In Sports from United Press International

Feb. 11, 2003 at 7:56 PM
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49ers name Dennis Erickson coach

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The San Francisco 49ers have handed their reins to Dennis Erickson, a successful college coach who has failed to match that success in the NFL.

The 49ers on Tuesday named Erickson as their coach and will introduce him at a news conference on Wednesday. Erickson has tendered his resignation at Oregon State.

Defensive coordinators Ted Cottrell of the New York Jets, Greg Blache of the Chicago Bears and Jim Mora Jr. of the Niners conducted second interviews last week with Niners General Manager Terry Donahue and were believed to be the finalists for the job. But Donahue reached out to potential college candidates over the past few days and surprised many with the selection of Erickson.

Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, Rick Neuheisel of Washington and Kirk Ferentz of Iowa rebuffed inquiries, but Erickson wanted to return to the NFL after turning Oregon State into a winning program with a 31-17 record and three bowl appearances.

The 55-year-old Erickson coached the Seattle Seahawks from 1995-98, compiling a 31-33 record and never leading them into the playoffs. They finished 8-8 three times and 7-9 in 1996.

Mike Holmgren left the Green Bay Packers to replace Erickson and has also struggled in Seattle with an identical 31-33 record.

Before joining Seattle, Erickson won two national championships at the University of Miami in 1989 and 1991, going 63-9 in six seasons.

Erickson followed Jimmy Johnson at Miami and will succeed Steve Mariucci in San Francisco. Mariucci went 60-43 in six years with the Niners and led them to four playoff appearances, but never to the Super Bowl, and was fired on Jan. 15.

Mariucci was recently named coach of the Detroit Lions and is seeking to hire Mora as his defensive coordinator. Mora will likely accept the offer after not being selected as Niners coach.

Erickson was named college coach of the year in three different conferences - Big Sky with Idaho, Pac-10 with Washington State and Oregon State and Big East with Miami.

After being fired by the Seahawks, Erickson brought instant success to Oregon State, which had its last winning season in 1970. The Beavers were 7-4 in Erickson's first season and 11-1 with a share of the Pac 10 title and a No. 4 ranking in 2000.

NASCAR teams prepping for Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Several Winston Cup teams had to scramble Tuesday to prepare backup cars for Thursday's Gatorade Twin 125s - qualifying races for the Daytona 500.

A five-car crash during the afternoon practice session left the primary cars battered. Jeff Burton, Elliott Sadler and Mike Skinner will switch to backup cars. Others involved in the crash were rookie Jack Sprague and Steve Park.

There were just four minutes left in the one-hour practice session when the crash occurred on the frontstretch entering the first turn. Sprague was in the middle with Park on the high side and Skinner on the low side. Sprague made contact with Park, then slid into Skinner.

"I was up by the wall and couldn't go any higher, except for the grandstands," Park said. "We all know how to race here and we all know you don't even want to consider causing a crash during practice. You have to look at having the experience to run here and not put yourself or your car in jeopardy."

Sadler believed he had a car capable of winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday.

"I'm going to tell you what, that thing was a rocket," he said. "We led just about the whole doggone practice. Every lap we were out there, we were pretty much in the front. I decided to drift to the back a little bit just to see what my car would do around a lot of turbulence and right at that time the wreck happened with four minutes left to go in practice."

Burton also must shift to a backup Ford Taurus and his crew was preparing it for Wednesday's 45-minute practice.

Steelers expected to axe Stewart

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- It looks like the days of Kordell Stewart as quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers are over.

The Steelers reportedly will release Stewart by the end of the month in a salary cap move.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Tuesday that the Steelers will release Stewart by Feb. 28 in order to be under the new salary cap of $75 million. The cap goes into effect that day.

The Steelers are $1.8 million over the cap and that figure will rise to more than $4 million after various incentive clauses are calculated.

The newspaper reported that there has been little trade talk involving Stewart, who likely will start the 2003 season as a backup to Tommy Maddox. Stewart and his agent, Leigh Steinberg, are opposed to a trade.

Stewart was scheduled to make $6.3 million in salary next season, which would count $1.62 million against the cap because of a prorated salary bonus he received in 1999. As a vested veteran, Stewart would not go through waivers and would become an unrestricted free agent when released.

Possible suitors could include Baltimore, Chicago, Arizona, and Carolina, all of whom need quarterbacks. Stewart has said he would not go to a team that did not give him a chance to start.

Stewart has been the Steelers' starter since 1997 before losing his job to Maddox last season. He was voted to the Pro Bowl after the 2001 season, and was voted the team's Most Valuable Player.

NBA suspends Kemp for drug violation

ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Orlando Magic forward Shawn Kemp was suspended without pay Tuesday for a second violation of the league's drug program.

Kemp's suspension begins with Tuesday's contest against the New Jersey Nets and will continue until he has resumed full compliance with his treatment program, the NBA announced.

The Magic signed the six-time All-Star on Sept. 5. Kemp forfeited $25 million of a $46.5 million contract in a buyout agreement with the Portland Trail Blazers earlier in the summmer.

The 33-year-old Kemp's career took a downward spiral starting in August 2000 when the Blazers acquired him from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team trade.

He entered a substance abuse program near the end of his first season in Portland, then received a five-game suspension from the NBA last February for violating terms of his aftercare program.

With his weight ballooning to as much as 280 pounds, the 6-10 Kemp averaged just 6.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 75 games for the Blazers last season.

Selected by the Seattle SuperSonics with the 17th overall pick in the 1989 draft, Kemp was 19 when he made his NBA debut. After scoring 6.5 points a game as a rookie, he averaged at least 15 points per contest and made six consecutive All-Star appearances.

In 1997, Kemp signed a seven-year, $107 million contract. But the Sonics dealt him to Cleveland, which traded him before the 2000-01 season to Portland, where he averaged just 6.5 points in 68 games.

Kemp was hoping to revive his career this season, but is averaging just 7.9 points nd 6.4 rebounds per game.

Ohio State center to miss rest of season

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Ohio State center Terence Dials, who has been limited to six games due to a back injury, will miss the remainder of the season.

Dials played started four of the Buckeyes' first six games before he missed a game with Seton Hall due to back pain. Tests later revealed a stress fracture of the lumbar spine. The discomfort prohibits him practicing or working out with the team.

The sophomore averaged 7.0 points and 5.8 rebounds this season after averaging 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds as a freshman.

Ohio State announced it will petition the Big Ten Conference for a medical hardship after the season. If granted, Dials would retain three years of eligibility beginning in 2003-04.

Defending champion Enqvist ousted

MARSEILLE, France, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Thomas Enqvist's defense of his Marseille Open title ended Tuesday with a 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-6) first-round loss to Raemon Sluiter of the Netherlands.

Enqvist, a Swede, captured this tournament last year but failed to finish in the top 30 for the first time since 1994.

Sluiter went into Tuesday's encounter with four losses in five matches this season. He lost both singles matches in last weekend's Davis Cup first round as the Netherlands was beaten by Switzerland.

Last year, the 24-year-old Dutchman claimed four Challenger events and won a career-high 12 ATP-level matches, including a semifinal effort at Queen's and a quarterfinal showing in Stockholm.

Three singles matches were on Tuesday's schedule - none involving seeded players. French qualifier Rodolphe Cadart defeated Georgian Irakli Labadze, 6-4, 6-3, and Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia recorded his first victory in three career meetings with Moroccan qualifier Hicham Arazi, 6-1, 6-3.

Ferguson named Seattle GM

SEATTLE, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Bob Ferguson, fired recently by Arizona, Monday was hired as general manager of the Seattle Seahawks.

At Seattle, he has been asked to ease the burden on Mike Holmgren, who had been handling the dual role of coach-general manager with the Seahawks. Holmren was forced to relinquish his front office duties after a 7-9 finish this past season.

Ferguson, 51, had worked the last seven years with Arizona. He had been general manager there since 1999. The Cardinals missed the playoffs each of the last four seasons with a combined 21-43 record, including a 5-11 mark in 2002, and fired Ferguson on Jan. 6.

Ferguson's first draft pick as general manager was wide receiver David Boston, who made the Pro Bowl in 2001. However, in 2000, he selected running back Thomas Jones, who has been a major disappointment, in the first round.

Over the past two drafts, Ferguson has selected tackle Leonard Davis, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, safety Adrian Wilson, placekicker Bill Gramatica, defensive tackle Wendell Bryant, and linebacker Levar Fisher.

