New York In the Year of the Coach, the job Jim Haslett did in New Orleans was the most outstanding.
Haslett, in his first season coaching the Saints, beat a strong field to win The Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award, announced Saturday.
Haslett, who took over a perennially underachieving team that had reached rock bottom and turned it into the NFC West champion, easily beat Philadelphia's Andy Reid in balloting by a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcaster who cover pro football.
"Guys that had been here a long time, that had never won, never had a winning season, that takes a toll on you," said Haslett, who stepped into the mess Mike Ditka created. "The franchise wasn't in great shape, after four bad years."
Stricker surges to lead
Melbourne, Australia Not even eligible for the Match Play Championship two weeks ago, Steve Stricker was halfway home to a $1 million payoff today as steady play gave him a 2-up lead over Pierre Fulke after 18 holes. Stricker, No. 90 in the world ranking and the 55th seed in a 64-man field, continued his clutch putting and surged into the lead as Fulke faltered on the closing holes.
Mason charges dropped
New Orleans Charges were dismissed against Miami Heat forward Anthony Mason, who was accused of beating a police officer, inciting a riot and resisting arrest on Bourbon Street last July. Mason had pleaded innocent to the charges, which came three weeks before he was traded from the Charlotte Hornets to Miami.
Hawks sign Panko
Atlanta The Atlanta Hawks, their roster two players short after a three-for-one trade with Cleveland, signed forward Andy Panko to a 10-day contract before Saturday's game against Orlando.
MU's Smith to leave early
Columbia, Mo. Missouri defensive end Justin Smith said on Saturday that he will pass up his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.
Smith, who set the Missouri sack record with 221/2 in three seasons, said an NFL evaluation that projected him as a first- or second-round draft pick helped him make the decision to leave Missouri, rather than play for new coach Gary Pinkel.
"That's one of the things," Smith said Friday. "There are a lot of factors, but that's one of them. I feel it's time. My preparation has been good."
Smith said he made the decision about a week ago and informed Pinkel several days ago.
Spartans' Hill enters draft
East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State senior cornerback Renaldo Hill is passing up a chance for a fifth year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft. Hill, a three-year starter, could have petitioned the NCAA for a fifth year if he completed his undergraduate degree prior to the opening of preseason camp in August.
Belfour leaves Stars
Boston Goalie Ed Belfour left the Dallas Stars following what the team called a "disagreement over Belfour's participation in Saturday's pregame optional practice." The Stars issued a statement before Saturday night's game against the Bruins stating that general manager Bob Gainey would not comment until the team is finished collecting information.
Lightning fire coach Ludzik
Tampa, Fla. Steve Ludzik was fired as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, his team struggling with the third fewest points in the NHL. He was replaced by assistant John Tortorella, whose first game as head coach will be today at Chicago.
Finley to have surgery
Cleveland Chuck Finley, one of the few Cleveland Indians pitchers to stay off the disabled list last season, will have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee next week.
Hingis leads Swiss
Perth, Australia Switzerland beat the United States 2-1 in the Hopman Cup final Saturday, with Martina Hingis downing Monica Seles 7-5, 6-4 and finally winning this title. After Hingis' opening victory, Roger Federer defeated Jan-Michael Gambill 6-4, 6-3 to clinch the best-of-three championship.
Dokic beats Kournikova
Hong Kong Jelena Dokic stunned top-seeded Anna Kournikova 7-6 (3), 6-3 Saturday in the final of the Watson's Water Challenge exhibition tournament.
Underwood tried suicide
Coral Springs, Fla. Troubled Dallas Cowboys defensive end Dimitrius Underwood tried to kill himself for the second time in about a year, this time by running into traffic twice on a busy suburban highway, police said. Underwood, 23, told police he "wanted to go to Jesus" after he was detained for kicking and denting a car and asking passers-by for a gun on Wednesday. Underwood was taken into custody and hospitalized, police said.
Sanderson sets record
Grand Prairie, Texas Iowa State wrestler Cael Sanderson won his 99th straight match Saturday to break former Cyclones star Dan Gable's national collegiate record. Sanderson, competing at 184 pounds, pinned Fresno State's Jason Rossotti in a career-best 35 seconds to break Gable's record set from 1967-70.