|Updated: 4/24/2012 2:43 pm
||Published: 4/23/2012 2:05 pm
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - John L. Smith knows the Arkansas football program well and has a vested interest in its continued success. So a chance to help clean up the mess made by coach Bobby Petrino was too good to pass up.
Arkansas announced Smith's hiring as head coach Monday night, bringing back the popular former assistant who left four months ago to take over at Weber State. Smith will be formally introduced Tuesday, and the school said he signed a 10-month, $850,000 contract and will be eligible for other incentives.
"I am tremendously excited to have this special opportunity to return to Arkansas and lead the Razorback football program," Smith said in a statement.
Smith's return caps a whirlwind three weeks for a program reeling after revelations of an affair by Petrino with a woman, Jessica Dorrell, he later hired as his assistant. Petrino also once gave his Dorrell $20,000 in gifts - all which was revealed following an April 1 motorcycle crash on a rural road southwest of Fayetteville. Dorrell has since resigned.
Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long fired Petrino on April 10 and started looking for a new coach. In the end, he came back to Smith, who has head coaching experience, familiarly with the Razorbacks' staff and will keep that staff intact for at least the 2012 season.
"When coach Smith first approached me about returning to Arkansas to serve in this position, he talked about his desire to be a part of the continued success of these student-athletes, this coaching staff and the Razorback program," Long said in a statement.
Hiring Smith also allows Long to take his time in finding a long-term solution at head coach. Petrino's firing came during spring practice for much of the college football world, a time when few coaches were willing to leave their current positions for the unknown - even for a top-five team that already had a coaching staff in place.
"(Smith) has been a part of the record-breaking success we have enjoyed in the past few seasons," Long said. "... I also have a tremendous amount of confidence in our assistant coaches and believe that under coach Smith's leadership they will be able to continue to flourish in the current roles."
Smith was a head coach at Michigan State and Louisville, where he was replaced by Petrino after the 2002 season. He served as the special teams and outside linebackers coach at Arkansas for the 2009-11 seasons under Petrino; the two have worked together at four different schools in all.
Petrino issued a statement late Monday night through his agent, Russ Campbell.
"I think Jeff Long made a great hire," 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."
Word of Smith's hire spread quickly Monday and some of the players responded with their approval on Twitter.
"The happiest day of my life," Razorbacks running back Knile Davis tweeted. "Hearing that John L. Smith is coming back to (Fayetteville) to (be) our head coach."
The players were informed of Smith's hiring at an afternoon team meeting, though they were instructed to avoid talking with media members outside the Broyles Athletic Center afterward. Still, their smiles told the story of their feelings.
Those smiles were shared by former Arkansas players who played for Smith, including current New England Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett.
"John is a great guy and a great coach," Mallett tweeted. "I love it."
Smith's easygoing demeanor will be a big change from Petrino.
The 63-year-old Smith leaves Weber State without coaching a game for the FCS school, his alma mater.
Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee said the "timing of this announcement is problematic" but the school would move forward. Bovee did not immediately name an interim coach.
"Wow, just when you think the pieces to the puzzle are all in place, something big happens to create chaos and the picture changes," Bovee tweeted. "Ouch!"
Smith has a 132-86 record as a head coach with the Spartans, Cardinals as well as at Idaho and Utah State. He was the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2003 after posting the most wins by a first-year coach in Michigan State history, finishing 8-4. But things went downhill fast in East Lansing, Mich., and he finished 22-26 overall with the Spartans.
He went 41-21 in five seasons at Louisville, including five straight bowl appearances.
He will provide a familiar face for the Razorbacks after three weeks of turmoil.
Petrino was hired to replace Houston Nutt on Dec. 11, 2007, famously leaving the Atlanta Falcons before the end of the NFL season. He built the program into a Southeastern Conference and national power and many expect the Razorbacks to make a championship run in 2012.
Arkansas was 11-2 last season, with its only losses coming to national champion Alabama and runner-up LSU. Arkansas finished the season No. 5, its best season-ending ranking since 1977, and returns Heisman Trophy hopefuls at quarterback (Tyler Wilson) and running back (Davis).
However, for all of the success and expectations, Petrino's tenure with the Razorbacks will likely be more remembered for how it ended.
The 51-year-old Petrino suffered four broken ribs, a cracked vertebra and numerous abrasions to his face following the accident on his Harley-Davidson with Dorrell along for the ride. Petrino failed to tell his boss about the presence of the 25-year-old Dorrell until minutes before the police report was released.
Long put Petrino on paid leave and fired him less than a week later. The married father of four later chose not to appeal his firing, meaning he walked away with none of the $18 million buyout due in his contract. His annual salary averaged more than $3.5 million.
