Tramel's ScissorTales: Pink Jeep tour in Sedona highlights Fiesta Bowl travelblog

·12 min read

The temperatures grew chilly Monday in the Arizona resort town of Sedona. Mid-40s. And the skies were overcast; snow seemed on the way. Not exactly perfect weather for an open-air Jeep ride.

But how often does an Oklahoman get to visit those sandstone mountains?

So Trish the Dish and I signed up for one of the iconic Pink Jeep tours and off we went for a wild ride with fabulous landscapes in Coyote Canyon, just outside Sedona.

The Tuesday ScissorTales take a look at Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman and check in on the Big 12 basketball postponements due to Covid. But we start with an Arizona adventure.

The Dish and I drove to the Fiesta Bowl, and Monday was our day for sightseeing before descending into Phoenix.

And Sedona was our destination. The city of about 10,000 sits between red sandstone formations amid the Coconino National Forest, about 30 miles south of Flagstaff in northern Arizona.

The resort town draws millions of tourists each year, drawn by its setting amid red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests. The outdoors crowd loves to hike and ride and drive through the myriad trails that surround the city. The arts crowd is drawn by the eclectic shops and festivals.

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Berry Tramel Travel Blog
Berry Tramel Travel Blog

The highlight for us is the Jeep tours, of which there are a bunch, going all over the canyons. Ours cost about $80 each, for a two-hour ride.

We went out about 4 p.m., which means we caught the sunset, which skirted through the cloud and ricocheted off the face of the mountains, creating brilliant glows.

The trails are rugged, and the jeeps are driven hard. Sometimes, our trip was as much carnival ride as visual tour.

It was cold, but we had the foresight to have packed our coats, despite heading for Phoenix, and the Dish bought a wool cap and gloves, so it wasn’t too shivery.

One day was just right for us in Sedona. Some people spend days there, even though it’s quite expense. But about four hours was plenty. Time to walk the main street and let the Dish peruse the shops, then take the Jeep tour.

Just as great as the Jeep tour was the drive into Sedona.

Our day began in Gallup, New Mexico, an old town on Route 66. Gallup doesn’t seem like it would have changed much since the Dust Bowl migration days, other than the fast-food joints that dot the old highway.

Gallup is the most populous city (21,000) between Albuquerque and Flagstaff. It has a substantial Native American population and is adjacent to the massive Navajo Reservation. Indian shops and abandoned Route 66 motels are the most common sights in Gallup.

The 185-mile trip to Flagstaff along Interstate 40, most of which is in Arizona, is barren, with a high-plains landscape. Between the few towns along the route are as many closed or abandoned businesses as businesses that are open.

Winslow, Arizona, made famous by the Eagles — “I was standing on the corner...” is between Gallup and Flagstaff. Winslow, population about 9,000, offers little. But it is close to the Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert, as well as the Meteor Crater, a giant canyon about 3,900 feet in diameter and 560 feet deep.

We didn’t stop, but I’m told all are well worth a visitor’s time.

About 20 miles east of Flagstaff, the topography changes, from desert to the tree-filled Rockies we know well from Colorado. Snow was not just on the mountain peaks around Flagstaff, but all over the ground.

And the drive from Flagstaff to Sedona, on State Highway 89A, was spectacular, with a variety of hairpin turns descending the mountain, until reaching the bottom and gliding alongside Oak Creek, with homes and resorts and a few businesses dotting the way.

At nightfall, we headed south to Phoenix, a two-hour drive. We quickly checked into the Camelback Inn, then headed back out to pick up colleague Scotty Wright at the airport and headed for dinner.

We spotted a Portillo’s, the great Chicago Italian beef institution, and pulled in. I had a Chicago hot dog and an Italian beef sandwich. It was excellent, as always.

Then it was back to the Camelback to hit the sack and get ready to embark on Fiesta Bowl coverage.

