My Mom, Her Support and the Real Decision

by Ryan Isley (Originally posted on More Than A Fan on February 22, 2012)

As I sat down to write another column for More Than A Fan, I looked up from my laptop and saw a picture I have seen a hundred times. Only this time it seemed to have more meaning.

In the living room of our house, there is an 8×10 picture on the wall of my mom and I at my cousin Katie’s wedding in June, 2008 in which I am walking my mom down the aisle so she could stand in for my aunt, who had passed away when we were younger. Above the photo is one of those sayings you rub on to the wall.

It reads:

“Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.”

ryan.mom.weddingI sat in this same spot to write on this same laptop exactly one year ago today, with two exceptions. The first is that the picture was not there. The second was that I wasn’t writing a column – I was writing a eulogy for my mom.

I know what you are thinking. You are sitting there saying “Hey Ryan – this is supposed to be a sports column.”

You are right. And it is – well, sort of.

You see, if it wasn’t for my mom and her support, I would not be writing for this site and you would have never read anything I have written for this site or others for which I have written. When I was growing up, the only thing I cared about was sports. School would come and go and I would give an effort, but as my mom always told me – if I spent half as much time on schoolwork as I did on learning sports statistics and history, I would have been a straight-A student.

Despite that, my mom always supported what I loved doing. I played baseball from the time I knew how to throw a baseball and my mom did everything she could to make it to each game. I remembered this in that eulogy:

She was also always at every baseball game I played and I always knew I could see her in the stands cheering me on. She worked until 4, so when I was in little league and games were at 6 she would be there when it started. As I moved to high school, games were at 4:15 and I knew that by the time we reached the second inning she would be there, even sometimes leaving work a few minutes early to make it before first pitch.

As I moved out of high school and started working towards what I wanted to do with my life, she was always there whenever I needed word of encouragement when she could tell I was struggling, a compliment when one was deserved or constructive criticism when it was warranted. She was the one who I ran every major decision by before coming to a final conclusion to what I would choose.

Her support was the reason I got back into sports media when I joined SportsTalkCleveland.com and then moved to the Cleveland.com Digital Sports Network. The Cleveland.com DSN folded just weeks after my mom passed and I am sure she would have been supportive of my decision to join More Than A Fan as well.

When my mom was admitted into Akron General Medical Center for the final time on February 9, 2011, it was because the levels of toxins in her blood was so high that it made her go into a state of confusion where she had no recollection of what was happening around her. As she was admitted into her room, the first thing she told me was that she was going to make sure to order cable so that I could have Lifetime to watch sports. While she obviously had the channel wrong, the one thing she always remembered was my love of sports. I joked with her that the WNBA season was during the summer and that it was not currently ongoing, therefore Lifetime was of no use to me.

When I told her of this story days later, she didn’t believe me. When it was confirmed to her by others, all she could do is laugh and tell me “See – I was thinking about you.”  And that’s the thing – she was ALWAYS thinking about me.

In fact, as she laid there in her hospital bed over what we now know would be the last couple weeks of her life, she was always making sure that I was able to watch games or go to game or whatever I needed to do to write columns for DSN at that time. If I had a game to go to that night, she would tell me to leave the hospital, go to the game and write. When I told her I would be back after the game to check on her, she told me not to worry but to just go home and get some sleep and that she would see me first thing in the morning as always.

That brings me back to the real decision.

The funny thing about decisions is that there are some that are so difficult to make at the time and no matter how much time passes, you never know for sure if you made the right one or not. That decision for me was on February 20, 2011 and was the reason I sat here to write that eulogy.

Of course my decision wasn’t being made in front of cameras at The Boys and Girls Club and Jim Gray wasn’t there to ask me easy questions leading up to it.

My decision was made at the Cleveland Clinic after being awoken at 5:45am by a doctor telling me my mom was having seizures and after conferring with a number of doctors on my own about my mom’s actual condition. It was after these meetings that I was faced with what no child ever wants to be confronted with – the real possibility that today may be the last day without their parent.

I had to make the decision of whether to allow my mom to continue struggling on life support with very little hope of her making it through (and even if she did, not being able to live a normal life) or to sign the paperwork to have her life support removed and allow her to pass peacefully.

