National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

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

Bengals coordinator Jay Gruden is Redskins' coach

WASHINGTON (AP) Jay Gruden has his first NFL head coaching gig, charged with ending the perpetual state of turmoil that has become the Washington Redskins.

He was hired Thursday after spending the last three seasons as the offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, where his skill in helping to develop Andy Dalton will no doubt be of use when he takes on the task of grooming another young franchise quarterback, Robert Griffin III.

Gruden replaces Mike Shanahan, who was fired last week after a 3-13 season that ended with eight consecutive losses. The Redskins finished last in the NFC East during three of Shanahan's four seasons in Washington, a time marked by discord among ownership, quarterback and coach.

Gruden will become Dan Snyder's eighth coach in 16 seasons as an NFL owner. The span includes four winning seasons and seven last-place finishes. Unlike Shanahan, Gruden will not have final say over all football matters. He'll report to general manager Bruce Allen, who has taken charge of assembling the roster and other personnel decisions.

The 46-year-old Gruden has been largely overshadowed by his more famous brother, Jon Gruden, who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is now an analyst on "Monday Night Football." But Jay Gruden has been a name on the rise because of his success with Dalton and the Bengals' offense.

Jay Gruden interviewed for multiple head coaching openings last year and had drawn interest from at least three other teams seeking to fill a head coaching vacancy this year. He interviewed with the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, he became the last of six candidates to meet with Allen, ending a 10-day search. The Redskins had to wait until the Bengals played their first-round playoff game before Gruden could be interviewed. And it took a bad day from Gruden and Dalton - scoring only 10 points in a home loss to the San Diego Chargers - to make Gruden free to be hired this week.

Gruden had an inside track on the job because of his ties within the Washington organization. He was an assistant coach with Tampa Bay from 2002-08, where he worked at various times with Allen, Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris and tight ends coach Sean McVay. Gruden also coached under Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett with the UFL's Florida Tuskers in 2009.

Morris, McVay and Haslett were retained when Shanahan was fired, leaving it up to Gruden as to whether he will keep them on his new staff.

Gruden's No. 1 task will be to develop a solid relationship with Griffin, who regressed this season after winning the AP's Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2012. Griffin returned from major knee surgery to start 13 games, but he publicly disagreed with some of Shanahan's decisions, struggled as a drop-back passer and was benched for the final three weeks.

There's no question Gruden has paid his dues. He played quarterback for the Barcelona Dragons and the Sacramento Surge in the long-defunct World League of American Football in 1990, then went to the Arena Football League and began a playing and coaching career that was so successful it landed him in the AFL Hall of Fame in 1999.

He's been a head coach both the AFL and UFL, including two stints with the AFL's Orlando Predators from 1998-2001 and 2004-08 that included four appearances in the championship game and two league titles. In 2010, after Haslett left for the Redskins, Gruden was head coach and general manager of the Tuskers and led them to the UFL championship game.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

Cooperstown 2013: No-brainer to no thanks

A million things to get to here, so much time so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.

Headline: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas elected to the Hall of Fame.

Let’s get to the good stuff first. This will be the biggest class elected by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America since 1999, when George Brett, Nolan Ryan and Robin Yount were elected. When you throw in the three managers elected unanimously by the Expansion Era Committee (Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox), we have a powerhouse Hall of Fame event, one of the biggest in the museum’s 75 year history. After last year’s dud of a ceremony, they need it.

We should take a moment to celebrate that three great players got in, even if they were obvious. I don’t think many people would deny that Maddux, Glavine and Thomas are Hall of Famers. You could argue that Mike Mussina was a better candidate than Glavine or that Jeff Bagwell was at least the equal of Frank Thomas or any number of other gripes.

But at least this. Last year, when the Hall of Fame voted for zero players, it was an embarrassment for the Hall of Fame, an embarrassment for the BBWAA and it was lousy for baseball fans. There was some concern, especially in the aftermath of that disaster, that the BBWAA would only elect Maddux. Instead, the group voted in the three most obvious candidate.

Like I say: At least this.

* * *

Headline: Sixteen people do not vote for Greg Maddux.

Does a player’s Hall of Fame percentage matter in the long run? No. It doesn’t. If you get 75 percent, you are a Hall of Famer. As far as I know, they don’t have any special backdoor clubs where only the 95-percenters get to drink good gin and play poker.

