Buccaneers make stunning choice for new coach

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Buccaneers make stunning choice for new coach

From Comcast SportsNetTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have hired Rutgers' Greg Schiano to become the team's next coach. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik confirmed the five-year contract Thursday in an e-mail to The Associated Press. ESPN first reported the Bucs had hired Schiano. The 45-year-old Schiano has been with the Scarlet Knights for 11 seasons, taking them from college football laughingstock to a program that has had winning records in six of the last seven years. He was an assistant coach in the NFL with Chicago from 1996-98. The Bucs fired Raheem Morris on Jan. 2 after a 4-12 finish that included 10 straight losses to end the season, most of them by double-digit margins. The collapse following a promising 4-2 start came only a year after the NFL's youngest team went 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs. Dominik said in an earlier e-mail to the AP that "many candidates have been notified that we are moving on." The Glazer family that owns the team interviewed at least 10 candidates for the opening, including Oregon's Chip Kelly, who was offered the position before turning it down earlier this week. The Bucs also talked to former NFL head coaches Mike Sherman, Brad Childress and Marty Schottenheimer; Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski; Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray; Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer; Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who accepted the head coaching opening with the Miami Dolphins. An 11th known candidate, ex-Dallas Cowboys coach and current Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, canceled a scheduled interview with the Bucs that would have taken place while the Texans were in the playoffs. It's not the first exhaustive search the Glazers have conducted for a coach. The Bucs pursued Steve Spurrier before hiring Tony Dungy in 1996, then tried to lure Bill Parcells and Steve Mariucci to Tampa Bay before trading two first-round draft picks, as well as a pair of second-rounders and 8 million cash to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for the opportunity to negotiate a contract with Jon Gruden after the 2001 season. Gruden led the Bucs to their only Super Bowl title the following season, but Tampa Bay hasn't won a playoff game since. The Glazers fired him three weeks after the Bucs lost the final four games of 2008 to miss the playoffs, and promoted Morris as his successor. Tampa Bay went 17-31 under Morris, who served as his own defensive coordinator. The Bucs allowed a franchise-record 494 points in 2011, including 31 of more in seven of the last eight games. In addition to fixing a defense that's been rebuilt over the past two drafts, getting young quarterback Josh Freeman back on track with be a priority this offseason. Freeman threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interception in 2010, his second year in the league and his first as a full-time starter. The 24-year-old passed for 16 TDs vs. 22 interceptions this season. The timing of the move could put Rutgers in a bind with national signing day less than a week away. This is a pivotal time in the recruiting process, with coaches locking up commitments from high school prospects who make those agreements official by signing national letters of intent starting Wednesday. Schiano's contract with Rutgers runs through 2016 and pays him around 2.35 million per year. He played linebacker at Bucknell, but never in the NFL. His first big break in coaching came at Penn State, where Joe Paterno hired him to coach defensive backs in 1991. He was at Penn State through 1995, before being hired by the Bears. Because of his success at Rutgers, there had often been speculation for years about Schiano possibly replacing Paterno when the Hall of Famer was done coaching. But when Penn State was looking for a replacement after firing Paterno amid a child sex-abuse scandal involving one of his former longtime assistants, the school hired Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. Schiano has been courted by several other colleges during his time at Rutgers, most notably Miami and Michigan. Michigan pursued Schiano after Lloyd Carr retired in 2007. Schiano passed and the Wolverines hired Rich Rodriguez. Schiano's first four seasons at Rutgers produced losing seasons, but the program he took over was practically at rock bottom in major college football. Before he was hired, the Scarlet Knights played in only one bowl game in their history. Schiano brought structure and discipline to a program that sorely lacked both on every level. Not only has Rutgers become a consistent winner in the Big East, but the Scarlet Knights have regularly been among the top teams in the country when it comes to graduating players. He also helped secure funding for multimillion dollar upgrades to Rutgers' facilities, including a major stadium renovation. In 2005, Rutgers went 7-5 and the next season the Scarlet Knights were 11-2. They have played in six bowls under Schiano, winning five, including a victory over Iowa state in the Pinstripe Bowl to cap a 9-4 season in 2011.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.