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Kelly a top NFL target again

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Kelly a top NFL target again

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) One of the first questions Oregon coach Chip Kelly was asked after arriving in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl was about the possibility of coaching in the NFL.

The are-you-going-to-the-NFL questions haven't let up in the five days since and only figure to pick up after seven coaches were fired Monday.

Deflection has been Kelly's defense since the rumors started and it was no different after all those NFL openings cropped up.

``I've got a game to play,'' Kelly said during the Fiesta Bowl's media day on Monday. ``We're playing in the Fiesta Bowl. That's the biggest thing in my life. If I allowed other things to get into my life, then they would be distractions, but there aren't. Our focus 100 percent is on the Fiesta Bowl.''

Kelly has been an intriguing candidate for NFL teams for a few years.

The 49-year-old coach is known as an offensive innovator and his fast-paced, high-scoring offense has led to the most successful stretch in Oregon's history.

The fifth-ranked Ducks have gone to four straight BCS bowl games, a run that includes a trip to the 2011 national championship game, Oregon's first Rose Bowl win in 95 years last season and Thursday night's Fiesta Bowl against No. 5 Kansas State at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The speculation over the past few years has been that Kelly has his eye on an NFL job and he even talked to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year before saying he had unfinished business in Eugene.

The rumors began to pick up this season and followed him to the desert, where he's been asked about the NFL every day he's been here and has given a different version of the same answer every time.

``My heart is to win today and that's it,'' Kelly said. ``I know everybody wants to hear a different answer. And I know that at times when I don't give you guys the answer that you guys want, then I'm being evasive. I'm not being evasive.''

One reason that Kelly's stock is so high is that NFL teams are starting to embrace the hurry-all-the-time offense he has nearly perfected in Eugene.

In college, coaches have latched onto the no-huddle offense, with teams across the country employing a version of it.

NFL teams have always seemed to be reluctant to borrow from the college ranks, sticking to smash-mouth football for years even while college offenses had unprecedented success with the spread.

The mindset has changed, at least some, over the past few years as teams have looked for ways to get ahead of the defenses. Several NFL teams have gone the high-octane route on offense, including New England, Seattle, Washington and Green Bay, to a certain extent.

Kelly has been the standard-bearer for the redline approach in college. His Ducks have ranked no lower than sixth in the country in rushing yards since he became offensive coordinator in 2007 and have been in the top 10 in scoring and total offense every year but one.

With success like that, it's no wonder he's become a popular target for NFL teams.

``My whole thing since I've been here is that I'm going to do the best job I can every single day,'' Kelly said. ``If that's good enough that other people look at me sometimes, I don't really care about that. I think too many people live in the future. We live in the moment.''

The key this week will be keeping the Ducks in the moment as the rumors swirl.

Kelly is reported to be the top candidate to replace Pat Shurmur with the Cleveland Browns and would be a popular choice for the Philadelphia Eagles now that Andy Reid is gone. Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, San Diego and Kansas City also are without coaches and could come calling on Kelly as well.

Whatever Kelly does behind the scenes, he's tried to make sure it doesn't become a distraction for his team as it prepares to play another team that had national-championship hopes that lasted deep into the season.

``I never said a word to our guys about it,'' Kelly said. ``They understand what the task is at hand. I don't think about it. They don't think about it, so ...''

So far, it seems to be working.

Kelly's players have taken to his stick-to-what's-in-front-of-you mentality when it comes to games and have done the same thing with the rumors about their coach possibly leaving.

``It's not really distracting,'' Oregon running back DeAnthony Thomas said. ``Our main focus is just winning this game right now and just celebrating as a team.''

Celebrating or lamenting, Kelly likely will face a decision not long after it's over.

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Chris Cooley remembers mostly positive reaction to Redskins' name from Native Americans

Chris Cooley remembers mostly positive reaction to Redskins' name from Native Americans

With the Washington Redskins' name change dominating headlines across the sports world, former players have been asked a multitude of questions to get their thoughts on the team's controversial nickname.

One of those has been, "Do you remember people having a problem with the name while you were on the team?"

The answers have, of course, been mixed. Santana Moss told NBC Sports Washington's Matt Weyrich that he first noticed a problem years into his Washington tenure getting off the team bus in Seattle, while Brian Mitchell has said he's been dealing with the negative reaction around the name since the start of his career in 1990.

On Thursday, former Washington tight end Chris Cooley joined the Kevin Sheehan show on The Team 980 and described his unique experience receiving feedback from Native Americans on the team's name.

"It's probably time to change the name, and we're in that world where you can change it, but it doesn't mean that I believe it had anything to do with anything racial. It didn't," Cooley said. "Guys I played for didn't believe that, over 75 tribes that I traveled to didn't feel that way six years ago when I went to those reservations and 30 or 40 more that I went to by myself.

