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.
UA coach Smith reassigned
He’s out of Hogs top job day after 8th loss of season
John L. Smith’s contract, which runs through February, includes a “right of reassignment” clause that Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long enacted Saturday.
FAYETTEVILLE University of Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long announced Saturday that he has reassigned football Coach John L. Smith to a position within the department, less than 24 hours after UA finished its 4-8 season with a 20-13 loss to Louisiana State University.
The decision came as no surprise in a program that started the football season ranked No. 10 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll and rose to No. 8 before a Sept. 8 loss to the University of Louisiana-Monroe touched off a four-game losing streak. In addition to overseeing a school-record-tying eightloss season — only the second for Arkansas since 1952 — Smith made headlines this summer and fall with his personal bankruptcy problems and odd behavior during some of his news conferences.
UA officials had a “right of reassignment” clause in Smith’s 10-month, $850,000 contract that allowed Long to reassign Smith at any point through the end of Smith’s employment period, which lasts through February.
Friday’s loss to LSU, during which the Razorbacks outgained the Tigers 462-306 in yardage, featured many of the problems that helped shape the Razorbacks’ disappointing season: injuries, turnovers and failure to capitalize on drives inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
After his postgame news conference Friday night at the Broyles Athletic Center on the Fayetteville campus, Smith shared hugs with assistant coaches and even some media members.
“I will remember this as a tremendous year,” Smith said. “I loved every minute of it. I loved being with these guys. I tried to do all we could.”
Asked Friday what was next for him, Smith replied, “I’m going to get these guys on Sunday and kick them in the tail and get after their academics and go from there. So, I really don’t know, you know? Whatever it is, God has blessed me.”
Smith, who was a UA assistant coach from 2009-11 under former Hogs Coach Bobby Petrino, left the program last December to take the head-coaching reins at his alma mater, Weber State University in Utah.
But Long fired Petrino with cause on April 10 in the aftermath of Petrino’s April 1 motorcycle wreck in Madison County.
Petrino was fired for not disclosing that he had a female passenger, Jessica Dorrell, on his motorcycle at the time of the crash, and that he had hired her to a position on the football staff without acknowledging that he had had an extramarital affair with her.
Dorrell previously had been working with the Razorback Foundation, the fundraising arm of the university’s athletic department.
After Petrino was fired, Smith contacted UA Senior Associate Athletic Director Jon Fagg and expressed an interest in the UA head-coaching job, and UA’s assistant coaches liked the idea.
“There will never be a bigger supporter of John L. Smith than me, so I’ve always thought the world of him and I always will,” offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said last week.
The team’s veterans unanimously lauded the arrival of Smith, but the Razorbacks ultimately had a season that didn’t come close to reaching preseason expectations.
Injuries plagued the team. Quarterback Tyler Wilson was hurt in the Louisiana-Monroe game, which the Hogs lost 34-31 in overtime, and the difficulties piled on from there. Senior team leaders Chris Gragg, Kiero Small, Tenarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith missed most of the season because of injuries.
In a UA news release sent out Saturday morning, Long — who has declined interview requests in recent weeks — issued a statement about his decision to reassign Smith.
“I have great respect for Coach Smith and I thank him for the sincere commitment he has shown our program,” Long said in the release.
“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.”
Arkansas was 29-10 while Smith was special-teams coach under Petrino, but this year’s 4-8 season drops his 19-year head-coaching record to 136-94.
Long has been conducting background checks on headcoaching candidates and is expected to name Smith’s successor in coming weeks.
Front Section, Pages 1 on 11/25/2012