Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

World Champion Cardinals Honored by President Obama

At a ceremony at the White House Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals were called the "greatest comeback team in the history of baseball."

President Barack Obama made the declaration as he honored the Cardinals for their World Series Championship last year. Despite being a White Sox fan, the President thanked the Cardinals for an amazing season.

"And I also want to thank them for visiting Walter Reed this morning, spending time with our wounded warriors over there," Obama said. "That's what this organization's all about. It represents baseball at its best and I wish them all the best this season. Congratulations."

The team presented President and Mrs. Obama with World Series bats and Cardinal jerseys with the number 44 on their backs (Obama is the 44th President of the United States.)

The President said he was impressed with the team's ability to make up a 10 1/2 game deficit.

"Through skills and guts and -- I think the team would agree -- just a little bit of luck, just a touch, this team made the playoffs," Obama said. "Even though they trailed in each of the series that followed, they somehow had the spirit and the determination and the resolve to survive."

Two important members of last year's team were missing Tuesday: retired manager Tony LaRussa, who had a prior engagement, and former first baseman Albert Pujols - now with the Anaheim Angels -- who declined the invitation.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Categories: Government, Politics, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 17, 2012

Jeff Fisher Officially Announced as Rams Head Coach

The new head coach of the St. Louis Rams says he's up for the challenge of turning around a football team that has won just ten games over its last three seasons.

The Rams officially announced Jeff Fisher as the team's coach at a press conference at Rams Park in Earth City today. Fisher replaces Steve Spagnuolo, who was fired a day after the 2011 regular season ended. News of Fisher's move leaked out last week.

Fisher is an "experienced, confident head coach who has been in a lot of different situations," said Rams owner Stan Kronke as he introduced Fisher today. "His teams are tough. I've sat and watched them, we've had occasion to experience them. He's a great coach, he's a great teacher, he's a great leader."

Fisher was until last year the head coach of the Tennessee Titans, where he went 142 and 120 over 17 seasons, losing to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. He said he'd always intended to take the year off to refresh, and St. Louis and the Miami Dolphins were the two top contenders for his services.

"My decision was very, very simple," Fisher said. "It was based on a collective vision as far as the future of this franchise. More specifically, it's restoring this franchise to a place of significance. It's an opportunity to take another trip as champions to the White House." (Fisher's official introduction came the same day the St. Louis Cardinals were honored at the White House for their 2011 world championship.)

The Rams, Fisher said, played hard all last season, despite winning just two games. He acknowledged the team has some holes, but says he has faith in third-year quarterback Sam Bradford.

"I think you have to look back at his success and his production in his first year," Fisher said. "This year was difficult for a lot of reasons - the lock-out, the lack of time together in the offense."

The Rams must still find a replacement for general manager Billy Devaney, who was fired along with Spagnuolo. Team vice president Kevin Demoff -- whose father is Fisher's agent -- says Fisher will be part of that search.

The deal Fisher signed just before his introduction is reportedly worth about $7 million a year over five years. As Kroenke put it, "it'll keep him here for a while." But Kroenke sidestepped a question as to whether the Rams will remain in St. Louis for the entire length of Fisher's deal.

"There's a team in place that deals with all that so we'll see how that process sorts itself out. It's a thing that takes place over time," he said.

A clause in the team's lease of the Edward Jones Dome would allow it to leave the city as soon as 2015 if major upgrades aren't made to the Dome. The city must present its proposal for those upgrades by Feb. 1.

(AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Categories: Biography, Sports
Tags: sports, people

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 10, 2012

Illinois Upsets No. 5 Ohio State; 43 Points for Paul

Brandon Paul scored a career-high 43 points including, a 3-pointer with less than a minute to play, to help Illinois upset No. 5 Ohio State 79-74 on Tuesday night.

The Illini (15-3, 4-1 Big Ten) led 71-70 when Paul sank his 3-pointer with 43 seconds to play. He followed that up with four free throws that put the game out of reach.

Ohio State (15-3, 3-2) led 39-34 at halftime and was up 64-61 with just over five minutes to play.

Paul's 43 points was the third-highest scoring performance in Illini history. Meyers Leonard added 14 for Illinois.

Deshaun Thomas scored 23 points and Jared Sullinger added 21 for Ohio State.

Categories: Education, Sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 08, 2012

New Minor League Basketball Team Launches Regular Season

A new minor-league basketball team based in Bloomington, Illinois begins its regular season Sunday afternoon. The Central Illinois Drive will meet the St. Louis Phoenix, at Soldan International Studies High School Arena in St. Louis. It's the first regular season game for both teams in the five-year-old Premier Basketball League.

