Assistant coaches come and go in college athletics

Arkansas has hired Kolby Smith as running backs coach to replace Jimmy Smith.
Former Miami Dolphins offensive assistant Kolby Smith walks the sideline during an NFL pre-season football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. Smith this week was been named as the new running backs coach for the Arkansas Razorbacks. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

One thing is almost certain in the world of college football: assistant coaches will eventually move on.

Sometimes they do so to better their personal situation. Other times they are let go because the head coach deems a change is needed. Often when a head coach leaves one job, some of the assistants will follow him to that next job.

It is a vagabond’s life.

No one understands that more than Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman. According to his Wikipedia bio, since 1984, Pittman made 16 job changes before his 17th landed him the head coaching job at Arkansas in December of 2019.

Pittman’s on the record saying the Arkansas job will be his last. I personally hope that’s true, but I hope his retirement to his Hot Springs “lake house” doesn’t come for several more years. That would mean the Razorbacks’ football fortunes would have turned for the better from last year’s 4-7 season.

But that’s not today’s subject. It’s been reported by multiple news sources that Jimmy Smith left his post as Arkansas’ running backs coach last Friday to take a similar job with TCU, which is why Kolby Smith, a former protege of Arkansas offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, today was announced as the team’s new running backs coach.

While it’s not uncommon for assistant coaches to move on to other jobs for any number of reasons, it is a bit odd for it to happen at the beginning of spring practice. Generally the moves are made in December or January.

The rumors are that Smith had wanted to leave Arkansas earlier this year for a job with the Georgia Bulldogs, but his contract with the Razorbacks stipulated that he could not take a job within the SEC.

Smith is a native of South Carolina but had strong roots in Georgia where he was a well respected and successful high school coach before coaching at Georgia State in 2019 and then joining Pittman’s staff the following year. Going to Georgia for Jimmy Smith would be like going home.

If that Georgia rumor is true, Arkansas could have “released the golden handcuffs,” and allowed Smith to go to Georgia, but that would have been foolish on Arkansas’ part. The clause was in the contract to protect Arkansas’ program from this exact situation.

Moving from Arkansas to TCU is a lateral move, despite Jimmy Smith’s title of associate head coach at Arkansas and whatever raise in pay he may or may not have received at TCU.

Is there bad blood between Pittman and Smith?

Maybe, but if so, both will likely get over it with time. Pittman has too much work to do at Arkansas to obsess over it, and likewise for Smith at TCU.

What’s done is done.

If there was resentment between the two, it’s better for both coaches and most importantly the Razorback program for Jimmy Smith to move on now rather than to carry that grudge into recruiting this summer or into coaching next season.

As for Pittman and Jimmy Smith’s personal relationship, if it was chapped, the time apart will allow the relationship to heal or not. Hopefully it does, but as observers, is it really our concern?

So, will the Hogs lose some players over this situation?

It’s a possibility. Anything seems possible with the transfer portal and the freedom of movement college athletes enjoy today. Arkansas has recruited well in Georgia, and that is directly linked to the relationships that Pittman and Jimmy Smith made in the state. Jimmy Smith’s departure could prompt some players to consider moving elsewhere.

But, we know there will be some players who will transfer out and some that will come in. That’s just the way it is in college sports today.

Jimmy Smith is known to be an excellent recruiter so his departure is a loss to Arkansas, but it is not an uncommon one. As stated earlier assistant coaches move on all the time. It’s literally a chain reaction. All a program can expect from an assistant is to do their best while on staff, and it seems Smith did that.

For the Razorbacks, what’s more important is that Kolby Smith has a smooth transition into his new role as the Hogs’ running back coach. No doubt his knowledge of Petrino’s offense played a huge role in his hire.

In 2012, Smith was a graduate assistant for the Hogs under Petrino, who served as Arkansas’ head coach from 2008 to about this time in 2012. Smith joined Petrino at Western Kentucky in 2013 and coached for him at Louisville from 2014-18 as running backs coach. In 2019 he coached at Rutgers, and for the past four seasons he worked as a quality control and an offensive assistant for the Miami Dolphins.

Certainly the transition between Kolby Smith and Jimmy Smith will be a challenge for the Razorbacks and particularly the running backs. Kolby Smith will be coaching just as he is getting to know the Hogs’ running back personnel, but at least, he knows Petrino’s system and has multiple years experience coaching it. Jimmy Smith did not have that.

Kolby Smith’s NFL coaching experience should also be a benefit to the players in the Hogs’ running back room. All of them want to get to the next level, and from his 27-game playing career with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2007-2009, and his coaching experience with the Dolphins, he has knowledge that will be beneficial to them.

Is he or will he be the recruiter that Jimmy Smith was?

That’s not really a fair question. All coaches and recruiters are different. Each brings different talents, strengths, and connections to the job. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.

One thing is for certain, as a manager, it’s better to have an employee who is happy to have the job than one who is upset and has one foot out the door.