"I've always had a place in my heart for Weber State," Smith said. "Again, to come back to run your own program as head coach again was crucial for me.
"And there's a ski hill right here."
Smith compiled a 132-86 record as a head coach at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State. He replaces Ron McBride, who retired at the end of his seventh season at Weber State.
The Wildcats finished 5-6 in 2011, 5-3 in the Big Sky Conference. McBride was not in attendance Tuesday.
"Coach McBride has laid a great foundation," said Smith. "He's done a lot for the program. Thank goodness we can look forward to building on that program."
Weber State athletic director Jerry Bovee said integrity and knowledge of the area played a large role in hiring Smith, who leaves his position as an assistant coach at Arkansas.
Smith won't coach the Razorbacks during their Cotton Bowl appearance.
"We were looking for someone who understands the culture of our state, how to recruit here; it's a little different than everywhere else," Bovee said, adding that Smith's knowledge of the coaching and recruiting dynamics of the Big Sky Conference were also significant factors.
And, Bovee noted: "The fact that he was an alum was important to us. He wants to see the program do well."
Smith was a linebacker and quarterback at Weber State between 1968 and 1971. He was an academic All-American.
Smith's first job as head coach was at Idaho where he went 53-21 with five postseason playoff appearances. He was 16-18 in three seasons at USU, 41-21 in five seasons at Louisville and 22-26 during a four-season stay at Michigan State.
Smith will meet with staff members and before addressing recruiting.
"We're going to spout [about the national championship]," Smith said. "We're going to tell recruits about it, 'Come here if you want you be a national champion,' because that's what we're going to get done."
John L. Smith's coaching résumé
Year School Wins-Loss/Conf. rec.
1989 Idaho 9-0/8-0
1990 Idaho 9-4/6-2
1991 Idaho 6-5/4-4
1992 Idaho 9-2/6-1
1993 Idaho 11-3/5-2
1994 Idaho 9-3/5-2
1995 Utah St. 4-7/4-2
1996 Utah St. 6-5/4-1
1997 Utah St. 6-6/4-1
1998 Louisville 7-5/4-2
1999 Louisville 7-5/4-2
2000 Louisville 9-3/6-1
2001 Louisville 11-2/6-1
2002 Louisville 7-6/5-3
2003 Michigan St. 8-5/5-3
2004 Michigan St. 5-7/4-4
2005 Michigan St. 5-6/2-6
2006 Michigan St. 4-8/1-7