National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Rangers LHP Holland has knee surgery after fall

Texas Rangers left-hander Derek Holland will miss the start of the season after having arthroscopic surgery Friday on his left knee.

Holland injured his knee in a fall on stairs in his home on Tuesday.

"I am devastated by this injury. It was a freak accident at home that resulted in a hard fall on my knee," Holland said in a statement released by the team. "As upsetting as this is, my goal is to begin rehab and get back on the mound as quickly as possible."

General manager Jon Daniels said team physician Dr. Keith Meister repaired cartilage behind Holland's kneecap during the surgery. Daniels said no ligaments needed to be repaired.

Daniels said it was too early to have an exact timetable for Holland's return, but is that the 27-year-old lefty is "expected to miss some time into the year." Daniels said for planning purposes, the Rangers are looking at a midseason return, but are hopeful that it can be earlier than that.

The Rangers said Holland will have only limited activity over the next six weeks.

Holland was 10-9 with a 3.42 ERA in a team-high 33 starts last season. He pitched a career-high 213 innings.

In five major league seasons with the Rangers, Holland is 49-38 in 141 games (123 starts). He is under contract through 2016, with club options for two more years after that.

Without Holland, the Rangers still appear to have Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando set for the rotation to start the season.

Asked about filling Holland's spot, Daniels said he expected to add some pitching depth, but clarified that would be "more in the depth category than really replacing somebody at the front-end of our rotation."

Daniels never specifically mentioned Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese free agent who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 27 starts last season. But the GM said it didn't seem realistic that a "big-ticket item" would be the answer.

"This is an opportunity for a number of our guys," Daniels said. "We're going to go out and hopefully fortify that group and give ourselves some additional options and expect Derek will be back midyear."

Daniels, though, has said previously when asked about Tanaka that the team would do its due diligence with any free agent.

After the Rangers signed outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to a $130 million, seven-year contract last month, team co-owner Bob Simpson said adding Tanaka "would be a tough thing."

The Rangers' payroll is expected to be over $130 million this season, more than double what it was when the ownership group took over nearly 3 1/2 years ago.

Pelicans G Holiday has stress fracture in shin

NEW ORLEANS (AP) New Orleans Pelicans starting point guard Jrue Holiday is sidelined indefinitely with a lower right leg injury.

Holiday, who met with reporters shortly before Friday night's game against Dallas, says the injury is a stress fracture in his tibia which he believes he played with for an undetermined time before the pain led him to ask trainers to take a closer look.

Holiday played 29 minutes in Wednesday night's 102-96 loss at home to Washington. He's now using a stabilizing boot to walk and says he expects to be re-evaluated in about a month.

In 34 games this season, the 6-foot-4 Holiday is averaging 14.3 points, 7.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds. His injury comes while New Orleans also plays without leading scorer Ryan Anderson, who has a herniated disk.

Saints, Seahawks clash in NFC divisional playoff

SEATTLE (AP) When they walked off the field in Atlanta last January after blowing their chance to play for the NFC championship in the final seconds, there were varying emotions brewing in the Seattle Seahawks' locker room.

Anger, disappointment and reflection were wide spread. Some, like quarterback Russell Wilson, were already peeking ahead what appeared to be a bright future. Others never wanted to experience those emotions again.

"We never want to feel that feeling again," Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said this week. "I think as motivated as New Orleans is from what happened to them the last time they came here, we're just as motivated from what happened in Atlanta. We don't ever want to go there and feel that feeling of regret, of disappointment, of anger, of frustration, of all those things that you felt after that game that you felt like you should have won."

The Seahawks chance at making amends for what happened in last season's playoffs arrives Saturday when they host New Orleans in the NFC divisional playoff.

But now the Seahawks aren't the upstarts with little pressure and limited expectations. They are the top seed in the NFC coming off a 13-3 regular season that matched the best in franchise history and well aware anything short of a trip to the Super Bowl would be a massive disappointment.

After having last week off, the Seahawks say they're ready for this playoff experience.

"When we first got there last year a lot of the guys we didn't know what to expect. We're just young wanting to go out there, have fun and do our best," Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. "Now we kind of expect the atmosphere we know what we're going into, and we know it's going to be amped up so we're going to be just as amped up to repeat it."

In many ways, the feelings the Seahawks had leaving Atlanta last season are similar to what the Saints felt leaving Seattle in December. The performance New Orleans put forth in a national spotlight was surprisingly unimpressive. Drew Brees was confused, Jimmy Graham was invisible and the Saints' aggressive defense was exploited by Wilson.

The 34-7 loss to Seattle was significant in forcing the Saints into challenges they faced, having to win in Week 17 just to make the playoffs and having to spend the entire postseason away from the comforts of New Orleans. They passed the first two tests, beating Tampa Bay in the season finale to wrap up the No. 6 seed in the NFC then picking up the first playoff road win in franchise history in a 26-24 win at Philadelphia last week.

Now the Saints get a chance at a bit of redemption. The piercing noise of CenturyLink Field and the style that Seattle plays will no longer be surprises. And there's a bit of history on the side of the Saints. Since 2005, No. 6 seeds are 5-2 against No. 1 seeds in the divisional round.

"I was just hoping we have another opportunity and here we are with that opportunity," Brees said.

The Saints are subtly different - for better and worse - since that December blowout. They are more committed to running the football over the last three games and capped with 185 yards rushing last week against the Eagles. That commitment will be severely tested by Seattle's No. 1 ranked defense that gave up 13 yards rushing to St. Louis the last time it was on the field. They are also better on the offensive line with the decision to replace Charles Brown at left tackle with Terron Armstead.

But New Orleans is littered with injuries, the latest being linebacker Parys Haralson being lost for the season with a torn pectoral last week. Running back Pierre Thomas is also an unknown with a chest injury.

"There's going to be attrition when you look at a 16-game schedule and you hope that you stay healthier than most and you hope that you are able to keep most of your starters intact," New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. "We've had a handful of injuries defensively, a few on offense and I think the key is developing the younger players, developing your back up players throughout the work week."

Seattle is also different from the first meeting, although there's no track record to know just what adding Percy Harvin to the offense will mean. Certainly the addition of Harvin - who missed all but one game of the season after hip surgery - makes Seattle more dynamic and could provide a needed boost to an offense that slumped the final four weeks of the regular season.

"I'm confident in myself once I get to the game. I'm just going to cut it loose," Harvin said. "I made all the cuts and did all the practice I could do possibly in the game. I felt no limitations. No swelling came. No setbacks. So I'm going to go out there and give it all I have."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Kiffin joins Alabama as offensive coordinator

Alabama hired former Southern California coach Lane Kiffin on Friday as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Kiffin returns to the Southeastern Conference after head coaching stints with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, Alabama rival Tennessee and the Trojans. He replaces Doug Nussmeier, who left Alabama for Michigan.

"He is an outstanding and creative offensive coach who has great experience both at the college and NFL level," coach Nick Saban said in a statement. "He has a very good understanding of the game and I have always been impressed with what I saw in the games he called. He coaches with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm, and also does an excellent job as a teacher."

Kiffin spent a week in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last month exchanging ideas with Saban and his staff and observing Alabama's offense. Now, he's the splashiest hire of Saban's tenure at Alabama, which has won three national titles in the past five seasons.

The 38-year-old Kiffin was 28-15 in three-plus seasons with USC. He was fired five games into last season from one of college football's marquee jobs.

Kiffin spent six seasons (2001-06) at USC under Pete Carroll as an assistant, including the final two as offensive coordinator. He also called plays during his time as a head coach. He spent the 2009 season at Tennessee, going 7-6 before leaving to replace Carroll.

"We want to thank the University of Alabama and Coach Saban for this tremendous opportunity, and we feel humbled and honored to be a part of the Crimson Tide family," Kiffin said in a statement. "I've always had the utmost respect for what Coach Saban has done with his programs. Having the unique opportunity to be here last month, I was able to meet some of the great players and the great people in the organization, and I'm very excited to start working with them.

"We've seen the passion and support of the Alabama fans firsthand, and when that's combined with the storied history and tradition of the program, this is a very special place to coach."

Now, Kiffin is tasked with finding a replacement for quarterback AJ McCarron, the Heisman Trophy runner-up. One potential contender, Alec Morris, posted on his Twitter page "Love it" after the hiring.

His hiring creates a high-profile pairing with Saban, who along with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has routinely fielded one of the nation's best defenses while also putting up solid numbers with a pro-style offense.

Kiffin was part of two national championships as a USC assistant under Carroll. He ran the offense from 2005-06 and was passing game coordinator the previous year, when quarterback Matt Leinart won the Heisman.

The Trojans averaged 49.1 points and 579.8 total yards per game when Kiffin was offensive coordinator.

The Tide's lone meeting with Kiffin's Volunteers proved pivotal during the 2009 national championship season.

Terrence Cody blocked two field goals in the fourth quarter to preserve a 12-10 Alabama win and the Tide's title hopes.

Kiffin did run afoul of SEC Commissioner Mike Slive during his stay at Tennessee. After Kiffin was publicly dismissive of his second reprimand from the league, this one for criticizing officials, Slive issued a letter warning him that further such comments from he or his staff would lead to a suspension from at least one game.

Kiffin had questioned why officials didn't penalize Cody for unsportsmanlike conduct when the defensive lineman removed and threw his helmet after his second block on the game's final play.

He also said at the time that he decided to let the clock run down instead of trying to run another play before the kick because he was concerned about the officiating.

No terms of the deal with Alabama were released, pending formal approval by the university's board of trustees.

Colts rule out Heyward-Bey for Patriots game

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Colts receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey will not play in Saturday's playoff game at New England.

Heyward-Bey did not practice all week because of a hamstring injury. Coach Chuck Pagano said Heyward-Bey was expected to miss at least a week and they signed former New England receiver Deion Branch to help fill the void.

Starting safety LaRon Landry and backup linebacker Josh McNary are listed as probable. Both have been full participants in practice this week after being diagnosed with concussions in last weekend's 45-44 victory over Kansas City in a wild-card game.

Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, who got some extra rest this week, and offensive lineman Khaled Holmes, who hurt his calf, were the only other players on Friday's injury report. Both are listed as probable.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

'Major announcement' expected on Penn State coach

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Penn State's search for a new football coach might be over.

University officials are summoning reporters who cover the team to Beaver Stadium for what it calls a "major announcement" Saturday afternoon.

Penn State has been talking with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. Franklin is reportedly expected to be the successor to Bill O'Brien, who left for the NFL. Vanderbilt officials said Thursday night Franklin hadn't made a decision.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson and athletic director Dave Joyner are to attend the news conference.

3 deaths overshadow sixth stage of Dakar Rally

SALTA, Argentina (AP) Three deaths overshadowed Friday's sixth leg of the Dakar Rally, as the race claimed the life of Belgian motorcyclist Eric Palante and two spectators who were following the event.

Palante's body was found after he failed to finish Thursday's fifth stage.

Nani Roma of Spain kept the overall lead in cars despite finishing sixth in the stage, and fellow Spaniard Marc Coma stayed on top in bikes after taking second on the stage from Tucuman to Salta in northern Argentina.

Roma, driving a Mini, has a large lead of 30 minutes, 30 seconds over Orlando Terranova of Argentina, and 40:54 ahead of 11-time winner Stephane Peterhansel.

Coma leads fellow Spaniard Joan Barreda Bort by 42:17 and is an hour ahead of Alain Duclos of France.

Organizers said they went out looking for the 50-year-old Palante after he failed to finish the fifth stage, which most riders completed on Thursday, and found his body along the route.

The cause of death was being investigated, and officials offered few details.

This was Palante's 11th Dakar Rally, according to an event biography, which said he would have turned 51 on Jan. 21. It said his goal was to win the amateur trophy for motorbikes.

