Redskins

USC fires basketball coach O'Neill

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USC fires basketball coach O'Neill

LOS ANGELES (AP) Kevin O'Neill took over a troubled Southern California basketball team, getting the Trojans back to the NCAA tournament after NCAA issues kept them out in his first season while producing winning records twice in 3 1/2 years. It wasn't enough.

He was fired on Monday, with the Trojans 7-10 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12 after splitting their road trip last weekend.

``We just didn't win enough last year and this year. That's what this business is,'' O'Neill told The Associated Press by phone. ``We tried to do as well as we could, tried to get the program to the highest level. My goal every day going in there was to try to win a national title.''

He had a 48-65 record at the school known primarily for its powerful football program after going 6-26 last year while setting a USC record for losses.

Athletic director Pat Haden said the program needed new leadership.

``Despite a nice road win in our last game, I felt it was best to make a change now, with most of the Pac-12 season still ahead of us, in order to re-energize our team,'' he said.

O'Neill was hired by Haden's predecessor, Mike Garrett, who said at the time, ``Hopefully he's here forever.'' O'Neill took the USC job after spending a season as an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies.

``Nothing in this business surprises me,'' O'Neill said, adding that he and Haden ``really didn't have any discussions other than how the team is doing.''

Veteran assistant Bob Cantu will serve as interim coach while USC searches for a successor. Cantu took over for O'Neill during a Pac-10 tournament semifinal game against Arizona in 2010-11 when the coach was suspended after getting into a verbal confrontation with a Wildcats booster. He has remained on the staff through four coaching changes and is the longest tenured assistant in the Pac-12.

``Couldn't be more excited and anxious to get started with (hashtag) coachbobcantu,'' tweeted senior center James Blaszyk.

The Trojans lost at Colorado before winning at Utah to snap a 14-game road skid over the weekend. USC has lost nine of its last 13 games, which included a five-game skid.

``There's been a lot of challenges in it but I really enjoyed my time,'' O'Neill told the AP. ``I'm thankful for my opportunity. I'm going to cheer for them every day.''

Upon arriving at USC in June 2009, O'Neill had to deal with the fallout from an ongoing NCAA investigation and school-imposed sanctions involving star O.J. Mayo, who played one season under Tim Floyd before leaving for the NBA.

The Trojans went 16-14, including a sweep of crosstown rival UCLA, and were in the hunt for the conference title until the final two weeks of the season. Sanctions imposed by the school in response to the NCAA investigation prohibited them from postseason play.

The next season, O'Neill lost three starters and four of his top six players from the rotation, but he guided the Trojans to a 19-15 record and an NCAA tournament berth. They lost in the first round to Virginia Commonwealth. That team included Nikola Vucevic, a first-round draft pick who now plays for the Orlando Magic.

Last season, the Trojans were hard-hit by injury, leaving O'Neill with just six scholarship players for nearly half the season who managed to keep the team in most every game. The biggest blow was losing point guard Jio Fontan, who tore his ACL after scoring 57 points in two exhibition games in Brazil. Forward Aaron Fuller (shoulder) and big man Dewayne Dedmon (torn MCL) also went down with season-ending injuries at different points.

``It got really pronounced because we didn't have freshmen or sophomores when I got here. Those classes were blank,'' said O'Neill, who dipped into the ranks of junior college players and transfers to fill out the roster. ``I thought our team was starting to come around and play better.''

He had a full complement of 13 scholarship players who were healthy this season.

``It was hard for me to evaluate him as a head coach until this year when he had enough players and veterans to compete,'' Haden said.

O'Neill said he's given no thought to his immediate future.

``Take a little time off, chill out a little bit,'' he said. ``I might go to New York and visit my dad. I really don't have any regrets, none at all.''

O'Neill, who turns 56 on Jan. 24, was hired by coach Lute Olson as an assistant at Arizona before the 2007-08 season, and became interim coach when Olson took a medical leave of absence.

O'Neill led the Wildcats to a 19-15 record and the school's 24th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, at the time the nation's longest active streak. He was designated Olson's permanent successor, but when the Hall of Famer returned that spring he announced O'Neill would no longer be part of the program.

O'Neill had previous head coaching jobs at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern. He has a 219-245 record in the college ranks.

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Inside linebacker

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Bob Youngentob for NBC Sports Washington

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Inside linebacker

Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.

Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Inside linebackers

Additions: Shaun Dion Hamilton (drafted in the fifth round)

Departures: Will Compton (free agent)

Starters: Zach Brown, Mason Foster

Other roster locks: Josh Harvey-Clemons

On the bubble: Hamilton, Zach Vigil, Martrell Spaight

How the inside linebackers compare

To the rest of the NFL: This is a difficult comparison to make since only about half of the teams use the 3-4 with two inside linebackers and there are many variations when they go out of their base defense. Brown certainly is in the upper tier of players at his position. Foster’s skill set may not be coveted by many teams around the league, but he is a perfect fit in the Redskins’ defense in many ways. The player who could differentiate this group from others around the league is Harvey-Clemons. If he turns into a top-notch nickel LB the inside linebackers will be a great asset. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  This is about health. In 2017, Foster missed 11 games, Brown was hampered by a variety of injuries before sitting out the last three games. Compton was the top backup to both players and he went to injured reserve after just three starts. They did re-sign Vigil, who had spent training camp with the team, and he played pretty well near the end of the season. If the front-line players can stay on the field for most of the season this should be a much better group than the one that was partially responsible for the league’s 32nd-ranked rushing defense. 

2018 Inside linebacker outlook

Biggest upside: The 2017 season was supposed to be a redshirt year for Harvey-Clemons as he transitions from college safety to NFL linebacker. He played a lot in the base defense during the offseason practices and that indicates that they are considering him for a bigger role beyond just playing nickel. You have to wonder how his size (6-4, 230) will affect his ability to get off of blocks. 

Most to prove: Spaight was a fifth-round pick in 2015 and he has yet to establish a regular role in the defense. It was telling that when they needed someone to start in the latter part of last year they brought back and started Vigil and mostly kept Spaight is going into the last year of his contract, but it would not be surprising to see Vigil beat him out for the last roster spot.  

Rookie watch: The Redskins traded up in the sixth round to get Hamilton. It wasn’t a blockbuster deal but the fact that they thought enough of him to move up says something. Gruden has said that he thinks Hamilton could be a starter at some point. He was one of the leaders on a strong Alabama defense before injuries struck. Hamilton is not going to start this year barring multiple injuries, but he should develop a role as the season goes on and be ready to compete in 2019.

Bottom line: The Redskins have not invested much in terms of free agent dollars or draft capital in the inside linebacker position in recent seasons. That changed somewhat this offseason as they made sure to spend to retain Brown and Foster. Neither commanded a huge contract but they did make a commitment and that is important. Last year Brown gave the defense a sideline-to-sideline dimension it hasn’t had in quite some time and retaining him was critical. Inside linebacker may not be a major strength for the defense this year but it should be able to get the job done. 

2018 Redskins position outlook series


 

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Wizards plan to introduce Dwight Howard Monday

Wizards plan to introduce Dwight Howard Monday

Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld has stayed relatively busy this summer crafting his new-look lineup for the 2018-19 season. 

One of the team's key additions, Dwight Howard, is set to be introduced as a member of the Wizards on Monday. 

NBC Sports Washington will air the introductory press conference live at 1 p.m. while also streaming it online.  

Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Scott Brooks are both expected to be in attendance. 

The 32-year-old big man is coming off a 2017-18 season with the Charlotte Hornets in which he averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. 

Since leaving the Orlando Magic after eight seasons in 2011, Howard has played for four different teams in the last six years. 

Howard is an eight-time all-star and a three-time defensive player of the year. 

 

RELATED LINKS: 

John Wall's take on Dwight Howard 

Wizards make Dwight Howard free agent signing official 

By the numbers: Is new Wizards center Dwight Howard still in his NBA prime?