Sunday, November 25, 2012
My Sunday Feeling
The brief tenure of John L. Smith as the head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks swiftly came to an abrupt and unsurprising end Friday when the University announced that he would not return in that capacity. A friend of mine wondered why they didn't get rid of him a couple of games ago as Tennessee did Derek Dooley. My response was that there was no need to rush a foregone conclusion as they stumbled along to a 4-8 record after being picked as high as #8 in pre-season polls. Although I'm sure it has happened before I can't recall a similar flameout.
Yesterday's game against LSU was a microcosm of what plagued the Razorbacks all year. Penalties, fumbles and missed field goals. Mental errors. These are things that are all properly laid at the feet of the coaching staff. After all, as LSU's irrepressible Les Miles said after the game, "It's very difficult for me to believe that is not a bowl-eligible football team."
But it ain't.
Clearly, the Razorbacks were overrated despite losing too many good players from last year's team. And they were snakebit by injuries all year. They weren't going to a BCS Bowl under laboratory conditions. And many Hog fans blame this on John L. Smith. Or on Jeff Long for hiring John L. Which, and let me repeat myself here, is unfair.
In the first place, I blame Bobby Petrino for 90% of this mess. Contrary to the mythology still extant out there in Hogland, Petrino did not get fired for having an affair with an employee or for lying about it to Long. He got fired for hiring her as his subordinate. Long had to fire him for exposing the University to liability to others that were passed over in the hiring process. Period.
This put Long in a tough spot. And he opted to fill it on an interim basis with a man with successful experience as a head coach and who knew the staff and the players. On paper, this seemed like a good idea. Sure John L is a goofball. But he was a goofball at Louisville and Michigan State as well.
He was also a turnip financially after real estate deals back in the Commonwealth of Kentucky came back to bite him on the ass and forced him to file a bankruptcy during the season. Smith and Long have both acknowledged that John L advised Long about his financial woes. But I can't imagine that Long would hire anybody else that had acquired 40 million bucks in unsecured debt. Then again, it is entirely plausible that John L didn't rightly know himself just how deep in the red he was. As the old saying goes, a million here, a million there, pretty soon you're talking real money.
The point being, his financial troubles had to be both humiliating and a very real distraction for John L no matter how much he tried to concentrate on the job at hand. It just had to be.
So what now?
CBS Sports has reported that the University hopes to have a replacement for John L within 10 days. According to the traffic among the journalists and scholars on the Internet message boards like woopig.net, it is either Jon Gruden, Boise State's Chris Petersen or Arkansas's own Charlie Strong who is doing a bang-up job at, coincidentally, Louisville. Although if I'm Jeff Long, I'm wondering what must be in the water up there after the last 2 Cardinals coaches he hired (Petrino and John L)blew up high, wide and handsome after they hit the Ozarks.
But I don't blame John L. Smith for this mess. And make no mistake, the next guy who comes in, whoever it is, will inherit a mess. Hog fans will have to be verrrrrry patient because they may be looking at a 3-5 year project.
I hope John L lands on his feet somewhere. It can't imagine being 62, flat broke and unemployed. I He has been reassigned in the Athletic Department for the time being. Good. He needs a job.
And the next 10 days will be interesting. However, it shakes out.