1-16-04, 6:25 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Willie Anderson's goal of establishing a learning center for low-income children became reinforced this week when he was named the United States Sports Academy's Alabama Athlete of the Year.
Anderson, the Bengals' Pro Bowl right tackle, literally becomes the hometown kid who made good because the academy, a non-profit, special mission graduate school of sport, is based in his hometown of Mobile, Ala. The award is given to athletes who played high school, college, semi-pro, or professional sports in Alabama, and have contributed off the field as well as on the field.
Last year's recipient, Oakland A's pitcher Tim Hudson is a fellow Auburn University product. The 2002 winner, Bonetta Flowers, a Birmingham native, is a bobsledder who was the first African-American to gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Soccer great Mia Hamm, from Selma, won it in 1999.
"Willie is close to our hearts because he grew up right here in Mobile and went to high school at Vigor and was a high school All-American before doing the same at Auburn," said Dr. Arthur Ogden, the academy's director of public relations. "When he made it to the Pro Bowl this year, he was a perfect choice."
The school, which is the nation's only free-standing institution of higher learning in the United States offering master's and doctoral degrees in Sports Science and Sport s Management, in addition to its extensive certification programs, is located in Daphne, Ala., on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay.
Anderson, 28, preparing for his first Pro Bowl next month after his eighth season with the Bengals, lives in Atlanta. But his mother still lives in the area and he is active in their church, Whitestone Baptist, where he hosts Thanksgiving dinner for the needy. The academy also houses the biggest collection of sports art in the country, and Anderson's mother just paid a visit recently to pick up some pictures of her son.
Anderson has often talked about starting a school that prepares high school students for college in an environment they may not get in their public school.
"In Alabama, and I'm sure in other places, too, the money always seems to be getting cut and the teachers are grossly underpaid," Anderson said. "My goal is funding a school that gives those kids a chance to receive an education they may not get at a public school that gets them better prepared for college. I'd like to have top-notch sports teams once it gets going, but the focus would be academics."
Anderson owns his own company, Think Big Inc., which is involved in real estate development and other ventures, and he wants to offer children courses that involve the financial and business sides of life in a balanced curriculum.
"For instance, just the basics of balancing a checkbook," Anderson said. "To me, the first step of being successful is getting the best education possible."
Ironically, the academy is sponsoring a clinic for its area high school coaches next Friday that is to be worked by the Bengals' staff. The clinic is the day before Mobile's annual Senior Bowl Game, where the Bengals are coaching the North team.
RAND MCNALLY GOING HOME:** Jim McNally, the Bengals' popular former offensive line coach who directed two Super Bowl units during his 15 years with the club, is going home for his 25th season in the NFL. McNally's move to new Bills head coach Mike Mularkey's staff in Buffalo features a busy offseason for former Bengal coaches.
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette speculated Friday that former head coach Dick LeBeau is leaving Buffalo to become the Steelers defensive coordinator. Bills defensive line coach Tim Krumrie, who played and coached in Cincinnati for 21 seasons, could stay in Buffalo if LeBeau sticks with the Bills, or published reports say he could be headed to the Redskins.
McNally, born in Buffalo 60 years ago and a Kenmore West High School product, had worked the previous four seasons for the Giants and had been part of another Super Bowl team. He left the Bengals after the 1994 season for a four-year stint in Carolina before moving to New York. Despite coaching in about 160 games since he left, not one has been against the Bengals. But the drought breaks this season when the Bills come to Paul Brown Stadium.
"I may be exaggerating, but I've got to have about four to five hundred friends still in Buffalo and I've got about 60 cousins. One of my uncles had 11 kids," said McNally, who also played at the University of Buffalo. "It's a big thrill, but there's a lot of pressure that goes with it, too. Sure, it's great, you get the headlines, 'Hometown Boy Returns,' but if you get the quarterback killed, then what happens?"
That's why the Bills have called on McNally. So they can better protect their huge investment in quarterback Drew Bledsoe after Buffalo allowed a NFL-high 51 sacks.
Even though McNally has been gone 10 seasons, he isn't a stranger at PBS because he visits Bengals President Mike Brown during the offseason, and he owns a condo in Burlington, Ky., to be near his first grandchild. His daughter, Jenny Gardner, a former Bengals employee, is the Reds' director of sales.
McNally is watching what Marvin Lewis has done ("Great job and they've been getting good players the last couple of years") and is looking forward to playing his old team. It's going to be a big day for him.
"Hey, it's another game, but the Bengals and Bills are my two teams," McNally said. "I lived and died with the Bills. Billy Shaw, Jack Kemp. Cookie Gilchrist, those guys. To be able to coach that team against the team where I spent the longest time is a thrill."