Despite his failings away from the field, Petrino was nothing short of spectacular in his four seasons at Arkansas. He was 34-17 overall, finishing 5-7 his first season in 2008. That season followed a 10-year run by Nutt, who left for Ole Miss after the 2007 season.
Nutt's final days with the Razorbacks were marred by rumors of turmoil within his coaching staff, fueled by the departure of former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to Tulsa after the 2006 season. Malzahn later won a national championship as the offensive coordinator at Auburn before being hired in December as the head coach at Arkansas State. His departure also led to the transfers of his former high school stars - wide receiver Damian Williams and quarterback Mitch Mustain, both who left for USC.
The upheaval led to fans flying "Fire Nutt" banners before games during the 2007 seasons, and it left the fan base fractured before and after he left for the Rebels.
Petrino's hiring brought that base back together. The school looked past his history of job-hopping, trusting him to lead Arkansas to a level of success it hadn't experienced since joining the SEC in 1992.
Arkansas looks to continue its recent good fortunes under the leadership of a familiar and comforting face in Smith.
"Throughout the spring, the assistant coaches and student-athletes have shown incredible focus and character, which we will use to build on as we work to achieve our goals for 2012," Smith said.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
News Release from University
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – After nearly four decades in collegiate coaching, including head coaching positions at five previous institutions, John L. Smith is returning to the University of Arkansas to serve as the head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks it was announced by vice chancellor and director of athletics Jeff Long on Monday. Smith will be formally introduced at a press conference on the University of Arkansas campus on Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Smith enters his 40th year of coaching and his 19th as a head coach. Arkansas is Smith’s sixth head coaching position following stints at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville, Michigan State and most recently at his alma mater, Weber State. As a head coach, Smith has a 132-86 overall record and produced six conference champions (two Conference USA, two Big West and two Big Sky). Twelve of his 18 teams participated in postseason play. Smith is one of 19 head coaches in collegiate football history to take three different schools to a bowl game.
Smith served as the Razorbacks’ special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach for the 2009-11 seasons before departing last December for Weber State. He has previously worked with eight of the nine members of the Razorbacks’ assistant coaching staff.
“I am extremely pleased to welcome Coach John L. Smith back to the Razorback program as our new head football coach,” Long said. “Coach Smith brings a wealth of football knowledge, BCS conference head coaching experience, passion for the game and a close familiarity with the current team and coaching staff. I firmly believe that his selection is in the best interests of the young men in our program and will also best serve the mission of our football program and university in achieving success on and off the field in the upcoming season and in the long term.
“When Coach Smith first approached me about returning to Arkansas to serve in this position, he talked about his desire to be a part of the continued success of these student-athletes, this coaching staff and the Razorback program. He has been a part of the record-breaking success we have enjoyed in the past few seasons. Coach Smith understands the commitment our players have made to building upon that success and meeting the goals that have been set for the upcoming season. I also have a tremendous amount of confidence in our assistant coaches and believe that under Coach Smith’s leadership they will be able to continue to flourish in their current roles.”
Smith, 63, signed a 10-month letter of agreement with a compensation package of $850,000. Smith will also be eligible for performance and academic achievement incentives.
“I am tremendously excited to have this special opportunity to return to Arkansas and lead the Razorback football program,” Smith said. “During my coaching career, I have always been dedicated to developing student-athletes to their fullest potential. In the last couple of weeks, I came to the realization I could provide guidance and stability to a program I’m extremely invested in. While at Arkansas, we worked to make the Razorbacks a top 5 team and much of the credit for that goes to the student-athletes. Throughout the spring, the assistant coaches and student-athletes have shown incredible focus and character, which we will use to build on as we work to achieve our goals for 2012. I want to thank President (Donald) Bobbitt, Chancellor (David) Gearhart and Jeff Long for the trust they have shown in me.”
Smith returns to Arkansas where he spent the last three seasons as special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach. In December of 2011, he accepted the head coaching position at Weber State.
Smith’s special teams groups dominated in 2011, as Arkansas boasted the SEC’s individual leader in punt returns, punting and kick scoring. Last season, Joe Adams became the first recipient of the Johnny Rodgers Award, presented to the nation’s top returner. Adams led the NCAA and tied an SEC single-season record with four punt return touchdowns and was second in the NCAA with his average of 16.9 yards per punt return. Arkansas returned an NCAA-leading six kicks for touchdowns, scoring four punt return touchdowns and two kickoff return touchdowns. Dylan Breeding became the first Razorback to lead the SEC in punting, with an average of 45.28, which ranked seventh nationally. Kicker Zach Hocker’s average of 9.1 points per game led the SEC in kick scoring and finished seventh in the nation.
