My prediction came true Tuesday afternoon in the Miller Room of the Broyles Center. I got a hug from new Arkansas football coach John L. Smith.
I told my family Monday night -- and even predicted it on a radio show -- that Smith would be handing out hugs when he walked off the stage at his introductory media conference.
I'm no more special than anyone else. John L. Smith passes out hugs on a regular basis. You may only want a handshake, but he pulls you tight and then wraps an arm around your neck. And he might not let you go for a bit.
We were warned three years ago. Bobby Petrino told us about his mentor when he brought him in to help with special teams and with the linebackers. Petrino said, "John L. Smith has a huge heart and he lets everyone in." Later, Dean Campbell, then in football operations, gave me the detailed scouting report that included the hugs.
The last three years taught me to expect some light moments with the media opportunity. Smith didn't disappoint, starting with the rules for the open part with the media. He gave his fake serious look, then said, "No stupid questions."
So I stayed quiet. I was told at an early age that there are no stupid questions and regret not asking now. So I'll throw them out, paired with a typical John L. Smith response. I know he would have loved them.
Question: Coach Smith, there's only 10 months in your contract, is there enough time to paint?
Answer: I didn't come to paint. I figured you guys all know that by now. I jump out of airplanes, climb mountains and run with the bulls. If there is an open window, I jump through it. I don't paint. We plan to win a championship and there is no time to paint.
Question: Is Tyler Wilson your starting quarterback?
Answer: Now that is a stupid question. Tyler who?
Question: What do you think of the returning kicking game specialists -- Zack Hocker, Dylan Breeding and Dennis Johnson?
Answer: I've seen them before and they are all sorry. I plan to send them home as soon as we finish this meeting. There's Hocker back there waiting to talk to you guys. I wouldn't bother. He's going to be back in Russellville soon because he can't kick worth a darn. Actually, they are all pretty good. I just hope Steve Caldwell hasn't goofed them up since I left in December.
There's a serious side to John L. Smith. He can roast a player with firm language, when it's deserved. But he reminds me of Wilson Matthews, the taskmaster of the Frank Broyles era. Matthews could rattle your brain with the strongest (and saltiest) critique and later hug your neck in the chow hall.
Arkansas players need John L. Smith's approach right now. They need football to be fun again. It's great to know how to work and they do know how to bust their butts because of Petrino's preparation. Hard work will continue. John L. Smith will demand that, but know when to crack a joke, too.
Many of Smith's former players or coaches are now in the NFL and have great things to say about their mentor. Here's a sample:
Scott Linehan, Detroit Lions Offensive Coordinator:
I have nothing but the utmost respect for John L. as a person No. 1, but No. 2 as a head football coach. Going all the way back to Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan St, his body of work speaks for itself. He just gets it; he gets the position of the head coach. It's a person that's really the CEO of the football team and he knows how to manage coaches so that they are doing things to best represent the university. He always talks about the team – he never talks about individual success – and is really big on making sure that everybody within their role is accountable. I've always respected that. John L. lets coaches coach. I always thought one of his strengths was evaluating coaches as teachers because he sees himself as a teacher. But probably the best thing is he's got the respect of the players. The players know that John L. is looking out for their best interest and always doing what's best for the student athlete. I think that's his best strength."
Kerry Rhodes, Arizona Cardinals safety:
"I think that is a good hire. John L. Smith has had some great teams. He had a great team when I was at Louisville and he also had success at Michigan State. I think he is a guy that knows the system and that will make the players comfortable. They can be in a system where they know the coach has been in that system and knows what is going on. I think it is a good hire. John L. Smith does a great job of motivating kids."
Deion Branch, New England Patriots wide receiver:
"Coach Smith is a great coach. He is one of the best coaches and best people I have ever been around. He was the one that inducted me into the Kentucky Hall of Fame. It was an honor for me to call him to do that. He is a like a father figure to his player, especially the guys that come from single parent households. In addition to coaching football, he will always make sure that his players understand how to live life the right way. It really is an honor for me to have him in my life on a personal level. There is just something real special about this guy."
John Friesz, College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2006:
"In all my years as a collegiate and professional player, I have never had a coach with such a perfect blend of characteristics. He is demanding yet he always coaches in a positive manner regardless of the situation. Most importantly, he truly cares about each and every player on his team."
Brian Hoyer, New England Patriots quarterback (Michigan State):
"I want to congratulate Coach Smith on being named the head coach at Arkansas. He is a great person and a great coach. I was fortunate enough to be with him while he was at Michigan State and saw firsthand the job that he does in teaching football the right way. He takes the time to talk with his players and that relationship goes beyond just the football field. I talked to Ryan Mallett, and Ryan told me that me that the players are excited about John L. Smith returning to Arkansas. I wish him the best."
Drew Stanton, Indianapolis Colts quarterback:
"I think he is going to do a good job there. He is a guy who has won at a high level for a long period of time, and I think just waiting for the right opportunity. He can go into that place and continue to the success that they have had. He knows how to win, and I think he is going to do a great job upholding that tradition and keep the ball rolling the way that they have. He was a mentor to me and had a big impact on my life. I think you just look at the effect that he has on his players and it is tremendous. Some people view his tactics as quirky or kind of out there, but there is no lack of affection for his players and he really wants to get the most out of them and put them in the best position."
Those guys have all had their necks hugged by John L. Smith. That's not quirky or out there. It's John L. Smith.
There may be some in the Razorback Nation trying to figure out all of this. Some haven't hugged back just yet. But don't be surprised if Arkansas football continues to roll like a big snowball. Just be ready for a few hugs along the way.
State of the Hogs: Hugs Everywhere
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