"He knew the race very well, and over the years his enthusiastic but serious approach had made him one of the pillars of the event," organizers said in a statement.

Organizers said they received no alert from Palante.

Police said two people following the race died on Thursday when their vehicle overturned in rough terrain in northern Argentina.

Police identified the pair on Friday as Agustin Ignacio Mina, 19, and Daniel Eduardo Ambrosio, 51. Officials said Mina was covering the rally for a motor racing magazine, and they identified Ambrosio as a fan of motor sports.

The Dakar, raced over rugged terrain in difficult-to-control areas, often produces fatalities. Last year, French motorcyclist Thomas Bourgin was killed in a collision with a Chilean police car. Two fans also died in a collision between a support vehicle and two taxis.

The Dakar began Sunday in Rosario, Argentina, and ends Jan. 18 in Valapariso, Chile. This is the sixth straight year it has been held in South America.

Saturday in a rest day.

NFL: 2 players violated concussion protocol

BOSTON (AP) Two players violated league concussion protocol during last weekend's wild-card games, according to a letter sent by the NFL's head, neck and spine committee chairmen to all team doctors and trainers.

In a document obtained by The Associated Press, Drs. Hunt Batjer and Richard Ellenbogen said one player re-entered the game and another refused to leave the sideline.

The doctors did not identify the players, but one was Green Bay tackle David Bakhtiari, who went into the game for an extra-point try despite being examined for a concussion and not cleared. The other player was Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis, who remained on the sideline but did not get back on the field.

"On two occasions last weekend, and contrary to the advice of the team medical staffs, players who had been diagnosed with a concussion and therefore declared ineligible for play nonetheless refused to leave the sidelines as required by league concussion protocols," the letter said. "In one case, the player went back onto the field for one play before being removed from the game."

The doctors found "no fault" in how the team medical staffs conducted themselves.

"If a player refuses to follow your advice and leave the sidelines after being diagnosed with a concussion, we recommend that the head athletic trainer seek assistance from the player's position coach (or another member of the coaching staff) or from another team official to remove the player from the sidelines as soon as possible," the letter said.

The NFL's Madden Rule requires a player diagnosed with a concussion to be taken to the locker room or another quiet location.

"We will continue working with the league to ensure that team doctors, coaches, trainers and other members of a team's medical staff enforce return-to-participation protocols," the NFL Players Association said in an email. "Players naturally want to play and ultimately, the game-day medical and coaching staffs have the responsibility and obligation for player protection and care."

The Saints and Packers declined comment.

No fines will be imposed for the violations.

Bakhtiari's season is over because Green Bay lost to San Francisco. But Lewis' Saints are playing Saturday at Seattle and he has been practicing.

Batjer and Ellenbogen noted in the letter how players may resist being kept out of the game, particularly during the postseason.

"But (the rule) is an important element of the league's protocol and intended to safeguard the player's well-being and enhance his ability to recover from his injury," they wrote.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Earnhardt fears ability to replace Letarte

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Dale Earnhardt Jr. is admittedly scared by the daunting task of replacing crew chief Steve Letarte.

He'll leave it up to team owner Rick Hendrick and management at Hendrick Motorsports, and they've got the entire season to find a new crew chief. Letarte was formally introduced Friday as the third and final member of NBC Sports Group's broadcast booth for its NASCAR coverage beginning in 2015.

Earnhardt and Letarte have been paired since 2011. Although the duo has just one win together, they've made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship the past three seasons.

More important, Letarte rebuilt the confidence in NASCAR's most popular driver and instilled a structure around Earnhardt that the driver admits raised his professionalism in the race car.

"The one thing that I fear is just trying to get a guy in there that's equally as talented," Earnhardt said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "Steve is a great cheerleader and definitely built up my confidence and changed me as a race car driver and as a person. Working with him has really helped me grow. I think that my fear is can we replace Steve?"

Earnhardt brought cousin Tony Eury Jr. with him to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. When that working relationship fractured, Hendrick replaced Eury with longtime company man Lance McGrew.

Only that combination failed to produce results, so Earnhardt was paired with former Jeff Gordon crew chief Letarte when Hendrick made a massive organizational shake-up shortly after the 2010 season ended.

Letarte's influence on Earnhardt was immediate, so Earnhardt will once again put his trust in Hendrick. He'll also want Letarte and Jimmie Johnson's six-time championship winning crew chief Chad Knaus to be part of the decision making. Knaus works side-by-side with Earnhardt's crew chief, so Earnhardt believes Knaus needs to have input.

"It was Rick and upper management that decided to put me with Steve," Earnhardt said. "I didn't know exactly what was going to happen, but I just wanted to trust their judgment, and that's what I'm going to do again.

"I would love to have input from Chad Knaus and Steve. I think that Steve knows what makes this team work. Steve knows how I can be successful and how the individuals within the team can be successful. It's important that Chad has got a lot of influence because he knows how well the shop works together and what the culture is in the shop and how a guy, a particular guy may mesh in that environment."

Letarte, meanwhile, finds himself in the unique position of entering his final season atop the pit box under an intensified spotlight to perform. Earnhardt's popularity already brings immense attention and pressure to the No. 88 team, and with Letarte's end-of-year exit looming, fans could be particularly harsh about results.

Letarte believes it will be business as usual.

"I think what makes this situation unique is I'm not going to crew chief for another organization," he said. "I'm not working on being a broadcaster in 2014, I'm working on filling a trophy case, and to do that we have to win our first race."

Letarte and Earnhardt first discussed the NBC opportunity in October, when Earnhardt heard rumors and summoned Letarte to his motorhome to discuss the whispers, and Letarte kept his driver involved as he weighed his decisions.

Ultimately, after 19 years in the garage, it was the ability to spend more time with his two children that made the NBC job more attractive than continuing as a crew chief.

