Former bus driver back in New Orleans as assistant coach
In Derek Lewis' time as a city bus driver in New Orleans' most dangerous neighborhoods, he encountered many crude and unsavory passengers. He often tolerated being cursed at or spat on as mere inconvenience, but also saw harrowing drug overdoses and violence.
Two men approached him with guns once and demanded his money. Lewis, then in his 20s, gave it to them as quickly as he could and to this day is unsure how much cash he handed over.
"When they have a gun in your face, you don't remember," he said. "You just do what they tell you to do."
Lewis is riding a bus through his hometown again this week, though under dramatically better circumstances. He is Florida's tight ends coach, rolling in style with police escorts from a posh downtown hotel to practices at the Superdome and other Sugar Bowl events. As a kid in New Orleans East, he loved this game. Now he will coach in it when Florida faces Louisville on Wednesday.
"I'm enjoying the crap out of this," he said after Friday's practice. "I'm excited ... to get this thing going."
Lewis speaks lovingly of the city where he experienced joy and suffering. He was a football star at St. Augustine High School and earned a scholarship to Texas. He met his wife here, and she stuck with him through hard years to reach this point. Many of his relatives and in-laws lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina.
The Florida players are loosely aware of his history, but mostly know him as a fire-breather. His hype speeches are wild and hazardous. Prior to the LSU game in October, he was revving players up in the locker room when he saw "WIN" scrawled on a dry erase board. He punched his hand right through the word, causing blood to run down his forearm.
Doctors told him he severed five tendons and barely missed a major artery. Lewis, 35, replied, "Tape up the doggone thing. Stitch it up. I'll worry about it tomorrow," and coached with his forearm wrapped.
"He's a real intense coach," defensive end Lerentee McCray said. "I was over at my locker just looking at him thinking, 'This man's crazy.'"
Crazy? Possibly. But Lewis had the sense to leave the buses behind after a few years and get back into football. He made a costly mistake by not earning his degree as a player at Texas and righted the error by finishing it there as a 28-year-old graduate assistant in 2005.
From there, his coaching career surged. By 2007 he was Minnesota's tight ends coach. He lost his job when the school changed head coaches in 2010 and he headed back to Texas to see if he could land a spot there. While on campus, he talked briefly with defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
Shortly after that conversation, Muschamp became Florida's head coach and hired him.
"A lot of people that worked with him talked about his energy and his passion, and he's an outstanding guy on the field as far as coaching the position," Muschamp said. "He's a great example of a guy that's been through a tough time and pushed through it."
Prince's late free throws lift Pistons
Tayshaun Prince made two free throws with 10.9 seconds left to give Detroit a 96-94 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night after the Pistons blew a 14-point lead.
Prince scored 20 points, and Greg Monroe added 14 points and 10 rebounds for Detroit, which had five players in double figures. Charlie Villanueva and Brandon Knight added 11 points apiece, and Jason Maxiell scored 10 for the Pistons.
Monta Ellis had 30 points and nine assists, and Erson Ilyasova scored 24 points for the Bucks.
Both teams were coming off wins over the defending NBA champion Miami Heat. Detroit beat Miami 109-99 in Auburn Hills on Friday and the Bucks beat the Heat 104-85 in Milwaukee one night later.
Ellis hit a fallaway baseline jumper with 1:06 left, after almost losing the ball out of bounds, to give the Bucks their first lead, 94-92. But Prince's hook shot tied the score with 50.5 seconds remaining. Ellis missed a jumper with 31.9 seconds to go and Maxiell got the rebound. Following a timeout, Luc Mbah a Moute fouled Prince, who stepped to the line and made both free throws.
■ Tony Parker had 21 points and nine assists, Manu Ginobili had several key baskets among his 20 points and the San Antonio Spurs handed the Dallas Mavericks their sixth straight loss 111-86. Dirk Nowitzki had eight points on 3-of-9 shooting a week after making a surprise return in a 38-point loss to the Spurs in San Antonio.
■ Rockets first-round pick Royce White refused his assignment to Houston's D-League affiliate on Sunday, yet another setback to his return to the court. White, the 16th overall pick in the June draft, has spent most of the season on Houston's inactive list while he and the team figure out how to handle his anxiety disorder and overall mental health.
White's assignment to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Saturday looked to be a positive step in his return. But on Sunday, White released an almost 500-word statement where he said he wouldn't report to the team. "I have chosen to not play, because the doctors and I believe it to be unsafe for unqualified Rockets front office personnel to make medical decisions, as they are not mental health professionals," he said.
Qaraaba wins Frankel at Santa Anita
Qaraaba rallied from last to win the $150,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes by 11/4 lengths Sunday at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. Ridden by Julien Leparoux, Qaraaba ran 11⁄8 miles on the rain-soaked turf course in 1:49.20.
The 5-year-old mare was last going to the far turn and Leparoux took Qaraaba four-wide entering the stretch. From there, she went on to earn her first graded stakes victory in the race named for the late Hall of Fame trainer, who specialized in turf runners.
"She's a very handy filly and she relaxed perfectly," Leparoux said. "As you could see, she won pretty easily and she had a lot left."
Qaraaba won her U.S. debut last month at Hollywood Park after arriving from England, where she won five minor stakes.
■ Bird House, making her first start since February, pulled a 24-1 upset Sunday in the $54,000 allowance feature for New York-bred fillies and mares at Aqueduct. Irad Ortiz Jr. was aboard for trainer Gary Gullo as the 3-year-old overcame the layoff to beat Cape Cod Carol by 31/4 lengths.
Jimenez sidelined for five months
Spanish golfer Miguel Angel Jimenez broke his right shinbone and will be sidelined for up to five months.
Jimenez said in a statement Sunday that he had surgery on his leg after injuring it while skiing Saturday. Jimenez said "I was playing well, but you have to take life as it comes."
Jimenez was a vice captain on Europe's Ryder Cup-winning team in September. In November, the 48-year-old Jimenez became the oldest European Tour winner by capturing his third Hong Kong Open title. He has 19 career European Tour titles.
The last word
Kansas City Chiefs Coach Romeo Crennel's team finished 2-14 after a 38-3 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Injuries and ineffective play derailed a team predicted to finish near the top of the AFC West before the season. They also faced adversity off the field as well, when Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend before committing suicide at the team's practice facility on Dec. 1. Asked to make a case to retain his job, Crennel simply shrugged and said:
"Just depends on what your criteria is. If your criteria is wins and losses, there's not much defense. If the criteria is trying to keep the team together and play young guys and make some improvement with those guys, then a defense can be made. That's not for me to judge. That's not for me to say. The people making the decisions, they'll decide that."