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Razorbacks' Next Coach Needs To Be The Anti-Saban

Forget imitating Saban. Look instead for the sort of guy who actually intimidates him.

Kevin C. Cox

Nick Saban was on the record with his dislike of no-huddle offenses even before last week’s loss to Texas A&M.

Saban told reporters in October that hurry-up schemes aren’t fair to defenses. He cited the limited time between plays as a detriment to player safety.

"Is this what we want football to be?" Saban wondered aloud.

No official confirmation yet that the Crimson Tide coach followed up with a plea to "turn down that infernal racket!" and then asked why kids today are allowed to wear jeans to church on Sundays. Because in his day…

While the comments might be fun to joke about — especially in the context of a 29-24 loss to the Aggies that essentially knocked Alabama out of BCS title contention —they are notable. They’re especially noteworthy if you’re an athletic director in charge of hiring a football coach.

Schools want to mimic the process Saban has implemented at Alabama. ADs are falling over themselves to find somebody capable of winning the way the Crimson Tide win. Remember, purists see what Alabama does as "real football."

Maybe what a program like Arkansas needs is somebody on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. An anti-Saban, if you will.

It might be more beneficial — and sustainable — if Arkansas resists the temptation of finding a guy who wants to build the Razorbacks in Saban’s image. What Alabama (and LSU and Florida) does seems so simple: Play defense. Run the football and mix in some play action on offense. Play some more defense. Win.

Rinse. Repeat. Seems easy enough, right?

When you live in a state that produces an abundance of defensive football players it isn’t a difficult model to follow. But Arkansas can’t compare to the state of Alabama where six of the state’s Top 15 players in the Class of 2013 (as rated by are defenders. Louisiana’s Top 15 includes eight defensive players. Florida has seven of its Top 15 on defense. And having that sort of talent at home makes recruiting regionally and nationally easier.

Arkansas? Its top recruits each year are almost exclusively offensive skill prospects. Look at the class of 2013 where 11 of the Top 15 players are projected on offense.

This isn’t a new thing.

Only one in-state defensive player from the last decade (CB Darius Winston) has been deemed as the state’s best prospect. A majority of high school programs in the Natural State are running no-huddle spreads, so there has been no shortage of recruitable skill players produced each year.

Why not utilize the readily available talent? Imagine Tyler Wilson, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, etc. in a style similar to what they they grew up with in high school.

This is not an endorsement of a particular candidate, by the way. It’s just a show of support for a style that is becoming increasingly effective in football. This approach should no longer be seen as a gimmick (especially if you have the right quarterback). This isn’t a way to play that is reserved only for leagues like the WAC or Sun Belt.

A&M’s victory against Saban and Alabama proves again the system can work in the SEC and a "real" league. Look at what Auburn (and, yes, Cam Newton) did to college football in 2010. Oregon is likely headed to the national title game this season. Nobody plays faster.

Still not convinced at where the game is headed? Consider that Bill Belichick, regarded as one of the top football minds in the NFL — and a mentor to Saban —has implemented elements of the no-huddle with the New England Patriots. He’s picked the brain of the Ducks’ Chip Kelly to figure out how to best utilize a fast-paced attack.

Arkansas would be well served finding somebody that can put points on the board. It could help win games and should sell some tickets, assuming, of course, those are still the goals.

Athletic Director Jeff Long has said he doesn’t have a preference when it comes to hiring an offensive or defensive minded coach. Style of play isn’t the characteristic on the top of Long’s list.

"We’ve all seen, you can look across college football right now and see an awful lot of different philosophies — offense and defense — that are being successful," Long said in his most recent public comments on the search. "… I want a quality leader for our program."

Forget imitating Saban. Look instead for the sort of guy who actually intimidates him.


Chris Bahn is Northwest Editor of Arkansas Business and a contributor to Arkansas Expats. Follow him @cbahn.