FAYETTEVILLE — It was no secret John L. Smith was working his final game as Arkansas’ coach on Friday.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long made it official Saturday morning.
Long, in a statement, announced he had met with Smith and informed him the Razorbacks “would be making a change in leadership within our football program.” It came the day after Arkansas finished the 2012 season with a 20-13 loss to LSU. It wrapped up a 4-8 season, which was the program’s worst record since going 3-8 in 1990.
“I have great respect for Coach Smith and I thank him for the sincere commitment he has shown our program,” Long said in the statement. “He made a difficult decision in uncertain times to return from his alma mater to guide the young men in our football program, and I will always be grateful for his efforts.
“I would also like to express my gratitude to our assistant football coaching staff, and our support staff. They have shown remarkable professionalism and a true commitment to the student-athletes in our program. They demonstrated great character in maintaining their commitment to our program.”
Smith left Weber State to return to Arkansas in April after Bobby Petrino was fired. He signed a 10-month contract with no guarantees regarding the future, but had hoped for a chance to earn the position long-term after the 2012 season. Arkansas struggled under Smith’s leadership, though, beginning with the early-season loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
“I am very grateful to Chancellor (David) Gearhart and Jeff Long for the opportunity they gave me to return to the University of Arkansas and coach this football team,” Smith said in the statement released Saturday. “I have enjoyed guiding this group and I am extremely proud of how everyone in our program stuck together and showed tremendous character by competing throughout the season. Everyone on our staff has my appreciation as they all believed in our goals and stayed committed to the development of these young men.”
Smith and the Arkansas coaching staff knew the decision was coming after the LSU game. Smith, in fact, spent the week looking back on his tenure with the Razorbacks and said he expected to be overly emotional during the final week of the regular season. It was the same for the assistant coaches who were asked what the future held Friday night.
“I’m going to go home,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said of his immediate plans. “My family’s here. We’re going to eat and from there we’ll go on, you know? I won’t have my head down, I guarantee you that. I’ll sit there and look at the options, pray and put it in God’s hands.”
Smith will remain working in the athletic department as a consultant for the duration of his 10-month contract, which expires Feb. 23, 2013. He will be reassigned to assist in the transition for the new coaching staff. Long said the current assistants will have the option to remain with the staff “pending the hiring of a new head coach.”
Long, meanwhile, is continuing his search for Arkansas’ next coach. He maintained Saturday the decision to hire Smith to lead the program in 2012 was aimed to give the Razorbacks the necessary time to attract quality candidates and hire the “right coach for the future.” An appointment is expected to come by no later than mid-December, although CBSSports.com reported Saturday morning that the Razorbacks intend to have a new coach named within 10 days.
“Our new coach will be an individual who shares the passion for success our fans do and who is willing to work relentlessly to achieve our goals,” Long said. “It will be someone who embraces the expectations of winning a national championship and succeeding in the classroom with discipline, honesty and integrity. The leader of our student-athletes will continuously stress academic accountability and the value of earning a degree from the University of Arkansas.
“Our new coach will embrace what this program means not just to the university, but to the entire state of Arkansas and will share the vision for the future success of Razorback Football.”