Tebow and Mullen meet as enemies

JACKSON, Miss. (AP/The Loop) — It used to be Dan Mullen’s job to build Tim Tebow up. Now, the Mississippi State coach’s task is to tear down the Florida quarterback.

Such is life in major college football when good friends don different team colors.

“We were close,” Tebow said. “I don’t think it was necessarily that tough (losing him). It was because we missed him, we wanted him here. But at the same time, I knew that he wanted a head coaching job. He wanted that next goal, that next task, that next thing that he could go out there and accomplish, and that was being a head coach.”

With Mullen as his offensive coordinator, Tebow led the Gators to two national titles and won the Heisman Trophy.

While coaches and players spend a lot of time in each other’s company, they’re rarely friends. Players come and go and it’s a coach’s job to get the most out of them while they’re on campus.

Mullen and Tebow, though, are buds through and through. Their families are close. During the offseason, they picked up the phone to catch up. And though both are consumed with the trials of football season right now, they do find time to tap out a text now and again.

“I’ve always kind of had those kind of guys that really want to spend extra time in the office trying to become better players. That’s kind of where it went,” Mullen said. “For Tim and I, Tim is one of those players who wants to be the best he can be, so he would spend as much time around as he could, trying to learn. And when you spend that much time together, obviously you get a great relationship.”

The odds of Mississippi State knocking off the No. 2 Gators (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) are long. But the Bulldogs (3-4, 1-2) think that close relationship may help them.

“No one knows Tebow’s weaknesses better than coach Mullen does,” defensive back Maurice Langston said. “If anyone is going to be able to break him apart it’s going to be coach Mullen.”

Mullen didn’t really get to know Tebow until the top prospect finally committed to the Gators. Another coach was assigned to recruit him and Mullen entered the process late.

“We were there Sunday morning,” Mullen said. “LSU was pulling in the driveway as we were leaving and then Alabama was going to be there all day on Monday. He was making his decision on Tuesday. I know it was pretty tense because he was the quarterback of the future and as you look right now he was a guy that had to come in and be the guy right away.”

Mullen only had two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster at the time and the stakes were so high, he went to his office, locked the door and watched Tebow make the call on television.

It was one of the last times Mullen’s office would be locked. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound quarterback practically lived in there the next three years.

“I think a lot of Tim has rubbed off on me and I’m sure some of me has rubbed off on Tim,” Mullen said. “I don’t know if Day 1 we were completely similar. I think our competitiveness is very similar. Tim had the opportunity to be a great quarterback and he probably felt I would do a great job developing him, so we had that great working relationship.”

That relationship has been so symbiotic it pushed the friends to new heights in their careers.

Some consider Tebow the best college football player ever and it’s hard to argue with the All-American’s success. First sophomore to win the Heisman and a two-time finalist. Only player to pass for and rush for 20 touchdowns in a season. In his three seasons with Mullen, he threw for 6,390 yards and 67 touchdowns and rushed for 2,037 yards with 43 scores.

Mullen is credited, along with coach Urban Meyer, with popularizing the spread option offense. Mullen cashed in that cachet for the job at Mississippi State, becoming that rare assistant whose first head coaching job comes in the SEC.

Now Mullen is going to try to beat the stuffing out of his friend.

“It’s going to be great to see Tim because I love Tim and I’ll hopefully get a chance to say hello to him briefly before or after the game, he and his family,” Mullen said. “I think that would be fantastic. But as far as on the field I don’t know that anybody really jumps up and down and says, ‘I can’t wait to see Tim Tebow on the other sideline.'”

___

AP sports writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Injured Colts hope to play against Titans

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney thought playing Sunday was worth it, even if the soreness in his right leg was still lingering Monday.

The former league sacks champion acknowledged he was not feeling 100 percent one day after making a surprise appearance in Indy’s 34-17 victory over Seattle. Freeney was in for about 20 plays despite having a strained right quadriceps that many expected to keep him off the field up to three weeks.

He expects to play again this week at Tennessee, too.

“Is it like nothing ever happened? No,” Freeney said. “Is it good enough to play with? Yes.”

Freeney attributed his rapid recovery to trainers, team doctors and the power of positive thinking, saying he never doubted he would heal quickly enough to play — as long as it didn’t make the injury worse.