On defense, Smith helped transfer Alonzo Highsmith make an immediate impact as the junior led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and finished third on the team with 80 total tackles. Fellow outside linebacker Jerico Nelson was fifth on the team with 70 tackles and tied for fourth among the Razorbacks with four quarterback hurries.
Smith’s impact was easy to spot in 2010 as Arkansas made the first BCS appearance in program history. Punt returner Joe Adams ranked second in the Southeastern Conference and fifth nationally in punt return average (15.56). Zach Hocker was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team after going 56-of-56 on PAT attempts to rank second in the SEC and tie for 12th nationally. It was the third-highest PAT total in program history. Hocker’s 104 points scored was the fourth-highest total in school history and the third highest by a kicker. Hocker’s .842 field goal percentage ranked third in the SEC and tied for 21st in the NCAA and was the third-best single-season percentage (min. 10 attempts) in school history.
From 2003-06, Smith was the head coach at Michigan State and led the Spartans to a 22-26 overall record. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2003 after posting the most wins by a first-year head coach in MSU history with an 8-4 record. During his time in East Lansing, 41 of his student-athletes earned Academic All-Big Ten honors.
Prior to Michigan State, Smith spent five seasons at Louisville (1998-2002), where he led the Cardinals to then-unprecedented success. He posted a 41-21 record including five straight bowl appearances and back-to-back Conference USA titles in 2000-01. The five bowl trips equaled the number of postseason appearances Louisville had made prior to his arrival and the five consecutive winning seasons marked a first for the program.
Smith spent three seasons as head coach at Utah State prior to Louisville. He finished with a 16-18 record in three seasons after taking over a program that had produced only two winning seasons in the previous 15 years. Smith led the Aggies to consecutive Big West crowns in 1996-97. In 1997, Utah State earned a trip to the Humanitarian Bowl marking the second bowl appearance for the school since 1961.
Smith arrived at Utah State following six seasons at Idaho where he became the winningest coach in school history. His six-year mark of 53-21 at Idaho included a 34-11 Big Sky Conference record and five postseason appearances.
Before becoming a head coach, Smith spent two years as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Washington State (1987-88) where he served under Dennis Erickson. He also was Erickson’s assistant head coach at Wyoming during the 1986 season. Smith began his first stint at Idaho in 1982, serving as Erickson’s defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for four years (1982-85).
Smith’s coaching experience includes stops at Nevada (1977-81) and Montana (1972-76). During his tenure as defensive coordinator at Nevada, the Wolf Pack led the nation in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense in 1980. He began his coaching career in 1971 as a graduate assistant at Weber State.
A linebacker and a quarterback at Weber State, Smith earned Big Sky Conference scholar-athlete honors in 1971-72. He received his undergraduate degree in physical education with a minor in math in 1971. Smith earned a master’s of science degree in physical education from the University of Montana in 1974.
Smith lettered in three sports – football, basketball and track – while attending Bonneville High School in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He is married to the former Diana Flora. They are parents of three children, Nicholas, Kayse and Sam.
Long announced the University of Arkansas will continue to evaluate the program and the head coaching position in anticipation of naming a head coach following the 2012 season. The current appointment will allow the program to identify a head coach for the future of the program in a timeframe that is more conducive to attracting the potential candidates expected for one of the nation’s premier football head coaching positions.
John L. Smith Coaching History:
April 2012 – Pres. Arkansas (Head Coach)
Dec. 2011 – April 2012 Weber State (Head Coach)
2009 – Dec. 2011 Arkansas (Special Teams Coor./Outside Linebackers)
2003-06 Michigan State (Head Coach)
1998-2002 Louisville (Head Coach)
1995-97 Utah State (Head Coach)
1989-94 Idaho (Head Coach)
1987-88 Washington State (Asst. Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator)
1986 Wyoming (Asst. Head Coach)
1982-85 Idaho (Asst. Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator)
1977-81 Nevada (Defensive Coordinator)
1972-76 Montana (Assistant Coach)
1971 Weber State (Graduate Assistant)
Birthdate: Nov. 15, 1948
Family: Wife, Diana; Children; Nicholas, Kayse and Sam
Education: Bonneville HS (Idaho Falls, Idaho), 1967; Weber State, B.S. in physical education, 1971; Montana, M.S. in physical education, 1974
Bowl Games: 2011 Sugar Bowl; 2010 Liberty Bowl; 2003 Alamo Bowl; 2002 GMAC Bowl; 2001 Liberty Bowl; 2000 Liberty Bowl; 1999 Humanitarian Bowl; 1998 Motor City Bowl; 1997 Humanitarian Bowl