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Kiszla: Big moment calls for bold move. Hire Kevin O’Connell as Broncos coach.

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Broncos’ coaching search moves along with Kevin O’Connell, Brian Callahan interviews

The grand plan of general manager George Paton to return the Broncos to Super Bowl glory works to perfection until quarterback Aaron Rodgers says no.

All of Paton’s research, all 10 interviews with candidates and all the frequent flyer miles will count for less than zero unless the Broncos also land a top-flight quarterback.

So what’s your QB plan, Mr. Paton?

That’s the crucial question every coaching candidate from Dan Quinn to Eric Bieniemy absolutely had to ask during the interview process. If Paton didn’t have a rock-solid answer, any candidate not truly desperate for a job and fully prepared to meet the same sad fate as Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio in Denver should just say no to the Broncos.

If Paton is 100% confident he can swing a trade with Green Bay for Rodgers before the kickoff of the 2022 NFL season, any of his 10 candidates can ride shotgun with A-Rod to the playoffs.

The NFL game is ruled by elite quarterbacks. Unlike college football, who coaches the team is secondary.

As Fangio quizzed me more than once: Although Mike Shanahan was known as the mastermind, how many playoff games did Shanny win in 20 seasons as a head coach when his primary quarterback wasn’t John Elway?

The answer? One.

(Thank you, Jake Plummer. Why Shanahan dumped Jake the Snake for Jay Cutler remains a mystery.)

If the experience of learning from mistakes really matters in the NFL, it defies logic why Quinn is the only former head coach on Paton’s list of candidates, unless this search was never actually wide open and the general manager has always been strongly inclined to hire his longtime friend.

If Quinn truly has been the prohibitive favorite from the jump, while the other nine interviews were staged to obtain intel from successful league rivals and satisfy requirements of the Rooney Rule, let’s hope the search committee at least squeezed in time for a walk on Manhattan Beach and ribs at Oklahoma Joe’s during its whirlwind tour of America.

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After struggles in playoffs, Kevin Fiala knows his future with Wild is uncertain

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After struggles in playoffs, Kevin Fiala knows his future with Wild is uncertain

Wild winger Kevin Fiala noted the small sample size when talking about his most recent playoff struggles. After the best regular season in franchise history, the Wild fell 4-2 in an opening-round, best-of-7 series with the St. Louis Blues.

Who knows what could have happened if the Wild made a deep playoff run instead? Maybe then Fiala would have caught fire at some point like he has been known to do throughout his career.

Instead, the Wild bowed out in the first round with Fiala’s continued playoff struggles serving as a big reason. The 25-year-old from Switzerland posted a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists during the regular season. He followed up that with no goals in the postseason.

“It’s been tough days,” Fiala said Monday after having the weekend to digest yet another early exit. “You just feel very empty.”

That emptiness is exacerbated by the fact that Fiala’s future with the Wild is uncertain.

He is due a big raise after emerging as an elite goal scorer this season. Perhaps somewhere in the range of $8 million a year.

Will the Wild be able to afford him? Unlikely. Do the Wild even want to afford him? Unclear.

After not giving Fiala a long-term contract last offseason, it’s hard to imagine general manager Bill Guerin will feel much differently this offseason. As much as Fiala dominated play late in the regular season, he went silent once again the playoffs. That’s a problem.

“I tried my best; I tried to get it going,” he said. “It’s just such a shame to go out like that.”

Asked if he thinks he will be back with the Wild next season, Fiala struggled to find the right words.

“There’s no other answer than, ‘We’ll see,’ ” Fiala said. “I don’t know.”

If money wasn’t a factor, there’s no doubt the Wild would want to retain Fiala. He’s a very good player who became an even better player this season.

Not only did Fiala refine his skills in many facets this season, he also became tougher mentally, learning to deal with frustration in a much healthier way than earlier in his career.

Unfortunately for Fiala, after showing so much growth during the regular season, he seemed to let the frustration get the best of him throughout the playoffs. He failed to capitalize on a few scoring chances early in the series against the Blues, and the frustration seemed to increase from there.

“In the playoffs, it feels like you really want to be the difference because every game is so big,” Fiala said. “In the regular season, you can kind of be more quiet in your head and chill kind of because it’s 82 games.”

As for how he is approaching this offseason, Fiala is trying not to think too much. There’s no point since most of this is now out of his hands.

“I’m relaxed right now,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do.”

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Officials: Buffalo gunman taunted law enforcement online

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Officials: Buffalo gunman taunted law enforcement online

By CAROLYN THOMPSON, ERIC TUCKER and MICHAEL BALSAMO

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The white gunman accused of massacring 10 Black people in a racist rampage at a Buffalo supermarket taunted law enforcement online last month and visited Buffalo back in March, investigators said Monday.

Payton Gendron, 18, began posting threads on the social media platform Discord about body armor and guns, and last month made provocative remarks about federal law enforcement, the FBI agent in charge for Buffalo, Stephen Belongia, said on a call between law enforcement officials and private-sector and university partners. The Associated Press obtained a recording of the call.

Meanwhile, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia disclosed that Gendron, who lives about 200 miles (320 kilometers) away in Conklin, New York, had been in Buffalo two months ago. Gramaglia declined to say more about that trip.

The police commissioner also told CNN that Gendron planned to keep on killing if he had escaped the scene and even talked about shooting up another store.

“He was going to get in his car and continue to drive down Jefferson Avenue and continue doing the same thing,” Gramaglia said.

The commissioner’s account was similar to portions of a racist 180-page document, purportedly written by Gendron, that said the assault was intended to terrorize all nonwhite, non-Christian people and get them to leave the country. Federal authorities were working to confirm the document’s authenticity.

Authorities said Gendron wielded an AR-15-style rifle, wore body armor and used a helmet camera to livestream the bloodbath on the internet. He surrendered inside the supermarket and was arraigned on a murder charge over the weekend. He pleaded not guilty and was jailed under a suicide watch.

Federal prosecutors said they are contemplating hate crime charges.

Former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr., who lost his 86-year-old mother, Ruth Whitfield, in the shooting, asked how the country could allow its history of racist killings to repeat itself.

“We’re not just hurting. We’re angry,” Whitfield said at a news conference with civil rights attorney Ben Crump and others. “We treat people with decency, and we love even our enemies.”

“And you expect us to keep doing this over and over and over again — over again, forgive and forget,” he continued. “While people we elect and trust in offices around this country do their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal.”

Whitfield’s mother was killed after making her daily visit to her husband in a nursing home.

“How do we tell him that she’s gone? Much less that she’s gone at the hands of a white supremacist? Of a terrorist? An evil person who is allowed to live among us?” Whitfield said.

The victims also included a man buying a cake for his grandson; a church deacon helping people get home with their groceries; and a supermarket security guard.

Messages were left with Gendron’s attorneys Monday. No one answered the door at his family’s home in the morning, and relatives did not respond to messages.

Law enforcement officials said Sunday that New York State Police troopers had been called to Gendron’s high school last June for a report that the then-17-year-old had made threatening statements. The threat was “general” in nature and not related to race, Gramaglia said.

He said Gendron had no further contact with law enforcement after a mental health evaluation that put him in a hospital for a day and a half.

It was unclear whether officials could have invoked New York’s “red flag” regulation, which lets law enforcement, school officials and families ask a court to order the seizure of guns from people considered dangerous. Authorities would not say when Gendron acquired the weapons he had during the deadly attack.

Federal law bars people from owning guns if a judge has determined they have a “mental defect” or they have been forced into a mental institution. An evaluation alone would not trigger the prohibition.

The long list of mass shootings in the U.S. involving missed opportunities to intervene includes the 2018 massacre of 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where law enforcement officials had received numerous complaints about the gunman’s threatening statements, and the killings of more than two dozen people at a Texas church in 2017 by a former Air Force member who was able to buy a gun despite a history of violence.

At the White House, President Joe Biden, who planned a visit Tuesday to Buffalo, paid tribute to one of the victims, security guard and retired police officer Aaron Salter. Salter fired repeatedly at the attacker, striking his armor-plated vest at least once before being shot and killed. Biden said Salter “gave his life trying to save others.”

Authorities said that in addition to the 10 Black people killed, three people were wounded: one Black, two white.

Gendron researched the neighborhood’s demographics and conducted reconnaissance before the attack, investigators said. Mayor Byron Brown said the gunman “came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he possibly could.”

Zeneta Everhart said her son, supermarket employee Zaire Goodman, was helping a shopper outside when he saw a man get out of a car in military gear and point a gun at him. Then a bullet hit Goodman in the neck.

“Mom! Mom, get here now, get here now! I got shot!” he told his mother by phone. Goodman, 20, was out of the hospital and doing well Monday, his mother said.

In livestreamed video of the attack circulating online, Gendron trained his weapon on a white person cowering behind a checkout counter, but said, “Sorry!” and didn’t shoot. Screenshots purporting to be from the broadcast appear to show a racial slur against Black people scrawled on his rifle.

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This story has been corrected to show that Whitfield, not his father, is a former Buffalo fire commissioner.

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Associated Press reporters Robert Bumsted in Buffalo; Michael Hill in Conklin; Dave Collins in Hartford, Connecticut; and Karen Matthews, Aaron Morrison and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report. Tucker and Balsamo reported from Washington.

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Russia faces diplomatic and battlefield setbacks on Ukraine

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Russia faces diplomatic and battlefield setbacks on Ukraine

By OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and CIARAN McQUILLAN

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Moscow suffered another diplomatic setback Monday in its war with Ukraine as Sweden joined Finland in deciding to seek NATO membership, while Ukraine’s president congratulated soldiers who reportedly pushed Russian forces back near the border.

Russian forces pounded targets in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas, and the death toll, already many thousands, kept climbing with the war set to enter its 12th week on Wednesday.

The eastern city of Sievierdonetsk came under heavy shelling that killed at least 10 people, said Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region. In the Donetsk region, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Facebook that nine civilians were killed in shelling.

But Ukrainian troops also advanced as Russian forces pulled back from around the northeastern city of Kharkiv in recent days. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the soldiers who reportedly pushed all the way to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region in a symbolic gain.

Video showed Ukrainian soldiers carrying a post that resembled a Ukrainian blue-and-yellow-striped border marker. Then they placed it on the ground while a dozen of the soldiers posed next to it, including one with belts of bullets draped over a shoulder.

“I’m very grateful to you, on behalf of all Ukrainians, on my behalf and on behalf of my family,” Zelenskyy said in a video message. “I’m very grateful to all the fighters like you.”

The Ukrainian border service said the video showing the soldiers was from the border “in the Kharkiv region,” but would not elaborate, citing security reasons. It was not immediately possible to verify the exact location.

Ukrainian border guards said they also stopped a Russian attempt to send sabotage and reconnaissance troops into the Sumy region, some 90 miles (146 kilometers) northwest of Kharkiv.

Russia has been plagued by setbacks in the war, most glaringly in its failure early on to take the capital of Kyiv. Much of the fighting has shifted to the Donbas but also has turned into a slog, with both sides fighting village-by-village.

Howitzers from the U.S. and other countries have helped Kyiv hold off or gain ground against Russia, a senior U.S. defense official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. military assessment, said Ukraine has pushed Russian forces to within a half-mile to 2.5 miles (1 to 4 kilometers) of Russia’s border but could not confirm if it was all the way to the frontier.

The official said Russian long-range strikes also appeared to target a Ukrainian military training center in Yavoriv, near the Polish border. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

A glimmer of hope emerged for wounded Ukrainian troops trapped in the remains of a giant steel plant, the last stronghold of resistance in the shattered port city of Mariupol. The Russian Defense Ministry announced an agreement for the wounded to leave the steelworks for treatment in a town held by pro-Moscow separatists.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Ukrainian side, and there was no word on whether the wounded would be considered prisoners of war.

After nightfall Monday, several buses pulled away from the steel mill accompanied by Russian military vehicles, but it wasn’t clear who was on the buses.

The international response to the Russian invasion picked up pace.

Sweden’s decision to seek NATO membership followed a similar decision by neighboring Finland in a historic shift for the counties, which were nonaligned for generations.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said her country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the application period and urged her fellow citizens to brace themselves.

“Russia has said that that it will take countermeasures if we join NATO,” she said. “We cannot rule out that Sweden will be exposed to, for instance, disinformation and attempts to intimidate and divide us.”

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a NATO member, ratcheted up his objection to their joining. He accused the countries of failing to take a “clear” stance against Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara considers terrorists, and of imposing military sanctions on Turkey.

He said Swedish and Finnish officials who are expected in Turkey next week should not bother to come if they intend to try to convince Turkey of dropping its objection.

“How can we trust them?” Erdogan asked at a joint news conference with the visiting Algerian president.

All 30 current NATO members must agree to let the Nordic neighbors join.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow “does not have a problem” with Sweden or Finland as they apply for NATO membership, but that “the expansion of military infrastructure onto this territory will of course give rise to our reaction in response.”

Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24 in what he said was an effort to check NATO’s expansion but has seen that strategy backfire. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the membership process for both could be quick.

Europe is also working to choke off funding for the Kremlin’s war by reducing the billions of dollars it spends on imports of Russian energy. A proposed EU embargo faces opposition from some countries dependent on Russian imports, including Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bulgaria also has reservations.

“We will do our best in order to deblock the situation,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. “I cannot ensure that it is going to happen because positions are quite strong.”

Also Monday, McDonald’s said it has started selling its business in Russia, ending a relationship that has lasted more than three decades. It cited the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, noting that staying in Russia “is no longer tenable, nor is it consistent with McDonald’s values.” The company was the first fast-food restaurant to open in the Soviet Union.

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McQuillan reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov and Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odesa and other AP staffers around the world contributed.

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