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Uneven Yellow Jackets try to focus on ACC title

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Uneven Yellow Jackets try to focus on ACC title

ATLANTA (AP) Coach Paul Johnson knows that Georgia Tech is at a strange crossroads to a bizarre season.

If the Yellow Jackets upset No. 13 Florida State in the ACC championship game, they will earn a spot in the Orange Bowl.

If they lose, it might take an NCAA waiver for a lower-tier bowl even to offer an invitation.

But Johnson said he isn't concerned about Georgia Tech's postseason status with a conference title at stake Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C.

After the Jackets' four-game winning streak ended last week with an embarrassing loss at No. 3 Georgia, Johnson wants his players concentrating on what they can control.

``It's like I said when I talked to the team, `There's a lot of teams in the country that would love to change places with you and have a chance to go play in the conference championship game,''' Johnson said Tuesday. ``Is it a challenge? Sure, we're playing a really good team, but it's also an opportunity.''

At 6-6, Georgia Tech faces an uncomfortable quandary. A win over Florida State solves everything, but a loss to the Seminoles leaves the Jackets relying on bowl scenario circumstances to fall in their favor.

Just to be safe, Georgia Tech and the Atlantic Coast Conference office earlier this week filed a preliminary waiver with the NCAA to ensure that a seventh loss would not discredit a sub.-500 team and make it ineligible for a bowl.

Johnson, though, wants his team focused on what matters now.

After last week's 42-10 drubbing at Georgia, Johnson hopes that the Jackets respond appropriately against a Florida State team that's lost just twice - in a one-point upset Oct. 6 at North Carolina State and 37-26 last week at home to then-No. 6 Florida.

The Seminoles, led by the nation's fourth-most efficient passer in quarterback EJ Manuel and a stingy defense that ranks No. 2 overall, seem like a mismatch for the Jackets, but Johnson refuses to count his players out.

``They've been fairly resilient for a young football team,'' Johnson said. ``They've bounced back a couple of different times when it could've gone south, but they put forth the energy and fought to come back. So I think they realize they've got a good opportunity in front of them and hopefully we'll prepare that way and go up there and give it our best shot. It's why you play the game.''

When the Jackets were 2-4 overall after losing at Clemson eight weeks ago, it seemed that hope had all but evaporated.

But Johnson started using Vad Lee to create a vibrant quarterback rotation with fifth-year senior Tevin Washington, and the post-Clemson firing of coordinator Al Groh eventually gave Georgia Tech's struggling defense a proverbial spark.

Even though an Oct. 27 home loss to Brigham Young - a second straight nonconference home loss that followed a bitter rout by Middle Tennessee State - dropped the Jackets to 3-5, they won four straight before losing last week at Georgia.

``It's really a tale of two different seasons,'' Johnson said. ``The first part, you know, we lost a couple of close games, and I think it really affected us. We got in the conference schedule and played a little better. But it's been a different type of year. We've actually played far better in the conference than we have outside. Normally, that's usually not the case.''

Johnson also acknowledges the undercurrent of criticism that arose from Georgia loss. Since falling at home to the hated Bulldogs in November 2009, Georgia Tech is 21-20, and the Jackets certainly haven't stirred enthusiasm by dropping seven straight bowl games.

``In the five years that some of (the seniors) have been here, they've either won or tied for the division championship three times,'' Johnson said. ``You wouldn't know that. You'd think the sky was falling, but it's like that's probably better than (Georgia Tech had) done here in a while. So (the current seniors have) had some good wins and they've had some very tough losses, I think, along the way. It's been up and down, which is kind of the way it is most of the time in a lot of places.''

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Follow George Henry at www.twitter.com/georgehenryAP

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7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden

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7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden

For now, Todd Reirden appears to be the frontrunner to be the new head coach of the Washington Capitals. But who is he? 

Here are some things to know about the head coaching candidate:

Reirden spent the last four seasons with Washington on Barry Trotz's staff

Should Reirden be hired, he would bring a measure of familiarity with him few teams get after a coaching change. Reirden was hired by Trotz in 2014 when Trotz was putting together his staff. He was brought in to coach the team's defense and immediately improved the blue line.