After agonizing over it, I decided the best thing for my mom was to remove the life support because she has suffered enough. I just couldn’t see her take any more pain.

The problem was that this decision – not unlike “The Decision” – wasn’t just one that would affect me. It would affect my mom’s father, her siblings, my brother, my dad, the rest of our family and also anyone who had ever met my mom. That’s the thing – my mom left a lasting impression with everyone whose path she crossed. So I wasn’t just making this decision for me. And that was the hard part.

When I had finally made the decision, I ushered my grandfather, my two uncles and my aunt into a private room where we could talk before I went and talked to the doctors or informed the rest of the family. One by one, they all agreed with me that I was doing the right thing and that they understood it was the decision that had to be made, no matter the hurt that would accompany it.

After meeting with them, I called a conference with the rest of the family to tell them what was happening before I went to tell the doctor of this final decision. Once again, everyone was in my corner and told me they felt that I was doing the right thing.

Their support was so reminiscent of the support I received from my mom through the years, which made the most difficult decision of my life feel just a little bit easier to make, but not much.

Now a year later, the decision still eats at me and I know I will never have 100% confirmation that the decision I made was the correct one. That’s the thing about those tough decisions – you just never know.

The Browns Need to Go Green in 2011

by Ryan Isley (Originally posted January 28,2011)

For Cleveland Browns fans, the Super Bowl is right around the corner. No, not Super Bowl XLV between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers.

The Browns’ Super Bowl – the 2011 NFL Draft.

Earlier this week, ESPN‘s Mel Kiper said that the Browns could be left to select between wide receiver A.J. Green of Georgia and defensive end Robert Quinn from North Carolina when their slot at No. 6 in the 2011 NFL Draft comes up.

With all due respect to Quinn, who is a great player and will probably be a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL, this decision should be a complete no-brainer for team president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and new head coach Pat Shurmur.

Continue reading

Maurice Clarett Gets a Second Chance

by Ryan Isley (Originally posted 7/29/2010)

In 2002, a young 18-year-old nationally heralded running back by the name of Maurice Clarett accepted a scholarship offer to play football at Ohio State.

Eight years later, a 26-year-old Maurice Clarett enrolled in summer classes at Ohio State to resume his academic career after spending three and a half years in the Toledo Correctional Institution on convictions of robbery and weapons charges.

The names may be the same, but make no mistake, as these are two completely different people.

The 18-year-old Clarett ran for 1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns as a freshman despite missing three games due to injury.

The five-foot-11 freshman also had several key plays, including the winning touchdown in the second overtime, against the Miami Hurricanes in the 2002 BCS National Championship Game, helping the Buckeyes win the national championship.

The spectacular season had people around Columbus buzzing like very few times before and made Buckeyes fans start to believe that Clarett could join Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, if not becoming the first player to win the award three times if he stayed all four years.

Then the bottom fell out for the teenager at Ohio State when Clarett was suspended for the 2003 football season after he was charged with filing a false police report. Eventually Clarett plead guilty to failing to aid law enforcement, a lesser charge.

After his suspension Clarett decided, along with USC freshman wide receiver Mike Williams, to challenge the NFL’s eligibility rule and therefore be included in the 2004 draft, a challenge that was eventually denied.

Despite not having played football in 2003 or 2004, Clarett was unexpectedly taken in the third round of the 2005 draft by the Denver Broncos, despite a poor showing at the NFL Combine.

Clarett was released by the Broncos before playing in even a single preseason game and was never claimed by another NFL team.

Unfortunately that was only the beginning of a downward spiral for Clarett.

Shortly after the ringing in of the new year in 2006, Columbus police were on the hunt for Clarett in connection to an armed robbery outside the Opium Lounge club in Columbus.

When Clarett turned himself in the next day, he was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery and five weeks later, he was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of aggravated robbery with gun specifications and five other counts.

While awaiting trial, Clarett was again arrested, this time on charges that he made an illegal u-turn and led police on a chase, charges that resulted in his bail being set at $5 million.

After accepting a plea bargain, Clarett was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, but could be released after just three and a half years.

