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Malzahn taking aim at Auburn's talent, attitude

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Malzahn taking aim at Auburn's talent, attitude

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Bo Jackson says new Auburn coach Gus Malzahn must build the program from the ground up and start by putting down a solid foundation.

Malzahn inherits a Tigers team with virtually every starter returning next season but plenty of uncertainty at quarterback and many other positions from a team that had a number of issues on both sides of the ball - and away from the field. So Jackson is preaching patience.

``I think what Gus Malzahn is facing right now, he's facing an empty lot,'' said Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner and part of the four-man search committee. ``He's got to go move dirt. Lay a foundation and start to build a house. He's got to rebuild that house. That's what he plans on doing.''

Auburn gave Malzahn a five-year, $11.5 million deal Tuesday with focus on restoring the team to championship caliber and bringing more discipline to a program that endured a number of off-the-field issues under Gene Chizik.

He has signed a letter of agreement that pays up to $1.5 million a year in performance bonuses. The letter, released by Auburn on Wednesday, says he will be owed his $500,000 base salary for the rest of his contract if fired without cause. He won't be owed anything if fired with cause, including rules violations or ``serious personal misconduct.''

Auburn will pay his $700,000 buyoout to Arkansas State as a loan, forgiving 20 percent each year Malzahn remains. Jackson is optimistic that he'll be there awhile.

The former NFL and Major League Baseball player used words like ``passion,'' ``tenacity'' and ``hungry'' to describe Malzahn's pitch and demeanor in his interview with the search committee. He also praised his willingness ``to come into a hornet's nest like this and say, `My job is to rebuild this program, to get these kids back to the winning ways these kids are used to.'''

That challenge extends well beyond Xs and Os.

The Tigers wilted against top competition, getting routed by No. 10 Texas A&M (63-21), No. 6 Georgia (38-0) and No. 2 Alabama (49-0) and also had center Reese Dismukes and freshman quarterback Zeke Pike arrested for public intoxication over the summer. Chizik dismissed Pike from the team.

Search committee member Mac Crawford, a Nashville businessman, said discipline was one of the first topics brought up with Malzahn.

``We talked about it a long time and we were very satisfied with the answers that he gave to us,'' said Crawford, a former Auburn fullback who was chairman of the board at CVSCaremark and CEO/chairman of CaremarkRx.

Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace said discipline was an issue last season ``but that's something that can be fixed.''

``Just a matter of us being accountable with each other,'' said Wallace, who started the final four games. ``That's the biggest thing, just looking out for each other and making sure that we're not doing anything that we don't need to be doing.''

The Tigers do have big holes to fill, despite returning 18 players who started on offense or defense in the finale against Alabama. They're losing their only consistently productive receiver, Emory Blake, No. 2 rusher Onterio McCalebb and leading tackler Daren Bates. Defensive end Corey Lemonier also hasn't said if he'll return for his senior season or enter the NFL draft.

But Malzahn said it goes beyond talent to attitude.

``We do have some talent, and we have some deficiencies, and what I've got to do is identify the deficiencies and address those immediately and also the mindset,'' he said. ``The mindset and expectations mentally and physically of our players. So we've got some work to do, but I know the areas we need to improve on and we're going to address those.''

Crawford has experience reviving companies, and finds correlations in Malzahn's challenge.

``Let's face it, this is a turnaround situation,'' Crawford said in a phone interview Wednesday. ``This is a team that won three ballgames last season, and he has got to get the kids back to where they have a winning attitude, heading in the right direction. We've got good kids at Auburn.

``I've always done turnarounds in my corporate career and any time you go in, getting the right people in the right places and doing it the way you think should be done - that's what Gus has to do. You just can't expect it to happen overnight.''

Malzahn does have a track record for reviving offenses quickly, even before Cam Newton's arrival in 2010. The Tigers improved from 110th in scoring in 2008 to 16th the following season with Chris Todd at quarterback.

Malzahn also directed Tulsa offenses that led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008.

Wallace, one of three quarterbacks with multiple starts returning, said he attended every Auburn home game during the national championship season two years ago. He also saw what Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel did this season with a similarly uptempo offense.

``It's exciting. It really is, just being able to go there and just run all over the defense if you execute as well as you need to,'' said Wallace, who signed after Malzahn left for Arkansas State. ``It's a really fun offense. You've really got to put in all the work that's needed to be very successful in this offense.''

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

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Associated Press

Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler