January 10, 2013

By Kenneth Miller

Sentinel Staff Writer

 

The final curtain has closed on the college football season with Alabama blasting its way to a second consecutive BCS National Championship, but there were three African American coaches to make history during the final week of the season.

It all began on New Years Day in the Rose Bowl when 40-year old Stanford coach David Shaw led the Cardinals to their first Rose Bowl since 1973 piloting his team to a 20-14 victory over Wisconsin.

Shaw, a San Diego native and the son of long time NFL assistant Willie Shaw, is a two-time Pac 12 Coach of the Year and is 23-4 in two season as head coach at Stanford.

He coached his team to an upset victory over high-powered Oregon to prevent the Ducks from playing for a potential BCS National Championship. Shaw out coached Oregon’s Chip Kelly who has been wooed for head coaching jobs in the NFL.

None of the NFL team inquired about Shaw whose offense is more suited to the pro game and who was most instrumental in the success of Indianapolis Colts star rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. It was Shaw who was Luck’s offensive coordinator for three years and head coach for his Heisman Trophy runner-up senior campaign.

Not only was his Rose Bowl victory a first for a Black, but also coupled with Louisville’s Charlie Strong who led his team to a win in the Sugar Bowl, it marked the first time that two Black coaches had won BCS Bowl Games.

Strong, 52 has served as defensive coordinator with six college teams including Florida and Notre Dame and was the first Black coordinator in the SEC at South Carolina.

As a heavy under-dog to No. 3 ranked Florida, Strong’s Cardinals ran away from the Gators 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl in a game that was not as close as the final score reflected.

In three seasons at Louisville his teams have won two Bowl games and his impressive record of 28-15 has raised eyebrows around the coaching landscape, but it was Syracuse Doug Marrone with a 25-25 mediocre record at Syracuse who was selected as NFL head coach with the Buffalo Bills, not Strong. Marrone is white and his only head coaching experience has been at Syracuse.

The historical Black coaching trifecta was completed when 48-year old Kevin Sumlin led Texas A&M to a blowout win in the Cotton Bowl over Oklahoma 41-13. Sumlin led the Aggies to an 11-2 record in his first season on the job.

A one-time Texas A&M offensive coordinator, Sumlin got his first head-coaching job at the University of Houston where his high-powered offensives led to 35 wins against just 17 defeats in four seasons.

In his first year at Texas A&M he coached freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel to the Heisman Trophy, defeated coaching power Bob Stoops of Oklahoma and was the only coach to win a game against BCS National Champion coach Nick Saban.

One would think that after Eddie Robinson labored for 57 years at Grambling to become the all time winning college football coach with 408 victories and a .707 winning percentage that Black coaches would get a fair shot.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a sport where more than 50 percent of the athletes are Black, but not even one percent of the head coaches are Black.

Former Kent State coach Darrell Hazell became the fourth head coach in the long history of the Big 10 when he was selected to guide the Purdue Boilermakers for the next six years. Hazel was 11-2 in 2012 at Kent State.

Curtis Johnson Jr. is head coach at Tulsa, Garrick McGee at UAB and DeWayne Walker New Mexico State, but with the national success of Shaw, Strong and Sumlin the status quo of hiring Black coaches must go out the door.

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January 03, 2013

By PAT EATON-ROBB

Associated Press

 

Connecticut has given men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie a contract extension through the end of the 2017-18 season.

The deal, signed Saturday December 29, 2012,  is worth just over $7 million and began Jan. 1. When Ollie was hired in September, he was signed for just one season.

“As I said in my first press conference, I want to be here a lifetime and this is a step, hopefully a great step, in the program moving forward,” Ollie said in a news release announcing the deal.

Ollie, who turned 40 last Thursday, was hired after Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun retired. His original deal had a pro-rated value of just over $465,000, the school said.

Ollie has led UConn to a 9-2 record despite losing five underclassmen from last year’s team after it was announced that the Huskies were academically ineligible for the upcoming postseason.

“I am incredibly impressed with the way Kevin has led our program and his interaction with the administration, his coaching staff, the student athletes and our donors and fans,” said Warde Manuel, the school’s athletic director. “His team has performed incredible on the floor and in the classroom. All these factors contributed to my thinking that the time was right to come to this agreement with Kevin.”

Ollie, who played point guard for Calhoun from 1991-95, was his former coach’s hand-picked successor. He became an assistant at UConn in 2010, after 13 years as an NBA journeyman. He had never been a head coach on any level.

Ollie has quickly established himself with his upbeat and energetic style, running practices that focus on conditioning and accountability.

“Kevin moved gracefully and seamlessly into this position of immense responsibility over the course of the fall,” said school President Susan Herbst. “He demonstrated to us that he is a genuine leader of extraordinary talents.”

