FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long chose not to promote one of the Razorbacks' current assistants to the interim coaching role for the 2012 season.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long chose not to promote one of the Razorbacks’ current assistants to the interim coaching role for the 2012 season.
Long did the next closest thing, though. He brought back a former coach who had recently left the program.
Former Arkansas assistant John L. Smith resigned as Weber State’s coach and agreed to return to Arkansas to lead the program next season. The 63-year-old, was Arkansas’ special teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach under Bobby Petrino from 2009-11, signed a letter of agreement that will pay him $850,000 over 10 months to lead the Razorbacks.
Smith will be introduced at 2 p.m. today.
“I am extremely pleased to welcome Coach John L. Smith back to the Razorback program as our new head football coach,” Long said in a press release. “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.”
The move gives Arkansas a designated leader for next season, ending the uncertainty that began when Petrino was fired on April 10 after failing to disclose an inappropriate relationship with newly-hired employee Jessica Dorrell.
It also gives Arkansas an experienced head coach to work with the remaining assistants. Smith went 132-86 in 18 seasons as a head coach at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State. He has worked with eight of Arkansas’ nine coaches, including offensive coordinator Paul Petrino (Idaho) and defensive coordinator Paul Haynes (Michigan State).
“I am tremendously excited to have this special opportunity to return to Arkansas and lead the Razorback football program,” Smith said in the release. “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.”
Long made no long-term commitment to Smith with his decision Monday. The Razorbacks didn’t tag him “interim coach,” but indicated in the press release Long “will continue to evaluate the program and the head coaching position.”
“The current appointment will allow the program to identify a head coach for the future of the program in a timeframe that is more conducive to attracting the potential candidates expected for one of the nation’s premier football head coaching positions,” Arkansas’ press release indicated.
But bringing Smith back, at least for the time being, was met with approval from current players. They were not available for comment after a team meeting Monday afternoon, but most smiled as they left the building. Several also shared their thoughts on Long’s move through social media.
“The happiest day of my life … hearing that John L.Smith is coming back to the ville to b our head coach,” Arkansas running back Knile Davis said via Twitter.
Former Arkansas cornerback Ramon Broadway, who remains close to former players, believes that’s the sentiment throughout the locker room as Arkansas moves forward.
He described Smith as a coach that was “more in touch with his players” and one who also will push them to excel.
“What you’ve got to understand is how excited these players are about this coach,” Broadway said. “When players are in love with their coach and they want to play for their coach and they want to succeed for their coach, then you’re talking about something that’s dangerous. That’s what Arkansas fans should be excited about. These kids are excited about coach John L. They love him and they believe in him.”
Defensive end Jake Bequette described Smith as “tough, but fair.” He said Smith’s personality will rub off on players.
“I think he’s a perfect fit to come right in and keep the status quo,” Bequette said. “He’s an excellent coach. His track record shows that. He’s got the trust and confidence of the players. … I’m rooting for him and the school.”
But there was a different sentiment in Utah on Monday, though, after the program discovered the coach it hired to replace Ron McBride would not even make it to his first game.
Smith, a Weber State alum, decided to return in December and said “I always had a place in my heart for Weber State.” But he left his alma mater without a head coach Monday.
“We knew when we hired John L. as our head football coach that we were getting a high-profile coach that we felt would move our program forward,” Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee said in a press release from the school.
“Obviously, the timing of this announcement is problematic but at this point we are going to move forward in making decisions that are in the best interest of our program.”
Long pointed out in Arkansas’ press release Smith approached him about returning to the program. Smith was out of coaching for two seasons when Petrino hired his mentor in 2009.
Smith went 22-26 in his last head coaching stint at Michigan State, where he was named the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year in 2003. He was fired after going 4-8 in 2006.
Smith won’t make changes to Arkansas’ coaching staff and leaves Long “sole authority to approve any necessary personnel actions,” according to the terms of his 10-month agreement with the Razorbacks.
“He has been a part of the record-breaking success we have enjoyed in the past few seasons,” Long said in the press release. “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.”