Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Can Shea Weber find scoring form in time to help Predators?

When Shea Weber hammered home 10 goals in the first 20 games of the season, he became the first NHL defenseman to do so in more than two decades.

The problem was that those numbers drew the attention of opponents and media around the league, which were two of the bigger reasons Weber's goal production stalled over the next few months.

Rival coaches concentrated their efforts on finding ways to stop Weber's feared one-timer, and journalists immediately turned him into a trendy pick for the next Norris Trophy winner.

Fortunately for the Predators, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Weber maintained a high level of defensive play even as the goal pace slowed. And his game-winning overtime score against St. Louis on Saturday might — Weber's first goal in 15 games — might just be a sign that portion of his game is ready to heat up once again.

"I think the fact that he got off to a great start attracted a lot of attention and rightfully so,'' Predators Coach Barry Trotz said. "But that's good, because it's something any top player making the transition has to deal with. You have to deal with everything from more media to opponents checking you and being more aware of you on the ice.

"Do you get frustrated or do you play your game? Do you find ways to counter some of the things they're doing? That's all part of the process.''

Most of Weber's first 10 goals came via his punishing slapshot, the one that was timed at 103.4 mph at the All-Star game. In the Predators' 5-2 win over Carolina, for instance, Weber twice scored from long range despite the fact goalie Cam Ward got clean looks at the puck.

Opponents' solutions? Make it harder for Weber to get the puck in a shooting position, and when he does, put bodies in his way to block the screamers from getting through.

"That's what makes it hard for defensemen, because they're easier for teams to cover than a forward,'' Predators captain Jason Arnott said. "You know when he's on the ice, the coaches are saying, 'Do not let him have a one-timer, and if he does, try to get in front of it because if it gets through there's a good chance it will go in.' So it's very, very tough as a D-man to keep as many goals going as possible.''

There was also the matter of trying to live up to expectations that were raised rapidly after the smoking start.

"We were just joking around the other day and saying that maybe we should get off to a slower start next season,'' said Ryan Suter, Weber's defensive partner. "Maybe we should ease into things to keep the expectations down.''

The good news for the Predators was that though the goal pace slowed, Weber kept up a strong all-round standard of play. He's 10th in the league in hits and is second to Suter in average ice time for the Predators.

"That's the biggest thing for me — being a complete player,'' Weber said. "I want to be able to take care of my own end first because that's the biggest priority, and then if I can chip in at the other end, I'll take it.''

On Saturday, Weber joined the rush during four-on-four play in overtime and wound up smacking a shot from the slot past Blues goalie Chris Mason for the game-winner.

The goal was his 15th, a total that, despite some dry patches over the past few months, is still tied for third in the league among defensemen.

"He jumped up in the play and that's the thing — he's such a good skater (that) he can really get up the ice,'' Trotz said. "You have to find different ways to score and jumping up in the play is something a good defenseman can do in this league.''

Playoff tickets: The Predators said they will keep first-round playoff ticket prices the same as 2008-09 regular-season ticket prices.

Playoff invoices will be e-mailed to season-ticket holders in the next few days; deadline is March 17.

The Predators are four points out of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth.

Bonk sidelined: Trotz said center Radek Bonk will miss about two weeks because of the upper-body injury he suffered Saturday. That timeframe could keep Bonk, second in the league in face-off success rate, out of the next six Nashville games and past the March 4 NHL trading deadline.

Forward J.P. Dumont also missed practice Monday, but Trotz called it a maintenance day for the veteran forward and said Dumont was likely to play tonight against Chicago.

Wednesday show: Forward Wade Belak and defenseman Kevin Klein will be guests on this week's Players Show, which takes place 6-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Closing Bell Wall Street Pub on Demonbreun Street. The show airs on 560-AM ; Daily News Journal Sports Editor Greg Pogue will serve as host.

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Kentucky routs Tennessee

Vols struggle to keep focus on the court

KNOXVILLE — It was an embarrassment. That's how Tennessee men's basketball Coach Bruce Pearl and his players described the loss Saturday at Kentucky.

It wasn't just because of the 19-point thumping, or UT's four assists, or even the 4-of-24 shooting from 3-point range.

On multiple defensive plays, UT appeared to give up, players showed little poise, and at times center Wayne Chism, forward Tyler Smith as well as wing J.P. Prince weren't even in the huddle during timeouts.

"You could see Coach just talking to five players and everybody else running around talking to each other," Chism said. "That's not us. Usually we're all crowded around him and we weren't."

When UT (16-10, 7-5 SEC) was winning earlier this season, things were much different.

"We were huddling up together, talking and laughing, and having fun," Chism said. "In the games that we don't, no one is talking together or laughing. It's all serious faces. We don't realize it until you watch the film. It's embarrassing to watch film and you see that."

With Mississippi State (17-10, 7-5) coming to town Wednesday, and with both teams fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, poise and production never have been more vital.

The Vols expect some off-the-court tweaks. It may mirror what the women's basketball team has gone through. Because of the Lady Vols' recent struggles, Coach Pat Summitt has banned her players from their own locker room.

"You have to do some things off the court," UT assistant Coach Jason Shay said. "We haven't come to a conclusion on that. We're still exhausting those possibilities."

Earlier this season, the team's leaders called a team meeting and the results were positive. When freshman Scotty Hopson was asked Monday if another team meeting was needed, it didn't sound like he would round up his teammates.

"Maybe we do need another meeting, but it's not my job to call one," Hopson said.

When Chism was told about Hopson's comment, Chism appeared puzzled.

"We don't just rely on us veterans or the coaches," Chism said. "If (the freshmen) want to call a team meeting, let them call it. We're not going to have a problem. We're going to show up. Sometimes I do think they rely on us too much, but they do look up to us and we have to step up for them."

UT's veterans are quick to point out that the team's struggles can't be blamed on one single person, even when it comes to selfishness, which Pearl pointed to in his comments immediately after the Kentucky game.

"It's all our fault, it's the coaches' fault, it's just not one particular person or the veterans," Chism said. "It's everybody's fault."

Hopson plays well in return to Kentucky
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Kentucky routs Tennessee

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Preds GM predicts quiet trade deadline

With just over a week before the NHL’s March 4 trading deadline and only five teams realistically out of the playoff chase, Nashville’s David Poile said recent conversations with his fellow general managers are following a similar pattern.

In one breath he and his peers are talking about what they might like to acquire if they’re buyers at the deadline. In the next they’re talking about what they might be willing to give up if they’re sellers.

“I’d be very hard-pressed to think that a lot would happen at the trading deadline,’’ Poile said Sunday. “That may be famous last words because every year there’s been a lot of trades at the deadline. But I don’t think the race has ever been as close as it is today. For most teams of any significance, you just don’t have any trading partners.’’

The Predators have several potential unrestricted free agents on the roster, including Ville Koistinen, Greg Zanon, Greg de Vries, Radek Bonk, Steve Sullivan, Vern Fiddler and Scott Nichol, but Poile said he doesn’t feel the necessity to make any decisions on them by the deadline.

“We have until July 1 to re-sign players if we want,’’ Poile said. “There’s always exceptions to what I’m going to say, but at this point, I would just as soon let’s play this out and get to the end, then we can sit down and talk to the player after the season.’’

Sullivan represents a particularly interesting scenario. He’s only played 19 games since returning from a near two-year layoff, so it’s hard to predict how much impact he’ll have down the line.

Poile seemed to indicate that Sullivan wouldn’t be moved at the deadline.

“His comeback is a process,’’ Poile said. “I don’t think he knows nor we know how full a comeback it will be, how healthy he’ll be. That’s really a conversation to have after the season, not right now.’’

Poile also said he could not envision any scenario in which he would ask any of his four players with no-trade clauses — Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont, Martin Erat and David Legwand — if they wanted to be moved.

Two goals, three points: The Predators will enter Tuesday’s game against Chicago as the NHL’s lowest-scoring team, having managed just 142 goals in 60 games — an average of 2.37 per game.

But it hasn’t necessarily kept the Predators from being competitive. They scored a combined two goals in their past two games, yet they came away with three points in a 2-1 overtime loss and a 1-0 overtime win.

“You grit it out,’’ forward Vern Fiddler said. “You battle and you get that extra point. If you have to go to overtime or shootout, you do what you have to do to get the extra point.’’

Admirals update: The Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s affiliate in the American Hockey League, remain in first place in the West Division despite the loss of Antti Pihlstrom, Ryan Jones and Alexander Sulzer to the Predators for large parts of the season.

Center Cal O’Reilly continues to lead the Admirals with 55 points (11 goals, 44 assists) in 56 games, followed by center Mike Santorelli (16 goals, 32 assists in 49 games) and defenseman Cody Franson (seven goals, 29 assists in 52 games).

Goalie Drew MacIntyre is 26-11-2, with a 2.43 goals against average and .917 save percentage.

Bonk update: Center Radek Bonk is scheduled to see a doctor before Monday’s practice. On Saturday Coach Barry Trotz said Bonk suffered the same upper-body injury (wrist) that caused him to sit out two games earlier this month.

Washington Report: Lobbyist Groups Active
Kentucky routs Tennessee
Hopson plays well in return to Kentucky

Ayers continues surge as draft nears

INDIANAPOLIS — Defensive end Robert Ayers wasn’t a starter until his senior season at Tennessee.

He’d produced some eye-catching moments before then but not enough to suggest a superstar in the making.

“I guess you could say I am a late bloomer,’’ Ayers said Sunday at the NFL Combine.

With the draft two months away, it’s safe to say Ayers is in full bloom.

After a standout performance in the Senior Bowl last month, when he was selected the game’s most outstanding defensive player, Ayers has moved up in mock drafts and undoubtedly on draft boards. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock called him the fastest riser in the draft.

“Robert Ayers has opened my eyes,’’ Mayock said. “There was a little buzz about him late in the year at Tennessee. Then at the Senior Bowl nobody could block him. His explosion and quickness blew me away.

“I have him my top 20 right now out of nowhere. I have him as the 12th best player in the country right now.’’

As a senior, Ayers finished third in the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss en route to being named All-SEC. He had 1.5 sacks in the Senior Bowl, half as many as he had in his senior season with the Vols. NFL teams see the 6-foot-3, 272-pounder as a player capable of playing on the inside or outside.

Ayers quickly pointed out that he wasn’t a bench-riding, wasted talent some seem to think he was.

“The fact that I only started one year to me can be taken the wrong way,’’ he said. “If you look at the stats at Tennessee, as a junior I led the team in tackles for losses and sacks off the bench, so my hard work didn’t just start my senior year.

“The fact that I got most improved going into my junior year and got selected as a captain as a senior shows I’ve been working hard. So my hard work really just paid off and I earned the starting position as a senior, but I’ve been working hard since day one and that is what I am going to continue to do.’’

Ayers said he talked with a lot of teams this weekend and got good vibes. His former UT teammates talked him up, too.

“When he breaks out he is not turning back,’’ Tennessee tackle Ramon Foster said. “At Tennessee he was one of those guys where it was like, ‘When is he going to take off?’ I feel like he is finally taking a step to being elite.’’

Ayers said he plans to pay no attention to the buzz, that he won’t look at the mock drafts, and doesn’t like comparing himself to some of the other defensive ends in the draft.

“Growing up as a child I watched NFL players like Barry Sanders and Reggie White and those guys and just to be considered in any round or free agency, that is just a blessing in itself,’’ he said. “If things work out and I end up in the first round then that is good, if I go (as a) free agent that’s good, too. I am just happy to be in this situation.’’

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Suddenly hot TSU rallies for a win

Tennessee State earned a place on one tournament bracket Thursday and then played in an ESPNU BracketBusters game Saturday night.

Whether the Tigers will be in the NCAA Tournament bracket is anyone's guess, but they made their case against Detroit by rallying in the second half for a 78-75 victory.

TSU clinched a spot in the eight-team Ohio Valley Conference Tournament by winning Thursday at Tennessee Tech 77-74.

Then on Saturday, a Gentry Center crowd of 3,789 watched TSU (10-17, 7-9 OVC) claim its fourth consecutive win under interim head coach Mark Pittman.

Jeremiah Crutcher helped the Tigers hold off the Titans by sinking five 3-pointers in the second half.

"I came out in the first half and wasn't knocking down shots,'' Crutcher said. "I just had to take my time and relax. My coach had confidence in me and I shot the ball the way I'm supposed to in the second half.

TSU's Darius Cox blocked Eulis Stephens' layup with seven seconds remaining to help preserve the victory. Detroit got the ball back with four seconds remaining but could not get a shot off.

The Tigers improved to 4-1 with Pittman as the head coach. Pittman stepped in for Cy Alexander, who was fired Feb. 6.

The Tigers had not claimed more than two consecutive wins before Pittman took over.

Pittman said he has worked hard on changing the team's overall mental approach.

"What's happening mostly is I think we've made improvements with our team atmosphere and attitude and our overall team cohesiveness,'' Pittman said. "I'm trying to make them play relaxed, but still focused. I don't want them to be uptight and tense and nervous, and they're responding very well. This was not our best game, but somehow we hung onto it."

Crutcher's first 3-pointer early in the second half gave the Tigers their first lead at 37-36. He made two more from behind the arc over the next three minutes, Parker Smith added one and Cox made another giving TSU a 51-46 lead.

TSU made eight of 12 (66.7 percent) 3-pointers in the second half.

"Crutcher was tough to defend,'' first-year Detroit Coach Ray McCallum said. "Our guys were saying, 'We were there guarding him,' but that's what outstanding 3-point shooters do. His play made the difference."

The former Hunters Lane High School standout finished with 16 points. Jerrell Houston led the Tigers with 17 points, Parker Smith scored 14, Gerald Robinson had 13 and Cox had 10.

Stephens led the Titans (7-20) with 13 points.

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Hopson plays well in return to Kentucky
Kentucky routs Tennessee

Kentucky routs Tennessee

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Sense of urgency. Tennessee men’s basketball Coach Bruce Pearl drilled the phrase into his players’ minds all week.

Today, there is a massive sense of despair.

Kentucky slapped UT with a dominating 77-58 victory on Saturday in front of a crowd of 24,394 at a boisterous Rupp Arena.

The loss was devastating for the Vols, who entered the day in a four-way tie atop the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division. Now, with only four regular season games remaining, it is highly unlikely UT will defend its league title, and a spot in the NCAA Tournament next month is anything but a given.

“As a head coach, I have never been so embarrassed by how I coached or how my team played,” Pearl said. “I apologize to our fans and the University of Tennessee. We didn’t play with poise, passion or with a purpose, and I thought that there were times where we quit.”

The contrast between the numbers for UT (16-10, 7-5) and Kentucky (19-8, 8-4) were alarming. The Vols shot a measly 31.7 percent from the field, including 4 of 24 from 3-point range (16.7 percent).

Kentucky, meanwhile, seemingly couldn’t miss. The Wildcats scored early and often and converted 59.6 percent from the field.

“(UT) is a good team with a good coach at a great program,” Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie said. “They have a lot of really great players. We knew we had to keep playing because it’s a 40-minute game.”

For some, the game appeared all but over just a few minutes after it started.

UT missed its first seven shot attempts and did not score in the opening eight minutes. The Wildcats quickly built a 10-point lead and staved off a handful of UT mini-runs. The Vols had a couple of pushes in the second half, but trailed by double digits during the entirety of the final 20 minutes.

“We have to go back to the table and focus on all our stuff and stop worrying about other things,” UT center Wayne Chism said. “We should have won because we needed this win. We didn’t come out like we wanted and we lost.”

Part of the problem: the struggles of Tyler Smith, UT’s leading scorer entering the weekend. Smith, a former Giles County High School star, was averaging 17.6 points per game, but he went scoreless in the first half. He finished with six points on 1 of 11 shooting, and his only field goal came one minute into the second half.

Smith’s offensive struggles had a trickle-down effect on his teammates, who often look to the junior forward to spark the offense.

“We feed off him a lot,” said UT freshman Scotty Hopson, who led his team with 14 points. “He’s our leader and is probably one of the best players on the team. When he’s going, our team is going. When he’s not, we have to find guys to step up.”

Few did. Only two players outside of Hopson recorded double-digits in scoring. They were Chism (10 points) and J.P. Prince (11).

Kentucky countered with a remarkable all-around team effort. With UT concentrating heavily on star guard Jodie Meeks, who dropped 54 points on the Vols in Knoxville, others did their part.

Center Patrick Patterson returned after missing two games with an ankle injury and scored a game-high 19 points. Teammate Darius Miller, a freshman wing player, had career highs in points (17) and assists (6).

UT hosts Mississippi State on Wednesday, and the Vols can ill afford to hang their heads with the end of the regular season nearing.

“We have to bounce back big time,” Chism said. “It will be hard, but we are going to have to do it.”

Hopson plays well in return to Kentucky
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Hopson plays well in return to Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The list of embarrassing issues and dreadful play by the Tennessee men’s basketball team on Saturday appear limitless.

But if any positive can be taken from Kentucky’s 77-58 dismantling of the Vols, it may be the effort of Scotty Hopson.

The freshman guard returned to his home state with high expectations, and plenty of boos and chants cascading down upon him at Rupp Arena. But the highly touted guard rose to the occasion and led UT with 14 points, going 6-of-14 from the field.

“It felt good because this is close to home for me,” said Hopson, who attended University Heights in Hopkinsville, Ky. “My family and friends were here cheering me on. It was just a blessing to be back here playing.”

Hopson has pressed in other key games, including against Marquette in Nashville on Dec. 16 as well as when Kentucky came to Knoxville one month later. But he appeared more relaxed and aggressive on Saturday, and it was highlighted with a dunk in the second half when he took a pass from the top of the key, drove the lane, and threw it down.

“I thought Scotty competed,” UT Coach Bruce Pearl said. “He has made a lot of improvement and a lot of progress. I thought that Scotty was one of those guys that did keep his poise.”

Harsh words: Pearl didn’t hold back in his postgame press conference.

“I have been a head coach for a lot of years and my team has finished first or second in every conference that we have played in,” Pearl said. “Those teams have played hard and unselfishly. This team doesn’t do either.”

Stepping in: After Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks scored a school-record 54 points at UT last month, the Wildcats knew the Vols were going to attempt to lock him down.

UT did a solid job and held Meeks to 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting Saturday, but others took advantage.

“They had a person on him everywhere he went,” said Kentucky freshman Darius Miller, who scored a career-high 17 points. “We had a lot of open shots and open driving lanes, so we were trying to take advantage of that.”

Feeling fine: Kentucky center Patrick Patterson started for the first time after missing two games with an ankle injury. The sophomore scored a game-high 19 points.

“It feels great,” Patterson said about his ankle. “I had to tell (the trainer) if it hurt and it hasn’t. There was no pain during practice this week.”

Extra points: The Wildcats shot a season-high 59.6 percent from the field. It was their highest percentage since shooting 56.6 at UT on Jan. 13. … The crowd of 24,394 was a season high for Kentucky, and the fourth-largest crowd in Rupp Arena’s history. … UT outscored Kentucky 30-10 on second-chance points.

Kentucky routs Tennessee
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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Titans expect Kerry Collins to return

INDIANAPOLIS — All the talk has been about Albert Haynesworth, but with free agency less than a week away the Titans haven't re-signed quarterback Kerry Collins either.

General Manager Mike Reinfeldt expressed optimism Friday that a deal would be worked out, but said the Titans would probably be willing to match any offers Collins might receive if he hits the market Feb. 27.

Reinfeldt said he's scheduled to meet this weekend with the quarterback's agent, David Dunn, at the NFL Combine.

"I would think we would be willing to pay him whatever anybody else would be willing to pay him. So I think he would be more likely to come back,'' Reinfeldt said. "We would like Kerry Collins back. He did a heck of a job for us last year. It is hard to speak for him. But I think he is comfortable in Tennessee and likes his teammates, the coach, and the city.''

Reinfeldt acknowledged there's a possibility Collins might wait until another older veteran quarterback — Arizona's Kurt Warner — signs. That would give Collins a better gauge of his value. Warner, 37, and Collins, 36, had career-resurrecting seasons in 2008, with Collins going 12-3 in the regular season and Warner guiding the Cardinals to the Super Bowl.

There are indications Collins is seeking a multiyear contract in the $7 million- $8 million range, though those numbers are higher than what the Titans have in mind.

Said Titans Coach Jeff Fisher: "We have every intention of getting Kerry back under contract. Whether that happens by next Friday I don't know, but we'd certainly like to have it happen."

Reinfeldt and Fisher touched on a variety of other topics during their visit to the Combine on Friday:

>> Haynesworth. The Titans have contingency plans if they lose the two-time All-Pro but haven't given up hope of re-signing him, Fisher said.

"I think Albert, not if all things were equal, if they were close to equal, I think he would prefer to come back,'' Fisher said. "He has a great relationship with (defensive line coach) Jim Washburn. We do a lot of different things with him and there is no guarantee if he does go someplace else he would be given the opportunity to do the same things we do defensively.''

Haynesworth is looking to become the NFL's highest paid defensive player, with an average salary of around $12 million over six years. The Titans dangled a contract in the four-year, $36-million range, but are expected to sweeten that offer. Last month Haynesworth told The Tennessean he wouldn't give the Titans a "hometown discount."

Reinfeldt is scheduled to meet with Haynesworth's agent Chad Speck here this weekend.

Vince Young. While Fisher made it clear he wants Collins to return as the starter in 2009, he said Young made it clear he'd like to regain the job.

"I visited with Vince last week and we had a good conversation,'' Fisher said. "He's had a little distance between the season and he's anxious to come back.

"He wanted to know what he had to do to earn his starting job back and he is willing to do whatever it takes. He has a good frame of mind and is willing to compete.''

Young, the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft, was benched after the 2008 opener. Before that he started 28 of 30 games in his first two NFL seasons.

Young, who spent a lot of last offseason attending classes at the University of Texas, plans to work out at Baptist Sports Park and be a part of the team's offseason conditioning program when it begins on March 26, Fisher said.

Asked what Young needs to do to win his starting job back, Fisher said: "Work to improve his fundamentals and do whatever any other player does.''

Play clock. Six weeks later, Fisher said he hasn't been able to get the playoff loss to the Ravens — and a blown call in that game — out of his mind.

Rules regarding the 40-second play clock have been discussed during the league's competition committee meetings here.

"You mean the 43-second play clock?'' Fisher, co-chairman of the committee, said with a smile. "Yeah, we discussed it.''

Replays showed the Ravens got away with snapping the ball late on a critical third down late in the game. They ended up with a first down and drove for the game-winning field goal.

"It was an unfortunate mistake that took place," Fisher said, "but the committee is not going to overreact to those one-time things that happen during the course of the year.''

Craig Hentrich. The Titans are still waiting to hear from punter Craig Hentrich, who is considering retirement, Reinfeldt said.

Veteran Josh Miller, who's some spent some time with the Titans, could be the replacement if Hentrich calls it a career.

Other players. The Titans are talking with other unrestricted free agents, including cornerback Chris Carr, receiver Brandon Jones, nickel back Vincent Fuller and quarterback Chris Simms.

"We've had good discussions,'' Reinfeldt said.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

State individual tournament wrestling primer

>> What: Division I and II tournaments.
>> Where: McKenzie Arena, Chattanooga.
>> Cost: $10 per day.

>> Today: 3 p.m. — DI Round of 32 and 16.
>> Thursday: 9 a.m. — DII Round of 16, DI and DII quarterfinals; 5 p.m. — DI and DII semifinals.
>> Friday: DI and DII finals, 5 p.m.


>> Bruin reunion?

Brentwood junior Cameron Croy and Lincoln County senior Tate Mustin could meet in the 189-pound semifinals. Mustin transferred from Brentwood last summer.

Croy won state at 189 last year after teammate Mustin took runner-up at 171.

“That would be something else,” said Croy, who was recently profiled in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd. “We are really good buddies and keep in touch. He’d know me better than any other opponent, definitely.”

>> Bracket busters

The seeding system was especially rough on Independence. Three Eagles who medaled (top six) last year and are seeded first or second could wrestle a former medalist in the second round. Why? Former medalists are not seeded if they do not win region.

Independence top seed Chase Beazley (125) could have a second-round match with 2008 runner-up Tee Boone of Notre Dame, who lost 5-4 in his region final. Chris Sinsheimer (152) could see Cookeville’s Ethan Henry and Taylor Dixon (160) could see Bradley’s Josh Disney in second-round matches that look more like the semifinals.

“You think they’d split those type of people up,” Independence Coach Jared Grindstaff said. “But we have goals of wrestling the best kids in state, so I guess it doesn’t matter when you see them.”

>> Irish anniversary

It is the 40th anniversary of Father Ryan’s first wrestling championship in 1969 under Coach Joe Drennan, also the first by a non-Chattanooga school. Metro Athletics Director Scott Brunette, a 155-pound state champion on that Irish team, described the team’s feat as monumental.

“We had some head-on battles with Notre Dame and we knew it would be between the two us,” Brunette said. “They had more individual champions, but we had 10 place-winners and that’s what won it for us. We carried Joe Drennan around the mat we were so excited. The 12 of us on the team were best friends. We could finally say that a Midstate school won the state championship in wrestling.”

>> Girls Invitational

For the first time there will be a girls individual tournament, though it is non-sanctioned because girls wrestling is not yet a sport recognized by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.

Forty-six girls, including 14 from Middle Tennessee, have signed up to compete across nine weight classes.

“Since this is the first year and it has not been promoted enough, I feel like there won’t be much (competition),” Tullahoma sophomore 138-pounder Emily Gessler said. “In a few years it might be a lot better and bring a lot more girls out.”

