ALLEN PARK, Mi., Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The days of Marty Mornhinweg as coach of the Detroit Lions ended Monday when he was fired.
WXYT AM 1270, a local radio station, Monday reported that the firing increased speculation that former San Francisco Coach Steve Mariucci may be in line for the job.
ESPN.com reported Monday afternoon that Mornhinweg has not been contacted by the Lions about coaching in Detroit next season.
Days after Detroit completed a 3-13 season, there was speculation that Matt Millen would be fired as president and Mornhinweg would be let go as coach, but owner William Clay Ford decided on New Year's Eve to bring the pair back for another season.
Ford's options changed when Mariucci was fired by the 49ers on Jan. 14, and the rumors intensified late last week.
Detroit closed the season with eight straight losses and their winning percentage of .156 over the last two seasons is the worst for such a span in franchise history.
Super Bowl MVP faces the media
SAN DIEGO, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Tampa Bay defensive back Dexter Jackson Monday had his own stage as the MVP of Super Bowl XXXVII.
Jackson had two interceptions in the first half to set the tone in the Buccaneers' 48-21 rout of Oakland on Sunday night.
Many expected perennial Pro Bowlers such as Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch to represent Tampa Bay's top-ranked defense, but instead it was Jackson, who completed his second season as the team's starting free safety.
"We have guys like Derrick Brooks and John Lynch and Sapp that are great leaders, but it's more than just those guys," Jackson said at a news conference honoring the Super Bowl MVP and the winning coach. "Everyone here looks at each other as an individual, and when you have everyone having the same mindset that we're a team and no one's better than nobody else, everything just gels together and it's terrific."
Coach Jon Gruden attracted most of the microphones during Super Bowl week since he was facing the team that sold him to Tampa Bay last February for the exorbitant price of four draft picks and $8 million.
Monday, he refused to gloat.
"I'm going to leave everybody else to talk about their team. I'm done with that," Gruden said. "It was a very tough week for me addressing those questions."
When asked if he received a congratulatory call from Raiders owner Al Davis, Gruden said, "No, I didn't get any calls. You know that."
The team set a Super Bowl record with five interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns, and recorded five sacks.
Nickel back Dwight Smith became the first player in Super Bowl history to return two interceptions for touchdowns, but both came in the second half after the Bucs already had built a 24-point lead.
Defensive end Simeon Rice was runnerup in the MVP balloting with two sacks, both coming in the first half.
Jackson could not have timed his MVP performance better. He is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. The last defensive back to win the award was cornerback Larry Brown of Dallas, who had two interceptions in Super Bowl XXX.
Ironically, Brown also was in his free agent year and received a five-year, $12 million contract from the Raiders.
Davis probably will not be courting Jackson because his team is about $40 million over the salary cap for next season.
LeBron James approved
CLEVELAND, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The Ohio High School Athletic Association Monday announced that no violations of its amateur bylaws as currently written have been found in the case of LeBron James.
The OHSAA has completed its investigation centering on James' eligibility at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. Commissioner Clair Muscaro said James can maintain his amateur status. Officials at St. Vincent-St. Mary were informed of the ruling Monday morning.
There was a two-week investigation of the James case centered around a vehicle which was given to him on his birthday by his mother. The nature of the transaction has been the subject of much speculation.
"In working with the attorney for the James family and the OHSAA attorney, I was shown official business records from the bank and the dealership which established that the financing and acquisition of the vehicle were procured by the student-athlete's mother alone," said Muscaro. "Accordingly, this type of transaction is not a violation of the OHSAA bylaws on amateurism."
Because of confidentiality concerns, Muscaro said no further information on the documents he reviewed would be released.
"The OHSAA bylaws on amateurism differ significantly from those of other amateur organizations such as the NCAA," Muscaro said. "We regularly review our constitution and bylaws, and we certainly would include an evaluation of our rules on amateurism as part of that review, and would take any and all recommendations to the member schools following our evaluation. However, as our bylaws direct, our member schools make all final decisions regarding possible changes."
The OSHAA is a voluntary, not-for-profit association of public and non-public high schools and 7th-8th grade schools that was organized in 1906. In a prepared news release, the OHSAA said receives no tax money, and does not charge fees to its member schools.
Eclipse Award to be handed out Monday
BEVERLY HILLS, Ca., Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Azeri is the favorite to be named the first female Horse of the Year at a Beverly Hills hotel on Monday night.
