Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long isn’t giving up on coach John L. Smith or the season just yet.
Long said Wednesday that he is committed to Smith for this season, despite the program’s difficult start.
Speaking to a group of reporters following an appearance at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club, Long said he is also committed to the rest of the coaching staff, which remained intact after former coach Bobby Petrino’s firing in April.
”I also want to be clear I remain steadfastly behind this group of young men and this coaching staff,” Long said. ”Supporting this team is the best course of action for the short- and long-term. . . . I will fulfill my commitment to the players and coaches for this season and I will not abandon them. I’m confident they will work hard and win games.”
The Razorbacks (1-3) lost their third straight game last week, a 35-26 setback to No. 23 Rutgers. They were 21-5 the last two seasons under Petrino, who was fired for hiring his mistress to a position in the athletic department and initially lying about her presence during an April 1 motorcycle accident.
Smith, the former Michigan State and Louisville coach, was hired on a 10-month contract in April to replace Petrino after having served as an assistant the last three seasons for the Razorbacks.
Smith mistakenly referred to Arkansas as Alabama during a speech to fans in Little Rock earlier this week, and Long says he has talked to the coach about his public speaking. The coach has also come under fire from fans in recent weeks for telling reporters to ”Smile!” two days following a 52-0 loss to the No. 1 Crimson Tide.
Long said he believes Smith, the assistants and players are taking the season seriously and are committed to working hard and rebounding this season. Long also said he hasn’t told Smith to limit his public speaking, though Smith’s weekly Monday news conference after the Alabama loss was limited to 12 minutes rather than his usual 20-minute session.
The Razorbacks, who play at Texas A&M on Saturday, were ranked No. 8 to begin the season but fell out of the poll after an overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson missed the second half of the game with a concussion, one of several key injuries the team has suffered this season — including season-ending injuries to fullbacks Kiero Small and Kody Walker.
Long, however, wanted no part of the injury discussion.
”We don’t make excuses, and I’m not going to make excuses,” Long said. ”Injuries are part of the game and are unfortunate. Everybody has injuries and you’ve got to play through them and compete, and I think we will.”
Long said he expects to hire a long-term coach after the end of the season. Smith said before the season that he was interested in becoming the long-term answer for the Razorbacks and Long was asked whether Smith was currently an option.
”Coach Smith and I both said early on in this process when I hired him in April that it would be clear at the end of the season whether he was a candidate or not,” Long said. ”That’s still the way I feel today.
At the end of the season, we’ll know very clearly whether he’s a candidate or not.” He added that he didn’t ”think anybody could be happy, given the expectations we had for our program” this season.
Long would not discuss coaching candidates, saying only that he was open to hiring someone with head-coaching experience, a coordinator or even someone with an NFL background.
”I’m not going to eliminate anybody at this point,” Long said.