FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long has a coach in place for the 2012 season after signing John L. Smith to a 10-month contract that will pay him $850,000.
His searchto find a long-term solution for the program is not over.
Long spoke about the process that resulted in Smith’s hiring and what the future holds during Tuesday’s press conference. He said there’s no question bringing Smith on board was “is the best decision for this team for the 2012 season.” But Long also said continuing to evaluate options remains just as important for the program.
“I will wait until after the season to take action, but certainly I’ll be evaluating and I’ll be talking to people,” Long said. “This really gives me extended time period to both evaluate this current staff and other coaches. So, it’s really a luxury. ... I think this process gives us a chance to move quickly after the end of the season if that’s our decision.”
Long began his search to find Petrino’s replacement shortly after firing him on April 10 and stressed he did not step into the process set on hiring an interim coach for the 2012 season.
Long said the night Petrino was fired he would consider assistant head coach Taver Johnson, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Paul Haynes. He would not discuss specific outside candidates or reveal any conversations with other coaches in the past two weeks. Long said there was plenty of feedback, but acknowledged one clear issue.
“There were also people that expressed hesitation about the time of year,” Long said.
In the end, he chose Smith. But, interestingly, Long admitted the 63-year-old wasn’t on his radar after leaving Arkansas to coach Weber State.
It changed when Smith placed a phone call to senior associate athletic director Jon Fagg and expressed interest in returning to Arkansas.
“To be honest, until that call he had not jumped out at me,” Long said. “But I went through the process and continued to work with people and talk with some people. We got to a certain point, I wanted to have a conversation and we talked.”
Smith revealed his rationale for considering the position Tuesday. He earned his share of criticism for leaving his alma mater after four months on the job, but said he wanted to help.
“This is one of the toughest decisions in my life that I’ve ever had to make,” Smith said. “The thing about it is, the people at Weber State, starting with (athletic director) Jerry Bovee said, ‘I understand why you’re doing this.’ And the players that I was fortunate enough to meet with before I left said, ‘Hey coach, if we were you we’d do that.’ So they understood.”
Smith could be a candidate for the position at the end of the season, but there are no guarantees in his contract. It does have language that permits Arkansas to reassign him any time.
Long said it was put in place in case the Razorbacks hire a new coach before Smith’s 10-month contract expires in February. Long said he’s not actively making phone calls regarding other coaches, but is compiling information.
He’s confident Arkansas is in good hands with Smith next season. But Long made it clear he’s not done searching for a football coach to lead the program beyond the 2012 season.
“Certainly we will have a pool that’s more indicative of the kind of program we are in the November, December time period,” Long said.