Arkansas Football: BCS Title Is Still Within Reach Under John L. Smith

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterApril 23, 2012

Arkansas head coach John L. Smith
Arkansas head coach John L. SmithTom Pidgeon/Getty Images

For the last few weeks, we've heard every name in the book associated with Arkansas' search for its next head coach. Names like Jon Gruden, Sean Payton, Pete Carroll and even Phil Fulmer have been on the forefront, so you'd have to assume that Arkansas was swinging for the fences—or at least a double.

Instead, we find out that the interim head coach at Arkansas is John L. Smith.

My first reaction was, "You've got to be kidding me."

But on second thought, it actually makes sense.

Arkansas is a national title contender with or without Bobby Petrino, and the top priority for director of athletics Jeff Long should be to maintain continuity. That was clearly the goal, but Smith isn't exactly the name that came to the top of the list when searching for continuity.

Guys like Taver Johnson or Garrick McGee clearly would provide the same continuity and are more visible to the Arkansas community and the nation than John L. Smith. But given the current circumstances, it makes total sense. 

He's not going to go to Fayetteville and shake things up. He was on the staff just a few months ago and is the only candidate that is familiar with the current state of the program and has major college head coaching experience.

This isn't a permanent solution; it's a bridge. According to ESPN's Joe Schad, he has coached with eight of the nine assistants on the Arkansas staff, including stints working with offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Paul Haynes. 

It's not a "wow" hire by any means, but Smith can sit back, be a CEO and let the assistants do their jobs.

With running back Knile Davis coming back and quarterback Tyler Wilson at the helm, Smith will walk into a program with one of the top offenses in the country. He could ignore the offense completely and it would be just fine.

The question is on defense, and while Haynes' group struggled this spring, he's still an upgrade from former defensive coordinator Willy Robinson. Former defensive end Tenarius Wright moved back to his natural spot at linebacker this spring, and junior college transfer defensive end Austin Flynn is being hyped to be the next stud on the Hog defensive line.

Is the hire out of left field? Absolutely. It's actually from farther away than that—maybe the bullpen. But considering the circumstances, it actually makes sense.

People will laugh because of how things ended at Michigan State, but this isn't the same situation. Arkansas has the pieces to be a BCS National Championship contender, and the presence of John L. Smith won't change that.