That said: Sixteen! I thought four or five might not vote for Maddux. Sixteen is a lot. I mean, sure, 19 people didn’t vote for Ted Williams, but a lot of writers hated Ted. Sure 38 didn’t vote for Mickey Mantle but, uh, you know, he, um, didn’t hit .300 for his career. Or something. Sure, 22 people didn’t vote for Willie Mays but ... OK, I’m going to stop this now, there have always been indefensible choices by the BBWAA.*

*Pete Rose weighed in on this on Twitter by saying: “If Mays, Aaron, Musial and Ruth didn’t get the unanimous vote than(sic) no one should.”

I’ve heard this reasoning before ... and on gut level it makes some sense. But when you break it down, it falls apart for me, and not because of the “Just because there were injustices before doesn’t mean you repeat them,” line. That may be true too, but my issue with the “If Mays wasn’t unanimous no one should be” philosophy is that the vote isn’t some cooperative project where a foreman says, “You, you, you, and you -- this year, you don’t vote for Maddux ... after all, Ruth wasn’t voted unanimously. We’ve got a tradition to uphold!”

No, some schmuck has to take it upon himself to not vote for Maddux. He or she has to look at the name GREG MADDUX on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot -- four Cy Youngs, 355 wins, 3,000-plus strikeouts, a period of dominance that matches the best this game has ever had -- and say, “Nope. Not checking that box.”

This year, 15 of those schmucks didn’t vote for Maddux and (at least so far) never even explained why.

Here’s something I DID notice: Sixteen people did not vote for Maddux. But only ONE -- the now famous Ken Gurnick -- made his vote public. He backed up his vote. This is something I respect.

And I decided to look into this a little bit.

Through the fantastic Baseball Think Factor Ballot Collecting Gizmo, we have 209 ballots (we’ll count the Deadspin ballot too -- more on that in a minute).

That leaves 362 ballots that were not made public.

OK, now look at this:

The public ballots averaged 8.86 names on the ballot.

The secret ballots averaged a little bit less -- 8.17 names per ballot. So not a huge difference in the numbers of players. But there is quite a difference in the players themselves.

Here are the percentage comparisons between public and secret for our three new Hall of Famers:

Maddux: 99.5 percent public, 95.9 percent private.
Glavine: 95.7 percent public, 89.8 percent private.
Thomas: 89.5 percent public, 80.4 percent private.

So, as you can begin to see the private voters were quite a bit stingier than the public voters when it came to the three big guys on the ballot. Fifteen of the 16 people who didn’t vote for Maddux, 37 of the 46 who didn’t vote for Glavine and 71 of the 93 who didn’t vote for Thomas kept their ballots secret.

What about the players who missed getting elected?

Craig Biggio: 79.4 percent public, 72.1 percent private.

Uh huh. He fell two votes short ... and the reason was the private voters. I suspect it’s a lot easier to leave Biggio off the ballot for whatever reason without having to defend your choice.

Now, look at these two:

Mike Piazza: 67.9 percent public, 58.8 percent private.
Jeff Bagwell: 56.5 percent public, 53 percent private.

More people seem comfortable not voting for Bagwell in public than Piazza. I’m not sure why, exactly. That’s a big gap for Piazza.

The people who are hardest on the presumed steroid users tended to keep their votes private.

Barry Bonds: 42.6 percent public, 30.1 percent private.
Roger Clemens: 41.1 percent public, 32 percent private.

Three players who shocked me with how little support they got: Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. The first two went way down this year and Mussina did not have an auspicious debut on the ballot. Not surprisingly, the trio did much better in public votes than private votes. A theory: Maybe people who release their votes tend to be more Internet savvy, and there have obviously been pretty strong and compelling Internet campaigns for those players.

Tim Raines: 54.1 percent public, 41.4 percent private.
Curt Schilling: 36.8 percent public, 24.9 percent private
Mike Mussina: 26.3 percent public, 16.9 percent private.

Yeah, only one in six private voters picked Mussina, whose Hall-of-Fame case is essentially as good as Tom Glavine’s.

So, did any player do BETTER in the private votes than in the public. Down at the bottom of the ballot, Mark McGwire and Larry Walker actually did slightly better in the private sector, but neither got even 12 percent of the vote. The biggest differences:

Lee Smith, 23.9 percent public, 33.4 percent private.
Jack Morris, 61.2 percent public, 61.6 percent private.

Smith, in particular, seemed a vote that some BBWAA members would rather keep to themselves.

And of course only the private people voted for Moises Alou (six votes!), Hideo Nomo (6), Luis Gonzalez (5), Eric Gagne (2), J.T. Snow (2!!), Jacque Jones (1) and Kenny Rogers (1).

I wouldn’t expect too many people to come forward to admit those votes.

