Monday, April 23, 2012

Why John L. Smith to Arkansas makes (enough) sense

I'll admit it. When I first saw that Arkansas had hired former MSU head coach John L. Smith in an interim role, my initial reaction was "WHAT THE??"

But after the initial face-slapping jokes came out, the hire started to make more sense.

When Bobby Petrino was fired, I tweeted that I wouldn't be surprised if Smith would have gotten the job if he hadn't taken the Weber State head coaching job a few months ago. While the character of Smith has been questioned with another off exit from a school, the hiring by Arkansas makes sense for both parties.

Familiarity is very important when it comes to coaching. Mark Dantonio has credited some of MSU's recent success to a lack of attrition among the coaches. Smith has been the special teams coach in Fayetteville for the last three seasons and has a relationship with most everyone there. This isn't like MSU going with Bobby Williams because the players liked him. Smith is going to be there for one season. Even if Arkansas does well, I'd be really shocked if Smith was given a long-term deal, although I've been shocked before.

Arkansas is going to be a national championship contender this season. Hiring a guy from the outside would have changed everything (and there aren't any great hires available right now, anyway). Arkansas could have promoted one of its current coaches, but none of them has the head-coaching experience of Smith. And by the way, Smith had been quite successful everywhere he had been before the train wreck in East Lansing.

This isn't a long-term fix. Smith is 63. Weber State presumably was going to be his last stop before retirement. Both sides know this, as Smith only signed a 10-month deal. His job isn't to take Arkansas to the next level. It's to keep this ship going in the right direction. All the pieces are in place for a special season, all Smith has to do it not run it to an iceberg. (That analogy would have been better a week ago).

If things go well, Smith could guide the Hogs to a BCS bowl, Arkansas can bring in a big-name coach and the program will move forward. For Smith, I don't think he expected anything big to come his way again. As bad as it looks leaving his alma mater at this time, he sees one last opportunity to coach at the highest level — an opportunity that no one saw coming a few weeks ago.

So while the John L. Smith era at MSU is unearthed one more embarrassing time, Arkansas goes into a hyped-up season knowing that things won't be greatly different than they would have been before Petrino's firing. This isn't a step forward, but it's not a step backward. And with so much on the line and already in place for this fall, that's all Arkansas needed.

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