Big Imping: The Ballad of John L. Smith

John L. Smith is not a very good college football coach, and possibly sort of nuts. But he seems to be enjoying himself, and that's something.
Share |
Firing imaginary gun at conventional ideas of conversation. Misses target. Ricochet hits self. "Consarn it," he yells.

Image via Bleacher Report.

Within John L. Smith lives a small, silly man. If there is anything strange about the little man living inside the embattled head football coach at the University of Arkansas, it is his gentle, dad-ish loopiness. This is the type of man who, with nothing much else to do, watches episodes of "Mama's Family" on WGN, who sits through hours of afternoon infomercials and then actually phone orders "Best Of" Red Skelton video collections. This embedded homunculus loves mischief, my theory goes, and at times—often the worst and least convenient moments, during times of public stress—he hijacks his host’s faculties, unleashing serendipities on the college football world in never-ending animated gif loops of strained, terrifying awkwardness.

Perhaps, you are familiar with Smith's homunculus-steered highlights at Michigan State: the way in which Smith apparently slapped himself during press conferences, or angrily barked during one halftime interview that "the kids are playing their tails off, and the coaches are screwing it up!"

Smith's more recent performances, during his time at Arkansas, started off fairly innocuous. When one local sportswriter failed to show up to a press conference on time, Smith called him, on the phone, from the podium. "Where are you?" Smith said. "Dollar waiting on a dime, sweetheart. Get here." This is Colorful Coach stuff. Not a big deal.

Since then, Smith's Smithiness has become a bigger deal. During a halftime interview of Alabama’s quartering of Arkansas, Smith showed the world how he intended to rouse his troops’ spirits by ever so spasmodically raising the roof on a pair of air buttocks. It didn’t matter; Arkansas still lost 52-0, and two days later, all Smith wanted to do was SMILE! about it.

The little man is in command. John L. Smith is not entirely himself, and simultaneously fully and fascinatingly himself.

***

On Monday, Smith was the lunch speaker at the Little Rock Touchdown Club. Attendees are mostly businessmen types, typically Razorback fans, and the mood is almost always light. This time, though, a palpable tension coiled the room. Colleagues noted it in conversation; everyone noticed it.

Around the time I was digging into a slice of pumpkin pie, Smith made things even more uncomfortable by referring to Arkansas as the "state of Alabama." When this misstep was brought to his attention, he responded: "I did? Where would that come from? I've never even heard of Alabama." Later, in the Q&A session, the guy sitting beside me tried to have a little fun with Smith by asking him if he thought Bobby Petrino would land his next head coaching job at Auburn or Kentucky. Astoundingly, Smith played along, saying Auburn would be a "better guess." Dude won’t be scaling Kilamanjaro with Gene Chizik any time soon, presumably. But more to the point: why was he saying these things?

Why does John L. do this to himself? On the surface, it doesn’t make sense that he could possibly be this ditzily oblivious and remain a big-time college coach. But other explanations—anything but "this is how he is"—are even less convincing. Even after three straight Razorback losses, the guy simply doesn’t seem to be that serious, which seems increasingly rare in a game that each year becomes less about play and more about money.

Yet here John L. is, still cranking out the losses and laughs, as he has been since the wheels started falling off in Lansing. He’s lost 21 of his last 34 games as a head coach. Larger-personality types like Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier can afford to be funny because they win. Losing, on its own, shortens the leash, but to have very apparent, apparently guiltless fun while doing so? This is not the sort of thing fans or boosters appreciate. It is the opposite of the sort of thing fans or boosters appreciate.

As a funnyman loser, John L. has de/ascended into a special club of coaches. You’ve got Casey Stengel, the rambling, longtime MLB manager who put himself out to pasture with the expansion New York Mets in the early 1960s. Stengel never won more than 53 games in any of his four seasons there, but genuinely seemed to have enjoyed the experience, at one point even making a point of praising fans’ pretty posters: "They make up placards. The placards are terrific. I even have to stop and look at them," he said in 1962. "I think I’ve made 15 mistakes this year reading the placards instead of watching the pitcher or watching the hitter to take my men out." And later, this: "If a banner got in the way, you didn’t mind missing the play, because it was something bad happening anyway."

Another club member, John McKay, became the first head coach of NFL’s new Tampa Bay franchise in the late 1970s. McKay had coached USC to four national titles, but never tasted anything near that level of success with the Buccaneers. Even as the walls crumbled around him, he kept the wit he’d sharpened in Los Angeles, once remarking: "It's shattering when a player loses interest in camp. When you lose your desire to stand around and eat steaks, you lose everything.''

In a way, John McKay is the Beijing butterfly whose flapped wings ultimately blew John L. Smith into Fayetteville last spring as a stopgap replacement for the fired Bobby Petrino. McKay’s son, Rich, became the president of the Atlanta Falcons, which in 2007 rolled the dice on Bobby Petrino as head coach. The gamble didn’t pay off; that team tanked, and Bobby left before the season ended to return to the college landscape—where a vacancy had just developed in Arkansas. Bobby eventually filled out his staff with guys he’d known at previous stints—among them John L, who appeared to have settled into a snug career denouement as an assistant.

Not so. In the wake of Petrino's motorcycle-aided disgrace, John L. is back and he has the Razorbacks—a team ranked eighth in the nation during the preseason—heading toward one of the most massive drop-offs in college football history. Fans are not amused; pundits are laughing, cruelly. John L. Smith is still doing shtick.

Few big time coaches in their right mind would allow themselves to have such fun in such a predicament. There simply appears to be too much at stake—too many games to win, too many boosters to please and only so much time in which to do it. In this particular impossible situation, for this impossible audience, it is very much the destination that counts, not the journey. That John L. forgets this, over and over—that he even can forget it—doesn’t make him a fool. He is only being himself, as if he could somehow be anything or anyone else.


