National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Pacers' Vogel earns East All-Star coaching spot

NEW YORK (AP) Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel has clinched the Eastern Conference coaching spot for next month's NBA All-Star game.

The Pacers improved to 30-7 with their 116-92 victory over Sacramento on Tuesday night, guaranteeing they will have the best winning percentage in the East among eligible teams. Miami's Erik Spoelstra is ineligible after coaching in last year's game.

It will be the first All-Star coaching assignment for Vogel, in his fourth season leading the Pacers.

The West coach for the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans is still to be determined. Gregg Popovich, whose San Antonio Spurs lead the West, is ineligible.

Ferrell, Indiana send No. 3 Wisconsin to first loss

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell scored 25 points Tuesday night, leading Indiana to a stunning 75-72 upset over previously unbeaten Wisconsin.

The third-ranked Badgers (16-1, 3-1 Big Ten) were trying to become the first team ever to win 13 straight games over the Hoosiers (12-5, 2-2).

Wisconsin started the night as one of Division I's four remaining unbeaten teams and it looked like it would stay that way when the Badgers took a 10-point lead with 13:27 to play.

But the Hoosiers, playing their best game of the season, answered with 12 straight points to take a 54-52 lead with 9 minutes left.

Indiana led 70-65 with 2:03 remaining but still had to fend off Wisconsin's late challenge. Ferrell made two free throws with 18.3 seconds left to give Indiana the three-point lead and both of Wisconsin's potentially tying 3-pointers came up short.

Traevon Jackson led the Badgers with a career-high 21 points.

The hometown fans stormed the court after Indiana won its second straight and prevented Wisconsin from tying another dubious record by winning its sixth in a row in Bloomington.

Instead, some of the young Hoosiers came up big.

While senior Will Sheehey scored 13 points, freshman Stanford Robinson added a career-high 13. And another freshman, Noah Vonleh had 10 points, five rebounds and two 3s.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, did not play its usual brand of mistake-free basketball. It turned the ball over 10 times, went just 1 of 4 from the free throw line and couldn't quite catch the Hoosiers late.

Jackson did everything he could to rally the Badgers after spending the final 8 minutes of the first half on the bench in foul trouble. He opened the second half by scoring Wisconsin's first nine points, helping the Badgers take a 52-42 lead with 13:27 to go.

But Ferrell, Sheehey and Robinson helped the Hoosiers storm back.

Gordon started Indiana's big run with a 17-footer. Sheehey and Robinson followed with consecutive layups and when Vonleh posted up for a short jumper in the paint with 9 minutes left, the Hoosiers led 54-52.

Indiana went up 70-65 on Ferrell's 18-footer with 2:03 to play.

After Wisconsin cut the led to 73-72 on Frank Kaminsky's putback with 28.5 seconds left, Ferrell hit two free throws and the Badgers missed the two 3-point attempts.

Li handles the Melbourne heat, reaches 3rd round

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Coming from one of China's three "Stove Cities" had its benefits for Li Na on another scorching day at the Australian Open, where she completed back-to-back wins over the two youngest players in the draw to reach the third round.

The 2011 French Open, a two-time finalist at Melbourne Park, raced through the first set against 16-year-old Belinda Bencic in 22 minutes on Wednesday, conceding just 10 points. She had to work harder in the second, with temperatures topping 39 Celsius (102 Fahrenheit), before winning 6-0, 7-6 (5).

Li, from Wuhan, one of three cities in central China renowned for hot temperatures, turns 32 next month. In the first round, she dropped just two games as she accounted for 16-year-old Ana Konjuh, the youngest player in the tournament. Bencic and Konjuh each won two of the four junior majors in 2013.

"It's warm, but it's OK," Li said of her 1-hour, 20-minute second-round match.

Temperatures topped 42 Celsius (108F) on Tuesday, and there were a total of nine retirements in the first round, equaling a Grand Slam record. The forecast is for the heat wave to continue until Friday, with daily maximums above 40 C (104F).

The players are finding ways to cope, using ice vests and wet towels in the changeovers. In Wednesday's first match on Margaret Court Arena, the heat rule went into effect allowing the No. 15-seeded Sabine Lisicki and Monica Niculescu a 10-minute break after the second set.

Top-ranked Serena Williams was playing Vesna Dolonc in the second match on Rod Laver Arena and three-time defending men's champion Novak Djokovic was to follow on the center court.

In other completed matches, No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova followed up her first-round win over Venus Williams with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over American Irina Falconi.

On the men's side, No. 7 Tomas Berdych became the first man into the third round with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 win over Kenny de Schepper of France.

Kershaw, Price, Scherzer among 146 in arbitration

NEW YORK (AP) Cy Young Award winners Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers headed 146 players who filed for salary arbitration.

Tampa Bay pitcher David Price, Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez, Cincinnati pitcher Aroldis Chapman, Arizona outfielder Mark Trumbo, Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters and Washington pitcher Jordan Zimmermann also were among those who filed Tuesday.

Players are set to swap proposed salaries with their clubs Friday, and hearings will be scheduled for next month in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Of the 133 players who filed last year, none went to hearings - the first time since the process began in 1974 that every case settled. After peaking at 35 hearings in 1986, the number of cases argued hasn't reached double digits since 2001.

Players in arbitration averaged a 119 percent increase last year, according to a study by The Associated Press.

Lions hire ex-Colts coach Jim Caldwell

DETROIT (AP) Jim Caldwell got a ringing endorsement from one of his mentors when Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew was doing his homework.

The Lions hired Caldwell on Tuesday to replace fired coach Jim Schwartz, ending a search that included a phone conversation between Mayhew and Tony Dungy.

"Martin called me and said we're looking for a leader who can help turn our locker room into a winning one and to help us get the most out of our investment in Matthew Stafford," Dungy recalled in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I told Martin that Jim Caldwell is exactly what you're looking for. He'll lead by making people accountable and by being a role model on and off the field. And with his attention to detail and history of developing quarterbacks, Stafford is going to flourish just like Peyton Manning did with us in Indianapolis."

Detroit wanted to replace Schwartz with someone with experience as a head coach, ideally with a track record of tutoring quarterbacks.

Caldwell helped the Indianapolis Colts reach the Super Bowl after his debut season in 2009, but was fired two years later after a 2-14 season while Manning was injured, dropping his three-year mark to 26-22.

Before Caldwell was hired by the Dungy-led Colts in 2002 to be their quarterbacks coach, he had the same job for Dungy with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Caldwell was hired by Baltimore two years ago to be their quarterbacks coach and was promoted to offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season. The Ravens went on to win the last Super Bowl.

The Lions will introduce Caldwell as their coach Wednesday during a news conference at Ford Field.

"We believe Jim is the right man to lead our team and deliver a championship to our fans," Lions owner William Clay Ford said in a statement.

The Ravens struggled on offense in 2013 and might've replaced Caldwell if he didn't get another job. Baltimore ranked 29th on offense overall - 30th rushing and 18th passing - last season with Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice.

Still, Caldwell's body of work was enough to also make him a candidate to lead the Washington Redskins and Titans. Former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak and ex-Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak were also considered by the Lions.

"I'm excited because he has worked with some good coaches and he did a good job with the Colts," Lions offensive guard Rob Sims said in a telephone interview. "Players seem to like him, so I'm looking forward to being a part of the next chapter of Detroit Lions football with him leading us."

Caldwell won his first 14 games with the Colts in 2009 before losing the final two games of the regular season while resting Manning and most of the other starters. The Colts lost to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl. Indy was 10-6 the following season and won another AFC South title, then lost to the New York Jets in a wild-card game. With Manning out for all of Caldwell's third season, the Colts lost 14 games and Caldwell lost his job.

In Baltimore, Caldwell replaced offensive coordinator Cam Cameron toward the end of the 2012 regular season and he seemed to give the offense a boost as it went on to win the Super Bowl against San Francisco.

Helping the Lions win one playoff game would be a relative feat: Detroit has only one playoff victory - more than two decades ago - since winning the 1957 NFL title.

Caldwell, who won two playoff games in his first season with the Colts, will be counted on to use his experience with quarterbacks to make Matthew Stafford better. Detroit drafted Stafford No. 1 overall in 2009 and after two injury-shortened seasons, he has been spectacular at times and shaky at others.

When the Lions needed him most, he was at his worst last season. He had an NFL-high 14 turnovers from Week 11-16 as Detroit dropped five of six games, plummeting out of first place in the NFC North and wasting an opportunity to win a division title for the first time since 1993.

Caldwell's first job as a head coach was at Wake Forest, which fired him in 2000 with a 26-63 record over eight seasons. Caldwell, who is from Beloit, Wis., played defensive back for Iowa and began his coaching career in 1977 as a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes.

Caldwell later went on to coach quarterbacks, wide receivers and outside linebackers from 1982-84 for Bill McCartney at Colorado.

"He's one of the finest people I've ever met," McCartney said in a telephone interview. "He has tremendous character. If he says something, you can take it to the bank and hang your hat on it. His players will trust them and they'll rally for him. He's ready for this.

"Every home, every business and every NFL team rises or falls because of leadership. And, the Lions have a leader now."

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AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in Allen Park, Mich. contributed to this report.

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Biathlete Tracy Barnes gives up her Olympic Team spot to twin sister

Tracy Barnes could think of only one greater honor than making the U.S. Olympic Team.

Letting her twin sister go instead.

Barnes, 31, earned a spot on the 2014 U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team following last weekend’s final qualifying races. She declined it to allow the woman next in line to go to Sochi.

That woman was Lanny Barnes.

Lanny fell ill over the weekend, missed three of the final four selection races in Italy, and her hopes of going to a third Olympics vanished. Five women go to the Olympics. Lanny was just out of the running until Tracy informed her of a decision she made before that final race.

“Love is selfless dedication,” Tracy said, according to 3 Wire Sports. “Love means giving up your dream so someone else can realize theirs.”

Tracy, a 2006 Olympian and five minutes younger than Lanny, knew the weight of her choice — a “heavy situation” — and wanted to give her sister a second chance.

They hiked in the mountains after the final race Sunday. That’s where Tracy told Lanny of her choice, which was received by protest from Lanny and tears from both, according to 3 Wire Sports.

“As the old saying goes, ‘Only the strong will survive,’” Tracy said, according to US Biathlon. “Most of the time, that is the case. On occasion the strong don’t survive for whatever reason. And that is what I feel happened to Lanny. She’s having a stellar season and she bound to do great things this year, but she fell ill during the trials and couldn’t race. Because of that she didn’t make the team. While most people would say, ‘That’s biathlon,’ or, ‘That’s life,’ — and they’d be absolutely correct in saying that – but what if that person who was hit with a little bit of bad luck got a second chance? What if someone believed in them enough to give them that chance? Well, that’s what I did.”

Tracy emailed her friends and family Monday, according to the Durango (Colo.) Herald.

“I think that her selfless act encompasses what an Olympian truly is,” Lanny said, according to US Biathlon. “Often times during the hype of the Games we forget what the Olympics are really about. They aren’t about the medals and the fame and all of that. The Olympics are about inspiration, teamwork, excellence and representation. I can think of no better example of the true Olympic spirit than what Tracy.”

Lanny, who has trained with her twin for 15 years, relishes the opportunity.

“It’s not every day that you are given a second chance like this,” Lanny said. “I thought my chance at the Olympics was over, but now I’ve got a second chance and will do everything I can to bring honor to her and our country in Russia.”

It’s often said the Olympics are about more than medals, that they are about taking part, sportsmanship and fair play.

“The Olympics are about more than just winning gold, or even competing,” Tracy said. “They are about friendship, cooperation, sacrifice, and a whole host of other things. Lanny is my best friend and my teammate. I see how hard she works on a daily basis, so I know first hand that she is deserving of a spot on the Olympic Team. If I can be the one to give her that opportunity, than that is an honor and a sacrifice that I am willing to make.”

Mikaela Shiffrin wins World Cup slalom under the lights

Mikaela Shiffrin reinforced her Olympic favorite status by winning her second straight World Cup slalom event and third this season in Flachau, Austria, on Tuesday night.

Shiffrin, 18, conquered the course in a two-run time of 1 minute, 45.83 seconds, beating Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter by .83. Another Swede, Maria Pietilae-Holmner, was third.

Shiffrin led by a comfortable .90 after the first run in the early evening.

“The first run I really let it go and gave myself a little bit of a cushion for the second run,” said Shiffrin, now a seven-time World Cup race winner and $59,000 richer. “But second run I had a couple moves where I kind of hit the rut. I was like, ‘No, just stay the course!’ So I’m really psyched.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup continues with a downhill and a super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday and Sunday. The last slalom before the Olympics is in Maribor, Slovenia, on Feb. 2, five days before the Opening Ceremony.

“It’s nice to sing my national anthem a couple of races before the Olympics,” Shiffrin said. “Hopefully, I can keep it going.”

Shiffrin’s gold medal hopes wavered in late December, when Austrian Marlies Schild won two straight World Cup slaloms.

The Austrian Schild was fourth after the first run Tuesday and fell in her second run to finish 26th.

Schild, 32, owns the record for most career World Cup slalom wins and won the World Cup season title four times in six years before suffering a major right knee injury in December 2012.

Shiffrin, who lists Schild as an idol, took the reins from Schild and won the World Championship in February.

The American is guaranteed to be leading the World Cup slalom standings going into the Olympics no matter the results in Maribor.

“If I’m a medal contender, then that just means that I’m going to try to contend for a medal,” Shiffrin said. “When my nana tells me that my ski racing is keeping her alive, I think that’s more pressure than any race.”

Flachau Slalom
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 1:45.83
2. Frida Hansdotter (SWE) 1:46.66
3. Maria Pietilae-Holmner (SWE) 1:46.97
4. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:47.23
5. Michaela Kirchgasser (AUT) 1:47.38
6. Nicole Hosp (AUT) 1:47.82
7. Nina Loeseth (NOR) 1:47.98
8. Kathrin Zettel (AUT) 1:47.99
8. Wendy Holdener (AUT) 1:47.99
10. Marie-Michele Gagnon (CAN) 1:48.01

Judge: $765M might not cover NFL concussion claims

PHILADELPHIA (AP) A federal judge is slowing down the proposed $765 million settlement of NFL concussion claims, questioning if there's enough money to cover 20,000 retired players.

U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody denied preliminary approval of the plan on Tuesday because she's worried the money could run out sooner than expected. She also raised concerns that anyone who gets concussion damages from the NFL would be barred from suing the NCAA or other amateur football leagues.

"I am primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their (families) ... will be paid," the judge wrote.

The proposed settlement, negotiated over several months, is designed to last at least 65 years.

The awards would vary based on an ex-player's age and diagnosis. A younger retiree with Lou Gehrig's disease would get $5 million, those with serious dementia cases would get $3 million and an 80-year-old with early dementia would get $25,000. Retirees without symptoms would get baseline screening and follow-up care if needed.

"Even if only 10 percent of retired NFL football players eventually receive a qualifying diagnosis," the judge wrote, "it is difficult to see how the Monetary Award Fund would have the funds available over its lifespan to pay all claimants at these significant award levels."

She asked for more raw financial data before scheduling a fairness hearing this year, when objectors can question the plan. The objectors could later decide to opt out of it.

Law professor Gabe Feldman, who directs the sports law program at the Tulane University Law School, called the ruling a setback but said "there's no reason to panic."

"The question remains whether this gives pause to some of the retired players and makes them question whether this is a settlement they want to be a part of," he said.

Some critics said the NFL, with more than $9 billion in annual revenue, was getting away lightly. But the players' lawyers said they would face huge challenges just to get the case to trial. They would have to prove the injuries were linked to the players' NFL service and should not be handled through league arbitration. They could end up with nothing.

Sol Weiss, a lead lawyer for the ex-players, remained confident the class action settlement will ultimately be approved. He said he was confident "that there will be enough money to cover these claims for 65 years."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said league officials were "confident that the settlement is fair and adequate and look forward to demonstrating that to the court."

More than 4,500 former players have filed suit, some accusing the league of fraud for its handling of concussions. They include former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett and Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, who suffers from dementia.

The judge's hand-picked mediator, former federal judge Layn R. Phillips, led several months of negotiations last year and has called the deal fair to both sides.

The settlement would include $675 million for compensatory claims for players with neurological symptoms, $75 million for baseline testing for asymptomatic men and $10 million for medical research and education. The NFL also would pay an additional $112 million to the players' lawyers for their fees and expenses, for a total payout of nearly $900 million.

The NCAA clause is apparently designed to prevent plaintiffs from double dipping. Feldman said he was unsure why the NFL would insist on that.

Given the judge's ruling, the two sides could offer more evidence the fund would be stable, change the payout formula or perhaps have the NFL add more money to the pot. Otherwise, they may be left to start over.

"I think it's a pretty efficient way of doing things, rather than bring it up for the first time at the fairness hearing," Matt Mitten, who directs the National Sports Law Institute at the Marquette University Law School, said of the judge's opinion. "Some of these guys need the money right now."

Georgia hires FSU's Pruitt to head defense

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Georgia coach Mark Richt moved quickly to name a new defensive coordinator, hiring Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State on Tuesday, only two days after losing Todd Grantham to Louisville.

Richt said he is "ecstatic" to add Pruitt to the Georgia staff. Pruitt has coached on three straight national championship teams at Alabama and Florida State.

Under Pruitt, undefeated Florida State led the nation in scoring defense, allowing 12.1 points per game, and ranked third in total defense while winning the national championship.

Pruitt also was Florida State's defensive backs coach, and the Seminoles ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency defense.

Pruitt, who was in Athens on Tuesday, said the move to Georgia "is an outstanding professional and personal opportunity."

"I'm looking forward to meeting the current players and getting on the road to visit with recruits," Pruitt said.

Georgia expects to return 10 starters on defense.

Pruitt already has a close relationship with at least one Georgia assistant coach. Pruitt began his playing career at Middle Tennessee State before transferring to Alabama, where he was roommates with Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend.

Georgia did not release terms of Pruitt's contract. Grantham was earning $850,000. Pruitt, 39, earned $500,000 in 2013 and was expected to receive a raise at Florida State.

Before moving to Florida State, Pruitt was the secondary coach at Alabama for three seasons, including the Crimson Tide's national championship teams in 2011 and 2012.

With the Feb. 5 national signing day only three weeks away, Richt moved quickly to hire Pruitt, who is known as a strong recruiter.

Pruitt produced instant results in his one season at Florida State.

"He taught us the ins and outs of everything," Florida State safety Terrence Brooks said recently. "Just the way to pursue to the ball, the way to go get the ball, everything you can think about in football he's taught us. He really broke the game down to us as to why we're running this type of defense.

"He makes you understand it so much better and I feel like everyone bought into it and that's why we're so successful."

Grantham was named Louisville's defensive coordinator on Sunday. He was the second defensive assistant to leave Georgia. Secondary coach Scott Lakatos resigned on Thursday, citing undisclosed personal reasons.

Under Grantham, Georgia's defense produced mixed results.

In 2011, the Bulldogs ranked fifth in the nation in total defense. His 2012 defense was packed with talented players, sending seven players to the 2013 NFL draft, but was perceived as underachieving.

Grantham had to rebuild the defense in 2013, when Georgia ranked only eighth in the Southeastern Conference in total defense and 78th in the nation in scoring defense. Georgia gave up 29 points per game to rank 78th in the nation as the Bulldogs finished 8-5.

Georgia did not announce if Pruitt will coach defensive backs at Georgia, as he did at Florida State. Pruitt is scheduled to meet with reporters in Athens on Wednesday.

The signature play of the 2013 season for Georgia's defense came in the Bulldogs' 43-38 loss to Auburn. Nick Marshall's 73-yard pass was deflected by Georgia defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons and then caught by Ricardo Louis for the go-ahead touchdown with 25 seconds remaining.

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Associated Press Writer Kareem Copeland in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.

Basketball star Farmer gets 2-plus years in prison

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) Richie Farmer left his rural upbringing to pursue basketball fame with the University of Kentucky and two terms as the state's agriculture commissioner, but it was a sense of entitlement that brought down his political career.

Farmer was sentenced Tuesday to more than two years in prison for abusing his public office, hiring friends and having them do little to no work and using state employees to build a basketball court at his home, prosecutors said.

Farmer will head to federal prison March 18 to being serving 27 months behind bars. U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove recommended that Farmer, 44, be allowed to serve his time at the minimum-security facility near his home in Manchester, the seat of Clay County in southern Kentucky where he grew up.

If the Bureau of Prisons allows the assignment, Farmer would be near his family, including three sons who are in or nearing their teenage years.

"It's pretty easy to be a hero to your kids when your jersey hangs in Rupp Arena," Van Tatenhove said. "Your chance to be a dad and a good dad to your kids is exponential because now you get to tell them what to do when you fail."

Farmer pleaded guilty in September to two counts of misappropriating government resources. He was also ordered to pay $120,500 in restitution.

Farmer was a shooting guard for the 1991-1992 team known as "The Unforgettables" for their gutsy play and for turning the Wildcats around after a couple of years on probation.

Both during the sentencing hearing and outside the courthouse, Farmer apologized but didn't talk specifically about what he had done.

"If you make bad decisions and poor judgments, you own up to them," he said.

The judge said Farmer's misdeeds ran wide and deep during his eight years in office.

"It's sad to read," Van Tatenhove said. "There is a sense of entitlement. There's greed ... kind of a culture of entitlement is not really understating it."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor said the sentence will ensure the end of Farmer's political career.

"This sentence should speak more to others who might be disposed to do what he's done," Taylor said.

After the hearing, Farmer's attorney, J. Guthrie True, said everyone was glad the legal battle was over.

"He served our state quite well in many respects as commissioner of agriculture," True said. "He's accomplished a lot in life and he'll be able to accomplish more."

Prosecutors have outlined a wide-range of abuses by Farmer, including using state employees for personal business and keeping some items, such as laptops, small refrigerators and filing cabinets after leaving office in 2012.

As a high school standout, Farmer was named Kentucky's Mr. Basketball in 1988. He played shooting guard for Kentucky from 1988 to 1992, and had career averages of 7.6 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game.

The Wildcats' run in the NCAA Tournament ended in a regional final against Duke, a matchup often cited as the greatest college game ever played. The heavily favored Blue Devils survived an overtime thriller when Duke forward Christian Laettner caught a long pass near the free throw line, took one dribble and hit the jump shot at the buzzer to win the game.

It was Kentucky's first trip to the postseason after a two-year ban for NCAA infractions. Farmer and teammates Deron Feldhaus, Sean Woods, and John Pelphrey became well-known and their jerseys, including Farmer's No. 32, were retired.

Farmer had been a rising star within the Kentucky GOP until an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 2011 on a ticket with Republican state Senate President David Williams. They lost overwhelmingly to incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, in part because of the brewing scandal.

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Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP

Harbaugh leads 49ers back to NFC championship

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Jim Harbaugh pirouetted in frustration following a personal foul on Dan Skuta. He got hit with his own unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing following a catch by Vernon Davis that went to review before being ruled a touchdown.

And that was just last Sunday.

Harbaugh has been at his emotional best - or, to some, worst - with his cartoon-like faces and quirky sideline antics in leading San Francisco back to the NFC championship game for the third time in as many years since taking over as 49ers head coach in January 2011. On Davis' TD during Sunday's 23-10 win at Carolina, Harbaugh ran well onto the field during the play.

"I think Harbaugh gets away with murder myself," former Seahawks coach and ex-49ers assistant Mike Holmgren said. "If I ever did that it would be a penalty."

Harbaugh should be as charged up as ever come Sunday, when he faces off once more against the rival Seattle Seahawks in an NFC championship game featuring that familiar coaching sideshow with Pete Carroll. This time, there's a Super Bowl berth on the line.

But if you ask Harbaugh, "What's your deal?" is so five years ago. Enough already, he insists, keep it about the players.

"That might have been something four or five years ago," Harbaugh said. "But, I haven't seen it as of late. And, it would be as irrelevant now as it would have been then when people made a bigger deal out of it. So, irrelevant, irrelevant."

Sorry, not this week. There's no avoiding such chatter. Harbaugh has to expect that infamous phrase to come up often.

It dates back to their college days coaching in the Pac-10 Conference. In 2009, Harbaugh and No. 25 Stanford ran up the score on 11th-ranked USC in a surprising 55-21 rout, even attempting a 2-point conversion with the game way out of reach - prompting Carroll's infamous "What's your deal?" when they met afterward at midfield.

Whatever their past or perceived differences, Harbaugh knows what to expect every time a Carroll-coached team takes the field.

The Seahawks ended San Francisco's two-year reign as NFC West champion.

"It's hard to get to this position," Harbaugh said. "Talking about a year of preparation and planning and offseason and training camp and games. And they did it better than anybody did it this entire season. So, a great task, great challenge ahead of us."

The 49ers have already accomplished plenty this postseason by winning in the bitter cold of Green Bay and at Carolina. Harbaugh is the first coach in the Super Bowl era to reach the NFC championship in each of his first three years.

Place kicker Phil Dawson wanted to be part of the winning vibe after 14 mostly disappointing years with Cleveland. Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey left Kansas City to join a team with Harbaugh at the helm.

Even if Dorsey's first impressions of the coach left him shaking his head.

"I noticed what everybody else noticed: a coach going crazy on the sideline having fun," Dorsey recalled. "Always pumped up and always getting his team hyped. He works hard, even now being on the inside seeing him every day and how he goes about doing his job, the enthusiasm that he has and the motivational stuff that he has, the knowledge that he has. He's a great coach."

Dawson appreciates how Harbaugh takes chances in the kicking game based on his trust in the veteran - and it certainly didn't hurt that Dawson converted a franchise-record 27 straight field goals until the streak ended in the regular-season finale at Arizona.

