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South Florida fires Skip Holtz after 3 seasons

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South Florida fires Skip Holtz after 3 seasons

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Skip Holtz was fired as South Florida's football coach after two straight losing seasons in which the program fell back instead of progressed.

Athletic director Doug Woolard made the announcement Sunday after meeting with Holtz individually and then accompanying the former coach to a gathering with players. A search for a replacement will begin immediately, with no definitive timetable for naming the successor.

``It was a very difficult meeting and one I will tell you that Skip handled very professionally and very classy as he always does,'' Woolard said during a news conference.

``It was a matter of just not having the production that we needed to have over the last couple of years on the field. ... Every program experiences highs and lows on the way to national prominence,'' Woolard added. ``Brighter days are ahead.''

The son of former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz went 16-21 at the Big East school, concluding a three-year run with the worst season in school history. The Bulls lost nine of 10 to finish 3-9, 1-6 in the conference, following a 2-0 start.

The firing came a year after Holtz was given a contract extension through 2017 despite going 5-7 in his second season. He will receive a $2.5 million buyout paid over five years.

In a statement released by USF, Holtz thanked his assistant coaches and players for their dedication and loyalty.

``I'm extremely proud of how they fought through adversity during this time. Throughout my time here the young men on this team never gave up, and that reflects on their character as individuals and as a team,'' Holtz said.

``I believe we made some positive strides, most notably in our academics, that were helping to build a foundation for this program and I would have liked the opportunity to see it through,'' the coach added. ``But I understand the administration's decision and wish them nothing but success in the future.''

Holtz inherited a program that Jim Leavitt built from scratch, signing a $9.1 million, five-year contract in January 2010 after Leavitt was fired for mistreating a player who had accused the former coach of grabbing him by the throat and slapping him in the face during halftime of a game.

The 48-year-old Holtz came to USF from East Carolina, where he had guided the Pirates to a pair of Conference USA championships. He welcomed the challenge of stepping into the Big East and trying to transform the Bulls, ranked as high as No. 2 in the country in 2007, into an elite program.

But it did not happen.

The Bulls went 8-5 and appeared in a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season two years ago, but a pattern of underachieving that actually began under Leavitt returned in 2011, when USF won four straight to climb into the Top 25 only to drop seven of eight down the stretch and tumble to the bottom of the conference.

USF has lost 14 of its past 16 against Big East opponents and were 5-16 overall in league play under Holtz, who stated boldly after taking the job: ``We can win conference championships here. We can win national championships here.''

The dismissal came the day after the Bulls concluded with a 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh. Holtz said afterward that he hoped to retain his job, reiterating that the program had made strides under his direction, including academics, that weren't necessarily reflected in the win-loss record.

Woolard acknowledged as much, lauding the fired coach for setting a ``new USF standard for team GPA'' and working tirelessly to ``mold our football players into outstanding young men.''

``However my responsibility ... is clear,'' Woolard added. ``We must strive to put a more successful football program on the field.''

Injuries hurt this year's team, particularly on offense, where the Bulls lost quarterback B.J. Daniels, No. 3 on the Big East's career total yardage list, and red-shirt freshman Matt Floyd started the last two games. By the end of Saturday's loss, tight end/emergency backup QB Evan Landi was playing.

Pitt limited the Bulls to a USF record-low 117 yards, including 8 rushing. The offense scored one touchdown in the final 15 quarters of the season and USF was outscored 94-22 in the final three games of the season.

Holtz is 88-71 overall in 13 seasons at Connecticut, East Carolina and USF.

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Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

Redskins Talk hosts "Redskins On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

It's the moment we've all been waiting for: finding out who the Redskins are going to take as their No. 15 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

After much anticipation and countless mock drafts, Redskins fans will finally find out what's to come for the Burgundy and Gold in the upcoming NFL season. 

And we couldn't let you handle this news alone: So we've got the Redskins Talk crew hosting a special "Redskins on the Clock" live stream to address, analyze and hopefully rejoice over the 'Skins decision. 

<<CHECK OUT NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON'S LATEST NFL MOCK DRAFT>>

On Thursday, Apr. 25th, JP Finlay, Peter Hailey and Mitchell Tischler from the Redskins Talk Podcast, along with guests Travis Thomas and Trevor Matich, will be offering a live look into their thoughts and concerns surrounding both the Redskins' pick and all of Round 1. The live stream will be available on the MyTeams by NBC Sports App from approximately 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

And if you haven't already downloaded the MyTeams App, you can do so right now, RIGHT HERE.

Redskins Talk Podcast "Redskins on the Clock" Special

CLICK HERE to watch the daily live stream of the Redskins Talk Podcast

When: 8 p.m. - (approximately) 11 p.m. ET, Thursday, Apr. 25th 

Live Stream: Click to stream Redskins Talk Podcast Live every day this week

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How the Capitals went from 'chokers' to 'closers' in Game 6s

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USA TODAY Sports

How the Capitals went from 'chokers' to 'closers' in Game 6s

RALEIGH — There was a time when a Stanley Cup Playoff series lead of any kind produced nothing but stress and anxiety for the Capitals and their tortured fan base.

