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Please Back Away From Jon Gruden: A Guide To Non-Home Run Coaching Hires

Jon Gruden is not coming to Arkansas. These guys probably would -- and they're good coaches, too.

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Because considering what Kevin Sumlin and his quarterback Johnny Manziel have in store for the defense that made Kevin Browning and Gary Nova look like Heisman contenders would spoil my mood, we’re not going to talk about this weekend’s game against Texas A&M.

For good reason, hope is in short supply among Arkansas fans these days. The one source of it seems to spring from discussions about who might right the ship in 2013 and beyond.

And because it’s unrealistic to believe what you’ve heard about Jon Gruden, Bob Stoops, or any other message board rumor-of-the-hour, we’re going to devote this space to a deeper look at some of the non-home run candidates.

As you’ve probably noticed, these new coach trackers/hot boards/wish lists are springing up everywhere, including a solid run-down by our own esteemed leader, Doc Harper.

This one will contain no inside information, and therefore will be at least as accurate as the others, since the stream of misinformation from unnamed sources is flowing like a river these days, and the only person who really knows who’s on Jeff Long’s list is Jeff Long. And he ain’t saying much.

With that in mind, let’s get started.

First, I’m crossing off the list any coach currently at a successful program from a respected conference -- that's not to say Arkansas can't or won't hire someone who fits the description. It's just more interesting to get down to the nitty gritty – names that may not excite the fanbase, but that appear to be smart, capable coaches who could win, and win big, at Arkansas.


Butch Davis

Current gig: Advisor, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Specialty: Defense, recruiting

Pros: More than any other candidate on the list, Davis has had success on the big stage. He went 51-20 in six seasons at Miami (’95-’00) before leaving for the NFL. His last Miami team went 11-1 and the players he recruited won the 2001 national championship. In his latest head coaching job he regularly attracted top-15 classes to a basketball school.

Cons: Even with those classes, Davis never won more than eight games at North Carolina; the reasons why are most troubling. The Tarheels dealt with mass suspensions and had players ruled permanently ineligible for receiving impermissible benefits from agents and academic tutors. Though Davis has not been found to have had any knowledge of what has happening under his nose, the seeming lack of program oversight is disturbing. Also, Davis, who turns 62 in November, is entering the twilight years of his career.

Interesting: Not sure where this fits, but Taver Johnson, the Hogs’ current assistant head coach and linebackers coach, served as Davis’ special teams coordinator with the Browns in 2004.

Charlie Strong

Current gig: Head coach, Louisville

Specialty: Defense, recruiting

Pros: Well-respected and charismatic, his strong reputation with high school coaches throughout the southeast has made Strong a solid recruiter, particularly in Florida and Georgia. Of course, his Louisville classes haven’t matched was he was able to get when he was the DC at Florida, but they’ve been a top-3 Big East class each of the last two seasons. And he knows defense. His 2009 Florida unit finished in the top 5 in multiple categories and helped the Gators win the national championship. Strong has two NC rings, by the way.

Cons: His on-the-field success as a head coach has been good, but certainly not overwhelming. He took over a Louisville slogging through a post-Petrino malaise (wonder what that’s like?) and got them back on track – mostly. The Cardinals went 7-6 in each of Strong’s first two seasons and earned a share of the Big East title last year. This year they’re 4-0 and on pace to compete for the outright conference championship, so strides are being made. But few would make the argument that the Cardinals are back to the heights reached under Petrino.

Bottom line: As long as Louisville keeps winning, Strong will be a commodity at the end of the year, and will likely have opportunities to choose from.


Sonny Dykes

Current gig: Head coach, Louisiana Tech

Specialty: Air raid offense

Pros: A Mike Leach disciple, Dykes has strong ties to the state of Texas which could prove fruitful in recruiting. He’s the son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes and served as a Red Raiders assistant under Leach for seven years. His Louisiana Tech team won the WAC last season and pushed TCU to the brink in the Poinsettia Bowl. This season, the Bulldogs are undefeated, ranked third in the country with 54.7 points per game and are coming off a 52-24 win over Illinois on the road. And in case the "air raid" offense turns you off, the Bulldogs are averaging 232 rushing yards per game.

Cons: Only in his third year as a head coach and has never helmed a program in a BCS conference. Considering his long-standing ties to Texas Tech, one has to wonder if his heart remains in Lubbock.

Willie Taggart

Current gig: Head coach, Western Kentucky

Specialty: Ball control offense

Pros: The youngest head coach in Division I, Taggart, 36, looks like a rising star. He’s quickly turned around the Hilltoppers, going from 2-10 in his first season to 7-5 last year, to 3-1 with the program’s first-ever win over big brother Kentucky. As an assistant under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, Taggart was responsible for recruiting Florida and Georgia, as well as his home state of Kentucky and parts of California.

Cons: He’s the youngest head coach in Division I and still largely unproven.


Kirby Smart

Current gig: Defensive coordinator, Alabama

Specialty: "Saban-style" multiple D, recruiting

Pros: Has a reputation as a strong recruiter, and has worked under the best head coach in college football for eight seasons, leading one of the best defenses in the country, year in and year out.

Cons: 1. Never been a head coach. 2. It’s unknown how much credit Smart deserves for Alabama’s success, as Saban is a defensive guy and a notorious micro-manager. Still, Saban must think highly of Smart for some reason; he brought him from LSU to the Dolphins to Bama.

Chad Morris

Current gig: Offensive coordinator, Clemson

Specialty: "Oregon-style" spread offense

Pros: An innovative offensive mind with ties to the fertile Texas recruiting base. The Tigers average 39 points per game after putting up 33.5 last season.

Cons: 1. Never been a head coach. 2. Limited experience = little time to make the kind of connections that are helpful in putting together a top-flight staff.


James Franklin

Current gig: Head coach, Vanderbilt

Specialty: Recruiting, talking

Pros: A Grade-A salesman of a program, Franklin has people (most notably recruits) believing he can win at Vandy.

Cons: On-field results looking spotty in Year 2. Last season, the Commodores were feisty underdogs who gave many teams a scare before sliding to 6-7. They’re 1-3 to start this year and were crushed last week by Georgia, 48-3.

Gus Malzahn

Current gig: Head coach, Arkansas State

Specialty: Hurry-up, no-huddle and other variations on the spread offense

Pros: Won a national title at Auburn.

Cons: Arkansas won’t have Cam Newton on its roster in 2013.

Seriously: The jury is still out on whether Malzahn’s system can work in the SEC. It seems like he’s been blessed with the greatest college player we’ve ever seen, or cursed by a bunch of rag arms who look better suited for the Gulf South Conference. And who know where things stand between Malzahn and the university after the way things ended during his first stint with the Hogs, though most of the major players from the UofA’s role in that saga have since departed.