Quarterback Peyton Manning called Freeney’s presence Sunday inspirational.

Freeney, however, said it’s just part of the job.

“You know it (your career) is only going to last so long, and you never know when it’s going to be over,” he said. “So you want to maximize your opportunities to be out there. This is what I love to do.”

The Colts (4-0) did have one additional injury concern Monday. Starting left tackle Charlie Johnson left Sunday’s game during the fourth quarter after hurting his left knee. Johnson said he hurt the knee in the first quarter but continued playing until the Colts built a 31-3 lead in the fourth quarter.

Johnson had an MRI on the injury Monday and also hopes to play against the Titans (0-4).

“If we had to play today, probably not,” he said. “But we have six days to go, so we’ll see. The MRI didn’t show anything structurally, so that’s a good thing. I feel OK, that’s about it.”

Johnson won the starting job over Tony Ugoh, who started at left tackle the past two seasons, during training camp. Ugoh was inactive for Sunday’s game with what coach Jim Caldwell described as bumps and bruises. Caldwell would not say who would start if Johnson could not play.

Caldwell said he thought linebacker Gary Brackett (sprained left knee) and cornerback Kelvin Hayden (left hamstring) might practice this week this week, though he couldn’t be definitive. Caldwell was uncertain whether 2007 NFL defensive player of the year Bob Sanders would practice this week. Sanders has not practiced since training camp started after having offseason knee surgery.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

For the latest information about the Tennessee Titans click here.

Titans stick with Collins over Young

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP/The Loop) — The messages are flying on Facebook and Twitter. Fans are calling for change on talk radio. Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher isn’t budging.

Fisher is sticking with veteran Kerry Collins at quarterback rather than switch to Vince Young, looking for a spark as he did in 2006 when the Titans also were winless. Fisher said Monday the difference now is the Titans won 13 games with Collins in 2008, while they hadn’t won a game with Young when the switch was made in 2006.

“Kerry’s not the problem,” Fisher said. “Kerry’s making plays and putting the ball where it needs to be put. I’m not pleased with the interceptions, but other than that going back over the last few weeks, Kerry’s made some great throws. We just need to play better around him.”

Young started only once in 2008 after losing his starting job to Collins, and that was in a meaningless regular-season finale in Indianapolis. Fisher repeatedly has called Young the franchise’s starter of the future, and fans have been vocal in asking when that time arrives.

That time isn’t now, not with Fisher focusing on trying to win a game. He insists Collins is their best chance to do that.

And the coach doesn’t expect owner Bud Adams to weigh in despite being a fellow Texan who once said, “VY is my guy.” Fisher said he’s been communicating with Adams throughout the 0-4 start that is the team’s worst since beginning 0-5 in 2006.

“He feels no differently than we do. We all had high expectations, and we’re disappointed. He also understands we’re dealing with some injuries and understands the game,” Fisher said.

The Titans’ four losses are to AFC teams with Indianapolis (4-0) up next Sunday night in a nationally televised game. Fisher said the staff is looking at everything including parking assignments after a 37-17 loss in Jacksonville on Sunday.

Fisher did make changes to the week’s schedule, including pushing back his weekly Monday news conference two hours. Practices later this week also will start 30 minutes later.

But the longest-tenured coach with his current team in the NFL isn’t making any changes to personnel or his coaching staff.

“The players that are playing right now with the exception of guys who need to heal up … are the players we’re going to go with. I don’t see any drastic or dramatic changes no,” Fisher said.

Collins hasn’t played as well as he did in 2008 and already has five interceptions after having only seven all of last season. He cost the Titans their chance to rally late against Houston on Sept. 20 when he fumbled away the ball trying to tuck it and run. He couldn’t complete a pass on his final 13 attempts Sept. 27 in a loss at the New York Jets.

Even with the AFC’s leading rusher in Chris Johnson, the Titans threw 48 of their 67 plays in Jacksonville with most coming in catch-up mode after the offense went three-and-out four of its first five drives. Then Johnson fumbled and Collins was intercepted to end their final two drives of the first half.

“We weren’t on the field long enough to try to do some different things, and that responsibility falls on me,” Collins said.

Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell was at Penn State when Collins played there and called the quarterback a hardworking, conscientious player with good mobility.

“I think it will be a good matchup,” Caldwell said.

Notes: Fisher said X-rays on cornerback Nick Harper’s ribs were negative and that he is day to day. The Titans had to finish up Sunday with rookies Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton playing with Harper getting hurt and Cortland Finnegan scratched with an injured right hamstring. Fisher said the only player ruled out against the Colts is defensive back Vincent Fuller (broken right forearm).

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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Jaeger Leads Mocs to Strong Start

By Andrew D. Holt Chattanooga (UTC/The Loop)

Mocs head golf coach Mark Guhne was more than pleased with his team’s start to the season.

The Mocs began their fall season by claiming a second-place finish at the Carpet Capital Collegiate last weekend at the Farm in Rocky Face, Ga.

This was the same tournament the team won last year en route to UTC’s first-ever No. 1 ranking in any sport.

“I was very pleased with their play,” Guhne said. “We actually shot a better score this year than we did last year, and we have to take our hats off to Tennessee for playing so well.”

The difference this year, however, was the school just up the road in Knoxville. The Vols ran away with the tournament title by shooting a 14-under par score of 274 while the Mocs finished with an even-par score of 288.

Guhne said all five players who played in the tournament played well, but said he was particularly happy with the play of sophomore Stephan Jaeger, who fired a second round 66, which proved to be a key for the Mocs’ runner-up finish.

Jaeger, a native of Munich, Germany, finished the tournament in a tie for third place as an individual.

“I started slow,” Jaeger said of his first round. “But my second day was pretty amazing because I didn’t make a lot of mental mistakes.”

Jaeger said his second round score could have been even lower but he is happy with the team’s start. The Germany native said he is also happy to be playing at UTC.

After originally planning to come to the United States for one year as an exchange student, Jaeger ended up spending two full years at The Baylor School – the place he would earn his high school degree.

“It was kind of a last-minute decision for me to stay at Baylor for the second year,” said Jaeger, the 2008 Southern Conference Freshman of the Year. “Originally, I had planned to go back home and graduate high school in Germany.”

Having lived near a golf course in Germany, Jaeger was familiar with golf growing up but it was not until he was around 10 years old that he started playing seriously.

“I played soccer but my whole family played golf, so it was bound to happen sooner or later,” he said of his decision to concentrate on golf. “I’m glad I started playing because I can’t see myself playing soccer now.”

Seniors Fredrick Qvicker of Stockholm, Sweden and Derek Rende of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., finished tied for 17th and 20th, respectively. Freshman Steven Fox from Hendersonville, Tenn., was solid as well, finishing in a tie for 24th, while senior J.T. Clendenin of Acworth, Ga., finished 33rd.

The Mocs are off this weekend before traveling to Seattle, Wash. for the PING/Golfweek Invitational Sept. 27-28. The 54-hole tournament will be played in two days at the Gold Mountain Golf Club.

Notes

  • Chattanooga topped Tennessee by five shots at last year’s Carpet Capital Collegiate
  • Jaeger tied for second in par three scoring at two-under par.  Rende was one back at minus one.  Jaeger played the par fours at a team-best level par.  Qvicker was the team leader playing the par fives at five-under par.

Cowboys top Panthers for 1st win in $1.15B stadium

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP/The LoopAPTOPIX Panthers Cowboys Football) — Leading, but not by much, Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys were desperately in need of a big play. Jake Delhomme helped them make several.

Terence Newman returned an interception 27 yards for a lead-stretching touchdown with 5:07 left, then rookie linebacker Victor Butler got two sacks and forced a fumble on the next series, sending Dallas to a 21-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.

Considering the Cowboys were coming off a last-second loss in the opener of their $1.15 billion stadium, a crowd of 90,588 was especially tense until the defense put the game away. The biggest sigh of relief likely came from team owner Jerry Jones.

“It certainly does feel good,” Jones said. “The way it went so early, it just felt like maybe we ought to check this thing out for Grim Reapers living in the back someplace.”

Dallas (2-1) trailed 7-0 at halftime and was booed by fans. Although the defense was playing well and running backs Felix Jones and Tashard Choice were easing the load on Romo, the quarterback was being so careful to avoid the mistakes that doomed the Cowboysthe previous week that the offense struggled to turn long drives into points.

