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Marc Gasol was the reason David Fizdale was fired, so where do his Grizzlies go now?

The Grizzlies fired David Fizdale on Monday after 1.25 seasons, one playoff first-round out, one feud with his All-Star Center, and one infamous line about officiating that will reverberate forever, for whatever the data says about it. The decision prompted reactions of outrage and confusion across the league for a well-respected coach who will no doubt get another opportunity elsewhere.

After Memphis had lost eight straight and 11 of 13, things came to a head in Memphis’ Sunday night loss to the Nets. In the third quarter, Fizdale elected not to reinsert All-Star center Marc Gasol into the lineup, and kept Gasol out the remainder of the game. It’s one thing for a coach to ride a bench lineup that is playing better. However, to single out a player, one the team’s two stars, with whom the coach has clashed consistently since arriving in Memphis, crossed a line with Gasol. He made that clear in his own reserved way after the game. 

Less than 18 hours later, Fizdale had been shown the door. 

A person close to the situation made clear to CBS Sports that, while the team had been “trending in the wrong direction,” without the irreconcilable differences between Fizdale and Gasol, Fizdale’s termination might not have been necessary. The person, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks, also said that owner Robert Pera did not intervene in the situation despite his relationship with Gasol. The decision to fire Fizdale had been made by management Sunday night.

The optics of the situation are inescapable. A 32-year-old aging center on a max contract clashed with his coach, and after it reached Sunday’s boiling point, the team sided with its All-Star, firing a coach respected league-wide. No one comes out looking good here, certainly not Gasol. 

The 7-2 Spaniard has always been a mystery, at once one of the most consistent and disciplined players in the league and one who in recent years has struggled with motivation. He resisted offensive shifts from former coach Dave Joerger. While he adapted to Fizdale’s strategy, becoming a stretch five while still using his post game, there was always a personality clash.

“It’s not like people in the league didn’t know that Marc and Fiz weren’t speaking or getting along,” an NBA executive told CBS Sports, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on another team. 

The situation teeters on the edge of outright disaster for Memphis, which owes its 2019 first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics and has Conley, Gasol and Chandler Parsons locked up on max deals through that spring. Team sources indicated to CBS Sports this summer that Gasol was considered “untouchable” in trade talks. A source indicated Monday that the decision to fire Fizdale in light of his conflict with Gasol is an indication that the team’s position has not changed on that matter. 

However, every analysis of Gasol’s situation was dependent on the team not falling into a tailspin. It has. Memphis is 16-27 since the All-Star break last season. The common reaction on social media Monday to Fizdale’s firing was about the roster’s issues, with so many borderline or non-NBA-caliber players surrounding an aging, injured core. 

In Memphis’ market, with their payroll, a rebuild is daunting. Conley and Gasol trades could yield zero first-rounders — consider the market for younger and arguably better stars from this offseason. Then you’re relying on Memphis A) hitting top three in the lottery and B) nailing its own draft pick this summer. The Grizzlies’ draft history, for a variety of reasons from poor scouting to bad luck, won’t engender much confidence. (Hasheem Thabeet says hi, wherever he is. )

Memphis won’t be able to lure star free agents. Even with the financial flexibility caused by a potential blow-up, they would have to overpay mid-level free agents to come to Memphis. That’s how you get yourself in a much worse situation than an eight-game losing streak with two stars, one of whom, Conley, is on the shelf during this skid. That’s why a “keep the two stars at all costs” is more pragmatic than it may seem on the surface.

Still, the team’s woeful play in this stretch prompted tough decisions. You can try and overhaul the roster. That’s the popular problem to point to, but you can’t do that instantly in November mid-season. That option may arise later, but not now. So the Grizzlies did what every other team in this situation has done, historically. The coach takes the fall, no matter what role he did or didn’t play in the team’s gravitational descent. 

If this move doesn’t work, if the team doesn’t turn around, more changes await. Memphis’ ownership situation is messy and in flux. Parsons actually has been good in terms of production, effort and on-court vs. off-court advanced stats — but not $25 million good. Gasol remains a moody but dynamic player. Conley’s persistent foot injuries could be a nagging problem or a time bomb. Those two now will be on their fourth coach since making the 2012 Western Conference finals. 

The rest of the roster is largely on the fringe. If things get worse, Gasol could decide there’s been too much poisoning of the well, and ask out. If he goes, Conley goes, and the Grizzlies will have to face a rebuild regardless. 

The plan is for interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff to finish the year as head coach, the person with knowledge of the situation said. But after that, who knows what the situation will be?

