Cubs

Buccaneers make stunning choice for new coach

653354.jpg

Buccaneers make stunning choice for new coach

From Comcast SportsNetTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have hired Rutgers' Greg Schiano to become the team's next coach. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik confirmed the five-year contract Thursday in an e-mail to The Associated Press. ESPN first reported the Bucs had hired Schiano. The 45-year-old Schiano has been with the Scarlet Knights for 11 seasons, taking them from college football laughingstock to a program that has had winning records in six of the last seven years. He was an assistant coach in the NFL with Chicago from 1996-98. The Bucs fired Raheem Morris on Jan. 2 after a 4-12 finish that included 10 straight losses to end the season, most of them by double-digit margins. The collapse following a promising 4-2 start came only a year after the NFL's youngest team went 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs. Dominik said in an earlier e-mail to the AP that "many candidates have been notified that we are moving on." The Glazer family that owns the team interviewed at least 10 candidates for the opening, including Oregon's Chip Kelly, who was offered the position before turning it down earlier this week. The Bucs also talked to former NFL head coaches Mike Sherman, Brad Childress and Marty Schottenheimer; Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski; Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray; Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer; Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who accepted the head coaching opening with the Miami Dolphins. An 11th known candidate, ex-Dallas Cowboys coach and current Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, canceled a scheduled interview with the Bucs that would have taken place while the Texans were in the playoffs. It's not the first exhaustive search the Glazers have conducted for a coach. The Bucs pursued Steve Spurrier before hiring Tony Dungy in 1996, then tried to lure Bill Parcells and Steve Mariucci to Tampa Bay before trading two first-round draft picks, as well as a pair of second-rounders and 8 million cash to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for the opportunity to negotiate a contract with Jon Gruden after the 2001 season. Gruden led the Bucs to their only Super Bowl title the following season, but Tampa Bay hasn't won a playoff game since. The Glazers fired him three weeks after the Bucs lost the final four games of 2008 to miss the playoffs, and promoted Morris as his successor. Tampa Bay went 17-31 under Morris, who served as his own defensive coordinator. The Bucs allowed a franchise-record 494 points in 2011, including 31 of more in seven of the last eight games. In addition to fixing a defense that's been rebuilt over the past two drafts, getting young quarterback Josh Freeman back on track with be a priority this offseason. Freeman threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interception in 2010, his second year in the league and his first as a full-time starter. The 24-year-old passed for 16 TDs vs. 22 interceptions this season. The timing of the move could put Rutgers in a bind with national signing day less than a week away. This is a pivotal time in the recruiting process, with coaches locking up commitments from high school prospects who make those agreements official by signing national letters of intent starting Wednesday. Schiano's contract with Rutgers runs through 2016 and pays him around 2.35 million per year. He played linebacker at Bucknell, but never in the NFL. His first big break in coaching came at Penn State, where Joe Paterno hired him to coach defensive backs in 1991. He was at Penn State through 1995, before being hired by the Bears. Because of his success at Rutgers, there had often been speculation for years about Schiano possibly replacing Paterno when the Hall of Famer was done coaching. But when Penn State was looking for a replacement after firing Paterno amid a child sex-abuse scandal involving one of his former longtime assistants, the school hired Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. Schiano has been courted by several other colleges during his time at Rutgers, most notably Miami and Michigan. Michigan pursued Schiano after Lloyd Carr retired in 2007. Schiano passed and the Wolverines hired Rich Rodriguez. Schiano's first four seasons at Rutgers produced losing seasons, but the program he took over was practically at rock bottom in major college football. Before he was hired, the Scarlet Knights played in only one bowl game in their history. Schiano brought structure and discipline to a program that sorely lacked both on every level. Not only has Rutgers become a consistent winner in the Big East, but the Scarlet Knights have regularly been among the top teams in the country when it comes to graduating players. He also helped secure funding for multimillion dollar upgrades to Rutgers' facilities, including a major stadium renovation. In 2005, Rutgers went 7-5 and the next season the Scarlet Knights were 11-2. They have played in six bowls under Schiano, winning five, including a victory over Iowa state in the Pinstripe Bowl to cap a 9-4 season in 2011.

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

kipnis-1030.jpg
USA Today

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

Jason Kipnis, who’s potentially the Cubs’ new second baseman but indisputably the pride of Northbrook, said there’s one major reason why his possible reunion with Wrigley Field is so exciting.

“Now I don’t have to hate the 'Go Cubs Go' song,” he quipped.

Kipnis was a late addition to the Cubs’ roster, and still not even a guaranteed one at that. After almost a decade spent being one of the Cleveland Indians’ cornerstones, Kipnis arrived in Mesa on a minor league contract, looking to win a job. Ironically, being with his hometown team is unfamiliar territory for the two-time All-Star. 

“[Leaving Cleveland] was hard at first,” he said. “You get used to the same place for 9-10 years, and I think it’s a little hard right now coming in and being the new guy and being lost and not knowing where to go. But it’ll be fun. It’s exciting. It’s kind of out of the comfort zone again, which is kind of what you want right now – to be uncomfortable. I don’t know, I’ve missed this feeling a little bit, so it’ll be good.”

It was a slow offseason for the second baseman, but the second baseman said that he was weighing offers from several teams. Opportunity and organizational direction dictated most of his decision-making, but Kipnis admitted that the forces around him were all, rather unsubtly, pulling him in one direction.

“They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, whatever. Just get here,” he joked. “... It made sense, it really did. I think I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life. Friends and family still live in Chicago, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The theme of renewed motivation has hung around Sloan Park like an early-morning Arizona chill, and Kipnis said part of the reason he feels the Cubs brought him in is to set a fire under some guys. He talked with Anthony Rizzo during the offseason, who talked about how the Cubs had struggled at times to put an appropriate emphasis on each of the 162 games in a regular season. That’s not a new problem in baseball, and it struck a chord with Kipnis, who himself was on plenty of talented Cleveland teams that never got over the hump. 

“They got a good core here. I’m well aware of that, they’re well aware of that, too,” he said. “I texted him and called him and asked him what happened last year, because I look at rosters, I look at St. Louis’, I look at all that, and I’m like, ‘I still would take your guys roster.’” 

As for his direct competition, Kipnis said he hasn’t had a chance to really get to know Nico Hoerner yet, but doesn’t feel like the battle for second base has to be a contentious one by any means. At 32, Kipnis has been around long enough to understand the dynamics an aging veteran vs. a top prospect, and doesn't feel like it’s a situation where only one of them will end up benefiting. 

“I know he came up and had a pretty good success, so I think [it’s] going to be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not going to try to put him down,” he said. “I’d like to work with him, kind of teach him what I know too and hopefully both of us become better from it.” 

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.