Sports grab bag: K-State FB and hoops, Royals and Chiefs

Lots of “sports thoughts” careening around in this big old noggin of mine, so it’s time to put a few of them out there for ya.

In no particular order, here’s what I’m thinking regarding K-State football and men’s hoops, a Royals managerial hire, and my beloved Chiefs.

First, Coach Chris Klieman’s football Wildcats.

This is being written just three hours after the Cats fell short to Texas in Austin by a 27-24 margin.

K-State is now 6-3 overall and 3-3 in Big 12 play. And to be completely honest with you, those six overall victories and three in league play were what I thought Klieman and Co. would have TOTAL by season’s end.

Those who work inside the walls of the Vanier Complex – and the players who are in and out of it enough to make it their home away from home – may have been the lone group with a belief that more than .500 was possible.

If you’re completely objective – and not just looking at things through “lavender colored glasses” – you have to admit that K-State has a talent deficit, and at the least a depth deficit, at nearly every position on the field.

And last year, with Coach Bill Snyder and his staff looking out of touch and lacking motivation, a group that previously might have been coaxed into overachieving was simply not talented enough to make a bowl game.

There are still a ton of players on this roster – players inherited by Klieman – who won’t be good enough to have played for K-State when Klieman and his staff of talented coaches and recruiters are done reshaping the roster.

A group that is bigger, faster and stronger is on the way – and it needs to be.

Snyder found in the mid to late 1990s that it was ENTIRELY POSSIBLE to recruit highly-talented players to Manhattan. It can happen again.

By the end of the Hall of Fame Coach’s second tenure in charge at K-State, he and his staff were reaching on far too many players. The magic was gone.

But Klieman, the aforementioned staff, and those who surround the program (like talented motivational guru Ben Newman) have breathed new life into a program that desperately needed it.

That’s why Saturday’s loss to Texas should just be viewed as part of the process or a greater journey.

When Texas decided to take full advantage in the second half of obvious athletic mismatches at several positions on the field, it dominated the Cats. Oklahoma State won over K-State in Stillwater earlier in the year by doing the very same thing.

Klieman and his staff are smart enough to understand that this “first team” of theirs in MHK won’t be nearly as good as a crew four years from now is likely to be.

But they’re too damn competitive to not coach the hell out of this current group and see whether or not the sky can truly be the limit.

Those of us who were going to be happy if the team simply sniffed .500 should just enjoy the remainder of the 2019 ride. We’ve received a gift at least a year earlier than most of us expected.

Second, the K-State men’s basketball team.

If you like roller coaster rides and restaurants that will serve you an award-winning meal one night, and offer up Waffle House slop the next, this might be the group for you.

One criticism of Coach Bruce Weber’s teams since he’s been in Manhattan is that they’re at times almost painful to watch.

That’s NOT going to be any different this year. In fact, with this many young players being thrust into important roles with the departure of last year’s “Big Three,” the growing pains will be on display for all to witness.

Weber’s defenses, for example, have allowed K-State to carve out an identity late in each of the last two seasons. But they’re damn difficult to master, even for someone with years in the program.

These new players, though talented, will struggle on that end of the floor maybe more than anywhere. When they can react instinctively and not get caught in “paralysis by analysis,” they’ll be fine. But that may not happen until midway through the Big 12 portion of the schedule.

And if it does, there shouldn’t be any “firebruce.com” sites popping up on the internet.

The idea here, much as it should be with football, is BE PATIENT, people. Weber’s 2020 recruiting class (if it sticks together) has a chance to be the best to come into Manhattan since a junior college coach named Dana Altman came to Manhattan to be on Lon Kruger’s staff and brought along some Missouri juco players named Mitch Richmond, Charles Bledsoe and Will Scott.

No, I’m not predicting that any of those recruits will be of Richmond’s ilk. But I AM saying that there’s reason to smile as you scream as the roller coaster careens downhill this year. And it will.

But this will end up being a fun ride before it’s all over.

Third, Mike Matheny and the Royals.

No, Dayton Moore and Mike Matheny aren’t the Kansas City version of a baseball “God Squad.” And no, there won’t be “organized brainwashing” going on in Spring Training in a few months in Surprise, Arizona.

Sure, Moore and Matheny would be the first to tell you that their faith and beliefs guide every move they make in life. They both have the type of foundational belief that is a common denominator for most successful leaders.

It might be a belief in God. It might be a belief in an unwavering set of principles. Heck, it could even be a belief in lower taxes or universal health care.

But show me a leader who can’t articulate what’s REALLY important to her or him, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t REALLY a leader at all.

Much has been made of the “Matheny Manifesto” that the new Royals manager wrote when he was just “Little League Coach Mike” after his big league playing days had ended.

What that document – which was later made into a book – really set out to do was put on paper a set of foundational beliefs as to what made for good baseball teams.

If you believe all of the negative press Matheny got near the end of his St. Louis managerial tenure, this hire scares the bejeezus out of you. And if you believe that Matheny is the wonder boy that his first three years at the helm of the Cardinals might have you thinking he is, you’re probably also mistaken.

But Moore isn’t a dummy. He’s had Matheny around for a year, just like he did Ned Yost before hiring him. He knows Matheny’s positives and negatives likely better than anyone but Matheny’s wife and children.

And, even knowing “warts and all” about Matheny, Moore trusted the future of the Royals franchise – and Moore’s legacy – with his new manager.

Matheny admits he’s spent the last year-plus learning about himself, the game, and how to better deal with others.

If he’s truly learned from that introspection, and he holds to those core beliefs that we spoke to earlier, all of us who support the Royals will be just fine – whether or not we want to share a pew with M & M in church.

Fourth, and finally, MVPat and our Chiefs.

Patrick Mahomes is like that awesome new toy we got as a kid. We played with that thing non-stop, and had the absolute time of our lives. We never wanted to put the toy down. We played with that thing morning, noon and night. And then the battery ran out.

And we got scared.

Would the toy ever work again? What were we going to do without it? How would we survive?

Then we got new batteries, installed them in the toy, and we were off and running again – literally playing with that toy until it simply no longer functioned.

Fear not, Chiefs fans. Our lives are not about to come to an end. And our time without batteries for our toy IS about over…for now.

Patrick Mahomes is back tomorrow for the Chiefs when they battle the Titans in Nashville.

For those who suggested holding Mahomes out for yet another week, here’s my take: Relax. The two groups with the ABSOLUTE MOST to lose here – the Chiefs franchise and Mahomes himself – have deemed it the right thing to do to have him play.

They’ve green-lighted putting batteries back in the toy and cranking that sucker back up.

So, let’s do it and see how long we can enjoy the heck out of the thing.

Because the kid’s a blessing. A once-in-a-lifetime talent.

But we’re not promised tomorrow, so since the team and Patrick himself have said “he’s a go,” let’s enjoy the heck out of our “todays.”

And we can worry about finding a new toy in a decade or two.

 

The “voice of Chicago” is back with a new solo LP…and his name is Scheff, not Cetera

The band Chicago provided the soundtrack to millions of lives in its heyday. Mine was one of those lives, particularly during my college days.

Chicago 16 was released less than a month after my high school graduation, and contained the hit single “Hard To Say I’m Sorry,” with Peter Cetera’s soaring vocals. And during the final month of my sophomore year at K-State, Chicago 17 hit the shelves and we fans were treated to “Stay The Night,” “Hard Habit To Break,” and “You’re The Inspiration.”

But by the time I had started my fifth year as an undergrad, Cetera had departed for a solo career, and a “kid” just two years older than I was at the time was singing lead and playing bass for one of my two favorite bands ever.

Jason Scheff had seemingly impossible shoes to fill.

When Scheff left Chicago himself 30 – that’s right, THIRTY – years later, it was his voice that most Chicago fans most-closely connected with the iconic “band with the awesome horn section.”

For “Chicago junkies” like myself, having Cetera leave the group stung for a decade…at least. But all the while, Scheff was growing on us. No, he wasn’t Peter. No one is Peter Cetera except Peter himself.

But Jason’s work on “Will You Still Love Me” and “If She Would Have Been Faithful” on Chicago 18 WAS Chicago! The vocal quality was still raw at that point, but the energy was definitely there.

And by the time “What Kind Of Man Would I Be?” was released in November 1989 as the final single from Chicago 19, the band was his – with apologies to Robert Lamm and the three dynamic horn players (Loughnane, Pankow and Parazaider).

Scheff, in fact, was stretching himself as a songwriter as well, earning credits on both Chicago 18 and 19.

Though the group failed to release new material entirely of its own composition from 1991’s Chicago Twenty 1 until 2006’s Chicago XXX, Scheff was a road warrior, and even the material from the first 17 Chicago albums was now HIS.

That’s why when Scheff left the group in 2016 for personal reasons, it marked the end of an amazing run for one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Sure, Chicago is still touring with a rotating cast of “guys not named Cetera or Scheff” singing lead and playing bass, but the group that’s out there isn’t MY Chicago. And much to my surprise, the Chicago with Scheff singing lead had become MY Chicago over those amazing 30 years.

Scheff’s virtual disappearance from view was something completely understandable – and yet left a void in the musical universe for fans like me.

So, when he started hinting on social media that a new album was in the works, I joined legions of his fans who were excited.

But since I’d seen the former lead singer of my other favorite rock band – Steve Perry, formerly of Journey – tease solo efforts for DECADES before finally getting to it, I wasn’t holding my breath.

But the dogged determination of Scheff’s friend Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts – who was the producer of Chicago XXX – got Scheff’s “Here I Am” LP (or CD, or whatever we call them these days) into our hands on Friday.

And as I wrote to Jason in an Instagram post to which he later responded, it is an album filled with opportunities to sing along at the top of your lungs, choke back a tear (or two), and hum along with the new stuff as you learn the lyrics.

With incredible backing vocals from former Chicago bandmate Bill Champlin – whose voice always blended well with Jason’s on the band’s late 1980s and early 1990s chart-toppers – along with DeMarcus, the new Scheff LP is nothing if not jam packed with vocal artistry.

Add Alex Lifeson (Rush), Robbie Krieger (The Doors), Tommy Thayer (Kiss) and session great Pino Palladino on guitars and bass, and you’ve got a polished presentation that those of “my generation” will absolutely love.

Scheff and DeMarcus smartly chose a combination of five Chicago songs and five new tunes to roll out here.

But the Chicago cuts the duo chose could surprise some folks. “Will You Still Love Me?” was a no-brainer, since the original version featured Scheff on lead vocal. “Look Away” was originally released with Champlin on lead vocals, but here features Scheff on lead with Bill grabbing the spotlight in just a few spots.

“Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” was a Cetera-era tune that Scheff had done thousands of times in concert, but never quite like this. And “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” was another Cetera chart-topper. But with “What Kind Of Man (Would I Be)?” also included, Scheff junkies got another chance to hear a new take on a terrific song originally fronted by Scheff himself.

Of the new material, the title track “Here I Am” is a soaring anthem, as is “Wonderful Day.” More introspective are “If You Only Knew” and “Never Even Had The Chance.” The album’s final cut, “Away,” leaves the listener hoping that Scheff’s hints that he’s not done recording – even hinting at a project with Champlin (inject that straight into my veins, please!) – aren’t just hints.

Chicago may be on its last legs. And Cetera continues to be fun to catch on tour and listen to with your eyes closed, remembering the days he fronted the iconic “band with the awesome horn section.”

But as his new album’s title track would seem to suggest, Scheff has a pretty good idea of who the “true” lead singer of Chicago is for millions of us. It’s him.

Here I Am, indeed.