There are so many things wrong with the Hall of Fame voting right now that it feels silly to talk about just one or two. Every time I bring up a Hall of Fame voting change to Bill James, he kind of sighs and acts like I’ve said, “Hey Bill, I’ve got a way to fix Congress.”

Still, it’s clear to me that the BBWAA should make its votes public. I know there are some negatives that go with this -- including the potential that voters will feel bullied into voting in a way they would not want to vote. I understand.

But the Hall of Fame does not belong to the BBWAA. It belongs to everybody. If you’re going to vote, you should stand behind your vote. And if public pressure keeps people from throwing a gag vote to J.T. Snow or skipping over Greg Maddux for some inexplicable reason, hey, I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.

* * *

Headline: Craig Biggio falls two votes short of election.

So, let’s see here: Pie Traynor finished two votes shy of election in 1947, and was elected to the Hall of Fame the next year. Nellie Fox, meanwhile, fell two votes short of election in 1985 and had to wait a dozen years before he was finally inducted. Well, he didn’t wait I guess because Fox died 10 years before the BBWAA vote. He actually got a big boost in the Hall of Fame vote after he died, which probably describes the absurdity of this process as well as anything else.

Biggio’s percentage of 74.8 percent rounds up to 75 percent, but the Hall of Fame does not do it that way. If you have 74.99 percent of the vote, you’re out. I guess this makes as much sense as any other part of the process.

Obviously people can point to a few of the protest ballots -- not sure how many of them there were, but with 16 no-votes for Maddux, I’m guessing a handful -- and say those are the reason why Biggio isn’t going to the Hall of Fame. But, realistically, Biggio is like like the giant marlin caught in The Old Man and the Sea. As time goes on, sharks pick at the carcass bit by bit. An unfounded accusation here. A “he didn’t seem like a great player” there. And, all in all, he falls just short.

The real question is: What about next year? As you probably know, next year’s ballot is, in some ways, even more loaded than this year. Coming on the ballot: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz -- you would think of those three as relative locks (Smoltz will be a topic I’m sure we’ll discuss at length).

But Gary Sheffield also comes on the ballot, and while his case will be controversial, I’m betting he takes some votes. Jeff Kent stayed on the ballot, and I expect more and more people to compare Kent and Biggio. People might start to realize that as good a player as Biggio was, Bagwell was better. That could play a role.

Point is: I THINK Biggio makes it next year. But there’s no predicting this crazy ride.

* * *

Headline: Deadspin announces the person who gave them his vote.

It’s my longtime friend, Dan LeBatard. Now, people will have all sorts of opinions about this the ethics and motivation of all this; I would ask people to read Dan’s explanation and then decide. I know a lot of people in the BBWAA are outraged. And I know a lot of people outside the BBWAA are entertained.

Let me say two things about it:

1. I think the fans should have a say in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think the fans should have the WHOLE say -- like a fan vote for the Hall of Fame -- but I do think there should be fan input into the thing. I also think there should be broadcaster input. I also think some of the people who have spent their lives studying and playing the game should have input. I mean, seriously, Bob Costas and Bill James and John Thorn and Tom Seaver and Brian Kenny and Tom Tango and Keith Olbermann and George Will couldn’t add to this process?

I’m not sure “The people should have a say” was really the point of the Deadspin experiment or if it was more a way to kick and mock the BBWAA while getting some attention. Either way, that point pushed through for me.

2. The Deadspin ballot is a fantastic one. They (or Dan, I guess) voted for 10 players, the full compliment, and put 10 outstanding choices that all have a self-evident explanation -- Maddux, Thomas, Glavine,, Piazza, Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Clemens, Bonds, Schilling. People might be outraged about this whole thing, but the ballot itself is superb.

* * *

Headline: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens lose support.

Jeff Passan makes a strong point: There are still 13 years left for these two players on the ballot. That really is a long time. As of right now it looks like those two players will never be elected by the BBWAA -- in the aftermath of the vote, that was my view. But I’m not so sure.

Jim Rice’s case looked dead in the after five years. Ralph Kiner could not have looked less likely after his first three years on the ballot. Bert Blyleven rose from 14.1 percent in his second year all the way to the Hall. Times do change. Opinions evolve. Momentum builds.

What I am convinced of now, though, is that there won’t be any quick adjustments. There was a theory rolling about that some people would not vote for Bonds and Clemens the first year as a punishment but would vote for them subsequently. That obviously did not happen as their vote totals went down.

