In a wide-ranging interview with The Sporting News about their roles with the 2012 Razorbacks, former Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said that some players quit on the program during a disappointing 4-8 season:
"There were some seniors who kind of hung it up, to be honest with you," Petrino said. "They were going to worry about their futures more than that team. A couple seniors said they were hurt and I don't know if they really were."
Smith agrees, although he says he loves every member of the 2012 team.
"If a kid's hurt, he's hurt. Could some of the guys that were hurt have played with those injuries and continued on? That's up to those guys," Smith said.
"But I think some of the players, some of the older guys, said, ‘Why should I continue on?' They were looking ahead to the NFL."
Haynes and Petrino, who were named to coordinator positions under former head coach Bobby Petrino, stayed with the team after Petrino was fired for his role in a hiring scandal. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, scrambling to make a hire just months before the season was to begin, gave a 10-month contract to former Michigan State head coach John L. Smith to act as interim coach until a more comprehensive search could be done.
Haynes and Paul Petrino both said the hire was a mistake that made assistant coaches focus on the impending vacancy, and eventually led to a number of players quitting on the season and the program:
"I don't think an A.D. should ever hire somebody for 10 months," Paul Petrino said. "Players know what that means; they understand that. It hurts the power of the head coach and the assistants.
"They should've hired (Smith) for two years or hired someone else for two years, or just (expletive)-canned all of us."
The criticism echoes past critiques leveled at the team by then-injured quarterback Tyler Wilson, who accused teammates of giving up during a blowout loss to Alabama in September. The Razorbacks suffered a surprising early-season loss to Louisiana-Monroe, which set off a four-game losing streak. By the time Arkansas had recovered with wins against hapless Auburn and Kentucky, the season -- which had begun with a top-10 ranking -- was effectively over.
Haynes is now the head coach at Kent State. Paul Petrino recently accepted the job as head coach at Idaho.
"Even if they had a plan to get rid of us no matter what, which I think they did, you say two years and I think the kids dig in," Haynes said. "When you give 10 months, everyone is on egg shells."