Arkansas Hires John L. Smith as Head Coach

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Arkansas Razorbacks football has long been a hot ticket in this town of more than 68,000.

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By KURT VOIGT, Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — John L. Smith knows the Arkansas football program well and has a vested interest in its continued success. So a chance to help clean up the mess made by coach Bobby Petrino was too good to pass up.

Arkansas announced Smith's hiring as head coach Monday night, bringing back the popular former assistant who left four months ago to take over at Weber State. Smith will be formally introduced Tuesday, and the school said he signed a 10-month, $850,000 contract and will be eligible for other incentives.

"I am tremendously excited to have this special opportunity to return to Arkansas and lead the Razorback football program," Smith said in a statement.

Smith's return caps a whirlwind three weeks for a program reeling after revelations of an affair by Petrino with a woman, Jessica Dorrell, he later hired as his assistant. Petrino also once gave his Dorrell $20,000 in gifts — all which was revealed following an April 1 motorcycle crash on a rural road southwest of Fayetteville. Dorrell has since resigned.

Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long fired Petrino on April 10 and started looking for a new coach. In the end, he came back to Smith, who has head coaching experience, familiarly with the Razorbacks' staff and will keep that staff intact for at least the 2012 season.

"When coach Smith first approached me about returning to Arkansas to serve in this position, he talked about his desire to be a part of the continued success of these student-athletes, this coaching staff and the Razorback program," Long said in a statement.

Hiring Smith also allows Long to take his time in finding a long-term solution at head coach. Petrino's firing came during spring practice for much of the college football world, a time when few coaches were willing to leave their current positions for the unknown — even for a top-five team that already had a coaching staff in place.

"(Smith) has been a part of the record-breaking success we have enjoyed in the past few seasons," Long said. "... I also have a tremendous amount of confidence in our assistant coaches and believe that under coach Smith's leadership they will be able to continue to flourish in the current roles."

Smith was a head coach at Michigan State and Louisville, where he was replaced by Petrino after the 2002 season. He served as the special teams and outside linebackers coach at Arkansas for the 2009-11 seasons under Petrino; the two have worked together at four different schools in all.

Petrino issued a statement late Monday night through his agent, Russ Campbell.

"I think Jeff Long made a great hire," Petrino said. "While there were several outstanding internal candidates, John L. brings a lot of head coaching experience to the table that will help Arkansas' transition. He will unify the staff, the team and the Razorback fan base. I wish coach Smith, his staff and the Arkansas football team the very best."

Word of Smith's hire spread quickly Monday and some of the players responded with their approval on Twitter.

"The happiest day of my life," Razorbacks running back Knile Davis tweeted. "Hearing that John L. Smith is coming back to (Fayetteville) to (be) our head coach."

The players were informed of Smith's hiring at an afternoon team meeting, though they were instructed to avoid talking with media members outside the Broyles Athletic Center afterward. Still, their smiles told the story of their feelings.

Those smiles were shared by former Arkansas players who played for Smith, including current New England Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett.

"John is a great guy and a great coach," Mallett tweeted. "I love it."

Smith's easygoing demeanor will be a big change from Petrino.

The 63-year-old Smith leaves Weber State without coaching a game for the FCS school, his alma mater.

Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee said the "timing of this announcement is problematic" but the school would move forward. Bovee did not immediately name an interim coach.

"Wow, just when you think the pieces to the puzzle are all in place, something big happens to create chaos and the picture changes," Bovee tweeted. "Ouch!"