Tyreese Russell, Ian Thomas

Part-time CB starter leaving Rutgers… to pursue baseball career

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Well, this is certainly an unexpected — and wholly unwelcomed — development for Rutgers.

Head coach Kyle Flood announced Tuesday that starting cornerback Ian Thomas has abruptly left the Scarlet Knights football program in order to pursue a career in baseball.  Flood said Thomas will transfer to another university in order to engage that pursuit.

The decision to move on and change sports appeared to blindside both the coach and players.

I didn’t really see a sign that it would happen,” Flood said. “It’s a strange occurrence to me but it happens. It happens here and it happens at other places. I saw an article about a kid at UCF (DE Blake Keller) who was playing for them and decided it wasn’t the right place for him for whatever reason. Players make those decisions. Division I football is certainly demanding and if you are not 100 percent and your heart is not in it then I could see why somebody would want to move on.”

“Ian and I were very close friends actually and we talked all the time,” wide receiver Leonte Carroo said. “But nothing like that ever came up. It was very shocking to me.”

Thomas had started three of the six games in which he’s played in 2013.  This season, the redshirt sophomore had one of Rutgers’ four interceptions.

Arguably the most surprising twist to this abrupt development comes courtesy of a quote from Thomas’ high school football coach.

“The young man didn’t play baseball in high school,” said Franklin (Md.) High School coach Anthony Burgos said.

Well, OK then.

Western Michigan closing in on contract extension for P.J. Fleck

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Head coach P.J. Fleck asks the fans for quiet during the first half while playing the Ohio Bobcats during the MAC Championship on December 2, 2016 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With no Power Five jobs open at the moment, and the most attractive Group of Five opening on the verge of being closed, all signs are pointing to P.J. Fleck staying in Kalamazoo for at least one more season. If that’s the way things ultimately shake out, Fleck will find himself a little bit more secure financially.

Citing a source with direct knowledge of the situation, the Detroit News is reporting that Fleck and Western Michigan are engaged in what’s described as “active negotiations” on a new contract. It’s expected the extension will be finalized in the not-too-distant future.

Just how big of a financial boost Fleck would receive is unclear. Without bonuses factored in, Fleck’s total compensation for 2016 is $820,000, the highest figure for a MAC head coach by nearly $150,000 (Toledo’s Jason Candle, $675,000). It’s doubtful WMU would reach the AAC’s financial stratosphere for coaching salaries — with the departures of Houston’s Tom Herman and Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, at $2 million, is the league’s highest-paid — but something along the line of the $1.3-$1.5 million Fresno State, Colorado State and Boise State of the MWC paid their coaches this season could very well be in order.

Given the notoriety the football program’s success brought the university, Fleck would certainly be worthy of a significant bump in pay. From the News‘ report:

WMU donors have been working on coming up with the funds to help retain the 36-year-old Fleck.

Donors believe he’s worth the money, given all the national exposure he’s brought the university — including a visit from ESPN’s “College GameDay,” multiple features on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” and even a trip by Fleck to Bristol, Connecticut, to participate in ESPN’s so-called “Car Wash” during WMU’s bye week.

Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post and other national outlets have written extensive features on WMU and Fleck this season.

Of course, WMU could find themselves in the very same situation a year from now, Fleck drawing interest from other programs, even without a repeat of a 2016 season that has the Broncos 13-0 and in a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time. It appears highly unlikely that Fleck could be pried away by another Group of Five job or even an ordinary Power Five position (hello, Purdue).

If, say, Notre Dame comes open next year? That’s when you say your goodbyes to the young head coach and wish him well.

Report: ex-USC QB Max Browne to visit Pitt

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Max Browne #4 of the USC Trojans looks to pass the ball against the Utah State Aggies at Los Angeles Coliseum on September 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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The scramble to land graduate transfers at the most important position on a football field is slowly beginning to heat up.

According to a report from 247Sports.com, former USC quarterback Max Browne will pay an official visit to Pittsburgh this weekend. 2016 starter Nathan Peterman‘s eligibility has expired, which will open up a competition for the Panthers beginning in the spring.

It’s also expected that the former USC signal-caller will visit North Carolina at some point in the not-too-distant future, although that is likely dependent on whether current Tar Heels starter Mitch Trubisky leaves early for the NFL as some expect.

A Notre Dame grad transfer with starting experience, Malik Zaire, has also been connected to both of the ACC schools. Wisconsin could have an interest in Browne and Zaire as well.

A five-star 2013 signee, Browne confirmed months of speculation a week ago that he would indeed be transferring from the Trojans.

Browne began the 2016 season as the starter, but lost his job to Sam Darnold after the Trojans stumbled out of the gate at 1-2. With Darnold under center, USC finished the regular season on an 8-1 run and won their last eight after losing Darnold’s first start by four points to Utah.

Browne spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as Cody Kessler’s primary backup.

Mizzou backup QB Marvin Zanders tweets he’s transferring

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 11: Truman the Tiger leads the Mizzou fans in cheers while the Missouri Tigers take on the Georgia Bulldogs on October 11, 2014 at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
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It looks as if Drew Lock will have a new backup when the 2017 season rolls around.

On his personal Twitter account Thursday night, Marvin Zanders announced that he has decided to transfer out of the Missouri football program. The redshirt sophomore said he’s leaving to pursue other opportunities that will further his education and playing career, although where that will be is still to be determined.

Zanders was a three-star 2014 signee who played in just one game in 2015 after redshirting as a true freshman. As Lock’s primary backup in 2016, Zanders played in a total of eight games. In limited action, he completed 10 of 12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 198 yards and a pair of scores.

The decision of Zanders to move on leaves the Mizzou quarterback cupboard somewhat bare at the moment.

Mark Dantonio won’t lose long-time assistant to head-coaching job at Div. II school

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans leads his team onto the field before a college football game against the against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Spartan Stadium on November 12, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
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At least for now and when it comes to one particular assistant, Mark Dantonio won’t have a hole to fill on his Michigan State coaching staff.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Spartans offensive line coach Mark Staten was one of five finalists for the head-coaching job at Div. II Northern Michigan. On his Facebook page Thursday, by way of ESPN.com, Staten indicated that he will be staying at MSU.

Left unsaid is whether Staten withdrew from the search process because he wanted to remain in East Lansing or if he became aware the program had decided to go in a direction that didn’t include him.

Decision was made after a lot of prayer, talking with family, friends and mentors. I appreciate all of those involved as I will continue to battle on as a Spartan. God Bless and Go Green!

Staten has been a part of Dantonio’s coaching staff for the past 13 seasons, the first three at Cincinnati and the last 10 at MSU. He’s been the Spartans’ line coach for the past five years.