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January 03, 2013

By DAVE SKRETTA  Associated Press 

 

The Kansas City Chiefs fired coach Romeo Crennel on Monday, but made no move on embattled general manager Scott Pioli despite a 2-14 season marked by blowout losses, fan rebellion and a murder-suicide involving one of their players.

Crennel was fired after one full season as coach, and one day after Kansas City matched the fewest wins in franchise history with an embarrassing 38-3 loss to the Denver Broncos.

"I am embarrassed by the poor product we gave our fans this season, and I believe we have no choice but to move the franchise in a different direction," Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement. "I will immediately begin the search for the next head coach of the Chiefs. The entire football operation will remain under review and there may be additional changes to come."

Hunt said that "no final determination has been made" about Pioli's future.

The Chiefs' only victories this season came against New Orleans and Carolina, the latter coming one day after linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend to death and then drove to the team's practice facility and turned the gun on himself as Crennel and Pioli looked on.

Crennel seemed to know the end was coming Sunday night when he was asked to defend his job and said, "If your criteria is wins and losses, there's not much defense."

Kansas City will have the No. 1 pick in the draft after the most disappointing season in its 53-year history. The only other time the Chiefs finished 2-14 was 2008, the year before Pioli was hired. They were 2-12 in 1977, the only other time they've failed to win at least three games.

"Words can't describe it, to be honest with you," cornerback Brandon Flowers said. "We have to do the best we can to block this out and start from scratch next year."

With five players voted to the Pro Bowl last week, there are certainly pieces in place for the Chiefs to make rapid improvement. But four of them were inherited by Pioli's regime, and that haul of Pro Bowl players may have been Crennel's biggest indictment.

The only other teams with at least five players voted to the all-star game made the playoffs.

The Chiefs' inept offense managed 18 touchdowns in 16 games, finished minus-24 in turnover ratio and lost nine times by two touchdowns or more. Along the way, they broke an 83-year-old NFL record by not holding a lead in regulation until their ninth game.

Crennel, whose career record as a head coach is 28-55, was hired in 2010 to be the Chiefs' defensive coordinator. Respected by his players, he was appointed interim coach last December when Pioli fired Todd Haley with three games left in the season.

Crennel immediately brought a sense of stability to a floundering franchise, defeating the previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers and winning at Denver in the season finale — after which, players spontaneously started chanting his name in the visiting locker room.

"That's my guy. Everybody knows that," defensive tackle Shaun Smith said. "That's not only my coach, that's my role model. My father figure. We don't just talk football, we talk life."

With the support of the players, Pioli made Crennel the permanent coach a few weeks later, giving him another opportunity as a head coach after going 24-40 in four seasons with the Browns.

The season wound up being a disappointment from the start.

The Chiefs were blown out by the Falcons in their opener, trounced on the road by the Bills and needed an 18-point comeback to force overtime in their win over the Saints.

Then a stretch of eight consecutive defeats.

Empty seats began to multiply at Arrowhead Stadium, once one of the most intimidating venues in the NFL. An organized fan rebellion paid for banners to be towed behind airplanes asking for Pioli to be fired, and the majority of fans dressed in black for a home game against Cincinnati.

Nothing Crennel did seemed to work, either.

He began the season as the defensive coordinator, but fired himself and turned those duties over to linebackers coach Gary Gibbs. He benched Matt Cassel, in the fourth year of a $63 million contract, and went with Brady Quinn, who played just as poorly the rest of the season.

Injuries were numerous, turnovers plentiful, penalties crippling and blown assignments became the hallmark of a team that was rarely in games into the fourth quarter.

Then came the morning of Dec. 1, when tragedy struck.

Belcher, a part-time starter, shot the mother of his 3-month-old daughter, Kasandra Perkins, multiple times at a home not far from Arrowhead Stadium. The linebacker then sped to the team's practice facility and was confronted by Pioli, who tried to talk him out of more violence.

After thanking Pioli and Crennel for his chance in the NFL, Belcher shot himself in the head.

The Chiefs played the following day against Carolina, and Crennel was praised for the way he stoically led a team in turmoil. Kansas City put together its best performance in a 27-21 victory.

It wound up being their last win, though.

The Chiefs were blown out by Cleveland, shut out by Oakland and beaten by the Colts before an embarrassing season finale against the Broncos.

It was enough to finish Crennel, and enough to put Pioli's future in jeopardy.

"I want our fans to know that I will do everything I can to provide them a dramatically better team," Hunt said, "both next season and in the seasons to come."

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January 03, 2013

Associated Press

The Chicago Bears fired coach Lovie Smith on Monday December 31 after the team missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.

Smith was informed of the decision by general manager Phil Emery on the day after the Bears beat Detroit to finish 10-6 but still didn't make the playoffs.

Smith led the Bears to a Super Bowl, but also saw his team collapse in the second half of the past two seasons. Hired in 2004, Smith led the Bears to three division titles, two NFC title games and a 2007 Super Bowl appearance in his nine seasons. His record is 81-63, and he leaves with one year left on his contract.

The Bears scheduled a news conference Tuesday to discuss the move.

Even though Chicago closed with a win, the Bears needed a loss by Minnesota to get into the playoffs. The Vikings, though, beat Green Bay to clinch a postseason spot, leaving Chicago as the second team since the postseason expanded to 12 teams to miss out after a 7-1 start. The other was Washington in 1996.

Smith's record ranks third on the Bears' all-time list, behind George Halas and Mike Ditka.

The highlight of his tenure was the run to the title game that ended with a loss to the Indianapolis Colts. It was the first time two black coaches met for the championship, with Smith going against his mentor Tony Dungy.

The Bears made the playoffs just three times and posted three postseason victories under Smith. The 2010 team beat Seattle after the Seahawks won their division with a 7-9 record, but the Bears lost to Green Bay in the NFC title game at Soldier Field.

There was speculation Smith would be let go following the 2011 team's collapse, but he got one more year while general manager Jerry Angelo was fired.

Ultimately, the struggles on offense did him in.

Known for solid defenses, Smith oversaw a unit that was consistently effective and at times ranked among the league's best with stars such as Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and later Julius Peppers. Smith emphasized taking the ball away from the opposition, and no team did it more than the Bears with 310 during his tenure.

But on the other side, it was a different story.

Smith went through four offensive coordinators in Terry Shea, Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice. He never could find the right formula, even as the Bears acquired stars such as quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall over the years.

The offensive line has struggled in a big way over the past few seasons after age took its toll on a group that was a strength during the 2005 and 2006 playoff seasons. The Bears were never able to replenish, spending first-round picks on Chris Williams (2008) and Gabe Carimi (2011) that did not pan out.

Williams had his contract terminated in October, ending a disappointing run, and Carimi struggled this season after missing most of his rookie year with a knee injury.

While Angelo took the fall after last season, Smith was not without blame in the personnel issues over the years. He pushed to bring in former Rams offensive lineman Orlando Pace and safety Adam Archuleta, players who succeeded in St. Louis when Smith was the defensive coordinator there but were busts with the Bears.

He had no bigger supporter than team matriarch Virginia McCaskey, but the fans seemed split on him. To some, he was a picture of calm, a coach who never lost his composure and never criticized his players in public, the anti-Ditka if you will.

History suggests fans who are clamoring for a high-profile replacement such as Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden might be disappointed. The last time the Bears went with an experienced NFL head coach was when Halas returned to the sideline in 1958.

They might, however, go with an offensive-minded coach for the first time since Mike Ditka was fired after the 1992 season, given the issues in that area.

That the Bears would be in this spot seemed unthinkable after they ripped Tennessee 51-20 on Nov. 4. They were sailing along at 7-1 and eyeing a big playoff run after collapsing the previous season, with the defense taking the ball away and scoring at an eye-opening rate to compensate for a struggling offense, but the schedule took a tougher turn.

They dropped back-to-back games to Houston and San Francisco and five of six in all before closing out with wins at Arizona and Detroit. Injuries mounted along the way, and what looked like a playoff run slipped from their grasp, just as it did after a promising start in 2011.

That year, they won seven of their first 10 only to wind up at 8-8 after a monumental collapse sparked by a season-ending injury to Cutler.

While Angelo was fired, Smith got spared and Emery took the job with a mandate to keep the coach at least one more year.

He quickly went to work retooling the roster, landing Marshall in a blockbuster trade with Miami that reunited Cutler with his favorite target in Denver.

He also added depth in other areas, bringing in Jason Campbell as the backup quarterback after Caleb Hanie failed the previous season and teaming running back Michael Bush in the backfield with Matt Forte.

All those moves sent expectations soaring. The results were awfully familiar, though.

Now, Smith's out of a job.

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January 03, 2013

By DAVID GINSBURG Associated Press

 

Ray Lewis spent 17 seasons instilling fear in his opponents while serving as an inspirational leader for the Baltimore Ravens.

Now he’s poised and eager to become a full-time dad.

Lewis announced Wednesday he will end his brilliant NFL career after the Ravens complete their 2013 playoff run.

Lewis has been sidelined since Oct. 14 with a torn right triceps. The 13-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker intends to return Sunday to face the Indianapolis Colts in what will almost certainly be his final home game.

“Everything that starts has an end,” the 37-year-old Lewis said. “For me, today, I told my team that this will be my last ride.”