Share |

Comments

This is such an incredible asset, to the point that you are giving and you give it away for nothing. I cherish seeing blog that comprehend the quality. Im happy to have discovered this post as its such a fascinating one! I am dependably vigilant for quality posts and articles so i assume im fortunate to have discovered this! I trust you will be including more later on... stock video footage

Thanks for your information, it was really very helpfull..
mobile phone signal booster

A debt of gratitude is in order for a superb offer. Your article has demonstrated your diligent work and experience you have in this field. Splendid .i adore it perusing. pest control services

Most likely this is a fantastic post I got a great deal of learning subsequent to perusing good fortunes. Topic of web journal is incredible there is very nearly everything to peruse, Brilliant post. best online yoga classes

Excellent and very exciting site. Love to watch. Keep Rocking. The Magic of making up

greetings was simply checking whether you minded a remark. i like your site and the thme you picked is super. I will be back. healthy living

greetings was simply checking whether you minded a remark. i like your site and the thme you picked is super. I will be back. healthy living

Much obliged for your understanding for your phenomenal posting. I'm happy I have set aside an ideal opportunity to see this. debt consolidation

I just needs to say that I found your website via Goolge and also I am glad I did so. Keep up the nice work biostar hi-fi b150s5 motherboard

Find and Book Affordable and 5 Star AC Banquet Halls and Event Venues at HamaraEvent.com. Best Price & Dedicated Service, guaranteed. AC Banquet Halls

decent bLog! its intriguing. much thanks to you for sharing.... debt consolidation loans

It is an incredible site.. The Design looks great.. Continue working like that!. Pirate kings hack

iscovered numerous helpful data in your site particularly this website page. Among the heaps of remarks on your articles. Much obliged for sharing.
SAME DAY FLOWER DELIVERY UK

I was pinning away for such type of blogs, thanks for posting this for us.

mental health counselling centers

It would be ideal if you share more like that. sash and case windows edinburgh

Your composing is purely awe-inspiring that I desired to read such high quality material...

anxiety news

Great! We will be connecting to this enormous post on our site. Continue the good writing.

anxiety therapists

Much obliged to you for the upgrade, exceptionally pleasant site.. Angry birds game

Marvelous article! I need individuals to know exactly how great this data is in your article. It's intriguing, convincing substance. Your perspectives are much like my own particular concerning this subject. internet

I sent your articles links to all my contacts and they all adore it including me.clickopener.com

Keep it up!! You have done the nice job having provided the latest information.

Bipolar counselling centers

Excellent Blog! I have been impressed by your thoughts and the way you
opulence for life bonus

Superb posts with lots of information!!! This is really the most miraculous blog site dude….

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder counselling centers

It's not my very first time to visit this blog; I’m visiting this daily and acquire superb info
tradeonix reviewom here day by day.

It’s amazing in support of me to truly have a web site that is valuable meant for my knowledge.

pest control dubai

I feel happiness to read the content that you are posting.
project yourself

I want more and more articles and blogs please post soon such informative information.
opulence for life reviews

I gotta most loved this site it appears to be exceptionally useful . ​under armour

Your blog is extremely brilliant especially the quality content is really appreciable.
opulence for life reviews

I’m eager to find the valuable information and for me this is the right place to get the good stuff. selectmyshaver

This article is actually remarkable one it helps many new users that desire to read always the best stuff. www.selectmyshaver.com

Great! We will be connecting to this enormous post on our site. Continue the good writing. opulence for life

No wonder why you receive countless of feedbacks.
http://virtualceolifestylebonuses.com/reviews/

It was thinking about whether I could utilize this review on my other site, I will connect it back to your site though.Great Thanks.
The Ex Factor Guide Review

Outstanding blog, in my opinion site owners should acquire a great deal out of this blog its very user welcoming. million dollar business secrets harv eker

Whether somebody pursuit of his vital thing, hence he or she desires to be accessible that at length, hence that thing is maintained over here.million dollar business secrets

This written piece gives fastidious understanding yet.

does nationwide insurance give a discount for paying for a full year

You’ll feel best when your weight’s normal and there’s nothing strange about the way your body changes appearance during puberty. Eat healthy food and exercise a couple of times a week, and your body will be fine. Health Education

he stuff in this blog is in not only incredible but also providing the great knowledge to the people.easy online payday loans

Totally unique stuff is here really amazing!!!http://virtualceolifestylebonuses.com

This blog Info is fabulous; I must wanna see best more from your writers.Virtual CEO lifestyle bonuses

Hello! After browsing some amongst the post I felt this is totally new to me. Anyhow, I’m absolutely happy to find this.
Shailendra Singh

I was pinning away for such type of blogs, thanks for posting this for us.http://thevirtualceo.net

Hi I was searching for the blogs for many times, now I have reached at the right place.inboxblueprint2.net

I’m eager to find the valuable information and for me this is the right place to get the good stuff.hypothyroidism weight loss diet

This article is actually remarkable one it helps many new users that desire to read always the best stuff. thyroid supplements

Thanks for sharing this with us. i am very happy to read your blog. we are selling electric beard trimmer you can buy branded trimmer form our blog check out our pageInbox Blueprint 2.0

i am surprisingly here. I discovered this board and I in discovering It genuinely accommodating and it helped me out a great deal. I would like to present something back and help other people, for example, you helped me. What Men Secretly Want Review

Waooow!!! Magnificent blogs, this is what I wanted to search. Thanks buddy Inbox blueprint review

I certainly appreciate your stuff provided in the blogs.Inbox blueprint 2.0 bonusv