John l. Smith: Enjoying ride after replacing Petrino
Wednesday , July 18, 2012 - 3:48 PM
HOOVER, Ala.— Bobby Petrino reached out to his Arkansas successor John L. Smith and players like quarterback Tyler Wilson last week.
For Wilson, it was the second time he’s talked to Petrino since the coach’s firing and provided "a little closure." For Smith, the chat marked the first time he and Petrino had connected since the spring coaching shake-up.
"It was basically about our football team at Arkansas, of which he’s always concerned about," Smith said Wednesday in his Southeastern Conference media days debut. "And of course what he’s going to do from here on out with his life, things he’d like to get done.
"It was more of us just getting back and catching up."
Mostly, the Razorbacks have moved on from Petrino’s firing following revelations that he had hired his mistress to a position in the football department and given her $20,000 in gifts. They faced plenty of Petrino aftermath questions at SEC media days, but are sticking with the theme that adversity made the team and individuals stronger.
The gregarious Smith certainly seems to be enjoying the ride. The former Michigan State and Louisville coach makes no secret that he wants to stick around beyond this season.
"Well, certainly. Do I look stupid?" he said.
Smith inherits a team that was in the national title chase until season’s end and gets back one of the SEC’s top backfields with Wilson and tailback Knile Davis, who missed the 2011 season with an ankle injury.
Smith was an Arkansas assistant for three seasons under Petrino before leaving in December to become the coach at his alma mater, Weber State.
It’s pretty evident that the high expectations haven’t changed with Petrino gone.
The Razorbacks are coming off an 11-2 season. It just so happens that those two losses came to a pair of SEC West rivals who went on to play for the national title, Alabama and LSU. That ‘s one key to making the jump from contender to champion.
"Well, you’ve got to beat them," Wilson said. "That’s where you start. It’s good for us this year. We’ve got them both at our place."
The prolific quarterback took issue with any national perception that Arkansas might fall back without Petrino and key players like receiver Joe Adams and defensive end Jake Bequette. The Razorbacks have gone 21-5 games the past two seasons, with three of those losses coming to the West kingpins.
Wilson sees no reason to think the program’s upward trend won’t continue.
"You guys (reporters) can say what you want," Wilson said. "I witnessed the best spring that I’ve had since I’ve been here. With that, I think we can have a better season. I was here during the five-win season my freshman year. I was here during the (eight)-win season my redshirt sophomore year, the 10-win season, the 11-win season. If you do the math, we’re in good shape at the end of the season. "
Smith said he and wife Diana sometimes reflect on the "roller coaster" ride of the past eight months. He’s not sure how many wins it will take to extend his stay, but he’d like it to include a visit to Miami for the BCS national championship game in January.
"We have one goal, and we’re not bashful about reiterating that goal," Smith said. "That goal is to win in Miami.
"Our goal is to be a national championship football team and that’s what we want to get done. I know our players relish that as well as our fans and our coaches. That’s our goal for this year."
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