by Chris Bahn
Posted 4/24/2012 04:36 pm
Updated 7 months ago
Dressed in black suit and cowboy boots — yes, cowboy boots — John L. Smith walked to the podium in the Raymond Miller Room for his introduction as Arkansas’ head football coach.
Seeing the interesting fashion combination was the first introduction to Smith’s quirky personality for many Razorback fans. Most knew him only as the former special teams coach and they got some real insight into Smith on Tuesday.
For the next 21 minutes, including an opening statement that ended with, “Gosh. That’s about all I have to say,” Smith offered a series of answers, non-sequiturs and one-liners that ranged from amusing to odd.
These were all the YouTube clips you might have seen of Smith's 19 years as a head coach playing out in real time.
Smith called a TV personality “fat and sloppy.” Just before the first question came his way he asked that “no dumb questions” be asked. Smith intentionally mispronounced the name of his Heisman Trophy candidate running back.
Smith didn’t slap himself this time. But he did deliver a death blow to the idea of a head coach we’ve come to expect here the last four years.
Bobby Petrino was a man who said very little (except to select text message partners) and who seemed to be the picture of efficiency and control. Neither of those descriptions fit Smith at the podium Tuesday. He didn’t seem particularly under control. He certainly wasn’t efficient in his answers.
Petrino was heavy-handed and no-nonsense. Smith is, well, Smith is something else.
Athletic Director Jeff Long said after the press conference that he didn’t set out to find somebody who was more carefree, more extroverted, but that is what he and the Razorbacks wound up with for the next 10 months.
Long said Smith’s approach can wind up being just as good for the program as anything else.
“John L. is a different kind of leader, but I think he commands the attention of our student athletes,” Smith said. “I think he’s a good fit.”
Players were certainly happy with the news of the Smith hire. They took to Twitter on Monday after a team meeting to express their pleasure with Smith returning.
They tweeted some of their favorite quotes and moments from Smith’s three seasons as special teams and inside linebackers coach. They converted one of their favorite John L.-isms to a twitter hashtag — #GYPH. What is #GYPH? Let’s just say it translates loosely to “get your juices flowing.”
What the player reaction tells us is that Smith, unlike Petrino, is a player's coach. Is that good or bad? We'll have to see.
Under the wrong circumstances that can be a dirty word. “Player's coach” often equates to a lack of discipline and a failure to pay attention to details.
Tailback Knile Davis said that isn’t the case with Smith, who can be all business when needed. Davis said he expects the team to perform just fine without the approach they came to expect form Petrino.
Arkansas still has hopes of competing for the SEC and national titles. Davis and Tyler Wilson are in the spring conversation for the Heisman Trophy. All the Razorbacks think they can build on last year’s Top 5 finish and 11 wins.
“You don’t have to step on everybody’s neck to get something out of them,” Davis said. “We know how to work. We know how to win. We know how to prepare to win games. It’s up to us. It’s on the seniors. It’s on the leadership of the team to keep the team right.”
Those high expectations are part of what led Smith back to Arkansas. He left as a position coach for the head coaching job at Weber State, a FCS school, but still had a desire to one day win a national title.
Smith sees the opportunity to do that at Arkansas. He contacted Long about the chance to come back at some point after Petrino was fired. Both the new coach and the athletic director seemed hazy on the details of just what the timetable was in getting Smith from Utah to Arkansas.
But Smith’s motivation is clear. One of the few moments he turned serious Tuesday was when the subject of his last BCS head coaching job came up. He was 22-26 overall at Michigan State and lost eight of his final nine games.
Absolutely he views the Arkansas job as an opportunity to redeem himself. His wife reminded him this might be his last chance at a national title.
Smith sounds as motivated as he is eccentric.
“If there is a door open, walk through it,” Smith said. “If there’s a window open, jump out of it.”