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Balancing wins and losses with dollars and cents

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Balancing wins and losses with dollars and cents

Deciding whether to fire a college football coach often comes down to balancing wins and losses with dollars and cents.

Five coaches were fired Sunday, including Gene Chizik at Auburn just two years after he led the Tigers to a national championship. The five schools are on the hook for about $14 million in buyouts to their former employees. Auburn owes Chizik $7.5 million.

That's a lot of money to pay someone to not work for you, but it can be even more costly to keep a coach who is not only losing but draining a program in other ways.

``What we all look for is: Is there a plan in place? Is the plan showing signs of progress? Is there energy around the program?'' Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said Monday.

``If there is no energy, no sign of hope, we're not gaining traction in recruiting or in people investing in our program, and we're not winning, you've got to make a change.''

The 39-year-old Bjork is in his first season at Ole Miss after quickly working his way up the ladder in intercollegiate athletics. Before he was hired by Mississippi in March, he was the AD at Western Kentucky. He didn't hire Rebels coach Hugh Freeze, but he's definitely not in the market for a replacement after a promising 6-6 first season in Oxford.

Making the decision to change coaches in any sport is as much about the future as the present. Colorado fired Jon Embree on Sunday after only two seasons, a rarity even in today's win-now atmosphere. The Buffaloes were one of the worst teams in the country, going 1-11 with an inexperienced roster and a first-time head coach.

At a news conference Monday, Colorado AD Mike Bohn said he was most concerned about the ``trajectory'' of the program.

``The importance of the third year, and if you don't have the momentum ... you begin to think we did not make the decisions quick enough,'' Bohn said.

Bohn said lagging ticket sales and waning interest from fans was a factor.

It always is. As much as athletic directors can't be expected to make decisions that satisfy the whims of fickle fans, the folks who buy tickets definitely have a say.

``You operate off a zero-base budget,'' Bjork said. ``Let's say looking at past trends you budget $14 million in football ticket sales and halfway through the season you are projecting $11 or $12 million. That's a problem.''

Especially after a university spends a few hundred million to renovate its stadium - as California just did.

The school invested $321 million on renovations and the newly remodeled Memorial Stadium opened this season. Jeff Tedford could not have picked a worse season to have the worst record of a mostly successful 11-year tenure as Bears coach. He went 3-9 and AD Sandy Barbour faced this choice: Fire a coach the school still owes $6.9 million or face the prospect of brand new luxury boxes being left vacant.

Barbour decided the short-term loss would be outweighed by the long-term gain of a new coach revitalizing the fan base. Cal is one of 12 FBS schools with a head coaching vacancy, including four in the Southeastern Conference.

Ole Miss made a similar decision after last season when it fired Houston Nutt, who had three years left on his deal and a $6 million buyout.

``Right now that's holding us back in terms of our full commitment to football because that's looming out there,'' Bjork said.

The Catch-22 is no coach is going to take a contract without a significant buyout these days because schools are so quick to cut guys loose in search of the next big thing. And once a coach does have some success, schools feel obligated to quickly give long extensions because, well, what recruit is going to commit to play for a coach with two years left on his contract?

``That's always a tough balance,'' Bjork said. ``If you're not investing are you committed? If you're over invested and you negotiate a big buyout are you making a mistake you'll have to pay for later?''

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HEISMAN WATCH

Johnny Manziel speaks.

The Texas A&M quarterback has been off-limits to the media throughout his spectacular first season playing for the Aggies.

With his regular season over, and Manziel the Heisman front-runner, A&M decided to lift the restrictions on Johnny Football and held a teleconference with reporters for him on Monday.

``It's kind of nice now to be able to kind of let you guys know how I am a little bit more,'' he said. ``There's so many question marks out there.''

This is certain: Manziel is poised to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. He's the front-runner in the straw polls conducted by Heismanpundit.com and ESPN.

He'll benefit from the fact that there are no serious Heisman candidates playing for Alabama or Georgia in the biggest game of the weekend.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron saw his Heisman chances vanish with that late interception in a loss to Texas A&M. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has put up great numbers, but played poorly in the Bulldogs' big games against South Carolina and Florida.

Collin Klein and Kansas State play this Saturday against Texas, trying to sew up a Big 12 title. Klein threw three picks in a loss to Baylor to relinquish Heisman front-runner status to Manziel, but a great game against the Longhorns could tighten the race again. Robert Griffin III sealed up his Heisman last year by lighting up the Longhorns in the season finale.

If you're looking for a player who could make a final statement capable of changing the Heisman race, keep an eye on Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones. He's one of the best players in the country and is capable of having the type of game that forces voters to rethink their ballots the way former Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh did when he wrecked Texas back in 2009.

