Terps probing alleged rules infraction
COLLEGE PARK, Md., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Officials at the University of Maryland have begun an internal investigation of alleged cash payments given to a potential football recruit.
Sources have told the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post that the handouts, totaling about $300, have been returned. Also, the coach involved, recruiter Rod Sharpless, who coaches linebackers during the season has resigned.
The Sun reported Thursday that Coach Ralph Friedgen sympathizes with Sharpless.
"I have known this person for 25 years and he is a very good person and a very good man," Friedgen said. "And he is going through a tough time right now. My heart and prayers go out to him. (But) We are committed to running an honest program and a clean program. I think you can look at my record for 35 years, and that will show that."
Sources told the Sun that the bulk of the $300 came after the recruit, Victor Abiamiri of Baltimore, at a dinner out with Sharpless and his parents, expressed a desire for an Xbox, but was told he would not be getting one for Christmas because it would be costly and might interfere with his studies.
Friedgen called the situation unfortunate, but he intends to run a clean program.
"No coach can guarantee every single person associated with the program will always act appropriately. However, if a mistake is made, we will fix it," he said.
Abiamiri and his highly-regarded high school teammate, Ambrose Wooden, both signed with Notre Dame during the national recruiting period.
The school announced Monday that the NCAA would investigate the charge. NCAA rules strictly forbid schools from luring student-athletes with gifts or cash.
School officials are not able to discuss the Sharpless departure because, under Maryland law, he is a state employee.
Fairfield nixes football, men's hockey
FAIRFIELD, Conn., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Fairfield University will eliminate football and men's ice hockey, beginning with the 2003-04 academic year.
The school's president, Aloysius P. Kelley, made that announcement on Thursday, and will reduce the number of varsity athletic programs for men and women at the school to 19.
Kelley said the action to eliminate the two varsity sports was a financial decision during annual budget preparations by the university's senior administration, and endorsed by the Board of Trustees.
"Decisions such as this are always difficult, and our first concern is for those student-athletes, coaches, and other personnel who will be affected directly by it," he said. "The university will honor commitments made to those individuals, and will assist them in every way possible."
Fairfield competed on the Division I-AA level in football and Division I in hockey.
The football program did not offer athletic grants-in aid. The four grants designated for the ice hockey program will be redistributed among other sports programs.
"This is a decision that will give us a greater opportunity to maintain our ambitious goals in the area of Division I intercollegiate athletics while strengthening the resources we need to meet our primary mission of educating young men and women," Kelley said.
Rhodes named Seattle defensive chief
SEATTLE, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Ray Rhodes, who has moved a number of times in the last few years, has been named defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.
Rhodes held a similar post with the Denver Broncos the last two seasons. He resigned from that job last month, and sources have said he did so under pressure.
With Seattle, Rhodes, 52, who is called by some a defensive genius, will have his work cut out for him.
The Seahawks were last in the NFL against the run in 2002, 28th overall, had only 28 sacks, and allowed opponents to convert in third-down situations a whopping 46.5 percent of the time.
Rhodes has 22 years of coaching experience, and has made a habit of improving defenses.
He has been a defensive coordinator at San Francisco, Green Bay, Denver, and Washington, and has been a head coach at Green Bay and Philadelphia.
Under his guidance in 2000, the Redskins' defense went from 30th to fourth overall.
"I wouldn't be here if we couldn't turn this thing around," Rhodes said. "I really feel that right now, we will turn it around. I have no question about that. I'm not trying to talk about certain situations here, but from a defensive standpoint, as a defensive coach, I've basically been a top-10-type defensive coach, and I'm not going to change. Let's put it that way. I'm not going to change. Whatever is necessary for us to get it done to improve to get to that level, that's what we are going to do."
In Seattle, he will be reunited with Mike Holmgren. The two worked together in Green Bay in 1993, when Holmgren was coach and Rhodes defensive coordinator.
"I know Coach Holmgren, have enjoyed working with him, and we work well together," Rhodes said. "The other factor is that I really think this team is an up-and-coming team right now. You look at the talent level, and I keep emphasizing the offensive side of the football a little bit, but there's a lot of young talent. When you have to face them from the defensive aspect, there's a lot of young talent on offense: the receivers, the backs, the offensive line, the quarterback. It's a talented, young football team, and they're on their way up."
"Having Ray here was probably the farthest thing from my mind because he had a good job (at Denver) and was very good at it," Holmgren said. "But things happen in this crazy business, as you guys know, and change takes place. When he became available, he was very much the answer to what I thought we needed to do desperately this offseason, and we were fortunate enough to make it happen. He's got a wonderful family, and I'm very happy that he's decided to join us. I'm going to give him all the support I can possibly give him as a head coach. We are friends first and colleagues second."
Rhodes, who signed a three-year contract, replaces Steve Sidwell, who himself was fired on Dec. 31.
NFLPA slams Mariucci hiring process
WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- The head of the NFL Players Association has criticized the process used by the Detroit Lions in the hiring of new coach Steve Mariucci.
The Lions did not interview any minorities in the hiring process, and that went against the grain of a policy adopted by the owners in December. The policy had the backing of a majority of players.
"The Detroit Lions gave mere lip service to the agreed upon minority hiring process, treating it almost as if a nuisance to their hiring of Steve Mariucci," said Gene Upshaw, Executive Director of the NFL Players Association. "The minority candidates were never given a fair chance to interview. In this case, the Lions' position is indefensible. In contrast with the Lions we have the Cincinnati Bengals, who interviewed several minority candidates in their search for a new coach before choosing (Washington defensive coordinator) Marvin Lewis."
Mariucci was hired two days ago by Lions President Matt Millen after being fired by San Francisco in January. He put together a 60-43 record in six seasons, but was dismissed three days after the 49ers suffered a 31-6 loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Lions fired Marty Mornhinweg on Jan. 27, and Mariucci received a phone call from Millen that made him change his mind about a rest period.
Millen made no secret that Mariucci was the man he wanted, and several minorities indicated they felt being interviewed knowing that Millen wanted Mariucci would be a waste of time.
Millen wanted Mariucci to coach the Lions two years ago but was unable to lure him out of San Francisco, and settled for Mornhinweg, Mariucci's offensive coordinator from 1997-2000.
Civil rights attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri also were outspoken about the process, as was Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney.
"The Lions' selection process fell short of what our committee recommends for all clubs as agreed in December," said Rooney, who was named chairman of the committee that devised the new minority hiring policy.
The new policy mandates that at least one minority be interviewed for each vacancy.
Lemaire gets contract extension
ST. PAUL, Minn., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- The Minnesota Wild Thursday announced the signing of Coach Jacques Lemaire and his assistants, Mike Ramsey and Mario Tremblay, to contract extensions.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
"Jacques, Mike and Mario have done an outstanding job of coaching our team and continue to prove they are among the best teachers in the game," said Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough.
Lemaire, named the franchise's first coach in June 2000, instilled the neutral zone trap and defensive discipline. After finishing 25-38-13-5 for 68 points in its inaugural season, Minnesota went 26-35-12-9 last season for 73 points.
This season, the Wild sit currently in the sixth playoff spot in the Western Conference with a 26-18-8-1 record for 61 points, 13 ahead of their pace from last year.
Lemaire's defensive system taking hold is the primary reason for the improvement. The Wild rank fourth in the league in fewest goals allowed with 117.
Lemaire, 57, won eight Stanley Cups as a player with the Montreal Canadiens, including four straight from 1975-76 to 1978-79, when he was a teammate of Risebrough and Tremblay.
He coached the New Jersey Devils to their first Stanley Cup title in 1994-95, espousing the neutral zone trap. He compiled a 199-122-57 record in five years as Devils coach. Lemaire began his coaching career in 1983-84 with the Canadiens, and was 48-37-12 in parts of two seasons.
Lemaire, elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984, has a career coaching record of 323-266-102.
Ramsey, 42, spent three years as an assistant with the Buffalo Sabres before joining the Wild in July 2000.
Tremblay, 46, spent three years as a scout with the Canadiens before joining Lemaire in Minnesota in July 2000.