Smith was introduced as Arkansas head coach on Tuesday, replacing Bobby Petrino, his coaching protege, with a 10-month contract. More importantly, he said he was given everything he needs for one great last run.
"Everything is in place," Smith said. "It's a good team, great coaches and the best fans.
"What a neat deal Saturday with 45,000 fans for the spring game. Now lets go win a national title. And now I'll now I'll open it up (for questions), but no clapping and no stupid questions."
Smith had worked on Petrino's staff the last three years after being fired at Michigan State where he had been honored as Big 10 coach of the year early in his tenure at East Lansing. Is this a chance for a little redemption?
"Yes," he said. "The answer is yes, yes!"
But more than anything else, it's that quest for a national championship. That came up over and over Tuesday in Smith's visit with the media. That's what his wife mentioned when she urged him to return to Arkansas.
"I want to thank my family," he said, after first thinking the UA administration. "I want to thank my wife. She is actually the one who made this decision.
"I was struggling. I've drug her all over the country. I've asked her when I took a job, but she always said it was my decision and she'd go where I took her. This time, I told her it was her decision.
"She said, you are going back to the people you love and you have a chance to fight for a national championship. This is your last chance. Go do it!"
Smith said his immediate job is to convince fans to stay with the team. He was asked if he expected some to be disappointed with his hire.
"I expect some," he said. "But we don't need to slow down. We need to speed up. We are going to fight the battle for a national title. That's what the goal was when I came here three years ago. Nothing has changed.
"We have great fans. Razorback fans are the best. We need to lock arms and go win a national title."
Assistant coach Tim Horton said the same thing.
"When our program is united, we have a chance," Horton said. "When the program is divided -- and we pull in 42 different directions -- we are pretty average. But we are united right now within the staff and the team. What Coach Smith said is right. We need to lock arms and pull as one."
Several players were available after Smith's media introduction. They all said the team is unified, but perhaps a little surprised.
"I played for Coach Smith," linebacker Alonzo Highsmith said. "I love him. But, honestly, I hadn't thought about him. So it was a complete surprise.
"I found out when I saw it on ESPN. A couple of guys called and told me it was true. That was great, but I didn't really believe it. You know, he had left and gone back to his alma mater. He was gone so that's not what I was thinking about until the word came that he was coming back.
"When (athletic director) Jeff Long told us yesterday, I said, 'Yes, that makes perfect sense.' I was happy. That gave the whole team a boost. It keeps us going towards the goal, a national championship.
"You saw Coach Smith up there just now. He's great. We love him and we will play hard for him. Everyone was happy. You saw a little bit of Coach Smith up there now, Coach Smith being Coach Smith."
Running back Knile Davis, who took a barb from Smith later, said that was a perfect snapshot of the new coach.
"Coach Smith is just a great guy," Davis said. "As you can tell, he has a great personality. I just think it was a good decision because he gets to keep the coaching staff here, which is what we all wanted. I think it was a good decision for the season so I'm happy with it."
Quarterback Tyler Wilson put it best.
"Coach Smith is a hoot," Wilson said. "When we heard his name, that brought energy to the meeting room. I think you felt it throughout the team. Lots of smiles."
He said there's already been a few players pulling out their John L. Smith imitations. He said they were common when he was on staff the last three seasons.
"I can't do them, but a lot of guys can," Wilson said. "He brings a lot of fun to the room. You know, there are guys that can do him pretty good. They do that one of him that the special teams guys had all heard, 'One play battles for giant chunks of land.' There are others, too."
Smith's reputation is of fun and light moments. But Wilson said he's all coach, too.
"To be honest, we might need some of that right now, the fun," he said. "We've got the intensity. We've been coached up on that for the last four years. Absolutely, he might be perfect right now.
"I still think he has that serious side. He has that side where he can get after you. And as head coach, we know we are going to see that side, too. He'll have that when we need it. But we know how to work. We know the right way to practice. We have that part down."
Long was careful to point out that Smith called him, not the other way around. He said that might ease the pain of taking a sitting head coach away from a school at this point in the year.
The athletic director also said he didn't immediately decide that was the direction. He said Long called one of his administrative assistants.
"I hadn't thought of him," Long said. "We continued the process and then decided I wanted to talk to him."
There was a report that up to 12 candidates made it to Long's short list. He said that might have been high.
"If I started giving you names, I don't know if it would get to 12," he said. "The number is not important. There were some with legitimate interest, but I don't know if it was 12."
Obviously, some were current staffers. And Long said he would continue to evaluate those on the current staff as the 2012 season plays out. But he expects the candidates to grow as the timing improves.
Smith said the season would dictate whether or not he is a candidate to stay past 10 months.
"You have to wait and see," he said. "I know how it works. Only the season will determine that. You never know."
Wilson said he knows not much will change with the current staff as far as preparation and play calling. He said he had a visit with Paul Petrino, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, on the phone to confirm that.
"Coach (Paul) Petrino was pleased," Wilson said. "We know Coach Smith trusts Coach Petrino. We know things are going to stay the same. He's going to allow Coach Petrino to put the ball in the quarterbacks hands and then get the ball to our receivers and our backs. That's what we do.
"We know Coach Smith believes in our system, our coaches and our players. We trust him. The guys really respect him. The guys want to take the field for him. That's been expressed by everybody. We want to play for Coach Smith.
"He's a fun guy, but we know he's going to have a firm hand and a tight leash at the times we need it. And we will need that at times. We know he's going to be the head coach and the head coach does those things."
Davis also said the contrasts are obvious.
"(Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith) are night-and-day," Davis said. "Bobby is his own man and Coach John L. is his own man, but they got along when they were together.
"They have two different strategies. Bobby was the tough guy and John L. is more of the laid back – he's going to bring fun back to football in a sense. It's not saying that one works better than the other, they're just different.
"He kind of stayed to himself when he was here. He was the special teams coordinator, so he stayed with the special teams.
"I had a chance to build a relationship with him and he's a great guy."
If there is a hit, it will probably come in recruiting, at least initially. Horton, the recruiting coordinator, said a coach with a 10-month contract presents challenges on the recruiting trail.
"From the perspective of our team and our staff, it's great," Horton said. "We had made a decision as a staff to stick together and when we heard this, it made it so much easier. We knew this was going to be good.
"As far as recruiting, he's a people person. So he can recruit. We will be calling recruits together tonight. He understands recruiting and is good at it.
"But what's going to be tough, is getting commitments in the spring. This is a world of early commitments now and it's going to be hard to get them now. But we will get them, but probably most of them are going to come in December."
Smith said recruiting doesn't change, though.
"The first thing is to sell the institution, then sell the program," he said. "That's always the way you start. Lastly, you sell yourself as coaches and do that to every guy you think can play. So that doesn't change." There were questions about following Bobby Petrino. First, he said he had not spoken with Petrino, but had talked with several coaches on staff in the last couple of weeks.
"He texted me and wanted to know what the heck was going on," Horton said. "We talked. He just was checking on us, how we were doing."
Smith was asked about differences between their approaches, including Petrino's approach of islolation.
"We are different," he said. "I am approachable. You know that. We will make ourselves open to the public. You can't sit in an ivory tower."
Asked about the reaction from players when word broke that it was going to be Smith, he showed his fun side.
"Tyler texted me, 'Go home!,'" Smith cracked. "I hope they are excited. I see Ka-Nile back there (an obvious mispronunciation of the star back's first name) and it's nice to see you. Did you do anything this spring?"
John L. Smith was animated at his introduction Tuesday.
Knile Davis (left) and Tyler Wilson laugh at a John L. Smith one-liner.
Photo by Marc F. Henning