Latest updates with Arkansas’ top 5 most likely coach options

Mike Norvell-Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas fired football coach Bret Bielema last Friday, minutes after his fifth season with the Razorbacks was completed.

The Hogs began the search for his replacement Saturday. Even through just four days of Arkansas being on the market for a coach, many rumors have begun circulating regarding the vacancy. Tuesday, it was announced the school has hired executive search firm DHR International to assist in the process of finding a coach.

With all these changes over the last few days, we have re-evaluated our initial list of the top 10 candidates to replace Bielema. The list has been trimmed to five, with the latest information on each candidate listed below. The candidates appear in order of most likely to become Arkansas’ next coach, according to the SEC Country staff.

1. Mike Norvell, Memphis

Mike Norvell’s 2017 Memphis Tigers are 10-1 and set to play in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game on Saturday. No formal offer is expected to be made to Norvell until after that game. There are strong indicators Auburn’s Gus Malzahn will be offered first before the Hogs shift their focus to Norvell.

It recently has become clear Norvell won’t come to Arkansas at any sort of significant discount. It was reported last week Memphis has been in negotiations with Norvell on a new deal that would raise his $1.86 million per-year deal. That doesn’t mean Arkansas can’t get him, but it likely means the Hogs won’t receive a discount by plucking him from the Group of 5 ranks.

Norvell has been connected to several coaching openings in recent weeks. However, several sources have provided SEC Country with reason to believe Arkansas is Norvell’s top choice.

2. Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Arkansas appears to be hell-bent on making Malzahn say no before it moves on to the next option. Common logic would suggest Auburn’s victory in the Iron Bowl last Saturday sealed Malzahn’s fate to remain with the Tigers. But as we’ve seen already during this silly season, common logic doesn’t always apply to coach hirings.

Auburn is set to play Georgia for the SEC title on Saturday. After that game, sources have indicated the Razorbacks will make a move for Malzahn. If he says no, Norvell is expected to be the next option.

If Auburn wins the SEC title, forget about it. There is no way a coach is leaving an SEC champion to join a rival team in the same division that is rebuilding.

But even with a loss, it seems outrageous Malzahn would leave Auburn for Arkansas. His Tigers are still in the mix to win a national title as the calendar turns to December, and most of their top players are expected back next season. Auburn is also in a much better recruiting region than Fayetteville. Still, Arkansas clearly seems to want an answer before offering another candidate.

3. Brent Venables, Clemson

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables wasn’t even on our initial list of 10 candidates. That was primarily because his forte is defense, and the Razorbacks have been expected to replace Bielema with an offensive-minded coach.

However, there seems to be an infatuation with Venables among those who matter in Arkansas’ search. A report surfaced earlier this week linking the longtime defensive coordinator to the Razorbacks’ opening.

Venables has given no indication if he’d accept the job, nor have any other rumors circulated regarding his availability. He is prepping the Tigers for the ACC Championship Game on Saturday.

4. Chad Morris, SMU

SMU coach Chad Morris’ strong recruiting connections in Texas have the attention of some prominent people involved with Arkansas’ search. Those connections would be invaluable in Fayetteville, where the Hogs have a desperate need to re-establish themselves as a recruiting force in the Lone Star State.

For now, consider Morris a fringe candidate who quickly will rise to the top of the list if things fall through with Malzahn and Norvell.

5. Mike Leach, Washington State

Sources have indicated that Washington State coach Mike Leach would be interested in the Arkansas job if the Razorbacks inquired. But other sources indicate the Razorbacks haven’t inquired. Expect that to remain the case unless Arkansas is forced to move down its list of possibilities.

The post Latest updates with Arkansas’ top 5 most likely coach options appeared first on SEC Country.

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