OGDEN — Just 41/2 months after being named the head football coach at Weber State University, John L. Smith bailed on the Wildcats' program Monday to instead take over as head coach at the University of Arkansas.
Smith, who had served as an assistant coach at Arkansas under the now-disgraced Bobby Petrino for the past three seasons, signed a 10-month, $850,000 contract to guide the Razorbacks' high-profile program on an interim basis. The 63-year-old Smith, who will also be eligible for other financial incentives, will be formally introduced at a press conference today.
Smith's contract at Weber State, where Smith played his college football before graduating in 1972, was believed to be around $150,000 annually. He had just finished up his first season of spring football practice with the Wildcats on April 14.
"I am tremendously excited to have this special opportunity to return to Arkansas and lead the Razorback football program," Smith said in a statement. "During my coaching career, I have always been dedicated to developing student-athletes to their fullest potential. In the last couple of weeks, I came to the realization I could provide guidance and stability to a program I'm extremely invested in.
"While at Arkansas, we worked to make the Razorbacks a top-5 team and much of the credit for that goes to the student-athletes. Throughout the spring, the assistant coaches and student-athletes have shown incredible focus and character, which we will use to build on as we work to achieve our goals for 2012. I want to thank President (Donald) Bobbitt, Chancellor (David) Gearhart and (Athletic Director) Jeff Long for the trust they have shown in me."
Smith spent the last three seasons as special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Arkansas before accepting the head coaching job at Weber State in December 2011.
He has nearly 40 years of coaching experience, including 18 seasons as a Division I head coach, with head coaching stints at the University of Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State.
"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, who was admittedly disappointed with Smith's abrupt departure from WSU. "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.
"We work in sports — we win a few, we lose a few — and we're not going to look back. We're going to move forward. We're going to do things the right way and do what's best for our program."
Bovee said the Wildcats might also name an interim head coach and that a decision regarding the position at WSU would be announced soon.
Ron McBride, who stepped down as Weber State's head coach last fall and was previously the head coach at the University of Utah, expressed his concern about the Wildcat players that Smith is leaving behind.
"The team I left at Weber is similar to the team I left at Utah — really good," McBride said. "It's young and it's really good. So the future at Weber is really good. What they're going to do now I don't know.
"The only thing I'm interested in is the right thing for Weber and whatever they do I'll support. If they want me to do something, I'll do it. If they've got something else in mind, I'll support what they do."
Arkansas was eager to find a new head coach after a scandal involving Petrino, who was fired two weeks ago in the wake of revelations of his affair with a woman, Jessica Dorrell, whom he later hired as his assistant. Petrino also once gave his Dorrell $20,000 in gifts — all which was revealed following an April 1 motorcycle crash on a rural road southwest of Fayetteville, Ark. Dorrell has since resigned.
The 51-year-old Petrino suffered four broken ribs, a cracked vertebra and numerous abrasions to his face following the accident on his Harley-Davidson with Dorrell along for the ride. Petrino failed to tell his boss about the presence of the 25-year-old Dorrell until minutes before the police report was released.
Long put Petrino on paid leave and fired him less than a week later. The married father of four later chose not to appeal his firing, meaning he walked away with none of the $18 million buyout due in his contract. His annual salary averaged more than $3.5 million.
Contributing: Randy Hollis, Dirk Facer.