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"Jeff Long did it again," Dodd wrote in December, when he ranked the Hogs' hire as the best of all 26 head coaching hires in the FBS. "Totally clandestine, Arkansas' AD lured Bielema ... [w]ho knew that Bielema was so annoyed by Wisconsin assistant coaches' salaries and wanted a shot at the SEC that bad? For Long, this hire makes up for John L. Smith and is probably better than Bobby Petrino. Bielema will win and get Arkansas back into BCS/playoff bowls quickly."
Dodd's comment, of course, underscored the fact that Long did have to chalk up the Smith experiment as an abject personal defeat. Not even a full day after Arkansas's miserable 4-8 campaign ended with an upset bid against LSU falling just short, Long gave the embattled interim coach his walking papers in a manner that was both formal and a formality. Long absorbed heat for the decision to reel Smith back toward campus in May, then seemed to answer the same questions weekly afterward as the entire coaching staff stubbed its toes on Saturdays. The short-term contract defied convention, but not necessarily logic: Long rationalized that Smith's three-year run as special teams coach made him intimately familiar with the coaches and players, and that Smith's head coaching experience (132 wins at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State) made him a preferable option when contrasted with elevating an unproven coordinator or position coach, even though Smith was also 63 years old, six full years removed from ending his forgettable run in East Lansing with three straight losing campaigns and saddled with his own personal tumult in the form of a swelling personal bankruptcy.
Another CBS Sports writer, the notoriously acerbic Gregg Doyel, proclaimed Long's decision to retain Smith as "one of the dumbest hires Arkansas could have made," and pointedly criticized the man who made the call: "Jeff Long, the Arkansas athletics director, might be the single worst judge of character I've ever seen."
Even with Smith's failings, as both an investor and a coach, Long did not flinch when matters became irreparably bleak in early September. The Hogs suffered through a string of embarrassing defeats and wounded pride, but Long refused to author a cutthroat condemnation of his coach. Only as the specter of the final minutes of a lost season loomed did Long even remotely hint that change was coming. When the aforesaid Band-Aid was finally, mercifully, removed, Long did it in his usual understated fashion.
"I have great respect for Coach Smith, and I thank him for the sincere commitment he has shown our program," Long's Nov. 24 statement read. "He made a difficult decision in uncertain times to return from his alma mater to guide the young men in our football program, and I will always be grateful for his efforts."
It was an exceedingly dignified way of addressing the inevitable, but as the Razorbacks' losses mounted, so-called "caller-driven" radio shows and message boards were overrun with skeptics. Fans grumbled as the end of November came and the vacancy remained unfilled, all while other jobs across the country were being opened and closed. Cynicism once more consumed a fan base that viewed the Smith enlistment as a more accurate determinant of Long's abilities than the Petrino hire. Names and dollar amounts were leaked or possibly fabricated, most memorably a still-suspect tale about LSU coach Les Miles purportedly toying with a massive five-year offer to bring his irreverence north.
By the time Dec. 4, 2012, arrived, Long's silence had morphed from admirable to aggravating. His famously active Twitter account had been hushed since Nov. 25, only stoking the boiling public interest. As names like Mike Gundy and Butch Davis and Chris Petersen floated around without any semblance of an honest, legitimate source, Long remained shockingly mum.
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