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Column: Is ND's Kelly latest rent-a-coach?

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Column: Is ND's Kelly latest rent-a-coach?

Coaches bailing out on their teams is nothing new. Neither is saying one thing and doing the opposite. It's practically an occupational hazard.

In the past few weeks, more than a half-dozen pulled that surprise on their teams between the end of the regular season and before the bowl game that was supposed to be their reward. In other sports, a few have departed right after winning a championship. Even so, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly may have taken insincerity to a new level.

Kelly apparently sat for an interview Tuesday with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. That was roughly a year after Notre Dame signed him to a two-year extension and promised to begin discussing a raise and yet another extension. And just four days after Kelly called his ``the best job in the country'' and added, ``Leaving is not an option. I don't even think about it.''

Now fast forward to the early hours of Tuesday morning, moments after Alabama crushed Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS championship game, and an exchange between Kelly and a reporter in the interview room. The questioner asked Kelly ``how optimistic'' he was about making big strides in the Irish passing game, since both sophomore receiver DaVaris Daniels and freshman quarterback Everett Golson were coming back with plenty of valuable experience under their belts.

Kelly pretended to panic.

He began his answer, ``Well, if Everett would come back for another year,'' and then turned to face Golson. For a second, it was hard to tell whether Kelly was still acting.

``Are you coming back?'' he asked.

``Yeah,'' Golson said after a brief silence, playing along. ``I'm coming back.''

Kelly's role as a straight man doesn't seem quite as funny today as it did at the moment. Especially since he answered a handful of questions on either side of that routine with statements like ``now it's pretty clear what we need to do to get over the top'' and ``as we move forward'' and ``we're all going to learn'' and so on. Because just a few hours later, while talking to the Eagles, it's a safe bet that Kelly used the word ``I'' a lot more than he did ``we.''

Of course, Kelly is free to explore job opportunities, same as anybody else. He might genuinely be interested in testing his skills at the highest level of the game, or simply looking for leverage when he sits down soon after his vacation this week to talk about a new contract. Yet neither Kelly nor athletic director Jack Swarbrick needed reminding what happened after Notre Dame, responding to rumors that then-first year coach Charlie Weis was being contacted about a return to the NFL, doubled Weis' original five-year deal. But only one of them is interested in making sure the school doesn't make a mistake that expensive again.

To be fair, despite a sometimes-rocky start, Kelly has been good for Notre Dame. After cameras caught him browbeating players on the sideline, he promised to tone down his act and did. His initial response to allegations of sexual assault against one of his players, as well as the accidental death of a student videographer who was filming football practice in 2010 was callous - at best. But he's learned to better handle the responsibility that comes with Notre Dame's exalted place in the college game since.

Kelly has also made the Irish program seem relevant again, a perception that's been reinforced by a 2013 recruiting class rated among the top three in the nation.

Exactly why he chose to introduce a wrinkle into what looked like a comfortable relationship is something only Kelly can answer, and he took off on vacation before anyone had a chance to pose the question. Swarbrick, too, has declined comment since reports of Kelly's interview with the Eagles surfaced, but he knew his coach's reputation as a ``climber'' before he hired him. Kelly stuck around for 13 seasons in his first job, building Grand Valley State into a Division II powerhouse, but his stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati lasted only three full seasons in both places.

That's hardly proof of a pattern, though something else Kelly said on the eve of the national championship game suggests it might be.

``When I took the job at Notre Dame, I think I said it was a dream job. But I never went around day to day saying anything about being the Notre Dame head coach, because the job that I had in hand was what I was thinking about.

``And I think,'' Kelly added, though it sounds a lot less reassuring now than it did at the time, ``that's the same thing with the NFL.''

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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Two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks — Lamar Jackson and Pat Mahomes — set to square off in week three

Two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks — Lamar Jackson and Pat Mahomes — set to square off in week three

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Sunday’s game between the Ravens and Chiefs is much more than just a matchup of two 2-0 teams. 

It’s a rematch of last year’s week 14 thriller, a 27-24 Chiefs overtime win. It’s a game with one of the league’s best secondary’s pitted against one of the league’s best receiving corps. Ravens coach John Harbaugh once answered to Chiefs coach Andy Reid on the sidelines in Philadelphia.

But in a lot of ways, fair or unfair, this Sunday’s game is being billed as Lamar Jackson versus Patrick Mahomes.

Jackson, however, doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s Ravens vs. the Chiefs,” Jackson said. “I don’t really look at it like I’m competing against him. I’m competing against their defense, if anything. I depend on my defense to do a great job of stopping him. It’s my job to score points.”

Still, the comparisons between Mahomes and Jackson aren’t hard to find.

Mahomes is in his third year in the NFL, his second as a starter, and is the league’s reigning MVP. Jackson is in his second year, his first full season as a starter. 

Jackson won AFC Player of the Week in week one; Mahomes won in week two. Jackson has thrown for seven touchdowns and zero interceptions through two games. Mahomes has the same statistics. Mahomes has 822 total yards on the year. Jackson has 722. 

The respect is there from Jackson, who said Mahomes is on the way to becoming a quarterback like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. 

“He’s on his way,” Jackson said. “Those guys have Super Bowls. He’s a dynamic quarterback. It’s his third year and he’s been doing a tremendous job. (He’s a) former MVP. I just can’t wait to compete against him again.”

Both quarterbacks can make plays off-script, albeit in different ways. 

Mahomes can run from sideline-to-sideline and throw the ball across the field. He’s thrown no-look passes and is incredibly dangerous outside of the pocket. 

“You keep him in the pocket as much as you can,” coach John Harbaugh said of Mahomes. “You make him throw under pressure as much as you can. You cover the guys as well as you can. Then, you play football. That’s what you try to do. If he throws one up down the middle again, hopefully, we’ll get it this time.”

Jackson is just as dangerous outside the pocket, but because he can escape the pocket and forces defenses to commit to his running ability. His speed was a problem for the Cardinals last Sunday, who allowed him to rush for 120 yards. 

“The coordinators and the quarterbacks coaches, they’ve opened the gates for him,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said on Jackson. “They’re doing a million different things, and he’s doing it well, and it looks like he’s loving doing it.”

Both quarterbacks have made a living by playing off-script and unexpected, whether or not their playing styles are similar. 

It’s why both teams will spend this Sunday trying to get the ball back in their own quarterback’s hands.

“I think he can continue doing what he’s been doing,” Earl Thomas said. “He’s been very consistent. He’s basically like the big energy ball we need. Whatever he’s doing, if he’s running the ball, if he’s passing, he’s making it happen for us. Us on defense, we just try to keep getting him the ball.”

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Dexter Fowler jumps, stretches out, robs Nationals of three runs

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Dexter Fowler jumps, stretches out, robs Nationals of three runs

The Nationals trailed the Cardinals 5-1 in the top of the eighth on Wednesday in St. Louis. 

But after Anthony Rendon walked and Howie Kendrick singled, Asdrubal Cabrera stepped to the plate with one out and a chance to cut St. Louis' lead to one run. 

With a 3-2 count, Cabrera roped an 82 mph slider to right field, and Nationals fans had a moment to rejoice as the ball's trajectory was clearly that of a home run. 

Enter: Dexter Fowler. 

The Cardinals' right fielder made a quick dash to the wall and leapt, stretching his 6-foot-5 frame to rob Cabrera of the possible three-run longball. 

And thus, Washington headed to the bottom of the inning still trailing 5-1, in serious need of a ninth-inning rally. 

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