Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Papilbaum WinsFan's Choice as Season's Best Closer

He river-danced with giddiness following each clinching victory -- not to mention the World Series parade. But the Red Sox took far more joy in watching Jonathan Papelbon's moves on the mound.
The closer was simply dominant all year long, and he was selected as the Closer of the Year in MLB.com's annual This Year In Baseball Awards.

Papelbon was the man of the people -- as voting was done exclusively by fans at MLB.com.

But this was far more than a popularity contest. Instead, it was the latest tribute to the type of lights-out work Papelbon performed at last call.

In helping the Red Sox to their first American League East title since 1995, Papelbon posted a 1.85 ERA over 59 outings. He converted 37 of 40 save opportunities while striking out 84 batters over 58 1/3 innings.

Nobody seems to thrive more on the adrenaline of playing baseball in Boston than Papelbon.

"No doubt about it," Papelbon said in October. "I think this place, you know, delivers an adrenaline and intensity like none other. As a pitcher, you can either use that to your advantage, or it can hurt you. I think that most of the guys in this clubhouse love that adrenaline, love that intensity and love playing here."

Once the postseason started, Papelbon took his game up another notch. Over seven outings, he didn't give up a run. Papelbon was 4-for-4 in save opportunities.

In fact, three of those saves came during the World Series sweep over the Rockies.

The bigger the moment, the better Papelbon seems to pitch.

"The biggest thing is the adrenaline that the ninth inning and those close, tight situations generate," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "He's able to most effectively channel those and not allow those to cause him to come out of his delivery and otherwise lose command of his fastball. He thrives on those."

Papelbon has been an All-Star in each of his first two full seasons. Considering that he is 27, Papelbon figures to have a lot more greatness in front of him.

When the Red Sox wrapped up the World Series victory at Colorado, the image of Papelbon throwing his glove high in the air after striking out Seth Smith was indelible.

More than 9.6 million votes were cast by fans around the world. Results will be rolled out daily through Dec. 21. Here is the schedule:

Nutt's Assistants Join Ole Miss Staff

Houston Nutt has reached back into Arkansas to find coaches to help him in his new job at Mississippi.

Nutt told The Morning News of Springdale that three of his longtime assistants -- offensive line coach Mike Markuson, tight ends coach James Shibest and safeties coach Chris Vaughn -- will join him at Ole Miss.

The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., reports that at least two others -- offensive coordinator David Lee and defensive line coach Tracy Rocker -- also will follow him to Oxford next season.

Nutt said every one of his Arkansas assistants will continue to coach the Razorbacks through the bowl game.

Miles Latest Statement on Talks with Michigan

BATON ROUGE -- LSU football coach Les Miles issued the following statement on Tuesday regarding the conversation he had with Michigan last week:

“I had a conversation with Michigan last week that covered a wide range of topics. I was doing nothing more than helping them with their search for a football coach, just as any loyal alumnus might do. It was nothing more than that.

“I’m not a candidate for that job and I will not be a candidate for the job. I was only assisting them in their search for a coach. I have a great job at a wonderful place, a place that my family calls home. It’s time that Michigan goes on with their search for a football coach. I’ll say it again, I’m going to be the coach at LSU next season.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sox in no Hurry to Close Deal on Santana

With the Winter Meetings heading to the late innings, the Red Sox weren't necessarily feeling the squeeze of time in their ongoing dialogue with the Twins regarding ace left-hander Johan Santana.
Clearly, the Red Sox would like the look of their team with the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner. But they also like their team without Santana. If the sides can reach common ground, that's all well and good. But neither side seemed to be making it a necessity to happen in Nashville.

Boston general manager Theo Epstein still hasn't mentioned Santana's name in any of his dealings with the media. But he did discuss talks with Minnesota in a broad sense.

"I can't address the Twins directly. We certainly respect the position the Twins are in," Epstein said. "We've had amicable dialogue throughout. I don't think either side has had any issue with the process whatsoever. We're going to be open-minded to continue in dialogue. At this point, we don't have a deal to announce. We're going to keep an open mind going forward and continue to try to improve the club."

Though the Meetings essentially conclude following Thursday morning's Rule 5 Draft, Epstein didn't want to rule out making a deal before going back to Boston.

"I don't know. That's for [the media] to speculate on," Epstein said. "I can't really tell you one way or the other. There's been no change. I know it's been reported differently anywhere you look. It's just been an open-ended dialogue the whole time, trying to see if there's a mutual fit. There's really not any change at this point and time."

It is still somewhat of a mystery which -- if any -- other teams are in pursuit of Santana. The Yankees still claim to have withdrawn from the race. The Mets could still be on the periphery, a notion that was backed by Peter Greenberg, Santana's agent.

Meanwhile, the Twins continued to mull over their best course of action, which could simply be to keep their elite pitcher.

Epstein doesn't feel as if it's his job to put on a full-court press to speed up the process.

"If it's a Red Sox player, [it's] Red Sox timetable," he said. "That's how I would look at it. They're probably doing the same thing. They're a very straightforward, earnest organization and these talks have reflected that. I don't have any problems whatsoever with what they're doing or how they've handled their business so far."

Boston's pursuit of a certain ace pitcher -- the one Epstein won't refer to by name -- has not stalled the team's other matters of business.

"I don't think we have any limitations going forward," Epstein said. "I think we have a pretty stable roster and some versatility, some different options. I don't think there's anything we're interested in pursuing that would limit other discussions that are going on at this point."

If the Red Sox don't make the big Santana splash, just about all of the moves they make this winter will be designed with improving the bench and the bullpen.

Though the Red Sox picked up the 2008 option on right-hander Julian Tavarez, there's a chance they will move the swingman. Tavarez prefers starting and it's highly doubtful he'll get that chance in Boston.

"He's been asked about by a few teams," Epstein said. "I think interest will probably crystallize more once some of the comparable free agents are off the board. He's attractive to some teams. He's on a one-year deal, he's durable, versatile and threw well when we gave him a consistent role last year."

One dynamic that has changed in these Winter Meetings is that the Red Sox have had no trade discussions regarding star slugger Manny Ramirez. That seemed to be an annual rite of passage in previous years.

"Other teams realize that Manny is very happy to be a Red Sox," said Epstein.

In other news, the Red Sox are expected to re-sign right-hander Brendan Donnelly, who can continue his rehab from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery under the watch of the team he pitched for in 2007. Donnelly might be ready to pitch in games by August or September.

Francona Happy with 2008 Core Red Sox

When Red Sox manager Terry Francona did his annual Winter Meetings media session on Wednesday morning, Josh Beckett was still his unquestioned ace. In other words, no deal had been struck for two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.
Perhaps, as it turns out, Santana will wind up staying with the Twins or going somewhere else. Francona didn't seem to be on the edge of his seat waiting for a definitive answer.

"Oh, I wouldn't even touch that," said Francona. "I think the best way I can answer that is that I and we love our young players. There's so much stuff that seems to fly around that lobby. Wow, it's interesting."

The case can be made that no manager is more at peace with his situation these days than Francona. And that's not only because the Red Sox just won the World Series for the second time in the past four seasons. For Francona has a team stacked with accomplished veterans and talented young players, and the entire core from the 2007 champs are under contract for next year.

These are good days to be the manager of the Boston Red Sox -- Santana or not.

"You know, it's not a lesser sense of urgency like, 'Oh, we won.' But I think it's different," said Francona. "We're in a different point than we were four years ago."

Though the Hot Stove still has some time to burn, it's fairly certain the Red Sox will be a strong favorite entering 2008.

"Oh, it doesn't matter," said Francona. "And we'll talk about that the first day of Spring Training, how we handle moving forward. Because that's what we need to do is to move forward. In '04, we talked about it, but obviously none of us had been through it."

Unlike the '04 team, which lost key participants such as Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Orlando Cabrera, the '07 Sox aren't likely to subtract any core veterans.

When Curt Schilling and Mike Lowell re-signed with the Red Sox, it saved general manager Theo Epstein from having to scour the market for replacements. And it saved Francona from having to break in new players to fill those spots.

"You know, Theo brought Lowell and Schill back, and the other guys, they are ours," Francona said. "Really, besides maybe fine-tuning the bench, we have our position players in place and basically our staff. So it's a good feeling."

Both players also took lesser financial packages with Boston. And when a reporter suggested that Lowell and Schilling left money on the "table," Francona couldn't resist taking a good-natured jab at the latter player.

"I'm thrilled," Francona said. "I think that's the first time Schilling ever left anything on the table. I'm sure he'll appreciate that [comment], too."

Part of Schilling's new contract includes a weight-clause incentive that the right-hander suggested himself.

"I've had some fun at his expense," Francona said. "But I'm excited that he wants to do that. We talked about this last year, and not just Schill, but guys in general. When you get some age on you, you have to work harder to keep your level."

Speaking of 40-something Red Sox starters, Francona provided an update on knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who was left off the roster in two of the three postseason rounds because of a back-shoulder injury.

"Good," Francona said of Wakefield. "He was in Boston the other day. He looks terrific. He's in great shape, and it's December. He's not even restricted now. He tested out the other day great."

The 2008 season will have a different feel to it from the start, considering that Opening Day is slated for the Tokyo Dome against the Oakland Athletics. Francona and pitching coach John Farrell continue to be thorough in their preparation to make sure the entire team is as prepared as possible.

"As far as going to Japan, I think we're all excited," Francona said. "I think there's a little trepidation because two of the games count and our routine is definitely interrupted. But our job is to not let it affect us. I'm sure Daisuke [Matsuzaka] will be excited, as he should be. But when the games count, it takes away some of the sightseeing aspect of the trips. You want to win games."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Orgeron Assistants out in Cold


OXFORD — Early last week, Ole Miss recruiting coordinator Hugh Freeze was all over Mississippi, trying to sell high school recruits on a Rebel football program that was without a head coach.

