A pair of ex-Arkansas football coaches are blaming AD Jeff Long for ruining the Razorbacks’ 2012 season with his signing of John L. Smith to a 10-month contract as interim coach. Former offensive coordinator Paul Petrino — brother of Bobby — and former defensive coordinator Paul Haynes also told The Sporting News that some members of the team quit on the coaching staff last year.
According to Petrino, the length of Smith’s contract led players to believe that the entire staff would turn over before 2013:
“I don’t think an AD should ever hire somebody for 10 months. Players know what that means; they understand that. It hurts the power of the head coach and the assistants. They should’ve hired (Smith) for two years or hired someone else for two years, or just (expletive)-canned all of us.”
“Even if they had a plan to get rid of us no matter what, which I think they did, you say two years and I think the kids dig in. When you give 10 months, everyone is on eggshells.”
Smith himself told The Sporting News that “a little more time would’ve been nice. Does that give you more teeth? Yes.”
And then there was the issue of players quitting. According to Petrino:
“There were some seniors who kind of hung it up, to be honest with you. They were going to worry about their futures more than that team. A couple seniors said they were hurt and I don’t know if they really were.”
Some players quit. The AD should’ve given Smith a two-year deal. And it’s even admitted in the piece that more than one of Smith’s assistants wanted the Arkansas head coaching job… making things tougher on Smith. Bad, bad, bad.
But now let’s step away from the “Ah, ha!” part of this story. Away from the splashy “Players Quit” headline. Let’s focus instead on Arkansas’ actual situation.
Even if the Razorbacks had been better in 2012, is there anyone out there who truly believes Arkansas had the talent on both offense and defense to compete with Alabama for the SEC title? You people with plastic pigs on your head can put your hands down.
If, then, the Hogs had won eight to 10 games last season under Smith, would Razorback fans be happy to welcome him back for Year Two of his interim stint? Would the national media be any less harsh toward the off-the-wall coach? Probably not. And wouldn’t the team be facing this year exactly what the coaches say it faced last year — a bunch of players quitting because their coach’s interim gig is nearing its expiration date?
You can question a lot of things about Arkansas’ failed season but Long’s decision to go the interim route isn’t one of them. Petrino forced the AD to fire him in April. Any AD would have done the same. And in April, you don’t just grab big name football coaches.
Knowing that, Long bit the bullet on an interim coach and it happened to blow up in his face in 2012. But by year’s end he’d made arguably the best hire of a new coach in the country.
Better to have Smith back for a second year or Bret Bielema arriving to get things back on track? Obviously there’s no guarantee that Bielema will succeed in Fayetteville, but this writer believes there’s more reason for hope moving forward under the new guy than there would have been had the old guy and his staff been left in place for yet another season.
Now, if you still want to blame someone for Arkansas’ disastrous 2012 you can skip Long. Leave Smith alone, too. And don’t point the finger at the assistants or the players. Bobby Petrino tanked the Razorbacks’ seasons. If you’ve got to blame someone, blame the guy who set everything else in motion.