Smith, the man, deserves appreciation

By: Nate Allen
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
NWA Media/ MICHAEL WOODS --John L. Smith reacts to a call in the fourth quarter of Arkansas' Nov. 3 game against Tulsa at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
NWA Media/ MICHAEL WOODS --John L. Smith reacts to a call in the fourth quarter of Arkansas' Nov. 3 game against Tulsa at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

— The numbers add up subtracting John L. Smith as Arkansas’ interim head football coach.

Following the Razorbacks’ loss in Friday’s finale, Smith was reassigned Saturday through the end of his 10-month contract. He will serve as a consultant for the remainder of his contract, which ends in February, and will help with the transition to his eventual successor.

Such is the coaching life expectancy when a coach finishes 4-8 overall and 2-6 in SEC play after inheriting a team that went 11-2 the previous season and was ranked 10th nationally in the preseason before rising to No. 8 after the first week of the season.

On those terms,, there was no excuse for Smith’s failure, even with a myriad of extenuating circumstances as plausible excuses.

They begin with the firing of Bobby Petrino that bequeathed Smith the job and extend to the simmering disciplinary problems Petrino’s departure left untended as well as a hospital ward full of injuries to key players.

Many of those injuries were season-ending.

One injury, senior quarterback Tyler Wilson’s concussion, was career-ending. Not for Wilson, but for John L. Smith.

When Arkansas couldn’t hold the 21-7 lead that Wilson had built over 30-point underdog Louisiana-Monroe and ended up losing 34-31 with Wilson out of the game Sept. 8, Smith’s long shot for a long-term tenure was toast.

Most Arkansas fans likely deem Smith a failure. They join the club of Smith critics that include those he owes from bad land deals that plunged him into bankruptcy to those muttering at Weber State, whose head coaching job Smith assumed in December before returning in April to take the Arkansas job.

You won’t find those he coached and coached with at Arkansas joining that chorus.

Though their season strayed off course, the Razorbacks’ players and staff loyally stuck by the coach they clamored for to the bitter end.

The players and coaches even publicly supported Smith’s controversial decision during Friday’s 20-13 loss to LSU when he chose to kick a field goal instead of go for it on fourth and goal inside the 1.

They didn’t need to support him anymore. Their season was done, and so was Smith. Criticism would bear no repercussions.

But their loyalty and affection never wavered for the man who treated everyone - from players to the training table wait-staff - as people happily to be cultivated instead of objects to be ignored or even cursed.

Even with one of his egregious verbal gaffes, misspeaking at the Little Rock Touchdown Club that the Razorbacks belonged to the State of Alabama, Smith meant the best because, of course, he meant Arkansas.

Smith embraced that the Razorbacks belong first and foremost to Arkansas - something his predecessor never did.

As a 4-8 coach, John L. Smith will not be remembered well.

Yet as a man, he remains fondly regarded by the players, assistants and support staff whose lives he touched.

By the Sunday sermons, which some profess to keep life’s score, it’s that respect from those he dealt with that is supposed to mean more.

Sports, Pages 14 on 11/28/2012