That problem has been fixed, thanks to the hiring of former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. But now Freeze has a much bigger problem.

He's likely out of a job.

Freeze, defensive coordinator John Thompson and tight ends coach Tony Hughes all interviewed with Nutt on Sunday and left with the same understanding: Barring the unforeseen, their time at Ole Miss is probably over.

"I've just been sitting in my office, kind of staring at the walls," said Freeze, who said he's under contract at Ole Miss through June 30. "It doesn't look like it's going to work out. Coach Nutt wants to go with the people he already knows and I respect that, but it's difficult because I'm from north Mississippi and wanted to stay here. I've never been in this situation before."

Freeze and Hughes were part of the backbone for local recruiting under former coach Ed Orgeron, who was fired on Nov. 24.

Both coaches grew up in Mississippi and graduated from Southern Miss. Both have been at Ole Miss for three years.

During Orgeron's three years, Ole Miss recruiting classes were ranked an average of 25th nationally by recruiting services Scout.com and Rivals.com.

"I thought (being from Mississippi) would be an advantage," Hughes said. "I think it makes a difference when you walk into a recruit's house and know the state."

Dandy Dozen selection Willie Packer, a defensive lineman from Moss Point who has given a non-binding verbal commitment to Ole Miss, said Hughes had been vital in his recruiting process.

"He was a real cool guy, somebody I really liked," Packer said.

Packer said he still wanted to play for Ole Miss, but because of the changes he was still considering Tennessee and Alabama.

Nutt, who signed a 4-year, $7.4-million deal to coach Ole Miss on Nov. 26, has already indicated that six of his assistants will follow him from Arkansas over to Ole Miss in early January. On Monday, The Monroe News-Star reported that Louisiana-Monroe defensive coordinator Kim Dameron and secondary coach Ron Dickerson had accepted jobs at Ole Miss. Their roles with the Rebels' coaching staff were unclear.

Nutt could not be reached for comment on Monday. An Ole Miss spokesman said Nutt would address coaching staff issues today.

On Sunday, Nutt hinted that it might be hard for any of Orgeron's former staff to remain, saying "I'm going to talk to the guys that I've been with the past 10, 11 years (at Arkansas) first."

Thompson, who is in the first year of a three-year contract at Ole Miss, was Arkansas' defensive coordinator under Nutt in 2000 and 2001 before leaving for Florida in 2002.

Red Sox in Lead for Santana

The race for Johan Santana is starting to resemble so many of those on-field battles between the Red Sox and Yankees over the last several seasons. There have been twists and turns, not to mention lead changes and jarring changes in momentum.
By early Tuesday morning, the latest was that the Red Sox just might be back in the driver's seat to land the two-time Cy Young Award winner from the Minnesota Twins. This, after Monday night talks between the Yankees and Twins hit a major snag, with New York steadfastly refusing to include pitching prospect Ian Kennedy into a proposal that already included potential stud right-hander Phil Hughes and center fielder Melky Cabrera.

The Red Sox also met with the Twins in the late night and early morning hours, and one sign of potential progress -- according to multiple media reports -- is that Boston forwarded the medical records of left-handed starter Jon Lester to the Twins.

For most of these negotiations, the Red Sox have been willing to offer either Lester or center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury -- in addition to shortstop prospect Jed Lowrie for Santana. If the Twins wound up taking Lester, the Red Sox could well put center fielder Coco Crisp in the deal. The Twins, after losing Torii Hunter via free agency, need a center fielder.

ESPN.com reported early Tuesday morning that the Red Sox have emerged as the "favorite" to land Santana.

When the day started, it seemed that the Yankees had held that distinction. Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner imposed a deadline of the end of Monday to get a deal done, and it passed with no deal in place. But there's no telling if talks might yet resuscitate between the Yankees and Twins.

There was also the chance the Twins could simply hang on to Santana for another season.

While Steinbrenner had no problem professing his club's interest in Santana, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein won't even mention the left-hander by name.

"I don't want to talk about other teams' players," said Epstein, who is ever mindful of making sure he will never be accused of tampering.

Epstein didn't seem inclined to take a page out of Steinbrenner's book and impose a deadline on the Twins.

"I think we've only [set deadlines] when we thought it was in our best interest," Epstein said Monday night. "We don't have current discussions ongoing for which I think that would be in our best interest. We're pretty content with where we are and we don't think anything major is getting held up. There's a natural order of things this winter and we're just going to let it play out. If we think the dynamic changes or our interest changes, we certainly wouldn't hesitate to put a timetable on something or other, but this doesn't apply right now."

Before the Yankees and Red Sox held talks with the Twins Monday evening, Epstein didn't sound as if he was close to executing a trade -- blockbuster or otherwise.

"Obviously, we've made calls and talked to a couple of teams about deals and talked to a few agents, but we don't have anything to show for it," Epstein said. "That might be par for the course. It seems like everything is on a later schedule this year."

But perhaps there was a change in momentum by the end of the night.

If the Twins insist that Lester and Ellsbury both be in the deal, it's doubtful the sides will reach common ground. That could open up a chance for the Angels -- or maybe some other teams -- to swoop in. Or the Twins could always keep Santana.

In fact, agent Peter Greenberg, who represents Santana, strongly denied that the pitcher would only waive his no-trade clause to play for the Yankees or Red Sox.

"He was very adamant about that. He wanted to make sure we clarified that. That upset him," Greenberg told The Associated Press. "He's been very clear all along that he wants [Twins GM] Bill [Smith] to make the best deal possible."

Any team that agrees with Minnesota on a trade would likely have 72 hours to negotiate a contract extension with Santana, otherwise it is doubtful the lefty would waive his no-trade clause.

Aside from the Santana rumblings, the Red Sox are looking to make moves that are more complementary in nature. The World Series champions have their entire starting nine and pitching rotation under contract for 2008.

"Just for us, everything seems to be a little slower, probably because the holes on our club right now are really for reserve roles and that part of the market usually settles later," said Epstein. "Our phone is ringing probably less, with the exception of a few players who are perceived to be somewhat available. Our phone is certainly ringing less than it has in previous years. Some teams might look at our roster and say, 'They're set, they're not going to do anything.'"

Is Epstein investigating the availability of front-line pitchers?

"Yeah, but I wouldn't distinguish between pitchers and position players," Epstein said. "We certainly have an obligation to explore any potential opportunity that might make us better. That doesn't mean we're abandoning our core or abandoning our philosophy on how we're going to sustain success year in and year out. We see it as our job to explore every possible way to get better in the future."

Though Epstein is staying quiet publicly on all things Santana, it is big news in Boston.

Sox right-hander Curt Schilling even blogged on the matter on Monday.

"A rotation featuring Beckett, Santana as the top two is pretty much as good as it can get," Schilling wrote on 38pitches.com. "The thought of pitching behind these guys has to fire [you] up. That being said I look at it like this.

"If we make the move we'll have done so with Theo knowing whatever he had to trade to acquire him he can restock those spots either from within, or via trade. How much is too much when you're talking about trading for the best left-handed pitcher in the game? How much is too much when you consider what he and Josh could do over the next 5-6 years."

In dissecting the possibility of the trade, Schilling feels as if everything is in the hands of the Twins.

"I don't see any of the other players holding this deal up from either NY or Boston," Schilling wrote. "Neither team will let him slip through their hands because they want to hold onto a AA or AAA potential star. I think it's going to come down to the value Minnesota places in Philip Hughes/Melky Cabrera vs. the top 2-3 players in this deal from our side."

Among the visitors to the Winter Meetings on Monday was Twins closer Joe Nathan, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn.

"We'll see what happens," Nathan said. "It's obviously a situation where if Johan goes to Boston, that starting rotation is going to be pretty tough to beat."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Pelini Accepts Nebraska Head Coaching Job

LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini accepted the head coaching position at Nebraska on Sunday, ending his three-year tenure with LSU.

LSU coach Les Miles said late Sunday evening that Pelini will likely join the Tigers in the BCS National Championship game Jan 7.

"I think he will coach the game," Miles said. "We talked about it on the plane ride [from Atlanta]. The thing about a new job is that there is a lot to do, but there is also a lot of downtime in there during a dead-period when you can not recruit."

Miles said NCAA rules say coaches can not contact recruits from the middle of December until early January, so Pelini will be able to prepare with LSU during that time.

Tom Osborne, Nebraska interim Athletic Director, announced the hiring Sunday afternoon in Lincoln, Neb., ending a week-long search that began when the Cornhuskers announced Nov. 24 that former coach Bill Callahan would not be returning next season.

"We need a head coach with strong defensive credentials and great leadership," Osborne said in a statement. "We were also looking for someone who can inspire confidence and get players to play with great effort."

Pelini served as the Cornhuskers defensive coordinator during the 2003 season and was the team's interim coach for the team's bowl game that season following former coach Frank Solich's departure.

During his time at LSU, Pelini helped the Tigers' defense become one of the nation's more feared units, holding opponents to less than 14 points in 18 of Pelini's 39 games on the sidelines for the Tigers.

Pelini met the Nebraska players early Sunday to announce he will be their coach next season.

"It was a short meeting and hopefully one that was very productive to let them know that I am not here to be just a head coach and a dictator," Pelini said. "I am here to serve a number of roles, and one of those roles is to make sure the players have a very positive experience as a student-athlete at Nebraska.

Pelini also has NFL coaching experience. He was an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers from 1994 to 2002.

The 39-year-old Youngstown, Ohio native said he is ready to finally have a chance to be a head coach, following more than 15 seasons as an assistant coach.

"This is something I have worked a long time for," Pelini said. "You never know if [you'll be hired or not]. I've never really been consumed with the chance of becoming a head coach. I always figured that, God willing, it would happen someday if I kept just doing my job."

Rebels Revieving NCAA Votes

After moving to 6-0 with wins over Troy and previously unbeaten New Mexico, Ole Miss received four votes in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and Rebel point guard Chris Warren was named the Southeastern Conference Men’s Basketball Freshman of the Week, both were announced Monday.

Ole Miss is one of five SEC schools receiving votes in the media poll this week, including No. 10 Tennessee, No. 23 Vanderbilt, Arkansas (61 votes) and Florida (13 votes). The last time the Rebels received votes was Jan. 16, 2006, when Ole Miss was the third of six SEC vote getters with seven.

The Rebels, who rank second in the nation in scoring with 94.5 points per game, were last ranked in the top 25 in the final polls of 2000-01, when they appeared as high as No. 9 in the USA Today/ESPN rankings.

Warren, who has started all six games at the point this year, averaged team highs of 19.5 points and 7.5 assists in the two contests. The speedy rookie set career highs with 23 points and 10 assists for his first career double-double in the 102-76 win over Troy. He hit 5-of-9 from behind the arc and directed a 25-0 run at the beginning of the second half to put the game out of reach. He also contributed 16 points, five assists and three steals, with just two turnovers, in a game-high 35 minutes of action in the 85-77 victory over UNM.

The Orlando, Fla., native tops the SEC and ranks in the top 10 nationally with 7.0 assists per game and leads Ole Miss with 14.8 points per contest.

He is the first Rebel to earn a weekly honor from the conference this season and the first since Bam Doyne was SEC Player of the Week on Nov. 27 last year.

After six straight home games to open the season, Ole Miss is preparing for its first road contest of the year. The Rebels will face UCF in Orlando on Saturday with a 6 p.m. CT tip-off.

Rebels remain Unbeaten in Men's Hoops

Dwayne Curtis scored 20 points and added 10 rebounds Saturday as Ole Miss defeated New Mexico 85-77 in a battle of unbeaten teams.

Freshman point guard Chris Warren added 16 points and five assists for the Rebels (6-0), who are off to their best start since 2000-01, when they advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Trevor Gaskins and Eniel Polynice added 14 and 12 points for the Rebels, respectively. Ole Miss never trailed, but converted 9-of-11 free throws in the final three minutes to halt a late rally by the Lobos.

New Mexico (7-1) was led by Roman Martinez, who finished 7-of-7 from the field, with 17 points. Dairese Gary added 10 points and five assists, but the Lobos fell behind 11-2 in the opening two minutes and never recovered.

Ole Miss led 47-30 at halftime on the strength of a 17-1 run midway through the first half. New Mexico had only one basket in the final eight minutes of the half, while Curtis had eight points in the decisive surge.

New Mexico made a charge in the final three minutes, pulling within 81-76 on a jumper by J.R. Giddens with 15 seconds left. The Lobos misfired on two final possessions while Polynice hit four straight free throws to seal it.

Ole Miss was 28-of-55, 51 percent, from the field and won the battle of boards, 36-32. New Mexico was 27-of-58 from the field and forced 13 turnovers in the final 14 minutes to help spark the belated rally.

Sox up the ante in the Santana Deal

With the Minnesota Twins insisting on center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in any trade for pitcher Johan Santana, the Red Sox have altered their offer and have told the Twins they are willing to include the outfielder.


But sources say the Red Sox have also told the Twins they will not trade left-handed pitcher Jon Lester and Ellsbury together in the package they are offering.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have informed the Twins that they are going to pull their offer off the table soon -- perhaps by Tuesday at the latest -- unless they get an answer. The Yankees changed their offer on Friday, adding pitcher Phil Hughes after much internal debate, to go along with Melky Cabrera and a third prospect.

The Yankees have told the Twins they will not give them one of their top prospects as the third player in their offer -- not pitchers Ian Kennedy or Alan Horne, or outfielder Austin Jackson, for example.

It's possible that the Twins may find that the offers from Boston and the Yankees are not acceptable, and decide, ultimately, to keep Santana. But executives involved in the trade talks fully expect that the Twins will trade Santana, and that they will make a decision within the next 72 hours on what offer they prefer. If either the Yankees or the Red Sox were to pull out of negotiations, the Twins' leverage would be greatly diminished.

What the choice for Minnesota may come down to, in the end, is this: Do they prefer Phil Hughes as the centerpiece player in a deal, or Ellsbury?

If the Twins do agree to a tentative deal, Santana must still agree to waive his no-trade clause, and in order to do that, Santana likely will ask for a six-year extension worth something in the range of a $150 million; he would become the first pitcher ever to sign for a multiyear deal for at least $20 million a year.

The Red Sox included Ellsbury in one of their proposals a week ago, but the Twins asked the Red Sox for two players among the group of three prospects -- Ellsbury, Lester and pitcher Clay Buchholz. Boston then offered Lester, center fielder Coco Crisp, minor league shortstop Jed Lowrie and a minor league pitcher.

The Twins have continued to ask for Ellsbury, so the Red Sox have flipped Ellsbury back into their offer, sources say, while removing Lester, and upgraded slightly the rest of their proposed package slightly -- perhaps to include right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson. Presumably, any offer with Ellsbury would not include Crisp.

Ellsbury, 24, played in 33 games for the Red Sox this year, hitting .353 with three homers and 18 RBI, with a .509 slugging percentage and nine stolen bases.

The Mets, Mariners, Dodgers and Angels are among the other teams with which the Twins have talked about Santana.

Katie's Take on Saturday's Events

Twenty four days before Christmas, in a state in the south,
Les Miles was pissed as he opened his mouth.
"Miles to Michigan," was reported as fact.
To which Miles responded, "Herbie you don't know jack!"

The Tigers had suffered a gut wrenching loss,
At the hands of McFadden and the rest of the hogs.
And Bo in his sweatshirt, and Miles in his Hat.
Were determined to prove they were better than that!

When the Tennessee Vols ran out on the field,
There were ruckus applause from the mentally ill.
Still in the locker room, Les told his team,
"This season ain't over. We still have a dream."

The hurt throwing arm of QB Matt Flynn
Meant Ryan was the man they put their faith in.
Then the fans all heard, what Les said in the Dome.
"I ain't goin' anywhere. I'm happy. I'm Home!"

The fans were still thinking "This might be a trick."
'til someone pointed out "Hey, this guy ain't Nick!"
The Hat took the field for this championship game,
And he brought all his Tigers, and called them by name;

"Now, Hester! Now, Early! Now, Highsmith and Putt!
Let's let 'er rip and shut these guys up!
Take to the field! And give it your all!
Then later we'll watch numbers 1 & 2 fall."

The fans still weren't sure as to what team would show,
The Virginia Tech game seemed like so long ago.
But there in the stands, the fans they did cheer,
As Perrilloux played his game of the year.

While out in Ar-Kansas, the hogs claimed the boot,
The tigers were focused on far better loot.
With the game knotted up, Ainge threw a quick out
But Zenon was ready and took six to the house.

He wore a LSU jacket, and a white turtle neck,
The same as he wore when his team beat La Tech.
With the hat on his head, and a childish grin,
Miles put his team in the title picture again.

His smile-how it widened! as Pitt won its game!
He cheered Oklahoma, when it did the same.
The stars were aligning, it couldn't be true.
Turns out Miles WAS destined, to play O-S-U.

With a month to prepare and a month to heal up,
We're all pretty sure which team will show up.
He ain't going to Michigan, and we're sure of that.
But Tressel and the Buckeyes should still Fear the Hat.

On December first, he called L-S-U home.
Then set up the Tigers, to play again in the Dome.
It soon will be legend, how Les started that day,
"Can't talk now. . . . I'm busy. . . . [Y'all] have a GREAT day!"

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Miles to Stay at LSU

LSU Chancellor Sean O’Keefe has reached an agreement with Les Miles on an amendment to his contract that will secure Miles’ position as head football coach of the Tigers.

Miles authorized his representative, George Bass, to negotiate the terms of the contract with LSU. Terms and conditions of the contract have been agreed upon and will be presented at the next meeting of the LSU Board of Supervisors on Dec. 6.

Miles will not entertain any offer from the University of Michigan to become the Wolverines head coach or from any other institution. The University of Michigan on Wednesday requested permission to discuss its open head football coaching position with Miles.

Tigers Win SEC; Still Alive for National Championship

Reports of the death of LSU's defense -- and the departure of head coach Les Miles -- have been greatly exaggerated. LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon ran an interception back for a touchdown with under 10 minutes to play before linebacker Darry Beckwith picked off another inside the LSU 10 to cap the Tigers' 10th SEC Football Championship in school history.

The two plays put the LSU defense back on the map where they started the season -- among the nation's elite. More importantly, they gave LSU it's fifth Bowl Championship Game berth since 2001 and third conference title in that span.

On third-and-5 from the Tennessee 14, LSU cornerback Jonathan Zenon stepped in front of wide receiver Quintin Hancock and picked off Ainge at the Tennessee 18. He ran untouched into the endzone for a touchdown, LSU's first defensive score of the season.

Leading 19-14, LSU went for the two-point conversion, this time using Hester as a decoy in the short-yardage situation and opting to allow quarterback Ryan Perrilloux to take it himself into the endzone.

LSU held the Vols with Beckwith's interception at the Tennessee 7-yard line with 2:42 to play to win, 21-14.

The victory was also the culmination of weeks of speculation about the future of LSU head coach Les Miles, who prior to the game debunked an ESPN rumor that he was taking another position and announced prior to the game that he will return to LSU for the 2008 season.

As SEC Champions, LSU's most likely destination is the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1. However, a series of upsets could give the Tigers a shot at the National Championship game.

Meanwhile, Perrilloux, the LSU sophomore quarterback, earned championship game MVP honors by calling the finest game of his short career.

Starting for just the second time in place of Matt Flynn, Perriolloux was 20-of-30 passing for 243 yards and a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

He also rushed nine times for 14 yards and scored the two-point conversion that gave LSU the final margin after Zenon's interception.

The Tigers converted 10-of-20 third downs while holding Tennessee to 4-of-13.

LSU running back Jacob Hester, who went over 1,000 yards on the season (1,017), was again the force that powered the Tigers' rushing attack. He ran 23 times for 120 yards to keep the Vols' linebackers and safeties from coming after Perrilloux.

LSU's defense was stellar, especially considering its health.

Playing without Glenn Dorsey for more than half the game,

The Tigers finished the game with a 464-343 advantage in total offense, running 14 more plays than Tennessee and controlling the clock for more than 36 minutes.

LSU's defensive also pressured Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge more than most have all season. Though not recording a sack, they held Ainge to 20-of-40 passing for 249 yards with two interceptions.

The front four kept Arian Foster to 57 yards on 21 rushes. Tennessee totalled 94 yards on 26 carries.

LSU tried to catch Tennessee off guard on the opening kickoff, as placekicker Sean Gaudet hit a high kick to the Tennessee 40-yard line that was nearly caught by LSU's Chad Jones.

The Vols then drove 62 yards in six plays and took a 7-0 lead on an 11-yard touchdown reception by tight end Chris Brown from quarterback Erik Ainge. LSU defensive end looked to have the pass intercepted when Brown streaked across the middle of the field, reached in front of Pittman and snagged the ball before sprinting into the endzone.

After that, LSU's defense lived up to its early-season reputation. The Tigers gave up only 31 yards for the rest of the half, forcing four-straight punts and allowing only two first downs.

However, the Tigers entered the Tennessee red zone three times and came away with only a pair of 30-yard field goals in the first quarter.

David missed his third 30-yard attempt to the right with less than 10 seconds to play in the half. It was his first miss in 11 tries.

LSU outgained Tennessee 271-93 in the half, holding the ball for 21:20 of the 30 minutes.

The Tigers took the second-half kickoff and did just what the Vols did to them in the first half -- they drove 76 yards in six plays to take their first lead of the game, 13-7.

On third-and-3 from the Tigers 31-yard line, Perrilloux kept the drive alive by scrambling out of the pocket and finding Brandon LaFell behind the defense for a 46-yard reception.

Three plays later, on third-and-16 from the Tennessee 27, Perrilloux again fired a dart to Byrd inside the Vols 5-yard line for a touchdown.

David added the point after for a 13-7 lead with 11:52 left in the third quarter.

Tennessee's attempt to answer was unsuccessful as the Vols plowed to the LSU 13 before missing a 30-yard field goal.

However, LSU gave Tennessee another opportunity with their first turnover of the game. After Trindon Holliday, took an option pitch for 19 yards into Tennessee territory, he looked to have another long run into field goal range. However, the ball was jarred from his grasp and into the hands of Tennessee's Eric Berry.

The Vols needed nine plays to re-take the lead, 14-13, when Ainge hit Josh Briscoe for a 6-yard touchdown with 3:09 left in the third quarter.

Another LSU turnover, this time an interception by Berry, gave Tennessee excellent field position at the LSU 37. But the Vols couldn't take advantage of this gift, missing a 51-yard field goal to give the ball back to LSU.

The teams traded three-straight punts, including an LSU drive that featured a successful fake punt by LSU's Patrick Fisher.

Though LSU was unable to earn another first down after the fake, but Fisher's next punt pinned Tennessee at it's 9.

Three plays later, Ainge looked to his right for Hancock and was intercepted by Zenon for a touchdown.

LSU vs. Tennessee
Dec. 1, 2007 – Georgia Dome (Atlanta, Ga.) – SEC Championship Game
Postgame Notes

Team Notes
1. LSU’s game captains were 16 Craig Steltz, 18 Jacob Hester and 72 Glenn Dorsey.
2. Tennessee won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. LSU received the ball to open the in the second half.
3. Tigers extending their consecutive starts streak today were: CB Chevis Jackson (39), LB Ali Highsmith (27), LT Ciron Black (26), CB Jonathan Zenon (26), LG Herman Johnson (23) and DT Glenn Dorsey (21).
4. DT Ricky Jean-Francois started today’s game, his first game action of the season after being reinstated after serving a year-long suspension.
5. LSU has scored on its first possession of the second half in 11 of 13 games this season. Six of those nine scores have been touchdowns.
6. LSU’s 475 points this season (including the 21 points today) tied the school record for point in a season. The 2003 team also tallied 475 points set.
7. LSU’s fake punt for a first down with 12:03 left in the fourth quarter on a nine-yard pass from Patrick Fisher to Quinn Johnson was the first by the Tigers since Sept. 10, 2005 at Arizona State when Chris Jackson converted a first down on a 12-yard pass to Ronnie Prude. Fisher’s toss was also the first completion by an LSU punter since Jackson.
8. The Tigers tallied their first defensive touchdown of the season when Jonathan Zenon picked off an Erik Ainge pass and took it 18 yards for a score with 9:54 left in the fourth quarter.
a. It marked the first interception for a TD by LSU since Zenon recorded one in a 41-yard return versus Arizona on Sept. 9, 2006.
9. LSU claimed its 10th Southeastern Conference Championship with the victory and its first since the 2003 season. The Tigers other league titles came in 1935, ’36, ’58, ’61, ’62, ’70, ’86, ’88 and 2001.
10. The Tigers improved to 3-1 in SEC Championship Games and 6-1 all-time in the Georgia Dome.
11. LSU advanced to a BCS bowl game for the fourth time in program history. The Tigers’ other BCS appearances came in 2001, ’03 and ’07.
a. The Tigers became the first SEC team to reach BCS bowls in consecutive seasons since Florida did so in 2001 (Sugar) and 2002 (Orange).
12. QB Ryan Perrilloux became the third LSU player in school history to be named SEC Championship Game MVP. Matt Mauck (2001) and Justin Vincent (2003) were the Tigers’ other MVPs.
13. LSU recorded its fourth fourth-quarter comeback of the season. It was the ninth time during the Les Miles era the Tigers came from behind in the last period to win a contest.
14. The Tigers improved to 6-1 versus Top 25 teams with the victory.

Individual Notes
15. TE Keith Zinger’s 27-yard reception in the first quarter was a career-high for the senior.
16. PK Colt David kicked a 30-yard FG with 8:29 left in the first quarter and 30-yard FG with 3:07 left in the first quarter. The successful kicks were his 36th and 37th of his career and the 24th and 25th of the season. With his first quarter FGs, David moved into a third-place tie on LSU’s career made field goal list.
a. David’s successful field goals in the first quarter extended his streak to 10 straight field goals made. His streak was snapped on a miss late in the second quarter on a 30-yard attempt.
b. David’s extra point in today’s game was the 67th consecutive PAT made by the junior, the fourth longest streak in LSU history.
17. With first quarter tackles, S Craig Steltz, CB Chevis Jackson, CB Jonathan Zenon extended their streaks to 23 straight games with a tackle and DT Glenn Dorsey extended his streak to 29 straight. With a third quarter tackle, LB Ali Highsmith extended his streak to 39 straight games.
18. QB Ryan Perrilloux tossed his eighth passing touchdown of both the season and his career with a 27-yard strike to WR Demetrius Byrd with 11:52 left in the third quarter.
19. WR Demetrius Byrd pulled down his seventh touchdown reception of both the season and his career with a 27-yard catch from QB Ryan Perrilloux with 11:52 left in the third quarter.
20. CB Jonathan Zenon’s interception for a touchdown with 9:54 remaining in the fourth quarter was the senior’s third of the season and ninth of his career.
21. LB Darry Beckwith picked off his first pass of the season and second of his career late in the fourth quarter. Beckwith’s other interception came at Tennessee last season.
22. RB Jacob Hester eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season on his game-clinching 20-yard run late in the fourth quarter. The senior finished the game with 120 yards and now has 1,017 for the season.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Michael Oher First Team All-SEC

Rivals.com honored four Ole Miss Rebels on its 2007 All-SEC teams, including first-team selection Michael Oher. Rivals’ second team featured BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Greg Hardy and Peria Jerry.

Oher, a junior offensive tackle from Memphis, was a Mid-Season All-America first team pick by The Sporting News and an Outland Trophy candidate. He started all 12 games and helped the Rebels amass 534 total yards against Missouri and 466 yards against LSU.

Green-Ellis’ 1,137 rushing yards this year ranks second on the Rebels’ all-time single-season chart and marked his second consecutive 1,000-yard campaign. The senior tailback turned in five 100-yard games this season and is fourth in the SEC in rushing average at 94.8 yards per outing.

A sophomore defensive end, Hardy is fifth in the nation in TFLs (18.0) and seventh in sacks (10.0), in which he is also the SEC leader. He also hauled in two touchdown catches as a receiver.

Jerry started every game at defensive tackle and ranks fifth in the SEC in TFLs with 14.0. The junior totaled 10.5 TFLs and 43 total tackles over the final eight games.

Bosox Lead in race for Santana

The Red Sox just won the World Series and they already have one of the top aces in the game in right-hander Josh Beckett. However, it appears that isn't stopping Boston general manager Theo Epstein from making a strong push for two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, who is being dangled in trade talks by the Minnesota Twins.
ESPN.com reported on Thursday that the Red Sox and Twins have discussed a potential deal in which center fielder Coco Crisp, left-hander Jon Lester and promising Minor League shortstop Jed Lowrie would head to Minnesota along with one other prospect in exchange for Santana.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press -- citing a "little birdie" -- had a similar report. In fact, that report stated that the Red Sox have become the favorites while adding that right-handed pitching prospect Justin Masterson would also be going to Minnesota.

Epstein has made a consistent habit of never commenting on trade rumors.

Recently, Epstein predicted it could be a quiet winter for his team. But he also added that things could always change.

"At the same time, we do want to be aggressive in looking for any opportunity to make the club better," Epstein said. "We know our 29 competitors are doing the same. We're never afraid of change. I think change in baseball is often necessary and oftentimes a good thing. But we're also not going to go out and seek change just for the sake of change."

If the Red Sox were to add Santana, they could send a jolt throughout Major League Baseball.

A Beckett-Santana 1-2 punch -- backed by Daisuke Matsuzaka, Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield -- could be a dominant rotation.

Even if the Red Sox and Twins can agree to the framework of a trade, it would by no means make Santana Boston-bound. Santana has a no-trade clause and will likely seek a contract extension before waiving the clause. If the Red Sox and Twins did agree in principle to a trade, Boston would have 72 hours to negotiate an extension with Santana. That was the formula the Sox used to land Schilling in a Thanksgiving trade with the Diamondbacks following the 2003 season.

Several reports have suggested that Santana could be seeking a contract worth roughly $150 million over six years.

Adding more intrigue to the story is the fact that the Yankees -- the Red Sox's chief rivals -- are also in hot pursuit of Santana. The Angels are another team to have expressed interest.

The Yankees might give the Twins a choice of either Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy -- two of their best pitching prospects -- as well as outfielder Melky Cabrera and another prospect.

After losing Torii Hunter as a free agent, the Twins desperately need a center fielder. The Red Sox aren't willing to part with Jacoby Ellsbury, their top position prospect. But they would deal Crisp, who has speed and a terrific glove.

Aside from Ellsbury, the other prospect the Red Sox appear steadfast in not giving up is Clay Buchholz, the author of a Sept. 1 no-hitter against the Orioles. Lester, who won the clinching Game 4 of the World Series for the Red Sox, might be a suitable alternative for the Twins.

Lester will be 24 at the start of the 2008 season. The lefty is used to being in trade rumors. In fact, four winters ago, he was supposedly going to the White Sox along with Nomar Garciaparra in a trade that was going to bring Magglio Ordonez to Boston. But that trade fell through, teaching Lester a lesson.

"That kind of got me used to it and made me realize that until Theo calls, it's just all hearsay -- it's all talk, it's something that's not final," Lester said on Wednesday. "Until that day comes, we'll approach it then."

Lester also viewed it as a compliment to be rumored as a key piece for an established pitcher.

"Dan Haren and Johan Santana, that's not bad," said Lester. "Those are two great pitchers to be associated with in a trade. Like I said, I want to be a Red Sox. I want to be here and pitch here for a long time and win more World Series."

Masterson and Lowrie don't yet have the recognition of Buchholz and Ellsbury, but they are two prospects the Red Sox are high on.

The 6-foot-6 Masterson split the 2007 season between Class A Lancaster and Double-A Portland, going 12-8 with a 4.33 ERA. Lowrie hit .300 with five homers and 21 RBIs at Triple-A Pawtucket in the 40 games after his promotion in '07. He spent the rest of his season at Double-A, hitting .297 with eight homers and 49 RBIs.

Boston seemingly became a more appealing trading partner with Minnesota on the heels of the deal the Twins made with the Rays on Wednesday to land outfielder Delmon Young. In that trade, Minnesota parted with starting shortstop Jason Bartlett and starting pitcher Matt Garza, which made Lowrie and Boston's young pitchers more enticing to the Twins.

Schilling was asked earlier this week for his reaction to the Red Sox being mentioned in the Santana sweepstakes.

"Cool," said Schilling. "The thought of Beckett-Santana coming out to match up with somebody is exciting. I know that the Hot Stove is where that stuff happens. I know that if he's on the market like people say he is, I'm sure Theo has talked to [the Twins]. He's going to measure the price tag. We're not in a win-it-now mode. That's our mode every year. We're not operating out of our element when Theo gets in discussions like that. He's not going to sacrifice the future."

The 28-year-old Santana beat out Schilling for the AL Cy Young Award in 2004 and took home the trophy again in '06.

Santana has a career record of 93-44 with an ERA of 3.22, and he went 15-13 in 2007 with a 3.33 ERA. In 219 innings, Santana posted 235 strikeouts, while holding opponents to a .219 batting average.

Jean-Francois to Join Tiger Squad for Conference Championship

(CSTV U-WIRE) BATON ROUGE, La. -- A relatively unfamiliar face will be rejoining the LSU football team Saturday.

Sophomore defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois, who LSU (10-2, 6-2) suspended for the entire regular season because of academic reasons, is expected to dress for the Southeastern Conference Championship on Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

"He's gonna play," said LSU coach Les Miles. "He'll take some snaps in the game, I promise you. We're going to see if we can get him tired."


Miles declined to say exactly why Jean-Francois was suspended for the season, but he did say he continued to practice with the team.

"It's a pretty big game," Miles said. "Would you want to play the championship game? I think he does."


Miles said senior quarterback Matt Flynn and sophomore wide receiver Trindon Holliday have been practicing for the game against Tennessee (9-3, 6-2).

Injured ankles kept Holliday from dressing out for Friday's loss to Arkansas, but Miles said he took snaps, ran routes and caught passes in Wednesday's practice.

Flynn suffered a shoulder injury during a two-point conversion play against Arkansas. He missed practice early in the week, but Miles said he expects Flynn to start Saturday.

"He's limited some, but he threw the ball well," Miles said.

Miles denied that Flynn had undergone tests or procedures following his injury.

He said the quarterback will not be hurt by missing a couple practices.

"The whole issue is, we're not going to change anything," Miles said. "We're going to run the things that we run. All he's got to do is be healthy and ready to play."


Sophomore quarterback Ryan Perrilloux has been taking some first team snaps in the event he has to replace Flynn.

Miles said he does not expect Perrilloux will start but would be confident in the offense if he did.

"Through the year, anytime a guy takes the number of snaps that he has, he has full command of the offense," Miles said. "He certainly has been through a season and understands what we're asking him to do."


Miles addressed the open Michigan coaching position by saying there have been no communications between him and his alma mater.

He also said defensive coordinator Bo Pelini's alleged talks with Nebraska have had no affect on the team.

Miles said it is unfair to a team to have its coach called on for a new position during a season. He said it might be better if those talks were held off until all games were played.

"I'm not saying it's not appropriate," Miles said. "But the significance of competition ... is based on a commitment that's full and complete. I don't want anything to distract me from the next game with this team."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Nutt Takes Over at Ole Miss

Five weeks after defeating Ole Miss, Houston Nutt returned to this oak-studded campus Wednesday as the Rebels' new coach.

Nutt was introduced to 1,500 cheering fans during a news conference less than 48 hours after resigning at Arkansas and the day after Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone announced he'd hired Nutt to resurrect his football program.

"It gives me chills when you clap and applaud because it means you're hungry," Nutt said.

No doubt Nutt is wanted at Ole Miss, where they embrace his winning record and have seen up close how good his Arkansas teams have been.

In Oxford, about 500 Ole Miss fans had to be turned away at the door of the campus' Gertrude Castellow Ford Center for Performing Arts, and Nutt had to pause through several ovations from the standing room-only crowd. Signs that the Ole Miss faithful approved of the hire were everywhere.

"One thing I love about Ole Miss is the tradition," Nutt said, naming past players such as Archie Manning and Frank "Bruiser" Kinard. "It's about tradition. That's the reason I am here. I feel like this place can be successful. I feel like this place can win."

Nutt agreed to a four-year, $7.4 million contract with options for three more years totaling $6.6 million. He appears to have the credentials required to turn around the Rebel program.

He replaces Ed Orgeron, who was fired Saturday after the Rebels finished 3-9. The team went winless in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 1982.

Boone said Nutt matches the description of the kind of coach he told chancellor Robert Khayat he was looking for: "I said, 'It's fairly simple. I'd like a proven Southeastern Conference coach.'"

Nutt's resume matches Ole Miss' needs. The 2006 SEC coach of the year led Arkansas to an 8-4 finish and a likely Cotton Bowl berth, the school's eighth postseason trip in Nutt's 10 years.

The 50-year-old is 111-70 in 15 years as a head coach at Arkansas, Boise State and Murray State, and he's been a winner in the SEC. He revived the Razorbacks after replacing Danny Ford in 1997, going 75-48. Nutt was 42-38 in conference and won three SEC West titles.

Nutt grew up in Little Rock, Ark., played for the Razorbacks for a season and was an assistant coach in Fayetteville. He expressed hope Sunday that he could stay in Fayetteville but resigned Monday evening and was hired by Boone about four hours later.

The Rebels won six SEC championships between 1947-63, and Nutt said it's his goal to bring titles to Oxford again.

"We want to win an SEC championship outright," Nutt said. "We want to do those things. But you're in the toughest conference in America. So it's going to take an unbelievable commitment by everyone."

LSU Grants Permission to Michigan to Talk with Miles

Michigan athletics officials asked for and received permission from LSU to meet with Les Miles about the Wolverines' head football coaching vacancy.

LSU athletic director Skip Bertman granted the request on condition that Michigan representatives wait until after Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta before starting negotiations, LSU spokesman Herb Vincent said.

