Randy Hollis: One can hardly blame John L. Smith, but it is still wrong

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2012 5:55 p.m. MDT

New Arkansas head coach John L. Smith speaks to reporters after being introduced at an NCAA college football news conference in Fayetteville, Ark., Tuesday, April 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)

Gareth Patterson, AP

OGDEN —

Back in early December, when John L. Smith was introduced as the new head football coach at Weber State University, he talked a great deal about how grateful he was for the opportunity to "come back to my home, my school."

He enthusiastically told a group of delighted WSU fans how he "always had a place in his heart for Weber State … that's your school, that's where you graduated from, so that fondness, that love is always with you. … This hopefully can serve as an opportunity for me to give back something to the university."

Yep, the 63-year-old coach told 'em exactly what they wanted to hear, no doubt eliciting chills of excitement and anticipation when he talked at length about his glorious goal of bringing a national championship to the Football Championship Subdivision school. Less than five months later, though, the Wildcats sadly learned that Smith's energetic press-conference speech was nothing more than rhetoric and coachspeak, with all the sincerity of a politician's empty campaign promises.

Indeed, instead of giving something back to the university, all Smith gave Weber State was a bunch of "Hogswash."

On Monday, Smith abruptly turned his back on WSU, where he played his college football before graduating in 1972. He chose to run away from that place he briefly pretended was "home" to go to the greener pastures of the University of Arkansas, where he'll take over a high-powered Razorbacks program that's trying to recover from the scandal involving former head coach Bobby Petrino — a longtime Smith disciple who has worked with John L. on four different coaching staffs, including Utah State's.

Of course, Arkansas is giving Smith 850,000 reasons to dump his alma mater for a 10-month stint as the interim boss Hog — more than $700,000 over what he would've made this year at WSU, which will receive a paltry $25,000 payment from him — but money's not likely his main motivation for going there.

Let's face it, although it's really a crappy thing to do to Weber State, it's totally understandable. After all, he inherits a powerhouse Arkansas program whose only two losses last season were to the two teams, Alabama and LSU, that played for the BCS national championship.

Smith spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach on Petrino's staff at Arkansas, so he already knows the territory — the Razorback players, coaching staff, the school's administration and support staff, the environment, the fan base, the community, etc. He's trading the small-time Big Sky Conference for the big-time Southeastern Conference, the obscure FCS for the big, bad BCS, minimum-exposure matchups with Montana and Eastern Washington for national prime-time showdowns with Alabama and LSU. His Arkansas team has a legitimate chance to win the national championship — something he prominently mentioned, but now won't ever deliver, at Weber State.

And if he's successful this season, who knows? Maybe the school takes the "interim" tag off his title and makes him the permanent head coach at Arkansas. Or maybe another big-time program comes calling and he gets that last, high-profile, big-money deal before the longtime coach rides off into the sunset.

What's perhaps most disappointing about Smith's sudden departure from WSU is that — in the wake of Petrino's embarrassing fall from grace after a motorcycle crash which led to revelations regarding his hiring of a 25-year-old woman who the married Petrino had been romantically involved with — apparently it was John L. who first approached Arkansas about his interest in their vacant coaching job.

It might've seemed a little less disingenuous if it had been the other way around and the school came after Smith. Instead, it appears that while he was closing the door on his first set of WSU spring football drills, he was trying to get his foot back in the door at Arkansas. Either way, though, he's gone, leaving Weber State in the lurch, as the Wildcats must scramble to find their own "interim" coach within their own staff. Or perhaps they call on a former 'Cat head coach like Ron McBride or Jerry Graybeal to temporarily steer the ship for the 2012 season while they search for a permanent replacement.

Rumors regarding Smith's possible interest in the Arkansas job, or their interest in him, surfaced shortly after Petrino was fired in early April.

But when in-the-know Weber State officials were asked last week whether John L. might be tempted to leave Ogden for Fayetteville, Ark., their response was an emphatic "Oh, no, he wouldn't do that to Weber State."

Um, yeah, as it turns out, he sure would. To paraphrase one of my favorite lines from the film "Animal House" — face it, Wildcats, you screwed up, you trusted him. Remember back in the 1990s, while coaching at Utah State, when Smith was criticized for his players' below-the-belt tactics in a game against the University of Utah? Some key Ute players claimed that the Aggies were repeatedly poking and pulling them in the nether regions during that game.

Well, with Monday's sudden departure from Weber State, it seems Smith essentially kicked the Wildcats' program in the same place.

Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com wrote a great column about how Smith wrongly abandoned Weber State, the coaches he had hired and the players he had helped coach and recruit, asking if perhaps the L. in the coach's name stood for "L-i-a-r."

One thing seems certain. When it comes to the way he dumped on "his home and his school," it would appear that the L. in his name definitely does not stand for "Loyalty."

Read more: John L. Smith's move to Arkansas draws mixed national reaction

email: rhollis@desnews.com

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