More: Subscribe now for full access to Fiesta Bowl coverage from The Oklahoman & South Bend Tribune

More: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy not ready to name defensive playcaller against Notre Dame

Big 12 hoops delayed

Covid has struck Big 12 basketball.

Two conference openers have been postponed — OSU at Texas Tech, Texas Christian at Kansas — and stay tuned for potentially more.

It’s a total bummer. But there is a silver lining. Fewer basketball games on New Year’s Day.

College basketball has a propensity for self-inflicted wounds. Namely with scheduling.

An early November start that goes head to head with football and means it’s often January before all the hard-cores are paying attention.

A ton of marquee games played at neutral sites, in front of relatively few fans, rather than playing in campus venues, from which the sport’s salvation must come.

And now this. A full slate of conference tipoff games on one of the holy days of football, when the nation is transfixed on the gridiron.

For a sport struggling to build fan interest before March Madness, these are a series of maddening decisions.

New Year’s Day, for instance. Originally, OSU was fortunate that its opener was scheduled at Tech. That’s the luck of the draw. That game easily could have been scheduled for Stillwater. The OSU-Notre Dame Fiesta Bowl kicks off at noon. How many fans would have been in Gallagher-Iba Arena at 3 p.m. Saturday?

The Big 12 has only so many weeks to get in its conference games before the second week of March, and no one is excited about starting in December. But the Big 12 continues its challenge series with the Southeastern Conference, with 10 Big 12/SEC showdowns slated for a Saturday in January.

Events like the Big 12/SEC Challenge sound good but never fulfill the hype. They are an ESPN creation. They stop the momentum of conference play.

Move the Big 12/SEC Challenge to December. Leave the January Saturdays — after New Year’s Day — for conference play.

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Marcus Freeman has limited Notre Dame experience

Marcus Freeman has been the Notre Dame head coach for about a month. Brian Kelly jumped ship to Louisiana State, and a few days later Freeman was promoted from defensive coordinator.

Suddenly, Freeman’s immediate mission for the Fiesta Bowl against OSU went from not just stopping the Cowboy offense, but to overseeing all aspects of the Notre Dame operation.

And Freeman had decisions to make. Use Notre Dame’s traditional bowl-prep plan under Kelly? Use Cincinnati’s, since he was the Bearcats’ defensive coordinator the previous four years? Use what Ohio State used under Jim Tressel, since Freeman was a Buckeye linebacker?

“All three,” Freeman said. “All three. I looked at the practice schedule we already had set. I looked at what we have done this year.

“You know, the big thing I got from Coach Kelly was the use of technology, the use of GPS systems, the use of numbers. I have been using that really hand-in-hand with our head strength coach Matt Balis. Then I used some of Cincinnati's stuff. I looked at the two years, three years we prepared for Georgia, we prepared for Boston College, we prepared for Virginia Tech, and I kind of took some of those ideas.”

Freeman said that with Kelly at LSU and Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell busy getting the Bearcats ready for the Cotton Bowl showdown against Alabama, he leaned mostly on Tressel.

“Just ran things by him,” Freeman said. “I have used all three and kind of come up with what I feel is best for our team to be ready for this game.”

More: Subscribe now for full access to Fiesta Bowl coverage from The Oklahoman & South Bend Tribune

The entire question spotlights Freeman’s Notre Dame inexperience. Most assistants promoted to the head coaching job at an established power like Notre Dame, had extensive experience on that campus.

Frank Solich was a 19-year Nebraska assistant coach. Joe Paterno was a 16-year Penn State assistant coach. Lloyd Carr was a 15-year Michigan assistant coach. Tom Osborne was a nine-year Nebraska assistant coach. Mike DuBose was a seven-year Alabama assistant coach. At OU, Gomer Jones was on staff 17 years, Gary Gibbs 12 and Barry Switzer seven when promoted to the top job.

When OSU has promoted assistants, they have been around a little while. Pat Jones was a five-year assistant when he succeeded Jimmy Johnson. Mike Gundy had been around four years consecutively but 14 years overall when he succeeded Les Miles.