Maybe this move turns things around. Maybe this forces Gasol to prove himself to acquit the perception that now permeates this situation. But it’s clear that Monday’s decision was messy and unpopular. It was a desperation move from a team with fewer options than people believe, and unless Memphis finds the same kind of resiliency that has defined the team over the past seven years, all signs point to one trend.

It’s going to get worse, before it gets better. 

New Gators coach Dan Mullen: ‘I don’t know if there’s a better job in America than here’

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Dan Mullen started paying attention to Florida football more than two decades ago, long before he first stepped foot on campus.

Mullen was the receivers coach at tiny Wagner College in New York City in the mid-1990s and kept tabs on what Steve Spurrier was doing about 900 miles away.

Mullen even emulated the Head Ball Coach’s trademark headgear.

More Florida Gators news

“What did you do if you’re a Florida Gator and you’re going to start coaching? You start wearing the visor,” Mullen said. “I don’t know if I wear it quite as stylishly as (Spurrier) did, but I’ve always been known to throw one of them every once in a while out there. But that’s really the reason I started doing that in the first place.”

The 45-year-old Mullen is bringing his visor — and hopefully more points — back to Gainesville.

The Gators formally introduced Mullen on Monday. He signed a six-year, $36 million deal that makes him the sixth highest paid coach in college football and second highest paid in the Southeastern Conference behind Alabama’s Nick Saban.

Mullen’s deal includes a $12 million buyout if Florida fires him without cause. It would cost Mullen $2 million to walk away for any reason.

Neither side expects those protections to be used. That’s because Mullen wants to be in Gainesville and welcomes the pressure that comes with the job. The Gators couldn’t say the same about Chip Kelly or Scott Frost.

“I don’t know if there’s anywhere I’d rather be than here,” Mullen said. “I don’t know if there’s a better job in America than here. You know, when you have that opportunity, you can’t pass up the opportunity to come to the premier program in the country.”

Florida has been far from elite since Mullen left town following the 2008 season to take over at Mississippi State.

The Gators averaged 36.3 points a game and 7.1 yards a play during Mullen’s tenure (2005-08). They have mostly sputtered since, finishing six of the last seven years ranked in triple digits in total offense.

Mullen plans to fix that.

“Trust me, I know how important offense is here,” Mullen said. “I’ve been here and know what that’s all about, and I know everybody likes to score some points.

“Coach Spurrier might argue with me, but I don’t know if there’s anyone in this room who likes scoring points more than me. I love scoring points. We can score a hundred. I’ll keep going. I love scoring points. That’s fun.”

One of the reasons Florida parted ways with coach Jim McElwain last month was because he failed to get the offense back to a respectable level.

Athletic director Scott Stricklin also felt McElwain didn’t have the right infrastructure in place for success.

“I think it’s critical,” Stricklin said. “It’s the backbone. I think any successful program has a really strong strength and conditioning program that builds accountability, and I think programs that aren’t as successful usually are lacking in that area.”

Stricklin had hoped to hire Kelly, but the former Oregon coach with NFL experience spurned Florida for UCLA last week. UCF’s Frost reportedly said no thanks to the Gators through his representatives, leaving Stricklin to look elsewhere.

He went to a familiar place: Starkville, Mississippi.

Stricklin and Mullen worked together from 2009 to 2016. Stricklin, a Mississippi State graduate, said he desperately wanted to find someone other than Mullen so he could avoid hurting his alma mater.

“There’s a personal price for me to make this decision, with my family, and that’s going to be a challenge going forward,” said Stricklin, who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. “The only way I could rationalize that is I am paid to make the best decision for the University of Florida. … When I got to that point where I realized Dan is the right guy, I kind of cinched my belt and said: ‘We’ve got to do this. We don’t a choice.’”

Stricklin called Mullen last Friday, a day after the Bulldogs finished their regular season, and had a verbal agreement in place the following night.

Moving forward, Mullen will focus his attention on recruiting since the early signing period begins Dec. 20. He also expects to have his staff in place by the end of the year, with coordinators being top priorities.

After that, he hopes to play golf with Spurrier before getting players into a grueling, offseason conditioning program that “they have never even experienced in their life before.”

“There’s a mindset and a standard of expectation here,” Mullen said. “The program wasn’t at the expectation level of the fan base, of everybody involved in the Gator Nation, and that’s why I’m here.”

Greg Schiano’s agreement with Tennessee wasn’t signed by chancellor

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The memorandum of understanding signed between Greg Schiano and University of Tennessee athletic director John Currie for Schiano to be Tennessee’s next head football coach was not signed by the university chancellor, chancellor’s office spokesperson Ryan Robinson told ESPN.

