In the end, Arkansas AD Jeff Long both followed our prescription for filling his 2012 coaching vacancy and he didn’t. He went with an interim coach who knows his team and most of the current staff, yes. But he also went outside the current staff to bring that man back into the fold. And that last part has moved Long into the “goat” category barely three weeks after he’d been placed in the “hero” zone by most national pundits.
When news broke yesterday that ex-Razorback special teams coach — and Bobby Petrino mentor — John L. Smith would be returning to Arkansas as the Hogs’ 2012 interim coach, like many folks I said: “Now, why didn’t I think of that?” Well, because I always forget that taking a job as a college coach means absolutely and completely nothing to most coaches if another, better gig comes open tomorrow.
Coaches speak of trust when they talk to recruits and their parents. But you can’t trust these guys.
Coaches speak of putting players first. ”It’s about the kids.” My left foot. It’s never about the kids. It’s about moving up the food chain. Better jobs, more money. Period. End of story.
Coaches speak of loyalty. But that’s a load of hooey, too. Most players have to break through the Siegfried Line to transfer from a school, but a coach can pull up stakes a year or half-year into a job. Even if they’ve just landed at their beloved alma mater:
“Number One, I’ve always had a place in my heart for Weber State. You do that naturally. That’s your school, that’s where you graduated from, so that fondness, that love is always with you. And again, to come back to run your own program as a head coach again is crucial for me. This hopefully can serve as an opportunity for me to give back something to the university.”
That’s what Smith said last December — less than five months ago — when he left Arkansas to take the head coaching job at Weber State. He asked his players to buy in this spring. In February he asked new players to sign on. Now, he’s darted out of Ogden, Utah quicker than you can say, “So long, suckers.”
The Smith Era at Weber State makes Lane Kiffin’s tenure at Tennessee appear downright Paterno-esque. And to top it all off, Long made extra effort yesterday to point out that Smith called him. It wasn’t the other way around. Smith wanted the hell out of Dodge (Ogden). Unless there’s some agreement for him to wear a WSU pin on his Razorback gear this fall — so he can tell the poor Weber State saps who hired him that they’ll be getting great pub all season — the “L” in his name must stand for Liar. Or Loser. Or Louse. Or Leaving.
Maybe in Utah he should just go by John M. Smith with the M standing for Mud.
In Fayetteville, all is a cardinal hue of rosy this morning. Naturally, some will scream that everyone’s just out to get Smith and Long ’cause they must hate the Hogs. That would ignore the fact that Long was the man of the hour when he did what most viewed to be the right thing — the surprising thing — in dumping Petrino earlier this month.
Let’s tackle this thing from all angles…
If you’re Arkansas, why go with Smith?
That’s easy. He knows all the players but the incoming freshmen, has worked with all the coaches on the staff (aside from Paul Haynes and Taver Johnson), and he understands the Arkansas job after spending three years on Petrino’s staff. Long has grabbed a guy with big-time head coaching experience (good at Louisville, not so good at Michigan State) and avoided bringing in a true outsider all in one swoop. On paper, it’s 90% positive. (More about that other 10% three questions down.)
If you’re Smith, why ditch Weber State for Arkansas?
Smith is 63 and wanted to be a head coach again. He wanted it so badly he took a head coaching gig at the FCS level. Now he has a shot at an SEC title or maybe even a national crown. He’s taking over a consensus Top 10 team. If he wants to continue coaching, doing well at Arkansas will get him noticed a helluva lot quicker than anything he could have done at Weber State.
Also, we don’t know what Smith found when he arrived in Ogden, Utah last December. To be fair, maybe he found that promises made to him by the folks who hired him were not going to be kept. Perhaps there were personality conflicts between himself and his new boss. Maybe there were family concerns.
Judging, however, from the comments of the folks Smith turned his back on, none of that seems to be the case.
The Salt Lake City Tribune says today Smith “jilts” Weber State. WSU athletic director Jerry Bovee was clearly ticked in his quotes to the paper. ”This is not a good time to hire a new football coach. I was surprised, disappointed. By the same token, this is a business — sometimes a cold business.”
Smith has now put Bovee in the crosshairs of many Weber State fans, but if the man didn’t care about his assistant coaches or his players you can be sure he doesn’t care about the guy who hired him.
Columnist Kurt Kragthorpe of The Tribune calls Smith’s move is an “insult to Weber State.” He writes that Smith “can say anything he wants regarding his feelings for Arkansas,” but “Weber State is the only school that deserves such loyalty” from the man who just betrayed it.
Speaking of Smith’ ex-players, they were “stunned” that he would leave without ever coaching a game. According to The Ogden Standard-Examiner, senior cornerback David James described his reaction to Smith’s move as “Disbelief, confusion, shock.” Receiver Xavier Johnson said, “It hurts… We’ve been trying to build unity and come together as one, but now it’s like I don’t know if it’s possible to do that, just because we don’t have a head coach to guide us through that.”
A tip to players: The next time a coach talks to you about “unity,” laugh in his face. He’ll be “unified” with you right up until someone offers him a bigger paycheck.
Matt Hammer — Smith’s offensive coordinator — took the standard coach’s view: “It’s just part of the profession. Coach has a great opportunity to be part of a great program, and have a chance to be really good. Financially, the whole deal, you can’t blame him. All of us would do the same thing. It’s just crazy.”
