Jones, Smith, Harris reconnect at Alabama’s pro day No. 2

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DeVonta Smith was there for quarterback Mac Jones once again, this time it was at Alabama’s latest pro day.

The Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver seemed to have little left to prove for NFL teams on the field, but showed up Tuesday to help Jones out. Jones threw a series of different routes, including some deep balls, to players like favored targets Smith and tailback Najee Harris in his second outing before NFL personnel that included several head coaches and general managers.

Smith was a late addition to the target list, though he’s already regarded as a likely Top 10 pick.

“He didn’t have to do that,” Jones told the SEC Network, which aired the pro day. “You watch the tape and he’s great. But he called me this morning (Tuesday) and was like, `Dude, I got you. Let’s just get a couple of routes in.”‘

Jones showcased his arm strength a week after participating in the Crimson Tide’s first pro day. He had a scripted series of some 60 throws, about a quarter of them deep ones.

Jones said he had different plans prepared in case Smith and/or Jaylen Waddle participated, or if neither of them did. Waddle, also one of the top receiving prospects, didn’t work out at the pro day.

Smith had earlier indicated that he didn’t plan to, either.

Jones and Smith connected on several deep balls, continuing the smooth connection they displayed in the regular season.

Smith said he wanted to show a finger he injured in the national championship game was healed. It kept him from playing or practicing at the Senior Bowl. At pro day, he said, “The competitiveness came out in me.”

So did the loyalty.

“Mac was just on me like, `Bro, come catch, come catch, come catch,”‘ Smith told the network. “And then I just eventually gave in and was like, `Ok, I’m going to do it for you, bro.”‘

The head coaches in attendance included the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick, Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints, Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago’s Matt Nagy.

Belichick was among a group of five general managers on hand, joined by the 49ers John Lynch, the Saints’ Mickey Loomis, the New York Jets’ Joe Douglas and the Bears’ Ryan Pace.

Harris displayed the hands that helped him catch 43 passes as a senior before doing individual running back drills. He won the Doak Walker Award given to the nation’s top running back, and joined Smith and Jones among the top 5 in the Heisman race.

All four are projected as first-rounders in a draft when Alabama could have as many as six, including center cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. and defensive lineman Christian Barmore.

Most of Tuesday’s session featured Jones launching passes with an array of routes, including a number of deep balls, to teammates like Harris, Smith and tight end Miller Forristall.

He finished up by catching a short pass in the end zone from Harris.

Jones also wanted to show he could make throws on the move, including a couple of off-balance, across-the-body passes.

“At Alabama, they told me to sit in the picket and rip it, so that’s what I did,” Jones said. “That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re at Alabama.

“But when the NFL comes, I’ll do whatever they tell me to do. I showed today that I can do everything that they want me to do.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.