Smith bringing program to people

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Newly appointed football coach John L. Smith speaks to reporters during a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Newly appointed football coach John L. Smith speaks to reporters during a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Fayetteville.

— A good friend of John L. Smith once described him as a man with a big heart who lets everybody in.

Former Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino used those words upon hiring his former boss as a Razorbacks assistant coach after the 2008 season.

Inside the Petrino Crash

PETRINO STATEMENT: “I was informed in writing today at 5:45 p.m. that I was being terminated as head football coach at the University of Arkansas. The simplest response I have is: I’m sorry. These two words seem very inadequate. But that is my heart. All I have been able to think about is the number of people I’ve let down by making selfish decisions. I’ve taken a lot of criticism in the past. Some deserved, some not deserved. This time, I have no one to blame but myself." CONTINUE READING HIS STATEMENT

Now, with Smith succeeding Petrino following the circumstances surrounding Petrino’s firing, Smith is showing that heart as he tries to help Arkansas’ football team recover from the scandal left behind by Petrino.

“I’ve always been a believer that regardless of where you are, you better be willing to get out and take yourself to the people,” Smith said Tuesday when asked about the perception of the UA football program operating as “bigger and above” the university in recent times. “That’s what we’re about is the fans and the people that are out there. We’re going to do that. We’re going to try all that we can.

“I don’t know where that perception came from, but we’re different. We’re approachable, as you know. We’re going to be friendly. We’re going to be accessible.”

Smith, who backed out on his alma mater Weber State after four months on the job as head coach and before ever coaching a game there, has certainly opened himself up in the past two days.

Following his news conference at the Broyles Athletic Center on Tuesday, Smith sat down with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sports Editor Wally Hall, conducted interviews with several national football writers, then appeared on three Arkansasbased sports radio shows.

Smith was back at the radio rounds Wednesday, going on programs in Louisville, Ky., where he once had his own show, in Atlanta with Tony Barnhart and nationally on the Dan Patrick Show.

His philosophy in a nutshell: Take the program to the people.

Smith hasn’t revealed the timing of his contact with Arkansas’ athletic administration regarding the possibility of replacing Petrino, but when asked about it again by Patrick he shed more light on how his candidacy for the Arkansas job developed.

“It actually started with some of the coaches,” Smith told Patrick, without saying the names of the coaches. “Some of the coaches here in getting hold of me, ‘Would you take a look at this? Would you come back?’ So that’s where it all initiated from, prior to any contact being made between us.”

Smith reiterated that Weber State Athletic Director Jerry Bovee and some of his players there said they understood why he made the decision to leave.

Asked by Patrick if he would have made the same decision if Arkansas were not a top-10 team, Smith replied: “I think it would have been much more difficult.”

He later added: “Gosh, I think that pinnacle, or at least the opportunity to reach that pinnacle, is something that you couldn’t pass up.”

Smith said he has not been able to talk to Petrino, though he has tried, and that he is certain they will touch base.

Smith described his first team meeting Tuesday as ecstatic.

“The kids were flying,” he told Patrick. “They were on cloud nine. We all kind of locked up and said there’s a lot of adversity and let’s charge on.”

Patrick asked Smith if he expected Arkansas to be playing for the national championship after the 2012 season.

“We don’t have the depth of say some of the other schools in the SEC, but should we stay healthy and get a break or two, I think we have a chance, definitely,” Smith said.

Smith was scheduled to make stops in Louisville and Ogden, Utah, beginning Wednesday before returning to the UA campus over the weekend and getting back to work Monday, bringing people closer to the program.

“We can’t sit here in our little ivory tower, right?” Smith asked Tuesday. “We have to get out there and motivate and get going. So we’re going to do that.”

Sports, Pages 17 on 04/26/2012