The 50-year-old Harbaugh, a 15-year NFL quarterback himself, regularly moves around the team plane to visit with players about football and life. He shares meals with rookies and veterans alike on occasion in the team cafeteria.

"He's the kind of coach you want to win for," Dawson said. "There's a special satisfaction with having a relationship with the head coach. Being a place kicker, on a lot of teams the head coach never even speaks to the kicker. He's around, he gets it, he's been there. He's sat in those seats. I think it's probably one of the biggest reasons he's successful is his ability to communicate with the guys and relate to them on their level and be able to instill whatever it is he's trying to instill in a way that guys will receive it."

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AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Renton, Wash., contributed to this report.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fiesta Bowl executive director Shelton resigns

PHOENIX (AP) Robert Shelton has resigned as executive director of the Fiesta Bowl, 2 1/2 years after he took the job amid a scandal that rocked the foundation of one of college football's major events.

Shelton said his leaving was a mutual decision by him and the bowl's board of directors.

Shelton left his post as president of the University of Arizona to take over at the Fiesta Bowl on June 13, 2011.

He replaced John Junker, who resigned following a scathing internal report outlining lavish spending and a scheme in which bowl employees were required to make donations to certain political candidates and have the money reimbursed by the bowl.

Junker is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to federal and state felony charges in connection with the campaign finance scheme. This week, a federal judge set Junker's sentencing for March 13. His sentencing on state charges is expected to come after that.

Under Shelton, the Fiesta Bowl repaired its image, expanded charitable contributions, retained its status as a Bowl Championship Series event, then landed future semifinal and championship games in the new college football playoff system.

"I think the community was waiting and they wanted to be behind us but they needed to see that changes had been made," he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. "Once we demonstrated that, once we reached out, people could see it was a new era of accountability, openness - all the buzz words - transparency."

He praised his Fiesta Bowl staff and the event's 2,900 volunteers and thanked them for their support.

Shelton, 65, called it a good time to make a transition to new leadership and for him to move on.

"The big heavy lifting, we've done," he said. "That's culminated with having a place in the new college football playoffs, culminated by getting the national championship game. From the bowl's perspective, it's a good breaking point."

He said that when he first took the job, he found the challenges he faced "were a little bit bigger than we had envisioned."

The top priority, he said, was to restore the bowl's reputation with the community.

"There's no secret formula," he said. "You just have to be out there. You have to be candid and honest with people and let them know if you've got issues or worries, and trust people will treat you fairly."

Shelton, a physicist by training, will return to Tucson to become president of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement.

"That's getting me back to a real love of my life," he said. "It gets me back to something I also feel passionate about."

Shelton said that implications by some that he was being forced out were inaccurate, that it truly was a mutual choice.

Fiesta Bowl board Chairman Brian Hall said Shelton was "the ideal person at a crucial time in our history and we are grateful for his contributions."

"He has done a tremendous job setting us up for the new playoff system and it is now the board's job to take the lead in preparing our organization to best meet the future."

After being selected to host a semifinal playoff game in 2017, the Fiesta Bowl recently landed the 2016 national championship game.

Board member Duane Woods will serve as interim executive director while a search for a replacement is conducted.

Shelton served as president of the University of Arizona for five years. Before that, he served as executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of North Carolina.

Seahawks not surprised to see 49ers again

RENTON, Wash. (AP) After beating up on each other twice earlier this season, Pete Carroll was not surprised to see San Francisco as the opponent coming to Seattle for the NFC championship game.

He believes the division foes, with one of the most heated rivalries in the NFC, meeting for a trip to the Super Bowl is validation for how good the once-mocked NFC West has become.

"This matchup is exactly what everybody is looking for and it's an exciting one with a lot of background," Carroll said on Monday.

"I'm grateful it's coming from our division. I think our division really made a statement this year about how good we were and lot of losses came within the division. When you look at it this is a fantastic matchup with a great opportunity for both teams."

Seattle (14-3) advanced to the NFC title game after knocking off New Orleans 23-15 in the divisional round on Saturday.

It's the second NFC championship game appearance for Seattle and third overall having once played for the AFC title.

There is familiarity and contempt when it comes to San Francisco and Seattle.

They've played six times since San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh arrived before the 2011 season with the 49ers holding a 4-2 advantage. But of Seattle's four losses, only one - the first - has been by more than seven points.

Seattle and San Francisco split the two games this season with each winning at home.

The Seahawks rolled to a 29-3 win in Week 2, and the 49ers kicked a late field goal for a 19-17 win in Week 14.

Perhaps it's appropriate that the series record is tied 15-15 heading into Sunday with more at stake than ever before.

"It shows how good the NFC West has been over the past couple of years," Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said.

"It's going to be a great challenge for both teams. It's going to be a physical game. It's going to be a game where everybody knows each other and everybody knows everybody's techniques so we just have to play great football and execute and be on time make the plays when we need to make them."

Seattle goes into the week with two lingering injury questions.

The first is with wide receiver Percy Harvin, who made his return on Saturday and suffered a concussion late in the first half.

Carroll emphasized Monday they will "respect the heck" out of the process for Harvin to get cleared and said Wednesday and Thursday will be the important days if he's able to get back on the field.

Harvin took two big hits in the game, the first coming from Rafael Bush on the third play and drawing a 15-yard roughing penalty. Harvin also was hit by Malcolm Jenkins as he hit the field on the play he was injured.

Before he was injured, Harvin showed the flashes Seattle believed it was getting in mass quantity when it traded for him during the offseason.

Carroll said Harvin had no issues with his hip that was surgically repaired in August and the concern this week is strictly for his head. He added that Seattle playing on Saturday and Harvin having an extra day of recovery could be significant.

"We're going to take care of Percy and make sure we do the right thing. We're not going to stretch the limits at all. We're going to be very careful here. We'll do that every step of the way."

Aside from Harvin, Seattle is also waiting to see if linebacker K.J. Wright will play for the first time since suffering a fracture in his right foot against San Francisco in Week 14.

Wright had surgery after the injury and was back running last week. Carroll said he would be tested on Wednesday to see where he is at in his recovery.

"We ran well today and over the weekend," Carroll said. "He'll come back out on Wednesday and we'll see where he is. He has a chance and we're excited for him."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Wayne Gretzky welcomes the NHL to Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES (AP) Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille squinted into brilliant sunshine Monday as the 18-wheel truck carrying the NHL's portable refrigeration units pulled up to the outfield entrance to Dodger Stadium.