Seattle will be relying on Ferguson to help build a defense after the Seahawks allowed 369 points this past season.

As GM, Holmgren acquired quarterback Matt Hasselbeck from Green Bay to run the offense, and drafted talented skill position players such as Shaun Alexander, Koren Robinson, and Darrell Jackson.

Despite that, Holmgren has been criticized for failing to help the defense. His first pick as general manager was end Lamar King, a first-rounder in 1999, who has been a major disappointment.

He spent a second-round pick on Ike Charlton in 2000, then traded him last season.

Ferguson, a native of Federal Way, Wash., served as Director of Sales and Special Events for the Seahawks from 1975-79. He spent 11 years with the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos before joining the Cardinals in February 1996.

Ferguson held a variety of personnel positions before being promoted to assistant general manager in 1989. His decisions contributed to the drafting of players such as running back Thurman Thomas and linebacker Cornelius Bennett.

After his time in Buffalo, Ferguson was Director of Player Personnel for the Broncos from 1993-95. While in Denver, he was instrumental in drafting players like running back Terrell Davis, placekicker Jason Elam, and center Tom Nalen.

NBA fines Riley $20,000 for remarks

NEW YORK, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Pat Riley's latest criticism of NBA officiating will cost him $20,000.

The NBA on Tuesday fined the coach of the Heat for publicly criticizing game officials following a 101-87 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

Miami attempted only seven free throws in the game, prompting another postgame tirade by Riley.

"It was an absolute officiating tragedy," Riley said. "I thought I was at the comedy store watching some kind of comedian out there laughing with the Blazers, and talking to them, and smiling with them. It was so unprofessional."

Riley was fined $50,000 in December for criticizing officials, claiming certain referees hold a bias against him and the Heat.

After reaching the playoffs in his first 19 years as a coach, Riley and the Heat have fallen on hard times. They missed the playoffs last season and are just 17-32 this season.

Kim Clijsters reaches quarterfinals

ANTWERP, Belgium, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Second seed Kim Clijsters of Belgium cruised into the quarterfinals at the Proximus Diamond Games Tuesday.

But her younger sister Elke was eliminated in the first round of the indoor tennis event.

After receiving a first-round bye, Kim Clijsters posted a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Myriam Casanova of Switzerland. The world No. 3, who lost to Venus Williams in the semifinals here last year, is playing her first event since reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open.

Clijsters, 19, started her season by winning at Sydney, her fourth title in five tournaments dating to 2002. She advanced to the semifinals at the Australian Open but squandered two match points and a 5-2 lead in the third set against Serena Williams.

Elke Clijsters, 18, remained winless on the WTA Tour following a 6-2, 6-3 defeat to seventh seed Patty Schnyder of Switzerland. She has not won in four matches on the top circuit of women's tennis.

Japan's Ai Sugiyama scored the event's first upset with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 triumph over sixth seed Jelena Dokic of Yugoslavia. Sugiyama has not advanced past the second round in five events this season.

Also, eighth seed Nathalie Dechy of France defeated lucky loser Claudine Schaul of Luxembourg, 6-4, 6-3; Belgian Els Callens thrashed Madagascan qualifier Dally Randriantefy, 6-1, 6-2; Janette Husarova of Slovakia routed German qualifier Vanessa Henke, 6-1, 6-1; and Czech qualifier Zuzana Ondraskova got past France's Emilie Loit, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3.

Mavericks activate two

DALLAS, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Forward Eduardo Najera and center Evan Eschmeyer, who have missed most of the season after undergoing knee surgeries, Tuesday were activated by the Dallas Mavericks.

The Mavericks opened the roster spots by placing guard Avery Johnson on the injured list with a right calf strain and forward Popeye Jones on the list with a right ankle sprain.

Najera returns after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Dec. 6. He has missed 33 games and averaged 8.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in the 15 games he has played.

He says he is eager to play again and to rejoin his teammates.

"They had forgotten about me a little bit," Najera told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I had to remind them."

"Najera gives us something that doesn't always end up in the stats, and that's his garbage type of mentality," forward Michael Finley told the paper. "By that I mean his willingness to do the dirty work for our team, get the rebounds, take the charges, be aggressive defensively and just give us that (physical) presence."

Eschmeyer underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in November that cleaned up cartilage and removed a tumor. He has appeared in just two games.

Jones is averaging 2.1 points in 21 games, and Johnson has averaged 3.7 points in 32 games.

Cleveland activates Coles

CLEVELAND, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Veteran guard Bimbo Coles of the Cleveland Cavaliers was activated from the injured list Tuesday after missing more than two months with a left quad contusion.

Coles, 34, was placed on the injured list on Dec. 9 and missed 31 games.

He has played in 18 games this season, averaging 5.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists in 26.2 minutes per contest. In three seasons with the Cavaliers, he is averaging 4.3 points and 2.6 assists in 112 games.

Orioles ink Helling

BALTIMORE, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Rick Helling, who has posted at least 10 wins in each of the last five seasons, has signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles.

He will compete for a job in the rotation during spring training.

Financial terms of deal were not disclosed, but according to the Baltimore Sun, Helling made $6.5 million in an incentive-laden deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002.

"This offseason tested Rick, as it did a lot of established players," Helling's agent, Jeff Moorad, told the paper. "In the end, we certainly hoped he would be paid at a more significant level. But Rick Helling would be the last person to complain about a seven-figure salary, and he looks forward to contributing for the Orioles."

The 32-year-old righthander is 82-70 in nine seasons, but was a disappointing 10-12 with a 4.51 ERA last season. It marked the first time since he became a full-time starter in 1997 that he endured a losing record.

After a rough beginning to 2002, Helling did post a 3.05 ERA over his last 20 starts. He returns to the American League, where he went 64-44 with Texas from 1997-2001. In 1998, he tied for the AL lead in wins with 20.

"Rick is a durable veteran who provides us added starting pitching depth at no risk," said Orioles Vice President Mike Flanagan. "He is a proven winner with experience who takes the ball every fifth day."

Helling debuted with Texas in 1994, was traded to Florida in 1996, and returned to the Rangers the following season. He made his first major league start at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1994.

Expos ink Hernandez

MONTREAL, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Less than a month after acquiring Orlando Hernandez, the Montreal Expos Monday agreed to terms with the veteran Cuban righthander on a one-year contract.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Hernandez was asking for $4.5 million in arbitration. The Expos offered $4 million.

Montreal acquired Hernandez on Jan. 15 along with pitcher Rocky Biddle, infielder-outfielder Jeff Liefer, and an undisclosed amount of cash from the Chicago White Sox in a three-team trade involving the New York Yankees.

Nicknamed "El Duque," Hernandez, 33, is best known for his postseason prowess with the Yankees, going 9-3 in 16 appearances, including 13 starts.

Hernandez posted a 53-38 record with a 4.04 ERA in five seasons with the Yankees. Last year, he went 8-5 with a 3.64 ERA and one save in 24 games, including 22 starts.

The older half-brother of San Francisco's Livan Hernandez, "El Duque" starred for the Cuban national team, compiling a 129-47 record before joining the Yankees in 1998.

Pitcher Javier Vazquez is the only Expo who remains eligible for salary arbitration. He is asking for $7.15 million while the Expos are offering $6 million.

Leafs to go to Sweden, Finland

NEW YORK, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The Toronto Maple Leafs will travel to Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland in September to play in three preseason games as part of "NHL Challenge 2003."

The NHL announced Tuesday that the Maple Leafs have accepted an invitation to become the latest NHL team to play some preseason games overseas. The Colorado Avalanche competed in "NHL Challenge 2001," one year after the Vancouver Canucks made the trip.

The trip to Stockholm will mark a homecoming for Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who returns for the first time in an NHL uniform and will face his former team, Djurgarden Hockey Club.

"This is an opportunity to once again showcase the NHL in front of a live international audience," said Ken Yaffe, Vice President and Managing Director of NHL International. "Not only will this be a memorable experience for the players of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it is also a unique opportunity for members of the participating Swedish and Finnish teams to compete against some of the greatest players in the game."

The Maple Leafs will hold a four-day training camp in Stockholm from Sept. 12-15, and will play the Jokerit of the Finnish Hockey League on Tuesday, Sept. 16.

Toronto will play Djurgarden on Thursday, Sept. 18, and Farjestad, the 2001 Swedish Hockey League champion, on Friday, Sept. 19.

Sundin, an eight-time All-Star, is the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer among Swedish-born players.

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