Opinions are hardening, and I think it might be because people are getting used to the idea of a Hall of Fame that does not have the all-time home run leader and one of its greatest pitchers. Hey, the Hall of Fame didn’t close. Hey, baseball didn’t shut down. The outrage -- whatever outrage there was -- settled.

So, no, I don’t expect anything surprising to happen over the next two or three or four years. Bonds and Clemens' support might continue to go down. But it’s possible that at some point the tide will turn just a little, and maybe then a little more, and ... we’ll see.

* * *

Headline: Rafael Palmeiro falls off the ballot.

We all kind of thought one of the players connected with steroids would fall off the ballot this year -- Sosa or McGwire or Palmeiro. I’m not too surprised it was Palmeiro ... and honestly, it’s for the best for him too. Palmeiro was CERTAINLY never going to be elected by the BBWAA, so for him this would have just been an annual flogging. It’s best for him (and probably for McGwire and Sosa as well) to get off the BBWAA ballot and quietly wait a decade or two for the views about the Steroid Era to soften.

I do wonder if McGwire in particular would ever do that -- respectfully ask the BBWAA to remove his name from Hall of Fame consideration. It would be a smart move on numerous levels.

* * *

Headline: Tim Raines' momentum stopped.

He was really making some progress, but this year Raines’ support dropped -- last year he was up over 50 percent, this year back down under.

I don’t think this had anything to do with Raines himself. It was the numbers game. There were simply too many good players on the ballot. And there will be next year. And for a couple more years.

Raines has another eight years on the ballot, and he might need all of them with the series of great players coming on the next few years. But I think they’ll cycle through. And I think, in the end, Tim Raines will get elected to the Hall.

* * *

Headline: Jack Morris loses support and ages off the Hall ballot.

I know some people like my friend Jon Heyman believe it was an aggressive anti-Morris campaign that kept Jack Morris from getting elected. I disagree, but my opinion really shouldn’t count because I wrote a lot about Morris on the Internet, maybe more than anybody.

I think in the final analysis, it’s pretty simple. Morris didn’t win 300 games. He didn’t win a Cy Young award. He didn’t strike out 3,000 batters. Every single pitcher elected by the BBWAA since 1976 did at least one of those things. The last pitcher who didn’t was Robin Roberts, and he WOULD have won the Cy Young Award in 1952 for sure, but it didn’t exist.

If Morris had won 300 games (he won 254), I think he would have been elected first or second ballot. If he had 3,000 strikeouts, I think he would have been elected before Bert Blyleven (he had 2,478 strikeouts). If he had won a Cy Young award -- just my opinion -- I think he gets elected too.

Those should not be Hall of Fame measures, by the way, or, anyway, I don’t think people should vote for the Hall of Fame based on them. But there is a one-sentence quality to the Hall of Fame. Tell me why this person should be in the Hall of Fame in one sentence.

Tom Seaver won 311 games, struck out 3,640 batters, threw 61 shutouts and won three Cy Young Awards.

Bam. Hall of Famer.

George Brett had 3,000 hits, won three batting titles, was a league MVP, led the Royals to their only World Series victory and was one of the great postseason hitters in baseball history.

Bam. Hall of Famer.

Jack Morris ... it’s just more nuanced than that. He won Game 7. He was durable. He started Opening Day a lot. There just wasn’t that hammer. This is why you heard about the aura and pitching to the score and so on. He didn’t quite do those things that get the Hall of Fame votes, no matter how much people tried to put him in that box.

He’s in the Veteran’s Committee’s care now, and I think its for the best. I believe the Veteran’s will put him in the Hall of Fame. And I promise to celebrate that day.

Clippers beat Celtics 111-105 to go 16-3 at home

LOS ANGELES (AP) Blake Griffin scored 29 points, Jamal Crawford added 26, and the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Boston Celtics 111-105 on Wednesday night to improve to 16-3 at home.

Jared Dudley scored 18 points and Darren Collison had 15 points, six assists and five rebounds in place of the injured Chris Paul. DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 13 rebounds in giving Clippers coach Doc Rivers a second win over his old team this season.

Los Angeles improved to 12-10 without Paul in the lineup since he arrived in 2011. He's out six weeks with a separated right shoulder.

Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley scored 24 points each in Boston's sixth straight loss overall and ninth in 10 games. The Celtics have dropped six in a row on the road while continuing to struggle without injured Rajon Rondo, who has a torn ACL in his right knee.

Jared Sullinger was called for a flagrant-1 technical on Griffin with 10 minutes left in the game. Griffin was driving to the basket when Sullinger ended up on Griffin's back. It was Sullinger's fifth this season and third in two nights. He received two in Boston's 129-98 loss at Denver on Tuesday, although one of those was rescinded earlier Wednesday.

