Chris Petersen has been a target for seemingly every major coaching search in the country ever since his Broncos knocked off Oklahoma in that famous Fiesta Bowl several years ago. Obviously, he's turned them all down, including a heavy, $4 million per year push from UCLA last season. So for good reason, he's been on the list of fantasy candidates for Arkansas ever since April, under the assumption that he simply doesn't want to leave Boise - not just for Arkansas, but anywhere.
Petersen's name laid dormant for most of this search until late last week when various reports started popping up on a few message boards that Petersen was at least not ignoring Arkansas. Then came an example of the worst of twitter, when a seemingly random tweet, one so ludicrous it's not worth linking to, which stated that current Arkansas recruits had been notified Petersen would be the next coach at Arkansas, was retweeted all over the twitterverse on Friday.
It should go without saying, obviously Chris Petersen has not told that to any Arkansas recruits. And it would seem completely out of character for Jeff Long or someone in his circle to release that info to high school kids as well. As tight-lipped as Long has been throughout this process, does anyone truly believe that the first people to get the answer to the biggest question in the state would be to a group of verbally committed, or completely uncommitted high school students? Absurd.
That doesn't mean someone didn't drop a bug in the ears of some of the kids, but it could have been any random person. Rightfully, that tweet has been roundly dismissed by many reporters.
If it is true that Petersen is interested in the Razorbacks, it will fall on Long to not simply make a great contract offer (which is the easy part), but to convince Petersen that Fayetteville will be a great fit for him and his family. After he turned down UCLA last year, Idaho Statesman sports reporter Brian Murphy tweeted:
If/when Chris Petersen leaves Boise State, it will be more about fit than money.— Brian Murphy (@murphsturph) December 3, 2011
Thus far, this is the part of recruiting Petersen in which no athletic director has been successful. Schools have offered plenty of cash. UCLA offered $4 million per year, which is a significant increase over his current salary. It hasn't mattered.
We can only guess at exactly which attributes would constitute a "great fit" for Petersen. The emphasis he puts on his family and community are widely-known. His son's health battles are well-documented, and while Arkansas offers tremendous medical facilities like Arkansas Children's Hospital and the world-renowned St. Jude's is just over the river in Memphis, it's not like the places he's turned down don't also have highly regarded hospitals. Some have referenced this issue the main deal-breaker when it comes to Petersen's suiters, and if they want to stay with their current medical staff, well, they're going to stay with their current medical staff and there really isn't much anyone can do about that.
However, it is possible to imagine Northwest Arkansas as an appealing location for him. Bobby Petrino always said the area reminded him of his native Montana, which of course is a geographic neighbor to Idaho. Obviously, the mountains in the Ozarks aren't as a big as the Rockies, but there are similarities in the outdoor culture. Northwest Arkansas is frequently noted as a terrific place to raise a family, and unlike Boise State, Arkansas is in a stable conference. The next Razorback head coach won't have to wonder where he'll have to travel each year, who he'll be competing against, and what he can pitch to recruits.
So it stands to reason that if Long is fortunate enough to discuss the job with Petersen, these are the things he would have to sell him on.
This would be an absolutely amazing hire if Long were able to pull it off. Arkansas needs someone who can win through excellent game-planning and developing the players on the roster, which is exactly what Petersen has done at Boise. The Razorbacks' recruiting obstacles are well-documented, but Petrino showed that a coach who can do those things has a chance to be successful in Fayetteville.
And, perhaps most importantly, one thing Petersen brings to the table that Petrino never did: people seem to like him. I don't just mean he smiles at press conferences and booster club meetings. I mean people he interacts with seem to genuinely like and respect him. It's not hard to find several articles from a quick google search that illustrate the man's character. They're the types of articles, about Petrino, that basically don't exist.
Who knows how realistic these latest rumors are, but for me, they're the most exciting ones that have happened so far. I'd love nothing more than to hear about a press conference in the next couple of days. (Boise doesn't end their regular season until December 1st, so definitely don't expect an announcement before then) But unfortunately, when it comes to coaching searches I don't fully believe any reports until the press conference + weekend (thanks Dana Altman!) So we'll continue to watch over the search until it's complete.