John L. Smith is in an interesting position.
He really has everything to gain and nothing to lose in his 10-month tenure as Arkansas Razorback football coach.
He can make decisions without pressure that it will affect future employment. If he wins 11 or 12 games, he helps make the Razorbacks one of the feel-good sports stories of the year and has to at least be in the pool for more long-term status.
Basically, he’s being paid $850,000 to help when needed but basically to stay out of the way.
In football terms, he’s a quarterback who just has to get the ball to the playmakers and manage the game.
He has a talented group of players with a veteran coaching staff, both of whom are passionate about making next season special.
He also has a quarterback (Tyler Wilson) who is an exceptional leader. That could mean as much as his talent.
Smith doesn’t have to do the spectacular. He just has to keep the ship steady and on course and not mess up.
The UA assistants are in a challenging position. Short term, they think that can have one of those seasons coaches dream about. Long-term, they don’t know where they will be in January.
But that’s the nature of the beast for any assistant coach. You are at the mercy of others and fate. Every assistant knows he is probably walking a tightrope year-in and year-out, especially in a high-profile, multi-million dollar program.
All they can do is focus on what they do best — concentrating on their area of expertise and their players.
Smith will help in that he can be the lightning rod. If one of the assistants had been made the interim, there might have been some jockeying for position for the top job the next year — and the chemistry might have been awkward (both publicly and privately) if adversity strikes.
The assistants have 10 months to evaluate and weigh options — more than a staff would normally get during a coaching change.
Athletic Director Jeff Long has full season to carefully evaluate the staff as individuals. He certainly could be influential about future staff.
Recruiting? It will work itself out. Commitments are non-binding. The key element is what happens in February. A new coach will have time to gain lost ground. The guess here is that recruiting coordinator Tim Horton, who knows the Razorbacks, the state and its coaches, will be retained on any staff.
Those mountains in April could become molehills in December — if the Razorbacks are successful.
Winning has a way of smoothing rough edges.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)