Boston trailed 88-82 to start the fourth, but quickly fell behind 100-84. Griffin hit 3 of 5 free throws, and Willie Green and Crawford made 3-pointers that helped stretch the Clippers' lead.

After Sullinger's flagrant, Boston outscored the Clippers 21-11 to end the game. Trailing 109-105, Jerryd Bayless missed a shot with 8 seconds to go, ending the Celtics' late push.

Jeff Green finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Brandon Bass added 14 points.

Boston took its first and only lead of the game, 72-71, with less than 5 minutes left in the third on Kris Humphries' first basket. That capped a 13-4 spurt in which the Celtics rallied from eight points down. He started in his return from a sprained left ankle that kept him out of the loss to Denver.

Dudley hit three consecutive 3-pointers as the Clippers led 53-42 in the second. Boston had a 13-6 spurt, including six by Bradley, to get within one. Jamal Crawford made three straight free throws to keep the Clippers ahead 59-55 at halftime.

The Clippers used an 18-0 run with five different players scoring in the first quarter to take their largest lead of the game, 26-10.

Notes: Clippers G J.J. Redick could return Friday against the Lakers. He's been out with a broken right hand and torn ligament in his wrist. G Reggie Bullock will miss the next game with a sprained left ankle. ... Rivers said the Clippers would work out veteran F Hedo Turkoglu, who has been without a team since he was released by Orlando last fall. ... The Celtics fell to 2-8 in the second game of a back-to-back this season.

Dennis Rodman apologizes for Kenneth Bae remarks

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) Dennis Rodman apologized Thursday for comments about captive American missionary Kenneth Bae in an interview with CNN.

A day after the former basketball star sang "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and led a squad of former NBA players in a friendly game, Rodman issued the apology through publicist Jules Feiler in an email message to The Associated Press.

"I want to apologize," Rodman said. "I take full responsibility for my actions. It had been a very stressful day. Some of my teammates were leaving because of pressure from their families and business associates. My dreams of basketball diplomacy was quickly falling apart. I had been drinking. It's not an excuse but by the time the interview happened I was upset. I was overwhelmed. It's not an excuse, it's just the truth.

"I want to first apologize to Kenneth Bae's family. I want to apologize to my teammates and my management team. I also want to apologize to Chris Cuomo. I embarrassed a lot of people. I'm very sorry. At this point I should know better than to make political statements. I'm truly sorry."

Rodman has been slammed for not using his influence with Kim to help free Bae, the missionary in poor health who is being confined in the North for "anti-state" crimes. On CNN on Tuesday, Rodman implied Bae was at fault.

Bae's sister, Terri Chung, said his family couldn't believe what Rodman said.

"Here's somebody who is in a position to do some good for Kenneth and refuses to do so," Chung told KOMO Radio in Seattle on Wednesday. "And then after the fact, instead, he decides to hurl these unqualified accusations against Kenneth. It's clear he has no idea what he's talking about. I'm not sure who he's talking to, where he's getting his information, but he's certainly no authority on Kenneth Bae."

The U.S. State Department distanced itself from Rodman and said it did not want to "dignify" his activities or comments in Pyongyang by commenting on them. But spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the department was open to speaking with Rodman on his return.

"We have not reached out to him. We've said before, if he wants to reach out to us, we're happy to hear from him and what he has to say," she told reporters.

Rodman dedicated the game to his "best friend" Kim, who along with his wife and other senior officials and their wives watched from a special seating area. The capacity crowd of about 14,000 at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium clapped loudly as Rodman sang a verse from the birthday song.

Rodman said he was honored to be able to play the game in the North Korean capital and called the event "historic." Some members of the U.S. Congress, the NBA and human rights groups, however, say he has become a public relations tool for North Korea's government.

The government's poor human rights record and its threats to use nuclear weapons against rival South Korea and the United States have kept it a pariah state. Kim shocked the world in December by having his uncle, once considered his mentor, executed after being accused of a litany of crimes including corruption, womanizing, drug abuse and attempting to seize power.

The 52-year-old Rodman has refused to address those concerns while continuing to forge a relationship with Kim, whose age has never been officially disclosed. The government did not say how old he turned Wednesday but he is believed to be in his early 30s.

At the start of the game, Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" to Kim, who was seated above in the stands at the stadium, and then bowed deeply as North Korean players clapped.

To keep it friendly, the Americans played against the North Koreans in the first half, but split up and merged teams for the second half.

