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Utah State coach sought by Louisville?

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The timing couldn't have been worse.

His team is playing its biggest game of the year, against Big West rival Nevada with a bowl berth at stake, and all of a sudden John L. Smith's name has surfaced for another job.A report out of Louisville Tuesday said that the Utah State coach is at the top of the list of possible candidates for the head job at the University of Louisville. The Cardinals are 1-9 this year under third-year coach Ron Cooper.

Contacted Tuesday night at home, Smith said, "A lot of rumors have been flying around. But I haven't been contacted by anyone. All I'm trying to do right now is win a game this Saturday. I'm just trying to beat (Nevada) Reno."

A sports writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal said Wednesday that although Cooper hasn't been fired, it's likely a "done deal." The writer also said speculation about Smith "is a little bit silly and premature. Let's wait until (Cooper) is fired."

Fueling the speculation is the fact that Smith is friends with new Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who used to be at Colorado State.

Utah State, 5-4 and 3-0 in the Big West, plays Nevada in Reno Saturday for the league championship and a berth in the Humanitarian Bowl Dec. 29 in Boise.

Last November, Smith signed a seven-year contract that runs through the 2003 season. It is supposedly a lifetime deal with an automatic rollover. At the time, athletic director Chuck Bell said it can last "as long as he wants to be here."

Smith has a base salary of $100,000, augmented by radio/

TV money, incentive bonuses and other extras. The contract contains a large annuity that Smith can receive if he stays at least five years. This is his fourth season at USU.

Smith has always said he likes his job and enjoys living in Logan - his wife, Diana, is a graduate of Utah State. But as a successful coach, he may always be in demand. Last year, before Smith signed his contract, Bell said a number of schools with openings had asked permission to talk to Smith.

One of the top criteria for Smith staying last year was the university building a practice facility to improve recruiting. It has been under construction for nearly a year and is expected to be finished in the spring.

Before coming to Utah State in 1994, Smith was the head coach at Idaho for six years, where he compiled a 53-21 record. In nearly three seasons at USU, he has a 15-16 overall mark.

If Smith did end up with the Louisville job, ironically, one of his first games would be back in Utah to play the University of Utah Sept. 12 in the first game at the expanded Rice Stadium.