NFL head coaches get their walking papers

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NFL head coaches get their walking papers

From Comcast SportsNetTAMPA, Florida (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired head coach Raheem Morris on Monday after he posted a 17-31 record over three years, including a 10-game losing streak to end the current season. The team announced the change one day after the Bucs lost their final game of the season to the Atlanta Falcons, 45-24. The 10-game winless streak was the longest in a single season since 1977, when the Bucs lost 12 in a row to extend the longest losing streak in National Football League history to 26 consecutive games over two years. At 32 years old, Morris was the league's youngest coach when he was hired in January 2009, replacing Jon Gruden after Tampa Bay lost the final four games of 2008 to miss the playoffs following a 9-3 start. Morris guided the team to a 10-6 mark in 2010, with the Bucs narrowly missing the playoffs. The team also had a strong start to the current season, posting a 4-2 record with wins over playoff-bound Atlanta and New Orleans, before collapsing. "In these things it is not just one thing, but I will point to just the progress of the team and where we're at," Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said at a news conference. "Again, you can't point to one thing or another. You look at totality of the situation when making your decision." While injuries did contribute to the season-ending slide, so did inconsistent play -- starting with quarterback Josh Freeman. He threw for 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions after tossing 25 TD passes and being intercepted just six times in 2010. The Bucs turned the ball over a league-leading 40 times compared to 19 last season. The defense also surrendered a franchise-record and league-high 494 points and the Bucs lost eight games by double-digit margins and allowed 31 points or more seven times during the season-ending skid. Glazer said there's no timetable for naming a successor.

Rams fire coach Spagnuolo, GM Devaney
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The St. Louis Rams fired coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney on Monday, a day after the team wrapped up a 2-14 season that matched the worst record in the National Football League. The Rams made a six-win improvement last season and played for the NFC West title in the finale, but were just 10-38 overall in three seasons with Spagnuolo and Devaney calling the shots. Devaney had joined the front office a year earlier in 2008; the Rams were 12-52 in his four years as GM. He said in a statement Monday that while the record was disappointing, "I wouldn't trade that time for anything." Owner Stan Kroenke fired both men with one year remaining on their contracts, and with fan interest dwindling. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis was little more than half full in the later part of the season. "No one individual is to blame for this disappointing season and we all must hold ourselves accountable," Kroenke said in a statement. "However, we believe it's in the best interest of the St. Louis Rams to make these changes as we continue our quest to build a team that consistently competes for playoffs and championships." Kevin Demoff, vice president and chief operating officer, said the search for both positions should be concluded in the next few weeks and that it didn't necessarily matter which position was filed first. Names of potential replacements for Spagnuolo began to surface weeks ago as the season unraveled, with former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden mentioned as natural fits. Demoff said a report that Fisher had already been scheduled for the first interview was "100 percent false." But he added that Fisher was a "potentially attractive candidate." The Rams will have the second pick of the NFL draft in April, the fourth time in five seasons the team has had the No. 1 or 2 selection.

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”

What’s next for Cubs and Jason Hammel?

What’s next for Cubs and Jason Hammel?

PITTSBURGH – Making a risk-reward decision, the Cubs will shut down Jason Hammel and not start him Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds, leaving his playoff status and future in the organization uncertain.

Hammel said he’s been feeling tightness in his right elbow for weeks, which may have dulled the sharpness to his slider and explained some of his second-half struggles, which have put him on the postseason-roster bubble, if not on the outside looking in. 

After Friday’s TBD, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are still scheduled to start the season’s final two games at Great American Ball Park, putting them at the front of a playoff rotation that didn’t figure to include Hammel anyway.

“That decision lays in their hands,” said Hammel, who has been playing catch and throwing off flat ground during this week's spring-training-like series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “Health-wise, I’m not stressing about it. Collectively, we talked about it. And for being available through October, is it really worth something right now happening in a game that – more or less – doesn’t really matter?”

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The Hammel 2.0 reboot still has to be considered a success, with another All-Star-caliber first half, a career-high 15 wins, a 3.83 ERA and an overall resume that would look dramatically different if he didn’t have three starts allowing nine or 10 runs. 

The Cubs hold a $12 million option – with a $2 million buyout – for next season that could make Hammel an attractive trade chip given this winter’s shallow pool of free agents.   

“Obviously, not happy with the way things ended,” Hammel said. “But I would say for 9/10ths of the season, I was very good. I’ll take that into the offseason and add onto what I added (last) offseason.

“Some crazy freak incident like this can derail it, but overall my body feels good. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, which was to make 30-plus starts and be competitive, save for five, six starts. Out of 30, I’d say that’s pretty good.”