The North Korean team scored 47 points to 39 for the Americans before the teams were mixed. Rodman played only in the first half and then sat next to Kim during the second half.

"A lot of people have expressed different views about me and your leader, your marshal, and I take that as a compliment," Rodman told the crowd. "Yes, he is a great leader, he provides for his people here in this country and thank God the people here love the marshal."

Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim. He has carefully avoided getting involved in overtly political activities, saying that he is not a statesman and instead is seeking only to build cultural connections with the North through basketball that may help improve relations between Pyongyang and Washington.

The game is a new milestone in Rodman's unusual relationship with Kim, who inherited power after the death of his father in late 2011 and rarely meets with foreigners. He remains a mystery to much of the outside world and until recently, his birthday was also not widely known, though it was quietly observed elsewhere around the capital Wednesday.

Along with Rodman, the former NBA players included ex-All Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker. Also on the roster were Craig Hodges, Doug Christie, Charles D. Smith and four streetballers.

Smith said he and the other players did not join Rodman in singing the birthday song.

"We always tell Dennis that he can't sing. He is tone deaf," Smith said. "He did it alone."

Don Mattingly gets 3-year deal as Dodgers manager

LOS ANGELES (AP) Don Mattingly will be back as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers next season with a new three-year contract that takes him through 2016, quieting speculation that his future with the club was somehow in doubt.

A person familiar with the agreement, speaking on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized, said Mattingly is getting a raise from the $1.4 million he was to earn next season under his old deal. By comparison, Yankees manager Joe Girardi, entering his seventh season in New York, is starting a $16 million, four-year agreement after completing a $9 million, three-year deal.

Mattingly had sought the stability of a multiyear deal.

"I just want guys to know the organization has confidence in you is important to me as a manager," he said by phone from his offseason home in Evansville, Ind.

Mattingly has a 260-225 record in his first three seasons with the Dodgers, who reached the NL championship series this year, automatically triggering an extension of his contract that was set to expire at the end of last season.

He was runner-up for NL Manager of the Year last season.

Last winter, the Dodgers declined to exercise Mattingly's option for 2014, a move he believed portrayed him as a lame-duck in the clubhouse.

In an awkward October news conference after the Dodgers were eliminated by St. Louis in the playoffs, Mattingly said the organization put him in a difficult position by not exercising the option. The front office didn't clarify his status for 2014 that day, which frustrated Mattingly.

"I knew my contract had vested. I thought that at least that would have been said that day," he said. "It kind of got left open and that's what got me going a little bit. If I had to do all over again, I would have preferred it to be in-house. I wish I had kept it inside and dealt with it face-to-face with those guys."

The next day, the team didn't pick up the contract option of coach Trey Hillman, who was Mattingly's right-hand man on the bench.

Shortly thereafter, Mattingly spoke with majority owner Mark Walter and team president Stan Kasten, who let him know they wanted him back.

"I was comfortable with where it was going to go," Mattingly said. "I knew at that point we'd get something done."

General manager Ned Colletti said the deal was mostly done three weeks ago, but the club waited until after a flurry of offseason signings and the holidays ended to announce it.

"It's well-deserved," he said. "The traits of the man are really work ethic and making sure he can be as successful as he can be and not leaving anything per chance. That's one of the main reasons I hired him three years ago."

Mattingly began his career with the Dodgers in 2008 as a hitting coach under Joe Torre, who mentored Mattingly and endorsed him as a successor after Torre retired.

NOTES: Colletti has talked to the representative of star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and he said his camp is in a feeling-out process with all 30 MLB teams. The 30-day window to sign the 25-year-old Japanese right-hander ends on Jan. 24. ... The team has talked to the agent of NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who is eligible for free agency after next season. "It's our desire to sign him here for a very long time," Colletti said. ... CF Matt Kemp is out of the walking boot that was on his sprained left ankle at the end of last season, and he's starting to hit. The Dodgers expect him to be ready by the middle of spring training. ... Colletti would like to sign another infielder to give the team more versatility. ... INF Dee Gordon is playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. ... Pitchers Chad Billingsley and Scott Elbert won't return until midseason after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

WWE to launch own 24/7 network in February

WWE is moving outside the ring to mesh the best of Hulk Hogan, The Rock and John Cena all in one place - its own network.

It's time to lay the smack down 24/7.

The WWE Network launches Feb. 24 as a streaming service for $9.99 per month with a six-month commitment and will include all 12 pay-per-view events.