The two teams play again on Friday evening, January 13th, for the Drive's first regular season home game, at the U-S Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.

The Central Illinois Drive go into the season, following a 96 to 90 home court win over the Chicago Muscle on New Year' Eve.

The Drive are coached by former Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors player A-J Guyton. The team lineup includes former ISU player Tony Lewis and former Bradley University players Daniel Ruffin and Matt Salley.

The St. Louis Phoenix played last season as the St. Louis Pioneers in the American Basketball Association.

The Central Illinois Drive is the third minor league athletic team to come to Bloomington in recent years. The Bloomington Blaze of the Central Hockey League and the Bloomington Extreme of the Indoor Football League are also based at Bloomington's U-S Cellular Coliseum.

Categories: Sports
Tags: sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 04, 2012

Fighting Illini Edge Northwestern

Myke Henry made one of two free throws with 6 seconds left and Meyers Leonard blocked a shot just before the buzzer as Illinois pulled out a 57-56 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night.

Leonard hit a free throw with 29 seconds left to put the Illini up 56-54, but Northwestern's Drew Crawford tied it on a tip with 17 seconds remaining.

After Brandon Paul drove but couldn't connect, Henry was fouled on a rebound follow-up. He made one free throw but missed the second.

Crawford rebounded and tried to drive the length of the floor, but the 7-foot-1 Leonard swatted the shot away. Leonard led the Illini (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) with 12 points. Paul and Joseph Bertrand added 10 each.

Shurna, the Big Ten's leading scorer at 18.6 for Northwestern (11-4, 1-2), had 17 first-half points but just the three in the second under tough defense from Paul.

Categories: Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 04, 2012

Former Bears Receiver Indicted on Drug Charges

A federal grand jury has indicted former NFL wide receiver Sam Hurd on drug conspiracy and possession charges after he and another man were accused of trying to establish a drug-dealing network.

The indictment Wednesday accuses Hurd and codefendant Toby Lujan on single counts of cocaine possession and conspiracy to possess cocaine. It also seeks forfeiture of $88,000 in cash by Lujan and a 2010 Cadillac Escalade by Hurd.

If convicted, both could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. Hurd was arrested Dec. 14 outside a Chicago steakhouse after authorities said he agreed to buy a kilogram of cocaine from an undercover agent. The Chicago Bears cut the former Dallas Cowboys receiver Dec. 16, two days after his arrest.

Categories: Criminal Justice, Sports
Tags: crime, sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 03, 2012

Bears Fire Offensive Coordinator Martz

Mike Martz is out after two seasons as the Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator.

The team has confirmed on Tuesday that Martz will not be back. Hours earlier, general manager Jerry Angelo was fired.

The changes come after the Bears finished 8-8 following a collapse marked by season-ending injuries to quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte, along with the arrest of backup receiver Sam Hurd on federal drug charges.

Chicago dropped five in a row following a 7-3 start before closing out the season with a win at Minnesota.

Martz had an expiring contract, and speculation that he might be on his way out mounted as the losses piled up. Quarterbacks coach Shane Day will not be back, either.

Categories: Sports
Tags: sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 03, 2012

Bears Fire GM Jerry Angelo

Jerry Angelo was fired as the Chicago Bears' general manager Tuesday following a team collapse marked by injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte and a drug scandal involving receiver Sam Hurd.

Angelo had been on the job 11 years, a stretch in which the Bears reached one Super Bowl and advanced to another NFC championship game. An 8-8 record this season, a questionable draft record and an inability to fill big holes, particularly on offense, led to his ouster.

His dismissal comes after a wild season in which the Bears at one point seemed a lock to make the playoffs. A five-game losing streak, however, spoiled a 7-3 start and kept Chicago out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

Cutler broke his right thumb trying to help make a tackle following an interception during a win over San Diego on Nov. 20. The Bears didn't win again until the season-finale at Minnesota on Sunday.

It didn't help that Forte sprained a ligament in his right knee against Kansas City on Dec. 4, leaving the offense without its two best players. Those would be blows for any team, but they were crippling for Chicago. Throw in Hurd's arrest on federal drug charges in mid-December, and what looked like a promising season turned into a disaster for the team and organization.

The injuries exposed a glaring lack of depth as the Bears tumbled out of playoff contention.

The low point might have been the loss at Denver when Marion Barber ran out of bounds late in regulation. That stopped the clock, giving the Broncos enough time to tie the score. If that weren't enough, he lost a fumble in overtime, helping set up the winning field goal.

Meanwhile, backup quarterback Caleb Hanie was a bust filling in for Cutler, going 0-4 as the starter before the Bears turned to Josh McCown. Chicago claimed Kyle Orton off waivers after Cutler went down, but Kansas City had priority and got him. The Bears then brought in Josh McCown, and Angelo left himself open to second-guessing when he decided not to go after Donovan McNabb once Minnesota let him go.

The lack of a reliable backup quarterback, continuing issues on the offensive line and the inability to land a top-tier receiver increased the heat on the general manager.

Roy Williams struggled to hold onto the ball and get open in his first season with the Bears after a disappointing run in Dallas. Hurd, another Cowboys import, was quickly waived after being charged with trying to set up a drug-dealing network following his arrest with more than a pound of cocaine.

The arrest only compounded Angelo's problems. Now, Angelo's out and the Bears are picking up the pieces. For all the criticism, Angelo did have successes. The Bears won four division championships, including the 2006 team's run to the Super Bowl and last year's trip to the NFC championship game.

He traded for Cutler and signed Julius Peppers. But he also had a spotty draft record that included such high-profile disappointments as Cedric Benson and Rex Grossman.

Former first-rounder Chris Williams has mostly struggled, and first-round pick Gabe Carimi missed most of his rookie season with a right knee injury. Angelo also was unable to find a top receiver, through the draft, a trade or free agency. Chicago didn't anyone ready to step in when a solid but aging line that helped the Bears reach the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 began to go downhill.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz called for deep drops and Cutler took repeated poundings. That changed after Cutler made his feelings clear. The Bears started getting the ball out of his hands quicker, handing the ball off more to Forte and piling up the wins. But just when it looked as if they had saved their season, everything came apart.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Categories: Biography, Sports
Tags: sports, people

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 01, 2012

Illinois Beats UCLA in Fight Hunger Bowl

UCLA players walked off the field at AT&T Park, through the tunnel and into the wrong side of the program's proud history.

With coach Rick Neuheisel already fired, interim man Mike Johnson on the sideline and successor Jim Mora watching from the stands, an already odd postseason appearance for the Pac-12's prime punchline came with low expectations.

Kevin Prince threw a costly interception that Terry Hawthorne returned for a touchdown, finishing off UCLA's forgettable season with a 20-14 loss to Illinois in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Saturday.

"This is not the way we wanted to go out, to send our seniors out," tight end Joseph Fauria said. "But at the same time, I guess there's some sort of relief for guys that have another year and looking forward to new beginnings."

The final mark this UCLA team leaves will be its record: an embarrassing 6-8 campaign for a bowl team.

All hope at a non-losing record for the Bruins ended when Nathan Scheelhaase added a 60-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Jenkins midway through the fourth quarter to seal the first victory for Illinois (7-6) since beating Indiana 12 weeks ago.

"It's extremely disappointing," Prince said. "Going for a month thinking about this game, preparing for it, spending a week here, everything leads up to this one moment. And then to fall short, it's very disappointing.

"It's upsetting that we couldn't get one for the seniors."

UCLA was held to 18 yards rushing in its third consecutive loss. Prince threw two TD passes, including one in the closing minute to Nelson Rosario after the game had been decided.

But it was an earlier pass by Prince that proved decisive and helped give Illinois its first bowl victories in consecutive seasons in school history. Three plays after Derek Dimke missed a 37-yard field goal for Illinois late in the third quarter, Prince dropped back and threw to his left looking for Shaquelle Evans.

Hawthorne read the play perfectly and stepped in front of the throw for the interception and had a clear path to the end zone for the score that gave the Illini a 10-7 lead.

"All gas, no brakes for me," Hawthorne said. "Once I catch it, I'm gone.

Categories: Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 20, 2011

Illinois Football Coach Hires Two Former Assistants

New Illinois football coach Tim Beckman has hired two members of his staff at Toledo to join him in Champaign.

The school said Tuesday that Beckman has hired assistant Rockets head coach Mike Ward and running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh. They are Beckman's first two hires at Illinois. Their positions on the Illinois staff will be announced later.

Ward served as a co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Toledo. He has coached there since 2009 after coaching at Bowling Green from 1992 through 2008.

Golesh has been at Toledo since 2009. He previously coached as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State and Northern Illinois.

Beckman was hired earlier this month to replace Ron Zook, who was fired after a 6-6 season.

Categories: Education, Sports

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