Sports Columnist

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

Somebody needs to be fired.

Last week, in this space, I suggested that Arizona Basketball coach and former Pitt star Sean Miller should be fired if ESPN’s story about him being heard on an FBI wire tap discussing a $100,000 payment to a recruit was true.

After Miller vehemently proclaimed the story to be untrue Thursday and Sports Illustrated criticized the ESPN story for misrepresenting the facts, I thought it was time for the ESPN reporter, Mark Schlabach, to be fired. SI claimed Schlabach got the dates of the alleged conversation between Miller and a runner for an NBA agent wrong.

ESPN released a correction saying that the conversation took place in 2017 and not, as Shlabach reported, in 2016.

The date was important because the recruit to whom Miller was alleged to have offered money, Deandre Ayton, was already signed to Arizona by 2017.

If Schlabach had done a sloppy job of reporting that could have cost Miller his job and his reputation, he should been fired Thursday.

But ESPN corrected it’s correction and doubled down on the claim that the conversation took place in 2017. Schlabach went on ESPN Sportscenter Thursday night and said, “Based on my conversations this weekend, I have no reason to believe anything in that story is inaccurate. The telephone conversation recorded by wiretaps remains under seal. If and when that seal is removed, we’ll find out.”

That’s a big if and a big when.

You’ll have to excuse me if I take a guilty until proven innocent approach when it comes to cheating at the upper levels of college basketball, but, for now, Miller has to be given the benefit of the doubt.

And let’s not forget how many times we’ve seen major athletes and coaches, who turned out to be guilty as sin, look into a camera and profess their innocence.

Miller has a reputation as a major control freak and his top assistant was indicted on federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. Feel free to believe that Miller had no idea what his top assistant was doing.

  • Apparently, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley had a really impressive workout at the NFL combine. Great 40-yard dash time. Impressive vertical leap. If you saw this kid play, do you really need to know, within a hundredth of second, what his 40 time is? Do you need to see him jump? Have you seen him run with a football on a football field? Draft him. Sign him up.
  • Friday was the 25th anniversary of what may have been the beginning of the greatest performance in Pittsburgh sports history. Mario Lemieux returned from treatments for Hodgkins Disease – that’s cancer – and went on a ridiculous tear to pass Pat LaFontaine and win the 1993 NHL scoring title.

The Flyers fans gave him a standing ovation before the game that night and he scored a goal. LaFontaine had a 12-point lead in the scoring race with 20 games to go.

Lemieux won the scoring title by 12 points.

All he did in the 20 games was score 30 goals with 26 assists.

It’s one of the big reasons why I consider him the best player I have ever seen in any team sport.

Coming out of retirement at 35, after a three-and-a-half year layoff, and becoming the best player in the league 30 seconds after stepping on the ice was just as much of a factor.

Maybe more.

  • You know you have serious problems if you spend more than 10 seconds talking about a quarterback’s hand measurements.
  • Josh Allen of Wyoming is my favorite quarterback in this year’s NFL draft. It’s been said he can throw a football 90 yards. After seeing him on tape, I wouldn’t doubt it.
  • Mark Malone once told me that Terry Bradshaw could throw it 100 yards. I never got Bradshaw to prove it. Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary for Colorado against Michigan went 75 yards in the air. He might have been able to hit 90 without shoulder pads and a helmet.
  • Analyze the Penguins all you want. Goaltending will determine whether they win their third Stanley Cup in a row.
  • People who think Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson should be a wide receiver in the NFL might want to talk to Warren Moon, Joe Theismann and Doug Flutie. How about figuring out a way to take advantage of all of his talents?
  • If you like all of those exciting touchbacks in the NFL, you’ll love the new rule proposed by the NCAA. A kick returner will have the option of signaling for a fair catch anywhere inside the 25-yard line. The ball would then be placed at the 25. Kickoffs are just too dangerous. And somebody at the NCAA doesn’t like the idea of pinning the return team near its own goal line.

What’s the point of having someone catch the kickoff if he has no interest in returning it? Apparently, the plan for both the NFL and NCAA is to incrementally eliminate football.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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