Jim Harris: John L. Smith the Perfect Solution For Razorbacks' Imperfect Problem

by Jim Harris  on Monday, Apr. 23, 2012 9:56 pm  

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

It's funny that when names such as former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee and a host of professional coaches — some retired, some not, but none of whom were ever coming to Arkansas — were being bandied about as the replacement for Bobby Petrino, the one name we didn't hear over the 11 days since Petrino's firing until Monday was that of John L. Smith.

Yet, of the two coaches who left the Hog staff after the 2011 season for head coaching jobs — Smith to Weber State and McGee to Alabama-Birmingham — Smith was the one with extensive head coaching experience in Division I football.

Had Smith still been on Bobby Petrino's staff the day Jeff Long put Petrino on paid administrative leave, then fired him five days later, Smith would have been considered the perfect interim coach for the Razorbacks.

Smith still is the perfect interim coach, even if he had to leave his alma mater, Weber State, after just over four months on the job in Utah.

Arkansas fans can join Jeff Long and thank Smith for making it all happen. It was his idea.

Bobby Petrino put Arkansas in this incredible mess where the Hogs had few real interim options and weren't going to hire an established college head coach in April. It's his fault — don't ever forget that. Don't blame Jeff Long for Petrino's dismissal or for the bad timing or for not being able to grant all the silly wishes of some Hog fans and force Jon Gruden to try coaching again.

Long, who hired Petrino as his first major coup as athletic director in late 2007, all but confessed to the media on Saturday the dilemma he faced: This assistant coaching staff is too good (they truly seem to be exceptional people), and are locked in to guaranteed contracts, for him to break apart — which surely would have happened if Long hired a new, permanent head coach now. The offensive weapons and a certain offensive style, now being coordinated by Petrino's brother, Paul, are in place for Arkansas to have a big year. We saw all that in its full glory Saturday afternoon as the top offensive players slaughtered the reserves 65-0 in the Red-White game.

To promote one of the three current assistants — Paul Petrino, new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes, or acting head coach and linebackers coach Taver Johnson — to the interim role could have damaged the overall program by putting more responsibility on those coaches beyond their own already difficult jobs. Let Petrino call the plays the way he showed Saturday; let Haynes and Johnson cobble together a solid defense from the talent on hand, which still seems to be strongest in the front line.

None of the three had head coaching experience, and Petrino had been a coordinator outside his brother's shadow only for the past two seasons before he returned to Arkansas in December.

Tim Horton, the former Hog and Arkansas native, a longtime running backs coach and recruiting coordinator for the Razorbacks since the year before Bobby Petrino arrived, appeared to have a statewide campaign going for his promotion to interim coach, though he was not among the coaches Long seemed to be considering for the job.

A solid choice as interim coach wasn't readily apparent on the current staff.

But this staff and this talented team needed one man to step up and be that guiding force as head coach, even for one season.

 

 

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