New Arkansas Razorback Coach: 4 Reasons Why John L. Smith Was the Right Hire
John L. Smith is the new head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.
This hire came out of the figurative "left field" for anyone who had been following the coaching search since Bobby Petrino was fired. Smith's contract is for 10 months, but this year won't be his last if he can lead the Razorbacks to BCS-level heights.
We heard Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Gary Patterson, heck we even heard Houston Nutt being thrown around (thank goodness that never materialized)!
In the end, the Razorbacks chose a name that doesn't elicit enormous media fervor, but that may actually be an advantage.
Overall, this is a solid hire for Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long for a multitude of reasons.
4. Prior Head Coaching Experience
John L. Smith has a solid head coaching record of 132-86 while being the head man for Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State (Smith was hired to be the head coach of Weber State in December, but that is obviously of little matter now).
While the head coach for Idaho, he led the Vandals to (what is now) the NCAA Division I FCS Playoffs four of his five seasons in Moscow.
In addition, Smith took the Louisville Cardinals to bowl games in all five of his seasons as the Cardinals' head coach, posting a 41-21 record overall.
As the Michigan State Spartans' head coach, Smith did not experience as much success (going 22-26 overall), but his experience as a Big Ten head coach proved invaluable in the more recent parts of his coaching career.
3. Familiarity with the Arkansas Razorbacks
It was as if he never left.
While most were guessing that Garrick McGee was going to be the former Razorback assistant who would get the nod (yes, even yours truly), but it was actually the former special teams coach who takes over.
This will come as a sigh of relief for the current Razorback outfit, given that Smith was the special teams and outside linebackers coach for Arkansas from 2009 up until this past season. Smith's presence will be reassuring for a team that has been thrown into a state of flux.
This now allows offensive coordinator Paul Petrino to help augment Tyler Wilson's development and work Marquel Wade and Cobi Hamilton into premier roles in the Razorback passing game.
Subsequently, this allows former Buckeye coordinators Paul Haynes and Taver Johnson to focus their time with the defense, which is an area of concern (we'll get there).
All in all, this hire proves to be a home run in providing what the entire Arkansas football program truly needed.
A sense of comfort and familiarity.
2. Continuity in Leadership
For the purpose of this section, we need to separate the two Bobby Petrinos.
First, there is the "person" Bobby Petrino whose characteristics have been outlined by many other people. Of real importance here is the "football coach" Bobby Petrino, the one who has been lauded as an offensive genius.
Just for the sake of discussion, do you know who has been his mentor throughout his coaching career?
Yes, you guessed it, John L. Smith.
Petrino formerly served as Smith's offensive coordinator at Idaho, Utah State and Louisville.
Petrino has stated several times that John L. Smith is one of the most important coaching influences in his career, and that certainly speaks to the level of respect Smith commands throughout the coaching profession.
This reason cannot be overstated in the impact it will have for the 2012 Razorbacks football program.
Smith incorporates Petrino's best characteristics (tough, no-nonsense approach) while infusing some different aspects Petrino did not show (colorful wit and a less polarizing public persona are the most noteworthy).
This will be enormous for the Razorbacks, given that they are now presented with a leader who will provide continuity, something the team surely thought they lost with Petrino's dismissal.
1. Defensive and Special Teams Presence
If there is one thing that doesn't involve the words "motorcycle" and "inappropriate relationship" the past few weeks that Arkansas fans can feel good about, it is this.
As expected, the offense looks great.
That was solidified in the spring game on Saturday where the Razorback offense looked sublime in their final appearance before training camp begins.
Where the Razorbacks really need help is on defense and special teams, and John L. Smith provides the perfect person to help change that.
For example, in 2001 when Smith's Louisville squad went 11-2 and won the Conference USA Championship, the Cardinals' were excellent on defense, only allowing 17 points per game. In addition, even when the Spartans struggled under Smith's watch, the offense was largely at fault, not the defense.
The same can be said for hist time as the outside linebackers' coach for Arkansas, where he helped develop undersized Jerico Nelson and youngster Alonzo Highsmith into productive defenders for Arkansas' scheme.
Likewise, Smith's time spent as the special teams coach for the Razorbacks yielded some of the most mind-blowing, impressive plays (many courtesy of Joe Adams). This is reflective of Smith's emphasis on special teams, where he helped make the Razorbacks solid in all aspects.
Overall, Smith's heritage as a defensive and special teams guru will help change a Razorback squad that sorely needs improvement in those areas.