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Winning Broncos assistants become popular

Winning Broncos assistants become popular

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Welcome to the Denver Broncos 2013 job fair.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has interviews for vacant head-coaching jobs set up all weekend.

If a few things fall certain ways, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio could be next on a few teams' lists.

Such is life as an assistant coach of a winning team when there are plenty of losing teams out there looking for a turnaround.

Executives from up to four teams - Cardinals, Bills, Eagles and Bears - could wind up in Denver this weekend to visit with McCoy for what will essentially be a get-to-know-you interview for both the coach and the interested suitors.

McCoy has become as coveted an interview as there is since ``Black Monday,'' the day seven NFL teams fired their coaches. He can afford to be picky. Knowing as much, he says he'll be asking as many questions as he answers when the process starts.

``If you're going into a new situation, you've got to make sure it's the right one,'' said McCoy, who interviewed with Miami last year and was, for a time, thought to be the leading candidate there. ``It's not just about taking any job.''

This year, McCoy coached the fourth-ranked offense in the league, a unit that scored 30 or more points in all but five games this season. True, he had Peyton Manning on his side, which can make almost any coach look like a genius. Just as impressive were his accomplishments in 2011, when he turned Tim Tebow into a playoff quarterback, reconstructing the playbook in midseason into a 1950s-style, run-based offense that won nine games despite the league's 31st-ranked passing offense.

``That's our job as a football coach, is to take advantage of your talent and that's the No. 1 job I have here,'' McCoy said. ``We've got to make adjustments as a coaching staff, as players, and figure out, `What do we do best as an organization?'''

Other highlights on McCoy's resume are his nine years as an assistant for John Fox and a glowing endorsement from Manning.

``I think he's ready. I think he's paid his dues,'' Manning said. ``Mike's a good leader. He's had some good coaches that have been mentors to him, different coaches that he's worked with in his years in the NFL that I think he's incorporated some of their leadership philosophies and his own philosophy.''

Del Rio's path back to a head-coaching job could be a little trickier. So far, Del Rio said, there have been no requests for interviews this weekend, though things often develop quickly and unexpectedly on a coaching search.

He wasn't on anyone's radar when Jacksonville hired him in 2003, after three years as linebackers coach at Baltimore followed by a year in Carolina as Fox's defensive coordinator.

Over the nine years with the Jaguars, Del Rio went 69-73 and made two playoff appearances - a tenure with plenty of ups and downs, but during which he built a solid reputation as a coach who knows defense and connects with players. This year, he reunited with Fox, took several pieces already in place and molded them into the third-ranked defense in the league, led by Von Miller, who finished with a franchise record 18 1/2 sacks.

If he leaves, Denver will be looking for its eighth defensive coordinator in eight years.

``If it happens, it happens,'' cornerback Champ Bailey said. ``It's really not my place to put my opinion on it.''

But if Del Rio is to become a head coach again, he wants it to be with the right team, not just the next team that's looking.

``I'm certainly aware of the different strengths and weaknesses of different places,'' he said. ``I know my own abilities, certainly much greater than I did when I was made a head coach 10 years ago. You gain experience in this league and you grow. I don't spend a lot of time looking through other people's football teams and what their issues are and how you'd solve them.''

If asked to do that, however, he would.

Fact is, he simply loves coaching, which is why he returned to the field this year, the season after he got fired while still under contract in Jacksonville.

``I'm actually paying to be here,'' Del Rio said. ``I could be laying on a beach somewhere making more money. But I took this job because I wanted to work. I do have a passion to teach, to help young men be better, and to be part of a team.''

NFL rules call for all interviews of assistants on teams with a playoff bye to be complete by the end of the weekend. The Broncos added a caveat for their assistants, telling teams they'd have to come to Denver for the talks instead of having their assistants travel.

In one case, the Broncos shut down an interview opportunity - when AFC West rival San Diego asked about talking to director of player personnel Matt Russell for its open GM position.

Regardless of whether the Broncos coaches and executives are doing interviews, they insist there is only one focus: helping this team get to the Super Bowl.

``Everyone has individual goals, as a coach and a player, but it's team first here and we still have a lot left here,'' McCoy said. ``Hopefully, one day I will become a head coach but we still have a lot of football ahead of us here and we'll see what happens down the road.''

Notes: LB Wesley Woodyard, who led the team this season in tackles and a willingness to talk, was named the 2012 winner of the sixth annual Darrent Williams Good Guy Award, given by the Denver chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association to the player who best exemplifies the late cornerback's cooperation with the media. ... RB Willis McGahee walked through the locker room Thursday with a big wrap on his surgically repaired right knee but without any noticeable limp. He's eligible to return to action if the Broncos reach the AFC championship.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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The next Damian Lillard will be drafted this June, Ja Morant

The next Damian Lillard will be drafted this June, Ja Morant

On Tuesday night, Portland guard Damian Lillard broke #NBATwitter with his 37-foot, series-clinching buzzer-beater against Oklahoma City. 

It's not the first time we've seen him do that, but it's by far the biggest impact his play has had on the NBA world to this point.

Fair or not, Lillard's image has always been the overlooked underdog.  Even after being named All-NBA First Team last season, it's rare you hear his name mentioned among the NBA's most popular players. 

That attitude is what fuels the Portland Trail Blazers though. It's what the entire roster uses as motivation every game. It's a mindset every team in the NBA should be emulating too, and it starts with their star. 

If you're an organization in the middle of a rebuild, you should be looking no further than Ja Morant if you want this same organizational mindset going forward.

Ja Morant is the next Dame Lillard.

Ja Morant is going to be a star. 

The Wizards are one of those teams, and with the NBA Draft Lottery coming May 14, if the ping pong balls land in their favor, Morant needs to be their pick at No. 2 in the NBA Draft.

Don't worry about any other point guards on the roster and what that means. Don't pass on Morant.

Obviously, No. 1 would mean Zion Williamson, and anything past No. 2 means both are probably off the board, so we'll stick with that No. 2 pick in this case.

Both Lillard and Morant come from small schools in Weber State and Murray State, respectively. Both were under-recruited with Lillard being just a two-star and Morant not even being ranked by recruiting services ESPN, 247Sports, or Rivals.

Lillard was the better three-point shooter coming out of college, but Morant still has range, and can jump out of the gym.

Neither has a ton of size (Lillard 6-2, 185 lbs., and Morant 6-3, 175), but both aren't scared of the spotlight, and step on the court ready to eat the other team alive.

In a star-driven league based so much around player's brands and recognizability, there's something to be said for the guys that have the talent, but haven't been given the stage to show it yet. You get that combination of "chip on their shoulder" mentality with the star potential and work ethic biggy backing it. 

One of the best movie lines ever spoken was in Remember the Titans when Julius tells Gerry "attitude reflects leadership", and it's a mantra any successful team, business, volunteer group, club, or literally any collection of people should follow. 

If you want the right attitude in your locker room, you want leaders that can create it. 

Morant and Lillard share that same leadership, and the results are there to prove it. 

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Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: A difficult season for Scott brooks nets a positive grade

Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: A difficult season for Scott brooks nets a positive grade

Now that the dust has settled for the 2018-19 Wizards season, it's time to review the roster and hand out individual grades...

Who: Scott Brooks, head coach

Year with team: 3rd

Grade: B

Season review: There is no question that from a basketball perspective, the 2018-19 season was among the most challenging of Scott Brooks' career. Even for a man who coached a 23-win team in 2008-09, and the mercurial Russell Westbrook, it would be hard to top all that went on for Washington this year.

Brooks had to navigate around a serious injury for John Wall for the second straight year. Dwight Howard missed all but nine games. The Wizards made five trades and suited up a franchise-record 25 players. 

They often played rotations mostly comprised of guys on expiring contracts. And there were in-practice spats between him and players that were made public.

Brooks, along with his players, were not able to keep the ship afloat. They sank to 32-50 by the end of the season and along the way it cost Ernie Grunfeld, the man who hired him, his job. That set the tone for what could be a tumultuous offseason, one that offers no certainty Brooks will be back with the Wizards for a fourth season.

There was some good and some bad with Brooks' job performance in Year 3. He oversaw the continued development of Bradley Beal, who has a chance to make All-NBA when the honors are announced next month. Thomas Bryant had a breakout season after Brooks promoted him to the starting lineup. 

Despite a revolving door of a roster and the absence of Wall, the Wizards continued to feature an above-average offense. They finished the season 10th in points and 14th in offensive rating.

But on the other end of the floor, the team continued to trend in the wrong direction, this year bottoming out as one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA and in franchise history. They were 29th in defensive rating and 28th in points allowed. They gave up about 11 more points per game than they did the year before, 116.9 compared to 106. 

And when it comes to the success of some players, it was fair to question if those leaps could have been made earlier. 

Troy Brown Jr., their 2019 first round pick, didn't earn consistent minutes until late February, when the season was essentially long lost. That was despite him showing flashes of promise in his first few months as a rookie. And at times, it appeared Brooks was choosing to play lesser players like Ron Baker or Gary Payton II over him.

All in all, though, it's hard not to grade Brooks on a forgiving scale due to all that went wrong that was out of his control. A head coach could have only done so much to overcome the obstacles the Wizards were presented by injury luck and the front office.

Now the question is whether Brooks will be back for another year and, if he is, whether there will be changes to his staff. Until the Wizards hire a new general manager, it is tough to predict.

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