Potential Top Prospects for Next Hogs RB Coach Shared Bobby Petrino Ties

Tim Horton
via @CoachTimHorton

The departure of running backs coach Jimmy Smith after just the second day of spring practice sent shockwaves through the Razorback football program. Despite being at practice on Friday morning, news broke just hours later that Smith was leaving Arkansas to take the same position at TCU as Best of Arkansas Sports confirmed Smith had resigned from Arkansas.

With the 45-year-old leaving for greener pastures, special teams coordinator Scott Fountain is now the lone remaining assistant from Sam Pittman’s original staff in Fayetteville. In Fort Worth, Smith will work under former Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who now holds the same position for the Horned Frogs.

Smith was known as one of the best coaches on staff and, most notably, the program’s best recruiter. He oversaw the running back room for Arkansas teams that ranked 7th in the nation in rushing offense in both the 2021 and 2022 season. The most notable product of Smith’s tutelage is Rocket Sanders, who rushed for over 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns in the 2022 season, earning All-SEC honors.

Despite the defection of Sanders to the South Carolina Gamecocks, Smith once again had the Razorbacks’ cabinet well stocked at the tailback position. Talented returners Rashod Dubinion and Isaiah Augustave along with Utah transfer Ja’Quinden Jackson and 252-pound true freshman Braylen Russell have made running back arguably the team’s strongest position heading into the spring.

Jimmy Smith Exit Isn’t Exactly Good News

The departure of Smith opens a new wound for Sam Pittman in an area he thought was rock solid. The transfer portal will be open again from April 15-30, and an assistant coach leaving usually means at least someone from that position will follow suit.

There was some previous speculation around Smith’s status in Fayetteville after Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee took the head coaching job at Georgia State. Smith, who made a name for himself in the Peach State during his time at Cedar Grove HS, was initially floated as a replacement for the vacant post in Athens before the Bulldogs went a different direction.

Smith’s defection posed a tactical dilemma for Pittman as he and new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino have been working overtime to overhaul an offense that was abysmal in 2023. The usual coaching carousel takes place in December, and losing a coach this late in the game put the Head Hog behind the 8-ball to find a replacement and get him caught up to speed in the middle of spring practices.

However, it looks like they have found their man by going back to the welll with another assistant familiar with Petrino. When Pittman was put in a bind previously this offseason after wide receiver coach Kenny Guiton’s departure for Wisconsin, the Head Hog leaned on Petrino’s extensive connections to hire Fouch away from Missouri State.

Kolby Smith as Next Hogs’ Next RB Coach

On Saturday morning, Pig Trail Nation’s Otis Kirk reported that the new Arkansas running backs coach will be Kolby Smith, who served as his running backs coach at Louisville from 2014-18, at Western Kentucky before that and had actually been an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Arkansas in 2012. While Heisman-Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson deservingly received most of the plaudits for Louisville’s success during Smith’s time there, the Cardinals did finish as high as 13th in the nation in rushing offense in 2016.

After a brief stint at Rutgers, Smith has worked with the Miami Dolphins for the last four seasons under innovative head coach Mike McDaniel. In 2020 and 2021, he served as an offensive quality control coach and then became an offensive assistant coach these last couple of years (yes, it’s confusing, I admit it). The Dolphins’ offense averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2023, the most efficient mark in the NFL. Smith, however, was let go at the end of the season.

Smith’s time playing and coaching in the NFL, as well as at a Power 5 school, should help him on the recruiting trail and help him establish immediate cachet in the running backs room. Plus, hey, the transition should be more seamless than usual given they can just keep calling their position room head “Coach Smith.”

The hiring of wide receivers coach Ronnie Fouch, who had no previous Power 5 experience and is getting paid almost the industry minimum for his post, had done little to inspire confidence for the fanbase at the time although early returns in spring practice a promising.

Who else would have made sense in this position and might have been on the Arkansas football coaches’ short list?

Retreading a Bobby Petrino Pipeline

For sure, Tim Horton would have. He’s currently the running backs coach at Air Force, and the Falcons finished 2nd in the nation in rushing offense with 281.5 yards per game on the ground. Before plying his trade with the triple option, Horton had extensive experience in the SEC. Most notably, that included a six-year stint at Arkansas from 2007-12.

In his first season in Fayetteville, he coached Darren McFadden to the Doak Walker Award when No. 5 ran for over 1,800 yards and 16 touchdowns. After Houston Nutt’s departure, Horton stuck around to help lead some prolific offenses under head coach Petrino with star running backs like Knile Davis and Ronnie Wingo Jr.

Horton would have made sense for a number of reasons. He’s a legacy UA alum who’s both played and coached in Fayetteville, and recent Tweets like this and this indicate Arkansas and the people he knows from there are still close to his heart.

Plus, he already has experience going back to his old stomping grounds. He had already worked at Air Force in 1999-05 as a running backs coach, although this time around he has added the title of special teams coordinator.

More Names for Next Arkansas Football RB Coach

Kam Martin, the current RB coach at UCF, is another name that would have been worth a look. Last season was his first year on the job under head coach Gus Malzahn, and he helped oversee a Golden Knights rushing attack that ranked 5th in the nation, averaging 228.2 yards per game. Star running back RJ Harvey had the sixth-most rushing yards in the country with 1,416.

Before heading to Orlando, the Auburn alum worked under highly-regarded head coach GJ Kinne at Incarnate Word in 2022 when the Cardinals led the nation in scoring offense at 51.5 points per game. Kinne, by the way, is Chad Morris’ new boss after working under Morris at Arkansas in 2018.

A candidate to have considered from the Group of Five level is Newland Isaac, the running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator of Liberty. Working under head coach Jamey Chadwell, the Flames led the nation in rushing offense at 293.3 yards per game. Isaac also helped coordinate high-scoring offenses at Coastal Carolina in previous years.

Worrying trend for Sam Pittman?

The Smith departure is just the latest in a mounting list of question marks surrounding Sam Pittman at Arkansas. This offseason has featured a number of important transfer portal defections and seen the Razorbacks fall in recruiting rankings

Additionally, there was a strange incident this week where Pittman said that offensive lineman Andrew Chamblee was no longer on the team, as he had “lost his love for the game” and just wanted to live life as a normal student. Fans were surprised to see Chamblee seemingly refute his own head coach by posting a few hours later saying that he was “not done yet.”

After an abysmal 4-8 record and a troubling offseason, some may take Smith’s departure as a sign the Head Hog is losing more grip on the program heading into year five. Finding a quality replacement in Kolby Smith in such a timely fashion should help instill more confidence in Pittman among a somewhat jaded fan base.

YouTube video
YouTube video
YouTube video

More on Arkansas football from BoAS here:

Facebook Comments