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#pounditSunday, January 16, 2022

Stories by Larry Brown:

Was Dolphins owner upset with Brian Flores for not tanking?

Brian Flores at a press conference

The Miami Dolphins surprised the football world by firing Brian Flores on Monday even though the head coach had posted consecutive winning seasons — the first time that happened for the Dolphins since 2002-2003.

Reports since Flores’ firing have ranged from saying the Dolphins have an upgrade lined up, to reports saying Flores lost a power struggle with the team’s general manager.

But here’s another rumor to emerge regarding the firing, and it’s one that will knock your socks off.

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio published a story on Tuesday in which he discussed some of the dynamics of the Flores firing.

The overarching idea is that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross didn’t get the quarterback he wanted two seasons in a row. Florio reports that Ross wanted Deshaun Watson this season, but a trade fell through. Florio claims that Ross wanted Joe Burrow in 2020, but the Dolphins didn’t finish with a bad enough record to get the No. 1 draft pick. And that’s where the tanking talk comes in.

According to Florio’s story, Ross wanted the Dolphins to have the No. 1 draft pick in 2020. The Dolphins went 5-11 in 2019 — Flores’ first season with the team — and ended up with the No. 5 pick, which they used on Tua Tagovailoa. Burrow went No. 1 overall in 2020 and already is a star. Tua was recovering from a hip injury and has had mixed results as a pro.

The story alleges that Flores either didn’t get the hint that Ross wanted to tank or defied instructions to tank in 2019. Flores’ Dolphins went 3-2 over their final five games to finish 5-11 in 2019.

The story is so crazy it’s really hard to believe. An owner got upset with the coach for … winning?

Flores’ Dolphins were embarrassed so badly in their first three games, losing by a combined 133-16, that Flores couldn’t keep losing like that. He probably would have been fired and had his reputation permanently stained if that continued.

Instead, he finished out the season strong, then went an impressive 10-6 last season, and 9-8 this season. Flores is now viewed as a good head coach.

If the Dolphins indeed chose longtime GM Chris Grier over Flores, then that’s their mistake. Even if they didn’t get Burrow, they were in position to draft Justin Herbert in 2020, whom the Chargers selected with the pick after Miami took Tagovailoa.

The Dolphins could have had an excellent young franchise quarterback while also getting a head coach who finished strong and won games. It’s truly amazing that the Dolphins fired the guy who was their best coach in 20 years to keep the GM who took Tua over Herbert.

Ross better have a bigger move up his sleeve to justify the firing, otherwise the move makes little sense.

Austin Rivers was hospitalized after ‘scary incident’

Austin Rivers in a hat

Austin Rivers was available to play for the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, which was a very positive development based on how things went a day earlier.

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone revealed Tuesday that Rivers had an allergic reaction at the team’s practice at UCLA on Monday.

Rivers apparently was struggling to breathe. Malone termed the incident “scary.”

It sounds like Rivers was able to make a full recovery.

The 29-year-old guard is in his second season with the Nuggets. He is averaging 5.8 points in 20.2 minutes per game this season.

Photo: Nov 30, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers (25) arrives at the Toyota Center prior to the game against the Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Old Kirby Smart quote about Stetson Bennett goes viral

Stetson Bennett throws a pass

An old quote by Kirby Smart about Stetson Bennett went viral on Tuesday, the day after the former walk-on quarterback led Georgia to its first national championship since 1980.

Bennett was a two-star recruit coming out of high school and joined Georgia as a walk-on in 2017. Though he was lightly recruited in part due to his size, Smart saw something in Bennett that he liked.

Derrik Allen shared the story on Twitter Tuesday about what Smart said about Bennett years ago.

“Sitting on a golf cart w/ Kirby and [Coach Ced Dickerson] while my oldest was working out for Mel Tucker & Stetson & 2 other QB’s were throwing for OC & Kirby said ‘that little QB they call him mailman he’ll prob (sic) never play here but I’m gonna bring him in as a walk-on bc (sic) he tough as s—,'” Allen tweeted (edited by LBS for profanity).

That’s a great story and a great quote. Smart liked Bennett because the quarterback was “tough as s—.”

Bennett initially didn’t have much of a path to play for the Bulldogs and left for a junior college. Bennett played the 2018 season at Jones County Junior College and was set to transfer to another college. However, Justin Fields, who was behind Jake Fromm on the depth chart, left Georgia and transferred to Ohio State. Georgia then offered Bennett a scholarship to come serve as Fromm’s backup.

Two more quarterbacks transferred in to Georgia. JT Daniels transferred in from USC but got injured this season and lost the job to Bennett. Jamie Newman transferred in from Wake Forest but opted out for the 2020 season, which opened the door for Bennett and D’Wan Mathis.

Two years in a row, Bennett took over for another Georgia quarterback. In 2020 it was Mathis. In 2021 it was Daniels.

Of all the quarterbacks Georgia has had over the years — Matthew Stafford, David Greene, DJ Shockley, Aaron Murray, Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm — it was Stetson Fleming Bennett IV who delivered the Dawgs a national championship.

Who saw that coming? The Mailman really is tougher than s—.

Photo: Oct 10, 2020; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) passes the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Olympic sprinter Deon Lendore dies in car crash at age 29

Deon Lendore running

Olympic sprinter Deon Lendore died at the age of 29 on Monday after being involved in a car crash in Texas.

Lendore was a volunteer assistant coach at Texas A&M and was driving home after practice. He was traveling westbound on FM 485 in Milam County in his Volkswagen Jetta, according to TMZ.

A Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman says Lendore’s car drifted over the center line and sideswiped a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. Lendore then crashed head-on into an Infiniti SUV and died at the scene.

The driver of the Infiniti was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, while the driver who was sideswiped was not harmed.

Lendore was born in Trinidad and competed for Trinidad and Tobago in international competition. He was part of their bronze medal-winning 4x400m sprint team at the 2012 Olympics.

Lendore competed in three Olympiads and won three silver medals at the World Indoor Championships during his athletic career. In 2014, he went undefeated in 14 races in the 400 m for Texas A&M and won NCAA indoor and outdoor championships. He was serving as a volunteer assistant coach for the school.

Photo: Mar 14, 2014; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Deon Lendore of Texas A&M was the top qualifier in the 400m in 45.60 in the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championships at Albuquerque Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jahleel Billingsley, Drew Sanders enter transfer portal day after Alabama loses

Alabama Crimson Tide logo

Jahleel Billingsley and Drew Sanders did not wait long before deciding to move on in their college football careers.

Billingsley and Sanders are among five former Alabama players who entered the transfer portal on Tuesday, the day after their Crimson Tide lost in the national championship game to Georgia.

Quarterback Paul Tyson, linebacker King Mwikuta, and offensive lineman Tommy Brown are the three other players transferring.

Billingsley had 17 catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns as a junior this season. But the tight end slipped and was unable to make a third-down conversion in the first half against Georgia. He also was called out by Nick Saban before the season.

Sanders had 24 tackles and a sack as a sophomore linebacker. He previously was committed to Oklahoma prior to switching to Alabama in 2019.

Tyson saw very limited action behind Bryce Young. The sophomore quarterback went 10/16 and passed for 150 yards.

Joe Judge fired by Giants after two seasons as head coach

Joe Judge on the sideline

Joe Judge’s tenure as head coach of the New York Giants was brief.

The Giants on Tuesday fired Judge, who was their head coach for two seasons. The team went 6-10 in Judge’s first season and 4-13 this season.

There was speculation about Judge’s job security considering the team’s poor season, but reports indicated he was likely to be retained. Apparently the Giants changed their minds.

In addition to needing a new head coach, the Giants are searching for a GM as well after Dave Gettleman retired. Judge reportedly wanted a say in whom the next GM would be, which might not have played well with the Giants.

Judge was mocked for a playcall during his team’s Week 18 loss to Washington. The public beating he was taking probably did not help matters.

The Giants lost Daniel Jones due to a neck injury and went 0-6 thereafter. They were a reasonably competitive team as long as he was healthy, but became inept once they had to turn to their backups.

The poor showing after Jones got hurt is more a product of poor roster construction than an inability to coach up lesser players.

Photo: Giants head coach Joe Judge in the second half as the Carolina Panthers faced the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ on October 24, 2021.

Kirby Smart goes viral after showing off his incredible jumping ability

Kirby Smart jumps

Kirby Smart not only led Georgia to the national championship on Monday night, but he also had a viral moment during the game.

Kelee Ringo sealed the Bulldogs’ 33-18 win over Alabama with a 79-yard pick-six in the final minute. As Ringo was making the interception, Smart leaped on the sidelines to show his excitement. He also showcased his jumping ability:

People immediately took notice of Smart’s impressive vertical:

That was impressive.

He doesn’t look like it anymore, but Smart, now 46, was quite the athlete. He played DB at Georgia and was an All-SEC player as a senior. He had 13 career interceptions and was an undrafted free agent signing by the Colts.

Nick Saban’s message to Kirby Smart in postgame handshake revealed

Nick Saban talks to Kirby Smart

Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide came up short in the national championship game against Georgia, but the Tide coach was classy in defeat.

Georgia came back from down 9-6 at the half and down 18-13 in the fourth quarter to win 33-18 and finish the season 14-1.

Saban seemed genuinely happy for his former assistant, Kirby Smart, who was previously 0-4 against Saban.

Saban gave Smart a hug and appeared to tell him “good job” during their postgame handshake.

Then Saban gave Smart quite the hat tip, admitting, “you guys kicked our a– in the fourth quarter. Congrats,” he told Smart.

Saban continued to pay Smart compliments in his postgame interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe.

“I’m proud of Kirby,” Saban said. “I’m proud of the program he’s built. He’s done an outstanding job with his team. They’ve played great. They’ve probably been the most consistent team all year long.”

Saban also appeared to tell Smart that they believe Jameson Williams suffered an ACL injury.

What’s so interesting is that Saban was previously undefeated against his former assistants. But this season, his Tide lost twice — both times to former assistants (Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M was the other). Saban is now 25-2 against his former assistants.

Would Saban have loved to win the game? Of course. But in the long run, losing to Georgia is not such a bad thing. Losses — especially in championship games — provide Saban the motivation to keep going and keep doing what he does best. His Crimson Tide will be back, and maybe they will be hungry for revenge.