Lawyers on both sides are expected to argue whether it’s still a binding legal document and whether Schiano is owed any compensation without the signature of Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport, who released a statement about the hiring fiasco Monday, saying, “I deeply regret the events of yesterday for everyone involved.”

Currie, in his first year as Tennessee’s athletic director, signed Schiano to a memorandum of understanding on Sunday. A plane was waiting in Columbus, Ohio, to bring Schiano to Tennessee that night and introduce him as the Volunteers‘ coach. But Tennessee backed out of the memorandum of understanding following outrage by fans and state politicians when news broke that the Vols were finalizing a deal with Schiano, who’s in his second year as Ohio State‘s defensive coordinator.

Memorandums of understanding are formal records of the understanding between the coach and the school as to the terms and conditions under which the university would employ the coach. They can be legally binding documents when signed and fully executed, and they often include full contract terms including salaries and bonuses.

While the goal is to eventually have lawyers put the details into a more extended contract, sometimes coaches do coach and get paid off their signed memorandums.

ESPN spoke to several athletic directors on the condition of anonymity about whether Schiano and the university had a binding agreement for him to be the football coach at Tennessee.

One veteran athletic director told ESPN that if the chancellor’s signature was missing, he would not consider the document to be fully executed and therefore legally binding.

A Power 5 athletic director said the key to the battle over the contract’s validity might also have to do with whether the final parting of ways was one-sided or mutual, and what evidence there is of the breakup. If it was Tennessee clearly walking away on its own, Schiano, the athletic director said, would have a much better chance of receiving compensation.

Much of the outrage by Tennessee fans was directed at a single reference to Schiano in a 2015 deposition that was unsealed last year as part of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State.

Schiano worked as an assistant under defensive coordinator Sandusky at Penn State from 1990 to 1995. The deposition that fans were citing included former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary’s testimony that another Penn State coach, Tom Bradley, had told McQueary that Schiano had talked of seeing Sandusky abusing a boy in the early 1990s. Schiano was never implicated by any other party over the course of the Sandusky investigation.

Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for his conviction on 45 counts of sexual abuse.

Schiano told ESPN’s Adam Schefter last year, “I never saw any abuse, nor had reason to suspect any abuse, during my time at Penn State.”

Schiano’s current boss, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, spoke out on his behalf Monday, and Anthony Lubrano, a trustee at Penn State since 2012, said in statement Monday that Schiano “had nothing to do with the Sandusky scandal. Any stories about his involvement are completely uncorroborated and without basis in fact. To impugn Mr. Schiano’s character based on hearsay alone is irresponsible and unfair.”

ESPN’s Darren Rovell contributed to this report.

Browns plan to play Gordon as much as possible vs. Chargers

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Josh Gordon’s imminent return has the Browns buzzing.

Suddenly, there’s a ray of hope in this dreary, dismal season.

With Gordon eligible to play on Sunday in Los Angeles for the first time in the regular season since 2014, coach Hue Jackson can barely contain his excitement in having the wide receiver back.

“My plans for him?” Jackson said Monday. “Oh boy, let me tell you, I have big plans for him.”

Gordon’s return has brought some badly needed optimism to the Browns (0-11), who are running out of time and games to avoid joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history.

A former All-Pro, Gordon, who led the league in yards receiving in 2013, is expected to be activated later this week and make his long-awaited return against the Chargers on Sunday.

Gordon returned to practice last week after being suspended for two seasons and dazzled his teammates, who can’t wait to see if he can be the same electrifying player.

“I plan for him to play and play as much as he can handle,” Jackson said. “He’s a very talented player. He needs to get out there and play, but we have to see where he is and make sure how much can he handle, how much can he do.”

Gordon was eligible to come off the Commissioner’s exempt list on Monday, but the Browns intend to wait until later in the week to activate him. The 26-year-old last played a regular-season game on Dec. 21, 2014.

Cleveland’s roster has changed dramatically since then, but guard Joel Bitonio remembers when Gordon last returned from a suspension. On Nov. 23, 2014, Gordon caught eight passes for 120 yards as the Browns beat the Atlanta Falcons 26-24.

“Anytime you bring a player back of Josh’s talent, it’s going to bring a spark to the offense,” Bitonio said.

“He’s also been out of football for a while. So no matter how good a shape he’s in, expectations have to be tempered a little bit, but I think there’s going to be a jolt in practice, exciting.

“I don’t know what the game plan is for him yet or anything like that yet, but he was an All-Pro. He was one of the best receivers in the game the last time he played and we’re looking forward to bringing that spark. I think that helps protections, it helps the run game, that helps the quarterback and maybe the offense being lifted up will help the defense, too.

