FAYETTEVILLE — John L. Smith spent three seasons at Arkansas, working on Bobby Petrino's staff.
FAYETTEVILLE — John L. Smith spent three seasons at Arkansas, working on Bobby Petrino’s staff.
He has worked with eight of the nine assistants on Arkansas’ coaching staff at various points in his career.
So as Arkansas’ new head coach steps in to lead the program through the 2012 season, he said his role is simple.
“We have good coaches. Great coaches,” Smith said Tuesday. “I’m not going to goof them up … I hope.”
Smith smiled when he said it during an introductory press conference filled with jokes. But the coach did explain some of his philosophies Tuesday, particularly when it comes to how he plans to work with Arkansas’ coaches.
The 63-year-old, who has 18 years of experience as a head coach at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State, is back in a leadership role for the first time since the 2006. While he described himself as a hands-on coach who will be active in all areas, Smith said he’s going to leave plenty of responsibility in the hands of his staff.
“I have always let my coordinators coordinate,” Smith said. “Paul (Petrino) can relate that to you as well as Paul Haynes. That’s just the way I’ve been. I see my role as a mentor. As an advisor. As someone to say ‘I don’t think that’s going to work’ or ‘I think that’s real good, let’s go ahead and do that.’ As a final decision maker on not only recruiting, but gameplanning and things like that.”
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long wanted to make sure his coaching staff remained intact for the 2012 season because of the continuity and stability it promised. He chose Smith as his interim coach believing it would make for a seamless transition four months until the opener.
It’s a move expected to help Arkansas remain a contender for the Southeastern Conference championship even without Petrino on the sideline. Paul Petrino remains in charge of Arkansas’ offense, while Haynes handles the defense.
“We met (Tuesday) morning and are starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together,” Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton said. “All of us will enjoy working for him. He’s very easy to talk with and not afraid to have an opinion and that opinion is usually respected.”
Smith takes charge of a team that has plenty of veterans, especially on offense. The Razorbacks are implementing new defensive schemes under a first-year coordinator in Haynes, but the offensive structure and philosophy hasn’t changed.
So hiring Smith made sense for those reasons, according Sports Illustrated college football writer Andy Staples.
“When you’re loaded up the way they’re loaded up, you don’t want to change much,” Staples said. “You don’t want anything drastic. You don’t want them to have to deal with a lot of new schemes, new systems, that sort of thing. You need people who can keep doing what they were doing because, obviously, what they were doing was working.” That’s exactly what Smith promised in returning to the Razorbacks. He signed a contract stating as much with Long in charge of any personnel changes that may occur.
Smith did say he would resume control of special teams, a duty he held as an assistant from 2009-11. Defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell was named special teams coordinator after Smith left for Weber State in December. But Smith said it’s a philosophy he practiced at previous stops.
“You have a portion of everybody,” Smith said of working with special teams. “So that’s a positive.”
Smith said most of the rest of his time will be spent on the defensive side of the ball after working with the group under Willy Robinson the past three years. The offense won’t be left out, though. Smith plans to be around as well, promising they’ll “get to hear me yell at them, too.”
“I think he’ll be a little bit more involved,” Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said of Smith’s return in new role. “He was a little more behind the scenes the previous time, and dealt much more with special teams. But now as a head coach, I think he’ll have a little more say as far as offense is concerned. Obviously, Coach Petrino will continue with the offense, Coach Haynes will continue with the defense. But as he mentioned, he’ll have a little more say, and say, ‘I like this,’ or, ‘I don’t like that.’”
As far as in-game management, Smith indicated he will leave most of the play-calling to coordinators. The only time he’ll step in, he joked, is when they “make a bad one.”
But Smith said he believes in Arknasas’ assistant coaches after working with them. So it’s important his staff has freedom as the Razorbacks prepare for the 2012 season.
“They’re good guys. And they’re smart. And they know what is going on as well,” Smith said. “So the more of that you can put together the better you’re going to be.”