Dave Clawson pulled off one of the most amazing victories in the history of Wake football, and he deserves every bit of credit we can shower him with.

I admittedly get a big kick out of reading message-board chatter both for smiles and to gauge the mood and shifts of a fan base. As one would certainly expect, the Wolfpack fans howling on PackPride.com late into the night were all about firing everybody from Dave Doeren right down the ball boys.

But even when Wake was losing to BC, Florida State and Syracuse and giving up 63 points to Clemson, I was writing that Dave Clawson is a good football coach, and that Wake was lucky to have him. I was writing that he was a good football coach having a bad season.

Well Dave Clawson’s season got a whole lot better last night in Raleigh. The Deacons found another option at quarterback, beat a heated rival at a place where Wake never wins, all the while improving to 5-5 with games against Pitt (home) and Duke (away) left to play.

A couple of weeks ago, after the victory over Louisville, I wrote that if Dave Clawson can get a team to a bowl in this, of all, seasons, Wake should erect a statue to him and that he would be worth more to the school than said school could ever hope to pay him.

I knew all along he was a good football coach. But I never thought he was as good as what we saw last night.

Dave Clawson proved me wrong. And it didn’t hurt my feelings one bit.

Blaze

Since the late 1970s, I’ve rarely listened to commercial radio. By the time the Saturday Night Fever disco craze had scrubbed the Top 40 clean of all its heart and soul – and it all became about your clothes, and what you have to put up your nose – I couldn’t find anything on the radio I found worth listening to.

But I’ve been lucky in life, in so many ways. And I’ve always had more than my share of musical benefactors, people who made sure they saw to my growth and development as a lifelong music lover and aspiring musician.

Looking back, so many of my benefactors weren’t actually musicians. My most important benefactor of all, my mother Frances Cooper Collins, was not a musician. But she was what I like to call a carrier. She was so totally infected by the love of good music (i.e., Hank Williams, Ray Charles, Charley Pride, Jerry Lee Lewis, Flatt and Scruggs, Mahalia Jackson) that she was highly contagious.

I’m sure you know folks like that.

You might even be a carrier yourself.

Two carriers who helped me through the lean times of the late 70s and 80s were Bruce Winkworth and Don Henchel. Both worked at the North Hills Record Bar in Raleigh, and both had well-tuned ears. A package would show up in the mail and it would contain a half-dozen or so burned cassettes of some bands or singer/songwriters that they were convinced I just had to hear.

And invariably, they were right.

Eventually the cassettes became CDs, but thankfully, they kept coming. Without benefactors like Bruce and Don (and later another buddy named Billy Armour) it would have taken me way too long to get hip to the really good music that’s out there if you know where to look – music that informed my own songwriting the deeper I got into it.

One day a CD from Bruce showed up titled Blaze Foley, Live at the Austin Outhouse. He cautioned me that it was a little ragged and unpolished, but he felt sure I’d like it.

And he felt right.

So I thought of Bruce yesterday when my compadre Lenox Rawlings and I made our way down to Aperture Cinema on Fourth Street in Winston to see the biopick about Blaze Foley titled, appropriately enough, Blaze It’s a movie getting some buzz, directed by Ethan Hawke and featuring cameos from such luminaries as Kris Kristofferson, Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri), Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do) and Hawke himself.

The title role was played by Ben Dickey, who I was unfamiliar with. And playing Townes Van Zandt was Charlie Sexton, known more for his musical and producing abilities than his acting chops.

I’m here to say I really like the movie. It’s not the kind of film my bride Tybee is apt to enjoy, because Tybee is one of those folks who gravitates more toward light upbeat movies that make her laugh. She’s a teacher who works hard, and when she sits down in front of a TV or movie screen she’s looking for escape and chuckles, not life’s lessons and tears.

