AMA Motocross storms into Northern California


AMA Motocross storms into Northern California


SACRAMENTO (AP) The massive golden-domed California capitol building looming above, four of motocross' biggest names sat at a table with microphones on a pleasant spring afternoon.

As they talked about the upcoming outdoor season in front of more than 100 fans and a handful of politicians in black suits, Ryan Dungey, Ryan Villopoto, Chad Reed and Trey Canard were nearly close enough to touch shoulders.

If the wild Supercross season is any indication, there probably won't be much separation once they hit the throttle when AMA Motocross kicks off its 40th season at historic Hangtown on Saturday.

"Supercross was a little surprising at moments, some weird things happened," said Dungey, the defending outdoor champion. "Outdoor is going to be another tough championship."

Dungey became the first rider to sweep the Supercross and motocross titles as a rookie a year ago, completing a rapid rise to the top of his sport. He did it, though, with former champions James Stewart and Chad Reed, along with Villopoto, out with injuries.

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With those three back for Supercross this year, the sport had one of its closest finishes ever, a wild 18-race ride that included five riders winning races and five lead changes in the season points standings.

Villopoto closed it out by finishing third at Las Vegas two weeks ago, capturing his first 450-class title just a year after a horrific crash left his right leg mangled and the cartilage in his sternum scrambled.

Reed, a two-time Supercross champion, finished second in the points, just four points back, and Dungey was right behind him in third. Stewart, a two-time champion himself, finished fourth and Canard, a rising star on the circuit, was fifth despite breaking his leg during testing last month.

Canard will be out until later in the season, but the rest of the champions are revved up and ready to go as motocross moves from the stadiums to the massive outdoor tracks.

It starts with Hangtown, an AMA original hosting its 43rd race near the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. One of the most demanding courses on the circuit, Hangtown will give the riders a tough initial test with just one weekend off after finishing Supercross.

"It's a track where starts are important," Reed said. "It's choppy, it's fast, it's a difficult race track to master. I think we all come in as prepared as best we can, but it's the first race of the season, we're straight off Supercross and throughout the weekend we're all going to struggle at some point in time."

Villopoto will be considered the favorite coming off his impressive Supercross run.

The 22-year-old from Fontana, Calif., opened up the 2010 Supercross season strong, winning seven races, but suffered a horrific crash at St. Louis that broke two bones in his right leg and knocked him out of the outdoor season.

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Determined to finish his climb to the top, Villopoto put in grueling hours of rehabilitation to get back in shape, work that paid off with wins in his first two races back, at Anaheim, Calif., and Phoenix to open the Supercross season. He finished with a series-high six wins, capping it with his first title not far from the glitz of The Strip.

"The Supercross season is so long and we have one week off and roll right into the outdoor season, so there's not much time off," Villopoto said. "But I think we're all ready, we're all prepared and will have the same goal."

Getting to that goal won't be easy, as the Supercross season showed.

With everyone healthy and Canard up from the 250 class, the Supercross season was a tight race from the start, one where a single gaffe was enough to put riders in a deep hole.

Villopoto had one in Jacksonville, where he inexplicably missed qualifying for the main event. Dungey was derailed by a slipped chain at the second Anaheim race.

Reed, running his own team for the first time, had trouble at the two Texas races. Stewart, known for either crashing or winning, did both, getting five wins to go with three crashes, not to mention an arrest for impersonating a police officer.

The move outdoors is the start of new season, but the premium on staying consistent will continue.

"You throw away a race or 25 points, you're going to have your work cut out to get it back," Dungey said. "You try to make it easy on yourself. The goal is to win races and try to win a championship, and you can't do that if you're in the back, getting bad starts, losing points here and there. There's a lot of great guys out there, so you can't throw away points like that."

Report: Shanahan 'almost certain' to accept 49ers' offer

Report: Shanahan 'almost certain' to accept 49ers' offer

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is reportedly “almost certain” to accept the 49ers’ offer to become head coach.

Shanahan is the lone remaining candidate among the six individuals who interviewed with 49ers executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe. The 49ers plan for a second interview with Shanahan and a job offer, a source told Shanahan is expected to accept the 49ers’ offer, reports Michael Silver of the NFL Network, citing sources familiar with both parties.

The 49ers continued to work Tuesday evening on the process of narrowing down the general manager choices, a source said. Shanahan is expected to play a role in the select the team’s next GM, sources said.

On Tuesday, Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable and Seahawks co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner removed their names from consideration for the vacant coach and general manager positions. The 49ers fired Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke after the 49ers' 2-14 season.

One source said Cable and Kirchner believed the 49ers were using them as leverage to hire Shanahan. Cable interviewed with 49ers co-chair Denise DeBartolo York over the phone on Tuesday, NFL Network reported.

The 49ers are allowed to interview Shanahan for a second time after the Falcons’ NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The 49ers are prohibited from hiring or making a formal contract offer to Shanahan until the Falcons' season has concluded.

The top remaining candidates for the general manager job are believed to be Green Bay executives Brian Gutekunst and Eliot Wolf, Arizona's Terry McDonough and Minnesota's George Paton.

Wilcox embracing challenge, will change the way Cal looks on field


Wilcox embracing challenge, will change the way Cal looks on field

BERKELEY — With more than a half-century without a Rose Bowl berth, tougher academic standards than most Pac-12 schools and lackluster fan support in a pro-sports focused market, there are plenty of hurdles for a football coach at California.

Coach Justin Wilcox took the job for the Golden Bears because he embraces those obstacles and he wants players who feel the same way as he seeks to rebuild a program that has one winning record in the past five years and no conference championships since 1958.

"When you come here, there are challenges," Wilcox said at his introductory news conference Tuesday. "You don't come here and go through school and just go through the motions. You'll be challenged in the classroom, challenged on the football field and learn to interact in a dynamic society. I believe in that and that helps guys grow."

Wilcox faces many hurdles in his new job replacing the recently fired Sonny Dykes less than three weeks before national signing day. He has to put together a coaching staff, evaluate the players already on campus and try to keep together, and even add to, a recruiting class that committed to a different staff.

Athletic director Mike Williams fired Dykes after four seasons on Jan. 8 because he wanted a coach committed to Cal instead of flirting with other jobs and needed someone who could excite a fan base that often stayed away from Memorial Stadium in recent years as the Bears teamed porous defenses with sometimes exciting offenses while posting a 19-30 record.

Williams had five finalists for the job but chose a former Cal assistant with a defensive background and familiarity with the Pac-12 as an assistant for seven years at three schools in the conference.

"He truly gets this place, he truly gets coaching in the West," Williams said. "He came in and was very organized and thoughtful. He knew what he wanted to do and who he wanted to hire. ... It's a special place and I think he'll treat it as a special place."

While Dykes flirted with job openings at Houston and Baylor this past offseason in part because of his concern about increased academic standards for recruits, the Bears hope Wilcox is someone who wants to stick around after more than a decade of being on a self-described "windy" path as a top defensive coach.

The former Oregon defensive back began his coaching career in 2001 as a graduate assistant at Boise State. He spent three years as linebackers coach under Jeff Tedford at Cal from 2003-05 when the Bears nearly ended their Rose Bowl drought during a 10-win season with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback in 2004.

Wilcox has spent the past 11 years as a defensive coordinator with stops at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, Southern California and finally Wisconsin, where he helped the Badgers field a top 10 defense and win the Cotton Bowl.

Wilcox has worked and played for many successful coaches, including Tedford, Chris Petersen, Dan Hawkins, Mike Bellotti, and Paul Chryst.

"I've been extremely fortunate to work for and with people I learned so much from," he said. "Each step along the way, I've seen it done a lot of different ways. I'm not trying to be any of those people. I always try to take pieces and make it my own."

Wilcox has begun putting together his staff, having hired former Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin as offensive coordinator and longtime Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood to fill that role on the Bears.

The Bears will look very different under Wilcox than Dykes. Wilcox said he will recruit tight ends as Cal moves from the spread "Bear Raid" offense that relied on four receivers almost exclusively to a more balanced offense with tight ends and more power concepts.

While he will delegate most of the offensive responsibilities to Baldwin, Wilcox said he will be more involved on defense where he wants to find players who can fit into his base 3-4 system.

Cal ranked 125th in total defense, 127th in scoring defense and 122nd in yards per play out of 128 FBS teams last season on the way to a 5-7 record.

"Every second is critical right now," Wilcox said. "I will not sacrifice the long-term good of the program for what everyone wants which is certainty. Things will happen quickly. I understand the recruits have some anxiety about the situation and there's emotions involved. That's totally understandable. I'd feel the same way."