"Neil? Dave Joyner."
Me: "No way: This is a put-on. This isn't Dave Joyner. You're supposed to be in the middle of the search."
"We are," he says, "but we got in a jam with our travel budget."
"I understand. Those damn sanctions."
Joyner says he heard the Mirror has a helicopter that it sometimes has used to assist area coaching searches. He asks if he and the committee could borrow it on short notice.
"Maybe, but who's going to drive it?"
Joyner: "I've got a pilot's license."
"Oh, and you're a doctor, too? You've got to be the most versatile AD in the country."
"Well, I don't like to brag ..."
I tell him the chopper hasn't been used in several years - it wasn't needed to scope out John Franco's flirtation with Altoona - but if he'll agree to our company flight policy, then we can probably get her out.
"What's the stipulation?" he asks.
"Well, I'm the co-pilot. Somebody from the Mirror has to go."
Joyner pauses and can be heard, muffled, talking to someone, maybe Jeff Nelson. He comes back to the phone.
"That's OK, but there may be some off-the-record information."
"Let me check with Dave Jones on that," I say. "He can tell me what's useable."
The next day dawns, and Joyner and the search committee, pulling up in a blue van, are dropped off early as Mirror do-it-alls Erik Brown, Dan Slep and Rick Bacza de-ice the chopper.
Search committee members Linda Caldwell, Charmelle Green, Tom Poole, Wally Richardson and Bob Warming pile in. Wally notes a lack of leg room.
We quickly roar out of the parking lot, the students at the Pleasant Valley Elementary School gathering at their windows.
Joyner adjusts his flight cap and hands me the directions.
"Which way?" he says, hollering over the noise.
"South!" I yell back.
The noise quells as we zip over Cresson mountain - you can see the icicles hanging from the telephone poles - and head past Johnstown toward Pittsburgh.
I mention, "Tom Bradley's still doing radio for the Steelers."
Joyner acts like he can't hear me and accelerates.
"This thing has some power," he says. "Why don't you use it more often?"
"It's reserved for special occasions, Dave, and Joe did stay for 46 years."
Despite the frigid temperatures, it's a clear day, and way down yonder on the left is West Virginia.
"I know we're in an offensive age, but that's ridiculous," someone says quietly. "Eventually, you've got to be able to stop somebody."
I tell Joyner if we're going all the way to Florida, we'll have to stop in Atlanta for fuel.
"Oh, we've already been to Miami. Didn't you hear? [Al] Golden turned us down."
I couldn't resist: "That's not what Phil Grosz said."
We take a hard right and start passing over the Smoky Mountains to enter Tennessee.
"Oh, I get it," I tell Joyner. "You want to have lunch with James Franklin and dinner with Mike Munchak. Economic searching."
"No, we talked to those guys. I'm just checking to see who else might be in their driveway."
I peer through my binoculars.
"Uh, oh: Looks like the car at Franklin's house has a Redskins bumper sticker."
"That's OK. The [NFL] buyout won't be as flexible this time," another voice chimes in.
Soon we see a sky sign: Houston - 750 miles. Joyner starts sweating, almost loses control and snaps off a hard left turn. Papers and soda cans scatter.
Joyner gathers himself and begins to slow down over North Carolina so he can see the Duke campus.
"Good idea," I offer. "[David] Cutcliffe comes highly regarded, and coaching in Pat Chambers' shadow would be easier than Coach K's."
"Hey, hey, enough of that," Joyner admonishes me. "We're a good [basketball] team. Get used to it."
Joyner sets the Mirror chopper on cruise control, starts heading north and leans back. The rest of the committee has nodded off.
"You know," he confides quietly, "these have been two tough years. I didn't have any idea what I was in for."
"Well, that's a little late. But don't beat yourself up too badly, Dave. You did hire O'Brien. If only he would have stayed a few more days ... I mean years."
As we taxi into the Mirror parking lot, there's a familiar figure waiting, clipboard in hand.
It's Larry Johnson. He offers to take the committee back to State College.
"Good idea," Joyner says, "and I thought we'd stop for something to eat in Tyrone. We'll have more privacy for our interview than in Altoona. Is the Villa still open?"
I wish Johnson well, shake hands with the committee members and privately ask Joyner if he would mind giving the Mirror the scoop when the verdict is in.
"Just as long as we can use your cool helicopter again, sure," he says. "But I'll give you a clue: We don't know ourselves, except this is one search that, so far, hasn't been so golden."