Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long told a booster club yesterday that the idea of John L. Smith being ousted as interim coach — in order to appoint an interim to the interim — is an idea that’s not going to come to fruition. Asked if he’s committed to Smith, Long said:
“Yeah, and again I tried to make that clear today. Sometimes I don’t in my speeches. But we’re committed to this season. He’s going to lead our team through the season. That’s something we made a commitment to back in April and we’re going to stand behind that commitment…
He’s our head coach and will continue to lead our program through the season.”
The AD was also asked about Smith’s role with the team:
“He’s the head coach and he’s a different kind of head coach. There are types of head coaches, and he certainly is a manager of the program and is in there less X’s- and O’s-wise with either side. He’s more involved with the special teams that he has been that he coached at Arkansas. No, he hasn’t been any more or less involved. He’s managing our program and being the leader of the program…
Well, as we said at the time, I think he worked with eight of the nine assistants (on the current staff). He’d been on our staff for three years. He knew the players. I saw that as his strength coming in. And that he had been a leader and been a head coach at a BCS-level school. So those were the things if I’m answering your question.”
If Razorback fans are honest with themselves, many will remember that that was exactly what they wanted in an interim coach back in April. “Just don’t mess anything up and let the coordinators do their thing.” Unfortunately, for the Hogs, Petrino did a lot more than that. He’s clearly missed. Long admitted as much when he said, “When your leader is different, your team would be different.”
Long was also asked if — in hindsight — Smith is “an SEC level head coach:
“He’s been in the Big Ten, so yes. I think for this situation he was ready for this situation.”
Finally, someone asked the rather classless question: “Has John L. Smith been an embarrassment to the program?” Long’s response:
“Yeah, I don’t want to answer that question.”
A better answer might have been “no,” because in just blowing off the query, Long allows people to say, “Yes, Smith has been an embarrassment.” And that’s unfair to a coach who walked into a no-win scenario. When Petrino went belly-up, the Hogs’ chances of winning any kind of championship went with him. Only the expectation of championships remained.
But so much for the Smith side of things. What about who’ll be coaching the team next? This is where it gets rather strange. When Long went the interim route, everyone — including this writer — assumed that he would take that extra time to get moving on his search for a new full-time coach. There are plenty of out-of-work coaches as well as coaches’ representatives that Long could have been speaking with over these past few months. Has he?
“I have not.”
Wait. What? Asked specifically if he had had “any interaction” with “representatives of candidates,” Long said, “I have not.” This after stating that he wouldn’t talk to actual candidates until the season is complete.
Arkansas fans had better hope Long is simply covering his tracks on that front. If he hired an interim coach in April only to not talk to as many out-of-work coaches and coaches’ agents as possible… then he’s followed up a good decision with a bad one.