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Before Petrino takes over, WKU preparing for bowl

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Before Petrino takes over, WKU preparing for bowl

DETROIT (AP) Interim coach Lance Guidry says it best: ``There's a lot of stuff going on at Western Kentucky.''

The Hilltoppers are preparing for their first bowl game since joining college football's top tier in 2009. And then, after accepting a bid to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, Western Kentucky lost coach Willie Taggart and made a huge splash by hiring Bobby Petrino to replace him.

Guidry, who was the team's defensive coordinator, will coach the bowl against Central Michigan. It's not the first time he's been asked to guide a team through the postseason on a temporary basis. Guidry was Miami of Ohio's interim coach for a win over Middle Tennessee in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Taggart left to take over the program at South Florida, and Western Kentucky moved quickly to hire Petrino less than a year after he was dismissed at Arkansas after it was learned he had hired his former mistress to work in the football department. His hiring has almost overshadowed the fact that the Hilltoppers still have another game to play.

``At least it's out of the way now. The younger guys know who their head coach is going to be next year,'' Guidry said Thursday at a media luncheon for his team's Detroit-based bowl. ``They know that they're mine right now, and they're good with that.''

For seniors like tight end Jack Doyle, the focus needs to be on the present - not what Petrino might do once he takes over in full after the bowl.

``I know a lot of the players are excited about at least knowing who their new coach is going to be,'' Doyle said. ``We're excited to get this bowl going.''

The Dec. 26 game isn't just a run-of-the-mill postseason trip for the Hilltoppers. This is only Western Kentucky's fourth season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The team went 0-12 in 2009, but its ascent has been quick since then. The Hilltoppers were 7-1 in Sun Belt Conference play a season ago, but they didn't get to play in a bowl despite being eligible. They received a bid this year.

``I think they've got a chip on their shoulder. These seniors, they've been through so much,'' Guidry said. ``As freshmen, they went 0-12. Then the next year, I think we had a 26-game losing streak, and they finally broke it. Then the following year, we start off 0-4, then we won seven of our last eight games.''

Western Kentucky is led by junior Antonio Andrews, who has rushed for 1,609 yards and 11 touchdowns this year. He's also a receiving threat and returns kickoffs and punts. He has 2,977 all-purpose yards on the season, just 273 behind the record set by Barry Sanders.

Petrino met with Hilltoppers players Monday afternoon, and he's hopeful this month's bowl will be only the beginning.

``We need to consistently - every year - go to a bowl game. We need to win a conference championship, be in the run for a conference championship every single year,'' Petrino said. ``We need to get in a position where we're ranked in the top 25, and we need to get in a position where we can compete to be in a BCS bowl game. That's where we see our program going.''

Petrino wasn't part of Thursday's event. For now, Guidry is still in charge of preparing the team for its next challenge.

When Guidry was an interim coach at Miami, it was because Mike Haywood had left to take the job at Pittsburgh. But that move fell apart when Haywood was arrested on a domestic violence charge - before Miami even got around to playing its bowl that season.

Now Guidry's future is unclear again, and he's taking that in stride.

``We're kind of all in limbo, because we don't know if we're going to go with Coach Taggart to South Florida,'' Guidry said. ``My resumes are out there. ... It's a crazy profession. Only thing I can do is control the controllable.''

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Despite all the challenges of the early season, Reirden’s promotion still a ‘dream come true’

Despite all the challenges of the early season, Reirden’s promotion still a ‘dream come true’

Since taking over as the head coach of the Washington Capitals, Todd Reirden has had to deal with Tom Wilson getting suspended, a number of injuries and a team-wide Stanley Cup hangover.

So how would he describe the start to his first season as an NHL coach?

“It’s obviously a dream come true,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview.

Reirden’s playing career came to an end in Europe in 2007, but his coaching career really began in 2004 while he was a player with the Houston Aeros of the AHL. Out with an injury, head coach Todd McLellan encouraged Reirden to take more of a coaching role with the team. It didn’t take long for Reirden to realize his real future in the game was as a coach and not as a player.

