The realists, not the dreamers, knew that it was highly unlikely that Jeff Long would manage a "home run" hire as a head football coach for the Razorbacks in the black hole of mid-April.
Former special teams coach John L. Smith coming in for an indefinite period, to continue the baseball metaphor, is probably a double.
The main thing is it keeps most everything in play and the inning alive. The hire is more functional than sexy.
The important aspect for the players, current assistants — and to Long — is continuity. Don’t mess up the dynamics in play for what many expect to be a highly successful team.
This required a delicate blend, not a change of formula.
Smith was available and willing to leave Weber State, a way-down-the-food-chain football institution, to fill a void for most likely one season. It was probably the next-best continuity hire outside Garrick McGee. It also tells me that the UA athletic director might have been uncertain about whom among the current staff (several powerful coaches waiting for a chance) would best manage things for the interim.
Here’s what Smtih gives the UA:
* He will retain the current staff and he has worked with eight of the nine assistant coaches (all except Taver Johnson).
* He served as a special teams/linebackers coach for Bobby Petrino the last three years. He knows the system well.
* There will be continuity in recruiting, both in philosophy and personalities.
* Petrino succeeded him as head coach at Louisville and he later was head coach at Michigan State.
* He has a likeable personality — to both players and fans.
* He is known to coach with harsh admonitions accompanied by warm hugs. It is said he coaches with a big heart and lets everybody in.
* This allows the current coordinators and assistants to concentrate on duties they have already honed with Smith lending his help when needed and backing off when needed. He can add to the staff, not subtract.
* Most coaches will tell you that various off-field duties, including public relations and media, can almost consume a head coach if he is not used to it.
* This buys Long a lot of time to keep everything on the table for the future, including evaluating and possible promoting an assistant, keeping Smith for a longer period or securing a "name" coach in a home run hire in November/December. The pool of available coaches will be much larger then.
*It totally reverses the time dynamic. The UA is the first major available job opening for 2013. Interested coaches have plenty of advance notice.
This stabilizes a situation while turning time into an ally. It gives the formula a needed fermation period.
Instead of a rapidly ticking clock, there is an hour glass that will allow for sifting sands and a purer process.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)