Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Let’s get this 2012 business over and start the good times

So, how was it for you?

For many, 2011 was a terrible year. They found nothing whatsoever to like about it.

Money was short, prices were high and there were too many dim-witted people making less-than-profound assertions about the future of the world and of the country. Everything!

For me, 2011 wasn’t all that bad. There was much to like, and the things I didn’t like were the same things I complain about all the time anyway.

It is now 2012 and I still have that bad habit of shouting at the TV when one of the aforementioned dimwits tells me something I know is patently untrue.

Maybe I’ll get over that. I’ll try.

For those who found 2011 a bad year, I can only reiterate the words of my kids (an enlightened lot if ever there were one) when they were in school. “Bummer.”

In truth, that is one word, not “words.” But I digress.

Did you have an enjoyable evening last night? Did you partake of nice dinner, have a drink or two, celebrate the coming New Year with friends and get home in time to watch a good movie, as we did?

There are many who party far too heartily. I heard from my friend Doug Atkin in Smyrna, Tenn., about those who overdo on occasion.

He related the story of someone who lamented, “They are always telling us, ‘Don’t drink and drive. It only invites trouble.’

So the guy gave it some thought, and after having far too much to drink, decided to take a bus home.

“Actually,” the guy said, “I had never driven a bus before, I don’t remember where I got it, and I don’t know how to get it back.”

Knowing Doug, he could have made up the whole thing.

One thing I hated in 2011 that I still hate in 2012 is the fact that a preposterous amount of importance is placed on voting in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Who cares about those three states?

If they seceded from the union and took their primaries and straw polls with them, I wouldn’t miss them.

For my money, we could hold the election right now. Enough people have their minds already made up that they could make an immediate decision and spare us considerable time plus billions of dollars in TV blurbs.

On the presidential front, I am finding two kinds of people.

Those who are enamored of Obama and devoutedly wish for his re-election, and for his policies to continue what they are doing for the country – they are prepared to vote – right now.

Those who abhor Obama and despise what his policies are doing to the country are also prepared to vote – right now.

It matters little to them who the challenger is. They would vote for Romney, Gingrich, Perry, Paul, Donald Trump or Donald Duck. Or even one of my all-time favorites, Andy Gump. Anybody but Obama.

The feelings are exceptionally strong on both sides. I say, forget about all those primaries that numb the mind. Let’s get on with it!

Speaking of Andy Gump, there are voters with his acumen who vote in every election. Let me elucidate. A few years ago I served on the Willoughby Charter Review Commission. We submitted a charter change to the voters of Willoughby for their approval. It would have established a uniform swearing-in date for newly elected officials so they would all take the oath of office on the same date.
Eleven percent of the voters voted against the change.

Don’t tell me how smart the voters are. The late Barry Byron, a brilliant attorney and a dear friend, called that “The Tarzan Vote.”

I think more highly of Tarzan. I call it “The Andy Gump Vote.”

Before we give up on 2011, let us look back on the seasons of the Indians, Browns and Cavaliers.

Now let’s look ahead to the New Year, which, for purposes of identification we will call 2012.

The Indians will be better this year, because they can’t get much worse. The Browns will be better. Same reason.

I have given up on professional basketball.

Any sport that allows three or four players to determine which teams they will play for has lost me as fan.

But I know you’ve been waiting impatiently for those three little words. No, not “I Love You,” although I do love all of you dearly.

No, the three little words for today are:

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Man of few words has a special message for you

When I enter these hallowed halls — from whence I retired nearly six years ago — for the purpose of writing a weekly column, I turn on a computer and stare at it for a few moments.

By the way, in retirement I still try to respond to emails I receive at The News-Herald, but since I see them for only a brief period on Monday afternoons, chances are that correspondents will not hear from me in a timely fashion.

I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. If you write to me on a Tuesday, I will not discover what it is that’s on your mind for nearly a week.

In point of fact, if you were to read the listing of names in the masthead on this editorial page, you would be aware that my name is at the very bottom of the list, and my title is “editor emeritus.”

If, in further pursuit of knowledge, you were to look up “emeritus,” as I did in Robin Palmer’s Merriam Webster, you would learn that it means, “holding after retirement an honorary title corresponding to that held last during active service,” meaning I don’t have the responsibilities here that I once had.

Just thought I’d clear that up for all the folks who wonder why I don’t do this or that. As some are wont to say, it’s not my job.

But I digress.

I am still staring at the computer, but you will notice that I have already filled some five inches of my allotted space.

Sometimes when I sit down to write, I have an idea what I want to say. Sometimes I do not. That is the way it is in this business.

Sometimes, through a process compounded of equal parts of deep thought and day-dreaming, I have mentally composed an entire column — about 22 inches, if you must know.

If I remember all of it on Monday afternoon after leaving a Rotary meeting and stopping at the bank to pick up my weekly allowance, I will transcribe it on Robin’s computer.

I use her computer for the very practical reason that she is not usually here when I am here, and it would be a waste of corporate funds to provide me with a computer of my own because I type for only about an hour and a half per week.

Getting an idea of what to write about ahead of time, however, lessens the probability of staring at a blank screen for a prolonged period of time.

Because, let’s face it, when you sit down to write, sometimes you know exactly what you are going to say and sometimes you don’t.

No one, to my knowledge, has ever expressed this conundrum more succinctly that the late, legendary editor of The Wall Street Journal, Vermont Connecticut Royster (yes, that was his real name).

The most yellowed clipping I have on my desk is from that venerable paper. The clip must be at least 40 years old. Yes, I save a lot of stuff.

The head on it says, “Puzzlements.” He starts out by saying, “Among editorial writers and other journalistic pundits, it’s almost unthinkable to let anyone think that as they think things over they don’t know what to think.”

He goes on to say: “The nature of our work casts us in the role of professional amateurs. Few of the tribe are experts in anything, and of course none can be experts in everything. “Yet the tribal custom calls for some comment one day on Red China, the next day perhaps on the policies of the Federal Reserve Board and on another day some opinion  on the proper size of the Defense Department. Rarely is one of the clan found wanting in that duty.”

So you get an idea of what a hard job I had for all those years.

But I am not seeking sympathy because I can’t think of anything to say right now.

On the contrary, I know precisely what I want to say, and I have known it from the moment I sat down in front of this machine.

I have been stalling for a bit because what I want to say to all of you, whom I consider dear friends, involves only two words, and I would look silly saying those two words in 22 inches of space because I would not want to appear to be squandering my allocation.

Were I do to that, they might cut me back to two words every week, and that would not work out very well next week, because at that time I will have three words for you.

But this week I have but two words to express my feelings, and I mean them from the bottom (and corresponding concomitants) of my heart.

Here are my two words for you:

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book shows the reasons behind Modell’s move

The Cleveland Browns filled a large void in my life after the Rams moved to Los Angeles.

The Rams had won the NFL championship on a dreary December day in 1945 when they scored a safety after Washington quarterback Sammy Baugh bounced a pass off the goal post in his own end zone, giving the Rams their margin of victory.

That situation can’t take place any more; the goal posts are no longer on the goal line.

But the Rams immediately headed for the West Coast, and I was left in dire need of professional football. I was a devoted fan of Riley “Rattlesnake” Matheson, Corby Davis, Bob Waterfield, Chuck Cherundolo and all the other Rams who made autumn so much fun.

But the following year, 1946, along came the Browns, and life returned to normal once again. For many years the Browns were virtually unbeatable, and a new galaxy of stars was born – Otto Graham, Dante Lavelli, Jim Brown and so many others who helped put Cleveland on the pro football map.

A terrible thing happened along the way, however, when the team’s new majority owner, Art Modell, fired Paul Brown.

The team has never been quite the same since, but we made accommodations, lived with it and kept on rooting for the home team.

Who could ever dream, could ever imagine, that the same thing that happened in 1945 could ever happen again, and that the team could be moved again, leaving the town without pro football once again?

But it did happen. After the 1995 season, Modell moved the team to Baltimore, where it remains as the Ravens.

There was no pro team here for three years, when the Browns were re-born as an expansion team.

The “success” of that team has been mainly at the turnstiles. It has become very proficient at losing.

On a recent Thursday night in Pittsburgh, the Browns put on one of the greatest goal-line stands in the history of professional football, denying the Steelers entry into the end zone after four attempts from the 2-yard line. It was late in the game, and the Browns were trailing only 7-3.

“Aha,” I said to anyone who would listen, “now we’re going to score and win, 10-7.” Never happened.

Meanwhile, Modell has sold almost all his interest in the Ravens and has never returned to Cleveland, not even to visit his beautiful Waite Hill home.

He didn’t dare return, lest he be captured, wandering somewhere near the fairway on the 14th hole at Kirtland Country Club (he lived right across the road), be lashed to a nearby tree and subsequently drawn and quartered and his body left for the buzzards to devour.

That’s how popular he was in these parts. He was despised, hated, vilified and accorded the status of a common criminal.

Everybody loathed him. I didn’t say almost everybody. I said everybody.

It was a rush to judgment the likes of which had not been seen since the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby.

But wait! Was there more to the story? Was there more than Art’s terse, “I had no choice?”

Could there have been financial considerations far beyond Modell’s control?

You bet there could. And they are all told, in a meticulously detailed book titled “Fumble,” written by Michael G. Poplar.

Poplar was closer to the situation than any other individual. He is a CPA. His book is subtitled, “An Insider’s Story.”

He first met Modell in 1965, when he was one of the outside auditors of the Browns’ books, and became a full-time employee as vice president and treasurer of Art’s Cleveland Stadium Corp. on March 1, 1975.

The Stadium Corp. eventually became an enormous drain on Art’s finances. There were entanglements with governors, mayors, city council members, county commissioners and dozens of others.

Poplar was a true insider. He was a party to everything that went on. Yes, Modell did make some terrible mistakes in judgment. And he chose some of his supporting cast members poorly. (Think Jim Bailey.)

But if you read this book, as I did, you will realize there were myriad compelling factors involved in the team’s departure.

I am indebted to an attorney friend, Rich Spotz, for lending me “Fumble” to read.

I learned a lot about Art Modell that I never knew, more, in fact, than anyone knows who hasn’t read this book.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Missing Willoughby clock still will need a good name

I’ve got an idea.

I uttered those words in 10th grade plane geometry class and the teacher, never at a loss for words, responded, “Treat it kindly.”

The late Alice Barkow, a nice lady, always did have a way with words. And she was smiling when she said it, so I knew there was no malice intended.

But it is several years later now, and my current idea has nothing to do with geometry. It is about a clock.

Some time ago I wrote a column about the clock atop the Cleveland Trust Building at the corner of Erie Street and Second Street in Downtown Willoughby.

The clock graced the front of that building for longer than anyone knows. Generations came along, grew up depending on the clock for the time of day, and went about their business.

Oh, there were wrist watches in those days, but many citizens preferred to look at the clock on the Cleveland Trust Building to learn what time it was.

One day the clock disappeared. Well, it many not have been one day. It may have taken several days to remove it. But it is no longer there.

So I heard from a number of people asking me to find it — as if I had any idea where it was. There is a spirited movement not only to find the clock, but to name it, much in the manner in which the stately clock that graces the campus at Lakeland Community College has a name.

The Raymond Armington Clocktower was named for a Great American who helped establish the college in 1967.

It is a commendable act of community spirit and good will to name a clock – especially after a contributor to the community weal.

If the Cleveland Trust clock were in Kirtland they could call it the Hornet Clock in honor of the football team, but it is not. It is in Downtown Willoughby. So, it will have to be named something else.

It should be named and found. It hasn’t been found yet.

At least, as far as I know it hasn’t been found. I expect they are still looking.

I advanced several theories and possible hiding places, including the barn in Madison where the ashes of Elliot Ness were found.

The problem is, there are only two or three people who know where that barn is located, and they aren’t telling. So the search goes on.

Serving as point people in the vanguard of historians who are attempting to re-install the clock in the Cleveland Trust Building, once it has been found, are Don and Pat Lewis, whose knowledge of the area in general and downtown Willoughby is legendary.

They are still looking for the clock.

Bob Carr, a member of Willoughby City Council, sent me a note asking if I would care to comment on the missing clock. I would – and did. That was of no help. The hunt continues.

Meanwhile, the movement to select an appropriate name for the clock should continue apace. I reason that it would be much easier to find the clock if it had a name.

So here is my suggestion: I think it should be named in honor of American Legion Post 214 in Willoughby.

What could be more appropriate than naming it for a fine, patriotic, upstanding organization that honors our country’s veterans by paying tribute to them 365 days a year.

The seed of this thought was planted in my mind as I was seated at the head table at Palmer-Roberts Post 214 preparing to offer some remarks on Veterans Day — a holiday that is very important, because without our nation’s veterans we wouldn’t have a Fourth of July, Thanksgiving or Memorial Day to celebrate.

Our veterans, through their devoted military service, have defended us against our aggressors and preserved the nation so future generations can have the luxury of enjoying the country’s blessings.

The person who planted the seed of naming the clock for the American Legion post was Jim Trettin, the post adjutant and a very active member of the organization.

It was Martha Setlock, president of the Ladies Auxiliary, who invited me to make some remarks at the dinner. She was so kind as to say afterwards that I was “very entertaining.” That made me feel warm all over.

But we still need to name the clock – and then find it.

So I nominate “American Legion Post 214” as the official name of the clock. Now, let’s get about finding it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Adding some names to list of 'finest coaches'

Bill Tilton, who does an exceptional job of covering scholastic sports for the paper, wrote a masterful put-down the other day of people who think that just because an area football team is loaded with talent, “anybody” could coach it.

The idea, of course, is preposterous. “Anybody” couldn’t coach a football team, and Bill pointed out all the reasons in a withering assault on the know-it-alls.

He gave three prime examples of individuals who can coach a football team – Steve Trivisonno of Mentor, Tiger LaVerde of Kirtland and Mark Iammarino of Chagrin Falls.


Which brings up two observations of my own.

I was seated at a Mentor Chamber of Commerce luncheon not long ago with Pat Snee, whom I have known since he was a kid. Pat was a terrific quarterback at South High.

Ed McIntire, son of coach Vic McIntire, was also a terrific quarterback – at North High. Interestingly, both Pat and Ed went to Yale, both got their degrees and both got jobs as advertising salesman at The News-Herald when they graduated. I don’t know how much you want to read into that. Whatever you wish, I guess. But I digress.

Pat was at the luncheon for a reason. He now teaches English at Mentor High and is president of the teachers’ union, which sponsored the event. So when he went to the lectern to assert his appreciation for the large turnout, he found it prudent to point out that when he played for South his team thrashed Mentor. It warmed the cockles of my Willoughby Union heart.

When he came back to the table we talked of his days quarterbacking the Rebels.

“Wasn’t Jimmy Theiling one of your receivers?” I asked. Jim’s wonderful parents, Jim and Irene, are dear friends of mine and their son was all-Ohio in football.

“Yes,” Pat replied. “And the other receiver was Mike Frisina.”

Well, that says it all. A high school quarterback could not have a better pair of targets than those two. While several Browns’ receivers in recent memory, including current memory, have made a career of dropping passes, Jim and Mike never dropped anything that was in their vicinity.

I began thinking of Bill Tilton’s column. “Who was your coach?” I asked Pat, as if I didn’t know.
“Jim Chapman,” he said. Of course he was! Bill might now have to expand his list to four.

Chapman was not only an outstanding coach at South, he went on to Case Western Reserve and turned a miserable football program into a huge winner. Must have had something to do with the coach.

Now for my second observation. I ran into Howard Eckert at breakfast last Sunday. Howie was the official timeclock keeper for Browns games for 25 years. He knows as much about football at every level, from Fairport Harbor to college to professional, as anyone I know.

I asked him if he had read Bill Tilton’s column on coaching and he said of course he had. He reads everything in The News-Herald’s sports pages.

But he answered my question about high school coaches in an oblique way.

“I went to a Mount Union playoff game the other day,” he said. “I drove down to Alliance with Dick Crum.”

I got his point. Dick Crum was probably the equal of anyone who ever coached high school football in Northern Ohio. Or Central Ohio, or Southern Ohio, for that matter.

Dick coached at Mentor. But so did someone else who came quickly to mind.

“How about Lee Tressel?” I asked Howard. “Doesn’t he belong on the all-time list of great area coaches?”

I don’t mean to encroach (a common football term) on Bill Tilton’s territory, but I have now expanded his list to six — three of his and three of mine.

That may be a bit presumptuous on my part. Bill may want to keep his list at three. That’s up to him.
Crum and Tressel were winners everywhere they went. Too bad about Lee’s boy, Jim, whose baby-sitter when his dad coached at Mentor was Betty Lou Hackenberg.

Jim Tressel attained a measure of coaching success of his own — until he looked the other way at Ohio State when some of his players were getting into trouble.

But since Urban Meyer is from Ashtabula, here’s hoping he can get the Buckeyes’ football program back on track again.