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Why the Razorbacks Should Hire an Assistant Coach if Gruden isn't the Guy

In today's college football world, many of the most successful coaches are the ones that have never had head coaching experience

Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

So the big news of the week is that Arkansas has officially offered Jon Gruden a job.

Here it is, folks: the Hogs' first foray into the post-L era.

And finally, the light at the end of the tunnel appears.

Sure, Gruden has never coached in college and he was always far too willing to stick with a mediocre quarterback under center, but it's tempting to think what he could bring to the Arkansas program. A coach who could walk into recruits' homes, look them in the eye and shake their hands for just a second or two too long - just long enough for them to notice the Super Bowl ring on his hand.

But if Gruden to the Hogs doesn't pan out - personally, I don't think he'll leave his cushy job at ESPN - there's something else that Jeff Long (and Arkansas fans) should consider during this head coaching search: hiring a coach with no head coaching experience.

Right now, if you look at the list of coaching candidates being bandied about, there is a surprising lack of coordinators on the list - there are only two on the list we put out each week. But that's not smart.

We've already heard that Arkansas' next head Hog should be the anti-Saban, but why on earth would the Razorbacks want a guy who doesn't have any experience leading a program?

Because hiring a coordinator works just as well - if not better - than hiring a guy who has already been a head coach.

If you look at the teams that have made it to BCS bowls in recent years, there's been a good run of coaches who have jumped from coordinator positions to the helm of winning teams - Oklahoma, Oregon, Oklahoma State, West Virginia (twice), Wisconsin, Stanford and even Kansas all hired coaches with no head coaching experience and found themselves playing for BCS bowls soon after. Neighbors Florida and Florida State both hired guys with no head coaching experience to lead their programs a few years ago, and now each one has their teams on the cusp of a BCS berth.

Notice a pattern?

While it's natural to want a leader who has had to sit at the podium and explain big wins and heartbreaking losses before, it'd be wise for the Hogs to start seeking out some of the coaches who have been actually calling the plays for their teams over the last few years.

In today's college football world, hiring the guys that have raw X's and O's expertise translates to wins on the field. Count the BCS bowl berths - and the BCS bowl wins.

Hiring an up-and-coming assistant with no head coaching experience shouldn't be viewed only as a cheap way to find a new coach. Instead, it should be seen for what it is - hiring someone who can see into the future of college football. Quite simply, these hot-name coaches understand which offensive and defensive trends will permeate and dominate the game for years to come. For example: Before he joined the Oregon coaching staff (and well before he became the hot name for open NFL jobs), Chip Kelly was the offensive coordinator at FCS school New Hampshire. His bright ideas about what the future of offense would look like were what sent him careening up the ranks.

Ideally, this up-and-coming coordinator will know and understand the important concepts that were critical to the success of the coaches who hired him, but they can also tell which football ideas and which of his coordinator contemporaries are on the cutting edge. That way, they aren't still running the wishbone in 2012, and are instead hiring the next group of great young coaches to their first coordinator jobs and adding their fresh insights to their own ideas.

Additionally, the best coordinators - the guys that should get promoted to head coaching jobs - are the guys who know exactly what players they want to recruit into their schemes, know exactly how to tailor their offenses and defenses in the offseason and adjust them during the season, and who can best make sure their players understand and execute their schemes. And that all leads to wins.

As the folks over at Barking Carnival, SB Nation's Texas Longhorns blog, put it:

The so-called CEO coach - the manager, the administrator, the avuncular program chieftain, the titular face of the program and a broader culture, the telegenic figurehead, the representation of our brand of by-God-football, is disappearing, squeezed out by mercenary experts, inventors, and hard-driving implementers.

The whole post is worth a read, and its point is pretty clear: the world of Mack Brown and Bobby Bowden is fading away one year at a time.

So which assistants should the Hogs be interested in?

The first coordinator - and often the only coordinator - that often gets mentioned in the Arkansas coaching search is Kirby Smart, Alabama's DC. He's led the Tide's defense to a bunch of impressive seasons - and they're one of the best defenses in the country again this season - so he'd be a great fit to take over a program. But the question to ask about Smart is this: do you really want Saban's guy going against Saban every single year?

If you don't, and you still want a defensive-minded head coach, take a look at Bob Diaco, the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Right now, the Irish are on the cusp of a national title berth thanks to his brutal defense, and he's spent his career learning from Iowa legend Hayden Fry as a player and Brian Kelly at Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

If you want an offensive mind, maybe it's worth looking up Chad Morris, the offensive coordinator at Clemson. He's got a fat contract - $1.2 million a year - because he's made Clemson's offense into a lightning-quick touchdown machine over the last two years. The former student of Gus Malzahn might be an equally attractive hire.

Perhaps it's worth considering a quartet of Jim Harbaugh's understudies - Greg Roman, the 49ers offensive coordinator, or Vic Fangio, the 49ers defensive coordinator, are both masters of their craft and helped turn the both Cardinal and the Niners into elite teams. Or you could consider Derek Mason, Stanford's defensive coordinator, who has the Cardinal stopping the run better than anyone in the nation this season. It might also be worth giving Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton a call - last year, the Cardinal had the best red zone offense in the country, and Alabama considered him for their open OC job before hiring Doug Nussmeier.

Bob Stoops was the defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier at Florida before he became Oklahoma's head coach - so maybe Lorenzo Ward, South Carolina's defensive coordinator, might be an option. The Gamecocks finished third in total defense last season and are 13th this year.

Perhaps it's even worth taking a look at the wildest of wild cards - Kliff Kingsbury at Texas A&M. The 33-year old with the hipster looks has helped turn Johnny Manziel into the Heisman frontrunner, and has been taught by Mike Leach, Bill Belichick and Kevin Sumlin. (You could hire far worse coaches who have tons of head coaching experience - Gene Chizik, Lane Kiffin, Al Groh, Paul Pasqualoni, etc.)

I'll guarantee you that any of these coordinators could stand at any dry-erase board and blow you away with their knowledge of X's and O's - and I'll guarantee you that John L. Smith could not. And they probably have a better understanding of where college football is headed in the next five to ten years than Jon Gruden does.

This 2012 coaching search will be interesting to chart over the coming years - Arkansas and Tennessee (and, inevitably, Auburn) will all hire new head coaches soon, and they'll all be measured against one another. When one succeeds, the other two fan bases will curse themselves for not hiring that coach.

Just don't be surprised when the first team holding a BCS bowl trophy is the one that gave a bright young coordinator his first big shot.