In less than two weeks, their Los Angeles Kings and the rival Anaheim Ducks will turn Chavez Ravine into California's version of a winter wonderland. The NHL is staging its first warm-weather outdoor game on a hockey rink flanked by a beach volleyball court and an below-ground swimming pool in the famed baseball stadium's outfield.

The NHL's ice-makers were already at work on a beautiful 79-degree day, and Gretzky can't wait to see the next step in the evolution of a sport that didn't bloom in the California sun until the Great One moved to Los Angeles in 1988.

"I'm very proud that I was a piece of the group that was sort of responsible for stamping hockey into this area," Gretzky said while standing on the center field grass.

"It was the right group of guys, from Luc (Robitaille) to Marty McSorley to Kelly Hrudey to Tony Granato," Gretzky added. "Each and every guy understood that this was a different market from other markets in the NHL, and these guys always went above and beyond the call of duty to go out and promote the sport and get more and more kids interested."

The game will be a landmark for hockey in the American Southwest, which has produced a handful of NHL players and dozens more prospects in the pipeline over the past quarter-century. But the game also heralds the return of the league's career scoring leader to hockey prominence.

Gretzky has mostly stayed out of the public spotlight for five years since leaving the Phoenix Coyotes' bench, but he will be a prominent feature during the festivities, thrilling the NHL. Accompanied to Dodger Stadium by his wife, Janet, Gretzky said he is thrilled to see an outdoor game in the city where he played nearly eight NHL seasons.

Robitaille, now the Kings' president of business operations, said Gretzky is "like our Babe Ruth, and we need him around."

"We can't have this game without having Wayne," Robitaille added. "It's so important he's here. It's so important that he be here for that game. It's the day before his birthday, too. I've got to remember to have a cake."

Gretzky, Robitaille and Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau got a detailed look at early preparations for the game, which will be played after the sun goes down on Jan. 25.

The NHL's ice crews are putting down the foundation for the rink over the next few days, likely beginning the ice-making process Thursday. They will work entirely at night, gradually building up the ice sheet in colder temperatures while keeping it covered during the day.

NHL ice specialist Dan Craig is intrigued by the challenge of a warm-weather game, but confident his crew will deliver a workable surface - although he won't be getting much sleep over the next two weeks while working through the nights.

Gretzky and Robitaille also aren't worried. After all, they both remember the Kings' outdoor exhibition game in 1991 in Las Vegas, where the biggest hitch was a grasshopper invasion of the ice.

"People don't realize it's like 65 degrees in a hockey arena," Gretzky said. "It's kind of warm. It's not that cold."

Brady embraces underdog role in AFC title game

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) It's been seven years since the Patriots were underdogs in a postseason game.

So Tom Brady isn't wasting a chance to embrace that role now.

If that motivational tactic is good enough for the star quarterback, it's good enough for his teammates.

"If Tom's going to embrace it, I'm going to embrace it," New England running back LeGarrette Blount said with a smile on Monday. "That's the leader of this team, and if that's how he feels, I'm sure that's how most of the guys out here feel."

For the first time in 12 postseason games, the Patriots are underdogs in Sunday's AFC championship matchup with Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver.

The last time the Patriots weren't favored in the playoffs was in another conference title game against Manning when he was with Indianapolis in 2007. The Colts rallied at home for a 38-34 win after trailing 21-3 in the final minute of the first half.

That also was the Patriots most recent playoff road game. Since then, they're 7-2 at home and 0-2 in Super Bowls.

This season, they were underdogs at home against Denver on Nov. 24 but won 34-31 in overtime after trailing 24-0 at halftime.

In their next to last regular-season game, the Patriots (13-4) were underdogs at Baltimore, which had won four straight games, but beat the Ravens 41-7.

"I know when we played Baltimore nobody picked us to win," Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI radio. "I'm sure no one's going to pick us to win this week. We've had our backs against the wall for a while. Really, the whole season we've lost players, and teams have really counted us out."

That may be an exaggeration. Teams don't take the Patriots lightly.

Still, Brady said, "We've got a bunch of underdogs on our team, and we'll be an underdog again."

He knows what it's like to be underestimated. Back in 2000, he wasn't drafted until the sixth round. Teams chose 198 players before the Patriots took a chance on him.

"He came into the league as a big underdog," fullback James Develin said, "so I'm sure he's used to that."

It's not surprising that the Broncos (14-3) are favored.

They're at home. They have Manning throwing to a deep group of receivers. The one-two running punch of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball is rolling. The defense may be suspect with five starters sidelined, but so is New England's, which is missing four of its front seven.

All the more fuel to stoke the underdog fire.

"We play with a chip on our shoulder and we like to play that way," wide receiver Danny Amendola said.

New England was favored at home against the Colts in an AFC divisional-round game on Saturday night and won 43-22.

Denver upheld its favored status by repelling a late comeback and beating the San Diego Chargers 24-17 on Sunday.

The regular-season game against the Broncos could help in the rematch, but the Patriots know both teams have evolved. One of the big changes is that Denver's Julius Thomas is ready after missing the first meeting with a knee injury.

"He's a big, talented tight end that can pretty much do it all," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said.

Thomas had 65 catches this season, one of five Broncos with at least 60. Only Julian Edelman, with 105, had at least 60 for the Patriots.

But New England can expect a lot more out of Blount than he provided - 13 yards on two carries - in the previous game against Denver.

His three most productive rushing games have been his past three with 76 yards and two touchdowns against Baltimore, 189 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo and 166 yards and four touchdowns against Indianapolis.

He wants more.

"I can do a lot of improving," Blount said after watching video of the Indianapolis game. "I've seen a couple of holes I could have hit, and I've seen a couple of cuts I could have made. I'm going to go out there and look at what they're going to give me, and hopefully explode somewhere."

And once the game starts, it doesn't matter who's favored.

"Whoever they pick, they pick," safety Steve Gregory said. "Nobody really knows what's going to happen. So it's two very good football teams that are going to go at it and we'll see who gets it at the end."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Arsenal beats Villa 2-1, back atop Premier League

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) - Arsenal scored two goals in the space of 59 seconds on its way to a 2-1 win over Aston Villa that put the visitors back on top of the Premier League on Monday.

Jack Wilshere's 34th-minute opener was quickly followed by a well-taken goal by Olivier Giroud, which proved to be enough to lift Arsenal back above Manchester City and Chelsea after their victories at the weekend.

Belgium striker Christian Benteke scored his first goal since mid-September to give Villa hope in the 76th minute but the home side couldn't find an equalizer despite late pressure.

