Fayetteville, Ark. – The last few months and weeks for Arkansas fans have been grueling.
Once the sting of dropping from No. 8 in the nation to completely out of the AP Top 25 subsided Razorback Nation had to endure a 52-0 drumming by SEC West rival Alabama, a nine point loss to Big East Conference member Rutgers (at home), and 48 point loss to old Southwest Conference rival Texas A&M, a team the Hogs had defeated three straight times
With a mathematically shot to go to a bowl game and salvage their season the Hogs lost by three at home to Ole Miss and was blown out in back-to-back games against South Carolina and Mississippi State, all teams the Hogs have owned over the last four years.
Now with that stinging pain still fresh, as they deserve, Arkansas fans have demanded a “wow” hire for their next head coach replacing the often times over-matched interim head coach John L. Smith.
Coaching names have been floated around by numerous people with various sources that are reportedly close to the program. Again, everyone knows but no one really knows.
The following information is part rumor and part speculation all coming from sources claiming to know first hand from inside the program. All is at best an educated guess as to what is going on behind the athletic department’s closed doors based upon information based to me.
All information should be met with the fact that Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long keeps a tight lip on all information coming and going out of his office. Seemingly several smokescreens have been floated out to the general public at different times to cover Long’s tracks and keep Razorback Nation guessing.
This week Jeff Long reportedly used a booster’s private plane to meet with several head coaches… or took trips to these college towns for a night on the town. Either way, Long was supposedly in Louisville (Charlie Strong), Nashville (James Franklin), and Jonesboro (Gus Malzahn).
A source close to the program said Long has made his hire, no name given, but said “fans will be happy, the Hogs will have a powerful offense, and it was a very good hire.”
Of the names that have been floated previously only Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy and Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn fit this description unless an unknown NFL candidate comes forward.
Arkansas sports radio personality Bo Mattingly has been staunch on his stance that the Hogs will have TCU head coach Gary Patterson as their next head Hog. If the new information is not a smokescreen these two pieces of information do not add up. Patterson is a known defensive coach.
On Monday Arkansas beat writer Jim Harris reported that the Hogs had offered Jon Gruden. By Wednesday Gruden had reportedly turned down this offer.
Rumor has it that Tennessee is willing to break the bank to get Gruden should he want to coach in the college ranks.
This makes some sense as Gruden started his coaching career at Tennessee as a graduate assistant and his wife is from the east Tennessee area. Also Tennessee is willing to offer a salary above and beyond what Arkansas is willing to offer financially; pure speculation based on salary rumors.
If Long did offer Gruden he did so to appeal to the fan base as many want Gruden on the sidelines in Fayetteville for all the right reasons. Had he not offered, even if he knew Gruden was not going to accept, he would not be doing his job as athletic director.
Mike Gundy’s play in Stillwater is one of power against OSU athletic director Mike Holder not over a salary increase.
Either Mike Gundy’s bluff is called by Mike Holder, the OSU administration and boosters, or Holder is sent walking in favor of the most successful coach the Cowboys have ever had in terms of single-season wins.
As mentioned on Razorbackers in the past, a “long” shot could be out there and one reportedly threw his name into the hat last week, Jim Mora, Jr.
Mora is a first-year coach at UCLA with 24 years of NFL experience under his belt. He has guided the Bruins to a 9-2 record with one game left to play in the regular season against No. 8 Stanford, a second consecutive Pac-12 South berth in the Pac-12 title game, a 10 point win over hated cross town rival USC, and a current AP ranking of No. 15.
UCLA is widely known for underpaying their coaches. Mora has a base salary reported at $1,935,000. Arkansas could double his salary in a second should this be a mutual fit between Long and Mora. The big question is why would Mora want out of Los Angeles after one year?
Mora’s name in the hat seems like a play for more money and all Razorback fans that lived through the Houston Nutt years know how coaches get their name floated out for a head coaching job to get a bump in their yearly salary.
While Mora would make a nice fit at Arkansas based on his vast coaching experience, current record at UCLA, and recruiting abilities shown last year with a consensus top 15 recruiting class, the move does not make sense unless he really wants a big pay raise and wants to take on the top brass inside the SEC.
Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin would fit the offensive mind part of this head coaching equation but does one really view him as a wow hire Razorback fans would rally around?
The biggest part of Franklin’s background is being the offensive coordinator at Kansas State (2006-2007) and Maryland (2008-2010) before taking over at Vandy.
The Commodores won six games last season making an appearance in the Liberty Bowl before dropping to 6-7. Vanderbilt (7-4) is assured of a winning season in 2012 even if they lose to Wake Forest this weekend and drop whatever bowl game they may play in come the post season.
All points of Franklin’s success in two years at Vanderbilt should not be shrugged off without first remembering just how poorly previous Commodore teams performed. They were once the whipping post of the SEC but are that no longer.
And then there is Gus Malzahn, current Arkansas State head coach and former offensive coordinator for the Hogs, Tulsa, and Auburn. Most Razorback fans used to like Malzahn until he started directly competing against the Hogs while at Auburn.
Arkansas always did well against Malzahn coached offenses sans 2010 when he had Cam Newton lined up at quarterback in the shotgun. But a question begs to be asked, would Razorback fans be able to burry the hatchet and forgive Malzahn for stealing so many talented recruits from the Hogs while he was at Auburn?
The Red Wolves are 8-3 with a chance to win the Sun Belt regular season title when they host Middle Tennessee on Dec. 1. Early season blowout losses to Oregon and Nebraska aside, as few expected victories in those games, Malzahn has been a first-year head coaching wonder in Jonesboro.
If the new information is about an offensive minded coach coming to Fayetteville is accurate Mike Gundy, Gus Malzahn, James Franklin, and Mike Mora, Jr. appear to be the frontrunners. Of those four only Malzahn and Franklin seem like a sure hire for Long and the Razorbacks yet neither fits the bill as a “wow” hire.
The last bit of swirling head coaching rumors to share is the announcement of the new Arkansas head coach is to come the week of Dec. 3.
Long can end months of disappointment and despair with the announcement of one name. For each Arkansas fan that name could be someone different. Until Long makes the announcement every piece of information is speculation and rumor and all of Razorback Nation will wait with high hopes and recruiting anxiety.