There were some really funny scenes in Blaze, particularly when Blaze and Townes start telling the kind of stupid cornball jokes only a drunk cowboy singer could ever come up with. And some of the movie was happy and upbeat, especially when Blaze was living sans electricity or running water in a tree house with his true love Sybil (Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development).

But I knew enough of Blaze Foley’s life story to know it would not end well. And of course, it didn’t.

The movie is mostly about that harsh, cruel and unforgiving hinterland on the edges of society – filled with addiction, rage, heartbreak and deep, deep sorrow – that the true artists among us go to find the kind of truth and level of consciousness essential to any art worth producing.

Blaze and Townes are incorrigible drunks. They snort cocaine and they screw over their friends. They’re totally unreliable and not good for anything other than raising hell and making music the way they themselves feel it has to be made.

Commercial? No way.

Authentic? All day and all night long.

Honest? As honest as it gets.

I was lucky enough to see Townes Van Zandt at the legendary Cats Cradle on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill circa 1978. I was drinking. Townes was drunk. But he was lucid enough to blow me away.

And I knew his story pretty well from having watched the documentary on his life, Be Here to Love Me a number of times. As he recounts in Blaze, Townes lived his life knowing that if one wanted to write songs and really do it the way it should be done, they had to be willing to blow off everything else – money, security, health, love and any semblance of a normal nourishing relationship.

That’s what the two of them spend most of the movie doing, blowing off everything but their music, everything but their art.

As grim as it sounds, the movie does have a heart. Blaze has a heart hidden deep in all that gruff, hairy, sodden, hidebound exterior. It certainly comes out in his music, most notably in the song If I Could Only Fly, famously covered by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.

And Lucinda Williams clearly saw into Blaze’s heart when she paid homage to him with the song Drunken Angel.

Blaze, by all accounts, could be a mean drunk. My sense is that Hawke and those he worked with softened Blaze’s persona some to give Ben Dickey (and the viewer) a break.

But I’m not a movie critic and never professed to be. I will say, however, that watching Blaze in a cozy, hip downtown cinema was a wonderful way for two retired sportswriters to spend an Autumn afternoon.

Will Clawson Adjust, Bye and Bye?

Dave Clawson is a football coach, and as such shouldn’t be expected to know the proper usage of the English language as well as, say, a retired sportswriter blogging his way down from 40 years in the business

And this particular retired sportswriter blogging his way down from 40 years in the business wouldn’t know the English language as well as I should without the direction of Terry Oberle, the best editor any sportswriter could ever hope to have.

Terry was the one who drilled incessantly into his staff how a team with a bye is one that advances in a tournament without having to play.

So Wake has no bye after Saturday’s 63-3 undressing by Clemson in front of a sea of orange at BB&T Field. The Deacons, thankfully for the sake of everyone save perhaps a prospective opponent, are simply off this coming Saturday.

Terry also warned against the use of decimated as a synonym of annihilated or destroyed. The word, as the first syllable suggests, comes from the understanding that any Roman legion guilty of cowardice or dishonor in battle would have one  of every 10 legionnaires yanked from the ranks and killed.

Unless precisely one of every 10 Wake players has been knocked out of action because of injury, the Deacons have not been decimated. They have been ravaged. They have been devastated. And they have been gutted.

They have not, technically speaking, been decimated.

But again, as a football coach, Dave Clawson can certainly be forgiven for the kind of linguistic mistakes that pretty much 98.3 percent of all those conversant in the English language make constantly. And for me to even point out his misuse could be seen as petty.

OK, those who feel that are right. It’s petty, and I own it.

Yet that still leaves me with the question of how willing are those who still care about Wake football to forgive Clawson for the much more consequential mistakes he has made with this, his fifth team in Winston-Salem.

The mistake that is becoming more and more apparent with every passing pasting was implementing a warp-speed, RPO offense without a defense capable of shouldering its share of the load. Making matters worse, he did so with a freshman quarterback not ready for prime-time Power Five football.

In losses to BC, Notre Dame and Clemson, Sam Hartman has completed 39 of 89 passes (44 percent) for 133 yards per game while throwing more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2).

The Deacons, through six games, have run 511 plays, 30 more than any other ACC team. Their pace, along with the inability to sustain drives, has required the Wake defense to defend 451 plays. Among ACC teams, only BC (475 defensive plays) and FSU (455 defensive plays) have asked as much from their defenses.

The work load has also contributed heavily to the ever-lengthening disabled list, which going into the off week, appears longer on defense than the list of those available to play. And like me, you’ve probably noticed Clawson mentioning the epidemic of injuries more and more often as the losses pile up.

Spending four decades covering sports can make a man rather hard-bitten. Again I admit it. I own it. But every time I hear a football coach bellyache about injuries, I recall a conversation with my fast friend Ron Morris, who spent part of his career as sports editor of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Ron would have an opening on staff, and fly a candidate in for interviews. The first words the prospect would mention upon deplaning was how hot it was in Tallahassee.

To which Ron would reply, “Well, it’s July in Florida. So yeah, you’re right. It’s hot.’’

And that’s pretty much my answer to any football coach who complains about injuries. Well, football is a collision sport. So yeah, you’re right. Players get hurt.’’

Good teams overcome injuries through recruiting and development. Bad teams don’t.

Throughout fall camp and the first games, I kept wondering if Wake had enough players on defense who were, in the words of Clawson, playable. And that’s another reason to question his decision to run a warp-speed offense.

It’s hard to recall a team in more need of an off-week, which, coming from a sportswriter who rode the Wake beat for 25 years, is really saying something. And I go into the off-week curious as can be about what adjustments Clawson and his staff will make before returning to the field at Florida State on Oct. 20.

Clawson entered the season pretty much compelled to play Hartman. One quarterback candidate, Kendall Hinton, was suspended for the first three games for the ubiquitous “violation of team rules” and another, Jamie Newman, was hurt.

But now that he has two weeks to retool his offense, Clawson has some options. He can certainly insert the more experienced Hinton, and see what his speed and elusiveness might do to jump-start a stalled-out attack. And obviously he can down-shift on offense, and run fewer plays to give his defense a chance to catch its breath between three-and-outs.

Clawson is a good football coach. Other than the ill-fated season spent as offensive coordinator at Tennessee, he has proven it everywhere he has been – just as he proved it his first four seasons at Wake.

But good coaches have bad seasons, and thus far Clawson has had a bad season. He has already pulled one lever by dispatching his defensive coordinator, Jay Sawvel, four games into the season. What other moves will he be willing to make, and will they make a difference?

To those questions, your guess is as good as mine. But I do feel comfortable making one prediction.

The identity of the starting quarterback for Wake will be as closely-guarded a secret as the nuclear code. If a coach is unwilling to reveal an injury to a back-up quarterback (Newman) going into a home game against an opponent as inept as Rice, he’s certainly not going to tip his hand as to who starts at FSU.

Where Did Cubs’ Mojo Go?

A word I use with increasing regularity these days is DONE.

That’s done, as in the last year or two I was working as a sportswriter, I was DONE. I endeavored to put in an honest day’s work, and I feel my experience and network of contacts and friends allowed me to, more often than not, do so. But long before I retired a year ago August, I was DONE.

That’s done, as in, my bride Tybee has been teaching elementary school pretty much all her adult life, she’s seen and dealt with it all, and now she’s DONE. She still loves the kids, she knows she spent her career doing what she should be doing, and she’s still a teacher any student or parent should be thankful to have. But each day it gets a little harder to haul her cart of books and papers and notebooks up the steps of our house at the end of another interminable day.

Trust me on this one. She’s DONE.

That’s done, as in even if my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs had somehow clawed past the Colorado Rockies in last night’s Wild Card game, as far as the 2018 season goes, they were long since DONE.

Slugger Kris Bryant, battling a bum shoulder that may well need off-season surgery, was clearly not the same Kris Bryant opposing pitchers had come to know and fear.

Shortstop Addison Russell was put on ice for an undetermined length of time while the accusations of domestic abuse hopefully get sorted out one way or another.

Closer Brandon Morrow, nursing a bone bruise in his pitching arm, had long since been shut down for the season.

Catcher Willson Contreras, such a beast in the first half of the season, had transformed before our very eyes into a patsy at the plate who never could frame pitches well enough to for his pitchers to get an honest strike.

The bats had gone so limp, in fact, that the Cubs managed all of two runs over the final 22 innings of the season. Even manager Joe Maddon was under the weather in the final game, watching his once mighty team stagger through 13 innings to the 2-1 collapse he had to see coming.

Again, even if they had somehow pulled it out, the Cubs appeared to be no threat to the Brewers or anyone else they might match up with along the way. The Cubs were clearly DONE.

We who pulled for the Cubs hoped like hell they would somehow pull a Muddy Waters (he of Windy City fame) and finally at long last Get Their Mojo Working. But the record will show that the Cubs Mojo had long since packed and gone, leaving the Cubs, indubitably DONE.

And that’s OK. It had better be, because that’s the story of life.

The fan who expects their team to win it all all the time is destined for heartbreak and sorrow. The best we can hope for really is that our team plays well enough to give us something to follow until the end. Not every season is going to be 2016. It took the Cubs 108 years to reign again over the baseball world, and I’m thankful I lived long enough to see it.

Besides, there’s always next season. Hope spring eternal, and all that.

One great hope I had from watching the game on ESPN2’s Statcast (which I really got off on) is that Major League Baseball will, sooner rather than later, turn to the electronic strike zone. And I’m not saying this as sour grapes. My own take was that the Cubs got at least as many calls go their way as the Rockies, and besides, as I stated at length earlier, the Cubs were already a dead team walking.

Home plate umpire Chris Guccione, the stat freaks on ESPN keep noting, is said to be a “Hitter’s Ump,’’ in that he calls fewer strikes than most his eagle-eyed brethren. To hear that really, really disturbs me.

The strike zone is the strike zone. It’s to be called, not interpreted.

And it pains me to see a pitcher make the perfect pitch – especially in a “High-Leverage Situation” – and it be called a ball. It pains me equally to see the batter take the cutter two inches off the plate, and be rung up for the final out.

The three-dimension strike zone they kept showing on ESPN was, to me at least, further evidence that the technology exists for lasers and cameras and monitors to do what the human eye simply cannot always do. As I’ve written before, a pitch from a Major League pitcher darts, slides, cuts and veers toward the plate at 95 miles an hour, and the umpire is expected to determine whether it dissected at any point on its path the strike zone.

This is no knock on Guccione, who, surprisingly, turned into a pitcher’s umpire on this particular occasion. He’s only a human being asked to do what humanly cannot be done.

In time, baseball will turn to the electronic strike zone. It’s inevitable. I just wish the powers that be would go along and make the move, for the benefit of all. It’ll then be a far better game, giving managers, and players and fans something other than balls and strikes to bitch about.

The pitcher who paints the corner will get the call. The batter who has the sand to take a pitch two inches off the plate, will get the call. Baseball will be a better game.

And when baseball finally does turn to the electronic strike zone, I hope it’s done right. Wire home plate in a way that it turns a bright scarlet – bright enough for everyone in the park to see – when the pitch catches the zone.

Doing so would certainly make the rest of the playoffs more fun to watch. And speaking of the rest of the playoffs, go Braves. I was around Brian Snitker enough during his lifetime in the Carolina League to get to know and like him, and he’s a great story.

So go Braves and go Yankees. Here’s hoping for an Atlanta/Big Apple series.

The Cubs may be DONE, but the 2018 season, thankfully, roars on.