Cubs

Penn State's new coach has some big shoes to fill

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Penn State's new coach has some big shoes to fill

From Comcast SportsNet

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien has agreed to become Penn State's first new head football coach in nearly a half-century. Two people in the NFL with knowledge of the search told The Associated Press on Friday that O'Brien has told them he plans to replace fired coach Joe Paterno. Another person told the AP terms and details still needed to be set, that nothing was official and there was no signed contract. The persons spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the search. ESPN, citing unnamed sources, first reported Thursday night an official announcement would be made Saturday, and that O'Brien would remain with the Patriots as an assistant through the postseason. Two people have told the AP the report was credible. Division I's winningest coach with 409 victories, Paterno was fired Nov. 9 by university trustees following 46 seasons in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. O'Brien has no apparent ties to Penn State and a proud program tarnished by a scandal that also led to the departure of school President Graham Spanier. Penn State coaches had not received any word on O'Brien or anything else related to the two-month long search as of Friday morning. A Patriots spokesman declined comment Thursday night. Messages left Friday for Penn State spokesmen were not immediately returned. Penn State athletics spokesman Jeff Nelson on Thursday night cited department policy to not comment on reports to "protect the integrity of the search." O'Brien interviewed on Thursday, his agent said. Joe Linta told The Associated Press, earlier Thursday, that O'Brien was "flattered by the interest." This was O'Brien's first year coordinating the Patriots' high-scoring offense, but he has also coached star quarterback Tom Brady since 2009 and spent 2008 coaching receivers. O'Brien recently was in the spotlight when he and Brady got into a heated argument, shown on national television, after Brady threw an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins on Dec. 11. "He's been a great coach and friend. We have a great relationship; probably a very unique relationship in that we communicate all the time," Brady said Sunday about O'Brien. "I always enjoy working with him and he's done an incredible job with this team and this offense." The Patriots are off this week, and will host a divisional round playoff game next weekend. They went 13-3 this season, won the AFC East championship going away, and secured the conference's No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs. New England closed the regular season on an eight-game winning streak, and scored 513 points, the most in the AFC. Brady threw for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, while being picked off just 12 times. "I don't know what's going to happen," Brady said when asked if he would miss O'Brien's coaching. "I hope he's here for a long time and I told him that, too." But the selection of a coach without Penn State ties may not sit well with several prominent former players or some alumni. Former standout linebackers LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short had organized a petition in support of interim coach Tom Bradley's candidacy. Short said the petition only included about 100 names after he was informed by a member of Penn State's search committee it was enough to sway their opinions. He said he planned to meet with Acting Athletic Director David Joyner on Friday in a meeting scheduled before reports began to surface about O'Brien. He would consider cutting ties with his alma mater if the O'Brien reports were true, and he said some former players -- operating independently of the official Football Letterman Club for football alumni -- might consider a lawsuit that would prevent the school from using their likenesses or images in the future. Now an investment banker in New York, Short played seven seasons with the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers. He called Bradley the best candidate for the job. "There are thousands of other players who will tell you the same thing. The administration is under the belief that if they hire an NFL coach, or someone flashy, that they will fill seats," Short said in phone interview Thursday. "As an NFL player I can tell you that there is a big difference between developing young men and recruiting, then the combine and free agency. It's two different universes." D.J. Dozier, a running back on the 1986 title team, said Thursday the search committee should poll current and former players and high school coaches in the region. He planned to sign the petition if more signatures were taken. "Give that person and that staff a chance. I believe the current staff has done a good job," Dozier said. "Unless there's politics involved, give them a chance." Some alumni also lobbied for Bradley, a 33-year veteran of the Penn State staff and defensive coordinator since 2000. Prominent donor Anthony Lubrano, a Penn State graduate, questioned the school's hiring process. "Bill O'Brien might well be a fine football coach and more importantly an even finer human being," Lubrano wrote in an email. "But by excluding the football (lettermen) from the search process, this administration has effectively communicated to them that their contributions to the Penn State family don't matter." O'Brien joined New England in 2007 following 14 seasons on the college level, including stops at Duke, Maryland and Georgia Tech. He played football at Brown -- Paterno's alma mater. The Patriots are third in the NFL overall in scoring (32.1 points per game), and second in total offense (428 yards) and passing (317.8 yards). Penn State finished a 9-4 campaign with a 30-14 loss in the TicketCity Bowl to Houston on Jan. 2. The Nittany Lions relied on defense much of the year after the offense struggled with a two-quarterback system. Penn State officials had termed the search "methodical and deliberate." Joyner said earlier Thursday he would like to have Paterno's replacement in place by Jan. 13, the start of 16-day recruiting window before high school seniors can begin to announce their official intentions to attend college on Feb. 1. Bradley, who took over for Paterno on an interim basis, was among the candidates interviewed. He was on the road recruiting Thursday.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.