"You know what, it's completely fine if you change your mind on something like that," Cooley said. "And I'll be all for it, but when I was with the Washington Redskins I don't believe anybody felt it was a racially driven name."

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Cooley traveled to several reservations across the country to gain an understanding of a culture his former team's likeness was representing. Instead of having to tie his opinion to polls and other methods for gathering a group of people's opinion, he got his information straight from the source.

"The overwhelming majority was, 'Don't forget us,' 'Don't care,' 'That's fine but I'm a Cowboys fan,'" Cooley said. "It was just a conversation that was had very comfortably."

Cooley emphasized going to reservations alone in order to get honest answers from its residents. If he were there with the Redskins in a larger group, he feared he wouldn't get the same feedback as if he were alone. Ultimately, after speaking to hundreds of Native Americans, the Wyoming native got a similar response to his questions.

RELATED: NEW NAME REPORTEDLY WON'T INCLUDE NATIVE AMERICAN IMAGERY

"We would go to casinos, we would go to rodeos, and [I'd] ask them like 'Hey how do you feel about the Redskins' name?'" he said. "People would tell us, and it was more than 9-to-1 that felt positively about it, at least on the trips that I went."

However, as Cooley acknowledged, people can and are allowed to change their minds. The response a few years ago may have been positive, but that may not be the case anymore. 

According to a report from the Associated Press, more than a dozen Native American groups sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell asking the league to force Washington to change its name. 

So, in the end, Cooley isn't going to be "an old man on the front porch" as he called it, and push against change just to keep things the way they were. 

"Times change with people and all I'm saying is I don't feel like in my time there it was ever racially driven," he said. "But I'm also not going to sit here argue for it. If people want it changed then let's change it."

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Redskins assistant coach witnessed former Raider Barret Robbins' early mental-health issues

Redskins assistant coach witnessed former Raider Barret Robbins' early mental-health issues

Sports Uncovered is a six-part weekly podcast series that explores the stories that took the national sports world by storm. The newest episode, The Mysterious Disappearance That Changed A Super Bowl, dives into how Oakland Raiders star center Barret Robbins missed Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 after 24 hours of partying. 

Barret Robbins was just a junior at Texas Christian when his manic episodes began. 

A potent mixture of steroids, alcohol and marijuana left the future NFL offensive lineman in a daze. It felt like he was sleepwalking. Driving to Austin from his school in Fort Worth, not really knowing what he was doing, seeking some level of attention, he smashed the window of a car dealership. 

Robbins had no intention of taking anything. But it looked like he was trying to burglarize the place. So, Austin police arrested him. It was so out of character, his TCU coaches, including current Redskins tight ends coach Pete Hoener, weren’t sure what to make of the episode. 

“My first inclination on something like that with him was ‘Man, he must have been really drunk,’” Hoener told NBC Sports Bay Area for the sixth episode of NBC’s Sports Uncovered podcast. “You know, been with the wrong person or something.”

Robbins went to jail and then to rehab before being allowed to play his senior year at TCU. But it was the beginning of a descent that continued long after Robbins failed to post for the Raiders’ appearance in the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. 

The latest Sports Uncovered podcast by NBC Sports takes a look at Robbins' infamous Super Bowl disappearance and what has happened to him since then. Listen to the full episode below or by subscribing wherever you get your podcasts:

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Who knows if the outcome would have changed? Oakland lost 48-21. But Robbins’ life has never been the same. One of the best offensive linemen in football was out of the NFL by 2004 and left alone to deal with the depression and bipolar disorder that plagued him since college. 

The incident at the car dealership led to a diagnosis of depression by the TCU medical staff. Robbins’ story is difficult to listen to. He spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area for a 2011 interview that serves as the basis for the podcast, but otherwise few know his whereabouts now, including his former Raiders teammates. 

Robbins told NBC Sports Bay Area he likely had episodes before that one in college. But nothing where he ended up in trouble. It wouldn’t stay that way. He managed a nine-year career in the NFL before things fell apart. 

That saddens Hoener, who left TCU in 1997 and has spent the past 20 years as an assistant in the NFL, including nine with Rivera on the Carolina Panthers’ coaching staff and again this season with the Redskins. 

Hoener knew Robbins when he was just a teenager. The answer when odd things happened to a player back then was he must be drinking too much. Robbins just didn’t have the same support system that would be in place today for players at almost any level of football. Mental health is treated so much differently now. It might have made a difference for Robbins. 

“I think the thing that’s come of all this is there’s much better communication now with the medical staff and psychologists,” Hoener said. “And everybody up through the college level – maybe even the high school level – up through our level. So that a lot of those things don’t slip through.”

Want more Sports Uncovered? Check out Sean Taylor, the NFL superstar we didn't get to know, also part of the Sports Uncovered podcast series.

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