After back-to-back September weekends that saw Arkansas lose to Louisiana-Monroe and get blown out by Alabama at home, it was widely assumed and presumed that there was no chance John L. Smith would be back as the Razorbacks’ head coach.
The day after UA’s season came to an end with its eighth loss in 12 games, the John L. era in Fayetteville is officially over.
In a press release, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long announced that he has informed Smith that the school “would be making a change in leadership within our football program.” Smith was hired in the wake of the Bobby Petrino scandal and was given a short leash from the get-go; Smith signed a 10-month contract after leaving his alma mater Weber State, where he had just been hired as head coach for less than five months before leaving for the Hogs in April.
“I am very grateful to Chancellor (David) Gearhart and Jeff Long for the opportunity they gave me to return to the University of Arkansas and coach this football team,” Smith said in a statement. “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. 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.”
As for which direction Arkansas will turn for a permanent replacement for Petrino, several names have already been bandied about even before Smith’s official dismissal. From ESPN broadcaster Jon Gruden to Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn to Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes, there is no shortage of reported contenders for the position.
While obviously not getting into specifics, Long stated that the new leader of the Razorbacks football program would possess “honesty and integrity.” In other words, the anti-Petrino.
“Last April, when I appointed Coach Smith for the 2012 season, I indicated I thought this would provide us the opportunity to take the time necessary to identify the right coach for the future and to do so in a time that would allow us to attract quality candidates,” Long’s statement read. “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. It will be someone who embraces the expectations of winning a national championship and succeeding in the classroom with discipline, honesty and integrity. The leader of our student-athletes will continuously stress academic accountability and the value of earning a degree from the University of Arkansas. 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.”
There is no timeline for the announcement of the new hire, although Long said back in mid-October that he would like the coach in place by early December.