Some random thoughts three weeks into Hogmageddon:
Tyler Wilson, I am impressed! I love a young man who has pride and passion. His speech after Saturday’s ballgame confirmed what I already thought. Tyler Wilson is a leader! Granted, Arkansas’ fifth-year senior quarterback said what head coach John L. Smith should have said. But somebody had to say it.
I served in the US military for over 22 years and I can tell you without hesitation that I would want Tyler Wilson covering my back in a firefight. It might be best if Smith just moves out of the way and lets Tyler take over the leadership role he—Smith—has already abdicated. Don’t back down, Tyler. You are what this team needs.
I can’t think of any good reason why athletic director Jeff Long hasn’t fired Smith, but apparently he has one. My speculation follows.
First, Long isn’t willing to admit he made another mistake. Long hired Bobby Petrino and that blew up in his face last spring. Now, the interim coach he hired just to get the program through the 2012 season has made it look like Long fired Sergeant Carter and hired Gomer Pyle.
I’ve been thinking that for a few weeks but couldn’t bring myself to be that caustic publicly until I saw Smith’s half-time and post-game statements during and following Alabama’s 52-0 beatdown of Arkansas Saturday.
For a man with so many years of head coaching experience, Smith sure doesn’t act or talk like a leader. When he said he didn’t know what to say to the players after the game Saturday, I couldn’t believe my ears. A head coach saying something like that at a press conference that was sure to be broadcast nationally?! No wonder Tyler Wilson was so fired up.
Second, there isn’t anyone on the current staff Long thinks can do any better. Now that’s frightening if it’s true. One theory I heard on the radio this week that made a lot of sense was that Bobby Petrino was such a micro-managing autocrat that he only hired assistant coaches who could function in the strict confines of his coaching dictatorship.
Now, that group is trying to coach without Petrino micro-managing every decision and it isn’t working. If that is true, that may be why the team seems to be drifting without any coaching direction and why Long can’t find anyone on the staff to take Smith’s place. Plus, if he fires Smith and elevates one of the assistants, that leaves a void somewhere on the staff.
Third, maybe Long already has a coach or a short list of coaches picked out to be the next Head Hog. And maybe none of those coaches will be available until after the season. Maybe he doesn’t want to hire Butch Davis because he doesn’t want to follow controversy with more controversy, even though Davis came out of the North Carolina scandal relatively unscathed—other than being fired, of course.
But Davis was the head coach when some major NCAA violations occurred and that will follow him for quite some time. Maybe that’s enough to keep Long from considering him even though he’s available now as far as we know.
I’ll give you this, Long can’t afford to make a mistake this time. He handled the Bobby Petrino situation admirably last spring once the truth starting coming out. But, he is also the man who hired Petrino knowing he was ethically-challenged and he let the blond-on-the-Harley, lied-to-my-boss-repeatedly, unethical-hiring scandal develop right under his nose.
This time, Long needs to hire someone like Mark Richt at Georgia or Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, a coach who can recruit and coach with the best of them and who brings integrity and a good name with him. I’m not sure who that is—Richt and Swinney definitely aren’t available—but that should be the formula. Hopefully, Long finds someone who measures up in all categories this time.
Finally, I want to say that this whole mess the Razorbacks are in—besides being Bobby Petrino’s fault for obvious reasons—might be his fault for one some people haven’t thought of yet. Petrino was a great field general. He could get more out of his players than most coaches and he was a genius at calling offensive plays and managing a game from the sidelines. But he wasn’t a great recruiter.
Last spring national number one recruit Dorial Green-Beckham left Arkansas at the altar and ran off with Missouri on signing day. I said then that Petrino had to find a way to land more four- and five-star recruits if Arkansas was ever going to compete consistently with the SEC powerhouse programs like LSU and Alabama.
Maybe Arkansas’ mostly three-star players are playing like three-stars should play. Maybe, with Bobby Petrino gone, this coaching staff isn’t good enough to pull four- and five-star performances out of them on the field.
It’s obvious that Smith isn’t good enough as a head coach. That’s why I think Long should have fired him this weekend. Since that didn’t happen, the question is: can anyone else join Tyler Wilson, step up to the leadership challenge, and motivate the Hogs to get back to playing SEC-caliber football? We’ll see.
Great games this coming weekend: Missouri at #7 South Carolina, #10 Clemson at #4 Florida State, #22 Arizona at #3 Oregon, and #15 Kansas State at #6 Oklahoma.