John L. Smith, Comedian or Football Coach?
Did John L. Smith try too hard to be funny in his first presser as the Hogs Interim head football coach ?
The internet folks have been having a field day in the wake of Interim Razorback football head coach John L. Smith’s first press conference.
The wisecracking Smith presented a total contrast to former head coach Bobby Petrino who was mostly all business when he addressed the media and the fans. To some Hog fans athletic director Jeff Long had just replaced the second coming of Vince Lombardi with Luther Van Damme of the TV comedy series Coach.
The fictional Van Damme was a defensive coach and Smith has spent most of his career on the defensive side of the ball even as a head coach at places like Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State. Both have been known crack corny one liners, Smith as a real life coach.
At the presser announcing his hiring Smith was asked about the call he made to Long offering his services as Petrino’s replacement, a call that lead to his new job.
“Jeff said, ‘I don’t want to hear from you,’ ” Smith deadpanned. ” ‘And I really don’t want to speak to you.’ “
If Long was amused he didn’t show it. More than a few Hog fans on the internet were apparently not amused at all. Some thought it was downright weird when Smith opened the question and answer part of the press conference by asking a reporter, “Are you working out at all?”
When the reporter asked, “Why?” Smith fired off this gem: “You look a little fat and sloppy.”
If there were any doubts that Bobby Petrino was no longer in charge of Razorback Football, Smith erased them.
To be fair much of that press conference took a serious tone. Like when Smith addressed the issue of how he would function with the current staff of assistant coaches, nine of whom he has worked with before. “I see my role as a mentor, and adviser,” Smith explained. “As someone who will say, ‘I don’t think that’s going to work’ or ‘I think that’s real good.’ “
Senior quarterback Tyler Wilson offered a warning to those who think, based on that press conference, that the Hogs’ new head coach is more comedian than taskmaster. “Don’t let that confuse you up there,” Wilson told me afterward as he nodded toward the podium Smith had just vacated. “He can get after you.”
Smith was senior linebacker Alonzo Highsmith Jr.’s position coach last season. “He’s all about business,” Highsmith observed. “He’ll get in your face.”
As someone who has sat through many of Smith’s post practice sessions with reporters when he was Arkansas special team’s coordinator under Petrino I can say that his introductory presser was not typical of what I have observed.
In my mind John L. Smith was trying to set a tone in his first exposure in front of the players and athletic department staff, the people he will be working around on a daily basis. I’m not Bobby Petrino, he seemed to be saying. I know his system and I know his players and his staff but I am different.
That must have come as a welcome relief to most of those people. Bobby Petrino ruled the Broyles Center the way he ruled his football team. It was his way or the highway. That’s fine for those who volunteer to play football. The last time I checked athletic department employees did not sign up for that.
I once knew a guy who played poker in much the same way that Smith addressed all of us the other day. While those around him were wondering if he was really that goofy or just putting on an act he was taking their money.
Smith’s record as a head coach does not suggest that he is in Bobby Petrino’s league in building and maintaining a college football program. At 63 it’s hard to imagine he has the drive to try to run a football program long term in the toughest division of the toughest conference in college game. But for now nobody is asking him to do anything other than keep the train on the tracks for the 2012 season.
What happens next is open for debate and there will be plenty of debating on the Internet and in coffee shops from now until September. As for me I’m quite content to sit back and see what Smith can do. If he surprises us it will be one hell of a story. If not, I wouldn’t want to have to answer Jeff Long’s emails this fall.