The University of Arkansas is in a somewhat unprecedented situation, having recently fired successful head coach Bobby Petrino because of off-the-field actions.
Most coaching changes come during the winter months but the Razorbacks are instead searching for a new head coach in the middle of April. With the rest of the staff that has helped the team to back-to-back string finishes still in place, the school and athletic director Jeff Long have been placed in a tough position to find Petrino's replacement.
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On Monday afternoon word leaked out that the Razorbacks had made an unusual decision for its next football hire. Long decided an interim coach would be the best decision but actually went outside the program to find one.
Current Weber State head coach John L. Smith was tabbed as the interim head man in Fayetteville. Smith has previously served as head coach at Louisville, Michigan State, Utah State and Idaho and recently served as an assistant under Petrino at Arkansas.
Though an unorthodox move, the hiring of Smith was met with optimism by many high school recruits and coaches. In fact, the coach of one of the top programs in the state thinks the Razorbacks made a smart decision.
"I would feel just fine sending a kid to Arkansas with coach Smith," Springdale (Ark.) Har-Ber head coach Chris Wood said. "They kept the assistants in place and those guys have been there a few years and they understand the state and know how to recruit here. It is a sound, smart move to get through this year for them and go from there. There are high expectations to go to a BCS game or compete for a national title and I think he can be a steady hand."
Fayetteville (Ark.) High linebacker Brooks Ellis lives a stone's throw from the Arkansas campus and has long held an offer from the school. The state's top-rated defensive prospect sees the move as a positive one as well.
"I haven't really heard much about why they chose coach Smith in this situation," Ellis said, "but I know he used to be there as the special teams coordinator.
"I actually went to camp last year and got to know him though. He's a pretty good guy and I like him so hopefully it works out for him and the Hawgs."
Edmond (Okla.) Santa Fe three-star safety Khari Harding visited Arkansas over this past weekend and received an offer from the Razorbacks some time ago. Though he wasn't very familiar with Smith prior to Monday, he feels it is a good hire.
"I really don't know much about [Smith]," Harding admitted. "I saw on TV that he had coached under Petrino before and that he used to coach at Michigan and Louisville so it seems like he's a good fit."
While Smith was met with plenty of support, the choice to only anoint him as an interim coach with a 10-month contract is a bit concerning to recruits.
"From what I've heard he's a good guy and everything like that," Plano (Texas) Prestonwood four-star tight end Christian Morgan said. "I'm supposed to get on the phone with Paul Petrino here tonight and I'll probably know a little bit more after that.
"It's kind of hard though. I honestly don't see how that even works. How are you supposed to commit to a guy that won't be there and won't be your coach?"
Morgan has long been a big fan of Arkansas and likes the current coaching staff but he is worried about what will happen in Fayetteville once the season is over.
"I honestly think they should just hire someone permanently," Morgan added. "I don't really care who it is. They just need to make him be coach and be done with it.
"The staff that you have now is winning and he should keep them. Whoever they eventually hire is going to come in and clean house and bring in his own guys."
St. Louis (Mo.) DeSmet three-star defensive end Donnie White Jr. received his first offer from Arkansas and has had them at or near the top of his list since that time. However, the coaching situation concerns him a bit.
"I don't know really anything about the new coach at all," White said. "I guess it would be based on how he does if they keep him but I really don't know. I know things happen though and I still look at [Arkansas] the same.
"It might be a little tough to commit to an interim coach though. I don't know if the next coach would want me or anything or if I would fit his system so that would be a little bit of a concern for me."
Even Ellis sees the interim tag as a possible hurdle in his recruitment, though he does not think it will be too big of one.
"I don't really know how it will work," Ellis said. "Since he's not going to be the permanent head coach it leaves a lot of questions for sure. It's still Arkansas and I still live two seconds away, though."
Harding chooses to remain cautiously optimistic about what will happen with the program and his recruitment.
"It doesn't change how I look at Arkansas," Harding said of the Smith hire. "It doesn't affect me that he's an interim coach. I'm pretty sure he's going to keep doing the same things coach Petrino would have done. As far as the next coach we'll just have to see when that time comes."
Springdale (Ark.) Shiloh Christian has been nationally-ranked several times over the last few years and head coach Josh Floyd has sent several players to Arkansas. Though he is concerned about the interim title, he takes a practical approach to the matter.
"I would have a few questions anytime there is a coaching change and certainly when there is an interim title placed on a coach because you don't really know how that situation is going to play out," Floyd said, "but we approach recruiting by telling every kid to pick their school and not their coach because it is all too often that the coach you commit to isn't going to be there for the four or five years that the player will be.
"Sometimes that doesn't happen and sometimes they stay but you can not expect either situation to play out and you have to have the kids pick the school that is right for them.
"I think that, at least here in Arkansas, a lot of the kids still grow up wanting to be Hawgs and it wouldn't matter who the coach was. That has changed a little with more media exposure and the internet making it easier to see what is happening elsewhere but I think kids here still want to go there."
Wood, who won a state title in 2009 and has sent players such as offensive lineman Brey Cook to play for Arkansas, does not see things slowing down for the Razorbacks at all. He thinks the success of the program that will enter the 2012 campaign as a Top 10 team will be enough to keep recruits headed to Fayetteville.
"Arkansas as a program is headed in the right direction and I think [Smith] can keep them going that way," Wood said. "The recruiting will take care of itself because kids who grow up here want to be Hawgs and want to go there, if they win that will continue.
"I am a Hawgs fan from as far back as I can remember and would say that I want them to be successful and I think this is a hire that can make sure they are. I think [Long] got it right.
- Rivals.com high school football analyst Dallas Jackson contributed to this report.
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