While in prison, Clarett started to write a blog entitled “The Mind of Maurice Clarett” on October 7, 2008.

Through his writings, it was becoming clear that Clarett was beginning to change, to see the wrongs he had done and that he wanted to do better.

His last post, on August 15, 2009, read:

“One thing that really frustrates me is that I have not been relevant to my family for the past four summers. That puts a chip on my shoulder. I have no one to blame but myself.  The thoughts just put me in a zone like no other. It puts me in my “One and only” mode. I know that there is no way for me to make up for lost time but hopefully my actions in the future will help them to forget all that’s taken place in the past. I never thought I’d once again be in the position of thinking how am I going to get out of this rut. I think that the longer I wait the more serious I become. I think it’s because I have a good understanding on what it means to be physically free.”

It seemed to be the beginning to a new Clarett, the one who just this past Monday at 26 years of age started classes again at Ohio State.

The new Clarett is in a position to turn his life around and make right for what he now knows was wrong, a spot that not everyone gets a chance to be in.

One person who has been by Clarett’s side is Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, who was instrumental in getting Clarett re-enrolled at the school.

In speaking with the Columbus Dispatch’s Ken Gordon, Tressel said that he had been working with Clarett and the school for the past few months to get Clarett enrolled and said that Clreatt is excited to be back in school.

In a statement from Clarett released by Ohio State, the former star athlete-turned-student showed that excitement.

“This is a surreal feeling to be back at Ohio State in such a supportive environment,” Clarett said. “I have looked forward to being back in school, and I’m doing my best to fit in with other students. I don’t want to be a distraction or nuisance to the football team or to students on campus.”

It seems that Clarett has found something this time around that he did not have in his first tour of Ohio State, a true sense of self and accountability.

While the former Clarett was the one getting the cheers at Ohio Stadium as he broke tackles and ran for touchdowns, it is the latter Clarett that truly deserves the applause because the next time Clarett walks onto the football field at Ohio Stadium, it should be to get his degree.

A-Rod’s 600th Home Run Not Special

By Ryan Isley (Originally posted 7/27/2010)

It is time for Major League Baseball to stop catering to the players that have cheated and therefore turned baseball into a dirty sport.

Someone needs to show Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig that baseball’s power numbers do not mean what they once did and it is not necessary to celebrate them as if they do.

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is on the verge of making history this week, possibly at Progressive Field in Cleveland, which it is a true shame and a slap in the face to some of the greats that have played the game.

Rodriguez is just one home run away from 600 in his career, a number that has been reached by only six other men in the history of Major League Baseball.

The problem with Rodriguez reaching the milestone is that he is a proven cheater, testing positive for two anabolic steroids in a test that was conducted in 2003.

This makes Rodriguez the third player out of what will be seven on the 600-home run list that truly do not belong, joining Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.

The only four members of the once-elusive club should be Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey, Jr.

Major League Baseball does not see it that way, however, as they have put special baseballs into play every time Rodriguez has stepped up to the plate since belting number 599 last Thursday against Kansas City.

The numbers that once meant something in the game of baseball are now just a joke, as smaller ballparks, watered-down pitching and more importantly, cheating, has diminished what players like Aaron, Ruth and Mays had established.

Fans and even players of past generations looked at numbers such as 755 and 61 with reverence as they were numbers they thought would never be topped.

Now, those numbers mean very little, if anything, as Bonds has topped Aaron’s career home run mark of 755 and Roger Maris’ one-time single-season home run record of 61 was topped six times in a four season span after standing for 37 years, with Ruth’s one-time record of 60 standing for 34 seasons before Maris broke it.

Fans of this new generation have little, if any, knowledge of what the players in years past have done because all they have seen are players who look like they should be WWE wrestlers launching baseballs to places where they have never been hit before.

They associate history with the home run chase between Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998 when McGwire outslugged Sosa 70 to 66, or Bonds following that up with 73 home runs in 2001 or Bonds’ pursuit of Aaron’s 755 career home runs that he took down on August 7, 2007.

Today’s fans are never taught what the true greats of the game did and how remarkable the numbers they put up really were because those numbers are so easily passed in today’s game.

