Arkansas Football: The Harsh Reality

Photo: Walt Beazley, UA Athletics

Just hours ago, Arkansas lost its third game in a row (to Rutgers this time). And, once again, the offense couldn’t establish a running game, a key player left the game hurt, the Razorbacks lost the turnover battle and the defense made another average quarterback look like an All-American. As frustration sets in for fans of Hogs football, here are the harsh realities surrounding Arkansas’ terrible start to the 2012 football season:

  • Long gone is the BCS talk.
  • Gone, too, is the SEC championship talk.
  • It’s silly to think there could be Heisman talk.
  • At this rate, Arkansas may not be playing in a bowl game after November.

If there’s one thing there will be plenty of frustration and venting towards, it will be talk about firing head coach John L. Smith and perhaps the remainder of the Arkansas coaching staff.

But that’s the absolute wrong talk to have right now.

The decisions that were made by athletic director Jeff Long back in April were the best he could make at the time. The decision to fire Bobby Petrino still remains the right move as Petrino forced Long into that position. And the choice to keep nearly all of Arkansas’ coaching staff in place was the best chance at a run to any sort of championship, no one would’ve argued that in April.

Plenty will argue that, now.

Firing anyone on the staff right now does Arkansas no good for two reasons. A) there are no new candidates out there now that weren’t available in April. And, B) if you fired anyone now, who takes their place and what would you expect from them? When you fire a coach, you’re making a statement that the individual isn’t making a difference or doing what they were hired to do.

Coach Smith was hired to keep things as close as they were to normal. No other coaching change was made. And yet, here sits Arkansas, with the same staff as last year (sans Bobby Petrino and Garrick McGee), floundering away what was supposed to be a magical season. When it comes down to it, Smith doesn’t make decisions for this team, he’s just the bus driver — the guy hired to come in, keep the peace and stay out of the way. That leaves a majority of this season’s shambles on the coordinators (perhaps, ultimately, on Petrino and his mess).

So put your Jeff Long hat on. If you fire Smith, who on this staff has performed well enough to take over as head coach? Who can you elevate right now that could possibly turn this season around?

Regardless of whether any of that is the “right” conversation, it’s exactly what’s going to happen over the next few weeks. Radio shows, message boards and social media will fill with talk about firing Smith, Paul Petrino and Paul Haynes. You’ll even see talk of how much better off Arkansas would be to tuck their tails and bring back Bobby Petrino.

In all reality, those conversations should steer clear of the whole firing jabber and, instead, focus on who can come in as the next head coach and turn things around in 2013 — which, once the season ends, there will be PLENTY of speculation about.

Back to the now. The Arkansas team is in a brutal, physical battle. A battle against themselves to discover their true identity.

It’s clear that Coach Smith isn’t the bus driver that Long hoped for. It’s clear that Paul Petrino isn’t the same offensive genius as his older brother. It’s clear that Haynes isn’t ready to lead an entire defense, much less his applauded position in the secondary.

It’s also evidently clear that for the rest of the season, there are no easy wins in sight for Arkansas. Each game is a game that the Razorbacks can realistically lose.

So, how will the coaching staff and players respond? How will the fans respond aside from calling for firings?

The time for charades is over — no more “smile” talk, no more calling out players after a game, no more bankruptcy chatter. The time is over for how opponents “outplayed or outcoached” Arkansas. The coaches can’t keep moving new — or different — players into starting roles each game. The choice to abandon any semblance of a running game can’t happen every week.

Arkansas football has to put up (we can ignore the “shut up” portion since three teams have effectively shut them up) — coaches and players, alike. And as a coach on the Arkansas staff, even though you probably aren’t trying out for the head coach position anymore, you are still building your resume for wherever you might land next season.

After four games, Arkansas sits at 1-3. A lot can happen over the course of the next eight games. For all of the short comings that the Razorbacks have, something positive has to happen in order for them to make a good season out of a horrible start. It’s going to be a fight to become bowl-eligible, so let’s hope the Hogs can somehow right the ship enough for that extra month of practices.

The harsh reality is that Arkansas is nearly out of answers to the simplest of questions. Those answers, or lack thereof, aren’t what the fans are ready to hear or accept. And it’s certainly not what they feel they deserve.