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Cincinnati looking for Butch Jones' replacement

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Cincinnati looking for Butch Jones' replacement

CINCINNATI (AP) The University of Cincinnati ended a whirlwind week on Friday looking for Butch Jones' replacement as football coach while the team started preparing for its bowl game.

The Bearcats have experience at doing both simultaneously.

Jones resigned to take the job at Tennessee early Friday morning, as the players met to start preparing to face Duke in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27. Cincinnati (9-3) shared the Big East title for the fourth time in the past five years.

The team plans to start practicing for the bowl game on Saturday, trying to get past several days of uncertainty and change. It was unclear how many members of the current coaching staff would stay in Cincinnati to prepare for the bowl.

``This industry can be crazy at times,'' athletic director Whit Babcock said.

The last three Bearcats coaches have used the job as a stepping stone to bigger things, each leaving after three seasons. Mark Dantonio guided Cincinnati into the Big East before leaving for Michigan State. Brian Kelly led Cincinnati to back-to-back titles and berths in the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl before heading to Notre Dame.

Kelly's departure for his dream job left his players and fans angry in 2009. The team was unbeaten and, suddenly, in turmoil heading into its first Sugar Bowl, where it got drubbed by Florida 51-24.

Jones replaced Kelly and, after a disappointing four-win season, won shares of the last two Big East titles. He went 23-14 overall at Cincinnati. Like his predecessor, he leaves with his team starting to prepare for a bowl game.

Defensive line coach Steve Stripling, who joined Jones' staff in 2010, was chosen interim coach on Friday.

Cincinnati's football program was on hold for a week while Jones weighed his options. Babcock said Jones had trouble making a decision, and ultimately the athletic director forced him to make one by Friday morning.

``All I said was we don't have a lot of time, you know it and I know it,'' Babcock said. ``I asked him to set a team meeting less in than 24 hours, and they deserved an answer and we deserved an answer whether he was going to be our head coach or not.''

Babcock said he approached Jones about an improved contract and facility improvements during the season, and the coach was delighted. Five BCS schools contacted Jones about job openings as the season wound down, and he told Babcock that he wanted to interview with Purdue and Colorado.

Jones interviewed with Purdue last Sunday and quickly decided against accepting the job. He went to Colorado the following day and was more intrigued, Babcock said.

``This room would be shocked by all the things they threw at him,'' he said. ``It was an impressive list.''

Babcock said he was bothered by the pictures of Jones being interviewed at other schools and the speculation about whether he was leaving, which built during the week. Babcock said the coach can make quick decisions during a game, but has a more difficult time with other issues.

``When it comes to other decisions, it will take him a while,'' he said. ``He'll sway this way, he'll sway that way.''

Babcock told Jones on Wednesday night that he needed a decision. The next morning, Jones turned down the Colorado job, saying he would stay at Cincinnati. A short time later, Tennessee contacted the university about interviewing him for its open job, which Louisville coach Charlie Strong had turned down.

That's when Babcock set the deadline for a final decision.

``No more public embarrassments, no more public interviews. In less than 24 hours, I needed to know if he was going to take it,'' Babcock said. ``He knew and I knew it wasn't fair for our fans, for our players to drag it out.''

A 7:30 a.m. meeting was scheduled with players, even though Jones was still unsure what he would tell them. He informed Babcock at 5:15 a.m. on Friday that he was taking Tennessee's offer.

Jones' contract with Cincinnati includes a $1.4 million buyout. The deal was extended through 2017 after the Bearcats got a share of the Big East title last year.

The Bearcats have trouble keeping coaches for more than three years. They're looking for their next one with a lot of uncertainty over the school's future.

The university has been disappointed by the Big East's massive exodus and lobbied to get into the Atlantic Coast Conference. Instead, rival Louisville got accepted by the ACC, leaving Cincinnati hoping it could make the move in a few more years.

There's also a lot of work to do on the athletic facilities.

During Jones' tenure, Cincinnati expanded its football facility, adding a practice field with a protective bubble for bad weather. The school is trying to figure out how to upgrade 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium, which is the second-oldest playing site in the nation for a college team behind Penn's Franklin Field. Nippert has been in use since 1901.

Despite their Big East success, the Bearcats have played in front of disappointing crowds at Nippert. They drew only 21,171 fans on senior night - their smallest crowd of the season - for a 27-10 win over South Florida this year.

