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Notre Dame's Kelly wins AP coach of the year

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Notre Dame's Kelly wins AP coach of the year

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) After two seasons as Notre Dame coach, Brian Kelly decided he wasn't spending enough time doing the best part of his job: coaching players.

Kelly changed that in 2012, and he shuffled his staff. Then, with Kelly more in tune to his team and the assistants in sync with the head coach, Notre Dame went from unranked to top-ranked.

For leading the Fighting Irish to the BCS championship for the first time, Kelly was voted Associated Press college football coach of the year.

``When you're talking about the coach of the year, there's so many things that go into it,'' Kelly said. ``I know it's an individual award and it goes to one guy, but the feelings that I get from it is you're building the right staff, that you've got the right players and to me that is a validation of the program. That you put together the right business plan.''

Kelly received 25 votes from the AP college football poll panel. Penn State's Bill O'Brien was second with 14 votes. Stanford's David Shaw (four), Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin (three), Kansas State's Bill Snyder (two) and Alabama's Nick Saban (one) also received votes.

Kelly is the first Notre Dame coach to win the AP award, which started in 1998.

Of course, the Irish haven't played for a national championship since 1988 and spent much of the past two decades trying to find a coach who could restore a program that was becoming a relic of its proud past.

It turns out Kelly was the answer.

He arrived in 2010 after two decades spent climbing the coaching ladder and winning big everywhere he worked. But in the world of college football, Notre Dame is a long way from Grand Valley State - where Kelly won Division II national titles - and Cincinnati, his previous stop, for that matter.

``I think the job tends to distract you,'' Kelly said earlier this week. ``There are a lot of things that pull you away from the primary reason why you want to be head coach of Notre Dame, and that is graduate your players and play for a national championship.

``Now, to do that you have to have the pulse of your football team and you've got to have relationships with your players. If you're already going around the country doing other things other than working with your football team, it's hard to have the pulse of your team.''

Kelly said he made a point of spending more time with the team this year.

``That's why I got into this. I want to develop 18 to 21 year olds. My development as the head coach at Notre Dame this year has been about getting back to why you would want to coach college players. You want to learn about them; you want to know their strengths and weaknesses; you want to help them with leadership skills; you want to help them when they're not feeling confident in their ability.

``For me, that is why it's been the most enjoyable year as the head coach at Notre Dame, is that I got a chance to spend more time with my team.''

The first step, though, toward a successful 2012 season for Notre Dame can be traced to Feb. 10. On that day Kelly announced his coaching staff. The most notable change was moving Chuck Martin from defensive backs coach to offensive coordinator to fill the hole left when Charley Molnar became the coach of Massachusetts.

Martin was defensive coordinator for Kelly at Grand Valley State, then replaced his boss as head coach of the Division II power when Kelly was hired by Central Michigan after the 2003 season.

The move might have seemed odd to some, but Kelly, who built his reputation on offensive acumen, wanted a right-hand man who understood exactly what he wanted.

To replace Martin on the defensive side, Bob Elliot was hired from Iowa State to coach safeties. Harry Hiestand was hired away from Tennessee to replace offensive line coach Ed Warinner, and co-defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who had been with Kelly at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, was promoted to assistant head coach.

``The voice of your coordinators has got to be in lock step with the head coach,'' Kelly said. ``Now both of these guys have been with me a long time.

``Chuck Martin on offense, I wanted a voice that went back with me to Grand Valley State. And with Bob Diaco someone that goes back to Central Michigan with me. So yeah, it was important to get that voice right.''

The last change Kelly needed to make involved Xs and Os. Kelly wanted to win now, but with a first-year starter and redshirt freshmen at quarterback. He had to adjust his style.

Out went the push-the-pace offense that had helped him reach two BCS games at Cincinnati. In came a more deliberate approach.

``We conduct the game differently,'' Martin said. ``We set out how we thought this team could win with the personnel we had and with the young quarterback. Most people say `OK, you're going to play the young guy, you're playing for the future.' We just went 12-0 with the young guy and he got yanked four times.

``The rest of the world wants 12-0 with no warts. We have plenty of warts. Somehow we're 12-0. Just goes to show the job (Kelly) did that we made it work week in and week out with what we have.''

Kelly's ability and willingness to adapt have been his greatest strengths.

``He made some of his biggest changes ever in the last year. Going away from some things that really were his bread and butter, and 12-0 later, the guy did it again,'' Martin said.

``He saw what Notre Dame football needed in 2012 and he got to know this university.''

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

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Nats return to quiet Nationals Park to start a grand experiment

Nats return to quiet Nationals Park to start a grand experiment

WASHINGTON -- A heart with the letters “DC” was cut into the middle of center field Friday at Nationals Park. A member of the grounds crew dragged the hose onto the infield to water it down while an unrelenting 94-degree day baked the dirt. Orange agility cones sat in right field. The batting cage framed home plate. And, a light breeze stirred in the park’s upper reaches.

