A few weeks into the Great Head Coach Search of 2019, here are my few thoughts on the known contenders for the next Head Hog. I don't know anything that is happening in Hunter Yurachek's plane right now. I'm not going into the "my sources say" game as I don't think that helps anyone and in the end hurts the whole process.
So, on with the list!
- Justin Fuente (VA Tech) - I'd rather have the guy who built Memphis into something (Fuente) than the guy who took over the job and is looking for greener pastures (Norvell). If Fuente is looking to leave the Hokies I think he would be welcome in Fayetteville. Not as splashy a hire as Kiffen, but I think Norvell would be in for the long haul. Would be able to build up from where the program is now and vastly improve the product on the field.
- Lane Kiffin (FAU) - Kiffin would be a splashy hire. I imagine he would do a good job in Fayetteville but then he would use it to leave. My fear would be that the UofA hires Kiffin, he get the program back up to a top of the division contender, then in five years he takes his talents to Tuscaloosa when Saban retires. My reason for ranking Fuente above Kiffin is that I think Fuente is more likely to be on the job in five plus years.
- Bryan Harsin (Bosie State) - I think he is too attached to Boise State to come to the UofA. The last Boise State coach the Hogs hired seemed to work out fairly well (until it crashed in an avalanche of FOI requests)
- Mike Norvell (Memphis) - Doing some really good things at Memphis. But is that his hand or is he just maintaining what Fuente built? I would not be upset with this hire, but would he be in it for the long run at Arkansas?
- Eliah Drinkwitz (App State) - Doing good things now at App. State but I don't think he has enough of a head coaching record to be able to build a program like the UofA. Does have some ties to Arkansas. I think he would be better than hiring the Coordinator of the Season.
- Billy Napier (Louisiana) - offensive mind who learned under Saban and Dabo. A bit of an unknown here.
- Skip Holtz (LA Tech) - Been around the game a long time. Could he do what his daddy did in the 1970's (damn has it been that long ago? I'm old) He has experience at the Big Time, but not a splashy hire. If he brought in a bright OC and DC then maybe?
Not on the list:
- P.J. Fleck - not leaving Minnesota
- Matt Campbell - just signed an extension
- Gus Malzahn - Not leaving Auburn now
- Matt Rhule - Not leaving Baylor, just signed an extension
- Mike Leach - Just no. Never had a defense worth a darn. His offense isn't that special (just thrown the ball on every play), has not been a consistent contender in the weaker Big 12 (-2) or PAC 12. He will win a game that he shouldn't then lose two more that he shouldn't. I'd rather win football games than press conferences.
- Brent Venables - not leaving Clemson and I don't want another unproven coordinator moving up to HC
Never should have been on the list (even if you are joking)
- Huston Nutt - remember the old QB killer?
- Art Briles - Never. Rape is bad M'kay? Condoning rape is just as bad
- Bobby Petrino - FIRED WITH CAUSE
Regardless, the next coach needs to be a stickler for getting the details right, all the time. Execution over experimentation. The last several Hog teams have been sloppy in too many aspects of the game (that is a reflection of the Head Hog, not the players as they do what they are coached to do). The "do your job" and "win your battle" has eroded into too many players trying to make up for other players either over-reacting or mis-reading their keys. One player’s mistake causes a domino effect of breakdowns. It might not be pretty for a couple of years but the Hogs need to start doing the little things right before they can take big steps. Alabama and the New England Patriots have been so good for so long because they have all of their players execute to precision. Their head coach demands execution perfection and is not satisfied until that is the standard.
The next HC needs to be a good recruiter but knows that converting stars into performers is the key to any success. It will be a long time before Arkansas will be pulling in upper four and five star recruits, so the next coach needs to be able to take the three stars and develop them into playmakers.
Frank Broyles was a great coach because he surrounded himself with great assistants. The next HC should be the visionary with assistants to execute the plan. The head coach is only as good as his recruiting coordinator, OC/DC, Strength & Conditioning coaches. I wish there were a way to get Sam Pittman back on the staff at Arkansas. No one builds O-Linemen like Pittman. I'd also like to see Lunney remain on the staff. Gotta have the Big Ole Hog Heart in there, with a legit voice. I think Lunney was just a "token" under the last two staffs.
The Strength and Conditioning Coach is the most important hire for the HC. His team is the one that builds the bodies into the speed and power that is needed. Beliema’s teams were big and too slow. Morris was trying to get big and slow to be fast so they lost power. The name of the game is speed and power. Get a guy who can improve the players speed and quickness without losing power and you have the beginning of what is needed on the hill.