This is an organization, after all, that has blown a 3-1 playoff series lead five times – often in horrifying, heartbreaking fashion. That has only happened 28 times in NHL history, and Washington owns 18 percent of those epic collapses. But the league’s biggest chokers have put those demons to rest. And that trend started well before winning the Stanley Cup last year. 

Tonight, the Capitals have a chance to close out the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series at PNC Arena. They lead 3-2. They know they always have another chance, if necessary, on Wednesday for Game 7 at Capital One Arena back home. 

But if ending a series on the road once seemed like a daunting task, it hasn’t fazed the franchise for a while now. Washington has won four Game 6s in a row when up 3-2 in a series.  

“When we play to our identity and force other teams to make mistakes and they’re in an elimination situation, then those mistakes become magnified,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “That team is already feeling the pressure of that being their last game. And if we play to our identity then it really seems to match up nicely for those elimination games.”

The Capitals were ahead 3-2 with road Game 6s in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Columbus (2018) and Pittsburgh (2018) and won them all. They also put Vegas away last June up 3-1 in the series with Game 5 on the road and won the Stanley Cup that night. If the recent version of the Capitals has a chance to put a team away, the team has done it.

The last time they blew a lead with a chance to eliminate the opposition was 2015 when they coughed up a 3-1 advantage in a second-round exit to the New York Rangers. 

There are theories why.

A big, physical team with elite skill, Washington has been able to wear teams out the later a series goes. In 2017, the Maple Leafs put up a great fight against the Presidents’ Trophy winners in the first round. They won two overtime games. They took a 2-1 series lead and had a chance to go up 3-1 on the Capitals with Game 4 at home in Toronto. 

Washington, instead, won Game 4 by a 5-4 score and allowed just two goals in Games 5 and 6 to end the series.

The offense went dry in 2016 against Philadelphia in the first round and a 3-0 series lead suddenly was cut to 3-2 with the Flyers hosting Game 6. They had life. The old Capitals might have panicked. But they won that game 1-0. Philadelphia managed just four goals over the final three games of the series and had nothing left in Game 6. 

There is a mentality that goes into playing a game where the other team’s season is on the line and yours is not.   

"To ourselves, I think, to show that when we play that way, we're going to be real tough to beat,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “I don't think we put much emphasis on [Carolina]. We know they're going to prepare and play as if it's an elimination game for them. We know they're going to come hard, we know they're a good young team and they never shy away from anything. It's on us to play like that and take everything else out of it."

Last year against Columbus in the first round, Washington overcame a 2-0 deficit to tie the series. Game 4 on the road was a clinic with the frustrated Blue Jackets hardly able to get the puck through the neutral zone in a 4-1 Capitals win. Washington broke Columbus’ will with its relentless, physical play. It scored 10 goals in Games 5 and 6 to end the series.  

The same thing played out the next round against Pittsburgh. A dominating 6-3 win in Game 5 at home – much like the 6-0 win over Carolina on Saturday – set the stage for a classic road Game 6. Washington scored first. The Penguins tied it. But the Capitals were the team with enough juice left in overtime to take the series on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game-winning goal. 

The best example of how the Capitals have worn down one opponent after another actually came last season in the Eastern Conference Final when they were down 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Washington didn’t allow a goal in Games 6 and 7 and advanced. 

“Our team likes being on the road, plays well on the road, enjoys spending that time with each other,” Reirden said. “When you want to have success on the road you have to have contributions from everybody throughout your lineup. That makes you a very difficult team to match up as the home coach. So by us having the seven 20-goal scorers, we were a difficult match.

"And now, we started to see a little bit more of our depth scoring [Saturday]. … It certainly becomes an easier road assignment for the coach -- I can tell you. That’s an advantage for us.”

The Lightning last May looked like a boxer that had taken too many blows to the head after the Capitals blitzed them in Game 6.

If you looked closely on Saturday, you saw elements of that when Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton raced back for a puck, knew Alex Ovechkin was steaming right behind him, and gave up on the play. Hamilton didn’t appear to want to pay the price for winning that race and instead Ovechkin took the puck away and fed Brett Connolly in front for the goal that put Washington up 3-0. 

Maybe Carolina regroups tonight. The Hurricanes are a young team, but with grizzled veterans like Jordan Staal and Justin Williams who have won multiple Stanley Cups between them. They won’t play scared. The crowd at PNC Arena will be a factor. They do not want their season to end.

But these Capitals are a different breed. Time and again the past three years they have grinded their opponents into dust so by the time the series reaches this point there isn’t enough fight left to them.     

“We’ve just got to regroup here and move forward,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “That was just a 3-2 lead. Toughest one is the last one. We haven’t been happy with the way we’ve played in Carolina so far. Let’s change that.”

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