Vincent said Bertman and LSU chancellor Sean O'Keefe also plan to meet with Miles next week to discuss his contract.

"We're trying to get the SEC championship game behind us that's why we're scheduling these things for next week," Vincent said.

LSU was not prepared to make a statement about the extent to which the school was prepared to compete with Michigan's offer, should one be made, Vincent said.

"We're just looking forward to the game Saturday and that's the focus of the entire program right now, Saturday's game against Tennessee," Vincent said.

Miles, in his third season as LSU coach, went 11-2 his first two years. The Tigers are 10-2 this season and ranked fifth in the AP poll.

Calls and e-mails seeking comment were left with Michigan athletic director Bill Martin on Wednesday afternoon and evening.

Martin, who has not commented on the search since Carr's announcement, interviewed Michigan coordinators Ron English and Mike DeBord earlier this week.

"We're not going to make any comments on the search," Michigan spokesman Bruce Madej said Wednesday night.

Miles seems to have everything college football's winningest program is looking for, including ties to the school and the late-great coach Bo Schembechler.

He played at Michigan and was on the coaching staff in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he met his wife.

Last week, though, Miles pleaded with the media to let the topic rest.

Even though Miles appears in a great situation leading the Tigers in a talent-rich area without a competing school nearby, LSU was concerned enough about him bolting for Michigan that it put a specific clause in his contract to make it an expensive move.

In the "termination by coach" section of his deal, Michigan is the only other school mentioned. It states that Miles will not seek or accept employment as Michigan's coach. If Miles does leave LSU to coach the Wolverines, he must pay LSU $1.25 million.

Martin has said he is looking for the next Carr, who led Michigan to the 1997 national championship and five Big Ten titles while keeping the school above even suspicions about NCAA violations.

Michigan traditionally has gotten away with paying its football coach less than top of the market rates.

Martin acknowledged the school might have to offer a candidate up to $3 million a season or roughly twice as much as Carr earned annually.

After Carr announced his retirement, Martin said he did not expect it would be difficult to land a coach to lead what Carr told him is the best job in the country.

"Not only because it's Michigan, but because of the renovations we're doing to the Big House and also because we broke ground last Friday morning for our $28 million indoor practice facility," Martin said. "We'll have the finest facilities in the country. We also have patience to work with a coach as he transitions in."

Jon Lester wins Conigliaro Award

Jon Lester, who came back from a cancer diagnosis in 2006 to win this year's World Series clincher for Boston, was honored Wednesday with the Tony Conigliaro Award for overcoming adversity through spirit, determination and courage.

The 23-year-old pitcher was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in August 2006. After cancer treatment during the offseason, he started the year on the disabled list. Lester was recalled in July and finished the regular season 4-0 with a 4.57 ERA.

Lester is cancer-free and will have another checkup when he returns to Boston in January to receive the award.

"It's just a storybook-type ending," he said. "If you'd have told me that at the end of last year in spring training that we would have been in that situation, I probably would have laughed at you."

The award, which will be presented at the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America dinner on Jan. 17, is named for the promising Red Sox player whose career was derailed when he was hit in the face by a pitch in 1967.

Pitching coach John Farrell said Lester looks great and "will be counted on heavily once spring training opens."

The team will have an abbreviated spring training in Florida because of its Tokyo opener against Oakland on March 25. Questions remain about the rotation.

"It's important to acknowledge that, yes, some informal discussions have been had on the six-man rotation, pros and cons to it. But we also look at the schedule and the amount of off days that we'll have, particularly with the international travel," Farrell said. "But I think, most importantly, we want to keep all our pitchers as healthy and as strong as possible, even into September and beyond."

To that end, Lester this week joined Curt Schilling, Manny Delcarmen, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Michael Bowden and Caleb Clay for offseason workouts at Fenway. Tim Wakefield was expected to join them Thursday.

"It's a combination of guys that had needs, whether it was surgery-related at some point during the season or just a condition that we felt warranted further evaluation and to monitor where they are in their offseason program," Farrell said.

Joining Lester in receiving awards at the writers' dinner were first baseman Kevin Youkilis for the Jackie Jensen Award, which goes to a Red Sox player for hustle and determination; Terry Francona as the MLB manager of the year, as voted by the chapter; and Jacoby Ellsbury and Buchholz as Red Sox minor-league players of the year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nutt to be Paid $7.4 Million for Four Years

New Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt stands to make $7.4 million in his first four years on the job, with an option for three more years at a total of $6.6 million, athletic director Pete Boone said today.

“The price of poker has gone up,” said Boone. “They’re high, but reasonable numbers, with the market as it is.”

Boone announced in an e-mailed news release that Nutt is the new Rebel coach. The announcement came less than 24 hours after Nutt resigned as the Arkansas coach, and some three days after Ed Orgeron was fired after three years as the Rebel coach.

Boone did not speak to reporters about the hire until 5 p.m. today. Nutt has not returned messages to his cell phone today. He’s scheduled to be introduced as the new coach on Wednesday at a noon news conference at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts on the Ole Miss campus.

Orgeron made about $900,000 annually, with $210,000 in state salary and the rest from the University of Mississippi Athletic Association, the school’s private fund-raising arm for athletics.

Nutt’s contract starts at $1.7 million the first year and escalates to $1.8 million, $1.9 million and $2 million by the fourth year. The option years are for $2.1 million, $2.2 million and $2.3 million.

Boone hired a national headhunter company to aid in the search, but said he’ll only pay them “a couple of thousands of dollars,” because a deal was reached with Nutt so quickly. He said he talked to Nutt briefly on Sunday, then talks intensified throughout the day on Monday. Nutt announced his resignation at Arkansas at 6:30 Monday night, and a deal with Ole Miss was reached by 10 p.m., said Boone.

Nutt, who will receive some $3 million in deferred compensation from Arkansas’ Razorback Foundation, compiled a 75-48 record over 10 seasons. He was offered a reported $2.4 million to stay with the Razorbacks, but chose instead to resign, citing unrest among the Arkansas fan base.

Although the Razorbacks are 8-4 this season, went 10-4 last year and won the Southeastern Conference Western Division title, the last two seasons in Fayetteville, Ark., have been marked with growing fan unrest with Nutt and his program.

Some readers, posting on the clarionledger.com forums and blogs, have stated their opposition to the hiring of Nutt, but Boone said he has “done his homework,” and considered Nutt the perfect coach to rally what has become a fractured Rebel fan base.

“There’s not many Houston Nutts out there who have his success in the SEC and have recruited where we recruit,” Boone said. “I mean, it was just an absolute perfect fit.”

Nutt, 50, won three SEC West Division titles and had a 3-4 bowl record during his tenure. Arkansas, which beat Ole Miss 44-8 on Oct. 20 in Oxford, capped its regular season last Friday with a 50-48 three-overtime victory at Baton Rouge that knocked then-No. 1-ranked LSU out of the national title picture. Nutt will not coach in Arkansas’ yet-to-be-determined bowl game.

Nutt is 111-70 in 15 years as a head coach at Arkansas, Boise State and Murray State. He was 42-38 in SEC games and twice took the Razorbacks to the SEC championship game in Atlanta — a trip Ole Miss has not made since the SEC was expanded to 12 teams and split into divisions in 1992.

While Arkansas is likely headed to the Cotton Bowl, Nutt will be going to the homes of recruits attempting to hold together the promising class Orgeron was assembling.

Nutt said Monday he left Arkansas to help mend a split among fans after off-the-field problems were compounded by a difficult season. The Razorbacks started the year ranked and were expected to contend for the SEC West title against the Tigers.

Arkansas lost its first three SEC games and dropped out of the poll in September, fueling fan discontent over last year's transfer of quarterback Mitch Mustain and the loss of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who left for Tulsa.

Several members of Orgeron’s staff were on the road recruiting Tuesday. Boone said Nutt will have free reign to hire a new staff, but that the three coaches “most interested” in remaining from Orgeron’s staff are recruiting coordinator Hugh Freeze, offensive line coach Art Kehoe and defensive coordinator John Thompson. Thompson, in the first year of a three-year contract worth about $1 million, served as Nutt’s defensive coordinator at Arkansas in 2000-01.

Hiring Nutt Great Move for Ole Miss

This morning, Ole Miss hired former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt as its 36th football coach in school history.

In less than 24 hours, the question as to who the next coach will be has changed to a deal being completed by brunch.

Just as soon as Nutt left his coveted football position in Fayetteville Monday evening, the schools wanting him for their own lined up around the block.

Not only had Ole Miss made Nutt its No. 1 choice to replace Ed Orgeron, but so had Baylor, which got rid of Guy Morriss last week. Georgia Tech, which fired Chan Gailey, had reportedly set its sights on the former Razorback head man, while Nebraska, which wanted Nutt four years ago before hiring Bill Callahan, was also a possibility to go after the run-happy Nutt.

In the fast-paced world of coaching hires, Nutt clearly rose to the top of many schools’ wish lists.

Who could blame Ole Miss and other schools for looking at Nutt? He had a tremendous 10-year run at Arkansas. He led the Razorbacks to three Southeastern Conference West titles, eight bowl games and 75 wins. Oh yeah, he was the SEC Coach of the Year in 2006. Sure he was just 2-5 in bowl games with the Razorbacks, but going to bowl games is something the Rebels have forgotten how to do.

Thanks to a win over then-No. 1 LSU this past Friday, Nutt now has 111 career wins in 15 seasons as a head coach.

Nutt knows how to win
The man knows how to win and win big, and schools like Ole Miss, which has suffered through four straight losing seasons, and Baylor, which hasn’t been good since Grant Teaff piloted the Bears in the 1970s through the early 1990s, were ready to offer Nutt in the neighborhood of $2 million per year in the attempt to end the losing.

