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Huskers pay premium for Rhule to bring back program’s glory

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/carolina-panthers-college-football-nfl-sports-e572b6975e29432bf313d5748338d0b7

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Matt Rhule said he had plenty of options after he got fired by the Carolina Panthers. He could have taken a year off from football or worked in television.

Or he could jump back into college coaching. A number of schools reached out to him, he said, but only one appealed to him and his family.

Nebraska introduced Rhule as its coach on Monday, exactly seven weeks after the Panthers fired him five games into his third season. Awaiting him is the daunting task of taking over a team coming off a sixth straight losing season and a program that’s a shell of what once was one of the biggest brands in the college game.

“I am here because this is the right fit, it’s the right time,” Rhule said. “And if I have one message for you: We can absolutely do it. We can absolutely get University of Nebraska football exactly where it’s supposed to be. It will be hard. It may take time, but it will be done.”

Rhule signed an eight-year, $74 million contract that makes him the third highest-paid coach in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s Ryan Day and Michigan State’s Mel Tucker and among the top 10 nationally.

Athletic director Trev Alberts said the contract is 90% guaranteed and that some of the compensation is deferred. Rhule will have a pool of $7 million to spend on assistant coaches.

When the Panthers fired Rhule, he was still owed $34 million on his seven-year contract. Alberts said the Panthers were involved in Rhule’s negotiations with Nebraska.

“Structuring a business arrangement that everybody was willing to sign off on was a bit of a challenge,” Alberts said, “and there were some fits and starts to it.”

Alberts said there was a period when it looked like the deal would fall through, but the sides reached an agreement on Thanksgiving morning.

Rhule’s starting salary is $5.5 million and rises by at least $1 million each year, topping out at $12.5 million if he’s still coach in 2030. Asked if he thought he would need to spend an average of $9 million per year on a football coach, Alberts said the salary scale is rising in the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference because of dramatically increasing revenues tied to record-setting television rights deals.

“Let’s be honest, there’s a Power Two now,” Alberts said. “Certainly not to denigrate any of the other conferences, but that’s kind of where we’re heading. … If we’re going to be serious about having Nebraska football competing at the upper level of the Big Ten Conference, there’s going to be resources needed to acquire that talent.”

Rhule, who was 11-27 in two-plus seasons with the Panthers, was hired because of the success he had in his two college head coaching jobs.

He had Temple playing for and winning the American Athletic Conference championship in his third and fourth seasons (2015-16). He had Baylor playing for the Big 12 championship in his third season (2019) after taking over a Bears program emerging from the sexual assault scandal under Art Briles.

Rhule emphasized toughness in practices and games and said the only way to win games is to win the line of scrimmage. The Huskers have notably struggled on the offensive and defensive lines.

Rhule, who grew up in New York City as a Penn State fan, was a walk-on linebacker for the Nittany Lions. He said he attended the Huskers’ 44-6 Kickoff Classic win over Penn State in 1983 and was heartbroken when Nebraska beat out the unbeaten Nittany Lions for the 1994 national title.

Rhule said he respected the physical brand of football the Huskers played back then and that he wants to bring it back.

About 750 boosters and former players turned out at the Hawks Championship Center for a welcome event and news conference. Among them were Gov.-elect Jim Pillen, a Republican who played defensive back for the Huskers in the 1970s, and 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers. The band played and fireworks went off next to the podium as Rhule and Alberts entered the building.

Rhule, 47, is the sixth coach to lead the program since College Football Hall of Famer Tom Osborne won or shared three national championships in four years before retiring after the 1997 season.

The Huskers’ most recent conference championship came in 1999 under Osborne’s successor, Frank Solich. Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini and Mike Riley followed before the program bottomed out under Scott Frost, who was 16-31 in four-plus seasons and never finished higher than fifth in the Big Ten West.

Rhule’s arrival came three days after the Huskers closed a 4-8 season under Mickey Joseph — named interim coach after Frost’s firing Sept. 11 — and just a few months before the opening of Nebraska’s $165 million football facility.

“There’s not a game that I expect to ever walk into where we don’t expect to win,” Rhule said. “It is not a burden but a responsibility on me as the coach to know that there will be people from all across the state who take the money that they’ve made with their hands and with their work and their daily toil — and they spend it to come watch our team play. You can’t win every game every year, but you can certainly be a team that people are proud to watch.”

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Source: https://apnews.com/article/carolina-panthers-college-football-nfl-sports-e572b6975e29432bf313d5748338d0b7

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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