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UA's coach brings laughter, passion

John L. Smith was full of jokes, full of passion and, well, full of the John L. Smith that college football fans have known over the years.

John L. Smith says Arkansas' expectations remain the same.

The sky-diving, mountain-climbing funny man did his act in front of media members, players and Arkansas employees Tuesday when he was introduced as the Razorbacks’ football coach at the Miller Room inside the Broyles Center.

He joked that one reporter was “fat and sloppy,” purposely butchered star running back Knile Davis’ first name and even had a little fun at the expense of his athletic director.

But the 63-year-old Smith also had a serious message to deliver.

“I want to say our expectations here are the same,” he said. “Nothing’s going to slow us down. In fact, we’re going to speed up. Our expectations are that we’re going to go ahead and we’re going to battle and we’re going to fight for a national title. It was that way when I walked in the door here three years ago, and it’s going to continue to be that way.”

Smith, an Arkansas assistant for three years before leaving in December to become head coach at his alma mater, Weber State, officially became the Razorbacks’ 30th head coach – not counting two interim coaches – a day earlier when he agreed to a 10-month deal that will pay him at least $850,000.

He doesn’t technically have the word "interim" in front of his title, and he sounded like a guy who has his eyes on becoming the coach for more than just a few months.

When asked what would happen after this season, Smith said, “Well, we’ll have to wait and see.”

“That’s a decision … only the season is going to dictate what takes place after this,” he added. “I think that’s the way it is in the coaching profession. You’d better get used to that in being in the coaching profession because there’s never anything guaranteed down the road, as you know, because you can goof it up and all of the sudden you’re out the door. So same deal. Nothing different.”

Athletic Director Jeff Long says he's convinced John L. Smith is the right man for the job in 2012.

Actually, this deal is quite different. Smith is taking over for his good friend, Bobby Petrino, a guy he mentored over the years and hired at Idaho, Utah State and Louisville. Petrino returned the favor and added him to his UA staff in 2009, but Petrino was ousted as Arkansas’ coach April 10 because of an inappropriate relationship with a female staff member.

This deal is different because Arkansas has a very talented team, but has been a program in turmoil for most of April. And now it gets a new head coach.

This deal is different because Smith has such a short contract, and because his last run at being a coach at a top-tier school, Michigan State, didn’t work out so well.

The last time Smith called all the shots in a game was in 2006, the year Michigan State fired him after he went 22-26 in four seasons.

Not that he doesn’t have solid credentials. He certainly does. As Athletic Director Jeff Long pointed out when introducing Smith on Tuesday, he is one of 19 coaches to take three different schools to a bowl game.

In Smith’s case, those schools were Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State. He has a career record of 132-86.

“There’s no question in my mind that this was the best decision for this team for the 2012 season,” Long said.

“I also believe this is the right decision for the future of our program. By appointing Coach Smith for the 2012 season, it will allow us to take the time necessary to identify the right coach for the future. And most importantly, do so in a time frame that is conducive to attracting the candidates we would expect for one of the nation’s premier college football head coaching positions.”

Smith said his role this season will be “as a mentor, as an adviser, as someone to say I don’t think that’s going to work or I think that’s real good. Let’s go ahead and do that. As a final decision maker.”

He also said he would spend a lot of time with the defense. After all, he’s a defensive coach. But he’ll also weigh in on offensive decisions and will do game-planning. He said he will let his coordinators make calls in games while he makes suggestions and reserves the right to veto certain things.

And of course, he also threw in a joke about his duties.

“I also see myself stepping back in and helping with the special teams cause I’ve heard (assistant coach Steve) Caldwell’s goofed it up since I left,” Smith said.

In explaining his reasons for taking the job, Smith also looked to his past adventures, like jumping out of airplanes, running with the bulls in Spain, and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

“I guess I’ve kind of always been that way, to a degree. If there’s a door open, walk through it. If there’s a window open, jump out of it,” Smith said. “So I guess I’ve kind of been a little bit that way. My wife …. says this is just another one of your adventures.”

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