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Brad Rock: Aggies could go back to future with John L.

Published: Sunday, Sept. 14 2008 12:42 a.m. MDT

USU coach Brent Guy reacts after his team fumbled the ball during play against Utah at Romney Stadium in Logan Saturday. Utah beat USU 58-10. (August Miller, Deseret News) USU coach Brent Guy reacts after his team fumbled the ball during play against Utah at Romney Stadium in Logan Saturday. Utah beat USU 58-10. (August Miller, Deseret News)
LOGAN — Saturday wasn't the best day for Utah State football, at least according to the scoreboard. But in other, less obvious ways, it was a day of optimism. The new Laub Athletics Complex gleamed in the north end zone, a monument to determination and hope.
Then there was the really good news: Former Utah State football coach John L. Smith was in town.
Don't laugh. It could happen. You think he came all the way to Logan just for the Aggie Ice Cream?
The former Michigan State coach is living off his contract buyout and working as a volunteer assistant at Louisville. After the Aggies' 58-10 loss to Utah, it's not hard to figure where Smith's trip to Logan might lead.
Smith coached at USU from 1995-97, compiling a 16-18 record. Toss out his first season (4-7) and his two-year mark was 12-11. Considering he finished tied for first in the conference twice and was second once — he was 12-4 overall in conference play — those seem like halcyon days. No coach since has had an overall winning record. Furthermore, he is 3-1 as a coach against Utah (one win was while he was at Idaho).
USU football is a mess. Coach Brent Guy is 6-32, the worst winning percentage in school history. USU has lost 12 of the last 13 at home. Looking into rehiring Smith would be only a prudent course.
Although beforehand the Aggies appeared to have little chance of beating Utah, the game was played nonetheless. That's in large part due to Utah A.D. Chris Hill's insistence that rivalries are worth keeping — apparently even when they cease to be rivalries.
Utah vs. USU is the oldest ongoing series in the state and one of the longest in the country. It began in 1892 on a November day in Logan, where the Aggies administered a 12-0 beat-down. But that was pretty much the high point, as far as USU is concerned. There were a few other times, such as the '60s, when USU won four straight and six of nine against Utah, and again in the '70s when it won five of six. But mostly it's been as one-sided as a seal-clubbing expedition. The Aggies haven't won in the last 11 tries and have lost 19 of the last 21.
Strange as it may sound, beating No. 22 Utah would have been the Ags' biggest win in modern history.
The only ranked team USU has ever defeated is No. 25 Fresno State in 1991. USU's all-time record against ranked teams is 1-44; it hasn't been ranked itself since 1961, when Merlin Olsen was a senior.
Consequently, Saturday's game didn't hold much suspense, except to those who believe The Purple Paper Emporium can supersede Office Max or Bob's Basement Bookstore can overtake Barnes & Noble. Utah had wins over Michigan and UNLV; Utah State had losses to UNLV and Oregon. Any way you did the math — even Aggie math — it looked like a blowout. And it was. Thus, Aggie fans can now turn their longing eyes to Smith. But why would John L. Ever-Loving Smith come back to Logan after coaching at Louisville and Michigan State? Because coaches like to coach. And colleges love reunions and/or renewal.
Dennis Erickson, who coached at Idaho in the early 1980s, returned to Moscow after being the head coach at four other colleges (Wyoming, Washington State, Miami and Oregon State) and two NFL teams (San Francisco, Seattle). He is now head coach at Arizona State. Jerry Glanville is the coach at Portland State, after leading the Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons. Dick Tomey is at humble San Jose State after being boss at Hawaii and Arizona. And Hal Mumme, the former Kentucky coach, is now at New Mexico State.
"Name" coaches can quickly attract crowds and donor dollars. They can breathe life into a program.
One source said Smith told-well wishers he was in Utah for a Weber State alumni reunion, as well the opening of the Laub Complex. Other former Aggie athletic officials and coaches such as Chuck Bell and Chuck Shelton were in town this weekend, too.
But it's doubtful either the Weber or USU event would have been enough to bring Smith to Logan on its own.
Another dark day in at Romney Stadium, in some aspects. In others, the light was shining through.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com

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