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John L. Smith Bankruptcy: Arkansas Football Coach Trying To Clear $25.7M Debt

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Arkansas coach John L. Smith, center, stands beside the huddle during a timeout against Jacksonville State in Fayetteville, Ark. on Sept. 1, 2012.
Arkansas coach John L. Smith, center, stands beside the huddle during a timeout against Jacksonville State in Fayetteville, Ark. on Sept. 1, 2012.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas coach John L. Smith is trying to wipe away $25.7 million in debt in bankruptcy court and hang onto $1.2 million in retirement accounts and some personal property, all while he leads the Razorbacks through one of the strangest seasons in team history.

Smith, who loudly implored reporters to "smile" at a press conference this week, has a meeting with a long list of creditors at U.S. Bankruptcy court in Fayetteville on Oct. 12, the day before the Razorbacks host Kentucky.

Smith was coaching Louisville when he began investing in real estate, which he has said, was profitable until land values took a nosedive. Smith filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Sept. 6, and court papers filed Wednesday detail the depth of his financial losses.

As of the filing, Smith had received $115,000 from his 10-month, $850,000 contract with Arkansas, plus $35,643 from his alma mater, Weber State, which he left before coaching a game to return to Fayetteville after Bobby Petrino's firing. He also picked up $9,810 from Nike and $1,057 from a football camp, according to the court documents.

Smith has two retirement accounts, each worth about $600,000, which his filing lists as exempt from liquidation, along with household furnishings.

The filing lists 26 unsecured creditors, with the largest debt – $20 million – claimed by Terra Springs LLC of Louisville. Other debts include $2 million to Republic Bank and $902,000 to King Southern Bank, both in Louisville. He also owes about $10,000 to American Express.

Smith paid $20,000 up front to his attorney, Jill Jacoway of Fayetteville. She wasn't in her office Thursday and didn't immediately respond to email requests for comment.

Once the Chapter 7 proceeding is complete, Smith will be released from the debts, assuming there are no ensuing complications.

Smith revealed his financial problems to The Associated Press during the summer, saying he anticipated a bankruptcy filing and that he didn't want it to distract the team or embarrass the university. Athletic director Jeff Long said at the time that Smith was candid about his debt situation in talks before he was hired.

"It's something that's happened. I made some mistakes, and to be honest with you, I'm a football coach, not a businessman," Smith said at the time.

Since declaring bankruptcy on Sept. 6, then-No. 8 Arkansas lost in overtime to Louisiana-Monroe, 34-31, and was shutout by No. 1 Alabama, 52-0. Starting quarterback Tyler Wilson was knocked out of the Louisiana-Monroe game with a head injury and other key players have been sidelined by injuries.

All this followed Petrino's April 1 motorcycle crash, which led to revelations he had his 25-year-old mistress on the back of the bike and that he'd hired her for an on-campus recruiting job. Long fired Petrino 10 days after the accident.

The Razorbacks (1-2) are preparing to host Rutgers (3-0) on Saturday. It remains unclear whether Wilson will be under center.

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