In the year prior to Reirden's hiring, the Caps allowed 2.74 goals per game, good for only 21st in the NHL. Here is what the defense has done in Reirden's four years in charge of the defense:

2014-15: 2.43 goals against per game, 7th in the NHL
2015-16: 2.33 goals against per game, 2nd in the NHL
2016-17: 2.16 goals against per game, 1st in the NHL
2017-18: 2.90 goals against per game, 16th in the NHL

In those four seasons combined, Washington allowed 2.45 goals per game, lower than every team in the NHL but one. He was also in charge of the team's lethal power play.

Reirden has been a head coach before

While he may never have been a head coach in the NHL, Reirden does have some head coaching experience.

Reirden was promoted to head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2009 when Dan Bylsma was promoted to head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While head coach, Reirden led the team to a 55-43-8 record.

Reirden came to Washington from the Penguins

Reirden joined the Penguins organization in 2008 as an assistant coach with their AHL affiliate and took over as head coach later that season. He joined the Penguins' playoff staff during the 2009 Cup run. He was promoted to a full-time assistant coach under with the NHL team under Bylsma in 2010 and was there for four years until Byslma was fired. Reirden was not initially fired, but was allowed to seek other opportunities. When he was officially fired, the Capitals hired him the same day.

Reirden had a lot to do with Matt Niskanen signing with the Caps

Reirden was hired by the Caps on June 25, 2014. On July 1, Matt Niskanen signed with Washington.

Reirden and Niskanen developed a strong relationship while in Pittsburgh. Niskanen dealt with confidence issues after getting traded from Dallas to Pittsburgh in 2011. Under Reirden's tutelage, Niskanen developed into a top-pair defenseman. Niskanen's agent said at the time it was "no secret" that Reirden and Niskanen had bonded while both were in Pittsburgh.

Brooks Orpik also signed with the Caps as a free agent that year, the second defenseman from Pittsburgh to sign in Washington showing the level of respect they felt for Reirden.

Reirden nearly became the head coach of Calgary

Reirden interviewed for the head coaching job in Calgary in 2016 and was considered a finalist for the position before eventually losing out Glen Gulutzan.

Gulutzan was fired by Calgary after the 2017-18 season and is now an assistant coach in Edmonton while Reirden is the frontrunner to become the head coach for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Sounds like things worked out for Reirden.

The Caps have been grooming Reirden to be a head coach

Reirden was promoted to associate coach in August 2016 after Calgary had passed on him. Since then, the Caps have not allowed him to interview with other teams for head coaching positions. The implication was clear, this was someone the team wanted to keep.

"You know I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach whether for us or someone else," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan Monday.

Reiden played in 183 career NHL games

Reirden was a defenseman drafted in the 12th round by the New Jersey Devils in 1990. After playing four years at Bowling Green, Reirden went pro with several seasons in the ECHL, IHL and AHL. He made his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1998-99 season. Reirden would also play with the St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers and Phoenix Coyotes. 

For his NHL career, Reirden scored 11 goals and 46 points in 183 games.

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With Barry Trotz out, Jay Gruden is now your longest-tenured major head coach in D.C.

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With Barry Trotz out, Jay Gruden is now your longest-tenured major head coach in D.C.

Jay Gruden is many things, including honest, witty, one of the greatest Arena League quarterbacks in the history of the universe and, as of June 18, the longest-tenured head coach of a major D.C. sports team.

With the Capitals and Barry Trotz parting ways, Gruden is now officially the area's most experienced boss (while Gruden was actually hired a few months before Trotz back in 2014, they both have led their teams through four seasons up to this point, which is the number that matters here).

Scott Brooks, meanwhile, has overseen the Wizards for two campaigns, while Nats manager Dave Martinez is in the middle of his first year at the helm.

This designation will pair nicely with the fact that Gruden will also be the first 'Skins headman to hold his job into a fifth season in the Dan Snyder era. You don't need to make plans to visit his statue yet, of course, but this is some uncharted territory the 51-year-old is currently hanging out in.

Now, his overall record of 28-35-1 certainly needs work, or else he'll be in danger of handing the longest-tenured distinction over to Brooks. However, Gruden does deserve credit for bringing an amount of stability to the Burgundy and Gold, a franchise that is usually as stable as Metro's Wi-Fi connection.

So, with all due respect to DC United's Ben Olsen, the Kastles' Murphy Jensen and whatever legend is in charge of your kid's dynastic flag football team, when you think of the man who's been roaming the sidelines longer than anyone else in D.C., be sure to think of this man and only this man:

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