When Romo threw a pair of incompletions from the 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, Dallas was up by only six points. Then Newman stepped in front of a pass to Steve Smith, darted toward the right corner of the end zone and dived in. Butler capped the night with his pair of sacks and the turnover, giving the Cowboys three of each after not having any of either over the first two weeks.

“Everybody on the outside was pressing the panic button, but not us,” linebacker Bradie James said. “We knew we had a bunch of ball left to play. There was still a lot of time to improve.”

The Panthers sure hope so.

After going 12-4 and winning their division, they’re 0-3 and headed into a bye week. This is their worst start since 0-7 in 1998 and Delhomme has seven interceptions, seven sacks and two fumbles.

“We have lots of football left,” coach John Fox said. “We’re not even a quarter through the season. We’ve had three-loss skids before. We have to stick together.”

Smith insisted Delhomme wasn’t to blame for the game-breaking mistake. Fox said a slant was called and Smith said he changed the route.

“I put Jake in a bad situation,” Smith said. “The bottom line is that I (hurt) Jake.”

Delhomme was 22 of 33 for 220 yards, but here are the only numbers that mattered: Carolina’s six second-half drives ended with four punts, an interception and a fumble.

The effort showed what Cowboys coach-defensive coordinator Wade Phillips thought his unit was capable of doing. They showed they could stop the pass in the opener, then showed they could stop the run in the second game. This time, they put it all together, with Mike Jenkins coming up with a first-half interception and Jay Ratliff getting the season’s first sack.

Their only blemish was a 90-yard drive just before halftime that put the Panthers up 7-0. Even with that, Carolina had only 271 yards and 15 first downs. The Panthers were 1 of 8 on third downs.

“Before the game we talked about how our defensive line and linebackers did their job last week and how we didn’t do our job,” Newman said. “So I told them ‘Hey it’s on us. We’ve got to shut these guys down.’ We let this team down last week and we have to make up for it this week.”

Dallas was without running back Marion Barber because of a bruised thigh, but hardly missed him as fill-in starter Felix Jones broke off plays of 16, 18 and 20 yards on the first two drives. Yet Romo failed to turn them into any points and the Cowboys went into halftime without any points and hearing a lot of boos from a crowd that was louder than last week, even though there were 15,000 fewer people, because the retractable roof and end-zone doors were closed.

Romo was 22 of 33 for 255 yards with no touchdowns and no turnovers. He didn’t throw many deep balls, rarely threw into traffic and often looked for his security blanket, tight end Jason Witten (nine catches for 77 yards) as he regained his footing following the second-worst passer rating of his career.

“It’s all about improving and doing it on the field,” Romo said. “That was my sole focus this week, to understand why I did certain things and not make those mistakes again, and come out and be a better quarterback and help this team win.”

Jones finished with 94 yards on only eight carries, and another 20 yards on a pass before leaving with a strained left knee in the third quarter.

Choice had 82 yards on 18 carries, including a touchdown. He also caught four passes for 36 yards.

Dallas‘ Nick Folk ended a streak of 16 straight field goals by missing a 40-yarder on the opening drive, but made kicks of 24 and 19 in the second half.

Notes: Carolina’s Dante Rosario came in with three catches for 31 yards, but had three catches for 58 yards on the scoring drive, including a 25-yard touchdown catch. … Dallas has won eight straight regular-season games against the Panthers since 1998, although Carolina won a playoff meeting in 2003. … Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams had 63 yards on 11 carries, but Jonathan Stewart ran three times for minus-1 yard.

 

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Mocs Healy Happy to be Home

By Andrew D. Holt (UTC/The Loop)—

When Will Healy walked off the Finley Stadium field after his Richmond Spiders won the FCS championship last December, he had a feeling he would be back — and soon.

 For Healy, the past eight months have been an exciting, yet busy time. A time that included his Richmond Spiders winning their first ever national championship was made even sweeter a few days later as he landed his first college coaching job at UTC. “It’s been pretty remarkable,” said Healy, a 2003 Boyd Buchanan graduate. “Winning the national championship in my hometown, in front of my family and friends, it was just a storybook ending.”

