Given the decidedly less-than-ideal timing of Jeff Long's coaching search, the hiring of John L. Smith as the interim coach of the Razorbacks is about as ideal a result as the program and its fans could have hoped for. Not that you would know it by the reaction of a sizable chunk of the online universe.
The move resulted in an almost predictable thermonuclear blast of outrage from message boarders infuriated that the Hogs somehow couldn't lure Nick Saban or Bill Belichick to Northwest Arkansas. And given Smith's mediocre record at Michigan State and his penchant for - uh - colorful antics (exhibit A, exhibit B), the hiring stirred a fair amount of mocking on Twitter (exhibit A). It also led the eternally outraged Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com to interrupt his vacation to pen this bizarrely angry column, in which he labels the move "a mystifying, insulting, embarrassing, dishonorable story" and says Long "might be the single worst judge of character I've ever seen."
All that sound and fury, though, should not obscure the fact that Long has now made the most of a bad situation. He has, essentially, done what made the most sense all along: he has promoted a staff member to the interim position, someone who knows the players and will keep the same system in place. Before taking the head coaching job at Weber State in December, Smith spent the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons as the Hogs' special teams and linebackers coach.
Promoting another current staffer such as Paul Haynes or Paul Petrino likely would have been an OK move, but would have had the disadvantage of asking that person to do something he's never done: be the face of a BCS program and deal with all the insane demands of such a position. The Razorbacks appear to have an excellent line-up of assistants; this hire allows them to concentrate on their responsibilities and gives the team someone with experience in the head coach spot. I could be wrong but I think Smith is going to largely stay out of the way and let his staff do their thing, which I'm more than OK with.
On a much less important note, I must admit that I'm looking forward to watching Smith. The man seems like a true character. The moments linked to above have been well chronicled, but did you that he has, according to Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel, "run with the bulls in Spain, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, skydived and trained with Marines"? Of course, his act will no doubt wear thin if the team fails to live up to expectations in 2012, but for now, I'm expecting some fun press conferences.
Four and half years ago, Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde, then with ESPN.com, drew the ire of us Hog fans by famously describing newly hired Bobby Petrino as a "disingenuous drifter." Today, however, he wrote this:
In a decision fraught with peril, with many potential wrong choices, Jeff Long made the right choice Monday. It's been a tough month to be the athletic director at Arkansas, but he's handled it brilliantly.
Unlike that crazy evening in December 2007, I can't disagree with Pat Forde.