Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long dismissed interim football coach John L. Smith on Saturday morning after the Razorbacks finished a 4-8 season with a 20-13 loss to LSU in Fayetteville.
The university said Smith would remain in the athletic department as a consultant until his contract expires in February, and he would help with the transition when a new coach is hired. The school said the assistant coaches could remain on staff until a new head coach is hired.
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com said Arkansas expects to name a new head coach within 10 days. TCU coach Gary Patterson is a leading candidate to replace Smith, according to what sources have told Bo Mattingly, radio host of Sports Talk with Bo.
In a news release emailed to the media early Saturday (Nov. 24), Long said he would always be grateful to Smith for making a difficult decision to take the interim job “in uncertain times.”
However, Long said he told Smith on Saturday morning the university “would be making a change in leadership within our football program.”
“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.
Smith, 64, was hired in April to replace Bobby Petrino after Petrino was fired when it came to light that he’d hired his mistress to work in the football program. Smith had been Petrino’s specials teams coach before taking the coaching job at Weber State.
Smith signed a 10-month, $850,000 contract and had the task of keeping the team and staff together for what many expected to be a banner year for the Razorbacks. Arkansas started the season ranked 10th nationally, but the wheels began to come off when the Razorbacks lost to Louisiana-Monroe in overtime in September in Little Rock.
Smith’s younger brother, Bart, died Sept. 17 in Idaho just after it was announced that Smith had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because of some bad real estate deals in Kentucky from his time as head coach of Louisville. Smith’s bankruptcy filing soon reach $40 million.
On the field, ugly losses followed to Alabama (52-0), Texas A&M (58-10), South Carolina (38-20) and Mississippi State (45-14) so that Smith’s removal was inevitable. When Long announced Smith’s hiring in April, he said Smith’s role would help provide stability while Long conducted a thorough search for a full-time coach.
In the news release Saturday, Smith said he is grateful to Long and Chancellor G. David Gearhart for the opportunity to return to coach the Razorbacks.
“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,” Smith said.