"I don't think I've ever hidden it from anyone that my family has always been my No. 1 priority," Letarte said. "If it comes down to if I'm going to be unsuccessful in anything I do, being a father shouldn't be on the list. So I'm going to put that one first, and this allows me to put that one first and still be in a sport that I love and join a great team."

Earnhardt can respect that.

"For me personally, it was difficult. And the more I sat down with him and talked about it, the more it made sense and the more I understood his situation, and I could put my own selfishness aside and kind of understand what was important to him and how this was good for him," Earnhardt said. "He deserves these opportunities and he's earned it."

Hall of Fame: Up to BBWAA to propose vote changes

NEW YORK (AP) The Hall of Fame says it's up to baseball writers to propose any changes in the selection process.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America has voted on Hall of Fame candidates since 1936, and elections have become more controversial in recent years as stars tainted by accusations of steroids use have fallen well short of the 75 percent needed for entry to Cooperstown.

Writers are limited to a maximum 10 votes, and some say there's a logjam as Barry Bonds, Rogers Clemens and Mark McGwire remain on the ballot at a time new players are added.

The Hall electorate includes anyone who has been a BBWAA member for 10 consecutive years at any point. Some say the voting group should be expanded beyond writers.

"We're happy," Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark said Thursday after a news conference to introduce 2014 electees Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. "We're in an age where everyone does want to be heard, but we really see this as an issue that needs to be dealt with by the BBWAA."

Dan Le Batard was kicked out of the BBWAA for one year and barred from future Hall votes on Thursday after he turned over his 2014 ballot to the website Deadspin, which allowed readers to choose the selections. Le Batard, an ESPN host and longtime Miami Herald columnist, said Wednesday he gave his ballot to the website because he detests the "hypocrisy" in the voting process and it "needs remodeling in a new media world."

"The BBWAA regards Hall of Fame voting as the ultimate privilege, and any abuse of that privilege is unacceptable," the organization said in a statement.

BBWAA Secretary-Treasurer Jack O'Connell said ballots averaged 8.4 players this year and just over half of the 571 voters used all 10 picks.

"I don't think that in any situation one needs to react to a one-off and change an entire process," Clark said.

The BBWAA decided last month to form a committee to study whether the 10-man limit should be altered. The committee, chaired by BBWAA immediate past president Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, is expected to report back to membership in July.

While the BBWAA long was limited to reporters for newspapers and news agencies, a small number of website writers have been allowed to join in recent years. Broadcasters and MLB.com reporters are excluded.

The Hall of Fame electorate includes anyone who has been a BBWAA member for 10 consecutive years at any point.

ESPN broadcaster Keith Olbermann advocates eliminating the 10-players restriction and increasing the voting pool.

"The idea of exclusively the baseball writers voting for the Hall of Famers is a vestige of state-of-the-art media of the `30s and `40s," he said. "It was a very, very good and inclusive idea then. Shortly after it was instituted, it began to become less inclusive, to the point now where maybe baseball writers, the beat writers, are not a large enough group or may not be the most-informed group. Certainly they're not the exclusively informed group."

He suggests voters include baseball experts such as broadcasters Vin Scully and Bob Costas, historian John Thorn and author Bill James.

"It would be I think appropriate if the fans had a small voice in this," Olbermann said. "Maybe it literally is 1 percent of the vote is a fan poll. Why not?"

During the news conference, Maddux, Glavine and Thomas posed together as Hall of Famers for the first time. They will be inducted July 27 along with retired managers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa.

Maddux, Glavine and Cox will make it a special day for the Braves. Another former Atlanta pitcher, John Smoltz, will be on the ballot for the first time in December.

"I've given him grief," Glavine said. "I told him he didn't have to go play another year - he would be up here with us."

`It would have been cool if John was with us," Maddux said, "but his day will be coming soon."

The Hall plans to announce next week the caps to be used for the players' plaques, which also will contain brief descriptions of their careers. Asked what words they would like to see, Maddux said "overachieve," Glavine "competitor, stubborn" or "dependable or durable" and Thomas "consistent and driven."

"I wasn't that blue-collar guy coming out," Thomas said. "I guess I don't want to call myself a diamond, but it was many years of polishing my career and getting it to where I was. Very driven should be the word."

Maddux, too, said it took time to evolve.

"The secret of pitching is to learn yourself, to learn the hitters, to get away from the brain-dead heaver philosophy," he said.

The trio has many accomplishments: 355 wins for Maddux, 308 victories for Glavine and 521 homers for Thomas. Yet they saved relatively little memorabilia from their careers.

Glavine does have some souvenirs of a special game.

"Pretty much everything I have or used in my 300th win that the Hall of Fame didn't take from me is at my house," he said.

Brooks, Dungy, Harrison headline HOF finalists

CANTON, Ohio (AP) First-year nominees Derrick Brooks, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison and Walter Jones were among the 15 modern-era Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists in voting announced Thursday night.

Brooks was a linebacker with Tampa Bay; Dungy coached Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, leading the Colts to a Super Bowl title in 2007; Harrison was a receiver for Indianapolis; and Jones was an offensive tackle with Seattle.

Former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan also was selected a modern-era finalist along with defensive end/linebacker Charles Haley, defensive end/linebacker Kevin Greene, receiver Andre Reed, running back Jerome Bettis, receiver/returner Tim Brown, safety John Lynch, guard Will Shields, cornerback/safety Aeneas Williams, kicker Morten Andersen and former San Francisco owner Edward DeBartolo Jr.

Punter Ray Guy and defensive end Claude Humphrey were announced as senior nominees in August.

The 46-member selection committee will vote Feb. 1 in New York, with a minimum 80 percent required for induction.

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue failed to advance. Former coaches Jimmy Johnson and Don Coryell and general manager George Young also dropped out along with fellow semifinalists Steve Atwater, Roger Craig, Terrell Davis, Joe Jacoby, Karl Mecklenburg and Steve Wisniewski.

