FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — John L. Smith knows Arkansas, knows the expectations for a powerful program rocked by a scandal that cost Bobby Petrino his job.
Smith pulled no punches Tuesday in declaring his intent to keep the Razorbacks in the thick in the Southeastern Conference and national championship races.
"Our expectations here are the same," Smith said at his introductory news conference. "Nothing is going to slow down. In fact, we're going to speed up. We're going to fight and we're going to battle. We're going to fight for a national title."
The 63-year-old Smith, who was an assistant for Arkansas the last three seasons under Petrino, is back after leaving the school in December to become the head coach at Weber State. He returns to a program that finished No. 5 last season and has even higher goals in the fall.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long surprised virtually everyone by announcing Monday that Smith would be back for the 2012 season under a 10-month, $875,000 deal. He replaces Petrino, who was fired April 10 for not disclosing his affair with a woman he hired as his assistant.
Smith has a 132-86 record in 18 seasons as a head coach, including stops at Michigan State, Louisville, Idaho and Utah State. His hiring will allow Long to take his time in finding a long-term solution for a head coach.
"This was the best decision for this team for the 2012 season," Long said.
Of course, Smith might want to stick around. He didn't rule out the possibility.
Smith leaves his alma mater, Weber State, without coaching a game for the FCS school. It was a move Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee called "problematic" and one Smith said wasn't made lightly.
"This is one of the toughest decisions in my life that I've ever had to make," Smith said.
Smith was once thought of as an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks after leading Louisville to a 41-21 record in five seasons, including five straight bowl appearances. His star never shined brighter than in 2003 when he was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year for leading Michigan State to an 8-5 record in his first season. The win total was most by a first-year coach in the Spartans' history, but things went quickly downhill.
Michigan State was 14-21 in Smith's next three seasons, leaving him with a 22-26 overall record, and he was fired following the 2006 season.
He made it clear Tuesday that he was eager for a shot a redemption at Arkansas, whether the job lasts 10 months or beyond. Either way, Smith said he was up for the challenge with a team that finished 11-2 last year, with its only losses to national champion Alabama and runner-up LSU. The Hogs were 21-5 over the last two seasons under Petrino and returns Heisman Trophy hopefuls at quarterback (Tyler Wilson) and running back (Knile Davis).
Petrino praised Smith's hire — the two worked together at four different schools over the years — but he has kept a low profile since the scandal broke. Long fired him after learning that Petrino had not only concealed his relationship with Jessica Dorrell before hiring her but he given her some $20,000. The relationship was revealed following an April 1 motorcycle accident crash that injured Petrino. Dorrell, who was on the ride, has resigned.
Long began looking for Petrino's replacement immediately. Few coaches were willing to leave during spring practice and prime recruiting time, even for a team that looks loaded with a coaching staff already in place.