To say that Healy, a Chattanooga native, has football in his blood is an understatement. In fact, his family history, as it relates to football, resembles the lineage of two current NFL quarterbacks with the last name Manning. Both Healy’s father and uncle played major college football in addition to his grandfather, who was an All-American offensive lineman at Georgia Tech. As a 2008 graduate of the University of Richmond and former member of the football team, Healy is merely keeping the family tradition alive — only this time he’s taking it one step further as a coach.

The national championship marked the end of Healy’s playing days but he had a feeling, or at least hoped his career with football wasn’t completely over. Less than a week after UTC announced the hiring of former Richmond defensive coordinator Russ Huesman as its 22nd head football coach, Huesman called Healy and offered him a position on his coaching staff. “[Huesman] told me he wanted me on board, and it was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down,” Healy recalled.

Healy’s title is offensive assistant, but he maintains that he’ll spend most of his time with the quarterbacks, fitting for a player who played the position from middle school all the way through college. Whatever his title, he’s just glad to have the opportunity to jump right into coaching straight out of college without having to work as graduate assistant, which is the more conventional route.

But the lure of home and the UTC job was too much for him to pass up. “What was so appealing about this was to be able to have some input in what goes on offensively,” he offered.

Because he was hired just a few weeks before high school players can sign their national letters of intent, Healy spent much of his first month working the phones and evaluating film of potential prospects, something he admittedly enjoys. “The recruiting aspect is something that’s really exciting to me,” said Healy, the youngest member of the new football staff. “It’s an interesting thing to view from the coaching side. I like building those relationships.”

At just 24 years old, Healy knows his age might be a bit of an obstacle to overcome, but he considers it something he can turn into a positive. “I’m barely removed from the situation,” he said. “So I know what they’re going through when they have to get up early and go run outside in the freezing cold.” As a first-year coach, Healy recognizes it will take him some time to develop his own style of coaching but insisted much of his philosophy will be centered upon strong relationships with his players, something he valued as a former player. “I think it’s really important for these guys to realize that I care about them, and that I want them to do well,” he said. He said his goal is to teach as much as possible, while learning at the same time, because even by his own admission, he doesn’t know it all.

Healy knows what it takes to rebuild a losing program. It was just three years ago when the University of Richmond president sought to eliminate scholarship football because of the school’s struggles to field a competitive team. “I want to try and bring some of those same philosophies that made us so successful at Richmond here to UTC,” he said.

It’s a bit cliché to say that it will take a lot of hard work to turn around a program that’s been mired by failure as much as UTC has in the last several years, but it is the truth says Healy. “We have to help these players understand what it takes to be successful,” he said. “It’s a mentality, whether it’s in the classroom or on the football field, whatever opportunities these guys have, they have to give 110 percent.”

Even with the past lack of success, Healy believes there are still a lot of good things to sell at UTC and that it’s just a matter of putting a winning product on the field. “I believe in what Coach Huesman’s trying to do and I believe in what these other coaches are teaching,” he said. “And I couldn’t be happier to be back home to help turn this thing around.”

Memphis to Vacate Final Four Season

By Andrew Holt

INDIANAPOLIS (The Loop/AP) — The NCAA has stripped the Memphis Tiger basketball program of all 38 of its wins from the 2007-2008 season after it was discovered the Tiger’s had an ineligible player. The player in question is thought to be Derrick Rose.

After the ruling was announced Thursday, Memphis president Shirley Raines said the school would appeal the decision.

This is the second time both Memphis and former coach John Calipari have had to vacate Final Four seasons. The Tigers were stripped of their 1985 appearance and Calipari’s Massachusetts team lost its 1996 berth.

“I would be disappointed if that’s what they choose to do,” Calipari said when asked about the possibility of a vacated season.

The NCAA’s report did not directly identify the player by name, though conclusions were made that it could only have been Rose.

Rose was accused of having another person take his college entrance exam so he would be eligible to play his freshman year at Memphis. Memphis officials argued there was not enough information to validate the allegations and cleared Rose to play in November 2007.

In addition to the vacated season, Memphis must also return the money it received from the NCAA tournament to Conference USA and will be prevented from receiving future shares given out in the conference’s revenue-sharing program.

Rose and his agent did not respond to requests for comments.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.