Strahan, Andersen and Lynch are in their second year of eligibility. Shields is in his third year, Bettis his fourth, Brown and Williams their fifth, Reed his ninth, and Greene and Haley their 10th.

The modern-era finalists were chosen by the selection committee from a list of 126 nominees that was reduced to 25 semifinalists. Each finalist received a minimum vote of 80 percent.

To be eligible, modern-era players and coaches must have last played or coached more than five seasons ago.

If selected, Guy would become the first punter to be inducted. Andersen would become the second pure kicker, following Jan Stenerud.

Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Larry Allen, Bill Parcells, Warren Sapp, Dave Robinson and Curley Culp were inducted last year, the 50th anniversary celebration of the hall.

LeBron happy to help, 'be a friend' to Johnny Manziel

NEW YORK (AP) LeBron James speaks often of his love of football and willingness to help younger players.

It makes having a relationship with Johnny Manziel a perfect fit.

James said Thursday he texted the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner often this past season after Manziel's camp reached out for advice on how to handle intense scrutiny, something the four-time NBA MVP has been dealing with since high school. James was in contact with Manziel before and after the quarterback's Texas A&M games this fall.

James and Manziel will apparently have plenty more chances to interact in the future. Manziel is opting to be an early entrant to the NFL draft and is expected to be affiliated with LRMR, the management company operated by James' close friend, Maverick Carter.

"I think at the end of the day, he's an unbelievable competitor and we love what he brings to the table as far as being a football player and as far as being a young man that's trying to strive for greatness, so we're just happy we're able to be a friend of his and be able to help him," James said before Miami's game against the Knicks.

Manziel endured a tumultuous offseason after winning college football's biggest award as a freshman. James offered to be a sounding board, believing a lot of the criticisms of Manziel were "overblown." That turned out to be the beginning of what could become a lucrative partnership in the future between the NBA's best player and one of football's most electrifying ones.

"I think he's not the only college kid that's ever went to a frat party, or the only college kid that ever had fun, but obviously he's Johnny Manziel so it's blown out of proportion," James said. "But when the opportunity was brought to me, I basically just told him, if he's willing to listen, if he's willing to take my advice, then I'm willing to give it and he was all for it.

"Throughout this whole season I would text him weekly before the games, after the games, and I didn't know it would lead to obviously us being together now as far as business, but I was happy to help him."

FSU, star QB Winston could face lawsuit

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) The attorney for a woman who accused star Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of sexual assault said Thursday that she intends to sue the school, the Tallahassee Police Department and the player himself.

Also Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott's office released letters written to him in December by the accuser and her mother, imploring him to reconsider opening an investigation into the case.

Attorney Patricia Carroll, who represents the woman who accused Winston of rape, said she plans to file a notice to sue the police department early next week. Under Florida law, anyone filing a lawsuit against a government agency must file court paperwork six months prior to the suit itself.

The sexual encounter between Winston and Carroll's client happened on Dec. 7, 2012. Winston's attorney has said more than once that the sex was consensual. No charges were filed against Winston by Leon County prosecutors who investigated the case nearly a year after the woman said the attack happened.

But Carroll said her client, who was an FSU student at the time, was sexually assaulted. The woman was 19 and reported what happened to Tallahassee Police.

At a mid-December news conference, Carroll criticized the way the police investigation was handled, saying that detectives failed to interview key witnesses, used unreliable and incomplete forensic tests and never tested the alleged victim's blood for the presence of date-rape drugs. Carroll said that her client was "treated like a suspect."

Tallahassee police have defended their handling of the case and Carroll said she received a letter from the department that said an internal review found that the case was handled with proper procedures.

David Northway, a spokesman for the police department, said in a statement Thursday that "based upon the facts and information gathered, no violation of department policy or Florida law was identified on the part of the investigators assigned to this case; therefore no formal internal affairs investigation will be conducted in this matter."

Northway also said: "The reports in this case document that our department took the case seriously, processed evidence and conducted an investigation based on information available at that time. We take seriously the obligation to respond to any individual who wants to report a crime."

FSU and an attorney for Winston couldn't immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Carroll has also criticized police for not submitting her client's sexual assault kit to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab until Jan. 17, 2013 - 39 days after it was taken. The attorney questioned whether evidence was properly preserved during those 39 days.

Carroll says she asked Florida's attorney general, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the governor for an independent examination into the rape investigation, claiming it was riddled with problems.

Scott "didn't even give us the courtesy of a response," Carroll said Thursday.

On December 13, Scott, through a spokeswoman, said he declined to look into the matter. Jackie Schutz at the time said local prosecutors and state law-enforcement authorities did "a thorough investigation of this case and they concluded that no further action on this matter is required."

Carroll sent Scott a letter on Dec. 19 - along with one from the woman and her mother.

The documents were released Thursday by Scott's office following a public records request.

In a one-page letter, the woman who has accused Winston told Scott that her attorney received calls from two other FSU students who said they were raped, but were "discouraged" from going through with a prosecution. Carroll said the family members of those two women contacted her following her December news conference. The Associated Press does not normally identify people who say they may have been victims of sexual assault.

The accuser's mother said in her letter that she knows the governor has daughters and asked him to "put yourself in my shoes for a moment."

Her daughter did not "fabricate" a rape, the woman wrote, and did not know Winston prior to Dec. 7, 2012.

"I want to tell you about my daughter with the hopes that you will see her as a real person and not just some name on a police report," the mother wrote, adding that her daughter was heavily involved in school activities and was a leader on sports teams and student government. "I am hoping that this letter makes an impact on your decision and you direct FDLE to open an investigation into the Tallahassee Police Department's handling of this matter. I will not give up on my daughter and will do everything in my power to see that everyone finds out the truth."

The 20-year-old Winston became the second freshman to win the Heisman trophy given to college football's most outstanding player. He joined Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke as the school's three Heisman winners.

Winston led Florida State to its first undefeated season and national championship since 1999 after setting national freshman records for yards passing and touchdown passes. The Seminoles defeated Auburn 34-31 to capture the third national title in school history.

