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Irish end longest No. 1 drought in school history

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Irish end longest No. 1 drought in school history

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Coach Brian Kelly was doing the same thing Notre Dame fans around the country were doing Saturday night, flipping back and forth between the Kansas State and Oregon games and cheering loudly for one of the top two teams in the BCS standings to lose so the Fighting Irish could have a shot at the title game.

When both went down, though, he says he felt neither a sense of elation nor satisfaction. It was more a feeling of control. The Fighting Irish (11-0) were now in control of their own destiny, knowing a win over rival Southern California (7-4) puts the Irish in the BCS title game.

``We get a chance to play for the national championship provided we win this week,'' he said.

It's been 19 years since the Irish were last able to think like that. Actually, 18 years, 11 months and 29 days. But who's counting?

That's how many days it had been since Notre Dame was last ranked No. 1. That's a span that began after Boston College shocked the Fighting Irish with a 41-39 victory in 1993 a week after second-ranked Notre Dame upset top-ranked Florida State to claim that No. 1 ranking.

That's the same ranking the Irish held in 1990, 1989, 1988 and for 77 games over the years until ending the longest streak ever without a No. 1 ranking in Notre Dame history with a 38-0 win over Wake Forest on Saturday.

The Irish aren't just No. 1, they are a unanimous No. 1 in the Associated Press poll after improving to 11-0 for the first time since 1989. A week earlier some scoffed at Kelly for ranking the Irish No. 1 in the coaches' poll. This week 55 of his 59 colleagues agreed with him. Kelly said he didn't feel any sense of vindication.

``I was just being consistent with my rankings. I told our team that I felt like they were the best team in the country because I knew more about our team than the other two,'' he said.

The longest Notre Dame had ever gone previously without being ranked No. 1 was 10 years and 30 days, which was the gap between the time No. 19 Purdue beat a top-ranked Notre Dame squad coached by Terry Brennan in 1954 and the Irish coached by Ara Parseghian reclaimed the top-ranking after a 40-0 win over Navy in 1964.

That team's hopes for a national title fell just short when the top-ranked Irish were upset by a Southern California 20-17 when Craig Fertig completed a 15-yard TD pass to Rod Sherman with 1:33 left and the Irish finished the season ranked No. 3.

USC will be trying to end Notre Dame's title hopes again this week and have the manpower to do it. After all, the Trojans were the preseason No. 1, while the Irish started the year unranked. But the Irish are undefeated, while the Trojans have lost three of their last four and could be without quarterback Matt Barkley, who was knocked out of the game in a 38-28 loss to UCLA on Saturday.

But the Trojans have dominated the rivalry in recent years, posting a 12-5-1 record over Notre Dame since the Irish were last ranked No. 1.

That includes a 38-0 loss by Notre Dame in 2007, a 38-3 loss in 2008, 31-point losses in 2002, '03 and '04 and the 34-31 loss in 2005 that became known as the ``Bush Push'' because USC tailback Reggie Bush nudged quarterback Matt Leinart into the end zone with 3 seconds left. During that time the Trojans have won national championships in 2003 and 2004, finished No. 2 in 2005 and No. 3 in 2007 and 2008 and fourth in 2002 and 2006. Notre Dame finished No. 2 in 1993 and No. 9 in 2005. That's it for top 10 finishes.

So there's no arguing USC has been the better team in recent years. The Trojans have won nine of the last 10 games in the rivalry, the only win for the Irish was a 20-16 victory in Los Angeles two years ago. Despite that, Kelly said the current Irish squad doesn't feel dominated by the Trojans.

``I don't think they look at USC and think of dominance. They felt like last year they let a game slip through their hands with sloppy play. Beat them at their place. So, no, our guys are excited about playing a rival in USC. But there's no trepidation. There's a great deal of respect for USC and what they've done. But our guys are very confident in themselves as well,'' Kelly said.

Kelly said the important thing for the Irish is to show that their not just No. 1 for a week, a place some college football plans wondered whether the Irish would ever get back to because of Notre Dame's academic standards. Kelly said he had no doubt when he took the job in 2009.

``I have not seen anything here in my time that will not allow us to continue to have the highest graduation rate and compete for a national championship, and I've been doing it 22 years. So I think I know what it looks like if you couldn't do it,'' he said.

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Wizards GM reset: Blazers' Neil Olshey, Warriors exec potential targets?

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Wizards GM reset: Blazers' Neil Olshey, Warriors exec potential targets?

The Washington Wizards remain without a President of Basketball Operations since firing Ernie Grunfeld April 2. While several candidates met with owner Ted Leonsis, including Denver’s Tim Connelly, the pursuit continues though largely in silence.

The vibe coming out of the organization is that of patience even with the fan base growing restless as the June 20 NBA Draft looms and prospect workouts starting a week or so out.

There have been no reports of candidate interviews since Washington met over the weekend with Connelly. Speculation and logic have the Wizards considering candidates beyond the previously reported group already brought in for interviews.

