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by Buster Olney posted Dec 12 2017 9:59AM
The greatest free-agent class in history is lined up for next winter, with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado leading the way and expected to cash in at the top of the market with record-setting deals. Baseball executives have speculated that Harper's agent, Scott Boras, will aim for the first half-billion-dollar deal and will get at least $300 million to $350 million. Machado, actually preferred by other teams because he's an elite defensive infielder, might make just as much or more.

Measured against that landscape -- against the possible cost for a Harper, a Machado and others -- Giancarlo Stanton must look like a relative bargain to the Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman. The final details of their proposed trade with the Marlins have not been announced, but it appears the Yankees will assume something in the range of $243 million in salary over the next 10 years, probably much less than it will cost for Harper or Machado next winter.

Bye, bye, Baby Bombers!


Adding Giancarlo Stanton Stanton signals the return of the Evil Empire Marchand »

Cashman has been the chief baseball operations officer of the team that has spent the most money, by far, in his nearly 20 years on the job, but he did not inherit George Steinbrenner's unquenchable thirst for The Big Star's Big Deal. When Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract after the 2007 season, Cashman lobbied for ownership to let him go, rather than reinvest in a star already past his 30th birthday. Before that, Cashman did not want to do the deals for Randy Johnson or Gary Sheffield, and more recently, he argued against an extension for CC Sabathia when the lefty had a chance to opt out of his contract in 2012.

Ownership overruled him in those cases, and in recent years, Cashman -- who argued for years for better financial efficiency -- has patiently waited through the end of significant expiring contracts, for Rodriguez, Sabathia and others.

But now he and the Yankees apparently are prepared to assume Stanton's massive contract, having deemed it a value opportunity in the current market context -- and it's somewhat surprising that it's the Yankees, rather than the Dodgers, who have made this happen, given that Stanton completely controlled this process with his no-trade clause and that friends believe his first choice was to land in L.A.

In the aftermath of the ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement, with costs in the amateur draft and international markets now restricted and teams able to spend more freely on their big league rosters, each win above replacement generated by a player is thought to be worth about $8.5 million in value. For a team like the Yankees, with a high-end payroll, it might be worth $10 million.

Last season, Stanton rated a 6.9 WAR, according to Fangraphs -- or worth, loosely, about $56 million to $70 million. He is 28 years old, coming off the best season of his career, and his 2018 team can reasonably expect that he will continue to play at his highest level in the immediate future.

The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that it had been made clear to Stanton that if he wouldn't accept a trade of the Marlins choosing, the team would be completely stripped around him. If that conversation took place, it was nothing more than a bluff, because the only way the Marlins could unload a significant portion of debt was by dealing the 2017 NL MVP. If the Marlins traded every other guaranteed contract on their roster -- a nearly impossible task, given that Wei-Yin Chen is owed $52 million and Martin Prado about $28 million -- they could dump no more than $153 million. The Marlins were completely boxed in, with only one way to shift debt off their books significantly: by trading Stanton.

Jeter, Marlins come up short


• For Derek Jeter, facing fallout from the Giancarlo Stanton deal, it's a whole new ballgame Marchand »

• Law: How Yankees' no-brainer deal became Marlins' lost opportunity Insider »

Because of Stanton's ability to steer his trade and the Marlins' desperation to move Stanton, the Yankees were presented with an opportunity that some in their organization believed to be out of the question as recently as a week ago. Stanton's contract is backloaded and onerous for the Yankees, but because the acquisition cost in prospects is relatively low for the Yankees and because the Marlins are taking on some salary, the slugger will assume only about 10 to 15 percent of the team's payroll in the years ahead.

The Dodgers have watched the Stanton trade talks develop and have wondered if they would be presented with a similar opportunity. But Andrew Friedman, L.A.'s president of baseball operations, is viewed by his peers as extremely disciplined, and he has bypassed expensive trades for veterans, instead keeping elite young players like Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, and avoiding the very long-term deals. To date, his largest investment has been the five-year, $80 million signing of Kenley Jansen.

The Dodgers really like Stanton and have been well aware of his desire to play for them. But in internal discussions, there has been discomfort with the very back end of his contract -- Years 8, 9 and 10, for which Stanton will be in his late 30s, he will be owed owed about $96 million, presumably in his waning years of production and defense. The Yankees can project ahead and know that Stanton could shift into a DH role, if necessary; the Dodgers do not have that luxury. The access to the DH, in the end, might be why the Yankees jumped at Stanton and the Dodgers did not. During the postseason, Joe Girardi, in his last days as the team's manager, was asked by a reporter about the old-school ways of the Yankees' organization, juxtaposed against an industry mostly driven by analytics.

Girardi paused, looked at the questioner and countered that these days the Yankees are steeped in analytics.

Cashman would not make the Stanton trade and assume baseball's biggest contract if he did not believe it will be greatly exceeded by his value as a player. By moving now, rather than waiting for the more expensive Harper, Machado, et al., he gets a player who may turn out to be a relative bargain for a big-market team like the Yankees.
by David Newton posted Dec 12 2017 9:55AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers faced third-and-7 from the Minnesota 18-yard line early in the third quarter on Sunday when Cam Newton took the snap in the shotgun. He settled into the pocket until two defenders started to converge on him. He quickly and somewhat awkwardly backpedaled to avoid the sack and, throwing off his back foot slightly across his body, lofted a pass to Devin Funchess near the goal line.

Touchdown.

"Everything that I was told not to do I did,'' Newton said after the 31-24 victory. "Throwing across your body, those are the same plays similar to the Monday night game where it got overturned as an interception.

"But sometimes you have to overcome coaching.''


Cam Newton hasn't piled up passing yards in recent weeks, but that hasn't stopped the Panthers from rolling. AP Photo/Bill Feig
Asked what he thought of the play on Monday, offensive coordinator Mike Shula smiled and said, "Do I have to?''

Shula then shared a conversation he had with Newton in the team meeting room, which he usually doesn't do. He told how he explained that as coaches you "can't have it both ways.''

"We can't say a couple of weeks ago you can't do this, it's wrong, then all of a sudden say good job today,'' Shula said as he recalled the interception against the Dolphins that was nullified by a penalty. "So you've got to be really careful what you're doing, that your eyes are down the field.

"... It's kind of a be right. You better be right and make sure there's no one else around when you're doing that.''

Newton only passed for 129 yards on Sunday. It was the fifth time in six games the 2015 NFL MVP didn't top 200 yards passing, not normally a formula for success.

"How many of those games have we won?'' asked Shula, knowing the answer was five of six before he asked.

"That's what I like about this offense. These guys find different ways to win. Yeah, we want our stats to be better. But we want to come up with a win no matter how we need to get there.''

It may not always be pretty, but the Panthers are playing winning football, as unorthodox as it might seem.

In three of those five wins they had more yards rushing than passing. Of the 15 teams that won this past week before Monday night, only three -- Carolina, Buffalo and Arizona -- had more yards rushing than they did passing.

But 11 of the 15 had at least 100 yards rushing, with only Green Bay, Detroit, Denver and Pittsburgh failing to top the century mark.

So Carolina's ability to run has been key in a 9-4 season that has it tied with New Orleans for the NFC South lead heading into this Sunday's game against Green Bay and possibly another unorthodox quarterback in Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers, by the way, failed to surpass 200 yards passing only once in his last 20 complete games before a fractured collarbone sidelined him for seven games.

"It would be a concern if we weren't rushing the ball,'' Shula said of the lack of passing yards. "Trust me, you want to have 300-yard passing games and 150 to 200 yards rushing.

"Are we going to try to continue to be more effective in the passing game? For sure. Is that one of our goals this week? Yes. But whatever it takes to go win a football game.''

The Carolina offense has been a work in progress all season. Newton didn't run much the first three games as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. He lost his favorite target, Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, for eight games with a broken foot suffered in Week 2.

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Then there was the trade of No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo to get more speed on the field. Then there was the loss of a key piece of that speed, second-round pick Curtis Samuel, to an ankle injury.

Newton has had to constantly adjust.

Shula has had to constantly adjust.

But finally all of the pieces are starting to come together. Olsen played his first full game since the opener, and although he didn't have a catch the Vikings had to respect his ability to make plays.

Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil also returned for his third start of the season and first complete game since the opener after battling a neck injury.

"When you see those guys together, it's a good feeling,'' Shula said. "It kind of felt that way all week.''

Wide receiver Damiere Byrd also was back for his second game after being on injured reserve with a broken forearm. He had a team-best five catches for 37 yards.

With the line clicking on all cylinders, running back Jonathan Stewart became a factor, rushing for 103 yards and a career-best three touchdowns. One of those was a 60-yarder on Carolina's third offensive play.

"That really helps everything else out on offense,'' Shula said of having Stewart as a threat.

It's not the way most teams win. Only three this past weekend passed for fewer than 200 yards. Nine of the 15 winners had 250 or more yards passing.

But while Carolina's way of winning may not be traditional, neither is its quarterback, who can surpass his 2012 career-best rushing total of 741 yards if he averages 52 yards over the final three games.

That's realistic since Newton, who has 585 yards rushing on 100 carries, has averaged 61.8 yards rushing over the past eight games.

He's also pulled a few rabbits out of his hat as he did with the touchdown to Funchess.

"With him,'' Shula said, "more so than other guys I've been around you have, 'Noooo! ... Great job!'"
by Chris Low posted Dec 12 2017 9:50AM
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Volunteers finally have their new football coach.
After a circuitous head-coaching search that took on just about every twist imaginable, the Vols hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt on Thursday. Pruitt signed a six-year contract that will pay him $3.8 million annually.
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"There was a time and place that this university was feared among the SEC teams," said Pruitt. "My goal as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee is to get us back to that point."
Pruitt, 43, is a two-time Broyles Award finalist as the top assistant coach in college football. He possesses two of the qualities that new athletic director and former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer put a premium on in his search: a tough-minded defensive presence and a proven track record as a recruiter.
"Six days ago, I mentioned several attributes that I sought to find in the next leader of our football program, and Coach Pruitt meets all criteria," Fulmer said in a statement. "I'm certain he appreciates the unique opportunity to lead a program of Tennessee's caliber. He's driven to win at the highest level. He will honor our university's values, operate with integrity and be a role model for our student-athletes.
"I know Coach Pruitt will hit the ground running and go to work restoring our program to a championship level."
The Vols introduced Pruitt as their 26th head coach at a news conference Thursday evening.
"Your expectations aren't near what mine are," Pruitt said. "I'll tell you right now, my expectations are to win every game we play. That's the expectation I have."
Pruitt will stay on as Alabama's defensive coordinator through the College Football Playoff, while pulling double duty as the Vols' head coach, spearheading their recruiting efforts and putting together his staff at Tennessee.
Pruitt has already started assembling his Tennessee staff. Sources told ESPN he has hired Tyson Helton, USC's passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach; Will Friend, Colorado State's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach; and Colorado State defensive backs coach Terry Fair. Sources said Pruitt wants to retain Tennessee running backs coach Robert Gillespie. In addition, sources say Georgia outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer is expected to join the staff as defensive coordinator, and Florida's Chris Rumph will join as defensive line coach.
Pruitt and Friend were roommates when they played at Alabama, and Fair was an All-SEC cornerback on Tennessee's 1997 SEC championship team.
Fourth-ranked Alabama will play No. 1 Clemson in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day. It is the third season in a row that Alabama has dealt with losing a coordinator before playing in the CFP.
Pruitt is in his second season as defensive coordinator under Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide are ranked first nationally in scoring defense and second nationally in total defense. Pruitt, who is the fourth Saban assistant to become an SEC head coach, also is regarded as one of the top recruiters in the conference. As an assistant coach, he has been a part of four national championship teams.
Vols Getting Defensive
In his five seasons as an FBS defensive coordinator, new Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has overseen the nation's best scoring defense three times.
TOTAL D SCORING D
2017 Alabama 2nd 1st
2016 Alabama 1st 1st
2015 Georgia 7th 8th
2014 Georgia 17th 16th
2013 FSU 3rd 1st
>> FBS rankings
Fulmer, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, spearheaded the coaching search since replacing John Currie on Friday as the Vols' athletic director.
Fulmer interviewed Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker on Tuesday in New York. Fulmer notified Tucker on Wednesday that the school was going in a different direction.
A former defensive back at Alabama, Pruitt served two different stints on the Crimson Tide staff under Saban. He initially coached in Tuscaloosa from 2007 to 2012, the final three seasons as defensive backs coach. Pruitt then was the defensive coordinator at Florida State on the Seminoles' 2013 national championship team, and he was the defensive coordinator at Georgia under Mark Richt for the 2014 and 2015 seasons before returning to his alma mater.
The son of legendary Alabama high school coach Dale Pruitt, Jeremy was an assistant coach in the high school ranks before catching on with his alma mater in 2007 as Saban's director of player development. Both of Pruitt's defenses as Alabama's coordinator have led the country in scoring defense. His Florida State defense in 2013 also led the country in scoring defense.
Pruitt becomes the fifth head coach at Tennessee in the past 11 years. He replaces Butch Jones, who was fired after going 34-27 overall and 14-24 in SEC play in five seasons in Knoxville. Under Currie, Tennessee was close to hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano in late November, but the deal fell through because of backlash from fans and supporters.
With Pruitt's hire, agent Jimmy Sexton now represents 11 head coaches in the SEC.
by Buster Olney posted Nov 20 2017 11:32AM
In the eyes of some rival evaluators, the Orioles have been overachievers the past six years. With a win-loss record of 66 games over .500 in that span, Baltimore has reached the playoffs three times, despite inhabiting the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, which is why those evaluators tend to give the Orioles the benefit of the doubt.

“They exceed your expectations most of the time,” said an official. “They figure something out.”

Ingenuity is needed now more than ever in Baltimore, because of stark roster shortages and a mass of contract quandaries. In discussions early this offseason, the Orioles have signaled to other teams that they will have to move some money -- and, specifically, they are prepared to listen to offers for the more expensive pieces from their group of relievers, including closer Zach Britton. It might be that, given the timing of this urgency, they can’t necessarily expect a lot in return.

The Orioles probably could’ve gotten a big haul for Britton if they had moved him in the summer of 2016, and there was measured trade interest this past July, after he was hurt early in 2017. Now the left-hander needs just a year to reach free agency, and after he goes through his last round of arbitration, he’ll probably have a salary of something in the neighborhood of $14 million to $15 million.

