The Monday hire of Weber State head coach John L. Smith by the Arkansas Razorbacks has been drawing some plaudits from the media as a savvy choice that will help stabilize the reeling program. Current and former players certainly responded positively to the news in the announcement's direct aftermath.
Projecting forward on the recruiting trail, however, the news isn't so positive, even in a best-case scenario. That's illustrated by the recruiting rankings from Smith's previous high-level stops, as shared by Dave Bartoo of College Football Matrix, the proprietor of the site that tracks trends in recruiting and coaching:
Looking at Smith's tenure in East Lansing as the head football Spartan yields only slightly more optimistic projections:
Given that Arkansas only had one strong recruiting class with Petrino at the helm, it's hard to project the elderly Smith tearing up the recruiting trail and winning those living-room battles with his charisma. He and the rest of the staff will benefit from not having to build new relationships with the crucial first months of the 2013 cycle already gone, but Smith's ties to Petrino may not help much in the crucial state of Texas, a state to which an Arkansas head coach would be well-served to have strong ties. Ties not present with Smith.
The fact is that matching previous rankings at Louisville and Michigan State may be a stretch for Smith with Texas looming as such a significant potential source of talent.
In the Lone Star State, the question is how Smith's close relationship with Petrino and presence on the staff when the disgraced former coach callously cut loose three players out of the state in 2011 will impact Smith's reception by high school coaches there. The report from ArkansasOnline.com following the dastardly deed meekly noted the departures as scholarship releases granted, though the admission that the so-called "releases" came about after "annual scholarship evaluations" added a bit more callousness (and reality) to the equation.
Dallas Morning News reporter Matt Wixon shared the perception among North Texas coaches regarding Petrino:
Anyway, there might be some high school football coaches around here that are big fans of Petrino. I haven't found any of them, however. But I have heard from a lot of coaches who called him sneaky and untrustworthy, and in some cases, a lot of things that I just can't post on this blog.
So, yeah, apparently cutting players off scholarship doesn't go so well with the former high school coaches. According to Wixon, Richardson (TX) Berkner's head coach even went as far as to bar Petrino from stepping foot on his campus. Persona non grata, if you will.
If the John L. Smith hire is about maintaining the Petrino-era status quo in terms of recruiting and in the handling of those scholarship players who represent the nasty fat around the edges of the Hog's roster, the Razorback football program will not be popular with Texas high school football coaches in the coming 10 months, as Smith seeks to develop momentum in a recruiting class that currently holds zero commitments after both pledges -- Alvin (TX) Manvel wide receiver Austin Bennett and Katy (TX) Cinco Ranch running back/safety Jamel James -- bolted in the days after Petrino's termination.
The close ties of the two suggest the odds are high that Smith at the helm won't play any better with those crucial prep coaches than Petrino leading the program did. And that means the next 10 months could be an absolute waste of a recruiting cycle, the type of setback that could hamstring the program in the future, even if athletic director Jeff Long's next hire is as successful as the hire of Petrino appeared right up until the philandering motorcycle-riding enthusiast wrecked both his bike and his career in Fayetteville.