Cardinals replace La Russa with surprising choice

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Cardinals replace La Russa with surprising choice

From Comcast SportsNetST. LOUIS (AP) -- The St. Louis Cardinals are replacing a manager who's third on the career victory list with a man who'll be writing his first lineup card on opening day. Mike Matheny, a former catcher with the Cardinals who had been a minor league instructor, will be introduced as Tony La Russa's successor at a news conference Monday. "I think he's going to be a great leader," Jim Edmonds, a teammate of Matheny's with the Cardinals, said Sunday night in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "If he goes out there and does what he's capable of doing and they put the players around him, he could be the manager for the next 20 years." The 41-year-old Matheny played for the Cardinals from 2000-04, won three of his four Gold Gloves and was part of three postseason efforts including a World Series. He became a team leader playing for La Russa, who retired just days after leading the team to his second World Series title in 16 seasons. Matheny's playing career blossomed after he signed a one-year free-agent deal to be the backup catcher in St. Louis. Though a career .239 hitter, Matheny did enough defensively to earn a starting job. Matheny was one of six men the Cardinals interviewed to replace La Russa. They also talked to Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, longtime Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo, former Boston manager Terry Francona, Triple-A manager Chris Maloney, and Chicago White Sox coach Joe McEwing. General manager John Mozeliak declined to comment on the hire aside from a one-word text to The Associated Press: "Tomorrow." La Russa did not respond to telephone and text messages. Francona was the only candidate who had major league managing experience. He left the Red Sox after the team collapsed in September. Oquendo coached for La Russa the last dozen years after playing the final decade of his career with the Cardinals and has had a handful of interviews for managing openings. The Cardinals received permission to interview Sandberg, manager of the Phillies' Triple-A team. Former Cardinals outfielder Chris Duncan, who played for La Russa and is on local sports talk radio, thought the Cardinals would go with Francona because it gave them the best chance to retain momentum from their unlikely World Series run. The Cardinals won the NL wild card on the final day of the season and were underdogs against the Phillies, Brewers and Rangers, but have a solid returning cast with or without free agent Albert Pujols in the fold. "I think Matheny will be a great manager, given time," Duncan said. "He lacks managing experience, but it shows a lot about his character that the Cardinals hired him." Matheny was with the Giants when his career was ended by concussions in 2006. "He's a great leader, and an even better person," Edmonds said. "I think this is great. There's nobody that's going to work any harder than Mike." Matheny's coaching staff could include some familiar names. Pitching coach Dave Duncan, who was La Russa's right hand all 33 seasons, has one year remaining on his contract. The Cardinals have considered promoting Maloney in recent years, and Oquendo also could stay.

Report: Rutgers' Janarion Grant to miss remainder of season with injury

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Report: Rutgers' Janarion Grant to miss remainder of season with injury

The worst-case scenario appears to have struck for Rutgers and star playmaker Janarion Grant.

Grant, who is an ever-dangerous scoring threat in multiple phases of the game, was injured after taking a catch 76 yards inside the five-yard line in Saturday's loss to Iowa. According to a Sunday report from NJ.com's Ryan Dunleavy, the injury will knock Grant out for the remainder of the season.

Grant had his ankle stepped on at the end of that long run and sat out the rest of Saturday's game.

The blow is obviously a crushing one for the Scarlet Knights. Grant is the team's best and most dangerous player. A star return man, he's played a big role on offense this season, as well. In four games, Grant racked up 138 rushing yards, 210 receiving yards, 112 punt-return yards and 195 kick-return yards. He scored six total touchdowns: three rushing, one via a punt return, one via a kick return and one touchdown throw.

A senior, Grant's collegiate career could be over due to the injury. He could apply for a medical hardship waiver, though already appearing in four games this season, it's potentially unlikely that he would receive one from the NCAA.

In his four-year career, Grant has totaled 2,606 kick-return yards (five touchdowns), 895 receiving yards (one touchdown), 480 punt-return yards (three touchdowns) and 270 rushing yards (three touchdowns).

Adding more bad news for the Knights, Dunleavy also reported that wide receiver Quanzell Lambert is out for the season, as well.

After firing Brian VanGorder, Brian Kelly puts onus on coaches to fix Irish defense

After firing Brian VanGorder, Brian Kelly puts onus on coaches to fix Irish defense

Brian Kelly, before Sunday, hadn’t fired an assistant coach since coming to Notre Dame nearly seven years ago. But faced with a 1-3 record and an uncertain defensive future, Kelly came to the conclusion that a change at defensive coordinator was necessary to Notre Dame’s chances of turning around a season headed in the wrong direction. 

And with that, Brian VanGorder is out. Greg Hudson, who previously was a defensive analyst and Purdue’s defensive coordinator from 2013-2015, is in. But what does Kelly want to see out of a defense that ranks at or near the bottom of the FBS level in so many defensive statistics and has been the main culprit in losses to Texas, Michigan State and Duke?

The first step, Kelly said on his teleconference Sunday, is injecting something enjoyable into an Irish defense that VanGorder defended in August as “likable and learnable.” 

“Guys played hard, but we lacked some of the energy and enthusiasm and fun, quite frankly, that you need to have when you're playing on defense,” Kelly said. 

Maybe better energy will result in better tackling, a fundamental area that’s been a glaring problem for this defense in 2016. Kelly said last week his defensive players were “anxious,” which contributed to the the team’s tackling problem. Better coaching, of course, would help there as well. 

But adding energy is sort of a nebulous, impossible-to-quantify concept. More concrete will be the tweaks to the defensive scheme and moving a few players into different positions to maximize their ability. 

Kelly said the terminology of the defense will remain the same, which makes sense given the installation process for VanGorder’s scheme began back during spring practice. Changing the terminology, Kelly said, would “pull the rug underneath the kids at this point in the season.”

What there will be, Kelly said, is a different focus trained on parts of the defense that have been installed but maybe not utilized frequently. 

“There's a lot,” Kelly said. “There's a very vast library that is easily tapped into from a different perspective, different terminology in terms of what has not been leaned on heavily in terms of fronts and coverages, but it's already installed.

“So there's a vast library. There's a lot there. I'm going to send around some of the things I believe our guys will feel comfortable with, and we'll go from there.”

Kelly dismissed the notion that VanGorder installed too much into his defensive scheme, but said he, Hudson and Irish coaches will “streamline” things to allow players to be fundamentally sound and play with that kind of speed and energy necessary. 

Kelly said, too, that he and his coaching staff will meet Sunday to discuss personnel changes — both from getting certain guys on the field (like defensive end Jay Hayes, who Kelly specifically addressed) and getting others into better positions to make plays. 

“We think that there might be some validity to moving around a couple of players,” Kelly said. “So that will be a conversation that I begin a little bit later this afternoon.”

It’s too early to tell what Notre Dame’s defense will look like on Saturday against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium, but what’s clear is that a turnaround is necessary — and it’s needed immediately. At 1-3, with three games left against teams ranked in the top 15 of S&P+ (home games against Stanford, Miami and Virginia Tech), Notre Dame doesn’t have much margin for error if it wants to reach a bowl game in 2016. 

The defense has made plenty of errors so far, to the point where Kelly took a step he never had in South Bend. Streamlining things, getting that energy back, tweaking the scheme — whatever it is, Notre Dame needs solutions on defense. 

Those solutions weren’t coming with VanGorder and now have to come with Hudson, as well as Kelly taking a more involved supervisor role in the defense. 

“It starts with the coaches,” Kelly said. “I think it's got to be coach-led and they have got to start the fire. And then those players that have that intrinsic motivation, that fire within, they will come along with us. Those that don't, we're going to leave them along the side. But this is going to start with the coaches.”