Reirden climbed the ranks as a coach from college, to the AHL and finally to the NHL. He spent the last eight seasons in the NHL behind the bench as an assistant and associate coach before finally getting the opportunity to become a head coach.

“Something when you start coaching just as I used to think about as a player, was the ultimate was to be able to play at the highest level,” Reirden said. “I was able to do that as a player and now able to see that dream come true as a coach. First things first is it's been amazing from that standpoint.”

The history of the NHL – and all professional sports for that matter – is full of assistant coaches who just could not make the transition from assistant to head coach. There is no doubt Reirden knows what he’s doing when it comes to the development of players and on-ice strategy. The last few years working with the Caps as an assistant and then associate coach have shown us that.

But being a head coach is about more than just what happens on the ice. That’s the part that first-year head coaches seem to struggle with initially.

“How everything works behind the scenes in terms of organizationally, dealing with the salary cap and sending down players, keeping them on board and the constant contact with Hershey,” Reirden said. “You spend a lot of time on those type of things. It's been a little bit of a transition too I would say with two new staff members in terms of how I'm delegating responsibility and empowering them in their particular areas. That's probably been the things that have been the most different for me.

“The hockey part, the coaching part, talking to the players in between periods, the media, that stuff has all gone really smoothly,” Reirden said. “No real transition there. But I'd say more the stuff behind the scenes is the stuff that's been a little bit different than expected.”

Reirden is certainly getting a crash course on roster construction given the recent spate of injuries and recalls. That has unquestionably affected the play of the team and is a major reason why the Caps have looked so inconsistent to start the season. It is not how Reirden would have scripted his first season to start.

But even with everything his first season has thrown at him and a 9-7-3 record, Reirden still feels like he is exactly where he wants to be.

“Every day is a chance for me to grow and get better and get used to responsibilities as a head coach,” Reirden said. “So it's been a lot of fun and definitely a challenge, but something I love and wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world for.”

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Blazers, as John Wall and Damian Lillard square off

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Blazers, as John Wall and Damian Lillard square off

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard and the Washington Wizards take on Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and the Portland Trail Blazers. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Schedule heats up

The Wizards really needed that one on Friday night. Though the Nets, even without Caris LeVert, aren't an easy out, the Wizards wanted to fully take advantage of a soft spot of their schedule. It's tough to lose to the Nets when you consider the road ahead.

The Wizards play seven straight games against teams at .500 or better. That includes a road game against the Raptors, who are tied for the league's best record. They also see the Rockets, the Pelicans twice and play at the Sixers. It all begins Sunday against the Blazers, who are tied for the fourth-best record in the NBA.

Rematch

Most of the Wizards' games this season have been lopsided one way or the other, and usually in the direction they would not prefer. But they have played a few close games and their most entertaining one happened to come against this same Blazers team.

The Wizards and Blazers went to overtime on Oct. 22 in Portland. The Wizards forced the extra period thanks to a three by Bradley Beal, and they won thanks to Otto Porter Jr. blocking Damian Lillard's shot in the closing seconds. 

The Wizards and Blazers have played some classics in recent years. Markieff Morris beat them with a game-winning three two years ago and last season Beal dropped 50 at the Moda Center. The matchup between both teams' star guards seems to bring the best out in everyone.

Howard vs. Nurkic

Much of the focus in this matchup is always on John Wall and Beal vs. Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but there will be a lot of action in the paint with Dwight Howard going up against Jusuf Nurkic. The Blazers are one of the best rebounding teams in the game and Nurkic, who pulls in 10.7 per game, is a big reason why. Nurkic also averages 15.5 points.

Howard is coming off his best game as a Wizard. He had 25 points and 17 rebounds against the Nets on Friday night. He was hurt when the teams first met in Portland.

Both are bruisers around the rim who don't stretch the floor with outside shots. It should be a physical battle on Sunday night.