Even by John L. Smith’s standards, if that’s the right word, this is an abrupt move.
Maybe it all makes sense, how a football coach who never quite mastered the art of a gracious exit is being named to an interim position. Smith is leaving Weber State’s head coaching job after four months to take over Arkansas’ program.
You want a temporary replacement? Smith’s your guy. He left Utah State after three seasons, with the airplane’s engines revving while he coached what became his final regular-season game with the Aggies at North Texas in 1997, ready to wing his way to an interview at Louisville.
There are many reasons why Smith would take the Arkansas job, but none of them makes it the right thing to do. His departure from Weber State is an insult to his alma mater. He’s 63, having basically pledged that returning to Ogden would be a career capstone. Smith can say anything he wants regarding his feelings for Arkansas, where he spent the past three seasons as special-teams coach, and a desire to help the Hogs heal in the wake of Bobby Petrino’s, but Weber State is the only school that deserves such loyalty.
WSU athletic director Jerry Bovee wanted to replicate the hiring for former coach Ron McBride by bringing in a proven coach with one more burst of energy left in him, and he found Smith. Bovee was blindsided by Smith’s move. Of course, no one could have foreseen Arkansas having a vacancy in April.
But I also know this: Bovee was warned about the bad feelings Smith left behind in Logan.
So what do the Wildcats do now? Whatever it takes to get Mac back in Ogden.
Hiring a coach is very difficult at this date, so Bovee somehow must persuade McBride to return. Ideally, McBride - now working with the Utah Blaze of Arena Football — would come back in July and coach the 2012 season, allowing Bovee time to conduct another search.
But if Mac wants the job back indefinitely, I say WSU should give it to him.
Having said this, I can’t blame Arkansas for hiring Smith. The Razorbacks get a longtime head coach, someone who’s familiar with the program, is willing to accept an interim label and has worked with most of the assistant coaches. He can manage the program without disrupting any of the current assignments.
For Smith, this could work out wonderfully. Having been fired by Michigan State and looking to restore his name, he’s taking over a team that ranked in the top five last season, returns one of the country’s top quarterbacks (Tyler Wilson) and a powerful offense and has a favorable schedule. Smith instantly can become a hero in Arkansas, and maybe even position himself to be hired permanently.
Can you imagine if this guy wins the national championship?
Of course, that’s precisely the goal he cited when he became Weber State’s coach in December, and we all know how long that quest lasted.