Earlier this week, embattled interim Arkansas coach John L. Smith held a press conference and threatened not to speak to the media until they smiled. The video went viral. (What doesn’t these days? At least Smith didn’t go Gangnam Style on everyone.)
Last night, the coach tried to explain his comments on his weekly radio show. ArkansasNews.com provides a transcript and some addition commentary at their site. Here’s the meat of Smith’s explanation:
“We talk to our football team and our players all the time about body language. And what does your body language portray. If you have negative language it’s going to exude nothing but defeat. In fact, I met with one of our players right afterward and said you know you’re walking off the field with your head down and your chin on the floor. That exudes nothing but defeat. But the alternative is to be positive. To throw your shoulders back, to look up, to maybe smile once in awhile and exude a little positive body language. And then that will exude the opposite: Winning. OK? How do you get anything accomplished in life if you’re negative?
So I walk in, the media, you know that’s kind of like walking in and addressing my football team. You look … What is going on? Everybody’s head is down. It’s like we’re crying. These guys (referring to his players) will tell you, I’ll say, ‘Hey, turn, sit up, pay attention. Put a smile on your face. We’re going to get something accomplished.’ And that’s what I would’ve told you guys (again referring to players). So that’s kind of what happened. I walked in there and, my goodness, I’ve never felt so much negativity coming at me in a long, long time. So I said, ‘Hey, put a smile on your face. Let’s go get something accomplished. Let’s get better.’ You know?
And if somebody in the media or the fans out there would ever misconstrue that as not being serious about the game … then they don’t know us very well do they? That’s our life. Football is our life. And coaching these young men is our life. And winning is our life. So to misconstrue trying to be positive, trying to exude a little positive energy to not caring or not being serious, whoever they are, those people are sadly, sadly mistaken. And I apologize if that’s the way it came across.
In athletics, what do we teach our guys? Don’t show pain. Right? Why would you show that they’ve hurt you? Right? So why would I walk into a press conference and say, ‘Nick Saban just ripped my heart out?’ Even though you feel that you’re not going to say that. You’re not going to act like that. You’re not going to show that. So, yeah, again, you want to be positive. You want to teach your guys how to handle it. And that’s what we teach in athletics is don’t let them know that they’ve hurt you. Right? So we’re not going to cry. We’re going to get up. And we’re going to bounce back and we’re going to carry on. And we’re going to get better. And that’s the way we are.”
Personally, I feel sorry for Smith. Yes, he bailed on his alma mater and screwed over the players at Weber State just so he could rush back to Arkansas, but the man — according to court documents – owes $25 million in various debts and has only about $800 in his pocket/bank account thanks to some bad real estate deals a decade ago. Who wants that kind of news to flashed across the country?
Worse, the fact that Arkansas fans actually felt he was walking into a ready-made BCS title-contender meant that what he was really walking into was a no-win situation. Arkansas wasn’t going to beat Alabama or LSU this season even with Bobby Petrino as coach. The Razorback defense just isn’t good enough and it hasn’t been championship-caliber under the ex-coach, either. Now, Petrino might have had a backup ready to roll had Tyler Wilson gone down — as he did on Smith’s watch — against Louisiana-Monroe. I’ll give ya that one. But still the Razorbacks have been living out a nightmare since the spring and Smith just walked into it. He didn’t cause it.
There’s no denying the season’s gone sour — at least for now — but Smith is catching too much of the blame for that. Even though “Smile!” type press conferences make him an easy target. Hey, look, I may feel a bit sorry for him, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a goofball. He is. He always has been. Arkansas AD Jeff Long knew that when he brought him back. So did the other assistants on the staff who supported that move.
Right now, the best thing for Smith, Arkansas and shell-shocked Hog fans would be to get Wilson back. While the quarterback has been practicing and the team is optimistic he’ll be cleared to play against Rutgers on Saturday, that hasn’t happened yet. Wilson’s return would almost certainly kickstart a sputtering Hog offense and that should be enough to get past the Scarlet Knights. And stopping the bleeding is the first goal. Only then can the Hogs begin work repairing their entire season.
Oh, but if Wilson doesn’t play and Arkansas somehow finds a way to lose? Poor, poor Smith. (Two poors… one literal, one figurative.)