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Arkansas' recipe for post-Petrino stability? A dash of eccentric Smith

by | College Football Insider
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Smith's first year coaching Arkansas will be made easier with top QB Tyler Wilson (pictured). (US Presswire)  
Smith's first year coaching Arkansas will be made easier with top QB Tyler Wilson (pictured). (US Presswire)  

HOOVER, Ala. -- Almost faster than Tyler Wilson can fire a football down the field, Arkansas' senior quarterback realized what he had just said.

Wilson was asked how he heard about everything involving Bobby Petrino that started with Petrino's motorcycle crash and ended with his admission to having an affair and then his firing as Arkansas' coach.

"Some of the rumors that were flirting around -- or floating around -- whatever you want to say. I didn't mean that," Wilson quickly said.

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Wilson then laughed and smiled after his Freudian slip. Laughter: That's something that wasn't coming out of Fayetteville, Ark., on April 11 when Petrino was fired.

However, three months later, Wilson and new Arkansas coach John L. Smith were in much better spirits attending Wednesday's SEC media days.

"Yeah, it has [been surreal]," Smith said about the past eight months.

Back in December, Smith was named head coach at Weber State, his alma mater. It was the fifth head coaching stop for the 63-year old Smith.

A few months later, Smith left Weber State for Arkansas as Petrino's replacement.

"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," Smith said.

"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."

Smith signed a 10-month contract, meaning it's probably unlikely he will be back in 2013. Make no mistake, though, Smith would love to return next season.

"Well certainly," Smith said. "Do I look stupid? Don't answer that question."

Even before coaching his first game for Arkansas, Smith had to answer his own questions about his financial situation. He admitted two weeks ago that he has plans to file for bankruptcy because of several land development deals that didn't work out in Kentucky.

Hey, at least one positive about Smith's bankruptcy issues is he won't be able to afford a motorcycle. Or $20,000 cash to buy a car for a 25-year old blonde athletic department employee.

Smith is -- how can I say this? -- one of the more eccentric coaches in college football. He thinks part of the reason might be that his grandfather came to the United States at the age of 12.

"His folks put him on a boat and said 'Go to America,' " Smith said. "What kind of 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."

Arkansas running back Knile Davis said during the events after Petrino's motorcycle mishap, there was "a lot of chaos" within the program. That was until Smith, who was the Razorbacks' special teams coach the past three seasons, came on board.

"We wanted to keep things as normal as we could," Davis said.

So leave it up to one of the most un-normal people to bring a sense of normalcy to the program.

"Coach Smith has a lot of stories," Davis said. "Man, he jumps out of helicopters, jumps out of planes, he's a wild guy but he's a loving person. A great guy. I love playing with him."

Wilson said Smith is a player's coach, but he didn't want to insinuate he meant Smith wasn't a disciplinarian.

"That's not the case," Wilson said.

Arkansas defensive end Tenarius Wright said the Razorbacks' new coach has "a swag."

"You have to be ready for whatever when it comes to Coach Smith," Wright said. "He has a swag about himself, which is really funny and enthusiastic. It gives you energy.

"One thing that stands out to me about him is he wants to make sure that your personal life is in place. No worries off the field so you can go out and focus on the field. It's really going to help everyone out so no one has to struggle or say anything about family problems.

"If it's bothering them and they don't want to vent and get it out, coach will ask you 'are you okay today? Do you need someone to talk to?' It lets you know that he cares more about us not just as players, but as people as well."

The 63-year old people-person can relate with his much younger players by, well, let's just let Wright explain.

"Get your 'piss hot' is something that John L. Smith says to get you ready to play," Wright said. "It's something he uses to motivate us and keep us fired up."

Davis told ESPN.com that they've already got "Piss Hot" T-shirts in Fayetteville.

"Who told you about that?" Smith said. "That was supposed to be a secret. 'Get your piss hot' means that it's time, start revving it up. It's time to start getting after it. It's time to get that motor ready and get that emotion going.' "

Emotion won't be a problem for Arkansas this year. Neither will the offense. Wilson will spearhead one of the nation's best attacks featuring Davis and wide receiver Cobi Hamilton.

"Three offensive players as good as there is in the country, we should be good on offense," Smith said. "We totally expect that to happen, too."

Smith knows though as strong as the offense is, Arkansas also needs a solid defense to have a shot at winning the SEC.

"It's not always, and particularly in this league, the old adage of first one to 49 wins, doesn't work in this league," Smith said. "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 step up and do that."

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