Head Coaching Search at Arkansas Hits Fever Pitch


Nov 17, 2012; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears head coach Art Briles on the sidelines during the game against the Kansas State Wildcats at Floyd Casey Stadium. The Bears beat the Wildcats 52-24. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Fayetteville, Ark. – The Arkansas Razorback head coaching search has taken some dramatic albeit unconfirmed twists and turns over the past few days via the internet.

“Inside information”, rumors, and speculation have placed Boise State’s Chris Petersen, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, and now Baylor’s Art Briles as the next top Hog on the Arkansas sidelines. Still no one truly knows.

On Saturday Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long met with interim head coach John L. Smith to notify him he was being reassigned and would not be considered for the head coaching position on a permanent basis going forward.

This “breaking news” came as little surprise after a 4-8 season that started with the Razorbacks ranked as the AP preseason No. 10 team in the nation.

This news also was a relief to Razorback Nation. Not that Arkansas fans harbored any ideas that Long would keep Smith on as head coach but the dismissal or removal of Smith as head coach to a “consultant” role is the first step in a recovering process for still shell shocked Hog fans wanting to put the 2012 college football season behind them as fast as possible.

Sunday night Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long met with the football team outlining the upcoming days. Within the meeting he told the players “a new hire would be made within 10 to 14 days.”

Over the holiday weekend rumors spread that Arkansas recruits were told Chris Petersen would be the next head coach in Fayetteville. This information is unconfirmed but bears extreme interest if true.

On Monday Chris Petersen held a scheduled press conference to discuss the Broncos upcoming game against Nevada. During the meeting with the media Petersen shot down rumors that he was leaving the Broncos, as all coaches do. Granted Petersen has had to shoot down numerous rumors year after year and he still remains the head coach for BSU but the door of possibility remains open.

But does that door lead to Arkansas should he leave this year? If so, Razorback fans would welcome him with open arms. He has posted a remarkable 82-8 career record as head coach, all at Boise State. He has a 4-2 bowl record with a BCS Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma en route to an undefeated 2006 season.

The prevailing thought is if Petersen can win at Boise State with assumed less recruiting star talent he should be able to do the same at Arkansas.

Unconfirmed reports had Mark Coyle reaching out to former BSU coordinators now at other programs (Florida and Texas) judging their interest in becoming the next head coach in Boise.

IF this is true then where there is smoke there is fire. This does not guarantee Petersen will come to Arkansas with job openings closer to Idaho including the Cal and Colorado positions.

The California Golden Bears opening should strike fear into the hearts of Broncos fans and those Razorback fans wanting Petersen. Petersen is a California-Davis grad, a mere 64 miles from Berkley. With Jeff Tedford out at Cal would Petersen be more interested in returning back to his hometown area?

On Tuesday Jeff Long had an emergency meeting with the Board of Trustees to assumingly approve the salary of the Razorbacks’ next head coach.

An afterthought in the swirling coaching rumors has been Art Briles, Baylor’s head coach. Briles name has started to gain some momentum especially on Tuesday.

Again unconfirmed, rumors from ESPN had Briles listed as the next head coach at Arkansas.

Briles is an offensive minded coach whose offense would be fun for Razorback fans to watch. Going deeper, Briles does not seem like a surefire coaching hire outside of his ability to recruit in the state of Texas.

Is he ready for the next step in college football? That step is taking on an SEC schedule.

Briles has a career record of 65-58 including his record at Baylor of 31-30. Baylor is currently 6-5 overall and in eighth place out of 10 teams in the Big 12 with a 3-5 conference record with one regular season game remaining against Oklahoma State (7-4).

The Bears have one significant win on the season coming against then No. 1 Kansas State; a big win for any team in the nation. On the season Briles is 1-4 against ranked teams; hardly befitting a “wow” hire Arkansas fans have hoped for unless the wow was supposed to have the undertone of “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

These thoughts are not digs at Briles per say but observations based on facts. Briles does not seem ready for an SEC position at a school like Arkansas regardless of the fact that he coached Robert Griffin III to a Heisman Trophy. No coach can count on Heisman Trophy candidates like RG III or Cam Newton to come through their program again. Each player is a rare find for any program.

Still in the running, per speculation, is Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. Unless an NFL coach lands in Jeff Long’s lap as what happened with Bobby Petrino five years ago, Franklin is as good of a hire as there is out there and word has it that he really wants the Arkansas job.

If Petersen’s performance at Boise is impressive put into perspective what Franklin has done in two years in Nashville. Vanderbilt is 8-4 this season following a 6-7 record in 2011. The previous two years before Franklin took over the Commodores head coaching position the program won a total of four games in 2009 and 2010.

True the Commodores do not have the signature win this year but consider the academic qualifications he has had to work with/against coupled with the trajectory of the Vanderbilt program under his watch.

As a dear friend inside the sports world has told me time and time again, counting on the words of coaches and recruits can make liars of us all. Until the smokescreens clear Razorback Nation as a whole will have to wait until Long is at the podium with the next head coach standing by his side ready to “call the Hogs.”