Nobody likes the general idea of interim coaches. The name itself implies a program lacking stability, one that could go several different directions based on very few decisions. Today, Arkansas hired John L. Smith as interim head coach and the Razorback fan base, as well as the entire college football world, is split into two camps: those who think the move is logical and likely won't hold the Razorbacks back, and those who see Smith having to slap himself after the Alabama game.
Can these Razorbacks be successful (whatever "successful" may be) with a head coach who sits back and lets the assistants do the coaching? Is the energetic Smith even capable of doing that? Those unhappy with the interim coach point to Smith's mediocre record as head coach and perhaps some are simply uncomfortable with the notion that Arkansas is sticking with any interim during the 2012 season. And it's hard to blame anyone for that. Arkansas' experience with interim coaches is really bad. Surely, history won't repeat itself, will it?
Granted, there have not been many interim coaches in Arkansas' history. Hardly enough to justify saying "this always happens!" But the ones fans have lived through have left permanent negative impressions on Razorback history. The most recent came on New Year's Day 2008. After Houston Nutt was fired for lunacy, Reggie Herring was charged with leading the team through the Cotton Bowl before Bobby Petrino took over. Fans generally understood it would be the last game for Hog legends Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, and seniors included Peyton Hillis, Marcus Monk, and many others. It was a beloved squad.
Hog fans woke up for an early kickoff that day. Even those who didn't attend, like me, woke up hung over from the night before and laid on the couch eager to watch the Hogs, who'd ended the season by upsetting #1 LSU, take on what was perceived to be an overrated Missouri team. Arkansas lost 38-7. I'm not sure if the Razorback performance or my hangover hurt worse that day. Arkansas barely looked like they'd cared at all.
Herring particularly ingrained himself in Hog infamy when he attempted a fake punt in the first half, and converted but the play was called back due to penalty. When Arkansas lined up to punt after the penalty, they lined precisely as they had before the initial fake punt, and every Razorback fan thought, "surely not. No idiot would run the same fake punt on consecutive plays." Sure enough, Herring did it again, and believe it or not, Missouri was ready for it and Arkansas turned the ball over on downs. I looked for an online video of this by Googling "reggie herring 2 fake punts". I didn't find the video but the first link that came up was a message board thread titled "Top 10 Worst Football Moments in Your SEC Schools [sic] History".
The other interim was Joe Kines, who took over in 1992 after Jack Crowe was fired for introducing Arkansas to the SEC by losing to the Citadel. Kines coached the final 10 games in 1992, which was highlighted by the Hogs defeating South Carolina to open their SEC history, and upsetting #4 Tennessee in Knoxville on a last second field goal. Unfortunately, other than those two games, Arkansas went 1-6-1 under Kines, including losses to Memphis State and SMU. He was retained...as defensive coordinator. Danny Ford was hired to replace him and things, well, got mildly better a few years later.
I believe those are the only interim coaches Arkansas has had since the university adopted the Razorback mascot in 1910, but there have been a few single season coaches, and they didn't do well either.
- John Tomlin started the 1943 season strong with a 59-0 victory over the Missouri School of Mines (I swear that's what it says in the media guide) but went 1-7 over the rest of the year and left afterward.
- George Cole (yes, the baseball field guy) went winless in the SWC in 1942, but much to everyone's enjoyment did beat Ole Miss 7-6, but he also did not remain as coach.
- J.B. Craig went 3-4 in 1919, beating Hendrix, the aforementioned Missouri School of Mines, and the mighty Oklahoma Sooners, but lost to four schools, including Henry Kendall (per the media guide, Henry Kendall was not a one-man team, but actually would later become University of Tulsa) by a score of 63-7
So, basically, if Smith is to be successful as Arkansas' interim coach, he'll be the first successful interim (or single season) coach in Razorback history. He has the tools to do it. Fans who are accepting of the hire envision Smith laying back, handling the media, administrative duties, and the like while the heralded coaching staff does the actual coaching. Paul Petrino will call the plays and Paul Haynes will make sure the defense continues to improve. And did you see Tyler Wilson this spring? Did you hear Knile Davis is coming back? It'll be a memorable season for sure.