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The Orioles believe that Britton is fully recovered from his arm trouble and that he’ll wholly regain the command that sometimes eluded him in the last two months of the 2017 regular season. But between Britton’s impending free agency, recent medical history and high salary, Baltimore probably can’t expect to get a big piece in return for the lefty who had one of the greatest seasons ever for a reliever in 2016.

The calendar works against the Britton’s market value, as well: Relievers have almost always had better trade value in July than in the winter, because teams feel a heightened sense of urgency to add one or two more finishing pieces to bullpens.

Kansas City was in a similar situation with Wade Davis last winter. Davis pitched effectively in 2016 but had some arm trouble, and Davis locked into a $10 million salary for 2017 with just one season remaining before free agency. The Royals flipped him to the Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler -- something of a gamble.

“You could see what the Royals were thinking,” said one NL official. “There was a chance they might hit big with Soler, for a year of Davis.”

That deal for the 25-year-old Soler didn’t pan out in his first season with the Royals, as he batted .144 with a .503 OPS in 35 games for Kansas City. And the Orioles probably aren’t going to get a can’t-miss player for Britton, either. If the offers aren’t suitable, Baltimore could just keep Britton for at least the start of the 2018 season; if the Orioles fall out of the race, they could swap him under more favorable trade conditions in the middle of next summer.

But the Orioles have a desperate need for payroll flexibility right now, with only two experienced starting pitchers under contract -- Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Baltimore has been linked in media speculation to a number of free-agent starting pitchers but probably isn’t in a position yet to bid competitively on the top two tiers of free agents because of other obligations. Adam Jones will make $17.3 million next year, Mark Trumbo $12.5 million and Chris Davis $23 million; and through arbitration, third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and reliever Brad Brach will all get big raises. Darren O'Day is in line to make $9 million in each of the next two seasons.

If the Orioles bypass a Britton trade this winter, they’ll probably look to move one or two of their other expensive relievers, Brach or O’Day, in an effort to improve a rotation that constantly left Baltimore in early-game holes this past season. Baltimore’s 5.70 ERA for starting pitchers was the worst in the majors last season, and in the second half of 2017, the position players seemed beleaguered after months of being asked to overcome deficits.

The Orioles need help and might have to sacrifice closer Britton to get it.

The Giancarlo Stanton dilemma

Some evaluators walked away from their Giancarlo Stanton conversations with the Marlins believing that Miami probably still needs something of a reality check. Stanton is owed $295 million over the next 10 years in a deal that also includes an opt-out clause after the 2020 season and a full no-trade clause, and because of that enormous contract, there is great skepticism about the Marlins’ request for big-time prospects in return for the National League MVP.


Giancarlo Stanton's hefty price tag could mean the Marlins have to choose between salary relief or top prospects in any deal for the National League MVP. Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP
“If he was a free agent this offseason [at age 27], he probably wouldn’t get $295 million -- but he wouldn’t be that far away from those numbers,” said one executive. “He’s still pretty young, and he took a big step forward this year. Maybe the Marlins can find teams willing to take the money. But they’re not going to find teams willing to give up both the money and the prospects, and that’s why [they’ll] probably have to choose: They can either take the talent and eat some of the money, or they’ll have to prioritize the [money] savings.”

The Marlins also have to hope Stanton is open to some of their trade ideas and doesn’t limit their options to a mere handful of teams, such as the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees and Cubs. If the Marlins have an opportunity to dump most of Stanton’s contract and add some talent, it’ll be interesting to see if they’re open to taking back an expensive veteran in return to help make the money work -- someone like Cubs’ Jason Heyward and a portion of the money owed to him; the Giants’ Denard Span or Brandon Belt; or the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury. The Giants probably match up better than any other team in a Stanton trade and are desperate for a power hitter in the middle of their order, but they will try to get the Marlins to take back a bad contract in any deal -- and some rival evaluators wonder if Stanton might shy away from San Francisco. Stanton was the best player on a bad Marlins’ team in 2017, and because the Giants have an older roster of players, it stands to reason he would be in the same position in San Francisco by 2020.

Some teams prefer the Marlins’ Christian Yelich over Stanton because of the money attached to Stanton. But the Marlins have indicated to other teams that their first priority is trading Stanton, and they won’t start seriously entertaining offers for Yelich or Marcell Ozuna until they try to move the biggest contract.

Around the hot stove

Tony La Russa landed with the Red Sox as a special assistant to David Dombrowski, but before that, there had been conversation within the organization about La Russa serving as the bench coach for new manager Alex Cora. ... There has been a lot of speculation about Boston pursuing either J.D. Martinez or Eric Hosmer, but in the end, former Indians first baseman Carlos Santana might be a better fit for a more modest price tag. ... Martinez had a great year offensively, and his agent is reportedly looking for a deal in the area of $200 million, but some clubs think Martinez will be better suited as a designated hitter than playing in the outfield within a few years and note that the highest-paid designated hitter last winter -- Edwin Encarnacion, with the Indians -- got just $60 million.
by David Newton posted Nov 20 2017 11:26AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen insists he won't gain an unfair advantage assisting in the broadcast of the Minnesota Vikings-Los Angeles Rams game for Fox Sports on Sunday as some in the Minnesota organization have suggested.

"The notion that I'm going to gain an unfair advantage is crazy,'' the three-time Pro Bowl selection said on Wednesday. "We have scouts at every game across the league. I'm going to have enough trouble on my hands broadcasting a game, let alone looking for little nuances on the sideline.

"I don't know how much time I'll have for stealing of secrets. I never was intending or thought I was in a production meeting. I never thought I would watch a practice.''

NFL.com reported that Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman spoke with the NFL and Fox Sports to say it is inappropriate that Olsen be allowed to participate in the broadcast during the bye week for the Panthers.

"The notion that I'm going to gain an unfair advantage is crazy. We have scouts at every game across the league. I'm going to have enough trouble on my hands broadcasting a game, let alone looking for little nuances on the sideline."

Greg Olsen
Olsen has been on injured reserve with a broken foot suffered in a Week 2 win against Buffalo, but he is set to come off next week in time to play in the Nov. 26 game against the New York Jets.

The Panthers (7-3), who trail the New Orleans Saints (7-2) by a half-game in the NFC South, host the NFC North-leading Vikings (7-2) on Dec. 10. They could face the NFC West-leading Rams (7-2) in the playoffs.

Minnesota's concern is that Fox Sports announcers Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis will have access to practice and production meetings, and they could share team secrets with Olsen.

"For anyone who has ever been in those broadcast production meetings, if you're spilling your deepest, darkest game-plan secrets to the broadcast crew, that's kind of on you,'' said Olsen, who has been in production meetings before. "We're not getting anything that's really going to give you much insight on how to beat them.

"The whole thing is so crazy to me. I don't know. Whatever.''

Olsen said he would have no issue if a Minnesota player was in the booth for a Carolina game.

"What you see on the tape is what you see, and then whatever your secrets are for that week, you sure are not telling anybody,'' he said. "So I don't know what's left.

"I don't even know what to say. I never imagined in a million years when Fox asked me to do this five months ago that this was ever going to become an issue.''

Olsen is disappointed that this has taken away from what he considers a special moment for him because broadcasting is something he might be interested in after he finishes playing football.

"It kind of sucks that it's controversy as opposed to people being a little excited for a little different take on the game,'' he said. "But that's the world we live in. Everyone has a problem with something. I get it. I understand this is a highly competitive world. I get it.

"But I'm still going to do it.''
by Chris Low posted Nov 13 2017 9:23AM
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The average college football fan has probably wondered more than once why the most successful coach in the state of Texas is so content at TCU.

Gary Patterson, fresh off a fourth consecutive win over Texas and with his No. 6 Horned Frogs barreling toward a Saturday showdown with No. 5 Oklahoma that will have major implications in both the College Football Playoff and Big 12 races, has wondered the same thing himself. He keeps coming to the same conclusion, thanks in part to some advice Gary Darnell offered him more than 30 years ago, when Patterson was coaching linebackers under Darnell at Tennessee Tech.

"He told me, 'Gary, you want to get to a place where you have to say no more than you say yes,' and that's what I've found here at TCU," said Patterson, whose Frogs have been the winningest FBS program in the state of Texas (157-54) since his first season as head coach in 2001.

Over its past 30 Big 12 games, TCU is 22-8. The only school with a better record during that stretch is Oklahoma, which is 25-5. The two teams will play what is effectively a College Football Playoff elimination game Saturday in Norman. "We've got everything we need right here to keep moving this program forward and keep winning big football games, and that's what we're working toward every day to do," Patterson said.

What he won't say is what he hears too many of his coaching peers say.

When asked whether he ever sees himself leaving TCU, where he's been for two decades -- the last 17 years as head coach -- Patterson leaned back in his office chair and answered without hesitation in the hoarse voice he always speaks with this time of year.

"It would have to be something you just couldn't say no to, but here's the thing with me: I never say never, because I always get pissed off at those coaches when they say, 'This is my last stop,' or they sign a new contract and change jobs the next year," Patterson said. "For me, it's not only TCU, but Fort Worth is a special place.

"It's very few times anybody in their life ever gets a chance to mean something to a group of people. My investment in this community runs a lot deeper than just football, and it's a community and a city and a university that have been equally good to me and my family."

That doesn't mean Patterson's phone won't be ringing nonstop these next two months, as the head-coaching carousel has already begun to spin. It also doesn't mean he won't at least listen.


Since Gary Patterson's first season in 2001, TCU is the winningest FBS program in Texas (157-54). Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports
But listening and leaving are two entirely different things, or as Patterson's brother, Greg, puts it, "When you're from where we're from -- Rozel, Kansas -- loyalty means something."

Patterson, 57, is smart enough to realize he has a pretty good thing going at TCU, which is far from the "little old TCU," as it was once mockingly referred to by many of its neighboring rivals. Patterson has guided TCU to conference titles in three leagues (Conference USA, Mountain West and Big 12), and Kansas State's Bill Snyder is the only active coach with more wins at his current school than Patterson.

Just as impressive is the way TCU has invested financially in its facilities and coaches, spearheaded by athletic director Chris Del Conte. He has made possible a $164 million renovation to Amon G. Carter Stadium and seen to it that Patterson and his assistant coaches are paid top dollar. Patterson received an extension before the 2016 season that increased his annual salary to the $4.7 million range with incentives that could take him over $5 million.

If that's not enough, Patterson has his own bronze statue in the plaza outside the basketball arena, just far enough away from the football stadium that Patterson doesn't see it often. Patterson wasn't thrilled about having a statue erected while he was still coaching and jokes that he didn't want to have to walk past it every day. He finally relented when longtime donor Bill Parrish provided funding for three statues, the other two of TCU national-championship-winning former coach Dutch Meyer and TCU Heisman-winning quarterback Davey O'Brien.

Parrish was in declining health at the time and wanted to be able to see all three statues before his death. Parrish has since died but was able to attend the unveiling in April 2016.

"Coach P wins games and does it his way. He's entrenched here," TCU quarterback Kenny Hill said. "You think of TCU and Fort Worth, and Gary Patterson is the first thing that comes to mind. People here understand. Whenever you build something as special as Coach P has, people get it."

Patterson, who's been known to show up and play his guitar around town during the offseason, lives up on a bluff overlooking the TCU campus. He can see the football stadium and downtown Fort Worth from his backyard. He says it takes him two minutes to get to his office, which is especially important when you wear both the head coach and defensive coordinator hats and work marathon hours.

Patterson said he's never truly been close to leaving TCU, though there have been and will be more tempting opportunities along the way. Case in point: If Texas A&M parts ways with Kevin Sumlin, would the Aggies make a run at Patterson? He was in that mix in 2012 when they hired Sumlin and knows the state of Texas like the back of his hand.

Patterson, who was just two years removed from winning the Rose Bowl back then, wasn't interested in going into details but acknowledged that he's talked with high-profile schools in the past. He interviewed with Nebraska in 2008, when the Huskers hired Bo Pelini, and also interviewed with Tennessee in 2009 after Phillip Fulmer was fired and the Vols hired Lane Kiffin.

"Tennessee didn't think I could handle the big stage," Patterson said. "My wife and I went to dinner with them, and I could tell they had already decided on Kiffin. It was the same with Nebraska. I interviewed and could tell they had already decided on Pelini. I think a lot of these ADs now are more interesting in hiring guys who're going to win the podium than they are in hiring football coaches, and there's a lot more to it than that if you're going to win championships."

Patterson smiled when asked whether he would have taken either the Tennessee or Nebraska job had he been offered.

"It's sort of like the old Garth Brooks song. Sometimes the best prayers are unanswered prayers," Patterson said.

The funny thing with Patterson is that, before TCU, he had never stayed anywhere longer than three seasons. He grinded his way through the ranks at programs like Sonoma (California) State, UC Davis, Cal-Lutheran and Tennessee Tech.


Gary Patterson was reticent about allowing TCU to build a statue for him while he is still at the helm, but he eventually relented. Max Olson
"Back in the old days, I learned from a lot from my mistakes at Sonoma State," Patterson said. "So in front of 200 people, I make a mistake and nobody cares. You had all these places that nobody paid any attention to, so you learned how to be a head coach, and not just playcalling. Anybody can call plays. The key is: Can you run a whole program?"

The fit at TCU couldn't be better for Patterson. He's a keen evaluator, and maybe even a better developer, of talent. He's had 42 players drafted in the past 16 years, and it's not as if TCU has been a fixture in the top 25 of recruiting rankings during that span.

"People give me too much credit," Patterson said. "The biggest thing is that you've got to trust yourself, and you've got to have patience. Most people, they don't have enough patience, or the people they're working for don't have enough patience. I've got enough patience that I know I can grow guys up, and I may need them to grow up in a year, but sometimes it's going to take two years."

Patterson's message to young players has been the same as far back as he can remember.

"They all say, 'Coach, I want to play,' " Patterson said. "I say, 'No, you don't want to play. You want to play well. Just playing doesn't do any of us any good. It gets us beat. Until you get to a point that you're playing well, you're not playing.'"

Patterson has also built up enough equity at TCU that he can survive a season similar to the one a year ago, when the Frogs finished 6-7, and avoid the proverbial hot seat the way some coaches can't elsewhere. Of course, it helps that Patterson is now a combined 31-3 coming off of his only three losing seasons at TCU.

"There's only one way you can stay somewhere 20 years," Patterson said. "You either have great years or reinvent yourself, but you get along with people and you give back. You have to grow roots. Nobody in our profession works on growing roots anymore, at least not very often."

And while Patterson is grateful for every one of the TCU boosters who has stepped up financially, he's not shy about making it clear that it's not a democracy when it comes to his football program.

"I like being somewhere that I can really get to know the boosters and let them know how appreciative I am for their commitment to this program, but I also want them to know that just because they're making that kind of investment doesn't mean they're going to have a stake in my program," Patterson said.

Too many times, Patterson said, schools fall into the trap of thinking more money always means more wins.

"The problem a lot of these places have is they think they can buy a championship," Patterson said. "It's hard to do that. That's why I have a lot of respect for the way New England does it. Guys who are a problem, they pick them up for a year or two years and they don't seem to be a problem with the Patriots.

"The quick fixes are hard. Our best players are the ones we feel like we do a good job growing up. We'll take a junior college guy or a transfer that fills a hole, but we wouldn't just take anybody. You've got to have confidence in yourself as a program that you can grow a guy up and that he's going to become a better player if you give him time. And that's what we've done here."

Del Conte, whose office window looks directly out at Patterson's statue, quips that he gets to look at Patterson's backside every day as if somebody were trying to tell him something.

"You see a lot of grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side guys in the coaching profession, but Gary's not one of them," Del Conte said. "I think a lot of that goes back to where he was raised and that nothing was ever given to him. He went to junior college and then walked on at Kansas State. And look at all the [coaching] stops he made. In a lot of ways, he is TCU and has taken us places a lot of people never thought possible.

"The best part is we still have places to go."
by Chris Low posted Nov 10 2017 2:47PM
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The average college football fan has probably wondered more than once why the most successful coach in the state of Texas is so content at TCU.

Gary Patterson, fresh off a fourth consecutive win over Texas and with his No. 6 Horned Frogs barreling toward a Saturday showdown with No. 5 Oklahoma that will have major implications in both the College Football Playoff and Big 12 races, has wondered the same thing himself. He keeps coming to the same conclusion, thanks in part to some advice Gary Darnell offered him more than 30 years ago, when Patterson was coaching linebackers under Darnell at Tennessee Tech.

"He told me, 'Gary, you want to get to a place where you have to say no more than you say yes,' and that's what I've found here at TCU," said Patterson, whose Frogs have been the winningest FBS program in the state of Texas (157-54) since his first season as head coach in 2001.

Over its past 30 Big 12 games, TCU is 22-8. The only school with a better record during that stretch is Oklahoma, which is 25-5. The two teams will play what is effectively a College Football Playoff elimination game Saturday in Norman. "We've got everything we need right here to keep moving this program forward and keep winning big football games, and that's what we're working toward every day to do," Patterson said.

What he won't say is what he hears too many of his coaching peers say.

When asked whether he ever sees himself leaving TCU, where he's been for two decades -- the last 17 years as head coach -- Patterson leaned back in his office chair and answered without hesitation in the hoarse voice he always speaks with this time of year.

"It would have to be something you just couldn't say no to, but here's the thing with me: I never say never, because I always get pissed off at those coaches when they say, 'This is my last stop,' or they sign a new contract and change jobs the next year," Patterson said. "For me, it's not only TCU, but Fort Worth is a special place.

"It's very few times anybody in their life ever gets a chance to mean something to a group of people. My investment in this community runs a lot deeper than just football, and it's a community and a city and a university that have been equally good to me and my family."

That doesn't mean Patterson's phone won't be ringing nonstop these next two months, as the head-coaching carousel has already begun to spin. It also doesn't mean he won't at least listen.


Since Gary Patterson's first season in 2001, TCU is the winningest FBS program in Texas (157-54). Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports
But listening and leaving are two entirely different things, or as Patterson's brother, Greg, puts it, "When you're from where we're from -- Rozel, Kansas -- loyalty means something."

Patterson, 57, is smart enough to realize he has a pretty good thing going at TCU, which is far from the "little old TCU," as it was once mockingly referred to by many of its neighboring rivals. Patterson has guided TCU to conference titles in three leagues (Conference USA, Mountain West and Big 12), and Kansas State's Bill Snyder is the only active coach with more wins at his current school than Patterson.

Just as impressive is the way TCU has invested financially in its facilities and coaches, spearheaded by athletic director Chris Del Conte. He has made possible a $164 million renovation to Amon G. Carter Stadium and seen to it that Patterson and his assistant coaches are paid top dollar. Patterson received an extension before the 2016 season that increased his annual salary to the $4.7 million range with incentives that could take him over $5 million.

If that's not enough, Patterson has his own bronze statue in the plaza outside the basketball arena, just far enough away from the football stadium that Patterson doesn't see it often. Patterson wasn't thrilled about having a statue erected while he was still coaching and jokes that he didn't want to have to walk past it every day. He finally relented when longtime donor Bill Parrish provided funding for three statues, the other two of TCU national-championship-winning former coach Dutch Meyer and TCU Heisman-winning quarterback Davey O'Brien.

Parrish was in declining health at the time and wanted to be able to see all three statues before his death. Parrish has since died but was able to attend the unveiling in April 2016.

"Coach P wins games and does it his way. He's entrenched here," TCU quarterback Kenny Hill said. "You think of TCU and Fort Worth, and Gary Patterson is the first thing that comes to mind. People here understand. Whenever you build something as special as Coach P has, people get it."

Patterson, who's been known to show up and play his guitar around town during the offseason, lives up on a bluff overlooking the TCU campus. He can see the football stadium and downtown Fort Worth from his backyard. He says it takes him two minutes to get to his office, which is especially important when you wear both the head coach and defensive coordinator hats and work marathon hours.

Patterson said he's never truly been close to leaving TCU, though there have been and will be more tempting opportunities along the way. Case in point: If Texas A&M parts ways with Kevin Sumlin, would the Aggies make a run at Patterson? He was in that mix in 2012 when they hired Sumlin and knows the state of Texas like the back of his hand.

Patterson, who was just two years removed from winning the Rose Bowl back then, wasn't interested in going into details but acknowledged that he's talked with high-profile schools in the past. He interviewed with Nebraska in 2008, when the Huskers hired Bo Pelini, and also interviewed with Tennessee in 2009 after Phillip Fulmer was fired and the Vols hired Lane Kiffin.

"Tennessee didn't think I could handle the big stage," Patterson said. "My wife and I went to dinner with them, and I could tell they had already decided on Kiffin. It was the same with Nebraska. I interviewed and could tell they had already decided on Pelini. I think a lot of these ADs now are more interesting in hiring guys who're going to win the podium than they are in hiring football coaches, and there's a lot more to it than that if you're going to win championships."

Patterson smiled when asked whether he would have taken either the Tennessee or Nebraska job had he been offered.

"It's sort of like the old Garth Brooks song. Sometimes the best prayers are unanswered prayers," Patterson said.

The funny thing with Patterson is that, before TCU, he had never stayed anywhere longer than three seasons. He grinded his way through the ranks at programs like Sonoma (California) State, UC Davis, Cal-Lutheran and Tennessee Tech.


Gary Patterson was reticent about allowing TCU to build a statue for him while he is still at the helm, but he eventually relented. Max Olson
"Back in the old days, I learned from a lot from my mistakes at Sonoma State," Patterson said. "So in front of 200 people, I make a mistake and nobody cares. You had all these places that nobody paid any attention to, so you learned how to be a head coach, and not just playcalling. Anybody can call plays. The key is: Can you run a whole program?"

The fit at TCU couldn't be better for Patterson. He's a keen evaluator, and maybe even a better developer, of talent. He's had 42 players drafted in the past 16 years, and it's not as if TCU has been a fixture in the top 25 of recruiting rankings during that span.

"People give me too much credit," Patterson said. "The biggest thing is that you've got to trust yourself, and you've got to have patience. Most people, they don't have enough patience, or the people they're working for don't have enough patience. I've got enough patience that I know I can grow guys up, and I may need them to grow up in a year, but sometimes it's going to take two years."

Patterson's message to young players has been the same as far back as he can remember.

"They all say, 'Coach, I want to play,' " Patterson said. "I say, 'No, you don't want to play. You want to play well. Just playing doesn't do any of us any good. It gets us beat. Until you get to a point that you're playing well, you're not playing.'"

Patterson has also built up enough equity at TCU that he can survive a season similar to the one a year ago, when the Frogs finished 6-7, and avoid the proverbial hot seat the way some coaches can't elsewhere. Of course, it helps that Patterson is now a combined 31-3 coming off of his only three losing seasons at TCU.

"There's only one way you can stay somewhere 20 years," Patterson said. "You either have great years or reinvent yourself, but you get along with people and you give back. You have to grow roots. Nobody in our profession works on growing roots anymore, at least not very often."

And while Patterson is grateful for every one of the TCU boosters who has stepped up financially, he's not shy about making it clear that it's not a democracy when it comes to his football program.

"I like being somewhere that I can really get to know the boosters and let them know how appreciative I am for their commitment to this program, but I also want them to know that just because they're making that kind of investment doesn't mean they're going to have a stake in my program," Patterson said.

Too many times, Patterson said, schools fall into the trap of thinking more money always means more wins.

"The problem a lot of these places have is they think they can buy a championship," Patterson said. "It's hard to do that. That's why I have a lot of respect for the way New England does it. Guys who are a problem, they pick them up for a year or two years and they don't seem to be a problem with the Patriots.

"The quick fixes are hard. Our best players are the ones we feel like we do a good job growing up. We'll take a junior college guy or a transfer that fills a hole, but we wouldn't just take anybody. You've got to have confidence in yourself as a program that you can grow a guy up and that he's going to become a better player if you give him time. And that's what we've done here."

Del Conte, whose office window looks directly out at Patterson's statue, quips that he gets to look at Patterson's backside every day as if somebody were trying to tell him something.

"You see a lot of grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side guys in the coaching profession, but Gary's not one of them," Del Conte said. "I think a lot of that goes back to where he was raised and that nothing was ever given to him. He went to junior college and then walked on at Kansas State. And look at all the [coaching] stops he made. In a lot of ways, he is TCU and has taken us places a lot of people never thought possible.

"The best part is we still have places to go."
by David Newton posted Nov 10 2017 2:42PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Fans booed Sunday when Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart was tackled for no gain on his first carry after fumbling on the two previous series against Atlanta.

They cheered when the 2015 Pro Bowl selection trotted to the sideline.

Some fans obviously have given up on the 30-year-old back, who in Week 4 became the organization’s all-time leading rusher with (then) 6,967 yards, but the Panthers haven’t.

“We believe in Jonathan," coach Ron Rivera said Monday. “That is why we brought him back in and gave him the football again. That's why we gave him the carry at the end of the game as well."

The Panthers might believe in Stewart, but it might be time to admit that he has become a complementary piece to rookie Christian McCaffrey, instead of vice versa.

Or maybe it's time to just declare McCaffrey the lead back.

The grind-it-out running game the Panthers (6-3) hoped to have with Stewart isn’t happening. He was held to 21 yards on 11 carries against Atlanta. Four games ago, he had minus-4 yards on eight carries.

Over the past five games, the 2008 first-round pick out of Oregon has 120 yards on 62 carries. That’s an average of 1.9 yards per carry by a back who has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his career and had a career-high mark of 5.4 in 2011.

Thirty, remember, is an age when statistics show that productivity for backs declines.

Not that McCaffrey has been lighting it up in the running game. Before a career-best 66 yards on 15 carries in the 20-17 victory over the Falcons, he had 117 yards on 49 carries -- or 2.4 yards per carry.

The eighth pick of the draft did most of his damage as a receiver prior to Sunday. But Sunday felt like a changing of the guard, even if the Panthers keep trotting Stewart out as the starter because of all he has done for the organization, on and off the field.

“He’s a big part of our identity," offensive coordinator Mike Shula insisted.

But what is Carolina’s identity? Newton has been the leading rusher the past four games, with 251 yards on 40 carries.

Former wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin said he wasn’t surprised that the Panthers traded him to Buffalo a week ago because, “I could kind of feel that the offense was kind of going toward another direction."

That direction is toward more speed, with players such as McCaffrey and second-round pick Curtis Samuel, a wide receiver out of Ohio State.

McCaffrey benefited the most from the Benjamin trade because he can play slot and wide receiver in addition to running back. He was on the field for 82 percent (53 of 65) of the snaps. That was up from 58 percent (38 of 65) the week before at Tampa Bay.

Stewart went from 43 percent (28 snaps) against the Buccaneers to 32 percent (21 snaps) against Atlanta. He was used as a decoy on an inside run on McCaffrey’s 4-yard touchdown run. Often prior to Sunday, McCaffrey was used more as a decoy in an attempt to open up inside running room for Stewart.

Asked if the offense could produce at an optimal level with Stewart as the inside presence, Rivera said, “Yes and no."

“It’s the flow of the game," he said. “If they are shutting things down on the outside, and we’ve got to run the ball up inside, I would much rather see Jonathan run it inside than ask Christian to do that.

“Although I think Christian has the ability for that, Jonathan is built for that."

Stewart, at 5-foot-10 and 235 pounds, is a more powerful back than the 5-foot-11, 205-pound McCaffrey.

But when Carolina was trying to control the clock with about eight minutes left and a 20-10 lead, it went with McCaffrey and Cameron Artis-Payne for five plays. McCaffrey had three runs for 12 yards.

On the game’s last series, with Carolina trying to run out the final 1:42, McCaffrey had three straight carries before Newton ran off the final seven seconds with a rollout and pass out of bounds. One of those was an 8-yard run off right tackle.

Stewart had only two carries for 4 yards in the final quarter.

“Sometimes a game calls for a certain flavor, a certain style of play," Rivera said. “As the game wears on and Mike makes decisions in terms of play-calling, it’ll dictate that."

Both Rivera and Shula said they weren’t concerned about fumbling becoming an issue for Stewart, who before Sunday never had two fumbles in a game. In the same breath, Rivera said for Stewart to be productive, “it’s about touches."

All signs point toward Stewart not getting the 18- to 20-plus touches a game he typically needs to be effective and wear defenders down with his power game. All signs point toward McCaffrey becoming a bigger part of the running game.

Shula doesn’t look at it that way and says the players don’t either.

“To me, that’s what’s unique about our football team and our offense," he said. “It’s an unselfish group. On paper, yeah, we all want more stats. We all want 100-yard rushing games. We all want 300-yard passing games.

“More so than all those things, we want to go win. There’s no better feeling than there was yesterday."

by Buster Olney posted Nov 10 2017 2:40PM
In this era of information, Shohei Otani is like baseball’s Russian nesting doll, with one mystery encased in a mystery cloaked inside yet another mystery. He is one of the world’s most prominent athletes, a pitching and hitting talent who might fetch $200 million to $300 million today if he were placed up for auction as a pure free agent, yet Major League Baseball teams continue to dig for the most basic clues about who he is and what he wants.

They know that Otani wants to be a pitcher and a hitter of prominence -- he’s known as the Babe Ruth of Japan -- but they don’t know if he’d prefer to pitch or hit if a choice must be made down the road. They also don’t know if he has a particular geographical preference: the East Coast or the West Coast or somewhere in between.

They don’t know if he wants an AL team over an NL team, with access to at-bats as a designated hitter. They don’t know if he would prefer to play alongside another star from Japan, such as the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka, to ease his transition. There have been rumors that he would prefer to be part of a rebuilding effort rather than joining an established power, but nobody really knows if that means he’d pick, say, the Twins over the Dodgers.

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“The information that’s out there might be hearsay based on speculation,” one evaluator said.

And then there is the overriding mystery: Nobody knows for sure if he’ll have the opportunity to play Major League Baseball in 2018, because MLB’s player transfer agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball has expired. As of Monday afternoon, the two sides continued to be at a standoff.

A small but important element of the Otani puzzle fell into place Monday: CAA will serve as representatives for Otani, led by agent Nez Balelo, who is also believed to be the front-runner to act on behalf of star left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.

Other prominent agents, including Scott Boras, had worked to position themselves to represent Otani, with at least some of them trying to navigate an unusual process: Candidates submitted proposals to the Otani family lawyer without actually meeting the player himself, which only fueled the mystery.

Moving forward, there are dominoes that must fall into place before Otani appears in an MLB uniform next spring. The NPB and MLB need to resolve their differences for an agreement, which includes satisfying Otani’s team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, with what it considers fair compensation. While everybody within MLB -- from the teams to the central office -- recognizes the incredible potential that Otani bears in his skills and marketing potential, there is a reluctance to create a systematic exception designed only for him.

When and if the NPB-MLB agreement is settled, Otani must then decide whether to he wants to jump to MLB for 2018. The perception of an army of MLB evaluators is that this is what Otani wants to do, and intends to do.

But unless there are changes in the MLB’s agreements with the NPB and the MLB Players Association, the difference between what Otani would get for 2018 in guaranteed money and what he would stand to gain by waiting until the 2020 season could be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Otani is 23 years old, and under the current rules, any player under the age of 25 is subject to MLB’s international signing rules. Rather than being a free agent, with the ability to sort through what would be staggering offers from teams across MLB, Otani will have to accept the maximum dollars allowed under the terms of a system negotiated just last fall by the MLB Players Association. The spending money available from team to team varies, but mostly, clubs would compete on what is generally a level playing field: The most Otani could get would be about $10 million.

If Otani moves to MLB for the 2018 season, he would begin his career like all players taken in the domestic amateur draft, requiring at least two-plus years of MLB service time before becoming eligible for arbitration. The first really big money Otani would be guaranteed would probably become available to him in the form of a multiyear contract after his first or second year in the big leagues.

Some current agents say their strong recommendation to Otani would be for him to wait to jump to MLB after the 2019 season, because that’s when he would be eligible to take offers from all teams without restriction.

As one agent noted, this would be in the first year after the free agency of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, when Otani could benefit from salary ceilings raised even higher. “It makes sense for him to stay in Japan,” one agent said. “It makes complete sense.”

But as teams try to push through the veils of the Otani mystery, many operate under the assumption that one way or another, he intends to play for an MLB team next season. Club executives keep hearing that he understands he’ll make plenty of money through endorsements, and that what is foremost in his mind is competing at the highest level.

“The player is coming here,” one official said. “There is no doubt about that.”

Well, maybe there’s a little doubt. That's because there’s still much hearsay based on speculation based on baseless regurgitated whispers about the player who will be the most discussed in baseball’s 2017-18 offseason.
by Edward Aschoff, ESPN Tri-Cities Guest Editor posted Nov 10 2017 2:37PM
On Oct. 23, five days before Florida's annual rivalry game with Georgia, Gators coach Jim McElwain addressed media members during what was supposed to be a routine Monday press conference.

He began by praising the Bulldogs, addressing injuries and offering his continued support for starting quarterback Feleipe Franks. What he said next took Florida officials completely by surprise. In response to a question about his team's perseverance during a disappointing 3-3 season, he said players had received threats and members of his family had received death threats.

"There's a lot of hate in this world, and a lot of anger," McElwain said. "And yet it's freedom to show it. The hard part is obviously when the threats [are] against your own players, the death threats to your families, the ill will that's brought upon out there."

Florida officials were caught off-guard by the remarks, and after meeting with McElwain following Monday's practice, the university released a statement that raised eyebrows for how it appeared to distance the university from its coach's remarks: "The University Athletic Association takes the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and families very seriously. Our administration met with Coach McElwain this afternoon, and he offered no additional details."

The episode was the latest source of tension between McElwain and the administration that multiple sources told ESPN had been brewing since early in his tenure at Florida. Over the course of the past week, ESPN spoke with multiple sources within the Florida administration, as well as those close to McElwain. They offered details about the sequence of events that led to the third-year head coach and Florida parting ways on Oct. 29, in what UF athletic director Scott Stricklin described as a "mutually agreed-upon decision." According to these sources, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, what appeared to be a swift resolution to a bizarre week in Gainesville was the culmination of longstanding disputes and disagreements.

Prior to the start of the Georgia game, ESPN reported that Florida officials had begun discussing whether they could fire McElwain for cause as a result of his remarks. Stricklin released a statement addressing reports concerning McElwain's job status, saying the school had not had any conversations with McElwain or his representatives regarding a buyout of his contract.


Jim McElwain's Florida tenure ended unceremoniously following a 42-7 loss to Georgia and a dispute over comments he made regarding threats against his family and players. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Twenty-four hours later, after a 42-7 loss to the Bulldogs, that changed, as the two sides began discussing a mutual separation. The university and McElwain agreed to part ways after school officials asked him to accept less than his $12.76 million buyout and step down as Gators coach. Final terms of the buyout are still being negotiated.

"It was never the right fit," a Florida source said of McElwain's head coaching tenure in Gainesville. "It was an odd fit from the beginning. He never embraced being here and being part of a team."

When UF officials initiated negotiations that Sunday, they advised McElwain's agent, Jimmy Sexton, that they intended to fire McElwain with cause and believed they did not owe him any part of his buyout because McElwain failed to alert university officials about the alleged threats against players and coaches.

