Smith, who had been an assistant the last three seasons at Arkansas under Petrino, was chosen by Long to guide a team that returned first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson and a host of other key playmakers. The decision was lauded by the Razorbacks, who welcomed the personable Smith back with open arms.
The season hit the skids with a stunning overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8, starting a four-game losing streak that dropped Arkansas out of the rankings. The Razorbacks finished with the school’s lowest win total since 2005, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2008.
“It’s very difficult for me to believe that is not a bowl-eligible team,” LSU coach Les Miles said following the Tigers’ win over the Razorbacks in the season finale. “Watching the talent there, (it’s) very capable.”
Arkansas struggled to find its identity in the SEC after leaving the former Southwest Conference in 1992, but it appeared to have finally found just that under Petrino, who was hired after leaving the Atlanta Falcons during the season in 2007.
The Razorbacks turned into an offensive powerhouse under Petrino, leading the league in scoring and total offense last season. After winning 10 games and reaching the school’s first BCS bowl game in 2010, losing to Ohio State, Arkansas won 11 games in 2011, capped by a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.
Still, Arkansas has yet to win the SEC, losing in the conference championship game three times.
While the country watched closely to see how Arkansas would react following Petrino’s dismissal, Smith made headlines of his own throughout the season. The former Michigan State and Louisville coach filed for bankruptcy during the season, revealing $40.7 million in debt he blamed on bad land deals.
Long said during the season that the new coach would be tasked with building on the recent success at the school, which is looking into expanding the 72,000-seat Razorback Stadium and is currently building an 80,000-square-foot football operations center.
“Our new coach will be an individual who shares the passion for success our fans do, and who is willing to work relentlessly to achieve our goals,” Long said following the announcement of Smith’s departure.