The girls wrestle Thursday and Friday, with finals finishing before the DI and DII finals at 5 p.m.


>> Bradley (DI) and Baylor (DII) are strong favorites for the team title and both won state duals titles.

>> Everyone will be asked to wear admission wristbands for the first time as the state association tries to curtail event security. Wrestlers must keep the paper-based bands on during competition.

>> Metro will try to keep its streak of having a wrestler in the DI finals every year since 2003. Its lone titles in that span have come from Overton’s Ari Ibrahim (2003) and Daniel White (2008).

>> MBA senior Jeff Francis, a three-time DII finalist and 2006 champion who has been plagued by concussions and injuries, is not entered in the 125-pound field. He can be substituted into the bracket Thursday morning if he’s able to go.


Division I
125: Chase Beazley, Sr., Independence
160: Joe Proctor, Jr., Cookeville
171: Gabe Vasquez, Sr., Clarksville
189: Cameron Croy, Jr., Brentwood

Division II
103: Carlos Calloway, So., Brentwood Acad.
135: Cody Austell, Sr., Father Ryan
152: Justin Cash, Sr., Brentwood Acad.
160: Patrick Marchetti, Sr., Father Ryan
171: Wes Wesley, Jr., Father Ryan
189: Max Jarrell, Sr., MBA
215: Watson Sweat, Sr., Ensworth
285: Ryan Carrethers, Sr., Brentwood Acad.


Division I
112 Blake Thomas, Brentwood (4th at 112); Chris Soubon, Antioch (3rd at 103)
125 Chase Beazley, Independence (5th at 119)
135 Ryan Treloar, Hendersonville (6th at 130)
140 Anthony Grady, Clarksville (4th at 135)
152 Chris Sinsheimer, Independence (4th at 152); Ethan Henry, Cookeville (6th at 145)
160 Joe Proctor, Cookeville (3rd at 160); Taylor Dixon, Independence (6th at 160)
171 Gabe Vasquez, Clarksville (4th at 171)
189 Cameron Croy, Brentwood (1st at 189); Tate Mustin, Lincoln Co. (2nd at 171); Michael Kennedy, Blackman (6th at 171)
215 Nick White, Cookeville (5th at 215)
285 Quintin Robinson, Hunters Lane (6th at 285)

Division II
103 Carlos Calloway, Brentwood Acad. (4th at 103)
112 Johnny Maurizi, Father Ryan (3rd at 103); Daniel Bellet, MBA (6th at 103)
119 Thomas Garbarino, JPII (5th at 112); Anthony Simpson, Father Ryan (6th at 112)
130 Chase Brannon, Brentwood Acad. (2nd at 119); Mark Simpson, MBA (4th at 119)
135 Cody Austell, Father Ryan (2nd at 135); Zeno Dupree, Brentwood Acad. (4th at 112)
140 Matt Brewer, Father Ryan (3rd at 125)
145 Nick Bateman, Father Ryan (6th at 130)
152 Justin Cash, Brentwood Acad. (1st at 145); Sean Hershmann, SAS (6th at 140)
160 Patrick Marchetti, Father Ryan (1st at 140); Daniel Todd, MBA (3rd at 145); William Ball, Brentwood Acad. (6th at 152)
171 Wes Wesley, Father Ryan (1st at 160); John Floyd, MBA (4th at 152)
189 Max Jarrell, MBA (1st at 171)
215 Watson Sweat, Ensworth (6th at 215); Taylor Brasher, Brentwood Acad. (5th at 189)
285 Ryan Carrethers, Brentwood Acad. (3rd at 285)

Sperry’s Asset Recovery Team to Assist Those With Troubled Portfolios
Investor Report: PMI Group Risk List
As economy falls, more people put money away in savings

Monday, February 16, 2009

Proposed emissions rules worry automakers

At the same time that the nation's top automakers are dealing with their worst financial crisis in history, they're also facing possible new environmental and fuel-economy standards, pushed by the Obama administration, that some fear could slow their recovery and cost more jobs.

As General Motors and Chrysler prepare to present Congress and the new Washington administration with comprehensive programs for returning to profitability this week — a requirement attached to the $13.6 billion in bridge loans they received from taxpayers in December — they are also staring at the potential for billions in new expenses tied to the development of more fuel-efficient, less-polluting vehicles.

On one side are environmental activists and many consumers who insist that U.S. carmakers build vehicles that don't harm air quality and that help reduce the nation's dependence on dirty-burning fossil fuels.

On the other are pro-industry groups and many auto analysts who say the clean air push is forcing automakers to manufacture cars that people won't buy and that will only drive the companies further into financial disarray.

"You're telling the car companies that they have to build cars that people don't want to buy," said Jeremy Anwyl, president and chief executive of the consumer Web site Edmunds.com and a longtime auto industry consultant. "It's not exactly a recipe for viability."

Some industry analysts say consumers think green when gas prices rise to dizzying heights above $4 a gallon — as they did last summer — but change their tune when prices drop to less than $2 a gallon.

"None of the automakers can win when we keep having wild fluctuations in the costs of energy," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Take, for example, the Toyota Prius hybrid — a car that combines a small gasoline engine with an electric motor to reduce air pollution and provide fuel economy approaching 50 miles per gallon.

"You couldn't find a Prius last summer when gasoline topped $4 a gallon," Cole said. "Today, you can't give one away.

"One of the things we do know is that when fuel is cheap, consumers aren't interested in little cars and expensive technology such as hybrid-drive systems. To think you can make people buy 40-mpg cars is a pipe dream."

California rule debated

Despite such pessimism, environmental groups hail an Obama administration directive calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its 2008 Bush-era decision to deny a waiver to the California Air Resources Board. The waiver would allow the board to continue forcing smog rules on new vehicles sold in that state that are more restrictive than those required by the federal Clean Air Act.

Those rules already had been embraced by 13 other states, as well — mostly in the Northeast, where air pollution is at its worst.

President Barack Obama also ordered new mileage standards that could force automakers to have a Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, of 35 mpg even before a 2018 deadline.

"The new administration understands that higher pollution and mileage standards will help curb global warming, cut our dangerous dependence on oil, save consumers billions at the pump, and help the domestic auto industry recover," wrote David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center, in a recent blog posting.

Jennifer Rennicks, federal policy director of the Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an independent TVA watchdog group, agrees. Her group promotes renewable-energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.

"We do think the president's direction to the EPA to reconsider the California waiver request is an important near-term step toward the reduction in greenhouse gases that cause global warming," Rennicks said.

"If the waiver goes through, numerous states are stacked up to follow, and … almost half of the drivers in the country could fall under these stricter rules. We would applaud this direction as absolutely the way we should go."

But forcing such rules on an ailing auto industry in the middle of a massive recession would be foolish, said Tom Borelli, senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank that promotes free enterprise.

"For the automakers, these proposals are making a bad situation much worse," he said. "In the first place, the auto industry was already challenged because of the existing CAFE rules and other environmental requirements.

"That had put the carmakers in a box, forcing them to sell unprofitable cars in order to meet the existing standards. So, they were managing their business on a very fine line, which meant that they really only made money on their SUVs and pickups, which is what American consumers wanted."

The tougher standards envisioned by the Obama administration would make matters worse and "force people to buy cars they don't want," Borelli said.

Foreign automakers hurt

Several auto analysts said foreign carmakers are also at risk.

It's a fallacy to believe that only the Big Three U.S. carmakers would be hurt, said Edmunds.com's Anwyl. "No one is in really good shape right now," he said, including Nissan, whose North American operations are based in Franklin.

Toyota, hailed as a leader in the development of fuel-efficient, low-emissions hybrids, is about to post a nearly $5 billion loss for the past year — its first loss in 70 years — because of the unprecedented slowdown in auto sales both in the United States and abroad.

Nissan has said it will post a $2.85 billion loss for its 2008 fiscal year, ending March 31, the first loss for the No. 2 Japanese automaker since 1999.

Of the top six automakers in the U.S. market — GM, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Honda and Nissan — only Honda is prepared to weather a combination of higher CAFE and emissions standards, Anwyl predicted.

"Honda is in good shape," he said. "It has no full-size trucks, no V-8 engines. But Toyota would be kind of caught because it is heavily dependent on trucks and bigger cars, just like the domestic automakers. But it's probably in better shape than the domestics."

Nissan probably is somewhere between Toyota and Honda, but in a better position than the domestic carmakers, Anwyl said. He said that's the case even though Nissan has relied heavily on less-efficient trucks and SUVs in the U.S. market, including its Pathfinder, Xterra and Frontier models assembled at a manufacturing plant in Smyrna.

