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NFL digest

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 9, 2001

[AP photo]
Wade Phillips is out in Buffalo.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A year later, the "Music City Miracle" still is wreaking havoc on the Buffalo Bills.

Wade Phillips was fired for refusing to give up on the special teams coach he hired in the wake of the Jan. 8, 2000, loss to Tennessee that eliminated the Bills from last year's playoffs.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson said Monday he considered the firing of Ronnie Jones, in his first year as special teams coach, "imperative for the improvement of our team."

"Buffalo special teams' record was among the worst in the National Football League last season," Wilson said. "I felt we needed a change and that my request was reasonable. ... I did not want to release Wade, but his refusal left me with no option."

Jones was hired to replace Bruce DeHaven after the playoff loss, decided by a wild and controversial special-teams touchdown. With three seconds left, Tennessee's Frank Wycheck threw an overhand lateral across the field to Kevin Dyson on a kickoff return, and Dyson scampered 75 yards for a 22-16 Titans win. The Bills argued that Wycheck's throw was an illegal forward pass.

This season, the Bills finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1997 season. Buffalo was 29-19 in three seasons under Phillips.

CARRUTH TRIAL: Rae Carruth's lawyers called another of his former girlfriends to the stand to counter the prosecution's argument that Carruth wanted to kill his pregnant girlfriend to get out of paying child support.

"Rae was very excited about the baby," said Dawnyle Willard, who dated Carruth when he played at Colorado in 1995.

The former Panthers receiver is accused of plotting the fatal shooting of Cherica Adams, who was eight months' pregnant with their son.

The trial in Charlotte, N.C., is starting to wind down, with defense lawyer David Rudolf telling Judge Charles Lamm he expects to be finished with rebuttal witnesses today.

RATINGS DROP: Three of the four divisional playoff games drew lower ratings than a year ago.

PRO BOWL: The Titans' Steve McNair is likely to replace Broncos quarterback Brian Griese, who has a separated right shoulder.

DOLPHINS: Chan Gailey, the offensive coordinator who revamped the team's attack after Dan Marino retired, signed a two-year contract. Longtime special teams coach Mike Westhoff and offensive line coach Paul Boudreau were fired.

FALCONS: Coach Dan Reeves named Pete Mangurian, his former assistant with the Broncos and Giants and coach at Cornell the past three seasons, as offensive line coach, replacing Art Shell.

LIONS: Former linebacker and TV commentator Matt Millen was hired for a front-office job, but team chairman and president William Clay Ford refused to give details.

REDSKINS: New coach Marty Schottenheimer fired six coaches and allowed defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes to look for work.

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