John L. Smith has been a risk-taker his whole life whether he was jumping out of planes at 14,000 feet or running with the bulls in Spain.
But he doesn’t view his latest venture as a huge gamble, at least not in the realm of college football coaching.
He hates any hardship he has caused his alma mater, Weber State, by walking out four months after taking the job. But he simply couldn’t ignore the call of his former colleagues and players at Arkansas, who had been passionately recruiting him to come back and help keep a season of hope from dissipating into a plume of motorcycle exhaust.
“I doubt I would have come back had I not heard from those coaches and if those texts from players had not started rolling in,” Smith said. “I think it maybe hit some of the assistants prior to hitting me. They reached out and said, ‘Coach, get your butt back here.’”
And while only the 2012 season is guaranteed for Smith at Arkansas, the potential reward was well worth the risk.
Besides, he said there’s no such thing as absolute security in college football coaching.
“It’s no different than any coaching contract in America, so it’s not that big a gamble,” said Smith, who signed a 10-month deal. “You either produce or you get shown the door. That’s the way it is, and that’s the way it is in this profession.
“What’s different here than Nick Saban’s contract? If they want him out, they’re going to open the door for him, too.”
The door Smith hopes to open for the Hogs is one they’ve been knocking on the past two years.
They won 11 games last season, finishing No. 5 nationally, and played in their first-ever BCS bowl game in 2010. But they’re also just 1-5 against Western Division heavyweights Alabama and LSU the past three seasons.
They get both teams in Fayetteville in 2012.
“We are a good football team. Now, we’re going to have to accept the challenge to become a great football team,” Smith said. “Maybe it’s a break here or there. Maybe it’s our ability to stay healthy.
“We’re going to need some help along the way, and we’re going to have to produce some breaks for ourselves. But it’s not unreasonable to think that we can win a national championship.”
Smith, who has 18 years of experience as a head coach, is confident the system is already in place at Arkansas. The same goes for the talent.
His role over these next several months is making sure it all meshes together.
“I’m going to be a different guy than Bobby [Petrino] because that’s what I am,” Smith said. “I’m going to rely on the assistants and going to delegate to the assistants and demand that they follow through with the delegation.”
Smith has been hammered in the national media for leaving Weber State high and dry. But he said nobody advised him against returning to Arkansas.
“Not a soul, although it’s not like I went out and took a poll,” Smith cracked.
He didn’t need to. His big boss, wife Diana, told him he’d be crazy not to jump on this opportunity at this juncture in his career.
“The one person who told me to do it is the one I listen to,” Smith said.
The real gamble would have been not heeding her advice.