Let’s bury the hatchet and show some love for John L.

Oct 20 2012 - 11:37pm

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Hey, I'm a big enough man to admit when I'm wrong. Not that it's happened in 27 years of writing for newspapers, mind you.

However, about six months ago I came as close as ever. Last April, when newly hired football coach John L. Smith bolted Weber State University for the University of Arkansas -- before coaching even a single game for the Wildcats -- I pretty much jumped on him with both cleats. I called him selfish. Cowardly. A quitter. A liar. A loser. And a bunch of other adjectives.

Look, I'll admit it. As a Weber State University fan with an alumna wife and a child attending that fine school, I was a bit miffed at Coach Smith leaving us in the lurch like that. And in the heat of the moment, I said some harsh things.

But that was then, this is now. It's difficult to stay angry at a man whose life has spiraled so far out of control that even the most debased of former child stars, sitting in a jail cell somewhere covered in vomit, is going, "Man, at least I'm not HIM."

A few of Coach Smith's troubles since leaving Weber:

* His mighty Razorbacks, expected to contend for a national championship, are a disappointing 3-4, including a come-from-ahead loss to something called the University of Louisiana-Monroe. (Helpful tip for all of you non-football-types out there who may not fully comprehend the magnitude of this loss: If you've never heard of the winning university, chances are it's a HUGE upset.)

* He filed for bankruptcy, more than $40 million in the hole. Forty. Million. Don't ask me how a college football coach manages to get that far in debt, but I have to believe you really have to be trying to end up owing that much money.

* He has, on multiple occasions, managed to fit both feet in his mouth, including recently referring to his team's home state as "Alabama." (This, just a week or two after a crushing 52-0 loss to 'Bama.) Ouch.

* His odds of landing his current coaching assignment on a more permanent basis are now roughly those of Mitt Romney making a guest appearance on "Sesame Street."

Honestly? I feel sorry for the poor guy -- to the point where I say we let bygones be bygones.

Oh, I still think what he did was reprehensible, but at least now I'm beginning to understand why he did it. When you're staring at a $40 million deficit, a $130,000-a-year paycheck from Weber State ain't gonna cut it.

I just wish Coach Smith had come to us, the WSU community, and leveled with us. Told us he was in big trouble here, and wondered if we'd be willing to let him go to Arkansas for a bunch more money. Heck, we might even have donated the $25,000 Arkansas paid Weber for the broken contract, to help Coach Smith pay down his debt.

I don't know, maybe the coach did go to WSU athletic director Jerry Bovee at some point and say, "Listen, Jer, I'm in a bit of a jam here. I need a $39.9 million raise."

But now, here's our chance to do the right thing. Last April, I appealed to the WSU administration to hold a John L. Smith Day at a football game this season. But clearly, with only two home games left, that plea has fallen on deaf ears.

And so I now turn to the student organizations on campus. I implore you to declare one of the final two home games "John L. Smith Day," and use it as a way to begin the healing process. Take up collections of canned goods at the game; one can only imagine the belt-tightening going on in the Smith household these days.

Then offer to send the food to Coach Smith. If he declines the assistance -- as I suspect he will; he's a proud man, after all -- you could donate the items collected, in Coach Smith's name, to local charitable pantries here in Utah.

Who knows? Maybe if Weber State football fans showed some real compassion, karma would kick in and turn around our team's disappointing season thus far.

Not only that, but such a gesture could truly cement the bond between the WSU community and John L. Smith --to the point where, you know, at the end of the season he's looking for a team, and we're looking for a coach, and one thing leads to another and ... WHAM! ... suddenly he's back here to finish the job he started. And leading the Wildcats to a perfect season and a national championship in the process. (Beating Arkansas in the title game?) And then he coaches another 10 years here, until his retirement at age 74. And he becomes this legendary figure in town, the old guy who goes around yelling at people to "Smile!"

And in the end, John L. Smith and the Top of Utah become inextricably intertwined, and it ends up being THE GREATEST SPORTS STORY THERE EVER WAS.

Then, of course, before you know it, the same people who gave us the inspirational "The Blind Side" are making a movie with Gene Hackman, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Julia Roberts. Oh yeah, and starring Tom Hanks as a certain puckish humor columnist who came up with the whole idea in the first place.

Don't you just love it when I'm right?

Maybe the "L." stands for "Love." Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net.

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