Issue: "Year in Review 2003," Dec. 27, 2003

Merit over mouth

Even as feminist Martha Burk and Augusta National boss Hootie Johnson sparred over women's membership at the golf course used by the Masters, Annika Sorenstam used excellence, not rhetoric, to advance the cause of women in golf. Her dominant play and low-key approach led to two majors on the women's tour and an invitation to play at the Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. Ms. Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA tour, and though she did not make the cut, she did play two solid rounds of golf and brought an incomparable spotlight to the Colonial and an interest to both the PGA and the LPGA tours.

And then there was the Skins Game where Ms. Sorenstam finished second to Fred Couples, a Skins Game master. But she won more holes than Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara, who was shut out in the competition after winning it last year.

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NBA: Nasty Boorish Athletes?

Commissioner David Stern couldn't be blamed for looking forward to November, the start of the new NBA season. The months after last summer's championship by San Antonio-featuring clean-cut, good-guy stars like David Robinson-and the beginning of the 2003-04 season turned into a public-relations nightmare for a league struggling to find its identity in the third and final post-Jordan era.

Arrests of Portland guard Damon Stoudamire on marijuana possession charges, Washington guard Jerry Stackhouse for assault, and New Orleans guard Darrell Armstrong for shoving a police officer would have been bad enough. But the biggest blow came when police arrested Lakers guard Kobe Bryant on sexual assault charges this summer. Mr. Bryant's problems turned into an instant black eye for the league, which used the Los Angeles star player among others to market the league. The arrests of Mr. Bryant, Mr. Stackhouse, and Mr. Armstrong were a departure from the standard NBA malfeasance: marijuana use. Portland forward Zack Randolph returned the league to "normal" after his early December arrest for driving under the influence of the drug.

"It can't help but to make people think the wrong way about us," said Knicks guard Allan Houston. "Now they think all NBA players smoke weed. It's just not fair, but hey, that's how it is."

Precarious profession

Team owners and university athletic directors have even shorter memories than the voting public. How else could Doc Rivers, named the NBA's Eastern Conference coach of the year in his first season (1999-2000), be fired just 11 games into this season after taking his talent-poor Magic team to the playoffs three of his four years as coach?

Or take Dan Reeves, the veteran NFL coach. Last year with Mr. Reeves at the helm and Michael Vick at quarterback, the Atlanta Falcons excelled. This year, without Mr. Vick until late in the season, the team struggled and Falcons owner Arthur Blank told Mr. Reeves he'd be fired at the end of the season. Mr. Reeves asked to be let go immediately.

Maybe the strongest sign that big-time coaching may be the most-fickle profession were two coaching moves that most people saw coming. Even though the Boston Red Sox came close to dethroning the Yankees, many feel Red Sox manager Grady Little misplayed his bullpen and expected him to be canned once New York dispatched Boston into the off season. And then there was Frank Solich who, despite a 9-3 regular season and a long history with Nebraska, got the ax anyway. Mr. Solich went out with style unlike that of a lame-duck coach: a win over a rival and a Gatorade bath in his last game.

Rolling Tide

Nothing could top the fireworks out of Alabama. Mike Price's aspiration to become the second-best coach in Alabama Crimson Tide history became history Tide fans would sooner forget. On April 16 and 17, Mr. Price played in a pro-am golf tournament in Pensacola, Fla. According to reports, he spent hundreds of dollars at a strip club and woke up in his hotel room with an unfamiliar woman who charged nearly $1,000 in room service to his account. Alabama's president fired the coach, who then sued for $20 million in a wrongful termination suit. A judge threw out Mr. Price's case because, among other things, in his months as coach at Alabama, Mr. Price inexplicably never actually signed his $10 million contract.

But football in Alabama has a way of evening itself out. Even before the Iron Bowl-the game that pits 'Bama against archrival Auburn-Auburn's president and athletic director were trying to line up a new coach. The pair held covert talks with Louisville's Bobby Petrino without consulting Louisville and without telling current coach Tommy Tuberville. Auburn's trustees expressed strong displeasure and Auburn was forced to issue apologies to Louisville, Mr. Petrino, and Mr. Tuberville. In what was considered a job-saving victory, Coach Tuberville led the Tigers to victory over the Tide, and then agreed to return to Auburn with a one-year contract extension.


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