Cam Newton's former coach fired at Auburn

949565.jpg

Cam Newton's former coach fired at Auburn

From Comcast SportsNetAUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Gene Chizik led Auburn to perhaps the greatest season in the program's history, and two years later to maybe its worst.The rapid fall from a national championship to 3-9 and the Southeastern Conference doormat led to Chizik's firing Sunday, the day after a humbling 49-0 loss to No. 2 Alabama that showed just how far the program has slipped.The Tigers endured the worst slide within two years of winning a national championship of any team since the Associated Press poll started in 1936 and hadn't lost this many games since going 0-10 in 1950. The decision came 17 months after Auburn gave Chizik a contract worth some 3.5 million annually through 2015 with a hefty buyout.Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said he informed Chizik Saturday night that he would recommend to President Jay Gogue the next morning that Chizik not be retained.He said he had concerns with lopsided losses in 2011 but grew "very concerned in our fundamental approach to the game" after the Arkansas game."I had hoped our team would show some improvement this season," Jacobs said. "Unfortunately it didn't. The competition in our league is fierce. I decided we could not risk falling further behind by waiting for another year and hoping for improvement."The players were informed in a team meeting Sunday."I'm extremely disappointed with the way this season turned out and I apologize to the Auburn family and our team for what they have had to endure," Chizik said in a statement released by Auburn. "In my 27 years of coaching, I have gained an understanding of the high expectations in this profession. When expectations are not met, I understand changes must be made."The Tigers went from 14-0 with a perfect SEC record with Cam Newton leading the offense in 2010 to 3-9 and 0-8, losing their final three league games by a combined 150-21. Auburn was blown out by Texas A&M (63-21) and Georgia (38-0) but the finale was even more painful for Tigers fans.The Crimson Tide cruised to a six-touchdown halftime lead and the second-most lopsided Iron Bowl victory in history, behind only the Tide's 55-0 win in 1948."While we experienced a tremendous low in 2012, I will always be proud of the incredible highs that we achieved, including three bowl victories, an SEC championship and a national championship," Chizik said.He was 33-19 in four seasons and 15-17 in SEC games.Auburn said the total buyout for Chizik and his assistant coaches is 11.09 million. Chizik's buyout is expected to total 7.5 million and will be paid in monthly installments for the next four years.Six assistants are under contract through June 30, 2013 while defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor have deals extending another year beyond that.The buyouts could be reduced if the coaches find other jobs.Auburn joins Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky as SEC teams with job openings showing the huge divide in a league with six teams ranked in the Top 11.Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said players gave Chizik a warm ovation after the team meeting."I think we did what he deserved and we gave him a standing ovation and clapped for him," he said. "There's so much love for coach Chizik on this team. Would we have loved to see him get another year, another opportunity? Yes, but at the same time we understand where Jay Jacobs is coming from. Three wins isn't going to cut it in our league."Defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker said, "It's kind of crazy right now. I had a special bond with Coach Chizik."Chizik inserted tailback Tre Mason on the final play against Alabama to get him to 1,000 yards. The next day, Mason saw his coach get fired."It was a rough day for everybody," Mason said. "It's tough. There are going to be a lot of tears shed because there are a lot of relationships that may be put on hold or come to an end today. I have nothing negative to say about coach Chizik. He's done a lot for me and this program. I wish him the best of luck in his future."Chizik had sandwiched two 8-5 seasons around the national title, but never approached the success of 2010, when Newton won the Heisman Trophy. The Tigers were 7-17 in SEC games outside of 2010 during his tenure.His hiring was criticized by some fans after Chizik went 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State and lost the last 10 games of his first head coaching job.Jacobs was heckled at the airport after making the hire.Chizik had been defensive coordinator on unbeaten teams at Auburn and Texas.A search committee comprised of former Heisman Trophy winners Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson and former Tigers fullback Mac Crawford will assist Jacobs, the school said.Jacobs said he wants a proven winner -- not necessarily an experienced head coach -- who follows the rules and stresses academics.A transition year in 2012 might have been expected.Chizik had to replace the offensive and defensive coordinators after last season. Chizik made an ill-fated switch from Gus Malzahn's no-huddle, spread offense to a pro-style system with the hiring of former Temple offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.The Tigers struggled in the transition, partly because of shaky quarterback play and ended the season with freshman Jonathan Wallace under center.Auburn ranked at or near the bottom of the SEC in every major statistical category offensively and defensively.Chizik's tenure was marred by off-the-field problems, too, to the extent that he had employees of a private firm run curfew checks on players this season.Four members of the 2010 national championship team were arrested on robbery charges in March 2011. Antonio Goodwin was convicted in April and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Dakota Mosley, Michael McNeil and Shaun Kitchens are awaiting trial.Two-time 1,000-yard rusher Mike Dyer transferred to Arkansas State with Malzahn after being indefinitely suspended before the bowl game.Freshman quarterback Zeke Pike was arrested in June for public intoxication and later dismissed from the team. Starting center Reese Dismukes was suspended for the opener against Clemson following a public intoxication arrest.Auburn is also the subject of an NCAA investigation that includes the recruitment of Memphis running back Jovon Robinson, who was ruled ineligible after a guidance counselor admitted to creating a fake transcript.Chizik's contract includes a clause that it wouldn't owe the buyout money if he is fired for cause, including findings of major rules violations or significant or repetitive violations" involving him or his program.Chizik and Auburn have weathered past NCAA scrutiny. The governing body closed investigations into the recruitment of Newton and allegations from four former players that they were paid thousands of dollars during their college careers."I've got the utmost confidence in our NCAA compliance," Jacobs said. "Basically it boils down to winning and losing. Winning three games is unacceptable."