"The first half was more about playing, and the second half was more about fighting," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

With its fourth straight league win, Arsenal restored its one-point lead over City after 21 matches.

To cap another disappointing result at Villa Park for the mid-table hosts, Villa defender Nathan Baker was carried off on a stretcher in the 21st minute after briefly losing consciousness when he was hit straight in the face by a shot from Arsenal winger Serge Gnabry.

Baker required oxygen and a neck brace after being treated on the field for seven minutes. He was later diagnosed with mild concussion, according to broadcaster Sky Sports.

The pressure was on Arsenal after seeing the rest of the top seven all pick up victories by two-goal margins over the weekend. However, save for a worrying last 15 minutes when Villa rallied gamely, the Gunners passed the ball much better and always looked the likely winners.

Wilshere's goal came when he ran onto a cut-back from left back Nacho Monreal, took a touch and shot low in to the bottom corner to the left of goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Just seventeen seconds after the restart, the ball hit the back of the net again. This time Wilshere was the provider, the England midfielder collecting a loose ball and playing a sublime pass through to Giroud, who brought the ball down well and fired across Guzan into the corner. It was the France striker's ninth league goal of the season on his return to the first team after a spell out through injury and illness.

Villa had only scored seven goals in its previous 10 home games this season so a comeback was unlikely, even if memories were relatively fresh of a surprise win at Arsenal on the first day of the season.

However, when Benteke stooped to head in Matthew Lowton's fine cross at full stretch after Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla sloppily gave possession away, it was all to play for with 14 minutes left.

Benteke's downward header, saved comfortably by Wojciech Szczesny, was the closest Villa came to earning a point.

"It's a massive three points, especially because we dropped a bit in the second half," Wilshere said. "We have done that a few times, letting teams come on to us, but we dealt well with it."

Cristiano Ronaldo wins FIFA best player award

ZURICH (AP) - Cristiano Ronaldo couldn't hide how much it meant to him, finally being voted the world's best player again.

Having spent four years in the shadow of his great rival Lionel Messi, Ronaldo broke down in tears after being elected the Ballon d'Or winner for 2013 on Monday - a rare display of emotion that showed just how important it was for the Portugal winger to lay his hands on the trophy again.

Ronaldo first won football's biggest individual prize five years ago, but then watched as Messi found a way of upstaging him each year despite consistently scoring at an unprecedented rate for Real Madrid.

"There are no words to describe this moment," said Ronaldo, crying openly while his 3-year-old son, also named Cristiano, stood at his feet. The little boy had just been hoisted by Brazil great Pele to touch the golden trophy as dad gathered himself to speak.

"People who know me know how many people helped me," Ronaldo said in Portuguese. "If I have forgotten anyone, I do apologize because I am deeply moved."

Earlier Monday, Ronaldo was cautiously diplomatic at a news conference, facing media who mostly predicted his prolific 69-goal tally in 2013 would end Messi's four-year victory run.

Ronaldo's stunning hat trick against Sweden in a decisive World Cup playoff in November also appeared to stand out as the year's defining individual performance.

"If I win, fine. If I don't, life goes on," he said, acknowledging that Messi's sustained excellence for Madrid nemesis Barcelona had pushed him to improve.

Ronaldo also said he has made peace with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, whose ill-judged comments in October stating a preference for Messi seemed to confirm a long-held belief in Portugal and Madrid that their player was destined to lose.

"We talked over the telephone and everything was cleared," Ronaldo said before the ceremony. "This is no longer an issue, neither for us nor for football."

In a tight race, Ronaldo received 1,365 points, Messi had 1,205 and Franck Ribery, the France and Bayern Munich winger, got 1,127. Voting was done by national team captains and coaches, plus selected journalists in each FIFA member country.

On hearing his name called - finally delivered by Pele after a dramatic pause and smile - Ronaldo closed his eyes, grinned and dipped his head, then turned to kissed his girlfriend, model Irina Shayk, before walking to the stage.

Pele greeted Ronaldo with a hug minutes after he also cried on stage when collecting an honorary Ballon d'Or for his own outstanding career.

Ronaldo's victory was fitting on an evening when FIFA paid tribute to another great Portugal forward, Eusebio, who died last week.

FIFA also stressed that Ronaldo's win owed nothing to an extension of the initial balloting deadline beyond the World Cup playoff. His display in Stockholm was so impressive it seemed certain to sway voters when Messi was sidelined by his third injury of the year.

Still, FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio said Monday the standings were unchanged by the voting rules adjustment.

Though Ribery lost, Bayern got one victory as Jupp Heynckes won the coaching award for leading the team to a Champions League, Bundesliga and national cup treble last season before he retired. Heynckes defeated Juergen Klopp of Borussia Dortmund and Alex Ferguson, who retired after winning another Premier League title for Manchester United.

European champion Germany swept the women's awards.

Goalkeeper Nadine Angerer was player of the year ahead of United States forward Abby Wambach, last year's winner, and Marta of Brazil. Sylvia Neid won the women's coaching award, beating Sweden's Pia Sundhage and Ralf Kellermann, who led Wolfsburg to the Champions League title.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic won a fans' online vote to get the Puskas Award for best goal, a long-range bicycle kick for Sweden against England in a November 2012 friendly.

Blatter gave his presidential award to Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president for 12 years until reaching his term limit last September. The Afghanistan football federation got the fair play award.

Pele received an honorary Ballon d'Or trophy, which he could never get during his career when the original prize created by France Football magazine in 1956 was restricted to European players.

"I promised my family I would not cry but I am emotional," said Pele, the only player to win the World Cup three times.

Titans hire Ken Whisenhunt as their new coach

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans have wrapped up their coaching search by hiring San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt as their new head coach and 17th in franchise history.

Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith called the hiring a big day in announcing the hiring Monday.

"Ken is a well-respected coach in this league and I am looking forward to seeing his vision become reality for this team," Smith said in a statement. "He has a history of building successful offenses and took Arizona to a Super Bowl as a head coach. We all share a common goal for this team and that is to build a consistent winner."

Whisenhunt, 51, will be introduced at a news conference Tuesday.

The Titans flew to San Diego on Friday and interviewed Whisenhunt, who started his coaching career in Nashville at Vanderbilt. He was the fourth person interviewed by the Titans, who fired Mike Munchak on Jan. 4.

But the Titans had competition for Whisenhunt, who also interviewed with Detroit and Cleveland last week. The Tennessean reported the Titans interviewed Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer for a second time Monday in Houston before hiring Whisenhunt.

Smith thanked general manager Ruston Webster for overseeing only the second coaching search by this franchise since moving to Tennessee in 1997. Webster said Whisenhunt's intelligence, track record with quality offenses and success as a head coach stand out to him most.

