Magic front office cleans house; Is Howard next?

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Magic front office cleans house; Is Howard next?

From Comcast SportsNet
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- For months the Orlando Magic have been trudging through the aftermath of a preseason trade request by Dwight Howard that sapped the life out of the franchise as internal team issues quickly affected the product on the floor. Now after easily one of the most tumultuous seasons in their history, they made the first in what promises to be a huge offseason shake-up The Magic fired coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday and agreed to part ways with general manager Otis Smith, severing ties with two of the architects of one of the most successful runs in franchise history. Smith and Van Gundy's relationship with Howard was the centerpiece of drama the team faced all season and following their second straight first-round playoff exit, CEO Alex Martins said the shift was warranted. "It's time for a new leadership and a new approach," Martins said at a news conference to discuss the moves. "We simply came to the decision that we were not on the right track," Martins wouldn't go into many specifics about what he is looking for in replacements, saying only that he and ownership want to fill the general manager post by June's NBA draft. He said he would sit down with ownership on Tuesday to begin ironing out the details of both searches. Phone and text messages left with Van Gundy and Smith by The Associated Press were not immediately returned. Orlando went 37-29 in the regular season but was eliminated in five games by Indiana after a rash of late-season injuries that included back surgery for Howard. Orlando went 5-12 without him. Martins said those consecutive first-round playoff exits were "simply not good enough." In early April, Van Gundy claimed top-ranking team officials had told him that Howard had asked management to fire Van Gundy as a condition of the center signing a long-term contract beyond 2013. Howard denied it. Martins addressed that dispute directly, saying "At no time during that time did Dwight ask me to have Stan fired." With a relationship with Smith dating back to the Magic's inaugural season when Smith was a player and a five-year relationship with Van Gundy, Martins also called Monday "the most difficult day of my career." Both Smith and Van Gundy are under contract through next season and both of their contracts will be honored. The current assistant coaching staff has also been offered the opportunity to stay on for now. Van Gundy coached the Magic for five seasons. He finished with a 259-135 record, going 31-28 in the playoffs. Smith departs after six years. He was the architect of Magic teams that made it to the playoffs in each of those seasons, winning the Eastern Conference championship in 2009. But he also made several questionable moves, including trades for Vince Carter and Gilbert Arenas that failed to work out long-term. The day after the Magic's season ended with the loss to the Pacers, Smith said that he would need a few days to even decide whether he wanted to return to that position following the tough year, setting it as a "50-50" chance. Van Gundy said at the time he wanted to return and was hoping that the ultimate decision would be about performance solely. "When you're talking a professional relationship, what matters -- at least to me -- is the results," Van Gundy said. "I don't care if it's a business relationship where two people at work are driving a business to make money, or if it's a sports relationship, where the object is to win games." But both also have acknowledged that this lockout-shortened season was trying for everyone involved. "This season, and we've been digesting it all year, has been the longest, shortest season that we've had," Smith said. "But it's something that you have to go through. Most sports franchises at some time go through a little bit of uncertainty and this is our time." Martins said that ideally the Magic's next coach will have a championship pedigree, though acknowledged that the search wouldn't exclude assistants or others who have experience. He said the same was true for the general manager position. Martins was effusive in his praise as Van Gundy as a "great strategic coach," but acknowledged that one of the factors they want to see in a new coach is someone who is great at building relationships with players. "Strategically we may not be able to find anyone better," he said. Howard often commented about Van Gundy's grumpy demeanor on the floor, saying it was at times counterproductive for the team. This past summer Smith met with Van Gundy and he left that meeting pledging to make improvements. It included him meeting with a Stanford University psychology professor for advice on how to be a better leader. And it seemed to work, with Van Gundy incurring just one technical during the shortened regular-season, a low during his Magic tenure. But it wasn't enough to save his job. Now the attention shifts to Howard, who remains in Los Angeles recovering from his surgery. Martins said team officials continue to be in dialogue with the all-star, but hasn't yet gotten an answer on whether he would like to stay beyond next season when his contract expires. After a season spent in limbo before Howard finally opted into the final year of his deal, Martins has said the team won't repeat the same ordeal. That at least leaves open the possibility the Magic could trade him at some point should Howard not agree to sign long-term. "I think the decision is on Dwight now," Martins said. "Dwight needs to decide where his future lies."

Report: Buckeyes assistant Luke Fickell negotiating to become next head coach at Cincinnati

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AP

Report: Buckeyes assistant Luke Fickell negotiating to become next head coach at Cincinnati

For the second straight offseason, Urban Meyer could be losing a defensive coordinator to a head-coaching job.

Last year it was Chris Ash moving from Ohio State to become the head coach at Rutgers. Now, Luke Fickell looks like he might be leaving for the head-coaching job at Cincinnati.

BearcatReport.com, a Rivals site, reported Friday that Fickell is in negotiations to become the next head coach at Cincinnati, right down the street from the place he's spent almost the entirety of his career.

ESPN's Adam Rittenberg followed up, reporting that while Fickell and Cincinnati have talked about the opening, things might not be as imminent as the first report suggested.

While Fickell — if he were to leave — would technically become a part of the Meyer coaching tree, he's been a mainstay in Columbus since before the Buckeyes' current head coach arrived.

Fickell played at Ohio State from 1992 to 1996 and got a graduate assistant job under John Cooper in 1999. After two seasons as an assistant at Akron, Fickell returned as the Buckeyes' special teams coordinator under Jim Tressel and spent the next nine seasons as a Tressel assistant. He moved from special teams coordinator to linebackers coach in 2004 and got the title of co-defensive coordinator in 2005.

After Tressel's tenure came to a tumultuous end amid what became known as "Tattoogate," Fickell assumed the one-season role of interim head coach, leading the Buckeyes to a 6-7 record before Meyer showed up. Fickell has been a defensive coordinator under Meyer for the past five seasons, helping Ohio State to a jaw-dropping 61-5 record — including a national championship in 2014 — and coaching one of the best defenses in the country over the past several seasons.

Fickell would seem like a perfect fit at Cincinnati, which has a vacancy after the departure of Tommy Tuberville, who posted just a 4-8 record this past season. Fickell is a longtime assistant who most definitely deserves his chance, bringing that one season of head-coaching experience and a knowledge of the recruiting area.

If Fickell takes the job, he wouldn't have to wait too long to go up against his former employer and new in-state foe. The Bearcats and Buckeyes play in 2019, though that comes after Cincinnati's already-scheduled game against Michigan next season.

Defense finally clicks for Hawkeyes in huge win over ranked Iowa State

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USA TODAY

Defense finally clicks for Hawkeyes in huge win over ranked Iowa State

The worst defensive team in the Big Ten, finally turned in a strong defensive performance Thursday night — and got its biggest win of the season.

In fact, Thursday night's 78-64 win over in-state rival and 25th-ranked Iowa State was Iowa's first win of note on the campaign.

For all of their points — Iowa is one of the highest-scoring teams in the conference — the Hawkeyes were paper thin on defense in their five losses this season against name opponents Seton Hall, Virginia, Memphis and Notre Dame, not to mention Omaha, the small-conference foe that pushed Iowa's losing streak to four games last weekend. Those five teams averaged 91 points a game against the Hawkeyes, and if you take out low-scoring Virginia — which wins not by scoring points but preventing them, like when it held Iowa to just 41 — that scoring average among the other four teams shoots up to 95.3.

But such was not the case Thursday in Iowa City, with the Hawkeyes limiting the Cyclones to 64 points — a season-low for an Iowa opponent — on just 35.7-percent shooting.

So, Fran McCaffery, was this the best your defense has been all season?

"Yeah, I would say that."

Only twice prior had the Hawkeyes turned in a scoring output of fewer than 80 points, both in losses against Virginia and Notre Dame. But that's not to say that the typically high-scoring Hawkeyes were ineffective on offense. They shot 47.3 percent from the field and scored nine points off turnovers and 13 on the fast break. They narrowly won the rebounding and turnover battles but had a big advantage at the free-throw line, going 17-for-24 from the stripe while the visiting Cyclones were just 6-for-9.

Iowa got its biggest performance from who else but Peter Jok, the Big Ten's leading scorer putting up 23 points and grabbing nine rebounds. But the young Hawkeyes stepped up, too. Freshman Isaiah Moss scored 14 points; he's scored 35 points combined in his last two games. Freshman Cordell Pemsl finished with 11 points, his fourth straight game scoring in double figures. Sophomore Nicholas Baer had 10 points to go along with eight rebounds. And freshman Jordan Bohannon stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, five rebounds and four assists.

"I thought in terms of putting everything together, you know, we had been really good at times," McCaffery said. "We had not really put it together for 40 minutes, and you have to against this team, a lot of veterans. And right from the opening tip, we were locked into the game plan and stayed with it in terms of try to keep it out of the paint, trying to get back, limit their easy baskets, try to limit their second-shot opportunities. And then, you know, the other end moved the ball. They got up into us pretty good. So it's not as easy as it looks, but you've got to get it moving but you have some opportunities to drive the ball. So really proud of our guys."

It was a huge win for a Hawkeyes team that seemed to be in free fall as recently as early this week. Prior to Thursday, Iowa's wins came against the unimpressive lineup of Kennesaw State, Savannah State, Texas-Rio Grande Valley and Stetson. Any team of note had its way.

Even with the win, Iowa still ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing an average of 81.2 points a game.

But Thursday's victory — which snapped a three-year losing streak to Iowa State — gave a young squad a landmark win over a ranked team to build off with just three games remaining before the start of conference play.

"We had the potential to be better than we were playing," McCaffery said. "And you know, I sort of kept saying it: We played pretty well against Memphis at times, at Notre Dame for longer, Seton Hall at times, and even Omaha at times. Started to put it together a little bit against Stetson. But this is a team that is ranked. So it is a step.

"But you can never be too satisfied, just like you can't get too down if you lose a game, whether it be this game or another game. That was a tough loss for us the other night against Omaha, tough loss. But how do you respond, you know, and they went right back to work. They locked into Stetson, they put it together, came right back. No nonsense, very mature approach to game preparation, following the game plan. And I thought the enthusiasm of the guys on the floor and the guys on the bench, how they were supporting their teammates, and of course the crowd was spectacular, but our whole bench was really into the game in a way that you have to be to win a game of this caliber."