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NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints finally got a coach -- Rick Venturi.

Venturi, the team's linebackers coach, was appointed interim head coach today, two days after Jim Mora's abrupt resignation and one day after Chet Franklin rejected the job.

Franklin, the Saints' director of pro personnel, -- told general manager Bill Kuharich Tuesday he did not want the job.

Venturi will coach the 2-6 team for the final eight games of the season. His immediate task: prepare the team for a Nov. 2 game with the San Francisco 49ers.

It is familiar territory for Venturi. In 1991, he took over as interim head coach of the Indianapolis Colts after the firing of Ron Meyer. The Colts went 1-10 under Venturi, finishing the season 1-15.

Before joining the Saints this season, Venturi was secondary coach and later defensive coordinator during two years with the Cleveland Browns. He was part of the staff that was fired when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens.

Venturi said the team he inherits from Mora is in better shape than the team he took over in 1991.

He also said he was humbled by the choice.

"I'm succeeding a great man -- a great football coach and a great man," Venturi said.

Former Bills linebacker Jim Haslett, who also had been considered a candidate to succeed Mora, will remain as defensive coordinator. Venturi said tight ends coach Bruce Arians will be quarterbacks coach and will call offensive plays in place of Carl Smith, who was fired as offensive coordinator on Tuesday.

"Based on our 2-6 record and our production offensively, I felt we needed a new decision maker, play-caller," Kuharich said.

The Saints are ranked 27th in total offense, 28th in rushing and 21st in passing in the league.

Falcons release Jeff George

ATLANTA -- The Falcons waived good-bye to a disenchanted Jeff George, ending a stormy relationship that led to the quarterback's suspension, then his release.

After 4 p.m. today, George is an unrestricted free agent. But any team claiming George on waivers assumes the remaining share of his $3.6 million salary -- about $1.9 million.

"There really aren't any options," said coach June Jones, who suspended George for conduct detrimental to the team after a sideline tirade Sept. 22.

Leigh Steinberg, George's agent, said he fears his client's salary may prevent him from getting signed.

"Our assumption is that no one will claim him" immediately, Steinberg said.

George and the Seattle Seahawks discussed a contract earlier this month after the suspension. But after a reported six-year, $30 million offer was made, George said he felt he was being rushed into a deal and decided not to approve a trade.

Unable to work out any trades, the Falcons cut George, who cost them two first-round picks in a 1994 trade with the Colts.

The seven-year veteran was suspended for raging at Jones in full view of television cameras after Jones benched him for throwing an interception against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Coslet knows job tough

CINCINNATI -- Bruce Coslet begins his second head coaching job with a lot of problems and little room to maneuver.

The Cincinnati Bengals are 1-6, headed for their sixth consecutive losing season. Fans have deserted them. The locker room is divided. The coaching staff is stressed.

It's a much tougher predicament for Coslet, who got to start from scratch with the New York Jets in 1990. Coslet, an offensive coordinator who took over for Dave Shula on Monday, is boxed in by circumstances.

With a home game against Jacksonville only five days away, Coslet had not even spoken to the team as a whole by Tuesday.

"I've just started the process of telling them what I think needs to be done," Coslet said. "So far, so good. They've been receptive. We'll see how that portrays on the field.

"It's just a major change and it's going to be a difficult time for the next several weeks."

Humphries to miss game

SAN DIEGO -- There's no hiding Stan Humphries' latest injury.

Not long after shaving off the goatee that covered his gashed chin, the San Diego Chargers' quarterback dislocated his non-throwing shoulder and will miss Sunday's game at Seattle.

"Whenever I do get hurt, it's no minor thing," Humphries said. The left sleeve of Humphries' T-shirt dangled limp and empty, his shoulder and arm wrapped tightly.

The injury came courtesy of 320-pound Oakland tackle Chester McGlockton, who stuck his helmet into Humphries' shoulder as the quarterback slid at the end of a 5-yard run in the first quarter of the Raiders' 23-14 win Monday night.

Sean Salisbury will start for Humphries.

Around the league

The Indianapolis Colts' running game is in trouble. Roosevelt Potts is suspended, Zack Crockett is out for the season with a knee injury and Marshall Faulk's availability is uncertain. Arthroscopic surgery on Crockett's right knee to repair cartilage damage determined he had also suffered ligament damage when he injured his knee at Buffalo on Oct. 6. Faulk has been troubled by a sprained right toe and his practice status this week is questionable.

New York Giants defensive tackle Keith Hamilton will miss three or four weeks after arthroscopic surgery to remove torn cartilage in his left knee. Ray Agnew, who returned to action at Washington after missing three games with a dislocated elbow, will most likely take Hamilton's spot.

The Philadelphia Eagles signed veteran free-agent cornerback Johnny Thomas to a one-year contract. Thomas, 32, spent last season with the Cleveland Browns.

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