Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Smith out as Arkansas coach
NWA Media/JASON IVESTER -- Arkansas head coach John L. Smith watches from the sideline during the fourth quarter against LSU on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas fired John L. Smith as head football coach Saturday, officially indicating the Razorbacks will have a new coach in 2013.
Smith, who took the head coaching job at Weber State last December after spending three years as an Arkansas assistant coach, was hired in April to a 10-month contract when Bobby Petrino was fired for misconduct. The Razorbacks finished the season 4-8, capped by a loss to LSU on Friday.
"I have great respect for Coach Smith and I thank him for the sincere commitment he has shown our program," University of Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long said in a statement. "He made a difficult decision in uncertain times to return from his alma mater to guide the young men in our football program, and I will always be grateful for his efforts.
"I would also like to express my gratitude to our assistant football coaching staff, and our support staff. They have shown remarkable professionalism and a true commitment to the student-athletes in our program. They demonstrated great character in maintaining their commitment to our program."
Smith will be allowed to remain with the program as a consultant through the duration of his contract, which expires in February. All of Arkansas' assistant coaches will have the opportunity to be retained, pending the hiring of a new coach, according to a release. Two coaches, Tim Horton and Bobby Allen, were retained when Petrino was hired following the 2007 season.
Counting Weber State, Arkansas was the sixth head coaching stop for Smith, who turned 64 last week. In 20 seasons, he has a career record of 136-96.
The Razorbacks were ranked No. 10 in the preseason and climbed as high as No. 8, but things hit bottom quickly when Arkansas lost to ULM at War Memorial Stadium in the second game of the year. The Razorbacks endured losses by a combined 100 points in their first two SEC games against Alabama and Texas A&M, and were only 2-6 in league play.
"I have enjoyed guiding this group and I am extremely proud of how everyone in our program stuck together and showed tremendous character by competing throughout the season," Smith said. "Everyone on our staff has my appreciation as they all believed in our goals and stayed committed to the development of these young men.
"I would like to thank the Razorback fans for demonstrating their support for these student-athletes and this coaching staff during a challenging time. I enjoyed every day of this experience and this profession has been and will continue to be rewarding to me. During my time here, it has been incredible to be a part of helping this program grow and I wish everyone involved nothing but success in the future.”
With Smith gone, Long will turn his attention to a coaching search that has been talk of the fan base for nearly eight months. CBSSports.com reported Saturday the new Arkansas coach will be hired within 10 days, citing sources.
Long has been tight-lipped about the search, providing few clues about potential candidates. He said during a September luncheon at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club he expects the next coach to be a current head coach and never ruled out Smith as the long-term solution, though the losses on the field continued to mount.
The college football regular season ends next Saturday.
"Our new coach will be an individual who shares the passion for success our fans do and who is willing to work relentlessly to achieve our goals," Long said. "It will be someone who embraces the expectations of winning a national championship and succeeding in the classroom with discipline, honesty and integrity.
"Our new coach will embrace what this program means not just to the university, but to the entire state of Arkansas and will share the vision for the future success of Razorback Football.”