HOOVER, Ala. — There’s a method to John L. Smith’s madness, at least according to senior linebacker Tenarius Wright.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
“He’s puts a blanket on us, keeps it away from us,” Wright said.
So much has swirled around Arkansas’ football program that a little protection in the form of Smith’s diversions can’t be a bad thing.
Since last season ended, coach Bobby Petrino crashed and burned because of a scandal involving an affair with a female football staffer. Then it was revealed that Smith, hired as interim coach, is considering filing for bankruptcy protection.
But the most crazy notion? In spite of it all, Arkansas believes it has the goods to become the nation’s best.
“We have one goal, and we’re not bashful about reiterating that,” Smith said. “Our goal is to be a national championship football team.”
A stud in quarterback Tyler Wilson and a running back in Knile Davis, who sat out last season because of an ankle injury but rushed for more than 1,300 yards two years ago, are the primary pieces in what should be one of the nation’s top offenses.
Along with few questions on defense and a schedule that brings the only teams that defeated Arkansas last season (Alabama and LSU) to Fayetteville, and it’s no wonder optimism abounds.
Just to be certain the team can focus on its lofty goal, Smith put the spotlight on himself. Wednesday, reporters came out of the hallway and filled the back of the ballroom at SEC Media Days to catch some of Smith’s stand-up act.
Smith has a 10-month contract. Does he want to coach at Arkansas on a permanent basis?
“Well certainly,” Smith said. “Do I look stupid? Don’t answer that question.”
Was there contact between Arkansas and you before Petrino was fired?
“Could we move on to the next question, at least one with more intelligence,” Smith said.
Smith said he was joking, and “to my knowledge” did not have contact with the school until after athletic director Jeff Long fired Petrino.
Smith had become coach at his alma mater, Weber State, after the 2011 season and made it through the spring game when this opportunity came along.
“Doors open in life, doors close in life,” Smith said. “I’ve never been one to turn away from an adventure.”
Or not to discuss nearly any aspect of his life. Earlier this month, Smith announced he was considering filing bankruptcy as a result of several land development deals that had gone bad in Kentucky. Smith said he made the investments when he was the Louisville coach from 1998-2002.
Arkansas officials knew this before they gave him an $850,000 salary for his temporary status.
“It’s been a roller coaster, particularly of late,” said Smith, who had been the Razorbacks’ special teams coordinator before taking the Weber State job.
When it comes to Arkansas, which defeated Kansas State 29-16 in last year’s Cotton Bowl and finished 11-2, the ride is on an incline.
Arkansas faces a situation similar to last year. The Razorbacks figure to enter the season as a top 10-ranked team. But that probably means third in the Western Division, behind the teams that played for last year’s BCS national championship, Alabama and LSU.
“How do you leap frog them?” Wilson said. “You just have to beat them. We’ll have 80,000 fans people cheering for us rather than against us.”
And one coach who through it all will have his players’ backs.
“The one thing about him, is he really cares,” Wright said. “He wants you to have to have no worries off the field so you can go out and focus on the game.”
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff