Blackhawks

And San Diego has a new head coach too

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And San Diego has a new head coach too

From Comcast SportsNetSAN DIEGO (AP) -- Mike McCoy's interview with San Diego went so well that both sides felt he was a perfect fit to become the Chargers' new coach.McCoy had one thing to do, though, before accepting the Chargers' offer, so it was a good thing Chargers President Dean Spanos' private plane was at his disposal."There was no doubt in my mind when I got back on that plane to go back home," said McCoy, the former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator who was introduced Tuesday as Chargers' new coach. "They wanted to keep me here last night. But I said, I've got to talk to my wife about this before. If I made the decision without talking to my wife, I might get in a little trouble.'"So McCoy flew back to Denver to talk it over with wife Kellie. McCoy, his wife and their two children were back on the same plane Tuesday morning, flying back to San Diego to take the job."Without a doubt we knew this was the place we wanted to be," said McCoy, who signed a four-year contract.McCoy replaces Norv Turner, who was fired along with general manager A.J. Smith after the Chargers finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the third straight season.The move comes three days after the top-seeded Broncos were eliminated from the playoffs in a double-overtime home loss to the Baltimore Ravens.The 40-year-old McCoy is the same age as Tom Telesco, who was hired as general manager last week. He interviewed after the Chargers already had talked to Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, fired head coaches Lovie Smith and Ken Whisenhunt, and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden."Once he came in and once we saw how good he was, we just felt we had to have him now," Telesco said of McCoy. "We had to get it done or we'd lose him.""He was polished, prepared, had great questions, which I think is big, too, that he had a lot of questions for us," Telesco said. "It's a partnership between the GM and the head coach, through and through. We spend more time with each other during the season than we do with our own family so it's got to be a tight relationship. When he came in, after a little bit of time you could tell he was the right guy for us. We went after him hard."San Diego was scheduled to interview Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians on Wednesday. Telesco, previously the Colts' vice president of football operations, called Arians on Tuesday morning and told him the Chargers had hired McCoy."It was a tough phone call," Telesco said. "I have so much respect for Bruce. He's an excellent football coach. He's going to be a great head coach in this league. I was honest with him. I said, There's different situations, different fits, and right now, this is a fit for Mike McCoy.' He understood."McCoy inherits a team that hasn't won a playoff game since after the 2008 season.He thanked all the coaches and players he's worked with over the years for helping him get to this point. He also said he knew just a few minutes into his interview that San Diego was the right place."They all laughed at me when I walked in yesterday with this big ol' bag with all these books and binders and everything," McCoy said. "Well, that's my life's work. We've got a detailed plan that Tom and I are going to put together. ... There's going to be some change. There's a reason for change. And change is good sometimes in organizations. We've just got to make the most of the opportunity we have moving forward."The Broncos have won consecutive AFC West titles. McCoy tutored quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow in 2011, and had Peyton Manning behind center in 2012.McCoy, who interviewed with the Miami Dolphins last year after retooling Denver's offense to the read-option for Tebow at midstream in 2011, burnished his head coaching credentials this season while blending the power formations the Broncos used in leading the league in rushing last year with Tebow and some of the spread formations that Manning ran in Indianapolis."I think he's going to be a great head coach. Very detail-oriented, knows the game, relates with players very well," Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley said."Peyton does a lot but Mike is very good at what he does and he did a great job this year, so a lot of credit needs to go to him, also," Stokley said. "I think that's what you need to be a head coach -- you need to be flexible. You need to do whatever you think is the best for your team to win and you know that's what he's done. You saw that last year. Not a lot of offensive coordinators in the NFL like running that kind of offense, but that's what he did and it was successful."McCoy said he was "a bit stubborn" after Tebow was made the starter in 2011, but then realized he needed to change the offense."You take advantage of what your players do best," McCoy said.With the Chargers, McCoy will work with Philip Rivers, who struggled this season in large part because he was under siege behind a shaky offensive line. Rivers was sacked 49 times and committed 22 turnovers, giving him 47 turnovers in two seasons."You go through the disappointment from the season and losing your coach to now having a new GM, new coach, and you get excited and ready to go for this 2013 season," Rivers said."Once I found out that we were bringing him in on Monday, I was hoping he wasn't going to leave again. I'm excited that was the case and I'm looking forward to getting started."Denver swept the Chargers in 2012, including an epic 35-24 victory at San Diego on Oct. 15 when Manning calmly led the Broncos back from a 24-0 halftime deficit.McCoy was a walk-on quarterback at Long Beach State under coach George Allen. After the 49ers dropped football, he transferred to Utah. He signed with the Broncos as a free agent and spent his rookie season on Green Bay's practice squad. He had stops in NFL Europe and with San Francisco, Philadelphia and in the CFL. He began his pro coaching career with Carolina before moving to the Broncos in 2009.McCoy said he learned about detail and preparation from Allen, who coached the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins."He was not a big yeller and screamer, he just expected you to go out there and do your job and execute the system the way it was supposed to be executed," McCoy said.McCoy said he planned to hire an offensive coordinator to call plays. Turner called his own plays. McCoy was non-committal about defensive coordinator John Pagano, saying he planned to evaluate the entire staff.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.