Tim Horton was weaned on football in Arkansas. He has been around some of the best to ever have coached the game, including his dad, Harold, an Arkansas Sports Hall of Famer who is one of the most successful head coaches in University of Arkansas history.
"And the last three weeks are unlike anything I’ve experienced," said the University of Arkansas assistant and recruiting coordinator about the tumultuous life on the Hill the last three weeks. "In a word, unpredictable."
Now, as he settles into the eye of the hurricane in the bizarre turn of events that resulted in the firing of Bobby Petrino and the sudden re-appearance of this season’s head coach (John L. Smith) from Weber State.
"I think the waters have finally calmed for awhile; there’s a sense of relief," said Horton, noting that the current staff of assistants passionately wanted to stay together and coach the 2012 team.
"Ultimately, for all of us, we’ve got to take care of our families," he said during a phone interview from Fayetteville. "There aren’t a lot of coaching jobs out there this time of year. We are all happy to have jobs and have the chance to coach this team, which we think can be really special."
And Horton thinks the crisis had a bonding effect on the assistant coaches.
"We were very unified from the beginning that we were gonna stay together," he said. "There were not a lot of egos, not a lot of finger pointing. It was ‘let’s stick together and support these players.’ It’s like what we try to teach these players when adversity strikes. We had to be role models."
The example also came from the other direction.
"One thing about these players and this team is the outstanding resiliency," he said. "Sports, like life, have a lot of speed bumps and curveballs. Look at what these players have experience the last year. We lose one of our best players (Knile Davis) for the season in two-a-days. We’re get down 18 points to Texas A&M in the third quarter. We’re down 17 points to Ole Miss in the third and 14 points to Vanderbilt in the third quarter. We kept fighting and won. Then, they go through the death of a teammate (Garrick Ueckman) eventually the firing of coach Petrino.
"The kids hurt, they mourned, but they come back two or three days later and say, ‘Here we go. Let’s go conquer the next mountain.’
"That’s what inspires you. These are special kids. They have invested a lot together. They’ve been through a lot together. They stepped up and said they want this coaches and this staff to coach them this year. They told us they have our backs.
"Now, we don’t have perfect kids. Nobody does. But we do have good kids."
He noted that being an assistant coach during an interim period is not terribly different serving under a coach with seemingly a longer-term contract in the high-pressure world of the SEC.
"David Cutcliffe, at Ole Miss, goes to a bowl game and beats Oklahoma State; the next year he’s 4-7 and out of a job," he said. "You understand when you coach at this level in this league. If you don’t win, you’re out of a job. It is what it is. Joe Kines (another former Razorback interim coach) always told us, ‘We’re all interim, anyway.’"
Horton maintains there are eight components to a football program: offense, defense, kicking game, strength and conditioning, athletic training, equipment, video and recruiting.
"None of these have changed and none of these are broken," he said. "Even in the current situation, we are real good in all eight of these components. We are still operating at a high level in every one of them."
As recruiting coordinator, he’s currently busy trying to keep the connections going and he’s realizes there’s a different dynamic.
"I’m not gonna tell you that everything is rosy, but there are still a lot of positives to sell," he said. "There’s the academics, great facilities, the fact that we had 45,000 at our spring game, a top-10 team last year and one that is projected to be one this year with possibly two Heisman Trophy candidates. But I am thankful singing day is the first Wednesday in February and not the first Wednesday in May.
"We just have to nurture relationaships. it will be a challenge because normally, we are halfway through our recruiting by mid-summer. We generally have half our commitments.
"It’s kind of like the old days. Kids would wait until January to make those commitments. Now, many of them want to commit in June or July so they can get that out of the way before their seasons. And we may lose some of the group of kids who want to commit earlier. But that said, we are going to continue to get in our swings."
He again is looking at the positive.
"For a couple of years, we thought about, ‘let’s slow this thing down,’" he said. "Maybe we’re putting too much pressure on players because everybody is in such a hurry to get all committed up. So, I’m just fine with the current situation. The big thing is we’ve got to keep the in-state kids we want. Four years ago, when we had a good recruiting class after a transition, the backbone of that class was there were great in-state players who stood with us."
He’s welcomes the addition of Smith, whom he served with the last three years on the UA staff.
"He has great people skills," Horton said. "He’s enthusiastic and players enjoy playing for John L. With his experience and personality, there’s not question that he will do a great job. We’re comfortable with him as coaches because we know what to expect and he’s accessible."
Horton also notes both players and coaches are energized by the 45,000 at the spring game with the absence of a head coach.
"Our fans are committed and always have been," he said. "And I may be speaking on this from the perspective of an alumn, but I think when many times when our program has done the best, it has been player-oriented and not coach-oriented."