The Bearcats' last two coaches came from the Mid-American Conference. Kelly coached at Central Michigan and was succeeded there by Jones, who then replaced him in Cincinnati. While Jones interviewed and weighed his options this week, two high-profile MAC coaches moved on to bigger schools.

Kent State's Darrell Hazell took the Purdue job after Jones decided he wasn't interested in it. Northern Illinois' Dave Doeren went to North Carolina State.

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter:http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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Ravens kicker Justin Tucker named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

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Ravens kicker Justin Tucker named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

It's just Justin Tucker doing Justin Tucker things.

The Ravens' kicker has been named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, the team announced Wednesday. This is the eighth time in his career he's been awarded the honor.

During the team's Week 3 27-14 win against the Denver Broncos, Tucker nailed not one, but two field goals from 52-yards out. He's made eight straight from beyond the 50.

Besides being the most accurate kicker in the history of the NFL, the 28-year-old has made 100 percent of the Ravens' extra point attempts. 

In 2016, JT became the ninth kicker in NFL history to kick three 50+ field goals in a single game and is the first kicker in NFL history to kick a field goal from 20-, 30-, 40-, 50- and 60-yards in a single game. 

On top of being a two-time Pro Bowler, he is the fastest kicker in NFL history to make 100 field goals and to reach the 500-point milestone. His longest field goal is 61-yards.

With the way things have been going for kickers in the NFL of late, Ravens fans can truly appreciate Tucker and his insane leg. 

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Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, Jr. offer advice for Kelly Oubre, Jr.

Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, Jr. offer advice for Kelly Oubre, Jr.

Wizards forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. doesn't need to look far to find a blueprint for success this season, the final year of his rookie scale contract. Both Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, Jr. were in the exact same situation, and while they were teammates with Oubre. Each of them knocked the test of a contract year out of the park.

Both Beal and Porter earned max deals from the Wizards after breakout seasons in contract years. Oubre, of course, would like to make a lot of money for himself. When asked to share advice for Oubre, Beal and Porter spoke their piece in different ways, but the message ultimately was much the same. 

Beal spoke in-depth and with his trademark even-keel approach. Porter was characteristically brief.

"Don't worry about it. It will take care of itself," Beal told NBC Sports Washington. "I'm not gonna sit here and say that it's easy to do because it's your brand, it's your life, it's your money... but I always say that with your money you are going to get rewarded and taken care of at the end of the day."

"Just continue to work hard and everything else will take care of itself," Porter said.

Beal sees some similarities in Oubre and Porter and not just because they play the same position as small forwards. Oubre, like Porter in the 2016-17 season, has to operate in a secondary role. Beal was a central focus of the offense in 2015-16, his contract year.

"It will be tough to do because you've gotta think [Oubre] is coming off the bench," Beal explained.

"I always use Otto as an example. Otto did everything he was supposed to do, everything coach asked him to, everything the organization asked him to and he got rewarded for it. It's plain and simple. His game is simple, honestly. I feel like Kelly can be the exact same way... It's just a matter of him staying level-headed and just not worrying about it too much."

If Oubre has any questions, Beal seems like the guy to go to. It's clear in talking about Oubre that Beal genuinely cares for him and his future.

Beal also cares for the future of the Wizards and would like Oubre to remain in Washington.

"Kelly is super-athletic. The sky is the ultimate limit for him," Beal said. "He is somebody who has star potential, somebody who we are crazy to think that other teams aren't going to try to go after him. We've gotta realize that."

Beal said he will do his part to help Oubre, if the fourth-year forward needs it. Having been there before, he feels like he can be a resource.

"He's like my little brother, so as much as I can I will try to keep him level-headed and try to not keep him focused on it. It's definitely easier said than done," Beal said.

Technically, Oubre could sign a new deal with the Wizards before the Oct. 15 deadline for rookie scale contract extensions, but those types of deals are relatively rare. Only a handful of players sign them each year. And for the Wizards, their salary situation beyond this season is bloated with $116.4 million committed to six players. That includes the raise John Wall will receive in the first year of his max contract extension.

Oubre also may be better served by waiting it out. Beal and Porter bet on themselves and won out. As long as Oubre can stay healthy and continue to develop this season, he should follow suit.

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