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A case of what could've been



Notes, quotes and observations about our sporting world ...

 Lawrence Phillips’ death struck home with a lot of people who crossed paths with the former running back through his enigmatic career, including longtime Oregon coach Rich Brooks.

Phillips, 40, died Jan. 13 in a Delano, Calif., prison in what the county coroner ruled a suicide. The former Nebraska All-American was serving a seven-year sentence for felony assault with a deadly weapon and was set to get an additional 25 years for domestic assault on his girlfriend.

“It was a tragic ending to a troubled existence,” says Brooks, who had Phillips during the second of his two seasons as coach of the St. Louis Rams. “It’s unbelievable he ended up where he did, with all the ability he had.”

The Rams chose Phillips with the sixth overall selection in the 1996 draft. He started 11 games and rushed for 632 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, all the while frustrating his coaches and teammates.

“He was very difficult,” says Brooks from his Palm Springs, Calif., winter home. “He wouldn’t let anybody into his world. He wasn’t trusting. All attempts to try to help him didn’t go well.

“He was late to meetings. He was running on his own schedule and wouldn’t conform to the rules and to the system. He made it very difficult in his rookie year, and then I was gone.”

Brooks was fired after the season. Phillips stuck with St. Louis for part of the next season, put in short stints with Miami and San Francisco, spent time in NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League and was out of pro football in 2003 at age 28.

How good was Phillips?

“He was phenomenal,” Brooks says. “He was big and fast, and he was very impressive on our practice field when he got to camp. But his off-the-field life just didn’t allow him to maximize his physical talents.”

Perhaps Brooks should have known better than to let the Rams draft him. During Phillips’ senior year of high school in West Covina, Calif., Brooks — then the coach at Oregon — arranged a recruiting visit. He arrived at the house, with Phillips nowhere to be found. The coach waited an hour before leaving. “He never showed up,” Brooks told Sports Illustrated in 1996.

Said Brooks in the same article: “I have a lot of empathy for him. He is under one of the biggest microscopes anybody could possibly be under — and most of it he created for himself.”

Oregon State coach Gary Andersen is well-acquainted with new Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke.

They coached against each other in 2010 when Andersen was coach at Utah State and Hoke was in the same position at San Diego State — the Aztecs waxed the Aggies 41-7.

They also were together in the Big Ten in 2013 and ‘14 as head coaches at Wisconsin and Michigan, respectively, though they didn’t play each other.

“I struck up a relationship with Brady,” Andersen says. “I like him. We ran into each other in the airport while recruiting over the past couple of weeks. He’s a good person.”

After being fired by Michigan after the 2014 season, Hoke came to Corvallis for a day of spring ball, visiting with Andersen and his staff.

“I had him talk to our players, and he spent the day with us,” Andersen says. “It was good for him and good for us, too.”

Jay Triano, the Trail Blazers’ lead assistant coach, was a star basketball player at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. But he also spent some time on the gridiron.

Triano was a member of the Canadian national basketball team that qualified for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow but was part of the U.S.-led boycott. At the time, Simon Fraser was the only Canadian university playing American football. The Clansmen participated as an independent and played against teams such as Western Washington, Central Washington, Eastern Washington, Montana and Idaho. The 6-4, 180-pound Triano turned out for the sport as a senior that fall.

“I wanted to play receiver, but I was a defensive back,” Triano says. “(Coaches) didn’t want me getting hit. Turned out to be the best thing ever for me. I loved hitting people.”

Triano helped the Clansmen to a 5-4 record and was taken by Calgary in the sixth round, with the 51st pick overall, in the CFL draft. His career was to be in basketball, but he also loves oval ball, too, and was disappointed to have not played against Linfield in his one season of college football.

“That’s one of the programs I’ve always respected,” Triano says. “To this day, I respect what (the Wildcats) do in football. When I was coaching basketball at Simon Fraser (1988-95), I’d drive down with our football coaches to watch Linfield play — six hours one way.

“Simon Fraser had 300-pound guys going to the CFL, but they got kicked by Linfield. (The Wildcats) were smaller, but their technique was just so impressive. I was blown away. I’ve always respected good coaching. That’s one of the programs I’ve always looked up to. I follow their scores every season.”

When Kobe Bryant was asked to put together a top-five opponent list through his 20 NBA seasons, he chose Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, LeBron James ... and Clyde Drexler.

What’s odd about Drexler’s inclusion is that his career overlapped Bryant’s for only two years — in 1996-97 and ‘97-98, at the end of Clyde’s career and at the start of Kobe’s.

Lakers coach Byron Scott was asked about Bryant’s selection of Drexler during the team’s visit to Portland on Saturday. Scott enjoyed a standout career as an NBA shooting guard, too, from 1983-97, starting and ending a year before Clyde’s run (1984-98).

“I matched up against ‘Clyde the Glide’ many a time during his Portland years,” Scott said. “He was someone I had a tremendous amount of respect for — just the way he approached the game, and the type of person he was. I got a chance to spend time with him outside of basketball. Clyde is a great guy, and an unbelievable athlete. There wasn’t a whole lot of stuff he couldn’t do on the basketball court.”

Bryant had said he got ideas about footwork from watching Drexler play.

“I can understand why Kobe watched him, where he was able to pick up things, but Kobe watches almost every great player,” Scott said. “He watched Hakeem, just to pick up what he did in the post.

“Kobe is a student of the game. He’d try to mimic certain guys to put it in his repertoire. He has done pretty well to last 20 years and accomplish the things he has accomplished.”

After Duke fell to Syracuse last week for its third consecutive loss — two of them at home — veteran coach Mike Krzyzewski skipped nearly half of the Orange players during the traditional post-game handshake line, walking off and looking at something indiscernable. It was the first time the Blue Devils had lost three straight, and Krzyzewski was upset with the officiating, including a noncall on a 3-point attempt at the final horn.

Afterward, talking heads debated whether or not Coach K’s behavior was unsportsmanlike. Most agreed that it was, but that it was uncharacteristic of the Duke coach, who is normally more gracious in defeat.

CBS studio analyst Jay Bilas offered that the handshake tradition isn’t worth much because it’s insincere, something I’ve been saying for years. Other sports don’t do it, except for hockey at the end of a playoff series.

My feeling is this: Show good sportsmanship through the game. Then afterward, if you want to pay respect to somebody on the opposing team, seek them out. That’s much more meaningful than patting high fives mindlessly on the way to the locker room.

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