John L. Smith Named Arkansas Interim Head Coach

Arkansas Spring Game / US Presswire

Arkansas has named former assistant John L. Smith as the interim head coach for the 2012 season. The hiring provides the current squad with a large degree of familiarity in the wake left by the Bobby Petrino scandal and dismissal.

While John L. Smith is hardly a sexy hire, the move accomplishes what the Razorbacks needed to accomplish, namely in bringing stability to a team full of talent and buying Athletic Director Jeff Long time to find the right long-term leader for the  football program.

Smith is considered somewhat of a “mentor” to Bobby Petrino as Petrino coached under Smith at University of Idaho from 1989 to 1991 and again at Louisville in 1998.

Smith has extensive head coaching experience. Over a period of 18 years, Smith was the head coach at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and most recently, Michigan State from 2003-2006. In 2009 after spending two years as a broadcaster, Smith returned to coaching as the special teams coach for Arkansas under Bobby Petrino.

Following the 2011 season, Smith left Arkansas to become the head coach at Weber State, his alma mater. With the return to Arkansas, Smith leaves Weber State without coaching a single game.

“I am extremely pleased to welcome Coach John L. Smith back to the Razorback program as our new head football coach,” Long said. “Coach Smith brings a wealth of football knowledge, BCS conference head coaching experience, passion for the game and a close familiarity with the current team and coaching staff. I firmly believe that his selection is in the best interests of the young men in our program and will also best serve the mission of our football program and university in achieving success on and off the field in the upcoming season and in the long term.

“When Coach Smith first approached me about returning to Arkansas to serve in this position, he talked about his desire to be a part of the continued success of these student-athletes, this coaching staff and the Razorback program. He has been a part of the record-breaking success we have enjoyed in the past few seasons. Coach Smith understands the commitment our players have made to building upon that success and meeting the goals that have been set for the upcoming season. I also have a tremendous amount of confidence in our assistant coaches and believe that under Coach Smith’s leadership they will be able to continue to flourish in their current roles.”

Smith has a contract for 10-months and compensation of $850,000 not including possible bonuses. Smith knows as well as anybody what kind of talent this Razorback squad has, so perhaps, that made leaving his alma mater in a tough situation a little easier. The possibility of winning the SEC perhaps beats coaching at Weber State no matter how strong your emotional tie is to the school.

We will have to wait and see what AD Jeff Long says about the possibility of the 63-year old Smith being considered for the head coaching position in the future on a non-interim basis. At this point, I think most fans would assume this is strictly a one-year deal meant to bring stability and salvage a promising 2012 campaign.

“I am tremendously excited to have this special opportunity to return to Arkansas and lead the Razorback football program,” Smith said. “During my coaching career, I have always been dedicated to developing student-athletes to their fullest potential. In the last couple of weeks, I came to the realization I could provide guidance and stability to a program I’m extremely invested in. While at Arkansas, we worked to make the Razorbacks a top 5 team and much of the credit for that goes to the student-athletes. Throughout the spring, the assistant coaches and student-athletes have shown incredible focus and character, which we will use to build on as we work to achieve our goals for 2012. I want to thank President (Donald) Bobbitt, Chancellor (David) Gearhart and Jeff Long for the trust they have shown in me.”

Judging by fans reactions on Twitter, they aren’t nuts about the move. Again, these aren’t exactly ideal circumstances to hire a head coach for a major football program. Considering the circumstances that Bobby Petrino put the program and Jeff Long in, this is a good hire. Remember, Ohio State didn’t immediately replace Jim Tressel with a long-term solution when he resigned/was forced out in May of 2011. Granted the Buckeyes were assuming an ugly season anyways with the suspensions and loss of talent, but the patience at hiring a head coach led to the hiring of Urban Meyer in November.

Moreover, hiring Smith brings in an experienced head coach and keeps the current coordinators in place to manage their respective units – again, providing continuity for the team.

As for players, Knile Davis was extremely vocal on Twitter expressing strong support for Smith.

The happiest day of my life… hearing that John L.Smith is coming back to the ville to b our head coach..

I dont care what anyone 100% behind John L Smith.I’ll play for him any day of that week because hes a good man and coach 14-0or 0-14

While a tweet from a running back might not seem like a big deal, the buy-in from players at this point is probably much more important than the buy-in from the fans. The players need continuity and need to get back to working towards winning in this coming football season. Fans are fickle and will accept John L. Smith based on the performance on the field this fall.



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