LITTLE ROCK — Delete the untouchables, the unavailable, the far-fetched, and the absurd and the “home-run hire” that many are demanding of Jeff Long may not be available.
More likely is that the next Razorback football coach will be a head coach on the rise or an ultra-successful coordinator. No matter who, an accurate evaluation of the hire will be at least two years in the making. Considering the departure of virtually all playmakers and the lack of proven talent on defense, nobody is going to win big immediately.
Long said last week that there is a broad pool of candidates and that “it changes every week with wins and losses at other programs.”
For instance, Vanderbilt’s 1-3 start has been a wet blanket on enthusiasm for James Franklin and Iowa State is off to an 0-1 start in the Big 12 under often-mentioned Paul Rhoads. The popularity of the national media’s proclaimed leader — Charlie Strong — will plummet if his Louisville team loses at Pittsburgh next week or finishes the season with a loss to Rutgers. Been there, done that, Arkansas fans will say.
On the other hand, if Louisville represents the Big East in a BCS game, the defensive-minded Strong knows it will never get any better in Kentucky.
Long is a big picture guy who will identify a coach based on more than a W-L record. Meanwhile, many fans embrace the flavor of the week, some are dreamers, and some will always be in the camps of Butch Davis and Gus Malzahn.
A cohort provided a statistic that is a knock against Baylor’s Art Briles, Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes, West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth. Their teams are No. 124, 123, 122, and 120 in the nation in pass defense. Separating Lafayette and West Virginia is Arkansas.
Briles’ best year came with the Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback and the Mountaineers are rolling with the Heisman leader taking the snaps. Dykes, son of legendary Texas Tech coach Spike, has Tech 4-0 for the first time since 1975 and Hudspeth, who had a brief stint at the University of Central Arkansas, has his team leading the Sun Belt Conference.
Any or all can fall from favor quickly.
Other head coaches being mentioned include Butch Jones — he took over at Cincinnati when Brian Kelly went to Notre Dame — and Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart. Jones doesn’t have any connection to the South and Taggart, like Hudspeth, is in the Sun Belt.
Before dismissing a coach from a lesser school, note that Toledo was Nick Saban’s first job as a head coach and Duke served the same purpose for Steve Spurrier.
As the season plays out, Long may identify a coordinator he believes is the next Mark Richt or Jimbo Fisher or Chip Kelly, whose resumes includes football hotbeds Columbia, New Hampshire, and Johns Hopkins.
On defense, first up is Kirby Smart at Alabama. On offense, it’s Chad Morris at Clemson.
Some say the 36-year-old Smart simply rubber stamps Saban’s defense while others contend he will succeed Saban when the soon-to-be 62-year-old coach retires. If the latter is true, Smart would need to prove himself as a head coach and he might realize that success in Fayetteville won’t happen overnight. Besides, there is no reason to hire him if he is going to use Arkansas as a stepping stone.
The 43-year-old Morris succeeded Malzahn as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa and now makes $1.3 million at Clemson. Given much of the credit in 2011 for Clemson’s first Atlantic Coast Conference title in 20 years, he is the Malzahn of Texas high school football.
With the plethora of names and two months remaining in the season, there will be ebb and flow in the coaching search. Know that the announcement might come with a “Who? or a “Huh?”
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.