FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach John L. Smith isn’t consumed about his future as the Razorbacks prepare to play Mississippi State on Saturday.
Smith — whose one-year trial run as the man in charge of the Razorbacks is quickly winding to an end — said he’s only got one thing on his mind Monday.
“I am going to love every day that we go to the practice field because that's the best part of the day and being around those guys is what it's all about,” Smith said Monday. “I'm glad I have had the opportunity to do that. And I am just knocking on wood to stretch it as far as we want or as far as we can.”
Smith answered a few questions about his job status as the Razorbacks (4-6, 2-4 in Southeastern Conference) began preparing for Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 in SEC) on Monday. Arkansas enters the game needing a win to keep its bowl hopes alive, which was an unthinkable possibility when athletic director Jeff Long tabbed Smith as the temporary replacement for fired coach Bobby Petrino last April.
So it’s no secret Arkansas has failed to live up to expectations under Smith, who also has dealt with financial problems after filing for bankruptcy in September. The Razorbacks stumbled out of the gates to a 1-4 start and their postseason plans suffered a critical blow during the 38-20 loss at South Carolina.
But quarterback Tyler Wilson said Saturday the blame shouldn’t be placed on Smith’s shoulders alone.
"This situation is tough for anybody," Wilson said. "He's done everything that's been asked of him. So he's done an incredible job. I think tremendously high of him, obviously, and the rest of our coaches on our staff. They've done their jobs.
"Now, at times, we've got to go out there and do a better job of doing what we do. And in that, you create some more wins."
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen knows Arkansas is still capable of doing it with players like Wilson, running back Cobi Hamilton and running back Dennis Johnson leading the way. The Razorbacks have won three straight against Mississippi State and 12 of the past 13 in the series, including the overtime win in Starkville in 2010.
“They didn't trade away all those players midseason,” Mullen said. “They didn't pull a Red Sox and dump the roster after halfway through the season. They're all still there. … They're battling through injuries and they're backed to the wall – they’ve got to win out to go to a bowl game and so I imagine they'll come out fighting."
Arkansas has no other choice at this point if it hopes to play in a bowl game.
The Razorbacks must beat Mississippi State and LSU to become bowl eligible.
The chances of it happening are dim, considering Arkansas has just one win against an opponent with a winning record this season. So, too, are Smith’s hopes of extending his run with the Razorbacks past the 10-month contract he agreed to last April.
Long has said numerous times he and Smith agreed the 2012 season would determine whether he had earned the job long term. The Razorbacks have lost more games this season than they did in the previous two years combined (five).
But Smith said he hasn’t given up hope with two games remaining.
"I'm the most optimistic guy you could imagine," Smith said. "So, I'm always optimistic. I'm optimistic on us going to Starkville and getting a win this weekend.
“The other stuff can take care of itself. I'm not overly worried about any of that.”