McElwain's wife was allegedly the recipient of a threatening message on Facebook, and McElwain himself also allegedly received threatening messages but did not provide evidence of them to Florida officials. At least one player allegedly received vulgar and racist messages that resulted in the player's mother contacting Florida coaches. When pressed by Florida officials to elaborate or provide additional details, McElwain declined. He has told people close to him that he regrets talking about the threats publicly and that he did not want to drag family members, players or staffers into further controversy.

Several days after first making the comments, McElwain met with University of Florida police, according to sources both at Florida and close to McElwain. He informed them that he was fine and did not wish to take further action.

Following the loss to Georgia, McElwain was asked about his comments and said, "When you look back, I've made mistakes in my life. And yet I stand by everything that occurred. It is what it is."

Stricklin addressed the media the following day to explain the decision to part ways with McElwain.

"I appreciate Coach McElwain," Stricklin said, "the way he has handled this. We had constructive conversations. I like Coach Mac. I think he is a good man. I want to thank him for his time and his effort serving as our football coach.

"This is more than just wins and losses. I'll leave it at that."

McElwain ended his tenure as the Gators coach with a 22-12 record and back-to-back SEC East championships. Defensive coordinator Randy Shannon was named interim coach.

"It was never the right fit. It was an odd fit from the beginning."
University of Florida source
When McElwain arrived at Florida after three seasons at Colorado State, he expressed displeasure with the state of the Gators' football facilities, which had fallen behind those of other SEC programs such as Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M. Florida did not have an indoor practice facility for football until its $17-million facility opened in 2015.

"One of the biggest problems at Florida is that [former head coach] [Steve] Spurrier never asked for anything," a source said. "He told [former athletic director] [Jeremy] Foley he'd just go beat everybody with less."

McElwain had pushed the administration for a standalone football facility, just as former Gators coaches Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp had done before him. While these comments irked Foley, sources close to McElwain say he was trying to modernize the program in the image of Alabama, where he had been an offensive coordinator under Nick Saban. The school finally announced a $100-million master facility plan in February, which would also include upgrades to the baseball and softball stadiums.

The new 130,000-square-foot football building, which would cost an estimated $60 million, would have all the bells and whistles that other SEC programs enjoyed. It was scheduled to open in June 2019. However, Florida ran into issues locating an area in which to build the facility because there isn't much vacant land around Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and the other athletics facilities. A decision was reached to delay construction of the new football facility by a couple of years.

McElwain had butted heads with Foley in his first season at Florida in 2015, and he hoped to start anew in working with Stricklin, who was hired from Mississippi State in September 2016. After Florida's 30-3 win over Iowa in last season's Outback Bowl, McElwain was asked what the bowl win meant for the direction of the program. While he mentioned the consecutive SEC East titles and new facilities, his remarks were not well received by people inside the athletic department.

"We'll look for the commitment that we get from the administration moving forward, see where that's at," McElwain said.

At the time, McElwain had recently agreed to a contract extension and a raise with Stricklin, who had been on the job for only two months. Stricklin felt betrayed by McElwain's comments.

"He was the kind of guy who would pull you close and then rabbit punch you," a UF source said. "He never let you in and tried to keep you off balance."


Despite discontent from fans and administrators, Jim McElwain did win back-to-back SEC East championships in his two full seasons at Florida. John Raoux/AP Photo
Stricklin believed McElwain had earned a contract extension because he'd guided the Gators to back-to-back SEC East championships, but the administration still had serious concerns about the direction of Florida's offense and strength and conditioning program.

UF administrators had urged McElwain to turn over the staff in the Gators' weight room because they believed workouts were unorganized and players weren't being adequately developed under Mike Kent, the director of strength and conditioning, who had followed McElwain to Florida from Colorado State.

They also wanted McElwain to consider replacing offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who eventually received a contract extension this summer. Nussmeier is one of his closest friends and succeeded McElwain as Alabama's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2012 and spent two seasons there before leaving for Michigan in 2014.

McElwain hired Nussmeier three weeks after he landed the Florida job, and their partnership has been unsuccessful. The Gators ranked 111th in total offense in the FBS in 2015, 116th in '16 and 112th this season. The Gators have struggled mightily at quarterback since McElwain's arrival. Current West Virginia starter Will Grier, who is tied for fourth nationally with 3,068 passing yards and second with 30 touchdowns, was arguably McElwain's most talented quarterback at Florida, but he transferred after he was hit with a year-long suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. He went 5-0 as Florida's starter, throwing for 1,204 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.

The inability to develop Franks, a redshirt freshman, has been a major disappointment. ESPN's No. 65 recruit in the Class of 2016 has struggled all season and has an SEC-low QBR of 48.7, throwing for just 928 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions in eight games.

With the Gators trailing 21-0 at the half in their eventual loss to Georgia, Spurrier walked through the press box and asked a handful of reporters, "What happened to the forward pass?"

Spurrier also lamented Florida's offensive woes during an interview with The State (South Carolina) newspaper last week.

"The offense has been so bad, everybody knows it," Spurrier said.

Spurrier, who works as an ambassador and consultant at Florida, offered UF coaches plenty of advice this season. On the morning after Florida's season-opening 33-17 loss to Michigan, Spurrier walked into a meeting with Nussmeier and the other offensive assistants. He sat down and said, "I have some ideas on how you can throw the ball."

Spurrier told The State he tried to help as much as he could.

"Oh, yeah, I did that every week or so," Spurrier said, "just with Nussmeier and his staff, and they look at it. He's put some of them in. He's put a few in. I'll walk through there and give them a play every now [and] then, one or two plays, say, 'What'd you think about this? This was good for us.' Sometimes they actually use them, and sometimes it's foreign to them. Our offense was so much different from what they do here."

Those close to McElwain insist the coach was not bothered by Spurrier's presence. But having Foley, his influential and opinionated former boss whom he clashed with at times, still involved as emeritus athletic director was challenging. Multiple sources told ESPN that even though Foley was no longer the AD, it was clear he was still involved in athletic department matters.

Despite the offensive struggles and the internal and external distractions, McElwain still became the first SEC coach to make it to the SEC championship game in each of his first two seasons. He won more games (19) in 2015 and 2016 than any SEC coach not named Nick Saban and tied Spurrier for the second-most victories by a Florida coach in his first two seasons. He was also outscored 58-15 in two games against Florida State and 83-31 in his two SEC title game matchups against Alabama, fueling fan discontent.

McElwain felt underappreciated and bristled at Florida fans' frustrations about the team's offense.

"I mean, it's obviously one of those things that you have to constantly evaluate and get better at," McElwain said heading into the 2016 SEC title game. "I was also brought in here to get to Atlanta. How many years have I been here? OK."

Stricklin even came to McElwain's defense when he sat down with ESPN this spring.

"We're a Presbyterian game being canceled away from [McElwain] having back-to-back 10-win seasons in his first two years," Stricklin told ESPN. "I don't think he gets credit for that. ... There's a lack of appreciation for what he's done."

In the end, though, frustration boiled over -- a culmination of issues over facilities, on-field performance and, ultimately, McElwain's recent comments about alleged death threats -- and Florida is looking for a new football coach, its fifth since Spurrier retired in 2001.

"There were a lot of issues, and last week was kind of the tipping point of, 'This was not going to work,'" a UF source said.

ESPN's Chris Low contributed to this report.
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