James Franklin deciding between Vandy, Penn St.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) James Franklin appears to have a decision to make. Stay at Vanderbilt or take over as coach at Penn State.

Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said Thursday night he exchanged text messages with his football coach and Franklin "basically said that he is our coach. He hasn't made a decision."

Williams would not confirm Franklin has an offer from Penn State, but has indicated Nittany Lions officials have been in contact with the coach.

CBS.com was first among several media outlets to report Franklin is expected to be Penn State's replacement for Bill O'Brien, who left for the Houston Texans.

"He just wanted me to know that the things that are being said that he has made a decision to leave are not true," Williams said

Penn State had no official comment, but the university did announce Thursday night that a new compensation committee is scheduled to meet Saturday morning in a closed session to discuss a contract for someone not yet being identified by the school. The school also said there will be a brief public session Saturday morning.

Earlier in the day Williams said Franklin had called "to let me know the reports that he had accepted another job were inaccurate. And I didn't ask anything more than that nor did he volunteer anything more than that."

Williams said he met with Franklin on Tuesday night and spoke with him Wednesday, too.

Penn State interim coach Larry Johnson said Thursday night he hasn't been told anything about his future.

"I'm still the interim coach until a new coach is named," Johnson said. "As of right now, I'm continuing to do my part."

Vanderbilt had only one winning season since 1982 before Williams hired Franklin in December 2010. The Commodores also had only four bowl berths before Franklin arrived, and he now has taken them to three straight bowls.

The 41-year-old Pennsylvania native is 24-15 in his three seasons as Vanderbilt's head coach, matching Dan McGugin for the most wins in school history over a coach's first three seasons. The Commodores are 16-4 over the past 20 games, second in the SEC only to Alabama. Vanderbilt won the final seven games of 2012 and the final five of 2013 in a stretch that also includes back-to-back bowl wins.

Vanderbilt has gone 9-4 and finished in the final Associated Press rankings each of the past two seasons, including No. 24 in the poll released Tuesday. Vanderbilt hadn't finished in the final AP poll before Franklin arrived since 1948 under Red Sanders.

Franklin was given a contract extension in December 2012 designed to keep him at Vanderbilt for years to come. Asked if Vanderbilt has worked to restructure Franklin's deal since the Commodores beat Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 4, Williams said they have an ongoing process to remain competitive.

"We think that we had a good season and a successful season, and we constantly reward people for that," Williams said.

O'Brien guided the Nittany Lions through two seasons of severe NCAA sanctions after taking over for the late Joe Paterno and went 17-9. Miami's Al Golden drew interest from Penn State during this search, though he stated Saturday he intended to stay with the school.

Former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, a former Penn State offensive lineman, and 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman also have reportedly gotten a look from Penn State.

Report: Suns G Bledsoe to have knee surgery

PHOENIX (AP) A person with knowledge of the situation says Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe will have surgery on his right knee and will be sidelined indefinitely.

The person asked not to be identified because the Suns have not officially revealed that surgery is planned.

The dynamic Bledsoe has been a crucial element in Phoenix's surprising success this season. Acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers, Bledsoe has teamed with Goran Dragic to form a dynamic backcourt that has been the catalyst to the Suns' 21-13 record.

Bledsoe, averaging 18 points and 5.8 assists, has missed the last four games with what had been described as a sprained knee. The Suns are 16-8 with Bledsoe and 5-5 without him.

The planned surgery, believed to be to repair a meniscus injury, was first reported by ESPN.

While Bledsoe's offense, particularly his ability to penetrate the lane, has been an important part of the Suns' success, his strong defense will be missed perhaps even more.

First-year Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough made acquiring Bledsoe an early goal, obtaining him from the Clippers in a three-team deal that sent Jared Dudley to Los Angeles.

Bledsoe, who had been Chris Paul's backup with the Clippers, excelled in the bigger role with the Suns, although he was sidelined earlier for six games with a bruised shin.

New Suns coach Jeff Hornacek has the team playing a high-energy, fast-paced style with Bledsoe and Dragic, both point guards, leading the way. Like Bledsoe, Dragic is having a career year, averaging 19.1 points and 5.9 assists.

Earlier this week, McDonough said Dragic and Bledsoe "can really push the ball as well as any guards in the NBA."

Bledsoe is a restricted free agent after this season, but McDonough has said the Suns expect to do what it takes to keep him.

Gerald Green, who will start in Bledsoe's place, made the winning basket in Phoenix's 103-102 victory at Minnesota on Wednesday night.

Perhaps in anticipation of Bledsoe's absence, the Suns have signed Leandro Barbosa to a 10-day contract. Barbosa, who had been playing in his native Brazil after recovering from knee surgery, had his best NBA seasons with Phoenix.

The Suns are 1-1 so far in a five-game trip. They play at Memphis on Friday night.

QB Braxton Miller returning to Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Braxton Miller still has a lot he wants to get done at Ohio State.

That's why the junior announced Thursday night he'll return for his senior season. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, a two-time Big Ten MVP, had been contemplating jumping into the NFL draft a year early.

"I want to help this team win a Big Ten championship next year," Miller said in a statement issued through the university. "Plus, I want to improve as a quarterback in all aspects of my game. I'm looking forward to working for another year with (coach Urban) Meyer and (quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Tom) Herman. And I want to graduate, so this will help get me closer to my academic goal."

An acclaimed recruit out of Springfield, Ohio, Miller has started for almost three full seasons. After taking over during a 6-7 season in 2012, under Meyer he led the Buckeyes to a school-record 24 consecutive wins before losses in the Big Ten championship game to Michigan State and Orange Bowl to Clemson.

"He has been an extremely valuable member of our team," Meyer said in the statement. "His desire to lead our team to a championship, to earn his degree from The Ohio State University next spring and to continue to improve as a quarterback are his motivation."

Even though Miller missed almost three full games with a sprained knee in 2013, he passed for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns with seven interceptions and ran for 1,068 yards and 12 scores.