Patrick Corbin, Sean Doolittle, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman adorned the giant outfield posters beyond center field. Scherzer’s eyes remained on a booth above right field. The giant video board was blank and black.

It was in this setting baseball in Washington took its first steps toward trying to pull off a post-pandemic season in 2020. The Nationals worked out through the day, being dispatched in pods, making the park work the best they can. They had to use the clock to create space since there are not enough mounds or fields. The whole scene was strange.

This weekend was expected to come with fervor. Houston was supposed to be in town for a three-game series. Dusty Baker would be in the opposing dugout. Trash cans would brace for a weekend of abuse, as would the Astros. The line to get into the stadium would have shot up toward the Navy Yard Metro stop; bars across the street would have been packed; the weather would be thanked.

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Instead, seagulls were the main source of noise in between workouts Friday. Scherzer pitched a simulated game early in the day, going two “innings” and 65 pitches, before a group of position players trickled on the field around 2:45 p.m. The workouts are running from 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Players are being tested before they hit the field. Davey Martinez is fighting urges throughout.

“The first thing you want to do when you see the guys come in after not seeing them for a while, you want to give them a big hug, a fist bump, high-five,” Martinez said. “Had to stop myself today from almost spitting in my mask because I drank some water -- you're just used to it. But, yeah, those things are going to be things we have to abide by just because of the safety precautions. So, we're trying to figure out what we can do to emulate some kind of handshake or fist-bump or elbow tap or feet tap, whatever. We'll figure something out.”

Major League Baseball is trying to play 900 games in 30 cities in the middle of a pandemic. The odds of it working are low. Mitigation is a key concern. Being diligent is an ongoing topic. Mike Rizzo said players will not go out when on the road. Martinez spoke about extrapolations: it’s not about you, it’s about everybody else. Then, he wondered if the whole thing could be pulled off.

“You know, honestly, that's a good question,” Martinez said. “Honestly, I don't know, but we're going to do our best to keep everybody safe. We really are. These long days are meant to keep everybody away from each other right now with social distancing. Wearing a mask. Our coaching staff is wearing masks on the field. So, we're trying to do everything we can to keep these guys safe. Getting tested quite often. So, we're going to do everything we can to keep everybody that's involved safe.”

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Earlier in the day, Martinez’s longtime friend and mentor, Joe Maddon, suggested if players can’t follow the health protocols set forth by the league, they should opt-out of playing. Martinez agreed. If you are in the park, on the flights, in the field, the expectation is every rule will be followed precisely. Winning depends on it.

“This is going to be tough for everybody,” Martinez said. “You’ve got to be mentally strong. You’ve got to be prepared for things that we’re not used to doing on a baseball field. Definitely going to be a work in progress. But I think our boys understand what’s happening. The guys that are here want this to work, and we’re going to do everything we can to make it work.”

A batch of outfielders took ground balls and pop outs in right field around 3 p.m. Adam Eaton’s voice could be heard -- so there was at least a portion of normalcy there. Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson and others slowly moved about the field before making their way to home plate to hit. The sound of bat meeting ball echoed throughout the park.

All the blue seats were empty. The gates were locked. No organ, no perpetual smell of food, no season-ticket holders assembling in the 300 level behind home plate where so many chants originate. The first day was almost over. The hardest days are still to come.

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Browns' TE David Njoku reportedly wants a trade, so could his new team be the Redskins?

Browns' TE David Njoku reportedly wants a trade, so could his new team be the Redskins?

Browns tight end David Njoku has reportedly asked the franchise for a trade.

"It is in David's best interest to find a new team at this time,” his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday.

Well, could that new team be the Redskins?

Washington, of course, has an enormous need at the position. On an already weak offense, tight end is easily the most lacking spot when it comes to both talent and experience.

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Now, while Njoku hasn’t fully delivered on his first-round status since coming into the league since 2017, he’d still instantly become Washington’s most dangerous threat on the depth chart. That’s even with him missing most of 2019 with a broken wrist.

According to Schefter, Cleveland has apparently told Njoku they’d like to keep him, but Rosenhaus still wants his client to be moved. The organization signed Austin Hooper to a major deal this past March and also drafted Harrison Bryant in April.

The question for the Redskins is: What would they be willing to give up for the soon to be 24-year-old? And also, would Ron Rivera want to initiate a transaction? He’s indicated multiple since taking over that 2020 is all about evaluating what he has in Washington before going and adding outside pieces.

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We already know the Burgundy and Gold were interested in signing former Panthers' TE Greg Olsen on a cheaper deal before he landed with the Seahawks, but that they weren’t willing to spend the amount of cash Hooper earned with the Browns.

Njoku, who’d likely cost a decent draft pick or player, falls somewhere between those two. Let’s see if the Redskins decide whether he’s worth pursuing, or if they’ll let someone else make the swap – if it even happens.

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