Smith Returns To Coaching And Rejoins ‘Family

FAYETTEVILLE — After two years away from college football, John L. Smith wanted to get closer to the game and play a bigger role than simply co-hosting a morning sports talk radio show.

He realized he missed coaching.

He had a hunger to get back into the profession, so he turned to the coach who had gotten his big break when he was hired as Smith's offensive coordinator nearly 20 years ago.

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino introduced Smith as his new special teams coordinator during a news conference Friday afternoon. The former Louisville and Michigan State coach will also work with the Razorbacks' defense, though his exact duties have not yet been determined.

"I think Bobby didn't realize that I was wanting to get back in and entertain the thought of getting back into (coaching). And it happened just in the last few days," the 60-year-old Smith said during a teleconference Friday evening.

"I mean, I let him know that I was willing to get back in and he said, ‘Well, I happen to have a spot (open) and let's consider it.'"

Petrino had a vacancy on his coaching staff after Lorenzo Ward resigned Monday morning as Arkansas' secondary coach to become South Carolina's defensive coordinator.

Petrino said he initially considered hiring another secondary coach, but he changed his mind after Smith informed him that he would be open to joining Petrino's staff as an assistant coach.

"I'm extremely fired up about it. He's a great football coach, a guy that's responsible for a lot of my coaching philosophies," said Petrino, who served as Smith's offensive coordinator at Idaho, Utah State and Louisville. "I was fortunate enough to coach for him for a number of years.

"He's an expert in special teams. That's always been his forte as a head coach."

The terms of Smith's deal weren't released by Arkansas on Friday, and it's still uncertain what position the fiery coach will oversee with the Razorbacks.

Petrino said he plans to sit down with his assistants after National Signing Day on Feb. 4 to determine what position each one will coach. Willy Robinson will reman Arkansas' defensive coordinator.

"Right now, Willy will handle the whole secondary. I'm not sure exactly what position John L. is going to coach on defense, but I do anticipate him helping and working on defense," Petrino said. "It's something we're going to wait and see until recruiting is over with."

Smith said he doesn't mind that his duties as a defensive assistant coach haven't been specified just yet. Before becoming a head coach who won 132 games over 18 seasons, he worked as a defensive coordinator at Idaho, Wyoming and Washington State.

"I'm a good soldier and wherever (Petrino) wants me to coach, that's what I'll do," Smith said.

Smith's knowledge with special teams and his aggressive philosophy should benefit the Razorbacks immediately.

Arkansas' struggles on special teams were glaring last season, most noticeably when a slew of mistakes forced the Razorbacks to rally to pull out a 28-27 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 6.

Smith's hire, however, raises questions about what role assistant coach Kirk Botkin will have at Arkansas next season. He was stripped of his special teams coordinator title after only one season, and it's uncertain if he'll continue to coach the defensive ends.

Petrino said he has tried in the past to hire Smith, whom he considers to be a mentor. But Smith turned down Petrino's offers because he was hoping to land a head coaching job.

"I talked to him about (joining my staff) before. It was something where he felt like he didn't want to do it initially a year ago," Petrino said. "He wanted to get another head job opportunity, (but) he felt like this was the right time and the right place."

Smith said his familiarity with Petrino and Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino made it easy for him to agree to join the Razorbacks. Like his older brother, Paul Petrino worked as an assistant for Smith early in his career.

"I get to come back and be rejoined with a part of my family and guys I've grown up with and have grown up with me," Smith said. "And I'm excited about it."

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