Zemek: The John L. Smith Situation

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Sep 17, 2012


Monday Thought: Zemek on the John L. Smith situation.


- Fiutak: The Tide might be special, but do you care?
- Cirminiello: Prove it, Florida State
- Mitchell: The Volunteer running game
- Zemek: The John L. Smith Situation
- Harrison: Virginia Tech being Virginia Tech
- Johnson: Is McCarron in the Heisman hunt?

By Matt Zemek

No, Arkansas fans – while it's completely understandable that you'd want to see John L. Smith fired this very moment, you don't want to go there. You don't want Jeff Long, your athletic director, to make that move. It's emotionally tempting, but no – you don't want that to happen.

It's true that Long should have hired a better interim coach. It's true that Smith is in over his head. It's true that Smith is not providing a strong presence in the locker room, which is exactly what the Razorbacks need right now. It's true that if Smith thought he could throw Nick Saban off the scent by creating fake suspense surrounding Tyler Wilson's playing status, he's as foolish as his face-slapping Michigan State days suggested he always was.

Nevertheless, he should not be fired – not this week, and not before the end of his one and only season as the head football coach at the University of Arkansas.

There's a very simple concept at work here: Interim coaches are generally not the solutions to problems; they're band-aids. Interim coaches are generally not the answers to vexing questions; they're the placeholders until the next permanent coach is brought aboard to be the real answer man. Interim coaches are not transformational figures, those engineers of excellence or the architects of aspiration who win big and conquer their enemies. They stand in the gap while long-term repairs are plotted, planned and eventually implemented.

It's hilarious to contemplate the notion that Smith has somehow "lost control" of the Razorbacks and the situation enfolding the program. Such a term implies that Smith had control in the first place. If Smith has "lost control" of the Hogs, the not-too-subtle suggestion is that this was a stable, normal and settled situation to begin with.

I know it hurts to hear this, Arkansas fans, but there was nothing stable or normal about the situation John L. Smith walked into. It's a situation Jeff Long shouldn't have asked him to deal with, but that is a separate conversation. When Smith was brought aboard, he was walking into a mess with very little time to prepare for the coming season. Even though Long should have found a better replacement, one thing was always going to be clear once Bobby Petrino essentially fired himself in early April: Long was not going to be able to find a permanent head coach before the start of the 2012 season. The Razorbacks were going to be stuck with an interim coach for the year that had "national championship possibility" written all over it.

The timing surrounding Arkansas's lost year simply stunk (and still stinks). That's life. Everything was set up for Arkansas to have a huge year, but then the architect of the program, the man whose attention to detail (on a blackboard and a practice field, not a scooter or a work phone…) put the Razorbacks in position to contend for the biggest prizes in college football, simply blew it.

You can lament the fates and curse the darkness all you want, Razorback Nation, but Bobby Petrino – not John L. Smith – is the man who cost you a bundle in 2012. Smith is just filling this seat until Long – as early as late November (just over two months from now) – brings aboard a permanent coach. If Long makes good on that hire, the 2012 season is all you'll lose.

You don't want to lose more than this season, of course, and if Long fires Smith in the next 48 to 96 hours, there's a better chance that the program's reputation will be diminished in the eyes of would-be coaches, the men who are already wondering if Fayetteville should be their next landing spot.

Consider this: Given the minimal status of an interim coach in the first place, it stands to reason that said interim coach should be fired only if he does something to embarrass the program off the field. Interim coaches are entrusted with the primary responsibility of doing damage control, and while it's true that Smith isn't doing his job very well, the whole notion of "damage control" flows from the fact that far too much damage has already been done (by Bobby Petrino, in this case). Smith should not be held to a permanent head coach's standards for on-field performance. He'll be gone in 10 weeks, anyway; it should take an act of inexcusable, unprofessional conduct (toward a player or athletic department employee) to get Smith out of Fayetteville this week or any time before the Hogs' final regular season game.

If Smith is fired strictly for on-field performance in the coming days or weeks, imagine what kind of a precedent that would establish at the University of Arkansas. Think long and hard about what that would mean.

If an interim football coach is fired solely for on-field performance – so that ANOTHER interim coach can step in for no more than nine games! – Long and the UA athletic department would essentially be saying that the 2012 season is a normal season, one that should be judged strictly on the merits of wins and losses without regard for outside circumstances (the ones that swamped the program in late March and early April, courtesy of Mr. Petrino). If Smith is fired this week, the Arkansas program will send a chilling message about the centrality of its football culture, just two months after Mark Emmert's hypocritical and empty sermon about the corrosive effects of a football-first culture at Penn State.

If John L. Smith, an interim coach – a lame-duck coach – is prematurely fired after just three games, will the men seeking the permanent Arkansas job have second thoughts about throwing their hats into the ring? It's possible.

Yes, emotions are running high in Fayetteville right now, and they should. This was supposed to be a season that would lift the Arkansas Razorbacks to the top tier of the college football world, a season on par with 1964 and 1969. Instead, it has all come crashing down so quickly and spectacularly. The pain of such a realization is immense; that's why Tyler Wilson, the man who was supposed to be at the center of a program's rise, spoke out with such passion yesterday. (He should be commended more than faulted for what he said; one can question the effectiveness of Wilson's words yet applaud the young man for giving a damn.)

However, it's precisely when emotions run high that poor and irrational decisions are made. With the benefit of time and a few deep breaths, people in and around the Arkansas program need to swallow hard, absorb this wasted season – a season wasted, ultimately and centrally, by Bobby Petrino – and look to late November, when a permanent head coach is hired. Firing John L. Smith now would take this three-ring circus in Fayetteville and make it a million times worse.

"Quit while you're ahead" is a simple piece of familiar and timeless wisdom. "Quit while you're behind" is the advice Arkansas fans (and Jeff Long) must heed this week.

- Fiutak: The Tide might be special, but do you care?
- Cirminiello: Prove it, Florida State
- Mitchell: The Volunteer running game
- Zemek: The John L. Smith Situation
- Harrison: Virginia Tech being Virginia Tech
- Johnson: Is McCarron in the Heisman hunt?











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