Notice that part about “all of us would do the same thing? Unity, trust, togetherness. Crock, crock, crock. Bull, bull, bull. Pick a school for the school, kids. Coaches are lying businessmen and you’re just a commodity to them.
And to coaches like Nick Saban who talk about the fact there’s not enough trust in coaches, that we in the media are all just too cynical and jaded these days, he needs to be reminded of moves like this. There’s a reason folks are cynical and jaded.
What’s Smith’s contract say?
Smith is the interim coach only. You can view the deal here. It’s a 10-month deal that will net the coach $850,000. However, if he wins the BCS Championship Game, he’ll get a $200,000 bonus. Other bowl bonuses — win or lose — range from $25,000 to $150,000.
The school reserves the right to reassign Smith to an administrative, non-coaching role at any point. Smith must keep all of the current staff intact. He also agreed to a non-compete clause for other SEC jobs, should he up and leave before the end of his 10-month contract. (Now what kind of coach would leave a gig less than 10 months into… oh, wait.)
The contract is so unusual that business reporter Darren Rovell of CNBC calls it “precedent-setting… I haven’t seen anything like this, really.” He added: “What you normally see in these contracts is it’s much to the advantage of the coach, not the institution. This is a contract that is definitely advantage Arkansas.”
Why take the job if there’s not a chance to land the full-time gig?
If Smith wins big at Arkansas — even if he just gets the Hogs past Alabama and LSU to Atlanta — there will be some who’ll clamor for him to take over full-time. He knows that. If he can prove himself this year with a pre-built team, there’s a chance he’ll be Arkansas’ full-time guy in at year’s end. And if Arkansas still turns to someone else, Smith will certainly have positioned himself for jobs better than the one he just short-timed out in Utah.
What’s the reaction from the Razorback players and coaches?
The players are positive about the move. Twitter lit up with happy returns regarding Smith’s happy return. The school’s current assistants are backing the move to, though in truth, what could they really say? Will Tim Horton, Paul Petrino, Haynes and Johnson now feel that the school’s AD doesn’t have faith in them? Maybe, maybe not and that’s the 10% negative we referred to above. Toes get stepped on and feelings get hurt. But publicly, the Razorback staff is all-in with Smith’s hire.
Laughably, however, Horton did have this to say about the decision to bring Smith back: “It’s about about putting the Razorbacks first and these kids first.” Yep, always about puttin’ them kids first if you’re a coach. Just ask the kids at Weber State.
What’s the reaction from the rest of America?
In Arkansas the reaction has been good. As we noted above, Long covered a lot of bases with this hire, which will be made official today at 3pm ET.
From a national perspective, the response has been mixed.
Some are ripping Smith for his decision to up-end his alma mater. Gregg Doyle of CBSSports.com is up for some ripping. Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com is also swinging a brickbat today.
Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News says Arkansas needs to learn “that some advances should be declined.”
On the other hand, Stewart Mandel of SI.com calls the hiring of Smith a fascinating experiment. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports calls the move “a home run.”
What message did Long send with this hire?
That he’s a bottom line guy and he doesn’t care what people say.
Petrino — it now seems — wasn’t fired for putting UA in a bad light, he was fired because Long couldn’t trust him and because the coach could have gotten the school sued. PR had nothing to do with the decision to cut Petrino loose and it has nothing to do with the decision to bring back Smith.
Long didn’t care to look bad when he snaked Petrino from the Atlanta Falcons less than a year into his job there and he doesn’t care to look bad now for swiping Smith just about 50 days after he’d signed his first Weber State class of recruits. If you’re an Arkansas fan, you love that. Long isn’t paid by the Falcons or Weber State. He’s out cutting throats for Arkansas.
But Long has blown a lot of good press and sacrificed a lot of good will with this hire. He can only hope this poorly-timed theft of another guy’s coach ends better than the last time he decided to go the bad-timing route.
What’s Petrino’s take on his old buddy landing his old job?
The man who wrecked his motorcycle, his family and his bank account all in one crash says he’s happy for Smith to be taking over in Fayetteville. Via press release, Petrino said: “While there were several outstanding internal candidates, John L. brings a lot of head coaching experience to the table that will help Arkansas transition. He will unify the staff, the team and the Razorback fan base. I wish Coach Smith, his staff and the Arkansas football team the very best.”
Wonder if Petrino would have preferred his brother and offensive coordinator Paul get the job?
What’s the bottom line?
Long and Arkansas today have an interim coach with FBS experience. Smith knows the program, the players and most of the assistants on staff. To get out of Utah he was willing to give complete hiring/firing control over the entire football staff to the AD. His assistants can now tell recruits what the plan is for 2012.
Long can now set about to find the best coach in America for the Razorbacks post-2012. If he wins some sort of division, league or national title, maybe that man becomes Smith. If not, Long has now given himself eight months to study and chat. He can talk to guys currently outside of coaching.
Knowing that it will be easier to talk to guys without jobs — though that’s not been Long’s MO with his last two hires — and also realizing that Long could give a flip about public perception, we at MrSEC.com are beginning to think Arkansas native and former North Carolina coach Butch Davis might just be the man to land the Razorback job long-term at season’s end.
NCAA concerns from his stay in Chapel Hill? It should be clear to all by now that Long isn’t worried what concerns anyone outside his own office have.
Ask the folks at Weber State.