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Master jilter Smith returns to Arkansas
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Forsyth County News

Well done, Arkansas!

We thought you established a new standard for classless acts with the midnight hiring of Bobby Petrino in 2007.

Incredibly, you’ve managed to make that hiring resemble a Papal appointment.

After all, you’ve hired another ex-Cardinal.

Welcome back to the head coaching ranks, John L. Smith.

What’s that you say? Smith had already been ushered back into the exclusive college head coaches’ fraternity?

Right you are! Just last December, Smith left Arkansas, where he had toiled as special teams coach since 2009, to take the job as head football coach at Weber State University, his alma mater.

“I’m blessed,” the Deseret Morning News reported Smith saying upon his arrival in Ogden. “The ‘L’ does stand for lucky.”

But Smith was just warming up. “Number one, I’ve always had a place in my heart for Weber State,” Smith gushed at his introductory press conference, according to espn.com. “You do that naturally. That’s your school, that’s where you graduated from, so that fondness, that love, is always with you.

“To come back and run your own program as a head coach again is crucial for me. This, hopefully, can serve as an opportunity for me to give back something to the University.”

Who’d have thought that out of all that wonderful, heartfelt prose, the most important words would be “an opportunity for me?”

Smith got his opportunity, alright, but he won’t be giving anything back to Weber State. Unless you count adding by subtracting.

Instead, Smith heads back to Arkansas, where he replaces his former boss, assistant, and protégé. Petrino followed Smith from Idaho State to Utah State to Louisville. Petrino then succeeded Smith at Louisville in 2002 when Smith left for Michigan State under circumstances best described as unusual.

You see, Smith never told his players that he was leaving. Yet this was the worst kept secret since the Watergate break-in. Even the ESPN sideline reporters asked Smith about the MSU job before kickoff of the GMAC Bowl. Despite his denials, Smith had already accepted the Michigan State position.

With rumors running rampant, Smith had no choice but to tell his players at halftime that he was leaving. And did they go out and win one for ol’ Smitty? Not quite. They turned a 17-7 halftime deficit into a 38-15 loss. To Marshall. See ya, coach!

“I guess I’ve always been that way, to a degree,” Smith told the Associated Press last week, after taking the Arkansas job. “If there’s a door open, walk through it. If there’s a window open, jump out of it.”

Myriad candidates would have helped him out the window after his four year term in East Lansing. He began with an 8-5 season in 2003, the most wins ever by a first-year Spartan coach. Lackluster 5-7, 5-6 and 4-8 seasons ensued.

But things weren’t dull. In 2005, his Spartans led mighty Ohio State, 17-7 late in the first half, with the ball on the Buckeyes 17-yard line. Suddenly, chaos erupted on the Spartan sideline. In short order, they botched the clock management, tried to kick a field goal with only 10 players on the field, had it blocked, and, horrified, watched Ohio State run it back for the touchdown that turned the game around.

Lassoed by a sideline reporter as he loped off the field at the half, Smith exclaimed, “The kids are playin’ their tails off, and the coaches are screwin’ it up!”

But Smith wasn’t above screwing it up himself. He let his team whip Illinois, 61-14, in 2005, because Illini coach Ron Zook had the audacity to hire MSU assistant Reggie Mitchell. “It’s not our responsibility to hold the score down,” Smith haughtily told the USA Today after the game.

A year later, MSU lost its homecoming game. To Illinois. The first Big Ten win for Illinois in two years.

As soon as Petrino self-destructed, Smith saw his chance. “I got the impression that he felt he had a chance to step into a situation he was familiar with,” Weber State Athletics Director Jerry Bovee told espn.com.

Yes, after four months, how familiar could he have been with Weber State? And despite having such warm, fuzzy feelings for his alma mater, it was Smith who contacted Arkansas. Giving something back, you bet.

“I obviously said, ‘Wow, I should be thinking about John L.,’” Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long told espn.com. “This was the best decision for this team for the 2012 season.”

As for jilted Weber State, the Wildcats have moved on. They hired Jody Sears as their own interim coach last week. “I certainly wasn’t going to beg (Smith) to stay at Weber State,” Bovee told espn.com. “We certainly feel like we’re better than that.”

Too bad Arkansas can’t say the same.