Fire

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

589690.jpg

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.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

polster-217.jpg
USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

0217-addison-russell.jpg
USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”