Weber State was the talk of the college football world Monday — but not for the reasons it would have liked.
John L. Smith’s sudden departure to become the interim head coach at Arkansas shocked Wildcats players and fans. Smith left Weber State without ever coaching a game that counted in the standings.
WSU athletics director Jerry Bovee posted this on Twitter on Monday:
Wow, just when you think the pieces to the puzzle are all in place, something big happens to create chaos and the picture changes. Ouch!
Standard-Examiner columnist Jim Burton says big-time college football is to blame for the chaos.
John L. Smith’s letter of agreement with Arkansas:
- $850,000 contract for a 10-month period
- $150,000 for reaching a BCS championship, and another $50,000 if the Hogs win a title
- Use of a car, moving expenses and club membership
- Arkansas has right to reassign Smith to non-coaching, administrative position at any time; Smith and Long agree to keep current coaching staff
- $100,000 bonus for reaching a BCS bowl game, $50,000 for the Capital One, Cotton or Outback Bowl, $25,000 bonus for reaching any other bowl game
- $25,000 for a 2012 APR of 940
- Ironic: Smith agrees to pay back $850,000 if he voluntarily terminates his employment. “Moreover, during the term of your employment agreement, neither you nor anyone acting in your behalf, either directly or indirectly, will seek, solicit or discuss the possibility of obtaining other employment as a head coach without first notifying and seeking approval of the Vice Chancellor and the Director of Athletics or his designee.” There’s also a non-compete clause including the SEC.
OGDEN — John L. Smith’s contract to become the head football coach at Weber State is for four years at $130,000 per year, but there are some extra perks in place if Smith leads the Wildcats back to their winning ways.
The largest bonuses are tied to Weber State’s performance in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs:
- $10,000 for winning the FCS national championship game;
- $2,500 per win in the FCS playoffs up to the title game;
- $1,500 if the Wildcats win the Big Sky Conference championship;
- $1,000 for being named Big Sky coach of the year.
There is also a potential reward for the football team’s academic performance:
- $1,500 for each season Weber State’s program averages a score of 950 or better on the NCAA’s Average Progress Rate (APR).
ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski was one of Smith’s harshest critics Monday, saying he has a credibility issue:
My favorite moment of the John L. Smith era at Weber State — all 4½ months of it — was the crock pot full of alma mater nonsense he served during his introductory news conference.
It was passionate. It was poignant. And as it turned out, it was crap.
“No. 1, I’ve always had a place in my heart for Weber State,” said Smith that December day in Ogden, Utah. “You do that naturally. That’s your school, that’s where you graduated from, so that fondness, that love is always with you. And again, to come back to run your own program as a head coach again is crucial for me. This hopefully can serve as an opportunity for me to give back something to the university.”
Smith gave something back to Weber State. It’s called a kick to the groin.
Then there’s this:
Tuesday he’ll be introduced as Arkansas’ rent-a-coach. Smith, a former Razorbacks assistant who left Bobby Petrino’s staff for the Weber State job, is leasing himself to the Razorbacks for a year.
Smith was so committed to Weber, so head-over-cleats in love with his alma mater (he played there in 1968-70), that nearly two weeks earlier he already was considering an exit strategy. WSU athletic director Jerry Bovee, when reached by phone in Indianapolis Monday evening, said that Smith mentioned an interest in returning to Arkansas after the disgraced Petrino was fired April 10. But Smith told Bovee that it was a long-shot scenario.
Then, at midnight Monday, as Bovee arrived in Indianapolis for NCAA committee meetings, there were several messages from Smith on his cell phone. They spoke briefly, just long enough for Smith to inform Bovee he was ditching Weber — the job he supposedly was crazy about — for a one-season interim gig at Arkansas.
“I got the impression that he felt he had a chance to step into a situation he was familiar with, he was familiar with the personnel,” said Bovee. “I got the sense that at this point in his career he was willing to take a shot.”
A shot at much more money. A shot at an SEC championship and perhaps a national championship. A shot at becoming the guy who rescued Arkansas from the stench of Petrino’s personal scandal.
But in Smith’s rearview mirror is an athletic director who put his trust in a coach who, in some ways, is just as disingenuous as Petrino. Smith left behind 18 new recruits who believed in him — and were betrayed by him. He left behind a staff that came to Ogden because of him.
“We were so excited about having him in our program,” said Bovee. “I mean, it’s disappointing. I understand there’s a business side of this. Ultimately, he had an opportunity to do what’s best for him.”
Exactly. He did what’s best for him, not for the players he abandoned.
Or the L in John L. stands for another word. Four letters. L-i-a-r?