We can connect some dots and land on one executive whose team is still in the playoffs: Golden State assistant general manager Larry Harris.

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations, the architect behind the Portland squad that reached the 2019 Western Conference Finals.

Before we explain both scenarios, one more thought on Connelly specifically the pursuit and big swing.

While Connelly wasn’t the first candidate meeting, it’s clear the Wizards waited for him. The 54-win Nuggets were eliminated from the second round of the playoffs May 12. Connelly flew to Washington for a meeting with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis five days later.

The Baltimore native sincerely weighed a contract offer from the Wizards before choosing to remain in Denver, sources told NBC Sports Washington.

The Wizards previously interviewed former Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver and Wizards interim front office leader Tommy Sheppard.

While all three are considered credible candidates, none is an active GM or team president. None represents a big swing, the kind Leonsis hinted he would pursue in his first comments after dismissing Grunfeld.

“One thing I will say: I think this is the best job in sports,” Leonsis said. “I don’t think we’re going to have any issues in attracting really, really great people.”

Olshey, 54, began running Portland’s front office in June of 2012. Over the next 12 months, he drafted guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and hired head coach Terry Stotts. The quartet created the culture that fueled the current streak of six consecutive playoff appearances.

The 53-win Blazers advanced to the franchise’s first WCF appearance since 2000 before losing the series to Golden State 4-0.

It's uncertain the level of pursuit for Olshey from Washington, but the Wizards could face another uphill climb trying to lure the proven executive considering the similar contractual and team success to Connelly's situation. 

The general interest in Olshey began several weeks back, but the Wizards had yet to ask the Blazers for permission to interview Olshey as of Wednesday according to a source. Portland's season ended Monday with the Game 4 loss to Golden State. 

Olshey agreed to an extension in 2017 that carries his contract through the 2020-21 season. Sources believe he is open to considering other options including Washington after seven years with the Blazers.

Reporting from Portland has the franchise likely to be sold following the 2018 passing of team owner Paul Allen. 

Lillard received All-NBA honors Thursday and with it a supermax extension for four-years, $191 million dollars. If offered and signed, the contract would put constraints on Portland's salary cap structure.

As for Harris, the former Bucks GM joined the Warriors in 2008 as an assistant coach before eventually moving into the front office. He was named assistant GM in 2016.

ESPN reported Harris interviewed for the Pelicans opening in April before the NBA Playoffs began.

Note the familiar names. Gersson Rosas, who subsequently became the Timberwolves President, also interviewed with the Wizards.

The connection with the Wizards and Pelicans is Mike Forde, an outside consultant who helped both teams during their respective searches.

It’s no leap imagining Forde pushing the Wizards to meet with an executive who just spent the past five years in the NBA Finals (The Bucks never finished above .500 in five seasons with Harris, however). Waiting could mean until after Game 4 of the NBA Finals (June 7). Going the full seven games means June 16.

Another front office headliner still in the postseason is Toronto’s Masai Ujiri. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. Expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement, according to a source.

For now, Sheppard runs the show. He led the Wizards’ contingent at last week’s NBA Combine in Chicago. As for Ferry or Weaver, as of Wednesday it was considered unlikely either heard from Washington since the organization ramped up the pursuit of Connelly or learned of the Denver executive's decision, according to sources familiar with the situation.

 For now, all anyone on the outside can do is wait patiently just like the organization and see which name bubbles up next.

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'I started to realize that I’m not broken': Steve Smith opens up about mental health and depression

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'I started to realize that I’m not broken': Steve Smith opens up about mental health and depression

Former Carolina Panthers' star receiver Steve Smith spoke in front of a crowd of over 400 people at the fifth annual Wake up for Wellness breakfast that was sponsored by Mental Health America of Central Carolinas.

The 16-year veteran and current NFL Network analyst touched on the importance of seeking help for bouts with depression and spoke of battles that he has faced with the disease.

“On the outside you’ll see a tough exterior. But on the inside, I’m just broken or I believe even more broken than the average man. ... Because when the stadium goes dark and the cheers stop, you’re still looking for that pat on the back,” Smith said. “Throughout my whole career, I struggled with that.”

Smith discussed that in the beginning, he was so concerned about the stigma regarding mental health, that he opted for the professional to meet him for housecalls, and as time passed he realized the importance of speaking up.

“I started to realize that I’m not broken,” he said. “I’m not being sent back to the manufacturer ... I get up every morning and figure it out.”

Smith's comments on the issue came to light just a day after the NFL and NFLPA announced new legislation that focuses on mental well being.

The newly formed Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee will develop programs for members of the NFL in addition to collaborating with local and national mental health and suicide prevention organizations. Each team will be mandated to retain a Behavioral Health Team Clinician for assistance that will be required to be available to players at the individual team facilities for at least 8-12 hours per week and must conduct mandatory mental health education sessions for players and coaching staff.

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