FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas assistant head coach Taver Johnson didn’t dare predict the future Saturday afternoon, minutes after the Razorbacks wrapped up spring practice with the Red-White Game.
The only thing he could verify was his recruiting plan with the spring evaluation period underway.
“I have a 6 a.m. flight and I’ll be on it,” he said.
Arkansas’ on-the-field work is over until preseason practice begins in August, meaning the wait for athletic director Jeff Long’s decision regarding the program’s future kicks into high gear. It may not be a long process, either. Long said Saturday afternoon he plans to have a resolution “in days, not weeks.”
But no matter how long it takes, or what Long’s decision means, Johnson said it won’t do the Razorbacks any good sitting still. It’s a message he and the rest of the Razorbacks have followed ever since Bobby Petrino was fired on April 10, one they’ll adhere to until there is resolution.
“We do have good leadership here,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said after the Red-White Game. “Let them do what they do. I have the utmost faith they’ll do the best for these players and this coaching staff and we’ll move forward.”
The wait is a little different now, with spring practice complete. Long placed Johnson in charge of the program through the completion of the Red-White Game, offering no promises beyond the scrimmage.
Promoting a current coach to the interim role appears the most likely scenario for 2012. But there’s also the chance big changes are coming.
They’re prepared for whatever outcome.
“We have no control. We have no choice but to be patient,” Arkansas running back Knile Davis said.
“So that’s what we're going to do. Be patient and hopefully they’ll make the right decision.”
Said offensive coordinator Paul Petrino: “You just go out and do your job, do it the best you can.”
It’s well-documented what the Razorbacks want for 2012. They’ve made it clear publicly ever since Petrino was fired. Everyone — from players to coaches — believe Arkansas’ best hope for success next season is to keep the current coaching staff intact.
Davis and quarterback Tyler Wilson were among the players who shared those thoughts with Long last week. They were speaking on behalf of the team.
“The whole team wants to keep the same coaching staff,” defensive end Chris Smith said. “Keep everything in-house. Hopefully we get what we want.”
It’s something former players like Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and D.J. Williams echoed from the sideline while the Razorbacks scrimmaged Saturday.
The group played a big hand in Arkansas’ success under Petrino the past two seasons. And, while admittedly understanding the program will likely move in a new direction after Petrino’s unexpected dismissal, they don’t want to see it change now.
“This system wasn’t a very easy system to learn,” said Wright, who is preparing for the NFL Draft. “Get a new coach in here and teach them a new system, I think it would be hard for the guys that would only be here for a year. So I’d like to see an interim coach. But Jeff Long has done his job great.”
Arkansas’ assistants will be on the road recruiting as Long irons out the coaching plan.
They’ve instructed players to carry their effort from the practice field into the classroom, individual film review and weight room workouts.
Wilson said the gameplan — despite the uncertainty — remains the same even though spring practice is over.
“Sit tight. Keep doing what you can do,” Wilson said. “There’s two things that you control and that’s attitude and effort. I’ve preached that a number of times. I’m going to continue to have a positive attitude and give great effort and let the administration handle that upstairs. I’m sure they’ll make a great decision and I’ll be behind it.”
It won’t be long before Arkansas knows what direction — under which designated coaching leader — it is headed in for 2012. But no matter who Long selects, the Razorbacks emphasized, once again, their goals won’t change as they prepare for next fall.
“We’ll hear something in the next week or so,” wide receiver Cobi Hamilton said. “We are really comfortable with the staff here now. But that’s all up to Jeff Long. Whoever they bring in we will play hard for them and we will have a great season.”