FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach John L. Smith has endured his share of criticism since the Razorbacks’ 34-31 overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
For good reason.
Smith’s team blew a 21-point lead in the second half last Saturday, squandered a 20-game nonconference win streak in Little Rock, and lost to a team that had never registered a win against a ranked opponent since moving to what is now the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1994.
But Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg and safety Ross Rasner stood firmly behind their coach Monday as the Razorbacks tried to move past the disappointment.
“We still believe in John L. 100 percent,” Gragg said. “Everybody on the team does. Nothing has changed. We took a loss and we looked at it ourselves as players. We looked at the film and we’ve seen some things that we could’ve done right.
“People might talk about John L., but everyone in the Broyles Center that comes here every day and goes to work, we’re still behind John. L. 100 percent.”
Smith, who was hired by athletic director Jeff Long to replace Bobby Petrino in April, signed a unique 10-month contract.
There was no written promise about sticking around past the 2012 season, but the coach has been vocal in his desire to lock up the job long-term with his performance this season. The goal must have taken a hit in his second game after leading the Hogs during one of the most disappointing losses in school history.
Losing as a heavy favorite didn’t happen under Petrino, who guided the Razorbacks to a 21-5 record the past two years. But Rasner said Smith isn’t to blame.
“We know that he has our best interest,” Rasner said. “I know he is not focused on what all the naysayers are going to have to say. We have his back 100 percent.
“We are not even focused on what our previous coach would have done. We are here in the now and the present and that is what we are focused on.”
Smith said he wasn’t concentrating on the big picture Monday.
Instead, he was working to help his disappointed team move past ULM.
“It’s difficult and we have to work through it,” Smith said. “We have to do the very best we can. I’m not a big believer in looking back. I want the team not to do that. Let’s not look back. Let’s just look forward.”
He and the Razorbacks face an immediate challenge Saturday with top-ranked Alabama coming to Razorback Stadium. Arkansas has lost five straight to Alabama and the Crimson Tide is a heavy favorite to run the streak to six games Saturday.
So Smith, whose predecessor was 0-4 against Alabama, said his only goal is to work with players and coaches to fix the flaws that resulted in last week’s loss.
“We’re all feeling bad, yes,” Smith said. “But hey, it’s not going to be the first time in life that you’re going to feel bad. You’ve going to have adversity all through your life.
“How are we going to deal with it?”
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau