Bob Lutz

Versace remembers MTXE Shockers too well

Everyone had a great time welcoming back Gene Smithson and his MTXE boys Sunday as a sidelight to Wichita State's game with Bradley at Koch Arena.

Even Bradley's television analyst got a thrill seeing some of the old Shockers, including Antoine Carr, Aubrey Sherrod, Cliff Levingston and Xavier McDaniel.

"It's great to see them all,'' said Dick Versace, who coached Bradley from 1978-86, the same years Smithson led Wichita State. "We had some real battles.''

Versace credits Smithson with helping him get the Bradley job. They were friends when Smithson was coaching at Illinois State and Versace was at a nearby junior college.

"I saw him at the NCAA Tournament and he came up to me and said I should have that Bradley job,'' Versace said. "He was gonna help me get that job. He knew the AD at Bradley (Doug Ferguson) because he had been at Illinois State. Gene told me he could make Fergie do anything he wanted.''

At the time, Smithson had just interviewed at West Virginia.

"He knew their colors were gold and blue,'' Versace said. "So he told me he wore a blue blazer, a blue shirt, a gold tie. . . Then he hesitated. 'And gold shoes.' He said they were definitely going to remember him.''

Bradley and Wichita State combined to win five Missouri Valley Conference championships while Versace and Smithson were coaching.

Versace's overall record at Bradley was 155-81; Smithson was 156-88 at Wichita State.

Throw in Nolan Richardson, who coached at Tulsa during the same time, and you have three of the most successful and flamboyant coaches in Valley history.

"And Bob Donewald (who replaced Versace at Illinois State) wasn't far behind,'' Versace said. "Whether it was on purpose or inadvertently, he was a clone of Bob Knight, movements and everything.''

***

Smithson, looking better than ever, was ecstatic about getting to spend time with his former WSU players, including his son, Randy.

"What an incredible weekend,'' he said.

By the end of his coaching tenure at Wichita State, Smithson had many critics because of NCAA sanctions that kept his 1982-83 team, which finished 25-3, from playing in the NCAA Tournament. But no one should downplay the importance of his eight seasons, the most successful eight-year stretch in Shocker history.

Three of the five jerseys hanging from the Koch Arena rafters belong to players who were recruited by and played for Smithson.

"He was a whale of a coach,'' Versace said.

Smithson, retired and living in Florida, is a Shocker treasure whose former players cherish him and value his teaching.

"I started the whole MTXE thing when I was coaching in high school in Illinois,'' he said. "And it just went gangbusters. Everybody thought it was just some gimmick, but it was my philosophy for life. Anybody who was going to have great success had to have the mental toughness to reach down and get that extra effort.''

***

Gregg Marshall is an MTXE kind of coach and the Shockers are playing with mental and physical toughness.

They get another chance on the Valley road Wednesday when the Shocks play at Missouri State, the conference's most surprising team. It should be interesting.

So far, though, the road has been a difficult place for Marshall and his team, which was drubbed at Illinois State last week in a meek and quiet performance.

Meek and quiet don't work on the road, where there is a need to draw on uncommon resources normally not required to win home games. Wichita State hasn't tapped into those resources during the Marshall Era. When they do, championships will follow.

***

There is spirited debate as to which former players will be announced as inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

There are 10 to 12 viable candidates, but I'm predicting three get in: Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin and, finally, Andre Dawson.

***

I guess maybe an Indianapolis-New Orleans Super Bowl isn't as appealing as it once was, huh?

Nice job, fellas. And special kudos to you, Jim Caldwell, for messing with history.

Your Colts were 14-0 and primed to win their last two games against the Jets and Bills before you decided Peyton Manning and a few other starters needed to be babied in the second half of the Jets game last week, which Indy lost.

Then, in Sunday's finale at Buffalo, you kept Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark on the field long enough for them to get to 100 catches for the season, but then pulled them along with Manning.

So you're telling us that 100-catch seasons are more important than chasing the immortality that goes with an undefeated season?

You're crazy, man. Crazy.

And just for that, I hope the Colts get beat in their first playoff game. And that Caldwell and general manager Bill Polian someday admit the error of their ways in robbing fans from something extraordinary so that a bunch of millionaire players who don't want to rest can be rested.

***

Just when it appeared no coach could fall from grace faster than Mark Mangino, Texas Tech's Mike Leach came along.

How bizarre is the Leach story?

Something tells me the Red Raiders are going to have a difficult time achieving the level of success they did under Leach. Good luck to whomever follows Leach's act in Lubbock.

***

I have become obsessed with the Showtime series "Dexter."

I'm halfway through Season 1 on DVD and Netflix can't process my order fast enough. I go to sleep thinking about Dexter and I wake up thinking about him.

Hopefully, that will pass.

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My goal is to see the 25 movies "Entertainment Weekly" recommends as being Oscar worthy in some capacity.

Right now, I'm at five. Again, I'm counting on Netflix.

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The NFL's credibility took a hit last weekend as one team after another failed to show up because: A) They were out of the playoff picture; B) They were assured of a playoff spot; or, C) They were gutless.

If I'm a paying customer, I'd like to be able to count on seeing professional football players giving a professional effort, no matter the circumstances.

I have not heard of an NFL team giving fans their money back, however.

***

Anyone who doesn't think a postseason playoff system would help college football need only look at the lack of hype preceding the so-called BCS championship game Thursday night between Alabama and Texas.

These are unbeaten teams playing on college football's biggest stage. Yet few people are talking about this game, an anti-climax to an uneventful and overloaded bowl season.

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