The lack of history being taught to the younger generations can be traced right back to Park Avenue in New York, the home of the office of the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Commissioner Selig and the rest of Major League Baseball have seemed to decide once again that they just simply do not care about records anymore and if a player has cheated, so be it.

The reason that fans do not care anymore whether or not a player is clean is because the office of the commissioner does not care, nor does the so-called ‘Worldwide Leader in Sports’, as ESPN broke into coverage of their own game Monday night to show Rodriguez’s at-bats.

No matter what number Rodriguez hits before he is done, the bottom line will still be that he is a cheat and this pathetic display of appreciation for a player who has cheated is just one more act in an already played out production put on by Selig and his people.

Ianello Gives Birth To New Analogy After Latest Loss

By Ryan Isley (Originally posted 11/18/2010)

Shortly after the University of Akron’s football team fell to 0-11 on the season with a 19-14 loss to Miami (OH) on Wednesday night, head coach Rob Ianello was scheduled to join the media to talk about the game.

One would expect that an 0-11 season in the first season as a head coach would be tough on the 45-year-old from Port Chester, New York, but the man who sat at the table seemed anything but stressed.

Ianello walked in with a smile on his face and even found the time to crack a joke before addressing what had just happened on the field at InfoCision Stadium. Once the recorders were on and the words starting flowing from his mouth, it was still as if Ianello was at peace with a team that had yet to win a game.

“I am certainly proud of our team, I am certainly proud of how they competed, I am proud of how they played,” Ianello started off in his opening statement. “We fought our butts off right to the very end tonight but we came up short.

“I don’t think anybody can look at our team and say we haven’t improved. I don’t think anybody can look at our team and say our kids aren’t playing with great effort, I don’t think anybody can look at our team and say that our kids don’t believe they can win. We have gotten good, we just haven’t gotten good enough.”

The opening statement was almost something that you would expect to find in a book entitled “How To Address The Media And Say The Right Things When Going Winless.” It is the same kind of spiel that was the basis of most press conferences last season given by Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini, whose team started 1-11.

While it is fair and good to be happy that the team has shown improvement, the fact of the matter is that the team is still winless, and was something that needed to be addressed so I did just that with the next question.

“You say the team has gotten better,” I started out as Ianello looked at me. “What is the next step, what do you have to do to get over that hump?”

Before the question was even finished, Ianello was answering.

“Well, we’ve got to score one more point than they do,” Ianello said. “I don’t think there is any magic (button) to put your (finger) on other than we have to make a key play at a key time in the game and then we’ll make that and we’ll come out and we’ll have that win.”

So far, so good, but that is when the answer got a little strange.

“It’s like that couple that can’t have a baby and then they adopt a child,” Ianello said as the reporters looked at him quizzically. “The minute they adopt a child, the wife gets pregnant because the pressure is off. The minute we get our first win, that’s when we are going to start following through and getting more wins and we’re going to see this growing.”

Go ahead, read that quote again. Losing 11 football games in a row is similar to a couple who is struggling to bring a newborn baby into the world.

At what point does that comparison even become logical? The answer – it never does.

But then again, logic has not played a major role in the building of this football team under athletic director Tom Wistrcill, right down to the hiring of Ianello, so why should we expect anything less in the press conferences?

One of the main problems with the Akron football team is that they are spinning their wheels. The men’s soccer team and basketball teams have found success but the football team has floundered.

They have wasted the opportunity they have with the new stadium, as very few showed up Wednesday night even though the school announced a crowd of 7,671. The actual butt-in-seat attendance was nowhere near that number. The low attendance, especially for a game being shown on ESPNU, shows that the fans are almost at an apathetic state with this team, if they are not there already.

Couple apathy with poor play and guess what happens?

That’s right – you get a head coach comparing the plight of his football team to a couple who are struggling to get pregnant.

Ianello Era Continues With Another Painful Loss

By Ryan Isley (Originally posted 10/9/2010)

Thankfully for the University of Akron, basketball season is right around the corner.

The Zips played another game and suffered another loss to start the Rob Ianello era with a 28-17 loss at the hands of Kent State on Saturday, sending Ianello to an 0-6 start.

