HOG CALLS:

Smith optimistic despite his future

By: Nate Allen
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
STAFF PHOTO JASON IVESTER
Arkansas head coach John L. Smith walks off the field following the Razorbacks' 35-26 loss to Rutgers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Jason Ivester
STAFF PHOTO JASON IVESTER Arkansas head coach John L. Smith walks off the field following the Razorbacks' 35-26 loss to Rutgers on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

— John L. Smith knows he stands only a slightly better chance than you or me to be the Arkansas Razorbacks’ football coach in 2013.

But as long as Smith is Arkansas’ coach, it’s tantamount to treason for him to talk of his tenure ending before Athletic Director Jeff Long ends it, whenever Long eventually announces the Razorbacks’ next head football coach.

So Smith dutifully answered the media question optimistically if he was “optimistic” that he would be coaching the Razorbacks beyond Long’s postseason evaluation.

The former Arkansas assistant from 2009 through the end of the 2011 season and former head coach at Michigan State, Louisville, Utah State and Idaho, Smith was hired on a 10-month contract in April after former Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino was fired.

Smith was hired as a stopgap, a familiar figure for a team suddenly without the head coach who had just piloted Arkansas to 10-3 and 11-2 seasons and was picked Top 10 in the 2012 preseason.

A 4-6, 2-4 SEC season with two games to play and an underdog both Saturday at Mississippi State and Nov. 23 vs. LSU in Fayetteville, doesn’t bode well for a 63-year-oldinterim coach’s permanent return.

Everybody knows it. But public questions must be answered publicly.

“I am the most optimistic guy you can imagine,” Smith said. “I’m always optimistic. I’m optimistic on us going to Starkville and getting a win this weekend and the other stuff can take care of itself. So I am not overly worried about any of that.”

It was about as diplomatic reply as Smith optimistically could make.

For as long as John L. Smith coaches the Hogs and there are games to play, he owes it to his team and employer to conduct himself as an active coach and not a lame duck. If Long doesn’t yet have a coach hired after the LSU game, Smith owes it to his team and employer to remain in position to exert discipline on conduct issues and encourage academics and recruit.

Obviously that is his commitment and intent.

In the meantime, some on message boards and talk shows read about John L. being “optimistic” and commenced making sport.

Certainly Smith this season has blundered into his share of verbal gaffes easy to parody and cringing to witness.

This wasn’t one of them.

A BAD APPLE

Chris Bucknam, the Arkansas men’s cross country coach, said hewas mistaken to say that senior All-American Eric Fernandez stepped in a hole rolling his ankle just five minutes before the Razorbacks advanced from the South Central Regional they hosted last Friday to Saturday’s NCAA Cross Country Championships in Louisville, Ky.

Turns out, Bucknam said Tuesday, Fernandez rolled the ankle not quite running over a hedge apple.

Though barely having full weight on the ankle at the start, Fernandez qualified eighth and has rehabbed the ankle ever since.

“Our trainers have done a fantastic job,” Bucknam said. “I fully expect him to run full go Saturday.”

Sports, Pages 16 on 11/14/2012

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