Posted 11 months ago
By John Axtell
John L. Smith…who was the interim head football coach at Arkansas this season…is coming to the RMAC as head coach at Fort Lewis. Smith succeeds Cesar Rivas-Sandoval…who unexpectedly resigned last week after 3 seasons. He’ll start March 1st, with defensive coordinator Ed Rifilato continuing to oversees day-to-day operations until then.
Smith has been head coach at 5 other D-1 schools besides Arkansas…Idaho, Utah State, Louisville, Michigan State, and…at least officially…Weber State. Smith had just left an assistant’s job at Arkansas last spring to take over at Weber State when Arkansas brought him back as interim head coach following Bobby Petrino’s resignation.
While he has no ties to Fort Lewis itself, Smith does have strong ties to 3 key individuals. Skyhawks AD Gary Hunter was the AD director at Idaho when Smith was there, and FLC President Dene Kay Thomas was associate dean at Idaho and helped the athletic department set up an academic advising and support unit.
His third connection to the Skyhawks is Rifilato, who played for Smith at Idaho and was director of football operations under him at Louisville in 2002…turning down an offer to go with Smith to Michigan State to instead come to FLC as offensive coordinator.
Smith…Big 10 Coach of the Year in 2003 and a veteran of more than 40-years of D-1 coaching, including 1986 as an assistant at Wyoming…freely admits there are big challenges at Fort Lewis, which has just 10 winning seasons in 50-years as a 4-year school.
. Only one of his 11 predecessors at the school…a list that includes Rifilato and Gary Barnett, who went on to greater fame and success at Northwestern and Colorado…had a winning record, and the Skyhawks went 0-10 last fall for their 6th-straight losing year.
Still, he’s excited about dropping down to D-II and coming to Durango because he says he’ll be coaching for the real reasons he got into the profession: helping kids get an education and making a difference in their lives, not trying to get them into the NFL.
Smith is an avid outdoorsman who’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and run with the bulls in Pamplona, so he’s also excited about living in the Rocky Mountains after having spent the past decade-plus living away from the mountains. Smith is also the uncle of 49ers quarterback and former overall #1 draft pick Alex Smith.