The network is available on desktops and laptops via WWE.com. WWE Network will also be available through the WWE App on: Amazon's Kindle Fire devices; Android devices such as Samsung Galaxy; iOS devices such as Apple iPad and iPhone; Roku streaming devices; PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4; and Xbox 360.

"WWE Network will provide transformative growth for our company and unprecedented value for our fans," WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon said Wednesday.

WWE joins the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB as the latest sports-based organization that has its own around-the-clock network. The network will air original content, including pregame and postgame shows for its flagship "Raw" on Monday nights, classic events, reality shows, documentaries and other forms of smashmouth programming. The on-demand content is the main selling point for an older audience looking to reconnect with the product.

"We believe that is the future," WWE chief revenue and marketing officer Michelle Wilson said.

Fans can relive matches from the Attitude Era or simply catch up on today's franchise players like Daniel Bryan and C.M. Punk.

From their own home or parts unknown, WWE believes it has the loyal fan base needed to support the project.

Up against the BCS national championship game, Monday's "Raw" averaged a sturdy 4.537 million viewers on USA Network for the three-hour show.

WWE has aired some of its biggest events on PPV dating to The Wrestling Classic on Nov. 7, 1985. WWE's signature WrestleMania show in April drew 1,039,000 buys on pay-per-view, though numbers for the other 11 cards are nowhere near that gaudy number, in part because of the steep price.

The Royal Rumble on Jan. 26 goes for about $50 on PPV.

George Barrios, WWE's chief strategy and financial officer, said about 800,000 to 1 million homes buy an average of two to three PPVs a year. About 1 million subscribers would allow the network to break even. Barrios said research showed "it's within the realm of possibility" that WWE could have between 2 million and 4 million subscribers.

WWE said it planned to hold the price at $9.99 even after the initial six-month commitment.

The PPVs are still available in their current format through cable or satellite providers.

"I'm just not convinced the pay-per-view platform is in it for the long term," Wilson said. "It's not the best consumer experience."

"Raw" and "Smackdown" will remain on cable television. "RAW" airs on USA Network and "Friday Night Smackdown" is on SyFy. WWE's TV rights will soon be up for grabs and new deals are expected to be in place by March 4. Encores of those shows, however, will air on the network.

WWE has teased its fans with a network announcement since promotional spots aired in 2011, but nothing ever happened until now, though some programming aired on Hulu and Netflix. Wilson said WWE considered running on an ad-supported network station or as a premium pay channel in a model like HBO before deciding the economic and distribution package it wanted was best suited as a streaming network.

"Most people don't think fond things of cable or satellite providers," Wilson said. "We think we can overdeliver like we always have."

More than 1,500 hours of archived programming, that includes the WCW and ECW video libraries, will air uncut and uncensored, so references to the World Wrestling Federation, old logos, or matches involving former wrestler Chris Benoit or former announcer Jesse Ventura will no longer be scrubbed from history.

Parental controls for content rated TV-14 or TV-MA will be available.

Fans can subscribe to the network at 9 a.m. Feb. 24 and live programming begins at 11:06 p.m. with a 30-minute "Raw" postgame show. WWE collaborated with MLB Advanced Media to for technology services, including operational support for reliable cross-platform distribution.

The WWE Network is scheduled to launch abroad by the end of 2014 or early 2015.

"It's going to change the way we do business around the world," Barrios said.

Report: Petrino accepts Louisville coaching offer

Western Kentucky's Bobby Petrino has accepted an offer to return to Louisville as head football coach, a move the Cardinals could make official Thursday morning.

The University of Louisville Athletic Association must approve Petrino's hiring and is scheduled to meet Thursday morning. A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press on Wednesday night that, "Petrino is the choice." The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the university had not announced its decision.

Jonathan Blue, a Louisville board of trustee, told the AP that "if it's a done deal, I'm totally behind" the decision.

Petrino, 52, returns to the school he led to a 41-9 record from 2003-06 as a first-time head coach. He has an 83-30 career record as a college head coach, including an 8-4 mark last season with the Hilltoppers, his first position since his April 2012 firing by Arkansas amid scandal.

Blue said he "couldn't be happier" to have Petrino return to Louisville.

Among the other candidates considered were Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford.

Bedford congratulated Petrino on his Twitter account, saying, "I want to thanks the card nation for your support. Coach petrino will do a great job. Stand behind the team. Go Cards."

Public support for Petrino's hiring grew as Strong's departure for the Longhorns became apparent, with Cardinals fans calling radio shows and nearly 60 percent voting in favor of the choice on one Louisville TV station. Those feelings were somewhat surprising considering there were some hard feelings in the athletic department over his frequent interest in other coaching jobs during his first stint at Louisville.

