Arkansas Razorbacks coach John Smith: First of all I want to say that it’s a pleasure for me to be here. I’m definitely blessed to have the opportunity, and was definitely blessed, to be back at the University of Arkansas.
In coming back to the university, I know we had a real good football team that possibly has the capabilities of being a great football team, with a great senior class that could lead us. In coming back, I know we had great football coaches, all of which, with the exception of one, I’ve had the honor of working with in the past.
In knowing that, in knowing that our administration is going to do everything possible to give us an opportunity to win, be successful. Then our fans, you know, Hog Nation, is as good as there is in the nation. Without a doubt the best place I’ve ever been as far as loyal people for the program.
So all of those things being said, it was a definite great, great opportunity for me to come back to the University of Arkansas.
As I came back after spring ball, the energy in the room, the energy around the players, has been exceptional. I know, like I said, our senior class is tremendous as far as their leading. I think they took a little adversity they had, they locked up, came together, said, We’re going to be better because of it, and that’s what they’ve done. I think that has continued this summer.
Our group has done a great job of saying, A little adversity is just going to make us stronger. That’s what they’ve done. They’ve had great energy, worked hard. Our players are doing a great job.
My coming in, walking in the door, it was unbelievable, the reception. I had to wipe the tears away because of the kids and the reception that I got.
That being said, I told them, this is one thing we’re going to continue to reiterate, is that this is a program, this is not about somebody leaving, somebody coming, this is one program, okay? We’re all a part of it, as players, as coaches, as fans, as a student body, we all have to relish our position as being a part of this program. We have one goal, and we’re not bashful about reiterating that goal. That goal is to win in Miami.
Our goal is to be a national championship football team and that’s what we want to get done. I know our players relish that as well as our fans and our coaches. That’s our goal for this year.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up for questions for Coach Smith.
Q. You’ve got a unique situation in that your contract doesn’t even last an entire year. Can you talk about any additional pressure you’re feeling under that contract. You have three first‑team all SEC guys on offense in Wilson, Davis, Hamilton. Can you talk about the offensive potential your team has.
COACH SMITH: The pressure part of it, again, I’ve never been a big believer that the outside pressure has anything we can control. You have to be like a duck and let that water roll off your back. As coaches we all put pressure on ourselves. That pressure comes from within, within those doors, staff meetings, in what we expect to get done.
And we have a lot of pressure, yes, because we’re going to put that on ourselves because we’re expecting do have great things happen to us, yeah.
Three offensive players as good as there is in the country, we should be good offense. We totally expect that to happen, too. That’s nothing more than what has taken place over a period of time. And those players know that we have pressure on us, as well.
I think on the other side of the ball, you look at it, we expect to score points. We expect to be good offensively. We have to contribute on the other side of the ball, as well. For us to do our job over there is going to make us a championship football team.
It’s not always, and particularly in this league, the old adage of first one to 49 wins, doesn’t work in this league. We’re going to have to be one of those teams that plays defense or we’re not going to stand a chance. We’re going to have to step up and do that.
Q. Coach, you mentioned winning in Miami. How difficult was it knowing that you had a team that could potentially be a national championship team with the Bobby Petrino stuff that happened, how hard was it to relate to the players to get them back on track and have them believe again they can win in Miami?
COACH SMITH: I don’t think that was hard at all. In stepping in, they understood everything that they have done over the last four‑year period of time, okay, what it’s taken to get to where they are. They believe in the system and what has taken place. They believe in the hard work that they had put in, okay?
So in one guy walking back in the door just reaffirmed that it’s going to be the same, it’s going to be pretty much the same, as much as it can be, okay? All of these coaches are still here. He’s going to expect the same things from us that we have in the past.
So I think from their standpoint, as easy as it could be. But yet, like I mentioned early, I believe that you grow with some adversity. They fought through adversity in the spring, okay, as did our fans, as did our coaching staff. So I expect us to all be better because of that.
I think the transition has been the easiest it could be.
Q. How surreal has this last eight months been for you? Has it been surreal, this whole experience?
COACH SMITH: Yeah, it has (laughter). In fact, I go home in the evening, my wife and I talk a little bit from time to time, and say, Wow, has this been a rollercoaster, in particular as of late.
But, yeah, anytime you get an opportunity to go back to your alma mater, it’s one of those deals that was hard having to leave.
But again, you weigh it out. I mean, doors open in life, doors close in life. All of a sudden a door, an opportunity opened. I’ve never been one to stand on the outside and wait for it to close, so you better jump through it before it does close. That’s kind of been my philosophy in life. I think that’s kind of what’s taken place over the last few months.
Again, I feel like I’m a blessed individual and I’m honored to be at the university.
Q. Would you like to be the Arkansas coach for more than one year?
COACH SMITH: Well, certainly. Do I look stupid? Don’t answer that question (smiling).
Q. Or, to put it another way, there is speculation or talk that you would need to go 14‑0 to be the Arkansas coach after this season. Have you been told anything?
COACH SMITH: That is to be determined, okay, by our athletic director, our administration. What that number is, if you want to put a number on it, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know that he knows at this point.
Hopefully we’re going to, knock on wood, and make things happen to where we give him no choice but to say, Yeah, you’re going to be back here next year.
Q. Not trying to be funny, but you’ve always seemed to be an ‘I have nothing to lose’ type of guy. Why is that in your personality? Running with the bulls, all the crazy stuff you do. A lot of people would not just take this job for a year.
COACH SMITH: You know, I don’t know. I guess there’s something in there that says life is an adventure and let’s make sure we take advantage of that adventure and don’t miss anything.
I keep looking back in my history. My granddad came to this country when he was a kid of 12 years old. His folks put him on a boat and said, Go to America. What kind of an adventure is that? Maybe it comes from that. I don’t know.
But I’ve never been one to turn away from an open door, an adventure to go do something. I think life is that like that.
That’s one thing as a coach you’d like to portray and get your kids to understand, is that, gosh, you’re only here a short period of time. Take advantage. Don’t ever look back that I didn’t play as hard as I can play in this game, that I missed something that I should have not missed. Don’t ever be a person in life, and I’d like the kids to go out not thinking, Gosh, what if. What if I’d worked a little harder, done this a little better.
That’s one thing I try to portray to the kids, is don’t be that guy. Take advantage of everything you’re given in this life and let’s go full bore ahead.
Q. You’re not playing Missouri this year, but going forward that rivalry will kick in. How do you see that developing? Can it be pretty heated from the get‑go because of the proximity?
COACH SMITH: Again, as I look at it from my standpoint, it’s a natural geographical rivalry for us, okay? Now, if we continue with having to play a rival on the other side of the league, as a format for scheduling, to me it’s an automatic. And it’s an automatic fit for us just because of the locale, okay?
Now we get to develop that rivalry. For us, being an automatic rival on the other side, South Carolina, I don’t know if that makes total sense just from a geographic standpoint, number one. So I think Missouri makes more sense. I think I see that as developing into a big rivalry for us, and hopefully for Missouri.
Q. How do you handle recruiting in your situation?
COACH SMITH: It goes back to this. We’re a big believer that we have to do everything we can do to get the players in the state of Arkansas to stay in the state of Arkansas. We made a big, big push to try to make sure that happens, okay? Then those players have to lead us from there.
So in saying that I, okay, and this is what I really believe, there is no other coach that can guarantee he’s going to be there next year as well. If they want you out the door, you’re going to be out the door, regardless of who you are. That being number one.
The other thing coming back to what we are trying to sell, what we are selling at the University of Arkansas. You’re not committing to an individual. If you’re committing to an individual, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. You better be committing to a school, you better be committing to a program, you better be committing to what that program represents and wants to get done. That’s the way you want to try to sell it. If you want to commit to an individual, go commit to an individual, but that’s not what you’re doing here. That’s the way we work it. And I believe that regardless.
Q. From a distance, what was your reaction when you first heard about the Petrino story? Is there anything in your career at all that you can relate this situation to in terms of stepping into?
COACH SMITH: Answering the last one first, no, there isn’t. This is just one of those things that you would never have dreamt might happen. Anyway, it’s taken place. That’s the way it is.
It was daily. I would go to work daily, of course, and my wife would give me more of the updates on what was taking place as I would come home in the evening. So she would update me on the situation.
I tried to follow it as closely as I could. But, you know, to be honest with you, it wasn’t something‑‑ she would give me an update every evening, try to keep me abreast of what was going on. That’s kind of how I followed it. That’s kind of how I viewed it, from the outside.
Q. Were you surprised, shocked?
COACH SMITH: Surprised, yes. Shocked. Again, when it did take place, it was one of those things because that’s a part of your family. Those are people that have been with you. You’ve helped raise the kids. All of those things.
So it’s one of those things that you just pray for him and hope that the very best can take place. A mistake has happened, and hopefully it can be something that can be remedied.
Q. Can you speak a little bit about Brandon Mitchell and what role he might play? Also just based on the reports you’ve gotten, any newcomers that you can expect to play a role this season?
COACH SMITH: Well, the first newcomers that you would expect to play a role, of course, would be any of your junior college players. The latest one coming in, Demetrius Wilson, we expect something out of him, without a doubt. He’s going to have to help us because of the depth and everything as far as our wideout situation. We’re not going to be afraid to see some young guys in there, as well. They’re going to center to help.
D’Arthur Cowan, possibly. Nate Holmes possibly, some of those guys. Yeah, there’s a lot of those new guys that we’re going to have to count on, but particularly the junior college players to step in immediately.
Now, Brandon. Yeah, as coaches what you try to do is get your best players on the field in a position that they can contribute and contribute more than maybe they are. You’re exactly right. We’re working Brandon as a wide receiver. He’s done a great job. Mentally, he knows that. He knows where to line up because he’s a quarterback, he knows where everybody goes, what they do.
It’s a matter of we’re going to have to work hard technically as far as running routes, doing all of those things. But we expect to get a lot more out of him.
Does that mean he’s not going to play quarterback? It does not mean that. He’s going to be doing some double duty. Some others, as well. Kiero Small, he’s our fullback. Now, do you just be satisfied with him playing, let’s say, 15, 20% of the game when we do use the fullback? We’re going to take a look at him at playing some linebacker because that’s a spot we’re a little bit, depth‑wise, not where we would like to be. Kiero is a guy we’d like to get some double duty out of.
To answer your question, that’s our obligation as coaches, to try to get more playing time and more of your good players on the field as much as you can.
Q. How do you change the mindset of your football team so they can be competitive with Alabama and LSU since the Razorbacks lost to both top contenders by 24‑point margins?
COACH SMITH: Again, I think that comes to what takes place in the spring, what takes place in the summer, what takes place before you line up with those guys.
Our mental capacity and our mental ability, number one, believe we can compete and beat those guys, which I think our kids do. The other thing is to work harder, work harder in the weight room, in the summertime, work harder to be what they are, because they did get after us last year.
I think from the standpoint of our kids, they’re accepting the challenge that they have to be tougher mentally, to begin with, in believing you can beat those guys, and then physically, through working out in the weight room and going to the field and having it be a physical fall to begin with.
I think that will take care of itself. You have to rely on those leaders to make sure they preach that constantly.
Q. The LSU game has been the season finale for a while. There’s talk that game might change in the schedule and Missouri might be a possibility to be the season ender. Any thoughts about that?
COACH SMITH: Well, I don’t know what’s going to take place in the future as far as that schedule goes. You know Missouri is going to be in there somewhere. If that were to come down to the last game of the year, you know, I guess that would help make that a bigger rivalry immediately just because it seems like everybody saves that rivalry game for the last game.
I think that’s a possibility. I have no knowledge of that taking place.
As far as the LSU game coming to Fayetteville, I think that was out of necessity to a degree. In traveling three weeks in a row, regardless if it’s a home game or not, it’s better to sit at home and make them travel the extra distance. So I think that has a lot to do with bringing that LSU game there.
And we like having them at home. I mean, we love Little Rock. Our players, our coaches, our fans love little Rock. But, you know, we’d just as soon play LSU at home, I guess.
Q. Was contact between you and Arkansas initiated before Petrino was officially dismissed or after? How was it initiated? Also, have you had any conversation or conversations with him about the football team?
COACH SMITH: Could we move on to the next question, at least one with intelligence (smiling)? No, you didn’t get that, did you?
No, to my knowledge, we did not have any interaction till after Bobby was gone. That had all taken place prior to any of that. The actual who reached out to who, all of that stuff, it started with, I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, my talking with the coaches and vice versa. That’s where it came from.
And then I reached out.
Q. Did you have any conversations with Bobby Petrino?
COACH SMITH: I have. Yes, we talked last week. It was a good conversation. It’s the first time we talked. I think it was a way of Bobby saying, Let’s just kind of let you take care of everything, and you don’t need to answer any questions about you and I having visited. Now that we have, yes, we talked.
It was basically about our football team at Arkansas, of which he’s always concerned about that, and of course what he’s going to do from here on out with his life, things he’d like to get done.
It was more of us just getting back and catching up.
Q. How are you a different coach than the last time you were coaching at that level as a head coach, whatever you define ‘this level’ as?
COACH SMITH: I think we continue to grow. I’m a big believer in that. You better continue to grow all the time. I think I’ve grown as a coach.
Again, as I look back at Michigan State, that was a situation, that as I look, I try not to take anything for granted. That was a situation where, you know, you’re going through ‑ not to make any excuses ‑ I’m fighting a couple battles, my wife is fighting cancer, the president that hires me leaves. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t take for granted if you have a six‑year contract it’s going to be six. I try to take that out of there. Whatever it is you do in life, don’t take it for granted. That’s why the 10‑month contract really doesn’t bother me, so…
Q. I talked to Tyler Wilson and he was turning everything into a positive. Can you talk about how valuable it is to have him as a leader on your team?
COACH SMITH: You’re going to get to talk to him, but Tyler is awesome. In the way that he has, to me, blossomed, in just my going away for the short period of time, the four months I’m gone, to come back, to have Tyler sit down, the conversations we go through. He’s exuding confidence now. I’m sure he probably felt that. There’s a guy that all of a sudden he’s starting to just blossom and exude confidence.
I think he’s very, very confident and at home in what it is we’re doing on the offensive side of the ball. I know he loves Coach Paul Petrino, what they’re doing on the field, what they’re doing watching the video, just his whole knowledge of the game of football.
Having a guy like that is tremendous, without a doubt. He’s such a positive guy, as are all of our guys really to a degree. You’re going to meet some other guys here in, Tenarius, Knile Davis, that are positive, upbeat, energetic, hard‑working individuals. You look at these guys and say, Okay, I’m going to go back and be with these guys? Yeah. That’s not that hard a decision to make.
Thank you all.