Lewis will walk away from the game because he wants to spend more time with his sons. While working to return from his injury, Lewis watched two of his boys play on the same high school football team in Florida. He intends to see Ray Lewis III perform as a freshman next year for the University of Miami, where the elder Lewis starred before the Ravens selected him in the first round of the 1996 draft.

“God is calling,” Lewis said. “My children have made the ultimate sacrifice for their father for 17 years. I don’t want to see them do that no more. I’ve done what I wanted to do in this business, and now it’s my turn to give them something back.”

That’s why Lewis will pull off his No. 52 uniform for the last time after the Ravens lose or claim their second Super Bowl title.

“It’s either (that or) hold onto the game and keep playing and let my kids miss out on times we can be spending together,” Lewis said. “Because I always promised my son if he got a full ride on scholarship Daddy is going to be there, I can’t miss that.”

Lewis was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2000, the same season he was voted Super Bowl MVP following Baltimore’s 34-7 rout of the New York Giants. Lewis was also Defensive Player of the Year in 2003, and is the only player in NFL history with at least 40 career sacks and 30 interceptions.

“I never played the game for individual stats,” Lewis said. “I only played the game to make my team a better team.”

Lewis has been with the Ravens since they moved from Cleveland. After being drafted 26th overall in Baltimore’s first draft, Lewis became a fixture at middle linebacker - and a beloved figure in Baltimore. He remained that way even after his alleged involvement in a double-murder in Atlanta in early 2000.

In June of that year, a judge approved a deal allowing Lewis to avoid murder charges and jail time by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and testifying against two co-defendants. Within a year, Lewis was in the Super Bowl, leading the Ravens to their only NFL championship.

Hundreds of games later, he's ready to call it a career.

“I’ll make this last run with this team, and I’ll give them everything I’ve got,” he said. “When it ends, it ends. But I didn’t come back for it to end in the first round.”

The news of his decision to retire quickly resounded throughout the NFL.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who served as Lewis’ defensive coordinator last year, said, “I thought, shoot, the guy could play forever and would play forever. Great person, great man, great player, just an unbelievable human being - what he’s done for that organization, that city and for that matter, so many people. He’s obviously a first-ballot Hall of Famer and will be sorely missed.”

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, “I don’t know, at least in my time in the league, if there’s been a defensive player that's had as big an impact. ... He’s really an incredible example of leader. Talk about somebody opening up his chest and giving it to his football team.”

Lewis was respected by his peers, too, even those who were on the receiving end of his crushing tackles.

“He definitely inspired me,” Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said. “Just the passion and how he is dedicated to his craft to be the best. You don’t see too many guys who play like that. That’s definitely what makes him the best linebacker to ever play the game.”

Indianapolis standout linebacker Dwight Freeney said, “He’s meant a lot to the league in general, but defensive guys especially. This is a league where the most focus goes on offense, quarterbacks and running backs, and very few times do you see a defensive guy get highlighted in commercials or whatever. You see Ray on there, so it’s kind of like he’s one of us. And you feel good when you see him, the things he’s done for the game and how he motivates guys.”

Lewis is the key figure in a defense that has long carried a reputation for being fierce, unyielding and downright nasty. He led the Ravens in tackles in 14 of his 17 seasons, the exceptions being those years in which he missed significant time with injuries (2002, 2005, 2012).

Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is almost always upbeat, said of the announcement: “It was sad. It affected me, because for the past 10 years of my career I’ve been sitting right next to the man and going to war on Sundays. It’s going to one hard last ride, and we need to make it one to remember.”

When Lewis tore his triceps against Dallas, it was feared he was done for the season. But he would have none of that.

“From the time I got hurt, everything I’ve done up to this point has been to get back with my team to make another run at the Lombardi (Trophy),” he said.

Well, not everything. Lewis spent time watching his boys play football, which caused him to call his rehabilitation “bittersweet.” After spending countless hours from Monday through Thursday working to return from the injury, he hopped on a plane toward Florida to be with his boys.

“I got to be there every Friday,” Lewis said. “Me being who I am, not having a father myself, that damaged me a lot. I didn't want my kids to relive that.

“One of the hardest things in the world is to walk away from my teammates. But the now I’m going to step into other chapters of my life.

“I knew I couldn’t split my time anymore. When God calls, he calls. And he's calling. More importantly, he calls me to be a father. It’s OK to be Daddy. Yes, this chapter is closing, but the chapter that’s opening is overwhelming. That’s what excites me the most.”

Lewis could have made the announcement during the offseason.

“'I think my fans, my city, I think they deserved for me to just not walk away,” he said. “We all get to enjoy what Sunday will feel like, knowing that this will be the last time 52 plays in a uniform in Ravens stadium.”

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