“It could be a big week for him.”

Greg Jennings explains why he believes the Eagles could win it all in 2017

Grizzlies fire coach David Fizdale one day after fourth-quarter benching of Marc Gasol

After leading the team to a 7-12 record, including eight straight losses to start the 2017-18 season, Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale was fired on Monday. The team announced that associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff will be promoted to interim head coach. 

The news comes just a day after Grizzlies center Marc Gasol was publicly unhappy with Fizdale’s decision not to play him during the fourth quarter of Memphis’ 98-88 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

“After a thorough evaluation, I decided a change in course was necessary to move forward and provide the team and organization its best chance at success this season and beyond,” Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said. “Coach Fizdale represented the Grizzlies and City of Memphis proudly, and we wish him well as he continues his career.”

“Coach Fizdale worked tirelessly to achieve on-court success, and for that, we are grateful. We wish him and his family all the best in the future,” Grizzlies controlling owner Robert J. Pera said. “We remain focused on achieving sustainable, long-term success.”

Fizdale built up a strong reputation as an assistant coach, most notably helping the Miami Heat win back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013, before becoming an NBA head coach for the first time when the Grizzlies hired him in May of 2016.

Despite a roster riddled with injuries, Fizdale led the Grizzlies to a 43-39 record and a No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoffs last season. In the offseason the team said goodbye to longtime Grizzlies Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, paving the way for Fizdale to further implement his style. After a hot start, the Grizzlies have fallen on hard times recently, losing eight consecutive games.

Fizdale’s most viral moment as a coach came when he vehemently came to the defense of his players, including All-Star Mike Conley, after Fizdale believed his team was being disrespected by the officials.

The Grizzlies have made the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons, getting as far as the Western Conference finals in 2013. Conley is signed through the 2021 season, while Gasol’s contract runs through 2020. Both contracts have player options for early termination in the final year.

Patriots placing Martellus Bennett on injured reserve

The season is over for Martellus Bennett.

Two weeks into his return to New England, the veteran tight end is being placed on injured reserve by the Patriots, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport on Monday.

The decision comes one day after Bennett was inactive for the team’s 35-17 win over Miami due to shoulder and hamstring injuries. Rapoport was told the move has more to do with the veteran’s banged-up hamstring, but the early wrap to his season will give Bennett the chance to finally undergo shoulder surgery.

The 30-year-old pass-catcher failed to make much of dent in two games for New England, catching six passes for 53 yards after the Patriots claimed him off waivers following his release by the Packers.

The Patriots will forge on with All-Pro Rob Gronkowski at the position ahead of Dwayne Allen and rookie Jacob Hollister. Bennett was a nice addition, in theory, but he came littered with questions following a messy exit from Green Bay.

A second-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, Bennett accounted for 433 catches for 4,573 yards and 30 touchdowns in what amounts to a productive and lengthy NFL career.

After openly talking about retiring in recent months, it’s fair to wonder if Bennett will play again for the Patriots — or anyone — after this latest setback.

WELP, Dan Mullen used the Butch Jones-esque term ‘Champions in Life’ in his introductory presser

New Florida Gators head football coach Dan Mullen was introduced on Monday afternoon in Gainesville, and he had his first press conference of his new gig. Overall, it went pretty well — he talked about wanting to spread out defenses with his offense, working with ambassador Steve Spurrier, and — OH NO HE SAID CHAMPIONS OF LIFE.

“We have a great responsibility, as parents send their children to us not just to develop them as football players, but to help develop them as men,” Mullen said. “And I know Meghan [Mullen’s wife] is truly committed to helping develop all of these young men that come to the University of Florida and to become champions, not just in football, to become champions in life. To working as hard as they can every day to be the best that they can be both on and off the field.”

OK, so he said “champions in life,” but it’s pretty much the same thing.

I’m not trying to alarm anyone or make this a huge deal, but I just want to point out the hilarious irony here — the man who coined this God forsaken term was none other than former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, who, when asked last season about his lack of championships as head coach, said his players were “Champions of Life.”

Twitter, of course, had a field day with his comments:

Jones was fired two weeks ago following the Vols’ 50-17 loss to Missouri. He compiled a 34-27 record as Tennessee’s head coach over five seasons. Yes, I am completely aware that Mullen to Florida is a smart and safe hire, and it makes a ton of sense after Florida missed on Chip Kelly and Scott Frost, but I can’t help but laugh and shake my head that Mullen used this term on his very first day.

We’ll see how it goes with Mullen at Florida this time around.