Single standard wanted

A Nissan spokesman said the company remains on track, though, to have an electric car by 2010 in the U.S. and Japan and for the mass market by 2012. Spokesman Fred Standish here said the company's "primary focus is on a zero-emissions vehicle."

But Nissan and other automakers have been opposed to a patchwork quilt of differing standards for fuel economy or emissions, such as separate smog rules in place in California. "We backed a bill in the U.S. Senate to set higher fuel-economy standards," Standish said. "But we need one standard nationwide."

"Multiple standards make things very complex. We've already got cars outfitted for California emissions rules and then the rest of the country. To further segment that would be difficult to deal with. We're firmly behind a single standard," Standish said.

Michigan-based auto analyst Erich Merkle doesn't think pure electric vehicles, such as the ones promised by Nissan, are the answer to either the nation's smog problems or the automakers' financial challenges.

"I see the automakers going more down the electric road, but honestly, that's not going to save the industry," Merkle said. "They're expensive, the infrastructure isn't in place, and the battery technology must improve.

"People are intoxicated by electric. But the internal-combustion engine is not all that bad, and it's not going to go away. We will see more electrification of them, with hybrid technology, but we can manage the combustion process much better today than eight or nine years ago."

Merkle agrees with a number of other analysts and the automakers about the dangers of a hodgepodge of state regulations.

"You just can't manufacture a car for each state," he said. "It's not economically viable, and it would cause incredible chaos."

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Make fees, expectations clear from the outset

In the midst of watching the recent wrangling for and against the stimulus bill on Capitol Hill, I was reminded of how disagreements can inadvertently mushroom when expectations aren't managed by clear communication.

When I am engaged as a vendor for a client, I always make the expectations clear with a signed letter of agreement.

But when I engaged a photographer recently, I didn't keep my steadfast rule of managing my vendor's expectations.

Recently, I received a blistering e-mail from the photographer, which served as a great reminder that whether you engage a vendor or you are the vendor, expectations must be made clear to avoid misunderstanding.

It seems that as schedules changed, I interrupted the photographer's schedule for which I apologized at the time. He assured me that the schedule change was not an inconvenience for him. He also believed that the work we discussed was a greater priority for me than it was.

As other issues took priority, as they always do, he didn't remind me diplomatically that the project was at a standstill.

His resentment built over the passing weeks, while not letting me know that he "was uncomfortable" with the ongoing relationship.

If only he had said those magic words as I do when a vendor expects more than I can deliver for the fee they want to pay, we could have cleared up the misunderstanding.

I often find that a project with a client can linger. It is not incumbent on the client to facilitate the project for the convenience of the vendor. It is inherent in the course of being a vendor that projects get stalled or die slow deaths and time spent educating the client or making changes as they occur is simply the cost of doing business.

If specific fees and expectations aren't made clear at the outset, the vendor may feel short-changed.

Because so many of us are independent business owners, a good rule of thumb to remember is if you are the vendor, insist on written "rules of the road."

That way, you don't lose a client or your good standing as a professional.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

For some, starting a small business is Plan B

The recession is creating many "accidental entrepreneurs" — people who suddenly find themselves out of work with no viable option except to make it on their own through self-employment or starting a small business.

A question I am frequently asked these days is, "What kind of business can I possibly start?"

The best business opportunities come from things people already know something about. They come from our work experiences, our hobbies, or our everyday lives. Find something from your experiences that is also a need for others.

If you are lucky, it may be a niche that nobody has discovered. Or, if there is competition, the existing business may not be meeting the needs of customers in that market. Either way, solving everyday problems that you understand is the best path for your first business venture.

In today's economy you can create a strong competitive advantage if you can find a way to build better value for customers, perhaps by offering them the same or even better quality than competitors at a lower price.

Seize the passion

Make sure the business is something you are passionate about. Is the business something that will truly make you excited to get up in the morning?

There are many tough periods during the growth of a business when entrepreneurs need true passion to carry them through. Many entrepreneurs will tell you that the only type of business you should ever start is one that is funfor you to operate.

Doing something you enjoy — and believe in — will help carry you through the long hours and the stressful days to come.

Money also matters. The business will need to generate enough income for your personal budget. Also, it will need to become profitable before you run out of whatever funds you have saved to live on during the start-up period. If your savings are meager, you may need to find a venture that generates cash flow quickly.

An entrepreneurial business is not just a simple financial investment or a way to make quick income. It becomes more personal and emotional than that.

Surveys of entrepreneurs tell us that income and wealth are only part of the reason for launching businesses. Often entrepreneurs want to build a business that has a culture that reflects their personal values.

Finally, don't overlook the importance of building a business that allows room for the other things that are important in your life. The time and energy you want for your family, your friends, your church, your hobbies. All that must be factored into your planning.

Although you may have never planned to start a business, many of the "accidental entrepreneurs" from the last major recession in the early 1980s found it a rewarding career path and have continued to be entrepreneurs ever since. Keep the faith.

Creating a Tax Strategy for 2009
48 Home Depot stores will close; Nashville loses 1

Songwriters are in heaven over latest Chesney hit

Jim Collins is no stranger to No. 1 songs. He's had so many of them that he's lost count.

However, he does remember the last one — "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven" — and so does his co-writer Marty Dodson.

The writing duo celebrated the success of the Kenny Chesney hit this week with a No. 1 party at BMI that was attended by more than 100 industry executives, family and friends of the duo. Guests munched on chicken skewers, stuffed mushrooms and cupcakes while the songwriters made jokes from the stage.

"Jim told me he didn't think any of his friends were going to show up," Marty said, laughing. "Somebody give him a hug."

Before the party got under way, Collins and Dodson took a few minutes to remember writing the reggae-infused Chesney hit.

"It was one of those weeks when I had worked on lots of deep, sad, poetic songs," Collins said. "I wanted to write something fun, and Marty threw that out there. It was just a little groove that felt kind of good."

The song is Collins' fifth with Kenny Chesney. He also wrote "The Good Stuff" and "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," among others.

"I've got every publisher in town now, if I turn in a song with somebody, the first thing they say is 'Let's pitch this to Kenny,' " he says. "Maybe it's my phrasing, but I never really think about it. I'm glad that Kenny likes what I do."

That said, the two maintain they didn't write "Everybody Wants to go to Heaven" with Chesney in mind. George Strait actually planned to record the song first. Indeed, he was the person who first played it for Chesney.

"If I do go in and try and write something for an artist, it just bogs me down," Collins says. "Then you start thinking, 'Well, what would he like?' instead of writing the song the best you can."

'Best you can' can take days

Dodson adds that sometimes, when working with Collins, writing a song "the best you can" can take days, just as it did to complete "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven."

"Jim never leaves it alone," Dodson says. "The phone will ring about 7 or 7:30 (p.m.), and I'll know it will be Jim, and that he's changed something."

Dodson isn't complaining, though. It's a method that works for them, so he just hopes the hits keep coming.

Back at the party, Jody Williams, BMI vice president writer/publisher relations, Nashville, noted that both writers are accomplished at their craft. He added that, even though it's been a few weeks since "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven" hit the top of the charts, "it's never too late to throw down for a big No. 1."

After his introductory remarks, Williams presented Dodson with a commemorative No. 1 acoustic guitar from BMI. (Collins already has one, which he actually used when writing "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven.")

Representatives from each writer's publishing company made presentations to those associated with the song's hit status, including Chesney's producer, Buddy Cannon. Executives from the Country Music Association and Country Radio Broadcasters followed suit, then left the songwriters to muse about how different their lives would be without Chesney.

"I've had enough Kenny Chesney hits now that when he starts recording, my phone starts ringing," Collins says. "People say, 'Hey, I have this idea.' "

For Dodson, who also co-wrote "Must Be Doin' Somethin' Right" for Billy Currington, the change is less noisy.

"I thank God every day I get to do this for a living," he says. "It's more than I ever dreamed I would get to do."

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WKRN-TV's parent company files for bankruptcy

The parent company of WKRN-TV Channel 2 says it has filed for Chapter 11 protection, according to a statement issued Friday by the New York-based company, although little local impact is expected.

Young Broadcasting Inc. owns 10 television stations across the country, including WATE-TV in Knoxville and WKRN-TV, which the company bought in 1989.

"We're not anticipating layoffs, we're not anticipating staff changes, we're not anticipating changes in programming," said Gwen Kinsey, general manager for WKRN-TV and WATE-TV. "All of those things are going to continue as always."

The bankruptcy was filed in the Southern District of New York.

Young officials said in the statement that the filing will not affect operations at any of its stations and is intended to give the company an opportunity to restructure its debt.

"Our decision to restructure through a Chapter 11 filing will allow the company to bring its debt in line with current economic realities so that we can emerge a stronger and more financially secure company," Vincent Young, chairman of Young Broadcasting, said in the statement.

"We believe that the company will emerge from Chapter 11 better equipped to thrive in this changing economic environment with less leverage," Young continued. "I strongly believe that our Chapter 11 filing is in the best interests of Young Broadcasting, its viewers, advertisers, employees and other key constituents."

On Friday, Kinsey said WKRN-TV has sufficient cash flow and reiterated that no operational changes are expected to occur.

"The company has been working on efficiencies for a while now, and that is why we're not in need of reorganization from a staffing standpoint or our day-to-day operations," Kinsey said. "It's really just restructuring the debt."

Twice this year — once in January and again this week — Young Broadcasting elected to forgo making a large interest payment on debt as a way to preserve liquidity.

Washington Report: Bankruptcy Legislation
GM, Chrysler situations smack of bankruptcy

GM, Chrysler situations smack of bankruptcy

DETROIT — Call it a bankruptcy in disguise. Although General Motors and Chrysler are scrambling to pull together plans by Tuesday showing that it makes sense for the government to support them without invoking the dreaded "B-word," the efforts look like a classic case of reorganization.

The $13.4 billion in bridge loans the Treasury Department has dispersed so far come with conditions that are typical when restructuring a company. Bondholders are being pressed to take losses and convert debt to equity, union contracts are being negotiated, and shareholders would see their equity close to wiped out.

"Right now, the auto industry pretty much is in bankruptcy," said Douglas Bernstein, managing partner of the Banking, Bankruptcy and Creditors' Rights Practice Group at the law firm Plunkett Cooney. "The only thing that hasn't been done is the filing fee hasn't been paid."

Even under a bankruptcy scenario, the government still would be the most likely provider of financing for the automakers, said Michael Fleming, another attorney at Plunkett Cooney. Given the lending environment and stigma attached to the auto industry, no banks or other lenders are likely to step up to provide debtor-in-possession financing that funds a typical reorganization.

Auto executives are loathe to consider actually filing for court protection, saying consumers already avoiding dealerships because of the economy and tighter credit conditions would never buy a car from a bankrupt automaker.

But it might be the only mechanism for General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC to satisfy the conditions of the government aid keeping companies afloat in the worst U.S. auto sales climate in 26 years. The Treasury Department last month hired two law firms with bankruptcy expertise to explore a possible restructuring of the companies.

GM's loan terms require it to convert at least two-thirds, or about $9.2 billion, of its debt to equity. If not enough bondholders agree, the only choice may be to reduce the debt through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, where all of them would have to accept whatever terms the court imposes.

"The threat of a bankruptcy does give some leverage to GM," Fleming said. He said the same applies to labor unions, which could find themselves worse off if one of the companies files for bankruptcy and then asks for the court to throw out its contracts.

While GM and Chrysler must spell out their strategies by Tuesday to repay their loans, prove they're viable and get the required concessions, no final deals are expected to be in place by then.

President Barack Obama still has not named a "car czar," who must review the companies' plans and certify by March 31 that the requirements have been met, so Tuesday's deadline may pass without much news about where the industry is headed.

"That makes it hard if you're GM and Chrysler," Bernstein said. "What audience are you playing to? What's the end goal?"

GM is counting on receiving another $4 billion after it submits its plan, while Chrysler has said it needs $3 billion more.

Shareholders face loss

If GM survives without bankruptcy, holders of the company's stock will still have something of value, although GM shares dropped to a 71-year low of $1.70 in November and fell 15 cents to $2.50 on Friday. But shareholders will have a much smaller slice of the pie after more stock is issued to meet the government terms. Besides the debt-to-equity conversion, the government wants GM and Chrysler to use stock instead of cash to make most of their payments to a trust that will start paying retiree health-care costs next year. The government also is entitled to a stake of up to 20 percent of each company in exchange for the loans.

Chrysler isn't publicly traded, but the conditions will severely dilute the ownership stake of its owners, Cerberus Capital Management LP and Daimler AG.

Chrysler also agreed to give Fiat SpA a 35 percent stake if their alliance plan is consummated. That could leave Cerberus and Daimler with combined ownership of less than 10 percent, according to independent auto industry analyst Erich Merkle.

Large banks take beating on Wall Street
Washington Report: Bankruptcy Legislation
Creating a Tax Strategy for 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Psychiatric Solutions faces abuse suit

Psychiatric Solutions Inc. has been hit with a lawsuit that accuses the company of negligence in its oversight of employees at a residential psychiatric facility in Florida.

Abuse including beatings by employees at the Manatee Palms Youth Services in Bradenton caused plaintiff Nicholas E. Rossi to suffer severe emotional distress and bodily harm, according to the lawsuit filed last week in Manatee County Circuit Court. Rossi was a resident at the facility from September 2004 to May 2005.

Psychiatric Solutions of Franklin, which operates psychiatric hospitals, inherited the facility when it purchased Ramsey Youth Services of Coral Gables, Fla., in 2003.

Manatee Palms failed to run proper background checks on several employees with criminal histories that battered Rossi, who at the time was a minor, the suit claims. It also kept them on staff and failed to stop and report the abuse and batteries, it claims. Brent Turner, a spokesman with Psychiatric Solutions, declined to comment.

The suit comes after the Los Angeles Times published a report in November from independent, nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica describing dozens of instances of abuse and neglect at company facilities from coast to coast.

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Nashville TV stations' digital switch will frustrate unprepared viewers

Thousands of Nashville TV viewers could lose out on watching the top-rated show American Idol on Feb. 18.

WZTV-Fox 17 in Nashville has informed viewers and the Federal Communications Commission that it plans to shut off analog signals shortly before midnight Feb. 17 to make broadcasting entirely digital.

Congress recently delayed the mandatory digital switch that applies to full-power broadcast stations from Feb. 17 to June 12 because of concerns that not enough viewers are ready, but stations have the option of switching before then, with FCC approval. That means some broadcasters may cut off their analog signals long before others, leaving in the lurch thousands who aren't ready for the digital transition.

Nashville's CBS affiliate, WTVF-Channel 5, and Nashville Public Television both plan to wait until June 12. WSMV-Channel 4 and WKRN-Channel 2 also plan to delay their switch to digital, according to Whit Adamson, president of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters.

Most satellite and cable customers have nothing to worry about. But millions of people still rely on over-the-air broadcast signals through TV antennas. Those people need a digital TV or a converter box to watch TV once broadcasters turn off analog signals.

An estimated 30,000 households in the Nashville media market, or about 3.5 percent, are totally unprepared for the digital switch because they rely on over-the-air broadcasts but don't have a digital TV or converter box anywhere in their homes, according to media research firm The Nielsen Co.

The federal government ran out of promised coupons in December to help viewers buy digital converter boxes, and millions are now on a government waiting list.

Lost viewers may cost

Stanley Scherr is one of those who haven't gotten prepared.

Scherr, a Nashville songwriter, describes himself as "old school," having recently gotten a computer but without connecting it to the Internet at home. He wonders whether Fox 17 "is going to lose thousands of viewers and that's the last thing an advertiser wants — fewer viewers."

Laramey Lawson, senior vice president and media director of advertising agency Gish, Sherwood & Friends, said that a loss of even 3.5 percent of the potential viewing audience could mean a loss of advertising revenues.

"It could reduce ratings and what we're able to pay,'' he said.

The WZTV station manager and the attorney for its parent company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, could not be reached Tuesday.

The company's sister stations in the Nashville area, WUXP-MYTV30 and WNAB-CW58, which air shows such as Judge Judy , Seinfeld and Two and a Half Men , also plan to go all-digital the night of Feb. 17.

The switch is part of the federal government's mandate to broadcasters to switch to all digital signals in order to free up airwaves for emergency communications and for sale to telecommunications companies.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gaylord expects slow start to '09

Shares of Gaylord Entertainment Co. tumbled Tuesday, as officials predicted a slow start to 2009 and said they have pushed back a final decision on expanding their hotel in Nashville still further.

Gaylord shares dropped more than 20 percent in trading, though the company said its earnings in the last quarter of 2008 had more than doubled to $8.4 million from the same period a year ago.

Wall Street instead focused on officials' gloomy forecast for the first few months of the year, as corporate travelers pull back amid a recession and increased public scrutiny of trips. Shares closed at $9.14, down $2.37.

Speaking to analysts Tuesday morning, Chief Executive Colin Reed and Chief Financial Officer David Kloeppel predicted that revenue per available room, a key measurement of hotel revenue, will drop by as much as 20 percent on a same-store basis in the first quarter and as much as 12 percent for the year.