Had he left, it would have been a crippling blow to the Buckeyes. The only scholarship quarterbacks a season ago were freshman J.T. Barrett and redshirt freshman Cardale Jones.

Ohio State loses four senior offensive linemen, Miller's top passing target (wide receiver Corey Brown) and the team's leading rusher (Carlos Hyde).

Late last season, he was asked if he felt he was ready to play in the NFL.

"Oh, yeah. Of course. Yeah. Definitely," he said. "It's just another step in life."

Asked what he would gain from returning for a senior season, Miller said, "Learning from Coach Meyer. He's one of the best in the game. So just learn from him. Get better at my craft, I feel like. And graduate, too."

He had said last week at the Orange Bowl that he intended to return, but the decision was delayed for several days while he met with his family, friends and coaches.

Miller was ninth in the Heisman Trophy balloting this past season and fifth the year before.

Several school records are within his grasp next season. He needs 2,256 passing yards to top Art Schlichter's total of 7,547; with six more touchdown passes he will surpass Bobby Hoying's Ohio State total of 57; and he can pass Schlichter's marks for touchdowns accounted for (85) and total offense (8,850) with just two more TDs and only 505 more yards, respectively.

Miller began spring semester classes on Thursday.

Tressel says he hasn't been contacted by Browns

CLEVELAND (AP) Jim Tressel has not been contacted by the Browns about their coaching vacancy.

On Thursday, he found a way to reach out to them.

Ohio State's former coach, who remains wildly popular in his home state, told a Columbus radio station that while he has not had any discussions with the Browns "it doesn't mean that I don't have any interest in the NFL."

Appearing on 97.1 FM, Tressel didn't rule out the possibility that he could be a coaching candidate sometime soon.

"I think it's going to be an interesting time in the next few weeks, the next month, and I wouldn't count anything out," said Tressel, who made the appearance to promote an autograph show.

The 61-year-old spent 10 seasons at Ohio State, where he led the Buckeyes to a national title before he was fired for failing to report violations by some players. Tressel is currently a vice president at Akron, but sounded as if he's itching to return to coaching. He's been watching bowl games and the NFL playoffs with keen interest.

"I don't know if you love football how your blood couldn't boil if you're watching football at this time of year," he said.

Tressel grew up in Berea, where the Browns train and have their headquarters. A report last week that he would be interviewed by the Browns, who are looking to hire their fourth coach in six years, was quickly shot down.

But as long as the Browns' search continues, Tressel's name will be floated as some Cleveland fans fantasize about the sweater-vested coach taking over their perennial loser.

Tressel spent one season as a consultant on Indianapolis' coaching staff under Jim Caldwell. He enjoyed and learned from the experience.

"I had never really experienced the NFL from the inside," he said. "I always looked at it, being from the college sector, that it was different and maybe you couldn't have the impact on the young people like you could in college and whatnot. And really I learned that good coaches like Jim Caldwell and a lot of the folks in the league not only win games and draw Xs and Os, but they really do a good job in helping people in the early part of their lives."

The Browns are nearing the end of the second week of their coaching search. They've interviewed at least four known candidates: New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo.

McDaniels removed himself from consideration on Wednesday, and a person familiar with the decision told the AP he did so because he wasn't guaranteed he was the favorite. McDaniels went 11-17 as Denver's coach, and he was the perceived favorite to get Cleveland's job.

ESPN reported that the Browns will interview San Diego offensive coordinator on Saturday. Whisenhunt, who is also reportedly in the mix for the vacancies in Detroit and Tennessee, had two interviews with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner last year before they hired Rob Chudzinski.

It's interesting Whisenhunt would agree to three interviews in the same week the Chargers are preparing to play Denver on Sunday in the AFC playoffs.

Whisenhunt, who led Arizona to a Super Bowl, was thought to have the inside track at taking over the Browns a year ago, but the team instead hired Chudzinski, who was fired following a 4-12 season.

Banner had said it was unlikely the Browns would meet with any previous candidates.

"I don't think there will be anybody from last year's search who will be a candidate this year," he said on Dec. 30.

The Browns are not commenting during their search for the club's seventh full-time coach since 1999.

Louisville hires Petrino again as football coach

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Bobby Petrino is back for a second stint as Louisville's football coach, returning to the school he calls home. And Louisville's athletic director insists the school is getting a "changed person."

Petrino coached Western Kentucky to an 8-4 record last season in his only year with the team. He led the Cardinals to a 41-9 mark from 2003-06. He succeeds Charlie Strong, who left last weekend after four years to accept the Texas job.

"It's great to get the opportunity to come back here," Petrino said during a news conference Thursday. "This is our home."

Petrino inherits a team coming off a 12-1 finish and gearing up to join the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

He received a seven-year contract with a base annual salary of $3.5 million. It includes a $10 million buyout for leaving that decreases after four years. But the well-traveled coach said that will not be necessary because this is his "destination job."

Petrino is 83-30 as a college coach. His record includes a 34-17 mark at Arkansas that ended amid scandal in April 2012. He came to the Razorbacks after a 3-10 season in 2007 with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons that ended with the coach announcing his departure by letters left at the players' lockers.

Western Kentucky athletic director Todd Stewart said in a statement the Cardinals made a "tremendous hire" and wished Petrino well. Though Petrino had been mentioned for the Louisville job almost from the moment Strong left for the Longhorns, the coach said he became aware of the opening only after Cardinals athletic director Tom Jurich approached Stewart for permission to interview him.

Jurich said he was angry at Petrino early in the Tuesday interview because of the coach's demeanor in his previous Louisville stint, one that included player disciplinary issues. The AD also said he was mad at Petrino for leaving after a BCS Orange Bowl win for the Falcons, though he acknowledged the coach was honest in expressing his interest in the job.

On Sunday, Jurich acknowledged he and Petrino had previously resolved their differences. But he wanted to see if the coach had truly changed as he has professed since Arkansas fired him for "a pattern of misleading behavior" following a motorcycle accident in which he revealed his mistress was a passenger.

