FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas assistant head coach Taver Johnson promises the perception isn’t reality.
Sure, it has been a tumultuous spring with Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino’s firing. And there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the remaining assistants regarding the future. But Johnson said it hasn’t generated much chaos for the coaches this month.
“The perception is things are going crazy and we have got a lot to handle,” Johnson said. “But we have always put that pressure on ourselves anyway. We have taken on more work, but that’s OK. We are ready.”
Arkansas’ assistants, working through their second week without Petrino, will guide the Razorbacks through their final practice in preparation for Saturday’s spring game. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long hasn’t said publicly whether he’ll name one current staff member interim coach for 2012 or hire someone from outside the program. The fact hasn’t affected the performance of the assistants, though, according to Arkansas players this week.
“They’ve been great coaches, great leaders,” Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamiton said earlier this week. “They’re just doing everything they’ve been doing ever since before all this stuff happened.”
Said quarterback Tyler Wilson: “Practices have run very smooth since he’s been gone. ... I think coaches have stepped up their game and done a great job.”
Arkansas’ eight assistant coaches are set to earn a total of $2.6 million next season. That total includes $100,000 from the Razorback Foundation, divided between offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Paul Haynes.
Keeping the group intact makes sense, financially, for 2012. But there are no guarantees. So as Arkansas waits for confirmation about the future, defensive line coach Steve Caldwell said the only concern for the coaches can be Arkansas’ players.
“You come to work every day as a coach trying to make yourself better and working with these kids trying to make them better,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said he’s received plenty of phone calls from friends in the business, encouraging him to hang in there through the ordeal. Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has, too, saying the turmoil lets him know “who your real friends are.”
Petrino has shouldered much of the extra duties on offense without his brother. He added his work as Illinois’ offensive coordinator the past two years — when he had control of the offense — has helped.
“The most consistent thing is just stay the fight, keep fighting, keep doing what you’re doing,” Petrino said. “Keep working as hard as you can, and just do everything you can to help make the team better.”
Offensive line coach Chris Klenakis offered a peek at how the chain of command is working without Petrino earlier this week.
He said the two coordinators — Haynes and Petrino — have made the schematic decisions in meeting rooms and on the practice field. Any administrative decision is made by Johnson, who was placed in charge of the program when Petrino was fired April 10.
“We’re a very experienced staff here,” said Klenakis, who also had experience as an offensive coordinator before joining Arkansas’ staff.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have a lot of years under their belt. Each man is taking care of their job and doing their role within the program. That’s what makes a program is everyone knowing their role.”
Running backs coach Tim Horton believes the spring has been productive because the coaches are working together this month. He said handling trying times is simply part of the coaching profession.
“We’re a little bit like our players in the sense that you better have some resiliency,” Horton said.