FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Knile Davis unintentionally offered the deepest insight into how the personality of the Arkansas football team has changed in the weeks since Bobby Petrino's firing and John L. Smith's hiring as his replacement.
Davis, the star Razorbacks running back, was comparing the differences in coaching styles between the controlling, businesslike Petrino and the huggable Smith when he mentioned that Smith has a demanding side to his personality as well.
"John, he has a serious side," Davis said. "You can't be in this game playing around. He can be serious. He knows how to get what he needs out of you, but he also has a playful side, and that's cool."
Davis' reference to Smith by his first name didn't go unnoticed, and he was quickly asked if he would have ever referred to Petrino as "Bobby."
"Uh, no, probably not," Davis said with a sheepish smile.
It's been less than a month at Arkansas since Petrino's dismissal after revelations he hired his mistress and gave her $20,000 in gifts.
Since then, the Razorbacks have completed spring practice, welcomed their former assistant Smith back as head coach and made plans for an offseason of work while trying to build on last season's 11-2 record and No. 5 final ranking.
The Arkansas program itself has also undergone a personality transformation of sorts. Players have been made available to the media more frequently and for longer durations than in the past. They are willing to talk openly about the whirlwind spring following Petrino's motorcycle accident on April 1. And, more than anything, they appear relaxed for a change.
"Yeah, the environment is a lot different, but it's cool that it's different," Davis said. "It's not bad that it's different."
It's a kinder, gentler version of the Razorbacks in Fayetteville these days — thanks largely to the outgoing and personable Smith. He left Arkansas in December after serving as an assistant for three years under Petrino, becoming the head coach at his alma mater, Weber State.
Following the Petrino scandal, it was Smith who inquired about returning to the Razorbacks. He eventually signed a 10-month, $850,000 contract and was greeted with a hero's return from the players — who welcomed the fact that Smith would keep the coaching staff intact while also calling him a "players' coach."
"We have full respect for coach Smith," Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton said. "Obviously, he's a little different personality and you're going to see a few more smiles, a few more laughs, but he's a great coach. We're going to stand behind him, and I know he has a lot of guys here who are ready to play for him."
The last time Petrino took part in an Arkansas practice on the field was on March 30. The former Atlanta Falcons coach was in his usual form that day, berating a side judge for missing an offside call during the scrimmage.