Jurich came away convinced he was getting a different man from the one who left, reinforcing his belief that Petrino was the right fit for the Cardinals.

"If it was the same Bobby that was here 10 years, I wasn't interested," said Jurich, adding that he kept coming back to Petrino as he went through a list of seven finalists. "He is definitely a changed person."

Petrino's critics have nonetheless remained skeptical about his commitment for bolting three programs in eight years, including his infamous exit from Atlanta that upset many players. Public sentiment differed, with overwhelming support for Petrino's hiring on sports talk radio, online polls and social media.

Petrino has been contrite since the embarrassing matter and reiterated Thursday he has been humbled by his experiences. Asked how he would quell skepticism, Petrino said, "the thing you do is just show (it). I have a sign in the locker room that says it's a `show-me' world."

Petrino added, "I made mistakes, both professionally and personally. That's something I'm not going to do again. ... My first mistake was leaving here."

Louisville's hiring of the offense-minded Petrino excited Cardinals players, such as leading rusher Dominique Brown, because of the potential of maintaining a high-powered unit Strong left behind. He acknowledged there was skepticism about his commitment but said those doubts disappeared after the coach met with players.

"There were a couple of on the fence, but now all the players are convinced," Brown said. "We knew what we had while he was here, a top-10 offense. He had a good track record while he was here. I knew he liked to use big backs like Michael Bush. I was kind of worried, but now we are all convinced."

Michigan adds offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Michigan has made a bold move to give its football program a boost.

The Wolverines hired Doug Nussmeier away from Nick Saban and Alabama to be Brady Hoke's offensive coordinator.

"Doug is a highly respected offensive coordinator and has earned a reputation as being a great mentor to quarterbacks, specifically, where he's coached Pro Bowlers, top NFL draft choices and Heisman trophy finalists," Hoke said in a statement Thursday. "Doug has been successful at every coaching stop with his balanced and explosive offenses, and he brings national championship experience."

Alabama hired Nussmeier nearly two years ago to be Saban's offensive coordinator after he directed the Washington Huskies' offense the previous three seasons. Nussmeier also spent one season as offensive coordinator at Fresno State and had stints as quarterbacks coach with Michigan State and the St. Louis Rams. He was a candidate to become Washington's head coach before the school hired Chris Petersen.

"I'm proud of what we accomplished in two seasons at Alabama, and I owe a great deal to Coach Saban for that opportunity," Nussmeier said in a statement. "Michigan is a program I've always had deep respect for, and I'm looking forward to getting started in Ann Arbor and being a part of the great tradition there."

Michigan fired offensive coordinator Al Borges on Wednesday after the Wolverines ranked 86th in the nation in total offense and flopped to a 7-6 finish. Borges was one of several assistants who came with Hoke in 2011 from his staff at San Diego State.

Nussmeier made $680,000 last season in the second of his three-year deal at Alabama after getting a $90,000 raise last April.

He'll likely make even more at Michigan.

Nussmeier will probably provide a return on the investment if he can turn around an offense led by returning quarterback Devin Gardner.

The Wolverines scored 41 points in both a win over Notre Dame and a near-upset against Ohio State, but their offensive line was overmatched in losses to Michigan State and Nebraska. They had minus-48 yards rushing - a school record - against the Spartans and minus-21 yards rushing against the Cornhuskers.

Michigan ranked last in major college football by giving up 114 tackles for losses.

"I think this is a good move for him because at Alabama, he would never get the credit he's due because everybody thinks you should have always success there because of all the talent," Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton, who was coached by Nussmeier at Michigan State, said in a telephone interview. "At Michigan, they've had an identity crisis on offense and he can help them out a ton with that and it can help him become a head coach soon.

"I've kept in touch with him over the years and it's going to make it harder for me to root against Michigan."

Nussmeier was nominated last season for the Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant coach in college football.

In his first year with the Crimson Tide, he helped them win a national championship with one of its best seasons offensively. Alabama set school records in 2012 with 68 touchdowns and 6,237 yards of offense. Last season, the AJ McCarron-led offense ranked seventh in pass efficiency and 17th in scoring offense while averaging 200-plus yards rushing and passing.

"Doug did an outstanding job for us during his time at the University of Alabama and I'm sure he will do a great job at the University of Michigan," Saban said in a statement. "He is a bright coach who works hard and brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to work each and every day."

At Washington, Nussmeier helped develop quarterback Jake Locker, who was taken No. 8 overall in the 2011 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans. He was the Rams' quarterbacks coach when Marc Bulger earned a spot in the Pro Bowl after the 2006 season. And with the Spartans, he helped Stanton and Jeff Smoker set school records.

"Everything he does is impressive," Stanton said. "He cares about kids and wants them to get their education. He works with them at their craft, demanding respect and asking a lot of them and you want to give him everything you have because you love playing for him."

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage

AP source: Kiffin being considered by Alabama

Former Southern California coach Lane Kiffin is being considered by Alabama to replace offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because Nussmeier's departure to Michigan was not yet official and the search for his replacement was not being made public.

The person says there is mutual interest between Kiffin and Alabama coach Nick Saban. Kiffin has been out of work since being fired by USC in late September. He spent a week in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last month exchanging ideas with Tide coaches and observing Alabama.

Kiffin runs a pro-style offense that Saban favors.

The 38-year-old was 28-15 in three-plus seasons with USC. He was also head coach at Tennessee and for the Oakland Raiders.

CBSSports.com first reported Kiffin was to meet with Alabama this week about the job.

Kiffin spent six seasons (2001-06) at USC under Pete Carroll as an assistant, including the final two as offensive coordinator. He also called plays during his time as a head coach. He spent one season at Tennessee (2009). He went 7-6 before leaving to replace Carroll with the Trojans and Tennessee fans were outraged by abrupt departure. Alabama plays Tennessee every October.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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