Printed on: January 17, 2013

John L. to coach Fort Lewis


John L. Smith used to coach in packed Southeastern Conference stadiums. His new place barely holds 3,000 fans.

Smith, a native of Idaho Falls, went up against teams like Alabama that were contending for national championships. Now, he will get to face squads in the hardly known Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

Smith was hired Wednesday as the head coach at tiny Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., a Division II school coming off an 0-10 season, after being let go as coach at Arkansas.

He will make around $67,000 a season, which will be renewed on a year-by-year basis, and only have 16 or 17 scholarships to dole out.

That's a long way from SEC football.

Sure, Smith had other offers to become a position coach that paid more after he was let go by the Razorbacks. But this quaint mountain town about 330 miles southwest of Denver is simply his kind of place. Plus, he's reunited with director of athletics Gary Hunter, who gave Smith his first head coaching job at Idaho in 1989.

"To get a quality coach like John L. Smith, we're very fortunate," Hunter said.

The two sides have yet to officially formalize their deal. So far, a simple handshake agreement has been sufficient. Smith is expected to begin his new coaching assignment March 1, the school announced.

The 64-year-old former Michigan State and Louisville coach gets an opportunity to resurrect his career in Durango, a city with a population of around 17,000. He has plenty of work to do in turning around the Skyhawks, a team that's had only 10 winning records in 50 seasons as a four-year school. In 19 seasons as a head coach, Smith has compiled a record of 136-94.

Around the nation

San Diego State staying in MWC: At Colorado Springs, Colo., San Diego State is staying in the Mountain West and backing out on the Big East -- just like Boise State did last month.

San Diego State, a founding member, had committed to join the Big East for football only, with Boise State, starting next season. But recent defections from the Big East caused Boise State to reconsider and strike a deal to stay in the Mountain West. Without a western partner, San Diego State retreated, too.

Around the NFL

Eagles hire Oregon's Chip Kelly: At Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Eagles have hired Chip Kelly after he originally chose to stay at Oregon.

Kelly becomes the 21st coach in team history and replaces Andy Reid, who was fired Dec. 31 after a 4-12 season. Kelly was 46-7 in four years at Oregon.