Of every comedian out on the circuit right now, my favorite is probably Adam Carolla, and of all the bits he does, my favorite is probably his “fake movie pitches.” If you’ve heard Carolla in interviews, the premise is simple enough: He takes us deep inside his twisted mind, and comes out with an idea for a movie that seems too stupid to be true, until you think, “That sounds awful… but you know what? I’d probably pay $10 to see it anyway.”
Well one of my favorite Carolla movie pitches is the one where “the gang” gets back together for “one last job.” Think of it as some kind of weird crime thriller, where all the bad guys are retired and living comfortably in the suburbs and decidedly out of the “game” for good. Then one day, the leader comes across a scheme that’s too good to pass up, and he gets the gang together for one last heist, one last robbery, one last “score.”. Again, it sounds stupid. Until you remember that you’ve seen at least eight movies exactly like it.
Anyway, I couldn’t help but think of Carolla’s “let’s get the gang back together for one more run” bit this afternoon when it was announced that John L. Smith had replaced Bobby Petrino as head coach at Arkansas. Smith, was an Arkansas assistant in 2012, and 19-year head coach before that, and most importantly, is on a strict, 10-month contract. Once this season is done, Razorbacks AD Jeff Long will put out a national search for a full-time replacement, meaning that while no one called Smith an “interim” today, he really is as “interim” as “interim” can get.
Now of course the initial reaction from most of the college football media is, “John L. Smith, what the heck is Arkansas thinking?” And believe me, I’ll get to that in a second (because seriously, what are they thinking).
But to me, my first question is what is Smith thinking? He returns to Fayetteville after recently accepting a job at his alma mater Weber State, and at the age of 63, could’ve had a nice, low-pressure gig before easing into retirement five or six years down the road. Unlike so many of his peers, Smith could’ve gone out on his own terms, rather than- more likely- going out on someone else’s at Arkansas.
Then I had my “Carolla moment” and realized why taking this job makes so much darn sense for John L. Smith: Ultimately, this job isn’t really about Arkansas, but it’s about the one after it, and potentially parlaying the Razorbacks gig into one last “real” job as a major college football coach. He was never getting a serious look no matter what he did at Weber State, but if he does well enough at Arkansas, who knows? Win 10 or 11 games, and maybe he sucks in a school from the Big East or a lower-level ACC or Big Ten gig gives him a shot. Maybe he’ll be like Bruce Weber in basketball, a guy who was fired (or in Smith’s case, not re-hired) from a top job, and fell into an almost “as good one” instead. Who knows?
As for Arkansas, well, I’m not done with them either. To use a line on Long that my mom used to use on me a million times as a kid, I’d like to ask Long, “Boy, have you lost your mind?”
Now this is the part where I know I’m supposed to say “Look, I like John L. Smith,” but the truth I don’t like him at all. As I mentioned, the guy is 63 and he was never, at any point an “elite” coach. He basically parlayed two good years at Louisville (20-5 in 2000 and 2001) into the Michigan State gig, where he made one bowl game in four years and his team was always one of the biggest perennial underachievers in college football. You do remember those years, don’t you? During Smith’s time in East Lansing he was Mike Sherman before Mike Sherman, a guy you could always count on to gag in at least one huge moment every single year. Some years it was against Notre Dame and others Ohio State, but ultimately, it didn’t matter. When Smith went up against Jim Tressel or Lloyd Carr, he was playing checkers and they were playing chess. In big games against elite teams, it always showed. Always.
And beyond that, I guess I’m stumped as to exactly why Long felt like he had hire someone.
First off, it’s not like Smith will get the fan-base even a little bit excited, and even if he does, I see basically no feasible scenario where he does well enough to stay beyond this year. Even worse, imagine if he does strike lightning in a bottle and Tyler Wilson carries him to an 11-1 season or something. Then you’re really screwed. How do you fire a guy after he does that? At the same time, how is he your answer long-term?
Now for the record, I don’t think Smith will go 11-1, the biggest reason why I would’ve rather rode or died (bad pun in light of Petrino’s Harley, fetish I suppose) with either Bobby’s brother Paul or Taver Johnson, the interim. At the very least there’s a chance that one of those guys has a head coaching bone in his body, and that maybe he can be your long-term solution. You never know if you don’t give them a chance, and in the case of Arkansas, I guess we’ll just never know.
What’s really more likely, is that see Smith do exactly what he did in all those years at Michigan State, only with a lot more talent. Expect him to probably win eight games on superior talent alone, lose to Alabama and LSU (again, the whole chess/checkers thing), then gag up at least one game that he shouldn’t, somewhere down the line. Maybe it’ll be against Auburn, Ole Miss or some team we don’t know about yet. But it will happen, I guarantee you that.
This is the most talented team Arkansas has had in a long time, and will have for a long time going forward. And Long is rolling the dice in a big way.
Frankly, I’m not entirely sure why.
For all his opinion, insight and more, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.