NCAA

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.

Virginia snaps 3-game losing streak with 63-58 win over Georgia Tech

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USA Today Sports Images

Virginia snaps 3-game losing streak with 63-58 win over Georgia Tech

ATLANTA (AP) -- Jay Huff and Mamadi Diakite scored 17 points apiece as defending national champion Virginia snapped a three-game losing streak with a 63-58 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday night.

The Cavaliers (12-5, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) finally regained their winning touch after dropping out of The Associated Press ranking for the first time since November 2017.

Georgia Tech (8-10, 3-5) lost its fourth straight home game. The Yellow Jackets haven't won at McCamish Pavilion since a Dec. 4 victory over Nebraska. 

Diakite's dunk with 14:47 remaining gave Virginia its biggest lead, 43-29.

The Cavaliers were still up 48-37 with just over 10 minutes to go when Georgia Tech suddenly came to life offensively.

The Yellow Jackets scored on four of five possessions, stringing together a 9-0 run that cut Virginia's edge to 48-46.

That was as close as Georgia Tech would get.

Huff, a 7-foot-1 center, knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key to thwart Georgia Tech's momentum. A few minutes later, he swished another open jumper to make it 55-48. 

Georgia Tech got a basket and a defensive stop, but Braxton Key swooped on for an offensive rebound to give the Cavaliers a second chance. With just over 2 minutes to go, Diakite was left open on the wing for a jumper that made it 57-50, effectively finishing off the Yellow Jackets.

Jose Alvarado paced Georgia Tech with 20 points.

Virginia led 33-25 at halftime, taking advantage of the home team's sloppy play. The Yellow Jackets hit 11 of 18 shots (61.1%) but turned it over 13 times, wasting far too many possessions against the defensive-minded Cavaliers.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia: The Cavaliers picked up a desperately needed victory to avoid their longest losing streak since a four-game skid from Feb. 12-20, 2017. While still a far cry from their national championship squad, Virginia showed some offensive efficiency to go along with its always-tenacious defense. Key chipped in with 10 points. 

Georgia Tech: This is shaping up to be another disappointing season, raising more doubts about whether coach Josh Pastner can turn around a program that is approaching a decade since its last NCAA Tournament appearance. The Yellow Jackets continue to show flashes of promise, but Pastner has been unable to develop any sort of consistency in his fourth season. 

UP NEXT

Virginia: Returns home to play North Carolina State on Monday night. 

Georgia Tech: Hits the road for the first of two meetings against No. 11 Louisville. The teams will meet again in Atlanta on March 7, the final game of the regular season. 

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Capitals hosting Rock The Rink skate and watch parties around DMV

Capitals hosting Rock The Rink skate and watch parties around DMV

The Capitals may not be participating in Stadium Series this year, but the team is embracing outdoor hockey around Washington for spirited game day fun.

The Caps are hosting Rock The Rink skates at The Wharf, Penatgon Row, Rockville Town Square and The Avenue at White Marsh on select game days from January to March 2020. Fans attending these events can wear Capitals jerseys or gear to get either $5 off admission or free skate rentals.

The Wharf

Jan. 18 at 1 p.m., Jan. 31 at 6 p.m., and Feb 17. at 1 p.m.

Transit Pier will boast a Capitals-paneled ice rink with an ice resurfacer, trivia contests, giveaways, along with a DJ. The Capitals Campire will also boast Adirondack chairs around a fire to roast marshmallows for smores in front of a 14-foot jumbotron screen to watch the Capitals games. 

Pentagon Row

Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. and March 9 at 6 p.m.

These skates will feature Slapshot, giveaways, a DJ and Capitals-centic specials at local restaurants. The Caps games will also be on at surrounding bars. 

The Avenue at White March

Feb. 7 at 6 p.m.

This event will feature Slapshot, giveaways, a DJ and Capitals-centic specials at local restaurants.

Rockville Town Square

Jan. 31 at 5:30 p.m. and March 5 at 6 p.m.

In addition to the above fun, Rockville native and Capitals hockey ambassador Haley Skarupa will be there on Jan. 31. You can watch the Capitals game at local bars as well. 

Fans attending these events or using local outdoor rinks this season are encouraged to post about it on social media by tagging @capitals and using the hashtag #RockTheRink to enter themselves for a chance to win prizes.

Caps slept through the first 40 minutes, they did not give Holtby much help though he was bad in his own right and Vrana sure did show something with the game-winning goal.

As for no penalties...not so much.

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