No female horse has won the annual honor since Lady's Secret in 1986.
Thoroughbred racing hands out its 2002 awards in a black-tie affair.
Azeri won eight times in nine starts last year, including an overpowering victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She already is assured of winning the Eclipse Award as champion older filly or mare since she is the only finalist.
Some voters could stay away from Azeri since she ran in races restricted to fillies and mares.
War Emblem, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, figures to be the most prominent challenger for Horse of the Year, but War Emblem came up short in the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic, possibly hurting his chances.
Other Horse of the Year finalists are Rock of Gibraltar, an Irish horse trained by Aidan O'Brien, and Left Bank.
War Emblem also is a finalist for top three-year-old colt, along with Medaglia d'Oro, the winner of the Travers Stakes, and Came Home, who won the Santa Anita Derby and beat some older horses in the Pacific Classic.
Rock of Gibraltar raced just once in the United States, losing in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Left Bank, who died last fall from complications from colic, posted his biggest wins in the seven-furlong Tom Fool Handicap and the Whitney Handicap.
Left Bank also is a finalist for both champion older male and champion sprinter. The other finalists for champion older male are Street Cry, who was second in the Whitney and won the Dubai World Cup, and Stephen Foster Handicap, and Volponi, the stunning winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Orientate, the Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, is the favorite in the sprinter category. The other finalist is Xtra Heat, who won seven of 11 starts last year.
A horse without a win in the United States has yet to win an Eclipse Award, but Rock of Gibraltar could break through as a finalist for the top male turf horse. The other finalists in that category are High Chaparral, who won the Breeders' Cup Turf, and With Anticipation, who three Grade I races.
Bobby Frankel won 14 Grade I races and is a finalist for top trainer, an award he has won three times previously. The other finalists are Steve Asmussen, who led the nation with 407 winners, and Laura de Seroux, the trainer for Azeri.
Surprisingly absent from the list of finalists is Bob Baffert, who trained War Emblem and Vindication.
The overwhelming favorite for champion two-year-old filly is Storm Flag Flying, the unbeaten winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenille Fillies.
Vindication, an early favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby and won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, is favored to be named champion two-year-old male.
The finalists for top three-year-old filly include Farda Amiga, who won the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes.
There are 228 voters for the awards this year, which are chosen from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form, Equibase, and the National Turf Writers Association.
Mercury adds two staffers
PHOENIX, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The Phoenix Mercury Monday rounded out their coaching staff, hiring Carrie Graf and Gary Kloppenburg as assistants to John Shumate.
Graf and Kloppenburg worked together during the 2002 WNBA season as assistants to Lin Dunn in Seattle. The two helped the Storm to their first playoff berth.
"As we commit to making Mercury games fun again, you have to start with the product on the floor, and giving Coach Shumate the best possible staff," said Phoenix General Manager Seth Sulka.
Graf spent 1998, '99, and 2001 on the bench with the Mercury.
The Australian native helped his home nation win the silver medal at the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000 after taking off a season.
Graf coached the Canberra Capitals of Australia's Women's National Basketball League the last two seasons, winning the championship last March.
Kloppenburg spent the last three seasons in Seattle as an assistant. He served in the same capacity with Rockford of the Continental Basketball League during the 1999-2000 season and with the Quad City Thunder in 2000-01.
In addition, Kloppenburg was an advance scout for the Toronto Raptors from 1997-99.
"I feel like the luckiest coach in the world right now," Shumate said. "Carrie and Gary are individuals of outstanding character, and their coaching skills are unparalleled. There are no other coaches around that I'd rather have on my staff than these two."
Penguins recall Koltsov
PITTSBURGH, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins Monday recalled forward Konstantin Koltsov from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Koltsov has goals and 13 assists in 19 games for Pittsburgh's American Hockey League affiliate. The 21-year-old native of Belarus, was drafted by the Penguins in the first round, 18th overall, in the 1999 NHL draft.
Pittsburgh needs help up front as leading-scorer Mario Lemieux has missed eight of the Penguins' last nine games with a groin injury.
Also, right wing Tom Kostopoulos was re-assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he is the team's leading scorer with 35 points in 38 games. He played in eight contests with the Penguins after being recalled on Jan. 9, recording just one assist.
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