Were this a stage production of “Razorbacks 2012: A Football Odyssey,” the act where John L. Smith dutifully and matter-of-factly discloses his personal financial turmoil should probably be the one the playwright excises first from the draft.
Only in the context of the most bizarre off-season in Hog history would the head coach’s soured investments be taken under the microscope at all. Smith’s inability to turn profit on a bunch of parcels in Kentucky has only drawn ink because of the freakish business that has preceded it. The sports editor of the statewide daily elected to parlay this little episode into an opportunity to serve up amateurish observations on the economy; the musings here will conversely, and appropriately, be more reserved.
The fact that John L. Smith may, in fact, find himself among hundreds of thousands of bankruptcy filers nationwide over the next year is not troubling at all. At one time, he commanded a substantial head coaching salary and sought to build wealth as many of his socioeconomic class would do, in a manner that enriched many before him. Not only did the real estate market tank, Smith lost the job that gave him the financial resources with which to make those investments. Getting a special teams coach gig in Fayetteville back in 2010 was hardly going to be a cure-all for that.
We are firmly entrenched in an era of information overload and the commentary portion of that excess is overripe and under-informed, to be kind. This is not to pick on message boards or blogs, which have their utility, but to once again call attention to a rather jarring cultural shift. John L. Smith would have never found his finances subject to such public scrutiny prior to the dawn of Hogville or the age of Twitter. I never cared that Robert Bork rented “Ruthless People” back in ’87, and I don’t care that John L. Smith needs his personal debts reorganized now. If he does what he was hired to do, then he can direct half his salary to building a Joan Van Ark shrine or a retaining wall out of Old Milwaukee tallboys.
Naturally, it is easy to be this nonplussed when Smith hasn’t run out of the tunnel as head coach yet. This same, how-much-is-too-much issue memorably surfaced in 2007 when Houston Nutt’s phone records were procured via an innocuous Freedom of Information Act request. By that time, Nutt’s welcome was already worn thin, the fan base was almost irretrievably disgusted with marginal performance and shows of petulance. When text messages and calls to a female news anchor turned up, we collectively howled about the utter impropriety of it all, blamed the team’s lackluster performance on a coach who had lost focus on the program, and cried for his head. Ole Miss helped facilitate that dream months later.
Smith also apparently did not fudge any details when telling Jeff Long about this little fiscal faux pas, as Long said it was disclosed when Smith was being approached about the job. We are all well aware of the importance that Long places upon candor. Petrino was revealed as both winner and liar, the latter trumping the former. Smith earned himself the chance to be the next winner by simply being honest, a fact that was lost on a fringe element of the fan base that still holds out hope for Petrino’s redemption and return.
For all the tumult that has surrounded the program since Petrino smiled and confidently hoisted the Cotton Bowl trophy in January, there is solace to be had. Smith arguably left Weber State in a precarious position but with his financial pressures mounting, taking the Arkansas job was even more logical than previously thought. There’s a substantial gulf between what Petrino did in a moment of inexcusable selfishness and what Smith did years ago in the hopes of creating a nest egg for his family. Perhaps this off-season and its melodramatic undertones have now given way to a morality play.
And maybe Joe Adams will win an ESPY. I’d rather we have that statuette than a Tony.