Grizzlies fire David Fizdale, name JB Bickerstaff interim coach

Memphis fired coach David Fizdale on Monday afternoon, a day after the Grizzlies dropped to 7-12 on the season including eight straight losses.

Associate head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who was 37-34 as an interim coach with the Rockets in 2015-16, has been promoted to interim head coach.

“After a thorough evaluation, I decided a change in course was necessary to move forward and provide the team and organization its best chance at success this season and beyond,” general manager Chris Wallace said in a statement. “Coach Fizdale represented the Grizzlies and City of Memphis proudly, and we wish him well as he continues his career.”

The Grizzlies are on an eight-game losing streak and Fizdale’s firing comes after his tepid relationship with All-Star center Marc Gasol reached a low point with Gasol’s fourth-quarter benching in a loss to Brooklyn on Sunday night.

Fizdale is owed $3 million for the 2018-19 season on his contract, league sources said. The Grizzlies possessed a team option for the 2019-20 season, the final of his original four year contract.

The Grizzlies advanced to the Western Conference playoffs a year ago under Fizdale, going 43-39 in the regular season.

The Grizzlies have scheduled a news conference with Bickerstaff for Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Tiger Woods shocks Patrick Reed with his distance before latest comeback


Donald Trump tweets that he will golf with Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson at Trump National. USA TODAY Sports

NASSAU, Bahamas — For three days now, Tiger Woods has whetted the appetites of a hopeful golf world with some inspiring images.

On Saturday, videos of his effortless and powerful swing emerged from a round of golf in Florida with President Donald Trump, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and longtime Tour player Brad Faxon.

On Sunday, more videos hit social media as a pain-free and relaxed Woods played a swift round at Albany Golf Course on this island paradise full of swaying palm trees and miles of beaches. He then spent more than an hour putting and chipping as he readied himself for his latest comeback, starting Thursday in the Hero World Challenge.

And on Monday, Woods, 41, was back at Albany alongside Captain America, Patrick Reed, for nine holes, which he followed with a long session on the back of the range and then more putting and chipping.

Reed, who last played with Woods a year ago in the first round of the Hero World Challenge, said this year is different. This comeback, he added, could be far different than his aborted return to the game last year, when he only made three starts before ultimately having his fourth back surgery since 2014 — this time a spinal fusion procedure on April 19.

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“The last time I played with him it looked like there was a little bit of hesitation going after different shots, like bunker shots, shots out of the rough. This time he was fully committed and fully trusting his body that there would be no pain,” Reed said. “That’s the biggest thing for me; if he stays healthy and his body cooperates the way it’s supposed to, he’ll be back to playing golf, hopefully like he used to play.

“He had pep in his step. He was in high spirits. I was shocked how fluid his swing was and how far the ball was going. He had some speed behind it. He’s always been a little longer than me, but some of those drives today, he got it out there. He was hitting the stinger here and there, hitting bunker shots, hitting balls out of the rough … there just wasn’t any hesitation in his body to hit those shots. That’s key. If he stays healthy, we’ll see Tiger again.”

Woods, who has made just three starts in two years, hasn’t played since February and won the last of his 79 Tour titles in 2013, told reporters Sunday he is pain-free for the first time in years and no longer afraid of taking his next step in fear of triggering a nerve reaction.

On Monday, he said the rest of his body, in addition to his back, is feeling great, including his surgically repaired left knee. And the big toe on his right foot is back in play.

As he sent one ball after another onto the horizon with most every club in his bag, Woods explained that his big toe is no longer dormant because of nerve damage. Now, he said, he can move his toe and fully push off with his right foot.

The one thing he’s apprehensive about is the first round on Thursday.

“Just playing a competitive round is what has to come back to me,” said Woods, the former world No. 1 for a record 683 weeks who is now ranked No. 1,199. “It’s the rhythm of playing a competitive round, of playing without being able to throw down another ball and hitting another shot like I do at home. Playing with a scorecard in your hand, competing against the best players in the world.

“I just haven’t done much for two years now, so it’s going to be different.”

But he’s done enough to get his body back in shape and give it another go.

“It will take time for him to get back to his normal ways,” Reed said. “A year ago he seemed like he came back a little early. This time I think he gave himself a little bit more time and built himself up more. From what I saw from him today, as long as his body holds up, I don’t see anything holding him back. His putting stroke looked good, his chipping looked solid, he was hitting it long and both ways. He seemed to have command not only of his swing but his body.

“With what I saw today, he’s going to be rusty. That’s going to happen to anybody. There are going to be some great stretches, some not so great stretches. But he’ll figure it out somehow. And when he does, I can’t wait to see it.”

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