Arkansas is still in the Southeastern Conference. This is significant. The conference of superlatives. The most championships. The most money. The biggest personalities. And the best coaches. Ric Flair was surely talking about the SEC when he talked about what you have to do to be the best. The open Arkansas position offers something only 13 other programs can offer: the reins to a program in the best conference in college football. Don't forget, this is one of the biggest reasons Bobby Petrino landed at Arkansas.
Money still talks. Tuesday's reports that Jeff Long had offered Les Miles more than $27 million over five years were untrue according to Miles, but it warrants mentioning that this salary range has been speculated as doable for the Razorbacks for months. IF Jeff Long is willing to open up the checkbook, it's very likely Arkansas will make its next hire the highest paid coach in collegiate athletics.
The money is certainly there. In addition to Wal-Mart money that habitually gets brought up, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Transportation, and Stephens, Inc. are all major boosters. That's not to say other schools lack similar support; only that Arkansas is well-equipped to raise the bar on coaches' salaries yet again if compelled.
Assuming that Jeff Long IS compelled, how many coaches would turn down the opportunity to be the highest paid coach in football? Regardless of whether or not he was seriously considered, Les Miles is one of very, very few coaches who would have to consider what they'd be leaving behind in order to take a dip in a swimming pool of money at Arkansas.
There is still football to be played. As the echo chambers on Twitter reverberate more loudly with every passing day, the actual parties of interest in these searches have their current jobs to focus on. Gary Patterson, Chris Petersen, Mike Gundy, and Charlie Strong all have football games this week. For fans, each passing day without a hire is another day closer to the ledge. For some media members, each passing day without a hire is a reason to trot out the next name on the list. For the coaches likely being targeted, however, each passing day is simply another day to prepare for their next game.
For a point of reference, Jeff Long fired John Pelphrey on Sunday, March 13. Mike Anderson's Missouri Tigers lost in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 17. Anderson wasn't hired at Arkansas, however, until Wednesday, March 23, despite speculation that he was coveted as Arkansas' coach even before Pelphrey was shown the door.
Arkansas' season being over places greater emphasis on the coaching search, but things can't really begin until all of the targets' have completed their seasons as well.
Above all else, however, it is important to remember December of 2007. Arkansas was conducting a search to replace another aww-shucks coach with a penchant for goofy faces and quotability. Rumors were rampant that Jeff Long was scrambling, forced to cross name upon name off his list after allowing himself to be a pawn in yet another contract renegotiation. The Razorback fan base reached full-on panic as Tommy Bowden and Jim Grobe both reportedly turned Long down.
Things were so bad and so desperate for Jeff Long and Arkansas that he was forced to hire... a BCS Bowl winner with a career winning percentage north of 80%.
Wonder if there is anyone on Long's list in 2012 who fits that description?
Trent Wooldridge will be that guy with enough bourbon. He loves the S-E-C chant and honks because he hates Texas. He puts honey on his pizza, demands aisle seats, and sees quitting golf as more of a hobby than actually playing golf. Follow @twooldridge and track his quest to transform his two-year-old into a southpaw ace in the bigs.