Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A two-time graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Former UA coaches offer take on 2012 mistakes
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/STEPHEN B. THORNTON -- Arkansas coach John L. Smith, left, and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, right, before the start of their game with Lousiana-Monroe at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas' 2012 season to forget just won't go away.
In a Wednesday article posted by SportingNews.com, former Razorbacks coordinators Paul Petrino and Paul Haynes said UA athletics director Jeff Long made a mistake hiring John L. Smith to a 10-month contract last April, stating such a move left coaches little leverage with players.
"I don't think an A.D. should ever hire somebody for 10 months," said Petrino, now the head coach at Idaho. "Players know what that means; they understand that. It hurts the power of the head coach and the assistants.
"They should've hired (Smith) for two years or hired someone else for two years, or just (expletive) canned all of us."
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Arkansas' program was thrown into a mess last April when Bobby Petrino was fired for misconduct. In accordance with players' wants, Long kept the rest of the Razorbacks' staff intact and brought in Smith, a former Arkansas assistant who had been hired at Weber State four months earlier.
According to the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman Review last December, Long told Idaho athletics director Rob Spear he would have hired Paul Petrino as the Razorbacks' interim coach if he had a different last name.
With Smith at the helm, Arkansas never reached its preseason top 10 potential, while his press conference antics and bankruptcy filing only added to negative press brought about from unprecedented losses. The Razorbacks blew a 21-point lead to ULM in the second game of the season and lost their first two SEC games to Alabama and Texas A&M by a combined 100 points.
Tyler Wilson called out teammates he said "gave up" during the 52-0 loss to Alabama in the third week of the season. Petrino, Haynes and Smith all said multiple members of the team gave up at times through the season.
“There were some seniors who kind of hung it up, to be honest with you,” Petrino said. “They were going to worry about their futures more than that team. A couple seniors said they were hurt and I don’t know if they really were.”
Coaches declined to name any of the players referenced. Several Arkansas players suffered prolonged injuries last season, leaving the team inexperienced and short-handed at multiple positions.
“I really don’t fault them, to be honest with you,” said Haynes, now the head coach at Kent State. “I don’t fault the kids for thinking that way. Again, there was no stability there. Again, it goes back to, ‘Who am I playing for?’ Once they can’t say, ‘We’re trying to save the coaches’ jobs’— if they’re just playing for the university, sometimes kids feel the university let them down.”
Contrary to their comments in Wednesday's article, coaches praised players during the season for not giving up despite its disappointing nature. Following a season-ending loss to LSU on Nov. 23, Haynes said, "It didn't go the way we wanted it to, but the effort, the preparation our guys gave, you can't ask for anything else."
Long declined comment, according to the Sporting News, and Arkansas didn't make any current players available for interview.