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Browns LB Fujita still pondering retirement

Browns LB Fujita still pondering retirement

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Scott Fujita hopes his last appearance on an NFL playing field won't be this Sunday for the Cleveland Browns.

He would prefer to make another game-saving tackle, clutch interception or crowd-inspiring sack - instead of merely being part of the pregame coin toss.

Fujita is on the injured reserve list, out for the season with a neck injury. An MRI revealed nerve and disk damage that could also end the linebacker's career.

When told by captains D'Qwell Jackson and Phil Dawson that he would be an honorary captain against the San Diego Chargers this week, Fujita finally faced stark reality: ``That's when it hit me, this is the end of the season for me,'' he said Friday. ``It was quite emotional.''

Calling it a career would be even tougher.

``It's still early in the process for that,'' Fujita, 33, said. ``I just want to get healthy and then it will be some private conversations between me and my wife and our doctors.''

If Fujita can't convince himself it is time to quit, perhaps the discussions with wife Jaclyn will do it.

``She's concerned,'' he said. ``The day I went to get the MRI, I almost didn't want to tell her.''

Fujita had neck surgery in 1999 and said Friday he was grateful to play another 13 years ``relatively pain free.''

Now, he doesn't want to risk another operation. And much as it will pain him to leave his teammates and the game he loves, Fujita is smart enough to know that one more ill-placed hit could haunt him the rest of his life.

``I've got to be honest, when I had the neck surgery in college I assumed there were going to be problems in my future anyway, it's just the reality of what we do,'' he said. ``So I'd like to not make those problems any worse.''

Fujita last played Oct. 7 against the New York Giants.

``I had a number of stingers in that game,'' he said. ``Those issues didn't subside over the next few days.''

It has been a trying year for Fujita, one of four players suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. He had his penalty reduced from three games to one, but isn't sure he wants to continue that battle.

``That couldn't be further from my mind right now,'' Fujita said. ``I fought that fight. I felt like I came out on the good side of it. They admitted publicly I had nothing to do with any of that. I feel good about that. Now it's just a matter of whether I want to fight this silly redetermination that I didn't stand up to my coach.

``At this point I don't give it that much thought.''

He does intend to serve out his two-year term on the executive committee of players' association, and despite a master's degree in education, is uncertain of his future away from football.

``Maybe I'll go coach girls soccer,'' Fujita quipped. ``If this is the end for me, then I'll have plenty of options. I've always had the itch to go back and teach.''

Fujita said he never thought about coaching football until this summer, when he enjoyed working with Cleveland's young linebacking corps. He said he would be open to talking with the Browns about a possible role in the organization, which he says is on the upswing with younger and more talented players.

``The day-to-day operation is much more functional,'' Fujita said. ``The wins aren't there yet. That's a problem. But I feel good about the guys in my room. Our young linebackers. They are going to be great players, every single one of them. The table has been set and I think at all position groups, getting stronger and stronger.''

Fujita said he's frustrated at not being able to play, but thanked the team for insisting he get the MRI and putting his personal safety first.

``I love these guys,'' he said. ``It is better to walk away - if this is the end- and be sad than to be mad.''

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NOTES: Coach Pat Shurmur is hopeful RB Trent Richardson's bruised ribs are good enough for him to play Sunday. ``Today was his third good day of practice. He's better this Friday than he was last,'' Shurmur said. ... DT Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and DB Dmitri Patterson (ankle) did not practice. WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) was limited, though Shurmur said, ``He had a good week of practice.'' ... G Jason Pinkston, on IR with a blood clot in his lung, watched practice from the field. ... OL Ryan Miller and Jarrod Shaw returned to practice after sitting out with illnesses on Thursday. Both are among 16 Browns listed as probable against San Diego. ... New Browns CEO Joe Banner remains in Boston, where his father, Ralph, passed away at age 89 Thursday night. ... Outgoing team president Mike Holmgren also watched practice, which was moved indoors.

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

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USA TODAY Sports

MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

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Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

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Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

As shocking as the news of Barry Trotz’s resignation on Monday felt, it probably shouldn’t have given that whether or not he would return to Washington after the 2017-18 season was a storyline all year long.

Trotz entered the 2017-18 season on the last year of his initial four-year deal leading to speculation over whether the team was dissatisfied with his results and ready to move on from the head coach when his contract expired. Teams typically do not allow a head coach to enter the final year of a contract so that they do not appear to the players to be a lame duck coach.

Ultimately, that turned out to not be a problem as Trotz led the organization to its first Stanley Cup in his contract year. While there was interest from both sides in an extension in the wake of winning the Cup, ultimately a new deal could not be agreed upon and now the defending champs are without a head coach.

This begs the question, could things have been different had the team worked out a new contract with Trotz before the 2017-18 season? The answer is almost certainly yes, so how did things get to the point where Trotz was allowed to go into 2017-18 without an extension?

During a press conference with the media on Monday, general manager Brian MacLellan explained the team’s reasoning in not extending Trotz in the summer of 2017.

“We were struggling at the time to get over the hump,” MacLellan said. “We couldn't get over the second round and Barry hadn't been able to coach out of the second round yet either.”

In 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz was not able to coach his team past the second round in the playoffs. In his three seasons with Washington leading up to the 2017-18 campaign, he had led the Caps to two division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies, but again could not get past the second-round hump that had plagued both him and the team.

Based on MacLellan’s comments, another early playoff exit would have likely led to the team choosing to allow Trotz's contract to expire.

“I think from the organization's perspective, some changes would've had to be made if we lost in the second round again,” MacLellan said.

But what if instead the unthinkable happened? What if the Caps forced Trotz into a “prove it” contract year and he was able to lead the team to the Stanley Cup? Didn’t they risk losing him all along?

Yes and no.

MacLellan confirmed reports on Monday that Trotz’s contract included an automatic two-year extension “at an increased rate” if he won the Cup. So while both sides were negotiating an extension, technically Trotz was already under contract through the 2019-20 season.

In the summer of 2017, MacLellan had a choice to make. At the end of the two-year championship window, he could choose to extend a head coach who had not brought the team the type of postseason success he was hoping for, he could fire a coach who had just won two consecutive division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and whose team was eliminated in the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, or he could ride out the final year of Trotz’s deal and, in the off chance the team won the Stanley Cup, still rest easy in the notion that Trotz would automatically remain under contract.

MacLellan went with option C. It almost worked.

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