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Houston AD trying to keep Kevin Sumlin

HOUSTON -- Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades says he'll keep an open dialogue with Kevin Sumlin as the Cougars' football coach is mentioned as a top candidate for high-profile vacancies around the nation.

The Cougars (No. 6 BCS, No. 7 AP) are trying to complete the program's first undefeated season and land its first Bowl Championship Series bowl game berth in Saturday's Conference USA championship against No. 24 Southern Miss (10-2, 6-2 C-USA).

Speculation surrounding Sumlin intensified when nearby Texas A&M fired Mike Sherman late Thursday. UCLA (Rick Neuheisel) and Arizona State (Dennis Erickson) have also fired their coaches in recent days and there are openings in other conferences, including the Big Ten and SEC.

But Arizona State told a representative for Sumlin that it has ended its pursuit of the Houston coach, a source briefed on the discussion told ESPN's Joe Schad on Friday.

The source said all contact with Sumlin's camp has been ended and the school has moved on with its search, Schad reported.

"That's part of this industry," Rhoades said Friday. "It happens here, it happens everywhere else where you have a program that's nationally ranked, that's had some success. We're grateful, we're honored, we're humbled by that. All we're worried (about) right now is playing a game."

Sumlin's current contract has a base salary of $1 million and runs through the 2015 season. He can earn an extra $1 million in deferred compensation if he completes the 2012 football season in Houston.

Sumlin was unavailable for comment on Friday. He acknowledged earlier this week that he'll meet with Rhoades at some point after Saturday's game and discuss his future. Rhoades offered no specifics about possible contract talks.

"Kevin and I have continued to communicate," Rhoades said. "We've got a great relationship and we'll continue to be proactive and make sure he understands that we value him tremendously, and we value our staff tremendously."

Rhoades is confident that the Cougars won't be sidetracked by the rumors as they prepare for Saturday's game, shaping up as the most important in school history.

"We've got a great head coach, we've got quality assistant coaches, we've got student-athletes that have been committed throughout this season," Rhoades said. "There have been a lot of distractions, and to go 12-0 is difficult. Everybody, including our administration, is focused on the task at hand (Saturday).

"That's all we're worried about, is our game against Southern Miss," he said. "We'll worry about everything (else) afterward."

ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press contributed to this report.