John L. Smith Named Arkansas Coach: Here We Go Again?

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John L. Smith Named Arkansas Coach: Here We Go Again?
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

John L. Smith, best known for coaching Louisville and Michigan State, will take over the troubled Arkansas football program. Good hire? Some think so. Bad hire? Some think so. While differing opinions are perfectly normal, nothing else about the college coaching business is.

Hiring an employee—remember that being a lousy employee is what got Bobby Petrino fired, not any issues with his coaching—has much to do with a connection forged between the hiring manager and the potential employee.

While every job has required skill sets, a large part of the hiring decision is about trust. Very few grown-up jobs require baby-sitting. Most of us work pretty independently, and our hiring managers have to be confident in our work ethic and decision making.

While Arkansas AD Jeff Long deserves all the praise he’s gotten for how he handled the Petrino firing,  I have to question the other aspects of his managerial performance. The hiring of Smith raises those questions again.

Trust. Confidence. How could Long have felt those towards Petrino when he hired him?

Petrino took the Arkansas job in the middle of the night, figuratively, by leaving the Falcons with three games left in the NFL season. He never said goodbye to his team, instead leaving notes in their lockers. A few years earlier, Petrino—while coaching Louisville—interviewed for the Auburn job, while Tommy Tuberville was still coaching the Tigers.

Fast forward to 2012, and should we be surprised at Petrino’s horrific behavior?

Smith has recently been the Arkansas special teams coordinator. With all of his head coaching experience, promoting him to replace Petrino would have been a no-brainer. You noticed the "would have," huh?

Smith left Fayetteville in December to take over as head coach of his alma mater, Weber State. When Petrino self-destructed, Smith was employed by Weber State, not Louisville. After five months on the job—had he unpacked yet?—Smith did an about face and headed back to Fayetteville.

So much for the “we’re in this together” speech to the Wildcats. First time Smith has left a job under somewhat shaky circumstances? Hardly.

Smith did a great job at Louisville—where, oddly, he was succeeded by Petrino—and moved to a bigger job at Michigan State. When did he tell his players? At halftime of the 2003 GMAC Bowl against Marshall. Some fiery, win-one-for-the-gipper speech that was. Let’s go get ‘em guys. Oh, and I’m leaving after the game.

This college coaching business stinks. In no other profession are contracts ignored. I have one. I can’t just go work for a competitor directly from this job.

No one would deny anyone an opportunity to improve his or her job. But you can’t have the security of a long-term contract and also the freedom to take another job in the middle of that contract. Well, apparently I’m wrong because college coaches can.

I know. This is the obvious spot to insert a snide comment on the recent issue of coaches blocking kids from transferring from their program. No need to, apparently; discuss among yourselves…

Coaches should be held to their contracts, end of discussion. If you want the freedom to jump to another job, then work under one-year contracts. If there are certain jobs that are your dream jobs, then have an opt-out clause put into your contract for those jobs. This isn't difficult.

If I’m Jeff Long, I don’t make either of these hires. We saw how the first one ended. I'm not thinking the second one goes much better.

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