"The corporate customer seems to be going into, for want of better words, a nuclear winter here," Reed said.

The company's prediction is in line with that of a competitor, Starwood Hotel & Resorts Worldwide Inc., which last month told analysts that it believes revenue per available room will fall 12 percent to 15 percent in 2009.

Smith Travel Research, a Hendersonville-based data firm, predicts a 6 percent decline in room revenue.

The drop in business means that Gaylord will focus on controlling costs and avoid major capital expenditures. Final decisions on the company's expansion plans, such as a $400 million addition to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center proposed two years ago, won't be made until at least the end of the third quarter.

"We have to be flexible. We have to be nimble on these issues," Reed said.

Gaylord officials said they were pleased with the company's results in 2008, as it eked out a slight profit, despite a deteriorating economy.

No word on board plans

For the year, the company earned $4.4 million, as fees collected when meeting planners canceled events or reduced the number of participants made up for some of the drop in business. Revenue increased 24 percent for the year and 20 percent for the quarter, mainly because of the opening of the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in suburban Washington, D.C.

Officials declined to elaborate on their plan announced last week to nominate new candidates to the board of directors. The move comes after the company's two biggest shareholders, TRT Holdings Inc. and Gamco Investors Inc., to put forth their own slates that could shake up management and force operational changes at Gaylord.

"I think that it's clear from the communications that TRT had the week earlier that TRT is receptive to talk to us, we to them, and I think at this stage we need to leave it at that," Reed said. "When we have more things to say, we will do so."

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HCA hopes to raise $300 million to repay debt

NEW YORK — HCA Inc., the U.S. hospital chain purchased in a $33 billion leveraged buyout, is seeking to raise $300 million in a bond offering to repay bank debt and to amend terms of some of its loans.

The sale would be HCA's first since its November 2006 buyout, when the Nashville-based company raised $5.7 billion in what was then the biggest high-yield offering in 17 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

High-yield, high-risk, or junk, borrowers are tapping the new issue market at the fastest pace since June, with yields relative to benchmark rates at the lowest in four months. HCA is turning to bonds to raise cash because it has $12 billion of bank debt maturing in 2012 and 2013, and probably won't be able to refinance in the weakened loan market, said Lauren Coste, an analyst at Fitch Ratings in Chicago.

"It's highly unlikely the loan market will be amenable to refinancing that," Coste said. "This is the first of several steps to proactively manage those maturities."

Debt has been reduced

The hospital chain has cut its debt by $1.4 billion since its buyout in 2006 and has reduced its total debt to earnings to 5.8 times from 6.6 times, Fitch said in a statement Wednesday. HCA is "constrained" by high debt and leverage ratios and an "increasingly challenging industry environment," Fitch said.

"Today, HCA gets to take advantage of a market that is hungry for new deals," Vicki Bryan, a bond analyst at Gimme Credit LLC, said Wednesday in a report. "There has been a steady increase of funds into the high-yield market for several weeks, and portfolio managers are paid to invest cash — not to sit on it."

Ed Fishbough, an HCA spokesman, said that the company was pleased with response to the offering. "This is a step we're taking as part of a prudent and conservative plan to pay down some of our debt that begins maturing in three-and-a-half years," he said. "Recent opportunities in the high yield bond market are allowing us to refinance some of this at a later maturity date."

Fishbough said that HCA has paid down $1.4 billion of its debt since year-end 2006.

But to some analysts, the company hasn't been reducing the debt fast enough.

"HCA has demonstrated a chronic inability to generate sufficient cash to chisel down its massive debt load, and leverage has not improved since 2006," Bryan said Wednesday in the report. "It might get even more expensive to borrow later in the year if HCA continues to deteriorate."

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nashville-area home sales hit 15-year low

The Nashville real estate market experienced its slowest month in more than 15 years in January, as the faltering economy and fallout from the housing bubble continue to hammer sales.

Fewer than 1,000 homes were sold last month — the fewest since February 1993 — according to data released Monday by the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors. The poor performance indicated that low interest rates and a tax credit for first-time homebuyers have failed to goose sales so far.

"I'm not surprised, but I'm a little bit disappointed," said Mike Nichols, the association's president and the managing broker of Zeitlin InTown. "I would have liked them to be higher, but they (buyers) are sitting and waiting to see what will happen."

The median price of a single-family home sold in January also slid, falling 8 percent from a year ago to $165,000. The median price of a condominium, however, rose nearly 4 percent, also to $165,000.

Real estate agents blamed rising unemployment and a worsening economy for sapping consumers' confidence, leaving them disinclined to take on major purchases. They said it would be months before the market turns around and years before it returns to peak sales levels experienced in 2006.

The figures were released as federal lawmakers in Congress debated a new tax credit to jump-start the housing market, after the failure of last summer's $7,500 credit for first-time buyers. The Senate has proposed raising the credit to $15,000 and opening it to all homebuyers, while the House of Representatives has proposed removing a repayment provision to make it more attractive.

The two versions will be reconciled as part of the planned $800 billion stimulus package.

The credit is the latest in a series of moves taken by government officials to aid the ailing housing market. Federal officials have also bought up mortgage-backed securities in a bid to drive down interest rates, which currently stand at about 5.28 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

But with unemployment rising and consumer confidence low, most homeowners have opted to refinance their current homes rather than shop for another, real estate agents and mortgage brokers said.

"People are more concerned about the overall economy," said Richard Courtney, a former GNAR president and a managing broker at Fridrich & Clark. "They're taking a more conservative approach."

Refinance applications rise

Figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association appear to support the claim. The association said last week that applications to refinance had climbed 16 percent, while purchase applications had fallen 11 percent.

Dan Crockett, president and chief executive of Franklin American Mortgage Co., estimated that 65 percent to 70 percent of his firm's current business is refinancing.

Some borrowers are holders of adjustable-rate and exotic mortgages looking to lock in a fixed-rate loan. Others are simply people who want to reduce their mortgage payments.

"With the economy being bad, if they can save $300 or $400 a month, they will," Crockett said.

All told, 974 single-family homes, condos, multifamily properties, farms, land parcels and lots closed last month, down 41 percent from January 2008.

Sales dropped about 59 percent from their record for the month: 2,371 closings in January 2006.

The level of sales was the lowest in any month since the GNAR expanded its coverage to a nine-county region in 1996.

Meanwhile, the number of properties on the market climbed 2.5 percent from a year ago to 22,509 listings, but all of the increase was attributable to a rise in the number of farms and undeveloped land for sale. Inventories of single-family homes and condominiums have fallen 3 percent each since last January.

Reduced inventories could help stabilize prices, though, by reducing competition for sales, Nichols said.

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Cabinet fates of Cooper, Bredesen may lie with Clinton

With the unfortunate and untimely withdrawal of Tom Daschle as U.S. health and human services secretary designate, the names of two prominent Tennesseans have re-emerged as potential candidates.

Ironically, their fates may be influenced as much by past encounters with the newly constructed team of rivals in the White House Cabinet as by their relationship with the new president.

Rep. Jim Cooper is widely admired by leaders on both sides of the aisle as a principled pragmatist with a deep knowledge of the nation's health-care system.

The Cooper Plan in the mid-1990s offered the best chance at bipartisan health reform. Since that time, Cooper has taught, lectured and authored on the need and significance of health-care reform.

However, since the sponsorship of the Cooper Plan, the Clinton clan of the Democratic Party has chosen (albeit incorrectly) to attribute the demise of Clinton's health reform initiative to the defection of conservative Democrats led by Jim Cooper.

Added to that resume is the stand by Cooper against Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the recent House fiscal stimulus package. Both were stands of Jacksonian courage, but both also place Cooper in the cross hairs of the two most powerful women in the Democratic Party, and the nation.

What about the governor?

Juxtaposed to the Cooper predicament is the prospect of Gov. Phil Bredesen as HHS secretary.

Bredesen is the only governor in the nation to tackle a runaway health-reform train (through TennCare). His expansive knowledge of the health-care industry as both a business leader and government chief executive makes him an especially attractive and effective candidate.

However, Hillary Clinton also enters the picture of his candidacy. The governor was measured in his support for Barack Obama's campaign for president. Many speculated that Bredesen's casual support was rooted in the deep admiration that Tennessee's first lady has for Hillary Clinton.

Not proximate cause, but an interesting corollary — and, in this case, it may be illuminating to see if the Clinton factor is a benefit or detriment to any Cabinet-level aspirations that Bredesen harbors.

Nashville is the nation's (self-proclaimed) health-care capital. The mere consideration of two prominent Nashvillians is an affirmation of this standing. It is indeed ironic that the fate of both candidacies may be heavily influenced by the complex relationship of a Democratic team of rivals.

