The 2012 football season at Arkansas was an unmitigated disaster and this week several of the coaches responsible for a preseason top-10 team producing a 4-8 record blamed it on the athletic director and some of the seniors who might have quit on their teammates.
Former head coach John L. Smith, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Paul Haynes told the Sporting News in separate interviews that athletic director Jeff Long's decision to give Smith a 10-month contract when he took over for fired Bobby Petrino was a mistake because the players saw the coaches as lame ducks.
“I don’t think an A.D. should ever hire somebody for 10 months,” Paul Petrino told the Sporting News. “Players know what that means; they understand that. It hurts the power of the head coach and the assistants.
“They should’ve hired (Smith) for two years or hired someone else for two years, or just (expletive)-canned all of us.”
A 10-month contract certainly wasn't ideal but it was probably the best move for Long at the time. It gave him time to decide what was best for the long term future of the program and to find the right coach. By most accounts, he did that in landing Bret Bielema from Wisconsin.
Firing the entire staff along with Bobby Petrino during the summer probably wasn't a realistic option because the pool of coaching candidates for the head job and assistants was extremely shallow so late in year. Long certainly wasn't going to get Bielema at that point.
Knowing that he had the makings of a contender for the Southeastern Conference and national titles, Long opted for as much continuity as possible by keeping Petrino's assistants and adding an experienced head coach in Smith to oversee the program, essentially on an interim basis.
It was a huge opportunity for Smith to prove he could lead the program long term and for Petrino's assistants to prove they were just as responsible for building the program into a contender as Petrino and just as capable of leading it without him. But they failed to prove those points.
The players certainly hadn't quit in Week 2 when they were 1-0 but somehow found a way to lose to Louisiana-Monroe. They might have felt like quitting after losing 52-0 to Alabama in Week 3, but not before that game was played. It was a chance to knock of the defending national champ and get the season back on track.
It's no surprise as the season wore on and more and more of the team's goals became unreachable that some of the players might have quit. That stuff happens when seasons go south even when coaches have plenty of time remaining on their contracts. When it does, those coaches respond by finding more playing time for younger players or those who do want to play hard.
All three coaches have landed new head coaching jobs since parting ways with Arkansas. Smith is the new head coach at Fort Lewis College, a Division II school in Colorado. Petrino is at Idaho and Haynes was named head coach at Kent State, his alma mater. Smith said he loves every player he coached last season, but he also believes some of their hearts weren't completely invested to the end.
“If a kid’s hurt, he’s hurt. Could some of the guys that were hurt have played with those injuries and continued on? That’s up to those guys,” Smith told the Sporting News.
“But I think some of the players, some of the older guys, said, ‘Why should I continue on?’ They were looking ahead to the NFL.”
The reality is, the athletic director, the coaches and the players probably all share a little bit of the blame for what happened to Arkansas football in 2012, but the real bad guy in all this is Bobby Petrino for putting them all in such a bad position in the first place.
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