Leroy Keyes, gold standard of Purdue football, dies at 74

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Leroy Keyes, a two-time consensus All-American running back and one of the greatest football players in Purdue history, died Thursday. He was 74.

He died at his home in West Lafayette, Indiana, surrounded by his wife and children, the family said in a statement.

Keyes had been in poor health recently, suffering from congestive heart failure and a cancer recurrence. He previously had prostate cancer.

Keyes was third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1967 and was the runner-up to O.J. Simpson in 1968. But he wasn’t just a star at Purdue – he was an icon who excelled as a running back, defensive back, kickoff returner and handled kickoff duties.

“This morning we lost a great friend and football brother, Leroy Keyes,” former Boilermakers and NFL quarterback Mark Herrmann wrote on Twitter. “He was a true Boilermaker legend, loved by all. We will miss his contagious smile and warm laugh. He joins a legion of Purdue fans and friends in heaven who can once again chant “Give the ball to Leroy!”

After finishing his career as the school’s career leader in touchdowns (37), points (222) and all-purpose yards (3,757), the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Keyes with the third pick overall in 1969. Injuries forced him out of the NFL after just five seasons. He then spent 16 years as a desegregation specialist for the Philadelphia school district.

Back at Purdue, though, Keyes became the man all future Boilermakers stars would be measured against.

In 1987, as the program celebrated its 100th season, Keyes was selected as the Boilermakers’ greatest player. Some of his records stood for decades. Others still do.

Keyes’ averages of 6.6 yards per carry in 1967 and 5.88 over his career still top the Purdue charts. So do his 19 total touchdowns in 1967, when he was named the Big Ten’s MVP. In 1968, he became the first Purdue player to top the 1,000-yards rushing mark.

And though Keyes played only three college seasons, 1966-68, he still ranks third all-time on the Boilermakers list for total touchdowns, fifth in TDs rushing (29), sixth in points, ninth in all-purpose yards and 11th in rushing yards (2,094). He even threw eight TD passes during his career and the 1,870 all-purpose yards he compiled in 1967 were a school record for 40 years.

“I so enjoyed those times I got to spend with Leroy over the years and appreciate the kindness he showed to me,” football coach Jeff Brohm said on Twitter. “Our entire program is grateful for the foundation he helped to build and the example he set.”

But he wasn’t just a star on the field.

“Leroy was a two-way player in the way that matters most – a great athlete and a great person,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said. “You never saw him without a smile on his face, or left him without a smile on your own. Every Boilermaker lost a good friend today.”

The player nicknamed “The Golden Mr. Do-Everything” played four seasons with the Eagles before finishing his career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1973.

He returned to campus in 1995 as the running backs coach on Jim Colletto’s staff. After two seasons, the late Joe Tiller made Keyes an administrative assistant for the program. In 2000, he started working with the John Purdue Club, where he remained until retiring in 2011.

Keyes was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994 and was part of Purdue’s inaugural athletic Hall of Fame class in 1994.

“Leroy was a true Boilermaker icon,” athletic director Mike Bobinski said. “He will be missed not only as a legendary player, but even more so for the positive impact he had on so many over the course of his life.”

Keyes was born in Newport News, Virginia, and is survived by his wife, Monica, and children Raymond, Jacqueline, Courtland and Colin.

The family said a “celebration” of his life is planned.

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.