There seem to be several reasons why Nutt is no longer at Arkansas, but winning games, big games, has never been much of an issue. Sure Arkansas fans would have loved to win one or both of the SEC title games the Razorbacks were involved in, but it’s hard to argue with the overall success of the Razorbacks under Nutt.

Not only has the program flourished since Nutt took over for Danny Ford in 1998, Arkansas is on solid footing from a talent standpoint so that even his successor should be able to produce a winning season in 2008.

With players like Felix Jones, Jonathan Luigs, Casey Dick, Malcolm Sheppard, Andrew Davie, Jerrell Norton, Alex Tejada and Jeremy Davis still having at least a year of eligibility left, Nutt has left the cupboard pretty full for the next coach, which says a lot about the stability of the program.

Sure, star running back and Heisman Trophy front runner Darren McFadden is just a junior, but he wasn’t coming back even if Nutt was there in 2008.

Nutt loved by his players
The Arkansas players loved Nutt and they have always given him every ounce of effort. In a one-game setting, Nutt has proven he is one of the best, if not the best, coach in the SEC time and time again.

He has shown the ability to adapt his coaching skills around the players on the roster, and rather than force them to do something they couldn’t do, he has made them better by coaching to their strengths.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist, or better yet, somebody with a high football IQ to recognize that Nutt was the best coach available to fill any and all of the openings in college football currently. His record and accomplishments on the field speak for themselves.

Thankfully for Ole Miss’ sake, the school was able to hire a quality coach like Nutt to run the program. Negotiations continued to progress throughout the night Monday, while a press conference to announce his hiring will be Wednesday.

All of this is indeed good news for Rebel fans all over the state, the South and beyond. Hope and excitement is sure to return to a fan base that became fractured, to say the least, under Orgeron. The hiring of Nutt in this wild, wacky coaching search business is a good thing and obtaining Nutt’s services to lead the Rebels in 2008 and beyond is definitely an upgrade and a reason to celebrate for many reasons.

Nutt Leaves Arkansas for Ole Miss

JACKSON, Miss. -- One day, Houston Nutt was leaving Arkansas. The next, he was heading to Mississippi.

Ole Miss will introduce Nutt as its new coach Wednesday, ending a whirlwind hiring that began when he resigned at Arkansas on Monday and agreed to become the Rebels' coach hours later.

Mississippi was without a coach for less than three days. Athletic director Pete Boone fired Ed Orgeron on Saturday after three losing seasons.

"It's human nature not to like change, but I think in this case, change is going to be a good thing," fullback Jason Cook said. "Especially as a player, you get excited when a guy gets hired like coach Nutt. He's more than proven in the SEC and proven as a coach that he can take talent and work with it. We're very excited."

Nutt agreed to a contract around 10 p.m. Monday, less than four hours after announcing he was resigning. He led Arkansas to an 8-4 record and a likely Cotton Bowl berth while the Rebels stumbled to a 3-9 finish under Orgeron and were winless in the SEC for the first time since 1982.

Nutt will be introduced at a news conference on campus Wednesday in Oxford, ending a frenetic 48 hours for the school and its new coach.

"You know the old metaphor," Boone said. "When you smell blood you need to go and find out if you can get the job done. I think we were thorough in our discussions and covered all the things we needed to cover, but I felt like let's get this thing done."

Nutt agreed to a four-year contract that will pay him $1.7 million to start and increase by $100,000 each year. He has an option for three more seasons as well, with the opportunity to earn more money with incentives.

Ole Miss was searching for a proven winner after years of mediocrity. Nutt neatly fits the description.

He is 111-70 in 15 years as a head coach at Arkansas, Boise State and Murray State, and he's been a winner in the SEC. The Little Rock, Ark., native revived the Arkansas program, going 75-48 since he replaced Danny Ford in 1997. Nutt was 42-38 in conference with one of his biggest wins coming last week when the Razorbacks beat then-No. 1 LSU 50-48 in triple overtime.

While the Razorbacks head into the postseason, Nutt will be going to the homes of recruits attempting to hold together the promising class Orgeron was assembling.

Shortly after Houston Nutt announced his resignation at Arkansas, he was being courted by Mississippi.

The 50-year-old Nutt said Monday he left Arkansas to help mend a split among fans after off-the-field problems were compounded by a difficult season. The Razorbacks started the year ranked and were expected to contend for the SEC West title.

A source told ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel that Nutt turned down a two-year extension from Arkansas worth $2.4 million annually after the Razorbacks upset No. 1 ranked LSU last week.

Arkansas lost its first three SEC games and dropped out of the poll in September, fueling fan discontent over last year's transfer of quarterback Mitch Mustain and the loss of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who left for Tulsa.

Calls to Nutt's agent, Jimmy Sexton, were not immediately returned.

Arkansas officials said they would not comment until after Wednesday's formal announcement.

Nutt takes over a program that's won four or fewer games a season since 2003's 10-win effort under David Cutcliffe. The Rebels won a share of the SEC West that season with Eli Manning at quarterback.

Since the Rebels are 14-32. Boone fired Cutcliffe in 2004 for not recruiting well enough. He had hoped Orgeron, who helped build two national title teams at Southern California as Pete Carroll's recruiting coordinator, would bring the kind of energy needed to compete in the tough SEC.

Orgeron finished 10-25 and was routinely the target of fan discontent.

Boone and Chancellor Robert Khayat endorsed Orgeron midway through the season, but decided to go in a new direction after the Rebels lost five of six to end the year.

The Rebels have been looking for a coach who can produce championships since Johnny Vaught retired in 1970. Vaught won three national titles and six SEC championships between 1947-63.

The school has fired six of the eight coaches who have come since and a seventh, Steve Sloan, likely would have been fired after five losing seasons had he not left for Duke.

The last three coaches have been assistants in their first job as leading man. Orgeron, Cutcliffe and Tommy Tuberville went 73-69 over the last 13 years.

Only Tuberville left on his own, taking the job at Auburn in 1998.

Boone thinks he's finally found the right coach. He contacted Nutt on Sunday after he heard the rumor the coach would be resigning.

Nutt didn't really want to talk then "because he had a job," Boone said. But that changed Monday.

"This all happened overnight with me," Boone said.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Miles Comments on SEC Championship Game

“Recapping the Arkansas game, certainly we would have liked to have it end differently. There were some bright spots. Offensively, we scored 48 points with no turnovers, had 213 yards while passing and rushing for 200 yards. Jacob Hester showed tremendous effort with 126 rushing yards. We had as strong of a quarterback performance that I have been around with Matt Flynn. He is a gutsy player and competitor. He threw three touchdowns and ran for a two-point conversion. Everything we could possibly ask him to do he did. He was our offensive M.V.P.”

“Defensively, there was one play in the first half that we would like to get back. As we went into halftime, we felt like we were in pretty good shape. Then there were about five plays that we would like to have back in the second half, including overtime. We faced an exceptional offense and they were executing at an unbelievable level. There are reasons to improve. It is something that we are going to want to continue. You have to give credit to a great running back (Darren McFadden) and a great scheme for Arkansas. There were some tremendous performances on defense. Ali Highsmith had 15 tackles with four assisted tackles. He was our defensive M.V.P. He was all over the field.”

“On special teams, on a week where we were concerned about a kick return, a punt return and about matching a dangerous return team, we played very well. Patrick Fisher averaged 42 yards a punt. We held Arkansas to three yards on punt returns. On kickoff coverage we knocked the ball loose and got an extra possession. At some point they decided not to return their best returner (Darren McFadden.) I felt we played really well on special teams. Colt David continues to set records every time he kicks. The guy who wins our M.V.P. is Chad Jones. He goes down there on kickoffs and punts and makes tackles. He returns punts and kickoffs and is just playing extremely well for us. We are certainly happy with his development as a true freshman on our team.”

On what his team has accomplished so far...
“I’ve thought about how this season has gone. Certainly we would like to have the last game back. We understand what that has cost us in our national ranking and what it means. Right now, I would like to talk about what we are, and not what we just lost. What we are is one hell of a football team. I like our team, especially the character of our team. If you think about this football team, we have not been healthy since the first game of the year. Yet, no matter who we call on to go in and make plays, they make plays.”

“This team has not lost a game in regulation. I know it does not mean much to you guys (media.) The point is, in a 60 minutes game, we play as competitive as we can be. There is not a team that we have played that has bested us in the first 60 minutes. If you had to look at the length and width of the game, that is how it is measured. Then you go to overtime, and I think our overtime system is just as flawed as any other overtime system. It’s just the way it is and it is probably correct. You have to decide it then where it takes the length of the field and certain situations out of it. It is imperfect, but a darn good system. You tell me if there are other teams in this country that can say that. If you just give us ties, like in the old system, we are undefeated with two ties. Maybe that adds up as one lost.”

“Go find a team that has losses that only came in overtime. Go find a team that compares competitively with five nationally-ranked teams and has done extremely well. I am talking about our team and what we can be, not what we just lost. I think our best football is coming. I haven’t talked to my team yet today, but I can say this – there is too much character on this team not to understand that 10 wins, third-straight time at this school, has not been done before, is special.”

On the SEC Championship game and facing Tennessee...
"The opportunity to play for the conference championship, in the finest football conference in America, is a tremendous opportunity. You put me in that position, you will understand that I am excited. This team has achieved. I look forward and I am sure our team will look forward to preparing for Tennessee.”

“I understand that Tennessee is very good. We played them the first two years that I was here. Both games were decided late in the game. It is a very competitive team and our team is no different. They are very talented with quality men on both sides of the ball. I think (Erik) Ainge is a tremendous quarterback and can really throw it. Their defense includes a front seven of big, strong and physical guys. Their secondary has athletic talent.”

