Jeff Long makes a bold move with interim coaching decision
Arkansas is taking a gamble by hiring John L. Smith as an interim head coach for the 2012 season, rather than elevating an assistant already on the staff to take over the job. Smith, who was previously the special teams coach under Bobby Petrino for the past few seasons until accepting a head-coaching position with his alma mater at Weber State, will look to keep the ship on course for a potential run in the SEC, and maybe even the BCS.
Here is the situation for Arkansas. Any time a program elevates the responsibilities to an assistant coach to take on the interim coaching spot you are setting your team up for a downfall. Shuffling responsibilities on the coaching staff means putting a coach or two in a position in which they are unable to do their job to the best of their abilities, and sometimes leads to more chefs in the kitchen than you really need.
They are certainly different situations, and perhaps unfair to compare and contrast, but let’s just look at last season. Ohio State canned Jim Tressel over the summer and named Luke Fickell as the interim head coach for the 2012 season. The season did not quite go as well as Ohio State had been used to in recent years. Suspensions certainly took a toll but would the Buckeyes have had a better year if Tressel were still in charge? It’s easy to think so, is it not?
In November Penn State fired Joe Paterno and turned the program over to defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who for the first time had to take a crack at coaching some offense. Penn State fell short at home against Nebraska, pulled out a win in Columbus and then was throttled by Wisconsin and Houston to end the season that looked to be heading to a potential Big Ten championship before Paterno was fired (some other things happened to, in case you didn’t know).
Bringing in John L. Smith, a coach with head coaching experience at the FBS level in the Big Ten and is already very familiar with the Arkansas coaching staff gives the Razorbacks the best opportunity to avoid the problems that generally come with interim head coaches. With so much riding on this upcoming season, did Jeff Long really have a better, realistic, option?
And how about that Arkansas 2012 schedule?
They have a team that is built for a SEC title run, and with that could come a shot at a BCS title for the first time in program history. The schedule is slanted downfield toward the Razorbacks, with two easy walk-throughs in weeks one and two before hosting Alabama and Rutgers. A 4-0 start is certainly not out of the realm of possibility before heading to Texas A&M, a school Arkansas has handled just fine in recent years. Getting to the bye week without a loss should be a legitimate expectation, with the Alabama hurdle looking to be the most difficult one to get by.
After the bye week Arkansas has a tough road game at South Carolina in November, but all eyes should rightly be locked in on the regular season finale against LSU, at home.
So, will Smith get the job done this season? That remains to be seen, but it certainly would be one of the top stories in college football this fall if the Razorbacks make a BCS run.
I can see it happening. So can Jeff Long.
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