FAYETTEVILLE — Former Arkansas coach John L. Smith has found his next job.
Smith, who was relieved of his duties in November after guiding the Razorbacks through a tumultuous 4-8 season in 2012, has been hired as the head coach at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. The program went 0-10 last season and is 6-25 in the past three seasons. Smith replaces Cesar Rivas-Sandoval.
“I’m very excited to actually coach for the real reasons you get into coaching — to make a difference in the kids’ lives and help them get an education,” Smith said in a news release on the program’s website. “At this point in my career, to get back and coach for the real reasons … not to get somebody to the NFL, but to coach kids who want to play the game and get an education. I’m just thankful that they’ve provided me the opportunity to do this.”
It’s also an opportunity for Smith, an Idaho native, to move back West where he began his coaching career.
Smith will work for familiar faces at the school. Fort Lewis College athletic director Gary Hunter was at Idaho in 1989, when he hired Smith to lead the Vandals. Fort Lewis College president Dene Kay Thomas also worked at Idaho with Smith.
Smith said those two were the reason he first looked at the job.
“Not only has Coach Smith had outstanding success on the field, but he has always stressed the importance of academics and community and campus involvement,” Hunter said in the news release. “President Dene Kay Thomas was instrumental in assisting us set up an academic advising and support unit at the University of Idaho when she was associate dean there, and developed a close working relationship with John L. That was a key in getting him to Fort Lewis College.”
Fort Lewis College will be the seventh head coaching job of Smith’s career. In addition to his one-year stint as Bobby Petrino’s replacement, Smith led programs at Utah State, Idaho, Louisville and Michigan State. He was named Weber State’s head coach last winter, but left his alma mater to return to the Razorbacks last April.
Smith, according to the Fort Lewis College website, will begin working at the school on March 1. He is under contract at Arkansas in an advisory role until Feb. 23.
Defensive coordinator Ed Rifilato is leading the program until Smith arrives. Rifilato played for Smith at Idaho from 1983-84 and also worked on his staff at Louisville as the director of football operations in 2002.
“He’s one of my all-time greatest player/friends,” Smith said on the school’s website. “We’ve kept in touch on a weekly or monthly basis in all of our years.”
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau