Several Arkansas Natives Appear on my list, including Batesville native Charlie Strong
Arkansas Coaching Candidates
At 7:15 CT on Tuesday April 10 Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long made one of the toughest decisions of his career. Long fired head coach Bobby Petrino, who had a 34-17 record in 4 years as the Head Hog. Petrino was the most popular Arkansas coach since Nolan Richardson in the mid 90s, but the relationship with Jessica Dorrell was something Long could not overlook.
The good news for Razorback fans is that their program is in great shape. Arkansas is the 8th wealthiest program among NCAA Football Programs and is in good financial position to pay the next coach $3-$4 million a year. Most coaching searches are the result of poor play on the field, but not in this case. Arkansas is loaded with talent and has been a top 10 team the last 2 seasons. This job is certainly more attractive than it was after the Houston Nutt Era ended.
Jeff Long must go after a proven winner as a head coach. Too much money is invested in a facility upgrade to sell the fans on a young assistant. Something else that is needed is a man that is fantastic at developing talent as Arkansas typically doesn't finish on the top in SEC Recruiting due to its lack of instate talent. Experience in the states of Texas or Louisiana would be a huge plus as this is where Arkansas must make a recruiting impact.
I do not think Arkansas hires someone from the outside for the 2012 season. More than likely they do like Ohio State did in 2011 and go with an interim coach for 2012. Arkansas did this with much of the 1992 season when Jack Crowe was fired and Joe Kines led the program after The Citadel loss.
Here is my list of candidates
1. Gary Patterson TCU(109-30)- Patterson would be my number 1 choice. At TCU, Patterson has finished as high as #3 nationally and has a Rose Bowl win. Patterson is very similar to Bobby Petrino in his development of players, the biggest difference is that Patterson is a defensive guru. Recruiting the Dallas-Fort Worth area is huge for the Razorback program and there is no doubt Patterson can do that. With the Frogs entering the Big XII the TCU job is going to get tougher, so would Patterson want that challenge or would he like a shot in the SEC? His defensive style would fit very well in the SEC.
2. Garrick McGee UAB(no record as a head coach)- McGee served as the Arkansas Offensive Coordinator from 2010-2011 and was the QB coach in 2008 & 2009. McGee is an obvious choice as he was very popular among Hog fans. His relationship with Tyler Wilson was showcased on the ESPN show "Depth Chart" that aired this past fall. McGee was also the offensive coordinator at Northwestern where he ran more of a spread offense. He's a diverse play caller, but has no experience as a head coach. He has been charged with a DUI in his past, something that has to be considered.
3. Charlie Strong Louisville(14-12 at UL)- Strong is a Batesville, Arkansas native and a graduate of The University of Central Arkansas in Conway, AR. Strong was a defensive coordinator in the SEC for a decade under Lou Holtz, Ron Zook, and Urban Meyer. He also coached under Steve Spurrier at Florida and Billy Brewer at Ole Miss. With such strong ties to the SEC and The State of Arkansas he would be a nice fit at Arkansas. Strong is a defensive minded coach who would likely have a prostyle type offense similar to what Petrino has been using. He inherited a mess at UL and has taken the Cardinals to back to back bowl games. Would Arkansas hire another former Louisville coach?
4. Gus Malzahn Arkansas State(no record as a head coach in the NCAA)- Malzahn is an Arkansas High school coaching legend, winning multiple state titles and even setting national offensive records. Malzahn's last head coaching job in Arkansas was at Springdale High School, about 10 miles from the Arkansas campus. He was the Rivals.com Offensive Coordinator of the Year in 2006 when he helped the Hogs win the 2006 SEC West Division Title. At Tulsa his offense became the first in NCAA history to have a 5,000 yard passer, 1,000 yard rusher, and 3 1,000 yard receivers in the same year. He then went to Auburn where he won a National Championship in 2010. The concern with Malzahn would be would the Hogs hire a man who just took the Arkansas State job when Petrino was often ripped by the media for leaving Atlanta after 1 season?
5. Art Briles Baylor(59-53 overall)- Few coaches are as highly respected in The State of Texas among high school coaches than Art Briles. Briles won multiple state championships as a high school coach in Texas. He then went on to become an assistant at Texas Tech under Mike Leach. Briles overall record isn't all that impressive, but you have to consider the horrible messes he inherited at Houston and Baylor. Briles' last 3 QB recruits were NFL QB Kevin Kolb, NCAA passing record holder Case Keenum, and Heisman Winner Robert Griffin III. Briles can match Petrino's play calling ability and does know balance on offense. Give this man a good to elite job and he would win big time. Briles can recruit Texas, something the Hogs need.
6. Skip Holtz South Florida(85-62 overall)- Holtz attended Fayetteville High School in Arkansas while his father Lou Holtz was coaching the Razorbacks in the late 70s and early 80s. Holtz's first head coaching job was at UConn where he helped rebuilt the program and assisted with the school's move to the FBS. He then was the offensive coordinator at South Carolina from 1999-2003. Holtz then took over a rebuilding project at East Carolina where in his last 2 seasons the Pirates won the Conference USA Title and probably should have beaten Petrino's Razorbacks in the Liberty Bowl. In 2 seasons at USF he's 13-12.
7. Butch Davis Tampa Bay Special Assistant(79-43 as a college coach)- Davis played defensive end at Arkansas and coached at Fayetteville High School early in his career. He took over a Miami program coming off NCAA santions and rebuilt that program to elite levels in the early part of this century. Not only did he win big at Miami, but he also was responsible for cleaning up the reputation of the university. After a short stint as the coach of The Cleveland Browns, he returned back to college at North Carolina. He again took over a rebuilding project and went 28-23 at UNC, but was forced to vacate 16 wins due to NCAA violations. Davis is 60 and with the recent NCAA violations this might not be a man the Hogs touch.
8. Dave Christensen Wyoming(18-20)- This is a name few are thinking of, but Christensen is a coach on the rise. In 3 years at Wyoming he has taken the Cowboys to 2 bowl games, impressive when you consider they only have 4 appearances in the last 2 decades. Christensen was the offensive coordinator at Missouri from 1997-2008 and broke several school records on offense. Considering how much Missouri relied on Texas recruiting while in the Big XII, this would be a plus for Christensen.
9. Troy Calhoun Air Force(41-24)- When Lou Holtz left Arkansas nearly 30 years ago, the man they hired was Air Force Coach Ken Hatfield. Could the Hogs take the same route with Calhoun? While Calhoun does run plenty of option at Air Force, I don't think he would do this at a BCS job. Calhoun has been an OC in the NFL and would bring a prostyle approach to Arkansas. Having worked for the Houston Texans, he would be familiar with his state.
10. Kirby Smart Alabama Defensive Coordinator- Had Bobby Petrino not accepted the Arkansas job in 2007 it was likely the Hogs would have hired SEC Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp, the hottest coordinator in the league at the time. It's possible Long goes this route again if he can't get a proven winner. Smart has worked most of career under Nick Saban, but also worked under Bobby Bowden at Florida State. He's a graduate of The University of Georgia
11. Lorenzo Ward South Carolina Defensive Coordinator- Ward was a member of the Arkansas staff prior to coming to South Carolina 4 years ago. He was just promoted by Spurrier this past season prior to the Capital One Bowl. He has coached under great defensive minds like Bud Foster, Ellis Johnson, and was a player at Alabama.
12. Paul Petrino Arkansas Offensive Coordinator- Would Paul coach at the school where his brother was fired. I find this as unlikely, but it's certainly a name to look at. For the past 2 seasons Petrino was the offensive coordinator for Ron Zook at Illinois. Most of his career has been with Bobby, but he did work under Jeff Bower at Southern Miss from 2000-2002.
13. Mark Hudspeth ULL(75-25 overall)- This past season Hudspeth went 9-4 at ULL and took the program to its first ever bowl victory(and appearance). As a head coach at North Alabama, Hudspeth took the program to 4 playoff appearances and had a 66-21 overall record. Hudspeth worked as an assistant for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State as a receivers coach. Hudspeth wouldn't be a top tier candidate, but has won everywhere he's been.
14. James Franklin Vanderbilt(6-7)- In year 1 at Vanderbilt, Franklin took Vanderbilt to only their second bowl game since 1982. There is no doubt the 'Dores were better under Franklin in 2011 than in previous seasons and they nearly knocked off the Razorbacks this past October. Franklin has proven to be a fantastic recruiter signing one of the top classes in Vanderbilt history this past fall. Franklin was the Maryland OC and coach in waiting prior to taking the Vanderbilt job and has also coached under Mike Sherman(Green Bay) and Mike Price(Washington State) in the past.
15. Paul Rhoads Iowa State(18-20)- The final man on my list is someone to watch. Rhoads was a defensive coordinator at Pitt while Jeff Long was athletic director there. Rhoads is currently coaching at ISU and has done a very good job at a program few win at. The program has 2 appearances in 3 years. His 18-20 record is better than Gene Chizik's 5-19 record at ISU. Rhoads served as defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2008 under Tommy Tuberville prior to taking the ISU head job. He is an Iowa native, but his connection to Jeff Long is something to consider.