Because of timing, Smith hire just may work at Arkansas
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long surprisingly went out of the program for his football team's new head coach.
Not surprisingly, however, he selected a person who is familiar with the Razorbacks. That person just isn't Garrick McGee.
When Bobby Petrino was relieved of his duties, the timing of the move seemingly made it inevitable that Long would have to keep the interim tag on Taver Johnson for the 2012 season and conduct a full-scale national search once the upcoming campaign was completed. Names such as Butch Davis, Gary Patterson, Pete Carroll, Steve Mariucci and even Jimmy Johnson were tossed around by fans and media alike. But that was never an option for Long.
ICONThe dismissal of Bobby Petrino has led Arkansas AD Jeff Long to tab John L. Smith as the Razorbacks head coach for 2012.
McGee, the newly named UAB head coach, seemed to be the only legitimate option for the Hogs because of his recent tenure with the school and because of the respect that the players had for him during his tenure in Fayetteville on Petrino's staff. Although the move wasn't made to bring in McGee, Arkansas gets a coach who fills two main criteria: familiarity with the program and a coach who will command the respect of the players.
John L. Smith, the former Louisville and Michigan State head coach, has been brought in as a short-term replacement for a veteran team that has Top 5 potential. Although he took a job as the head coach of his alma mater (Weber State) this offseason, Smith served as the Razorbacks' special teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach the past two seasons, so he's been around the offensive and defensive schemes run by the club.
And at this point in the offseason, bringing in a head coach with new ideas and new philosophies was not an option.
Making offensive coordinator Paul Petrino or Paul Haynes, who runs the defense, the head coach would not have been smart either as neither one has served as a head coach previously. Those two can now stay focused on their tasks at hand.
Despite being brought in just this offseason, I would have kept Johnson as the interim head coach because he oversaw the team throughout the spring and he helped the players deal with all of the distractions surrounding the program — and he was also part of the Ohio State staff that dealt with off-the-field problems last offseason. But Long felt differently, and Smith obviously has been in Fayetteville longer than Johnson even though he departed for the Weber State job.
From a lot of the thoughts and comments gathered from around the Internet since the news broke, many current and former Arkansas players described him as a coach players love to be around. And one current star player, running back Knile Davis, couldn't be more ecstatic. He composed the following thoughts on his Twitter page.
The happiest day of my life... hearing that John L.Smith is coming back to the ville to b our head coach...#priceless
I dont care what anyone says.im 100% behind John L Smith.I'll play for him any day of that week because hes a good man and coach 14-0 or 0-14
Wide receiver Julian Horton, kicker Zack Hocker and linebacker Matt Marshall also took to Twitter to express their excitement over the return of Smith.
Smith, who spent 18 years as a college head coach, has won everywhere he has served. With one exception: Michigan State. He had just one losing season in his first 15 years as a head coach before getting let go by the Spartans after three straight losing seasons from 2004-06. Smith was sent packing from East Lansing for not winning enough football games, but he did run a clean program that enjoyed improved academic standing. However, as important as those issues are, he was brought in to win in Fayetteville this fall with a veteran roster. And Long believes he can pull it off.
While Long said in a press release that he will evaluate the program and make a decision on Smith after the 2012 season, this is very likely a one-year deal unless the Hogs beat Alabama or LSU at home. A win over one of those SEC powers could make the AD hesitate to make a change up top, especially if a signature win helps lead to a BCS berth.
Smith certainly has had some memorable moments at the podium and on the sideline during his career, but his 110-59 mark before arriving in East Lansing proves that he's been a successful head football coach. The question is whether he can help orchestrate a standout victory over Nick Saban or Les Miles in a season that just became even more interesting for Hog and college football fans nationwide.
Because of the timing alone, McGee, Johnson and Smith were arguably the only three names Long could have seriously considered for the short-term duties. At least Razorback fans can take solace in the fact that Smith is accustomed to being the face of a program. And, if anything, he has the personality to at least keep a veteran team loose in its quest to maintain its upper-tier status in the SEC.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave