SEC Country reporter Eric W. Bolin will candidly answer your Arkansas Razorbacks sports queries each weekday in our Mailbag Question of the Day. Join the conversation by sending your questions via Twitter to @SECCountryHogs or by email to Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question of the Day: Friday, November 10, 2017
The granddaddy of them all. Questions don’t get more major than this when it comes to a college program. Because we can all pretend we know anything about athletic director credentials, but we really don’t. If or when Jeff Long exits from that position at Arkansas – whether it be at the end of November or in 2030 – all any of us will look at is what his replacement did with college football and maybe college basketball at his or her previous school. Then we’ll look at that school’s revenue and make a judgment, likely incorrectly, about how good that person is at raising funds. If it’s too low on either mark, the hire will be seen as poor.
Honestly, it’s the same way with football coach. None of us really know. Take Bielema, the man this question is being asked about, for example. He was lauded as both a high quality hire and someone out-of-the-box when Long brought him in that December of 2012. It’s only now, after a season and a half of struggles that people retroactively label him a bad hire.
To get to the question, it comes down to what Arkansas is seeking. There are three types of ways Long could go (and, by the way, I’m not convinced Bielema is 100 percent out of a job come this offseason).
The first way is with a big-name hire. Don’t confuse “big-name” with “big-time.” All this means is a name the average college football fan knows: Mike Leach (Washington State), Les Miles (formerly of LSU), Chip Kelly (formerly of Oregon) and, dare I say, Jon Gruden. Some names are bigger than others. Some are more realistic than others. To partially answer your question. Gruden and Kelly aren’t happening. Leach and Miles? Maybe, though their interest probably isn’t as high as most of the others in the next two categories.
Second, would be the coach you poach. What I mean by that is grabbing a coach from a similar quality football program or a coach who has been around a while, i.e. not an “up-and-comer.” Think Gus Malzahn (Auburn), Charlie Strong (Texas), Dan Mullen (Mississippi State) or any coordinator in one of the power-5 conferences. Whether coaches from this category want to head to Fayetteville depends on their security at their current gig. I’d say 60 percent of such coaches would consider Arkansas.
The last option would be the aforementioned up-and-comer. Don’t confuse that labeling with “young,” either. Chad Morris at Southern Methodist, a somewhat popular name among the ‘fire Bielema’ crowd, is 48. He’s only been a head coach for three seasons and in college football at all for eight. Morris is also older than Bielema. No, those options are Mike Norvell (Memphis), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), Scott Frost (Central Florida). Names like that. Most here would jump at the chance to coach in the SEC, pending other opportunities and, frankly, the state of the program at which they’d jump. Arkansas isn’t swimming at the top of the pond right now, so some might turn down an interview.
Of course, there is some crossover between lists. The Venn diagram overlaps. Ultimately, it’s a matter of which path Long wants to take.
He has only hired two coaches in his tenure as AD. Bobby Petrino came from Category 1. Bielema came from Category 2. Petrino ended in massive drama and headache and scandal and every other awful thing. Bielema, while zero off-field issues, has wrought a tenuous job security for Long.
Does that mean Long goes Category 3?
Makes the most sense to me. That means nothing, though. I’m not in a search firm. No one in the athletic department is asking my advice, nor should they. You, Alex, though, are probably asking for concrete names. So without wasting another 700 words, here are my personal top three, the three I would go after if I were Long (not necessarily the three most likely):