"I really enjoyed our meeting on Friday night in San Diego, and we share similar philosophies about the game," Webster said.

"Additionally, we have several mutual colleagues that have spoken highly to me about Ken both as a coach and as a person. I am excited about Ken joining us and the future of the Titans."

Whisenhunt spent six years coaching Arizona and took the Cardinals to their lone Super Bowl in 2009. He was fired Dec. 31, 2012, with a record of 45-51 in the regular season and 4-2 in the playoffs.

He interviewed with Cleveland twice last year before being hired as offensive coordinator in San Diego where he helped Philip Rivers and the Chargers to the playoffs.

Chargers rookie head coach Mike McCoy said earlier Monday before the Titans hired Whisenhunt that he didn't want to lose his coordinator but realized he might lose him after only a year.

"Ken has done an outstanding job here this year," McCoy said. "He is a big reason of why we got as far as we did, not only on the field, but behind the scenes with things that he did to help me."

Tight end Antonio Gates said Whisenhunt did a phenomenal job implementing a new offense in San Diego that put them in the best position possible.

"It was a privilege and a pleasure to be around a guy of that stature with the experience and winning Super Bowls, and then helping me grow as a player," Gates said.

Whisenhunt, a native of Augusta, Ga., played tight end at Georgia Tech and played 74 games in nine NFL seasons with Atlanta, Washington and the Jets.

He started coaching in Nashville as an assistant at Vanderbilt and also was offensive coordinator for Pittsburgh between 2004 and 2006. He also has coached at Baltimore, the Jets and Cleveland.

The Titans were the last NFL team to fire a head coach, and this hiring leaves Minnesota, Detroit and Cleveland still looking for a head coach. They also interviewed Jay Gruden, who was hired Thursday as Washington's new coach and Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.

Tennessee parted with Munchak after going 7-9 this past season and missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season. This franchise has not won a postseason game since January 2003. But Tennessee ranks eighth in the NFL for the best winning percentage in the league since 1999 with a record of 131-108.

Whisenhunt takes over a team with major questions about quarterback Jake Locker. He threw for six touchdowns with no interceptions and a passer rating of 99 that was third in the AFC behind only Peyton Manning and Rivers through four games before getting hurt. Locker has missed 14 of a possible 32 starts since being selected the starter.

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AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Broncos CB Chris Harris out with torn ACL

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Last week, Chris Harris marveled at how much Denver's injury-riddled defense had changed and how not a single player who started against Baltimore in last year's playoffs would start at the same position against San Diego on the anniversary of that crushing loss.

"We've lost so many guys," he said, shaking his head. "We've gotten good at keeping that next-man-up mentality."

On Monday, it was his turn to get the bad news: He'll miss the rest of the Broncos' playoff run after an MRI showed he had a torn ACL in his left knee that will require surgery and at least six months of rehab.

"There's no doubt he's one of our better performers on defense throughout this season, but ... we've lost some pretty good performers throughout the season and this team's been resilient," coach John Fox said.

Harris was injured in the third quarter of Denver's 24-17 win over San Diego on Sunday.

Fox wouldn't say if Quentin Jammer will start in the AFC title game when the Broncos (14-3) host the Patriots (13-4) this weekend.

"It's a long list, a long cast," Fox said. "If I knew right now, I wouldn't say anyways."

Fox's options include moving Champ Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowler who's been relegated to slot duty after returning from a nagging foot injury last month, back outside or inserting rookie Kayvon Webster into the starting lineup opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Webster is playing with a cast on his right thumb, which he broke in two places a month ago.

Another option is dusting off Tony Carter, who was one of the goats in Denver's 34-31 overtime loss at New England on Nov. 24 when a punt hit his leg, the Patriots recovered and Stephen Gostkowski kicked the game-winning 31-yard field goal.

After Harris got hurt, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers staged a comeback from a 17-point deficit largely by targeting Harris' rusty replacement, Jammer. It fell short, however, when Peyton Manning was able to keep Rivers on the sideline over the final 3 minutes, 51 seconds by converting a trio of third downs.

Jammer surrendered a 49-yard completion to Keenan Allen on fourth-and-5 from the Chargers' 25 with seven minutes left that helped turn a comfortable cruise into a nail-biter.

"When Chris went down, things started to unravel a little bit on the back end," safety Mike Adams said. "Jam, I'm not worried about him. He gave up a big play, but he could bounce back. He's been in the league a long time. We've all had bad games before."

Adams said the Broncos wouldn't have to adjust their defense to provide help to whomever replaces Harris, either, insisting: "I'm confident if Tony Carter goes out there, if Kayvon Webster goes out there, if Jam goes out there."

Harris had played more snaps than anybody on defense and had 65 tackles, three interceptions and 15 pass breakups, all career highs.

"It's another disappointment for us," linebacker Paris Lenon said. "Somebody else that we've been battling with that has been a huge part of this team and this defense that is down. It's an opportunity for somebody else to step up and play big."

The Broncos have withstood an injury epidemic to reach their first conference championship in eight seasons, but Harris' injury could prove the hardest to overcome.

Harris is the fifth defensive starter the Broncos have lost since November, joining Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson, Rahim Moore and Derek Wolfe.

"It's terrible news," Terrance Knighton said. "You hate to see a guy having a great year, going into a contract year (get hurt). I wish him the best. I wish him a speedy recovery, but we just have to focus on the task at hand right now and that's New England. Whoever will fill his shoes, whoever we put in there, has to step up."

Harris was hurt on the opposite side of the field when Rivers completed a 19-yard pass to Allen along the San Diego sideline with 8:17 remaining in the third quarter. Allen would catch two TD passes after that and it took Manning's superb 4-minute drill to staunch Rivers' rally.

"Philip got hot there in the second half. I did not want to give him the ball back there at the end," Manning said.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Top LSU RB Jeremy Hill announces he'll turn pro

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) LSU's top rusher and receiver are entering the NFL draft, along with one of the Tigers' starting offensive linemen.

In separate announcements Monday, sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, junior receiver Jarvis Landry and sophomore right guard Trai Turner have confirmed their intentions to turn pro.

Hill has played two seasons at LSU and was the Tigers' leading rusher each season. He rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.

Landry was expected to turn pro after racking up 1,193 yards receiving and caught 10 touchdowns in his third season.

Turner has started at right guard since the middle of 2012, his redshirt freshman year, and leaves with two years of eligibility left.

Hill's departure comes after Louisiana high school star running back Leonard Fournette announced he'd attend LSU.

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