“Their receiving core is led by Lucas Taylor, who leads the conference in receiving.”

“Tennessee is better than they have been. We are going to have to play well to win. We look forward to that challenge. Let me go play for the SEC title. I am right where I want to be. There only two teams in this conference that get the opportunity and right to practice this week. There are two teams playing for the conference championship and I am thrilled to be one of them. I look forward to competing against Tennessee in Atlanta on Saturday.”

On how long it took him to get over the Arkansas loss...
“I did not have a great Friday or Saturday. I started figuring out all these other nationally-ranked teams that play these schedules and I am thinking ‘I like my team.’ Watching what has happened in college football has helped me. Last Saturday helped me a lot. The people that were competing, with their schedules, who they played and who they have lost to makes me pretty proud of our team. It helped me a lot to watch how Saturday unfolded.”

On how the defense has struggled lately...
“The Arkansas game in certain personnel, they didn’t have a chance. When they got to the running back personnel and started using (Darren) McFadden like they did, I have to admit they had us. Even when we could get an extra guy to the play, we still couldn’t make the tackle. That is Arkansas. I think it is unrealistic to look at a defense and think that they will hold them to 250 yards. We are playing quality offenses in this conference week in and week out. I want this defense to look forward to playing this weekend. I think they are due. The potential to play our best is right in front of us. We look forward to going to Atlanta and playing for the title.”

On the rumors of defensive coordinator Bo Pelini interviewing with Nebraska...
“Bo Pelini has not traveled to any place. I have been with him everyday. The only thing that I can tell you is I don’t know what your information is and I don’t have a lot of information on it. I know that he is preparing our team for our season and the SEC Championship. I can also say that I would recommend Bo Pelini to any school. I think he is a quality coach and wonderful colleague. He is focused on the task at hand and I don’t think he would have it any other way.”

On comparing Arkansas RB Darren McFadden with LSU WR Trindon Holliday...
“When No. 8 (Trindon Holliday) goes on the field for us, it draws attention and rightfully so. When McFadden is blocking, is it going to be a screen or an opportunity to dump it off to him? There is greater attention to that kind of a player without question. Would I have liked to have seen other strategies used to give us success against him? Absolutely.”

On the Tennessee offense...
“Their quarterback (Erik Ainge) is a very talented thrower. They have a real quality receiving group. They have not given up many sacks. Is there concern? Absolutely. I also like our match up. I like our guys rushing their offensive line and the opportunity to get at their passer. I think we will provide coverage. Our secondary will want to play more so in this game. I am concerned but our opponent should be also.”

On what he thinks of the current BCS standings...
“Beyond this weekend’s games, the opportunity for the champion should be a tremendous opportunity. If you win the conference, that conference championship should carry a lot of weight with a lot of people. I will wait to talk about this system beyond that time frame.”

On the formation penalty that nullified RB Jacob Hester’s touchdown reception...
“It was the most elementary formation that we have minus our first one. The first one that we put in is to go right. The second one is to go left. In this instance it was left-slot. One gets on and one gets off. It is not a complicated call but the situation makes it complicated. It is a very competitive game and one of the players substituted for that play. There wasn’t any special coaching. It was something that we have done routinely.”

On WR Trindon Holliday’s status for the SEC Championship...
“Certainly without him in there we are not as fast. I am very optimistic. He sprinted Sunday and I think he will do the same today. He will have a light workout and he will condition and practice with the team. Tuesday is up in the air but I think by the back end of this week, he will be ready to play.”

On QB Matt Flynn’s status for the SEC Championship...
“Right now, Matt is no different from other weeks we have been with him where he is a little worse for wear at the beginning of the week. I think he will take the reigns on Tuesday or Wednesday and continue to do the things we ask him to do.”

On some fans and media members saying a conference championship is less significant than in the past...
“Only two teams can play for it. Certainly this is a program that strives for a national championship, an SEC Western Division title and an SEC Championship. If there is a conflict in perception of its importance, it hurts the conference championship and demeans in some ways the game. In our conference it shouldn’t because you to have line up and play week in and week out. That might be the view of some of the public, but it is certainly not my view. I am thrilled to be in this game and look forward to competing with everything we have.”

On how confident he is that his team will be ready for the SEC Championship after dealing with the Arkansas loss...
“I think with the understanding that this team has achieved, it won’t be hard for them to understand that they are in an advantaged position. Only two teams in this league can qualify for this game and certainly we have done that. I am pretty confident. I have not met with the team today, but I am pretty confident, knowing the leadership and who I go to work with everyday, that they will understand pretty comfortably that we have a great opportunity in front of us.”

On the dramatic games that have taken place in the SEC...
“Just reviewing the games, the price of season tickets should go up, except for our fans because they expect those types of games. It shows how competitive college football is. It is a great sport.”

On what he saw out of Tennessee in its game against Kentucky...
“I saw exactly what I saw on film. They are a very talented team with the ability to throw the football. They made some big plays when they had to. They are a very competitive team.”

On if he has talked to his coaching staff about waiting till after the season to look at other jobs...
“If I worked on a different staff, then that is probably something I would need to do. On this staff, I think everybody is on the same page. There is no individual goal or professional opportunity that is more important than representing this football team to the best of our ability. This is a quality group of men. This football staff enjoys going to work with these players. There are no other views. There are no quick phone calls. It is about attention to detail, improving and playing our best in this game.”

Boone to get Help in Hiring next Head Football Coach

Ole Miss will turn to a nationally known headhunter to find candidates for its head football coaching vacancy, the school's athletic director, Pete Boone, said Sunday.

Boone said he spoke with Chuck Neinas, a longtime athletic administrator who owns his own consulting firm, on Sunday for over half an hour and has decided to contract with him.

The use of Neinas Sports Services typically costs a school between $20,000 and $40,000, Boone said. The value to a school is that Neinas operates discreetly and has contacts with coaches nationwide, meaning they can contact Neinas to let him know they're interested in the job.

"That person is kind of the filter," Boone said. "And certainly if we're interested in someone he can find out either one way or the other whether or not they're interested enough that we could contact their athletic director."

Ole Miss is looking for a coach after it dismissed Ed Orgeron on Saturday morning, less than a day after his team blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead at Mississippi State. The loss secured the school's first winless Southeastern Conference season since 1982. Orgeron was 3-21 in SEC games.

Boone met with Ole Miss players for a half-hour Sunday night at the team meeting room in the school's Indoor Practice Facility to give them reasoning for the decision, according to an Ole Miss release. Assistant coaches Hugh Freeze and John Thompson joined him, as did staff members Aaron Ausmus, Tim Mullins and Kyle Strongin.

Boone wouldn't say Sunday if the school had made contact with any candidates.

The selection of Neinas' firm places Ole Miss with a handful of other schools who have hired him. Ole Miss used another search firm, ChampSearch, in 2006 when it hired Andy Kennedy as its basketball coach.

Neinas (pronounced NI-nus) is reported to be assisting Texas A&M's search to replace Dennis Franchione, who resigned Friday. In a USA Today profile of Neinas last December, it was reported that he worked on six searches last off-season alone, including Alabama, which paid him $35,000, according to The Birmingham News.

Neinas consulted on the searches that led Butch Davis to North Carolina, Mark Dantonio to Michigan State, Randy Shannon to Miami and Tom O'Brien to North Carolina State, USA Today reported.

According to the article, Neinas' tactics are extremely secretive, and his firm even offers a background search performed by a former FBI agent. The Web site for Neinas Sports Services touts his ability to run a confidential search and a network of personal relationships.

A message left at Neinas Sports Services' office in Boulder, Colo., was not returned Sunday.

Before starting his own firm in 1997, Neinas served 17 years as the executive director of the College Football Association. Prior to that, he served nine years as the commissioner of the Big Eight Conference.

Boone Discusses Coaching Possibilities with Team

Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone met with members of the Rebel football squad for about 30 minutes Sunday night to discuss the search for a new head football coach and give them an opportunity to ask questions, either publicly or privately.

Ed Orgeron, who had served as head coach of the Rebels for the last three seasons, was informed on Saturday that he would not be retained. An immediate search has begun for his replacement.

Boone was joined at the team meeting by assistant coaches Hugh Freeze and John Thompson, head football strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus, head football athletic trainer Tim Mullins and coordinator of football operations Kyle Strongin. Several other football staff members and athletics administrators also attended the meeting.

A majority of the squad attended the meeting at the Indoor Practice Facility after having returned to campus following the Thanksgiving break.

“It was an opportunity to give the players at least some reasoning behind why the decision was made,” Boone said. “I also expressed my commitment to them to be successful, while making football fun for them and put more college life back into their lives, along with hard work that comes with it.”

A good portion of the meeting dealt with finishing the semester strong in the classroom and things like getting treatment for any injuries and going over post-season strength and conditioning opportunities.

Freeze and Thompson reminded the players that they represent the University of Mississippi and the plan is to move forward together.

Earlier in the day, Boone confirmed he plans to hire Chuck Neinas, president of Neinas Sports Services in Boulder, Colorado, to assist in the search to hire a new head football coach at Ole Miss. “Chuck Neinas knows people,” Boone said of the person considered by some to be the No. 1 headhunter in college football.

“We’re not going to announce possible candidates,” Boone said to the media, noting that if asked questions about who has contacted him or who he has contacted, his response is “I am not going to get into that on a daily basis. All I’ll deal with is the process, which needs to be well thought through as we look for the kind of person needed to lead these kids.”

Boone did say he already has a fluid list of possible candidates which could change daily. “The list may be 20 names today, 10 tomorrow and then 15 the next.”