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George O’Leary again refutes retirement report

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Earlier this month, FOXSports.com‘s Bruce Feldman, about as reliable as it gets when it comes to college football news, reported that George O’Leary was giving strong consideration to stepping down as UCF’s head coach this season, perhaps as soon as immediately after the Knights’ opener against Penn State in Ireland Saturday.

The 68-year-old O’Leary immediately and vehemently denied the report, saying “I don’t have any idea what that’s about.”

With the opener just three days away, O’Leary again addressed the speculation.  And again refuted it.

From the Orlando Sentinel‘s Mike Bianchi:

“You know me better than that. As good or bad as it gets, I’m going to finish what I started.”

“If you know my history, I’m not one to start something and not finish it,” O’Leary said then. “Unless somebody knows something I don’t, I don’t plan on (stepping down after the Penn State game). I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know who the sources are (for the Fox story) and I don’t really care. The only source I worry about is my source – me! I have every intention of coaching 13 games this year.”

O’Leary’s boss’s boss also forcefully refuted the report.  Well, at least the after-one-game aspect of the report.

“Coach O’Leary would never quit after one game in a season,” UCF president John Hitt told the Sentinel. “Whoever wrote that doesn’t know George O’Leary. George will retire when he retires. We hope his health stays great. He’s often said when he has two straight days when he goes to work and doesn’t have fun then he’ll retire. We think and hope it will be a good, long while before that happens.”

O’Leary has been at UCF since 2004, the first year which produced the worst season in the football program’s history: 0-11.  Since then, however, the Knights have won 10-plus games four times, the only times that’s happened in school history.

There have been rumors that Brent Key, promoted to assistant head coach earlier this offseason, is essentially the head-coach-in-waiting, with the offensive line coach set to take over the program when O’Leary hangs up his coaching whistle.

Whether that’s this weekend, after this season or a couple/few years down the road remains to be seen.

Iowa State DB Mike Johnson suspended amid domestic violence arrest

AMES, IA - NOVEMBER 19: Wide receiver Keke Coutee #20 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders blocks defensive back Mike Johnson #3 of the Iowa State Cyclones as he rushed for yards in the first half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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Iowa State has suspended defensive back Mike Johnson after he was arrested Thursday on the accusation that he choked his girlfriend.

As reported by the Des Moines Register, Johnson and his girlfriend were fighting over social media posts and music playing over each other’s phones when each tried to reach for the other’s device. That escalated to the point where Johnson allegedly had both hands around the woman’s throat, to the point where told police she “saw stars” and had trouble breathing.

She also had, according to police, bite marks on her right cheek, on her neck and behind her left ear, a swollen upper lip and had what appeared to be dried blood on her. Johnson also said he was bitten during the altercation.

“We are aware of Mike Johnson’s arrest and allegations associated with his arrest,” head coach Matt Campbell told the paper in a statement. “Our program has zero tolerance for domestic violence. Mike has been suspended from all team activities, including practice, under the student-athlete code of conduct policy as we gather more information. His long-term status with the team will be determined once we gain more facts.”

Johnson posted 44 tackles, three pass breakups and 1.5 tackles for loss in 12 games last season.

Report: Former Pitt RB James Conner given clean bill of health

James Conner
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James Conner will head to next week’s Combine with a clean bill of health, according to a report Thursday from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“Pitt RB James Conner, who missed most of 2015 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, received a clean scan today, a week prior to combine, per source,” Schefter tweeted.

Conner led the ACC in rushing in 2014, rushing for 1,765 yards and 5.92 yards per carry with 26 touchdowns in 2014, before a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis caused him to miss all but one game of the 2015 campaign. (And in that one game, Conner still rushed for nearly 10 yards per carry and two touchdowns.)

He battled back to return to the field in 2016, again leading the Panthers with 216 carries for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns while finishing third on the club with 21 grabs for 302 yards and four touchdowns.

Conner will compete at the Combine for draft positioning with fellow running backs Leonard FournetteDalvin Cook and D'Onta Foreman, among others.

Willie Taggart no longer speaking with Oregon beat reporter

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 28:  Head Coach Willie Taggart walks the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Miami Hurricanes on September 28, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Oregon strength coach Irele Oderinde is now back at work after serving a 1-month, unpaid suspension resulting from three players being hospitalized after Oderinde’s first supervised workout with the Ducks, but the story is not over in Eugene.

According to Oregon’s student paper The Daily Emerald, Taggart is no longer speaking with the reporter who broke the story, The Oregonian‘s Andrew Greif.

“When you’re not fair and honest, then to me that’s personal,” Taggart told the paper. “When you do something that’s negative and it’s going to be personal, then I won’t have shit to do with you.”

Greif, for his part, stands by the story and says the paper will not issue a retraction, as Taggart requested:

“Though the description of the workouts is understandably subjective, ultimately what has never been in doubt is that three UO players were hospitalized after the first week of offseason workouts and received treatment for several days,” Greif said in an email to the Emerald.

Complicating matters for Taggart is that the university commissioned faculty athletics rep Tim Gleason, a journalism professor, to review the report. In speaking with players, coaches, trainers and AD Rob Mullens, Gleason found the report not to be inaccurate.

“It’s not an unfair characterization; it’s just that the way it gets interpreted is regrettable,” Gleason said. “In the shorthand of journalism, it resulted in an impression that may not have been completely accurate.”

Also contradicting Taggart are members of his own staff, who said off-the-record that the workouts were “military-style.” Greif quoted them anonymously when inserting that phrase into the piece:

Players this week were required to finish the same workouts, which were described by multiple sources as akin to military basic training, with one said to include up to an hour of continuous push-ups and up-downs.

It’s not clear where the story goes from here, except that Taggart made clear twice in his interview with the Emerald he has no plans to answer questions from Greif in the future.

Report: Ole Miss reportedly tried to bring Mississippi State down with it in NCAA probe

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 28:  Damore'ea Stringfellow #3 of the Mississippi Rebels is pursued by Mark McLaurin #41 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second quarter of a game at Davis Wade Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Ah, rivalries. The sibling-like struggle across the sport is what makes the college football world spin, and we got a great example of that in a report detailing Ole Miss’s response to its impending charges.

As we know, a key charge against Ole Miss was the Rebels’ attempted payment of a sum between $13,000 and $15,000 to a recruit that ultimately signed with Mississippi State, and the Rebels’ response was to turn around and bring their Egg Bowl rivals down with them.

According to Neal McCready’s inside-the-program accounting of the process for Rebel Grove, Ole Miss has a recording of Leo Lewis‘s mother asking other programs for money:

Ole Miss, per multiple sources, possesses a recording, and has given the SEC a copy, of Lewis’ mother asking Ole Miss for money and detailing incentives she received from other programs, including Mississippi State.

Considering the sourcing on this one, the phrase “including Mississippi State” is anything but an accident. It’s the college football version defense of the “Yes, Mom, I may have taken the booze from the cabinet, but Little Brother drank some of it, too!” defense.

To which the NCAA will likely respond: “But I haven’t spent four years investigating him.”

While the “they cheated too” last gasp of a defense likely won’t extend Ole Miss a stay of execution, you have to at least respect the Rebels for trying it.