“Obviously, it is a heck of a rivalry, everything that they say it was it is,” Ianello said. “Two teams slugging it out, good crowd, great atmosphere. And they just made a few more plays than we did.”

The contingent of Akron fans who were already starting to grow weary of Ianello will not take losing to Kent State lightly, as the Zips had won three in a row, five of the last six and 11 of the previous 13 meetings between the rivals.

The Akron offense stalled time after time as quarterback Patrick Nicely had one of the worst days a quarterback could dream of having, completing just 16-for-33 for 133 yards, zero touchdowns, three interceptions and three fumbles, two recovered by Kent State.

“I can’t tell if it all decision-making (with Nicely) until I watch the video,” Ianello said. “I can’t sit here and pin it all on Patrick. We had some protection issues and we had some things not go well at times. I can’t doubt anybody’s effort, we just need to execute a little better.”

Akron actually took a 7-0 lead after a seven-play, 89-yard drive resulted in a two-yard touchdown run by Alex Allen the second time they had the ball but then disaster struck on the next possession.

With the offense backed up at their own one-yard-line on third-and-11, Nicely tossed an errant pass that landed in the hands of Kent State safety Dan Hartman, who returned it 12 yards for a touchdown that got Kent State on the board despite having just 20 yards of total offense at the time.

The numbers look bad enough, but Nicely was actually worse than they suggest, missing receivers all over the field and never really even getting close to being in a rhythm until the final drive of the first half when he was 3-for-4 for 25 yards.

Just when it looked like Akron was going to make something happen, the offense stalled again due to play-calling and then Nicely took a sack with six seconds left and kicker Igor Iveljic nailed a 41-yard field goal attempt to cut the lead to 21-10 at half.

“When you get into the two-minute offense before the half, you are trying to get a field goal for sure and if you can get close enough to get greedy, you go for a touchdown,” Ianello said. “They had just gone up 21-7 and with that type of momentum I just wanted to make sure we could get ourselves in a position to kick a field goal.”

While the offense was not able to maintain anything, the defense was not able to hold Kent State and the Golden Flashes did their offensive damage in the second quarter, scoring two touchdowns while racking up 140 yards and held Akron to just 26 yards of total offense in the quarter before that final drive.

The Zips looked like they were going to make a ballgame of it on a fake field goal turned into a touchdown by wide receiver Jeremy LaFrance with 5:47 left in the third quarter to make it 21-17 following what may have been the ugliest few minutes in the history of football.

“We have had that in for a couple weeks,” Ianello said. “We felt that they presented us with a good look to run that so there is no reason to leave it on the call sheet.”

With the ball at their own 49-yard-line, Nicely completed a seven-yard pass to Gary Pride, which coupled with a roughing the passer penalty on Kent State gave the Zips the ball at the Kent State 29-yard-line. Following a holding penalty, Nicley was then sacked for 14 yards and topped that off with an intentional grounding penalty.

On third-and-27, Nicely was again sacked but a facemask penalty on Kent State gave Akron a first down, leading to the touchdown.

“I would have to go check the record books to see if I have ever been in a game with that many penalties,” Ianello said, referring to the 23 accepted penalties in the game. “I was disappointed in our discipline today, no question.”

The offenses both went stagnant from there and Kent State’s defense salted the game away with 3:08 to play when Nicely fumbled the ball in his own end zone, recovered by Luke Batton for a Kent State touchdown to make it 28-17 and then Nicely’s second interception on the next possession sent the Akron fans for the exits. Just for good measure, Nicely tossed another interception with 54 seconds left, sending Kent State into victory formation.

“It’s a great rivalry,” Ianello said. “I thought Kent State played really well today and (head coach) Doug Martin and his staff did a heck of a job. I congratulate them and wish them the best of luck the rest of the year.”

At this point, it may be Akron, and not Kent State, that needs the luck.

Hiring Ianello Was A Mistake for Akron

By Ryan Isley (Originally posted on 10/7/2010)

University of Akron athletic director Tom Wistrcill and his entire staff are learning an important lesson the hard way that you cannot judge a book by the cover.

