Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Smith reminisces about season gone awry
John L. Smith said he regrets he couldn't have helped Arkansas' team to more wins in 2012.
FAYETTEVILLE The reality that Friday’s season finale against LSU will be John L. Smith’s last game as the interim Arkansas football coach seemed to hit home with Smith in his Monday press briefing at the Broyles Center.
Smith, 64, choked up a couple of times, mixed moments of wistful melancholy with his normal upbeat commentary and steered clear of the wackiness that has marked some of his media conferences the past seven months.
Asked for his thoughts about the possibility of this being his last game, Smith replied, “Well, my thoughts are, boy, I’d sure like to go out with a win.
“Yeah, but the biggest thing is those guys that don’t get to wear it [Arkansas’ uniform] again. That’s a part of their lives that’s over and you just hope it’s been a positive enough part of their lives that they learned from it.”
Smith has not met directly with Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long regarding his future after the season finale.
But Smith, clearly, will not be returning in a coaching capacity at Arkansas. Not after the preseason No. 10 Razorbacks stumbled with an early four-game losing streak, losing key personnel to injuries along the way, and were finally eliminated from bowl consideration by last week’s 45-14 loss at Mississippi State.
“I’m thankful for having the opportunity to come back,” said Smith, who accepted the head coaching position at his alma mater Weber State and was there for four months before returning to Arkansas on April 24. “I’m thankful that these guys thought enough of me to say, ‘That’s a guy we’d like back.’ I take personal pride in that.
“It has not worked like I would have liked to comeback and give them, so I’m a little regretful in the fact I would have liked to have given them more wins, if you can give that. But you try to give what you can and do all you can and prepare them the best you can, and hopefully we’ve been a positive, positive influence on their lives.”
Smith didn’t seem to be able to catch a break this season. The Razorbacks, who posted a 21-5 record the previous two seasons, are 4-7 heading into the LSU game.
“John L. Smith, in a tough position in his last game, but I’m sure he’ll have them ready; I’m sure this Arkansas team will play inspired,” LSU Coach Les Miles said at his Monday news conference.
Today also marks the first anniversary of the sudden death of tight end Garrett Uekman, who died of complications from an enlarged heart, the day after Arkansas beat Mississippi State 44-17 in his hometown of Little Rock. Memories of Uekman’s death also loomed over Monday’s news conference.
“That was tremendously tough,” quarterback Tyler Wilson said. “You go back and you look at everything; there’s been a number of things that have happened. ... It makes you realize how much more there is to life.”
Smith said the team would be having a get-together Wednesday night before Thanksgiving Day, at which memories of Uekman will be shared.
“His legacy is definitely not forgotten,” punter Dylan Breeding said. “There were several guys that are tweeting his name and wear his number  and do everything they can to remember him. He is definitely a big motivating factor for us in the fact that we can play for something just bigger than ourselves.”
That’s all Smith can ask as his interim year concludes.
“Whenever that decision is made that’s going to be made, you know, we’re going to leave everything here the very best we can,” Smith said. “So we’re going to bust our tail until that day comes about.”
Up next ARKANSAS VS. NO. 7 LSU WHERE Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville WHEN 1:30 p.m. Friday TV CBS
Sports, Pages 17 on 11/20/2012