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Saban, Kelly lead Bama and ND out of darkness

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Saban, Kelly lead Bama and ND out of darkness

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) There were some dark days at Notre Dame and Alabama, dark years really, during which two of college football's proudest programs flailed and foundered.

Notre Dame won the national championship in 1988, then spent much of the next two decades running through coaches - four if you count the guy who never coached a game - and drifting between mediocre and pretty good.

Alabama won the national championship in 1992, then spent the next 15 years running through coaches - four if you count the guy who never coached a game - and drifting between mediocre and pretty good.

As the 21st century dawned, the Fighting Irish and the Crimson Tide were old news, stodgy remnants of a glorious past, not moving fast enough to keep up with the times, and searching for someone to lead them back to the top.

``It parallels Notre Dame to a tee,'' said Paul Finebaum, who has covered Alabama as a newspaper reporter and radio show host for more than 30 years. ``The attitude was `We're Alabama. We don't have to do what others are doing. We'll win because of our tradition.' Finally everyone passed Alabama.''

And Notre Dame.

Then along came Nick Saban and Brian Kelly to knock off the rust, fine tune the engines and turn the Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish into the sharpest machines in college football again.

No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama meet Monday night in Miami in a BCS championship between two titans not all that far removed from tough times.

``The pendulum swings,'' said former Alabama coach Gene Stallings, the last Tide coach before Saban to bring home a national title. ``You don't stay good forever. You don't stay bad forever.''

Of course, Alabama and Notre Dame fans aren't real comfortable with the first part of that statement. The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish were perennial national championship contenders for decades.

For Alabama, replacing Bear proved difficult. Paul Bryant won six national championships in 25 years as the coach in Tuscaloosa, and when he stepped down the Crimson Tide felt compelled to bring back one of his boys to replace him. Ray Perkins was hired away from the New York Giants, and spent four years at Alabama before going back to the NFL.

Alabama tried going outside the family and hired Bill Curry. He lasted three years, before leaving for Kentucky.

``You follow somebody like Coach Bryant, it's an extremely difficult situation,'' Stallings said.

Stallings played for Bryant at Texas A&M, coached under him at Alabama and even sounded a bit like the Bear with his baritone drawl. He found success and relative peace in seven seasons as coach of the Tide.

``I told Coach Bryant stories. I wasn't in competition with Coach Bryant,'' Stallings said. ``I think that's one of the reasons I was, quote, accepted by the Alabama people.''

After Stalling left in 1996, things started to get ugly at Alabama. School leaders tried again to keep their most highly prized job in the family, hiring Mike DuBose, a former defensive lineman for Bryant. That didn't work, so Alabama swung the other direction by hiring Dennis Franchione, who skipped town after two seasons for Texas A&M, and Mike Price, who brought a whole new level of embarrassment to Alabama. Not long after he was hired away from Washington State, Price was fired after a night of drunken partying became public.

Alabama reverted back to old form, going with one of its own in former Tide quarterback Mike Shula. Like DuBose, he wasn't up to the task. On top of everything else, the NCAA slammed Alabama, wiping all its victories from the 2005 and `06 seasons off the books.

Meanwhile, over the years, Alabama had fallen behind others in the Southeastern Conference when it came to facilities and support staff. Big-time college football is an arms race of sorts, and the Crimson Tide weren't investing like the competition - like LSU had while winning a national title under Saban, for example.

``The program lost its compass,'' Finebaum said.

When it came time to hire another coach in 2006, Alabama courted Saban and Steve Spurrier. Spurrier wasn't interested and Saban had an NFL season to finish. When the Tide was turned down by Rich Rodriguez, who opted instead to stay with West Virginia, it was rock bottom.

``It was the darkest moment I can ever remember in Alabama history,'' Finebaum said. ``Alabama fans gave up that day.

As it turned out, it was one of the best things to ever happen to Alabama.

``You've got to have some luck,'' Stallings said.

As luck would have it, Saban was ready to get back to college football.

Alabama lured him away from the NFL with a $4 million a year contract that made him the highest-paid coach in college football - and gave him the power and support to run the program the way he wanted, not the way it had been run before.

``Alabama finally hired someone who has not afraid to tell everybody to get out of the way,'' Finebaum said.

For Notre Dame, it is a similar tale. Lou Holtz won that championship in 1988 and made the Fighting Irish a regular title contender, but by the end of his tenure, Notre Dame started to slip and the people in charge were resistant to the types of changes needed to keep up with the competition.

The Irish promoted Bob Davie to take over for Holtz. In five seasons he never won more than nine games and went 0-3 in bowls.

Davie, now the coach at New Mexico, doesn't make excuses for his record at Notre Dame, but he does note that the school has been willing to make the type of changes in recent years that he sought back in the late 1990s.

``Their facilities have gone from being poor to cutting edge in college football,'' he said. ``Their salaries for coaches are competitive with everybody in the country. They are accepting early graduates (from high school).

``I know the dynamics there very well and there's a lot of people who think you don't have to do that at Notre Dame. It's proven now that you do have to do those things.''

Former athletic director Kevin White was the catalyst for many of those changes, but he was also the man who hired George O'Leary, who was caught fibbing on his resume and stepped down, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis. The Weis hiring in 2004 was especially telling.

Notre Dame wanted Urban Meyer, who was then at Utah and the hottest commodity on the coaching market. Meyer worked at Notre Dame under Holtz and had called being Fighting Irish coach his dream job.

And he turned it down to coach Florida because he realized it would be easier to win national championship with the Gators than with the Irish. He won two with Florida in six years.

The Irish hired Weis, the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator who had never been a head coach but did graduate from Notre Dame. He was gone in five years.

This time when Notre Dame went looking for a coach, the hottest candidate on the market was Kelly, who climbed the coaching ladder slowly, winning big every step of the way. The difference was the hottest commodity also wanted Notre Dame, and White's successor, Jack Swarbrick, scooped him up quickly.

Kelly has continued to push Notre Dame into the 21st century, implementing a training table to make it easier for the players to eat healthy. He pushed for music to be pumped through the PA system at Notre Dame Stadium to rouse a fanbase that over the years had started to sit on its hands.

``It's flashier,'' Davie said. ``They are a lot more like everybody else is but that's what's making them competitive.''

Now what separates both Notre Dame and Alabama from the competition is their coaches.

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Wizards' John Wall reveals he's about to start jogging in rehab from Achilles injury

Wizards' John Wall reveals he's about to start jogging in rehab from Achilles injury

A couple of weeks ago, John Wall was spotted at a Washington Mystics game with no brace to support his Achilles injury, a sign that his rehab from the injury was moving in the right direction. 

On Monday night at the 2019 NBA Awards, the Wizards point guard gave affirmation that he is indeed continuing to get healthier and stronger.

"I feel great, man," Wall told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller on the red carpet. "I'm doing a great job with my body, taking care of that."

Specifically, Wall has been able to slowly increase what he can do on his legs. The recovery and rehab for an injury as severe as his is a long road, and the point guard is making sure not to speed up the process and risk hindering the progress. However, he's about to reach a pretty big milestone in the journey during the coming weeks.

"I'm about to start jogging in like two weeks. Just riding the bike, I get to do exercises standing up now, so I don't have to sit down. I'm able to move, do ladder steps, doing those types of things," Wall said. "Just taking my time and progressing and letting everything heal the right way so I don't force myself back and get another injury."

As Wall continues to work to get back on the court, he's had plenty of motivational factors pushing him through some grueling months. His recent string of injuries have left some wondering if he'll still be an elite player when he finally.

He's heard those comments and he's using them to his advantage.

"I'm one of those guys that's very driven by all the hate and all the negative talk I'm getting. Keep it going," Wall said.

"Everybody said I can't be myself, I won't be nowhere near as good again. That's all the other stuff that's going to fuel me. I don't get upset about it, you're entitled to your own opinion. Please keep it going."

The haters have given Wall some extra juice, but so has his son Ace. Spending the offseason getting right has allowed Wall to work in another area of life: fatherhood.

The newest addition to his family has taken his desire for greatness to new heights.

"I've always had that drive that I want to be the greatest. To have a son like that, that's watching everything I can do. Even though he doesn't understand what's going on, he's putting memories in his head," Wall said. 

"So that gives me extra, extra motivation to another level I never thought I could. Like I said before, that's the best blessing a man could ever ask for is to have a son."

While Wall's offseason has been a busy one as he juggles rehab and being a dad, he's still been very involved in everything going on inside the franchise.

He's already chatted with first-round draft pick Rui Hachimura, and is excited for what is to come for the Wizards. Wall is also hoping that Hachimura will help improve his Japanese so that he can grow a larger following internationally. 

As the calendar slowly turns to July, both Wall and the Wizards' offseasons will ramp up. It's been an up and down time for both lately, but he's excited about the future.

"I think it's good," Wall said about the Wizards situation. "We added some pieces. See what we do in free agency to add some guys to bring back or we're going to go after somebody new. I think we'll be fine."

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Bradley Beal wins the 2019 NBA Cares Community Assist Award three years after John Wall

Bradley Beal wins the 2019 NBA Cares Community Assist Award three years after John Wall

While he was putting together the best season of his career, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal was also making a profound impact off the court and those efforts have earned him a significant honor, the NBA's 2018-19 Community Assist Award.

The news was revealed at Monday's NBA Awards in Santa Monica, CA as Beal got the nod over nine other finalists. He is the second Wizards player to win the honor in just the last four years following John Wall in 2015-16.

Beal was involved in a variety of charitable efforts this past season. He has partnered with the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast Washington to help underprivileged youth. He visited the school in December and gave out shoes.

During the All-Star break in February, as he made his second appearance in the annual showcase, Beal handed out meals at a food bank alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This past year he also gave out Christmas presents in the Washington area and took a group of kids on a tour of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Beal was named a finalist for the Community Assist Award in April along with Jarrett Allen (Nets), Mike Conley (Jazz), Khris Middleton (Bucks), Donovan Mitchell (Jazz), Dwight Powell (Mavs) and Pascal Siakam (Raptors). Part of the criteria was based on fan voting through social media that was held from April 24 through May 25.

Beal, 25, continues to ascend on the court as well. This year he posted career-highs in points (25.6/g), assists (5.5/g) and rebounds (5.0/g). He nearly made All-NBA in late May with the most votes of any guard that was left out.

In Beal and Wall, the Wizards have quite the combination. Both have been All-Stars on the court and now both can say they won the NBA's top honor for charity work as well.

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