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SMU coach June Jones talks to Maryland, decides to stay

By Kate Hairopoulos, The Dallas Morning News

LAST UPDATED: 7:37 p.m. HST, Dec 28, 2010

DALLAS — SMU football coach June Jones has recommitted to the program after having discussions with Maryland about its job opening and a potentially lucrative salary for leading the Terps.

Talk about fearing the turtle.

But SMU fans can relax for now. Leigh Steinberg, Jones' long-time agent, wouldn't name Maryland but said Tuesday evening that Jones had removed himself from consideration for a job that offered a significant increase in compensation. Comcast SportsNet first reported Tuesday that Jones had met with Maryland about the opening — former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is believed to remain in the running.

Jones informed SMU athletic director Steve Orsini and president R. Gerald Turner on Tuesday morning that he wanted to stay at SMU. This was in spite of Maryland's high level of interest and willingness to pay, with incentives, around $3.5 million a year, according to two sources close to the SMU program, an eye-popping increase from the $2 million Jones already makes annually at SMU.

Jones, who has four years remaining on his contract, is in his third season at SMU and is in Fort Worth preparing the Mustangs for Thursday's Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl against Army. Steinberg responded to requests for Jones to comment, citing Jones' preparations for the game.

Still, Jones talked with Maryland representatives within recent days, responding to their interest after SMU had relocated Sunday to Fort Worth for bowl preparations.

"This is a part of managing a successful football program," Orsini said in a statement. "When you have a coach of Coach Jones' stature, other programs are going to show interest. That said, Coach Jones has reiterated his commitment to building a big-time football program on the Hilltop, and SMU, as an institution, is committed to building a top-25 program as well. As I have said since I arrived at SMU five years ago, we will win at SMU and nothing will keep us from achieving our goals."

While Jones remains on the Hilltop, issues linger. Sources close to the program indicated that streamlining the academic process in admitting athletes and helping to keep them eligible remain a priority for Jones to take SMU to the next level. The issue flared up publicly last summer when two student-athletes were denied admission to SMU despite being NCAA qualifiers, but Jones later signed a two-year contract extension and a university committee released a report indicating that efforts would be made to prevent future troubles.

Steinberg said Jones was focused on making sure he had the tools necessary to make SMU a top-15 program. After going 1-11 in his first season in 2008, Jones led SMU to the 2009 Hawaii Bowl, its first bowl since 1984, before the NCAA-mandated death penalty. This season, SMU (7-6) played in the Conference USA title game before being invited to the Armed Forces Bowl.

Jones has long been an unconventional coach. He turned down a contract — and more money — to be the head coach of the San Diego Chargers to follow his heart back to Hawaii. When he left there in January 2008 after leading the Warriors to an undefeated regular season and the BCS Sugar Bowl, he said the only jobs he was interested in were the long-suffering programs of Duke and SMU.

Jones has said, as recently as this season, that the only other job that would really interest him would be a chance to return to the NFL.

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