But we’re seeing schools hire coaches with whom they are a little less familiar. Jimbo Fisher had been at Florida State three years when he replaced Bobby Bowden. Ryan Day had been at Ohio State two years when he replaced Urban Meyer. Lincoln Riley had been at OU two years when he replaced Bob Stoops.

Such a flier on a coach has historical roots, too. Both Bud Wilkinson and Chuck Fairbanks had been in Norman just one year each when named head coach.

And Notre Dame itself, in 1954, produced one of the all-time hiring stunners, naming 25-year-old Terry Brennan to succeed Frank Leahy. Brennan had been Leahy’s freshman coach in 1953, after three seasons as head coach at Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School

Brennan lasted five years and went 32-18, his time most notable for a 7-0 victory in Norman that ended OU’s 47-game winning streak.

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Mailbag: Jerry Schmidt

The return of Jerry Schmidt to OU as strength and conditioning coach wasn’t met with total adulation.

Jon: “There's been a lot of excitement about the return of Jerry Schmidt to OU. I wasn't the biggest fan of Bennie Wylie's, but I think the level of optimism for Schmitty has gotten a little out of whack. When you look at his time at OU, there is no doubt that there was a positive effect on that '99 team that then translated into the 2000 team. But from the 2001 season until Bob's retirement after the 2016 season, OU under Schmitty lost at least 2 games every season and in some cases, had up to five losses. The former players act like Schmitty made them indestructible, and yet we saw absolute blowouts to Kansas State, USC, OSU, West Virginia, A&M, Clemson, etc. Since he moved to A&M, they have lost 4-5 games every season except for the Covid year, where they beat a bunch of bad teams, but got blown out by Alabama. So I guess I'm not sure what the measurable difference in strength coaches will truly make (Schmitty's 2 losses every season or Wylie's 2 losses every season). Schmitty has skins on the wall from 20-plus years ago, but the records are what the records are over the past 2 decades. The bigger factor will ultimately be what the level of talent that Venables and his coaching staff are able to bring in.”

OU strength coach Jerry Schmidt, pictured in 2000
OU strength coach Jerry Schmidt, pictured in 2000

Tramel: I would say Jon is right, but it's a little like an NFL coach or baseball manager, in which a team improves things by changing things. OU went from a hard-butt to a relational guy in hiring Wylie. Now maybe the biggest impact comes from going back to a drill sergeant.

But I would add two things. Two-loss seasons means no national championship, but not all two-loss seasons are created equal. If OU beats Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, the Sooners have a two-loss season that is disappointing. But lots of two-loss OU seasons have been great seasons. They just ended with a loss in the two-team or four-team playoff.

And giving strength coaches the won-loss record is fascinating. Head coaches have been saying for years that the strength guys are the off-season head coaches, and now here comes direct association for the Schmidt/Wylie crowd with the record. Just like a head coach and quarterback. Not saying it’s wrong. Just saying it’s fascinating.

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Good Eats: Hollie’s Flatiron Grill

Hal Smith has many outstanding restaurants in his growing enterprise. But my favorite is Hollie’s Flatiron Grill in Moore.

Hollie’s is one of those places where I never know exactly what to order, because there are so many good options, both from an experience standpoint and a wondering standpoint.

Hollie’s touts itself as adding a little flair to traditional Southwest delicacies. “We like to spice things up by adding the flavors of hatch green chiles and chipotle or jalapeno peppers to traditional favorites,” Hollies declares.

My favorite item is the spicy deviled eggs appetizer. But I’ve had catfish, chicken fried steak, fish tacos and the barbequed ribs. All excellent.

Hollies bills its green chile mac-n-cheese and its pork chops with jalapeno peach jam as the signature items.

It’s all good, in a laid-back atmosphere, with prices ranging mostly from $15-$27 per plate.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Pink Jeep tour in Sedona highlights Fiesta Bowl travelblog

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