There is always the chance, decidedly remote, that President Obama could cross the aisle and choose a fourth Cabinet member from the GOP ranks — former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., perhaps would be the ultimate "team of rivals" choice.

Stay tuned. It should be an interesting nomination process.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Government's proposal for banks comes today

The government is expected to announce today a plan to save banks that are on the brink of failure.

Getting it wrong could trigger a replay of what happened after Lehman Brothers collapsed last fall — the stock market in free fall, seizure of the credit markets, ripples of layoffs. Perhaps even a run on other banks — so many customers rushing to pull out their cash that it would make the bank run in It's a Wonderful Life look like a feel-good holiday movie.

"The banks are at a terrible junction," says Robert Reich, a labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. "The bottom is falling out. Almost every area of the credit markets, we're finding people unable to repay their loans. That means many banks are basically insolvent."

"If one big bank implodes," he says, "the reverberations could be endless."

This January, the government took over six failed banks, including three on a single day. Last year, it took over a total of 25.

When it happens, the government swoops in and tries to minimize disruption. Recently, it has tended to close banks on a Friday and achieve something close to business as usual by Monday morning, arranging for other banks to take on the assets. ATMs have kept working, and people have had access to their cash.

So far, most of the failed banks have been relatively small, many with assets only in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But what would happen if one of the big banks, the kind that manage hundreds of billions in assets, went down?

"That would probably cause a complete meltdown of the American financial system," says Andreas Hauskrecht, an associate professor of money, banking and finance at Indiana University.

After the financial crisis accelerated last fall, the government increased the limit for the amount of bank deposits it will insure for individual depositors, from $100,000 to $250,000, effective through the end of this year.

And while few Americans have to worry about keeping anything bigger than that in the bank, the government could eliminate the limit altogether and insure all deposits regardless of size if a huge bank, such as Citigroup or Bank of America, were to fail, says Jim Wilcox, a professor of financial institutions at the University of California at Berkeley.

No one has ever lost money in an account insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. But no one has ever seen a bank that size go under, and news of a giant bank's downfall would probably touch off a panic in which even depositors with money in safe banks rush to get it out.

But there's a bigger economic problem: Other lenders, which hardly trust everybody these days anyway, would stop trusting anybody. Businesses, unable to borrow money day to day, would fail, with worldwide consequences.

It doesn't take an economics degree to realize that would be nothing short of catastrophic for the economy.

'Bad bank' is complex

The Barack Obama administration must choose the best of several difficult options, or a combination. The emergency medicine prescribed by the last administration — flooding the financial system with billions of federal bailout dollars — hasn't worked. If anything, banks are sicker.

One idea under consideration is the creation of a government-run aggregator bank, or a "bad bank," that would buy up hundreds of billions of dollars in banks' toxic assets. The government also may decide to pump more money into banks and offer billions in dollars in guarantees against future losses.

But no single fix is seen as a magic bullet, and financial experts say the government is quickly running out of lifelines.

"The longer they wait, the more damage there is to the economy and the more it will cost taxpayers," says Frederic Mishkin, an economics professor at Columbia Business School and a former member of the Federal Reserve Board.

In theory, the government-run bad bank would buy soured debt that's gumming up the banks' books and clogging the flow of credit. That could shore up banks' base of capital, soothe investors and get banks lending again.

But in practice, it's far from simple.

For starters, no one — including the banks themselves — knows how much these assets are worth. The complex nature of mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps and other contaminated products has made investors too afraid to touch them.

Goldman Sachs estimates the government would need to shell out $4 trillion or more to absorb all the banks' troubled mortgage and consumer debt.

How big is $4 trillion? It's more than one-third of the economic output of the United States in a year. It's more than twice as big as the first federal bailout and the coming economic stimulus combined. Just look
at all those zeroes: $4,000,000,000,000.

Nationalization is option

That prospect makes some financial observers queasy.

"We're asking the same people who got us into this mess to get us out. These are the guys who buy airplanes and decorate their offices for a million bucks," says Bill Seidman, a former chairman of the FDIC who ran the government bailout during the savings and loan crisis.

Seidman and others are calling for an alternative rescue plan that they say would avoid the pitfalls of past efforts: a short-term nationalization of the banks.

To many people, that very thought is an affront to the free-market system, more Argentina than America. But that's exactly what the U.S. government did in the S&L debacle of the 1980s.

With Seidman at the helm, the government-run Resolution Trust Corp. took over failed S&Ls and sold off their depressed assets — repossessed homes, offices, cars, planes and even artwork. Any institution needing help had its management fired and its shareholders wiped out.

During the next six years, the RTC sold nearly $400 billion in assets on the books of more than 700 failed thrifts. Then it sold the cleaned-up S&Ls back into the private sector.

But Nationalization isn't a sure thing either.

In the S&L days, the government recouped some taxpayer money by selling the physical assets of the banks, things like real estate and cars — not the hard-to-value paper assets held by banks today.

That wrinkle makes it much harder for the government to follow the RTC strategy, says Jonathan Macey, deputy dean at Yale Law School and the author of a book about a government bailout of Sweden in the 1990s.

"We're not talking about valuing buildings and dirt," Macey says. "This is quite a bit different."

In other words, it's uncharted territory once again.

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Businesses cut back on tech buys

Feeling as if that slow computer at work needs an upgrade? Don't count on it getting replaced anytime soon.

To cope with the recession, businesses in Middle Tennessee and beyond are curtailing technology purchases and delaying equipment upgrades, and they have even begun to hoard use of cell phone minutes.

The results have been damaging to tech-reliant local companies that rely on such technology sales.

Dell said last week that it was closing part of its Lebanon facility that manufactures desktop computers because of weaker sales for such products. The closure moved 250 to 300 employees from Lebanon to Nashville, said spokesman Ken Bissell.

"We foresaw it coming," Bissell said in an earlier interview regarding the softness of PC sales in the market. "So, not surprisingly, it's a challenging market right now."

Unit sales of PC laptops and desktops to primarily small and medium-size businesses have declined the past two years, dropping 9 percent in 2007 and falling an additional 2 percent in 2008, according to New York-based NPD Group, a research firm.

"The commercial purchasing cycle … tends to be around budgets, and given the fact that business got tough a few months ago, it's likely we haven't seen the depths of (it)," said Stephen Baker, NPD vice president of industry analysis.

Nashville-based Central Parking Corp. said it is curtailing plans to spend $650,000 on updating 100 automated pay stations at its parking garages nationwide this fiscal year in light of the troubled economy.

The update would have given the company more detailed information such as the number of cars in its lots and the frequency of customers. So far, the company has updated just 100 of its planned 300 units.

"We've just decided to hold capital at this point in time unless it is absolutely mandatory that it be spent," said President and CEO Emanuel Eads.

Discounts, family plans

Shawn Thomas, CEO of Uniguest of Tennessee Inc., which provides security software and call center support to the hotel industry said he has seen more businesses asking him for discounts, leading him to readjust his prices in some cases. For example, one of Uniguest's larger customers was given a 10 percent discount in exchange for a two-year contract, Thomas said.

"We have not made an across-the-board reduction in fees," Thomas said, "however, we are working with our customers on a case-by-case basis to review their contracts and see what types of discounts we can provide."

Meanwhile, other businesses are trying to trim costs on phone plans as much as possible.

The Hilton Nashville Downtown recently pushed its 10 employees with company cell phones to sign up for what's similar to a family plan that allows no unused minutes to be wasted.

"We looked at every area of the hotel that won't impact our guests," said Ray Waters, regional director for hospitality for Turnberry Associates. The move saved the hotel $250 a month when it made the switch last year to a family plan versus individual plans.

Nashville-based Bridgestone Americas also made a cell phone plan switch for its employees, and the company is looking at ways to "maximize the equipment" such as reselling or trading in cell phones once they are no longer in use, spokesman Dan MacDonald said.

Not all companies are cutting back. Some say prices have dropped, and it may make sense to buy.

Tom Turner, president of Document Solutions Inc., said his business was able to save 20 percent to 25 percent on a network storage system. "We're not going away from the technology," Turner said. "The economy has created some opportunities in purchasing."

AmMed Direct, a Nashville company that provides supplies and support for diabetics, said it spent $400,000 to $500,000 on a medical equipment operating system that would simplify the claims processing by letting employees access all of the information they need in a single place.

The equipment could increase productivity by 10 percent and is estimated to bring $750,000 to $1 million in annual savings, said CEO Tom Milam. "It's cost-justified by the fact that we can provide a better level of service and do it more efficiently," Milam said.

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