Published April 23, 2012
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – It's ironic that John L. Smith has succeeded Bobby Petrino as Arkansas' interim football coach for the 2012 season.
Before Petrino was fired as the Razorbacks' head coach earlier this month for failing to disclose his affair with a woman he later hired as his assistant, he was best known for quitting on the Atlanta Falcons with three games left in the 2007 season to take the Arkansas job.
Many fans of Weber State football might consider that more honorable than Monday's surprising announcement that Smith had decided to leave the Big Sky Conference program just four and a half months after being hired as head coach, and without coaching a game, to take over at Arkansas.
It's an odd scenario that only those involved in the discussions knew was in the works. The 63-year-old Smith, nearly a 40-year veteran on the sidelines, including head coaching stints at Idaho (1989-1994), Utah State (1995-1997), Louisville (1998-2002) and Michigan State (2003-06), had worked under Petrino as a Razorbacks assistant the last three seasons - the fourth school at which they had worked together.
That Smith was being considered as Petrino's replacement was kept quiet while Arkansas flirted with other coaches. His decision enters some dicey territory considering Weber State is his alma mater and he had seemingly returned there for the final job of his career.
Should that tie have been too strong for him to quickly bolt? The court of public opinion will be varied, but no doubt many at Weber State will say it should have been too strong.
Jerry Bovee, Weber State's athletic director, reacted with disappointment Monday morning on Twitter with the following comment: "Wow, just when you think the pieces to the puzzle are all in place, something big happens to create chaos and the picture changes. Ouch!"
Later in a formal announcement through the school, Bovee said, "We knew when we hired John L. as our head football coach that we were getting a high- profile coach that we felt would move our program forward. Obviously, the timing of this announcement is problematic but at this point we are going to move forward in making decisions that are in the best interest of our program."
Clearly, Smith leaves a trail of disappointment in Ogden, Utah. A former linebacker and quarterback for Weber State before he graduated in 1972, he said at his introductory news conference in early December that "Loyalty is No. 1" with his coaching philosophy.
Loyalty, obviously, comes with a price tag. For Smith, he will be paid $850,000 over the next 10 months, plus incentives, to guide Arkansas through a season in which the Razorbacks could be one of the nation's best teams again.
It's more than what he would have made at Weber State, and he surely hopes to turn the interim title at Arkansas into a permanent one with a banner season.
But should Smith's word have meant more than dollars? His reputation already had a strike against it when, as the Louisville head coach in 2002 he revealed to his players at halftime of the GMAC Bowl that he would be leaving afterward to take the Michigan State head coaching job.
Smith will be formerly introduced as Arkansas' new leader at an on-campus news conference on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Weber State will continue to pick up the pieces from a coaching hire its officials now wish they hadn't entered into with John L. Smith.