What exactly is Arizona State doing? Any ideas at this point?

Who do they want to be the new football coach? Who is doing the hiring? How do you fire Dennis Erickson with one year on his contract (as much as I agree with that decision) without having a firm sense of his replacement? Did the ASU brass really think top-flight coaches would trip over themselves to beat a path toward Sun Devil Stadium?

Word that up-and-coming coordinators need not apply would be pretty disappointing. The decision makers at Tempe Buttes - your guess is as good as mine as to who has the hammer between Michael Crow, Lisa Love and Steve Patterson - seem stuck on a coach with previous experience. So if being a successful coordinator at Tennessee or Alabama doesn't float ASU's boat, and June Jones is too expensive, and Kevin Sumlin and Larry Fedora aren't the answer, this point in the carousel leaves you in Re-tread-land.

Already a repeat visitor to the NCAA woodshed, ASU couldn't hire a Mike Leach and can't hire a Jim Tressel. All the "ASU-ties guys" sound good to the fans and alums, but they don't resonate with Rich Rodriguez setting up shop in Tucson.

So we're back to square one. And there sits Mike Bellotti, itching to get back into coach with a great Pac-10 resume and a coach that might be able to keep Arizona recruits home. He's clean-as-a-whistle and has a good track record. He doesn't need back-up-the-truck money and he's not a long-term answer.

It'd be a smart move, and kind of akin to the Roman Cardinals in Rome voting in a 90-year-old colleague as Pope when the next superstar pontiff is nowhere to be found.

Deal or No Deal?

As much as I hate the Lakers for getting fat and happy at the expense of a downtrodden NBA franchise (again), and as much as I'd like to side with David Stern for blocking Chris Paul's path to Tinseltown, right is on the side of the rich and powerful on this one.

It pains me to see Pau Gasol, who was stolen away from Memphis to bring two world championships to Los Angeles, now being used to write the next page in ensuring the NBA remains tilted toward the marquee franchises. But if David Stern truly had the best interests of the league at heart, he just had months and months of downtime to make it part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Of course, the rich owners who drive the bus and pay Stern's salary will never stand for that.

It was a decent deal for the Hornets, who could have taken what they didn't want from the Lakers (Gasol) and move it on to the Rockets for assets they do want. It was a decent deal for the Rockets, who had visions of pairing Gasol and Nenè inside. Kobe Bryant had a new playmate in Paul who will get him the ball and make Andrew Bynum the player everyone is convinced he could be.

Of course, none of this is good for the Suns, who see bringing back Grant Hill and picking up Shannon Brown as a successful off-season. Once again, the idea of squirreling away salary cap space for the 2012 free agent market is a flawed concept because teams aren't going to let players simply walk away and be the next LeBron James. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and others will broker their own deals and "help" their former teams on the way out the door.

A team like Phoenix, who used to be a "have" in the Jerry Colangelo days, now must figure out more creative ways as a "have-not."

Quick Hitters

•I know Arte Moreno is loaded and that the Angels aren't the Texas Rangers, but paying a guy who's about to turn 32 years old $25 million-per-year for the next decade is downright A-Rod crazy. The Angels have paid, and paid, and paid over the years for superstar players who never lived up to the money. They have one miraculous World Series title to show for it.

Pujols has to know that his massive salary will hamstring his team for years, and both sides seem fine with that. I can't blame him. If someone said, "How does a quarter billion dollars sound to you, Albert?" there is only one answer: (Darn) good.

•Uh oh. As good as goalie Mike Smith has been for the Coyotes so far this season, eight goals allowed in less than two periods against the Flyers and Red Wings in a five-day period has those who have seen him struggle elsewhere nodding knowingly.

Cardinals 20, 49ers 17: Arizona shocked me last week, although it was a December game for Dallas with Tony Romo at quarterback. My bad. Sure would be nice to see the Big Red make the final two weeks of the season interesting. The Bears are beat-up. The Lions are imploding. Stranger things have happened.

Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at jbrown5548@aol.com


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