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QUICK HITS

- It has no BCS implications, but the Sun Belt championship will be decided in Jonesboro, Ark., on Saturday when Middle Tennessee (8-3, 6-1) faces Arkansas State (8-3, 6-1). Both will be heading to bowl games.

- With the hirings and firings at this time of year also comes the squelching of speculation and rumors. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Boise State's Chris Petersen spent part of their Mondays batting aside questions about other jobs.

- Yes, if things break a certain way this weekend, the Orange Bowl could be Kent State against Georgia Tech.

- Speaking of the MAC, Kent State plays Northern Illinois in an intriguing conference title game that could also impact the Heisman Trophy race. Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch is third in the nation in total offense at 363 yards per game, 20 less than Manziel. Lynch is more bullish and less elusive than Manziel as a runner, but every bit as effective with 10 straight 100-yard games.

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LAST WORD

``How long does he have?'' - Former Colorado coach Jon Embree when asked if the next coach of the Buffaloes can turn the program around.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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Is Adrian Peterson a good fit with the Redskins?

Is Adrian Peterson a good fit with the Redskins?

Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs in NFL history.

But is he the best running back for the Redskins right now?

The Redskins signed Peterson, 33 years old and a 12-year NFL veteran, to a one-year contract. They have been hit with injuries at the running back position, most notably the loss of second-round pick Derrius Guice for the season with a torn ACL. They didn’t make any moves when that diagnosis was announced a week and a half ago. But they lost two more backs to short-term injuries last Thursday and they decided that now is the time to go out and get somebody.

Is the need for a running back really there? Rob Kelley was the starter for the last half of the 2016 season and for seven games last year before a variety of ailments sent him to injured reserve. Samaje Perine became the starter after that and while he struggled at time he also showed growth potential.

Kelley is 25 and Perine is 22. In the absence of Guice, they could develop and when Guice returns next year the team would have a good stable of young running backs.

But now, Peterson is in the picture. We don’t yet know what his role will be, but they did not sign him to be the back who is inactive on game days. He will get some carries and that will take work away from Perine and Kelley.

Now, if Peterson is more productive than either of the two younger backs then that is a worthwhile swap. But what does he have left in the tank at age 33?

Last year, playing for the Saints and Cardinals he gained 529 yards on 156 carries, a very pedestrian average of 3.4 years per carry. That is very similar to the production of Perine, who had 175 carries for 603 yards, a 3.4 average. In his two years in the NFL, Kelley has averaged 3.9 yards per carry.

By signing Peterson, however, the Redskins are hoping that Peterson has one more big year, or at least a medium year by his standards, left in him. After all, it was just in 2015 that he led the NFL in rushing for the third time in his career as he ran for 1,485 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. The Redskins would be delighted if he could get half of that total.

Any free agent signing can only be evaluated when the contract details are available. We only know that it’s a one-year deal and according to some reports he did not get any money guaranteed at signing. That seems to be a team friendly deal, but we will have to see what might kick in if he is on the Week 1 roster.

As with everything else, time will tell if this move works out. If the money is right, it’s a low risk transaction with some possible upside for Washington.

Back during minicamp while talking about how quickly Alex Smith would have to get up to speed with the offense, Jay Gruden said that the Redskins are not in a rebuilding mode and that they need to win now. After the trade for Smith, the Peterson signing is another indication that patience may be wearing thin.

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler

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Former MVP Adrian Peterson signing with Redskins amid mounting RB injuries

Former MVP Adrian Peterson signing with Redskins amid mounting RB injuries


The Redskins agreed to terms with free agent running back Adrian Peterson, per multiple reports and confirmed by NBC Sports Washington.

Washington added Peterson as their running back group took a number of hits this preseason. Rookie Derrius Guice was lost for the year in the preseason opener, while Byron Marshall, Martez Carter and Samaje Perine got hurt in the second preseason game against the Jets.

Peterson is a huge name. He’s likely headed for the Hall of Fame when his career ends, and he’s one of only a handful of rushers to gain more than 2,000 yards in a season.

His best seasons came with the Vikings, but Peterson hasn’t delivered top flight results since 2015.

If he’s healthy and ready to go, Peterson could be a tremendous steal for the Redskins. There is no way to know until he suits up in the preseason, which could happen as soon as this Friday night against Denver.

On the roster, Washington has Rob Kelley, Kapri Bibbs and Chris Thompson available at running back. At his best, Peterson is significantly better than that group.

Will the Redskins get Peterson at his best?

That’s the big question. And with two preseason games remaining, he will get the chance to prove it.

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