Top 10 Detroit News sports storylines in 2018
Here are the local sports stories with the greatest impact throughout the year:
Jim Caldwell out, Matt Patricia in for Lions
Back-to-back 9-7 seasons wasn’t good enough for Lions general manager Bob Quinn, so after showing head coach Jim Caldwell the door, he turned to a familiar face in Matt Patricia, the former Patriots defensive coordinator with whom Quinn worked while he was in New England.
It appeared to be a slam-dunk hire. Patricia, hailed for his smarts (he was an aerospace engineering graduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) as well as his football background, helping the Patriots win three Super Bowls.
At his introductory news conference, Patricia called the job “a dream come true for me,” and promised the Lions “would work hard as a team to make this city proud.”
Before Patricia could lead his team onto the field, he had to defend himself after a Detroit News report uncovered a more than 20-year-old indictment for sexual assault, stemming from an alleged incident during a spring break trip to South Padre Island in 1996 when Patricia was a student at RPI. The Lions said they were unaware of the incident.
The case never went to trial, with the accuser declining to testify, citing the “stress of a trial.” Patricia, who was indicted with a friend, vehemently denied the accusations.
Patricia’s first season has been a mixed bag that likely won’t end with a playoff appearance. The Lions have notched a few big victories — led by a Week 3 victory over Patricia’s old team, the Patriots, on national television — but ultimately have been overshadowed by the weekly duds in going 5-9 through the first 15 weeks of the season, guaranteeing a seat on the sidelines for the postseason.
Follow Lions coverage here.
Pistons hire Dwane Casey
The Lions weren’t the only Detroit team to make a coaching change. In June, the Pistons hired Dwane Casey as their new head coach, replacing Stan Van Gundy, who was fired after four seasons that netted one playoff appearance — a first-round exit to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015-16.
Casey quickly emerged as a top candidate for the Pistons after he was unceremoniously dumped by the Toronto Raptors, who he had just led to their most victories in a single season en route to NBA Coach of the Year honors.
Casey earned a small bit of redemption in leading the Pistons to a victory over his former team in November, but otherwise has the Pistons in familiar territory three months into the season: Hovering around the .500 mark, precariously sitting on the Eastern Conference bubble in the chase for a playoff spot.
Michigan reaches title game, emerges as powerhouse
Michigan solidified itself as a national power in basketball, repeating as Big Ten Tournament champion, and making a run to the NCAA title game, where it ran into Villanova’s buzzsaw.
John Beilein led the Wolverines to 33 victories — including a pair over the in-state rival Spartans and their pair of NBA lottery picks, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., with the second coming in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. After defending its Big Ten Tournament title by cruising past Purdue, Michigan embarked on a spirited NCAA Tournament run that included Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater to survive against Houston the Round of 32 and ousting tournament darling Loyola Chicago in the national semifinals.
Michigan’s title dreams came crashing down in the final, with Donte DiVincenzo’s 31 points leading Villanova’s 79-62 rout.
The Wolverines, however, have picked up where they left off, getting off to a 11-0 start this season and ranked No. 5 in the country.
Blowup leads to ouster for Allen, Impemba
An ugly confrontation following a broadcast in September ultimately led to the exit to a pair of staples in the Tigers’ broadcast booth, Rod Allen and Mario Impemba.
Impemba and Allen were involved in a Sept. 4 confrontation at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, during which Allen allegedly had his hands on Impemba's neck, serving as the breaking point in what appeared to testy relationship.
The two were fired in October, ending what was the second-longest Tigers TV duo ever (17 seasons) behind only George Kell and Al Kaline. The Tigers are still searching for their replacements.
Impemba, who last month was named a finalist for Michigan’s sports broadcaster of the year, said this month: “I have spent 32 years building my professional reputation in broadcasting and stand by that reputation today. I truly appreciate the opportunity I had to broadcast for my home town team the last 17 seasons."
Allen also thanked fans in a statement he tweeted last week, calling it "an honor and a privilege ... to serve you," while also disputing the accuracy of "early media accounts."
ESPN report puts Dantonio, Izzo on defensive
As the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal rocked Michigan State University, head football coach Mark Dantonio and men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo also were ensnared in controversy with an ESPN report that said there was a history of the school and its athletic department of essentially covering up incidents of sexual assault in football and men’s basketball, its two biggest programs.
More:Larry Nassar scandal leads The Detroit News top storylines for 2018
The night the report was first published, on Jan. 26, Dantonio met with the media just minutes before the basketball team was set to play Wisconsin and emphatically defended his program.
After the game, Izzo was less forceful, instead limiting his answers because of ongoing investigations. It was the beginning of weeks of being dogged by questions pertaining to the report, even getting chased to the locker room by an ESPN reporter at Maryland.
Izzo fired back at Big Ten Media Days in October, particularly incensed by a graphic presented by ESPN’s Outside the Lines that included images of Dantonio, Izzo and Nassar and the headline, “Hidden Secrets.”
“I guarantee you I’m trying to do the right thing,” Izzo said. “I’ve always tried to do the right thing and I was appalled when that picture dragged in everything. There were no hidden secrets.”
Since the report came out, the NCAA has cleared Michigan State’s athletic department of any wrongdoing in the Nassar case while Izzo’s program also was cleared of any issues in the ongoing federal case into corruption in college basketball recruiting.
Michigan’s ‘Revenge Tour’ ends with a thud
Michigan was determined to settle some scores, following a lackluster 2017 campaign in which the Wolverines went 8-5 including losses to rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.
The heat from national analysts and the fanbase was rising over head coach Jim Harbaugh’s record against Michigan's rivals, and only seemed to intensify following a season-opening loss to Notre Dame.
But, from there Michigan started to roll, beginning a run that senior defensive end Chase Winovich coined the “Revenge Tour.” Michigan drubbed three teams that it lost to in 2017 — Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State — raising expectations that included finally reaching the Big Ten title game for the first time and, even bigger, a trip to the College Football Playoff should Michigan clear a vital hurdle in Columbus.
Ohio State clearly wasn’t having it. The Buckeyes thumped the Wolverines, 62-39, to reach the Big Ten title game and ruin Michigan’s hopes for a playoff spot — not to mention put a damper on its “Revenge Tour.”
Instead of the College Football Playoff, Michigan will head to the Peach Bowl again to take on Florida.
So long, ‘Z’
Henrik Zetterberg hung up the skates before the Red Wings opened camp, forced into retirement at age 38 by back issues that plagued him for multiple seasons.
Zetterberg served as the Red Wings’ captain since the 2012-13 season, and was second on the team last season with 56 points (11 goals, 45 assists). Zetterberg ends his 15-year career with the Wings ranked fifth in goals (337), assists (623) and points (960). His 1,082 games rank sixth in the organization’s history.
Zetterberg was the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) while leading the Wings to a 2008 Stanley Cup championship.
“He’s one of the greatest Red Wings players in our history,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He and Pavel Datsyuk carried the torch for this franchise for another decade (after Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom).”
Red Wings rebuild gets a shot in arm
Though they missed the playoffs for a second straight season, and lost their leader to retirement, it wasn’t all bad news for the Red Wings.
A draft haul has likely helped ease the pain of rebuilding. Armed with the pair of first-round picks, the Wings landed two top-tier talents in forwards Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno after they slid into Detroit’s draft-day lap.
The Red Wings selected Zadina with the No. 6 overall pick, and Veleno at No. 30.
The Red Wings generally received high marks for their draft work, and appear to have building blocks in place with youngsters Michael Rasmussen, a forward, and defenseman Dennis Cholowski.
PGA to hit Detroit
The PGA Tour is coming to Detroit.
In July, the PGA made official what we first reported in May: Detroit will host a PGA Tour event in 2019.
The Detroit Golf Club will host the event, sponsored by Quicken Loans and called the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which will be held June 27-30, with CBS and Golf Channel operating as the tournament's television partners.
Competitors will play a revamped course, extended to about 7,300 yards after various alterations.
Quicken Loans and the PGA Tour signed a four-year contract to bring a tournament in Detroit. It will be the PGA Tour's first stop in Michigan since the long-running Buick Open closed up shop in 2009.
Coaching legends Dan Fife, John Herrington retire
This year saw two of the state's coaching legends retire when Clarkston boys basketball coach Dan Fife and Farmington Hills Harrison football coach John Herrington called it careers.
Fife, who announced his retirement in September, finished on a high note, guiding Clarkston to back-to-back Class A state championships, including an 81-38 victory over Holland West Ottawa in the title game this past season to cap a 36-year coaching career.
Fife became the state’s third coach to top the 700-win mark last season, finishing with a 703-170 record, and his .805 winning percentage topped the two coaches ahead of him in the late Lofton Greene (728-217) and Roy Johnston (751-316).
Clarkston named its gymnasium after him this month.
Herrington is the only coach the Harrison football program has known, starting the program in 1970. In 49 seasons, Herrington amassed a state-record 443 victories and 13 state championships. The school is closing its doors for good following the 2018-19 school year.
Herrington led Harrison to a Division 4 regional championship game appearance this past season, where it fell to Chelsea, 21-14.