Meanwhile, Bovee is trying to catch a flight back to Utah on Tuesday. He needs to talk with the coaching staff. He wants to see how many players can return to campus (graduation ceremonies were last Friday) for a team meeting.
Bovee isn’t angry. He said he doesn’t have time for it. He has to hire a new head coach.
“I certainly wasn’t going to beg [Smith] to stay at Weber State,” said Bovee. “We certainly feel like we’re better than that.”
They are. And better than Smith, too.
Pete Thamel of the New York Times says John L. will be running with the bulls in the SEC:
John L. Smith has run with the bulls in Pamplona, skydived from 14,000 feet and climbed a peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. In the football world, he is known as an eccentric, whose legacy as a head coach ranges from being an innovator of the spread offense to telling his Louisville team at halftime of a bowl game that he was leaving for another job.
Smith is no stranger to bizarre situations. And on Monday, he joined another one, agreeing to take over as the Arkansas football coach for 10 months to replace the fired Bobby Petrino. Smith, 63, who will make $850,000 for this pinch-coaching hitch, quit as head coach at Weber State before coaching a game.
For a coach known for his extremes — in comebacks and in squandered leads — the move offers a high risk-reward.
ESPN SEC blogger Chris Low said the Smith hiring will bring stability to Arkansas:
It’s also noteworthy to remember that Smith approached Arkansas about this gig. Yes, he will have his detractors about leaving Weber State high and dry, but he also viewed this as his last chance to do something really special in coaching.
He doesn’t need a crash course when it comes to the Hogs’ personnel. He’s also worked with eight of the nine coaches on the staff, and there won’t be any transition this preseason in terms of putting in new offensive or defensive systems.
The AP got a reaction from former Hogs coach Petrino, who started this whole circus on April Fool’s Day by getting in a motorcycle wreck with his mistress. Razorbacks running back Knile Davis also chimed in on Twitter:
Petrino issued a statement late Monday night through his agent, Russ Campbell.
“I think Jeff Long made a great hire,” Petrino said. “While there were several outstanding internal candidates, John L. brings a lot of head coaching experience to the table that will help Arkansas’ transition. He will unify the staff, the team and the Razorback fan base. I wish coach Smith, his staff and the Arkansas football team the very best.”
Word of Smith’s hire spread quickly Monday and some of the players responded with their approval on Twitter.
“The happiest day of my life,” Razorbacks running back Knile Davis tweeted. “Hearing that John L. Smith is coming back to (Fayetteville) to (be) our head coach.”
Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde said the hiring was a home run for Arkansas:
We’re not even to May yet, but Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long gets the early vote for Administrator of the Year in college football.
Long did the right thing – even though it was the hard thing – when he fired super-successful coach Bobby Petrino. Long handled that difficult duty with enough fortitude and passion that it turned fan disappointment and anger into pride in the institution. Big-money donations immediately flowed in after Long deposed his duplicitous coach.
Now Long has backed that up with a smart hire in John L. Smith as Petrino’s short-term replacement. Not a sexy hire, but a smart one.
Forde adds this aside:
(Maybe Petrino can now take John L.’s job at spurned Weber. The two have been trading jobs for a while – Petrino replaced Smith at Louisville, and now Smith replaces Petrino at Arkansas, so why not Petrino to Ogden?)
Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel says it’s a facinating experiment:
By bringing in an outsider who might as well be an insider, who has 18 years of experience as a college head coach and who was willing to jilt alma mater Weber State for a tenuous and likely temporary position, Arkansas AD Jeff Long has achieved the impossible. He’s managed to make a hire that is somehow both ludicrous and inspired, unforeseen yet obvious in many ways.
And how about the fact that Smith, whose Weber State tenure lasted nearly five months, is replacing the very same coach at Arkansas who replaced him at Louisville nearly a decade earlier? The same coach who served under him for seven seasons while climbing the coaching ranks, then rescued Smith from coaching purgatory three years ago by putting him on Arkansas’ staff.
Did someone say “fascinating”?
CBS Eye on College Football blogger Jerry Hinnen said Arkansas AD Jeff Long put together a plan to replace Petrinot that no one saw coming.
Greg Rachac of the Billings Gazette said “the ‘L’ must not stand for loyalty.”
Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel said it seems like a joke, but it makes sense for Arkansas.
“We knew when we hired John L. as our head football coach that we were getting a high-profile coach that we felt would move our program forward”, said Weber State Director of Athletics Jerry Bovee. “Obviously, the timing of this announcement is problematic but at this point we are going to move forward in making decisions that are in the best interest of our program.”
A decision regarding the head coaching position at Weber State will be announced soon.
Somebody — Weber State fan? — has already entered John L. Smith’s 2012 record at Arkansas on Wikipedia: 0-12.