Auburn makes rapid tumble from Newton's title team


Auburn makes rapid tumble from Newton's title team

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Two years ago, Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers were unstoppable.

Newton and fellow star Nick Fairley have long since headed to the NFL after spearheading the 2010 national title run - and the Tigers' fall has been as dramatic as that sudden rise.

Now, after one of the program's worst starts in six decades, even a bowl game seems out of reach and Gene Chizik's job security has become a hot topic around the state.

Even former Auburn coach Pat Dye, who has been a big Chizik supporter, said on a syndicated radio show that he doesn't think the Tigers will win a Southeastern Conference game. Dye said the offensive problems, starting at quarterback, are unsolvable.

The Tigers play at favored Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Chizik said he wasn't aware of those comments and insists he's tuning out the criticism and urging his players to do the same, just like he wanted them to ignore the praise during that title run.

``My day when I walk through the door consists of my coaches and my players and the direction that we're headed,'' Chizik said Monday. ``What makes college football great is that, you know what, there's going to be people on the radio, there's going to be people on the TV, there's going to be people outside now that can say and do whatever they want and it can be public as it can be. And hey that's great. That's great.

``But if I concerned myself with all of that, then that would suck the energy and the life out of me trying to do a job that I know I've got to stay concentrating on one thing, trying to keep my coaches and my players on the path of improvement.''

The Tigers (1-5, 0-4 SEC) are off to their worst start since 1998 when coach Terry Bowden leapt off a sinking ship in midseason after starting with the same record. They haven't opened 1-6 since Ralph ``Shug'' Jordan's second team won only twice in 1952.

No team has fallen so far so fast from a national title since the BCS era began in 1998. The most comparable - and they're really not unless Auburn manages a huge turnaround - were both from SEC teams: Tennessee followed up the 1998 title with 9-3 and 8-4 seasons; LSU endured 8-5 and 9-4 seasons before returning to form after the 2007 championship.

Both remained respectable, though.

It doesn't appear there's a quick fix at Auburn, especially on offense.

A quarterback change from Kiehl Frazier to Clint Moseley didn't really jumpstart the Tigers, who rank 116th nationally in total offense and only one spot better in scoring.

The Tigers' fall to 8-5 last season came after losing most of the starters from the team that went 14-0, including the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Newton and fellow first-rounder Fairley.

This season was projected to be a similar rebuilding year despite three straight top 10 recruiting classes. Auburn, with new coordinators, implemented new offensive and defensive schemes. The Tigers also had lost star tailback Mike Dyer after he was released from his scholarship following an indefinite suspension for violating team rules. Onetime starting quarterback Barrett Trotter decided not to return for his fifth season.

Still, there weren't clear indications things would get this bad, though.

Auburn opened the season losing just 26-19 to No. 14 Clemson - and a few weeks later dropped a 12-10 game to No. 6 LSU.

Then came a 17-point loss to an Arkansas team that seemed in a similar boat, and a three-touchdown defeat at Mississippi. Now, the Tigers are touchdown underdogs at Vandy. Chizik said climbing out of this hole will require ``an unbending mentality,'' starting with him.

``Our focus every day is to improve and win,'' he said. ``We've got challenges on our team in every phase. I think that's obvious if you watch us play.''

Freshman wide receiver Sammie Coates took the veterans to task a week ago for a lack of leadership.

Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said the Tigers haven't given up, but Ole Miss and Arkansas have outscored them 31-0 in the fourth quarter the last two games.

He also defended Chizik, who was defensive coordinator on unbeaten teams at Auburn and Texas.

"it's just part of the job,'' Lutzenkirchen said. ``He's still a great coach. He's been a part of three undefeated seasons in the past decade, so there's no doubt about it that he's a good coach. We're in a hole and I think what he does from here on is going to continue to define him as a coach. He's going to continue to fight and lead this team. ``

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Fans, Redskins pay tribute to longtime NBC Sports Washington reporter Rich Tandler

NBC Sports Washington

Fans, Redskins pay tribute to longtime NBC Sports Washington reporter Rich Tandler

NBC Sports Washington lost an important piece of its family this week when longtime Redskins reporter Rich Tandler died on Tuesday. He was 63.

Tandler joined NBC Sports Washington in 2011. He began his writing career in his 40s after working in restaurants and created his blog, Real Redskins, in 2004, which became the longest-running blog on the team. He also wrote three books on the Redskins and posted an estimated 2,300 consecutive “Need To Know” posts, becoming a must-read for Redskins fans as part of their morning routine.

“We’re devastated to learn of the loss of one of our most loved and valued media members, Rich Tandler of NBC Sports Washington,” Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder said in a statement. “His dedication to covering the Redskins over the past 14 years has made him an irreplaceable presence among our media corps, and he will be in our hearts. Our thoughts are with his family, our family at NBC Sports Washington, and the entire Redskins community. He will be truly missed.”

The team will hold a moment of silence for Tandler before its game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and will keep his regular seat on press row empty. On Wednesday, Redskins quarterback Alex Smith offered his “thoughts and prayers to his family.”

“Rich’s kind and warm nature made him a good friend and an especially close colleague to many of us at NBC Sports Washington,” NBC Sports Washington General Manager Damon Phillips said in a statement. “His passion for his work and the Redskins was inspiring and made him a critical part of many of our successes over the past seven years. This is a very big loss for the sports community. Our thoughts are with his family and his many friends.”

Fans, Redskins players, fellow reporters, and friends of Tandler paid tribute to him on social media.

“Incredibly saddened by the sudden passing of NBCSW’s Rich Tandler. He was a great talent and an important voice in the DC sports community. Our thoughts are with his wife @MissSkeetersmom, his family and his family at @NBCSWashington,” Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis wrote on Twitter.


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Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener


Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener

Dwight Howard may play in the Wizards' regular-season opener on Thursday night against the Miami Heat, but the team will not know until the day of the game and likely won't announce the decision either way until head coach Scott Brooks addresses the media about two hours before tipoff.

Howard only has three practices under his belt but has made significant progress throughout this week after missing all five of the team's preseason games due to a strain in his piriformis muscle.

Head coach Scott Brooks said Howard has looked good in those three practices but has a lot of missed time to make up for.

"I think he's definitely winded at times, but that's part of it," Brooks said.

Brooks added that Howard is not getting the same lift when jumping that he's used to. Howard, 32, is used to playing above the rim and his vertical leap is an important part of his game.

The Wizards play their first two games at home, the second on Saturday against the Raptors. They then embark on a Western Conference road trip beginning with the Blazers on Monday.

Brooks said Howard will "definitely" make that trip with the team, which gives a good indication of how close he is to returning to game action. When Howard is ready to play will be left up to the team's medical staff.

If Howard does miss time, the Wizards are expected to rely on his backup Ian Mahinmi as the starting center. Jason Smith would then become the No. 2 center on the depth chart, though they could use forwards like Markieff Morris or Jeff Green at the five-spot.

Howard signed a two-year free-agent deal worth $11 million to join the Wizards in July.