The Arkansas Razorbacks football program is in the market for a new head coach after firing offensive guru Bobby Petrino earlier this evening in relation to a series of incidents last week stemming from an inappropriate relationship with a staffer and a motorcycle wreck. Petrino wasn’t forthcoming with his boss, athletic director Jeff Long, and he was terminated with cause earlier in the day.
It was definitely the right move for Arkansas Razorbacks football, but now the program is left writhing without a head. Here are five candidates (in no particular order) who you may here strongly considered for the vacancy over the next several weeks and possibly leading into next year:
Louisville head coach, Charlie Strong-
After taking Louisville to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since, you guessed it, Bobby Petrino, Charlie Strong is likely to be near the top of the list for Arkansas AD Jeff Long. Strong is from Batesville and he went to the University of Central Arkansas, so he knows the state, but more importantly, he spent ten seasons in the SEC as a defensive coordinator before taking the job with Louisville, so he knows the conference. Strong is also a dynamic recruiter with strong ties in the SEC’s largest honey hole, South Florida.
The timing is suspect with spring football practice already in full swing and the season only five months away, but it’d be difficult for Strong not to at least consider the position. Not only is Arkansas home to Strong, but he can also win immediately, which isn’t likely to be the case if he chose to bide his time and make his move back into the SEC a few years down the road.
Arkansas State head coach, Gus Malzahn-
There is no doubt that Arkansas fans will be clamoring over the possibilities of scooping up Malzahn. He is a prodigal son of the state, and there would be no questioning the fact that Arkansas’s offense would be incredibly dynamic under the tutelage of Gus Malzahn.
However, the former Springdale High coach, who spent a year as the Razorbacks offensive coordinator before stops at Tulsa and Auburn, doesn’t have any head coaching experience at the FBS level, unless you want to count his three months at the helm at lowly Arkansas State, where he hasn’t yet played a game. That being said, if this hiring process drags into the regular season — which it very well may — Malzahn’s name will become increasingly attractive. Especially if Arkansas State is winning right under the noses of Razorback fans.
South Florida head coach, Skip Holtz-
If there isn’t a telephone receiver on the opposite end of Jeff Long’s private line covered in Lou Holtz’s slobber by now, it will only be a matter of time. Dr. Lou was a coach at Arkansas from 1977-1983, but he wouldn’t be lobbying for the job for himself, it’d be for his son, Skip.
Skip Holtz had a difficult year at South Florida this past season, but he has had a decent track record in building programs in stops at UCONN and East Carolina before he wound up in Tampa Bay. However, the Arkansas job isn’t one that necessarily needs to be overhauled, and Skip Holtz seems like he may be a slight long-shot here.
Alabama defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart-
Is he Alabama‘s coach-in-waiting, is he not? Even if he is, will he be willing to wait for Nick Saban to simply step aside considering Darth Saban is clearly still at the top of his game and he just got a contract extension?
Regardless, Kirby Smart is a guy that just about every school gives a call when they have a vacancy just to gauge his interest, and Arkansas is likely to do the same. And one of the benefits to hiring Smart would be that he actually brings an element of toughness defensively that the Razorbacks have lacked the last few years. That offense will be potent no matter who they hire, but if Kirby Smart could get that squad to play defense, they’d certainly be a threat to finally push to the top of the SEC West.
Mississippi State head coach, Dan Mullen-
Dan Mullen has done something that few people thought possible: Turned Mississippi State into a respectable football program. That, in turn, has caught the eye of the rest of the SEC, and now every time there is a vacancy, Mullen’s name pops up almost instantly.
The issue will be whether or not Mullen will go, he had an opportunity to go back to Florida but decided not to. So it appears as if he is content with Starkville and he seems adamant about trying to build a program there. It’d be hard to imagine him leaving MSU for Arkansas if he wouldn’t leave for Florida.