Jurich said Sunday that he and Petrino had patched things up and that he would be considered in the AD's quest to find "a good fit" for a Cardinals football program headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. Jurich believed Louisville's 37-15 record in four seasons under Strong helped their prospects in attracting interest from "100 or 200" candidates in the past week.

And with Petrino's return, both sides have put disputes behind them.

That wasn't easy after he left following the 2006 season for a 13-game stint with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, where Petrino went 3-10 before landing another job with Arkansas. His exit from the Falcons before the NFL season ended was even more upsetting to players, who were informed of Petrino's departure via letters left at their lockers.

Petrino's return to the college ranks yielded a 34-17 record and a pair of bowl wins on the field with the Razorbacks but ended infamously with his firing in April 2012 following a motorcycle accident in which he later revealed that his mistress was a passenger. School officials fired him that month for a "pattern of misleading behavior."

Eight months later he was back in coaching at WKU, which gave him a four-year contract that paid a base annual salary of $850,000. At the time of his hiring, Hilltoppers athletic director Todd Stewart said that the coach deserved a second chance but would also be held to a "zero tolerance" behavior policy.

Petrino's WKU contract includes clauses in which the oft-traveled coach must repay the school $1.2 million in six installments beginning a month after he leaves, while the program that hires him must agree to schedule a two-year, home-and-home series with WKU.

Harden, Rockets beat Lakers 113-99

HOUSTON (AP) James Harden tied a season high with 38 points and Dwight Howard added 20 points and 13 rebounds to propel the Houston Rockets to a 113-99 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.

Howard got his first win against his former team as the Rockets used a big third-quarter run to take the lead and send the injury-riddled Lakers to their third straight loss.

The Rockets trailed by a basket in the third quarter before going on a 17-2 run to take an 80-67 lead and roll to win.

Harden continued his recent torrid scoring with his third straight 30-point game. He has piled up 113 points in the last three games combined.

Nick Young scored 25 points to lead Los Angeles and Pau Gasol and Jodie Meeks scored 21 each.

Ronnie Brewer started for the first time this season in place of the injured Chandler Parsons, who was out with a sore right knee.

Howard made a season-high four steals, Harden collected a season-best five steals, and Terrence Jones had 15 points and 13 rebounds.

The Lakers had a two-point lead midway through the third quarter when Houston got rolling, scoring seven straight points thanks to a 3-pointer by Harden and back-to-back buckets by Howard to take a 70-65 lead. The second one brought the crowd to its feet when Harden swiped a bad pass from Kendall Marshall and tossed up an alley-oop that Howard finished with a monster two-handed slam.

That spurt was the beginning of the 17-2 burst that extended Houston's lead to 80-67 with about two minutes left in the quarter. Harden was on fire in that span, scoring nine points and drawing a collective "ooh" from the crowd when he crossed up rookie Ryan Kelly on a layup to cap it.

Los Angeles was as cold as Harden was hot, missing five shots and committing three turnovers while the Rockets built the lead.

Howard spurned the Lakers to sign an $88 million deal with Houston, joining Harden and a team that made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009.

He admitted after practice Tuesday that he was ticked off that Los Angeles came out on top in the first meeting earlier this season. The center missed several key free throws down the stretch in that one, a one-point win by the Lakers in November when they employed the Hack-A-Howard strategy.

They were down by 14 points when they used that approach again Wednesday night, fouling him every time Houston got the ball for a two-minute span ending with about two minutes left. Howard made just six of 14, but Houston's lead was so big this time it didn't matter. He finished 10 of 24 from the free throw line.

The Lakers, who are missing Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake with various injuries, lost for the ninth time in 10 games. Bryant watched the game from the end of the bench and shook his head often during bad plays by the Lakers. When Young had a silly foul on Harden in the fourth quarter the face of the franchise put his head in his hands and slumped his shoulders.

Houston opened the second half with a 9-3 run to take a 61-60 lead with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. Jones scored the last four points of that run.

Wesley Johnson had a highlight-reel play near the end of the first quarter when he sailed over the head of Houston's Aaron Brooks for a layup to put Los Angeles up 26-23.

Los Angeles led by nine after a putback layup by Gasol about 2 minutes before halftime. Houston outscored the Lakers 10-6 after that to cut the lead to 57-52 at halftime. Harden scored five points during that span.

NOTES: Houston C Omer Asik missed his 17th straight game right thigh and knee injuries. ... Houston's Greg Smith sat out with a sprained right knee. ... New Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien watched the game from a courtside seat.

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