FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has more company among Southeastern Conference programs looking for football coaches this month.
One report indicates it could create competition for a potential candidate, too.
Tennessee fired football coach Derek Dooley on Sunday, a day after the Volunteers suffered a 41-18 loss to Vanderbilt. The Volunteers became the third SEC program to enter the market for a new coach, joining Arkansas and Kentucky. The Wildcats fired coach Joker Phillips last week.
Jason La Canfora, an NFL insider for CBSSports.com, reported the Razorbacks and Volunteers shared interest in trying to lure Jon Gruden back into coaching note long after Tennessee’s decision to part ways with Dooley on Sunday. Gruden, who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, has been working as an analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football team the past four years.
“Both universities want Gruden, sources said, as they try to get back to being powers in the challenging SEC,” La Canfora wrote in a blog post on CBSSports.com. “The Razorbacks are prepared to make their next coach the highest-paid in the SEC, according to sources close to the program, and budget will not be an issue.”
Gruden is no stranger to NFL and college coaching searches the past few years working his way into speculation with several jobs. His coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Tennessee in 1986, but Gruden has not worked in college football since he was the wide receivers coach at Pittsburgh in 1991.
If Gruden were serious about returning to coaching — and taking a job in the SEC in particular — it would likely require a hefty financial commitment. La Canfora reported Arkansas “is prepared to be part of a bidding war for Gruden” on Sunday.
It’s not clear how much Arkansas is willing to spend for any candidate, but athletic director Jeff Long said the Razorbacks have the “financial resources to attract a high-level coach” during a speaking appearance at the Little Rock Touchdown Club last month. Long also stressed during his appearance Arkansas would be responsible, though, in how much it would dole out to Bobby Petrino’s replacement.
“Somebody said I was going to make the next head football coach at the University of Arkansas the highest paid football coach in the country,” Long said at the time. “That’s simply not true. That would be an irresponsible statement to make. We value our resources very, very much. We value what you all have given to us through your ticket purchases, through your donations. I’d never make a statement like that.
“We’re going to have to make a judgment. We’ll have to judge the resources versus the coach and certainly we put ourselves in good position to have the financial resources to hire a quality coach.”
Gruden isn’t the only coach who has surfaced among rumored candidates for the Arkansas job. TCU’s Gary Patterson, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville also have been among the conversation the past few weeks.
Long has not ruled out current coach John L. Smith publicly, saying both sides would know if the 64-year-old had earned a shot at the full-time position after the 2012 season ended. The Razorbacks (4-7) aren’t bowl eligible for the first time since 2008 and close the season against LSU in Razorback Stadium on Friday.
Long said he hopes to have his coach in place by mid-December.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau