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John L. Smith takes over at Fort Lewis

John L. Smith takes over at Fort Lewis

John L. Smith used to coach in packed Southeastern Conference stadiums.

His new place barely holds 3,000 fans.

Smith went up against teams like Alabama that were contending for national championships.

Now, he will get to face squads in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

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

Only, he doesn't see it that way.

``The big time is simply where you are,'' Smith said in a phone interview Wednesday night. ``We're going to try like heck to make it work here. I'm really fired up. I'm always fired up.''

Sure, Smith had more lucrative offers to become a position coach somewhere else once he completes his duties as a consultant for the Razorbacks (his last day is Feb. 23). But this quaint mountain town located about 330 miles southwest of Denver is simply his kind of place. Plus, he's reunited with athletic director 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. ``When this became a possibility, I called him up and said, `Durango is a gorgeous spot to live, why don't you come on over here and put this program back together?'''

That was enough enticement for Smith, who's an avid skier and now will be surrounded by some of the best powder skiing in the world.

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

``When he gets here, we'll march into human resources and get a contract,'' Hunter said.

He chuckled over the phone.

``Not exactly what's going on in the NFL or SEC, huh?'' he said.

Smith was hired away from Weber State last April to step in for ousted Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, just weeks after a scandal erupted following Petrino's motorcycle accident that involved his mistress.

The Razorbacks had high hopes under Smith, especially after starting the season ranked in the top 10. But the team struggled to a 4-8 record and the John L. Smith era came to an abrupt close.

So now the 64-year-old former Michigan State and Louisville coach has 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 only had 10 winning records in 50 seasons as a four-year school.

``To me, it's a situation where we're going to have to work hard to try and get the excitement up, get the program going in the right direction, win some games and graduate our kids,'' Smith said.

His final coaching stop?

``I don't know. This is the next door that's open,'' Smith said. ``But if it's the last place I coach, I couldn't think of a better place. We've fallen in love with Durango.''

In 19 seasons as a head coach, Smith has compiled an impressive record (136-94) and picked up a few accolades (Big Ten coach of the year at Michigan State in 2003) along the way. He's also been to seven bowl games and captured six conference titles.

This hiring is definitely a coup for the school.

``Fort Lewis College is making a commitment to football,'' Hunter said. ``Many of our other programs have reached the pinnacle of success at the national and regional levels. We want our football alumni and fans to have the opportunity to enjoy that same success.''

Hunter isn't expecting an immediate turnaround.

No, that's asking too much out of his good friend.

``Our first goal is to be competitive, to be respected,'' Hunter said. ``Then, maybe we can attract recruits and other good football players, because winning takes care of itself.

``The one beautiful thing about John L. is this: What you see is what he is. There's not a dishonest word out of his mouth. I knew him when he wasn't making anything at Idaho and then making big money at Michigan State. He's the same guy. He's the same down-home, fun-loving guy.''

Smith replaces Cesar Rivas-Sandoval, who announced his resignation a week ago after three seasons and a 6-25 record.

Among Smith's assistant coaches will be Skyhawks defensive coordinator Ed Rifilato, who played for Smith at Idaho and also served as director of football operations under Smith at Louisville in 2002.

``He's a great player's coach,'' Rifilato said.

Smith can't wait to get to work.

``We need to win some games and get this snowball rolling,'' he said.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Wizards have big questions to answer coming out of All-Star break

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Wizards have big questions to answer coming out of All-Star break

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller look ahead to the biggest questions the Wizards need to answer after the All-Star break. They also explain why Bradley Beal proved a lot in his first All-Star Game appearance.

They also unveiled a new segment involving guessing Wizards players based on their social media captions.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

When the Capitals acquired defenseman Michal Kempny on Monday, that put the team at the maximum of 23 players on the roster including eight defenseman.

Another move seemed likely and the Caps made it on Tuesday by placing veteran blueliner Taylor Chorney on waivers.

Teams now will have 24 hours to potentially claim Chorney. Should he clear at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, it is expected that he will be sent to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Whether he is claimed or sent to Hershey, his entire $800,000 cap hit will no longer count against the Capitals' salary.

One important thing to note, however, is that placing Chorney on waivers was not required in order for Washington to remain under the salary cap.

Having eight defensemen would mean scratching two every game — assuming the team does not dress seven and after that failed experiment in last year's playoffs, why would they — which means it would be a struggle to make sure everyone gets consistent playing time in the final weeks of the season.

Perhaps placing Chorney on waivers is the team trying to get him more playing time to keep him sharp in case the team suffers injuries on the blue line and he is called upon in the playoffs.

Or perhaps it could mean something else.

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPITALS' TOP PROSPECTS

Chorney played on Feb. 15, but that was during the mentor's trip. Barry Trotz's policy for those trips is to get everyone in at least one of those two games. Before that, Chorney had not played since Jan. 2. It certainly seems like the team was comfortable with him being the designated No. 7 and was not all that concerned about getting him regular playing time before now.

When asked if the Kempny trade would mean any roster moves, Trotz said Monday that he was not sure and hinted that perhaps more moves could be coming from general manager Brian MacLellan. Moving Chorney's salary off the books does not clear much cap room, but it does clear some.

Perhaps MacLellan has another move up his sleeve before Monday's trade deadline.