Tyler Wilson On Feeling “Partly Responsible” For John L. Smith Hire

Tyler Wilson

-Tommy Foltz

I recently wrote about a Peyton Hillis podcast interview in which he said “no Hog QB after Mallett has been better than average.”  I beg to differ…….


I was at the inaugural “Chili Fights in the Heights” festival on upper Kavanaugh Blvd. in Little Rock in 2010.  That day was chosen because we were playing Auburn on the road, and the hope was such a road game meant there would be more of a crowd for the event.  Be that as it may, people still wanted to watch their Hogs. So up went a huge screen TV on the closed street.   

Long story short, Ryan Mallett went out with a concussion, Tyler Wilson relieved him and completed 25 of 34 passes for 332 yards, 4 TDs vs. 2 INTs.


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Get some.


Hog fans everywhere experienced a very satisfying collective revelation: In Bobby Petrino’s high-powered, QB-dependent offense, there would be no drop off at that position after Mallett left.


Wilson’s return to the field as the head man in 2011 did NOT disappoint.  He led the Hogs to an 11-win season including a Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State.  With Wilson and so many players back for 2012, the die was cast.  It would be more national respect for the Hogs. Arkansas was considered a dark horse championship contender and, that spring, Sports Illustrated forecast Wilson being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

For his career, Wilson completed 593 out of 648 passes (62.6%) for 7,765 yards and 52 touchdowns with a 2 to 1 TD to INT ratio.  Three thousand three hundred and eight seven of those yards, along with 21 TDs, were completed in his fifth year with essentially no head coach.


No need to re-examine how it happened, or what happened, but as a soon-to-be-fifth-year senior, at the end of the day, Tyler Wilson found himself in an uncomfortable position as the Hogs tried to determine who could take over the head coaching position in April.

“Now it’s assistant coaches that are lobbying for their position to be the head guy, that are pulling me into team meeting rooms, privately, lobbying for my vote for them to be the head guy,” Wilson recently recalled to Bo Mattingly.

“And I’m like, ‘Hold on here, what makes you think I’ve got the power and the authority to give somebody my vote for you to be the head guy? I guess it carries weight because I’m the captain, I’m a quarterback and I’m a fifth year senior, but you’re wanting me to step in our athletic director’s office and tell him that you should be our guy?’ I’ve got four or five guys on staff that are doing that and I’m going, ‘Holy cow.’ This has never before aired or seen stuff.”

Through much of that preseason and season, Wilson said he felt like he had the “weight of the world,” which includes 3 million Arkansans, a football team and a student body, on his shoulders. “There’s not many college players that have ever had to deal and handle with as much on their plate as I feel like I had to handle,” he said.

There was talk of bringing back Garrick McGee, the offensive coordinator from 2010-11, as the head coach. But he left. Bobby Petrino’s younger brother, Paul Petrino, returned to take the the OC position.

“Everybody’s got egos and personalities and Paul’s now the offensive coordinator, so you bring Garrick back and is there some sort of internal conflict there maybe that would exist? So maybe that wasn’t the best suggestion, but what was unanimous was that [then special teams coach] John L. Smith had been there during the years that we were humming. He’s had head coaching experience before.”

“What it does is it mends the fences to all of those coaches who are still in there, who are advocating for wanting the spot, to now go ‘We’ve got to come together or we’re all going to lose our jobs. Let’s rally around John L. Smith.”

In the end, Wilson said he felt John L. Smith was the best choice, and “partly feels responsible for” supporting the hire after it was clear Bobby Petrino wasn’t coming back. In retrospect, the second wreck of 2012 — this time taking the shape of much of the football season — ensued.

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Wilson said he feels partly responsible for this because he didn’t think it would be right to interfere with Jeff Long’s search.  

That was the right call on Wilson’s part and it shows what kind of brain he has between those ear pads.  A good one.

Plus, it was a perfect plan on paper: keep the game plan and all the assistants in tact, rely on the experience and talent coming back and keep the train chugging.  No problem.


Unfortunately, most of us who saw the paper didn’t know of John L. Smith’s bewilderingly incompetent management style and his Jester-like personality.

My first run-in with John L was at a golf tournament I play in every year.  It was there that I saw him yell down a group of my friends over in the corner who were making a little too much noise, by telling them to “Shut Up!!!!”  

That was April.  On Labor Day weekend of that year, I watched the sideline from the West side of Razorback Stadium and it was apparent that this coach had no control of his team.  Overnight the culture of rigid discipline was out the door only to be replaced by a guy who let his players do whatever the Hell they wanted.  


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Didn’t exactly command respect.



The John L. experiment failed and Tyler Wilson got robbed of what could’ve been legendary status rather than just greatness. 

There’s only so much one player can do to make his team click.  And, I would argue that the assistants on staff were too busy working on their resumes to get on the field and give Tyler the help he needed.

The fact that Wilson was able to perform at all says a ton about who he is as a person.  At a minimum, he was better than average, but that sells him way short.  He did the best he could with what he had and he did it in a record-setting way.   

I guess we can all enjoy the fact that we can forget great Razorback QBs like Tyler Wilson because we’ve had so many.  Wilson’s place should not be overlooked or forgotten.

He should always be included in the same conversations we have about Ryan Mallett, Joe Ferguson, Matt Jones, Clint Stoerner, Bill Montgomery and the other greats who have put on a cardinal jersey and helmet through the years. 


Listen to the entire interview here:


Check out our latest post, featuring another eye-opening story from Wilson, here:

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