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No. 24 La. Tech brings powerful offense to NMSU

No. 24 La. Tech brings powerful offense to NMSU

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes knows it's one thing to make it into the Top 25 and it's quite another to stay there.

That's because twice previously, the No. 24 Bulldogs found national recognition, only to lose the next game and drop out of the poll.

He doesn't want to make it a third Saturday when Louisiana Tech faces reeling Western Athletic Conference foe New Mexico State, a squad that has lost six straight games.

``As I have said many times, you do not want to be a one-hit wonder,'' Dykes said. ``Last time we got in the polls, we did not handle it very well and did not play well against Texas A&M and got beat because of it. Hopefully, it will be a challenge for us and we will handle it better.''

The Bulldogs (6-1, 1-0) are an offensive dynamo, having scored at least 44 points in every game and are averaging 56.

``I do think this group is good,'' Dykes said. ``I think the thing that makes this different than what we have had in the past in some ways is the fact that we run the ball well and we throw it pretty well.''

That's something of an understatement. Quarterback Colby Cameron has thrown for 2,306 yards and 20 touchdowns without an interception. He's coming off consecutive games with more than 400 yards through the air.

Freshman running back Kenneth Dixon, who is coming off a six-touchdown, 232-yard day against Idaho, has 767 yards on the season with 16 scores.

Quinton Patton is the Bulldogs' go-to receiver with 59 catches for 806 yards and 10 TDs.

``Usually you have an offense that is better at throwing or a little bit better at running, and this group is pretty good at doing both,'' Dykes said. ``So I think that is what makes this group unique maybe.''

It's an offensive juggernaut that has New Mexico State coach Dwayne Walker worried.

``Pretty scary,'' said Walker, whose Aggies' defense is giving up 451 yards a game. ``These guys aren't going to allow us to get a lot of sleep this week.''

Defensively, Dykes hasn't been quite as pleased. Louisiana Tech is giving up 38 points a game and more than 500 yards of total offense.

``I think if you go and look at our defense this year compared to last year's defense, I think the biggest issue has been just giving up too many third-down conversions,'' he said. ``We have given up probably too many big plays, but the third-down conversions have been a big thing we wanted to do, so again, we are going to continue to work on that and improve that area.''

And moving the ball is one thing that New Mexico State does well, Dykes said.

``They have an explosive football team,'' he pointed out. ``That is the thing every year. They have good skill position players. Their receivers can always run well.''

Quarterback Andrew Manley has thrown for 1,807 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Austin Franklin is Manley's favorite receiver with 50 catches for 826 yards and eight touchdowns.

``I think the quarterback, Manley, and the receivers and running backs are a really good group - probably toward the upper half in the WAC, certainly,'' Dykes said. ``The quarterback has a big arm and can make a lot of throws.''

The Aggies will need the offense to be at the top of its game to have a chance, Walker said.

Louisiana Tech has ``a chance to win out and get a chance to be 11-1 and really start emerging as the top mid-level team in the country,'' he said. ``We definitely have our hands full with this group.''

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.

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Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

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Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

As shocking as the news of Barry Trotz’s resignation on Monday felt, it probably shouldn’t have given that whether or not he would return to Washington after the 2017-18 season was a storyline all year long.

Trotz entered the 2017-18 season on the last year of his initial four-year deal leading to speculation over whether the team was dissatisfied with his results and ready to move on from the head coach when his contract expired. Teams typically do not allow a head coach to enter the final year of a contract so that they do not appear to the players to be a lame duck coach.

Ultimately, that turned out to not be a problem as Trotz led the organization to its first Stanley Cup in his contract year. While there was interest from both sides in an extension in the wake of winning the Cup, ultimately a new deal could not be agreed upon and now the defending champs are without a head coach.

This begs the question, could things have been different had the team worked out a new contract with Trotz before the 2017-18 season? The answer is almost certainly yes, so how did things get to the point where Trotz was allowed to go into 2017-18 without an extension?

During a press conference with the media on Monday, general manager Brian MacLellan explained the team’s reasoning in not extending Trotz in the summer of 2017.

“We were struggling at the time to get over the hump,” MacLellan said. “We couldn't get over the second round and Barry hadn't been able to coach out of the second round yet either.”

In 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz was not able to coach his team past the second round in the playoffs. In his three seasons with Washington leading up to the 2017-18 campaign, he had led the Caps to two division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies, but again could not get past the second-round hump that had plagued both him and the team.

Based on MacLellan’s comments, another early playoff exit would have likely led to the team choosing to allow Trotz's contract to expire.

“I think from the organization's perspective, some changes would've had to be made if we lost in the second round again,” MacLellan said.

But what if instead the unthinkable happened? What if the Caps forced Trotz into a “prove it” contract year and he was able to lead the team to the Stanley Cup? Didn’t they risk losing him all along?

Yes and no.

MacLellan confirmed reports on Monday that Trotz’s contract included an automatic two-year extension “at an increased rate” if he won the Cup. So while both sides were negotiating an extension, technically Trotz was already under contract through the 2019-20 season.

In the summer of 2017, MacLellan had a choice to make. At the end of the two-year championship window, he could choose to extend a head coach who had not brought the team the type of postseason success he was hoping for, he could fire a coach who had just won two consecutive division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and whose team was eliminated in the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, or he could ride out the final year of Trotz’s deal and, in the off chance the team won the Stanley Cup, still rest easy in the notion that Trotz would automatically remain under contract.

MacLellan went with option C. It almost worked.

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