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Sports briefs for Jan. 6, 2014

By Wire Service Reports, Special to the BDN

Panthers WR Smith expected to play vs. 49ers

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith said he will play in Sunday’s NFC divisional-round playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Smith missed the final regular-season game against the Atlanta Falcons because of a left knee sprain. He was injured the week prior against the New Orleans Saints. The Panthers had a bye in the first round of the playoffs, allowing Smith extra time to rehab the injury.

“It’s not about, ‘Can I go?’ It’s how confident do I feel when I am going? I will play Sunday,” Smith said Monday. “It’s about how much of that do I don’t worry about the knee. That’s when the confidence increases.”

Smith was one of several Panthers who did not work out with the team Monday. Running back Jonathan Stewart (knee), tight end Ben Hartsock (knee), defensive tackle Colin Cole (calf) and safety Quintin Mikell (hand) also did not participate.

However, coach Ron Rivera said he expects each of them to practice Wednesday and play Sunday.

Southern Illinois team bus rescued by tow truck

The Southern Illinois men’s basketball team was stranded on a highway for nearly six hours Sunday night before being rescued by a tow truck and spent the night in a church, according to multiple reports.

The bus carrying the Salukis’ players and assistant coach Anthony Beane Sr. got stuck in a snowstorm while returning from Normal, Ill., to Champaign, Ill., after getting blown out by Illinois State on Sunday afternoon.

There was a chance they may have been forced to spend the night in the vehicle on Interstate 57 near Champaign, Ill., but a tow truck arrived on the closed highway before midnight.

Since only emergency travel was allowed on the highway, no other vehicles could reach the bus for several hours.

Dolphins fire offensive coordinator Sherman

The Miami Dolphins fired offensive coordinator Mike Sherman after two seasons, the team announced Monday.

Miami’s offense ranked 27th in the NFL in yards and 26th in scoring in 2013. The Dolphins averaged 19.8 points per game.

Sherman came under scrutiny for his play-calling. The Dolphins also scored just seven points in their final eight quarters of the season in losses to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

Head coach Joe Philbin’s job is reportedly safe.

Four NFL teams interested in Jay Gruden

The Washington Redskins are among four teams reportedly interested in interviewing Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden for their head coaching position.

According to the Washington Post, the Redskins are seeking permission to interview Jay Gruden and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

ESPN reported that the Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings also requested permission to interview Gruden.

Gruden and Zimmer interviewed for NFL head-coaching jobs last offseason. Gruden, 46, finished his third season as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator while Zimmer, 57, has been the Bengals’ defensive coordinator for six years.

Gruden has interviewed for head coaching jobs in each of the last two offseasons.

He is the brother of former Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and current Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden.

Iowa’s McCaffery apologizes for ref bump

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery apologized Monday for bumping into an official, which got him ejected from Sunday’s game against Wisconsin.

The incident occurred with 11:51 remaining in the second half and Iowa leading 41-39. McCaffery blew up at officials after a pair of calls went against the Hawkeyes.

While arguing, he lightly bumped into one of the officials, which called for an automatic ejection. After the game, McCaffrey said that his dismissal was not what caused the Hawkeyes to lose 75-71.

He apologized in a statement released from the school Monday morning.

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