Big news day, eh Hog fans?
Arkansas fans everywhere will surely be picking apart the various elements of Bobby Petrino's ill-fated motorcycle ride for
weeks months years, but we here at Arkansas Expats, Inc are nothing if not practical and there's a officially a coaching search on. So, let's save the deep thinking about what it all means for another time and jump straight into what happens next.
It goes without saying that Jeff Long is in a tough spot. Not only does he have to replace one of the top 10 coaches in college football, he has to do it in April...not exactly the season for prime pickings in the coaching ranks. Oh, and he has to bring in someone who can fulfill the promise of a top 10 team that was getting mentioned in preseason national championship talk before Petrino took that country drive with Jessica Dorrell.
The textbook move when replacing a coach at an awkward time is to go the interim route and then prepare for a splashy hire after the season (ex. Ohio State with Luke Fickell and then Urban Meyer). But, with the Razorbacks poised for greatness behind Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis this fall, simply bringing in a seat warmer may not be enough. Long understands the fans' expectations and knows that such windows of opportunity don't come along often, and will likely at least look around for a splashy hire first.
With all that in mind, our list of requirements looks something like this:
1. Can win *now*.
2. Can recruit and coach well enough to keep the program humming along at a consistently high level.
3. Is unlikely to hire his mistress for a team position, give her $20,000 under the table and take her on a motorcycle ride that leads to a disastrous crash and cover-up attempt.
These factors lead to a clear-cut choice who, if you can stand the suspense for a few more seconds, we will reveal after the jump:
Garrick McGee. Given the unique set of circumstances, Jeff Long simply has to call McGee first. He knows the system, knows the players and would provide the smoothest possible transition into next season. Yes, he's never been a head coach (we're not counting his weeks at UAB) but if you're going to roll the dice with an assistant in mid-April, why not a guy who can comfortably work with Wilson, Davis and crew from day 1?
McGee would continue the exciting brand of football we've become accustomed to, knows the SEC, is a charismatic recruiter and leader and, if his appearance on ESPN's "Depth Chart" special last fall is to be believed, is an all-around badass. Frankly, if Long picks any of the other folks listed in this post we're going to be disappointed.
We'd be happy to stop right there, but since the immutable law of sports blogging requires us to indulge in further speculation, here are a few more names you'll be hearing in the coming days.
Gus Malzahn. Ah, Gus...never far from a Razorback-related drama. Although Malzahn is an indisputable offensive wizard and strong recruiter, he'd bring in a different system that would surely make for a bumpier transition. Under other circumstances that'd be no big deal, but we have a championship to win here folks. Also, it would be nice if the Hogs could steer clear of controversy for awhile, and plucking Malzahn (already a hot-button figure for many) from his new gig at Arkansas State wouldn't exactly unite the state or fanbase. Nothing against the man, but it doesn't feel like his time.
Charlie Strong. The Louisville head man and former Florida DC is an Arkansas native who clearly knows what he's doing. Certainly not a bad choice, but wouldn't excite the fans in the way the first two names on this list would.
Butch Davis. Another Arkansas native with a decent track record (who, rumor has it, would jump at the opportunity). But, when you hear talk of him setting the UNC football program on fire people are referring to the string of major NCAA violations that led to his outster in Chapel Hill rather than major on-field success so...no way.
Skip Holtz. Skip Holtz is a solid coach with a proven mid-major track record who eipmkmfiaowefa3x 23rasdfa11##893u4t8 uwaefa.........Sorry, I fell asleep at my keyboard for a minute there thinking about him as head Hog. If we need a guy to grind out boring season after boring season en route to the Liberty Bowl every year, then by all means hire him. Otherwise, I say let's pass.
Kirby Smart. The Alabama DC is perennially the hot assistant in SEC circles, but we have a hard time seeing him coming to Fayetteville right now.
Art Briles. Won at Baylor and can recruit Texas. Intriguing, but he's said to be well-ensconced in Waco.
Paul Rhoads. Only 18-20 at Iowa State, but people speak highly of him and he worked at Pitt while Long was AD there. Not excited about this possibility.
Gary Patterson, Dana Holgorsen. Their names have popped up on fans' wish lists, and either would certainly be a home run hire, but the odds of them coming to Fayetteville right now are verrrrrrrrry slim. Dream all you want, fellow Hog fans, but it's not happening.
Tommy Bowden. See the Skip Holtz section above. (This should be a laughable suggestion, but Long apparently did offer the job to Bowden back in 2007 so you never know.)
. Ol' Jimmy might give the matter some thought if allowed to coach the team from his boat in the Caribbean. Otherwise, his chances lie somewhere slightly below Jack Crowe's and slightly above Houston Nutt's.
So, that's the starting point of a list. Of course, at this point all anyone knows is that there's a prime parking spot at the Broyles Athletic Complex that needs filling and Jeff Long will be spending a lot of late nights doing his best to make it happen. Buckle up, everybody...we're in for a very interesting ride.