When John L. Smith was introduced as the interim coach for the Arkansas Razorbacks, it was very clear that the team wanted to go in a different direction. Former coach Bobby Petrino was ushered out under a cloud of controversy, and Arkansas football players became a common fixture on the local police blotter.
The Razorbacks football team needed some strong discipline, and Smith proved he is up for the challenge.
Smith met all violators of the law with a strict hand. In early May, Arkansas receivers Marquel Wade and Maudrecus Humphrey as well as tight end Andrew Peterson were arrested on felony residential burglary charges.
In a quote to the Associated Press (h/t SportingNews.com), Smith made it very clear that this behavior would not be tolerated:
"It's a felony and it's a serious, serious thing," coach John L. Smith told The Associated Press. "They're not part of this football team until this thing gets cleared up or they'll never be a part."
Smith continued to lay the law:
"We tried to explain to them what;s going to be accepted and what's not going to be accepted, and what are going to be the consequences," Smith said. "We're going to demand that they do the right things. If the (message) hasn't gotten across, it certainly will before it's all said and done."
The Arkansas Razorbacks were going to have discipline and pride, and they were going to get back to playing football the right way.
Smith's attitude is welcomed by the Arkansas front office and seemed long overdue, but Smith has a very tough decision to make in the future that could put his attitude toward violators to the test.
Wade is a very good player, and he was expected to contribute on offense this year. The wide receiver was expected to come in and help replace some of the talent that left for the NFL in the 2012 draft. The arrest and the indefinite suspension levied by Smith put his status as a Razorback in doubt.
Smith is a disciplinarian, but he is also human. He is an interim coach on a 10-month contract who realizes that, if he is to stick around, the team will have to win.
Wade dazzled in the annual spring game, catching six passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. He looked as though he was ready to contribute and make an impact on offense for the Razorbacks.
The team is loaded with talent and will perform well this year, but adding Wade to the offense will surely help.
Perhaps that is what Smith was thinking when he left the window open for Wade's return. He commented on Wade and the other players arrested during an SEC spring meeting (via ESPN):
"I think they'll all have a chance," he said. "As we work through the process here that chance will either grow significantly, we hope, or it will diminish significantly in the next little while. As soon as we know something -- we're going to let you know." Smith has claimed that if the players are allowed back on the team they will have to "earn" it. Although it has not been announced Wade has taken one step in the right direction as the wide out announced via twitter that he has enrolled in summer classes.
The 2012 Arkansas schedule allows for a few "warm-up" games to slowly bring Wade back, as the Hogs start the season against Jacksonville State and the ULM Warhawks. However, don't be shocked if Wade is back and ready to go when the Razorbacks host the Alabama Crimson Tide in what could easily be the biggest game of the season.
Smith has a very difficult decision to make, and although he may not let Wade play, all signs point to his return. If he does play, the fans may be happy, but it could also be a sign that Smith caved to the pressure of winning over doing the right thing.
Expect some heavy criticism when the decision is made, as this could prove to be the toughest choice Smith has had to make as head coach of the Razorbacks.