Last football season, the Zips were a woefully underachieving 3-9 (2-6 in the MAC), bringing to an end the six-year tenure of head coach J.D. Brookhart.

During the hiring process to replace Brookhart, Wistrcill and his staff were hoodwinked and bamboozled by Touchdown Jesus into hiring then-Notre Dame interim head coach Rob Ianello.

Wistrcill was out to make a splash with this hiring, knowing that the football team was falling behind in popularity to the men’s basketball team, which had been to three straight MAC championship games (they made it four this past seasonafter Ianello was hired) and the men’s soccer team, which had just advanced to the NCAA semi-finals five days before Akron announced Ianello as their new head coach.

What better way to make a splash than to steal away the guy that Notre Dame had tabbed to run their program when they fired Charlie Weis? Or so Wisctrill thought.

Ianello sold himself to Wistrcill the way he sold his former teams to recruits, and Wistrcill fell hook, line and sinker for everything the 45-year-old Port Chester, New York native was selling.

Wistrcill did the equivalent of going through a drive-thru and ordering a gourmet cheeseburger only to drive away and unwrap it to find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, as the Zips are now 0-5 with no end to the misery in sight.

Looking at the bio that Akron has distributed about Ianello, they will tell you that Ianello is the only coach to be named one of the 25 best recruiters nationally from 2005-09 by Rivals.com and that he directed three straight top-10 recruiting classes at Notre Dame from 2006-08.

What Akron has either failed to realize, or has decided to completely ignore, is the fact that Ianello has been an assistant recruiting coordinator or a recruiting coordinator at Alabama, Wisconsin, Arizona and Notre Dame, schools that are a lot easier to sell to recruits than is Akron.

What Akron will also tell you is that Ianello served as the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame in 2009, when the Fighting Irish had the sixth-best passing unit in the country in and were ninth-best overall offensively in the nation.

What they neglect to tell you is that the offense was led by quarterback Jimmy Clausen (now the starting quarterback for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers), wide receivers Golden Tate (an AP All-American) and Michael Floyd (one of the best sophomores in the country despite missing five games to injury) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (the top-rated tight end in the country this season).

Those caliber of players are just simply not going to commit to Akron.

Need proof?

Of the top 150 recruits listed at ESPN.com, seven of them are verbally committed to Notre Dame, even with Ianello not there, while Akron will not be mentioned in the top-150 at all.

What Wistrcill and Akron did was make a hire based on Ianello’s recruiting past and completely ignored the fact that he had been no higher than a position coach until last season at Notre Dame.

Wistrcill needed to get a name, not a resume.

He knew that he needed to be able to put fans in the seats of their new $61.6 million stadium, as their failure last season resulted in less than 10,000 people filing through the gates for the season finale.

Unfortunately for Wistcrill, the fans were not as easy to trick as he was, which was evident when less than 16,000 fans showed up for this season’s opener against Syracuse. Those who did show up left shaking their heads in disgust after watching the Zips get dominated by one of the worst teams in the six BCS conferences.

Akron had scheduled their second game of the season against FCS opponent Gardner-Webb and just over 10,000 fans showed up for that. To make matters worse, the Zips found a way to lose that game before heading on the road for two weeks.

After losses at Kentucky and Indiana, two more BCS non-powerhouses, Akron returned home where they were thumped 50-14 by Northern Illinois in front of just over 12,000 fans.

Last season under Brookhart, the offense averaged almost 301 yards per game and gave up 367 yards per game defensively.

So far this season, the Zips are worse in each category, averaging just 267 yards per game on offense and allowing 462 yards per game on defense.

Quarterback Patrick Nicely has regressed under the eye of Ianello, completing just 46% of his passes and has just three touchdown passes to two interceptions.

This does not bode well for a program that the returned 17 starters from a year ago, a team that many thought would compete for the top spot in the MAC East before collapsing.

Then again, maybe Wistrcill should have just checked out the book from the library instead of committing to it and buying it because of the cover, because so far the story inside has been less than uplifting.

Of course, Ianello could write a new chapter in that book with a win against Kent State this Saturday, but so far there is nothing to suggest that this story is that type of fairytale.