Patriots make Floyd a healthy scratch for AFC title game

Patriots make Floyd a healthy scratch for AFC title game

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will go with four receivers against the Steelers as Michael Floyd has been listed as a healthy scratch for the AFC title game. 

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

The Patriots had all five of their wideouts -- Floyd, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola -- available to them for Sunday's matchup, but they're opted to use the four who are most experienced in the team's offense. 

Hogan (thigh), Mitchell (knee) and Amendola (ankle) were all listed as questionable going into the weekend, but all have been deemed physically ready to play as their team vies for a Super Bowl berth. 

Floyd had his worst game as a member of the Patriots last week in the Divisional Round against the Texans. On two routes, both slants, Floyd ran the pattern in such a way that there appeared to be some miscommunication between him and quarterback Tom Brady. One was picked off and the other was almost picked. 

Floyd admitted as much last week, saying that there are still intricacies to the Patriots offense that he needs to pick up -- including exactly how Brady wants certain routes run.

Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans last week but felt optimistic soon thereafter that he'd be good to go for the conference championship. Mitchell hasn't played since suffering a knee injury against the Jets in Week 16. 

Other Patriots inactives for Sunday include quarterback Jacoby Brissett, running back DJ Foster, offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, safety Jordan Richards and corners Justin Coleman and Cyrus Jones.

Haggerty: For better or worse, Bruins need to make a call on Julien

Haggerty: For better or worse, Bruins need to make a call on Julien

The Bruins coach and leaders in their dressing room spoke out this weekend, and their words all basically spread the same supportive message.

Claude Julien and his longtime players aren’t ready for a change at the head coaching position for the Black and Gold and they hope the longtime bench boss is in Boston for as long as possible after 10 mostly successful years on the job.

Still, it may not go down that way this season with real pressure on B’s management, coaches and the players to end a two-year playoff drought. Things are currently going pretty badly with the Bruins in the middle of a three-game losing streak before facing the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon.

The heat has been dialed up as high as it’s ever been on Julien in his 10 years of employment with Boston and everybody seems to know it.

“Right now we’re all confident in Claude, and we all want to be here and play for him. If [saving Julien’s job] is the extra motivation you need for the games then so be it,” said Patrice Bergeron. “But we’re all professionals and we’re here to win hockey games. I’ve said this before that I’ve been with Claude for 10 years, and he’s the guy that I believe in and that I want to play for.”

Similarly, the Bruins captain has been with Julien for the long haul in Boston and has worked closely with the coach keeping lines of communication open in good, Cup-winning times and bad, non-playoff times. Chara bestowed Julien with every bit the endorsement that Bergeron did, and it’s clear much of the core group wants to keep the longtime coach in place.

“We don’t pay attention [to the chatter]. Claude is our coach and Claude will be our coach. We have confidence in him,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “He’s proven to be a coach that does a lot of good things for this organization. We just have to come up with some wins, battle it and we’re all in this together.”

One thing that’s a legitimate question: Is the devotion of players like Chara and Bergeron toward Julien a defining reason to keep the longtime coach?

There isn’t a sense the Bruins have tuned out their coach, as can happen in dysfunctional NHL situations, but there is a feeling that longtime B’s players with status are pretty comfortable with iron-clad no-movement clauses in their contracts and a relationship with the coach where there’s a level they may not be getting pushed toward very often.

Comfort isn’t always a good thing in an NHL dressing room and it’s felt altogether too comfortable at times in some of those no-show performances from the Black and Gold over the past couple of failed seasons. 

For his part, Julien doesn't think that was the case and intends on continuing to work his way through the struggles with a mix of youth and veteran players who clearly have enough to be a playoff team.

“If we’re going with what we said we were going with and there’s going to be some growing pains along the way, so be it,” said Julien. “I think we put ourselves in a position earlier in the year where we could all of a sudden believe that we’re a playoff team...absolutely. I still think we’re a playoff team. Whether we can do it or not we’ll find out at the end of the year, but my job is to do everything I can to get us into the playoffs and that’s what I’m going to do.

“As far as the [firing] rumors are concerned, they’re out there and I know that. But I don’t worry about it because worrying is wasting a lot of my time. And my time is spent trying to fix things here.”

It would be ridiculous and pointless to compare this season’s Bruins roster to the groups that won Cups, made it to the Finals twice and even won a President’s Trophy in 2013-14. Clearly, this particular roster isn’t as deep, or as difficult to play against, as those talent-stuffed hockey clubs, but this team also has enough high-end talent that they should edge teams like Toronto, Ottawa and Philadelphia out of a playoff spot.

This is where the theoretical move to fire Julien comes into play.

The Bruins are at a critical stage of their season where things are slipping away from them and the team is showing some of the maddening characteristics of the past two seasons.

They are unprepared to play on too many nights. They take opponents lightly on too many nights particularly in the past couple of months. A tiring Tuukka Rask isn’t able to bail the team out as much as he was in the first couple of months. Because the Bruins are being strangled by a roster of immovable players with no-trade clauses and can’t even entertain trading their blue-chip prospects Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy, the trade options just aren’t there for Don Sweeney and Cam Neely right now.

It would take a brilliant, creative GM to swing a hockey deal that could pump life back into the reeling Bruins. The B’s front office hasn’t shown those qualities in the past few years running the team. Instead, they have GMs from other teams lining up and making one-sided offers to the desperate Bruins in hopes that Sweeney/Neely will buckle under the pressure to push into the playoffs this spring.

So, the only impactful card the Bruins can play is firing a coach in Julien who probably isn’t the coach of the future when the next generation of B’s prospects is ready to go. The hope is that move can light a fire under their meandering hockey club if it doesn't start reeling off some wins in a row. An argument can be made that a coach such as current assistant Bruce Cassidy could get more out of some of Boston’s younger players they’re relying heavily on this season. The former Providence Bruins coach might fit a little better into the overall philosophy that management is looking to instill.

It might just be that making a coaching change is the best midseason card that Bruins management has to play given all of the circumstances.

Still, the one thing that B’s management can’t do is keep Julien twisting in the wind and answering all the questions about his future with no clear vote of confidence from his bosses. Julien is the winningest coach in Bruins history and led them to their glorious Stanley Cup run in 2011. He’s earned a wealth of respect around the league for the professional, classy way he’s always conducted himself on and off the ice and he won’t be out of work long if/when he is relieved of his duties on Causeway Street.

So, if the Bruins intend to make the move with their coach then they need to do it sooner rather than later.

People around the NHL are watching the Bruins intently to see how they handle this situation with a world-class coach in Julien, and Neely and Sweeney continue to be radio/TV silent, despite the Bruins media requesting to speak with them on Friday morning in the throes of their losing streak.

It’s high time for Bruins management to step up and make a decision on Julien for better or for worse, and treat him the way they’d undoubtedly like to be treated if it were them suddenly in the danger zone should they miss the playoffs again this spring.